Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

Warning: This is a death story. I'm told that this warning is pretty important, so I'm warning you that a major character is dead in this story.

Synopsis: What if Blair had died at the fountain in Sentinel, Too? This is how I think Jim would have dealed with that loss.

Spoilers: Sentinel, Too Part 1, and flashbacks to several previous episodes.

Thank yous: This fanfic is my first official foray into the world of fandom, and it's all Sue Pokorny's fault. I became her "groupie" shortly after being hooked on The Sentinel earlier this year, and she has been a great friend and supporter. Muchas, muchas gratitude, Sue. And to Bonnie, who beta'd this first attempt and patiently helped things to run smoothly. Thanks to Starfox for giving my stories a home.

Return to Alone

By Anne Roquemore

********************
Rain fell from a weeping sky of gray clouds. I can't remember when it started, but it doesn't matter - I'm indifferent to it. All I can do is sit in this uncomfortable folding chair that is slowly sinking under my weight into the damp earth...sit and stare. I'm not alone. There are two men working on lowering the dripping casket into the ground.

Into the cold, merciless, unforgiving ground.

Soon they'll start shoveling the dirt oozing into mud from the pile next to the grave, covering the casket, enclosing it in darkness. Embracing the remains of my friend.

My friend. Yes, I could still call him that...I had to call him that. Despite everything that had passed between us that tore us apart, after everything that was said, in the end that's what he was. Blair Sandburg, roommate, guide...friend.

Scrubbing my hands over my face, I stand. I can't recall how long I'd been sitting there - long enough for my legs to ache a little once blood rushed back into them, long enough for my hair to drip water into my eyes, long enough to witness the parade of mourners as they left the graveside service and for the caretakers to clean away the other chairs. Had they asked me to leave? I can't remember.

My mind drifts back to the service - had it ever really left? I can remember every minute detail, every sound, every heartbeat, every sob, every breath, the color, the words. All of it stands vividly in my mind. Naomi had asked me to sit beside her through the services. She had called me family, had said it was my place to be treated as family. God, could she ever understand the pain those words had caused? Her son never had the chance to tell her of the past weeks, of the gap that had formed between us, caused by a wall I slowly began to erect.

Her hand never left my arm during the service; she never stopped touching me...perhaps as a grounding for her mourning, to keep herself from exploding into hysterics. Or perhaps because she knew I needed it to keep me from exploding into hysterics. Whichever it was, it worked - for both of us.

Not that I have the ability any longer...after the past three days, after the episode at the fountain, whatever emotions I had were spent. I am numb now.

The fountain. As though those two little words had complete power over the control I've tried to establish, my mind reverts back to those harrowing memories.

Driving like a madman to get to the campus where I knew...I knew Blair would be.

<"...you know where to find me...">

Megan had clung to the passenger door as I whipped through early morning traffic, silently watching me, questioning me with the expression on her face and in her eyes. Wisely she had remained silent. I couldn't have answered her anyway. I couldn't have explained to her about the unknown force pulling me to the campus...I couldn't tell her about the vision that played and replayed in my head. The vision of Blair lying dead on the jungle floor, his eyes open, unseeing...killed by my hand.

I didn't even realize we had arrived and I was out of the truck until I hit the steps leading up to the front door of Hargrove Hall and stopped, pulled around by that same force, unable to keep my mouth from drying out as I caught sight of the body floating face down in the fountain.

Brown helped me pull the body out, Simon cradling the limp head, Rafe catching the legs. So much commotion followed then...Simon yelling at me, asking if I could hear a heartbeat, asking me to help him with CPR. With all of my senses heightened the one sense memory that shakes me to the bone even now is the feeling of Blair's cold lips as I applied mouth-to-mouth. They were already tinged blue, his face pale, his body unresponsive. Megan tells me I kept repeating something, a phrase that she would never forget.

<"This can't be happening...this can't be happening...">

But it was. It did. The others had held me back as the EMTs worked on Blair. I'll never forget the look on the EMT's face when he glanced up.

<"I'm sorry, guys.">

He had shaken his head like he knew how heart-wrenching his two words had been, as though he could feel our pain...my pain. I wanted to punch him until he hurt like I did. How could he possibly know?

My bellows of denial at that moment still echo down to me, filled with anguish, hopelessness. Beneath the sheath of ice and control, my heart twists at the memory of the EMTs pulling a blanket over Blair's body. How many times in my years as a cop had I pulled back such blankets to look at death without flinching, to uncover the whys and wherefores? Blair had called it checking my humanity at the door. Maybe, but it had been easy. All those other bodies were nothing to me. I didn't know them, hadn't listened to their laughter, hadn't sat up late at night conversing with them, listening to what they had to say, trusting them with something out of my control and knowing the trust had become well-founded. It had been easy to infiltrate their deaths because I hadn't known the extent of their lives.

But that moment at the fountain had been different, because the life snuffed out by an enemy -- my enemy -- had not been a stranger.

A hollow thud touches my ears as the casket comes to rest inside the muddy hole. Voices conversing about whether to finish in the rain hold my hearing, but all of my other senses turn inward.

Memories march, unbidden, unwanted, across my mind's eye, and I'm too tired to stop them, too weary to care. Memories that had been warm and welcome at the time of their making, but I can feel nothing of them now. Not even loss. I am beyond caring at this point.

The sight of Blair at his desk at the University, moving to the beat of drums blaring on his stereo, matched with the squeal of some obnoxious group, a smile the size of Jags' Stadium plastered across his face. He was talking some gibberish about how ancient drums match up to the percussions of the group, but I had cared less. All I wanted was help with my overactive senses, which is exactly what I got.

And much more.

That second meeting with Blair Sandburg had begun a dissertation research project that had grown into a friendship...and a partnership.Partners.

<"Whoa, whoa, whoa...I don't want you using that term around my captain.">

A smile comes to my lips at the memory - Blair had rolled his eyes, had said something sarcastic under his breath - and I wonder from where the smile had appeared. I haven't smiled a lot lately. I don't feel it inside of me anymore. Blair, I'm forced to admit, had brought something with him that changed something inside of me. A change over which I had no control. A change I had fought against, but in the end accepted.

Carolyn had seen it...she had called me on it before she transferred to San Francisco. She had always been smart. Smart and sassy. Those were the reasons I had wanted to get to know her better, which had led to dating, which had led to marriage...which had ended in divorce. Because of me. I admit that, too. She had wanted to change me, make me better than the emotionally stunted cop I had been. I hadn't been good enough for her, and in the end, no amount of love or friendship had been good enough to keep the marriage going.

"He's changed you, ya know." Carolyn had said that when Blair and I had taken her to the airport. Once at the gate Blair had given her a huge hug and an even bigger smile...a real smile that had managed to touch practically everyone who knew him, even hard-nosed detectives in Major Crimes. Carolyn had bit back the tears then. She had come to really care for the kid.

After the hug, and a moment of uncomfortable clearing of throats, Blair, using that Sandburgian way of his to read the moment, made some excuse and disappeared down the corridor to a store of some sort. Not before he touched my shoulder, though. Not before offering some kind of support. He knew how much it hurt to tell Carolyn goodbye. I had never said anything, and he had never called me on it.

"I don't know what you mean," I answered, unable to meet her gaze.

She smiled. "How is it that, after two years of marriage, I was unable to do for you what Sandburg has done in a matter of months?"

I peered uncomfortably around the area, trying to block out the noise, dial down the sound, focus on anything except her words. I could really be stubborn when I wanted to be, but I knew she was right. Though I couldn't put a finger on it exactly, somehow I had become more settled, more...I don't know...in control.

"Whatever it is, Jim," Carolyn said, "it looks good on you. I hope it keeps."

Smart lady. She had traveled all the way from California to attend the funeral. Sandburg would have liked that. He would have thanked her. I couldn't. How do you thank someone for flying from California in order to help you bury a friend? She had been one of the last to leave the funeral, lingering in hopes of attending me back to the truck to see if she could get me to talk. I could read her intention in her eyes. But talking is pointless.

Finally she had given up, touching me lightly on the shoulder before she walked away and left me completely alone.

The caretakers must have come to a decision because I watch as they start shoveling mud and dirt onto the grave. My mouth opens and I'm ready to shout at them to stop. But nothing comes out. I am as empty as the ground had been...before the coffin filled it. The irony of that thought strikes me and I swallow against the emotions that thought nearly frees.

I had been empty when I went to Blair Sandburg, ready to toss myself in front of whatever truck would end the frustration and confusion. Nothing had filled that emptiness. Nothing... until I invited his chaos into my austere world. With that characteristic Sandburgian style, he had filled the emptiness, had given me back control, and even filled the parts that I hadn't even known needed it.

Even without heightened senses I can hear the mud hit the coffin with dull, lifeless thuds.

Thud, thud...

With each hit, another memory flashes across my vision.

Thud...Blair charging in through Simon's office door, excited that he figured out the Lash case. Simon yells at him for not knocking and, as an afterthought, Blair knocks on the door that has already closed behind him. Simon had rolled his eyes, I hid my smile.

Thud...In the jungles of Peru on a mission to save Simon and Daryl, I watch as Blair pulls a lizard out of his pants, smiling at his amazement, the gentleness of his touch as he bends over and releases the unexpected guest.

Thud...Laughing with him over Chinese fortunes while walking down a busy sidewalk in Chinatown.

Thud...Listening in awe as he reveals just the smallest portion of the wealth of information he has in his head, explaining to Simon and me about Russian traditions, figuring out the Russian title of a newspaper, awing its editor as much as his own partner.

Thud...

A touch on my shoulder tears my gaze away from the grave, surprised that I hadn't heard someone sneak up on me, hoping to find a pair of expressive blue eyes shining up at me from underneath a mop of curly, shoulder-length hair. Instead, I'm greeted with the mournful expression of Naomi Sandburg.

"I thought maybe you could use some company," she murmurs, encircling one of my arms with both of hers, leaning her cheek against that shoulder. She stares at the grave for a while, and I follow her gaze.

The marks on the tombstone suddenly glare at me, reminding me once again that this isn't a nightmare brought on by fear of almost losing my partner in a shootout or to abductors or in a falling elevator. This is real. This time, Blair really died. He would never reach his twenty-ninth birthday, he would never see that Ph.D. behind his name, never finish his life's work, never fall in love...

All because I had pushed him away, all because of my confusion about the presence of another Sentinel in my territory. If anything, I should have leaned more upon Blair, sought his counsel, followed his intuition as I had done so many times before - to my utter amazement sometimes. Instead, feeling like the walls were closing in on me, I had done something I had secretly sworn would never happen. I kicked Blair out of the loft that had become his home. When I discovered Blair had been secretly helping the other Sentinel, instead of listening to the explanation, instead of accepting the words coming from a man I had learned to trust with my sanity and my life, I had shut down, I had accused him of betrayal. Betrayal!

And that had been the end. The last memory I would have of Blair's life was the pain on the young face as I called him traitor.

That would be the first memory locked away.

My breath catches in my throat. Naomi hears it and looks up. I don't know what she sees there...I haven't been able to look at myself in the mirror since the day I held Blair's lifeless body in my arms. How could I face the man who killed a friend? I didn't knock him over the head, it wasn't my hands that forced him into the fountain, but I had killed him by not being where I should have been...at his side, protecting the most important part of my tribe.

"You can't do this, Jim," Naomi says softly, reaching up and brushing the water from my face. Or are they tears? "Please don't send my son to the afterlife knowing his death is causing you so much pain. I couldn't bear that. And neither could Blair."

I swallow, suddenly feeling the lump in my throat. Where did that come from? There is no pain, there can't be. Control doesn't allow it. Shaking my head to rid it of the gentle hand, I seek for that control again, to be in that place beyond the ache, beyond the memories, beyond the fear...to be numb again. Numbness allows me control.

Naomi sadly shakes her head, reaching into her coat and retrieving something. "Before the funeral Simon and I went for a drive. He told me everything he knew about what happened between you and Blair these past weeks."

I groan, stepping away from Naomi, away from the grave. I can't deal with this right now. The ever stoic and grim-faced James Ellison cannot hear from the lips of his dead partner's mother words that already pound inside his brain. Words that need to be forgotten behind the wall -- words that never should have been spoken.

A hand on my back tells me she isn't giving up easily. How Sandburg...

"Jim, if there is one thing that I cherish...cherished about my son, it was his ability to know people - really know them. He knew you, probably better than you know yourself..."

"...because Carolyn is the only other person who knows you better than I do...">

"If Blair were here right now..."

I turn, lifting both hands, holding my face impassive but inside I am begging, pleading for her to stop. "Not now, Naomi..."

"Yes, now, Jim." She steps forward, lays a gloved hand on my chest. "My son knew you here, Jim. He knew your heart. No matter how much you shoved away your emotions, Blair was always able to read you, always knew when you needed to let it out. And you trusted him to do so. I know...I saw it every time I visited." She smiled, her full lips revealing white teeth, her dark brown eyes lighting up. A real smile. A Sandburg smile.

I clench my eyes closed against that smile. The smile she had passed down to her son. The smile that had lifted my anger and my doubts whenever it was wielded skillfully by the man who had owned it.

Damn. I miss my friend.

Naomi touches my shoulder as she tries to press something into my hands. My eyes shoot open and I look down at an envelope, slightly worn and crumpled. My gaze shifts to her, expressing my confusion with creased eyebrows, but I refuse to take the envelope.

"Simon thought I should read this," Naomi continues, staring at the envelope. "Your forensics team found it in Blair's office while they..." Tears glimmer in her soft brown eyes and I turn away.

I will not lose control! Emotions leave me too open, too bared. Blair often reproached me for locking down on him. Through some mystic power that linked us, he knew exactly when I did it...and he knew exactly what to do to rip them back open. But with his aid I never felt out of control. With him, it was safe.

He was not here, however. And the memories march across my mind's eye, relentless, powerful, urging the tentative control to crumble. So many memories that needed to be locked firmly away, never to be felt again. If I am to survive, if I am to continue living, I need them to be locked away.

"But it's not for me."

Naomi's words find my hearing and slowly I turn back around.

"Before you read this, Jim, I want you to know something." She steps forward, taking both my hands, enfolding them around the envelope. Peering up at me, the tears running freely, she continues, "My son was a good man. And as such, he always managed to surround himself with good people. I questioned his choice when he told me about you, wondering if his studies had finally drained all rational thought from his brain." She waits...for what, a smile, some recognition? I see the disappointment in her eyes when she gets neither. "But I know that his choice was right. Blair became a better person in the few years he knew you, Jim. Braver, stronger...he'd always been compassionate and kind, but the strength I saw in him recently, it came from you."

That strikes me painfully deep. Didn't she listen to Simon when he explained things to her? I sent Blair away, I yelled at him, threw him against walls, turned away when he needed me to hear him the most. How could she say something like that?

"Read the letter, Jim. And when you're ready to talk, I'll be here. I'll be in Cascade for a while longer, putting Blair's affairs in order. One of those is making certain his friend is okay." She smiles again, stretching up and kissing me on the cheek. "You've become family, Jim," she whispers in my ear. "You were in my son's heart, and you're in mine."

Turning, she walks away, leaving me standing there with a letter crumpled in my hand, and my control slipping.

She leaves me on the verge of madness.

What makes her think I want to read this? Why can't the world just leave me alone? Are they afraid I'll quit living because of all this?

The truth strikes me solid. Yes, they are, because the fear is very real, but not because of the reasons they think. I will not end my life simply because a man is dead. I am a survivor. I always have been. After the crash in Peru that killed my men, I buried them, locked out the pain, and did my job. And I will do it again. I will not die by choice...I will not!

But there is still fear. Since Blair's death I have refused to use my abilities. Without him near, without his calm, guiding voice and strength to pull me back when I listen too long for a sound, or seek too far, or concentrate too hard on touch, what will happen? What happens when I zone out and I am left unprotected, without my partner to pull me to safety and talk me back? Or, heaven forbid, someone else is killed because I am frozen?

Blair gave me control of my abilities, but the thought still teases - was it my control or did I have control because I knew Blair was there?

Though the answers to those questions haunt me, there is one answer that is perfectly clear. I was a good cop before a long-haired hippie grad student became my partner; he didn't make me that way. Sure, he helped with the Sentinel thing, and his academic knowledge helped on cases, but I could have eventually solved them myself. I am still good at what I do. I can be a good cop again without my shadow.

<"Hey, Jim, where's your shadow?">

All I need is control.

The question is, am I still a Sentinel? I was before I met Blair, wasn't I? Isn't that what he was always telling me? The senses had been put on hold that's all. He didn't make me a Sentinel.

I pause and finally have to admit: yes, he did. Before I met him, I was confused, near the edge, ready to commit myself. It was Blair's knowledge in what I am that kept me going, it was his belief in what I could do that kept me reaching. Without that faith, am I still the protector of the Great City?

I don't know. Blair would know. Hell, Blair knew everything. Every time I turned around he was spouting some gibberish that would lead the department to closing a case, or answering a question not meant for him and totally surprising the person asking it. This neo-hippie, witchdoctor punk, despite his phobias, had become one of the finest detectives in Cascade, even without a badge. And together, he and I had made a damn good team.

Had I ever told him that?

Of course not. When had I ever expressed my feelings to him? It hadn't been necessary. He seemed to know what I felt, and that was enough. For me, anyway. But had it been enough for Sandburg? This kid who actually got in Simon's face and made the intimidating captain tell him in words -- words of all things! -- how much Blair was appreciated. That in itself proved Sandburg's ability with people, the way he connected, the way he lived life to the utmost and brought others along with him. But he never demanded that from me...Thank yous, yes. Always needing to be thanked, but never forcing me to prattle on about emotions. Maybe he waited for me to tell him myself.

And I did, didn't I?

The night I kicked him out of the loft.

Crunching the envelope in my hands, I turn away from the half-filled grave, growling in my frustration. I need the numbness to return, I need to be in control, but the thoughts are winning.

The envelope is winning.

Moving to a nearby tree, I slam my back against it, fists clenched at my sides, my eyes squeezed tight. Automatically I start repeating the mantra Blair taught me long ago, the words that would send my body into relaxation. I remember watching him in the doctor's office, trying to help me relax before a routine physical. Speaking his normal gibberish about meditation, he lifted himself by the arms of the chair, tucking his legs beneath him lotus style and started breathing in and out...loudly. An older couple had watched us in shock and I had mentioned something about Blair receiving ongoing therapy. But the mantra had worked. He breathed with me and I had relaxed. I had felt it, felt every muscle loosen, felt my mind go at ease.

And then the little shit screamed at me, nearly scaring me out of my skin and making the older couple jump. He had laughed when I glared at him, and I'm certain the couple believed me about the therapy. But that simple trick of relaxation has been something that I've used through the years. And it's helped every time.

Until now. When I need it the most, when I need control the most, it evades my grasp. I breathe again, clutching the envelope. I notice that the rain has stopped, or maybe it's because I'm under the tree. Either way, I keep my eyes closed.

In and out, my mind a jumble of thoughts fighting to win this battle.

In and out, I slide down the tree, uncaring that the wet grass is soaking into my coat and slacks.

In and out, working the knots from my mind.

As I try to organize the pandemonium in my brain, I come to a final conclusion.

Slowly I open my eyes and stare at the envelope. Naomi felt I needed to read the letter, perhaps hoping for closure, maybe looking for a release. This letter, the last words Blair wrote, addressed to me...

No good would come from it. I can't resolve anything with a letter from a dead man.

I stand, walking purposely over to the grave now nearly filled. The tombstone stares in accusation at me - why? Because of my failure to save such a young life? Or perhaps because of the last words spoken between us? Or maybe because it knows what I now do -- the only thing I can do in order to remain sane.

<"A sentinel is always a sentinel if he chooses to be.">

I hear the words echo down from a recent past, both in Incacha's native tongue and Blair's achingly familiar voice.

Well, I choose not to be.

I choose to be a man. An ordinary man.

I choose to forget.

"Good-bye, Chief," I mutter, allowing the envelope to flutter into the grave.

The caretakers watch, looking at the envelope, then at me, then back at the envelope. Something in my face must have convinced them I knew what I was doing because quite purposefully they continue shoveling the mud and dirt, covering the letter, burying words I will never read.

Words I never want to read.

Lifting the collar of my coat more firmly around my ears, I turn away from the fresh grave.

I close my world against the pain and return to alone.

End

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