"Blair? Come on back, buddy. Come on, Chief, you're worrying me here."

The voice seemed to come from a great distance, but Blair could not resist the tone of concern and forced his eyes open.

"Hmmm?"

"There you go. Up and at 'em."

Before he knew it he was sitting on the edge of the pool, one strong arm around his back as Jim rubbed warmth into a still-trembling arm. He brushed his hair back off his face and tried to squeeze some of the moisture out as he sat up straighter.

"I'm okay, Jim, I'm okay." He patted Jim on his arm as he stood on wobbly legs and headed for the pile of dry clothing in a corner of the room. Pulling his t-shirt off, he wrung the water out of it, then used it to wipe most of the wetness from his chest and back before pulling on a dry sweatshirt. He found his dry shorts and jeans and changed quickly, avoiding looking at Jim while he tried to slow his pounding heart. Finally changed, he took a deep breath and turned around.

Jim was still sitting on the edge of the pool, rubbing his own arms briskly to warm them, and looked up as Blair approached.

"Are you really all right, Chief?"

Blair looked down and studied his feet as he replied.

"Yeah, fine. Uh, Jim, did you..."

"Yeah, I did. I saw it all."

"Oh." Blair quickly turned and walked across the chamber to the stack of firewood that they had brought in earlier and began to set up a fire on the stone floor. He busied himself with the fire as he heard Jim changing clothes behind him, then soft footfalls as he approached and sat on a blanket beside him.

"Looks good, Chief. Let's get some water heated up, I could use something warm to take the chill off."

He slid a blanket over and Blair unfolded it, sitting on one edge of it and wrapping the rest around himself.

"Thanks."

The fire grew and crackled, gradually filling that corner of the chamber with warmth. Blair stared into the fire, his thoughts swirling.

"You never told Naomi, did you?" Jim asked softly.

"No, I didn't. I couldn't. It wasn't her fault that the guy was a pervert. Dr. Adams was a pretty cool guy, I learned a lot about anthropology that summer. And I didn't get hurt, except for a killer hangover the next morning." He stirred the fire with a stick. "Anyway, where did you put the food? I'm starving."

"I put everything I thought we'd need over in that corner. Since we're not supposed to leave the temple until we've finished the ceremony, I brought most everything I could carry."

"Good. Let's eat, then I think I'll rest for a bit."

"Sounds like a plan."


He moved about the temple, lighting candles and sorting through their supplies. Blair sat quietly, apparently deep in thought as Jim began to prepare the meal. Before long, a pot of stew simmered on the fire between them, the pleasing aroma helping to alleviate some of the tension that remained from their emotional experiences. Jim stared across the glowing embers, watching as Blair's eyelids dipped, then smiled to himself as Blair gave in and stretched out on his side. Settling himself more comfortably on the ground, Jim gave the pot a final stir and then carefully filled his bowl with the steaming broth.

Jim spooned up some of the soup, allowing the soothing liquid to play across his senses. For a moment, he thought of home, and how the loft had changed from being just a place to park his Jags cap, to a place that he had come to love. He watched as Blair shifted restlessly in his sleep, and immediately found himself focusing his senses on his partner. The sound of Blair's even, deep breaths reassured him, blanketing him with a sense of serenity that both calmed and refreshed him at the same time.

A pleasing weariness filled him, stilling the thoughts and questions that tugged on his mind. Discarding the uneaten portion of his dinner, Jim stretched out on his back, intending only to rest his eyes for a moment...


Blair awoke, refreshed from his nap, feeling a renewed sense of peace. Jim lay across from him, one arm pillowed under his head, the other tucked in at his side. Blair couldn't help the grin that spread across his face as he noted the small spark of a smile on Jim's face. Jim stirred momentarily, and Blair automatically soothed the slumbering man with his words.

"It's okay, Jim."

The softly spoken words hit their mark, quickly comforting the sleeping man. Jim relaxed into a deeper sleep, the small smile once again lighting his face.

Blair dug into the still warm soup, surprised at how hungry he was after their trips into the unknown. His fear, that Jim would think less of him because of his vision, seemed to fade with every passing moment. Naomi'd had no way of knowing the danger that he had been in on the expedition, just as in the same way, Jim had no idea of what type of dangers he would put Blair in on a daily basis.

"Hey."

The sound of Jim's sleep-tinged voice roused him from his thoughts.

"Hey yourself."

"Sorry, Chief, I guess I dozed off. I guess I was more tired than I thought."

Blair nodded, busying himself by folding the blanket, "Yeah, me too."

"I guess we should tidy up. We still have another trip into the twilight zone ahead of us."

Blair laughed, happy to hear the friendly playfulness in Jim's voice, but sobering quickly. "Are you sure that you want to go ahead, to complete the ritual?"

Jim met his eyes. "Yeah, I am actually. As sure as I've ever been."

Blair stopped his work, studying Jim's expression for any hint of untruth. The certainty in Jim's eyes touched his heart and removed the last of his own misgivings. "I'm glad. I'm really glad."

"Let's get to it. The copy of your dissertation is over there in the corner."

Blair followed Jim's line of sight, quickly retrieving the bound copy and returning to Jim's side.

"What now?"

"That soup should do as our ritual meal, I used all of the "holy" herbs that we gathered. Kind of a spiritual cleanser so to speak, to help us to free our minds and spirits to meet in the final vision."

"Jim, how did you know? I don't remember that from the writings..."

"I don't know, Chief, I don't know. It just felt right."

Blair followed Jim towards the pools, the book tucked securely in his hand. "What do we do with it?" "Put it on the ground between us, and set it on fire."

"Oh, right. Then we drop some of the ashes in each of the pools."

Both watched solemnly as the book that had almost brought the end of their partnership and friendship came to its own fiery end. As soon as the flames were out, Jim used a stick to push some ashes into a bowl, then each dropped some ashes in one of the pools.

Blair moved towards the pool that he had occupied earlier.

"Wait, Chief. We have to switch sides."

"We do?"

"Yes."

Switching position with Jim, Blair stood with his back towards the pool.

"Close your eyes, Blair, and trust...."

"Trust? In what?"

"In you, and in me."

They simply faced each other, eyes meeting, breathing gradually slowing and matching in cadence. Closing his eyes, Blair felt himself beginning to drift, unseen hands lifting him to levitate above the water. Strong and familiar hands gently lowered him, the warm water cradling his body.


Jim felt tears in his eyes, a sudden rush of fear and sadness overtaking him. The angry face of his father loomed over him, stealing his breath away.

"I warned you about your fantasies, didn't I?"

No! Oh God, this can't be happening. Listen to me Dad. Please listen to me...I'm telling the truth!

"Now you've got to stop pretending or people are going to think you're a freak. You understand? Huh? Is that what you want? For people to think there's something wrong with you?"

Jim shivered as the weight of his father's gaze tore at his heart. A single word escaped his lips, sealing his destiny

"No."


Blair stood at the top of the stairway, his eyes locked on the scene playing out before him.

"Jim?"

The voice of Incacha sounded behind him. "You cannot change his past."

Anger rose to the surface as Blair watched the effect of William's heated words on his eldest son. He could see the hurt in Jim's eyes, the pleading uncertainty of a lost soul, searching for its destiny.

"...freak... wise up..."

He closed his eyes as he listened to Jim's softly spoken words, denouncing who he was, and who he had a right to be.

Colors swirled behind his tightly closed lids, the vision disappearing as quickly as it had come.


He fought to open leaden eyelids, struggling to regain awareness. A tapping on his cheek helped urge his eyes open, and a face swam into view.

"It's okay, it's okay..."

Lash. Dear God, Lash had him. It wasn't just a nightmare. The terrifying face continued to drift in and out of focus as Blair slowly regained some feeling, some movement, enough to discover that he was chained where he was. He pulled weakly against the chains and shackles that gripped his arms. The voice of the serial killer came and went as Blair fought the effects of the drug, heaviness and weakness gradually replaced by mind-blowing terror.

He faded back in.

"You just relax. We're going to see the ducks and then you're going to have a nice-- you're going to have... have a nice bath. Are you ready to die? 'Cause...I'm ready."

Then Jim was there, and he and Lash crashed through the floor. Blair strained against his bonds as he struggled to fight off the small mouthful of the drug that Lash had forced into him just before Jim arrived. Five gunshots rang out, and silence reigned for a moment before he could make out the distant sounds of footsteps.

Jim or Lash?

Drug-induced lethargy spread again through his body, even as the terrified pounding of his heart filled his ears. Numbed lips barely moved as he begged heaven and earth.

"Jim, please, Jim, please, Jim, please, Jim..."


Blackness gradually faded, and Jim found himself in a semi-darkened room. Flickering candlelight glowed all around, and just as he began to recognize the old warehouse, footsteps approached and he turned toward the stairs at the other side of the room.

One man, talking to himself, was coming carefully down the stairs, with a limp but familiar form draped over one shoulder.

Lash. And he had Blair.

He rushed over to the stairs, even knowing by now that he couldn't intervene, but reached out to grab Lash's arm anyway. His hand passed through without making contact, and he tried again, this time trying to pull Blair off Lash's shoulder. He had no more impact than a gentle breeze.

"Sandburg! Blair!"

"You know that they cannot hear you," a familiar voice called out, and Jim turned to see Incacha standing beside him. "Now you must watch and decide."

"Decide?"

"You have both traveled here to close the circle. You must both accept death, and the consequences of your actions to each other. Otherwise you can never truly bond as sentinel and guide."

"What consequences?" Jim begged, then turned to discover that Incacha was no longer present.

Unable to interfere, Jim could but watch as Lash tortured his partner, teasing him, taunting him, and eventually drugging him again despite Blair's efforts to spit out most of the liquid. The expression of sheer terror on Blair's face chilled him to the core, even as Blair's bravado in talking back to the psychopath gave him a surge of pride. He could feel the blood where his fingernails dug into his palms in helplessness, and his Sentinel hearing could just make out Blair's mumbled plea as he waited to see who would return to the room, his savior or his killer.

The image faded and darkness filled the room, before the scene changed.


Jim clamped his eyes shut against the pain, his eyes burning as if they were on fire. Loud voices boomed in his ear, the smell of sweat and blood assaulting his senses.

"How do you like me now, baby?"

The crowd roared in his ears, shouting and cursing, spitting and cheering.

The prison? Vinson? I can't see... Blair, get me out of here! Pull me out! Pull me out!

Hauling himself up unsteadily, Jim shook his head to clear it. The wash of air currents swept against his skin and he instinctively ducked, avoiding the vicious kick that missed its mark. Surging up from his crouched position, Jim punched into Vinson's face, the loud thud of fist hitting face registering in his ears.


The haze in the smoke filled room slowly lifted, and Blair found himself amidst a large crowd. His eyes swept the area, coming to rest on a makeshift fighting ring in the center of the room. A wave of terror washed over him as he recognized one of the fighters engaged in the bloody battle.

"Jim!"

"You know that he cannot hear you."

Blair jerked his head around to face Incacha, dividing his attention between the fight and the spirit before him.

"You have to stop this. They'll kill him! Incacha, do something."

"See what he has learned."

Ignoring Incacha's words, Blair pushed past the onlookers, moving to stand beside the ring. He watched Jim falter, staggering in pain as an entire can of pepper spray was sprayed into his eyes.

"Come on, Jim. Use your hearing. Ignore the crowd. Dial it down. You can do this."

Jim struggled for control, taking a moment to compose himself before delivering the final blow that brought Vinson down.

The smoke grew thicker as the image blurred before his eyes.


He leaned back against a tree, head throbbing with every movement, every breath. He was cold, wet, tired, and probably brain-damaged after the collision between his head and a large boulder.

"My head is killing me, man."

"...probably think of you as some self-serving, spineless goober..."

Running and stumbling, he raced madly through the forest, an angry survivalist chasing him, to kill him.

Gunfire rang out, a shaft of red-hot pain stabbing through his thigh and driving him to the ground.

"...just got to get the bleeding under control..."

A blanket of smoke settled down around them, stealing the air in the mine shaft.

"...coming out, Quinn!"

Barely able to remain standing on his injured leg, Simon at his side, he watched Quinn approach with gun drawn. The look on his face left no doubt as to his intentions. He raised his arms in surrender, but Quinn only grinned and pointed the weapon.


"What do you see?"

Jim spun away from the vision, from his view of the bruised and bloodied figure of his partner, and found Incacha again standing at his side.

"Another madman, ready to kill Blair. I should never have let him get into those situations. How many times has he almost died because of me?"

Incacha's voice became stern. "You should not have let him be there? You choose his path for him?"

Jim choked back an angry retort. "No, of course not. But if he were to be killed because of working with me...."

"Both Shaman and Sentinel must accept death. Listen to his soul."


Jim opened up his hearing, trying to locate the fleeing killer by following the sounds of his footsteps on the metal walkway. A sudden loud, piercing noise deafened him, causing him to cover his ears and clench his eyes closed in pain. Unseen hands shoved him forward and flipped him over the railing.

He was falling, then landed headfirst in thick, bitter liquid. Struggling to swim upward through the heavy, slimy substance, his head finally broke the surface.

"Sandburg! Help!"

Oil... No air... Can't breathe... Help me...


Blair glanced around the large area, unsure of exactly where he was. Moments later Jim ran past him on the metal walkway, radio in hand, calling his name. All at once, memory filtered back to him, crashing down on him like a ton of bricks.

"Incacha."

The spirit hovered before him, gesturing to the vat of oil. "Your place is by his side."

Blair gripped the railing tightly as Jim plunged headfirst into the vat of oil.

"Why are you doing this? He almost drowned. I don't need to see this."

Jim surfaced briefly, flailing to try to stay afloat, hands slapping and grasping at the impossibly slippery sides of the vat before his body disappeared into the murky depths again as he called out.

"Sandburg, help..."


Sitting at his desk, Blair looked up as Alex came in with a gun.

"Alex."

She pointed the gun at Blair. He held up his hands in surrender, fear filling him as he realized that she wouldn't let him live to guide Jim.

"If it hadn't been for you, I never would have understood what I really am -- I owe you that. You want to know how I really got the sentinel senses? Solitary confinement in prison. I thought I was going crazy. It wasn't until I met you that I realized what I'd become."

"And look how you used this gift. What a waste."

"This is the one thing I really didn't want to do, but I can't leave you alive." Alex walked closer to Blair, cocking the gun. Blair closed his eyes.


Jim followed them down the hallway, his heart in his throat as Alex forced Blair in front of her, gun drawn. Watched as they walked in the early morning light toward the fountain, as Alex struck Blair sharply across the back of his head with the gun, then pushed his body forward into the water. She strode away, never looking back.

Standing there, staring at the limp body of his friend, his partner, his guide floating face-down in the murky water, other flashes of memory sparked as he waited helplessly for aid to arrive.

"It's about friendship. I just didn't get it before."

"...thanks, Jim..."

"...remake the connection by an act of will..."

Returning to the vision, he was suddenly experiencing it all over again. He touched Blair's face as he lay on the grass, willing life to return to Blair's waterlogged body, unwilling to give up hope. He saw Incacha, the wolf and the panther. Blue lightning flashed between them, then Blair coughed violently as water burst from his lungs. He stood as the paramedics took over and placed an oxygen mask on Blair's face, letting himself lean against Simon and Henri in weak relief.

Moments later, Blair's eyes fluttered open and searched, finally finding Jim and meeting his gaze. Something sparked again between them, and Jim rushed to his side to help the paramedics get Blair onto the gurney and into the ambulance, never releasing the now-warming hand within his own.

The vision faded, although the sensation of the energy connecting them did not.

Jim opened his eyes. Instead of the Temple of the Sentinels, he was lying in a pool in a dark, blue-shaded universe. He sat up and struggled to climb and sit on the edge, noting an ethereal pale glow dancing over the water's surface.

A few feet away, another pool and another glow that echoed the one around him.

Standing, legs trembling as if he'd just run a marathon, he staggered over to the other pool. Blair floated, eyes closed, the bluish glow on his pale face making him appear almost otherworldly. Jim reached down to grasp his shoulder, to assure himself that Blair was still alive and with him.

He was, and Jim gently shook him.

"Blair?"

Blue eyes opened and wandered a bit before meeting his own.

"Jim."

Moments later, they sat on the edges of the pools, facing each other. Out of the corners of their eyes, vague forms of a wolf and a panther hovered nearby.

Blair spoke up first.

"I think we made it, Jim. Together. Here's where we make our choice."

"I think you're right, Chief." He looked deeply into Blair's eyes. "Do you really want this, Blair? Are you sure this is your true path? After all you've been through, and all that it's cost?"

"All that it's cost?" Blair laughed softly. "All it's cost was giving up my ticket on the merry-go-round, for a lifetime pass on a roller coaster. And I've gained..." he stepped up and placed a hand on Jim's chest, over his heart, "a friend, a partner, a companion, a sentinel to guide for a lifetime. A life I'd never have dreamed of. With you."

Jim stood and placed one hand on Blair's chest, over his heart, and a hand cupping his face.

"And I've gained more than I could ever have dreamed. Becoming a sentinel, with all of the skills and responsibilities that it entails, with a guide and shaman that I'd trust and follow to the ends of the earth. With you."

Blair raised his hand to cup Jim's face and they stood for a moment, eyes locked, something more than words passing between them before Blair broke the silence.

"I commit myself to you, Sentinel, to guide you, with my heart and soul. Your path is my path."

Jim listened to the solemnity of Blair's vow, then followed with his own.

"I commit myself to you, Guide and Shaman, to watch and protect you, with my heart and my soul. Your path is my path."

The blue glow brightened and surrounded them, and the spirit of Incacha appeared beside them, a hand raised over each of their heads in blessing. An energy vibrated and grew between them.

"The decision has been made, the path has been found and joined. The sentinel and the guide, the protector and the shaman, the commitment is made. The Sentinel of the Great City and the Shaman of the Great City, together may your path be true."

To the howl of a wolf and the cry of a great cat, the blue glow faded into black.

Jim opened his eyes, this time to find himself still floating in the ceremonial pool in the Temple of the Sentinels, flickering candlelight illuminating the room. He roused himself and climbed out, stumbling over to the other pool and awakening Blair.

Blair roused easily and pushed himself upward, joining Jim on the pool's edge.

"Did you...?"

"Oh, yeah. So, now, oh Shaman of the Great City?"

Blair practically glowed as he straightened. "Now we return to the Great City, oh great Sentinel. We go home."

"Home. Has a nice ring to it."

"Yes it does."

With a last look around them, they gathered up their belongings and left the temple, returning to their campsite.


EPILOGUE


With much effort, Jim unfolded his body from the passenger's seat of the Volvo. Blair rolled his eyes as Jim slammed the door closed and walked stiffly towards the front of the vehicle.

"Give it up, Jim, it's not that bad."

"Says who?" Jim countered, rubbing at the abused muscles in his neck. "All I want right now is my truck back. Stan said he dropped it off at the station. It's weird; he's never done that before. I always pick it up at the shop."

The two men wandered toward the elevator, Jim in the lead.

"Maybe he's just doing you a favor," Blair suggested, following Jim into the open elevator.

"Yeah, maybe, I guess it's a possibility."

"You know, Jim, you really ought to lighten up. I don't know what you're worried about. Before you know it, you'll be blowing tires and shattering windshields, just like old times."

Blair dodged the playful punch on the arm that came from Jim's direction. "Funny, Chief, very funny."

The elevator doors opened at the seventh floor, and both men exited the small space. Strolling into the bullpen, Jim became aware of an immediate hush that spread through the room. A number of eyes looked in his direction, and whispered voices filtered into his ears. Pieces of broken conversation reached him, but none of it made a great deal of sense.

"He's dead..."

"... pink..."

"I hope he has a will..."

Seconds before Jim was about to address the crowd of onlookers, Brown appeared, carrying a rather loud shirt in his hand. He grinned as he held it out in Jim's direction.

"Hey, Jim, I thought maybe you could use this. I wouldn't want you to clash or anything."

The comment was met with a burst of laughter by the occupants of Major Crimes. The sudden outburst was met with the disapproval of one stern Captain, standing in the doorway to his office.

"Don't you people have something to do? Ellison, Sandburg, my office, now!"

Jim brushed past the still snickering group, Sandburg close at his heels. The two men entered the office and closed the door.


"What the hell was that all about?" Jim asked in puzzlement.

"First things first, Jim, sit down."

Simon waited for the two men to be comfortably seated before continuing. He moved around to the front of his desk and then leaned against it, his arms folded across his chest.

"I take it your little trip was successful?"

"You should have been there, Simon! The writings in the temple told us all about the rituals, and the ceremonial drinks, and man, the visions, they were incredible..."

Raising a hand to hopefully deflect any further comments, Simon nodded. "All I want to know is if you're okay. We can skip the lecture, Sandburg."

"Fine, Simon, one hundred per cent," Jim replied.

His eyes wandering from one man to the other, Simon smiled. "Good. Now, we have another matter to discuss. It seems as though there may have been a miscommunication of sorts."

Visibly confused, Jim stole a glance at Blair. "Regarding what, sir?"

"It seems as though our favorite consultant may have made a small mistake."

Blair shifted uneasily under the weight of both Jim's and Simon's gazes. "Hey guys, I don't know what you're talking about."

"Let me refresh your memory," Simon added, a smug expression crossing his face. "The day you and Jim left for Mexico, a call came through while Jim and I were talking in my office."

"From Stan, yeah, I remember."

Obviously enjoying this little game of cat and mouse, Simon nodded in response to Blair's answer.

"That's right, and do you remember what you were doing at the time of the call?"

Chuckling nervously, Blair continued. "The guys and I were talking about a shirt that Brown's wife gave him as a gift."

"Correct, and what color was that shirt?"

"That's what we were talking about, arguing about, I guess."

Taking a few steps towards the window, Simon turned his back on the men in order to hide his grin. "And what color did you tell Stan to paint the truck when he couldn't match the original color."

"I... I told him... Oh, God... he didn't."

Blair jumped in surprise as Jim quickly strode past him to look out the window. Gesturing to Jim, then pointing to the street below, Simon added, "Pink, a beautiful shade of..."

"Pink." Jim echoed, his mouth gaping at the sight of his beloved Sweetheart. "It looks like.... like..."

"A Barbie car?"

Jim nodded, speechless. Joining them at the window and looking down, Blair laughed nervously. "I guess that makes you Ken, hey Jim?"

Turning accusing eyes on his partner, Jim took a step towards Blair as he backed away in retreat.

"Run, Sandburg, run."

Simon chuckled to himself as he watched the blur that was once Blair Sandburg race from his office towards the exit from Major Crimes. Settling himself behind his desk, he slipped a cigar from his pocket and lit it.

"Yep, back to normal. I think Sandburg had better leave that letter in his locker for a few more days, just in case."

He reached for the top file on the corner of his desk, his smile broadening as he could hear his best team leaving the bullpen much quicker than they'd come in.

"Sandburrrgggg..."


THE END


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