Title: Black and Blue
Fandoms: The Sentinel/Sandman
Author's Notes: Unbeta'd, so any mistakes are mine.
Black and Blue
He’s vividly aware of everything around him, the whip of vines and branches against his bare arms, the sudden, tiny dips and crests of the earth under his feet, the myriad scents that sketch out a picture of the world beyond its infinite shades of blue.
“Hey there. Aren’t you a handsome one?”
The voice is cheery, female, alien to this place, to his home. His gait changes, becomes slow and silent, as he approaches the small clearing it echoed from.
A patch of familiar midnight rests there: his jaguar, lolling majestically beneath the navy shadows of low branches.
The thing sitting next to the jaguar is utterly strange; pure white skin and rich satin black untouched by blue. It’s a girl, he thinks. Her luminous hand scratches comfortably behind the jaguar’s ears, and its purr shakes the air. Before he can decide what this means, or draw his bow to shoot his enemy down, she glances in his direction. “Hi, Jim.”
He hesitates with his hand on the bow. She just sits there, cross-legged on the jungle floor, pressed against the jaguar’s shoulder, bare white arm slung around its thick neck. He steps forward. Asks her the first thing that comes into his mind. “Who are you?”
She throws her head back in a peal of delighted laughter. Looks at him, head tilted to one side, and pats the jaguar’s head. “Isn’t that usually this guy’s question?”
He thinks she might be right, no matter how strange it is to think of the jaguar speaking.
“Who are you?” she asks mischievously, without waiting for an answer.
The question sparks shadows of memories, of himself, of her, of places not like this one. “Do I know you?”
She smiles again with lips painted black; they match the dark spiral at the corner of one eye, which is like no tribal marking he has ever seen. “It’s okay, I don’t expect you to remember. You’re awfully good at forgetting, Jim.”
“Enqueri,” he corrects her. “I am Enqueri.”
She buries her face against the jaguar’s fur in merriment. “I’m pretty sure it’s Jim, now. Enqueri would recognize me.”
He tries again, taking another few steps forward and dropping to one knee, coming closer to her level. A deep breath tells him nothing: she tastes prickly, sharp, like air after a lightening strike. “I don’t think you belong here. Why are you here?”
She turns to face him, serious now, legs still crossed and hands neatly folded in her lap. “I have to admit I’m visiting mostly for fun. My brothers told me about this little corner where their realms meet, and I wanted to check it out. I keep asking my sister if she knows this place, but it’s hard to get an answer out of her that doesn’t involve airborne fish and negative colors.”
“Your brothers?” It defies his imagination that this girl might be one of a family.
“Yes.” She studies him. “Dream and Destiny. I’ve been to many places like this, but never quite as interesting, and not for a very long time. You’re unusual, Jim.”
“Am I . . . dreaming?” He reaches out to touch her face, to see if she is as real as his eyesight tells him.
“Careful.” She holds up a hand to warn him off, though she’s still half-smiling. “Yes. And no.”
He stares at her, trying and trying to remember, and the fathomless dark of those eyes resolve into the darkness of another jungle night, the shadows of a house indoors, the inky black of heavily fluttering wings. He pulls his hand back sharply. “Why are you here? I’ve never seen you here.”
“I know,” she says gently. She holds out both hands, and he doesn’t take them, because he isn’t sure what those pale fingers would feel like. “I’m waiting for you to make up your mind. You’re halfway there already, but here? In this place? Don’t tell anyone, but . . . the choice is up to you.”
The jungle has gone silent at her pronouncement. The wind stills. Over her shoulder, the great cool eyes of his jaguar watch him in perfect calm.
He takes a ragged breath. A great weariness settles on his shoulders, and the blue around them darkens. “Halfway where?”
She rises to her feet. Looking down at him, she holds out her hands and says nothing.
He closes his eyes. There is nothing more he wants than to take those hands--he thinks now that they will be warm, and soft, and strong--to stop fearing, stop hunting, stop running.
Her voice is low, and he thinks that though she looks like a girl, she must be older than the stars. “It’s okay, Jim.”
The last word has an echo, and he strains after it.
Jim. Jim. Don’t you do this. Don’t you go.
He opens his eyes. She’s still waiting, hands outstretched. “I’m sorry,” he tells her, and means it from the bottom of his heart. “I can’t.”
He stands, pushing himself up against the weight that still rests on his shoulders. She gives him a cheeky grin, and blows a kiss with both hands. “Good choice,” she says, and winks. “See you later, Jim.” She reaches down to ruffle the jaguar’s fur again, turns on her heel, and is gone.
The blue darkens again, falling into midnight and deeper. The jaguar heaves to its feet and presses up against him; he finds himself bending, hands fisted in its warm fur for support, but even that can’t lighten the weight, and he drops to his knees, to the ground, into the dark.
He takes a ragged breath, of frigid, stinking air, and coughs.
“Jim! Oh my God, are you okay? I didn’t think you could hear me, I thought, oh man, I thought . . .”
No, Jim thinks. Even the air weighs a ton, and crap, if he tries to move, that hurts. And. . . . “Yes,” he manages, “heard you,” and takes another breath.
Comments and critiques welcome, as usual.