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The big male spared a glance at the pack beginning to feed off the carcase of the antelope, as always squabbling fiercely over the juicier bits, the stronger males elbowing away the younger males and the oldest males and the females and especially the young who simply hadn't the weight to push back. Sometimes he wondered - in a disconnected, vague way - how any of the young survived to become adult. Sometimes he wondered why none of them remembered what it was like to be continually elbowed away, left with only scraps to eat... or perhaps they did. Perhaps they were simply determined that having once been forced to wait till last to eat, they were now going to make sure they ate well while they could, because one day they might be old and once again unable to compete with the males of breeding strength. If they survived the many dangers of their lives.
But then he was a special case; a male of breeding strength who, because of what he was, was condemned always to sit on the outskirts of the pack, guarding the pack, finding meat for the pack, but never, never counted as one of the pack. A male of breeding strength whose share of the carcase he had found for the pack would be a few scraps of sinewy meat still clinging to otherwise well-picked bones.
He returned his attention to the surrounding countryside, noting as harmless the big birds that stood around waiting, hoping for the scraps that he had every intention of denying them.
A big beetle hurried past him as he sat motionless, and a quick hand grabbed it; a crunch and it was gone. He spat out the tough wingcases. It did little to satisfy his hunger.
He was aware of feeling something, a nagging feeling that he had always known but that was becoming stronger with each sleep. If his kind had had language he would have recognised it as resentment; resentment that he, who was the best guard in the pack and the one who could infallibly lead the pack to windfalls like this dead antelope, should be the one who ate last and least of such windfalls. But he had no language to put his feelings into words, and his sense of responsibility towards the pack, where none could see or hear or scent things nearly as well as he, would not let him shirk the duty as Watcher that he had assumed. If he had had language he would have recognised how much it irked him at times how little his contribution to the pack was recognised.
But he had no language, and he could only sit and watch and feel his temper growing a little more uncontrolled with every passing day.
The sound of a squabble behind him made him glance round. One of the younger males had challenged his elders, had succeeded in laying claim to a meaty haunch, and was retreating rapidly to enjoy his meal. The Watcher sighed at sight of him, momentarily envying the youngster who would, very soon now, be one of the dominant males; his stomach reminding him again that like the others, he had not eaten well for several sleeps, knowing that he would not eat well this day either, knowing that soon - it had happened before - he would neglect his duty as Watcher and join in the free-for-all, desperate for at least one good meal. And that afterwards he would feel... uneasy... that he had so neglected that duty. And that, as always, the pack still would not remember that their best guard needed to eat.
A gentle touch on his arm made him jump - how had he missed hearing someone approach? He had been so intent on how he felt...
The young male stood there, holding the haunch out to him.
He took it, biting into it hungrily, and saw that the youngster had taken over the watch while he ate. He ate quickly, as all his kind did, gobbling down a meal before it was lost either to a stronger one of the pack or a marauding bear or lion or hyena, beasts against which his kind had no defence.
He ate a little more than half, and touched the youngster's arm. He nodded, and gave the rest of the meat back. The youngster nodded in response, and finished the haunch. Then he crouched beside the older male and quietly, without fuss, began to groom him.
As the sun began to sink in the sky, the pack started a steady drift towards the nearby forest, where they would climb up to safety and construct the nests where they would spend the night. The youngster left the Watcher, climbed into a tree and began to construct a nest that was somewhat larger than normal, one as big as the shes with young built, and the Watcher, seeing that, knew that instead of struggling in the half dark, after the others were all settled, to construct a nest big enough to keep him safe, he would be welcome to join his new companion. And so it was; as it began to get dark, he climbed up to join the young male who, against all the single-minded selfish aquisitiveness of their kind, had chosen to help him.
They curled up together, the Watcher and his new Helper, and slept.
Ama was the best Wakeman the clan had even known.
He could see further than anyone else in the clan, and hear the approach of a predator, even one of the silent cats, long before anyone else. If the meat on a chance-found carcase was tainted, he knew, by scent and taste, before the rest of the clan could eat and perhaps sicken. Not that that happened often; a carcase rarely lay long enough to taint, even in the heat of a long day, but sometimes they found a partly-eaten one high in a tree, left there by a spotted cat, that had been there for perhaps two or three days, long enough for it to begin going bad. And although the females of the clan knew what plants were edible and which ones to avoid as deadly, occasionally in their wandering they found plants they had never seen before, and he could always tell which of those plants were good, and which they should leave alone. The females had their ways of finding out, but his knowledge was faster and surer.
And Ama was lonely. So very, very lonely. The clan set him apart because of his skills. They revered him; the best of the food was always his, but they were too much in awe of him to give him companionship, to talk to him. Not even the wildest female would lie with him, afraid that if she quickened her child might also have his gifts. Who wanted to be the mate of one whom the Spirits had touched? Even his own mother - whose mate, his father, was reassuringly normal - was afraid of him.
The only females who came near him were those not yet subject to the Curse, that mysterious time when for no obvious reason many of the women suffered pain or at least discomfort, and all of them bled; and these younglings only came to bring him his meals with it was the turn of their mothers to supply his food, and they fled as soon as he took the food from them. The occasional boy was sent too, from a family with no young females, and those boys were as unwilling, and fled as instantly, as the girls. Not even his only surviving younger brother - who, if he had the awareness, had managed to hide it - was willing to delay. He had learned that after he had eaten, the kindest way to return the big clamshell that was his plate was to put it down behind him, and ignore the pattering of feet that indicated the child's return to snatch it up before fleeing again.
Did his young brother have even part of the awareness he did? Ama doubted it. No-one with any sense would be willing to suffer the reverential ostracisation that was his lot, but equally, nobody with the awareness would be able to hide it completely. It would have shown in little ways before Aven was old enough to learn how to dissemble, before Aven saw exactly what it was like, being the clan's Wakeman.
No. Ama knew he was one of a kind; one forever apart from the rest of the clan.
He would have given anything to be normal - or even accepted as normal by one, just one, of his fellows.
He could overhear conversations when he chose to - strange that nobody in the clan seemed to realise that, even though they knew how acute his hearing was - but he seldom bothered. What point, when he could not participate? Only the clan medicine man, whose 'apprentice' he officially was, ever stopped to speak to him, and then it was only an exchange of facts; the movement of the animals they hunted, the presence of predators, what the weather signs said; Ura was not interested in any thoughts Ama might have. Ama was simply another tool in the medicine man's poke; not even a proper apprentice who was learning to be a medicine man one day, he was forever destined to a solitary role as clan Wakeman.
It did not occur to him that even the medicine man might, in his own way, also be lonely, regarded as one apart by the rest of the clan; for at least the medicine man was in the centre of the community, surrounded by people, not one who lived always on the outskirts of it, avoided even by his own parents.
He swung round, startled by the unrecognised voice, wondering how the young man - little more than a boy, he could only have endured his Manhood Ritual this season - had come so close without being heard. He was carrying Ama's plate.
"I'm Bry, Ura's apprentice." He smiled, lips politely closed over his teeth. "All that really means yet is that I'm his servant. I've been with him since the last full moon, and this is the first time I've been given anything to do that isn't totally menial. But this will be one of my regular duties now."
"You sound less than happy about it." Ama knew he was being ungracious to someone who was actually talking to him, but he had never learned, never been given the chance to learn, the skills of interacting with others. "But the children will be happy."
"I'm not happy about being Ura's servant. He didn't really want an apprentice yet, but he's getting older though he won't admit it, and Meno insisted. And my father's dead, so that made it easy for Meno to say the apprentice should be me, even though I didn't want the position. If I'm lucky Ura will live long enough, tell me enough, or I'll see enough of what he does, that I'll be able to take his place when he dies. If I'm unlucky I'll be thrown out of the clan as useless - nobody will know that Ura didn't teach me properly. Didn't want to share his knowledge even with an apprentice."
Bry sat beside the Wakeman as Ama began to eat. "Ama, what's it like being a Wakeman? Being able to see and hear so well?"
"I would willingly trade those abilities to have the life of an ordinary man." Ama took a deep breath. "I should not have said that. This is my place in the clan."
"And all in the clan fear you. Even Ura, I think."
"I think that you do not."
Bry sighed. "We are both set apart. Even I... inside a day, the men who were boys with me, even those I thought were my friends, began to look aside when they saw me. I was apprentice to the medicine man, was beginning to learn - as they thought - his skills. They no longer saw me, they only saw what they thought I was going to be. Even Ura is set apart. Because he is medicine man, nobody avoids him. But he has no friends. In a way, I think Meno, too, is one alone. It is not good to be different."
"You are young, yet you are very wise."
Bry shrugged. "I had seen but six winters when my father died, and I was the oldest of three. I may only have undertaken my Manhood Ritual this summer, but for ten winters now my mother depended on me to be the man of the house. That sort of responsibility makes a man more surely than any Manhood Ritual."
"Wise indeed. Nobody looked to take her as mate?" Bry's story told Ama just how little he actually knew about the members of the clan he served.
"If there had been few women in the clan, she could have found a second husband easily, but no man will willing accept responsibility for another man's so-young children when there are plenty of never-wed women around. At first there were those who hoped she would lie with them even though they would not accept that responsibility; they thought she was young enough to do it for the pleasure. They soon discovered their mistake."
Ama finished his meal, and gave the clamshell plate back to Bry, expecting the younger man to leave at once, more grateful than he could say for the conversation that fed a need in him more satisfyingly than the food had done. Even the food itself tasted better than he could ever remember, yet he knew from the flavour exactly who had cooked it and that in actual fact it was no better than it had ever been. When the other made no move to leave, he said hesitantly, "Will Ura not be expecting you?"
Bry smiled again, this time allowing a glimpse of his teeth. "He will not know how long it took for you to finish your meal."
Ama fell silent, gazing out over the open ground, realising that Bry knew. Bry knew how hungry he was for companionship, and was willing to risk punishment for wasting time to give him that companionship for a little longer. Ama did not have the words to say how grateful he was.
In the very far distance he saw movement, and concentrated on it.
Men. A party armed with hunting bows. They would be from the clan in the next valley; where they were was close to the boundary with his clan's territory, but they were still on their own side of it. His attention fixed on them, he forgot his immediate surroundings.
Bry's voice was soft, but it pulled the Wakeman's attention back to his companion.
"What did you see?"
"Hunters from the next valley. They're keeping to their own territory though."
"But you were concentrating on them so hard that you lost yourself in your mind."
"How did you know?"
"The way your eyes were fixed, the way you didn't move at all... Somehow I knew I had to attract your attention."
"You came back almost at once. I only called your name twice."
Ama looked thoughtfully at the man he had already begun to think of as a friend. "Bry, I have been a Wakeman for several winters. I have long known that there was a danger that I might be watching something so intently, hearing something so acutely, that I lost myself; so I never used my abilities to the full... until today. I knew, without knowing, that I needed someone to support me. Today... I think I instinctively knew that you could call me back if I got lost, and for the first time... I could see details I never was aware of before. Bry, I need you to stand beside me if I am to serve the clan to the full."
"Then you must ask Ura to let me stand watch with you. He will probably regret losing his servant, but I think he will be glad to be rid of his apprentice." He smiled fully at the Wakeman. "I can still do little things like fetching your food as well as standing with you - as you said, the children will be glad not to have the task any more. And we can be company for each other."
Ama reached out and placed a hand on Bry's shoulder. As Bry reached up to touch it, he knew he would no longer be lonely.
The Watchman called his alert from his position on the rocks above the cave that provided secure winter quarters for the tribe, pointing over the steppeland to the east.
"How far?" the tribal leader asked in an ordinary voice, knowing that it would be heard perfectly well. What point in shouting to the Watchman?
"Halfway to the river."
The leader nodded, calling the hunters together.
He looked thoughtfully at his second son. Iaray was certainly of an age to join the hunt, he had survived his two hands of days alone earlier in the season, but his skills with a spear were limited; his eye for spearing a fish was excellent - despite his youth he was the best fisher in the tribe; but on land he missed the practice target far oftener than he hit it.
No; this late in the warm season he could not afford the indulgence of taking Iaray on the hunt. The hunters who went with him had to be seasoned men who could be guaranteed to bring down the animals they hunted. Not for the first time he wondered if the lad might not be more suited to becoming apprentice to the tribal witchdoctor - he was still young enough - even although Meehan had not seen any real potential in him. Besides, he was too restless to accept the discipline of a witchdoctor's life.
Meehan was certainly looking for an apprentice, but Iaray was not the only youth who failed to show the necessary potential. The only boy in the tribe that Meehan had ever felt would be a good witchdoctor was Amias; but during his days of solitude Amias had developed Watchman skills, and a Watchman was of far greater value to the tribe than an apprentice witchdoctor.
If only they could have found a Companion for him; then his skills would have intensified. But none of his contemporaries had shown any gift for steadying him.
It was with mixed feelings that Iaray watched the hunters leave. He was a man; it was his responsibility to the tribe to join in the hunt... but he knew how poor he was at hunting. He could handle a fishing spear, but he could see the fish clearly; on the open steppe everything more than two or three hundred paces away was totally blurred; he could see nothing really clearly if it was more than about fifty paces away. He could make out shapes, yes, but at a hundred paces he could not have told if he was looking at a man or a small tree; at a deer or a termite mound. It was only in the last couple of seasons that he had come to realise that only he had such limited sight; with the tales that had heard of the tribal Watchman's clarity of sight, he had believed that his degree of vision was normal; that everyone except the Watchman had vision as limited as his own.
One day soon he would have to admit his failing, and what Ameon would have to say about that, even though it was in no way his fault, he did not like to think. Ameon already considered him relatively useless. At the very least, he would not be allowed to take a mate, for he could do little to support a family; fishing, the one skill he had, was seasonal. The idea of never having a mate did not distress him, for he had seen no-one among the unmarried girls who particularly attracted him, but it was one thing to choose not to mate, quite another to be refused the right to do so!
As the men vanished from his sight, blurring into the background fog, he decided to join the tribal Watchman, the only other adult male left at the camp other than the witchdoctor - and he was not overfond of Meehan. He had nothing positive against the man, but he sometimes felt that Meehan did not altogether approve of him, though he had no idea why. Amias had at least tossed a few kind words his way any time they had met - the Watchman's duties did not allow him much time to socialise, and even when he was free to do so he rarely sought the company of others; it seemed that he preferred his own company.
Amias was sitting, gazing intently over the steppe, when Iaray climbed up the rocks and joined him; he seemed to be ignoring the younger man's arrival, and Iaray wondered if this was a not-too-subtle hint that his presence was unwelcome, a distraction. He hesitated for a moment before finally speaking.
The Watchman jumped, and glanced round. "Iaray! I didn't hear you."
"You were too intent on what you could see?" Iaray suggested.
"Perhaps." Amias shrugged. "I don't know why I continue to watch. I saw the horses and told Ameon. He knows what he is doing, and he is too far away now for anything I might see to be of help to him. Anyway, there is nothing else moving."
"Do you regret never going on a hunt?"
"Not really, It is too easy to lose myself in the sights and especially the sounds, in the scent of blood. I go as rigid as a young man's sex when he sees the girl he wants to mate walking by, and it is not easy for the men to waken me. I need a Companion. I know it, Ameon knows it, Meehan knows it... but there is nobody they have tested whose voice and touch I respond to.
"But what of you? I thought you'd have been gone with the other men."
"My father chose not to take me. I can understand - I miss the target more often than I hit it." He looked towards the steppe, wondering what Amias could see there. "I've never told anyone, and it will be hard for you to understand... but I can't see the target clearly unless it's quite close. I think Ameon might suspect something, but if he does, he's never said. I've only just begun to realise how little I see compared to everyone else."
"You're good with a fishing spear."
"The fish are close enough for me to see them. So at least I'm not totally useless. But I'll never make a hunter."
"You should tell Ameon. At least then he will know why you miss the target."
"I know. But I keep thinking he'll be disappointed in me."
"He'll be more disappointed if he thinks you're just not good. He'll understand if there's a reason."
"But why am I not able to see properly? Will he understand that that is a good reason?"
"Why can I see clearly as far as the horizon, and hear the flight of an owl in the dark? We each have our different gifts, Iaray."
"But I don't seem to have any gifts, just this terrible handicap!"
Amias looked at the younger man for a moment, not knowing what to say to comfort him. Then with a sigh he turned to gaze back over the steppe. The hunters were getting close to the horses now; he concentrated on watching as the men began to surround the herd, unaware when the sounds of the camp below faded from his consciousness. There was only what he could see...
"Amias... Amias, come back!"
A soft voice; a gentle touch on his arm... He jerked back to awareness of his surroundings. "Iaray?"
"You were lost in your mind."
"Since I noticed? Not long. You followed my voice almost at once."
"Then... Iaray, you are the Companion I need. We'll tell Ameon that when he returns; no need to mention your poor sight unless you want to."
"You mean that? You really think I...?"
"Yes." Amias took a long, deep, relieved breath, and smiled. "And suddenly I feel complete. I've been a little afraid, since my abilities first showed - afraid to use them to the full. I'm not afraid any longer, because now I have my Companion. You won't let me get lost."
They settled down again, Amias sitting on his rock, Iaray sitting on the ground beside him, leaning against his legs. Amias laid a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "This feels right," he said quietly.
"Yes," Iaray replied. "It feels right."
He raised a hand and laid it over the Watchman's, accepting the bond.
The Sentry crouched, watching the movement in the village half a day's travel from his own, assessing the activity. Did it constitute a threat to his Village?
The two communities were far enough apart that normally they could safely ignore each other; but this year the rains had failed, the river was drying up, the plants were withering and the animals moving away; the hunters had failed to kill for many days and the women were having to travel further and further to find enough to feed their families even famine rations.
Soon they would have to move, abandon their huts and go in search of water, and if their neighbours chose to move in the same direction there could even be bloodshed. And there had already been a few deaths; his Village could ill afford to lose more of their people, and he was sure the other village was in the same position.
His Village did have the advantage, for the other one had no Sentry; that much he knew. If it should come to bloodshed, men would die to protect him... and other men would die trying to capture him alive, hoping to gain his abilities for their village. Even an unwilling, captive Sentry was better than none, for his urge, his need to protect, to serve, would not permit him to mislead even those who had slaughtered his kin.
There was a babble of voices; he focussed his hearing. Yes... these people had also decided to move, and just as his Village had done, they were choosing to travel north, towards the mountains that were barely visible to normal eyesight.
Time to let his own people know.
He wriggled backwards, ever cautious, until he was sure nobody in the village would be able to see or hear him; then he rose to his feet and began a steady, ground-eating lope towards home.
He had covered perhaps half the distance when he became aware of the growl of a hunting cat, accompanied by human yells. One man, he decided. One man being hunted, possibly now trapped. He did not recognise the voice, but he could not ignore the need of another human; he veered towards the sound.
A man was leaning against a tree; in his hands was the stick he was using to fend off the big cat's attack. It was obvious that one leg was already injured; it was only a matter of time before the cat defeated him.
The Sentry ran forward, shouting; the cat clearly decided that this second biped was more thsn it cared to tackle, given the determination with which its first victim was defending itself, and turned away.
The Sentry let it go. He stopped beside the injured stranger. "Are you badly hurt?"
"Only a twisted ankle. I can travel."
"Where are you from?" But he already knew. It was no surprise when the man gestured in the direction of the village the Sentry had just left.
"I was scouting. But this area is as drought-ridden as our usual territory, and I knew it would be. We need to move, to travel many days from here, before we will find water."
The Sentry nodded, acknowledging the comment, but also frowned. "Your village and mine..."
"We don't need to fight." The voice was quiet, yet oddly persuasive. "We have already lost too many to the famine. I would guess your village has, too. If we were to join... "
"Impossible!" Share what little there was with strangers? His instinct to protect still targeted his own people. He could not so endanger his own...
"...wrong? Wake up!"
"What - ?" He stared at the stranger, noticing the realisation in the man's eyes - and then realising, himself, that he had been recalled from the dark recesses of his own mind by this stranger's voice.
"You're a Sentry!"
"A Sentry who has had no Partner. But I think he has just found one."
"What?" But he saw the knowlege in the man's eyes.
"You. My mind had closed; you brought me back. You are the Partner I have needed. You were right. Our Villages must join."
"There will be suspicion..."
"Yes. But to attain his full power, a Sentry must have a Partner, and a village with a Sentry is so much stronger than one without." He lifted the smaller man easily; the stranger wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "You should not risk injuring your ankle more. We will go first to my people, who are closer, and lead them to yours. Then together we will lead both to a new life."
The tall man sat on a rock, watching as the empty-eyed woman was carried away on a stretcher. After a moment, a smaller man drifted over to stand behind him.
"Hey, man - are you okay?"
The seated man sighed. "You know, when I got outa that grotto, I realised I had it all laid out in front of me - all the answers to it all. But in one way, you know, I wanted to go back in there so bad. I mean... just... "
"But you didn't." There was no uncertainty in the comment; it was a statement, not a question, but it was answered anyway.
"See, there's the difference between you two. She lost her way."
Jim Ellison felt his Guide's hand touching his shoulder lightly - so very lightly - and twisted slowly round to face Blair.
"I so nearly lost you, Chief. I did everything wrong."
"Not quite everything," Blair said softly. "You brought me back."
"Yes... Oh God, Chief!" He threw his arms around Sandburg, clinging desperately, his cheek pressed against the younger man's chest.
Blair responded instinctively, returning the embrace. "It's all right, Jim."
"Don't leave me, Chief. Don't ever leave me. I need you... Never knew how much till I found you in that damn' fountain... "
"It's all right," Blair repeated. "I understand."
Ellison raised his head and looked at his friend. "Do you, Chief? Do you really understand?"
"I think so. We've been friends, close friends, called each other 'best friend', and you've even admitted needed my help... but you've always sort of resented needing it, haven't you?"
"I suppose, but I've always felt I needed to protect you, too. The Sentinel has to protect the Guide, that's an imperative, but it meant I never admitted just how strong you really are. Then all my instincts said that Alex Barnes was a threat - and when I dreamed I killed you, I really thought you'd be safer away from me. I misread everything, Blair. Everything." He drew a long, shuddering breath. "I... think I'm ready to take that walk with you now, Chief."
Blair, exhausted after the last few days, still not completely recovered from drowning, slept for most of the flight back to Cascade. He slipped sideways almost immediately he fell asleep, until his head rested on his Sentinel's shoulder; Ellison moved slightly to provide a more comfortable pillow and closed his own eyes, pretending to sleep, allowing his head to droop sideways till his cheek rested on the top of Sandburg's head, just enjoying his Guide's presence. When the stewardess would have wakened them to offer them a meal, Simon, on the other side of the aisle, stopped her.
"They've had a hard week," he said quietly. "Let them sleep."
At Cascade, Simon took them back to the loft, having assured a suddenly apprehensive Ellison that everything had been returned to at least approximately the correct place, including the things Blair had taken to the motel, Blair's bill there had been paid, and that someone from the PD had made sure there was food in.
Once Simon left, they collapsed on the big couch, both suddenly very tired; even his sleep on the plane insufficient to return Blair to his usual bouncy self.
"Sorry, man - I know we need that talk, but now we're home I think I just want to sleep for a week."
Blair slept for almost twenty-four hours. Watchful, remembering how much Blair had taken out of himself since he drowned, the Sentinel sat by the bed for much of that time, dozing intermittently, in his wakeful spells simply enjoying the sight of his Guide, the scent of him, listening to his breathing and his heartbeat. When finally Blair blinked still-sleepy eyes open, the first thing he saw was his partner's face.
"How are you feeling, Chief?"
Blair considered the question for a moment. "I'm still physically tired, but I think I'm slept out for now."
"OK. Let's get something to eat - when was the last time you ate properly? - then... are you up for that walk yet?"
"Sounds like a plan. I think - yes, I do think I could eat."
"Right. You go and have a shower, and I'll start... I suppose it has to be called breakfast, though - " he checked the clock - "it's nearly 4 pm."
He listened to the shower starting, then checked the fridge. A moment of consideration, and he decided on scrambled eggs as the easiest and lightest meal possible - Blair didn't need a heavy meal just yet. He got everything ready, the eggs whipped, bagels ready to toast, but delayed cooking anything till the sound of the shower stopped. Blair would just about have time to shave while the eggs were cooking, and he turned on the gas.
They ate in a comfortable silence, then with the meal finished Blair said, "Your turn to shower, Jim. I'll wash up."
Ellison opened his mouth to say he'd do it then shower, and stopped himself before uttering a sound, reminding himself of what he'd said outside the Temple; 'I never admitted just how strong you really are.' Yes, Blair still hadn't completely recovered - but he, Ellison, had to accept that Blair knew his limitations. Only missing half a beat, he said, "Right, Chief."
"That wasn't what you were just going to say, was it?"
"No... but it's what I did say."
They settled in front of the fire, both just a little nervous. Finally, Blair said quietly, "It wasn't just the panther and the wolf jumping into each other that I saw, Jim. I saw... I saw a whole line of Sentinels and their Guides stretching back into history."
Ellison said slowly, "I saw that too - and again in the Temple. The earliest pair were practically animals - they didn't even have any language."
"That Sentinel was almost a slave to his pack," Blair whispered.
"Yes... then one of the others chose to help him. I got the feeling it was the first time one of those creatures had ever helped another."
"Everything I saw - it was all about a Sentinel finding his Guide."
"Or a Guide finding his Sentinel."
"And Jim... I think all of them were us."
They looked at each other. "And every time there was no more loneliness," Jim said slowly. "None of them seemed to have had the misunderstandings we've had..."
"But all of them lived in a simpler culture. We'll have to watch that, next time round. Life is getting more and more complicated."
"The only life I intend to worry about right now is this one," Ellison grunted.
And Blair chuckled, knowing that his Sentinel was now completely comfortable with the knowledge that they had been together as Sentinel and Guide through many lives - and would undoubtedly be together again in future lives.