Disclaimer: The Characters of The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly, The SciFi channel and others. No copyright infringement is intended.

Once again, my gratitude to Wendy and Danae for their generous beta services. I can always count on you two for a job well done. Bless you, Wolfshy, for all you do for us!

Reflections on Friendship

by JET

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Part 1: Blair's Soliloquy

A normal vacation. Man, that is just so impossible. Impossible for us anyway. I mean, we just don't get, like, normal vacations. Something always seems to go wrong. Who else goes fishing and ends up on the trail of poachers? Who else goes for a peaceful kayaking trip and ends up trying to keep their captain from being framed for murder? Only us, that's who, Jim Ellison and me, the official trouble magnets of the Cascade PD.

So, when Jim came up with this two weeks at the beach idea of his, I admit I was a little hesitant. Things were just starting to settle down, after all. The past two months or so have been pure torture. Jim calls it 'the spring from hell', and I'm tempted to agree with that assessment. His caseload has been enough to exhaust any two normal cops, but, hey, since when has my partner been normal? I mean that in the best possible way, but he's not. Normal, I mean. If everyone else gives 100%, Jim gives 150%. T hat's the way he is. That's why he wasn't just in the military, he was an Army Ranger. Jim didn't just serve his country; he served it in Covert Operations. I respect that so much, I really do, but sometimes it can be a little tiring. I mean, the man doesn't know how to do anything half way. My partner goes all the way and beyond.

But who am I kidding? I'll be beside him every step of the way. There's nowhere else I'd rather be. Nowhere else I belong.

Back to our normal vacation.

I wasn't sure I was ready to tempt the fates by shooting for a vacation right now, not with our track record. Plus, my finances weren't exactly in the best of conditions. I tried not to let Jim see that money was the real issue, but my sentinel is tough to fool. He just knows me too well. So here we are, on the next to the last day of our vacation, our normal vacation, and I must admit, it was exactly what we needed.

What we needed...

When did I start thinking of my life in terms of *we*? I mean, my mom didn't exactly raise me to be the other half of anything, especially a partnership with a cop, and more especially, a cop like Jim Ellison. If someone had shown me a crystal ball when I was a kid and told me that this big, strong, tough cop would one day be my partner, my best friend, my world, I would have laughed in their face. I was the nerdy kid that guys like Jim ate for a mid-afternoon snack... before they went to bench press a few hundred pounds or so. I spent a large portion of my formative years avoiding any contact with those guys, and now...

Now I'm half of a we. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

We needed this trip. The spring from hell had taken its toll on us. Or maybe it was the combination of that plus everything that has happened to us over the past year. I mean, it's not every year that Jim's senses go haywire because of an intruder in his turf, he kicks me out of our home, I die, then come back, our lives become media bait, and Jim stops speaking to me because he thinks I violated his trust. No wonder I felt lower than pond scum when we left Cascade two weeks ago. I think I had a right, you know?

So this trip's been good for us. We haven't done all that much, but what we've have done was important. We've done the things which needed to be done to insure our survival... as partners... as friends... as sentinel and guide. What we've done over the past two weeks is reconnect.

Sounds like such a simple thing, really, but it's so damn important. We've always had ebbs and flows in our relationship, times when we felt closer than brothers, and times when the distance between us loomed wider than the Grand Canyon. After a solid year of those distant times, this reconnection had become necessary. Vital. I'm sorry I ever hesitated about this trip; Jim's instincts were right on target. We needed this time together.

Partners... friends... brothers... sentinel... guide...

Once I thought there was a delineation between my various roles in Jim's life, and likewise, his in mine. I thought I could turn off the partner thing and become his guide; I thought I could stop being his guide and just be his friend. I thought I knew where one role stopped and the next began, but now I'm not so sure. Not so sure at all.

We've become so meshed, so blended, that I no longer know where the different parts we play in each other's lives begin and end.

Sometimes I'm not even sure where he ends and I begin.

We've become like the candles.

When I was about six, Naomi took me to visit a friend of hers who was a candlemaker. I was fascinated as I watched her dip a thin candle into hot wax of varying colors, patiently adding layer upon layer, hue upon hue, until something strong, vibrant, and beautiful emerged. Each layer, each hue, was separate, yet, when combined, they merged their uniqueness to form something bigger and more important than themselves, a new creation unlike any other.

I thought of those candles a lot this week. That's how I see us now. We've each sacrificed parts of our old selves, our individual hues, for the sake of this new creation we've built together. Each experience, every day we share, adds another layer to the brightly glowing candle of our lives. I have no doubt that whatever it is Jim and I have become, whatever we are still becoming, it is stronger, more important, and much more beautiful than whatever each of us would have achieved alone. I'm certain that we burn more brightly as one than we ever could without each other.

It's been a quiet time. I know Jim thrives on action and protecting the tribe, but I also know that he needs renourishment, and that happens best when he's close to nature.

For that, we've come to the sea.

We've laughed and cried, shared stories from our past, both important and trivial, confided our hopes and dreams for the future, and rebuilt our trust in each other, the trust that is our foundation. We've rediscovered the pure joy we've always found in being together, and we've reawakened the delight of sharing our lives, our hearts, and our souls.

Exactly what needed to be done.

We've walked a lot along the peaceful shoreline, collecting interesting shells to put in a little basket in the kitchen. Jim didn't get into shelling at first, but after he put those sentinel eyes to work examining the intricacies of nature found in such small, delicate works of art, he was hooked.

That's what he's doing now. Looking for shells. It's a perfect day. The deep azure sky is dotted with puffy, pearly clouds, and the slight breeze cools the skin. The sea is fairly calm, reflecting the blue of the sky in its forest green depths. White, frothy breakers roll in, caressing the shore with their magical sea foam. The forecast is for rain tomorrow, but today is clear and bright. Jim's unable to resist the sea on days like this. It calls to him on some primal level, and he must answer its summons.

I also feel its call. That's something we share, our love for the outdoors. Maybe it's because of the complexity of our lives that we yearn for the simplicity of nature. It brings us peace.

Does that have something to do with our heritage as sentinel and guide? Is it an innate longing to return to a world more primitive, more like that from which we descended, eons ago? Perhaps. Funny how questions like that no longer seem as important. The researcher in me began to weaken and die just as the guide began to emerge and thrive.

I'm no longer a student studying a sentinel. I haven't been for a long time. To speak of scholarly objectivity now is to give voice to a lie. Jim is my sentinel. I am his guide. That is what matters. That is the essence. The essence of me... of Jim... of us.

There is nothing else.

I'm sitting farther up the beach near the berm, supposedly reading, but what I'm really doing is watching him. What began as research, watching Jim, is now habit, and remains just as fascinating as it was on the day we met. He walks along slowly, his head down, and his hands folded behind his shirtless back. Occasionally, he'll stop to examine a shell, holding it gently in those strong hands, running sensitive fingertips over the intricate ridges and whorls. If it pleases him, he'll place it in the plastic sack we carry on our shelling expeditions. If the shell seems too ordinary, he'll bend over, carefully placing it back on the sand for another searcher to discover or the sea to reclaim. Something about seeing Jim this way touches me. It fills my heart with deep emotion, reminding me of the contrasts within this man who has become the center of my life.

I admit it. He fascinates me. In my entire life, no one has ever captured my attention the way he has. Jim Ellison is an enigma, a puzzle I am determined to understand. I think I do understand him, at least most of the time. He is the strongest person I have ever met. Not just physically strong, although he certainly is that. I've felt that physical power on many occasions, but it's his inner power that is more impressive to me. The man existed as a virtual island for most of his life, relying only on himself and his own strength. Jim was hurt so many times by those he dared love. He was deserted by his mom, alternately ignored and ridiculed by his father, cut off from his brother, divorced by his wife, and left alone after the crash in Peru killed his entire unit. Yes, he built a wall around his heart and refused to grant entrance into that guarded territory. Of course he did. It was the only way he knew to survive. That's the point; he survived when so many others would have given up. Jim survived. That takes inner strength. By the truck load.

All that pain and those towering, impenetrable walls, yet, he let me in. Me. It rocks me to the core whenever I think of it, I mean, really sit still as I'm doing right now and consider the miracle that occurred when Jim Ellison let me into his heart. And that's exactly what it was. A miracle. Nothing less could explain it.

He opened his heart to me so easily, almost as if it was something beyond his control. I'll never completely understand Jim's love for me or his need to have me in his life, but I'm thankful for it. Jim fills up a part of me that I never even realized was empty until I met him.

I cannot imagine my life without him in it. He is my life. My universe.

And I've never been more content.

The bright summer sun has painted Jim's chest and back a warm, burnished bronze and touched his short hair with brush strokes of gold. From where I sit, I cannot read the expression on his face, yet I know instinctively that he is lost in thought. He walks along slowly, with the grace of a jaguar, oblivious to its own beauty, yet secure in its strength. There's something feral about James Ellison, something dangerous which lies just below the surface, seldom revealed, but always there. Hidden, but undeniably present. Although I've seen that ferocity directed at me, I have no fear of this man. I trust him with my life and with my heart. I understand him as I've never understood another.

When did I come to know this man, this Army Ranger captain, this cop, as well, maybe even better, than I know myself? I wasn't raised to get this close to anyone, especially a man like Jim. Friendship is a wonderful thing, Naomi taught me, both in words and by example, but it is to be held onto loosely, from a figurative and literal distance. Never let any one person come to mean so much that you cannot let go. Don't stay too long; don't risk loving too much. I smile at the irony. It's far too late, Mom. I passed that point a long time ago.

I learned to interpret Jim's body language out of necessity. Jim's not exactly the verbal type, at least not in normal circumstances. He'll open up to me, express his emotions, but usually only when one of us is hurt, afraid, or just survived a brush with death. I prefer not to wait for those moments to know what he's thinking, what's going on in that battered heart of his. So I watch him. To one versed in the unspoken language of Jim Ellison, he's an open book.

Whether it's a clenched jaw when he's under stress, the ramrod posture when he's determined and focused on a goal, the dangerous glint in his eye when he's angry, or the almost unnoticeable affectionate touches when he's worried about me, Jim's behavior speaks volumes. Simon Banks claims I'm the only one who can handle Ellison, and that's why they've kept me around this long. Maybe that's true. I'm not sure that anyone else has ever expended the effort to decode the mystery of Jim Ellison. I don't mean others haven't tried, but they gave up too soon, before they found the keys.

The key to the gate of the protective fortress so carefully constructed around Jim's heart.

The key to unlocking the secrets, the emotions, hidden behind that stoic facade.

The key to the soul of James Ellison.

What are those keys? The first is acceptance, plain and simple. You don't change this man. You first understand who he is and what he is, then you accept what you find. Unconditionally. If he changes, it's because the drive to do so comes from within him, not from being pushed from without.

I smile as I watch Jim bend to pick up and examine a shell washed to his bare feet by the surf. His strong hands gently cradle the fragile creation, his sensitive fingertips tracing each delicate pattern before he places it in our collection bag. A flock of pelicans flies overhead in a perfect V, and Jim raises his head to look, a small smile touching his lips.

This Jim, the one who caresses shells and smiles at pelicans, is the perfect illustration of the man Jim Ellison truly is deep inside, although I'm probably one of the few who would realize it. Beneath the exterior of power and strength lies a profound tenderness. Jim's learned to shield his heart, to protect it from being broken as it has been too often in the past. Few people realize how easily he is hurt. He's too much an expert at hiding it. Just as the shell of the oyster protects the fragile body and the precious pearl hidden within, so Jim's tough guy facade protects his vulnerability. But he has revealed that vulnerability to me, and I am honored by the revelation. Sometimes it astonishes me that this man trusts me with his carefully guarded heart, not to mention his very life.

And trust me he does.

Ever since Jim lowered his defenses and allowed me into his life, he has held nothing back. The same hands trained to kill so efficiently have gently stroked my face and hair as I lay injured. The powerful arms that have clung to helicopters and scaled mountainsides have held me comfortingly in the night when the terrors of our lives have laid claim on my very dreams. I've seen the warmth of love and total trust in the same blue eyes whose icy glare has frozen hardened criminals in their tracks. I've heard the desperation in Jim's controlled, calm voice as he pleaded with me not to leave him, heard it even as I slipped away from this life to the next. And because he needed me so desperately, and I still needed him just as much, I heeded that anguished voice and came back to him. Back to my friend, my brother, and my heart.

That damned fountain. At once the nadir of my existence and the symbol of my hopes for the future. The best of times... the worst of times. I know it seems strange, delusional even, to refer to my own death as the best of times. But in a strange, convoluted way, it was. For that was our turning point. Sometimes I think that if not for the cold, stale water of that fountain, Jim and I might have stumbled on, absolutely blind to the gradual destruction of our relationship.

But it happened. I died. Forced to confront them, the shadows fell away from our eyes, bringing all our insecurities, all our fears, and all our pain into the light. Now, nothing lies hidden between us; no secrets are left buried in the depths of our souls. We have a devotion that the spectre of death itself cannot destroy, and we both realize the rarity of the gift, the blessing, we have been given.

Jim saves another shell for our collection, then continues his stroll along the sand. That's another surprising facet of my partner... his sentimentality. Naomi and I never placed much importance on possessions. They were expendable objects, not worthy of attachment or emotion.

But Jim... As I watch the tall figure at the edge of the peaceful sea, I remember the day, about two years after I moved into the loft, when I came home in the middle of the afternoon to look for a gas receipt from a conference. I began searching through every drawer, every box, for the missing slip of paper. What I found in the back of a drawer in Jim's desk was infinitely more valuable than the missing receipt.

Tucked away in a box were carefully trimmed newspaper clippings about me, grants I'd received, presentations I'd made, articles I'd published. Each had been meticulously cut, dated, laminated, and folded. There were Christmas and birthday cards I'd given Jim with the dates, years, and "From Blair" neatly written on the lower right corners of the envelopes in Jim's bold script. A poem I'd written about friendship and then had abandoned, found its way into Jim's collection, along with one of my old earrings that had no post. Several snapshots of the two of us completed his small collection of mementos. Souvenirs of me, of us. With trembling hands, I carefully replaced the box.

Then I wept.

I never mentioned the box to Jim, but the sense of awe I felt on that day still warms my soul.

Even now, years later, my eyes fill with tears at the thought of those big, strong hands carefully preserving those small memories of me and of our life together. I've never looked in the drawer again, but I'm sure the collection has grown, a visible, concrete symbol of my place in Jim's life and heart.

That's Jim... tough and tender, stoic and sentimental... and protective.

I know Jim would stop at nothing, including his own death, to protect me. He would sacrifice himself for others in the line of duty; I know that. But with me, there's a difference, an almost tangible, desperate drive to keep me safe that goes far beyond his roles of cop and my partner. Partly instinctual sentinel behavior, partly... I don't know... just Jim... his need to protect me is so stunning in its intensity that it frightens me sometimes. When I stop to realize that this tough cop, this incredible man of such strength and honor, has made me the center of his world... Me... It's both scary and beautiful, staggering and wondrous.

Jim wades out into the surf, past the point of the breakers, and begins to swim parallel to the beach. His strokes are sure, powerful, and filled with grace. The muscles in his back and shoulders ripple like the waves, propelling him forward with each long, strong pull, a golden torpedo slicing the water. When at last he stops swimming and stands, gazing out to sea, I cannot take my eyes from him, and I shake my head in wonderment.

He is magnificent. Before me stands the modern equivalent of the chivalrous ideal of old... strength... the skill of a warrior... courage... unstudied grace... honor... loyalty. There are still heroes in this tired, cynical world, few and far between, to be sure, but one of that rare breed stands before me now. A quiet hero, seeking no acclaim, but the embodiment of the highest qualities mankind has sought throughout the ages.

And he is my friend. My partner. My brother. My sentinel.

Mine.

I know that every fiber of Jim's being, every corner of his heart, belongs to me. There's no vanity in that statement, merely truth. Just as certainly as I belong to him, body and soul, he belongs to me.

Belongs with me.

Together.

Amazing doesn't begin to describe it.

Jim rakes his fingers through his short hair and wipes the sea water from his dripping face. This modern day hero has his faults, to be sure. Along with accepting his positive qualities, I've had to accept his faults, accept them and learn to deal with them. Jim can be selfish, demanding, insecure, and aloof at times, and these flaws in his hero's mantle have driven away others before me, others who have truly loved him, but couldn't tolerate the volatile nature of the man. I've definitely paid the price for Jim's imperfections myself.

So why am I still here?

I know it's a topic of speculation around the station. Sandburg's been shot, drugged, drowned, and generally treated like dirt by Ellison. So why's he here?

Why am I still here?

I watch Jim as he gazes out beyond the horizon and wonder how he perceives the ocean, what he sees, hears, smells, how the sea tastes and feels to this man with senses so heightened it is difficult to even imagine his world. And there lies the ultimate key to unlocking Jim Ellison, to understanding this complicated, amazing man... the difference those senses make in his life. They make Jim unique in a world of conformity, exotic in the cosmos of the commonplace. For a man who has devoted his life to military and public service, to being a team player, to trying to blend into the scenery, they can make life uncertain and unpredictable. Hence the lack of control and the fear.

The key is that Jim needs a focus, a center, that is never changing, as certain as the tide, unwavering, something stable he can count on, trust, and believe in to the depths of his soul.

That's me... his guide, his friend, his partner. I have to remain strong and constant, for Jim. So when things get rocky between us, when things are unbalanced, and he reverts to the Jim Ellison of old, I remember the reasons behind it all, the keys, and try to guide him back. Back to his equilibrium and his center. Then I forgive, realizing that this is not an ordinary man, but a sentinel. A sentinel with not only five heightened senses, but a past filled with loss, a history of abandonment, a genetic code I'll never completely decipher, and a habit of burying his emotions until they will remain hidden no more and erupt in all their fury. A complicated package to be sure, but one well worth unwrapping, slowly, layer by layer, to reveal the gleaming, priceless treasure within. The treasure that is Jim.

Why am I still here? Because the complexity of Jim Ellison fascinates me, as both a sentinel and as a man... because he needs me as his guide and his friend... because he makes me certain deep in my heart that I have come home at last... because I know I cannot exist anywhere else than at his side... because he is my Holy Grail... my dream... the brother I always longed for... the father I never knew... the best friend I've ever known and the only one I'll ever need... the part of my soul I never knew was missing until I discovered it in Jim's eyes and felt the loneliness inside vanish like a puff of smoke...

Because I love him...

How I love him...

Whither thou goest, I will go...

My emotions rise, and I swallow hard, choking back the tears as I consider the magnitude of the commitment I've made to this man, to this friendship. My entire life stands before me, my sentinel surrounded by the power of the sea. My life, no longer solely my own, but so dependent on another. Beautiful... frightening...

Jim turns, emerging from the sea, his eyes locked on my face. Is he sensing my emotions now, too? It wouldn't surprise me. I stare at the sand, tracing random designs with my toe.

In a moment, he stands over me, studying me silently, monitoring me for signs of distress. "You okay? What is it, Chief?" he asks softly.

I look up, meeting those warm blue eyes, and the affection and concern there immediately wash away my fears. How can I express to him all I've been feeling as I sat here watching him? Do I tell him that he fascinates me with his multi-layered personality? That together we have formed a brightly glowing light that can never be extinguished? That he is my hero, and I'll follow him to hell and back? How do I tell him that I understand to the depths of my soul all that he is, and I accept him and cherish him, flaws and all? How do I describe a love so deep that mere words could never do it justice?

When I don't respond, Jim reaches down to me, and I slip my hands in his, allowing him to pull me to my feet. Strong hands move to hold my shoulders, gently kneading the muscles, and his worried eyes search mine. "Chief?"

I can't bear the uncertainty, the concern I see there, knowing that I am its cause, so I smile up at him and watch the worry turn to puzzlement. "What is it, Blair?" he whispers.

I still have no words to express the feelings in my heart, so I do the only thing I know that can say what words cannot. I lean forward, slipping my arms around his damp back, feeling the powerful muscles flex beneath me as he reaches out to enfold me in his arms without hesitation.

"Whatever you need, Chief," he breathes in my ear. I nod against his chest, as the droplets of salt water from his skin dampen my own cheek. Strong fingers weave their way into my hair, willingly tangling themselves there as he gently rubs my scalp.

I close my eyes in wonderment at the trust and the unconditional love given me by this man. Finally, I find my voice. "Thanks, Jim, " I whisper.

He hesitates before murmuring, "For this?" I feel his arm tighten slightly around me as his other hand cradles my head.

I take several deep breaths, allowing myself to relax more completely against him, knowing there is no pressure to answer. Jim lightly rubs his cheek against my hair as he waits patiently. The jaguar leaving his mark. Claiming what is his. I smile at the image.

His. Just as he is mine.

"For this... for the past few years... for everything... just, thanks."

Jim leans down, his lips lightly touching my temple, before whispering in my ear, "Ditto, Chief."

We stand that way for a long time, holding each other on the deserted beach, the sun warming our bodies, listening to the surf, the cries of the gulls, and the beating of each other's hearts. When I pull away from Jim just enough to look up into his eyes, I read acceptance there, and understanding, and such fierce love that it makes me tremble inside. Then, unexpectedly, I'm filled with an unexpected rush of strength and courage. With such a friend, such a sentinel, what do I have to fear?

I smile at Jim, and reach up to ruffle his hair. "Let's walk awhile, man." I pull away from him, but stay close as we make our way back toward the sea. We walk down the beach, our bare feet leaving water-filled footprints in the damp sand, our shoulders lightly touching. After long, comfortable minutes of silence, Jim reaches into his pocket, then holds out his hand, revealing a small, perfect white shell.

I take it gently, holding it in my open palm. "A bivalve. Two shells joined at one seam. Two halves of a whole with a fragile connection... " I stop, realizing the metaphor I have inadvertently drawn.

Jim looks down at the shell in my palm and stops walking, placing his hands over mine with a tender squeeze. "But that fragile connection is strong enough to survive all the battering the sea can give, all the stress and the pressure. Still that bond holds, even after death comes for the living creature inside. Two halves, joined for eternity."

Our eyes meet, holding for a long moment, then we both smile. Jim wraps an arm around my shoulders, pulling me close to his side, where I belong, and we explore the treasures of the sea together.


Part 2: Jim's Reprise

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"Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart... Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return." Mary Jean Iron

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We've finally achieved the impossible. Blair and I have had a normal vacation at last. By normal, I mean neither of us was kidnapped, shot, stabbed, or suffered injuries of any sort. Normal. Unbelievable.

We've spent many of our vacations camping in the mountains, something we both enjoy. Blair was noncommittal when I first mentioned renting this beach house for two weeks. At first, I wasn't sure why he didn't seem more excited. Blair loves the ocean. Then he vaguely referred to the cost. Should have known... Sandburg was concerned that he couldn't afford to pay his part of the rental fee. When I insisted it wasn't a problem, that I wanted to do this, for myself and for him, he finally agreed. After all he's given me, this is nothing.

We've hardly left the house and beach for the entire two weeks, except for the necessary trips to the grocery store. Even though it might seem we've done nothing, actually, we've done everything that's important. We've reconnected.

The past two months have been hell. One physically and emotionally demanding case after another. It seemed I only saw the loft from behind closed eyelids during the few hours of sleep I managed to snag each night. And Sandburg... Poor Blair tried to juggle his class schedule at the academy and stay at my side every moment he could. By the time my case load eased up, we were both exhausted.

So we needed this time, just the two of us, to renew and strengthen our connection, the sentinel/guide bond. That bond can never be broken; we learned that lesson the hard way from Alex Barnes. There is nothing in this world strong enough to tear us apart, not even death itself. But sometimes, the stresses and strain of our lives make it necessary for us to seek renewal. For that, we've come to the sea.

We've done nothing for the past two weeks that we did not want to do. Our days have fallen into a pattern of sleeping late, morning coffee and breakfast overlooking the ocean, walks along the shore, collecting shells for the small basket that sits on the kitchen table, reading, talking... Just being together.

We've talked a lot. About everything and nothing. We've told stories from our childhoods, shared our hopes and fears, and we've discussed our friendship, our partnership. In doing so, Blair and I have laughed, and we've cried. Strange how closely connected those two emotions can be.

We've both expressed again how vital this relationship has become, how necessary we are to each other. That's something else we've learned thanks to the tortuous events of the past year with Barnes and the disastrous release of his dissertation. Never take each other for granted. Don't assume the other knows how you feel. Say the words. Talk it out. Now we do, and our partnership has never been stronger.

Tomorrow we go home. Back to Cascade, to our busy, stressful lives. To the dangers of my job, the demands of Blair's new career as my official partner. But we still have today...

I sit on the sand, watching him. Blair is waist deep in the surf, playing like a child. Sandburg told me once that he feels such peace at the ocean. It touches something primal within him, making him one with the earth... the universe. I'm thankful that his drowning didn't destroy that feeling. It almost destroyed so much more.

A storm is moving in; the heavy black clouds filling the horizon, a stark contrast with the clear, pale blue of the sea and the white of the foamy waves. Blair's hair is down, wet and lank. The waves are high due to the winds of the approaching storm. Sandburg rushes forward to meet each swell, timing his attacks so that the waves break at the moment of contact with his body, crashing against his chest with their driving force. Each time, his voice rises in whoops of joy.

I can't help but think that the way Blair meets these waves is exactly how he attacks life... head on, taking the force completely and without fear. Never retreating to the shallows where the battering might lessen, but the rewards would shrink as well. Blair tackles life full force, head high.

When I take the time to really reflect on this young man who has become the center of my world, I cannot help but wonder. I've known many unique people in my life, but never anyone as complex, as intriguing, as Blair Sandburg. Just when I think I've seen every side of his multi-faceted personality, he reveals something new. I know that I will spend my life trying to discover all there is to know about Blair, and, when I'm on my deathbed, he'll surprise me one last time with some previously unseen aspect of himself. And I'll depart this life in joy.

His energy is astounding. I know he's young, but that cannot account for all of Blair's drive, his constant stretching to know, to experience, to absorb all he can of life. Trying to hold on to Blair is like attempting to capture sea foam in my hand. Before I know what's happened, it has vanished, slipping through my fingers like it was never mine at all, only a precious illusion that I so briefly touched.

Yet, I try to hold on, loosely, to the mercurial friend I need more than the air that I breathe. I know Blair stays not because I hold onto him, but because he chooses to remain with me. He is convinced that our lives were destined to be linked, that his place, his destiny, is to be my guide. Just as I have come to believe that mine is to be his sentinel. His Blessed Protector.

The sun flashes through the gathering clouds, casting upon the ocean shimmering diamonds of light. Sandburg pauses between waves, looks back at me, and smiles. The light of his face, in his eyes, is every bit as bright as the sunlight that envelopes him.

He is beautiful. I know that's not a macho cop, Army Ranger, thing to admit, but he is. Beautiful, inside as well as out. His spirit is pure, filled with kindness, generosity, and an almost childlike wonder and naivete. All these, plus a devotion to me that is staggering. He's been through hell because of me, both directly and indirectly. Through my work, Blair's life has been threatened by the likes of Lash and Brackett. The nightmares are testimony to the impact such encounters have had on his psyche.

Yet, as much as I hate what the horrors of my work have done to him, I despise even more how I myself have hurt Blair. And I have hurt him. Deeply.

My selfishness has done more damage to his gentle soul than all the cruelty and battering he's ever experienced as a cop's partner. I've doubted his loyalty to me; I've ignored his pain. I've even kicked my sweet, devoted friend out of the only home he's ever known. And every time he forgave me, was willing to meet me more than halfway to rebuild our connection. Every time... The depth of Blair's love humbles me. So it doesn't make me at all uncomfortable when I am touched by his beauty. Blair is beautiful to me in so many ways.

To those who don't know him, Sandburg's looks are deceiving. The long curls, his soft blue eyes, and his slight stature give the initial impression of weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. I've watched him take on men twice his size and win, either through sheer determination physically, or by outwitting them mentally. Blair's tough.

To look at us, you'd think I'm the strong one, when in actuality, it's Sandburg. I don't mean physically, but in the ways that truly matter. It's Blair's strength that has pulled us through many a bad situation. He keeps me grounded, focused, and he's not afraid to stand up to me, confront me, when he thinks I'm wrong. As many a man will attest, that takes courage.

But the strength that impresses me most is Blair's openness, his ability to be there for me emotionally. When I first met him, I was an emotional time bomb. I'd kept everything bottled up inside me for so long, it was a miracle I hadn't already exploded with far more destructive force than I had. There was nobody I trusted enough to be my pressure valve, to open up to and share all these pent-up feelings. Until this long haired, little bundle of energy forced his way into my life and my heart. I knew, almost from the moment we met, that this was who I'd waited for... the other part of me... the other half of my lonely soul.

Blair's strength has enabled me to acknowledge my own weaknesses, to be able to admit that I can't handle this sentinel business by myself, that I can no longer live isolated and alone... that I need Blair. He is my strength now, my foundation. Without him, what I am... who I am... would cease to exist.

Blair dives through a wave, emerging on the far side of the swell. He stands, slicking his unruly hair back from his face. Almost immediately, a stray curl works its way loose, then another. He calls to me to join him. I stand up, kick off my shoes, and remove my t-shirt. I go to Blair. Because he asked, and because I somehow need to be with him now. That's something else I accept now without question. Needing to be with my guide.

"Hey, buddy," he says as I join him in the surf. "You looked awfully serious there for awhile. Everything okay?" His eyes hold a hint of concern.

I reach out and ruffle his hair, then I leave my hand there, tangling my fingers in the soft, damp curls. Blair knows I would die for him, willingly, without hesitation. Suddenly, I wonder... does he know that I live for him?

"Jim?" His voice is now worried, and I force myself back to awareness. I smile at him, his face tilted up to mine, blue eyes filled with concern. "I'm fine, Chief. Just thinking, that's all."

"Must be some pretty deep thoughts, Jim. What were they about?"

I gaze into his eyes. "About you, Chief."

Now the concern fades, replaced with the familiar look of curiosity. "And... ?"

I'm not sure how to respond. Do I tell him how he continually surprises me? How his devotion and forgiveness humble me? That his beauty touches my soul? That he is my strength? Expressing thoughts like these is never easy for me. Especially not now, while my heart is so full.

So I settle for reaffirming what he already knows. "I love you, Blair," I say simply.

The bright, clear light of the afternoon sun again touches him. Or is it the light of the wide, understanding smile that stretches across his face just as the sun breaks through the clouds?

He starts to speak, but I stop him with a touch to his lips and shake my head. I don't need a response. I know Blair loves me, totally, selflessly, unconditionally. I don't understand it, never believe myself deserving of it, but I no longer question it. It simply is... like the rising of the sun, the changing of the seasons, the flow of the tides. Constant, reliable, and miraculous.

So, instead of speaking the words, Blair gently pulls me to him, wrapping his arms around my waist, pressing his face against me. I hold him tightly for a moment, until a wave knocks us both off balance, and we tumble into the surf, laughing and sputtering out salt water.

Blair stands up, his blue eyes sparkling. I throw an arm over his shoulder and pull him close to my side as we head for shore. Then the rain begins, a downpour of freshness to wash the salt and sand from our skin, and we race toward the house.

Tomorrow we go back to Cascade, and real life will engulf us again. But, for the rest of this day, we will remain apart from the world, a sentinel and his guide, renewing and revitalizing our friendship, our bond, and our souls.

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"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things." -- Robert Brault

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Finis...

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