Summary: Jim and Blair are kidnapped by Kincaid and dumped on a mountain as prey in a hunt. If the terrorist leader and the elements aren't enough… The guys are going through some changes and there is another Sentinel among Kincaid's men, and guess what, er… who, he wants?

Set in the present, but in a universe where TSBS never happened, and the future is the one depicted in Susan's GDP series.

Routine Disclaimer: They aren't mine, because sometimes we just don't get what we want in life. Paramount and Pet Fly Publication don't want them anymore so I don't see why I can't have them, but there it is, I don't. (Pout) I don't make or get any money for this or you would have bought it at a bookstore or online!

Thank you's to Susan for letting me read wonderful stories that let me escape to whole other worlds, heck to at least five new universes! Can't thank you enough for all the enjoyable reads. And to Eileen who makes it all happen somehow. Web Wizard Extraordinaire.

Warnings; Well, this one is sort of therapy for me. There were so many times the Pet Fly writers made me crazy with how they had written some episode. Heck, in my universe TSBS never even happened cause that show was more than I could accept. So this is an angst and soul baring marathon, as I exorcise my demons.

Oh…Rated PL for potty language, these guys have mouths on them that would definitely not be accepted in polite society. But the last time I tried to wash their mouths out with soap; well Blair was too fast for me, and Jim too big. So forgive or don't read.

The Whole / Skyepony July 2001

The Whole

1

I don't know what they used on me. My nose feels like I had inhaled acid and my mouth tastes like I'd licked a chemical spill! And no three hangovers could equal this headache. I also feel like a jackass. All my training, as a bad ass Covert Black Ops Ranger and then as a cop, and they'd taken me as easy as a kindergartener.

After finishing a really tough case I had been due to meet Sandburg at noon at the loft. Blair had rushed over to the University to tie up some loose ends to free up his weekend. We were going to grab a quick bite then catch the Jags exhibition game at two. When I'd arrived home, I found the stairs that would take me up the three flights to the loft roped off and freshly painted. The pungent odors required me to tune down my sense of smell as I headed into the elevator that happened to be working for a change. As the rickety doors rumbled shut I pressed the button marked with a well-worn '3'. The car lifted slowly about ten feet and then quivered to a halt. For a moment I thought the stupid thing was just stuck again. It happened so often I usually just avoided the elevator entirely. But I instantly went rigid as I distinctly heard a click that had nothing to do with the familiar sounds of the elevator. Then the lights went out. Instinct took over and my pupils sprang wide, granting me clear vision even in the tiny amount of ambient light. My hand flashed to my gun holster even as a high-pitched hiss filled my ears and a cloud of gas engulfed my head. I held my breath and pounded the 'door open' button. When nothing happened I jumped up onto the handrail and reached for the emergency hatch in the elevator car roof. I can't say I was surprised when it refused to open. Bright flashes were appearing before my eyes as my oxygen starved brain signaled for me to breath. Running out of ideas I'd fired my whole clip at the roof hatch along the hinge hoping to weaken them. I had pounded against it as the last of my strength sloughed away from my limbs. I remember falling back to the floor and exhaling in a blast and then helplessly whooping in a deep breath, blackness enfolding me immediately.

Coming to was no picnic, but my training warned me to feign continued unconsciousness. I felt the cold metal of handcuffs joining my wrists.

I dialed up my senses and spiraled them out carefully. I heard the steady thrumming beat of a propeller and engine and the air around me was bitter cold and smelled of fuel and metal. Cracking my eyes open just slightly I found myself staring at a curved metal wall with a small boxy window in it. Dim orange tinged light streamed in through layers of dirt. Without moving anything except my eyes I quickly scanned my immediate area. A plane. Old propeller type, no insulation or seats so not a passenger carrier. From the inside it looked like an old DC3 converted for cargo. I sorted through the loud engine and wind sounds and filtered them out as Sandburg had taught me. With hearing cranked up I immediately tagged three heartbeats. Two were about forty feet ahead of me on the other side of a barrier, probably the cockpit. Also, a small tinny radio announcing some scores. After a few moments, two unfamiliar male voices started bickering "Yes! I knew they'd do it. They won. You bet the Jags wouldn't win. You lose. You owe me ten bucks." Congested nasal voice, southern drawl. "Yeah, but in sudden death overtime. I said by the end of the game. When the clock ran out they were tied!" Another southern drawl, thicker, more bass. Then I digested what they were saying. The Jags game over! Shit! I'd been out at least three hours!

Since the bad guys were otherwise occupied and either didn't know or didn't care that their captives were regaining awareness, I opened my eyes, rolled over and focused my senses on the owner of the third heartbeat. That rhythm was as familiar to me as my own face. When I heard it a moment ago only the fact that it was steady and strong had kept me from going postal. I had hoped that this time at least whoever got me had left the kid out of it. But if there was one constant in my universe it was that where there was trouble, there would be my partner.

When I rolled over I found that a steel cable connected my cuffs to the planes wall with about four feet of slack. Pushing up onto my knees I shuffled over to the still figure lying across from me. I could just reach him at the limit of the cable. Curled on his side almost in fetal position, Blair Sandburg looked like a sleeping young bohemian. Layers of Salvation Army clothing bundled under a heavy navy pea coat cocooned around him. Leather gloves over wool bulked out his small hands. I couldn't help a bemused smile escaping. When he was asleep the kid looked so damn young! Even with a faint five o'clock shadow across his jaw there was such innocence on that face.

I reached out a hand and brushed his long curly chestnut locks from where they had fallen across that unguarded face. Hard to imagine that childlike visage masked an incredible intellect. Blair Sandburg had once been an un-endangered academic. Regardless of his youth he was already known and respected. A well-traveled anthropologist. He had managed to make it to his mid twenties without once being kidnapped or nearly killed. Despite living among primitive peoples in dozens of foreign lands.

No, it wasn't until he joined up with me in the 'civilized' city of Cascade that he got the privilege of being shot at, kidnapped, and threatened on a regular basis. Like now. Damn I hate this feeling of guilt. I basically can't function without him, but without me he could do fine, hell better than fine, he'd be a damn PhD by now if not for me. Yet he stayed. What had started out as a short, mutually beneficial exchange, he studies me I get help with my errant senses, had become a strong, binding friendship. And now here he was being kidnapped…. again.

Extending all my senses toward Sandburg I was careful not to focus to strongly on one and zone out. I doubted the kid would appreciate having to pull me out of a zombie funk with the headache he was going to have when he came to. And he would have a headache; I could smell the bitter acrid odor of the same gas that had been used on me clinging to his clothes. But no smell of blood, thank god. His breath was forming frosty clouds each time he exhaled and he was shivering. I'll always wonder why the hell he ended up in Cascade. Anything under 90 degrees Sandburg considered a cold wave! He was an orchid living in an icebox?

Without consciously thinking about it I reached forward to pull his coat closed and was surprised to find my hands coming in contact with web straps. "What the hell?" Not the padded leather straps of his backpack as I had thought, but heavy nylon webbing? I shifted him slightly and now saw the dark parachute on his back. With his hands cuffed like mine it meant that our captors had gone to the trouble to put him into the chute before cuffing him. My stomach clenched at the idea. Why? The kid was terrified of heights and these bozo's went and put a parachute on him. I doubted it was out of concern for his potential safety.

Leaning forward as far as the cable allowed I practically put my mouth right to his ear to be heard over the drone of the plane. "Come on Chief, time to wake up." For a moment his head turned slightly toward my voice and a grimace flashed across his face. He mumbled something incoherent but his eyes remained closed. Then abruptly as I patted his icy cheek he began thrashing his bound arms wildly. I grabbed his shoulders and tried to shake him awake and out of what nightmare gripped him.

"No! Let me out! Open the doors…. can't breath…" His voice climbed in panic and he push hard against me. Damn. They had obviously trapped the kid the same way they'd gotten me. I could just imagine what he had felt when he had found the stairs painted and the elevator the only option. Sandburg had a distinct dislike for elevators since being held hostage in one being dropped by a maniac. That little episode had gotten worse when he'd discovered a bomb as a co-passenger. No, Sandburg and elevators had parted company whenever possible from then on. So he would have gotten on the elevator already nervous. Then the lights going out and the gas pouring down, smothering him. I had been trained for dealing with some pretty frightening shit in the Rangers, the kid had been learning the hard way, by experiencing it. His pulse and respiration went from calm and steady to ballistic in full-blown panic attack overdrive.

Grabbing his flailing hands I pulled him into a tight embrace that restrained him and comforted me. "Easy Sandburg, you're okay." I murmured gently. Yeah I know. How can a tough as nails, lone wolf Covert Black Ops Ranger let a scrawny brain trust flower child get to be more a part of his soul than even a kid brother? I still don't quite know how it happened. It sure hadn't been anything I ever had a chance of avoiding. I had every intention of staying a loner, never risk getting too close to anyone after losing too many as a man, soldier and cop. When I had first meet this hyper kinetic generation X'er I had figured to deal with him for a week or two, at a comfortable distance, get a handle on my senses and then blow him off. But Sandburg had simply bulldozed over my emotional 'keep out' signs, plowed under my tough guy walls, and generally ignored all my 'don't touch' signals. He might not be the biggest or meanest dog in the pound… but he was by far the most tenacious.

"Jim?" Blair's voice was barely a whisper, confused and hopeful at once. But plenty loud enough for a Sentinel whose hyper senses were even more hyper to every sound, feeling, and movement of the younger man. I eased him back so I could look into his face. Puffy eyelids began to open but almost immediately his face withered with pain and he squeezed his eyes back shut. Having experienced the headache from the gas myself I could guess the kind of pain he was feeling. Then I noticed he was hurting so much he holding his damn breath! I grabbed his shoulder, hard! Then barked out a loud, alarmed "Hey, breath Sandburg!" only to hear his heart go into overdrive. Great, scare the shit out of him when he isn't even awake yet. Gritting my teeth I managed to rein in my own anxiety to speak in a calmer, persuasive voice. "Deep and steady Chief" I encouraged him, "I know you have the headache from hell… but it's from the gas. It'll ease up in a few minutes." A moment later I was rewarded with the sight of half open eyes. Bloodshot, but misty blue and bright with eager intelligence, Sandburg's eyes pretty much telegraphed everything. He winced as his eyes opened a little wider and began to flicker rapidly over our surroundings. That's my Guide, always the curious observer. Putting on my best 'everything's going to be fine' smile I asked…"Hey Chief. Guess what?"

2.

Suddenly the elevator jerks once and stops rising. Then the car is plunged into total blackness. The bird is back in my chest in a single heartbeat and my breathing starts to race to catch up. "It's just stuck, I'm fine. It's just stuck, I'mfineItsjuststuckI'mfine,I'mfine" As the mantra starts to become incoherent babble a cloud of damp, smelly mist shots into my face.

Almost the second I feel the stuff my head starts to spin. Gas! Shit no! I felt as if someone had taken a thick wet cloth and held it across my nose and mouth. I couldn't get any air. My hands reached through the dark to pound on the elevator doors, fingers clawing at the seam between them. "No! Let me out! Open the doors…. can't breath…" As the darkness that surrounded me began to seep into my mind and body I wondered if the gas was lethal. Was I dying? As the feeling left my body a part of me thought of my Sentinel. If he was listening to my struggle. Helpless to aid me. It would be hell for him. Unable to speak I sent a quiet prayer up, "Take care Jim. I'm sorry big gu…." Everything stopped.

Coldcoldcoldcoldcoldcoldcoldcold… The first returning thought I had was I was damn cold! From a distance I heard a droning rumble that made my head hurt and my teeth ache, but all my attention was pulled toward the fact that I was freezing. I tried to draw into myself and struggled to wrap my arms around my torso for warmth. But my wrists seemed connected somehow.

Still more asleep than awake I felt cool air breathe by my ear and I thought I heard a voice. But an engines drone blanketed it. The cold, damp mist across my face caused me to flash back. I was back in the elevator suffocating in gas. Throwing my arms up I slapped away something icy that touched my cheek. A pair of strong hands grabbed my shoulders and began to shake me. Still trapped in the fear of the nightmare I fought even harder. Then iron hard arms wrapped around me like a straight jacket. But just as I was about to launch all my strength into one last bid for freedom my senses delivered simultaneous messages. I'm not a Sentinel mind you, but I am a trained observer with a great memory. And I am also the Guide who had had to find stuff that wouldn't send my Sentinel into allergic fits. So when my nose picked up the combination of herbal scents that clung to the body restraining me I felt a wondrous calm come over me. Then a much-remembered voice murmured into my hair, "Easy Sandburg, you're okay."

All the fear flushed away and I struggled to lever open eyes that seemed to be glued shut. Finally I managed to at least get my lids to half-mast and instantly regretted it. I've had some headaches in my life, but nothing like the one now attempting to bore out of my head through my eyeballs! I cringed at the pain, slamming my eyes back shut. I didn't realize I was also holding my breath until Jim squeezed my shoulder and snapped, "Hey, breath Sandburg!" his voice took on a coaxing sound. "Deep and steady Chief, I know you have the headache from hell… but it's from the gas. It'll ease up in a few minutes."

Only the fact that I trust Jim implicitly made me try squinting my eyes open again. It still hurt, but slightly less, so I risked going a little wider. As some degree of focus kicked in I saw the gleam of metal on both sides of me. Looking up at Jim with obvious questions on my lips I saw him paste on that 'hey look I'm not worried' smile that never fooled me. But playing along I arched my eyebrows in inquiry as he gave a chipper, "Hey Chief. Guess what?"

3

Sandburg was playing along, I knew that. He was the king of obfuscation, so he always pegged me whenever I tried to pretending things were fine when they weren't.

As I watched him look around again I could almost see the little Cray computer in his head reviewing and categorizing everything. Gassed, plane, handcuffs, Jim tethered, different particulars, same scenario. Hostages, again!

Two topaz blue eyes opened further in the dim light and caught me in a pain filled but steady gaze. "This gets old after a while big guy." My partner ground out between gritted teeth. "I have a paper due Thursday and this is already gonna cut into my research time!" He reached up to push his hair out of his eyes and shook his pounding head when the handcuffs rattled from the movement.

Leave it to Blair to prioritize his survival after his classes. I saw his gaze look around again and then come back to the cable holding me to the far wall of the plane cabin. He pushed off his heels to scoot across the floor on his butt toward me, awkward with his wrist clamped together. He had only moved a foot or so when he froze. His cuffed hands came up to tug at the web straps around his shoulders. Then he tried to twist his head around to look at his back. Since he wasn't the Blair from the Exorcist he couldn't manage it. So he than tried to reach behind himself to pull what was behind him around to his front, but the handcuffs made that impossible also. "This isn't my backpack?" He looked up at me with a question in his expression.

I couldn't think of anything to say except the fact. "Uhh, no it's a parachute." I winced at my own words. Way to go Ellison, that definitely was delivered with great empathy! I saw the kid go rigid and color drain from his face. I almost didn't need Sentinel hearing to catch his heart rate lift off for the stratosphere. "Parachute!" he barked. "What the hell am I doing wearing a parachute for?" He pulled at the straps but when he couldn't find a way to yank the offending item off he glared at me. "Parachutes are for jumping out of planes." He hissed as if it was somehow something I had arranged. "Been there, done that, didn't like it. I'm am sooooooo not even going to consider jumping out of any more planes! So what's the plan? Who the hell has us this time? Where is this plane taking us? What do these wacko's want?"

I knew waiting for him to take a breath was a waste of time; Blair could be in the Guinness book of records for run on sentences. "Easy Buddy! You're babbling here." He swallowed a couple of times then looked sheepishly at me. "Sorry Jim." Then he shivered, tried to wrap his arms around himself and gave me a half smile. "Man, one of these days we'll get nabbed by someone who forces us to Florida and ties us up on lounge chairs on a nice warm beach." Pointedly ignoring the parachute he wore Blair finished scooting over to sit by me.

Taking steady deep breaths he pulled his legs up almost into the lotus position. He looked like he planned to try to meditate. Instead he turned back to me. "Okay Jim, I'm cool. Let me try this again. Who, What, When, Where and Why?" I rolled my eyes at his coded inquiry. The scary thing about Sandburg was I really pretty much understood him. Maybe I have taken so many trips into the Sandburg Zone that I can now speak the language like a native.

"I don't know Chief." I answered honestly. " I just came to about 5 minutes before you did." I tilted my head toward the front of the plane, "I can pick up two guys in the cockpit. Don't recognize their voices. They haven't been back here since I woke up"

"No hints what their agenda is huh?" He stated more than asked. Twisting around he reached behind me and tugged experimentally on the cable attached to the cuffs I wore. "I don't suppose they are up there discussing that this is all a plot the guys put them up to, to throw us a really kinky surprise party?"

He gave me one of his wickedly mischievous smiles and waggled his eyebrows. I couldn't help but chuckle. "No such luck Chief. The only thing they've talked about so far is the results of the Jags game."

Sandburg's eyebrows froze and he looked stricken, "Oh Man! We missed the game! That is so not cool." Then he looked at me expectantly. "Did you catch the score? I have fifty riding on the Jags by two."

"Fraid' not Chief." I said, barely able to keep from smiling. "You'll have to see if you cleaned Rafe out again AFTER we get out of our current mess. Okay"

"Aw Jim. You're still pissed that you lost the big pot to me…. again, on poker night. I can't help it if I am just naturally gifted." He lifted an eyebrow and gave a mock look of hurt when he heard me snort at that.

"Well, you keep living in denial big guy." The unmistakable Sandburg smirk flitted across his partners mobile features then just vanished as he switched gears suddenly. His eyes bore into mine. "Okay… what's the plan?" Absolute confidence in me radiated from his expression. Jeezzz, he had been dragged through one snafu after another with me and he still was certain that I would get us out of anything. For such a brain he sure was slow on the pickup about my limitations.

I lifted my cuffed and cabled hands up between us. "First off, do you still have your knife? I'd feel a lot better minus the bracelets." He nodded and tried to reach for his back pocket, but with his own wrists cuffed he couldn't manage it. Finally he pushed up on to his knees, "You'll have to get it Jim." Kneeling on all four he shifted around to move his back to me.

"But watch your hands buddy!" He snickered and his butt wiggled suggestively as I pulled at the cable to free enough length to reach up toward his back pocket. I snorted as I reached out, "You ain't my type kid." Just as I got to the end of the tether my ears honed in on to the pair in the cockpit. "We're almost at target area Jake." Nasal drawl said suddenly. "Automatic pilots on. Time to play!" Movement and the squeak and click of a door handle turning.

Grabbing Blair's pocket I yanked backward. "Sit down Chief! Our hosts are coming." Falling and scrabbling he managed to plop into a slightly off balance recline next to me before the cockpit door had swung fully open.

Whoever these guys were, they were taking no chances. A gun was the first thing through the opening. The hand holding the weapon was attached to a tall, weightlifter stocky blonde guy dressed in camo gear. Around his upper arm was a black band with a bright orange sun with a flag behind it embroidered on it. I couldn't help rolling my eyes, the Sunshine Patriots strike again!

"Oh Shit!" Blair exclaimed when his eyes caught the armband. "Not you guys again! What is it with you? Don't you have lives or is being sanity challenged inbred wacko white supremacist's militia a full time job?"

I winced as Sandburg's tirade took off. God, we'd had this conversation at least a dozen times. When would the kid ever learn to stop pissing off guys with guns? "Sandburg!" I growled through gritted teeth, glaring at him. "Shut up!" But I knew it was already to late.

Sure enough the boot camp rejects face screwed up with rage. "You stupid Kike! You need to be taught some respect." He swung a booted foot straight for Sandburg's head. With the awkward angle he was sitting in Blair couldn't get out of the way. I lunged in front of my partner, to the limit of my restraint with my wrists crossed to block and deflect the blow.

Catching the steel-toed missile across my palms I twisted it and shoved with as much power I could manage at the end of my line. The combination of his momentum and my push was enough to spin the jerk half around and impact him with the far wall of the planes cabin.

If blondie was angry before, he was cataleptic now. His face was blistering red and his eyes promised murder as he brought up the gun aimed straight for me.

Before I could stop him Blair suddenly surged to his feet planting himself between the gunman and me with his cuffed hands held out palm up in a consolatory gesture. "Hey, chill guy. Sorry. You got the gun that makes you the boss. Message received." His voice held no hint of fear, but his heart was back up to mach 10 and was so loud I figured it could be heard across the room.

My vision unconsciously telescoped in on the gunman's finger. When I saw it tighten slightly I tugged desperately at the cable that held me helpless to intervene. Just as I was about to shout and try to distract attention to me, a second tall camouflage clad figure immerged from the cockpit. "BILLY! Kincaid said alive!" He snapped sharply.

Blair's expression was intense, as his eyes never left the gunman. I continued to strain against the cable trying to get enough slack to get my hands on my partner. I wanted to pull him out of the line of fire. Wanted to push him behind me to some level of safety. Wanted to strangle him for taking such a chance!

But apparently 'Billy' had enough discipline or fear of Kincaid to obey orders. For a moment his eyes meet Sandburg's with deadly humor and he smiled. It was the smile of a cruel bully as he prepared to torture a puppy. "Yeah, alive," he sneered and then chuckled. "For now." He stepped back a few feet, still holding the gun even with Blair's chest. "But you'll wish I'd put you out of your misery here Jew boy."

Sandburg took a step back, bringing him into range of my grasp. I grabbed the chute strapped to him and pulled, hard. He stumbled back and I continued to tug into he was on the far side of me. "Jim!" he yelped as he gyroed his arms wildly to keep his balance. "Shut up and stay!" I growled with barely contained fury.

With the kid behind me I remained focused on our captors. They had dropped their voices to a faint whisper, but for Sentinel hearing they may as well have been using a bullhorn. "I'd love to just shoot the long-haired fag right in front of the cop." Billy hissed, his eyes never leaving Sandburg. "Well that isn't the plan Billy." Jake commented with a sneer in his voice. "Or do you want to tell Kincaid you let the little guy push your buttons and got you to go against orders. The plan is for both of them. So get over it and let's get going or we will miss the target area."

"Okay, okay!" Billy shook his head in momentary defeat, and then he looked up and met my glaring gaze. I felt a moment of pleasure as he took a startled step back on realizing the feral predatory nature of my thoughts right then. If he had come in range I would have gladly taken his gun away from him and feed it to him in a blink.

Unconsciously registering that I had labeled him the biggest threat to Blair, Billy again brought his weapon up and waved it nervously at me. "Okay Ellison, we know all about you and your 'Black Ops' military ninja assassin crap. So you are staying leashed until I give you the key. Get it?" He tried to sound intimidating but it didn't come off with the tremble in his hands as I continued to focus exclusively on him. Taking a deep breath he pulled a key out of his pocket and held it up for me to see. "This is the key to your cuffs." Then he used the gun to point to the back towards the dark tail section of the plane. "Back there is your parachute." Following his point with my sight I turned up my vision. He was telling the truth, there was a parachute lying against the far wall.

As I turned back toward the pair in front of me I tensed as the other man, Jake, motioned for Blair to come to him. "Get over here boy." He drawled condescendingly. When Sandburg didn't move Billy swung the gun to aim at me. "You heard him! Get moving before I put a bullet in the cop." Seeing Jake look over at him Billy commented, "Not kill him Jake, just wound him…hurt him a little." He smiled at the thought. Before Jake or Billy could think on the idea too much though, Blair calmly stepped around me and walked back toward the pair.

I made a grab for the kid as he went past, but he was prepared and stayed just beyond reach. "Chief, get back here!" I snarled. But he kept going.

When he was about a foot in front of Billy he stopped and just stood there. Jake nodded and moved backward to the hatch door in the planes side. He released the pivot handle and yanked the bar inward then revolved it once. The door made a soft sucking noise as the seal let go. Then the door shifted into the cabin a few inches. I had to tune down my hearing when the sound of wind roaring past increased as Jake pulled on the door to pivot it inward and around until it banged against the interior wall. The temperature in the plane cabin plunged from bitter cold to breath snatching frigid.

When the door first opened Blair had seemed to almost shrink in on his self as he was hit by the icy blast. But then his eyes caught their first sight of the ground flying by in the last light of dusk, hundreds of feet below. I doubt he even felt the cold as adrenaline kicked in. The kid began to back away from the open hatch. His heart was fluttering at a mad pace and I could smell the fear radiating off him. He spun around and his stormy blue eyes nailed mine. I watched his eyes go to my back to the tail of the plane and back. I realized that as afraid of heights as Sandburg was, right now he was more afraid of the fact that I wasn't wearing a parachute while he was. Without my Sentinel vision to confirm it he didn't believe there was a parachute for me at the back of the plane. In his minds eye he was picturing me flung from the plane to plunge to my death while he was forced to float down watching. And I watched a familiar and terrifying glint come into his eyes. The steely, stubborn damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead conviction of a Sandburg about to do something absurdly impossibly dangerous and heroic. I wasn't fast enough to shout to him that he was jumping to the wrong conclusion, that there was a chute for me. Seeing him tense, I just knew that he was about to fling himself at Billy to try and push him into my range. Yup, hundred and thirty pound Blair was about to tackle a two hundred pound muscle man with a gun.

Like I said, I was once a macho military type, and it takes a bit to spook me. But that look in Blair's eyes sent chills down my spine and nearly fogged my brain with panic. He was going to get himself killed and I was bound here about to watch it. His nightmare about me was my nightmare about him. As I saw him begin to charge the gun toting Billy I bellowed at the top of my voice, "Billy!" I was hoping to grab his attention for the moment Sandburg needed. It was almost a relief to see the gun shift to aim right at me.

What Sandburg had not registered in his equation was Jake. Just as my partner began his turn Jake spun around and pounced from behind, wrapped his arms around the kid's upper body. With his arms pinned to his sides Sandburg twisted and struggled, trying to slam his head back into Jakes head and stomp on his feet. The way he was thrashing Sandburg probably would have worked his way free pretty quickly. But as soon as Billy realized I was trying to distract him he spun, strode up to Jake and his flailing captive and stuck his gun right in Blair's face. "Settle down boy, or we finish this now!" He snarled. I could tell by his tone and heart rhythm he meant it, so when Blair continued to fight I called out to him. "Come on Chief stop. Blair! Listen to me will you!" I watched as he just halted all at once, turning those desperate eyes on me. I was not surprised to see guilt and apology in those smoky blue depths. "Sorry Jim." his voice was pained and forlorn, "I blew it."

I couldn't help a slight smile. "First off Chief, there is a parachute." I saw him blink; he hated it when I read him like a book. "Second you didn't blow anything. I'm the cop remember? My job to take on the bad guys. This is my mess. I'm the one that's sorry. Sorry I got you dragged along for the ride." At the mention of 'ride' Blair caught my eyes again and whispered Sentinel soft, "Wouldn't ever have wanted to trade the Roller Coaster back for the Merry Go Round man, not ever!" He threw all his conviction and passion into those few words, conveying a world of faith in me, in our friendship, and in his choice to remain at my side.

I felt my heart swell and for a moment it was just my partner and I absolutely in synch. I smiled and felt my confidence return that some how we would get out of this in one piece. Blair's own face split with one of his grins that could eclipse the sun. Yeah, we would be okay. Together we were unbeatable.

"Okay Ellison, this is the way it's going to be." Puffed up will self importance Billy still stood a couple of feet out of the circumference of the half circle I could manage at the end of my cable. "Kincaid feels that because of you two he and several of his best men have been rotting in prison for the past three years. Well they all escaped two nights ago. But he's a little worried that that much time in captivity might have taken some of the edge off our soldiers of America's liberation. He feels it's only right that you help them get back that edge. So in three days there is going to be a training exercise."

4

The doofus was standing at attention now, like spouting Kincaid's orders made him a General or something. How did Jim, who'd been a real soldier, keeping from laughing in the jerks face? I was just about to comment when Jim's eyes caught mine again. The warm affection we'd shared only a few moments ago was replaced in his eyes with a glare of warning not to open my mouth, or else! It sometimes bothered me to think how well he has gotten to know and anticipate me over the years. Not that I didn't do the same to him…. but I'm the Guide, that's my job description!

Returning his gaze I conspicuously clamped my lips together, okay big guy mum as a mummy, that's me. I'd keep my opinion of dysfunctional Patton wanna be's to myself. I was so damn relieved that Jim had said there was indeed another parachute that despite our continued hazardous situation I felt oddly lighthearted. But I knew that was probably the adrenaline rebound and I needed to focus back on the here and now.

"A training exercise to track and neutralize proven enemies of the movement. You two can figure out who that is. Can't yah?" Billy was warming to the idea of a literally captive audience. "Girlie man here jumps first. Then you get the key." I couldn't help a gulp of fear. I had jumped out of a plane once before and it had been one of the most frightening moments in my life. Back then I had done it because Simon was in danger, which had helped to distract me from my terror. Then just earlier the thought that they were going to pitch Jim out had displaced my concern for myself. But now that Jim had confirmed Billy's words about a parachute for him, the thought of jumping out of a plane in near darkness had reengaged my panic meter. I tried to keep it toned down. Judging from how tense Jim was he was in full 'Blessed Protector' mode, desperate to protect his tribe, and I tended to rank damn high in his particular tribal hierarchy. His jaw was clenched tight and I knew his teeth would be turned to powder at this rate.

"If you guys want to play fox and hounds with Sandburg and I, why not just let us jump together?" Jim asked from where he was crouched at the end of his steel leash. "What's the fun for you guys if he breaks his neck on the drop?" He was obviously more than willing to jump from a plane if it meant us getting away from these jerks. He just didn't want me to be separated from his protection.

"Hell cop…. like I said, we know all about you." Billy snorted contemptuously at Jim's attempt to reason with him. "Kincaid thinks that if we let you loose you might be able to take this gun away from me. Maybe even take us both out." He waved his gun depreciatively in my direction. "But if your partner's already out the door, and you have to choose between fighting us or helping him… well best money says you'll follow the Jew boy. Though heaven knows why?"

Billy was backing away from Jim towards me and Jake, who still had my arms pinned to my side, as he continued. "So there ya go. He jumps, you follow. Maybe you will break your necks. And if not….. well when we find you, let's just say we're planning a reeeeeeaaaallll warm send off." He snorted and hooted at his own perceived hilarity. Me, I was getting less comfortable by the moment.

When Billy came even with Jake and I, he turned to glower down at me with contempt. He could see how pale I was, the shivers I couldn't control and knew I was afraid. Hell, I was terrified, plus man was it ever cold! But I wasn't the least bit bothered by his opinion. I've been sneered at by a lot better class of criminal, but that was usually the prelude to me watching them get their ass's kicked or locked away by my partner. I preferred being looked down on by bad guys. Being underestimated or considered non-threatening had kept me alive more than once.

"Scared Jew boy?" He looked from me to Jim and back again. "What is it with you Ellison? You were a soldier! You see what's happening to this country. You should be one of us! Why do ya hang out with this…?" He looked me up and down like he was hunting for a suitable insult. Then a wicked smile crossed his face and I just knew what was coming. "Or is it maybe the two of you are more than partners?" He snickered and reached his gun up to flip my hair off my shoulders. "Kincaid seems to think you two are a couple of bastards. Maybe you're just a 'couple'." And with that he went off in a gale of laughter. The jerk with his arms pinning mine snorted in my ear as he laughed also. He squeezed harder, "You need a little hug sweetheart." he crooned and then cackled harshly.

Across the room Jim was watching the scene with a deceptively neutral face. But I tend to be able to read what's going on below the surface of my Sentinel. If Billy and Jake had a brain cell to spare between them they would have recognized the glow in Jim's eyes as the same one a cat has as it looks at mice. As that picture popped into my head at that moment Jim's tongue unconsciously swept slightly out to wet his lips, completing the image of a predator licking his chops. Suddenly despite our situation I lost it and a derisive laugh escaped. This was not what the bad guys expected obviously because Billy got all pissed off and slung the butt of the pistol across my face. With Jake holding me I couldn't dodge. The blow was enough to almost put my lights out and I couldn't help a yelp of pain. My legs went to mush and only Jakes grip kept me upright. Through the ringing in my ears I heard a snarling growl, "What about Kincaid's hunt?" the Sentinel was spitting the words through gritted teeth. "Hurt Sandburg and Kincaid will get you for ruining his little game."

Jake either agreed with Jim or didn't want the gash in the side of my head to bleed on him, because he was nodding and trying to rush things along. "Billy, Kincaid said not to mark 'em up to much, that's why we used gas. Let's get them out and get to the rendezvous." Since my legs wouldn't hold me yet, Jake just continued his hold around my upper body and dragged me like a sack backwards toward the open hatch. I knew what was coming so I shook my head trying to clear it and flickered my eyes back to link with Jim's. In a sub-whisper only a Sentinel could hear I breathed a quick "Don't do anything stupid! I'll be okay Jim, I'll try to meet you halfway." As I was hauled around into the hatch I heard Jim shout "Go limp on the landing Chief!" and then a none to gentle shove took me from the icy chill of the plane to the subzero numbing cold of freefall.

Don't look down, don't look down. As I plummeted I had to consciously fight down my terror. My arms seemed petrified and it took all my strength to bring my cuffed hands up to the ripcord. I yanked it so hard a part of me was surprised I didn't pull the release cable and handle clean out of the gear. With a prayer I looked straight up and was immediately answered by a blossom of dark fabric jumping high and then flinging itself wide in a mushroom of silk and webbing. I'd forgotten what it feels like to decelerate from seemingly terminal velocity to zero in a fraction of a second. The jerk as the chute bloomed and filled felt like I had already hit the ground after jumping ten floors, then I was yanked up at the same mad speed.

Unfortunately as my body's downward momentum was suddenly slowed, gravity pulled my head to my chest and I found myself looking down. For a moment the world just stopped,…

then I felt a pain in my chest, and I realized I wasn't breathing. It took a second for my clearly fixated mind to stop zoning on the dark ground and let a gasped breath whoop into my lungs. And again, and again. When breathing resumed some measure of automatic function, I again found myself processing what I could see awaiting me. Below was a vast ebony expanse. In the plane our altitude has kept us in the extinguishing glow of dusks last light. But on terra firma it was already past sunset. I was parachuting into lord knows where in the f!#$% dark! "Shit. This sucks!" I think I sort of screamed it, though the wind snatched the sound away before I could even be sure I had said it aloud.

A stray gust of wind spun my chute, and therefore me, around to face the opposite direction. I saw the silver reflective twinkle that was the plane I'd been pushed from. I saw several impressive mountains all around, their snow covered slopes caste in pastel dyes of reds and gold's by the suns last rays. And even though I did not have Sentinel eyesight my heart soared as I saw another silken flower, tiny and distant, blossom in the sky beneath the vanishing plane. Jim, in promised parachute, on his way.

5

For a moment, when I saw them push Sandburg out of the plane, a rage so black settled over me that I almost pulled my arms out of their sockets straining against the damn steel cable that restrained me. Even as my sight instinctively followed Blair's fall, categorizing landmarks and direction, I was visualizing snapping Billy and Jakes necks! In spite of my hearing automatically latching onto his heartbeat as it retreated behind me. I wanted to get to these two and destroy them! I know, I know, I'm a cop, but sometimes a deep and ancient something inside me went all primal. Sandburg would try to explain it, but all I know is that when that part of me takes over my priority's become a little narrow. First protect the Guide. Next kill anyone who threatens the Guide. Third protect the tribe.

Yeah I know, sounds sort of Neanderthal. The kid had called me a throwback the first time we'd meet. To prove him right I'd proceeded to lift this guy who I outweighed by at least eighty pound and had five inches on, and slung him up against the wall. Nothing like picking on someone smaller than you to prove what a macho man you are.

I didn't even notice when Jake pulled Billy through the door to the cockpit. But suddenly overlapping the sound of Blair's hummingbird fast pulse was Billy's nasal voice. "Okay Ellison, here's the key," something small and silver arched toward me through the air, "Your choice, whatcha gonna do?" Then the sound of the heavy door being closed and locked.

As dim as the cabin of the plane was my Sentinel sight pulled away from the shrinking circle of my partners parachute to shutter down to only the key as it flew across the room. It plunked to the floor just inches away from my farthest reach, but I barely paused. Lying flat I easily reached out my booted foot, snagged the key with the heel and pulled it into range.

My hands unlocked the cuffs in a blur and as soon as the cable dropped away I began to stalk toward the cockpit door. I wanted their blood, wanted to snap them in half. But immediately I restrained the beast within. My partner needed me, and no delay for vengeance was acceptable.

I stuffed the cuffs and key into my pocket as I ran to the planes tail area and grabbed the parachute lying there. As I lifted it and looked it over I felt a wave of relief wash over me. A part of my suspicious self had feared that as some sick joke I would reach the chute just to find it was an empty pack or rigged to not work. But the rational cop part of me knew that they would have realized that if the chute was useless I wouldn't be able to jump and would have all the time I needed to get through the door, no matter how thick, and get to them.

Even as I was sliding my arms through the straps on the chute I was running back toward the hatch door. Every second that passed was taking me miles further from where ever the kid was landing.

As I stepped over some packages on the floor by the exit I noticed a fire ax on the wall and snatched it quickly. A tarp lying just by me feet was also grabbed up even as I was leaping from the plane.

As I began to fall through the brittle cold air I maneuvered to turn my body so I could see Blair's chute, far behind and below me. Telescoping my vision I could see him clearly. His parachute had deployed properly thankfully and he was floating down at a sedate pace. I further zoomed in and saw that the entire side of his head was covered with blood from the gash at his temple. But even as I worried about how alert he was after that blow, the wind carried his muttering voice across the miles to me. "This like sooooo sucks! It's cold, it's getting dark, and I'm in a damn parachute headed for some f*cking; black forest, who knows where, where a bunch of psycho testosterone G.I. Joe poster boys want to play hide and seek with real ammo! Like, lets take everything Blair's afraid of and stick it in one place and just see how long before I'm looney tunes gibbering in fear!" I couldn't help but smile in spite of everything. Blair never considered himself brave. He was the first one to admit that a lot of things scared him. What he had never seemed to realize is that not being afraid doesn't make you brave, only stupid. True heroism is to be stark staring terrified of something and go ahead and do what needs to be done anyway. Anyone who really knew my partner knew that he had repeatedly hurled himself into horrific situations to do what had to be done. His academic training had never prepared him for what came up in his life with me, yet every time he consistently adapted and held his own.

Now he, a through and through agoraphobic, was hundreds of feet above the ground with nowhere to go but down. He would have had every excuse to be screaming the whole way. But though his heart might have been causing sonic booms it was going so fast I listened to his running tirade and knew he would be okay.

I held off pulling my ripcord as long as possible. By flattening and moving my body to the horizontal, keeping my arms and legs close in I could increase my forward momentum. I could essentially direct my line of glide, taking me nearer and nearer my partner's location. But I could only risk that for a few moments. The plane hadn't been very high when I'd jumped. If I waited to long my landing would be to fast and hard not to cause injury. I'd be no good to Blair or myself with a few sundry broken bones.

When I had covered several miles toward Blair I couldn't push my luck any further and yanked the cord, watching my own chute billow and fill above me. The jerk of the halt almost pulled the ax and tarp I'd clung close to my body, out of my hands. But I managed to hold on. As my decent became a gentle glide I used the time to quickly wrap the ax in the tarp and tie it into a tight package. I would drop it just before landing. It wouldn't be smart to be carrying something sharp when I hit and rolled.

As I looked up I watched a gust of wind grab Sandburg and pivot him around like a puppet on strings. Now he was facing me, and almost instantly I saw a bright smile envelope his pale and blood crusted face. I knew he had spotted my parachute, knew he knew I was alive, knew I was going to find him. With Sentinel sight the faith in me that poured out of those expressive eyes of his would have been a frightening burden if I didn't have the same absolute faith and confidence in him. Weird but true. Whatever had brought the two of us together had found for each of us someone to complete and improve us. Where he was weak I was strong, where I was weak he was strong. We supported each other with unshakeable loyalty and trust. Well mostly. Due to a rather dysfunctional upbringing I frequently screwed up on trust issues. But somehow again, where I sometimes dropped the ball on trust, he could be relied on to give me twice as much as I deserved, so I guess even that balanced out?

I knew at this distance without Sentinel enhanced senses the kid couldn't possibly hear me, but he knew I could see him, probably hear him. "Hey Jim. Cool. Wow, how'd you manage to get over there?" He looked down and his heart rate jumped again. "I tell you Big Guy, when we haul Kincaid in this time I want ten minutes alone with him in a room before you send him away so far he'll need a rocket ship to get back!" I saw him tremble as he looked up at me. Even at this range I could see a heartbreaking panic in his eyes. He was almost to the canopy of the trees and with a closer view he realized how fast he was dropping.

There was a catch in his voice as he glanced up and then down again. "Well here I go again. Wish me luck." He was so pale; I wished he could hear me. But he couldn't. Any words of encouragement or promise that he'd be okay would be torn away by the glacier wind that whipped around us. So I just breathed a soft heartfelt whisper, "Good luck Chief."

I was still miles away and hundreds of feet above Blair when first he then his chute slid below the treetops and vanished. I tried to follow him down with my eyes, to track his voice or his heartbeat with my ears. But whatever fluke of the wind had let me hear him before wasn't enough to penetrate the trees.

As soon as I could no longer see or hear Sandburg of course my damn senses started to go on the fritz. Stuck suddenly with normal vision I strained to see landmarks that I could use to triangulate his position once I landed. With my sight not zoomed in to such a tight focus I could now see the territory we were in. There were several tall, stark mountains stretched out below, and not the familiar ones near Cascade. My best guess was the coastal mountain range of British Columbia. They were less than an hour north of Cascade by plane and some parts were incredibly isolated…. just the thing for Kincaid to have his little 'war games'. I would have preferred the Rainier mountain area if I had any 'druthers', both Blair and I knew the area well. This would be unknown territory that increased the odds against us.

I looked up at my chute and cursed its common umbrella shape. If it had been the rectangular precision type parachute I could have steered my decent almost to the exact point my partner had landed. As it was I could tell I was going to come down a long hike from him, through some unpleasantly harsh terrain.

6

"Ouch! Shit, oowww, ouch, ouch, damn, ooh, blast! Ouch, ouch!" What the hell? I must be hitting every damn branch on the whole damn tree! I couldn't see anything and I was sure the parachute must have been torn away in the first few feet of falling through the treetops. Because that's what I was doing… falling. I would jerk to a halt for a second, swing once or twice and then fall again, hitting every limb and branch possible. Then snag again, pause, and then drop. After my first close encounter with a limb I pulled my arms with my cuffed hands up to protect my face and head. I obviously wasn't doing to great a job since one of my eyes was now glued shut by what I was sure, due to the sting, had to be my blood.

I jerked to a halt again. After a few seconds without a resumption of the falling crap I cautiously lowered my arms and looked around. Or I tried to anyway. It was pitch ass black everywhere. The sun had set and no glow of any kind penetrated the evergreen stand.

I looked down trying to figure out how far from the forest floor I was. But I could be dangling a foot from the ground or fifty. I just couldn't see. An icy gust of frigid air puffed across me, starting me swinging like the pendulum on a clock. Well, it was to damn cold to stay up here; I could already feel the tingling threat of frostbite on my cheeks and ear tips. I would have to get down and start hunting for shelter and Jim.

I patted the web straps across the front of my chute pack, locating the pull release. Once I snapped it open I'd drop like a rock whatever distance it was to the ground. Not a thought someone who's afraid of heights really enjoys. But I couldn't stay here and freeze either.

I took several deep breaths to try and prepare. I was swaying back and forth on the end of my puppeteer's strings and it was starting to make me nauseous. I moved my hands to the release and looked down again to try to see what I might land on.

Just as I began to pry open the snap I heard a loud crack like a shot just above me! Instinctively I looked up into the dark trying to see what was happening. At that moment I was at the highest point of my outward pendulum swing. I didn't see the limb just above on which my chute had snagged, I didn't see it bend and finally snap from horizontal to vertical in a heartbeat. All I saw was a denser dark mass move across the black backdrop that was my world. I couldn't see, but I could feel. As my eyes tried to track what was happening above me my pendulous swing back in became faster as the limb gave way entirely. Suddenly even faster than I was going down, I was going sideway. I felt a change in the air. The way you can feel something in front of your face even with your eyes closed, I was heading right into something!

Tree trunk! The image roared through my brain. Had to be! I was swinging straight into a fuc…..

7.

Crashing through the trees on a parachute drop is one of the most dangerous hazards of landing. You could break your neck, get blinded or snap every bone in your whole damn body? As I was lashed and flayed by pine needles and branches I was wincing and cursing the whole way down. As soon I broke through the canopy I flung the pack of ax and tarp as far from me as I could. Sentinel vision came on-line and I saw the ground rapidly approaching. Just as I'd told Sandburg to do, I bent my knees and went limp for the fraction of a second before actual impact.

I landed and broke through a crust of snow. The thick powder sucked me in to my knees but the wind still had my chute. I was dragged out and wind sailed like a sled across the icy blanket. It was a struggle as I tried to gather the spaghetti of dozens of lines to dump air from the parachute to get it to collapse. After being yanked off my feet several times luck finally came my way and the chute snagged on a fallen tree. A fast scramble and I managed to grab the main chute and bundle it up. For a second I lay on top of it, panting a bit for breath. I am in excellent condition but between the gas, the cold, the altitude and the adrenaline I'd been running on, I felt like I had run a marathon.

Climbing to my feet I was able to dial up my sight enough to generally see around me. I carefully extended my sight and hearing bit by bit but quickly reined back in when I felt the subtle narrowing of my hearing that sometimes pre warned of a zone out. In the dark, snow covered landscape with so little variation the potential for being drawn by any sudden change into over focusing on one sense was just to high. With Sandburg I could have managed fine, somehow his presence seemed to always provide an anchor in any circumstance with any distractions. But he wasn't here and if I was going to get to him it was going to be by using my training and skills, not my enhanced senses.

8

"Uggggggghhhhhhh… id slomun ged da lizenz od da trug?" I could hear my voice and it sounded strange, even to me! Damn my head hurt. My first priority was to open my eyes but for some weird reason that was taking more energy then I seemed to have. I was floating in darkness, and it felt like I had no arms or legs? Funneling all my will into opening my eyes I finally managed to crack open the right one. But the darkness continued, and something painful ground into my eye.

I guess pain is enough to trigger instinctive movement even when the head is too mushy to think cause I suddenly found myself rolling onto my back. I spit out something wet and slushy. Apparently I'd been laying face down in the snow. Being face up wasn't helping much though. It was pitch black everywhere. Oh God! Am I blind? Adrenaline pushed through me like acid, spreading horrible pins and needles everywhere in my body. And then, straight above me through a picture frame of treetops, I saw the stars, and my fear eased.

Struggling to sit up I realized I was numb with cold. Not good. And the icy cold around my wrists was frosty metal, I was wearing cuffs? Oh yeah, now I remember, elevator, plane, parachute, Jim! Needed to get to Jim. First things first though, these cuffs had to go! Forcing myself to my knees I tried to get to my feet but my equilibrium was a no show. I found myself falling forward and coming up against the rough solidity of a large tree trunk covered with dozens of thin soft cords. The parachute? I couldn't see anything much through my right eye, and my left one was glued shut by something cold and sticky, which considering the events of the day just had to be my own blood. But my gloved hands moved up the cords and soon came on the diaphanous soft panels of silk. Grabbing hold of as many cords as I could reach I hauled with all my strength. I felt the snagged chute resist for a second. Then there was a ripping snap and I barely ducked to the side as parachute and snagging branch both slammed to the ground practically on top of me. "Way to go Sandburg!" I ground out self depreciatingly to myself, "Bean yourself with a branch and freeze to death. Dimwit!" Shaking my horribly pounding head with disgust at my near call, I quickly bent and felt my way along the strands to the parachutes body. Tugging it free of the branch it was partially wrapped in I finally had it loose. Gathering the panels and doubling their layers I pulled the whole length over myself loosely. I hopped up and down and flapped my cuffed arms a few times until the pins and needles in my feet and hands had receded. All the trees surrounding me considerably buffered the wind, and the parachute helped cut what remained. Under the protection of my little make do pup tent I would be temporarily protected from the elements for what I needed to do next. I was getting chilblains though just thinking about it. Oh hell, can't get my belt off with my cold hands in two pairs of gloves. Fast as possible grab the gloves on my right hand, yank em off, stuff em in coat pocket, grab belt buckle and pull belt loose. Zipper down, deep breath…. okay…. pull pants down to ankles, cold, cold, cold, spin pants back to front, cold, cold, cold, stuff right hand in back pocket, grab knife, oh soooo cold, pull pants back up, yes! Cold, cold, cold, cold, dammmmmnnnn cold! I would kill for a heating pad for my butt!

But butts aside, I had my Swiss army knife. It took only a second to feel through the one or two blades until I felt the pinpoint end of the awl. This would have been a lot easier with a light. But a hell of a lot of practice had taught me this was something done more by feel than sight anyway.

Okay now awl point into handcuff keyhole. Push up, down, right, left…. scrunch a little in juuuuussstttt there! YES! I am the man! Jim had taught me to pick locks 'just in case' and had seemed almost miffed when I got faster at it then him. He claimed my smaller hands and fingers gave me the advantage. Me, I just figure it's a matter of motivation. Since I started being an 'observer' with Jim I've been cuffed by wwwaaaaayyyy to many nut cases. For him it was just another skill. For me I considered it a matter of survival!

The second cuff took even less time than the first and finally the cold bracelets fell to the ground. I picked them up and stuffed them in my coat pocket, grabbing my gloves at the same time and pulling them on. With my hands finally free I slid out of the straps of the chute pack and harness. With it now in front of me I gathered all the cords from the chute and sliced them free of the parachute and the harness. Doing it by feel in the darkness under the chute took an extra couple of seconds, but soon I had them lose.

I took a few more minutes to roll all the cord into a manageable ball, sparking memories of helping Naomi roll yarn when I was a kid. I think I was about seven the year she decided to try to knit or crochet all her own and my clothes. Jeez, I can still remember that puke green sweater she made with the turtleneck that ended up longer then both the uneven sleeves!

It felt good to laugh after all the day's tension so I chortled away as I stuffed my cord ball back into the chute pack and slipped it onto my back.

Reaching into my other coat pocket I fished around and found the knit wool ski hat I had stuffed in there just before climbing into the elevator this afternoon. Whoa…can't believe this all started just a few hours ago. I really missed my Fargo hat in this weather, my whole body fells like a Popsicle, but my ear tips were little ice cubes on the sides of my head. Which should have felt good considering the pounding headache I had, but rather than feeling like a comforting ice pack, it just felt like freezer burn on top of throbbing pain.

But there was nothing I could do about the cold right now. It was to dark to find dry wood to start a fire. To windy to risk staying out in the open. And to cold to hunker down in the lee of a tree and try to rest.

Hopping up and down a few more times to get my blood moving faster, I gather the parachute around my shoulders and head like a weird hooded shawl. Looking straight up gets me the comforting tableau of stars and the hint of a glow promising moonrise soon. But the fact the view lacks dimension reminds me I'm operating one eyed. I scrub at the caked, gummy blood across my left eye with a gloved hand. Soon the eye is sort of open, and very much burning. OOOOwwwwwwhhhh. Grab some snow and scrub away the salty, burny blood. Ouch. Well that was fun. NOT. But at least I can see, sort of, out of both eyes now.

I am the world's worst navigator; let me admit that now and save embarrassment later. Even if it were light I wouldn't have really found a map or sun direction to be much help. But I do know up from down. I had seen the mountain I was on, and the valley I had floated over to get here. And Jim had obviously landed further along the path the plane had taken. That meant he was on the other side of the valley. Therefore I needed to go down off this mountain and across the valley and up the next mountain to find Jim. Logical huh. So as the ancient proverb went, 'the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step…yadda yadda yadda' Time to get stepping.

9

I slammed my fist into the tree trunk with enough force to tear my glove and probably broke a knuckle at the same time. But at least the pain helped me reined in my useless rage as I came upon another impassible barrier. The first few of hours I had made good progress toward the distant valley that separated the peaks Sandburg and I had landed on.

In the manner I'd been taught in the military to stretch endurance and maintain pace, I'd alternately jogged and walked downhill. Even in the dim light of the stars I was able to just slightly dial up my sight and see clearly enough without worry of over focusing or zone out. The miles fell away behind me.

But then the sparse forest had transformed into a treacherous series of granite landslides crusted with snow, impenetrable tangles of dead fallen trees, sudden rocky drop offs and crevices that turned into cul de sacs.

I was constantly being deflected from any hope of going in a straight line towards where Sandburg's chute had dumped him. For every meter forward I had to backtrack or go sideways two. Also the irregular landscape and obstacles made any pace faster than a walk usually impossible.

Finally I'd seen a break in the dark barricade ahead and rushed forward anticipating finally a change in my luck. And it changed okay, it got even worse.

Here I stood looking at the valley that was my goal, just ahead. It was reflecting so much light from the quarter moon that had risen at last that to my only slightly dialed up sight it seemed like day. Absolutely nothing stood between me and that straight stretch of flat, even snow that was probably a meadow valley during spring. Absolutely NOTHING. I was standing on the edge of at least a three hundred foot cliff! Looking off to the left and right showed this damn sheer face went on as far as the eye could see.

Just to plain pissed off to even worry about the possibility of a zone, I extended my vision down the flat expanse of rock below me. Though I could see occasional fissures and blemishes on the nearly marble smooth surface, they were way to far apart to function as hand and foot holds. So even if I was anxious enough to try climbing down in the near dark, it was a lost cause from the start.

With no other option available I turned and began to follow the cliff face east since it seemed to incline slightly more downhill then the other direction did.

Staying right on the edge of the cliff as I walk provided a relatively unobstructed route. The rock buttress had accelerated the wind across its face up over this shelf thus sweeping clean any soil long ago. With nowhere to root the ledge margin was devoid of tree or brush to slow me. An occasional boulder or crevice would be no bother at all. Feeling much less thwarted I eased up my pace until I was almost jogging along again.

10

The first couple of hours hadn't been too bad. Slow, but doable. I had zigged and zagged through the courses of trees at a pretty steady rate. Things had even gotten a little better when the moon had finally risen past the jagged horizon of mountain peaks. Though not full, the air was so clear up here that the moonlight shone unfiltered and glorious glancing off of snow.

But even though I could see further, as time went on I began to stumble more and more. Tugging my multiple folds of parachute tighter around me at that moment my toe seemed to hone in on and lodge below a small tangled root. I could almost visualize myself as in slow motion I keeled forward to plunk full face into the snow, again.

Rolling wearily onto my back I just lay there for a second. Shit, I was cold! The clothes I was wearing when this miserable day had started were fine for short duration dashes around the frigid environs of Cascade, but they were never meant for someone planning on high altitude mountain climbing. Thank goodness at least my boots were expensive waterproof insulated hikers. Jim had given them to me on my last birthday, and if not for them I knew my feet would already be either badly frost bitten or frozen clean through.

My immense dislike for the icy winters of Cascade had served me well in that today like any snowy day I was dressed in multiple layers of clothing. Layering retains heat better as the trapped air between the layers is warmed by the body, sort of like how animals trap air between the layers of hair. So even though I wasn't exactly dressed for polar exploration, my jeans over sweatpants and navy pea coat over sweater over sweat shirt over two flannel shirts over cotton long johns was so far keeping me alive and moving.

The parachute, once folded repeatedly, was an added layer of protection by acting as a pretty effective windbreaker. The chill factors from the gusts that scurried over and around me would have cost me serious heat lose without the layers of silk cocooning me. But no matter how I looked at it, I knew I was getting into trouble. I recognize I am more susceptible to the cold than most, plus I was over tired from the physical and emotional marathon this day had been. I hadn't eaten in almost twelve hours and calories are needed to generate body heat. I had been hiking for about five hours without rest. If I kept this up I knew I would pretty soon fall down and not be able to get up again. If that happened I was dead.

I began to look around at my surroundings less as ground I had to pass over on my way to Jim and more as clues to finding some form of shelter. I needed to get some rest, and for that not to turn into a rest of the permanent kind meant I also had to get a viable, sustained fire going.

Wherever Jim was, he would expect me not to be stupid and succumb to the hazard that claimed most people inexperienced in cold climate survival. He was a veteran woodsman and instinctual survivor, and on our not infrequent camping trips he had tried to drill me on every conceivable emergency situation.

I knew how insidious hypothermia was. I also knew that one of the most attractive dangers was to fall asleep without a heat source. Sleep could slip into coma into dead rrrrrrreeeeeaaaaaalllllll fast in these elevations.

It was to easy to think short term solutions out here and start deadly vicious cycles. To get warm inexperienced people might try to run to generate heat, but that would cause you to sweat. The sweat would than cool in the very cold you were trying to ward off. The chilled sweat would then conduct heat away from the body. So you had to exert even more to get warm, which causes you to sweat more, etc, etc, etc. Until you can't go anymore, exhaustion sets in, the sweat freezes and the core temperature drops like a stone. You never even feel yourself pass out and fade away.

I knew what was happening, and also, thanks to 'hope for the best but plan for the worst' Ellison, I had the knowledge and skills hopefully to keep me alive.

I kept my eyes sweeping back and forth in the reflected glow from the moon on snowscape. Night vision is quickest to pick up movement, but peripheral vision could frequently be sharper than direct focus in poor light. By keeping my eyes moving I hoped to snag any difference in density in the gray on gray around me.

It took me close to another hour of trudging through the now ankle deep snow before I noticed what looked like a line of darker darkness off to my left. Praying as I stumbled towards it I knew if I did not find what I needed in the next few minutes it would be too late. The wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped. And it was starting to snow heavily. My life expectancy could be counted in minutes out here in the open.

Finally I was standing in front of mounds of boulders and slabs of granite piled like a child's Lincoln logs across the mountainside. I scrambled into the lee side of the mad construct, and after climbing over a fractured section of boulder, found myself loosing my footing and sliding down the far side of the rock to be engulfed by absolute dark.

Even as I managed to land on my feet I felt my heart begin to pound from the fear of the absence of light. Though the star and moonlight had been very dim to my unenhanced sight, the loss of even that gentle luminance was unnerving.

It took my eyes a moment to begin to differentiate in the gloom and realize that there was still faint light to be seen. Ahead and above me a faint silver was painted across the arched rock face of the boulder I had slid down into what I know realized was a small cavern. The space above where I had come through was only a yard across and wide where the overhead slab nearly touched the long curve of the boulder.

Quick as I could manage I dumped my chute hood and cape and pulled and chivvied up the boulder and out the hole. Looking back where I had come from I rapidly jogged around the scattering of trees, snatching up twigs, branches, and pine needles, anything that could act as fuel for a fire. I made several trips to the hole, dumping my load and scurrying out for more.

When I finally was stumbling more than walking and my vision was blinking in and out between single and double I slid back through the hole myself. Dropping onto my mound of collected treasure I set a fire pit almost directly below the hole above. When I had a proper teepee of tinder and wood built I dragged the rest of the fuel to the back of the ten or twelve foot deep cave.

Moving back to my fire to be I removed gloves from generally numb hands. Digging into my pocket I pulled out my ever-faithful Swiss army knife. Clapping my bare hands together several times to get blood and feeling back I then shaved several tiny curls and strips of wood from a branch and lay it on the top of the small mound of tiny twigs and pine needles just in front of the fire.

Fumbling with still frigid fingers I then removed my belt buckle. A beautiful handcrafted thing. A beaten silver and brass lozenge that had as it's center a very ancient chipped arrowhead. Hundreds of years old, the arrowhead had been carefully struck bit by bit by some long ago hunter out of the hardest stone manageable for such a task, flint! Now centuries later here I kneel, an errant anthropologist, striking a twentieth century knife blade across that olden artifact praying for a spark.

I was so tired that when the first flash jumped from the flint I was too out of it to respond fast enough. Biting my upper lip in concentration I forced myself to focus and struck the knife against flint again.

This time I was ready when the spark leapt out to fall on the little pile of jumbled wood trimmings. A soft breath from me across the infant ignition caused a momentary flare of flame that hungrily embraced the tiny curls and twigs and doubled and then tripled in size. Flicker became flame and with a few more gentle puffs of air quickly consumed the tinder and eagerly dug into the progressively larger branches set by.

As the fire grew from the fast burning young wood to wrap around the cured thick boughs, I held my hands to the wondrous warmth. I didn't even care about the pain of the pins and needles of retreating frostbite.

I watched the smoke from the fire sweep away and scoot straight up and out the hole above that formed a natural chimney. Well at least I wouldn't die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Next off were my boots and the two pair of socks I always wore in winter. With some alarm I saw several areas on my feet and toes that had the unnatural white of dead frostbitten flesh. Damn, hope I wouldn't loss any toes from all this! But there was very little I could do other than try to warm the lumps of cold flesh and hope to get the circulation going again.

Grabbing several grapefruit sized roundish rocks I piled them around the fire pits. After a few minutes of absorbing as much heat from the fire on as many parts of my anatomy as I could manage in the circumstances, I hauled on one pair of socks and put my boots back on. The second pair of socks and my inner wool gloves I laid over some of the now quite warm rocks I had encircled the fire pit with.

In the dancing glow from the flames I could clearly see to the back of my little cave sweet cave. I grabbed the parachute and dragged it to one side where the walls where just about a body length from the fire pit. Far enough to not have a stray spark cause trouble but near enough to get maximum warmth from the blaze.

Using my feet as rakes I pushed all the dirt and debris I could find to that same area. I stopped when I had a several feet long by couple of feet wide by about four inch deep pallet of sand, dead leaves, pine needles, and other stuff blown into this vault by many seasons.

Laying the parachute with half of the silk on the pallet and half off I soon had a many-layered bed/nest to rest on. I made a quick check in the rocks several crevices to be sure that no snakes were slumbering away the winter here. As the temperature rose from the fire the last thing I needed was a bunch of snakes waking up in a bad temper from having to get up to early.

When I finally had everything set to my exhaustion-fogged mind's satisfaction, I put several very thick, slow burning chunks of wood across the fire. Then retrieving my now toasty warm gloves and socks I put them back on and climbed into the parachute and pulled all the loose folds over me like a blanket.

As I lay there, to tired to think, of course all I could do was think! Where was Jim? Was he okay? How where his senses doing? I had to figure since they had gassed me that they had probably done the same to him. One of the negative things associated with his heighten senses was his unpredictable reaction to drugs and the like.

He had seemed okay in the plane, he had used at least vision and hearing that I knew of and not seemed to have difficulty. But that had been with me right there.

That was one of the more peculiar things about the Sentinel stuff. When I was with Jim he had pretty much control of his senses with little or no hassle and almost no risk of zoning. Early on in our partnership when I had figured this out I had thought that I would be obsolete and unnecessary very shortly.

But that isn't what happened. I had assumed all Jim needed was 'a partner to act as guide', someone to ground his senses, anchor him when he extended them. So I had prepared myself for the inevitable time when Simon would assign a 'real cop' to take over my place at Jim's side.

But though I had taught Simon how the Sentinel senses worked, and Jim was occasionally partnered with others from Major Crimes, for whatever reason I was the only one the Sentinel would latch on and anchor to. I was also pretty much the one who could pull him out of a zone in just a few seconds. Jim would usually respond to Simon on this too, but it took a lot longer.

I have yet to figure out why this is. I mean I know I'm a damn good anthropologist. But a super cop with hyper senses doesn't need someone to explain the mating rituals of obscure primitive tribes or authenticate a Zuni mask. He needs some one who isn't towered over by bad guys, spooked by danger, or detests guns. Someone special like he is.

Jim pretty much has most of the traits of the ancient Sentinels. His being a cop was like those guardians of old watching over the tribe. Loyal, unswerving and most of all, protective. When we had first meet I think Jim had seen me as representative of a threat to the tribe. I remember he had actually growled! I'm sure that he'd assumed I was an anti establishment, druggie, anarchist. Not exactly someone to welcome with open arms to your clan.

Or maybe the reason that Jim had chosen to form some tie with me instead of more capable cop types, was the protector's need to protect. From almost the very beginning Jim had tended to behave like I was a kid brother who needed looking after. Aggressive and gruff toward me yet murder on anyone other than him that picked on me.

For a moment I saw in my mind a cavalcade of vignettes. Jim trudging through a snowy forest, clambering over tangles of dead tree trunks and branches, prowling a stretch of rock ledge, crouching by a fire. Looking at me, into me, intense blue eyes focused unwaveringly. I felt a wave of affection radiate toward me and his commitment to rejoin with his partner flow over me.

I know, it's only wishful thinking, my exhausted brain creating an image of what I hoped for. Yet somehow I felt comforted.

I knew deep inside that Jim was fine. He'd been an awesome, lethal soldier. A survivor. Even before his senses had come on line, he had excelled. With the added advantage as a Sentinel, well let's just say I pity the fool who ever got between him and where he was headed.

I felt my eyes starting to close at last, though I was shivering so hard my teeth were chattering the relative warmth oozing from the fire across my nest was relaxing. There was enough wood to slow burn for hours and in a short time would fill the small cavern with warmth enough to keep me from freezing to death.

I'd just catch a little nap, recharge my batteries. Then I'd head down slope again. I needed to find Jim, needed to know he was okay. Then screw Kincaid and his whole tolerance challenged army. Jim would get us out of here, around, over or through all challengers!

As I was pulled deeper into sleeps embrace I felt my heart swell with my own affection for the big, anally fixated, tough guy with the marshmallow heart. My big brother, and somehow connected more than even blood could have bonded us. The only term I could use was soul brother? Jim would never accept such a 'mystical mumbo jumbo' type explanation, but it was the only thing that really came close to describing the need, yes and even love I felt for the big guy. Why is it some men can't say 'love'? There was nothing carnal in how I felt about Jim, but no words really exist but love to describe it. Having been practically raised in communes I had no problem saying it. Yet the word love had such strong sexual connotations to it that often people assumed you couldn't mean one without including the other.

Yaaaawwwwwnnnn…maybe someday I'd do a study of restrictive vocabulary in relation to cultural moral's and gender…..role models….. I really could see a basis for…. Ssssssssnnnnnnnnooooozzzzzzzeee.

11

Damn Kincaid! This was going to be the last time that psycho slithers out of custody and comes hunting my guide and me! My partner, my city my friends, …. All endangered twice before by that useless bucket of slime.

What… hell I'm pacing again. Great Ellison, things aren't bad enough now you're wasting heat and calories stomping around. Get back by the fire and stay out of the snow! The snow that was falling quite heavily right now mind you. Even animals know when to get under shelter.

I climbed back under the lean-to that I had cobbled together from fallen branches and logs when the weather had turned even more bitter and the snow began. Covered with the tarp it formed a windproof cubby where I had no difficulty starting a blazing warm fire. I was tired to the bone and yet had not been able to climb into the insulating pile of pine needles and leaf litter I'd gathered and covered with the chute. I crouched by the fire, staring out into the flickering confetti of moonlit snow falling across the valley below. Every few minutes I'd find myself striding up and down the cliff edge, looking across the valley, coming dangerously near zone out in some unconscious effort to see beyond the dark and the distance to where Blair was.

I hoped to hell the kid wasn't still out in this. He knew plenty about roughing it in warm climates, all those anthropology projects with primitive tribes and exploring ancient sites had taught him how to manage pretty well. But he had always gone to tropical sites. He had known nothing about cold weather camping and survival until I'd put him through my own version of boot camp. Each time we'd gone camping I'd shanghaied him and drilled him like a recruit. But I'd had to. Sandburg's almost pathological dislike of cold would never let him volunteer to go out into the frigid Cascade woods to learn survival techniques.

But he had learned, that super-sponge brain of his had soaked up everything I'd said and shown him. Add that to the kid's innate crazy inventive nature, I knew that he had the smarts and skills he needed, which gave me some comfort. But what nagged at me, was despite a upper atmospheric I.Q., to many times Blair just ignored what his brain said and followed his heart…. like a lemming, even over a cliff!

And I knew that he would do everything he could to get to where I was. He was always worried about me. Yeah, weird but true. He was smaller, less trained, but he was always worried about me. His inclination would be to plow into trouble in an effort to meet up with me. But I knew he understood the hazards. I just had to hope that his brain would kick in and tell him he couldn't help me if he froze to death out there.

During our first few days, when I first noticed his concern for me I'd thought that the kid was worried about losing his guinea pig. He had called me his 'holy grail' at the beginning after all. So when he'd jumped into trouble to protect me the first few times I'd totally misunderstood his motivation.

All my life I'd been in what Sandburg called 'barter' relationships. You do something for me I do something for you. My father had held out the carrot of his attention, trips and rewards if I was the strong, disciplined, trophy winning, perfect son. The military offered acceptance, advancement and a feeling of accomplishment in return for obedience and putting my butt on the line.

So when I had first meet the kid I'd naturally taken the stance that he wanted something from me in return for helping with these goofy senses. And that was fine with me. I wanted the arrangement to be that cut and dried. Clear boundary's and easy to understand expectations. It was hard for me even to consider working with him. Heck, when I looked at him the first time all the cop in me saw was the wrapping. The long hair, the funky hippie clothes, and for crying out loud the earrings!

I'd never been taught to look below the surface. He was after all the image of my expectation of a druggie, therefore he was a druggie. Add to his outfit the fact that he had so much energy he seemed like the Tasmanian devil on speed, well lets just say I had him all neatly labeled.

And then within minutes of me throwing his ass up against a wall, he saves my life, for the first of many times. He risked becoming road kill to keep me from becoming a hood ornament on a garbage truck. That had not been something I expected.

Nor was I the least bit pleased those first few days when he wheedled his way into my case and quickly made significant contributions. He supplied myriad obscure facts that were pivotal to figuring things out on the case. And he looked at things with such a freshness and enthusiasm that the whole Major Crime's team was energized. All in all he pissed me off.

On top of that he seemed to pull answers and solutions to problems with my senses right out of the air. He quickly had me able to focus and control them for the first time in my life.

And that was the worst part. Or at least that's what I thought back then. For the first time in my life I needed someone else, had to rely on another.

I had been raised to believe that real men did not need others. Yet once I got past my groundless assumptions about the kid I was pulled into the Sandburg zone and I realized there was something very special about this frenetic young man.

A kind of uncanny polarity existed about Blair. As soon as my senses started to stabilize I found myself queuing onto him, his heartbeat, breathing, smell and voice. His presence is like a lodestone, letting me extend my senses without risk of drifting away into the oblivion of overload.

What's odd is that though the guy is very confident about his capabilities in his field, and is more than willing to accept the existence of Sentinels and Shaman's, ghost's and more, he can't see himself as somehow just as special. He hasn't really faced the improbability that he, the Sentinel fanatic, and I, a Sentinel both ended up in Cascade. That he stopped his world travels just in time to be around when my senses went crazy. That Alex Barnes, another globe trotting Sentinel chose Cascade as her next target and ended up under Blair's tutelage. Wayyyyy to many things to be mere coincidence.

It's taken me years to accept the fact that there is more to the world than my nice flat black and white 'reality'. Hell, I see panther spirit guides and get pep talks from Incacha my previous Shaman, who happens to be dead! So finally excepting that some kind of destiny is at work with Sandburg and I is not as much a reach for me as it would have been before.

Blair may not see, or want to see, that he isn't just my guide; he is 'The Guide'. He still thinks that with some training eventually anyone can be a Sentinel's guide. He claims his ability to focus me is just know how, not a predestined link, a genetic advantage. But I no longer buy that. His ability to understand the emotions and motivations of others is too sharp to just be his 'psych minor' at work.

It was too prodigious to put down to charm either. Here was a guy who managed to endear himself to women and men alike. The guys at Major crimes would never accept an outsider among them, yet they had allowed Sandburg wholly into their tight little group. Simon, my Captain, was as tough a nut as they made, never likely to stomach a ride along with his best detective, much less put up with the off the cuff cavalier attitude that was Blair's trademark. Yet he had endured Sandburg's addition to his well-oiled crew with almost no resistance. And I normally would have never tolerated the weird and bizarre stuff associated with the kid, yet I had let him into my job, my home and even that unassailable fortress, my heart.

No, there was more to Sandburg than could be explained easily. Within the first few days I had found myself attuned to him almost to the point of a psychic bond. Some said we were two complete opposites. I have to agree to some degree, but I see also that our nature's and gifts are what my partner, Mr. Science, calls mutually symbiotic. I have the enhanced senses, the aggressive streak and disciplined focus. He has the people skills, the empathy and compassion and the innovative genius. We seem like flip sides of the same coin, or maybe the same soul.

The main thing we share is an overwhelmingly protective nature. For each other and for the people we feel responsible to defend, the 'tribe' as the kid calls them.

But right now I was miles away from my tribe, and my guide was neither safely under my protection or even where I could get to him. And as time passed I had begun to lose the hard gained controls on my senses. Without Blair's presence I had tried to keep all the dials turned down, but now sudden spikes where slashing through me every once in a while. One minute everything would be stable, and then wham! My hearing would go off the scale and then vanish. Then my nose would be overwhelmed by thousands of stray scents, then nothing. Sometimes one sense, sometimes several together, skittering out of control and then reining in.

And here I am on the stupid ledge again, staring down into and beyond the valley. My eyes see nothing but snow and reflected moon glow and I dial it down to avoid a zone. But just as I begin to turn and force my steps back to my shelter a spike strikes and my sense of smell and hearing soar beyond my standard limits. Serendipitously just then the wind shifts and I suddenly catch a familiar draught of wood smoke, herbal shampoo, sweat and musk. At the same time my ears latch onto the gentle thub dub, thub dub that is a metronome that instantly calms me. Sandburg's pulse is steady, unworried, and overlaid by snuffling snores. It is just a moment and the spike flickered off leaving the weird rebound where normal senses feel like being deaf and numb. But I barely notice as the sense of relief washes through me.

The caged animal feeling evaporates and I move back to the lean to. Lowering myself to the insulating layer of organic debris I had gathered, I am so tired that it feels like the most expensive mattress possible. Finally I yield to my body's demand for rest. I pull the parachute over me like a blanket. As I close my eyes for a fraction of a second I seem to see Sandburg, curled in a cave, like me buried in folds of parachute silk while a fire gutters nearby. I know its wishful thinking built around the flash of smells and sounds I had caught. But imagined or not I feel sure that my guide is at least safe for the moment. Sleep claims me with no resistance.

The blank panther crouched low to the ground, ears laid so flat to it's skull that they were invisible. Large golden eyes focused intently on the tree line before them. It's nostrils caught the threatening scent and the great cats lips folded back in a snarl revealing sword- like teeth. The branches just ahead rustled ominously and the danger was in the open.

12

The sound of something tapping rapidly right by my ears, something running across my face and horrendous cold combined to pry me out of my deep sleep. When my eyes cracked open a little I didn't recognize my surroundings and the arm I tried to swat whatever had run across my face wouldn't lift. My body was tangled in some soft light swaddling. Adrenaline pumped for a few moments, but before I could really get rolling into panic my memory kicked in. Cave walls, parachute and a now extinguished fire. Yep! Just my luck, the lousy dream was reality!

My ears still registered a steady, fast Morse code type tapping. It took a second for me to realize it was my teeth chattering. Damn I'm COLD! Carefully unwrapping my silk cocoon I scuttle to the fire pit. I rebuild and stoke the warming flames in record time.

Faint rose tinged light dimly traces pale rectangles on the sand and snow below the opening to my refuge. I can't believe it's dawn. I had slept through the night! Somewhere out there was Jim, probably looking for me, and here I was snoozing through it. Great Sandburg, just great!

I moved to the incline of shale and rock that under hung the boulders that formed roof and wall and door of my small cave. It took a bit to scramble back up the boulders and out into the first light of a clear, snow free morning. I looked around and was pleased to see that I was only a short hike from the valley below. Now that I could see better I picked my way to a place where a crest of rock protruded out from the mountainside over the valley. I approached to within a few feet of the edge but my fear of heights convinced me it was unnecessary to get closer. From my elevated perch I chose some clearly visible landmarks to speed my progress, in the right direction, through the wide spread of trees in between.

I scanned the mountain across from me; the one Jim had landed on. Maybe hoping to see something. Like in the movies, maybe lights reflected off a mirror or even smoke signals. Some evidence of where he was and that he was all right. But the sun hadn't yet climbed fully over the peaks around me and dark still clung to the other summit like spilled ink.

With a frustrated sigh I had to admit this was another one of those times I was really envious of Jim's Sentinel senses. Though this was probably even to far for him. "When we get out of here big guy, we ARE going to test your range!" I muttered the promise for the zillionth time. Jim's aversion to testing was right up there with my own to guns. But times like this just showed the need to know more about how to best utilize them. For all I knew Jim could hear me or see me from a similar lookout point on his mountainside.

Looking directly across the chasm between I felt a smile pull my face, "Hey Jim, if you can hear me I'm going to be headed for that big stand of trees with the Cassie's head shaped boulder off to the left." I yelled into the wind, just in case. After a moment's thought I continued. "Um, that's my left, your right. Should make it by midday or so. I hope to find a Deli or Salad bar on the way, cause I am like seriously hungry here." Just to prove my point my stomach growled intensely. Chuckling I turned from the edge, but then swung back for a second…. "Take it careful Jim. See you soon."

I trudged quickly back to my cavern, dropping down into it to gather my small pack. Stuffing the parachute back into its pack I felt something skitter across by foot. The stuttering glow from my fire showed a large rat and other rustles nearby pointed to him, or her, not being alone. Oh well, beggars can't be choosers and all that. I finished stowing the chute, ripping a large square out first. Gathering several egg sized rocks I withdrew behind the fire. Almost immediately several good-sized rats oozed from nearly invisible crevices to check out the warm pallet where I had slept. The fire blinded any who turned toward me in the dimness. With my silk sling and rocks I was prepared and five minutes later I had four rats beheaded and skewered on branches above the fire. Taking my parachute silk bag up out of the entrance I filled it with snow and then used my knife to pry several plate-sized pieces of bark off nearby trees.

Back in the cave I laid the bark on the hot rocks around the pit and poured some snow on it. In moments I had a long drink of fresh water, followed by a meal of baked rat. I had no problem eating this less than affectionately thought of food source. In India once on some research I'd stayed with a tribe of people who were known as 'Rat catchers' who the farmer's paid to rid their field of rats. They all ate their catch and were grateful for the protein source, especially since the rats were fat on corn. I'd been welcomed among them and gotten past my hang up's on strange food sources quickly. Not exactly chicken, more like a cross between chunky tuna and pork, once you got past the idea of rat.

Within half an hour of sun full up I was regretfully extinguishing my fire. I had relieved myself, and even warmed some water for the luxury of a quick wash up. Starting down the slope I was rested, fed, rejuvenated. No longer struggling in the dark I moved with confidence and pretty good speed. Keeping the early sun always my left even I couldn't get lost right now, but something else was also leading me. A tug that I couldn't pin down was pulling me along. When I veered off to the right of my track I would feel this subtle impulsion to swing back. Hey, my Mom's a dyed in the wool flower child; I was raised believing in Karma and 'vibes' so I had no problem processing the idea that I was being directed to Jim's side. We were a team, and if whatever powers that be periodically sent me indelicate hints to that effect. Hey I'm cool.

13

It had surprised the hell out of me that I had slept at all, much less all night. Despite the disturbing panther dream I had to admit the rest had reenergized me. Before dawn I had been up and set several snares made from strong braided parachute silk thread. By the time the sun crept into sight I had a fat snowshoe rabbit and two small quail hens cooking over the re-stoked fire.

I quickly ate what I could and pushed what was left into my pack with the chute and the tarp. The bitter cold would keep it from spoiling better than any refrigerator. Tying the ax across the pack I started off again only a short time after sunrise started to traverse the far peak. Even though my own area was still in deep shadow I began jogging along the ledge that lead me steadily downhill.

I had only been traveling for a short time when my peripheral vision picked up movement in the distance across the valley. Stopping on an uncluttered slab with a clear view outward I saw a blur of brown against white and green move toward the edge of a crest. I figured it was probably a bear slow to go to hibernation, which worried me some considering Sandburg was sharing real estate with it.

Almost without thinking about it I found my senses zeroing in on the form. Sight quickly separated the blurred colors into a distinct image, navy blue coat over wiry build. The newly ascending sun burnished chestnut curls to a coppery hue only partially covered by a dark woolen cap.

Relief flooded through me as I saw he was uninjured and seemed to be in good condition regardless of the cold. As I watched Blair moved cautiously to within a few feet of the edge of a drop off. Obviously skittish about the height he stopped a couple of yards back and scanned the valley below.

Then, like a compass finding north, his dark blue eyes swung unerringly straight toward me. For a moment I thought he actually could see me, even over the distance that neared the limits of my Sentinel sight. But I saw disappointment then frustration flit across his features. Faint enough that I almost didn't catch it he muttered, "When we get out of here big guy, we ARE going to test your range!" The intensity of that promise had me wince, I knew he meant it and I was in for some serious guinea pig time when we got home.

I felt guilty that I could see him but he couldn't see me, and I knew he was worried about me. I tried to think of a way to signal him. If the sun was angled more toward me than him I could have used my belt buckle, reflecting the light. But I was still firmly in shadow. If I'd known he was almost within sight I could have thrown damp pine needles on my morning fire and sent a smoke signal. I didn't love the second idea much either though because if Kincaid's people were already in the area I didn't want to make it any easier for them to find me and eventually Blair.

Suddenly Sandburg's voice bellowed out in his highest volume. "Hey Jim, if you can hear me I'm going to be headed for that big stand of trees with the Cassie's head shaped boulder off to the left." I turned toward my left only to hear him continue with amusement noticeable in his voice, "Um, that's my left, your right." Chuckling at how well he knew me I switched my gaze around to the right. Sure enough at the base of the cliff I was trying to navigate a group of trees stood sentry over a large boulder. Looking at it I thought it's convoluted surface was like a cauliflower, but once my partners description took hold I did indeed see the short hair and angular face of the pushy forensic specialist we had worked with. Blair glanced at the sun as he resumed, "Should make it by mid day or so. I hope to find a Deli or Salad bar on the way, cause I am like seriously hungry here." Now his gaze went to his own stomach and though I couldn't hear it some how I just knew his guts had just growled. I saw a smile spread across his face and was sure I had guessed right. Then he turned to leave the crest, but he immediately turned back, his face troubled, and much softer spoke a quick, "Take it careful Jim. See you." Then he moved away back into the woods.

I tried to follow his progress, but the trees were too dense and he vanished within a few paces. At the same moment my senses cut off like a switch had been thrown. I shook my head in frustration but didn't try to push it. I needed to get to the boulder Sandburg was headed for. Unfortunately there was still about two hundred and fifty feet of sheer drop between there and here. If I continued downhill I would be moving in the opposite direction but it wouldn't help to reverse because there was no way down from where I had come from. I had to follow the downward slope and hope at some point to be able to swing back in around.

Resuming a fast jog I stayed by the ledge for over two hours. Then the slick polished surface vanished and was replaced by a sweeping stretch of fractured and tumbled rock ranging from mammoth boulders to marble like shale. I recognized it as a long run out landslide. It extended down the incline from the distant peak to the ledge for what looked like a good two or three miles. With no choice but to cross I was forced to a slipping, twisting, and bobble of a walk that was excruciating in its slowness.

Even with extreme care I fell more than once when an angular rock twisted treacherously below my scrambling feet. My heavy clothing and gloves saved me from multiple shredding cuts, but not the heavy blows and bruises that my crashing weight earned.

After another hour and a half of this nerve-racking torture I finally hauled myself over a rock wall bordering the slide. I huffed out a heavy sigh of relief when I found myself back on the granite ledge path I had followed earlier.

Glancing at my watch I found it was after ten in the morning. When my eyes panned across the valley below I was aggravated to note that my ridge had twisted around enough to block my view of the area my partner was working towards. If Blair where anywhere near his anticipated schedule he would be half way across the valley by now. For a moment I felt profound disappointment that the mountain blocked my view. I don't exactly know why but I really wanted to see the kid and follow his progress, maybe just my protective streak. What was even more confusing was I found myself listening for him even at this distance.

"Can't believe I miss hearing marathon mouth ramble through a forty volume explanation of the cultural significance of toilet paper in modern society or some other shit!" I muttered aloud to myself. Part of the reason I'd thought he was on drugs in the beginning was what I remember calling 'his incessant yammering'. Now I was distracted by it's absence? What was that about?

I shook off the weird moment of self-analysis, which was more Sandburg's type of crap, not mine. With firm ground under my feet once more I took off at a fast jog again. After another hour of rapid progress luck finally came my way. A clear switch back trail across the front of the cliff, about ten feet wide swung downhill and back towards where Blair was. In spite of being in need of a short respite I immediately continued my rapid gait down the new path.

Now that I was moving back in the right direction I figured I would be in the vicinity of Blair's boulder rendezvous two or three hours after the mid day time period he had aimed for. Also I could feel the weather was starting to deteriorate with the soggy chill that warned of snowfall imminent. I really hoped that when Sandburg got to landmark he didn't head off searching for me. No matter how smart my partner might be, he was the most directional hopeless guy I had ever known. There had been a couple of times that he had managed, even with a compass and map, to start off on a simple hike and ended up in the backside of nowhere. The thought of him tromping around in poor visibility on a friggin' mountain was not something to instill confidence.

Two hours later I had come back around to a point I could see across the valley. Unfortunately I could see I was also running out of path. The jutting slab of rock that formed my bridge down the rock face had been steadily narrowing over the last hour. And farther ahead it was still narrower. What had been wide enough to drive a vehicle down at the beginning was now only three odd feet wide. In the not to far down distance I saw the ledge was less than a foot out from the cliff face.

I continued down the shrinking granite projection, I had come to far to waste time and retrace my steps. Sandburg would have probably gotten to his boulder site by now; I needed to prevent him going off hunting me.

Maybe if I got closer I could shout down to him from up here. Even as the thought occurred my peripheral vision caught movement again and my eyes zoomed in on my partner. There he was, barely half way across the valley, shuffling across the snow on what looked like ice ski's? Whatever they were, they were long, thin and pretty close to the same color as the snow, tied to his feet by yards of parachute cord.

His eyes were down, focused on the snowy stretch just ahead of him. In his gloved hands he held a long branch, as thick around as his wrist, and at least twice as long as him. My mind tried to figure why he was wasting energy carrying that for. Weirder still, he was holding it horizontal to the ground? He looked like one of the performers on the high wire with a balance pole grasped in front of him.

Though the long flat valley was devoid of trees I knew he wasn't hauling the branch along for firewood. Even from the other peak he could clearly see that once he got to this side there were trees and deadwood aplenty. It was way to big to be a weapon, too cumbersome to work as a staff, or club.

As I continued to follow his progress I saw him suddenly halt. He stood marble still for several moments, then very, very slowly shifted back several steps. He turned at a ninety-degree angle to his previous course, went several yards and then swung back to aim toward the cliffs where I presently perched. From some distant point my ears picked up a muffled creaking and crinkling.

'Shit!' Suddenly I realized what the stick was for and fear burned through me. The beautiful valley, white and virgin of any blemish wasn't a valley… it was a frozen lake! And from my partners cautious progress I knew beyond a doubt that it wasn't frozen solid yet! For a second I felt that hot rage that sometimes took over my nature. I was going to kill Sandburg, if he didn't get himself killed first! What was he thinking for God's sake?

Just at that moment I heard a high pitched crack, like a small pistol shot. Blair suddenly listed heavily to the right. His ski, foot and most of his leg vanished below the snowy blanket. I unconsciously held my breath as I watched him throw himself forward with his waist across the long branch that now lay below him in the snow. He just lay perfectly still for several heartbeats. With his weight distributed over a wider area by the staff he was able to drag his leg and ski back up through the broken ice. Inching forward slowly on his belly, keeping the branch directly below him he eventually was several yards from the small hole he had caused. As I watched him climb slowly and cautiously to his feet again I felt throbbing in the sides of my face and had to force apart my clenched jaw.

For almost an hour I continued to watch him ease across the partially frozen expanse of water. Alternately praying and cursing as he twice more broke through the icy crust and dunked one part or another of his body.

Finally though he was getting much closer to the shore on this side and without the deeper, faster moving water the ice layer seemed thicker and more secure. When he had realize this fact I noticed his gait picked up speed until he was shuffling forward with the rapid sweeping stride of a cross-country skier. But he still kept the pole balanced in front of him.

As I stood there, my back leaning against the cliff face, I felt almost weak kneed with relief. Shaking my head I was already working through the lecture I was going to blow Sandburg apart with. How many times was he going to risk his life before someday his luck ran out? God may look after mad fools and Englishmen, and apparently Anthropology students, but there was no sense pushing things.

Turning back to my own problem I continued down my trail, getting closer and closer to the approaching form of my partner. Even as I began to look forward to our reunion, I found myself scooting along sideways on a five-inch wide ledge, my back pressed hard against the cliff behind me. Finally the ledge petered out, to narrow for even my heels alone to find purchase, and I was still about a hundred or more feet above the cliff base.

Standing for a moment I caught my breath and looked around for my partner. I felt my heart lift as I realized how close he was now. With normal vision I could see him clearly. Maybe a quarter mile ahead and to my left he still trudged steadily along. At his present pace he would be at this side's shore in less than an hour. If I could find a way down from my perch I could head straight along the cliff base and join him in about that time.

With my decision made I carefully inched myself around so I was now facing the cliff. I tuned my sense of touch up slightly, not enough to really focus too much, but to give me some edge finding hand holds through my gloves. Sweeping my arm out I found the surface peppered with a great many jutting's and indentions. With a deep, calming breath I shoved my toes into a small crack and my fingers onto a finger thick protrusion and lowered myself down the first few feet of my climb down.

In the Ranger's they'd taught us to climb almost any kind of promontory, in any kind of weather, so I had no concerns of my climbing capability. My main worry was my lack of proper equipment. Leather and wool gloves slipped around incessantly forcing hasty movements when the gloves threatened to slid off my hands as I clung to this or that. My boots were warm and well insulated, great for walking, but without the sole support to help carry weight across the whole foot when the toes were crammed into tiny toeholds.

After about an hour's slow, tedious progress I had made it more than half way down. But I was huffing like a walrus on the beach and sweat was pouring down my face in spite of the frosty breeze. My eyes were almost zoned on the unchanging granite only inches in front of my face. My ears could hear only the pounding of my straining pulse. Small quivering cramps were washing through my arms and legs with each stop to find the next hand or foothold.

Pausing for a moment to shake feeling back into my left hand I stood almost spread eagle across the face of the cliff. If I had the energy I would have twisted my head to see how far I was from the ground. Couldn't be too far now though.

Suddenly in seeming slow motion I felt the glove on my right hand slip an inch up my fingers as rigid digits pulled out from the drag of my weight on them. My left hand was still at the side of my body were I had been letting the blood rush back into it a moment before. Now suddenly my upper body had nothing holding it in place. Both my feet were firmly rammed into sturdy crevices, but my weight pulled me away from the cliff surface. As I began to fall backwards I scrambled both my hands over the surface, desperate to grab any hold. My fingers snagged and ripped away from several projecting small ridges, but could not find enough purchase to halt my backward momentum. My arms started to windmill even as I began to pitch over backwards.

As I felt my feet pull from their niches and begin my fall into eternity I thought to myself, "Sandburg is going to be really pissed at me for this one." A brief sound of rushing air, several sharp pains at several points on my body, a distant remembered voice, my imagination for sure, then the dark floods up and washed everything away.

14

Well, I can't just stand here. Think Sandburg, THINK! I had climbed, slid, scrambled and tumbled down the damn mountain to the edge of the snowy expanse that I thought was a valley. When I had gotten to the edge in the lee of a tree that had fallen out across the smooth blanket of white I had taken one step out and immediately slipped through a thin film of ice into frigid water. It was a LAKE! A stupid, immense, friggin' lake and the damn thing wasn't completely frozen! Who did I piss off in the great beyond to get this kind of luck? I was here, Jim was over there, and there was an endless f*#%#ing half frozen lake between. Naturally. And it extended to the horizon; it would take days to go around!

Okay. There had to be a way across. I just had to think of it. THINK. I was good at that. But I was a little out of my element here. I might be Jewish but to my knowledge only one of the chosen people had ever been documented as walking on water. And though the lake had a definite crust of ice over its whole surface, I knew that near the deep areas that would be film thin. The thought of a sudden plunge into those frigid waters had me shivering.

Suddenly a wedge of three large ducks swooped down and skidded to a landing on the snow covered ice sheet. I noticed none of them broke through the crust even as they pushed their way ashore. They were leaned forward on their broad feather covered breasts, spreading their weight over a larger area. That was the thing; if I laid flat on my stomach I would probably not break through the icy shell. But I'd never get through the snowy blanket that covered it, and it would take so long to crawl across that I'd freeze to death long before reaching the other shore.

Spread out my weight. Frontiersmen had invented snowshoes to spread their weight to prevent their falling through deep snow. When it was impossible to push through shoulder deep drifts, a person could easily skim along the top with snowshoes. But even if I had them, snowshoes would still allow too much weight in a concentrated area for the ice I would have to cross. No I needed something bigger, broader. Something like, something like… YES! That would do it.

Now that I had an answer I surged with renewed energy. Tree. I needed a good tree. Nope. Nope. Not that one. Yeah that would work.

I found a healthy youngish evergreen and taking my knife quickly sliced through the outer bark on the trunk. I cut and pried away until I had skinned off a four foot long by two foot wide square. Since the tree trunk was circular the chunk of bark was curved. I sliced it along its length to make two long planks. With a piece of dead wood I scraped the outer rough surfaces to knock down or break off any irregularities. When I'd gotten the roughest areas trimmed and smoothed the planks were slightly narrower but still thick enough….. I hoped.

Then I trimmed off sections of parachute to wrap them in. Next I needed straps. Leather would have worked best but I was NOT going to sacrifice any of my jacket. Braided parachute cord would have to do. Looking out across the lake I tried to think of anything else that could give me an edge… in case.

Well it couldn't hurt to have a little extra insurance. As it was I could only pray Jim wasn't to near. If he saw me doing what I was about to do…. well he would probably have me cleaning the grout in the bathroom….. with a toothbrush…. again! He really tended to go ballistic when I had one of my 'harebrained' ideas that risked my being hurt.

That was part of the inequity of Sentinel and Guide. Jim thought it was perfectly all right for him to risk his life day in and day out. As cop and Sentinel and friend he figured it was part of his role. When I would read him the riot act for unnecessarily placing himself in harm's way, he'd just sort of give me that 'hey that's the job' spiel. But man, when ever trouble finds me, which I have to admit happens way to often, Jim goes all crazed Blessed Protector on me. If he had his way he'd handcuff me in the truck whenever I'm out of the loft.

I noticed a sapling, about twenty feet tall, just on the rim of the woods. About three inches across it was arrow straight with few angular branches. Taking a triangular rock I hacked away at its narrow base until almost through it. Then a hard push and it fell over. I couldn't resist a chuckled "Timberrrrrrrr" even though the junior evergreen barely made a sound as it slipped to the ground. A few more minutes with my rock and I had trimmed all the branches and had formed a sturdy but lightweight pole.

Returning to the edge of the icy span I tied my silk covered ski's to my feet. Standing carefully I lifted the pole and held it horizontal to the icy floor as I moved out onto the lake.

Luckily the freeze near the shore was quite thick in several areas undisturbed by current or traffic. The snow that covered it was not very deep, but still made seeing any thin spots impossible. A cold, harsh wind swept across the open area, swirling and shifting the snow around me as I trudged on. My extra long and wide skies were cumbersome and exhaustingly heavy, but they did the trick. Most of the time I skimmed across the snowy blanket barely sinking in at all.

But as I got nearer the middle of the lake even my non-Sentinel ears picked up the crinkle, crackle, snap, pop around and beneath my steps. Dark striations like lightning bolts shot outward from my back trail. Fissures angled down allowing water to lap up shallowly around my ski's.

Once past mid way I was exhausted but realized I couldn't risk stopping even a moment to rest. Only the fact that I kept moving prevented the fractures caused by my weight from growing large enough to fall away beneath me.

By the three quarter mark I was so worn out that my stride had more in common with the shuffle of a ninety year old man than a cross-country skier. And as I slowed the frequency and severity of the fissures I caused increased. The first time I fell through I thought I would have a heart attack. I had tripped slightly and gone onto my right knee on the front of that ski. The combination of stationary weight and impact snapped the ice just below in a rectangular slab that bobbed away below the surface.

As my support on that side of my body disappeared I was thrown off to that side. The front of my ski and knee vanished into the frigid water and I was toppled forward. My upper body slammed across my sapling pole, pounding my left hip, angled across my abdomen and chest and slapping solidly below my right arm. I waited for the pole to crash through the ice also, plunging me to a cold and unavoidable death. In my heavy clothes, boots and pack I'd sink like the proverbial stone.

But the pole spread the impact and weight out sufficiently to suspend me, mostly dry and relatively unhurt. I was rigid with fear for several minutes, fighting nausea and panic that squeezed my throat closed. It wasn't the cold that had my teeth chattering at that time. I doubt I could have moved just then even if someone had offered me a million dollars. I thought for sure in another second the whole section of ice below me would pivot and dump me. After a couple of minutes the numbing cold of my knee managed to push into my consciousness and shove aside my terror, …. a little.

I was convinced that as soon as I tried to drag the limb back out of the water the added burden on the ice would be the last straw and doom me. But I couldn't stay like this until spring either.

Moving so slow you could have been timed me with a sundial I dragged the now soggy wooden ski and leg out of the ruptured ice. I shifted sorta onto my side pulling the wet leg across to rest on the other dry one.

Moving my arms until I had wedged them on the pole, I levered my upper body forward further across its length. By wiggling back and forth with my elbows just behind the narrow staff I could push it and myself a few inches ahead at a time. In my mind I visualized those war movies where the soldier holds his rifle across his arms and dragged himself forward on his elbows. I figured I must have looked something like that.

Once I was several yards from where I'd fallen through I cautiously pulled myself to my knees, my grip on the balance pole probably leaving dents. When the surface remained firm and solid beneath me I clumsily pushed myself back onto my ski's. When catastrophe didn't smite me I began my slow shuffling stride again.

The next hour was a nightmare as I fell through the ice twice more, each time rescued by my simple sapling. My gaze was tunneled down to the few inches of snow and ice where my ski would next tread. I was quaking from exhaustion, cold and unrelenting fear. Everything had ceased to exist beyond my microcosm of misery.

But then the condition of the snow and ice beneath me penetrated by numb mind and I realized I had moved onto an area of thick, sturdy freeze. I lifted my eyes for the first time in what seemed like a century and saw the shore there, just a few hundred yards away. After what I'd just gone through it seemed only a jaunt away. Somehow the knowledge that I was almost to my goal rejuvenated me. I was still freezing cold, so tired I was cross-eyed, but I was almost to where Jim was. That made the difference and I pushed off with a confident stride…. but I still kept my balance pole extended in front of me. Hey I'm not crazy! Or at least not as crazy as some people think.

As I got within a hundred yards of the shore I suddenly felt the hairs on my neck bristle and a chill that had nothing to do with my wet clothes shot through me. I found my head pivoting of it's own accord to look to the cliffs that stretched along the shore side mountain face for miles. And there, plastered like a spider across the seemingly smooth granite face was a brown clad figure. With absolute certainty I knew that it was Jim. And what was worse….. I knew he was in trouble. As my eyes strained to see him more clearly I felt my heart begin to pound. That feeling of impending disaster, like a passenger in a car about to strike a tree, swept through me.

Damn, how the hell did he get there? He hung like a limpet about thirty feet up a solid one or two hundred foot unblemished face. As far up and sideways as I could see there was nothing that looked vaguely like a traversable course to where he now clung. I found myself starting to whisper a fervent prayer for his safety, only to watch in horror, as just then he seemed to tilt away from the vertical slab and began to plummet backwards.

"Jim!" My screamed denial burst forth unconsciously. My mind stuttered with anguish, it seemed like I was watching a movie in stop motion animation. Click, his arms were straight out from his body like wings spread for flight. Click, his body rotated now with his head lower than his feet. Click, his hands clawing at negligible outcroppings. Click, his left shoulder impacts with the cliff wall as his somersault reaches full vertical. Click, now horizontal to the wall as his leg glances off a ridge extending out from the lower cliff. Click, my view is obstructed as he vanishes behind the canopy of the row of trees lining the base of the cliff.

From somewhere I heard a muffled voice muttering a long litany of curses interspersed with an occasional harsh 'he's alive, he's okay'. I came back to myself realizing that the voice was my own. I was shuffling across the ice as fast as my legs could manage, ignoring the cracks and starring of the ice extending from my progress. The nearer shore ceased to exist as my eyes maintained unwavering line of sight to where I had last glanced Jim. My beeline took me at an angle to the shore but if I had gone in there I would have had a longer road around the perimeter to swing back to the cliff.

Finally I waded through the shallow slush on the eroded bank below my goal. I flung aside the pole and ski's and began scrambling and slipping up and over the embankment into the trees. Pine needles and branches slapped and burned my face as I raced unheeding through the woods.

Within a few minutes I burst out at the base of the cliffs. I stumbled to a halt and a choked cry forced it's way from my lips. The cliff bottom was a pile of rocks; boulders, slabs and shale mounded up against the granite face and spotted with patches of snow. And a third of the way down the incline of loose and scattered stone was Jim. He looked like a discarded rag doll, slung haphazardly on the pile, twisted partially on his side and back with his legs uphill and his head toward the ground.

I thanked God for the heavy snow the previous night. I could see the Jim sized imprint in the deep layer of powder that the wind across the lake had slammed into the cliff face to fall and pile at its base. He would have died instantly if he had struck the rocks they pillowed.

It took only a few minutes to clamber up the shifting incline to reach my unmoving friend. I resisted the urge to immediately try to straighten him and move his head uphill. His position looked so unnatural and uncomfortable, teetering across his overstuffed pack. I blanched when I noticed the pack had an axe in it! Shit, if he'd hit at a slightly different angle he would have driven the blade through the back of his head!

With infinite care I begin to examine him where he lay. Pulse strong, breathing steady but rapid. His face pale beneath a mask of blood, but I could easily see the dozens of cuts and scrapes that they originated from. None were large or appeared dangerous. Any wound to the head would bleed volumes but I knew they were the least of my worries.

My hands move to the back of his neck, praying to find no bulge, swelling, or other evidence of possible spinal injury. I found I couldn't feel adequately through my gloves. I didn't even feel the cold as I quickly peel both sets off. I don't have Sentinel touch, but I breathed a sigh of relief when I felt nothing abnormal. My hands glided feather light across first his right forearm then upper arm, then switched to the other arm.

Even without Jim's moan from my contact with his left shoulder I couldn't miss the odd bulge at the point of the collar bone. Dislocated, badly. Just below that a large hematoma hinted at a break or crack in the humerus bone. If it was a fracture it thankfully was not compound. If the bone had ripped through the skin I doubted I would have had the skill to safely reset it. Jim was the guy who'd been a Medic. What I knew I had picked up in my many travels and what he had drilled into me. Luckily setting clean breaks I could manage. If it wasn't broken, well immobilizing it wouldn't hurt.

With delicate care I lowered the arm back to the ground and continued to examine him, wishing again for Sentinel sensitive senses. Remembering all I could I checked his abdomen, sides and back, pressing gently but missing no area. No sign of rigidity that would have meant possible abdominal bleeding. No severe reaction to the pressure on his low back. Hopefully that meant no bruising or damage of the kidneys. No other breaks I could find. Lots and lots of cuts, even through his thick clothes. And judging from his unconscious squirm when I touched the slight swelling on his left ankle he might have another fracture there, but not that I could feel for sure.

I tenderly straightened Jim's legs. Easing his injured arm out of the strap to his pack seemed too likely to cause pain, so I just sawed through the material with my knife. Tilting him further onto his side I was able to slide the pack off his back and move it to behind his head and shoulders. Then grabbing the axe I slide back down the incline. I found a young tree and stripped two foot-long flat panels of bark and several flexible branches. I left the axe and scrambled back up to Jim.

Laying out my supplies I trimmed the bark strips to the proper length, cut and folded parachute silk padding, measured out cord and set everything right next to Jim. Sitting next to his injured limb facing his upper body, I lifted his arm slowly onto my lap, carefully wrapping both my hands around his wrist. Then I extended my left leg until my heel rested in the armpit of his coated shoulder.

"This is gonna hurt Jim. But it has to be done." I whispered Sentinel soft between my own clenched teeth. Steeling myself I began to firmly push with my leg while I pulled the left arm straight out.

I flinched as my partner began groaning and tried to pull himself out of my grasp. But I continued the steady pull until I felt the telltale pop of the bone-head slipping back into it's joint. My stomach did a flip-flop and I realized I had bitten my lip when I tasted blood. There was no time for me to freak out, my partner needed me, but it took concentration not to let nausea get rolling.

Maintaining a sturdy hold on Jim's wrist with one hand I gathered the padding and bark and wrapped it snugly around the suspicious area that might be a bone break. When I was finished and had tied the rigid supports in place I sat back and took a shaky breath. Looking at Jim's pale face I was somewhat relieved to see the grimace that had been there begin to relax and his moans had stopped.

Taking some silk I wiped the blood delicately from his face.

I looked up at the sky gathering my focus. I wished I could spare a few minutes to meditate. Hurting Jim had hurt me, but from the way the clouds above were churning the snow was going to make a return appearance soon. The temperature was dropping and my watch showed it was almost three in the afternoon. At this altitude night would come fast and soon.

Reaching out I laid my hand on Jim's chest. Once he had admitted that he used my heartbeat to anchor and steady him sometimes. What he didn't realize was even though I didn't have Sentinel senses, there were times when I found my own stability connected to his presence. Feeling the rise and fall of his breathing as it leveled out and calmed eased my own anxiety.

The need to find shelter had to be my first priority. The chances of concussion, shock, internal bleeding, and lord knows what other injuries already endangered my best friend. I wasn't about to let hypothermia add to the stress his system was dealing with.

Looking along the cliff side I saw no hint of a cave or overhang. But the granite wall curved away out of sight not to far from me. I had to move him, and one direction was as promising as the other. We needed to head downhill anyhow, so that was the deciding factor. I shucked off my pack, removed the parachute and covered Jim with it. I pulled the chute out of his pack and was surprised to find a waterproof tarp and what looked like some cooked meat also inside.

Quickly unfolding the tarp right beside Jim, I took infinite care to slide him onto its length. His own chute joined mine covering him. I placed the now empty packs under his head and splinted arm to cushion them.

Once I had folded the sides of the tarp up over my partner's form I gathered the top corners and slowly began pulling it down the incline. The rubble shifted and twisted under my feet and almost set me sliding several times. But eventually I had pulled him clear of the rocks onto the snow cover between the cliff and trees.

Checking to see that bumpy decent hadn't done any more damage I was shocked to hear a muffled "Chief?" as I peeled back the tarp. Light blue eyes squinted up at me as the soft daylight struck them. Instinct cut in and the Guide in me held my hand above his face to shade his glazed eyes. "Dial down your sight man." I crooned soothingly. "But don't touch the pain dial yet. I need to know where and how bad you're hurt."

The questioning look he turned on me and then the wince as he concentrated gave me a clue of just how much his head hurt. After a few moments he blinked and looked up at me, then shifted to try to sit up. I reached out to grasp his shoulder. "Stay put, Jim." He winced as his body reinforced my command. Laying back he huffed in pain and weakness, but never removed his eyes from my face.

"You okay?" He asked softly.

15

The pain was washing back and forth through me. Part of me resisted trying to think of why I hurt. I couldn't remember anything much and my head was pounding like there was a mule inside trying to kick its way out.

Returning to consciousness was unpleasantly like enduring a root canal. Without meaning to though I felt myself coming back to my body bit by bit. Movement? Yeah I think I'm moving. But I'm lying down? Ouch…I'm on my back and either I'm moving or the ground under me is. Senses… try to tune in.

First hearing, but I quickly realize the pain in my head won't allow me to focus enough to hear even normal sound past the ringing buzz that fills my skull. Then I pry open my eyes. But all I see is darkness. Darkness or blindness? Please not blind again. But as I dial up my sight to its limit I notice a faint pattern in front of me, and a trace of light. Something is covering my face; it's cold and smells like plastic.

Where am I? I try to remember but I can't think straight. What's the last thing I do remember? Think Ellison. Damn I hurt! Why? I…. I….fell? Yeah I fell from….. something. Obviously where ever I fell from I landed on my head, cause it hurts even to think.

A sharp stab in my back then my thigh grabs my attention. Ouch. I'm being dragged along some really rocky ground, that's what's happening.

I try to move to get free of whatever I'm cocooned in. But when I start to lever myself up, as soon as I put pressure on my left arm a electric current of agony lances from the limb straight to my pain filled head. I almost throw up and black out at the same time. But instead I clench my jaw and drag a deep breath in to try to ride out the wave of pain and only go to gray.

A moment later when I am able to think again I notice I'm not moving, or being moved, anymore. I am on soft, level ground and even without enhanced hearing can make out the crunch of steps on snow moving from near my head to my side.

As I lay there I suddenly feel all my senses come on line. My ears are pulled unerringly past the crinkle of plastic, whoosh of wind, snap and crackle of tree branches brushing together. There. My personal metronome, thub dub, thub dub.

"Chief?" I managed to croak through a throat that seemed lined with sand. Straight away the material covering my face is pulled aside and I am assaulted by blazing light so bright it hurts. Immediately a hand casts a soothing shadow across my eyes and Sandburg's soft voice whispers reassuringly "Dial down your sight man." And as I begin to comply he quickly follows up with a stronger, "But don't touch the pain dial yet. I need to know where and how bad you're hurt."

It takes a little to find the dial through the pain but I finally manage it.

His face is just above me and as I see him up close for the first time in so many hours, it all comes rushing back. All that happened, and Sandburg's little hike across the lake. I remember my fear of losing him and my anger at his recklessness. I try to push myself up, forgetting what happened last time. A strong grasp on my shoulder steady's me as the pain strikes again. "Stay put, Jim." His voice commands. I fall back fighting the dark. Again I manage to hold on to consciousness partially by focusing on his face. He's pale and his dark sky blue eyes advertise his worry and exhaustion and something else I can't quite pin down. The hand on my shoulder is icy cold and shivering.

Some 'Blessed Protector' I am. How long have I been out? It's obvious that he's been taking care of me. There is a splint on my left arm and I'm swaddled in warm layers of parachute silk. What has the kid had to deal with? "You okay?" I ask, worried that he was neglecting his own hurts to care for me.

He looks at me for a long moment, that odd something still in his eyes. "I'm fine" he reassures quietly, but there is a kind of brittleness beneath the words. I monitor his heartbeat and it doesn't accelerate like it always does when he's lying. But I can't shake the feeling, something's wrong.

"Jim!" The grip on my shoulder tightened, "Jim, come on back…" He thought I had zoned, and I wasn't about to tell him I was doing my human lie detector impersonation. He's funny about privacy and such.

When I focused on his face again he nodded. "Okay Jim, I need you to run a self diagnostic here. Use your sense of touch but just dial it up enough to catalogue what hurts, where and how bad." The easy cadence of his voice was irresistible and my senses immediately began to do as he asks.

"Left shoulder and arm, throbbing but not bad." I volunteered immediately. When he pointed at a bloody bruise about three inches below the shoulder I ran the fingers of my good right hand over the site. Reading the question in his expression I supplied the results. "The bones slightly cracked but not broken." Noticing the splint I threw in a heartfelt. "You did a good job setting it." But my compliment went unnoticed as he slid a sling of chute silk over my head and around my injured arm.

"Right hip, just bruised. Ribs on the right, bruised, no breaks."

"How about your head?" He directed quietly.

"Several bumps but otherwise intact." I supplied, leaving out the part about the splitting headache and barely suppressed nausea. I figured I had a concussion, but he didn't need anything more to worry about.

"How bad is the headache?" Busted! I should stop trying. He seemed to read me with the accuracy of a mirror.

"It was pretty bad," I admitted, "But it's easing up already."

"Okay. What about the ankles?" I hadn't felt anything wrong with my ankles, but then I hadn't tried to stand yet either. Dialing up my sense of touch down there I rapidly found that my left ankle was echoing my heartbeat in unpleasant hot jabs. Focusing more carefully I traced a sense of heat all along the area the muscle joined the bone.

"Left ankle, sprained not broken." I diagnosed with certainty. "Just needs to be wrapped tight and it'll be fine." My Medic training coming to the fore there.

"Anything else?" He was all business today I thought. Normally going this long without turning whimsical and he'd be going into wisecrack withdrawal. I couldn't remember him cracking a single smile since I had come to. Yes, something was definitely up.

"Nope." Hey, I can do monosyllabic. Before Sandburg I had almost withdrawn so much that most of my vocabulary was yes, no, and the Miranda.

"Good." He responded as he used strips of our ever-useful parachutes to tightly bind my ankle. "It'll be dark soon so we need to find some shelter. Can you see anything down that way." He pointed downhill and I followed with my eyes, dialing them up to their limit.

"Can't be sure Chief. I see several areas of shadow that could be jutting slabs or caves. But these cliffs curve off to the east and I think there is a good chance there are caves not to far downhill." I supplied, thinking back to some of what I'd looked down on during my journey.

"How do you know what's beyond the curve?" He asked with a momentary flash of curiosity returning the familiar light to his eyes.

"I covered most of that ridge trying to find a way down." I shook my head remembering my frustration at the time. "Had to go miles before I found a trail leading back down this way."

"Trail?" Sandburg queried, looking up the cliff face I had fallen from.

"Yeah trail, Sandburg." I said with a chuckle. "It's about a hundred feet up and five inches wide, but its there."

"A hundred feet." Sandburg's voice was barely a whisper but I caught it and also caught the strange inflection.

"You okay Chief?" What was going on? His expression was blank, or maybe hard was a better description. Hard expressions and Blair Sandburg was a combination that did not bode well.

"Fine Jim. I'm just fine." His voice was absolutely level, no inflection at all. But I knew Blair, and he was upset. About what I didn't have a clue. But definitely pissed.

"You don't sound fine buddy. You want to tell me what's up?" I thought it was a reasonable enough question. But Blair just seemed to ignore it as he finished tying off the bandage.

I considered pushing things, but when I took a good look at him I saw a man very near the end of his rope. He was exhausted yet still he kept moving, kept working, kept doing. Suddenly even though I didn't know what was going on I felt it was not a good time to force anything. He had enough to cope with right now. Neither of us was in good shape and we were still a hell of a long way from home and there were still lunatics with plans for us.

To underscore the situation at that moment it decided to start snowing again. Blair was right; our priority had to be getting to shelter. Lessons learned earlier about not putting weight in the wrong place, I carefully kept my injured arm tight to my chest as I shifted onto my right arm and began to push to my knees.

"What are you doing!" Blair's voice was a harsh snap. He had stood and been moving toward the trees below when he noticed my movement and swept back.

"Like you said Chief, we need to get to shelter. And I can't very well get there on my butt." I tried to make some levity of it. But I was worried. I knew I was going to have a struggle to navigate the snow with my injuries. But I knew Blair would not leave me. And if tonight were as cold as last night, being at the base of this cliff would be like being in a quick freeze. The wind would slam against the cliff and the coldest air would sink and compound the wind chill factor.

"Just stay there Jim." Tiredness mixed with strained patience colored Sandburg's voice. "I'm putting together a travois, stay put and I'll bring the makings here." Without even waiting to see if I planned to comply he jogged down the incline and within moments I heard the slap, crack of an axe.

Not being the best sit still type, I went ahead and got to first my knees and then my feet. Or maybe I should say foot. Though I managed to stand, as soon as I tried to walk on the left leg the sprained ankle complained…. loudly. Walking was going to hurt like hell. I swayed but stayed upright.

I was balancing carefully when Blair dragged two narrow saplings up. Straightening from his hunched over pulling, he looked at me standing there and I actually saw a momentary flash of what looked like anger spark in his deep blue eyes. But his expression remained neutral.

Not saying a word he dropped the stripped young trees nearby and laid them out in a "V" on the ground. Grabbing the ball of cord by the packs he plopped down to sit on the snow and began tying the tip of the "V" together.

"Sandburg there is no need to make that. I admit I am not up to running a marathon." I made a point of putting my weight on my bad leg, pretending it didn't feel like ground glass in my ankle. "But I will manage without you having to pull me on that thing."

Sandburg drew a deep breath, not immediately looking up at me. Then he lifted his head and fixed those smoky blue eyes of his on me. Letting his breathe out in a soft sigh he looked me up and down once. "Jim. Your eyes won't focus and your jaw is clenched so you can stop trying to pretend you aren't in pain. Your leg is twitching and can barely hold you up. You can't use crutches without exacerbating the inflammation from the dislocation. Yes, there is a need for me to make this." And he put his head down and continued his task.

"Hey, eagle eye, who's the Sentinel here." I should have known that he would catch it. He is a trained observer. And though his logic was undeniable I didn't like the idea. Logic or no, he was already exhausted. How did he expect to haul my butt around? I outweighed him by seventy plus pounds for crying out loud!

I started to open my mouth to argue. But I noticed his rigid stance, and own clenched jaw.

What the hell was going on? Blair the bright, easy to read, talkative one, was acting like me before I'd met him. Withdrawn, non-communicative and a dozen other adjectives I was always being accused of.

"Okay Chief. Give me a clue here! What exactly is going on in that head of yours? I don't know what I've done but it obviously has got you major league pissed off." He froze, but did not look up at me. I noticed his hands where quivering, and somehow I knew that it wasn't from his sensitivity to the cold. "Come on buddy. You are always nagging me about 'opening up', 'expressing my feelings'. How about you practice what you preach here? What the hell did I do?"

16

He stands there, tittering on one good leg. Concussed, his arm in a splint, his ankle wrapped, dried blood still visible in his short hair. And he wants to know what he did? I feel unfamiliar rage, but I also can't stop shaking with fear and desperate frustration. There wasn't a prayer of ever making him see. Making him change. And someday…..

It suddenly was just too much and I found I couldn't keep working on the travois like nothing was wrong. I slumped forward, my elbows on my knees and resting my throbbing head in my cold gloves. Fighting back tears, I just sat there. I was too tired to fight and I knew that was where this was headed.

"Drop it Jim." I forced out through gritted teeth. But I knew he wouldn't. Jim calls me tenacious, but I'm amateur class compared to him.

"No chance Sandburg. We're not going anywhere until you tell me what's up." He began to hobble toward me as he spoke. "You're starting to worry me here kid." He had almost reached me when his leg buckled and he nearly fell.

"Shit!" I bolted to my feet grabbing the elbow of his good right arm and steadied him. Maintaining my hold I helped him totter to a fallen tree and sit down.

He looked at me with a sheepish expression on his face. "Thanks Chief." For a moment I felt my own protective instincts over ride my anger. But then just as I was starting to feel some of the anger evaporate I watched him struggle to get back up.

"Jim, please just stay there until I finish the travois." I think I was pleading a little, but I really was tired. Backing a few steps I knelt by the travois again. "If you fall again you just might manage to compound fracture that arm, and I am so not up for blood and gore right now."

He looked up at me and now I saw irritation starting to flush behind his own eyes. "You sound like you're angry at me because I got hurt Sandburg? I got news for you Darwin, it isn't like I had a choice here."

"You did have a choice Jim." I couldn't stop the whispered words escaping through my lips. Even knowing the can of worms I was letting loose, I just couldn't shut up. I didn't need to look up to know that his face had gone stone like. I could feel the gathering fury even from feet away.

"What the HELL are you talking about!" He bellowed in that voice he usually reserved for intimidating murderers and other sundry criminals. In one cat like movement he was up and hobbled across the space between us grabbing my coat sleeve and hauling me up as close to his face as my five foot nine could get to his six two.

"Spit it out Sandburg. You've had a bug up your butt since I came to." He didn't seem to feel the sprained ankle as he almost lifted me off my feet to come to eye level with him. "Just what choice do you figure I had here? I'm a Sentinel for God's sake, not Superman!"

I snapped. Exhausted, cold, scared, and damn furious, I just exploded. "NOW you figure that out huh!" I shouted as I yanked out of his hold. Both of us stumbled back a step but I was back in his face in a heartbeat. "A little late though. How about you remember that the next time you decide to climb down a f#% hundred foot sheer cliff!" My eyes rose heavenward, "A HUNDRED f#% feet and you CHOOSE to climb down with no f#% safety equipment, in f#% freezing weather, all f#% ALONE!" I barely paused for breath before continuing to scream right into his face. "Not Superman? Then maybe you think you're Spiderman. The only reason you are alive is because a f#% snow drift just HAPPENED to be there to keep your head from being exploded on impact like a f#% MELON!" I was starting to shake uncontrollably but ignored it to draw in a breath to scream some more.

He beat me to it. As soon as I stopped my tantrum he jumped right into the opening. "Watch your mouth! I DID NOT HAVE A CHOICE!" His own volume was about the same as mine but his deeper bass voice reverberated more. "I walked that ridge for MILES!" He shouted, poking his finger into my chest to punctuate. "The damn thing went on forever. I would have had to hike to China before I would have gotten down following the stupid ridge. And it was going AWAY FROM YOU!" Again the finger poked.

Slapping his hand away I jumped even more into his personal space. "And you had to take insane chances because I am so incompetent that you can't trust me to stay alive without you? That's it isn't it? You just can't trust that I might be able to look out for myself long enough. You just knew if you didn't rush to my f#% rescue I'd fall off a mountain or something! Amazing isn't it… I managed to stay alive for almost thirty years ALL BY MYSELF! But none of that matters, does it? I'm not the big strong testosterone Alpha male type like you and the others, so that means I'm f#% helpless." I clenched my fists, wanting desperately to hit something. "You think I don't notice that you, Simon, and the guys call me "KID" at least once a day?" I pinned his eyes with my own, trying to make him see. "You take stupid unnecessary chances like climbing down that cliff because you just don't respect that I can look after myself." My anger was washing away, replaced by the drained emptiness I had been holding at bay. "You're going to get killed Jim…and I will be the cause. How am I supposed to live with that, man?"

Jim suddenly grabbed hold of my left shoulder with his good right and shook, hard. His raging anger was painted over his face. "What the hell are you talking about? I climbed down that cliff because it was the only way down. Yeah, I wanted to find you as soon as possible." Suddenly his face got a look of fear on it. "Not because I thought you COULDN'T take care of yourself, but because I was afraid you WOULDN'T!" He began to hobble backwards pulling me with him. When his knees touched the fallen tree he sat back down and continued to tug at my arm until I sank down next to him. "Sandburg, that first day, why did you save me from that garbage truck?"

17

Confrontation was replaced by his insatiable curiosity. He looks up at me like I just grew a second head. I knew he'd think it was a stupid question. "Duh, because you were about to become road pizza?" He shook his pale, tired head. I tried to reach up and thwack the back of his head but he was sitting on my left and that arm wasn't responding right now. "Smart ass! What I am asking is why you did something that you knew could get you killed?" Again the look.

"I knew you were zoned man, you were helpless. If I hadn't got to you in time…." He shivered at the thought.

"But I was almost a stranger and I'd just come close to assaulting you Chief, why risk it?" I asked seriously. I knew he just didn't see it, never would unless I put it in black and white right in front of him.

He cocked his head and took a deep breath, his expression starting to look irritated again. Like he was explaining a law of nature to a slow child. "Stranger or no Jim, I couldn't just stand by and let you get killed. Even though you had acted like a world class dick I had to try to help."

"And when you stepped in front of a bullet to save that kid who was on the sidewalk when that gang punk did that drive by shooting? She was a stranger too."

"For God's sake Jim? She was eleven years old! Of course I had to try and save her. Anyone would."

"No Chief, anyone wouldn't! Most people write off strangers and even friends when it comes to putting their ass on the line. Even people who want to do the right thing have a survival instinct that makes them hesitate, weigh the odds, see if it's worth it. But not you!" I swung around slightly to face him, forcing the words out with as much intensity as I could muster. I could feel the helpless fear rising in me, which always came out expressed as anger.

"Not you. You follow your heart Chief, and your heart values everyone's life more than your own. And when you care about someone, you don't even think about jumping out of planes or facing down killers!" I was almost shouting by the last words. "You are upset about me falling off a cliff? Well while we're on the subject of insane chance taking, you want to discuss risking crossing a barely frozen lake when you could have gone round or just STAYED PUT!"

He had the grace to look a little embarrassed by that, but then his own temper seemed to flare right in front of me. "Stayed PUT! In other words wait for you to come rescue me. Well I took a lot more precautions crossing that lake than you did coming down that cliff. And I was doing okay until I looked up and saw you taking a dive straight into the rocks!" His anger flipped off his face like a switch had been thrown and was replaced by a terrible heartbreaking lost look. "I didn't know how you could survive that fall….. I just stood there, knowing you had been killed, me watching, unable to do a thing about it. And knowing the only reason you would have attempted such a precipice was you were taking the shortest route to get to me. Because of that damn "Blessed Protector" crap… you had gotten killed!" His voice had climbed up the scale again, but no longer with anger, but instead a soul reliving despair it could not survive. He was shaking and pale and his eyes had lost all focus, as they seemed to be trapped seeing that moment all over again.

His heart was pounding faster and faster, his breath becoming short desperate gasps. Damn, I hadn't realized the kid had actually seen me fall. Then he had rushed to my side; sure I was dead the whole time. Never taking time to let what he had seen and felt be processed. He had been occupied taking care of me, thinking of how to get us out of here. But now…. now he was facing the event undistracted. Knowing Blair I could barely imagine the horror of watching, impotent, as someone he cared for fell head first to the ground.

Oblivious to my aching limb I slipped off the sling and wrapped my arms around my partner, brother, friend, soul savior. Pulling him forward I ignored the throb in my left upper arm to hug him tight to me. For horrible seconds he didn't even notice, an almost sub vocal whimper of hopeless pain breathed from his lips. Panic attack or shock, he was far away, tortured by his worst fear come to reality.

"Blair, I am so sorry. Come on buddy, I'm okay, it's over. We're both okay and we are together. I know I scared the shit out of you, but that door swings both ways. I practically had a heart attack watching you fall through the ice over and over again. Tell you what Darwin, I may not be an anthropologist but I don't think even the Eskimo's ever tried that rig you had. Classic Sandburg, that's what that was." I was unconsciously rocking gently back and forth, stroking his back with my right hand while my left nested lightly in the hair along his neck that had escaped his woolen cap.

I don't know exactly how long it took. I was so focused on his heartbeat, the shivers that ran in waves through him, the rigid cold of his posture, that I semi-zoned on him. But then the arms that had been hanging limp at his sides moved stiffly up and around me to first tentatively then with heart wrenching need return my hug. "Jjj imm" he stuttered softly. "Please man, you can't die, not ever, and especially not for me." He turned his pale serious face up to catch my eyes with his own. "You have to promise me man, promise. No more repeat performances. You are too important. And not just the Sentinel. Ellison the cop and Jim the good man, they're needed man. What would Simon do without you, Joel, Henri, Rafe you're an irreplaceable friend to them. And Cascade needs all the good guys it can get. You just can't go throwing it away man. Promise me!"

In those deep blue eyes I saw such love, unashamed and given with absolute trust, to me. Blair had had quite a few devoted lady friends whom he shared a joyous physical relationship with, I'd even been forced to enduring listening to one of them gush about how 'glorious' a lover the kid was. But for him sex and love were two different things, though he still hoped someday to find 'THE ONE' woman that he felt deeply for and enjoyed physical attraction with. To him sex was a simple normal physical release. He was not the least bit embarrassed about the subject or the act. He was way to free spirited about several things that made my teeth grind. All those years bouncing through one commune after another I guess. When he'd first moved in he had totally thrown me by not seeming to notice or care if he was naked. He ran from the shower to his room on a regular basis until I laid down an additional 'house rule'. He'd not really understood my discomfort until he got to know my father, the 'Puritan' as he referred to him.

It was almost frightening how deeply Blair was capable of feeling and loving. And the thing was that he was like a cornucopia, every day he met new people who he immediately considered friends and threw himself into helping. He was betrayed and forgave, hurt and forgave, misled and forgave. All the things he had lived through and yet he still began each day like a clean slate, willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. With a courage beyond explanation he risking trust and love when the rest of us had become cynical and calloused. There just didn't seem to be a limit to his love…. or his energy. I had never met anyone like him. And there he sat, begging me to promise not to risk my life to save his if the occasion arose again?

"No can do Blair. Can't promise, and I won't lie." I saw him start to argue but I was finally going to say this and I wouldn't let him stop me. "No, be quiet for just this once and listen to me. And I mean realllly listen!" He snapped his mouth shut at that, bird quick as he was just starting to 'but' at me.

"No 'buts' Chief, you know how hard it is for me to open up, so don't give me any chance to think to much and clam up." I saw that serious expression twitch slightly at those words. Yeah, he knew getting me to talk about 'feelings' was about on a par of getting me to volunteer in a kissing booth. He realized this because he had tried and failed at both before.

"I'm not going to promise to stand by and consider the odds if you are in trouble. And not because I think you're some helpless 'kid' that has to be rescued. We call you kid because of the way you look at things Chief, always fresh and unjaded. But hell Blair, you made your bones as far as the guys where concerned when you had Kincaid twisted inside out your first week. You've proved a couple of hundred times that you are more than able to either talk or maneuver yourself out of trouble. You've backed up all the guys and they all trust you implicitly with that responsibility.

And it's not because I am a cop and it's my job to try and save anyone who is in jeopardy. You are a citizen of Cascade buddy, and just as much entitled to police protection as anyone else.

And it's not because I am a Sentinel and you are my Guide. Though I have to admit there are times when I am not sure if that 'primitive throwback' crap of yours isn't all that can explain some of my less then subtle need to keep track of you and know you are safe." I shook off the dismayed feeling that realization always brought. I NEEDED Sandburg. But I couldn't let myself be distracted. "One of these days you are going to find out that the Guide is probably more important than the Sentinel if I'm right about there being some weird cosmic karma about you and I meeting. But that isn't the reason I will never, ever willingly let you be hurt Chief."

"It's because of who you are. Damn it Darwin, you can so clearly see what makes other people tick, but when it comes to seeing what's in the mirror, you are blind, deaf, and if not dumb, definitely oblivious!" As I paused to catch my breath, not being as able to manage run on sentences the way he could, I saw Sandburg open his mouth to jump in. But I shook my head sharply and continued.

"Shut up and let me finish. God, I should have had the guts to say this out loud before Chief….. guess I just hoped somehow that you'd figure it out with all that gray matter of yours." I saw him blush slightly at that and with a fond smile I reached up and brushed the powdering of snow off his shoulders and head. Then I gripped his shoulder firmly and caught and held his eyes intently.

"Blair, you talk about the good guys. YOU are the good guys, you are the best!" I saw him start to argue and I tightened my shoulder hold. "You are! Without a doubt you are the most unique man I have ever met. You have a heart that is bigger than most countries. I have never seen someone so generous, caring, and compassionate. And for all the crap you spew about being afraid, you are the bravest person I know. When you believe in something or care for someone, its damn the torpedoes full speed ahead. That's what really scares me most. You don't recognize how unique and valuable you are. I'm terrified YOU will think too little of how important you are and throw away YOUR life for me."

"I see so much of the dark side of people, and before you came along I'd come to pretty much think that the whole world was going to hell in a hand basket. Then you sort of splattered into my life. Your chaotic energy, the joy and wonder you always feel, your optimism and trust even when you've been royally screwed a few times. And the fact that no matter how many times I failed you, distrusted you, accused you of betrayal, you cared about me and always came back. You always saved me from myself."

I lowered my head for a moment trying to put words to feelings I was unused to expressing. "Chief, the world has lots of protectors. There are soldiers, cops, and I guess even a few Sentinels if Alex and I weren't totally genetic snake eyes. But the world has very few genuinely good people." I looked back into his eyes; swirling into their deep azure depths, then shake myself. "Having you for a friend has meant a lot to me. Even if my enhanced senses vanished tomorrow I know I would still be okay with it as long as I knew I'd still have you in my life." I take a deep breath, "I don't know any other words than just to admit that you've become my soul, I love you more than a brother."

18

I sit here on dead tree in the freezing snow somewhere I don't even know where. Normally I would say that was my personal prescription for hell…. but I never felt warmer. I was tempted to reach up and pinch myself. I had to be dreaming! Jim " the only way I will get in touch with my feelings is if someone guts me and lays them on a table for me to autopsy" Ellison, not only expressing his emotions, but in whole paragraphs! The sheer wonder of it had me gaping at first in shock. But then the actual words penetrated my wonder.

I had figured out at the beginning that Jim was extremely protective. Enlisting in the military, then becoming a cop, he had gravitated toward situations he could act as defender of others. The Sentinel nature had taken that tendency and pumped it up to the next level.

Thus I had always presumed that his over the top mother hen routine with me was just because he thought of me as both a member of his tribe and a young amateur unable to protect myself in his hard sometimes-brutal cop world.

Even once we became friends I had felt that he considered my safety his personal responsibility since his need for a guide meant I sometimes ended up in danger. Whenever I was hurt, the guilt he felt was tangible.

What I hadn't quite been able to get a handle on was why it hadn't been very long after smoozing my way into his home that I had found myself becoming protective of him? I may not be able to kill a man with my bare hands, or load and fire a weapon in two point eight seconds, but to protect Jim I've learned I can do whatever I have to. It was almost weird realizing my compulsion to safeguard him.

I admit that I was really grateful when he let me into his work, his home and all. And it really blew me away when that first week came and went and went and went.

Then the first time he'd called the loft 'our home' was a trip. Home was something other people had. I'd rarely had a house much less a home. Naomi was constantly on the move. Different country, city, residence every few months. Until coming to Rainier as a teen I had not stayed in any one place for more than a year, ever! So maybe I told myself it was just gratitude at the start.

Other things had been firsts to. Though I had made friends everywhere I went before, the relationship that quickly formed between Jim and I was not something I had every felt before. Maybe it was what it felt like to have a brother. A big, gruff, anally fixated brother, who had to try to make order out of my chaos, while I was just as busy trying to get him to loosen up.

It hadn't been easy for him, but first with hair ruffling, neck locks and friendly pats, then finally hugs, Jim had lowered his impressive barriers and drawn me into his heart. Learning about his past, all the people he'd lost and had left him made me realize the courage it took for him to risk it again. And weirdly I who had originally thought he was the only one who had to change had found that though I had always been friendly with people, I to had some barriers. I had learned to never bond too much with anyone because it hurt too much when eventually Naomi and I would move on.

Recognizing that Jim had problems because he'd always been left and I had problems because I was always leaving gave me more empathy for his reactions to things then I think he realized.

Now, in hindsight, I could see how the whole Alex disaster was a predictable extension not just of the Sentinel territorial imperative but Jim's pre-emptive abandonment defense mechanism. As soon as the Sentinel sensed another Sentinel's spore on me, Jim's traumatic history had him assuming I was going to leave him… so he began to push me away before I left.

I have grown a lot since that time, I hope! I know now that some things have to be said, out loud, over and over so they are believed and remembered.

That's why I made a point of regularly telling Jim that I would never leave, could never leave. This was where I belonged.

And thanks to Naomi and my less constrictive upbringing, I had no problem with telling him regularly that I loved him.

The first time I said the words he'd chuckled and ruffled my hair. The next time he realized for me the words were special and I meant them. Naturally he'd assumed I meant in a sexual way, hell he's an uptight establishment cop, what else would he think? So he'd blushed, smiled nervously and then decided to ignore it and change the subject.

Once he figured out my sexual radar only blipped for members of the opposite sex, he'd been more comfortable hearing the words, even pleased. But though he showed by his actions that he wanted me to stay, needed me, he had never once, ever actually managed to say any deep, emotion charged words out loud.

But I had been okay with that. He came from a world where 'real men' don't cry, or admit hurt, or say the 'L' word to another man. But I knew that he appreciated what I did for him, respected my contribution, and felt affection toward me.

We'd been in some pretty tight situations and all, hell I'd been dead and brought back for crying out loud, and Jim's most vocal response had been a wry joke or a concerned but controlled inquiry as to if I was alright.

And now in this icebox with scenery he suddenly erupts into a verbal monologue rife with heartfelt emotion including the "L" word?

All these thoughts flashed through my mind in just a fraction of a moment. With him staring expectantly and my mouth gaping open, I finally snapped out of it.

"Ummm Jim? You are scaring me here man." I spoke softly. "Either you've got the mother of all concussions or we are in the deepest shit we've ever been!" I leaned closer to him, looking into his eyes with concern, the pupils weren't exactly even, and he did seem a bit unfocused.

19

I froze. What the hell? I try to get Blair to recognize that he's more than he realizes. And I finally work up the courage to try and tell Mr. Sensitive that I have grown enough to be able to say deep meaningful things, admit I care, OUT LOUD,…. and he thinks I have a concussion! Now he's leaning forward looking into my eyes like he's trying to see into my head and checking for Martians.

I couldn't help it. The total asinine incongruity of the moment was priceless. I threw back my head and roared with laughter.

God I did love this guy! Every time I think I finally have figured him out, know what he's thinking, he shows me that only the Guide has the map to the Sandburg zone!

20

I froze. What the hell? I try to get Blair to recognize his own unique gifts. Plus I finally work up the guts to try and tell Mr. Sensitive that I have grown enough to be able to say deep meaningful things, admit I care, OUT LOUD… and he thinks I have a concussion! Now he's leaning forward looking into my eyes like he's trying to see into my head and checking for Martians.

I couldn't help it. The total asinine incongruity of the moment was priceless. In spite of the fact that I knew it would crank my splitting headache up a notch, I threw back my head and roared with laughter.

God I did love this guy! Every time I think I finally have figured him out, know what he's thinking, he shows me that only the Guide has the map to the Sandburg zone!

I pulled him into a one armed hug, then reached up and gave him a noogie to his head as he batted at my hand with a frustrated grumble. "Jiimmmm! Quit it!" He half hissed and half whined. Pushing away he turned back toward me. His expression was completely serious.

"Okay Chief, I surrender. I gave it my all and you didn't hear a word I said. So let's can this until later and find a place to get in out of the cold."

He tilted his head looking at me askew again. "I heard you Jim, and like I said, it scares me. Unless you figure we're as good as cooked I can't see you trying to come up with all that."

Well I had never pretended to be the great communicator, which was Blair's niche. So instead of getting him to see himself as I did, and let him know my strong bond with him, my role reversal had unnerved him. Typical Ellison. Screw it for now, but I was so pissed that all that emotional energy had been blown away for nothing. Now it was a matter of stubbornness. I would get through to him yet.

"Well Sandburg, our situation is about par for us. Definitely in it, but not any deeper than normal." I paused for a moment and thought about that statement. "Hell Chief, drugged, kidnapped, parachuted, frozen, when did this mess become routine for us…..?"

He smiled at that, reaching over he took my injured arm and pointedly slid it back into its sling. "Hey, you're the cop. You gotta get a life that doesn't involve pissing off every low life or high tech felon in the territory!" He climbed off the tree trunk and stood for a second looking up at the dimming sky as it spat flurries of snow onto us.

Already his mind is changing gears, as is mine. It was only a little past three in the afternoon, but with the cloudy overcast they were definitely running out of daylight.

He moved over to travois and I watched him knot branches between the crosspieces. When I started to stand up he shot a glare at me that somehow made me feel guilty, I'm not quite sure why, and convinced me not to budge just yet. All thought of arguing with him about the rig had vanished. He was right; there was no way I could navigate over uneven terrain with any speed on a sprained ankle. If I stayed off it for a few hours I would probably be able to use it tomorrow, if I forced it now it might be days.

In a rare moment of introspection I knew it was one of those times where if I let my pride and stubbornness direct my actions then I'd not only be cutting my own nose off, but making things even harder on Blair. And he was so strung so tight I could almost hear his nerves twang every time he glanced at me.

The travois was completed very quickly. I had to wonder where he had practiced that little skill to the point he could do it so fast? He folded one of the chutes and cushioned the thing, then took the tarp and spread it over the silky padding, leaving most of it laying over the edges.

Still squatted next to the rig he looked up at me as he patted the surface meaningfully, "Okay, time for me to tuck you in."

There was something in his eyes, a granite hardness that I recognized. Few people understood that there was a steel core under that warm fuzzy exterior of my partner. He wouldn't have survived all he'd been through otherwise. Gazing into that "give me any shit and I will rip you a new one and smile while I'm doing it" look I had to chuckle at a fond memory that came to mind.

Once upon a time the guys at Major Crimes had said that Blair 'didn't have a mean bone in his body'. Then one day a Robbery cop had let a collar break free and get his gun right in the middle of station. I had stepped off the elevator and immediately caught a bullet in my arm. Once it was obvious it was only a flesh wound and the perp was restrained, quiet, unassuming Anthropologist guy had morphed into Avenging Angel from hell guy. Simon had arrived to find the Robbery officer backed up into the wall, Sandburg up in his face, reaming him up one side and down the other about correct procedure.

Simon had rescued the visibly shaken officer by distracting the furious teaching fellow by asking him to ride with me to the hospital. Reminding my partner that I might not be able to control the pain dials had instantly transformed him into the Guide version of 'Blessed Protector' mode.

After the word of that episode got out there had been a subtle but noticeable shift in how Blair was treated at the station. The guys in Major Crimes had respected the animated younger man, but from then on all the officers in the whole precinct knew that getting on Ellison's bad side could get you terminally dead, but it wasn't smart to piss off the 'little guy' either unless you'd had rabies shots.

I had no doubt that if I fought him on taking this particular ride he would not only blow his top, but that in the end he would win. Our normal roles were completely reversed, he wearing his frayed temper right out there to see, and me pussy footing around trying to not set him off. Damn this was weird!

Carefully I hobbled obediently to his side and eased onto the travois. When he saw I wasn't going to argue anymore it was like the fire in his eyes extinguished to be replaced with a warm gratitude and affection.

"Thanks Jim." He whispered Sentinel soft as he began covering me with the second chute. He smiled almost shyly, like he was embarrassed by his fit of anger. I reached up with my good arm and thwacked him softly on the back of his head. "Don't mention it buddy," I said with a chuckled threat, "and I mean that. When we get back you WILL NOT mention this to the guys."

Now he smiled, fully and with unrestrained joy. "Me? Now Jim, would I tell the guys about this….. especially when I can hold it over your head for say… oh, a two week suspension of the house rules?" It was astonishing that Blair was so damn good at poker since there were times every emotion he felt was broadcast from his eyes better than a TV screen. As tired as he obviously was his eye's shouted mischief, and yeah, love to. His level of anxiety about me was still pretty high, but my acquiescence on this had obviously surprised and relieved him.

He grabbed my chute pack from where he had cut it free from me earlier. As he started walking back to me he hefted the bag and his head tilted in curiosity. He'd removed the tarp, axe and chute, but it still wasn't apparently empty?

Reaching cautiously into the container his eyebrows climbed as he withdrew a cooked haunch of rabbit and half a bird. Looking over at me I smiled and answered his unspoken question, "Breakfast doggie bag."

Nodding he picked up his own pack and slid the food into it then flopped the weight on the travois at my side. He elevated my splinted arm on it and then began enfolding me in silk and tarp folds again. I fought the urge to push away the swaddling but I knew I would need the warmth they offered if I wasn't moving around. But I did roll my eyes when he made a point of tucking the edges in.

He made soft 'tisk tisk' noises and then reached up and patted me on the head. I had done the same thing to him a dozen times, and as if reading my mind he grinned widely at my glowering expression and chirped a happy "paybacks a bitch ain't it big guy?"

"Laugh now Sandburg, but I know where you live and…." I trailed off suddenly when I noticed an odd tingle under my sore arm. Noticing my distraction Blair's face went from smile to frown in a blink. "Jim?"

I pushed away the cover of tarp and grabbed the chute pack from under my bad arm and pulled it onto my chest. With slow precision I began passing my palm back and forth over the heavy material. "There's something here. But I can't quite pin it down."

Nodding in understanding he immediately dropped into Guide mode. "Okay, don't push it. Deep breathe, release, again. Now do you feel it or hear it?"

"A little of both. Kind of like when you lean against a amplifier." I tried to describe the sensation that was really just a flicker of something on the edge of my senses.

"Dial up touch first, and then piggyback your hearing if you get any variance." He spoke confidently as his hand rested reassuringly on my shoulder.

Changing from my palm to just the tips of my fingers I flitted them feather light across the surface again. With Blair's soft voice murmuring a steady litany of "easy, breathe," I worked an even pattern side to side. Focusing was made more difficult by the pounding headache that would not seem to quit. Eventually I crossed the reinforced area where the harness straps connected. As my fingers ghosted across the stitching it was like I touched a mild electric charge.

Dialing up my hearing and extending it down the connection of my touch I was able to latch on to an infinitesimal droning hum.
Pressing the surface where sensation and sound were strongest, I felt a disk shape deep in the doubled over fabric of the strap.

I flinched slightly as a loud click sounded near my ramped up ear. "Sorry Jim. Dial it back to normal." Sandburg said as he gently reached in and began sawing at the stitched area with his Swiss Army knife.

In short order the stitchery gave way and as the strap separated what looked like a very thick quarter fell out. I caught the metal disk and zoomed in on it with hearing, sight, and touch. "Damn." I growled through my teeth, which I had unconsciously clenched at this sight from my past.

"It's a tracking device, isn't it?" Blair asked with only the barest trace of doubt in his voice.

"Yeah, it's an oldie goldie. They have ones that are much smaller and more powerful now. Kincaid must have gotten it from some retired intelligence operative or maybe they even sell them at Army/Navy surplus these days?"

I shook my head in anger. As if reading my thoughts, AGAIN, my partner who had been concentrating on the device tiredly remarked. "I guess this means that Kincaid really does mean to come in here after us huh Jim?"

No way to deny those were my thoughts exactly, I could only nod as I answered. "Yeah buddy, I kinda hoped those two on the plane were just trying to psych us. It seemed stupid to go to the trouble to hunt us down when the mountain or the cold might have killed us right off."

Blair picked up the device and examined it curiously. "Any chance that we're out of range?" He queried hopefully. His expression showed he pretty much knew the answer already, but he always figured things would eventually have to go our way.

"Nope. This has a pretty wide range." I reached over and took the tracker into my palm, feeling the nagging tingle from it. "But there is some good news, long range can't pinpoint much more than a general area. They'd have to already be within 10 miles for this thing to start being useful directionally." I tossed the disk into the air. "I'll flip you for who gets to smash it."

As the silvery shape flipped end over end in the air I unconsciously found myself focusing on the glint of reflecting light.

"Come on Jim. Follow my voice here." From some far off point I heard the steady thump thump of his heart and warm but concerned voice calling to me, pulling me back from the smothering gray fog.

With a start I woofed in a deep breathe and became aware of my surroundings again. Looking at Blair's worried expression I knew I had zoned, big time. "I'm okay, Chief." I said with not a little embarrassment. "Didn't see that one coming, sorry."

"You're concussed, in pain and exhausted Jim! I'd be more surprised if you didn't zone man?" He shook his head in aggravation at me for my seeing my weakness as something to be ashamed of. He was never very patient about what he called "irrational macho self flagellation."

No I didn't have to look it up, I did go to college for crying out loud. I may not be in my partner's league, but I'm not illiterate!

Deciding to distract us both from the recent zone out I looked at the tracking device in Sandburg's hand. "Well, looks like you won the toss by default. Bash away Chief."

He looked at me, then the tracker, then back to me. THAT look came into his eyes, the one that always made the little hairs on my neck stand right on end. He was having an idea, but one of 'those' idea's. The kind that he knew would be having me wonder when I took a left turn out of normalcy and into the Sandburg zone.

It took a half hour to make the damn goofy scheme happen. No, correction. One hour. After the thirty minutes I spent calling him six kinds of crazy and swearing there was no way in hell I could or would do what he proposed.

But of course I did, I always did. So with his voice anchoring me I had spiraled out my sense of smell and hearing. Once I'd zeroed in on a target we'd traced the entrance and bolthole of its hideaway. Then I'd started a small smoky fire at the front door while Sandburg waited with a large sack made from parachute silk at the exit.

Yep, the two of us had gone bunny hunting! Then once we had our hapless hare I had helped put a slapped together cord harness on him, uh her? It! Then we had slipped the tracking device into the harness and let Mr. Cottontail go.

As he watched the rabbit haul butt into the distance for a moment all Blair's exhaustion and worry dropped away from his face to be replaced by one of his trademark grins. And somehow his delight made all the weirdness worth it.

"I would love a videotape of when those jerks track down that tracker man." Sandburg's chuckle was like a twelve year old who's pulled off a particularly nasty dirty trick. "Alice in Wonderland redux."

I shook my head at the thought of Kincaid and his men plowing through the woods armed to the teeth, tracking what they think are Blair and I only to end up pouncing on some rabbit warren! Yeah, I wouldn't mind seeing that either.

Just as I was imagining this fun scene I felt Sandburg's eyes latch onto me. I turned to see him standing by the travois, patting its padded surface. "Your carriage awaits Milord."

Seeing the warning in his eyes I knew that I had to ignore his exhaustion and accept his help, trust him to do what needed to be done.

Like an obedient child I limped over to the rig and lowered myself onto it. He piled all our supplies on and around me. Then he again wrapped me in my parachute and tarp swaddling until I felt like a papoose.

"Cozy?" Blair asked as he tucked in the last of the packaging. If I could've moved my arms I would have bopped him. His smile was positively smug. But I felt a soft warmth bloom in my heart as I realized that extending this kind of trust in him had been just what he needed from me.

But I had to act in character, wouldn't want him to worry and all. I mean when I poured my heart out earlier, he'd freaked.

"One crack about 'pig' in a blanket Chief, and you are on kitchen duty for a month when we get home." I snarled.

Cocking his head to examine his finished wrapping job, he looked me straight in the eyes and deadpanned, "Pig! Hey that is like soooo politically incorrect man. How about 'cop in a comforter', or 'detective in a duvet', or 'Sentinel in a spread?" He kept up his monolog as he hitched the straps at the front of the travois over his shoulders, leaned forward, and pulled off into the snow.

21

Damn, Jim weighed a ton! It was lucky the snow cut down the drag or I might have ended up not being able to haul him. After having a tantrum about it I could just imagine having to admit, 'Um, hey Jim, guess what, you can't walk and I can't drag you." But once I got the rig going I was able to keep it moving.

At first I ached everywhere. My shoulders where the straps pressed, my damp, half frozen legs, my pounding head, all combined to make me miserable. It wasn't quite so bad when I looked back and realized that Jim had fallen into a deep sleep. He had probably fought to not succumb but with his injuries I was glad he was sleeping.

To handle my own discomfort I concentrated on a meditation mantra and soon managed to ease into a fugue like state that I imagine isn't to far from one of Jim's zone outs.

The afternoon plodded into night without my really noticing. I was moving, one foot, step, then the other, leaning always forward. I wasn't really aware of picking a route, though I somehow instinctively avoided the deep drifts of snow and progressed unerringly downhill.

I could barely see now, moonlight just throwing enough light to let me navigate the few feet in front of me. I couldn't think very clearly and I recognized this. I attributed it to not having eaten since dawn and being tired to the bone and well past cold to freezing. The fact that I felt no concern or alarm at this situation should have told me I was well past rational also. But I didn't really seem to even be aware that I was the one doing this, I felt almost like an 'observer', pardon the pun, watching this icy zombie trudge across a gray and silver-blue moonlit landscape.

"Chief?" A voice from somewhere distant. Muffled but oddly compelling. I was too tired to follow it to its source so I just kept on. "Sandburg! Come on buddy, stop already!" This was louder and closer, and the straps over my shoulders where jerking and flipping around making me bobble drunkenly. I was thrown off balance, listed sideways and then I was on my knees struggling to rise and finding I couldn't seem to coordinate my limbs enough to do so.

Suddenly two steel bands circled my upper body, pulling my back against a hard but warm surface. I stopped trying to rise and for a second allowed my mind to try to solve the mystery of why I wasn't walking anymore.

"Easy does it." A worried voice crooned softly just by my ear. "You're okay Sandburg, just relax for a minute." That voice, it drew me from the cold numbness with a promise of warmth and caring. I tried to clear my vision, focus on my surroundings, but I just couldn't seem to make my sluggish mind stir to the task.

The steel bands released me and I felt heavy warm gloved hands begin to briskly rub my arms. "Damn you're half frozen." The voice that I knew but couldn't seem to place was talking steadily as the hands forced sluggish blood back into my limbs. I winced as my arms became infused with a million pins and needles of returning sensation. I squirmed trying to get away, whimpering in discomfort. The hands moved to my face, firmly cupping it between them. "Talk to me buddy. You in there?" A large blurry face floated just in front of my eyes. I worked to bring the image into focus.

As the hands continued to cradle my chin I found my gaze trapped by two sapphire blue pools. From somewhere deep within, my soul blazed in response, untouched by cold or exhaustion. Recognition forced past numbness.

"Jim?" I could barely manage a whisper. I felt weird, like I hadn't used my voice in a century. But he obviously heard me, his face split with a wide affectionate smile.

"Yeah Chief. Welcome back." He lowered his splinted arm and patted my cheek with the other. "Let's get in out of the cold Sandburg, we need to thaw you out before something important freezes and falls off!"

Looking around I found we where kneeling in the snow. Beside us loomed the same damn cliff I'd looked at when I first started off. How the hell was Jim planning for us to 'get out of the cold'?

Jim saw my expression and guessed its probable cause. "Trust me Blair, or if not me… my nose." He tapped the side of his flared nostril.

In spite of everything I felt the familiar tingle of curiosity. "You smell shelter?" I couldn't quite get my mind around that idea.

Jim just smiled a little wider as he struggled to his own feet then helped drag me up to stand in front of him. I saw that he was able to bare more of his weight on the left leg now. Obviously resting the ankle had done a lot of good.

Unfortunately as I was noticing his improved mobility, I was noticing I seemed to have lost mine. My legs felt like they had been disconnected. They refused to respond to my commands to move and didn't even prove capable of baring my weight. As I started to ooze back down I felt Jim latch onto my arm and lever it over his own shoulder to lift and support me. "I got ya." He wrapped his splinted arm around my waist pulling me against his side.

I imagine we looked like two drunks holding each other up. Jim limped toward the dark rock face with me stumbling along as he half dragged me with him.

As we got nearer the granite wall I still could see nothing we could use to shelter us from the cold, wind and snow. When we were standing right up against the rock face I turned to Jim with eyebrows raised in query.

He cocked his head upward pointedly. Following his line of sight I was able to discern a slight variation in the shades of black and gray above. The moon's glow reflected off what looked like huge chunks of rock tilted haphazardly, the probable results of a landslide. A ledge extended a few feet beside it but had been fractured by the slide further on. It was only maybe eight feet above the ground, but well out of my reach. I noticed several hand and foot holds I could use but without a word Jim put his good hand on his knee, forming a stirrup.

Since trusting Jim was almost instinctive I didn't even ask, just put my foot in his offered hand and pushed off. Even as weak as I felt it was only a matter of standing up. Balancing in Jim's hand as he straightened brought the ledge just below my chest level. I pulled over the rim and then rolled to my back for a moment.

Lying down when you are through and through exhausted is not terribly smart. Within a moment of becoming horizontal my eyes drifted closed.

Jim must have heard my heart rate and breathing change as I fell asleep; because almost the moment I relaxed he bellowed none to subtly, "Sandburg! Not now! Get up and give me a hand here."

With a groan I rolled onto my belly and looked over the edge down at my best friend and very impatient Sentinel. The minute he saw my face he began barking orders. "Anything to tie a rope to up there?" Normally Jim with his greater height could have just jumped and caught hold of the ledge and pulled himself up. Due to his injury I guessed that he planned to use his good arm on the rope as he used his feet on the numerous footholds. "And be careful," he suddenly added, "I smell old animal remains, with our luck there is a back door to that cave and some bear will come home unexpectedly."

Even as I levered myself to a sitting position to look around in the dim moonlight I couldn't keep the image of some of the gory movies I'd seen with Grizzly attacks in them.

"Thanks Jim," I muttered with aggravation, "I really, really needed that little bit of information to make this whole night just perfect!" I was just about to launch into a further complaint of his choice of comment when I found a rocky protrusion about waist thick. "I found a tie off Jim." I didn't bother to move, he'd be able to hear me fine.

"What do you want to use for rope?" I asked as I tested the outcrop for strength. When I didn't get an answer I pivoted and crawled back to the edge to look down.

My timing was perfect as a tightly wadded up bundle of parachute soared up and slapped into my face, knocking me back on my butt.

"Sorry Sandburg." Jim's voice was a little too amused for me.

"Hey Jim….." Sentinel soft I whispered knowing it would draw him to instinctively dial up his hearing. "BITE ME!" I barked it loud enough to sting but not really hurt him.

I heard him grunt then growl. "Smart ass." I snickered as I hauled the chute to the rock and tied it off, flipping its length over the ledge side. A minute later my pack with our few supplies flew up over the edge to plop down almost next to me. He had cut that close on purpose.

My eyes went to the end of the ledge and I wondered how Jim had sensed a cave from the travois. Despite my weakness I stumbled to my feet and moved toward the crevice I could just barely discern.

I had to turn sideways to shimmy through the opening into a deep darkness that my eyes could not penetrate. It was definitely warmer out of the wind, but my nose caught the distinct whiff of animal musk and decay. Suddenly I felt very exposed. "Whoa. Too dark." I muttered and then retraced my steps unsteadily back into the moonlight.

Turning around I came face to face with Jim, whose expression was not pleasant.

"Sandburg…" he growled as he leaned in until his face was only inches from mine, "what part of 'be careful' did you not understand. So of course you ignore me and go into that cave, alone, when you can barely stand up!" The heat in his eyes made me flinch.

I was just getting up a snide response when I suddenly found that either Jim was growing taller or I was shrinking. It took a second for my sluggish mind to realize it was neither. My legs were giving out? As a gray fog seemed to gather around me I felt myself wilting down like the wicked witch after water hit her in the Wizard of Oz.

"Hell!" I heard Jim's concerned exclamation as gray dissolved to black.

22

My anger dissolved into alarm and guilt as Sandburg suddenly sagged in front of me. His heart went crazy for a moment and I caught his jacket as his eyes lost focus and then fluttered closed. My splinted arm was unable to bare his dropping weight, but the other held on fast and lowered his unmoving form to the ground with infinite care.

"Great Ellison." I snarled at myself with self-loathing. "He half kills himself hauling your sorry ass around. And you, you sleep through most of it and pounce when he does what he always does, follow his insatiable curiosity."

I knelt at his side and extended all my senses toward him. Heart rate up. His breathing was even but with a trace of a congested wheeze, hopefully just the hours of breathing frigid air. Temperature slightly elevated, around 100. Exertion, lack of food and rest, any of which could account for it, but I'd stay tuned in to him incase it was also the warning of impending pneumonia.

I needed to get him warm. Turning to the opening in the cliff wall I took Sandburg's Swiss army knife and scrunched through the entrance. I had to exhale strongly to be able to fit through. It probably had once been a much larger opening but a sliding slab of rock had lodged across it relatively recently, leaving only a narrow crevice now.

Once inside I scaled up all my senses immediately. Though the crevice was small, enough moonlight entered through it to allow my Sentinel vision clear sight.

The cave was about thirty feet deep and almost that wide. I quickly scanned it with sight, hearing and smell. Even in these altitudes mice and rats thrived, as a small group scurried away from my entrance through breaks in the wall.

A heavy animal musk drew my eyes to a large pile nearby. I could hear no heart beat so I cautiously advanced. Nudging it with my boot heel a large bear skull upturned, displaying empty eye sockets. The mound of the dead beast's fur and bones lay sprawled undisturbed. Around the cave several smaller remains spoke of the prior meals for the bear.

Since there was no other way in or out of the cave then the tiny entrance I had barely managed, the landslide must have sealed the bear in it's den to suffer a slow death of starvation. But the bear's misfortune would be to our benefit.

Squeezing back out the crevice I collected the chute I had used to climb up with and rammed it into the pack. Then I carefully dragged Blair to the opening. Taking the pack I shoved first it then myself back inside. Kneeling I reached out and grabbed my partners wrists and gently maneuvered him between the rocky edges.

Once I had him inside I quickly pulled the parachute out and wrapped it around him. I again massaged his arms and legs to bring some warmth to them. Unconsciously I rechecked that his vital signs where still okay.

While I was working on him Blair mumbled a nonsensical disgruntle complaint and tried to squirm away from my hands. I kept kneading away and as I moved to his arms I saw his eyes twitch a bit then slowly open and blink groggily.

"Hootendotdalice?" He groaned incoherently as he twisted his face back and forth searchingly. For a second I couldn't figure out what he said, and then mouthing it slowly to myself I caught it. Who turned out the lights? Ooookay. He was still more asleep than awake but he was beginning to rouse as his confusion began to turn into fear. I realized suddenly that though I could see clearly, to Sandburg it was pitch black.

Taking off one of my gloves I cupped his cheek soothingly. "Easy buddy, just rest. Go back to sleep Blair. Everything's going to be fine." At my touch and calm voice the blossoming panic faded from his features smoothing into a drowsy innocent smile. He turned slightly to press his face into my hand.

"Jim?" His voice was fading even as he murmured the question. His eyes fell closed but he forced them back open and tried to find me.

"Right here partner." I affirmed softly as I stroked a loss lock of hair off his face. "You listen to me and just get some sleep buddy. I'll take care of things for a while."

He fought his eyes open again to stare toward my voice. "You need rest to." His voice gained a little strength as his stubbornness began to fight back his exhaustion.

I sighed as I thanked the powers that be for sending this precious but obstinate light into my life.

"Hey! Who's the Blessed Protector here?" I whispered softly so as not to bring him anymore awake. When I saw him start to shake his head I patted his cheek lightly. "I'm good Chief, I got two or three hours sleep on that contraption of yours getting here."

Even in the dark his eyes somehow focused right on where my face was. I could actual see him thinking! His face announced that even as tired as he was he could tell if I was lying. I leaned closer and assured him again. "Not trying to obfuscate Chief. I promise." At my use of his pet expression I was rewarded with a bright smile, and I guess he believed me because I saw him visibly relax.

His eyes fluttered open and closed a couple of times as he continued to fight sleep. He mumbled something even Sentinel hearing couldn't make out. When his lids fell again I was just set to climb to my feet when his hand snaked out like it was guided by radar and caught mine.

Looking down on his now untroubled face I was struck again by how he could look so young even with day old beard stubble. Still kneeling next to him I heard his heart settle into the familiar rhythm that I could pick out of any crowd. He snuffled softly a couple of times and then shifted further into the folds of the parachute, trying to tunnel into warmth. In the process his grip on my hand loosened and fell away.

I waited a moment letting him descend even more deeply into slumber, then quietly stood and moved out of the cave.

Keeping one ear tuned in to Sandburg in case he woke, I went back down the chute rope. My ankle and arm were aching from the recent exertions I had put them to, but neither felt like I had done anything to delay healing. I barely limped as I retraced our earlier tracks through the snow.

Grabbing the travois I pulled it to the base of the rock face just below the cave. Carefully removing our limited supplies, I left the frame still tied together. We had plenty of cord and the travois might be needed again.

Leaving everything piled there I grabbed the axe and moved to several nearby deadfalls. I bit off more than I could chew right off and tried to split a large trunk. The first time I swung the axe two handed the recent dislocated joint was still inflamed enough to shot such pain through me that I almost zoned on it.

My eyes winced closed as I fell to my knees hissing in agony. My good hand gripped my burning shoulder as I rocked back and forth grinding my teeth.

It took me several minutes to find the pain dial without Sandburg. But eventually I managed to tune it down to a throbbing reminder instead of an electric cattle prod zapping.

Despite what my Guide might say, I am capable of learning. Once the pain had faded enough for me to function again I slid my left wrist into my coat front to act as a sling. Holding the axe with my right hand close to the head like a hatchet I found several mid sized branches that I could chop off with short one-handed swings.

In a short time I had a pile of usable firewood, which I then augmented, with any big dead branches I could drag that where lying around.

Unable to use two arms forced me to make a dozen trips to get the wood to the cliff but I finally had as much as I felt we'd need for tonight and tomorrow morning.

Wrapping everything into manageable bundles and tossing them up to the ledge took only a few more minutes. Then before I maneuvered back up to the cave I set out several parachute cord snares.

On my return I found my partner curled into almost fetal position under the mound of parachute, only a few strands of chestnut curls showing which end hid his head. When I lifted the cover I saw his pale face and the shivers that wracked him.

Once I had all my various supplies inside I started a fire right by the entrance fissure, which would siphon out the smoke but not the warmth. Then I went to the mound of bear remains. Dialing down my sense of smell I let my practical side override my natural repulsion for dead animals. Efficiently I removed the stray bones and gathered the desiccated hide up to move a short distance from the fire.

Spreading the fur side up on all the loose-leaf litter I had pulled together I then turned to the quivering pile of parachute and Sandburg. He was still deeply asleep and I was loath to try to wake him to relocate nearer the fires warmth. If not for the arm injury I would have just carried him from point A to B. But I knew better than to test the arm's limits again.

Instead I grabbed the part of the chute he was lying on with my right hand and dragged it and him to one side of the bear fur pallet I had made. I gently eased away the segment of chute that was on top of him and flipped it over onto the fur. In his sleep Blair began pawing around trying to regain the missing cover, little muffled grumbling noises coming from his mouth.

Pulling up on the chute under him I smoothly rolled him over and into the chute on the pelt by the fire. As I dropped the rest of the material back over him he immediately pulled the fabric close around him and curled up tight again.

Next I unfurled the tarp and laid that over the heap of fur, chute and anthropologist. Soon after I saw the pile stop shaking and heard a contented snuffle and sigh drift out of the folds of material.

It was amazing how much Sandburg enjoyed the simple sensation of being warm. Once after a particularly long drawn out icy stakeout the kid had turned down a night on the town with a very sensuous fellow teaching assistant to rest by the fire in the loft layered in blankets. He had been totally thrilled just to be warm and wasn't the least bit aggrieved by missing a chance for a different type of 'hot' night.

I considered going to check my snares but when I nearly dislocated my jaw with an unstoppable yawn I realized I also needed more sleep than the nap I'd had on the travois.

Going to the fire I stacked heavier logs in a teepee over the flames. As the smaller branches burned away the larger logs would drop into the blaze to replace them.

Once I had the fire pit set to burn through the night I went over to the pallet and swiftly joined my partner in the toasty nest.
When I first pulled and maneuvered my way into the folds of chute silk next to Sandburg his back was to me. Knowing his aversion to cold I was sure that even in his sleep Blair would pull away from my frigid clothed body. But within a few seconds of my climbing beside him my Guide unconsciously rolled over, tunneled closer to me and burrowed his head almost into my shoulder.

At first he shivered a little from contact with the cold material of my clothing. But then as I absorbed some heat from him and the fire I watched the comfortable smile return to his face and listened to his nearly sub vocal, 'Ummm warm…'

It's funny; when I was in the military there had been a few occasions when survival had demanded me to huddle with others in my team in order to share body heat. It had been a practical, straightforward process.

But none of the soldiers in my unit had ever tried to use me as an oversized teddy bear. Sandburg on the other hand was burrowed half under me, and his gloved hands where fisted into my jacket like they were super glued. But that's not the funny part, no; the funny part is I don't mind. In fact the idea that the kid draws not only warmth but also such comfort from my presence gives me an odd pride. In the old days I would have died before feeling, or worse, showing, the kind of big brother affection I feel for this hyper kinetic poster child for Ritalin.

My own comfort at having Sandburg safely under my protection began to lull me toward sleep. Just before I dropped off I felt his curled head move back from under my chin, smoky azure eyes blinked sleepily up at me. I knew it was to dark for him to see; the tarp blocked any of the fires light from penetrating. But Blair sometimes saw with other senses no less acute then my Sentinel ones. He knew it was me there, and his smile became happy for a moment as he mumbled a sincere but groggy, "Good night Jim, sleep well."

"Good night Chief, same to you." I whispered softly back into the curl covered ear attached to the head already burrowing back under my shoulder. I was asleep by the time he stilled.

The panther roared in rage as trees parted and a large brown bear stomped into the clearing. Rearing back on huge muscled legs the mammoth creature swung a platter-sized forepaw pronged with claws at the ebony panther. The cat oozed swiftly under the blow and swatted his own clawed paw out to rake a bloody track along the ursine flank. Quickly following up first blood the panther sprang to the immense opponents back striving to achieve a killing stroke at the jugular. But where the cat had speed and agility, the bear had speed and size. With a bellow like thunder the towering monster shook furiously. Long thick tangled strands of fur matted the beast's hide and prevented the panther's claws from penetrating sufficiently to hold on or inflict real damage. Flung from his enemy's back, the cat slammed into a tree trunk and struggled desperately back to his feet just in time to receive a vicious backhanded swat from the mammoth. Knocked a dozen feet the black panther lay on its side too dazed and hurt to move. Blinking to clear blurred vision the cat struggled to gather himself as he saw the brown mountain barrel toward him. But before the monstrous carnivore could avalanche over the cat a flash of gray shot from the tree line. With a howl of fury the young wolf body slammed into the side of the bear, momentum allowing the smaller creature to bowl over the much larger opponent. Pushing the advantage of surprise the wolf leapt up onto the back of the great bear, snapping onto the exposed neck. But the shear size of the beast was the wolfs undoing. So large was the monsters neck that the wolf's jaw could not encompass it. Barely drawing blood the wolf suddenly felt raw fire ignite his shoulder as the bear reached over its head and swatted the small canine from its neck. The gray wolf landed badly and tumbled several more feet as the giant brown reared up right over him. But before the fatal blow could land the brown roared in pain as the panther again pounced onto the broad furry back.

23

What? When? Huh? I woke up suddenly from a really deep sleep. When I opened my eyes I was momentarily disturbed as I found myself in pitch dark with my face up against something coarse. The last I remembered was the trek through the snow ahead of the travois. When I thought back I vaguely recalled stopping, and Jim, and a dark cave. How long had I been here? Was this the cave I thought I remembered?

Now that I considered my recollections I identified the coarse fabric my face was smushed up against. Jim's coat? My gloved hands where tightly twisted into it's front? I was curled up against his sleeping form like a kitten by its mother. Oh Shit! He'd kill me if he woke up and found me plastered up against him like this.

I vvvveeeerrrryyyyy slowly opened my hands to release my hold of him. Then I began to inch away from his form lifting our fabric cover, allowing soft firelight to fall across us.

Of course since I was consciously trying to not wake him up my heart started pounding like a trip hammer. Which is the single most guaranteed way to wake a Sentinel.

Even as I started to shift away from him I felt Jim stir. Holding my breath I tried to calm my frantic heart rate, hoping he'd go back to sleep. Looking up toward his face in the faint firelight I saw one of his eyes open and focus on me. I knew he'd blow my doors in for using him for as an oversized hot water bottle. I waited for the growling voice to tell me to move my skinny butt a reasonable distance away on the makeshift bed we shared.

Instead, I felt a large hand pat my head gently and a drowsy voice murmur, "Go back to sleep Sandburg, it's still a couple of hours til dawn." His eye closed and the hand dropped away.

Wow, thank god for a sudden attack of mellow! Rolling my own eyes in relief I carefully eased further away from my nearly superimposed position. When he felt my movement Jim's eye opened again and this time he did growl, "Settle down will ya Chief."

"Sorry big guy," I whispered apologetically, "but I gotta get up man." I saw his other eye open drowsily and his brow crinkle in confusion.

"Huh?" Was his only reply.

"Go back to sleep Jim, but I neeeeeeddd to get up." I began to carefully squirm away from my partner out of the cocoon we were in.

My movement naturally brought Jim the rest of the way out of his own sleep stupor. "Sandburg, it isn't going to be light out for a couple of more hours, like I said. So WHY do you need to get up RIGHT NOW!"

"Because when ya gotta go, YOU GOTTA GO!" I said through almost clenched teeth. I guess between that and my body language the coin finally dropped.

"Oh!"

That's my Sentinel, master of the monosyllabic response. But though a smile struggled across his face he did quickly move and pull all the myriad covers off me and make way as I hopped up and bolted through the tiny cave opening.

As cold as it was standing on the other end of the ledge in the pitch dark, I barely registered the temperature as I relieved the urgent demand of my bladder.

From inside the cave I heard Jim's definitely amused "Hey Darwin, carefully not to let it freeze off."

I quickly finished up and scurried back into the caves warmth. Kneeling next to the fire now, Jim had taken the leftover rabbit and bird from the pack and shish ka bobbed them by the fire to warm up. Even though it had barely felt the heat yet, the smell of warming meat began to rise in the vicinity. Though usually not a carnivorous type, my stomach immediately let me know that it was empty and unhappy about it. When had I last eaten?

Just as I knelt next to my best friend my stomach let off a reeeaaalllyy loud rumble. Jim's eyes lit with humor. "Yep, that definitely was a wolf's growl Chief." He chortled in that deep bass of his.

I knew exactly what wolf he was referring to. After Jim had learned about our spirit animal's he'd been unusually curious about why he had a panther and I had a wolf.

"Cat and dog Chief?" He'd remarked, thinking of them as natural enemies "Wouldn't you think a Sentinel and Guide would have spirit animals that are, if not the same, at least similar?" It had taken a while to explain a bit about my theory that personality was the core of spirit animal type. Jim was fast, stealthy, generally a loner. I was more inquisitive, persistent, and social. These traits dictated the shapes of our spirit animal's, the spirit animals didn't dictate our actions. Or at least that's what I believed.

Actually I was grateful to have the wolf. Despite Incacha's bequeath of 'Shaman' status to me, I didn't have anything special about me, unlike Jim. With my luck I could have just as easily ended up with a prairie dog!

But right now I was a ravenously hungry academic. The vegetarian in me was completely submerged and I eyed the game on the spit with salivating enthusiasm.

"Hungry Sandburg?" Jim inquired facetiously as he adjusted the meat closer to the flames. His own eyes glowed with barely contained hunger also.

I had watched my partner plow through so much food at a sitting that he was barred from our local 'all you can eat' establishments. So I was a little concerned about stepping between a famished Sentinel and the limited food supply.

"Ummm, we aren't going to arm wrestle over who gets what, right Big Guy?" I let a little trepidation into my voice.

The full bold laugh that was so rare for the ex Ranger was a delight to hear. "No Chief, this is just the appetizer. I set out snares. Give me a few minutes and we will have the main course." With that he climbed to his feet and headed for the exit.

Looking out into the darkness that devoured the fire's light just inches from the crevice opening I moved to Jim's side. "I'm not THAT hungry man. Why don't you wait for morning?" I knew that the moonlight would be enough for Sentinel sight. But I didn't know what else might be out there. I'd put money on Jim against any bad guy in the world, but even a Sentinel didn't necessarily have an edge over mountain lions or other wild animals.

Seeing my dislike over the idea my partner stopped and looked at me in inquiry. "What's up Chief? Intuition acting up?" He asked seriously. There had been several occasions in the last year of so where I'd sort of picked up the vibes of danger before it struck. At first Jim had deflected even discussing the events. This from a man who had was just starting to accept his own visions. But as time has passed he'd conceded that I could sometimes sense trouble. He liked to joke that I got into trouble so much that I'd gotten to where I could now recognized it at a distance.

Shaking my head to assure him that I hadn't had any 'weird tingly' warning as he referred to the episodes, I just waved an encompassing hand at the pre dawn blackness outside. "Nah, not that…. but this is when the predator's are out looking for their breakfast to." I shrugged shyly. "I'd really hate for you to end up a meal. What if you meet up with a wolf? You couldn't outrun it with that ankle, man." My brows climbed as an image suddenly formed in my overly vivid imagination. "Jeez Jim, my spirit animal eating my Sentinel. I'd be seriously Karma screwed if that happened."

Jim was staring at me intently. I could tell from his expression that he wasn't exactly sure if I was kidding or not. Early in our relationship he'd learned that he sometimes unintentionally hurt my feelings by denigrating my deep belief in some pretty diverse religious and moral codes. He stood there, trying to figure what comment was safe.

I decided to give him a break. "Facetious time. I just don't think it makes sense to go out in the dark when you're injured. And when it will be light soon." Moving to the exit I shivered as a freezing draft came through. "And a little warmer to." I wrapped my arms around myself and scurried back to the fire, hoping Jim would follow.

"Not many predators at this elevation Chief." He looked down at me with confidence, trying to help me believe that. "And I don't feel the cold as much as you, plus I can turn the cold dial down a bit."

"I promise to look both ways before crossing the street. Please dad, may I go out and play?" He squatted by me to look me square in the eyes. "I will be careful Chief, I just want to go ahead and get started since we are up." His eyes went stone hard as he continued seriously, "Kincaid plans to drop in sometime in the next forty eight hours, and I want us as far down the mountain as possible. You stay put. I'll be back in no time and we'll head out with a good supply." For a moment I saw something like anxiety flicker through his eyes. A need to get us out of the area, NOW!

Recognizing his instinctive Sentinel protective imperative, I thought maybe it was just the natural recognition of the threat Kincaid's impending arrival represented. Part of him was loath to leave me alone even for a few minutes now that he had me under his protection. But he also knew that to get off this mountain we needed to take advantage of any opportunity for gathering supplies. The logic of removing us from the potential threat of Kincaid requiring him to keep both of our strength up, won out with the ex-Ranger. But the Sentinel part of him was not happy.

From my viewpoint it had only been forty-eight hours since I'd been snatched practically from my own doorstep. For Jim it had already been forty-eight hours and we weren't as far along as we should be.

If first he and then I hadn't been in such bad shape yesterday I had no doubt he would have hard marched us halfway down the mountain by now.

An additional problem was I knew he was itchy from inactivity. He'd been strapped to the travois for hours, then been trapped in the cave even longer. Even with his injuries the Sentinel needed out. Like his spirit animal Jim hated being caged.

Though I would have preferred for both of us to just crawl into the warmth of the cave and stay there, I knew this was one of those times when comfort concerns move to the back of the bus.

"You've got two hours Ellison, then I'm coming to get you!" I tried to growl out the response the way my partner always seemed to. But Sandburg genetics didn't include the intimidation gene. I saw humor and affection infuse his gaze. He didn't even try to pretend to quake in fear. His humor evaporated a moment later when I suddenly hacked several deep moist coughs. I hadn't even felt a tickle of warning. When I saw him edge toward me I knew he was extending his senses to check me out. Though definitely not up to running a marathon I knew I was okay. I just needed some rest, and WARM! Looking into his concerned face I made a shooing motion. "Beat it big guy. Sooner you're gone, sooner back."

Smiling at me reassuringly he seemed to just fade away through the opening. Obviously his ankle felt a lot better since I didn't see even a trace of a limp or hear any sound of his departure.
As silent as his feral spirit animal he had melded with the dark.

Huffing an accepting sigh I went to the fire and began to build it bigger for the game meat I knew would be forthcoming on Jim's return. I tried not to listen to the wind, or spend too much time focused on the cloying darkness spilling in the entrance.

Jim would be okay. He liked roughing it; he thrived on all this 'character building challenge' crap. And he was a Sentinel. He'd be back soon and everything would be fine. Somehow it always had and always would be fine as long as we were together.

I managed to stay distracted for about fifteen minutes before I started to get antsy. Another bout of coughing hit and made sitting around very unattractive. I started to run through everything I knew that could be of use for survival. Not as much as I would like right now. But just as I started to feel useless a memory of years ago popped into my head. YES! There was another food source to help out our larder. One I was perfectly suited to find.

24

I jogged along tentatively at first. Testing my ankle to see if the sprain had truly eased up. When I found a pace just below the point the joint complained, I maintained there.

Lord but it felt great to get out of that cave and pad through the ebony fingers of tree trunks laid across the glistening opaque blanket of snow. I felt the zing of my blood moving faster through to long sedentary limbs. And heard my own breathing pick up pace as the snow deepened or the path rose up demanding more from me.

The need to get out and extend myself had been almost physically painful. I was tense and recognized it. Too many hours of unrelieved threat to Sandburg was frustrating enough, but I was also having damn dreams of being attacked by bears. Correction, my and Sandburg's spirit guides being attacked by a bear, a really big bear. Not the stuff for a restful slumber. But I needed to focus on reality now.

Dialing up my sight and hearing I swiftly glided among the trees to the various points I'd laid out snares. Two of the snares near each other had been raided of their captured rabbits by a predator. Sorting through the blood and fur patches I found small paw prints. About the size of a fox, but heavier judging from the spore. I vaguely remembered my training on tracks… wolverine probably.

But despite the opportunist's theft, there were plenty of catches left. This area must never have had much human visitation since the animals were not snare savvy. Four rabbits of various sizes, a quail, and three ring necked pheasants had been snagged. Another snare held only a single tail feather of a wild turkey. I had heard the wily fowl was tough to catch, but boy how many meals might such a bird have provided.

I carefully removed the snares and obliterated any evidence that I had been there.

Content with my haul I headed back toward the cave, removing any traces of Sandburg and my journey the previous day as I went. I was anxious to get us out of here. Not only was it obvious that Blair's was coming down with something thanks to his dunking in icy waters the day before. Something was starting to nag at the edge of my consciousness, a warning that was setting off the Sentinel.

As soon as I was within sight of our refuge I cast out my senses, striving to latch onto Sandburg's scent and sound. My growing apprehension needed the reassurance his presence offered. Immediately the crackle of the fire, the smell of smoke, cooking meat and musty bear fur came easily to me.

The only thing missing was my partner?

At the base of the cliff face I twisted around, dialing up my senses as far as I could. No tracks, but it had snowed steadily while I had been gone, burying all trace. But there was no way that anyone could have found their way here, grabbed Sandburg and left without me hearing. I had only been gone a couple of hours!

A switch seemed to be thrown in my head. Jim Ellison, cop, faded to the background, letting the more primal Sentinel and the deadly Covert Ops Ranger kick in. Anything that stood between my Guide and me was going down!

With deadly fury I stalked toward the trees, and immediately screwed up. As my hearing scanned further and further out around me I realized too late that I was slipping into a zone out. I struggled uselessly to haul myself back, to stop the spiral into oblivion. But I couldn't.
Then, just as I lost all contact with my faculties, my hearing bounced off some distant distraction then dragged me back from the edge as it snagged a distant but familiar babble. "Yes! Perfect! Oh man, this is so cool."

Unerringly anchored by that sound and the muted heartbeat beneath it I rapidly covered the distance to where Sandburg was on his knees at the base of a tree. Digging like a dog he was totally unaware of my presence as dirt flew back from his gloved hands. He also didn't seem to note that he was panting harshly and had a bubbly wheeze from just the slight exertion.

Before I could open my mouth to ask what the hell he was doing, he grabbed hold of some thick tangle in the ground and yanked with all his strength. There was a soft pop and the object of his tugging suddenly came free. Not expecting the release Blair fell over backwards to land on his back right at my feet.

Looking up from his reclined position as he lay there he saw me but seemed oblivious to the circumstance and smiled. "Hey Jim!" he crowed happily. "Look at this man. Manna from heaven big guy." He held up hands that were fisted around wads of dirt and roots.

"Playing in the mud Sandburg?" I growled, both pissed and relieved. Not three hours ago he had been worried about me going out to face potential wildlife, and here he was out in the woods, unarmed, unprotected and unaware of possible danger.

Noticing the total lack of amusement in my voice or expression Sandburg caught on that I was not pleased. For a second his face struggled between delight and contrition. But he just couldn't hold in his discovery. "Umm I would have left a note big guy, but no pen, no paper! And you see I remembered something from when I was on a research expedition to Canadian native sites. The lead researcher was an Algonquian, Ojibwa. Really held to the 'old ways', knew just everything about how the natives up here lived and survived."

Rolling over and springing to his feet he again waved around his full filthy hands while he shook his head like a dog, shaking off snow. Dirt covered lumps and strands lay in a tangle across his palms. Nearby on the ground was a pile of even more of the mess.

Looking back and forth between his enthusiastic face and the odd treasure he offered, I just shook my head in hopeless frustration. "You are certifiable Sandburg." I growled, "What is that crap?" My sense of smell brought me the rich odor of earth mixed with a sharp almost stringent tang that permeated the globs.

"Tubers Jim!" He plucked a crusted strand that looked like black ping pong balls on a string. "This one, man roasted it tastes like celery. And this one," He waved a deformed carrot shape now. "It tastes like a really mild squash." Bending over to reach for more of the pile he came up suddenly short as I grabbed the collar of his jacket and hauled him back straight.

"Jim?" he squawked as I held him almost on tiptoe. The look on his face showed me that he was now completely aware of why I was pissed and was lining up several primo obfuscations.

"Sandburg," I rumbled in a low tone with my nose almost touching his, "do the word's 'stay put' have any meaning to you?" I tried one of my patented 'put the fear of god in the bad guy' glares. "I came back and you went poof! We need to wrap up and get out of here." The itch to get moving was becoming overwhelming. Nothing I could pin down, but somehow I knew time was running out. I felt furious at Sandburg for not being where I had left him. I didn't even notice when I let go of his jacket and began pacing around him. "What if you'd gotten lost, or hurt? What about those predators you were worried about earlier. You figure just because the sun came up they vanished, like vampires?"

"Jim?" Sandburg's tone dropped, subtly shifting to a murmur. "It's okay big guy. Take it easy. We're going. We're out of here!" He extended his arm toward me slowly. "Jim, look at me okay. You need to focus here and now." His hand brushed my uninjured arm, than caught my forearm. I felt the irrational urge to slap it away. But just as my snarling face turned toward the unacceptable restraint, his eyes caught mine.

"Deep breath." He crooned softly. I was pulled into the gray blue swirls of his iris's and felt a calmness wrap around me, caging the building rage. It felt like I had been sleepwalking and now was awake. Blinking as I sucked in a breath, the sudden cessation of the massive tension I had felt building left me feeling washed out. I looked around at the woods. The moment my gaze shifted off my partner the feeling of danger returned with a vengeance. I heard a growl, and realized it was me. The hair on the back of my neck was standing on end.

A light touch moved up my arm to pat my cheek whisper soft. "Whoa, come on Jim, you are starting to freak me out here. Something has got the Sentinel on full alert and I need to know what." I recognized the voice but ignored it except to use it as an anchor. My hearing was spiraling out further and further. Catching and discarding one sound after another. Finally I found and held the noise that had been worrying at the edge of my senses. There!

25

This was getting scarier by the second. I had seen Jim in his Covert Ops persona and seen it enhanced by the Sentinel senses. This was totally different! The rational man seemed almost submerged in some weird instinctual persona.

The last time anything vaguely like this had occurred was when Jim's normally logical self had been drowned in the Sentinels instinctive reaction to the lethal female Sentinel, Alex Barnes. First territoriality then a mating urge had had the modern cop turned almost Neanderthal. He'd expelled everything, me included, out of his territory and then even defended the murderous bitch he'd been pursuing.

The thought that something was triggering the Sentinel to the point of Jim not being in control was not what I needed right now. The last time I'd ended up dead. No, I did not want a repeat of that episode…..ugh ugh… no way!

When he started to snarl I felt my own hair stand on end. Great. Just great. I had to get my partner back in the driver's seat before this got dangerous, for both of us. I needed to get him to focus on me, my voice. It had always worked before. I needed to catch his full attention. But I had to do it in a way the Sentinel wouldn't consider aggressive. No way I wanted to trigger any alpha male display.

Trying again I moved my hand tentatively up his arm to his face, tapping his cheek gently. "Whoa, come on Jim, you are starting to freak me out here." I pleaded softly, wondering if Jim was even aware of what was happening. "Something has got the Sentinel on full alert and I need to know what."

Instead of responding, Jim's face became even more stony and distant, like he wasn't even hearing me. Seconds plowed slowly by as he stood rigid as a statue.

Worried that he might have zoned I cupped his cheek softly with my palm. "Jim?" I moved around to stand in front of him. "Knock knock, anybody home?"

His head cocked suddenly to the side in the familiar posture of him focusing on some sound. Immediately his face twisted into an angry snarl. Growling low in his throat again he grabbed my wrist, snatching my hand away from my face.

Wincing at the crushing grip I reached my other hand over to pry at his fingers. "Owww owww. Come on man, let up. You're going to break it."

Acting like he hadn't heard me he began striding away, dragging me along by my trapped arm. I felt like a recalcitrant child being hauled behind a parent toward a spanking. If my wrist didn't feel like it was being mashed to paste I could almost laugh at the image.

Gritting my teeth I slammed my heels into the snow and soil, hissing with increased pain as I managed to put on the brakes. As the throbbing got unbearable I fisted my other hand and pounded it into the top of his clutching hand.

"Damn it Ellison. LET ME GO!" Pain, adrenaline and panic overtook fear of setting off the Sentinel. As my blow landed the compressing agony let up immediately, leaving a residual ache and tingle of returning circulation.

Shaking my wrist and flexing my fingers I stood there for a minute just enjoying the easing pain. Jim hadn't moved and as I looked up I saw him staring at me with that same stony glare.
"What the hell is with you Jim?" I half shouted. Normally I go out of my way to avoid confrontations with my partner when he seems to be in aggression overload. But even knowing that some instinctive 'alpha male' crap was going on didn't ease my own temper.

When my partner made a grab for my arm again I just managed to jump away from him. "Keep off man!" I barked at him, shifting from foot to foot, ready to run if I had to. My level of anger was off the scale and I was through and through scared. We were in the middle of nowhere, with a lunatic due to come hunt us and the one of us with the most training was acting like his mind was missing in action?

We stood there staring each other down. The intensity of his glare was dimmed when he again tilted his head and began to grind his teeth.

As I studied his stance, the tension that radiated from him, I was caught in an undeniable déjà vu. This was exactly how he had looked that horrible day I'd come home to find all my things thrown out of the loft.

Jim had stood there in a room stripped of all furnishings yet still looking like the walls were closing in on him. Defensive and frustrated he had never looked more like a caged panther.

And here he was looking just like then. Why?

"Jim?" Reining in my own fear I stopped backing away from him. When he didn't try to grab me I took a step closer.

"What do you hear Jim?" I whispered so as not to hurt him, recognizing that he had his hearing cranked all the way up. I needed to know.

"Engines." Just the one word, growled out between clenched teeth. But I'd take a monosyllable from Jim over the silence any old day.

"What kind of engines?" I felt the thrill of hope. "Could it be help?" The chance that we could have been found this fast was small, but a guy can dream all right!

"No!" Another bitten off word response. Man this was like pulling teeth.

"Is it Kincaid's men?" I asked, even though it had to be.

"Yes." Damn. It hadn't been three days yet. Duh, like I should really expect some murderous menace like Kincaid to do what he says he'll do.

Well as much as Kincaid was bad news, I was more worried about what Jim was going through. Reading his body language and drawing the inevitable conclusion I decided to confirm the worst.

"Jim….. Is there another Sentinel with his men?" I whispered so softly the words were barely a breath. And even as I said it, Jim was already snarling an answer.

"YES!" The unrestrained fury in his tone was shocking, and a bit confusing. When Alex had showed up on Ellison's Sentinel radar he had reacted negatively because of an invasion of his territory. Once the two had moved their interaction out of Cascade Jim had switched from defensive of his space to enraptured by the female of his kind.

But that didn't make sense in this situation. We were out of Cascade, so Jim shouldn't feel this violent about the other Sentinel. But if anything he was reacting more severely then with Alex. He was now facing away from me, pacing with his head cocked toward the same direction no matter where his feet went.

"Okay, there is another Sentinel." I didn't even realize I had spoken out loud until his head snapped around to focus his feral gaze intently on me. Oh shit. He was getting worse by the minute now.

"First things first big guy. How far away are they, or him?" A sudden thought occurred to me. "Or her? Is this other Sentinel a guy or girl?"

Jim just stared at me for a few seconds, until I was worried he wasn't even able to functionally follow a conversation in his present state. But then he took a deep shuddering breath and seemed to calm slightly as he continued to look at me. Several other, slow, deep breaths followed that first.

Slowly his hand came up, and for a second I tensed thinking he might be about to grab me again. He paused, than when I didn't bolt he tentatively brought his large hand to rest on my shoulder. As I sensed the care he took not to panic me all my fear of minutes earlier flushed away to be replaced with the absolute trust and faith I had in my friend and partner. Even with the Sentinel putting a little too much sharp to his edge, Jim would never intentionally hurt me.

26

The urge, no, the NEED to destroy the other Sentinel was so strong I felt like I would explode from my skin if I didn't go and obliterate him right that second. My mind was red glowing rage. I had a deep overwhelming desire to meet the threat the challenger presented yet keep him as far as possible from what was mine.

My ears where locked on the distant mechanical noises that encircled the interloper. My sense of smell had already isolated his infuriating scent. If he came any nearer I would find him and kill him to protect what I would not, could not share or surrender.

"Okay there is another Sentinel." I swung around toward His Voice which was there suddenly smothering the rage, cooling the hot fury that had burned away all rational thought.

My hearing sprang back to focus solely on him. "First things first big guy. How far away are they, or him? Or her? Is this other Sentinel a guy or girl?"

Just listening to him gave me an anchor. I worked to gain control, taking a deep centering breath as he had taught me. I felt as if I were pushing away suffocating gray layers of confusion. Had I been zoned?

As my vision soared into his familiar azure eyes the need to touch him, to assure myself he was there with me took hold. Vaguely remembering that he had fought me when I had last touched him I reached out very slowly like I would to a spooked colt. When he tensed and I smelled a draft of fear come off him my own stomach twisted. He was afraid of me! ME!

Something inside me started to fracture from the realization that he was fearful of my touch. But just as I traced the source of the pain I felt to my heart his expression shifted to one of deep abiding trust and his fear mellowed to the familiar tang that was his base scent.

My hand lowered to his shoulder as carefully as I would stroke fragile crystal. Immediately with the contact a soothing calm slid into me, relaxing the unbearable tension that had had me strung as tight as Odysseus's bowstring.

With the relaxation came a clearing of my thoughts. I was having a tough time just remembering what I'd been doing for the last few minutes and that bothered the hell out of me!

"Chief?" I looked first at him then our surroundings. How did we end up here in the woods? I'd gone and cleared some snares I'd set last night, then headed back to the cave. Then…umm, then I heard something. I started focusing on my hearing and quickly fastened on a sound clearly foreign to these pristine reaches. Motors, trucks and ski-sleds. Shit! Kincaid already? And someone else? My nose caught a waft of an unfamiliar yet recognized scent. A smell I knew, that meant danger, a threat, sommmeeee…

"Come on back." The voice, and a hand making steady small circles on my shoulder pulled me again into the here and now.

Sandburg looked positively freaked though. "This is getting out of hand Jim." He was maintaining a clear view of my face and a constant contact with my arm. Like he could see or feel when I started to lose myself in this weird new type of quasi-zone.

"What is going on Sandburg?" I couldn't quite hide both the anxiety and little bit of anger in my voice. "For some reason my senses are going crazy and taking me on side trips into la la land."

"Jim man, you gotta listen to me here." His voice was intense and brooked no argument. "Do not, I repeat, do not crank up any of your senses right now." He reached down and quickly bagged a bunch of dirt crusted roots and then latched back onto my arm. "With Kincaid already coming we need to get back to the cave pronto. So make like a Ranger and lead the way."

"Sandburg?" I growled in aggravation, wanting answers now. But those engine sounds had only been a couple of hours away. I was tempted to dial up my hearing just to confirm my estimate, but Blair wouldn't have insisted I not use my enhanced senses without a good reason. And he was right about the cave. With unmanageable terrain on both sides, this valley like tract would force Kincaid and his men practically right up the same way we had come down. Our only viable strategy right now was stay hidden.

"How did you know Kincaid was coming?" I asked curiously as I began to carefully pick my way back toward the cliff side. I had only just heard him a minute before.

"You told me." He said it so matter of fact, like the idea I didn't even remember it didn't faze him.

"When?" Stopping I swung around to glare at him.

"Not now Jim!" He was bouncing from foot to foot in growing anxiety. What ever was going on with me plus the impeding arrival of one of Blair's least favorite psycho's definitely had the kid moving rapidly toward a panic attack. He was panting and I could hear the wheeze and bubble of the still present congestion in his lungs.

Deciding to accept that he was right about my rotten timing I forged ahead again. I wanted to get Sandburg out of the chill and get him to tell me what the hell had been happening to me! With great care I selected rocky outcroppings, downed tree trunks, and high animal trafficked trails to avoid leaving any trace of our journey. Sandburg followed, being uncharacteristically silent as he pointedly tread in my tracks, mimicking my stealthy progress.

In a very short time we were back below the cave entrance and Sandburg went up the makeshift rope this time quick as a monkey. As soon as he made the ledge he swung around and drop to his stomach to help me up, but I waved him back.

"Get in the cave and extinguish the fire. I'm going to police up this area to get rid of any tracks we left last night." I snapped the orders with the tone my many years as an Officer had left me. The one Sandburg frequently chose to ignore, though I was pleased to see him give a nervous nod and disappear through the crevice entrance.

Taking branches thick with pine needles I swept the area, being totally random in my course. People trying to erase tracks in sand or snow frequently made the mistake of just brooming over their tracks. This left a noticeably regular pattern that was just as easy to follow as the original tracks had been. By sweeping erratically over the whole area as I backed toward the cliff face I obliterated our tracks and left no disparity in the snowy expanse.

Climbing to the ledge my arm complained only slightly the use and I was quickly in the cave with my partner.

Sandburg had been busy. As I had instructed the fire pit had been extinguished. But our packs now bulged with our combined supplies. It was obvious that he was preparing for us to make a run for it.

I moved toward him, and was a little confused to find him grinding something into a thick paste between two flat stones.

"Jim, come here man." He motioned toward me with his elbow as his hands continued to work. "I need to get you ready just in case what I think is happening, is happening." That made about as much sense as he usually made, even someone as experienced with the Sandburg zone as I was, couldn't follow that logic.

"Sandburg, what is going on?" As much as I was trying to run through various strategies to deal with Kincaid and his group, I was also concerned with what seemed to be happening to me. Or the Sentinel? Hell I'm starting to sound like 'Sybil', talking like the Sentinel is a whole other person.

"Sit, sit." Blair again waved me toward him and I squatted right next to where he sat cross-legged on the sandy floor. As soon as I was in range he took a large dollop of the goo he'd prepared and smeared it across my upper lip.

"Ugh! God what is that stuff?" I pawed at my lip as a smell like dead carrion bored through my nostrils. But as my hand went up to wipe away the foul mixture Blair batted it quickly away.

"Leave it Jim. You need to leave it there to keep you from smelling anything else for a little bit." He placed the stone with the remaining vile stuff near the back of the cave where he had moved the pallet and bearskin.

Just as I was about to make a comment the distant intrusive sound of engines caught my normal hearing ears. Sandburg must have heard them also as his head cocked for a second then he swung immediately toward me again.

"DON'T turn up your hearing Jim. It is important you just listen to me. Hear my voice man. Focus on me." He was standing next to me now, pulling insistently on my arm as he continued a steady drone of talk.

When I turned to again ask why, he just kept up the constant litany. "I'll explain it all as soon as they've gone by Jim. But right now I need you to trust me here. You need to just hunker down here with me, and we will wrap this bearskin around us both. Right, good. Good." Matching action to intent I soon found us both huddled at the very rear of the cave cocooned in the remains of an unlucky relative of 'Smokey'.

The sounds of motors of various sizes swelled, filling the cave. The high scream of snow-sleds arrived first. Their fast engines pushing them by only a short distance from us.

A few minutes later the more bass thudding roar of several powerful vehicle engines could be heard echoing through the whole area.

"Four trucks, and a couple of jeep's." I guessed out load, though the noise from them made it a safe guess Sandburg couldn't hear me.

Then the caravan of rough terrain vehicles moved away further up the mountain.

As soon as the sound had faded to a minor roar I was up and headed for the entrance. But I had barely gotten halfway when something snagged my jacket arm and braked.

"No senses Jim!" My partner barked in a near panicked voice. He released my jacket and moved to stand in front of me.

"You need to keep the dials down to normal." His tone had already dropped two notches into that steady almost hypnotic murmur he used to help me 'center' as he called it.

"What I NEED Sandburg," I ground out between clenched teeth, "is to understand what is going on. You are like a cat on a hot tin roof. And it looks to me like you are less concerned with Kincaid then with throwing my senses all out of whack?" I scrubbed at the stuff under my nose, but the odor clung undiminished.

I was feeling strangely antsy myself. I wanted to follow those dangerous noises as far as I could and resisting the urge to extend my senses was almost physically painful.

"Why the hell are you suddenly so adamant that I not use my sense's. I need to keep track of them. We need every advantage we can get and the sense's are pretty much it." I had begun to move around Sandburg, again heading for the entrance when he pointedly stepped in my path, blocking me.

"Jim, come on, sit back here with me for a few minutes and I'll try to explain what I think is happening." His hands were up on my chest, pressing slightly to maintain contact and prevent me moving forward. Somehow his touch helped me resist the near compulsion to get out and track the enemy.

Nodding agreement I followed him back to the bearskin. With the fire out the warmth of the cave was already leaching away and Sandburg was shivering from the chill and the post fear relief.

As usual seeing him uncomfortable made me uncomfortable and I pulled the fur up around his shoulders, after I had positioned myself right next to him to share my own body heat.

"Okay Chief," I grunted roughly as I heard his amused sigh as I fussed over him, "start talkin'."

He waited until I was relatively settled before he turned toward me with his body language screaming excitement, and a little alarm. I could barely see his face since the ambient light from the cave entrance wasn't enough to see clearly without using my enhanced sight. But even in the dim light I recognized his expression was alight with that 'Eureka' kind of look he got when he figured out a puzzle. His eyes all wide and calculating as he mentally added more and more connections to the picture. Like I said earlier, the kid was a natural born detective, he just detected on a much larger scale than why and how a criminal did something.

"Well first off Jim let me preface this by reminding you that you, Jim Ellison, are a educated, confident, and competent man of the twenty first century. You have excelled at everything you have turned your hand to and are pretty much an excellent example of a modern male."

Oh brother, when Sandburg started off with a flattering professor type assessment of me I knew I was reeeaaallllyy going to hate what followed.

"But?" I supplied with my voice dripping a combination of suspicion and sarcasm.

Which of course he ignored and barreled right ahead. He was in lecture mode and was oblivious to anything but his subject. "But you are genetically first and foremost a Sentinel." He was speaking faster, ignoring the periodic coughs between sentences. He warmed to his subject. "Your 'core self' if you will, is that of an instinctual, enhanced, protector. You normally modify the instinctual behavior to conform to the norms of the society in which you were raised. But only as long as it doesn't directly conflict with the need to protect your 'tribe'." Now his hands began to move, flitting all around to punctuate his sentences.

"But out here, in the 'wild' you are less reminded of social strictures. Plus the concussion from your fall may have muzzied your thoughts a little and let the pre-cultural inborn imperatives to supersede the nurtured impulse controls you have in place."

Muzzied? Pre-cultural inborn imperatives? "Whoa Darwin, back to English please." I couldn't keep the humor from my tone. Jeezz there were times when his intellect started oozing out his mouth and he didn't even realize he was speaking advanced textbook.

"Huh?" He stiffened at the interruption, but only for a moment. "Oh! Sorry. Okay. Let's see. You can take a wolf pup and raise it as you would a dog. Teach it not to hunt, to respect boundaries, not to bite strangers. All that kind of 'socially expected behavior' stuff. And as long as everything stays pretty stable in the physical and emotional environment, the wolf will be able to act like a dog."

He paused, more for effect than breath I think.

"But a wolf is still a wolf. If threatened it will still take your hand off at the wrist."

"We are talking about me here aren't we Sandburg? I thought you were the wolf of this pair?" I had to admit I wasn't yet catching whatever my partner was trying to explain.

"Not spirit animals! Follow me here guy. Yeah. You're like the wolf. You were born a Sentinel, enhanced and programmed to protect the tribe at all costs. But you were trained by society to conform to certain rules of behavior. You compete but have to 'play nice'. You have to catch the bad guy but instead of smearing him into paste on the wall you have to read him his rights."

I wasn't too happy with the image that was starting to build from his wolf/dog parallel. As I began to see where this was headed, I didn't like it at all.

"But now out here societies 'rules' aren't as tangible. You are injured, cut off from your territory, and have at least one member of your tribe to protect. Me."

"So I am a werewolf, and the threat from Kincaid is causing me to revert to my 'programming'?" I purposely expressed that in a way that would jerk his chain. I was not exactly pleased to think of myself as some throwback responding to knee jerk instincts beyond my control.

"Jim. Man this is exactly what I meant in my diss about your 'fear based reactions'. These instincts are NOT, I repeat, NOT a threat to your own self-determination. They exist to give what you already have quicker, sharper, stronger responses. But you are still YOU. The Sentinel is YOU….. there are no two halves. You don't 'turn into' the Sentinel like Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk." His voice was both exasperated and determined now. He paused for a moment to cough harshly but then stared intently at me, he was going to get through to me no matter what.

"Well genius, if I am the Sentinel then why can I remember whatever happened earlier in the woods. Hell I barely remember anything, so why's that?" I was snarling at him now. My dislike for the implications of this was starting to simmer hotter by the minute.

"You CAN remember. You just DON'T WANT to." He barked right back at me. "Think about it. Several times in your life you had sudden upheavals or traumas, and what did you do each time. Suppressed it. When you were young and your senses started to come on line, you denied their existence. When your mother left, you suppressed most of your memories and your senses. When Bud, your mentor/coach was murdered, you suppressed the whole event and everything around it. The crash in Peru and the death of your men… you still can't remember much of anything can you?"

His voice was a challenge for me to deny the truth of his words. But I couldn't. Every bit of it was true.

"So what you're saying is that everything that happened earlier today I was in control of, but since I wasn't comfortable with it I wiped out my own memories?" My earlier growing anger was sputtering out, to be replaced by doubts, and worry.

"Exactly!" Blair pounced in triumph. "All your memories are still there, waiting until you trust enough to let them surface. Like when you remembered about the murder of your Coach when you felt it was safe to. When you were all grown up and could catch the bad guy."

I listened to his delighted voice and smiled to myself. He may be right about the rest of this crap, but he was wrong there. It hadn't been the fact that I was all grown up and a cop that had made me feel safe enough to remember the terrible events of that summer. It hadn't been the fact that as a big strong cop I was then able to find and punish the perpetrator to put right an old wrong.

It had been Blair. Blair who accepted my enhanced senses and me. Who would always accept and welcome me into his heart and never see me as a freak. It had been my father's aversion to my 'unnatural' abilities that had caused me to suppress that whole summer. Locking away every memory until a bright and loving heart had thrown wide the locks and let the sun into all the dark, dark places.

"So if I want to remember, I can." I wasn't sure if I was saying that to myself or in answer to my partner.

"Yep, I can help, but you have to want it or no go." With him sitting next to me, warm and alive, I felt a security that belied our situation.

"I want to remember Chief, I think I need to come to terms with this for both our safety."

"Cool man." Was his happy response to both the words and the intent.

"But Chief….?" My question trailed off.

"What is it Jim? Second thoughts?" He wanted to help so much sometimes he seemed almost in distress.

"Can I dial up my sight now, it's kinda dark in here. AND can you neutralize this damn rotten goop you smeared on me?" The odor had been so foul I wondered if I'd ever be able to smell again or had it blown my nose's fuse entirely. "And what the hell was it for?"

"I guess dialing up your sight won't cause any trouble. Just keep away from the hearing and smell dials entirely. You see Jim, that's sort of part of what happened earlier." He paused and as I gratefully dialed up my sight I could clearly see his eyes become contemplative and his face scrunch up in thought.

"Do you remember finding me out in the woods rooting?" He began tentatively.

I concentrated, reviewing the trip back to the cave. As I got to the part where I extended my hearing only to find Sandburg gone, my whole body got tense.

"What is it Jim, what do you remember?" His hand was on my shoulder, softly flitting from there to my arm, stroking and rubbing reassuringly. Draining the tension out as fast as it formed.

"You weren't in the cave, I couldn't hear you so I turned up my senses to try to find you." The obstructive gray wall that previously had kept me from going beyond this point was no longer more than a slight opacity that I easily saw past, with him to anchor and secure me.

"I heard engines, several of them, and snow-sled motors, so I focused in tighter to try to hear who it was, friend or foe." The tension was starting to climb again; I felt a definite threat from the memories.

"You realized it was Kincaid and he was a threat to both of us. And right then I wasn't where you could find me. Sorry Jim. My timing sucked. Your needed to protect your remaining tribe member, me, and I'd gone and disappeared on you. Must have thrown your protective instincts into overdrive." He was assessing this new bit of information even as his presence was reassuring me and allowing me to continue.

"It wasn't just Kincaid." I ground the words out, trying to relax my jaw that was tightening the further into the memory I went. "There was more, a smell."

"The other Sentinel." Blair's voice was barely a whisper, soothing and careful. Helping to stabilize the bubbling anxiety I felt.

"You knew?" This came out with both a little shock and frustration. How had he known?

"I figured it out after you went all defensive and territorial. That particular body language is a little hard to forget." He tried to be flippant about it, but I suddenly flashed on what event and what body language he was remembering. Damn could either of us ever totally get over that day?

"Try and take this step by step Jim. Can you tell me what you remember? How you felt?" The need in his voice acted almost like a compulsion on me.

"I remember somehow, as soon as my senses nailed him I just knew he was like me. And from somewhere I also knew, knew in the deepest part of me, that he was a threat and had to be dealt with."

"Why? Can you try to remember what made you feel that way Jim? I mean can you figure out what motivated the impression he was a threat?" His voice now almost hypnotic in tone and cadence, directed me deeper into my memory of the time.

"He was a Sentinel, but not in control. His senses where making him nuts. He was growling and complaining the entire time I listened in." I could clearly remember now. Piggybacking my hearing to the smell, ignoring the roaring engines that surrounded him.

"He was snapping at Kincaid about how all the load noise was blowing his head off, and the light was to bright for his sunglasses to manage. Then his smell and touch were cutting in and out because he'd start to cough and choke one minute and then curse and say his jacket felt like sandpaper."

Listening in had been like reliving my own discomfort when my senses had been out of control, swinging up and down one minute to the next. If Sandburg hadn't found me it wouldn't have been to long before sensory overload would have gotten me a one- way ticket to the funny farm.

"What he said, that's what clued you to the fact he was enhanced also?" His soft question pulled me back from memories of an even earlier time.

"No. I knew he was a Sentinel from his scent. It was like what I smelled on you when you had been with Alex, and then later when she and I meet." Even as I said the words I tried to call them back, to rephrase them or take the tone of betrayal from them.

Luckily though Blair knew what I meant and didn't let the words unearth any old hurt. Instead he let his scientific mind latch onto the implications.

"So Sentinel's DO give off a distinctive type of scent! Or maybe a specific pheromone. I wasn't absolutely sure. I wonder if there might be some kind of litmus test for Sentinel abilities based on that trait." There was an excited trill to his voice now. "That's why I put that compound under your nose. I figured if smell had set you off before I needed to completely obliterate any chance of you smelling the other Sentinel. I didn't want you reverting to the non verbal Gort stand in again."

Almost as soon as he digested the new piece of Sentinel data his face turned to me impatiently. "Go on man, this is like so cool!" I only shook my head in wonder.

"He was on one of the snow-sleds, he was Kincaid's hunter in case the tracking device failed." I was growling a little now, and tried to keep control of the anger that the memories had tagged with them. "He was supposed to go ahead and find where we were and lead the rest to us. He was dangerous and had to be stopped." The last bit came out with the conviction one would discuss killing a venomous snake in your home.

"Again man, why? I mean from the sound of it his senses weren't really an advantage at the time, more like a distraction. What made you label him a more urgent threat than the rest of Kincaid's lunatic corps?" The persistent question, gently asked prevented me snapping out that it was obvious. So instead I tried to analyze my feelings just then.

"He wasn't able to really control his senses to perform at their peak, but he still had them. If they spiked at the wrong minute he might smell or hear or see some trace of our route and follow it." I still felt the urge, even with just remembering him, to go and track him down. Pre-emptive strike.

"So you felt he was a threat because he was more able to lead Kincaid to us then a un-enhanced man would be. So even though he was a secondary danger compared to Kincaid, he was primary because through his senses he could lead the greater danger to us?" It took me a moment to follow that convoluted bit, but then shook my head at his misunderstanding.

"No. He was the major threat because as a Sentinel without control if he found us he would be driven to challenge me." I was almost spitting out the last there. The gathering anger was starting to get more than even Sandburg's steadying presence could ameliorate.

"Okay, you've lost me here." My partner's face was screwed in a tight frown of confusion. Shaking his head he looked up at me trying to understand.

"I don't get it. Firstly with his senses playing hide and seek the other guy would guarantee being beaten by a more powerful, more in control Sentinel. Secondly he wouldn't even know he's a Sentinel, you and Alex didn't when you came 'on-line' as it were. So he wouldn't know what these impulses he's having mean. Remember even when you smelled Alex scent on me you didn't figure out the weird feelings and visions you were having was because another Sentinel had invaded your territory. So even if he did sense your presence like you sense his, he wouldn't know what it means. Furthermore we aren't in your territory. Cascade is heaven knows how far from here man. And I doubt if he lives out here normally either, so it isn't his territory. So you don't have anything for him to challenge you for."

"Yes, I do!" My voice hissed as I spat out the words vehemently.

"Huh? What?" He looked at me with those quiet, innocent eyes. He really just did not get it.

"YOU!" I almost shouted what to me was so damn obvious. But all I saw was continued bewilderment in his expression.

"Me? Jim man, you are like making no sense here. I am part of your 'tribe' so you feel you have to protect me. So maybe you feel because I'm valuable to you I'd be valuable to him. But I'm nothing to this other Sentinel, other than a target Kincaid has pointed him at. He's just one of the gang, with the same whacked out agenda of the rest of those jerks. Find us, catch us, kill us."

"No." I could remember the feelings the other Sentinels spore had brought to the surface. I also remembered the knowledge or memories that had sprung full-blown into my head from some unknown but undeniable source, fanning my rage. Almost like a vision delivered start to end in a flash.

"If he catches your scent he will come for you. He may not even know why. But he will be drawn to 'acquire' you by any means necessary, and he'll try to kill anything that gets in his way." If his hand hadn't been clinging to my arm, soothing some of the tension from me I would have gotten up right then and there and started stalking the 'other'

. Now that I was remembering clearly the earlier event I was also reliving the intense need to both get Sandburg somewhere else, fast, and confront and kill this competitor for My Guide.

Because that is what I knew now. With complete conviction I KNEW, Blair was not just a teaching fellow who happened to have an interest in Sentinels and happened to find me. He was a predestined extension of me, just as I was a predestined extension of him. PERIOD.

"You need to chill some Jim and try to logic this out. I think maybe what happened with Alex and me and being out here in constant hazard has maybe pushed your instincts a liitttllee bit overboard into paranoia. Where are you getting these wild ideas? I mean did you hear him talking to himself or something? Listen to what you 6're saying! Your reading stuff into the situation that doesn't exist." Sandburg's expression was priceless. Odd that the guy who always seemed so open minded about the weird and unusual seemed so intent now on denying what I saw as obvious.

"He's a guy who might just have a little more chance of detecting us then those other losers, but what makes you think he would be impelled to fight to get ME?"

"Because I would if I were him." I knew I was going to have to explain my new surety. Not just to get him to understand the immediate risk the other presented. But also for once and for all let him see who and what he was.

27

"Because I would if I were him." He said with absolute conviction in his voice. He was looking at me with such intensity I could feel it even though the faint light made it difficult for me to see him.

Damn. Now what. Was this a Sentinel flashback to when his failure to react lethally to Alex's invasion of his territory had resulted in my death? Something had caused him to create this weird challenger scenario and cast me as the prize. I hoped to hell this wasn't some obscure symptom of brain swelling post concussion.

I quickly squashed that idea, no negative thoughts! Think only good things. Positive things. Yeah, I'm an anthropologist in the middle of the frozen armpit of Hades, being hunted by the entire reject cast from Deliverance and my best friend was either suffering a paranoid episode or was hallucinating from a head injury. Yep, positive thoughts R' us!

"Okay, so it is essential that we just avoid him. Stay downwind, and downhill. If those creeps are all following the tracking device now that bunny may keep them hopping." I paused as I heard myself, "Sorry, forget I said that. Anyway, it may be a while before they figure out they've been had. So lets get moving. Your ankle seems to be in pretty good shape and we've had a good nights rest. So let's just go!" I clambered to my feet with every intention to get headed downhill. Except I didn't get far as Jim caught hold of my wrist and didn't let go and didn't get up.

Unfortunately it was the same wrist he'd latched onto in the woods earlier and it was still unpleasantly sore. I gasped as the joint throbbed in renewed discomfort.

I couldn't see Jim well, but as soon as I felt the pain I felt his hand drop away and him jump to his feet beside me. "God Blair, I'm sorry!" His voice was dripping with guilt.

Ignoring the soreness I made a point of reaching out and using that hand to grab his arm. "It's okay big guy. It doesn't hurt, you just sort of caught me off guard and the twinge threw me." I hoped with his senses not fully tuned in a little obfuscation could sneak by.

"It's not okay Sandburg. Your wrist is seven shades of yellow, black and blue. It's swollen and it 'twinges' as you call it, every time you move your hand." His self loathing was getting more pronounced, I had to distract him. Jim had guilt down to a fine art.

"Listen, forget it. Do you think maybe we should follow those truck tracks back down the mountain? I'm not a tactician but if those trucks made it here then they must have found relatively even terrain. And they've torn the ground up so much our tracks would be hard to distinguish if, I mean when, the other Sentinel comes hunting. I think we should like get going as soon as possible, don't you?" I couldn't see him well enough to know if he fell for it so I just stood waiting.

I felt him shift next to me and a hand gently took my elbow, "Come on Sandburg. Let's move to the front. The rocks that were near the fire are still holding some heat and it's a bit warmer. Also it's light enough for you to see better."

For the moment the seething anger that he had been displaying for so long seemed to be completely locked down. His touch on my elbow was extremely light and careful.

Apparently he was just exchanging the aggressive mode for the 'Blessed Protector' mode. Wrapping all his senses and thoughts around me had managed to distract him from his instinctive hostility over the other Sentinel's presence.

Once he had me resettled near the entrance, pulled the bear fur around me and carefully checked out my wrist he moved directly opposite me in the light and sat. I looked at the intense concentration on his face, reading the effort he was taking to organize whatever he was going to say.

"Jim, don't you think we need to get going here." He was staring at me now and it was starting to creep me out. "I mean Kincaid's an ass and all, but when he finds our bunny friend he's going to figure there aren't that many ways down off this mountain side. He'll start downhill at mach six after us." I looked expectantly at him. But he didn't budge.

After an aggravatingly endless few minutes he finally shook his head and began speaking.

"There is no way to outrun them on foot, Chief. Not with them on snow-sleds and all terrain vehicles." He seemed preternaturally calm now, like he had everything figured out. What was weird is that even though I didn't agree with his assessment of the other Sentinels menace, I felt calmer also, my absolute trust in him negating any doubts.

"Oh." Was all I could think to say.

He laid his hand on my forearm. "It's okay Chief. Rule number one, when you can't fight, run, when you can't run….hide!"

For a moment his gaze left my face to travel around the cave. "We've got enough food for two to three days, water from snow, shelter from the worst of the cold, even plenty of wood for fire if they get far enough away to risk it. Our best strategy right now is to hole up and stay invisible. Maybe they'll get frustrated and go home."

Then his eyes returned to me. First he was obviously turning his senses to scanning me, so I tried to slow my breathing to minimize my conspicuous congestion. But all that did was get me started coughing again. His expression showed his concerns but also something else. I recognized it now. It had been just such an expression in Peru when he'd finally decided to tell me about the vision he'd had. The first time he'd seen his spirit animal, the black Jaguar. The vision that had made him consciously choose to be the Sentinel.

"Okay, so we are stuck here. But what about the 'other'? You were worried about him being able to track us." I watched his self-control slip a little on that reminder. But the flash of rage was gone almost the moment it materialized.

"They've going pretty far up the mountain. With all the snow we've had covering our trail, they don't have any idea of where to start looking for us." He looked out the entrance crevice. "As long as the other Sentinel doesn't get in the immediate vicinity he can't accidentally zero in on us." His gaze returned to me.

"You really shouldn't be using your hearing Jim" I really hadn't wanted him to risk that. It seemed that hearing the 'other' had been what triggered the earlier violent regressive behavior episode.

I got a bemused smile from him for that. "It's okay Chief. I didn't until just now, and I skirted away from 'Him' as soon as I catalogued his voice." Then his expression became serious again.

"Jim. You want to tell me what else is going on." I asked softly. "Did you have another vision?" There was less curiosity in my tone than concern. Jim's visions had historically been a bit traumatic. His loss of his senses in Peru, Incacha's death, Alex's incursion and my drowning, had all been wrapped up with his side trips into symbolic dream imagery.

A brief flash of pride glistened from my partner's eyes. "Damn you're good Darwin." He murmured admiringly. "Not a 'vision' as much as some kind of innate knowledge that I never accessed, or remember accessing before now."

"Huh?" I dissected that little sound bite. "Innate knowledge? As in 'hunch' or as in inborn instinctual knowledge like how birds know migratory routes they have never flown?" There were so many possible interpretations of what Jim was implying. The scientist part of me was anxious to pounce on any detail, especially if it added to my pitifully poor amount of documentation related to the mystical side of the Sentinel phenomenon.

I looked into my partner's oddly tranquil face. Jim, tranquil? This was certainly…..ummm, unusual. Even at rest he always seemed tensed, suspicious, ready to pounce. So like his spirit animal, Jim was always on guard, prepared to respond to any threat. Tranquil just wasn't what I normal associated as a Jim type verb?

"Sort of on the line of a memory." He said in a mellow tone. "Except what I know isn't from my own experience." Raising his gaze he captured my eyes with his. A contented small smile eased the normally harsh line of his mouth. He seemed to be aware of only me, mesmerized by my presence. And his breathing had taken on a soft rumble to it, like a cats purr.

"I think it's some kind of ancestral memories Chief. Stuff I've always known, but never been taught. But I avoided accepting. Just like at first I didn't really accept the senses. Then when I did, I still treated the Sentinel traits as something separate from me, like Jekyll and Hyde, me and the Sentinel." His hand came to rest on my ankle just in front of him, his thumb moving in a slow circle on the sock over skin and bone. It seemed like he wanted to retain some physical contact as he discussed whatever these new ideas were.

"But it's like you said, I was born a Sentinel. And with that inheritance came a sort of subconscious knowledge that my other half, my guide, was out there somewhere. And as soon as I meet you, I knew."

I listened in shock and excitement. Quivering with the need to ask questions, it took all my self-discipline to remain silent. Jim appeared almost drowsy he was so relaxed. Was this a rebound from his earlier hypersensitivity and tension?

"Now that I recognize it I realize I have relied on some innate information since the beginning." His dreamy affectionate gaze stayed focused on my face. "From the very first day Chief. I knew I was supposed to listen to you."

There was no way I could prevent my eyebrows climbing in disbelief at that statement. "Uh, Jim. Was this epiphany before or after you threatened to arrest me and slammed me into the wall?" My voice was gentle but I had to bring a little perspective to this. For some reason he was remembering that day with a bit of 'spin doctoring'.

The smile that lit his face would have had every lady at the station his willing slave. He chuckled fondly and leaned forward to thwap me gently on my forehead. "Actually it WAS exactly when I plastered you to the wall." Bringing his eyes even with mine he kept his face so close I could feel the warmth of his breath stir the short ruff of my two-day growth of beard.

"Can you remember it Chief? I had just pushed you back into the wall and I was ready to rip your face off. You got pissed and essentially threatened me, and I just sort of stood there. I felt strange, kind of stunned. It didn't last long, not even a minute. But then I sort of followed you around obediently listening, and then blew up and ran away like I had a demon on my tail." The expectant look on his face made me dredge back up the memory of that day.

I found it a little hard to think of then real clearly. I had been pretty freaked, I'd found a real, honest to God Sentinel, but he was a very big, very aggressive, extremely angry giant that had pounced on me. Yet I had wanted him to stay.

But with his prompting I did vaguely remember being surprised when my adrenaline-triggered threats hadn't earned me a smashed face. The intimidating giant had indeed just suddenly paused and looked vague and disconcerted as I rallied enough to insult and threaten him.

It was startling, but looking back I realized he was right. As soon as he pointed it out I could remember feeling a kind of rush, a thrill that I had put down to the fact that I had found a Sentinel at last. But thinking back I remember also feeling an odd 'rightness' about being with this man, even if he was a representative of the legal system that had frequently persecuted Naomi and me for our lifestyle.

Yeah, I had wanted him to stay, to listen, and to tell me all about himself. The need had been physical as well as emotional. It was one of the things that had driven me to follow after him. Who knew that garbage truck would be bearing down on him? Hell! Who knew I could find the courage to jump in front of the truck bearing down on him? I hadn't thought, I'd just acted. Like Jim had accused me of earlier.

"What happened back then Jim?" I whispered quietly, shamed to know I had been oblivious to something apparently pivotal to my Sentinel.

"I found My Guide!" His murmur was a little awed. But I felt his statement was kind of anticlimactic.

"So?" My confusion in my tone. "What else man. I mean yeah, that's when we meet…. but what else, what has that got to do with 'ancestral memories" et cetera."

His hand moved to cup my befuzzed chin. "You don't get it Sandburg. A cop with hyperactive senses didn't just meet an anthropologist who would help him figure it out. 'I', Jim Ellison, Sentinel, meet 'you' Blair Sandburg, my destined Guide. And I knew it as clearly as if I had someone sit down and explain it all to me. I told you earlier that Sentinels have a certain 'scent'. Well so do Guides, especially their own Guides!"

My face had gone pale and my eyes were flared wide. Before I could speak though his hand dropped from my face and a guilty sorrow enveloped his expression.

"And as soon as I felt it, the idea of some kind of connection to you, some weird dependence, not being in charge scared me so bad that I suppressed it all. S.O.P. for me like you said. And I ran. As if I could run back to when I wasn't different, wasn't responsible for things I couldn't understand and control. I locked away the conviction that smelling your scent had clued me in to what and who you were to me." He looked shamefully at me, "I'm so sorry Chief. If I'd had the guts to open up and accept what I was offered then, all the things you went through, none of it would have happened."

28

I could see he was confused. And I wasn't sure I could properly explain what I needed him to understand. Right now it was all so clear to me, so obvious. I don't ever remember feeling this way. So together, assured and secure in my purpose as a Sentinel. And equally sure in the unbreakable connection between My Guide and myself. I understood what had always eluded me before.

God I felt so great! With Blair sitting there, my hand registering the flutter of his pulse through a small vein in his ankle, I easily dialed away the discomfort of my healing shoulder and ankle. The warmth in my heart dispelling any chill I felt from the cave.

For a moment I just sat there absorbing the sight, smell, sound, and feel of My Guide. Completely saturating my senses with him. Part of me noted the slight elevated temperature and his continued congested lungs; I would keep a close eye, or ear, on him. My guide.

As if somehow vibrating in sympathy to my own deep sense of well-being, I noticed that the pallor and tension in Blair also seemed to be draining away. But the curiosity in his eyes lost none of its intensity.

He reached down to gently lay his hand on my forearm. "Jim, I hear you but I'm still not getting it. I'm sorry, I'm really trying. You said that when we first meet you knew I was your guide. Your predestined guide? Can you like give me a play by play because I seem to be a little behind the learning curve here?"

Right then, feeling the way I did, untroubled by the warm affection and yeah, even love I felt for the invaluable soul across from me, if he'd asked I'd have ripped out my own heart and served it to him on a platter. He held it already, even if only metaphorically.

I cast my memory back to that first day at the University. The loud drums, chaotic messy room, the crazy grin. Pretty much everything possible to set my teeth to grinding. I remember thinking, 'This is a stupid move Ellison. This kid can't help you. Hell even if he could you can't trust a jerk like this with the fact that your senses are going crazy. You can't let your vulnerability be known by a stranger.'

Responding to some impulse I reached up with both my hands, ignoring the tiny twinge from the splinted arm. Gripping each of his shoulders gently I pulled him slightly closer so that I could stare deep into his kind eyes.

"Do you remember what you were feeling back then Chief? When I slammed you into the wall….. you just didn't seem….. well, as intimidated as I would have expected."

I saw a glitter of mischief in those topaz windows to his soul. He snickered. "Well I was so blown away that you had shown up I don't think anything could have brought me down. And I'll be honest with you big guy, I just knew you wouldn't ever really hurt me." For a moment his eyes held a kind of wonder…. he had been absolutely positive! HOW COME? Radiating trust he tilted his head and inquired, "What were you feeling Jim? Can you explain it?"

I scowled dramatically, remembering only to clearly. "Well Chief, truth be told I was pretty disgusted with myself for even being there. When I'd seen you in the hospital and then the REAL McCoy, came in, I knew you were running some kind of scam. But I couldn't give up on the chance you really could help. But I'd come hoping maybe some old, scholarly professor type had sent you. And then there you were, the antithesis of my every expectation, Revenge of Woodstock!"

Blair's eye's glowed with affectionate joy at my description.

"Uh, Jim… You do realize I wasn't even conceived yet when Woodstock happened." He snickered. "And you weren't quite eight man, so what makes you think you know what a Woodstock dude looks like?"

I reached to pushed back a lock of hair that had fallen forward across his face, hiding the gesture by finishing with a finger tap between his eyes.

"Obviously Sherlock, I watched the Movie of the Week version. Better than Cliff Notes." I intoned with my best mock Basil Rathbone.

"Hey, you mean you watch something other than ESPN?" He challenged with bogus shock. Then his expression became solemn. "I hope you know Jim, I really was sure I could help you. I admit I was totally jazzed on finding a Sentinel. I'd been fanatic about Sentinel's since I was nine. When Tina called from the hospital about you, I HAD to get you to come to me man. I would have done anything, just ANYTHING. But I would NEVER have jerked you around." The blue of his eyes shaded to gray as he scanned my face for confirmation that I did indeed accept that truth.

"You still don't get it Chief." I felt light with relief that what I now knew would soon ease Blair's own concerns about us. "I think it all happened just the way it was meant to happen. Some weird fate was definitely at work then."

I could see that my calm discussion of what I normally referred to as 'the hocus pocus stuff', was surprising my partner. But I just continued my reminiscing. He'd catch on. "When you started slinging around all that stuff about Sentinel's, I figured you were just some crazy kid. I'd lost hope. So I guess I started to lose it."

Eyes rolling Blair responded to that with a bland. "Yeah, I remember."

As I began to explain, in my mind the whole scene played again. "Listen you neo-hippy witch doctor punk, I could slap you right now with larceny and false impersonation, and you are heading real quick for harassing a police officer. And what's more your behavior has given me probable cause to shake this place from top to bottom for narcotics." I'd snarled the words with all the venom that my fear and confusion at the time had accumulated.

And then it had happened. Only now, years later, could I remember the series of discoveries that I had been unprepared to accept and had thus repressed.

I'd slammed the kid up against the wall, getting some perverse satisfaction from his wince at the force I used. But instead of the fear my behavior usually provoked, it just seemed to piss the flower child off. "Hey Joe Friday relax okay, look, you mess with me man, and you are never going to figure out what's up with you"

But at the same moment he was snapping back at me, my sense of smell spiked and for the first time I smelled Blair. Beyond the herbal shampoo and aftershave and deodorant. Or the tea on his breath or the feta cheese salad he'd had for lunch. HIS scent. A subtle mixture of a warm woody odor with sharp natural tangs like rain and musk. And the moment I inhaled that aroma something inside of me vibrated with instant recognition and profound possessiveness. I immediately found my pulse attuning to reflect his. And I was consumed with the unshakable certainty that I was meant to have this person beside me, and would do anything to keep him there. Like for Siamese twins who have been separated, when they see their other half and long to have back that vanished closeness.

The shock of that revelation stunned me into silence. And the gently drone of THE Voice reached down into me for the first time, taking control with an unrealized power.

"Now I know about your time spent in Peru and it has got to be connected with what's happening to you now." He'd bounced with excitement, not even noticing the disoriented look I'd worn. I struggled with the inner compulsion that directed me to hand over control to this other. But I'd always been a leader, a warrior, an officer, my natural need for dominance warred with a simple straightforward instinct; 'trust him, follow him, protect him'.

"Let me just show you something here. This is a monograph by Sir Richard Burton, the explorer not the actor. It's over a hundred years old."

Before me was a picture of an ancient warrior in a dusty old tome. As soon as my eyes focused on the image a repressed memory flashed to life. A native with a bright, noble continence, and a name, Inchaca. Words spoken in a humid jungle years before and buried under pain and loss and fear. "There will come a time when you will go back to your own lands Enquiri. Your true heart brother and Shaman awaits you. I have done what is within my powers to prepare you. He has waited a very long time, until you were ready to see what only he can show you and believe what you could not allow yourself to accept as true before. But now you are who you always were but had locked away, and he has become what you have always needed and sought."

With the trigger of the flashback, all my senses had then enveloped the bubbling, enthusiastic being in front of me. Heart brother, Shaman. Yes! Seemingly so young I still sensed an incredible mind and knowledge attuned to my own gifts. And then came the surety that somehow I was destined to stand with this boy, man, teacher, student, dreamer, for the rest of my life. No labels such as 'Guide' or 'Sentinel', only that two who were one, bound by destiny.

But even as my heart swelled with faith at the rightness of this, unyielding logic and cynical reasoning that had been pounded into me for years rebelled. I had been raised to only believe in what could be proved, touched, explained. Dreamers were losers, my father had extolled. Reality was competitive, unpredictable and unfair. In William Ellison's house there was no such thing as destiny. And people, who could hear, smell, taste, feel, and hear more than others were freaks.

This feeling of predestination defied all I had ever been taught, so it couldn't be real. Somehow whatever was driving my senses crazy was giving me hallucinations. That was it. This wild eyed kid with his talk of Sentinel's and dissertations was just some whacked out yoyo who wanted to use my problems to manipulate me or something. Hypnotic suggestion or something. This was all crap. I couldn't have these feelings. And furthermore I would never let another exert this kind of control over me. I had to get out of there…

So I had pushed away from the kid, ignored the intoxicating scent and buried the intuitive certainty, just as I had buried knowledge so many times before! Just that quick it was all blanked out and I had practically run out of the building.

"But I felt the pressure to return Chief. It was like I was splitting in half. One part of me wanted to get as far from you as possible and the other screamed to run back and stick to you like glue."

Right then looking at Blair I imagine he was feeling like splitting in half also. The scientist in him was positively sparking with excitement, wanting to explore every contingency of my revelation. The Guide and Shaman meanwhile were contemplating the implications of such an instantaneous bond.

I watched his every thought flash through those so expressive eyes. He'd never accepted my theory that he had always been a Guide and the same genetics that had uniquely enhanced Sentinel's also enhanced their Guide's. As long as I had known him he'd seen himself as just a guy with incredible luck. His interpretation of events was that I would have, could have, managed with anyone who could figure out how to keep me focused. That I'd bonded with him because of the simple expedience that he had been the only available option. In Sandburg's mind if another person had discovered my senses and tried to help me, I would have bonded with them just as a matter of course.

Unfortunately I had pretty much echoed that error for the first few years of our partnership. That had all changed after 'The Fountain'.

After Incacha came to me and told me how to revive Blair I had been faced with irrevocable proof that there was more to the Sentinel/ Guide thing than visions.

Until then I'd convinced myself that I'd hallucinated what I'd seen when we'd gone to Peru to rescue Simon and Daryl. Returning to where I'd lost my men, reeling from the realization that Sandburg was leaving for Borneo. Blair was right; I was the king of repressing. I just figured the whole panther schtick and conversation with my own image had been the result of worry, heat and post-traumatic stress.

But at the fountain Blair had come back, impossibly, unbelievably, when I'd done as Incacha instructed. I'd felt the power pulse from my hands into the cold, still form laying before me, seen the panther intercept and merge with the wolf and heard the stilled heart stir again.

At the time Blair seeing the same vision had spooked me. So I had used by usual coping mechanism, denial. But as I had had to face the facts of that day's event, it made it impossible for me to continue to deny the mystic nature of the bond between us. And further surety came when Alex placed me in the ancient reservoir and plied me with the drug that extended my senses far beyond their prior limits. It had been repeated images of Blair, beside me, covering my back, standing in the face of one danger after another, which had pulled me back from the addictive appeal of such power. His image had guided me, as always, back to my own path.

In the months that followed I'd began to piece together my own theory on the Sentinel and Guide. Even not remembering large pieces of the puzzle I still was sure of one thing; Blair would have been a Guide even if I had continued to suppress my own gifts. We probably wouldn't have connected. He would have lived out his life as My Guide without me. He'd have continued to teach and research and hunt for 'any' Sentinel. He might even have found one; Alex was proof that there definitely were others. Jeez, the thought of Sandburg finding that amoral sociopath first makes my stomach turn over with fear.

But I am sure that no matter what else could have happened, Sandburg would never have achieved with another the 'connection' that we have. He had been able to direct Alex how to stop the painful problems involved with her enhanced senses. Even shown her how to stabilize her erratic gifts somewhat. But she had always had to stay tuned down, though still more acutely aware then non-enhanced people. Without her own Guide she could never fully extend herself. And maybe that was what had driven her to seek the additional enhancement the grotto had offered.

I think that Alex had wanted Blair to be 'HER Guide'; desperately driven by a need she couldn't even have explained. I think she was so obsessed to claim any Guide that she had challenged me for the only one she knew of. Unfortunately all the weird crap going on made my senses more a disadvantage than an asset. I was so out of whack the fight in the warehouse, if Connor hadn't intervened, would have probably ended with my death.

I think when that failed she had gone to Blair with the intention of taking him and forcing him into guiding her. But somehow some instinct must have made her realized what I have finally figured out. Blair was specifically my guide and could be no one else's. He could help another Sentinel with the basics, but to extend a Sentinel's senses to their fullest took the soul deep trust of a mutually powerful bond. Just as she had recognized that having a Guide would strengthen her powers, she had realized that lack of a guide was a weakness. In a classic distraction she had taken from me the one thing denied her.

If she had found her own Guide earlier in life would she have become the merciless woman she had? Why hadn't she found her Guide? I had to wonder if the fact that she had perverted the whole purpose of the Sentinel gifts, veered from the true path of protector to become predator, had caused her to miss meeting her own destined companion of the soul. If I hadn't met Blair, what would I have become?

I was convinced that Sandburg had been 'MY' Guide since birth, maybe even before? Hell. I don't know how predestination works. But I do know that Blair and I were working our way towards each other from around the world and through our lives.

Being a detective, naturally when we'd first meet I had tried to do a little digging of my own concerning Sandburg. It was difficult. Backtracking the kid was like figuring the path through a labyrinth. Between his expeditions as wiz kid anthropology student and Naomi's wanderlust, Sandburg's feet had touched every continent on the globe.

That hadn't surprised me any. What had been weird was the realization of how often we had almost but not quite met. When as a nine year old my senses first manifested as much as I can remember it was in spring, the same month Blair was being born in a commune near Seattle. When I'd gone to camp in Wyoming at ten, Naomi had brought her baby boy to a commune not six miles away. When my father had gone on an extended business trip I'd been left with my grandparents in San Francisco. Naomi had been living on a houseboat not a block away. When I enlisted on my eighteenth birthday, I had been sent to boot camp in North Carolina, and low and behold, one nine year old Blair Jacob Sandburg is happily studying in a gifted child program in the town just beyond the base limits.

Even Peru, even then, when my team was shot down, a bright-eyed twenty one year old was part of an expedition to ruins just across the border.

So many near misses. But if what I suspected were correct then it wouldn't have made any difference. Back then if we had meet I wouldn't have been able to accept him. And Sandburg, he wouldn't have had either the knowledge he relied on, nor do I think he would have been so willing to finally settle down if he hadn't traveled so much already.

No, it had all been choreographed by something far out of our control. We were together now and that was that.

But what about Blair? When I had tried to get Sandburg to accept that as much as I was extra gifted in the senses department, he was mutually endowed with some preternatural talents, he'd dropped into scientific 'oh there's an explanation for that' jargon.

I'd never gotten him to acknowledge any of his way too exact spontaneous insights, or his on the nail hunches or ability to seem to know what people were thinking as anything but 'luck'.
The ease he could BS somebody into believing almost anything. He wouldn't even admit it wasn't natural to always be able to hit the right pony at the track, and never lose at poker.
He just couldn't, or wouldn't, see it as anything but luck, or coincidence or anything but a very real ability to see more than the rest of us, even Sentinels, could see.

Maybe I wasn't the only one with fear responses. I remember when as a little kid I had had to face the reality that I was seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling and tasting stuff my family and friends couldn't. The day I'd realized I was 'different'.

It hadn't been a happy day. My father had made me feel bizarre, unnatural, even perverted. I had been so upset by my own parent's reaction that I had suppressed my senses for twenty odd years.

Was it possible that unconsciously even free spirit individualist Sandburg didn't want to be 'different' either. He always seemed so up. Appeared to take everything in stride, like his whole weird upbringing had been wonderful. But I don't think Blair had ever had the wanderlust that Naomi had.

Though Blair loved his mother deeply, I don't think he had appreciated the nomadic life much. In those early days I remember the odd hungry look when we were working together. In all I had learned about my partner, I had never learned of a single ongoing relationship or strong bond with anyone except his mother. Lots and lots of short-term friends and acquaintances. And dozens of girl friends. But no best friends, no supportive family, and no home to run to when things were bad.

The day when I'd stopped calling him a 'ride along' and started to call him my partner Sandburg's incredible eyes had looked at me with such unimaginable joy and thanks I had felt oddly heartsick that something so simple could mean so much.

Continued part 2

WOW. I mean….. Wow! I sit there looking at him. So much to absorb and process. I'm damn near overwhelmed. I chose to focus first on the less emotionally charged statement he'd made. Jim seemed to be saying that I had a distinct scent that marked me, not only as a Sentinel Guide, but Guide to a single, particular Sentinel, James Joseph Ellison! The implications were incredible.

But it could also be open to interpretation. Had I been born with some particular genetic inclination, that for want of a better label we had called Guide skills? Additionally, had that genetic niche been exclusively aimed to join up with a specific genetic counterpart enhanced individual, i.e. Sentinel.

If so, why were Jim and I different ages? If there were some symbiotic co-dependency between such genetic pairs, then wouldn't it make sense that they should be born as pairs?

Or if not, shouldn't the Guide be born first. I have to admit I would have been a lot more comfortable in my role if I had had a lot more years of preparation before having to be responsible for the mental and physical health of a person who was strong and stubborn but could be laid low by cold medication! And maybe Jim would have listened to me more if I had been older and more experienced then he.

Well, maybe not though. So far the two Sentinels I'd had experience with had been extremely alpha in nature, aggressive, dominant and action oriented. Maybe the Guide being born later minimized dominance hassles. The youngest of the pair would naturally defer to the older, more experienced member of the team. Also the Sentinel's had a major league protective streak. Being born earlier would allow the Sentinel to be more mature, experienced and physically developed, by the time the Guide was born. Making the Sentinel more able to protect the essential other half of the pair.

After the mess where Jim had remembered the murder of his Coach and mentor, Bud, he had told me he first realized he had really acute senses in the September of the year before. The same month and year I had been born? Was there really a connection?

What if the link wasn't from birth? Was it possible that the 'scent' that Jim described as 'Guide' scent was in fact triggered by exposure to a Sentinel? Maybe there was indeed a genetic component to the Guide, but maybe it was latent and only the meeting of two mutually compatible individuals allowed the Guide nature to manifest, triggering the tell tale scent Jim had noted. That would account for what he considered as the scent being specific to him. Maybe when exposed to a compatible Sentinel, someone with the Guide gene instantly attuned their scent to that of the compatible match.

Attuned their scent? Humans can't do that Sandburg. Get a grip. But then I know a lot of people who didn't think a guy could see, smell, taste, feel and hear better than most hawks!

I am a scientist in terra incognito man. But I'm also supposed to be a Shaman, hell I've had visions and dealt with some stuff that just did not show up in ANY encyclopedia. But though I haven't yet figured out exactly what it was that Incacha passed on to me that terrible day in the loft, I have absolute faith that someday I will. I've even died and lived to tell about it! So both the academic and the spiritual side of me had to admit that I have seen and experienced way too much to deny that really ANYTHING is possible.

So it was possible that I was somehow marked with a signature scent that had announced my viability as a Sentinel's Guide. I really would have to do some research, maybe some tests! Oppps, needed to hold off on plans until we were both off this damn mountain. I wanted to understand everything about the Sentinel gift, but my first responsibility was to be Jim's Guide and friend.

It took a moment to refocus on the here and now, on Jim's impassioned statement. This was the second time this trip that Jim has opened up about things that normally he would shy away from thinking about, much less talking about. Though a part of me still was alarmed by this change, most of me was just warmed by the deep connection he was confirming. I knew how much Jim meant to me, but it was mind-blowing to consider he felt that close in return. WOW!

I looked up into his quiet gaze. Jim's eyes were focused on me with the intensity that only a Sentinel can bring to bear. I saw his eyes concentrate on my features as if memorizing each detail. Then he looked beyond me, deep in thought, considering some memory or idea. But before I could query him on what he was thinking his head tilted slightly in a posture distinctly familiar to me.

Remaining quiet to allow him to listen without distraction, I still laid my hand on his shoulder to anchor his senses. He continued to listen for a few more minutes and then his face broke into a feral grin.

"Come on Chief." He said softly and suddenly before I knew it he had glided to his feet and passed through the opening in the cave. Totally unprepared it took me a moment to untangle my legs and follow. I found him just beyond the entrance, standing statue like. His gaze fixed up the mountain.

"Three points to you Chief." He shook his head in bemusement. "Your bunny trick took out two snow sleds and one of the opposition."

Unable to figure what he meant my only response was "huh?" as I looked up the snow-covered landscape. When he turned to face me the look in his eyes held a strong trace of the instinctual Sentinel that had overwhelmed Jim earlier. A predator more than willing to put down any challenger.
Then he blinked and I saw his expression change to chagrin, eyes betraying a desire to call back his words. Seeing the questions on my face he glanced back uphill and then placed a firm hand on my shoulder. It wasn't hard to read that he considered lying, but he knew I would see through his amateur efforts so easily that it would just be a waste of time. Truth was his way. Blunt truth.

"The trackers on the sleds followed the tracer signal across what seemed to be a harmless snow covered valley. The other Sentinel bailed in time, but lost his sled." He said it gently, as if expecting some kind of negative reaction from me.

Backtracking through my memory I tried to think of what he could be talking about, why he was worried. And then I recalled my own misinterpretation of a snowy flat expanse. As realization hit I breathed out an astonished "the lake!" He nodded shortly, his eyes holding mine. And suddenly I visualized it all. The heavy ski bikes soaring across that deceptive white expanse stretched before them. The almost instant starring of fracture lines in all directions on the too thin ice. The crackling sounds of stress and friction obliterated by the roar of the powerful engines.

I knew from terrible experience how frail areas of that lake ice where. The vehicles might have momentarily outrun the destruction caused by their weight and powerful thrust, but instead of a reprieve, the delay would have been a death sentence. If the ice had given out at first contact the riders would have still been in shallow water. They would have had a chance. But the vehicles must have instead sped well out onto the icy platform before the fatigued frozen covering buckled and vanished beneath them. Metal ski sleds, heavily clothed men probably wrapped in weighty weapons would have sunk like anchors. In my oh so vivid imagination I could almost see the events unfold. Dead. My stupid trick had killed two men; no Jim had said only one casualty. But it made no difference, I'd caused a man's death, drowned… drowned in cold merciless water. Unbidden those thoughts collided with a memory, water, cold, no air, drowning…drowning… Oh God!

Suddenly I was cold, so very cold. A spreading bitter ice that permeated bone and muscle and soul with equal ease.

I barely noticed the tears that traced frozen tracks down my face. What had I done? God I'd caused a man to drown. Drowned! I of all people knew the terrible horror of drowning. The desperate struggles to somehow find air, the fight to hold in breath one more second, survive one more moment. The hopeless despair as the disobedient body pried open lips to release that last little gulp of oxygen and permit the final rush of brackish fluid to replace it. The acid burning pain, the stabbing spasm, the cold dark roaring over all the light.

There was no air, wheezing breaths whistled harshly in and out as I remembered THAT day. I felt suffocated, and then the stress triggered my struggling lungs to seize, and I began to cough. Each explosive expiration felt like my lungs would go inside out and my heart pounded fast and hard in my burning chest. I couldn't stop shaking and coughing. Frozen in the darkness of my personal nightmare. Irrational fear and despair convinced me I was going to die.

But as my world seemed to spiral into a dark void I felt sensation return with the realization that I was being pulled forward into a hug. More and more I became aware of the light around me attracting me back to the here and now. Almost instantly my heart started to calm. As my body's demands decreased my coughing spell also eased.

"You're okay. Breath buddy. Come on. Damn! I'm sorry Chief, I should have kept my mouth shut." I heard Jim talking softly right by my ear. I couldn't help but notice he was talking in what he had jokingly referred to as 'guidese'. Not too long ago he had told me that when he zoned and heard me calling him back, that my tone, language and delivery where different from my routine voice. Obviously he'd paid close attention to the technique, because there was no ignoring the subtle pull of his voice even through the terror that seemed to have gobbled me down whole.

A last couple of honking coughs punched out of me before I could finally pull in first one, than another uninterrupted wheezing breaths. Able to draw in air at last, the panic that had triggered the flashback eased enough for me to manage some self-control.

It took a second to understand the encompassing brown that filled my vision was because I was held up against Jim's chest and I was eye level with the collar of his heavy leather coat. Recalled to the present I fought down the anguish I felt. I had been responsible indirectly for taking a life, by a means I would not wish, literally, on my worst enemy.

But as much as it tore at me to accept that fact, I was also responsible for doing my best to keep my partner safe. The man had died because he was up here hunting a man who I would do pretty much anything to protect. Indirectly or directly, did that include killing? As I considered that question I now knew sadly that it did. When had I turned that corner? When had I begun to assign various degrees of value to life? When I was young I had been convinced that I would rather die than take another persons life, any other person. But I realized that I had indeed changed. To protect Jim, or Naomi, or Simon and the guys, I was and am capable of crossing that line. Lord.

As if reading my mind I heard Jim's voice descend even further to a gentle whisper. "You didn't kill him, Chief. That guy was here to kill us and bad luck stepped in and punched his ticket."

I rolled my face so that my forehead was pressed against Jim's coat, just above his heart. He was trying hard to convince me I was blameless, I knew that. But it wasn't just that I'd been responsible for a death, but how the man had died that tore at me.

"He drowned Jim. Because of my asinine idea a man drowned!" My voice climbed on the last word. I couldn't help it.

"Yeah, I know Chief. Shit I really wish it had been another way, any other way. I wish to hell he had been fried in prison. I know this is ripping you up buddy. But I have to tell you I'd happily drown the whole lot of them if it was the only way to get us out of here alive." The arms wrapped around me tightened noticeably as he became increasingly angry.

Cautiously I took a deep breath, which wasn't easy, my lungs congestion had not been helped by the coughing fit. Pushing away from Jim I tilted up to look into his stony continence. There was no misreading his expression. The Sentinels need to protect guide and tribe meant no quarter expected or given. I remember a phrase Jim had once used when talking about his Black Ops days, 'terminate with prejudice.' To him there was no ethical dilemma connected to killing any of those men hunting us. As cop and Sentinel and friend his priority was our safety, he had no problem with the idea of putting down any of Kincaid's group to accomplish that end.

Looking into the feral commitment in his blue eye's I felt no condemnation for his willingness to kill, I now recognized within myself the reality; I would defend him also with lethal force if it were necessary.

A man was dead. His end had been in a manner I would never condemn any human being to. But I would not mourn the man, only the lose of a life. And even that would have to wait. Now was the time for survival.

Stepping away from Jim I forced myself to lock away the raging emotions. Later I hoped I would be able to meditate and maybe process all this, especially the realization about myself. But right now the present was enough of a challenge,

Even as I was pulling away I noticed Jim's stance stiffen as he tuned his senses back toward the summit. His telltale head tilt was all that separated his posture from a soldier at attention. When he seemed to stiffen I knew that his sharp focus had spiraled into a zone. Shaking off my creeping tiredness I extended a hand to rest on my partners rigid arm, and squeezed. Casting his senses out over this great a distance almost guaranteed a zone. But that was why a Sentinel needs his Guide.

30

It was like floating in a dark ocean, unable to discern up or down. Even as my hearing pulled me towards an insistent voice I realized that I had zoned. Damn. I was really on a roll. Lets see how many ways I can stress out my already ill partner.

Prior to working with me the teaching assistant had lived his philosophy of non-violence. He had believed all life was of value. The first time he had had to deal with a violent death had left him shaken and ill. Though he had gotten better at hiding his upset, I knew that each time he had been shown the inhumanity one human could visit on another had chipped away at his optimism and faith in his fellow man.

But one thing he had managed to hold tight to was his commitment to not taking another life. Repeatedly in hazardous situations he had refused to use deadly force, somehow out thinking his opponent and still coming out with his skin intact.

I should have known better. When my hearing had followed the engines of our pursuers up the mountain and heard the furious ranting of Kincaid and the circumstances of the loss of his two fast snow vehicles and one of his men I should have kept my mouth shut. I of all people knew how this would affect the compassionate man I called friend. The death alone was bad enough, but by drowning!

Shit, Sandburg still had nightmares about Alex and that damn fountain. Of course he didn't admit it to me usually. But though he could obfuscate with the best of them, his panicky heart rate had woken me on many a night to listen in despair as he muffled gasped denials and sniffles into a pillow.

But the part of me that was tuned 100% to keeping him safe had been extremely satisfied to have the 'enemy' denied his fastest vehicles and I had seen the death as one less danger to me and mine. I had spoken as a defender pleased with the unplanned strategic blow struck against the bad guys, not a man who knew his partner would blame himself for the drowning of another person, just as he had been drowned.

Then to top it off I had been lured away from his needs by a gunshot uphill, over focused on Kincaid's crowd and managed to zone.

Pressure increased on my forearm. As I came further back to myself I recognized his careful but firm grip. "Stay like this much longer Jim and you will be stuck here 'til spring man. It is freezing out here!" As I snapped the rest of the way back, unconsciously I sifting out all other stimuli and focused only on my partner. The timbre of his voice in 'Guide' mode, so soothing. His scent, so rich and comfortable. The bright, unwavering expression with eyes that seemed so innocent and too worldly both at once.

As soon as he saw my eyes blink and focus he tugged at my arm toward the cave entrance. "I don't know what you zoned on big guy, but lets discuss it inside please. It's getting colder than an igloo's basement here." With my senses zeroed in on him I could see he was wracked with steady shivers. When I saw the sweat on his forehead I worried his fever was worsening. But then the increasing gusts of wind registered on my own senses. Even a non-enhanced person could tell that in just the few minutes we'd stood on the ledge that the temperature had dropped at least ten to fifteen degrees and the wind had really picked up.

I looked up at the sky, noting the feathered wispy clouds boiling by overhead. Smelled the tang of ozone. Watched the wall of heavier clouds tumbling over themselves as they approached from the North West.

I easily recognized all the signs from my Ranger recon training. A part of me dreaded what they heralded. But from a strategic viewpoint I reveled in the trouble it would cause our pursuers.

My mind had already begun settling on immediate plans. "Storms comin' Chief. Major front, major temperature drop." I reported confidently. He turned to look at me and then nodded.

"That was one of the important responsibilities of the tribal Sentinel, warn of impending weather shifts." He intoned with the voice of many years of lecturing. He turned his own eyes heavenward. "Do you like... sense any additional details, like expected duration, severity or the such? Or just that the weather is going to change for the worse?" Ah the glint of the scientist was back in those previously shocked eyes. He had obviously decided to store his recent pain away to deal with later.

"We're talking major blizzard here Darwin. And it's more what the army taught me then the Sentinel senses." I saw a little disappointment wash over his deep blue eyes. "But my senses are definitely picking up on the storm also." Instantly the thrill of discovery glowed again. I mentally sighed. I guess I should be grateful the kid didn't want to vivisect me to get every last germ of Sentinel information out of me. About a hundred questions could be seen crowding up behind his eyes, jockeying to be first out of his mouth.

"No time to talk just now." I cut him off hurriedly. "We need to restock and batten down for a possible several days of complete white out."

As if reading my mind he moved to the edge and began climbing down. "If the bad guys are up by the lake they're at least two hours away. We'll need all the wood we can get, more food would be nice, no way I can be of much use for that, how much time do you think we have before the worst gets here? Any way you can whip up more traps and…"

"Sandburg!" I barked with familiar fondness. "Yeah Jim?" Guileless expression, already thinking miles a minute. "Babble alert buddy. Take a deep breath and let me talk for a second." I smiled as he grinned and nodded so enthusiastically that his woolen hat juggled forward over his eyebrows. But my smile hardened as he took the deep breath and immediately doubled over to heave out several deep coughs.

I started to pat him on the back, which my Medic training knew had no medical value, but from the viewpoint of comfort measures was priceless. After a couple of seconds he got his lungs under control and took some careful slow, shallower breaths.

"Listen Chief, we've got maybe three, four hours before the front hits. I'll go start getting some more supplies gathered, why don't you go get a fire started in the cave. We don't need to worry about Kincaid and his men seeing smoke in this wind and snow. And in a few hours they are going to be blind, immobilized, cold and miserable. We will be the last thing on their frozen little minds."

As plans went I thought it sounded pretty good. But Sandburg didn't even pause as he ignored me and lowered himself off the ledge. As he dropped lightly into the snow that had gathered at the base of our temporary home, he began ticking off points on his gloved fingers. "First, two can gather more than one. Second, I can swing an axe still… you can't. Third, in all this endless whiteness you know there is a very high risk of you zoning. Fourth, right now I need to be doing something useful, not sitting alone in a cave thinking too much." With a none to subtle glare at me he stomped toward the trees.

Great, I'd pissed him off again. One thing the two of us have in common, when we aren't feeling well we are touchy as hell. Shaking my head I quickly jumped into the cave, grabbed the axe and joined my partner.

The next three hours and twenty minutes were an exhausting blur. I quickly hiked off further around the curve of the cliff face and set as many snares as I could rig, then hurried back to Blair. He was ignoring small branches for me to collect and hump back to our home base. Instead he was attacking downed trees for their mid sized branches that would burn slow and steady. As soon as he had five or six separated from the trunks he would then hack them down to manageable lengths. We continued slogging away, collecting and trudging to the cliff wall.

All the time we worked the temperature continued to drop. I had to restrain myself from cold conking Sandburg and dragging him back to the cave. As he worked and labored his coughing became more and more frequent. Sentinel ears could hear the increasing gurgle of his lungs and wheeze of his breath. Sweat poured from him to freeze on eyebrows, collar and even in little icicles from his chin that he batted away impatiently each time he noticed.

I had tried to talk him into seeing reason. But he was obliviously in his stubborn mode. Another thing we had in common. By the third hour of steady labor he was slowing noticeably, and stumbling frequently. The last straw was when he swung the axe just as a coughing spell hit him, missed the chunk of wood he was chopping and almost amputated his foot.

Walking up behind him as he was tugging on the axe handle trying to pull the blade from the ground it had imbedded in, I use the expedient method of simply grabbing his back jacket collar and tugging backwards. So tired was he that he couldn't begin to catch his balance and simple fell flat on his back in the deepening snow. For a moment his eyes were wide with surprise then they narrowed to glare at me, "What the hell do you think you're doing?" He ground out through chattering teeth, as he struggled to coordinate his weakened limbs enough to get up.

Standing over him with my full six plus feet I returned his glare with interest. "I'm trying to keep you from killing yourself!" I couldn't keep the growl out of my voice. "Enough is enough. You are sick and getting sicker. You shouldn't even be out here in this cold and definitely not swinging around a damn axe." He had struggled up into a sitting position and I bent to lean into his face.

"WE. ARE. DONE!" I poked my finger into his forehead with each word, daring the raging anger in those eyes to challenge my own fury. "I am going to go check the snares and you are going back to the cave, start a fire, and get warm."

For a second we remained like that. Two furious sets of blue eyes refusing to give an inch. But then Sandburg's lungs betrayed him and cast the deciding vote by wrenching from him another series of coughs that sounded like he was going to expel a lung.

The effort and pain was so great that it had brought tears to the eyes that pivoted up to meet mine again. The heat in my gaze was immediately extinguished and with a thwarted huff I knelt in front of my best friend.

"Please Chief." I reached out and squeezed his shoulder that was still rigid with anger. "Please. We've got enough wood for days, and at the rate you're driving yourself you'll be sick as a dog when it's time to get off this damn mountain." Low blow there Ellison, I knew that Blair always worried about getting me hurt trying to protect him. Playing on that was not exactly according to Hoyle, but one thing about survival, if it worked, it was okay to do.

Sandburg seemed to deflate in front of me. The prideful anger in those eyes vanished and was replaced with a shamed guilt. I'd under estimated the impact of my low blow. With the shredding his emotions had had that morning, and the weakness his sickness added he suddenly saw himself as a burden to me.

Shaking my head in frustration at my own hopelessness in this sensitive, demonstrative stuff I leaned forward until both our foreheads touched. "I need you to get well, Chief. There is no one else I trust to watch my back like you." I felt the tremors that vibrated his body, felt him pull himself up straight and saw his inexorable intent. He would not slow me down when it was time to move, if he burst his heart he would still manage to keep up.

He cautiously got to his feet, bent and wiggled the axe handle back and forth a couple of times and then lifted the tool and walked toward the cave. His too careful steps showing how much it was taking just to keep from swaying and falling.

I watched him reach the base of the cliff and stand for a moment unmoving. I wondered if he had the strength to climb the rope. But I held back, an offer to help right now would be unbearable to him. After a few more breaths I was relieved to see him gather the line into his hands and unsteadily haul himself up and over. With great effort and focused dignity he used a hand on the stone wall to help him stand again and stride straight into the cave.

I pulled together the remaining cut and gathered wood and slogged back and forth until it was all slung up onto the ledge.

By the time I was done the wind was almost at gale force and the snow flurries so thick that visibility was cut to about twenty feet. Recognizing that I was out of time I jogged rapidly to the sites I had set snares. The limited time available had convinced me to set many too close to each other. But I had still managed to catch three large rabbits and another pheasant. I had also snagged a young fox, white with his winter coat that had probably been attracted by the struggles of my snared game. He must have just gotten caught because those sharp teeth would quickly have freed him from my little jury-rigged snares. But I saved him the trouble and cautious of the steadily snapping jaws untangled him and set him free.

Heading back to the cave visibility had deteriorated to the point I couldn't see my gloved hand at the end of my arm. Not wanting to get lost in the confusion of the white out I simply kept my back to the wind and walked straight ahead with my arms extended before me. Soon enough I rammed into the stony expanse of the cliff face and keeping one hand on the wall I walked through the deepening drifts until I tripped over the stump I had tied the rope to at the base of our ledge.

It took almost more energy than I had to climb the rope and pull it up behind me. When I turned toward the cave I pulled up shocked. No entrance? I faced an unmarred icy wall. As tired and cold as I was it took my sluggish brain a second to process the little inconsistencies enhanced eyes saw. Around the edges where the ledge and cave wall had been there were frozen puddles. Reaching out my hand I traced a faint line that proved to be the perimeter of an icy door. Parachute silk had been soaked and then hung over the crevice entrance to the cave. The harsh glacial wind had pushed the material into the shape of the crevice before flash freezing it. It was an ingenious way to both hide the crevice and create a wind barrier to the howling storm.

A couple of minutes later I was pushing past an obviously anxious Blair to the fireside. I felt frozen clean through and the warmth from the blaze was unbelievably delicious. I turned up my sense of touch to wallow in the sensation. "Great trick with the door Chief!" I murmured through chattering teeth.

I felt eyes on me and turned to see my partner, his face wane and pale. I also saw the worry in his expression. I'd been gone for almost two hours in the freezing, blinding cold and he of all people knew how easy such a monotone scene could trigger a zone. But he'd been sitting here in the warmth knowing that if I had zoned there wouldn't be a chance in hell of him finding me in this building blizzard, and there would have been zero chance of me surviving a zone in that bitter cold.

"I didn't use the senses." I volunteered reassuringly. "I had no problems and took no chances."
The response I expected was not the derisive snort I got. "Whatever man," the Teaching Assistant sounded more like a student protestor from the sixties as he folded onto the floor by the fire.

"Hell Sandburg, would you make up your mind here!" I was tired and my temper as usual flared whenever things got confusing. "Carolyn didn't have these kind of mood swings when it was her friggin' time of the month. You P.M.S or something? Because I can't seem to do anything right here." The sneer in my voice was undeniable. And even as I said it I regretted it.

That usually so expressive face that could be read easier than any book was now rigid in a continence that communicated nothing. Even his eyes were shuttered and unreadable. Bringing my icy gloves to my face I tried to rub the exhaustion and stress from my eyes. Plopping my catch beside the fire I folded down just across from the statue Sandburg had become.

"I'm sorry Chief,… Blair. That was uncalled for and untrue." I said with as much sincerity as my tired mind could muster.

"No, it is true." He responded in a flat inflectionless voice.
"No, it is not!" I growled back.
"Yes, it is." Softer.
"NO, IT IS NOT!" I was snarling now.
"Yes, it is." Sentinel soft.
"NO, IT ISN'T!" I roared.
"IS!" A little louder now.
"ISN'T!"
"IS, IS, IS!" A snicker.
"ISN'T, ISN'T, ISN'T!" I managed to choke out over gathering laughter.
"Mom always liked you best." Whined a totally familiar and unSandburg voice.

I lost it entirely, flopping over as I bawled with laughter. Blair had once joined me to watch one of my video's of the Smother's Brother's and had not understood my enjoyment of their whiney repartee'. But he had had no difficulty at all mastering an uncanny mimicry of Tommy Smothers routine. He had a finally tuned ear for accents, and could imitate almost anyone. I could still remember an early conversation between us about 'twangs' and 'drawls'.

"Damn Chief," I snorted as tears poured from my eyes, "One of these days!"

Across the fire I saw that though his face was still pale and wane, that spooky numbness was now replaced with that unquenchable sparkle that was so much a part of him.

"One of these days," Jackie Gleason's voice filtered from his mouth, "To the moon Alice, to the moon!" And his hands made the trademark launching motion.

I leapt the fire in one move and had him on the ground as I pulled the one guaranteed Sandburg silencing weapon. "No Jim! Not that!" His voice climbed the scale as my hands burrowed under his coat and began to wriggle at his sides. Even through the flannel undershirt Sandburg was the most ticklish person in the world. "NO! Oh please man, stop!" Laughter turned the pleading into a hooted series of barks. "Stop,stop,stop", snort, "stop, Please, man I'm gonna pee myself!" That stopped me.

"Ewwww." I grimaced dramatically as I backed away and Blair climbed to his feet. His smile was huge as he shook his head and marched to the cave entrance. "Hardy har har, I said 'going to', not did!" He disappeared outside and I pointedly didn't listen in. Barely a couple of seconds later he dashed back in, tugging at his zipper and covered with snow.

He shook like a dog and through chattering teeth he mumbled out a shocked "You would not believe how cold it's gotten out there." Finishing with the zipper he continued undeterred. "Wow, I mean I thought it was cold before, but this!" He shook his head in wonder. "Man the water almost froze on it's way out of the faucet, if you know what I mean!"

"Okay Sandburg!" I held my hands up in surrender. "That is way more information than I need."

Chuckling he came over and sat down just beside me. Turning toward him I focused on his face in the light. He looked like he'd lost ten pounds in the three days since this started.

"I am sorry buddy." I repeated softly.

"I know Jim." His face was solemnly understanding, but sad. "I also know that what I call being in touch with my feelings you call moody. I just wasn't raised to pretend things don't bother me." He looked at me and shook his head in no little frustration. "It just so pisses me off when you get all protective about me and stupid about yourself. I've been cold before. I would have been okay for a little longer, you didn't have to send me back to the cave like a fragile little flower! All I kept imagining was you out there, zoned, and not a damn thing I could do about it." He cleared his throat as he swallowed past a worsening soreness. "You took forr ev er man! Forever! We keep having this conversation over and over, and nothing ever changes. When are you going to let me do my job? When are you going to let me be your Guide? "

31

"When are you going to let me be your Guide?" I said the words that summed up my one continuing failure. All the time I've been with Jim, working with him, I've never really gotten him to accept that as the Guide half of this team I have responsibilities. By always falling back into his damn 'Blessed Protector' role whenever he feels I'm at all at risk, he prevents me from doing what is my whole purpose in this partnership. How can I keep him from zoning, or watch his back, if I'm not there with him?

"At some point Jim, you are either going to have to let me be your partner for real, or find someone you trust enough to become guide and partner." My voice was rough, less from my increasingly scratchy throat than with discomfort of what I was discussing. "If every time things get hazardous you are going to send me away then one of these days you're going to get hurt, or worse." I saw the denial form in Jim's light eyes but I continued before he could voice it. "It's true Jim. You've gotten great at controlling your senses most of the time, so you don't need a guide as much. The problem is now the times the Sentinel most needs a guide is because the shit's hit the fan big time. And generally that's when you tell me to stay away." I shook my head as my mind replayed the dozens, hell, hundreds of times I'd been told to stay back, stay put, or stay in the truck. "When you most need someone at your back, you insist on going it alone. You need someone man, and if it's not me then maybe it's time to look into finding someone else you can accept." My eyes dwelled on the fire, unable to escape the hurt of what I was suggesting. But I knew what I was saying needed to be said. "You said that guides give off a specific scent you can recognize. Well maybe we need to visit some of the other stations, check to see if there are any other officers that are guides. If you had a partner that was both a cop and a guide you'd have someone trained and armed to watch your back as well as fend off zones."

I had thought of this so many times, but never actually said it out loud. Partly I had felt that it would be useless. Jim was so firmly convinced that guide's were born not trained that he hadn't really given Simon or Megan much chance to see if with more practice they could improve their success rate at preventing or retrieving him from a zone.

There was also no way I could convince Jim to randomly take on a normal, full time cop partner. Someone who carried a gun and knew how to use it to watch out for him and balance his damn gung ho, get his man at all costs, Lone Ranger streak. Simon had told me how hard it had been for him to get cooperation when he had assigned Jim to Jack Pendergass. Jim didn't do partners well. He had lost too many people in his life and I think unconsciously he did everything in his power to not get used to depending or needing anyone. That way it would hurt less when they left.

But now I knew that Jim was capable of picking individuals who were, or could be, guides, out of a crowd. With that option available maybe he could find a veteran officer who had more in common with him then I did. Or even if it was a rookie, hell I'd learned a lot in the last few years and I'd never even gone to the academy. Jim could mold a rookie into a damn fine cop, and I could teach him the ropes to being a guide.

My stomach churned and clenched as my mind played out the scenarios of Jim with someone else at his side. Some internal instinct screamed the wrongness of such a scene. I couldn't help a momentary impulse to just drop the whole subject. Selfishly I considered what losing Jim would mean to me. How empty my life would be if I just went back to being a nomadic academic. I had never had a friendship as strong and consuming as the one I shared with Jim. Even losing out on the Sentinel and Guide relationship wouldn't hurt as much as the loss that I, Blair Sandburg, would feel when Jim Ellison was not infused into almost every aspect of my existence.

But if my returning to the tame merry-go-round of University life could assure some greater measure of safety for the stubborn, gruff and unbelievably kind man I unashamedly consider precious to my life, then so be it.

"Wouldn't work Chief." I had sunk so deeply into my train of thought that I jumped slightly when Jim's response came from just a few inches from my ear. Looking up into his face burnished by the fires light I saw an expression of both concern and exasperation. "Yeah, I know now how to sniff out people that give off the 'Guide' scent. But that would only uncover other guides, not MY guide. YOU, and only YOU, are, and ever will be, MY GUIDE." His hand came down firmly on my shoulder and squeezed just shy of causing pain. "Sandburg… Blair. You 're right; we have had this conversation before. And nothing changes because WE don't change. This is too important for either of us to buck our natures. I know that you are willing to run the risks to stay handy when things go sour. That your instincts are screaming at you to be there for me just in case I need help with the senses." He brought the other hand up to my other shoulder, gripping that one tightly also. "But you have to understand…my instincts are just as strong to keep you safe. Try to get this Chief! I've been shot, beat up, hell I've even been blown up once or twice. I really believe that I can and will survive if things go south. Confidence, ego, experience, I don't know exactly why I feel that way, but I do. What I also know, what I finally learned after way to many mistakes," the squeezing had become fierce now and Jim's voice was more growl than speech. "Is that what I couldn't survive is losing YOU!" He shook my shoulders slightly, reminding me more of a terrier than a cat right then. "You talk about finding me another guide Chief. Do you know how many times I've thought that same thing? After Lash, Kincaid, and the others. After Alex I swore to myself I would find a way to get out of your life. Before I got you killed, again!"

Suddenly the harsh grip released me and Jim lurched to his feet. Stalking the length of the cave he continued talking through gritted teeth. "But nothing I tried worked. Simon, Megan, hell I even tried to work a few cases with Rafe and Brown alone to see if I could anchor off them." His hands fisted and released as he paced. "But I couldn't maintain focus with them." Looking up he shot me a knowing look. "You thought that if I spent more time practicing with them it would work out. I noticed the number of times you tried to manipulate them into working with me. But they aren't guides Sandburg. They just aren't. And no matter how much I want to keep you safely separate from my job and the crazy's I attract, you are my friend and my only GUIDE! No one else will work.

His stalking had returned him to my side where he glared at the fire in some displaced frustration. "Okay Sandburg, that's it, I have spilled my guts, again, and I warn you, all this warm fuzzy crap is about ready to make me ill. I care about you, okay? I can't change it, can't control it. And I sure as hell can't ignore when you are at risk. I can't say that I won't tell you to stay in the truck, or stay behind me. Ain't going to happen. Either I give up being a cop, or give up being a Sentinel. But I can't give up having you in my life. So what do you want me to say and do Chief? What will help you…me… us?"

Looking up into his face I felt that somehow he really expected me to be able to come up with an answer, a solution that we both would be able to accept. But I knew that he was right about one thing, neither of us was likely to budge on what we felt was such a major issue, the safety of the other. Maybe neither of us really had a choice. As frustrating as the current arrangement was, wasn't it still the lesser of two evils. We could continue to run the risks, together, because the other options just could not be even thought of. Jim giving up being a cop, a Sentinel… not damn likely! And I wouldn't, couldn't turn into a gun-toting Guide.

As he squatted there looking at me I felt the oddest feeling of Deja vu'. For a flash of a moment I saw Jim by a fire across from me. Except we were not encased in stone and ice. The air was moist with humidity, warm and rife with the rich smell of earth. Trees surrounded us, heavy with leaves and vines. Jim was tanned to a rich dark brown and his sun bleached hair hung past his ears. A strip of soft hand woven fabric wrapped across his forehead to keep errant locks from his intense face. He wore chaps below a loincloth and a vest all of suede like leather. His feet were clad in sandals with braided straps holding them on. In his left hand extended beside him were held several sharpened throwing spears barely thicker than a pencil and nearly his height in length. A pair of sheaths on his left hip held two hand-hammered knives with polished bone handles. The entire length of the skin on his right arm was intricately tattooed with a myriad of mystic symbols and a stylized but recognizable shape of a jaguar and a wolf leaping forth from a single heart. On the back of his right hand was a scar burned in the shape of a claw. His eyes looked into the jungle around us with the wary vigilance of a man expecting nothing but prepared for anything.

In my vision I sat with my legs folded comfortably across from this other time warrior. I was dressed in similar chaps and loincloth, but a heavy half sleeve woven shirt showed beneath my vest. My dark curls were constrained in a braid that hung to the middle of my back. A set of slender stilettos of a dark metal with small handles of the same metal, were strapped across my upper chest. A bamboo quiver was belted at my waist and I somehow knew it held a carefully crafted wooden tube and three dozen needle thin darts dipped in a fast acting, but non-lethal sap of a local plant. My entire left arm was identically tattooed as my companion but the back of my hand bore the branded shape of an eye. My own skin and hands bore the tough calluses and tan of someone who had labored hard and spent time in the sun.

For a moment my vision self looked up from the task of grinding some powders and saps in a stone mortis. Jim's eyes turned from the trees to immediately return my gaze. Eyes of similar blues meet and again reaffirmed the connection. Two bodies, one heart. Each gaze sending and receiving the same unwavering vow. For you… everything, anything!

A branch in the fire cracked and fell into the flames sending up a fan of sparks and cinders and shocking me out of my momentary hallucination. Where the hell had that come from? I know I have a fever, but geeeezzzz! Very weird. Yet…something about the vision. I had felt as much as I had seen. The deep soul connection between that pair had mirrored that which I felt for Jim. Was this some kind of mystic message, or maybe my own sub conscious? Whatever, it had somehow made clear what deep inside I already knew. We were meant to be a team. Maybe in other lives as much as this one. And Jim had been correct; the essential natures of the two of us couldn't really change. He would continue to chase trouble and I'd continue to chase him, he'd tell me to stay in the truck, I'd ignore him. We would drive each other to distraction over it. But I couldn't give up, not on the friendship, not on being his Guide, and not on him.

It was odd; with the decision made a burdensome weight that I hadn't even realized I was bearing was lifted. I almost sighed with relief. Watching me Jim must have sensed something because his eyebrows lifted in question. "Chief?"

"It's okay Jim. Just had an epiphany of sorts. I just realized you're right, you're irrevocably you and I'm irrevocably me. In some thing's we can't change our essential core selves. And as absolutely infuriating as I find the whole realization that you are going to continue to periodically be an overprotective dickhead growling at me to 'stay put Sandburg', I find comfort in the fact that I in turn am going to continue to ignore you to be your backup in spite of you if needed. We're a team man. Together no matter what. I can, and will be there man. Accept it! I finally have." I smiled with satisfaction and wasn't the least bit put out by the grumpy frown that Jim nailed me with.

"Dickhead?" He growled and squeezed the back of my neck threateningly. When I looked up into that intimidating glower that could send hardened criminals into thumb sucking regression I couldn't help chuckling. His expression may have promised terrible things, but his eyes were always so easy for me to read. I started to laugh harder which deteriorated into another spell of coughing.

"Just calling it as I see it big guy." I snorted out between honking coughs. The hold on my neck became a gentle massage communicating support. When I finally dragged in a gasping breath that didn't immediately trigger another cough, Jim had moved around to kneel beside me. Looking into my face his worry about my continuing lung congestion was almost palpable.

"Chief you need to get something hot inside you and then crawl under the covers." Funny how food was such an integral part of Jim's prescription for happiness and health. I swear the man could wax nostalgic about each steak he had had the pleasure to be introduced to. Right now I didn't feel as hungry as I should be considering my last meal was hours ago. But I was tired. No, make that exhausted. Everything I had…ached, and my chest felt like a steel band was being twisted tighter and tighter around it. And just to top it off even the blazing fire had not thawed the bone deep chill I felt.

"I'll eat later Jim. But I will definitely take the forty winks, in fact I'll probably take eighty, or a hundred and sixty, maybe even…" I was saved from trying to extrapolate the next in the progression by a gentle cuff to the back of my head.

"Knock it off Sandburg." He growled emphatically. "And you need to eat. Feed a cold, drown a fever. You qualify on both counts. I'll make up some rabbit soup and you WILL eat it. Clear?"

Wonderful, 'mother hen from hell' was in full attendance. I could tell by the glint in his eyes that this was going to be one of those conversations. He essentially would throw around orders. Expecting immediate and absolute obedience. Yeah, after all these years he knows that he hasn't got a snowballs chance but every once in a while I humor him and let him have his way. Seeing the barely restrained anxiety in his eyes I decided this was one of those times.

"Yes Sir!" I barked back and snapped the best salute I could manage sitting on the ground. I was rewarded with another thwack to the back of my head and an easing of the worry in Jim's eyes. Mission accomplished.

With the experienced efficiency that he had acquired both as a soldier and woodsman Jim transformed melted snow, animal fat, ugh, and rabbit meat into a soup that was so thick it probably could have qualified as porridge. With some prompting from me he did manage to prepare some of the tuber's I had gathered and he chucked them in also.

In the end I was presented with a shallow stone bowl filled to overflowing with the stuff. Having tasted some of Jim's idea of cooking I extended a tentative tongue to dip cautiously into the thick goop. Happily the taste was mild and not too greasy as I was prompted to eat every drop under the watchful, unwavering gaze of a Sentinel.

Lack of appetite not withstanding, the stew, (I refuse to call something that thick soup!) was tasty and the heat from it seemed to move out from my stomach to melt the icy discomfort I hadn't been able to shake.

As soon as I was finished I moved obediently to the pallet and tunneled back into the warm depths of makeshift bedding. I listened for a few minutes to the crackle of the fire, and Jim as he moved around preparing and eating some of his concoction. I had expected him to join me; he had to still be tired also. But I drifted to sleep so quickly I never even heard him finish his meal.

32

It was weird, having to fight the urge to tuck Sandburg in like some kid. But it took some discipline to overcome what I guess is the Sentinel instincts to be hypersensitive to the comfort of the Guide. And though I was a bit over warm in the close confines of the cave, that didn't keep me from making sure that the fire would burn undiminished for many hours to keep my ill and cold sensitive partner warm. I also checked the entrance to our little niche to assure myself that Blair's frozen panel would continue to withstand the wind outside.

Once I had ensured our safety for the time being, I joined my partner in his cocoon and was asleep in moments.

I jerked awake suddenly, after what could have been minutes or hours. It wasn't a subtle transition from slumber to half awareness to awake either. It was from completely out of it to 100% alert in a single heartbeat. I stretched out my hearing, the only thing of any real use in our current circumstance. But it cut in and out, spiking painfully on roaring winds and the rattle and slap of tree limbs. Feeling some urgent need I quickly refocused on Sandburg's heartbeat as an anchor and then sent out my hearing again. But I still couldn't find whatever had triggered this heightened sense of alert.

I didn't even realize that I had jumped to my feet and moved to and through the cave entrance. The snow was blasting the ledge but I was oblivious. I don't know how long I stood there like a statue trying to force my hearing past the shrieking wind and smothering snow. Maybe I zoned, maybe I just refused to let up until I figured out what I was hunting for? Whatever the cause I totally ignored my immediate surroundings. Or at least I did until a grip like a pincer latched onto my arm and Blair's hoarse voice tried to shout into my straining ear over the howl of the storm.

"Jim? Come on man, it's freezing out here!" I could feel the shivers that wracked him and the heat of his rising fever. I could hear the deep wheezing whistle of fluid in his lungs; smell the sour odor of sickness about him. A part of me wanted to rush him back into the warmth waiting only feet away. But even as I felt his need, his presence allowed my senses to lock unerringly on what had been nagging at me and I heard a deep raging growl. It took a moment to realize it was coming from me. Even with the wailing wind Blair heard the sound and immediately stiffened.

"Jim?" His inquiry was more to himself than to me, but I heard it clearly, even as I listened to another sound.

"It's him." I spat out through clenched teeth. My whole posture was rigidly aimed up the valley, like a bird dog on point. There was no way to see through the blanket of white swirling around me, yet I was able to tune out the cacophony of the blizzard to hear my enemy.

"Him? Him the other Sentinel him?" Blair's voice climbed the scale as his alarm further strained his inflamed throat. "How close?"

"To close! Probably only a hundred yards, damn him." My voice was hot with fury. How had I let him get practically on top of us without noticing? Some Sentinel! Some 'Blessed Protector'. So wrapped up in my anger and self recriminations was I that I actually forgot where I was and who was with me.

"How the hell did he get close in this storm?" There was still shock in Sandburg's voice, but even with the sore throat and teeth chattering from the cold, I noticed the hard edge that had come to it. He was worried, but not about himself, about me. And knowing that was enough to hold back my decent into that primal territoriality that has so spooked my Guide earlier.

Having followed the other Sentinels conversation for several minutes I had already pieced together the story and knew the threat was self-resolving. Turning I hurriedly herded Sandburg back through the opening in our cave into the waiting warmth. "Kincaid sent him to go to their base and bring back some more snowmobiles. He started out in the jeep before the storm front really closed in." Hearing was telling me plenty now, and giving me an assurance that the weather was going to neutralize the threat without my having to lift a finger.

"By the time the blizzard really got going he'd lost orientation, so he just followed the cliff face downhill. Wind, sleet, lose of traction, he managed to flip the Jeep practically on our doorstep." I kept my opinion that I felt the fact it happened right where it did was likely from the other Sentinel sensing Blair and getting distracted.

"Flipped the jeep! Is he…I mean did he…?" The look on Blair's face was a study in conflicting feelings. The gentle, compassionate teacher I knew so well, by nature wouldn't wish harm to a fly. But the protective Guide couldn't help but recognize the threat the other man was to his Sentinel and friend.

I considered lying, telling him that the accident had finished the man. Spare him feeling bad about the man freezing to death out in that hellacious cold. But the thing about that is every time I lied to Sandburg; somehow he ended up getting punished for my falsehood. Like I said before, the fountain had convinced me to never keep secrets from my Guide.

"Not yet Chief." It took some effort to keep the satisfaction out of my voice. But my thoughts, well lets just say they tended toward 'good riddance and go to hell.' Yeah, yeah, I know almost nothing about the other sentinel. Innocent until proven guilty and all that. Well when it comes to some guy working for Kincaid, strike one, hunting my guide, strike two, but another Sentinel working for Kincaid, hunting my guide, I was more than willing to be judge, jury and executioner.

"Ohh." The conflict on Sandburg's face continued for a few more seconds. But then I saw the gears in his quirky mind shift and a horrible certainty grabbed me even before he opened his mouth to confirm just what I knew he was going to say.

"While you get your stuff together I'll need to braid some of the chute cord into a length of rope. We'll need to be lashed together or I'll be lost in five seconds. You may be able to navigate in a blinding snow storm, but I can't."

"Sandburg you can't navigate in a parking lot with signs! But you don't have to. You are not going out there!" Worry, rage, protectiveness, possessiveness and simple common sense all made the sentence come out a roar.

He didn't even look up from his nimble but shaky fingers that were twisting several cords into a thicker cable. "There is no way you can manage out there in all that without me, man." He said matter of factly. "You'd overload and zone in a blink."

I looked at him, pale, drawn and sweating from fever. His lungs struggling to fill and empty, again full of a bubbling whistle that could only be the onset of pneumonia. Yet he squatted there, preparing to go into a blizzard to save someone whose purpose was his and my death. Insanity! IT WAS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!

My hand landed on his shoulder and gripped hard enough to draw a gasp of pain. "YOU are not going Sandburg. And you don't have to worry about me… I'm not either. Neither of us is, Chief. Get this through that loony brain of yours…HE IS THE ENEMY! He isn't some innocent hurt through no fault of his own. He was out there because he is hunting us, he wants us dead." He flinched as the stone hardness of my words pelted him.

My jaw ached it was clenched so tightly. I felt like I had to drive each word into him, like a stake into a vampire. I had to force them into his heart and soul and MAKE him accept them. Make him give up the unreal belief that every life was of irreplaceable value.

And then I looked down into his face. Damn!

It was all there for me to see and recognize. Even though his visage showed the ravages of the last few days, his eyes held that deep, irrevocable strength that couldn't be denied. The steel that held him fast to his convictions in a world that made doing so a constant struggle. Double damn, this was definitely going to be a battle royal. But even though I knew what that look meant, I was not going to let him get away with it.

"DON'T!" I roared. "Don't give me that "we can't leave him out there to die" look. We can, and WE WILL." I glared down at him. My icy gaze meeting his calmly warm blue eyes. "It is well below freezing, there are gale force winds, and in this crap even enhanced senses won't be of much use. There is no way I'm going to risk death to save someone who would gladly kill both of us!"

The deep blue pools of calm were definitely troubled by my last statement. I knew I had won a point with that. Sandburg had thought that my senses cancelled out the hazards of the storm. Even if his beliefs drove him to attempt to rescue even a villain, there was no way Blair would risk my life, not under any circumstances. I felt relief and oddly humbled by my surety of how much Blair valued me.

The distress in his eyes was painful to watch as he thought about a man, any man, feeling life be leeched away by the bitter draining cold. His own sensitivity to chills probably made him even more empathic of the situation than usual for him.

I resisted the impulse to throw out any platitudes like death by freezing was supposedly painless. Or that he would probably slipped into unconsciousness within a few minutes of the accident and not even suffer the fear of his situation. Such things would not make the compassionate anthropologist feel any better.

For a heartbeat I just shared his sorrow, even if it was for someone I would have gladly strangled, respecting Blair's values.

But then the look changed. Like a television channel suddenly being switched I watched the steel return. With dismay I watched his fingers return to twisting cord into rope.

Had I misread him?
With a sinking feeling I saw the concentration on his face, as his focus seemed to be far away.

"Quit with the rope Sandburg." I snapped as I reached to snatch it away from him. "We won't need it."

"I will." Came his calm yet determined response as he held onto the length, resisting my effort to pull it away. Shit. Shit. Shit. I understood exactly the direction this was going but I pretended incomprehension to try to divert him.

"I told you Chief. We can't go out in this. Even my senses aren't up to the challenge."

"You aren't going Jim. But I have to." His voice was absolutely resolute. "I figure I'll tie off the rope just below here and move in a straight line out, use it to not get disoriented. Feed out the rope to the right distance. Once I find him I'll follow it straight back." He made it sound like some easy Hansel and Gretel stroll.

"NO! How do you plan to find him? You haven't got a clue where he is. How the hell do you figure to even know how far in what direction to go in?" I challenged in a furious tone.

"You said about three hundred yards and I saw the direction you focused when we were on the ledge. You're sort of like a dog on point when you are using your senses man. I know exactly what direction to go." There was no smugness in his tone, but for a moment I was tempted to throttle him. Why couldn't I have had a dumb Guide? Preferably with some sense of self-preservation!

His thin rope was now a thick coil at his feet. He must have gotten his requisite three hundred feet because he pushed himself off the ground and rose, none too steady I might add, and moved toward the cave mouth.

I was in his way instantly. I drew myself to my tallest, trying to intimidate him with every inch of my six feet two. My face had gone rock like, betraying no give, no compromise. With this imposing stance I had cowed psychotic killers and hardened criminals.

"You are not going." My tone was flat, emotionless and brooked no argument.

"Yes Jim. I am." His expression was anything but flat. It spoke a more fluent language than even words could articulate. It was spelled out there for me in a way I could not ignore. I would lose no matter what. If he went out there I might lose him to the weather. But if I physically overpowered him, kept him here against his will, I would lose him also by crossing an unspoken but clearly defined line. Even to save his life he would never forgive me usurping his self-determination.

"SHIT!" I practically bellowed as I grabbed the rope from him. For a moment I saw doubt flash through his eyes and his heart rate jumped. As I tied one end around my own waist I could almost read his mind. For a minute there he had thought I was going to use his own rope to tie him up and detain him.

Now though, with the realization of my intent, the stubborn look returned to his face.

"What do you think you're doing Jim?" He asked in a frustrated tone.

"What the hell does it look like Sandburg? I'm going to go get him. OKAY!" I growled out. "Don't worry, I won't kill him. I'll bring him back alive, and as intact as the wreck left him. You stay here. I shouldn't be more than a few minutes." I began to loop the rope in a coil in my hand only to find Blair using his knife to cut through it at about the six-foot length. The other end of the shorter bit he quickly tied around his overly thin waist, and then tossed me the remaining thick coil.

"Stop it Chief. I said I'd bring him back in one piece. Don't you trust me?" I tried to get some cooperation with the play on his not wanting to hurt my feelings with any hint of distrust.

"Trust isn't the problem Jim. I trust you completely." There was fierceness to the last word, like he needed me to believe the depth of his trust. "But I'm not happy with you going out in this storm. If you go, I go." He held up a gloved hand to stop my response even as it formed on my lips. "Let's not argue anymore Jim. We could have been there and back already. So let's just GO!"

For a beat I stood there. Why had I even tried? As soon as I saw 'the look' I knew I'd lost. I knew that this would be the outcome. So why hadn't I just saved all that time and argument and just accepted the inevitability. Shaking my head I just proceeded out onto the ledge, almost being blown over in the now even more violent winds. Turning I wasn't surprised to see my partner almost get slammed into the cliff wall when the blow caught him. Unconsciously I reached out and steadied him and was rewarded with an unexpected smile. "Wow!" He shouted, "Stiff breeze."

I could barely see him just two feet in front of me in the driving snow. It was a complete white out. A hand pressed on my forearm, "Don't crank up hearing to high in this mess" Blair shouted by my ear only to have most of the sound torn away in the gusts. I nodded and moved to slide off the ledge. As I landed at the cliff base I sank into snow almost to my waist. The wind had blown a deep drift up just below our little cave residence.

Slogging away from the wall I was relieved a bit when the snow wasn't as deep. I had to lean forward to counteract the assault of the wind. The gusts pushed the snowflakes at such speed they felt like razors as they plowed into my exposed face. A second later I was pulled up short by the rope around my waist. Turning, my own bulk stopping the wind and snow from pummeling my partner, I watched him secure the longer length of cord to a rock outcrop.

Satisfied that the tether was secure he trudged through the snow that girdled him. Coming out of the deep drift he fed out the rope as he pushed to where I stood facing him. "After you." He shouted. We had been out less then five minutes and his teeth were chattering like castanets and shivers wracked him. I just shut up and turned back into the gale and started trekking out.

Right then I couldn't have cared less about the other Sentinel. My only motivator was to get to the bad guy; hopefully he'd die before we got there, and then get Sandburg back to the warmth of the cave. Arguing would only delay that outcome.

Acting the role of a human plow I pushed a path through the knee-high powder while keeping one ear tuned exclusively to Sandburg. He was being quiet for a change. But that probably had to do more with the fact that it was taking all his lungpower to just manage to trudge along in my wake.

Luckily even in the blinding gale somehow I was able to maintain a straight course and reached the woods edge in less than ten minutes. Turning I was just in time to catch Sandburg as he stumbled over the last drift and lurched into my side. His panting was so high and strident it was painful to even listen to.

Pulling him into the leeside of the group of huge pines I was leaning behind, I was able to see clearly for the first time since leaving the cave. "Shit Chief!" I couldn't hold back the exclamation. Reaching out I gathered him into a tight hug and began desperately massaging his arms and back.

He was so rigid it was almost like rubbing an ice-sculpture. I could feel the chill that went all the way through him. After about a minute the head that had been scrunched down like a turtle's in the collar of his coat moved slowly and watery blue eyes turned up to look at me. His short but curly beard was thick with ice. I've seen corpses with healthier coloring than my partner had.

"Sandburg this is insane. The wind chill factor is minus 20 easy and you have moved well past cold into hypothermia. We are going back NOW!"

I had obviously gotten some of his blood moving because he hissed in the pain of returning circulation. "Nuhg…gg hh h oo o ah!" Only a Sentinel could have heard that whispered response stuttered so bad between gritted chattering teeth. But when I tried to pull him around to face back the way we had come he shot his gloved hand out surprisingly fast and latched onto a branch. "Jjjii …iee..mmah! Sss stt too pppp iiittttt. Nnn eeaarr."

I stood there for a minute trying to pry his hand off the branch. I felt like a parent trying to pry lose the hands of the recalcitrant child who wouldn't let go of the chair when being taken in to see the doctor. "Let go Sandburg. I'm not kidding here, hypothermia kills. You are hypothermic. I can hear your system going sluggish from the cold. YOU ARE NOT DYING ON ME!" I was bellowing by now, unable to keep the trace of raising panic from my voice. Hypothermia does kill, and sometimes even if you get the person still alive someplace warm, the leeching loss of core body heat still shuts down their organs and they die anyway.

Not on my watch, not my friend, and not to rescue a damn enemy!

The adrenaline of his resisting me must have warmed him a bit, because Blair's chattering was not so pronounced as he hissed an angry "Jjj im! Ssstop maan. Www eere cclosse. Cccann yya hh ear ee emm?"

At that moment the only thing I could focus my senses on was the struggle of my Guides lungs, the hammer of his heart, the smell of illness that rolled off him. There wasn't a prayer of me switching them off him and reaching past the howling wind to find the sound of a stranger. But with the realization that Blair's stubborn compassion would not let him leave another out in this, I mentally reversed my earlier decision and I decided to lie.

"He's gone Chief. It's over. Now lets get back before the weather gets even worse and we both join him." I felt no qualms about what I was planning. I didn't feel guilty thinking about the strange Sentinel freezing to death. For what Blair had been put through I wanted him, Kincaid and their whole insane crew flogged, flayed and in hell!

Unfortunately I did feel guilty about lying to Blair, so it was no surprise that he turned to look me straight in the eye. He held my gaze and I knew he knew.

He didn't bother even calling me on it. He just kept staring at me. Waiting there, shivering, pale and damn immovable.

Feeling my teeth ache as they were ground together, I again surrendered. Closing my eyes I pushed my senses out from the sheltered windbreak we huddled behind. When I winced as the bellowing wind poured into my head like an explosion, I immediately felt a firm grip on my elbow. His voice still stuttered as he crooned comforting encouragement. "Eees ee dd onnt oov er foo cus."

It was hellacious dealing with the rise and fall of the storm noise and reach for something so faint and subtle as a voice, or heartbeat or movement. But I tried, setting aside my own desires to honor my Guides.

For a moment I caught a drone of a voice, quickly lost as the wind screamed up the scale again. My nose unconsciously piggybacked with my hearing and for a fraction of a second an assortment of scents where caught and catalogued. Burned metal and rubber, smoke, chemicals and gas.

Using the information my senses had already gathered I peeked around the protection of the trees we were huddled behind and extended my vision carefully. We were just inside the tree line and the barricade of tall evergreens was doing a pretty good job of buffering the massive billowing blankets of snow propelled around us. Just enough to look further into the woods, but not enough to see any more than a few yards. But with Sentinel vision it was enough.

Grabbing the line from Sandburg I tied it off to the tree we where sheltered by. "Stay here Chief, I see the jeep just a few yards further up. I'll get him and bring him back."

Those damn father confessor eyes reached up into mine, exacting from me an unvoiced but irrevocable pledge not to kill the other Sentinel when I found him. Then he struggled to move up beside me as I started back into the blowing snow.

Firmly grasping his shoulders I pushed him back behind the trees. "Stay!" That sounded a little too much like a dog trainer so I hurriedly continue. "It'll take me five minutes alone, and twenty if you come. I won't hurt him and I'll be right back." I knew what he was going to say so I answered even as he opened his mouth. "And I don't need to use the senses, it's just over there a short way, so I won't zone."

I could see that the cold had made even thinking hard because his face kind of scrunched up as he tried to detect any falsehood in my statement.

A short nod was all I got in agreement, but I knew he was trying to hide the severity of his situation by not talking. Between the shudders, stutters, and weakness his voice sounded like that of a ninety year old.

As I turned to leave I noticed Sandburg lean his back against the tree trunk like he planned to sit, but I grabbed his frost-covered face between my gloved hands. "You WILL NOT go to sleep! You stay awake!" I saw my words reach through the bleary sluggish brain and fire his recognition of the hazard of sleeping in his current condition. With freezing, the slid from sleep to coma to death was way to certain to ignore.

"Won't!" Blair forced out the promise without a single chatter of teeth, and with more strength than I thought he had at the moment. I patted the side of his face affectionately and nodded at him.

"Good." I smiled and gave a firm "Be right back." Then started jogging the short distance to the smoking dark bulk I saw ahead. With the tree canopy acting like an umbrella the snow wasn't nearly as deep and I made good time in spite of not being able to use my enhanced senses.

Stepping from behind the shelter of larger trunks I was slapped by a seeming solid wall of snow propelled by an unrelenting wind. But leaning into it I trudged steadily the remaining few feet toward the harsh smells and vague shape I had picked up. As I got within ten feet of the military green jeep I could finally make out the vehicle thru the swirling white clouds.

A hardtop Jeep, it had flipped onto its passenger side and continued over until the roof and driver doorframe caught against one of the massive pines. The driver's seat looked to have been crushed by the impact. The front hood must have popped open and been ripped away, exposing the dirty engine it had covered.

Now only a few feet away the smell of spilled fuel and burned rubber was cloying even to a regular sense of smell.

Just about then several things happened pretty much simultaneously. My Sentinel vision snapped online unbidden and zoomed past the driving gusts of snow to focus on the vignette of a tire and other jeep refuse, just under the overturned vehicle.

The tire had been stuffed with upholstery fabric, papers and wood and then been lit. Protected from the wind under the lean-to the jeep created, someone had made a large, practical and probably life saving fire.

At the precise minute that information was processed by one part of my brain, I felt an uncanny familiarity with the scene just around me.

Without any particular reason a sense of threat pounded into me. I swung around, going into a defensive crouch facing the tree line. Some ancient instinct brought all my senses up to their peak and aimed them into the screen of snow-covered brush before me. A heart pounded just beyond the pine needles and my nostrils flared grabbing a myriad of scents that had no place in the winter woods. Smoke, cloth, leather, metal, rubber, asphalt, and fuel swirled with a distinct body odor. My lips pulled into a snarl as I recognized the spore of the other Sentinel.

The dream.

As the pine boughs moved aside to allow the enemy's approach, I tensed with the realization that I was enacting the drama of my earlier dream of the Jaguar's conflict with the bear.

And the huge brown bear of my vision was appropriate for the giant before me. Even in the lashing bands of sleet and snow I saw my enemy clearly. He was maybe Blair's age with short choppy brown hair. A thick bony forehead with bushy brown eyebrows and a large dominate nose. Taller than even Simon's six feet four by at least another two inches, he towered over me. But where my Captain was lean and athletic in build, the enemy Sentinel was framed like a professional wrestler. He was almost as broad across as Blair and I combined and so muscular that even the coat and windbreaker jumpsuit he wore didn't hide the rock hard physique.

Furious gray eyes latched onto me communicating an instantaneous challenge. HE KNEW. Damn.

"You dae' cop, Ellizon. So you be juz like me! I fell…" His voice had an oddly stilted French accent. He tilted his head in a way I was all too familiar with. "Hunder… where be you Seer? Hidden? No hidin' from our kind huh? Nod long anywayz. He near?" His flinty eyes scanned around with poorly disguised hunger. This guy knew what he was and knew what he needed. Shitshitshitshit.

But watching him I also could see that though he definitely knew about his senses, the control was poor to non-existent. I saw him wince trying to reach out sporadic hyper hearing, and the pupils of his eyes pulled wide only to spiral back to pinpoints, useless. The barrage of snow and wind and other sensory assaults were beyond his skill at control.

He shrugged as he realized that he couldn't use his enhanced potential and swung his gaze back to me. "Granpap allays zay anytin' wert havin' be wert fighttin' for." He smiled a big toothy grin that only made him look hungrier and more feral.

"Never tink I hav a chanz for nudder Seer. A few moor yaar like dis an I be like duh rahbid dog. You havin' a Seer you don know whad it like to hav everytin hurt. To be born wit duh gift an not be able to control." He had shuffled forward slightly talking as he did. As I glared at him his nostrils flared and again the head tilted. Instantly I realized, he had caught Sandburg's scent on me and was trying to get his senses online long enough to isolate his location.

"Nod many Seer's aroun' cop. Mine, he be tagken from me when I too young an small to win duh fight to keep 'im." Still grinning his tongue darted out to wet his lips in an unconscious movement. "Now I be big enoough. Save us all dah trupple cop. Tell 'im to come oud an I don kill you. I led you go. All I wan' is my Seer."

Something in me snapped. His claiming of Blair stripped away all that forty years of civilization had instilled in me to release an ancient warrior.

"MINE!" I roared my challenge at him even as he charged, swinging a huge gloved fist at me.

Easily I ducked under the blow, and swung a two handed fist into his back at the waist trying to rupture his kidneys. There was a sharp zing of pain from my still not 100% healed shoulder and arm. But I easily tuned down the pain. Ignoring the other man's bellow of pain and rage as he began to turn to grab at me I hopped on his back and speared out a flattened hand in a karate chop to the neck that should have robbed him of consciousness instantly.

But my earlier injuries or the gloves on my hands soften the impact in both my blows and the man mountain seemed to be made entirely of gristle and muscle. Though I was hurting him, I was also pissing him off even more.

He shook like a dog and grabbed my ankle, my bad ankle, and slung me away from him to strike, hard, into a nearby tree trunk. My head, back and hip struck with enough force that it should have broken bones. Only my own winter clothing and the snows drift saved me. But the pain was unbelievable and though there were no stars or little birdies circling my head like in the cartoons, I was definitely dazed. But I had no time to let myself feel the pain. I had to get back into the fight. This challenger had to be taken down before he got near my Guide.

I struggled to rise, images of Sandburg at the mercy of this behemoth pulled me up despite my pain. But I was too slow. A fist slammed backhanded across my face throwing me further into the trees to impact against another rock hard trunk, then slide down to lay at its base. For a moment my world blacked out and there was no thought, only pain.

I would not survive another such blow but I struggled to bring myself up to try and take the beast down with me. As my thoughts coalesce and I rally to fight off the waves of darkness trying now to claim me, I see the dark image of the bear superimposed over the immense form of the giant who was plowing toward me like an avalanche. I was out of time.

Suddenly the snow waves part and a blur of darkness and fury exploded out of the tree's, slamming into the man mountain as he charged by. Blindsided, the giant was bowled over and slammed into the tree's himself to strike hard and fall face first into the snow.

So focused had each of us been on killing each other neither of us had heard the approach of my partner.

Grabbing a branch from the ground Sandburg pressed the momentary advantage of his surprise attack and leapt on the dazed giant's back as he began to regain his feet, pummeling at the huge man's head.

Incredibly even with Blair's one hundred and sixty pounds standing on his back the giant still managed to climb upright. I heard the scrappy anthropologist howl as a hand the size of a ham reached up, batted away the stick, grabbed onto my partners shoulder, dug in powerful fingers and ripped him off like a tick being removed.

The giant shook the smaller man like a terrier with a rat and I watched in horror as he then flung my friend away. Almost immediately the other Sentinel must have realized that the thing he had been looking for had come to him and he had just almost killed his prize.

Shaking my head to try to get some of the ringing to let up I glared as the enemy started toward the figure curled in a ball at the base of one of the many young saplings. Reaching down a tentative hand to check for a pulse the huge man was totally unprepared as with a roar of rage my much heavier weight landing on his back and my two now bare and well trained hands spading hard into each side of his neck. Immediately after the stunning nerve blows I snaked an arm quickly around the corded neck to latch onto the arms mate on the far side in a classic sleeper hold. My bad shoulder burned with pain at the strain, but the sight of Blair curled unmoving nearby magnified my incentive.

The mammoth flung himself backwards trying to dislodge me, clawing at my arm that pressed like a steel rod across his throat. But the chop to the nerves at his neck had already dizzied the giant, and now his head swam from lack of oxygen to his lungs and blood to his brain. Breathing hard but remembering my covert Ops training I wrapped my legs around his upper thighs limpet like and tripped up his backward rush. Falling backwards like a tree felled by an axe the monster tried to land with me under him.

But expecting just such a move I was prepared and managed to shift out of the way and still maintain my strangle hold.

With the enemy now flat on his back I exchange my knee for the strangling arm, continuing to press. Soon the bigger man went momentarily stiff and then ceased struggling entirely.

Oblivious to everything but the threat this other Sentinel presented I did not let up even when the giant went limp. No quarter asked, none given, my completely testosterone flushed mind growled. He had challenged and failed, the penalty for trying to take my Guide… death.

A touch soft as a caress on my shoulder preceded an undeniable command. "JIM NO! Let go." No stutter of cold in that sharp bark. "NOW! You've won. He's down and out."

For a moment some feral spirit in me snarled in resistance. If I twisted my weight on my knee just right, I could crush his larynx instantaneously. No way he'd survive. No way he'd ever try to take Blair from me.

"JIM! Snap out of it!" The soft touch now was a hard slap to the side of my head. My lips pulled back in a snarl as reluctantly I leaned back off my prey. I stooped there for a moment eyes sweeping over the other Sentinel. My senses were cataloguing everything about my enemy even as I rolled the behemoth over onto his stomach. Damn he must weigh three hundred pounds!

Pulling his arms across his back, I crossed his wrists and started to take off the bad guys belt to tie him with. Suddenly several strips of plastic riot cuffs and a single set of handcuffs were dangling in front of me?

Looking up into my partner's face I bit back the urge to exclaim how impossibly sick he looked. Instead I focused on the slightly loony smile. A few more strips of the white straps that looked like garbage bag ties were sticking out of his coat pocket.

All I had to do was raise my eyebrows in question and with a twinkle in his eyes he shrugged. "The handcuffs are the ones our hosts provided, sans key of course." He shrugged again. "The riot ties, Simon gave me a few, said the way we were always getting into trouble I should never leave home without some."

With a sigh at how tragically true that was I bound the hunk of muscle. In some kind of Sentinel overkill I put the cuffs and three straps around his wrists, two more plastic cuffs around his ankles and still pulled his belt off and fed it between his upper arms to secure them. That way he couldn't get enough leverage and spread to use his obvious strength to escape.

I heard the rush of a gasped intake of breath and then an alarmed, "Whoa." Followed by a thump as Sandburg, adrenaline rush exhausted, suddenly swayed, grabbed for support that wasn't there and went down on his butt like a toddler on his first walk.

I was crouched at his side instantly as he tried to struggle back up. A quick sensory sweep just confirmed what I knew. Sandburg was physically spent and a very sick man.

Shaking my head in barely contained frustration I snapped a quick "Stay put…I'll be right back."

33

"Stay put…I'll be right back." He commanded with that 'move and I will be forced to hurt you" tone. Then turning his back on me he jogged to the overturned Jeep nearby.

Phew that was close. Thought I'd have to sit through another whole Ellison 'why didn't you stay like a good doggie where I left you' lecture. And I was just not up to it right now. So I stayed put. In fact staying put was like so not a problem right then. If a herd of elephants had suddenly tromped my way I don't think I could rally the strength to even get excited.

How was it possible to feel so whipped? Sitting there in the snow on my ass I couldn't seem to even connect with my surroundings that much. Everything around me seemed to be painted in dim watercolors that had lost all depth and clarity.

Trying to hold on to the here and now I tried to focus on the slab of beef bound like a rib roast just a few feet away. Snow was forming little mounds on him and then being blown away by gusts. I noticed the number of ways the bad guy was restrained and couldn't help an inner chuckle. I may have stopped Jim from killing the other Sentinel, but that hadn't meant my partner couldn't tied the challenger so that if he so much as twitched the wrong way he'd pull something.

Looking over the shear size of the man I could draw some obvious conclusions. Now I had met three Sentinels. And each one was scarier than the last. It was obvious that whatever genetics triggered the divergence to produce the Sentinel traits also was linked to creating exceptionally endowed specimens. These were primal beings in touch much more with their survival of the fittest roots than modern man.

Each had been unusually tall, strong, quick, and healthy. They also shared a tendency for aggression that obviously could be turned from the protection of the tribe into amoral or fanatic pursuits. Jim was a true Sentinel, a guardian of the tribe. Alex had been a perversion, perhaps due to having neither Guide nor tribe to ground her.

This man, I don't know. Kincaid preaches some pretty sick crap. A racist, the self proclaimed Colonel spouted the superiority of his group over pretty much any one who didn't fit his vvvvveeeerrrrryyyyy narrow definition of 'the right kind.' His was an equal opportunity intolerance. Jews, Moslems, blacks, Asians, physically or mentally challenged, and the list went on in the litany of hate that Kincaid sang in his bid to 'save America' for the 'right kind'.

Had this Sentinel been sucked in by the perverse patriotic spin Kincaid put to his hate campaign. Every day people were pulled into cults with a lot kookier leaders than the Sunshine Patriots. If he was misled to believe that he was indeed protecting the tribe he might not really be a bad guy. But…he had been willing to come up here with this neo Nazi parade for the express purpose of killing two innocent men, Jim and I. No… this guy might have enhanced senses, but just like Alex, he was not truly a Sentinel.

I tried to clear the fog from my head by shaking it…Wrong move! Stay still. That's the ticket, stay absolutely still and maybe my head won't fall off.

I must have fallen asleep sitting up because suddenly two weights settled on my shoulders and shook me, not hard, but enough to bobble my head and I'd already learned what a really bad idea that was. Someone moaned pitifully, and a second later I realized it was me.

My eyes had somehow become glued closed but I finally managed to crack them enough to squint at the dark blurred shape in front of me. I might have been worried that the bad guy had gotten loose and come after me, especially since I couldn't focus clearly. Yet I knew it was Jim. I had sensed him without question and as I blearily gazed up on my partner's face for a second I saw every detail of a superimposed image of a tanned face with sun bleached hair almost as long as mine and intricate tattoo's up muscled arms. Wow, cool. As hallucinations go, this was way neat!

Suddenly I was lifted bodily like a tiny child. Too tired to be alarmed I just let my vision fall where it would as my head lolled sideways to bump gently against a firm but padded surface.

A moment later I was lowered quickly but with infinite care onto something warm that shifted suddenly under me. Immediately a hand gently steadied me as Jim growled something like "stay still or so help me I'll just leave you out here tied up and let you freeze to death." My head tried to think why Jim would threaten to leave me out here to freeze? I hadn't meant to move, someone carried me, and I thought it was him?

My confusion made my heart thud a bit faster in my now painfully heavy chest. I knew Jim would never just abandon me, but… A gloved hand stroked first across my forehead then down my cheek and in a very different tone than just moments before Jim's voice softly encouraged and soothed me. "Easy Chief. Everything's fine. Shhhh. Easy." Warmth spread from that voice and worry fled before it.

"Thanks Jim." I answered gratefully, except for some reason my lips wouldn't move and the tongue just laid like a lump, so all that came out was a sort of 'aangeem' sigh.

But I guess the big guy understood the intent if not the words cause the warm glove rested for a moment longer and his voice became fond and amused. "You're welcome, Buddy. Now rest. I've got the watch."

A warm blanket was wrapped and tucked around my body and face until I must have resembled a papoose. I wondered when I'd acquired a wonderful fur lined parka, cause I was wearing one. The soft tufts extending from a hood around my head covered my ears with a wonderful warm that they hadn't felt in days.

The world started to move past me all by itself? But then I realized I was the one moving. It took an amazing amount of strength just to turn my head to the side. I was lying on something flat and metallic with an ugly green paintjob. Even thinking took energy I didn't seem to have because it was several seconds to realize Jim was using the Jeep hood as a makeshift travois.

Negotiating between a narrow pair of trees my conveyance tilted slightly and to weak to compensate I rolled slightly to find myself half on my side, face to face with Jim's Sentinel challenger lying next to me!

Memories of the fight just a short time ago spark a momentary adrenaline rush bringing my vision to sharp clarity. For the first time I saw the other clearly. I hadn't had time to look at him earlier when I'd been pulled from near coma by a scream like a big cats roar. A single word in Jim's voice.

" Mine"?

I don't even remember dashing blindly through the sheets of snow flurries towards the sound. But within moments I'd heard the easy to recognize uproar of a fight in progress. I'd spotted an overturned green jeep and continued to run at full tilt. Arriving at the edge of an area where the brush was trampled down and a little thinner, I was just in time to see a towering behemoth rushing toward My Sentinel!

Jim was down. He'd looked dazed and totally unable to defend himself against the freight train bearing down on him that I knew had to be the other Sentinel. Not even pausing to think I pulled the last erg of energy I had left to speed up and aimed straight at the immense wall of meat stampeding toward my friend.

Barreling into the giant felt like going full tilt into a brick wall. Only the momentum of my weight at speed was enough to deflect his course. His own weight and momentum had then carried him into a nice solid tree trunk which provided just the kind of attitude adjustment I would wish on this King Kong wanna be who had hurt my Sentinel.

I'd grabbed a thick branch and in classic Neanderthal 101 style tried to continue the attitude adjustment, but the monster had gotten a hold of me and things had gotten reeaaalll fuzzy after that.

Flat, concrete colored eyes glared at me from a large, glowering face. With relief I noted that he was wrapped in even more bindings. Cords from the chutes were wrapped around him in several places so thick that he could have done stand in work for a movie mummy. Jim was taking no chances with this guy. I had to wonder how much was recognition of the huge guy's fighting potential, or a Sentinel's desire to totally neutralize any hazard this challenger presented.

Our car hood travois bobbled again and as we moved out of the trees back into the full force of the blizzard I suddenly found I could see nothing but white. The wind sucked what little warmth I'd begun to feel out of me like a leech and I silently prayed we'd make it to the cave fast. Just then the sense of movement vanished and Jim popped out of the white wet blowing around my face. His body kept the wind off me for a second as he adjusted another blanket over me, including my face. There was a trace of fear from the sudden darkness, but Jim's voice near my ear could be heard over the winds shriek. "Just five minutes Blair. We'll be at the cave in five buddy, count on it." And with that promise all fear dissolved.

I don't really remember time passing, the noise stayed the same, the cold stayed the same, the dark stayed the same and where was I anyway?

Light flooded into my eyes as some kind of covering was pulled off my face. Oh yeah, Jim had put a blanket over my face to protect me from the snow on the way to… Umm, on the way to? Oh, who cares.

Now Jim has pulled my arms out in front of me, pulling me up to sit. I notice him wince slightly as he pulls and I try to think why but then the thought is lost to me. Then he Whoa, wheee, up into a fireman's carry over his shoulder. I can't seem to get my head to do anything but go where gravity takes it and I find myself staring at the fabric at the back of Jim's coat, real up close. Luckily the scenery changes before I can get bored and I'm being bobbled and swinging slightly as the snow is now several feet below where my head hangs. Then I'm looking down at Jim's heels on the cliff ledge by our cave. I sort of feel hands shift on me and then I'm pulled carefully back over his shoulder to be lowered to sit by the cave entrance. His hand is behind my head, cradling it to prevent it flopping back into the cliff wall.

I watch him through bleary, disconnected eyes as he shifts my ice barrier then he's stepped through into the cave. My head must have lolled forward because I can only see the zipper of my parka, I don't have a parka? Nice parka though, fur lined, nice… where'd I get a fur parka? Something snags my collar and I am dragged on my butt through the crevice into the warm confines of our makeshift home.

I'm lifted again and then immediately put down again on something warm by a blazing fire. Umm warm. An icy glove pushes wet fur away from my mouth and eyes and I see Jim's head floating above me like a balloon on a string. I should be alarmed; I mean where is the rest of Jim's body? But his voice is there, steady and reassuring. He's saying something, yeah, he's definitely talking. I feel the tone, warm and comforting and protective, but can't seem to actually understand the words themselves.

His voice stops for a bit and with its absence I am less comfortable. My head hurts; thudding with a regular rhythm that I recognize probably echoes my heart. And there is something large and heavy lying on my chest. I hope Jim comes back soon and removes the load because whatever it is seems to get heavier by the second and it's getting damn hard to breath.

I hear Jim's voice again, though his tone has changed back to a growl again. "I really don't need much of an excuse to leave you to the elements Ape. So you give me any trouble and they will be chipping you out of an ice floe next spring." Again I heard mainly tone; words had kind of lost their ability to truly penetrate my sluggish brain.

More confused than alarmed this time I let my head fall to the side the voice was coming from. I couldn't focus very clearly still, but in the fire glow I could see Jim crouched next to our gift-wrapped guest who lay on his side on the dirt floor. My Sentinel was running a braided cord from the tied ankles to the wrists bound behind the bad guys back. Pulled up slightly they pretty much prevented the guy from trying to bring his wrists around his legs to his front. Not that someone as muscled as this guy would be that flexible, but Jim definitely was taking no chance with this huge bruiser.

I must have dropped off for a little while because the next time I noticed Jim was over by the fire, stoking the lames. Looking up as he finished I saw a smile grace his face as his eyes caught mine watching him. He moved back to my side and his mouth moved and more words came out, soft and soothing again. "Hey Chief. Eyes open again." I didn't respond just sort of relaxed a little more within the sounds. A frown replaced the smile of moments before and more words floated over me. "You're not really all here right now buddy, are you? It's okay." A bare hand stroked my face and I found the strength to turn slightly to push my cheek more firmly into that welcome caress.

A frustrated sigh now followed the confusing twirl of sound and tone. "I've got to go back out for a few minutes Chief. I hate to leave you with our friendly neighborhood Sentinel gorilla. But I've wrapped him as tight as humanly possible. He's not going anywhere. The blizzards going to get worse before it gets better. We could be here for a few days. This jerk had some things we're going to need. I have to go back to the jeep and salvage what I can."

The hand withdrew from my cheek, slowly, reluctantly. I think I whimpered a little too. The voice started crooning gently, again senseless sounds made precious by their tone.

I tried to move my head to follow the dark shape that moved around me for a bit longer. But I just seemed to be unable to remember how to coordinate such an enterprise. Then there was only silence. Without the voice summoning my attention my tired brain and body ceased resisting the siren call of exhaustion. The darkness was warm, and welcoming and ….

34

Shoving the last of my haul through the opening to the cave I finally followed it into the beaconing warmth and light. I peeled the woven ski mask gingerly off my face. The moisture from my breathing thru the fabric had frozen into ice that stuck to the flesh like superglue. Stomping my feet to both get the heavy snow from them and to hopefully return some of the vanished feeling, I stumbled over to the pallet by the fire and knelt by my partner.

He was still wrapped in all the layers of warmth available. The overturned jeep had proven a survival cornucopia. It had been packed with supplies. A sleeping bag, fur lined jacket, gloves, boots, ski masks, blankets, a camp stove, pots and pans, dish soap and a dozen other useful items had been packed in the vehicle. I'd cocooned Blair right off in the warmest garments in the pile. Unfortunately when the jeep had flipped the spare 5-gallon gas can strapped to the back had been pierced and spewed gasoline over some things that I could have really used. The first aide kit had been crushed and gasoline had saturated everything in it, so the small stock of aspirin, antibiotics and other valuable medications had been turned into a sludge of chemicals.

Typically the only automatic weapon I'd dug up in the vehicle had been bent almost double by the crash. But I had found a Glock handgun still in a leather holster in the snow near the jeep. Obviously the other Sentinel had had it on the seat when the jeep flipped. But there had been no extra clips. Worse, only one round remained in the gun. If the occasion arose to use it, I would make it count.

The small, short-range radio in the jeep's dash had also been wreaked. Not dwelling on the bad breaks I'd stripped everything I felt might increase Blair and my chances as quickly as I could. Loading my trove on the hood sled I'd then dropped a match in the back of the wreak. The spilled gas had evaporated some but there was still plenty to fuel a good blaze. The flames swooshed hungrily through the interior, the windows blew out a moment later. Fed fresh oxygen the flames leapt out only to be beat down and extinguished as soon as they left the confines of the jeep into the swirling maelstrom of the snowstorm. Even the billows of black oily smoke where blown off, diluted and pelted down before they could rise very far.

If after the storm Kincaid's men found the vehicle I wanted it to look like it had burned on impact and maybe his man had wondered off in the blizzard and died. I didn't want to give any inkling of the fact that our hideaway was just a few dozen yards away.

I had managed my salvage operation in less than forty-five minutes. And then a quick side trip to a willow tree I spotted. But plowing back through the snow I had felt like I'd been out there for hours. I was tired, cold, in pain and my senses were starting to go haywire. I'd made the trip back to the cave at almost a run. I needed to be with My Guide, especially with the other Sentinels scent still in my nose.

Kneeling by him now I re-keyed all my senses to him, finding it easy to control them now that I was beside him. And the results were not encouraging. His lungs had crinkles and bubbling sounds of the rales and rhonchi of advanced pneumonia. The paleness of most of his face contrasted starkly with the bright red fever flush of his cheeks. His hair and the fur lining of the parka was plastered to his face by the sweat pouring off him. His normal scent was even more soured then before by a harsh tang of sickness.

Pushing down the emotions caused by seeing my friend like this, I locked into the 'get the job done' Ranger Medic mode. Stoking the fire with even more wood I soon had the cave as warm as possible. Using the camp stove and the fire I filled all the scavenged pots and pans with snow that I melted and brought to a near boil.

Taking the willow bark I'd collected I carefully prepared it as Sandburg had taught me so patiently that time we'd gone camping and I'd come down with a mild fever. We'd lost our stocked first aid kit to a river crossing and Blair had insisted I use the 'natural' aspirin concoction rather then just wait until we got back to the city. He'd made it and then made me drink it. Uggh. The things I do for My Guide.

Once I had several draughts of the 'tea' ready I took one dose and carefully lifted my non-responsive partner up into a sitting position. Moving to sit behind him I let him lie back slightly to rest against my chest as I moved my arm around him to bring the cup to his lips.

When the first moist drops of the liquid passed his lips my fever parched friend took a deep eager gulp. Then the flavor hit. There is nothing quite as bitter as willow bark tea. At least when he'd made it for me he'd added honey to blunt some of the bite. I had nothing to sweeten his with.

Though his eyes never opened, his whole face scrunched up and his lips pursed as I tried to pour a little more of the fluid into his mouth. "Ngguh." He mumbled and made weak little spitting noises.

"Come on Chief. Drink it all, you need to listen to me here." I wheedled gently as I tilted the cup even more, flooding his mouth so reflex took over and he swallowed again. But now he was so agitated that he found the strength to bring up an arm to bat at the cup like it was full of poison. When I grabbed the one flailing hand the other one quickly took its place and I was one hand short. The only way I could get both his hands restrained was to put down the cup. As soon as I did that he immediately quieted, though his tongue kept coming out between his grimaced lips and he kept trying to spit.

"Brother! Sandburg, I have a lot more respect for Naomi. Getting you to take medicine as a kid must have been a real challenge." But moving quickly I grabbed both of my partner's hands in one of mine, scooped up the cup with the other and pressed the remaining fluid to his lips. He tried to twist his face away, squirmed like he was made of Play Dough and seemed to be five places at once. But I watched like a predator watches prey and as soon as his mouth and the cup where headed toward each other I leaned forward, trapping his head between my own head and shoulder. Momentarily immobilized I managed to spill and pour the rest of the fever medicine in, on and over him.

Shaking my head as I unraveled from around him I watched him sputter and spit for a little bit as I carefully lowered him back to recline in the blankets again. Though his eyes fluttered open once or twice they never focused and they glistened with the eerie shine of complete disorientation.

I felt eyes on me and the hair on the back of my neck rose. Growling I spun to stare down the other Sentinel who was watching Blair, and my caring for him. Considering he was bound and pretty much helpless, the gray rock chips that where the others eyes held only challenge and threat.

"Dat be yur Seer? So liddle an weak." He smirked as I moved to block his view of Blair. "Bare beeger dan my Seer, an he be a hav gron boy. Beggarz nah be choozerz, huh Ellizon?"

Snarling I moved forward, desperately needing to throttle this arrogant beast who dared to deride My Guide! By shear force of will I managed to stop short of homicide. But the thought of this challenger's eyes on my partner, now and with what I needed to do next, was intolerable.

When I suddenly moved toward him again I saw doubt in his eyes, he was wondering if I was finally going to finish him, as he would have done to me. Instead a thick strip of folded parachute was wrapped around his eyes and secured behind his head. Once the blindfold was in place I felt slightly less edgy.

Now I began to gather supplies for what I felt needed to be done for the comfort of my friend and partner.

Moving the warm water next to Blair I carefully stripped him of all his layers of clothing. I had to dial down my sense of smell as too many days of exertion, illness and no shower had left Sandburg's regular scent rank and sour. Even though the cave was now quite toasty I took no risk with drafts, wrapping him in a clean blanket.

I put a few pieces of his clothes in one of the hot water pots with dish soap to soak. With the rest of the water I thoroughly washed my partner. Starting with his face I gently scrubbed away days of grime, sweat and sickness. I even used his knife to carefully shave off the five-day beard he'd grown and made him look like a teenager again.

The heat poured off him and at first he seemed upset by the handling. But as the warm water and my gentle massaging strokes soothed aching muscles he became more and more relaxed.

For a moment I seemed to lose myself in my senses as they latched onto Sandburg even more then they usually did. I felt the texture of his skin, the soft fur of hair that covered so much of his torso. The ridges and hard angles of muscles and tendons that hide a remarkable strength. My eyes zoomed in to identify familiar and new landmarks. My hands going unbidden to several news cuts and scars I spotted that had not been there before our past week in hell. My thumb stroked over them with an odd distress that I had to shake off with effort. The sounds of him filled my ears. The gurgle of his stomach, the whoosh slap of the blood racing through his veins, the hitch and wheeze of his congested lungs, again triggering distress that only eased when I latched on to the steady rhythm of his heartbeat, soothing and hypnotic. I noticed I was leaning forward, pulled by that cadence toward him. I shook myself free from the odd compulsion that held me.

I had finished Sandburg's front upper body by now, and pulled him up to a sitting position to scrub his back. As I did he began to mutter in a steady litany of soothing but totally nonsensical sounds. One of his hands found my upper arm and started to gently stroke and pat it, somehow feeling the need to comfort me in return.

I looked down into his strained and pale face and was surprised to see a soft contented smile on that kind visage. His eyes drifted open suddenly and snapped hold of me. He really saw me and in that second I saw all that I was to him shining in those deep blue eyes. The fever had cut away all the carefully maintained facades of mature reserve, embarrassment or shyness. It was all laid out there for me… and it was the most humbling and terrifying thing I had ever seen.

How could a person possibly become another's universe? Blair was no rudderless nobody looking for someone to give him purpose. No sycophant trying to shine in the reflection of another. He was smart, popular, and very much his own man. Yet I saw that this exceptional young man's solar system had me squarely at its nexus. I was all that he had searched for and finally found. Brother, friend, partner and sacred Sentinel. When we had met he had called me his 'Holy Grail', but I had thought he was being facetious, but in those eyes now devoid of any subterfuge I knew to him it was so.

I froze, held helpless by the weight of such a gift. Blair's smile filled with even greater joy and then his eyes drifted closed, releasing me from my thrall. Extending my hand I touched my fingertips to his eyelids, feather light. Breathing out a soft sigh of gratitude I whispered, "Feelings mutual Chief."

It took me almost an hour to thoroughly wash and dry my spaghetti limp Guide. Then I followed suit and cleaned myself. Finishing up I washed both of our clothes as best I could and lined them around the fire to dry.

Once he was warmly nested in the clean sleeping bag, I moved to our stock of food. Taking the rabbit I set to making some more thick broth. I also roasted a couple more of Blair's 'tubers' and after tasting them, sliced one of the more potato tasting ones into a stew I was preparing from some of the pheasant. I set them on the rocks near the fire to let them steep and stay warm.

Suddenly out of things to distract myself with I found I was pacing back and forth from one side of the cave to the other. I continued with that useless exercise until I noticed that my path was between My Guide and the foreign Sentinel. Obviously on a level I wasn't quite aware of I still felt the other was a threat to My Guide.

Stopping just in front of the pallet Sandburg slept on I faced my instinctive enemy. Extending my senses I realized that at some point the giant had fallen asleep. Considering the constricting way I had bound him it was miraculous that he'd managed it. But having been out in that weather for several hours he must have been pretty exhausted. Not that it had slowed him much in the fight. But once past the combat his body had demanded rest. But I was glad. The thought of him was like sandpaper on my nerves. Even blindfolded he could still hear and smell My Guide and for whatever reason that was, it was intolerable!

I moved to lie down next to Blair, still positioning myself between him and the giant. In spite of being tired I was loath to sleep with the enemy literally in the camp. But the soldier and tactician in me knew that a tired man makes mistakes. Rest was necessary, I would rest.

Using the soft thup, thup, thup of Sandburg's heart as an anchor I sent out my hearing the way he had taught me. Filtering through each sound around me I set myself to awake at any change. With a last check of my partner I let my exhaustion carry me into sleep.

I had slept for roughly four hour's when my internal alarm reacted to a variation in my surroundings. Concentrating, I listened to the increase in Sandburg's pulse. Rolling over almost nose-to-nose with him I was rewarded to see his eyes open and alert.

Reaching out my senses I felt the fever, though still present, was much reduced. His lungs were still full of wet, bubbly noises but his breathing was a less labored. "Hey Jim." He croaked in a tiny whisper as he smiled at me. His throat was sore but even as cracked and broken as it sounded I felt relief to hear that voice.

"Hey Chief." I said back at him and then rolled over and went to the fire. Grabbing the broth and stew I was back at his side in a blink. Seeing him struggle to try to sit up I put the pots down grabbed one of the packs and used it to prop him up.

He just then noticed his clean-shaven face. His voice again broke like a pre teens as he whispered a delighted, "I'm clean!" Then he looked down and blushed. "I'm naked!" Seeing the drying wash around the fire he nodded in understanding. He pulled the sleeping bag and blanket a little tighter around himself and smiled up at me. "Clean is good, I was starting to smell like old tennis shoes, it must have been even worse for you." He tried unsuccessfully to get the long sentence out without gasping too much. He didn't succeed. It would be a bit yet before he'd be up to his trademark run on sentences.

"Okay buddy, food then medicine or medicine then food?" I asked, as I poured another draught of willow bark tea and placed it beside the pot.

He looked at each container for a second then shook his head at me. "I'm not really hungry" his barely audible voice climbed the scale to crack on the last syllable. He coughed and then continued. "And my fevers better. I'll pass on both okay Jim?" He hit me with a weary smile.

I have had way too much experience with Sandburg's distraction tactics. Moving closer I grabbed one of his hands and shoved the tea into his grasp. "That is not one of the choices Chief." I growled insistently. "You WILL eat and you WILL take the medicine. Your only choice is the sequence of events." My glare should have intimidated him at least a little, but of course it didn't.

I saw the stubbornness drop like a curtain across his expression. His lips pressed together in an obstinate line and he tried to set the cup of tea down. But I wrapped my hand around his and the cup and steered it back up toward his mouth. The situation deteriorated into a weird arm wrestling match but Sandburg's strength had been wiped out so I quickly won.

For future reference pushing a cup full of liquid into an unconscious fever-wracked anthropologist's mouth is incredibly difficult, doing it to an alert anthropologist is down right impossible. Just like earlier I had a squirming struggling wrestling match on my hands and this time there was no way to outmaneuver my smaller and more flexible friend. He just kept his lips firmly closed and the tea sloshed everywhere.

Just when I was really starting to lose patience entirely a booming laugh came from the end of the cave. Then a snide and loathsome voice grated out. "Well Hunder, I may no see you be mad dah fool by a weeg liddle mouze, but my earz dey hear! You no can control one so small? My Seer do az he be tol an nod hav be tol twice!" And that hateful laugh again.

I don't even remember the next few seconds, but between one heartbeat and the next I was suddenly across the space between us and had hauled off and punched the big man. He was out cold from the one shot but my hand bunched his jacket front, I was just drawing back for a second blow when I squeaky high pitched, "Jim!" brought me back to myself.

I looked down into the senseless blindfolded face of my enemy and felt ill with conflict. Right then a part of me wanted to kill him, even though he was bound and helpless. The soldier part of me was pragmatic enough to reason that keeping the man alive was going to decrease Blair and my chances ten fold. Even if Kincaid didn't find us, how could we hope to get ourselves down the mountain with a dangerous captive in tow?

Suddenly Sandburg burst into wheezing, squeaking, coughing laughter. It had to be the fever? But looking at him I saw that he was smiling that loony smile of his. For real!

"Hey, the man's right." He squeaked in that whispery cracked voice. "I sound just like a mouse, Mickey Mouse!" And he went off in another peal of off key and broken guffaws that sounded painful to my ears much less his throat. The exertion was too much of a strain on his burdened lungs and he began a harsh hacking cough that had me panicking as he turned pale and shook from the effort.

Moving to him immediately I pushed the broth into his hands and helped him steady himself enough to sip the warm fluid. After a few gulps the coughing eased and after a few more, stopped entirely. But I could see that just that little bit of activity had totally depleted him. He didn't so much lean back as fall back on the support of the pack behind him.

"Wheww!" He whispered in a little less cracked voice. "This is like sooo not fun." Looking into my worried face he carefully reached for the cup of willow bark tea and lifted it shakily to his mouth and pinching his nose took three deep gulps. Immediately his face pulled into something like those apple core dolls, all shriveled and wrinkled and his eyes teared through their squeezed shut lids and he turned a little green like he was going to throw up.

Quickly handing him the broth again I balanced the container as he desperately pulled it to his lips and began to chug a lug down swallow after swallow. Apparently the broth eventually washed away the taste of the tea, or he ran out of air, because with a gasp he lowered the broth pot to clunk hard on the ground beside him.

"Man Jim. That stuff is vile! The tea, not the broth." He continued to work at just breathing for a little longer then he settled back and stared around the cave, noticing the additional equipment. His eyebrows climbed. "Where'd ya find the store big guy?"

Cocking my head toward our unwelcome guest I told him of my foray to salvage the jeep. Snuggling even further into the sleeping bag I saw him turn to study the giant. Sure enough the light of curiosity replaced the exhaustion in his eyes and I watched the thousand questions begin to form. But he must have seen something in my own gaze, maybe jealousy, because he turned his full attention back to focus on me.

"You okay Jim?" The question spoke of concern not only for my physical but emotional well-being. Was he remembering the head-trip Alex took me, and him, on? Or was he wondering how much stress having a challenger not ten feet from My Guide was causing.

"Doin' okay Chief." I answered, but added an honest "Just not happy with our uninvited guest."

His hand came to my arm in the softest of touches, yet warmth, confidence and absolute commitment flooded through that contact. "He's just another bad guy Jim. He may be enhanced, but he's not a real Sentinel. Not like you." His voice had become an even softer whisper, not breaking as much now. "Maybe that's why he and Alex didn't end up with anyone to help them with their senses. They were selfish and misused their gifts, got exiled from the tribe. And without the tribe to provide candidates for Guides they never found the help to realize their full potential."

"Dat be flad ouu lie mouze!" The bellow caused Sandburg to jump and me to spin snarling to face the giant who was rolling and straining against his bonds. Damn, the giant was already conscious again. As I surged forward to put him down, again, Sandburg caught my arm and barked a harsh, "No Jim. Leave him."

If any of the dozen or so restraints on the big man would have failed just then I would have pummeled the challenger into paste before risking him breaking free and getting to Sandburg. But everything held and so I let myself be hauled back by the feather light tug from my partner.

Moving the blanket around his shoulders a bit so that it was now a cape, he held up the edge and motioned me to his side. Grinding my teeth in frustration I found myself moving into the space next to him and felt the warmth of his arm and the blanket on my shoulder. Shifting a little he scrunched up close to me and pulled the blanket tighter around both our upper bodies. Having him this close, my senses again filled with him, leeched most of the stress from me and left me overwhelmed with a sense of satisfaction. Some primitive hidden part of my mind was chanting a contented litany… 'mine, mine, mine, mine, mine.

"Why a lie mister? Hey! What is your name anyway?" Blair's voice squeaked up and down the scale but he ignored his own discomfort to satisfy that insatiable curiosity of his. With him safely at my side and the weight of the Glock in my pocket I was able to cope with the inevitability of My Guide studying the other man.

"You know nothin mouze. I be Abel Chasseur an I did fine my Seer. I have a clan an my Seer was nod among zhem. He be a cidy boy who end up in duh back country of Saguenay becauze his Mame an Dah's liddle plane crash dere."

The huge man's voice roared with rage and loss yet he did nothing to struggle against the bonds that confined him.

"You have a guide, I mean Seer?" Blair's whispered question was innocently spoken, but I remembered what Sandburg hadn't heard in the woods. (Mine was taken from me when I was too young and small to win the fight to keep him.)

I had expected an explosion, but instead Abel just stiffened. "No mowh. My Seer he be daken by anodder Hunder when hiz own Seer die." And then the hair on the back of my neck rose, as the big man seemed to focus on my partner right thru the blindfold. His stance was pure predator, nostrils flared, and his need almost palatable.

As a growl swelled in my throat I felt the arm around my shoulder withdraw and then a warm hand settled on my forearm. "There is no contest here Jim." Blair's voice had fallen into the guide tones he used to pull me from a zone. "I'm not looking to change career's man. I like you, teaching and being the Shaman of the Great City." His hand stroked unconsciously back and forth on my arm, and magically the necessity to rip the other man's head off and dance in his blood faded.

"I'm sorry Abel." Sandburg's compassionate nature let him honestly mean it. "It was unfair of me to assume. I can only imagine what it was like to go through so many years without someone to help you with your haywire senses."

35

It was strange sitting there talking to another Sentinel with Jim right next to me. I could feel my friend's tension thrumming like a too tight wire stretched between us. He didn't like anything about the situation. What was odd was even though I felt sorry for Abel, and curious as hell, I also felt an impulse to avoid him that I don't think had anything to do with his being one of Kincaid's men. On some instinctive level that I couldn't quite decipher I think I believed what Jim had implied. This guy's lack of a guide might actually provoke some weird behavior, like trying to force me to help him.

I analyzed that idea. I mean I might be reading something into the situation because of my unpleasant experience with Alex. But then again she didn't try using me so much as a guide, just a quick fix, and then her only priority had been to keep Jim off balance.

But I study people for a living and everything about Abel Chasseur's body language and attitude screamed threat. That Jim also read the signals being given off by the other was obvious in his own body language. I figure he didn't even notice the steady soft growl that vibrated softly from his rigid form. All he needed to finish the image of a furious big tomcat spoiling for a fight was a tail twitching angrily.

But though I noticed that my interaction with Abel was somehow aggravating my partner's stress, as a responsible scientist I just couldn't pass up the opportunity I had here. From the few clues I had already realized that Abel had had his enhanced senses uninterrupted since his youth. And judging from what he had said he also had come across at least one other Sentinel in his life.

Keeping one hand on Jim's forearm to comfort my own fears and to also communicate my unquestioning bond to him, I turned my attention to the bound giant.

For some reason the blindfold on Abel bothered me. Perverse as it sounds tying him up like a mummy made sense but I was uncomfortable with blindfolding someone when they were already helpless? Go figure.

"Jim…can he have the blindfold off?" I asked tentatively. It was important that I defer to Jim's greater knowledge and experience in the cop scenario, as well as his Sentinel instincts. But my ability to tell what was really going on in someone's head came from what showed in their eyes. The blindfold was a disconcerting distraction that I really wanted out of the picture.

Jim's eyes move from the bound man to me then back to Abel. "As long as he behaves it's okay. But don't start with any other comfort measures. He stays tied at all times. Clear?"

"Crystal man!" I responded as best I could with my voice cracking every few syllables. I'd been fourteen the last time my voice had been this erratic. Hopefully the fever and sore throat would ease up soon, just thinking about some more of Jim's willows bark toxic soup made me nauseous.

Jim moved from under the blanket at my side to Abel in a couple of strides. Having to strain a little my partner tugged the bigger man into an upright sitting position with his back to the wall. Then the blindfold was snatched off and Jim quickly stomped back to my side and returned to his previous place. Even though he was stretched out beside me there was no mistaking that he was primed and on guard.

Unconsciously I studied Abel as he blinked a few times and winced as the fires glow triggered a momentary spike in his enhanced vision after so long in darkness. But then his sight settled down to normal and he speared me with those slate gray eyes. I definitely preferred Jim's pale clear blue eyes to this guy's. I had seen Jim with fury, rage, hate, and every conceivable negative emotion in his eyes at one time or another. But somehow the gray eyes that stared at me now seemed infinitely colder and harder than my friend's at his worst.

Taking a couple of slow, even breaths, being careful not to inhale deeply enough to trigger a coughing spell, I decided to go at this in a direct, no nonsense manner.

"Abel, I would really like to know your story." I tried to tone my weak, cracking voice to relay the non-judgmental interest of an academic. "I have made a study of people with enhanced senses, what you refer to as Hunter's, but I call Sentinel's. I would like to understand what it was like for you. There is very little information on people with all five senses hyped up."

I was sincere in my interest and I guess the big man sensed that. Or maybe he was just bored sitting there like a stuffed turkey and decided to talk to burn some time. Or it might be that even though I sounded like a Disney character, my request was pitched in Guide tone. Whatever the reason he stared hard at me for an uncomfortable minute. He then shifted his gaze and attention to some point in the darkness at the cave's back, seeing some other time and remembered events.

"My fam'ly dey nod hol wit modern folk an cidy wayz. We an zeveral odder clan live in dah deep wood nort by Saguenay. We ad no lectric, or roads, no school even. The government dinna know we be back dere an no one botter us. My Mame she teach me an several odder children from duh clan, we ate what we catch, grow or gaddered."

"My people be respected for gen'ration cauze da Hunder gift be in many in my fam'ly. My Granpap say 'is Nanna Claire hear an smell bedder dan him, but he feel an see more. My liddde brodder look to have duh gifts to, maybe even more dan me, but I don be sure. He die before he be four year old when fever come to duh valley." The hardness of the gray eyes melted some at the recalled grief. It was obvious there had been affection for the little boy so early taken away.

"I be sixdeen when duh gift god strong but wit no control. When I just a wee child I only hear, see, feel, taste or smell maybe twize as good az odder folk, an not no problem to control. When dey starded to grow day by day dey alzo god harder to uze. Granpap he be duh law in our liddle town. He says dis be normal, says it ged bedder when I fin a Seer, den I be 'is deb'uty. Mame, she took to arrangin' long meetinz wit everyone in duh clan, hopin' one become my Seer. But dey all smell wrong, sound wrong, make my head ache. When I talk 'boud ow bad it geddin Granpap tell me be patient, every Hunder find der Seer sooner or lader. Bud Granpap already god 'is Seer, one of dah clan he know zince dey be able to walk. Alzo 'is gift never be az strong as mine be geddng, an he nod ged sudden black fitz where he juz freeze an nod know where he be. Dah only one could wake me in duh dark fit be Granpap's Seer." Those eyes swept back onto me at this point, measuring me, maybe comparing me to someone he was remembering.

"Henry be smard, always fig'rin. He learn read, write, an had read every book 'e could ged holt of. An he love my Granpap zomethin' fierce." There was a bit of awe in the deep, gravelly voice. "My Mame she tell me onez mountain cat dey be huntin' double back an pounze. Henry, he jump between Granpap an duh big cat clawz. He be hurd bad fore my Granpap kild duh an'mal. Henry near bled to death. But Granpap he carry him all duh way from duh high wood, an stay wit him when he got duh fever when duh woundz dey fess'der."

It took all the professional reserve I had to control my excitement. If this story was true the things that it implied. Issues of genetics, self-inhibiting protective controls, instinctive bonds and mutual protective streaks, all screamed for immediate closer examination.

But I knew if I hopped up, tried to get close to Abel and start grilling him for more details, two things would happen. One, the giant would probably clam up tight. And two, Jim would probably explode.

So instead I did one of the hardest things for me. I kept my mouth shut and stayed still. But man was it hard!

My attention zoomed back to the subject at hand when I noticed differences to the tone and pace of the story. It was easy to pick out first wonder and then growing aggression as Abel's voice pitched deeper and deeper.

"When I juz turn sevendeen an duh fitz be comin more an more I fin'lly could nod bear to be roun folk no mow. I be drownin in sound an light an smell. Everythin hurt! So I head up duh mountain, nod carin if I live or die."

"Den zomethin drew me furdder an furdder up duh mountain. I still don know why, bud I had to keep climbin. Den I fine duh crash plane. I nev'r seen one oudzide of books back den. Id be one of dem liddle propeller onez, only four coud fit in. Duh woman an two men ha been dead for maybe two dayz. Bud in duh back seat, wit hardly a scratch on 'im be Davy." Awe and longing were in that voice. Even if the guy seemed hard as nails now, once he had loved, and obviously from the unhidden grief, lost.

"He juz sit der starin ad 'is Mame an Dah like dey wake up any time. When I try to pull him oud of duh plane he fougd…hard. He be only 'leven bud he fougd like a demon. Bud he make no zound. don cry, don yell, don talk. Juz stare. He ged free ah me an wend righ bag to where he'd ben sittin an no move. Bud whil I be wrestlin wit im I notize 'is scent. Id be special scent, duh scent I smell only on Henry up til den. Davy be a Seer! I reg'ognize dat he be menn to be My Seer."

"I don know wha to do. He can na stay der bud 'ow to ged him to come wit me. I lit a fire an spen dah wholl nidd juz siddin by duh plane talkin to im. Firss I juz said duh trutt. Hiz people dead an he could na stay wit dem no moe. He did na even seem to ear me. But I kep on an on. I en up talkin aboud my gift an dat I knew he be a Seer an dat I ad waid for im for a lonn time. I toll im I need im an would na leave im, no madder whad."

The heartfelt determination in the giants voice tore at me. In a nutshell he was expressing the same feelings Jim and I shared. How could the compassionate teenager he spoke of grow into someone siding with an extremist like Kincaid?

"Dah nex mornin I dig graves an bury dah aduls, wit Davy watchin me dah wholl time. He still na speag ad all. When duh las rock be set over duh las grave Davy juss stan up, walk ov'r to me an put his han in mine. I fel everythin fall in place, like he be a missin pard of me dat I had na even know to miss. An my senses na be up an down an all over duh plaze for monthz juz seddle righ down."

"We go home duh negs day. From den on we nev'r speag of 'ow he come, or 'is fam'ly. It be dayz fore he zay a word, an it like he be born dayz before. Dat day forwar he be my liddle brodder Davy. Alwayz wit me, could na bear to even stay behin when I be hundin, dough duh soun of gunz spook im bad."

"For tree monz we be cloz az twinz. Davy smar to. Henry help im wit how to help me to learn to pull my giftz an do moe an moe. He be juz 'leven bud he alwayz worry 'boud me. I figure oud dat when he na roun I soomdime still fall indo doz fitz, he be duh lighd oud of duh darkness." His voice went suddenly down to a mere whisper that I could barely catch. "My lighd…"

So much sadness in those two words. And suddenly I knew the resolution of the story was not going to be something I wanted to hear. But working hard to keep my scientific subjectivity I kept silent and after a moment Abel continued. I noticed that his accent was getting thicker the deeper he was drawn into his memories.

"Den Henry he be kill in a fire when Granpap an im try to save a frienz babe in a burnin cabin. An wit Henry gon Granpap ee go strange. Ad firs ee juz sid an sid. Ee nod eaa or dring or speag. Silen… I dink ee wanna die. Den he ged up, zay ee goin go be wit Henry. I know ee mean go inda wood an nah com bah. Loogin in 'is eyez I see ee iz die inzid already, an maybe a liddle mad wit greev."

It was odd to see fear in the gray flinty eyes of the huge man as he remember a long ago time, forgetting entirely his audience's presence. He was a boy again dealing with a pivotal moment in his life.

"But Davy…" Those gray chips flashed with the desperate desire to somehow halt the remembered moment, turn events in a different direction.

"Davy, ee zee Granpap urtin an wanna elp. Ee juz wanna elp!" Now his eyes turned back toward Jim and I, but no challenge in them any longer. The only way to describe what I saw in the giants gaze was an almost child like cry for help. Begging us to somehow understand and change history.

"Ee juz wanna elp." He said again while shaking his head in despair. "Bud Granpap, ee nod zane no moe. Davy ee step ub to Granpap an juz pud 'is and on Granpap's arm. Ee is ped im like a kidden, gennel an soff. Bud id be like 'lectric curren. Like a spark. An thah sudd'n Granpap grab Davy an scream Davy be hiz! Hiz Seer! Hiz? Davy ee try talg wit Granpap. Tell im dat ee whan stay wit me, dat ee need me an I need im! But Granpap nod imsel no moe. Ee wonn led Davy go from 'is side. Alwayz god a holl of 'im. Davy talk an cry bud Granpap won led go. So Davy say ee go wid Granpap undil ee come roun to imsel. Bud it nod ged bedder, it ged worz."

"Ee nev'r led Davy be oud of' is sigh. Ev'r! Davy cry all da time now, wannin me, bud now when I come anwhere near Davy Granpap chaze me way. Say Davy hiz an he won led me near im. My gifts, dey go crazy agin an I av to sneeg to see Davy. Bud Granpap smell me on Davy. Ee 'it Davy an tell im ee do worz if ee caag im wit me gin."

"For zix weeg dis go on. I try talg wit im, I try steel Davy 'way, bud nodding worg. So I go afder Granpap. I sed trap afder trap to ged im. Bud ee be smart an crazy. An ev'ry day Davy sem farder an farder away from me. Liig ee nod min be wit Grandpap. Sudd'n I am craze wit rage. I wan kill Granpap for wha ee do to My Seer!"

"I go avder Granpap wit everythin I god. I know I hav to save Davy, hav to. Bud Granpap, ee is to strong an ee bead me down. Ee near kill me, bud Davy ee jum on Granpap an make im stob. Ee tell im dat ee stay wit im if ee don kill me."

"I tell Davy no, dat I ave to win, ave to ave im wit me. Bud Davy say no, dat I could na bead Granpap. Ee say he belong wit Granpap an see me no moe. I try to see im many times. My gifts dey all crazy an my ead always urts. Bud Davy nod go agin Granpap any moe, ee tell me I godda learn to be wid oud 'im. I can nod feel im in ead no moe liig I ad befor. I see in 'is eyez, ee ave no fate in me no moe. I ave fail im, ee waz na my Seer no moe. Granpap nev'r led me near im from den on.

"Az time go by, wit oud Davy, my giftz dey juz go crazy. On an off dey fade back to whad dey are when I be juz a boy. Soomdime dey be so big dey mag me go craz. I ave to take pills to stob da pain. I know I godda leave or die. I god people in New O'lens zo I go der, be an Am'rican.

Suddenly his gaze became sharp as a laser as it lands on me again. But the earlier vulnerability that I had seen was now replaced with that predatory gleam again.

"An duh gifzt, I nod much tink aboud dem, dey ardly eve'r a'peer bud to make me crazy. Til I come to dis mountain. Den afder all des yearz sudd'n I senze sometin. Sudd'n my senzes dey all come back. An den I see dis ghos cat. Faint ad firz, big an black. Bud I know den dat der be anodder Hunder roun. An when I smell you I smell dah odder smell, like Henry an Davy. I know dere be anodder Seer. I did na tink I mizz duh giftz of duh Hunder, bud now wit dem bag I know I did mizz dem. I wanna be a Hunder agin an I need a Seer."

I listened to Abel's story with both chagrin at the unfortunate circumstances of his youth and a thrill each time I recognized something that confirmed some theory that I had about Sentinel's and Guides. The Guide in me was shocked at the unbelievable actions of the Grandfather, taking another Sentinels Guide. And as a scientist I was astonished at the implications of the number of Sentinels of various levels of skill produced by this one bloodline. After Jim and I got out of our current mess I'd have to find Abel's valley and study his 'clan'.

Yeah. I'd have other enhanced people maybe to base my original dissertation on so I could turn it in without risking anyone figuring out Jim was a Sentinel. It would also save me a hell of a lot of work since I was currently preparing two separate diss presentations. My Sentinel studies would never see the light of day if Jim remained my primary subject, so I was concurrently preparing my 'thin blue line' paper just in case. If I could convince Abel's clan to let me get some data on them and their history I could just complete the Sentinel diss confirming Burton's work and achieving my life's dream in the process.

I was just descending deeper into my plans for getting time off from Rainier for a jaunt to Saguenay when I felt myself drawn back to the here and now by a heat around me that had nothing to do with my fever or the nearby fire. Abel was still completely focused on me. And glancing up I saw Jim completely focused on me. And damn if both of them didn't look like they were starved and I was a big juicy steak. The low growl in Jim's throat was really audible now and as his eyes met mine I saw a fear and need that broke my heart.

Even after all this time, Jim's prior history of abandonment left him with a fear so deeply rooted that he wondered if I would be drawn away by my research to study another Sentinel. I will always believe that that was part of the whole disaster with Alex. Smelling her scent on me some part of him had been sure that I was leaving him for her. Now he could see that I was anxious to study Abel. Abel who was his enemy.

Duh Sandburg! I felt the impulse to reach up and hit myself in the head. With all the stress Jim was under he didn't need me going all science nerd on him. He needed to understand that my priority would always be him. I was HIS Guide and his only.

I reach up not to touch his arm this time, but brush the back of my hand along his cheek. In a moment the growl sound switches to a purr and he tilts his face to press against my hand. "I may want to study this guy Jim." I affirm in my creaky voice. "But I will NEVER be his Guide. You are MY Sentinel, mine alone." Weirdly the last statement came out with a serious growl from me? Whoa? Hanging out with the testosterone charged guys at major crimes must be rubbing off! All I know is I had this wild possessive flash when I would have torn apart any challenger who tried to take Jim away from me! Like I said… weird huh?

A deep, threatening growl came from the giant across the cave, "No!" Like two heads of the same animal Jim and I turned from looking at each other to glare at Abel. Before my partner could move or speak my own surprisingly steady bark declared unshakably my loyalties.

"Shut up Abel! I'm sorry you lost your guide… I am. You only had a guide for three months and think about how you felt when he was taken. Yet there you sit. Implying that you would and could try to take me from Jim who I have been with for over four years! You come up here with Kincaid who is a racist, anti-Semite, terrorist. Did it occur to you that even if you somehow separated Jim and I that I would never live to be your 'Seer'? Kincaid isn't up here to find us and pat us on the head. I'm Jewish and Jim's a cop, we've put him in jail twice. What do you think he'll do when he catches me?"

"I wod protegd you!" Abel's statement was so ludicrously confident. He really thought that now that he was this huge, strong behemoth that if he had a second chance at a guide that this time he could hold onto him.

Shaking my head at such a blatant denial of our situation I glared steadily at this man who outweighed me by over a hundred pounds and snorted derisively. "Like Hell! Kincaid isn't going to arm-wrestle you for me. He or one of his retarded gun totting cronies will take one of those fancy automatic weapons you all haul around and blow me out of my boots! Is that who you are Abel? If you are, then you are no true Sentinel. Jim is a Sentinel, one of the best. He uses his gifts for his tribe. Sentinel's and their Guides protect! Before he lost Henry your Grandfather protected your whole community. He understood. Henry died to save one of your neighbors. He understood. Davy stayed with your Grandfather to save you. He understood. That's what Sentinels and Guides do…they protect!"

It took all my breath to say all that and then a stupid coughing spell hit and I felt absolutely wiped out. Geez things were bad when just talking exhausted me. Jim was holding me tightly to him with his hand solicitously patting and scrubbing circles on my back until the coughs ceased. Then he gently shifted me so my back was against his chest and my head cradled on his shoulder. For a moment he leaned his cheek across my curls and whispered a gentle. "Enough Chief. You rest. He doesn't get it and you can't make him see it." His hand came up and gently brushed hair from my forehead then ghosted down to my eyelids, exerting feather touches to encourage them to close. "Sleep buddy. Sleep and get well." His voice was so warm and soothing, no lullaby more comforting…

36

His breathing steadied and his heartbeat returned to an even rhythm as sleep reclaimed him. I looked down into his face, feeling the flush of fever not completely extinguished by the tea. He needed more rest and warmth. Pulling the blanket and my arms more tightly around him I hugged him to my chest willing my own warmth and strength into him.

I had plenty of warmth right now. When I'd seen him listening to Abel's story, enrapt, I had felt jealous and afraid. Yeah, afraid, okay I admit it. I knew how much of his life was his Sentinel research, and here was a guy talking about a place with not just one but a whole family of them. How could he not want to go off and study them?

Hell, just because he had found me first didn't mean I had any exclusive rights to him and all. I mean we talk about being each other's Sentinel and Guide, and our 'bond' and all. But I mean how much of that was the fact we'd been together for over four years now, almost 24/7/365? Married people don't spend as much time with each other as we do. When together that much it's natural for you to sort of get in each other's head, start finishing the other's sentences and stuff like that. But it didn't give me the right to prevent him leaving if he chose to follow more of his precious Holy Grail's. And the thought drove me crazy!

But then Abel had looked at him with that damn hunger that must mirror my own. Before my fury could even get a toehold Blair roused slightly as if he where the Sentinel, sensing my upset. His hand lifted to brush my cheek feather soft and I felt a purr rise in my throat as I leaned into the touch. "I may want to study this guy Jim." He squeaks shakily. "But I will NEVER be his Guide. You are MY Sentinel, mine alone." The last part was spoken with a low rumbling growl of possessiveness.

Then Abel had opened his big mouth, denying my partners statement. But before I could react my pacifistic roommate used his most valuable weapon, his mouth, to slice and dice the imagined usurper.

Hearing his conviction that what made a Sentinel a Sentinel wasn't enhanced senses as much as the use of those senses for the benefit of the tribe surprised me. But him holding me up as a model of Sentinel kind? That definitely made me feel ten feet tall.

But hearing him blast Abel's failure to uphold the Sentinel code…damn I was like a proud father of a debate champion. In some things Sandburg's moral compass was so unshakable. But as soon as he finished putting Abel in his place my eloquent partner seemed to run out of juice all at once. I saw him wilt slightly and knew that the adrenaline that he had managed to harness over Abel's story had been exhausted. Then he took a deep breath and exploded into one of those coughing spells where I thought he'd hack up a lung any second. I longed to ease the wracking coughs that left him shaking, but all I could do was offer support in the way he always did for me. I patted and rubbed his back feeling the rough shudders that gripped him. He was still a long way from well and his body needed rest.

Shifting carefully I pulled him against me, using myself as a cushion between his back and the rock wall. I formed a cocoon of my arms and the blanket, supporting him until the shudders subsided and his head fell back against my shoulder. Laying my cheek on the top of his head I wove my senses around him. I noted the lungs still sludged with congestion, the reduced but noticeable fever, the tiny tremors that spoke of unrelieved exhaustion.

The blue of his eyes was smoky with drowsiness but he resisted sleep for some reason. I think maybe he was trying to gather a further argument to convert Abel. "Enough Chief." I whispered into a curl-covered ear. "You rest. He doesn't get it and you can't make him understand."

Dialing up my touch I passed my fingers over his forehead drawing away stray locks of auburn hair. His eyelashes tickled my palm as they fluttered in his effort to keep them open. Tuning my touch even more sensitive I stoked his lids downward, while encouraging him with a murmured "Sleep buddy. Sleep and get well."

And so I sat, coiled around My Guide, warming and protecting him, keyed to his every sound and movement. At first Abel had started to open his mouth maybe to deny Blair's lambasting, but I just glared at him and he wisely shut up and leaned back against the wall.

Just shy of two hours later I growled in aggravation as I heard Abel shift position for the fifth time in ten minutes. Keeping my voice pitched low to hopefully not wake Sandberg I growled at the squirming man, "Stop it Chasseur. If you're trying to work your way lose remember I'd be happy to shot you with your own gun!"

For a couple of heartbeats the giant's movement subsided. But then I heard him give a frustrated hiss. "Ellizon I ave to… I ned… damm et! I av to go to duh battroom."

Looking over to the bound man I saw the tell tale body language, legs clenched tight together, and almost chuckled. Abel's face was beat red, the big man wasn't used to being helpless, and here he was having to ask me, another man and another Sentinel for help about something this embarrassing.

Shaking my head I didn't even try to suppress my amusement and ground out "So hold it. I am not untying you." And I let my commitment to that show clear in my expression. It wasn't going to happen, ugh ugh, no how, no way.

"Jim." Blair's drowsy soft voice was a mix between whisper and whine. "Lighten up Big Guy. Where's he gonna go?" Yawning like a kitten he shifted away from me slightly. "Could he make the hike back to Kincaid's camp in this weather?" Eyes still sleep clouded turned up to mine.

I thought about the storm that had gotten progressively worse since we'd been out in it. "No." I admitted uneasily. "Wind chills twenty below. He'd never make it walking." But I didn't move.

Sandburg leaned further over and whapped me weakly on the arm. "Then I for one don't want to deal with the results if you don't let him answer the call man." He pushed against my arm firmly nudging me to get up.

Not happy at all, but unable to deny my partners logic, I eased away from behind Blair and climbed to my feet. Considering the weather, the time might come soon when we'd have to manage certain bodily functions in the cave, and since the rock floor prevented digging a proper hole, I really wanted to put that off as long as possible.

Making sure that Abel saw my every move, I pulled the .38 Glock out, chambered my one round and eased off the safety. Holding the gun in my right hand I strode purposefully to the restrained giant. Kneeling I worked at releasing the layers of bonds I had trussed the huge man in. Eventually the majority of them had dropped away and at last I dropped the key to the cuffs in front of him. Then I swiftly backed away to where Sandburg sat, leaving a clear path to the cave mouth.

"Up to you Chasseur. Straight out. Come one step toward us and I put one right in your heart." I snarled intently. "You come back in, you go straight back to your corner and retie your ankles, kneel facing the wall with your hands behind your head. One wrong move and I swear I will put you down."

Abel looked steadily at me as he shook his hands after the cuffs fell away. Taking exaggerated care he climbed to his feet and for a moment I felt again like he was challenging me just by standing there. He was just so damn huge! Few things intimidate me; I admit it…I tend to feel like I can handle pretty much anything that comes along. But Abel was intimidating. He was taller and heavier than I was and had proved to be nearly as fast. And he was a Sentinel. Despite what Sandburg said about him not being able to control his senses, he still was enhanced and he wanted a Guide. Yeah, I definitely found the giant intimidating. I really, really wanted to shot the guy.

"At ease big guy," Sandburg yawned again. "As tense as you are you'll snap off something." He pushed himself across the floor the few inches that separated us and nonchalantly leaned his head against my shoulder like a spare pillow. His voice was drifting away even as he shifted the blanket up to include me in its warmth. "He's not going anywhere and neither am I." And then with a sigh he was asleep again. It always amazed me that he could just wake and sleep at the snap of a finger. An essential time management skill I guess for a man who had to grab sleep somewhere between studying, teaching and observing and still manage a meal and a shower regularly.

A very short time later Abel squeezed back through the entrance, his bulk making it a difficult accomplishment. He stood for a moment shaking off a thick layer of snow and ice, shivering like he had been out in the weather for hours. He looked at me with misery in his eyes; the tears caused by the cold had frozen into little icicles on his cheeks. Looking at him I knew Sandburg was right, the storm was an effective prison. But I still kept the pistol aimed unerringly for the center of his chest.

We glared at each other again, two predators forced into close proximity. I could almost see as the idea of trying to tackle me crossed his mind. But then his eyes flicked to the gun held cocked and rock steady in my hand and back to my face. I might not be Clint Eastwood but I bet my expression was begging, 'please, make my day!'

With a huff of frustration the big man moved back to his corner, lowered himself to the ground and reluctantly retied his own ankles. Rolling to his knees he then knelt facing the wall and put his hands behind his head, lacing his fingers.

Carefully I eased Sandburg's head off my shoulders and leaned him against the wall. Keeping the Glock aimed right at the center of Chassier I crossed the space between us. Bending just out of his reach if he decided to pounce I snarled a harsh 'Okay, hands behind your back." He complied with no moves I could misconstrue. One handed I slid the cuffs back over his wrists and snapped tight. Adding two more sets of the plastic cuffs to his forearms, I then checked that his ankles were properly tied.

Once sure he was safely restrained I moved back to Blair while Abel maneuvered himself so he was sitting with his back against the stone of the wall. Setting the safety on the .38 I slid it back into my jacket pocket. As I lowered myself back to sit next to my partner, said partner proceeded to pry open sleep crusted eyes and grace me with an embarrassed grimace. "Jim." He whispered with obvious trepidation. "Umm, sorry man, but… well, now it's my turn, umm, I know my timing sucks, but…I need to go also….again."

Rolling my eyes seemed the only response to his stumbling announcement. When he began to struggle to his feet I quickly grabbed his elbow and helped him up. He bobbled like one of those round-bottomed dolls and I had to maintain my hold on his arm to steady him. But when he started for the cave entrance in nothing but a couple of blankets I pulled him up short.

"Hold up Chief, let's get you dressed. In that weather you'll freeze your ass off." Letting him steady himself against the wall I grabbed his toasty warm clothes from the edge of the fire and proceeded to help him struggle back into the now stiff articles. Though still weak Sandburg tried his darndest to help, which of course made the task harder. When he leaned over to try to pull a sock on and almost took a pearler nose first into the dirt I snapped out an impatient "Leave it Sandburg, I'll get it."

Immediately the smaller man went stiff at my tone and I hastily added a conciliatory "Sorry Chief. Just be careful." I felt him relax slightly but I knew he wasn't happy. Sandburg was very much like me in that he hated not being able to take care of himself. When injured or sick we both tended to feel frustrated and not gracious about needing help.

But luckily my partner tends to be more logical about such things, so recognizing he was stuck with me helping, he tried to see the humor in the situation. "Careful?" His voice squeaked. "Hey, I've eaten your cooking! I'm used to living on the edge."

Smiling I finished putting his boot on then straightened and thumped him gently on the back of the head. "Is that so? Well when we get home I promise not to cook for a month. Yep. No cooking. Wonder burger every day!"

"Ugh, now that's dangerous!" His smile returned a hint of healthy appearance to his wane face.

"Hey. 100% beef. What could be better?" I played along as I bundled his heavy coat and then the fur lined jacket around him.

"100% something Jim. But I doubt it's beef." He returned and then made an exaggerated display of putting a finger in his mouth and gagging. The mischief in his eyes was back, signaling he was definitely feeling some better. As I slid the blanket around his bundled up form he looked up at my intent face and smiled again. "Um Jim. Has it occurred to you that what I have to do won't work real well if I am wrapped like a mummy!"

I moved over to the sleeping pallet and removed the tarp. Helping him to shuffle his way to the entrance I leaned him against the wall and chuckled, "I'm sure you'll manage. Now wait a minute then come on out."

Stepping from the warmth of the cave into the blizzard outside was a huge shock. The wind chill sucked the breath from my lungs and blew needles of icy cold into my exposed face. Already shivering I extended the tarp out in front of me and held it up to form a windbreak. And there I stood when Sandburg pressed through the crevice behind me.

With the tarp creating a tiny area of protection Blair went about his business, keeping his back to my back so I didn't see how he managed to manage. And then I heard a zipper zip and, considering his weakness, an astonishingly fast retreat back through the cave opening. Bunching the tarp up I dashed out of the swirling wall of snow right behind my partner.

As I entered I immediately headed to the fire. Blair was just beyond the flames, leaning on the wall, wheezing and blowing like he'd run a marathon. Then he began to cough again. Grabbing up a pot of broth I moved to his side. Taking his elbow I eased him down to sit and shoved the broth into his shaking hands. "Drink some of this." He looked at the liquid and then tried to sniff it unsuccessfully due to his congested nose and coughing. Guessing his thoughts I grinned. "It's the broth Chief. I'm saving the willow bark tea for your desert."

Looking up I could see the relief on his face. He sipped the broth and his coughs subsided quickly.
He kept sipping as I leaned to the fire pit and pulled the simmering stew over to us. Setting the container between us I motioned toward it. "Try the stew Chief. You need the protein."

Again with the useless sniffing that sounded more like snorting. But then his hand disappeared into his pocket and came up with his Swiss Army knife. He peeled out the spoon and plunged it into the thick mixture. Bringing a spoonful to his mouth he blew a couple of times then extended his tongue as usual to tentatively lap at it. Having been through this ritual a few hundred times, mainly any time I cooked something new, I just watched patiently.

When the first taste didn't kill on contact, the entire spoons contents went into the mouth. Eyebrows came up and he smiled at me in that reassured way of his when my culinary efforts turned out edible. "Surprised you again huh Sandburg." I mused aloud. He chuckled and nodded as he continued to spoon up the stew.

Pulling a camp spoon out of my salvage pile I joined my partner in a filling meal of pheasant stew washed down with broth, though Blair was tired out almost immediately and had to rest between bites. When we were done there was still plenty left. Leaving some by the fire I moved the rest to the cave opening, covered the pot with chute silk and moved quickly outside, laying the container just by the entrance. The blizzard would preserve the food better than any freezer.

While by the exit I grabbed back up the tarp, "Nature's callin' me now Chief. Back in a minute." Pulling the tarp loosely around me I scooted out into the blizzard. If there is a Guinness record for doing your business, I broke it. Even with the protective barrier I had to dial down my sensitivity to cold just to manage the two minutes it took to answer my body's need. Brrrrrrrrr!

Shaking off the bitter cold I rushed back into the cave, just in time to find Blair shuffling unsteadily away from the fire with a pot in each hand. Headed straight toward Chassier!

"What the hell do you think you're doing Sandburg?" I snarled as I intercepted him in three strides.
Pulling the pots from his startled grasp so that some of the broth splashing out.

"Chill man. Sheesh have a cow why doncha Jim." He wheezed between gritted teeth. I could see it had taken a lot for him to marshal his strength to move around. He didn't appreciate my attitude right now. "Geneva Convention man." He grunted as he shuffled back to the wall and leaned against it. "Gotta feed the prisoner. He hasn't had food or drink all day." He waved vaguely toward the giant.

I felt my anger simmer to a head and opened my mouth to ream him out. But I shut it again with a snap. Sandburg was Sandburg and that wasn't going to change. The fact that Chassier had been involved with the pack of sicko's hunting us didn't change the anthropologist's fundamentally compassionate nature.

"Screw it!" I snarled with frustration. "Lie down before you fall down. I'll get him fed."

Stomping over to the bound man I knelt by him and plopped the pots of stew and broth beside him. For a moment I considered him, making a decision. There was no way I was going to sit there and spoon feed this jerk. Every scent on the man was overpowering, my hackles where up just being this near him.

It took me a bit to switch around the bonds on Abel. But by running rope from his left wrist cuff through his belt where I snapped the right side of the cuff, and feeding it back to his right ankle and over to his left ankle, I basically hog-tied the giant while freeing his right arm and hand. Now he couldn't stand or move much else, but he could feed himself. The look he gave me as I finished should have drawn blood. "You miz a spot. You wan maybee tie my balz tugedder alzo? You zo fred off me Ellizon?"

Slopping a spoon into one of the pots I glowered at the huge man and retreated back to sit next to Blair again. As I sat down my partner turned a rather amused expression on me. "What's the joke Sandburg?" I snarled. Like I said, the giant really got on my nerves. But then I felt a feather light touch on my arm, and a soft voice reached into me and gentled the rage so suddenly that it felt like a weight lifted from me.

"Just studying the interplay between alpha male Sentinels big guy." He was watching me slightly askew but with fond understanding. "But seriously Jim. We already established he has nowhere to go. What is it about him that makes you need to keep him so… controlled?"

37

I watched several expressions flit across Jim's face. I could see his first impulse was to snap at me. Apparently to him the answer seemed obvious. But to me it wasn't and I was becoming a bit worried. Abel's presence seemed to be putting the ex-Ranger under constant stress. I hadn't seen Jim really relax at all recently. I may have been pretty out of it some of the time, but not that much. And nobody can stay on guard continuously. Adrenaline was a valuable survival kick-start in the short term of emergencies, but without relief the strain on the system becomes detrimental.

If he were to get any rest at all he would need to accept that Abel's presence wasn't an automatic challenge.

Pressing my point concerning the redundancy of hog-tying the other Sentinel I asked the obvious question.

"What do you think he could do, send Kincaid smoke signals?" I asked facetiously hoping humor might defuse his increasing tension.

Jim didn't get the joke. His hard expression remained unchanged.

"No Sandburg. What I think he could do is kill me, hog-tie you and drag you off the mountain to try and force you to be his guide." Each word snarled out with a sharp edge as he glared at his opponent with an intensity that should have reduced him to ash where he sat.

Man oh man, if looks could kill. Turning to Abel I expected to see denial at the accusation. But instead the big man was staring hard at me with that odd, hungry smile again.

My gaze asked for an explanation, and the smile became cold and vicious. All that had made him seem sympathetic to me had vanished.

"Yez! Juz whad I wood do. Juztiz for 'aving my Seer tak'n. Id nod be fair dat Ellizon 'ad a Seer all dis dime I shood 'ave 'ad Davy. Wid a Seer I be able do many tings. Den I 'ave money maybe, or be impordan man."

I listened with shock. Damn! He meant every word! The thought of killing didn't seem to faze him at all. Looking at him, seeing a deviousness and callousness in his expression that was a mirror of what I had seen on Alex THAT DAY, I realized my mistake. And I also saw my own crime. History repeating itself… How could I have? How?

Though I had raged at the monstrous man for his failure to understand the responsibility of being a Sentinel, I had really started to feel sorry for him, seeing him a bit as a victim of circumstances. When the hell would I learn my lesson?

But now I had had the blinders yanked off. Here was a predator not a protector. Selfish and warped, he had been able to rationalize his actions by blaming his hard luck. I had been played like this before and now I had fallen for it again. Brother was I really that stupid? I had ranted at his failure as a Sentinel, what about my failure as a Guide? When would I be the Guide Jim deserved?

As I started to berate my naiveté' I felt Jim's hand on the back of my neck, then he squeezed gently. "Won't happen Chief." He said softly, I guess thinking that my shocked self-loathing was fear.

"I know that Jim." I said with absolute confidence. There was no way I was going to let things go as far as they had last time. I shifted first onto my knees and then using Jim's shoulder and the wall managed to get to my feet again.

"Blair? Hey, you still need rest Chief. What the hell…" Jim's inquiry turned to anger as he noted my beeline for Chassier. He caught up with me and reached to grab my arm but I brushed it impatiently aside. "Leave it Jim." I heard myself snap out as I reached the trussed up giant. Kneeling just in front of Chassier I leaned into his personal space. Getting right up in his face, my rage so obvious and overpowering that the giant unconsciously shrank back from me.

"You know what Abel? I don't even pity you." I barked out furiously. "You pity yourself enough for all of us. Someone screwed you and now you're okay with screwing everyone else because of it. Well, it stinks man. You know how many people get tough breaks and still manage to carry on a constructive and satisfying life."

"But not you. You talk about taking me away from Jim and forcing me to be your Guide. Well buy a clue asshole. Nobody makes me be a Guide. I'm not some scared eleven-year-old boy Abel. I won't be bullied or intimidated by you. And don't EVER threaten my partner! Hear me real clear on this…you want to hurt Jim then you'll have to go through me. You try to kill him and so help me… I WILL MAKE YOU SORRY YOU WERE EVER BORN!"

I continued to glare at the other for another couple of heartbeats, oddly pleased to see the complete surprise and shock on the huge man's face.

Hauling myself awkwardly to my feet I shrugged off Jim's attempt to steady me and pushed past him to wobble toward my little nest by the fire. Peripherally I noticed a furious Sentinel quickly and efficiently replace Abel's blindfold and then push thick wads of silk under the folds over the giant's ears, effectively deafening the man. Then the cuffs were returned to both wrists behind the massive man's back. This time I didn't comment.

Half lowering, half falling, I managed to land on the small pallet that served as our bed. Not looking up as I felt Jim hovering just behind me, I climbed between the blankets and nestled down as deep as I could. I suddenly felt sick and exhausted and cold again. Damn Abel. And damn me for letting myself make the same mistake again. A mistake that could have gotten Jim hurt or killed. I was supposed to protect my partner's back, not bring a dangerous enemy into striking distance. What did that say about me as a Guide, partner and friend?

"Blair?" Jim had squatted just beside the cocoon I was trying to burrow into. The concern in his voice obvious.

"I'm fine Jim. Just tired. I think I'll catch a few more winks." I didn't mean it to, but a sigh escaped me.

I felt his strong hand settle on my back then move to my shoulder through the blanket. He tightened his grip slightly and shook it ever so gently. "Come on Chief, talk to me."

I closed my eyes; hoping sleep would come so swiftly that I could just escape everything into dreams of warmth and safety. How could I face Jim? How could he not feel that I had betrayed him again?

But sleep right then would have taken a whole bottle of sedatives, or a two by four to the side of my head.

The hand on my shoulder rocked me slightly now, slowly a little forward then back. As if he were rocking a cradle? I was just about to ask him what the hell he was doing when he said in a very subdued tone, "I'm sorry Chief."

Sorry? He was sorry? Why? Confusion pushed pissed off out of top billing. I rolled onto my back and pulled the blanket from over my head and looked up at Jim's solemn expression.

"Hey, why are you sorry?" I asked the obvious question. "He's the sociopath and I'm the one who screwed up." I snorted out the last, past my still sore throat. I'd never been able to keep my scientific distance where Jim was concerned.

Moving his hand back to my shoulder Jim maintained a light contact. "I'm sorry that he turned out to be a jerk and that he disappointed you."

I saw by his eyes that he really meant it. But he hadn't realized my crime yet. My interest in another Sentinel the first time, with Alex, had left Jim off balance and at risk, but I hadn't had a clue then. But now I did and I'd still… Sighing again I gave a rueful shake of my head. He didn't get it.

"I'm the one that's sorry. And ashamed. Jeez Jim… I did it again! Hell I am such an idiot! You'd think after everything that happened with Alex I'd have learned not to make the same mess of things." Before I could continue a bout of coughing seized me again. I honked and gasped as my mind replayed the last few hours with such clarity. And my own actions showed now as mockingly familiar.

I was so sunk in self-loathing that I couldn't look at Jim. His expression on that day years ago when I'd finally admitted my work with Alex would haunt me forever. The despair of having to see it anew broke over me like a wave, washing away what strength I'd garnered from the recent rest, food and warmth. The coughing wracked my body, seared my chest and brought dark spots across my vision.

Even as the cold started to reclaim me I felt myself gathered into strong arms. Hugged with a combination of strength and tender care that beat back the creeping ice from my soul. Then while one arm remained coiled around my waist, a big, warm hand began stroking gentle circles on my back, easing the vice like grip on my lungs. As I ceased coughing Jim's stroking hand moved to the back of my head to ease it forward until my forehead rested against his shoulder.

"Easy Chief, easy!" The big, tough ex-Ranger's voice almost crooned it was so comforting. Right now it meant more to me than I could ever explain.

"I…/wheeze/ I had /gasp/ sworn never again." I choked out as my breathing eased. Whispering into the fabric of his coat was easier than explaining to his face. "After I figured out that as a Sentinel you /wheeze/ couldn't tolerate another in your territory, /wheeze / I realized that you couldn't help but instinctively see my helping the invader as an intentional betrayal."

We had never gone into any detail of what had led to our disintegration as a team. Jim had felt too guilty about me getting killed after he kicked me out. I had felt too guilty because by helping her gain control I had not only helped Alex become a greater threat to Jim, but also a more dangerous and efficient criminal. If those canister's of toxin had been used I would have been responsible for the death of thousands, hundreds of thousands. I still get nightmares just thinking how close she'd come.

By some unvoiced agreement we had just acted like it was all ancient history. Both of us had gone out of our way for a long while to be extra open, extra honest and extra considerate of the other without ever broaching that one thing. We'd been like the family who agrees not to discuss the elephant in the middle of the room. And somehow, in time, the whole fiasco had become history. But now I recognized that the guilt had crusted over, but never truly healed.

"I vowed that I would never, ever let my obsession about Sentinel's blind me to my responsibilities as your Guide." What had been an easing sore throat was now as raw as before, but I forged on with my confession. "And then the first time another Sentinel comes along I start right up trying to study him, helping him. Just like back then, oblivious to the threat he represents to you."

"Just like Alex man. All I could think about was my damn studies." The rasp in my voice couldn't disguise the disgust I felt at my actions.

"What does it take before I learn? Your dying? My dying, again?"

As the last words left my lips I felt Jim's grasp tighten almost to the point of pain.

"No!" There was a hint of panic in the older man's voice as he hissed out the harsh denial. "Damn it Blair, you didn't do anything wrong!" Grabbing hold of my upper arms he first held me far enough from him for me to see his face, then shook me, hard.

"Nothing. Back then….or now!" He let his hands fall to his side, his eyes suddenly dark with a wrenching guilt. "I should have talked to you, but I just wanted to put it all behind us. After the grotto, I knew. I may not have your smarts Sandburg, but after Sierra Verde I finally caught on. It's what I have tried to get you to see. The Guide is just as driven by instinct as the Sentinel is. You and I both have been wired to respond to certain things in certain ways. The Sentinel's instincts had me hackling as I sensed an invader in my territory. The Guides instincts had you drawn to help a Sentinel. You're programmed that way Chief. Plus you're a natural born teacher. It didn't all go to hell because of what you did. It was what I didn't do, wouldn't do."

The guilt was running off him in waves now. "It was me Sandburg. All of it. My instincts were screaming for me to keep you with me at all times. I needed that, I sensed that whatever was going on could present a threat to you even more than me." He shook his head in frustration. "I even got sent a vision for crying out loud, practically spelling it out. I saw myself so out of synch with my senses that I didn't even recognize my true Guide. You! I didn't recognize you Blair. I denied my instincts warnings and instead of trying to understand what I was sensing, or asking your help, I just struck out. The vision bugged me; the weirdness frustrated me, and then when I saw the wolf… I just shot. It was you Chief! Your spirit animal, and I didn't even recognize it!

"I let my hang-ups push me to fight for control instead of trusting my senses, trusting the warning of the visions. And then when I learned about Alex, I rationalized that you'd be safer away from me, away from the conflict that I knew was going to happen between she and I. I sent you away. I felt I couldn't control you. And I wanted to. Hell, needed to, to keep you safe. But I refused to face it… or you. To damn obstinate to let myself put any trust in all this mystic stuff. I just wanted someone to blame for my having to deal with stuff I couldn't force into a nice neat, black and white box."

Intense, hawk sharp eyes of blue bored into my own. "And you paid the price. You died Chief, and I felt like I'd killed you. When I went after Alex in Mexico it was with every intension of putting her down, like a rabid animal. But then…then the instincts kicked in again; drowning me in a need I had no power over. And after what had happened before, to you, I couldn't… I was terrified to deny them, to not obey them again. So I just let the instincts direct me. But then by doing so I hurt you again! Shit Chief! I just couldn't do anything right."

It was one of those rare moments when Jim's emotions where laid out, totally exposed. His father and then the military had done a first rate job of making this deep, complex man ashamed of displaying or even having feelings. Those damn fear based responses. There is almost no one he trusts enough to let those walls around his heart be breached. As I look up into his remorse filled eyes I oddly felt a thrill of joy. For I clearly saw at last… trust. In me, in our partnership. The trust that had not been visible before Alex, before 'The Fountain'. The trust that Jim treasured as highly as honor.

38

How could I get him to understand? After all this time, to realize that Blair had convinced himself, no…the truth was I had convinced him, that he was responsible for the Alex debacle. After all, I had repeatedly insinuated those ideas into his head until he believed them.

"I need someone I can trust." How could six words hold so much damn tragedy in them? But my inability to trust had always been my pivotal defining trait hadn't it? I remember trusting my father, telling about my senses when Bud was killed. Trusting him to believe me, help me; understand how bad I felt about the murder. I had needed him so much. You're supposed to be able to trust your own father, aren't you? But instead of protecting me, he had attacked. Accused me of lying, warning me that I end up labeled a liar, or worse … a freak! I never brought the senses up again. Yeah, buried it all so deep I didn't even remember for a couple of decades!

Every girlfriend I had had ended up either being more wrapped up with my being a football jock, or threw me over for the newest 'hot' guy in school. A couple of times I'd thought I had guy friends, only to discover they expected me to help them get girls, or make the team, or shave points on games I was in.

Then betrayed by Stephen, my baby brother, whom I'd protected and considered my only true friend. Until he smashed Pop's car and left me to take the blame. He valued a trip overseas with good ole' Dad more than our relationship and me. Then I found out that my father had in fact known the truth and still taken Stevie, to teach me a lesson in how unfair competition could be. That little wake up call had convinced me to enlist on my eighteenth birthday.

Even that went to hell. Betrayed by my own commander, my team killed. Even my team, I had trusted them, but even somehow blamed them for dying, abandoning me. Trust had died a little more with each deceit. And so finally it was DOA, completely dead. Oh, I had people that I considered dependable, people I looked to for backup. But I fought anything that placed me in a situation of dependence. I had no intention of ever giving anyone a chance to screw me over again. In Vice I'd been the baddest lone wolf on the block.

Even when I came to Major Crimes I made Simon's life hell by practically being the poster boy for bad attitude. It had taken a not too subtle blackmail from Simon to get Jack to take me on as a partner, and then it was my turn to betray, Jack's trust, with Jack's lady.

So to say I had trust issues when I meet Sandburg, was a major understatement. And of course my damn anal retentive streak hadn't helped. Every time anything went the tiniest bit out of my control, boom, instant regression to lone wolf badass. Had to prove to everyone, myself especially, I didn't need anyone.

It had happened so often in those early days, I'd fought so hard not to let Sandburg in. Still denying I needed help. Resisted tests that the intuitive student had proved again and again where important to gain the control I desired. Tried to maintain a strictly professional distance from the bright laughing heart that was so alluring and open, inviting me to step into the warmth that was his world-view. Refusing the encouragement to laugh again, care again, need again, trust…again.

But the immovable prick had meet the unstoppable optimist, and he'd won…mostly. But not completely, never completely. There had been so many occasions when no matter how many times he had proved himself, I had kicked him in the teeth. Refusing to believe him over total strangers. Accusing him of exaggerating his indispensability, of lies, of betrayal. When the only thing he'd been guilty of was being there.

Over and over being at my side or my back, protecting me, frequently from myself. And anytime I'd realized that without him I would have failed…I'd felt threatened, vulnerable. I could NOT be dependent! So denial time again.

And so when my senses went to hell and I started seeing phantom spotted big cats, instead of recognizing I needed Blair's help figuring it all out I withdrew into my usual distrustful macho lone wolf crap. Blair tried to talk to me, tried to tell me about Alex. But I couldn't, or wouldn't, hear.

And then he'd died.

And come back.
For me.

But we'd never talked it out. I'd never really explained, never apologized, never acknowledged the awful reality. I needed him, hell I was totally dependent on him. And I had resented him for my need.

Could I tell him…properly? Could I say the 'L' word without him thinking I'd lost my mind, like earlier?

Like a drowning man clutches a life preserver I reached out and dragged Blair into a rib straining hug, hearing his breath, feeling his warmth even through his many layers. And reveling in his tangy rich scent, no longer sour and off with illness, relieved he was getting better.

Still holding him so that I didn't have to look into his eyes, I rested my chin on his curl-covered head. "I do trust you Blair. I should have all along. But I was crippled Chief, by my past, my doubts and fears. It was never your fault, any of it. I couldn't trust anyone, not just you. That part of me…it was twisted Chief, deformed. But in a strange way losing you, the fountain, then the grotto, it burned that part of me away. When you died my heart turned to ash, and like a phoenix from the ash you came back and put me straight."

I felt Blair try to pull back from my embrace, probably to argue with me, defend me, even against myself. But I held him with his face still against my chest, snuffling unconsciously through his hair, enjoying the tickle on my chin and the strong musk from his scalp.

"Hold up a sec Sandburg. Let me talk just a bit more. I'm going to give it one more try. Once more to try to get you to see. Because we're not just partners, friends, even brothers Chief. Whatever weird order there is to the universe has decided you and I, we're a set. Sentinel and Guide are twin souls; I haven't got a clue how to explain it. I just know it, finally, without doubt or question. You, me, we're pretty much destined to be together, stay together. And somehow I will get it into that quirky head of yours that the 'Guide' has got his own set of 'enhancements'."

"And I know I spooked you out when I told you before Chief, but I'm going to say it again. And maybe even more. I trust you. I need you with me buddy. I love ya. You are the kindest, goofiest, brightest and bravest person I know." Remembering earlier conversations I tightened my hold and deepened my voice. "But so help me, if I let you go and you try to check me for concussion, accuse me of being a pod person, or some other wise ass response, I will strip your skinny little ass and throw you out in the snow!"

The wadded up form in my embrace tensed, then I heard a snicker grow into a chuckle that became full out snorting hoots of scratchy laughter.

Gloved hands pushed insistently against my chest making me release my grip. Moving slightly away so that he was sitting a short distance from me, I watched this expression of amusement deepen even further as he snorted in another breath to laugh even harder.

Struggling to laugh, breath and talk simultaneously he managed to croak out a wheezy, "I sure am glad I didn't say what I was thinking man. Cause I'll be honest Jim… I was seriously worried at the end there, scared even. Any minute I thought you were gonna start singing, 'You are the wind beneath my wings!' You doing Bette Midler! Ugh. Thought for sure I'd have to hurl. Scccaaarrryyy." And he shivered dramatically.

Growling in absolute exasperation all I could do was stare. What the hell did it take? Why couldn't he get this. And then I flashed back to another time involving deep emotions and realized he was just echoing back what he'd learned from me, the hard way. Back then also one of us had tried to get the other to face some intimate truths. There should have been serious talk, about death, rebirth, and shared visions. But when my heart had ached to beg my Guides forgiveness, to shout how glad I was he was alive, to follow wherever he led, instead I'd shied away from dealing with it with a trite, 'There are easier ways to meet nurses Sandburg' and 'You still owe rent."

I could think of things about myself I would be prouder to have rub off on my partner besides my incompetence with emotional issues. Shit…Blair is defined by his easy confidence and willingness to put his feelings right out there. Had my aversion to verbalizing anything vaguely emotional and affectionate pulled him down to my level? God, I hoped not.

I reached out to grab him, but only managed to snag a part of his parka, as he seemed to have recovered some of his usual squirmy, wiry coordination. He slithered out of my grasp and twisted to face me again. I gasped as I saw again his incredibly deep feelings laid out for my view.

"Jim…Jim." He paused and his eyes now had lost all humor, gone dark and solemn as they drilled into mine. "I understand. I really do." His voice held no doubt, no confusion. Absolute, unshakable, his face had taken on the odd ancient wisdom and confidence that I had sometimes caught eerie glimpses of.

"I love you to Jim." Deep emotion welled from each word, mooring to my heart. "I have from the beginning. I guess I kinda always knew man, whatever my destiny…it was with you."

39

It was weird how calm I felt. How at peace. After the emotional roller coaster of recognizing that I'd come close to screwing up…again, then Jim actually talking, real honest to god heavy emotional subject matter and all, about what he'd felt during the whole Alex disaster, I'd felt drained.

Then I'd listened, …again, to Jim go over his whole 'the Guide is special too' theory. He'd been throwing it at me more and more frequently in the last few months. But I had just assumed it was because he was able to read me so well that he knew there were times I was a little jealous that he had the neat special gifts, and all I could do was follow him around and watch. The 'Sidekick' job description can be such a drag and not my dream for a career.

Then he'd gone further, delving deep into emotions that until this mess he had just never verbalized. Now twice in a few days he'd spoken of fears and needs and tender feelings to me, surprising me so totally that I'd been unprepared to deal with them and pulled a classic Ellison avoidance tactic. Since when was I skittish about discussing feelings? So nervous I'd broken out in the giggles, what the hell was that about?

Yet even as I blurted out the humorous retort I'd felt something else. Some curious part of me had actually listened to what Jim had said with both the focused attention of the academic and the open mind of someone who had seen to many unexplainable things to discount. And though I had listened to all he said before, this was the first time I actually heard.

Something inside me was unfurling, released at last. Jim had voiced the feelings I had been aware of in myself almost since our first meeting. I'd given it a lot of names as it grew and deepened, friendship, camaraderie, brotherly affection, love. What ever I called it, I had found myself lured away from my previous nomadic, academic path to one a lot more dangerous than I really felt I could cope with. I have no false ideas about myself. I know I'm a coward, not even ashamed of it okay! I am an anthropologist for crying out loud, not Rambo.

I work with hero's everyday, and man I can tell you for sure I don't have the emotional or physical attributes to satisfy the job requirements. For one thing I am way to neurotic. Fear of heights, yup. Fear of guns, biiiiiggggg yup. After the last few years I seem to be adding about one phobia a year. Elevators, uh huh, not fond of them anymore. Bombs, whoa yeah, well I don't know if that's a phobia as much as common sense. Water…brrrrr. I still haven't been able to go swimming since the fountain, and get nauseous if I smell chlorine. Like I said, neurotic.

Physically, heck I'm only five foot nine, and weigh in wet at one fifty. I used to think I was average size, but now I realize that was probably because I spent most of my time with aboriginal natives who don't win any contests for height. Now that I work with people where the bar for 'average' is around six feet plus, well like I said, I just couldn't make that grade.
I guess if I really was smart I would have caught a hint and given it all up after I got involved the first time. In that one case was pretty much a synopsis of what was to come. Guns, chases, fast, crazy driving, homicidal woman, bombs. I mean really if I had two brain cells to rub together I would have gotten the hint and got the flock out of Dodge!

But I couldn't. Weirdly, even though I was damn scared, a lot, and I was not thrilled with being ordered around and snapped at, I couldn't leave. And it wasn't because I needed to study him for my diss, though I had told Jim different.

Yeah, I am one of those scientists who do do best when I can see my subject in his or her natural environment. I had lived with all the tribes I had ever studied, and usually managed to maintain my 'observer' objectivity. But from the very start it had been different with Jim. I couldn't just stand by and watch. I was drawn in, to be there, watching out for him, watching his back. Yeah, yeah, real funny, but true. I just couldn't bear the idea of him being in danger and me not being there to watch out for him, doing what I could to help.

When I couldn't lay eyes on him whenever the mood grabbed me, somehow I'd start getting antsy. Sometimes it got so bad I'd leave Rainier, head over to the station on some pretense of helping him with paperwork, like an addict sneaking a fix. The guys think Jim is manipulating me to get out of the part of the job he hates most. I can't hope to explain to them that I do it to meet my own needs.

Of course I had never even given a hint of that little weirdness to the big guy. I could just see it, me telling him, 'oh Jim, by the way, some side effect of the my working with the Sentinel seems to be the some mystical dependency and I can't cope for any length of time without a booster fix of you.' Nope, not going there. I haven't made my last will out yet. Hell, I haven't made any little Sandburg's yet! I plan to live a long time, and that means avoiding certain conversations.

Until now Jim just hadn't been comfortable with anything that smacks of the mystical. As the king of suppression the whole ancient instinctual guardian stuff gave Jim the heebie jeebies. He shied away from the idea of his not being in control. His actions being pre-programmed, uhg uh, no way. Oh man, the few times he'd really regressed to his primal self without even knowing how he knew what he knew, he'd freaked!

Unfortunately I'd seen how hard he would fight not to accept the supernatural side of the Sentinel nature. My body had served painful witness to what happens to a control freak when the vision's start. It had been a fast, downward spiral, his spirit animal's presence, mine, Alex's, the fountain. Worse in Mexico; the mating attraction, the grotto and more visions. Of course I'm not sure of a lot of what went on in Sierra Verde. A case of walking pneumonia and a fever above 103 can sort of blur the details of things. But I'm pretty sure that Jim was totally awash in some serious spooky shit. And his friend, the Anthropologist, had seemed more interested in studying the two specimens of Sentinel kind than being HIS Guide.

But now I saw that in my own way I'd been in denial as to what my role was almost as much as Jim had been at the beginning. But this time I really heard what Jim said, and for maybe the first time processed the possibility that I was not just a person guiding a Sentinel, but a predestined Guide, capital G, and even more, Jim's Guide. With the weird clarity of hindsight I thought again of several things that I had put down to chance, luck, or coincidence. Shifting my interpretation just ever so slightly I had to admit to myself that serendipity could only cover so much.

What if Jim had come to me because we were meant to complete each other? Not just because I was the only one offering help. What if Incacha hadn't passed the way of the Shaman on to me just because I was there at the time, but because he recognized something about me? Maybe I was able to pull Jim out of zones fast because I was always so aware of him that it was like we were linked. How had I known when he'd been in trouble so many times? How was I able to see past all the stoic macho crap and know, not guess, but really know, what was going on with Jim? I seemed to almost vibrate in tune to Jim sometimes… and he seemed to be tuned to me. Maybe…

Shit! I felt just like in the cartoons when the stupid light bulb pops up over your head. I knew! It was true! There was no way I could have just stumbled through all this. It was just too much to assign to chance. Over and over, one or the other of us had had the necessary piece of some larger puzzle, balanced the actions of the other, supplied what was wanting in the other in a way no one else seemed capable of.

The Sentinel and Guide.

The Sentinel has the enhanced senses, hyper aware of the tangible environment. Dealing with provable facts, things that could be seen, smelled, tasted, heard, and touched, requiring evidence more than faith or interpretation.

The Guide has the subjective contribution. More intuitive with a comfort level with the spiritual, the mystical. Believing the unbelievable, conceiving the inconceivable.

All this time, I've studied it, analyzed it, extrapolated it, known the traits that where the defining features of the primitive Watchman and his ever present partner. If anyone should recognize what identifies a Guide, you'd have thought it would have been me. Yet somehow I'd been too close to make the connection, recognize it; see it looking back in the mirror.

All this time I'd wished I could be the person Jim needed. Wished I were like the Guides that Burton described. Yet all along I'd seen myself as faking it, trying to mimic what I thought a 'Real Guide' would do. But all along…

I was a Guide! I was Jim's Guide, not just some kid following him around. And I did bring real contributions to the partnership. And someday I'll bring even more to the table, because I knew now more than my true Guide nature. I felt something inside perk up, as I looked even further inward, brushing over powerful mystical potential. Yes, me. Guide and entry level Shaman.

And suddenly, as I finally accepted the destiny for which I had been born, I found myself standing in an open meadow surrounded by tall redwoods. I knew this field, it was behind the commune Naomi and I had lived in when I was twelve. The field had been my personal reading room after a professor friend of my mom's had loaned me the book "The Sentinels of Paraguay".

A vision! Cool! I had kind of expected a jungle, since each of Jim's had been set in a jungle. But maybe each person kind of chose his or her setting. Jim had been reborn as a Sentinel in Peru after the crash; then again he had chosen to remain a Sentinel there.

I had discovered Sentinel's in this field, and set my heart on one day finding one. Maybe this place represented when, like Jim, I had made a choice to become a Guide.

I stood there just reveling in the sights and sounds. It was all so detailed, sharp and clear and 100% accurate. Wow! This was incredible. Oddly I felt no fear, even though the only other time I'd had a vision, I'd been dead. As I started to walk toward the trees I heard a strong, yet kindly voice, in my mind, or maybe my soul. "So you begin, Guide-Shaman… at last." I turned, not surprised to find Incacha standing before me. His smiling face was still painted blood red, belaying the gentle good humor in those intense black eyes of his. Of course an ebony jaguar and silver wolf sat at his side.

"You're speaking English?" I blurted unintentionally, and watched his smile grow even wider. Way to go Sandburg, you're in the middle of a conversation with a dead man, in a field from your childhood that is probably paved parking by now, and all you can comment on is he is speaking English.

"Skip it, I'm just a little blown away here man. I'm new to this and all. I mean I've participated in native religious ceremonies where there was definitely some hallucinogenic, ya know peyote' and all that…but I never really had any out of body experience, just ended up hurling my guts. Of course I had the vision when I died, but I figured that was Jim's vision and I was just a passenger, ya know. But this…this is…."

"Sinchij." Incacha's sharp voice did not hide his amusement. "You…"

"I know…I know I'm babbling. Happens when I'm nervous. Jim's always telling me…"

"Sinchij munasqaykuna!" A calming hand settled firmly on my shoulder and squeezed. The action was so much like Jim always did that I quieted immediately. I looked into his kindly eyes as they focused unwaveringly on my face. "I am pleased Enquiri found his soul mate. When he was with me I was sad that I could only ease his pain from the void in his heart as he hunted for you. But now you both have found the other. Completed each other."

"You have chosen, Guide-Shaman. Enquiri, you… you see now what you are, both of you. Now that you have accepted yourself you will help Enquiri as Guide. But you are also Shaman. Your power is great, and your heart strong and true. Conceive, believe, accomplish. The only thing that limit's you will by your doubts. You have much too long bound away the great power within you."

I tried to focus my eyes as Incacha's image became blurry, his speech becoming fainter within my mind as he went on, ending almost as a whisper. "Now…you will truly become."

"Become? Become what? Incacha!" I opened my mouth to speak aloud and…

Opening my eyes I saw Jim staring at me with a look of frustration frozen on his face. I blinked and realized that only a fraction of a second had passed since I'd laughed in the face of my Sentinel's emotional revelation. My epiphany and Incacha's cryptic pep talk, all had taken place between one heartbeat and the next.

Like a switch had been thrown on a VCR suddenly Jim began to move, reaching out to grab at me. His face looked like he was ready to pound his idea into my brain, syllable by syllable! A quick squirm and wriggle and I got a little away from him, but I turned back immediately. I had to tell him! Let him in on what I now knew for sure. I was HIS Guide and he was MY Sentinel. WE, US, together, all part of the big plan. Somewhere in my mind I felt something arc and crackle to life, but I had no time now to study it.

"Jim…Jim." I found as much as I wanted to tell him what had just happened, other words pushed to the fore, demanding to be said first. "I understand. I really do." I wondered could a simple thing like a heart manage to hold what I was feeling right now? "I love you too Jim. I have from the beginning. I guess I kinda always knew man, whatever my destiny…it was with you."

His eyes meet mine with an intense determination, demanding something. From some distant place I heard the fierce roar of a large cat. The Jaguar! I perceived a subtle nuance in the sound. It was a summons, a call to join with the big aggressive spirit animal. Without any thought I knew what was needed and from within myself sent forth the wolf, howling with acceptance and joy.

With different eyes I saw the ebony form leap and the silver shape pounce to intercept. There was the still remembered too, too bright flare of fusion. A union of spirits, combining in that moment all the differences and similarities, each filling any voids in the other. It was the most wonderful feeling I had every experienced, totally at peace, completing me in ways I had never even known I was lacking.

Feeling as if I were still in the spirit plane with Incacha I saw a nimbus of intense blue glowing around Jim. Like an entranced child I reached out to finger the warm radiance. Brushing the soft aura I felt unhappy when I noticed flecks of angry red flickering near Jim's shoulder. Somehow impelled to try to sooth away the disparity I passed my hand feather light over each point of crimson. From my fingers wisped rainbow ribbons of sky blue, grass green, and sun gold that flowed over the scarlet, gentled away the red to violet and finally to the same radiant blue as the rest of the corona.

Bemused I reached toward another area of scarlet along his neck but then I registered the look on Jim's face. From intent possessiveness it had relaxed into a kind of shock, no…not shock…more like dazed?

Taking a deep breath I felt oddly lightheaded, but I smiled at him as I reached up again, still discontent with the red spots.

"ARRRRGgggggghhhhhh!" I couldn't hold the cry as suddenly it felt like a large knife had been driven through each of my eyes into my brain. Then instantly the agony was compounded as a vicious cramp twisted my guts.

I felt acid burn my throat as I vomited and then whimpering helplessly let the blackness swoop in and devour me.

"OOOOooouuucchh!" My blurry eyes tried to focus on a blade of pristine, emerald grass that was poking in my nostril. I wanted to move my head to escape the nuisance, but said head seemed to weigh about a million pounds and to not be following my orders right then. Breathing in slowly to fend off any pending panic attack I concentrated on the calming fact that I was warm, lying face down in a field somewhere. Catching the intensity of the smells and sounds, I realized I must be back in my vision meadow!

From somewhere I managed to marshal the strength to turn my head. Yep, Redwood's all around and the same virgin green field, the whole schlemiel. And sitting cross-legged just next to my flat on the ground self, looking like an amused little Budda…Incacha.

Clamping my eyes shut I concentrated and just managed to roll over onto my back in spite of the axe that just had to be buried in my skull top.

"Shit!" I exclaimed through gritted teeth, unable to keep the tears of pain from squeezing out from my compressed eyelids. "What the hell…?" I had always thought that there was no pain in visions, man… this was so damn unfair.

"Sinchij?" Despite the amusement I had noticed earlier, I couldn't miss the concern in the small native's voice. Okay…I could do this. A few more deep breaths were necessary to get past the still pretty intense headache, but I finally managed to open my eyes and sit up just opposite Incacha, adopting the same cross-legged position. Only the fact I hurt so much helped me resist the impulse to raise a palm and go "How Kemosabi" in recognition of our pow-wow like stance. Somehow I don't think the Chopec Shaman would have understood the reference. Of course maybe they have T.V. in the spirit world… and where there is T.V. there will be reruns!

"Incacha…" I tried to think of a respectful way to phrase my question. He was, after all, Jim's mentor and first Guide. But pain did not improve my manners. "What the HELL happened! I'm here, I'm back with Jim, I'm here again, with the mother of all headaches mind you. What is up man, cause I gotta tell you this is sssssoooooo not my idea of a vision. I hurt! You're not supposed to hurt on the astral plane! Are you?" I fumbled to a confused stop. This was not going the way I had always dreamed. And it was pissing me off.

""Sinchij munasqaykuna" Again with the strange phrase, was that the Chopec version of 'Hey shut up'? Or maybe 'Chief, you're babbling.' Before I could ask though Incacha extended his hands, palm up, straight in front of him so they reached almost to me. Not exactly sure how I knew what was expected, but willing to try anything once, I extended my own arms to clasped his just above the wrist.

Immediately I felt a surge of warmth and a tingle that lifted the hair on the nape of my neck. But within a moment I let out a whoosh of shock as the blinding pain behind my eyes eased remarkably. The pain had been so intense that even though not gone entirely, the amount of relief in comparison made ignoring the residual easy.

"Oh man. Thank you!" I exclaimed appreciatively. "I am like so not into pain, and that was the mother of all migraines."

Before I could launch into any further gratitude marathon, Incacha's arms dropped away and his form visibly dimmed. He seemed almost translucent, and I immediately felt concern for the Shaman. Dead or not, he didn't look so hot right then.

"Incacha? Are you okay? What can I do?" Unconsciously I reached out toward him, but my hand passed right through his previously tangible form. "Whoa!" I snapped as I withdrew my tingling hand.

"It is well Sinchij." My host's voice still held a lot of amusement, but I could feel that he was under some definite time restraints. Was he AWOL from wherever Chopec Shaman go in the afterlife? "I did not expect you to return so…soon." He actually shook his head then and the look he gave me held a certain wonder. It was the one Naomi always gave me as a kid when I did something either incredibly intelligent or incredibly dumb. Considering the fact that even Incacha hadn't been prepared for my reappearance I could just assume that it was likely the incredibly dumb type thing.

"I screwed up huh." I stated matter-of-factly. I mean I don't exactly even know what I did, so it's reasonable to assume that I didn't do it right… what ever it was… This was not making a lot of sense to me.

"No Shaman. You did nothing wrong. Just dangerous. You are very powerful, but you are not yet strong enough to weld that power." Incacha's face leaned in close to examine my drawn, still slightly pained expression. "It is your nature for you to wish to help your Sentinel. But you are ill and your body sapped of energy. To try to heal Enquiri now only does you harm, and he would not wish you injury to spare him pain he is already past noticing."

"HEALING! I was healing Jim!" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. But thinking back to the imagery I realized that the red twirly stuff must be the pain aura, and I had been healing…

"WOW!" I barked with excitement. "This is so neat! I, Blair Jacob Sandburg… can heal! Man I just cannot believe…"

"SHAMAN!" It was the first time I ever heard Incacha actually shout. And the look on his face was one bordering on exasperation. Quickly replaying what he had said to me I realized that maybe he'd wanted me to pay a little closer attention to the fact that I could have hurt myself, and less to the fact that I could heal. HEALING! So cool, I couldn't wait to tell Jim.

But first I needed to be the good student and show my teacher that I was not taking all this lightly. That I would read all the warning labels in future and not operate my Shaman power's when impaired and all the other responsible adult type things important when messing with hazardous stuff.

I could swear Incacha must have heard my thoughts, for a moment humor and frustration warred for primacy on the deep brown face. Jim always said I could drive a saint to distraction…I guess that applied to dead Chopec Shamans also.

Deciding to spare him the stress, if spirits can experience stress anymore, I schooled my expression into the patented 'Profession Sandburg who knows his shit and doesn't do anything too, too terribly stupid without a rrrrreeeaaallllyyy good reason' one.

"Hey, sorry Incacha. I understand. No frivolous healing. Got it."

"NO! You do not 'got it." There was no question now; frustration had definitely won the war. Leaning in to my face again, this time the Chopec actually growled! So that's where Jim got that from.

"Healing and your other powers, they are costly to your body and you must learn how to use them or you will be hurt. Most Shaman cannot ever heal. The few who do, cannot until many years have been spent in meditation and learning. I have never seen so young and inexperienced a Shaman be able to. It proves how powerful you will be, Shaman of the Great City. But you must practice more care and patience. If not for yourself, understand that if Enquiri lost his Sinchij Munasqaykuna it would be his end."

The dark eyes of the older man bored into me; trying to make me understand, make me see the possible result of any thoughtless use of what apparently was some potentially kick ass ability. But whatever other argument he had, was no longer moot. His last sentence was really all he had to say. Jim was my priority, always was, always would be. The realization that if something happened to me Jim would be harmed… Then the thought of just what he was saying scared the hell out of me.

"What exactly do you mean Incacha? If I die…Jim dies? No way man. No way. That was not in the contract. I accepted being a Guide, accepted that this is who and what I was meant to be. But no way am I going to risk Jim. That is like so not fair. Forget the hazards of Shamanism. What if some lunatic like Lash were to get me, kill me? I'm not a warrior man. I can just barely get through a day unscathed, I am no match for half the pug uglies that Jim goes up against. And you tell me if I go down then Jim does too…Ugh ugh. NO …. WAY… I want out. Or I want Jim out… Who writes these rules? I want to speak to them… I… I…, no way man…"

What had started to be a full-blown panic attack suddenly sputtered down to an aching despair, tears running down my cheeks. All the joy and wonder of my earlier epiphany about my being Jim's destined Guide had turned to ash. Destined Guide, destined to screw up and either directly or indirectly cost my Sentinel his life.

"Shaman." Incacha's voice was filled with gentleness and understanding. "Do not fear for your Sentinel. Has he not always mastered his enemies? Without you, would he not already be dead. Do not dwell on the darkness, focus on the light. No man may know when his death will be. But worry will not hold it at bay. Enquiri chooses to be a protector, knowing he may die. You have chosen to protect and guide the protector, knowing you may die. It is as it should be." His voice was beginning to fade and my headache was starting to come back.

"Incacha?" I called out suddenly.

"Yes, Shaman of the Great City" His words more like the sound of wind through trees than speech.

"What the hell does Sinchij munasqaykuna mean?" I let a bit of my curiosity leak into the question.

"It is what Enquiri has always called you, even in his dream walks before he meet you."

"But what does it mean?"

"Ask Enquirrrriii….

40

"I love you too Jim. I have from the beginning. I guess I kinda always knew man, whatever my destiny…it was with you."

He had said it, exactly what I had needed to hear. And I saw clearly something had changed in him. His eyes, always kind and wise, held a new level of wonder. A smile both goofy with joy and rather shy was painted across his solemn face.

HE KNEW. He finally knew that he wasn't just a follow along. Not an interchangeable happenstance, but an essential half of the whole Sentinel/Guide partnership. Not just a guide, but MY Guide.

From inside me I felt the surge of the fierce feral urge that I had come to recognize as my Spirit Jaguar's emergence. The big cat roared insistently, demanding a response and then the black feline bounded from my chest. Blair's pupils expanded huge, then his eyes glowed nearly dark turquoise. I saw the now familiar silver wolf leap from his form to meet the great cat that waited impatiently. They pounced at the same moment, their arch intercepted at each apex and just as before, at the fountain, the ephemeral shapes coalesced into a sight banishing flash of light.

The intensity of the flare left me jolted back onto my heels, still squatted just in front of where Blair sat mere inches from me. His expression was even more awestruck now. So much love radiated from him that I felt my eyes would be singed by the glow, but I was so totally enthralled I couldn't have moved or looked away if my life had depended on it.

His hand reached up, tentative at first, like a little boy who has found his first butterfly, amazed, desperate to touch, but afraid to touch at the same time. There was the faintest graze of his fingers on my cheek and a wondrous tingling of warmth radiated from the spot. Even as I registered the unusual feeling I saw his smile turn into a tiny discontented line as his gaze suddenly fixed on my sore shoulder.

Though the injury was still tender, I had pretty much gotten use to the achy pain throbbing in the background of my senses. Now as Blair's hand moved to the point of my shoulder that happened to twinge the most, I felt an unmistakable current of tingling heat. Within a heartbeat the shoulder's discomfort faded, then vanished away.

Shocked and not a little confused I saw Blair's faraway gaze move to my collar where still remained a faint but barely noticeable sting when I moved. Frozen immobile by what I could not accept was happening but was hard to deny, I just watched his hand follow his line of sight up.

"Arrrrggggghhhh" It happened so fast I didn't even see the change. Suddenly Sandburg's pulse shot through the roof, his face shriveled into a grimace of agony, he vomited and his eyes rolled back.

"BLAIR?" I grabbed him as he keeled forwarded into my chest. Shifting his limp form I eased him onto his back on the pallet. My worry went ballistic when I noted a severe nosebleed had started with his collapse.

I don't do helpless well, and not having any idea what had happened made me nuts. My partner had been through so much in the last week, but had been getting better. Now suddenly he has some kind of epiphany, seems to be able to heal me and then shuts down like the energizer bunny with the batteries ripped out.

My hands were a little frantic as they moved to his neck. Yeah, my ears had already told me his heart was beating at a gallop, but I needed to feel it for some reason, so sue me!

The pounding strength of the pulse belonged on someone who had run a marathon more that a man just sitting around, but I was too grateful for it in any form to carp. What bothered me more was his body that just hours before had been over warm with fever was now chilled. Shock? What the hell had happened?

With practiced efficiency I elevated his legs and pulled several layers of blankets up around his now shivering form. Then I lifted his shoulders enough to slide under and hug him in my lap, adding my own body heat to the warming blankets.

"ELIZON! Dah Seer! Whad iz rung? I smeil blud. HIZ blud. Hiz smeil haz change tu. Dam yu Elizon…" I twisted to see Abel straining at his bonds, thrashing from side to side. I realized that though unable to see or hear, the other was still able to smell. And right now there was plenty to smell. And apparently Sentinels instinctively reacted negatively to the smell of Guide blood. Unintentionally my own nose cranked up. The hemorrhage from Blair's bloody nose was small yet the scent overpowering to the point I almost gagged.

I had never told Sandburg about my being able to differentiate the scent of his blood just as well as I could his body scent. But I could. Just another of those damn things I avoided thinking about by not talking about it.

Tensing I watched as Abel continued to struggle against his bonds. Though the riot cuffs stretched, the cuffs rattled and the ropes thinned, they all held firm. Then the giant suddenly went rigid, mouth dropped open and behind the blindfold I knew I would find eyes vacant in expression. He had over focused on smell. A zone.

I looked at him with no sympathy and less interest. Assured that he was at least for the moment not a threat I turned my attention back to what really mattered.

As my own senses curled around the limp form I held I was relieved when I discerned the easing of both the speed of his pulse and the bleeding from his nose. Dipping a bit of cloth in water I gently swabbed at the congealed red above his lips.

Over the next minute or so Blair went from very relaxed to steel tense. His breathing caught on the edge of a panic attack again and I held him close trying to protect him from whatever dream haunted him. I rocked him, cooed shamelessly into his curls, trying to calm him. All my senses focused on him.

Suddenly he seemed to deflate. A mumbled, half heard 'no way' trembled from between his lips and the anguish in the tone almost wrung tears from my eyes. I hugged him even tighter to me.

Then he took a deep shuddering breath and opened his eyes to blink owl like up at me. Since his head was in my lap, my head looking down appeared upside down to him, it took a second for his mind to decipher our positions. Even as he struggled to focus I found myself breathing in his stronger than usual true scent, catching a deeper tang, different than before, pouring off him. Something within my mind quivered with pleasure. Before I really registered the feeling, a shy smile cracked Blair's lips and he whispered out a profoundly sincere, "Love ya Jim. My brother, my Sentinel."

Damn. I couldn't get my voice around the lump suddenly in my throat. How could any mere words respond to that statement, that tone, that look. But there was no way I was going to give myself a pass on this. To many times the words hadn't been said, the feelings not expressed. I couldn't, wouldn't do that now.

"My brother, MY Guide!" Reaching down I brushed my fingers tenderly down his now slightly flushed cheek. "I love you." Considering how rarely I had ever been able to push those words out of my mouth, it was so easy in this circumstance, with this rare and special person. I did love him, not because he had kept me sane, not because I'd have eaten a bullet long before now without him. No, though those definitely increased my gratitude, they were not the main things.

I loved this man because he could love me. Because he was all wonder and joy and awe, a glowing light of a spirit that had dragged my sorry ass out of a darkness so deep the bottom floor was hell. He made friends so easily he could have picked someone a lot less of a hassle than me for a best friend. He could've had an easy life with other bright souls like himself but he'd chosen to stand at my side.

And he was willing to fight so hard for me. That part really blew me away. I of all people knew Blair's kind and gentle side, his forgiving ways. But I also knew the core of industrial steel under it all. He knew what was right and would never just take the easy way out. And he was a terrier from hell when he was convinced something had to be done.

How many times had he gone up against me to save me from myself? It had been a surprise the first time I really experienced the Teaching Fellow's temper. I had in my checkered career invoked such fear in some opponents that they'd been reduced to tears or soiling themselves. I on the other hand had never been bullied into doing anything since I was ten years old. But Blair, almost half a foot shorter and nearly five stone lighter, had tormented, harassed and generally forced me to do the right thing, repeatedly. And there was no bluff or pretense to it when it happened. If it was for my own good he was ferocious.

Looking into his sparkling blue eyes I glimpsed that ferocity under the deep emotion. His lips moved and a whisper I think was not meant even for Sentinel ears hissed out. "Never let you be hurt, never. No way." A promise, vow, prayer? Whatever he meant I saw that my own fierce protectiveness of him was mirrored for me in him.

As if noticing he had spoken out loud Blair suddenly shifted and tried to sit, frustrated when my clinging hug made it impossible.

"Jim? Wanna let me up?" He wriggled his shoulders and tried again. This time I helped lever him up to a sitting position, though I still held him lightly, his back to my chest. This clingy need was beyond my control right then and concerned me not at all.

"I'm okay Jim." He intoned reassuringly as he stroked the arm that I had plastered across his chest, holding him against mine.

"You passed out Chief." I grunted with not well-concealed accusation. "Went into shock." I paused, unsure… thinking hard… before growling out, "And you HEALED my shoulder!"

"Oh…"

"OH! Just OH! Believe me Sandburg, I am going to hear a whole lot more than 'Oh' out of you or so help me I'll…"

He snickered! Damn it to hell… he snickered at me.

"Sandburg!" Fury now cemented each syllable.

"Sorry Jim. Sorry, really…" He snickered again. "But what could you do? Knock me out for passing out?" He had started to giggle now. I recognized the signs of an adrenaline rebound. After the worst of a scary situation was past Sandburg frequently turned goofy with relief. This was that kind of thing.

I watched the silly expression pass, then he twisted his position out of my arms to kneel across from me again. For a second he just stared intently at my face, reading something there that only he could.

"I saw Incacha." His eyes burned unmoving into mine. So he must have seen the momentary fleeting pain of memory the name brought. His hand came out to lightly grip my forearm. "He really cared for you man. Still does."

"You had a vision?" I asked the question with a definite wariness. Like I said before, visions usually portend some damn bad times.

"Yeah. It was…well, it was… heck you know! You've had several of the things." Seeing him speechless was quite an occasion. I smiled at him feeling the warm fondness for him clean to my toes.

"Yeah Chief, I've had some. How about you tell me about yours." I reached forward to pull a blanket up over his shoulders like a shawl. He had not even realized he was chilled but I had seen the tiny shivers and reacted instinctively.

"Thanks man." He murmured softly as he pulled the cover tighter. Then he carefully arranged his legs in the half lotus, preparing somehow to communicate his experience.

I listened as he took me pace by pace through his sojourn onto the spirit plane, his natural teaching skills painting such clear imagery that I almost felt the experience first hand. I reveled in his realization of his Guide status, chuckled at his nervous intercourse with the so amused Incacha, felt awe transmute to stark terror as he calmly explained the detriment of the healing expenditure, and before my alarm could be voiced, heard his despair at Incacha's disclosure of the potential consequence of our bond.

His tone was fatalistic as he spoke of Incacha's attempt to calm his fears. He now experienced the same worry that had so often tortured me. My need for him placed him at hazard, now he felt the same guilt by association placed on me. Fitting, but hard to deal with just the same.

Feeling his distress I caught his face between both hands and leaned in almost nose-to-nose. "I'm not going anywhere Chief, and neither are you. Whatever happens…we will be okay. I know this as surely as the sunrise and taxes."

His voice so timid, so uncharacteristically lacking in confidence, "But if I screw up…if I get… you know…killed." The fact that he was upset not as much by his own potential death as mine drove me ballistic.

"It isn't going to happen. Period. You are going to live long enough to make your great, great grandkids as crazy as you make me. So forget about it. You're the one who's always going on about 'negative vibes', well this is one of those things that you just don't dwell on."

Then he did the worst thing he could do to me right then. Crystal tears gathered and traced silvery paths down his cheeks and that damn sadness in his eyes ripped holes in my soul. "It just is scary man, I die, you die… I don't want you to die."

Oh Blair! My hands released his face and pulled him back into a rib-damaging hug. Knowing it wasn't what he wanted to hear, but knowing it had to be said I murmured softly into a curl covered ear. "If you were gone Chief… I really wouldn't want to be left behind, I'd have to follow, ya know. We're a team. You. Me. Forever. And maybe beyond."

"Whither thou goest…" His voice was trembling slightly, but there was something else in the nonsequiter.

"What?" I asked softly, leaning back to view his intent face again, knowing whatever he meant, it was important.

"It's from the Bible Jim. The story of Ruth; 'And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me."

I couldn't remember the context of the phrase, I hadn't been to church since I was nine, but hearing the phrase that so mirrored our situation, I couldn't resist. "Well Chief, you've got the first three down pat. You 'follow after' no matter how often I 'intreat' you to stay in the truck, and we both know the lodging situation. My people…well some days you spend more time with the guys at Major Crimes then I do. Thy God…? I don't plan to convert, but I kinda think we both look to the same source, if not the same building." Casting back into my memory I managed to dredge up some of the details that went with the axiom. "Okay Chief, let's see, Ruth's a lady who was married to a Jewish guy who was killed, so she and her mother were left with no one to support them. To try to keep Ruth from starvation her mother tried to convince her to leave her." I summarized.

"Not her mother, her mother-in-law." Sandburg the Teaching Fellow was back. "There was no blood relationship. With her husband…," he paused to smirk, "the Jewish guy, dead, Ruth's responsibility to his mother officially ended. That's how things were done back then. In those times a woman without a husband or son had little chance of survival. And it was a time of famine on top of it. So sticking with an old, ill woman who wasn't even a blood relative was unheard of." He'd become serious again.

"If Ruth went out on her own she might have found a new husband, she was young enough and healthy. But especially during hard times no man would take some other man's old, sick mother in, even to get Ruth. But Ruth refused to leave, her love was stronger than fear, or blood, or even her faith, she wasn't even a Jew. She knew it likely would cost her her life and she still made the choice to stay. Blood relative or no, she couldn't leave."

His eyes now bored into mine with that incredible intensity. "It was all about love."

I returned the look, understanding now. "Till death do they part huh Chief?" I felt the trembling in my heart. The organ had gotten more exercise lately than it was use to, but it felt great.

"Yeah Jim…like us." A quiet peace had settled over him, supplanting the earlier pain and despair. And I knew that he'd finally accepted it all, friends, brothers, Guide and Sentinel and the soul-bonded connection that was included. And seeing that in him produced its echo in me. The something deep inside me roared with joy. My Guide!

Just then a little light went off in my head as I remembered another little piece of the story of Ruth. "Chief…correct me if I'm wrong, but if I remember right, wasn't the mother in laws name…"

"Yeah Jim…the mother in laws name… it was Naomi." And the smile lit the cave brighter than any glow from the fire.

I grabbed him up into one more intense hug.

"I love you Jim." He murmured contentedly.

"I love you Blair." I returned with absolute conviction, no confusion, no embarrassment.

41

I was a Guide, Jim's Guide! And in some incredibly weird way not even the fear that the price of the ticket for the roller-coaster ride was a lot steeper than I had realized, could diminish the joy I was feeling. I felt inside me the wolf howling a happy song, unconcerned with the possible future and caring only about the contentment of the now.

I, non-wolfy Blair, on the other hand desperately wanted to do some heavy duty mellowing. Feeling somewhat stronger I started to pull my legs up into lotus position. Right now I needed to meditate. This latest revelation on top of the traumatic week I'd already had had left me no time to 'process' it all.

But of course this is me we're talking about, so of course as I started to shift into position my eyes glanced over to the other end of the cave where Abel sat. I'd managed to put the mammoth out of my mind for a bit, but now I saw him. Saw him sitting like a carved statue, unmoving, mouth slightly open. Zoned!

"Shit! Abel's zoned Jim." I barked with just a touch of alarm, wondering how long ago that'd happened.

"Yeah. I know." To say his tone was unconcerned would have been a huge understatement. But I shouldn't have been surprised. He'd been keeping one eye peeled on the potential challenger 24/7 through all this, so there was no way he wouldn't have noticed the change in pulse and respiration that had to have accompanied the giant's decent into the fugue state of a zone.

With a little sigh I looked over at where Jim was still kneeling on the pallet across from me. "How long Jim?" I asked patiently. I couldn't very well expect either the cop or Sentinel to have jumped to Abel's rescue. Right then even I was loath to have anything to do with the criminal.

I caught myself and thought about that for a moment. Cause it was true? For some reason something in me was physically ill at the thought of touching the man, the Sentinel who was not Jim? I'd been real unhappy with the guy before, but since my little walk with Incacha the feeling was more pronounced, like I'd undergone some kind of psychic aversion therapy. But if left in the zone there was always the possibility that the giant would stop breathing. And no matter what else, I couldn't leave a man to die, helpless like that… even Abel.

"Oh…About an hour." Jim's nonchalance was almost amusing. I could distinctly hear the Jaguar's growl beneath his tone. Yep, as far as the instinctual Sentinel portion of him was concerned the emotion toward Abel was definitely 'Died? Oopps, didn't notice, not sorry.'

With another sigh I rose unsteadily to my feet. Immediately Jim hopped up and took a strong grip on my arm. His assist kept me upright and then he continued the hold as I moved across the cave, but I didn't miss the ongoing just sub-vocal rumble as we went.

When I got just a stride away from Abel I came to a halt, feeling a weird uneasy shiver move through me. I didn't want to touch him? I rrrrreeeeaaaaallllyyyy did not want to touch the other Sentinel at all? Almost like I thought it would hurt. THIS IS SO WEIRD!

Taking a deep breath I reached down to the giant shoulder and sure enough a ripple of discomfort cramped up my arm and into my center.

Jim's grip on me shifted and he was suddenly trying to pull me away. "Leave him." He growled. But I could see that Abel was breathing so shallow his chest barely moved. I just could not ignore that, even though I had a flash of an image of a bristling wolf crouching by a trapped bear, growling and upset.

"No." I snapped with impatience. I didn't want to do this any more than he wanted me to. But I would not abandon a helpless person. Ignoring the cramping pain I tightened my grip and knelt in front of the huge man. I eased the blindfold up slightly, seeing the concrete gray eyes were open and frozen on some impossibly distant point. Moving the blindfold had also shifted the pads that deafened the big man.

Touch, sight and sound were the strongest senses for retrieving a Sentinel from a zone, or at least had been with Jim and Alex. "Abel…Listen to my voice. Focus on the sound. Feel my touch on your arm. Now see the light of the fire in front of you. You need to get back to here and now." I didn't verbalize that I needed this to happen soon as the cramps in my arm were progressing from a semi ouch to a definite intolerable pain.

When a particularly unpleasant zap moved through where I was anchored to the other I lost my own focus. Gritting my teeth I decided to screw finesse and go to a technique that I had used it the early days with Jim when he was taking too long to come back. Letting go of the shoulder I shifted my weight slightly, shouted an impatient "Hey wake up!" and laid an open handed slap hard across the stubbly bearded face.

Abel came around with a roar that would have done his spirit bear proud. His eyes snapped to awareness and latched onto me like I was the only meat at a carnivore convention. He began screaming in that stilted English, "You! Ee chang you. Wha ee do? You smeil liig im now! NO! You av tu beh mine!" Then he made the mistake of lunging toward me, oblivious of the dozen or so restraints he wore. In my present state of health I couldn't have avoided the lunge of an arthritic tortoise, but suddenly I was standing three feet away from Abel with a snarling Jim in between. It took a moment for my mind to replay the lightning fast way Jim had snatched me by the nape of my neck, lifted and shifted me around behind him, like a big cat moving it's cub out of harm's way. In the fraction of a second it took me to realize what he'd done Jim had also piled a fist down and across the giant's jaw, smashing him to the floor with Herculean strength augmented by fury.

I looked from Jim, breathing hard and radiating possessive aggression, to Abel, breathing steadily but out cold with a split lip. "Well…at least he's not zoned anymore." I said with what I hoped was recognized as seeing the best in a bad situation. But Jim looked up from glaring at the unconscious behemoth to me with no decrease in the glare factor.

Hell, just a few minutes ago we had been so in sync with each other. Practically wearing shared skin. Now it was like I faced another person, but I realized it was somehow a facet of the Sentinel personality. This Jim looked ready to maybe put me out cold right next to Abel if it was the only way to keep me safe from my more altruistic impulses. Instead though he just moved up to stand right in front of me, took a deeeeepppp inhale through his nose, focused his eyes unwaveringly on my face and reached out to carefully lay his hand on my shoulder. By the tilt of his head I also realized he was listening to something with Sentinel ears.

In the time it took to describe it, all trace of tension flowed from his expression. I realized he was using me to set his baselines, but there was something more to it than the usual. He had told me that sometimes the dials got out of whack and he needed to use my familiar settings to sort of recalibrate the equalizer on the senses. But there was something, I don't know, more intense about what he was doing now. I could actually feel him scanning me, something I'd never been able to before.

"Did you know, what he said, it's true. You're scent is different." Jim's faraway tone surprised me more than the question.

"Ugh, no. I didn't. How so?" I tried not to sound worried, but Jim had that weird, 'waaayyy to mellow for Ellison' look on his face again.

"It's more complex, with layers. There is your usual odor plus there are under scents. You, and you with a sharper, edgier tang, than a different layer that is sort of a combination scent." His expression was even more discombobulated now, not vacant but definitely intoxicated. His hand moved from my shoulder to my hair and began to card through it, over and over, as his expression got goofier and goofier.

"Jim! Snap out of it. You're acting like your spirit Jaguar got into the catnip man." I took a step back to distance myself from him a little. That was not apparently what was wanted, because the expression went from half dozed to possessive in a blink. He stepped forward and took my arm in a no nonsense grip and half supported, half frog marched me back to the pallet by the fire.

"You're worn out. Get some sleep. And stay away from him!"

A wiseass response came to my lips but the look in Jim's eyes penetrated even my stubborn nature. Whatever was going on with the man, the more primal Sentinel had definitely popped into the driver's seat. Again. This misadventure had let the more animistic persona out of the bottle, and I doubted it could ever wholly be put back in.

Deciding to err toward the side of common sense I kept my mouth shut for a change and settled onto the bedding. But instead of lowering myself to recline in sleep I pulled achy legs into lotus position. Despite the hiss of anger it provoked from my companion, I needed to meditate, and with everything that had and was happening, I was going to take the opportunity.

Deep, slow paced breathing eased me from tension and discomfort into tingly relaxation. Focusing on my favorite mantra I tried to distance myself from the distractions of my body's many complaints, the weakness that shook through me, the ache behind my eyes, the thrumming feel of Jim's presence just a few feet away…

Huh?

That slammed me right out of my near trance.

I could actually feel Jim's presence nearby? SINCE WHEN? Looking over to where Jim crouched between me and Abel, still looking more like a pissed off feline than my best friend, I tried intentionally to feel that odd thrumming sensation that I had instinctually identified as a connection to Jim.

Of course since I was now trying to find it, I couldn't. For a moment I worried that I'd imagined it, but I'm a scientist after all. First thing they drilled into me in school; empirical theories, to repeat the result, repeat the circumstances.

Being awash with excitement is not conducive to meditation, so it took a lot of discipline to settle into calm, deep breathing. But eventually I managed.

Now that I knew what to look for, I found it as soon as I sunk into the disconnected early trance state. I was distinctly aware of a soft vibration tugging at my senses. Careful not to get too hyped I continued deeper into the quasi-hypnotic state and was even more aware of the feeling. It was a combination of a tugging attachment in the back of my mind, and a thread leading off toward Jim. And along with the thrumming sense of connection, came a subdued but clear impression of untamed aggression, concern and protectiveness.

Holding my serene composure as I sank even deeper I was comforted by the impression of security seeming to ooze off Jim across to me. Encouraged I reached out over the connection. But remembering Incacha's admonishment on pushing without thinking I advanced slowly. It seemed as though as soon as I moved along the tether my contact soothed and calmed the volatile emotions I was sensing.

Moving further into trance than I had ever gone I found my mind sharply aware on two distinct levels. Unlike my regular meditation sessions that allowed me to disconnect from my worries and thoughts, I now was sharply alert, thinking fast and clearly while sensitive to the secondary impulses vibrating across the link. It felt right.

Link? If it was a link, was it an extension of the Sentinel/Guide thing? An evolutionary selection for a symbiotic type of bond between the two? For what reason? Maybe straight out survival. Incacha had pretty much spelled out how deeply the Sentinel and Guide were bound, how mutually reliant they were on each other. By the process of natural selection those who got separated would be more likely to fall to enemies or predation. As a result they would be less likely to live long enough to reproduce. While those strongly tied by some near psychic connection would have an edge that might extend their life expectancy and be passed down to succeeding generations. Bred into the very essence of the Sentinel's and Guide's make up.

But this wasn't a truly psychic connection, I wasn't hearing Jim's thoughts. No… it was sort of like catching an echo of his emotions. Not telepathy. Empathy! Yeah, that was a more accurate description of what I was experiencing.

If so though, how come I'd never felt this…bond… before? I meditated regularly, more so since meeting up with Jim. I'd never gotten this deep, nor been so attuned to my own senses, much less Jim's. Why now?

Jim had come on-line again as a Sentinel after a traumatic period of conflict, and he was isolated from his familiar associations and environment. Alex had her abilities pop up after a traumatic prison time in isolation. Maybe the same thing could trigger something in a latent Guide. This past week, bouncing from one terror to another, each of us with only the other to rely on, to cling to. In constant close proximity, yet both in totally unfamiliar surroundings.

After all this I had finally accepted my own destined purpose, I had had my first non-death related vision, flexed my Shaman capabilities, sort of, and generally been a bit traumatized myself. Had I in effect 'come on-line' as a Guide? And this empathic link was part of my enhancement, like Jim's were his senses.

I thought back to what Abel had said when he'd come out of the zone, about how my scent was combined with Jim's. What had Jim said later? My scent was different, layered…combined? What if I had indeed come on line and as a result some biological response had altered my scent. Animals communicated vast amounts of information with scent. Markers expressed gender, health, mating readiness, all wafting on the winds to be read by receptive member's of the species. They could identify individuals that had been separated for years, know their members from hundreds of others who appeared almost identical. And scent definitely changed with condition.

Sight also played a vital part in discriminating group members. Birds knew filial connections from first sight. No, that wasn't quite right. They would latch onto the first thing they saw, even if it wasn't of their species. I had read about geese who hatched out and followed humans who they considered 'mommy'. But the message was clear, once I. the connection was permanent.

But most mammals used a combination of signals to identify each other. Sight, sound, scent being the primary ones because of their usefulness over distance. Taste and touch could be even more intense, but they required vicinity. Maybe Sentinels, who had access to senses that were much more acute and primal, had retained the ability to literally fix certain things on those senses. Like maybe their Guide's vital features!

Those attacks of 'major mellow' that Jim had been having lately. Each time he'd been anchoring his senses on me.

Imprinting! Jim had been imprinting on me, my scent, sound, appearance, touch, maybe even a bit of taste through air inhalation. Memorizing me in a way only a Sentinel could. Cool!

Deep and comfortable in the meditative state I felt along the thread of connection, giving it a little tug and feeling very satisfied when I felt the echo of Jim's guarding presence along it. The feelings coming along the link spoke so much more eloquently then words of how Jim cared, even cherished me. Somehow that feeling was like a balm on my confusion over my recent mistakes and failures. For a time I meditated on that and many other things, until I felt focused and accepting. Once the contemplation had done it's job I felt a point pass when my meditation eased back into simple relaxation and finally drooped into sleep.

42

"Sandburg?" I leaned in a little closer until I was almost nose-to-nose with him. Or nose to curls actually. For over two hours he'd sat there like Buddha, meditating quietly on who the hell knows what. But about ten minutes ago his posture had slumped slightly and his head drooped so his chin rested on his chest. His breathing was still even and deep, but slightly different.

I was used to him meditating for long periods at the loft. Depending on how bad things were going in his life he would sometimes make like a statue for hours. His much touted 'personal best' being five and a half hours of making like a potted plant? Go figure.

But that hadn't been when he'd been frozen, sick, spooked, chased etc. He needed rest, not meditation! If I didn't know from experience that shaking him out of meditation suddenly left him with a blinding headache, I'd be shaking him right now.

So here I was kneeling in front of him like a supplicant to Buddha. As I was trying to think of what to do to try to rouse him without hurting him, he snuffled once and let a deep snore rip right into my face mere inches from his. Startled back onto my haunches, I almost growled at him. He was asleep…sitting up, in lotus position! The snoring shifted tone as he slumped slightly more forward.

I couldn't help it, I had to chuckle. Only Sandburg! With gentle hands on his shoulders I eased him just a bit to the side so he wilted more onto the pallet of blankets. Then carefully I untangled and straightened his legs so that he now lay extended on his side across the bedding. Almost immediately he curled up into near fetal position, shivering slightly. Grabbing the loose blankets I swaddled him like a newborn, tucked them around him leaving only his head exposed.

During the whole rearranging, Blair's snoring never missed a beat. Safe in the knowledge that he was deeply asleep I couldn't resist extending my hand to brush the back of my fingers across his forehead, not even lying to myself that it was to check a now non-existent fever. I did so because it felt right and it was becoming easier to admit so.

I thought about that for a moment. Since we had been dumped on this mountain I had felt a progressive change not only in Sandburg, but myself. Bit by bit, hour by hour I'd found subtle alterations in my awareness of the quirky man who was my Guide. I was more hypersensitive to him than ever before. And the fact that I'd talked…really talked to him, about him, about me, about my feelings. Well I guess hell must have frozen over, because I'd always told myself that would have to happen before I'd turn all chatty Cathy about myself.

Add to that the new little wrinkles with Sandburg. I'd done my best to try taking his having a vision and seeing Incacha in stride. He'd been thrilled, so I didn't want to rain on his enthusiastic anticipation. And I admit I'd been happy that he'd finally accepted his unique nature. But sue me, I just wanted him to accept what he was, not have any new crap added. Not more mystical shit especially.

Healing! Okay, sounded good, then the little bit in the small print…healing that sucked the life force out of Blair like a vacuum and almost had him stroke out. Nope, not good, especially with my too softhearted friend who tended to help first and think second, as Incacha had warned.

And there was also the other thing. The well… tether, for want of a better word. Over the last couple of days I'd noticed a weird something binding us together, getting stronger and stronger, to where now I could tell when he was near and where he was in relation to me almost constantly. It appeared to be a connection beyond just my senses, or at least not the regular old five. Maybe as Blair posited, my sixth sense was also enhanced. But the tether only seemed to really be noticeable when he was awake, like it originated with him.

Further disconcerting, at least to me, was a distinct calming influence seemed to ooze from Blair's every pore and resonate across the tether, so that I found myself almost sedated in his presence.

Despite his juggernaut terrier tenacity, Sandburg had a generally mellow nature that contrasted starkly with my own strike first, read em' their rights next, and worry about feelings later approach. I'd always felt the safest way to deal with the harsh world I lived in was assume the worst, that way you were prepared for it. Having Mr. 'Positive vibes' around had countered my impulse to pound someone into paste more than once when I was out of control. But his effect on my moods and temper had never been as pronounced as the sway he seemed to hold now.

What was going on? It all had to be connected to his acknowledgment as a Guide, now that he'd finally accepted his very real calling some parcel of latent abilities, that he'd either not previously had or not known he had, was coming out. It was a bit like when I'd spent a week in the woods and gone from being plain ole' me to being me with the Sentinel accessory package. But Sandburg had never been without a whole bundle of unique gifts before, but this mystic stuff…and the price. Why was there always a string attached to these Sentinel/Guide things. I get enhanced senses with a little matter of catatonia with respiratory shut down as the booby prize, Blair gets healing with the little zinger that the curative gift hurt him in the process.

Considering the penalty for those talents, I had to wonder not only what was the purpose of the tether and Valium like mood mellowing exuded by my presently sleeping partner, but also what cost would they exact of him?

I didn't like any of it. I'd have been perfectly happy if he just realized that he wasn't just some 'accidental tourist' who'd happened to discover a Sentinel and latch onto him. I just wanted the confidence and self-assurance he brought to so many things in his life to extend to his Guide status. Maybe a part of it was still guilt…Blair says I do guilt really well.

When we'd first meet the young professor had bubbled with absolute faith in himself, his ability to figure anything out, accomplish anything he set his mind to. It bothered me that my distrustful nature and constant doubt had eroded that. A thousand little things like the toned down clothes, the frequent deference to me and my wants, the acceptance of my unreasonable moods without complaint, all marks of how I'd chipped away at his self-belief. The whole Alex debacle wouldn't, couldn't have happened if I hadn't made Blair doubt himself. The Blair of the sky blue patchwork vest would never have accepted me kicking him out of his home, never have swallowed being unjustly accused of betrayal without fighting back. Never have died.

Yeah, maybe there is still just a little guilt involved in my motivation for him seeing his contribution as a Guide for the big deal it was. Which he finally had. Whooppee. But did it have to have the extra hazardous magic mumbo jumbo?

Well the person I would normally look to for some answers to this kind of hypothetical positing…was asleep. And I was stroking his head like he was some kind of puppy, for crying out loud. And it felt good, calming, reassuring… and only every few seconds did some feral primitive something deep inside me chant "mine, mine, mine".

Seeing him bundled up and sleeping safely in front of me filled me with an undeniable contentment. This cave had become my territory. My Guide was safe, under my protection and recovering his strength and health. During Sandburg's meditation session I'd re-wrapped Abel's eye's and ears and checked his bonds. He wasn't going anywhere. And though I didn't like him being anywhere near Blair, at least I was comfortable that the enemy Sentinel had been neutralized.

Feeling something had been settled inside my head I lowered myself down beside my snoring Guide. As I pulled a single blanket over myself I felt Blair shift. Despite being wrapped like a sausage in blankets, he still managed to scoot closer to me and burrow under my shoulder without waking up. Doing a quick scan I was please to hear his lungs were not quite as congested and all his other vitals were steady and strong. Relieved somewhat by that reassurance I felt lulled by his snuffling snores and the warmth of his body beside me, sleep came easily.

I had slept uninterrupted for over six hours when I snapped completely awake and sat up, hunting for whatever threat had impinged on my sleeping mind. But extending my senses I was unable to find anything unusual that had forced me from sleep to full alert. Both Abel and Blair were still deeply asleep, the fire had not gone out, everything looked and smelled and sounded quiet.

Quiet? With that I realized one thing that was different. The constant background hiss and roar of the wind just outside had vanished. Beyond our little confined space there was absolute silence.

Careful not to disturb my still oblivious Guide I eased from the pallet we shared and padded softly to the entrance. Forcing the icy door away from the opening proved difficult, as snow on the outside had drifted halfway up the frozen panel. But with perseverance and a little leverage I finally eased out the crevice. Pushing away waist deep snow on the ledge I blinked in the half-light of impending dawn. The storm was over, replaced with an eerie absence of wind, snow, or sound. Nothing moved. Everything in every direction was enshrouded in a muffling snow layer and the silence was eerie. Yet, though still viciously cold, compared to what we had experienced the last thirty odd hours, it seemed almost pleasant out.

The trees in the nearby woods were invisible from refraction off the ice that weighed their stark branches. The cliff face also glowed with a white jacket of snow and ice that the force of the wind had pounded into the surface.

A tiny movement halfway across my visual field drew my eyes instantly. Unconsciously Sentinel sight snapped on line and zeroed in on the minute shift. As my view zoomed in tight I realized I had spotted a snowshoe hare just exiting its hole. It was immaculately white against the snow and ice around it. The lack of any contrast had me having to concentrate hard to differentiate the details of the animal versus the environment. It was like looking for diamonds in water. It was . . .

43

It had been a really great dream, warm and relaxing. I'd been curled in my now familiar open field, lulled by the sun's warmth and the easy murmur of the tall grasses blowing around me. I'd been comfortable and protected by the large black jaguar that had scooted in up against my body sharing warmth and soothing me with an endless melodic purring. And I'd been further contented by the silver wolf that had lolled his front paws and head across my lower body his tongue hanging out as he smiled unmistakably at me.

But now something was tugging at me, shaking the dreamscape and chilling me deeply. The panther suddenly rolled away from me, growled in distress and then simple winked out, vanishing. The wolf lifted his head and whined low in his throat, staring at me with some urgent message. Standing, the lupine paced back and forth in front of me, tail between legs, the ruff on his neck raised and stiff. I had the weird impulse to blurt out 'what is it Lassie, has Timmy fallen down the well?' The wolf's effort to communicate some problem was so obvious.

I recognized all this, but still resisted releasing the dream because I did know it was a dream. I rationalized the change from comfort to hazard in this fantasy scenario as some subconscious anxiety with all that had come before. But even as I tried to analyze the whole thing, I was dragging myself through the stages from sleep to waking because no matter what was going on, the tug was undeniable and the urgency increasing.

With a yawn so wide it was painful to my jaw I yanked myself to awareness and looked around. The fire was still stoked nicely, warming the cavern and throwing amber light to all its corners. Abel was slumped against the far wall, snoring like a dull saw through hard wood. And Jim was nowhere to be seen; at some point while I slept he had left the cave.

The tug now became a yanking pull that could not be denied, and I felt it was coming along the bond that I had discovered while I had meditated. Scrambling to my feet I rushed the entrance to the cave and leaned all my weight against the ice door. Jim needed me.

It wasn't easy, but I finally managed to pry the frozen panel away from the opening. At least open enough for me to squeeze through, and half fall out onto my knees in a cleared area on the ledge. The dawn sun had just risen past the horizon and was pouring through the surrounding trees. The frosty stalactites hanging from the branches had magnified the light like a prism and made everything an incredibly bright white. The intense glow bounced off the snow and trees and ice and illuminated our little ledge like a spotlight.

And in that spotlight stood Jim. Rigid and unaware, his eyes were open and fixed out on the white landscape below us. My heart went straight to hammering at mach six as I worried; how long had he been out here zoned, how long had his open eyes been exposed to the bright rays, was he breathing? All these questions poured adrenaline through me like jet fuel and I was off my knees, across the ledge and at Jim's side in a fraction of a second.

Moving around in front of him I put one hand on his arm and the other I eased in front of his face and blocked the light from his eyes.

"Jim." I kept my voice pitched low. "Focus on my voice. Dial down your vision big guy; ignore the white light and just concentrate on hearing. Follow the sound back. Come on man. This is not a good place to be zoned. I'm talking to you here man…tune in."

When about five minutes passed and he still didn't respond I started kneading the muscle of his arm that I had in my grasp. "Okay, lets try touch then. You can do this. Just pull back." I pinched him, patted his face, socked him hard in the arm, even tried a pretty sharp slap.

When he still didn't respond I felt panic start. Even though he was wearing his coat and other warm clothing, his body was succumbing to the cold. Worse, his over focus on one sense was interfering with the autonomic functions, like breathing. His respirations were progressively slowing.

Removing a glove I grabbed one of Jim's earlobes and pinched my thumbnail into the flesh, hard! Nothing. Damn…no reaction to pain stimulus either. This was soooooo not cool. Grabbing one of his limp hands I laid his palm flat on my chest, just above my heart that right now was rattling along at a rapid clip. His breathing was so slow and shallow I could barely discern his chest moving. I could feel the slight tremor as his muscles started to tremble from anoxia and tension.

There had to be a way to reach him. Sight was screwed up, sound didn't seem to be making much impact, touch… no joy there either. Smell and taste? I didn't really have anything with a strong odor or taste to try, and there was no time to hunt for some.

No options, no solutions, but I had to reach him. What hadn't I tried? I closed my eyes as I part thought, part prayed. Had to reach him somehow. Had to reach… from some corner of my consciousness I felt the odd little twinge that I had identified in my meditation. The connection!

Maybe I could use the link, set up some kind of feedback stimulus to snap him out of the zone. Considering and deciding in a millisecond I gently fingered down Jim's eyelids to protect his vision and free my other hand.

Noticing I was biting my lip as I quickly enacted my plan, I had to consciously stop worrying at my lip and instead began my deep, cleansing breaths. In through the nose, hold it, out through the mouth. In, hold it, out. While doing that I reached up and cupped Jims lightly bearded face in my palm while using my other hand to still hold his hand over my heart

Closing my eyes I continued to concentrate on my breathing cycle, working to relax into a quasi-meditative state. And this time it was easier then before, when Jim's agitated emotions had fairly rolled off him, snapping along the bond like arch lightening. Now there was absolute calm…even more than calm. Absence of emotion. Nil.

With nothing to disrupt my own calm I quickly reached the level where I was able to sense the reassuring thrum along a thread of consciousness extending from me to Jim. Carefully I felt back along the tie between us. Tentative in my ignorance, afraid to hurt but desperate to reach my Sentinel, I pushed along the link feeling myself drawn further and further.

Just that suddenly I was enshrouded in comforting warmth that seemed familiar and homey. Noticing a strong force attracting me like some selective magnet I allowed myself to be drawn further into the welcoming sensation's direction.

A heartbeat later I got the impression that I'd come up against a barrier of some kind. Like I'd followed a string and now found the string disappearing through a knothole in a fence. Where the cord had offered a familiar echo of Jim, now there was no feeling at all, a numbness.

Not exactly sure how to navigate in this new sphere of consciousness I tentatively pushed up against the obstruction. My best clue was that the wall was the manifestation of Jim's zone. This total absence of feeling must be the result of an over stimulation of an enhanced sense.

Focusing hard I concentrated on trying to push through the barricade, visualizing it crumbling away before me. Visualizing it breaking apart and falling down. Visualizing a fissure appearing and then widening. Visualizing … awh…come on damn it! Jim had been zoned to long, through this bond I could sense his slowing pulse and breathing as if I were the Sentinel. I had to make this work! For a moment I fumbled around trying to recapture the healing power that had come so easy earlier. Incacha's warning or not, I'd have used the gift without hesitance right then. But I had no idea how to call up the power and I had no time for trial and error.

Damn! I'd finally accepted the existence of a…no..MY role as Jim's Guide, and what the hell good was I? What the hell good was this connection, this bond…if I couldn't use it to help Jim?

Frustrated, desperate and scared, I gathered every jot of strength I could dredge from within myself and hurled the lot together with my fear for my Sentinel and friend, straight at the stubborn wall of non-feeling.

A moment passed, than another, my head began to pound, and still I pushed. I felt a hard chill settle in me and still I pushed. I tasted metal in my mouth and pushed even harder. It became difficult to draw in air through my nose and I smelled the tang of blood of another nosebleed. I felt darkness creep over the edges of my senses and refused to let up, concentrating with all my might.

The collapse of resistance produced no sound. Just one moment I was struggling against something and the next it had vanished. My eyes snapped open in surprise to see Jim's eyes pop open at the same moment. He whooped in a long draft of air and shook himself stiffly.

Unfortunately I'd lost track of the fact that I was standing right in front of my large friend during this whole process. On a narrow, snow covered ledge. My stance in front of him meant I was backed right up to the edge. As he returned to awareness Jim bobbled slightly, his body weak from anoxia. It was only a little wobble that barely tapped me, but in my current position… poorly timed.

My hands windmilled wildly as I felt myself falling over backward. "Oh Shit!" I yelped weakly. But even as my heart began to trip hammer an iron grasp latched onto one of my gyrating arms and yanked me up and forward.

His pull caused me to slam against Jim, who wasn't completely back to full alertness yet, and thumped him back against the cliff face. Since he hadn't released his hold, I was hauled right off my feet to pound against him again. The next second was a blurred jumble as Jim slid down and I fell right on him. The waist deep snow cushioned the tangle but then complicated it by falling in to fill the hole we'd created, right over us.

I climbed clumsily to my feet, pushing up through the luckily loose snow piled on my back. Then stood panting, leaning up against the cliff face with snow up to my chest. I felt totally wrung out. Jim surfaced a second later looking weirdly like a ceramic bust with the snow obscuring his lower body. I started to make a crack about it but stopped when I saw the expression on Jim's face. His gaze was fixed rigidly on me and he was pale and flushed simultaneously.

He reached out a still slightly shaky hand to swab a gloved thumb across my upper lip. It came away smeared with a thick gel of red. His eyes bored into mine with some unfathomable message, and an obvious question.

"I zoned?" He ground out the inquiry, already knowing the answer.

"Yeah." I replied in a voice I couldn't seem to crank up much past a croak.

"And… instead of using your tried and true methods to bring me out of it, you decided to try the healing again?" This was less a question than an accusation… through grinding teeth.

As tired as I felt, my temper still flared at the presumption. "NO JIM, I did not DECIDE to use healing. No, I wasn't trying to play with my new toys rather than use 'tried and true' techniques while you're standing there with your lungs shutting down in front of me." I was hissing by the last, anger having achieved critical mass.

"But what if I had? This conversation is too damn old!" I literally shoved him out of my way without thinking of what damage he was capable of inflicting. "You know what Ellison? I think maybe you need to think on what you wanted me to accept. What I am. And what that is supposed to mean. I'm going back in the cave. I'm cold. And you…you had better think real hard about what you plan to say the next time you open your mouth." I turned and walked, well really sort of stalked, back to the ice panel to wrestle it aside. Not easy with the thick drift of snow against it, but I managed.

44

He called me Ellison? Blair never calls me Ellison. No matter how angry he got, it was always Jim. Always. When he wasn't quite so upset, then it was 'Joe Friday' or 'big guy'. But never, ever Ellison?

I hit rewind on my memory back the last few minutes. Coming out of the zone had felt definitely different. I'd been aware of Blair presence as he drew me from the numbing emptiness. But not with his voice or touch like usual. Instead he'd reached into me and gently embraced my frozen core, thawing it with his warm concern.

Even before my thoughts had really straightened out enough to catch on to what was up, I'd smelled the pungent tang of his blood. Having seen him with a nosebleed just hours before when he'd tried healing, I'd jumped to the natural conclusion.

So I'd snapped at him for his presumed folly. He's my Guide for crying out loud. It's my job to protect him, even from himself if necessary. So maybe I'd been wrong, he hadn't hurt himself trying to help me. I think?

I'd assumed… and been wrong. But it wasn't the first time. I'd erroneously landed on Sandburg quite a few times for all sorts of things, and he'd always just let the hurt or anger flow off him like dew off a duck's back.

But not this time.

His eyes had literally flashed with blue lightning he'd been so angry. What was different this time? What was it he'd said? "You need to think on what you wanted me to accept. What I am. And what that is supposed to mean."

I'd wanted him to accept that he was a Guide. My Guide. And what was that supposed to mean? To him? To me?

I had known Blair was special for a long time now, and I'd wanted him to see himself as I did. I hadn't really wanted or expected the extra hocus pocus bit. But not Sandburg. He'd seen that part as some tangible proof of a change in him?

What change…he'd always been a Guide! We'd been doing this stuff for years already. Yet now that he felt changed, he suddenly expecting me to change? That he had finally taken on the mantel of Guide and Shaman was great. But what did he expect from me now?

Why had he reacted the way he had to my normal overprotective response to his risk taking? Like he'd said, we'd had the conversation over and over. And Sandburg was the expert on all things Sentinel. He'd read every line of every book and article on the subject and had five years hands on experience with his own live specimen, me. He was also probably the only expert on one James Joseph Ellison. He couldn't doubt that he was my best friend. So, shouldn't he, as both my friend and my Guide, just have accepted my reaction and forgiven me like he usually did? Or was Blair's confirmation as a Guide and Shaman somehow altering either his expectations of me or his self?

He was a Guide. My Guide. Always had been, whether he'd chosen to see it or not. And to complicate things, he was a Shaman, drafted and welcomed by Incacha to those honored ranks.

Or maybe he'd always been a Shaman also, and Incacha had just recognized it? Not only possible, but very likely. What I remembered most about Incacha in our time together was his always teaching, explaining, counseling, and guiding. Not just me, but everyone in the tribe. And who else could those words better describe than Sandburg? It was so easy to find comparisons between the kid and my honored mentor.

Honored? Blair's words echoed in my mind again. "What I am. And what that is supposed to mean."

And suddenly to my shame, I got it. What Blair expected, what he felt was his due as Guide and Shaman, was what he had maybe not felt entitled to as just himself. Respect!

I thought of some of the arguments we'd had since our parachute ride to this ice covered rock. Each of us risking almost everything for the other. I had felt the drive both as friend and Sentinel to protect Blair. It was obvious he felt the same drive toward me. But I couldn't abide his being hurt, especially when he was hurt because of me.

Yet…did I have the right to deny him responding to the same impulses that sometimes swamped me? In those long months holding the Chopec pass against the drug traffickers, how many times had Incacha protected my back or been injured on behalf of me or the tribe he was sworn to defend? Yet I had never presumed to disrespect the man or his mission in life by harassing him about his risk taking.

A part of me tried to rationalize that the situation with Incacha had been totally different. Cacha had been a couple of years older than I was, a trained hunter and warrior. Though he had honored all life, he had also understood the harsh necessities of sometimes having to kill. We had been at war against the drug cartels and the greedy others who had tried to decimate the Chopec's who occupied lands between lush drug croplands and rich oil fields.

Blair on the other hand was so young, and in many ways so innocent. Not innocent like inexperienced, he had been to the edges of the known world for cryin' out loud. But innocent in the trusting, faith in the goodness of people, all things work out in the end like they're meant to be, way. He really believed. Even now…after all he'd been through and seen, how the HELL could he… but that was Blair.

So maybe I felt he needed protecting more than Incacha .

Or maybe it was because as much I'd treasured and loved Incacha, what I felt toward Blair totally eclipsed it. Losing Incacha had hurt like a deep wound, and I would miss him as long as I lived. But I had left him in Peru years ago and mourned his death in Cascade not too long ago. There had been grief, but I had survived.

There would be no recovery if I ever lost Blair. When Incacha had informed my partner of that fact in the vision, he had merely confirmed what I had already known. I still remember how I'd felt, THAT DAY, at the fountain. It had been beyond pain, beyond grief, beyond any word could describe, and there was no way I would have survived if he had not come back.

So maybe I could excuse my over-protectiveness of Blair because he meant so much more to me than I could have ever believed possible.

But whatever the reason…was it appropriate? I maintained my 'right' to risk my ass to protect my tribe and Sandburg. Wasn't he just as entitled to make his own choices? Wasn't that why in the cave, when Sandburg had insisted on going out in a damn blizzard to save an enemy, I'd been unable to stop him.

We never have spoken those rules, but I know that uncrossable line is there. Sentinel or no, being bigger and stronger, I had better never, ever try to physically force him to do anything against his will, or there will be hell to pay.

I don't know what the penalty would be…but I know it would be catastrophic to our friendship and I will not risk it. PERIOD!

I tried to visualize my intimidating Incacha, trying to run roughshod over him like I had done a few times with Blair. But the image just wouldn't form. The native wise man had been even shorter than my partner, but there was no doubt who had been in charge during my months among his people.

It was not the warrior's size that had mattered. I had followed Incacha without question. I had recognized his wisdom and ability to harness my violent skills. He'd held me on a tight rein during actual engagements with the enemy, channeling my fury, preventing my being consumed by such rage that I became dangerous to both my mission and myself.

Why had I not granted Blair an equal measure of that deference? I freely admit he's smart, smarter than me. And his creativity extended to making him extremely devious, okay…downright sneaky. In his own unassuming way he's a natural leader. Of course unless you kept close track you didn't even realize you're pretty much going where he wanted and doing what he'd maneuvered you to do. His students, the guys at the station, bad guys, and me…all fell for that 'who me' innocent bystander appearance while he manipulated us into following his weird little road, like Mary's little lambs.

Why couldn't I just let go and let him do what he felt sure he was supposed to do? As he had queried earlier, when would I let him be my Guide, my Shaman, and acknowledge his acceptance of the risks that that role could involve?

With stark insight I realized that Blair's growth as a Guide and Shaman was becoming a pivotal issue that could fracture our partnership. Previously, unsure of his role, he had tolerated my intermittent belligerence, my second-guessing him, and my doubts. But it was the doubts, perceived as distrust that had done our association the most harm. No amount of explanation about my warped life could change the facts. I just couldn't seem to just grant him the same trust he gave so unstintingly to me.

Why? Why when Blair tried to make suggestions, good one's, valid one's, did I have to snip, ignore, or over analyze, the hell out of them? I had never done that with Incacha…ummm, well not long anyway. My memories were so much chop suey of the events after the crash, but I was able to recollect images of my trying to impose my Western ideas on the tribe and Incacha easily putting me in my place.

With a jolt I now remembered early on, coming out of a deep zone to Incacha's smiling face as he gently explained to me that this was his tribe, his people. I could either join the team, or he would show me the way out of the valley, but Sentinel or not, I was not to try to push my ways or my people's wars on his people. The Chopec kept the cartel from using their pass not because of America's war on drugs, but because the violent men killed everyone and everything that crossed their path. This was Chopec territory and I could help them defend it, and achieve my mission coincidentally, or stay out of the way. I quickly realized just who was in charge, and it wasn't me.

Incacha had assumed control of our relationship from the first time I awoke and found him crouched over me. Blair on the other hand had deferred to me at first, merely making suggestions and offering ideas rather than trying to force cooperation in the use of my gifts.

Later, the natural teacher had become more assured in his self and his role as my Guide. When the occasion had needed him to, he had asserted himself to the point of literally bullying me into doing what was needed. He was capable; I had seen him repeatedly get the job done. He had less training for all this, yet kept up with me. Didn't that tell me something?

I took a deep breath of the freezing morning air and then let it out with a sigh. No matter how much I might want to keep Blair sequestered away from the risks of my job, in truth it wasn't my call. It never really had been.

I moved aside the icy barrier and scrunched through the opening to the cave, enjoying the wall of warmth that enveloped me as soon as I passed the threshold. My eyes immediately flipped from Blair, who was squatted down by the fire in the Lotus position, obviously meditating again, to Abel The giant was awake and judging from the tilt of his head, he was aware of my return despite his blindfold and earmuffs.

"Ellizon?" He hissed softly as soon as I began to walk by. "Ah god to go agin."

I cursed as I moved away from Blair back toward the huge Sentinel.

It took about five minutes to rearrange all the bonds and handcuff the huge paws in front of the man. I ran the rope around his neck, down his back and then through the plastic restraints on his ankles that effectively hobbled him. He could walk now, but not run. He would be able to reach his zipper, but not bend over to fiddle with the hobbles.

Stepping away from the big man I made a point of displaying the gun as he shuffled past me to the entrance. His eyes shot daggers at me but he recognized that right now I had the advantage. But it took no imagination at all to realize that if the opportunity presented itself Abel would snap my neck without pause. The subtle hunger was still there every time his eyes flickered toward Blair. Beyond all logic the Sentinel still wanted to get hold of my Guide?

Within ten minutes the giant had forced back through the narrow opening and permitted his bonds to be put back in place. The tension radiating from the behemoth as I retied his blindfold was palpable, and my own aggression responded by tooling up a few notches. I really did not want this guy here near my Guide. Alive anyway.

Pushing the last handcuff closed I turned my back resolutely and continued toward my primary target. Blair hadn't moved in the entire time I'd been dealing with Abel, seemingly deep in meditation again.

Moving to a point directly across the fire from him I squatted down. My senses ran a quick diagnostic, relieved to note a decrease in his lung congestion and temperature. His heartbeat was the slow steady rhythm I had catalogued before when he meditated, and the smell of illness was now the barest whiff over his routine musky smell. Despite everything, he was getting well.

I really wanted to talk to Blair, but knew that he had retreated into this stance to give himself time to process and cool down. He didn't tend to blow up when angry, instead he withdrew into study or meditation, or he simply left. Considering Naomi's penchant for picking up and leaving whenever things didn't go the way she wanted, I had always been grateful that her son tended to just escape into his mind instead. I don't know how many times, in the early days, when I'd first learned of his nomadic upbringing I'd worried that one day he'd just get fed up and bolt on me. Especially when these kinds of confrontations took place. But he'd always stuck with me, and despite the crap I was putting him through now, I knew I could depend on him to stick through this also. But if I didn't change, would there come a day when even his patience would be exhausted?

I couldn't take that chance. But could I grant his equality in this partnership and the respect he was due? Trusting him with the burdens of that role…with my sanity, my soul and my heart.

Crouched before him I let my senses waft out in a nimbus of awareness with him as the anchoring center. I settled into a comfortable position, alert to everything in the immediate area, in and out of our cave. This felt right somehow, the Sentinel on guard over his Guide.

45

Damn it! No! Damn HIM! Him and his 'do as I say not as I do' way of looking at this. I have HAD IT! I will not go through this again. Jim takes one life threatening risk after another and then deep ends if I take the tiniest chance? Uhh uh…no how, no way, NO MORE! Either I'm his Guide or not. I am not his little brother damn it! I don't need looking after…well, not as much as he seems to think I do! Damndamndamndamndamn….

I pulled my legs into lotus position so hard I ended up biting my lip as my hip joint complained the lack of stretching first. I knew I wasn't likely to be able to meditate as furious as I was. But it was all I could think of doing. I needed to calm down before I exploded or threw an aneurysm or something. Wrestling down the urge to jump up and throw stuff around to vent some of my anger, I instead dragged in a long deep breath, held it, then pushed it through pursed lips. After repeating this a few times I was so focused on my breathing that the anger and frustration leached away to be replaced with a wonderful wave of relaxation.

Rather surprised at my success I held the disciplined pacing of my respirations. The darkness behind my eyelids fell away to replaced with spiraling rainbow colors that summoned me. This was a little different from my usual meditation scenario, but I felt no alarm. Excitement claimed me as an unfamiliar floating sensation slid over me to be followed by the rainbow colors flowing away to reveal my grassy field. I guess it's official now, Jim gets the jungle, I get the forest clearing. Typical. But I had to admit the field was soothing and comforting to me.

I swung around, trying to decide what I should be doing here. I mean, what is the use of spirit walks if you just sort of stand around and smell the grass? I would have expected at least some kind of message. Unless maybe this was my own little personal time out spot? A special place to escape to. The next step up from simple meditation.

Maybe I was just here because I needed to chill out and get past my anger at Jim. Was that the message, that no matter what the provocation, the Guide needed to forgive the Sentinel?

Bull! What little time I'd seen Incacha deal with Jim it had been obvious the native Shaman had no intention of just accepting my partner's crap. When Jim had told Incacha that he had lost his Sentinel senses the man had cut through all of Jim's excuses and rationalizations. "A Sentinel will always be a Sentinel, as long as he chooses to be." No consideration for the circumstances, Jim's trauma over accidentally shooting a guard. No slack cut, no excuse excepted, just flat out in your face facts. That had been Incacha.

Even as the recollection of that time intruded, so did the memory that in the end I had been the one left to get a distraught and uncooperative Jim to make the choice to reclaim his Sentinel gifts. I'd had to bully him out of his grief over Incacha's death to save the lives of the Chopec warriors still left in Cascade. But I'd managed it. I'd stood nose to nose with him and forced him to deal with his issues and get back on line.

I had managed it because I was right.

Moving in a slow mosey across the grass as I was deep in thought, I aimed toward the trees that circled my little private meadow. I began to try to analyze what I had done that time, and each time since when I'd been treated as a partner, not a subordinate, by my Sentinel.

"Beware Sinchij Munasqaykuna." Incacha's voice, strident and sharp pulled me out of my concentration.

I spun around, hunting for the native. But I could see no one and the field remained mine alone.

"Incacha?" I called out as I continued to scan the verdant plain around me.

But no further calls intruded on the quiet of my private refuge, only silence.

No… not silence. Now that I was listening I definitely hear a growing sound. A mumble…now a growling, no louder now, a rumble becoming a crashing, now a roar!

Alarmed, my eyes flicked everywhere hunting the source of the sound. I turned in a slow circle, hoping to hear a change in the volume as my ear was nearest wherever the sound originated from. No change. Nothing? Hell Sandburg, you're in the dream plane for crying out. The physical laws of sound transmission don't probably apply here.

But again…this is a spiritual environment. Whatever was making the sound, did I need to really worry about it? I wasn't here physically. So…

So… Incacha's warning hadn't been my imagination. Something was wrong, and that sound was getting louder and louder. Something was definitely wrong here.

A burst of wind poured out of the trees, swooped across the grass to slam into me. Now I knew the direction. I turned into the air current and squinted trying to see to the horizon.

And then it was there. Crashing, roaring, tumbling, a moving wall as high as the tallest tree in my spirit woods.

AVALANCHE!

Every other thought vanished as I pivoted and dashed back the way I'd come.

"JJJJJJJJIIIIIIIIIIIMMMMMMMMM!" Spirit plane or not, there was no doubt in my mind that this was somehow real, or at least a warning. Incacha had said beware. And boy this was one big attention getter.

On seemingly winged feet I boiled into the trees on the far side of my spirit meadow, deaf from the roar just behind me. Feeling the dust and rocks pelting me as I ran.

Momentarily blind with the grit, I blinked.

I launched forward.

And that suddenly I was back in the cave. Jim was flat on his back on the ground with me plastered across his front, nose to nose with him again. The heat of the cave was lost on me as I shivered.

"Jim…Jim! We gotta go man. Now. Now. Now." I scrambled to my feet, grabbing my dazed Sentinel's arm and yanking him up with strength born of fearful adrenaline.

I didn't even notice I hadn't released him as I dragged him by his elbow toward the exit. As I shifted my grip and started to shove him through the exit my eyes glanced over the bound and blindfolded enemy Sentinel.

"Shit, get him loose Jim. HURRY!" I knelt and started tearing at the knots, not even noticing a deep, unhappy growl as all but the cuffs were quickly loosened.

"Sandburg…What the hell?"

Hands grabbed at my shoulders, hauled me up from my crouch and spun me around in one sharp movement. I was back nose-to-nose to a very confused and pissed off Sentinel. I was bouncing, panic, fear, desperation and a drive to get my Sentinel to safety was pounding in every cell in my body.

"Calm down Chief. What are you talking about?" Jim's voice was coached low; I think he was trying not to spook me even more. But I was so hyped at that point I felt only more frustrated.

"We gotta get out of here Jim. Use your ears man. LISTEN!" My gaze bored into his, forcing past his concern. Whether to humor me or unable to deny the Guide tone, I saw Jim's focus grow vague and his head cock to the side slightly in the tell tale stance of him using his Sentinel hearing.

Only a few seconds passed before he stiffened and snapped out of the concentration of using his senses.

"Did you hear? We need to get moving. Help me get Abel loose man. Hurry!" I was babbling, I knew it, but no way I could ignore the pressure building inside me. I felt like I could truly feel the rocks shifting, gathering speed toward me. And Jim! We had to get OUT!

"I heard it Chief, the melting snow is definitely causing some instability. I can hear several small landslides up the ridge. But we're safer in here than out there. Especially if a large slide occurs."

"NO! Jim Incacha warned me, and I can feel it. We have to get out of this cave man. Trust me. I know it. I. KNOW. IT!" The desperation in my voice caused it to climb the scale. I was shaking violently now. Any second now I was going to throw Jim over my shoulder like a bloody caveman and haul him out!

Jim must have seen that idea in my expression because he actually took a step back in surprise. "Eeeasy Sandburg. Take a breath. You need to breath." His hands settled back on my shoulders but he was nodding.

"Okay. We're going. Whatever has got you going this nuts must be serious. And I DO trust you." The last was said with an unusual intensity. Like he was making some kind of promise to me?

Even as the barest trace of relief started to touch my panic, Jim stiffened, snarled and began to turn. Before he half pivoted Abel plowed into and over him, grabbing at me with wrists still trapped in cuffs.

Obviously the few knots I'd managed to loosen had been enough for the gigantic man to get free from the other restraints excepted for the keyed metal handcuffs.

A ham-sized hand caught my sleeve and some of my arm with bruising strength. But Jim was far from out of the contest. Even as the bigger man had trampled over him, my Sentinel wrapped his arms around Abel's tree like calves and twisted his entire body. The combination of weight, momentum and leverage flipped the giant off his legs to smack his shoulders against the cave wall.

Since he had a pretty substantial grip on me at the time, when Abel went down, he dragged me clean off my feet and I hit the ground right next to him. Rolling away I tore my sleeve from the huge hands grasp and pulled up to my hands and knees just inches from Jim's still prone form. Then I jumped upright just in front of Jim who was half way to his own feet.

Just then I noticed both Sentinels in perfect synchronization turn to stare at the slab roof above. As if hit with a cattle prod Jim launched at me, his tackle carrying me over the fire toward the back of the cave.

At the same time I was flying backward through the air with Jim's shoulder buried in my gut, I heard a sound like the loudest gunshot in the world. Above me a black line snapped across the ceiling slab cracking away from the walls in sharp fractures. I saw Abel roll cat-like to his feet, glance over at us, then at the roof, and dive toward the entrance just as the ceiling divided into sections.

In seeming slow motion the flat block that had formed our roof sank in the middle along the fissure lines, while the outside edges remained firmly in place. Like three separate garage doors each section pivoted on the still supported edges, driving its opposite broken end into the ground to form a new, immovable wall.

I saw a panel several feet thick swing toward me as if on hinges, scrapping across Jim's shoulders, I felt the rush of displaced air and then hard, cold unforgiving granite swatted me like a …

46

Above me was open? Light was everywhere, stark, blazing but diluted by a dancing, unbreathable miasma. Snowflakes and microscopic flecks of dust where whirling like glitter in the air. If I could have gotten a clear thought through my brain I would have considered the best course of action to be throwing up. But in spite of the burning in my mouth, throat and lungs, that pain was dwarfed by the sharp agony at the back of my skull. Inside and out. Right that second I couldn't remember who or where I was, but my head hurt too much to even worry about it.

Working to focus past the dizziness and nausea, I tried to think. And even that hurt. As the dust settled around me I reached my hand to the back of my head, and it came away wet and sticky with blood. Damn that hurts!

My eyes scanned around trying to remember what was going on, I felt something clamoring for my urgent attention in counterpoint to the pounding in my head. Something important. I needed to do something about something, right now. But what?

As my sight zoomed in on my own bloody palm, my hearing and sense of smell went into overdrive. Somehow I was able to filter out the myriad background sounds and odors and begin to wrap around individual ones.

Hearing a load crack of rock against rock I spun around, focusing on a solid slab of granite that had fallen across one whole side of the room…no… cave. Yeah, cave. My sense of hearing zoomed unbidden in on the source. More rocks moving shifting, and a voice cursing in French. As my mind supplied an image to match up with the sounds I visualized a gigantic figure shoving rocks and debris from a fracture in the wall.

Abel. The memory came back, along with the scent that drove me to distraction and speared a sharp pain through my skull. But I immediately set any thought of the other Sentinel aside as a soul freezing panic seized me. BLAIR! Reversing direction all my senses soared to their upper reaches of sensitivity and focused on the slab on the opposite side of the cave.

No sound of movement issued from beyond that granite wall. But before I could deep end my hearing latched on to a soft thub dub, calming me better than a lullaby. Alive. Thank GOD! But then my nose managed to sort through the odors around me and gathered in a scent I knew only to well. Blood…Blair's blood. What easing worry my partner's heartbeat had provided was swept away by that odor. Damn I hated that scent and what it meant.

I sucked in a deeper breath and felt some relief when the smell became no stronger. At least he wasn't bleeding profusely; chances were that I smelled minor cuts or scrapes. Now the memories of the landslide came back clearly. I felt a shiver as I realized that a few dozen tons of granite had scraped Blair off my shoulder with the delicacy of surgeon, when it could just have easily slammed him, and me, into the ground and crushed us to paste. The luck involved was damn uncanny, but I wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

But couldn't that same luck have held a little longer and left Blair and I together? I looked over every inch of the slab before me and couldn't find a trace of a Blair sized breach. It looked like the granite had been welded to the sides of the cavern. There didn't seem to be room for a damn cockroach to get from where I was to where my Guide was!

Just as my frustration and concern was about to bubble over into some mature behavior like punching the rock wall, my hyper-focused hearing caught a shift in Blair's breathing and heart rate. Soon after a soft moan signaled his return to consciousness.

I listened as more moans mixed with snorts and grumbles joined the sounds of movement and clothe rustling. I could almost see him and know what he was doing from the sounds. He shifted several times before the sounds stilled again and I heard a slightly slurred but recognizable murmur. "Jim?"

"Right here Blair." I yelled through the rocky barrier, and then asked quickly, "How bad are you hurt?"

Even though the wall was thick my call must have carried to his non-enhanced hearing, because after a few seconds his subdued voice answered. "I I'm alright. Just scraped up some."

"I smell blood." I yelled with some trace of anxiety escaping.

"I have a gash on my hand." He called back reassuringly. "You know how those things bleed like a stuck pig. I'm okay…really."

I head the sound of him shifting around some more, then his voice issued from higher along the rock face as he stood up.

"Umm Jim?"

"Yeah Chief."

"Did the roof fall in?"

"Yeah. 'fraid so."

"Shit! What is it lately? One thing after another. I must have really pissed someone off in a previous life to earn this kinda sucky Karma man."

Against my will a smile carved across my face. Trust Sandburg to compress all they had been through in the last few days as 'sucky Karma.'

"Jim?"

"Chief?"

"You okay?" His voice was tinged with concern.

"Yeah, I'm fine." I pushed absolute assurance into the response.

"I remember that hunka wall coming right across you Jim. Are. You. Okay?" Blair's voice was edged with the steel of a Guide about to get pissed off.

"I. Am. Fine. Blair." No need to mention having the back of my skull peeled like an orange, the burning pain and monster headache.

"1. 2. 3. 4."

"Uh Chief, why are you counting?" I could hear impatient frustration climbing as each number was said. Not good.

"Because I can't get through this damn wall." He snapped. "I told you Jim…I SAW that slab hit you. There is no way you didn't get hit in the head, AGAIN. Now I am your Guide, and when it comes to obfuscation, I am king. So give it up. Did you get knocked out?"

"A little…"

"How long?"

"About five minutes less than you, and I wasn't looking at my watch when the sky fell down Sandburg." The snide remark popped out before I even gave it thought. Old habits and all… I wanted to pull the words back even as I said them, but it was way to late.

"F*$%##%$$# &%%$# #$ #$ !# $!"

Whoa! Sometimes I forget that one of the things that Blair picked up in all his travels was a curse vocabulary that would make a sailor blush, or at least a Ranger. I was amazed the rock slab didn't turn molten from the string of obscenities. Then that quick he fell silent, taking in two deep breaths, and blowing them out in his patented stress venting process.

"Jim." His voice was to calm now… when we got out of this, his voice promised major payback.

"Yes Blair." I kept my voice equally mellow.

"It was about eight a.m. when I started meditating… what time is it now?" Such a reasonable tone. He could have been discussing the weather.

Looking at my watch I saw it was not quite 9, so I said so. "About eight fifty."

"And how long ago did you come to?" His voice stayed monotonously level again.

"Oh, about twenty minutes ago."

"So you were out cold about half an hour." Still just a pleasant safe conversation.

"Yeah."

"You were a Medic in the Rangers Jim. What would you say about someone who has had more than one major blow to the head in a short time and has been unconscious for at least half an hour?"

Uh oh. He had me there.

"Um. Probable concussion." My voice had taken on a defensive tone, there was a certain amount of guilt that my Guide had learned so much about medical emergencies…he'd had way too much experience thanks to me.

"Duh. Gee, got it in one."

"This isn't really the priority right now Chief." When you haven't got a good answer, try diversion.

"Don't have a good answer, change the subject huh Jim?"

Like I said…he is good.

"We need to focus on getting you out here Sandburg."

"Okay, detour time. No offense Jim, but unless you have a couple of sticks of dynamite I think that comes under the category of 'fat chance' here guy." I could hear the edge of concern that he was trying so hard to cover.

"We'll find a way Chief." I said the words with every ounce of conviction I could manage. Knowing how well he could read me I had to believe it to make him believe it.

And I did believe it. Somehow I knew that with all the trials thrown at us, whatever our destiny was, it was a package deal. Neither of us would consider leaving the other behind.

"I think the best idea is you going on down the mountain and getting help." Blair's voice stated matter-of-factly. Well so much for never considering leaving the other?

"You do?" I definitely was curious of why.

"Yeah Jim…It makes sense. Alone you can easily avoid Kincaid's goons and make it off this rock. You bring back the good guys, maybe a few jackhammers or nitro…umm and someone who knows how to use it. I wait here. I can't get out, but neither can Kincaid get in…so I'm cool." He was pretty convincing. Only the fact was Sentinel hearing picked up not only track his elevated pulse but the very subtle tremor under the speech. Despite his words, he was worried.

"I don't like it Sandburg." I didn't have another idea, but I didn't like his.

"Jim! Think, will you. I have our whole larder in here man. Food and water for days. Most of the blankets and clothes, even the wood. All here. I've got it easy, I just sit around resting while you hump it for help." He paused, then finished with a hard voice. "There are no other options. You can't move tons of granite, period."

"I don't like it." I knew my voice sounded almost petulant, but even thinking about it felt wrong.

I heard a frustrated sigh. "Then come up with something better. But until you do…start packing Sentinel, I don't want to be stuck in here one minute more than I have to." I heard the shuffle of feet and then the slide of clothe against rock as he slithered down to sit on the ground with his back against the wall.

I looked around the perimeter again, digging like a dog at any loose piles of rock, hoping against hope that I'd find I'd missed a gap somewhere.

"Jim?" His voice sounded tired now.

"Yeah Chief."

"Is Abel dead?" The tone definitely betrayed Blair thought so.

"Nope. The rat managed to abandon ship." My regret for that fact was pretty obvious.

"What! I thought he got flattened in the collapse." For a moment his natural respect for life warred with his Guide protectiveness of me. The Guide won. "That moves up the time frame man." Urgency was back in Blair's tone. "He'll head back to Kincaid and they'll come after you. You have got to go now Jim. They'll know you're headed down the mountain, and they have wheels. You'll have a harder time evading them with Abel helping them. Go. Go."

"I'm not going down the mountain Chief." The assurance of what I had to do was suddenly clear.

"WHAT?"

"I have an idea." I said firmly. "Sit tight, I'll be back by sunset."

"SIT TIGHT?" His voice definitely hit high 'C' on the end of that. "What the HELL else am I going to do? Get real Jim." A little temper was creeping in. He was not happy being trapped and was stressed trying not to appear stressed. But I knew what the next words out of his mouth would be. "What's your idea?" I could always trust the Sandburg curiosity.

"I'm going to get you out of there."

"Jim! There is no time here for me having to drag the details out of you. Will you please just TELL ME!" Yeah he was getting antsy.

"Okay, short and to the point. I get a couple of jacks, some munitions, and blow or crank that wall out of our way." Yep. Short and to the point.

"How, where…?"Then the coin dropped in that fast, agile mind. "FROM KINCAID! Jim are you INSANE?" There was that high note again. "No way. Ugg ugh Jim. You cannot try it man. You've got one piddly little handgun with one f#&$%#$ bullet! This is Kincaid we are talking about. Hell he's probably got some more of those damn Stinger Missiles! You CAN NOT try this…Please Jim. NO. Get down the mountain. You don't need to take the risk man. I'm safe here until you come back. Listen. LISTEN. YOU. WILL. NOT. DO. THIS!

I found myself swaying slightly, frozen in place, ready to agree with him. But then something inside of me roared, and I momentarily saw my spirit Panther blink into my view and then out again. I shook off the compulsion, realizing that somehow, someway, in his fear for me, Blair had been able to take the Guide tone up a notch, to actually impose his will, even if just for a moment, over mine. Though trying to usurp my self-control should normally have made me furious, I knew that Blair had only reacted instinctively to his perception of a danger to me. I could tell by his heartbeat and huffing breath he didn't even know what he had done, another unexpected side to his awakening Shamanistic side that I wasn't about to tell him about. He was enough of a handful without letting him know that he had something even more effective than puppy dog eyes for manipulating me.

Coaching my own voice to an even, unworried tone I worked to ease his concerns. "Easy Chief. It's going to be fine. This will work. Kincaid's gang wasn't prepared for that blizzard we just went through, they didn't have a warm cave, and no camping gear ever made would have protected them from that. They'd already lost men and equipment. Then that storm. They are probably half frozen and my guess is their vehicles are useless with dead batteries from the cold. The last thing they'll be expecting is for me to hit them."

"Jim…there has got to be another way. Why take the chance? You have a clear trail down the mountain and instead you want to charge right into the lion's jaws. Tell me. Why?" There was confusion mixed in with the concern and a good portion of frustration.

I paused, considering. He really didn't realize why it had to be this way. I would have liked to spare adding to his worries; I had hoped to be back before he started putting two and two together.

"This is the only way Chief."

"Why? Why not downhill?"

"There's not enough time to hike down, find help and come back."

He didn't answer for a second, then he took a deep breath and I knew he knew.

"This slab, it's not just tight…it's airtight?" Though no panic inched into his voice, his pulse had picked up.

"Pretty close." I answered honestly. "There's some air moving in and out, but not enough. Start a fire in there and you'd be dead from carbon monoxide in ten minutes. And without a fire you'll be dead from hypothermia in a couple of days."

"Fast or slow. Not real appealing. But are you sure Jim?" He was still reaching for a solution that didn't have me headed uphill instead of down. "It's pretty toasty in here, and I have plenty of blankets for warmth and food for calories, couldn't I be okay without a fire if I conserve heat and bundle up?"

I hated to dash his hopes but this was another of those times I needed to stick to the truth. He deserved it.

"The fire we had in the cave warmed the rock surface Chief…but only a few inches. Without a fire the cold will push through in a couple of hours, and blankets won't be enough when night comes and the temperature drops double digits below zero." I had run these very thoughts myself and always come up with the same conclusion. If I didn't get Blair out within twenty-four hours, thirty-six on the outside, he'd be dead.

"Oh." He sighed again. "Ya know Jim, there are times I really wish you didn't know quite as much about survival stuff. But you do, so I accept you're right on this, but I still don't like your idea."

"Yeah, I got that hint Buddy. But it will work." I paused and then used the two words that were fast becoming a magic mantra for us. "Trust me."

"I trust you Jim, you know that. I'd bet on you against anyone…but they have all the advantages man. I,… Just promise you won't take any, and I mean ANY unnecessary risks Jim." Just that quickly his resistance became support and I felt a weight lift.

"I'll be back as quick as I can. Like you said, bundle up and keep snacking. Also keep drinking, don't let yourself get dehydrated, your lungs still aren't recovered."

Blair chuckled shakily. "Sure mom." Then he took a deep, steadying breath. "Be careful Jim."

"You got it." I kept my voice steady with some effort. "See you soon."

"See ya."

As the words carried through to me I felt a zing of surprise. I had thought for sure he would continue to argue for me to take the safer route, even knowing it would cost him his life. Before this week that would have been his response. But now…and suddenly I knew, and felt a weird joy, he understood! Oh, he still didn't have a normal survival instinct or anything; I knew that he wasn't really willing to let me take on Kincaid just to save him. But thanks to Incacha's little Shaman-to-Shaman talk earlier…Blair understood. To protect me, he had to protect himself! Somewhere in my mind the Sentinel pumped his arm and hooted "Yes!" in gleeful satisfaction. The Guide would be less likely to throw his life away knowing to do so would hazard the Sentinel, they were inexorably linked. But I'd savor the moment later, first thing was to SAVE BLAIR!

I moved quickly to where the fractured roof was lowest. It took a couple of jumps before my hands caught the lip overhang and I could haul myself up and out of the cave. As I came to my feet my hearing caught Blair's voice come up through the stone to me.

"Jim, just to be on the safe side, dial down your senses just a bit. You are stressed and without me backing you up you're at higher risk of a zone out if you have them at their highest. And keep rotating them around in pairs, you know…piggyback one to the other."

I shook my head. I wondered if Blair was going to talk the entire time I was gone. But I knew he was doing it more to focus himself than me. He had no way to vent his own frustration; I at least had the prospect of some action and was able to do something to help the situation. I knew he would soon start meditating. He was trapped, alone, in the dark, in the gathering cold…yet I knew his main worry was for me. Damn what a pair we are!

Looking down I was a bit shocked by the chaos. The landslide had obliterated the ledge and the small open area in front of the cliff that had been below us was now a sloping field of shale, rocks and snow that extended clear to the tree line. Only right below the cave was a small open space where the debris had been shunted to either side by the slight protrusion of the cave roof, which had then collapsed on us soon after.

Shaking my head at the luck of it, I eased down the mounds of rubble and back onto the clear track uphill. Immediately my eyes found recent sloppy tracks through the snow leading up the direction I was moving. Abel. My anger started to simmer just thinking of him. I wanted to speed up, track him down, and smash him into paste…

No. I'd promised no extra risks. I reviewed several things that Kincaid's camp might have that would work to clear the slab that trapped Sandburg. If I could avoid Kincaid and his men, and just steal what I needed, I would. If I could avoid Abel and get back to the cave without pursuit, I would. If anyone got in my way and I had to kill them, I would. All that mattered was getting Blair out. Quick.

48

Well this wasn't working. Jim had left about twenty minutes ago and all my efforts to settle into meditation had been a complete flop. I felt like a pressure was building in me, or around me. The darkness pressed in, the silence sucked even the noise of my breathing out of the air seeming to muffle and dim the slight sound. Giving up I rose and began to pace. Even though I couldn't see a dang thing I moved back and forth in my small prison. I held my hands slightly out from me to warn of the walls, but found that I sensed them a moment before hitting them. "Hey Jim, Bat echo trick." I murmured to the air around me, remembering my discussion with him when he'd been blinded, temporarily thank God.

I felt the urge to scream in frustration. Even now Jim was moving closer and closer to Abel, Kincaid, his maniac brigade. And I was stuck here… stuck in this damn, stupid, claustrophobic, cold, stupid, dark, stupid, stupid CAVE!

Owww. Owww. Owww…. Shit, damn. Way to go Sandburg. Note to self. Punching walls hurts! Really, really hurts. I shook the hand I'd just tried to put through granite. Sensation was returning and most of it was pain. I blew on burning knuckles.

What could I do? I squeezed closed eyes to full of darkness, as if by keeping them closed I could pretend there was light just on the other side of my eyelids. I needed to get out of here both to be with Jim and to prevent him having to go against Kincaid to get me out of here. What a mess.

It took me a moment to notice an image gathering in front of me… even though my eyes were closed. It was faint, silvery, like the after image when you've looked into a bright light. But when I opened my eyes it vanished?

Quickly I scrunched my eyes closed again. Sure enough I saw a silvery outline form and thicken. It became recognizable within a moment, a Wolf! Glowing eyes turned to me and now a whispery whine came through the silence. Entranced I followed the creature as it moved away from me toward the far, deepest tip of the cave.

My spirit guide, because I knew this could only be him, stopped when he was practically in the wall. Close behind I bumped my head as I came to a stop beside him, and my eyes instinctively snapped open, and the wolf instantly disappeared. I snapped shut my eyes to recapture the image, only to shake in frustration as the animal failed to reappear.

I moved my hands along the rock face in front of me. The Wolf had led me to this point for a reason. But what? Everywhere within reach was hard unyielding rock. No crevice, fissure, weakness or ….. I felt a quiver beneath my feet, almost like when the slide earlier had…

Yoooowwwww. Owww. Shoot, not again. The floor of the cave vanished from under me. The area had extended over the ledge out into the space furthest from the cliff face. Unsupported and obviously severely weakened, it had only taken the weight of one slightly chilled Guide to shatter the crust.

Feet first I plunged from my dark stone cocoon to drill like a nail into a deep pile of snow. What would have been a ten-foot drop, thanks to the blizzard was only about four, into a soft cushiony drift. Shaking my head and squinting against the sudden intense glare of bright light I looked around. Over my head was the cave, to each side of me long mounds of shale and debris and snow. I was out!

My eyes teared, and I blinked to see more clearly. I was disconcerted for a moment by the alien nature of my immediate surroundings. The landslide had changed everything that I had seen just a short time earlier. But by following the tree line I was able to find the track uphill that Jim would have taken.

Squirming and flopping around I managed to extricate myself from the snowdrift. For a minute the temptation was to head right off after Jim. It had only been a little more than half an hour since he'd left. But I paused, getting my head together. Scrambling up the snow to squeeze back through the hole I'd fallen through, I quickly felt around in the dim light coming through from the small opening, gathering everything I could and mashing it into a pack. Whatever happened, we might need these supplies.

Within five minutes the pack was dropped through the hole and I followed right behind. I was already on the move as I slid the straps over my shoulders. The going was rough for a bit climbing over the shifting mass of crap from the landslide. But then I hopped off into ankle deep snow, stiffened over deeper powder by the cold wind blowing down the mountainside.

Finding the trough that had been cut through the white blanket by not one, but two heavier men pushing through the snow up the path, took no skill at all. They had sunk deeper and had slower going as a result.

I kept pushing up, up, even as I felt a steady increase in the weight lying on my chest. I didn't have time right now, but my lungs were definitely reminding me that only a short time ago they had been pretty sick.

Despite the continuing severe cold, the sky was completely clear. The sun beating down on my dark clothing and my exertion, was keeping me toasty. But I made a point to not push myself to hard, remembering Jim's training.

I also sought the path of least resistance. The blizzard had dumped immense amounts of snow. Huge drifts pillowed up against the cliff side and along the start of the tree line, extending up well over my own height. But though the drifts extending out from the cliff in deep mounds, the same wind that had deposited the great hills of white, had scoured away or frozen solid the snow from a strip of path between the cliff and trees. Since that way was right out in the open I instead wove my way through the tree's but within sight of the track. . Being lighter was a definite advantage right now as I jogged unhampered over the fast frozen crust that had been unable to support the heavier Sentinel's that had preceded me. Since I could move faster than they had, it was possibly I could catch up with Jim.

A while later I eased down to a walk, moving steadily in the warming sun in a ground-eating stride. I was wheezing like a steam engine, but I was maintaining a rapid pace. Still later I moved further into the tree line and eased my speed a little more. I would need to take a break soon and I wanted to cool down easy.

When I'd been moving for over four hours I looked around for some cover to take a rest. I noticed that I'd covered a lot of ground and was coming up on the area by the lake where Jim had fallen from the cliff. From what Jim had said, Kincaid's camp couldn't be very far away I realized. As if to prove the point my eyes caught a distant dark plume of smoke snake up. Just guessing I would estimate over a mile away, around the curve in the cliff and beyond where Jim had fallen. Up toward the mouth of the frozen lake.

Comforted by the implied distance yet between Kincaid's camp and me, I risked moving toward the track, deciding to cross over to the cliff side to the tumble of boulders where Jim's tracks had vanished. If my Sentinel wasn't too far ahead, I hoped once I was out of the worst of the wind he'd smell or hear me and turn back.

I needed to rest and recoup as much as I could but decided to do that when safely ensconced on the other side of the snowy plain. Once I linked back up with Jim we'd need to hustle down this rock fast. With me free there was no need to confront any of these militaristic morons. So avoidance would be the new plan. And Jim didn't need to have to carry me.

As the sound of my own labored breathing quieted, I began to inch across the open expanse of crusted snow toward the cliff face, my eyes fixed uphill. The cliff curved back away from my view just a few hundred yards above and I thought that anyone coming around that point wouldn't immediately spot me. I figured if I saw any movement from up there I'd have to assume it was a bad guy and immediately drop into the deep snow. If it was Jim he'd find me, if it were Kincaid or his men, I might not be noticed. If it was Abel…well I wasn't sure if his senses were reliable enough to find me, but I had to run the risk.

Moving with as much stealth as an Anthropologist trained by a covert Ops guy could, I slogged through the snow that now came to my waist as I approached the riot of large and small boulders that had been blown clean of snow on their far sides. Once there I could shelter in the lee side of one of the large monoliths. Just maybe fifty more feet and I could rest. My eyes continued glued up trail the closer I got to my destination.

I was concentrating so damn hard uphill that it took the noise from behind me a moment to penetrate my intense focus. For future reference spinning around is impossible in waist deep snow, but as my mind registered the sound of an engine, I sure tried. Of course I floundered and flopped onto my back in the snow just as I caught a glimpse of a large Humvee plowing up the trail.

Even as I started to burrow into the deep snow hoping they might not have seen me, a bullet slicing through the snow not five feet from my head deflated that hope. SHIT!

"Well looky, looky Jake. The Jew boy… and he's still alive?" That voice. Was it just over a week ago that two drawling southern idiots had pushed me out of an airplane? My how time flies when someone, or several someone's, is trying to kill you. Rolling over I saw Billie standing on the step of the all terrain vehicle, behind the open passenger door. A rifle was aimed casually right at my head. The smile on his face was that of a jackal, cruel and predatory.

Billie shifted the gun to wave me toward them, and with no other choice, I complied. The driver's door also swung open and Jake stood on his sidestep to glare first at me, then at the area around me.

"Careful Billy. He could be bait for a trap by Ellison. Remember what Kincaid said about him." Jake moved his rifle in a nervous arc covering the space behind them, then back and forth on each side. When the wind blew a blob of snow off a tree limb nearby Jake almost shot the offending branch he was strung so tight. His hard eyes landed on me with a glare just as cruel as Billy's. "Where's Ellison shorty?" He growled threateningly.

"Yeah. Where's the big, bad cop, fag?" Billy sneered while he kept the rifle aided right at my head. "He realize what a waste you are and dump your ass?" He laughed derisively.

I looked back and forth between these two. Just because my luck seemed to have run out, Jim was still out there, and I needed to give him every advantage if he was going to get us out of this.

"He's dead." I let my voice catch emotionally.

"Where is he?" Jake challenged again. His voice was full of doubt.

"He's dead I tell you." I let my eyes fill with tears and put on my biggest puppy dog eyes, full of despair. "There was a landslide, and he… he…" I gulped and let my eyes drop to the ground and my shoulders slump. I was the image of dejected defeat.

Careful not to ruin the image I was real sneaky about squinting sideways to see how they were taking my act.

"You think he's lying Jake?" Billy seemed disappointed to think that a landslide had killed their target instead of a bullet from one of their guns.

"Doesn't matter one way or the other." Jake growled. "Kincaid's just a little further on. We take long hair here to the camp, Kincaid wants off this rock, and he can decide what to do with him." He stepped down from the vehicle and motioned me toward the driver door.

"Why bother? Kincaid thinks that Ellison and Curly there are dead, so we could really do whatever we feel like. Well, I figure we found him, he's ours. I say just shot him and leave him here. If Ellison is dead we don't need the Jew boy, if he's alive then shooting his little friend here will show him who's in charge here." I suddenly found my mouth very dry. Billy's conversation was taking things in a direction I did not want it to go. Not only did I not want to get shot, but if I got myself killed, it would kill Jim. No…this was unacceptable.

Jake was looking at me over his rifle. A mean glint had come into his dark, conscienceless eyes. He liked the idea.

"Hey kid. What say we give you a count of ten head start? You think you can outrun a bullet?" Jake smiled at his idea, warming to it.

"Yeah. Run Jew boy. Let's see you run." Billy's gun was still aimed right at my head.

"One." Jake intoned gravely.

"Two." Billy barked out almost immediately. I turned and started to run.

"Three." Jake called out laughing evilly.

"Stob." A heavy French accented voice boomed out just as a huge arm reached out and snagged me when I'd barely gotten turned around and made one stride. Broken handcuffs dangled from the wrist of my newest captor.

Abel! Could my luck get any worse?

"Hey, Frenchie, where you been?" Billy's voice was curious but not really friendly. I got the impression there was no love lost between these men. "When Kincaid radioed us he said that he'd sent you down the mountain to bring back more snow jets and you vanished. He had to call us in when the blizzard left him stranded."

"Duh Jeeb blow duh tire en flib me. Ellizon and dis one, dey fine me an holl me priznor. Bud now ah ged way." Abel hadn't taken his eyes off me the whole time he'd been talking. His grip on my upper arm was painful and his possessive glare was discomforting. His nostrils flared as he drew in deep drafts of my scents. Very not good!

"Hah! Hey Frenchie, you mean you were held captive by this runt and a cop half your size?" The sneer in Billy's voice would have peeled paint as he looked meaningfully at the cuffs still braceleting Abel's wrists.

The derision distracted whatever possessive crap had been going on in Abel's head as he swung to face the Humvee.

"Shud ub Bellee, or ah shud you ub." The ice in Abel's growl was enough to send a shiver down my spine. But it didn't seem to have much impact on Kincaid's flyboys.

"You gonna make me Frenchie? I don't think so, this time I got a gun." Billy's voice was casually menacing and it didn't take enhanced sight to see that the jerk's gun was now not so subtly aimed right at Abel. Yeah, there was obviously some unpleasant history between these guys.

Jake just now seemed to figure that Abel and Billy were both just looking for an excuse, so he did what seemed like the best idea, get them off each other's throats and onto someone else's.

Mine.

"What the hell does it matter? Ellison's dead, Kincaid's stranded and waiting for us. Kill the kid and lets go get our people and get off this sorry mountain."

A lot of things happened all at once. Billy, agreeing with Jake, brought his rifle back to aim at me and his finger tightened on the trigger just as Abel bellowed loudly, "MINE!" grabbed the barrel and yanked the rifle out of the surprised redneck's hand. With his other hand the giant shoved me hard to the ground as he pivoted the gun to bring it around to point at it's previous holder. A large, stubby finger was just moving to squeeze the trigger and end Billy's life when a sharp report barely beat him to it.

I watched from below as a small black hole materialized high in Abel's chest and then something red blurred out his back. Spots of red sprinkled across the snow behind him as the giant's knees suddenly buckled and he crashed to kneel in front of the Humvee. His concrete gray eyes found mine with a look of shear disbelief in them. A moment later, just as my eyes broke away to look up to see the still smoking tip of Jake's rifle track each of the giant man's moves, Abel plowed forward to lay motionless, face first in the snow.

"Jackass!" Jake muttered through gritted teeth. "What the hell was that for? I always knew you were weird, but you want this kid? You some kind of fag too?" The loathing in Jake's voice was obvious.

I just lay there staring at the unmoving figure, feeling several emotions at once. I was angry that these men had just thoughtlessly taken a life. And it wasn't only because Abel had been a Sentinel, though the Anthropologist in me was definitely heartsick. All life was too precious and they'd murdered for no other reason than dislike. I was also admittedly frightened; my life expectancy in these guys' hands could be measured in seconds. Then there was disgust, with myself, for walking right back into these two assholes hands. Jim was right; I was a damn trouble magnet!

I didn't even try to escape as Jake grabbed hold of my shoulder with a grip that would leave bruises, and hauled me to my feet. "I ought to just put a bullet in you to and leave you both here to rot." I could smell Jakes breath, foul with liquor as he hissed in my ear. "But I think after what they've been through, Kincaid will like skinning you himself. Get in there." My head impacted none to lightly with the frame as I was shoved into the back seat of the Humvee.

They didn't even bother to tie my hands? Yeah Sandburg, like they're afraid of you trying anything. Either one of them could wipe the floor up with you bare handed, and the fact they're armed to the teeth probably gives them a bit of confidence to.

I sank into the seat but my eyes moved back to the large dark form lying stark and unmoving against the white blanket of snow. Suddenly I felt very, very tired. The only positive thing I could focus on right then was Jim, still free, and out there somewhere. As long as he was still okay there was still hope.

50

Even though I no longer tried to catch up to Abel, my pace increased as I moved away from the cave. Blair's time was limited and thus so was mine. Within an hour of starting I noticed Abel's tracks, which I had been following, veered into the deep trees as he tried to avoid the worst of the snow mounds and drifts. With his weight it was obvious he was crashing through the various frozen layers in the snow pack. The trees would ease his way, but also take longer.

Choosing the shorter more direct path I forced on through the snow in a straight line. Being slightly lighter I only sank to mid calf, where the bigger man had broken through to knee deep with each stride. Now having his tracks in clear sight, I was a bit frustrated by not being able to crank up my hearing and sight all the way. I knew I couldn't be too far away from the giant by now, and there was no guarantee that some of Kincaid's men weren't around also. But with the monotony of the landscape and Blair's absence I couldn't risk it. Yet if I couldn't turn the senses all the way up, I could still move them up a little and jockey them around so as not to over focus on any single one. But I had to go slower than I liked so I didn't accidentally run right up on one or more of my enemies. If I could move fast enough along the main track I could not only catch up to, but hopefully pass Abel unnoticed and get to Kincaid's camp unannounced.

It was not a plan I would normally have come up with. My first impulse was to set an ambush and take on and take out the larger Sentinel. But if I went down, or was even just hurt or captured, Sandburg wouldn't stand a chance. So I would go with stealth. I had been in Covert Ops before the Sentinel had manifested, this was what I'd been trained for.

Almost as if summoned by my thoughts I caught the slightest hint of movement far in the trees. I froze. One of the many things they teach you in Covert Op is that the normal vision perceives things differently than you'd think. It isn't the stuff ahead of you that you're focused on that you see best. It is peripheral vision that catches images quickest. And all sight catches movement quickest of all.

I stood there unmoving for several seconds, slowly dialing up my vision. I could almost hear Sandburg's voice coaching me through one of the endless exercises he had used to prepare me for just this type of event. "Take it slow Jim." Blair's guide voice extolled gently in my mind. "Don't crank it up too fast or you'll overload. Don't go too high with just one sense man, pull in another sense partway to anchor you, piggyback them together."

With the memory came control. I stopped the dials at about halfway up to my current personal best, but it was more than enough to telescope the distant giant into easy view without courting a zone. I used hearing as my secondary anchor, piggybacking it on just in time to hear the muted clank of stone against metal.

Abel's back was to me, and the trees partially obstructed my view even with enhanced vision. But I could make out one of his hands raising a few inches with a large rock and then pounding down. I felt a moment of satisfaction as I realized that the behemoth was trying to get the handcuffs off. With his wrists chained together he couldn't lift the rock high enough to get any force into the blow. He'd be at it for a while. Perfect!

Keeping my eyes and ears on him to make sure he didn't turn around, I resumed my slogging through the snow. At one point I saw his head cock slightly in the familiar Sentinel listening pose, but even as I froze in place a flight of pheasant rose squawking up from the snow and Abel's hands flew up to cover his ears as he howled in pain. A sensory spike! Couldn't happen to a more deserving guy. Hustling along even faster I quickly rounded the curve of the cliff so that it hid me from Abel's view even if he turned and managed to force his senses into some degree of control.

I dialed back my senses to just slightly above normal and slowed my pace as I skirted the deeper drifts while still trying to hug the cliff face. If any of Kincaid's men where around they'd most likely be in the clear, unobstructed areas furthest from the rocky face.

Within another few minutes my sense of smell, even with it being dialed most of the way down, picked up the scent of smoke. It led me like a map and before an hour went by I spotted the Sunshine Patriots encampment, or what was left of it. Dropping down I inched forward to lie belly down in the snow just a dozen yards from the group.

The blizzard had taken a lot of expensive camping gear and proven how totally unsuitable it was. Colorful expanses of waterproof fabric flapped like flags from half buried twisted metal skeletons that had once been high tech tents. Two burned out generators abandoned in the camp center testified to the fact that it had been too cold for the occupants to leave their tents to refill the oil mixture during the worst of the cold.

Nearest me nine men huddled around a wood fire and exhibiting various degrees of exposure. Some faces and ears were splotched with large black patches of frostbit skin. A couple hobbled on feet too frozen to hold them up. The whole bunch looked disheartened and generally whipped. Better and better.

Everywhere equipment was strewn. I saw guns stacked willy-nilly and crates of supplies half buried. All the vehicles had their windows busted in, probably from hail. On the far side of the camp two of the four trucks they'd come up the mountain in had been parked near the cliff face during the storm and of course been buried by snow. There had been an obvious effort to dig them out that had exposed the roofs and blasted windows, but the hood and bodies of both were still invisible below the white frozen blanket.

The semi-obscured trucks by the cliff face would be my first targets. Though it meant back tracking a bit and circling all the way around, if I could get behind the trucks I would be invisible while I pillaged them for whatever I could use to get Sandburg free. I would have liked to wait until dark, then I would have also tried for some of the arms and other supplies scattered about. But I wasn't willing to lose the time buffer I had. If I got back to Blair tonight I'd have several hours to work on freeing him.

About halfway between the men and the cliff two more trucks were lined up and a pair of the tents were set up in their lee. Protected to some degree from the worst of the wind and hail by the vehicles one tent had survived relatively intact.

Just then I observed Kincaid come out of the shelter with a Handi-Talkie radio in his hand. Even without Sentinel hearing I was close enough to hear his enraged screaming.

"I don't care how rough the terrain is. You get up here. I have three men dead and almost everyone else half frozen. The trucks won't start and most of our gear was destroyed by a damn freak blizzard." He was pacing back and forth, stomping his feet every few steps. It was obvious he was also pretty cold. "Don't tell me your problems. If you'd left when I first called you, you'd already be here and the police wouldn't have even found you at the hanger to hassle you." He paused for a moment listening to the response. Unbidden my hearing geared up and even though scratchy and full of static I recognized the voice of Billie, one of the two who had flown and dumped us up here.

"We're almost there Sir. But we had to take precautions. The cops had tracked every plane that left Cascade when the cop and kid disappeared. Just our bad luck they got to the hanger as we were getting ready to leave."

If possible Kincaid shouted even louder. "F#$ Ellison! He and Mr. Natural couldn't have survived that storm with no supplies or shelter. We barely did and we had a damn camping gear store out here. They are dead and this exercise is over. Now get your ass's up here and get me and my men off this damn iceberg!"

Listening in I felt some satisfaction at Kincaid's misery. Couldn't happen to a more deserving bastard. But this conversation definitely changed things. It seemed Kincaid was abandoning his hunt. If I just waited a little while longer they would abandon camp. Since their vehicles were history they'd have to leave most everything behind. I could walk in and helped myself to anything.

Then I remembered Abel. Even without control of his senses he couldn't be more than an hour behind me. When he showed up and Kincaid found out that Sandburg and I weren't dead… what then?

Even if Abel took them straight to our cave they couldn't get to Blair any more than I could. And considering the condition of the group, would Kincaid even care? His little private army was a shambles and the authorities were sniffing around their airplane. I knew Simon wouldn't have been sitting on his hands after we had disappeared, but there had been very few clues left. I was also pretty sure we were in Canada so he must have really been applying a hell of a lot of heat to have gotten a search of the airfields in another country.

With pursuit closing in I felt sure that Kincaid would cut his losses rather than risk being recaptured. That decided, I began rapidly retracing my approach. As soon as I was a safe distance from the camp I took to my feet and began scrambling toward the woods. All I needed do was avoid Abel and let them all get together and get out of here.

I had been jogging for about twenty minutes, my eyes sweeping back and forth between the tree line and the snow, looking for tracks or other evidence that Abel had already passed this way. So far nothing. Abel must have gotten lost or sidetracked by something. Though what would distract him….

CRACK!

The shot sounded from just ahead and my vision zoomed into the source instinctively. I watched the giant form of Abel crash to his knees just as my over focusing pulled me helplessly toward a zone. Even as I realized I was too late to pull back on my own, I was saved from the vortex of gray as my sense of smell latched onto the unmistakable scent of my Guide. I snapped back to full alert.

Blair!

Long hours of training piggybacked my sight without thought and I spotted Jake haul a familiar shape out of the snow. Abel remained face down as Sandburg was pushed roughly into the Humvee.

How had Sandburg gotten out of the cave? How had he gotten this far back up the mountain? What the hell was he doing with Abel? Unconcerned, Billie and Jake climbed back in and cranked the engine. Squashing the momentary urge of the primal Sentinel that almost had him swagger out and haul the Guide away from the enemy Sentinel, I let my Covert Ops training and savvy kicked in. In my mind hundreds of calculations and scenario's were considered, discarded, rearranged and a final plan made, all in a single moment.

That gun blast would have been heard at Kincaid's camp. And though they were expecting Billie and Jake they would know a shot meant trouble and be on the alert. Those that could still move might already be headed down here. On foot they could be here in twenty to thirty minutes. Somehow I had to stop the Humvee and deal with Billie and Jake. Now. One against two was no sweat; I was confidant that I could easily take out the hillbilly duo that had my partner. But one against twelve, even I wasn't that good.

Every sense geared up to full in a moment. I moved out of the trees and dashed through the snow towards several large boulders halfway between the rapidly approaching vehicle and me. They were moving through snow and rocky terrain so they couldn't really get up much speed. That would work well for me.

Getting to the large rocks I positioned myself in a low crouch and waited. It was only a couple of minutes before the Humvee driver side eased by me as it was negotiated over a pile of snow-hidden rocks. I could have reached out and touched the driver's window.

As the door to the back seat pulled even with me I glided carefully onto the running board and latched on to the driver's door handle with my left hand. My eyes were now just level with the bottom of the window frame. Through the dark tinted glass I could see Blair sitting on the bench seat just inches from me. I was tempted to yank open the back door first and just grab him. But Jake and Billie had rifles…they had to be neutralized first.

I held on tight, balancing carefully as the vehicle bounced over some more rough ground. I shifted until I was sure I was steady on the running board. This had to go without a hitch.

Smoothly, in one movement I rose up, my right hand grabbing the luggage rack on the roof as my left hand yanked open the driver door and released it to swing wide. Before Billie even realized the door was open I had reached in across him and grabbed his far shoulder and pulled.

Billie twisted and fell out under my arm to hit the snow and rock covered ground with the back tire barely missing running right over him. But I never even looked to see. As soon as he was out of the seat I had stooped forward, left hand grabbing the wheel to pull myself into the still warm place.

My right hand came off the roof rack and moved to my waist to pull my gun with my single bullet. Jake had barely registered the fact that Billie had vanished like magic, much less that I was halfway into the vehicle. But now his eyes were going wide. Out of the edge of my eye I saw Sandburg also coming forward.

CRACK.

I couldn't believe it, even as fire scorched through my left thigh I was thinking, "What kind of an idiot holds a loaded rifle across his lap with the safety off?" Jake's shock at my attack had caused his hand, resting on the gun across his lap, to spasm and jerk off a shot without thought or aim.

The momentary agony of the slug hitting had caused me to lose my grip and fall backward out of the doorway. I hit the snow and rolled. It was lucky the irregular terrain had kept them going barely ten miles an hour or when I was slammed out a cracked skull would have finished what the bullet began.

Somehow I managed to miss smashing into anything big enough to do serious harm and rolled to a stop half buried in the snow.

The Humvee, now driverless, plowed on slowly through the snow as I struggled to regain my feet and follow. But as soon as I tried to move my left leg a searing pain almost pushed me into a zone and left me doubled over fighting to hold back the darkness.

51

JIM! Impossibly I was sure I had caught a glimpse of Jim's face for just a second outside the darkened window of the Humvee. Fixing my eyes there I was just in time to see him rear up right by the door beside me.

Before I could even speak his hand had flashed out to rip open the driver door, grab Billie and fling him out. I shook off the surprise that had frozen me as I saw him reach in and grab the steering wheel and start to pull himself in. I pushed off the seat reaching out to grab Jake from behind.

Even as my arms came around Jake's neck I felt his body jump.

CRACK.

With my head now up right beside his I clearly saw the rifle that he'd shot Abel with mere minutes before had been lying across Jake's lap. The safety must have been off! Hell, a simple bump and he would have blown Billie's guts out. But instead he'd shot Jim.

He shot Jim!

Jake had frozen in surprise as his gun had blasted under his lightest touch, and Jim tumbled out the door. It was a second before he really noticed my arms coming from behind him to cross his neck. He immediately brought his hands up to claw at my forearms as my hold tightened. But I had the advantage of a few seconds head start. And I had been trained in sleeper holds by not only a Ranger from Covert Ops, but a Sentinel who was desperate for his Guide to learn self-defense, and a friend who wanted me to carry a gun but had compromised on quite a few semi-successful martial arts sessions.

With the image of Jim falling away with a look of surprise and pain on his face, I found the strength I needed to not only keep Jake from prying my arms away from his throat, but to crank the headlock even tighter. Jake's panicked hands stopped trying to loosen my hold and reached shakily to grab the rifle and twist it around to either shot me or poke me in the head. But lack of oxygen and blood supply to the brain robbed him first of any strength and finally consciousness.

As he went limp in my grasp I held on for another few seconds to be sure he wasn't faking. I quickly checked for a pulse and was relieved to find one, slow but steady. Though I now knew I would kill to protect Jim, somehow the thought that I might have killed someone with my bare hands made me nauseous.

I started to climb over into the front seat, but just that moment the HumVee struck one of the protruding boulders that was scattered across this stretch. Without a foot on the gas the vehicle had been slowing steadily since Billie was ejected, so the collision was barely more than a hard bump. But with me leaning three quarters over the seatback the sudden stop tumbled me right over to crumple into the floorboards.

I scrambled up and out the still swinging open driver's door, then reached in to shift into park and turn off the ignition. As I looked up through the front windscreen I noticed several dark blotches coming toward me from uphill. Straining to focus tired eyes I realized I was seeing men, several of them, on foot running this way. SHIT! Kincaid.

I was off and running back the way I'd come, to get to Jim.

Though my fight with Jake had only been a couple of minutes the Humvee had carried me a good distance further from where Jim had been shot then I had realized. I saw Jim struggling to his feet in the snow with his back to me, as an enraged Billy was plowing through the snow like a bull toward a lopsided toreador. A knot formed in my stomach as I saw the pilot tugged furiously at a pocket, struggling to free a gun from the folds of his jacket even as he charged.

I raged at myself, damn why hadn't I taken Jake's rifle? I could have fired off a couple of shots at the jerk. Even if I were a lousy shot, the gun would have made Billie rethink attacking. But there was no time. Billy's hand came free, holding a large revolver. He began to bring it up in front of him as he closed the distance between him and Jim, who had gained his feet and now just stood, waiting.

Oh god. No.

I wanted to close my eyes, wanted to scream, wanted to somehow stop time. But all I could do was keep running toward the eminent duel.

BANG CHOOM

As my eyes were drawn to the smoke haze up from the barrel of Billy's gun, my ears registered the double report. Not an echo, but two shots!

With hope returned I nearly panicked as I saw Jim fall forward, his right leg and arm holding him semi-upright. Then I noticed Billy, in slow motion seem to collapse in on himself, wilting to the ground.

I skidded across the packed snow up beside Jim who was struggling to push off his right arm up to his right knee. He was pale and shaking and red stained his whole left pants leg and some of the snow beneath him. Without a pause I pulled off my belt and ripped my inner tee shirt. Folding the section of cloth into a small pad I placed it over the bullet wound. It was bleeding enthusiastically, but the flow was steady and dark, not the bright spurting of a nicked artery. I used my belt to crank down on the pad enough to apply pressure without tourniqueting off all blood supply.

Satisfied the immediate threat was dealt with I stooped and grabbed Jim's left arm, pulling it over my shoulder and help him stagger to his feet. Or I should say foot. As soon as he tried to put weight on the left leg he grimaced in agony and the leg collapse. It took all my strength to keep him upright as he listed hard over when the leg gave out.

He was too big for me to drag; he had to at least hobble. But the pain was bad and each time he tried to move or use the left leg he stifled a groan and the leg would fall away.

"Come on Jim." I encouraged him with no little urgency. "Kincaid's nut posse is just a bit uphill and coming this way fast. This is not a healthy neighborhood, we need to get out of here, NOW."

As if he needed more motivation, the threat of more gun carrying scumbags headed towards us had Jim desperately launching himself forward, only to have the injured limb fold like limp spaghetti. He fell like a tree and all I could do was go with him. Immediately he struggled into a sitting position and looked at me with urgent need.

An expression passed over his face, one familiar and unacceptable. I knew what he was about to say, and without noticing the look change to something entirely new, I blurted out an angry pre-emptive threat. "Don't Jim! Don't you dare! I swear I hear one word sounding like 'leave me' and so help me I'll get a club and beat the idea right out of your head!"

I was snarling by the end of my tirade. But now I also saw Jim's expression. It was not what I expected.

"Great visual for a pacifist Chief." He snorted out between gritted teeth. "But I was thinking maybe you had an idea to help me get a handle on the damn dials. I can't get the pain under control so I can walk."

The look he was giving me? Yes, the Blessed Protector was there, worried, aggressive, wanting to get me to safety even at cost of his life. But that was held in check and channeled with a firm faith that I could and would somehow help him and together we'd get out of this. And he wasn't even trying to mask the feelings as he usually did. My partner trusted me, my friend looked to me for help, and my Sentinel was letting me be his Guide.

At last.

It took a second to get words around the lump in my throat. But I had a job to do and the clock was ticking here.

"Oo kay. All right Jim, close your eyes, I want you to focus on the dials now. Find the one for pain. Now I need you to try something a little different. I want you to filter through the pain first, find the pain from the bullet. It's the hot red pain, pressing against the nerves." Jim groaned. "Sorry, sorry big guy. Okay now crank down the dial just on that pain, slowly, 9, 8, 7, and you can feel it, the pain getting less, but you can still feel the leg. Now 6, 5, 4, 3, just the wound pain Jim, 2, 1. Now there is a numbness just of that area, no where else."

I had been watching Jim's face the whole time I was talking. The grimace becoming a scowl, then fading to a frown and finally relaxing into a relieved smile. His eyes popped open with that undisguised wonder it always got when the dials worked, then he turned to smile at me and reach out his hand, motioning me to help him up.

I hauled on his arm and he came to his feet a little unsteadily. He kept hold of my arm for balance as he tentatively put full weight on the injured leg. When it held he removed his hand and smiled at me. "That's great. Why the filtering bit? Why not just dial down the pain like I usually do?" He was hobbling forward with only a light hold on my shoulder, but I wasn't 100% sure of my fix, so I pulled his arm around my neck again and grabbed him around the waist.

"If you'd just turned down the pain dial the whole leg would have gone numb, you wouldn't have been able to move the leg or walk." I panted as he picked up speed.

He was watching my face with that same trusting gaze that kind of made me warm inside and slightly self-conscious. "Good thinking Professor." His smile grew big as he saw me blush. Then he stiffened, his eyes swinging uphill, an undisguised growl erupting from him.

We were within a dozen feet of the HumVee. Two more minutes and we would have been out of there. But we both stood frozen.

Abel stood by the open driver's door, a cold hard expression on his face. But my eyes were drawn away from him to Jake. All I could see was his head, drooping out the door off the drivers seat. By the severity of the angle that it joined his shoulder's, there was no doubt that his neck had been harshly snapped. He was certainly dead.

For a second I felt nauseous. Though I had hated the callous pilot, I would never have left him unconscious, if I had known the giant had survived. Whether earlier he had zoned on the pain or merely been playing dead, Abel had avenged his wounding, without mercy.

The huge man stood there, leaning slightly against the doorframe. Blood was oozing sluggishly from his shoulder as he twirled the vehicle keys from one of the fingers of his left hand, while aiming Jake's rifle nonchalantly, directly at Jim.

Just beyond him even I could clearly see several men tramping rapidly down the hill toward us, most of them clutching rifles or semi automatic weapons.

Dark gray eyes moved from me to Jim, then back again.

"Ged in dah car liddle one." He cocked his head toward the open vehicle door.

I just tightened my hold on Jim and shook my head.

"Nowh Seer. Kincaid, ee kel you ivf you don com wid me. You wan im to leev Ellizon? You tell im to com wid me." He turned to Jim, obviously thinking he had the final say. And I was surprised to notice a faint echo of the Sentinel instinct to protect the guide. He was itchy wanting to get me out of there, not just to claim me, but for my safety. I worried that Jim's own protectiveness might have him try to force me to go. If this had been a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty likely he would have, pragmatically seeing one alive was better then both of us dead.

Instead he just looked hard at me, the pallor of his progressive blood loss making the blue of his eyes even more intense. He was waiting for me to decide, but his eyes begged me to choose life.

"No Abel." I answered firmly though my gaze never left Jim's face. "It won't work. Even if you took me, I could never be your 'Seer'. If Jim died I'd be dead soon after. Can't you tell? You said it yourself, my scent is different, some instinct must tell you, we're linked, bonded somehow. He's mine, I'm his. Period. If Jim dies, so will I."

I saw the awe bloom in Jim's eyes. So he hadn't realized that the dependence was both ways. Even before my vision with Incacha, he had accepted that if anything happened to me, his senses would spiral him into chaos and claim first his sanity, then his life. But he had assumed that if he died, without the enhanced senses to bombard me, I would grieve but live on.

The realization that his death would claim me soon after, settled like a weight on him. I felt him quiver slightly and I don't think it had much to do with the blood saturating the makeshift dressing and the top of his pants. He tightened his hand on my shoulder in a grip that was almost painful. Then he took a deep breath, sighed it out softly, communicating a sadness mixed with acceptance.

Abel was looking at me again, and I saw his nostrils flare as he sampled my scent again. And the acknowledgement of what I had said was there in those flinty gray eyes a moment later, with the rifle still aimed casually at Jim. And though Jim was tense, he held his position. He had already learned to his detriment just what a hair triggered Jake's rifle had.

Meanwhile I saw several emotions pass over the Abel's face. His need was raw and obvious, and a part of me twisted at the hunger I saw. Anger, need, frustration, disappointment, aggression all flickered and were replaced. Finally the parade of expressions ended, I knew he had made some decision, but I couldn't tell what the intense gaze he turned on me meant.

I saw the rifle's point shift down slightly, was he was taking aim or lowering it? I felt Jim tense and I did also. If he was going to shoot us we had nothing to lose in an attack, but if he wasn't, a wrong move would maybe cause him to shot by reflex.

PING
SNAP

CRACK
CHOOM
CRACK CRACK CRACK

Jim's shoulder rammed into me, slamming me into the side of the HumVee to then fall into the semi shelter of the vehicle. Bullets hissed and impacted all around the portion of the car not hidden by the boulder that we had smacked into earlier.

Jim had his arms round my head and was wrapped about me like a cocoon, for what seemed like hours but was in fact only a couple of seconds. Then the automatic fire ceased as suddenly as it had started.

52

DAMN! I tried to dial down the pain in my leg again even as I dialed up my hearing and pulled back from crouching protectively over Blair. Uphill I caught the sound of harsh breathing of several men, the crunch of feet running through crusted snow.

"Harper! You idiot. You can't hit anything at this range with an automatic. All you're doing is shooting up our ride out of here." Kincaid's voice, ragged and angry. "Just keep moving, that's not Billie and Jake, so it must be the cop and the kid. Somehow they're alive, and got the drop on our men. We have got to get there fast, take them out and then get the hell out of here."

"Come on Chief." I reached down a hand, and then stopped as I saw that Blair's gaze was frozen just beyond me. His eyes were wide and he had gone both pale and green at once. Shit! Abel! I'd heard the shots a fraction of a second before the untrained Sentinel probably had. So as I'd been pushing Blair out of the line of fire I'd noticed the immense body jolt hard, then again. At the same time I'd heard two soft slapping thuds.

Turning, I followed Blair's gaze to the unmoving form in the snow. This time Abel was not playing dead. One of the bullets had entered his back, but the other had taken him in the throat.

He laid there, his huge form unmoving, a darkening circle of pink going red gathering around his upper body. He had fallen on his stomach, but his head had turned at the last second. Now his sightless dead gray eyes gazed unblinkingly at my Guide, as if even in death he coveted him.

And Blair was rigid, staring, his expression blank. But his eyes… god, how I wished I could take that look away. He'd seen too much of death since joining me, and each time a little bit of him was amputated. This was a man who existed to celebrate life and even the death of an enemy devastated him.

I wanted to sooth the anguish I saw there. But before I could make a move my enhanced hearing caught the sound of an automatic bolt being pulled and the air filled again with blurs of lead. They were closer now and most of the bullets slammed into the snow and rocks inches from where we crouched.

One of the bullets struck the mid sized boulder just behind me and ricocheted up to trace a narrow, hot path across my cheek. Sandburg's gaze snapped up to my face, eyes going wide. Whatever grief he'd felt about Abel's death vanished, replaced with a protective fury that shocked me slightly. Hissing with pain I had just brought my hand up to touch the sore, bloody trail when I was grabbed by the shoulder and hauled to my feet. My previously immobilized Guide was pulling and dragging me toward the door to the HumVee.

Having been distracted I'd lost control of the pain and struggled to find the dial even as I was shoved unceremoniously through the drivers door and pushed across the bench seat to the passenger side. A heartbeat later Blair was behind the wheel ramming the keys into the ignition without even pulling the door shut.

"Comeoncomeoncomeon." The mantra was whispered through clenched lips as the engine murmured and complained of the cold before finally catching and roaring to life.

Even as he slammed the shift handle into reverse another batch of bullets sprayed through the pock-holed windshield as we ducked down below dash level. His foot hit the gas pedal and the big vehicle almost surged off the rocky mound by the boulder and picked up speed back over the same rough ground it had traveled such a short time ago.

But where Billie and Jake had advanced at a reasonable rate, Blair seemed oblivious to the severe terrain we now traversed at what seemed like fifty… backward!

The wild journey continued for what was only a few seconds but seemed longer as I was thrown, bounced, tossed, slammed, and slid all over by the bucking bronco ride that no shock absorbers invented could minimize. All the while Sandburg's eyes were glued to the door rear view mirror, his hands white knuckled on the wheel.

About the third time my head impacted with the roof with near concussive force, a groan escaped my lips. Between my leg and a whole plethora of new bruises I was really starting to hurt. Blair heard me and seemed to rein in his all consuming priority to get us away at top speed. He tapped the brake just enough to slow us to a much more moderate pace.

His eyes going to the hillside, he could see we were back out of range of Kincaid's weapons. We were alive and we had a vehicle, and there wasn't a prayer that Kincaid could catch up with us. Blair seemed to visibly shrink as the adrenaline rush deserted his sickness weakened body.

Braking to a crawling pace he turned anxious eyes to my face then my leg, where the bandage had slipped a little with all the activity. My whole pants leg was now darkened by the creeping spread of bloodstain. I saw him start to apply the brake even more and realized he intended to stop to re-bandage my wound.

"I'm alright Chief." I reassured him in as strong a voice as I could marshal. "I'll re-do the dressing, you just keep driving." I knew I wasn't doing great between the pain and blood lose, but both were still manageable and I could hold out until we got to help. But I didn't need him worrying about me.

Sandburg's eyes came back up to my face, concentrating, searching for something. I felt a strange tugging sensation sort of at the back of my head and then he snorted and shook his head. "You are leagues away from being fine Jim." He growled in a tone I was getting more and more used to lately. "You've lost control of the pain dial and you feel like shit." He moved his foot back on to the gas. "I know you don't want to worry me man. But no more 'obfuscation' okay? I can't help you if you hide stuff from me."

He started to turn the wheel slightly, slowing our backward progress. "Just let me get this bus turned around so I can see where I'm going and I'll talk you back through the dial reset. Okay?" The tone would have done me proud, sort of a cross between Simon and me that said, 'it had better be okay because you have absolutely no say in the matter.' He exuded a fierce competence that I had gotten glimpses of in rough situations before, but now he seemed to have incorporated it more completely into his normal self. Not really completely sure what else to say or do, I just nodded agreement.

The HumVee had turned only a little when I heard a slightly different crack of a shot. The front turn signal light splintered and sprayed colored plastic across the snow. Sandburg hit the gas and the vehicle jumped backward. Hauling hard on the wheel he began to turn us nose downhill and stamped the gas pedal urgently.

The HumVee, despite its size, responded quickly and began heaving over the rocky ground away from our persistent pursuers.

"What does it take for those morons to give it up?" Blair hissed with aggravation as he struggled with the steering wheel that bucked in his hands each time he hit a rock or hole.

"They can't stop." I said as I reinforced the bandage on my leg with some cloth from my own tee shirt. "We've got the only working vehicle on this mountain now. They don't want to try and walk out of here, they have to stop us."

"Great!" He snapped. "Have you got any good news?"

I smiled at the intense face. "Yes actually. I eavesdropped on Kincaid. The police showed up at Billie and Jake's. Three guesses who sent them."

Blair's face lit like a light bulb. He never could hold on to 'pissed off' for long. "Simon!"

I nodded. Then held on tight as simultaneously I heard the crack of a shot, a loud band and the big vehicle lurched hard. Sandburg struggled for control as he hit the brakes.

Swinging open the door Blair stepped out onto the running board leaning around to look at the vehicles rear. "I think they got a tire Jim."

"Never mind Sandburg." I advised sharply. "This thing can still make better time then they can on foot. When we get farther away we'll stop and change the tire. Right now though, let's just put as much distance between us as possible."

Nodding in agreement he began to climb back into the drivers seat. Another shot cracked out and Sandburg jolted forward, grunting. Then he scrambled the rest of the way in, cranked the shift into gear and hit the gas harder than you should when you have one blown tire on questionable terrain.

The HumVee's rear sheared back and forth but maintained it's forward course at a respectable rate and in the rear view mirror I saw Kincaid's group start running after us again.

But all of that barely penetrated my consciousness, as suddenly my whole world was my sense of smell as the cab filled with the odor of blood. Fresh blood. Sandburg blood!

Pushing across the seat I was pawing at him even as he was swatting weakly at me with his right hand, his left still wrapped like steel on the wheel. Grabbing the hand I growled in a no nonsense snarl. "Where are you hit Sandburg?"

"Leave it Jim. It's just a flesh wound. It can wait until we're farther away too." But I ignored him, snarling I pushed him forward until his chest was almost on the steering wheel and he was forced to practically wrap his arms around it. Running my hand down first the near, then the far side of his back, I froze when I encountered wet, warmth at his waist almost on his left hip.

I tried to move behind him to see the wound but there just wasn't enough room between him and the seat back.

"Stop this thing Sandburg." I commanded angrily. Furious that he was still trying to prevent me getting a good look at his injury.

"Jim, we're still too close. Take it easy. It went right through my love handle, nothing but fat." His voice was steady and a little surprised. "It doesn't even hurt that bad."

"Damn Sandburg! You didn't have any fat before; you sure don't have any left after a week of near starvation. And it may not hurt because you're going into shock. Now stop this damn bus and let me see it!"

I slid my injured leg over his and tried to hit the brakes even as he was still trying to apply the gas. But before the contest could be settled chance took over as the front right tire ran up a large, snow-hidden rock and the left tire happened to drop into an inconveniently placed hole. Physics and gravity did the rest and despite its wide wheelbase the Humvee flipped onto its side.

It was lucky I had already been half wrapped around Blair, because if I'd been sitting on the far side of the seat when it had shot up I would have fallen down on him like a rock, doing neither of us a lot of good. But instead I just was thrown across him, slamming him into the driver's door and half crushing him into the snow and broken glass of the shattered window. My leg was throbbing again and I wasn't able to focus my senses enough to scan him for injuries, or anyway any NEW injuries.

"Shit! Owwww. Ji im! Geez, I wasn't hurting enough man. Get off me. Damn, you're going on a diet when we get home. How the hell much do you WEIGH!" The stream of expletives and squirming that erupted beneath me was oddly reassuring.

Grabbing the steering wheel for leverage I managed to heave myself up off my partner enough for him to pull out slightly so that his back was against the roof and his butt on the driver's door. I then slid my feet to either side of his sitting form so that I was standing up with my back along the bench seat. Or at least I was standing on one leg, the other having returned to useless limpness, refusing to bare my weight at all.

Both of us were filled with immediate urgency, Blair extended a hand which I used to haul him to his feet beside me. As I tried to turn him so I could see his back and check his wound he swatted at me irritably and snapped, "Not now Jim. How far away?" He kept his voice low though, since his mouth was now crammed only inches from my ear.

I shook my head in frustration. "Can't get a lock Chief. My hearings all over the place. I'm getting sounds coming from both uphill and downhill, some kind of feedback or something. It's like there are men all around us. But none really close. Come on." Even as I said it I tried to use my good leg to kick out the windshield that was a sheet of broken bits. But you can't kick with the only leg holding you up. But Blair realized my intent and put his heavy boots to good use. As soon as the barrier fell away Blair climbed over the steering wheel and out. The he leaned in and helped me balance as I maneuvered around the steering wheel and dash to finally step free.

The HumVee had flipped with it's bottom downhill and it's top up. So as soon as we stepped from the cab we could see Garrett Kincaid and four of his men clambering towards us, guns at the ready. Blair grabbed my arm and pulled it across his shoulder, balancing me to hobble with him around the front of the vehicle headed downhill.

Even as he placed the HumVee between Kincaid and us, his voice dropped into the nearly hypnotic Guide tone. "We have to get your leg desensitized again Jim. You remember the drill? Close your eyes and find the dials. Trust me I'll watch were we're going. See the right one? The one for pain. Filter the layers of sensation, that's it… just the pain from the wound. Found it? Good, good. Now bring it down, bit by bit. The pains leaving, oozing away, fading more and more and more, until the leg is fine and the wound is just a numb tingly area like your mouth after a shot of Novocain."

Trying to focus on the dials while running, or in my case hobbling, for your life, shouldn't have been possible. But so great was the power of Sandburg's voice when it took on that inflection I could ignore the hazards around me easier than ignore it. Weird. So I followed that mesmerizing sound everywhere it lead me and within a very short time opened my eyes in pleased relief.

"Okay?" Blair still had my arm around his neck, incase… but I was bearing my own weight on the leg again.

"Yeah Chief. Fine. Thanks again."

He smiled that smile that I think is reserved just for me. That 'for you anything' smile that reminded me of what I'd seen in his eyes in the cave when he'd been feverish and let me see his inner soul.

Before I could say anything else a line of bullets plowed into a rock about ten yards behind us. One of Kincaid's crew had out distanced his fellows and was coming around the HumVee, his automatic waving around as he ran and fired simultaneously.

We took off for the nearby trees, me wishing the whole way I had a weapon, any weapon. This guy was the worst shot in the Northern Hemisphere, but with the number of rounds he was spraying around one of them was bound to catch us eventually.

As if reading my mind as soon as we got to the tree line and had a couple of sturdy trees to stand behind, Blair screeched to a stop suddenly. Bending he grabbed the first good sized rock he could find, hauled back and let go a base burning fast ball. The gun man had been concentrating so much on running that he didn't even notice that his prey had come to a stop and turned on him. Blair's pitch was straight, powerful and right on target. The man never even really saw the stone that took him in the head and dropped him in his stride to lay face first in the snow.

I had wasted no time, realizing what my partner had in mind as soon as I saw him grab the rock I had turned and started running back toward our pursuer. I had seen Blair's accuracy at throwing and I trusted him to take down the gunman. I reached the unconscious man just after he had flopped forward, grabbing the automatic from his now limp hand and patting his pockets looking for more clips.

Damn… no other ammo. And judging from the barrage he'd been laying down there couldn't be many rounds left in the current clip in the gun.

Shaking my head in aggravation, I trotted back to Sandburg who was leaning against a tree. When he raised his eyebrows in inquiry I knew what he was asking.

"No spare clips. What kind of amateur doesn't carry spare clips?" I remarked with just a trace of exasperation.

"Jim, nobody ever accused Kincaid and his group of being overqualified. Just mean." There was the faintest trace of both amusement and conciliatory feeling in his tone. But I wasn't noticing anymore. I had spotted the wound in his side.

"Hell Sandburg! Flesh wound my ass!" The waist and pocket area of his pants were now a matching dark stain to my own pants leg. I reached over too fast for him to intercept and pulled up jacket and under layers of clothing to reveal an ugly hole in his side that was drooling red unimpeded, and showing no sign of slowing. I was pulling bandage strips from my already torn tee shirt even as I shoved him up against the tree to hold him still.

"Jim we haven't got time for this right now." Blair's voice was strong and insistent, belaying the pallor and returning clamminess of his skin. He was getting shocky again and didn't even realize it.

"Shut it Sandburg." I snarled with barely contained rage. The smell of his blood was ripping through me and setting off every primal imperative I had. I didn't even question this feeling of fury. My Guide was bleeding and that was just intolerable.

As I worked a strip of cloth around his middle and pulled it tight over a thick pad I'd placed over the wound, I found all my senses tuned to a level I'd never managed before except when I was having spikes. But now they were firmly under my command and feeding me a steady stream of information.

I heard several sounds from a dozen directions, but as I tended my partner and friend I relegated them to the background. Suddenly one of the sounds broke through as I caught a safety being snapped off.

I snatched the automatic rifle from where I had leaned it, switched the gun from automatic to single shot with my thumb and fired. The man who had come quietly around the front of the HumVee yards behind us, had thought he was unnoticed and had an easy kill. He'd taken his time bringing up his weapon, flipping the safety and taking aim at the broad exposed back of what he thought was an oblivious, occupied cop.

The gunman died even as he focused on the burning blue eyes that seemed to be superimposed on the image of a snarling black jaguar's face.

"Come on Jim. We have to get moving. Maybe Kincaid will settle for just up-righting the truck, changing the tire and getting out of here with his skin. You're armed now, so he might rethink chasing us. But just in case, we don't want to hang around!" Blair was almost bouncing in place, and despite the pallor, the blood, the thinness and wane, drawn appearance, right now to me he was the most glorious thing in my world.

"No Chief. It's over." I stated quietly as I walked toward him. His eyes grew large in his face. "Jim! Do not tell me you're giving up man. We can make it. Hell we have a head start and a gun. You've made out with less. We'll make it. Don't worry about me, I'll keep up, I promise." He was almost pleading at the end as I realized he had misunderstood me. Sometimes I forget he can't hear what I can.

"Easy Blair, I mean we don't have to run anymore." I said reassuringly as I walked up to stand just in front of him. Cocking my head slightly I zeroed in on the sounds I'd been following for a couple of minutes as my hand went up to brush his face with my knuckles, gentle as I could manage. His eyes moved from the group of gun totting maniac's moving cautiously around the front of the Humvee, turning to my face. For a fleeting second his expression showed fear and confusion, but that quickly morphed to one of absolute trust. I smiled as I stroked his cheek and murmured a reassuring, "The cavalry has arrived."

As if summoned by my words the trees just below us fairly boiled with men rushing out of them. The new group swarmed to intercept Kincaid and his few remaining men, surrounding them almost as quick as they realized that they had gone from being the hunters to the prey.

Despite the heavy coats and furry hats I recognized the strips down the leggings of a good number of our rescuers. Mounties. Well that proved we were in Canada all right. But I was more interested in the small tight group of five who had brought up the rear of the charge and veered in our direction as soon as clear of the trees.

They tromped through the snow with their weapons rigidly at the ready, but ignored the hoopla around Kincaid and moved toward Sandburg and I with the hard intent expressions of people who would not be stopped.

Simon, Joel, Rafe, Brown and Connor.

"About time you got here." I called as they came within range, the smile on my face robbing the words of any harshness.

Next to me Blair's smile, if possible, was even more brilliant. "Hey guys! Boy, are we glad to see you!"

Simon, with his longer legs, covered the ground first and came to stand in front of us with a look that did little to hide his relief and happiness. Even as he tried to cover with the classic 'I'm the Captain' facade I could see that he hadn't slept well and had pushed himself hard lately.

Megan and Rafe bounded up next, looking like they had been racing each other. They pulled up beside Simon and their smiles were triumphant. "Told you they'd be okay didn't I?" Rafe said cheerily. Megan just nodded happily, her eyes seeming to drink us in.

Brown and Joel jogged up next and joined the group, Brown beaming like he'd won the lottery and Joel looking like a parent whose child had just been returned to him.

Blair, still beaming, chirped out a happy, "How did you get here? We're in Canada aren't we?"

Simon, as always the main spokesperson, growled a little as he answered. "We have the permission of the Canadian government to come along, strictly as observers."

"Must have been an interesting conversation Simon." I smirked tilting my head pointedly at each of their very conspicuous weapons. "I can't help but notice each of the 'observers' is armed. I guess the Canadian governments definition of observer comes from the same dictionary as Sandburg's."

Blair snickered but then ducked slightly behind me as Simon turned to glare at us both.

For a second they all just stood there, looking us up and down. All of them, like Simon, looked like they'd been harried and hard used recently. I could only imagine how many hours they had put in looking for Sandburg and I. How many sleepless nights tracking every clue, following every lead? And then when the trail had led across the border into Canada, what must it have taken to move another government to pursue the hunt as well as allow them to participate.

It was Joel who moved first, grabbing Blair up into a bear hug that had his eyes bulging and his face wrinkling into a pained grimace. He held the groan as his wound was squeezed, and honestly managed to beam a smile at him as the big man pulled back to hold the anthropologist by the shoulders. Unconsciously I'd moved toward them when I'd sensed the pain spike as he was embraced, but Blair somehow felt my intention and glanced my way, stopping me with a look.

But I needn't have worried. Joel had felt the bandage and wetness on my partner's side, and his eyes now turned serious as he took in Blair's pallor and strained face. "You've been shot!" He blurted the obvious and looked at me again, noticing the pressure dressing on my leg. "Hell Simon, they've both been shot!"

Simon rolled his eyes slightly and I knew he'd already noticed that little fact himself, but with good humor didn't say so.

"They've got vehicles just a mile or so South of here, with a full medical compliment." He told me as he moved forward to take my arm as I bobbled slightly. All the sudden I just felt like I had passed some limit I hadn't noticed.

Blair was beside me instantly, his own weariness forgotten. "I'm fine, helps here now," he crooned so softly no one but me could have heard. "It's safe to let go, let the Sentinel relax." The words leached away my strength so fast I slid against him and we both ended up sitting on the ground.

"Get some transport up here NOW!" Simon's none too subtle bellow could probably be heard back in Cascade.

Within a minute we were swarmed by unfamiliar men in uniforms who seemed to miraculously materialize blankets, water, energy bars and medical supplies from backpacks some of them carried. Not much later the roar of engines preceded a small parade of snow tractors and all terrain vehicles. One of the larger boxy machines pulled up within a couple of dozen feet of where Blair and I were bundled at the base of a tree with five cop pit bulls standing guard.

The back doors swung open to display an impressively set up mobile ambulance cum mini emergency room. Though we had slogged probably fifty miles up and down the damn mountain the Mounties wouldn't let Blair or I walk the few yards to the medical squad. Blair rolled his eyes as a stretcher was placed by each of us and we were lifted and carried the short distance.

The team who carried us wouldn't even let Simon or any of our friend's help, which earned them a little taste of Megan's tongue. But if glares could kill the one guy who called her 'Miss' and asked her to not get underfoot should have dropped on the spot. "That's Inspector to you Mate." She responded icily, "and you can take your foot and put it where…" Simon jumped in to calm her down before she triggered an international incident.

The stretchers were placed side by side on elevated gurney's in the squad and a team of what was either doctors or very advanced medics began pulling and cutting our clothes off of us. Simon tried to climb in also but one of the medical men headed him off and informed him there just wasn't room while they worked.

Simon harrumphed sourly and then caught my eye, "I'll be right behind them Ellison. You just do what they say and keep Sandburg out of trouble." He was glaring at the doctors as big doors closed and heat poured in to the small space, much to a half naked Blair's relief.

An I.V. was put in first my arm, then another in Blair's, as he pointedly looked away from the needle being slid into his arm. "Jim. With all the guys here, who do you think is watchin' the store?" He turned to me for distraction, but didn't even pause. "I mean, did they just close down Major Crimes to come look for us?" I looked at him and smiled at his babbling as the engine started up and we began to move downhill. At first I followed the soothing steady monologue Sandburg was emitting on his concern for Cascade in the absence of it's entire 'protector' group, and the probability who ever was standing in for the gang was probably mooching all of his special tea in the break room. But then my hearing caught and began to follow a conversation just beyond the closed doors.

Megan was talking to Simon, "Sir, mind if I ask you a question?"

"Sure Inspector, fire away." Simon responded to the respectful tone and knew she wasn't kidding around.

"When you first knew Kincaid escaped and had probably been who grabbed Sandy and Jim, you were frantic Sir. No offense. But you really expected the worst."

"Yeah Connor, I did. I thought Kincaid would focus on Jim. He might have just killed Blair right off, or even let him go if he'd only been taken as bait. He only thinks of the kid as an inconvenient accessory to Jim's work."

"Yeah, I thought of that. But later, when the evidence seemed to show that the bast' …um sorry Sir, that Kincaid had apparently kept Sandy, and kicked them both out of a plane together, I don't know…it just seemed like you weren't as worried? Why? If you don't mind my asking." She faltered for a second, trying to pin down her confusion. "I mean, I would have thought you would have been more worried. Jim being trained for survival and all, but to also have to look after a civilian. Sandy's smart, but you're always pointing out… he not an officer" She shook her head. "I know Jim's your friend, and Sandy thinks you only tolerate him because of Jim's Sentinel stuff. You seemed, I don't know… glad that Sandy was with Jim, even though I would have thought he would lessen Ellison's chances."

Simon's voice became rough with emotion. "Sandburg will never know just how much I admire him Connor, and if you ever tell him, well… remember just who signs your paycheck. But the answer to your question is yes, I was worried until I was pretty sure that Sandburg was with Jim. But once I knew they were together I knew they'd both make it."

"But why? Sandy just isn't trained for this sort of stuff." Megan's voice was still confused.

"It isn't so much what Sandburg and Ellison can and can't do. It's what they are, together, that makes the difference."

"You've lost me Captain."

"If Jim was dumped on this mountain without Sandburg, and Kincaid had come hunting, what do you think he would have done?"

"Knowing Ellison, he would have tried to get to Kincaid and take him down." Megan said confidently.

"Exactly! Ellison can be counted on to take insane risks if he feels the job needs doing."

"Sandy isn't exactly above being a little insane with his safety too?"

"Yes, with his own safety Sandburg has pretty much no survival instinct."

"Like I said Sir. You've lost me. If they both take insane risks, why did having them together somehow make you confident they'd be okay?"

"Because come hell or high water, the one constant in those two men's universe is the paramount importance of the other. Jim would never leave Sandburg unprotected and alone by risking himself, at least not as much. And Sandburg would never allow Jim to be killed or let him do something that could get him killed. As long as the kid is with him he will make sure Jim does the smart thing whether he wants to or not."

"You make it sound like Sandy is the one in charge?" Megan sounded shocked.

"Not in charge necessarily, but in a way he's always been guiding Jim. He is very subtle, I doubt he knows he's doing it on a conscious level, but if you look close you'll see, most of the time it looks like Sandburg is deferring to Ellison, but when it's really important Ellison invariably looks to the kid for answers. They are just like the old saw about the whole…"

"Excuse me?" Now there was even more confusion in Megan's tone.

"The 'whole', you know… the equation, 'the whole, being greater than the sum of its parts.' The two parts, Ellison and Sandburg, both of them bring a lot to their partnership. Blair is smarter than I think we realize, intuitive, creative, definitely weird, and loyal to a fault, especially to Jim. I would bet on him in almost any non-aggressive situation. Jim is a natural athlete and trained to be the best at what he does. He is aggressive, precise to the point of down right anal, and protective to a fault, of his people, his city and especially of Blair. Apart, each of them is unique and special." His voice took on an oddly awed quality. "But they are so much more when they are together."

"Greater than the sum of their parts." Megan intoned, understanding at last.

"Exactly." Simon confirmed. "Come on Connor. I told Jim we'd be right behind them… and I mean to be just that.

We had drawn far enough away that I was having to strain to hear, so I reeled my hearing back in and focused back on my partner who had fallen quiet. His was watching me and seemed to sense as soon as my attention was back in the here and now.

"Where were you man?" He whispered as the two doctors were at the front of the unit, preparing what looked like big syringes with equally big needles. Oh Sandburg was going to love that I thought to myself before answering him. He was bad about taking pills, but show him a needle and he all but jumped out of his skin.

"Just listening." I said nonchalantly, wondering when he'd notice what the medical men were up to.

"To who?"

"Simon."

"What was he talking about that you found so interesting?"

"Us."

"You and me, Us?

"What other way could us be us, except you and me?" That ought to distract him for a few seconds.

"Never mind. What was he saying?"

"It would be rude for me to discuss another person's conversation Chief."

"Well, it was rude to eavesdrop, but you did that. So give. What did he say about us?"

"Just a bunch of stuff. That we are insane, that you're weird, and I'm anal. That kind of stuff."

"Ouch, he must be ticked at us for getting into this and him having to come rescue us."

"Maybe."

"But I think he was worried a lot to. Did you see how tired he looked, how tired they all looked. Sometimes I forget just how lucky we are; I mean… well those kinds of friends, the kind who'll always come for you when you're in trouble, they're one in million, and we've got a whole bunch. You know?"

I looked over at him, thinking back over the last week. "Yeah Chief. One in a million."

Epilogue

I sat in the Jeep watching as Sandburg moved slowly away from me, across the too green, too neatly maintained grass. He was looking down and his eyes were tracing back and forth between the plaques and stones that were placed symmetrically along the way. Finally, several hundred feet from me, he moved to stand before a small stone cross that protruded from the emerald carpet slightly apart from the other stones.

I watched him maneuver to kneel next to the tiny monument, taking it slow so as not to pull too much at his healing but still achy wound. I wished I was with him, but he had noticed that my leg was paining me from all the recent use and had insisted I stay with the Jeep. Neither of us was 100% yet. It had only been two weeks since we'd all come down from the mountain. Sandburg and I to the hospital, Kincaid and his group to prison to await extradition.

And brother it had been almost as busy a fortnight as the time preceding it. We'd been kept in the hospital in Quesnel for three days, during which time we'd both driven the staff to distraction. What can I say, neither one of us is a very good patient.

We'd each had a bullet removed in relatively uncomplicated surgeries the first day. Which while we were unconscious was about the only time we were quiet and cooperative. Blair had been first under the knife and had barely been out from under the anesthesia when he started demanding to check the drugs they planned to use on me.

The still ill anthropologist would probably have been an even bigger nuisance if the anesthetic hadn't interacted badly with the antibiotics they had started him on to fight his residual pneumonia. The resulting nausea and vomiting had slowed him down for all of twenty-four hours and had me nearly beside myself with concern, as he couldn't keep a meal down.

I still remember Simon's shock when he'd seen just how much weight Blair had lost, especially when in the same time I had barely lost ten pounds. I had reminded him that Blair had been burning calories keeping warm, fighting illness, plus this was Sandburg we were talking about, even in his sleep he's a perpetual motion machine.

I meanwhile hadn't done much to endear myself to my doctors either, but luckily Simon had convinced the doctor's to keep us in a room together after I'd left the recovery room dragging I.V. poles and irate nurses, to hobble down to Blair's room after I'd heard him throwing up and coughing in the bathroom. He'd crawled over the bed rail to get there, then become too weak and couldn't get to the call signal.

When the arrangements were made to transfer us to Cascade General I could swear I heard a collective sigh of relief from the whole staff.

The flight home hadn't been soon enough for me. As the plane's wheels touched down there was no denying it felt as if a weight lifted from me that I hadn't even recognized I'd been feeling. Blair had nudged me in the ribs gently calling my attention to the fact that apparently I was making purring noises? His best explanation was that it was the reaction of a Sentinel returning to his territory after a stressful absence. I think having him back in that territory had a good deal to do with it myself.

I'd gotten immediate proof of how well the people at Cascade General knew us when we arrived to find a shared room set up. The nurses who had taken care of one or the other of us way to frequently for my comfort, had Blair's favorite tea's on hand for him as well as the bed linen's that had not been washed in harsh detergent waiting for me.

Blair had been discharged three days later though still on a myriad of drugs, with strict instructions about rest, and nutrition and no bending, lifting or straining. I'd been frustrated as hell when I was unable to convince them to let me go also. I had even considered discharging myself AMA, but Blair had forbidden it, and I had acquiesced.

Predictably Sandburg had returned daily and overseen my physical therapy with a combination of drill sergeant zeal and concerned guilt. I'd seen my Guide's face when the doctor had told me that he couldn't believe I'd been able to run around on the leg after being shot, but that by doing so there had been some additional damage done.

Sandburg had been stricken to realize that by aiding me to circumvent my natural pain response he'd helped me to compound my injury. Anxious to ease his distress I'd reminded my partner that if he hadn't gotten me up on my feet that I would be dead now and no amount of therapy would reverse that. It had only slightly relieved the dark pain swirling in those once oh so bright eyes.

With Blair being so intense each time he'd come in, I'd worried that he was maybe suffering some late reaction to our trial on the mountain. But then Simon clued me in that Blair had found out that Abel's body had been cremated at the order of a very distant cousin who was the only relative the authorities had been able to locate.

Apparently the fact that the cousin had not cared to make a declaration for the disposition of the ashes had motivated Blair to contact him. Totally disinterested in anything to do with a distant cousin who'd been an embarrassing criminal, the man had been more than happy to give Blair permission to do anything he wished with the cremains.

I had felt a momentary flash of anger as Simon reported that Sandburg had been making phone calls and arrangements to go to Saguenay, Abel's home. But that had evaporated as Simon had gone on to report that the arrangements had been for two, and that my sensitive friend had also inquired about the disposition of the other three of Kincaid's men who had died on the mountain. I'd felt guilty about my earlier spark of anger when later that very day Blair had disclosed his plans, his need for closure, and his hope that I didn't mind that he naturally assumed I would accompany him.

I should have realized that the softhearted anthropologist would have carried a certain amount of misplaced guilt about the deaths. Even though they had been out to kill us, he had never been the kind to simply move on and forget those killed, no matter the situation. I should know, I had watched him stand at the graveside of Lash only two weeks after the sicko had tried to kill him. That had been against my loudly voiced protest. But he had insisted that the monster that had almost had him as his last victim, had also been a victim, created by an equally insane parent. Blair seemed to have a bottomless capacity to forgive. And I couldn't very well fault him for it, since it had allowed him to forgive me so many times.

Not that I'd been thrilled with the plans timing. Blair was still too thin, too worn, and the normally energetic T.A. still exhausted in no time at all. But though I really wanted him to rest, I knew that he wouldn't as long as the burden of this assumed responsibility lay on him.

So here we were. The flight had been tiring for both of us. And then there had been the two-hour drive from Saguenay, to the small town that had grown out of the hidden community Abel had not seen in twenty years.

It didn't take much looking to discover the remnants of the Chasseur family, and that the tragedy started two decades ago had been worse than even Abel had realized.

Blair had sat quietly on a wood step while I'd occupied the only other chair on the porch of a tumbled down log cabin on the outskirts of town. Old Mrs. Truriel was one of the very few people who had been around since the time of Abel's grandfather. Though eighty-two she had recounted with amazing detail the end of generations of Sentinel's.

Less than a week after Abel had been driven out little Davy had collapsed, whimpering out Abel's name over and over, and all the efforts of the elder Chassier to rally the boy had been useless. The crazed Sentinel had tried to cajole then bully the distraught youngster. But for three weeks the child had withdrawn further and further into himself, silent, disinterested in anything. Finally, moaning Abel's name the young guide had slipped quietly away from the clutches of a man who had forced him to turn from the one who had filled his heart after the death of his parents.

Even though he knew he had stolen Davy from his rightful companion, the imagined escape of the boy after the death of his own guide drove the old Sentinel the rest of the way into insanity. The once respected lawman simply turned his back on the small, lifeless form and walked away into the woods. His frozen body was found in the high country by neighbor's days later.

Somehow without a Sentinel and Guide to aid and protect them, the small hidden clan began to disperse. Many migrated to the safety of the larger nearby towns. Others chose to journey deeper into the expansive mountains.

Within a few years little of the community remained and what was left was sold off to strangers to build vacation cabins, farmhouses and businesses.

Now only a handful of the original folks, too old or too stubborn, like Mrs. Truriel, remained. She had told her stories of the 'Hunter's' of her clan, who had mystic abilities of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell to rival that of the animals of the forest. And the educated newcomer's smiled mockingly and humored the old woman they assumed was going senile. So in time she had stopped speaking of gifted one's, even when urged, recognizing the condescension of the askers.

I had watched her when we'd arrived. Seen the way she looked first at Blair, then me. She had told me that when the wane young man with the ancient blue eyes and long curly hair had arrived asking about Abel, and Davy, she had known immediately what he was, who we were, even without my unconscious hovering behind him. So she had told her stories again, and I'd felt a deep distress for the fledgling 'Seer' ripped from the side of his destined 'Hunter'. And when she spoke of the last days of little Davy I couldn't help it as I reached to clasp my hands on Blair's shoulders, as if reassuring myself that my own 'Seer' was still well, still with me.

And now my Guide knelt at the small grave of a twelve year old that had never had a chance to have what Blair and I shared. I watched as hands that trembled slightly carefully dug a shallow hole and lowered a simple urn into it, and knew that this was right. Sandburg was right. A compassionate Guide, now reunited those who had been separated by a crazed Sentinel. No matter what else, a Sentinel belonged with his Guide, in this life and the next.

Blair's hand reverently smoothed the earth back to cover the last vestiges of a man I had considered an enemy, but now recognized, as Blair had, as another victim. A criminal, not blameless certainly, but damaged by Davy's loss undeniably. Abel had only had his Guide for a few months and look what his lose had done to the man. What might I have become if I survived, but lost Blair, to Lash, or Kincaid, or Alex? I shivered at the thought but knew it would never happen… because I now knew I would never survive.

Standing slowly, Blair just stood for a second, and I saw the minute tremors of exhaustion and strain. He was way too far away to see me move, or have heard me, yet just as I started to ease out of the Jeep to go to him, his eyes swung unerringly toward me, freezing me in place. I felt the increasingly familiar but strange sensation at the back of my head, like my scalp was momentarily too tight. Then a faint tide of sadness, guilt, and most especially love washed over me.

"I'm coming now, stay put Jim." Though his tone was gentle, Sentinel hearing picked up the command effortlessly. And it was a command. And I obeyed it without rancor.

It came easier now, obeying him, the respect. Not in everything. I still tried frequently to gain some control over him. But something had changed on the mountain. Even Simon had noticed, at least the outward displays of it. He'd driven us to the airport and witnessed Blair making arrangements for a wheelchair for me to use to get to our plane's gate, which was a long way from the check in. I'd immediately refused the need, after all I was up and using a cane, and the therapy was going well to decrease the pain. There had been no argument, just two sets of blue eyes meeting, then Blair had quietly reminded me that the doctor had said to use the leg as little as possible, and I WAS going to use the wheelchair. And I had.

At the departure gate, when Blair had gone into the men's room, Simon had stared hard at me for a second, and I can still hear his remarks.

"You two… it's different between you, isn't it?" He hadn't even waited for an answer. "I didn't notice at first, or I just put it down to more Sentinel weirdness. Whatever happened, it's not just you though, it's Sandburg too. He's more… confident. No… that's not the word, he's always been so damn positive of things. I guess it's more like he's… content. Yeah, content. With himself, his place in the big picture, and with you."

"I tell ya Jim, after Barnes I thought he'd cut you lose for sure. Cut us all lose. But even though he stayed, you could see it in his eyes. The anticipation. He was just waiting for you to discard him, or distrust him, to tell him you didn't need him. And I wasn't any better, I just stood by watching, sometimes even contributing to it. How often I'd see him almost fade away, when you or I would just ignore his opinion or disregard his contribution, his instincts, hell disregard him."

"I remember in the early days, the time's I'd pull my hair out when he'd explode in a meeting with one of those hair brained idea's of his. Or he'd suddenly blurt out from nowhere, with all this weird eclectic information that didn't seem to have anything to do with the case."

"But that had stopped, did you notice? He was less and less willing to put himself out there for us to shoot down. Even with the Sentinel stuff, I know I always say I don't want to know… but I couldn't miss some things. He was letting you bull your way through problems with your senses, even if he knew you were wrong, like you'd convinced him that the Sentinel didn't need help. Like he really was only an observer, just a bystander. And I reinforced that every chance I could by reminding him he wasn't a cop, not one of us, not allowed in. An outsider looking in, and he wanted in so bad. We were killing him by inches."

In all the years we'd been friends, I don't remember Simon ever talking to me this openly or this long before. But now I saw an unresolved guilt in his eyes, he needed this. He was only saying what I'd thought about on the mountain.

"When I first realized Kincaid had you two, I went a little crazy, you could be dead or dying, and there wasn't a thing I could do about it. And I kept thinking about the last few years, about our friendship Jim, and how much better you are, I am… for knowing that goofy, sunshine pumping energizer bunny. I thought of how I treated him sometimes, being as damn suspicious of him as you were. And I realized he's my friend too, I'm not sure when that happened, he kind of snuck in when I wasn't looking."

"He tends to do that." I'd murmured smiling. But I doubt my Captain heard because he wasn't finished.

"But since you've been back I've seen a change in you, both of you. I've seen you not only listen, but really 'hear' him. Sometimes you've deferred to his decisions, following him, where before you would have insisted on being in control."

"And him, despite his cocky façade, I think he was a bit unsure, even scared that he was doing this guiding you stuff all wrong. But now it's like all doubts have evaporated. Hell, he seems to almost anticipate what you need before you even know. He knows who he is again, he's found his purpose. Or maybe he knows that he's needed and belongs. I don't know. But I tell you… thank god."

Suddenly his dark eyes grew stern and nailed me hard.

"And so help me Jim… you screw it up and reject that special man again and I may shot you myself!"

I'd smiled at the threat, who'd a thunk…even Simon! "Don't worry Simon. I know what I've got and I won't make that mistake ever again."

He'd nodded firmly, like we'd made some kind of contract. But before he could say any more a certain longhaired anthropologist had come up, still drying his hands. Seeing both of our eyes on him so intently he'd looked down at his pants, then back up at us.

"What? Is my fly open or something?" He challenged in confusion.

"Nothing Sandburg." Simon growled roughly. "Your damn flight is being called. Let's roll your partner on over there so you can get gone, though I still think you're both insane for not waiting a little longer. Neither one of you can pretend you're nearly healthy enough to go off on a trip like this."

I had to agree with him on that point. But my Guide needed this, and what he needed I would make sure he got from now on. Simon may have thought that Blair had found his purpose, but I had found mine also. I was a Sentinel. Just like I was a cop. And that wasn't weird, or separate from Jim Ellison. And without my Guide neither the Sentinel nor Jim Ellison would be worth much.

Blair was my Guide, and that meant recognizing he was also my equal. The need to protect him would never stop, in fact that need seemed even more pronounced now than before, but I would have to rein in treating him like a subordinate. Like he had said…I had to let him be my Guide.

I knew everything wasn't resolved yet. Neither of us could change overnight. And there was no way I was going to leave him totally unrestrained. His chronic lack of self preservation made it for sure there were still going to be times the Sentinel had to protect his Guide, even from himself. I knew too that there were going to be some roaring arguments as Blair grew into his abilities, both as Guide and Shaman.

I just wasn't completely comfortable with that little wrinkle yet. And it wasn't only the Shaman stuff either. I'd extracted a promise from him to not try to heal my leg or any other hocus-pocus when I'd realized he felt guilty about the injury. He at least agreed to discuss with me in advance any plans for experimenting with his 'powers'. So I had a little piece of mind on the Shaman front. But that didn't prepare me for the development of Blair's 'Guide' enhancement.

It had never occurred to me that with his own 'acceptance' of his role that he too would come fully into whatever it was that made a Guide a Guide. Now I knew.

Blair had always been sensitive to the needs, feelings and motivations of others. He was the one who invariably reassured victims at crime scenes, putting people at ease as soon as they meet him, comforting the grieving, calming the traumatized. Everyone talked freely to Sandburg, and he always seemed to sense what they were feeling, what they needed.

Well in the hospital I'd quickly caught on that those traits had somehow expanded, to include a semi painful manifestation. He'd tried to play down the growing headaches and explain away the invasive emotions he thought he was imagining. But he'd been scared and confused.

But the reality of the situation and its connection to his being my Guide came not from his reaction to the frightening sensations, but from their sudden cessation.

While supervising my therapy one day he'd felt the insidious invasion of emotions that were not his own. He'd gone from a nuisance headache to nearly crying out in distress in a matter of minutes. Picking up his skyrocketing heart rate had alarmed me to the point of hobbling over to him and instinctively pulling him into a protective hug.

That had been the first time I really noticed feeling the strange yank at the back of my mind as a faint but perceivable rush of feelings of pain and fear had run through me like a flush of heat. Almost the moment I processed the sensation, the tremors vibrating through Blair just stopped. He'd looked up with both surprise and relief on his pale face as the pain vanished in the protection of my presence. Almost immediately the faint echo of emotions I'd been picking up blinked out like a barrier had slammed down and I was treated to a really rare sight… a stunned speechless Sandburg.

Therapy forgotten, we'd spent the afternoon discussing his 'episode'. He had a dozen theories on what the hell was going on, but his best guess was that for whatever reason his natural empathy had been enhanced to the point of near telepathy. That somehow he was accidentally picking up ambient emotions around him. He equated our time on the mountain to my time in Peru, the semi isolation and stress apparently bringing him 'online' just as I had been. When I'd challenged that this might be some of the mystic Shaman shit, like the nearly fatal little healing trick, he'd pretty much shot that down.

"It feels really different then when that stuff was going on Jim." He'd insisted. "This feels… natural. Nothing mystic at all. You always' are saying how I seem to 'sense' what people are feeling. Well I think that this is like a natural occurring sense, empathy, but pumped up a bit. I really believe it's a Guide thing, an enhancement of what I normally have, just like your senses are enhancements of normal senses. And I'm going to have to learn to control this just like you have."

I remembered too well how when my senses first appeared they'd been totally haywire and painful as hell. So I bought in to his explanation that this unpleasant onset was just because he wasn't aware of how to moderate the enhanced sensitivity. But I was tempted to clue him in on the reality that despite what he thought… I still didn't have control. He's my control. But I decided not to spook him when he was already a little shaken by this.

Of course Sandburg could turn even something painful into a fascinating discovery. "Maybe ancient Sentinel's and Guides needed to be able to sense each other for survival. This might be an additional natural tracking system for me to find you since I can't see or smell you a mile away." He didn't notice the look on my face when he'd said 'additional'. What the hell other tracking system did he have?

"Maybe that's why it hurts. Because there are so many more people around now then would have been in the vicinity in primitive times. Sort of polluting the ether when my senses go hunting for you, know what I mean?" He had warmed to the subject quickly. "And that's why it all stopped as soon as you came physically close to me. I didn't have to hunt anymore, so the enhanced sense shut down."

That had been only the beginning. He'd then clued me in to the 'other' little 'tracking system he'd discovered while we'd been on the mountain. Apparently a sort of psychic tether existed between us that he had found, and used, to get me out of a deep zone. He took great satisfaction in rubbing in that the time I'd gone ballistic and accused him of using his new healing gift, he had in fact been using this weird connection. And he was positive that this link was Sentinel to Guide, not Sentinel to Shaman. Like that made me any more comfortable with it all.

It was almost the last straw when he further admitted that in the last year or so he'd found that he was mildly addicted… to me? Talk about nerve wracking. I'd been shocked when he'd shyly informed me that he had started noticing a while ago that when I'd gone away for conferences or whatever, distracting headaches would begin within a day or two, getting steadily worse until my return.

Though I had to fight to get it out, his confession forced me to quit denying that I was in the same boat. I had noticed a long time ago that when Blair was so busy with his University responsibilities that I didn't see him for days at a time, I found myself edgy and even more aggressive than usual. I had convinced myself that it was just that when he wasn't around I had to do my own paperwork, and handle touchy feely interviews with victims like kids and old ladies myself.

But I knew it was more than that. When he'd gone on a weeklong Anthropology seminar to Oregon I'd found myself with my senses totally out of whack in a matter of two or three days, and my own headaches could have been measured on the Rictor scale.

The fact that I'd once been reduced to dragging his pillow to bed one night so his scent could let me dial down my spiking senses enough to get some sleep, should have been a clue, if I had been willing to see what it implied. Even admitting it to him during these intense discussions had been tough, hell; I'd rather have pulled my own fingernails out. I just didn't do needy well. But I had made a promise to not lie about these emotional revelations, and so far I was managing… sort of.

I haven't quite reconciled to all of the changes yet. But I guess I've changed more than I thought because I'm thinking about all this stuff and not flat out refusing to believe it, or lashing out and hitting something. But I am no way comfortable with any of it. The fact is most of this stuff seems pretty damn hazardous to Blair, and I would have loved to toss it all out the window. But he wasn't seeing it that way. So I guess I'll just have to watch his butt even more than usual.

"Chief, you said the water was fine." I murmured softly, remembering too well my fear based response when Blair had made that offer after his return from the dead. Now as he walked slowly away from the sad little gravesite I felt his presence, faint but clear, in my mind. "Hope the invitations still open, cause this time, I'm coming in."

As he walked up to the side of the vehicle, I looked into deep blue eyes that held unshed tears, and an emotion I couldn't quite figure out. But then through the faint link I felt it, wonder, even awe. He came to a stop just in front of me as I shifted out to come to my feet. When he tilted his face up to look at me, I didn't hesitate to pull him into a firm hug. It felt right, natural,

"Blair?" I couldn't quite fathom his reaction. He'd been sad by the fate of the other Sentinel/Guide pair, but that wasn't what I felt echoing through the link?

"Thank you." His voice was a whisper of sound as he pressed his face against my chest, but it was charged with intensity.

"For what exactly?" I whispered gently back into his dark curls.

"For surviving, for being you, for finding me." He tightened his arms around my back, almost possessively.

"Finding you? Got that a little backwards, don't you Chief? I kind of remember it the other way around, 'Dr. McCoy."

He snickered, "That's McKay, remember. The Gaelic pronunciation."

I laughed at the memory as he moved back from me and his face became solemn. "I look at them Jim, and I think…how damn lucky I am. I have everything I ever dreamed, and it scares me a little, to think how many ways I could have missed out on meeting you. I would have spent the rest of my life watching from outside, alone…" He was shivering, and I knew it had little to do with the cold.

I pulled him back into a hug, needing not only to comfort him, but myself. The image he had invoked, of my never having met him, had touched a deep cord of panic in me. After a moment he relaxed against me. I felt a mellow warmth thrum softly from him through the link .

"Jim." He murmured contentedly, "Let's go home."

"Anything you want Chief." I affirmed, not letting him go.

"Anything? So… I get to drive!" He said as he squirmed away, a huge smile beaming from his face. He lifted a hand to display the Jeep keys he'd pulled from my pocket.

"Not a chance!" I bellowed, snatching at the dangling treasure. He bounced away easily, but as soon as I moved to start to hobble after him he'd smiled again and simply pitched the keys toward me.

"Think fast big guy."

I caught them smoothly and sat back on the driver's seat as he moved around to the passenger's side.

He climbed in, leaned back, throwing his booted feet up on the open dashboard.

"Home James, and don't spare the horses." He mimicked a perfect snooty aristocratic accent.

"You got it Chief!" I responded smartly. Inside me I heard the feral Sentinel yowl happily. I knew that part of me was celebrating that I was bringing my Guide back to my territory. But I knew something else; though Cascade and the loft were definitely my territory, they weren't really my home. I'd been in both for years and never known home.

What made home was beside me, all five foot seven of him.

After all… home is where the heart is.

End

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