This is an auction story for Heather. Thanks to Nymphette for the beta. You're the best!
Author's Note: A while back, I heard someone talking about a black panther getting loose and wandering about. That started me on the 'What If?' game. What would happen if Jim were to encounter a similar beast? Well, Sentinel senses should tell him that it isn't his spirit guide, but what if they couldn't? What if the spirit guide couldn't warn him? Well you get the idea. I finally had to put aside the longer story to work on this one. So many stories, so little time. Enjoy.
Ratings: PG for strong language.
"I can't believe that they didn't keep you overnight for observation man." Blair said as he stood by the French doors to his room. He watched as his partner limped to the couch to sit. Blair retrieved a pillow from his room and carried it in to Jim.
"Look Chief, there's nothing broken, and no sign of a concussion. Hell, the van was only going about 15 miles an hour when he hit me. I may be a walking bruise and sitting is proving to be a real adventure in pain, but there was no reason for me to be taking up a hospital bed."
Blair fluffed the pillow and set it on the couch. "Try lying down then. He said reasonably, as he eased the big man back on the couch. "Where are the pain meds they prescribed?"
Jim winced as he tried to get comfortable. "In my jacket, are you sure that's such a good idea? /Man, I hate this! / Jim thought as he tried to find just one comfortable position. /ANY kind of comfortable position would do, THANK YOU VERY MUCH! /
"Why do you think we went through all those allergy tests? Not much point in testing to see which meds you can tolerate without your senses wigging out if you don't take the pills when you need them!" Blair found the pills and got Jim a glass of juice to go with them.
Jim reluctantly downed two pills with a grimace. "How about coming up with a way for me to dial down fast enough to not taste the damn things?"
"You can taste the pills? Wow, maybe we can . . . "
"I had to ask. Jim grumbled good-naturedly. "Don't you need to get ready for class Darwin? We can work on my senses later." /MUCH later, when I don't feel like an advertisement for Excedrin. / He added to himself.
The pint-sized tornado he called his loft mate blew into the bedroom and then right back out, as he tried in vain to stuff one more stack of papers into the already over-stuffed backpack. "Are you sure that you'll be okay? I can get someone to take over my class . . ."
"For the last time Sandburg, I will be fine. I have Simon's number and yours, office and cell phone, on the speed dial. Joel said he would stop by after work. I think I can manage not to get into any trouble between now and then. You've been hovering over me ever since the accident like a demented mother hen. You need to get out of here for awhile. Get some fresh air, flirt with a girl just do something before you drive me NUTS!"
"Well, if you're sure . . . "
Two hours later, Jim woke with a start.
A panther's shriek tore through the air again and he looked up to see the black panther on the balcony getting wet.
"What's up with you, I thought you could walk through walls or something? What kind of spirit guide needs to have the door opened for it? He opened the glass doors and the big cat walked inside to curl up in front of the fire. "Don't drip on the rug."
Blair tried to balance his books, the essays and the backpack as he searched for his office key. /Jim was right. I did need a break from him. He is SO not a happy camper when he's the patient. /
As he stuck the key into the doorknob a jet-black head appeared in the middle of the door and growled impatiently. Blair jumped and lost the battle with the stack of papers and books. "Oh man! SHIT! Try to give a guy a heart attack why don't you! " He exclaimed as he stared down at the pile at his feet and thought /Might as well. / He dropped the backpack on top of the pile.
"What are you doing here anyway? Shouldn't you be home with Jim?" he asked the panther that was glaring at him as he unlocked the door.
When he opened the door the panther withdrew and prowled over to his radio. "What . . . you want some music? Just so long as it's not Santana." He bent down and began to gather the pile of books, essays and backpack into his arms once more.
The panther growled at him as it nudged the radio dial. The radio came on in the middle of a special report.
"That's right, folks. A rare black jaguar has escaped from the Cascade Zoo. Anyone who sees the animal is urged to report it to the police or zoo authorities. Please do not approach the animal. We now return you to our regular broadcast."
The panther snarled and glared at Blair.
"What? I know you're not the one they're talking about. You walk through walls. Speaking of which why don't you walk through one now and go bug Jim like a nice kitty. I've got work to do. He said as he unceremoniously dumped the armful onto his desk.
At the mention of Jim's name the cat growled.
"That's why you're here? Because of Jim?"
The cat rumbled softly in acknowledgement.
"Jeez, I don't believe this. I'm talking to a panther spirit guide like it's Lassie. What is it girl, did Jimmy fall in the well? Blair muttered sarcastically.
The black cat stalked over to him growling impatiently. Suddenly he reared up, placed two heavy forepaws on the Guide's shoulders, and pinned him with a glare.
"What's a matter, can't take a joke? Blair laughed nervously.
The big cat roared in his face, then gave him an evil look as if to say 'Get a clue!'
Suddenly the big cat's actions began to make sense to the young anthropologist. "That's why you were messing with the radio? It has to do with the escaped jaguar, doesn't it?"
The panther rumbled affirmatively.
"Why are you here? Why aren't you protecting him from the jaguar? Warning him about it? He's in no condition, the pain medicine . . . "
The panther looked disgusted and rumbled disapprovingly.
"That's it! The medication, you can't reach Jim because of the pain meds!"
The big cat purred and looked at Sandburg as if to say 'Finally!' He dropped down releasing Blair.
Blair raced to his desk and the telephone.
Oh man, oh man. Got to call Jim. Warn him. He hit the speed dial for the loft.
At the loft, the jaguar dropped the phone that it had been chewing on when Jim came downstairs.
"WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO THAT FOR!!!" he bellowed. Jim stalked over and retrieved what was left of the phone. He glared at the cat as he examined the damp remains of his phone.
"I know that you hate technology but that's no reason to eat my phone! If you wanted something to chew all you had to do was ask. I don't believe this, all right Ellison; you have definitely taken a right into the Sandburg Zone. If you think that a panther, even a spirit guide, can talk; or would realize that the phone should not be chewed on."
Jim ran a hand over his face. "Damn, I've been hanging around Sandburg too long, now I'm talking to myself." He glared at the cat one last time and added, "Look I'm going to take a bath, try not to chew anything else important. If you need to chew, go get one of Sandburg's ancient shoes or something OK? It would be cheaper and easier to replace. He muttered.
He set the damp phone on the table by the door and absently rubbed his hand against his jeans. /Wonder why he's started drooling, he never did that before./
"We're sorry, the number you have dialed is temporarily out of service, if you feel . . . "
Blair hung up the phone and tried Jim's cell phone. "The customer you are trying to reach is either out of the service area or has turned off the phone."
"Awww, shit. Okay think Blair, think!" he bashed his forehead with the phone. "Simon." He hit another speed dial and was rewarded with a live voice.
"Look Simon don't ask me how I know, but that escaped jaguar is in the loft."
"Where are you Sandburg?"
"At my office."
"How do you know where the jaguar is?"
"Trust me Simon, you don't want to know."
"Ooohhhkay . . . what about Jim?'
"He's at the loft. Listen, you've got to get someone over there now. He doesn't know that he's in trouble."
"What do you mean he doesn't know? Cat that size is kinda hard to miss!"
"He doesn't know it's there. Well to more accurate he may know it's there but he doesn't know it's dangerous!"
"Now why would he think that a jaguar is not dangerous Sandburg?"
"You really don't want to know. He watched as the panther prowled towards the door. The big cat paused to glance back and then walked through the closed door.
"Sandburg, I'm getting real tired of that answer."
"Simon, trust me on this one. If I tell you how I know, you won't believe me and we'll just be wasting time. Time Jim may not have."
Right, I'll get someone on it, you stay put."
"I can't, sorry Simon." Blair hung up the phone and took off at a run after the spirit guide. "Wait up! I'm coming."
As Sandburg took another corner on two wheels his cell phone rang. "Jim!"
"No it's Simon. Blair we have a problem."
"Don't tell me, any time you use my first name it's bad."
"The zoo and animal control are backed up with reports of the jaguar all over Cascade. The soonest we can expect someone is an hour."
"I know, I'm on my way to the loft. I've got a sniper from SWAT and two units meeting me there. If you get there before we do, wait for us."
"No can do Simon. Besides I've got a secret weapon. He shut off the phone and dropped it between the seats as he glanced at his now silent passenger. "I hope. He mumbled to himself as the big cat glanced at him again and purred reassuringly.
"You know if you let anything happen to me, Jim will never forgive either one of us."
The panther rumbled and turned to look out the windshield again.
"Great. Is that good? I can't believe this! I'm trying to have a conversation with Jim's spirit guide."
The phone rang again, but before Blair could reach it a heavy ebony paw was placed over the phone. The phone instantly quieted as the big cat glared at the human's hand then at the steering wheel and growled.
"OK! I get the message. Both hands on the wheel and no more phone calls. Jeez."
The cat purred in agreement.
Blair slammed on the brakes in front of the loft. He threw open the door and charged out with the cat at his heels. The dynamic duo charged inside and up the stairs.
Blair raced up to the door and began to search through his pockets. He muttered "Keys, keys, keys, where are my keys? SHIT! I must have left them in the car!" he turned to race back down to the car.
The spirit guide loped up with his keys dangling from one lower fang and the cell phone cradled in his jaws.
"Now I can use the phone? Gee thanks, hope it still works after you put the whammy on it."
The big cat rumbled low in it's chest as if to say, "Don't start with me."
"All right, already. Thanks for the keys. Jeez you're worse than Naomi."
The cat poked his head through the door and then pulled back to gaze at Sandburg.
"All clear?" Sandburg asked.
The panther purred in agreement.
Sandburg cautiously opened the door and looked around. "Where is the jaguar?" he asked his silent companion in a stage whisper. The spirit guide looked up to Jim's room. Blair could just see the flick of tail tip over the railing.
"Where's Jim . . .?" he started to ask as familiar lyrics came from the bathroom. "Never mind."
"Splish, splash I was taking a bath; long about Saturday night. Rub a dub just relaxing in the tub, thinking everything was all right . . ."
Blair darted across the room on tiptoe. "You keep the kitty occupied and I'll keep Jim in the john until Simon gets here with SWAT."
Blair burst into the bathroom and slammed the door.
"SANDBURG! What the hell do you think you're doing?" Jim bellowed.
"Saving you." The cell phone rang and Blair answered, "Simon where are you guys?"
"In the parking lot. Where are you?"
"In the john with Jim. The jaguar is upstairs in Jim's room. You aren't going to have to kill it are you?"
"No, the SWAT guy brought a tranquilizer gun. You two stay put."
"No problem." Blair hung up and turned to face an angry sentinel wearing nothing but a damp towel and a scowl. "OK big problem. Look Jim it seems that I was wrong about the effect of those painkillers. Somehow they affect your link to your spirit guide, who is one extremely pissed off kitty by the way."
"What are you babbling about? He's been here all night. Why is Simon outside with a man from SWAT?"
"Jim the jaguar that has been here escaped from the zoo. Your spirit guide has been with me for the last hour." A sleek black head followed by the rest of the spirit guide came through the door and Blair's leg. Blair jumped and exclaimed, "Will you quit DOING that! At least give a guy some warning first."
"Doing what? I haven't done anything YET. Jim said patiently.
"Jim, your spirit guide just walked through the door."
Jim looked around in confusion, "Where? I don't see him."
"That's what I'm talking about. Look, the pain meds, turns out I was wrong about them. They do have undesirable side effects. To make a long story short . . ."
Blair continued as if Jim hadn't commented "They don't affect your five physical senses but they do interfere with your spiritual senses. Your sixth sense, what enables you to interact with your spirit guide."
"My spirit guide is here in the room with us and I can't see him?"
"And the panther currently upstairs in my bed is a real one escaped from the zoo?"
"Sandburg, once that cat has been evicted you and I are going to have a long talk."
"What did I do?"
Jim just gave him The Look as he tilted his head.
"What do you hear?"
"The SWAT guy is up on the roof, he's going to try for a shot through the skylight."
"Yeah, that way he can lessen the amount of damage he does by using a glass cutter to open a hole for his rifle barrel and avoid putting himself in any danger from the panther."
"Makes sense." Blair's cell phone rang; he flipped it open and spoke. "Hey, sure Simon he's right here."
"Where would I go Sandburg? Jim grumbled as he accepted the phone. "Yes sir?"
"Jim, SWAT is up on the roof, he's going to try for a shot through your skylight."
"Yeah, right. Listen, after the shot wait until we give the all clear before you and Sandburg leave the john. How'd you two end up in there anyway?"
"That's what I thought."
"Did they get him/her/whatever?"
"How would I know Sandburg? I'm not Superman."
"Duh, you're a Sentinel. Listen, they've bound to have used a fast acting dart. You should be able to hear a difference in the animal's heart rate."
Jim tilted his head as he listened. "He's agitated . . . wait, his heart rate is dropping. He's not down yet but he's getting there."
"Cool. Then maybe we can get out of here soon."
"Just hold your horses there Speedy Gonzales, we have to wait for the all clear from Simon. Unless you care to explain to the SWAT guy how we knew the cat was out?"
"Oh yeah, right."
Jim, Blair and Simon watched as the animal handlers removed the comatose cat. "Sandburg you never did explain to me how you knew that the cat was here. And don't give me that 'I don't want to know' crap! I can't write that up in my report!"
"Uuuhhh . . .
"He called here and got the answering machine. Must have been after the cat got in, I was in the tub. The cat must have triggered the speakerphone when he was gnawing on the phone. Sandburg could hear me singing in the bathtub, and he could also hear the cat."
"That what you going to write?"
"Yes sir, what do you want? It's either that or Sandburg was visited by a spirit guide in the form of a panther which then communicated to him that I was in danger."
"So Sandburg heard the cat over the speaker phone? Works for me. By the way Sandburg, you were right. I really didn't want to know." Simon started out the door, he paused and turned back. "By the way Jim you're gettting almost as good at obfuscation at Sandburg. I'm going to have to keep my eye on you. Both of you." he glared at first Jim and then Blair then closed the door. As he walked down the hall, he bit down on his cigar to keep from laughing.