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

Note: Since posting 'Baptism By Fire', I've had several requests for a companion story from Blair's point of view. The idea for such a story has been playing around in my mind for a long time now, and recently, the muses decided the time was right. I hope you'll enjoy the results of their inspiration. It would be a good idea to read the original story first, if you haven't already, to get the picture from both men's POV. It may not really matter, but I think it reads better with Jim's POV ('Baptism By Fire') first.

Listen to My Heart

by JET

********************

I can tell by your eyes that you've probably been crying forever,
And the stars in the sky don't mean nothing to you, they're a mirror.
I don't want to talk about it,
How you broke my heart.
If I stay here just a little bit longer,
If I stay here, won't you listen to my heart?

********************

Can it really be over?

I know I should be relieved - elated - that Alex is out of our lives, once and for all. After all, I witnessed the traumatic conclusion of the whole deadly fiasco myself this afternoon. I watched with a strange mixture of sadness and regret as Alex was wheeled away, strapped down on a stretcher, her mind snapped like a rotten rubber band, all that potential as a sentinel completely destroyed. I saw everything that went down with my own eyes, and I am a scientist, after all. I'm supposed to believe that sort of direct, empirical evidence, right? So why am I so numb, almost as if I don't really believe that it really, truly is over?

The hollow, sinking feeling in my gut remains, a constant, throbbing reminder of the hell of the past few days. Has it really been only days? Maybe weeks? An eternity?

How long since we pulled the night shift, and Jim read my dissertation? That was where it all started rushing downhill fast, wasn't it? Or had the descent really begun even earlier? Like maybe when Jim decided he needed to get away from it all, including me, and took off on the ill-fated fishing trip alone. Perhaps it began even earlier than that, but I just can't nail it down.

It makes my head hurt to think about it. What difference does it make when we got off track? That particular train has already crashed and burned, and right now, frankly, I'm not real sure if we'll ever be able to clean up the wreckage and debris.

Oh, God... is life really as hopeless as I feel right now? Usually, I'm the optimistic one, the half of this partnership that always sees the silver lining around the darkest cloud. Tonight, though, that metaphorical sky is blanketed with storm clouds and there's no moon in sight, and damn it all, I can't see even the tiniest hint of a silver lining in a single one of those threatening clouds.

Maybe it's just because I'm so damned tired. Used up. Guess I'm due, considering the fact that only days ago, I died and all, but I still don't like the feeling.

The rental car is slowing to a halt. Must be at the motel. I don't bother opening my eyes as I hear the driver's door open and Simon get out. Conner's up in the front, and beside me, I hear Jim shift uncomfortably in his seat. The only car we could dig up from the shabby little rental place after giving our statements in the hot police station all afternoon was a tiny Geo. Certainly not the most comfortable vehicle for a tall guy like Jim.

But none of us has been very comfortable lately, have we?

Jim's door opens a second behind Conner's, and they both pile out of the Geo. A surge of hot air floods the small vehicle, joining the muggy air already inside. Damn, this place swelters even at night.

Guess it's time to open my eyes and join them. At least, it's only one more night, then we'll go home. I'm so ready to be home.

Wherever the hell that is.

By the time I grab my duffel and join them, the room assignment is complete. So I had no say in it. Like so much else right now, it doesn't matter. The little hotel had only two available rooms, and Simon's already on his way to the first one, with Megan carrying her bag toward the second. So, I guess Jim and I are roomies.

For one more night, at least.

Somehow that thought doesn't bring me the comfort it once would have.

Aw, Jim, how did things get so totally screwed up?

I trudge along behind him into the small, shabby room and close the door, shutting out the hot, tropical night air only to breathe in the stale, warm air inside. If only I could shut out the painful memories as easily.

I've been watching Jim ever since I got to Mexico. Is it possible for a man to cry without shedding a tear, without even softening a face that seems perpetually carved in stone - without revealing a heart hidden behind protective walls of stone?

If so, then Jim's got that trick down pat. He's crying inside, and I can feel his tears, even if I'll never see them. Sometimes, though, I think Jim's been crying forever, secretly, in that private corner of his soul the world will never see. I've caught glimpses of those tears, when Jim's lowered those damned stone walls of his long enough to let me in. But ever since the fountain, ever since I died, the walls have grown a few hundred feet, and I wonder if I'll ever get inside them again.

The thought that I won't only serves to break my heart even more.

I miss Jim so much.

Not this Jim - the cold, cruel bastard who kicked me out of the loft, out of his heart, and nearly out of this life.

No, I miss my Jim. The Jim who doesn't laugh often, but when he does, can brighten my entire universe with his smile... the man who is the most honorable, most decent person I've ever met... the guy who would give his life for me without a second's thought... the friend who loves me more than anyone ever has before.

Or at least, I thought he did.

I'm so damned mystified by Jim Ellison, it makes me angry, both with him and with myself. I miss him so much - that 'old' Jim - it surprises me.

I still love him and need him so damned much, it frightens me.

Am I some kind of glutton for punishment? Don't I have any survival instinct at all?

I can feel Jim watching me as I gather my stuff for a long-awaited shave and shower. I don't need Sentinel senses to feel those eyes following me every step I take in the little room. I work hard at keeping my shoulders straight, my steps even. It's important to me, for some reason I can't quite fathom, not to show how tired I feel tonight or how much I hurt.

Not that I think he'd really care.

That's not fair. Jim would care, or rather, the Sentinel would. That's part of his biological imperative - protecting the guide.

Damn. Nearly forgot.

That was part of his imperative, or at least, I always believed that it was.

Until Alex.

Until the fountain.

Until I died.

And I did die. Not just go into cardiac arrest or something. Nope, when I make an exit, I do it in grand style. Funny thing, though. As dead as I was at the fountain, tonight, here in Mexico, I feel just as dead. Inside. My heart's beating fine, but there's no life there. No sense of purpose or joy. And without joy, without purpose, what's the point?

Stop it! I cannot go there. Not tonight. And not with Jim. He's made that much perfectly clear over the past few days. He doesn't want to talk about it, deal with what happened to us both. At least, not now. Probably not ever.

So, even though he's only steps away, I'm on my own here in this shabby little room, hoping like hell I can hide the blackness in my heart, the hard knot of fear in my gut, and the melancholy blueness that has colored my entire soul.

I will not allow him to see me cry. Not this Jim, the one who has hardened his heart to me, so easily breaking mine without a second thought.

Or so it seems.

Not that I don't want to talk about it. I feel like I'm crying out to Jim with my whole heart, just hoping he'll hear. How could he not, when I'm so broken, so hurt? He's always heard me before, but now, I have really serious doubts that he'd even listen to my broken heart.

God, Jim... where did we go so wrong? When did we lose sight of each other, of what we were to each other?

When Conner and I followed Jim and Simon here, I had hopes that it would be a new beginning, a chance for us to put things right and start again. After all, we'd merged during our shared vision at the fountain. Surely, that meant something, like we were back on track, close to each other once again. I could visualize so clearly exactly what would happen here in Mexico. We'd capture Alex - Jim exacting his own version of Sentinel revenge, of course, for killing his Guide - then we'd go back home and begin anew. Talk it out and put the whole damned nightmare behind us at last.

Not exactly the way things turned out in the end.

Whatever happened between Jim and Alex out there, it wasn't revenge. Nowhere close to it. I had nothing to do with it at all. In fact, I might as well have died at the fountain, for all Jim seemed to care.

I've been let down by people I loved before, been hurt and confused, but nothing like this. It was like the two of them inhabited their own little Sentinel universe, and there was no place in it for me. Being cast aside, shut off, from the person you're closest to in the whole world really sucks. It was obvious on the beach and again in the temple, that there could be no place for me in Jim's life as long as he was with Alex.

Now it seems there is no place for me there even without her.

It should have been my dream come true - two Sentinels, together in a sacred temple pushing the envelope of what we know and understand about their gifts. The reality was something different entirely.

One Sentinel wanted to kill me, and the other...

The other - my Sentinel - didn't seem to give a damn whether I lived or not.

Aw, Jim...

I miss you, my brother, and right now, I'm so damned scared I'll never feel close to you again.

The tepid water of the shower beats weakly against my skin, prickling like the sharp points of a thousand needles. My skin is so overly sensitive right now. Maybe it's a side effect of my close call, or perhaps a result of the medications I'm on. Maybe the sensitivity will go away in time; maybe it won't. Either way, I really don't care. It's too much trouble to think about it right now.

I turn my face directly into the spray and let the stinging needles pound my cheeks and closed eyes. As I move the thin, hard bar of cheap hotel soap over my body, I force myself into a state of meditation, one designed to induce a state of nothingness.

Thinking, I can do later.

Maybe. Thinking beyond the moment is just too much effort. Shutting my mind tightly against the intrusion of conscious deliberation, I let the water wash away my thoughts, my fears... my grief.

********************

If I stand all alone, will the shadow hide the color of my heart;
Blue for the tears, black for the night's fears?
The stars in the sky don't mean nothing to you, they're a mirror.

********************

When I'm done with my shower, Jim claims the tiny bathroom. He barely says a word as we shuffle past each other in the cramped quarters of the cheap room, but his eyes follow me, almost constantly. In the 'old days', I was pretty much an expert at reading this man, at figuring out exactly what might be going on in that closed-off, 'leave me alone' head of his. Like so much else recently, that, too, has changed.

Has Jim changed that much, so much that I can no longer 'read' him? Or is it me? Did the events of the past few days alter me to the extent that I'm no longer linked to Jim, no longer able to understand what he's thinking - what he's feeling - without his even uttering a single word?

Tonight, while we were waiting outside the police station for Simon and Megan to bring back the rental car, I caught Jim standing outside the station, all alone. He was gazing up at the stars. There weren't many outside lights around the small town, and the heavens blazed above with a fury we don't see in the city. I watched Jim for a long time, and he must have known I was there, but he didn't say a word to me. What was he thinking about as he stared into those shining stars? Alex? Me? His own actions? The future? A reflection of what could have been, of what had been lost?

There was a time when I would have known, would have understood instinctively exactly what was on Jim's mind.

No more. The connection, the fragile, gossamer tendril that bound us together had been severed, and I didn't have a clue what was in Jim's heart as he stared upward into the vastness of space.

Maybe it's both of us. Maybe we've traversed that line that should never have been crossed. Breached the point of no return.

Maybe you really can't go home again.

That thought makes me infinitely sadder, and the knot of fear and grief that has gripped my stomach ever since Jim threw me out of the loft tightens.

Stowing my shaving kit in my duffel, I jerk back the thin covers on the single double bed and wearily crawl in. Tired as I am, though, sleep stays a stranger. I try deep breathing, relaxation techniques, meditation... nothing works. Every deep breath I draw hurts, reminding me of my narrow escape from death. Pneumonia's still a very real possibility here.

Jim cuts off the water, and a few minutes later, I hear the sounds of my roommate finishing his preparations for bed. Frustration grows as I realize that in mere moments, we'll be in close proximity with those ominous, dark storm clouds looming between us.

Okay, if sleep is determined to elude me, I'll fake it. Anything to keep from having to talk to Jim tonight. Not that there's a snowball's chance in hell that he'd want to talk anyway. Like so much else right now, it just is not worth the effort. I squish myself into the farthest corner of the bed and focus on taking deep, slow breaths... concentrate on lying perfectly still on the hard, lumpy mattress. By the time the bathroom door creaks open, I'm pretty sure I have a handle on feigning sleep.

Jim moves quietly to the bed, pausing in the dark. "Sandburg?" he whispers. "Blair?"

It hurts not to answer him. I'm just too damned tired.

A few more moments, and the far side of the bed sinks down with Jim's weight. I hear him as he slips beneath the single sheet, barely moving as he pulls it over his body. Jim settles in quickly; a habit learned in the Army, I suppose. I sense that he's on his side, watching me. Through the force of sheer will, I keep my breathing heavy and slow, and apparently, the ruse works. I hear Jim sigh deeply, and the sadness contained in that single breath breaks my heart.

Where did we lose it, man? When did the mystical, magical connection between us vanish?

We lie there in the oppressive heat of the Mexican night, close enough to touch, yet so very far away.

And so very alone...

********************

I don't want to talk about it,
How you broke my heart.
If I stay here just a little bit longer,
If I stay here, won't you listen to my heart?

********************

In the early pre-dawn hours, I awaken slowly. Outside, I can hear the muted music of the tile fountain dancing in the darkness. It's hot, and there's something pressing firmly against me, but it takes a few muddled moments to realize exactly where that pressure is coming from.

Jim.

Still groggy from sleep, I struggle to put two and two together. Sometime during the night, one of us has moved closer - I'm mortified to realize that it probably was me - until we're snuggled together like...

Like a Sentinel and Guide should be after the traumatic events we've been through.

My breathing grows ragged as I fight back a sob, my heart literally aching for everything I've lost. Everything that seems so close, but in reality, is now light years away.

I know I should move away from the warmth, the comfort, that is Jim. I shut my eyes against the painful realization that I no longer have the right to expect comfort from Jim, much less to take it - to share this closeness without his knowledge. That intimacy was severed along with our friendship, our bond as Sentinel and Guide.

But I don't move. I can't. The effort... the loss that moving would bring is just too great. If that makes me weak... a coward... then so be it.

Carefully, hoping desperately that I won't awaken Jim, I inch infinitesimally closer to the warm comfort of my Sentinel, knowing to the depths of my empty soul that this is the last time I will be this close to him ever again.

I stare at his face in the dimness of pre-dawn and realize with a jolt of pain that Jim looks... old. Tired. Used up. Were those tiny lines etched around his eyes there a month ago? I've always known that Jim's nearly a decade older than I am, but face-to-face with that reality, I suddenly see his mortality all too clearly.

Life's too short for this strife, my brother. Oh, God, Jim, for whatever part I played in this mess, I am so sorry. I will be eternally sorry, until my dying day and beyond. My vision blurs with tears I can no longer contain, but I manage to keep my sobs silent.

As I drift into sleep on my damp pillow, my last waking vision is of Jim's weary face seen through the haze of my tears.

********************

By 8:00 the next morning, we're packed and ready to go. We gathered our things in virtual silence, our only conversations consisting of meaningless 'small talk'. Jim can barely stand to meet my eyes, yet, like last night, he follows every move I make. Part of me finds that irritating; another part is inexplicably grateful.

I'm so ready to get the rest of this living nightmare over with. I don't think I can stomach for one more minute the stifling tension and those damned dark clouds hanging so heavy between us.

I move to the door, my duffel on the foot of the bed. Drawing a deep breath, ignoring the pain it brings, I look back at Jim, waiting on the other side of the room, watching me with sad eyes. "You ready?" I reach out for the door as I grasp the handle of my duffel.

His soft words wrench at the knot in my stomach, threatening to tear it loose. "No. I'm not ready."

"Jim?" What's wrong? Is it his senses? If it is, what can I do? He doesn't trust me anymore; he told me that back in Cascade. Certainly, nothing that's happened here has changed that. I can't help him, not if he doesn't trust me. The knot in my stomach lurches tighter, and I feel a sudden urge to run, to escape to... to...

I have no idea where I would go.

Emotions whirl across Jim's chiseled features like clouds on the wind. I see clearly his fear and his deep, untouchable pain, and unbelievably, for the merest instant, a flash of hope. His hands lift from his side, in a helpless, pleading gesture, then fall limply once more. Jim's eyes never leave my face, and I remain silent as I watch the silent battle raging within him. I have no idea what he's thinking, what feelings are fighting for dominance within his soul, but I know for certain that there is a war going on. So I wait.

He draws a deep, unsteady breath. "Stay. Stay here. With me." Jim's voice is shaky, something I'm not used to hearing from this man of such great confidence. He sounds unsure, quiet and hesitant. "Please, Chief. I'm so damned sorry. For everything. Let's put it all back together again, kid. Please. Stay."

********************

I don't want to talk about it,
How you broke my heart.
If I stay here just a little bit longer,
If I stay here, won't you listen to my heart?

********************

A sudden rush of fear catches my breath in my throat. I never expected this. In my wildest dreams, I didn't expect this - a heartfelt, emotional apology from Jim. A plea to stay. Part of me denies the plea, rebels against putting myself in the position to be hurt so deeply again. If I didn't realize it before, I know now that Jim holds the power to hurt me far more than any other person. What makes me think he'll listen this time, when he's closed himself off from me so often in the past? Why reveal my heart to him, only to have it broken once again?

Guess I do have a survival instinct after all.

Another part of me yearns to rejoice, to voice my elation at the mere thought that there's still hope. That maybe, somehow, we can mend what's been shattered, revive what was dead and gone cold. In such a brief time, I had forgotten how wonderful hope feels.

"Why?" I ask, and I hear the unsteadiness in my own voice. I'm so tired all of a sudden, wanting nothing more than to fall back in bed, pull up the covers and sleep for a long, long time. But there's so much more at stake here than my own weariness and need for rest. "Why do you want me to stay? And for how long, Jim? How long before you get mad at me and throw me out again?"

The words hurt. They hurt me to say, tearing at my heart with their blunt frankness, and I can tell they're ripping at Jim's very soul with the sheer power of their truth. I wait for the angry eruption.

It never comes.

Instead of flaring, Jim's features soften even more, threatening to crumble, but his eyes hold firm, burning into mine with the depth of his passion, the strength of his need. "Because we need to talk. I want to do whatever it takes to heal us." His hands spread wide again, beseeching me, begging me, to hear him. "I'm so damned empty without you, Sandburg. It took losing you to make me realize that I'm more alive with you than I've ever been in my entire life. Please, Blair. Stay here with me."

Ah, Jim, don't do this to me, man. Not if you don't mean it, if things won't really change. He's almost broken me with those heartfelt words, but it isn't quite enough. Images of the fountain... of Alex on the beach... of the two of them in the temple... flash before my eyes. It takes a monumental effort to keep my voice steady and calm. "Why here? Why not Cascade?"

Jim shrugs, then his hands fall to his side once more. "I... don't know." He's hesitating, uncertain, groping for the right words, for the truth. "Somehow, I do know that if we go back there without talking to each other, without healing this... chasm... between us, we never will." Jim takes a deep, shuddering breath. "I'll lose you, and I just don't think I could handle that, Chief."

This is it. The entire canopy of heaven exists within those few simple words, wide and open before me, containing a universe of possibilities. My future... our future... is in my hands now. If I refuse Jim's gesture of reconciliation, if I go back to Cascade now, it's over. Finally and forever... over.

I stand there for a long time, one hand on my duffel, the other on the door, staring at Jim, unable to say a single word to the man who has somehow become the center of my existence. No one has ever meant more to me, has ever brought me more joy, or more pain, than he has. I've never loved anyone more. The highs have been tremendous. Awe-inspiring.

The lows have been heartbreaking. Tragic.

In those few seconds of hesitation, the stone walls come crumbling down, and Jim stands before me, revealed. Jim is pleading with me, those emotion-filled blue eyes serving as his voice now that everything he can possibly say has already been said. In his eyes, his need for me shines brilliantly, raw and completely undisguised. Everything Jim is, everything he fears and dreams of, lies naked and vulnerable, waiting for me to either destroy him or save him. The power I hold in this instant of revelation frightens me, but it also redeems me.

I am no longer tired, no longer drained empty of hope and strength.

As I gaze silently into Jim's eyes, I see hope mixed with the need and the plea, a hope that flickers there so cautiously. In that moment, I know what I have to do. In the end, there was never really any choice at all.

I turn away from him, open the door, and step out into the hot, humid Mexico morning.

********************

Simon and Megan are waiting by the rental car.

"You ready to go, Sandy?" Megan asks casually, opening the front passenger door.

Simon watches me cautiously over the roof of the car. "Where's Jim?"

I look from one to the other, suddenly at a loss for words to explain what's transpired in those few minutes in the small room. "Jim and I... we... we're not going back to Cascade. Not right now. You two go ahead, and... "

Megan's eyes widen as her tone sharpens. "What do you mean, you're not going back? Look, Sandy, after everything that's happened, if you think you owe Jim... "

"I owe him more than you can know, Megan." My tone is prickly, but right now, I'm not in a mood to explain my actions.

Simon breaks in before she can reply. "They need to work through this." He looks at me with eyes wise from experience with temperamental Sentinels and their hard-headed Guides. "Take all the time you need, son. Just get Jim... and yourself... back on track. We need you back one hundred percent. Both of you. Understand?"

"Yeah, Simon. Thanks." I push my hair back from my face and feel tiny rivulets of sweat trickle down my neck. Man, it's hot here. "I'll... we'll... call. Let you know when we'll be home."

Megan shakes her head and gets in the car without meeting my eyes, closing the door behind her with a heavy slam. Simon waves farewell, then slides into the driver's seat and shuts his door.

I go inside to find my Sentinel.

********************

I find him all right.

Zoned. Or way too close to it.

He's just standing there, staring at the door, with a totally blank expression on his face, completely oblivious to his surroundings. Oh, man, we so do not need this right now. "Jim? Are you okay?"

At the sound of my voice, he jerks back to life, staring hard at me with wide, surprised eyes. "You're back." It almost sounds like a question.

Nodding toward my duffel, still on the foot of the bed, despite my best efforts, I grin just a little. For a great detective, Jim sure missed a huge clue. "Yeah, Jim. I'm back." It only takes a moment for the ramifications of my decision to sink back in. Now that I've chosen to stay, I'm unsure what to say, what to do. I run my hand through my hair, pushing it back again from my forehead. "So, where do we go from here, man?"

Jim doesn't say a word. He takes a couple of steps toward me, and when his arms spread open this time, I know it's not because he's begging me. The Sentinel is claiming his Guide.

If I hesitate, it is only for a heartbeat. The knot that has clinched my heart for so, so long unravels at last as I move into Jim's arms. He hugs me tightly, possessively. I turn my face into him, finding safety in the curve of his neck.

"Where, Jim?" I breathe, knowing he'll understand the question.

He doesn't speak for a long time, but I'm in no hurry. It's enough to be here, to be together again, after such a long time apart. I have survived the ultimate challenge... we have survived... and I savor the strength and the love that surrounds me. And for the first time in oh, so long, the hollow, dead feeling inside me vanishes, replaced by a surging, joyful life-force.

In the distance, I swear I hear the roar of the jaguar.

"Where do we go from here?" I murmur.

At last, I hear the words I yearned to hear when I woke up in the hospital bed a lifetime ago. "I'm ready to take that trip with you, Blair," Jim whispers, as his arms tighten around me. "I've been to the water now, and you were right. It really is fine."

With my ear pressed hard against his chest, I hear Jim's laughter rising before it breaks the surface, and I have to fight back the tears of relief and gratitude. "I've missed you, Jim."

I feel the firm kiss Jim presses into my hair, and he leaves his face buried there. "I know," he says roughly. "I'm so sorry."

Time slows to a slow dance, in rhythm with the waters of the fountain flowing outside the room, casting its light-shadows on the walls.

Water. It's become our symbol for pain, for hurt, but now, miraculously, it has become our symbol for healing and for life...for second chances and renewed hope.

Jim gently eases me back away from him slightly, not breaking the close contact completely, and I look up into his familiar face. I wait, knowing there is something more he needs to tell me. Suddenly, I realize that once again I can sense Jim's needs, his feelings, without words, and I smile with quiet gratitude.

Jim holds my gaze steadily, his eyes warm with affection. "Will you come home, Chief? I want you to come back to the loft. With me. Please." He pauses a second, then adds, "Forever. Or as long as you want to be there. Come home, Blair."

My breath catches in my throat, my heart clinching with an intensity that's almost painful. What do you say when your whole world rights itself once more? When the storm clouds dissipate, allowing the brilliant sunshine to brighten your life and your soul? We have a long way yet to go along the road to recovery, to wholeness, but with those words, I know.

We will make it all the way back. I'm with Jim again, exactly where I belong, and he trusts me with all that he is, all he ever hopes to become. Just as I trust him, completely and without reservation. A smile explodes like fireworks to brighten my entire face, and I have to fight the urge to laugh aloud.

Smiling, gripping Jim's arms firmly, I meet my Sentinel's eyes and say the only words, the only truth, I know.

"I'm already home."

I can tell by your eyes that you've probably been crying forever,
And the stars in the sky don't mean nothing to you, they're a mirror.
I don't want to talk about it,
How you broke my heart.
If I stay here just a little bit longer,
If I stay here, won't you listen to my heart?

If I stand all alone, will the shadow hide the color of my heart;
Blue for the tears, black for the night's fears?
The stars in the sky don't mean nothing to you, they're a mirror.
I don't want to talk about it,
How you broke my heart.
If I stay here just a little bit longer,
If I stay here, won't you listen to my heart?

Finis...

(The song, 'I Don't Want to Talk About It' was recorded by Rod Stewart.)

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