Disclaimer: The Characters of The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly, The SciFi channel and others. No copyright infringement is intended.
You are an eagle on the wind,
A diamond in the rough,
A rare and precious thing.
You are the music in my soul,
A painter's finest parchment,
A poem from the heart.
And everything that's beautiful,
An early afternoon off. Jim Ellison smiled as he stretched out on his bed and opened the new Tom Clancy novel he'd been waiting to find time to start. Just as he finished reading the first chapter, he stopped reading and began listening. The sound of the familiar heartbeat drew closer, but the pace was too fast. The loft door flew open with a vengeance, and Blair Sandburg burst inside. Fighting the impulse to get up and seek out his friend, Jim lay still and listened to the muttering from below.
"I cannot believe this. Damn that man! I cited appropriate documentation for my conclusions. Maybe not the ones he was looking for, but they were relevant, damn it!"
What's gone wrong, now, kid? Jim cocked his head, tracking the heartbeat and voice from the living area into the small bedroom tucked beneath his own.
The muttering continued, accompanied by books hitting the floor and clothes being tossed on the bed. "I know I didn't put the time into that paper that I usually do. How could I? I mean, I've got classes to teach, papers to grade, lessons to plan, that article deadline to meet..."
Jim frowned. Plus your work with me at the station, right, Chief? But you never complain about that, do you, buddy?
"So I used sources that I was already more familiar with; they were still valid. My damn conclusions were still valid!" The voice and pounding heart moved back into the living area. Jim heard the couch springs protest as Blair slammed down on it. "Now I've got to rewrite the entire paper to keep my GPA up. There goes the weekend! Just have to tell Jim it's a no go for the Jags game." A pillow hit the wall. "And it's my night to cook. And I forgot the salad makings...again." Blair got up, still muttering about demanding professors, unmotivated students, and lettuce. Jim listened as the footsteps descended the steps, moved out the front door, and jogged down the street to the corner market.********************
When Blair returned, he smelled the tomato tang of spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove and the homey scent of bread baking in the oven. Confused, he looked around the loft. "Jim, you here, man?" he called. No answer.
Blair put the lettuce and vegetables into the refrigerator. As he was leaving the kitchen, he noticed the envelope propped on the table. One word, 'Chief,' was written in Jim's bold script across the front. Blair picked it up, his eyes reflecting his curiosity.
He went into his room and sat down on the futon bed, tearing open the envelope as he walked. He pulled out a single sheet of plain, white paper. Blair,
You know it's not always easy for me to express how I feel. Sometimes I wait too long to try. I forget how much you have to handle...your job, your teaching, your research... And I just keep piling it on you, don't I, Darwin? Always expecting you to keep up with me. To be there when I need you. To jump right in and know what to do to help me with these senses, with my work, with my life. And what's so amazing is...you always do. I won't ever comprehend your devotion to me, Chief. I'm just grateful for it, and I can only hope I deserve it.
I don't ever want you to think that I don't appreciate all you do for me. I do, Blair. Every day. I just don't let you know that as often as I should. I'm not sure what I'd have done if you hadn't come into my life. Gone crazy for starters with my senses attacking me from all sides. But it's more than that now, and you know it. I need you, Blair. You're my center...my heart. Thank you for always being there.
For the rest of the semester, the cooking's on me, Chief. I traded this weekend's Jags tickets to Simon for two later in the season, after your grades are posted and your schedule eases up. There's a cabin waiting for us up at the state park for this weekend. I'll get in some fishing. You can rewrite that paper, and we'll take some hikes in the woods during your breaks. No interruptions.
Come join me out on the balcony, partner.
Blair wiped his hand across his eyes, and neatly refolded the note. He carefully placed it in the shoebox he kept under his bed that was filled with other small treasures from his life. Then he went to join his best friend, his partner, the brother of his soul.********************
You are a true and timeless friend,
A smile that never questions,
A love that never ends.
You are the one that takes my hand
And tells me all I have to do is wish upon a star.
And every time I need you, there you are.
The waves crashed in the darkness, and the wind grew still. Blair turned over in the tent, stretching his arm out and touching...nothing. He rolled over on his side and peered through the moonlit night. Jim's sleeping bag was empty.
A figure appeared like an apparition through the vague mist tiptoeing in from the sea. Head bowed, hands in jacket pockets, shoulders hunched, James Ellison walked slowly through the sand. Blair lengthened his strides to catch up, knowing his friend would have heard his approach long before he actually fell in step beside him.
The case had haunted them both for weeks. Nightmares, both waking and sleeping, disturbed tired minds and tortured fragile hearts. Now it had ended. The case, at least. Blair wasn't too sure about the nightmares. The camping trip to the remote coast was to be a respite before resuming their normal routine. If anything about their lives could be termed 'normal.'
They walked in silence, side by side, shoulders touching, in synch. Reaching a cluster of rocks along the shoreline, Jim sat down with a heavy sigh. Blair found a rock alongside and lowered himself onto its cold, damp surface. In the distance, a foghorn with its melancholy drone accentuated the rhythm of the tide.
"Jim," Blair said quietly. "Look out there. Listen. The world's still a beautiful place, man. In spite of all the evil. Maybe it's even a little more beautiful because of it. I mean, seeing what you see every day...what we see...makes you appreciate the beauty more when we find it, right?"
Jim's silence didn't bother him. He reached over and slipped his hand beneath Jim's, smiling as his partner's fingers curled about his own with a slight squeeze. Blair's voice was soft and low, soothing...calming...as rhythmic as the incoming waves. "Listen to those waves, Jim. They've been crashing on this beach forever, man, and they'll be pounding away long after we've left this world. Those stars up there...that light's millions of years old. It took that long just to reach us...to touch us."
He paused, giving Jim time to look...to listen...to reflect on his words. "Close your eyes, Jim. Feel the breeze on your face; taste the salt on your tongue. You're alive, man; I'm alive...I'm here. We're safe; we're together. It's going to be all right, Jim. I promise."
Blair glanced up at his friend. Jim's eyes were closed. His face was relaxed, at peace. Blair whispered, "Now...open your eyes and pick out the first star you see. Make a wish, Jim." He watched the gentle blue eyes open and focus on a bright point in the heavens, then close softly once more. "Want to share your wish, partner?" Blair asked quietly.
Blair felt Jim's arm encircle his shoulder, pulling him close, their hands still entwined. "I've already got all I need, Chief. Right here. Just wishing...praying...that it lasts forever."********************
You are a fire that's burning bright,
That keeps me from the cold, and
Warms me through the night.
You are my reason to believe
That love is all that life can be.
Someday I hope you will see
Just how much a part of me
An unexpected ice storm had Cascade caught in its frozen grip. The air was peppered with frozen pellets which clung to every surface. The temperature had plummeted quickly, dropping twenty degrees within one hour. Streets were icing over rapidly, and everyone who could was heading home by early afternoon.
The storm brought one positive effect with it. Along with the traffic, crime was frozen at a standstill. Simon Banks sent his team home at 3:00.
"Brrrr! It's cold out there!" Blair Sandburg burst into the loft, quickly closing the door behind him.
Jim Ellison turned from the fire he had just started. At the sight of his partner, he couldn't help but chuckle. Blair, or what he could see of Blair, was concealed by so many layers that he resembled a small child bundled up in his snowsuit. Only his eyes were visible between the knitted cap pulled down over his ears and the bright, multi-colored scarf wrapped around his face from the nose downward. His hands were bundled into gloves, and Jim estimated that at least four jackets, sweaters, and vests covered his body.
Blair grumbled, "What's so funny, Jim? Never seen a man try to stay warm before?" He began peeling off layers, reminding Jim of an onion being stripped of its skin.
Jim chuckled again, "Not quite like that, Chief. I'll hand it to you; you've got your own unique style, that's for sure."
"Not all of us can dial down our sensitivity to cold, man. You can be cruel, Jim, you know that?" Finally down to his faded jeans and red and blue flannel shirt, Blair slipped his wet boots off at the door and padded into his room, working his fingers through his damp, curly hair. "I'm gonna take a good, hot shower, Jim. Then I'll put on some chili for dinner. 'Kay?"
Ellison grinned at the departing back of his guide. "Perfect, Chief. I've already rented a couple of videos and bought the popcorn. Just save some hot water for me."
Blair muttered quietly, "After that remark about my choice of cold weather attire? Don't count on it, Ellison."
"I heard that, Chief."
"I know, I know. Man, the joys of living with your own personal Sentinel..." Jim listened for the soft laugh and smiled to himself when it came.
The power failed during the first video.
"Whoa! Who turned out the lights?" Blair looked around the loft in confusion.
"Good old Mother Nature, Chief," Jim replied, rising from the couch. "You stay put. I'll get some candles going."
Soon, with the glow of the fireplace and Blair's candles, the loft seemed a cheery oasis in a desert of cold ice. "Better," commented Blair as he stretched out on the couch, pulling an afghan up over his shoulders.
Jim picked up Blair's feet and settled down at the end of the couch. Then he put the sock covered feet in his lap, pulling the afghan down again to cover them both. "Your toes are cold," he commented, beginning to rub them firmly.
"Always. Sometimes I think I should live in the tropics, man. Maybe I'd warm up then."
In a teasing tone, Jim said, "Well, you know the old saying, Sandburg. 'Cold feet, warm heart.' Your love life might suffer if your feet got too warm." He pinched Blair's big toe.
"Ouch! Like I said, man, cruel..." Blair closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth of the fire and the slow massage of his thawing feet. Jim leaned back, resting his head against the couch. He stared into the flickering flames, watching the patterns and colors appear, merge, then disappear only to appear again. His hands continued the gentle kneading.
Blair peeked out from under his thick lashes. "Hey, Jim, you with me here, man?" At his partner's affirmative nod, he let his lids close again.
Jim looked over at his friend and saw a look of sadness flash across his features. "Penny for your thoughts," he said quietly.
Blair opened his eyes, and he turned his face toward the warmth of the fire. "Just an old memory, Jim."
"Not a very pleasant one, from the looks of it. Feel like getting it off your chest?" He reached up and squeezed Blair's leg with his left hand. "We've got all night here."
The thick lashes again shuttered the wide blue eyes. Blair was silent for several minutes, then he spoke quietly, "It was a long time ago, Jim. In another life." He stopped, opened his eyes again, staring at the flames. "Naomi and I were living in Colorado in this really little town. I must have been about eleven or so. It was early winter. The first snows had just begun." His voice faded off.
Jim had learned to read his friend's emotions well over the past three years and could tell that whatever Blair was trying to share with him was painful to recall. He would wait.
Blair finally continued, "Anyway, I was going to public school. It was a pretty small place, just one class for each grade. I don't think those kids had ever seen anything like me before, Jim."
His partner continued his gentle foot massage. "What do you mean, Chief?"
A small smile warmed Blair's features. "I've never changed much, Jim. Even then, I had the hair...the clothes. It's just who I am. But I think I was an enigma to the kids in that town." His voice dropped to a whisper, "I've been shunned my whole life, but I that was the first time I was ever hated."
Jim felt a tightening of pain around his heart. How could anyone hate you, Chief? You're the kindest, most gentle person I've ever known. He spoke quietly, "What happened, buddy?"
Blair's pain filled eyes met Jim's. "It was late in the afternoon, on the coldest day we'd had so far that winter. I'd stayed after school to read a book in the library. They wouldn't let me check out from the high school section because I was only in 5th grade. Stupid, huh?" Blair paused a moment, considering.
Really stupid, Jim thought. A brilliant mind like his, and the system tries its best to squash it with regulations. I never considered how difficult it must have been growing up a child as unique as Blair in an ordinary world. He suddenly had a vision of a beautifully feathered tropical bird surrounded by plain, brown sparrows. And being ridiculed for his uniqueness, his beauty. Jim closed his eyes for a moment in empathy for his friend's pain.
Blair continued quietly, "They were waiting for me, Jim. They must have planned it for days, I figured later. I had to walk through some dense woods to the old house Naomi had rented. She was spending a lot of time with her boyfriend who lived in the next town, about an hour away. I was alone a lot."
"Anyway, they were hiding behind some trees and jumped me. These were mostly bigger kids; the brothers of the boys in my class. Some of the kids my age were there, but they mostly watched. There were about ten in all, I guess. They dragged me off into the woods." Blair's voice had become a monotone, as if he was reciting a story that had absolutely nothing to do with him personally.
Instinctively, Jim reached out and captured Blair's hand, wrapping his bigger hand around it. He gently stroked soothing circles with his thumb. Blair squeezed briefly in gratitude.
"They pinned my arms behind me and shoved me down into the snow. They stripped off my shirt and jeans. Took my boots and socks. They called me every name they could think of...some I'd never even heard before. I'd never truly seen hatred in anyone's eyes before, Jim. And it was all directed at me."
I could kill them, Jim thought enraged by the pictures forming all too vividly in his mind. He could visualize Blair, frightened and cold, being tormented with no one there who cared. No one to protect him. If those kids were in this room right now, I would kill them for hurting him like that...like this. It still hurts, doesn't it, buddy?
"Then they started the fire. They burned all my clothes, my books, even a research paper I was writing. It was about the Aborigines and Ayers Rock. Amazing what you remember, isn't it?" A brief, sad smile came and went as quickly as a flash of lightning. "After that, the two biggest boys came to me and jerked my head back by my hair. Then another came toward me with the knife. It looked huge, Jim. There I was on the ground, freezing, totally helpless... I thought they were going to kill me, man; I really did."
Blair stopped, and Jim felt the tremors pass through his body. He held more tightly to Blair's hand, then turned slightly and held on with his right hand as well. "It's okay, Chief. I'm right here, buddy."
A grateful smile rewarded him. Blair went on with his story, "The guy with the knife came up behind me. He called me more horrible names; he said I didn't deserve to live. Another one kicked me, while another punched me in the stomach. Then, the guy behind me jerked my hair back and whacked it off with that dull old knife. It felt like it was being pulled out by the roots. They threw my hair on the fire and took off through the woods towards town. One of them called back and told me that if I dared tell anyone what had happened, I'd pay." The young man closed his eyes and squeezed Jim's hand tightly.
Jim fought to control the pain in his voice, "What did you do, Blair? What did Naomi do?"
Blair sighed, "I never told her."
"You what! Blair, she was your mother; it was her job to look out for you, to protect you. She must have known something was wrong when you got home."
The response was so soft, Jim almost missed it. "She didn't come home until the next night."
Jim swallowed hard against the anger building inside him. Anger toward the boys, but now mainly directed at Naomi for failing to protect Blair. For not even being there when he came home hurt and frightened. Damn you, Naomi, Jim raged inwardly. You should have been there, taking care of your son. He was just a kid.
Blair's soft monotone resumed, "By the time I made it home, I was so cold, Jim. We kept a key hidden above the front door, and my fingers were trembling so hard I could barely get it into the lock. I guess that's what reminded me of it all tonight...being so cold. Anyway, I made it inside and got cleaned up. I didn't even want to look in the mirror, but after awhile, I got up the nerve. My hair was a mess, chopped off and ragged. I took a pair of scissors and evened it up so it looked a little better. Then I just went to bed. By the time Naomi got home the next night, I was a little more in control. Told her I decided to cut my hair myself. The timing worked out, though. She had already decided to move in with her boyfriend, so we left that weekend. I never had to go back to that school."
Jim couldn't bear seeing the haunted look in Blair's eyes. He held out his arms, "C'mere, kid." Without hesitation, Blair sat up and moved into the offered embrace. Jim rested his cheek on Blair's soft hair and nuzzled him gently. "I should have been there, Chief. I wish I had been there for you." He began rubbing long, soothing strokes up and down Blair's back.
Then Jim felt Blair smile against his chest. "You want to know something strange, Jim? I hadn't thought of this in years, but what you just said reminded me. I got picked on a lot growing up. That was definitely the worst, but I was an outcast most of my life. Anyway, I used to pretend that I had a big brother. He was away all the time, of course, but whenever someone teased me, or left me out of their games, or told me to get lost, I'd just imagine what would happen when he showed up. He was strong and tough and would protect me. I remember lying in bed crying the night they attacked me, just wishing he was there. Problem was, he wasn't real."
Jim wrapped his arms more tightly around his Blair. His instinctual need to protect his young guide had never been stronger, yet he had never felt more helpless. How do you protect the person you cherish most from the pain filled ghosts of the past? He longed to be able to take away all the hurt Blair had endured merely because of his uniqueness. How could they hate him for the very things that made him so special, so precious to Jim? His heart filled with admiration for this gentle young man who had endured so much, yet still remained so pure, so innocent and trusting.
"He's real now, Chief," Jim whispered. "I'm here now, and I promise you I will do everything in my power to keep you safe, as long as I live. You'll never be that alone again, Blair. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."
"My Blessed Protector," Blair answered, snuggling closer to the warming comfort of his sentinel. "I guess I always knew I'd find you eventually. Just wish it hadn't taken so long."
"Me, too, buddy. Me, too. I'm so proud of you, Chief."
"Proud? Why, Jim? I haven't done anything special."
Jim shook his head. "That's where you're wrong, Blair. You've overcome things in your life that would have broken most people. Made them cynical and bitter. But you...you've managed to hold onto your kindness, your gentleness, your compassion. That's a very special accomplishment, Blair. I don't want you to ever lose that, buddy. Not because of me, because of our work together. That would kill me, Chief, if I thought I had destroyed the spirit that makes you so special."
"That doesn't worry me, Jim. Know why?" Blair pulled back enough to look up at Jim with a teasing glint in his blue eyes.
Jim grinned at his partner, happy to see the glow back in the eyes that only minutes before had looked so empty, so tortured. "No, Chief. Why?"
"Because I know that no matter how alone I feel, how cold I get, you'll always be here to make me warm again. That's what Blessed Protectors are for, right?" Without waiting for an answer, Blair nestled back into Jim's arms, safe and secure.
Jim closed his eyes for a moment, a contented smile on his face. Then he bent down and whispered in Blair's ear, the soft curls tickling his face, "Whatever you need, Chief. Always."
Outside the sleet continued, and the city of Cascade was wrapped in darkness. Inside the loft at 852 Prospect, there was only warmth and light.
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