Oh God. Jim shook his head. "You're not going to die, Hicks. Just hang on." He knew that was a lie. And Hicks knew it too. The grease and filth that coated the huge chunk of metal he had pulled from the lieutenant's right side had caused infection immediately. The others had been lucky, if you could call being killed instantly lucky. At least they hadn't suffered like this kid was. Damn him and his father for getting him transferred to Jim's unit! They all knew he only wanted in to follow Jim. And it was all due to his having trained the young man at that desperate time of his life, when he'd just lost his own older brother in the Gulf war.
And now here he was, fighting a war in his own body that he was going to lose, and he'd never gotten to start the mission he was so excited about. None of them had. The chopper was shot down as they were landing. How Jim had escaped without serious injury, he didn't know. But God dammit, Hicks shouldn't be here, dying in his arms! Jim was in command. The whole mission, every man they lost, was his responsibility. And now there would be one more.
If only he'd seen those men in the jungle below them. If he'd heard that missile coming or caught some sight of them on that rise.
Maybe they could have maneuvered enough, or radioed, or something!
Jim looked down at the young face staring back up at him. He was wet with fever, and pale from the blood loss and pain. He was so young! "Take it easy, just rest."
Hicks shook his head, wetting dry lips. "Tell my dad...tell him.."
Jim reached behind him for the canteen, then turned quickly when he felt a hand clutch his arm.
"Jim, what is it?"
Startled, Jim looked up and saw Blair. "Nothing." He shook his head sharply and turned to the fire. What the hell was that? That flash wasn't just a memory, there was something else there this time. He reached out for one of the sticks of Iguana and pulled it up. "I think these are done." Blair was still staring at him, eyebrows knitting together. Jim could see the wheels turning and knew he wouldn't like the direction they wanted to take. He didn't want to take any direction that might encourage these feelings. He didn't want to remember anything new.
"Jim, what's going on?" Blair accepted the meat Jim handed him, but not the 'drop it' glance. "You've been a hundred miles away since we got here. And you zoned out just then, but it wasn't on anything outside."
Jim retrieved another stick of roasted meat and sat back, away from the fire. The sun was setting, but it hadn't taken the sweltering heat with it. "I've got a lot on my mind right now, Chief. Getting out of here and letting everyone know we're alive for a start."
"No, Jim, that wasn't just thinking. You were completely out of it for more than a minute. I couldn't even get you out till I grabbed your arm. That's not normal, Jim. Come on, talk to me."
"Sandburg, can we just drop this right now?" Jim could feel his irritation level building.
Blair held the meat, looking at it for a long moment silently. "I bet Simon's pretty pissed right about now."
"Worried, Sandburg. I'm sure he's worried. I've heard planes, but they're too far off to ever see us or that wreck." Jim tasted the hot meat and his mind instantly flashed on something familiar, something the taste brought up; it was too vague to hold onto, but gut-wrenching enough to know he didn't want to hold onto it. He swallowed the meat quickly, then reached for the water bottle. Come on, Ellison, you've had iguana before. He'd had flashes before, too. But never so vivid as these past few. And it had always been the crash, and Hicks. But now there was something more. Something outside, tugging at him, trying to pull him out. A smell, a sound, and now a taste. But he wasn't flashing on sights, or details. No, this time it was worse. This time it wasn't his mind trying to catch something, but something trying to catch his mind.
"...out a plane or anything after us."
Jim turned, startled to realize Blair had been talking and he hadn't heard a word.
"It was a joke, Jim." Blair shook his head. "Sorry, man. Just trying to lighten the mood." He picked some meat from the stick and ate it.
"This jungle area is starting to thin out. I bet we'll find a town by tomorrow." Jim took another bite, trying to turn down his sense of taste to avoid another association. "We can call Simon, let him know we're alive." Maybe if he kept talking, he could ignore the smell, too. "How's your arm?" And the odd sensation that something was dragging his mind out through the back of his skull.
Blair glanced at the bandages for a moment. "Fine. Do you suppose we'll still have to pick up that arsonist and bring him to Cascade?"
That was it, smell. It was the smell of fumes back at the plane that started this. And Blair's arm. The smell of blood wasn't something you ever got out of your mind. The fresh dirt while digging that grave, and now the roasted meat. They were all combining to bring his mind right back there. Right back to where he didn't want to be. Maybe he could tune out smells for a bit?
"Jim? Jim, what's wrong?"
He sighed, shaking his head. "Nothing."
"You know, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you were ignoring me." Blair was looking down at his iguana, trying to fake a smile that wasn't working for either of them.
"I'm not ignoring you, Chief." He pushed at the flames for a few minutes with his now empty stick of iguana. "I've just been thinking about some things, that's all."
Blair set his stick down and wiped his hands on his pants. "You're thinking about Peru, aren't you?"
He laughed shortly, but it was void of mirth. Okay, so it wouldn't take a genius to figure that out, but they'd been over this before. And Blair had his little pitbull jaws clamped on the subject. "Sandburg, I'm not remembering anything I haven't told you and fifty other people already." Jim shoved the stick in the flames and sat back. "I remember the crash, I remember burying my men. I spent an ungodly amount of time in the jungle, and then got rescued." Blair was looking at him with his understanding face. A face that told him the kid was drinking it in while at the same time processing it, turning it over, and getting ready to come back out with something Jim was bound not to want to hear. He held up a hand to stick a wedge in those mental wheels. "There's nothing I'm going to remember here that I couldn't remember when I was debriefed by everyone under the sun five years ago."
Blair nodded, then leaned forward, completely undaunted by Jim's wedge. "I know, Jim. But I'm not talking about remembering the details of the crash. I'm talking about the other things. Your senses, your emotions, what was going through your head while you were surviving in the jungle."
The very things I don't care to recall. "I was thinking of survival, and the mission, nothing more." Let it go, Sandburg!
"I know, Jim. That's exactly what I need to explore." Blair's voice lowered and Jim could practically feel him trying to pry an edge up. "The army was only interested in the details of the crash and mission. What I'm interested in is you, Jim. What made your Sentinel senses come out, how did they come out, what order did they come out, what they felt like when you..."
Jim held up a hand to stop this movie. "Sandburg, we've been over this a dozen times. I don't remember." He looked at Blair, noticing the expression there. He wasn't going to let this go easily. He never did. Jim sighed, glancing at the fire. It was getting dark now, they'd need to keep it going.
"Jim, if we could just get you to remember more of that time, the parts you haven't tried to recall. Finding out more about when you first noticed and used them is a big part of my paper."
Damn, that paper again! Okay, take it easy, Ellison. "Sandburg, can we just drop it? Please?"
"Jim, you don't understand how important this is."
Apparently not. He could feel the stress building, some of which had nothing to do with Blair's questions, or any one of his Sentinel senses. But God, he was being annoying all of a sudden! Jim stabbed a stick into the dirt, clenching his jaw, then pulled it out, staring at the clump clinging to the tip.
The dirt smelled odd, in a way Jim couldn't describe. He'd never really thought about dirt as having a smell, but it did now! Smelled of death, decay, mold, and blood. It was almost nauseating. He gritted his teeth, feeling the muscle on the right side of his face complain bitterly with overuse. Sighing deeply, he patted the dirt down, finishing the last grave. After placing Hicks' dog tags on the cairn, he stepped back, wiping his hands off on his pants. The boy had died that night, in his arms. Died like the rest, only more slowly. And now...now he was alone. All he had was the mission. A mission that still had orders to be carried out. He had to contact the natives, organize them, and wait for reinforcements to arrive. God help me! How?!
"Get a grip, Ellison. You've got a job to do." Grief was being replaced by duty. He stuffed the small shovel back into his pack, and with one final look over the graves, set off into the jungle. But he didn't make it far.
With a start, Jim realized Blair was shaking his arm again, looking worriedly into his face. Suddenly alarmed, he looked around. "What? What is it?"
"Jim, what's wrong with you? You were zoned out again, inside." Blair still held Jim's arm, looking intently into his eyes, eyebrows creased. "Jim, talk to me!"
He shook off Blair's arm, feeling the sweat on his upper lip, the flush to his face. "Nothing, I'm fine." Now that I'm back inside!
"Jim, that was not nothing. You were completely out of it. This is more than remembering the crash."
Dammit! "I told you, I don't want to try to remember the crash, Chief. Just drop it, okay?" He stood and marched to the edge of the jungle, looking for more fuel to keep the fire going through the night. A hand came up and ran over his face and hair, pushing back the vestiges of fear, and confirming the fact that his skull was intact, and his mind really had to be in there somewhere. Not--not out there. He was staring into the jungle, and now the jungle was staring back at him, holding his eyes.
Jim forced them closed and shook his head. No, not again! He couldn't go through that again!
"No, I said!" He turned, glaring at Blair for an instant as he stood next to the fire. His shout was met with a small start, then a quick flash of anger. "I'm sick of hearing about your paper, and sick of this whole business. Just drop it." Several branches caught his eye and Jim used that for a distraction, gathering them up and returning to the fire.
"Jim, this is not about the paper, this is about you. Something is going on. Talk to me, Jim. Tell me what's wrong. I want to help."
He shook his head as some of the branches were added to the fire. "Help who, Chief? Me, or your research? Constantly bringing this up isn't helping me any, I can tell you that."
Blair sighed heavily, then ran a hand through his hair, crossing their little camp opposite the fire from him. "Jim, come on--"
A lifted hand, a warning look, and Blair cut himself off, unconsciously backing up a step. Jim regretted the hurt in the younger man's eyes, but he could see it already changing to frustration. Blair would get over it. And maybe he'd get some peace, for a little while.
It was dark now, and the jungle heat was abating. He reached for his coat and bunched it up, preparing to get some sleep. Blair was still standing there, looking frustrated but remaining silent, which was a change. Right now, a nice one. When they got home, and things calmed down, maybe he'd be able to think about this. Not that he felt the need to.
"Get some sleep, Chief. We'll probably hit a town by tomorrow afternoon."
Reluctantly, Blair nodded. "Yeah." He found his jacket and curled up closer to the fire, taking several minutes to find a comfortable position.
Jim lay still, eyes closed but desperately trying to
remain aware. He could feel that pull, threatening to bring him outside again.
The feeling was terrifyingly familiar, and yet he couldn't grasp it long enough
to look it over. What it meant, what it would do to him, he wasn't sure. But one
thing was sure: he didn't want to find out.
Blair rolled over again, pushing his jacket around into a better pillow for the hundredth time in the past hour. Sleeping on the ground wasn't doing his ribs any good at all. And when he'd find a position that eased the pressure off aching bones, he'd smash his right arm down, bruising the torn flesh. Sometime in the middle of the night, he sighed and gave up. Sitting up, he found Jim adding some fuel to the dimming fire. He looked up and said nothing, so Blair kept quiet also, sensing that Jim's mood hadn't altered since a few hours ago. God, it was going to be a long day. He was sore, they still had any number of miles to walk, and Jim was pissed. And it was probably his fault. The flames picked up for a moment, then died down to a respectable glow. In that momentary flash, Blair saw the look on Jim's face, clearly reflecting a mood he had come up against before. It was Jim's I'm in no mood for this, Chief, look.
Blair pushed his hair from his face and got into the lotus position, easing some pressure from his chest and getting comfortable.
Jim moved around a bit, then lay on the ground, closing his eyes without saying a word. Great. This is great. If he wasn't fussing over Blair's simple injury like a worried nursemaid, then he was giving out the Ellison silent treatment. Jim only did that when he was pissed. Which meant he was. Which in turn meant he was pissed at Blair. And that meant Blair had done something. He sighed and closed his eyes, wordlessly finding a mantra he could use to get some peace, if not rest.
Just drop it, Chief. No, that mantra wasn't going to do much good. He shifted positions slightly and sighed. Let it go. Oh yeah, that's good, Sandburg. Blair shook his head, giving up. God, he had been a jerk, hadn't he? Pushing about Jim's memories, when it was clear he didn't want to talk about it. And then, when it was obvious Jim was having a problem, he had already been pushed outside, and there was no convincing him the paper wasn't Blair's only motive. Yep, you've done it this time. Now, he had two choices: try to convince Jim he wanted to help, thesis be damned; or keep quiet and let this whole thing blow over.
But there was little chance it would blow over. And Blair couldn't just ignore this. If he did--if he let it go without trying to explain--then Jim would think he was right, that Blair really didn't want to help for Jim's own sake. God, that would lower him several notches in Jim's esteem. Once you lost that man's favor, winning it back could be impossible. But he really did want to help, dammit! That look -- that zone out -- hadn't been normal in any way. Jim's mind wasn't focused on something outside, Blair could see that. Something had pulled him inside and wouldn't let go. And whether Jim was aware of what went on in there or not, he needed to try and talk it through. Maybe purging what little he could would help the rest to come out. Or go away. Something!
Blair opened his eyes and made a move to unfold his legs and wake Jim, but stopped himself. He needed to talk, to make him understand. But each time his mouth formed Jim's name, it caught in his throat, held there by fear and uncertainty. Blair sat there for a full ten minutes wrestling with the fear of waking Jim, and anger at being afraid. He ran a hand through his hair, wishing he'd tied it back. At least the length had kept the back of his neck shaded. Come on, think! Maybe you can do this without Jim's cooperation? Right--how?! What the hell was it this time that Jim didn't want to share? They'd been through so much, and Jim was usually open about things that upset him. His fear of open water, having slept with Jack's girlfriend. Those hadn't been easy revelations. What was it now? What was it that he didn't want to talk about? Or was it him not wanting to talk to Blair about it? Or maybe it was all due to his nagging over Peru?
Blair shook his head and unfolded his legs, slowly and quietly getting to his feet. The moon was full and bright, and he had to pee. He looked down at Jim and considered telling him, then changed his mind. If he couldn't get up the nerve to wake him about wanting to help, he sure as hell wasn't going to disturb him over this. Blair crossed the road and walked into the trees for a few yards, then relieved himself. After zipping back up, he stretched, popping several joints in his tired back and shoulders.
His chest felt better when he was standing, and the only thing he was going to get back at that fire was more irritated, so he started to walk around the area, doing a wide circle of their little campsite to stretch out and try to work some things through his tired mind.
He'd gone almost all the way around when he found the rock. Large and flat on one side, Blair nearly didn't see the carving he was leaning a hand on while he dug a rock out of his shoe. Cut deep into the stone, like an intricate scar, was an image that told Blair exactly where they were. He was so busy being pleased with himself, he didn't hear the footsteps.
"Hicks! I gave you a direct order!"
Blair spun around, surprised, then shocked to see an unfamiliar look in familiar eyes.
"I told you to stay in camp, mister!"
Before Blair could react, Jim's hand came out, grasping his forearm roughly. "Ow! Shit, Jim!" He tried to pull away from the fingers digging into his injury. Suddenly Jim let go. Blair stumbled back, looking from his bleeding arm up to Jim. He could feel the fear welling up inside as he registered the blank, dazed look reflected back. God, he was doing it again! Only this time, there was no radio on, no test pattern sounding off to throw him into any altered state. Blair's heart was beating wildly. He was trapped between the need to get through to Jim, and a strong desire get that rock between them.
Jim took one step towards Blair, and stopped. He seemed confused for a moment, unsure of what was going on.
"Jim--Jim what the hell's wrong with you?!" Blair held his arm, fighting back tears of pain. He could see his friend's eyes changing back to a more familiar sight. Was it over? God, what made this happen again?!
"What are you doing out here?" Jim asked, looking around them quickly. "It's dangerous. For Christ's sake, Blair, this is no place to go for a walk!"
He was angry, Blair could hear it in his voice, but there was something else. "Jim, what just happened? Who is Hicks?" That name caused Jim's jaw to clench. "Talk to me, Jim!" He was still holding his arm, the throbbing adding to his fear and frustration.
Jim swallowed, knitting both eyebrows together as he shook his head. He opened his mouth to speak, then stopped. Even in the pale moonlight, Blair could see the flush to his face.
"Jim, come on. Please!" Blair let his voice reach out, as his arm was still hurting too much. And the fear wasn't fading. God, he was afraid of Jim!
"No." He shook his head, looking around with determination. The negative seemed directed more at the jungle than Blair. "No!" At that, Jim turned and walked back to their camp.
Blair hesitated, trying to make his heart get back into a normal rhythm, willing his adrenaline to abate. He closed his eyes for a few minutes, trying to reach that point between needing to find out what happened, and wanting to turn and run like hell. He could hear Jim walking back to the fire. Blair knew he'd better get back too, but he couldn't. He couldn't move in the right direction. He knew where they were now, he'd recognized the carving in the rock as Pajaro Jaguar. If they followed the road they'd be in Tenosique by the afternoon, most likely. If he left now, he could be there sooner.
But he couldn't. He couldn't leave Jim without finding out just what the hell was going on. No, he couldn't make this wait any longer. If they walked into town tomorrow, it was over, and he'd never get this moment back. So go ahead, Sandburg. Go after Jim, grab him by the arm, and don't let go until he tells you what's going on. Right.
Suddenly he heard Jim stop and turn around, walking back towards him. Fear gripped his chest again. His mind was telling him to get the hell out of there, but his feet refused to move more than a few steps backwards as Jim broke through the bushes.
Blair flinched at Jim's outstretched hand, then instantly regretted his unconscious action when he saw the pain reflected back in the moonlit eyes. His heart was racing, and he knew Jim could hear it. He wanted to tell him it was okay, but it wasn't.
"Jim..." Blair could hear his voice shaking slightly, but as much as he told it to stop, it refused. "What's happening here?"
Jim reached the hand that was outstretched up to his own face, rubbing his eyes while shaking his head slowly. When it came down, he looked at Blair for a long time, then turned to face the stone carving.
Blair watched him, keeping his distance. He'd told his feet to step closer, and he'd told his racing heart this was Jim Ellison, but neither one believed or listened. That's Pajaro Jaguar. He was the ruler of Yaxchilan in 750 AD." Blair spoke quietly and Jim kept his eyes on the carving. Was he zoning again? Was he going to turn around any second now and be somewhere else? Someone else? "We're just outside Tenosique, in the Pomona reserve."
Jim reached out to touch the stone, and Blair's first instinct was to come closer and point out the details of the carving, but it was an instinct far overshadowed by another, more basic one. He knew Jim pretty well, maybe better than most people. But he also knew, that no matter how close he got, no matter how well he understood the man, Jim Ellison was not in his control. There were times when Blair thought he could predict every move Jim would make, every decision or turn he'd take. But now and again, he was reminded just how little he really understood his friend. Just how different they were. Just how dangerous he could be.
As much as Blair wanted Jim to turn around, so he could see his partner's face, and know he was back to normal, he was afraid to look. And no amount of coaxing got his feet to move. So he stood there, holding his throbbing arm, watching Jim study the stone, and praying.
"He was a lieutenant, first class."
Jim was speaking to the stone, with his back turned, but Blair's adrenaline level was still so high, he heard every word with crystal clarity.
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