IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU
He couldn't believe that they'd become so careless. He ran. They didn't even notice that he was missing. What was left of his clothing was in tatters and he couldn't remember the last time he'd been allowed to bathe. But he was free. He nearly zoned out when he saw sunlight and growing plants...He wondered how many years had passed since he'd been outside? Since he'd been free? He shook his head. It didn't really matter. What mattered was finding someone to tell, warn them what 'they' had planned. Find the Guardian and let him know that he was in danger. He squinted in the weak sunlight that filtered through the heavy overcast. He wondered which way he should go? He heard 'them' discovering that he was missing. Heard the pursuit, as 'they' spread out to search for him. Smiled ferally, as he thought of the little gifts he'd left behind for 'them'. He crouched down, closing his eyes and 'farseeing'; something he hadn't been able to do since they caught him. His nose twitched and his head turned. West. He opened his eyes, rose and started running, his bare feet making no sound in the forest duff. Leaving no tracks for any but a bloodhound to follow.
He was surprised that he was able to keep going for so long. He'd managed to maintain his fitness, somehow. Probably from all the pacing and trying to escape he'd done over the years. He just hoped he'd be in time. He'd lost his pursuers long ago, many of 'them' falling victim to his little 'gifts'. Whether they survived them or not was of little concern to him. He had more important concerns.
The rabbit never had a chance. He snatched it up and broke its neck in one quick movement. He shifted in order to be able to consume it more easily. It felt good to stretch and shift. He hadn't been able to do so since 'they' captured him. Much to their dismay. It was hard to test, when the subject didn't cooperate. He was categorically opposed and incapable of aiding his captors in their task of figuring him out. If he could, he would have killed them all.
His first real meal since he couldn't remember when was eaten too fast to really enjoy. He was in too much of a hurry. Time was running out.
Having shifted, he was better able to maintain his speed as he ran toward the ocean. He had to be in time. He just had to. Day turned into night and back into day, again. He paused to rest his weary feet in a stream, lying down to drink from the ice cold water. Resting for a few minutes, he then stood and began to run again. Through the day and another night and on into the morning, ignoring his weariness and his hunger. He had to be in time. He shifted again, once he arrived at the outskirts of the city. His tattered clothes providing no protection from the steady downpour, he looked out over the city, closed his eyes and sought his destination. There, to the north. He started off. Jogging toward his goal. Praying to whatever deity might listen that he would be in time.
He was staggering with exhaustion as he made his way through the campus of the university. He had to find someone with authority. He only saw students. Most of them didn't even notice him, those who did pointedly looked away, thinking him some homeless bum. He entered a building. Finally, he found a teacher packing up after a class. When he entered, the young man looked up, fear flashing across his face upon seeing him. He stopped in the doorway, not approaching, panting from his more than fifty hour run.
"Please." His voice rough from years of disuse. "They have a bomb. In student union. For... rally? They seek to take the Guardian. Please. Call them. Warn them that the evil ones seek the Guardian. He is in great danger."
Blair stared, the man's accent was unlike any he had ever heard. His filthy, long hair hung nearly to his waist. His yellow eyes blinked rapidly...Yellow eyes? Blair gazed into the strange man's eyes, seeking the truth.
"Who are you and how do you know this?" He asked. Reaching for his cell phone.
"I...I hear them talk. They forget to lock door. I escape. Please. They will take the Guardian. I..." He started shivering, violently, as his exhaustion and the cold finally penetrated. "Please? Tell the Guardian to be careful. They will kill many to take him. It will be a very bad thing. Please?"
Blair hit the auto dial on his cell phone. Keeping an eye on the swaying wild-man.
"Ellison." The voice sounded rather distracted.
"Yeah, Jim? I just got a report that someone's planning on blowing up the student union building and capturing you, today. I was wondering what I should do?"
"Bomb?!" Jim looked over toward his captain's office, managing to catch his eye and signal that there was trouble. "Where are you? Was it a phone call?"
"No. This guy came in just now, he says that they're going to bomb the student union building in order to capture the 'Guardian', Jim. He looks like he's been through hell, man. I think you might like to meet this guy and talk to him. He's got a really strange accent and looks, well, pretty strange. Besides, there's a big rally today, and if there is a bomb, it could mean an awful lot of dead students, man. I'll take him to my office and wait for you there, OK?"
"OK, Chief. Simon's here and he'll take care of the bomb. Just keep this guy calm. You don't think he means you any harm?" Worried about his partner.
"No. He's kept his distance. He's exhausted, Jim. His feet are bleeding, and he doesn't look like he's going to be able to stay standing much longer. I'll get him to my office and we'll wait for you there."
"Fine. We'll be there soon."
He disconnected the call and replaced the cell phone in his backpack. He was still watching the strange looking man. "Hey, mister? Will you come with me? My partner will be here, soon. They're going to look for and find the bomb, man. OK?"
"Warn the Guardian." The raspy voice repeated. "'They' will come for him. He will not be able to resist them. He must be warned." Pleading.
"Tell me about this 'Guardian' of yours." Wondering if, and how, this man might actually know about Jim and his abilities.
"I..." He shook his head, violently. His expression was pleading, unable to explain his knowledge. His legs were trembling, barely able to remain standing.
Blair saw his distress. "Come on. Let's get to my office. We can talk there. It's OK. It'll be safe." He approached the ragged man, gently indicating the proper direction. He wasn't sure the man was going to be able to make it up the flight of stairs to his office, but he did. Once they reached the relative safety and privacy of his office, he ushered his guest inside, motioning him to have a seat and relax. He watched as the man cautiously lowered himself into a chair. Saw the shiver of apprehension course through the almost emaciated body.
"My name's Blair Sandburg. What's yours?" He asked softly, getting a couple of bottles of water from the small refrigerator and handing one to the man, who accepted it gratefully.
"Atlan." He sighed, swallowing almost half the bottle in just a few gulps.
"That's an odd name. Where are you from?" Curious.
"Sure. Or where are you from, now?"
"I escaped 'them'. The ones who seek the Guardian. I heard them talk about taking the Guardian and his Companion. They would do bad things to them, to see how they work. They are not kind. It hurts."
Blair stared at the man, noticing for the first time the scars criss-crossing his body, the new and old bruises, the obvious signs of abuse and neglect. "You mean, these people have held you prisoner, and you escaped to keep them from taking someone else?" Surprised.
"They will kill innocents. It is wrong. They are bad." He was struggling with the language. He slipped into speaking a rather sibilant language, one Blair was at a loss to identify. He found it fascinating.
"What language is that?"
"My...It is very old. No one left I think who speaks it. Just me." He was uncomfortable in the chair. He stood, but obviously was too tired to remain standing. He backed tiredly toward the corner, where he cautiously slid down the wall and sat on the floor, keeping an eye on both Blair and the door.
"Really?" Excitement creeping in. "Where is it from? Where are you from?" Unable to disguise his curiosity.
"I...You will not believe me."
"You might be surprised." He waited, but Atlan didn't respond. Realising that the man was still afraid of him (and what an odd idea that was), he decided to ask some other questions. "Um, tell me how you know about the 'Guardian'?" "I heard them speak of him. A man. Bad man. Lee? He told them of the 'Guardian' and his companion. How he is not like other men. How he is more. They think he is like me." There was something frightening about his smile. Blair shuddered upon seeing it.
"Lee? You don't mean Lee Brackett, do you?" Suddenly recognising the possible connection.
Atlan frowned. "Yes. I think so. I am sorry. I have forgotten how to speak English." His struggle to communicate visible on his face.
"How long were you a prisoner?" Blair asked gently.
"I...I do not know. Long time." He ran his hands through his long, tangled hair and scraggly beard. "I did not have so much hair, then." Looking up at the younger man in confusion. "Years, I think." Uncertain.
"Oh, man." Blair whispered. "Why?"
"Because of what I am."
"So, what are you?" Afraid.
"I am Atlan."
"That's your name, right?"
"Yes. Also what I am." He considered the long-haired young man before him. "Atlan Dracul Genghi." He waited to see if this one would understand the meaning of his name.
Blair stared at him, thinking. He blinked and his eyes widened in surprise. "Your name, is it ancestral?"
"Yes." Waiting. Watching. He shivered involuntarily, cold and exhausted. He would not tell this one his secrets. Only wait to see if the Guardian would come. He must warn the Guardian.
Blair watched the stranger, wary of his possible duplicity. Seeing the man shivering, however, reminded him of his own dislike of the cold, and this guy was obviously suffering. He moved to take a blanket out of his closet. He was well aware of Atlan's strange, golden eyes following his every movement. He brought the blanket to him, holding it out to him, an offer of warmth.
"I can make some coffee, if you'd like some. It's hot and I have some milk for it."
Staring up at the concern in the younger man's face. "Yes. Please." Reaching up and taking the blanket. Accepting Blair's help to spread the blanket and lay it over him. When the coffee was ready, Blair mixed one part milk to three parts of coffee, with a heaping spoonful of sugar. Atlan took the cup, gratefully, and sipped, his eyes closing in pleasure as he drank.
Blair returned to his desk, not wanting to make his visitor any more nervous than he already was. Just watching the man. Wondering. Fascinated.
One was coming. He sat up straighter and looked toward the door. Blair looked up in surprise when the door opened. His eyes widened as he realised that Atlan had heard the newcomer from quite some distance. He looked at the new arrival and smiled.
"Hey, Jim. This is Atlan Genghi. He's the one who brought word about the bomb. Have they had any luck?"
Jim stared at the stranger. "Yeah, Chief. There were half a dozen bombs set about the building. All on timers. They're still working on them. There's a little more than an hour left to get them all disarmed." He glanced over at his partner. "You OK, Chief?" Immediately returning his gaze to the other man.
"Yeah. I'm fine. Jim, he mentioned Lee Brackett was the source of their information. He's been their prisoner for what looks like years, man." He watched as Jim flinched at the name.
"Damn. That is not good." Jim was watching the odd looking man. "What else did you hear?" Careful to maintain his distance to avoid frightening the man.
"They want to know secrets. How it works. Why it works. You are the Guardian?" Unsure. So tired he was having difficulty even staying conscious.
"That depends. Why did you come to warn us?"
"Evil men." His frightened eyes darting around the room. "They..." His voice stopped abruptly, his body stiffening as he looked toward the door. Jim mirrored his tension and focus.
"You are the Guardian." He looked at Blair. "You are the Companion." He rose silently to his feet. "They used me to find you. It is a trap." Bitterness in his voice. "Forgive me. I did not understand." Drifting toward the door. "I will die before they will take me again. I am the last. They will not take me. Run. Take your companion and escape. I will hold them."
"No. We can take them together. They don't know we know they're coming." Jim insisted, pulling his cell phone out and speed dialling.
"Banks." Came the welcome voice.
"Simon, I need backup, here. I'm in Blair's office. There are..." He paused to listen, "About half a dozen men outside, they plan on taking us prisoner. I could use a little backup. Oh, and tell them to not shoot the guy in the rags."
"On our way, Jim." He started shouting for men to follow him to rescue his best team, his friends.
"We need to distract them." Jim muttered. Listening to the SOBs preparing to rush them. "I'll..."
"No. Protect the Companion." Atlan instructed. He stared at the Guardian. "You will not believe, but do not hurt the wolf." With that cryptic comment, he crossed the room and went into the coat closet, leaving the door open a bit.
Jim and Blair exchanged puzzled expressions, but had no time to speculate on it when the door burst open to admit their attackers. Jim grabbed his smaller friend and thrust him behind, to protect him. His gun was out and he was ready to use it, although he knew with a certainty that there was no hope of overwhelming them all. They all stood, staring at each other. A seventh man entered, a big smile on his face.
"Well, if it isn't my old friends." Glancing around to see that they were alone. "Well, professor, you seem to have moved up in the world." Surprised by Blair's new digs.
"What do you want this time, Brackett?"
"You. I have some new partners. I told them about you. They want to find out all about you. Just how much you can do. How sensitive you are." His smile widened. "I'm looking forward to listening to you scream for mercy."
Jim's brows lowered, having heard an odd sound. It was coming from the closet. He was careful to not look in that direction, wondering what the ragged man had planned. He tilted his head, hearing the arrival of backup downstairs. Hoping they would be in time.
It had to be the biggest wolf he'd ever seen in his life. Close to a hundred and fifty pounds and nearly three feet tall at the shoulder. It was a pale golden colour with brown, red, and black hairs mixed throughout it's coat; his eyes were nearly the same colour of golden yellow. Blair stared into the eyes, which turned to meet his, for a moment. They were the same eyes that he had seen in Atlan's face. He shivered, shaking his head in denial. Without a sound, the animal attacked. He struck one man's gun hand with a paw, while snapping at Bracket's wrist, causing him to lose his gun as he turned to try and fend off the beast. Instead, he screamed as the jaws clamped down and broke bones, his fingers loosening to allow the gun to drop.
Jim immediately called out for help, knowing that Simon was just outside. He leaped for the nearest man, chopping at his hand to make him drop his gun, then turning back to aim at another man, who was about to shoot the wolf. Simon, Rafe, Brown, Megan, and several uniformed officers, burst in, joining in the melee. When they sorted it all out, the wolf still held tight to Brackett's broken wrist. Blood dripping from his jaws. None of the police officers knew quite what to do about it. Blair came out from his protected spot and approached.
"Atlan. Let him go. We've got them, now. He's not going to hurt you, or anyone else. Let him go, man." Uncertain if he could be understood. The wolf glanced around at the others. Seeing them with the evil ones under control, he cautiously released his hold.
"That's great, man. Come on over here. It's OK." The huge, shaggy beast came over and sat between the shocked Sentinel and his Guide, who gently reached down to stroke the animal's head.
"What happened to the guy you said warned you?" Simon asked a while later, after the prisoner's had been read their rights and removed.
"Well," Blair looked from Jim, to the Wolf, to Simon, then back to the wolf, whom he addressed. "We trust him. He's a good man." The animal shivered, and slowly stood and returned to the closet, disappearing inside. Simon watched in confusion.
"Do you want to explain this to me?"
"Uh, I don't think so, Sir." Jim muttered. Knowing what was about to happen, but not believing it, even for a minute, even though he'd witnessed it.
"I'm sorry, Simon. You're just going to have to accept it at face value." Blair warned. A few moments later, Atlan, once again in human form, shuffled from the closet. Barley able to stand by this time.
"Oh, my, God." Simon whispered. "No. This can't be real. You can't possibly be telling me that this guy is a werewolf. I don't believe it. It's a trick. It's not possible. Oh, God. No." Eyes darting around seeking proof of his eyes.
"I'd like to say it was a trick, Sir. But there's only one heartbeat, and it's the same, despite the form. So are the eyes." Jim was unable to reassure his superior.
Simon stared into the same yellow eyes he'd looked into in the furred face of the wolf. "What kind of demon are you?" He whispered.
Atlan shook his head. "Not a demon. Human, more than human. Old race. Last of my kind. No more." He carefully kept them in front of him, as he cautiously moved around to get back to his 'safe' corner, where he sank back down on the previously discarded blanket. It was obvious to them all that he was exhausted and didn't trust anyone.
Blair glanced at his friends. "He needs to be checked out, but I'd be afraid to take him to a hospital. Jim, do you think you can help him? His feet are pretty badly cut up, and, well, can't we help him? I mean, look at what he did for us?" Looking from one of the tall police officers to the other, hopeful.
Simon gazed consideringly at his men, then cast a glance at the...he couldn't quite wrap his mind around the idea of a real werewolf, even if he'd seen both creatures. Turning back to his friends, he asked Jim, "Where are you going to take him?" Already thinking that he knew the answer to his question.
Jim looked down into his partner's pleading face, and sighed. "He can stay with us, Sir. At least until we can figure out what's going on." He looked at their strange guest. "I've got enough medic training to be able to take care of the superficial wounds, but if there's anything more, we'll have to take him to the hospital."
"Are you sure about this, Jim?" Simon asked, incredulous.
Looking once more at the man shivering in the corner, he looked back up at his captain. "Yes, Sir. I am."
Since Atlan was so exhausted, it took both Jim and Blair to help him up and support him to the truck. They left him wrapped up in the blanket for the minimal protection it provided. He seemed barely conscious, as they guided him into Jim's truck. Blair belted him in and, when he started to panic, showed him how to get loose and told him that the law required that seat belts be worn.
"I'll meet you at home, Chief." Jim called out as he put the truck in gear, pulling out of the parking slot. He waited until he saw his partner safely in his own car and started up, then followed the Volvo home.
Blair was out of his car and ready to help their guest as soon as Jim turned off the engine of the truck. Between them, they guided him to the loft. Jim was worried. He'd been monitoring Atlan's vital signs, and knew that he was in severe distress. Hopefully, most of it could be taken care of by some hot food and a warm place to sleep for a while. And some bandages for his feet. Noticing the bloody footprints from where the man's feet had been torn in his flight.
"Make yourself at home." Blair told their reluctant visitor, as they entered the loft. Atlan's eyes swept quickly around the apartment, and relaxed a bit. He leaned on Blair's offered arm, shuffling tiredly toward one of the couches; but instead of sitting on the furniture, he sank down onto the floor. Blair exchanged a worried, confused look with his partner.
Jim frowned, trying to understand, then he grinned. "Atlan?" He asked softly. When the... whatever he was...looked up at him, he continued. "Would you like a hot shower? It will help, getting your cuts clean so I can take care of them for you." He suggested. Seeing him stare down at his ragged pants, he continued. "I'm sure we can provide you with some clothes, they may not fit very well, but they'll be clean and warm." He was shocked to see tears in the visitor's eyes,
He touched everything, the walls, the fixtures, trying not to appear obvious as he sniffed everything, as well. Learning their scents, Jim was sure, just like a dog in a new home...then shook his head at the image that that particular idea brought. He showed him how to adjust the taps for temperature and force, then left him to it. Back in the kitchen, he looked in the refrigerator for an idea of what to cook for dinner. Realising that they needed to go to the store, when the phone rang.
"Hello?" Blair answered.
"It's Simon. I'm still not sure I believe it, but I figured that you're going to need to feed him, and if he really is a werewolf, that steaks would be in order. I thought I'd stop off and pick some up and join you, if that's all right?"
"Hold on, I'll ask." He repeated the Captain's suggestion, and received a relieved agreement. If Simon was bringing steaks, they had enough to supplement it.
"Jim says great, Simon. Thanks."
"Well, I'm just not quite comfortable with the whole thing. You have to admit that it's a strange idea."
"Well, there are all kinds of tales of various were-animals. There have been tales of were-tigers in India and China, werewolves in Europe, even were-jaguars in South America. And don't forget the Loupe-Garou of Canada and the eastern US." Blair replied.
"And how many have actually been documented?"
"He was a real wolf. Sandburg. Four feet, nothing human-looking about him. Explain that, if you can."
"Um, I can't." He glanced over at his partner as Jim suddenly stiffened and turned his attention toward the bathroom. "Simon, we'll talk when you get here, OK? I think Atlan's having a little trouble. He's taking a shower and Jim just...I'll talk to you later." Hanging up with no more explanation than that. He hurried after Jim who had rushed to the bathroom.
"Easy. It's all right. You're safe." Jim spoke softly. Finding Atlan huddled on the floor of the bathtub, ice-cold water streaming down over his bowed back. His hands tugging at his long, scraggly beard and crying. Jim approached, careful to keep his movements non-threatening. "Shh. What's wrong?" Kneeling beside the tub, wanting to reach out and reassure him, but unsure.
"Dirty. Dirty." Atlan moaned, trying to pull his beard out. Jim understood.
"OK. Here, let me turn off the water, OK? There. That's better. Seeing just how scarred and bruised the whimpering man was, by the harsh bathroom light. He turned and grabbed a towel to wrap around the shivering figure. "Easy, Come on, let me help you, now." He covered the too-thin body with a towel, reaching around him to fasten it at his hips, then draped a second towel around his shoulders. "Blair?" Jim called out, "Bring me a pair of scissors, please?" Then turning back to the trembling man. "We'll give you a shave, OK?"
When Blair tapped gently at the door and then entered, he found Atlan sitting on the edge of the bathtub, still trying to pull out his beard. Concerned, he handed the scissors to Jim, then stood in the doorway and watched. Jim spoke softly, reassuringly, trying to soothe the agitated man.
"It's OK. Let me help." Reaching out with one hand to catch Atlan's flailing hands, holding them. Stopping him from trying to pull out his beard by the roots. Finally succeeding in gaining eye contact. Jim held up the scissors, and spoke softly, "Let me help. OK?" Closing his eyes, unable to hide the frisson of fear shuddering through his body, he nodded. Jim used the scissors and gently trimmed his beard, then, with infinite patience, he asked, "Do you want your hair cut, as well?"
He looked up, trembling. His gaze drifting from Jim's extremely short hair to Blair's shoulder length curls. He stood to see himself in the mirror, his beard was much shorter; he rubbed one hand over it, shuddering. Looked at his long, matted hair. "Yes. Please."
"Let me brush it out, first." Blair volunteered. Jim nodded and guided Atlan to sit on the closed toilet seat. While Blair brushed the tangles out of Atlan's hair, Jim prepared to finish shaving their guest. Once Blair had the long mass of hair brushed smooth, he quickly divided it into three sections and braided it. Placing a rubber band at both the end and up near the top. He stepped back to watch Jim wield the razor. Atlan simply closed his eyes, his tense posture indicating just how difficult this trust was for him. Once Jim had finished, he took the warm washcloth Blair offered him, and gently wiped Atlan's face. Stepping back to look, he was surprised by how different he looked. Much younger, for one thing. He picked up the scissors again.
"How short do you want your hair?"
Atlan opened his eyes. Gazing up at them, he reached back and picked up the thick, heavy braid. He stared at the rope of his hair, like he'd never seen it before, it's strange mixture of blond, red, brown, and black hair. He indicated that he wanted his hair cut off at the base of his skull. Blair moved the upper rubber band to a spot about three inches lower, and in one, hacking use of the scissors, Jim cut off the braid.
Jim held out the three-foot-long braid of hair to him. "Do you want to keep this?" He asked, gently. Atlan nodded.
"Please." He cautiously stood, looking at himself in the mirror once again. Touching his face and shorn hair in pleased surprise.
"Would you like me to trim up the edges of your hair, so it doesn't look like we used a weed-whacker on it?" Jim asked. Atlan met his eyes in the mirror, and nodded. Watching as Jim carefully shaped some basic style to the haircut. Once it was evenly trimmed, all three men stared at his reflection in the mirror.
"Looks good, Atlan." Blair admitted. Noticing that Jim had left the hair a little longer on the sides to help cover the slightly pointed ears. Looking curiously at the slightly elfin features, broad forehead, very high cheekbones, tapering down to a narrow, slightly pointed chin. The triangular face showing a surprising strength of character.
"Would you like to finish your shower, now?" Jim asked. Trying ineffectually to brush some of the tiny hair clippings from the man's back. Atlan nodded, gratefully. Jim turned the water back on and left him to it. Blair brought in the sweats Jim had brought down for their guest, setting the folded clothing on the closed lid to the toilet.
The warm water felt wonderful. He felt clean for the first time since his capture. The soap and water revived him to the point that he could actually consider how long he had been a prisoner. Of course, he had no idea what year it was, or even which month. As his body reacted to the warming from the water, his mind became clearer, as well. As the realisation hit him that he had actually found the Guardian and his Companion, he smiled. Scrubbing himself clean, he moaned softly in pleasure. The feeling of his skin without the years of grime covering him. The way his now short hair felt as he scrubbed shampoo, and then conditioner through it. The feel of the towel as he dried himself, and the wonderful softness of the sweat pants and cotton tee shirt. Even the torn pads of his feet felt better for being clean. Had he been alone, he would have shifted and licked them, cleansing them in the time honoured way of his kind. But the later humans would not approve, or understand. He was pleased with how well they had taken to his abilities, and not a little surprised. He carefully folded and hung his towels to dry, then, with a pleased glance at himself in the mirror, he made his way back to the others.
He sniffed, unobtrusively, smelling vegetables and some sort of grain cooking. He wistfully thought of the rabbit he had consumed two days before, wishing for rich, red meat to recover with, perhaps a marrow bone to gnaw on...But the new humans would be afraid. It had been so long since he had willingly interacted with them, only to be taken prisoner and tortured. Yet, he trusted these. When he overheard the evil ones talking about taking them, he recognised the abilities of a Guardian and Companion. He was unsure how they knew he would go to them, but apparently they had. He had led them straight to them. Like a puppy on his first hunt. He was annoyed with himself. Although, remembering the conversation, he realised that the evil ones had seemed surprised to discover him there. But then, they had never seen him shift. He had been unable to do so while in captivity. Yet, once free, he had been able to easily change forms. He stopped hesitantly, uncertain where he should go. The Guardian looked up, seeing him.
"Come on in. Relax and make yourself at home. If you pull up a chair, I'll take a look at your feet as soon as I get all this on." Blair was busy chopping vegetables, while Jim was waiting for the pot of rice to come to a boil. As the pot began to bubble, he turned down the flame and covered it, turning toward their guest.
"OK, have a seat, and let's take a look at your feet." Blair had left him a thick pair of soft cotton/wool blend socks. Jim gently removed the first one, to take a look at the cuts on the sole of Atlan's foot. There were dozens of small cuts and punctures, but nothing really needing any special care. The other foot was the same. Jim smiled, replacing the thick socks. "Looks good. I don't think they need anything more than cleaning, but we'll keep an eye on them, all right?" Blair had finished with his preparation of the vegetables and joined them.
"Feeling better?" He asked, softly. He was rewarded with Atlan's shy smile.
"Much. Not so tired, now." His nose twitched and he looked toward the door. Blair automatically went and opened it, admitting Simon, who hadn't even gotten his hand raised to knock, yet.
"You know that I hate it when you do that." He grumbled. Then realised that Sandburg had opened the door. "Don't tell me that you're doing it now, too?"
"No, Sir. I've just learned to read the body language of those around me who can hear better than I can. Atlan clued me in." Smiling as he took the grocery bag from the tall black man.
"Oh." Simon walked over to the table, where the others were sitting. "How are you feeling?" He asked.
"Better. Thank you." Came the hesitant reply. Jim stood up and offered his hand to pull Atlan to his feet.
"Come on out to the living room. The couch is a lot more comfortable." Gently steering the much too thin man to a couch.
He knew that they wanted to question him, but were too polite to do so, just yet. He had smelled meat in the bag the enormous black man had brought. His mouth watering in anticipation.
"How do you want your steaks?" Blair called out from the kitchen. Atlan waited to hear the others preferences, he would have been very happy with raw, but knew that humans had to cook meat. Fortunately, medium rare was the choice of the others, which he emulated, knowing that even burnt, meat was what he craved, what he needed to heal. Almost smiling at the memory that even grass was acceptable to fill his belly. Looking forward to his first real meal in he couldn't remember how long.
"You have questions." Atlan stated. He looked at the two larger men, deciding to offer information before they asked.
"How long were you held?" Simon asked. Atlan shrugged.
"I remember..." He wracked his memory searching for something they would know. Suddenly, he smiled. "The Berlin Wall. They were tearing it down." Looking at them, expectantly.
"What?" Blair whispered from behind him. "That was in August, 1989. That was nine years ago, man. They've held you prisoner for nine years?" Horrified.
Jim and Simon exchanged anguished glances. Nine years. Yet he had survived. Without giving up his secrets.
"So, you missed the Gulf War?" Simon asked, making sure. Seeing Atlan's expression of puzzlement, he backed down. "Damn." He looked at Jim for help.
"Do you think you could lead us to where they held you?"
"It's a two day run, to the morning, East?" Unsure of directions in English.
"Yeah. But how far is a day's run? For a man, or a wolf?" Simon muttered with a hint of disbelief.
"It was almost light when I escaped. I spent time leaving...gifts. Then to run from them. I stopped to farsee," Seeing their incomprehension, he added, "I looked to find you. The..." The word was sibilant, but not anything any of the others could understand. "Far seeing. To know where to seek the Guardian and his Companion." He shrugged, giving up on making them understand. "I caught a rabbit, then shifted to eat it. Then I ran again, until I came here, to the edge of the city. I shifted again, to farsee, and then ran until I found the Companion." Smiling in awe of the luck that had led him to precisely the person he had sought. "It was midmorning when I arrived. You know the rest."
"Why did they keep you a prisoner for so long?" Simon asked.
He frowned. "One I trusted. Told that I could shift, change forms. They captured me with her help. Took me prisoner." He paused, "Hurt me." He lifted his head, defiantly. "I would not. I did not." Finally, slumping, "Then, I could not. They hurt me. When I would not speak, they beat me until I cried, begging them to stop, but by then, I was not able to shift. I could not get beyond the pain. So they..." He stopped. Not wanting to tell them the rest.
"So they tortured you for nine years?" Blair asked in an horrified whisper. Atlan lifted his head, his pale, golden eyes coming up to meet the smaller man's.
"Yes." He glanced at the anger on the faces of the two larger men and his face softened. "I never gave up. One day, I knew, that they would make an error and I would escape. I planned it very well. They would get their desire to see me shift, but only as they died." He sighed, glancing at his audience. "Saving a Guardian and his Companion is more important than revenge. It has been long since there have been Guardians. They are almost as rare as me." Smiling ruefully.
They didn't speak any more until Blair announced that dinner was ready. Atlan was trembling in anticipation, it all smelled so good. The vegetables had been stir-fried in a delicate sauce that didn't overwhelm his senses, the rice had a sauce that complimented the vegetables, as well as the meat, and the steaks, oh, Nirvana. He forced himself to eat slowly. Wanting to tear in and devour his meal. There was more on his plate for this one meal than he was usually fed in an entire week. He knew that they were watching him, curious, wondering what he was thinking, unaware that his emotions were obvious on his face, the way he would close his eyes and slowly chew each morsel, the delight and enjoyment shining in his expression. It had been so long since he had had a decent meal, that he was unable to finish. Had he shifted, he would have gorged himself, but he knew that this was actually better for him. Regretfully, he pushed his more than half full plate away, shaking his head sorrowfully that he had been unable to eat more.
Having seen how thin he was, Jim was only surprised that he hadn't gorged himself until he was sick. Pleased to see him stop. He smiled at him, reassuringly. "Don't worry. It will keep until later, maybe you'll be able to eat more in a couple of hours." He encouraged. Atlan looked at him in surprise.
"Thank you." He surreptitiously watched them. He recognised the goodness within them. Feeling himself relax, feeling safe in their company. The feeling of safety allowed him to stop struggling and finally give in to his exhaustion.
"Come on. Let's get you to bed." The voice of the Guardian murmured softly, gently urging him up. He sleepily followed him to the open space, where sheets and blankets had been spread on the longer of the couches. He didn't resist when pushed down, simply sitting and then stretching out of his own accord, fully asleep even before his head had settled against the pillow, never even feeling the sheet and blankets pulled over him.
They settled back around the kitchen table to talk. Blair expounded on various and sundry cultures and their tales of shape shifters, noting that all the ancient tales were similar, whether they came from Africa or China or South America. No matter what continent, most culture's tales of men who could change into animals were nearly interchangeable.
"But, Sandburg," Simon protested, "Those are myths, this guy is real. How can you just accept it?"
"I don't know about Blair, but I know what I observed. The heartbeat was the same for the man and the wolf."
"So were the eyes." Blair agreed. "Look, there have been tales about Atlantis for centuries. Maybe he's telling the truth. I know that he can change form; remember, I patted his head when he was in the form of a wolf. The skull is totally different from a man's. He's the real thing. He went through hell, running who knows how far, just to try and warn a 'Guardian' he didn't know anything about, to save a bunch of people he had no knowledge of, just because it was wrong. What else do we need?" The partners looked at their captain, daring him to disagree.
"You're right. I shouldn't be so suspicious. Besides which, we did get Lee Brackett. Good job on that."
"Did Brackett know anything about Atlan's being here?" Blair asked, having remembered their guest's statement about having not meant to lead the ex-CIA man to them.
"No. He knew that his 'partners' were upset about some prisoner they had, escaping, but he figured he probably died from exposure near their hideout. Somewhere in Idaho, from what I can piece together." Simon glanced over at the sleeping man. "That's maybe three, four hundred miles? In a little more than forty-eight hours? I don't think it's possible, guys."
"It is for a wolf. Especially one with a mission." Blair insisted.
"He's right, Simon. It is possible. There are those Indians in Mexico who think nothing of a seventy-five or hundred mile run. It's all in what you think is possible, I suppose." Jim agreed with Blair. "Besides, he didn't mention whether he hitched a ride on a train, or anything." Checking the deep, even breathing of their guest, satisfied that he was sleeping peacefully.
"Well, we may never know for sure. If he ran from Idaho to Cascade in, let's see, dawn is at six-thirty, he was on his way by then, and he arrived here about...noon, that's fifty-four hours, at least. No wonder he's so tired. He'll probably sleep like the dead until morning." Simon suggested.
"Unless he has any nightmares. You saw the marks on him. How can anyone do things like that to another human being?" Blair declared.
"Well, he's not exactly human, is he?" Simon said gently.
"That's no excuse, and you know it!" Was Blair's vehement reply. "He said they wanted to study him, find out how he worked, they did experiments on him, tortured him, trying to get him to shift forms. He didn't. They planned on taking Jim and me...Oh, God." He raised frightened, horrified eyes to his friends. "What they would have done to us. Oh, man. This sucks, big time." Shivering as the pictures rose, unbidden in his imagination, of the kinds of atrocities they could have done to Jim, trying to learn the extent of his abilities, not to mention doing to himself to make him help them.
"Well, we're tracing down the six guys Brackett had working with him. Hopefully, they'll lead us to their headquarters and we can find out just who these people are and shut them down, for good." Simon informed them. "Meanwhile, it's getting late and, although we can speculate all we want, we are not going to get any answers tonight." He stood. "Good night gentlemen. Take good care of your guest. No matter what he may be, he saved a lot of people today, as well as the two of you. Without him, we'd have never known about the bombs. Tell him thanks from the city when he wakes up."
"We'll tell him, Simon." Jim agreed, standing to escort the taller man to the door. "We'll be in, in the morning to do the paperwork. How do you think we should write up the 'wolf' incident?"
"Say it was a dog Sandburg was taking care of who took offence at the strangers with guns and attacked. At least that's what they saw." Smiling once more, he raised a hand in farewell and left. Shortly afterward, Jim and Blair headed for their own beds.
Surprisingly enough, Atlan did, indeed, sleep through the night. Jim was up and making coffee when their guest first stirred, moaning softly, then sitting up. Blinking puzzledly, he looked around, only to be greeted by Jim's smile.
"How are you feeling this morning?" Jim asked softly, careful to keep his movements slow and deliberate so as not to frighten him.
"Warm." The smile was tentative, at best. He glanced around, uncertainly.
"Make yourself at home. The coffee will be ready in a few minutes." Turning back to his task.
Atlan watched him for a moment. Then quietly made his way to the bathroom to relieve himself. Washing his hands, he stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He was amazed at his appearance. He touched his hair and face, marvelling at how different he felt. How good clean made him feel. Touching the soft cotton clothing that hung on him. Grateful for the string tie at the waist of the sweat pants that allowed them to stay up. Stroking the fabric, thrilled at the softness, the clean feeling of everything. He couldn't keep the smile from his face when he returned to the kitchen and sat at the table to keep Jim company.
"Thank you." Jim looked up, surprised. Then, seeing the way Atlan kept touching the fabric of the clothing, the table; the way his nostrils fluttered as he took in the scents around him, Jim smiled back at him.
"Pretty overwhelming, isn't it?" Atlan looked shyly up at him. His head cocked in question. "I spent eighteen months in the jungle. When I was finally rescued, I couldn't believe I was back. When my senses re-emerged, I thought I was going crazy. Now, I've learned to enjoy the, the sensitivity. The smell of the city after a rain, when the puddles are drying, the clean smell of freshly laundered clothes, how soft some of them are. The sounds of the birds over the bay or in the forest. The reassuring heartbeat of a friend nearby." Both men turned their heads to watch the sleepy Blair shuffle from his room, rubbing his eyes and yawning. Looking for all the world like a just awakened three-year-old. Smiling back when he saw them and smiled.
"Hey, guys. Did I oversleep?" Shuffling over and pulling out another chair to sit down.
"Nah. We've got plenty of time. We were just discussing how nice it is to wake up clean and warm and dry."
"Oh, hey, man. I can relate to that. Although I don't have heightened senses. Fresh clean sheets, clean body, clean clothes. Warm and dry, Aahhh. Bliss." Closing his eyes as he contemplated the thought.
"Thank you. Both of you. For helping me."
"Hey, you helped us first." Blair replied, straightening up. "You came to warn us of the bombs and Brackett coming to grab Jim and me. You didn't have to do that, man. But we're both grateful that you did. You didn't have to give up your secret, either, to protect us. But, again, you did. We're the ones who should be grateful to you. Putting you up and helping you is a small thing by comparison."
Seeing Atlan about to protest, Jim continued. "Blair's right. Let us take care of you until you can take care of yourself. I'm sure the Feds are going to be interested in this little fiasco. Maybe we can even make sure your former captors get a little justice."
Breakfast was a quiet affair. They gave Atlan the choice of staying at the loft or going with them to the station. He opted to go to the station with them. For a man of nearly six feet in height, he had remarkably small feet. Able to wear a spare pair of Blair's shoes comfortably. No one even looked twice at them when they reached the station, now that Atlan's hair was trimmed and his beard gone. They were met with curious looks and smiles when they entered Major Crime. No one having seen Atlan in human form the previous day.
"Hey, Sandy." Megan called out. "What happened to that beautiful dog you had yesterday?"
With a quick glance at Atlan, Blair replied, "Um, he was a wolf, actually."
"Really? Wasn't he rather large for a wild animal?"
"I don't know. I haven't known very many wolves, to tell you the truth. And the one I do know is only half."
"Oh, well, where is he? Animal control insists he be kept in quarantine for two weeks to determine if he has rabies."
Giving Jim a frantic look, Blair tried, desperately, to find some sort of answer. Jim came to the rescue.
"He's penned up at the moment. If they want to examine him, tell them to make an appointment and we'll have him there. Otherwise, just leave it be."
"Has he at least had his shots?"
"He's healthy, and has been kept penned up without any access to another animal, so I wouldn't worry about it. He was mistreated and neglected. I'll ask about shots."
"Well, if he hasn't had them, they're going to want to put him to sleep." Brown interjected.
"Won't happen." Jim's jaw was twitching. His colleagues, seeing and recognising the signs, backed off.
"Sure, Jim. Whatever you say." Megan said.
"Megan, he saved our lives. I'm not about to let anyone put him in a cage for it. He deserves better than that. Right, Simon?" This last directed to their Captain, who was just returning from an early morning meeting with the mayor.
"Absolutely. Mr. Genghi and his pet wolf are to be commended, not censured. That's a direct quote from the mayor, by the way. He'd heard about Brackett's complaints and how the wolf belonged to the man who came forth and warned us about the bombs. When she heard that, our beloved mayor said some very unkind things about Mr. Brackett." Smiling at his crew. "Now, gentlemen? My office, please?" Smiling at the trio; then, his smile turning to a scowl, he turned to the rest of the detectives. "Don't you have anything better to do than gossip?" Immediately, the rest of the detectives returned to their desks and their own work. The three men followed the Captain to his office, where he closed the door behind them.
"Have a seat. Did you sleep well, Mr. Genghi?" Simon asked as he circled his desk and sat down. Jim leaned against the conference table, while Blair elected to pull a chair close to their guest, probably for moral support.
"Very well. Thank you. Thank you all for taking care of me. For not...for not locking me in a cage. For believing me."
Simon looked at him. Nine years a prisoner. With no civil rights, no Geneva Convention rules. Sighing, he picked up a folder from his desk and handed it to Jim, who, brow lowering in concern, took a look at.
"Shit." He looked up at the others.
"What's wrong, Jim?" Blair asked. Not moving, feeling the tension in the man beside him and wanting to offer what small feeling of security he could provide.
"You were a Forestry Service Ranger?" Jim asked.
Atlan looked up, surprised. "Yes. When they took me. They set the forest on fire, and took me, to make them think I had been killed in the fire."
"Yeah. That's what it says here." He looked up from the file. "It says some pretty good things about you. Your superiors really liked you."
Atlan shrugged. "It was a good job for me. I was very good at finding lost hikers." Smiling. "I liked to bring lost children back to their parents, best."
"Well, they have a lot of good things to say about you." Jim repeated. "Do you want to go back to that?"
Atlan shivered. "No. I cannot go back there. The evil ones would take me again. I would rather die than let that happen." Shivering involuntarily. "It was good work, and I liked it very much, but I cannot go back there."
"You could if we can shut down the people who took you." Simon offered, his voice soft and low. The others looked at him. He sighed. "The Feds are interested. They would like to get these guys, but I doubt they can do the job. I thought you might call your father, Blair, and ask him what to do."
Jim and Blair exchanged shocked expressions, then turned back to their superior. Jim shook his head in wonder. "I can't believe you'd even suggest such a thing, Simon. Do you have any idea what Uncle James's solution would be? He and Mickey would simply destroy the facility and everyone involved..." He trailed off, looking at Atlan's face, recognising the stoic mask the man was trying to hide behind. "But maybe, in this case, that isn't such a bad thing, is it?" Turning his gaze to his partner.
Blair thought about it. He'd seen the scars and bruises on Atlan's body. Nine years of torture, abuse and neglect. Yet, in spite of that, he had escaped in order to protect innocent people. With a glance at Atlan, he turned back to the others with his reply. "OK. I can hang with that." Clenching his jaw in unconscious imitation of his partner, his anger at the injustice of Atlan's treatment in his eyes. When Simon spun his phone around for him to use, Blair pulled it closer and lifted the handset to dial.
"You do not have to do this." Atlan whispered. Concerned.
"No. We don't." Jim replied. "It's as much for our protection as it is for yours. Normally, I would never consider taking this sort of action. You survived for nine years. I couldn't do that. I won't do that. And I sure as hell won't let Blair go through that." Their eyes met in momentary challenge.
Atlan searched the face of the Guardian. Seeing what he needed to know, he nodded. "I will lead you to them. I would like to help." He didn't need to add that he wanted to shift and feel the evil ones' bones break between his jaws.
"Hello, is James there?" Blair asked into the phone. "This is Blair." He bounced in his seat a little as he waited for his father to come to the phone. "Dad? Hi. Um, we've got a little, uh, well, problem. We were hoping you could help...Not exactly. A guy we ran into before, an ex-CIA man who tried to make Jim work for him to steal some Ebola virus. We caught him and six other guys, but we need to..." He stopped talking and started listening. "Yeah. Yeah. We need to clean out the viper's nest. Do you know where we can get..." He listened again, and turned an enormous smile on the others. "That's great. There is one thing, though. They had this guy prisoner since the wall fell. He just escaped a couple of days ago. He came to warn us about what they had planned. They were going to blow up the student union during a rally. We got it taken care of in time, and caught them but this guy, his name's Atlan Genghi, wants to be in on the cleanup." He listened again. "No, I don't think you need to worry about him. He's definitely one of the good guys. He helped us take them down, and really did a number on Brackett." He listened again. Surprised. "You know him?! Then you understand..." His smile disappeared. "Thanks, Dad. When?" Glancing at the others. "OK. I'll let them know. See you then." He replaced the phone in its cradle and looked at his friends. "He said he'd be out in a couple of days with some friends to close them down."
"Thank you." Atlan spoke softly.
"It's as much to protect Jim and Blair as it is for you." Simon declared. "They're too good to allow some bunch of so-called scientists to allow to take them and torture them. We need them too much out here, on the job. Hell, I'll admit it. I need them out here on the job." He unwrapped a cigar and chomped viciously down on it.
"Gee, thanks, Simon." Blair smiled at the agitated older man.
"Don't you think for a minute..." He stopped and looked up at the knock at his door. "What?" He barked.
The door opened to reveal Dan Wolf, Coroner and Medical Examiner standing in the doorway. "Sorry to disturb you, Captain. I need to talk to Jim and Blair, when you're through." His eyes scanned the four men, coming to rest and stay on the stranger. He couldn't hide the faint shiver that passed through him when their eyes met.
"Fine. I think we're finished, for now." Simon told him. Noticing his discomfort, he sighed. "I suppose you want to use my office?" He stood up and circled around his desk. "I don't think I want to know. I've just got this feeling." He patted Atlan on the shoulder as he passed, waiting until Dan had entered the office before closing the door behind him.
"What's up, Dan?" Jim asked, surprised at the serious expression on the Native American's face.
"My grandfather called me last night. He's been pestering me for months, asking when I was planning on bringing the new Shaman to meet him. I just ignored him, but last night, he said that one of the Old Ones had joined with the Shaman and his Sentinel and that he would like to see them all together, before they go to fight the evil ones. Before he goes to his ancestors."
With a frightened glance at his partner, Blair replied, "Why would your grandfather think that I was some sort of Shaman?"
Dan snorted. "He's a Shaman. Very old. I was supposed to follow in his footsteps, but I wanted to help my people, as well. I went to medical school, but when I came out, I couldn't get work, so I applied for a job with the coroner's office and ended up working my way to the top." He shrugged. "I pretty much put most of my heritage behind me, to fit in the white man's world. But I remember the stories. When he called last night; when he told me about the old one," quick, nervous glance toward Atlan, "I knew I must try and convince you to go and see him. It's Friday, If you could come to meet him, tonight, tomorrow? It would be..." Looking at their noncommittal expressions, "Please? I'm not very good at asking for favours, especially when you probably think my grandfather is just some senile old Indian who's lost what little mind he had left."
"We would be honoured to meet with the elder." Atlan surprised them all by responding. "Do you understand what he spoke of? Are you not of the Wolf clan?"
"Black Wolf is my family name. I shortened it to just 'Wolf'."
"Then you know the stories?"
"Not all of them. There is one legend, though..." Glancing at his colleagues, expecting scepticism and ridicule, only to see avid interest and concern. Taking a deep breath, he continued. "The one of the Old One, the Guardian, and their Shaman." Watching in puzzlement as Jim and Blair stiffened and looked at each other.
"What is this story?" Blair asked, barely above a whisper.
"I'd prefer my grandfather tell it. He knows it much better than I do. Will you come?"
"Yes." The three men replied in unison.
"Simon should come, too." Blair insisted. "He's the only one who knows everything."
"Captain Banks knows? How is that?" Dan asked.
"He's our superior. He has to know, just to keep it all together. He's also a friend. One we trust. Will you trust him, Dan?" Jim asked.
"I don't see why not. Grandfather didn't say not to."
"So, let's get him back in here and ask him to come, OK?" Jim asked.
Simon listened to Dan's story of how his grandfather wanted to meet them. He was a little surprised to discover that Dan's grandfather knew about Jim's abilities as well as Atlan's, but decided not to question it. Dan obviously knew nothing of the special circumstances of the other three men. He was looking forward to seeing Dan's face when he realised the truth.
"So, I'll pick you up tomorrow at Jim's?" Dan double checked their plans.
"Nine o'clock." Jim agreed. "We'll be waiting for you. I'll have plenty of coffee to take with us." Since it was usually the morning they got to sleep in, they would have to get up as though going to work, in order to be ready in time.
"Thank you. My grandfather will be most pleased."
They parted amicably. Jim and Blair took Atlan out and made their formal report of the previous day's incidents. Once they were finished, they took off the rest of the day, taking Atlan out to buy some clothes, making sure they fit a little loosely, to allow for the weight they hoped he would gain, now that he was going to be able to eat decent meals with some regularity.
"Paul, will you come with me on this? I get the feeling we're going to need all the help we can put together on this one." His younger brother nodded.
"Yeah. I'll come. Let me make a couple of calls and see if I can get a couple of men to join us. I'm pretty sure I can get at least one, maybe two or three."
"Peter." The man with the slash of white through his still mostly black hair and the green sunglasses leaned in the doorway of the apothecary's shop. Smiling at his friend.
"Kermit! Hey, man. Great to see you. What brings you down to Chinatown?" Peter Caine hadn't seen his friend in several months. He still missed his old life as a policeman, on occasion, but on the whole, found his new life as a Shaolin priest to be more than satisfying. "Is something wrong? I haven't seen you since the big heroin bust last spring, man. How's it goin'?"
"Not too bad, my friend. I heard from someone. He asked for my help. I thought you might like to come along."
"Kermit, you know I don't do that sort of thing any more. I..."
"It was Paul Blaisdale."
Shocked silence. Then, "Kermit, Paul is dead."
"Not so. I spoke to him. It was Paul. He asked for my help. He asked me to bring along anyone I thought might be of any help in cleaning out a viper's nest. One which may involve strange things. I immediately thought of you and your father, but he's been gone a couple of years, now, hasn't he?"
"Yeah. I haven't heard from him in about that long. Just what is this job?"
"Seems Paul's brother was in the business, and his son is in some sort of trouble. There's some group who take people prisoner and torture them for their secrets, but never lets them go. One of them escaped and managed to warn Paul's nephew that the bad guys were coming for him and his partner, and they managed to avoid getting taken, but are still worried about getting grabbed." He paused, waiting for his friend to process the information. Then, "You know how Paul is about family."
That was enough. "When do we go? Where do we meet them?"
"Tonight. Meeting at O'Hare for a trip to Washington State."
"Let me pack a bag, and I'll be ready to go."
They spent a quiet evening in the loft, Jim and Blair didn't press, and Atlan grudgingly gave forth with more information on his captivity. How many people were there, which ones enjoyed hurting him, something of the hierarchy of the place. How many were scientists, how many soldiers. Blair took numerous notes and had Atlan draw a basic floor plan of the compound where he had unwillingly spent the past nine years of his life. Atlan managed to eat a bit more than he had the previous day. His stomach was so unused to being full, that he was afraid of making himself sick. He again fell asleep quickly, once he'd eaten. Jim and Blair made an early night of it, as well.
The three were awake with the dawn without prompting. Simon arrived soon after. They made a big deal of breakfast, with Blair making his famous banana pancakes. Atlan was a little uncertain, but took his cue from Jim and found them delicious. They were ready and waiting, sitting over coffee, when Dan arrived. Blair grinned to see both of his companions stiffen and turn simultaneously toward the front door. Blair jumped up to answer it before Dan even got from the elevator to the front door.
"Hi, Dan. Right on time, man." Blair grinned at the surprised doctor. The others rose and prepared to leave. Jim grabbed a two-quart thermos full of coffee from the kitchen on his way to the door.
"Is it supposed to rain all day?" Jim asked, with a concerned glance at Atlan.
"Yeah. Probably turn to snow by tomorrow, the way this usually works." Dan replied.
"Well, let's get this show on the road. Take your heavy coat, Chief." He looked at Atlan, realising that, although they had bought him a jacket, it wouldn't be nearly warm enough, should the weather turn icy. He abruptly turned back and ran up to his bedroom to pull a heavy coat from his closet. It was left over from his Army days, his old cold weather coat. But it was warm, and relatively weatherproof. He also snagged his sleeping bag, just in case. As he came back down the stairs, he called out.
"Blair? Bring your sleeping bag, just in case we get stuck out somewhere." He looked at Dan, who nodded his agreement with Jim's preparedness.
"I have a two room cabin tent and a camp stove. I've also got a couple of extra sleeping bags." Glancing at the 'old one' and shivering a little in fear. Uncertain whether his memories of his grandfather's tales was accurate, or not. He did his best to push down his disquiet.
The trip was rather uncomfortably quiet. Dan seemed a bit embarrassed by the entire situation. Blair tried to get him to talk about his grandfather, but Dan seemed to think that Blair was just trying to humour him. Finally, they settled down to simply remaining silent for the four hour trip.
When they finally arrived, all of them were tired, just from the tension that had built up. Simon was nervously chewing on a cigar, Jim's jaws were pulsating under the stress, and Blair was nervously bouncing. Dan kept expecting someone to make a snide comment about his grandfather, or perhaps an 'Indian' slur. He'd worked with them for years, could remember when Jim Ellison had been a taciturn hard-ass. Simon was pretty good at avoiding bias, but he expected them to laugh at his grandfather. Hell, he'd laughed, why wouldn't they? The only one who seemed unmoved by the whole thing was Atlan. He seemed almost eager to meet the old Shaman. They got out of Dan's Blazer and followed him up to his grandfather's house.
"Nice place." Blair said, nervously. "Quiet."
"Yeah. It is." Dan replied. Still waiting for the other shoe to drop. He led the way up the steps to the house; he knocked once and immediately opened the door, leading the way.
"Grandfather?" He called out to announce their arrival. "Grandfather? I brought them, like you wanted." Passing through the huge open living room, down the hall and into the kitchen. "Grandfather?"
"In here, Dan." Replied a powerful voice. Dan led the way into a large screened in porch, where they found a man, easily as tall as Simon, but built on a much broader scale. His hair still jet black without a single strand of grey. His age only indicated by the wrinkles in his face and the slight trembling of his aged hands, hands busy mixing herbs. He smiled at his visitors. "Welcome to my home." He looked at his grandson, expectantly.
"Grandfather, this is Captain Simon Banks, from the police department, Detective James Ellison, his partner Blair Sandburg, and Mr. Atlan Genghi. They agreed to come meet with you, as you requested." Introducing the men in what he felt was the proper order of importance. "This is my grandfather, John Black Wolf." The old man smiled at them.
"Welcome." He focused his attention on Atlan. "I never expected to meet another of your kind in my lifetime. I had thought you had all gone." He bent down to shake the smaller man's hands. Then he turned to the smallest member of the group. "Welcome my brother." Taking Blair's hands in his own. "You do not feel that you are a Shaman?"
"Well, no. Not really. I kind of inherited the title, but I don't have the training, or even the total understanding of what I'm supposed to do. How to do it." Gazing up into the huge man's black eyes. Eyes undimmed by age. He was a little surprised when the huge old man laughed. He shrunk back, a bit intimidated.
"Don't you know what a Shaman is?" His black eyes twinkling with amusement. Blair glanced around at his companions.
"Uh, he's like a medicine man, right?"
"Well, a spiritual leader."
"Well, uh, a teacher, sort of."
"What are you?"
"What do you mean?" Confused, looking to his friends for help that he knew would not be forthcoming. Looking back up at the old Shaman.
"Do you not teach?"
"Well, sure. I teach anthropology."
"Do you not teach your Guardian how to use his gifts?" Seeing the worry in the glance the younger man cast toward his partner. "Do you not teach control to your Sentinel?"
"Well, I suppose."
"Do you not provide him guidance for his soul?"
"Do you not hold his heart and soul to your heart? Do you not heal his injured soul with your soothing words? Do you not give comfort when it is needed, even when he pushes you away? Do you not stand between him and those who would cause him harm? Do you not show him how to interpret signs and portents? Do you not hold his hand when he is injured, just as he holds yours to his heart when you are hurt?"
"Yes." Whispered. Eyes locked on the old man's.
"Then, you are a Shaman." He turned to Jim. "Do you understand?"
"Yes." A faint smile as he turned his gaze to his guide. "He's right, Chief. You do all of those things, and a whole lot more."
"But, I don't feel like a Shaman. A lot of the time, I'm just guessing."
John Black Wolf tipped his head back and laughed heartily. "And that is the reality for all of us." Clapping the smaller man on the shoulder, nearly knocking him down. Turning to the tall black man, he continued. "And you. You provide the leadership for them both." Simon smiled back.
"Dan was telling us about some kind of legend?" Simon encouraged. His curiosity piqued by this obviously 'together' old man.
"He did not tell you?" Surprised. Looking at his nervous grandson. Sighing his disappointment, he gestured toward the kitchen. "Please, come, sit. I will make tea." Smiling at the flinch from the tall black man. "I think you will like it. It is a special blend." He gestured for them to sit around the huge old kitchen table while he went to the stove to make the tea.
"May I take notes on this legend, Sir?" Blair asked softly.
"Of course. You may record it, if you like. It is not a well known tale. I think it is perhaps a tale of our family. I do not know for sure. But...I will let you judge for yourselves." He brought out a loaf of bread, and set it out with a knife and some cream cheese. "It is a nut bread. Sweet. Please, help yourselves. The tea will be ready in a few minutes."
Once everyone had tasted the tea (all of them finding the flavour different, but quite pleasing) and sampled the nut bread, they settled back to listen to the elderly Shaman's telling of the legend.
"I do not know how long ago it was. It may have been a hundred years, it may have been a thousand. It does not matter. We are of the Wolf clan. Our totem animal, if you will."
"Our Guardian, our Sentinel, was attending to his duties, watching for enemies, searching out the game. He was standing at a high place, looking over the valley in which the clan was camped. His companion was the young Shaman of the clan. The people had recently concluded a successful hunt. While the women took care of the meat and the hunters relaxed after their success, the Sentinel watched for enemies. His friend by his side. All was quiet. Unnaturally so. The Sentinel was alerted by the silence, and sought the reason for it. Seeking a sound or scent of what might have caused the birds to become silent. The Shaman stood with him, giving him the support he needed to seek the cause."
"From the woods came a sound unfamiliar to the men. Focusing on the sound, the Sentinel traced the noise with his vision. Seeking the maker of the strange sounds. Finally, into a clearing downhill from his position, he saw it. He pointed out the strange creature to the Shaman, who immediately began to approach the beast."
The old Shaman paused, as though expecting questions, but none came, He glanced at his audience, pleased that he had their complete attention. He saw the smile on the face of the old one and wondered.
"They made their way to the animal. It stood watching them come. Waiting. His eyes tired. Waiting for the men to kill him. He stood proudly, not afraid. When they were close enough, the Shaman reached out a hand to stop the Guardian from killing the animal. He spoke softly to reassure the creature. In appearance, it was a wolf, but easily the largest wolf either man had ever seen. It was black, as the starless night of winter. There were metal traps hanging from him. His belly was torn open by one. One hind and one front leg still caught in the jaws of two more. Traps as the strange pale eyed ones used. The Shaman asked the wolf if he would be allowed to free him from his torment. The wolf lay down on his side, watching them, waiting for them to do as they would. Whether it be to kill him, or to free him. It no longer mattered to him. Only the end to his torment."
"The Shaman told the Guardian to watch for enemies, particularly for the ones who had set the traps. Gently, he reached and stroked the head of the injured wolf. Asking again for permission to help him. The wolf closed his eyes in surrender."
"The Shaman examined the trap on the front leg. Seeking to understand its workings. Finding the release, he pressed on it, while the Sentinel pried the jagged jaws apart releasing the injured limb. They repeated the process with the remaining traps. The Shaman then bandaged the Wolf's injuries, cleaning the blood caked wounds and applying a salve to help him to heal. Then, he told his friend, the Guardian, to pick up the wolf and take it to his wickiup. Uncertain, the Guardian did as instructed, while the Shaman destroyed the metal traps."
He again paused, waiting for questions. Again, there were none. Only the faces of the men, caught up in his story. Even his grandson had that look of enraptured interest on his face. Smiling, he continued.
"They returned to the village, the wolf unconscious. They made their way to the Shaman's wickiup and placed the injured animal inside, without anyone else seeing them. The Shaman made poultices for the wolf's wounds and made a healing tea for when he eventually awoke. The Guardian returned to his duties, and the Shaman tended to his injured guest. When the wolf regained consciousness, the Shaman gave him the tea he had made, to drink. The wolf sipped at the tea, like a man, rather than lapping at it like a dog. The Shaman noticed this, but made no comment, trusting his instincts that the beast meant no harm and was only an injured animal in search of relief."
"For many days, the Shaman took care of the wolf as he healed. The Shaman's family lived in another wickiup nearby. No one knew of the presence of the wolf, except the Shaman and the Guardian. As the wolf healed, the Shaman wondered what to do with him. Soon the great beast would be healed, but would he willing return to the wild. The worried Shaman spent many hours fasting and praying for guidance. One night, perhaps a month since the Shaman had brought the wolf home with him, the tribal elders met to decide whether they should begin to make their way to their winter camp. The leaves were turning, and the rains had become more frequent. It was time to go, before they became trapped in the valley by the winter snows. The preparations were begun."
"The wolf was nearly healed, quite capable of surviving on his own, yet the Shaman hesitated, having become fond of the beast. His eldest daughter had discovered the animal not long before, and had come to care deeply for the injured wolf. But now that they would be moving, the Shaman must make a decision about the wolf. If he kept it any longer, then everyone would know of it. Wolves were honoured among the clan, but they were not the wolf clan at that time and there were those who would wish it harm. He could not allow the people to kill one he had worked so very hard to save. He made his decision to send the wolf away."
"That night, with the Guardian's help, he took the wolf up onto the mountain top, to set him free. When he was loose, he bounded away a few feet, then turned back to the men who had saved him. He sat down and stared at the two men, a strange light in his eyes. After regarding the men for a time, he stood up, first on all fours, then up on his hind legs. His shape blurred and he became, in appearance, a man."
The old Shaman paused again, to allow for any questions. Perceiving none, he sipped his tea and continued.
"The stranger looked at the Shaman and the Guardian. Then, speaking in the tongue of the people, but with a strange, hissing accent, he thanked them for their care and kindness. He told them that he was indebted to them, a debt he would never be able to repay. He told them that if ever they needed help, that they should build a fire and burn the cones of the pine tree, the ones with the nuts in them, and he would come. Then, his image blurred and the wolf again stood before them. With a final nod of his head, he turned and disappeared into the forest."
He paused again. Blair gave him a puzzled glance. "Um, is that all? Isn't there any more to the story?"
"Yes, young Shaman. There is much more to the story." Smiling, he again continued. "The winter was long and bitter. The month of new green came and went with the snow still deep on the ground. The people were beginning to suffer from hunger, but there was no game to be found. One night, the Shaman asked the Guardian to lead him to the top of the mountain, where he would pray and call for help. The Guardian remembered the wolf-who-walked-like-a-man's words to them and led the way to the mountain top. He gathered wood and built a fire while the Shaman gathered all the pine cones with the seeds in them. When all was prepared, the Shaman took his place by the fire, while the Guardian stood watch. First, the Shaman prayed as he had been taught, making smoke and blowing it to the six directions."
"Six directions?" Simon broke in, curious.
"The four winds, North, South, East and West, the Sky and the Earth." The elderly man explained, then continued. "He chanted and made his offerings to the Great Spirit. When he had done, he built a new fire, in the ashes of the old. Then taking the pine cones with the seeds in them, he placed the first one on the fire. Tilting his head back, he gazed up at the stars. Without realising what he was doing, he parted his lips and howled. One, long, mournful cry of desperation. Then, he added another cone to his fire, and another. All the while silent. The only movement was his hand reaching for and placing the pine cones. Even the Guardian was still, only his eyes moving, searching for movement, listening for danger."
"The wolf was so silent that even the Guardian did not hear him approach. He came in the form of the man they had seen before. Driving before him the Wapiti. He called out softly, 'Come, take, eat. Feed yourselves and take enough for your people.' The Guardian reached out and killed a Wapiti. Quickly cleaning and skinning the animal. He offered the heart and the liver to the Wolf, acknowledging his gift. The wolf smiled and shook his head. 'No need. Take it for yourselves. I have feasted already this day.' Smiling as the Guardian roasted the pieces over the pine cone fire, sharing the succulent morsels with the Shaman, who was weak with hunger, having fasted for three days before climbing the mountain.
"The wolf sat with them, tending the fire for them. When the Shaman had regained his strength, the Wolf-who-walked-like-a-man brought blankets made of softly tanned skins. He lay the blankets out for the Shaman and the Guardian, promising to stand guard over them. When the morning came, the men awoke to find the Wapiti had been dressed out, the bones roasted and the meat packed in the hide for the trip back to the winter camp. The Wolf-who-walked-like-a-man went with them to the village, where he was introduced as Black Wolf, since he had never given them any other name to call him. The people welcomed him and he became the best hunter in the clan. He would only hunt alone, or with the Guardian, however, as he did not wish for the others to know his secret."
"The green time came at last, and Wolf said his goodbyes to the people, telling them that he would return if ever they needed his aid again. The people moved to their summer camp, forgetting him."
"The next winter was again most severe. Again, the Shaman and the Guardian went to the top of the mountain, where the Shaman prayed his prayers to the Great Spirit, then made another fire in the ashes of the first to call to Black Wolf to come and aid them. This time, Wolf brought them much pemmican as well as the Wapiti. The three feasted together and then spent the night with Black Wolf watching over them. In the morning, they journeyed back to the village. This continued for several years. Until one year, when the Shaman's eldest daughter was old enough and fell in love with Black Wolf."
He stopped speaking. Standing up to refill his tea. Offering tea to the others, who all accepted, anxiously wanting to hear the rest of the story. When he settled back down in his chair, he sipped at his hot drink and continued once more.
"The Shaman's eldest daughter had come of age to be married. Many of the young bucks had courted her, but she had turned them all away, as none could touch her heart. She had remembered when her father had hidden the wild wolf in his wickiup and sworn her to secrecy. She had seen the wounds on the animal, and had helped to care for him. When the man known as Black Wolf had come to them the following winter, hunting for them and bringing them rescue from starvation, she had seen the same scars on his body. She did not understand how a man and a wolf could share the same skin, but only that they did. She had been in love with him from that first winter when the man-Wolf had kept the people from starving."
"Winter was ending and the time of new green had arrived. Black Wolf was making his preparations to leave, as he had in the past. He gathered up his meagre possessions, slung them on his back and went to the wickiup of the Guardian to say his goodbyes. The Guardian greeted him as a brother and asked him to stay longer, but the people were preparing to move to their summer camp, and Black Wolf never went there. The Guardian pressed many gifts on his friend and hunting companion. He had never told anyone how Black Wolf would shift into his furred form when they went hunting and drive the game to him to kill. It had been a most beneficial arrangement. Black Wolf thanked his friend and gave him gifts in return. Taking his leave, he went to the wickiup of the Shaman to make his goodbyes. The Shaman greeted him warmly and invited him in. Once inside, the Shaman told him that he had a gift for him, but that he did not have to accept it if he did not want it and the Shaman would understand. Curious, Black Wolf asked what could it possibly be? Any gift from the Shaman was something to be treasured. Black Wolf told his friend. With that, the Shaman lifted his hand and gestured.
"Black Wolf was speechless with shock. Before him stood the Shaman's eldest daughter, her head bowed down, not looking at him. Black Wolf stood and turned in anger to the Shaman. 'Why do you do this thing? I have pledged to you my help. You do not have to force your daughter to come to me to keep me.' He cried out, hurt and angry, for he had come to love the girl as the woman she was becoming. The Shaman looked up at the angry Black Wolf in puzzled surprise. 'You do not understand. I do not give my daughter to you, I give her permission to follow you if you will have her.' There was a deep and profound silence as Black Wolf put the Shaman's words together to understand them. 'You give her permission?' He asked, looking at the young woman, who stood silently by, staring at her feet. 'Girl, look at me.' The Shaman's daughter lifted her head and gazed longingly into the eyes of Black Wolf. 'Do you know what you are asking?' He demanded of her. She nodded. Reaching out, she stroked lightly at the scars on his belly, where the marks of the pale-eyes' trap had cut him. 'I remember when my father brought you, hurt and bleeding and weak. He allowed me to help care for you. I have cared for you ever since.' She told him. With a whimper, he swept her into his arms and held her. Looking past his beloved, he gazed into the eyes of the Shaman. 'This meets with your approval?' The Shaman smiled at him and nodded. 'It is a good thing. For you, for my daughter, for my family, for my clan. We will become the Black Wolf clan. One day, your sons and daughters will be a most welcome addition. They will be strong and wise and care well for the clan.' Black Wolf nodded, accepting the enormity of the gift he had been offered. Instead of leaving, as he had always done before, he joined with the people on their journey to the summer lands. Always, he hunted with the Guardian; always, he remained with the people, until his sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters had grown, and when his wife died, he went away and was never seen again; but he left the people with the knowledge that if there was need, to call upon the wolf and he would come to aid them."
"Were any of his children able to change form into the wolf?" Blair asked.
"The legend does not say."
"But you have a theory." Simon insisted.
"Yes. My family all live a very long time and we do not show our age as much as we should. Has Dan given you any idea as to my age?"
"Only that you are old." Atlan said softly. "And that he thinks your mind may not be as sharp as once it was." Smiling.
"Of course. The response of the young with no experience about the old who have much." Returning Atlan's smile. "I was born in 1872. I am one hundred twenty-six years old. I have outlived my children and even some of my grandchildren. Dan is actually my great-grandson." His smile widening as Dan squirmed a bit and the others gaped at him in shock. He turned his attention to Atlan. "How old are you, Yellow-Wolf? I have heard of you, you know. When I was a child."
"I am much older than you." Was the soft reply. His eyes glittering in wonder. "Who was Black-Wolf to you?"
"My grandfather. I remember him. Did you know him?"
"No. Would that I had. I have occasionally come across tales of my people, but not in nearly two hundred years. Most of the tales go back to when I was a pup."
"What?" Dan asked, surprised. Staring at the man with the yellow eyes in shock. "Are you trying to tell me that you're a werewolf?" Derision in his voice.
Atlan just looked at the sceptical Doctor. Turning to the old Shaman, he said. "What is your need?"
"There are evil people who wish to take our land. They already have buildings on the eastern edges of our lands. They do evil things there. They have taken people and hurt and killed them. They must be stopped before they harm any more of the people. They take the whites, as well as the clan. I do not know what they do to them, but when they are released, the few who have been, they are no longer people but cowering, craven animals. With no wills of their own, no ability left to reason. I do not know what they do, but it is evil and a danger to all."
Jim asked. "Where is this facility?" The old man rose and fetched a map. Opening it up on the table before them, he pointed to the location. Atlan paled when he saw it.
"It is the same. Where I was." He looked up at the Guardian. "They have taken others. We must stop them." Hesitating, then, "I must stop them."
"You were right the first time. We must stop them." Simon declared for them all. "It's out of our jurisdiction, and probably they have friends or something in the local sheriffs or city council, but we'll see what's what when the others arrive." Turning back to John Black Wolf, he asked. "Just how far is it from here?"
"Two hours by truck. Across country. There are no real roads that go there. If you need help, there are some who would be willing."
"No. This is my fight. I do not want any more innocents involved if at all possible. Please." Atlan pleaded.
"You're all taking this pretty lightly." Dan said, at a loss as to what was going on.
"Dan Black Wolf, do you not remember the tales of the Guardians?" The old man asked, scoldingly.
Dan backed up a bit. "What, about the guards who could hear a man's footsteps from half a mile away? That could talk to the wind to find game? Those are just old tales. No reality in them, Grandfather. Wishful thinking."
"Ouch." Simon murmured very softly. Both Jim and Atlan smiled at his reaction.
"What would you do if you met such a one?" Atlan asked.
"I'd think it was some kind of trick, of course."
"What if you set up the challenges? Conducted the tests?" Blair added.
"What, are you trying to say that you believe in men who can hear the worms crawling through the dirt?"
"How about heartbeats? Especially racing heartbeats. Like yours. Or the sound of gravel under car tires? Like the vehicles that are pulling up outside?" Jim asked. As his words registered, Simon and Jim stood to investigate.
"Were you expecting anyone else, Mr. Black Wolf?" Simon asked, peering out the window.
"Yes." He looked at Atlan. "An old friend..." Shaking his head as he changed his mind. "My sister." He admitted. The sound of a car door slamming came audibly to all of them.
"But there are two other vehicles." Jim insisted.
"I do not know." The old Shaman admitted.
"John?" came the sound of a woman's voice. All the men made their way to the front of the house, Jim and Simon checking the others they had heard arrive with the woman. Jim took one look and relaxed.
"It's OK. It's family." Jim turned to smile at Blair. "They made it a lot faster than I thought they would." Opening the door and holding it for his partner, then following him out to greet the newcomers. "I left them a note with the directions at the Loft." He explained.
Dan was totally confused. Two of the newcomers looked like identical twins, to him. Yet, he seemed to be the only one who had any difficulty in telling them apart. They had been introduced as James and Paul Savage. The others had been introduced as Mickey Kostmayer, David Wister, Bob Davis, Eric Johnson, Kermit Griffin, and Peter Caine. They'd come armed and loaded for war. His surprise was increased when he heard Ellison call James Savage, 'Uncle', and Blair call him 'Dad'. Then when Kostmayer was called 'cousin' by both men, and Caine was introduced as Paul's foster son, he gave up. The whole situation was beyond him. His grandfather readily gave up most of his house for the strangers to plan their strategy for taking the facility. Nonplussed when Simon willingly gave up control to the newcomers. Shaking his head, he went in search of his grandfather.
"Grandfather, please. What is all this about?"
"Do you remember your great-aunt?"
"Vaguely. It's been a long time, aunt Meadowlark."
"You have lived too long with the modern world, Dan Black Wolf. You have forgotten your family, your history. You have turned away from your upbringing." She scolded. She looked to be younger than her great-nephew, yet he knew her to be at least fifty years old. He'd discounted his grandfather's claim to being over a hundred.
"You have forgotten what we were. What we are. You have lost the sense of wonder you once had. The ability to take at face value the magic of the world about you. If you cannot hold it in your hand and measure it, it does not exist for you any longer. You have become like too many of the pale-eyes. It is sad. I would that you might understand, but I doubt if you can." She sighed.
"You understand all this?"
"Of course. Black Wolf gave his word. He would not lie to us." She insisted. His grandfather nodded, convinced of the truth of his sister's words.
"But Black Wolf has been dead for more than a century! Surely you don't expect him to suddenly just appear, do you?" "He gave his word. We will honour him. He did not come, but another of his kind has joined with the pale-eyed Guardian and his Shaman. Their chieftain has joined with them, as have their tribes. It is good." He turned back to his sister and began speaking in their ancestral tongue, leaving Dan even more confused than before.
He wandered out to watch the preparations for war. He had heard rumours of people disappearing from the reservation, but hadn't really put much stock in the tales. He realised that he was, indeed, too long away from his people. He determined to join them and help in whatever it was they were planning.
For some, unknown, reason, Dan felt most comfortable with Sandburg and his cousin Peter Caine. Somehow, they were different from the others. No guns, for one thing. Neither man was forthcoming with much information, only that they were preparing to take out some quasi-governmental facility that had caused the scars on Atlan's body. Once he'd seen those, he was more than willing to aid them in their quest. He prepared a medical kit to take with them. He was tasked with protecting Blair. He nodded. Understanding that the smaller, younger man was poorly prepared for war. Dan had done his duty during the Gulf War, when his reserve unit was called up, so understood at least some of the requirements.
The preparations made, they threw down their sleeping bags on the floors of the house and went to sleep. Before first light, they were up and on their way.
They stopped several miles away from their destination. Jim, Atlan, and Peter, took the point. Atlan, having escaped from the facility, warily led the way. The three men used hand signals to indicate traps, which Peter seemed particularly adept at eliminating. As they got closer to their objective, they tried to be even quieter. Finally, they came out on a rise overlooking the compound. Jim and Atlan moved furtively closer, while the others waited silently for their return.
They worked their way to less than fifty feet from the buildings. There was no high fence around the compound, no walls keeping anyone in or out. Just a jumble of different sized concrete buildings, with very few windows. The pair listened, extending their hearing to their limits, seeking information. Tracing the movements of the ones inside. Seeking any other prisoners. Atlan pointed to the largest building, the one furthest away from them, he indicated that that was the place he had been held captive for so long. Jim nodded. It was only logical that any other prisoners would be kept there, as well. But first, they needed to neutralise the bad guys. Creeping back, they whispered their report. As they had planned the night before, they spread out in a loose circle around the compound and waited. As soon as anyone was spotted moving from one building to another, they would attack that individual and drag the unconscious body away to where Dan and Blair waited with several rolls of duct tape to bind the captives. Unfortunately, that particular plan didn't work. The people of the compound only moved in armed pairs. With no other options available, they opened fire on them.
Blair couldn't watch. Even knowing the horrible things these people had done in the name of their god 'science', didn't make watching their demise any easier for him. They fought like most fanatics. More willing to die for their beliefs, for their research, than to give up their test subjects and live to perhaps one day continue their gruesome experiments; for gruesome they were. It was no wonder that the few who had been released were little more than vegetative. There were victims hooked up with electrodes, not only to take readings, but to administer pain. Most of the experiments looked to be right out of the torturer's handbook. Jim took one look and insisted Blair stay outside. For once, his partner listened. Trusting to his family to protect his Sentinel. Working their way through the buildings one by one, calling out once for them to give up and when no one was forthcoming, going through and killing everyone in their path. Finally, with thirty of the residents of the compound dead, and their own losses limited to Johnson and Wister, who had had the misfortune of being the first to enter the prison/experiment building. The door had been booby-trapped and both men were killed instantly. Jim and Atlan again took the lead. Leaving all exits guarded, followed by Kermit, Peter, and Davis, they cautiously made their way through the building. Pausing to listen frequently, Atlan suddenly froze. His nostrils flaring as he picked up a familiar scent. He touched Jim's arm, stopping him, as well. At the questioning glance, he pointed, indicating around the corner. Jim listened carefully and heard the rapid heartbeat of someone. Nodding, he raised his eyebrows, asking what Atlan wanted to do about it. Atlan, to everyone's surprise, began to strip. Once out of his clothes, he hunched over and turned the corner. There was a moment of silence, then the voice of the stranger could be heard.
"Well, look what came back. No one would take you in, huh? You worthless piece of...Oh, my...no. It's not possible. It can't be!! NOOOOOOOoooooooo!" The voice raised in a scream of terror, after which was the voice of a snarling animal followed by the sounds of tearing flesh and finally the thump of the body hitting the floor and the bubbling sound of air pushing through blood as the lungs emptied and tried to refill through the ripped out throat. A moment later, wiping his face fastidiously on a handkerchief. He silently gathered up his clothing, slipping into his underwear and jeans, but carrying the rest of his clothes, he met the eyes of the shocked men who had been following him, all of them noticing for the first time how oddly his yellow eyes gleamed in the artificial light of the building. As they passed the corridor, each man took a quick glance down to see the body, still pumping blood out onto the floor. Turning even more quickly away from the sight. Wondering just what it was they were following.
Jim didn't bother to look. He had a pretty good idea of what had happened. He shook his head at Atlan, understanding in his eyes. Like any animal who had been tortured and given the opportunity to attack the hated one, Atlan had been unable to resist his revenge. He just hoped that there weren't too many more like that to come.
Twice more, Atlan stripped prior to an attack. Each time, he went around the corner, naked, slumped like he'd given up, only to tear open the throat of whomever he met. When he came back from the third attack, he dressed completely once more. Indicating to all and sundry, that his revenge was complete. Once they were certain that they had eliminated all the jailers, researchers, torturers and sundry personnel, they started releasing the prisoners.
Davis, thinking that all the prisoners were helpless victims who were too weak and neglected to be of any danger to anyone, never had a chance. When he opened the heavy metal door and stepped in, he was met with an enormous black wolf, grey of muzzle, teeth yellowed with age. He was thin and battered, but had learned his lessons well. Even in his debilitated condition, he was formidable. The moment the door was open wide enough, the wolf was on him, jaws closed about his throat ready to kill. The old wolf lay across his victim ready to rip open the jugular. Atlan abruptly threw himself between the guns of the others and the animal. Whatever language it was, sounded like so much hissing, with consonants thrown in to break it up. Shocked, the greying old wolf lifted his head, listening. His dark brown eyes glistening with tears. Atlan placed an arm around the emaciated form, gently urging him away from the motionless body of Davis. As soon as he was released, Davis stood, shaking at how close he had come to being killed.
"It's all right now. He thought we were his captors. He's sorry." Knowing that they couldn't really blame the animal for wanting to punish those who had kept him prisoner and tortured him.
"It's an animal." Kermit exclaimed. Glaring at the emaciated beast.
"As am I." Atlan insisted. Kermit paled, thinking back to the three dead men that Atlan had killed.
"Oh, come on, now. Please don't expect me to believe in werewolves, now." Peter complained, standing with his friend.
"The phase of the moon has nothing to do with it." Atlan insisted. With a shrug, he searched one of the other rooms, finding a closet with surgical scrubs in it. He gestured to the old wolf, who lifted his head defiantly, making eye contact with Kermit and Peter, and shifted to human form, where the injuries he had suffered were markedly more visible. His body covered with scars, some new, most old. Atlan handed him the surgical scrubs. Shuddering at their touch, he dressed, needing to lean against the wall to be able to lift his feet into the trousers. Once he was dressed, they continued on. Most of the prisoners were normal humans who were in various stages of catatonia brought on by the experiments done to them. Atlan stopped and cocked his head, listening. Jim, seeing him focus, emulated him, listening, sifting through the white noise of the air conditioning, the hum of the fluorescent lights, seeking, a voice. Chanting. Not English. Chinese? He glanced at Peter.
"Do you speak Chinese?"
Jim listened, then repeated what he heard, phonetically. Looking at the priest, expectantly.
"It's a meditation prayer. One to focus the chi..." His eyes widened in horror, "Where is he? Show me!" Panic in his voice. He only knew of two other men who used that particular chant; one whom he had left safely at home in Chinatown, running the apothecary, and his father, who had not been heard from in more than a year.
Recognising the fear in the younger man's voice, Jim motioned Atlan and his kin to wait for them and turned and led the way at a run in the direction of the voice, Peter and Kermit hot on his heels.
Jim slid to a stop outside the door to one of the labs. The voice was coming from inside. He couldn't hear the heartbeat, but could hear the voice. There were no other sounds from inside. Cautiously, he checked the door for tripwires or other traps. Finding none, he carefully pushed open the door. Prepared for anything, the three men slipped through the opening. Jim's eyes flashed around the lab, his gaze coming to rest on a door across the room.
"Oh, my God. He's in a sensory deprivation tank." He murmured, horrified. Knowing what it was capable of doing, wondering how long the victim had been in there. He looked around the lab, finding a device which showed the heartbeat and respiration of the occupant of the tank. According to the continuous printout, he'd been immersed with no sensory input for nearly three months. Longer than anyone had ever been afflicted without sensory input. Much longer than it took to force a person into permanent madness, or even death. He shook his head in dismay, doubting the condition they would find the occupant in.
Meanwhile, Peter was trying to figure out how to get the tank open. "Pop? Pop!" He cried out. "How do I get you out of there?" Nearly hysterical with worry. Hearing the words, Jim quickly grabbed Kermit, who was staring, dumbfounded at his friend.
"Get him out of here. Send in Atlan. We'll get him out. The readout says he's been in there for more than three months. You know what a sensory deprivation tank can do?" The shaded eyes turned to him. Jim could see the hurt through the dark lenses. "So, get him out of here while I figure this out. He's talking in there, Peter said it was some kind of mantra, so it may not be as bad as I'm thinking. Just get him out. He doesn't need to see this, just now." Kermit nodded, grabbed his nearly hysterical friend and dragged him from the room, speaking softly and soothingly to him. While he waited for Atlan to join him, he looked for and found the controls. He turned the valve releasing the water, allowing him to gain access to the sealed tank, once the water was gone. As the victim's sense of touch reasserted itself as his body settled to the floor of the tank, he began to moan from the pain of returning sensation. Atlan arrived just in time to help Jim with the door to the tank, rushing in and gently disconnecting the prisoner from the various paraphernalia attached to his body, freeing the man's eyes, nose, ears, and mouth from the special patches that kept any sensory input from getting through, and the oxygen tube that was taped to his mouth. He disconnected the line to the IV, but decided to wait for Dan Wolf to remove the catheter. The man in the wet suit began to shake with the sudden flood of sensory input. Jim gently gathered him into his arms, murmuring softly, telling him to listen to the sound of his heartbeat. To relax and just listen to the sound of his voice, the rhythm of his heart.
"Shhh. Just close your eyes. Listen to my voice. Ignore everything else. Just listen to the sound of my voice. You're safe, now. No one is going to hurt you any more. Easy." He looked up at Atlan, who understood what was wanted and hurried away to bring back the doctor and Peter.
Peter saw Atlan jogging through the building and pulled away from his friend. "My father. How is he?"
"Go, help Jim. Perhaps your voice will help calm him." Atlan replied as he ran past.
"Man, that guy runs like a wolf." Kermit muttered, trying to decide which way to go. Settling on following Peter. He made his way back to the lab they had just left.
"How is he? Pop?" Peter's voice was too loud for the just released man, who cried out in pain. Jim just glared the younger man to silence. Peter came to a stop beside them, dropping to his knees. Recognising that his father needed quiet and reassurance, not his son becoming hysterical. "Sorry." He whispered. He reached out a hand, not quite touching his father's face. Closing his eyes and focusing his chi to try and repair the broken connection with his father. He was barely able to recognise his father. He was receiving absolutely no sense of his father's presence. Even with his body right before him. He opened his eyes and looked up at the stranger holding his father. "Please." He whispered. "May I hold him?"
"Of course." Gently lifting the semiconscious man to allow Peter to slide beneath his father and take him in his arms. He started whispering softly in his father's ear. Talking about Lo Si and things at home. How he'd missed him. How he wondered how he was doing. Cradling his father in his lap, he began to rock, tears flowing unnoticed down his cheeks as he murmured soothingly to his father.
Atlan brought in the rest of the crew. Mickey drew Kermit aside to help with the cleanup, allowing the others to deal with the surviving victims. A few minutes later, Atlan joined them, dragging the bodies out.
"What should we do with them?" Atlan asked. Mickey and Kermit exchanged looks.
"Well, we can do a couple of things. We can either dig a big hole and bury them, or we can pile them up and burn them and then bury them. It's less work to just bury them." Mickey suggested.
"What of their masters? Won't they come looking for them?"
Kermit and Mickey again looked at each other.
"Good point." The man in the green glasses said. Looking at Atlan, he asked. "What would you suggest?"
"Putting them in the labs, soaking them with fuel and burning down them and the buildings at the same time. Put them in the cells where they kept the prisoners." Not mentioning that he had been one of them until just recently.
"I like it." Mickey replied. "It's a lot less work, too. Since most of the bodies are already in there." Passing a questioning look to Kermit.
"Oh, yeah. I'm all for making the job easier." Kermit smiled, looking for all the world like a shark who had just come upon his dinner. The three men went outside and began dragging the bodies into the prison/research building.
"How's Caine?" Kermit asked Atlan.
"Weak. Semiconscious. I think he will recover. He is not sure the voice he hears is that of his son. He doubts what he hears and feels."
"What about the others?" Mickey asked.
"What about that, that wolf?" Kermit still was having a hard time reconciling what he had seen.
"Wolf?" Mickey asked, confused.
"You don't want to know, kid." Kermit replied.
"Black Wolf is doing very well, considering. He has been here longer than all the others. Now I understand much of what they have done."
"You were held here, according to Jim and Blair. What's your story?" Mickey asked, grabbing the legs of another body and starting to drag it toward their chosen pyre.
Kermit and Atlan grabbed two other bodies and dragged them along as well. "I was taken nine years ago. I used to be a forest ranger, near here. My girlfriend, I had asked her to marry me. She told them about me and set me up to be taken. Last week..." He paused. It had been less than a week since he had escaped. He shook his head at how quickly things had happened. "Last week, I overheard them talking about taking two men. From the descriptions of them, I recognised the traits of a Guardian and his Companion. I don't know if they just finally got careless, or if it was intentional, but they left my door unlocked. I managed to escape. " They entered the building and Atlan led the way to one of the cells. Opening the door, he dragged the body into it and dropped it. "This is where they kept me." Looking around and shuddering involuntarily. "I ran. It took me just over two days to get to Cascade. I sought the Guardian, but found the Companion, instead." He smiled. "I told them what I had heard. To cover what they were going to do to capture them, they had set a number of bombs. I told the Companion what I knew. He called the Guardian and they came to disarm the bombs. The Guardian, Jim, and Simon, his captain, suggested that Blair call his father and ask his help to take this place out. Then the Shaman, John Black Wolf, asked to meet us, and we went there. You joined us, and the rest, you know."
"What's a Guardian?" Kermit asked.
"You don't really want to know, man." Mickey replied. "It's a family thing. You really don't want to know."
"What about you and that other werewolf?" Kermit pressed.
"I'm not a werewolf." Atlan replied.
"Well, you sure as hell aren't human!" The former mercenary insisted.
"Of course I am. I just have talents you do not understand. I am just as human as you are, just of an older race. One mostly died out, now."
"Well, if I can go to Shambala and survive, I guess I can accept werewolves in modern day America."
"Shambala?" Mickey asked.
"Believe me, you don't want to know." Kermit said, shaking his head.
When they had dragged the last of the bodies into the building, they went to see how the others were doing. The half-dozen prisoners were docile, nearly catatonic from their incarceration. Black Wolf was in shock at being free after more than twenty years of captivity, and Kwai Chang Caine had regained consciousness.
Simon conferred with the Savage brothers, deciding what to do. Mickey, Kermit, and Atlan approached them and told them their idea for disposing of the bodies, and eliminating the complex and all the evidence and documentation. James smiled.
"I like it. All wrapped up in a nice, neat package." Slapping Mickey on the back. Paul looked at Kermit.
"And whose idea was this?"
"Well, actually, it was Atlan's," Mickey admitted. "But it does nicely tie up all the loose ends."
"Except who it is that's behind all of it." Simon reminded them. "I'd like to at least check out their offices and try and figure out who set this up, and why, if possible."
"I have to agree. Why don't we start looking, while you guys finish cleaning up and get the prisoners out and ready to go." James suggested.
The prisoners stood with their rescuers on the hill, watching as the compound where they had been held and tortured burned to the ground. By the time the fire burned itself out, there was nothing left of the compound but ashes and a few unidentifiable bits of detritus where once the buildings stood. It was doubtful that anyone would even be able to identify whether there were any bodies inside, it had burned so hot.
All the former prisoners needed help on the hike back to the vehicles, where John Black Wolf had followed with several members of his tribe to assist any survivors. James took him aside to request someone go in to retrieve the bodies of his two slain men. John was happy to comply.
They had managed to find identification papers for the surviving prisoners, except for Black Wolf, who had apparently been the first of the prisoners and the reason for the entire project. Once Dan had checked them over, they contacted the families of the prisoners, after taking down the particulars of their identities, to see if they could clear any of their missing person's reports when they returned to Cascade. All of the former prisoners were in need of further medical attention, though none were in danger of dying. Mostly they were just in shock at the idea of having survived and been freed. They had found many other papers identifying other prisoners who had died, but no information as to the location of the bodies, merely the indication that they had died. Those papers they had kept.
Atlan had kept close to his kinsman. Unable to get over the fact that he was not, after all, the last of his kind. Black Wolf spoke very little, and only in the sibilant language shared with the younger man. For nine years, they had shared cages less than a hundred feet from one another, with no idea of the other's existence. Black Wolf was old for their race, although not ancient, by any means. He had made the mistake early on of shifting, which had piqued the interest of his captors. Originally, their study had been something completely different, of which no records remained of what it was.
When they arrived at John Black Wolf's home, He was welcomed by his granddaughter, who also recognised him. With tears flowing freely from his eyes, he reached out to his family, touching them with the ends of his fingers, in wonder, in awe, in disbelief, having been in despair of ever seeing any of his family or friends ever again. He was taken aside and introduced to the newer members of his family, all of whom had learned the stories of Black Wolf at the knee of John. They greeted him as he deserved, as the revered elder of the clan. He was overwhelmed. Also, exhausted. John prepared a healing, soothing soup. Easy on a stomach unused to much food, but nourishing for a debilitated body. After eating, John placed his grandfather in his own bed to sleep, where he did so, dreamlessly. Safe and home at last.
"He will recover." John declared to the men who had come to help remove the blight from their midst. "Will the others?"
"They will need some counselling, but physically, they will recover." Dan replied. John nodded, pleased. Turning to the rest of the men who had joined in the quest, he thanked them, as well.
"You did not have to come, yet you did. Partly, I understand, to protect your kinsmen, but more, I think, because they asked you for help. You are family, now, to us as well. You will always find welcome and aid, should you ever need it, from the Black Wolf Clan."
James stood to shake hands with John Black Wolf. "The Savage clan welcomes the Black Wolf clan as brothers. Although it has been many years since we turned from the way of the people to live in the white man's world, we, too, recall what it means to be kin. We will remember, and should the Black Wolf clan ever need our aid, they have only to call, and we will come."
John smiled at the blue eyed man who understood what it meant to be accepted by the people. He reached out and embraced his new brother. Pleased.
Blair was watching Atlan, as the Savage and Black Wolf clans joined in brotherhood. Saw the sad, wistful look on his face. He was not, after all, a member of either family. Even though he was of the same race as Black Wolf, they were not related. Even if he had been the catalyst for all that had happened, he was still an outsider. Blair understood what it was like to be an outsider, not really a part of a group. He sat beside Atlan. Intentionally invading his personal space. Atlan just looked at him, his golden-yellow eyes meeting his, with no emotion showing.
"Welcome to the family, cousin." Blair whispered, slipping an arm around the bent shoulders of the man.
"I am not..."
"Sure you are. Just as much as any of us are. Maybe not by blood, but by heart, by soul. You belong just as much as Peter and his father, or Kermit. They're family by adoption. And let's face it, you've been adopted. Now, I'll admit that my family is a little strange, but they're good people, for the most part. We just have a genetic quirk that makes a lot of us Sentinels, and others, Guides. This insane need to protect and fix things. I have a feeling that you'll fit right in. Besides, if I read things right, don't be surprised if John's sister doesn't make a play for you. I've noticed the way she watches you, when she thinks you aren't looking." Smiling when Atlan blushed, indicating that he had noticed.
"Relax, man. You've come home. You'll always be welcome. You're family."
"Blair's right." Paul had overheard them. "Welcome home."
"How is your, foster son? And his father?" Atlan asked.
"Kwai Chang is doing much better. They've re-established their link, and he's weak, but much better, now. He was pretty surprised that we found him. I told him it was just a coincidence. At least, I keep pretending that it is."
"You think there was something else at work here?"
"Well, if you think about it. You escaped nine years of captivity to warn my nephews of bombs at Blair's university. You were searching for a 'Guardian' and his 'Companion'. You found Blair, a Guide to a Sentinel. The same thing, right?" Atlan and Blair nodded. Other members of the group were gathering around and listening.
"Your captain suggested Blair call his father for help in shutting down the operation, as they were intent on capturing him and his cousin for their 'research'. James called me for assistance and I called Kermit, who called Peter." He looked at the young man, who was sitting nearby, beside his father. "Now, I probably wouldn't have included Peter, since he's now a priest, but he came, for which I'm glad, as I haven't seen him in a few years." Peter smiled up at his foster father, the love for the man shining from his eyes, even as his father raised a grateful gaze to him, as well.
"Meanwhile, John Black Wolf, asks his great-grandson to bring the Shaman, the Guardian, and the Old One, to meet with him, where he tells a story of another Old One, who married into his family, his grandfather, to be precise. Now, Black Wolf made a promise to the tribe to always come and aid them in times of trouble. Someone had set up a research facility on their land, and were kidnapping people, those who survived to return, being left in a primarily vegetative state, having been tortured. Jim, Blair and you recreated the original trio which had saved the tribe, leading him to believe that the three of you could do something to stop the work of the research facility. We arrived and then, all of us together, did just that, only to find that Peter's father had been taken, along with the original Black Wolf, both prisoners at the research facility. You've got to admit that it's a pretty far stretch for simple coincidence."
"That's what I like about coincidence." Mickey said, smiling. "It happens so often."
"We were still lucky." Jim insisted. "If Atlan hadn't escaped when he did, the same things would have happened to us. It could still happen. To any of us. It still could. It would be very easy for just about anyone to grab any one or two of us. There are too many secrets. I'm surprised that it didn't happen sooner. Successfully."
"We need to keep closer contact with each other." James suggested. "Jim and Blair are right on the front lines, as are Peter and Kermit. Mickey scares most of the smart bad guys off, as he's so unpredictable. I suggest that we just watch each other's backs. Make sure everyone is heard from on at least a weekly basis."
"Well, you're home a lot more than anyone else. Are you volunteering to act as liaison?" Jim asked his uncle.
"I guess I am. Although, I imagine that Paul's family would be more interested in hearing from, or calling him." James replied. "I'll be quite happy to act as a focal point, in case of trouble. If Caine, Peter and Kermit will call Paul every week, and Paul call me, If any problems arise, a call to me would put into effect any number of possible plans."
"What about Atlan, and the Black Wolf clan?" Blair asked.
"We will be safe." John Black Wolf replied. "I would like for Atlan to stay with us, if he will."
Atlan looked up in surprise. "I...I would like that." His golden eyes glistening with unshed tears. "Thank you."
"My sister, Meadowlark, has lived for many years with others of your kind. She has sought out as many of the Old Ones as she could. They live deep in the mountains. They would be honoured if you would consent to join them. Although, not all are of the wolf clan, there are those who are of the Jaguar clan, and others of the tiger clan, but there are several who are wolf." John Black Wolf offered.
"Wait a minute, Jaguar and Tiger?" Blair's mind was in a whirl. He looked at his partner, curiously. "I wonder..." Casting another considering gaze on his friend, and a glance at their captain, he asked. "Uh, Something just occurred to me, both Jim and I have 'Spirit Guides' that appear in the form of animals. Jim's is a black Jaguar, a panther, and mine is a grey wolf. They both morph into, well, us. Do you suppose that there's any connection?"
"Well, you may well be descended from the Old Ones." Meadowlark explained. "Because of our family history, well, and the fact that I can shift into a black wolf; I did some studying..." Glaring at her nephew Dan when he snorted at that statement.
"'Some studying'?" He asked, laughing. "You have your PHDs in Medicine and Genetics, not to mention Bio-engineering. That's a lot more than just 'some' studying."
Blair looked up at the tall, good looking woman, impressed by her credentials. "So, what you're saying is..?" Encouraging her to continue.
"Well, it's entirely possible. If I can get some blood samples from you both, I can make sure. Just because you carry the blood of the Old Ones, doesn't necessarily mean that you would ever be able to shift, but you might have picked up some of the other talents they bring." She refused to explain what sorts of talents that might entail. She just smiled, waiting for them to figure it out.
"Like being Sentinels and Guides." Jim said, softly.
"Got it in one." Meadowlark laughed at the various expressions on the men's faces.
"I am not hearing this. This is all just a horrible nightmare and I'll wake up and find I'm still married to Joan, and that Daryl is still just a little boy. Oh, please, dear Lord. Tell me that this isn't real?" Simon's pained expression indicating that the Almighty wasn't giving him the answer he really wanted to hear right now.
The elder Caine watched in amused tolerance. With a glance at his son and their friends, he shrugged and said "Is it any more difficult to believe in men who can change into animals than it is to, say, be able to hear an ant eat, or see a fly at a hundred paces? Is it any more wondrous than Shambala?"
Peter smiled. "Well, having visited Shambala, I can definitely accept the idea of real werewolves. It is nice, though, to discover that, as usual, Hollywood got it all wrong.
The men all looked at one another, seeing tolerance and acceptance for the weird and wonderful things they had seen.
"So, are we agreed, then? Shall we make Sunday our day of contact? Say, no later than midnight, West Coast time?" James asked, steering them back on track.
"How about no later than midnight, Ohio time?" Blair asked. "After all, you shouldn't have to stay up waiting and worrying about a phone call from us."
"Why don't we use midnight as a point from which to start worrying? Give us the entire weekend to call, and if you haven't heard from us by midnight, you call us? Then, if you can't get in touch with someone, unless you know they're on a mission," Jim cast a quick glance at Mickey, who smiled smugly back at him. "Then would be the time to panic. If, say, Blair and I are going out of town camping over a holiday weekend, we would call before we left, give you our itinerary, just like we give Simon, saying where we're going, what we plan to be doing, and what time we'll be back, and call to let you know when we get back safely. How does that sound?"
"It sounds very good." James smiled at his family.
They spent another night crowded into John Black Wolf's home. Visiting, learning more about each other, exchanging information. Blair spent most of his time talking to Meadowlark, finding her theories about the Old Ones' assimilation into the rest of humanity fascinating. It was well after midnight before they all finally settled down to sleep. It was nearly noon before anyone awoke. The weather had finally cleared, without dropping any snow on them. After breakfast, they organised their departures, with promises to maintain more than just the weekly 'safety check' contact.
Atlan drew Jim and Blair aside. Smiling shyly at the pair, he began.
"Thank you for everything. You have not only ensured my freedom, but have given me contact with my own people. I can never repay you for what you have done." He hesitantly reached out with both hands, stroking the cheeks of his new friends in the time honoured way of his people, marking them as family. Jim and Blair each gave him a gentle hug goodbye.
"Don't be a stranger. Keep in touch, maybe you'd like to join us on our next camping trip?" Blair offered, backed up by Jim's nod of agreement.
"We go fishing a lot." The larger man added.
"I would like that." Smiling.
"Here. If you need anything, call us. For that matter, even if you don't need anything, call us. Leave a number where we can reach you, OK?" Blair handed him one of his and Jim's business cards, the ones with their home and cell phone numbers on them.
"Yes. I will."
The trip back to Cascade was much less tense than the trip up. It was not due to the fact that Atlan had stayed behind. Dan kept glancing at the men in the back seat. Finally, his curiosity got the better of him.
"So, just how many of the others know about you two?" Flinching a little when Simon glared at him.
"Well, Simon has known just about from the beginning." Jim began.
"Then, Joel figured it out, when that building blew up over him?" Blair continued.
"Then, we just up and told Mabel, Joel's wife, about it. Figuring that it wasn't right to make him keep secrets from her." Simon added.
"Then, Rafe figured it out and asked about it, so we told him and Brown. They've taken it pretty much in stride." Jim finished.
"What about Connor and Cassie?"
"Connor thinks Jim's a psychic." Blair laughed.
"Psycho?" Simon asked, grinning.
"Psy-kick." Blair insisted.
"And if you think we'd give Cassie the time of day..." Jim growled.
"So, is this one of those 'don't ask, don't tell' kind of things?" Wanting to be sure.
"Well, you saw what they did with Black Wolf and Atlan, right? We don't want to be locked up in little boxes and poked and prodded like lab mice." Blair insisted.
"I understand. I think I can keep a secret."
"Well, I don't know." Simon said. "Your own family kept its secrets from you."
"No, I knew the stories. I just didn't believe they were the absolute truth. I never imagined that such things could really exist. I was wrong."
"So, Dan. Are you OK with all of this?" Jim asked.
"Yeah. It explains a lot. How you know what I need to look for, how you know what I need to test for, and where. Why Blair showed up, and more importantly, stayed around. Good thing I didn't get into the pool on that one. They're still waiting for you to kill him."
"Not going to happen. He's got his shield, now, and I wouldn't trade him for any partner you could name." Jim grinned over at his nearly asleep partner and gently reached over to ruffle his hair.
"Dn't msss w' the hair, man." Came the sleepy mumble, as Blair straightened up, fighting travel sleepiness. Blinking owlishly around.
"No, I don't guess you would. You're good together. On top of which, he seems to have domesticated you pretty well. You don't have a constant mad on, any more. I think that's what everyone's noticed the most. How much easier you are to get along with." Dan said.
"Until you mess with his partner. Then...Look Out!" Simon chuckled.
"You've got it wrong. Jim's always been the domestic one. Mr. Clean here's got more house rules than any sane person could ever remember." Blair interjected, chuckling.
"Yeah. I'm still trying to housebreak Blair. Aren't I, Chief?" Grinning back at his friend.
"Well, I generally manage to get the keys in the basket and my jacket on the hook, now."
"Yeah, but you still leave your shoes in the living room, and can't hit the clothes hamper in the bathroom to save your life." Giving his friend a gentle push.
"Well, at least I can cook." Laughing and shoving back.
"But you can't seem to remember to keep your feet off the furniture, either." Mussing Blair's hair.
"Hey, you put your feet on the furniture!" Blair protested, smacking at Jim's hand with one of his, and reaching out to tickle him with the other hand.
Jim's hands dropped to try and defend himself from the tickling fingers, managing to block most of the tickling with one hand and reaching out to get in some tickling himself.
It quickly degenerated into an all-out tickle war. Laughter and bouncing in the back seat. Dan Wolf glanced back, concerned. Catching Simon's eye, he raised one eyebrow in question.
Simon sighed. "OK, you two. That's enough. You do not want me to have Dan pull over and me come back there and separate you." Trying to stifle his own laughter at their antics.
"But Simon," Blair whined in a perfect imitation of a small child stuck with an older sibling on the long drive home from a family outing. "He started it."
"Did not." Jim's put upon big brother act the perfect complement to Blair's whine.
"Did too." Pushing.
"Did not." Pushing back.
"Did so." Pushing harder.
"Didn't." Reaching out to muss the hair.
"Not the hair!" Frantically trying to slap away the hand.
"Oh, man. You big bully." Trying to push his fingers through his tangled mass of curls, while trying to hide his own smile.
Simon heaved a martyred sigh. Glancing at the man driving and seeing him trying to smother his grin, which caused Simon to lose it. He started laughing. "Come on, you two. Quit acting like five year olds. You're supposed to be grown men, not children."
"Jim's just being a big bully, Simon." Blair pouted.
"Stop it, now. Both of you. You're giving Dan terrible ideas about your...well, sanity, for one thing." Simon laughed.
"No. I was just wondering about the rumours. Obviously, they're wrong."
"What rumours?" Blair asked, slapping Jim's hands away.
"The ones that say...well, that you're...you know." Flustered.
"Know what?" Jim asked, puzzled. Finally keeping his hands to himself.
"Well, you act a lot more like brothers than lovers."
Simon nearly choked on his unlit cigar, then burst out in uproarious, nearly hysterical laughter.
"What?!" Jim yelled, shocked.
"Really?" Blair added.
"Who the hell's spreading those rumours?" Jim demanded, angry.
"Well, several places. Higgins, in Vice mentioned that the only reason he could think of for you to let Blair stay at your place for so long was because he bends over for you." Seriously concerned.
"I WHAT!?" Staring in horrified shock at his partner, who was changing colour with anger and embarrassment.
"Then, there's Jessica, who's been trying to catch Jim's eye for years, who thinks Sandburg's managed to, uh, well, I think the exact quote was 'seduce him from the straight and narrow'.
"WHAT?!" Both men chorused, as Simon's hysterical laughter had him sliding down in his seat, helplessly guffawing.
"I...I...I...h-h-hadn't heard th-th-th-that one." Shrieking anew at the picture.
Dan saw the furious, worried faces reflected in his rear view mirror. "I'm sorry. I thought everyone knew."
"Just how many of these rumours are there?" Jim growled. Thinking about knocking some heads together.
"Um...couple dozen, I guess." Finally realising that he'd put his foot in it good and deep. He'd be lucky to keep his leg, let alone get his shoe back, and he knew it.
"Who else has been saying this crap?" Jim's voice just got softer and lower.
Dan wished he'd kept his mouth shut. "I don't think it's a good idea for me to say any more. I don't want to have to testify against you at your trial for murder." Not a single note of teasing in his voice.
"No, Jim. It's OK. Just wait until Thanksgiving, man. We can take care of it then."
"What happens at Thanksgiving?" Dan asked, hopeful of getting out of this mess alive.
"Their girlfriends will be here." Simon managed to gasp out, as he wiped the tears from his face, still chuckling.
"Oh." Nonplussed. Dan chanced a look toward the back seat. Relieved to see that Jim appeared to be calming down. "Girlfriends?"
"Yeah. You know, women." Jim snarled. Still upset and angry that people were spreading rumours. Particularly, the type of rumours they were spreading. "Or we can wait until the Christmas party. Maybe even feed the mill a little? Our guys know the truth, and...You know? This might turn out to be fun." There was a wicked gleam in Jim's eyes. One none of them had ever seen.
"Uh, oh." Blair murmured. "What are you thinking, Jim?"
"Oh, I don't know. Giving those ass holes some grist for their mill. Then, at the Christmas party...Whammo." Grinning evilly.
"Oh, man. Do you think that's a good idea?" Blair asked, hesitantly.
Jim sighed. "No, probably not. But our guys will defend us, especially Joel."
"Well, I should hope so." Simon interjected.
"Why would Joel Taggart be so hot to defend you guys' honour?" Dan asked.
"Because Blair's lady love is Cecilia Taggart. Joel's daughter." Simon informed him. "I'd expect Cassie to defend Jim, even though they don't like each other, as well." He added.
"Why? Is Jim dating her sister, or something?" Dan asked.
"Yep." Jim replied, smiling, as he thought about Ronnie.
"Oh." Dan thought about all the rumours he'd heard regarding these two men...starting to smile at the ideas that started swimming around in his head. "I can think of all kinds of things to feed those mills, that would have all the rumour mongers panting over it. What would you like me to feed them?"
"Well, you did just spend the weekend with them." Simon pointed out. "Why not tell them about how they behave on long trips?"
"Oh, no." Dan replied, chuckling. "I'd be branded a liar straight off. Everyone knows that Ellison has no sense of humour. The picture of the two of them horsing around in the back seat? Most of them wouldn't believe it even it they'd been here. No way would that fly." Biting his tongue to keep from adding 'Everyone knows that Jim's just a big bad ass son of a bitch.'
"Well, don't worry about it. We'll figure out something." Blair insisted, patting Jim's arm reassuringly.
Simon looked back, meeting Jim's eyes. "You mean that you'll think up something, don't you, Sandburg?" Simon dared to ask.
"Oh, yeah. To quote one of our newest 'family' members." Smirking and bouncing at all the ideas swirling through his mind.
Jim and Simon watched him for a moment and both men shuddered, wondering what their favourite grad student was up to. Dan glanced back once more and caught the look in the smaller man's eyes and wondered just how big and how nasty the can of worms was that he had just opened.