Warnings: Angst, comfort, and healing. Some mild language. Spoilers for "Night Shift," "Sentinel, Too," and "The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg." Not beta read.
"Jim, can I see you in my office?" Simon Banks called across the bullpen to Detective James Ellison. Jim saved the report he was typing and crossed the floor to his captain's private office, closing the door behind him. He settled his tall frame into one of the chairs facing Simon's desk.
Banks crossed his arms after removing his cigar. "You've got some vacation time coming to you, don't you, Jim?"
Ellison looked puzzled. "Yeah, Simon. I have some left. Why?"
"Because I'm ordering you to take it. You are hereby off duty as of right now until Monday morning. That's five days, Jim. I want you to take Sandburg and head up into the mountains, as far from civilization as you can get."
"I don't get it, Simon. What's going on here?"
Simon sighed, "Jim, it's been almost a week since Sandburg's news conference. Have the two of you talked, and I mean really talked, about all that happened?"
Jim suddenly seemed to find the floor of Simon's office endlessly fascinating. Finally, he shook his head.
"Thought not. It would have surprised me if you had. Jim, you can't just ignore this whole thing and expect to go on with your friendship, your partnership, as if it had never happened. I know Blair seemed fine after we surprised him with the Academy offer, but I also know that with Sandburg, still waters run deep. Talk to him, Jim. Go out into the woods where there are no interruptions, and talk to Blair. That's an order." Simon's gruff voice left no room for argument.
Jim nodded and met his captain's eyes at last. "You're right, Simon. I've known that we have to deal with this more than we have yet. Getting away from Cascade is probably a good idea. Thanks."
Simon picked up his cigar. "No problem. Now get out of here and find Sandburg." He stuck the cigar in his mouth, picked up a pen, and went back to his paperwork.
Jim grinned and left Banks' office, picking up his jacket on the way out the bullpen door. Simon might never admit it, but Blair Sandburg had found a place in the police captain's heart as well. He knew it had not been easy on any of the members of Major Crimes during the days when he and Blair had not been speaking. Correction...when he had not been speaking to Blair. Jim still could not believe he had treated his best friend the way he had. Simon was right. Jim Ellison had some talking to do. It had waited long enough.
The first thing Jim noticed when he pulled up in front of the loft was the sound of Blair's heartbeat. Good, he thought. He's home. When he entered the door of their home, he immediately saw the boxes stacked outside Blair's room. Jim's heart lurched. His things from his office at the university. It's really over. He has no job, no classes, nothing left of his life. And it's all my fault.
A flash from that horrible news conference swept across Jim's memory. My thesis, "The Sentinel," is a fraud...While my paper does quote ancient source material, the documentation proving that James Ellison actually possesses hyper senses is fraudulent. Even if he lived to be one hundred, Jim would never forget his friend's trembling voice, his shaking hands, the tears in his eyes as he purposefully destroyed his life's work, his life's dream. He knew that Blair would forever be haunted by the humiliation in front of his peers, his professors, the world. They would always believe that Blair Sandburg was a fraud when, in actuality, nothing could be further from the truth.
You gave it all up to save me, kid, even after the way I've treated you, not just this time, but so many times. I don't deserve you, Blair, but I sure as hell am going to work at making it up to you. Starting now.
Jim walked over to the open French doors that led into Blair's small room. He leaned against the door, arms folded across his chest, and looked at the scene within. And smiled.
His friend sat cross-legged on his futon bed, his back against the wall, laptop computer in front of him. Blair's glasses had slipped down on his nose, and his loose curls were falling over the sides of his face. He looks like nothing's changed, Jim thought, yet nothing's the same. Nothing at all.
Blair looked up and smiled. "Hi, Jim! Didn't hear you come in, man. What are you doing home at this time of the day?"
Jim ignored the question. "What you doing, Sandburg?"
Blair brushed away a stray curl, and the smile faded. A wistful look crossed his face. "I needed to finish up some last things for the university. Reports, files, that kind of thing. Figured there's no time like the present. I finished packing my stuff this morning." He paused before continuing. "So, in about another hour, soon as I finish this, it will all be over." He looked down at the computer but didn't continue his typing.
Now Jim responded to Blair's question. "Simon sent me home with a direct order." When Blair glanced up with a puzzled look, he continued. "Actually, it's an order to both of us. He's given me until Monday off. Wants us to head up into the mountains for some R & R. I think it's a good idea. How about you?"
Blair nodded slowly. "I could use some down time. I know you could. When do you want to leave?"
Jim glanced at his watch. "Finish your work and send it on in. I'll go to the basement and load up the gear. It won't take long for us to throw some stuff in our duffels. We can stop at the store on the way out of town for supplies. Think you can be ready in a couple of hours?"
A slow smile brightened Blair's face. "Sure. Let me finish here, and I'll start packing."
Jim grinned, "Even the weather report sounds good, Chief. Maybe this trip will be exactly what we both need right about now. I'll go load the truck."
A few hours later, the blue and white Ford was climbing the winding roads in the mountains outside Cascade. Jim glanced over at the passenger's seat and grinned. Why was it that Sandburg could never seem to stay awake on the road? The kid had been out of it for the past hour, his head leaning against the window, his arms folded across his body. Jim turned on his tape player, adjusting the volume so low that only Sentinel ears could hear "Black Magic Woman" begin to play. If you can't hear it, Sandburg, you can't complain about my 'old age' music, Jim thought. He sighed deeply, a small hint of contentment beginning to warm his heart. If only it could always be this simple, he pondered. Just the two of us...no conflicts, no problems... He shook his head. Life was never that simple for them, but Jim Ellison was determined that he would never again add to their problems by causing his friend any more pain.
When the truck stopped, Blair stretched, looking like a cat waking up from a long nap. "Are we there, Jim?"
Ellison reached over and ruffled his hair. "We're here, Chief. Of course you slept most of the way, so you wouldn't know how much ground we've covered, now would you?" His teasing voice was soft, and Blair just grinned at him.
"You don't trust me to drive this wreck, I mean 'classic,' so why shouldn't I sleep the miles away, huh, Jim?" Blair answered smartly.
Jim cuffed him gently on the back of the head. "Idiot. Get your rear in gear, Sandburg, and let's set up camp."
The stars were shining through the branches of the tall trees above the campsite. The fire crackled and danced before Jim's eyes. Mesmerizing, he thought. Sure would be easy to zone...
A soft voice, comforting...reassuring...spoke from above him. "Jim? You still there? Come on, Jim, come back to me."
Jim blinked and looked up at Blair's concerned face. "How long...?"
Blair gracefully lowered himself to the ground beside Jim and leaned back against the rock outcropping behind them. "Not sure. I went down to the truck to get my guitar. I watched the stars for a few minutes, then when I came back, you were already zoned. You sure you're okay now?"
His friend nodded, "I'm fine. Just started watching the flames a little too closely, I guess." Jim leaned back against the rock and closed his eyes. He felt the tenseness begin to melt from the muscles in his back and neck as he listened to the popping of the fire and the chirping of crickets in the forest.
The sound of a melody drifted through the darkness. It rose and fell, gradually adding harmonious notes until the simple tune became full, rich chords. Jim kept his eyes closed but smiled at the sound of his friend's music.
"Nice..." Jim whispered.
Blair's quiet voice answered, "This is a song my mom and her friends used to sing. It was one of the first things I learned to play. Never thought about how appropriate the words are to my life now, but..."
He played a few more chords, then Blair's soft voice blended with the sounds of his guitar as he sang:
You fill up my senses,
Like night in a forest.
Like the mountains in springtime,
Like a walk in the rain.
Like a storm in the desert,
Like the sleepy blue ocean.
You fill up my senses;
Come fill me again.
Come let me love you,
Let me give my life to you.
Let me drown in your laughter,
Let me die in your arms...
The night was silent again. Jim opened his eyes to see Blair sitting next to him with his arms wrapped around his guitar, his head down, long, curly hair covering his face. Jim reached over and put his hand on Blair's shoulder. He could feel the muscles tense under his fingers, so he began gently kneading. "That was beautiful, Blair. What's wrong?"
For long minutes, Blair was silent. "You know what scared me most when...when I died, Jim?"
After all that had happened that week, Jim hadn't expected Blair to bring up the fountain. I guess everything will always come back to that for him, at least for a long, long time, Jim thought. "No, buddy. Tell me," he answered softly, still massaging the tight muscles in Blair's shoulder.
Blair took a deep breath. "Since we met, I guess I always figured that when I...when I died, you'd be there...holding me, helping me make it over to the other side. When I stopped fighting Alex and realized that my strength was gone, that I...I was going to die, all I could think about was that you weren't there. I was all alone, Jim, and I was so damned scared." He looked up, and Jim saw the hurt clouding his friend's deep blue eyes. His first instinct was to answer, to defend himself with all the excuses he had used in the past...his instincts had taken over...he wasn't thinking clearly... but he stopped himself. Somehow he knew that Blair had more to say. That somehow that terrifying day at Rainier was related in Blair's mind, in his heart, to what had happened last week. Jim Ellison knew that he deserved this. That whatever Blair said to him, no matter how much it hurt Jim to hear it, he had hurt Blair immeasurably more. So he remained silent.
Blair was quiet for several minutes. Jim could almost feel him gathering his thoughts, his feelings. "Then things seemed to be better between us. You opened up to me at last down in Mexico after Simon and Megan came home. I thought we had the trust back again. I thought you understood how I felt, how much our friendship means to me." Blair stopped again, and Jim could hear his breathing becoming ragged with emotion. "Damn it, Jim, what happened last week? I know Naomi shouldn't have interfered. I know that. But how could you ever have thought that I would have betrayed you like that? For money, Jim! Don't you know me any better than that? Don't you know what I'm all about by now?"
Blair's voice broke in a sob. Jim reached out to his friend, but Blair pulled back, laying the guitar gently on the ground. He stood up and began to pace in front of the fire. "You wouldn't even listen to me, man. You totally shut me out. Do you know what that felt like? Do you? Did you even care how badly I was hurting? I'll tell you how it felt, Jim. I felt as cold, as dead, as I did that day in the fountain! All alone, no hope, no life left... I was dying again, and you weren't there...you weren't there, Jim!"
A fog of silence covered the two men. Jim put his head in his hands, at a loss for what to say, what to do. What have you done, Ellison? he thought helplessly. Are you determined to destroy the best thing you've ever had in your life? Maybe you should just cut the kid loose, let him start again somewhere else. Far away from you. But how does he start again? He has no future; he destroyed his future for you.
Jim's shoulders began to shake with silent sobs. He felt a warmth at his side, felt strong young arms wrap around his shoulders. Blair drew him into his embrace.
"Blair...I...I'm so sorry. I..." Jim couldn't continue.
Blair tightened his arms around his friend. "Shhh...Don't try to talk, Jim. It's okay. Let me finish. Just listen. Shhh..."
The younger man waited for Jim to relax a little, then he spoke again, "I thought about this the whole time you were...were angry with me. I think I figured it out. It was the fear response again. I know it made you angry when you read it in my dissertation back when we pulled the night shift, but you have to admit it's true, Jim. When you feel afraid, threatened, you lash out, not thinking about what you say, who you hurt. Maybe it's not just your senses that are highly developed, maybe your emotions are, too."
Blair pulled back so that he could look at Jim, his sensitive face reflecting his need to have Jim understand. "When those reporters swarmed the truck, shouting about your being a sentinel, you were threatened. You were afraid, Jim. Your fear response kicked in, and...and that was it. You lashed out at the closest target...me. I can understand what happened, Jim, but it still hurts, man. Most importantly, if I am going to be your permanent partner, and your friend, and your guide...we have got to find a way to deal with this problem."
Sandburg reached up and cupped his hands around Jim's face, looking in his eyes. Blair's eyes were serious, unflinching, as he spoke softly. "I cannot, will not, go through this again, Jim. I cannot handle that kind of pain again. If you can't promise me that you will, that we will, find a way to handle your fear response, then I have to go. Believe me, that's the last thing I want to do, but I don't think I can survive your turning against me again. I can survive a lot, Jim, but not that. Not again." Blair's hands dropped, and he leaned back against the rock outcropping again, his eyes closed.
Jim stared at the fire as the minutes slowly ticked by. He knew that whatever he said next could heal or destroy his relationship with the silent young man beside him. I can't lose you, Chief. I thought about letting you go, but I know I can't. But how do I fix everything that's gone wrong in the past year? How do I win back your trust?
"Blair..." Jim's voice was hoarse with emotion, and tears threatened to spill again from his eyes. "Blair...I cannot begin to apologize enough for what I've done to you. I don't understand myself sometimes, Chief. Don't understand how I could say the things I've said to you...done the things I've done. I know I can never make it up to you. Never replace what you destroyed for me. I don't know why you stay, Chief, why you haven't packed up and left me in your dust a long time ago. I can't take away the pain I've caused you, Blair, and that hurts me so much..."
Jim paused, took a deep breath, and continued. "But I can promise that this time will be different, Chief. All my life, people have run out on me. That's no excuse, I know. I guess it's just been hard for me to believe, truly believe, that you are different. That you won't betray me or leave me. But what you did last week, Blair... That was the greatest show of love I have ever witnessed. I don't know how you did it. You stood at that microphone and sacrificed your life for me, Chief. Your life. For me. No one, I mean no one, has ever cared that much for me before. That's when I changed, Blair. I stood watching that television, watching you self-destruct in front of my eyes, and I finally understood you. It was an epiphany, a true awakening."
Blair's quiet voice interrupted, but his eyes remained closed, his expression unreadable. "What did you understand about me, Jim?"
Jim reached out and took Blair's shoulders in his hands, carefully turning his partner to face him. The deep blue eyes, beautiful even after all the tears he had shed that night, met Jim's and held. "I understood that you are the most unselfish person I've ever known. That our relationship, our friendship, is the most important thing on earth to you, and that you would do anything, including give up your own life, to save it. It stunned me to realize that while I was selfishly blaming you, shutting you out, you were trying to find a way to save my sorry skin. To do what you always do...protect me, without hesitation, without question. Until that moment I never fully appreciated what you are, Blair...who you are. It still leaves me overwhelmed whenever I think about it. I do not deserve you, my friend, but I'm begging you now. Please don't leave me, Blair. I promise I will never hurt you again, never doubt you again. Don't leave me, Chief. Please."
Jim's voice broke on the last word. He pulled Blair forward into a fierce embrace, wrapping his strong arms around his friend, pressing his head against his chest. "Please, Blair, don't give up on us now."
He felt Blair's nod against his shirt. "I never gave up, Jim. Never. I just needed to know that you understood how I felt. That you cared."
Jim rested his face against his friend's soft hair. "I care more than you know, more than I've shown you recently. You are the best part of my life, Chief. The best part of me...the most important thing in my life. I'll never forget that again."
Blair snuggled more deeply into Jim's arms, relaxing at last. "I'm not going anywhere, Jim. See, I realized something before I scheduled that press conference. Before I met you, everything I was offered last week would have been my dream come true. But not now. I have everything I want, everything I need already, Jim, right here." He tightened his arms around Jim's waist, and pressed his face more firmly against the soft flannel shirt. "You said you didn't understand why I've stayed. It's simple, Jim. The simplest thing in the world. I love you."
Jim felt his throat constrict with emotion and had to force out his next words, his voice breaking on the last one. "The simplest maybe, Chief, but also the most precious." Damn, he's making me cry again, Jim thought as the tears flowed down his cheeks.
"I love you, too, Blair. With all my heart." And all my soul...I just don't have the words...
Jim felt the wetness of Blair's tears dampening his shirt, soaking into his skin. He held his friend more tightly against him. They clung to each other well into the night, the fire's glow warming their bodies; their love and friendship warming their souls.
"Annie's Song" was composed by the late John Denver. I use it with many thanks for the music and the memories.
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