This is the second part of my five part AU where Jim and Blair meet under different circumstances. It's recommended that you read the first part before reading this one, however, it isn't absolutely necessary. Sorry to say it, but the third part might be a while in coming. I hoped to have it in the hands of my betas by now. But I'm still working on my first draft. I have one scene left to write and then, knowing me, a couple of rewrites. *g*

Special thanks to my betas: Paula, Nickerbits and Cindy. They always keep me on track... well, as on track as I ever am. I also want to thank those readers that wrote to let me know how much they enjoyed the first part and was looking forward to this one. I hope it doesn't let you down.

Feedback is always appreciated. Rivanna Michaels


FOOTPATHS THROUGH PERU

#2: The Likelihood Of Fate


Rivanna Michaels






"But now our fate from unmomentous things, may rise like rivers out of little springs."
...Campbell

Captain James Ellison heard the gunfire from his location many yards away. Springing from his crouched position, he picked his way quickly through the thick forest undergrowth. The sudden sound had been abrasive on Ellison's ears and he cringed at the ringing that ensued. Pushing the annoying noise aside, he concentrated on his destination-- eyes alert and searching, ears attuned and listening, instincts honed and ready. He was in his element. Although the last month had been particularly lonely for the captain, he knew he was good at his job-- at survival, at protecting his tribe. Attacks from nearby tribes had diminished to the point of being almost non-existent over the past couple of months, leaving the Ranger with more and more time on his hands.

Which is why the sudden shots had been such a surprise. Not only because of the wide berth other tribes had been giving the Chopec, but because there weren't many tribes that used automatic weapons while hunting or raiding. That meant one of a couple of things: Someone besides a tribal member had entered Chopec land, or his relief had finally returned for him and had met some type of resistance.

As he maneuvered closer, he noticed a lone man standing in the dense, unrelenting undergrowth. Something, he wasn't sure what, looked vaguely familiar about the attire he wore. Unconscious of what he was doing, he focused on his target and narrowed in his vision. The familiar object came into view with a rush. A U.S. Army Ranger's patch. His relief. He sighed happily at the realization that he was finally going to go home. Home, the word resounded in his head. It had been eighteen months since he'd left the U.S., and although he had developed a certain kinship with the Chopec tribe, he was ready to return to his civilization. He needed the rest. Relaxing his guard slightly, he lowered his crossbow and approached the team of Rangers he could now see clearly.

As he moved a couple of steps closer, one of the Rangers turned to face him, a slow smile creeping upward as their eyes met. Across the distance, Ellison nodded his head in greeting before a tangy, coppery scent swept his nasal passages. He stiffened at the offending odor, his eyes glancing over and resting on bare skin striped with black and red paint -- the bare skin of three Chopec bodies sprawled together on the rise opposite the Rangers. Cursing the desire to go home which had made him lower his defenses, he deftly raised his native weapon to confront the men that had ruthlessly mowed down those under his protection. However, his actions were too little, too late. The other Ranger had already turned at the hip, his automatic weapon brandished before him and aimed straight at Ellison's heart.


Blair Sandburg rolled over, squinting with disapproval at the sun shining cheerfully through the small, ragged tear along the side of his tent. He grumbled at his luck and scratched a newly formed mosquito bite that had popped up overnight on the side of his neck. Not many people could manage to rip their only protection against the ravenous blood suckers of South America. However, when left in the hands of Blair Sandburg, armed with a simple coffee pot, anything was possible, especially if a misplaced campfire log joined in the fray.

Pushing himself up, he listened to the stillness of the surrounding camp. The others had gone on to the dig site without him. Not that he was complaining. He had worked late into the early morning hours documenting the group's findings of the day. Nothing really significant had been unearthed, but documentation was always required and, unfortunately, it was also the least desired when it came to field work.

Reaching over, he grabbed the small clock, half hidden under the covers next to his sleeping mat. 10:55am. He flopped back to the ground and fought against the persistent pull of sleep. He really needed to get up. Shifting slightly to his right, the insanely happy beam of light fell attacked again as it fell across his closed eyelids. His pillow emerged from beneath his head to shield him from the merciless abuse. A small gentle exhalation escaped his lips as his body once again sought its need for sleep.

A pleasant void descended within him and he knew he would be dead to the world in a few more minutes. However, a sudden jerk tossed him out of the peaceful limbo and back into the heat of the small one man tent. Blinking owlishly, he realized it had been his own spasmic movement that had jarred him and he tried to determine what had caused the reaction. A second later, he had his answer as a gunshot ripped through the peaceful morning air. Unsure of his destination, or even why he was getting involved, the undergrad student bounded out of the tent and broke into a dead run toward the resounding echo of the shot.


The sound of enraged voices yelling in the distance stilled the anthropologist in his tracks. Breathing hard, he leaned over to catch his breath. A flick of black grabbed his attention and he studied the surrounding greenery in search of the movement. It didn't take long for his curious gaze to locate what looked like the long, black tail of a jaguar as it was swallowed up by the looming trees.

Cocking his head, he considered whether or not he was seeing things before he once again felt compelled to dash into whatever trouble laid ahead.

As he cleared the brush, his eyes settled on the unmoving figure hunkered down behind the large base of a Brazil Nut tree. It was obvious from the man's position that he was hiding from the cacophony of voices in the distance. Blair inched a step closer, trying to get a better look at the 'fugitive'. An inner voice, almost crippled with fear, chastised him for daring to intervene in whatever was going on, but there was something about the stranger...

A small twig loudly snapped beneath the weight of one clumsy foot and the anthropologist froze in his steps, his frightened expression swinging back to the man before him while his inner voice did a great job of saying 'I told you so'. However, the stranger didn't move, didn't even acknowledge his approach. Swallowing hard, Blair took another step forward and then another until he could finally make out the frozen ice-blue eyes that were locked onto something only they could see. They were eyes he never thought he'd see again, the eyes of the man who had once saved his life -- Ellison.


The soft lilt of a soothing voice emerged on the horizon of Ellison's consciousness. The heavy fog he had been drifting in slowly started to rise, allowing the rich tones to work their way through. As reality began to reform, awareness snapped into place and slapped him into action. Jerking to attention, he quickly grasped the arm of the hand that was resting on his shoulder and flipped his unsuspecting assailant onto the hard ground. Within seconds, a booted foot planted itself firmly in the middle of Blair's chest, forcing the final remnants of breath from the young man's lungs.

Disoriented and confused, Ellison gazed down at the intruder and tried to replay the last few minutes in his head, but all he could remember was a Ranger, a gun, and sharp endless pain. Hissing as the memory re-awoke the forgotten gunshot wound, the Ranger grasped his right arm tightly to his side to stop the flow of blood trailing from the gash cut deeply across his bicep. His eyes captured the shiny liquid as it smoothly dodged arm hairs, finally winding its way to the tips of his fingers where it pooled and then dripped inconsistently from first one finger and then the other.

Movement under his boot broke through the hypnotic rhythm of the dripping blood and he inserted more pressure on his foot. A sharp gasp came from his captive as the squirming suddenly ceased. Studying the pliant form on the ground for the first time, Ellison was shocked to discover his assailant wasn't a highly trained soldier, but a young man -- a young man who looked familiar for some reason. "Who are you?"

Not able to draw a deep enough breath to respond, the younger man's eyes pleaded with the hard gaze that was staring down at him. He had never seen such an icy shield before and, truth be told, the daggered eyes were as responsible for his breathlessness as the rock hard press of the leg that held him ruthlessly pinned to the ground.

The quiet of the jungle hung heavy in the air, its presence eerie as if it was waiting on the answer to the Ranger's question. However, the only possible response was the shallow gasps that seeped from the prone man's panting lips. With a sigh of annoyance, the Ranger released the majority of the weight from his foot, but the boot itself remained. "Talk."

The pressure gone, Blair swallowed nervously and slowly ran an unsteady hand through the top of his wayward curls. His fingers caught on a single strand that had found its way into the corner of his mouth and he pushed it loose with a quick flick of his tongue. He was having a hard time accepting that Ellison didn't remember him. After all, it had only been four months since he had awakened in the middle of nowhere to find himself staring into the same blue eyes that were glaring at him now. Only then, the eyes had held a hint of concern, not the cool rancor that currently radiated from within the older man. After their last encounter, Blair had returned to Cascade, his mind determined to find out something about his rescuer. Studying text after text on military insignias and ranking systems, he had identified the patches on Ellison's clothing as belonging to a U.S. Army Ranger Captain -- the elite of the Army's elite. An involuntary shudder passed through him at the thought of how many ways the man standing above him could probably end his life. "You don't remember?"

The mixture of fear and disappointment in the young man's question caused Ellison to truly study the features of the face anxiously gazing up at him-- the long curly, brown hair, the full lips, and most noticeably the wide, blue eyes. A vague memory tugged at the corner of his mind. The discovery of a spot of yellow color, standing out amidst a sea of forest green. In his mind he moved closer and closer until he could make out the body in the surrounding foliage. Reaching down, he flipped the still form over, his eyes resting on the pale countenance of the youthful face. The surrounding trees suddenly moved into different positions and his mind snapped back to the present as the ground adjusted its tilt and the yellow spot of color faded to a dingy white. The only thing that remained the same was the face of the anthropologist he had first stumbled upon several months before.

Finally removing his foot, the captain leaned down and extended his hand to help Blair up. "Sorry, kid," he grunted as he pulled the younger man to a standing position. His mind was still having a hard time wrapping itself around the current circumstances. "What are you doing here? I thought I returned you to your litter last time. Or do you just make a habit out of wandering off into the middle of nowhere?"

The sudden change in the officer's demeanor threw him for several minutes, and Blair brushed at the boot-print on the front of his t-shirt as his brain processed and filtered the emotions that were racing through him. Gathering his thoughts into a coherent reply, he gave up on saving the dignity of the shirt, took a final swipe at the back of his pants, and raised confused eyes to the camouflaged figure in front of him. Any response died quickly on his lips as his eyes caught the red stream flowing from between tanned fingers that were tightly grasped across an exposed bicep. "You're bleeding!" Pulling a tye-died bandana from his back pocket, he started forward then stopped abruptly, wondering if his help would be accepted. He cast a nervous glance at the silent man, waiting for some sign of permission that he should proceed. A small, short nod was his answer. Moving into the personal space of the Ranger, he gently pulled the injured limb forward so he could bind it.

Ellison studied the makeshift wrapping with interest as it was wound neat and tight across the deep furrow. It was obvious the kid had had some type of first aid training. Grimacing as the final knot pulled snug against the wound, he flexed his arm to test the bindings. Not bad at all. He lifted his eyes to thank the anthropologist, but he didn't get the chance. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end as the breeze from a bullet whizzed past his left ear, continued over the student's shoulder and embedded itself in the tree directly behind them. "Go!" he yelled.

When Blair showed no signs of moving, Ellison roughly grabbed the stained hand the anthropologist had used to staunch the flow of blood while attending his arm and almost jerked the smaller man off his feet. Pulling the younger man behind him, he jumped a downed tree stump and darted out of the clearing.


Pulling to a halt, Blair drew a steadying breath as he watched the Ranger try to determine how much of a head start they had on their pursuers. Fascinated by the light blue eyes that scanned their surroundings, gauging their progress, he studied the concentration that blanketed the older man's features. Then, suddenly, the roaming eyes stilled and the captain clutched at his arm, his face losing all signs of alertness as it contorted into a grimace.

Shaken from his awe, Blair bounded over and positioned himself in front of Ellison so the officer was forced to look at him. "What?" he asked anxiously, peering up into the tightly closed eyes. "Is the binding too tight?" Before the words were even out of his mouth, his eyes had widened in horror at the idea that he could have cut off the circulation. "Oh, man, I'm so sorry!" He reached for the arm to loosen the bandana when the shoulder under his touch jerked away from him.

"No, it's fine." Ellison gritted his teeth, the action belying his words. "Just give me a few minutes."

Those few minutes felt more like a lifetime to Blair as Ellison continued to gnash his teeth against the pain. Never one for sitting around patiently when he could be doing something, the student decided he would have to exert himself a little more to get through to his bull-headed friend. "That's it, man!" His annoyance flared. No one should have to suffer just because they were too macho to ask for help. "What can I do?"

"Nothing," Ellison growled as another wave of pain barreled over his shoulder and down his back. Fighting the groan that he could feel rising from the depths of his soul, he bit down on the inside of his mouth, drawing blood. He had always prided himself on his ability to acknowledge, and then conceal, any discomfort. No small graze was going to be his undoing, especially not in front of some kid he didn't even know.

Undeterred by the vehemence in the response, Blair lightly rested his fingers on Ellison's sweat-slickened forearm. "Let me help."

The quiet, sincere words pushed against the formidable barriers of the Ranger's training. Ellison felt himself starting to cave in under the intense pain and he sighed in resignation at the pleading eyes. "It was fine and then, all of a sudden, it flared up. I can't get a hold of it. I've never had anything hurt like this before and, believe me, I've had way more serious injuries than a bullet graze."

"Okay." Blair wiped his left hand nervously on the front of his t-shirt as he cast his eyes to the ground. The guy had just opened up and let him in, now he had to convince Ellison it hadn't been a mistake. Pulling his lower lip between his teeth, he racked his mind for a way to help. Coming up empty, he dropped his hands to his sides and released a tense breath. Only one thought came to mind and he wasn't sure he'd be able to get the hardened army Ranger to even try it. He was sure Ellison had more than likely used mind over matter techniques at some point in his army training. Uncle Sam prided itself on maintaining control, but getting the soldier to do it in the way Blair had in mind might be a little on the impossible side. "Okay. I have an idea. I want you to picture a knob, like the volume control on a stereo."

Grunting in disgust, Ellison turned his back on the new age garbage that was being spouted at him. How dare the kid try and spring psycho-babble on him. He should have known to keep his feelings inside, locked away from the outside world. Now that the pain had been verbally acknowledged, the torturing flare had blossomed into an engulfing inferno as it seared across his nerve endings.

"Come on, man. Just give it a try." Blair slid around where he could confront the stubbornness he knew he was going to have to contend with. He was used to it actually -- people not understanding the powers of relaxation and meditation. He had been facing that type of rejection for as long as he could remember. But, for some reason, it was important to him that Ellison at least try and not just blow his ideas off like so many others had.

Staring at the beseeching, determined look on the smaller man's face, Ellison again felt his defenses start to crumple in its wake. "This is silly, Sand--" he stopped, trying to remember the student's last name.

"Burg," Blair happily supplied, a fleeting glimpse of hope fluttering in his chest.

"Sandburg," Ellison hissed, his gaze still locked on the blue depths of the hopeful eyes in front of him.

"Silly or not, I'm asking you to trust me. Let me help you like you helped me four months ago. Can you do that?" Their eyes lost contact as Ellison beared down against another wave of agony. Blair once again placed a light hand on the Ranger's shoulder as he swallowed nervously. He wasn't sure if he really wanted to hear the answer.

Silence seemed to stretch on forever until, finally, pain-filled eyes re-opened and locked on confident blue ones. "What do you want me to do?"

His heart pounding in triumph, Blair couldn't stop the wide smile from crossing his face and the slight bounce on his toes. "Close your eyes." Although he could tell the captain wasn't happy about it, he cheered silently as the reluctant lids finally shut. "Now picture that dial. Do you have it?"

"Yes," Ellison snarled.

"Now, concentrate and turn it down. Right now the setting is on ten. Can you see the numbers?" He waited for a nod and, when he got it, he pushed on, his voice growing softer and softer. "Slowly start to turn it to the nine...the eight...the seven..." Blair saw the pain lines creasing Ellison's forehead slowly start to ease. It was working. He mentally cheered the youthful experiences with his mother that had led him to take up the practice of meditation. "I want you to keep turning the knob until you reach two."

The ice blue eyes flashed open, all traces of the debilitating pain gone from their depths. "I don't know what you did and, right now, I don't really care." A brief smile twitched at the corners of the captain's mouth. "We'll talk about this later." Placing his hand on the smaller man's back, he steered him around and pushed him forward. "We have to move...now!"


Night loomed eerily in front of them, the dense foliage entirely blocking the small luminescence from the moon, making their trek through the jungle terrain nearly impossible. As Sandburg stumbled over yet another tree root, Ellison ground to an abrupt halt. "We'll rest here for the night."

Nodding his thanks, Blair quickly dropped onto the closest log he could find. It was hard to believe they had been moving all day, with only quick stops here and there to grab a yucca or papaya to eat. The rough terrain and the evasive tactics Ellison had been using had consumed the majority of their time. "So what now?" he asked while trying to catch his breath from the strenuous effort his body had just underwent. Although Ellison had been closed-mouthed since they had regained control of his 'pain-dial', Blair had a pretty good idea of why the Ranger was pushing so hard. They had lost precious time tending the wound and they had to put some distance behind them and their pursuers. The constant surveillance as they had practically flown through the night had put Blair's own senses on alert and the resulting exertion had pushed him to near exhaustion.

With a nonchalant shrug, Ellison perched on top of a large weathered boulder on the opposite side of the small clearing. "Now, we rest."

Blair shook his head and groaned. Sarcasm he could live without at the moment. Hell, he didn't even know what was going on or how he had ended up in the middle of it in the first place. Trying to think of the best way to broach the subject, he settled on starting out simple and letting the conversation lead to the answers he sought. "How's your arm?"

Flexing the stiff muscle, Ellison winced slightly at the tender pull. "Sore, but much better." He eyed the young college student. A strange feeling told him he was going to be sorry he asked, but curiosity was getting the best of him. "So how did you come up with that dial thing? You didn't hypnotize me or something, did you?" One eyebrow quirked upward.

Blair chuckled at the obvious concern behind the disinterested appearance. "It was just a simple relaxation technique. To be honest, I didn't even think it would work."

The captain immediately launched off the boulder and paced across the clearing. He didn't know what he had expected to hear, but that the whole thing had been a whim was not even close.

Nonplused by the outburst, it was Blair's turn to shrug a shoulder. "Hey, I was desperate and I didn't hear any great ideas coming from you at the time. Besides, it worked, didn't it?"

A Howler Monkey screeched into the night and Ellison watched as Blair jumped at the shrill sound. He repressed a chuckle. The kid was definitely a mystery. One minute he was ducking bullets like a pro, the next he was on the edge of his seat at the simple call of one of the local species. Granted, he liked the kid. However, for some unknown reason, they had bumped into each other again, and the army Ranger had never been too keen on coincidence. "So how did you wind up here again? The last I saw, you were happily going off with your research buddies. Don't tell me you've been down here all this time?" Ellison studied the young man intently, watching the student's body for a reaction to the question. He knew for a fact that the research party had left shortly after he had returned Blair to his group. Two days later, as he had been conveniently passing back by the ruins, he had stopped to check on the student. The area had already been abandoned, the only remains a small circle of rocks that had served as the boundary of their campfire.

Grinning at the change of topic, Blair plucked a leaf from a nearby bush and absently tore at its edges. "Yeah, well, I did go back to the states, but we still needed to validate some more of our work." A slight rustle grabbed his attention and he looked up to see the Ranger resettle on the boulder, a puzzled look gracing his face. Blair had so many of his own questions, but it looked like Ellison was going to be directing the conversation for the time being. He sighed. "So, here I am."

"But how did you end up running into me again? I was at least a mile from the ruins." Ellison stopped, his mind thinking back to the last time he had come across the student. "Let me guess. You were running short on water, you wandered off in search of some more and the next thing you knew, you didn't know up from down?"

A knowing smile lit Blair's face as he tossed the naked leaf stem aside and dug through his front left pocket. Pulling out a small compass, he flipped it around for the other man to see. Ever since his adventure four months ago, he'd practically taken to sleeping with the small device, despite the merciless teasing of the other members of his dig team. "No way, man. I learned my lesson the first time." He paused as he gently slid the round metal casing back in his pocket. "I heard the shots."

"So you went running towards them?" Ellison sighed in frustration as the returned nod. The kid put a whole new definition on 'leaping before you look'. "What were you thinking...or were you?"

The light left Blair's eyes and he flinched at the gruff tone. He hadn't been thinking, he'd been reacting. And although he hadn't expected applause, a little gratitude might not hurt the army captain. "I don't know. I just..."

The words ebbed off, so Ellison leaned closer. "You just...what?"

"Hey, man!" Blair felt his own defenses rise in response to the needling. Maybe it hadn't been the greatest idea in the world, but he had only been trying to help. Improvisation worked well for him and he certainly didn't have to defend his actions to some... jungle dweller. He stared defiantly into his attacker's frosty eyes. "I felt like I had to help out. I had no idea I was going to run into you again. Although, if you ask me, it was a good thing I did! You were having one of those zone out things like last time." The wind rushed out of his sails as the implication of what he had said started working its way through his mind. The Ranger had had two 'zone-outs' that he knew of. The first one, if he remembered correctly, had happened when he had been trying to listen to find Blair's co-workers at the dig site four months ago. Then this time, he had been hiding from someone, maybe extending his hearing in an attempt to determine their position. Then there was the gunshot wound that had sent the Ranger's tactile responses on overdrive. His head reeled. It couldn't be!

Effectively shaken from their previous conversation, Ellison sighed at the confirmation that he'd 'zoned'. "I was afraid of that. I figured I must have been out of it when you found me. That would certainly explain why I was standing over you with a foot buried in your chest." Oblivious to the fact that he was still talking out loud, he rubbed a tired hand over his face. "It seems to be happening more and more these days. I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to be able to do my job. I've tried to explain to Incacha that I'm not as reliable as I was when I first got here, but he says not to worry, that when the time comes, everything will fall into place."

"Incacha?"

Ellison's head shot up as he realized he'd actually been sharing that information. "Yeah, he's a member of the Chopec." Ellison stated in a clear, precise clip as if it was explanation enough.

"Gee, thanks for clearing that up," Blair mumbled under his breath. For someone that had been doing a pretty good job of rambling a few minutes ago, the train sure had derailed fast enough.

A scathing glance shot his way and the anthropologist rocked back on his make-shift seat. Ellison had heard him, he'd heard his muttered response. How the hell had he heard? Butterflies kicked into high gear in the pit of his stomach. It couldn't be a coincidence. Too many variables were lining up for it to be simply wishful thinking on his part. There was only one way he could find out for sure -- ask. Excitement took over and forced himself to sit still. "I think I might know what's happening to you!"

"There's nothing happening to me," Ellison growled.

Ignoring the dark scowl that had accompanied the rebuke, the anthropologist in Blair leapt to his feet, demanding free rein to move at will as he explained. "I mean, I think I know what's been causing these zone-outs. About a year ago, I picked up this book by Sir Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor. Anyway, he was convinced there were sentinels...."

"Sentinels?"

Lost in the swirling information that was bombarding him from all directions, Blair didn't even look up as he plunged ahead with his story. "Prehistoric throwbacks to civilized man." Taken off guard, he gasped as the captain reached out of nowhere, grabbed two fistfuls of his t-shirt, and slammed him into the rough bark of a conveniently located tree.

Anger radiated from the heated face that pressed into Blair's personal breathing space. "That's not funny! Do you think this is a joke?" Where did some kid get off telling him that he was uncivilized? He was not some kind of freak! Ellison shook his captive back against the trunk."I'm not going to listen to some... neo-hippie, witch doctor punk that couldn't find his way out of a paper sack."

Stunned by the vehemence in the older man's voice, Blair tried to figure out what he had done to set him off. The rough bark he was being pressed against painfully scraped the tender flesh of his back as the Ranger shifted the position of his hands and butted him back against the tree for the third time. Guileless blue eyes steeled in resolve. All he was trying to do was help and what did he get in return -- rough handling. Pulling one dangling arm up between them, he stabbed a finger at the face looming in front of him. "Look, Ellison, you don't want to listen to me, fine, but if you want to find out what's up with you, you'll pay attention... and put me down."

The sudden change of the younger man's demeanor and the finality in his tone caused Ellison to gain control over his rampaging emotions. His jaw fastened down while his fingers uncurled themselves from the abused cotton material within their grasp. Taking a step back, he watched as the younger man gathered up the courage he needed to back up his bravado.

Stilling the slight tremble that had accompanied the unexpected assault, Blair laughed nervously to himself. Fast thinking and embellishment to the rescue again. Now he just needed to get his point across without becoming a permanent part of the landscape. At Ellison's cocked eyebrow, his mind raced back to what he had been saying before his personal acquaintance with the unsuspecting tree. "Let me guess. Your senses are heightened. You can see better, hear better, taste things others can't, smell things you never knew were around before and even have touchy-feely fingers." Blair raised an eyebrow as he waited for a response.

Mouth open in shock, Ellison processed the question. Did he have heightened senses? He wasn't aware of any extraordinary perceptions. So he had good ears, good eyes? Lots of people did, didn't mean they were some type of caveman. He let the insult roll off again, more interested in where the kid was going with the whole superman thing and how in the hell it explained his 'zone-outs', as Blair called them. "Maybe."

"Yes!" Blair threw his arms up in triumph, barely managing to restrain himself from doing a Areyto Victory Dance. He'd just found the Holy Grail. "I knew it, you're a sentinel!"

Not amused by the student's exuberance over something he still had no clue about, Ellison growled deep in his chest. "I'm going to ask one more time, Chief. What's a sentinel?"

Realizing he had forgotten his calm, collected approach to explaining sentinel abilities to... well, the sentinel himself, Blair started pacing again, teaching mode fully engaged. "A sentinel was the early protector of his tribes. He had all of his senses enhanced -- genetically -- so that he could monitor the weather, locate scarce game, protect the tribe from rival tribes-- things like that." Blair took a deep breath to curb his own excitement. "Oh, man..."

Ellison held up his right hand. "Stop right there." Genetically enhanced senses? Protectors of tribes? Did the kid think he was stupid or something? Some freakish genetic mutant? He looked closely at the enthusiasm etched on the younger man's face. Maybe the kid was a druggie. He had dismissed the thought the first time they had met without even giving it a second thought. His eyes swept over the college student, taking in the well-worn, torn blue jeans and the crumpled white t-shirt, before resting on the two earrings that adorned the left earlobe and the long, frazzled hair. It was possible he had been a little too hasty in his initial assessment months ago. "I think I've heard enough nonsense for the night. Get some sleep. I'll set up a perimeter. Tomorrow morning we'll find your group. Then you can go back and preach this crap to some of your...." Ellison paused, not wanting to accuse the kid of something without proof. "...college friends."

A slight breeze brushed Blair's shoulder as the taller man stalked by him and disappeared into the surrounding foliage. Blair sighed. He had known it was going to take some heavy convincing and he'd been expecting skepticism, even denial, but he hadn't foreseen the outright rejection and cold dismissal. He had to convince the lone captain that he was a sentinel and that he would need some help -- someone to help him gain control.

Although his experience was lacking on the subject -- it wasn't like there were classes on dealing with hyperactive senses -- Sandburg figured he was the Ranger's only chance of understanding what was happening. Besides he wanted to help. Scratch that, he needed to help. He just had to find a way to get Ellison to accept it... and him. Which meant he had to find a way to not meet up with his group. He knew the rest of the students would be heading out the next day around noon. It was standard policy for the team to evacuate immediately and call in the authorities if a member disappeared and didn't return within 24 hours. Exhaling with a huff, Blair settled back on the felled log. He just had to find a way to stall.


Blinking against the slowly rising sun, Blair leveled himself into a sitting position and leaned into the log that had served as his sleeping companion. The change in posture caused his back to protest after the hard, uneven bed of the jungle floor. Popping his neck, his eyes scanned the small clearing where he had camped, searching to see if maybe Ellison was still asleep. As he finished the sweep, Blair blinked, unsure of what his eyes were telling him. The captain was gone. Scrambling nervously to his feet, he swallowed the dry lump in his throat and called out, "Ellison? Ellison, where are you?"

"Right here." The terse voice emerged right before the camouflaged form materialized out of the jungle. Ellison eyed the tangled curls and the sleep-ridden eyes tinged with panic. Surely the kid hadn't thought he'd left him in the middle of nowhere? He might have his doubts about Sandburg's fantasy-based reality, but he'd never just skip out on him. He was a Ranger, after all. "Ready to roll? We need to get moving."

Blair released the breath he had been holding. His initial fear of the Ranger splitting on him had been replaced with the uncertainty about where they stood after the conversation -- if one could call it that -- from the night before. He'd half expected the silent treatment for the rest of the day. However, he didn't detect any hostility in the simple question and there wasn't a dark storm cloud hanging over Ellison's head. Things were definitely looking better. He'd have to bring the subject of sentinels up again, but for now, he'd rather not have the hard, stony look he had been subjected to the night before turned on him once again. It was way too early to deal with a pissed off sentinel. A sudden thrill surged through Blair's body at the thought of a real life sentinel. There was so much he needed to know....

Ellison smiled as the panic in the younger man's eyes was overtaken by a soft light. Reaching out to grab Blair's hand, he placed a plumb papaya in the open palm. "Eat that on the go. We don't want your friends to forget and leave without you."

Blair's stomach grumbled at the sight of the firm fruit but he gingerly passed it back. "Okay man, just let me... you know." He gestured toward the bushes. At Ellison's nod, he walked out of the Ranger's line of vision. Or at least he thought he was out of sight. He wasn't sure if a sentinel would be able to see him or not. Tests were definitely going to be necessary. Finished with his business, he zipped up his pants and stumbled back into the clearing in time to see Ellison flinch as he rotated his injured arm. "Hey, man," Blair wiped the residing sleep from his eyes, "let's take a look at that."

Ellison lightly tossed the papaya back at Blair. The surprised expression on the younger man's face as he clumsily juggled the fruit in his grasp brought a chuckle from the Ranger. "Nah, it's fine. Just a little sore this morning." As the fruit finally came to a rest in the cradle of Blair's hands, Ellison gestured at the top of Blair's head. "Twig."

Blushing, Blair swiped at his hair. His fingers caught on the small piece of wood and he wrestled it from the encompassing locks. As the twig fell to the ground, he turned his attention back to the bandage circling the wounded bicep. "Come on. Let me check your arm. You don't want to zone like..."

Ellison glared at him, hoping the silent message written on his face would prevent a repeat of their previous conversation. He had way too many other things on his mind to deal with more illusions from the kid, including getting said kid back where he belonged. The sooner he accomplished that, the sooner he could find out what the hell was going on and who was trying to kill him.

Message received loud and clear, Blair swallowed hard and finished quietly, "...like yesterday." Now was not the time to push. Sliding up to Ellison's side, Blair reached for the wrapped arm. When the captain didn't pull away, he gently started unwinding the makeshift bandage. As the bandana pulled free to expose the puffy flesh, a low whistle escaped Blair's lips. "Ouch! It's inflamed."

Turning his arm over, Ellison grimaced at the yellowish tissue surrounding the gash. The nauseous scent of infection briefly stole his breath and he steeled himself against the churning in his stomach as he fingered around the wound. The gash itself really wasn't that bad, and the infection wasn't very deep. It could wait until Sandburg was safe. "Not much I can do about it right now. After I drop you off, I'll head back to the Chopec village to get it taken care of."

Blair frowned, preferring to do something about the wound as soon as possible. "No, wait. Hang on a minute." His eyes darted around them, searching for something before they eventually rested on a nearby Copaiba tree. "Yes!" he crowed. "Sit down." Not waiting to see if Ellison complied or not, he approached the 60 foot tree and circled it intently, his eyes combing up and down the trunk. Tearing a generous strip from the bottom of his t-shirt, he rubbed vigorously at something on the back of the tree. Several minutes later, he was back at his patient's side, holding the damp material out for the man's inspection. "Copaiba oil."

Ellison stared at the yellowish resin that coated the cloth and wrinkled his nose as the smell from the rag battled against the infectious one. "And just what are you planning on doing with that, Madam Curie?"

Blair chuckled as he kneeled next to where the Ranger had crouched down. "I'm going to wrap this around your arm." Taking a hold of the other man's wrist, he pulled the arm out to the side while he studied the best way to bandage it. "Copaiba oil is good for infection."

The captain jerked his arm away from the young man's grasp. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Ellison's brow furrowed. The stuff smelled like something out of a wastepaper basket. Besides that, the night before the kid had been rambling on and on about fairy tales and magical powers. Maybe Blair wasn't the best person for him to trust when it came to putting foreign substances in his blood.

"Don't sweat it," Blair reassured as he recaptured the arm and laid the cloth against it. "The resin from the Copaiba has been used for centuries in Europe and Latin America as a treatment for chronic cystitis, bronchitis, and... well, something else. But that's not important." Blair pulled his bottom lip in and worried it between his teeth for a minute as he concentrated on keeping the part of the cloth with the most Copaiba Oil against the infection. With a small nod to himself, he pulled the right end of the material up and over before wrapping it around the back of the arm. Dilemma resolved, his teeth released the abused lip, letting it jump right back into action. "In the northern Amazon, it was used by the indigenous tribes to treat skin wounds, psoriasis, and gonorrhea. For that matter, traditional medicine in Brazil recommends it as an anti-inflammatory agent, not to mention a treatment for numerous skin disorders and even stomach ulcers." Tying off the knot, Sandburg patted the forearm he had steadied between his knees while he'd worked. "There."

Ellison grinned at the pleased look on the young man's face. The kid definitely was entertaining, not to mention being pretty handy in the 'patching up' department. Too bad he was delusional about ancient warriors and enhanced senses. Truth be known, he had to admit he enjoyed the student's company -- the quick wit, the fountainhead of useless information, the youthful eagerness. Unfolding from his hunkered position, he reached out his left hand to help Blair up. "Thanks, Chief."

"No problem." Blair took the offered hand and dusted the knees of his jeans. "You could do something for me though."

Weary of where the request would probably go, Ellison braced himself for the confrontation.

"Well, it's two things really." Blair paused. "First, can you tell me your name? I mean, your whole name... not just Ellison. And second, why is someone trying to kill you? You don't have to tell me if you don't want, I just figure since I'm in the middle of this right now, it might be beneficial to have some idea of what's happening."

Blue eyes full of concern and trust waited anxiously for some type of answer. Ellison groaned. He really did owe the kid some type of explanation. After all, Blair had risked his life to help him. But how could he explain what he didn't understand himself? He settled for the simple truth. "I'm not sure what's going on yet. But we have to move. We've been here too long already." Not waiting for a response, he turned away from the perplexed expression on the younger man's face and cut into the jungle, forging a new path to get the student back to the safety of his group. Feeling the soft rustle as the bushes shifted behind him, he called over his shoulder, "Jim. You can call me Jim."

The end (...to be continued in 'Fighting Fate')


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