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(Title Pic by Lyn)

EMAIL: Annie

"Are you sure he'll be okay out there? I mean, I know you and Blair will be with him but he's only six, Jim-"

Jim Ellison stopped his wife's concerned voice by the simple expedient of placing his mouth on hers and kissing her gently. Pulling back, he cupped her cheek and smiled into her eyes. "He'll be fine, Deb. He wants to go. It's the week before Christmas and you've got Emily to look after, as well as the last of the holiday preparations. This way Jack and I will be out of your hair. It's just a weekend camping trip, honey."

Debra looked down as she felt a small hand tug at her shirt. "Please, Mom," Jack said, his gaze entreating. "Sage is going and he's only a year older than me. And you promised."

Debra bent and pulled the boy into her arms, hugging him tightly. Then she stood and took their baby daughter from Jim's arms. She gave Jack's hair a ruffle. "Well, you two better get everything packed if you're going to leave here in the middle of the night."

Jim grinned. "Four-thirty is not the middle of the night," he protested. "Mind you, I think Sandburg would agree with you."

She laughed as she headed for the bathroom to bath the baby. "Yeah, well, let's just say I don't envy Megan trying to wake him up in the morning."

~oOo~

Jim glanced across at his bleary-eyed partner. Blair was slumped against the passenger side window, his eyelids drooping at half-mast. "You're supposed to be helping me stay alert," he commented.

Blair indicated the back seat with his head. "Jack and Sage are managing that just fine on their own." He peered between the front seats to where the two boys were playing a raucous game of snap. "Keep it down to a dull roar, will you, guys? I'm trying to sleep here."

Jim gave a chuckle as the boys giggled uproariously and immediately launched into yet another round of ‘Ten Green Bottles’. "You just had to say something, didn't you, Sandburg?" he said with a shake of his head.

Blair just shot him a dirty look then dropped his head back against the glass again and closed his eyes.

Jim smiled and turned his attention back to the road. He'd been looking forward to this trip for weeks. It would be like old times for him and Blair, with the added pleasure of having their sons along, watching Jack and Sage's friendship growing just as his and Blair's had over the years.

There were still times when Jim looked back over the years before the diss-aster, as Blair referred to it now, and wondered that they were still friends at all. But they were. Somehow they'd made it through the thorny bushes that threatened to tear their relationship apart and gotten to the other side, somehow stronger and more bonded than ever. He could only wish the same kind of friendship for their sons.

Jack and Sage were as different as chalk and cheese, as different as Jim and Blair were, Jim realized. Sage was short for his age but with his mother's willowy build and he'd inherited Blair's and Megan's dark curls. Facially, he was beginning to look more and more like his father every day.

Jim remembered the day he'd been born and how stunned he'd been when Megan had told him they were going to name the child, Sage. He'd thought it was one of Blair's little digs at his expense at first, a ribbing about Jim's repeated sneezing attacks when Naomi, Blair's mother, visited and insisted on burning copious amounts of sage to cleanse the loft's aura. But Blair had told him it was because Sage had looked so wise even when he was just born, as if he was an old soul and just like that, they'd known what his name should be. And it suited him, Jim thought now, as he looked into the rear-view mirror and saw Sage looking back at him with that steady, intense gaze. Jim winked at him and saw the boy's eyes crinkle in a grin.

Jack, on the other hand, was Jim incarnate, tall and blond and already mad on sports. He was also, like Jim, quiet and thoughtful and liked to spend time alone, causing his mother panic-stricken moments when he'd disappear for an hour or more and they'd find him curled up in the linen closet or under his bed with a book and his teddy. When they'd ask him why he was in there, he'd answer that Emily was being noisy and wanting him to play and he didn't want to hurt her feelings by saying no, so he'd just disappeared himself for a while. Jim and Blair had both wondered for a while if Jack would inherit the genetic predisposition towards heightened senses, but if he had, they had yet to show their appearance. Jim couldn't help but be glad about that, remembering his own lonely childhood, when he been teased for being a freak.

Blair, on the other hand, seemed to be mildly disappointed. He'd pointed out to Jim, that if Jack ever did turn out to be a Sentinel, his life would be so much different and less traumatic than Jim's had been because he'd have both Jim and Blair to guide him through it. Jim knew that was true but still, as he glanced in the mirror and saw his son chattering happily to Sage, he was glad that Jack could have at least these years without the extra responsibility of heightened senses.

It was almost lunchtime when they reached the campsite and they made short work of putting up the tents and setting up a place to cook. In the end, they decided on sandwiches for lunch, as the boys were clamoring to go fishing, and within an hour of their arrival, Jim and Blair were happily engrossed in teaching their sons the finer points of angling.

Jack was the first to catch a fish, much to his excitement and Jim photographed him, proudly holding it aloft. It was a decent sized one, too, and over the course of the next couple of hours, they all managed to snag a respectable catch between them

Heading back upriver to the campsite, Blair looked up worriedly at the sky. It looked more gray than blue now and he hoped aloud it wasn’t going to rain.

"If it does, it’ll just be a sun shower, Chief. The weather bureau said it’s going to be fine all weekend," Jim replied in answer to his concern.

"You know, that’s one thing I’ve never thought to ask you, in all the years we’ve known each other," Blair said, running a little till he was walking at Jim’s side while the boys ran excitedly ahead. "Can you actually sense when it’s going to rain?"

"I’m a Sentinel, Sandburg, not a weather vane," Jim replied with a grin. He stopped for a moment as if considering it then nodded, "Yeah, maybe I could if I really concentrated on it or if the signs were strong enough." He whacked Blair gently on the back of the head and wagged an admonishing finger in his face. "Uh uh, no tests, Sandburg. This is our weekend off. Come on; let’s catch up to the boys before they find something to get into trouble with."

~oOo~

Blair muttered under his breath as he slipped and stumbled over the sodden grass leading up from the river. "I’m a Sentinel, not a weather vane," he said in a passable imitation of Jim’s voice. "Well, for a Sentinel, you make a lousy weather forecaster. It’s not gonna rain, Sandburg," he continued as he tried to keep his balance on the incline. "Trust me to volunteer to be the one to go get water just as the heavens open."

He reached out with one hand and grabbed a clump of grass above him on the slope, using it to pull himself one step further up.

His feet slithered under him and he bit back a yelp of pain as his left ankle turned. His leg gave way under the strain and he crashed to one knee, the rain and wind combining to keep him from rising again. In a moment, his world went pear-shaped. His knee slid backward and he lost his balance, tumbling first onto his butt, and then onto his back. He felt his legs flip over his head and then he was somersaulting back down the hill. He caught a quick glimpse of the river heading towards him and then he was in it, the water closing over his head.

He surfaced within a few seconds, coughing and spluttering. His arms flailing at the surface of the water, he tried to push himself back to the bank. In rising horror, he realized that rather than getting closer, the shore was receding from him. He could feel the pull of the water against his sodden clothes and in a last-ditch effort to keep himself afloat, he pulled his jacket off and succeeded in toeing off his shoes.

He was almost flat on his back in the water now, and he lifted his head, the wind whipping wet tendrils of hair around his face. The riverbank was even further away now.

Blair took in a gasping inhalation of breath and yelled as loud as he could, "JIIIM!"

He swept a quick look over his shoulder as he felt his feet lose contact with the shifting sand of the riverbed and his arms came up instinctively to cover his face as he saw the huge tree branch he was heading toward. He slammed into it hard, pain flaring briefly and agonizingly through his head before the darkness descended and washed it away.

~oOo~

 

"Uncle Jim! Uncle Jim!"

The small voice tugged at Jim’s consciousness and he anchored his hearing to it and followed it. He inhaled deeply as his surroundings came into focus again and he realized he was standing just outside the entrance of the tent, facing the river. He could feel the cold seeping through his wet clothes now and he shivered.

"You need to come back inside the tent, Dad."

Jim looked down and saw two small anxious faces staring up at him. He grabbed a hand each and moved them all back inside the canvas then sat down on his sleeping bag, both boys following him down.

"You zoned," Sage said. "You’re not supposed to concentrate on one sense so much. That’s what Dad said."

"I’m sorry," Jim said. He remembered hearing the start of the rain and going outside the tent to look for Blair. The rain had been overwhelmingly loud as it pelted against the canvas of the tent and combined with the howling of the wind, it had made hearing anything almost impossible. But he’d been sure he’d heard Blair’s voice calling him so he’d pushed his hearing past the noise surrounding him, searching for Blair’s heartbeat and suddenly everything had faded away till he’d heard Sage’s voice and been able to use it to bring himself out of the zone.

"Jack knows where my Dad is," Sage said, almost matter of factly, though the slight quivering of his lower lip gave lie to his calmness.

"What?" Jim looked over at his son who was nodding emphatically.

"I heard him call you, Dad and Sage held my arm and told me to concentrate on feeling his skin while I listened for him. I can show you where he is." Jack stood and grasped Jim’s hand, trying to pull him up.

"How did you hear him when I couldn’t ‘t?" Jim asked his son. The revelation that his son really was a Sentinel seemed less important now than finding Blair.

"Because you zoned before you could find him, Uncle Jim," Sage replied. "Can we go get my dad now? Jack said he fell in the river."

"No!" Jim snapped out. He reached both arms out and pulled the boys to him. No way was he going to take the boys out there. If Blair had been injured or worse… His throat constricted painfully at the thought.

He stood and looked out the doorway. The rain had eased considerably and the wind had died away almost to nothing. He turned back to the boys. "Will you two stay here and take care of each other for me? I’m going to find Blair but I need to know that you’ll be okay here while I’m gone. I’ll come back every ten minutes to check on you."

"I want you to find my dad, Uncle Jim. Don’t worry. Jack and I will be okay." Sage said gravely, his eyes damp with the beginnings of tears.

"Okay. Sage, your dad’s obviously taught you how to be a great Guide so I want you to stand next to me and do for me what you did for Jack, so I can listen for your Dad without zoning again, all right?"

Sage nodded and moved to stand next to Jim, his small hand coming up to rest on the Sentinel’s forearm. "You need to concentrate on feeling my skin while you’re listening, Uncle Jim. It’s easy. Jack and I do it all the time."

Jim swallowed down his shock at that statement and instead concentrated on the feel of the little hand on his arm. At the same time, he gradually dialed up his hearing and sent it ranging out, trying desperately to home in on Blair’s voice or his heartbeat.

Within moments, he turned to look down at the expectant faces turned up to his. "I’ve got him," he said. "He’s hurt but he can’t be too bad because he’s complaining about being wet and cold again. You guys okay here? I’ll be back soon."

The two small heads nodded.

"Okay," Jim said as he stepped out of the tent, keeping his hearing firmly fixed on Blair. "Don’t leave the tent."

Jim picked his way carefully across the sodden grass. As he reached the sloping path down to the river, he stopped and dialed his hearing up cautiously, seeking out Blair’s heartbeat. In a moment he found it and he piggybacked his sight onto his hearing with the ease of long practice and arrowed in on his partner.

Blair was caught up against a huge tree branch which had now washed up almost to the bank of the river about a half mile downstream.

Jim took reassurance from the fact that his heartbeat was strong and steady. He sat down and skidded down to the river’s edge on his backside then stood and made his way towards Blair as fast as the slippery ground beneath his feet would let him.

"Hey, you okay, Chief?" he called as he reached the part of the bank where the trunk had drifted to.

"Do I look okay?" Blair asked rhetorically.

Jim managed to crawl up onto part of the huge tree limb and extended his hand to his partner. "Grab onto my hand and I’ll pull you forward. You hurt anywhere apart from your head?"

Blair shook his head and winced in pain. "No broken bones or anything. I twisted my ankle, I think. I can’t really feel it now. I’m too numb from the cold," he confirmed.

He extended his arm and grasped Jim’s hand as tightly as he could and minutes later, by dint of Jim pulling and Blair pushing, he was out of the clutches of the branch and on the bank, on his knees.

Jim knelt beside him and lifted his chin, angling it up for a better look at the gash on his head. "Connor’s gonna kill me," he said ruefully. He pulled a handkerchief out of his soaked jeans pocket and pressed it to the cut, guiding Blair’s hand up to cover it and keep it in place.

"Stitches?" Blair asked woefully.

"Yeah. Sorry."

"Not your fault," Blair replied, patting his friend’s arm with his free hand. He looked around. "Where are the boys?" he asked.

"They’re fine. They’re in the tent." Jim stood up and hauled Blair carefully to his feet, keeping an arm around his waist as Blair swayed dizzily. "As soon as we get you checked out and you’re feeling up to it, we need to have a talk about Jack and Sage."

"You’re kidding me?" Blair looked into Jim’s smiling face. "Wow! So maybe the Sentinel thing is genetic."

"How’d you know what I was going to tell you?" Jim asked as he guided his limping partner back up the sodden slope to the camping area.

Blair shook his head. "Jim, we’ve known each other way too long for either of us not to know what the other’s thinking or talking about. Maybe, it’s a guide thing."

Jim hugged his friend to his side, feeling the shivers wracking Blair’s wet body. "Or maybe it’s a friend thing," he said.

He pulled Blair to a halt outside the tent, extending his hearing. Then, raising a finger to his mouth to indicate Blair should be quiet; he pulled open the tent flaps and beckoned Blair to come closer.

Blair huffed out a quiet chuckle at the sight of the two small boys fast asleep on Jim’s sleeping bag, Jack’s hand firmly held in Sage’s slightly bigger one.

"Guess they weren’t too worried about you being able to find me," Blair said. He shot a blazingly bright smile up at Jim. "I wasn’t either."

The End