ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL

The gunfire finally stopped. He reached his friend, searching for the injuries he knew had been sustained. Pulling the smaller man into cover, he quickly examined him, finding the two bullet holes in the younger man's body. He pulled his friend into his lap and applied pressure to the wounds.

"How bad is it?" Reaching up to push his long, matted hair out of his eyes.

"Not good." His friend replied. "The one through your thigh looks clean. It went all the way through. Not even much blood. The other wound, however..." Cradling his friend in his lap.

"Tell me." Closing his eyes, preparing himself for the answer.

"Lodged in your left hip, I'm afraid. I'm sorry. If we could get you to a hospital..."

"Hip? Oh, good. I thought it hit someplace else. Hurts like it. It's going to get infected, isn't it?" More of a statement than a question.

"I'm sorry. I should never have allowed you to come on this one."

"Allow? Seems to me that I volunteered for this little outing. Don't blame yourself. I'm a big boy, I made my own decision to come."

The older man looked up. Held up the hand still holding a gun and ostentatiously placed it on the ground beside him. Returning the hand to hold his friend. He offered no resistance to their captors.

*********

He was angry. They should never have taken the assignment. He'd had a bad feeling about it even before they had decided to go. It was not his idea of a wise decision. They had, as usual, ignored his advice and gone ahead and taken the assignment. Now they'd been captured by the drug manufacturers they had been sent to gather evidence against. He wracked his brain, trying to think of a suitable team to send after them. Unfortunately, they were the team he would have sent into a mess like this. Then he remembered. It was a slim chance, at best. They had not parted on the best of terms. Best ask in person. Make it harder to say no. He picked up the phone and made travel arrangements.

*********

It had been a great weekend. Three days, with the holiday. They had gone camping, getting back at dark on Monday. The trip had been peaceful, no emergencies, no problems. A rarity in itself. The trip in to the station was punctuated with jokes and laughter. Both men were in good moods. They parked in their usual slot in the parking garage and disembarked, ready to start another work week. Still laughing and joking the two men headed toward the elevator.

Jim stopped. Brow furrowing in concern. He turned and noticed a man-shaped darkness in a dark corner of the garage. He placed a hand on his younger companion, giving him a gentle push toward the elevator.

"Go on ahead, Chief. I'll be up in a few." Keeping his concentration on the shadows.

Blair followed his Sentinel's line of sight and thought he saw someone in the deepest shadows of the garage. He looked up at his friend, nervously. "Uh, I can wait. Not a problem, man. I'll be over by the elevator. Waiting." He continued toward the elevator, waiting for his friend, watching him approach the shadows.

"How are you, James?" The man in the shadows asked, softly.

"What do you want? I don't work for you." Automatically coming to attention before the man in the shadows. Old habits die hard.

"I need your help." Not a phrase he was used to making. Not an admission he had often made.

"Me? You have the manpower and means to launch a war and win. Why do you want me?" Confusion obvious in his tone.

"I...This wasn't my operation. I tried to talk them out of going. It was one of those crusades they always like to get involved in. A large drug manufacturing plant. They went in, it was a trap. I've heard that they're still alive, but that probably won't last. At least one of them is hurt. I don't know how badly."

"Why me?"

He looked up at the slightly taller man. "Because you can succeed. Of all the people at my disposal, none of them have the skills needed. You do. Please."

"Why should I?" Still at attention, but making eye contact. The older man looked at him, pain in the blue eyes.

"Because I never lied to you."

Jim almost stepped back at those words. He remembered accepting assignments from this man. The only thing that could be truly said for him, is that he never had lied to him. He looked at the man who had led so many of his covert operations, either actively or as the man handing out the assignments.

"Please."

He'd said it again. Asked for help and said 'please', twice. It must be very important to him. "Why?"

The man looked off into the distance, "They're friends. I've never had so many that losing two of them was an acceptable option. Please."

Three times. "Where are they?"

The older man sighed, "Peru."

Jim closed his eyes, the shock swaying him for a moment. Blair had seen the movement from his post by the elevators. He couldn't help himself. He came over.

"Jim? Is everything all right?" Looking suspiciously at the stranger.

"It's all right, Chief. Go on upstairs. I'll catch up." Never taking his eyes from the older man.

"Huh-uh. I'll stay. What's going on?" Reaching out a hand to touch the larger man's back.

"Blair, go upstairs. Now."

Jim was ordering him? Since when? Well, since when did he expect Blair to actually follow an order?

"Can we go somewhere, talk?" The stranger asked.

Jim looked at his partner. "I need to go to Peru, Chief. I'll be up to explain in a while..."

"Oh, no. Huh-uh. You are not going without me, man. You know why. You need me, and you know it." Getting that stubborn set to his jaw.

"Not this time. I don't want you anywhere near this operation."

"You can't go in alone, man. You need me." Looking at the stranger again. "Besides, I'm good in the jungle. Aren't I?" With a smile.

Jim sighed. "We'll be jumping in, Chief."

Blair's smile disappeared. "OK. I can do that." He swallowed hard and brought his chin up belligerently. "I did it before. Maybe this time, I won't get stuck up in a tree?" Fighting off the fear.

Jim smiled, "Or get lizards in your pants, Chief?" Teasing. He turned back to the stranger. "Let me go talk to my Captain. You want to come?" Speak for yourself, maybe?

To Jim's surprise, the man agreed. Leading the way to the elevators, Blair tried to get Jim to tell him what was going on. Jim just shook his head, indicating 'later'.

Once upstairs, Jim led the way to the captain's office. He knocked once, waiting until invited in. He held the door, allowing the other two to enter first, bringing up the rear and closing the door behind them.

Simon stood, curious about the stranger. Jim motioned Blair and the stranger to sit. He remained standing.

"Sir, this is..." He looked at the stranger, waiting for him to provide a name.

"John Smith." No expression. Simon quirked up an eyebrow in disbelief.

"Simon? Mr. Smith and I have a..." He paused, "A history." Simon looked askance. Then he realised what Jim must be talking about. He turned back to Mr. Smith.

"And what brings you to Cascade, Mr. Smith?" Careful to not put any inflection at the name. "I've asked Detective Ellison for his assistance. I...can't make any promises. It's extremely dangerous. I can't force him, but I have asked." He made no explanations, only the bottom line.

"How long?" Simon asked. Knowing that Jim's bringing this man to him was his way of saying he had agreed to the mission.

"I hope less than a week. Perhaps two. It's extremely dangerous. I...can't tell you anything more than that."

"Where?"

"Peru."

Simon started. Looking in shock at Jim and Blair. Jim gave him a slight nod of confirmation. Then looking at the young anthropologist, "What about Blair?"

"No." Mr. Smith said, unconditionally.

"Yes" Chorused Jim and Blair.

Blair jutted his chin out stubbornly. "We're a package deal."

Mr. Smith looked askance at Jim, who shrugged. "Afraid so. It's not something I will explain, but...he's my partner. My backup."

"How are you with automatic weapons?" Mr. Smith asked. Simon tried to hide his laughter behind his hand, pretending to cough. Mr. Smith was not fooled. "Well? This isn't a picnic we're talking about here. These are seriously dangerous people we're talking about." Trying to discourage the kid.

"Worse that psycho serial killers? Worse than rogue CIA Agents? Worse than big drug manufacturers?" He stopped when Mr. Smith flinched at that one. "Oh, no. Please tell me we aren't going after Peruvian Drug manufacturers again?" A look of pleading as he focused on Jim.

Mr. Smith frowned. "Again?" Looking questioningly at Jim.

Jim shrugged. "Yeah. We had to go pull Simon and his son out of Peru a year or so ago." He looked at his captain with a faint smile. "Where in Peru are we talking about?"

Mr. Smith carefully showed no emotion, but his blue eyes had a speculative glint in them. "About fifteen miles from where we picked you up."

Jim stiffened. Chopec country. Possibly some help for them. He'd want to contact them, first. Before he went in to try to rescue the two men.

"Simon?" Jim turned his attention to his friend and superior.

"Two weeks. What do you have on hand?" Knowing that Jim had already made his decision, and only wanted his blessing.

"We finished that last drug case on Thursday and got all the paperwork done on Friday. We're just waiting for court dates on the rest of them."

Simon nodded. "Yeah. It has been pretty quiet." He looked at Mr. Smith, "Guess that's why this happened. Can't let you two rest for more than a few days at a time." He smiled at his best team. "Go. Keep me posted." Then he glared at Mr. Smith. "Make sure they come back in relatively good shape. Translate that to no permanent damage."

"I can't make that promise." He wasn't about to admit that his best team was being held prisoner in the jungles of Peru. Simon nodded his understanding. Looking at Jim and Blair he ordered them:

"You two, take care of each other, and..." With a final look at Mr. Smith, "Watch your backs."

*********

"Mickey?" He called softly, gently shaking his friend's shoulder.

"Hmmmmm?" Mickey groaned. "McCall. What now?" He knew he was in trouble. He had a fever and the bullet still in his hip was inflamed. The hole in his thigh seemed to be healing. Hard to tell.

"Here. Water." He held the cup for his friend. Making sure he drank it all. They were being held in a small windowless wooden shed. McCall was wondering why they were still alive. He was afraid that if they didn't escape soon, that it would be too late for Mickey, who was in bad shape and getting worse. He couldn't walk without help. If they did manage to escape, they would have to have an enormous head start if they were to have any chance at all. Unfortunately, they were at least a hundred miles from any kind of assistance. Through extremely primitive country.

"You should escape, McCall. Get out of here. You can't help me. I'm probably done for even if we got to a doctor. It's been, what, three days? There's no way I'm gonna survive without massive doses of antibiotics. You know what the odds of that are."

"Always the pessimist, Mickey." He tried to soothe his friend's discomfort, holding him, rubbing his shoulders.

"That's 'realist', McCall. I can't walk, you can't carry me, we're a hundred miles from the nearest village where we might get any help. Trust me here, man. There is no way for me to get out of here. If you go, you actually might be able to get away. You've got family to get back to. Don't be a fool, McCall. Please. Just go."

That was the most frightening thing about his friend, he was not afraid to die. "No. I got you into this. I'll get you out. Somehow."

There was no argument that would persuade either man to do what both knew should be done. McCall had gotten him into this, and if he couldn't get him out, then by God he'd stay with him.

*********

Back in the garage, Jim headed to his truck. He looked at Mr. Smith. "Follow us home. We'll talk more there."

*********

"Mr. Smith?" Blair asked in disbelief. "John Smith? Who is he trying to kid, anyway? Who is he really?"

"He's involved with covert Ops, Chief." Jim answered absently. "He was the one in charge of my debriefing." He remembered back to that time. He'd actually been one of the reasons he almost stayed in the Army. He'd also been the one to convince him to leave. Before it was too late.

"You've never told me a lot about that time, Jim. Who is he?"

Jim sighed. "He was in charge of a lot of the covert Ops I was involved in. Although not the last one. He actually led a number of the operations. I don't know if he didn't trust us to do the job or if he just got off on the excitement. From what I heard, he used to be one of the best operatives ever."

"So, what's his name?" Blair was impressed; but that was because Jim obviously had a lot of respect for this man.

Jim chuckled. "I don't know. I've never heard him called by name."

*********

At the loft, Mr. Smith parked next to Jim's truck. He followed them upstairs without saying a word. Once inside, he looked around, taking it all in. He looked at Blair.

"You're not a cop or a soldier. I don't want you on this. It's too dangerous for a civilian."

Blair flinched back from the man. He was nearly as tall as Jim and looked extremely fit for a man who looked to be near sixty.

"Sorry. No Blair, no me." Jim defended his partner.

"Why?"

Jim led the way into the living room, motioning the others to sit. "You want coffee?" He asked, heading for the kitchen to make a pot.

"Sure. Answer the question."

"Blair is my backup."

"I repeat. He's not a cop, not a soldier. Why?"

Jim finished setting up the coffee pot and turned it on before he returned to the living room He sat beside his partner, looking at the man who was pulling him back into a life he'd just as soon forget. "I can't explain it to you. You just have to accept that I need him. You're right. He's not a cop or a soldier. But I still need him. You're going to have to trust me on this." His expression was adamant. No compromise.

Blair had been watching. He could see that Mr. Smith was worried. He decided to find out what he could. "Uh, Mr. Smith?"

"Yes?" He looked at the kid. He looked like a teenager, to him. Made him feel all his years.

"What's your real name?" Polite, curious.

"Most people call me," He paused and looked at Jim with a wry grin, "Control."

Blair blinked. He shot a glance at Jim, who sat there smirking. "OK. Is that because you have to be in control, or because you are in control?"

"Yes." He was starting to relax, just a bit. He leaned forward, leaning his elbows on his knees, head hanging a bit. "James, did you ever work with Robert McCall?"

"No. Heard a few things about him, nothing concrete."

"Do you remember Mickey Kostmayer?" Not looking at them.

"The crazy SEAL? I figured he'd have gotten himself killed by now." At Blair's expression of curiosity, he elaborated. "He's a nut case. Good at his job, hard to keep in line. More guts than brains." He looked thoughtfully at his Guide. "Come to think of it, he's a lot like you, only trained to kill." He looked back at Control. "Is he still like that?"

"He's calmed down a bit. Robert seems to have a calming effect on him. They're a good team."

"What happened?" Jim asked, softly.

Control shook his head. "It wasn't my operation. I don't know how they managed to con Robert into it." He looked at Jim, "He retired a number of years ago. He occasionally freelances, usually for convictions rather than money. Mickey frequently goes along with him. Freelancing when he's not busy on an assignment." He looked from Jim to Blair and back. "They had this assignment, to gather information on a drug lab deep in the Peruvian Jungle. It was a set-up. They were waiting for them. Word is that one of them was shot. That was two days ago. If we're going to rescue them, we need to be there within another twenty- four hours, or the injured one probably won't survive. Providing either of them is still alive."

"How many of us are going?" Blair asked. Control looked at him, his expression unreadable.

"Just us, Chief." Jim informed him. "Unless you'd care to grace us with your presence?" To Control.

"I'll provide as much support as I can. This is one where I'm going to have to let you do it in your own way. You've been there. It's in an area you are familiar with. I can give you all the maps and satellite photos that are available." He lifted a slim portfolio and opened it, removing all the information he had and passing it to Jim. He pointed to the location of the lab on the map. Jim looked closely at the spot. It was right on the edge of the Chopec lands.

"I want a helicopter and a pilot I can trust. Set us down here." He pointed to a spot on the map. It was about thirty miles from the lab. "I want them to wait for us. For however long it takes." He looked at Control, who simply nodded.

"I have someone. Someone that I trust. Will that do?"

Jim nodded. "I'll need some supplies. They're rather specialised. I'll make you a list. I want them in the chopper when we arrive. How are we getting to Peru? What's our cover?"

"I haven't figured that out yet. But I will." Control promised. Blair started to bounce.

"What is it, Chief?" Thinking that Blair probably could come up with a cover story faster and better than anyone.

"The statue. We could be looking for information on that statue. I've got a lot of pictures of it, and I had one of the kids at the university make me a mould from it and a plaster cast that we can take with us. Maybe the Chopec might have some idea of its history."

Control looked at the long haired young man with a new respect. "Statue?" He asked. Blair nodded, stood up and brought over a jade carving from a shelf across the room, handing it over for Control to examine.

"It looks like the two of you." Control noted, looking closely at the piece. He turned it to look at it from all sides. "Hmmm. It looks like you, but it's much too old for it to be the two of you."

"I have a provenance on it indicating that it's over a thousand years old. It's from Peru." Blair confirmed.

"I didn't know that Jade carving was much used in pre-Colombian art."

"It's not. Jade was used and it was carved, just not usually this large a piece, nor this detailed. I would love to find out more about it. It's funny, but the more I look at it, the more it seems to look like us. I think I'm just, I don't know, obsessing with it. Anyway, I think we can use it as a reason to be going to Peru. After all, I am an anthropologist working on my doctoral thesis." He smiled at the older man.

"Sounds very good. You'd be taking James along for the muscle, I suppose?" Smiling. Blair returned the smile.

Jim had picked up a pad of paper and a pen and wrote down the supplies he wanted. "Make sure you get all of this."

Control looked at the list. "There aren't any firearms on this list." Looking concerned.

"Crossbows. They're quieter. I hope to enlist the Chopec to help. I still have a couple of friends there. They're not real happy with the encroachments into their territory by strangers with guns and machines. By bringing in the types of weapons they prefer, along with supplies that they can actually use, they may be a little more amenable to helping us." He didn't tell about the visit from the Chopec a few months previously. He hoped he still had friends there.

They worked on the details of the mission over the next several hours. Jim ordered in dinner for them. When the plans were finally satisfactory, they agreed to meet the following afternoon at the airport.

*********

The flight was uneventful, as was their arrival in Lima. They met the helicopter that was to fly them out to their starting point. Both men were a little surprised to see that the pilot was a woman. She smiled at them.

"Uncle John said that you'd be easy to pick out of a crowd. He was right." She grabbed one of the packs Blair was carrying and tossed the pack into the rear of the helicopter. "It's nearly an hour out to where you wanted to be. I hope we can get our camp set up by dark."

"Do you have the supplies I requested?" Jim asked.

"Yessir. I hope you don't mind, I added a few extras." Taking the other pack from Blair and tossing it in, then taking the packs from Jim and adding them to the pile in the rear of the helicopter. "Get in. The sooner we get going, the better I'll like it."

They climbed aboard and strapped themselves in. The woman started the engine of the Bell helicopter and lifted off. She was an excellent pilot. They flew rapidly over the city and were soon over the jungle headed for their bivouac.

*********

Blair could sense Jim's stress over being in a helicopter over this territory again. He reached out to grasp his shoulder to give him reassurance. Jim looked at him and smiled his gratitude.

They managed to land and set up camp before it got dark. Blair looked at the pilot, she was taller than he was, also older. "Uh, excuse me. What do you want us to call you?" He asked, feeling uncomfortable with this stranger.

"Call me Evvi. Don't ask what it's short for. I won't tell you. My job is to get you here and wait for you to come back. If you're not here in ten days, I leave and make a call. Understand?"

Jim nodded. He looked deep into the jungle. Knowing that their presence had been noted and waiting for company. "Not a problem. Where are those supplies?"

Evvi pulled out the packs holding the supplies he had listed as wanting. "I added a hundred more bolts for the crossbows than you asked for. Some are bound to get lost. I also added some salt and sugar. Along with the knife blades, spear heads, whetstones, flint, and everything else you had on the list. You think these Indians will trade..."

"Chopec. They are called Chopec. It means 'the people'." His glare made Evvi back up a step.

"Sorry. I..." She didn't know what to say. "You've met them before?"

Blair chuckled. Jim glared at him, then smiled gently. "Yeah. You could say I've met them before." He turned back to his examination of the jungle. He moved to the edge of the clearing. Standing there. Silent. Watching. Unmoving. A study in patience.

"What's he doing?" Evvi whispered to Blair. Totally confused by these guys. They were nothing like anything she had ever dealt with before. Jim looked like an operative, Blair definitely did not. Neither man acted like an operative. She couldn't figure them out.

"He's waiting for them to come close enough to recognise him." Blair whispered back. She just stared at him. He just grinned in response.

It was full dark before Jim finally moved. "I'll be back in a few." He headed out into the jungle. Unarmed.

"Are you nuts?" Evvi called out. Blair stopped her from going after him.

"Don't worry. He's just going to talk to them. Ask them to help."

She stared at him. "Talk to them? They speak English?"

Blair smothered his smile. "No. He speaks Chopec." She just stared.

It was nearly an hour before Jim returned with three Chopec warriors. He didn't introduce them. He picked up the packs of special supplies they had brought and opened them to show the warriors the contents. They examined the contents, nodded. Picked up the packs and headed back into the jungle.

"Hey! You're not just going to let them take that stuff before they do the job, are you?" Jim just escorted the three to the edge of the jungle, speaking softly with them. When he returned, he glared at her.

"This is my mission to run as I see fit. If you have any problems, I suggest you wait until we're finished and then complain to Control. I know these people. They are my friends. Do not speak in that tone of voice in their presence again. I don't want you to insult them." He turned away and lay down on his sleeping bag to go to sleep.

Blair touched her hand, motioning her away, to follow him. "He lived with them for eighteen months. He considers himself a part of the tribe. They consider him family. Don't push him. You'll lose. He knows them. He trusts them."

"What happened? How'd he end up here so long?"

"He was on a mission. He was an Army Ranger Captain. They were shot down. He was the only survivor. The Chopec adopted him. Saved his life. He continued his mission. When they sent in another team a year and a half later, he thought they were his relief." He looked up at her. "He's a cop, now. He's good at it. I don't know why he agreed to this. He hasn't said, but here we are. Don't push him. Don't annoy him. Don't hurt him. If you do, you'll have me to deal with."

His threat, looking at him, was ludicrous. But there was something...She decided it wasn't her concern. She had her orders. Best to just follow them to the letter. She nodded her agreement. They made their way back to camp and settled down for the night.

*********

In the morning, they woke up to twenty warriors. They were armed with their new crossbows and their traditional blow guns. Jim had been up to greet them, allowing the others to sleep. Evvi found herself very nervous in the presence of the Chopec. Blair recognised one of the warriors from their visit to Cascade, and greeted him. The man recognised him and said several words to him. He turned to Jim for a translation.

"He says he's honoured to have the Shaman of the Great City visit them."

Blair blushed. "Tell him that I am the one who is honoured by their welcome." Jim translated, only to be greeted with hugs for both of them.

"I guess that was the right thing to say, Chief."

*********

McCall held his feverish friend, cradled against his chest. In spite of the heat of the day and the lack of air circulation in the shack, Mickey was shivering. The infection was raging through his body, hope for his survival weakening with every hour. "I'm sorry, Mickey." He murmured to his friend over, and over. Receiving no response from the unconscious man.

*********

Jim had applied camouflage makeup to himself and Blair. Blair was to stay back with those covering their escape route. It would be nearly two days before they could hike to the drug lab. With a wave to Evvi, they started off through the jungle.

The advantage of travelling with the Chopec, was at least they didn't have to cut their way through the jungle. Blair had a little trouble keeping up, until Jim started talking to him, taking his mind off of the physical exertion and on to the statue. Jim questioned the Chopec about carvings and statues and old tales, and translated the answers for Blair. His excitement went into his feet, propelling him along the trail.

They made such good time, that they decided to continue after dark. When they finally stopped, they were a mere five miles from their destination. Blair was exhausted. He couldn't believe he'd hiked twenty-five miles in just under fourteen hours at an average elevation of eight thousand feet. Jim was kind enough not to tell him that they would be attacking that night. Leaving him behind to rest. After they ate, Blair collapsed and was quickly asleep. Jim gathered fifteen of the twenty Chopec, going over their plan to rescue the two agents. He warned them that at least one of the prisoners was injured and would have to be carried. With that understood, they slipped away in the darkness.

*********

The Chopec had been keeping an eye on the drug lab. The Cyclops Oil mess was still too fresh in their memory for them to just ignore the strangers in their lands. They knew of the two prisoners and the injury of one of the men. They slipped into the compound completely unnoticed by the residents. Jim checked on the whereabouts of everyone. Realising that they were at dinner, he signalled for the attack. He sped toward the lab to do as much damage as he could, while the others freed the prisoners. He set up explosives charges on the equipment, setting the timer to give them plenty of time to escape. Finishing his vandalism, he joined the others.

*********

He was startled out of his doze by the soft, stealthy opening of the door. He tensed at the sight of the men who came slipping in. He had given up trying to talk to their captors. Given up hope of saving his friend. Waiting and holding his friend as he slowly died from the infection. These people were obviously natives. He wondered what had possessed them to come here? Two of the natives reached for Mickey. He struggled to keep them from taking him. One of them grabbed his arm, tugging him to his feet and motioning him to follow them, signalling for silence. He was led from the shack and quietly followed them into the jungle. Once they were away, he tried to ask questions. Learning quickly that they couldn't understand him.

Two hours later, they came to a halt. He was directed to sit down. He complied. Mickey was gently lain down beside him. He slid close to his friend, checking to make sure he was still alive. Losing hope of his survival. A few minutes later, several more natives arrived, chatting softly to one another. In their midst was a comparative giant. It took him a few minutes to realise that the man wasn't a native, but looked like a soldier.

*********

Jim conversed quietly with the Chopecs. Asking about the condition of the two rescuees. They told him that the one man was very sick from his wounds. Even worse than he had been when they found him. He looked over at the agents. Then made his way over to them.

"Control sent me." He knelt to check Mickey. His fever was up to about one hundred and three degrees. He went to his pack by the sleeping Blair and removed a small first aid kit. Inside were several syringes of antibiotics. "Is he allergic to penicillin?"

"No." He watched as Jim prepared the massive injection and administered it.

"We're going to the Chopec village. They have a healer there. Between us, we should be able to clean his wounds and start to clear up the infection. I just gave him fifteen hundred milligrams of penicillin. That will give us a start on the infection. We'll stay here the rest of the night. Tomorrow, we'll go to the village, where we'll do more. Right now, I'm going to try to clean his wounds. You want to help?" Gently running his hands over the unconscious man, using his enhanced senses to find the injuries. His nose had already informed him of the bullet wounds and infection. He just hoped that gangrene hadn't yet set in. If it had, there was no hope of saving the man. "I'm going to have to cut his pants off of him to examine the wounds. What can you tell me?" He pulled out his knife and, starting at the feet, slit the jeans from the injured man.

"He was shot twice. One bullet went through his thigh, fairly cleanly. The other lodged in his hip. I cleaned it as best I could with what water they gave us. I never did figure out why..."

His words were cut off by the distant sounds of several explosions. "What the devil was that?"

"Jim?! Jim?!" Blair yelled as he awoke.

"It's OK, Chief. Just a little fireworks to keep them busy for a while." Jim continued his examination of the wounds. The bullet lodged in Mickey's hip was seriously infected, but he could tell from the smell that it wasn't gangrenous. He breathed a sigh of relief. "It's infected, but I think we're in time." He smiled up at the concerned older man. "I'll clean it as best as I can now, and tomorrow, we'll do a better job at the village."

Blair made his way over. "You went in tonight? I thought we were going to go in tomorrow?" A little miffed at being left out.

"I decided to do it tonight. You were exhausted. A group of us went in to scout out the territory, found them all at dinner and just took advantage of the situation. No big deal, Chief. Find me that antibiotic ointment, would you?"

Muttering under his breath, Blair found the ointment and handed it to Jim. Jim smiled his thanks. Blair saw the mess that was Mickey's hip and turned away. "Oh, man. Is he going to be all right?"

"Yeah. I think so. Too bad we can't get the chopper in here. It's going to be three or four days before we can start back for the clearing. In the mean time, I want to get him to the village. It's about four hours from here at the speed we're going to be able to make. There, we can rest up, get him started toward recovery." He looked at the older man, "How long has he been unconscious?"

"He's been in and out for the past two days. Mostly out." He looked around, the natives had settled down to sleep, the sentries out of sight. He approved of their actions.

"By the way," He began, "My name is Robert McCall. This is Mickey Kostmayer." Reaching out to gently smooth the tangled mat of hair back from his friend's face.

"Sorry. We knew who you were. I've worked with Kostmayer before. I'm Jim Ellison and this is my partner, Blair Sandburg." He was placing a bandage on the hip wound.

"How do you know Control?" Standing up to lay out the sleeping bag Blair handed him, then lying back down.

"I was a Ranger. Worked some covert Ops for him. I had an operation go bad and left the Army. In fact, Control was the one who suggested I change careers. Best move I ever made. One of them, anyway." He cast a glance at his Guide and exchanged smiles with him. "Now, I'm a cop in Cascade, Washington."

McCall nodded. "I see. And your...partner?"

Jim moved back from his ministrations after wrapping the injured man in a sleeping bag. Looking at Blair. "Chief? You talk better than I do. Tell your own story. And no embellishments or obfuscations!" He warned with a smile. Settling down across from the others after laying out his own sleeping bag.

"I'm an anthropologist working on my doctoral thesis. It deals with closed societies. Specifically, the Cascade Police Department, where I'm an observer. I started out studying Jim, and we're kind of partners, now." He shrugged. " We're a pretty good team, if I do say so myself." He looked at Jim who gave him a nod of agreement.

"I can understand Control roping Mr. Ellison into this, but why did you come, Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair grinned. "Blair, please. It was a great way to do a little research on a jade carving Jim found. It's rather interesting. Very old. Unusual to have come from this area. It gave us an excuse to be here. Don't you think it's a good cover?" Smiling at the professional before him.

"I suppose it is." He turned his attention to Jim. "How is it that you have native help? I didn't notice any of them were able to speak English."

"I was stuck here for eighteen months on the mission that went so bad. I was adopted by the Chopec. We're still friends. Of course, I brought them presents in exchange for their help." At McCall's concerned expression, "No. I didn't bring guns. They don't like guns. I brought them knife blanks, whetstones, flint nodules, spear heads, stuff like that. The only modern weapon I brought was some crossbows. All very much in keeping with their culture."

"I'm impressed." McCall replied. "Most people would have been trying to push them into the twenty-first century. I commend your restraint."

Jim shrugged, "It didn't require restraint. I know these people. What they need. What they want. All I did was provide some welcome supplies. Supplies that fit into their culture." He stood up. "I'm going to check the perimeter, talk to the sentries. Try to get some sleep. We'll be moving out at daylight, that's," He looked at the night sky. "About five or six hours from now." He then turned away and silently disappeared into the jungle.

McCall checked on Mickey again, stroking his fevered cheek, wishing there were something he could actively do to help his friend. Blair watched for a moment, then pulled out his canteen and found a cloth and soaked it to apply to the injured man's fevered brow, allowing the older man to take charge of the task.

"I'm gonna be right here, in case you need anything, OK?" He offered to the distracted man.

"Yes. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Good night." With that, Blair rolled back up in his sleeping bag and quickly returned to sleep.

McCall watched the young man, listening until he was certain the boy was sleeping, constantly wiping Mickey's face with the cooling cloth, growing weary and finally settling down to sleep, himself.

*********

Jim had lied to them. It was broad daylight before they awoke. Blair was the first to stir, having been less exhausted and stressed than the others. He sat up and looked around. The Chopec were not in evidence. There was a pile of fruit and dried meat suspended from a tripod in the centre of the small clearing. He got up and moved a short distance away to take care of bodily functions, then returned, moving quietly, checking on the injured operative. Pleased to sense the lower temperature. He checked the first aid kit and realised that Jim had given a second injection of antibiotics to their patient. He looked up at the sound of the other operative waking up.

"Good morning, Mr. McCall." He spoke softly, trying to not waken the still sleeping Mickey.

"I thought we were supposed to be on our way at daylight?" McCall stretched his stiffened muscles, then sat up. Eyes searching the area for the others, not seeing anyone.

"I'm sure there's a reason. Don't worry, they'll be back." He picked up the food, offering it to McCall, who chose a couple of pieces of fruit and a piece of dried meat.

"Thank you. How's Mickey?" Moving over to check for himself.

"His fever is down, looks like Jim gave him another dose of penicillin. He's sleeping peacefully."

McCall's hands touching his face brought Mickey to consciousness. He moaned, then opened his eyes. He looked with confusion at the canopy of the jungle above them.

"McCall?" His voice was hoarse and dry. Blair handed the canteen to McCall who sat beside his friend and gently lifted him into his lap, then held the canteen to parched lips, allowing Mickey to have all he wanted to drink.

"Easy, Mickey. We've apparently been rescued. Take your time. There's plenty of water." Mickey nearly drained the canteen.

"Thanks. Rescued? Who by?"

"By whom."

"Whatever. Who rescued us?"

"Hi. I'm Blair Sandburg. My partner and I were sent by, Control? To come and get you."

Mickey looked up at the young man. "You're kidding, right? You know Control?" Doubtfulness dripping in his tone.

"Uh, no. Not exactly. He came looking for Jim, and I was part of the package."

"Who's Jim?" Still at a loss, unsure what was happening, confused. Secretly taking comfort from the nearness of his friend.

"I am."

All three turned to look at the returning man. Kostmayer's eyes narrowed with recognition.

"Ellison? I heard you got lost...Oh, shit. I'm sorry. This is where you were?"

Jim sat down beside them. "Yeah." He gestured to the silent Chopec who were gathering around them. "We've been getting ready to transport you. I was going to take you to the village, but they'd just as soon get us out of their country. We managed to finish destroying the drug lab." He looked at the two operatives. "I let them know that they were free to do what they want to anyone who encroaches into their territory in the future. If they have any trouble, I've given them instructions to contact Control, or me. They still don't want guns." He smiled, grimly. "At least this is one area we won't have to worry about drug labs in the future." He didn't explain the Chopec warriors version of a cleanup operation against the interloping drug lab. The telltale signs were only obvious to anyone who looked. Blair chose not to look.

"Anyway, they've built a litter to carry you on, We should be out of here some time tomorrow." There was no hurry, now that the drug operation had been demolished. There was no one left to chase them.

Jim insisted on at least removing the bullet from Mickey's hip before they left. The massive doses of penicillin helped, but were only a stopgap measure. For any real healing to occur, they would have to remove it. McCall reluctantly agreed.

Blair sat and held the injured man's head in his lap. He was teaching him meditation exercises, working him into a light trance, relaxing him. When he had suitably rendered the patient semicomatose, he nodded to the others. Jim had sterilised his knife with fire and an alcohol wipe. He had use some butadiene swabs to cleanse the area, then, using his sense of touch, he gently probed with his fingers, locating the bullet and only then slipping the knife in to remove it. McCall was amazed at how little blood spilled with the operation. He helped cleanse and bandage the wound. They then left Mickey to wake up on his own.

"I'm impressed." He told the younger man. "You would have made a fine surgeon."

Jim laughed. "I'm a better cop. The medical stuff I got in the Army." He looked down at the sleeping Mickey. "It does come in handy, on occasion, but It's not what I am." He sat down, leaning against a tree trunk, relaxing. He noticed his Guide had been joined by one of the Chopec warriors, their heads close together over something.

McCall sat beside his friend and waited for him to awaken.

"What have you got there, Chief?" Curious, but not wanting to get up to investigate.

"I was showing T'cach, here the copy of the statue." He stood, motioning the young warrior to follow him over to the Sentinel. "Can you ask him if he knows anything about the original?" Sitting down beside Jim, motioning to T'cach to sit with them.

Jim asked Blair's questions, then translated T'cach's replies. The story they heard was about how a long time ago, the First Ones had taught Sentinels and Guides their duties. There were many tales of these First Ones. Many stories of Sentinels and Guides. Jim asked if he had been a student of Incacha. The young man shook his head in the negative. He had only recently married into the Chopec community, he was, himself, from a neighbouring tribe, who were at peace with the Chopec. He had been chosen to marry into the Chopec when he was very small, Incacha had acted as go between, explaining what his training should be, as he had been chosen to be the next Shaman of the Chopec.

"Wait a minute." Blair interrupted. "You were assigned to inherit from Incacha when you were a child?"

From the story T'cach told, Incacha had known twenty years earlier of his death and had made provisions for his people. Jim and Blair were stunned. T'cach reached out to comfort them, understanding Jim's relationship with the late Shaman, explaining that everything had happened as it was meant to happen. Explaining to Blair that his duties as Shaman of the Great City did not mean that he was supposed to practice occultish things. Only that his wisdom was to be used to help Jim protect their people, just as he had been doing. Only that now it was official. That information caused Blair to breathe a sigh of relief.

His story of the statue surprised them. The rendering had been done by the First Ones. It had been a part of the teachings for Sentinels and Guides, it was meant as an explanation, the two men, joined back to back, the larger, stronger, warrior Sentinel facing front, protecting the human Guide, who was stylistically depicted as smaller, obviously not-a-warrior. Holding the decorated bag of his office of Guide/Shaman. The Spirit Guide wrapped around their feet, keeping them in place, holding them together, serving as an added connection for the two. When asked why the statue appeared to have been posed for by them, T'cach shrugged. The carving was very old. It was meant to depict the perfect combination of Sentinel, Guide and Spirit Guide. Obviously, they were, themselves, such a perfection of the ancient office.

The young Shaman stood. It was time for them to return to their world. The other warriors appeared as if by magic, carrying a litter to bear Mickey back to the helicopter. They were so gentle when they moved the injured man, that he didn't even awaken.

They took it slowly, pausing to rest and eat often. Blair made the warriors laugh with his 'fishing spear', until he caught a large fish with it. Then he made them let him cook it, wrapped in leaves and stuffed with local fruits. The taste was wonderful. McCall even asked for the recipe. Mickey laughed at that. The first sound from him that didn't indicate the pain he was in.

They spent two more days in the jungle, making their way back to the clearing and the helicopter. When they emerged into the clearing, Evvi was shocked at their return. She had not only expected them to fail in their mission, she hadn't really expected to see them again at all. Blair had given Mickey a pair of his sweat pants, and he was starting to sit up and move around a little on his own. Jim had kept up the massive doses of antibiotics, just to be sure.

The Chopec still made her nervous, but they had obviously earned the supplies Jim had given them. As a parting gift, Blair gave the plaster copy of the statue to T'cach for a momento of their meeting. T'cach was pleased, informing them that he would treasure it always, and use it to teach young Sentinels and Guides, just as the First Ones had.

Because of the two agents clandestine entry into the country, they had to be snuck out as well. Evvi had radioed for a pick up as soon as the Chopec left. They had to wait another day until she received the message that their charter plane was waiting for them in Lima. With that information, they took off for the hour long trip to the airport, where they were quickly transferred to the waiting plane.

Mickey was feeling well enough that, with help, he was able to make his own way onto the jet. Waiting for them inside was a doctor, two nurses, and Control.

McCall looked at his old friend. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "Thank you."

Control's grin split his face. "You're welcome, old son." He looked at his injured man. "You going to be OK, Mickey?" Reaching out to gently grip the younger man's arm.

Mickey's tired smile and nod were answer enough. He tried to walk forward on his own, only to have his injured leg give out on him and be caught in Control's strong arms.

"Easy, kid." Turning to call to the medical staff, "Doctor? We could use a little help here."

Jim, being closer, stepped up and gently scooped the smaller man up, then followed the doctor to the medical area, where he deposited his burden on the hospital bed waiting for him.

"Oh, man. This feels good." Mickey grinned at the softness of the bed. "Thanks, man."

"You're welcome." The two men exchanged a great many messages and memories as they looked at one another. Mickey held out his hand and Jim reached over to shake it. Both men recognising how much the other had changed since the last time they had been in contact.

Returning to the rest of the group, he was just in time to sit down and strap himself in. The plane was up and headed home ten minutes later.

*********

"We're going to take you two home first." Control informed Jim after they removed their seat belts. "Thank you. I owe you for this."

Those were words Jim had never expected to hear from this particular man. He looked curiously at McCall, who was gazing in puzzlement at Control. Apparently, he had never heard those words from him before, either.

"I know what it is to have a friend who is important enough to do anything to save. I don't have very many people who fit in that category, either." He glanced at McCall, who was now giving him an odd look. "Hey, he said 'please'. Not once, but three times. He asked for my help, then said please. How could I not help?"

McCall was good, but he wasn't that good. His astonishment showed as he looked at the calm, staid countenance of his friend and former employer.

"You're joking."

"No. He's not." No change in expression. Blair had looked up from his journal to watch, fascinated.

"Why?"

Blair laughed, surprised at their confusion. When all three men were looking at him, Jim benignly, Control and McCall in puzzlement.

"Man, you just don't get it, do you?" At their continued expressions of confusion, he let them in on the secret. "It's about friendship, man. That's all it's ever been."

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