Blair leaned back into the cool boulder, tiny rough edges digging into him through his sweatpants as he watched the sun climb the mountain peaks to the east. Funny, he used to hate mornings, but now he abandoned the warm nest of blankets every morning in order to watch the sun turn the desert vibrant shades of pink.
The haloed mountain glowed in the dusky air of pre-dawn, and Blair took a deep breath of the freshest air of the day. For the hundredth time he wondered why he hadn't settled farther away from the city with it pollution and crime, but he had grown used to both during his time in Cascade.
As the harsh rays of the sun finally slid up and over the mountain, Blair resumed his jog, anxious to get back down off the mountain before the brutal heat started rippling the air. He had started his ritual run as a way to escape the dreams and the guilt, and now he found he couldn't concentrate on his work without it.
Running until his legs trembled and his lungs ached was the best way to forget the screams of the panther that chased him in his dreams. Running. He'd gotten good at that. He thought he'd given up that skill when he'd met his holy grail, but time had shown that nothing learned is ever unlearned. He should have remembered that from his psychology classes.
Blair made a detour to avoid the spot where he'd seen a rattlesnake the day before. The thing was probably long gone now, but no use taking any chances. His foot slipped on some loose rock for a second, but he recovered his balance and continued his trot down the path.
He hadn't caught his balance nearly as well in Cascade. Oh, he'd endured the taunts and the hostile instructors long enough to earn the badge. After all, he had a point to prove. However, what he couldn't endure was Jim, or rather the Jim-shaped person who'd taken his friend's place. They still lived together, but meals had become an exercise in grunting, television had become an excuse to not talk, and any attempt on Blair's part to breech the gap had resulted in Jim simply leaving.
"Gotta go work a case…. Got a date, don't wait up…. Rafe has one extra ticket to the Jags tonight, so I'll see you later." It had reached the point that Blair had started making a game of predicting the excuses. Only, it wasn't a very fun game. Blair ran his hands through his short curls as he tried to wipe his thoughts clean.
God, it was ironic. They had survived shoot-outs, bombs, insane serial killers, and ruthless rogue operatives, but they couldn't survive that last disaster. Blair ran a little faster down the mountain, his sneakers sliding a bit on the turns as he followed the trail down to his Jeep still parked at the trailhead.
The sun was now up, and providing a preview of the heat that would scorch the valley later today. By the time Blair actually covered the last few hundred feet to his vehicle, the sweat soaked his t-shirt and thoughts of Jim had been pushed to the back of his mind where they belonged.
Blair walked into the station with his gym bag of dirty clothes flung over his arm. The station locker room didn't have enough lockers, so as the newest detective, he didn't get one. Where someone else might have been angry, Blair had actually been amused at the overt symbolism of detectives who never used the locker room having a locker while he didn't. It wasn't about who needed a locker; it was about status. Blair got that.
"Hey, Frizz. Got a new case, and this one has you all over it. Come on," Jeff called before Blair even had a chance to stow his clothes under his desk with a sigh. If the case had his name on it, he knew to expect some freaky killer or some hysterical victim. Funny how he'd managed to fill both slots in the department.
Got some bizarre clues that don't made sense? Call Frizzy Sandburg. Have some victim that no one else can calm down or get a statement from? No problem, here comes Frizzy Sandburg. He wondered what they had done before him. He had an image of his co-workers standing around helplessly shifting from foot to foot when confronted with a crying victim. And gender stereotypes had nothing to do with it since Maria and Bets were just as helpless with the softer side of police work.
Blair's first week had been rough, but when he proved that he could handle the victims without having to call in the victim resource specialist, he'd earned his place. And really, that was the part of police work Blair wanted to do: helping people and protecting… Blair stopped himself right before thinking of protecting the tribe which was part of that whole forbidden part of his brain. Instead he focused on Frizzy Sandburg who had a job to do.
By the end of the day, Blair had added two new cases to his impressive caseload. The newest one would get most of his attention tomorrow since cases older than 48 hours rarely led anywhere, but Blair would never just give up one of his cases, so after just three months, his in-box was frighteningly full. He vowed to spend Saturday going over two or three of the oldest. Fingering a dog-eared file, he wondered if he would ever catch Saundra Lopez's rapist. He suspected that a coyote, an illegal immigrant runner, had raped her after running a couple of her brothers across the border, but he couldn't be sure, and she wasn't talking. He sighed in frustration.
"Sandburg," a voice bellowed, and Blair gave a little smile. Captain Roth's booming voice reminded him so much of Simon that he wondered if Captain training included a mandatory course on bellowing.
"Cap?" Blair asked as he came in the office and took a seat across from the huge metal desk overflowing with files.
"Got a detective from Cascade comin' down. Seems like one of their serial killers might be heading our way, and since that's your old precinct…" Roth let his words trail off, but Blair knew his captain still wondered why Blair had left. When Roth called Simon for a recommendation, Simon had only good words, but a cop normally doesn't just leave the men he's learned to trust at his back just for a change of weather.
"Who's coming?" Blair asked with false indifference.
"More like who's here," Roth corrected with a nod out toward the bullpen. With his heart in his mouth, Blair turned to see Jim standing in the middle of the sea of desks. "Banks said you two used to be partners."
"Yeah," Blair confirmed as he stood up and headed for the door. The question now was whether Jim was here or whether it was the Jim-shaped clone that had taken Jim's place after the news conference.
"Jim," Blair offered as he closed the distance between them.
"Blair," Jim offered back, and Blair stopped dead in tracks. Okay, that would be Jim-shaped clone. To Jim he was Chief or Romeo or Darwin or Genius or just 'Sandburg.' Only the clone called him 'Blair' in that perfectly reasonable tone that suggested that he had no emotions.
"So, you brought the file?" Roth asked, and Jim gave a nod as he passed Blair without even a touch on the arm or handshake. Blair closed his eyes for a moment before he followed Jim into his captain's office.
An hour later, Blair's in-box had grown by one file, and he sat at his desk with Jim uncomfortably perched on the seat normally reserved for witnesses or guests. Jim didn't fit either category. However after looking at the case file, Blair understood why Simon had sent Jim. This guy needed to be caught or no one was going to be safe.
"I didn't expect," Jim waved a hand toward the desk and files.
"What? For me to get on with my life?" Blair snapped. He knew he was only making things worse, but it's not like it was going to make any difference now. Three months of silence had made Jim's position pretty damn clear, and from his conversations with Simon, Blair knew that Jim was handling the senses just fine. Funny, he'd had some fantasy where Jim needed him as guide, but he had processed through that and realized he didn't want Jim or the Jim-clone tethered to him by the senses.
"I didn't expect you to be a detective," Jim shot back, and Blair was caught off-guard by an honest answer. Jim usually steered the conversation away from the truth when it came to any subject related to the disaster.
"I'm good with clues, I like helping people, and I get the whole adrenaline rush," Blair shrugged. "I wouldn't want to walk a beat, but this," Blair waved toward the bullpen as he tried to decide how to end that sentence. "It's where I can do the most good," Blair finally finished.
"You cut your hair." Jim said in a strange non-sequitur, and Blair blinked twice before he could find an answer for that.
"Oh man, if you lived in 115 degree heat, you'd understand why." For some reason, Blair suddenly felt self conscious about his short curls and he ran his fingers through them. "So, let's go hit a few places," Blair suggested as he picked up the brown messenger bag that had taken the place of his ubiquitous backpack. "We should probably start down on Van Buren, hit a few of the less upscale bars."
"The dives," Jim clarified.
"Oh yeah, there are places down there the rats won't be seen dead in," Blair said with a half-laugh before the smile died on his face. God, it was just so damn easy to fall back into the same old pattern, but in the old pattern, Jim's hand would have been on his back or his shoulder, and this Jim just stood carefully outside Blair' personal space. Right, time for work.
It was well after dark before Blair dropped Jim off at his rental car and headed for home. Wondering what the hell was wrong with him, and knowing the answer in exquisite detail, Blair went through a Burger King window and ordered enough saturated fat to clog his arteries. The pain of losing Jim had just started to heal, and now the man had to show up again.
All the way home, Blair's thoughts revolved around what they had once shared, the companionship and trust and gentle touches. He'd never had another person inside his life the way Jim had been, and when Jim stepped back out of his life, he hadn't known what to do. He'd tried meditating, talking, screaming, falling silent. Nothing made any difference to the Jim-shaped person living in the loft. That's when he'd quit Major Crimes. Living with the Jim-sized reminder of a Jim he'd lost was more than he had the strength to endure.
The next morning Blair was on the mountain early. His dreams the night before had been filled with Jim's blue jungle. The landscape had become as familiar to Blair as the mountain where he took his daily run. The screams of the jaguar had come closer than ever before, and Blair felt the pull. Problem was that once he got there, he wouldn't be able to help; he'd tried that path before. Even on a spirit walk, Jim Ellison refused all help, and Blair had more than once woken drenched in sweat after being spiritually mauled. So instead he had walked the familiar territory while ignoring the growls and calls of an animal he couldn't face any more.
Now he attacked the mountain with all the frustrated desires the dreams always inspired. The dreams were a reminder that he and Jim had once been close spiritually and emotionally. Blair had even at one point hoped that the relationship might go a little farther; Burton had certainly included certain crude innuendo about the Sentinel and his companion. But instead of time pulling them together, they had pulled apart at the seams until Blair felt himself starting to fray at the edges. And now Jim had appeared to start pulling at the loose threads of his soul, to remind him that he had utterly failed as Jim's Guide and Shaman.
Blair drove his legs faster until the loose rock rattled off the trail in his wake. How dare Jim show up now when he was starting to get his life back together. He didn't have the closure rate Jim did and he wouldn't ever earn "Officer of the Year," but he was making a difference in people's lives, supporting them through difficult times and helping them find closure even when he couldn't catch a suspect. Blair panted hard for air as he turned the final bend to the spot where he would watch the sunrise. As he cleared the boulder, he stopped short.
"Jim," he nearly whispered into the dark air. With only wisps of light dancing around the mountain, he couldn't see the features clearly, but Jim's large frame and square shoulders were unmistakable. He turned around, and Blair still couldn’t see his face.
"Blair," he said softly, and Blair flinched at one more piece of evidence this wasn't his Jim.
"Oh hey, what are you doing up here?" Blair closed the final few yards walking, suddenly unsure about his footing.
"Captain Roth said I might catch you up here."
"Oh. Right." Blair didn't have anything else to say, so he leaned back against his rock and waited for sunrise as he tried to catch his breath. Many mornings he shared the mountain with hikers and dog walkers and joggers, but with Jim standing there looking at him, for the first time, Blair felt like his sacred space had been violated. He started considering other spots where he could have his morning meditation.
"I didn't think you'd stay on the force," Jim finally offered after an eternity of silence as the sun framed the mountain in pink.
"I'm good at the work," Blair pointed out as he cocked his head and really looked at Jim. This was twice that Jim had brought up his job, and Blair could feel something moving right under the surface. He thought he knew, but he had made so many mistakes in trying to understand Jim that he wasn't willing to go into that minefield again.
Jim turned and watched the sunrise without any further comment.
"So, is that why you came all the way up here?" Blair asked cautiously. Jim remained silent and motionless in the growing light. In the past, Blair would have pushed, but he had lost that right the day Jim came home to find Blair busily packing everything he owned. Jim hadn't even commented. He had opened the refrigerator, grabbed a beer, and headed up to his bedroom. Blair had finished packing with his eyes stinging, but in the end, he had chosen to leave Jim.
"Megan told me I'm an asshole," Jim finally offered, and Blair couldn't contain a snort of laughter. He could even imagine the tone of voice the Aussie would have used.
"She did, huh?" Blair answered even though he had more than once fantasized about turning to stone and refusing to talk to Jim the way Jim had once frozen him out. However, when push came to shove, he couldn't fake emotional constipation as well as Jim could live it.
"She told me that I was so busy trying to make sure you had choices that I didn't give you the choice to stay." Jim had turned so that the sun light illuminated half his face, and Blair was struck again by the man's stunning beauty. Jim stopped but he looked as if he was searching for words so for once Blair just shut up and waited.
"She said I was a drongo, and I'm guessing from the context that isn't good," Jim finished.
"Oh man, you really got the Megan Special."
"You agree with any of it?"
"Some." Jim's honesty shocked Blair. As long as he'd known the man, Jim avoided any sort of emotional admission of blame; Blair had learned to accept an oil change on the Corvair as an apology from Jim.
"We both screwed up," Blair admitted as he squinted and turned to face the trail. The bright disk of the sun cleared the edge of the mountain so that the rays of light now created long shadows that fell across the mountains. Blair eyed the trail as he considered just walking away. He knew if he did, Jim would turn back into Jim-clone and he wouldn't ever have to deal with this again. "I made mistakes," Blair said instead.
"Chief, can't we go back to being friends." Jim's voice sounded strange, husky, and Blair turned to see an expression of pain that was completely unfamiliar on Jim's face. It came close to the expression when Danny Choi had died in Jim's arms.
"Oh man, don't do this now. You'll open up and drag me back in and then you'll shut me out the minute I get close to any of those Ellison sore spots."
"I can't Jim." Blair struggled to control the panic attack that he could feel rising. "I can't walk this damn tightrope where we're okay as long as no one says anything important."
"I love you." Jim blurted the words out in a rush, making them sound like one, long jumbled word. For his part, Blair stood with his mouth open struggling to even decipher that series of vowels and consonants. After several minutes, Jim turned his back and started walking back down the trail."
"No, no, no, no, no. You do not get to say something like that and walk away," Blair practically screamed as he started after his one-time partner.
"You obviously don't feel the same way, Blair. Let's just work the case and get out of each other's lives."
"Don't tell me what I do or don't feel, James Ellison. I loved you for so damn long that I couldn't see straight. I put up with your house rules and your bad moods and your fucking disrespect for so long that I started questioning my own sanity. But then you'd touch me or I'd wake up in the hospital with you watching over me or you'd change the fucking oil in the car, and I'd tell myself that you loved me and that made it okay."
"I did love you, do love you," Jim interrupted, but the man didn't turn around and the trail was narrow enough at this point that Blair couldn't stand at his side. Instead Blair reached out and put a hand on Jim's broad back.
"Why did you have to give up your whole fucking life for me?" Jim whirled at the touch, and the despair had disappeared under anger, no more like cold, deadly fury. Blair involuntarily took a step back.
"Fear-based reactions," he whispered, and Jim's belligerence vanished like a popped balloon.
"Fuck you," Jim declared tiredly before starting down the trail again.
"Oh the great Sentinel of the city running away from anything that scares him. Great, man. Just great. But you brought this up and I'm not dropping it. First, I didn't give up my whole fucking life. I gave up a career in anthropology."
"Which was your whole life."
"Man, I am not so boring that my whole life fits into one slot. I loved the expeditions and the excitement, but I get that now. Instead of putting together clues on a two-thousand year old puzzle that only a handful of people will read about in some academic journal, I'm putting clues together in a way that makes a difference in people's lives. And you know full well that I loved the excitement of police work. Even when I had guys shooting at me, I felt jazzed—alive."
"Damn it." Jim slapped his hand against a rock and stopped on the trail so suddenly that Blair actually did bump into him. "I shouldn't have pulled you into this life. You should be safe on some expedition."
"Right, would that be safe as in the Kombai tree people trying to stick spears in me or safe as in getting caught in a civil war in Eritrea?"
"Blair," Jim's frustrated tone didn't stop Blair for a second.
"But you're so busy thinking that you have all the power over me, that you can make me do things I don't want to do, that I would let you trap me in a life I didn't want. News flash James Joseph Ellison: I speak up when I'm not happy. If I didn't want to be a cop I would have said so right in the middle of the station. I don't keep everything bottled up until I hate myself. I'm not fucking you." Blair stopped. Oh god, he had never intended to let that much out, but now the words hung heavily in the air. Jim's back trembled as though an electrical current had run through it, but other than that he stood motionless, blocking the trail and staring off into the distance. Blair thought he might have even zoned.
"Jim, just fol…" Blair stopped as Jim started down the mountain without a word in response. Great. It was just like old times. Blair silently followed with the healing wound in his soul bleeding profusely.
Blair typed notes into his laptop, holding the computer firmly as Jim took a left turn far more aggressively than he had to. It was amazing how well Jim spoke with actions. Right now the white knuckles on the steering wheel and the aggressive driving screamed "angry" or maybe "betrayed." Jim had obviously come to make peace, and Blair had refused to go along with the Ellison sweep it under the carpet method of dealing with emotions.
As the truck merged with the traffic on I-17, Blair started typing again. He could have told Jim that people referred to this highway as the I-17 Parking Lot, but he hadn't been asked, and Jim was navigating from a map. Blair silently hoped he choked on the thing. Pulling out a cell phone, Blair started making calls on his latest rape case: the trace evidence lab, the hospital where she had been admitted, the girl's parents, and even a couple of witnesses who had been at the party.
With the car limited to 30 miles an hour, he had time to gather enough to convince him that he had four or five favorite suspects. He typed names into the computer and used his wireless connection to pull up records. Three were clean, college boys at the university. One had a petty theft arrest. The last had been convicted of aggravated assault. Blair pulled up that record, and read about how the suspect had nearly beaten a man to death with a stool. Blair put that man on the bottom of his mental list. If someone with that much trouble controlling his aggression had attacked the girl, she'd be in the morgue, not the hospital. Blair's money was on one of the three college boys: studs attracted by ASU "party school" reputation. That would match the injuries to the girl which seemed more accidental than intentionally abuse.
"Working a case?" Jim asked, the first time since the mountain the man had said more than two words at a time.
"Yeah. Rape case," Blair answered as he scrolled through the public records he could access on the boys. He would visit them later.
"Hate those cases." Jim said, and Blair was struck by the fact that Jim was trying to make small talk and that Jim really didn't know how to talk to Blair any more, hence the short, choppy sentences offered in clipped tones.
"Yeah, man. There was a felon at the party, but my money is on the three college boys who were circling her all night."
"Not the felon?"
"Definitely. The felon would have seriously messed her up if his record means anything, but her injuries where sustained from her clothes being ripped from her and a fall where the guy landed on top of her. That sort of stupidity screams drunk college guy."
"Oh man, I wish. He caught her outside after the party, and the streetlight was broken. She didn't see anything except the ground."
"Tough case to make." Blair resisted cheering Jim on as the man went from two and three word sentences to a whole four words.
"Yeah," he agreed quietly instead.
"Want me to take a look?" Jim's voice was uncertain, as though he was breaking some great taboo to even make the suggestion, and Blair ran through a number of possible reasons, none of which actually made any sense to him.
"I'd love it. I know I don't have the experience you have," he answered, careful not to seem too enthusiastic while still letting his gratitude show. Oh yeah, he was falling back into old patterns right on schedule.
"No problem, Chief." Jim navigated onto the main roads as he headed for the sleaze strip they had worked yesterday. If their murderer followed pattern, he would spend several days working himself up in some cheap strip bar before making a kill. "Do you really like…" Jim waved a hand toward the laptop as though he had run out of words.
"The rapes, no," Blair said dryly as he rolled his eyes at Jim's inability to talk. "Helping catch the rapists, hell yes. Making people believe that someone cares, oh hell yes. I'm good at my job even if I'm not the best."
"You have good instincts, you'll become the best," Jim said confidently, and Blair could only blink in surprise as Jim pulled into a parking space next to the Red Cock bar where a neon Rooster blinked merrily. Blair wondered how drunk someone had to be before that joke seemed funny. His thoughts were completely derailed as he came around the car with his messenger bag slung over one shoulder, and Jim's hand found the indentation on the small of his back and rested there comfortably as if the past year with its betrayals and misunderstandings hadn't happened.
Blair had thought they might talk once they reached the station. The uniformed cops had put the suspect into the back of a patrol car, according to Jim's sense of smell, the DNA evidence would confirm that the man was the Cascade serial killer, and all that was left now was the paperwork. However, the minute they reached the precinct, Jim had disappeared with some muttered excuse that Blair didn't catch since he didn't have sentinel hearing.
Today had seen the return of the real Jim who touched Blair until several of the beat cops were whispering rumors that would probably haunt Blair long after Jim went home. However, Blair now remembered that the real Jim could be just as much of a closed mouthed bastard as the Jim-clone, just for different reasons. So Blair sat at his desk and typed up the report about finding the suspect in the Red Cock bar.
Usually Blair got a spike of adrenaline every time he caught a suspect, but as he typed words into his computer, he just felt tired. The case was over. Jim still wasn't talking to him. And somehow knowing Jim was back to the friend who hovered over him and rolled his eyes and always found some reason to touch him didn't make him feel any better. Leaving the Jim-clone had nearly killed him, but knowing that the real Jim was about to leave him made things even worse. He wondered if a person could die from a wounded soul because his was quickly bleeding out, and Blair was ready to declare a soul-death by exsanguination.
"Hey, Chief. Got the report done?" Jim asked cheerfully, and Blair felt an overwhelming urge to hit the man with his computer. Problem was Ellison had such a thick skull, he'd probably just break his laptop.
"Almost. Have to attach a 94-10 since I had a non-Phoenix ride along on the bust." Blair's fingers paused as he considered that Jim had become the ride along. Life was funny.
"Want me to look over that rape case?" Jim asked, either not noticing or not commenting on Blair's phrase.
"Sure," Blair pulled a file out of his in-box and slid it over to Jim who opened it and started scanning every note, every picture, and every piece of trace evidence. "Oh here, add these," Blair said as he pulled pink copies of lab reports out of his incoming mail stack. Quickly sorting through the papers, Blair found the ones relating to the rape and handed them over. Without a comment, Jim added them to the bottom of the file and kept reading. Blair pulled out an erasable pen and wrote on a section of his desk, "Sum. add rpt. Yelson."
"You're writing on your desk, Chief."
"It's erasable. I just won't erase it until I add the new lab reports to the summary sheet for the Yelson rape file there. Can't screw up the paperwork." Blair watched as something shifted in Jim. The man slumped a little farther into the desk, his shoulders lost some tension, and Blair really wished he had some sort of user's manual that would give him a hint as to why his writing on his desk made Jim relax.
"Sandburg, Ellison" Roth boomed from his office door, and Blair pushed his computer back. 94-10's would have to take a backseat to bellowing captains. Blair only realized that the universe had reversed itself when he took lead on the way to the captain's office, Jim following behind. But then this was Blair's captain and Blair's precinct, not Jim's.
"Well Banks was certainly right about you two. Two days to catch a serial killer who's been on the loose for six months. Good job,"
"Thank you, sir," Blair smiled his appreciation for the compliment as he sank into one of the chairs in front of Roth's desk. Instead of taking the other chair, Jim went and leaned against the window. Blair narrowed his eyes at the sudden signs of tension in his Sentinel's body.
"Can't say that I wouldn't like a little more of that magic. Your paperwork came through Ellison, and I can't offer you anything now, but in two months Riller is retiring. I'll have a spot for you then. We don't have enough space in the locker room though, and Sandburg gets the next available locker, so you'll have to do without. And I can't promise you dayshift, so if Sandburg wants to work shift with you, he may get stuck doing a few nights again. That'll be up to him."
Blair opened his mouth several times as the significance of the words slowly sank into him. Each time, he closed his mouth without uttering any one of a hundred phrases that ran through his mind like "what the fuck?" or "have you lost your mind?" Opening his mouth again, Blair finally managed a quiet, "Could you give us a second?" Roth looked at him with shocked eyes for several seconds before silently deciding something and nodding his head.
"Need to go yell at Tyler in records anyway," he said as he stood and left the office. Blair noticed that on his way out, Roth gave the one set of open blinds a twist so that Jim and Blair would have privacy.
"If you don't want me here, Chief," Jim started.
"Oh man, you take the cake. Had you even considered *talking* to me first?"
"Talking's not my thing."
"Yeah, I noticed," Blair slumped in the chair as he tried to sort through the wide range of emotions that were dodging through his brain like flashes. Talking might not be Jim's thing, but it was his thing. "Okay, I'm thrilled that you want us to work together and I'm furious that you couldn't bring yourself to talk to me and I'm fucking scared that we're just going to end up doing this whole insane push-pull thing all over again, and I just don't have the strength to keep picking myself back up after you push me away."
"I know, Chief." The familiar words and warm tone pulled at Blair's soul until a part of him didn't even care what the future held. A part of him just wanted Jim back even if it only lasted a while. Another part of him knew he couldn't let go a second time if things went bad again.
"Tell me what's changed. I can't do this again if we're going to walk the same damn path," Blair whispered.
"I kept thinking that you were unhappy, even if you didn't say it. I kept thinking that your life would be better without me," Jim said, and a part of Blair had always understood that even as he couldn't break through the barriers Jim put up to keep him away. It's why he hadn't left earlier.
"And now?" Blair asked quietly.
"I'm taking you at your word. You like police work and I didn't fuck up your life," Jim said with a shrug and then he turned to look out at the busy street. "If you don't want me here, that's okay too. I still have my job in Cascade."
A new thought suddenly crossed Blair's mind. "Cascade is your territory, man. You can't leave your tribe."
"Chief, you were always wrong on that. When I was in Peru, Incacha's tribe was my tribe. The minute you became my guide, Cascade was my home because it was your home. A guide or shaman has a territory, a Sentinel has a guide," Jim said quietly and then he turned back so that Blair could see the open vulnerability in those eyes. "All a Sentinel has is a Guide."
"Jim," Blair said softly as he felt his eyes itching with the need to cry.
"Blair, I can't…" Jim stopped, but Blair heard the words anyway. He realized that he could always hear what Jim left unsaid.
"Butch and Sundance together again, huh?" Blair asked as he stood up and walked toward Jim. Large arms opened, and Blair stepped into the embrace. Jim's head rested on the top of his head, and Jim's arms trembled as they held him tightly enough that Blair took shallow breaths.
"As long as you don't try to convince me to go over a cliff," Jim whispered without loosening his hold. "Because if you do, I'll probably go along," he added in a rough voice. Blair closed his eyes and leaned into Jim's chest as tears of relief slipped past his defenses. Instead of answering with words, Blair just slipped his own arms around the small of Jim's back and held on as he realized the disaster was finally over. The storm had passed, and he was safely with his Sentinel again.
"I love you, too, man," he whispered. The arms holding him just tightened as Jim offered the only answer he knew how to give. It was more than enough.