Jim turned, and Blair flinched but held his ground, seeing that famous jaw muscle twitch.
"He died in my arms, two days after the crash." Jim's voice was even, but still quiet. "He was like a little brother to me, which is another reason he shouldn't have been there. The powers that be thought it would boost the kid's moral to be a part of that mission. And I had no say in the matter."
Jim paused and Blair stayed quiet, not wanting to say something that would bring back the silence, or trigger anything again.
"I never realized before how much you remind me of him." He leaned back against the stone. "Ever since we crashed, I've been flashing back on him. More vivid than ever before. And there's something else there too, but it's not a memory so much as a feeling."
Blair swallowed, beginning to feel a little more relaxed now that Jim was talking, but his feet still resisted the order to move forward. "What kind of feeling?" He kept his voice quiet and his eyes on Jim's.
"I'm not--not sure exactly." He shook his head, looking frustrated with himself. "I can't really put a finger on anything." Jim's hands came up in a gesture of helplessness. "The only thing I can describe is this sense of -- of losing control." He dropped his hands and looked at Blair. "I haven't remembered anything new, Chief. Just the same old memories, a bit more vivid."
Blair nodded slowly, and was surprised to find himself taking a step or two, but it wasn't really at Jim, more around in general. "You never told me about Hicks. But that would explain a few things." He started to let go of his arm, so his hand could push the hair from his face, but when he moved the fingers, a stab of pain reminded him the arm was bleeding again.
Jim started, as if seeing the injury for the first time, and took a step forward, reaching out. Blair's heart jumped, hitting the roof of his mouth before he could force it back down. He pulled away the instant Jim moved, and cursed his actions. Jim stopped immediately, and Blair wondered if Sentinels could detect adrenaline levels.
"We need to get that cleaned up."
Blair glanced at the arm, fresh blood plainly visible in the moonlight. "Yeah." He looked up at Jim, wanting to apologize, but the words stuck in his throat, where so many were still lodged.
"Come on." Jim motioned towards the dimming fire, then stepped aside, indicating Blair should go ahead.
His feet finally obeyed, and with hardly any hesitation he was able to walk past Jim and back to camp, hearing his partner follow, but staying several feet behind. When he reached their camp, Blair went for his pack to retrieve the water bottle and his shirt to make new strips since he was wearing the last of Jim's.
"I've got it. Go sit by the fire." Jim reached around behind him to grab the pack and Blair's heart skipped a beat.
He nodded, grateful he hadn't jumped three feet in the air like he thought he had, and walked to the fire. Get a grip, Sandburg. He heard Jim tearing strips of cloth as he walked to where he waited. Blair worked out the knot in his soiled bandages and began to slowly unwrap the bits of shirt, hissing a little at the sight of freshly irritated tissues. The bleeding seemed to have stopped, and there was still no sign of infection.
Jim sat in front of him and held out a hand, stopping short of actually reaching out for Blair's arm. "Let me have a look."
Blair obliged, having removed the last of the bandaging. He bit down against the burning as Jim poured water over the laceration, then used a bit of clean shirt to gently wipe away the dried and fresh blood so he could examine the injury.
"Hicks didn't die in the crash?" Blair kept his voice quiet, and he hoped the slight shaking was due to the burning on his arm.
Jim shook his head. "Not right away." He finished cleaning the edges of the gash and gently turned Blair's arm over to get a look at the other side. "He was badly injured, died from an infection."
Blair caught sight of Jim's face and the flexing of jaw muscles. "It wasn't your fault, Jim."
He used another strip of clean cloth to dry Blair's arm. "I was in command. It might not have been my fault, Chief, but it was my responsibility."
Jim started to wrap the injury again, starting at Blair's elbow. "But you see, Jim, that explains your sense of losing control. You had no power over the missile that brought you down, and killed your men. You had no power to stop the infection that killed Hicks." Jim was listening quietly, and Blair found his own heart had slowed back down to a normal rhythm. "And now, being in such a similar situation, it's brought everything back with more clarity than before." Jim finished the bandaging and tied the end down. "Jim, it's not your Sentinel senses. They aren't making you lose control."
Jim looked up sharply, searching Blair's eyes for a moment.
"I don't know what you thought or felt for those 18 months, but right now you're flashing back on someone I remind you of, in a situation similar to this one, under circumstances not too far removed." Blair took courage in the steadiness of his own voice and the fact that Jim was listening. "You had no control over that pilot's heart attack. Or the crash. It just all combined to bring back old memories stronger than before."
Jim nodded, sitting back and recapping the water bottle. "I tell ya, Chief, they've never been this vivid before." He shook his head. "I can recall the smell of the crash, the way the dirt felt. I can remember every word Hicks said."
"Yeah. Well, part of this could be my fault, Jim. If I hadn't been talking about it all the way down here, and pushing you to..."
"No. It wasn't you, Chief." Jim shook his head. "We've talked about Peru before. It was just bad timing, that's all." He looked at Blair then, holding his gaze. "After Hicks, it all goes back to that blur. I can't bring back anything else. Anything you don't already know. Sorry about that."
Blair laughed shortly, raising both eyebrows. "Jim, forget it. I shouldn't have pushed it."
"If I ever did remember, I'd tell you. You know that, don't you, Chief?"
He looked at Jim, meeting his darker blue eyes, and nodded. "Yeah, I know that, Jim." Blair felt his face flush a little with guilt at having been afraid of him earlier. "Listen, about before, I--"
"No, Blair you had every reason to react the way you did. I lost my head for a minute, thinking about Hicks and finding you gone again. I scared you, and I hurt you, and I'm sorry."
Blair looked down at his arm, fussing with the bandaging for minute. There was a lump in his throat that he couldn't talk around, but it didn't want to go away. When he looked back up, all he could do was nod.
Jim sighed. "Well, the sun should be up in an hour. Whaddaya say we get started?"
Blair glanced around, nodding. When he turned back to Jim, he had just enough time to keep from flinching away from the hand that gripped his shoulder. His heart only skipped one beat, and the hand remained, as if to reassure them both. He swallowed hard against the lump and suddenly found it impossible to meet Jim's eyes. He closed his own for a second, and the hand gave a gentle squeeze. The familiar, welcome touch conveyed more than either man could have voiced, and Blair accepted it without question.
Jim gave one more squeeze, then stood and began to kick dirt over the fading fire. "What did you say that carving was back there?"
"Pajaro Jaguar. He was a ruler in this region over 1200 years ago. Carvings like that are found all over this area. There's an archeological site just outside Tenosique where most of the larger carvings can be found." Blair picked up the water bottle and stuffed it back into his pack. Somehow talking about rock carvings was pushing that lump farther down his throat where it wasn't getting in the way. Jim had the fire out, so Blair handed him his pack, then shouldered his own.
"Well, I hope we hit town before noon." Jim shouldered his pack then looked out at the road before turning back to Blair. "One more day in this jungle heat without a shower, and we won't be welcome anywhere."
Blair made a face. "Just remember that's we, partner."
Jim laughed, then started towards the road. They made good time, and Blair kept an almost running conversation about the area and the time he'd spent studying the carvings found in and around Tenosique. At times, he wondered if his talking was just another attempt at avoidance, but every time he paused, Jim asked a pertinent question, proving he was at least paying attention.
In three hours, they crested a hill and spotted civilization. Or close to it.
"First things first. We find a phone, then we find a doctor." Jim wiped sweat from his face as they surveyed the town before them.
"How about both?" Blair pointed to their left, at a small collection of buildings that seemed to be the central hub of the tiny town. Signs on the side claimed everything from the local Post Office, Sheriffs Office, and Doctor, as well as the only hotel and restaurant this side of Zapata. Jim nodded and led the way down the dusty street. He'd lied. As soon as they entered the building, he took Blair straight to the doctor's office at the far side of the building.
They found Dr. Sanchez and his nurse heavily involved in a rousing game of chess, and Jim had no trouble convincing him Blair's arm would provide a better distraction.
"Where will you be?" Blair asked, as Jim picked up both backpacks and started to leave the exam room.
"I'm gonna go call Simon. Then, get us someplace to shower and sleep. You stay here, I'll be back when I've got things straightened out."
He nodded, watching Jim leave. He'd call Simon first, and Blair didn't exactly want to be there during that conversation. Not that crashing into the jungle had been anyone's fault. But he was pretty sure he still didn't want to be there. Then Jim would find them a room in the hotel upstairs, and they'd probably get cleaned up before taking the local authority out to retrieve the pilot's body.
Just as long as Jim didn't go out there alone. By jeep, a straight shot on the road, they could probably reach the crash site in under 3 hours. But being back there just might trigger Jim's memories again. He'd need Blair around, just in case.
It took the doctor just under an hour to clean Blair's arm, apply twelve stitches, a clean bandage and administer several injections Blair wasn't entirely sure he needed. When Jim hadn't returned yet, he decided to go looking. The nurse seemed unconcerned about payment, and mumbled something in Spanish about already speaking with the bigger man.
"Gracias." Blair nodded, then walked out of the office and glanced around, wondering if Jim was upstairs at the hotel, across the street where the banks of phones were, or still out looking for the local law. He decided on the hotel, mostly because he was tired, and beginning to realize there was a distinct smell about him that, while in the doctor's office, had become very noticeable. Blair walked up the stairs, finding the hotel to be the only door available, and went inside. He was struck immediately by the unexpected and welcome chill of an air conditioner, and quickly shut the door against the sweltering afternoon heat.
Blair stood for a long time, reveling in the relief. A man behind the counter watched him for a few minutes, then reached down behind the counter for a key.
" Es usted Sr. Sandburg?" he asked.
Blair stepped forward. "Sí. I'm Mr. Sandburg"
"Sr. Ellison pidió que contara usted, cuarto cinco, y él estará de vuelta antes de de esta noche."
Blair stared at the man for a minute, not sure if he'd heard correctly. "He went to the crash site? I mean, El salió allí? Al choque?" Surely Jim wouldn't have driven out there without him?
"Sí, con el Alguacil." He was holding out the key to room #5, waiting patiently for Blair to accept it.
"Gracias." He took the key but stood there, unsure if he should try and find a ride out to the crash, and catch up to Jim and this sheriff he went with, or just wait. Dammit, why did he leave without me?! Blair realized the clerk was staring at him, so he smiled and moved down the hallway, looking for room #5. Maybe there was a note inside.
He found the room at the end of the short hall, and inside found both his and Jim's packs, a clean shirt and a short, to the point note.
"Simon is in Mexico City. He's driving out tomorrow to pick us up. I'll be back before dark. Get some rest, and take a shower!"
Blair shook his head in frustration, letting the note fall back to the small table as he sat down on one of the beds. Had he left Blair behind on purpose? What if he got out there and...No, he probably wouldn't have another association, not with the local Sheriff out to retrieve a body...surely. But what if..?
"Take a shower." He wondered if Jim had. That Sentinel nose might be able to tune out some smells, but he couldn't have been immune to his own hygiene. Somewhat reluctantly, Blair got up off the bed and pushed his tired body in the general direction of the bathroom. Fatigue and stress were finally catching up, as was at least one of the shots the doctor had given him. He found some damp towels piled, rather neatly, on the floor and had one question answered.
Blair turned on the tap and splashed cool water over his face, enough to revive him so he could strip off sweaty clothes and stand in the shower without falling asleep. After he'd scrubbed off the worst of the sweat and dirt, all the while trying hard to keep his bandaged arm from getting too wet, he stepped out of the shower, drying almost instantly in the afternoon heat that even an air conditioner couldn't ward off completely. He stumbled to the bed, pulled on the clean t-shirt and his jeans, expecting to go outside and find out how long ago Jim had left, and when he could be expected back.
body had other ideas. Blair sat on the edge of the bed to pull on his shoes, and
never even remembered his head hitting the pillow.
It hadn't taken long at all to drive back out to the crash site by jeep. The road they had taken paralleled their jungle path almost perfectly, right up to within a half mile of the wreck. Figures, Jim thought. The way his luck had been holding out these past few days, he'd almost expected to come out of the jungle right into some vacation resort or something.
Retrieving the pilot's body was easy enough once Jim and the sheriff located the plane. They placed the man in a body bag, and drove quickly back to town. He'd been surprised when he called Simon, only to be redirected to a hotel in Mexico City, where the Captain had flown immediately upon hearing Jim and Blair had failed to arrive as scheduled. When Simon insisted they stay put until he came for them tomorrow, Jim had agreed willingly.
They pulled into town just before dusk. After helping deposit the deceased pilot with the doctor, Jim retreated to the hotel. He had expected to find Blair waiting for him outside. Actually, he'd almost thought the kid would have found a way to follow him back out to the crash. The clerk nodded to him as he passed and Jim went straight down the hall, opening the door quietly when he recognized the sounds of a sleeper inside.
Blair was sprawled out on top of one of the beds in his jeans and the clean shirt Jim had procured for him. His arm was neatly bandaged, and the assortment of cuts and scrapes on his face and chest were clean. In fact, he was clean. Jim walked quietly to the bathroom, picking up bits and pieces of Blair's trailings along the way. He realized, if you looked at the mess from the bathroom angle, his partner must have just made it to the bed before falling asleep. Jim stacked the used towels in a corner, washed the road dust from his face and hands, then returned to the other bed. The sun made its final farewell, so he flipped on a lamp and sat down on the soft mattress.
Jim considered taking a nap himself, but he was hungry. Well, Blair had probably been asleep for a couple of hours. He'd give him one more, then see if he wanted to go get some real food. Jack's book was still in his pack, so Jim retrieved it and got comfortable against the headboard, flipping open the book to find his last chapter. Once located, Jim set the book in his lap and glanced at Blair. He'd never really thought about how much his partner reminded him of Hicks before now. Physically, they weren't very similar, aside from dark hair and blue eyes. But in other respects, they were.
Blair stirred, then caught sight of Jim and sat up.
"Jim, how long have you been back?" He ran a hand through his hair, then continued before Jim could reply. "And why the hell didn't you come get me?! Don't you realize what could have happened out there?"
Jim chuckled slightly as he closed the book and shook his head. "Relax, Chief. Nothing happened." He got off the bed and tossed the book down. "I knew it wouldn't as long as you stayed here." When he turned to look at Blair, he nearly laughed at the pained expression there. "Come on, I'm hungry." He reached down and gently cuffed his friend on the back of the head. "I'll explain it downstairs."
Blair got up almost reluctantly and followed Jim out the door. "You got the body, I presume?"
"Yeah, we got it." Jim locked the door, then put a hand on Blair's back as they walked down the hall. "Only took a few hours by jeep."
Jim could hear the rejection in his friend's voice, so he gave his shoulder a quick squeeze before letting go. They walked downstairs and crossed the dusty street to the only restaurant in the small town. Surprisingly, it was very clean and popular. After finding a nice, quiet booth and ordering some dinner, Jim couldn't take Blair's unnatural silence any longer.
"Sandburg, I went out there alone because I found the sheriff, and if we didn't leave right away, it would be too dark to find the wreck again." He took a drink of his beer and watched Blair shake his head.
"I should have been there, Jim. What if you had..." He stopped, glancing quickly around then lowering his voice slightly. "What if you had zoned out again? Or forgot who you were talking to like...I should have been there, Jim."
"No, Chief. I realized it was you being there that was making me -- remember -- like that. Leaving you here was the only way I could be sure it wouldn't happen again."
The pain in Blair's eyes was obvious. "Jim, I.."
He held up a hand. Their waitress came with the food and he had to wait a moment. "Blair, I'm not saying it was your fault. It was a combination of things, but having you there, and reminding me of Hicks, it was just...just too strong."
"Jim, flashing on Hicks could happen any time. You've remembered your men before, and them having died. You could have been out there with that sheriff and had the same reaction."
"No, it wasn't Hicks. It was you."
Blair stopped short of saying more and looked puzzled.
Jim sighed. "It was you, Blair. I kept seeing you in Hicks' place. Having you out there, hurt, in danger, in nearly the same situation that killed Hicks...well it was more than I could handle, that's all." He took a drink, watching his partner digest all he was hearing. "Listen, this morning when I---mistook you---I'm sorry."
Blair's eyebrows rose and he sat back for a moment, not meeting Jim's eyes. "Yeah. It's okay."
"No, it's not okay, Chief. I hurt you, and I'm sorry."
Blair laughed shortly, fidgeting with the edge of the table. "Scared the shit out of me."
Jim's chest tightened with the memory of the fear and betrayal he'd seen reflected back in the pale moonlight. The physical pain of grabbing an injured arm was nothing compared to the hurt in those eyes. God, standing there, holding his arm and fighting back the pain and fear, Blair had looked so small, so terrified! And it was Jim he was afraid of. For the second time in their partnership, it was Jim he feared. When Blair flinched away, he may as well have lashed out, the pain was as real. "I know. I'm sorry." It was all he could say. Short of traveling back in time and taking it all away, it was all he could do.
Blair finally looked up, and Jim tried to hold his gaze. He still looked small, and maybe just a little unsure. So much like Hicks. He wanted to reach out and touch that shoulder, reassure himself that Blair wasn't going to flinch again, but the table was in the way. Jim took comfort in the fact that earlier, back at their camp, he'd been able to touch Blair and feel the tension ease. He'd rather be shot in the gut than experience that look again.
They finished eating and, Jim explained Simon's reaction when he'd gotten hold of the Captain at his hotel in Mexico City. Banks would be out in the morning to retrieve them. And luckily, Martinez had been transported to Cascade yesterday, so all they had left to do was go home. After dinner, Jim grabbed a couple more bottles of beer, and they crossed the street back to the hotel. The air conditioner was turned off at 9pm, hotel policy, but the Mexican heat didn't shut down till sometime around midnight. They both took the beers out to the balcony overlooking the small town, and got comfortable on the deck, lacking any chairs.
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