A Detailed Summary of A Sea Change
In A Sea Change, a Cascade cop, who is taking a surfing vacation on the Washington coast before transferring to Major Crime from Vice, meets an interesting young man at a small ocean-side bar. Jim Ellison invites this beautiful, long-haired hippie to his motel room, but asks that no names be exchanged for this one night stand. Jim enjoys sex with men, but his long-term plans include marriage to a woman, although he's not seeing anyone. He sees no future in getting to know his male partners.
The young man turns him down, but they share a steamy kiss before parting. The next day while surfing in the afternoon, Jim loses his footing and his board and is swept out to sea by a riptide.
He's close to becoming seriously hypothermic and drowning, when a blue-eyed seal assists him to shore. In Jim's confused state he almost thinks the seal is communicating with him mentally, wanting to know his name. As he attempts to stumble out of the sea, he is helped by a good samaritan who drives him to his motel room. When Jim becomes less hypothermic and dazed, he realizes his benefactor has learned Jim's name and is the young man he met in the bar.
They have great sex, but Jim makes it plain afterwards that he doesn't want to see his nameless lover again. He does offer to drive both of them back to the beach to get the boy's vehicle, but when Jim comes out of the bathroom he's alone.
Jim tries to find the young man to make sure he got to his vehicle safely, but finds he has disappeared. Back in the motel room, Jim realizes that the boy has left a leather choker he wore around his neck. Curious, he wraps it around his own wrist, and leaves a message and his phone number at the motel office in case the boy wants it back.
It soothes him to wear the choker, and he decides to keep it with him.
He makes one more attempt to find this boy, going back to the bar where he first met him. He doesn't find him, but he does learn his name from the bartender - Blair.
After Jim's transfer to Major Crime and being partnered with Jack Pendergrast, Jim decides to track Blair Sandburg down, breaking his own rule regarding his male sex partners. He's also dating Carolyn Plummer, head of Forensics. When Blair shows up in Cascade, looking for him, he invites Blair to stay with him for a week. They spend that time getting to know each other and having sex, and Blair considers getting his PH.D at Rainier in Anthropology.
Jim's been having trouble with his senses being erratic; sometimes they are too strong and hyperactive and he frequently feels overwhelmed. He's discovered that wearing the choker, hidden on his ankle, helps control his wild senses; when Blair asks if he found a leather necklace in the motel room they'd shared, Jim lies to Blair, telling him no. He rationalizes his behavior by telling himself that he needs that choker, and if Blair leaves Cascade with it then Jim will be at the mercy of his senses.
Carolyn observes Jim with Blair and while she doesn't know that Jim and Blair have been lovers, she does see Blair as a rival for Jim's attention. Jim has to make a choice to keep his relationship with Carolyn or start an out of the closet one with Blair. He also decides to drop the attitude he carried with him when he transferred from Vice and under Captain Simon Banks' encouragement he starts becoming more of a team player.
Jim chooses Carolyn and Blair tries to leave Cascade. He doesn't get far before feeling compelled to return. The research he's done on Jim's sensory problems has shown him that Jim is a sentinel and that he's become Jim's guide. He theorizes that they've developed a bond and that was why he felt sick and miserable the further from Jim he traveled.
He agrees to stay in Cascade and be Jim's guide, do his research at Rainier, but refuses Jim's offer to be clandestine lovers for a while longer until Jim and Carolyn decide to be exclusive. He tells Jim that he won't live with him any longer, and asks Jim to treat him physically only as a friend.
Jim knows he's hurt Blair, but marriage is something he's always wanted. He watches Blair walk down the beach, seeking comfort from the sight of the sea, and wonders if the wild theories he sometimes indulges in, courtesy of stories told to him by his Irish great-grandmother, could be true.
No, he decides. Selkies and their seal skins were only real in old stories.
Several years later, Jim's short marriage to Carolyn has ended in divorce, and since Blair's warehouse apartment was destroyed in a fire, he's moved into the loft with Jim. Jim is willing for them to return to being lovers as long as Blair keeps the relationship secret, since he hopes to once again marry a woman. Blair won't agree to that condition, but neither he nor Jim bring up how Jim touches him much more than a friend would.
Lately, however, Jim finds himself irritated with Blair, and he doesn't know why. He refuses to listen as Blair tries to explain about a woman he's met, threatening to evict Blair from his truck and make him walk home. He knows he's being unfair to Blair, but he can't be around him so he goes camping alone. Upon his return, he sees his spirit animal, a black jaguar, and another spirit animal, a spotted jaguar. When he meets the woman Blair has been helping with her senses, he realizes the strange animal spirit belongs to her, and he suspects that she might be both another sentinel and the criminal responsible for a string of robberies. He makes Blair move out of the loft, after having a dream-vision where the wolf he shot morphs into Blair.
His irritated mood extends to his coworkers, and Captain Banks sends him home. When Blair and Megan Connor join him at the loft, they are shocked to see he has basically moved his own belongings out of his home.
Alex Barnes is unmasked as the criminal who has stolen deadly nerve gas from Rainier, and she kidnaps Blair as her hostage. The FBI have a theory that Blair is actually Alex's accomplice, based partly on Jim's own report of how Blair bungled a flashlight when Jim, Megan, and Blair had seen Alex on a fire escape, thus allowing her to get away. Jim refutes this, but the evidence he has to show that Blair is a victim is based on his senses and he would have to out himself as a sentinel to present it. Jim has a vision that leads him to Alex's whereabouts in Sierra Verde, Mexico, and he, Simon Banks, and Megan Connor fly there in pursuit.
In Sierra Verde, they find the body of Alex's lover and partner-in-crime in the morgue, and take shelter in a local Catholic church. Jim has a dream about Alex meeting with him on the beach and in a strange state leaves the church and meets her where he dreamed she was waiting. They begin to have sex, until Blair comes upon them after he escaped from where Alex was keeping him. Alex shoots Blair in the shoulder, and he crawls into the sea and starts to drown. She escapes, having provided this distraction to Jim, who's come back to his right mind and intends to take her into custody.
Jim rescues Blair, resuscitates him, and carries him from the beach to get help. At the hospital, after Blair recovers from surgery and his near drowning, Jim intends to tell Blair the truth about taking his choker. However, he hasn't been able to find it and upon playing back his memories recalls that Alex took it off his ankle while he was in a lust-filled daze on the beach. Before he can admit this, Simon asks Blair if Jim has given his "necklace" back, remarking that he didn't know Jim concerned himself with Blair's jewelry.
Puzzled, Blair asks Jim privately what Simon meant, and Jim confesses the truth. Blair, shocked and distraught, makes statements leading Jim to once again consider that Blair is a selkie. Blair tells Jim to leave him alone for now, and Jim, Megan, and Simon join with CIA agents and local Mexican law enforcement to recover the nerve gas.
In the jungle, Jim, still under the influence of feelings he is having trouble resisting, sabotages the ambush to arrest Alex and recover the nerve gas; Alex gets away in a helicopter. Jim deduces that it's leaking fuel and will have to land soon. Jim knows that Alex still has the deadly poison. He and Megan go after Alex, and Simon goes back to Sierra Verde to get additional help. The other forces with them are chasing after the drug lord who they think took the nerve gas canister. Jim and Incacha, the Chopec shaman who acted as Jim's mentor and temporary guide when the army sent Jim to the Peruvian rainforest years ago, meet on the spirit plane during Jim's dream, and Incacha advises him how to proceed and protect himself from Alex.
He leaves Megan, and finds Alex at the Temple of the Sentinels. Blair is there, held captive. Alex sexually abuses Blair, and Jim is helpless to stop her, being under the influence of a powerful potion Alex has brewed from mystical directions only she can decipher that are written on the temple walls.
Between following Incacha's wisdom and the mental urgings of Blair, who is gagged, Jim resists Alex's influence and places her under arrest. She has overdosed on the potion and is catatonic. For an instant, when he looks at Blair, still bound, he thinks he sees a dark bulky shape superimposed on his friend.
Jim comes to a crucial inner decision during this trip. He wants an open relationship with Blair, having almost lost him. There are troubles that must be sorted out, such as Blair's carelessness in keeping Jim's and Alex's names in his research, which gave Alex blackmail material to ensure Blair's cooperation with her abducting him. Also, Blair's still a person of interest to the FBI, and Jim's duplicity in stealing Blair's choker and lying about it are issues. Blair's not talking about what Alex forced him to do for her sexually.
Blair said that he had been compelled to find Alex, but Alex had told Jim before Jim subdued her that she didn't feel bonded to Blair. Blair takes his choker back from Alex's unconscious body, and wraps it around his ankle, following Jim's example of how to wear it secretly. Jim doesn't understand how Blair found her in the jungle terrain, when he's seen Blair get lost on a regular basis. He speculates again on the possibility Blair is a selkie and found Alex because she had stolen his skin. Selkies cannot leave the people who hold their skins, his granny had told him.
Jim and Blair take some tentative first steps to resuming a sexual relationship, but Blair decides to stay for a while at the temple to document it for his dissertation. He asks Jim to contact Blair's research partner to join him. Jim hears their reinforcements tramping through the jungle; Alex cannot be roused, although Blair tries every guide trick he knows.
Jim agrees to give Blair some space, but feels hopeful that he and Blair will be able to begin a new life together when Blair returns to Cascade.
Jim is openly affectionate with Blair when he picks him up at the airport several weeks later, at least until the FBI halts them before they can leave. Jim's knee jerk reaction is to stop touching Blair, and when he does, Blair perceives Jim's actions as rejection and proof that Jim is not ready for an openly gay relationship.
Hurt, Blair complies with the FBI's demands that he accompany them since he is a person of interest in the Barnes nerve gas case. Jim follows them to FBI headquarters in Seattle and stays in his truck, using techniques Blair taught him to avoid zoning, as he listens to Blair being interrogated.
The agents question Blair off and on all night long but he leaves out part of his story, not wanting to tell about the sexual abuse he suffered at Alex Barnes' hands. There is not enough proof to arrest him as an accomplice, but he is told to remain available, since he is still a person of interest. Jim tries to convince Blair to tell them everything, but Blair refuses.
Blair still has doubts that Jim can handle a gay relationship but agrees to date him, starting with a pancake breakfast on the way home.
Jim passes on several chances to tell Simon that he's seeing Blair, finding it more difficult than he thought to out himself, even to an old friend. He does tell Megan Connor, finding it easier to tell her of his feelings.
He comes home to find Blair dancing to “Earth Music,” looking wild and untamed, and consensual sex ensues.
Jim and Megan, and most of Major Crime, are assigned a case tracking down who is threatening a union leader. It turns out to be the “Iceman,” a hit-man Jim had taken down once before. He escaped from a German prison, and plans are made to catch him.
Blair finishes his dissertation, and joins up with Jim for a change of pace, leaving his mother at the loft while she visits for a few days.
Later, at the station, Blair is acting strangely, upset at a phone call that had something to do with his mother, and he asks Jim for privacy to talk to Naomi when they return to the loft.
The next morning, Jim learns that Blair's research naming him a sentinel was sent to the press. Angry, he refuses to listen to Blair's explanation, and avoids him, feeling betrayed. The FBI take Blair back to Seattle to question him again, and Jim has strange dreams, in which Blair is a selkie and changed to his seal form.
The Iceman attacks the station and Megan and Simon are hurt.
Jim has been thinking about his reaction to being outed as a sentinel and decides that he needs to talk to Blair, get his side of the story. After Blair was almost shot when Megan and Simon were attacked, Jim realized that he didn't want to lose Blair, even if right now he is very angry with him.
Blair, returned from Seattle, goes on TV to name himself a fraud, so that Jim will be protected and the attention from the media end so that the Iceman can be apprehended. The FBI run a bluff to put pressure on Blair, leaking to a TV station that Blair will be arrested for being an accomplice to Alex Barnes.
Jim looks for Blair, but he's disappeared. His backpack and clothes are found hidden on a beach, and it is assumed that he's committed suicide from the stress and guilt he experienced.
Jim refuses to believe that Blair would kill himself and instead stops fighting against the idea that Blair is a selkie. He and Naomi go down to the beach where Blair's belongings were found and he coaxes Naomi into telling the truth of how Blair was conceived and what the midwife did the day he was born.
Jim and Naomi try to call Blair back from the sea, but neither dripping tears or blood into the ocean calls him to shore. Naomi is convinced that Blair won't return, the pull of being a selkie being too strong to overcome, but Jim won't give up. For weeks he tries to find Blair and sometimes senses him in the ocean.
Finally he masters his fear of riding his board out into the ocean and leaves the safety of the land. He then calls Blair mentally, sensing he's in the area, and drips seven drops of his blood into the sea.
Blair comes to his board in his seal form and Jim convinces him to return to land, apologizing for not working things out with him. Blair agrees and follows Jim as he catches a wave back to shore. He transforms and they make love on the deserted beach. Blair returns to the loft and makes amends for worrying his friends, but he is restless and often returns to the ocean.
Jim goes with him, providing a mental anchor, for when Blair is in his seal form he is living in the moment; it is freeing but without a connection to his land life, he would drift away.
Blair has not found any other selkies, although he constantly searches while he is in the ocean. He finally tells the truth about his kidnapping to the FBI and is cleared of suspicion. Jim gets the hang of being out in a gay relationship. Blair tries to do damage control after trashing his career with his press conference and makes arrangements with the university about a grievance, since they released his work without his permission. Naomi visits but leaves again, sad and unable to face Blair anymore. She is convinced that she will lose him to the sea; the midwife who took Blair's newborn selkie skin from his body told Naomi that if Blair ever wore his seal skin into the ocean for a lengthy period he would not come back to his life on land.
Blair fights the compulsion he feels to return to the sea in order to stay with Jim, but he begins to sleep walk from the stress. Jim and Blair go to Ireland, where Blair can search for selkies near his birthplace, as he has become obsessed with finding his father's people.
Their Irish vacation involves Jim surfing, Blair spending a lot of time in the ocean searching for traces of other selkies, going to pubs for stories and music, and Blair doing some folktale research on selkies with the locals. Blair's sleepwalking continues to get worse and Jim puts an alarm on their door.
The night before they are to leave to go back to Cascade, Blair meditates by a campfire alone, having asked Jim for some privacy. Jim is at their cottage a half mile away, keeping tabs on Blair, when he's jolted by an intense feeling of pain and he realizes something is wrong with Blair. He runs to the beach and finds Blair has burnt his seal skin and is dying.
Jim remembers the words of his shaman friend and finds Blair on the spirit plane, the dead body of his selkie soul on the beach. He recognizes Blair in the guise of a wolf, Blair's spirit guide, who is leaving this plane for one the living cannot travel. Jim, also in his animal spirit's form of a black jaguar, bonds with Blair on the spirit plane and revives him.
Blair grieves for his lost selkie life, but made the decision to live with Jim. He wouldn't have been able to withstand the pull of the sea for much longer.
They leave and fly back to Cascade, but Blair never answered Jim's question of whether he was going to be okay before they left that Irish beach.