Ye Sentinel Carole

Jim grinned and shut down his computer. Done with everything Simon could possibly throw at him for the day -- barring unforeseen psychos -- and he was out of here. He picked up his jacket and hoped he could reach the door before Simon saw him leaving. Halfway there, Ryf gave him a grin. "Hey, Ellison, you're taking off early."

He gave the other man a smile. "You sound jealous."

"Hell, if I had the kinda plans *you* better have, I'd be out of here early, too!" Ryf gave him a grin.

Ellison rolled his eyes. He stopped himself from replying, not caring to stand here and engage in a battle of wits with Ryf when he could be *leaving*. So he did, only catching Simon asking where the hell was he by virtue of his Sentinel hearing. And since he couldn't be publicly liable for things he heard that way.... he left.

Truth was, he had no plans for that night. Blair was going to be on campus until late, so Jim was looking forward to a quiet evening home, alone.

He didn't mind -- it was quieter without Sandburg there, if nothing else. Easier to relax when he didn't have to wonder when and why Blair would be coming over and invading his personal space -- even for the best of reasons. Not that he minded Blair getting close and personal, but sometimes even he needed a break.

When Jim finally went to bed it was an hour before he expected Blair home. His senses were all on calm alert, waiting for his Guide. The rest of him was happy to shut down. He fell asleep quickly, knowing everything was well in hand.

Which was why, when he *did* wake, he was surprised to find it was not because Blair had come home. There was something standing -- sort of -- at the foot of his bed. He sat up in astonishment as he recognised who it was.

"Danny?" OK, Ellison, you're dreaming, he told himself. There is no other explanation for why--

"Hey, Jim. How's it hanging?"

Jim blinked, ran through his 'senses maintenance check' and looked again. It was Danny. Grey, wispy, and floating.

But definitely Danny.

"That corned beef didn't *smell* bad," he muttered.

"Come on, Ellison. I'm not a dream, I'm not 'indigestion'. Don't pull that one on me. We're friends!"

"We *were* friends. You're dead," he pointed out.

Danny shrugged. "Yeah? Don't worry about it. I'm not here for long. Just came by to deliver a message."

Jim nodded agreeably. "OK. What's the message?"

Danny cleared his throat, then said in a deep, mysterious voice, "James Ellison, you shall be visited by Three Spirits tonight. Listen, and heed their warnings or you shall die, as I did. Miserable and alone."

"Uh-huh. Great. Thanks, Danny. Look, next time you stop by, call first. I'll throw on a pair of shorts."

Danny shook his head solemnly, then grinned and winked before vanishing. Jim laid back down and stared at the ceiling. What a weird dream.

He'd barely closed his eyes before he felt it.

A breeze, chilly and soft, coming from where there should have been none. Reluctantly he opened one eye. "Who are you?" He sat up straight, feeling *very* awake even though it should have been impossible. He never felt this wide awake during one of his dreams.

A small girl was floating in front of his closet, dressed in what looked like clouds. She grinned at him.

He reached for some shorts.

She continued grinning while he put them on, then she held out a hand. "Come, Jim. There is much to be seen."

"Yeah. Who are you?" He didn't move towards her.

She gave him a look, and said simply, "I am the Spirit of The Past. Was not my visit foretold to you?"

"Yeah, by a ghost. I don't usually take what they tell me seriously." He wondered if he should grab a shirt, or his gun, first. She looked a little too transparent to threaten with a gun, however.

"Come," she repeated. "There is much to see."

He sighed, and shrugged. "Fine. Where are we going?"

She floated forward and reached out. Startled, he didn't quite move back fast enough to avoid her touch. With it, the room faded. He clutched reflexively to the only solid thing he could feel -- her hand. When the room reformed, he recognised it with a shock.

It wasn't his bedroom. "This is my old school!" He shook his head.

"Yes," she said, a little proudly. Jim ignored her, looking around. The room was decorated for the holiday, bright and cheerful. Each child's desk had a large envelope taped to the front. Upon seeing them, Jim groaned.

"I *hated* that. A stupid custom, if you ask me."

"And why is that?" the girl sounded Wise and Old when she spoke.

"Because we had to buy one for every kid in class, whether or not you liked them. We all threw them away an hour later, anyhow. A waste of time." He grinned. "Except for the ones with lollipops in them. Chris gave those out every year, I remember."

The floating girl smiled encouragingly. "And do you recognise that child?" She pointed behind him. Jim turned, and saw himself.

At seven years, Jimmy Ellison already had some very firm opinions. One was that sometimes teachers asked you to do stupid things. You couldn't *tell* them that, though.

Jimmy moved from desk to desk, along with several other kids, dropping tiny envelopes into the larger ones. From this viewpoint, Jim could see that many of the children thought the exercise was a waste.

He looked at the girl. "Now what?"

She smiled. "Now, do you recognise *her*?" She pointed again, and Jim looked.

Maggie. Her hair pulled back in long braids, she was giggling with one of her friends. Jim watched as his younger self reached her desk and very self-consciously dropped a small white envelope in it.

The girls giggled again, and Jimmy dared a tentative smile. Maggie smiled back, equally tentative.

Jim Ellison laughed. "My first crush. Lasted until summer when she left for her grandparents' and I started playing junior league."

The way the floating girl nodded, Jim felt that he'd said something revealing -- but he had no idea what. If she'd have simply asked, he could have told her the same thing.

The room shifted, again, and re-formed into another school function. This time, he groaned louder.

The gym. A school dance.

"Do you rec--"

"Yes, I recognise the place. Eleventh grade. I'm probably over by the punch bowl, trying to act cool while my date primps again for the fourteenth time."

A moment later he spotted himself. A nervous teenager, already close to the build he'd gain as an adult and a soldier -- he looked like he was about to spill bright red punch all over his suit jacket.

He managed to take the cup to a young woman, however, and offer it to her. Again, Jim smiled. "Jeri Matterson. We dated our Junior year."

"You two were happy together," the girl said.

Jim nodded. "I guess."

"Do you recall why you broke up?"

Jim gave her a direct look. "Because she wanted to go out with Billy Rusters." So had he, for that matter.

That seemed to fluster the floater, and soon she was waving her hands. The gym disappeared, and his bedroom re-appeared.

"So, what? Second spirit?" Jim asked. At this rate, he was going to be awake all night.

"When the clocks strikes the hour," she said, nodding and wafting backwards into the wall.

Jim sighed. Maybe he *should* have had a beer with dinner. At least then he'd have had an excuse.

It didn't seem that long before the digital clock flipped over to read 2 a.m. Jim wondered where the hell was Sandburg during all this -- had he fallen asleep in his office? He was debating calling or driving over, when there was a thump. He opened the closet door.

A small man dressed in purple and blue jumped up. "Hi!"

Jim just stared.

"Er, I'm the Spirit of the Present. I'm here to show you how things are today."

"We have newspapers for that sort of thing," Jim offered, but the little man ignored him.

He clambered out, brushing his pants, then looked up at Jim. He stood at about Jim's knee -- had he been dressed in green Jim would have called him a leprechaun. Perhaps he doubled as such, during the off-season.

"Are we ready?" he asked, then leapt up and grabbed Jim by the elbow before he could answer.

This time they appeared in Blair's office. Jim saw Blair slumped on the battered old couch, sound asleep. He nodded -- he wouldn't call. No point in waking him up.

"So, you recognise him?"

"Of course I recognise him!" Jim looked down at the spirit. A stupider question he couldn't imagine.

The man nodded wisely. "And do you know why he is here, tonight? Sacking out in his office, cold and alone, instead of going home?"

OK, he was wrong. There were stupider questions. "Because he was too tired to drive."

That seemed to fluster the spirit. "Er, yes, well -- but doesn't your heart go out to him? Look at him, lying there... shouldn't he be--"

"Home in bed, preferably undressed. Why are you telling me this?"

"Shouldn't *you* be the one asking... er, telling... that is...." The spirit paused, then tried again. "If you know where he *should* be, then why is he still here? Would it take so much to call?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "I've been a little busy. Spirits wandering in all night and everything."

"But doesn't your heart yearn to tell him how you feel?"

Jim gave the man a dubious look. "What are you talking about?"

The spirit nodded, as if Jim were finally seeing the light. Jim, on the other hand, felt like he'd been hit in the head and was now lying in a coma somewhere having delusions.

"You should tell him. You should tell him *everything*."

Jim blinked. "I think you have the wrong guy."

"Do I?" The little spirit smiled knowingly. "Do I, indeed? Do you know what tomorrow is? Do you know what people all over are planning?"

"Yeah, I know what tomorrow is. What does that have to do with Blair sleeping in his office?"

"Ah, you still refuse to see. Perhaps the last spirit can guide you."

Blair's office vanished, and Jim found himself in his bedroom.

He considered, very seriously, calling Blair anyhow and asking him to come home. This didn't *feel* like a dream, but perhaps his senses were working overtime.

There was a rustling. Jim turned.

"You'd be the Spirit of the Future, am I right?"

The cherub nodded.

"You're here to tell me what's gonna happen if I keep letting Blair sleep in his office?"

The cherub frowned, but waved his little bow towards Jim. He took the hint, and walked over.

"Now what?"

The room didn't fade. Instead, the mostly-naked, winged child flew over to the railing, and pointed down. Jim looked. He saw himself sitting on the couch, watching TV. He was drinking a beer, and yelling at a hockey game.

Jim focused slightly. "Looks like the Leafs are winning."

The cherub rattled its bow against the railing, and pointed again. Jim looked. "What?" He waited. The cherub waited. Jim still didn't notice-- oh. "Where's Blair? All his stuff is gone."

He frowned. This wasn't good. He headed downstairs, ignoring himself watching the game. Everything of Blair's was gone.

"Where is he?" Jim whirled on the spirit, seriously irritated.

The cherub didn't reply. He did, however, point to the calendar. It was exactly a year later.

Jim tried to put the pitiful amount of clues together, since the spirit obviously wasn't going to tell him. "So Blair will be gone by this time next year. Why? What does me letting him sleep in his office have to do with anything?"

The cherub opened its mouth, then stopped. Then he sighed. He alighted on the back of a chair and said in a low voice, "He is gone."

"Yeah, I gathered. Why?"

"You ignored him too long."

Jim's jaw dropped. "I what?"

"Every year he waited for some sign, some gesture from you. It never came."

Jim's eyes narrowed. "Are you seriously telling me that Blair left because I didn't do anything for Valentine's Day?"

The cherub nodded sadly.

Jim cleared his throat. "The flowers last year weren't enough? The homegrown tea leaves I got from Sarah? The backrub? The all-night marathon of sex?"

The cherub blinked. "Er, what?"

"Those don't count?" Jim repeated.

"You... what?"

"If you're looking for someone who forgets to be romantic around here, you should talk to Blair. Just *once* I'd like to get a card, or dinner cooked -- something I *like* and not something that's good for me."

The cherub fell off its perch.

Jim stood over it. "And if you think Blair and I would break up because of *Valentine's Day* you have another think coming. Check your workorder, pal."

"But... I...." The cherub hovered in front of him, then, with a worried look, vanished.

Jim found himself standing in his living room, still one year in the future. Not *his* future, of course. Even if Blair left him, he wouldn't have taken *all* those statuette things.

Then he looked around, again. "Excuse me? Can I go home?" There was no reply. Shrugging, Jim headed back upstairs and crawled into bed. It *was* still his bed, after all. The Future Jim probably wouldn't mind. He laid down and pulled the blankets over his head.

Then he blinked and it was morning. With a sigh, he rolled over and found Blair snuggled up beside him. He vaguely remembered almost-waking an hour before, when Blair had snuck in. His senses and subconsciousness had identified the intruder as his Guide and not a dubious apparition, and let Jim sleep through Blair's climbing into bed.

Jim grinned. He cuddled closer to Blair, who was half-heartedly muttering about people moving when they should still be asleep.

Jim gave him a kiss. Blair returned it, then went back to an 'I'm asleep don't bother me' snuggle.

Jim kissed him again. Blair sighed deeply, then opened his eyes and smiled. "Yeah?"

"Your turn to get breakfast, Chief. I'd like waffles."

Frowning, the Spirit of Valentine's Day Future eyed his two fellow spirits. "I'm telling ya, we had the wrong guy!"

Spirit of VD Present shook his head. "But he was clueless, I'm tell you! He didn't thing anything was wrong with lettin' his little buddy sleep alone, cold and unloved in his office!"

"Actually, you might be right," Spirit of Past told her Future companion. "Something did seem a little off about his reactions."

"But look! My workorders says, right here, 'James Ellison'. Just like yours." Spirit of Present held out his work slip for the others to check.

Spirit of Future pulled an identical work slip from out of his... er... quiver! yeah, his quiver and peered at them both. "Aha! Here's the problem! 'James Ellison, Cascade, Iowa!' He had the wrong guy!" He checked his watch and nodded. "Come on, we still got time if we hurry."