Disclaimer: The usual disclaimers apply. I don't own these characters, I just borrowed them for a few pages. No money or other compensation exchanged hands here either—unless you count the Bonkers that I doled out to my cats to keep them off the keyboard.

Author's Notes: Like The Gift, this was also written in response to the "In the Woods" Challenge—it just has a little different twist and allowed me to pin down an idea I've had running around in my head for some time. Thanks to Kareila for beta-work above and beyond the call of duty. Her suggestions made this a MUCH better read.


Wired
by
K. Ryn

kdkm@aol.com

 

There's nothing natural about this place.

[Crackle]

Blair jerked as if he'd been struck.

[Image of a forest in reverse. White on black like a photographic negative; a frozen moment of time and place.]

[Crackle]

He blinked and the vision seared itself into his mind.

Blair blinked again and found himself staring down a steep slope. Below him stretched miles of unending verdant forest. The trees were packed so tightly that it was like looking into a green ocean. But it didn't move. There wasn't a breath of breeze. Nor did he feel any warmth from the sun, which hovered in the pale, cloudless blue sky.

"Chief..."

Odd, he thought absently, eyeing the green, silent vista. It hadn't looked that way a minute ago.

"Sandburg!"

Jim's voice finally penetrated Blair's concentration. He turned abruptly, his feet shifting on the slippery slate underfoot. Blair jammed his walking stick into the rocks, teetering for a few uncertain seconds until he regained his balance.

"You okay, Chief?"

Jim was standing less than an arm's length away, his back to his partner. Blair turned to see what was holding his friend's attention and found himself looking up the side of a mountain. The broken shale area where they stood continued for roughly fifty feet, ending at a sparse tree line. Those scraggly firs stretched for another two hundred feet before colliding with a s heer rock wall. Head tilted back, Blair's eyes followed the almost vertical climb of the stone as it disappeared into the wreath of writhing clouds that obscured the peak. Behind those clouds something glowed. Something ominous.

"Sandburg!"

"Yeah, Jim?" Blair couldn't take his eyes off of the glowing whiteness. Ominous? Now why did I think that? Uneasy, he took a step backward and had to stab his stick into the rocks again to keep from falling. His shift in balance brought him around so that he was facing the forest once more. He blinked and the static green ocean seemed thicker; darker. No movement below, yet above... the thought of the turbulent clouds around that glowing "something" at the summit pulled at him.

"I asked if you were okay."

His partner's voice gave Blair the distraction he needed to look away from the troubling view. He started to answer, then froze, blinking in surprise. Jim now stood ten feet uphill from him. How did he do that? I never even heard him move.

"Sandburg!"

The annoyed tone in his partner's voice cut through his dazed musings and Blair managed a quick nod.

"Yeah... I'm fine..."

"Then if you're done admiring the view, I'd like to get going."

"Going?" Blair asked in confusion, still staring at his partner, who had turned his gaze back toward the heights. "Just where are we going, Jim?"

"Home, of course," Jim answered in his usual firm tone.

Blair risked another look at the peak and shivered. "And home would be... what way?"

"Sandburg, I don't know how you made it through all those jungle expeditions with your sense of direction," Jim teased, pointing up the mountain. "That-a-way, Chief."

Blair raised eyes and then quickly looked away, glancing around in confusion. "Jim... just where are we? How did we get here?" A vague impression of sitting in Jim's truck as they careened through the streets of downtown Cascade teased through his mind.

"We finished an assignment and now we're headed home."

"Yeah... I kind of remember that. But how did we get here? I mean, we're just shy of needing oxygen tanks, man."

"Is that what's bothering you? Your fear of heights?"

Blair snuck another quick peek and snapped his eyes shut—that glow was still there. "No," he countered, shaking his head. "Not exactly..."

"Chief, it's an easy climb. We'll just follow the path."

Eyes still shut, Blair searched his memory for a path and couldn't find one. Of course, to Jim Ellison, ex-ranger, any half-way traversable stretch of ground was like a four-lane highway. Blair took a deep breath and opened his eyes again, prepared to fix his gaze on his partner and not the horror he imagined waiting above. But Jim wasn't there.

"Come on, Sandburg, let's go!"

"How did you do that?" Blair's frantic gaze settled on his partner, who was now nearly at the top of the rocky shale, moving effortlessly toward the tree line.

"You can't watch my back from way back there," Jim called over his shoulder.

"There's logic to that," Blair muttered, taking a step forward. The slippery rocks shifted and he went down hard, gasping in pain as the knife-like shale bit into both knees. He instinctively looked for Jim, surprised that the Sentinel hadn't heard him cry out, but his friend just stood at the edge of the trees, staring intently toward the rocky crest.

Bearing his weight on the stick, Blair pulled himself to his feet. Looking down, he realized why he'd slipped. Tennis shoes? Why in the world would I have worn tennis shoes to climb a mountain? Probably because Ellison didn't tell me we were going to be taking a shortcut through heaven.

He felt something wet and reached down to find blood seeping through his jeans from his injured knees. He started to call out to his partner, but when he looked up to where he'd last seen Jim, the older man had vanished.

A stab of fear shot through him. "JIM!" Blair scrambled forward, using the walking stick to help him keep his balance in the shifting rocks. "JIM WAIT!" There was no answer, not even the echo of his own voice, which should have been natural in the otherwise oppressive silence.

There's nothing natural about this place.

The thought came from out of the blue, but the certainty of it drove him to move faster. He was gasping when he finally reached the edge of the tree line, which seemed strangely thicker than it had appeared from below. "JIM!... Jim, where are you?" Edging closer to panic, Blair searched desperately for some sign of his friend in the closely packed trees.

Jim's voice floated out of the air. "Just follow the path."

"Path... what path?" Blair gasped in dismay, pushing forward into the dense foliage. Two steps in and the trees enveloped him; as if they'd been ready to swallow him the moment he got close. "Jim... wait!" Blair yelled, frantically pushing away the sharp stinging needles.

"Just follow me..."

"Jim... stop... please... something's wrong!" Why had his "Blessed Protector" led him into this nightmare? He tried to move forward, but the walking stick caught in the branches, trapping him where he stood. He was about to abandon it, when a loud rumbling suddenly throbbed through the trees. Blair tried to spin around. The trees shifted closer, pressing in on him while the sound grew louder. Something was coming and whatever it was definitely had anthropologist on its agenda. He opened his mouth to scream and tasted pine needles. Frantically spitting them out, he drew one last breath. "Jim... help me!"


[Crackle]

Blair coughed and groaned in pain.

[Image of a forest on fire. Flames shooting to the sky; turning the world into a roaring inferno.]

[Crackle]

He took a deep breath and immediately regretted it as his lungs rejected the searing heat. Coughing, he fell to his knees, only to lurch back to his feet seconds later. The very ground felt like it was on fire. He drew in a cautious breath and tasted the grit of air filled with ashes.

He suffered through another short coughing fit and wiped at his tearing eyes. As far as he could see there were only the blackened stumps of what had once been trees. Their twisted trunks, some fallen, some still standing, littered the landscape. Dark, greasy clouds of smoke spiraled dizzily into a sky so white that it hurt his eyes to look at it.

There's nothing natural about this place.

The thought echoed in his mind and he forced himself to stand still. Get a grip, he ordered himself, taking as deep a breath as he dared. Closing his eyes to mere slits, he forced himself to concentrate. Forest. He'd been in a forest. Fire was a natural thing in a forest, wasn't it? Maybe that's what it was. He'd been caught in a forest fire. No... he'd been caught, but it hadn't been fire that he'd been afraid of. The trees had closed in and there had been a rumbling... he'd been certain that something was about to attack and have him for lunch... he'd called out for Jim...

"JIM!... Jim where are you?" The anxious cry burst out of his mouth and his eyes snapped open. He spun in a mad circle, searching for some sign of his friend. What had happened to him? They'd been together... no, that wasn't right. They had been together and then Jim had disappeared. Vanished into the trees. He'd left Blair behind...

Pain stabbed through him at the memory. Jim hadn't waited. Jim had left him behind. He either hadn't heard, or had ignored Blair's plea for help. Another fit of coughing drove him to his knees and this time the burning pain didn't move him. He clung to the walking stick and shuddered.

"We're not making very good progress here, Chief."

Stunned, Blair raised his head. A half-dozen feet beyond him, Jim perched on one of the fallen trees, swinging his legs idly.

"You know, Chief, we're never going to make it home if you keep stopping to take a break every few minutes."

"Jim, what the hell's going on here? Why didn't you wait for me?" Blair's voice shook with anger.

"I did wait. You just didn't keep up."

"You didn't wait. You disappeared. I couldn't find you." The terse sentences tumbled out of Blair's mouth as he shook his head.

"I knew you were behind me, Chief. You always are."

The trust in those words, the rightness of them, washed Blair's anger away. "Yeah, that's true. You lead and I follow."

"Except when you go off on your own, half-cocked," Jim added, a small smile creeping across his face. "Wouldn't want to do that here, so close to home."

The grin that had begun to fill Blair's face faltered. His partner had turned away and was gazing out across the landscape. "I understand why you're so hesitant to get moving, Chief. It really is beautiful here."

Blair shook his head in disbelief. All around them stretched the ruin of blackened stumps and fitfully flaming trees. And in the distance, that glowing whiteness that seemed to attract and repel him at the same time. How could Jim call this beautiful?

"Jim, man, we are definitely on different pages here."

"Well, what's new about that? We don't see eye-to-eye on everything, Sandburg."

Blair's head snapped around. Jim was no longer sitting on the fallen tree. He was twenty feet away, still staring into the distance. "Damn it Jim, what's going on?"

"Nothing's going on, Chief," Jim answered without turning. "I'm just eager to get home."

Blair shuddered at the words, drawing in a ragged breath as the world seemed to shift around him. The stench of sulfur and the grittiness of ash burned in his mouth and nose. A coughing fit seized him, threatening to double him over. He held onto the stick in his hands, struggling to stay on his feet. "Jim... this isn't... right..." He struggled to choke out the words between the racking coughs. God, my lungs are on fire!

Raising his head, he tried to focus through eyes streaming with tears. Jim was even farther away now, moving across the broken terrain as easily as if he were following a path through a gentle meadow. "Jim... wait..." Blair whispered, pleading as his friend's dark form seemed to merge with the landscape and disappear right before his eyes.

Leaving him alone. "NO WAY!" Blair planted the blackened stick in his hand into the ashes and propelled himself forward. Before he knew it, he was running, driven by the need to catch up. He caught a flicker of flowing darkness out of the corner of his eye, but he didn't stop. Didn't allow himself to be sidetracked.

His foot caught on a half-buried limb and he fell to the ground, tasting ashes in his mouth, feeling the burning of the ground as it seared his clothing and skin. "NO... I won't stop!" he screamed into a rising wind, forcing himself back to his feet. "Jim trusts me... he needs me... I can't let him down..."

He was tired. And he hurt. His back and legs felt like they were weighted down with lead. His feet and knees burned with every step. His lungs were on fire with each breath. But he wouldn't allow himself even a moment's rest. He had to find Jim. His partner was ahead of him, somewhere. Why the Sentinel didn't see this place as the hell-hole that it was, his Guide didn't understand. But that didn't matter. Until he could figure out what was going on, Blair had a job to do. He had to watch Jim's back.

Blair's head snapped up as a familiar rumble cut through the screaming wind. Scanning ahead, Blair's heart lurched as he caught sight of his partner once more. "Jim look out!" The screamed warning was useless as his words were carried back on the wind. The black "thing" was moving toward the Sentinel. It crossed in front of Jim... circling... watching... waiting to pounce... Why couldn't Jim see it? Why didn't he listen to his Guide?

"JIM, PLEASE! It's right behind you!" He threw himself forward at a dead run, stumbling and falling. A reviving burst of determination pushed him to his feet. He took two steps and ran headlong into a wall of snarling night. He fell back, sobbing as the world around him came unglued.

Blair clung to the walking stick as the wind shrieked around him, whipping his clothes to tatters. It burned his face and arms, driving ash particles like thousands of tiny knives into his skin. The stick shuddered, bursting into flame. He nearly threw it away, but something deep inside made him cling to it, as if it represented his grip on reality. He felt the skin on his palms burn and char as the stick blazed in his hand.

"Jim... Jim, please... listen to me... I'm your..."


[Crackle]

Blair flinched as thunder rolled overhead.

[Image of a night-black forest. Dark jungle canopy overhead, draped with vines that sent long tendrils snaking down; sparks at their tips like lightning, vaporizing anything they touched.]

[Crackle]

Either I'm dreaming, or I'm losing my mind, Blair decided, peering anxiously into the darkness.

He preferred the first option. If he was dreaming, then he'd be home, safe at the loft in his own bed, surrounded by the clutter of his normal life. Not here, where reality seemed to be bending at right angles with every breath.

If he was dreaming, all he had to do was wake up and this would be over.

Resolutely, he squeezed his eyes shut. Count to ten. Simple. He could do that.

Focusing only on breathing and counting, he followed his own directions. Upon reaching 'ten,' he swallowed hard and opened his eyes.

The vision of yellow, unblinking cat's eyes, was not what he'd hoped to see.

A strangled cry caught in his throat. He staggered backward, coming up hard against one of the huge trees. Blair slid to the ground, screwing his eyes shut in panic. WAKE UP ALREADY! Teeth chattering, he counted again, this time out loud. He was conscious of the flat, deadened quality of his voice. Shivering, he forced himself to open his eyes and he groaned in despair. The cat's eyes were gone, but the jungle remained.

Guess that answers the question. I'm losing my mind.

A nervous laugh bubbled out before he could stop it. That loss of control disturbed him. He concentrated on trying to center himself and several deep, calming breaths later, he felt as though he'd regained at least some command over his shaky mind—at least enough to take another look around. He was surprised to find that he was still holding a walking stick in his left hand. As he stared down at it, the image wavered—a hockey stick, a roughly hewn tree branch, a charred remnant of wood—until it finally solidified into a silverish-gray metal rod.

A hockey stick? Sure, why not? You've lost your mind, remember? He stared at the wire rod in his hands, sensing the power running through it. The staff throbbed, as if charged with a life force of its own. He laughed again and glanced around, expecting at any minute to see either a flurry of white dressed medics ready to wrap him in a straight jacket, or Rod Serling, stepping out of the jungle, a lit cigarette dangling in his hands. Right... Not insanity, no thank you. I'm fine... just stepped off into the "Twilight Zone" carrying a hockey stick. I'm sure there was a good reason...

It suddenly occurred to him that there had been a reason. Something about the memory of the hockey stick in his hands felt... right. Real. Natural.

There's nothing natural about this place.

The words triggered a terrifying fragment of memory. He'd had the hockey stick in his hands... he was running... screaming Jim's name...

"Chief, what's the deal here?"

Jim's voice brought him to his feet. He stared in confusion at his partner, who leaned casually against a tree, only a few feet away. Blair opened his mouth to speak, but uncharacteristically, nothing came out. Which was real? His friend standing safe before him, or the intense feeling of danger that lingered in his mind? ... running, screaming Jim's name, trying to reach him before...

"Before what?" Jim's calm, steady voice echoed the words that rang in his head, but still he couldn't answer. Couldn't take his eyes off his friend.

"You know, Chief. This has got to be a first." A smile flickered on the older man's face, warming his blue eyes.

"A first?" Blair croaked, surprised that he still had a voice.

"You. Speechless." Jim's smile widened into a grin. He was almost laughing. "It's too bad Simon's not here. He'll never believe it."

Jim's good humor was infectious and Blair found himself grinning back. "Yeah, I know. Simon would..." Blair's whole universe lurched. A burning flash of pain seared through his mind, nearly doubling him over. Simon... and Daryl... Daryl crying...

"We'll have to call him when we get home," said Jim, his voice still calm and serene.

"When we get..." Blair raised his head slowly. Fighting back the pain, he strained to focus on his partner. In the time it took to blink, Jim had moved again. Toward the waiting trees. Just like before. "Jim... please... don't go in there." Blair's heart pounded painfully, his fear rooting him to the spot. He couldn't bear to chase after Jim only to watch him disappear again.

To his relief, Jim hesitated, eyeing him curiously. "Why?"

"Because... because there's something in there... something alive..." Blair blurted out, certain he'd seen a shadowy presence stalking through the trees. "It's just ahead of you. Can't you see it?"

Jim turned and stared into the darkness. Blair felt another surge of relief. If there was something there, Jim's Sentinel sight would find it. He wouldn't be hampered by the confusion that blinded his Guide. Panic returned when Jim looked back, shaking his head. "Nothing there, Chief."

Thunder rolled overhead and Blair glanced anxiously at Jim, afraid of the affect the deafening assault would have on his friend's senses. He expected to find his partner reeling in distress. Instead, Jim appeared unconcerned, staring back at him as if nothing had happened. What the hell was going on?

"Jim, didn't you hear that?"

"Hear what, Chief?"

The scream of an angry animal cut through the air. Blair caught a flash of eyes, glowing in the darkness, just beyond his friend.

"Don't tell me you didn't hear that, either," Blair demanded, his gaze fixed on the spot where the eyes had disappeared. Something was there. Something that he could see and hear, but that the Sentinel couldn't. Why should he? You're the one that's losing it.

"Look, Blair, I know you're tired. We've been through a lot, but now we're headed home for a well deserved rest." His partner's voice was soft, soothing, comforting. Blair suddenly realized how achingly tired he was; how compelling Jim's words were. "I understand why you've been holding back, Chief. You've been pushing yourself, balancing between two worlds..."

Two worlds is right, man. And this one sucks.

"... for so long that you're just running out of steam. When you get this run down, everything becomes a nightmare."

"You think that's what it is? You think that's why this is happening?" Blair 's head throbbed as he tried to sort through the confusion in his mind.

"I'm sure of it." Jim's voice reflected his certainty and Blair wanted to believe it. He wanted this nightmare to end; he wanted to go home. Without taking his eyes from his partner, he moved a step forward, but something held him back. Looking down, he saw that the rod was wrapped with tendrils of vine.

"Leave it," he heard Jim call out. "I'll give you a hand if you need one." Blair hesitated, the rod in his hand pulsing in syncopated beat to the throbbing in his head. "Come on, Chief. I know you think you have all the answers, but when things are this far out of control, you've got to let someone else help."

He's making sense. Listen to him. He wants to be in charge here, so let him. What's the big deal? It all sounded so reasonable. Jim was a man who needed to be in control. Why not let him take over? Admit it, you haven't been handling this very well on your own. Why don't you just do what he wants?

"Blair what's wrong? Don't you trust me?"

"I do trust you, man. More than you know. It's just..." Blair tugged half-heartedly at the rod, but the vines still held it fast. Why was it so difficult to just drop the thing? Why not let go, turn to Jim and take his hand? It wasn't as if he hadn't relied on Jim in the past. It would be so easy to let him take over. So natural...

There's nothing natural about this place.

Blair shuddered as a scream of animal rage erupted from the darkness. The metal rod came alive in his grasp—writhing like one of the sparking vines that slithered down from the treetops. With a wrenching twist he tore the rod free and swung it wildly, battering at the tendrils that wove and sputtered around him.

"Blair, it's time to go home. It's just a little farther... just through here..."

Blair screamed in terror as Jim's words grew fainter. He tried to catch sight of the older man, but the vines were pouring down like deadly snakes and it was all Blair could do to keep them from touching him. The metal rod pulsed in his hand, rigid once more. He swung it with all his remaining strength, desperate to clear a path so that he could follow. For a split second, he saw an opening. Before he could move toward it, an ebony shape flew out of the darkness and sent him crashing to the ground.


[Crackle]

Blair pressed his eyes shut, fearful of what he'd find.

[Image of a forest, shards of knife-edged glass; glittering like diamonds, throwing back distorted reflections of reality.]

[Crackle]

He still held the walking stick, but it felt different—cold, smooth. He ran his hand along it and recoiled, his eyes opening in shock at the pain. Blood oozed from a long gash across his fingers. The stick—hockey stick, metal rod?—had turned into a staff of glass, glittering and knife-sharp. Hesitantly, he lifted his head. Seeing his own reflection thrown back by the shimmering forest, staggered him.

He closed his eyes, tightening his hold on the staff. This time he welcomed the pain. Focus. Focus on the reality of it. Pain is normal. Pain is natural.

There's nothing natural about this place.

When he heard the snarl he opened his eyes, searching for the presence that he knew he would find. The panther. Jim's spirit guide. It was here, with them. It had been with them all along.

He saw a flicker of black, shifting along the surfaces of the glass panes. The distorted images brought to mind the mirrors in a fun house—another place where reality traveled in directions too complicated for the eye to follow. Too bad this isn't part of a carnival sideshow. Then all I'd have to do is look for the exit sign.

He heard the panther's angry scream and moved forward, desperately searching for signs of Jim. In all the other places, all the other "realities" his partner had been there. He was sure of that. Was Jim here now and already somewhere ahead? Or was Blair alone this time?

That thought made him shudder and he gripped the staff even tighter, hardly feeling the physical pain over the anguish in his heart. The cat's low rumbling reached him and Blair nodded. The panther was here. That had to mean that Jim was, too. Blair had to find and protect him. Even though he couldn't see it, Blair could feel the same terrifying, glowing light waiting somewhere ahead. Whatever it was, its power had beckoned to Jim, blocking his Sentinel abilities and the link that connected him to his Guide.

A reflection in the glass shards caught his eye and he bolted forward.

"Jim wait!"

He saw his friend turn and look in his direction. Blair forced his way between two of the glass trees, wincing at the pain as he touched their edges, frantic to reach Jim before he lost sight of him again. He heard the panther scream in rage, but he ignored it. He strained to reach forward and grab at his friend.

His hand closed on pain. In disbelief, he stared at the flowing blood and his mind screamed in despair. Nothing. Nothing but a reflection. Jim was gone. Had he ever been there? Desperately, Blair whirled around, seeing only more mirror-like images of himself.

"JIM!" Panic drove the scream from his throat. The ear-splitting shatter of breaking glass assailed him and he flinched at the sound. The panther cried out again. This time it was crouched in front of him, tail thrashing in anger as it prepared to spring. Blair dove to his right, scrambling to get away, heedless of the pain tearing at his skin .

As desperately as he tried to avoid it, the panther was always there, blocking his path. Blair dodged again, and this time ran blindly into one of the shards. The impact staggered him backward a few steps. Dazed, he dropped heavily to the ground. Straining to draw breath back into his tortured lungs, he was barely aware of the tiny daggers of glass that pierced his knees.

Hot breath touched his face and he raised his head to see the panther. Blair trembled in fear, but couldn't force himself to move. The cat sat waiting, its tail snapping in agitation. Anger surged, pushing away his fear. He struggled to his feet and the cat rose as well, blocking his path again.

"Why are you doing this?" Blair glared at the waiting cat, screaming out his frustration. "Why won't you let me go to him?" There was no answer, only the intensity of mesmerizing eyes that bored into him. He felt as though he was on ly a step away from being drawn inside the shining orbs.

Suddenly the panther blinked. The connection that had transfixed him was gone. What remained was a nearly overwhelming impression of ancient power and knowledge. Blair stood frozen in place, his mind scrambling to connect the fragments of images and thoughts that would put this puzzle together and give him the right solution. Protection. That was the key. Jim's animal spirit was trying to protect the Sentinel, just as Blair was. So why were they at cross purposes? Why was the panther keeping him from Jim? His job was to watch Jim's back, to teach, to guide...

To guide, not follow.

Was that it?

Was the panther trying to stop him from following because that was the danger?

Under normal circumstances, Jim always took the lead, with Blair's supportive presence only a step behind. But here, maybe the rules had to change.

There's nothing natural about this place.

Blair swallowed hard against the painful realization that he'd almost blown it. "I'm supposed to lead here, aren't I?"

The panther's response was a soft rumbling purr. Blair looked over the cat's head, hoping to catch a glimpse of Jim or even his reflection in the glittering forest, but there was no sign of his friend. Fear pushed him to take an instinctive step forward. The panther's snarl stopped him in his tracks.

Berating himself for almost making the same mistake again, Blair forced himself to remain still. Closing his eyes, he focused on his breathing. He pushed away the screaming voice inside that told him that he had to move, had to get to Jim before it was too late.

The only way to catch him is to stand still. Every time you move, he just gets farther ahead. So just stay put. He stood waiting, the soft reassuring purr of the panther the only sound in his existence.

"Sandburg, where are you?"

The faint sound of Jim's voice almost startled Blair to movement. Gritting his teeth, he held firm and didn't answer.

"Blair, what's the problem? We're almost home. What's holding you up?"

The perplexed, almost angry tone made Blair tremble, but he remained silent. His partner's voice was louder now. Did that mean he was closer?

"Damn it, Sandburg, answer me! Where are you?" The voice was closer! Blair was sure of it. He opened his eyes and met the unblinking stare of the panther, and nodded.

"I'm here, Jim," he whispered in a voice so soft that it barely reached his own ears.

"Blair, where are you?" There was an edge of uncertainty in that familiar voice now.

"Listen to my voice... focus on my heartbeat," Blair murmured encouragingly, straining his own hearing to follow the soft sounds of approaching footsteps. Reflections of his partner shimmered in a dozen of the glass trees and Blair's eyes flitted back and forth between them until he felt dizzy.

He clenched the glass rod with both hands, struggling to hold onto his control. The staff shattered in his grip and he cried out in agony as the fragments drove into his palms. Once again, he wanted to open his hands and thrust the shards away, but he knew he didn't dare. Pushing away the pain he closed his eyes , forcing himself to concentrate on Jim and on the image that he built in his mind of their true reality—the loft, the station bull pen, the smell of Simon's cigars. That was their true world. That's where they belonged. Not here. Somehow he had to guide them back. Jim couldn't do it. Blair would have to.

"Blair..."

His eyes flew open. Jim was standing a few feet away. Jim. Not a reflection. There was confusion in the look that he fixed on his Guide and the younger man struggled to maintain his tenuous hold on his own thoughts while meeting that gaze.

"Blair, what is it? Why did you stop? Why aren't you following me?"

"I can't." Blair glanced down and saw that the panther had turned toward Jim, its tail lashing in agitation. "I can't follow you here. I'm not supposed to. We're not supposed to be here. This isn't our place."

"But it's so beautiful here... so peaceful. Besides, we're almost home."

"No. Home is not that way. Not our home." Blair countered, his voice still a whisper. Behind him, he suddenly heard the roar of voices and the scream of sirens. "Our home is back that way. We need to go there."

Jim's head whipped around and tilted to the side in the familiar posture that Blair recognized as his Sentinel's "listening" mode. A look of pain crossed Jim's face and he shook his head, taking a step backward.

"No... I can't... there's too much..." the big man objected.

The sounds behind them grew to an almost deafening roar. Blair kept his voice to a whisper, urgently pleading in his most persuasive Guide tones. "Yes you can. Just listen to me. You need to concentrate on my voice, my heartbeat. I'm your Guide, remember? I'm here to help you. Just concentrate on me. Filter out the rest."

The confusion on Jim's face made Blair want to rush forward and touch him physically in reassurance, but he forced himself to remain where he was. The panther snarled as a wave of pain pushed at Blair from behind, knocking him to his knees. Gasping, Blair struggled against the sensations that seemed ready to consume him, but he forced them away and extended his right hand toward Jim.

"Take my hand... let me help you..." he whispered urgently. The big man stared at him in fear, shaking his head. "Jim, you have to trust me... there isn't anymore time..."

Jim shuddered and glanced over his shoulder, his face filled with a look of longing that nearly broke Blair's heart. For a moment his own certainty faltered. What if he was wrong? What if Jim was supposed to be here? Perhaps it was his own selfishness—his fear of losing Jim—that had made this place a living nightmare. Maybe it was unfair of him to ask Jim to leave what he obviously perceived as a place of peace, to return to the war-zone that was their real life.

A blazing shaft of pain ripped through him and Blair screamed as his body jerked in response. A sensory chaos of sight, smells and sound rolled over him in a physical assault. The glass forest exploded around them, sending daggers of glittering death everywhere. Blair gasped for breath as he felt them pierce his shuddering body. "JIM!" Falling toward blackness, he struggled to keep his eyes open, holding to the need to see Jim—to help him. The Sentinel's head whipped back around toward his tortured Guide and a strange look of recognition crossed his face. Screaming out his partner's name Jim lunged forward to grasp the outstretched hand.


Simon's car screeched to a stop just short of the barricades. He groaned aloud at the sight of the overturned school bus, the power company vans, the fire trucks and the wreckers. He didn't even remember getting out of his car or pushing his way through the crowd of on-lookers. He didn't stop his headlong progress until one of the firefighters caught his arm.

"I'm sorry sir, but this is a restricted area. You can't go in there."

"Like hell I can't," Simon growled, flashing his badge. "My son was on that bus."

Not waiting for the man to release him, Simon tore free and headed through the chaos. He barely heard the shouts from the emergency crews as they dealt with the hot wires. His eyes were searching for the rescue squads—that's where he would find Daryl. "Alive and well," he murmured, repeating the mantra that had been echoing in his head for the past twenty minutes—ever since the 911 call.

"Multiple vehicle accident, one car carrier, one school bus filled with high school students, power lines down, status of injured unknown."

The words were burned into Simon's mind. Bad enough that it had happened. Worse that his son was on that bus. His only hope was that Jim and Blair had been only a few blocks away from the accident when the call came in. With any luck, his best team would have been on the scene within minutes.

Simon's eyes caught sight of a familiar figure and he nearly bowled over two of the EMTs in his efforts to reach his son's side. "Daryl!"

His son turned, dropping the blanket that had been wrapped around his slim shoulders and dashed forward, throwing his arms around his father. Simon crushed Daryl to his chest, wrapping his long arms around his son protectively, hardly believing that he was safe and actually there, in his arms.

He eased his hold as he became aware of the sobs that were wracking Daryl's body. His own hands were trembling as he placed them on either side of his son's head, tilting the tear streaked face upward. "Are you all right? Are you hurt?"

"I'm... I'm fine... They... they saved me... all of us... They got us off the bus... before..."

Daryl choked back another sob and his gaze shifted from his father's face, staring off to the right fearfully. Simon turned, seeking what had disturbed his son, but saw only more emergency personnel gathered near the demolished cab of the school bus.

"Daryl, what is it?"

"Blair... and Jim..."

Stunned, Simon's head jerked up and around toward the front of the bus. "Wait here." His long legs carried him to the waiting group and he pushed his way to the front.

Simon's expression grew grim as he scanned the wreckage. It was a miracle that anyone had survived. The car carrier had jackknifed, spewing the trailer's six cars in all directions. One of them had crashed through the carrier's cab, slicing it open. Black, greasy smoke still billowed out from underneath the wreck as firefighters poured gallons of chemical foam onto the gasoline and oil that coated the pavement, trying to keep it contained. Simon could hear the hiss and crackle of live wires and wondered how many power poles had come down in the collision. His gaze caught on the overturned school bus and his heart lurched as he realized that the whole front end was missing—Daryl had been on that bus! Coughing as a gust of wind carried the smoke toward them, he blinked away the stinging tears and suddenly remembered what had drawn him there. His eyes swept the destruction again, searching for some sign of his friends. Dangling wires, torn pieces of what had been new cars, piles of unrecognizable debris...

And finally, amidst it all, two crumpled figures. Jim and Blair.

"Oh my God." Simon started to move forward, but one of the EMTs grabbed his arm, holding him back.

"Stay put! Those wires are still hot!"

"But those are my men!"

"We'll get to them as soon as the power's shut down. Until then we can't do anything except risk more lives."

"How long?" Simon demanded.

"A few more minutes. Just stay here, sir. Please." Dazed, Simon nodded and quit struggling, staring at the motionless bodies of his friends.

Jim lay sprawled on his back, a live wire dangling over his body, its sparking, sizzling end waving dangerously near his face. His right arm was flung out toward Blair, as though he'd been reaching for his partner when he went down.

"They're dead... aren't they?"

Simon glanced down in surprise and saw Daryl standing next to him. Simon reached out to wrap a long arm around his son and Daryl shifted closer to his father for comfort.

"I don't know..."

Blair—it had to be Blair with that mass of long curls cascading to the pavement—lay only a few feet away from his partner, face down, his body half buried by loose tires that had fallen from the car carrier. Simon groaned aloud when he saw the younger man's fingers clenched around Jim's wrist. He too had reached out, desperate to connect with his friend one last time.

Simon shuddered, realizing that he was already writing them off as dead. He shook himself angrily, struggling to regain some semblance of control. It seemed impossible to believe that anything could take down Jim Ellison. Not after all he had been through. Not with Sandburg watching his back. The kid lead a charmed life. He attracted trouble, sure, but he always got out of it. Sometimes with Jim's help but often with an incredible resourcefulness of his own. No, he wouldn't believe it until the doctors pronounced them, he told himself. Maybe not even then.

"It all happened... so fast... One minute we were just cruising along and the next... the bus swerved... I heard this loud crash and then I hit the seat in front of me. Guess I must have lost it..." Simon gave his son a gentle, reassuring squeeze and felt Daryl draw in a ragged breath.

"The next thing I knew, Blair was there, crawling over to me, asking if I was okay and telling me that I had to get moving. That we all had to get out of the bus. A lot of the kids were crying and I think someone was screaming, but Blair... he was so cool... he just kept moving from kid to kid, telling everybod y it was going to be okay and shepherding them to the back of the bus. I heard somebody call out that the doors were jammed, and things started to get really hairy with everyone pushing back toward the front. Suddenly Blair let out this incredible scream... you know, one of his Indian war chants? Stopped everybody cold. Then in this perfectly calm voice I heard him call out to Jim for help. A few seconds later the rear doors were open and Jim was pulling kids out from that end. Once we were all off the bus, Jim told Blair to take care of us. Said he wanted to check on the drivers..."

Daryl shivered and leaned even farther into his father's hold, turning his face away from the carnage. Simon absently stroked his son's hair, his eyes never leaving the still forms of the men who had saved his son's life.

"Blair started moving us back... we'd only gone a few feet when there was this explosion... somehow I ended up on the ground with Blair on top of me... I heard him scream out Jim's name... he grabbed something off the ground... some kind of stick, I think, and then he was running back toward the bus... toward where Jim had gone... when I got to my feet I could see Jim staggering toward us..."

Daryl's voice had dropped so low that Simon had to close his eyes to concentrate on the whisper of sound.

"... one of the power lines snapped free... it was dropping down... Jim couldn't see it, but Blair could... he was running toward Jim, screaming at the top of his lungs... I saw Jim fall... I guess the cable must have knocked him over... and Blair... Blair was swinging the stick around, trying to knock the wire aside... trying to keep it off of Jim... I thought... I thought for a minute that he'd done it... part of the cable was wrapped around the stick and he was backing away with it... then... it was like the thing came alive, uncoiling and striking out like a snake... there was a huge flash of light and noise... when I looked back..."

A sob broke from Daryl as his voice faltered, his explanation finished. Simon pulled his son even closer, shutting his eyes against his own unshed tears.

Urgent shouts brought Simon back to reality. The emergency crews and EMTs were surging forward. The power had finally been cut. Giving Daryl's arm a gentle, reassuring squeeze, he disengaged himself from his son. Struggling to maintain some degree of professional detachment, Simon moved forward to within a few feet of his men, positioning himself so that he could see what was going on without interfering.

It was absurd. Tragically absurd. There was no way it should end like this.

Shifting a step to the right to avoid the men who were frantically pulling tires off of Blair, Simon's attention focused on Jim and the EMTs who were finally at his side, the power crews having dealt with the cable. Other than the scorched burns across his jacket, there was nothing to suggest the trauma that he'd been through. The detective's face was relaxed and oddly calm. He looks like he's sleeping. As if he's going to wake up at any moment, open his eyes and fix me with that intense, icy blue Ellison stare...

"I've got a pulse!"

It took a moment for Simon to comprehend the meaning behind the EMT's urgent cry. To understand that he was talking about Jim. Relief surged through him. Jim was alive. Simon's head snapped around, his anxious gaze focusing on Blair and the medics who were hovering over him. He found himself praying that whatever deity was watching out for them would see fit to deliver one more miracle. The spark of hope that Simon had been nurturing died abruptly as the medics eased Blair to his back. He caught sight of the young man's pain-contorted face and saw the grim certainty of death reflected in the eyes of the EMTs who were desperately searching for any signs of life.

Jim is alive, but Blair...

Simon shuddered as he tried to envision Ellison dealing with the knowledge that his young friend had died trying to save his life. Jim had always seen himself as Blair's protector, and yet it was Blair who had taken on that role at the end.

Simon forced himself to look at Blair again. What was hardest to accept was the stillness. He'd always thought of Blair as a body in continual motion—arms waving in wide sweeping gestures when he talked, feet tapping to a beat that only he could hear, fingers dragging a pen across one of his ever-present notebooks, the constantly shifting range of emotions that flickered across his face. Simon couldn't bear to look at that face now and see the agony there. Blair's left hand clutched the charred remains of something to his chest. It took Simon a moment to realize what it was and he shook his head angrily.

"A hockey stick? Only you, Sandburg would use a hockey stick against a high voltage power line. What the hell were you thinking?"

Simon's gaze shifted back to Blair's face and his anger evaporated.

"You weren't thinking... you were reacting. You were trying to save Jim's life. And it worked. You hear me, kid? It worked. Jim's alive."

Simon watched Blair anxiously, hoping for some sign that the young man had heard him, but there was no response.

"I'm not getting anything, here," the medic called out. "Get the paddles." Simon glanced up, meeting eyes that were filled with understanding and compassion. "We'll need to separate them."

Simon swallowed hard and nodded. He focused on the white-knuckled grip that Blair had locked around Jim's wrist. He hated to break their connection, but he knew it had to be done. He took the interlocked hands and gently started to ease Blair's fingers free.

No one was prepared for the reaction.

Simon felt Blair's fingers tighten convulsively, then the young man's entire body arched in one abrupt movement. His mouth opened, drawing precious oxygen into his lungs with a rasping rattle. Simon flinched back in surprise as Blair's eyes flickered open, the familiar blue orbs staring up at him in pleading desperation for a split second before the lids closed heavily again.

"I need some help here!" cried the medic, gesturing to his partner who had started for their equipment. "Forget the paddles, I've got a pulse!"

Simon eased out of the way as the second medic rejoined them. Their words were lost in the wave of emotion that surged through him. This time the rush of relief was so intense that it was almost physically painful. Simon inhaled noisily, drawing breath into his starving lungs—he'd been so focused that he'd had a "zone-out" of his own. A quick glance told him that Jim was being well cared for. Simon moved closer to Blair's side, knowing that Jim would want him to look after the younger man while he couldn't.

"Come on, kid... come on... open your eyes."

Blair's eyes blinked open once more, widening in bewilderment as Simon's smiling face came into focus. "Simon..."

The captain's grin grew even broader. He placed his hand on Blair's shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "I'm here, just take it easy," he ordered as the young man shuddered. Blair's eyes closed again, but he managed a small nod.

"Let's get him ready to move." One of the medics reached out to disengage Blair's hold on Jim. Blair's reaction was as intense as it had been before, his eyes flying open and his finger's clutching desperately. "NO!" he screamed, trying to pull out of their grasp. "NO DON'T! I'll lose him!"

"Easy Sandburg," Simon urged, one hand holding Blair's trembling shoulder, the other resting on the medic's arm in restraint. "Jim's alive... you can let go now..."

Blair's gaze locked on Simon, the desperate eyes widening even further. "Is he... is he awake?" Blair demanded, his voice a broken whisper.

"Not yet, but he will be. We're going to get you both to a hospital. You just need to let go..."

"NO! Not yet... he's not back... yet..."

"Blair, listen to me..."

"Simon... don't let them... He needs me... I can't... let go..."

"Your partner's going to be fine," the medic reassured him, easing free of Simon's hold.

"Simon, please... he won't find... the way back... without his Guide..."

"Hold it!" Simon ordered, grabbing the medic's arm once more.

He stared down into Blair's eyes, reading the fear and determination there. He lifted his head, took a quick look toward Jim, who was still apparently unconscious, and made an abrupt decision.

"I know this is going to sound crazy, but if he lets go, I think we're going to lose them. One of them, at any rate." He glanced over at Jim and then back to the medic again. "If Sandburg says he has to hold on, then he has to."

"After what I've already seen today, nothing sounds crazy. All right, you hold on," the EMT ordered Blair. "We'll get your partner ready to go and then we'll get see what we can arrange."

"I'm... okay..." Blair grunted, trying to sit up.

"Sandburg!"

"I'm okay."

"Yeah, right." Simon snorted his contempt for Blair's words, but he recognized the futility of arguing with the younger man. The set of Blair's determined jaw reminded him too much of Ellison in the same mood. Simon eased him over to his knees, and helped him shift across the short distance to Jim's side. Blair's grip eased for just a fraction of a second as he repositioned his hold on the older man's wrist, then he closed his eyes, his face a taut mask of concentration. Realizing that Blair was focused entirely on Jim, Simon nodded to the medics and stepped away to reassure Daryl. He was torn between his duty to be with his men and the need to stay with his son, but Daryl took one long look at Blair and urged his father to go with them.

"I'm all right, Dad. They need you right now. Help Blair."


Later, Simon would remember very little of how they actually managed to get to the hospital. What would stay in his mind forever, was the fixed determination on Blair's face, the tautness of his body, the flashes of pain that the young man bore without a whimper—the never-shifting, white-knuckled hold that bound them together.

Once they reached the hospital, Simon found himself interceding for Blair again. He was at a loss to explain to the doctors why Blair refused to be treated himself if it meant being separated from Jim. How could he define what he didn't comprehend himself? How could he rationalize what his gut was telling him—that Blair was the only one who could keep Jim alive; that what the doctors took for unconsciousness was really a different place or time and Jim was lost in it; that if his Guide released his physical hold on the Sentinel, either one or both of them would die. This was a Sentinel-Guide dilemma and well beyond his own limited understanding of that special partnership. The expert here was Sandburg and Simon was more than willing to trust the young man's instincts.

Finally, he fell back on the tangible facts that they could understand. These were cops. Partners. Grudgingly, the doctors accepted that explanation. One team worked over the older man while another treated Blair's surface injuries as he sat motionless at Jim's side. Their examination left them puzzled. Aside from a minor burn across his shoulders and chest, Ellison appeared unharmed. They couldn't find any trace of a head or internal injury to account for his unconscious state.

Blair's physical condition was another matter. He'd allowed them to pry the remains of the hockey stick from his grasp. His palm was blistered with burns and they spent nearly an hour picking out shards of needle-sharp fiberglass before wrapping a bandage around the entire hand. Simon had winced when he'd seen the seriousness of the injury, but the younger man hadn't even flinched while they'd worked on it. Blair's feet were burned as well—the rubber soles of his tennis shoes were a melted mass that clung to his scorched white socks.

Seated on a chair at Jim's side, with Simon's hand resting gently on his left shoulder, Blair leaned against the bed as the doctor cleaned and bandaged the worst of the cuts and abrasions. He seemed oblivious to it all—his eyes shut, his concentration on Jim never wavering—but Simon could feel the trembling in the young man's body.

Simon knew he had another argument on his hands when the doctor pulled him aside, his face set and determined.

"Captain, I can't allow this any longer. This young man is in worse shape than his partner. He needs to be admitted and treated as quickly as possible."

"Doctor, you don't understand..."

"I have the EMT's report." The doctor deftly cut through Simon's objections, his voice rising in anger. "Frankly, I don't understand why they're not both dead. The only reasonable explanation is that somehow he managed to ground himself against the current. The energy discharge passed harmlessly from his partner's body, through his and into the ground. I say harmlessly, in that it didn't kill him. But he's been subjected to a massive electrical shock. I need to get him into his own room, run a series of tests..."

"No..."

The whispered denial caused both Simon and the doctor to turn and look at Blair in surprise. "Blair, maybe he's right. I know I've said this before, but you look terrible," Simon added with forced lightness.

"No... not yet..." Blair shook his head, eyes pressed shut, face strained with fatigue.

"Sandburg..."

Blair raised his head and fixed Simon with the same desperate, pleading stare he'd given him earlier.

"Please, Simon... not yet... not until he wakes up... he's closer... I can feel it... just a little while longer..."

Simon glanced over a the doctor, imploringly. The doctor's gaze flickered to Blair, to Jim, then finally back to Simon.

"One hour," he announced firmly. "I'll be back then."

Simon nodded his thanks. At the doorway the doctor paused, fixing Simon with a leveling stare. "I hope you know what you're doing."

No Doc, I hope "he" knows what he's doing, Simon thought grimly.

As the hour slipped away, Simon's concern grew. Jim's condition hadn't changed, but his Guide's was definitely worsening. Blair was trembling so badly that he could no longer sit upright. He was curled forward, his upper body supported by the bed, his head resting on top of Jim's arm. Simon had lost track of the number of times he had pleaded with the younger man to let him get the doctor, the soft "No" of denial growing fainter and fainter, the grip on Jim's arm still as tightly locked as ever.

Another tremor shook Blair's body and a soft whimper of pain escaped his lips, bringing Simon instantly to his side.

"Sandburg... Blair, can you hear me?" This time there was no response. Simon turned to look at Jim and shook his head. This had gone far enough.

"Jim... you have to wake up," Simon said firmly. "Blair needs you. He's hurt, but he won't let them help him until you open your eyes. Until he's satisfied you're all right. I don't understand how he's been guiding you, but he can't to do it any longer. You have to make it the rest of the way on your own, or with my help. He saved your life. Now it's your turn to save his. We've run out of time. Blair needs you. Do you hear me? Blair needs you now."

Simon's voice faltered and he closed his eyes for a moment, struggling to regain his control. When he looked again, he blinked in disbelief. Jim's eyes were open and he was staring at Simon in confusion.

"Welcome back."

"Back..." Jim whispered the word, his face growing blank, his eyes losing their focus as if he were staring beyond Simon—at something only a Sentinel's vision could see.

"Jim... stay with me," Simon urged. "Blair needs you."

The pale blue eyes blinked and regained their focus. Jim glanced down at the weight on his arm, suddenly aware of Blair's presence. He reached forward with his left hand and gently stroked Blair's hair, his fingers catching in the snarls of his Guide's tangled locks. "Blair..." he whispered softly, as he cupped his hand firmly around the back of the younger man's head. "Blair look at me."

Slowly, his Guide raised his head, his eyes wide and searching.

"Jim..."

"It's okay. You can let go now."

Blair shivered and shook his head uncertainly.

"It's okay," Jim repeated. "I won't go anywhere without you. I promise."

"You'll wait? You won't leave?"

"I won't leave."

"I almost lost you," Blair whispered, his face stricken.

"You saved my life," Jim corrected him.

"Not me... the panther..."

"No, Chief... it was you. You're the one who guided me back."

Reassured by the trusting words of his Sentinel, the fear and tension melted from the young man's face. Jim eased into a sitting position. Gently disengaging Blair's cramped fingers from around his wrist, Jim wrapped his own longer ones around his partner's. "It's my turn to lead for a while," the Sentinel said softly. "Rest."

A familiar smile flickered across the young man's face and he nodded. Blair closed his eyes and slipped easily into the blackness that had beckoned for so long. As he sagged forward, Jim's strong arms wrapped around him, easing his battered body onto the bed, holding him close.

When Jim glanced up at Simon, his eyes were filled with the uncertainty and concern that he hadn't allowed Blair to see.

"Simon, get the doctor."


Three days later, Jim opened the door to the loft and ushered his limping partner inside. Blair tottered over to the couch and dropped onto it with an exaggerated sigh of relief that brought a smile to Jim's face. "Glad to be home?"

"Glad doesn't come close, man!" Blair replied, gazing around at the familiar surroundings happily. "You know I hate hospitals!"

"Just checking, Chief," Jim teased. "I would have thought you'd enjoy being the center of attention. There were more than a few nurses who looked sorry to see you go."

"Hey, the nurses were great. It's the doctors I could do without. All that poking and prodding..."

"You had them stumped, partner," Jim responded with a grin. "It's not everyday that they get to examine a human lightning rod."

Blair's head jerked up, a flicker of fear lighting his eyes. Jim immediately regretted his choice of words. His partner was still carrying around the physical reminders of what had happened to them and if his own confused memories were any sample, he knew that Blair's head was filled with painful images that would take some time to sort out.

"Sorry, Chief."

Blair dropped his head, staring at the hands that lay motionless in his lap. An awkward silence seemed to grow between them until Blair's soft voice broke the quiet.

"Actually, I'm the one who owes you an apology. I guess I'm not a very good Guide after all."

"How's that?" Jim asked quietly, easing himself into the chair across from the couch.

"I almost let you die."

"I thought we'd settled this," Jim countered, remembering the soul-searching talks they'd had over the last few days. It disturbed him that while his own memories were oddly peaceful, his Guide's were filled with pain and doubt. It had taken some doing, but Blair had finally told him everything. Jim knew he'd have his own nightmare's now about leaving Blair behind—about walking away from him without a backward glance. How could he have done that? He wouldn't do that. Not in this reality.

"If it hadn't been for the panther, you would have died," Blair said flatly. "I just didn't get it. I forgot what a Guide is supposed to do. I panicked and ran after you. If I'd stayed in control I would have realized that you were having some kind of 'zone-out'. I should have concentrated on finding a way to make you listen to me."

"Blair, you risked your life to save mine. Twice. I read Daryl's statement and those of the other kids. I know that I would have died right there, if you hadn't come charging in when you did. And I would have died in that other... place... if you hadn't been there to lead me back. It was so beautiful there, so tempting to walk into that pulsing light and the peacefulness that it offered."

"Maybe I shouldn't have stopped you." He raised his head to meet Jim's gaze questioningly.

"Wasn't my time or place," Jim answered firmly. "That's why the panther was there." Jim saw the doubt still lingering in Blair's eyes and suddenly knew he had the right words to finally erase it. "You weren't ready to go. 'It's about friendship. I just didn't get it before.'"

Hearing his own words repeated back to him brought a tentative smile to Blair's face. A smile that grew as he saw the strength and commitment shining in Jim's eyes.

"Let's hope it's your version when it happens, man. I wouldn't wish mine on the devil himself."

~ End ~


E-Mail K. Ryn at kdkm@aol.com
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Page last updated 8/15/03.