As Much As Needed - An 'Obligation' Story
Author's website: http://www.geocities.com/polly_bywater/index.html
Chris Carter, Bilsen and DeMeo, and a horde of corporate suits own them, not I. They make all the profits, but I have a much richer fantasy life.
Third in the series, follows 'The Sequel of Obligation' and 'Serving Notice'. Written for CarolROI, who 'won' me in the Moonridge Auction and asked me to write a story I wanted to write anyway. Thank you, Carol! Also, spasibo to Lidia, for being so patient with my terrible Russian. There's a scene in here just for you, angel moy! And gracias, Angelee, for the Spanish help. If the U.N. worked like fandom works, what a wonderful world it would be, eh? *BG* Thanks also to my patient beta Ellen, who never ceases to encourage me.
Crossover with The X-Files
This story is a sequel to: Serving Notice
"Blair. Blair, baby, wake up."
A warm hand shook him gently, and Blair struggled free from the nightmare visions haunting his dreams; chained, helpless and terrified, while a madman poured chemicals down his throat... but that old remembered horror faded quickly in the sure, steady presence of his sentinel.
"Shit," he said, rubbing at his eyes as he straightened in his seat, damning the fact that they were still in the air, somewhere between Los Angeles and Mexico City. "I'm sorry."
"I think we need an agreement. No apologies necessary," Sasha said, leaning his head into Blair's.
Blair grinned faintly. In the short time that they'd been sleeping together, they'd already discovered that between Sasha's and his own tendency towards nightmares, uninterrupted sleep was hard to come by.
"Yeah, you're right," he said. "No more apologies, then."
Sasha moved back far enough to look at his face, anxiety betrayed by the darkness in those malachite eyes; an anxiety Blair could feel even if he hadn't been able to see it.
"It was a bad one," Sasha commented, touch gentle as he traced a gentle fingertip under Blair's eye.
"Lash," Blair said shamefacedly, leaning into the caress. "That was years ago, but I still wake up in that chair sometimes."
Sasha sighed, and Blair felt a strong sense of relief echo through their bond. He peered at Sasha curiously.
"I was afraid it was me. This. The life I've dragged you into. The things you've learned about me, about the conspiracy," Alex explained almost silently, ducking his head so Blair couldn't see his face.
He didn't know why he bothered. Blair didn't need to see his face to know what he was feeling, anyway.
"You've been worrying about that, haven't you," his shaman guide said in soothing, low tones.
"You'll miss your life in Cascade."
"No," Blair said, hand under Alex's chin lifting it until their eyes met. "I'll miss my friends in Cascade, but I won't miss my life there, and I'm not sorry I'm here with you."
"But I'll change you, solnyshko moyo."
"Yes, you will, but that's not a bad thing, radost' moyo. Change is inevitable," Blair pronounced solemnly, and then gave Alex that quirky little grin that invited Alex to smile with him. Which Alex did, because it was simply irresistible.
"You know, you should say radost' moya, because the word radost', 'joy', has a feminine gender in Russian," Alex idly noted, more than willing to let the other subject slide. No matter what Blair thought about the inevitability of change, Alex was concerned about how profoundly different Blair's life was going to become, thanks to him... and Blair had had no real choice, not about any of it.
That knowledge was something else that occasionally woke Alex in the night.
"Really," Blair said, willing to let Sasha distract him, for Sasha's own sake... although he knew they were going to have to discuss his sentinel's fears sooner or later. "I realize most Russian nouns have a gender assignment, but it's hard to remember what's male and what's female. It seems so purely arbitrary, and it doesn't sound right to call you radost' moya, Sasha. It sounds like I'm feminizing you."
Alex snickered at that, taking Blair's hand. He shamelessly slid it over his lap, humming when Blair rubbed his groin, which responded immediately.
"That feel like you're feminizing me?" He demanded huskily, breath sighing out on a soft groan as Blair's fingers squeezed his swelling cock.
"I'll need a closer look to be sure," Blair teased, giving him a final pat. "Soon as we get to the hotel room, I'll double check."
"Maybe even triple check," Alex offered with his own grin, and they relaxed, both looking forward to being off the plane.
Strong hands unceremoniously manhandled Alex to a supine position, and then carefully removed his boxers to bare his erection. "God, you are so beautiful," Blair added reverently, stroking his length. Alex watched Blair watching him, further aroused when Blair's mood instantly shifted from playful to intent.
He loved being able to do that to Blair- for Blair.
"So? What do you think? Too feminine for you?" He rasped, reaching above his head to grasp the headboard. He stretched luxuriously, blatantly preening, and saw the answering heat flare in his shaman's eyes.
"Not even," Blair said, scooting back just a bit. "Touch yourself, Sasha."
Alex smiled, feeling delightfully wicked as he let his fingertips trail across his face, his throat, and down to his chest. Blair sucked in a low gasp as Alex traced light circles around his nipples, the indirect stimulation tickling them into taut arousal.
"You too," Alex murmured, pleased when Blair flushed.
Blair pushed his sweatpants down to mid-thigh, biting back a moan as the cool air of their hotel room bathed his proudly erect cock. He started to take the sweats completely off, but Sasha held up one hand and stopped him.
"Leave them. You look so fucking hot like that, kneeling beside me with your pants halfway down your legs. You're so hard, solnyshko moyo. You get like that just from watching me?"
"Always," Blair managed, mesmerized by the way Sasha touched himself; hands smoothing down his body, fingers faithfully following the curve of bone and the cut of muscle until Sasha cupped his balls, presenting them for Blair's view. Blair could feel Sasha's radiating desire and those inflammatory words merely drove them both higher. It made his own erection twitch.
Damn, he'd had no idea this would be so intense, Alex thought vaguely, watching Blair's pink tongue wet those pouting lips. Blair's eyes were black with hunger, prompting Alex to wonder if he could simply talk Blair into an orgasm.
The possibility made him squirm his ass into the mattress and moan, drawing Blair's gaze to the way his cock twitched against his belly. Blair's hands tightened into fists, and Alex knew Blair was fighting the urge to touch him... letting him run the show.
And he knew just where he wanted to run with it.
"So fucking hot. I want to watch you get off, baby. Want you to cover me with your come, mark me, own me, show me who I belong to. Paint my skin with your seed and rub me down with it, so your scent is all I can smell. Then I want to turn you over and fill you up, fill that sweet ass with my cock. I'm gonna fuck you slow until you get hard again, then I'm gonna nail you to the bed, gonna fuck you so hard and so deep till you're screaming for-"
"Sasha, God!" Blair cried out as sound and sight, combined with the raw lust behind Sasha's words, pushed him helplessly over the edge. Sasha's clever hand was quick to encircle his cock, extending his climax, blinding him with sheer pleasure.
Once able to see, Blair shuddered in the grip of an aftershock that was almost painful. Sasha was licking sticky fingers, while his other hand played idly between the puddles of semen that dotted belly and groin, regarding Blair with bright eyes.
"That was amazing to watch, solnyshko moyo."
Blair's turn to smile, as he finally shucked his sweatpants and settled between Sasha's legs.
"You're amazing to watch, radost' moya," Blair whispered.
Alex sighed, then virtually purred as Blair did what he'd wanted, strong hands rubbing the musky fluid into his skin. The scent filled his nose, satisfying some weird primal urge that Alex didn't bother to analyze.
One of the perks of his relationship with Blair, Alex decided, was in having no need to analyze, examine, suspect, monitor, and probe their motives for being together. They just were, and it was the purest pleasure he'd ever known.
Surging upwards, Alex flipped Blair onto his back, admiring the way the afternoon sunshine illuminated Blair's skin. It was still a novelty for Alex to fuck in the broad light of day; taking an activity he used to associate with furtive encounters in the dark and changing it into a celebration of life and hope.
"You gonna fuck my ass now, Aleksandr?" Blair asked in a challenging tone, those brilliant lapis eyes boring into him. Blair lay sprawled on the bed, skin flushed and glowing, hair a tousled mass of short curls, and altogether beautiful in Alex's opinion. He lifted Blair's hands, encouraging them to curl around the headboard.
"Keep them there," Alex ordered, watching Blair's eyes darken. "And get it right. I'm gonna fuck your sweet ass, baby," he added, pleased when Blair grinned.
"Mmm. Wouldn't want to misquote you," Blair said with a shrug that he managed to turn into an enticing whole body wiggle.
"Damn right," he murmured, sliding his palms along Blair's thighs until he was gripping a double handful of that fine, tight butt. "Such a sweet ass."
Alex set to his self-appointed task, exploring his shaman's responses like they were all new. By the time he entered Blair's yielding body, Blair was hard again and leaking.
The fuck started out slow, but it didn't end that way.
There was, however, screaming involved.
Blair had been to Mexico City many times, most recently around three years ago when he, Jim, Simon, and Megan had had a layover there on their way back from Sierra Verde... not one of his favorite memories.
Still, he didn't think he'd ever been to this area. Once on the outskirts of the city proper, Sasha had instructed the cabbie to let them off in the kind of lavish suburban residential area Blair mentally associated with millionaires and movie stars. They'd then walked a couple of miles; no hardship in the cool air of early morning.
"You're right, it was a good idea," Blair congratulated Sasha on the wisdom of having taken one night for themselves at the hotel. It was the break they'd needed between the long flight from Cascade and the upcoming remainder of their quest. Aside from giving them the chance to physically reconnect and strengthen their emotional ties, they'd shared a solid night's sleep, undisturbed by any nightmares. Blair was glad now that they hadn't immediately rented a vehicle and pushed on to Sierra Verde.
"I have a lot of them," Sasha said, grinning at him as they turned up a narrow driveway. They stopped at a high gate, where Sasha punched a button on an intercom. Repeatedly.
"Who the bloody hell is it and what the bloody hell do you want?" An irritated voice asked some minutes later; sleep-muddled words in a vaguely British accent.
"Dobraye ootro, tovarisch," Sasha said, winking at Blair.
"Bloody hell! You!" The intercom snapped off, rather forcibly, Blair thought, but the gate beeped its release and he followed Sasha through.
"He doesn't sound very friendly."
"He's a crabby old bastard in the mornings," Sasha explained cheerfully as they walked up to the large villa at the end of the drive. Blair snickered, not surprised when the front door opened before Sasha could knock.
The man who stepped out was a surprise, though. As tall as Sasha, he was much younger than Blair was anticipating given what Sasha had said. Dressed in a black sweatshirt and blue jeans, he looked near their own ages, with luminous pale skin, spiky dark brown hair and a prominent nose that worked very well with the striking greeny-gold hazel eyes above it- eyes that were currently glaring at Sasha with a decidedly jaundiced expression.
"Krycek, was it really necessary for you to arrive at such an ungodly hour?" The man asked Sasha, those cultured, accented tones delighting Blair's ear despite the aggravation behind the question.
Tilting his head, Blair curiously regarded their unwilling host and found those variable eyes fixed on him.
"Blair, this is Adam. Adam, Blair," Sasha said, grinning broadly.
Incredible, Methos thought, his eyes going from Blair to the shocking - and shockingly gorgeous - sight of Alex Krycek, smiling.
Alex Krycek, known to Methos as a leader in the human resistance, a man normally so grimly guarded and intense that the idea of him revealing such genuine good humor seemed as unlikely as anything Methos had ever encountered.
Given Methos' five millennia on Earth, that made it pretty damned unlikely.
He lowered his own guard a bit, touching the unusual sense of presence that emanated from the pair before him. Not immortal Presence, no, but presence just the same.
Everything had presence; something most younger immortals - that is, less than three thousand years old - did not know, but that presence was something Methos could easily perceive when he chose.
He chose now, allowing their energy to vibrate against his quickening. It was an oddly familiar resonance, a tingling 'otherness' he knew but also knew he had not sensed in several hundred years.
Inspecting Krycek's companion, Methos lingered for a moment on the mortal's pleasing exterior and found himself caught by the beauty of those deep blue eyes. Like Krycek, Blair was unexpectedly pretty in a very masculine way. A strong, compact body, smooth, almost olive-toned skin, lips that could rival MacLeod's for pure sinful succulence, and tousled dark curls that practically demanded his fingers investigate... yet decorative a form as it was, it was mere housing for an astonishingly bright spirit.
Methos became aware Krycek had stopped grinning and was giving him a direct stare. Blair was frowning a bit, and it occurred to Methos to wonder just what the young mortals were sensing about him, then he was distracted by the realization that the two men shared their presence in a combined aura that felt reminiscent of a joined quickening.
Fascinated, Methos raised his mental walls and remembered his manners. He even made a polite effort not to stare at the lovely men before him, although avoiding two pair of equally hypnotic eyes was some effort.
"How do you do, Blair? Won't you come in? I can offer breakfast."
"I could eat," Blair replied after glancing first at Krycek, who nodded.
"Good. Then we'll settle our arrangements," Methos said, leading them indoors as he wracked his long, long memory for clues.
What was it about Krycek and his companion?
Alex listened, amused, as Adam and Blair talked at each other over the breakfast table, their discussion undeterred when breakfast was served by Adam's cook, Senora Platas. That stout, silver-haired worthy had been immediately charmed by Blair - a sentiment Alex understood - when Blair had thanked her in halting Yaqui... which had led to the current topic, which was the Mexican government's treatment of its indigenous population.
Not a subject Alex cared to debate, since he was a bit more concerned about the entire planet's indigenous population. Still, he was having fun listening to his shaman guide argue with the immortal.
He was still a bit amazed to find he could sense Adam's immortality. He'd already known, of course, but he hadn't expected to be able to feel it so clearly. He wasn't sure how that was working, and maybe it was something specific to Adam and not all immortals, but there was a definite 'something' that informed him Adam was different.
Alex felt relieved. Blair and Jeremiah had believed he'd be able to use his senses for rapid identification. He hadn't been so sure, but apparently they'd been right. Now if he could only ID the clones and supersoldiers that quickly...
"How did you and Aleksandr meet?" Blair was asking Adam quietly, and Alex smirked when Adam cast him an enquiring eyebrow.
"Go ahead and tell him," Alex said.
"The entire story?" Adam asked with faint disapproval.
"He's going to know, and you can trust him as much as you'd trust me."
Methos had to hide his own smirk at Alex's choice of phrasing.
"I was being experimented upon in a Consortium lab and he rescued me." Blair winced, something Methos ignored. "I am immortal, you see, and they were analyzing ways to genetically manipulate their supersoldiers into being harder to kill."
"Immortal," Blair said doubtfully, and Methos sighed resignedly.
"I hate this part," he griped.
Blair watched with wide eyes as Sasha's friend pulled a knife out of nowhere and used it to slice open a large gash in his palm. Tiny blue lightning flickered over the bloody wound as the skin visibly knit itself together; something Blair, with his own recent experience at the hands of Jeremiah Smith, watched with no real shock.
"Oh, so you're an alien," he concluded nonchalantly, taken aback when Adam's face assumed a thunderous frown.
"I beg your pardon."
"I've seen alien healing," Blair said with a casual shrug. Sasha snorted under his breath, prompting Blair to poke him as amusement sparkled through their bond. "What?"
"As far as I know, immortals have been on Earth as long as the rest of us. Adam's been a part of the resistance since he and I met. His people have as much to lose as we do if colonization happens," Sasha told him quietly, fingers curling around Blair's unselfconsciously.
That was an understatement, Methos thought, grimly aware of what it would mean to be an immortal host to the aliens bent on colonization. He'd gotten a taste while trapped in the Consortium's labs, and once Krycek had freed him and explained what was at stake - namely, the entire planet - he'd thrown his efforts towards the resistance wholeheartedly.
He'd always been willing to do whatever it took to ensure survival, which was actually one of the traits he most appreciated about Krycek. Plus, he owed Krycek, which was why he'd agreed to meet Krycek at his Mexico City house and make sure Krycek was well supplied for whatever odd mission the man was currently undertaking.
Having frequently watched Krycek and watching him now - watching the way he and his Blair interacted and Blair's easy acceptance of the most unlikely information - it suddenly coalesced in Methos' mind: sudden recognition of the odd energy that emanated from the two mortals, as well as the reason why Alex Krycek, notorious loner, had abruptly found himself a partner and a lover with whom he felt so much obvious ease.
"You're bonded. Curator and patronus- ah, guardian and protector," Methos realized, excusing himself for not having recognized it sooner. He hadn't seen a similar bonded pair in five hundred years, after all. "Krycek, you've acquired enhanced senses, correct? And you, Blair, you're the one who grounds and defends him."
Blair looked at him, the type of penetrating stare Methos associated with holy men and the mad. It was a stare Methos met easily and returned with his own, allowing who he was and who he'd been to show in his eyes.
He was quite pleased when the young mortal didn't flinch.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Blair said and Methos laughed, genuinely delighted.
"Bright boy." Methos held up a hand when Blair started to speak. "No need to confirm or deny. I know what I know- what I've seen," he added, casting a hook. He was even more impressed when Blair didn't bite, but merely shrugged at him.
"You got lucky, Krycek," he said in Russian, meaning it.
"More than you know, Old Man," Alex said in the same language, his tone serious despite his smile. "More than you know."
Blair ducked his head and blushed, which set Methos to laughing as soon as the he realized their words had been understood.
"I'm glad. Come, I'll show you what I've arranged."
A few hours later found them nearing Sierra Verde, in an ancient Ford truck that had prompted Blair to laugh on first seeing it. The rust-and-primer spotted vehicle only looked old - the engine was as well-tuned as any Formula One racecar's - and the ratty camper shell over the bed covered a thorough assortment of camping equipment and small arms.
Alex had been satisfied with the immortal's preparations on their behalf, not that he'd expected less than the best from Adam. They'd swung by the hotel, checked out, picked up their belongings, and hit the road; both secretly surprised by how easily they traveled together.
"So how old is Adam?" Blair finally asked the question Alex had been waiting a hundred miles to hear.
"I'm not sure. The records the Consortium's scientists were keeping estimated his age at over two thousand years." Alex felt Blair's shocked wonder. "He doesn't know that I know that, by the way... and none of those records are left now."
Not to mention, none of the scientists, but Alex didn't think he'd add that little detail. Blair plainly sensed his unease, however, because one hand reached over to stroke his thigh with open affection.
"How old does he think you think he is?" Blair asked after a moment, and Alex laughed softly at that awkward phrasing.
"Three or four hundred. I'll let him keep thinking that, too. He's a dangerous man to have as an enemy."
"Yeah, I hear that. Wow. Over two thousand years old... You said immortals, plural, so he's not the only one? How many are there?"
Alex shrugged. "That I don't know. They never managed to convince Adam to tell them."
Blair blinked at that implication. "Shit. How do you feel about him knowing what we are?"
"If we weren't on the same side I'd be worried," Alex allowed, slowing as they entered the outskirts of Sierra Verde. "Adam knows how to keep secrets. Which way from here?"
"Can't you tell?" Blair asked with a small grin, reassured by Sasha's opinion of the immortal.
Alex pulled over, put the truck in 'park' and took a few deep breaths. Clearing his mind, he skipped over the immediate area like a stone over water, widening his perception until he could feel an odd tug inside, counterbalanced by Blair's quiet strength.
"That way," he pointed to Blair's nod.
"Straight through town then we'll turn back left," Blair confirmed softly.
"Do we need to stop in town?" He asked, putting the truck back in gear and pulling out onto the road.
"No," Blair said as they drove past a too-familiar church, followed shortly by an equally familiar outdoor cafe.
Sighing, Blair thought back to his last visit here. Still off-balance from his drowning and reeling from Jim's refusal of their spirit bond, he'd been shattered by the sight of Jim with Alex Barnes on the beach a few blocks from here. Even now, that memory made him cringe inside.
"There's nothing in this town worth stopping for," he added roughly, comforted when Sasha's fingers wrapped around his own. To distract himself, he asked a few more idle questions about the immortal.
Maybe he should have been more shocked than he was, but shit, he'd already made the leap from believing in sentinels to messages from beyond the grave to aliens. What was an immortal next to that?
Roberto Lucito made his way to a pay phone near the cafe and dialed a number, waiting patiently until it was answered, transferred, put on hold, and finally picked up by the man he wanted to reach.
"Si, quien es?"
"Es Lucito, Jefe. El Americano Sandburg esta en el pueblo."
"Seguro? Esta Ellison con el, o Banks?"
"No. Esta con un extrano."
" Van en la direccion del templo, Jefe."
"Excelente, Lucito. Gracias."
Carlos Arguillo hung up the phone and smiled. So one of the three men responsible for his prison term was here, with a stranger, and they were on their way to that accursed temple. It was excellent news, indeed.
Like the Americanos say, paybacks are a motherfucker.
"It's only a couple more miles."
Sasha nodded, and Blair wasn't surprised when Sasha stopped the truck and backed it off the narrow track they'd been following, meticulously steering in reverse around the larger underbrush until they came upon a small clearing.
Once they'd stopped, Blair climbed into the camper and started sorting through equipment and weapons while Sasha walked out to what might be laughably termed the road. Blair knew Sasha was concealing traces of the truck's passage, and was certain that if he stood on the road and looked for the truck, he wouldn't see it, even in the bright light of mid-afternoon. Primer and rust over faded green paint made damned fine camouflage.
He sent up a mental thanks to both Sasha and the immortal, recognizing the wisdom in having such an unremarkable vehicle as well as plenty of fire power. After what had happened the last time he was here, Blair would never assume that being well armed was unnecessary.
Sasha virtually materialized out of the surrounding jungle, managing to startle Blair despite the fact that he'd known Sasha was coming.
"You okay?" Sasha asked, undoubtedly aware of his adrenalin spike.
"Yeah, yeah. Just..."
"Jumpy as hell," Sasha noted wryly, quickly assembling supplies into a backpack, carefully securing a bedroll and canteen to it before handing it to Blair. Blair was intensely gratified to see that the pack Sasha loaded for himself was no heavier than his own... just one more silent affirmation that Sasha saw him as an equal partner.
Blair didn't know if he'd ever get used to being treated that way. He certainly wouldn't ever take it for granted.
He retrieved one more item from the cab of the truck and stowed it away in his pack, then stood, trying to pretend he was less bothered than he actually was.
"What are you sensing?" Sasha asked, pulling out a large roll of camouflage netting that he began to arrange over the top of the truck.
"Isn't that my line?" Blair prevaricated, grimacing when those malachite eyes bored into his, soundlessly ordering him to cut the bullshit. "I don't know. I don't think it's anything except bad memories."
"Maybe you should tell me more about them."
They shared a bottle of water, neither overly troubled by the pervasive heat, and once Sasha had split the arms between them, they locked up the truck, shouldered on their packs, and started hiking.
After a time, Blair began talking, relating the entire story. He was pretty sure Sasha would not think less of him for his own idiotic contributions to that whole mess.
Alex listened in silence as Blair told of the events surrounding his previous adventures in Mexico, biting back on an ever-increasing fury as Blair's revelations made a number of things clear - Blair's reaction to Alex's given name, his fear that Alex would reject their bond after their spirit merge, and his palpable anxiety at being in Sierra Verde once again. Alex had to admit that Blair had been wise not to tell him about this before they'd left Cascade. Otherwise, he might have been tempted to snap Jim Ellison's neck; particularly when Blair stumbled while describing what had happened between Ellison and Barnes.
If Ellison was fortunate, it would be a long time before Alex met up with him again.
"...and we- I- decided it had to be some kind of primal mating drive between sentinels that was- that ended when she overloaded her mind," Blair finished haltingly, well aware of Sasha's deep, icy rage. He set his hand on Sasha's arm and looked up into that too-still face. "Come on, Sash. He couldn't help-"
"Don't try to tell me he couldn't help it. He brought it on himself," Alex declared irately, feeling his way through a truth he barely understood.
"What do you mean?"
"When he denied your bond with him, it left him exposed. Vulnerable. Unlocked. Accessible." Alex tilted his head, listening inwardly, hearing the voice of his subconscious that made him such an effective covert operative and brilliant manipulator... the part that intuited, extrapolated, and ran with the information. "The door was opened and he invited that damned vampire inside, throwing aside what would have protected him."
"Sasha, how do you know that?"
"I know how I would have felt if I'd tried to reject you after our souls bonded. It would have felt like tearing off my own skin. You are my shelter, solnyshko moyo," Alex added gently, watching Blair absorb his words.
"'Patronus'," Blair whispered, thunderstruck as the immortal's words came back to him. "A protector, not just teacher or guide."
"You were never 'just'." Alex clasped Blair's upper arms and gave him a small shake. "Jim Ellison may have been too stupid to see that, but I'm not." Sliding his hands up to cup that increasingly precious face, Alex lowered his mouth to Blair's, savoring the salt-sweet taste of those soft lips.
Blair responded automatically, the way he suspected he always would where Sasha was concerned, letting out a helpless moan when Sasha sucked lightly on his tongue then released him.
"Mine," Sasha murmured with a faintly satisfied smile. Blair smiled back, then laughed, genuinely amused.
"Yeah, yours, and you're mine, so be gracious in victory and give Jim a break, would you? The problems he and I had were as much my fault as his." He saw the disbelief in Sasha's eyes and sighed, turning away to resume walking towards the temple - a temple he felt he could find blindfolded, now, although whether that awareness came through his link to Sasha or from somewhere inside himself, he couldn't say.
Sasha fell into step directly behind him; literally watching his back, Blair realized.
"We haven't really talked about it," he found himself saying quietly, knowing Sasha would hear.
"I know you love him."
The tone was terse, but Blair could feel an odd mishmash of emotions behind Sasha's words; acceptance, envy, need, loneliness, sorrow, sympathy, and rue, as well as a lingering undercurrent of anger.
"I didn't at first. He was a research subject who became a friend before I realized I was- When I understood what I was feeling I didn't handle it well. I pushed him, treated him like a lab rat, and kept my distance emotionally. It didn't happen for Jim and me like it did with us, Aleksandr. It took two years before we got to a place where a spirit merge was even possible and..." Blair's voice trailed away as Sasha's hand came to rest on his shoulder.
"That doesn't mean it was all your fault."
"No, but it wasn't all Jim's fault, either."
"Maybe. You do know he still wishes he didn't have the senses," Alex said, not sure what he was trying to prove to his shaman guide. If he was trying to prove anything at all, that is.
"Of course I know. I'm surprised you do."
"Something he said the other day made the implication."
"Jim's real big on being normal. His dad made it a priority," Blair commented with no small degree of reluctance. Alex, who knew what it cost Blair to say even that much, squeezed Blair's shoulder gently and turned him until they were facing each other.
"Fine, I won't kill him the next time I see him, okay?" He promised, and won a brilliant smile.
"Spasibo, radost' moya."
"Where's Barnes now?" Alex had to ask, in the interests of threat assessment.
Blair gave him a high eyebrow then shrugged. "Last I heard, the federal medical center lockup in Carswell, Texas, near Fort Worth. It's the only one that takes female prisoners."
Alex nodded. "Good to know."
Accidents could be arranged, after all.
He'd been worried about something like this, Blair thought, looking at the chain-link fence that circled the temple grounds, a desecration as sacrilegious as a spray-painted tag smeared over a cathedral wall. Every ten feet or so glaring yellow signs in Spanish warned DO NOT ENTER and RESTRICTED AREA, silent markers meant to turn them away as unauthorized personnel. A faded placard near the chained and padlocked gate indicated the area was under the control of the archaeology department at the University of Mexico.
For the first time in his life, Blair found that personally offensive, and finally understood why archaeologists were so often accused of being grave-robbers with no real respect for the past they unearthed to study.
The only saving grace came from the discovery that the site was deserted; whatever crew had been there was now gone. The door to the temple itself was imperturbably closed; giving Blair hope that no one had found the way inside since Jim Ellison had closed that same door three years ago.
Sasha stood beside him with infinite patience, and Blair marveled for a moment at his sentinel's willingness to accompany him here merely because he'd said they needed to come.
"Can you open the gate?" He finally asked.
Sasha gave an insulted sniff.
"You're kidding, right?" Graceful hands produced a set of lock picks and worked on the padlock, which fell open in less than a minute. They slipped through the gate, which Sasha secured behind them.
They walked up the steps to the carving on the stone wall, where Sasha looked at Blair with curiosity in those vivid green eyes.
"How do you open it?"
Instead of answering, Blair removed Sasha's pack, set it down, and took his hands, thumbs rubbing subconscious circles on warm skin.
"The answer is in you," he said, and had to grin. Shaman he might be, but it was hard to come out with those mystical pronouncements and keep a straight face. He had to wonder how Incacha did it. Sasha smiled back at him beautifully, white teeth flashing and eyes bright.
"If you say so."
Alex was of the opinion that Blair was the one with the answers, not him, but he'd already made up his mind to do anything Blair asked. Taking a couple of cleansing breaths, he cleared his thoughts and set his senses free to focus on the front of the temple; perceiving the areas where the stone was slightly more worn, where skin oils had left a faint patina, where unseen hollows and notches gave off a different vibration than the places where the stone was solid.
It was simple, really. He touched the carved eye and the door swung open, a testimony to the remarkable skills of the temple's long-dead builders. Alex picked up his pack and walked in.
Blair followed him in, a flashlight in hand. Alex waited while Blair switched it on and closed the door behind them. The interior was surprisingly cool, smelling of water and age.
More steps - down - and they were in a chamber. It seemed to Alex that he could somehow hear the lingering echoes of malice and violence, feel a wrongness that was startlingly real.
Blair went to the walls and lit a couple of torches then switched the flashlight off, setting it and his pack on the stone floor. He let out a low sigh and shuddered, then shook himself impatiently.
"What is it?"
"Bad energy, I guess. We're going to have to fix that." Blair was starting to understand this was one of the reasons Incacha had been so insistent that they return to this temple, when he knew there were others he and Sasha could have used; other temples in other countries, probably even in Peru itself. But this temple needed to be spiritually cleansed as well as restored to its original purpose, and apparently the job had fallen to them.
Joy, joy. Oh well, it wasn't like he hadn't been raised knowing how to cleanse negative energies from a room.
"You can do that?" Sasha asked interestedly, and Blair grinned despite the persistent unease crawling along his spine.
"You're kidding, right?" Blair echoed Sasha's earlier words and won an amused smirk. "Kinda goes with the whole crazy shaman thing."
"Castaneda said that shamans only seem insane because they're constantly trying to explain things that can't be explained," Sasha commented thoughtfully. Startled, Blair felt his eyebrows rise.
"You've read Castaneda?"
"I like to read." Sasha shrugged.
"Oh, man, I'm the one who got lucky," Blair said, sincerely grateful for Sasha's philosophical acceptance. Even indifference was easier to handle than downright skepticism.
Calmed, Blair fished his medicine bundle out of his backpack and went to the center of the chamber, where he knelt facing the door.
"Where do you want me?" Sasha wondered quietly.
"Beside me," Blair replied, letting out a half-held breath when Sasha immediately took up position there, no questions asked.
Alex watched silently as Blair opened the beaded leather bag and began removing items. A little iron cauldron, several fist-sized beaded leather bags, a paper sack, and a narrow wooden box were arranged on the floor within Blair's reach. Blair reached into the paper sack, retrieved matches and a couple of charcoal tablets, and in short order, had coals smoldering in the base of the iron pot. After loosening the leather ties that held the smaller bags closed, Blair unlatched the wooden box, removing a folded piece of rich red flannel. This was opened to reveal a single, long, beautifully symmetrical black and white feather that caught the faint light and prismed in rainbows under Alex's eyes.
"That's an eagle feather?"
"Yeah," Blair said, sprinkling dried herbs out of one bag onto the burning coals. Cedar, Alex knew from the aroma, as Blair passed his hands over the smoke, stroking up his arms as if he were washing in it, then waving it over his head and shoulders.
"Bless yourself with this smoke," Blair ordered gently. Alex knelt and washed the smoke over himself as Blair had done, then watched Blair pass the eagle feather through the smoke as well.
"It's against federal law for me to have this feather," Blair noted in a wry tone, throwing herbs from the other bags over the coals. "I'm an anarchist, man."
Alex grinned at his shaman guide's deliberate irony, knowing Blair was quite aware that fighting with the resistance would end up making them both fugitives from the governments of more than one country.
Rising gracefully to his feet, Blair held the little pot out and began fanning the smoke with the feather. Alex tried to identify the other herbs, but the only other one he knew was tobacco, which gave off a pure, strong smell that was nothing at all like cigarette smoke.
"It was given to me fifteen years ago by a Lakota man who taught me a few things. Cedar cleanses when used with intention and belief. Sage drives away evil, invites good, and brings wisdom. Sweetgrass attracts good spirits. Tobacco is burned to bring peace. They're sacred herbs to almost every indigenous culture in the western hemisphere."
Blair fanned the smoke towards the entrance as he began to speak in a language Alex did not recognize. He didn't need to, feeling what Blair felt through their bond; gratitude and supplication. Prayer. That surprised Alex a bit, but he cleared his mind and set his will towards support and strength, figuring that was the best he could do, as non-spiritual as he was. He'd stopped believing in Divinity decades ago.
Then again, Alex thought with a mental shrug, if anybody could make him believe again, it was Blair Sandburg.
Blair spun on his heels, pausing at each quarter arc to hold up the pot, fan out more smoke, and say more unfamiliar words. When he'd made the entire three-sixty, he began to walk clockwise around the perimeter of the temple's interior, still fanning smoke. He was visibly gritting his teeth when he walked past the two stone pools, the water within them looking unsullied and serene.
When he'd finished the outer walls, he paused beside Alex to refill the cauldron and returned to stand between the pools. This time he fanned the smoke directly over the water, chanting quietly for a few minutes.
By the time Blair came over to put his things away, Alex was surprised to find that their surroundings, while heavy with smoke, still managed to somehow feel lighter. Cleaner. Calm, even.
"Are the smells bothering you?" Blair asked softly as he wrapped his eagle feather up and laid it back in the cedar case.
"No. Smells good," Sasha assured. Blair sighed again, this time in relief.
"It's gonna be nice to be able to burn sage," he said before he could catch himself. Taking a deep breath, he decided to let that go, well aware his subconscious was going to keep on making comparisons between Sasha and Jim for a while, no matter how many times he told himself he was being unfair.
Once everything was put away, he motioned for Sasha to sit with him and pointed at the writings on the chamber walls.
"Part of that is a recipe for a drink that will give us an altered state of consciousness while we're in the pools. I don't think we need it. I think we can reach an altered state through meditation," Blair said, thankfully aware that Sasha already knew how to meditate and did it easily.
"Whatever you think," Sasha said with a shrug, his willingness to do exactly that - whatever Blair thought - burning through Blair like a shot of hard liquor and leaving a moment of pure warmth behind.
Within the next beat of his heart, Blair was intensely, immensely furious.
"Do you have any fucking idea how dangerous this is? When Alex Barnes did this, she cranked up her fucking senses so high that her fucking brain fried. She's a fucking vegetable now. This isn't something to take lightly, Aleksandr."
Alex was amused by Blair's anger. He loved that Blair felt secure enough with him to allow that wild temper free rein. That it wasn't something Blair did easily only made him value it more. And maybe it was stupid - not to mention unlikely - that he should trust Blair so much on such short acquaintance, but having that connection to Blair's frame of mind made it unreasonably simple.
He cupped one hand around the back of Blair's warm neck.
"I promise you, solnyshko moyo, that I take nothing about you or this sentinel thing lightly. When I say 'whatever you think' I say it because I trust you to get us through it... just like you're going to have to trust me when we start working with the resistance. It works both ways."
Blair closed his eyes on a low sigh, and Alex felt his aggravation fade like a passing thunderstorm, still rumbling in the distance.
It made Alex smile.
"I don't deserve you, radost' moya," Blair said, smiling back like he couldn't help himself.
"Yeah, poor you. You're stuck with me anyway. What happens now?"
"I want you to look around and see if there's another exit," Blair said, surprising Alex. "It'll be hidden, obviously, but there has to be more in here given the size of the temple from outside."
Thinking about the temple's exterior compared to the relative size of the space inside, Alex nodded.
"Yeah, okay." Alex started making a perimeter search, a serious perimeter search, vaguely aware that Blair was emptying their packs, unrolling their sleeping bags and setting up a tiny camp stove. Alex was equally aware that although Blair was keeping busy, Blair was still paying acute attention to him, making sure he didn't over-focus and zone as he searched.
That constant sense of Blair's scrutiny grounded him, making it easy to free his senses, subconsciously assessing the tiniest alterations in air patterns, the wear on the stone at his feet, and the changes in scent that eventually led him to zero in on one corner in particular.
"Blair? It's here, somewhere, but I can't..." Alex cocked his head to one side and resisted the urge to rub at his eyes. Something about that corner just looked strange to him, blurry, almost like he was seeing double.
Blair joined him silently, torch in hand, and brushed his fingers over the hairline seams in the rocks, a small smile tilting his lips.
"Incredible," he whispered, sinking to the floor and folding into a cross-legged position. "Did you know one of the Aztec gods was named Tezcatlipoca - Smoking Mirror?"
"Ah, the god of Washington politics," Alex murmured wryly, copying Blair's actions.
"Yeah," Blair agreed with a quiet chuckle. "Give me a minute, here."
"Whatever you need."
Blair reached out and patted Sasha's arm, grateful for that willing patience.
"This- this has to be seen with the mind, instead of with the eye." Slowing his breathing, Blair let his concentration slip until he was looking without actually seeing anything, deliberately disconnecting his brain from what his eyesight was telling it. It wasn't hard - he was pretty tired, despite the previous night's sleep, and the fatigue he felt helped his conscious mind retreat.
And then, like magic - which it was, Blair supposed - he could see the true angles in the joined stones hidden behind the illusion. He reached out, pressed lightly on a spot that seemed to him to almost glow, and watched silently as a large stone panel slid away.
"More crazy shaman stuff, I suppose," Sasha said with an audible grin, but Blair could feel the sentinel's pure pride in his shaman. For a moment, Blair simply let himself enjoy it before pointing into the dark.
"Something like that, yeah. You hear anything in there?"
Blair watched Sasha tilt his head and listen, and for the first time, Blair didn't automatically think of Jim... although that didn't occur to him until much later.
"Water, air moving... and a few bugs skittering."
"Okay, I didn't need that much detail." Blair started for a torch, but Sasha went for their packs and retrieved a couple of flashlights, handing one to Blair with a smirk.
"With all due respect to the ancient spirits, I think I'll stick with modern technology. Haven't you seen all those scary movies where the torches blow out and the intrepid explorers are left in the dark?"
Blair almost laughed before he felt the hard current of dread that lay behind Sasha's words.
"Aleksandr? This really bothers you," he said wonderingly.
Embarrassed, Alex felt himself flush. "I- ah- have a- a little problem with dark enclosed spaces."
Judging from Sasha's emotions as well as that almost stammered explanation, Blair realized it wasn't exactly a little problem... but more like the kind of deeply ingrained, near-phobic type of problem that resulted from severe trauma; like his own acquired aversions to being restrained or having his face submerged in water.
"Who hurt you, baby?" Blair asked gently, aware that Sasha wrestled with how to answer and whether or not to answer at all. Blair forced back the painful memories of how often Jim had shut him out and shut him down. He didn't want to pressure Sasha, not about this.
Alex stared at the flashlight in his hand, ran the fingers of his other hand over the gun at his back, and thought about the many times in his life when his weapon had felt like his only friend... the only thing in his life he could depend on to be there.
Not any more, though. He wasn't that man any longer. He wasn't alone.
Lifting his chin, Alex looked Blair in the eye.
"There's a form of alien life we call oiliens- stupid name, it comes from the way they can use oil as a medium to carry their... essence, I guess you'd say. They're sentient but they aren't really corporeal outside their ships or their hosts.
"An oilien was found on the Pacific Ocean floor. It's a long story, but a salvage operation inadvertently brought it to the surface after it had lain there trapped for fifty years. It killed a bunch of people and made its way through a series of hosts." Alex absently rubbed at his chest, taking a deep breath.
"It was hunting, Blair. It knew, somehow, that it would get what it wanted with me. It caught up with me in Hong Kong... and it hit the jackpot. I had information it could trade to get its ship back... and I knew who had its ship.
"When it was in me... it was like being so fucking high that you didn't really know what was happening around you and you didn't care, either. The oilien takes complete control, uses your body, helps itself to your memories... while you sit back in a tiny corner of your mind gibbering insanely because nothing feels real..."
"Let me finish," Alex said, holding out his shaking hand for Blair to take in a warm, tight grip. "It used me to carry it while it made a deal to get its ship back. The ship was in an unused missile silo in North Dakota, almost two hundred feet underground. I was locked in. The oilien left my body for its ship and when I realized where I was, trapped in the dark with it- with-"
"How long?" Blair asked in a voice strangled with audible tears.
"I don't know. Days? A week? It was- when it was gone and I could think for myself again, after the initial... panic... I went through some kind of... withdrawal. That was the worst fucking part, Blair, because I wanted- I wanted-" Alex ground his teeth in frustration, throat aching with shame.
"You wanted it back," his shaman whispered, and Alex's stomach rolled.
"Yes," he confessed a truth he'd barely admitted to himself. "I wanted it back. I wanted not to feel anything, again. Not to care, not to be alone. That's what makes it so dangerous. Worse than any drug could ever be... and a planet full of sheep who would willingly-" His voice broke then, and he sucked in a gasp of air and strangled the urge to cry. He didn't fucking cry, goddamnit. He wouldn't.
"When I'm in the dark-" he tried, and choked.
"Shh. It's okay. We'll make it okay."
Blair's arms came around him and held him together while he got his breathing under control. It took him a while to stop shaking.
"I'm sorry that happened to you," Blair whispered, understanding more than he thought Sasha realized. He'd wondered how Sasha found it so easy to accept their spirit bond... now he believed he knew.
Just like Sasha had wanted Blair to help physically erase his memories of the careless hands that had touched him in the past, he'd trusted Blair to overwrite that earlier mental possession, too. It explained a lot, and gave Blair an odd sense of accomplishment.
He was what this man needed. He was enough. Necessary.
God, it felt good, to believe that all the way down to the bottom of his soul.
"Thank you," he said, still whispering. "For telling me about it. Trust me a little bit more, and we'll get through the dark together, radost' moya. I promise."
"Yeah, for some reason you bring out the romantic in me," Blair noted philosophically, feeling Sasha smile. "We good to go?"
"Yeah. We're definitely good."
After one final, reassuring squeeze, Blair straightened and switched on his flashlight, waiting while Sasha did the same. "Let me go first?" He asked seriously, careful to shine the light towards the floor.
"You're the guide."
"Yes, I am," Blair said, sucked up his courage, and ducked through the door. "Hold on to me."
The little doorway was low and cramped, but opened up into another chamber, as Blair had suspected it would. With Sasha's hand on his shoulder, he shone his flashlight around the room.
"Oh my God."
"Holy shit," Alex agreed, the genuine reverence he felt crowding out his unease. There was a life-sized carved jaguar dominating one wall. Sculpted alto-rilievo style, it looked like it was fashioned from hammered gold. Bright turquoise stones served for eyes and the mouth and paws were inlaid with what appeared to be actual jaguar teeth and claws. A stone altar sat directly below the jaguar, upon which rested a gold mask.
Neither of them made any motions towards the relics, and Alex figured they'd both seen enough Indiana Jones movies to warn them off a closer inspection. They looked at each other and shrugged, then went back to assessing the chamber.
Opposite the altar sat an obviously constructed grotto full of water; about the size of a hot tub, Alex noted with amusement. He relaxed even more when he realized there was a second doorway visible in the wall directly across from them.
"Back door?" He asked quietly, aiming his flashlight at it.
"Yeah, probably. A way for the priests to come in and out," Blair said absently, moving towards the grotto. He crouched to dip his hand inside. "This water's warm. Must be a hot spring underneath."
"Smells like mineral salts. Clean."
By mutual, unspoken agreement, they went to the door, which slid open at Alex's touch. A passage greeted them, a twenty-foot stone tunnel that obviously led outdoors; the opening shrouded in thick brush but still allowing some light.
"Priests?" Alex asked as they cautiously inspected the passage, which was empty except for a few beetles.
"Yeah, there must have been rites attached to bonding sentinels and guides in the past, when they weren't so rare. There was probably a ceremony overseen by a priest, or a shaman. A blessing in front of the altar... administration of the herbal mixture... a ritual cleansing in the-"
"-hot tub?" Alex interrupted with a grin that surprised a laugh out of Blair.
"Yeah, the hot tub, before going into the pools in the other room."
They walked as far as they could, Alex automatically adjusting for the increased light; both of them agreeing that while it wouldn't exactly be easy to get out through the undergrowth at the mouth of the tunnel, it wouldn't be impossible, either, should the need arise.
That question settled, they returned to the temple, closed the door, and went back through the short passage to the first chamber, where they sat, backs up against the wall. Blair retrieved a couple of bottles of water, handing one to Alex before opening his and drinking thirstily.
"What now?" Alex asked.
"I don't know. No, that's not true. I do know. I'm just scared," Blair admitted reluctantly.
"You think I can't handle it?"
"No! That's not- I'm not worried about you, Sasha." And Blair was telling the truth - Alex could tell - but the fear he spoke of was like a live thing inside him, despite his efforts to push it away.
"Then you're worried about you," Alex realized to Blair's sigh.
"Yeah. Look. I meant what I said when I told you I don't have the training for this shaman stuff. I'm flying blind here-"
Alex reached out unceremoniously and grabbed Blair, a mere instant before Blair could get up and start pacing. Pulling Blair against him, Alex held on until Blair's anxiety began to fade.
"Good thing I can see so well, then," he said calmly. "Your dead Indian buddy wouldn't have told you to do this if he didn't think you could handle it."
Blair fought back the urge to laugh at that bizarre statement spoken in such a matter-of-fact tone. "Fuck, our lives are so surreal," he finally said, scrubbing at his face.
"You knew that going in. What else is bothering you?"
Blair let himself relax into Sasha's strong arms. He was beginning to understand that he could let himself be weak and Sasha wouldn't hold it against him or think less of him for it. It was a luxury he wasn't going to take for granted, especially since he also knew he could tell Sasha anything and Sasha wouldn't judge him. He could feel that... so maybe it did boil down to his own ability to trust himself as well as his sentinel, he mused grimly, taking a deep, shuddering breath.
"You know your thing with the dark, well, I- I-"
"You have a thing, too, huh." Sasha's voice was nothing but understanding.
"Since I drowned. I have a problem putting my face in standing water. Showers - moving water - no problem, but tubs or pools..." He shivered. "I had to jump in the ocean a couple of weeks after it happened to catch a perp. Being in the ocean didn't bother me, but when I took a bath later that night I had a panic attack."
A panic attack that he had successfully hidden from Jim, Blair recalled unhappily. Jim had been stuck at the station while he'd gone to the loft to clean up and change into dry clothes.
Feeling chilled, he'd run a hot bath. While in the tub, he'd dunked his head to rinse away the sea salt... and almost drowned himself when he'd been slammed with a sudden, visceral punch of terror from feeling that still water cover his face.
To this day, he barely remembered flailing his way out of the tub. He remembered crouching over the toilet and puking, though, and remembered sinking to the floor, where he'd cried for an hour before forcing himself to clean up the mess.
He hadn't been in a tub since.
"I don't know if I can do it, Sasha. I don't know if I can lie in that water and let it touch my face. I'm afraid I'm gonna freak out, man, especially when I think how the last person to lie in it may have been the woman who killed me," he confessed in a harsh whisper.
Sasha merely tightened his hold, one hand on the nape of Blair's neck rubbing comfortably.
"Hmm. Is there a phobia we haven't got covered between us?"
Blair sighed, leaning into Sasha's strength. "I don't like heights or being restrained."
"I don't like high rise balconies or airport bathrooms," Alex shared, burying his face in Blair's hair. "Big bugs kinda creep me out, too," he added honestly, recalling the particularly ugly specimen he'd seen once in a Siberian gulag.
"Spiders," Blair volunteered with a grin that Alex could hear.
"We'll be okay, solnyshko moyo," he whispered into Blair's ear, giving it a lick on general principles. Blair shivered, sighed, and then melted against him; something that still gave Alex a rush, and probably always would, he thought. "You'll anchor me, I'll anchor you. We can do this."
"I believe you," Blair said, turning in Alex's arms until they were facing each other. Alex didn't waste any time, taking that lush mouth in a deep kiss that left them both panting for breath.
"Let me make love to you in the hot tub. Make some new memories, like you did for me, baby. Then we'll do this thing and be done with it, and go on with our lives."
That husky voice undid him every time, Blair thought with a pleased sigh as Sasha's mouth moved to his neck.
"Sounds perfect, radost' moya. Bring the lube," he said shakily as those long fingers swept down his spine.
It should have been cold. It should have been creepy. It shouldn't have felt as comfortable as it did - that dark chamber lit by a single torch.
Flickering light reflected off the gold jaguar and sparkled across the water, and for the two of them it was all the comfort and warmth they needed, sheltering them as they sheltered each other. Blair rode his sentinel and knew nothing of fear, not even when Sasha turned them, placing him on the bottom and mostly underwater. All he could feel was Sasha moving inside him, making him fly, and he didn't notice or care when water lapped against his face and covered his ears.
As for Alex, all he could see was Blair's face, lost in pleasure, eyes dark and unseeing. Slick heat surrounded him, so much hotter than the water that lapped over his lower back. More than the physical joy of their union, though, he could feel that bedrock of trust and need that blazed within Blair like the sun he'd named him; the sun about which Alex knew he'd gratefully orbit forever.
Legs tightened around him and he rolled them again, luxuriating in the guttural moan his shaman gave in response. Shoulders propped against the side of the grotto, hands clinging to wet skin, he drove Blair onto him. Passion built in surges that Alex could see; aurae of light that blinded him as he realized what he felt for this man - how much he felt - an emotion he'd only felt before in dim shadows and faint reflections.
Love - he loved, he was in love with Blair, was burning with the sweet fire of it and drowning in its boundless depths. It was like nothing Alex had ever known; rich, strong, and pure, pouring out of him like his lifeblood, but instead of it leaving him weakened, Alex felt impossibly, incredibly powerful because he had that much inside him and he hadn't known. He'd actually wondered if his soul was damaged, if he were less than fully human... and now he knew. Now he knew.
He pushed hard into Blair's tight body and felt Blair's breath catch, tremors telling him how close his lover was. Fisting his hand around needy flesh, he drove them both over the edge, rejoicing so in Blair's keening wail that his own climax took him by surprise.
Feeling rather ridiculously romantic himself, Alex whispered into the top of that curly head as he came back to himself, Blair smiling against his face. "My sun, my moon, my shining stars."
"No more fear of the dark?" Blair asked, and only then did Alex notice that the torch had gone out.
"Not even a little bit," he admitted, becoming aware that they were slumped so far in the water that only their heads were breaking the surface. "How do you feel?"
"Reborn," Blair said, blindly tracing a wondering finger down Sasha's charming nose. "Like I was meant to live in water with you."
"No fear." To prove it, Blair let himself slide down Sasha's body until he was completely submerged, coming up laughing at how good he felt; lighter than air, like he'd shed invisible chains.
"We're good for each other," Alex said, and finally believed it. He was still going to worry about what he was getting Blair into, but he also knew that no one would ever love Blair like he did.
It was enough.
They stood between the pools, hand in hand.
"It should feel like a sensory deprivation chamber. Put yourself in a meditative state as soon as you can," Blair instructed quietly.
"It'll be fine."
Releasing each other reluctantly, they climbed into the pools. Cooler than the water in the grotto had been, it felt refreshing. Alex waited long enough to make sure Blair was in no difficulty before he lay down himself, closing his eyes and concentrating on his breathing.
He wasn't surprised to find himself in the blue jungle. A constant drumbeat sounded in the distance, a sound he recognized as Blair's heart, anchoring him. He walked along a trail until he came to a clearing, where Blair's 'dead Indian buddy' sat, patiently waiting for him.
"Pachakotiq, you have done well," Incacha said, smiling. "You have fought your fears and won." The tiger was there, too, huge head nudging at his hip. Alex nudged back before tangling his fingers in the thick fur behind the tiger's ears, politely scratching. He was rewarded by a rumbling chuff.
"Some of them," Alex admitted, sinking down to sit cross-legged across from the odd revenant who had taken them under his guidance.
"No one may live free of all fear," Incacha said with a shrug. He lifted one hand and a vividly colored bird with long tail feathers came hurtling out of the trees to land on his fingers. Incacha held it up to Alex and waved at the sky with his free hand.
"You may not know the living may be helped by more than one spirit guide. Fly now, Pachakotiq," he said, and the bird flew towards Alex, turning into a brilliant beam of golden light that painlessly speared him through the heart.
Blair knew the moment Sasha's soul flew free of his body. Smiling, he took a deep breath and relaxed, knowing Sasha was protected - not merely by Incacha, but by other bright presences as well - presences he could sense in vague glimmers of light and whispers of sound.
He concentrated on slowing his own respirations, slowing his mind, letting his conscious will slide away.
His other self met him on the other side, startling him the way it always did, all that powerful vitality wrapped up in a representation of his own form. Painted with arcane symbols, long hair beaded and braided, spirit-Blair greeted him with contradictory, vibrant serenity.
"Hoayna Qapaq. Your heart heals."
"It does," he agreed simply, briefly touching that constant tie to his sentinel. "Thank you."
"Life is not a penance to be endured or suffered."
"I know that now."
Spirit-Blair smiled. "Have you accepted your gift?"
"Do you mean Sasha or the shaman thing?" He asked wryly.
"The shaman thing, although surely Pachakotiq is a fine reward, my brother," his spirit guide clarified with a sly wiggle of eyebrows, and seeing that expression on his own face made Blair laugh.
"Yes, and yes," he said, certain joy filling him. "How can I not?"
"How, indeed?" Blair's spirit-self opened his arms. "Come now."
Unafraid, he stepped into that embrace and felt everything change.
He was a bubble of foam in the ocean and the shining vault of the sky, wrapped around the fragile planet he'd sworn to save. There was nothing he could not see; from the dancing sweep of magnetic lines to the miraculous constellation in a molecule of air. He soared within sunshine like the wind and fell to earth with every drop of rain. He drank with the thirsty dirt, rode the flash of lightning that spilled from the clouds, and shook with the thunder that echoed in ecstatic completion.
Patterns came to him in ripples of bright and dark as he beheld good and evil, chaos and entropy. All that he was, he shared with the one who held his soul. Who he was, who he'd been, what he'd done, how he'd lived, and how he'd died to live again. In return he was accepted and cherished. Completely. Unconditionally.
This was the way of things; he knew that now, recognizing his arc in the great circle as it looped beyond comprehension.
Time became an artificial construct as he learned to measure eternity by the currents of existence. The cries of a bawling newborn balanced the last sigh of the dying, and he heard - felt - the life on the world, each one linked to the other for good or ill.
There was profound beauty in the energy he perceived. Bright nodes centered in jungles, seas, and cities... shimmering more gently over deserts, mountains, and farmland, but all of it one. All of it his.
His to protect, his to defend, his to adore.
Stains here and there marked the cancerous scars of invasion; his to remove, his to repair. It fired him with strong purpose and gave him strength, even as he quailed a bit at the sheer challenge before him. Then he was reminded that he wasn't alone, never alone, never again. He was supported by the boundless spirit of his soul's mate, his other half, his everything.
And he was enough. They were enough.
"Oh." Alex opened his eyes slowly, almost surprised to find himself in the temple. "Whoa. What a trip," he muttered, hearing Blair's heart-rate accelerate as reality solidified around them.
"I'm here. I think."
"Yeah, I hear that." Grunting, Blair levered himself up and out of the pool, moving like his joints hurt. He reached out for Alex's hands, and Alex was glad of the help as he groaned his own way upright.
"How long? How long were we in there?" He asked, dizzily blinking back a head rush at the change in position.
"I don't know, but I'm starving," Blair said, balancing him as he stepped onto the dry floor.
"Me, too. There're people outside," Alex reported, effortlessly picking up on a conversation a hundred feet outside the temple. "Somebody named Lucito is reporting to his jefe that they can't still find us. Oh, and it's raining. Hard."
"Lucito... Lucito... oh, shit, I know who that is. Well, he's not gonna melt, and right now, all I want to do is eat." Blair led Sasha over to their supplies, grabbed up a towel, dried them both, and then pushed Sasha down to sit on their sleeping bags, wrapping a space blanket around his sentinel. Only then did he dig his watch out of the pile he'd made of his clothes, giving a soundless whistle as he looked at it.
"It's seven AM Tuesday, Cascade time."
"Damn." Alex was sufficiently impressed that he went on to point out the obvious. "It was Sunday night when we went into the pools."
"No wonder we're hungry." Blair shrugged, set his watch aside, and busied himself over the camp stove, taking little time in stirring together a thick stew that he plated up and handed to Sasha.
They'd eaten, shared some truly awful freeze-dried coffee and had two bottles of water each before Blair felt up to asking any questions. He started with simple.
"How do you feel?"
"Full. Tired, but goooooood," Alex drawled suggestively, fluttering his eyelashes at his shaman, who laughed. "Seriously? I do feel good. Centered. Peaceful. Not my usual idiom, but it's nice." He didn't have to add that he'd never felt that inner calm until meeting Blair. Blair already knew.
"Me too and it is." Blair said, a yawn catching him by surprise. "Does it seem odd that we're tired? We've just spent almost thirty-six hours virtually unconscious."
"Not asleep, though. Sounds like a good idea."
Moving off the sleeping bags, which Blair had zipped together, and into them, instead, Sasha held open the flap and beckoned silently. Blair balled up their clothes for a pillow, covered them with the blanket Sasha had abandoned, and climbed in to join his sentinel.
"The translations were wrong. She was wrong," Blair realized suddenly as they curled into each other.
"Yeah. It wasn't seeing the eye of God... it was seeing with the eyes of God. I get it now."
"You always do, solnyshko moyo," Sasha said, hugging him close and kissing his head, making him smile.
They'd done it right, Blair thought with relieved satisfaction, and let himself fall asleep.
They lost nine hours to the best sleep either had ever had, twined naked together in their sleeping bags over that hard stone floor. Finally prodded awake by bladders screaming in neglected protest, they arose feeling well rested. Agreed that it would be sacrilegious to go anywhere inside the temple, they went out through the back tunnel to piss in the brush, both snickering at the other's typically macho lack of shame.
It was still raining, and an amused Sasha reported that there were still five or six guys hanging around the front, periodically cursing them and somebody named Carlos Arguillo. That Blair didn't have to explain to Sasha who Carlos Arguillo was became evident with Sasha's next words.
"So, the bad guy wants to make you pay for sending him to prison, huh."
"That's what I'm thinking," Blair said, fixing tea for them instead of the evil-tasting instant coffee. "I doubt that he actually spent much time in prison. He was never in possession of the nerve gas and they wouldn't have been able to prove that he had the helicopter pilot killed. The attempted murders of a bunch of Americans wouldn't get him a lot of time, either, especially since he had money."
Alex nodded, then cocked his head and listened.
"Arguillo is here. He wants to blow the temple door."
"Fucking barbarian. You'd think he'd have more interest in preserving his country's cultural artifacts," Blair groused irritably.
"You don't seem to be too worried."
"I'm not going to let him damage the temple."
Alex smirked. "I didn't think you would."
They grinned at each other, drank their tea, scarfed down a couple of energy bars, and got dressed.
"That's your plan? Just open the door and tell them to go away? I don't think I like this plan."
"Always, solnyshko moyo. But you won't mind if I stand beside you with my Glock."
"I like it when you're beside me. And behind me, above me, around me, in me, and under me."
"Not nice. Now you're going to have to fuck me in the hot tub before we leave."
"I was planning on it, radost' moya."
"Did I tell you how much I like your plans?"
Arguillo jumped. He'd been so involved arguing with Lucito and his other men about setting C-4 in the temple door that he hadn't even heard it open.
Then he laughed, because the little Americano was stupid enough to save him the trouble.
"Senor Sandburg. I heard you were in Sierra Verde. We have unfinished business, you and I." All around him, the hard clicks of weapons being readied echoed through the rain. He ordered them to hold their fire until he gave the order. He didn't want Sandburg dying too soon - not until he could see fear of him in those wide eyes.
"What kind of business?" Sandburg asked as his companion stepped up beside him. This one was different; tall, hard, and lean, afraid of nothing, with the cold stare of a trained killer. Armed, too, the gun carried with the casual grace of a man who knew how to use it.
Arguillo had the fleeting thought that they stood in the rain like they owned it and the temple, too. No matter. He knew who had the upper hand.
"I want you to suffer, puerco, for the year I spent in prison."
"Only a year? You got off easy, Carlos. Alex Barnes got a life sentence."
Arguillo spat contemptuously. "That bitch cheated me, and so did you!"
"Carlos, Carlos. What were you going to do with that nerve gas, man? What profit is there in ruling an empire of the dead?"
"I could have made millions with it."
"Or you could have killed everyone east of the Sierra Madres, including yourself."
Some of his men muttered uneasily, and Arguillo glared at them.
"I had an overseas buyer," he caught himself saying in an almost sulky tone, cursing under his breath as he wondered what it was about this Americano that made him feel the need to explain himself.
"And you still would have been responsible for the deaths of thousands. Does that mean nothing to you, Carlos Arguillo?"
He looked up sharply, for a moment not seeing Blair Sandburg at all, but the brujo of the village where he'd been raised; another short little man with huge dark eyes that used to peer right through him, seeing the truth of every naughty thought and deed a small boy could commit. He hadn't been a bad kid, but he'd been terrified of that man, he remembered now. His stomach lurched, because the brujo certainly wouldn't look upon him kindly given his behavior of the past few years.
It was just the rain in his eyes, tricking him. It had to be. Like Sandburg was trying to trick him with words.
"Shut up! Who do you think you are to question me!"
"Where did he go, that boy? At what point did he stop loving the people around him and start to treat them as commodities?"
"Basta!" Arguillo stepped back involuntarily, not sure when the rain had intensified so much he could barely see the Americanos. He raised his gun, shaking water off his head as he tried to clear his vision.
"Is it enough? Is it enough to destroy lives and condemn souls?"
As if in answer, lightning seemed to pour out of the sky. It struck the chain link fence around the site, arcing in fiery sparks to circle the air in a hair-raising rush of electricity. Thunder crashed almost simultaneously, a bone-rattling roar of sound.
Arguillo heard Lucito's wail as he was surrounded by fire - impossible fire, given the saturated ground - crackling fiercely all around him. Inside the fire he saw the faces of all those he'd hurt, starting with his mother, whose weeping voice cut through him... deafening him to the muffled thuds he could vaguely hear at his back. Gun falling to the ground forgotten, he dropped to his knees, terrified.
"Mama!" Had he condemned his own mother to suffer in hell by his actions?
His village brujo walked through the flames and stood before him, eyes bright with fire. Arguillo cringed under that critical glare.
"What is power? Is it the ability to order men to their deaths, or the ability to preserve lives? Is it in destruction or creation? Losing, or keeping?"
A hand reached down and helped him stand, and the flames died back as he rose, shaking. Even the rain eased off to a pattering sprinkle as Arguillo stared into the black eyes of a man he knew full well had been dead for twenty years.
"Cherish the people, mi hijo. Protect the land. Honor your ancestors and prepare for your descendants. Do good things that harm none, and bring no more shame on yourself and your family."
"Si, abuelo," he gasped out, feeling as if he'd been given a reprieve he didn't deserve. "I will do better."
"See that you do, Carlosito. The spirits do not look kindly on man's evil, and there is the fate of your soul to consider."
Arguillo nodded helplessly, then turned and walked away, stepping over the molten remains of the fence and going directly to his Land Rover. His men - including Lucito - were inside, slumped against each other, unconscious but breathing easily.
He got behind the wheel and drove off, and never remembered seeing either Blair Sandburg or his companion.
Blair sat down in the mud, exhausted.
"Shit, Blair," Sasha said, coming to him immediately. "Shit."
"Well. That was- fun." He said, and promptly passed out.
Alex sighed. With what he knew was a silly grin, he picked up his soulmate and carried him inside the temple.
"It worked, didn't it?" Blair asked much later, having been ruthlessly attended to by his sentinel; bathed, warmed, dried, watched over while he slept, and then fed and watered. He was grateful for Sasha's care, but he was getting the impression that Sasha was slightly ticked off at him.
"Worked great up until the point where you fainted," Sasha noted with faint sarcasm.
Blair grimaced. "Do you have to say fainted? That sounds so..."
"Effeminate? Sorry. Lost consciousness, then," Sasha amended with a shrug.
"Yeah, baby. You scared me, and when I get scared I get mad. And for the record, I wasn't scared of you, just for you," Alex added when he could see that question dawning in Blair's eyes. "You were incredible, calling down the lightning. Fucking hot, actually." And it had been, feeling that raw surge of Blair's power punching him in the gut and making him hard. He'd probably scared the shit out of that Lucito guy when he'd put that sleeper hold on him, he thought with a grin.
"Woulda looked cooler if your hair was longer, though," he teased with a sideways smirk that made Blair snicker.
Relieved, Blair pushed Sasha onto his back and rolled to cover him, looking down into those laughing green eyes. "You think I should grow my hair longer? I'll make you a deal. I'll let mine grow if you will."
Alex reached up and touched the tiny thread of silver at Blair's temple that had apparently sprouted there overnight. "Whatever you want," he promised, and watched Blair's pupils expand.
"You know what was fucking hot? Watching you move. You blew through those guys like a whirlwind, disarming them and knocking them out. They didn't know what hit them."
"They were distracted," Alex protested, becoming more than a little distracted himself by the heat in Blair's gaze.
"Thanks for not killing them."
"They weren't worth killing. That's not always going to be the case," he warned, half-afraid that Blair wouldn't - couldn't - accept that.
"I know, Aleksandr," Blair said, understanding more than his sentinel realized. "When it comes to the people who are trying to sell humanity down the river, it's going to be different. It's war, like Jeremiah said, with enemies, collaborators, and the potential for collateral damage. I get it. I also know we won't just be fighting for our own lives, but for the future of our species... which is what made Arguillo penny ante stuff."
Alex sighed. "Okay, fine, you get it. I still wish you didn't have to."
"I don't. I mean, I wish it wasn't necessary, but I'm grateful it brought us together. I'm grateful for your presence in my life."
"Same here," Alex said honestly, touched.
Blair chewed on his lip for a moment, considering something he'd seen in Sasha's past during their shared spirit walk. "When you were shot in that parking garage - when you were killed - you wanted to die. You set it up so you would. You- you committed suicide."
"I was... so tired. Hopeless. Lonely. I wanted out and..." Sighing again, Alex picked through his words. "I knew what buttons to push to manipulate Skinner into killing me, and as fucked up as it sounds, I wanted to give him the opportunity to do it in front of Mulder, so they'd have... closure, I guess. I did them a lot of dirt."
"You cared about them."
"More than I should have. I blew my own cover as a loyal Consortium employee for them. Luckily, I'd earned a rep as a brilliant but erratic independent operator," he said, trying for a lighter tone.
"How do you feel about them now?"
Alex rolled his eyes. "You sound like a shrink."
"Psych minor, remember?"
Not like Blair needed a degree, Alex thought. "If you're worried that we'll have to work with them again-"
"We might, at some point, and I want you to have it resolved in your mind before that happens. You hurt them, they hurt you - it became a really dysfunctional relationship based on violence and guilt-"
"I don't do guilt."
"Of course you don't," Blair soothed, internally laughing. Alex rolled them, pinning those surprisingly wide shoulders and rubbing their bodies together. Blair's skin slid against his like silk; a side benefit of the mineralized water in the hot tub.
"You don't have to be jealous. What I felt for them compared to what I feel for you is the difference between looking at a candle flame and staring into the sun."
Blair blinked up at him, eyes stunned. "Wow. That's really-"
"Beautiful," Blair corrected firmly. "And I'm not jealous. Exactly. Except maybe of the time and chances they wasted with you... but I won't make that mistake. And I won't ever let them hurt you again."
"They can't," Alex said softly, hands framing Blair's face. "They don't matter any more. There's only one person who does."
He dipped his head, slowly savoring the lush sweetness of Blair's mouth as it opened under his. Blair was heaven to kiss, and there was no part of him that wanted to hurry, not when he had this powerful urge to worship his shaman guide.
He could never get enough of this, being held, and handled in turn like he was priceless. Perfect.
He ran his teeth over a stubbled jaw and lingered over a gasping throat, one hand cradling the tender nape of Blair's neck. His other arm kept his weight balanced, and he was grateful once more to have two arms. Two hands to bring pleasure. Two hands to possess.
Two hands to ensure protection.
"Aleksandr." His name moved through him in its own caress, making him smile inside as he marked the skin where neck became shoulder. "Feels so good."
"Yes." Incredibly good, because he could feel Blair's reactions on his own skin as he played, furrowing the fine silk of chest hair and toying with that nipple ring. Blair's fingers threaded through his hair, and he shared the cool glide of each strand and the radiating warmth of his scalp, luxuriating in Blair's enjoyment as much as he did the sensation of being touched.
Tongue teasing one nipple, he tugged at the ring in the other, and felt that lightning arc of need shoot straight to his leaking cock; moaning when Blair moaned, shivering when Blair shivered.
"Too much," Blair whispered. "Gonna come too soon."
"You feel what I feel?" Alex asked softly, leisurely gliding down Blair's arching body. "You feel me, baby?"
"God, your voice... yes. Can't- can't tell where... ah, God. Can't tell-"
"Where you start and I end," Alex finished for him, licking a second bold stripe up the underside of Blair's straining erection. "So good." He lapped up the rich proof of Blair's desire for him and felt Blair's fists clench on the sleeping bags beneath them, falling in love all over again when he heard his lover's silent refusal to grab his head and rush him; because Blair knew how much he hated that.
But this was different, because he could also feel that desperate greed. Felt it, like it was his own - or maybe it was his own. He couldn't tell any more.
"It's all right," he thought, moving those hands to his head before closing his mouth around Blair and swallowing him down. Blair threw back his own head and roared through their shared climax as it doubled, rebounded, and exploded out of them both with convulsive fury.
And this time, they both passed out.
Blair woke first, feeling muzzy-headed and drained.
The temple was dark - all the torches having gone out - but he could feel Sasha's head heavy on his thigh and wasn't bothered. He thought with some amusement that he didn't think he was going to survive making love to Sasha if it was going to be that way all the time. It was as if their nervous systems had been fused together in some way. He'd been shown what having enhanced senses was really like, and he was awed by Sasha's control.
Although, come to think on it, he didn't feel that shared resonance of skin now. Just the usual awareness of Sasha's sleeping mind, maybe stronger than before they'd come to the temple...
Of course. The temple. It had probably been some weird leftover effect from their spirit walk in the pools. Maybe even a gift, or a reward.
Well. It had been a supernaturally exquisite experience. He was grateful, and supposed he should say so.
Sliding into a meditative state was effortless; the blue jungle appearing around him with satisfying speed. He sat and waited, simply appreciating the serene landscape, and it didn't take long for Incacha to appear.
The spirit of his mentor embraced him, filling him with love and pride.
"My son. You did well. There is a saying in your country - 'I told you so'." Ebony eyes twinkled at him and Blair had to laugh.
"Thank you, Incacha. Thank you for everything. Are we done here?"
"Do another cleansing and uphold your thanks to Earth, Sky, the Four Corners of the World, and the Maker of all things. Then you will be done, Hoayna Qapaq. You know how to set the illusion on the doors?"
Blair looked inside his mind and found that he did. "It will be done."
Incacha patted his face. "I chose well. Go with joy, my son."
"I do," Blair said as the jungle dissolved.
Sasha was waking, and Blair stroked his hair affectionately, feeling the bone-deep contentment in his mate.
"I was sure we'd died again," Alex teased wryly once he was alert. He slid up alongside Blair's body and nuzzled their cheeks together, amused by the harsh rasp of whisker. "Let's get a room in the best hotel in Mexico City, clean up, and treat ourselves to some real food in a four-star restaurant before we sleep for a week in a real bed."
"Good plan," Blair agreed. "Got a couple of things to do here, first, then we'll go."
"What kind of things?" It occurred to Alex to wonder.
"A little of this, a little of that, and a lot of one particular thing," Blair said, and Alex felt him smile. "I still haven't fucked you in the hot tub... but I will."
And he did.
15 October 2004
End As Much As Needed - An 'Obligation' Story by Akilah: email@example.com
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