“Heyas, Blair!” Cindy. A pretty nurse, all black hair and bubbly personality. Not many people realize she already has a masters in psych. They just see the resident nurse in the nut house. I hope she gets that promotion soon. Strange, to know someone that works here that well. This will be my second specific visit, but Cins and I dated a bit after the Chapel incident.

“Hey, how’s it goin’?”

“Eh, same old, same old.” She shrugged, buzzing me into the facility. Conover... Damn, this place brings back memories. Damn few are pleasant. Actually, on second thought, none of them are. “Have to say, I didn’t expect to see you here again, not even for a visit. So how about you? Get your doctorate yet?”

I blinked and stared at her. It’d been several months since the diss-disaster, and while things were quieting down, it was a shock that she didn’t know, or was pretending, or... whatever. “Uh, not exactly. I....” I hesitated, not sure how to put it. Gentle, harsh, just avoid it altogether? Well, when in doubt, obfuscate. “I had so much of the cop life, it dragged me in. I’m going all the way.”

She looked back at me, shock written all over her face. God, not another lecture! “Wow,” she finally said. “I was wondering how much longer you were gonna dither about it.”

I was left speechless, staring after her in shock. Only took me a few seconds to shake it off before jogging up to her side and demand what she meant by that. She just shrugged. “You’re a damn good cop, I mean, at least as far as I can tell from your stories and news coverage. And no offense, but I just so cannot see you hanging around Rainer the rest of your life as a professor. You’d die of boredom within three years. Traveling around.... Well, there’re only so many places you can go before you’ve seen just about everything. All that’s left is variants.”

To say I was stunned is a bit of an understatement. Cindy was the first person I’d run into that wasn’t just accepting my change, but pushing for it. She was also the first academic acquaintance that wasn’t coming this close to pulling out the sackcloth and ashes at the news that I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life as “Doctor Sandburg,” that is, if we even made it past the “fraudulent bastard!” stage. Somehow, I had to protest, inner doubts finally rising and venting the way I couldn’t around Jim or the Major Crimes crew after what they did to get me that badge. “But I love teaching. The chance to transmit knowledge is a wonderful opportunity, and I enjoy it. Discovering new information is a major rush.”

That earned me a glare. “Now who was it,” she mused rhetorically, “that told me if learning stopped in the classroom we’d have invented the wheel barely ten years ago? Hmm. The name’s right at the tip of my tongue....”

“And police work is dangerous. Dead bodies, rape, all that shit... SO not my scene.”

“Don’t cops try to keep that shit from happening in the first place? Keep it down to a minimum? You’d be doing a hell of a lot more doing that- especially when you’re good at it!- than in a classroom, fighting red tape to get extra chalk since the bored freshmen out for that credit keep stealing them.”

We walked in silence for a few minutes. Finally, I asked her, “What do you plan to do once you get your PhD?”

“Not sure. If I get bumped up, I might stay here, otherwise, I might try opening up a practice. Why?”

I gave her my best puppy dog look. “I want you as my personal therapist instead of some department shrink.”

She laughed and whacked me on the arm. “Flatterer. You know I’m willing to talk whenever. So you sure about being a cop?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Our conversation had brought us to room – well, when you get right down to it, it’s a cell – 312. Cindy let me in, then headed off back to her desk.

I wish they wouldn’t keep her here. It’s the stereotypical asylum cell, all white padded walls. She just sits in the corner, staring at nothing I can sense, garbed in more white, including a straightjacket. Alex Barnes.

Well I could be the tired joker
pour my heart to get you in
Sacrifice my happiness
just so I could win
Maybe cry...
These tears of pearls

I hate the blankness to the room, the overwhelming white. I’d say it must drive her nuts, but it’s far too late for that. It just leeches away at her now, drinking away vitality and color to make her as blandly white as the walls around her. “What a waste,” I murmur, moving in to sit close to her.

No sign of any recognition from Alex. She’s far, far away in the deepest zone now. If she had a guide, maybe he or she could pull her out of it, but.... I doubt Alex ever got that attuned to someone. And I sure as hell refuse to do it. No way, no how, no when. I pity her, locked away in some sensation so deep and explicit I couldn’t even dream of it, but pity doesn’t translate to stupidity, unless we’re talking an obscure dialect in northern Thailand.

All these mixed emotions we
keep locked away like stolen pearls
Stolen pearl devotions we
keep locked away from all the world

“You know, I could never figure out if you and I met over a cop or academic thing. I mean, it started at the station, but ended at the fountain... the school. I don’t know. It’s all wrapped up in this whole nightmarish scenario. Let’s drop that.” I sighed and studied the wall for awhile, just taking it in. Same, same, all the same. Did she see that, or could she find imperfections far beyond what I could barely glance at?

“I’ve given up the academic life. Well, the Rainier academic life. My diss accidentally got released, we got this BIG fallout from the press, and I had to declare it false. I guess I’m not that upset over it. It felt like the right thing at the time. Still does. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

I sighed again at that particularly fun memory. “You know what? For awhile, I really considered say it was all about you. Not Jim. I’d changed it ‘cause he was a much more acceptable subject with maybe a few enhanced senses, not to mention you’re just nuts.” I just stared at her, studying those bleached but still beautiful features.

“And in the end, I couldn’t do it. It would’ve solved everything, and I couldn’t do it. You’d be instant free game for whoever got their hands on you. It’d be just a matter of who did it first. I don’t think they could get into that zone enough to do anything, but in a way, I couldn’t take that chance. You’re still a danger to us.” A long pause, and inside me morals fought with the memory of being underwater until I had to breathe in, knowing I wouldn’t get any oxygen but not being able to help myself. “I couldn’t be that cruel, that petty.”

We sat there, two silent mannequins studying unvarying whiteness. Finally, I stood up. “So now I’m gonna be a cop. I guess I have you to thank for it. Jim wasn’t comfortable around me after you. He – WE – couldn’t handle the mystical side to things, there was major guilt trips, and then there was the diss, looming over everything.” Another moment of revelation in an hour of them struck. “Actually, I think it was school. Divided loyalties. Instead of Jim against you, it was the police- and by extension, Jim- against school. He was so scared of loosing me, he tried to force a break before the stress killed him.” A faint, tired grin tried to creep into existence. “He doesn’t like waiting for shit to happen, so he causes it. Hence the diss mess.” I paused at the door.

“I guess in a way this was inevitable. Something had to give. You just provided a match for the fire. So in a weird, fucked up way.... Thanks.”

We twist and turn where angels burn
Like fallen soldiers we will learn
That once forgotten, twice removed
Love will be the death...
The death of you

I left quickly, quietly. Cindy was on the phone, so even she didn’t stop me for more than a quick wave goodbye. Even though I hurried from the building, it was more to get away from the bad memories, escaping the voracious blandness that took over everything within.

Something inside was finally peaceful. I’d thought I’d put Alex and what she did to rest on my last visit. Maybe I’d forgiven her, maybe I hadn’t. Either way, this time the hate was gone. Kaput. Dead.

For the moment, I was quite content to stay with just Jim as my sentinel.

And hey, the man’s dangerous enough to keep around. I’m not sure I’d want another sentinel around him again. You see, while the doctors are baffled about what happened to Alex, I know. I’m quite familiar with all the signs of zone outs, whatever their form or degree. She’s so far deep into one, I don’t think she’ll ever come out.

Jim is a strong man. For all the emotional problems he has, I know that deep inside, there is one core fact that will never change. James Ellison will always do what must be done to keep his friends, his family... his TRIBE safe. In Peru, he buried seven men, close friends, maybe the closest thing he’d had to family for a long time, and kept on despite grief, injuries, and lack of supplies. The man was suffering like I can only imagine in my nightmares, and he kept going to do his duty.

He’s a sentinel. He knows the signs of a zone out as well as I do, I think. But he knew one thing, that day in the temple, that I was unaware of. Lips have some of the largest groupings of nerve receptors in the body, making them extremely sensitive to touch. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen Jim zone on tactile stimulus.

I know what to watch for, now.

Sometimes, a kiss is a sign of affection.

Sometimes, a kiss is a way to say goodbye.

All these mixed emotions we
keep locked away like stolen pearls
Stolen pearl devotions we
keep locked away from all the world

Let me out of here!!!! A.K.A. Home

I want to read more! To get back to the fic archive

Any questions? Complaints? Screams of outrage that I actually consider myself a writer and/or dared to show this in public? Tell me! Send it all to Norcumi@backtick.net! I love mail!!!!

The Sentinel, Jim, Blair, Alex, Cascade and any basically everything but the fic itself belongs to Pet Fly and Paramount. The song is Tears of Pearls, and belongs to Savage Garden. No infringement intended.