His right arm came up instinctively to protect his face, and the branch slapped into the injury.
"Ow!" Blair clutched his arm, bending over slightly. Dammit! He hissed in breath through clenched teeth and looked up as Jim suddenly appeared right in front of him, worriedly reaching out for his arm. God, here it comes again.
"What happened?" Jim set the machete down and took Blair's arm with both of his hands, examining the bandages.
Blair shook his head, waiting for the intense, throbbing pain to stop. "Nothing, I just hit it, I'm okay."
Jim sighed, still holding Blair's arm. "That water I heard is just a few yards away. Let's get over there and take a break." He let go of the arm and picked up the machete again. "It's not far."
Blair nodded and followed Jim, staying closer and paying better attention this time. He held his arm close to his stomach, and soon they broke free of the jungle and into a small clearing. He sighed in relief seeing the small pool with a trickling stream flowing into it. The water looked clean and clear, but Jim insisted he taste it first, using his sensitive mouth to check for any contamination. When he declared it safe, Blair removed the water bottles and Jim filled the empty one, then topped off the other.
Blair bent over the stream as it dripped into the small pool and began to wash the worst of the morning's sweat from his face and arms, stopping when he got to the right one. He should probably...
"Let's get that bandage changed, Chief." Jim reached out and took his arm before Blair could protest, and began to untie the knot.
"Jim, what's bothering you?" Something had been eating at Jim since the crash, and Blair knew there was more to it than having just crashed in the Mexican jungle. Back at the grave, Jim had been somewhere else. Then that morning, he'd panicked just because Blair had gone to the bathroom without announcing his intentions first. This was not Jim Ellison.
Jim's jaw muscle flexed and he continued to unwrap the shirt bits from Blair's arm. "We just survived a plane crash, Sandburg.
Isn't that enough?"
Blair hissed as the shirt was peeled off his wound, exposing raw flesh to the humid jungle air. "No, there's more to it than that, Jim. You've been acting strange." He pulled Blair's arm until it was under the small flow of water tumbling over the rocks. In minutes, the cool water had taken most of the burning away, and Blair relaxed a little. "It's the crash, and the jungle, isn't it?
Being in the same situation?"
Jim wasn't looking at him, and continued to urge water to wash over Blair's entire arm as he held it there. "I don't know what you're talking about, Chief. We crashed, a man died, and now we have to hike out of here. My mind's been a little too occupied to guess what you're getting at."
He finished rinsing off Blair's arm and let him pull it out of the water while he felt around in his pack for clean strips. "Jim, this crash, the jungle, it's bringing back some memories, isn't it?" That had to be it. That would explain the far-off look, the silence, Jim's panic over Blair's arm and ribs, and finding him missing this morning. It had to be. But were they memories Jim had always been aware of, or new ones?
"Memories? No, Chief, no memories. Come on." He held out his hands, indicating he wanted Blair's arm again. "We don't want an.."
"I know, I know, an infection. Jim, I know how to keep a cut clean, and how to apply jungle plants for clotting, what flowers to crush for pain killers. Hell, I can even find you some roots that will take you to Mars and back." Jim gave him a sharp look as he started to re-bandage the arm. Blair winced, and that seemed to ruin his argument for being able to take care of himself. But, dammit, Jim was being unreasonable! Or obstinate. Or something!
Jim said nothing, just continued to wrap Blair's arm with fresh strips of his shirt.
"Jim, if you're having any kind of memories here, we need to work with them." Blair fleetingly thought of his notes and his last failed attempt to get Jim to talk about the crash. If he was starting to flash back on something, and if he'd let Blair know about it, they could be on to something. This could be the breakthrough Blair had been waiting for, but he had to proceed carefully, or blow it completely. By the look on Jim's face, the tension in jaw and eyes, he was already crossing the danger zone. Go forward, and risk an explosion, or pull back and miss a chance?
"There's nothing to work with, Sandburg. I don't remember anything you haven't already heard about." Jim finished the bandaging with a small knot, then reached for the water bottle and took a long drink, sitting back to perch on a rock behind him.
Blair sighed, working his stiffening fingers slowly. How should he do this? Slow and reasoning? Quick and convincing?
"Come on, Chief. Let's get going." Jim stood and quickly refilled the bottle, then stuffed it into his pack and picked up the machete.
Or, there was always forget it and hurry up. Blair stood, grabbed his pack, and followed Jim back into the thick jungle.
They spent another three hours cutting, hacking and pushing their way through vines, branches and heavy leaves. Blair started to wonder if maybe there wasn't a road right beside them, and they'd trek through the entire jungle this way, only to find they had paralleled a perfectly usable road the whole way. He was guessing they were in or near the Pomona Jungle Reserve. And if they were going in the right direction, should be coming close to Tenosique, in about 10 more hours. Sweat was dripping off his face, into his eyes, down his chest. Blair alternated between wiping the beads from his face to tugging the shirt that kept adhering to his wet body. Jim had his shirt off and tied over his head, shading his neck against the hot Mexican sun. Blair's hair provided the shade he needed, but if he took off his shirt, he'd burn his back for sure. At times, they were in such dense growth, the shade lulled Blair into thinking he could remove the shirt. Then, just as he prepared to take it off, they'd enter into a clearer area, where the sun pounded down with relentless force, reminding him why it was wiser for him to keep the shirt on. He certainly wasn't going to complain, after all, he was used to jungle excursions and the heavy, thick air that hung in front of you, trying to resist the pull of your lungs as they desperately sucked at the hot cushion.
Jim said nothing the entire time, so Blair kept quiet. Something was brewing under that calm exterior. He could usually tell when Jim was stewing about something. Trouble was, he could usually get Jim to open up, too. But this---this was different. This was something Blair had never been able to get Jim to talk about. He supposed he could understand why--the trauma, the guilt as only Jim Ellison could feel it--what Jim didn't understand, was that there could be healing in memories. Sometimes. With some memories. Okay, maybe he shouldn't generalize, and he certainly wasn't one to talk about bringing up bad ones to rehash. But God, this could mean finding the source, the trigger that brought Jim's abilities to the forefront! Or at the least, it could put to rest some of Blair's theories. Which in turn would bring others to light, as always happened. If a door gets shut, and you can't find a window, you start digging the tunnel.
They stopped several times to rest and drink. Blair's right hand was getting stiff. He could feel the two sides of torn flesh wanting to stick back together, using clotting blood as an organic superglue. They were both pretty damn lucky to have survived that crash, but they had. It was over. That couldn't be the only cause for Jim's attitude. He'd been through worse, and always told Blair if you were alive when it was over, then you won. Well, they were. So why was he so distant and quiet? It was almost a zone out, but internal, as if something he was thinking about had pulled him in completely and he was no longer aware of the...
"Ow!" God, who was zoning out? Blair slapped back at the palm that had hit him in the face when he wasn't paying attention. Jim stopped and looked back, watching him. Oh good, Sandburg, get childish with the vegetation. He made a face, then caught up with Jim.
"You need to take a break, Chief?"
Blair shook his head. "No, I'm fine, Jim." He had to wipe the sweat off his face again and shift the weight of his pack. His chest was aching, his arm throbbed, he was fine.
"Okay, we'll..." Jim's voice trailed off and Blair looked up, seeing that familiar glaze.
"A car!" Jim turned and began pushing through the brush, following something Blair couldn't hear.
He followed as his partner crashed through vines, branches and palms, then nearly slammed into Jim's back as he burst through to a clear patch where he had stopped. Blair looked around, seeing a dirt road stretch out before them to the left and right. Yes!
"Damn." Jim shook his head. "We missed it."
"But at least we know it's a road someone uses." Blair looked up and down the length, wondering just how often this old road was used. Hourly? No, there was grass growing in spots. Daily maybe? Looked pretty quiet. Okay, once a week, on Sunday, to go to the local market. But look on the bright side, today was .... Sunday. And they had probably missed the return trip.
"Well, it's easier walking than the jungle." Jim hefted the machete and glanced down the road in the general direction they had been hiking. "Come on, Chief. We can make better time while the sun's still up."
Oh, yeah. Let's keep hiking with the sun full on our backs. "Right." God, Blair was feeling whiny today. And out of sorts. It was probably Jim and whatever was bugging him. This just wasn't going to be a good day. His arm hurt, but he didn't want to fuss with it, or have Jim fuss with it. Blair didn't mind Jim's big-brother attitude, but when he switched to mother-hen mode it was harder to take. Especially now, he was either overly mothering, or not saying word one. His chest was reminding him now and again of his recent injury, but then, Jim's shoulder had to be hurting. It couldn't be a fever, Blair had been in the jungle many times, and he'd been violently sick in the jungle before, so he knew the difference between sweating and coming down with a fever. And after complaining all winter about the cold, he certainly wasn't going to complain about some sweat.
Blair's stomach suddenly growled, and he understood the reason for his mood. He looked up to see if there were any fruits within eyeshot, and saw it, lounging on a branch very near where Jim was.
"Hey, Jim. You ever eat iguana?"
Jim stopped, glancing back at Blair, then up to the branch he was pointing to. A slow smile crossed his face as he pulled the machete out from the straps of his backpack. "As a matter of fact..." Jim aimed, then let the blade fly with perfect precision, beheading the lizard instantly. "I have."
Blair grimaced slightly at the disgusting sight. The dirty deed done, he could now look forward to a decent dinner. Some of life's little details could be unattractive, but the results very satisfying. And most tasted like chicken.
"Good eye, Chief. That's the biggest one I've seen today." Jim hefted the large body. "We might as well call it a day." He glanced around, then motioned with his chin to a clearing off to their left. "How about you get a fire going and I'll clean this up?"
"Right." Blair followed him to the clearing, then dumped his pack to the ground and began searching for some dry branches and grass. He could hear Jim humming to himself as he used the large blade to gut and strip their dinner. Maybe whatever had been bugging him was working itself out? Blair brought his gatherings to the middle of the clearing and piled them up. Yeah, it was probably not a matter of Jim remembering Peru, but him just feeling mad and responsible for Blair being there. He tended to get that way whenever circumstances turned and Blair happened to be with him. But they always turned out okay, and when the danger passed, Jim shrugged off the aftereffects. Blair had learned some of that from being around Jim. Some if it he'd had already. He'd developed a pretty good sense of forget it when it's over from way back, when he was a kid. Probably had something to do with Naomi's ability to move on at any given time and never look back.
He found a good stone and dried piece of wood, quickly and expertly creating enough friction to get the dried grasses to catch and take on the wood. In 30 minutes, they had several long strips of the white meat roasting over the flames. Both men had to sit back from the heat of the fire as it just added to the already overpowering heat of the early evening jungle. Blair took out his notebook and was going over his latest entries, reading again his thoughts about Peru and the possible sequence of Jim's emerging Sentinel senses. Twice he reached for his pen to add something, but his hand was too sore and stiff, and the torn muscle of his forearm did not want to assist in the manipulation of any writing instrument.
Jim was quiet, turning the meat occasionally and watching the jungle around them. Blair stopped reading for a moment and watched him, trying to see under the motion of that jaw muscle into the thoughts behind it. He was racking his brain trying to come up with just the right way to say what he felt needed to be said. Needed to be done. But each time his mouth opened to try one of his plans, it would catch in his throat and refuse to come out. You only got so many chances, and Jim had to be approached in just the right way sometimes. And all too often, Blair would try the exact opposite road and smack head on into the dead end.
And he'd hit this dead end before. Maybe it was time to just blow through the barricades, and push his way off road?
"Jim, you know, I've been thinking..." Blair paused, leaning forward.
He ignored Jim's expression and forged ahead, now or never. "This could be the perfect setting to do a little experiment."
Jim shook his head immediately and poked at the fire with a stick. "Sandburg, our plane crashed, a man is dead, and we're hiking through the Mexican jungle looking for help. What the hell kind of experiments could you possibly want to do here?"
Blair swallowed, but knew he had to keep up the momentum or risk falling off completely. "I'm talking about remembering, Jim. Remembering the time in Peru when your senses came out." Jim's jaw clamped down hard and Blair forged ahead quickly, before the narrow gap could be welded. "This is important, Jim. I'm not talking about the details of the crash, but getting you to remember how you felt, what you thought, when you first might have experienced your Sentinel senses." Jim's face had become a rock, and he was staring at the fire, so Blair continued. "We know you've had these senses all your life, but what I still need to know is in what order they came out, if any. And what it was like when they did. You must have realized at some point that things had changed."
"I don't even know that myself, Chief. So I can't help you there." Jim stopped messing with the fire and sat back, not looking at anything.
Blair shook his head and shifted around a little to face his friend. Obviously he wasn't understanding the question. He'd have to try again. "No, I know that, Jim. But I think we can get you to remember. Your debriefing mentioned strange sensations, hearing things that didn't seem to be there, seeing things no one else did, but you and the army shrugged it all off as stress or shock. Everything that happened, everything you felt, is still in there. Your mind remembers it, we just need to bring it back out."
"I don't think so." Jim stated plainly, looking at Blair.
Okay, he's looking at you and listening, keep talking. "Jim, remember Jack, and that phone message? This is just like that. Your feelings and thoughts are in there." Blair leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. When he leaned into his right arm he grimaced and pulled back a bit. "Being in the jungle now could be the perfect setting to get you to go back and recall that time." He paused, seeing a familiar look cross Jim's eyes. He was staring at Blair, but the eyes weren't focused. "Jim?" Blair glanced around quickly, wondering what could be coming up at them. As usual, he heard and saw nothing. "Jim, what is it?" He was zoning out, but somehow this was different. His partner's eyes were fixed on a point somewhere between Blair and oblivion.
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