The Frayed Bonds of Friendship

By: Lyn and Annie

Annie Lyn Gen Collab.jpg (166289 bytes)

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

 

DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Petfly and Paramount. This story has been written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story has been sitting in the back of my head for several months now. Every now and then, it has surged to the front, but I've been so caught up in other things, including RL, that I've been pushing it aside. Today though, the muse refused to be ignored. I told Annie my idea and though she's pretty new to this fanfic thing, she agreed to help me co-write it. No flames, had me share of them last year. (g) This is just what I got from the episode. Oh, and of course, you know me, couldn't resist a few Blair owies and Jim angst.

Epilogue for Sentinel Too, Parts One and Two, missing scenes and lots of other stuff for the same episode.

SPOILERS: Sentinel Too, and probably a few others. Now that Sci-Fi is airing the show again (you lucky Americans!), I figured it's worth putting the spoilers in for those who have yet to see it.

Portions of the dialogue taken from the transcript at Becky’s Sentinel Site: http://www.kelesa.net/transcripts.htm

 

Life had a way sometimes, of grabbing you by the balls, and squeezing until you took notice. This was *definitely* one of those times.

Blair had only vague, disjointed memories of the first few days after the drowning. Loud voices echoed deafeningly in his throbbing head, exhorting him to wake, to speak, to breathe deeply with lungs that seemed heavy and resistant to movement. Cold impersonal hands held his own feebly struggling ones, and prodded and poked, increasing the pain that seared through him with every breath.

Only two things were clear in those first blurred, miserable days. The unrelenting pain that somehow ebbed with the feel of Jim's warm hand enclosing his own, and the hesitant, stricken, grateful looks that flitted across Jim's face in a procession of guilt, grief and relief.

"I'm going to Mexico to track down Alex." Jim turned from the window that looked out onto the hospital lawns and walked back to Blair's bedside.

Blair straightened against his pillows and blinked away the condensation that clumped on his eyelashes from the nebuliser mask. He pulled the mask down to his chin, frowning when Jim reached out and settled it back over his mouth and nose, then tightened the straps.

"Leave it on, Chief. It won't do you any good down there." Jim's voice was gruff and weary, a slight note of impatience in the tone.

"It's almost finished," Blair said peevishly, but left it in place. He grimaced at the taste and smell of the medication that coated his tongue and seeped into his nostrils. Tentatively he coughed, a rattling, hacking bark, and then gasped at the knife-like pain that sheared through his ribs.

A gentle hand grasped his own and lifted it to rest, splayed-fingered over his diaphragm. "Splint your ribs," Jim said patiently as though speaking to a rather slow-witted child. "They're badly bruised."

He looked away quickly, but Blair anchored their hands in place, Jim's larger one overlaying his own. "Jim, it wasn't your fault." He wished his voice sounded stronger, more emphatic than it did, but it was hardly more than a whispered croak.

"You and I both know it was," Jim replied doggedly. "I should have kept you with me. I should have realized what she'd do. I knew she was dangerous. Hell, I knew that before I even knew she existed."

It was Blair's turn to look away. "And that was my fault," he said quietly. "Look, we both made mistakes here, but this wasn't something either of us had a blueprint for. I mean, what were the chances of another sentinel turning up here in Cascade? The chance of another sentinel even existing was beyond my expectations." He lay back and nodded gratefully as Jim turned off the bubbling nebuliser, pulling the mask from his face and hanging it by the straps from the gauge. "She's dangerous, Jim, and she thinks I'm dead. She's after you now."

"And I'm after her," Jim replied steadily.

Blair groaned in frustration. "It's not your case anymore. She's not threatening your tribe. Let the Mexican police handle this."

"She tried to kill you. She hit you over the head, dragged your semi-conscious body into a fucking fountain, and left you there to drown." Jim's tone was savage and Blair flinched away from the reality of the words. "That makes her my business."

He turned away as a nurse entered the room. "Time for your chest therapy, Mr. Sandburg," she said brightly.

Blair rolled his eyes, but dutifully turned onto his stomach and draped his upper body over the pillows she pushed into place. He turned his head to the side, facing Jim as the nurse began a rhythmic patting of his back, gritting his teeth as her ministrations turned the dull throbbing in his chest to full-blown agony. "Let me come with you then. You need me."

Jim shook his head and picked up his jacket. "Not this time." He walked to the door. "I'm not letting her get another chance at you. This time, she faces me."

"Jim… " But his partner was already gone. Blair punched the pillow with his fist in frustration and sank down, allowing the pain to take hold, overwhelming the fear he felt inside.

~o0o~

Blair Sandburg knew his stubbornness to accede to the better judgement of others had often landed him in situations that were to his detriment. Still he pinned the doctor standing before him with a steely glare and shook his head defiantly. "Look, I'm very grateful for what you've done for me, but I have to leave *now*."

The doctor shook his head impatiently and tapped on the folder he held in his hands. "Five days ago, Mr. Sandburg, you almost drowned. Were clinically dead for some minutes. You suffered a concussion from a blow to your head, your lungs still have fluid in them that needs to be cleared before we can even entertain the thought of discharging you."

Blair clenched his jaw. "You can't keep me here against my will," he replied mulishly. He pushed himself up onto his pillows, making a Herculean effort not to groan or grimace at the pain in his chest, and held out a hand. "Give me the form and I'll sign myself out."

The doctor stared at him for a moment longer, then thrust the folder into his hand and followed it with a pen. "I think you're making a very big mistake, Mr. Sandburg."

"Not my first," Blair muttered as he signed on the bottom of the form. He passed the notes and pen back and finally gave the doctor a grateful smile. "Could you get me my clothes?"

The doctor waved a hand toward the small closet next to the bathroom. "Right over there. If you're as healthy as you claim to be, you should have no problem walking over there to get them."

Blair's friendly smile faded at the doctor's challenging words. Throwing off the blankets, he swung his feet over the edge of the bed and gingerly lowered himself to the floor. "Easy," he thought cockily.

Two steps later, he was not feeling nearly as clever. Sweat beaded on his brow as each step toward his destination sent a shard of pain into his bruised and aching chest. Who knew CPR could be almost as painful as dying in the first place. An almost silent sob hitched in his throat as the thought brought back unwanted memories of the agony that had shredded through him when he had no longer been able to hold his breath in the fountain. He shuddered, then gritted his teeth firmly, admonished himself for being a wimp, and shuffled until he reached his goal.

A gentle touch on his arm startled him, and he looked up into the surprisingly sympathetic face of his doctor. "While you get dressed, I'm going to write out a prescription for antibiotics and a mild pain reliever, which you will take. Are we clear on at least that much, Blair?"

"We are. Thank you for understanding." Blair gave him a relieved smile.

"I don't pretend to understand, but if you insist on doing this, I'm going to do my best to ensure you don't come back here in a body-bag." The doctor patted Blair's shoulder gently, and left the room.

Pulling open the door to the closet, Blair pulled out the clean underwear, shirt and jeans that Jim had brought in the day after Blair's… he steeled himself to think the word… drowning. Wasn't so bad. It was just a word after all. Why then did his throat and lungs seize up just thinking it? Time to get over it. If he was going to be of any use to Jim, he had no choice.

His own needs had to go on the backburner until Alex was captured. Jim was a phenomenal cop, but Blair didn't think the sentinel realized even after all that had occurred just how dangerous Alex was. No longer to Blair, but to Jim. Jim wasn't thinking like a cop, Blair knew. The primal territoriality that had escalated when Alex Barnes arrived in Cascade would only get worse once Jim was in Mexico and hunting her down. As good a cop as Simon was, only Blair understood enough about sentinels to back Jim up. Finally all the study, the endless, unwelcome tests on Jim's senses would be put to their most important use.

Regardless of Jim's insistence that he was to blame for the whole mess, Blair knew that his own misjudgement and self-assured stupidity in believing he knew how to handle the situation were at the core. He had aided and abetted Alex in her crimes, attempting to guide her so that she could control her hypersenses with the same ease that Jim did. And it had backfired spectacularly on him. The only thing that gave him any solace was knowing Jim had more control than Alex, but he feared if he wasn't there to do the duty so solemnly passed onto him by Incacha, Alex might gain the upper hand. Alex after all had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Jim and Blair had already lost too much.

Blair gagged as he went to pull on his jacket. Though it had been hung up to dry, the stench of mildew and dirty water still reeked in the heavy cloth. Tossing it down onto a chair near the door, Blair walked out of the hospital room with a firmer step now his mind was fixed on his goal. He had a spare jacket at home, and the last thing Jim's sentinel nose would need was the distraction of the smell of the fountain water that had caused them both so much distress.

Picking up his prescriptions at the desk, and thanking the nursing staff and still frowning doctor, Blair left the hospital and found a cab. On the drive back to the motel, he pondered the ways and means of getting to his sentinel's side.

~o0o~

"I'm going, whether you come with me or not," Blair said, tapping his pencil on his notepad while he spoke into the phone. "I just thought you might like to be in on this, after Alex tried to take your head off with her apartment door, and," he used his wild card, "got the upper hand on you at the foundry." It was a low blow, he knew, but the stakes were too high. He grinned as he heard her offended sniff.

"She did not get the better of me, Sandy," Megan replied evenly. "I had her on the ground and went to help Jim before he got squashed like a bug."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Blair conceded. He crossed his fingers. "So are you in or what? Do I buy one plane ticket or two?"

Megan gave an aggrieved sigh. "I suppose I don't have much choice, do I? Ellison left you in my care, and if something happens to you, he'll kick my arse all the way back to Sydney. Not that Captain Banks won't do that anyway. I've really grown to like Cascade, Sandy. Do you really want to get rid of me that much?"

"If you say yes, and stop screwing around, I'll tell Simon I held a gun to your head," Blair offered in conciliation.

"When are we leaving?" Connor finally asked.

Blair gave a mental high five. "Tomorrow morning, 10AM. Don't be late." He tried to keep the jubilation from his voice.

Hanging up the phone, he sank back onto the motel bed with a sigh. He rubbed in aggravation at his bruised chest. Twice now, Jim had saved him from death. Blair wondered if that made Jim his Blessed Protector twice over.

There was more to it this time, Blair realized. Jim had actually brought him back from the dead. He'd been non-breathing, no pulse… dead. He tried to suppress a shudder at the thought and turned instead to the vision he and Jim had shared. Blair didn't care what the doctors said about endorphin levels and the body shutting down, he knew what he'd seen.

Remembering the visions Jim had experienced in the past few years since his senses had come online, Blair felt a kinship now with the sentinel. He admitted that he'd always felt envious that it was only Jim who saw the blue jungle and his animal spirit.

When Incacha had passed on the way of the Shaman to Blair upon his death, he had meditated most of the night, waiting to be swept away into Jim's dreamworld. The scientist in him couldn't help thinking of the valuable insights he might glean from such an experience. He'd woken the next morning bitterly disappointed. He wanted… needed to share the experience with Jim. Now he had, and he and Jim were brothers of the soul. He grinned in spite of his sore chest and wheezy lungs.

Pulling himself up laboriously, Blair crossed to the small kitchenette and swallowed one of the antibiotics he'd been prescribed. He threw the painkillers into his duffel bag as an afterthought. He had a plane to catch in a few hours, and he didn't want to be drugged up.

Looking around the small motel room, cluttered with the boxes he'd dragged from the loft, Blair couldn't help feeling a twinge of anger at Jim for throwing him out of the loft. He realized that from the time Alex had first arrived in Cascade, Jim's behavior to everyone around him was a purely ingrained response to the proximity of another sentinel. Jim had no way of knowing she'd go after Blair, and Blair still wasn't sure why she had. It had to be a winning blow, a game of one upmanship to stop Jim in his tracks, and allow her to escape, and Blair knew that he had to take part of the blame for that. If he'd told Jim up-front about Alex, they wouldn't have ended up in this God-awful mess, and he probably wouldn't have taken an unscheduled swim in Rainier's fountain.

Still, a small voice niggled at the back of his mind, telling him Jim's throwing him out onto the street was cruel and unusual punishment for a screw-up, even if Jim didn't know at the time just how royally Blair had fucked it up.

Uncertainty still hung over him. He wasn't entirely sure, even after their friendly banter in the hospital, exactly where he stood with Jim now. Jim hadn't mentioned him moving back in, and Blair had been too reticent, too shocked by Alex's attack and its aftermath to ask. If the loft was no longer his home, he needed to make plans to find somewhere to live. That thought alone pained him.

For now, though, he needed to get to Jim and back him up. Then they could concentrate on rebuilding the trust in their partnership. He still had no idea how Jim would react to seeing him in Mexico. Pushing the disquieting thought aside that Jim might not want him back at his side, Blair slid into the narrow bed and drifted into a troubled sleep.

~o0o~

Sierra Verde, Mexico:

It had been one hell of a day, Blair thought tiredly as he moved around on the hard wooden pew, and tried in vain to find a position that didn't aggravate his aches and pains.

The flight to Mexico had been brutal on his still-recovering body. Shifting restlessly and all too aware of Connor's worried scrutiny Blair had finally relented and swallowed half a pain pill. Instead of lulling him into dreamless slumber, he'd been jarred awake, chilled and sweating, by fractured, vivid memories of Alex's vengeful face as she'd dragged his unresisting body to the fountain and pushed him over the side, of Jim's resolute features as he'd ordered him out of the loft.

By the time they reached the hotel, the heat and the medications combined to make his stomach churn ominously, and he barreled past Megan the moment Jim's door was unlocked, heading unerringly for the bathroom. Once he emptied what little food was in his stomach and wiped a refreshing wet towel over his face, he tottered out to the bed and sagged gratefully onto the mattress. He felt a small hand press against his forehead.

"You're getting a fever," Connor said, her pretty face creased into a frown.

Before Blair could rebut her opinion, the door slammed inward and Blair staggered to sit up, his hands upraised in defense. Jim stood in the doorway, both hands gripping his gun. Blair spiraled back into the memory of that first night, the first time Jim had ever held a gun on him. It looked just as terrifying now as it had then. He swallowed down his nausea and turned away from Jim's disapproving gaze while the detective outlined what he and Simon had learned thus far, feebly suggesting that perhaps he should wait in the hotel room. He felt overwhelming relief when Jim grabbed his hand and dragged him out the door to meet with Simon.

It had gone steadily downhill from there. A cozy tete-a-tete in the local café had ended with them all running for their lives as the sidewalk eatery was sprayed with gunfire. By the time they found sanctuary for the night inside a small church, Blair was trembling with fatigue and struggling for breath.

He hadn't been able to relax though. He was fearful of the nightmares returning, and worried that the limitations of his knowledge on this yet uncharted path into sentinels would make him woefully inadequate to back Jim up in his quest to track down Alex. Blair kept up a monotonous, almost one-sided conversation with an increasingly impatient Jim. His earnest conversation had ended when the detective had gently but firmly pushed him down onto the pew and ordered him to get some sleep. Something else tugged at his thoughts, and Blair was up again, until Jim mentioned his visions, and the chance that they might lead him to Alex. In a flash, the tables were turned with Blair berating himself for keeping Jim awake. Blair sank back onto his own pew and closed his eyes, trying to will himself into a drowsy state.

It wasn't going to happen, Blair thought dismally. With all that was happening and the various aches and pains that would not abate there was no way he was going to be able to sleep.

But he had, in small, restless phases. He was drifting, half-awake when he heard Jim stand up and quickly leave the church. Sitting up carefully, Blair scrubbed the vestiges of sleep from his eyes and looked around. Simon and Megan still slumbered deeply, unaware of Jim's leaving. After a moment's hesitation, Blair stood and followed Jim. The events that transpired when he found Jim wrapped in Alex's arms on the beach made the previous day look like a walk in the park.

Once he got over the shock of having Jim's gun trained on him for the third time in little more than a week, Blair's concern shifted to his partner's uncharacteristic behavior. Until this morning, Jim had been entirely focused on finding Alex and bringing her to justice for her attack on Blair. Now, he was kissing her fervently, and most disquieting of all, had been unable to stop her from fleeing. Blair racked his brains, determinedly pushing away the headache that seemed to have taken up permanent residence inside his skull. He knew he was getting sick, could feel the inexorable pull of infection beginning to weaken him. He didn't… they didn't have time for that. Once they'd caught Alex and retrieved the nerve gas, he could rest. Collapsing now just wasn't an option.

He kept a slight distance from Jim as they trudged silently back to the church, knowing if Jim's senses picked up any sign of illness, he'd be insisting Blair stay in Sierra Verde, or even return to Cascade.

Jim hadn't taken kindly to Blair's suggestion that his actions toward Alex were a remnant of a primitive mating imperative from times past, but to Blair it was the only thing that made sense. It also scared him to death. Until a few short days ago, Blair's faith in his Blessed Protector had been unshakable. Alex Barnes had managed to crack the foundation of trust between sentinel and guide, and Blair didn't think it would take much more to bring the walls of faith tumbling down. If push came to shove, right now, Blair wasn't entirely sure whom Jim would choose to save; his guide or the other sentinel. For that reason, Blair was determined to stick to Jim like glue, and do the job he now knew he'd been destined for from the first day that Jim Ellison had stepped into his office at the university.

~o0o~

Jim and Simon had discovered that Carl Hettinger, Alex' partner, had been in contact with Carlos Arguillo, a local druglord. Unfortunately, Hettinger was dead, probably murdered by Alex, Jim theorized. Blair didn't dispute Jim's theory; he'd experienced Alex's rage and brutality first-hand. They managed to track down Arguillo, and knew that Alex would show up soon with the nerve gas. Blair stuck close to Jim's back, ever watchful for signs of a zoneout as the sentinel cast out his senses.

The trek through the bush was taking an increasing toll on Blair, and he was finding it almost impossible to keep his exhaustion at bay. Twice now, he'd stumbled; once not even aware he'd fallen to the ground until he felt Simon's hand beneath his elbow, levering him back onto his feet.

Words were unspoken but the concern on Simon's face spoke volumes. Blair gave him what he hoped was a reassuring smile and pushed on, anxious to catch up with Jim.

Even with his understanding of the dynamics of sentinel behavior, and his previous experience when Jim and Alex had met on the beach, Blair was not prepared for Jim's actions when Alex had arrived at her meet with Arguillo. Jim had stepped out in plain sight and shouted a warning to the other sentinel that had sent her scurrying back to her helicopter, leaving the rest of them diving for cover from the gunfire from both sides.

Jim was unrelenting in his search, allowing no one time to rest as he led them through the dense trees. Finally Simon called a halt and announced he was going back for help. Blair shot him a grateful look, knowing Simon understood that, regardless of his current condition, Blair was the best one to be at Jim's side right now. He ignored Megan's penetrating gaze and pointed questions, and pressed on, willing his body to stay upright for just a little longer.

Jim had called for a break at long last, when nightfall made it impossible for anyone but himself to see where they were going. Once he was certain Megan was sleeping, Blair expressed concern at Jim's protective instincts toward Alex, but Jim's reply that he knew Alex needed to be stopped, but that he still felt a need to protect her had done nothing to reassure him. And Jim's hesitant "I don't know" when Blair asked him which instinct was winning worried him even more. He'd only ever seen Jim this unsure of himself in those early months when his senses had first come online. Blair felt a shiver of apprehension pass through him as he gave into his need for sleep and lay down on the cold, hard ground. Nothing in his research had prepared him for any of this.

~o0o~

Blair awoke at dawn, shivering, yet sticky with sweat. He sat up and looked around the campsite. Suddenly the unease that had been dogging him since he'd arrived in Sierra Verde reached up and grabbed him by the throat. "Jim!" He choked on the call, harsh coughing suddenly assaulting him. He bent double, the hacking coughs shaking his body, making it difficult for him to take a breath.

He could hear Megan talking to him, asking him what was wrong, but he couldn't spare breath for a reply. Nausea surged and he dropped to his knees, retching mucus onto the grass. Finally spent, he shifted sideways and dropped to the ground, dragging in grateful gulps of air.

Megan knelt beside him and lightly touched his arm. "Are you all right?"

Blair managed a nod, though his heart pounded and he still shook slightly with tremors. "I'm okay." His voice cracked painfully, and he swallowed a mouthful of the water she offered him and tried again. "I'm all right. Where's Jim? Have you seen him?"

Connor shook her head, then stood and looked around. "I was still asleep until your coughing fit woke me up." She eyed him worriedly. "We should get you to a doctor."

Blair managed to stand under his own steam. "Pack up the campsite," he said, ignoring her searching look. "I'm going to scout around. See if I can find Jim."

He returned to the campsite disheartened and not for the first time, wishing for sentinel senses. Squatting down, he began to pack away his journal and other things. "He's gone. His trail just leads off into the jungle and then it just vanishes."

"Why would he leave us?"

Blair shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe he didn't have a choice, you know." There was little more he could tell her. He was pretty sure Jim's leaving was connected to the visions of Alex the sentinel had been having. As capable as they both knew Connor was; Blair doubted Jim would have left them in the jungle alone unless he had to. Of course, that was his head talking. His heart was complaining bitterly about being abandoned again; that perhaps Jim still didn't trust him enough to want his help. "Damn it, Jim. I'm your guide," he muttered under his breath.

He tried to shake off his desolate thoughts, aware they were running out of time, still desperately wishing that Jim had woken him. "I think the best thing that we can do is head in that direction and hopefully find him."

Megan looked in the direction he was pointing and nodded. She hesitated to move though. "Sandy?"

"Yeah?" Connor's question stopped him in his tracks.

"Is Jim a sentinel?"

Blair looked at her quickly, then back at his pack, fumbling with still shaking hands to fasten the buckles.

"I found your book -- The Sentinels of Paraguay," Megan said, crossing to stand beside him. "Then I started to put it together. All those times I couldn't understand why he knew things; saw things. That's what it is, isn't it?" She rushed on when Blair didn't reply. "And Alex Barnes-- is she one, too?"

Blair stared at her, hoping his gaze was steadier than his body, and somehow knowing she would see right through any fabrication. He pushed past her and strode off through the trees. "We have to hurry if we're going to find him."

Silence followed him for a moment, then the rustling and the snapping of branches told him she was behind him.

~o0o~

They found the wreckage of the helicopter a few miles further on. Blair climbed up gingerly onto one of the struts and peered inside, trying not to gag at the sight of the broken, mangled body of the pilot. "Pilot's dead," he announced somewhat unnecessarily.

He looked around warily, but there was no sign of Alex or the nerve gas. After his discussion with her in his office about the Temple of the Sentinels, he had a fair idea of where both she and Jim were headed. The trouble was they had sentinel senses and intuition on their side. Blair didn't have the slightest idea where to begin looking.

"Are you still lost, Senorita?"

Both he and Megan jumped at the voice. Carlos Arguillo stepped out of the bushes, flanked on either side by several large, dangerous looking henchmen. Blair groaned silently and raised his hands.

Megan glared defiantly at the Mexican drug-lord. "I'm a police officer."

Blair wasn't entirely sure she should be making that admission, but he kept quiet when she shot him a warning glare. Blair's backpack was dragged from his shoulder and he had a moment of panic, remembering that his journal and monograph were inside. He forced himself to calm, knowing it was hardly likely these men would be interested in what appeared to most people to be no more than a fairy tale.

Stumbling as a hard shove to his shoulder sent him forward, he shook his head at Connor's look of concern and made his way further into the jungle. He could feel his strength beginning to wane in earnest, and looked around furtively, hopefully for a sign of Jim. No matter how focused the sentinel was on his task, he and Blair had always seemed to share a sixth sense, a link, even before their twin visions of the jungle and the spirit guides. If Jim knew his guide was in danger, he'd be ready.

The further they went with no sign of rescue, the more Blair's hope receded, and fear that perhaps Alex had already succeeded in her battle over Jim took its place.

Even Blair was stunned when they reached the old stone ruins. Arguillo and his men did not seem to be aware of the temple's significance, but Blair wished that this were a time when he was not held captive, so that he could properly explore the mysteries that had been veiled by the shadows of time.

Set up above them, along a roughly hewn path loomed the remains of the temple that Santiago had spoken of so reverently. Despite their present dangerous situation, Blair couldn't resist drinking in the sight.

He was startled from his reverie by Arguillo ordering two of his men to enter the temple and find Alex. Blair gave a sigh of relief, and exchanged a meaningful glance with Connor. There was a good chance that Arguillo didn't know about Jim. Watching Arguillo's men warily approach the temple, the remaining group waited tensely. After long moments, a figure appeared at the doorway of the temple.

Jim! Blair felt himself sag forward in relief. Then Arguillo had his weapon up and firing and Jim ducked back out of sight. Blair didn't care. Jim was alive, and was still obviously intent on stopping Arguillo.

"Calderon! Calderon, you go," Arguillo ordered his final henchman when his other men showed no sign of returning. Calderon had only taken a few steps before he was gunned down in his tracks. Blair had only a moment to feel a surge of success, and wonder where Alex might be, before his bound hands were grabbed and he was pushed forward. Connor followed him, almost taking them both to the ground when she tripped. Blair bit down the grunt of pain that rumbled in his throat, as his bruised ribs protested the rough treatment.

"You know what? You two come with me, okay?" Arguillo pushed Blair forward again then pressed his gun against Blair's head. "And you do as I say, comprende?" Blair gave the man a brief nod of agreement. "Let's go."

Once inside the temple, Blair and Megan were pushed to their knees. "Get down," Arguillo ordered brusquely. He looked around the darkened temple, his gun waving about wildly. "Show yourself, you coward!"

A sudden noise from behind them had Blair straining to look over his shoulder, despite the agony it caused him. Arguillo fell forward, knocking against Blair as he toppled to the ground, unconscious.

"You all right?"

Despite his overwhelming exhaustion, Blair couldn't hold back a smile at the welcome weight of Jim's hand on his shoulder. "Yeah," he husked out.

He felt Jim set to work on his bonds with a knife, but before the constricting strands were parted, Jim stopped and stared at the water-filled grotto in front of them. Blair followed the sentinel's gaze, his heart beginning to pound wildly in his chest as Alex emerged from the depths. His chest constricted, bile surging to his throat, Blair felt himself swept back into his nightmare reality. He just managed to stop the frightened moan that scraped past the lump in his throat, and shivered as he felt cold sweat snake between his shoulder blades.

"Alex," Jim breathed. His still bound friends seemingly forgotten, Jim moved woodenly toward the other sentinel.

Alex stroked a hand across the rough stone of the grotto. "I'm home," she whispered. "I can feel the vibrations of the earth itself. I can hear the clouds moving in the sky. I can see the molecules in a drop of water." She smiled at Jim, and held out a hand. "I want to share this with you."

Jim shook his head. "Alex, this isn't home. It's time to go now."

"You need to see as I see." Climbing from the water, Alex reached down to the ground and lifted a canister of nerve gas.

Blair's gaze flickered to Jim, then back to Alex, unable to decide whom to watch as the frightening tableau unfolded. Jim had saved them from Arguillo. He had appeared to be free of whatever hold Alex had held over him. Or had he? Blair watched Jim approach the other sentinel, his attention only on her, as though everyone else in the temple had ceased to exist. He could feel Megan pressed up against his body, but he wasn't entirely sure who was supporting whom. The Australian's eyes were wide, her face pale as she watched the two sentinels interact.

"Put that down," Jim said, his voice firm, and Blair felt an upsurge of hope. He concentrated on sending all the faith and trust he believed sentinel and guide shared toward his friend.

Alex gave Jim a mocking grin. She too seemed not to notice Blair and Megan's presence, or perhaps Blair amended, she considered them unimportant in this final quest for enlightenment and power. "Are you afraid?"

Jim continued to advance on her. "If you open that up, we all die. Now, put it down."

Alex bent her head to the task of opening the cap of the canister and Blair heard a small gasp from Megan. "Once I've cleansed the world and you've left your flesh behind, maybe then you'll understand what I've seen," Alex continued.

Jim held out a staying hand. "Alex, this isn't the way of a sentinel. We’ve got to watch over and protect people."

*Yes!* Blair cheered silently. Jim was still there, still on their side.

Alex gave him a pitying look. "There's so much you don't know. But you will."

Jim was in front of her now. "Alex, look at me." He grasped her chin, forcing her head up. "Look at me! This isn't you. This isn't the real you. That lies deep within you. Listen to that voice deep inside of you and let it guide you. You wanted to unite our vision." He held out his hand to her. "Let's do it together. Give me your hand. Come on."

Blair wanted to scream a warning to Jim, but the words seemed stuck in his throat, and all he could manage was a pitiful, whispered denial, as he watched Jim draw Blair's murderer into his arms, and kiss her passionately.

Suddenly Alex pulled away from Jim, her eyes widening as she began to rub frantically at her arms. "My skin -- it's on fire! My ears!" Her hands clasped the sides of her head, as her eyes rolled up and she collapsed limply onto the edge of the grotto. Jim followed her down and took the canister from her nerveless fingers, dropping it into the water beside them.

"What? What?" Jim was searching Alex's face closely. He turned briefly to look at Blair, and the anthropologist could see the raw panic in his partner's eyes.

"Oh! My eyes!"

Jim turned his attention back to Alex. Gently, he stroked her face. "Let me see. Wait, Alex. Easy, easy, easy," he soothed her as she began to writhe in obvious pain. "Shh. Shh. Shh."

Blair struggled frantically against his bonds. Alex was overloading, he was certain of that. He'd helped her before, if he could just get free, he might be able to help her from spiraling down to a point of no return.

"We were one. We were one." Alex's voice faded away to a whisper then she fell silent, her eyes staring blankly.

"Alex! Alex! Alex! Alex, breathe," Jim begged her, and Blair shuddered violently as he had a sudden memory of hearing that same voice call to him as he lay on the grass beside the fountain where Alex Barnes had drowned him. He couldn't stop the tears that welled from his eyes or halt the trembling that threatened to send him to the ground.

"Hey, hey. Easy. You're okay. You're all right." Blair looked up into worried blue eyes and sagged against Jim's reassuringly solid chest. Jim's large hand patted him firmly, rhythmically on the back until his sobs began to subside. A hand cupped his chin, forcing his head up. "You all right now?"

Blair nodded, suddenly ashamed at his loss of control. Jim tousled his hair, then stood and moved to crouch behind him. "All right, then. Let's get these ropes undone." As the strands parted, Blair suppressed a hiss of pain and briskly rubbed his reddened wrists. Jim shifted to cut Connor loose. "How about you, Connor? You okay?"

Megan seemed uncharacteristically struck dumb, and simply nodded before mirroring Blair's actions in restoring the circulation to her hands.

"All right." Jim stood, and cocked his head slightly to one side, a slow smile forming on his face. "Cavalry's here." He looked quickly at Connor, who merely smiled enigmatically and led the way out of the temple.

Blair stopped when Jim grasped his arm. "Would you mind if I … " He glanced back at Alex. "Someone should stay with her. God knows what she's experiencing."

Blair smiled and nodded. "I'll send the paramedics in when they get here."

~o0o~

"What happened to her, Sandburg?" Simon Banks asked.

Blair watched as a docile Alex was carried from the temple on a stretcher. "The second time she went into the grotto, it must have been too much for her, and, uh ... "

"She fried her circuits -- put her sentinel senses on overload," Connor added somewhat airily.

Blair shivered knowing how easily it could have been Jim as well, being carried out of there, blank-eyed and insensible. No, not Jim, he told himself resolutely, because Jim's search had been for the good of his tribe, for justice for his guide, not for personal reward. That was how he was going to look at it anyway. Perhaps one day Jim would share what had transpired in the temple before they arrived. He looked at Simon and nodded his head. "Uh... basically, yes."

Feeling an overwhelming urge to check on Jim and reassure himself his partner was indeed unharmed, Blair left Banks and Connor chatting quietly and crossed to where Jim sat; the sentinel's gaze still on the direction the paramedics had taken.

"Hey, man. Are you okay?" Blair rested a hand on Jim's shoulder.

Jim nodded. "You know, when I got out of that grotto, I realized I had it all laid out right in front of me. All the answers to it all." He paused a moment and ran a hand over the carving in the rock in front of him. "But in one way, you know, I just wanted to go back in there so bad. I mean, just... "

"But you didn't," Blair reminded him.

"No."

"See, that's the difference between you two. She lost her way." Blair straightened, feeling as though he was at the end of his tether, and suddenly the world folded in on itself. Blair felt himself falling, saw the ground rushing up to meet him before he was caught in a strong grip and lowered gently to the ground. As his vision blacked out, he heard the roar of a Jaguar cut through the rushing sound in his ears, and then there was nothing.

~o0o~

He didn't know how long he'd been lying, staring dazedly at a nondescript gray ceiling. A cool hand cupped his cheek, stroking over rough bristles, and he slid his eyes sideways, the effort to move his head too much in his exhausted state.

Jim smiled at him, the tense lines of his face smoothing out as he sat back in his chair and reached for Blair's hand.

Weakly, Blair stretched up and touched the oxygen cannula that ran under his nose. He felt the tug of an IV line in his arm, before Jim captured that hand as well and lowered it to the bed. "Hey," Blair finally managed. "What happened?"

A frown creased Jim's forehead, and Blair felt a surge of regret, knowing he was responsible for putting it there. "Pneumonia. You're in the hospital in Sierra Verde. Simon and Connor went back to Cascade yesterday." Jim pulled his hand away from Blair's own and gave an exasperated growl. "Damn it, Sandburg! What the hell did you think you were doing, signing yourself out of the hospital?"

"Backing you up." Blair's voice came out in a croak, and Jim seemed to deflate, the anger hissing out of him in a tired sigh. Picking up a tumbler from the bedside table, Jim held it to Blair's lips, slipping his other hand under Blair's head to lift it from the pillows.

Blair drank a few sips, then pushed the cup away. "Thanks." He rested his head back and regarded his partner steadily, though he could feel his eyes already drooping with fatigue. "I didn't know what else to do," he said, his voice a little stronger now. "After everything that happened, knowing what Alex was capable of, I couldn't let you go after her alone."

"I wasn't alone," Jim countered. "I had Simon to back me up."

Blair looked away quickly, blinking back unintentional tears. "I thought you needed me. Your guide," he whispered.

Jim's hand was back, clutching his own. "I do need you," he said, his own voice sounding rough. "As my guide, my partner… my friend. But alive."

Blair nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Blair, look at me."

The command in Jim's voice was not one Blair could ignore. He turned his head and looked at his partner. The detective appeared as exhausted as Blair felt. His skin was gray, his eyes red-rimmed and swollen, circled by black rings of fatigue.

With a bleak expression, Jim confessed, "I did everything wrong."

Blair shook his head vehemently. "No. Jim, you…"

Jim pressed a firm but gentle finger to his lips. "Listen. I don't care if it was a primal territoriality trait or not. If I'd just listened to you that first night when you came home and tried to tell me about Alex, none of this would have happened," he said apologetically.

"And I should have known then something wasn't right," Blair added with certainty. "Even then your behavior was so crazy, I should have realized something was up."

"I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't figure out what it was, no matter how hard I focused, and I was concentrating so much on that, I missed the clues you were giving me."

"Ditto," Blair said wryly. "I was so caught up in having another sentinel to study, I didn't stop to consider the consequences."

"You weren't to know there'd be any," Jim replied.

"That's the thing. I came to you, told you I could help you figure out the sentinel thing, and then I got so caught up in the research, in the excitement, I stopped thinking about what I was supposed to be doing. I tried to do both, help you and Alex, and respect the research protocols… I was wrong. I’ll never make that mistake again. ."

"You were right when you said there was no blueprint for this. We've both screwed this up. Maybe now, we'll both know what to do next time another sentinel comes to town."

Blair shivered at the thought. He nodded gratefully when Jim pulled the blankets further up over him. "So where do we go from here?"

"You get some rest, and the doctor said tomorrow you should be strong enough to come home."

"To Cascade?"

Jim nodded. "And the loft, if you're prepared to give your stubborn sentinel another chance." He gave a small, hopeful smile.

Blair grinned back, unwittingly betraying his profound relief, and drifted toward sleep. "I'll need to shift my stuff," he said around a yawn. "Can I use your truck?"

"I'll drive the truck, Chief, and shift the boxes back. You can sit on the couch and direct where it all goes. I'm having second thoughts about putting that tribal mask back in the living room, though. It scares the visitors."

"Do I at least get a suspension of the house rules while I'm recuperating?" Blair allowed a small whine to creep into his voice.

"No way, Junior." Jim's voice was gruff, but Blair could hear the humor in his tone. "As a matter of fact, while you've been sleeping your days away in here, I've been thinking up a few more."

Blair chuckled, but sobered quickly. "Jim? Tell me about the visions? Did you have any when you were in the temple? What did you see?"

Jim's expression became haunted. "Death," he replied softly.

"Mine?" Blair wasn't sure he wanted to know. It was enough *he* had to relive the memories, the pain and fear, without Jim being dogged by them too.

"Yeah. Some other stuff too, that didn't really make sense. Not things that have happened yet."

Blair tensed in excitement at the words, and grabbed at Jim's hand. "Precognition? Jim, we have got to talk about your visions! You have to tell me everything you saw. It could be really important!"

He was startled when Jim pulled his hand roughly from Blair's grip. "For your dissertation?"

"What? No, it could be useful to you, to your senses." He tried another tack. "Jim, we've been looking at you as having five enhanced senses, but what about a sixth? Even Burton doesn't mention that? Think what you could do with that!"

Jim stood and paced to the window. "Not everything is about my senses, Chief. Some of the things I learned in that temple were as much about me, who I am, as they were about my being a sentinel."

Blair cursed his impulsiveness. When he'd first met Alex Barnes, he'd barged in blindly without a thought for the consequences, and look where it had gotten him. He sighed. "Jim, I'm sorry. That didn't come out the way I intended it to." He struggled up further onto his pillows and regarded the sentinel earnestly. "I just meant there might have been some things in your visions that could help us understand more. It might give us both a little insight on how to better handle the sentinel thing. To stop things before they happen."

Jim turned and faced Blair, the muscle in his jaw twitching rhythmically. "You know me, Sandburg. I'm not one for sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings. There were things I saw while I was in that grotto that I'm not sure I want to think about ever again."

Blair matched Jim's determined look with one of his own. "So where does that leave us?"

"You're determined to push this, aren't you?" Jim's voice was rising, his anger obvious.

"We're back to that, are we? You thinking it's all about my dissertation." Blair turned away onto his side, his chest beginning to grow tight. Much as he might hope, it was only too clear that things were far from right between them.

He heard Jim's steps nearing him, and pulled the covers closer up around his neck, huddling under them. There was a squeak of chair legs on the linoleum, and then Jim's face appeared at eye-level.

"I mean that I have to retain some rights here over what goes into your dissertation, and to make my own decisions about what I tell you, no matter how important you think it might be. The senses are only a part of who I am, and there's some pretty personal stuff tied up in all of that. You're going to have to accept that I'll tell you what I'm comfortable with, and not hassle me about the rest. If I think it's something you need to know to help me out, I'll tell you."

It wasn't enough, Blair thought; he knew Jim was a master of avoidance, but lassitude was fast creeping up on him, and he accepted the offer with a small nod. "The visions have a purpose though, Jim. They serve as a warning, like the dreams we all have. There's nothing to fear in them. I told you, the water's nice." His eyes drifted closed despite his determined effort to keep them open.

He didn't see Jim's eyes grow haunted as the sentinel stared at his friend, Blair's slumbering figure overlaid by the specter of a wolf, mortally wounded by Jim's arrow, or hear the whispered words the sentinel spoke. "Not where I've been, partner. Not at all."

FIN

6th March 2003

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