Destinies Entwined                                      Dotty    Kathy    Lvblair    Mary Ellen    Ophelia    KAM    Ronnee    Kathy 'n Mary Ellen 

 

Birthday Blues

By: KAM

 

(This one is for you, M.E.!  Thanks for everything, but most importantly for being such a great friend.)           


             Inside the darkened room, there was a soft sound of rustling cloth as a voice whispered, “Are you sure they’re coming?”

            “Yes, I’m sure.  They should be here any minute,” came the deep, resounding reply.  “Now, shut up before they hear us.”

            “We’re being quiet.  How could they hear us?”

            “You’d be surprised,” the deep voice sounded again, tinged with a hint of sarcasm this time.

            The whispered words ended as the sound of a door opening and closing was heard.  There was a muffled giggling that was abruptly cut off following the sound of flesh impacting against flesh.  Approaching footsteps could be heard and everyone crouched slightly in preparation.  Suddenly, the lights switched on and Blair walked into the room. 

            Everyone jumped up.  “Sur…!”  Abruptly, the yelled greeting halted.  The gathered police officers looked at each other in confusion.

            “Sandburg, where’s Jim?” Simon asked, then he noticed the dejected slump to the younger man’s shoulders.

            “He…He’s gone.“  Blair voice was quiet and his eyes were downcast.  He took a deep breath and then looked up at Simon.  “I came home and there was a note on the counter.  He said he was going camping since it’s his weekend off.”

            “Without telling you?”

            Blair shrugged.  “Not like it’s the first time that’s happened.“ 

            Simon winced as he recalled the time he and Blair had followed Jim up to Clayton Falls.  The detective hadn’t been thrilled to see them, to say the least.  “Blair—”

            “Hey, it’s my fault,” Blair interrupted.  “I told him that I had plans for today.  He probably thought that I forgot all about his birthday.  Thanks to me, he’s probably feeling pretty low right now.  It’s no wonder he wanted to get away for a few days.“  Blair looked around at his friend’s co-workers.  “Thanks for coming, though, you guys.  I know that if Jim had been here, he would’ve been happy to see all of you.“  Not wanting the others to realize how upset he was, he gestured towards the back of the room where one folding table held food and drinks and another held presents and a cake.  “No need for all of this food to go to waste.  Everybody go ahead and eat.  Everything except the cake.  It’s off limits.”

            Most of those gathered headed for the tables and began piling paper plates full of food.  Only those in Major Crimes, who could see how upset Blair was despite his best efforts to hide it, went over to him. 

            Megan was the first to speak.  “I’m sorry, Sandy.  I know that you worked really hard on this party, that you wanted it to be something special for Jim’s birthday.”

            The others echoed her sentiment.  Henri and Rafe nodded while Joel laid a hand on Blair’s shoulder and said, “Yeah, Blair, I’m sorry, too.  Is there anything we can do?”

            “Naw, it’s okay.“  When they still looked at him in concern, he managed a soft laugh and a smile.  “Really, it’s fine.  Just go over there and get some food while there’s still some left.  Those guys are really packing it away.”

            The detectives hesitated, but then Simon gave them a slight nod.  Realizing that the captain wanted a few moments with Blair, they left the two men alone. 

            Once the others were gone, Simon asked, “Are you sure you’re okay, Sandburg?”

            “I’m fine.“  Blair’s voice showed signs of irritation and frustration.  “What is wrong with everybody?  Do you really think I’m going to break down just because Jim took off?  It’s no big deal.  I can get along without him for a few days, you know.”

            “You and I both know that this is different.“  Simon glanced around and then leaned closer to Blair.  In a lower voice, he continued, “I’m not blind, Blair.  I know that things have been…that things just haven’t been the same between you and Jim lately.  I’ve stayed out of it because, frankly, I didn’t think it was any of my business, but I just can’t stand by any longer and watch the two of you self-destruct like this.”

            “Whoa, hold up a minute, Simon.  Look, I don’t know what you think is going on between Jim and me, but we’re fine.“  Blair shrugged and hoped he didn’t appear as uncertain as he felt.  “Sure, we’ve had a rough time of it lately, but we’re okay now.“  When Simon just stared at him, Blair began to grow nervous.  “What?”  His raised voice drew attention and he quickly lowered it.  “Why are you looking at me like that?”

            “Just wondering if you actually expect me to fall for that line of bull you’re feeding me.“ 

            “You should, ‘cause it’s the truth.“  Before Simon could say anything else, Blair said, “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.  I’m going to go grab something before it’s all gone.“ 

            Simon stared after Blair as he walked off, headed for the table laden with food.  As he watched the out-going younger man stop to greet and smile at several people, he shook his head.  You can’t fool me, SandburgJust like you can’t fool yourself.  He sighed and hoped that somehow his friends would be able to work everything out before it was too late.  As much as he hated to admit it, and he would certainly never say it to the younger man’s face, Simon had grown fond of Blair during his time riding along with Jim.  Whether you two will admit it or not, you need each other, and not just for this Sentinel thing, either.  I don’t know how, and I certainly never thought it’d happen when Jim first dragged you into my office, but the two of you have become each other’s family.  Whatever is going on between the two of you, whatever it is that’s wrong, I know it’s tearing both of you up inside.  Saddened, wanting to help, but knowing that the two men had to work things out on their own, Simon continued to watch Blair, who was now standing off to the side with an untouched plate of food in his hand. 


             Shutting the door behind Megan, Simon turned and found Blair starting in on the cleanup.  “I can handle it, Sandburg.”

            Trash bag in hand, Blair dumped a half-eaten plate of food into it and then picked up an empty cup.  “I told you I’d help clean up the mess, Simon.  Remember?“  A small smile on his face, he added, “It’s the reason you let me have the party here in the first place when I asked you about it.“ 

            “You asked?  That’s funny, I don’t remember that part.“  Smirking, the captain joined Blair and began dumping plates and cups into the trash bag.  “I just remember you barging into my office and telling me that I’d better not have anything planed for this weekend because you needed my place to hold a surprise birthday party for Jim.“ 

            Blair had been smiling, but it faded away when he heard Simon mention the missing detective.  “Yeah, well, things didn’t exactly turn out the way I thought they would.”

            “I know.“  Simon’s voice was soft, very different than the tone he normally used when speaking to the younger man.  “Look, Blair, if you want to go find Jim, then I’ll go—”

            “No, Simon,” Blair interrupted, shaking his head, “I’m not going to do that again.  I learned my lesson last time.  Jim obviously wanted some time alone so I’m going to give it to him.”

            The two men continued to clean in silence.  Once the last of the trash had been tied up and the leftover food had been put away, all that remained was the large pile of presents and cake. 

            “I don’t think I can fit all of this into my car,” Blair said, his eyes locked onto one large present sitting at the end of the table.  “I was thinking that Jim could take some of it in his truck.”

            “You can always leave it here.  It’s not in the way.  Then you and Jim can come by and pick it up after he gets back.“  Trying to lighten the mood, Simon joked, “Though it’s going to be hard to stay out of that cake until then.  It looks pretty good.”

            “I had a friend make it,” Blair said, not responding to Simon’s attempt to cheer him up.  “She used to work in a bakery, but quit once she graduated.  Every time there was something going on at Rainier, people always hit her up to bake something.  Everybody loved everything Marsha made.  She made this one as a favor to me.  It’s strawberry.  I told her that it was Jim’s favorite.  It’ll probably be stale by the time Jim gets back.“  Blair turned to look at Simon.  “Thanks for everything, Simon.  I really appreciate it.  When Jim gets back, we’ll stop by and pick everything up.“  Without waiting for the captain to respond, Blair left.

            Simon stood in place for a few seconds longer, momentarily taken aback by the abrupt departure.  Then he walked over to the table and studied the brightly wrapped presents.  His eyes were drawn to the end of the table where the largest of the presents sat.  It, as well as several smaller presents sitting next to it, was from Blair.  The Rocky and Bullwinkle wrapping paper brought a smile to Simon's face and he wondered if there was a reason Blair had picked out that particular paper.  He carefully fingered the large bow on the present and wondered what would happen with his friends.


            In the small clearing, there was a tent pitched not too far away from the blue and white pickup truck.  No one was around for miles and the quiet was broken only by the sounds of the forest.  The feeling of solitude was palpable; the nearest form of civilization miles away.  Jim looked around and took a deep breath, lungs filling with the clean, crisp air.  He reached over and picked up the last bit of kindling and set it into the fire pit he had just dug.  It only took him a few tries to light the fire and soon it was ablaze.  Sitting back, he rubbed his hands together and then held them out, letting the fire warm them.  He stared into the dancing flames.  Feeling the beginning of a zone, he shook his head and looked away from the fire. 

            The near zone made him think of Blair.  For the past several days, he had kept expecting Blair to say something about his birthday.  Maybe suggest that the two of them do something together.  He even had the nagging suspicion that Blair might be planning a party.  But yesterday, Blair told him that he would be spending the day with some friends from Rainier.  He’d mentioned something about an exhibition, but at that point, Jim wasn’t hearing him anymore.  He was too busy feeling let down and, even if he wouldn’t admit it to himself, disappointed. 

            By the time he had gotten out of bed this morning, Blair had already gone.  So Jim had packed up his gear, let a note for his roommate, and gone camping alone.  It’s not like that was something new.  He’d often spent his birthday alone in the past, with no recognition of the day other than acknowledging that he was another year older and still had no one special in his life. 

            When he’d been married to Carolyn, she’d gotten a cake and a few presents, but she really didn’t make a big deal out of it.  But then again, neither did he when it was her birthday.  She’d end up going to see her parents and he’d stay at home watching a Jags game or a movie on TV.  He’d pick her up a present, of course, but he always made sure to keep the receipt because she usually ended up exchanging any present he picked out.  By the end of their marriage, he was just getting gift certificates.  It saved him time having to go search for a gift and it cut out the hassle Carolyn always went through returning things. 

            But it hadn't always been like that.  He did have some good birthdays.  But that had been a long time ago.  The best birthday he could remember was when he was a kid.  He was eight and his mother was still around.  His dad had been away on some kind of business trip and so it was just the three of them—his mom, him and his brother.  There was a carnival in town, but his father had said no when Jim asked to go.  But his mother had defied his father and taken them, anyway.  They had the best time.  They rode the rides.  They played games and Jim had been bursting with pride when he won his mother a stuffed animal.  And they saw the shows.  Jim had loved every minute of it and didn’t want to leave.  But eventually it was time to go.  The memory of that day helped him get through the next several birthdays; the ones after his mother had left.  Ones that were acknowledged with only a few, practical presents with no parties and certainly no trips to the carnival. 

            With a sigh, Jim leaned back against the log behind him.  He closed his eyes and let the sounds of the forest fill him.  For a few moments, a sense of contentment filled him.  But then, the feeling of loneliness, which he had been feeling on and off ever since he had woken to an empty loft that morning, returned.  “Damn it, let it go.  So Sandburg forgot my birthday.  What's the big deal?  He's got a life of his own.  It's not like I was expecting a big party and a cake and presents.“  With a deep breath, Jim rubbed his hands on his thighs and then let them rest there.  “It's not like I make a big deal out of his birthday or anything.  I mean, dinner, a couple of presents.  It's not much, but at least I do something.  At least I acknowledge it.“ 

            Jim stood up, his feeling of disappointment giving way to one of anger.  “Is that too much to expect?  Just a damn card or something?“  With a groan, he rubbed a hand over his face.  “Hell, this is really pathetic.  I can't believe I'm here bitching and complaining just because Sandburg forgot my birthday.  I'm losing it.  Damn kid and all his get-in-touch-with-your-feelings crap.  I'd like to get in touch with something, all right.  I ought to kick his ass for doing this to me.  For making me…for making me care like this.  All this crap we've been through lately, it's tearing us apart.  And I can't do a damn thing about it because he obviously doesn't care.  If I didn't know that before, then I sure as hell know it now.“  Heart heavy, mind distracted by thoughts of Blair, Jim was unaware of the sounds coming from behind him. 

            From the dense stand of trees, the sound of twigs snapping came as something approached the campsite.  Jim, still ranting out loud, was surprised when a loud roar split the air.  He spun around and the air whooshed out of him as something plowed into him.  On his back, Jim stared up into a mouthful of vicious-looking teeth.  The mouth descended and just before those teeth could sink into his neck, Jim, pinned on the ground, acted on instinct and slammed his fist into the side of the head of the bear that was attacking him.  He managed to twist slightly, turning to the side.  He screamed in pain as the bear's claws raked across his shoulder. 

            Hand reaching out, blindly searching over the ground, his fist finally closed around the end of a thick branch lying partially in the fire.  With a grunt, he swung the branch up, hitting the bear with the still burning end.  The animal roared in pain and Jim broke free.  Scrambling, crawling and trying to get his feet under him, he raced towards his truck.  Somehow, he reached it and managed to climb inside.  He barely got the door closed when the truck shook as the bear impacted against its side.  The truck tilted to the side, precariously teetering on two wheels for several long seconds, before finally crashing back down to the ground. 

            Jim reached to start the truck, only to come up short when he remembered that his keys were in his pack, along with his gun, out of reach in his tent.  He pressed against the wounds on his shoulder and encountered wetness, the blood already saturating his shirt.  Looking out the window, he saw that the bear was pacing by the side of the truck, stopping occasionally to sniff the air.  Groaning, he leaned his head back. 

            “Oh, yeah, this is shaping up to be some birthday.“


            Entering the darkened loft, Blair closed the door and then leaned against it.  After a few seconds, he sighed heavily and pushed off the door to walk over to his room.  As soon as he entered, his eyes fell on the group of pictures hung on the wall over his bed.  One in particular caught his attention.  It was of him and Jim, standing side by side, huge smiles on their faces.  He was holding up a large fish, Jim's arm slung around his shoulders.  He remembered that time.  Simon had taken that picture the day the three of them had gone fishing.  Jim had given him his first fly fishing lesson and he had caught on quickly, managing to land the first fish.  As he reeled it in, fighting with it the whole time, Jim had stood beside him, offering instructions, sounding amused and proud. 

            He reached out and traced a finger over Jim's face.  “Man, Jim, what are we doing to each other?  How did things get to be so wrong between us?  Did you honestly think that I would forget your birthday?“  Shaking his head, feeling sad, he slowly collapsed face down onto his bed.  “We've got to work things out, Jim.  We can't keep this up any longer.  I just wish I knew what to do.“ 

            Clutching his pillow to his chest, not even bothering to get undressed, Blair toed off his shoes and let them drop to the floor.  Sighing, he closed his eyes and settled into an uneasy sleep. 


            Jerking, Jim emerged from the light doze he had fallen into.  The movement reawakened the pain in his shoulder and he groaned loudly.  Head lolling to the side, he looked out of the window, hoping that the bear had gone away.  But the animal was still there, happily preoccupied with shredding his tent.  “Well, I was needing a new one, anyway.“

            He shivered and huddled in on himself.  He knew he was starting to feel the effects of shock and blood loss, but there was nothing he could do about it.  In a moment of frustration, he banged his fist against the steering wheel, accidentally striking the horn. 

            Outside, the bear lifted its head, the shredded remains of the tent clinging to his claws, stuck to the drying blood.  It turned towards the truck, seeming to stare directly at Jim.  Suddenly the bear charged and ran head long into the side of the truck.  Once again, Jim held on as the truck tilted, rocking onto two wheels, before crashing down, giving Jim a bone-jarring shake. 

            “My poor Sweetheart,“ he moaned, knowing the kind of damage being inflicted on his beloved truck.  “Get the hell away from my truck!“ he yelled.  Then he watched in disbelief as the bear threw back its head, let out a loud roar, and simply turned and walked away. 

            Chuckling, he winced as pain flared in his shoulder again.  “Of all the… Yeah, you'd better get out of here, Yogi.“  He fumbled for the door handle, but before he could get the door opened, he lost consciousness. 


            Lunging upright, Blair gasped as he looked around his room.  Unsettled, not knowing what had pulled him from sleep, he ran a shaky hand through his hair.  Suddenly, he was filled with overwhelming concern for Jim.  He glanced towards the doorway, halfway expecting to see his roommate's comforting form standing there and Jim staring at him with a concerned expression on his face.  But, of course, there was no one there. 

            Still feeling uneasy, but not sure why, he climbed out of bed and walked into the kitchen.  Intent on making some tea, hoping it would calm him, he reached into the cabinet for his canister of tea and inhaled sharply when a jolt of pain shot through his shoulder.  Lowering his arm, he rubbed at his shoulder and the pain faded away to a dull ache.  “What the hell?“

            Dismissing it, he shook his head and reached for the tea again.  This time, the pain was only a faint echo of the previous one and he grabbed the canister and set it down on the counter.  He went to the stove and picked up the kettle.  While he was filling it with water, he shivered as a chill ran through his body.  His arm shook and the water ran over his hand and arm.  Cursing, he turned off the faucet.  Wiping his arm and hand on his shirt, he walked over to the stove and put the kettle on the burner.  As he turned on the stove, another jolt of pain surged through his shoulder and he grabbed the counter as his knees buckled.  Cold now, he wrapped his arms around himself.  Jim's face flashed through his mind and Blair again found himself filled with worry and concern for his absent friend. 

            Knowing that it was probably a waste of time, and that Jim would only be pissed at him if he actually got through, Blair walked over to the phone and quickly dialed Jim's cell phone.  As he expected, the automated voice sounded and he slammed the phone down in irritation.  Feeling ridiculous, believing that his worry was unwarranted, he went over to the couch and pulled the afghan off the back of it.  Pulling the cover around his shoulders, he began to pace.

            “Just get a hold of yourself.  There's nothing wrong.  Jim is fine.“  Even as he said the words, he didn't believe them in his heart.  For some reason, he knew that Jim was in trouble and that his friend needed him.  He picked up the phone again, dialing a different number. 

            After several rings, a gruff voice said, “Banks.“

            “Simon, it's Blair.“

            “Sandburg?  What is it?  Do you realize what time it is?“

            Blair glanced out the balcony doors and saw that it was now dark outside.  “Um, no, I don't.  Look, I'm sorry to wake you up, but I needed to talk to you.“

            “Tell me what's going on.“

            “It's probably nothing, but…“

            “What, Sandburg?“ Simon demanded when Blair trailed off. 

            “It's just…It's just that I'm worried about Jim.“

            Simon sighed, the sound easily audible to Blair.  “I thought you said you were okay with Jim being gone for a few days.“

            “I am, it's just…“ Blair didn't know how to express this overwhelming concern for Jim and make the other man understand how much it was bothering him.  “I don't know how and I don't know why, but I've just got this feeling that Jim is in trouble, that he needs help.  We have to find him, Simon.“

            “Sandburg—“

            “I know, I know,“ Blair interrupted, sitting down on the couch.  “I know it's strange, and I certainly can't explain it, but you've got to trust me on this, Simon.“  As he waited for Simon to respond, Blair knew that this moment would go a long way towards showing just how much trust, if any, he'd earned from the captain.  He held his breath, growing anxious as the silence continued to stretch out between them. 

            Finally, a groan sounded over the phone and Simon said, “Just sit tight and I'll be over as soon as I can.“

            The air whooshed out of Blair.  “Thanks, Simon.“  He hung up the phone.  As he waited, he fought back the panic that was trying to take hold of him.  “Just keep it together.“  Unable to stay still any longer, he stood and began pacing again.  “Hang on, Jim.  I'm coming.“ 


            Rousing slightly, Jim found himself slumped against the door.  He couldn't find the strength to move so he stayed there, face pressed against the window, his breath lightly fogging it up.  The fight had gone out of him and, for the first time, he couldn't even find the strength to care that his life was slowly ebbing out of him.  But he could find the strength for regrets.  Regrets about a lot of things, such as some of the choices he had made and some of the things he had been forced to do during his lifetime.  But the thing that weighed heaviest on his heart, on his soul, was the way he had left things with Blair and the thought that he might die without having worked things out between them. 

            “With all of this crap that's been dumped on us lately, we forgot the most important thing, didn't we?  We forgot that it's all about friendship.  You told me that, but somewhere, somehow, we both lost sight of that.  I'm sorry, Blair.  I'm so sorry.“  His eyes closed as he lapsed into unconsciousness again.


            Blair had the door opened seconds after the knock sounded.  “Simon, finally!  What took you so long?“

            Simon walked past Blair into the loft.  “It's late, I'm tired, and you woke me up from a damn good dream, Sandburg.  So don't push your luck.“

            His worry having only increased as he waited for the captain to arrive, Blair didn't heed the warning tone in the other man's voice.  “This is serious!  We have to go find Jim!“

            “I thought you were all set to let Jim have some time alone.  What changed your mind?“

            “I just… I've just got this feeling, Simon.  I told you that I can't explain it, but I know that Jim is in trouble.  Please, you gotta believe me.“

            Simon held up his hand.  “All right, I believe you.  Now, just calm down.  Did Jim tell you where he was going?”

            “No, he didn’t.“  Blair sighed, his shoulder slumping.  “He could be anywhere.”

            “Maybe he went back up to Clayton Falls?” Simon suggested.  “It’s worth a shot, anyway.  Unless you can think of someplace else he might be.”

            Eyes growing distant, Blair was silent for a moment.  Then he shuddered and looked at Simon.  “I…I guess you’re right.  Let’s go.“  Walking past the captain, Blair grabbed his coat and shrugged it on.  But when he walked over to the door, he paused with his hand on the doorknob as a sense of wrongness filled him.

            Simon, intending to follow the younger man out the door, collided with Blair’s back.  “What are you doing, Sandburg?  What’s the matter?”

            Blair looked over his shoulder.  “This isn’t right.”

            Confused, alarmed at Blair’s behavior, Simon asked, “What’s not right?”

            Instead of answering, Blair brushed past the captain.  His agitation clearly evident, he waved his hands.  “I don’t know!”  A hint of hysteria crept into the shouted words.  “Jim needs us…needs me.  He’s hurt and alone.  And he’s not in Clayton Falls!”  The last seemed to surprise Blair just as much as it did Simon.

            “What do you mean?  If he’s not in Clayton Falls, then where is he?”

            Blair started to speak, then abruptly shut his mouth.  Nervously, he met Simon’s eyes and then quickly looked away. 

            Sensing the younger man’s uneasiness, Simon walked over and laid a hand on his shoulder.  Tightening his grip when he felt Blair flinch, Simon kept his voice low.  “Look, I can’t pretend to understand this whole Sentinel/Guide thing.  And I admit that there’s a whole lot of it that I don’t want to understand.  But even I can’t deny that there’s this…this connection between the two of you.  I know that connection has been strained lately, but if it can help us find Jim, then try to use it now.  It may be frayed, but it hasn’t been severed.  Trust in it.”

            Closing his eyes, Blair took a deep breath and tried to steady himself.  Eyes opening, he looked at Simon, a hint of a smile playing about the corners of his mouth.  “Never thought I’d hear something like that coming from you, man.“ 

            “Yeah, well, I guess you’ve been a bad influence on me.“  Simon smiled, bringing his other hand up to rest on Blair’s other shoulder.  “You can do this, Blair.  I know you can.  Just go with your gut instinct.  Trust yourself.  Now, tell me…where is Jim?”

            The answer was instantaneous, sounding confident and sure.  “The place where we all went fishing that time.  When we got caught up in that poaching case.  Remember, when the bear….”  Blair trailed off, his brow furrowed.  He shook his head and met Simon’s concerned gaze.  “He’s there, Simon.  I know it.  But we’ve got to hurry.”

            “Then let’s go.”

            The two men hurried out of the loft.  But even as they got into Simon’s car and started on their way to Jim, Blair felt the pain flare up in his shoulder again. 

            “I think maybe you should call for some help, Simon.  Have them meet us there.  Jim’s going to need it.”

            Not saying anything, just giving the younger man a worried look, Simon picked up the microphone of his car radio and keyed the mic.    

            As he listened to the captain request help from Search and Rescue, Blair could only pray that they wouldn’t be too late.   


         Opening his eyes, finding himself in a familiar blue-tinged jungle, Jim groaned.  “What now?”

            He automatically reached for his shoulder, but found no blood or other signs of injuries.  Hearing someone approach, he turned and saw his spirit animal emerge from the dense underbrush.  Before his eyes, the panther morphed into his ‘jungle’ self. 

            “Why do you not fight?” the other asked.

            “I don’t want to deal with you right now.“  Jim turned to leave and was brought up short when he found himself face to face with the mirror image of himself again.  “How did…?”  He shook his head.  “Never mind.  I don’t want to know.“ 

            Maintaining a sense of calm detachment, his spirit self again asked, “Why do you not fight?”

            “Okay, you win.  What do you mean?  Who or what am I supposed to be fighting?”

            The fatigue-clad form tilted his head, looking like a cat studying its prey.  “You accept death, do not fight its embrace.  Why?”

            “What’s the point?”  Jim shrugged.  “My life isn’t exactly all that great right now.  People I care about either die or betray me.  Or do both.  No mater how hard I try, no matter how good I do my job, nothing seems to make a difference.  And Sandburg…. Well, there’s just not much point.  I’ve screwed everything up.  There’s no going back, no fixing everything.  Hell, if all that bull of Sandburg’s about reincarnation is true, then I might as well trade in this life for a new one.  Hopefully, I won’t fuck up that one as much as I have this one.”

            “You would give up so easily?”

            “Look, I just…  It’s for the best, all right.  For everyone involved.  Now, just get out of here and let me die in peace.“  Jim turned again, this time finding his way unhindered, and started to walk away. 

            He was brought up short when he heard, “And what of your Guide?  Do you condemn him to death as easily?”

            Spinning around, Jim strode forward.  His voice raised, he shook his spirit self with each growled word.  “What about you talking about?”

            Unfazed, the other replied, “If you die, your Guide will not only suffer your loss, but will lose a part of himself as well.  He will be incomplete, just as you would if he should die.  Once joined, neither is whole without the other.”

            His hands raised, Jim took a step back.  “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

            “Not yet, but you will, Sentinel.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            Instead of answering, the other simply said, “It is not your time yet.  No matter how much you may wish it to be, your life is far from over.  There is still much for you to do and many trials for you to face.  But take heed, Sentinel.  You are stronger with your Guide by your side.  As he is with you by his.  Go back now, Sentinel.  Your Guide is waiting for you.“ 

            His spirit self morphed back into the panther and ran off, leaving Jim alone.  Before he could react, everything faded away.   


         “They’re going to meet us there, right?” Blair asked for what seemed like the thousandth time. 

            “Yes, they’re going to meet us there.  Relax, Sandburg.  I’m sure everything is going to be fine.“ 

            Nervously, Blair drummed his fingers on the armrest.  “I hope you’re right.”

            After a few moments, the captain couldn’t stand it any longer.  “Cut that out, Sandburg!”

            Blair stilled his fingers.  “Sorry.  God, I can’t stand this!  Can’t you go faster?”

            “I’m going as fast as I can.  Just hang on, Sandburg.  We’ll be there soon.”

            A few minutes later, when Blair began fidgeting and started drumming his fingers on the armrest again, Simon remained silent this time.  Affected by the younger man’s sense of urgency, the captain was experiencing very similar emotions and couldn’t bring himself to berate Blair again.  Instead, he just gripped the steering wheel tighter and put a little more pressure on the gas pedal.   


         When they finally reached their destination, they found Search and Rescue already there, waiting on them.  As they climbed out of the car, one of the men approached them.  “I’m Paul Baker.  You must be Captain Banks.”

            “Yeah, I am.“  Simon shook the man’s hand.  “Jim Ellison, one of my detectives, came here to camp this weekend.  His partner,” the captain gestured toward Blair, “and I think he’s in trouble.”

            “Can I ask why you think that he needs help?”

            Simon looked over at Blair, who just shrugged.  “Look, Baker, the main thing right now is that we need to find Ellison.  Everything else can wait until later.”

            “Whatever you say.“  Baker gave the two men a quick once-over.  “Can you give us any idea where your man might be?  Otherwise, it’s kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack here.”

            “Give us a minute.“  Simon grabbed Blair’s arm and dragged the younger man out of earshot.  “Well, what about it?  Where do I tell these guys to look?”

            Like before, the answer just seemed to come to Blair.  “Same place as before, Simon.  He’s camped out where we were last time.”

            The captain just shook his head.  “I’m not even going to ask.“  Leaving Blair behind, he walked back over to Baker.  “Sandburg and I can take you there.  We know the general area where he set up camp.”

            Baker nodded.  “Let’s go, then.”

            “All right.“  Simon turned.  “Sandburg…”  Finding the younger man gone, he growled, “Damn you, Sandburg, if you go off and get yourself hurt, I’ll…”  He let out a deep sigh.  “Be careful.  And watch over Jim until we get there.“  Worried about his two friends, Simon turned and watched as Baker and the others began to gather up their equipment.   


          Blindly running forward, allowing his instincts to guide him, Blair held up his arms to ward off the branches that threatened to hit him in the face.  He tripped over an exposed root, taking several stumbling steps forward before crashing to the ground.  Landing hard, he bit back a scream as pain flared up his leg.  Climbing back to his feet, he tried to put his weight on his injured leg.  He instantly let up when the pain intensified.  Clenching his jaw, doing a fair imitation of his partner, he pushed back the pain and continued on.  Each step sent pain radiating up and down his leg, but he was determined to get to Jim. 

            After what seemed forever, he pushed through a dense stand of trees and found himself in a familiar clearing.  Looking around, he spotted shredded scraps of blue material littering the ground.  As his eyes landed on Jim’s truck, he felt his heart thud painfully when he saw the damaged driver’s side door.  Limping, unsure of what he would find, he made his way over to the truck.  Reaching the door, he peered in the window and saw Jim.  The older man was slumped over to the side, his body resting against the door.  Frantically, Blair banged his fist against the window.  “Jim!”

            Not moving, still unconscious, Jim showed no reaction to Blair’s arrival. 

            Grabbing the handle, Blair tried to open the door.  With all of his strength, he pulled and tugged at the door, but had no luck in opening it.  Hands remaining in constant contact with the truck, both to support himself and to maintain some form of connection with Jim, Blair raced around to the passenger side.  This time, he was met by success as the door swung open.

            “Jim?”  Crawling into the truck, Blair was immediately overwhelmed by the scent of blood.  “Oh, my God,” he breathed as he reached over to touch Jim’s shoulder.  Tugging, knowing that Jim had to be injured, Blair gently turned the older man towards him.  Seeing the torn shirt clinging to the mangled flesh of Jim’s left shoulder, Blair gagged.  Pulling himself together, he leaned Jim against him.  The Sentinel groaned, but showed no other signs of returning consciousness.  Feeling helpless, not wanting to aggravate the injuries, Blair wrapped his arms around Jim.  His worry increased when he felt the other man’s chilled flesh.  “Hang on, Jim.  Just a little bit longer.  Help’s coming.  Don’t leave me, you hear?  Fight.  You stay with me.”

            Blair was still holding Jim when Simon and the others showed up several minutes later.   


          Looking up as a cup of steaming coffee was held under his nose, Blair found a grim-faced Simon staring down at him.  “Thanks,” he muttered as he took the cup.  He held it in his hands, the warmth seeping into his cold flesh.  He shuddered as the captain sat down next to him. 

            “You okay, Sandburg?”

            “Yeah, fine.“  Blair took a sip of coffee.  “I don’t know why, but I just can’t seem to get warm.”

            Concerned, Simon looked at the younger man in alarm.  “Maybe we should have you checked out by the doctor again.”

            “I’m fine, Simon.“  Blair leaned back in the chair.  “They already said it’s just a sprain.”

            Simon glanced down at Blair’s wrapped ankle, then looked back at the younger man’s pale face.  “Yeah, well, maybe you should get it x-rayed again just to be sure.”

            “Man, when is that doctor going to come tell us something?” Blair asked, changing the subject. 

            Letting the matter drop, knowing he’d never convince the younger man to get examined again, Simon shrugged.  “You heard what they said before.  Jim’s shoulder was pretty badly mangled and he lost a lot of blood on top of that.  It’s going to be a while before we hear anything.”

            “I know.“  Blair sighed.  “I just hate waiting.  I need to know something.”

            “He’ll be okay, Blair.“  Simon laid his hand on Blair’s shoulder.  “Jim is a fighter, you know that.  He’s going to come through this just fine.”

            “I just hope you’re right.”

            “I know I am.“  Seeing Jim’s doctor approach, he added, “But don’t take my word for it.  Here’s the doctor.”

            Spotting the physician as well, Blair struggled to get up.  Without hesitation, he grabbed Simon’s extended hand and allowed the captain to pull him up the rest of the way until he was standing.  Once Blair had his balance, Simon let go and Blair gave him a small smile in thanks.  Then his attention was drawn to the doctor.  “Well?  How’s Jim?  What’s going on?”

            “Detective Ellison came through the surgery remarkably well,” the doctor reassured him.  “We did follow your advice and gave him a smaller dose of anesthesia than normal, Mr.  Sandburg.  And it seems you were right.  Detective Ellison does seem to have a stronger response to it than most people.  He has lost a lot of blood and there was extensive damage to his shoulder.  But he’s been given a transfusion and the surgery seems to have been a success.  Baring any unforeseen complications, I’d say he's in for a complete recovery.  He will, however, need to take it easy for a while and give himself time to heal.  His recovery isn’t something that can be rushed.”

            “Oh, he will, Doctor.  Believe me, he will.”

            Despite himself, Simon found himself smiling at Blair’s words.  Better watch yourself, Jim.  I know you can be pretty bad when it comes to the mother hen routine, but you don't have anything on Sandburg.  Step out of line once, and you’re probably find yourself confined to the loft for the foreseeable future. 

            “You coming, Simon?”

            The captain shook himself, emerging from his thoughts.  “What’s that, Sandburg?”

            “Are you coming?”  Receiving a blank look, Blair explained, “The doctor said we could go see Jim.  You coming?”

            “You go ahead.  I want to call the station and check in.  After that, I’ll come by and see him.”

            Blair nodded.  “Okay.“  Before the younger man could reach for them, Simon grabbed the crutches and passed them over.  “Thanks.”

            Watching as Blair slowly made his way down the hallway, Simon found himself thinking that maybe, just maybe, his two friends could finally straighten things out between them.   


          Easing into Jim’s room, Blair hissed when he saw the IVs and monitors hooked up to his friend.  Crossing over to the bed, he sat down in the chair and leaned forward to clasp Jim’s hand between his own.  “Hey, man.  I’m here, Jim.  Just rest, okay?  I’m not going anywhere.“ 

            It almost seemed to Blair that the unconscious body lying on the bed relaxed as the tension drained from Jim.  Though the position was awkward, he leaned forward even more and rested his head on the bed.  “I think we could both use some rest right about now, huh?”

            Yawning, Blair closed his eyes, falling asleep almost immediately as the adrenaline rush left him and exhaustion took its place.

            Two pale blue eyes cracked open as Jim looked down at his sleeping Guide.  Letting out a deep sigh, Jim relaxed and allowed his eyes to slip close again as he joined Blair in sleep.   


          “The door, Sandburg!” Jim yelled from his position on the couch. 

            Emerging from his room, Blair shot Jim a glare when he saw the Sentinel start to get up.  “Don’t even think about it,” he warned.  “I’ve got it.”

            “Took you long enough,” the grumpy, older man complained as he settled back down on the couch.  “I can’t believe you won’t even let me answer the door in my own home.”

            “You heard the doctor,” Blair said as he walked over to the door.  “Now sit down and shut up before I give you something to really complain about.“ 

            Giving a mock salute using his uninjured arm, Jim replied, “Sir, yes, sir!”

            Shaking his head and rolling his eyes, Blair missed Jim’s smile as he opened the door to reveal Simon and the rest of the Major Crimes detectives.  “Hey, guys,” he greeted.  “What’s going on?”

            “Well, I got tired of having this stuff at my house so I figured it was time we brought it  over here.“  A smile on his face, Simon brushed past Blair and entered the loft.  He carried a large, brightly-wrapped box over to the couch and set it down on the floor.  “Jim, how are you feeling?”

            Jim tore his eyes away from the present and looked up at his captain.  “Um…  Fine, sir.  Thanks.  What’s all this?”

            “I think I’ll let Sandburg do the explaining.  There’s still more to bring in.“  As Rafe and Henri walked over and added more gifts to the growing pile, Simon headed back towards the front door.

            After smirking and winking at Jim, both Rafe and Henri followed after Simon.  Confused, Jim looked over at Blair as Megan and Joel set down more gifts.  “What’s going on, Chief?”

            Still limping, though no longer on crutches, Blair went over to sit down beside Jim.  “I’ve been meaning to tell you, but I just…”  He shrugged.  “I kind of arranged for a surprise party for your birthday.  Of course, when I came home to find you gone, we had to cancel it.  So, Simon let me keep the gifts at his place until you got back home.”

            “Chief, I’m—”

            Blair held up a hand.  “Forget it, Jim.  I think we’ve both made our fair share of mistakes lately.  Let’s just put it all behind us, okay?  Agree to forgive and forget.  Sound good?”

            “Yeah, it does.“  Jim looked away for a moment.  “Thank you, Blair.“  The words were soft, meant for his Guide alone. 

            “Thank you, Jim.”

            “What for?”

            “For staying with me.  For not giving up.  I…I don’t know what I would’ve done if….”  Unable to finish, the thought not something he wanted to think about, Blair took a deep breath.  “Happy birthday, Jim.  Even if it is a little late.”

            “Thanks, Blair.“  Jim met his Guide’s eyes.  “For everything.”

            Blair nodded and picked up a present as the others, Simon carrying a cake this time, came back into the loft.  “Let’s start with this one.  It’s from me.” 

            Jim eyed the wrapping paper.  “Rocky and Bullwinkle?  You trying to tell me something, Chief?”

            Everyone laughed. 

            “Just open it, Jim,” Megan prodded. 

            “Yeah, man, let’s see what it is,” Henri added. 

            Jim looked around at his friends.  “Thanks for doing this, guys.”

            Simon cleared his throat.  “Enough of that.  Open the damn thing.  I’ve been going crazy trying to guess what Sandburg got you.”

            Jim looked over at Blair.  “What do you say, partner?  Want to give me a hand here?”

            Together, the two men tore off the wrapping paper.  When the gift was finally revealed, Jim started laughing. 

            Looking offended, Blair demanded, “What’s so funny?”

            His hand running over the brand new, deluxe, six-man tent, Jim shook his head.  “Nothing, Chief.  It’s great.  Just what I wanted.“  Sobering, he added, “Thank you.”

            Making a mental note to get the whole story out of Jim later, Blair smiled.  “You’re welcome.  I’m glad you like it.  The other one was getting kinda ratty-looking.”

            Jim looked down at the tent once again and smiled.  It was exactly like his previous tent, the one the bear had shredded.  Once again, his Guide showed perfect timing.  Looking up again, he asked, “Okay, what’s next?”

            Simon grabbed the tent and set it aside as Joel handed Jim another present.   


          Later, after everyone had gone and the loft had been cleaned up, Blair brought Jim another piece of cake.  “Man, I can’t believe Simon managed to track down Marsha and have her bake another cake.“ 

            “I’m glad he did,” Jim replied as he accepted the plate.  “This cake is fantastic.  Everything was great, Blair.  I’m just sorry I missed it the first time around.”

            “Well, I guess I’ll forgive you since you were busy being some bear’s chew toy.“  Blair paused for a moment.  “I’m just glad you’re going to be okay.”

            “Yeah, but are we?  Going to be okay, I mean.”

            “I hope so.  I want us to be.”

            Despite himself, Jim suppressed a shudder as his spirit guide’s warning flashed through his mind.  He wondered what trials still awaited the two of them, wondered if they would be able to overcome them and emerge unscathed.

            “Jim?  You all right?”

            “Fine.  Just tired,” Jim obfuscated, not ready to share the vision with his Guide just yet, needing to come to terms with it first.  “How about you?  How’s the ankle?”

            “Fine.  A little sore, but it’s all right.“  Blair could sense there was something Jim wasn’t telling him, but he decided not to press the issue, surprised, as well as pleased to realize that he trusted the Sentinel to come to him when he was ready to share.  “So, despite bear attacks and a trip to the ER, I’d say this was a pretty good birthday, wouldn’t you?”

            “One of the best, Chief.“  The two men shared a smile. 

            “So which one has been the best?”

            Jim hesitated, trying to decide how much, if any, to share with Blair. 

            Then, just as Blair opened his mouth to tell him to forget it, Jim started to talk.  “Once, when I was a kid, there was this carnival….”

The End