Notes: The only warning necessary is for smarm. If the warm fuzzy style isn't yours, best by-pass this one. Not beta read, so I apologize in advance for any mistakes
Through the Eyes of a Friend
The camping trip was Jim's idea. We've had a tough couple of months in Major Crimes; that much cannot be denied. Everyone needed a break, and I'd ordered all my team to take a few days off in staggered shifts. They jumped at the chance, of course. Almost of all them did, that is. The last to put in for his leave, true to form, was Jim Ellison. I was beginning to think I'd have to slap on my 'captain's face' and give the man a direct order.
As it turned out, that wasn't necessary after all.
Jim requested this time all on his own, then he suggested that I join the two of them - Jim and Blair - up in the mountains for some fishing and good old-fashioned R&R. Even the boss has to follow his own orders, he commented with a smile.
Can't say Ellison doesn't know which strings to yank. Five days away from the office. Fishing. Camping. No phones.
He didn't have to ask twice.
I sent up a quick prayer to whatever forces manipulate the events of our lives to ask - to plead - for a quiet, restful, crime-free trip and proceeded to pack my gear.
So far, my prayers have been answered.
The early summer weather has cooperated beautifully. We arrived to find one of Jim's favorite campsites unoccupied and immediately claimed it for our own.
I literally can see the small stress lines around Jim's eyes vanishing by the hour. The man was wound tighter than a drum when we left Cascade, snapping at Sandburg twice for, as far as I could tell, absolutely no reason. The second time, I looked at the kid questioningly, but he merely shrugged and grinned a little, that little twinkle in his eye reassuring me that somehow, some way, he understood whatever was going on with his irritable partner.
Patience, thy name is Sandburg.
I've noticed that when Jim gets uptight, Sandburg has a natural pattern of coping. He seems to mute his own normally effusive personality, becoming quieter, more introspective. He gives Jim the distance the man must need, never disappearing entirely, but quietly fading into the background. He becomes like the countermelody in a line of jazz that you know is there, always constant and strong just beneath the melody, but so subtle in its harmony that it doesn't draw attention to itself. Content to be exactly what it is with no apologies. So important and vital that without it, the music would lose its sparkle, its excitement and beauty...and its focus.
Natural. Strong. Supportive. Vital.
His coping mechanism seems to work. Inevitably, Jim misses the kid. It's not something really obvious, but sooner or later, I'll see Jim look around for Sandburg, as if he'd only just noticed his absence. Whether the void he senses is physical or merely Blair's emotional detachment, I'm not certain. Doesn't matter, really. When it happens, Jim draws Blair back into his accustomed spot at his side, sometimes with a curious look, like he wonders why the kid retreated in the first place.
The storm has passed.
By now, after a full day soaking in the peace of the woods, all visible traces of stress have abandoned Jim Ellison, and I am treated to the chance to observe a sentinel in the closest thing Cascade can offer to his natural surroundings.
My God, I'm sounding like Sandburg.
While I'd never admit it to either of them, this sentinel thing does fascinate me. How could it not? I'd have to be brain dead not to be interested in something this rare, especially when it impacts my entire team as it does, even when the rest of them don't even know it. Or maybe they know more than we suspect and have just had the good sense to keep quiet about the things they've witnessed. I've often wondered.
Jim's abilities, and linked with them like bread and butter, Blair Sandburg, have become an integral part of my life, both professionally and personally. With the kid's help, Jim has added his unique gifts to the already impressive arsenal of weapons at his disposal. He was one of the best before his senses 'came on line,' as Sandburg phrases it. With those heightened senses, he's phenomenal.
How could I not be intrigued? Maybe I don't want to delve too much into the mystical side of it all, with spirit animals and dead shamans making unannounced guest appearances, and...well, whatever the hell else goes on I'm not even aware of. That doesn't mean I don't like to try to figure out what makes Jim tick. I am a detective after all. A damn good one.
My thoughts return to the present. We're in the river, surrounded by the beauty of nature, trying our luck with the fish. So far, Jim's having most of it. Sandburg swears he's cheating somehow, using his sight or hearing to figure out where the fish are, then claiming the best spots for himself. Jim won't confirm or deny. I'm not so sure he is cheating. Mostly, I think he just enjoys jerking the kid's chain.
They're fishing downstream a bit from me. Too far to hear their conversation above the sound of the water, but the familiar sound of their laughter drifts up to me. Jim and Blair never seem to worry about scaring away the fish. I look over to see Blair's head thrown back as he laughs. Jim's face is covered with a huge grin, and the man looks thoroughly delighted by something the kid has said.
I fight to reconcile this image of Jim Ellison with the man I knew B.S. - before Sandburg. It's not an easy task.
Jim had already had a tough time of it by the time I met him. When he first transferred into my command, he bore little resemblance to my friend of today. Longer hair, a goatee and earring, and a tough attitude which immediately rubbed me the wrong way. In all honesty, I didn't like James Ellison at all in the beginning. Self-confidence is one thing. Absolute arrogance another. In retrospect, I can see that so much of it was an act, a carefully constructed facade designed to keep the world at bay. It succeeded brilliantly.
I chuckle at the memory of Jim's appearance and suddenly realize that it shouldn't have been surprising how easily he accepted Sandburg's rather unique style of hair and dress. Hell, Jim looked like a biker himself not too long ago!
I'll have to fill Sandburg in on all that one day. I'm sure I must have a photo or two lying around...
We all knew Jim's history - his military record, the crash in Peru, his reputation for being a tough, no nonsense officer and cop. I knew a bit about his personal life as well. Estranged from his father and brother. No mother in the picture for years. No, not an easy life, and it didn't get any easier.
When Jack Pendergast, his partner, died, Jim retreated even further into his hard-edged shell. It amazed me that Carolyn Plummer got close enough for the man to propose. Of course, it didn't last long. Not totally Carolyn's fault, I'm sure. Not even a bulldozer could have breached the walls around Jim Ellison in those days.
It took an effervescent graduate student to bring those walls crashing down. Blair Sandburg accomplished what that bulldozer could not. Jim's resistance was short-lived. Soon, the man who had been feared around the department for his surly attitude and sharp tongue was smiling, actually laughing, even cracking jokes and joining his co-workers for poker and pizza.
I hear a commotion from downstream and turn to see what's going on. Their fishing poles abandoned on the bank, Jim has Blair in a tight headlock, his long fingers tickling the kid's sensitive ribs with unrelenting determination. Sandburg's squirming, wiggling, clawing, in short, trying every movement known to man to escape his torturer's grip. Of course, it's useless. Jim has him outsized, outmatched in strength, and outmaneuvered. In spite of his predicament, Sandburg's laughing hysterically, tears streaming down his face, and Jim...
Jim Ellison is beaming. There's no other word for it. Jim and Blair are like two kids at play instead of a near-PhD. and a former covert-ops officer and respected detective. I know Jim never had this kind of relationship with his own brother, and somehow, I sense that Blair's childhood didn't include a close friendship where tickling and horseplay were the norm. In the other, they have each discovered a playfulness too long absent. This is exactly what Ellison needed. A small voice in my mind whispers, Sandburg is exactly what Ellison needed...and it works both ways.
Jim releases Blair with a playful swat to the back of the head, and Blair punches Jim's hard bicep in mock revenge. Reaching out, Jim tugs gently on a curl and says something that makes Blair toss back his head and laugh uproariously. A few moments later, they retrieve their fishing poles and wade back into the river. I'm not sure if they realize I was watching, and frankly, I'm not sure they would care.
I'm honored to be allowed into their inner circle, so complete within itself with only the two of them. I know I'll never achieve the closeness with either of them that they enjoy together, yet it warms my heart to know that they trust me. At the office, out in public, they rein in their obvious enjoyment of each other, perhaps out of sensitivity to what they know others could never comprehend or maybe just out of a desire to keep private the very special closeness they have forged. Either way, the friendship they show to the world is only the tip of the iceberg, a mere hint of what lies beneath. I'm the only outsider privileged to be allowed a glimpse at the enormity of what lies hidden from the eyes of the world, and yet, I know even I don't comprehend their relationship fully.
Sandburg sees me watching them, and he grins and waves. I return his wave and return my attention to the fish, determined to fill up my string. I'll be damned if Ellison out catches me this trip.********************
There's absolutely nothing better than freshly caught fish cooked over an open fire in the woods. Nothing. Especially when I've contributed a substantial portion of the catch.
Blair and Jim are arguing over the finer points of filleting a trout as they sit side by side, leaning back against a large, fallen tree. The flames crackle and pop, sending their sparks flying into the absolute darkness of the forest. It clouded up late this afternoon, and not even the moon's glow penetrates the thick cloud cover.
I sip my decaf from my tin cup and try not to be too obvious as I watch the interplay between my two friends. The culinary argument has ended, and they've grown quieter. Leaning back against the tall pine behind me, I set the cup on the forest floor and close my eyes.
I must have dozed for a few minutes, because when I awaken, it is to the soft music of Blair's guitar. I search my memory for the name of the melody. The notes rise rich and full into the sky, blending with the music of the wind in the branches to create a song not quite of this earth. I recognize the tune at the same instant a gentle voice joins the mellow tones of the guitar.
The road is long,
with many a winding turn
that leads us to who,
who knows when, who knows where.
But the load doesn't weigh me down at all.
He ain't heavy,
He's my brother.
If I'm laden at all,
I'm laden with sadness
That everyone's heart
Isn't filled with the gladness
Of love for one another.
It's a long, long road
from which there is no return
but while we're on the way to there,
why not share?
And I know, he would not encumber me.
He ain't heavy,
He's my brother.
As his soft voice fades, I risk a glance at them through barely open lids, and my heart leaps into my throat.
Blair is quietly playing the melody once more, his head bent in concentration over his instrument. His long, chestnut curls tumble wildly across his shoulders, and the fire's glow dances in its burnished gold highlights. His eyes are closed, lost as he is in the world of music and the emotion of the words he's just chosen to sing. I have no doubt it was a thought-filled choice. Sandburg is deep that way. A slight smile curves his full lips, as if he harbors a cherished secret deep within his heart.
Sitting absolutely still beside him is his sentinel. Not an accidental selection of words either. At this moment, Jim Ellison is not merely a sentinel, he is fully his sentinel. Blair's...heart and soul. Jim is watching Blair intently, a soft, vulnerable look on his face. His moist eyes are sparkling diamonds in the firelight. Jim's right hand rests on Blair's leg, his thumb absently stroking the soft denim. I know he can feel the warmth of his partner beneath his hand, Blair's life-affirming pulse beating against his sensitive fingertips.
I look away for a moment, staring at the crackling, dancing flames of the campfire, thinking once more about the mass of contradictions that is Jim Ellison. Those who don't know Jim well wouldn't see him as a 'toucher', I'm quite sure. Yet, I've noticed over the years that it's through touch that Jim often conveys his innermost emotions. Especially with Sandburg. Even in the earliest days of their partnership, Jim touched Blair easily, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him. Little pats on the back...tugs on his long hair...gentle slaps and cuffs. Like a bear playing lovingly with a cub. I smile as I think of Jim's reaction to that analogy. Probably pretty mild compared to what Sandburg would think.
I turn my attention back to my friends and can't help staring at what I see.
There is an intensity in Jim's eyes I've never seen there before. Sure, I've seen the man angry, seen him in pain. I've seen him distraught with grief as he desperately fought to breathe life back into his partner, and I've seen the joyous relief when that beloved heart beat once again. None of those moments has prepared me for what I see tonight.
Jim's face is bathed in a look of pure wonder...of undisguised admiration and near awe. It's been no secret for years that Jim loves Blair deeply. Once, I thought Jim's affection for this crazy kid stemmed mainly from a sentinel's need for his guide. Now, I'm not so sure.
Of course, at the beginning, the relationship was based entirely on need. Has that ever really changed? Perhaps only in the characteristic of the need. Jim seldom zones any more. He has gained a remarkable control over his senses, thanks to Sandburg. Yet, it's obvious that Jim needs Blair more today, and on a deeper level, than he did the day the kid first burst into his life. I didn't - couldn't - understand that for a long time.
A study in contrasts, that's Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. That's a large part of what draws them together and keeps them willingly lashed together through some often turbulent seas. If I really needed it, I see the proof in Jim's wondrous eyes.
Sandburg is everything Jim has never been. Even in his rebellious, earring days, Ellison was merely an imitation, struggling in vain to appear to be everything this young man truly is, what he was born to be. Free. Open. Trusting. Filled with a natural 'joi de vivre' and seeing the good in everyone with a 'the glass is half full' attitude.
Most miraculous of all to Jim must be the fact that this brilliant, energetic spirit has chosen to be with him, apparently for the long haul. Blair Sandburg could be anywhere in the world, could accomplish anything he chooses, yet he hasn't cut and run, hasn't mumbled some vague excuse as he closed the door behind him. Perhaps most importantly, Blair hasn't tried to mold Jim into something he's not. In a very real way, he freed Jim to become all he really is, to let shine all those buried characteristics dwelling forever behind the protective walls.
In the process of accepting the man and all he is, Blair's shattered those walls and changed that tough, no-nonsense cop's heart forever.
They dwell in a private universe and within it, how brightly those stars must shine! The rest of the world, those of us condemned to remain forever on the outside, are allowed to occasionally catch a glimpse of the shimmering, special something they share, but we cannot comprehend it, not really.
Blair's eyes flicker open, his sensitive fingers still caressing the guitar's strings. Immediately, he locks eyes with Jim, as if he knew instinctively that his friend was watching him. A blinding smile lights up his face, then that smile spreads to Sandburg's ocean deep eyes. At that moment, the clouds part, and the moon's soft brilliance wraps sentinel and guide in its luminescent glow, as bright as the aura of love surrounding them.
The wondrous awe still shining in Jim's eyes is now mirrored in Blair's, and suddenly I feel like an outsider, a trespasser into this very private moment. I close my eyelids once more and leave them their privacy, but I do not sleep. Instead, I drift along in the peace that envelops me. This must be something of the peace my friends have found in each other, this feeling of utter contentment and tranquility, and I am glad to have found another insight into the mystery they have become.
No words pass between them. Tonight, none are needed. It is enough that they are together, in this tranquil place, safe and secure in their friendship. It is enough that I am here on this night, sharing in its magic.
As the soft, expressive music soars, in perfect harmony with the forest's night sounds, the stars move overhead in their eternal, celestial dance. I will never understand everything about the connection between sentinel and guide. Perhaps I'll never fully comprehend my own role in this most unusual of dramas. I do know that it is their destiny to be together, two unique souls joined as one, and I am richer for being given the privilege to bear witness to their journey.
It is definitely enough.
Music composed by Bob Russell and Bobby Scott.
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