My Faith Looks Trustingly
Synopsis: A brutal attack leads both Blair and Jim to question the matter of trust. Takes place before TSbyBS. Spoilers for Sentinel Too, Part 1 and Cypher. Rated PG-13.
Notes: This is my second fanfiction written in March 1999 but never posted. Why? I got stuck on the very last scene and so it sat unfinished for over three years. Well, my New Year's resolution is to complete all my partially written stories. Gee, since it's already July, I guess I haven't been doing very well on keeping my resolution. This one is for my sister, Sherrylou, who is a big hurt/comfort fan. I extend special thanks to her for her help and suggestions. This story is not Betaread, so all mistakes are mine. No negative feedback please.
Disclaimer: The characters of The Sentinel are owned by UPN and Pet Fly Productions. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made.
Blair pulled off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose, wishing the headache that had been building all day would go away. Replacing his glasses, he picked up his red pen and swiftly wrote his closing comments on the stapled pages in front of him. Last one, he thought as he carefully set the term paper down on the pile of graded compositions. Quickly he turned toward his laptop and entered the final grade.
Whew! Done at last! Anthropologist Extraordinaire! Despite the pounding pain in his head, he chuckled. For once he had finished ahead of time; it was only eleven o'clock, plenty of time before he had to meet Jim at midnight.
The two of them were staking out the university, of all places, because of a series of rather nasty rapes occurring on campus. The masked rapist would attack his victims with a baseball bat before violating them. Two of the last three victims were still in critical condition, the other one was dead. The university community was in an uproar over the incidents, with the dean and parents bringing down heat on the mayor and the police commissioner. All that pressure brought the case to Major Crimes and Detective Ellison's attention
The university response had been to increase the campus police staff, and the Cascade Police Department added more police patrols around the campus, but that still hadn't deterred the rapist. It also didn't help that not one of the victims have been able to provide a clear description of the attacker. The most they had to go on was that the perpetrator was a white male, around 6' and between 175 to 190 lbs.
To make things even more difficult, despite the numerous warnings, many of the female students still went out alone. Youth and their mentality that 'it couldn't happen to me' attitude made them easy targets as they continued to walk in secluded sections of the campus that the attacker seemed to prefer.
Tonight, Blair had to meet Jim down by the Field House, which was located slightly off campus. It was situated near the local bar, Rafters. From that establishment many of the students used the practice fields next to the Field House as a shortcut to the school dormitories. Poorly lit, it was an ideal place for the perpetrator to hide.
Blair's stomach rumbled reminding him that he hadn't eaten since early morning, however his throat had been sore and raspy all day. He was sure he was coming down with something. What was that old saying, 'starve a fever, feed a cold'? Shoving some books into his backpack, he decided he would stop at the deli near the campus and pick up a container of chicken soup before hooking up with Jim.
Leaving his office, he waved to one of the new campus police officer on patrol. Actually it was kind of nice having the extra security. There were times when an old building like Hargrove Hall could be creepy, especially at night. As Blair approached the exit, he paused to watch the cold November rain pounding steadily on the sidewalk.
"Shit," Blair muttered. Why didn't I bring my umbrella? After all, this is Cascade where rain is the number one commodity. Of course, Jim always said that real men don't use umbrellas. Yeah, right! he thought cynically.
Sprinting out into the rain, the grad student ducked down a side path, which led to the ancillary parking lot. The dark path wove through a densely wooded section of campus that was often used by students as an alternate way to get to the parking lot. Blair felt a twinge of guilt when he turned onto the path. Hadn't Jim told him to always stick on the lighted ways? Yeah, but he isn't here braving this deluge.
With the strength of the downpour, it didn't take long for Blair to become drench. His soaked curls hung heavy, clinging to his head and face and dripping water down the back of his neck. In his rush to escape the torrential rain, Blair took the turn in the path a little too fast. His feet losing their traction in the slick mud shot out from under him. The ground collided with his chest and forced most of the air out of his lungs.
"Oh man," he moaned as he pulled himself up to a sitting position. The previous desire to make a mad dash to his car was now replaced with a thought of getting there in one piece. Taking a moment to collect himself and to scrape off some of the mud, Blair noticed a rustling in the bushes. He rose and glanced nervously toward the sound.
"Who's there?" Blair's voice shook, and he wondered if it was a wise idea to continue on the path and whether he should have taken the path in the first place.
As if in answer, he felt his side being struck by a large object. Pain exploded across his chest. Stumbling, his backpack slipped off his shoulder. Another blow struck on the opposite side and knocked him to the ground.
Before Blair could rise, he felt a knee pressed into the middle of his back. Hands grabbed his head, pressing it down into a muddy puddle. Involuntarily, Blair inhaled a mouthful of dirty water.
The smell and the taste of the murky liquid brought back recent memories. Memories of another time when he felt vile water filling his lungs. At the fountain where he died...or almost died. No! Not again! This can't be happening again!
"Noooo!" he screamed and arched his back, dislodging his attacker. He managed to get to his feet as his attacker swung the object a third time -- the wooden object that Blair could now see was a bat. He staggered back; just avoiding the bat, which struck a tree instead and shattered on contact.
The attacker howled as the shock of the impact reached his hands. Furiously, the assailant grabbed Blair and spun him around. The powerful momentum propelled Blair into the damaged tree and his head thumped painfully against the thick trunk. Sliding down to the ground, he watched with blurry eyes as the masked figure disappeared into the heavy rain.
As his vision cleared, Blair took stock of his injuries before rising. The worst seemed to be his ribs. He coughed and immediately wrapped his arms around in pain.
"Oh man, oh man. This is so not good," Blair groaned. Struggling to his feet, he gingerly hoisted his backpack onto one shoulder while wrapping his free arm around his chest. Staggering through the downpour, he made his way to the parking lot and his car. By the time Blair reached his vehicle, the shock of what had happened was setting in. His right hand was shaking so badly that he was barely able to get the car key into the lock. Once inside, his legs gave out. For an inordinate amount of time his teeth chattered, his body shook, and the cold he felt went deep within his soul. He started the car and turned the heater on high. Sitting there, the exhaustive man closed his eyes. I'll just rest a bit.
The ringing of the phone woke Blair from his slumber. He gasped with pain as he reached across the car seat to pull the cell phone out of his bag.
"Hello," he mumbled, trying to keep his voice steady.
"Chief, where are you?" a perturbed but anxious voice questioned him.
"J..jim," Blair stuttered. Glancing at his watch, he could see it was after 1:30. "I'm still at the university…but I can leave now to meet you." Confused and shaken, Blair still remembered that he was supposed to meet Jim.
"Don't bother, we caught the perp." There was a hint of annoyance in Jim's voice followed by a sigh. "I'm just letting you know so you can head on home. Drive carefully, Chief"
"Sure, Jim...uh, thanks." Blair heard the abrupt click on the other end of the line. He set the phone down and rested his head against the steering wheel, mentally chastising himself. I told Jim I would be there and I let him down. Good way to go, Blair. Didn't Jim always tell you to stay on the lighted path and what do you do? Do you listen to him? Of course not! Do you ever listen to him? How can he trust you when you don't even pay attention to what he says?
Blair continued the litany for a while before finally convincing himself to head home. The drive back to the loft was an interesting one. Fortunately, at that time of night, traffic was almost non-existent, and he found that he could manage well on the straightaway. It was turning a corner that presented a challenge. Gingerly, he would turn the steering wheel while keeping one arm wrapped tightly around his chest. If he did it slow enough, he could manage with a minimum amount of pain.
The heavy rain lightened as Blair approached home. Parking the car outside the loft, he decided the backpack wasn't worth the effort or discomfort it would cause to carry it upstairs. Making no effect to avoid the puddles, Blair staggered through the drizzle to the building. As he entered the building, he stared with dismay at the 'out of order' sign plastered on the elevator. Not that he and elevators were the best of friends, given the mishap that had happened in the past, however in his present condition, he didn't look forward to trudging up three flights of stairs.
Sweating by the time he reached the door to the loft, Blair paused, wondering if Jim was home and what kind of explanation he would give his partner. If he were fortunate, Jim would already be in bed.
Tonight, luck was with him. As he opened the door, the loft was in darkness, bathed only in the streetlights shimmering through the mist on the balcony's glass doors. Blair spied Jim's jacket hanging on the hook. Good, Jim must be in bed. Tired and exhausted, Blair didn't even bother to take off his jacket but instead proceeded straight to his room. Not caring about his muddy, damp clothes, he lay down on his bed, tightly clutching his pillow to his injured side. Maybe I'll be all right. Yeah, sure, as long as I don't cough, breathe or move. Blair squeezed his eyes shut and silently prayed for the blessed oblivion that would come with sleep.
Shifting in bed, Jim listened to the sound of the key in the lock and the entrance of his partner. He was puzzled as he noticed the increase of Blair's heart rate. Kid's probably nervous that I'm going to chew him out about tonight. Well, he's right. But that discussion can wait until morning.
Satisfied that his guide was safely home, Jim rolled back over in bed and dozed off. It felt like he had been asleep only a few minutes when he found himself blinking awake.
"What the...?" Jim sat up in bed wondering what had awakened him when he heard it again. The hacking sound followed by a moan of pain coming from Blair's room. Getting out of bed, he quickly slipped on his robe and went downstairs.
"Chief...?" The question remained poised on his lips as he entered the small room. He found Blair half-sitting, half-hunched over on his bed with both arms tightly wrapped around his chest.
"Chief, what is it?" Concerned, Jim saw clearly the pain etched across his friend's face. He stared at his disheveled guide, at the dirty, damp clothes and the sweat-stained face. Kneeling down, he placed a hand on Blair's shoulder. "What happened?"
Blair's response was another round of coughing. Jim held onto Blair as he felt his friend's body quiver. Blair moaned again and looked up at his sentinel with pain-filled eyes. "Make it stop," he barely whispered through clenched teeth, his breath coming in small gasps.
Make what stop? Jim wondered as he tried to assess the condition of his guide. Blair's body was warm to the touch, a slight fever. The cough, though hacking, also had a wet, moist quality to it...almost like the time before, the time at the fountain. Jim shook the image from his mind and directed his attention back to his friend. He couldn't understand the severity of Blair's condition. The kid was fine this morning. The first thing to do is to remove these wet clothes. As Jim attempted to take off Blair's jacket, his partner pulled away from him.
"Noooo," he moaned and wrapped his arms even tighter across his chest.
"Sandburg," Jim said with concern. "We have to get you out of these wet clothes."
"No," Blair gasped, his eyes tightly closed. "Hurts...too much." Blair began another round of coughing. At the conclusion, he was groaning, the sweat dripping off his forehead.
"Come on, Chief. You're scaring me here. Where does it hurt?" Jim wasn't sure what to do next. His partner was bent over, deathly pale, quivering and gasping.
"R...ribs," Blair stuttered.
Jim tenderly loosened Blair's grip. "Just relax for me," Jim spoke soothingly while he cautiously undid Blair's jacket and unbuttoned the shirt. Letting the shirt fall open, Jim choked back an expletive as he surveyed the damage done to his friend.
"Oh, Blair," was all Jim could say as he lightly slipped his hands up under Blair's shirt and around to his back. Blair groaned, but Jim carefully continued his examination. He was shock when he felt the massive bruising and the likelihood that two or more ribs were fractured on both sides of the rib cage. He knew that he had to keep Blair still or there would be a strong possibility of a lung being punctured.
Removing his hands, he reached over and picked up the phone in Blair's room. "Hang in there, Chief," he said as he punched 911.
The wait for the ambulance had been a never-ending nightmare. All Jim could do was hold onto his friend and try to comfort him. It tore at his heart every time Blair coughed, causing the muscles in his friend's chest to spasm. Blair would groan in pain and Jim would hold his breath listening to make sure neither lung was punctured. There was nothing he could do to ease Blair's suffering. Nothing he could give him not knowing the full extent of his injuries.
Finally, when the EMTs arrived, they were able to offer Blair some comfort in the form of medication to alleviate the pain. That in itself made it easier for the young man to be transported. During the ride to the hospital, Jim continually brushed back the hair on Blair's forehead. He stared into his young friend's eyes dulled by the drug and told him everything would be okay. Everything had to be okay.
Once they arrived at the hospital, Blair was whisked away to a cubicle and Jim was left behind in the waiting room with a handful of forms to fill out. After quickly finishing the paperwork and making a few calls, he paced back and forth wondering how this could have happened or, for that matter, when it could have.
Had Blair been hurt when Jim had called him? He thought Blair had been in his office when he'd spoken to him, but now replaying the conversation in his head, he could remember hearing rain striking metal as if on the roof of a car. Jim had been upset that Blair had not shown up at the stakeout. He knew it had been reflected in his voice during the phone call. He knew he hadn't given the kid any chance for an explanation. Good going, jackass, you really know how to protect you guide. Some Blessed Protector you are.
With his trenchcoat flapping open as he walked briskly into the hospital, Simon entered the waiting room and crossed over to his friend. "What the hell happened this time?" the captain asked a bit too harshly, though the underlying tone conveyed concern. Hell, he couldn't believe what was going on with not only his best team of detectives, well actually one detective and one slightly bothersome police observer, but also with two of his very dear friends. If it's not the one, it's the other. And why did it always happen in the dead of the night?
Jim stopped his pacing, and Banks was surprised at the look Ellison gave him as if he'd just appeared out of thin air.
"I don't know," Jim said, running a hand across his forehead. He turned away, hands clenched. "But I should had known, Simon," he said with conviction, and then stared down at the vinyl floor.
Simon's eyes followed his friend's and he wondered what Jim saw, just the ugly, yellow-waxed linoleum or did his sight go deeper -- to the zillion tiny scuffmarks and scratches? He heard Jim say again, but more softly, "I should have known," and he let loose a frustrated sigh at the detective's self-recrimination.
"And how the hell should you have known? The last time I talked to Blair, he didn't mentioned anything about sentinels having ESP." Simon looked upward and silently asked for patience. He recognized his friend was taking the blame for whatever had happened upon his shoulder. Well, Blair better get well because he wasn't going to deal with one guilt-laden sentinel. That was the kid's department.
An attractive nurse carrying a bag entered the waiting room and approached the two men. "Here you go, Detective." She smiled at Jim as she handed him the bag. "I'm sure your friend will be all right."
Simon recognized the nurse as Janice. She had been on duty the last time Blair had been brought in. He remembered that Blair had tried unsuccessfully several times to get her phone number. Maybe this time the young man would get lucky. A glint of gold on her left hand caught his eye. Then again, maybe not.
Jim thanked her and took the bag. "Is there any word yet, Janice?" he asked anxiously.
She laid her hand on Jim's shoulder; her eyes warm with compassion. "I'm sorry. I haven't heard anything, but I'll check." Janice turned around and headed back through the double doors separating the waiting area from the ER.
The moment of silence following the nurse's departure seemed interminable, and seeing the tight grip Jim had on the sack, Simon softened his voice and asked, "What's in there?"
"Blair's clothes. They had to cut them off, including his jacket. He's not going to be too happy about that." Jim stared at the bag.
"Here, give the bag to me. I'll have Forensics check them out." Simon grasped the bag from Jim's hand. "What can you tell me?"
"Not much. I woke up hearing Blair coughing and in pain. His clothes were still damp and muddy. It could have happened at the university. I just don't know. There was no way I could question him."
Jim slumped into a nearby chair and Simon moved into the seat next to him. "God, Simon, someone did a number on his ribs. Looked like he was used for batting practice."
Before he could stop himself, Simon gasped and then found Jim searching his face. Jim scrutinized him, forehead scrunched in concentration, and Simon knew the moment that Jim's mind finally registered the connection.
Disbelief hung in Jim's eyes as he spoke hesitantly. "You don't think...we caught the perp tonight. There's no way."
"What time do you think the attack occurred, Jim?" Simon was wondering if there could be a possible link. Figure the kid would stumble into it.
"I don't know. He was supposed to meet me at midnight, but he never showed." Jim paused and then his voice took on a sharper edge. "What don't I know, Simon?"
The older man cleared his throat. This wouldn't be easy. "Given the MO of the attack, it could be connected to the rapist case," Simon explained.
"What do you mean? What about the guy we arrested tonight?"
"It appears that we don't have the right man. The suspect we arrested tonight may have been planning a similar attack, but he has airtight alibis for all the other incidents. The guy we're looking for is still out there."
Jim clenched his jaw, seemingly reflecting on the information.
For the moment, all was quiet. No outbursts. No guilty declarations. But that didn't mean it would stay that way. The old adage that 'silence is golden' wouldn't apply to Ellison. It was more like 'the calm before the storm.' Just as Simon felt the detective was ready to explode, whether from the knowledge that he'd most likely been close by when Blair had been attacked or that the perp was still out there, the doctor entered the waiting area.
With clipboard in hand and glasses perched upon his nose, the elderly physician moved toward where they sat. The doctor had treated both Ellison and Sandburg several times before, and Simon knew that the doctor was well aware of the two men and their partnership.
Jim stood, his body tight with anticipation, and looked at the doctor with hope. "Dr. Anderson, how's Blair?"
"I won't lie to you, Detective Ellison. Mr. Sandburg, while not critical, is in serious condition. He sustained a serious blunt force trauma to his chest. Three ribs on his right side and two on the left were fractured. We're also watching him for any sign of concussion since he sustained an injury to the back of his head. On top of that, he has a viral infection and we have detected some water in his lungs. A treatment of antibiotics have been started to warn off any infections, and a nerve block's been administered for the pain. This should make him more comfortable and yet not suppress his gag reflex or coughing. It's important that his lungs are kept as clear as possible, especially given his recent medical history. We're going to have to keep a close eye on him." The doctor paused in his recitation and smiled. "But barring any unforeseen complications, I expect him to make a complete recovery."
Relaxing, Jim returned the smile and asked, "Can I see him?"
Simon had to bite back a chuckle at the expected question. It was always the second question Jim would ask after, "How is he?"
The doctor nodded his approval. "Mr. Sandburg is being moved into a private room on the third floor. I already informed the nurses to expect you. Be prepared that he has been through a lot this evening. He may be unresponsive or he may not even recognize you. Just don't push him."
Simon hated to break the lightening mood. Hell, he didn't want to ask the question but given the circumstances, someone had to. "Doctor, was there any indication that this could have been a sexual assault?"
The captain saw the look of bewilderment on Jim's face and realized that the thought hadn't crossed the detective's mind -- until now. He wondered if it had been the rapist, was it just the case of Blair being in the wrong place or was the rapist expanding his MO? They both turned their attention to the doctor.
Unfazed by the question, the doctor answered, "There doesn't seem to be any indication of that, Captain Banks."
Apparently satisfied, Jim thanked the doctor and hurried off to find his guide.
Dr. Anderson turned toward the captain as they both watched the departing man. "He's not too anxious, is he?"
Simon snorted softly. His eyes twinkled with a gleam of amusement as he caught a final glimpse of Jim disappearing around the corner. No, not too. Heaven help anyone who'd get between a sentinel and his guide.
In the early morning hours the hospital corridors took on a softer glow. The activity, though never ceasing, proceeded at a quieter pace. The nurse at the third floor desk heard the approaching footsteps. She smiled knowing whom to expect.
"He's in room 324," she said without waiting for the man to stop. He gave her a quick nod as he passed the desk. Listening to the fading sound of his footsteps, she wondered about the relationship between those two men. It must be nice to have a friend who would sit by your bedside at 4 in the morning. she thought as she reached for a ringing phone.
Jim cautiously opened the door to Blair's room, letting the light from the hallway shine on the young man, and saw that the lines of pain etched earlier on Blair's face were now removed. He silently entered and pulled a chair up next to the bed. Careful to avoid the IV, he gently laid his larger hand across that of his friend's, wrapping his fingers around it. Taking comfort in the warmth of his guide's skin, the steady pulse of the blood pumping through the vein, Jim sat there glad in the knowledge that his friend was alive.
"J...jim," a soft voice stammered.
Jim looked into two drowsy eyes. "You're supposed to be resting," he lightly admonished.
"Throat's sore...can I have something to drink?" Blair rasped out.
Jim poured some water from the bedside pitcher into a cup. Inserting a straw, the older man assisted Blair with the drink. After a few sips, Jim set the cup down. "How's that?"
"Better," Blair said. "But I feel real strange, kind of numb."
"That's the nerve block," Jim explained. "It's to alleviate the pain when you're coughing. Doctor doesn't want you to curtail the coughing. He wants to keep your lungs clear." Jim looked at the tired face of his guide. "Now it's time for you to get some sleep. We can talk later."
"Can't...can't stop thinking." Blair's voice quivered.
"Thinking about what, Chief? The attack?" Jim noticed that the young man was averting his eyes. What's wrong? What's going on in that mind of yours? He could see Blair trembling. "It's over now. You're safe. Nothing's going to happen. You can trust me."
Blair gasped, but kept his eyes turned away, staring at some imaginary spot across the room. "No. You don't understand."
Jim stared at his best friend, puzzled by his reaction. Did something else happen? Is that why you won't look at me?
"Chief, did he...I mean, the guy didn't touch you?" Jim stopped himself. Perhaps this wasn't the best time to discuss the attack.
Blair looked confused and turned to face Jim. "What are you talking about? Of course, the guy touched me. He whacked me with a bat. You don't think...Oh, God!" His eyes shot open. "Jim, nothing happened...not in that way. It's just...I..."
Jim felt a tremendous release of tension knowing that Blair hadn't faced that particular terror, and yet there was something Blair didn't want to discuss. Jim eased his tactics and gentled his voice. "What's wrong, Chief?"
All it took were Jim's soft-spoken words to break through Blair's defense. He saw Blair's eyes mist over; eyelashes wet with moisture.
Jim touched Blair's shoulder with concern. "Chief...Blair?"
Blair turned his troubled face toward Jim. With an unsteady voice, he said, "I didn't listen to you. It's my fault."
What are you talking about? How can the attack be your fault? "Blair, you did nothing wrong." God, Chief, you get the crap beaten out of you and you think it's your fault. Jim was constantly amazed at his partner's insecurities.
Blair choked back a sob. "I didn't listen to you...I wasn't there for you, Jim. How can you trust me?"
Whether from the emotion or illness, Blair began coughing.
"Easy there, Chief." Jim quickly gave Blair another drink of water. Trying to calm his guide, Jim said, "Don't get yourself worked up over nothing."
Blair shot Jim a hurtful look. "Nothing...trust isn't nothing. It's everything." Blair again averted his eyes toward the wall.
Jim's brow furrowed as he thought over Blair's statements. They just weren't making any sense, and he wondered if perhaps it was due to the injuries or the medication. Moreover, he knew something was deeply troubling his guide. Blair, we're going to have a long talk once you are back on your feet.
He moved to sit next to his guide, careful to avoid his injuries. Placing his hand on the young man's cheek, he locked his steel blue eyes onto Blair's misty ones. "You're right, Chief. Trust is everything and I do trust you. You did nothing wrong," Jim assured him. "You are always there for me. As my partner, my guide and as my best friend. I trust you with my life. You got that?"
Blair nodded and gazed at his partner's face. Jim could almost sense Blair scrutinizing him, trying to read the conviction of Jim's words with his eyes.
Apparently satisfied for now, Blair calmed down and tried to stifle a yawn.
"Now can you get some sleep, Chief?"
"I think so, Jim." Blair snuggled down under the blanket, the earlier concern forgotten for the moment. Yawning again, he spoke softly, "And Jim..." Blair paused waiting for his friend to look at him. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Jim smiled, lightly pushing back a strayed strand of hair on Blair's brow. "Now I have to go for a bit, but I be back later." The last part of his sentence went unheard as Jim could tell that his guide was already asleep.
Leaving the room, he found Simon waiting for him in the hallway.
"So how's the kid, Jim?" Simon asked.
"He's hanging in there." Jim ran his fingers through his hair. "God, Simon, Blair thought it was his fault."
"What! How does one who looks like he was just smashed to a pulp by Andre the Giant thinks it's his fault? What did he say?"
"Not much and I didn't want to press him. But what he did say didn't make a lot of sense." Jim released a frustrated sigh and rubbed the tight muscles at the back of his neck. "Right now there's not a whole lot making sense."
"Well, what we need are some answers. I contacted Brown and Rafe. They're on their way over to the university to see if they can find out anything."
"If you don't mind, Simon, I'd like to go over there, too. I need to know what happened." Uneasy with the decision of leaving, he was well aware that he might be the only one who could find Blair's attacker.
"Would you like me to stay with Blair?"
Jim gave his captain a grateful smile. It was hard for him to leave when his friend was sick or hurt. Except for the kid's mother, Naomi, who was never around, Jim was the closest thing Blair had to family. Together, they walked toward the bank of elevators.
"Yeah, thanks, Simon," Jim said. "I'd appreciate it." With that Jim left his partner in the care of his captain.
As Jim approached Hargrove Hall, a gray dawn was breaking. The driving rain of yesterday had given way to a mist that hung heavy on the grass and trees. Jim wondered if after the storm there would be any evidence left that hadn't been washed away. He figured the attack took place outside given the muddy condition of Blair's clothes. At the entrance to Hargrove Hall, Jim spotted Brown and Rafe talking to a campus police officer.
Brown waved to Jim. "Jim, how's Hairboy...I mean Blair?" Brown corrected himself in front of the officer.
"He's holding his own. What have you found out?"
"Jim, this is Officer Kent." Rafe did the introduction. "He's just finishing up his shift. He was here last night when Blair left his office. Said it was shortly after 11."
"And he was suppose to meet me at 12," Jim muttered to himself. "Officer Kent, did you happen to see what direction Mr. Sandburg went when he left the building?"
"Sorry, Detective, we just happened to pass in the hallway."
Jim turned his attention to the paved walkway leading to the parking area. It was well lit, certainly not in accordance with the rapist's MO. Jim scanned the area. "Officer, are there any other ways to the parking lot beside this walkway?"
"Well, you know students. They're always looking for the shortest distance between two points. There's a path that cuts through the woods over there. It'll get you to the lot in half the time." The young officer pointed to a rough opening forged among the thickets.
Jim thanked the officer and then motioned for Brown and Rafe to follow him.
The large pines growing along the pathway between the bare shade trees cast dark shadows creating an eerie atmosphere. Due to all the rain, the well-worn trail was now a muddy course. An expletive behind Jim caused him to turn around. Rafe, the young detective who looked like he just stepped out of a fashion magazine rather than a police building, had one of his Italian loafers stuck in the mud. "Shit, these are brand new."
Jim chuckled at the situation, momentarily forgetting his purpose. As he turned his attention back to the trail, he saw it. About 50 feet ahead was a tree with a fresh mark cut into the bark. Jim quickly covered the remaining distance, careful not to disturb any evidence. Near the tree he saw the remains of the broken bat. Jim blanched realizing the force necessary to shatter the bat. That force had been aimed at his friend.
Brown came up behind Jim and whistled. "Boy, Hairboy's lucky the bat hit the tree and not his head." There was no response from Jim. Brown placed his hand on the older man's shoulder. "Are you okay there, Jim?"
"Yeah, Henri. I guess so. It just kind of shook me up. Let's get this area roped off"
Jim then moved over to examine some bushes near the edge of the path. The branches were broken and on one he could see a small piece of fabric. Carefully placing the material in an evidence bag, he continued his investigation. Most of the ground near the bushes had been disturbed. However the rain left no discernable prints. Moving further down the trail, Jim found another section of bushes trampled. There, beneath one bush, protected from the rain, was a clear footprint.
"Brown, make sure Forensics get a cast of this print." Jim rose and surveyed the rest of the area. Even in the daylight, the shadowy woods projected a gloomy image. Jim could well imagine the terror Blair went through last night. He stared at the pathway where a sign of a scuffle could be detected. It was just too close. This morning, he could have easily been looking at the body of his partner. Jim shivered and suddenly felt a need to be with his friend.
"Brown, Rafe," he called out. "You two follow up with Forensics. I'm heading back to the hospital."
When Jim entered Blair's room, the first thing he noticed was the flushed appearance of the young man's face. Quickly striding over to Blair's bedside, he placed his hand on Blair's forehead. "He's burning up." Jim shot an accusing glance at Simon. "What happened, Simon?"
Seemingly unmoved by Jim's anger, the captain explained calmly, "It came on suddenly. The nurse is out now paging the doctor."
As if on cue, Doctor Anderson entered the room. He quickly scanned the bedside chart before examining Blair. Jim could see the concerned _expression on the doctor's face when he listened to Blair's chest. Without the aid of a stethoscope, Jim could hear the rapid respiration and high-pitched tubular quality of the breathing.
"It's pneumonia, isn't it?" Jim's question was more of a statement.
"It appears so," the doctor spoke while writing on Blair's chart. "We'll need to get films of the chest and do some other tests in order to determine the cause. After that, we'll be in a better position to see if we need to adjust the antibiotics. In the meantime, we'll start him on oxygen." The doctor paused, apparently noting the concern on the faces of both men. "You know this wasn't completely unexpected given the circumstances. However, your friend is young and strong and he has the two of you pulling for him."
Finished checking his patient, Dr. Anderson left to make arrangements. Shortly thereafter, two orderlies entered and transported Blair to radiology.
"I should never have left him," Jim hissed through his teeth. The anger he'd experienced when he first entered Blair's room was now directed at himself.
"What could you have done if you were here?" Simon reasoned.
"I would've known sooner, felt or heard something sooner. I could have gotten Blair help sooner."
"How much sooner, Jim? You weren't gone that long," Simon countered. "Furthermore, give me some credit. It doesn't take a sentinel to monitor the kid's condition. I notified the nurse as soon as possible. You're not the only one to care about him."
Jim stared at Simon, feeling the wind going out of his sail. "I'm sorry," he apologized, running his hand across his face. "It's just that..."
"I know." Simon firmly placed his hand on his friend's shoulder. "We all care about him." The captain paused. "Now, getting down to business, were you able to find anything out?"
Jim reported on his findings at the university and indicated that it now appeared more than likely that the rapist had attacked Blair. Accepting the captain's praise of "good work," Jim lowered his drained body into the bedside chair. God, he was tired! His limbs ached with a bone-deep weariness and his eyes burned from the lack of sleep. Blinking several times, he felt his eyelids grow heavy as Simon spoke to him. He barely heard the captain speaking to him, telling him that he was off to check with Forensics and update the station on Blair's condition.
The sound of the door opening jarred Jim awake. Rubbing his eyes, he stood and watched as the orderlies settled Blair back into his bed. Dr. Anderson soon followed and went over the tests with Jim, explaining that they started Blair on a new regimen of antibiotics and that hopefully there would be some improvement within the next 24 hours.
Jim stared at his friend and was frighten by what he saw. Even though Blair was receiving oxygen, he could detect the dusky bluish tinge of Blair's lips signifying the difficulty the young man was having breathing. Without touching Blair, he could feel the heat radiating off the ill man and hear the rapid pulse.
He moved over to sit next to his guide. Softly he rested his hand on the young man's cheek, feeling the scratchiness of the day old beard. He thought back to what his friend had said earlier. "I wasn't there for you, Jim. How can you trust me?"
Resting his head on Blair's hand, Jim remembered the earlier phone conversation, the annoyance in his voice. Oh god, Chief. It was me. I wasn't there for you, Chief. How can you trust me?
Jim was so involved with his self-recrimination that he didn't hear the door to the room open. Not until the figure was behind him did he realize who was there. Sitting up, Jim composed himself.
"Did you find out anything new, Simon?"
"Appears that the bat was stamped with the university logo. Also the scrap of material you found could have come from one of the university sports jacket wore by the members on the baseball team."
"So there's a possibility that this perp is a student at the university, involved in sports or a sport wannabe?" Jim reflected on this new information. "Is anyone following up on this?"
"I have Brown and Rafe meeting with the coaches. We'll first be looking at all the students who tried out or who were on the baseball team."
"That should be some list, Simon. And what about other students close to the team, like the team manager and the equipment handlers? While the new information limited the scope of the investigation, it just about places all young, white males on campus as a possible suspect."
"Well, with the partial description we have, we should be able to knock the list down some. But in the long run, we'll have to rely on good old fashion leg work." Simon glanced over to the bed. Cautiously he asked, "What did the doctor say?"
"He's hoping for some sort of improvement within the next 24 hours." Jim rose and walked over to the window, muttering softly, "24 hours." Staring out at the traffic below, he noted how everyone was busy with their own lives, while up here time seemed to have come to a standstill. Angry at the imposed sentence by the doctor, Jim banged his fist on the wall. He didn't want to wait 24 hours.
Staring at his wristwatch, he watched the slow revolving path the second hand made as it recorded each second of the minute. Each second ticked off and the sound was suddenly annoying to the sentinel. But the more he tried to ignore it, the louder the sound became as Jim realized each ticking he heard represented the ticking of each second; 60 seconds each minute, 3,600 seconds each hour, 86,400 seconds in the next 24 hours. Then there was the echo of not only one ticking, but many. He could hear Simon's watch ticking, the clock by the nurse's station, and timepieces as far away as the gift shop. He could no longer stop the noise as it magnified and grew; it invaded his mind, his soul, but worst of all it reverberated excruciating against his eardrums.
Hunching over, Jim grabbed his ears, screaming in pain.
Stunned, Simon grasped Jim's shoulders. "Jim...Jim, what is it?"
Jim jerked free, falling into the corner of the room; his hands still tightly clutching his ears, his eyes squeezed shut.
What the hell just happened? Simon stared at the suffering man curled up in a corner. Moving across the room, he knelt beside Jim, wondering what to do, what would Sandburg do? His friend seemed to be overwhelmed, but by what? Sound?
"Jim, just listen to my voice." What would Sandburg? Something about dials? The captain shook his head. How does the kid do it? "Jim, turn the dial down," Simon instructed calmly and in an even tone. He continued to talk. He told Jim about the investigation, what he thought about Sandburg, and how Darryl was doing in school. He spoke ceaselessly even after his throat became dry, hoping somehow to get through to Jim. How does Sandburg keep this up?
Jim was locked in his own world of pain that he couldn't control. There was nothing but the sound of ticking, loud, too loud. It enveloped him. It wrapped around him like a cocoon. Then suddenly there was this other sound -- a voice -- but it was not the voice of his guide. At first Jim refused to listen to it. As it continued to drone on and on, he recognized the familiar tone. He focused on it letting it draw him out of the tumult encasing him.
"S...Simon?" Jim spoke shakily. He tried to take slow breaths, to calm the internal confusion he felt going on inside of his mind. A concerned voice broke through his bewilderment.
"Thank god. What happened, Jim?"
Taking in his surrounding, Jim sat up, leaning heavily against the wall. "I...I just lost control, Simon. My hearing...all I could hear was ticking. I couldn't regulate it. I couldn't focus until I heard your voice."
"Well it took damn long enough," Simon growled as he straightened up and stretched his legs. Seeing the distressed look on his friend's face, he forced a smile. "I'm a poor substitute for Sandburg in the guide category. I don't understand how Sandburg does this and I don't think I want to find out." Simon crossed to the young man's bedside as if to make a point. "And if you can hear me, kid, you better get better because this is one job I don't want." Simon walked back over to his friend who looked like he was still trying to digest what took place. Offering his detective a hand, Simon pulled Jim up to a standing position.
"I think I could use some coffee. You want some?" His friend only nodded. "I'll be back soon," Simon said, reassuring Jim that he wasn't leaving.
Jim walked back over to Blair and sat down. "You hear that Blair. Simon doesn't want your job. So you just have to get well." The sentinel sat there maintaining his watch over his guide.
Blair had drifted between twilight and sleep. He had heard Jim's shouts but couldn't rouse himself. Please be okay, Jim. The effort to listen was too much for the young man, and he soon fell into a restless slumber.
In an abandoned warehouse, David Lash poured the content of a small bottle into Blair's mouth. The man held Blair's mouth closed while rubbing his throat. Unable to resist, Blair swallowed the bitter liquid. He knew that the drug was a form of chloral hydrate. The amount of drug given, if Lash was following his previous MO, would only render Blair immobile but not unconscious. He watched with fear as Lash stood in front of a mirror making a last minute adjustment to a brown curly wig on his head. With Blair's clothes on, the man projected an eerie twin image.
Blair felt himself hoisted up onto Lash's shoulder. All too soon they were across the street next to the duck pond. Blair knew the fate he was to meet there. His heart pounded, in his mind he screamed, "Jim, Jim where are you?" The drug rendered him voiceless. He watched in terror as Lash gently laid him in the duck pond, slowly pushing his head under.
The murky water filled his nose and mouth. Unable to stop himself, he breathed in and felt the water fill his lungs. Then strong arms pulled him up out of the water. "Jim?" No, it wasn't Jim, but Lash. Lash's brown eyes mocked him, and he cackled, "Who don't you trust?" But then it wasn't Lash. Blair found himself staring into his own blue eyes as the figure pushed him back under the water. Frightened, he feebly kicked out until the lack of oxygen left him weak.
As Blair ceased to struggle, the water cleared. It was no longer the murky water of the duck pond but the water of the fountain. Straddled across his body was Alex...Alex, the sentinel who he'd tried to help, the sentinel who had killed him. Again he felt the water filling his lungs. Then like before, Alex pulled him out of the water and asked, "Who don't you trust?" She flung him back into the water and the wavering image above him changed. Blair gasped and inhaled a lungful of water as he saw himself holding his body under the water. He struggled, trying to loosen the grip on his shoulders, but he only felt the hands of his duplicate tighten. He couldn't rise. He couldn't breathe.
When he felt as if he was about to lose consciousness, the vision of a fountain gave way to a forest. Pelted by icy raindrops, Blair found himself running blindly through the trees. The heavy precipitation turned the trail into a muddy track, making the path difficult to traverse. Hearing a noise, Blair paused. A quick twist of his head to locate the sound caused droplets of water to fly from his drenched curls. Unknown fear seized his heart. Suddenly a violent blow sent him tumbling to the ground.
Before Blair could rise, someone kneeled on his back, pressing his face into a muddy puddle. He struggled to get a breath, his mouth filling with mud and debris. He managed to turn his head enough to see the masked figure kneeling on his back. The figure released him and with one hand removed the mask. Blair moaned as he found himself staring into his own countenance. The image of himself bent forward and whispered menacingly into his ear, "Who don't you trust?" Again the figure pushed his head back into the puddle. Blair, refusing to swallow more of the muddy water, struggled against his assailant. Unable to dislodge the attacker, he arched his back and screamed.
After Simon had left, Jim found himself dozing off and on. He had just dropped off to sleep again when he was disturbed by Blair's uneasiness. He rose from the chair and stood near his friend. Recognizing his friend was in the midst of a dream, Jim tried to soothe him.
"It's alright, Chief. Nothing's going to hurt you." Jim became concern as he noted the difficulty Blair was having breathing. Pressing the button for the nurse, he continued trying to rouse his friend.
"Nooo!" Blair screamed.
"Chief, wake up. Everything's okay." His friend became agitated, refusing to be still. Jim cautiously restrained him, attempting to bring Blair out of whatever dream had a hold on him. "Come on, Blair, wake up. You're safe." Jim comforted his friend and felt a momentary relief when pale blue eyes fluttered open to meet his.
Blair lay gasping, eyes now wide open in panic. "J...Jim, can't breathe."
"Just take shallow breaths," Jim spoke calmly to Blair. Glancing up, he saw the nurse enter the room. The woman quickly assessing the situation left and within a minute the room became a flurry of activity. As personnel entered, Jim found himself ushered out the door and into the hallway.
Undaunted by his removal, he reached for one nurse as she left the room and asked, "Can you tell me what's wrong?"
"Doctor Anderson will be here shortly and he'll speak to you," she said reassuringly.
Jim watched and saw Doctor Anderson striding down the hallway. The older gentleman paused in front of Jim. "Let me check on Mr. Sandburg first, and then we'll talk." The doctor's calm tone alleviated some of Jim's fears. He nodded to the doctor as the man entered Blair's room. Leaning his head against the wall, Jim was tempted to listen but restrained himself. All he needed was Dr. Anderson to come out and find him catatonic.
His wait was short, and he straightened up as the doctor pushed opened the door and ambled over to him.
"Mr. Sandburg's difficulty in breathing is due to an accumulation of fluid in the pleural space. His left lung has partially collapsed. We will be inserting an intercostal catheter; it's a tube that will be inserted between the ribs into the chest cavity. Then we'll be able to drain off the fluid and that should hasten the re-expansion of the lung."
Taking a few minutes, the doctor patiently explained the procedure and answered Jim's questions. He concluded the update and then suggested, "Why don't you go to the waiting room at the end of the hallway. The procedure itself shouldn't take too long. I'll send a nurse down to get you when I'm through."
Jim thanked the doctor and made his way to the end of the hallway. The room was tastefully decorated in beige and green and at least the chairs were cushioned, unlike the hard plastic ones downstairs in the ER. Jim slumped down into the chair closest to the door.
Rubbing his hands across his face, he glanced up at the clock on the wall. Four o'clock. Not even twenty-four hours since his life did an about face. He knew that he should call Simon, but he was bone tired. The man stretched his arms, attempting to lighten the tension he felt across his shoulders. He leaned back into the chair, closing his eyes. The sleepless night, the stress and worry took their toll. Before long, Jim dozed uneasily.
Jim scanned the warehouses in front of him looking -- looking for something, but what? The radio piece in his ear crackled, "Jim, you better get over to the pond." Fear formed in the pit of his stomach as he approached the pond. He watched as a medic pulled a sheet over a body -- Sandburg's body.
"Noooo!" Jim cried. He was too late to save his friend. The anger in his soul turned to rage. He focused his attention back to the warehouses and quickly located his prey within. His long legs rashly carried him inside and up the stairs to face the imposter wearing Blair's clothes -- David Lash.
Lash adjusted the brown curly wig and smiled at the man who'd just entered the room. "Hi, Jim." The murderer's attempt at imitating Blair's voice enraged the detective. Jim leapt across the room, colliding with the pretender. The two of them fell through a glass divider. The weakened floorboards gave way and both men crashed through several floors to the basement. Jim stumbled to his feet as Lash grabbed a piece of wood and charged forward. Pulling his gun, Jim fired five rounds, all of which hit their mark. The detective walked over to the body and stared into the lifeless brown eyes. Suddenly the eyes blinked and became cobalt blue. Lash's last imitation was of Jim and with a jeer he asked, "Who don't you trust?"
Jim staggered back with shock and turned around. He found himself standing by the fountain in front of Hargrove Hall. Simon grabbed his arm, his eyes filled with concern and tears. "He's gone, Jim...let him go." Simon spoke in a voice barely in control. Jim pulled his arm out of Simon's grasp and crossed over to the medics. Paralyzed, he watched the scene unfold as the two medics placed his partner inside a body bag. The sound of the closing zipper shredded his soul.
Clasping his hands over his ears, he turned and began to run. He ran without knowing where he was going. He darted across the manicured grounds of the university and into the woods. The growth around him thickened and soon took on the wild shape of the jungle. The limbs and vines whipped across his face and grabbed at his feet. Stumbling, he continued to run until his chest burned and his heart ached and he could run no further.
Toppling to the ground, the confused man raised his eyes. Before him loomed the temple, and on the top step stood Alex Barnes. With hands on hips, she advanced down the stairs until she was in front of the fallen man. "Who don't you trust, Sentinel?" she growled in a throaty voice. Anger flashed in Jim's eyes and he pounced from the ground, wrapping his two hands around the young woman's throat. As his rage surged, he squeezed tighter, staring into his victim's eyes. He gasped and released his grip as he recognized the face before him as a mirror image of his own.
Before he could fully comprehend the scene, Jim felt himself dashing down a muddy path, gun in hand. It was dark and the driving rain diminished his vision. Panting hard, he knew he had to hurry. Sliding around a bend, Jim spied two figures, one familiar and the other one masked. Before he could raise his gun, he watched, as if in slow motion, the masked figure forcefully swinging a bat and connecting with the victim's head...his friend's head!
Blair's head snapped back and the young man's body fell lifelessly to the ground. Jim, screaming at the same time he fired off a round, brought down the attacker. Straddling across the man, with trembling hands he removed the hood. Staring into his own face, the murderous twin gasped and with his last breath asked, "Who don't you trust?"
Jim sat up abruptly when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Trembling from the dream, he awoke to find a young nurse bending over him and gently shaking him.
"Mr. Ellison, I'm sorry to wake you," she spoke slowly making sure he was awake enough to follow the conversation. "Just wanted to let you know that the procedure is over. Dr. Anderson is still in Mr. Sandburg's room if you would like to speak to him."
Still shaken by the images of his sleep, Jim unsteadily followed the nurse down the hallway. Several times he caught her looking at him. Did he called out or say anything while he was dreaming? He'd hoped not. The nurse smiled sympathetically at him as she held the door open. Walking over to the doctor, he stood to the side while the nurse confirmed an order and then left the room.
He noticed the doctor studiously eyeing him, and he grimaced as he looked down at his disheveled appearance. It had been a long day -- too long. He hoped that Dr. Anderson had some good news.
"The procedure went well. We collected a liter of fluid. For now, we'll leave the chest tube in. Mr. Sandburg is breathing more comfortably. Once the sedative wears off, you'll probably notice the difference. I'll be back later this evening to check on him."
Jim thanked the doctor and pulled a chair up to Blair's bedside. The doctor paused in the doorway before leaving. "And Mr. Ellison, make sure you get some rest, too. I don't need another patient."
Jim gave the doctor a smile indicating he'd heard him, however, there was no way this sentinel would be leaving his guide's side anytime soon. Placing his hand on top of Blair's, he was pleased to hear the young man breathing more comfortably.
The door opened and Jim smiled. "Hello, Simon," he said without turning around.
Simon just shook his head. "You'd think I would be use to it by now. I just talked to the nurse. She explained what happened. So how's Sandburg doing?"
"His breathing's better."
"And how're you doing, Jim?"
"Better," Jim answered, his eyes still on his roommate.
Simon pulled up a chair next to Jim and handed him a cup of coffee. "Thought you might like some caffeine by now."
Jim popped the lid off the cup and took a moment to inhale the aroma. "Thanks, Simon." Taking a sip he turned to look at his captain.
Simon added, "Thought you'd also like to know that we caught the perp. Well, actually Rafe did."
Jim directed a questioning look at Simon.
"Rafe recalled in his younger days as a high school student that he'd pulled some wild stunts." Simon's remark brought a smile to Jim's lips. He tried to envision a wilder side to Rafe. It was just hard getting past those designers' suits.
Simon continued his story. "Seemed he and a bunch of high school students went out one evening to do a little mail box bashing. Apparently when it was Rafe's turn at bat, he missed the box and hit the post -- a metal post that the owner just happened to have filled with cement. Broke not only the bat but also two of Rafe's fingers. Rafe decided to check out the university's infirmary as well as the local hospitals to see if any students were recently treated for a hand injury. Turned out one was. When we went to pick the kid up for questioning, he broke down and confessed. The guy was on the baseball team last year. Got kicked off over one too many violations. Blamed his girlfriend. She was his first victim."
Jim nodded absorbing the information. He was glad the perp had been caught, but he wouldn't feel relief until his partner was out of danger.
Simon watched the silent man. "Since the kid should be asleep for awhile, do you want to go and get a bite to eat?" There was no response. "Or I could bring back something for you."
Jim smiled at his captain. "Thanks, Simon, I'd appreciate that."
Simon paused outside of Blair's hospital room. It had been three days since the attack and Blair was well on his way to recovery...so what was wrong? Ellison and Sandburg, the two of them were acting different...funny. He couldn't put a word to it, but it was like they were avoiding each other even though they were in the same room. It was the awkward pauses and the sideway glances. Well, he had enough of it and one way or another they were going to come to terms.
Gathering strength, the captain pushed opened the door, unprepared for the sight before him.
Jim sat wearily in the chair next to the hospital bed. Blair was peacefully sleeping thanks to modern day painkillers. He, himself, was barely alert, having been running on adrenalin since the start of the incident, adrenalin that had long since left him. The older man straightened up in the chair trying to avoid the pull of sleep.
Who don't you trust?
"Damn." Jim looked around the room and then rubbed a hand across his face. He laughed to himself. Now I'm hearing voices. "I tell you who I don't trust...myself." He dropped his hand from his eyes and it fell on the bed next to Blair's hand. Scooping up the young man's hand, he bent forward bringing the hand to his lips. "Myself...I...It's me who I don't trust," Jim whispered into his friend's palm. "Forgive me, Blair." He laid his tired head down and let sleep claim him while still asking for forgiveness.
"Who don't you trust?"
Jim stood alert, gazing at the familiar leafy jungle surrounding him.
"Who don't you trust?"
Turning toward the voice, he was a little surprise to see Incacha standing there.
"Enqueri." The Shaman approached and placed his hand on Jim's shoulder. "Who don't you trust?"
"Myself," Jim said with more conviction.
"And why?" the man challenged.
"Because..." Jim paused, unsure of his response. "Because I allowed my friend to get hurt. I should have known...I should have sensed something...I should have been there for him."
"Sentinel, do you think you can see all, hear all things?" Incacha locked his piercing brown eyes onto the man standing in front of him. "Do you think you can sense all things?"
"Sentinel, are you the one who hurt your friend?"
"And, are you not here with your friend now?"
"Do not think so much about it, Enqueri." The Shaman smiled at his former student. "Trust does not come from here." The man lightly touched Jim's forehead and then moved his hand down to the center of Jim's chest. "But from here. Trust with your heart and there will be no doubt."
Jim grasped the hand at his chest and pulled it up to his lips before releasing it.
The old man smiled with fatherly love and touched Jim's face as if bestowing a benediction. "Open your heart, Enqueri, and you will find enough trust there not only for you, but for others." With those words spoken, the shaman vanished.
Jim felt at peace within himself and stood gazing at the spot where his teacher had stood. It was a few minutes later when Jim realized that he was still in the jungle. Puzzled, he looked around wondering why he was still there. Why wasn't he awake?
Blair trudged down the path, pushing a leafy palm branch out of his face. Exhausted, he walked over to a fallen log and sat down. It seemed as if he had been walking through this jungle for hours. Not sure what he was doing there or for that matter how he got there, he looked around his surroundings. He wondered if he was on an expedition, he was certainly dressed for one...but where was Jim?
"Who don't you trust?"
Startled, Blair jumped up at the voice. There was no one there.
"Who don't you trust, Shaman?"
Blair found himself staring into the eyes of a dead man, a man who he, himself, had watched die on the living room sofa.
"Incacha?" Blair managed to find his voice. "Where am I?" As much as Blair wanted an answer, he didn't want to hear heaven, hell or wherever spirits go in the afterlife.
The old man smiled gently. "Do not be afraid, little one. You are not dead. But you did not answer my question. Who don't you trust?"
Blair paused to take it all in. Wow, this must be a vision. I wonder if this is what it's like when Jim dreams of the jungle? I really don't recall much of my last vision, just a wolf leaping and...
"Who don't you trust?" the shaman said a little more firmly.
The words took Blair back to all the times he didn't listen to Jim, to all the times he didn't know what he was doing in order to help Jim. He knew who he didn't trust...it was himself.
"M...me," Blair stammered avoiding the eyes of the shaman.
Why...he wants to know why. Maybe I should have brought a blue book along so I could write down all the reasons. Sighing, Blair proceeded to list the many causes of his doubt. "I'm never there for Jim, I mean, I tell him that I'll be there and then something comes up and then I never listen to him. You don't know how many times Jim will say stay in the truck and do I listen...well, hardly ever. And then I really don't know what I'm doing. Jim doesn't come with an instruction book, so it's just guessing."
"Young shaman, are you not the only one who can help your sentinel when no one else knows what to do?"
"Are you not there for him when needed?"
"I like to think so."
"Do not worry so much. You have good instincts, little one. You need to think less and talk less." The old man smiled at him and placed a hand on his chest. "But you need to feel more. Have more faith. Open your heart, young shaman, and trust with it. You will then trust yourself and others more."
And like a wisp of smoke, Incacha vanished, leaving Blair to ponder his words and how he was going to get out of the jungle.
Not one for sitting, Jim decided to explore the jungle. At least he was dressed for it. He wondered why his mind always chose to dress him in his combat fatigues, much like he was dressed when rescued in Peru. In fact, many times he thought the jungle in his dreams resembled the jungle near the Chopec village. However, the paths never seemed to lead anywhere. Well, they never seemed to lead anywhere until now.
Jim paused. There, in front of him, was a village. Not a Chopec village, but one that was similar.
"Welcome, Sentinel." A small brown-skinned man smiled a toothy grin at him. "Welcome and rest."
A bony hand led the stunned man across the village to a small hut. Jim gazed in amazement at the young children playing and laughing. The women were busy with meal preparation. With the exception of the old man in front of him, there were no other men in the village. Perhaps they were out hunting.
"Relax, Sentinel. It is your time to relax."
Jim hesitated from entering the hut. Something wasn't right. "No, I can't stay. I must go."
"But why? We will wait on you, serve your needs," the old man replied.
A small girl with doe-shaped eyes ran over and grabbed Jim's hand. "Please stay," she implored.
Jim was tempted. He could stay in this village. There would be no worry, no cares, no guilt. There would also be no Blair and his heart ached at that thought.
"No!" Jim replied forcefully and then with a second thought, replied more gently. "No, honey, I'm afraid I can't stay. There's something else I must do. There's someone else who needs me...and who I need."
Jim walked away from the old man and child. Gazing out into the jungle, he set his senses free. Releasing them as they floated among the leaves, lifted by a gentle wind, and carried throughout the jungle. There...there was the sound he knew. Without looking back, he left the village and headed straight for that sound.
"Can't believe I'm still in this jungle. I don't recall Jim ever saying he had a problem getting out. Incacha, what am I doing wrong? This is ridiculous. He said I wasn't dead, but maybe I'm not asleep. I could be in a coma or worse, brain dead. Blair's heart sped up at the thought of that possibility...the thought of never seeing his friend again. "Well, I'm not going to stay here," Blair shouted to no one in particular.
"Incacha said I should trust in myself...so I'll just trust in myself," Blair muttered, surveying his surroundings. "Somehow, I'll find a way out."
He continued his trek down the path. The leafy jungle gave way to a sheer cliff. Blair turned to look; he could either go back the way he came or continue on. Somehow, going back didn't seem right, so the only option was to go on. Perhaps this was a test? He should have faith that he could make it to the other side. It only looked to be a five-foot jump to the other side. He could do it and even if he didn't, so what? Wasn't this only a dream?
Blair moved away from the edge in order to give himself a running start. Staring at his goal, he took several deep breaths. Now or never, he thought. Off he ran, two strides, three strides, four strides and then he leaped.
No sooner had he jumped than he felt a sharp pain in his arm as he was jerked back from the edge and thrown to the ground.
"Are you crazy?" a voice shouted at him. "What do you think you were doing? You could have killed yourself?"
Blair shook his head and stared up at the man yelling at him.
"Jim?" Puzzled at first and then more elated at seeing his friend, he shouted again, "Jim!"
"Blair, I don't know what you were thinking, but jumping off..." The rest of the sentence was muffled as the young man threw his arm around his friend.
"Jim, what are you doing here? I mean, I thought this was my dream?"
"Not sure, guess I'm dreaming, too. Who knows, maybe since the panther-wolf thing, we can share dreams."
"Cool." Blair grinned as he watch the discomfort in Jim's eyes. He knew his sentinel wasn't too comfortable with that thought.
"Of course, it doesn't explain, Blair, why you were attempting to jump off this cliff."
"Hey, I was just trying to get out of here. I already met Incacha, had a little talk, and nothing happened. I thought maybe this was a test."
"Yeah, well, I had a talk with Incacha also, and for some reason I'm still here."
"Well, maybe we both have some unfinished business," Blair interjected. "Maybe it's with each other."
"Probably." Jim grimaced at the idea. "It probably has something to do with lack of trust."
Blair turned his back on Jim so he couldn't see the pain in his eyes. "You're right, Jim. It does have something to do with lack of trust. It's me. I'm always letting you down. I'm sorry you can't trust me."
"You!" Jim shouted and then softened his voice. "Blair, you're so wrong. It's not you; it's me. I let you down. How can you trust me?"
Blair stared at his partner in amazement and then began to laugh. "Oh, Jim, I always trusted you. I thought it was me you didn't trust, and you thought it was you. Are we a pair or what?"
"Yeah, we're a pair." Jim pulled his friend into his arm, giving him a gentle hug and then a firmer one.
A loud noise startled the two men. Blair glanced toward the sound and for a moment, an image of a smiling Incacha appeared before the vision disappeared to be replaced by a dark form shaking his shoulder.
"Blair, Sandburg...wake-up." Simon was not a happy camper. It had been over thirty minutes and he'd not been able to rouse either one of his men. Blair, he could understand. Probably drugged to the gills, but Jim...maybe he zoned on something. If neither one woke up soon, he'd have to call the nurse.
"Simon?" Blair rubbed his eyes. "What's the matter?"
"The matter? I can't seem to rouse Jim here, that's the matter?" the captain shouted.
"Can't rouse who?"
Simon turned to stared into the blue eyes of his detective. "I suppose this is something I don't want to know about."
"Probably." Jim smiled.
"Most definitely," added Blair.
"And I suppose that whatever has been bothering the two of you is now fixed?"
The two men nodded.
"Well, I can see I'm not needed around here. Got too much work to do anyway. Jim, I expect to see you back to work tomorrow and, Blair..." The older man paused until he caught the observer's eyes. "I expect to see you back soon, too."
The captain left the room satisfied, the door closing behind him. He lightly toyed with the cigar in his shirt pocket. He could look forward to a nice smoke and a hot cup of coffee when he returned to his office. For the moment, all was right with the world.