The climb out was tricky, made doubly so by the need to keep Blair close enough to make sure he put his feet exactly where Jim had set his. It got worse near the top where the rock was loose, so Jim had Blair stay put until he could climb out, then reached down and pulled him up. The walk back was a little easier, with enough moonlight for Blair to see the ground well.
Jim tried to keep an ear out, covering their surroundings as they walked back to camp, but the lingering sensations coursing up and down his body were a big distraction.
"Jim, you said you almost felt a rhythm, right?"
"What?" Jim had to shake himself out of another distracting recollection. "Oh, yeah, sort of. But that can't be. Bats don't use sonar for language, Chief. And I'm sure they don't even have one."
Blair shook his head. "No, all animals have a language. Granted, it's one we'll never understand, but they have one among themselves." He thought for a moment, running a hand through his hair in what had become a very typical motion.
"What?" Jim could see something was there; whether it would make sense or not he didn't know. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm not sure yet."
Jim laughed, then draped his arm over Blair's shoulders. "Well, that's reassuring."
They walked into camp, still deserted of anyone other than the natives, and Jim steered Blair into the larger tent used for cooking. His partner insisted on finding larger sheets of paper he could re-create the cave drawings on, and Jim insisted they eat. Which meant he cooked. His experience in the caves had given Jim an odd sort of charge, which he channeled into energy for putting together a hearty dinner. One that Blair ate while hardly noticing. He was absorbed in Jim's drawings, and asked question after question as he copied them onto larger sheets of paper for Dr. Stoddard's benefit. It was as if the bats, and Jim's experience, were suddenly forgotten for the sake of the drawings Blair didn't care to get the credit for in the first place. His change in gear didn't dull Jim's memory of the sonar massage.
But his other senses were becoming more and more numb as he realized it was midnight. Blair finally finished the last of the drawings and Jim cleaned up after their meal. The closer he got to his cot, the more tired he felt. All of the relaxation of his fingerless massage came back, begging for attention in sleep. While Blair sat down at the desk for what he promised would be just a few minutes to jot down some notes, Jim fell into a quick, and incredibly relaxing sleep.
It wasn't until what felt like days later he rolled over and became aware of the light still on inside the tent.
"Sandburg, it's nearly three o'clock." Jim propped himself up on one elbow and looked at his partner, still sitting at the desk writing notes. "You can't still be thinking about those drawings."
"Hmm?" Blair barely turned his head. "Oh, no, those I'm finished with." He pulled down his glasses and rubbed both eyes. "I left them and some notes in Eli's tent."
"Then what are you doing?" Jim shifted, sitting up on the cot.
"Jim, you were zoned out, completely zoned out, for an hour!"
Somehow, through what Jim could see was denied exhaustion, Blair's eyes sparkled as they always did when he got excited about something he'd seen for the first time. The fact that his excitement was so often about him made Jim feel surprisingly flattered.
"I never expected what you described, man. And it opens up a whole new aspect I never even considered. I just have to get some thoughts down on paper so I can try and work this out later, when I have more time to think it through." He pushed the glasses back up and picked up his pen again. "I'm not sure what it means, or if it means anything, but it's definitely something that needs to be examined."
So the topic was him again? "What about those drawings? Aren't they going to be pretty significant for Dr. Stoddard? Don't you need to study those while you're still here?"
"No, Jim, those aren't mine." Blair dismissed them with a wave of his hand. "Eli will go back there and document it all once he's had a look at the sketches and my notes."
"This Sentinel work hasn't always been your only study, has it?" Jim stood then walked over to the chair Blair was occupying. Tonight, like so many other times Jim had shrugged off in the past, he was struck with how little he knew - really knew - what made Blair Sandburg tick. Had he known more, maybe he would have realized just how hurt his friend could have been thinking Jim hadn't trusted him enough to believe he wasn't coming home. The only thing worse than that look he'd seen in Blair's eyes, was knowing he'd been the cause of it.
"Anthropology is like specializing in medicine, Jim. You have to study the whole picture, which in the case of humanity is really huge. Then as you specialize, you branch off into your category or subfield." Blair glanced off into the darkness and his eyes sparkled in the tent light. "But the Sentinel study, that's mine."
Jim watched his friend's face, trying to read the many expressions there.
"Do you know how rare it is, Jim?" Blair looked at him. "So few people, in any given profession, ever really have one goal. One singular purpose or quest. That's what makes people like Eli so important. Maybe one out of every hundred or so Anthropologists ever makes a discovery out of sheer determination and perseverance. Just knowing that it has to be there keeps them going. The rest of them just follow along, and make their careers out of working on someone else's project." He looked at his hands, playing with the pen. "There's nothing wrong with that. It's a perfectly valid career." Unsatisfied with the pen, Blair again met Jim's eyes. "But this Sentinel study...it's mine. No one can take that away, or replace it. Even if I never publish, Jim, no one can take it away."
The look in those eyes dared even Jim to attempt it. That very notion nearly made him laugh, but the sentiment behind it warmed him beyond words. With a sigh, Jim sat on the edge of the cot so he was level with Blair's eyes. "Listen, Chief. I realize what I said about my reasons for flying out here sounded like I didn't trust you." Blair opened his mouth to speak but Jim held up a hand to stop him. "Just, hang on." He had to make this clear, and know that it was understood. "It's only because I care that I could even get that worried. And I know what kind of a risk you're taking by turning down Dr. Stoddard's offer. It's a big career decision."
"It's the right decision, Jim." Blair met his eyes with a look of determination. "Whether it's the best career move, I don't know. But that doesn't matter so much anymore."
"Well it should matter, Sandburg. You're young. You still have your entire professional career ahead of you."
"You are my professional career. It's not just the Sentinel project anymore. That's still a large part of it, but there's more to this now." Blair ran a hand through his hair then laughed lightly. "Are you trying to get rid of me or something?"
Jim smiled, feeling both relieved and touched. "Not in a million years, Chief. I need you, remember? Besides, I've gotten used to having you around."
Blair nodded, glancing at the ground for a moment. "So have I. That's why it hurt so much, Jim. It's hard enough to know how you feel about your Sentinel abilities, when they're so important to me. But to think you...that you could think I would do something like that...leave like that, without telling you or anything. That hurt. And it only hurt because...because I care that much, Jim."
Jim sighed, waiting for Blair to meet his eyes again. He was getting a hell of a lot more out of this trip than he expected. "I'm glad to know that, Blair. And I'm sorry. I know how much Dr. Stoddard means to you, and...well I didn't know how I'd compare once you got here." His friend's eyebrows knit together for a moment, but Jim continued. "I never meant to upset you." Blair glanced away, then back again. "So, am I forgiven?"
A flash of confusion was quickly replaced with a nod as Blair cleared his throat. "Yeah, you're forgiven, Jim."
Jim stood, then pulled Blair's head and shoulders in for a quick embrace from
his chair. "It would have been hell driving around Cascade with you not speaking
to me." He gave Blair's back a quick rub and moved over to glance at the
papers on the desk. "So, just what was it about those bats that has you up
Once again he'd risked it all with Jim, and once again he'd been completely accepted. The past twenty four hours had been filled with so many emotional ups and downs, he was getting dizzy. "Um..." What was the question again? "I'm not sure yet." God, he felt as if his soul had been walked through. "It might be nothing." It had been so gentle, and honestly done, it deserved recognition.
"All these notes? It looks like something to me, Chief."
"Listen, Jim." Blair put a hand on Jim's arm and looked him in the eyes. "Thanks for understanding." His friend's eyes lowered in that way he had right before he'd smile. "And I mean about everything. Coming out here. You. The Sentinel thing." He shrugged, not sure how else to put his entire life into words.
"No, I mean it." Blair held on to Jim's arm and had his full attention. "Flying out here was no small thing. And you were right, I should be flattered. And I am. Eli did mean a lot to me, and he still does." He paused, wondering if he should continue and risk stumbling over everything he wanted to say. Jim was watching him, very quietly and patiently waiting. Blair swallowed, then pressed on. "I know how you could jump to that conclusion. I've always given you reason to believe it might happen, haven't I?" Jim opened his mouth but Blair shook his head. It was his turn. "No, Jim. You've always been so open and honest about how you feel, and what you want. Well," He let go of Jim's arm and looked around the dimly lit room. "So have I. It's just that---in the past, I didn't honestly want this. When Dr. Stoddard asked me to come here I...I really did want to come." He risked another glance at Jim, and found him listening intently, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "I'm just glad I got that chance to think about it--about what it really meant, and what exactly I would be losing. And...well, it changed things, Jim. It changed me." Why was it the things that were so important were so hard to put into words? He glanced around quickly, hoping Jim was able to weed through his clumsy way of saying what he wanted. "I know I've done very little to prove to you that my mind is set on staying with this, with you in Cascade and the Sentinel thing. But it is." He swallowed, forcing his eyes to look up and meet Jim's even as his face flushed with his discomfort. "You didn't have to come out here to ensure me coming back, Jim. But I'm glad you did." Okay, that was embarrassing! Certainly not what he'd said, but his stumbling way of saying it must have sounded idiotic.
Jim replied with a smile and slight shrug. "You would have done the same for me, if the situation was reversed."
"No, that's the main difference between us." Blair laughed shortly, feeling a huge release. "You see, I never would have let you get this far away without me in the first place."
Laughing, Jim reached out and grabbed a handful of Blair's hair, then gave his head a gentle shake. "I know." He let go, then smoothed the long strands back into place. "So, since you're obviously not tired, show me what you're all excited about here."
"Oh, right." Blair turned back to his notes and shuffled several of them around while Jim leaned down, resting his palms on the desk to see what was there. "You said you thought you detected a pattern, right?" Man, he felt totally drained! And completely relieved.
"Well, sort of, yeah. It was like--some kind of rhythm or something."
"Okay. What I was thinking, and this might be total bull, but since bats do in a fashion have a language, and they were hitting you with short bursts of sonar as they navigated their way out of the cave..." This is going to sound so lame. "I don't think you were detecting any kind of language, but what I do think - and you'll have to bear with me on this - what I think, is that your Sentinel instincts look for a pattern, or language, in everything they experience."
Jim pursed his lips, then one eyebrow arched up and he looked at Blair. "What do you mean? Everything I hear and see is some kind of language?"
"Not exactly." Blair pushed some hair out of his eye and tried again. "Sentinels were used for many things, and weather changes were one thing they kept an eye on, so to speak." He paused and Jim nodded his understanding so far. "Okay, I've always assumed that to sense changes in weather, the Sentinel learned how to feel the change in barometric pressure and wind direction. Probably temperature drops too." Jim nodded again, looking at Blair. "But I couldn't figure out how they could tell the difference between a simple shower or quick squall, and a serious storm that could spell trouble. So, after what you said, I started thinking that maybe - just maybe - there's a pattern in the airflow. You know, like a language of sonar or air pressure spoken by the storm itself." Oh yeah, that sounded just about as stupid as it could.
"A language spoken by a storm? Sandburg, you need some sleep." Jim rested a hand on Blair's shoulder, ready to propel him toward the cot next to his desk.
"No, no, no, bear with me here, Jim. I know that sounds strange, and it's not exactly what I mean." Trying to explain a theory before giving it plenty of study always sounded half baked. "I have to figure this out first, but in a way, I think your Sentinel senses actually work in some ways by trying to interpret a language out of any sensation it experiences. And I don't mean a language like you and I know one."
"Well, right now, you might as well be speaking French, Chief."
"I mean a language in the sense that it would be something repeated the next time this same situation occurs, and it would be recognized. That way, your Sentinel instincts build on your experiences, making them not only stronger but quicker to recognize something." Jim still didn't look convinced, and Blair could feel the last of his own energy beginning to cloud his speech. "What I mean is, only you were sensitive enough to even imagine there was a pattern to what you felt. I think the Sentinel part of you was looking for a pattern, instinctively."
"I think it's well past your bedtime." Jim reached out and took Blair by the arms, lifting him off the chair.
"Jim, there's time for sleep on the flight back. I need to get these thoughts down while they're still fresh." He wanted to resist, he really did. But while he was still telling his body to sit back down, Jim was setting him on the cot and pulling off his shoes.
"Sandburg, I think unless you get some sleep, you're not going to have another thought to write down." He pulled off Blair's socks then reached up and easily pulled the shirt over his head. "It's not like either of us is going to forget what happened today."
Blair opened his mouth to protest, but a yawn consumed his words. When he finished, Jim pushed him back onto the cot. Now that he was lying down, he had to fight off the sleep that was demanding a full and complete takeover long enough to unzip his jeans and begin to squirm out of them. He must have been successful, since they were off when the sun broke through the open tent flap a hundred years later.
He could hear Jim's voice, just outside the tent, talking conversationally with someone. The sun hitting his back began to massage his skin as it brought the jungle out of its evening cool, giving Blair little reason to get out of bed. But he knew he should. There were only two more days left in this visit, then he and Jim would have to make the trek back down the river and home.
With some effort, Blair dragged himself out of bed. He knew after a wash he'd feel much more awake and back to his old enthusiastic self. After all they discovered yesterday there were still the details to work out. And details were something he loved. Just outside the tent he found Jim talking with Kathryn and Craig.
"When did you get back?"
"Sometime late last night." Kathryn shrugged, then pointed to one of Blair's reproduced drawings. "Looks like we missed all the fun." Her face was lit with excitement, as was Craig's as he too pointed to a sheet of the copied figures.
"This is incredible, Blair! It could mean the difference between one year's extension and several. We could be out here for years working on this!"
"Jim was just telling us where you found them. Dr. Stoddard's already getting some equipment together."
"I didn't find them, Jim did," Blair hastily interjected. They knew about Jim's Sentinel sense of sight, although he had stopped short of telling them that his friend was the real thing. Blair had only told Eli, though he wasn't sure why. "And you're going to need something better than a flashlight to see through that muck."
"I talked to Dr. Stoddard this morning." Jim nodded toward the larger tent. "And, I said we'd be happy to show him where those drawings are."
"Yeah, if you don't mind going back to the caves again today." Blair tossed his towel over one shoulder and rubbed some sleep out of his eyes.
"I think I could stand it, Chief." Jim draped an arm around Blair's neck and pulled him off balance for an instant. "I wouldn't mind seeing those bats again."
Kathryn gave an exaggerated shudder. "I guess I'll have to put up with those things again."
"You don't like bats?"
Blair turned and walked to the river for a shower, leaving Jim and Kathryn discussing rodent likes and dislikes. The whole camp seemed charged with a new discovery, and what it meant for the group's future. But for him, the future held an entirely different meaning now.
It was amazing how one simple misunderstanding or unspoken belief could crumble entire worlds. So many times, you assumed your intentions were understood and lived your life accordingly. But every now and again, you got a curve ball thrown at you from out of the clear blue sky. If you were good, you caught it. If you were lucky, it bounced off your chin then into the mitt.
Blair had been lucky for quite a while. All this time, assuming Jim understood something he'd never actually come out and said. Of course he had reason to believe his partner might skip out at the first sign of a second chance. Why wouldn't he? It wasn't that long ago that he'd jumped with childlike excitement with Eli's first offer. What a fool he'd been then! To proudly announce how ready and willing he was to abandon Jim and their Sentinel work, and then hope that his friend would give him some kind of blessing, and say he could wait until Blair came back. Right. The guy who is so willing to give up his God-given gift, was going to just put it all on hold and wait for Blair to get back? He knew how stupid that was soon after he'd said it.
Yet it was Jim's instant reaction--his need to end everything they had immediately upon sensing Blair's lack of commitment--that brought his new goals into view. Like they say, you never really know what you have until you lose it. Well, he'd been damn lucky not to get that far. But he had to admit, until now, he hadn't really given Jim any concrete proof that he had changed.
Sure, he told him he was staying out of friendship. But then there was that stupid, out of control conversation the night Incacha had come. He'd been hit with too much, all at once. Jim's Sentinel senses going away, the fear that he'd be sent away from the Station because of it, then admitting that he really was stalling. All of that had triggered defenses in Blair. Defenses that sent up a wall and deflected the one straight question that could have cleared it all up with a stupid line about the excitement of police work.
Police work! Like that held any attraction. God, that was stupid! Instead of explaining to Jim how he felt now about the Sentinel study, their friendship, his future, he'd given his partner yet another reason to think he was there for other things.
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