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Their house stood on a bluff overlooking a small river. Beyond it were trees, trees and more trees.
They had never been quite sure how close their nearest neighbors were, although they saw men they thought lived near them reasonably frequently - usually on the bank of the river where they fished several days a week. Like them, it seemed that their neighbors depended on the river for fresh protein; like them, it seemed that their neighbors never caught more than they needed for that day and perhaps the next.
They found they had much in common with their acquaintances. Like Jim, Jack had been military; like Blair, Daniel had been an academic, though his subject had been archeology, with Egypt his preferred country of study; anthropologist Blair was more interested in the tribes of the Americas - but the two found comparing the different cultures endlessly fascinating. And when, once they had caught as many fish as they needed, Blair and Daniel sat on the river bank discussing ancient cultures, Jim and Jack sat nearby discussing the comparative merits of the army v the air force.
It never occurred to either pair to invite the others to their home; and just as Jim and Blair didn't know where Jack and Daniel lived, Jack and Daniel didn't know exactly where Jim and Blair lived, either. That was one of the endless mysteries of the Island that was their home; things were only visible if you wanted them to be.
Occasionally, too, they met other inhabitants of the Island. Some of them Blair could remember from previous sojourns there; some he knew he was meeting for the first time.
He found it very interesting that many of them, in their last incarnations, had had work in common, and that most, oddly enough, had been American; that had not been the case the last time he and Jim had met any of them. Brits Ray and Bodie had been in some kind of law enforcement and found the comparison between the British and American systems fascinating. Like Jim, Steve had been a cop, as had Dave and Ken and Don, who had been helped by his brother Charlie, another academic (though he saw everything in terms of number, and his grasp of maths left everyone else floundering). Jesse and Joe - a man with a close resemblance to Blair, making him wonder if they had the same father in their last lives - had been doctors. There was something strange about Joe's friend Simon and everyone knew that, but when neither man said anything about it nobody asked - their past lives were exactly that, past, and of no great importance. If they chose to remember and reminisce, that was up to them. Brothers Dean and Sam were equally silent about their last lives, but always seemed uneasy any time they met Simon. Interestingly, Jack and Daniel had known John and Rodney when they were alive but none of them ever said where they had met, or - when they were in the company of anyone else - anything about their work back then, though what had been confidential information when they were alive was surely no longer confidential here - especially since none of them, even the ones who had been involved in the events in question, would remember anything of what had happened to them, either in their past lives or during their stay on the Island of Apples - when they were reborn.
But most of the time, Jim and Blair were by themselves, which suited them just fine.
Time passed, but on the Island the passage of time was unimportant; they were living in a sort of eternal now, where nothing disturbed the even tenor of their days and they could relax. They were all, although most of them didn't realize it, unwinding from the stress their lives had placed on them.
And then one morning Jim woke feeling restless, feeling that there was something he should be doing.
Blair was quick to pick up on his mood. "What's wrong?"
"I'm not sure, Chief. I just have this... this feeling... There's something I should be doing. I think... I should be helping people, not lying around just enjoying myself... "
Blair nodded. "I've been wondering when you'd begin to feel that again - the urge to protect."
"You're not surprised? I mean, I love it here, but... "
"Jim. I'm a shaman. I remember more than you do. Think about it. In your last life, you were a cop."
"But it was a stressful life, you died a violent death, and you needed time to recover. But now the vacation is over, and you're ready to... well, go back to work. It's time for us to be reborn."
"Oh... Are you ready?"
Blair smiled. "Most of my last life wasn't nearly as stressful as yours. I've been ready for a while, but I wasn't about to leave you. Sentinel and guide, remember? Not good to have too much of an age gap between us in the physical world. Even leaving here at the same time, there'll probably be a difference of a year or two. When do you want to go?"
"Well... not today, but soon."
They spent a few days wandering around the area where they lived, mentally bidding farewell to it. Blair, at least, knew that one day they would return to the Island, but the experiences of their next life would inevitably change how they saw it. They didn't bother saying goodbye to their acquaintances, who would also be heading for rebirth soon - he had seen the first signs of restlessness in several of them, and indeed hadn't seen Steve and Jesse for a while. He suspected they had already left to start their new lives. They might or might not meet up with all of their this-death acquaintances again the next time they returned to the Island, but they would all be changed by the experiences of their newest lives and were unlikely to remember that they had known each other in a past death. Only Blair, the shaman, would remember.
In their house, on the day before they planned to leave, they looked over the things they had acquired. Jim picked up a china mug that he had found not too long after they built their house. A black jaguar prowled its way around the mug, nose at one side of the handle, tip of tail at the other side. "I wish I could take this with me," he said.
Blair grinned. "Can you imagine being born clutching that?" he asked.
"I know, I know. We won't even take memories with us - well, you might remember a few things, but I won't."
"But we'll find each other in our next life," Blair said confidently.
Remembering the apple cores that had landed so close together when they threw them blind, Jim nodded.
They were in no hurry to leave in the morning; they didn't leave their house until well into the afternoon. It was getting dark by the time they reached the shore.
A small yacht was tied up at a tiny pier, and Blair nodded towards it. "Our transport," he said. Neither man stopped to wonder why, or how, it came to be there; everything they needed was always supplied.
They climbed aboard. Casting off, Jim hoisted the sail while Blair took the tiller.
The boat seemed reluctant to leave, almost as if the Island was unwilling to let them go. Both men glanced back at the shore, then at each other.
"We'll be back one day," Blair said. Jim nodded, and turned his attention towards the sea - strange that he was no longer nervous about deep water! The boat began to gain speed, as if it had decided that they knew it was time for them to leave.
They sailed into the gathering darkness on the wings of the wind.