[Jenny Saypaw's TS Fanfic header]

Behind the Legend

May 25, 2000

Originally published in Past, Present and Future Sense from Blackfly Presses

DISCLAIMER : This story refers to characters and concepts from the television show "The Sentinel," which do no belong to me. /sigh/ No profit has been made from the writing of this story. It was created expressly for fans of "The Sentinel" who can't get enough romantic fanfic about Jim and Blair.

NOTE: This tale is a combination of similar legends recounted by Charles Hill-Tout in The Salish People (Vol. III: The Mainland Halkomelem) (Collected, 1936), pp. 5657, 63-66; by Dan Milo in Oliver Wells' Myths and Legends of South Western British Columbia: STAW-loh Indians (Sardis: 1970), p. 10; and by James A. Teit in Folk-Tales of Salishan and Sahaptin Tribes, Chapter VII, "Tales from the Lower Fraser River" (New York: The American Folk-Lore Society, 1917), pp. 132-133.

Blair Sandburg stopped the tape and sat back in his chair to think a moment before starting to write up the Stó:lo elder's tale. He was sure he'd never heard this particular Indian -- //Errr, First Nation,// he mentally corrected himself -- legend before, but there was something hauntingly familiar in the account, almost as if it were a story he'd known all his life but which he'd temporarily forgotten. Or, maybe it was a memory from a past reincarnation. His mother Naomi insisted that she had been able to relive several past lives during her meditations. So it wasn't too much of a stretch to think that he too had experienced a number of previous lifetimes.

However, that was private speculation, not something to put in the notes for his dissertation. He knew he'd have difficulty as it was to convince his committee members that this myth was based on an actual historical incident, one that had twisted and changed with the passage of time as the tale was passed from generation to generation by oral tradition.

Taking a deep breath, he placed his hands on the keyboard of his laptop and began to type.

Since time immemorial, the Stó:lo people have inhabited the valley of the Fraser River in what is now British Columbia, Canada. In the Halq'emylem language spoken by the Aboriginal people living along the shores and tributaries of the lower Fraser, Stó:lo means 'river' and is their customary name for themselves.

The traditional territory of the Stó:lo includes the entire watershed of the lower Fraser River. It extends west to the Strait of Georgia, east to the Cascade Mountains, north to the headwaters of the Pitt and Harrison lakes, and south to include the drainages of the Chilliwack and Nooksack watersheds. Stó:lo people call this territory s'olh temexw, which translates roughly as 'our land' or 'our world'. Archaeological evidence suggests that the roots of this native culture date back at least 10,000 years, roughly the end of the last ice age.

Blair's fingers paused in their typing as a misty image formed in his mind. A huge black feline -- perhaps a melanistic sabertooth tiger -- crouched at the base of a huge wall of ice. At the cat's side hunkered a wolf, but not the grey wolf he had started seeing in his own vision quests. This was a ferocious dire wolf, as extinct now as the sabertooth.

The two preternatural creatures where staring over the edge of a deep chasm that opened into a narrow green valley with a deep crystal-clear lake at its centre. Their eyes seemed to be focussed on the figure of a man slowly making his way through the thick bush towards the waterline.

Blair blinked, but instead of going away, the vision became clearer. He closed his eyes and immediately suffered the odd sensation of falling a vast distance. He flailed about with his arms and felt the resistance of liquid.

Opening his eyes again, he found himself floating mostly submerged in the lake he'd seen from above. Only his nose and eyes rose above the water. His hair fanned out about his head, floating on the ripples like seaweed.

He raised a hand to brush a wet tendril out of his face and froze in astonishment at the sight of green, pebbled skin on a taloned hand.

The young man shook his head violently to clear his mind, and the sense of unfamiliarity disappeared. He was Stuckeia, the Wolf, and his hand was perfectly normal for a Kokuac, one of the Salmon People as the humans called them.

Lazily he sculled through the buoyant lake water using his webbed hands as paddles. Absent-mindedly he wondered what had produced the odd moment of disorientation. //Probably the shxweli potion,// he thought. He'd drunk an extra large amount before ascending to the surface because he intended to spend a longer amount of time on land than usual. Until its effects wore off, the life force captured in the shxweli gave a Kokuac the ability to breathe the air almost as well as water.

His family considered Stuckeia to be a bit mad because of his fascination with the land creatures, especially the humans who had ventured north after the retreat of the great icecap. A small band of mammoth hunters had taken up semi-permanent residence at the mouth of the stream flowing from their lake into the great river. Their doings provided endless hours of diversion for Stuckeia as he observed them from hiding. He found himself analyzing their actions and started taking notes, then decided to organize all his findings into a scholarly thesis for his beloved teacher and mentor, elder Skelau (the Beaver).

The Kokuacs were a people on the point of extinction. Always small in numbers with a low birth rate, the last Ice Age had meant the end for the shy amphibian beings. Unable to adapt to the frigid cold, they had survived the freeze in only the deepest of lakes where the glaciers could not reach all the way to the bottom. Their numbers had dropped to the point where the population was no longer viable. Most accepted their specie's ultimate annihilation with quiet resignation and opted to spend their decline in the enjoyment of the arts and sciences in the safety of their deep underwater sanctuaries. Only a few curious individuals bothered to turn their vision outward and explore the dangerous world of the land.

Normally Stuckeia would have swum downstream to his concealed observation post just beyond the village perimeter. This time, however, his plans were to head toward the mountains. During his last expedition, he had overheard the villagers planning a mammoth hunt, and he wanted to observe how the primitives would go about capturing such a formidable beast.

A sudden rattle in the bushes along the shoreline caused the young Kokuac to duck below the surface and quickly secrete himself among a nearby clump of reeds and bulrushes. Once hidden from direct view, he allowed the top of his head to rise just enough to bring his eyes clear of the waterline. He figured his green hair would blend in with the floating water grasses, so that he'd appear as nothing more than a extra-thick clump of vegetation.

A bloody human stumbled from the brush, staggering to a halt on an outcrop of rock. He stood for a moment, wavering with fatigue, then dropped to his knees. His weapons tumbled from his grasp as he threw back his head and let forth a wail of such anguish that Stuckeia flinched involuntarily.

The keen trailed away into silence. Long moments passed as the man remained immobile, his posture one of utmost desolation.

Just as Stuckeia recognized Tewit, a hunter from the small band of settlers at the river mouth, the man surged to his feet, and in one swift motion, threw himself into the lake. He sank immediately.

Without thinking, Stuckeia started after Tewit. He had to swim strongly to catch up to the sinking human. Yet even with the Kokuac's natural speed in his underwater element, the hunter was already unconscious by the time he reached him.

Grabbing a handful of long black hair, Stuckeia stoked powerfully for the surface. He exhaled a prayer to ts'tslh sim, the Lord Who Dwells Above, that he could reach the air in time.

He erupted from the water beside the rock from which Tewit had thrown himself. Frantically, he pulled the human onto the outcropping and set out to empty the mans lungs of the liquid hed swallowed.

Despite his best efforts, the hunter failed to respond. Finally Stuckeia sat back on his heels and stared at the inert body in frustration.

Tewit was a magnificent specimen of Ice-Age man. Taller than most, he was broad-shouldered and muscular, the epitome of physical fitness due to the demanding life of a hunter. A sculpted hairless torso led down to narrow hips encased in a revealing thong of wet buckskin. His legs were long and sleekly muscled, the sign of a strong runner. Stuckeia recalled seeing the man running along forest paths with the grace and power of a sabertoothed cat.

Helplessly, the Kokuac observer reached out a trembling hand to trace a finger lightly over the still chest. In that moment he admitted to a secret he'd kept even from himself. He was attracted to the human... obsessed even. His desire to study the newcomers was as much the need to look upon this man as it was an innate thirst for knowledge.

//NO!// The scream was silent, internal -- but no less real despite the fact that it was not spoken aloud.

Stuckeia's hand dropped to the flask of shxweli potion at his waist. The life force in the elixir gave his species the ability to breathe air. Could it perform a similar miracle for humans, perhaps allow the land dwellers to breathe water like the Salmon People? No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than action followed.

Unstoppering the bottle, he held it to Tewit's lax lips. He spilled a few drops of the precious fluid into the open mouth, only to see it dribble out unswallowed.

"NO!" This time he screamed his denial of death aloud. No! he howled again, lifting his eyes upward towards the Lord Who Dwells Above. He was granted a momentary vision of a dire wolf crouched beside an unconscious black sabertooth. The animal howled his own grief before dropping his head to his companion's muzzle and attempting to breathe life back into the motionless feline.

Stuckeia blinked and the mental image was gone, but the wild creature's grief continued to reverberate within his mind.

His fingers tightened on the open flask, and he raised it to his own lips, sucking in a mouthful of the milky liquid. Then he bent over the unconscious human and placed his lips in a reverent kiss upon the slack mouth. He sealed his lips to Tewit's and forced the elixir from his mouth into human's. He massaged the corded throat until it relaxed slightly and the pressure of the kiss forced the fluid through the restricted passage.

Only when he felt a pulse in the hunter's neck as the man's heart started to beat again did he end the intoxicating kiss of life. Reluctantly, he sat back and watched as Tewit slowly regained consciousness. He waited until the very last moment, when Tewit's eyelids began to flutter, before diving from the rock and sliding beneath the water into hiding.

Waking was agony. Rock abraded his skin. His muscles ached and cramped. There was a fire in his lungs, yet the rest of his body felt icy cold.

Tewit turned on his side and spewed forth his stomach's contents. Then he lay back, too shaken and exhausted to crawl away from the vile-smelling mess.

Slowly the muzzy haze clouding his thoughts lifted and he drifted back to awareness.

The light wind off the high glacier above the valley was robbing him of what little heat there was left in his body. That was what finally motivated him to move. The leeward side of a fallen tree offered a bit of shelter from the wind, so he stumbled and crawled up the sloping shore until he was able to wiggle into a shallow hollow among the roots of the fallen behemoth. There he curled into a ball, pulling up his legs and wrapping his arms around himself to offer the least skin surface possible to the biting breeze.

Almost immediately memories from the doomed hunting expedition assailed him. Tewit clenched his hands and drove his fingernails into his thighs in an effort to push the painful images away. It didn't work.

How had he survived when all the others had died -- especially since the disaster was his own fault? He always hunted alone, so that no one but himself would be endangered by his illness. The heightened senses almost made up for the black-outs, allowing him to bring back prey successfully no matter how many seizures he suffered during the pursuit. He should have never agreed to join the mammoth hunt, no matter how hard he'd been entreated, no matter how much his lonely heart had craved the companionship.

Everything had gone well at the beginning. The camaraderie and feeling of belonging had felt wonderful. The group effort of building the huge deadfall to catch the massive creature felt more like a game than a chore as he had laughed, joked and shared the work with his fellow hunters. Hed felt... well, normal.

Then had come his turn to stand watch over the trail from the pass, in case the mammoth herd appeared early on its daily trek to the valley. No one had really expected that to happen though. The colossal wooly elephantine beasts always chose sunset as the time to leave their protected meadow at the base of the glacier and descend to the lake to drink.

He'd allowed himself to relax in the afternoon sun, revelling in the kiss of warmth upon his bare skin. He'd turned his face upward and closed his eyes, letting the sunshine wash over him like a blessing. Given his acute hearing, he knew he'd be able hear the herd's approach long before the animals actually came into view.

He hadn't meant to eavesdrop on his companions, but his attention had quickly wandered from the slight possibility of early arrivals, and he'd found himself focussing on the conversation among the men. They weren't discussing anything unusual. It was just normal chat among long-time comrades. Tewit allowed the buzz of conversation to wash over him, the same pleasure as the sunlight, and sank into euphoric oblivion.

Thus he had missed the approach of a rogue, half crazy with fly bites and a massive infection in a gaping flank wound and seeking early relief in the chilly lake waters. He came out of his daze to discover the maddened beast already in the centre of the unfinished deadfall, flailing about with massive trunk and long ivory tusks. His heightened hearing brought him the grizzly sounds of breaking bones and ripping muscles, of screams and whimpers... of dying curses.

He'd rushed down to the site, but arrived too late to save anyone. Only his brother Yukpalem had still been alive, and that young man had expired from his horrific wounds as Tewit rocked him in his arms.

Stunned and consumed with guilt, Tewit had gathered the bloody bodies together and raised a stone cairn over them. After burning an offering of sweet grass to the Lord Who Dwells Above, the grief-stricken warrior set off in pursuit of the killer. Yet even vengeance was denied him, for he found the mammoths body only a short distance down the trail. Weakened to begin with, the creature had succumbed to the wounds inflicted by his victims during the battle at the deadfall.

With no way left open to assuage his feelings of guilt, Tewit had turned to the lake to make an ending. Never again could he allow one of his blackouts to endanger his tribe.

Only something had gone wrong. He remembered throwing himself into water. He remembered letting the liquid flow into his nose and mouth as he sank. Blackness had overtaken him before he hit the bottom and then he'd awakened back on shore.

"Damn," he muttered. "Tewit, you're such a loser you can't do anything right... not even kill yourself."

He unfolded himself from his fetal crouch and looked around. Spotting a large boulder off to the side, he staggered over and picked it up with difficulty. Wrapping his arms firmly around the stone, he lurched back to the water's edge and once more threw himself in.

The crystal-clear water closed about him like a glove. He sank with amazing speed, the stone in his arms counter-balancing any tendency to float.

Despite the remembered pain of drowning, he deliberately drew in a deep gulp of water as he plunged deeper and deeper. This time there was no pain or cramps. It was as if the liquid were no more than thick air to which his lungs quickly acclimated. He expelled a breath, but no bubbles came from his mouth or nose. He breathed in again, and his heart and lungs continued to pump normally... except for the fact that he was breathing water instead of air.

The watery depths darkened the further Hewit drew away from the surface and sunlight. He descended into twilight sprinkled with stars -- stars where no stars should be...

The lights brightened the further he fell, taking on a curiously organized pattern. He blinked to clear his vision, but the bizarre sight remained. A village spread across the bottom of the lake, lit by glowing balls of phosphorescence. There were people moving between the structures, swimming/walking as if water were their native element.

Only... there was something odd about these persons, he realized, as he gently settled onto the roof of one of the larger buildings. Although manlike in shape, their skin was composed of pebbled scales, and their hands and feet were webbed.

//Slalakums! They're real!// he thought. //The stories are true. There really are supernatural water-beings in this lake. The Salmon People are real!//

He clutched the stone to his chest as if it were a talisman and stared in fascination at the wonders around him. So enthralled was he with the experience he was totally unsurprised when one of the salakums swam up beside him and touched his shoulder to get his attention.

Tewit looked up into the most amazingly beautiful eyes he had ever seen. The salakum's irises were azure blue with wide, dark pupils. Incredibly long lashes edged the big, wide-set eyes. Full, sensual lips smiled from below chiselled cheekbones, while a high, intelligent brow gave character to the face. A cloud of wild green curls formed a halo around the being's head.

The compact, well muscled body was equally alluring. Surprisingly broad shoulders tapered to a narrow waist. A form-fitting garment of iridescent scales hugged each angle and contour, doing nothing to conceal the fact that the creature was male -- very male.

Tewit gulped. The moment was magical, one of those pregnant pauses in time when the future is laid out before one like a bounteous treasure free for the taking. Tewit fell in love.

There was no mistaking the hot desire shining from the human's eyes. Stuckeia assumed the yearning he was radiating back to be equally strong. Something had happened when their gazes locked... something momentous and inevitable, like destiny fulfilled. He reached out a trembling finger and caressed Tewit's cheek.

The surface dweller dropped the rock he'd been hugging to himself. It sank forgotten through the water, landing on the building's roof with a dull boom, as the man raised his own hand trapping the slalakum's hand and drawing the palm into full contact with his skin.

Stuckeia shivered in reaction. He'd never felt such passion melded with unexpected trust and tenderness in any of his previous relationships with members of his own specie. "Welcome to my world," he murmured and leaned in for a kiss.

He had no idea how long the embrace would have lasted if they hadn't been interrupted by a sharp "Humph!" from behind them. The young kokuac disengaged and turned to discover his mother glaring at them.

"Mom!" he exclaimed. "I didnt know you were there."

"Obviously," she replied sardonically. Her eyes glittered with unspoken emotion, causing him to draw back into the circle of the large human's arms.

"Siy:m." He bowed, recognizing that Haelse was in official mode. How could she be anything else, considering she'd just found her only son locked in passionate embrace with a human savage, deep within the Kokuacs' underwater sanctuary.

"Isn't this taking your study of humans a bit too far?" she asked dryly. "Or was that just a ruse to go hunting a human skw'iyth for your pleasure since there are so few kokuacs of your own age to mate with?"

Stuckeia could feel the heat of a deep flush spread across his cheeks. "Why would you presume that I've taken a slave?" he retorted. "The whole concept of owning people is antithetical to our nature."

"How else can you explain this human's presence in our midst?" Haelse demanded. "You know that it is forbidden to reveal the location of our home to any surface dweller who would be free to return to the land to betray our presence?"

Stuckeia felt Tewit's clasp on his shoulder tighten. Then the man gently shifted him to the side and stepped forward to confront the angry Siy:m.

"If you think that your presence in this lake is a secret, lady, then you are mistaken. My people have known of the Kokuacs since before we settled in this area. Your people are almost legendary to us, as your kind are seen so seldom. But you leave traces of your passage, just as we do. Some people consider you to be slalakums -- supernatural. Others insist you are as much of the natural world as we are. Either way, it is considered very lucky to live in a region inhabited by the famous Salmon People."

"Perhaps," Haelse acquiesced grudgingly, "but that still does not explain your presence here in our village -- and breathing water as though you were Kokuac-born."

"That must be because I am dead. I didn't know that spirits could breathe water, but it must be so. I threw myself into the lake to end my life. I breathed in the water on purpose. Your son did not bring me here. I found him after I arrived at the bottom... or rather he found me." He turned to Stuckeia and gave him a dazzling smile. "The Xex:ls have blessed me when I least deserve it by changing me into a fish being."

"A miracle of the Transformer Beings, you say. I doubt it. We Kokuacs are not as credulous as you humans. I assure you, young man, you are not dead. Nor have the Xex:ls turned you into a fish. And -- knowing my ingenious son -- I'm sure he had something to do with your being able to breathe underwater, even if you yourself are unaware of what he has done." She accompanied the accusation with a fierce glare in Stuckeia's direction.

He figured it was time he spoke up. Haelse knew him all too well. He sighed, then, although embarrassed at the growing crowd attracted by the confrontation, purposefully stepped in front of Tewit, drawing everyone's attention back to himself.

"Yes, Siy:m, it is my doing. Tewit did indeed try to commit suicide. However, I was near the shore at the time, and could not bare to see the life of a Sentinel squandered."

"Sentinel?" The expression on Tewit's face was of total confusion.

"A Sentinel?" Haelse repeated in awe. "Could it be? The humans have now evolved to the point that they spawn Sentinels too?"

"Sentinel," Tewit repeated again, then "Evolved?" It was clear that the two words had no meaning for him.

Stuckeia caught the man's hand in his own and stroked it soothingly as he tried to figure out how to continue. There was too much to explain, and he wasn't sure he could answer everyone and still give a coherent explanation.

So he took up where he had left off when interrupted, turning back to his mother. "He had already lost consciousness by the time I got to him. So he doesn't remember my pulling him from the water, and forcing a draft of shxweli potion down his throat when I could find no other way to revive him."

"Shxweli potion?" broke in Tewit, his voice cracking with excitement. "You have the secret of distilling life force! You raised me from the dead. I really did die the first time."

"No, you did not die, although you came close. Shxweli cannot rob death, but it can give you the ability to breathe water as it gives us the ability to breathe air. Since I had been unable to force the water from your lungs, the potion let you breathe it until all the water was gone."

He paused, turned to his mother and used his expressive eyes to plea with her for understanding. "I hid before he regained consciousness. I did not set out to deliberately give our secrets away. I had no way of knowing that he would be so despondent that he would throw himself into the water again while the shxweli was still in his system."

"So why didn't you fish him out the second time as well, before he reached these depths?"

Stuckeia scuffed a webbed foot across the roof on which they were standing. "I couldn't get to him fast enough."

"You couldn't get to him fast enough," Haelse echoed. "Since when can a human swim faster than a Kokuac?"

Tewit intervened. "Since I was holding this rock," he said, pointing at the boulder where it rested at the edge of the flat roof. "It pulled me down as fast as a sabertooth leaping at its prey."

"So that is what made the noise that brought me outside to investigate."

"I dropped it when I beheld the beauty of your son."

"You speak well for a landling, man."

Tewit drew himself fully erect. He stood proud and tall, dwarfing the smaller Salmon People. "I am of the smel:lh, maam... no s'txem for you to look down upon. I can recite my family history back to the time of the great ice. I can tell you my aunts, uncles and cousins even beyond the fourth degree. From childhood I have listened to the sqwlqwel and the sxw xwiym and can recite them as well. I've made my spirit quest and found the night-black sabertoothed cat to be my guardian spirit. I am a winter dancer, which you would know -- if you truly knew my people -- to involve a lifetime commitment and dedication to spiritual beliefs. Not everyone can become a dancer. Not everyone can merge themselves with nature and learn its song. I am no savage for your belittlement."

Haelse's expression softened. "I have heard of the winter dance and its rituals. You speak truly. No one schooled in its rites can be considered a savage. And your time spent fasting alone among the mountains would indeed explain how you could come into the powers of a Sentinel."

"Again you use this strange word, 'Sentinel'. What does it mean? What are you calling me?"

There was a brief disturbance among the crowd of on-lookers. Then Skelau, Stuckeia's mentor, stepped forward. "A Sentinel is a tribal watcher, a guardian, if you will. He has heightened senses which he uses for the protection of his tribe. He can see to the peaks of the mountains, hear the footfalls of the deer, smell the faintest trace of fire upon the wind, taste a flask of water and know its source..."

"I am but a simple hunter, not a powerful protector as you have just described. True, there are times I hear sounds no one else can hear and see things farther away than anyone else can. But more often than not, I smell odours that are not there, hear conversations that I am not meant to overhear. It is a curse. An illness for which there is no cure. And..." He paused as grizzly images of the dead hunting party played across his mind's eye.

"And?" Stuckeia prompted when Tewit showed no sign of continuing. He placed a hand lightly on a bronzed bicep, which seemed to ground the landling.

"And a guardian does not lose himself to his surroundings and let his people die unaided." He raised haunted eyes to meet Skelau's steady gaze. "The best hunters from my village... my... my brother -- I failed them, and now they are dead because of my affliction."

The pain in the human's voice was so raw that Stuckeia responded automatically, hugging the shaking body and drawing the man into a loving embrace. He closed his eyes and imagined himself as a sponge, soaking up the hurt into himself and away from the crippled soul in his arms.

"A Guide! I knew it. The young wolf is a Guide. See how instinctively he reacts to his Sentinel's needs!" Skelau's voice cracked with excitement.

"How can that be?" Haelse demanded. "They are not the same species. Such a joining is unknown to our people!"

Stuckeia ignored the conversation flowing around him and concentrated on melding his spirit with the Tewit's, drawing their essences even closer together than their bodies in their current embrace. Only when he felt the tremours cease did he release his crushing hold on his mate.

"Your son has always exhibited the signs of a Guide," Skelau was explaining. "He's bright, curious, emphatic -- and he's always been driven by an inexplicable urge to the land. But this would explain the unexplainable. No new Sentinels have been born among the Kokuacs this generation, nor are any likely to be born in the future given our failing numbers. Since there are no Kokuac Sentinels for him to bond with, ts'tslh sim, the Lord Who Dwells Above, has gifted the talent to humans and has led Stuckeia's fated Sentinel to him."

Stuckeia felt Tewit shift in his arms as the big man turned his attention back to the scholar. "What is a 'Guide'?" he asked. "This is another word I do not know."

Skelau chuckled fondly. He stepped forward and placed a webbed hand on the shoulders of the pair. "The word you may not know -- but it appears that your heart recognizes the concept. I see the love and devotion blazing in your eyes when you gaze upon your young saviour, even though I would hazard a guess that you have only just met."

"Indeed, sir, that is true. We have only just set eyes on one another, yet I feel as though I have known..." He paused, then drew his Guide closer to him. "Strange. I love you already, and I do not even know your name."

"Stuckeia. The Wolf replied the Kokuac before either his mother or his mentor could respond. "And we have known each other forever. Maybe we have only just met in this life, but we must have spent many previous lives together for this bond to be instantly so strong."

"That is assuredly the explanation," Skelau interjected. "The Sentinel / Guide pairing repeats throughout the cycle of the ages. Your souls are old and have been bonded since the beginning of time."

The two looked at each other in wonder and amazement. "Forever," Stuckeia whispered.

"You asked what a Guide is," the aged scholar brought the conversation back on topic. "As the Sentinel is the guardian of his tribe, the Guide is the guardian of his Sentinel. He watches the watchman's back, so that he cannot be overwhelmed by his senses. He shares the burden of responsibility and lightens his partner's load while bringing him joy in living."

"Sentinels and Guides are always mated," Haelse spoke up. "We shall have the wedding immediately. That will solve the problem of the human's place among us. He will become one of us."

"Wedding?" the human queried. "We are both males."

"Among my people, human, love has no gender," she replied.

The next few hours seemed to pass in a matter of moments for dazzled human. They'd been led to the centre of the village, the crowd of Salmon People growing in number as they progressed. Traditional wedding garb had appeared almost magically. In a short but moving ceremony, an elderly Shxwl:m had joined them in marriage. The words of commitment hed repeated after the shaman had resonated in the Sentinel's ears throughout the following impromptu banquet.

Now they were alone in Stuckeia's private chamber, staring at each other shyly and wondered what the next step was.

"I have never been with another male before," the young Kokuac admitted. "I hope you know what we are doing."

"And I've never been with another man either. But if what Master Skelau told us is true, then our bodies should know what to do if we let ourselves go and do what comes naturally."

Stuckeia nodded bashfully, a lock of curly green hair floating across his face.

Tewit reached forward and brushed the lock back so that it no longer obscured the beautiful face. For once, he did not try to ignore his heightened sense of touch, but rather delighted in the sensation as his fingers glided over warm, slightly pebbled skin. Daringly, he ghosted his index finger across the ripe lips of his new mate.

Stuckeia pounced. He sucked the finger into his mouth and laved it lasciviously with his tongue, while peering up sexily through long, thick lashes.

Tewit's heart pounded in his chest like a drum, and the sound of the blood rushing through his veins was thunder. He held himself still as long as he could, then dived in to replace the finger with his own lips and tongue.

Passion burned throughout his body. It rose instantaneously, reaching fevered pitch as the kiss deepened.

Desperately he sought to strip his lover, needing to see the exquisite body partially revealed by the clinging one-piece garment. He felt Stuckeia undo his own breech clout long before his fingers got the hang of releasing the strange fastenings. At last the irritating clothing was gone, despite the hindrance of a lip lock neither was willing to interrupt.

Reluctantly Tewit broke the kiss, but he just had to look at the man in his arms. He drew back to arm's length and drank in the exotic beauty of the lithe torso, well-muscled arms and sturdy thighs.

"I've never seen anything so perfect before. I'm afraid this is just a fantasy flashing through my mind as I drown."

"No!" his Guide cried out urgently. "This is no dream. It is real. You are alive, and I am real. We are joined heart and soul now and forever. What we do with our bodies is just an affirmation of that fact."

"Love..." Tewit managed to grind out, his ability to speak dwindling in face of his passion. "I love you. I belong to you," he paraphrased the wedding vows spoken earlier.

He sealed his declaration with another searing kiss, then allowed his lips to travel down his love's throat, across the peaked nipples on the scaled chest, and through the hollow of the navel, until he reached at last the ultimate prize.

The act came naturally despite the fact that he had never performed it before. He took the full, hard penis into his mouth and deep-throated his mate. Stuckeia's hips bucked frantically, and he pumped in and out of Tewit's mouth until his orgasm was wrung from him with a loud wail.

Satiated, Stuckeia sank limply onto the bed, his clinging hands drawing Tewit down with him. "Oh, oh, oh," he gasped, words failing him.

They lay silently in each other's arms for several minutes. Tewit ignored his own unsatisfied erection, savouring the glowing happiness radiating from his mate.

Then Stuckeia was back in action, repeating the loving treatment he had just been given. He kissed and licked his way down the human's body in turn, ending with his lips pressed to the weeping tip of Tewit's cock.

He looked up momentarily, and Tewit heard the echo of his own passion in his mate's voice as the Kokuac repeated his vows aloud too.

Then his shaft was taken into the hot furnace of his lover's mouth, and all thoughts of anything but pleasure fled as he climaxed explosively.

Afterwards they lay together contentedly, with Tewit's head pillowed on Stuckeia's chest. He drifted into sleep listening to his lover's mantra: "Now and forever."

Blair blinked. The underwater chamber shimmered and turned into his study beneath his and Jim's bedroom.

//Was that real? Or was it a dream?//

He lifted a hand and examined it closely, somehow disappointed to find it pink and normal with no signs of scales or webbing. Momentarily his vision blurred and talons grew back on his fingers while translucent webbing spread between them. Then the vision was gone, leaving him with the unshakeable knowledge that Stuckeia and Tewit had indeed existed and that he and Jim were those same souls reborn thousands of years after the events he had just experienced.

"Now and forever." The words echoed down through the ages. They had been the exact same vows he and Jim had made to each other at their own commitment a year prior.

A niggling little fear he'd never known he had disappeared without a whimper. Their love was meant to be, and nothing could threaten is seriously, not even predatory female Sentinels nor armed terrorists. "Now and forever," he repeated as he placed his fingers back on the keyboard and began to type again.

The actual legend as recounted by several Stó:lo elders, melded into a single narrative:

A man, very sick with an incurable disease, wandered to a lake near the river with the intention of taking his own life. Now, in this lake dwelt the slalakums (supernatural water-people). The man leaped into the lake and lost consciousness; but when he came to himself, he was once more on the rock from which he had jumped. Once more, he threw himself into the lake, taking care to hold a large stone to weigh himself down. This time around, however, he did not lose consciousness. At the bottom of the lake he landed upon the roof of the slalakums' dwelling, into which he was taken and treated with hospitality. The siy:m (family leader/chief) gave the man his child as a mate. Soon afterwards the man saw his mate and many others of the water people fall ill from his spit, tears and the ashes from his fires, which had fallen into the lake. He cured them by wiping away the spittle on their skin. In gratitude, the water-people cured him of his own disease. Later, when the man returned to the land, everyone he encountered became sick. But over time he had become a slalakum himself. Thus he was able to use his power to heal the people.

Blair stared at the back-lit letters on the glowing computer screen. He'd only experienced the first half of the legend. He was glad to see that Tewit's and Stuckeia's history did not end with their wedding. It sounded like they had gone on to live a full and rewarding life, even if some momentary illness had threatened it.

"I wonder," Blair muttered to himself, "if past live regression therapy would let me find out the rest of the reality behind the legend."

There was the sound of the key turning in the lock, then a creak as the door opened.

Blair shut down the computer and walked out into the main room to greet his lover. "Now and forever" echoing in the back of his mind.

End of 'Behind the Legend'

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