DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.


Howling Moon
by
Wildeskind and Captain Outrageous

.

The eyes of a wolf... reveal an incredible intelligence that can take your measure in a heartbeat. They can discern honesty, integrity, vulnerability and strength and, they can draw such a bead on who you really are, that the mental image of being stripped naked before the world suddenly seems very real. -- North American Wolf Association

Act I

The glass was cool beneath Blair's hand as the dark buildings slid past the truck window. Lifting his hand from the glass, he watched as the frosty imprint of his hand slowly disappeared. He turned to Jim. "Man, that new Thai place was too delicious. I'm going to have to run a couple of extra miles tomorrow."

Jim chuckled. "Only a couple? I don't think I've ever seen food disappear so fast. What happen to eating healthy?"

"What could be healthier than steamed vegetables and seafood? You were the one who had that beef dish with that heavy sauce. Do you know how much fat it had?" He shuddered playfully.

The radio crackled to life, and the dispatcher called out a 10-70, the code for a possible robbery in progress. The address was only two blocks away. Blair acknowledged the call even as Jim stopped the truck to turn it around.

The scary-excited feeling settled over Blair as his partner turned the truck towards the address, making his stomach churn. Rubbing his hands on his jeans, he took a couple of deep breaths, trying to settle his nerves. He didn't think he'd ever get used to this part of the job. Not that he it hadn't happened when he was an observer, but it was different now. He was no longer the involved spectator. It was now his duty to respond, to protect the life, liberty and property of the citizens of Cascade.

A couple of years ago, Jim had responded to a call like this and shot a guard. Afterwards, he had rejected his abilities as a Sentinel. Blair squirmed as he remembered the lectures he had given to his partner about his role as Sentinel of the Great City. Now he understood what a heavy responsibility being a protector was. Opening the glove compartment, he pulled out Jim's backup revolver. Making sure it was loaded, he hefted the gun in his hand. The weight was comforting and revolting at the same time. He renewed his vow to himself that he would do everything in his power to avoid using it.

Jim pulled the truck up to the curb a block away from the address. Getting out, he pulled out his own weapon. He paused and cocked his head. "There's one heartbeat in the building and one in the back. I think the back one may be a child, it's beating fast. I'm going to take the front. You go around back and check out that second heartbeat. I don't want our perp running into a kid. And be careful."

Blair nodded and waved him off, closing his fingers around the cool grip of Jim's backup pistol as he jogged around the corner of the brick building. The bright moon was high in the sky, creating shadows in the narrow alley. His foot hit something odorous and squishy and he stumbled. Blair cursed, wishing he had insisted Jim take the back door.

Pausing at the last corner, Blair held his breath, straining to catch any sounds. By this time, his eyes had adjusted to the dim light. He stooped to sneak a glimpse around the corner. The alley was clear, with only a few stray boxes tossed against the wall, too small to provide a man with any real cover. There was no sign of a kid. Still cautious, Blair eased around the corner and approached the rear door. The light fixture above it was out. He took a few steps away from the door and looked up, assessing the rest of the building. The windows were black holes in the crumbling brick. The rusty fire escape creaked softly in the cool breeze.

A growl came from behind him. Freezing, Blair tilted his head down slowly. Out of the corner of his eye he saw two blue, glowing eyes staring at him from the shadows. White teeth gleamed as the growl was repeated. For a second he was reminded of the cat he had seen in the woods only a few weeks ago. Why would Jim's spirit guide be here now? Another low growl emanated from the shadows, followed by a sharp bark. That wasn't a cat; that was a dog!

The hairs on the nape of his neck bristled. What should he do? If he turned around, the dog might attack. If he didn't move, the animal could still attack and Blair would have his back to it. The clicking of toenails on asphalt was loud as the dog crept from the shadows, circling him. Blair's breath caught in his throat as the animal moved from his peripheral vision. He was expecting a half-starved, mangy mutt. What he got was a black wolf.

Silver-blue eyes stared at him, looking through him to his very soul. The thought went through his head that he shouldn't be afraid of his spirit animal. But this wasn't his laughing silver wolf. Another shudder went through him as he felt the black wolf's intelligent gaze take his measure. He thought that Jim's stare could strip a person bare, but these strange, silver-blue eyes held him captive, seeing more clearly than any animal had a right. The black wolf gave a curious half whine, his hackles slowly smoothing themselves out.

The back door slammed open, breaking the spell. A dark figure stumbled into the alleyway. Blair instinctively brought up his gun. He didn't even have time to aim before the wolf growled and launched itself at him. White-hot shards of pain stabbed him as the wolf bit down hard on Blair's gun arm. Stubbornly refusing to let go, Blair was pulled down to the ground by the wolf's weight. As they struggled, the gun went off. The wolf bit down harder, and the gun dropped from his limp fingers. Yelling, Blair grabbed the wolf/dog by the scruff of its neck with his free hand. Surging upwards, he slammed it against the wall. The wolf yelped as it made contact with the brick, but refused to let go. Bright spots swam in front of Blair's eyes as the wolf shook its head, tearing at the arm in its mouth. Ignoring the waves of agony shooting up his arm, Blair was about to lift the wolf again when something hit the back of his head.

He collapsed to the ground, the gritty hardness of the pavement cool beneath his cheek. Fighting to control the waves of terror, Blair struggled to get his unresponsive limbs to move. A pair of black tennis shoes appeared in front of his face. Blair gasped as a bright light blinded him. A hand reached for him, and he tried to move away, but his body felt like someone had put a cement blanket on him. The hand rested briefly on his neck, two cold fingers testing his carotid. The crook is afraid he killed me? Gee, how did I get so lucky? Bair's bravado faded as the world began to spin. The black tennis shoes started to move away. The black wolf padded up to him, snuffling his neck. Blair tried to breathe carefully, painfully aware of the razor sharp teeth only a few inches from his throat. Teeth that had torn through his flesh only a few seconds ago. There was a sharp whistle. The wolf hesitated, whining. The whistle sounded again, and the teeth disappeared from his view.

Shivering with cold and relief, Blair whispered. "Jim, man, now would be a good time."

Jim followed the sound of retreating footsteps toward the back of the building. Whoever was in the building was familiar enough with the layout to dodge his attempts to find him, despite his added advantage of Sentinel night vision. The store itself looked surreal; everything was painted in shades of gray. The eccentric layout of the store was working against him, the large pieces of furniture obscuring his line of sight. Stepping over a low table, he tried to pinpoint the perp's location. He went around a corner, and jumped as a shadowy figure appeared in front of him. His gun was already aimed when he realized there was no heartbeat coming from his opponent. Sighing at the tall, oval mirror, he moved on, more edgy than ever. A machine chose that moment to kick in, the whirring noise confusing his hearing. Precious moments were used up as he adjusted his hearing to filter out the noise.

A door slammed open in the back of the building, followed by a drop in air pressure indicating an outside door. He ran in the direction of the faint breeze, and froze at the sound of a gunshot. He dialed up his hearing; the sounds of a scuffle reached him, followed by Sandburg's howl of pain.

Dread wrapped its cold fingers around his heart as he pushed his way to the back of the building, his senses ranging ahead. The hollow echo of uneven footsteps in the alley faded away just as he burst through the heavy fire door. He caught a brief glimpse of a black-clad figure to his right disappearing around the corner. Lying on the ground in front of him was the crumpled form of his partner.

The bitter smell of blood triggered Jim's gag reflex. Dialing down his nose, he pulled out his cell phone and with three buttons had dispatch on the line. "This is Detective Jim Ellison. We have an officer down at 347 Centennial Lane. I repeat, we have an officer down. Shots fired. Send back-up and medical assistance."

Barely waiting for the acknowledgment, Jim closed the phone and squatted next to Blair, the slow erratic pulse of his fallen companion's heartbeat echoing in his head. Fighting back the instinct to pick Sandburg up and run to the nearest hospital, he did a visual scan. There was a discolored strip of skin at the base of his neck. Carefully touching his hand to the base of Sandburg's neck, he felt the warm rush of blood beneath the unbroken skin where the crushed capillaries leaked life-giving blood. He almost jumped out of his own skin when Blair groaned.

"Sandburg, don't move. You've been shot."

"Don't move? Tell that to the earth. It keeps on spinning around and around."

Jim swallowed to keep from losing his dinner. "I think I get the point. Where did you get hit?"

"My head. He got me from behind."

Carefully combing through the curls, Jim couldn't find any evidence of a gunshot wound. "He didn't get you in the head. You have a knot on the back of your head, but that's all. Where did he shoot you?"

Sandburg blinked up blearily at him. "Shoot me? He didn't shoot me. He bit me." There was outrage in his voice.

The smell of blood was overwhelming. Blair's heart and breathing sounded normal; Jim was having a tough time localizing the bleeding. "Sandburg, there's too much blood for a bite. Where did he shoot you?"

Blair raised his arm weakly. "Didn't shoot. Bit me. The darn wolf bit me. " A watery chuckle escaped his lips. "What happened to honor among spirit guides?" He groaned again and tried to grab his head.

Jim held his hands down. "Stay still. The ambulance is coming." He checked the wound on Blair's arm. Blood oozed from a row of angry puncture wounds, but not the amount Jim was expecting. Calming a little, he gently ran his hands over his partner's body, feeling for any other injuries. Satisfied that Sandburg had escaped any major injury, he grasped the torn edges of his partner's shirt and pulled them apart.

The ripping of fabric echoed in the empty alley. "Hey, that's my shirt!"

Ignoring the complaint, Jim ripped a couple more strips off. "It's ruined anyway." He bound the bleeding wrist tightly with the rags, and helped Blair into a sitting position. "I don't feel anything broken. Can you make a fist?"

Sandburg obligingly made a fist while Jim gently held his forearm. He was relieved to feel the muscles and tendons working normally. "I don't feel too much damage to your forearm. It looks like whatever bit you missed all the important stuff."

"It was a wolf. A big black wolf with big white shining teeth." Blair shuddered.

Jim took off his jacket and wrapped it around his partner. "Whatever it was, it's gone." Spotting the dull gleam of metal, Jim reached over, retrieved his backup gun, and tucked it in the small of his back. "You were supposed to use that to defend yourself."

Blair shrugged. "It's bad karma to shoot your spirit animal."

"Even if it attacks you?"

"Especially when it attacks you. You never know when you're being tested."

Jim looked down at the blood-soaked rag wrapped around Blair's arm. "Sandburg, I don't think this was a test. It was an attack. You said the dog was black?"

Sandburg made an irritated noise. "It wasn't a wolf, it was a dog." He paused for a second, his expression disgusted. "I mean, it wasn't a dog, it was a wolf! I know a wolf from a dog. He had these great big fangs and this dark fur. It was like he was a fricking werewolf or something."

Jim sat down next to him, placing a calm hand on his shoulder. "Even if it was a wolf, it was a black wolf. Your spirit guide is gray. I don't think you have to worry about its wrath."

Blair shrugged off his touch, gingerly touched the back of his neck. "Yeah, well, I almost had everything under control when that guy came out. Next time, you get the wolf and I get the burglar, okay?"

Jim grinned. "Deal." His nose twitched again. There was too much blood. He looked around, and saw a trail of wet drops scattered down the alleyway. His eyes narrowed as he followed the trail to where it disappeared around the corner. A glimmer of light caught his gaze. Focusing in, he saw a gleaming white disk. The disk became larger and larger until it filled his vision. It was surrounded by a white glow. The world around him retreated into the darkness as the white glowing disk filled his being, compelling him. His body became numb and the sounds around him retreated. All except one sound. A familiar voice called to him. "... Jim, follow my voice back. I'm right here. Come back to me."

Shuddering as thought he had just run five miles in as many minutes, Jim looked down at Blair's anxious face. "Sorry, Chief. Didn't mean to zone on you like that."

"What happened?"

Jim scrubbed the top of his head with both hands. "A reflection of the moon. I guess you could call me moonstruck. Chief, we have to do something about these spikes."

"We will. We have that hiking trip planned in two weeks. Until then, we're going to have to wing it. You know Simon can't give us that much time off any sooner."

"I know, I know. It's not his fault that damn spider bit me. And now you've been bitten. This isn't a trend or something, is it? The animal kingdom rebelling against us?"

Sandburg shrugged. "Naw, I think it's just bad luck. It could have been worse."

Jim stared incredulously. "How?"

Blair closed his eyes wearily. "It could have been a radioactive spider. Can you imagine what that spidey sense would do to your other senses? Not to mention you climbing up walls." The faint wail of police sirens could be heard in the distance.

Pulling Blair closer, Jim listened to the steady beat of his heart. Too late Chief. I've already been that route.


The dark figure lingered at the corner of the building, watching the two men, his dark eyes narrowing behind the slits in his ski mask. The animal at his side leaned against his leg, whining softly. Shushing it with a sharp gesture, he retreated behind the building, limping. He pulled a bandana out of his pocket, and wrapped the material tightly around his thigh. He should have known the kid would trip him up. Who would have thought he would stick around in the same town for ten years? Something would have to be done. Tying off the last knot with a vicious yank, he straightened up. He couldn't stop now. He was so close. He couldn't let anyone get in his way.

The flashing lights of police cars and an ambulance guided Simon as he pulled up to the crime scene. The heaviness sitting on his chest lifted when he saw Sandburg sitting in the back of the ambulance, wrapped in a brown blanket, holding an ice pack on his head with his good hand while the paramedic worked on his other arm. Jim stood next to him, one hand on Blair's shoulder, his stance protective. When the dispatcher called Simon at home with the news that Sandburg had been shot responding to a call, his heart had just about stopped. It hadn't helped that the dispatcher didn't have any details. He was halfway to the crime scene before the call came over the radio that Sandburg had just been bitten by a stray dog. He could almost hear everyone's sighs of relief as the normal radio traffic paused.

Simon threaded his way through the maze of parked cars. Normally a B&E wouldn't attract so much attention, but an officer had been injured, which made it personal to the men in blue. Jim saw him coming, and waved. Blair gave him a tired smile. The feeling of deja vu hit him like a sack of wet sand. How many times had they played out this scene? How many times had he seen that look of pain mirrored in both partners' eyes? Part of it was physical, and part of it was emotional. When your partner got hurt, the guilt always hit you hard, no matter what the circumstances. The next couple of days were going to be rough. Sending a brief prayer of thanks that Sandburg's injuries were minor, he greeted his detectives.

"Ellison, Sandburg. I hear you two are branching off into dog catching. You may want to stick to detective work."

Sandburg tensed, the corners of his mouth turning downwards. "It wasn't a dog, it was a wolf." His voice was sulky, like a child who had been told not to tell tales. Simon looked down at him, surprised. He'd never heard that tone of voice from the kid before. He must be more tired than I thought.

Jim squeezed his shoulder. "It was dark."

The paramedic finished wrapping Blair's arm, and gave him last minute instructions. "Keep the arm clean. If you feel any dizziness or nausea, you should call your doctor or go to the emergency room. If they can't catch that dog tonight, you should stop by the emergency room tomorrow and start your rabies shots."

Blair groaned. "Man, I'd forgotten about that."

Simon's stomach muscles clenched. He'd been bitten by a stray dog when he was a beat cop. The shots to the stomach had been a painful experience he'd much rather forget.

As if he could read his mind the paramedic closed his medkit with a snap and said, "Don't sweat it. They don't give those stomach shots anymore. It's nothing worse than a tetanus shot. Speaking of tetanus, is yours up to date?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "All my shots are up to date, except for the rabies. Man, I hate needles."

The paramedic gave him a sympathetic smile. "Don't we all. Hey, when you go in there, ask for Maria Cabanero. She's really great with needles."

Simon was puzzled by Sandburg's look of chagrin and Ellison's sudden coughing fit. He searched his memory for a nurse with that name.

Sandburg stood up unsteadily. "Thanks. I'll do that. You ready to go home Jim?"

"Yeah." Jim looked to Simon.

The captain murmured quietly, "I want to talk to you. Alone."

Jim nodded slightly to indicate he had heard. "Why don't you sit in the truck while I bring Simon up to date? I'll be there in a minute."

Moving away from the ambulance, the two older men watched as Sandburg made his way to the truck.

"What did he mean about a wolf, Jim?"

Jim sighed. "Sandburg said it was a wolf that attacked him."

"Did you see it?"

Jim shook his head. "No, but that doesn't mean there wasn't one. I just can't imagine what a wolf would be doing in Cascade." His tone made it clear he didn't want to talk about it.

They stood there for a minute, listening to the crackling of radios and the shouts of officers as they searched the crime scene for clues. "Do we know what our thief was looking for?"

Jim waved at the narrow storefront. The sign hanging above the heavy carved wooden door proclaimed it LaFette's Antiques. "It could have been a number of things. The store stocks some valuable vases, paintings and jewelry. We're still trying to track down the owner to see if anything is missing. Sandburg did manage to shoot the thief. We found a trail of blood leading from the crime scene." His voice crackled with fatigue.

Simon nodded. "I'll have someone check out the hospitals and clinics. You two take it easy and come in late tomorrow, okay? I don't want you to go for America's Most Wounded award."

Jim chuckled. "I don't even want to be runner up. I'll see you tomorrow."


He was in the woods, the trees stretching upwards forever. He dropped to all fours; it seemed natural to trot on the dirt path winding its way through the forest. Ahead, he could see a person wearing a hooded red cape, sitting next to a tree, back toward him. Coming up to the person, Blair noticed a basket sitting on the ground next to them. He put his long snout into the covered basket to investigate. Something bit his nose, and he yelped. A hand pulled the basket away from him. Looking up, he saw Jim's face framed by the red hood. Jim smiled at him, his blue eyes vague as if covered by a mist.

"That's not for you."

Rubbing his snout with a paw, Blair realized that he was a wolf. He whined. He wasn't supposed to be a wolf.

Jim nodded as if this was what he expected. "I'm going this way. " He got up and walked down the path.

Blair followed him. Soon they came to a wide spot in the forest where there were no trees. Donuts littered the ground. Jim sat down and started eating donuts. Blair sniffed one of the donuts and licked it. It tasted awful. He became bored watching Jim eat them, and walked away.

Trotting down the path again, he came to a cottage. The door was standing open. Walking through the doorway, he entered what looked to be the bullpen. Simon was standing in the middle of the room, wearing an old-fashioned granny nightgown and a ruffled muslin cap, his reading glasses perched on his nose. Blair came up to him and whined. He wanted to be human again. Simon reached behind him and pulled out a huge newspaper. Grabbing Blair by the scruff of the neck, he yelled, "Bad doggie, bad doggie," and proceeded to hit Blair's butt with the newspaper.

Twisting in the strong grip, Blair tried to get away from the punishing paper. He heard a growl off to one side. Sitting a couple of feet away was a silver wolf. The wolf seemed to be laughing at him. He broke free of Simon, and ran back through the door, looking for Jim, but the path had disappeared. Blair continued to wander through the forest, searching for his partner. Coming to another clearing, he looked up. Above him was the moon. He howled a long mournful cry. Another howl joined his.

Turning around, he watched the silver wolf morph into his younger self. He had his old leather backpack slung over his shoulder. Reaching in, he started to systematically pull out sheets of paper, crumpling them up in his hands and throwing them at wolf-Blair. They piled up around him until he was buried neck high in paper. Closing the bag, the younger Blair walked up and patted the wolf-Blair on his head.

"Forget all that duty stuff. Just be you, man. Nothing's written in stone."

Out of nowhere, Jim's voice called his name. "Sandburg, Sandburg..."

"... Sandburg. Wake up."

Blinking, Blair looked up at Jim, the early morning light blurred the sharp angles of his face. Disoriented, he tried to sit up, only to find that his body wouldn't move. His heart jumped in his chest. Oh, man. I really did it this time. Everything felt surreal, like he was still sleeping.

"Sandburg? Are you okay?" His partner's voice was soft with concern.

All of a sudden, the paralysis let go and he lurched upward. Strong hands caught him before he could tumble out of bed. "Careful there, Chief. We just put you back together, again."

As if reminded of the abuse they had suffered his arm and neck throbbed in tandem. "Thanks Jim, I'd forgotten about that." Cradling his arm against his stomach, he tried to prop himself up.

The bed dipped as Jim sat next to him and eased him backward against the wall. Jim's hands ghosted over the injured limb before pulling the blankets up and tucking them around Blair. Jim shook a couple of pills out of a bottle, and silently held them out, along with a glass of water that had been sitting on the night table alongside the bottle. Blair hesitated for a second before accepting the medication. He downed it quickly and set the glass down on the table next to the bed.

Jim was sitting in a chair from the other room. A hardback book lying face down on the night table testified to the fact he had been there awhile, reading. The sight of the book reminded Blair of his dream journal. Already Blair could feel the details of the dream slipping away. He didn't want to lose the dream for reasons he didn't want to examine too closely. "Jim, can you get my journal and pen over there? I had this dream and I have to get it down while it's fresh in my mind."

Jim silently fetched the journal. He opened the book to a blank page, picked up a pen from the night table, and looked at Blair expectantly.

Blair shifted uncomfortably. "Uh, Jim, I can write my own dream down."

"Uh-huh." Jim's tone was skeptical as he stole a look at Blair's bum arm.

Torn between the desire to get the dream down and his dignity, Blair gave in to the need to record his dream. "Okay." Gathering the wispy threads of memory, he rebuilt the story. "I was walking on a path through the forest. You were there, sitting beneath a tree. I didn't recognize you at first. You had a... a red hat on." The obfuscation tumbled out. Ignoring Jim's questioning look, he continued. "Next to you was a basket. I tried to look inside, but something bit me." He waited as Jim scribbled down the details, wondering what the basket represented. Possibilities tumbled through his mind. It was something Jim had, but Blair couldn't see or touch. Something hidden. The soft scratching of pen on paper ended, signaling Jim's readiness to continue. "I think that's when I realized I was a wolf."

"Wait, we were in a forest, you were a wolf, I wore a red hat and had a basket. Right?" His tone was innocently curious. A little too innocent.

"Yeaaaah." Blair drew out the word, waiting for Jim to make the obvious connection.

"Okay, just wanted to make sure I got it right." He tapped one finger on the book.

Jim's lips twitched. So much for being subtle. This next part was going to throw him. "So we walked along this path and we came to this clearing filled with donuts. You sat down and started to eat them. I tried, but they tasted awful."

His lips pursed at the memory of the dry and bitter donuts. He tried not to think of what they meant. I do like police work. At least, most of it. It's not like anything has changed. I've always been Jim's partner.

A part of him whispered back. Always? Have you always been there as his partner, or have you been there for yourself?

He shoved the voice away. He knew why he was Jim's partner. He belonged there. Just because his role had changed from observer to detective didn't mean he had changed. Just a few weeks ago he had fought with Jim for his right to take his share of the work as a detective. But you didn't earn the title. Blair mentally winced. He had worked hard for his degree, for his teaching position, and for his role as observer. But sometimes he felt like he had cheated getting his detective's badge. Especially when the guys at work told stories of their days as a beat cop. They had paid their dues. What had Blair done? He'd had an in with the boss. It was like being teacher's pet all over again. Jim's voice broke through his pity party.

"Sandburg?" His tone was soft with concern.

Cursing mentally, Blair summoned a reassuring smile for his friend. "Sorry, I got distracted. Where were we?"

"I was eating donuts."

"Right you were eating donuts and I was a wolf. I don't know why, but I wandered away. I came to this cottage. Only, when I went into the cottage, I was in the bullpen. Simon was there." He felt a silly grin creep over his face. "He was in a nightgown with this lace cap on his head and his reading glasses on."

Jim stopped writing. "You know, if Simon knew you dreamed about him in a nightgown, there could be serious repercussions." He leered playfully.

Blair knew blackmail when he heard it. "Jim, think about what you're saying. Do you really think Simon wants to know what I dream about?"

The leer faded away. "You're right."

"Of course I'm right." Blair continued with the rest of his dream. "Anyway, in my dream, Simon had this huge newspaper. He picked me up by the scruff of my neck and whacked me on my butt, yelling 'bad dog, bad dog'. I guess he got tired of me hitting on the waitresses whenever we go out to lunch." Blair nudged Jim. "Are you getting this down?"

The sound of scratching filled the air. "Yeah, yeah. Was there a table nearby?"

"A tab...?" Blair stopped. He almost fell for that old joke about him and table legs. "No, there wasn't a table. Come on, focus here, man. We're talking about my subconscious mind."

Jim shot him an ironic look. "It was your subconscious mind that put Simon in drag."

"Yeah, well, he had company." Ignoring the look his partner shot him, Blair hurried to finish his story. "Anyway, there was another wolf there, my spirit guide. I think he was laughing at me. After I escaped from Simon, I went in the forest again, looking for you. I heard you calling me and I woke up." He'd add the last part about his younger self later. He couldn't forget the words. Forget all that duty stuff. Just be you, man. Nothing's written in stone.

Finishing the entry with a flourish, Jim closed the journal and handed it to Blair. "Sandburg, is there anything you want to tell me?"

The book felt heavy in his hand. There were a thousand things he wanted to tell Jim. How he had felt when they were up in the mountains and Jim was out of his mind with fever. All because he had failed his Sentinel. He had brought him out into the middle of nowhere to help him. Only it had almost killed him. How do you say you're sorry for screwing up so bad? He could hardly stand to think about it. Until he could, he couldn't talk about it. "Tell you? No, I don't think so. How are your senses doing this morning? You hardly got any rest."

"I rested better down here where I could keep an eye on you. I'll catch up on my sleep tomorrow night, okay?" He stood up, stretching to his full height. "I'm going to head down to the market. Do you want anything?"

You healthy and strong. The dark shadows underneath Jim's eyes worried him. The poison from the spider bite was gone, but the effects lingered. "Nothing for me. You should get some fresh OJ for yourself."

"Yes, Mother Goose." Jim escaped out the door before Blair could do anything but laugh.


In the small operations room, Charlene sat in the comfortable swivel chair in front of the monitor connecting her with officers patrolling the city. So far she had directed two domestic violence calls, a false alarm at Uptown Jewelry Store, the third one that week, and a missing chicken report. Where do the weirdoes live? Not here in Cascade. Noooo. The regular line rang. Adjusting her headset, she hit the answer release button.

"Cascade Police Department. How may I direct your call?"

A lightly accented male voice answered her. "May I speak with Blair Sandburg?"

"Detective Sandburg? Please hold." She rang his extension. After five rings, it kicked over to his voicemail. Touching the transfer button again, releasing her from his extension, she returned to the caller. "I'm sorry, he's not in right now, would you like to be connected to his voicemail?"

"No, no thank you. I'll catch up to him later." The line disconnected.

Frowning, Charlene hung up. "That's so weird."

Bob, the other dispatcher, entered the room. "What's weird?"

"Blair Sandburg got a caller."

"That's not weird."

"Yeah, but it was a guy."

"That's weird. Did he leave a message?"

"No." A phone rang, ending the conversation.


Jim felt like a shepherd with one very grumpy lamb as he herded Blair to the bullpen. Blair had found out how awkward it was using his left hand instead of his right. He'd spilled his coffee all over the counter and Jim had to cut his pancakes for him. By the time they had arrived at the emergency room for Blair's rabies shot, his good mood had been thoroughly spoiled. The shot in his arm hadn't helped. On the up side, it looked like Sandburg was wearing down Maria Cabanero, whom he'd been asking out for the past couple of months without success. When she heard that Blair had refused to shoot the dog, she actually came over and said hi. Score one for the home team.

A chorus of howls greeted them when they entered the bullpen. Hung above Blair's desk was a long string of garlic and a picture of the moon crossed out. A cute stuffed wolf wearing a pair of glasses resembling Blair's reading glasses sat on the corner of his desk next to a tall green plant with purple flowers. A large dog's collar with inch long spikes leaned up against his computer along with a plastic scoop and a large box of ziploc bags. Sitting in his chair was a ten-pound bag of Puppy Chow with a red ribbon tied around it. A basket of various sized doggy bones and bags of gourmet doggy biscuits rounded out the offering.

Sneaking a glance at Blair, Jim caught the stunned expression on his face, tinged with annoyance. He whispered out of the side of his mouth. "Laugh, Sandburg."

"What?"

"Laugh. Otherwise, the practical jokes get worse."

A noise somewhere between the squeaking of a rusty door and the squawk of an injured pigeon escaped his lips. Jim rolled his eyes. "That's a laugh?"

Blair shrugged. "I'm not really good at being spontaneous on demand."

"I don't know. I seem to remember a tape of you and Connor. Arrrrrroooorr," Jim crooned.

Sandburg's face turned red. His mouth dropped opened and a real laugh slipped out. Jim grinned, relieved that his friend's bad mood was over. Still laughing, Sandburg waved his hands in the air. The howling stopped. "Thank you, thank you all for your gifts. I appreciate the care and thought that went into them. And I'm sure the K-9 department will appreciate them, too." There was a chorus of boos. Blair waved his hands again, silencing them. "I'm donating the garlic to Brown, since I know how much he likes it." There was a pained look on Rafe's face at this comment. Brown loved garlic, much to the dismay of his partner, who hated it with a passion. "The collar, however, goes to 'Bulldog' James Ellison!" A chorus of cheers greeted this proclamation.

In a much better mood, Sandburg bowed and walked to his desk, followed by a bemused Jim. Blair started to clear off his desk, awkward with one hand. Jim reached for the plant, only to have his hands knocked away by Blair's good one. "Jim, don't touch that. It's extremely poisonous, especially for you. All of it, so don't touch. You're just getting over that spider bite." Blair carefully picked it up and set it on the floor away from Jim's desk.

Jim craned his neck, trying to get a better look. "What is it?"

"Its common name is monkshood, but it's also known as wolfsbane. It's poisonous as hell. I wonder what idiot bought it?"

Megan came up behind them. "Hey Sandy. I hope you like the plant. I had a hard time finding it."

Jim snickered as his partner backtracked. "It's nice, thanks. You didn't have to, though."

"No problem. I think I may have a lead on your robbery case." She handed Jim a printout. "I cross-referenced robberies with the MO and reports from Animal Control in different cities and came up with this. There were three break-ins with the same MO. In two of the cases, there were reports of a large black dog running loose on the same night. It looks like he may use the dog as a lookout."

Blair rubbed his arm. "Not exactly a low-profile lookout."

"Yes, well, the dog seems pretty efficient. He took you out, didn't he?"

Blair gave her a sour grimace. "It wasn't a dog, it was a wolf. And there wasn't much I could do. He took me by surprise. There aren't a lot of wolves running around Cascade."

Trying to head off a fight, Jim cleared his throat. "It says here the only things taken were Russian jewelry. Do we know if there's any connection between the pieces taken?"

The Australian detective was all business again. "I've done some research, but I haven't come up with anything yet. I talked to the antiques store owner and he says he did get a shipment of jewelry a month ago from an estate sale. He hasn't had time to catalog it yet. He's going to send a list over as soon as possible."

Jim handed the list back to Connor. "Great job. You keep digging. Sandburg and I are going to finish up some paperwork before going back to the crime scene. We may have missed something last night. " As Connor walked away, the memory of lights flashing and the scent of blood flashed in his mind. Clamping down on his emotions, he sat down at his desk and start to read through his daily email. Sandburg was okay, that was all that mattered.


Leaning back in his chair, Simon rolled a cigar between his fingers, relishing the crinkle of tobacco leaves. Sighing over the rich, addictive aroma of freshly crushed tobacco, he contemplated lighting it up, despite the no smoking rules. He could use the narcotic rush of nicotine. Remembering the warnings of his doctor at his last physical, he regretfully put the stogie away in the humidor sitting on his desk, promising himself a smoke later in the day.

He reached for the monthly reports, and let his hands drop. He wasn't ready to go through the bureaucratic grind for the morning. As he swiveled around in his chair, a dark, curly head caught his eye. Deciding to check up on the kid, he let himself out of his office. He tried to think of the right tack to take as he casually walked to Sandburg's desk. Jim's desk was empty, his and Blair's coffee cups conspicuously absent from their desks.

A pair of dark blue eyes lifted to meet his. For a second, Simon was caught by the candid gaze. In their blue depths he saw pain, exhaustion, and guilt. What the hell? The expression was replaced with a welcoming smile so quickly that he questioned whether he had really seen what he thought he saw. The kid's still not stressing over that spider bite, is he?

"Hey Simon, what can we do you for?"

Thrown off balance, Simon looked around for something to say. His eyes fell on the plush toy sitting in a prominent place on the cluttered desk. He picked it up, the soft fur caressing his fingers. The end of the wire glasses caught his knuckle, abrading the rough skin. He continued to stroke the striped fur, studying the animal. Something was off. "This wolf isn't black."

Sandburg took the animal from him. "No, he isn't. He's the right color. Jim's is black."

Simon blinked, confused. "Jim is black?"

Sandburg looked at him as if he were slow. "No, Jim's spirit guide is black. Mine is gray." He put the stuffed toy back on the desk with a sigh. "You don't want to hear about spirit guides. What do you want?"

"What is wrong with you, Sandburg?"

Fiddling with his mouse, the younger man avoided his gaze. "What do you mean?"

"You seem off today. You're not still feeling guilty over that spider bite, are you? Dr. Bonner said the diagnosis was very tricky. If you hadn't pushed through all that red tape, Jim probably wouldn't have survived."

Sandburg rolled his eyes. "Simon, I know that. It still pisses me off that ER doctor wasted all that time while Jim could have been getting treatment for what was really wrong with him. I know the difference between exposure and dehydration and when someone is really ill." With a lightning switch in mood, Sandburg went from angry to anxious. "You did put a copy of those papers in your office safe, didn't you? Just in case we have to deal with the same situation in the future?"

Simon nodded. "Yes, Sandburg. Along with the list of Jim's allergies and reactions to certain drugs. I made sure that Connor, Brown, Joel and Rafe know they're there too."

"I don't know, Simon. Look what Connor brought in." Blair hefted the plant sitting behind his desk.

He duly admired the plant. "That's a nice looking plant. What is it?"

"It's poisonous, that's what it is!! How am I supposed to protect Jim when you guys do your level best to poison him!" His voice began to rise.

"Sandburg, in my office, right now!" Simon barked. This was a conversation that was best conducted behind closed doors.

After he closed the door and shut the blinds, he turned to Sandburg. "One more time: Who is trying to poison Jim?"

Sandburg slumped on the couch, his face pale. "Well, I don't think she tried to poison Jim, but the result would have been the same. You guys just don't think! You like to take advantage of Jim's senses, but when it comes to protecting him from them, you act like he's made of stone. He's not! You don't understand what it's like, watching what he eats, what chemicals he can absorb through his skin, what he breathes! Even the water he drinks can be contaminated with minute traces of substances that normal people could metabolize, but that could have disastrous effects on Jim's system."

Simon sat down on the edge of his desk, his arms crossed. "Are you done?"

"Yeah. I guess so."

"Fine. First of all, I want you to know you're not alone in protecting Jim. When Jim complained of headaches, Rafe changed the aftershave he wore. Connor handled all the drugs on the case she and Jim worked on when you were in the academy. Brown even checked with Jim before he brought in a dish his wife had cooked for the department. We all make attempts to accommodate Jim's status as a Sentinel while maintaining the secrecy necessary. But we can't keep a list of toxic substances in our heads like you do. There will be times when we'll make a mistake, like Connor did. All we can do is try. Is that enough for you?"

Sandburg didn't answer right away, his good hand massaging his shoulder as he thought over Simon's words. "You're trying. That's all I can ask."

Simon grunted an agreement. "Now, did you tell Connor the plant she got you was poisonous?"

"No."

Simon raised his eyebrows, infusing his words with stern amusement. "Do you think it might help if you did?"

Blair wouldn't meet his eyes. "Well, yeah. Okay, so I overreacted. I'll talk to Connor." He stood up. "Was that all, sir?"

"No, I want you and Jim to relax this weekend. I know you wanted to take a few days off for a camping trip, but it's Halloween when the weirdoes come out. If you could stay in town, I'll make sure you two get four days off next weekend."

Blair nodded. "We wanted to be here for the party on Sunday. Do you know anything good to do?"

Simon grabbed the Entertainment section of the newspaper off his desk. "Here, try this. I hear it's the latest thing in communication. It's called a newspaper."

"Oh, yeah. I've heard of this thing. It has all sorts of interesting stuff in here. Haunted houses, cruises of the bay, a carnival..." He stopped in mid-sentence. "This carnival. I know this carnival. I can't believe it." His voice vibrated with excitement.

"Sandburg, what are you talking about?"

"The Stefenoff Carnival! Oh man, Simon. Mom and I traveled with the Stefenoff carnival the summer before I went to college. It was great. The people were great. I can't believe they're here. I have to, I mean, we have to go visit them! You have to come with us, Simon. I can introduce you guys to some of the coolest people on earth. They're like nobody you've ever met before."

Simon grasped his shoulder. "Breathe, Sandburg. You have to breathe."

"I am breathing. Do you have time tonight?"

"Well, yes, I have to get this paperwork done in time for the weekend, but --"

"Great. Jim and I can wrap it up here, cruise the crime scene and meet you at the fair grounds around seven. How does that sound?" His good hand was drumming on the desk. Simon got the feeling that if he let him go, Sandburg would be bouncing off the walls. I never thought I'd be so happy to see that bounce again.

"Yeah, that would be fine, Sandburg. But don't rush the crime scene. We still don't have any leads on that B&E."

Blair coughed lightly. "Connor found a connection with a string of thefts involving some Russian jewelry in different cities. She's following up on that angle. Jim and I are going to follow up with the owner of the store. He thinks he may have some Russian jewelry in stock."

"Sounds good. How will I find you at the fair grounds?"

Blue eyes looked at him as if he were a couple bricks shy of a full load. Simon silently reviewed what he had said. "Oh, yeah. I guess Jim will find me. I'll see you at the fair grounds at seven."

Hearing the unspoken dismissal, Blair gathered up the newspaper and left. Simon closed the glass door softly, lingering for a moment. Jim had come back from his errand. He watched as the two detectives settled down to finish their paperwork. Sandburg pulled his chair behind Jim's and began reading the report on his screen. He pointed to a section, obviously disagreeing with what was written there. Jim shot him a tolerant look and changed something on the report. Simon let the normalcy sink in. The calm before the storm. He chuckled. How much trouble could they get into at a carnival?


It's amazing how different everything looks in the daylight. Jim thought. Pulling the truck into the same space they had used not twenty-four hours before, he couldn't shake the uneasiness nibbling at the back of his mind. The shadows that had wrapped the red brick building were gone and last night's empty streets were filled with today's rush hour traffic. Waiting for a car to pass, Jim jingled the keys in his hand. He hadn't thought coming back here would be so stressful. After all, Blair was okay. As he joined his partner on the sidewalk, he amended the thought: Mostly okay. The normally tanned skin was pale, fine lines radiating from the corners of his eyes and mouth showing the strain it had been to come into work that morning. Jim resolved that after they finished at the scene, Blair was going home for some rest before going to the fair grounds. Jim would rather they just stay home, but the excitement in Blair's eyes when he blurted out to Jim about the Stefenoff Carnival had told him that was not an option. For a second, a flash of jealousy hit him, taking his breath away. He knew Sandburg had a life before he met him, but there was something in his friend's eyes when he talked about the Stefenoff Carnival. He wondered if the wanderlust that had marked the first half of Blair's life might not be making a comeback. He became aware that Sandburg was talking.

"... and then the purple dragon said to the fuchsia tiger, 'I'll huff and puff, but I won't inhale.'" He puffed out his cheeks, looking like, of all things, a demented chipmunk.

"Sandburg!" The name was half protest, half laughter.

"Ellison!" his partner echoed. The dark blue eyes twinkled. "Glad to see you're back in the land of the living. I almost thought you were in a zone-out. Except that you don't really walk all that well in a zone-out. Speaking of walking, where are we going?"

Jim stopped and looked around. The truck was sitting a good five blocks behind them, near the antique store. He felt the heat rise in his face. "Uh, this way. I just wanted to stretch my legs a little." He started back toward the store.

"Uh-huh. You know, it wasn't your fault."

Blair's words stopped him again. "What?"

"What happened last night. It wasn't your fault. That's what you were thinking of, right?" He had that earnest look on his face. Jim wondered what his reaction would be if he told him what he had really been thinking. After all this time, the fear that Blair might leave him still lurked in his soul. All Blair could think about was easing his guilt. He started to walk again.

Blair continued. "Because, you know, I chose to go into that alley. I could have easily been bitten in the park or on a bus or something. Sometimes things just happen. I don't want you to go guilt-tripping every time I get a hangnail."

That got his attention. "Sandburg, let's get things straight. Number one, I do not go 'guilt-tripping' every time you get a hangnail. Number two, things do not just happen. They happen to you. It's not an easy thing, you know, having a partner who's trouble-prone."

"Not an easy thing! Trouble-prone! Jim, every time you walk out of my sight, I worry. Every time you eat something new, or get into a new situation, I worry. Every time the bullets start flying, or some nut decides to rig a bomb, I worry. Don't you start lecturing me on trouble-prone partners! You're not exactly low maintenance yourself!" Each sentence was accompanied by a push from Sandburg's good hand.

Jim grabbed the pushy hand, holding it away from him. Blair's face was flushed with anger. What does he have to be angry about? I'm not the one who almost got himself killed. "Fine, I won't. But don't tell me what to feel. I'll worry about you when I want to worry wherever I want to worry." Dropping the hand, he turned away and walked briskly toward the store.

By the time Sandburg caught up with him, he had almost reached the recessed entryway. The hitch in his partner's step reminded Jim how banged up he was. Great, job, Ellison. I'm sure he really wants to stick around now. He slowed his pace, and they entered the building together.

It was like stepping back in time. The smell of lemon oil and beeswax filled the air. Tall, graceful cabinets stood side by side with low, elegant tables. Hanging on the walls were pictures of hunting scenes interspersed with gilt-framed mirrors. To one side of the door stood a plaster statue of a hound dressed as a butler, solemnly holding out a silver tray. On the tray was a little rosewood box of business cards. Jim picked one up. "LaFette's Antiques." Turning to show it to Sandburg, he discovered that Blair had already wandered away, poking his nose into drawers and opening cabinet doors.

Shrugging, Jim started walking to the back of the building. He paused at a tall cabinet. Placing one hand on the door, he absently rubbed the carved roses twining their way towards the floor as he tried to place where he had heard the intruder. Slowly walking around the cabinet, he was confronted again with the tall mirror. The edges of the mirror were cloudy, but the middle was still clear, reflecting his image. For a second, Jim flashed back to the previous night. The footsteps had sounded like they came from behind him and to his right. Again, he heard them running to the back, the door opening with a slam and then the ghostly sound of a gunshot. He flinched. Sensory memory is a bitch. A movement in the mirror caught his eye. Whirling around, he watched as a tall, gaunt man approached him. He was dressed formally in a dark suit and tie, his silver hair carefully combed over a small bald spot. The beginnings of a soft jawline and wrinkled skin put him somewhere in his late fifties. He reminded Jim of the statue at the door. I wonder if it was someone's idea of a joke.

Sandburg appeared at his elbow just as the man reached him. "Can I help you gentlemen?" His voice was surprisingly deep, with a light English accent.

Jim pulled out his ID, flipping it open. "Mr. LaFette? I'm Detective Ellison. This is my partner, Detective Sandburg. We're here to talk to you about the break-in last night."

A flicker of distress crossed the composed features. "Yes, quite. Would you like something to drink? Tea, coffee?" He waved to an area off to the side where a silver tea set was displayed. Two burgundy, high-backed chairs stood across from a gold fainting couch.

Before Jim could decline, Sandburg opened his mouth. "Yes, if you don't mind. Do you have any Earl Grey?"

"Of course." He glided across the floor silently.

Jim grabbed Sandburg's arm. "What are you doing?"

He looked back in surprise. "Jim, haven't you ever wanted to be served tea by Alfred?"

"Alfred?"

"Alfred Pennyworth. Batman? You know, nahna nahna nahna nahna, Bat Man! Come on. You can see the resemblance." He took Jim's agreement as given and followed the stately storeowner. Jim shook his head. He was having a hard time keeping up with Blair's mood swings.

Joining them in the sitting area, he watched LaFette go through the tea ritual. Finally, Blair held a delicate white teacup in one hand, his pinky proudly waving in the air.

Jim sighed. This was going to be a long interview.


Simon looked around the fair grounds. All around him was a seething mass of humanity determined to eat as much sugar, fat and caffeine as possible, all the while waiting in line for rides that would change the force of gravity as they knew it, possibly resulting in emptying the contents of their stomachs even faster than their wallets. What a great place. He found a stand with a shiny pamphlet listing all the rides and shows the Stefenoff Carnival had to offer. A photocopied map of the carnival was included. Looking at the variety of entertainment offered, he wished Daryl was there to share in the fun.

"Simon!"

He looked up to see Jim and Blair zeroing in on him. They both looked more refreshed then they had that morning. He wondered if they had gotten a second wind.

"Sandburg. You're looking chipper."

Blair grimaced. "Jim made me take a nap. Which was great, because now I feel like going all night!"

Simon exchanged looks with Jim. "I hope you took a nap too, Ellison. Otherwise, this kid's going to walk us into the ground."

"Don't worry, sir. If he gets to be too much, we can always spike his soda. That's what I usually do."

"Works on Daryl too."

Blair rolled his eyes. "I am not hyper. I just have a fast metabolism." He grabbed a pamphlet from the stand and opened it. "Oh, cool, they've added all these rides and stuff since I was here. Come on, this way." Paging through the list of rides, Blair led the way through the maze of tents and wooden stands with confidence, talking a mile a minute.

"There's a booth I used to work. The guess your age or weight. It was really good practice for being a detective, eh, Jim?" He walked up to the hawker. "Hey, Spoker. How's it hanging?"

The short, stocky man turned towards the voice. His wrinkled face brightened. "Sandman!!" He reached out and pulled Blair into a hug. "I can't believe it's you. Your hair's so long! Have you seen her yet?"

Blair didn't seem to have any problem deciphering the cryptic questions. He hugged the old man back. "No, I haven't. I just got here. Who's here besides her?"

"Well, Madame M., of course. Lenny's here and Titus. Mr. S. retired a couple of years ago. His son now runs the place. Laura died a couple of years ago. Heart failure. Other than that, we pretty much have the same players. A couple of new faces here and there. I can't believe you're back!" The old man kept touching him as if to make sure he was real, hugging him and patting his back.

Jim had to restrain the urge to take the old hawker's hands off his partner. He cleared his throat loudly.

Sandburg jumped, as if he had just remembered he was here with a group. "Hey, Spoker, I want you to meet some people. Spoker, this is my boss, Simon Banks, and this is Jim Ellison."

Spoker shook their hands. "Nice to meet you. Any friend of Sandman's is a friend of mine. Hey, Sandy, why don't you come over for breakfast tomorrow morning? Everyone's working right now, but they should all be there bright and early."

"Is Big Red still cooking her famous apple cinnamon pancakes?"

"You betcha. I'll let her know you're coming."

"Great!" A young couple came up to the booth, a big blue bear tucked underneath the man's muscular arm. Sandburg moved back. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Fine. See you then." He greeted his new customers enthusiastically. "Welcome, welcome, step right up..."

Blair shepherded his group away. "Okay, what do you guys want to try first, the games or the rides?"

Jim and Simon looked at each other and then Blair. Jim waved his arm. "It's your night. What do you want to do?"

Blair pointed to a tall structure with a basket on the end of a long metal arm and a counter weight on the other. "How 'bout the Kamikaze? It's a really killer ride. Of course, it may be too wild for you old folk." He grinned at Jim and Simon.

Simon growled and swatted at him, but Blair ducked and his fingers only brushed the soft curls. "Too old. I'll show you who's too old!"

They laughed and moved off towards the mechanical monster, Blair in between the other men, chattering about the different rides at the Stefenoff Carnival


Blair waited for his chance, and slipped away while Jim and Simon were competing in a water gun contest. Weaving his way through the tents, he made a quick stop at Spoker's stand before heading off the beaten path. As he picked his way through the shadowy maze created by the backs of tents and stands, he felt his heart beat faster. Would she see him? More than ten years had passed since he left for college. His pace slowed to a crawl as he left the tents and entered the trailer park that made up the living quarters of the moving city. The screams of delight from carnival goers and loud mechanical music were muted here.

Looking up, he saw the full moon framed by clouds scooting across the sky. For the first time, he noticed the crisp, cool air. The scent of popcorn and cotton candy carried by an easy breeze teased his nose, taking him back ten years, to a time when he had been young and wild. Hell, who am I kidding? Mom and I may have had an unusual life, but ten years ago I was a skinny white kid with more brains than style. If my nose wasn't in a book, I was hanging out with people twenty years my senior talking about the wild times they'd had. Running away to the Show had changed that. Here, there were people his age, doing things no normal person in his right mind would think about doing. Here, he wasn't a weirdo with long curls and a gawky body. Well, he had long curls until the fire incident. He ran his hand through his hair, remembering the feel of short whorls tickling his hand. The curls had grown back, but his experiences with the carnival had stayed with him. He had never told Jim, but when he had initially met him, he had been reminded of the big cats the carnival kept: The wild look in his eye, the barely controlled violence in his movements. He had used the advice of a trainer. Never show fear, stay calm and stay in charge of the situation. His grin on his face faded. More and more recently, there were times when it felt like the control was slipping away.

As he approached the trailer, a growl came from the shadows. A feeling of deja vu hit him when a dark form moved out into the moonlight.

Continue on to Act II...


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