Author's Notes: First I must apologize for the long delay in posting this last part to my series. The story has been written for quite some time (6-8 months), but RL has had a tendency to delay my best intentions to get it out sooner. Plus I knew this was the last TS story I was going to write, which made it very hard for me to let go of it. I've had a wonderful time exploring the characters on TS and I will continue to read and enjoy the wonderful fanfiction that is being produced by more active members of the fandom.
Dedication: This being my last TS story, I would like to dedicate it to all those who have supported my dabbling over the past 7 years. For those who have emailed me on a fairly regular basis to find out if I was still around, I truly appreciate the reminder that I had unfinished business to attend. I'm forever thankful. And for those who have beta'ed my stories and encouraged me when I was too chicken to post, you know how much you've inspired me. Some of you are no longer in the fandom, like Andromede, who I miss greatly. And others are always within reach -- Paula, Cindy, Nickerbits, just to name a few. May your destinies lead you along the path of your "choosing".
Thanks: To Cindy for beta'ing this one for me on short notice. Always a pleasure to hear your input.
Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Rivanna Michaels
No man can escape his fate -- Sophocles.
A wisp of feathery wind ruffled Blair's dark, soft curls as it swept through a small, irregularly-shaped cutout in the side of the bleached stone room. In its wake, the joyous sound of children laughing echoed within the walls. It was a distraction which tempted the edgy anthropologist who craved the opportunity to observe the festive activities firsthand. Squirming on the makeshift seat, he groaned in frustration as a pair of roughened hands slapped down on his shoulders from behind, holding him in place. With a heavy sigh, Blair stilled his hundredth attempt to rise and turned pleading eyes to the man hovering behind him. "I'm okay, Jim." Gesturing with his head to the Chopec who was standing before them with a clay bowl of foul smelling paste, he wrinkled his nose and nervously shifted from one butt cheek to the other. "Tell him that I'm okay. Besides, you're the one who needs the medical attention here, not me."
Unswayed by the beseeching tone, Ellison gently pushed Blair's chin forward until the younger man was once again facing the native healer. "I don't think so, Chief. Incacha knows what he's doing." Absently reaching up to finger the medicated cuts adorning his own face, Ellison flinched as his hand was suddenly slapped away. With a chagrined smirk, he avoided the stern scowl on the shaman's face and clamped his chastised hand back on the shoulder in front of him.
"Yeah, man, I can see he knows how to handle you." The contrite look on Jim's face seemed completely out of place, and Blair found it impossible to stop the chuckle that welled up inside his chest.
Jim glared, but before he could reply, the teasing exchange was effectively shushed by a harsh reprimand from the Chopec shaman. Instantly silenced, the army captain automatically fell into parade rest.
Glancing over his shoulder at the ranger, Blair cocked a stunned eyebrow at Jim's instinctive reaction. He started to comment until warm salve brushed his skin, causing him to hold still as it was applied over the various cuts and scrapes that marred his face and upper body. Wincing as practiced fingers dabbed at his swollen nipple, he took a deep breath. With a fair amount of trepidation, he examined the damage for the first time since the small golden ring had been jerked free. Fortunately, everything still appeared to be intact, which was a heck of a lot better than how it felt. With a relieved sigh, he lifted his eyes in time to notice the roughly-hewed bowl being lowered to the table.
Finally, he was free.
Prepared to make a run for it, the anxious man found he could not escape as lithe hands returned to his throat. Strong, yet gentle, fingers prodded the mottled skin that marked the vicious hold of cruel hands, and Blair painfully swallowed against the slight pressure. Following a thorough examination of the damaged area, a second earth-toned bowl was retrieved from behind Incacha's back. As a generous glob of sweet-smelling liquid was expertly massaged into the abused muscles, a low involuntary groan of pleasure emerged from Blair's slack, parted lips.
At the sound, Jim gave the shoulders beneath his palms a light squeeze. "Don't get too comfortable there, Chief. You might scare the natives."
Blair chuckled in response while Incacha's hands gradually ceased the welcomed ministrations. Peeling his eyes open, he watched the shaman nod his satisfaction to the ranger before exiting the small hut with the two herb-filled bowls. Still drowsy from the soothing magic of the warm fingers, Blair fought to keep his drooping eyes focused. Without warning, the warmth of Jim's body shifted from behind him and the ranger slid into view. The student jumped at the sudden blur in his field of vision, then with a lop-sided smile, let his eyelids flutter all the way closed. "They should bottle that stuff."
Hands on his hips, Jim studied the lax features of the bruised face before him. "Yeah. I know."
Eyes snapping open, Blair stared at the thick swath of bandages encircling Ellison's biceps and cursed his thoughtlessness. He hadn't even asked if Jim had sustained any serious damage from the interrogation by Oliver and his men. "Hey, how's your arm? Did Incacha look at it?" Reaching out, he ran tanned fingers down the snug wrapping, checking to make sure there was no fresh blood spotting the clean cloth. "How about the rest of you? You took quite a beating."
"It's fine. I'm fine." Ellison shrugged the hand off, uncomfortable with the attention and the raw concern reflected in the younger man's eyes. "As a matter of fact, Incacha was pretty impressed with that Copaiba stuff you used."
"Really!?!" Blair's face brightened, while at the same time, he dolefully tucked the rejected hand into his lap.
Pleased by the naked enthusiasm and the boisterous pride which puffed the student's chest, Jim reached out to pat Blair on the shoulder. "Yeah, really."
"Kewl!" Blair ran excited fingers through his riotous curls, fighting the mass of tangles. "There's so much he can show me, man. So many things I can learn here!"
"Whoa!" Jim grabbed the younger man's shoulders before he was able to launch himself from the table. With a firm hand, he steered the anthropologist to one of the walls and eased him down on a nearby pallet. "Right now you aren't going anywhere. Incacha said you needed to rest." As Blair gathered his feet beneath him and started to protest, Jim glowered and shook his head. "He's not going anywhere. And, he's not going to talk to you if you ignore his advice."
Brow furrowed, Blair suddenly realized he had to concentrate on what Jim was saying. The words made sense, but he could no longer grasp the meaning behind them. Images began to blur and he realized he'd underestimated the power of the medicine he'd been given. Once they'd reached the village, Incacha had offered him a small collection of leaves to chew while the shaman attended to Jim. Usually attuned to his surroundings, he found it ironic that he hadn't even noticed their lethargic effect until his body had demanded rest. "Yeah, okay," he reluctantly acquiesced as his eyelids slid lower under the influence of the strong, pain-relieving herbs. "But I want to spend some time with him before I leave."
Nodding in assurance, Jim stiffly held his ground, waiting for the student to finally release himself into restful sleep. The short time he'd spent with Sandburg had revealed that the anthropologist had more energy than a litter of puppies, and he knew better than to underestimate the student's determination. If he left too soon, he was sure the young man would be nipping at his heels before he could even reach the door.
"Hey, Jim?" Blair's eyes finally closed, a tiny puff of breath carrying the question across the room to the sentinel's ears. "You wanna tell me what... this... all about... now?"
"Later, Sandburg." As Blair's tenacious will to conquer the drugs retreated further and further toward defeat, Jim softly stepped toward the door. "Get some rest."
"Later..." Blair gently sighed, his lips parting infinitesimally to release a snuffled snore.
Left alone to contemplate the bruises and scratches which covered the anthropologist's smaller frame, Ellison felt a wave of regret that Blair had been unknowingly cast into the arms of one of the many demons from his past. He pondered the dark lashes that shadowed the red, puffy rings under the student's eyes. As he watched, the pupils started a lazy dance beneath the closed lids, announcing the dreamworld that had come swiftly to the drained young man. Jim hoped the images were pleasant recollections of carefree days and beautiful girls, but he had a feeling they were much darker and not near as memorable. With a heavy sigh, he paused at the door of the hut and hung his head in oppressive exhaustion. Tiredness weighed him down, both body and soul. He knew he needed rest before either could be replenished. Casting another glance at the sleeping man, he set off to find the guide he had come to rely on in a world of unfamiliar customs and harsh, unforgiving terrain.
A light giggle punctuated the air around him and Blair sluggishly cracked open one eyelid. As he did, a small bleary figure was revealed, stooped within inches of his face. Surprised by the unexpected visitor, both eyes bolted open in response. Quickly shuffling around, Blair didn't stop until his back was against the rough surface of the wall. Gradually awakening to his surroundings, he was eventually able to make out the young Chopec girl who smiled and waved at him in universal greeting. Long raven-black hair was pleated into two long plaits down her back, and her almond eyes were alive with youthful curiosity. She was absolutely beautiful, and he couldn't help but notice the similarities in her tiny, cherub face and the strong, chiseled features which belonged to the village shaman.
"Hi." Blair smiled as he waved back, taking the opportunity to wipe the sleep from matted eyes. As he expected, the facial rub didn't help wake him up any faster. Awareness was still hazy, and despite his best attempts to dampen it, a large yawn emerged from deep inside his chest to swamp across his face. The loud gasping inhalation caused the little girl to shriek in delight, and Blair shook his head in amusement at the childish antics. As she scampered from the hut, the weary student determinedly pushed to his feet. Slumped against the wall for support, his eyes tracked around the room, but uncovered no one else within the thick, stone walls. Deciding to track down the army ranger, he awkwardly ambled toward the door. Unfortunately, his feet weren't very cooperative, and the toe of his foot caught on a fur throw, causing him to knock his shin against the table. With a muttered curse, he hopped the rest of the distance across the room before finally emerging outside into the waiting arms of a beautiful day.
The sun was low on the horizon and he squinted against the determined tentacles peeking through the trees. The angle of the rays denoted the early morning hour, and he grimaced at the amount of time he had wasted by sleeping. Scanning the area, he let his eyes roam the surroundings beyond the hut, looking for Jim's large frame and white skin amongst the smaller built and darker tanned tribe members. Before long he was rewarded when he located the man he sought across the village clearing. Squatted upon a large rock, the ranger was involved in an intense conversation with Incacha, who boldly stood in front of him, both hands firmly planted on lean hips.
Neither looked happy.
Not particularly anxious to interrupt, but eager to speak with the shaman, Blair wobbled toward the two men. As he approached, Incacha took a step back from Jim's side and disappeared into the concealing depths of the forest. Disappointed, the anthropologist watched with a frown as the shaman vanished from sight. Drawing up beside Jim, he raised his arms in confusion and turned light-sensitive eyes to the older man. "What was that all about? I was hoping to talk to him. Am I that scary in the morning?" A trembling hand rubbed across his face, trying to wipe away the persistent pull of sleep. "Did I do something wrong?"
Pursing his lips, Jim shrugged his shoulders and pretended to examine the cleanliness of the weapon in his hands. "It wasn't you. It's me he's not too happy with right now."
"Oh." Exhaustion clouding his ability to think, Blair decided he'd better find something to lean against if he wanted to remain standing. For some reason, the idea of collapsing in a weak puddle didn't seem too appealing. Settling beside Jim, he briefly laid the fold of his palm over the top of his friend's knuckles as the ranger's fingers ghosted back and forth along the slim crossbow. The repetitive movement slowly ceased under his light clasp and, happy with the acknowledgment, Blair retrieved his arm to let it rest in the cradle of his lap. "Want to talk about it?"
"No... it's personal." Jim studied the student as the young man remained practically wilted against the boulder. He had no idea why Incacha had deemed it necessary to keep Blair sedated for so long. The young man's injuries were not that serious; however, he knew better than to question the well-respected shaman. Under his gaze, Jim noticed Blair wobble slightly and he automatically reached out a hand to steady the other man's position on the rock. It was obvious the medicine Blair had been given was still surging through his system, and the ranger wondered how the drugged student had ever managed to wake himself from what should have been a powerful, deep sleep. "Why don't you go back and get some rest? We need to get moving in a couple hours and it's going to be a long hike back to civilization."
"We're leaving? Today?" The disappointment in Blair's voice was clear, and a spark of untapped energy surged from the smaller man. "But we just got here. I haven't had a chance to talk to anyone... find out about their customs, their beliefs."
Jim held up a hand, hoping to avoid a long-winded stream of questions he knew he couldn't answer. "We've been here three days already."
Blair blinked, not sure he understood what the other man had said. "No way, man!"
"Yes, way. You've been asleep most of the time." Lowering his voice, Jim went back to fingering the crossbow in his lap. "Incacha thought you needed the rest. Something about finding your center before we left for the Great City." He shrugged at the nebulous explanation. "I'm not sure what the reasons were. Incacha does things." Drawing back the string on his bow, he cocked it in place. "Sometimes there's no explanation for it. I don't question it. It's just the way things are."
Blair frowned as vague impressions flirted at the edges of his memory. Now that he thought about it, he was sure strange dreams had plagued his sleep. However, the harder he tried to retrieve them, the more they seemed to elude his grasp. Lost in the frustrating obscurity, he jumped when Jim's hand tapped him on the leg, his body drawing taut in response.
"Sorry." Jim removed his hand as Blair settled back against the rock and released a shaky breath. "We can't stay here any longer. I've got to get Oliver and Holland back to the states." A small twitch bounced along the ranger's jaw before the cheek muscles seized up into a tight clench. "And Crisp is still out there. We've been on a couple of patrols, but we haven't been able to pick up his trail. I need to make sure the Army is keeping an eye out for him in case he shows up somewhere." Jim's eyes darted toward the two prisoners tied to a tree on the other side of the village clearing. Ignoring his commanding officer, he focused in on his fellow teammate. "Maybe Holland will cooperate with his superiors once he's back on a military base. He used to be a good soldier." Jim shrugged one shoulder and quirked an eyebrow before averting his attention back to the crossbow in his hands. "He might tell them something he won't or can't tell me.... at least not while Oliver's looking over his shoulder. Hell, maybe he'll even turn the entire Cali Cartel."
"The Cali Cartel?" Glancing at the two men Jim was referring to, Blair quickly turned back to the ranger. His curiosity piqued, he pushed his evasive dreams to the back of his mind. "What's that?"
"Drug smugglers... among other things. There's been rumors for a long time about rogue CIA agents who decided they could make a better living by working for the other side. I'm not exactly sure how Oliver fits into it all yet, but I'm sure he does." Standing briefly, Jim swung the crossbow across his back, then settled back down beside Blair. "We'll find out soon enough what his part has been." A promise lurked behind the heated eyes as they glared at the colonel. "One way or the other."
Blair shuddered at the hatred radiating in waves from the rigid body next to him. He certainly didn't envy Holland and Oliver. Looking around the village, the student groaned at the missed opportunity. He certainly couldn't fault Jim's reason for leaving, and he understood the importance of reaching a military base as soon as they could. Maybe one day he'd be able to return and seek out the answers he sought... that day just wasn't today. "Okay. I'll be ready when you are."
As Blair shifted to move away from the rock, two young boys appeared out of nowhere, bouncing a hide-covered ball between them. Both men let their eyes trail after the children, enjoying the unexpected normalcy of the interruption. Within seconds, a mischievous giggle announced a newcomer's arrival. The young girl Blair recognized from earlier darted from behind a rock and swooped in to steal the makeshift toy from the two bigger kids. Waggling his eyebrows at Jim, Blair shook his head in amusement. "I think I'll help her." As the ranger started to protest, Blair splayed a warm hand across the corded thigh beside him. "I'm fine, and I'd rather spend the time we have left talking to some of the Chopec than sleeping it away." Stifling the yawn that would surely undermine his words, Blair catapulted to his feet with an exaggerated show of energy. "Just let me know when you want to pull out. I'll be ready."
An hour later, Jim ducked into his hut to discover Blair seated cross-legged on the floor. The angles of his face were etched in deep lines of concentration and he appeared enraptured, his body uncharacteristically still. Across from him, Incacha was gesturing with his hands and arms, obviously in the middle of a compelling story. Wincing when he recognized his name, the ranger's defenses rose as he realized the two men were talking about him. The skin on the back of his neck prickled as he imagined the nuances of the conversation that was taking place regarding the 'freak' they'd discovered. Steeling his jaw, his eyes bore into the anthropologist. "Sandburg! Let's go. We're moving out. Now!"
The anger in Jim's voice jolted Blair from the trance-like interest the shaman's words had evoked. Catching a glimpse of the iciness on the older man's face, he quickly scrambled to his feet and darted after the army captain's rapidly retreating back. "Jim! Wait up." Matching the hurried pace, the shorter man had to continuously work at lengthening his stride to stay even with the ranger's longer legs. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Jim growled. Without stopping, he stooped over to pick up a rugged knapsack and slung it over his shoulder with a grunt.
"Don't give me that!" Blair grabbed one of the muscled, swinging forearms and jerked Ellison to a stop. "Talk to me."
Averting his eyes, Ellison looked anywhere except at the person demanding his attention. "Okay, you want to know?" His posture became rigid as he steeled himself for the coming confrontation. "I don't like being talked about behind my back." Ice blue eyes zeroed in on the deeper blue ones which stared back at him in confusion. Unmoved, Ellison remained inflexible, his cold glare daring the younger man to deny the truth.
"Okay, fair enough." Blair ran a hand through the curls that tumbled down his forehead in disarray. Closing his eyes, he pursed his lips as he gathered his thoughts into some semblance of order. After catching his breath, he turned back to the offended man. "Jim, it wasn't like we were conspiring against you or anything. Incacha was simply telling me about sentinels, and how they fit into the history of the Chopec. He agrees that's what you are.... who you are!" As Jim started to move away once again, Sandburg reached out a hand and held him fast. "That was all. I swear. We weren't swapping secrets or trying to hide anything from you."
Sighing, Jim closed tired eyes and massaged his aching forehead with the tips of his fingers. "I can't live like this." Loudly exhaling, he opened his eyes and waved his arms before him in agitation. "I'm not a sentinel. I don't want to be a sentinel! I have to have control, be able to function like a normal person without 'zoning-out', as you so elegantly put it."
"We can figure it out, Jim." Although Blair had been pretty confident with his 'diagnosis', he'd had his lingering doubts until Incacha had confirmed it. Now he could only pray that Jim would be able to see the gift for what it was -- the way he did. With a smile, Blair tried to offer a measure of security. "I can help you. You just have to let me."
"I don't want to figure them out, Sandburg! I want them to go away." Jim paced away from the flash of disappointment that had replaced the unnerving awe and fascination on Blair's face. "Once I'm home, things will go back like they used to be... like they should be."
"No way!" Blair shook his head vigorously, exasperation sweeping away his stunned disbelief. "You can't do that, Jim! These senses are a part of you. They're an asset... a gift. You've just got to learn to control them." Stretching out a hand, the anthropologist gently placed it on the back of a tense shoulder. "And... well, I can help you do that.... if you'll let me." He paused, gaging the ranger's reaction. "But you have to trust me."
Flinching at the unexpected contact, Jim sighed as a sense of calm flowed throughout his body. Most people in his life had ran from his rants -- as fast and far as they could. But not Sandburg. The result of that determination produced a feeling he couldn't relate to, a weird mixture of gratitude and annoyance. "Maybe." Preparing himself to see poorly-cloaked doubt behind the eyes of the younger man, Ellison turned around to face Blair. What he found surprised him even more; there were no hidden emotions to be found in the upturned face. He swallowed hard and shifted the pack on his shoulder. "We'll see. Right now, I can't think about it."
"Okay. But we're going to talk some more about this." At Jim's reluctant nod, Blair twisted around to study the two men who were bound to the tree across the clearing. The acrimonious glare on Oliver's face sent a chill down his spine, and he unconsciously took a step closer to Ellison's side. "So, what's next?"
"I'm going to turn these two," Jim gestured to his fellow soldiers, "over to the Army, then I'm going to take my out. With this last assignment, I'm already well over my time in service, and I think I'm ready for a change." Glaring at his former commander, Ellison clenched his jaw against an overpowering wave of rage. Many good men had died just so Oliver could manipulate power and position for personal gain. It made Jim sick to think about the friends he had lost to the greed of an officer. "A career in the military doesn't sound too appealing to me any more."
"Really? What are you going to do?" Blair gazed up at Jim, his stomach churning with the excitement and apprehension of the unknown. Mind dancing with possibilities, he wondered where the sentinel would go... how he'd live.
Tearing his glare away from the hostile sneer on Oliver's face, Jim looked down into the eyes tilted toward him. They were filled with a mixture of obvious concern and genuine interest, causing Jim's frame to relax slightly under the questioning gaze. "I think the Army's going to hold onto me for awhile. But I'm thinking of moving back to Cascade when I can. I know some folks there." He shrugged as he pretended to surveil their surroundings. "Besides, someone lives there who said he could help me... if the need ever arises... in case these senses don't go away as planned."
Blair smiled, his eyes brightening at the small step Jim had made in his direction. Then slowly he recognized the coincidence in what Jim had said. Eyebrows shooting to his hairline, his body thrummed with a sudden surge of adrenaline. "You grew up in Cascade? No way, man. Far out! This is unreal. Hey..." he quieted as he rested a hand on one of Jim's forearms and let his eyes dart around the clearing, "do you believe in fate?"
Rolling his eyes, Jim pulled his arm from under the light grasp. "No." He grimaced at his harsh tone and calmed his voice to a normal rumble. "I believe people are in charge of their own lives. Nothing is predisposed." Shifting slightly, he redistributed his weight and hunkered his shoulders until he was eye-level with Blair. "Who could live like that, knowing their life was already determined by someone or something else?"
Blair shook his head, sending curls dancing around his shoulders. "How can you say that? Look at all the coincidences here." Waving his arms, he took up pacing in the same tight circle the ranger had established earlier. "What are the chances that I'd find you... twice?" He stopped and held up two fingers before resuming his pattern and running a hand through his hair. "And that you'd live in the same city as me?"
"Actually, I think I found you," Jim scoffed as he pointed at himself, then Blair, to emphasis his rebuttal. "And that's just the way I feel about it, Chief. I'm the one in control of who I am and what I do. No one else."
The anthropologist detected a hint of unease creeping into Jim's voice and decided to back off. "Okay, okay. We'll agree to disagree." Blair smiled as he stopped his frenzied back and forth shuffle. "Cascade! I don't believe it. This is going to be so cool!" Clapping his hands together, he rubbed his palms across each other in anticipation of the many months ahead. "You know, you'd make a great cop... or a private detective. Oh, hey! How about working for one of those secret spy agencies? That'd be pretty kewl! We could be partners!" He chuckled. "Naomi would die."
"Whoa, whoa!" Jim grabbed the thin material of Blair's shirt and jerked him closer so their breath was forced to mingle together within the tiny space between their mouths. His heart tripped double-time, while his mind kept repeating the word 'partner' over and over. A partner was someone you let slip inside your defenses, someone you relied on to never let you down, someone you trusted with your life and protected until death.
But there was more....
A partner was someone who disappointed you when you least expected it -- someone who left raw, open wounds in the wake of their betrayal.
"Let's get one thing straight." Jim gave the rumpled shirt a swift shake. The lines on his face hardened into angry furrows and he poured all his energy into projecting enough emotion to scare the living hell out of the student. "We are not partners! I work alone. Once you help me figure out this whole Sentinel thing you're on your own... I'm on my own. Until then, you do what I say, when I say it. Got it?"
Blair snorted at the aggressive display. The underlying fear behind the carefully constructed facade was obvious and easy to recognize. Captain Jim Ellison would have to do a lot better if he wanted him to believe the ranger posed any type of physical threat to him. Actually, at the moment, he had a feeling the safest place he could be was in the shadow of the sentinel. "Like I expected anything else."
Pliant fingers quickly uncurled from the abused fabric and absently wiped across camouflaged pants. "Good. As long as we're clear?"
"Crystal." Blair nodded, his eyes twinkling with undisguised mischief while he tried his best to look sincere.
Cocking a disbelieving eyebrow at the wide-eyed innocence lighting Blair's face, Ellison grunted and crossed over to his prisoners. Bending down, he cut them loose from the tree and hoisted them to their feet. While he was checking the bindings around their wrists, he felt the anthropologist step up behind him. He nodded toward the treeline. "Let's get moving. Some of the Chopec warriors will shadow us until we reach the end of their land. After that it will only take a couple of days to reach a phone. From there, I'll contact the Army and have Oliver and Holland picked up, then I'll have to head back to base for debrief."
"How long will that take -- the debrief?" Blair asked curiously, inching closer to the ranger.... but not too close. The immediate proximately to Oliver produced a shudder that ripped through his muscles, and the student made sure he kept well out of reach of the two bound men. "Should I wait on you... or go on to Cascade? You think you'll need me? You think...?"
"Chief?" Jim tried to interrupt the rambling as Blair continued to spew questions at him. "Sandburg?... Blair!?"
The anthropologist turned to stare at him, the flow of words tumbling to a stop. "What?"
"I'll be fine. Go back to Cascade. I'll know where to find you."
Blair frowned, not liking the idea of Jim being scrutinized by the Army when the sentinel's senses were so new and uncontrolled... not to mention the change in environment from the jungle to a military base. The impacts there could be devastating. Lowering his head, the anthropologist studied the toes of his boots as he tried to come up with a plausible excuse to follow Jim until they were both safely in Cascade. "You sure, man? I mean, I could..."
"Yes, I'm sure," Jim barked, as he pushed Holland into Oliver's back and started them marching toward the trees. "I'm not sure how long I'll be, but if I need you, I'll look you up at the university when I can." Pausing before the thick foliage, he locked eyes with Incacha. The silent exchange lasted several seconds. There was no doubt he'd miss the Chopec people. Their spirit was strong... their place in his life forever sealed by their generosity toward him. With a nod at his mentor, Jim forced himself to shut away the ties he had formed. Turning toward his captives, he squared his shoulders and disappeared into the vast undergrowth without a backward glance.
Quietly watching the exchange, Blair's attention was riveted to the body language that was being divulged between the two men. A small ache started in his chest as he longed for the day when he would share a part of that same admiration. Despite Jim's use of the word 'if', he knew it was more a matter of 'when' Jim would need him. The unexplainable draw toward the army ranger was too strong to ignore, and he knew Ellison felt it, too. Maybe it was only because they'd been through so much together in such a short period of time. After all, Jim had saved his life... more than once. Then again, maybe it was something else. Either way, Blair realized his life was getting ready to take a drastic change. Looking up from his silent contemplation, he swallowed hard as he imagined the dangerous life Ellison led. "Hey, Jim, this wasn't like a typical week for you, was it?" When Jim didn't answer or reemerge from the forest, Blair glanced around at the villagers who were eyeing the spectacle in open amusement. With a nervous bounce, he smiled and waved at his audience before letting his eyes snap back to stare at the foliage where Ellison had disappeared. "Well, was it!" he yelled in frustration as he jogged along the same path where the retreating back had disappeared only moments before. "Hey, man, whatever we do, I'm not cutting my hair."
From his nearby perch, Incacha nodded in satisfaction, a smug look enveloping the fine features of his bronzed face. Enqueri had found his guide -- his future shaman -- in a world far away and filled with more evil than the sentinel would have ever faced among the Chopec. It was a world he knew he himself would experience briefly before joining his ancestors on the other side of life's horizon. With regret, he reached down and rested a hand upon the head of the young girl beside him. He had much to share with Enqueri's newfound blood brother before he could fulfill his own destiny. Until then, two friends would have to forge their own path through the Great City. The road would be long and difficult with many twists and turns along the way. There would be much heartache and sorrow as one or the other choose to test the fertile greenness along the tiring path. However, the fledgling bond was a strong one which would grow more powerful as time allowed, assuring that both returned to walk the path, side by side, until the end.
It would withstand adversity.
Opposite as day and night, the two men together comprised the cycle of the sun.
It was destined.
They would bring hope to Enqueri's people and, even more importantly, to each other in times when their path would be shrouded by soul-searching darkness. Their footpaths would not only leave heavy prints through Peru.... the indentations would reach out to points unknown, touching lives in ways no one could ever imagine.
It was a given.
The wings of fate were pure and beyond doubt.
The End... finally.
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