||Blair let the pound of the drums sink into his bones so that his body reverberated with the Earth. Oh yeah. Slowly, the daily life, the worries, the fears… they all slipped away in the drum and the sweet smoke that drifted by him.
Slowly, Blair started rocking, his head lazily dipping and rising with each wobble. The pine trees and uneven patches of green grass and brown faded, as did the circle of friends and strangers sitting around the low fire under the full moon.
The first image that formed out of the mists of his languor was of the bullpen, empty now the way it never was in real life. Blair almost pushed the image away. He'd come to escape that desk that with the nameplate "Det. Sandburg." He didn't want that part of him here, but the smoke and the beat were too strong, sucking him into the room like a vapor blown by a wind it cannot control.
Files piled over his desk, pushing up from underneath until they formed a precarious mountain, and Blair walked over and put a hand out on the cool surface of the manilla folders and pink carbon-copied lab reports and printed witness statements.
"You have the Carmelli statement in that mess, Chief?" Jim asked, his voice distant and echoing through Blair's vision. Blair refused to turn and look at why Jim sounded so different.
"Yeah, somewhere," Blair answered, but the minute he took his hand off the pile, the mountain started growing, tilting until a waterfall of paper slipped off the edge of the desk and cascaded down the old, chipped desk someone had brought up for him. Blair stared in dismay as the reports and files vanished into the pool which quickly engulfed half the floor so that his whole desk tilted precariously.
"Jim, some help, man," Blair called, turning to his partner, only his partner wasn't there. A tree stood in the middle of the squad room, pushing up until it cracked through the ceiling and sun shone down in puddles and stripes.
"No can do, Chief," Jim said sorrowfully, and Blair realized that Jim was the tree.
"Oh man. This is not a good trip," Blair said ruefully as he realized that he had totally lost control of the vision quest. Then again, he shouldn't be surprised considering he wasn't holding anything together anymore.
The sunshine turned dark, blues and purples spreading like a stain until the day turned to night and other trees pushed in though the walls of the precinct. The pool lapped at Blair's feet so that he had to stumble back.
"Man, I am the world's worst guide. I can't believe I'm visualizing you as a tree. I'm so sorry, man," Blair said as he stumbled to the tree's side and rested his hand against the warm bark. The tree didn't answer.
"A tree is strong. It shelters and protects that which lives in its shade," a voice said, and Blair turned to see Incacha's face, still stained red with tribal markings.
"Yeah, Jim's that," Blair agreed. Jim did shelter him, maybe even past the point when Jim should. And then Jim got cranky.
Blair sank down to the damp ground under the tree and rested his back against the rough bark.
"To rest in the shade of one's Sentinel is good," Incacha nodded.
"I'm there, man. I do lots of resting in his shade," Blair laughed. Looking around, the jungle had swallowed the entire squad room, everything except a few loose pieces of paper. Blair grabbed a white sheet, and found the missing Carmelli statement.
"Hey, Jim. I found it," he said as he held the paper up toward the tree. No answer. "I guess I’m a little late."
"A guide is never too late," Incacha said seriously.
"Oh man, I am totally too late. I'm too late to keep his secret because a good half of the department still believes he's a Sentinel, I'm too late to save my reputation because my ass was so kicked out of the university, and I'm too late to help him because we don't even talk any more."
Blair let his head fall back against the tree as he finally let himself cry. He'd lost everything he'd ever wanted… he'd lost Jim. They might live in the same house, but they didn't share a life anymore. No shared meals, just food grabbed as one or the other of them passed through the kitchen. No more shared vacations, just a quick note on the table saying Jim had gone fishing. Okay, and he'd left a note or two himself, like the one telling Jim he'd gone to a drum ceremony on the Yakama reservation.
"It's just too damn late, and I'm not strong enough to let go," Blair whispered to himself.
"A guide does not let go," Incacha admonished him, and Blair exploded up from the ground.
"Then I'm not a guide. A guide would make Jim's life easier, and I don't. I'm a fucking parasite, a necrotroph." Blair glanced at the Jim-tree, vines draping his upper branches and moss creeping up one side. "I'm some fucking arrhizal plant sucking the life right out of Jim because I don't have the strength to go away and set down roots somewhere else. Oh, who am I kidding? I never had roots."
"The Sentinel has roots," Incacha said calmly.
"And I'm just fucking leeching off them," Blair exploded. He turned his back on the tree and Incacha and the whole fucking vision as he started striding through the blue jungle.
"Time to wake up, Sandburg. Come on. Wake up," Blair mumbled to himself as he tried to break the vision's hold over him. He wasn't ready to face his subconscious, and taking this little trip was one seriously bad idea in a lifetime of bad ideas.
"I can't take this trip with you," Jim's voice echoed through the trees.
"Yeah, yeah, I got that already. I'm thinking no more trips at all for a while. Hell, you'll probably smell the smoke in my hair two days from now and bust my chops. So not worth it."
A wolf stepped out of the underbrush and stopped right in front of Blair.
"Okay, enough is enough. Time to come back to reality," Blair said as he ignored the animal and tried to push past him on the path. The wolf leaped at him, and when Blair expected the animal to merge into him, it slashed at his chest so that fire burned through Blair, and his hand, which had gone to the wound, felt sticky and warm with blood.
"Hey," Blair said as he backed up a step. The wolf growled, and Blair felt the first tendrils of fear.
A jaguar leapt from the shadows, his back arched in fury as he faced off against the wolf, holding him at bay, and Blair backed up the trail, not sure how long it would be before the jaguar would turn on him as well. Once he had some distance, Blair turned and ran, his steps weak as the wound in his chest pumped blood. Blair barely made it back to the Jim-tree before he collapsed, gasping as the pain took over every other thought.
"You burn him," Incacha said, and Blair looked down. His drops of blood singed the bark, making wisps of smoke curl up into the air. Horrified, Blair tried to push away, but dizziness pulled him back down so that his head rested on a giant raised root and his blood dripped onto the bark.
"Help me," Blair pleaded, searching the shadows for Incacha, but he could only hear the voice now.
"I am dead. I cannot help you young one, for you must help yourself."
The jaguar came tearing into the clearing, running straight for Blair with his tail stiff behind him, and Blair closed his eyes as he waited for the strike. Instead, the cat leaped through Blair and vanished into the Jim-tree. For a brief second, Blair felt relief wash through him, easing his pain, but then the wolf followed. With his ears flat against his skull and his teeth showing, Blair had no doubt that the animal intended to kill him.
Blair struggled to move off the Jim-tree, desperate to not drip more blood on it, but he couldn't do anything more than shift an inch.
"Incacha, help Jim then. Man, you can't just leave him," Blair begged.
"We all have our times."
"And mine's now. I get that, I really do, but you can't let me hurt him."
Incacha's body formed from the mist that rose between Blair and the wolf. "Why would you hurt him, young one?"
"I don't mean to, but I do. Please, just help him. Get me away from him."
"And would that save your Sentinel?" Incacha asked.
"No!" an answer roared though the jungle. Arms encircled Blair, and Jim was there, holding him, supporting him.
"Incacha, don't do this to him," Jim said in that tight, dark tone he used when his control was failing him.
"I do nothing, Sentinel. You have kept his spirit from his soul."
"He isn't ready for this. He doesn't want it," Jim said, and hands brushed the hair back from Blair's forehead. Blair sank into the embrace, pretending that it was in the basement of the precinct and Jim was holding him, protecting him from the fire-people born of a drug poisoning. He pretended that he hadn't yet hurt his Sentinel.
"He wants only what you want. The young one is arrhizal, without roots, and he has relied on you for nourishment. But you deny him this, and so he starves and can no longer protect you."
"I've protected him."
"No, Sentinel. You cannot protect a shaman from his spirit life. You must either allow him to make this trip on his own or you must walk with him on the path, but to deny him this is to kill him."
"I can't lose him. He isn't ready for this."
"He is strong, just as long as you provide the roots which he needs. Otherwise, he can only feed on the light, and there is none here. Walk with him through the dark, and when the sun returns, he will grow strong again."
"Incacha," Jim strangled the word, and Blair stirred restlessly. Jim hurt.
"No, Sentinel," Incacha snapped. "You will choose or watch him die."
A boom resonated through the forest, and Blair opened his eyes to find Incacha gone and the wolf stalking toward him again. Blair pushed against Jim's arms.
"Man, you have to go," he whispered, and fear crawled through him, pushing even the pain of his wound out.
"You have to let him in, Chief," Jim said as he tightened his arms. "Let him in."
"You hate this mystical crap," Blair said, confused.
"No, I just wanted to protect you from it. I want you to let him in. I want us to take this trip together," Jim hushed him, strong hands smoothing Blair's hair back.
"No buts, Darwin. I need you. I need more of you than I have right now. Every day, my control slips a little more. I want to reach out for you, and I stop myself because I tell myself I don't have a right to take any more of your life. I tell myself I don't have a right to drag you into this part of my life, too."
"You never dragged me," Blair said as he finally heard was Jim was saying.
"And you have never been a parasite, Chief. I can't do this alone, and I thought I was protecting you, but now I need you to let him in."
Blair nodded as he closed his eyes. The wolf advanced, still growling as he snapped his teeth, and Blair let himself sink back as he opened his heart.
The wolf sprang forward, snapping his teeth, and Blair just closed his eyes as the pain hit him.
A beeping intruded on Blair's silence. The pain of the wolf's attack had faded, but the lethargy that pulled at his limbs remained.
"Hey, sleepyhead. It's time you woke up before the doctors shove more medicine in you," Jim's voice drifted down.
"Med—" Blair rasped out through a dry mouth.
"It was a heart attack, and the fact that it took two hours to get to the nearest hospital complicated matters, but the doctors say you're going to be fine." Jim's hand closed around Blair's, and Blair closed his eyes.
"Chief?" Jim called softly. Blair struggled through the fatigue to open his eyes again.
"I'm glad I took that trip with you, and I promise I won't leave you alone in the dark any more," Jim said softly as he stroked Blair's cheek. Blair opened his mouth to say something, but shock had robbed him of all his words.
"Sleep now," Jim murmured, and Blair couldn't deny his Sentinel. He closed his eyes and drifted to sleep where he dreamed of sunshine.