Symbiosis
Author: Clea Saal
Fandom: The Sentinel
Rating: 13+
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Symbiosis

I can hardly believe it's been three years already. I know everybody will be walking on eggshells around me today, like they do every year on the anniversary of the press conference, but as usual no one will mention it. Not in the PD and not at home, though Jim will probably invite me to do something tonight to keep my mind off what happened. I know he still feels guilty, but I have no regrets. To me today marks the anniversary of a milestone, a turning point in my life, but I can no longer see that milestone as a loss, even though I'll probably never be able to look back on that day as a happy event.

Three years ago today I traded one world for another and I am at peace with that decision. I have learned a lot since then. I have learned that I don't need those three letters after my name to be an anthropologist. I have learned that giving up the public recognition that would have come with those letters does not in any way detract from my knowledge, and I have learned that I don't need an institution's blessing to go on with my studies. Of course I know that I will not live to see my sentinel research published, but that does not mean that I have stopped. In fact I have learned more about what a sentinel is in these past three years than in all the years I spent chasing a dream at Rainier and I have already made the necessary arrangements to ensure that my research will be published once both Jim and me are gone.

Three years ago I branded myself as a fraud to save a friend, today I know that while my dissertation was no fraud, it was terminally flawed. The mistake is obvious from where I now stand, and I can hardly believe I never noticed it before.

I could claim that the mistake was not of my own making, but that is no excuse because I should have seen it. I was so busy chasing Burton's sentinel that I never stopped to question his work itself. Burton described a sentinel as a man with an unbelievable gift, something we would now describe as a genetic advantage. To Burton a sentinel was a man with heightened senses who was also vulnerable to zone-outs and because of that he had a partner, a partner Burton didn't even deem worthy of a title. For years I described myself as a guide, a term I borrowed from Brackett, not Burton... maybe that should have told me something, but it didn't. Not even Alex was enough to make me question Burton. Incacha came close to putting me in the right track, but he died before I could figure it out. In spite of what I believed for so many years, a sentinel is not a man with heightened senses.

When that thought first crossed my mind I thought I was going crazy, it went against everything I thought I knew, but now I have come to accept it. The facts can no longer be denied. A sentinel is not one man, a sentinel is a partnership made up of two individuals with two different sorts of heightened senses: one of them possesses a heightened awareness of the physical world, and he is the one Burton described as a sentinel, the other one has a heightened awareness of the spiritual world. Only when they work together for the good of the tribe, combining their special skills, do they become a true sentinel.

The heightened senses may be an integral part of a sentinel, but they are not its only defining characteristic.

Thinking back I can easily understand how Burton could have been so mistaken, but that does not excuse my own oversight. To a XIX century European explorer, a man with heightened senses must have seemed more than human, amazing, on the other hand his partner, his shaman, could easily be dismissed. Heightened senses were something tangible, something that could not be denied, but in those days a shaman was perceived as a witch doctor that had little to contribute except maybe in the form of ancient lore. Burton's views may have been ahead of his peers in more than one way, but he was still a product of his own time and non European cultures were perceived as primitive and inferior. To him a shaman may have been a curiosity, a specimen to be studied, but his skills would have been dismissed as mere quackery intended to deceive gullible, primitive minds.

I have also been trying to understand my own failure to analyze Burton himself from an anthropologic perspective. I think it was caused by the fact that I first discovered the concept of sentinels when I was only a child. Back then they captured my imagination and I began my studies with Burton as my guide. At the time questioning his works would have been unthinkable but the problem was that I maintained that attitude throughout my studies. I had no other scientific sources to balance his ideas and I was so busy trying to prove a discredited myth that I failed to question my sources and put his work in the proper perspective. I forgot that truth is not an absolute concept and that the fact that Burton was right didn't negate the fact that he could also be wrong at the same time. Hero-worship has no place within an anthropologist's research, but I chose to ignore Burton's background and so I remained oblivious to his prejudices.

By trial and error I have discovered my own path, sometimes without even realizing it. When Incacha died, passing the way of the shaman to me, I thought it had been a matter of need rather than choice. I didn't feel worthy of the title, not by a long shot, but it still provided me with some level of implicit validation. I never believed that I would have been his first choice as an heir to the way of the shaman, but his dying actions led me to believe that maybe I was not too far from the truth. Since that happened my perceptions have changed and I now believe that Incacha's passing the way of the shaman to me was no accident, and it may even have been the true reason behind his journey. One thing I know for sure though: Passing the way of the shaman to me was not an act of despair on Incacha's part. Yes his body was dying, but precisely because of that his spirit was being freed from its corporeal limitations, there was no need for his body to be physically close to that of his chosen heir.

Incacha's death was obviously one of the four critical moments I think back to as I trace the birth of a sentinel through the years of my relationship with Jim, and as I trace that development I can also see the price we had to pay to get to where we stand. A sentinel and a shaman are supposed to bond, but neither one of us understood that. In another place, and another time, the growth of our relationship would have been something natural, either our tribe or our instincts would have guided us. In the world we were born to we were denied that knowledge and we had no choice but to live in a society that frowns upon a relationship as close as the one we should have had. Since we were born we were told that there are some bounds we shouldn't cross in the way in which we relate to other men, and that was a hard lesson to unlearn. It took Jim's instinctive use of some primordial memories after Alex killed me for us to finally bond as we should have done from the very beginning, but even after that we spent a long time fighting that bond. Our feelings, our connection, could not fit within the bounds deemed acceptable by our "civilized" upbringing, so we chose to dismiss them and of doing that, I was just as guilty as Jim.

In fact the events surrounding the incident at the fountain probably represent my greatest failure. I should have understood then that while Alex had heightened senses she was not, nor could she ever be, a true sentinel.

Lately I have been trying to figure out just what she was. At first I believed her to be an example of the fate that awaits a sentinel without a shaman to guide him, but now I believe she may have been something else entirely. In a tribal setting, what would have been the role of a female sentinel? Somehow I can't imagine it being the same as that of a male sentinel. With few exceptions women were not trained to be warriors and almost by definition a sentinel must be a warrior. Perhaps a female sentinel could fulfill other duties. Maybe she was supposed to mate with the sentinel, ensuring that the tribe was never without a sentinel. That would have been a likely role for her, even if such a definition would be unacceptable in our politically correct world. I know that Jim was instinctively attracted to her, but I now know they could never have bonded. Is the sentinel supposed to bond with the shaman, but also mate with his female counterpart? If that were the case then my failure would be even greater because it would mean that the whole tragedy at the fountain was of my own making, since my presence interfered with the natural course of events. Perhaps a female sentinel was meant to be a healer, since her skills would prove to be invaluable when it came to diagnosing illnesses and injuries with no specialized equipment, but in that case Alex's actions wouldn't make sense, or perhaps Alex was merely an aberration, something that shouldn't have been. I know I will probably never be able to find an answer to that question, but I can't help but wonder.

The "dissaster", as I've come to think of it, represented another major turning point. Even if I couldn't see it at the time, that incident forced me to confront a truth I had spent years trying to deny: Being a shaman is a full time job. I may still be working on my sentinel research but it is secondary to my true duty, as it should have been from the beginning. Protecting the tribe is as much my responsibility as it is Jim's and it should always have been my top priority, not a part time job. Sometimes the events surrounding that botched release of my dissertation make me wonder whether or not fate actually played a role in everything that happened. There have been too many coincidences that led me to where I am now, and I have no doubts that I am finally where I belong, that I am who I was always meant to be.

It has only been in these past few months that I have finally begun to understand what it means to be a shaman and what truly makes a sentinel. It took me this long to accept that I am more than just a guy who happens to have studied sentinels for years. It took me this long to figure out that I have a gift of my own and that not everyone would be capable of guiding a sentinel.

Even if it sounds more than a little silly, there has been another aspect I've had problems adjusting to: Burton described a sentinel as a man with heightened senses, but he never gave a title to his partner. I now recognize his mistake and I know that that man with heightened senses is in fact only half a sentinel, but even though I now have two names that can be used to describe his partner, after so many years I am having trouble coming up with a word to describe that man who is the sensory aware half of a sentinel. I can understand my own thoughts, of course. In my mind I can tell the difference, but I'm still trying to figure out a way to make that difference clear on paper.

Thinking back to our development as a sentinel I can see that there were clues all along about the fact that I was more than just a side-kick, but I just chose to ignore them. I felt safer that way. In fact I think both Jim and Simon recognized that before I did, and I wonder what that says about me. I noticed since the beginning that my presence had a positive effect on Jim's health when he was sick or injured, but I assumed it was just because I was helping him keep his senses under control... I think half the staff at Cascade General figured out before I did that Jim's presence had a similar effect on my own health, one that could not be so easily explained by saying that he helped me focus, and though the fact that he made me feel safe certainly helped I now know it was more than that. I can no longer deny who I am. I am the other half of the sentinel, and I have a gift of my own.

I found out about that at a crime scene some eight months ago. A child had been murdered and the scene was so gruesome that it shocked me enough to push me beyond my self erected barriers. At first I dismissed it, I thought it was my imagination playing tricks on me, and I didn't tell anyone about it. For a moment I felt as if I were watching the actual murder. It was just a flash, and I was surprised when Jim's findings matched my own vision, but I still kept quiet. I didn't realize what had happened until we caught the perp, and I was forced to acknowledge that he was the man I had seen in my vision. The second time it happened I told Jim about it, but he was as inclined to believe me as I had been at the time of the first incident. I knew I needed to do something, to conduct some sort of test on myself, so I drew a picture of the man I had seen in my mind, sealed it in an envelope and handed it to Jim, asking him not to open it until after we had closed the case. Once again it was the same face.

Since then we have made some changes in how we work, Jim still relies on his senses to collect the evidence and track the perps, but I can sometimes help him know what to look for, and having an image of those we are tracking means that identifying them is a lot easier. It doesn't mean that we know who the perps are just by looking at the scenes, and we certainly can't use my visions as evidence, since they are even less tangible than Jim's senses, but they often do serve to point us in the right direction.

Simon still doesn't know about this latest development, but I know it is time to talk to him about it. It took me this long to feel comfortable enough with my own skills to mention them to anyone else, and in the process I have developed a greater understanding of how Jim must have felt when we first started working on the sentinel project. I now know how vulnerable his skills made him feel, how different. I spent years trying to undo the damage done by his father, trying to convince him that he is not a freak, but I've found that accepting my own words as true with regard to myself is far more difficult than I would have anticipated. On the other hand, no matter how uncomfortable the idea of telling Simon makes me, I can't wait to see his face. After seven years he has finally stopped cringing whenever we mention something that has to do with Jim's abilities. It's been too long since we heard his trademark "I don't want to hear about it, Sandburg!" so I think it is time to shock him again. About the rest of the gang in Major Crimes I am not so sure. They all know about Jim's abilities now, though there remains an unspoken "don't ask, don't tell" rule in that regard. I know it took them a while to forgive us for that deception though, and I'm not sure that they would be willing to forgive another one, but I am so not looking forward to feeling exposed.

Yes, I know it is time for me to come clean, but I am afraid. I know that what I can do could be invaluable in many instances, and I can now control my own visions, but a vision quest is so incredibly draining, and I don't know if I'll be able to make them understand that.

I discovered almost from the beginning that I can't sense what has happened without touching that evil. For a moment, while my spirit seeks the answers it needs I am both the predator and the prey. I share the thrill of the assailant and the fear of the victim... and I feel the victims dying in each and every case. The other problem is that I have learned that I can only do this with a basically undisturbed scene. A corpse in the morgue tells me nothing and we have no way of knowing which cases can't be cracked without that additional edge, and which cases could be solved using traditional means with a generous dose of heightened senses. I am not reluctant to use my gift to help others, that is not the problem. The problem is that if I were to do this with each and every case I would go insane.

I have tried to imagine how the rest of the gang will react to the news of my abilities. I know they probably will be careful not to mention them openly, just as they do their best to keep Jim's a secret. I imagine that the one who will be most likely to accept them will be Megan. In fact she was willing to accept the idea that Jim was a psychic before she knew of his sentinel abilities... and psychics do have a better known history within law enforcement than sentinels do, though psychics rarely operate in an official capacity, and are usually seen as a questionable, desperate, last resort that is to be used when a case comes to a point in which officers have no choice but to acknowledge their failure.

Since the birth of Sherlock Holmes police work has been about science, logic and reasonable explanations, somehow getting a psychic to fit into that picture is not an easy task. Yes, some psychics may have amazing track records (though they are a tiny minority that is all but drowned out by quacks looking for a spotlight), but a history of past successes does not change the empiric nature of their contribution. I know I am not a psychic, but my visions will probably place me in that category when it comes to a working definition, and the truth is that even if, as a shaman, my abilities have been known and used since the dawn of time, the fact remains that not only is there no scientific explanation to account for those skills, but those skills defy all tried, true, tested and proven scientific knowledge.

Having been trained as a scientist in a "scientific" society, coming to terms with what I have become has been difficult. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if I would ever have figured it out, had I stayed in Rainier, even though not knowing wouldn't have changed the facts, so all my ignorance could have provided me with would have been a false sense of security. The fact is that the changes run a lot deeper than a greater understanding of what a sentinel is supposed to be, or of my own role as a shaman, and that knowledge has already shaken my world.

Up until a few months ago I was a man, a detective and a detective's partner... funny, even after almost three years in the force it was still easier for me to think of myself as Jim's partner than it was to think of myself as a detective in my own right. I was a former grad student and a disgraced anthropologist. I was also a guide and I was aware of the fact that I was a shaman, though I had always assumed that to be a mostly symbolic title. Today I can no longer even think of myself as a man, and I feel that all those other concepts define someone I can no longer claim to be. I am no longer an individual, I am part of something greater than myself, and I know deep down that I can not survive isolated from that whole. In a sense that is a relief. For years the idea of living without Jim has represented my greatest fear, now I know that will never happen... and I have also learned to take better care of myself. I know I will not survive Jim, but I also know he can not survive me, and because of that I must be careful.

I sometimes wonder why were the skills of the sentinel divided in such a fashion, with two beings whose survival is so closely linked to that of the other that they can no longer be seen as individuals. I can only speculate, but I guess it was a matter of balance. If a single man were to be a full sentinel then that man would be almost unstoppable, but just like any man he would be vulnerable to greed and ambition, and such a man would also be incredibly lonely. Two perspectives are more likely to balance each other out. A mistake by one may be seen and corrected by the other one. If the survival of the tribe depended on the sentinel's abilities, then a partnership such as the one we share would probably have been safer.

Right now all I know is that our lives are intertwined in a symbiotic relationship that is deeper than anything I could ever have imagined. WE are a sentinel, a single entity that just happens to have two separate bodies. We live together, work together and will die together.

It's been three years since I traded one world for another, and since that happened I have learned a lot. I am at peace with myself in a way I never thought possible... now if only I could get the others to stop feeling sorry for what I gave up.

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