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Spiritwalk (RLT)

Part Two


Disclaimers, Warnings, Acknowledgments, Author’s Notes in Part One.

"I’m begging you, Marion. Please, can you spare a couple of people to help us out? I’ve got a few dozen lunches to prepare and I’ve got no one to serve them," pleaded the pretty young brunette.

"I can’t, Vivian. We’re running into the same problem you are and the cafeteria doesn’t run on it’s own," the older woman replied in frustration. "Half our staff is out with the flu. Hell, I’ve been in since six this morning and, because I’ve got only two people showing up for the afternoon shift, I’ll be here until eight tonight."

"Excuse me? I couldn’t help but overhear your discussion. Is there something I could do to help?" Blair offered.

Both women stopped and stared at the young man. "Help us?" they chorused with a mixture of surprise and disbelief.

"If a shortage of staff is the problem, why not help each other?" Blair suggested. "Combine your kitchens and your staff. And if you’re still short, I’d be willing to pitch in. I’d gladly be willing to help out for a few hours. I’m between jobs, and although it’s been a while, I’ve been a waiter before."

Both women looked at each other and then back at the young man.

"You’re on." Marion looked at Blair with an eyebrow raised.

"I’m Blair Sandburg. And you are?" he said, by way of introduction.

"I’m Marion White, I run the cafeteria. This is Vivian St. Claire, she runs catering for the building."

"Where do you want me to start?" Blair grinned. There was more than one way to finagle a way in to see Jim.

"What do you say Vivian? We can start him out by bringing your things down here, and then we can figure out between us how to get this juggernaut running."

"What about the paperwork?"

"I’m willing to put that off until tomorrow. At worst, if we forget, you’ll get a free day out of me and I’ll be busy," Blair suggested. "You’ll need to start getting ready for the breaks which will be starting soon and then we have to get the lunches started."

Both women grinned, liking this young man’s willingness to pitch in.

"C’mon, Blair. I’ll take you upstairs to our kitchen and we can start bringing down what we need for the day. By the end of this day, you may regret volunteering to help us," warned Vivian, leading the way to the service elevator. "If you survive it, you may have a job."

Vivian hadn’t been kidding. He ran back and forth constantly between the two kitchens until all the supplies needed for the day’s catering were in the cafeteria’s kitchen. Marion and Vivian had worked out a schedule, which had Blair on the run until just before noon. He was traveling all over the building delivering coffee for breaks to different board rooms in addition to taking a quick tour around the cafeteria to collect trays to be returned to the kitchen for cleaning.

Between them, Vivian and Blair split the deliveries of the lunches to the different boardrooms. Blair offered to take the lunches scheduled to be delivered later, thanking Cat silently for getting the information on Jim’s lunch meeting. It would be very interesting to see what his reaction would be to the arrival of lunch.

* * * * *

Blair closed his eyes and took a deep breath to steel himself for his next meeting with Jim. The frosty glare he’d received when Jim recognized him earlier had been pretty much what he’d expected. He didn’t appear to be the easiest person to rattle, but the fact remained, he had gotten a reaction and he was being noticed.

He’d made sure the lunches for the other boardrooms were delivered first, leaving Jim’s until last. At least, if things went wrong, he would only have disappointed himself, not Vivian and Marion.

Cat joined him in the hall just before he went in. "Good to see a friendly face," she said, slightly relieved.

"Bored?" he asked.

"Let’s just say that I want to see this over with as soon as possible. I don’t like this Jim. I want ours back."

Blair hesitated at her words. "I guess it’s time to get on with this part of the plan. Hopefully, I won’t be on the receiving end of anything more than one of his frosty glares. Wish me luck!"

"Good luck. Just remember I’m in there with you," she offered.

* * * * *

A light tap on the door and the room fell silent. The door opened and a young man entered pushing a cart before him.

Everyone in the room noticed that J. J. Ellison’s gaze had not left the young man since he had entered the room, everyone, that is, except the young man who seemed to be totally oblivious to him as he took his time setting lunches and the dessert trays out. He exchanged the old urn of coffee for a fresh one and ensured there was enough cream, milk, and sugar for the people in the room. Turning to take his leave, his eyes locked with Ellison’s.

For the first time since she had met him, his assistant saw something akin to surprise on J. J.’s face. The young man didn’t flinch from his steely gaze, nor did he lower his eyes in submission, like most of the staff did when Ellison was in one of these moods. He met him as an equal. There seemed to be a flicker of something more, but Karla couldn’t put her finger on what it was. The young man broke the gaze and left the room as quietly as he’d entered it.

"Since the catering has arrived, why don’t we get our lunches and then we can return to our discussion?" J.J. suggested as he held Karla back, wrote her a quick note and then joined his guests at the sideboard. Karla read the brief note and then shook her head as stared after him. //I wonder why this young man upset him so much?//

* * * * *

Blair sagged against the wall opposite the boardroom door. He let out the breath he’d been holding since he broke Jim’s gaze and waited for security to escort him out of the building. But it never happened. //I wonder why?//

"You did fantastic in there!" Cat crowed, joining him a moment later. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I’m okay. It was just a little harder than I thought it would be," he admitted.

"You held your own," she coaxed.

"Come downstairs with me so we can talk," Blair suggested as he started to move the cart in the direction of the freight elevator. "You’re right though, I don’t like this Jim either."

"You’ll like it even less with what I’ve got to tell you," she cautioned as she followed him to the elevator.

"What happened?" he asked warily, as they got on the elevator.

"After you left, he wrote a note to his assistant. I was standing behind her as she read it. He instructed her to find out who you were and to make sure you never came up to these floors again."

"Well, at least he didn’t call security and have me escorted from the building. That’s something, I guess," he answered with a tired shrug.

"Blair? Did you notice the look on his face when you looked him straight in the eye?" she asked thoughtfully.

"No, I was trying too hard not to blow it. I knew I had to keep myself calm until I left. I just kept waiting for the explosion that never came. Why?"

"The other people in the room noticed his reaction to you and I know his assistant was wondering what was up. You’re getting through to him," she encouraged. "I’m pretty sure I saw a flicker of recognition before he caught himself."

"Well, at least I’ve gotten this far, but if he’s banned me from this area I won’t be able to get to see him again, at least not here. We need to find other opportunities to get to him without me coming across like a deranged stalker or corporate spy."

Cat grinned at his statement, knowing it wouldn’t take much to cross that line with this particular version of Jim. "How about I follow Jim for the rest of the day. I’ll hitch a ride with him tonight and I can meet you back at the hotel when I have some more information we might need," she offered.

"Sounds good. I’ll stay here and help Marion close up the cafeteria tonight, then go back to the hotel and get some dinner. When you come back, check the hotel restaurant first, then look for me in the room."

"Deal," she agreed as the elevator doors opened. "I’ll see you later then," she said, before changing back into the cougar and making her way to the stairwell. Blair grinned, glad that he was the only one able to see her. He’d hate to see Animal Control trying to catch her.

* * * * *

"Karla, go on home," Jim told his assistant. "I’ll see you tomorrow at nine for the meeting with the marketing group."

"What about you? Are you staying?" Karla asked, knowing he was notorious during this time of year for staying almost around the clock working on reports.

"No," Jim replied with a weary smile, the first one Karla had seen all day. "Carolyn has struck a deal with me. I can work on the reports all night as far as she’s concerned, as long as I do it at home."

"Smart lady," Karla shot back.

"If I didn’t know better Karla, I’d say you two have been talking," J.J. accused, eyeing his assistant suspiciously.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about, J. J." Karla declared. "Now, pack up and get out of here before Carolyn figures out you’re trying to renege on your deal. And do me a favor? Try to get a good night’s sleep. You were definitely off your game today."

"It was that damn waiter with the caterer," Jim told Karla with a hint of anger and frustration. "Make sure you take care of that first thing tomorrow morning, before the meeting. I don’t need any more surprises."

"What was it about him that set you off? I’ve never seen you react that way to anyone before," she asked with concern. Something wasn’t right. J. J. did not lose his cool like that. Ever. But somehow this young man had gotten under his skin on sight.

"If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’s following me. I saw him at the hotel this morning at breakfast. I saw him again as I came into the building, and then he showed up as the waiter delivering lunch. It was just too coincidental."

"I’ll talk to the caterer in the morning before the meeting to make sure he doesn’t show up again," she promised. It still didn’t sound right. But then, J. J. wouldn’t have gotten to where he was if he didn’t know what he was doing. So who was she to second-guess him?

* * * * *

Cat silently padded after Jim as he headed down to the parking garage. She slowed in surprise as she saw him approach his car. //Who woulda thunk it? Jim driving a sleek black Lexus?//

Cat quickly hopped into the vehicle just as Jim started the ignition. The trip to Jim’s home was a pleasant drive to the outskirts of the city. He lived in an older neighborhood and the houses screamed old money.

Jim pulled into the driveway of a large home, modest in comparison with his neighbors. The grounds were immaculate and the fašade was simple, yet elegant. When she followed him inside, she noticed the interior was beautiful. It was like something out of a magazine. Definitely the type of place an executive would have to have to entertain. She wondered if that was Carolyn’s doing, or if she’d hired an interior designer?

* * * * *

"Jim?" Carolyn called from the dining room.

"You were expecting someone else?" he kidded, setting his briefcase down.

"I heard that might be a possibility," she paused for a beat, waiting for his reaction. She saw a flicker of surprise, but that was it. "So, how was your day?" she prompted.

"Like any other," he replied as he loosened his tie. "You know the routine, meetings all day, trying to get a handle on the information I need for the reports due at the end of the month for the CEO’s meeting."

"Now try telling me the truth. What happened today?" she prodded.

"I don’t know what you mean," he denied obstinately.

"Jim, did you honestly believe I wouldn’t hear what happened at lunch today? When the guys from R & D left your meeting today, it took less than half an hour for the floor to be buzzing with speculation. You know I normally hear what’s going on there. The fact that your wife works in R & D doesn’t stop all the talk. Now, I’d like to hear your version," she stated firmly.

"I wish I could explain what happened," he said in frustration. "All I know is this… young man seemed to be dogging my every footstep today. He was there this morning at breakfast. He showed up again at lunch as catering staff. I half expected him to follow me home tonight."

"Oh, come on, Jim," she admonished. "You’ve been edgy ever since your dream the other night. What is it about him that set you off? Did he really do anything threatening? Anything else that would make you think he was dangerous?"

"No. It’s just…" he stopped before he said it. There was something familiar about him. He had recognized the young man from the nightmare, but he wasn’t about to admit that to anyone. He wasn’t sure why, but he knew something terrible would happen if he did.

"Just what?" she asked, sensing his hesitation to answer.

"Nothing," he answered with a sigh. He didn’t have the answers. He wasn’t sure he ever would. And right now, it seemed the only one who might was the stranger who kept popping up when he least expected it. "Never mind. Let’s have dinner," he suggested. "I’ll work in the office for a bit later."

Figuring she’d lost this round, she backed off. "Mrs. Hagen prepared a wonderful dinner for us. Have a seat and I’ll bring it in."

* * * * *

While Carolyn and Jim had dinner, Cat explored their home, looking for more information she could use. Curiosity had definitely gotten the better of her. She guessed the Mrs. Hagen who had been mentioned was their housekeeper. The house was immaculate.

On the main floor there was a living room, dining room, office, library, and kitchen. Of the rooms on this floor, only the office looked like it saw much use. She noted their unlisted number and the second number in Jim’s office, which she suspected was also unlisted. The books in the library were a mix of fiction and non-fiction. The mysteries made her smile, knowing that some things never changed. The historical biographies intrigued her. She suspected the bestsellers were Carolyn’s.

Downstairs, beside the storage area and the laundry room, she found what most would refer to as a family room. A home entertainment center sat prominently along one wall. The stereo system was to die for. The music ran the gamut from the classics to jazz.

Upstairs were four bedrooms. The master bedroom spanned most of the back of the house. It looked like it would be a bright room in the daylight with the windows. The room matched the rest of the house – elegant and understated, but not overly feminine in appearance. The guestrooms were a little less so. It appeared that Carolyn had had a little more leeway with those rooms.

Back downstairs, Cat settled into the office, watching Jim who was now hard at work. Occasionally she would look over his shoulder, hoping for some more information that Blair could use.

After a while, Cat perched on the corner of his desk, watching him. She reached out and caressed his cheek. "Come back to me," she whispered. Just then, Carolyn strolled into the room, resting her hands gently on Jim’s shoulders she asked, "Going to be much longer? I was thinking of heading off to bed." Cat stiffened and glared jealously.

"I should be there shortly," he replied absently.

"Uh, uh. You’re not getting away with that tonight. The last time you said that, you ended coming to bed at three in the morning," she scolded, slipping her arms around his neck and leaning forward to whisper in his ear.

With a gasp Cat turned and fled the room changing into her favored feline form. She had been in denial since she got here she chided herself. Not wanting to think about where Jim had been, or what he’d been doing since his arrival. The anguished cry of a cougar filled the home, but no one heard. Moving blindly, she finally found her way to the backyard, without a backward glance she quickly changed to an owl, and flew off in the direction of the city’s center.

* * * * *

"Blair?" Cat called from the hallway before entering the room.

"C’mon in Cat," he answered, turning the television off so they could talk. "How did it go?"

"Okay. I’ve got a couple of numbers for you. I suspect they are both unlisted. The first is their home number. The second is a line for Jim’s home office."

"Anything else?" he asked.

"Jim and Carolyn live in a beautiful home on the outskirts of town in an old but definitely moneyed area. Looks like when he’s not in the office downtown, he lives in his office at home, and believe it or not, Carolyn also works at Cyclops in the R & D group." She watched the surprise register on his face before continuing. "And I think you should know… Carolyn knows you made an impact on him today. Word spread like wildfire this afternoon. Apparently, she believes his reaction to you had something to do with a nightmare he’s had recently."

"Do you believe the nightmare is what I think it is?" Blair asked, looking for confirmation.

Cat nodded in agreement. "Blair, if our reality is a nightmare to him, we may have a problem."

"What kind of problem?" Blair asked in concern.

"The longer he stays in this reality, the more real it will become. Right now, most of his life is just a bare sketch to him. The fact his home and office are so stark might indicate he is just beginning to fill in the blanks. If this world becomes his reality, our reality will cease to exist for him."

"Which means what? Our Jim will end up in a coma?"

"Possibly," she admitted. "Or… he could die," she finished in a whisper.

Blair got up from the bed where he’d been sitting and started to pace. She perched on the desk and watched as he moved back and forth in the small room. She watched the emotions flit across his face as he tried to figure out the next move.

"Cat, where are those phone numbers?" he asked.

She pulled out a piece of paper from her purse and laid it on the desk beside the phone.

"You said the second one was his home office number?" he asked thoughtfully.

"Yes. But when I left, I think they were on their way to bed, so I’m not sure you’ll get an answer tonight," she replied in a rather harsh tone.

"So if I call their home line, they should answer," he speculated, too intent on trying to figure out what to say to JJ to notice the change in her voice.

"More than likely, there was a phone beside the bed," she agreed. "Are you sure you want to call tonight?" she asked, silently praying he would make that call as she fought a rising tide of jealousy.

"I think I have to do this now. Tonight. You just said time is a factor. I need to keep him off balance. Calling him tonight, this late, and on his unlisted number, should do it. I just hope it will work out the way I hope it will."

* * * * *

Jim rolled over in the bed at the sound of the ringing phone.

"Ignore it, Jim," Carolyn protested sleepily "It has to be a wrong number. Who in their right mind would be calling at this time of the night?"

Jim thought about ignoring the ringing phone, but then sighed as he sat up and reached for the light before answering the phone.

"Hello," he growled.

"Mr. Ellison, this is Blair Sandburg."

"Sandburg? I don’t know any Sandburg. How the hell did you get this number?" Jim demanded, his level of irritation rising.

"That’s not important right now. We need to talk," the voice stated firmly on the other end of the line. "I’m the person you saw this morning."

"I have nothing to say to you!" Jim declared.

Carolyn stared at him from the other side of the bed. "Jim? What is it? What’s going on?" she asked.

"No, but I have answers to the questions you may be having about your nightmares. Meet me across the street from Cyclops as soon as possible," he instructed, hanging up before Jim could protest.

Jim stared at the phone, unsure of what he wanted. "I’ve got to go out for a bit. I’ll be back," Jim told his wife, quickly gathering the clothes he’d worn earlier and getting dressed.

"Jim, please, don’t…" Carolyn started, but he stormed out before she could finish the thought. Minutes later, she heard the car start and back out of the driveway.

* * * * *

Across the street from the Cyclops Oil building, Blair paced impatiently. He’d placed the call to Jim only 15 minutes ago. //He should be here in a few minutes, if he’s going to show up at all. If *this* Jim is anything like the one I know, he’ll be here. Pissed, but he’ll be here.//

As if to confirm his expectations, Jim’s car sped around the corner and screeched to a halt in front of Blair. He stormed out of the car and slammed the door, which made the whole vehicle shake with his fury.

"I have had enough of you!" spat Jim, grabbing the younger man by the shoulders, pinning him against the wall. "Everywhere I turned today, you were there. Hell, you’re even turning up in my dreams, but before today I’d never met you. I want to know why you’re in my face."

"Because you do know me and a part of you is trying to remember who you are. You are Jim Ellison. You’re a detective…"

"Are you out of your mind? I’m James Ellison, the Vice President in charge of Operations at Cyclops Oil, *not* a detective. And I *don’t* know you," he shook Blair to punctuate his objection.

"You joined the Cascade PD after you left the army. Before that, you were a ranger in Special Ops. You were sent on a mission to Peru. You lost your team in a helicopter crash. You lived there for 18 months with the Chopec until you were found," he insisted.

"You spin a mean story, kid," Jim scoffed.

"It’s not just a story, it’s who you are," replied Blair with determination.

Jim fought to clear his thoughts as images from the nightmare, which had plagued him the last couple of nights resurfaced. He felt a sharp pain behind his eyes. Releasing Blair, he started to back away. He shook his head slowly, trying to dispel the voices and noises he suddenly began to hear.

"But Daddy,..." a little girl wheedled in a passing vehicle.

"...yeah. I can’t wait to see you tonight, either. I should be there in about twenty minutes," a young man promised his date from a phone booth down the street.

A car horn blared as two cars collided three blocks away. The shriek of sirens could be heard even further in the distance. It all seemed like it was right there surrounding him as the sounds of the night threatened to drown him like a rising tide. He clamped his hands over his ears trying to block the onslaught.

The streetlights suddenly flared like the noonday sun, even though it was almost midnight. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a brief shimmer in the shadows. He closed his eyes tightly against the offending light. His clothing suddenly felt coarse, burning and chaffing his skin. The odors of the street assailed him. Gulping for air, Jim fell to his knees. His agonized cry echoed through the night as his senses ran wild.

However, through the barrage, he felt the gentle touch of a hand resting on his shoulder. How it got there, he had no idea. Who it was, he wasn’t sure. Jim heard a voice from very far away, soft, insistent and steady.

"C’mon, Man. Listen to me. Dial it down. You know how to do this…"

Slowly, the pain and noise assaulting him began to burn away like a fog as the sun starts to rise.

"It’s okay, Jim. C’mon, you can do it," Blair repeated resolutely.

Shaken, Jim finally opened his eyes to look at the young kneeling man before him, one hand still on his shoulder as his soft, steady voice continued the reassuring mantra.

"Who *are* you?" Jim whispered, bewildered by what was happening.

"A friend," the young man reassured.

"What is happening?"

"You’re starting to remember that you’re a sentinel."

"What’s that? A sentinel?"

"You are," Blair stated quietly. "A sentinel is a person with a genetic advantage. They have a sensory awareness that can be developed beyond normal humans. You have always been a sentinel and you always will be a sentinel."

"The dream…?"

"It’s not a dream. It’s where we belong. You’re a detective with the Cascade PD. I’m your partner. We work for Captain Simon Banks in Major Crime. This," Blair indicated with a sweep of his other hand, "is the dream."

Jim suddenly saw the image of an imposing black man sitting behind a desk, saying to him "Yeah. Says in big letters, ‘You are divorced.’ Now what? Hell, man. I kept expecting this to be a great moment, and... I don't know. All I feel is empty. It gets better, right?"

The image changed to the young man before him, standing on a familiar balcony saying, "This sentinel thing... You know, it's more than just a research project. Uh... it's about friendship. I just didn't get it before."

"Blair…?" Jim asked, his eyes narrowing in recognition.

"Yeah. Though I’ve also been known to answer to Sandburg, Chief, Darwin or Professor," he returned with a smile.

"How…?" Jim started to ask.

"Sorry. I don’t have any of the details," he apologized. "Maybe we can figure that out… later.

Right now, we have to figure out how to get you home."

"Home," Jim whispered softly as he remembered what *home* was to him. As the memories grew stronger, the city around them began to dissolve and run together. Jim found himself standing beside Blair. Behind his friend stood a woman, hovering anxiously.

Cat?" asked Jim, trying to confirm he was really remembering things correctly.

She beamed when she realized he could see her. "It’s over? We can head back?"

"Yeah. It’s finally over. Now, can we get the heck out of here?" urged Blair.

With that, they turned their backs on the last vestiges of the fading Cascade and walked into the gray nothingness to begin their journey home.

* * * * *

Jim had never been the superstitious type. Had it been a normal black cat that crossed his path, he wouldn’t have thought twice, but when the big black jaguar passed between him and his friends, he stopped, knowing there was a reason for it to be there.

He watched his friends walk into the grayness as the jaguar regarded him. Jim turned to the cat and asked, "Now what?"

The jaguar changed before his eyes into an image of himself, which he hadn’t seen in several years. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen the spirit image of himself. He was sure it had been more than three years.

"Who are you?" the man challenged.

"My name is Jim Ellison," he responded.

"What are you?" he demanded.

"A sentinel," Jim answered.

The figure before him changed again, assuming the form of his friend, Incacha.

"Do you know why you are here?" the image asked.

"I’m not sure," Jim spoke slowly, trying to figure out exactly why he had been here.

"What lesson have you learned?"

"Lesson? This was a lesson?" he responded in confusion.

The figure changed again. This time, Jim did not recognize this person.

"Who are you?"

"Your teacher," the shadowed figure answered cryptically.

"What lesson was I to learn?"

"The lesson you have not wanted to learn before."

"What lesson was that?" Jim demanded.

"Reflect upon the life you have chosen to return to and the one you now leave behind. What were the differences? What was the cost of choosing one life over the other? What made this life worth returning to over the one which was offered to you?"

Jim stared at the stranger in the shadows, realizing what was being asked; understanding that he had made a conscious choice to return to his life. He had turned his back on what might have been if things had been different in his life. He had never realized that giving up the worst parts of his life also meant giving up the best.

"What is your name?" Jim asked quietly.

"I have many names: Loki, Hermes, Baubo, Monkey, Raven, and Coyote, are but a few. In your world, some call me simply, Trickster," he replied with a smile.

"Will I remember any of this?" Jim asked.

"If you choose to," answered Trickster.

"What about my friends? What will they remember?"

"They will remember what they choose to," Trickster assured him. "They too, had lessons to learn. It is time for you to return."

"How…?" Jim began.

"You already know the way." And with that, the figure disappeared, leaving Jim alone in the gray nothingness. Jim turned and began the rest of his journey home.

* * * * *

Blair’s eyes fluttered open. He looked across to Cat, who was rubbing her eyes with the heels of her hands. After stretching briefly to ease the stiffness in his muscles he looked down at Jim, who was still laying motionless on the floor.

"Cat, he’s not back yet. Is there something else we have to do? Something we forgot? He was right behind us," Blair said, slightly panicked.

"I don’t know. Has anything changed at all? Pulse? Temperature? He still appears to be breathing," she offered.

Blair was checking Jim’s pulse when the older man’s eyes slowly opened. "Oh, man! Don’t scare me like that ever again! How are you feeling?"

"I’m okay," Jim assured him. "What happened?"

"Um… you did a really good impression of a redwood falling," offered Cat cryptically.

Blair grinned as Jim groaned and cupped his hands over his eyes.

"What do you remember, Jim?" asked Blair.

"I was standing in the kitchen getting mugs for coffee and tea just a few minutes ago. Now I’m in the living room on the floor. Though I don’t know how I got here," he replied looking to his friends for answers.

"I think we’ve got a lot to talk about," suggested Blair.

Jim got up from the floor and, after ensuring there were no apparent after effects, crossed over to the stereo to turn off the tape. "How you can meditate to that, I’ll never know,"

"Actually, it’s Cat’s drumming tape for journeying," Blair countered.

"Journeying?" Jim asked.

"Well, it helped bring you back from your little trip," Blair quipped as he started a fire in the fireplace to take the chill off while Cat turned turn the lights on in the darkened room.

" Why don’t I put on some coffee?" Looking at her watch Cat noted the time and realized why she felt hungry. "Actually, why don’t you order in while I make a fresh pot of coffee? She remembered that the timer automatically shut the element off and the pot that had been made earlier had long gone cold.

"Chinese?" Jim suggested.

"The usual?" Blair asked, reaching for the phone, making a mental note to get the forgotten groceries from the car after ordering dinner.

"I wonder how long we were gone," murmured Blair as he looked at the remains of the candle on the floor. He turned on the TV to check not only the time but also the date. He knew they had spent almost two days in the other reality and was curious as to how much time had passed in this one.

"I figure Cat called me at about ten after three this afternoon. According to the weather channel, we’ve been ‘gone’ for about eight hours. Which reminds me, excuse me for a few minutes, I’ve got some groceries in the car. If you’ve got enough room in the fridge, I’ll put the perishables there until I’m ready to leave."

* * * * *

"So, what happened?" asked Blair as he dug into his chow mein. "I mean, why did you end up in that other Cascade?"

"I’m not entirely sure," Jim replied, dishing out some more rice. "I think I’m going to need some time to go over what happened to figure it out."

"Does it seem like a dream, like this life did there?" prompted Blair.

"It does have an unreal feeling about it," admitted Jim. "What about you? How did you know what to do? Where to find me?"

"I suspected what may have happened, and had an idea of how to find you," admitted Cat. "As for actually tracking you, Blair made a list of the major events in your life and we tried to trace you from there. It was a bit of a shock to find you’d actually ended up as an executive at Cyclops Oil. How did you manage that?"

"I guess I followed in my father’s footsteps. He’d always pushed us academically and encouraged us to be competitive. In that life, instead of going into the Army, I became a business major. I ended up at Cyclops and worked my way up the ladder."

"But what made the difference? What made you take a different path?" Cat asked, passing around the plate of fortune cookies that had come with their meal. Each took a cookie as Jim thought about where things had changed.

"Possibly it was Mom. She was there throughout that life. I guess looking back at it and comparing it to this life, she was there to smooth things out when things got rough. Some of the things that happened between Dad, Steven and I just didn’t happen then. Maybe… just because she was there."

Blair cracked open his fortune cookie and read the small slip of paper. His brow furrowed and he looked at the others. "Uh, why don’t you two check your fortunes? I think something weird is happening."

Jim and Cat crumbled their cookies and pulled out their fortunes. Jim visibly paled and Cat’s eyes went wide as they read them.

"Shall we take turns reading them out loud?" Blair suggested. "I’ll go first. ‘You walk a different path than most. Walk it proudly.’"

"Know when to follow," added Cat.

"Be careful what you wish for," finished Jim.

A booming crack of thunder sounded outside. This time they heard the laughter in it.

* * * * *

"I guess, I should be heading home," began Blair.

"Blair, why don’t you stay?" Cat suggested "I just changed the bedding in your room yesterday. And if I remember correctly, I think there’s still a change of clothes or two in the dresser for you."

Blair looked at Jim. Jim grinned and told him, "Don’t even think of arguing with her. You won’t win."

"Hey, I’ll even offer to take your groceries over to the loft on my way to work in the morning," she added.

"Okay, I’ll stay," Blair agreed with a grin, raising his hands in surrender.

"Good! On that note, I think I’ll leave you two to talk," rising from the couch, she whispered under her breath for Jim’s benefit, "…and I do mean talk." With a smile she turned to Blair, gently squeezed his shoulder on her way past him and mouthed the word, "Thanks."

Both men grinned and chuckled.

"By the way, Blair," Cat said from the hallway. "You wanted to know about that walk I took. You had a great time in Borneo. You finished the work on your dissertation there. It seems you found a sentinel in Borneo. You’ve been back a couple of times to visit him and his people. Just thought you’d wanna know," she finished with a warm smile.

Jim turned to Blair and asked, "What was that all about?"

"I’ll tell you later," he stalled.

Once Cat was out of earshot, Jim’s expression became serious. "Hey, Chief?" he began, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible. "Do you by any chance have any books dealing with," he paused before continuing. "…the Trickster?"

Looking up at his friend, he realized Jim was dead serious and waiting patiently for an answer. "The Trickster? Really?"

Jim nodded.

"I’ll see what I’ve got," answered Blair dumbfounded. "If I don’t have it," he answered with a grin. "I’m pretty sure I know where I can get some books on the subject."

"Okay," Jim sighed in relief then yawned. "But no hurry, it can wait until tomorrow."

"You do realize, I want to know more about where the Trickster fits into this," Blair warned.

"I was afraid of that," Jim responded with a grin.

"But you’re right. It’s after midnight and we’ve got work in the morning," reminded Blair.

"Not a word of this to Simon, understood?" warned Jim.

"Gotcha," said Blair with a smile. Blair started down the hall to his room, but stopped. Turning back, he looked at Jim and smiled. "Thanks, Man."

The End

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Monday May 10 2010
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