Blair stayed close behind Jim so that the branches and vines he
was pushing aside wouldn't slap him in the face with too much force. Jim was hacking
and cutting through the dense vegetation, forging a path in their quest for a
road to follow. He was being quiet and Blair followed suit, unsure if his silence
was due to his concentration on the jungle around them, or something else. After
that mothering back at the wreck, Blair was happy to keep quiet, and pretend his
arm wasn't throbbing and his chest didn't ache. He knew that was just due to having
slept on the hard ground with recently healed ribs, but the feeling was like a
huge rusted hinge in his chest each time he inhaled. And that was becoming harder
to do in the press of jungle heat as the sun rose higher. In his effort to control
his heavy breathing, he wasn't paying attention, and didn't see the branch until
it was too late.
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...
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's jaw muscle flexed and he continued to unwrap the shirt bits
from Blair's arm. "We just survived a plane crash, Sandburg.
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?
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?
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
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
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.
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...
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
"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
"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.
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
"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
"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
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
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
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.
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?"
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."
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
"I don't think so." Jim stated plainly, looking at
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