Destinies Entwined
Mackie -

Alert: I wrote this story in an attempt to expand the limits on my 
Angst Meter. If you don't like angst, hurt/comfort, get 'ems, intense 
emotional content or whatever else we care to call it, don't read any 
further. You have been warned! Actually, on my scale this probably 
ranks around a 7, which puts it somewhere in the vast middle ground of 
angsty fanfic.

It took me forever to finish this story, and I suspect I'll never be 
satisfied with it. I finally got to the point where I had to cry 
"Enough!" and type THE END. Apologies for taking so long to complete 

Thanks also to my beta readers, Joanne, for her gentle guidance with 
POV and attribution (I'm working to improve!) and Shellie, for keeping 
me focused. As usual, any mistakes are writer's prerogative.

Note: In fandom, there seems to be a mixed view on just where Kung Fu: 
The Legend Continues is supposed to take place. One aired episode 
showed Niagara Falls, so some stories have hinted at New York City. The 
TNT site actually says Toronto, which is where the series was filmed. 
Another episode took father and son quite easily to the ruins of their 
Northern California temple, so other fanfic has placed the duo in the 
Northwest. For obvious reasons, Seattle suits my purposes nicely, so 
I'm falling in with the Northwest contingent.

Rated PG-13.

Destinies Entwined
-- by Linda S. Maclaren

Part One

Looking as if he hadn't had a good night's sleep in a month, Detective 
Jim Ellison walked sluggishly into the bullpen at Cascade PD. In fact, 
it had been two weeks since he'd last slept well--two weeks of concern 
that became worry that finally blossomed into dread. He hardly slept at 
all now, just on those rare occasions where his body simply shut down 
from exhaustion. When that happened, he found himself battling the 
demons of his nightmares and woke as weary as when he'd first closed 
his eyes.

Now, with steps that felt leaden, he went to his desk, shrugged out of 
his jacket, and hung it up. Or rather, he tried to hang it up; 
somewhere between his fingers and the coat rack, the jacket slipped and 
fell to the floor. He looked at it for a long moment, wondering if it 
was worth the effort required to pick it up. The whole exercise seemed 
pointless. It was getting harder to come in to work each day, but he'd 
already taken off so much time, and the hours were adding up....


He turned to meet Simon's concerned eyes. "Morning, sir."

"You look terrible, man," the Captain blurted, surprised at the 
lassitude he saw in his friend. "Are you getting any sleep at all? 
How's Sandburg?"

Jim didn't answer, just shook his head.

"Damn." Simon sat on the edge of the desk. "Did you take him back to 
the hospital?"

His jacket forgotten, Jim slumped into his chair and stretched his long 
legs under the desk. "He won't go."

Concern for both men unintentionally hardened Simon's tone. "Then you 
need to insist." 

"I don't know." Jim worried at the problem before trying to explain. 
"He wasn't being stubborn, Simon. He just wanted to know what they 
could do for him as an in-patient that they can't do for him as an out-

"And what did they say?"

"Nothing," Jim answered bitterly, scrubbing both hands over his face in 
an effort to drive away some of the weariness. "They don't have a damn 
clue about what's wrong with him. All the blood work indicates an 
immune system disorder of some sort, but they've been unable to pin it 
down. They're using all the buzzwords they like to toss around when 
they've run out of ideas--'chronic fatigue syndrome', 'multiple-
chemical sensitivity'--it's all just bullshit to cover up the fact that 
they might as well be reading tea leaves and tarot cards to find the 

"Haven't they been able to do anything to help him?"

Again, Jim shook his head. "Last week, they put him on a wide-spectrum 
antibiotic, but it hasn't put a dent in the thing."

Simon scowled with worry. "Sandburg on antibiotics. He must be feeling 
pretty desperate to go to that extreme."

Jim nodded, then finally admitted quietly, "He's scared, Simon. Hell, 
I'm scared, too. It started out like a mild case of flu, but he's not 
getting any better, and it's slowly working its way into every part of 
his body. He just keeps getting weaker." Weaker? His roommate was 
losing ground daily in his battle against the microscopic predator that 
had invaded his body. One of the most heart-wrenching symptoms that had 
appeared early on was a growing mental confusion, an inability to 
process simple thoughts without intense concentration. Blair's memory 
was fading bit by bit, leaving behind only emptiness.

"Then go home," Simon ordered gently. "You need to be there."

"You wanted me here for a meeting with the FBI." As tired as he was, he 
suspected he'd be pretty worthless as a participant.

The Captain shrugged aside the protest. "I'll bring Stubing in on this. 
The FBI likes the fact that he knows languages, so they're willing to 
bring him on board. Go. The kid needs you."

Jim managed to snag his jacket off the floor before climbing stiffly to 
his feet. "Thanks, Simon."

"Keep us posted. We're all worried."

The best Jim could manage was a tired, "Yeah."

Part Two

Jim quietly unlocked the door to the loft, but Blair was awake, sitting 
on the sofa, a brightly colored blanket wrapped around him and a phone 
book open on his lap. Several days ago, he had abandoned his bed in 
favor of the couch, where he'd created a comfortable nest of bedding 
and pillows. Jim changed the sheets and pillow cases regularly without 
complaint, understanding his roommate's need to feel he wasn't 
bedridden and helpless.

Blair didn't acknowledge his arrival, so Jim shifted aside the rumpled 
sheets and sat down carefully beside him. He noticed the phone book was 
the enormous Bay Cities Edition, a combination directory for Cascade, 
Seattle, Tacoma and the numerous small communities that formed the 
sprawling conurbation of this swath of Washington coastline.

"Hey, Chief."

Blair glanced up at him, his normally vivid blue eyes lackluster and 
haunted in the gray pallor of his face. "Jim. Good, I'm glad you're 
home. How was work?" He seemed to lose track of time all too easily.

Jim was saddened by the worsening condition he could see almost hourly 
in his best friend. Blair had lost weight; more importantly, he had 
lost vitality. Although he was able to eat small meals, his strength 
was waning despite all attempts to beat back whatever was attacking his 
body. This morning, he had either forgotten or not bothered to shave, 
and the shadow of beard was black against the almost alabaster 
translucence of his skin. "I didn't stay."

He's dying, he thought with almost overwhelming despair. It was a 
possibility he had refused to face before now, and he drove it from his 
mind now with savage determination, as if afraid the thought might give 
way to reality. 

"Oh. What time is it?"

"A little after nine. How's your fever?" He reached out a hand to touch 
Blair's forehead, then jerked back in surprise and pain. It felt as if 
he'd laid his palm on a hot griddle.

Blair frowned. His mental fog made it difficult for him to process 
unusual events. "What?" His expression was almost child-like with wide-
eyed surprise.

Jim looked at his palm, but there was no evidence of the blisters he 
felt he should have seen. It was a crazy notion anyway; no one could 
run a fever that high. "Nothing. Just a weird sense of touch for a 
moment." Cautiously, he returned his hand to Blair's forehead. It was 
warm, but not hot. 

"Still hovering around a hundred," he said. "Damn low-grade fever. 
Nothing's getting rid of it." He was frustrated by his helplessness; 
how could he defeat an enemy he could neither see nor touch? What the 
hell good was he? For that matter, what the hell good were the doctors 
who kept assuring him it was just a matter of finding the right strains of bacteria were appearing every day, each more 
resistant to antibiotics than its predecessors...if they could just get 
a handle on this one, they could knock the infection down 
quickly...Damn! Couldn't they see Blair was dying while they stumbled 
around blindly in their laboratories...? 

"Sense of touch?" Blair echoed, clearly worried. "Has it happened 

"Yeah, a couple of times. I'm just tired, that's all. Don't worry about 
it." Fighting back a tremor of despair, Jim gestured toward the book on 
Blair's lap. "What are you doing with the phone book? Did you take your 

"Yeah," Blair replied without interest. "And I made some more tea. 
You'd think the herbal formula would be working by now."

You'd think, Jim contradicted in his mind. I don't have much faith in 
your herbal concoctions.

"Jim, we need to talk."

Jim's eyes slid away of their own volition, his thoughts in terrified 
denial. Damning himself for being weak and selfish, he forced himself 
to meet his Guide's probing look, but Blair had already gone back to 
staring at his hands spread across the pages of the phonebook.

"Then let's talk," Jim said, but his voice was tight with reluctance.

"No, it's OK." The response was whispered, but filled with futility and 


His name, spoken with all the love and compassion Jim could find in his 
heart, caused Blair to lift his head again.

Jim's eyes were full of sorrow, but his words were calm now, no longer 
tense with strain. "Tell me what you need to say." And God help me, I 
hope I'm strong enough to hear it. 

After a long moment of silence, Blair nodded. "OK. Thanks." He took a 
minute more to gather his thoughts, trying to form his words so they 
wouldn't sound too dramatic or fatalistic. He didn't want to turn this 
into a tearfest; there'd be enough time for that later. "If the worst 
should happen--" he began, then paused as Jim's body jerked in 
rejection of the possibility.

But Jim held his tongue, the denial dying in his throat. Knowing this 
whole conversation was painful for them both, Blair nonetheless 
continued. "If it gets bad, I don't want to die in the hospital."

Jim's breath caught in his chest. "No." Whether he was whispering an 
agreement or a denial was uncertain.

Blair could no longer look at the intense hurt and sadness in his 
friend's eyes, so he turned to look out through the French doors. "Home 
hospice care would be my first choice, but that would be too 

Breathe, dammit, Jim told himself. When he finally managed a shaky 
inhalation, he said, "Difficult how?"

"You've already missed too much work because of me--"


"--and it's too expensive. I don't think my insurance covers it. Maybe 
you could check?"

Numbly, Jim only nodded.

Blair had never realized there were so many details associated with 
dying. He didn't have a written will because he'd never thought about 
it before. Now, he supposed he had to write one, if only to list the 
few things that were his and get the rest of his stuff back to the 
museums and universities he'd borrowed it from. "I think regular 
hospice care is covered," he went on. "There are some good ones listed 
with the University. I hate asking you to do this, 'cause I know it's 

"I'll check into it." Jim couldn't hold back a qualifier: "If it 
becomes necessary."

Blair nodded. "Yeah, if it becomes necessary." He fidgeted with the 
thin paper of the page he had open on his lap, and the corner flaked 
away under his fingers. "Did you find Mom?"

Mom, not Naomi, Jim noted. Blair really had a need for her to be here 
right now. "I've left a couple of dozen messages in four countries, but 
I haven't been able to track her down."

"It's OK." Blair didn't like the frustration he heard in Jim's voice. 
"She gets around a lot. It's not your fault."

"Yeah." Jim felt useless. "Blair, what are you doing with the phone 
book?" he asked again.

His roommate seemed surprised to find it open on his lap. He stared at 
it for a long time, then actually smiled as he remembered. Dredging up 
a memory had become a triumph lately. "Oh, yeah. The Seattle Cultural 

Jim thought back. "You were there a couple of months ago, right? The 
exhibit of religious artifacts."

"Right. I met an herbalist. I thought maybe he could help me." He 
frowned. "Not herbalist. Another word. What is it?" He concentrated, 
but the answer would not come, and he thumped his hand on the phone 
book in frustration.

"Uh--pharmacist? Chemist?" Blair shook his head, his irritation 
growing. "Druggist?" Then Jim had it. "Apothecary?"

Blair nodded and sighed in relief. He savored the word. "Apothecary."

Jim looked down at the phone book. Both pages were filled with the same 
name. "Caine? What's his first name?" Blair only shrugged. "Do you know 
what city he's in?" This time, a morose shake of the head answered his 
question. "What did you two talk about? Maybe he said something that 
would help us find him." He didn't have much faith in herbalists, faith 
healers, or palm readers, but he was willing to try anything to ease 
the fear he saw growing daily in Blair's eyes.

Finally, Blair sighed. "Actually, we never met. I saw him there, and 
someone told me who he was."

Great, there must be a hundred Caine's listed...and then there's Kane 
and Cane and maybe a spelling or two I haven't thought of yet.... 
"Blair, none of the herbal stuff you've tried so far has worked. What 
makes this guy different?"

Blair looked sullen and stubborn, or perhaps just desperate. "I don't 
know. He just seemed--special."

Jim sighed. "OK, I'll try to find him. In the meantime, don't you think 
maybe it's time we went back to the hospital, Chief?"

Blair shook his head and placed his hands almost reverently on the open 
phone book. "Find Caine."

"I'll make a deal with you," Jim offered. "I'll phone every Caine, 
under any spelling I can think of, if you'll just check into the 
hospital." I'm afraid, Chief. I'm afraid you'll get so weak, your heart 
will stop beating. You've got to be where someone can help you, where 
there are people who can keep you alive....

Tears glistened suddenly in Blair's eyes but did not spill. Very 
softly, he said, "Jim, if I go to the hospital, I'll die."

Jim felt the anguish in those words all the way to his soul. Please, 
please don't take me on one of your mystical, magical mystery tours 
right now, partner. I don't have the strength for it. "Why do you think 
you'll die if you go to the hospital?" he asked finally, ashamed at 
what he'd been thinking. Sandburg might have been the one losing 
strength, but it was destroying both of them.

"I just will." Blair started to cough, a dry, hollow sound that shook 
his frail frame. The cough was a new symptom that had appeared the day 
before. Whatever was slowly killing him had reached his lungs.

Killing him. Angrily, Jim said, "I'm going to call the hospital again. 
They must have figured out something after all the tests they've run on 

He stood up to put words into action, but a soft knock caused him to 
take a slight detour to the front door. Opening it, he was startled to 
find a slender, middle-aged man standing before him, his common street 
clothes cheap but clean, the soft suede boots on his feet inadequate 
protection against the wet and cold of the local weather. His thinning 
gray-brown hair was worn long and straight, the wisps framing a kind 
face filled with gentleness and wisdom.

The man spoke slowly, an odd precision to his words. "I am Caine," he 
said humbly. "Someone here needs me." With that simple introduction, he 
stepped past Jim and entered the loft.

Part Three

Jim didn't move, his hand still clutching the doorknob. Blair had 
mentioned a need to find Caine, and now the man was here; it was an 
event that should have raised alarms in his normally suspicious mind. 
How had the man known he was needed? How had he known where to find 
Blair? But most incongruous of all, the weirdest thing Jim would 
remember about that moment was his own absolute acceptance of the 
rightness of Caine's arrival.

Another voice spoke lightly from the hallway. "Don't worry. The 
speechlessness will pass. He has that effect on people."

Jim suddenly focused on his second visitor, a conventional-looking 
young man with an unruly tousle of dark hair, a wry smile, and lively 
brown eyes at once youthful and guarded, as if they'd seen things 
beyond the understanding of normal mortals. 

The man held out his hand. "Hi. I'm Peter Caine."

Automatically, Jim accepted the offered handshake. "Jim Ellison." He 
stepped back and allowed the man to enter, then shut the door and 
turned toward the sofa, where the elder Caine had crouched down in 
front of Blair. "He's your father?"


"How did you get here?"

Peter shrugged. "I could say we drove, but what you meant to ask is how 
did he know to come here. The answer to that is--I don't know. He comes 
to me and says, 'Peter, we must make a journey,' and I just point the 
car in the direction he tells me. So, here we are."

"You're armed." Jim's focus was almost entirely on the older man and 
what he was doing with Blair--nothing, as far as he could tell, beyond 
a murmured, "I am Caine; I have come to help you"--but he'd noticed the 

"Oh, sorry--I'm a cop with the 101st." Peter's tone held only the 
barest hint of apology. "You want to see my badge?"

Jim shook his head, surprising himself. Any other time, under any other 
circumstances, he would have demanded it. "No." After a moment, he 
added, "So you're a cop, and your father is --?"

"A Shaolin priest."

This didn't explain a whole lot, but Jim accepted it for now and walked 
to the sofa to stand behind Blair, who hadn't said a word since the 
knock on the door. He sat quietly, his head downcast, allowing Caine to 
hold his hands and stroke his arms gently from elbow to wrist. 

Jim started to ask what the priest was doing when Caine said, "He has 
been poisoned."


"You must find it. We need to understand its nature if we are to fight 

Oh, sure, Jim thought savagely, I'll just whip out my handy, dandy 
poison detector...

Although Caine was kneeling on the floor in front of the sofa, he was 
close enough to reach up and catch Jim's wrist. He gave a slight tug, 
and Jim almost lost his balance over the back of the sofa, catching 
himself just in time.

He winced as he felt his bones grind together. How could such a slender 
man possess so much strength?

"The poison is here," Caine said, his voice still soft but filled with 
conviction. Abruptly, he pressed Jim's hand against Blair's exposed 

Beneath his fingers, it felt as hot as newly forged iron, and Jim 
gasped at the agony that coursed through him. Despite a reflexive 
attempt to pull away, the priest held him effortlessly.

Caine's next command held an angry edge as he finally released his 
grip. "You can recognize it. Find it."

Straightening, Jim was surprised to feel the pain in his hand vanish as 
quickly it had come. He looked at his palm, but it was free of burns 
and blisters just like the other times he'd touched that fire on 
Blair's skin. Tossing a bewildered and somewhat exasperated look at the 
priest, he turned around and stalked into the kitchen. With determined, 
angry motions he began to grab anything that might have come into 
contact with his sick partner. 

Nearby, Peter Caine leaned on the counter and watched. "You didn't 
introduce the patient."

Jim was intent on his search. "Blair Sandburg," 

"And you're a cop, right?" At Jim's glance, he said, "I saw your badge 
on the table by the door."

Satisfied, Jim went back to the hunt. "Yes." Suddenly, his fingers 
brushed a small paper sack containing one of Blair's many herbal 
remedies. It seared against his skin like hungry flames, and he grunted 
with pain as he dropped it onto the counter. Three other identical bags 
followed, each one burning his fingertips like hot coals.

Peter looked at them. "That's it?"

Jim nodded.

"All four of them?"

Again, Jim nodded, unable to bring himself to touch the little brown 
sacks again.

Reluctantly, Peter reached out and cautiously touched one. When it had 
no adverse effect, he glanced at Jim. "How did you --?" he began, then 
just shook his head, picking up all four bags in one hand. "Never mind. 
Every day, I realize the number of things I don't understand just keeps 

He carried the sacks to his father.

Following him, Jim almost smiled. Something about the younger Caine's 
energetic way of speaking reminded him of Sandburg. But Blair's energy 
came from his natural exuberance, the sheer excitement he found in the 
wonders of each new day. On the other hand, Peter's energy seemed to 
flow from his nerves, raw and unfocused.

Jim took up his vigil again behind the sofa. Blair was now stretched 
out, still wrapped in the blanket, and he looked peacefully asleep. 
When he reached out with his senses, he found a weak but steady 
heartbeat and unencumbered breathing. "What did you do?"

"He needed rest." Caine examined the Chinese characters on the exterior 
of one of the small bags before unfolding the top to examine the 
contents. "A harmless blend of herbs to aid in relaxation."

"It's what I felt." He finally had the curiosity to wonder how Caine 
could have known he could feel the poison in his Guide's blood, 
especially when he had attributed his own odd reaction to a momentary 
glitch in his sense of touch. "It felt as hot as molten lava."

Caine nodded. "Someone has tampered with the contents." Gently, he 
shook Blair's shoulder, rousing the young man from his light sleep. 
"Blair, where did you get this?"

Blair squinted groggily at the sack for a minute. "The University. 
Someone was handing out an herbal sampler as part of a--" He looked up 
at Jim, trying to find the word.

This challenge was becoming all too familiar to Jim. "A promotion? A 
thank you?"

Blair nodded. "A thank you...for a cultural exchange exhibit we did 
with China last semester. A bunch of the teachers got them."

"Thank you." Blair instantly went back to sleep. The priest looked at 
Jim. "Have any of the other teachers fallen ill?"

"I don't think so. I called the university when he first got sick. I'm 
sure someone would have mentioned if there had been others."

"I agree." Caine set the bag aside. "It was a clever ploy to allay his 
suspicions and encourage him to accept the gift."

Peter was examining another one of the bags. "Pop, isn't this --?"

Caine interrupted smoothly. "Yes. Please have someone bring him to me, 
if it suits him."

"You know who prepared the teas?" Jim asked as Peter stepped away to 
use his cellphone.

"Yes, but you have my word he was not responsible for introducing the 
poison. However, he may be able to describe the person who purchased 
the original herbs."

Peter put away his phone and came back to sit on the edge of the coffee 
table. "Skelany's going to track down the Ancient and bring him here."

Jim was perplexed by the odd name. "The Ancient?"

Caine nodded. "A very wise apothecary. I will require his assistance to 
help your friend."

Again, Jim was surprised by his easy acceptance of Caine's assurance 
that this 'Ancient' could not be involved in the poisoning; 
furthermore, he felt no qualms about allowing the man to minister to 
Blair. His weirdness meter was definitely going off the scale and it 
bothered him. "I should take one of the sacks over to the hospital. 
With a sample of the poison, maybe the doctors can come up with an 

"You must, of course, do as you think best. But with your permission, I 
would like to start treatment of this young man."

Jim couldn't keep a twinge of sarcasm out of his voice. "More herbs and 

"I will not harm him."

The priest's humble serenity convinced him of his good intentions, and 
Jim went to the kitchen to find a shopping bag. He held it open toward 
Peter. "Mind dropping one of those sacks in here?"

Peter complied, and walked with him to the door. "Don't worry about 
Sandburg. My father's very good at this sort of thing."

Jim retrieved his badge and keys from the table. "Yeah. For some 
reason, I trust him." At the younger Caine's look, he said, "I know, he 
has that affect on people."

Peter chuckled. "Only on the good ones." Calmly, he took the truck keys 
from Jim and dropped them back into the basket. "Come on. I'll drive." 
He opened the door and paused to look back at his father. "Unless you 
need me here?"

Caine understood the restlessness in his son and merely shook his head 
once. Besides, Jim was exhausted, barely able to concentrate, and the 
priest did not like the thought of the detective behind the wheel of a 
vehicle. "We will be fine until you return. Be careful."

Peter just grinned and ushered Jim out the door.

Part Four

Carrying the grocery sack containing the bag of poisoned tea as if it 
might explode into flames at any moment, Jim went down the stairs. He 
could almost feel Peter's nervous energy pushing at him from behind, as 
if he would have preferred taking the steps in full flight. He wondered 
how the young man coped with being rooted in two worlds--the spiritual 
world of his father and the primal, violent world of law enforcement. 

Outside, the younger Caine unlocked the passenger door on a black 
Stealth. It was a sporty two-seater, and Jim felt uncomfortable as he 
lowered himself into the passenger seat.

Peter jumped behind the wheel and fired the powerful engine, then 
glanced over at his passenger. "What is it?"

"I'm not used to riding so low to the ground."

Peter chuckled. "Let me guess--you look like a truck sort of guy to 
me." He looked where Jim's nod directed him and grinned broadly. "A 
sixty-nine Ford? Man, that must really impress your dates." He glanced 
down at Jim's shoes. "What? No cowboy boots?"

"Just drive." Jim pointed in the direction the car was facing. He was 
grateful for the flow of innocuous words. They lent a sense of normalcy 
to a world that had become unfamiliar and dark the past few weeks. "By 
the way, is there any special form of address I should use for your 

Peter pulled away from the curb. "He's usually just called 'Caine'--or 
'Master Caine', if you're feeling particularly respectful. He doesn't 
care. The Ancient is Master Lo Si, and he's quite a character. And 
Skelany is Detective Mary Margaret Skelany."

Jim was glad to have the little social matters out of the way. For some 
reason, his fatigue made him want to focus on the irrelevant. Normally, 
he wouldn't have cared what one called a Shaolin priest. "What about 
you--do you prefer Pete or Peter?"

Peter shrugged. "Either's fine." He stopped for a red light and glanced 
at his passenger. "I don't know this town very well--where's the 

Jim drew himself back to his present worries and managed to give 
coherent directions. Peter followed them without asking for further 
guidance. He drove the way he moved--with smooth, quick precision; he 
was heedless of the speed limit and yet missed nothing of what was 
happening around him as he threaded deftly through the mid-morning 
traffic. "OK, my turn. You're a cop, right?"


"Which precinct?"

"Central--Major Crime."

"Ah --- OK." Peter frowned thoughtfully. "Any big cases right now that 
someone might be trying to keep you away from?"

Jim shook his head. "I've thought about that. No."

"OK, then your partner, Sandburg. Is he working anything on the side?"

"He's not a cop." He'd been over the possibilities again and again in 
the brief time he'd known about the poison, but nothing was sparking an 
idea, or else he was just too tired to recognize it. "He's a 
consultant, and we work our cases together. 'On the side,' he's a 
teacher and anthropologist."

"Right. He mentioned getting the tea at the university. So there's no 
motive to get rid of him?"

"No--and a slow poison is more a weapon for revenge. Or maybe a means 
to distract one or both of us from...something." Jim shook his head at 
the sluggishness of his thoughts. 

"Revenge. Against him or you?"

"That's what I intend to find out."

Peter parked in front of the hospital.

Jim climbed awkwardly out of the sports car. "You coming inside?"

Peter was already getting out. Sitting still didn't seem to be part of 
his nature. "Sure."

In the hospital lab, Jim explained the situation and left a sample of 
the tea for analysis. The rest he would take to the police labs for 
further testing. He didn't know which facility would get the job done 
the fastest, and he wanted to cover as many bases as possible.

"Where to next?" Peter asked as they returned to the car.

"Police labs," Jim said. Damn, but he was tired. It had been almost two 
hours since his last dose of caffeine, and the stimulant seemed to be 
all that had kept him going these past few days. 

Even his senses had started doing strange things--sounds fading in and 
out, sight blurring and colors fluctuating from one eye blink to the 
next. It hadn't become critical yet, but he knew he was approaching a 
point where he would no longer be able to function. He wanted to grab 
some sleep before that happened, because collapsing in a house filled 
with strangers would be just too embarrassing....

"That's in your building, right?"

"Sorry, what?"

"The police lab--that's in your precinct building?"


Peter roared away from the curb. "OK, I know where that is."

Once again, the visiting detective accompanied Jim. They went to the 
police lab first, then upstairs to the bullpen. With his badge clipped 
to his belt, Peter received several curious stares from the other 
detectives as Jim led the way to the Captain's office.

Simon listened with growing skepticism to Jim's account of his morning. 
"Are you sure about this poison?"

"If you mean do I have scientific evidence, then no, but the tea's 
being tested now. Caine's certain it's been poisoned, and so am I."

"Because it felt hot when you touched the bags." Simon looked 
skeptical. He glanced at Peter. "I don't mean to sound as if I doubt 
your father--"

The younger Caine shrugged it off. "I know he seems really out there 
sometimes, Captain. In my head, I have difficulty believing the things 
I've seen him do, but in here--" He tapped his chest. "--in my heart, I 
know what he does is real. If he says Blair Sandburg has been poisoned, 
you can take any odds that he's right."

"But you showed up out of the blue, Detective."

"Yeah, and we would have been here sooner except my father was out of 
the country for a time."

Simon's disbelief persisted. "But he sensed Sandburg was in danger?" 

Peter struggled to explain something he didn't altogether understand. 
"A couple of months ago, my father saw him at a Seattle museum. He told 
me Sandburg has a very special aura--and before you ask, I haven't a 
clue what he meant by that--but that there was a cloud of danger 
hovering over him. What my father saw and felt may seem like magic to 
the three of us, but his being here is anything but mysterious--I 
looked up Sandburg's name and address in the museum's guest book."

Simon sighed. "Well, I suppose your story is no stranger than some of 
the things we have going on around here." He glanced at Jim. "Any ideas 
on motive?"

Jim had been gazing idly through the office window into the bullpen, 
and he dragged his attention back. Tentatively, he tried to wrap his 
tongue around some very foreign words. "Does anyone know what that 

Peter's eyebrows rose fractionally. "It's Chinese for 'we have a 

Jim muddled through another phrase. "What about that one?"

The younger cop's interest was definitely piqued. "Meet at the usual 
place at four o'clock," he translated helpfully.

Simon scowled. "Jim?"

"Our newest recruit, Stubing, just made a phone call," Jim said 
quietly, but there was anger lurking in his tone. "The conversation was 
in Chinese. He told someone there was a problem, and whoever he spoke 
with set up a meeting."

"Stubing?" Peter asked, not seeming the least curious how Jim had 
managed to overhear both sides of a quiet telephone conversation 
through a closed door and halfway across the bullpen.

"Transferred to Major Crime so he can be part of the new FBI joint task 
force on organized crime." Simon immediately grasped the implication. 
"He wasn't going to make the team until Jim got sidetracked by his 
partner's illness."

"FBI joint task force on organized crime," Peter said thoughtfully. "I 
don't suppose that would include Chinese gangs?"

"Very possibly. Why?"

"Because if Detective Stubing has decided there's a problem, it might 
be because he recognized me and not just because Jim's come in."

"Why would you pose a threat?" Jim asked.

"The 101st includes Chinatown, and my father and I have taken a big 
bite out of crime in our neighborhood." He smiled slightly. "Enough so 
that some of the crime bosses may have started looking for friendlier 

"Like Cascade," Jim concluded. "Damn, if Stubing had anything to do 
with poisoning Blair--"

"We'll let him be for now." Simon's sternness left no room for 
argument. "I'll put a tail on him, see who he meets at four o'clock. In 
the meantime, Jim, you just continue as you've been doing. Go home and 
look after your partner."

Reluctantly, Jim nodded. As he and Peter left the office and headed 
through the bullpen, it took every ounce of his willpower not to glare 
daggers at Stubing.

Settled in the Stealth once again, the days of worry and tension caught 
up with him, and he leaned back in the comfortable bucket seat.

When he jerked awake sometime later, they were cruising through 
Cascade's Chinatown. "Where are we?" 

"Just cruising around," Peter said. "It's true, you know," he continued 
in the same light tone. "They say driving around puts a sleepless baby 
right out--it sure did wonders for you."

Jim threw him a caustic glance, then peered out the side window at the 
insular community that looked as if it had been dropped intact from a 
bustling portion of Hong Kong or Beijing. "Are we looking for anything 
in particular?"

"No, I just wanted to check out the area. I'm not familiar with your 
Chinatown. However, we've picked up a tail. Blue Chevy sedan three cars 

Jim glanced in the side mirror and spotted the car. "What about the 
white one behind it?" Peter nodded agreeably. "I don't know, let's 
check 'em out." He turned right at the next corner.

Both cars followed obligingly.

"Well, well, we're certainly popular." He took another turn, left this 
time, and the two vehicles stayed with them. "I wonder if they're just 
keeping tabs on us, or if they have something more confrontational in 

A moment later, he had his answer. "Here they come."

Part Five

Caine knew his young patient's struggle would be a difficult one. 
Before even starting to address the first step in the recovery process, 
he brewed a powerful tea and helped Blair sit up to drink it.

The young man grimaced at the bitter flavor. "What is it?" he asked, 
his voice so weak Caine feared his arrival might have come too late to 
do any good.

"It will help you focus. We have much work to do."

Blair looked doubtful. "I don't think I'm up to it," he confessed, a 
little ashamed by how pathetic he sounded. "I'm so tired."

The priest was insistent. "We must overcome the first component of the 
poison you have been consuming. It will not be easy, but I will help 

"Poison." It was clear Blair really hadn't grasped what was happening 
to him.

"Yes." Caine stood up again and went around the couch so he could place 
his hands comfortably on Blair's shoulders. "Your chi--your life 
force--has been unbalanced. You have lost your harmony. We must find it 

Blair concentrated on the words and tried to make sense of them. They 
sounded like something Naomi would say, so they had a warm familiarity. 
"Is that why I'm sick?"

"It is why the poison has been able to invade your body slowly without 
resistance." Caine began a slow massage of Blair's neck and shoulders. 
"When we bring your chi back into balance, your body will begin 
fighting back."

"Will I be OK?"

Unable to lie, Caine admitted, "I do not know. The poison has been able 
to do its work unchecked for a long time. You are very weak, but your 
spirit is strong. I promise I will do all I can to help you."

"I know." Blair's mind drifted on the comforting strength flowing from 
Caine's fingers as the priest kneaded his shoulders. "I knew you were 
special when I first saw you."

"And I you," Caine responded softly. "Your aura has great power. You 
have a remarkable destiny."

"Yeah?" The question emerged as a sleepy sigh.

"Your friend also possesses a unique aura." Caine worked across Blair's 
upper back. "But it was only when I saw you together that I realized 
you are both halves of a single whole...complementary parts that, when 
combined, create a powerful source of strength and wisdom."

"Wow," Blair breathed dreamily. "Don't talk that way around Jim, or 
you'll send him running for the hills."

Caine smiled slightly. "Yes, he resists your common destiny. But his 
reluctance does not mask his love for you."

Blair sounded faintly incredulous. "We share a destiny?"

"Yes. I do not know why this is so. It is enough that I know."

He moved around to the front of the sofa again and helped Blair down 
onto the floor. "We must meditate and refocus your chi."

Blair's limbs protested as he assumed a position he normally found 
relaxing and comfortable. Today, everything hurt. "Will that make me 
feel better?" 

Caine neatly avoided a direct answer. "It is only the first step, but 
it is the most important one. Let us begin."

Part Six

Peter floored the Stealth and slid it into a hard right turn, Jim's 
protest dying to a grunt as he was slammed into the passenger door.

"Bad move?" Peter asked with a grin as the car straightened out and 
shot up the street, their pursuers close behind.

Jim tightened his seatbelt. "I was going to say 'don't turn right'." 
Somehow, everything seemed to flow past a lot faster this close to the 


They were in a warehouse district, racing between rows of long 

The powerful car ate up the road. "What's ahead?"

"The bay."

"Uh-huh. To the right?"

"A raised railroad bed. This car will never clear it."

"I guess that just leaves left." Peter slid the car into another hard 

The Stealth gripped the road like a jungle cat, barely fishtailing as 
it accelerated out of the corner.

The two sedans lost ground, one of them spinning in a complete circle 
before its driver regained control and was able to continue the 

More warehouses flashed by on either side. Ahead of them, a long 
tractor-trailer rig blocked their path. They closed the distance with 
remarkable speed.

"What d'ya think?" Peter asked, guessing the clearance from the ground 
to the bottom of the trailer was about six inches too low to slip 

"Not a chance." Jim automatically cringed in the seat. Next time, by 
god, he was going to do the driving!

Peter swung the wheel again, and the car lunged up a cargo ramp to the 
loading dock. Jim was certain if he hadn't been in the passenger seat 
to counterbalance the weight, the Stealth's left wheels wouldn't have 
touched the ramp, and the car would have rolled for certain.

But they made it with inches to spare.

Peter hit the brakes, stopping just short of a large stack of shipping 

On the road, the driver of the first sedan was too slow to react to the 
danger. With a squeal of brakes and a desperate sideways skid, the car 
slid under the trailer. The top sheared off, instantly decapitating 
both driver and passenger, and the car exploded in a fireball that 
continued down the road after clearing the far side of the rig.

The driver of the second car managed to stop in time. After a wild 
spinout, the car's tires squealing and smoking on the asphalt, he 
turned the car around and peeled back the way he had come.

Peter slammed the Stealth into reverse. The sports car rocketed 
backwards along the loading dock and down the ramp, where he executed a 
perfect 180.

The pursuer had become the pursued.

Somehow during the wild ride, Jim managed to pull out his cellphone. He 
called Dispatch to report the wreck and the pursuit, describing both 
vehicles engaged in the chase. 

Then the sedan abruptly turned into a huge storage facility.

Peter skidded to a halt behind the larger car. All four doors were 
open, the interior seemingly empty. "Welcome to the OK Corral."

He and Jim bailed out just moments before a fusillade of shots fired 
from a behind a stack of crates pelted the concrete floor around them. 
Jim scrambled around the Stealth and crouched next to Peter beside the 
driver's door.

Peter returned fire, although he did not have a clear target. Jim 
pulled his own weapon and waited patiently, his attention directed 
elsewhere. The younger cop looked at him oddly, but Jim just nodded 
with his chin toward the apparently deserted sedan. From the back door 
of the car, a weapon emerged slowly, held by a gunman crouched low in 
the seat. 

Peter scowled, and almost before Jim had a chance to react, the young 
man dove across the concrete floor, rolling and bring his weapon up in 
a single, fluid motion. He fired once, and the hand visible inside the 
sedan went limp, the gun it was clutching falling from nerveless 

Jim was already moving, practically scooping Peter off the floor and 
half-dragging him to cover as the other gunmen opened up again. They 
found shelter in a maze of crates across the wide center aisle from 
their opponents. "I'll bet your father worries a lot about you."

"Only every hour or so." Peter grinned, charged by the surge of 
adrenaline. He ducked as the top of the nearest crate splintered under 
the impact of numerous bullets.

Jim listened in the silence that followed. "They're on the move."

Peter looked perplexed. "How do you know?"

He didn't answer. Instead, he led the way deeper into the labyrinth of 
narrow lanes formed by neat rows of shipping containers. He'd heard the 
heartbeat of the ambusher lurking in the back of the sedan, and its 
absence now assured him the man was dead from Peter's bullet. Now, 
however, he could hear five more attackers stalking them through the 

"They're trying to surround us."

"How many?"


Peter shook his head in amazement. "I guess I was too busy driving to 
count how many heads were in the car."

"I guess."

The initial rush of adrenaline that had sustained him through the car 
chase and its immediate aftermath was starting to wear off. It took 
more effort to concentrate, and he knew if he tried too hard, he'd 
probably zone from sheer exhaustion. Resolutely, he tuned back his 
hypersenses and used his hearing only in short bursts to keep track of 
their opponents' location.

They were just crossing an intersection in the huge storage facility 
when Jim felt a gentle waft of air from above. His reflexes were dulled 
with fatigue, but he was still quick enough to tackle Peter as a large 
pallet of crates dropped toward them from an overhead hoist.

The heavy boxes shattered on impact, scattering their contents like 
shrapnel, but the two men managed to scramble clear. They hadn't even 
regained their balance before they were attacked from all sides.

Jim wasn't at all surprised to discover their adversaries were Chinese. 
Although trained in the basics of martial arts, he lacked the speed and 
agility to use those skills to their maximum advantage. Still, he knew 
enough to protect himself from serious injury, and when he landed a 
blow, the power behind it generally sent his attacker reeling.

Peter, on the other hand, had the training and the physical agility to 
take on three of their opponents at once. With lightning precision, he 
blocked and delivered blow after blow, his almost acrobatic prowess 
making short work of the conflict. One of his antagonists went down, 
and the other two fled when confronted with Peter's superior skill.

Jim managed to finish off one of his attackers with a solid right to 
the man's chin. The last man limped off quickly to join his fellow 
combatants in retreat, and Jim let him go, too tired to give chase.

Peter handcuffed his man, then hurried over to Jim. "Are you all 

Jim was breathing heavily after the intense exertion, but he managed to 
handcuff his prisoner before sitting down abruptly on the concrete 
floor. He'd reached the limit of his physical endurance. "Yeah."

Peter shook his head, somewhat amazed Jim was still going. "Man, if you 
don't get some sleep soon, you're gonna be a basket case."

Jim closed his eyes and fought to find the strength to get up. It was a 
lot harder than it should have been. When he'd climbed to his feet, he 
braced his hands on his knees and drew great gasps of air into his 
heaving lungs. His mind felt strangely disconnected from his body; if 
he went much longer without sleep, he knew he'd probably start 

Sirens wound down outside.

"Cavalry's here," he said needlessly.

Part Seven

By the time they'd given verbal reports to the officers at the scene 
and repeated their stories via cell to Simon (with the promise of 
follow-up paperwork the next day), Jim was feeling decidedly detached 
from reality. A dose of caffeine might keep him awake, but it would be 
unable to sharpen his increasingly sluggish mind.

He dozed all the way back to the loft, and Peter remained 
uncharacteristically quiet. He woke as the younger man parked the 
Stealth, but he had difficulty recognizing where he was for a moment. 
Then he climbed wearily out of the car and headed for the front of the 

"Hi ya, partner," greeted a too cheerful female voice as they reached 
the door.

"Hi yourself, Skelany."

Jim hadn't even heard their approach. He turned and saw an attractive 
brunette and a small, frail looking Chinese man. The elderly man could 
be no one but the "Ancient" Caine had spoken of earlier.

Peter performed the introductions as the little group walked through 
the foyer and crowded into the elevator. Jim managed to say something 
in greeting, but even a moment later wasn't sure exactly what.

"Already, you have had an adventure," the old man observed with 

"How can you tell?"

"There is always something different about the way you bounce after you 
have been in an altercation."

Peter laughed self-consciously. "Bounce? I don't bounce."

Skelany's response was droll. "Trust me, Peter, you bounce."

They reached the third floor, and Jim led the way to the front door. As 
he inserted his key, he realized the door was unlocked. He'd forgotten 
to secure it behind him when he'd left.

With a sigh of irritation, he went inside.

Thoughts of rest fled as he saw Blair huddled miserably on the sofa, 
his flushed, perspiring face contorted with feverish dreams.

"What happened?" he demanded angrily, rushing to kneel beside his 
partner. He could feel the heat radiating from the young man's tortured 

Caine soaked a washcloth in a small basin of cold water and wrung it 
out. "He is fighting the poison."

Jim snatched it from him and folded it gently against Blair's forehead. 
"I don't understand." Worry and helplessness quickly drove away his 
earlier anger.

"The affects of the poison are cumulative." Caine gestured to Lo Si and 
handed him one of the bags of tainted tea. The Ancient took it and 
headed promptly for the kitchen. "Under normal conditions, it would 
have been detected quickly and dealt with by the body. Ingested over a 
long period, however, the effects are far more devastating."

He was unable to make sense of any of it. "You mean, if we'd come to 
you sooner--?" 

"No. I mean Blair's own body would have defended itself from the first 
onslaught." The priest removed the wash cloth from Jim's hand, soaked 
it again in the basin and twisted out the excess water before handing 
it back. "For that reason, the first component of the poison was a--
what would you call it...a precursor?--to disrupt his chi, his 
defenses, so that his body would not recognize the danger."

Jim recalled the persistent low-grade fever that had plagued his 
partner from the beginning. "His system didn't know it was sick, so it 
couldn't fight back?"

Caine nodded. "As a first step, he has refocused his chi."

"In time?" Jim asked desperately, not caring that he hadn't understood 
everything the priest had told him. "Is he going to be all right?"

"I do not know. But it is good that you are here. As his fever has 
grown, he has asked for you many times."

Jim felt a rush of guilt. He'd run away from his helplessness over 
Blair's illness to do cop stuff, normal stuff. He shouldn't have 

Caine touched his arm gently. "You are not at fault. I should have told 
you what would occur. I am sorry."

Blair stirred weakly. "Jim?"

Instantly, Jim schooled his confused, frantic expression into one of 
calm confidence. "It's OK, Chief, I'm here," he said quietly, wafting 
the wash cloth gently through the air to cool it again before folding 
it back against Blair's forehead. "You're gonna be OK."

The young man opened his eyes a bit and squinted against the brightness 
of daylight. "I feel terrible."

"I know, but you're getting better."

"You left." The tremulous voice wasn't accusatory, merely unhappy.

"Yes, but I won't leave again," Jim promised.

Blair managed a slight nod. "Good." In an almost childishly 
conspiratorial whisper, he said, "I think there's someone else here."

The weirdest houseful you could imagine, Jim thought, smiling. "It's 
the person you were looking for--Caine."

Blair's eyes brightened with hope. "You found him?"

"He found us." Jim moved enough so Blair could see the Shaolin priest 
crouched beside him. "He's been helping you."

"I remember." Blair frowned uncertainly. "Auras--and meditation?"

Caine nodded and smiled. "You are an excellent patient."

Blair looked back at Jim. "You've never told me that."

"Because you talk too much. Go back to sleep. You need the rest." As he 
saw Blair's expression crease with worry, he added, "I'll be close by, 
I promise."

Thus assured, Blair closed his eyes.

Jim looked at Caine. "He's going to be all right, isn't he? I mean, you 
must have some idea."

"We need to bring his fever down now, but I am feeling more 
confident." The priest rose easily to his feet. "Will you tend him for 
a moment while I speak with my friend?"

"Of course."

Only then did Jim realize other things had been going on around him 
while he'd concentrated on his partner's condition. He could hear Lo Si 
puttering around in the kitchen, and when Caine joined him, the two 
apothecaries began a quiet discussion. Peter was sitting at the table, 
a sandwich and a cup of coffee in front of him as he read a magazine. 

Mary Margaret came over to him and held out a cup.

"It's tea," she said apologetically. "I've made a pot of coffee, but 
the Ancient won't let me give you any. He said you need to get some  
tonight, and he's not a person I want to argue with."

Jim accepted the mug gratefully. "Thanks. It's fine." He sniffed the 
brew--it was one of the less obnoxious herb blends--and chanced a sip. 
It was delicious. "Thanks for bringing the old man." He monitored 
Blair's breathing to see if the conversation was affecting his rest; it 

She smiled. "You're welcome. Besides, maybe I can help keep Peter out 
of trouble."

Another similarity to his own trouble-prone partner, he thought.

The phone on the wall rang, but before he could even start to get up to 
answer it, Peter sprang up and grabbed the receiver. "Hello?" He 
listened for a moment. "Yeah, Captain Banks, he's here, but he's kinda 
busy. What d'ya need?" He listened some more without bothering to 
gesture for Jim. "Hey, I can do that," he said, then hastily overrode 
the objections spilling from the receiver. "Hey, Captain, I know you 
have a whole police force at your beck and call, but I'm about as 
useful around this apartment as a boil on a baby's butt, and I'd really 
like to help, OK?" Having apparently mollified Simon's irritation, he 
grinned. "Great. See you in a few." He hung up, and only then realized 
everyone was staring at him.

"Something I should know about?" Jim asked, his quiet tone not masking 
the acidity in the question.

"Uh, no, your Captain just wanted to coordinate the details of the tail 
on Stubing and have you look at some mug shots of the guys who got away 
from us this afternoon." Peter sounded eager to make amends. "I figured 
you'd want to stay here with your partner, and since I got a good look 
at 'em, too, I sorta thought--you know, maybe I could do it."

The young man couldn't keep still for a minute, Jim realized with an 
inward grin. "OK, just remember you're not officially working the 

"Oh, sure, no problem." 

Mary Margaret put down her coffee cup with a sigh. "I'll come with 

"You don't have to," Peter said. "Shouldn't you be getting back? It's 
your day off and all, and you've already done more than enough."

She wasn't swayed by his argument. "You may need backup, Pete. Even 
when you think you don't, you do."

Caine spoke up calmly from the kitchen. "Thank you, Mary Margaret." 

Thus outvoted, Peter relented. He grabbed his half-eaten sandwich off 
the table and flew out of the loft like a whirlwind of energy, Mary 
Margaret hastening in his wake.

Once again, Peter reminded Jim of Blair, whose usual energy rivaled a 
furious tornado. The two men were so remarkably similar, and also so 
obviously different. Both were young, exuberant, inquisitive and 
talkative, ingenuous and instinctively kind. But where Blair had 
retained an almost childlike innocence, Peter had a harder edge. 

A difficult childhood had caused Blair to withdraw into academics to 
find security, and within the comfortable shelter of that world, he had 
found the strength and optimism to face whatever life tossed his way. 

Whatever path Peter had followed into adulthood had made him come out 
swinging, ready to confront any challenge and take on all comers. 

Blair's energy came from his natural exuberance, and his eyes were 
always bright with wonder and excitement. In contrast, Peter's energy 
seemed more of the nervous variety, and his eyes were veiled, hinting 
at painful memories and perhaps a wisdom too ancient for his years.

Since Blair was sleeping peacefully, Jim got up and went into the 
kitchen, where Lo Si and Caine were in deep conversation. "Caine said 
you might remember who bought the herbs from you."

Lo Si nodded sadly. "Tyrone Lee. He bought an assortment of herbs from 
me to prepare teas for energy, relaxation, concentration, and sleep. He 
is a nice young man who has wavered between the forces of good and evil 
for some time."

Jim couldn't find any sympathy. "Looks like he made his choice. He 
lives down in your neck of the woods?"

"Yes, but he lacks the skill to prepare a poison such as this," Lo Si 
insisted softly, his English excellent, delivered with the same 
thoughtful precision as Caine's speech. The dark eyes blazed with 
anger. "Only someone with an evil soul and great knowledge could 
conceive such an insidious mixture."

Jim felt a momentary flush of weakness at the image of the ancient 
horrors trying to claim his friend's life. "Have you identified the 

"It is no one thing," Caine explained, and Jim realized he'd heard the 
priest say something to the same effect earlier. "We must determine 
each component, and then combat it. Such efforts take time, and your 
young friend has been greatly weakened already."

"Yes, I'm sorry, I forgot you told me." He fought to stay alert. "The 
person who prepared the poison--do you have any idea who it could be?"

Caine exchanged a look with Lo Si, who nodded and answered. "Yes. His 
name is Kam Lee. He was once a student of mine, but he was less 
interested in helping those in need than in exerting his power over 

"A god complex."

The Ancient nodded. "Yes."

"Kam Lee--is he any relation to this Tyrone you mentioned?"

Caine shrugged. "That is like picking two Smiths from your telephone 
book and asking if they are related. Chinatown is filled with Lees, 
many of them related, many of them not."

"Do you know where he lives?"

"I do not," Caine admitted. "But he is here, somewhere in Chinatown."

"OK." Jim reached for his jacket on the coat rack. "I'll be able to 
track him down."

Very softly, Caine said, "You walk two paths on your life's journey. 
Mostly, they exist in harmony. It is only when they diverge that you 
have a conflict, and choices must be made."

Jim's hand stilled inches from his coat, and he looked toward the sofa. 
Then his gaze swung back to Caine. "I'm a cop, damnit."

"Is not choice, by its very nature, the rejection of one course in 
order to embrace another?"

Jim closed his eyes for a moment. "It's hard seeing him like this."


"I can't help him."

Caine's patient expression never wavered.

A moment later, Jim dropped his hand away from the coat rack and 
reached for the telephone instead. "Simon," he said when his call was 
answered. "I need you to track down a Chinese apothecary named Kam Lee. 
He's here in Chinatown somewhere. He may be responsible for making the 
poison." He waited while Simon wrote down the information, then 
continued. "Also, a young man named Tyrone Lee, unknown if he's a 
relation to Kam. He bought the herbs down south. The 101st may have 
something on him."

Satisfied that Simon had the investigation in hand, Jim hung up the 
phone and returned to the sofa, where he slumped down on the floor and 
rested his hand against Blair's forehead. He was so tired, he knew he 
had to sleep soon or risk collapse, but his worry wouldn't let go. 
Abruptly, he registered Blair's temperature. "Caine, he's too hot. His 
fever is way too high."

Part Eight

The Shaolin was immediately by his side, confirming with his own palm 
what Jim had told him. "Yes, we must bring the fever down."

Jim's thoughts raced. "The bathtub? We can fill it with cool water."

Briskly, Caine rubbed his hands together, focusing his chi and opening 
the pathways that flowed between all living things. After a moment, he 
frowned. "He will not let me in."

"Not let you in?" Jim repeated blankly. "In where?"

"I can fight the fever from within him, but he resists my efforts to 

It was more mumbo-jumbo Jim didn't understand, but he didn't question 
it or Caine's methods. Instead, he bent close to his partner's ear. 
"Come on, Chief. You asked for Caine, and he's here to help you. You've 
got to let him."

From deep within his feverish coma, Blair moaned a soft denial.

"Please, Blair--." He jumped as Caine grasped his hand firmly. "What?"

"We shall make the journey together," Caine explained. "He trusts you."

"But I don't know how--." He closed his eyes briefly in an effort to 
drive back his sudden panic. "Without Blair to guide me, I don't know 
what to do."

Caine's calm assurance never faltered. "Simply close your eyes and open 
your heart and your spirit. I will help you."

Forcing himself to take several deep breaths, Jim closed his eyes 
again, one hand still on Blair's forehead, the other returning Caine's 
fierce grip. Seconds passed, and he thought he had failed....

With frightening abruptness, he felt himself swept through a tunnel of 
swirling lights and fog, and when he regained his equilibrium, he was 
standing in a dense, humid rainforest. It was unbelievably hot and 
putrid with rot. Slime dripped from naked tree branches, and the forest 
floor was a mat of shriveled dead ferns and grasses. The air shimmered 
with heat and was filled with the stench of sulfuric gases. The very 
ground beneath his feet felt as if it would liquefy beneath the 
unrelenting onslaught.

Steeling himself against the unfamiliar sensations, he looked for 
Caine, and saw the priest towering above him, his expression one of 

It was then Jim realized he had become the panther. There had been many 
times he had seen the black jaguar in his visions, but never had he 
morphed into the animal. The knowledge that this was even possible 
startled and frightened him, and for a moment, he thought he would not 
be able to maintain the link Caine had established between them.

The priest understood his difficulty. "You are safe with me. Take me to 
the place where the heat is most intense."

With a soft growl of acknowledgement, Jim tasted the air with senses 
even more acute than his own sentinel gifts. After a moment, he lunged 
through the forest to their left, Caine sprinting in his wake.

Ahead, broad vents in the ground spewed super-heated gases into the 
fetid air. Unerringly, the panther padded to the largest and most 
noxious rent in the forest floor.

Caine paused and repeated the act of rubbing his hands together. 
Centering himself, he extended his hands toward the shimmering curtain 
of heat--and pushed.

Wind whistled around them, and for a moment, the hiss of the vent 
diminished as the currents rising from its interior cooled. Then, a 
howl like a demented demon ripped through the air, driving back both 
spirit guide and priest.

Undaunted, Caine tried again, using all his strength to quench the 
hellish heat. Again, just for a moment, the air cooled before 
succumbing to the hungry needs of the poison spewing from deep within 
the chasm.

Nearly exhausted now, Caine prepared himself for one more attempt; he 
knew it would be the last before his strength was gone. Summoning 
energy from the secret pathways of the universe itself, he channeled it 
through his body.

As the gale wind howled its defiance, the vent began to cool and close. 
In that moment, the panther lunged, returning the primal shriek with a 
roar equally strong. The vent crumbled, the pieces caving inward to 
block the escape of more noxious fumes. 

Caine's eyes flew open and he looked over at Jim. The detective was 
sound asleep, his breathing deep and even. His head was pillowed 
against Blair's shoulder, his hand still resting gently atop the young 
man's forehead. 

With a smile of satisfaction, Caine loosened his grip on Jim's other 
hand and placed it gently on the sofa, where it automatically sought 
another hand to hold and found it with his Guide.

The priest checked Blair's temperature. Still high as the frail body 
combated the various elements of the poisons coursing through him, but 
the fever was no longer life threatening. Together, Shaolin and 
Sentinel had defeated one enemy, but others still lurked, waiting to 
claim their turn at devouring their victim from within.

The battle would be engaged again later. For now, the Sentinel and his 
Guide could rest.

Part Nine

Far too soon, Jim woke up. He ached from his unnatural position on the 
floor, and he groaned with the effort to straighten up. Realizing where 
he was, he immediately checked Blair's temperature and found it had 
lowered a bit. Vague impressions filled his thoughts, but he had no 
clear memory of exactly what had happened after he'd felt Blair's 
temperature spike. He'd dreamed about a dying jungle and volcanic 
vents, and somehow, Caine had been involved.

Whatever had happened, his venture into the otherworldly realms of the 
Shaolin had brought his roommate's fever under control. He just didn't 
want to think too much about it. There were some mysteries he had no 
desire to explore.

He was still tired, but the overwhelming exhaustion that had threatened 
earlier seemed to be held at bay for the moment.

Caine walked over to the sofa. "You must eat. Lo Si has prepared 

Jim nodded and climbed stiffly to his feet. He started toward the 
kitchen, but the old priest waved him toward the table. He went 
obediently, too tired to argue with the man who had commandeered his 

A bowl and spoon were unceremoniously plopped down in front of him. 

Jim peered suspiciously at the hot liquid and assorted vegetables in 
the bowl. "What is it?"

"I do not know. It came from a can in your cupboard."

Jim tried a spoonful. Chicken soup. He'd been expecting something 
mysteriously Oriental and had missed the obvious. "Tastes good, but you 
added something to it."

"Seasonings only. Nothing that will affect you adversely."

Jim frowned up at the old man. "Are you upset with me?"

The Ancient's expression was haughty with disdain. "No. It is the sight 
of something as repugnant as food from a can that rouses my ire."

Jim felt bemused by the idea that canned food was somehow criminal, and 
he restrained an urge to explain that he usually preferred fresh meals 
made from scratch. Resolutely, he went back to his bowl of soup; he had 
no reason to explain his culinary choices to this man or anyone else!

Anyway, the soup was good, and he finished it to the last noodle in the 
dish. He started to get up to carry the empty bowl to the sink, only to 
have it whisked from beneath his nose and replaced with another cup of 
tea. "Drink."

"Thank you." He wondered if the old guy was always so bossy.

A few minutes later, Peter blew into the loft, Mary Margaret and Simon 
behind him.

The captain stared around at the odd assembly of characters and shook 
his head. "Let's see if I have this right--we have two detectives from 
down south, a Shaolin priest, a Chinese apothecary, a sick 
anthropologist, and two clueless Cascade cops. That about cover it?"

Jim smiled. "That about covers it."

"Then one of you grab me a cup of coffee. We have some pictures to show 
you." He walked quietly to the sofa and peered down at the young man 
asleep on the cushions. "How is he?" he whispered, looking back at Jim, 
who had gone into the kitchen to get the coffee.

Jim shrugged. "Getting better, I think, but it's hard to tell." 

"Shouldn't he be in the hospital--or at least in bed?"

"He prefers sleeping on the couch. He doesn't want to be shut away 
somewhere." He brought four mugs to the table, rightly assuming neither 
Caine nor the Ancient would be interested in coffee.

The police officers sat down at the table, while the two Shaolin stood 
slightly to one side, where they could still keep a watchful eye on 
their patient.

Simon shed his coat and made a small production out of opening a large 
envelope he had been carrying. He spread several dozen color prints 
across the table. "The tail on Stubing netted us an interesting 
assortment of players."

Jim studied the photographs but only recognized two of the faces Simon 
had already placed to one side. "These are two of the men who attacked 

"Yeah, Caine ID'd them. We've got APB's out on them now."

"Did you pull Stubing in?"

"Not yet. We're going to give him enough rope to hang himself."

Jim tapped another photograph showing Stubing talking to a young 
Oriental who was dressed in a very expensive suit. "Who's this?"

"His name is Zimmie Hong," Peter said. "He was a minor minion for a 
crime boss named Tan."

Jim heard the elder Caine's heart rate quicken slightly at the mention 
of Tan, but when he glanced up, the priest's expression was as 
studiously neutral as ever. "Tan?"

"He had something of a criminal empire down in Caine's neck of the 
woods," Simon explained. "Tan got himself killed, and much of his 
organization dissolved."

Jim looked at Peter. "Is this Hong capable of setting up his own 
operation here in Cascade?"

The response was a negative shake of the head. "No, but he could be 
working for one of Tan's old lieutenants. Some of them have the smarts 
to put something together."

"Any ideas on who it could be?"

Again, the answer was negative. Peter cast a hopeful glance toward 
Simon. "But I'll keep an eye on Hong. I'm betting he'll lead us to his 

Simon's return look was acidic. "Actually, Detective Caine, my 
department can probably handle a tail on Hong without your assistance."

"Then at least let me help look for Kam Lee." 

"Don't you have a job to go back to?"

Peter just grinned. "Until my father's finished here, consider me one 
of your own."

Simon grunted. "I have enough men trying to give me a heart attack 
already, thank you."

"He knows the players, Captain," Jim pointed out. "He might save you 
some time trying to ID the new faces in Chinatown."

Simon saw the logic and gave in with a sigh. He wanted the man behind 
the plot to poison Blair almost as much as Jim, and he was willing to 
bend the rules to find him. "OK." He gathered up his photos and stood 
up. "The next couple of days should be exciting."

He put on his coat and gave a casual farewell salute to the little band 
of allies. "I've got to get back to the precinct. This will probably be 
an all-nighter for us."

"Thanks for keeping me posted," Jim said, walking his captain to the 

"Knew you'd want to be kept up to date." Simon paused for a moment to 
stare at the sleeping figure on the sofa. "I know you want to be in on 
the action, but you're doing the right thing by staying here. The kid 
needs you, even though you probably think you're not doing much."

Jim nodded. "I know, Simon. I feel so helpless just hanging around, but 
Blair seems to know when I'm here."

When he'd seen the Captain out and closed the door, he found Peter and 
Mary Margaret unabashedly rummaging through his refrigerator and 
pulling out various items.

"Help yourself."

"Thanks." Peter grinned without a glimmer of contrition. "We thought 
we'd do a stir fry."

The Ancient shooed them out of the kitchen. "I would not stoop to 
seeing what the two of you could do with a stir fry. Do something else, 
and I will play chef for this evening."

Jim glanced through the French doors and saw the day had waned into 
dusk. There was one other trivial matter he hadn't tended to. "Uh, I'm 
afraid the loft isn't exactly suited to multiple overnight guests."

Caine glanced at him, drawn back from wherever talk of Tan and Chinese 
gangs had taken him. "You concern is appreciated but unnecessary. We 
have brought sleeping mats for the floor, and since young Blair prefers 
the couch, perhaps Mary Margaret could have his room for this one 

"Of course." Jim glanced toward the woman. "I appreciate all your help, 
but you really don't have to stay."

She shrugged. "I'd like to stay, but only if it's no trouble."

"It's no trouble," Jim assured her, "it just seems kind of a weird 
thing to do with your time off."

She glanced at Peter with a grin. "I've done stranger, believe me. I'll 
go down to the car and get my stuff."

"I'll go with you." Peter quickly had found himself bored with the 
sight of the Ancient preparing vegetables.

Jim sat down at the table again and scrubbed his face with his hands. 
He hoped he'd be able to get some rest tonight, but it seemed as 
illusive as all the other nights that had plagued him with nightmares.

After a few minutes, the furious chopping sounds in the kitchen 

"Tell me, Detective Ellison, what does this smell like?"

Unexpectedly, the Ancient thrust a pinch of herbs beneath his nose. Jim 
sneezed, scattering the bits of dried leaves all over the table and 
floor. Guiltily, he looked at the Ancient, who simply shook his head in 

"Allergies," he said lamely.

The Ancient sniffed in disapproval. "A man such as you has no use for 

"It's not as if I chose--" he began to protest, but the old man simply 
ignored him and returned to the kitchen. Jim fretted at the table. It's 
not as if I chose to have allergies, he thought.

A minute later, the old apothecary was back, this time with a tiny 
brown bottle with an eyedropper top. "Lean your head back."

Jim's eyes widened. "Uh-uh, no way!" This crazy old fool wanted to put 
something up his nose--who knew what the strange, homemade concoction 
would do to his senses!

The Ancient tut-tutted with irritation. "You are like a baby. Lean your 
head back."

Perversely, Jim did feel like a recalcitrant child, so he reluctantly 
did as he was told. He was certain something disastrous would happen, 
but a nagging little voice inside his head told him he had no choice. 

He hated nose drops, and these felt as if they would burn through his 
sinus passages! Gagging, he straightened abruptly. "Damn, that hurt!"

Unfazed, the Ancient again held a pinch of the dried leaves beneath his 
nose. "What does this smell like?"

Jim sniffed cautiously, and was amazed to find his sense of smell 
sharper than it had ever been. He could smell the dry residue of soap 
and water that had washed the ceramic spoon holding the herbs. The 
faint, musty odor from the oil of the Ancient's fingerprints on the 
spoon handle was overlaid by the clean, dry scent of the old man 
himself. As for the herbs--"Damn, those are strong!"

But he didn't sneeze.

"And it smells like--?" the old man urged.

"That little hard thing they put in mincemeat." Jim searched his 
memory. "Uh--currents?"

The Ancient beamed. "As I thought. This is very rare, found only in 
northern China."

"It's part of the poison?" Jim asked in alarm, wondering what might 
have happened if he'd accidentally inhaled instead of sneezing.

"Do not worry," the old man assured him, "it would not have killed 
you...merely rendered you impotent." Then he walked away.

Jim glared at the retreating back and caught Peter's amused look. "He's 
kidding, right?"

Peter grinned and shrugged as he deposited the armload of stuff he'd 
carted up from the car. "I don't know. He's the best bullshit artist I 
know. Even I don't know when he's fooling." He glanced around the loft 
as if seeing it for the first time. "This is cool. I've never been to a 
slumber party before."

Skelany crowded in behind him, her arms less laden. "Sorry, partner, 
but the girls sleep in one room and the boys in another."

"Then I guess I didn't miss much." He stashed the sleeping mats and 
small duffels out of the way, then went into the kitchen to bother Lo 
Si about dinner.

Mary Margaret looked at Jim. "Which way?"

Jim pointed her toward Blair's room as he wondered at the insanity that 
had prompted him to open his home to four complete strangers. And yet, 
there was an almost festive air permeating the large loft space, a 
warmth that went beyond the actual heat and light that made the room 
habitable, and he was grateful for it.

He went over to the kitchen counter and looked at the myriad assortment 
of bottles, ceramic bowls, and small paper sacks that covered most of 
its surface. On the counter by the sink, the Ancient had placed the 
cutting board. A wide variety of perfectly chopped vegetables awaited 
their turn in the presently empty stir-fry pan sitting on a cold 
burner. The old man was humming as he worked. Feeling surprisingly 
content, Jim returned to the dining room table and sat down.

Mary Margaret emerged from Blair's room a few moments later. She 
grabbed a cup of coffee and joined Jim at the table. "I'll bet this all 
seems pretty weird to you," she commented.

Jim nodded. "It's like some cock-eyed dream I'm having whether I'm 
asleep or awake."

She patted his hand comfortingly. "Caine's very good, and so is Lo Si. 
If there's a way to cure your friend, they'll find it."

"I know. It seems to be the one thing I'm sure of."

Part Ten

Dinner was an extraordinary stir-fry, served up by the Ancient. 
However, the old man and Caine did not join them at the table. Instead, 
they ate only small bowls of rice and a few vegetables, their 
chopsticks silent utensils amid the scrape of forks against plates.

Throughout the meal, Jim continued to watch both apothecaries, who took 
frequent breaks to check on Blair's condition or help him sip some tea.

He's dehydrated, he thought suddenly, wondering if something more 
aggressive, like an IV, might be required.

But almost on top of this thought, Blair struggled to sit up. "Uh, 
Jim?" he called sleepily, peering at the unfamiliar faces his fever 
refused to impart to memory.

Jim hurried to him. "What is it, Chief?"

Whispering in embarrassment, the young patient confessed, "I really 
need to pee."

With a grin, Jim wrapped the blanket more snugly around him and helped 
him gently to his feet. "You OK?"

Clinging to his roommate, Blair managed a slight nod. "Just really 

Jim tightened his grip. "I've got you. Just put one foot in front of 
the other."

With Jim navigating, they made it to the bathroom, but Jim didn't trust 
his partner's depleted strength to let him manage on his own. 

Blair was embarrassed, but he knew he couldn't do it alone. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it." Although Jim kept a gentle hold on his arm for 
support, he tried to find something of interest in the small bathroom 
to occupy his attention in order to give Blair a modicum of privacy. 

"Damn, this really sucks." Even flushing the toilet seemed to take a 
major effort. As he washed his hands in the sink, Blair looked at his 
wan reflection in the mirror. "My hair could to with a wash."

"Do you feel up to it?"

Blair thought about it for a long moment, then wistfully shook his 
head. "Don't think so."

Jim thought back over the last few days. "You washed your hair a couple 
of days ago. It's good for a while yet."

"I don't remember. Did I take a shower, too?"

"Yeah, but you could do with another -- you've done a lot of sweating. 
At the least, I'd like to get you changed into some dry clothes."

"You know, that sounds pretty good, but I'm so wobbly I don't think I 
can do it."

He sounded so wistful that Jim regretted bringing it up. "OK. How about 
a sponge bath?"

Blair looked at him in the mirror. "A sponge bath?"

"Yeah." Jim lowered the lid on the toilet and turned Blair around so he 
could sit down. "Will you be OK for a minute?"

At Blair's nod, he dashed out of the bathroom and grabbed clean sweats 
from Blair's room and fresh linens from the cupboard. The latter he 
tossed toward the sofa, only to have them neatly intercepted by Peter.

"We'll handle things out here."

"Thanks." He went back into the bathroom and started the water running 
in the sink. On a sudden impulse, he rummaged in the very back of the 
cabinet and found an old house-warming gift Carolyn hadn't taken with 
her when she'd left. It was a gift basket of bath crystals, fragrant 
soap, and a natural sea sponge, all neatly wrapped in colorful 
cellophane and tied with a bright bow.

He peeled off the paper and almost gagged as a strong odor of lilac 
rose from the soap. Removing only the sea sponge, he wrapped everything 
back in the cellophane and tossed it in the trash. When the water was 
warm enough, he filled the sink.

Blair was struggling with his sweatshirt, so Jim helped him strip and 
dumped everything in the laundry hamper. Putting a towel under Blair 
and others on the floor, he felt ready to tackle the job he had set for 

A bar-soap-and-washcloth man himself, he'd finally joined the 90's 
"revolution" when Ironhead Heyward had assured him (via a witty TV ad 
aimed specifically at men) that using a poufty-looking "lather 
builder" and liquid soap was acceptable manly behavior.

The sea sponge was a different matter altogether, one of those frou-
frou affectations that had seemed a silly indulgence. Now, however, as 
he dipped the hard, rough sponge into the water and felt it turn to 
velvet it in hands, he wondered if he hadn't been a bit hasty in his 

He squeezed out most of the water and stroked the sponge along Blair's 
arm. Then he added a dollop of unscented liquid soap and began to wash 
him carefully.

Blair watched, seemingly transfixed by the sight of the sponge stroking 
his arms and chest, each section done with measured care--dampening, 
soaping, rinsing, and drying. Jim knew the intense concentration was 
part of Blair's waning mental faculties caused by the poison and the 
fever gnawing at him, and it saddened him.

"How's that?"

"Feels good." He eyed the sponge closely. "Is that a sea sponge?"

"No lectures, OK, professor? It was a stupid gift from one of Carolyn's 
friends that's been sitting in the back of the cupboard for years." 
Besides, Jim didn't know if sea sponges were endangered, or even if 
they were considered plant or animal in the ocean realm. At the moment, 
he didn't particularly care.

Blair smiled and closed his eyes to enjoy the silky caress of the 
sponge. The water was warm but felt cool against his fevered skin, and 
he welcomed the sensation. "You don't have to do this you know."

"I want to."

"You're doing enough already just by being here."

Jim finished his ministrations and helped Blair into the clean sweats. 
The bathroom was not the most suitable place for a serious heart-to-
heart, but he sat down on the edge of the tub. His partner had seen 
right through him. "Do you remember when you got the tea?"

"The tea." Blair had to think about it. "You were talking about the 
tea--something about it being poisoned?"

"Yeah, that whole 'thank you' gift was a ruse to encourage you to 
accept it. That was about a month ago. I've watched you brew it up and 
drink it--hell, I've even brewed a couple of pots for you myself."

"You couldn't know what was going on."

Jim sighed in frustration. "I know, but I feel like I should have. 
There's some component of the thing that I could feel growing in your 
body--it caused a faint tingling in my fingertips. Even the bags made 
my fingers tingle, but I had no idea what was wrong, not even when I 
was sure I'd burned my fingers when I checked your temperature."

"You felt the heat when you touched my forehead."

"Yeah. It was the poison, but I just didn't understand."

Blair lifted an eyebrow. "When you think about it, that's kind of 

"Except I didn't know what it meant. Caine knew you'd been poisoned the 
second he saw you. And somehow he knew I could find it--I don't even 
want to think about how he knew that." He sat back and scrubbed his 
face in irritation. "It scares me."

This was the most challenging conversation they'd had in several days. 
Blair seemed to be tiring quickly, but he also looked determined to 
continue the discussion. "What scares you?"

"Everything I don't know about these senses. I know I couldn't make 
it--not as a sentinel--without you." Jim shrugged in acknowledgement of 
how self-centered his admission sounded, but for weeks he'd been facing 
the potential loss of his best friend and partner...until today, he'd 
hadn't considered what the loss of his Guide would mean to him as well.

Blair shook his head. "Simon understands--"

"Simon and I are rooted in the same reality. There's something you can 
do--something that comes naturally to you...another dimension, a 
spiritual plane, an altered reality, I don't know--but it's someplace 
you seem to be able to tap into. Caine's comfortable there, too."

Blair smiled at the thought. "That would be nice. I think Caine could 
teach me a lot."

"Yeah, he's something else, all right. It's kind of weird the way he 
just accepts my abilities and doesn't ask a single question. Peter 


Jim realized Blair had slept through most of the day and probably 
hadn't grasped everything that was going on around him. "Caine's son. 
He's blown through a time or two."

Blair nodded and smiled. "I think I felt the draft. I thought I was 
dreaming. I dreamed about an elderly Chinese man, too."

"That would be the Ancient. He's preparing the antidotes you've been 
drinking all day."

"Weird." Blair sagged with weariness. "Have I lost track of time, or 
have I gone downhill really fast?"

Jim gripped his arm reassuringly. "The poison's been working on you for 
a long time, making you weaker every day. Today you started fighting 
back. It took a lot out of you, but it's the only way you're going to 
get better."

Blair nodded with as much resolve as he could muster. "OK, but I think 
maybe I need to lie down again."

The return trip to the sofa was made just as slowly, but he wasn't 
quite so dizzy. He sank gratefully back into the cushions. "Man, I feel 
as if I've slept for days."

"Almost," Jim replied, "and you're gonna sleep a lot more."

Even that small exertion left Blair exhausted. He lay back with a 
groan, and didn't even complain when Jim fussed with tucking the 
blanket in around him.

Caine delivered another cup of the ubiquitous tea. "He needs to drink 
this. And then you must both rest."

Jim sniffed the cup--so much liquid had poured into his Guide today, 
and each cup had smelled distinctively different. "Is all this stuff 
working?" He helped Blair hold the cup and guided it to his lips.

Caine nodded reassuringly. "He is having more moments of lucidity. He 
stood and walked. A few hours ago, he would have been unable to do 

Jim's smile was broad. Yeah! It was as he'd suspected--Blair was 
getting better...slowly, sometimes relapsing a bit, but definitely 
getting better. His own spirits lifted with this realization.

When he'd finished the tea, Blair promptly went to sleep.

While Jim had been tending the patient, Peter and Mary Margaret had 
cleared off the table and washed the dishes. Lo Si spread a woven grass 
mat and sat down for some quiet meditation, a challenge considering the 
swirl of activity going on around him.

Peter walked out of the kitchen. "It's still pretty early for us." He'd 
apparently been discussing the evening with Mary Margaret. "We thought 
we'd head out and do a little exploring."

Apparently, Caine felt some concern about where their exploration would 
take them. "Be careful."

"Absolutely." Impatiently, he ushered Mary Margaret out the door. 
"We'll try to be quiet when we get back." His expression became serious 
as he looked back at his father. "There won't be any trouble tonight, 
will there?"

Caine shook his head. "No. Our opponents are not yet ready to act."

"That's OK then." 

The loft became quiet after the two detectives had left. Sitting on the 
floor beside the sofa, Jim struggled to keep his eyes open. The 
benefits of his earlier nap had already worn off.

"You must rest," Caine told him again. "I will watch Blair."

It was futile to object. "Thanks."

He went up to bed, but he knew his sleep would be as restless as every 
night since Blair had become ill. Once again, he wondered at his total 
acceptance of Caine and his odd associate, the Ancient, in his home and 
in his life -- and caring for his Guide. He knew his instincts about 
people were far from infallible, but there was something about the 
mild-mannered and slightly rumpled priests that made Jim trust them 
without qualm or question.

He tossed and turned for a long time, and had just settled into an 
uneasy sleep when he heard Blair stir. The young man mumbled in 
distress, obviously still experiencing disorientation caused by the 
poisons coursing through his blood and clouding his mind. As Jim's eyes 
came open, he heard softly spoken words from Caine relax the sick young 
man almost immediately.

"Do not be afraid," the voice soothed, the words soft and distant, but 
clear in the stillness of the night. "You are safe."

"Caine? It wasn't a dream. You came."


Blair's voice was weak, and he seemed to have lost a bit of the 
lucidity he'd possessed earlier in the day. "I'm sorry, my sense of 
time is a little muddled. How did Jim find you?"

Jim rolled onto his stomach and peered through the bars of the loft's 
railing to the living room below.

The loft was dark, illuminated only by the dim reflection of the 
streetlights outside. Lo Si was asleep on his mat, a thin blanket his 
only bed covering. Peter was stretched out nearby in a sleeping bag 
atop an air mattress. Extending his hearing a little, Jim heard an 
unfamiliar heartbeat in Blair's room, so Mary Margaret had obviously 
settled in for the night as well. Funny, he hadn't heard the detectives 
return or been aware of the air mattress being inflated, and yet the 
soft murmur of his Guide had brought him instantly awake.

Only the top of Blair's head was visible as he lay bundled on the sofa. 
Caine sat on the edge of the coffee table. His body was leaning forward 
so he could speak quietly without disturbing the others.

He answered Blair's question enigmatically. "There was a need." 

"Thank you for coming."

"You are welcome. Now, you need to rest."

Blair conveniently ignored the suggestion. "What's wrong with me?" 
Upstairs, Jim smiled in the darkness; the kid might be sick, but he was 
still stubborn.

"You were poisoned," Caine said with serene patience, as if explaining 
Blair's condition for the first time.

"Poisoned?" Blair didn't sound alarmed, merely curious. "Was it an 


"Why would someone want to do that?"

Caine sighed at the persistence of his patient's questions. "To 
distract and confuse."

"Oh." There was simple conviction in that single syllable. "To get at 

"No, to get at both of you." Caine's answer sounded faintly bemused, as 
if he couldn't understand Blair's inability to grasp the simple truth. 

Blair's voice sounded calmly resigned. "I'm not special. Jim is. I just 
make it up as I go along."

"Does this method work for you?"

"Most of the time."

"Then you are truly gifted." The priest raised his arms as if he were 
going to cross them, but instead he closed his hands into fists and 
pressed them softly together. "Separate, you are individuals with 
singular and remarkable gifts." He unclenched his fists and laced the 
fingers together. "As one, you create a greater whole than the 
individual parts. And yet, you both resist--your friend because he is 
uncomfortable knowing your destinies are entwined, you because you are 
unable to accept your importance in this destiny." 

He separated his hands and reached to smooth back a lock of Blair's 
hair; it was a gesture so gentle, Jim felt a sting of tears in his 
eyes, jealous he was not the one offering words of comfort, angry 
because he felt incapable of it. "Any path you walk separately will 
never be as perfect as the one you walk together."


"You ask too many questions," Caine interrupted with gentle 
exasperation. "Sleep now."

Surprisingly, this time Blair obeyed.

Jim turned onto his back and stared numbly at the ceiling. He pondered 
the words he'd overheard and wondered if he could accept the concept of 
"destiny" as easily as the priest. Could he surrender and face his 
destiny--their destiny--with Blair at his side, or would he push Blair 
away, walk his life's path alone as he'd always done before. God help 
him, he didn't know if he had the courage.

Ellison, you're pathetic, whispered the little voice inside his mind.

Not pathetic. The voice of the Shaolin rang in his thoughts as clearly 
as if Caine were beside him and speaking aloud. Merely afraid.

He heard the soft, measured tread ascending the stairs and turned 
toward the source. Had Caine realized he was awake, or did he have more 
urgent business? He started to sit up, but Caine laid a hand against 
his chest and gently pushed him back.

"You need rest as well. You will know when there is danger. Until then, 

Sure, easier said than--

Caine's hand touched Jim's forehead, and he was out as quickly as a 
light being turned off.

Part Eleven

He dreamed of a clear, sun-dappled river, its eddies forming deep pools 
where the big trout lurked in the shadows cast by rock and brush. The 
warm mountain air was filled with the hum and buzz of a million insects 
going busily about their lives, while birds chattered and chirpped from 
the shelter of nearby pines. He cast into a likely pool and worked the 
lure gently over the surface, creating the merest of disturbances. 
Within moments, he felt tension on the line....

When he awoke, the pleasant memories of the dream continued to linger 
at the edges of his consciousness. He hadn't felt so rested in months, 
perhaps in years. Every bit of tension was gone; there wasn't a single 
twinge in any of his muscles, and his mind felt almost light with the 
absence of worry.

He wondered if Caine could teach Blair that particular bit of Shaolin 
magic. To sleep that well was a luxury he longed to indulge on a 
regular basis.

Unfortunately, the feeling lasted only a few moments as his senses 
scanned the loft. Three of his guests were gone--Peter, Mary Margaret, 
and Lo Si. Caine's heartbeat remained strong and steady, but the one 
most important was far too weak and rapid.

Abandoning thoughts of a shower, Jim threw on sweatpants over his 
shorts and hurried downstairs.

"What happened?" he asked, crouching beside the sofa and reaching to 
check Blair's temperature.

He wasn't feverish, a small blessing, but the pain shifting across his 
expression sent alarm bells clamoring through Jim's mind.

Caine spoke calmly, but there was an undercurrent of tension that had 
not been there yesterday. "He had a reaction to one of the herbs Lo Si 
gave him this morning."

"An allergic reaction?"

"I believe so."

Blair moaned and rocked slightly on the cushions. "Jim?"

Jim tried to sound reassuring, but he couldn't keep the anxiety out of 
his voice. "I'm here. How are you feeling?"

"Stomach hurts," Blair confessed weakly, curling in on himself. "Really 

Jim's anger flared, and he spun on Caine. "Damnit, why did I listen to 
you? I should have taken him to the hospital yesterday."

"This is not the result of the poison." Caine remained unfazed in the 
face of Jim's fury. "There remains only one major obstacle blocking his 
full recovery, and we did not know Blair would be allergic to the 

"Where's the old man?" Jim demanded hotly. "I'll need a sample of the 
stuff to take to the hospital."

"He has gone to find another remedy."

"In Chinatown?"


"This secondary herb can also fight the poison?"

"It is not as effective and is very rare, but yes, it is our only other 

Jim was already heading for the telephone, his angry muttering clearly 
audible. "Very rare. How the hell does he hope to find it?"

"He will find Kam Lee."

This made Jim turn around in surprise. "Kam Lee--the apothecary who 
prepared the poison in the first place?"

"Yes. He is the only likely source of the medicines Lo Si requires."

Jim's temper exploded. "We're looking for the man to arrest him for 
attempted murder, and the Ancient is going to him for herbs?"

Caine inclined his head slightly in agreement.

Jim's entire body trembled with tension; he felt as if he would explode 
in violence at any moment. He understood the anger was directed toward 
himself, but the knowledge did nothing to lessen the need for its 
release. For too long, he'd felt helpless to protect his partner from 
the forces ravaging his body. With Caine's arrival, he had willingly 
abdicated all control in an effort to alleviate the guilt boring a hole 
through his spirit.

But Caine had failed him. It was irrational, Jim knew, but it didn't 
change the fact that Caine had given him hope, let him dare to believe 
Blair could be cured, only to have those hopes crushed again. 

Blair was dying.

How could he ever have believed otherwise?

And how could he have slept so peacefully and deeply while his partner 
had lain on the sofa in pain? If that was the price of a good night's 
rest, he wanted none of it.

His hands were shaking so badly, he could barely grasp the telephone 


Blair's voice sounded faint and plaintive.

He immediately hurried back to the sofa. "I'm here, partner." He tried 
to sound reassuring but knew he'd failed miserably.

Blair's expression was dazed with pain and confusion as he read the 
despair his partner's face. "I'm dying, aren't I?"

"No." Jim nearly choked on the word. He tried to find a way to quell 
his fear. "No. You're getting better."

But Blair thought he saw a different truth in Jim's eyes. "I thought we 
could beat this thing." He smiled crookedly, his calm acceptance heart 
wrenching. "I really did."

"We are beating it," Jim insisted. "You just had a problem with a part 
of the cure, so they're going to try something else." He had lost his 
belief in the possibility of a cure, but he wanted Blair to believe.

"I want to write a will."

The words were completely unexpected, and Jim was quick to deny the 
necessity. "There's no need to write a will, Blair. You're going to be 

Blair shook his head, wincing at the dizziness this caused. "No, you're 
lying to me, trying to make it all right. I want to write a will." He 
sounded stubborn and determined.

Jim could only sigh in exasperation; he didn't think he had the 
strength for this right now.

Caine spoke for the first time in several minutes. "I will help you 
write your will."

Jim glared at him, ready to make a harsh retort, but Blair calmed 

Caine merely shrugged at Jim's sudden confusion. "Sometimes, is it not 
better simply to 'go with the flow'?"

Seeing how quiet Blair had become, Jim could only nod in agreement. 
"I'm sorry," he said to the priest. "I was angry with myself, and I 
took it out on you. You've only tried to help."

Caine accepted the apology graciously. "No apology is necessary. You 
are concerned for your friend. He will recover." The priest could see 
Jim was stubbornly refusing to believe his assurances, so he calmly 
shifted his attention back to Blair. "Now, perhaps you wish to discuss 
the terms of your will?"

Blair smiled and nodded, settling back into his pillows and preparing 
to put his affairs, such as they were, in some sort of order. His 
stomach was apparently still cramping badly because he drew up his legs 
in an effort to lessen the pain, but Caine's quiet confidence seemed to 
ease his discomfort a bit.

Jim stood up, anguish tearing at him. He knew he couldn't deal with the 
finality of his partner's request. "I think I'll take a walk. I need to 
clear my head."

Caine nodded his understanding. "We will be all right until you 

Jim's footsteps felt leaden as he climbed the stairs to his bedroom. 
Automatically, he listened as Blair mumbled the conditions of his will, 
which Caine recorded carefully in a small notebook. Dressing on 
autopilot, Jim pulled on a sweatshirt, socks, and shoes. Then he went 
back downstairs, where he deliberately detoured around the back of the 
sofa so he wouldn't have to see the futility reflected in his partner's 

He crossed to the door and reached for his jacket. However, the last 
few minutes had erased the benefits a good night's sleep had given him, 
and he felt just too enervated to go out. Discarding the notion of a 
walk, he detoured to the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee from 
the pot someone had made earlier, grabbed a magazine from his growing 
stack of neglected mail, and sat down at the dining room table.

As he sipped his coffee, he scanned the first few pages of the 
magazine, his thoughts far away from the numerous ads for the latest 
and greatest in automobile technology.

"Tell me your symptoms again," the Shaolin requested during a brief 
lull in Blair's disjointed ramblings.

Jim hung on every syllable, needing to hear Blair's voice, no matter 
what the words.

"We've already done that, haven't we?"

Caine smiled encouragingly. "Yes, and the fact that you remember is a 
very good sign, but I wish to review your condition, to make certain we 
have not missed anything significant."

"It started a few weeks ago." Blair's voice was so weak, it came out as 
the merest whisper. "At first, it felt like a mild flu--you know, 
headaches, stiffness, some nausea. I had trouble concentrating. 
Sometimes, my thoughts wouldn't make any sense."

"That was the first stage of the poison. Did you vomit?"

"No, and that seemed weird, because I felt so queasy all the time, you 
know? Eating finally became a real chore."

Belatedly, Jim realized his partner sounded much more aware and 
coherent. Despite his weakness and the setback from his allergic 
reaction to one of Lo Si's innumerable teas, he was really sounding 
better. Perhaps Caine had been right; did he dare believe it?

"And more recently, there have been other symptoms?"

"Yeah. All along, I've been getting steadily weaker, but lately, I've 
had a tiny headache, almost nothing at all, right between my eyes. My 
head feels like it's stuffed with cotton. I'm tired all the time, but I 
can't seem to get enough sleep."

"What about your cough?"

"That showed up two days ago. My lungs are starting to hurt."

"And the tremors in your hands?"

Tremors? Jim's head almost snapped up, but he forced himself to keep 
staring at the glossy picture on the magazine page.

"They're brand new," Blair admitted bitterly. "And it really sucks, 
man. There are some letters I wanted to--" His voice cracked a little, 
and he paused to rein in his emotions. "There are some letters I need 
to write. You know, just in case?"

Caine's serenity was like a balm. "I know. If the time comes, I will 
help you write them."

Blair's voice dropped even lower, although he must have believed his 
roommate had gone for a walk. "I'd ask Jim, but this is so tough on 
him. I don't want to burden him with anything else. It's not fair to 

A large tear suddenly blistered the magazine picture. Jim was startled; 
he hadn't even realized his vision had blurred as his eyes had filled.

Blair's next words were heart-wrenchingly hopeful. "Am I really getting 
better, Caine?"

"I believe so." The priest remained quietly confident. "Already, your 
fever is gone and your thoughts have cleared." He sighed. "However, 
these symptoms you describe suggest many different possibilities. The 
Ancient and I have deciphered the components of the poison as best we 
can. The treatments have counteracted them one by one. There is only 
one left to defeat, but you reacted badly to the cure Lo Si prepared. 
Your pain now is from the tea--it is uncomfortable, but not fatal. We 
will use another way to eliminate the last of the poison."

Jim's words cut through the calm. "But will you find a cure?"

Caine looked startled for a moment, surprised Jim had heard his softly 
spoken words. Blair flinched, closing his eyes briefly, suddenly aware 
Jim had stayed in the loft and would have overheard everything.

Finally, Caine nodded. "There is no better apothecary than Master Lo 

Jim had surprised himself with the strength of his emotion, and he 
fought it down now. He rose from the table and moved around the sofa to 
stand in front of his partner. With quiet tenderness he didn't know he 
possessed, he said, "The sun's shining on the balcony now. Would you 
like to get a little fresh air?"

Blair nodded and struggled to stand.

Jim helped him. "Take it easy, Chief. Let me do some of the work."

Part Twelve

Mary Margaret disconnected her cell call with a frown.

Peter, leaning against the fender of the Stealth and tilting his head 
to catch a bit of sun, didn't miss her look. "What did Captain Simms 
have to say?"

"They found Tyrone Lee's body this morning. He'd been shot in the head; 
looked like an execution. Apparently, whoever's behind this caper is 
tying up loose ends."

"Damn." He'd hoped Tyrone, who had bought the herbs from Lo Si and 
possibly delivered them to Kam Lee, would be able to tell them how to 
find the elusive apothecary.

"Captain Banks' men have already scoured Chinatown," Mary Margaret 
said. "What makes you think we can find him?"

Peter nodded to where Lo Si was in earnest conversation with a 
vegetable seller. "Because Lo Si's name is revered throughout most of 
the Northwest's Chinese population. If anyone can track down Kam Lee, 
it'll be the Ancient."

"I hope you're right." She straightened from her slouch against the car 
and stretched. "I'm getting tired of climbing in and out of that 
miserable excuse for a back seat."

Peter grinned. "You can't expect an old man to do it, can you?"

Mary Margaret's smile was predatory. "You could always let me drive."

"Not while I'm still breathing," Peter responded without so much as 

Lo Si hurried over to them, and from the expression on his face, they'd 
struck paydirt at last. "I have found him."

As they got settled in the Stealth again, Lo Si gave directions. "It is 
an apartment building called Sunrise Tower, at the very north end of 
Chinatown." He handed Peter a slip of paper. "Here is the address."

Peter had to consult a map, but once he'd worked out the route, he 
never took a wrong turn. 

Sunrise Tower was not technically in Chinatown. Once part of an upscale 
neighborhood, shifting ethnic boundaries and economic vagaries had 
plunged the area into disrepair. The circle had come around again, 
however, and the area was undergoing renovation. Soon, it would once 
again be a fashionable address, and the current residents would find 
themselves with either hefty property taxes or a need to move to 
different digs. Whoever could afford to stay would own some very 
valuable real estate.

Peter admired the stately building. "Kam Lee lives here?"

"He owns the building." Lo Si scowled with distaste. 

"Very nice."

They climbed out of the car, Mary Margaret making a bit more of a 
production than necessary out of dislodging herself from the back seat, 
then headed toward the front entrance.

Lo Si diverted near the door and went down some steps toward a basement 
entry. Curious, the others followed, and when they went inside, they 
left the modern world behind and entered a bright apothecary shop, its 
numerous shelves filled with sparkling glass containers of mysterious 
herbs, oils, potions and probably more than one organ from a host of 
endangered species.

A young Chinese man bowed deeply to Lo Si. "How may I be of service?"

"I have come to see Kam Lee." The Ancient bowed in return. "I am Lo Si, 
at one time his teacher, now here to seek his wisdom with a most 
difficult puzzle."

The young man bowed again and walked backward through a beaded curtain 
leading to another room. He was gone only a moment before Kam Lee 

At fifty-three, Kam Lee was the picture of a successful American 
businessman. His suit was perfectly tailored, his hair and fingernails 
carefully tended. There was an arrogance in his manner that contrasted 
sharply with the self-effacement of the Ancient, and yet both men bowed 
to one another in the traditional manner.

"Master Lo Si." The words were respectful, but his tone bordered on 
derisive. "How may this humble student serve you?"

Peter crossed his arms to resist the temptation to grab the well-coifed 
man and shake him until his teeth rattled. He worried the inside of his 
cheek with his teeth to keep from blurting out that the suspected 
poisoner was under arrest.

Lo Si appeared unfazed by Kam's insolence. "I have a conundrum. One of 
my patients is very ill. This morning, he reacted badly to part of the 

"If the body is not strong enough to accept the cure, it can be almost 
as deadly as the condition it seeks to alleviate."

"Yes," Lo Si agreed, not offended by the other apothecary's lecture. "I 
seek an alternative. I knew if anyone would have what I need, it would 
be you."

Kam Lee bowed slightly in acknowledgement of the compliment. "Yes." He 
waved negligently toward the well-stocked shelves. "Please, whatever 
you desire."

Lo Si moved behind the counter and quickly found the correct herb. 
Uncorking the jar, he removed a tiny, gnarled thread no more than an 
inch long, which he wrapped carefully in butcher's paper he found near 
the cash register. 

"Thank you," the Ancient said graciously. "What is the price, please?"

Kam Lee's smile was more a superior sneer. "You may have it with my 
compliments. Seeing you again after all these years is payment enough, 
old friend."

Peter's impatience finally got the better of him. "OK, all this making-
nice is making me sick." Both apothecaries looked at him with surprised 
disfavor, but he refused to back down. "Sorry, Lo Si, but you got what 
you came for. Now, it's my turn."

Kam Lee's angry expression smoothed. "And how may I help you?"

He decided to approach his problem from the flank instead of his more 
usual direct manner. "Are you any relation to Tyrone Lee?" 

Kam Lee frowned. "I have a nephew by that name."

"Not any more. The cops found him this morning with the back of his 
head blown somewhere down the block. He bought the herbs, you added the 
poison. The person who hired you had your nephew killed. Can you guess 
who that makes next on his hit list?" Peter was deliberately blunt, 
hoping to shock the smug apothecary into an unguarded admission.

Kam Lee paled with the news of his nephew's murder. "Tyrone is dead?" 

Peter nodded, still refusing to pull his punches. "You may think you're 
gonna be Chinatown's next bigshot, but whoever you've teamed up with 
isn't planning to share the limelight."

"No." Kam Lee shook his head vigorously. "He gave me his word."

"The word of a killer isn't worth much," Peter shot back. "About all 
you can do so save your sorry hide is to give up your new business 

Still gathering his wits about him, the apothecary just shook his head.

"All right, we're taking you down to Central Precinct." Peter reached 
for his handcuffs. "I'm sure Captain Banks will have some questions for 

Still distracted by the enormity of what he sensed was a betrayal, Kam 
Lee was surprisingly docile. He didn't say a word as he was led out of 
the shop and up to street level.

"You'd better call for backup," Peter told Mary Margaret in a rare 
moment of diplomacy. It had suddenly occurred to him that Simon Banks 
might be less than thrilled to have one of his suspects paraded into 
the bullpen by a couple of visiting detectives who weren't even 
officially working the case.

The roar of an accelerating engine was the only warning they got. 

Peter looked up just in time to see one of those nondescript sedans 
favored by thugs and police surveillance teams come roaring up the 
street. The barrel of an automatic weapon snouted from the passenger-
side window.

"Gun!" He shoved Lo Si to the sidewalk. "Everybody down!"

The rapid-fire chatter of the weapon drowned out the last of his words. 
Chunks of concrete from the sidewalk and mortar from the wall behind 
them pelted them as they desperately sought to make themselves into 
smaller targets.

It was over in seconds, and the sedan had vanished around a corner.

Peter hadn't even managed to get off a shot. Desperately, he took stock 
of the situation. Kam Lee was down in a limp bundle, the front of his 
elegant suit saturated with blood that pulsed from his dying body. Lo 
Si was already tending the mortal wound despite the obvious futility of 
his efforts. And Mary Margaret was trying to push herself up from the 
sidewalk, although it was clear she was in pain and shock. 

Peter scrambled to her side and pushed her back down gently. "Don't try 
to get up, Mary Margaret." He reached for her fallen cellphone and 
quickly dialing 911. As soon as he'd reported the shooting and 
requested an ambulance, he turned his attention back to his fallen 

Mary Margaret groaned softly in pain. "Damn, Peter, I got shot in the 
ass, didn't I?"

"Looks that way, yeah," Peter agreed, still pressing his hand against 
her back to keep her prone.

"Oh, brother, I'm never going to live this down."

Solemnly, Peter said, "I will personally pummel into the ground anyone 
who tries to make light of your injury."

"Except yourself, of course."

"Partners should be allowed a little latitude, don't you think?"

"Not in this case." She moaned again as the pain sliced down her leg. 
"Peter, it really hurts."

"I know." He looked around frantically. "I hear the ambulance. They're 
almost here."

Part Thirteen

The short walk to the balcony took an inordinately long time. Blair's 
balance was poor, and he shuffled with the footsteps of the old and 
infirm. A cramp snagged at his belly, and he gasped, hunching over 
further in an effort to lessen the pain.

The familiar ache in Jim's chest renewed itself with added intensity. 
Beneath his helping hands, Blair felt bony and frail, muscles trembling 
even from this slight effort. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea."

Blair didn't look up at this partner, but the single headshake was 
response enough. "Keep going," he ordered, his voice feeble but firm 
with resolve.

They slowly continued the few feet to the French doors. As Jim opened 
one of them, a warm sea breeze eddied into the loft, and Blair raised 
his head. He even managed a deep breath as he savored it, although he 
held onto the doorframe for support. "See? Isn't that nice?"

They stepped onto the patio, and Jim hastily pulled forward one of the 
inexpensive plastic chairs he'd bought during the summer. Still keeping 
the blanket wrapped around his partner's fragile body, he eased Blair 
into the seat, then pulled up a chair for himself.

He sagged into it gratefully, feeling as if he'd just run a marathon. 
"The sun feels good, but I want you to tell me if you get too worn 

"OK." Almost surreptitiously, Blair folded one leg close to his body 
and hugged his knee, a visible reminder that the bad stomach cramp was 
still with him.

"I'm sorry I put you through this," Jim said abruptly, more guilt 
welling inside him.

Blair looked a bit startled. "Why?"

"Maybe the hospital would have been better."

Despite the wan tiredness of his face, the raised eyebrows spoke 
volumes. "They called to tell you they found a cure?"

"Well, no--"

"OK, then, you did the right thing." Blair was frustrated that he had 
to breathe faster just to find the energy to speak. "Jim, I'm feeling 
better. I'm thinking again--do you have any idea how horrible it was to 
feel myself losing--well, myself? I'm starting to remember 
things...stupid, trivial, unimportant things that feel like the return 
of long-lost friends." The little speech had worn him out, and he 
subsided with a frustrated sigh.

Jim's depression didn't lessen. "But Caine said there's still some 
poison inside you, something he can't cure right now."

Blair nodded a little sadly. "I know. I guess I must feel like a guy 
who got within an arm's reach of the summit of Everest, and then just 
couldn't go that final yard. It seems so damn unfair to have come this 
far and fail."

Now it was Jim's turn to sound surprised. "You're not giving up!"

Blair's look was direct. "Haven't you?"

"No!" Jim's denial was almost vicious in its vehemence. And then he 
remembered the scene in the loft just a few minutes before, and 
realized the horrible damage his wavering courage had caused. "Blair, I 
was feeling guilty because Caine did something that put me right to 
sleep, and I slept the whole time you were suffering downstairs. I was 
angry at him, but more angry at myself, and--yes--I thought I'd made a 
bad decision by allowing him to help you. But it was a temporary doubt. 
Listening to you, hearing the clarity in your voice, convinces me 
you're gonna be all right."

"Except for this last poison."

Jim's smile actually hurt--his face had held a frown entirely too long. 
"If Lo Si doesn't have the medicine when he comes back, I'll tear 
Chinatown apart until I find it. You know me--bull in the Chinese 
closet. If it exists anywhere in the city, or the state, or the whole 
damn country, I'll find it."

Blair's doubts eased under his friend's confidence, and he slumped 
deeper into the chair, allowing the sunlight to caress his face. The 
cramps seemed to ease a bit as his muscles relaxed. He looked pleased 
to see the determination back in Jim's eyes. "All right, then. So what 
else is bugging you, if it wasn't that?"

"Bugging me?"

"I know there's something."

Jim thought about it, honestly bewildered for a moment, then finally 
nodded. "OK, yeah, there is."

"Care to tell me what it is?"

"What you said inside--to Caine--about the letters."

Blair actually flushed, the sudden color adding a tinge of life to his 
pale cheeks. "Oh. I'm sorry you heard that."

"I don't want you ever to presume to make a decision based on what you 
think is best for me without asking me first," Jim blurted, startled to 
feel his anger rising all over again. "Every single moment is too 
precious to waste second-guessing each other."

Blair grimaced with regret. "I just wanted to spare you that sort of 

"I know. Maybe I won't be able to handle it. Maybe I'll turn into a 
bawling jackass--if I do, it's my problem, not yours." Jim bit off any 
further words and ducked his head in embarrassment as he felt tears 
sting his eyes.

"Bawling jackass time?" A tiny twinkle emerged over the previously 
lackluster flatness of Blair's eyes.

Jim smiled self-consciously and blushed. "I don't get it. You're the 
one who's sick--but I'm the one falling apart."

"Maybe because you've always tried to be emotionally tough by holding 
everything in. Emotions need exercise just like every other part of 
your body. What doesn't become resilient and flexible just ends up 

Jim's frown was obviously faked. "Next, you'll want me to get in touch 
with my feminine side."

Blair managed a soft chuckle. "I'll think up a test."

Jim's answering groan didn't have to be faked at all.

Suddenly, his attention was distracted by something down in the street.

"What is it?" Blair asked.

"Lo Si's back. Rafe brought him." He heard the Ancient thank the 
detective for the ride and then Rafe drive off. "Something must have 

"You should go check."

Jim shook his head, restraining his curiosity with effort. "They'll 
tell me what I need to know." He didn't want to leave Blair alone, not 
for a moment, but he chafed under his self-imposed inaction. He 
listened as Lo Si's measured tread came up the stairs, listened as he 
entered the loft and went into the kitchen, where Caine joined him. He 
eavesdropped as the two men discussed the mixture for the next batch of 
tea, but nothing told him why Rafe had driven the old apothecary to the 
loft. Where were Peter and Mary Margaret?

Lo Si came onto the balcony and held out a cup. "And now, for something 
completely different. I have blended two herbs--one will ease your 
present discomfort, the other will conclude your treatment."

Blair accepted the cup with trembling hands, but he shook his head when 
Jim leaned forward to help. He took a sip and grimaced. "This is 

"Yes," Lo Si agreed with a cheerful smile. "You must drink it all."

Jim hardly dared to hope. "This is the final cure that will destroy the 
last of the poison?"

"Yes." The old man lifted his shoulders with pride. "Please allow me a 
moment of unbridled triumph--for which I will atone later with much 
abasement. Arrogance is so uncomely, and yet I find myself bursting 
with a sense of accomplishment." Affectionately, he reached out and 
ruffled Blair's wild curls, which were badly in need of a shampoo. 
"You, my young friend, have been my greatest challenge."

Blair was smiling happily as he drained the last of the tea and handed 
the cup back. "You wouldn't sound so positive if you weren't absolutely 

Caine joined the group on the balcony. "Like all men of medicine, Lo Si 
prefers to err on the side of caution. When he is this confident, the 
prognosis is all but guaranteed."

"No allergic reactions?" When it came to stubborn pessimism, Jim was a 

The Shaolin remained patient. "This remedy has no known side effects." 

"No components of the poison you missed?"

Smiling tolerantly, Caine simply shook his head.

Jim felt tension draining away, leaving behind an unexpected energy. He 
sent a silent prayer of thanks heavenward, then looked at the two 
apothecaries again. "So what happened this morning?"

Lo Si's expression became somber. "Kam Lee is dead--killed by the man 
behind the insidious plot to keep you away from your work. There was 
shooting." He cast an apologetic look at Caine before continuing. "Mary 
Margaret was slightly wounded. I believe the injury causes her more 
embarrassment than pain," he assured the priest as Caine's expression 
tightened with worry.

Jim wondered if there was something going on between Caine and the 
attractive detective. It seemed an odd pairing; but then, he was 
getting used to odd pairings. He glanced fondly at his partner. Three 
years ago, who would have believed a straight-arrow cop and an off-the-
wall anthropologist could have become best friends?

But it was time to be a cop again. "So they've eliminated another loose 
end. What about Stubing?"

"He cannot be found," Lo Si said with a sigh. "Your Captain Banks had 
him under surveillance, but the man somehow eluded his watchers."

"And Tyrone Lee?"

Again, a slight negative shake of the head. "He was found murdered this 

Jim's frustration mounted. "Damn, I'm going to find the person 
responsible, no matter how long it takes."

Lo Si started to say something, but Jim heard the others returning and 
climbed to his feet. "Let's see if Simon has found out anything." He 
was getting used to the fact that no one on the visiting team ever 
questioned how he seemed to know things so far in advance. 

Caine turned and hastened toward the front door, his concern for Mary 
Margaret evident despite his attempt at aplomb. Lo Si followed him.

Jim looked down at his roommate. "You had enough sun?" His concern was 
still evident, but the tender solicitousness was vanquished until it 
was needed again.

More than anything, Jim's return to his blunt, impatient nature assured 
Blair that his health crisis was on the wane. He tried to lever himself 
out of the chair. "Yeah, I want to hear what they have to say."

"You're getting better, but you're not completely well yet." Jim 
scooped him into his arms with the ease of lifting a child.

Blair squeaked in surprise, but chuckled as Jim crossed to the sofa in 
three strides and deposited him gently onto the cushions. "I guess this 
means the honeymoon's over," he quipped, the humor overriding the 
weakness of his voice.

Jim shot him a look. "I think you need more tea." Then his expression 
softened. With an almost embarrassed smile, he reached over and 
squeezed Blair's shoulder gently. "How are you feeling?"

"A little tired." The confession came reluctantly, but there was also 
confidence behind it. "Kinda weak, but the pain's almost gone. I'm 
gonna be OK."

Bending over, Jim unexpectedly took Blair's face in his palms and gazed 
into his partner's eyes for a long moment. His heart was exultant; his 
friend was going to be all right...he was going to live.

They both were.

Blair looked a little concerned. "Jim?"

"You're gonna be OK." The affirmation washed away the last of his fear 
and doubt. But he didn't remove his hands right away, and his look 
spoke volumes beyond his simple words. "Don't try to overdo it."

Blair reached up and squeezed the hands cradling his face. "I won't," 
he said, glad to see the lightness back in Jim's expression. "Go do cop 
stuff. I'll just lie here and pretend I'm a rock."

Part Fourteen

Jim hadn't even reached the door before he sensed Blair fall asleep. As 
much as his mind and spirit had recovered, his roommate's body still 
needed plenty of time for recuperation. But Blair was on the mend; 
right now, that was all Jim cared about.

He joined the others at the open front door just as Peter, Simon and a 
scowling Skelany entered. She limped in, favoring one leg.

"If anyone is tempted to make a smart remark, just remember I'm in a 
bitchy mood and I have a loaded weapon."

Peter rolled his eyes. Obviously, he'd been teasing his partner, and 
her patience was wearing thin.

Jim wisely opted for discretion, although he had no idea what had 
prompted her bad mood. "I'm just grateful it wasn't more serious."

Caine took her elbow and led her into the kitchen. "Let me prepare 
something soothing." 

"Thanks, I could use it." She looked at the group of men clustering in 
the small area. "Then, if you don't mind, I think I'll lie down for 
awhile. These pain killers have me out on my feet."

Jim agreed readily. "Of course. If you need something, just yell."

While Caine fixed Mary Margaret's tea, Simon took the opportunity to 
check on Blair. "He looks a lot better," he whispered with relief.

Jim nodded. "He's gonna be fine." 

Simon returned to the group as Mary Margaret took her cup of tea and 
hobbled off in the direction of Blair's bedroom. "I suppose everyone 
knows that both Lee's, uncle and nephew, are dead." Off nods of 
confirmation, he continued. "The Ancient knows the name of the man 
behind the plot to poison Blair and place Detective Stubing on the 
FBI's task force."

All eyes turned automatically toward Lo Si. The old man savored the 
attention for a dramatic moment, then took pity on his expectant 
audience and looked apologetically at Jim. "Clues were not so bleak as 
I have led you to believe. As Kam Lee died in my arms, he named his 
killer. Percival Lo."

Jim turned an incredulous look on Simon. "Sir?"

The Captain shrugged. "Percival Lo."

"Do we have anything on him?"

Peter supplied the answer. "He was born in Hong Kong to a British 
consul and a Chinese businesswoman. They wanted to bring him up 
British. Unfortunately, they were killed when Percy was still a child, 
and he was sent to live with an uncle in Shanghai. The uncle was 
heavily into the Chinese syndicate. He adopted the kid and gave him an 
entirely different sort of education in organized crime. He came to the 
U.S. about six years ago."

"Lo worked for this other Chinese crime boss you told me about, the one 
who was killed--Tan?"

"That's right. Of all Tan's lieutenants, only Percy has the guts to set 
up an organization this close to his old stomping grounds."

"Then I suppose the next question needs to be: can we catch him, now 
that he knows his operation's blown?"

Caine spoke for the first time. "Pursuing him will not be necessary."

Jim grasped the meaning immediately. "You think he'll come here? 
Because we destroyed his plans for a little criminal empire almost 
before it got started?" He scowled, then amended his statement. "Or 
rather, you did." Face it, Ellison, until Caine showed up at your door, 
you never suspected Blair was anything but dying; you were getting 
ready to bury your partner without even putting up a fight.

Caine shrugged modestly. "We all did our share. But yes, Lo will make 
one final assault on us before he moves on to attempt his plans 
elsewhere. Revenge is in his nature, and it is the--chink?--in his 

"And we'll be ready for him." Simon reached for his cellphone.

Jim protested quickly. "He won't show up if he knows we've positively 
ID'd him. We need to continue as if we're still in the dark about the 
man behind the plot."

Simon pondered the suggestion. "I can hold off the APB for Lo until 
tomorrow morning. After that, there's too strong a risk we'll lose him 
altogether. I'll get some backup here."

"Keep them out of sight."

"You'll be sitting ducks."

Jim glanced at his companions. "Ducks that pack one helluva punch."

Simon weighed the arguments. Two seasoned cops aided by a priest and an 
old man didn't seem like enough to thwart a determined assault by a 
vengeful Chinese mobster.

"We will prevail." 

Caine's assurance and a confident nod from the Ancient swayed his 
decision. "All right, but shouldn't we at least get Blair out of here?"

Jim was all for it, but Caine objected. "Then they will know we are 
expecting them. We will protect Blair and--" For one moment, his 
composure faltered, and Jim knew the priest had been about to utter 
Skelany's name. He figured it was a good thing she had retreated to the 
bedroom, or they all would have gotten an earful about what she thought 
of the idea of needing 'protection.'

Peter realized it, too, and grinned broadly at his father. "Your verbal 
slip's safe with us, Pop."

Caine scowled. "I said nothing you need to keep secret."

Peter was unrepentant. "Subtext, Pop. It's all in the subtext."

Even the Ancient was smiling at Caine's discomfiture as he prepared 
another pot of one of the myriad teas whose scents permeated every 
corner of the loft. They created a pleasant, clean aroma that Jim would 
always associate with the old man.

Simon put on his coat. "OK, I'll go coordinate the operation. I'll have 
someone slip you a two-way radio so we can keep tabs on what goes down 
here." He gave one last look around the loft. "I advise you to lock up 
any breakables."

Jim smiled as he walked the Captain to the door. "Don't worry--I'll 
make sure all the valuables are safe."

Simon glanced toward the sofa. "I know you will."

Part Fifteen

They came in silence and under cover of darkness but, to Jim, they 
might as well have used cymbals and flare guns. He came fully awake in 
a heartbeat and rolled out of bed with the stealth of his animal 
spirit, the black jaguar. He'd slept fully clothed and wasted no time 
padding down the stairs. 

Common sense told him there would be too many bodies crammed into the 
confines of the loft to risk using a weapon, be he had his small backup 
spare strapped to his ankle just in case.

Intimately familiar with every creak in the stairs, he made no sound as 
he crept quickly down to the living area. He went to the sofa and woke 
Blair with a gentle shake and cautionary fingers across his lips.

A moment later, the Ancient was beside them, urging Blair up and moving 
him toward the doors to his bedroom.

Caine had sensed either Jim or the approach of their adversaries, and 
he quickly woke Peter, who gained his feet with lithe assurance.

In the faint light from the street lamps, Jim indicated their attackers 
would be coming over the balcony rail, then he stepped into the shadows 
at the base of the stairs while his allies took cover in the kitchen 
and behind the sofa.

With whisper-softness, the balcony door opened, and the first black-
clad enemy slipped inside, followed quickly by others until there were 
ten. They spread out in front of the windows and took a first, cautious 
step deeper into the room.

When Jim was certain the last man had entered, he stepped up behind the 
nearest and eliminated him with a well-placed blow to the base of the 
neck. The man crumpled with barely a sigh of sound, but his body 
thumped as it hit the floor.

As the others turned to respond to the threat from behind, Caine and 
Peter lunged from concealment, confusing the attackers further.

Normally, odds of ten to three would have seemed overwhelming, but the 
two Caines possessed a special caliber of fighting skill.

The elder Caine fought with deceptively languid control, his moves a 
graceful ballet, his tactics as elusive as a gust of wind. Not a blow 
touched him as he finished off one opponent after another.

In contrast, Peter displayed his usual explosive energy, a whirlwind in 
counterpoint to his father's calm precision.

Even those few who made it past the front line of defense encountered 
strong resistance. The Ancient, who was guarding Blair, fought with the 
agility of a much younger man, the skills gained through the years more 
than an equal match for the recklessness of overconfident youth.

Despite his weakness, Blair refused to keep out of the fray. It went 
against his nature to allow someone else, especially an elderly priest, 
to defend him. So he tackled his nearest opponent, surprising the man, 
who obviously hadn't expected much resistance from someone who should 
have been at death's door.

His fighting skills were far from adept, however, and illness had 
robbed him of his usual pluckiness. Once he'd lost the element of 
surprise, the outcome of the struggle was a foregone conclusion. He 
staggered back from a hard blow and went down, stunned. Although 
expecting the next blow to finish him, he wasn't surprised to have his 
opponent plucked away by Jim Ellison in full protective rage.

Blair's attacker didn't stand a chance.

When it was over, Jim crouched quickly beside him. "You OK?"

Blair nodded, feeling disgruntled that he hadn't been able to 
contribute more to the conflict. "I'm fine."

Jim stood up and moved swiftly around the room, unmasking the fallen 
attackers, searching for the face of the ringleader.

Even if he hadn't seen a photograph, he would have recognized Percival 
Lo by the arrogantly defiant glare.

With a snarl, he hauled the crime boss to his feet and thrust him 
against the wall with enough force to rattle the framed art.

"You tried to poison my partner, you sonofabitch," he snarled. "Just to 
distract us while you set up your organization."

"Detective Ellison."

The words came from behind him, spoken by a man to whom mercy and 
forgiveness were paramount. 

Jim didn't have to turn around to know what Caine wanted him to do. But 
there was something unrepentant in the angry eyes drilling into his 
that wouldn't let him leave it alone. Deliberately allowing his 
expression to become neutral, he dropped his hands and stepped back. 
"All right." 

He turned away, knowing Lo would take the opportunity to attempt an 
escape. He wasn't disappointed. Ready for the sucker punch thrown by 
the thug, he avoided it easily, dropping to his hands and kicking out 
one foot in a smooth, well-plotted move that connected solidly with 
Lo's left knee. 

The man went down with a scream, his knee either broken or badly 
dislocated, his hands clutching desperately at it in a futile attempt 
to lessen the agony.

Jim straightened and looked at Caine. The priest's expression was calm, 
but there was disappointment in his mild eyes.

Jim didn't feel the least contrite. He crossed to the kitchen and 
grabbed the two-way radio, tossing it to Peter. "Call it in." With 
hardly a look at the mass of bodies strewn about the floor, he returned 
to Blair and helped him up. "Let's get you settled again."

Blair fingered the bump swelling on his jaw, his look triumphant. 
"That's it, then?"

Jim smiled and guided him around the obstacle course of fallen enemies 
toward the sofa. "That's it."

Part Sixteen

The next morning, Jim woke to the smell of fresh coffee wafting up from 
the kitchen. He hadn't gotten much sleep following the rush of activity 
the night before. Uniformed officers had secured Percival Lo and his 
chop-socky band of thugs, and then Jim had done a bit of cleanup. For 
all the fighting, there had been very little damage--some furniture 
overturned, a broken coffee mug that had been left on the table. 

The sheer relief to have the worst of it behind him lightened his mood 
considerably, and he threw on clean sweats before heading down to see 
about breakfast.

Blair was stirring to life on the sofa, and Jim paused to give him a 
quick check. "How are you feeling?"

The response was sleepy but cheerful. "Good." He untangled himself from 
the covers and sat up.

"Feel like breakfast?"

"Toast, maybe some eggs." He stood up and stretched. "Shower first, 

Jim watched his partner head for the bathroom. He was dragging a bit, 
but that was fairly typical of Blair first thing in the morning.

Satisfied, he headed for the kitchen. Caine and Lo Si were at the table 
eating what looked like oatmeal but smelled like a myriad of grains. 
They exchanged murmured greetings as he continued into the kitchen.

Hoping for something a little more substantial than what the two 
Shaolin were eating, he was pleased to find Peter industriously 
cracking eggs into a bowl. The younger Caine looked apologetic. "I 
thought I'd whip up some French toast and bacon. I noticed you have 
some real maple syrup in your fridge, and I felt impulsive."

"Sounds good. I'm starved." He grabbed a large frying pan and spread a 
pound of bacon across the bottom. "I guess I should have asked--does 
Skelany eat bacon or does she go for the healthy stuff?"

Peter grinned. "She thinks grease is one of the five major food groups, 
right in there with eat in, take out, microwavable, and canned."

"Don't forget donuts." He was feeling particularly cheerful as he 
tended the spitting bacon and Peter flipped French toast in a skillet 
on a neighboring burner.

Wrapped only in a towel, his hair a wet mop, Blair wandered out of the 
bathroom and disappeared into his room.

Jim and Peter paused in their chef duties and exchanged looks.

Peter's eyes sparkled with mischief. "Do you think he realizes Mary 
Margaret is sleeping in his bed?"

Jim shrugged. "Too late now."

They went back to cooking.

A few minutes later, Jim began to set the table and pour out juice and 
coffee. Blair wandered out dressed in clean sweats, and paused 
uncertainly as four pairs of eyes turned toward him.


"Nothing," Jim assured him quickly, pointing him toward a chair. "Sit. 
Breakfast is almost ready."

Caine and Lo Si cleared off the evidence of their meager meal to make 
room for the heartier contingent of eaters.

Jim held the coffee carafe toward Blair. "Coffee?"

Before the young man could open his mouth, the two Shaolin answered in 
unison. "Tea."

Blair grinned. "Actually, tea sounds pretty good."

Lo Si put on a pot of water. "I have a blend that will help balance the 
impurities of this meal Peter is foisting upon you." He glared at the 
object of his displeasure, but the younger Caine remained cheerfully 

Mary Margaret, clad in Blair's bathrobe and looking like the cat who 
got into the cream, ventured out of the bedroom and headed toward the 

Blair's expression was priceless as he realized someone had been asleep 
in his bed while he'd dressed. "Uh--"

Jim grinned. "Blair Sandburg, Detective Mary Margaret Skelany."

Blair stood awkwardly to shake her hand, a blush creeping up his neck. 
"I sorta remember--sorry."

She smiled serenely. "You were out of it most of the time, but I've--
seen--quite a bit of you lately."

The blush crept further, and Jim lost a half-hearted battle with a 

Blair turned a glare on him.

Peter brought platters of French toast and bacon to the table. 
"Skelany, how's your--" He bit his lip as she fired a look at him. "--

"Fine, thank you," she answered, sitting gingerly in the chair Caine 
held for her.

They ate breakfast with fervor and an almost boisterous camaraderie. 
Blair was pleased to meet Peter officially; until that moment, he'd had 
only vague impressions of an energetic presence flitting in and out of 
the loft.

When they'd finished, Mary Margaret headed for the bathroom to shower 
and dress, while Peter, in what was apparently an unusual burst of 
domesticity if the look from his father was any indication, began to 
clear off the table.

Caine finished gathering his sparse belongings and helped Lo Si pack 
the numerous bits and pieces of his mysterious medicines. Although Jim 
looked forward to the return of peace and order to the loft, he was a 
bit surprised to realize he'd miss the two Shaolin. Perhaps some of it 
was a subconscious fear that without them, Blair would suffer a relapse 
and Jim would be unable to help him. But part of it was due to a 
longing to absorb some of the serenity reflected in their lives.

Mary Margaret added her bag to the pile growing beside the door. She 
walked into the kitchen, accepted a cup of coffee from Jim, and stood 
beside him as he watched Caine and Lo Si in the living area with Blair.

"Bet you'll be glad to have us out of your hair."

Jim smiled and shrugged. "Not really, except that it means the crisis 
is past."

She smiled her agreement as she watched Blair receive numerous 
instructions for his continued treatment. Little bags of cooking herbs 
and special teas were lined up on the coffee table, and Blair labeled 
each one carefully as its purpose was outlined to him. "He looks like 
he's really in his element."

Jim had to agree. Although lacking his usual effervescence, Blair was 
obviously entranced with what the two men were teaching him. "He's like 
a sponge when it comes to picking up knowledge, and this whole natural 
healing, mystical stuff is right up his alley."

"What about you?"

He thought of the scattered remnants of the memories he had of standing 
beside Caine in a dying rain forest to combat Blair's fever, and the 
other "visions" he'd experienced during the past few years. "I'm a 
little more--resistant."

Mary Margaret laughed. "Me too." She shook her head thoughtfully. "And 
yet some of the things I've seen Caine do--" She let her words trail 
off into a sigh of amazement.


Peter blew in like a minor hurricane. "OK, car's packed. Pop, you about 

Mary Margaret and Caine exchanged glances. "He's riding with me, Pete."

Peter didn't miss a beat. "Great. How about it, Lo Si?"

The old man's eyes twinkled mischievously. "Will you permit me to 

"Only in your dreams."

The Ancient surrendered gracefully and stood up. He patted Blair's 
shoulder. "We will speak to you again soon, young Blair."

Blair was almost bubbling. "Jim, they're going to instruct me in some 
basic Shaolin techniques."

Jim's practical mind automatically addressed more mundane issues. "Will 
that old clunker of yours make it down to their place and back?"

Blair remained undaunted. "I'll work it out."

"Tell you what. If Caine can teach you whatever it was he did to give 
me the best night's sleep I've ever had, we'll both take classes."

"Really?" Blair looked at Caine. "Can you teach me that?"

Caine smiled encouragingly, but it seemed clear the particular skill 
that interested Jim was one that involved decades of dedicated study. 
"We shall see."

Jim joined Peter and Lo Si at the front door. He faltered for words to 
express how he felt. "'Thank you' seems pretty inadequate."

Lo Si smiled. "I found the challenge stimulating, and I am grateful we 
were equal to it." He reached up and tapped Jim on the chest. "You have 
a good heart, Jim Ellison. However, your temper needs work."

Jim gave a self-deprecating shrug. "You're not the first to tell me 
that," he admitted, then shook hands with Peter. "Anytime you need help 
from a cop from the sticks, just let me know and I'll be there."

"I'll do that." Peter picked up Lo Si's bag. "Thanks for the 
hospitality. I enjoyed the visit. You have a nice city."

"Yeah, but you'll always have grunge."

Peter laughed. "And a professional football team." He ushered the 
Ancient ahead of him out the door, and Jim heard them start a quiet 
argument over the driving arrangements before they'd even reached the 

Caine said his good-byes to Blair and walked over. "I shall hold you to 
your promise to come for instruction."

Jim nodded. "If it's important to Blair, we'll be there."

"The two of you share a remarkable bond, one which you have not yet 
fully grasped." The priest clasped Jim's shoulder firmly. "Your life 
has taken many paths as you search for the true purpose of your 
existence. Now that you have found it, you do not recognize it. Embrace 
it. Accept it for the gift it is, for the gifts you can offer in 

Jim felt his throat tighten as he recalled the conversation he's 
overheard the night Caine had spoken with Blair. "A destiny we share?"

"Yes. You will never walk your path alone."

Jim's eyes shuttered. "I very nearly did."

Caine shook his head. "Even death will not separate you," he said with 
the simple conviction of his faith. "The two of you are bound by more 
than mortal brotherhood."

It was disquieting, but reassuring at the same time. "I'll try." He 
wasn't certain what he was promising, but he figured Blair--or perhaps 
Caine--would help him figure it out.

"You will succeed. The panther is the symbol of all that is good in the 
warrior, and the wolf symbolizes wisdom and teaching. The two exist in 
perfect harmony."

Jim had an uncomfortable, niggling memory about the panther--but where 
had the wolf business come from? "Thank you. If you ever need anything, 
and you think I can help, please don't hesitate. I owe you more than I 
can ever repay."

Caine bowed slightly. "It was my honor to serve." He opened the door 
for Mary Margaret. "And now, we must be on our way home."

With their good-byes, Jim closed the door and turned to survey the 
loft. His guests had been surprisingly tidy, and there was very little 
evidence remaining from last night's brawl.

Blair carefully gathered up his numerous herbal remedies and the 
copious notes he'd taken on their use and deposited everything in the 
cupboard with his other strange concoctions. He scratched his beard-
stubbled chin absently. "Jim, have you seen my glasses and laptop? I 
have a ton of e-mail and notes to catch up on." Without waiting for a 
reply, he wandered toward his room to begin a search for the long-
neglected items.

Jim smiled and stepped away from the door. There was laundry to be done 
and beds to be made so Blair could move back into his room.

His thoughts heralded a return to mundane domesticity, and he welcomed 
the chores like old friends. Life was getting back to normal, or at 
least as normal as it could in Cascade, the most dangerous city in