When I look back at the beginning, the depth of my ignorance and arrogance takes my breath away. I'd wanted a Sentinel and so I went looking for one and, just when I was ready to give up, found him. I thought I could study a modern tribal watchman dispassionately, without personal involvement; walk a couple of steps behind him, observe, take notes, encourage him a bit, maybe even warn him when the bad guys got too close. It amused me to think of myself in the sidekick role, but I knew it could never interfere with my roles as a student, an anthropologist and Naomi's son, the wanderer.
But that isn't how it worked out, of course. I stepped in, took the job and then discovered how enormous it really was. I pushed him to accept what he was and what he could be. After just a few weeks, he trusted me and soaked up my faith in him like a starving man does sustenance. And then I kept pushing. At first we fought over his senses but I came to see that the Sentinel, more than most people, is the sum of all his parts. When he was upset or ill his control of his senses dropped enough to be dangerous to him and I couldn't let that happen. So I began to integrate Jim the man and Jim the Sentinel together. I removed irritant chemicals from the loft and from Major Crimes. I altered his diet to make sure his body had the energy reserves it needed. I gently pushed him to make the spiritual connections to other people - so what if it meant poker nights and Jags tickets, it was still connection with those around him.
Because I am responsible for him now -- senses, body, mind, heart and spirit. His senses are a gift and a heavy burden, but one I know I can ease. I wasn't prepared for that level of commitment to another person, hadn't even conceived of wanting that kind of attachment or responsibility to anyone. I hesitated at first-we're grown men, for God's sake-but I couldn't leave him when he was vulnerable. And now I just won't leave him.
I might have started out by winging it all, but I hadn't killed him yet. That sounds laughable, I know, but I've gotten better in the few years I have been doing this. At first the only tools I had were a book written in the nineteenth century, a huge stack of case studies on individual heightened senses, a lot of extra energy and a serious imagination. Over time I have gained other tools and skills.
Like the five points on my left arm that are throbbing with the beat of my heart right now. Five points that Incacha left with his dying grasp on me as he passed the way of the Shaman to me. The next morning the imprints of his fingers were outlined in livid bruises. The marks are still there, a year later, but apparently only I can see them. They are a gift, a legacy, and function as a sort of early warning for danger to Jim. I've only ignored the warning once, deep in the mire of my own hurt and misery over being tossed out of the loft, my home. The price Jim and I paid was lesson enough to ensure that I will never ignore another warning.
Tonight, though, I don't really need the warning throb, the hint from the spirit plane, to tell me that all is not well with Jim. When I got home the balcony doors were wide open and the loft was freezing. My Sentinel stands on the balcony, looking out across the lights on the harbor. The ever-curious part of my brain wonders what he can see, how far out he can see. The rest of my brain gauges his body language, from his locked knees, ram-rod straight spine and stiff neck to his twitching jaw muscle. The problem for my TMJ-posterboy tonight is not in his eyes, it's in his heart.
I look at him with my Shaman's heart, not my eyes, and see the swirling colors of his emotions. Sickly, muddy colors that I can't name, but I know them. Anger, guilt, shame, sorrow. My rational brain assigns reasons to the colors. A stakeout gone bad. Jim was not the primary, was not in charge, but people were hurt and two people were killed and Jim wants to assume responsibility for everyone and everything, especially all the negatives.
I study him a bit longer. He knows I am here; he always knows where I am now. Does he want my help? As if in answer, he turns to look at me. He doesn't say anything and his face is carefully blank. He moves slightly to his right.
I know an invitation when I see one and I smile and step out on the cold balcony with him, standing next to him at the railing, but not touching him. He shifts his weight slightly and touches his shoulder to mine. I feel the contact as a rich spreading warmth in my own body, and I can see the same warmth smooth over him as well, driving away the colors of his discontent.
It's cold out here and I am not really dressed for it, but as long as we stand together, connected like this, I know I won't feel the cold. "Hear you had a rough day."
He nods. "Glad you're home," he says softly.
I nod in return, feeling the tension sliding out of him, slithering away. This is my role now and I accept it. Friend, guide, shaman.
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