The trip back to the hotel from the Temple of the Sentinels was a helluva lot easier than the trip *to* the Temple. For one thing - they were riding in jeeps. Oh, yeah, thought Sandburg, four-wheel drive beats two tired legs every time.
He was currently bouncing along, wedged in behind Simon and Connor, his rump resting on the back of the jeep, his eyes glued to the man in the front seat.
And Jim's eyes? Glued to the jeep in front, to the vehicle carrying the prone and mentally absent Alex Barnes.
Hell, even the *back* of Jim's head looked - stoic.
Blair let his own eyes flick forward, to the lead vehicle, to the stretcher and he was surprised that the only thing he felt was - sadness. The woman had *murdered* him, and all he could feel was this deep, life altering sadness. A sadness that had invaded his skin, his bones, and his heart. A sadness that left him colder than dying in the fountain.
He tore his gaze away from the blonde hair that he could just make out.....and concentrated on the surrounding jungle. The air around him was thick and moist, the rainy season due any minute, and he noted abstractly, that Simon's shirt was stuck to his body, that Connor's hair had gone frizzy, and that Jim never moved. Not once. He brought his hand up and wiped the sweat from his face, his neck, and decided that wringing out his hair might be a bit much, so he left it alone. And he wondered - if he had a home. At the church, he thought he might, thought maybe he and Jim were on their way back, but then the beach........and the Temple, and now......maybe - not.
His gut wrenched at that thought and he bit back a moan of despair. He'd tried so hard to help Jim, here in Sierra Verde, and he'd failed so miserably. He'd been useless. And he could admit it now....he should never have left the hospital. And dear God, how he wished he hadn't. So much better....staying in Cascade, the doctor finally releasing him, then back to the little motel, gather up his stuff and.....and....and what? And - find a place. Start over. Live without.....without - Jim. So, okay, he could still do all that. *Would* still do all that. But now, he'd do it with the memory of Jim, and Alex, and his own failing, of his utter helplessness in the face of his best friend's trial.
At that moment, Blair Jacob Sandburg hated himself. Thoroughly, completely hated himself.
With a jerk, he realized that the jeep had come to a fork in the road, and that they'd turned right, while the vehicle carrying Alex had gone left. His head followed the disappearing jeep, as did Connor's, Simon's and Jim's, until it could no longer be seen.
It was late by the time the small caravan pulled up alongside the hotel, delivering the weary travelers. They made their way to the lobby, where Simon immediately took charge, discovering first, that the next flight out would not be for two days, and that yes, they had two additional rooms, but that they weren't quite ready yet, and would the Senorita and Senor give them a few minutes?
Who had a choice?
While they waited, Jim and a porter went to his room and took Blair's and Connor's luggage and delivered it to the lobby, where upon Jim said his first words since the Temple.
"I'm bushed. If nobody minds, I'm going to hit the sack. See you all in the morning."
Simon and Megan watched him walk away, while Blair watched his shoes.
"Is he....I mean, will he be....", Megan asked quietly.
"He'll be fine, Connor," Banks answered gruffly, then, "Anyone hungry?"
Megan shook her head, and Blair continued to look at his shoes. At that moment, the desk clerk called out, "Senor Banks? We have one of the rooms ready." He and Megan walked over to the counter, Megan took her key, glanced at the two men, her eyes lingering, worriedly, on Sandburg, but Simon shook his head and said, "Go, you're bushed. We'll all meet for breakfast. Go." She went.
Simon walked back to where Blair still stood, to where he'd *been* standing since their arrival and placing one arm over his shoulders, he asked, "You gonna be okay?"
Blair lifted his head, met Simon's concerned gaze and nodded. "Sure. Just tired, like everyone else. You don't need to stay, Simon. Go on to bed. See you in the morning."
Simon took in the pale face, the dark circles under the blue eyes, and started to protest, to offer to stay, but Blair stopped him. "Go, Simon. I'd like a few minutes to myself, okay?" And he smiled to take the edge off the desperation he heard in his voice.
"All right. See you in the morning. And Sandburg?", he paused, waiting for acknowledgment from Blair and when he got it, he said, "Jim will be just fine. Don't worry." Blair nodded and Simon walked off to his room.
Blair sat down quickly, as every minute of the last couple of days suddenly caught up to him. He was bone tired, his lungs hurt like hell, breathing was tricky and his legs felt like two ton weights were attached. Blearily, he looked around the lobby, realized that he was alone, that even the desk clerk had disappeared, and slowly, he let his head drop back against the cushion and closed his eyes.
"Senor? Senor Sandburg? You're room is ready"
The voice, the shaking.....Blair opened his eyes, and found himself blinking up at the desk clerk, who's badge identified him as Carlos. He shook his head, trying to clear it, and wondered how he could have gotten so wiped out in just a couple of minutes.....
"I'm so sorry it took so long....but there was a problem with the plumbing....in the bathroom, Senor. Please forgive us. There will be no charge for tonight....you have waited so patiently, and it's been two hours. Please, Ramon will show you to your room. Again, our apologies."
Two hours. He'd been asleep in the lobby for two hours? He nodded dumbly and followed the man called Ramon as he led him in the opposite direction from Connor, Simon and Jim.
Two buildings and three long halls later, he was finally settled in his room. He was at the complete opposite end of the hotel from his friends. Figures. Hell, he wasn't even in the same building.
He stood in the middle of the room and took stock. His luggage....okay, his backpack, had been placed on the luggage rack, and in front of him, a kingsize bed, with canopy, welcomed him. To his left, a rattan door which led to the bathroom, he was sure, and to his right, a large window, with door, which led to a small, private patio. The decor was lovely and restful, jungle motif, greens, fuchsias, yellows, but muted.
Overhead, a ceiling fan whirred silently, and to aid it's attempt at cooling the room, he opened the door onto the patio, then walked to the bed, dropped down, kicked off his shoes, reached for the bedside light, flicked it off, put his hands behind his head and contemplated the darkness.
In the other part of the hotel, Jim stood at the door to his patio, his room in darkness, while he contemplated the jungle night while doing a fine job of mental chastisement.
His shame was so great, he'd been unable to speak to Blair once they'd started the journey back to the hotel, and he'd been unable to meet the younger man's gaze. He ran a hand over his eyes, and was surprised at the small moan of pain that escaped his lips.
Kicking Blair out hadn't been enough, leaving Blair defenseless against Alex, allowing him to die, hadn't been enough, oh, no, not for the Sentinel of the Great City. He had to twist the knife, stick his goddamn tongue down the throat of the woman who'd murdered his best friend. Omnipotent James Joseph Ellison. A real prince.
And he couldn't blame Sandburg for any of it. How could he blame the man for being what he was....a scientist. Jim couldn't blame the scientist because Jim was fucking jealous, hurt, and angry. What must it have felt like? Discovering another Sentinel? The exhileration, the excitement. No, he couldn't blame him.
After all, who was Jim Ellison, the cop, to tell Blair Sandburg, the anthropologist, what he should or shouldn't have done upon finding another *holy grail*? But damn, he'd give anything if Blair *had* told him. So much would have been different. Right?
*Fuck you, Ellison. You were jealous, and you would have been jealous if
Blair had told you five minutes after meeting her.*
Jim's fist pounded the wooden door jam, three times, hard. And he immediately heard Blair's voice, cautioning him to turn it down, and he felt Blair's hand on his back, comforting.....but he didn't turn it down, he wanted the pain, *deserved* the pain. Because of a green eyed monster.
Blair and another sentinel. A *female* sentinel. Blair and a female sentinel.
At least, now, he could admit the truth. Yes, his trust had been violated......but then again, it hadn't. Blair was under no obligation to discuss other findings with Jim, and there'd been no way for Blair to know that Alex Barnes was the person they'd been looking for......and let's face it, in spite of three years with Jim Ellison and crime, Blair was *still* surprisingly naive and trusting. That bullshit in the squad room, the night Blair said he'd do anything to square things, had been just that.....bullshit. Sentinel claptrap. How many things had Jim kept from Blair over the years? Hell, look what he'd kept from him in the last few weeks.
Intellectually, Jim could say that both men had made serious errors in judgement, but in his heart, he knew that only his had resulted in true harm. Because no matter how much he'd wanted to be everything to Blair Sandburg, the truth was - he wasn't.
And he knew that they should have been able to talk, to apologize, to reconcile, and Blair had certainly tried.....but it was amazing how love flying in, sends reason flying out.....
And Jim Ellison was in love with Blair Sandburg.
Which explained why he'd kissed the woman who'd murdered the man he loved. And wasn't *that* the thought from hell. Yes, he'd been driven, but the drive had been blind jealousy. Yes, he'd been given a trial. And he'd failed, as much as he'd succeeded. He understood who and what he was now, because the pool had shown him, through Blair. And in the end, he'd forgiven Alex, tried to save her.
But with Blair, tied up, on his knees, Jim had kissed Alex again.
And he could never, in a million years of explanation, give Blair what he needed. The *why*.
Jim turned from the jungle, walked to his bed and dropped down, tired, soul weary, and prayed to Incacha for the strength to face Blair, to tell him the truth, all of it. To take the rejection, or the acceptance, or the hate....no, Blair wouldn't hate him. And Blair would accept Jim's words. After all, who'd been comforting whom back at the Temple? In spite of everything, Blair had apparently forgiven Alex, understood her even better than Jim had. Recognized what she'd lacked, and known all that Jim had, that Jim was.......he'd listen, and he'd accept. But would he come back?
Jim lay, staring up at the ceiling fan, his breathing slowing, his eyes finally closing, and he slept.
Blair watched the dawn, observed it without much interest, noting absently the brilliant colors, heard his stomach growl, but couldn't have cared less. In the night, without sleep, he'd come no closer to deciding on a course of action and in fact, was completely rudderless.
He had no desire to see Simon or Megan, but desperately wanted to see Jim. To search his face, to hear words, to listen to his voice and hope that he'd see a smile, hear forgiveness, or at least the attempt at forgiveness. And so, of course, he didn't want to see Jim either, because of what he *wouldn't* see or hear.
But he should get up. He had medication in his bag, pills he was supposed to take, pills he'd yet to take since leaving the hospital. But lying here sounded and felt so much better.
He got up.
Half an hour later, showered, shaved, pills swallowed, he decided to face the day, face Jim, face his friends.
He slipped into a pair of jeans, a white tank top and pulled out a pale blue Mexican Wedding shirt he'd bought years ago, in Mexico City. He slipped it on, leaving it unbuttoned, and left his room.
By the time Blair got to the lobby, he'd realized just how early it was.....and that Simon, Jim and Megan would probably still be asleep.
He left the hotel and decided to walk into town. Kill time. Bolster his nerve. Because Jim and he needed to talk, decisions had to be made, and he needed to prepare himself for Jim's words......
"Look, Blair.....I know we're friends, but....".
But get your own place. Get your own life. Stop living mine. I can't trust you anymore.
And Blair had to ready his words........
"But Jim....you came after me.....you refused to let me die....."
Scratch that. Of course he came after Blair. What else would a Sentinel do?
"But Jim....we merged. We were one. Doesn't that mean something?"
No. The guide broke the trust of the sentinel.
*But, I *felt* it, Jim. I - felt - it.*
Blair stopped dead in his tracks.
But had Jim? Felt it?
"I'm not ready to take that trip.....". Wasn't that what Jim had said?
In the hospital?
Blair tilted his head up, searching the sky, glaring into the sun, blinking back the tears, forcing them back, letting the sun do his work for him.......
"Have you seen Sandburg?"
Megan looked up to see Simon coming up to the table, a worried expression on his face.
"No, and I didn't want to disturb him, he needs the rest."
Simon pulled out a chair and as he sank down, he said, "I checked his room, he's not there. No one has seen him."
Simon shook his head. "No, Jim is up and in the back, by the pool. He ate a couple of hours ago."
Further conversation was stalled as the waiter came up for Simon's order of Huevo Rancheros and coffee. As the waiter headed back to the kitchen, Megan asked, "How is Jim this morning?"
"Quiet. I hadn't checked in on Sandburg when I found Jim. How are you doing with all this new information?"
She regarded her Captain as she pondered her answer, and as she gazed past the lens of his glasses, she realized what he was really asking.
"I'm not going to tell anyone, Sir. I wouldn't."
He nodded, satisfied. "Good decision."
"Or what? You'd have killed me?" She bantered back.
"It would have been a dirty job, but someone would have to do it."
She snorted into her coffee, in a very unladylike manner. Simon grinned back at her.
She put the cup down and tilted her head. "You're really worried about them, aren't you?"
"Yes. They're my friends. And their friendship is very important to me - to them. I don't want to see it end."
"Oh, Sir, I don't think that will happen. There's much more than friendship involved. Of course, we may need to lock them in a rubber, sound proof room, throw away the key, until they talk, but after that? Everything'll be jake."
Simon peered at his exchange officer, shook his head, and decided it would be best to follow the new military credo.....Don't ask - don't tell.
He'd gone too far. His legs were wobbling and his lungs were on fire. He gave a quick scan around and realized he'd walked all the way down to the marina. Beckoning to him from across the road were a set of benches and he managed to get to one and collapse in a heap before his legs gave out.
That's what deep thought got you. Now how the hell would he make it back? Maybe if he just rested here a bit......yeah, that's the ticket. Just rest, get his breath back and take it slower to the hotel.
He watched with some interest as several small boats were being readied to set sail, and without conscious thought, his eyes moved across the water......following the waves, noting how they lapped against the various hulls, and thought, abstractly, that with his body in the fountain, the water had probably slapped against him in much the same manner......Funny, he hadn't even had the chance to ask anyone what had actually happened....oh, not with Alex, hell, he knew *exactly* what had occurred with her....no, he meant *at* the fountain. How had Jim known? Or had he? Maybe he'd come, hoping to talk to Blair? Maybe to reconcile?
To give them a second chance?
Strange....there being no opportunity to discuss it with anyone. On the flight, he'd slept. And once here, in Sierra Verde, well the whole thing seemed unimportant compared to Alex....and Jim....and the Temple. But if he could just get his hands around what happened.....could talk about it, with Jim.....
Talking about it with Jim was the last thing he could do....that would entail telling Jim what happened with Alex, and he could never do that. Especially not now. Not after all this.
Blair took a shuddering breath and closed his eyes. It was good that he hadn't had the chance to ask. Because his questions would bring forth other questions. Like, how had Alex gotten to him? And that was one question he wouldn't answer. Yes, it was best this way. His questions could go unanswered, and by the time they returned to Cascade, everyone would be so busy about Mexico, and Alex, that his death would be just so much, "oh, yeah, and Sandburg drowned...." And the truth of *how* Alex had gotten to him, would remain with him for the rest of his life.
Because the truth was - he'd let her. He'd been the instrument of his own death. He hadn't fought her, hadn't tried to talk her out of it, or to bluff her, he'd simply - accepted. Welcomed.
He'd made it impossibly easy. Even when he'd realized that his death wouldn't be the result of one single, merciful bullet, but rather, that he was to drown. Drowning. A fear since childhood. A fear he'd never shared with anyone.
He suddenly smiled. Did that mean he'd been an assisted suicide? Talk about your irony.
Blair leaned forward, clasping his hands together and resting his elbows on his knees. He needed to find a way to regain Jim's trust. To somehow prove that nothing like this would ever happen again. And he needed to put the fountain, and the decision he'd made there, behind him. It was over. What had happened between he and Jim later, as Jim brought him back, was over. He'd have to ignore that as well. Jim had made that clear in the hospital. Made it clear when he'd left Cascade without telling Blair.
*You're a smart man, Sandburg, you can do this. There is an answer.*
Jim sat in the shade, and tried to find the courage to confront Blair. But his courage seemed to have deserted him, and the thought of facing down that man, of trying to apologize, to explain what couldn't *be* explained, was more than this ex-Ranger could handle. Maybe, if he just pretended that everything was the same as before.....just - move Blair back in, go back to what they'd had....maybe Blair would accept that? *Fall* for that? Oh, yeah, that was fair. Not.
No, he had to take the bull by the horns, swallow his fear and actually - talk. Talk. Share.
Explain. And he did that *so* well. But this was Blair he was talking *about*......Blair who *did* talk, did share, and Jim owed him.
The pool sparkled in the morning sun, and while Jim should have been seeing the pale blue, he found himself seeing only darker water, and droplets hitting a billowing jacket, and brown curls splayed out, floating.....and his own hands reaching, pulling, and *knowing* that the body was just that....a body. That Blair was gone. No heartbeat. None. But he'd tried anyway, couldn't *not* try. Because he'd simply refused to believe that the body on the grass was no longer his Blair. That those blue eyes, eyes that showed every single emotion, eyes that crinkled up in laughter, or widened in hurt....that those eyes would never open again, or that Jim would never hear *that* voice again....pleading, cajoling, sharing ridiculous stories that could only have happened to *him*.....calming, reasoning....so Jim had tried, then Jim had prayed to Incacha.
And in the hospital, Blair had told of a vision. Just a vision. A vision that had been *real* to Jim. A vision that was *life*. He'd gone to another realm, to the spirit realm, between life and death, to bring his partner, his soulmate, back. But to Blair, it had been a vision. Something to share, to get wildly excited about, a mystery to be solved, but not *real*. Yes, he'd asked Jim to join him in unravelling that mystery, to accept it. But how could he? He *knew* what had happened. He'd felt it.
He could see it now.....feel the strange air.......knew he was in his spirit guide's body, felt the strength, and the determination. And ahead....the wolf. Running away, tail down, so Jim had screamed - yowled and the wolf had stopped, turned and Jim had seen the flicker of hope....and watched as it died. And as the beautiful animal turned back and started away....Jim gave a despairing yowl, a bellow, really, and watched with bated breath as the wolf stopped yet again, turned again, and those incredible blue eyes regarded him with such sadness, so Jim took two steps forward and pleaded with a mewl this time, and the wolf cocked his head, and Jim could almost *hear* Blair's voice....
"you mean it? you really want me to come back? honest?"
And Jim yowled to the heavens and the wolf stood, tail whipping madly and just as suddenly, a huge chasm had sprung up between them, but the wolf gave it not a single thought and started to run. And in that moment, Jim knew the most incredible happiness.....because Blair was coming back to - *him*. And the feeling was followed with the most exhilarating flood of love, of lust, of need.....and he had to believe that Blair had felt it as well.....
And they'd jumped - and they'd - merged, and in that instant, Jim experienced every part of Blair Sandburg. Inside - out. Sexually, physically, emotionally, spiritually. The links had been bonded and fused together for all eternity. All lifetimes. And yet, in the hospital....Blair had shared a vision. A wild vision. Hadn't he felt any of it?
And now, if he had? If Blair had truly shared the exact same experience....what did he believe *now*?
Blair finally made it back to the hotel....three hours later than when he'd left, and was now thoroughly exhausted. Maybe he should go to bed. He walked through the lobby, praying he wouldn't see Simon, Megan or Jim, and having his prayer *not* answered.
"Sandy, where have you been? I've been worried..we've all been worried."
Megan stood before him, hands on hips, glaring down on him, and succeeding in making him feel about three years old.
"Went for a walk. Okay by you, *Inspector* Connor?" His reply was snippy and rude and he couldn't have cared less.
She gave back as good as she'd been given.
"No, it isn't and you look like shit."
"Well, let me remedy that for you....." and he walked away.
Megan ran after him, and caught him - in two strides. Her hand grasped his arm and she said, "Please, Sandy, I'm sorry. I was just really worried. You never should have come, you weren't ready to leave the hospital, let alone take all this on.....", her eyes were begging forgiveness.
Forgiveness. The pain lanced through him and it must have shown on his face because Megan frowned and asked, "Sandy, you okay?"
"I'm fine. I'm going to my room." He left it at that, making sure the expression on his face brooked no argument from Connor. And it must have worked, because she let him go this time.
As he walked through the halls, he happened to glance to his left, toward the pool and the first thing he saw was - Jim.
He was sitting at one of the poolside tables, in the shade, a plate of food in front of him, untouched. He was as unmoving as he'd been yesterday in the jeep.
Blair moved to the window and watched, hands in his pockets.
As he stood, his eyes taking in every inch of the back of the man, the answer came. He turned and walked back to the lobby and up to the front desk.
"Ah, Senor Sandburg. You're room was satisfactory, si?"
"Very, thank you, Mr. Salas. I wonder, could you tell me where I might rent a jeep?"
"Why yes, right here. How long will you need it?"
"Maybe, two hours?"
A few minutes later, a set of Jeep keys in hand, Blair was back in his room.
He stared at his backpack, then taking a deep breath, he grabbed it up and headed out.
He drove for quite a bit, his desire to be deep in the jungle his motivation. The surrounding beauty went unnoticed as he drove and planned. He had no doubts about this, none. It was right. It was the answer. And even if it didn't work, it would solve so many other issues and it would protect Jim, leave him safe.
He'd stayed on a semblance of a road, and when it ran out, he stopped, grabbed his backpack and hiked in.
He walked for about ten minutes, the air growing heavier as time went on. He'd bet that the rains would come by the end of the day.
He reached a small clearing and nodding his satisfaction, and noting a large boulder, he sat down to catch his breath, his fingers holding his bag tightly.
He looked about him and happily observed the amount of debris, all good for fueling a fire. And speaking of which, now was as good a time as any to start his cleansing little funeral pyre.
He dropped his bag and moved about, gathering up fronds, brush and twigs, then laying them out for a campfire. From his pocket, he pulled the packet of matches that he'd taken from the counter, struck one and dropped it. The fire started out slowly, mostly smoke, then flames. He added more twigs, more brush, until it was going hot and heavy. He reached over and pulled his bag to him, dug in and brought out Burton's Monograph. He held it a moment, leafing through the oh, so familiar pages, stopping at the picture of the sentinel, and he ran his fingers over the image, and read words that were like a religion to him, memorized, his own bible......
And he tore out the page and fed it to the fire. Then he tore out another and another and another.
Jim had sat here long enough. Time to get cracking, to do the right thing, to face Sandburg. He hauled himself up, as if he were at least 95 years of age and made his way back indoors, to the lobby.
"May I help you, Senor?"
"Yes. Blair Sandburg's room number, please?"
"Ah, yes, Senor Sandburg. His room is in the older building, room 17. But he is not there, Senor. He left, oh, perhaps thirty minutes ago. He rented a jeep, for the afternoon."
Jim frowned in puzzlement. Blair, taking a jeep? Why on earth.......and for the afternoon?
He thanked the clerk and turned slowly away, still trying to figure out why Blair would go travelling......in Sierra Verde.
A feeling, a niggle.....the hair on the back of his neck rising.....he quickly turned back.....
"Would you have another jeep for rent?"
"Yes, of course, Senor."
Blair continued to tear out pages, to drop them on the blazing fire......his concentration so deep, so intent, that he didn't hear the creature, sense the movement......the predator, moving cautiously through the jungle, nose sniffing out the human.......
The last page. His hand held it for a brief moment, then - let go. The page wafted down, to land gently on top of the fire. It caught, the edges curling, the smoke rising again, and Blair watched as the black letters disappeared, the words turning to ash.....
He was almost done. Almost.
He reached back inside the bag, and with both hands, pulled out his laptop.
When Megan showed up at the hospital, as Blair was dressing to go after Jim, she'd jumped in and decided to accompany him. She'd given him a ride back to the University, hadn't so much as said a word when he made her go to the *back* side of Hargrove Hall, and she'd waited patiently while he walked inside, grabbed up his stuff, and his backpack, and realized that his laptop was inside, where he'd left it, but he'd shrugged and gone on out....
And now, now he was very thankful. Because this was the last bit of the *fix*. He'd already destroyed those tapes. He'd done that while in his office, the same night Alex had come for him. He wasn't worried about the files. They said nothing. No, all his information on Sentinel James Joseph Ellison had been contained on small tapes, in his head and in his laptop. And of course......the monograph. He couldn't risk anyone else making the same connection that Megan had....just because she'd skimmed through the book.
So now the monograph was gone, and that just left his laptop.
He stood, placed it carefully on the boulder, then lifted up the sledge hammer that he'd brought with him from the garage where he'd picked up the jeep. He lifted the hammer over his shoulder and with a deep breath, brought it down once - hard.
And from the bush, two yellow eyes watched.
Jim had no difficulty picking up the track of the jeep and with his heart in his throat, he drove relentlessly on......
Again and again, Blair brought the hammer down. The computer splitting apart, chunks of it flying, plastic chips landing at Blair's feet or hitting him in the chest. But the hammer continued down, occasionally stopped so that the young man could bring large chunks back up and strike again.....
The sweat ran down his back, and he paused, just long enough to pull the Mexican wedding shirt off and toss it in on the ground, then picking the hammer back up and swinging.....
His breath was coming in gasps, he couldn't see, his eyes stinging from the tears and the sweat and the salt. His arms burned as did his shoulders and lower back, but the upward and downward movement of the hammer never even slowed.
Until - he heard the growl. Low, rumbling, off to his right.
The arc of the hammer stalled - stopped. Midair. He turned his head slowly......and there, in the corner of his eye.....a large cat, just coming through the brush......head low, ears back, and Blair froze.
He let the hammer drop to the ground, his fingers suddenly numb.
He turned, ever so carefully......the large animal stood, wary, sniffing.....and a sound rumbled through it's chest.....and one long, sleek leg moved forward.....and Blair took one cautious step back, and his heel struck the hammer and he went down......landing on his butt.
He blinked up at the sky, got himself up on his hands, brought his knees up and found that the cat had moved into his clearing, the great head bent, sniffing the now dead fire, then the head lifted and yellow eyes looked directly at him.....
.....and Blair scooted back, own eyes wide with terror......
....and the cat followed, body low, tongue swiping at the razor sharp teeth.......and Blair could go no further, his back now up against a tree......
And the huge animal stopped, only inches from Blair's knees, and the head lowered, and butted it's way between Blair's legs, and the cat moved in, it's nose quivering, whiskers taut, and as Blairs eyes grew impossibly rounder, the cat brought it's nose to Blair's crotch and then nudged him.......
What the fuck?
"hey, I mean.....what the hell are you doing? I, oh, oh, shit....."
And the cat butted his crotch with the magnificent head, and another sound rose.....a deep, thrumming......
"god damn....you're fucking - purring."
And the butting got harder and Blair was being bucked into the tree.....and the purring got louder.....
"jesus......this isn't happening....it's some kind of trance.....my mind, gone.....I've overextended myself.....i'm sick...oh, shit....jeez, no way....i, um, i......", and the cat kept it up, but finally the head lifted and happy yellow eyes met startled blues.....
"you're - smiling. you're fucking smiling."
And the cat was grinning. And a paw reached out, settled against Blair's chest and the nails dug in, just deep enough, and Blair found himself being dragged down, into a prone position, and as he went down, his legs dropped down and together, but the cat didn't like that, so the great head went down again, and nudged the legs apart and it gave Blair another nudge.....
"i get it.....i get it now....you're - jim's spirit guide. of course....should have recognized you....after all, one could say we're - intimate. you know? Yeah, that's it. I mean, what are the odds that I'd find a happy, horny and apparently *gay* jaguar in the mexican jungle? Yep, you're Jim's spirit guide.....but you should know, I'm kinda a wolfy kind a guy...."
The cat paid no attention to Blair's words, but the purring seemed to double. The cat moved across Blair's body, straddling him, and with half it's body above Blair, it simply - lay down.
Stunned, Blair could only lie there, arms outstretched, black cat making itself at home.
Almost without realizing, Blair's arms moved.....up and around, and he felt the warm fur, and one hand moved up the head, and moved over the shorter hairs, ruffling, and the cat dipped his head for greater closeness, and the pink tongue swiped at Blair's neck, and the man closed his eyes, and held......held tightly. Face buried, breathing coming in short, controlled gasps, and the cat seemed to understand, stayed still, and Blair cried into the fur......
Something wet hit him......a large splot. And another, and another. The rains had come. He opened his eyes to look up and see the heavens opening, the torrent coming down.
The cat shook and both seperated, the rain falling warm but hard. Blair scrambled to his feet, the animal remaining at his side, seated, giving his head a little shake every now and then as Blair let the rain wash him clean.
He held his arms out to his side, at shoulder height, and tilted his head back, opened his mouth and drank it in. The rain slammed down, the dirt turning to mud, and still, man and beast remained in place.
Jim spotted the abandoned jeep, pulled next to it and made his way into the jungle, having no difficulty following Blair's trail.
It had started to rain, but Jim didn't slow his pace. The feeling that had been egging him on, had abated the moment he'd spotted the jeep, but the sense of urgency was still there......
Just up ahead now. He could hear his heartbeat. Jim stopped. *Two* heartbeats.
But.......not - human. One was not - human.
He picked up the pace.
Nothing had felt this good in a long time. The rain, cleansing......pounding into him, his hair, loose, dripping, his clothes, plastered to his body, but he never even considered finding shelter. It felt too good. Water. Rain. Death. Life.
He pivoted, circled, eyes still shut, enjoying the wetness, so involved, that again, he missed the fact that he was no longer alone.
Jim stepped to the clearing, and his breath caught in his throat.
Blair. Arms out, head back, hair hanging wet and loose, t-shirt molded to his chest, the darkness of his chest hair showing through, tantalizing, with more above the rim of the shirt......and his jeans, tight, dark with wet, outlining the curve of his ass, the roundess, and the total sense of abandon, of sensualness.....
Jim let his eyes roam down, and he gasped in surprise as for the first time, he noticed the animal, at Blair's side.
The black jaguar.
*His* black jaguar.
The cat regarded him, rubbed it's head against Blair's thigh, then turned and loped into the jungle.
The sound, the rub.....Blair stopped, opened his eyes, and found himself facing Jim.
The arms dropped listlessly to his side, the joy ebbed from his face, to be replaced by a frown.
Jim took a step in....and Blair took a step back. Jim stopped, hurt and shocked.
Sandburg seemed to struggle with himself for a moment, then.....he held his hands out, palms up, in supplication and whispered, "i never meant to hurt you, jim. never."
There was a time a for words and a time for action. The misery on Blair's face, the submissive body language, all told Jim that now was the time for action. And damn the consequences if he was wrong.
But before he could move, Blair took another step back and Jim had to move closer, and his foot hit something, and he glanced down, and his sentinel sight zeroed in.....and he quickly bent at the waist and scooped up the piece of plastic from the mud, held it up and......
Blair's laptop. A piece of Blair's laptop. Sentinel eyes scanned the area, as Blair took more steps back, his breathing coming in harsh pants, his eyes going wild.
Ashes. Jim swooped down and pushed his hand through the mud and ash, bringing up a handful, holding it to his nose, then focusing his sight........
His head jerked up, eyes ablaze.
"What? What is this? Tell me, Chief. Tell me now."
Emotions rushing to the surface and he felt like a small boy, caught doing something naughty by Naomi, only she'd just shake her head and give a little clicking noise.....this was worse. He stumbled back, tried to find words, to make his mouth move.....he was blinking rapidly, and he couldn't breathe........and he was choking, and heaving, and he turned and began to throw up, to heave bile, retching, doubled over, and all he could see was brown mud, turning green, and he couldn't stop it, and he was shaking and moaning, and all he wanted was the cat again, the love, the warmth, not accusation, not condemnation, nor hate, and he fell to his knees and moaned out, "come back, please, come back...."
In two long strides, Jim knelt beside Blair and in one swift move, had gathered the younger man into his arms.
He held him close, his head buried in wet hair, ignoring the rain, ignoring the stiffness of the body he now held, only knowing that he was, indeed, holding him.
And he held tighter, pulling in deeper, trying with every fiber of his being to relive the moment when they'd become one.....when wolf and jaguar had melded.....
Blair found himself being hugged to Jim's massive chest. Arms wound around him, gripping him fiercely, and Blair could do nothing. He was suddenly exhausted and his body went limp, his head falling forward, and Jim scooped him up and almost ran back to the parked jeep, placed Blair in the front, and before sliding in beside him, he pulled the top up, latched it against the rain, got in, started up and headed back to the hotel.
As the jeep pulled away, Blair curled himself into the corner, shivering and shaking, eyes closed, and wishing he were the wolf, back on that hill, turning away from Jim, moving away, far away.........
The roads were treacherous, the rain relentless, and it didn't slow Jim Ellison down one bit. He drove recklessly, gazing every now and then at the huddled body in the passenger seat, and he was frightened, more frightened than he'd ever been, scared shitless, knowing what he'd seen back there, knowing that Blair had destroyed his laptop, and *knowing* that the ashes were the monograph.
He began to plead, silently....."please, god, please.....," and he didn't really know what he was asking for.....redemption? Forgiveness? Certainly both, and more.
The jeep slid in the mud, but miraculously, Jim retained control, straightened it out and Blair's voice cut into him.....
"stop, jim, stop the car.....".
He stopped without even thinking. Blair pushed the door open and stumbled out.....
He wasn't sick again, but he needed....stability.
Needed the earth, the car, to stop moving.
He stood, taking in great gulpfuls of air, once again letting the rain clean him and again he tilted back his head and drank in the water, swished it around, spit it out, and repeated.
There was nothing inside him, nothing left. He was - empty.
"Blair?" Jim whispered.
"Talk to me, Chief. Please."
He couldn't see in this rain, let alone talk. He just shook his head.
"Okay, I understand. *I'll* talk. You destroyed your laptop, why? And that was Sir Richard Burton's Monograph, wasn't it? You burned it."
Blair nodded, dumbly.
"Oh, God, why?"
Blair lifted his head then, and looked at Jim, and his eyes were so sad....and Jim thought he could see every tragedy in the world, reflected in those eyes, and he whispered his question again, "why, blair, why?"
"to show you.....to protect you.....nothing matters but you.....only way. thought it was the only way," and he repeated what he'd said when Jim had first shown himself in the clearing, "never meant to hurt you."
Jim moved closer, but cautiously, as he asked, "Please, Blair? Let me hold you, please?"
Hold. God, yes. *God* yes.
Jim recognized the surrender and he gently took the younger man into his arms, and held him lightly this time, wanting to make it right for Blair.
Slowly, they sank to the ground, arms wrapped around each other, rain washing over them, cleaning them both, and Jim rested the side of his face against Blair's cheek, and after a few moments, his head slid around, and his mouth found Blair's, and they kissed, hungrily, deeply, both men almost taking sustenance from the kiss, and Blair's hands buried themselves in the short hairs on Jim's head, as Jim pulled Blair impossibly closer, and the mud squished beneath them, sliding around them, and Jim was lowering Blair, into the mud, their mouths still fastened, as Jim blanketed the younger man with his body, and finally the kiss ended and with a moan, Jim moved down Blair's body, pushing up the t-shirt, nuzzling the soft, wet chest hair, but continuing down, fingers fumbling in the rain, pulling at the zipper and as he fumbled, he nuzzled Blair's crotch, and Blair wondered if he were dreaming.....one minute, back at the clearing, the cat had been at his side, and the next, Jim, in black jeans and black t-shirt, and maybe Blair had lost it, finally.....
"real, you're not real.....none of this...real...." he mumbled.....
"Yes, real, I'm real...you're real, love you, Blair, love you,
always...." Jim mumbled back, just before he took Blair into his mouth
and Blair almost screamed, and thrust up in shock, as Jim *ate*
hungrily, greedily, sucking and licking,
tasting the one thing he'd needed for so long,
and Blair was pumping, mindlessly, and coming, and Jim's name was wrenched from his lips, and Jim scrabbled at frantically pulling the jeans the rest of the way, pulling them off, and Blair was trembling, the last of his orgasm still evident, and his fingers pulled at Jim's jeans, clumsily unzipping, and Jim straightened, rising above Blair, who was pushing the jeans down over Jim's hips, freeing his cock, and pulling the man down, even as he rose up enough to take Jim into *his* mouth, and fingers curled around wet hair, anchoring Jim, as he now bucked, unable to believe this was his Blair, doing this to him......and Jim couldn't last, not this time.....and he came, couldn't even warn Blair, and his head fell back, the veins in his neck taut as he yelled, pumping, as the rain poured down on them, and it was over and he fell forward, to arms enfolding him, to hands stroking his hair, and to murmurs, "love you too, Jim, love you too.....".
The rain brought him back. And the shivering. Blair's shivering.
"You can't be cold."
He shifted his weight from the slighter body beneath him.....gazed down at the man, at his face, at blue eyes blinking back at him, "Shit, you *are* cold."
Blair laughed, a real, full, deep laugh, a freeing laugh and managed to gasp out, "no, not cold....sex shivering....."
Jim reared back a bit, a quizzical expression on his face and asked, "Sex shivering? Have I missed something?"
"When was the last time you had sex with me?"
Jim looked at his watch, through the rain, and said, "By my reckoning, about ten minutes ago."
"Well, now you know."
Jim rolled off the man, stood, pulled him up with him and said, "This Sandburg zone is getting - *zonier*. *What* do I know?"
"Now you know about the Sandburg shiver."
They stood in the rain, half naked, staring at each other, Blair smiling like a fool, Jim looking like Rod Serling just popped in.
Blair nodded. "It's kinda a post-orgasmic thing. Usually happens within a minute or two of orgasm, but you, my fine sentinel, managed to draw the sucker out by about an additional five to eight minutes."
One eyebrow shot up as Jim tilted his head to the right and regarded Blair - rather smugly, as he asked, "Oh, yeah?"
"Who said it was a good thing?"
"It's not?" Jim asked, a bit deflated.
Blair grinned, reached down, grabbed up Jim's jeans, threw them at him, and said, "Yeah, it is, but you're already so damn smug and stuck up.....".
Two minutes later, both dressed, they climbed back into the jeep.
They sat, watching the rain, neither eager to move, to drive back to the hotel. Finally.....
"I can't believe you destroyed everything, Blair."
Blair shrugged, as he continued to stare out the front windshield.
Jim turned and looked at Blair.
"There's always the "thin blue line" thing."
"There's always the academy."
Jim stared - open mouthed.
"You'd do that?"
Blair nodded, without looking at Jim.
Jim's head turned again, eyes staring out at the rain.
"Blair.....you've been the best partner I could ever have had. You know that, don't you?"
From the corner of his eye, he saw the shake of Blair's head.
"I couldn't have any other partner, ever. No one but you. But.....your doctorate."
"I can do both, Jim. I'd still like to get my doctorate, to finish what I started, using another subject. But.....my life......is yours. Has been, from the begining. I discovered more than a real live Sentinel, when I found you. I discovered my life. I lost my way, for a bit, but I'm not lost now."
They looked at each other then, and Jim smiled, *that* smile, and Blair grinned back.
"We should go back to the clearing, get the other jeep, and my backpack."
Jim nodded, but he still had one question, something that *had* to be asked.
"Blair, the fountain, the vision. What did it mean to you?"
"Are you sure you want to get into that? I tried to discuss it with you, at the hospital, and there was definite resistance, man."
"Sandburg, just tell me - what did it mean to you?"
Blair struggled internally for the right answer. He could give Jim all his mumbo jumbo, give his scientific reasoning, or go all mystical, but somehow.....he decided to go simple and - honest.
"It meant everything to me, Jim."
Jim looked quickly away, tears stinging his eyes.
"Me too, Chief, me too."
And everything else could wait. Forever.
Simon was angrily huffing on his cigar, having just torn the hotel apart, looking for Jim and Blair.
According to the desk clerk, both men had returned several hours ago, from some sort of outing. They'd been wet, muddy, but in good spirits. And Simon hadn't been able to find either one of them since. And Connor was missing too.
He decided to try Jim's room, one more time, but this time, from the backside, from the patio.
He walked outside, moved to the rear, and stepped onto the patio.
The shutters were open and he could see Jim, in his bed, a sheet half covering him, sound asleep.
Well, thought Simon, at least one of them is accounted for......and he was about to turn away when he realized that there was another lump under the sheet.....and now he could see the long hair.....Shit, Connor. He chomped down on his cigar so hard, he nearly bit it in two. No way.
He whirled around to find Megan Connor standing behind him, clearly puzzled.
"I've been looking for Jim and Blair...." her voice trailed off as a huge grin lit up Simon's face. He took her arm and led her away from the window.
"They're fine, Connor, just fine. Why don't you and I head into town for some dinner? Eh?"
And with a very satisfied backward glance, he steered his exchange officer in the direction of town and the biggest lobster dinner he could find.