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I've done fic with this general theme before, but I'm telling you now, this one's strange, even for me. I am not responsible for any of the ideas contained within; blame my twisted brain. To top matters off it's an x-over—with what? I'm not admitting...you've almost definitely heard of it, but unless you're familiar with it you probably won't get this, and even if you do watch it this quite likely won't make sense anyway. I took my favorite aspect of that show and twisted it into...this. Enjoy!
"No!" He saw the man raise the gun, he saw the flash of smoke at the muzzle.
He saw his partner fall before he heard the gunshot, and dashed to his side before it registered that to do so would put his own life in danger. Behind him Simon roared, "No! Get back!" and there were more shots fired, some behind him, some in front. Sudden pressure burning in his chest, and he staggered, fought to keep upright until he made it to his partner's bloody body. He tried to kneel, fell instead, but with one hand he reached out and grabbed the other's wrist. Felt frantically for the pulse that should be there, was it was it was it—
Everything, the pain, the shouting, even the warmth of the skin beneath his fingertips, faded before he found that necessary rhythm.
Inexplicably they were standing next to one another, shoulder to shoulder, no sign of the warehouse the terrorists had nested in. No sign of the terrorists themselves with their demands and their threats and their extravagant arsenal. For that matter there didn't even seem to be ground beneath their feet; all was obscured by the thick haze. He barely could make out the man by him, but he knew who it was, who it had to be. Just to be sure..."That you?"
"Yes." Of course. As they both had known. "Where—"
"Haven't the foggiest." After glancing around, "If you'll pardon the expression..."
"What—did what I think just happened just happen?" Much suspicion, exaggerated to hide the worry.
He took a couple of seconds to untangle the sentence before replying, "Uh, maybe? What do you think..." Do I really want to know?
Unspoken words came across as clearly as those verbalized, even through the mist. "I guess we don't need to know for the moment. We have to figure out what's going on—"
"And how to get out of it."
They both whirled around. That voice hadn't been either of theirs.
"That would be my objective, at least," continued the speaker. If they squinted perhaps they could make him out, a shadowy figure somewhere close in front of them.
"Of course," murmured a different, calmer tone. "Escape without understanding—"
"Pah! I'd sooner save my skin and then understand what was threatening it, rather than realizing what was about to eat me just as its jaws closed." A slight pause. "I suppose that applies to times when I have a skin to save, of course."
"If you run immediately, without so much as looking over your shoulder, you might never learn what you were running from," replied the other. "If you look your enemy in the eye—"
"You give him a very good target to aim for."
"Or you may find that he is not in truth your enemy—"
"A true shame, if you discover this after he has slain you."
"It would be truly interesting for you to let me finish a single sentence," retorted the newcomer, exasperation disrupting his tranquillity. If they peered closely they could make out his silhouette as well, though the features of both men were impossible to discern.
Before the other stranger could come up with an appropriate rejoinder he lost it, "Okay, who are you? What the hell do you want?"
"Why are you here?" his partner added.
"Do you have anything worth—" the second stranger said, and then cut off abruptly with a cough, rather as if he had been elbowed in the ribs. In an undertone he murmured to his companion, "That is what we are to ask them, after all."
"Mm, we can find a more original way to go about it, though, yes?" the other hissed back.
"Do you have any ideas?"
"Since you mentioned it..." He stepped closer, though his form remained obscured. "Greetings, Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg. We have come to offer you a proposition, since you happened into circumstances uniquely befitting such an offer—"
"How do you know us? What are you doing here?" he snapped, forcing himself not to retreat from the vague figure.
"What offer?" his partner inquired, in quieter but no less insistent tones. Too easy to imagine what beings such as these might be bargaining for. He had a vague idea what could be going on and steeled himself to accept it before his friend caught on. If one of them had to go, well, Cascade needed a Sentinel more than a pre-doctoral anthropologist...
His plans were dispersed by the immediate explanation. "You are both in a moment between life and death," the second stranger said. "Dying but not about to die, touching the afterlife but not yet entering it."
"Wait..." He understood. "Don't we have to choose, isn't that how these near-death experiences usually—"
"Yes, yes," declared the first, "but we already know how both of you will choose as far as that goes, hmm? So there isn't much point in—"
"You both will be revived," assured the other, seeming to take some pleasure in interrupting his companion. "There will be pain, and a period of physical healing—"
"But that is what life's about anyway, is it not," murmured the first stranger, "pain, a little healing, and then more pain—"
"Since we completed our last existence you have had a singularly depressing view of life."
"Almost match for you, as you have always had a singular view of everything."
Surprisingly the second man seemed to take no offense at either the barbed comment or the surly tone. Instead his reply was calm, a gentleness surprising in the dark voice, "So I have, and the latest experiences only strengthened it. But you...I wonder if you have retained too much of that existence here and now."
"It was a very long life, but it is over now, yes? And we have a duty here," he reminded the other with irritation.
"What duty?" the detective demanded, in a manner the most hardened of criminals cowered under.
Of course these two were not nearly as impressed. "We're getting to that," the first speaker said. "Do not worry, we have much time. Plenty of time. As much time as we require. Where were we? Ah, yes, the decision...you must use this time to consider carefully, both of you. You may not have this opportunity again."
"And what, precisely, are we considering?" the Guide inquired softly.
"Your future relationship," the other stranger informed them both. "Specifically, you must decide whether you would like to be soulmates."
They looked at each other. Even through the fog they could make out the expressions mirrored in the other's gaze. Confusion, amusement, worry, more confusion... "What?" they asked as one.
"Soulmates," the first repeated. "You have the word, yes, it is English?" With a doubtful glance at his companion, "English is the proper language here? We are speaking correctly for this place and time?"
"Yes, I checked," the other murmured back. "Obviously it is; they haven't had difficulties understanding us, have they?"
"Of course, I knew that, I did not need to be told that. It never hurts to be cautious."
"We know the word soulmates," the scholar told them. "Sort of, at least, I'm just wondering if it means the same thing to you. I mean, are we talking about Hollywood true love? Are you telling us that we've been reincarnated into the real-life remake of Dead Again and we're supposed to be married or something—"
At least he managed to spread the confusion to all sides. The response was rather long in coming and hesitant when it did, "I do not think so, are you possibly thinking of a different word..."
"No, no," he was cut off, "I think—yes, I do remember this. On the station, you recall that Mr. Gar—never mind," the second man broke away from his own reminisces, "but I have seen some of the examples you refer to, and yes, it is related, though that concept has been so altered it might be a different thing. Soulmates are not determined by the universe or fate or another random aspect of predestination; they are created by the decision of two souls to bond."
"Not that the universe doesn't play its own role—"
"Later," he hushed his companion, "first they must understand." Again addressing them, "This is not 'true love' or whatever you call it, though love is an element...is the element. Gender, sex, has little to do with it—"
"Tell them that," muttered the other, though for all his tone he didn't sound especially upset. "I thought my people understood the sensual pleasures, but some of her ceremonies...and she enjoyed them every bit as much as he did."
Clearly the second man knew exactly what he meant, but chose to ignore it, other than to comment, "They are not 'your people' anymore."
In turn the first stranger ignored the reminder, "Of course you know more about that than me; after all, I did not have my eye so conveniently placed—"
"You were talking about soulmates?" he prodded, realizing that the only way he and his partner were going to get answers would be to directly elicit them. "So it's not true love and it's not predestined; then what—"
"It is a decision. Made once and never broken, not without such difficulties...almost never."
"A choice for an eternity," whispered the first, and there was no jest in his tone now.
"But what does it mean?" He glanced at his partner, wondering. Thinking that perhaps deep inside he had thought the choice already made. Friends, surviving together through anything and everything, until death do us part...only it sounded like that wasn't it. Not by a long shot. He dared not believe it possible, "Why?"
"Why us?" Too vague and he wasn't sure he wanted the answer. "Why anyone, I mean? Why does anyone choose it, and why are we—they—offered the choice?"
"Because you are selected," in answer to the latter question.
"As to why one would agree..." The second stranger paused only briefly. "There is so much life on this world alone. Have you ever thought how much there is in the universe entire? How many trillions of souls are out there in the void—lives are short, here and gone, but the souls are far greater. All of us are.
"When you leave a life, you return to that greatness with all the rest. You may live again—you will live again—but it will be a different life, a different being, perhaps a different world. The chances of ever finding someone encountered before...when you depart life, you leave those you met, befriended and hated and loved, to begin anew."
He looked behind him into the clouded infinity of mist. Then to his side, the man he knew so well after only a few years, his partner. Only a few years, and a scant lifetime ahead of them, and then to never see him again, talk to him again, never tease and laugh and support and be with him again—his breath caught in his throat. He forced himself to exhale calmly; this was ridiculous, a lifetime was all anyone ever got, and it was enough. He was hardly old enough to be contemplating his deathbed, let alone that of his friend. Though here in the fog there was little else to reflect on.
"Then what is a soulmate?" asked his partner, hushed. "What's the point, if you'll just lose them anyway?"
"Because you won't," came the reply. "Once you are bonded...you can always find them. They can always find you. No matter how distant you are in life, in death—your souls are mated, do you understand? You are never alone."
"It can be a terrible thing," added the other. "It can be a wonderful thing. There is nowhere you can hide, nowhere you can be taken that they cannot reach you, will not reach you. They will forever be by your side. As you will forever be by theirs."
What else would he have ever wished for..."That's what it is? You choose to...connect like that?"
"You both choose. And if you have been offered the chance, then the universe permits the bond."
"But there is more," warned the other. "Because...because of this allowance, there is a price. It is a rare thing, soulmates. Few are given the opportunity, and fewer still take it. But we—they are valuable. They can accomplish together what one cannot; tasks too great for a single person can be completed with the strength of two. An individual without that support would falter."
"And even with it, it is rarely easy." The second man spoke clearly, but he almost seemed to be directing his words at his companion and not the two partners. "Understand, what you experience now in this life, it will grow. But if you make this decision then it will not always be this way.
"You will always be related. Fate binds only lives; destiny is further reaching. But the shape of this relation...sometimes you will be friends, companions, yes. Partners again, as you are now. But other times it will be subtler. One of you will be the catalyst for the other to achieve greatness, or the instrument of your downfall. You may only encounter each other once in life, though that touch will alter both of your paths for that entire span. Perhaps you will be nothing more than passing acquaintances for several existences."
"You may be enemies," said the first man.
"Yes," continued the other quietly. "Or less. Or more. Whatever is required. Sometimes you may save the other's life."
"Or you may destroy him."
"You may bring them what they seek, or what they need."
"And they may bring you the necessary end, when a life has lasted too long." His tone so quiet and yet cold. As if the examples were not general but personal, the pain specific to his very self.
He understood the mysteries behind their speeches then, glanced from one obscured being to the other. "That's you two. You're soulmates, just like you're describing, that's how you know all this."
No delay in their response. "Yes, though whatever possessed me to choose him of all beings..."
"Oh, it was quite simple, because you never once suspected that I would go along with it—"
"I know, what possibly were you thinking?"
There was a slight pause, as though his tone had been amiss in what was obviously a well-rehearsed routine. Then the second man replied, "I know what my thoughts were, as I know them now." Through the fog he reached out, clasped the other's shoulder.
The figure pulled away as if he had been burned. "Do not touch me there!"
"I meant..." He trailed off uncertainly. "It does not matter now.
"For sixteen years," the first man murmured. "You cannot understand, for sixteen years, always I could feel it..." Shaking off the mood. "Of course, of course it does not matter now. Forgive me."
"There is nothing to forgive."
"Is this what you're doing now?" he wondered aloud in the silence that followed. "One of those tasks you mentioned, coming to us?"
He almost could feel their gaze turning back to him. A short laugh from the first stranger, harsh in its brevity, before he answered, "No, this is not a task, this is a gift, you might say."
"A reward," added his companion, "for a difficult duty only recently completed."
"You're on vacation?" The disbelief in his tone was almost comical.
"Of a sort...we ended our last existences at the same moment, and then we were requested to come for this and agreed. Because we were available, more or less..."
"What do you mean?"
"Time is not exactly as you might perceive it," remarked the first man, "I don't know myself how you're accustomed to viewing it, but I know that humans tend to be linear, and from your perspective we are, or rather were, from..."
"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," he couldn't help but mutter, and heard his partner stifle a chuckle.
The reply was straightforward, however, "Actually a fair amount of time ahead, and still in this galaxy."
"What's a fair amount?"
"A few centuries. Not so very much after all. The point is, this small duty is hardly an example of what you will be asked to face."
"Requested, yes," they were told. "It is always your own choice, what you do, how you manage it. Some paths are more fixed than others, but in the end your will is your own."
"And if you choose to do evil?"
"Then you sin." With the patience of a saint, but there was a tumult of emotions simmering just under that quiet tone. "You both sin. To be soulmates is to share the burden of good deeds and evil alike; thus neither advances ahead of the other."
"And if one falls, so does the other. That is the price of this agreement."
So they faced paradise or damnation together. That didn't sound so bad, considering the final word. This was too good to be true, it had to be..."What's the catch?" his partner demanded, a step or two ahead of him.
"There isn't a 'catch'. Only what we've told you. If you choose this, there will be times you will be comrades far greater than you are now. And other moments that you will hate each other and everything you stand for. And what you are asked to do will be too great a burden for one alone, and so you will support him, or he will sustain you...there will be no choice in the matter then." Again he looked to the other, as if reminding him of this agreement.
There was no response at first, then, voice low but building, "It is all true, believe it. You may live so that your only peace can be found here, and though this smoothes over much you cannot erase all that you live through; every life is your own, remember, every act your fate but also your choice, and you must exist under that burden always. You leave the corpse but the memory remains, every touch of that cold—"
"And if you were a little better a spirit you'd lose that shade of your last body," remarked the second man, sounding slightly peeved. "If we hadn't been summoned for this you'd probably still be standing in that throne room, a ghost, while your former people all departed—"
"I wanted to see how he would manage," murmured his companion, sounding chastened.
"It's no longer your concern. Go haunt a future historian if you must know. I'm certain he will attempt to live up to every one of your vices, difficult a feat as that might be. But you are past that, for the time being at least."
"I know," he sighed, "I know. Don't hold a little reminiscing against me—can you truly blame me? After all, six—"
"And the hair..."
"Don't tell me you miss—"
"You wouldn't understand! You have had none for a century!"
"And I've managed perfectly fine. Though I admit to have become somewhat partial to the spots...no matter. I left them far more willingly than you surrendered your absurd styling. I suppose I should be grateful that the ridiculous accent is almost gone—"
"Ridiculous! How dare you—"
"I never heard another speak with such quite bizarre timbre, what was it? Transylvanian meets the Irish brogue?"
"I'll have you know," the first man began icily.
Only to be interrupted by the other's laugh, a rich, sincere rumble. "If ever you lost your pride, then, then I would fear. Since your ego still swells at the slightest assault..."
There was a moment of silence, and he considered covering his ears to block the outburst that would surely follow such insult.
It never came. Instead there was a small chuckle, "Ah, I will remain the same if you do not change. I have missed this, you know. Those years were lonely."
"But necessary. We have shaped the future; we all played our roles. You acted...most nobly, in spite of everything."
"I performed my part; I would hardly call those actions 'noble'. Next time you can play the villain and I will be the enlightened one; while you run around knocking down anthills and trying to build them back up again, I'll give my wisdom to the generations."
"I shudder to imagine what wisdom you have to give. But it would be crueler to force another such role on you now, however aptly you carry them out. I will not stand for it any more than you. Let me shoulder the next burden—"
"If you're going to throw a martyr routine—"
"No, that was my last existence, remember?"
He had a sudden vision of he and his own partner, how far from now? How many years, how many centuries could pass, and they as well would master that utterly even give-and-take, teasing and prodding and yet supportive as the two here had described, were displaying. Apart neither could stand; together nothing could fell them.
And he would always be there. It might hurt—it would, from all they said. But it would be bearable; that was why soulmates were given such duties. Not as a test of their strengths but because it was known they could take it. He knew, he had known for some time how much stronger they were when together, their power far greater than the sum of their individual forces. Just the fact of always knowing his partner was at his back, no matter the storm or the danger—that was strength in itself. And in essence what they were offering: that knowledge always assured, for all they needed, for as long as time itself.
Yeah, he could handle whatever was thrown at him, if he could be certain of that.
Before he was aware of it he was speaking, "I'll take it. This soulmate deal you're offering, I'll take it, if he will." Only then dared he look at his partner.
Only to realize that his friend had opened his mouth at the same moment that he himself had begun talking, announcing his own decision in almost the same words.
"Good," they replied to both, for the first time speaking as one. He had the impression they all were grinning like he was at each other through the mist.
Glancing over, he saw his partner's—his soulmate's—form, details still obscured but there seemed to be a light around him, not the prevailing gray glow but a brighter illumination. A beacon, and he knew at that instant that no matter how distant it was, the other side of the room or the world or the universe, he would always see it, always be able to find that brilliance. Looking down he thought he saw a hint of a like halo around his own body, and nearly laughed at the strangeness of it all.
He still couldn't quite make out the other two beings, but they seemed now to have their own light, a different shade and dimmer, as if he was catching the merest glimpse of what they saw in one another. Not very distant at all, though; if he reached out his hand—
A tingle in his side, and then it sharpened and spread, pain burning through his body. If it hadn't been such an unexpected agony he would have cried out; after that interminable period feeling nothing at all, to return to the reality of long-term healing they had promised seemed more than he could stand. Then he realized he wouldn't be the only one drawn back to the realm of the living, looked over and saw his partner's light fading—
As was the glow of the two strangers. "Wait," he managed to call, "are we going to meet you again, will we ever—"
"Oh, most likely, most likely," the first man said, "we soulmates have a habit of running across one another."
"The greater callings," added his companion, "require multiple efforts, and there are not so many of us, after all. I anticipate working with you with great pleasure; what I have observed shows the making of an excellent team. I know you do not doubt one another, but never doubt yourself either, remember; you are both and equally a part of this—"
"Perhaps next time we can introduce you to others, there are some truly fascinating people out there. The two we mentioned before will be free sooner or later—he only has a few years left of our time; she will live on for more, but that will pass in a blink—"
"As if they care, there are so many more they could meet—"
"Yes, but they are our friends, and such intriguing people—"
"Good luck!" called the second being suddenly, and then everything, they, the mist, even their voices, was gone.
He didn't know what was more familiar, the crisp cool sheet covering him or the distinctive medicinal smell common to all hospitals, but he recognized his location all too well. Just cracking his eyelids hurt; it took almost more endurance than he had to roll his head and look to the bed beside him. His partner's vivid blue eyes, all the more striking against the grayness of his face, blinked back at him.
Working his jaw, he searched for and finally found the remnants of his voice, "Did...did you see..."
"I was there...with you," his friend gasped.
"And we...I agreed..."
"So did I," he confirmed.
Good. Though he couldn't say it aloud. If it had been real...of course it was probably all a dream, and when he was off the drugs and out of these bandages and back on the street he wouldn't remember any of it, that strange conversation, who were those lunatics, anyway? Had to be figments of his delirious mind; there wasn't a man on Earth like either of them.
He could hear the muted beeping of the instrumentation around them, and the more distant clatter of footsteps—someone had probably realized they were awake and was coming to verify, report the good news.
Both of them awake, he thought gratefully, looking over at the other bed. He was glad he didn't have to contemplate an alternative. "Guess this isn't it."
"You ain't...losing me that easily," wheezed back his friend.
No, not at all, not if what he had dreamed had any aspect of truth...Thank God. Or destiny. Or the universe at large. Though aloud he muttered, "What was I thinking..."
"You know...one of them...said the same thing," his partner remarked. A twinge of surprise, if they recalled not only the same place but the same words as well...but he was continuing, "He didn't sound...too convincing...and you know what? You sound...even less so."
"Give me time...to practice," and he grinned through the pain and exhaustion, saw the answering smile on his partner's face, brightening his drawn features like the sun burning through clouds. A star in his sky now and always. As much time as they needed to practice, though they'd never perfect it. You can never lie to a soulmate, not completely.
He wondered if that was one of the rules, or something special to he and his partner. Maybe he could ask when next they saw them, or inquire it of that other pair they had wanted to introduce.
Or maybe they could find out for themselves. There wasn't much that could kept from them, he suspected. Partners, and this was how it would remain, for as long as they needed. Throw whatever you want at us; we can catch it.
The best part wasn't knowing they could; he had understood that for a while now. The best part was knowing that everything else was aware of it, too.
Sentinel and Guide, locked together by fate, by necessity, and now by choice. Back to back and side by side; friends, partners, brothers, soulmates.
The universe itself couldn't stop them now.
well, I did warn you...anyone recognize the other pair?
BTW, the disclaimer: Sentinel & Guide belong to Pet Fly; the other two are the Great Maker's but I figured borrowing them for a couple seconds couldn't hurt...
Love to know what you think!
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