"Captain, please don't let me die here."
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.
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
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
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
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
"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?"
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.
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,
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
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."
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."
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!
"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
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."
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.
sleep, Chief. We'll probably hit a town by tomorrow afternoon."
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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