by alyjude


Octavio sat beside Apurimac. The elder was weaving, his body swaying from side to side, eyes closed, chanting. Finally......

"He comes. His guide as well. There is - a break. A chasm. The Sentinel of the Great City does not listen."

Octavio sat forward, eager for more, "How soon?"The great head shook, eyes still closed.


"I do not know. Elena will sense his coming. We must be ready. I fear - the loss of a Sentinel's mind."

The younger man, Incacha's son, felt great dread. The loss of a Sentinel's mind? A chasm? He must talk with his father. Soon. Incacha would know.

#}{ #}{ #}{

Hot and steamy.

And Blair Sandburg wasn't describing his love life, which like Cascade, was cold and clammy. What he was describing was his current environment.

The Peruvian jungle.

He and Jim Ellison were currently hacking their way through dense jungle, or rather, Jim was hacking, as Blair cleverly walked *behind* the bigger man, thus missing most slapping branches, leaves and grasping undergrowth. He took some comfort in his cleverness and allowed a small smirk to lift the corners of his mouth.

"You're smirking."

So now The Sentinel of the Great City had a new sense? Hindsight?

"Me? Smirk?"

"Yes, you. And since you got us into this mess, you have given up your right to smirk."

"How did I know that somehow this fiasco would become my fault?"

"You *said* you could fly the plane." Jim's arm continued it's strong hacking as he talked.

"I could and I did."

"Yeah. Until you didn't. You crashed, remember?"

"I did not crash. I had what is called, in pilot parlance, a *rough* landing."

"You - *crashed*."

"Jim, the fucking plane lost fucking altitude!"

"Which in pilot parlance is the major cause of most lose altitude, you hit the ground, see? And you - hit - the - ground. Hard. Pilots are supposed to *regain* altitude."

"JIM! Our pilot was dead and we'd lost an engine!"

"We had - other engines."

"One. One other engine. Because you, Mr. Thrifty, booked us on "R Flites R Cheap". The mother of all cutrate airlines."

"So you're turning this around on me? Making it my fault? *I* didn't shoot the pilot, Chief."

"No, but you shot our co-passenger, who shot our pilot."


"Jim," Blair intoned, patience personified, "Of course he was a drug smuggler. We're in Peru, on vacation, what else *would* he be?"

They both fell silent then, Jim's arm whacking away, Blair plodding on behind him. They were making slow progress, with Blair carrying all their supplies and sleeping bags.

In actuality, Blair had brought the plane down well enough to save their lives, but not well enough to protect either the signaling device, or the beacon and the radio had been killed in the inflight gunfight.. With no way of letting anyone know of their misfortune, it had been decided to make their way out of the jungle on foot. What with no cars, trains or buses immediately available. No taxi's either, not in the deepest part of the Andes. Gosh darn it.

Blair was starting to slow, to find it difficult to keep up with the machine ahead of him. As a result, it didn't take long before he shut down his mind so that he could place all his concentration on the simple action of letting one foot fall in front of the other. Some people called it walking.

Blair called it survival.

He was deep in his survival concentration when Jim's voice penetrated.

"So, where did you learn to fly?"

A question. Requiring an answer. Shit.

"Summer - boyfriend - pilot." He was really concentrating now.....left foot, right foot, left foot.....

He was so deep in the mechanics of walking, he failed to notice that Jim had frozen in place, which resulted in his thudding into the brick wall that was Jim Ellison's considerable chest. And he bounced off, back and down.


"Did you say - *boyfriend*?" Jim squeaked out.

Sandburg looked up from the floor of the jungle and wondered if Jim had gone nuts, so he simply asked, "Have you gone nuts?"

"You *said* boyfriend."

 " It's not like she ever married any of 'em, you know. You gonna give me hand up?"

 Jim reached down and pulled, and two backpacks, two sleeping bags and one slightly worse for wear guide were upright once again.

 "So, *Naomi's* boyfriend taught you to many hours did you log?" Jim was proud. Not an ounce of relief sounded in his voice.

 They were moving again, and Ellison couldn't see the devastated look on his partner's face as Blair considered Jim's unhappiness about hearing of another one of Naomi's *boyfriends*.

All Sandburg could think was that Jim really did have a jones for his mother.

 "Sandburg? You still back there?"

 Blair gave a little mental shake as he answered, "Where else would the Lone Ranger find Tonto?"

 "Well, to be precise? On a horse, riding *alongside* him. You holding out on me? You hiding a horse in your backpack?"


 Jim came to another abrupt halt, but Blair was ready and stopped in time.

 "112? You have 112 horses in your backpack?"

 "No. Hours. Flying."

 To Blair, Jim's puzzled expression was priceless.

 "You know, Chief," and he shook his head sadly, "I think you've finally gone around that big anthropological/cop bend in the sky."

 Sandburg huffed some hair out of his eyes and said, "You asked how many hours I'd logged. I answered. I assumed the horse question was rhetorical and your lame attempt at humor."

 "Well", Jim humphed.

 Blair quirked an eyebrow.

 Ellison turned back and restarted his hacking. But since they'd pretty much found a clear path, and the jungle was on either side, Jim was now going out of his way to *hack* and Blair had the distinct impression that the vegetation was instead of - him.

 Like he cared.

 And damn - his stomach hurt.

 They continued their march through Peru, silent, and Blair wondered if Superman up ahead was at all tired. They'd been walking how long now?

Three - four hours? Well, *he* was tired. *He* was exhausted. But he didn't dare say anything. After all, the guide has to be able to keep up with the Sentinel, right? Besides, he was in good shape, he worked out now, ran every morning, he was a cop, for crissake's. He *should* be able to keep up. He should.

 And whose idea was this damn vacation anyway? Oh, right. His. And the foolish reason? The same reason so many couples took unscheduled salvage the marriage, the relationship.

 Of course, *they* weren't married, but they did have a partnership and a friendship to save, and Blair thought a weekend of camping might help. Unfortunately, when he'd broached the subject, the simple weekend had become two weeks in Peru. Camping, fishing, communing with the Chopec. All thanks to the new Cascade Police Policy about vacation hours and ceilings. If Jim didn't use 'em, he'd lose 'em. He was *way* past the new ceiling of 240 hours. Way past.

 And then, of course, there'd been that little side bet, between Jim and Simon. A bet that said he and Jim could not go on vacation without something happening. A bet that Joel and Henri had been quick to jump, would now be a good time to remind Jim of said bet? That Jim now owed Simon, Joel and Henri fifty bucks - *each*? Nah. Totally unfair.

 "So, Jim. Just how much *do* you now owe Simon, Joel, and Henri?" Fair was no fun.

 Jim's arm paused mid slash, then continued it's downward arc, as he answered, "Fifty each. But I don't think they'll be too quick to collect, when I come back sans my partner. But don't worry, I'll make sure the funeral is tasteful, and I'll seat all your girlfriends far enough apart that they don't get into any catfights. Discreet, tasteful....yep, I think I'll be keeping my $150."

 Like a lot of Jim's barbs of late, this one held a slight edge to it, and edge that caused Blair to once again mentally ask himself why Jim had ever bothered bringing him back from the dead. Why the hell bother?

 The next two hours passed in the same silence, with a couple of short breaks giving Blair a chance to catch his breath. But his struggle to keep up was even more pronounced, as he kept his lips pursed in a determined line, tried to keep his breathing even, and tried to ignore the growing pain in his stomach.

 They broke through the jungle into a clearing and with a curt, "Stay here", Jim started ahead, out into the open, in full Sentinel mode. Blair let the supplies drop to the ground and watched as Jim moved with feline grace and stealth, noticed the slight pauses, the tilted head, then finally waving Sandburg to him.

 Blair picked everything back up, grimaced as his stomach protested, and joined his partner.

 Jim stood at the far edge of the clearing, silent, unmoving. Blair reached his side, and looking up at him, puzzled, said, "Jim?"

"The Chopec Valley."

 Blair followed Jim's pointing arm, and caught his breath. They stood on what Blair now realized was an outcropping and below them - spread out in all it's glory, majestic and breathtaking, the valley. Their destination.

 "My God," he whispered, reverantly. "Jim, how far to the Chopec village?", he added.

 "Two days walk. Maybe a bit more. That's once we get down from here."

 Blair hid his disappointment. Two more days.

 "Anything.....any villages - closer?"

 "None we'd want to meet up with, Chief. You worried?"

 "No." And he wasn't. Exactly. He wasn't worried about *them*, after all, he was with Jim. But he was worried about himself. He felt like shit and the idea of two or more days, trying to keep up with Jim, to hide his damn inadequacies, and it didn't really matter how many expeditions he'd been on, or how many countries he'd seen, or how manyjungles he'd been in, he'd never felt equal to Jim, could never *be* Jim's equal. Hell, he even had the sneaking suspicion that Jim didn't believe half the stories Blair told, which was funny, really, because he'd only told *half* the stories.

 His thoughts were once again interrupted by Jim's voice.

 "......not a bad spot to camp for the night. We've got water and enough food until we get down to the valley. Sound good?"


 Jim frowned at Sandburg's lackluster response, and he slowly pulled the sleeping bags from his partner's shoulder and asked, "You want to gather up some wood for a fire?"

 Blair didn't bother to answer, he just headed off to pick up what he could find.

 #} { #} { #} {


Octavio sat in the middle of his hut, legs crossed, eyes closed. The fire blazed with a cold, blue flame, and his voice called out to his father. For several minutes, the only sound was of flames licking at wood, and his own breathing. Then......

 "Octavio, you call me from my resting place?"

 The young man nodded, eyes still closed.

 "Yes, my father. There is trouble."

 "I have seen it, my son. But no trouble for Elena, she is strong."

 "And for The Sentinel of the Great City?"

 Incacha, who appeared before Octavio's closed eyes, was silent, frowning. Then he shook his head and spoke again.

 "My adopted son's heart is good, strong. He is a great Sentinel. But he does not hear. I showed him the power of his guide, he did not listen, would not see. I showed him *his* true power, and still he would not see."

 "Why would he turn from these truths, father?"

 "His world is so much more complicated and his hurt runs deep. I fear for him. And I fear for his guide. So young, trying so hard to be so many things, to be so much to one individual. You can help him, Octavio, and so can Yurajmayo."

 Octavio's head tilted in quesion, "Help?"

 "The guide, the young shaman. Yurajmayo must share with him, if we are to save him. Be ready Octavio, be ready." Incacha's voice faded and the flames went orange and red, and warmth filled the hut, filled the young man.

 He would be ready.

 #} { #} { #} {

 Blair sat with his sleeping bag wrapped around him, huddled by the fire. They'd eaten, it was now many hours later, and Jim was finally asleep.

They hadn't talked much as the night wore on, Blair because of lack of energy, and Jim, well, it wasn't as if Jim was a talker anyway. Blair watched the flames, flickering, shooting up colorful sparks, and for all his exhaustion, he found that he couldn't sleep.

 He glanced down at his watch, catching the time in the light from the fire. It was almost five-thirty. Dawn would come soon.

 It was odd, Jim sleeping so soundly. At least, others would think so....others like Simon or Connor. What they didn't know was that if any unusual sounds made themselves known, came close to camp, Jim Ellison would be up and ready to attack in a moment. But his partner's noises were normal to the Sentinel, catalogued and dismissed.

 The fire was abating and slowly, carefully, Blair rose and shuffled over to the edge of the clearing and picked up some wood, shuffled back to the fire and dropped the branches onto the heap. Shit, they were in the goddamned jungle and he was freezing.

 Before sitting back down, he glanced up at the horizon and saw the beginings of the dawn. He moved slowly over to the edge of the outcropping and watched.

 It came slowly, gently. First, dark orange, just peeking up over the valley, fingertips only, and the clouds showing as purple shadings. Then the orange lightened, and streaks of pink joined in, melting into the orange. As he watched, enthralled, Blair felt an overwhelming sadness settle in his heart. The pink and orange were now joined by yellow, and an almost *whiteness*, and still, the sun remained hidden. And the sadness grew, grew until it had taken over his mind and body, until it was a physical being, painful, hurting, sharing his soul, twisting his soul. The new day was bittersweet, the dawn, beautiful, signaling a new begining, but to Blair, it signaled an end.

 And he could admit it now, admit it as he watched the sun begin it's journey up, as the clouds became bright, as shades of pink, pale, or fiery red, and pale yellows, brightening with the rising, took over the sky, he could admit that his life with Jim Ellison was over. That their partnership was over. Their friendship gone. Destroyed.

 And as darkness was swept aside, as it moved below him, chased out by the rising orb, as the valley grew pale, shrouded in mists, and as the mists gave way to the warmth of the new sun, he could see his ownculpability in the destuction of their friendship. Broken. Like the darkness, broken by the light of day.

 Behind him, he heard the flames spit and crackle as they found a bit of moisture in the wood, and he knew, if he turned and looked into the flames, he would see the same colors that were spread out before him, in the sky above. And he reached out, and up, trying to touch the heaven, but touched his own hurt instead, a deep hurt, and an anger, an anger and hurt he'd been keeping locked up inside of him, holding and hiding since Jim had kicked him out, since the hospital, since Sierra Verde, since Ventriss and Veronica, and since Jim had believed he could actually sell Jim's life to the highest bidder. And he let the hurt and anger go.....just let - go. And the sun was almost completely revealed now, the sky a brilliant blue and magenta, clouds now white, with only the palest pink to remind them of their previous velvet.

 And as he continued to watch, he recognized that he had no right to the hurt, to the anger. He'd forfeited them long ago.

 How could Jim think anything else? How could he expect Jim's trust when he'd never really given Jim any reason to believe that his interest was anything but scientific? That Jim meant anything more to him than fame? Riches? A name?

 Words thundered inside his brain as the sun rose completely, as the valley was now bright with day.........

 "Oh, man, I thought this was just going to be a thesis paper, but I think we're talking best seller here........"

 Hadn't he said that, before they'd even known each other a week?

 "Hey, Jim, what was it like, when those things started happening with your senses?"

 "Everything was bigger than usual, more intense, why?"

 "How intense?"

 And Jim, telling him, after their little adventure on the train, that everything was fine now, and what had he said?


 Jim had been through hell and all Blair could say was damn. And then he'd suggested they give the stuff to him again! So much heart, so much caring and concern.

 And how about Jim's first physical? Oh, yeah, he'd been real sympathetic........

 "Hey, I have something at stake here too, what if the world finds out about this prematurely? There goes my thesis, my book, the movie rights alone, for crying out loud......"

 Or his concern when Jim revealed a brother? The man had been hurting, had tried to bluff through it, and how had Blair handled it?

 "You never told me you had a brother?"

 "There's nothing to tell."

 "What do you mean, there's nothing to tell, Jim? I mean your sentinel abilities could be hereditary, what if he's got it


 And then, after Jim had come back with that remark about sending Steven into the jungle for eighteen months to see what would happen, what had unselfish, kind, giving, Blair Sandburg said?

 "I could apply for a grant."

 It was no longer dawn, it was now officially morning. And Blair Sandburg was a shit. A parasite. So hurt when he'd been kicked out, so quick to say he was sorry, but don't just say you're sorry when you've been a cold hearted prick.

 He gazed down at the valley, knowing the Chopec were down there, knowing he could not face them. Could not let them see what he was. And they would see. They would know. Jim knew, but it was an unconscious knowledge. Except, he'd believed Blair would sell him out.

 The fact that Blair would never have sold out Jim Ellison, not now, not one day after he'd meant him, did nothing to salve Blair's heart or conscience.

 The day was here, and it was over for Blair Sandburg.

 #} { #} { #} {

 It took them three hours to travel down to the valley. They talked not at all, but Jim was worried about his friend, the uncharacteristic silence a symptom.

 Blair was conserving strength, the pain in his gut a constant burn now.

 Once down, and after an additional two hours, Blair found himself slowing, finding it more and more difficult to breathe, to put one foot before the other. But he couldn't say the words, couldn't say - stop.

 Jim heard a small gasp from behind, followed by a dull thud. He whirled to find Blair face down on the jungle floor. He dropped to his knees before the prone figure and carefully turned him over in his arms.

 "Blair? Dear God, you said you were all right....", Jim's hand moved over Blair's face and he noted the pale, clammy skin, and Blair's shallow breathing........


  Jim sat beside the still unconscious Sandburg, monitoring his vitals and watching the pale, handsome face, so calm in repose.

 After Blair's collapse, Jim had created a makeshift camp, started a fire, settled Blair on one sleeping bag and covered him with the other. Then he'd begun his search for the injury and after lifting his grey Henley, it hadn't taken long. He'd found a bruised and rigid stomach. Internal injury? Bleeding? He'd sat back on his haunches, swearing and frightened, as his own recent words had come back to haunt him.....

 //".....I don't think they'll be too quick to collect when I come back sans my partner.......I'll make sure the funeral is tasteful......"//

 Sweet Jesus, what kind of man was he? How could he have said something so thoughtless?

 The skin under his fingers had been hot, and as Jim had stared at the still, slack face, he'd experienced a moment of true despair. This was somehow, much more devastating than the fountain.....

 Jim continued to gaze down at the countenance he'd come to know so well, and he was surprised to see the eyelids flutter open, as Blair squinted, trying to focus, then, "jim?"

 Ellison leaned forward, his hand resting lightly on Sandburg's shoulder as he said, "Right here, Chief, right here."

 Blair licked his dry lips and whispered, "What happened?"

 "I'd say we damaged more than the plane in the crash. Blair, why didn't you say something? Tell me you were injured?"

 "I....didn't realize....some - - discomfort, in my stomach, but....," he paused, closing his eyes tightly against the pain, then, "...just thought it was my - ulcer."

 Jesus. Blair? An ulcer?

 "jim, you should be able to *feel* an - injury...or bleeding....".

 Ellison gave a slight shake of his head as he answered, "I don't - see how, Chief."


"your hand...concentrate, you...", he swallowed and bit down on his bottom lip before continuing, "...can *feel* the

blood flow, bruising, whatever.....try it."

Jim squared his shoulders, trusting his guide, knowing that if Blair said he could - than he could. He lifted the shirt

and rested his hand tenderly over the hot, rigid skin, closed his eyes, and concentrated.....on his sense of touch,

letting his medic-trained mind take over......

.....the flow of blood, passing in, out, capillaries, veins, the arteries, and now the digestive fluids, and he could hear

them, squeezing through thin tunnels, then muscle, tightening, relaxing, and finally, the tough, hard bruise, almost

solid, and a minute tear......with blood, where it shouldn't be....

His eyes opened to find painfilled, but remarkably calm blue eyes regarding him.

"internal bleeding?"

Jim swallowed and nodded. Blair's eyes fluttered closed and he gave a small sigh, then, "how much farther to the


"Maybe a day and a half."

Blair's lids rose, as he licked his lips again and surveyed the camp, and did some quick figuring....without him, Jim

could make it to the village in less than a day...he knew that.

In as strong a voice as he could muster, he said,"You'll have to leave me, man. With water, wood and some food, I'll

be fine for a couple of days, until you bring back help."

Jim was astounded, Blair's voice, a bit louder, but so matter-of-fact, as if he actually assumed.....

"We go together, Blair. No discussion."

"Don't be an ass. I can't go any further and you know it. If you try to haul me across this jungle, even in a travois,

it'll take twice, maybe three times as long. You *have* to go without me."

"Not happening, Chief. You're in no condition to protect yourself. Now, go to sleep while I put together a stretcher."

Jim rose, and leaving no room for argument, he moved into the dense greenery, and Blair watched, helpless, as the

retreating back eventually disappeared from view.

#} { #} { #} { #} {


As Blair slept, Jim worked. His fingers wove easily, as they remembered long forgotten techniques. He pulled vines

and wove them with fronds, between the two long, fairly straight branches he'd been lucky to find. As night fell, he

completed the litter and tested it by firelight.

His last task was to tie off the long vine he'd found, thus creating a strap by which he would drag the litter.


Jim picked up the stretcher and leaned it against a tree, testing it's strength, and when satisfied, he put it back down and covered it with soft, jungle grass, then added some of his shirts. He leaned back and surveyed his handiwork....yes, with the addition of the sleeping bags, Blair would be very comfortable. He set the litter to the side and once again rested a hand on Blair's forehead, and was relieved to find it only slightly warm, much like his own. This was a good sign.

For several minutes, he sat, content to observe Blair, but eventually his mind demanded that he think. Think of his stupidity, acknowledge his responsibility, and as he absently rubbed his temple, he tried to put the last weeks in some perspective.....To understand some of his words, and actions. And as he thought, he found himself concentrating on the gentle rise and fall of Blair's chest, almost willing it to continue, to give Jim a chance......

For some ridiculous reason, a song line, from Jimmy Durante, popped into his head.....

"did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go, and still have the

feeling that you wanted to stay? Go - stay, stay - go......."

And the words changed as they rattled around inside his brain......

"did you ever have the feeling that you wanted him to go, and still have the feeling that you wanted him to stay? Go -stay, stay - go."

Push - pull.......pull - push.

Staying meant - - - that Jim *needed*. Going meant - - - that Jim had control. But *want* figured in there as Jim held on, and pushed away.

He let his gaze drift from Blair's rising/falling chest to the small frown that marred the beauty that was Blair Sandburg's face.....and Jim gave himself permission to really look, to get his fill of the man, and with that permission, came clarity.

He wanted and needed Blair Sandburg, and like a petulant, confused teenager, he'd rebelled. No one should have such control over another human being. No one. But such control was exactly what Blair Sandburg had over Jim Ellison. As awareness came, Jim began to stroke Sandburg's arm, and he realized that he'd been pushing Blair away for years, while at the same time, trying to hold the man close, trying to keep him in his life.

Pulling - Pushing.

Love - Hate.

Life - Death.

Blair - Jim.

His eyes took in the strong, broad forehead, the pug nose, the line of Blair's jaw, the lips, the slightly cleft chin.....and he found himself speaking to the sleeping man, his voice hushed, almost in a vow-like cadence......

"Pulling, as in pulling you to me, and keeping you near my heart, and Love, because I do, and Life because the opposite is unthinkable, and finally, Blair. I choose you, Blair, freely, without reservation, and I choose you above all others, I choose you above being a cop, above being a Sentinel, and I choose you above - me."

His words, spoken in promise, a verbal bonding, floated above them, and the air seemed to crackle, and like a summer lightening storm, it was heavy, supercharged, static.....

Then quiet.....and Jim bowed his head, felt the weight of the world, of his love for Blair Sandburg, and perceived the world as it would be without Blair by his side, and a heartwrenching cry imploded within his chest, his heart, and his hands clenched into fists, and his head shook, in denial, because it would not happen. There would be no world without


His head lifted and he opened his eyes to find puzzled sapphire eyes gazing back at him.


"Hey", he managed to croak out, "you're awake. How do you feel?"

"like a stick of dynamite blew up in my stomach."

"You'll eat anything, won't you?", he teased.

Blair smiled weakly and his eyes roamed the camp and lit on the stretcher. Jim's eyes followed and he nodded, "Yes, Chief. That's for you. We're *both* heading out in the morning. No discussion."

Blair dragged his focus back to Jim, gazed sadly at him and gave a small shake of his head.

"not this time, Jim, not this time", he whispered.

"it's over, you know it, I know it. you've hung on out of some misplaced guilt, Jim. and I've hung on out of....," he looked away for a second, then back, "'s time to let go."

Something snapped inside Jim Ellison and anger burned deep in his gut....

"You want me to what? Let go by leaving you here? Let go by letting you die? Or maybe just let go of the partnership, the friendship?!", his voice had steadily risen but at the accepting expression on Blair's face, he calmed.

" let go of the guilt, jim. just - let go. move on with your life, move forward."

"I can't move in any direction without you, Blair. You have to believe that. What? Do you think my *guilt* brought you back? Or back to the loft? Is it what you believe keeps you with me now? I'm not a martyr, Chief. And no one is that noble."

An eyebrow rose humorously as Blair said, "Jim Ellison? The Great Martyr? The long suffering Sentinel, Jim Ellison, a martyr? Never."

"Damn right. And I'm *not* long suffering."

"Jim, you're not only long suffering, but you can't even be *silently* long suffering."

"Nag, nag."


Blair shifted uncomfortably, and worked hard at hiding the grimace of pain. Neither man spoke for a few minutes, Blair watching the fire and Jim watching Blair.

Sandburg's eyes finally began drifting shut, fluttering, but he struggled, fought it, because they had to talk, and he had to make Jim understand and accept, but the pain and exhaustion won and he drifted into a troubled sleep.

Jim pulled the sleeping bag up under Blair's chin and let his hand rest against the two day growth of beard. Abstractly, he noticed how long Blair's dark lashes were, how young he looked, asleep, and without any thought, Jim leaned in and rested his lips on Blair's. Then he straightened, stood and foraged for more wood.

#} { #} { #} {

When Blair awoke, it was still dark, the fire was low and Jim was sound asleep, resting his head back against the tree, his hand on Blair's arm, fingers curled around Blair's shirt.

Blair gazed into the small blaze and searched his heart for the courage to act.

Jim had to make it unencumbered. *Sans* Sandburg.

He laid his hand over Jim's, ever so briefly, feeling the warmth, the strength of the man, then he painstakingly rose, the sleeping bag sliding down in a quiet whoosh. He steadied himself on the tree, and acknowledged that he was doing the right thing. He was fully cognizant that he would not get far, that upon waking, Jim would have no difficulty finding him, but then hiding was not his goal. Walking far enough, *crawling* far enough, to ensure that Jim left without him, *that* was his goal. He was dying and it was time to get the dying done.

He took two deep breaths, and stepped forward. The moment his foot touched down, the pain sent a wave of dizziness washing over him, and he broke out in a cold sweat. But he took another step, and another - and another.

Blair Sandburg gave no thought to his mother. He sincerely doubted he would be missed for long....grieved, yes, for awhile, mourned, yes. But Naomi had friends all over the world, she would travel, she would be fine.

There were no friends he'd be leaving behind, none that mattered more than Jim, anyway. And the gang at M.C. would take care of Jim, Simon would take care of Jim, be there for him, and Jim would be free, would make it out of the jungle, leaving behind another fallen comrade.

This was Blair's choice. Full circle. And just maybe, he was putting something right.


She hadn't know what to expect, but her imagination had filled in the blanks. This sweet tingle was nothing as she'd imagined.

"He is near."

Yurajmayo cocked his head at her and asked, "Should we go back?"

"No. He - needs help. Can't you feel it?"

Yurajmayo smiled indulgently at Elena. Even after all this time, she still asked.

"No, Elena. I do not feel him." But he paused, because he did feel *something*, anguish, pain and - surrender.

"You are correct. We must go on. Quickly."


The man was running, free, the jungle his home. His legs pumped effortlessly, his breath came easily. Up ahead, and slightly to his right, his spirit guide ran, a sleek, black jaguar. The man smiled and gazed to his left, fully expecting to find his guide and mate, running alongside.

He stumbled when he found the space empty.

He recovered, lifted his head, sniffed.....and found - - - nothing. Something was wrong, very wrong. The jungle began to close in, the air became so heavy, he could barely breathe.


Jim awoke, coming to his feet instantly, and knew without looking that Blair was gone.

All his senses focused, narrowed, and icy fingers of dread nearly paralyzed him, but on the edge of his senses......a scent.

He leaped forward and ran quickly, urgently, following the scent, his eyes scaning the jungle floor, taking note of the footsteps, observing as they faded and were replaced by hand and knee prints, then as they faded, and Jim could see the exact moment that Blair had begun to drag himself, and Jim felt the hot tears then his eyes caught a flash of grey.....Blair's Henley, and a moment later - Blair.

He was alive.

"God damn you....God damn could you do this?", Jim muttered angrily as he slipped his arms under Blair and tenderly lifted, bringing him close, cradling him and he dropped his head, burying his face in hair and before heading back, he whispered, "Fool."

But whether to himself or to Blair, he hadn't a clue.

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