Miracles of Friendship
“Is it okay if we come in?”
Blair rolled onto his side at the sound of the voice and looked warily at the stranger peering round the door into his hospital room. He was more than a little leery of letting anyone he didn’t know anywhere near him after the events of the previous twelve hours but the man asking the question had an open friendly face and there was an indefinable something in his kind eyes that made Blair relax his guard. He nodded. “Sure. Come in.”
The man entered the room, trailed by another man Blair didn’t recognize. “Um, I’m Paul Callen,” he said, shaking Blair’s hand. “This is my colleague, Alva Keel. We work for an organization called Sodalitas Quaerito.”
“Brotherhood in search of truth,” Blair interjected, translating the words automatically.
“Yes.” Alva Keel stepped forward and shook Blair’s hand as well. “You’ve heard of it.”
“No. I just know what it means.” Blair shrugged. “What can I do for you? If you’re reporters though, I have to tell you I’m not interested in telling my story. It’s really no big deal.”
“I’d say coming back from the dead is a fairly big deal,” Keel said. “According to witnesses, you were definitely dead, were even pronounced so by the paramedics.”
Blair closed his eyes against the painful memories, then opened them and gave both men a firm look. “My partner gave me CPR,” he said, shrugging again as if it really was no big deal at all. “No miracle there, sorry.”
“Look, we don’t want to make you relive something that was no doubt very traumatic,” Callen said. “Believe me, I know how you feel.”
“You died too?” Blair asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow.
“Twice in fact,” Keel put in, patting Paul on the back affectionately.
“Well, technically I wasn’t dead the first time,” Paul replied. “Dying but not dead. The second time, yes, I died and came back.”
“CPR?” Blair asked.
“The time I died, Keel resuscitated me, yes,” Paul replied, “but the first time, I was healed by a young boy.”
“Really?” Blair was intrigued but there wasn’t much he could tell them about his own experience, not without giving away more than he was prepared to, so he schooled his face into a politely interested expression and listened while Paul told his tale. “Well,” Blair said, when he’d finished and both men were looking at him expectantly, “sorry to disappoint you but I didn’t see God is nowhere or God is now here written in my own blood or anybody else’s. In fact I didn’t see much at all…” Well, apart from a wolf and a panther merging in a blue jungle, he thought parenthetically. “You know, one minute I was unconscious and the next I was coughing up water.” He allowed a small apologetic smile to cross his face.
“Not all the people we talk to have experienced the hemography,” Keel said. “We’re just interested in hearing what happened to you and whether it might be,” he smiled too, “considered a miracle.”
Blair was already shaking his head, dismissing them as emphatically and politely as he could. Jim certainly hadn’t wanted to talk about this so there was no way Blair was going to discuss it with a couple of strangers in search of their own holy grail. “Look, I’m really tired. And I’m not interested in talking about my accident so…”
“You know we wouldn’t publish your name or anything about this-” Keel began but Blair waved him off.
“Look, no offence but I don’t even know you guys,” he said as diplomatically as he could. “I’m sorry. That’s it though. End of discussion.” He made it sound final.
Keel looked mildly pissed off but Paul gave a gentle smile that almost made Blair feel guilty for turning them away. “No problem. Here’s our card. If you change your mind, just give us a call.” He placed the card on the bedside table then turned and grabbed Keel’s arm and towed him from the room.
Blair dropped back to rest on his pillows. Damn, how had those two found out about what had happened? Mind you, he’d been so groggy when he’d come round next to the fountain that he’d had no idea if there’d been anyone else around or not and he’d been so focused on finding Jim’s face amongst those who were that he wouldn’t have noticed anyone else anyway.
He’d just closed his eyes to try to get some sleep when there was a tap on his door and he looked up to see Jim coming into the room.
“How you feeling?” Jim asked, putting out a hand and resting it on Blair’s forehead for a moment.
“Just fine, Mom,” Blair replied with a touch of sarcasm lacing his tone, though he secretly relished the touch of Jim’s hand. They’d been at odds over this other Sentinel debacle for so long. It was nice to wonder if maybe Jim had forgiven him for messing up after all.
“I’m going after Alex,” Jim said. “Simon and I are catching the next plane to Mexico.” He filled Blair in on what they’d found out and before he’d even finished Blair was swinging his legs over the side of the bed and looking for his clothes.
“Whoa,” Jim said, stopping him from getting off the bed with a hand on his shoulder, “just where do you think you’re going?”
“With you.” Blair made a d’oh face and rolled his eyes but Jim shook his head firmly.
“No way, Chief, she already tried to kill you once. You need to stay here and make sure you’re recovered. Simon and I can manage.”
“Jim, you’re going up against another Sentinel. You’ll need me-” Blair began.
“Not happening,” Jim said flatly. “Look, let’s face it, Alex got under your skin with her ‘poor little me’ act and I can’t risk that happening again. We need to stop her for good this time.”
Blair shook his head. “I won’t let that happen again. I know what she is now,” he said firmly.
“No!” Jim almost shouted the word and Blair recoiled a little from the vehemence of it. “Stay here and make sure you’re okay. I’ll see you when we get back.” He turned on his heel and walked quickly out of the room.
Blair waited till he’d left then picked up the phone beside his bed and called Megan Connor.
Mexico, a few days later.
“Hey, man. Are you okay?” Blair asked as he walked across to stand just behind Jim, who was sitting on a rock in front of the temple.
“You know, when I got out of that grotto, I realized I had it all laid out right in front of me… All the answers to it all. But in one way, you know, I just wanted to go back in there so bad. I mean, just—”
“But you didn't.”
“No,” Jim said flatly, not turning to look at him.
“See, that's the difference between you two. She lost her way.”
Jim shrugged. “I guess.”
Blair turned and looked to where Alex was being carried out of the jungle on a stretcher, her eyes vacant. He wanted to feel sorry for her but he’d endured too much at her hands – almost losing both his life and his friendship with Jim. Actually it was the friendship with Jim part he still wasn’t sure he had back.
Jim had barely spoken to him on the ride out of the jungle and even when Blair had a coughing fit that doubled him over just as they arrived back at the hotel, he’d simply handed him a bottle of water from his pack then went over to speak to Simon, leaving Blair fighting to catch his breath with a fuming Megan at his side.
Megan put a hand on his forehead as he straightened up. She frowned. “You have a temperature,” she said. “Didn’t the hospital give you meds to take when they discharged you? That fountain water had to be full of all sorts of nasty little germs.”
Blair shrugged, forbearing to tell her that he hadn’t exactly been discharged, more left against doctor’s advice. “I didn’t have time to get the prescription filled before we left,” he said, holding the water bottle against his hot brow then taking another few sips before capping it.
Megan shook her head and gave him her best mother hen frown. “Well, that’s bloody sensible, Sandy,” she said. “Not. What the hell were you thinking?” She stalked over to where Jim and Simon were standing and Blair groaned inwardly as she started talking and he saw Simon look over at him, concern apparent in the captain’s eyes.
“I’m fine,” he began as the three made their way back to him.
“Bulldust!” Megan said. “You’re sick. You’ve got no antibiotics and there’s probably nowhere in this back of beyond town to get any-“
Jim flashed him a look that seemed equal parts worry and frustration. “Our plane leaves in an hour-“
“I’ll be fine till we get back to the States,” Blair finally said. He pulled the prescription out of his pants pocket and waved it under their noses. “I’ll get it filled as soon as we get back, promise.”
Megan huffed, obviously not appeased but Simon nodded reluctantly and Jim shrugged.
“Let’s get going then,” Jim said. “I’d really like to get as far away from this place as soon as I can.”
It had all gone swiftly pear-shaped once they got off the plane State-side. Blair felt like crap. He’d been fighting a ticklish cough from the minute they got on the aircraft. When he had no choice but to give into it, the exertion left him feeling drained and sweaty. Finally he’d managed to drift into a restless sleep but it felt like he’d only just closed his eyes when Megan shook his shoulder.
“We’ve landed,” she said, her eyes telegraphing her worry as he struggled to regain his senses and get to his feet.
“I’ll take that,” Jim said as Blair reached for his bag in the rack above.
Blair gave momentary thought to retorting that he wasn’t an invalid but one look at Jim’s resolute face and the threat of another coughing fit if he tried to speak had him keeping his mouth firmly shut.
They split up at the taxi stand though Megan tried to convince Blair to travel with her. He pointed out that she and Simon were headed in the same direction whereas he and Jim had to travel precisely the opposite way and she caved in and climbed into the cab, though not without casting a narrowed look at Jim that seemed to convey that he’d better make sure Blair came to no harm.
Blair slid into their own cab and leaned back against the seat, closing his eyes, surprised when what seemed like only a few seconds later, he was being nudged awake and then ushered out of the cab and inside the lobby of their apartment building. They rode the elevator up in silence, Jim still carrying Blair’s bag as well as his own.
At the door, Jim suddenly turned and spoke for almost the first time since they’d left Mexico. “We forgot to stop and get your meds.”
“It’s fine. I’ll get them in the morning,” Blair said. “I’m wiped. I just really want to lie down for a while.”
Jim frowned at him then unlocked the door and stepped inside the apartment, stopping so suddenly that Blair almost bumped into him. “Damn,” Jim said, looking around the almost empty living room, “your stuff. It’s still in the storage basement.”
Blair rubbed a hand across his aching forehead and looked around. “Look,” he said, “it’s fine. I’ll just sleep on the sofa for now-“
“You can sleep in my bed,” Jim interrupted. He put the bags on the floor and went into the kitchen and turned on the kettle then began rummaging around in the cupboard where Blair kept his herbal teas. “I don’t know which one’s good for colds,” he said, pulling out a handful and showing them to Blair.
Blair refrained from saying that what he had was probably more than a cold and walked into the kitchen and pointed at the appropriate sachet. “I’ll probably be asleep before I can drink it,” he said. “Jim, I’ll be fine down here. You’ve been through a rough time too. You should sleep upstairs.”
Jim shook his head stubbornly. “No, you’re sick. You take the bed. I have been thinking though…” He stopped mid-sentence and began to get mugs and spoons out then turned his attention to the coffeemaker, readying it for a fresh pot.
“Thinking what?” Blair asked, a vague stirring of unease starting up in his belly. He felt chilled now and he wondered if it was due to his illness or if it was caused by Jim’s distant behavior.
“That maybe you should just move out anyway,” Jim said in a rush, not turning around.
“What? Why? This is still because I messed up with Alex, isn’t it?”
“No!” Jim almost shouted the word but at least he turned and looked at Blair as he did. He didn’t look angry now, just resigned. He sighed and walked across to stand in front of Blair. “I shouldn’t have said what I did at the hospital. The only one who’s messed up on this case and with Alex Barnes is me. Chief, it’s too dangerous for you to be with me on the job. Alex almost succeeded in killing you and it’s not the first time you’ve almost died because of what you’re doing with me.” He held up a hand as Blair started to speak. “I’m not saying I don’t want you helping me with my senses because, god knows, I can’t do that without you, but I do think it’d be best if we confined that to when I’m not working and if you lived somewhere else. That way no one’s going to be able to get to you because of me.”
“Something happened to you in that grotto, didn’t it?” Blair asked. “Something that’s made you think you need to do this. Talk to me, Jim. Tell me what happened in there. We’ve both been through some pretty profound experiences over the past few days. Maybe together we can help each other understand them.”
He saw the moment when Jim closed down on him, saw the shuttered look in his eyes.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Jim said. “I told you that at the hospital too, that I didn’t want to go on that trip with you, that I’m not ready for it.”
“Well, get ready, man, because it’s happened, is happening.” The very vehemence of Blair’s words took his breath away for a moment and he inhaled too quickly, bringing on another coughing fit.
Jim stood silently till he recovered then handed him a Kleenex from the box on the counter. “You need water?” he asked.
Blair shook his head. “I’m fine,” he said once he’d caught his breath. There was an odd sort of whistling sound to his breathing and his chest ached distantly.
“No, you’re not fine,” Jim said. “You need to get those antibiotics and you need to get better and move into your own place and probably stay as far away from me as you can.”
Blair shook his head stubbornly. “That’s not the answer, Jim. Together we can work all this out. Apart, it’s just you and me trying to understand something that affects us both.”
“Yeah, well, at least apart you’ll still be alive,” Jim said just as stubbornly. He went back to make the tea.
“Don’t bother,” Blair said. His head was pounding now as well and his words felt as if he was trying to push them past a boulder in his throat. “You don’t want me here, that’s fine. You don’t want to understand the deeper significance of this Sentinel and Guide thing, that’s fine too. Call me when you want to work on your senses again. You’ve got my number.”
Blair let himself into his office and tossed his backpack onto the floor then fell exhaustedly into the chair in front of his desk. He’d had no money left for a motel room after paying for his and Megan’s plane tickets to Mexico. Of course that also meant he had no cash to get his antibiotics either. He cast that thought aside. He’d been without them for four days already and the way he was feeling, he was beginning to think it was going to take more than pills to knock out the chest infection he was pretty sure he now had. His head was throbbing, his chest felt tight, and his throat felt like he’d swallowed glass. He almost regretted rushing out of the loft. Almost. He felt the damned tickle building up again and leaned forward, one hand splinting his aching ribs as he tried to cough hard enough to dispel it. A few minutes of that did nothing but give him an intense pain in his ribs and leave him lathered in sweat and he slumped over his desk, pillowing his head on his arms. He thought about taking some aspirin from the bottle he kept in his desk but his throat didn’t feel up to dry swallowing them and he just couldn’t muster the energy to go get a glass of water from the drinking fountain in the hallway.
He closed his eyes and let himself drift for a while, his thoughts meandering back over the events of the past few days.
The trouble was he’d always been a verbal person. Just keeping the secret about Jim’s Sentinel abilities had been hard enough, when all he’d wanted to do was shout from the rooftops that he’d found a real live Sentinel. Coming back from the dead, being literally resurrected through the power of spirit animals wasn’t something he could just write about in a notebook and never think about again. He’d assumed Jim would feel the same. But then Jim had never been as thrilled about being a Sentinel as Blair was about being his Guide and he’d definitely never been one for airing his feelings on just about anything.
Sitting up, Blair made a decision. He pulled out his wallet and removed the card Paul Callen had left with him at the hospital. He’d just known somehow that he could trust him and he’d only held back at the time because he’d assumed he’d be talking about it to Jim. Quickly, before his nerve deserted him, he picked up the phone and dialed the number on the card, told Paul where to meet him and hung up. Then he sat back in his chair and tried not to think about what would happen if Jim found out he’d spoken to them. All he could think about now was that he had to tell someone and if it couldn’t be Jim, it could at least be people who wouldn’t think he was nuts, who at least would probably believe what he was saying.
“The door’s unlocked,” Alva said when no one answered Paul’s third knock. “Why don’t we just go in?”
Paul raised shocked eyes to his and Alva smothered a grin. Paul was still so much the seminary pupil at times despite all he’d seen since joining SQ.
“That’d be like breaking and entering,” Paul said.
“No, it would simply be entering since there’s no lock to break,” Alva replied, leaning past his friend to open the door. He came to a stumbling halt as he cleared the doorway then turned to Paul. “Call an ambulance,” he ordered then he hurried across the room to kneel next to the body on the floor.
Blair was breathing but his breath sounds were harsh and stertorous and Alva lifted him, resting Blair’s head against his bent knee. He put a hand on Blair’s forehead and cast a worried look up at Paul, who’d made the call and was now standing next to him. “He’s burning up,” Alva said.
Blair was muttering something and Alva bent his head to try to catch the words.
“What’s he saying?” Paul asked, crouching down alongside them.
“Something about spirits and animals. Incacha, I think. I have no idea what that is.”
“The ambulance will be here soon,” Paul said. He bent his head and Alva knew he was praying. He canted a sidelong glance at Alva and gave a small smile. “Can’t hurt,” he said.
“Indeed it can’t,” Alva replied. He patted Blair’s head gently. “Now don’t you go and die on us without telling us that big secret of yours, young Blair.”
Blair murmured something else but all Alva could make out was the name Jim. By the time the ambulance came, Blair was unconscious.
In the brief time between sleeping and being really awake, Blair had a heart-stopping moment of sheer and utter panic. He’d opened his eyes to find himself in a hospital room with no memory of how he came to be there. There was a sound of movement to his right and he rolled his head in that direction, blinking away the blurry remnants of his sleep to see a man sitting in a chair next his bed, reading a magazine. It wasn’t Jim but the man looked vaguely familiar and he looked up and gave Blair a reassuring smile.
“Feeling any better this time round?” he asked.
“This time?” Blair swallowed against the soreness of his throat and the man stood up and leaned over to grab the glass of water from the bedside table then expertly raised the head of the bed and handed the glass to Blair, keeping his fingers wrapped around Blair’s own till he was sure he had a firm grasp on it.
“Yeah, you woke up a few hours ago but you were still pretty out of it. The doctor said it was just the fever muddling your thinking a bit. Pneumonia, a pretty bad case of it apparently. You’re going to be fine though,” he said, taking the glass back once Blair had finished with it. “The doctor said we got you here in time and the antibiotics are working now-“
Blair raised a slightly shaky hand. “Wait, can you just start at the beginning? How did I get here?”
“Oh right, sure. I guess you probably wouldn’t remember much of anything. You were pretty sick when Alva and I found you in your office at the university…”
Blair raised his hand again to stop him then thought about that. His office? “Jim and I had an argument and I told him I was leaving him to cool off,” he said at last.
“Jim? Yeah, you said his name a few times when you were out of it. Um, you called me yesterday, said you wanted to tell us about what happened to you at the fountain,” Paul said. “Do you feel up to talking about that now?”
Blair closed his eyes and then opened them and looked hard at Paul. “This stays between us,” he said. “No papers being written about it, no publicity…”
“You have my word,” Paul said.
Blair believed him.
There was a knock on the door and Blair looked over to see Jim standing in the doorway. “Jim. Look, give us a few minutes, okay? I have stuff I need to talk to Paul about.”
There was a flash of something Blair thought was fear in Jim’s eyes but then he nodded, turned around, and closed the door behind him.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, you know.”
Jim looked up from his morose appraisal of the peeling linoleum to find Keel standing next to him. “About what?” he asked.
“Blair kicking you and me out of his room and wanting Paul to stay. Paul tends to have that effect on people. He used to be a priest, you know? Well,” Keel stopped himself with a hand in the air then went on, “was going to be a priest. He went to the seminary and then dropped out.”
That piqued Jim’s interest despite his desire not to be piqued right now. “You can do that? Just drop out?”
Keel shrugged. “Apparently so. Anyway, my point is that Paul’s very easy to talk to. He draws people out without even realizing he’s doing it. Especially when it comes to miraculous things that have happened to them.”
Jim shot him a skeptical look. “You really believe in miracles?” he asked.
“I have no choice not to,” Keel replied. “When I was a boy I heard my dead mother speaking to me on a tape I’d made while recording bird calls.” He gave a self-conscious smile. “At the time I thought I was quite the nutter but then, over time, I ran across way too many people who’d experienced similar things to think I was insane. After all, as the saying goes, miracles do happen.”
Jim flashed back to that moment at the fountain when, despite all odds Blair had started breathing again, when he’d heard his heart stutter to life beneath his hands. He nodded. “Yes, they do.” He gave Keel an assessing look. “Why do you want to know what happened?” he asked. “Are you planning on selling the story to one of those tabloids?”
Keel chuffed out a sardonic laugh. “Oh no, that would be quite counterproductive for SQ,” he replied. “It’s not about publicity at all.”
“Then what is it about?” Jim asked.
“Just the truth,” Keel said, “just being able to acknowledge, even if only to a select few, that miracles do happen and that maybe that means God is still somewhere helping out.”
“I think most people want to believe that,” Jim said. He looked up as the door to Blair’s room opened and Paul came out.
“Blair wants to see you,” Paul said, leaving the door ajar and then walking over to join them.
Alva shook Jim’s hand. “Take care of your friend,” he said. “They’re all too easy to lose,” he added with a nod in Paul’s direction. “Believe me, I know.”
Jim nodded. “Thanks,” he said, “for being there for Blair when I wasn’t.”
“You’re here now,” Paul said with a smile.
Jim watched them enter the elevator then with a heart lighter than it had been in some time, went into Blair’s room.
He sat down in the chair next to his bed and watched as Blair looked at him warily. “Let me tell you something,” he said before Blair could speak. “When I was in that pool in the temple, I was more afraid than I’ve ever been in my life. It was too much, too overwhelming. I was yelling for Incacha, for someone to come save me, get me out of there. I saw things, bad things, death, destruction, the loss of people I care about.”
“What happened?” Blair asked quietly.
“Incacha came to me. He said I had to walk through my dreams; that the darkness would only flee from the light.” Jim leaned forward and clasped Blair’s hand in his. “You’re the light, Chief. Our friendship, our bond is the light that keeps the darkness at bay.”
Blair smiled. “Getting kind of mushy in your old age, aren’t you?”
Jim laughed. “Now that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it?”
“No,” Blair agreed, squeezing Jim’s hand tightly, “not a bad thing at all.”
“So,” Alva said as they rode down in the elevator, “no miracle then.”
“Oh, there was a miracle, all right,” Paul replied. “A miracle of friendship.”