Disclaimer: The Characters of The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly, The SciFi channel and others. No copyright infringement is intended.
Spoilers for "Warriors" and "Sentinel Too."
Thanks to Danae, the first person to read this, my first fan fiction. Your help and encouragement helped a lot! Also, thanks to MegaRed for her advice and assistance. You're both the best! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Feedback always welcome...please be kind to a first timer.
WARNING: Severe Smarm Ahead! (But I hope it warms your heart!)
Jim closed the door behind their departing guests, Simon, Joel, H., and the rest of the Major Crimes team. It had been an evening filled with laughter, companionship, and most importantly, a heartfelt salute to Blair Sandburg, the special young man who had become such an integral part of all their lives, on his thirtieth birthday.
With a satisfied smile, Jim turned from the door, unconsciously tuning in to the sound of his guide's heartbeat. The balcony...the perfect place for the final surprise of the evening.
His back to Jim, long hair drifting in the mild breeze off the water, Blair Sandburg leaned against the railing, looking out at the sparkling lights of Cascade. Jim laid a hand on his left shoulder and squeezed gently, smiling at the sensation of the silky mahogany curls floating against his fingers.
"Nice night, wasn't it, Chief?" Jim asked quietly.
Blair did not turn to face him; he just nodded and softly sighed. Jim brought up his other hand to cup Blair's right shoulder. His friend answered, "A perfect ending to the best birthday I can remember, even if it was 'the big 3-0.' The dinner was so cool. Everyone from the station there, the best food in Cascade, that new book on Aboriginal art they all chipped in to get me. It's almost..." Blair stopped and shook his head.
Jim's first impulse was to turn his partner around, to search his face and eyes to discover what was bothering him, his "big brother/protector" instincts kicking in, but he reconsidered and chose instead to wait. Blair would finish his thought when he was ready.
At last, Blair did speak, softly and with a slight hesitation in his voice only Sentinel ears could detect. "It's almost...unreal. Like a fantasy...I was thinking today about my other birthdays, before I met you, I mean. When I was with Naomi, we were never in the same place two years in a row. 'Detach with love' doesn't provide prime opportunities to make friends, you know. I never had a party with other kids...friends. Oh, sure, Naomi tried to make it fun...a cake, presents...her current set of friends...but I knew other kids' birthdays were different. I felt so...so alone."
"Then when I went off to college, I was so young that I never fit in with the other undergrads. Yeah, I made some friends, but it was more a study thing. Didn't get asked to the social stuff much. Too young. Still left on the outside looking in and wishing. But tonight...tonight was so cool, Jim. For the first time, I felt a part of something bigger than I am. Included. Not just because I'm your partner, but because I am a real part of the Major Crimes unit. I guess I just figured out that getting older isn't such a bad deal after all. Not if you find your dreams along the way. Belonging was just one of the dreams I've had come true in the last few years."
Blair turned toward Jim, and the older man felt his heart surge with emotion as he looked at Blair's upturned face. A wide smile revealed the beginnings of crinkles around Blair's eyes, but those vivid blue eyes glowed with a deep, rich joy. He looks older than when he first whirled into my life, Jim realized with a flash of insight. But that fire, that excitement, it's still there. A little more controlled, maybe, but it's waiting just below the surface. He could start bouncing on those toes any time now. After all he's been through, after all he's survived, even death itself, it's amazing, but I'm so glad, so thankful. Blair's maturing into a truly remarkable man. I'm proud if I've played any part in that.
Jim kept his hands on Blair's shoulders, and the younger man clasped his arms in his eagerness. "Do you know how few people ever realize their dreams, Jim? Even just one of them? What they would give to see a single dream come true? Not only did I always want a place where I could fit in, belong, but man, I dreamed of finding a sentinel since I was a kid..."
"A kid? I thought this sentinel thing was something you discovered in college," Jim replied, studying his friend's face quizzically.
Blair continued excitedly, "Oh, man, I never told you, did I? I first read a sentence or two about sentinels when I was about thirteen. The concept fascinated me! I never could let the idea go. I dreamed of finally finding a sentinel, but what I found was even better." Blair now had a teasing tone in his voice and was grinning at the confusion on Jim's face.
Blair's smile faded to a look of serious contemplation, and the excitement in his eyes gradually changed to wonder. Looking up at Jim, he whispered, "Don't you see? I didn't find 'a" sentinel, Jim, I found '"my" Sentinel."
Suddenly, he found himself enveloped in the strong, possessive arms of that very sentinel. Blair felt Jim's hand carefully press his head against his broad chest, his other hand gently rubbing his back. A slight pressure moved against his hair...Jim's cheek resting against his curls.
"Chief, I..." Jim began, but he was interrupted by his guide's voice, slightly muffled against Jim's shirt.
"Don't you want to know about my third dream come true?"
Blair felt Jim's nod against his hair.
"A home, Jim. You gave me the greatest dream of all. Something I never had before. After a lifetime of drifting, you gave me a place where I feel safe, where I know I'm cared for...accepted for who I am. But home's not just the loft, man. It's wherever you are. That's home."
Jim closed his eyes and buried his face in the soft, fragrant curls. He didn't trust his voice to speak, but his heart sang. He felt Blair snuggle more deeply into his embrace, and Jim tightened his arms gently around his friend. Time seemed to slow its frantic pace, the city sounds faded into the vague distance, and nothing existed for Jim Ellison except the warmth and the heartbeat of the small body tucked so tightly against him, the arms wrapped around him, and the warmth that spread out from his heart to touch his very soul. In some far corner of his mind, Jim realized he was only a short step away from zoning on that warmth but refused to surrender to the temptation, knowing it would alarm his guide.
And there was one more gift to bestow.
At last, after long, silent minutes, he carefully pulled away from Blair and reached into his shirt pocket, withdrawing a small box wrapped in gold paper. On the front was a plain white card neatly lettered "Chief." Without a word, he handed it to his friend.
Blair looked puzzled. "But you've already given me my gift, Jim. The camera is so cool, just what I wanted. I dropped enough hints, after all. I mean, how could you not have picked up on the idea when..."
Jim shook his head. "Hush, Chief. Just open the box." Jim's face was so serious that Blair didn't protest.
He carefully began to remove the gold paper, hesitated, then ripped into the small package with abandon. Typical Sandburg, thought Jim. Always in a hurry. What Blair saw inside left him stunned and at a rare loss for words. Now that's a change, Jim considered. Sandburg silent...
"What's the matter, Chief? Cat got your tongue? Or a panther, maybe?" Jim smiled hopefully, waiting to see if Blair understood the significance of the gift. He needn't have worried.
In the box lay a pendant bound on a leather cord. Three rough cut turquoise beads alternating with three oval red coral beads were strung on each side. A wolf stared out from the pendant, its eyes filled with wisdom and life, despite being carved from cold, gray stone. Around the edge of the pendant were ancient symbols Blair recognized as Chopec.
Blair's voice shook with emotion as he spoke. "Jim...where did you...?" His voice trailed off.
Jim ignored the question for the moment. "Turn it over, Blair," he whispered.
His fingers trembling, Blair reverently turned the pendant on its bed of soft cotton, then gasped in astonishment. Jim watched as pools of tears gathered in the young man's eyes.
Silently, Jim reached under his shirt collar and brought out another pendant, carved from the same rich, gray stone. He removed it and held it out to his partner. Blair gently touched the panther carved on its surface, then turned it to the reverse side. Identical.
A tall man stood with a smaller man in front, hands resting protectively on his shoulders. They each wore a gray stone pendant around their necks, and both gazed out toward the distant horizon, eyes focused on a vision only they could see.
Finally, Jim answered Blair's question. "Incacha. This one," he touched his own pendant, "was his. One side was originally blank. He carved the panther for me before I left his village in Peru for the last time after the crash. He passed the pendant on to me as Sentinel of the village. I guess he knew all along what my animal spirit was, even if I wouldn't discover it for a long time. Until I found you."
Blair looked up, his eyes asking the question his voice could not. As always, Jim sensed what he needed and answered the unspoken question.
"Incacha again. When he was here in Cascade. After he disappeared from the loft the night I tried to make him understand about our laws, why I couldn't..." Jim stopped, closing his eyes, his head dropping abruptly. Memories of Incacha's death were never easy for either of them. Blair reached out, placing his hand on Jim's arm, anchoring him with his touch. Moments later, his friend looked up and flashed a brief smile of gratitude and continued.
"I found your pendant in my room soon after Incacha's death. Before they returned to Peru, one of the other warriors told me that Incacha carved the wolf right after meeting you for the first time. I'm not sure when he brought it to the loft. The pendant itself once belonged to the guide for an early sentinel of the Chopec, just as mine once belonged to that same sentinel. Incacha said the pendants were destined to be together, just as we are destined to remain together."
Jim stopped and looked at Blair intently, blue eyes capturing blue eyes and refusing to let go. "Incacha knew, Blair. He was a shaman, and he immediately saw what you are to me. My guide...my friend...my heart," Jim paused before whispering, "my life...The warrior told me the meaning of the symbols along the edges. Incacha had never explained them to me."
"What, Jim? Please...I need to know..." Jim felt Blair trembling under his hands, now resting again on the younger man's shoulders. Jim squeezed reassuringly. He knew the pressure Blair had placed on himself since the terrifying moment seconds before Incacha's death when the Chopec had passed on to Blair the responsibility of being Jim's shaman as well as his guide.
"Don't worry. They explain that the sentinel/guide bond is forever, Chief. No matter where we go, what we do, we will always be linked...joined. You could no more live without your sentinel than I could survive without my guide. I think we've always known that; these symbols are merely the confirmation."
"I've known for a long time now," Blair whispered. "I learned from Burton and my own research that a sentinel required a partner, a guide, to survive, and I always suspected the need went both ways. Then I found the proof...in my own heart. Not very scientific, I admit, but just as valid." He looked up and met Jim's eyes through his glistening tears. "Why...why did you wait so long to give this to me? Didn't I..."
Jim immediately shook his head, knowing what his friend was thinking, and interrupted him. "It was nothing you did or didn't do, Blair. Believe that. I kept your pendant, waiting for the right time, a special time...So much happened so fast after Incacha's death. Then, when we shared the vision at the fountain and you...you came back to me, I realized the truth of the writing on the pendants. I can't go on without you. There's nothing left for me in a life without you in it. We truly are bonded forever. But I wanted this...this affirmation to be special. That's what this is, you know. The affirmation of our commitment to...to it all, the sentinel thing, our friendship, our partnership, everything." Jim touched the pendant which still lay in its box in Blair's hands. "This affirms that it's forever, Blair. I know it's just a symbol of what we already understood about us, but symbols can be important, can't they?"
Blair nodded, studying the round stone and its remarkable carving. "Yes. Very important. All cultures use symbols to represent their deepest beliefs, their most meaningful traditions."
"Then, Sandburg...Blair, I want this to be a symbol to you," Jim paused, lifting Blair's pendant from its box. Instinctively, Blair lowered his head for Jim to place the cord around his neck. Jim left his fingers loosely around the supple leather, his fingertips gently stroking Blair's neck.
"I want this to be a symbol of my commitment to you. I promise you will never be alone again. I will always be your Blessed Protector and keep you safe. You'll always have a home with me, a place you belong. I know it's not easy being a cop's partner, especially mine, and I know it's not the life you always envisioned. But whatever happens, Blair, I promise we'll get through it together. I think we can survive anything as long as we're together."
Jim paused and took a deep breath before continuing, gathering courage for the difficult words to follow. His eyes never broke contact with his friend's. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. "But I also promise not to hold you back. You're a free spirit, Blair, I know that. I don't ever want to crush that spirit. It's part of what makes you so special, so precious to me. I want you to do whatever it is you need to do with your life to be complete, as long as..." Jim's voice faltered, and he stopped, closing his eyes briefly.
Then his voice came back, stronger, the look on his face determined, and his eyes once again locked with Blair's own. "...as long as you always come back to my side," Jim finished. "I once thought it was selfish to need you with me so much; now I know it's my instinct for survival. But still...it's more than just the need of a sentinel for his guide. I love you, Blair. More than I've ever loved anyone in my life. More than I ever thought possible."
Once again, Jim's voice grew soft, and his final words were whispered, "Chief, I promise I'll always be your friend, your partner...your Sentinel." He bowed his head, overwhelmed with the promises he had made to the silent young man beneath his hands who looked up at him with brimming eyes and such trust...oh, what trust...such strength, such tenderness.
Blair gently brushed the tears from Jim's cheeks with his thumbs. Then he took Jim's pendant from his hand, and stared at it, absorbing the magnitude of the moment, of the commitment. This goes against everything Naomi ever taught me, Blair thought, his heart racing, knowing Jim could hear every rapid beat. Don't get too attached...don't stay too long...don't let yourself care too much.
Naomi was wrong, he argued inwardly, angrily. And it's too late anyway. All my life, I've been searching. Searching for exactly what I've found since I stopped running, since I stayed, since I let myself care and become attached...to this man, this tough-as-nails cop, this gentle friend and protector, this other half of myself. Blair felt his heartbeat slow to normal as an overwhelming sense of peace, of rightness, spread through him. I'm not about to give it all up now. Sorry, Mom.
In that instant, Blair met his friend halfway, reaching up just as Jim lowered his head to receive the leather cord. Blair mirrored Jim's hands, keeping them pressed against the taller man's neck. He took a deep breath, focusing on the patient blue eyes of his friend, his partner, his Sentinel. Then Blair began to speak.
"Jim...Jim, there is nowhere in this universe I'd rather be than at your side. There is no other place I am meant to be. If I sometimes have to spread my wings, I promise you that I'll always come back. There is no choice, man. No decision to make. I have a survival instinct, too, you know. And I cannot survive without you, not here, not on the other side. I knew that at the fountain, too. That's why I came back. I promise to be your guide, to help you with your senses. I may not always know all the answers, the secrets, to being a guide and a shaman, but I swear I'll keep learning, keep trying. Just be patient with me.
"I promise I'll never leave you, Jim. I know that's your greatest fear. You've been left behind so often...your mom and dad, your brother, your unit, your partners, your wife...but I am here, right here beside you, Jim, and I am not going anywhere. Not without you. Never."
Blair paused, letting the depth of the pledge sink in. Then he continued. "You can always be yourself with me, Jim, I promise that, too. You see, I know both sides of Jim Ellison. The tough soldier/cop side the rest of the world sees...and sometimes fears. And this side," Blair paused and smiled through his tears, gently rubbing Jim's neck as he maintained his hold on the soft leather cord.
"I understand why there have to be two sides to you, the world's and mine. You couldn't do your job otherwise. But remember, Jim, you don't have to hide this part of yourself with me. I'll always be here when you need me. To listen...to care...to hold you, if that's what you need."
"I love you, too, more than anything...you do know that, don't you?" Blair whispered, his blue eyes begging for Jim's reassurance.
Jim wrapped his arms around Blair again, drawing him carefully into a warm circle of protection and love. Blair tucked his head under Jim's chin. He closed his eyes, tears overflowing at last in relief, and felt a light kiss on his hair and fingers entwining themselves through his hair. His own arms slipped about Jim's waist, and he tightened his fingers in the soft fabric of his friend's shirt. He knew Jim could hear and feel his breath, his very heartbeat. But this time, Blair knew they only conveyed a sense of contentment and pure happiness. Blair felt Jim nuzzle his face into his curls, heard him breathing in his scent, opening his senses to draw in the basic essence of his guide. Instinctual, thought Blair with a slight smile. Committing to memory...no deeper than that...committing to his very soul everything about his guide.
Jim's voice was almost sentinel-soft in his ear. "I know, Blair. I do know that. It's what makes me whole. Happy birthday, Chief." Another light kiss, this time on the temple.
Blair opened his eyes and watched as the moon shimmered on the water in the distance, and the lights of Cascade, the fires of their tribe, shone in the night.
Neither could match the glow in his own heart.
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