Disclaimer: The Characters of The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly, The SciFi channel and others. No copyright infringement is intended.

Note: After "Final Sojourn", I had numerous requests for a sequel describing how the guys made it home. Of course, that got the muses stirred up again, and this is the result. So far in my fiction, I've remained true to the events as they occurred in TS by BS. However, after putting in the sweat and toil of earning my own doctorate, I've been having sympathy pains for Blair. So I decided to be a little creative here...

Redemption

by JET

********************

The warmth of the tropical morning sun was already turning the moisture laden air into a steaming sauna by the time Simon Banks parted the tent flap and stepped inside. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he stood silently in contemplation of the sight before him.

Jim Ellison lay on his left side on the same blanket on which they'd finally found Blair Sandburg yesterday, bound and severely beaten. Blair was curled in front of him, facing Jim, his head resting on the pillow of Jim's left arm. The detective's right arm was wrapped protectively around his partner, keeping him close...keeping him safe. Blair's outer arm encircled his partner's back, completing the connection between sentinel and guide. His other hand was tucked in a loose fist against Jim's chest.

The terrible bruising on Blair's face appeared even darker in the morning light with gradient shades of black and purple. His right eye remained swollen completely shut. At least the cigarette burns, bruises, and cuts on his upper body were now hidden, protected by the soft t-shirt Jim had slipped on him the night before.

At the moment, Simon was more worried about Blair's mental condition than his physical one, however. The captain knew the fragile nature of Blair Sandburg. Confronting the proof of mankind's capability of inhumanity to others never failed to shock and upset Blair. Simon dreaded finding out what witnessing the brutal murders of his friends and his mentor might do to the sensitive young man. Damn, he's been through enough, hasn't he? He didn't need this, too. They didn't need this. But Jim's with him, and if anyone can bring Sandburg through this nightmare, it's Ellison. Simon shook his head, ending his reverie, and moved a step closer to the sleeping pair.

Before he could speak, Jim's eyes flashed open warily, immediately alert and focused on identifying any danger to his guide. Simon recognized the protective, sometimes dangerous, sentinel mode; he'd seen it often enough over the past few hellish days.

"It's okay, Jim," Simon soothed, "It's just me."

Ellison's piercing blue eyes met Simon's and immediately softened. "Mornin', Simon," he whispered. He looked down at the young man wrapped in his arms, and a trace of a smile flickered across his face. When Blair stirred and moaned, Jim smoothed his hair and whispered, "Shhhh... Easy, Blair, easy. It's okay; I'm here. Hush, now." The young man quieted immediately, settling back against Jim with a soft sigh. After touching his lips to Blair's bruised cheek, Jim looked up at Simon.

"He even trusts you in his sleep, Jim. Amazing... How's he doing?" Simon's look of concern touched Jim. The captain might put on a gruff exterior about Sandburg, but he cared more about Jim's young partner than he liked to admit.

"He's going to be all right, Simon. We talked quite awhile last night before he fell asleep. He got a lot out of his system, I think. Of course, it's going to be a long process, but he'll make it. I'll see to that."

Simon nodded. He knew Jim didn't want to leave Blair yet, but plans had to be discussed. "We've got some decisions to make, Jim. You want to come outside?"

"Yeah, let me get Blair settled, and I'll be along in a few minutes. You find any coffee in those supplies, by any chance? I could use a strong cup." Jim looked tired, physically and emotionally wrung out.

It's no wonder, Simon thought, He's been though hell the past few days...the vision, believing Blair was dead after we found the carnage at the dig site, tracking the killers through this jungle... Come to think of it, I'm not feeling so energetic myself. A second cup of coffee sounds good to me right now, too.

With a grin, Simon opened the tent flap. "Sure did. Already made. I'll pour you a cup."

After Simon's departure, Jim looked back down at his partner's sleeping face. So peaceful. Hate to disturb you, kid, when you need your rest, but we've got to get out of here. Time to get you home.

"Blair? Hey, buddy, I need you to wake up a minute, okay?" Jim spoke softly to his young guide. "Come on, Chief, wake up for me."

Blair blinked and looked up at Jim drowsily. Ellison's heart tightened at the sight of the swollen, purple lid on his right eye as it struggled to open and failed. He gently touched Blair's cheek with his fingers, as if to soothe the pain away with his touch. "Hey, there," he whispered. "I'm right here, buddy. You okay?"

The curly head moved slightly against his chest. "Mmmm...Uh, huh...Sleepy..."

Jim chuckled softly, "Don't nod off on me yet, Chief. I need to go out and talk with Simon a little while, okay? Will you be all right sleeping in here by yourself for a few minutes?" His fingers drifted across Blair's face, checking the damage inflicted there. He brushed the swollen lips lightly, and grinned a little when they curved into a tiny smile at his touch.

Blair answered in a voice husky with sleep, "Sure, Jim. I'll be fine. You'll be just outside, right?"

"I promise. Just a few steps away," Jim vowed with a smile. At Blair's nod, he gently maneuvered his guide out from his arms and onto the blanket. Jim tenderly brushed the dirty, tangled hair back from his face. When you feel better, the first thing you'll want is a shampoo, right, Chief? You hate to have your hair dirty. He kept his palm against his bruised cheek for a moment, smiling when Blair leaned his face into his cupped hand. "Just rest, Blair. I'll be close by. Go back to sleep, now." When his partner's breathing was slow and steady again, Jim left the tent.

His eyes immediately checked out the two captured drug dealers handcuffed to trees at the edge of the campsite. Finding them still secure, he joined Simon, sitting beside the fire on a large log. "They made it through the night, I see," Jim commented, indicating their prisoners. He took the cup of coffee Simon held out for him and sipped gratefully.

"Yeah, they're still with us. More than I can say for their friend there," Banks nodded toward a freshly dug grave further into the clearing.

Jim caught his captain's eyes, "Thanks for dealing with that, Simon. I had my hands full last night with Blair. Didn't even remember the body, to be honest with you."

"I know, Jim. No problem," Simon replied. "How do you want to handle getting out of here?"

Before Jim could respond, there was a sudden loud crackle directly behind them. Both men jumped to their feet, guns drawn. Then Simon grinned sheepishly, "The shortwave radio, Jim. I guess we're a little on edge, huh?"

Ellison cocked his head, focusing on the voice coming over the shortwave. He quickly walked over to the radio. "Listen..."

Both men stared at each other in disbelief. Finally, Jim spoke. "We gotta move, Simon. They've got more men on the way in."

********************

Banks jerked the dealer's head back by his long, lank hair. The man's eyes looked up in mortal fear. "I'm going to ask you nicely one more time, and if I don't get a straight answer, I'm turning you over to my friend." He nodded his head at Ellison, who was leaning against a tree, his arms crossed in front of him, his knife clenched in one tight fist. Jim's cold eyes never left the face of the terrified man. "Now you don't know Detective Ellison, but I do. That's his partner in that tent. Nobody, and I mean nobody, messes with Ellison's partner. You hurt that boy...hurt him bad. That means you hurt Ellison, too. He is not in a good mood now. And Ellison in a bad mood is someone you do not want to be around. You really don't want him to come over here, do you? Not after seeing what he did to your friend last night." At the man's violent head shaking, Simon nodded, "Didn't think so. Now, for the last time, what route will they be taking into the camp?"

Jim and Simon poured over their map of the area. Jim traced a line with his finger as he spoke, "If he's right, they'll be coming in the same way we did. Near the anthropological site. So we can't get out the way we got in. Now, look at this. We can cut down this way, to the river. Then follow it on here to the town where we picked up the jeep. It's the longer route, but it's the only way I see to get us out of here without running right into their cohorts."

Simon agreed, "Looks that way. Do you think Blair's up to it?"

Jim glanced back at the tent. "He has to be, Simon. We're out of time."

"What about our friends over there? Do we take them?" Simon nodded toward their two prisoners.

Jim shook his head. "No. I want to, damn it, but no. I cannot ask Blair to travel with the bastards that did this to him. To his friends. Not in his condition. It would be too much, Simon."

Simon nodded in agreement. "Okay, then what do we do with them? Just leave them here for their friends to find?"

"No way. They're coming with me. I'll take them into the jungle and secure them...silently, of course. After we're in town, we'll report their location to the authorities. They can come back for them." Jim walked over and looked in the tent. "He's still sleeping. Stay with him for me, Simon. I won't be long."

A few minutes later, Jim and the cuffed drug dealers disappeared into the jungle.

Simon was sipping on his second cup of coffee when he heard a frightened cry behind him. "Jim!" He turned to see Blair standing beside the tent, his eyes darting frantically around the clearing in search of his partner.

Simon rushed over and took Blair's arm. He could feel the tense muscles trembling beneath his hand. "It's all right, Blair. Jim's fine. He'll be right back, I promise. Come over here and sit down."

"Where is he, Simon? He said he'd be right here." Blair's eyes were wild with fear; his hands trembling nervously as he looked around for his sentinel.

Simon gently led the anxious young man over to the log by the fire. He began gently rubbing his shoulders, as he'd seen Jim do so many times to calm his partner. "Easy, Blair. Just calm down. There's been a change of plans, and Jim..."

"Jim!" Blair jumped to his feet and rushed across the clearing, into the arms of his friend. "Jim..."

"It's okay, kid. Take it easy, Blair. Everything's fine. Come over here, and let me explain." Carefully, Jim eased Blair back to the log. He kept one arm over his shoulders and bent his face close to Blair's as he quietly reviewed the situation.

"So we've got to clear out of here, buddy. You think you're up for it?" Jim gently brushed some of the wayward curls back from his partner's battered face.

Blair nodded, his face white with fear. "We gotta go, Jim. Now. We can't let them find us here. Please..." He grasped Jim's arms, pleading.

Seeing the overwhelming fear in Blair's deep blue eyes sickened Jim. He felt the strong urge once again to vent his rage on the men who had put such fear and pain in the gentle, trusting eyes of his friend. Jim took several deep breathes, seeking to gain control of the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. If he was going to protect Blair and get him safely home, he couldn't afford to let his anger get in the way. Keeping his guide safe had to be his focus. Finding the control he sought, Jim squeezed Blair's shoulder gently in reassurance. "Easy, Blair. It's okay. I will not let them get to you, Chief. I promise. You got everything ready, Simon?"

"Ready, Jim. We've got the extra weapons, and I packed up some canned food, water, medical supplies, a flashlight, and some binoculars," he said as he hefted a backpack over his shoulders and tossed a second pack to Jim. "Let's roll."

Simon watched Jim Ellison in disbelief. How many different facets of you have I seen on this trip, Jim? The vengeful predator...the silent, swift killer...the tender, loving friend... And now, the tracker. How do you know where we are in the middle of this unknown jungle? And there's Sandburg...following you with that absolute trust, as always, even with all the pain he's feeling now. It will take me a long time to work through everything I've seen and learned on this trip. About you...about friendship...about that Sentinel/Guide bond...

Blair tried to concentrate only on Jim. His belly throbbed like a toothache from the kicks he had endured. He heard his heartbeat in his own ears as his head pounded. Every muscle hurt, making each step painful. Stay with Jim, had become his mantra, to be repeated again and again. His sentinel would protect him. Jim would take him home.

Jim stopped abruptly and held up his hand. Blair immediately recognized the sentinel's listening stance, head slightly cocked, eyes intent. Instinctively, Blair moved closer to his sentinel, placing a warm, encouraging hand on Jim's damp shirt, anchoring him with his touch, his presence. Always his Guide, Simon thought, wonderingly. Always watching Jim's back...protecting him.

Before he spoke, Jim laid his hand on Sandburg's shoulder to steady him. "They're coming after us, Chief. We've got a good head start on them, but I don't think we'll make it to the river much ahead of them." He felt the tremor under his hand and squeezed gently. "It's okay, Blair. We'll be all right."

Blair nodded and placed his own hand over Jim's, needing the additional contact with his partner to calm his fear. "What do we do now?" Sandburg had no doubt that Jim would have a plan already in mind. His sentinel did not disappoint him.

"I have an idea. Let's get to the river as quickly as possible, then I'll fill you in." Jim turned back to the path he was following, with Blair and Simon moving closely behind.

Within the hour, Jim could smell the fragrance of the river...clean, cool, and fresh. The land began to slope downward, becoming steeper. The vegetation, already lush, became a virtual canopy of green. The sentinel could hear the thunder of a waterfall crashing nearby. "We're almost there, Chief. How're you doing?" Jim redirected his senses in a check of his partner's condition.

Blair was panting slightly, and his heart rate was elevated, but he wasn't in bad shape considering what he'd been through. He managed to grin at his friend and commented, "I'll live. You ready to share your plans for our escape yet, big guy?"

Grateful to see the weak smile, that small trace of the old Blair, Jim teased back, "Only on a need-to-know basis, Sandburg. And you don't need to know, yet. Be patient." He reached out and ruffled his friend's hair. "Simon, you doing okay, too?"

"Fine, Jim. How much longer to the river?" Simon wiped the perspiration from his face with a bandana.

"I can hear it clearly now. Another twenty minutes, I'd guess. You ready to move on, Chief?"

Blair nodded, taking a long drink of water from one of the bottles they'd brought from the camp. "Ready and willing. Lead on." He fell in behind Jim, following as closely as he could behind his sentinel.

Ellison kept his hearing focused on the voices and footsteps behind them. They hadn't gained any time on the men tailing them, but he didn't think they had lost any either. They should have enough time once they reached the river to prepare for the confrontation.

At last, the river came into view. Jim quickly discovered that the thundering torrents of the nearby waterfall interfered his tracking of their pursuers; he had to dial down his sense of hearing to compensate. Blair gratefully sank down beside the rushing water and dipped his hands into its welcome coolness, pouring it over his bruised face and down his neck. Simon sat down, dipping his bandana into the water and soaking his face with relief.

Ellison stood nearby, scanning the riverbanks visually. The towering trees stood thick, and the undergrowth was lush with huge ferns and bright orchids. Ignoring the beauty around him, the sentinel concentrated on his search. After a few minutes, he spotted what he was looking for. Jim hurried down the bank and joined his companions at the water's edge.

"Let's go, Chief. We've got to hike up that hillside, about halfway up." He pointed behind them, up into the dense foliage above. Blair and Simon looked where Jim indicated. From their perspective, nothing unusual was visible on the side of the hill.

Blair looked confused. "Why, Jim? What's your idea?"

Jim glanced at Simon. "The first step is to get you somewhere safe, Chief. I noticed the hills on the map and figured there'd be some caves around here. Sure enough, I spotted one," he said, nodding up the hillside.

"You mean that's your plan, just to leave me in a cave?" Blair's voice rose in irritation. "I'm not leaving you, man. No way. Forget it."

That's a flash of the old Blair, Simon thought with an inward smile. Except this time he's arguing with Jim about staying behind in a cave instead of the truck. Same song...different verse. Sure is good to hear that familiar tune again, though.

Jim's voice turned hard as he grabbed his guide's shoulders and forced him to meet his eyes. "Listen to me, Blair. We do not have time to argue about this. You're hurt; you're weak. Simon and I can handle these men, but I do not want to have to worry about keeping you safe while we're doing it. I will not have you hurt any more, do you understand me?" Jim's voice softened, and he gently kneaded Blair's shoulders. "I have to know you're okay, buddy. That's all. Please, do this for me, okay?"

Simon watched as the conflicting emotions played across Sandburg's face. He didn't want to leave Jim unprotected; he didn't want to leave Jim at all. But he could see the logic in the argument. Sandburg was on the verge of collapse from their hike through the jungle. How much help could he be in his condition?

Finally, he looked up at Jim nodded reluctantly, "Okay, Jim. I'll go to the cave."

"And stay there?" Ellison pushed.

"Okay," Blair grumbled.

Jim grinned and playfully swatted Blair on the back on the head. "At last, he listens to me. Doesn't take much, does it, Simon? Let's go get you settled,Chief. I'll be back in a few minutes, then we'll make our plans."

The climb up the steep slope to the small cave was difficult for Blair. His body was bruised and sore from the beatings he had taken, and his head was still pounding. Jim helped pull him up the last few feet, and when they reached the cave, the young man leaned against the side of the entrance, panting and trying to catch his breath.

Jim let him rest a few moments, but he knew there was little time to spare. "Okay, Chief. Listen closely. Here's some water for you, and a flashlight, and I want you to keep the binoculars so you can see what's going on," Ellison reached into a pocket of his backpack. "And I want you to have this," he said, holding out an automatic pistol he had taken from the campsite.

Blair hesitated, keeping his hands at his side. "Jim, man, I don't know about..."

His partner interrupted him, "Don't argue with me, Chief. If something happens to us down there, I want you to be able to protect yourself. Use it, Blair. I mean that. Do not let those men get to you under any circumstances. Promise me that, Chief." He reached out, took Blair's hand, and placed the gun in it, closing Blair's hand around the cold steel.

Blair stared at the gun. He had known the day was coming when he'd be expected to train with firearms at the Academy. He just hadn't thought he would be needing to use a weapon quite so soon to protect himself. Blair looked up at Jim's worried eyes, "I promise, Jim. But..."

"What is it, buddy?"

Blair stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Jim's waist in a firm, desperate embrace. "Be careful, okay? Don't leave me alone. Please."

Holding his partner close to him, Jim promised, "I'll be back, Blair. I won't leave you alone. I've already promised you that." He hesitated, knowing that he had to be honest with this friend who trusted him so deeply, "But sometimes things go down, Chief, that we can't control. I just want you to be able to take care of yourself, if that happens. But I swear, I will do everything in my power to make it back to you. Okay?''

Blair pulled back and looked up at Jim. "Okay. I'll be waiting."

Jim released Blair after a final tight hug. He smiled back at his friend, then turned and slipped silently down the hillside toward Simon. As he made his way, his sensitive ears heard the soft voice whisper, "Please be careful, Jim. I need you."

I need you, too, Chief. More than you know. Wait for me, Blair. I'll be back. I promise you.

********************

Simon and Jim crouched in the undergrowth above the trail. The automatic weapons they had taken from the camp were ready in their hands; their pistols prepared as backup weapons. They waited silently for the men following them to appear on the trail below. Jim longed to turn his hearing up enough to monitor Blair in the cave farther up the hill, but he had to concentrate on the trail. He couldn't afford to dial up his sense of hearing because of the thunderous waterfall just downstream.

Jim glanced several times at the tall man waiting beside him. Simon had proven a good friend as well as a fine commanding officer. He could trust Simon with his life, and with something infinitely more precious...the life of his guide. "Simon?" Jim spoke quietly.

Turning to face Ellison, Simon replied, "What, Jim? Do you hear them?"

Jim shook his head, listening carefully. "It will be a while yet. No, I need to ask you something...a favor."

"Sure, Jim. Anything. What can I do?"

Jim met his eyes and held them. Simon read the deep fear written in the blue eyes. He immediately knew it was not fear for the confrontation yet to come, not fear for himself that Ellison felt so deeply. Only one thing frightened Jim Ellison like that...fear for Blair.

"Simon, if anything happens to me... If I don't make it out of here, please promise me you'll take care of Blair. Get him back to Cascade safely. You know I've left the loft to him in my will so he'll always have a home...our home." Jim hesitated. "If I die, Simon, he'll want to give up...to follow me. Don't let him, please. As much as I want...no, as much as I need...Blair with me, wherever I am, I want him to live even more. He's so young, Simon; there's so much he can do with his life. Don't let him give up, please."

Simon shook his head, "You know I'll try, Jim. I promise you. But I don't know if anyone can do what you're asking. Blair lives for you, Jim, you know that. If you're gone..."

Jim closed his eyes in pain, "Just as I live for him. I know. Just promise you'll try, Simon. Please."

At his friend's nod, Jim managed to smile, the fear fading from his eyes. "I'm not planning on going anywhere but home, Simon, believe me, but I need to be sure Blair will be all right, just in case. I know you'll do your best. Thank you."

Time crawled as they waited. After almost another hour of crouching motionless in their camouflage of leaves, Jim motioned to Simon. The first of four men appeared below. They walked in single file, weapons ready. Jim nodded, and they stood up simultaneously, training their sights on the targets beneath them.

"Drop your weapons. Now!" Simon bellowed. Immediately, all four men turned and began firing up the hillside.

"No!" Blair cried, his binoculars trained on the scene below. "Jim!" He saw Simon and Jim dive for cover as they continued shooting at the drug runners on the trail. Blair watched fearfully as the four men split into two's, seeking coverage in the dense vegetation along the trail.

Jim stood up, his gun blasting at the spot where two men had hidden. A moment later, two bodies crumpled over from the bushes.

Where were the other two? Desperately, Blair searched the jungle growth through the powerful binoculars. Nothing but the thick foliage met his eyes. Until... There... One of the men remained along the trail, but Simon had him covered. But the other man... He was silently working his way around, creeping along the sloping hillside between Blair's sanctuary and Jim.

Blair stood up and screamed at the top of his lungs, "Jim! Jim! Look out!" No response from the sentinel. He has his hearing turned down to normal, Blair thought in dismay. He's trying to tune out the sound of the falls and the gunfire. He can't hear me.

Without thinking, Blair grabbed the pistol. Then he began a mad scramble down the hill toward his sentinel. With one eye swollen shut, his depth perception was poor, and he fell several times as he tumbled downward. Blair kept his sight trained on the threat below, praying that the sound of the waterfall would be loud enough to cover his ungainly descent. Please...please let me be in time. Jim can't die; I can't let him die.

Simon was approaching the last gunman remaining on the trail. He made his way carefully forward, with Jim covering him from behind Jim's eyes scanned the area around him for the final man.

Suddenly, he heard a shout from the hillside just above, and his heart constricted with fear. Blair! Oh, God, no!

Jim whirled around to see the barrel of the gun pointed directly at him. But even more terrifying was the small cyclone tearing down the hillside, screaming his name. Startled, the gunman turned, swinging the weapon to take aim at the approaching threat behind him. "Blair! No! Don't!" Jim cried as he saw Blair hurtling toward the enemy that was threatening his sentinel.

Jim raised his gun and began firing. At that exact instant, the drug dealer opened fire at Blair. Sandburg hit the ground, rolling down the hill several feet before stopping, lifting his pistol and firing five shots in rapid succession. Then there was silence.

Jim stared at his motionless partner in horror. His own heartbeat filled his ears, drowning out any chance of listening for the only sound he wanted to hear at that moment. His body shook with violent tremors, his eyes wide with fear. Finally, a blur of movement broke the paralyzing spell of terror, and he rushed up the slope toward his friend. "Blair! Blair! No!"

Blair was on his knees, his pistol aimed at the head of the gunman on the ground a few feet in front of him. The man's eyes were focused in terror on the barrel of the gun pointed directly at him. Jim carefully approached his partner, holding out his hands, keeping his voice low and soothing..

"Easy now. You got him, buddy. Now give me the gun, Blair," Jim coaxed. He couldn't let Blair do this. No matter how deep his pain, how hot his hatred, Jim knew that taking a life in this way would be something that would eat away at Blair's soul forever. He had to spare his friend that gnawing pain. "C'mon, Chief. You don't want to do this. Please, listen to me, Blair. Hand me the gun."

Blair shook his head, rage shaking his voice. "No, Jim! Don't you see? He killed them; he was one of them. I remember... He killed Robert, the grad student I flew down here with. And he shot Janie, too. In the back, Jim, while she was running away! He's the one who killed Dr. Grant. He believed in me, and that bastard killed him!" Blair's face filled with hatred, and he began pulling back on the trigger.

Jim commanded sharply, "Blair, stop!" Then his voice became low and gentle. He tried to echo the same low, soft tones Blair used to call him back when Jim slipped away from him in a zone out. "Listen to my voice, buddy. Focus only on me right now, okay? Believe me, kid, I understand wanting to pull that trigger. Don't you think I wanted to kill all those men back at the camp for what they did to you? For hurting you? But if we did that, we'd be no better than they are. You're too good for that, Chief. Too honorable. I believe in you, too, Blair. You know that. Don't do this, Blair. Don't throw away all you believe about goodness and kindness. Don't sell your soul for this man. He's not worth it. Please, Blair, listen to me." He moved beside his friend and dropped a careful hand on his shoulder. "Trust me, Blair."

He prayed his guide would do as he asked. Come, on, kid. Please.

Blair turned his head to look up at Jim, diverting his attention from the gunman lying on the ground. He did trust Jim, wanted to do what Jim asked. But it was so hard... He hurt so badly... Slowly, he loosened his finger on the trigger and dropped the gun.

Suddenly, Jim screamed, "Get down, Blair!" In a blur of motion, he shoved his partner to the ground behind him. The dealer got off two shots before Jim fired three times in quick succession. The gunman fell over dead, blood pouring from his chest, with a small handgun clutched in his palm.

By the river below, Simon finished cuffing his prisoner and turned at the sound of Jim's terrified voice. He watched as Jim dropped to his knees beside the still form of his partner. No, please, not Blair! Not again! The captain raced to join the two men, afraid of what he would see.

Jim sat on the ground with Blair in his arms. He cradled his partner against him as he had in the police garage after Sandburg had been dosed with Golden. Jim's face was pressed against Blair's, and he rocked his friend slowly, murmuring softly into his ear. Blair was conscious, and when he saw Simon, he smiled. "Sandburg?" Banks asked incredulously.

Blair replied softly, "I'm okay, Simon. He missed me. Jim's just gone into maximum mother hen mode here. I guess he has a right this time." Blair looked at his partner in concern. As much as he complained about Jim's over protectiveness, Blair cherished the feeling he got from knowing how much his partner cared. He reached up, capturing Jim's hand and holding on tightly.

"Jim..."

"Yeah, Chief."

Blair took a deep breath. "I would have killed him, man, if you hadn't been there."

Looking down at his friend, Jim said quietly, "I don't know for sure, but I think there was a good chance of it, yeah. How does that make you feel, buddy?"

Blair hesitated before he whispered, "He killed so many people...so many friends. I just lost it for a minute, Jim. I don't know how I would have felt if I'd actually gone through with it." Never would Blair have imagined that he could have come so close to taking a life, much less not have any regrets about doing so.

Jim said softly, "I'm just thankful you never had to find out."

Then Jim's eyes turned cool and his voice stern, "Now you have some explaining to do, Chief. I couldn't believe looking up and seeing you crashing down that hill with your gun drawn. What were you thinking, Sandburg? You promised me you would stay in that cave!" As the picture flashed through his mind, and Jim thought of how close he had come to losing Blair on that hillside, he felt his throat contract with fear. He had always known that Blair would die for him willingly, without a second thought, but knowing that and seeing him plunging down the hill toward that sacrifice were two entirely different things.

Blair smiled affectionately, "I was just being a Guide, Jim. Protecting my Sentinel. My partner." The smile disappeared when Blair looked up at him. "I couldn't let you die, Jim. I was so scared when I saw him coming around behind you, and I knew you didn't hear him. I had to do something, Jim. I couldn't just sit there and watch him kill you. I'm sorry I frightened you, but..."

Jim placed his fingers on Blair's lips. "Hush, it's all right. I was scared of losing you, that's all. I cannot lose you, Blair. I couldn't survive that..." He paused a moment, trying to control the surge of powerful emotion which had flooded his heart. "Thanks, buddy. I had my hearing down so low, I had no idea he had the drop on me. You saved my life, Chief," Jim said softly, gratefully. His fingers lightly traced the shape of Blair's face, feeling his comforting warmth and using his sense of touch to assure himself that his partner was truly safe. Blair rested his head back against Jim, savoring the cocoon of comfort and safety surrounding him.

They sat a long time in silence. Simon lay back on the ground, staring at the lush canopy above. The sounds of the tropical birds resumed, along with the chattering of monkeys high in the trees. A sense of peace and order returned to the jungle.

Blair broke the quiet spell, "Jim, I have to go back to that cave."

Jim opened his eyes, looking down at his guide in curiosity. "Anything you left up there, Blair, we can do without. That's too hard a climb for you to make again, buddy."

Blair looked up with a secretive grin on his face, "No, Jim, I have to go back. It's really important, man. Come on, I'll show you when we get there."

His partner teased, "Need-to-know basis, Ellison... Come on, Jim...Simon... Have I got something to show you!"

********************

The hike back up the hill was slower paced than the earlier one when Jim had been anxious to get Blair to safety. The men stopped to let Blair rest several times. When they reached the cavern entrance, Blair motioned excitedly for them to join him inside. As they entered, Simon asked Jim in a stage whisper, "Do you have a clue what's going on here?"

"I don't know, Simon, but that's the old Sandburg there, toe bounces and all. What's brought him back..." He shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine."

Blair stopped in the center of the cave and picked up the flashlight from the ground. "Look!" He proceeded to shine the light around slowly on the walls of the small cavern.

Jim stepped to one wall and looked at it in curiosity. "What are these, Chief?" he asked, reaching out to touch the wall.

Blair caught his arm and chastised him, "Don't touch, Jim. These are petroglyphs, a treasure trove of them. I found them while I was waiting up here, before all the fireworks started. Man, this is incredible!" The rock walls of the cavern were decorated with symbols and renditions of human figures and animals. The colors were muted, and the drawings were beautiful in their simplicity.

Jim grinned as he recognized Blair's lecture mode coming out in full force. This was so right; his best friend excited about a new discovery, wanting to share it...to teach. It had been too long since Jim had seen this Blair, and he suddenly realized how much he had missed that exuberance, that glow on his friend's face. Welcome back, Chief, Jim thought.

Sandburg's excited voice interrupted his thoughts, "They date from the same period as the ruins we are...were...studying. It's amazing! I have a hunch this place was used for sacred retreats by the young men of the tribe as they prepared for their initiation rites. I didn't have time to look at all the glyphs, and it'll take years to interpret them all, but that's my theory, anyway. Just look at this place, Jim!" He grabbed Jim by the elbow and propelled him around the small cave, pointing out and explaining the different figures painted so many years before on the walls.

Simon coughed, "I take it, Sandburg, that you are the first person to stumble upon this place? Nobody else has..."

"Yeah, Simon. It's so cool! Who would have thought that I'd find something like this while..."

"Sandburg," Simon interrupted. "Please let me finish my thought, if you don't mind." He waited in mock exasperation.

Blair looked at the captain sheepishly, "Sure, Simon, go ahead."

"Thank you," Simon said with a trace of sarcasm. "If this is such a major find, do you think it might do something for the slightly blemished, however undeservedly so, reputation of a certain young anthropologist we all know?"

For once, Blair Sandburg was caught speechless. Jim grinned first at his captain, then at his partner. He playfully tapped Blair on top of the head. "Hey, Chief. Captain Banks asked you a direct question. As he is your almost commanding officer, I think you should reply."

Both men could see the wheels turning in Sandburg's head. "Yeah... Yeah! They'll have to give me recognition for this find." He quickly turned to Ellison. "Of course, you should share in it, Jim. After all, you're the one who stuck me in the cave."

Jim shook his head, "No thanks, kid. I'll just stick to detective work. Seriously, do you think this might get you back into the doctoral program at Rainier?" Jim felt the hope rising within him. If only Blair could salvage his career...his degree...his life. He knew Blair had been at peace with the decision he had made in order to give Jim back his life and his privacy. But that sacrifice had taken a piece of Blair's soul, and with his pain, a piece of Jim's as well. Jim Ellison would do anything to restore what Blair had destroyed out of his love for him.

Blair looked up at him, hope written all over his face. "Maybe, Jim. I never officially submitted my sentinel dissertation, after all. It never went before my committee. I never defended it. With something this big, especially after...after what's happened here to the rest of the team..." He stopped, words once again failing him. The light disappeared as grief once again shadowed his face.

Immediately sensing his despair, Jim threw an arm around Blair's shoulders and pulled him close. Blair shook his head, "This is too much, Jim. I have no right to be thinking about using this for my own benefit when they're all..." His voice cracked in pain. He leaned his head over to rest on Jim's shoulder.

Jim pulled Blair's chin up gently and forced him to meet his eyes. He cupped Blair's battered face in his hands, gently stroking the bruised skin. "You do have the right, Chief. You can mourn their loss, but don't deny yourself the right to recover your life...the respect you deserve. I won't let you throw this opportunity away, Blair. It's too important to you. To both of us. Understand?"

Blair searched Jim's eyes for the truth he always found there. In those light blue eyes, he found the answer he sought, and the peace he needed so desperately. Blair nodded. "Thanks, Jim. You're right. I know Professor Grant would be happy for me. He never believed my confession of fraud anyway, you know."

Jim's eyes were warm with understanding. "I know, buddy. He knew you too well. Do this for him, Blair, for all of them. Make them proud of you, Chief. As proud of you as I already am."

Blair held Jim's gaze for a moment longer, confirming the pride and love he saw there, then nodded. Jim smiled down at his friend, and pulled him into a tight hug, resting his face for a moment against the top of Blair's head. His friend would survive; he knew that now, beyond a doubt. It would take time, but Blair was going to be all right. They were going to be all right. That was all that mattered.

Jim looked at his captain. "We'd better get moving, Simon. I think we can make it at least halfway to the village before nightfall. We'll leave our guest down there and send the authorities back for him later." He looked at Blair, his eyes filled with affection, "Ready to start for home, Blair?"

Jim felt Blair lean into him again, and the arms wrapped around his waist tightened for a moment. "Sure, Jim. It seems like a lifetime since I've been home."

Ellison nodded in agreement, "For both of us, buddy. Then let's get started. We've still got a long way to go."

********************

Four days later...

In the darkened cabin, most of the passengers slept, but Simon Banks had not been able to relax enough yet for sleep to come. He was still keyed up from dealing with the officials for the past few days over the location and arrests of the drug dealers left in the jungle. Jim had spent most of his time with Blair, which Simon had encouraged. Heaven knows the kid needed the support.

The reality of everything that had happened struck Blair in all its intensity the day they arrived in the small village after their long hike out of the jungle. Ellison had been a rock, Blair's anchor in the storm of raging anger and surging emotions. Sentinel and Guide seldom left the small hotel room that the three men had rented. During the days, Simon spent most of his time at the tiny precinct station, working with the local authorities on the arrest details. He had even taken Blair's statement about the murders at the hotel. Blair was unwilling to venture out, preferring the secluded sanctuary he had built there with Jim in the dark little room.

At night, Simon tried to focus on sleep, doing his best to ignore the soft sobs coming from the bed next to his. He knew Jim was doing his best to comfort Blair, holding him close, softly whispering to him, stroking his hair...all the proven techniques that worked so well when his guide was hurting. Each morning, Simon would look at the bed to find Blair huddled in the protective circle of Jim's arms, dried tears on his bruised face. Often Jim's eyes were already open, gazing at the small figure he cradled against him with a powerful mixture of love and grief that was painful to see. Simon wondered if the sentinel slept at all, or if he simply spent his nights guarding Blair.

Recovery would take time. Much longer than the few nights Blair had been given so far to work through his pain. Simon knew how hard the young man was leaning on his strong partner. The captain did his best to stay out of the way and give them the space and time Blair needed to heal. He felt helpless knowing that this was all he had to give.

Now he looked over at the two men in the seats next to his on the jet carrying them homeward at last. Blair was in the window seat with Jim settled between his partner and Simon. Sandburg was asleep, his head resting on Jim's shoulder. Jim's head was tilted to the side so that his cheek lay against Blair's soft hair.

"Jim," Simon said quietly, "You awake?"

Ellison didn't move but answered softly, "Yeah, Simon. I'm awake."

"How's the kid doing?" Simon knew Blair was resting, but somehow he just wanted the confirmation that they were both all right for the moment.

Jim lifted his head and tucked the airline blanket up around Blair's neck. His guide sighed quietly in his sleep and snuggled more closely against Jim. The tenderness in Jim's eyes as he looked at the curly head nestled on his shoulder touched Simon's heart. It must be a wonderful thing, Sandburg, to be loved that much. Simon felt a small touch of jealousy. Daryl and I are close, thankfully, but there's something special about these two, a connection unique only to them. Maybe it's the sentinel/guide thing... Or just two empty hearts that found each other...

Jim carefully maneuvered his left arm until it was wrapped around Blair's shoulders, gently pulling his guide even closer to him. Blair whispered something in his sleep, and Jim lowered his head close to the ear hidden under the mahogany curls to murmur words of reassurance. When Blair was sleeping soundly again, Jim turned his head slightly to answer Simon's question. His fingers absently stroked Blair's arm as he talked.

"He's trying, Simon. It's just so damned hard. You know what a gentle soul Blair has. This is going to be something he carries with him for the rest of his life. All I can do is be there for him when he needs me," Jim said quietly as he looked back down at his partner.

Simon phrased his next question carefully. "Do you ever get overwhelmed, Jim, with all the responsibility you've taken on with Blair? I mean, you went from a life where you were responsible only for yourself to... I don't know...to this. It must get to be a heavy burden at times."

Jim rested his head against Blair's for a moment, his eyes closed, then looked back to Simon. "It is a burden, Simon, but a precious one. With the responsibility has come more contentment, more fulfillment, than I ever dreamed possible. I've come to believe that I was meant to take care of him. To shelter his heart...his soul...to protect him, with my life, if necessary. Yes, that is a burden." Jim paused, a small smile warming his face as he looked at Blair. "But in return... In return, he gives back so much more. He keeps me sane, makes me laugh, fills up my soul like no one else ever could. I love him so much, Simon, sometimes it scares me." Jim's voice broke, and he turned to Blair again, lightly touching his lips to his hair.

"Why does it scare you, Jim?"

"To give up that much control to another person... It was never in my nature, Simon, but look at me now... He holds my life...my heart...in his hands, and he knows it. But Blair would never hurt me with that control...that power he has over me. He only wants to help me, to guide me, to keep me safe. That's his biggest fear, you know, not being able to protect me...failing me somehow. But he never fails me, Simon, never."

"I envy you sometimes, Jim. To love someone that much and know it's returned in equal measure...that's a rare thing, my friend," Simon said with a quiet sigh.

Jim could only nod in agreement; his heart was too full to speak.

Simon spoke again a few moments later. "If the university does allow him to go back and complete his degree, I think we can work out a consultant status with the department for Blair. No academy...no guns...just let him go on doing what he does best...being your partner. The brass is so impressed with the arrest record the two of you have compiled, they'll cooperate, I'm sure."

Jim flashed a smile at his captain. "Thanks, Simon. That's my greatest wish right now, just to get our lives back to normal."

Simon chuckled, "Do you two even remember what normal means anymore, Jim?"

"Normal for us, then, sir," Jim replied with a grin. "What we have may not be what the rest of the world considers normal, but I wouldn't want it any other way." He looked at the sleeping face of his guide nestled against his shoulder. No, Chief, I wouldn't want it any other way. Jim closed his eyes and slowly began to relax, feeling the cherished warmth of Blair close at his side...listening to the comforting heartbeat...inhaling the familiar scent of his guide...counting his blessings. At last, he drifted into the long awaited depths of a peaceful, dreamless sleep.

As sentinel and guide slept, the jet soared onward through the night, carrying them back to their tribe, back home to Cascade.

Finis...

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