Disclaimers: Boys not mine; I just borrow them from time to time when the muse moves me.

Special Thanks to my Beta Queen, Zoe, without whom I'd be doomed to a life of grammatical inaccuracy. Also God bless my beta Ari, who has the kindness and tenacity to ensure that what you read is worthy.

Thank you to wolfpup for giving my work a great home.

Warnings: Could be considered AU (maybe), H/C, Angst, Smarm, Some violence, and usually a bit of colorful language. NOT Beta'd. (I always recognize my regular betas because they are so damn good to me. On a personal note: My beta, Zoe, had a sweet baby boy mid September who is just as beautiful as can be. Way to go, Zo!

Spoilers: None to my knowledge.

A very special thanks to Anna M Walker for her fantastic story Hidden Skill which inspired me to write this.


Sam Mallory

Blair Sandburg took a deep breath of the desert air, one he hoped would cleanse his very soul, but the smell of death permeated everything in this God forsaken country.

Looking around, he sighed deeply, scrubbing his dry, haunted eyes. No tears could be afforded for the slaughtered children he'd seen. Water was a rare commodity in the desert and he was already in danger of dehydration.

Brushing back the shortened strands of hair sticking to his face, he sipped at the tepid water, slowly tipping back the canteen swinging from his shoulder.

God, if you're listening, I want out of this damn desert, he thought bitterly, looking skyward, bearing witness to the destroyed village and the broken bodies of the children he had hoped to save.

"Damnit," he cursed breathlessly, capping the canteen and throwing it back down at his side. The fighting and the killing were getting to be almost too much to bear.

Blair sighed with a grimace, thinking of his mother. At times, he was unsure if Naomi was so strong in her beliefs to be naive or if she was simply a fool. Shaking his head reminiscently, he recalled her smile as she explained to him at the tender age of thirteen that the desert was the "perfect place to explore his youth."

Blair closed his eyes against the sights burned into his brain and bobbing his head grimly wondered how he himself could have been such a fool. Gasping suddenly against the oppressive heat, Blair shuddered at the thought and reached for his canteen yet again.

No longer able to survey the damage, he turned silently toward his tattered tent, set up for him by the natives he had been hunting with when the savage attack to the village had occurred. The tribal men had been amazed at his prowess with the guns they now used to hunt. Guns they had stolen from soldiers entering their camp to bring dissension in the hopes that what once had been misfortune would eventually save their village from starvation and allow the hunters to kill the larger beasts that would feed the entire village.

Blair shed tears he could ill afford to lose that night. Tears for the beautiful children that would never know the passage of time, the wisdom gained with age or the love that fills the heart.

Three weeks later...

Settling slowly, Blair rolled over on his bed roll and attempted to sleep, despite the stifling heat and the horrifying nightmares that plagued him since the loss of the village. He had been in this hellish country for nearly two months and while his observations of the tribe were forming one hell of a paper, he was reticent to stay much longer.


Seems like such a small number when you think of the number of people in his graduating class in high school. How many was that again? Right, 423. Yet, the number eighteen haunted his waking moments as well as his screaming nightmares.

That was the number of children he'd seen killed in this damnable country. Babies, all of them, even though a few weren't much younger than himself.

Blair turned jerkily to his other side and slowed his breathing to begin his mantra. Taking a few deep breaths, he smiled as he could feel his pounding heart settle and his limbs begin to grow heavy.

Closing his eyes, he pictured the black jaguar. He never understood how this particular animal could put him at ease better than any other, but you go with what works.

Exhaling slowly, he watched as the black jaguar nuzzled the grey wolf (his own created image) and steadily began the descent into an exhaustive sleep.

"Get up!" The shout along with a rifle to the ribs prodded him from a fitful sleep.

Blair cursed as he was pulled roughly from his bedroll only to be thrown on the ground outside near the center of the small village. Several families as well as the small children were also ceremoniously dragged from slumber to be cast to the unforgiving ground.

As Blair tried to straighten up, a rifle butt slammed into his kidneys, doubling him over, as a boot loosely connected with the side of his head.

One of the children, an elfish girl christened Mahalia, flew to Blair's side and tried to shield him from the soldier's anger.

Blair, unable to allow a child to receive such punishment, encircled her lovingly in his arms to protect her from the blows steadily reigning down on them. The soldier, barely older than the young girl herself, sneered as he bent to retrieve her.

Mahalia cried out as the young soldier ripped her from the safety of her protector striking the side of her small round face.

"NO!" Blair cried out indignantly, his abject terror squelched by the seething anger of helplessness as the butt of the rifle struck his left temple. He groaned as he heard Mahalia's horrified scream, using every ounce of his dwindling strength to drag himself up from the ground.

Blair shook himself to awareness and pushed himself unsteadily to his feet. Following the trail of Mahalia's broken screams, he surged forward into the hut where her tormentor was attempting to subdue her.

His anger flared like an out of control fire, rage burning deep within him. Grabbing the soldier's rifle, discarded as he attempted to rape the young girl, he inhaled deeply, trying to reconcile this act from the hunting which he had participated in since his induction into the tribe.

Blair leaned against the hut opening to regain his balance. Then raising the rifle and taking aim, he pumped three rounds into the back of the young soldier, before collapsing to the ground, blood flowing freely down the side of his face.

Mahalia gathered her tattered clothes about her and crawled across the ground toward her savior.

"Maestro! Maestro!" She screamed as she shook him frantically. "Tenemos que ir. Tenemos que ir ante los soldados regresan!" She cried hysterically. (Teacher! Teacher! We have to go. We have to go before the soldiers come back!)

Blair stirred under the onslaught and moaned as pain ripped through his head.

Mahalia pulled harder, falling over his trembling and aching body. "Ahora!" She commanded, her terror building. (Now!)

Blair groaned as he allowed her to help him to his feet. He stood wavering and taking the rifle from her shaking hands made his way from the hut, Mahalia pulled tightly to his side.

Traveling as quickly as possible over the uneven and bloody terrain, he made for the cover of the trees. Tears streamed down his face as he listened to the gunfire cracking around him and tried not to trip over the broken bodies that lay strewn throughout the village.

Turning, briefly, he watched, stunned as the soldiers continued to execute those men, women and children offering opposition. Mahalia squirmed next to him, clutching his shirt, bringing him out of his dazed state.

Pulling her even more closely, he shuffled painfully into the darkness of night.

Jim exhaled heavily, his eyes filled with the knowledge of the pain his partner had carried for so long.

"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Jim asked, his voice too soft to be accusing.

Blair sighed and turned away. "I couldn't talk about it, Jim. Holding the broken bodies of all those children," Blair whispered, then shook his head as if trying to dispel the images conjured there. "I can't go back to that time," he paused, caught up in the nightmare that was his life so many years ago.

"You have NO idea how hard it was for me to talk about it to you now," Blair hissed, trying to keep his emotions in check.

Sensing Blair's need for a new direction, Jim inquired, "Whatever happened to Mahalia, Chief?"

Blair smiled. "I was really worried that she wouldn't make it. She was in a daze for most of the trip back to the city. It wasn't until we reached the hospital that I was able to draw her out," he paused remembering. "In fact, it wasn't until we reached the hospital that I fell apart," Blair admitted turning away from his Sentinel.

Jim smiled gently, "What happened?"

Blair's eyes glossed over as he remembered those terrifying days. "We had spent so much time either hiding from soldiers or fighting them that we were exhausted by the time we made it to the hospital. Mahalia wouldn't let go of my shirt and the doctor's had to work around me," he reminisced, his ocean blue eyes thoughtful. "She's here now," he whispered with the hint of a smile.

"Here in Cascade?" Jim prodded.

Blair shook his head. "No, she's in Chicago working on her undergraduate degree. The doctor at the hospital took her in and kept her safe. When she was old enough, he let her chose where she wanted to go to college and she picked DePaul. She's studying Interdisciplinary Humanities," he finished, hands clenching in nervousness, then added (with a smile) upon seeing his partner's confusion. "It's kinda like Anthropology Light."

Jim reached for his Guide's hands and gently unclenched the white fingers. "So, why tell me now?" Jim asked, subduing his desire to ask so many other questions.

"Because it was time. I needed you to know why I can't carry a gun, man. I needed you to be sure that you could trust me with watching your back even if I won't carry a weapon," Blair reassured, getting up from the couch and crossing to the balcony doors, slowly surveying the bay.

"Most of all... you're the best friend I have ever... ever had, man. I needed you to know about that part of my life. I. Will. Not. Carry. A. Gun. Sorry, man, but that's just the way it has to be. But..."

"But?" Jim interrupted.

"But, I will always, always watch your back," Blair promised, finally looking up into his partner's eyes.

Jim stretched his arm out across his partner's shoulders and smiled, "I know, Chief, I know."

The End