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(aka The Jim Ellison Story)
Hello! Nice to meet you.
I'm a - well, you don't really need to know that, do you? Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Need to Know, all that garbage; all you really need to know is that I watch, I observe, sometimes I interfere - though not very often, that wouldn't be ethical! - and I look like a panther. Sometimes I report back to - well, you don't need to know that either, really. But like all of my kind, when I recommend something, my suggestions are usually listened to, and sometimes even acted on.
It's odd, though - the number of times we're assigned to Watch someone who's our exact opposite. Like, me, I'm a chatterbox, though most of the time I do try not to talk too much. Usually I'm assigned to Watch someone who tends to be pretty quiet - and you don't get them much quieter than Jim Ellison.
Even as a child...
Oh, how he hated being called 'Jimmy'; when he was small, he was called Jim, but when he was about eight, after his Mom left, his Dad started calling him Jimmy. Sort of making him his son, really, rather than 'theirs'. Maybe that had something to do with it, because for some reason Jim was very fond of his mother even though she hadn't had much time for him, and he did resent the way everything of hers disappeared; even the house was completely redecorated to remove her influence, her choice of colour scheme, her... Well, you get the picture. I'd say, too, that Jim felt it diminished him in some way; but he never said anything about it, just gritted his teeth and put up with it. Never said one word. I don't think anyone realised - apart from me, that is. And even I can't be sure; even I have to guess to what he's thinking half of the time.
Bill Ellison did the same with his younger son; after their Mom left, Steve became Stevie. He didn't much care, but then he was quite a bit younger and Jim had sometimes called him Stevie anyway. Not really putting him down, just a subtle way of reminding him that he was younger.
Mark you, Bill - what? You don't think that sounds respectful? Hmmm... I don't suppose it is. But then, I never did respect Ellison senior very much.
As I was saying, Bill was no great shakes as a parent. Had about as much idea of how to bring up a child as the Statue of Liberty probably had. Less. He might have trained a dog successfully using the methods he did, but it wasn't a good way to bring up a couple of boys. Especially Jim, who was always far more sensitive than he ever let anyone see. Oh yes, he learned very early to hide his feelings; at that age he hated confrontations. As he got older though he learned that unless he was willing to let people trample all over him he had to - well, fight back. At the same time though he learned that the appearance of attitude worked wonders; that he didn't actually have to say anything or do anything overt, that a glare could be enough...
What's that? No, not everyone has a Watcher, but young Jim did; because Jim was born to be a sentinel.
Now, some sentinels have a childhood that is - no, not easy, that's the wrong word - it's never easy for a sentinel, even one who has had several lives of experience, and Jim had eighteen lives of service to his various communities behind him - but easier than others. Jim was one of the ones who seem to be born to have problems.
You see, his parents... His mother was a little bit... not unstable, exactly, but she wasn't the sort of woman you could call nurturing, though she could have been. She was about as good a mother as Bill was as a father. Not her fault, poor woman; her parents weren't the best of role models that way. Independent-minded is maybe the best way to describe their attitude. Cold, certainly; they certainly gave the appearance of being cold towards each other. I think they probably were fond of each other, though they didn't know how to show it; I think they were fond of their daughter, though again they didn't show it in many of the ways that matter. They gave her material things; they never gave her a warm hug.
Of course, they had to get married; they belonged to a time when, when Mary McDonald realised she was pregnant, marriage (preferably to the father) as soon as possible was seen as the only respectable option - though how she and Steven Williams ever produced enough spark to get intimate that way is beyond me. Certainly I don't think they ever slept together after they married. They believed everyone should manage for himself (or herself, wouldn't want to sound sexist here) and not depend on anyone. Brought their daughter up to believe that, too. Unfortunately, at heart Grace had a protective instinct warring with her upbringing, a protective instinct that she suppressed. That was what made her... well, unstable. There really isn't another word. She totally refused to allow that instinct to surface in any way.
And she married a man much like herself in what was really a business arrangement, a man whose parents believed everyone should be self-sufficient; only, unlike her, he could admit to himself that he secretly longed to be wanted. He wanted to feel that he was the most important person in someone's life. To be shown that. Pity he picked the wrong wife - though it wasn't entirely his fault. It would be more accurate to say the wife he was encouraged to pick was the wrong one for him.
Just as he was the wrong man for her.
Don't get me wrong, Grace was the perfect partner for an up and coming young executive. Till they had children, of course. A demonstrably loving wife and mother she was not; she was a self-possessed fashion-plate moving elegantly through life saying all the right things to the right people, smiling at all the right times, never allowing her emotions to be touched.
She actively did not want children - let it be said, she was aware that her upbringing would keep her from being a good mother - but she knew that her duty to her husband was to give him at least one, preferably two, sons; and once she did that, she made damn' sure she didn't fall pregnant again.
I tell you, she hated every second of both her pregnancies. Mark you, she didn't have easy pregnancies; morning sickness, backache, you name it, she had it. How do I know that? I was assigned as Jim's watcher even before he was born, my duty then to ensure that he was born by guarding his mother. It wasn't difficult; Grace had no intention of doing anything that would risk her child, not for the child's sake but for her own. She was resigned to two pregnancies; she was not willing to do anything that might mean suffering a third one. And I was given all her background at that time. Even for my kind, understanding why someone has difficulties makes it easier for us to do our job.
Just before Jim was born, Grace talked Bill into hiring a nanny, which was probably the best thing she ever did for Jim. She was clever; the way she did it, it sounded as if she was thinking of Bill; "How can I be a society wife watching out for your interests if I'm looking after a baby?" she said, oh so reasonably.
Bill fell for it, for the implication that he was more important to his wife than her child. It stroked his ego - always his most - and very - delicate 'organ'.
Well, I never said he was a strong man, now did I?
So they employed Sally.
I have to admit that I pulled a string or two there, because I knew the child who was to be my charge (so to speak) would need someone in his life who could show that she cared.
Sally became nurse, nanny, general help around the house, ending up as housekeeper after Grace walked out - at least she became genuinely fond of Bill in a sisterly sort of way, and there are times I think that's what eventually saved Bill's sanity - and taught him how to be more human.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Sally realised almost immediately what her employers were, what the relationship between them was, but she was well-paid, she liked children, knew that she could have none of her own (uterine cancer, caught early enough to 'cure', but in those days the only treatment was the knife) and had resigned herself to satisfying her maternal instinct by caring for someone else's children. She saw the marriage as being similar to one of the arranged ones that were not unknown in her culture, even in America - and felt genuinely sorry for Bill; she has to be one of the few people who ever truly cared for him. Grace, however, she despised, if only because she so clearly had no time for her child; but she had been brought up to be polite and respectful and never gave Grace the slightest hint of her feelings.
I'd doubt if Grace ever thought of Sally as anything other than a convenience in her life, and except for cooking, which she enjoyed, she gradually piled more and more work on Sally's willing shoulders. She certainly never considered Sally as a person, with thoughts and feelings. Give him his due, Bill at least noticed all that Sally did for them, and smiled at her occasionally and sometimes even said, 'Thank you', even before Grace walked out.
Jim tended to be a fractious child, but then even from birth he had those acute senses; the quietest noise could disturb him, and sudden loud noises sent him into fits of panicked screaming. Even the softest of clothes irritated his skin; he spent much of his first months covered with a nasty rash until the sheer annoyance of it forced him, young though he was, to develop his own form of control - with Sally's unconscious help. Grace's perfume - on the rare occasions she bothered to look near the baby - he found too strong, so he screamed his annoyance any time she did approach - which encouraged her to stay away.
Paradoxically, Grace resented the apparent ease with which Sally could calm Jim, even when he was at his most hysterical.
No, Sally wasn't a guide. There isn't actually a word in your language to describe what she was. She acted as a sort of buffer to shield Jim from the worst effects of his infantile lack of control; her calmness was his first lesson in control. Her children would probably have been sentinels or guides, had she had any, for she was the perfect mother for them. The Powers do try to make sure that both sentinels and guides get suitable mothers, but sometimes a mistake is made - in this case, they were (wrongly) convinced Grace's natural instincts would overcome her upbringing.
Well, I never said they were infallible, did I?
Mostly young sentinels' senses don't really surface till they hit puberty, or else their mothers can keep them controlled till they're old enough to have their abilities explained to them. Grace should have been that buffer for Jim, only of course she suppressed it.
So Jim had to find his own way to control his senses from birth, with only the help that Sally's undemanding affection gave him.
As he learned control, he went from fractious to very quiet, though from time to time he would say something inopportune; Sally kept hushing him, telling him he shouldn't claim that he'd heard or seen things like that.
Did she actually know what he was? I've never been quite sure. What she did know - or at least feared - was that if Grace realised what her son could do she would exploit the child, turn him into... Well, you remember the Dionne quintuplets? The first set of quins where all five survived? They lived in a media greenhouse. Grace would have done the same to Jim. Can you say 'reflected glory'?
I could have acted then to suppress Jim's gift; but - perhaps foolishly - I waited. I still can't decide if that was a mistake. Sally seemed to have things in hand, and my Boss really doesn't like us to interfere unless it's absolutely necessary. He's a great believer in free will.
By the time Steven arrived, though, I was beginning to get really worried about young Jim. I've been Watcher for many sentinels over the centuries, and I've never seen one as strong as Jim. Of course, it was far from being his first incarnation as a sentinel, but even in his earlier ones he wasn't quite as strong - this is the fifth time I've been his watcher. I don't often want to take on the same sentinel more than a couple of times at most - well, if I'm honest Jim is the only one I've watched more than twice; we do have the right to reject a suggested pairing, and I've always liked the challenge of Watching a sentinel I know nothing about - but I have to admit I've grown quite fond of Jim. He's always been able to surprise me.
Steven, now - Steven was Jim's complete opposite.
It was clear right from the start that Steven wasn't a sentinel - well, of course, I already knew that; he'd have been assigned a watcher if he had been, or else I'd have been told to look out for them both, at least temporarily. I've been there, done that, and it's not something I'd care to do very often - Sorry. Sometimes my tongue runs away with me. I'm telling you about Jim, not about me.
I suspect that given the right environment Steven might have become a first-time guide; he seemed to be sensitive to the atmosphere around him. Or maybe he had very slightly enhanced hearing, nothing too out of the ordinary but enough to let him hear undertones that normal hearing missed. Whatever, he grew up 'ordinary'. And the two boys were quite devoted to each other when Jim was eight and Steven five.
Jim seemed to get steadier as he grew older, especially after Grace walked out. I think - though I've never been sure; people's reactions can sometimes be quite difficult for beings like me to understand - that life became easier for him without Grace there. With her gone, he seemed more able to relax. Once he passed infancy and could control his senses, so that things like her perfume no longer bothered him, he'd come to love her very much - heaven knows why, she hardly gave him the time of day - and there's no denying he found her impersonality towards him difficult to accept.
I never got used to how little genuine affection she gave to anyone; well, of course, her parents had seen to that, and it got worse as she got older. "Everyone should manage for himself" finally resolved itself from impersonality into pure selfishness. Perhaps it was the only way she could survive the battle between her instincts and her upbringing. Whatever it was, her attitude towards Bill, already coldly formal, became even more distant; I tell you, it made me shiver, and it takes a lot to do that. If I were to tell you some of the things I've seen - like the time when -
Ooops! Sorry, there I go, letting my tongue run away again. It was nearly four hundred years ago, anyway, and it doesn't involve Jim. He between incarnations at the time.
Anyway, with Grace gone, Bill changed. He had been fond enough of his wife in an undemonstrative way, had unhappily been well aware that his wasn't a perfect marriage, but he'd assumed that because she was who she was she would have more pride than act to break the marriage. The shock that she would actually walk out - the shame, in a way - was almost overwhelming.
So he fell over himself to be seen as the respectable businessman who had believed himself to be happily married, stating openly that he couldn't understand why Grace had left, although he knew perfectly well that 'happy' was the last word that could have been applied to their marriage.
He thought long and hard before divorcing her. Remember, outward respectability often counts for a lot, and back then divorce, though it was becoming a little more common, was still seen as disgrace, as failure. However, he was the wronged party, and he decided that the disgrace would fall more heavily on her shoulders than on his. The divorce went through relatively easily; Grace stated in her defence that almost from the start she had found Bill impossible to live with, had tried for the sake of her children but had eventually decided that a husband who, while he gave her material things gave her no affection, was not a husband at all. Bill had too much pride to counter-attack in kind. He was however honestly horrified when he discovered that he would have to pay her some alimony, though the sum involved wasn't as large as it might have been because she had left him and had not taken the children - her reason, she told the court, being that she would not be able to support them as well as he could, since he had plenty of money and she had very little.
Well, I knew that was an outright lie. While her family wasn't as rich as the Ellisons, her parents had been reasonably wealthy and she was their only child; on their deaths she had inherited the lot, and she had a pretty comfortable lifestyle. Though I suppose by comparison it let her give the impression that she was living in near penury.
After a year or two it seemed that the scandal had been forgotten. Bill, by then, had removed all signs of his ex-wife's presence in the house. He began to take more interest in his children. Unfortunately, for a sensitive boy like Jim it was the wrong kind of interest. The competition between his sons that he eventually initiated could do nothing but hurt Jim, whose protective instincts were already well-developed and aimed solely at his younger brother.
But then Bill bumped into Karl Heydash one day.
Heydash was a businessman Bill knew only slightly. He was a failed athlete; a knee injury had ruined his chances of a career in professional football although it didn't handicap him in his everyday life, and he enjoyed working with the local boys, coaching them; he had forgotten none of the skills that would have made him a top football player.
Bill, the product of an old family - he could trace his ancestry back to the earliest settlers - didn't feel he had much in common with an ex-football player turned businessman who hadn't even been born in America, but he paused politely when Heydash called to him.
"Hello, Mr Ellison. Just though I'd let you know young Jimmy is coming on really well."
Bill - I can only say he plastered a pleased expression on his face, and said, "That's good to hear."
Heydash chuckled. "He's got a good imagination, young Jimmy. Just the other day he was saying he could smell that you were having roast beef for dinner. I mean, hell, he was a good couple of hundred yards from the house."
Bill froze. There's no other word for it. "Yes - as you say, he has a good imagination. I've been trying to persuade him that making up stories like that isn't a good idea; that if he carries on like that nobody'll believe him when he does tell the truth."
"Ah, there's no harm in a bit of imagination," Heydash said. "The important thing is how well his training is coming on."
"Yes," Bill replied. "I'm glad all your work with the boys is proving successful."
He went home worrying. The scandal of the divorce was past and apparently forgotten by everyone. If Jim was to get a reputation for being weird...
The devil of it was that Bill knew it wasn't just imagination. He could still remember the way his parents whispered about his uncle, his father's brother, in the days after he killed himself. He had overheard mention of his recently widowed uncle's claim that the light was now too bright, that sounds were too loud... that he couldn't control the pain of the brightness, the noise...
Quite simply, the man's wife, who was also his guide, had died. Everyone thought that it was grief that led him to suicide, and that did play its part, but he could have survived her death if he had been able to control his runaway senses. However, she hadn't been able to teach him to control them himself for more than a few hours at a time; it had always taken her frequent presence to keep his senses tamed. It wasn't her fault, poor woman; although she had had several lives as a medicine woman, it was the first time she had been a guide. She'd been making not too bad a job of it, either, until the road conditions of a hard winter sent a car skidding out of control and crushed her against a wall. She was killed instantly. The driver - in a hurry to get home for dinner - had been going too fast for the conditions. Well, he never got his dinner; he killed himself as well.
David Ellison's watcher tried to help, but there are limits to what we can do, and Lynx went into retirement after David died. He told me he'd never felt so helpless, so useless, in all his long years as a watcher. Elizabeth's watcher retired too, for a while, but life can get boring - even for a spirit - if you have nothing to do, and she came out of retirement again two or three years ago - of course, she didn't have the extreme feeling of guilt that Lynx had. She's watching a young shaman in Australia now.
So Bill knew perfectly well that when young Jim said he could see things, hear things, smell things nobody else could, it was probably hereditary through his side of the family.
Though well, actually, it wasn't; it was just chance that two sentinels had been born into the one family in two generations, but Bill doesn't ever need to know that. Of course, not knowing David's story properly, he decided it proved that having heightened senses was bad, and set out to - well, force Jim into suppressing them entirely. He succeeded, too, though he mightn't if Jim hadn't had the shock of finding Karl Heydash dead. Murdered. He pushed his senses away, along with the memory of the dead man; it was the only way he could cope, at the time.
Now I don't say that was necessarily a bad thing. At that time, there just wasn't anyone around to be his guide. A shaman who had guided him several times in the past - and was scheduled to guide him in this life - had been killed falling out of a window, and while he had already been reborn he had a lot of growing up still to do. If I'm honest, though, the odds on their actually meeting this time round seemed pretty long, for a number of reasons; I was sorry about that, because I liked the man and I always work well with his watcher, but at that time it seemed probable that he would never even visit Cascade, let alone choose to live there; his mother was a traveller, you see, never settled anywhere for more than a few months. There was another possible guide who wasn't nearly as experienced, but there was more chance that he and Jim would meet up, since he lived in Tacoma and his watcher could 'push' him to come to Cascade once he was adult.
Except that his father killed him just before his fifth birthday, and there was nothing, nothing at all, that Otter could do about it.
What happened? His parents often quarrelled, and one day his mother said she was leaving and taking her son with her; when he said "You can go and good riddance - but he's my son and he's staying right here!" she laughed and told him, "He's not yours." So he killed them both. Then he killed himself.
The devil of it was - she lied.
You know, there seems to be a high risk factor involved in being a shaman... I've thought in the past that shamans who are guides attract trouble. Or maybe, although I don't know of one, there's some evil Power at work trying to take over the world by killing off sentinels and guides; there are certainly far fewer than there were; even with an increased human birth rate there are fewer and fewer first time sentinels and shamans being born to replace the ones who retire. What's that? Yes, although they reincarnate several times, gaining experience with each life, there have always been some new ones born, the result of a random marriage of recessive genes. That's what I meant when I spoke about 'young' sentinels. My Boss keeps track of the new ones; I don't need to.
Anyway - there was poor Jim, ten years old, no guide in sight, the only possibility a boy seven years younger who had never been within a thousand miles of Cascade.
It was about the same time that Bill started pitting Jim and young Steve against each other. His motives were - I can only say good; his methods were criminally bad. He hadn't stopped to ask either boy what he wanted to do when he grew up; he simply assumed that both would be going into business, and it was the only way he knew to teach them the ruthless selfishness that he believed was the road to business success. Well, he was half right; I wouldn't say Steven was particularly interested in a business career, but there was nothing else he actually wanted to do, so he allowed his father to direct him, especially after Jim left and he lost his role model - not that Jim ever realised, or even suspected, how much his younger brother admired him. Certainly he had no reason to think it, especially after Steven damaged Bill's Cobra and left Jim to take the blame.
Jim's sentinel senses might have been fully suppressed at that time, but his instincts were still active and urging him to 'protect the tribe'. Until he was eighteen, he did as he was told, studied economics without any real interest, but as soon as he was eighteen he walked out. Joined the army.
You might think that the army was a stupid choice for him, since he was, in effect, running away from being controlled; but when you think about it, it was a totally different kind of discipline. For a start, it was applied generally, not just directed at him with the intention of turning him into something he was not and had no interest in becoming. In many ways it was easier for him than for many of his fellow cadets, because he had been used to absolutely rigid discipline; life in the army was, for Jim, easier in many ways than life with his father had been.
He soon discovered that academic achievement was one of the most direct paths to promotion, and he took all the academic courses he possibly could; I felt really proud of him, the speed he advanced up the promotion ladder. He took to life as a Ranger really easily, too. His sentinel senses might be suppressed, but they were beginning to work for him again.
Then came the ill-fated mission to Peru.
I knew his group was being set up, but there was nothing I could do about it; watchers can nudge their charges in specific directions, but we're not in direct communication most of the time - our charges rarely see us - and we certainly can't influence anyone else. All I could do was push the parameters of my job and keep him from being killed with the others when his helicopter crashed.
He wasn't even seriously hurt. I felt quite pleased with myself.
Once he'd buried his men he had time to think about what to do, and finally decided that he had to carry out his instructions. "Organise the defence of the area..." He did a good job, too.
Of course, it did help that Incacha recognised what he was.
Incacha was one of those rare shamans who was perfectly capable of guiding a sentinel but had never done so, never wanted to; he preferred the 'medicine man' aspect of a shaman's life, found that ultimately totally satisfying. Now he found himself in the position of being the only possible guide for a sentinel who didn't know what he was, who had suppressed his abilities to the point that he couldn't remember having had them although he was ten when he did so...
Well, Incacha made a pretty good job of keeping Jim controlled. Mark you, in some ways it was easier in the rain forest - everyone knew about sentinels and accepted Jim's gifts as natural. Nobody there considered him a freak.
I hadn't worked with Incacha's watcher before, but I'd heard good things about Anaconda, and I have to say that, if anything, rumor fell short of truth. Anaconda was good.
Of course, once he discovered what it was like to guide a sentinel, Incacha developed a sort of fatherly interest in Jim - enough to remain earthbound after he died in order to join Wolf and me in helping Jim. Anaconda didn't stay; he was scheduled to watch one of Incacha's grandchildren - what's that? You didn't think Incacha had family, or was old enough to have a grandchild? Boys become men very young in some of those tribes; Incacha was fourteen when he took his first wife, fifteen when his first child was born, and his first grandchild arrived when he was thirty-one. Anano - Anaconda's new charge - was born a month after Incacha died. Incacha keeps a grandfatherly eye on him, too. Of course, it'll be a few years yet before he's old enough to take on a shaman's responsibilities.
Anyway, the problems arose after Jim was rescued from Peru.
The suppression of his senses that had become automatic nearly twenty years earlier came into force again as soon as he was exposed to the sounds of civilisation - specifically, the noise of the helicopter taking him back to America. So he never betrayed or came near to betraying his abilities, although Mathis - the man commanding the unit who rescued him - did report at his debriefing that 'Ellison seemed a bit weird when we found him - he seemed more aware of what was going on in the forest than any of the rest of us, almost as if he could hear things none of the rest of us did. Of course, after eighteen months he could probably recognise sounds that for the rest of us were just sounds.'
He had signed up with the army for ten years; a period that actually finished while he was in Peru, so he really did nearly eleven years. So once he was fully debriefed, he got demobilisation leave - which was when he met Lila. Biiiig mistake, but I couldn't prevent it. He was ripe for a heavy affair. Luckily she wasn't ready for any sort of commitment, and she walked out on him. I wouldn't say he was happy about it, but what could he do? That's right - nothing.
After that he went back to Cascade, and joined the police there. With his background he got the fast course through the police academy and it wasn't long before he was posted to Vice.
It wasn't the best position for him. I knew that, but there was nothing I could do about it. All I could do was wait till his senses kicked in again, and that wasn't going to happen this time till he was ready to meet Blair - or it might be more accurate to say till Blair was ready to meet him. At that point Blair - who had moved to Cascade some four years earlier to study - had left again, and while I knew Wolf would push him back, there was no saying how long that would take.
All I could do was watch while Jim was being slowly destroyed by the things he saw, the things he sometimes had to do. He became short-tempered, totally focussed on stopping the 'perps' before they could do too much damage to the tribe he was protecting.
Have to admit, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when he transferred to Major Crime. Oh, he had the attitude his time in Vice had given him, but it was a brilliant move on Simon Banks' part to partner him with Jack Prendergrast. Prendergrast had his problems, certainly, but he had a relaxed attitude to life that partly rubbed off on Jim.
I was beginning to worry a little about their partnership by the time Prendergrast was killed. If Jim already had a partner he was happy working with, he would never transfer that loyalty to Blair - yet he needed to if he was to be a sentinel; Prendergrast wasn't a guide, and what Jim needed was his guide.
It was time to start pushing. I contacted Wolf.
Of course, even in our world, we can't do things overnight. We can't just materialise, snarl a bit and say, "Do this!" We could do that once, but not now. We have to be a bit more subtle than that in this materialistic twentieth century when 'otherworld' manifestations are considered a sign of instability. Oh, we can materialise occasionally - but without the feedback of being believed in, it takes a lot of our energy. So we don't do it oftener than we must.
And although Wolf had been working on Blair for years... we still had to get them both into the same place at the same time. Which meant I had to push Jim into a situation where his senses were triggered again, at a time when Blair would be available to hear about 'this guy who was complaining about this senses'.
Well, you all know what happened; Jim and Blair met, became partners, roommates, best friends and - eventually - the best pairing in the Cascade PD.