Not beta read. Danae, my wonderful beta, I had to get my dues in, and I have a real monster of a story about 2/3 completed. You'll have your work cut out for you when it's done. Any mistakes here are purely my own.
Supportive feedback always appreciated. If smarm and angst aren't your cup of tea, please read elsewhere. This one's filled with both. Also, in this series, Blair has become Jim's official partner, but the 'Blair as cop' theme doesn't figure all that prominently. Nothing happens here that couldn't have happened just as easily in the pre-TSbyBS days.
Wolfshy, thank you for all the work you've done for me and my fiction over the years. You're such a special, special person.
It really is true what they say about time.
The older you get, the faster it passes.
The tradition began four years ago. Not a long time, I suppose, as traditions go. I've studied cultures where traditions stretched back for generations uncounted.
Tradition is tradition. You take 'em where you can get 'em.
Come to think of it, that's something I haven't had a lot of in my life - traditions. Studied plenty of them, but I've definitely been lacking in the personal experience department. If there was one thing Naomi wasn't while I was growing up, it was traditional.
Maybe that's why this one particular tradition, new and untarnished as it may be, means so much to me.
For the fourth summer in a row, Jim and I have returned to this old, weather-beaten white house by the sea for our two week vacation.
Four years. A total of eight weeks.
For most people, that would scarcely qualify as a tradition.
For the decidedly untraditional son of Naomi Sandburg, it takes home the gold in the 'Old Family Traditions' category.
Something else I've not had an abundance of in my life.
Yeah... family. The right word after all.
Thinking of my partner and suddenly needing to find him, I rise from the overstuffed comfort of the old blue checked couch, a cup of steaming night tea warming my palms. It's twilight now, that magical in-between time that lies captured, flanked by day and evening. It's my favorite time of day. A time that lends itself to retrospection... introspection. Particularly when nestled snugly inside a faded old beach house beside the restless sea.
Slowly, still favoring my injured right leg, I move to the wide expanse of glass that comprises most of the house's rear wall and gaze out at the approaching night. Murky clouds flock above, their moisture-laden forms hastening the coming of night. The wind has increased dramatically; the American flag flaps anxiously on its tall pole beside the boardwalk leading over the dunes.
A storm is approaching.
I scan the beach to the north for Jim. He left over an hour ago for a quick walk before dinner. I remained behind to tend the simmering chili and the fire crackling in the fireplace. The fragrance wafting from the kitchen, meaty and robust, is tantalizing, and I know the chili will be a perfect accompaniment to the wet, stormy night ahead.
Jim sensed the storm's approach hours ago. Even after all these years, the man still amazes me. I mean, I know what he's capable of. He was my life's work for years, after all, and I suppose when you get right down to it, he still is. Why else would I find myself a detective with the C.P.D.?
That's something else Naomi's son wasn't brought up with - a highly developed respect for cops.
I shift to take some of the weight off my right leg. Injured in the line of duty. I already had plenty of experience with that phrase, at least with the injured part, so when the bullet found my thigh, somehow, I wasn't all that surprised. The shooting hasn't shaken me that much, really.
Not nearly as much as it has my partner.
I scan the beach to the south. No sign of Jim. A little knot of concern tightens in my gut.
A flash of lightning illuminates the darkening sky. Several seconds pass before the deep, rolling thunder sounds. The storm's still some distance away, but it's blowing in fast, and I'm getting concerned.
Where is Jim?
I look back up the beach again to the north. Another brilliant flash of light illuminates the gloomy beach. I spot Jim immediately, silhouetted against the gray stage of the sandy beach and the dark, rolling sea. This time, the accompanying thunder is much closer, and I flirt with the idea of going out on the back deck to call him inside. Already, the rain has begun, huge lazy drops plummeting to the wooden deck with pronounced 'thunks'.
Something in Jim's demeanor holds me back.
He's standing almost at the water's edge, unmoving, his head bowed and his broad shoulders rounded as though bent by a burden to heavy to bear. He left the house wearing only his cut-offs, and the sight of him, shirtless and barefoot, standing there with his head down and shoulders bent fills me with an unexpected ache.
My first instinct is to go to him, to probe until I ferret out exactly what's bothering my sentinel, then find a way to fix it, to make it right. To make Jim smile again.
Jim's been too quiet this week. Okay, being quiet is pretty much normal operating procedure for Jim, but there's quiet then there's quiet. This trip has become a welcome time of rest and recuperation for us, two weeks when we see no one else, have no duties or responsibilities save those we owe to each other. This is a time to talk through issues that lie between us, to bridge the chasms that inevitably arise in any relationship where two people both live and work together, especially when the partners are as different as Jim and I are.
Not to say we talk all the day, every day for two weeks. If I've taught Jim how to open up, how to talk about what's going on in his life and in his heart, at least more than he's done before, then he's taught me to be more comfortable without talking. Even in our silences, we communicate.
Not this week, however.
I'd hoped that we'd be able to deal with what's been lying between us, unacknowledged and certainly not reconciled, ever since the shooting. But it hasn't happened. Jim's been agreeable enough, has smiled and participated in the little rituals we've developed, like beach walking, collecting shells and shark's teeth along the shore, and cooking out nearly every meal, but something's been wrong about it all. Like he's on the outside looking in at us, a shadow of a stranger I can't quite recognize.
My left leg protests mightily against the additional weight I've put on it as I favor my injured leg, so I shift to prop my back against the wall. I'm still fighting the urge to run to Jim, to demand an explanation of what's going on in that thick head of his, but maybe he needs this time away from me to sort through things on his own. I watch him out there, a solitary figure beside a churning sea, heartbreakingly sad and so, so alone.
The rain begins to pour down, and with it comes a much stronger wind, blowing off the sea to drive the rain down in shifting, heavy curtains.
Damn it, Jim! Get inside, would you?
Without warning, Jim breaks into a jog, and for an instant, I think he's read my mind and is heading toward the house. My sigh of relief is cut short when his legs begin to pump faster, driving him to a full run, but not toward the house with its promise of warmth and safety. Jim is pounding down the beach, wet sand flying from his heels as the rain batters his bare back and the wind buffets his face.
I have to fight to swallow past the tightness constricting my throat. Oh, God, Jim.
Does he know I'm watching him?
Worrying about him?
Hurting right along with him?
Is he even aware of me at all?
Before I can take a step toward the door, Jim pulls up short and lifts his face to the heavens. Clenched fists rise in rage, and even though it is physically impossible, I hear his cry of anguish.
A brilliant flash of lightning catches Jim at the height of his fury, illuminating his body with a fearful, golden light. Almost instantaneously, the thunder roars, rolling over and over again in an ancient echo across the sea. I cannot move, frozen to the spot by the intensity of the moment, equally stunned by Jim's primal emotion and the awesome power of the storm.
Although it seems to last an eternity, it can only be a split second before the darkness claims the shore and the thunder dies away into blessed silence. Jim collapses to his knees on the sand, motionless, an exhausted shadow on the wet, wind-ravaged beach.
The sight of Jim Ellison on his knees in obvious despair breaks through my trance. I throw down my cane and sprint out the door as fast as I can manage, the pain in my leg a distant and unimportant detail, not worthy of notice. At least, for the moment.
By the time I'm halfway down the beach, I've slowed to a walk, bogged down by the sand and my throbbing thigh. The rain's still a downpour, and its sharp needles sting my face as the wind drives it relentlessly. The temperature has already plummeted with the storm's arrival, and my jeans and t-shirt are no match for the chilly air. My skin prickles into a thousand goosebumps as a shudder wracks my body.
It takes a lifetime of trudging through the heavy, wet sand to reach Jim. He's still huddled there, unmoving and seemingly unaware of the storm raging around us. I drop carefully down beside him, folding my bad leg under me with an obvious lack of grace and hit the sand with a resounding thud. Jim doesn't look at me, doesn't move at all, but over the sounds of the surf, the wind, and the rain, I hear a single, emotion-choked word.
Scooting closer to him, I duck my head to see his face. His eyes are tightly shut, and the look of intense pain tightens my heart with fear.
"No," Jim whispers, his lips barely moving. His face is wet, but from rain or tears, I'm not sure.
Slowly, so I won't startle him, I reach for Jim. I wrap one arm around his shoulders, and with my free hand, I touch his face. Immediately, Jim drops from his knees to sit close beside me in the sand. He shudders at my touch, his body trembling visibly for several seconds. Bringing my hand to my mouth, I taste the salt of Jim's tears.
Oh, man. What's going on here?
Another flash of brilliant lightning followed by another thunderous, echoing boom.
I have got to get us out of this storm. My mind flashes back to all those safety lessons in health classes. Never stay in the open during a thunderstorm. Lightning strikes the tallest point. Don't go near water.
So far, we've struck out on all three.
"Jim? We need to go inside, okay? We can talk there, I promise, but I just don't think it's safe out here." I have to shout to be heard over the storm's fury.
Jim shakes his head, still not looking at me, his face locked in a mask of pain. Of fear? Of grief?
Okay. He's not moving; at least, not right now. So, neither am I. "All right. We do this here. Just don't blame me, man, if we get fried like bacon."
Was that a hint of a smile at the corners of those set lips? If so, it vanishes in an instant, leaving no trace behind.
"Talk to me, Jim! What's wrong with you? Is it your senses? Something I said?"
The wind roars around us, buffeting me so hard, it's difficult to keep my eyes open. Rain trickles down my back, countless tiny streams of cold water against my skin. Another flash of lightning and clap of thunder, and I've almost given up on Jim ever answering with more than that single word.
"I shot you."
The words emerge in an unsettling voice, somewhere between a sob and a cry. Jim's eyes fly open as he twists around to stare at me. In his tortured sky-blue eyes, all his deepest emotions are revealed, unmasked at last. All the feelings that Jim's kept bottled up inside since that awful night pour forth from the rivers of his eyes - rage and helplessness, guilt and shame, sorrow and regret, fear and pain. The rain relentlessly batters his face, but it cannot wash away those naked emotions.
"I shot you!" Jim's cry battles to be heard against the storm's wrath. "You're the smart one, Sandburg, so can you answer this one for me? How the hell am I supposed to live with that?"
I'm too shocked by the intensity of the question to answer. Jim's staring at me, his eyes wide and brimming with tears, all those terrible emotions shining so clearly in the gloomy darkness. Then, my own emotions rise within me. I lean forward to cup his face in my palms, but I twist my right leg and a stabbing pain reminds me that I'm far from healed. At the sound of my cry, Jim winces, and his face contorts as he tries to stand up.
"No, Jim." I grip his face firmly. "I won't allow this. You can't do this to yourself, buddy." Staring hard into those haunted eyes, I will him to hear me over the roar of the storm, to understand me above the guilt that is destroying his soul. "It wasn't your fault. The bullet ricocheted, Jim. It was a freak thing, man. You didn't plan it. You didn't aim for my leg and fire."
The lightning crackles and the thunder rumbles, so loudly, my chest resonates with the vibrations.
Jim grimaces as he says bitterly, "A freak thing, Chief? Yeah, I guess you're right about that. My God, I'm supposed to be your Blessed Protector." His voice breaks slightly, and he shuts his eyes for a moment.
I know he's recalling the title I bestowed so easily on him after Lash. It seems a lifetime ago. I never dreamed when I said it that Jim would take the responsibility so much to heart. If I'd known Jim better back then, I would have known. Jim takes his responsibilities very seriously. Sometimes, too seriously for his own good.
His eyes open again, still haunted by the demons within. "What if that bullet had hit an artery? You could have bled to death on the filthy floor of that damned garage! Thanks to your Blessed Protector! How am I supposed to live with that, Chief? How the hell can you live with that?"
Jim stares at me through the driving rain, begging me for an answer. Begging me for absolution and my forgiveness.
How do I do that?
How do I grant forgiveness for a totally random act?
I don't have to forgive Jim; I just have to find the way to convince him to forgive himself. Then it hits me, the reason for all those emotions flooding forth from Jim's soul, and I smile.
His face is slippery and cold between my hands as I brush my thumbs across the delicate hollows beneath his eyes. "Jim? Remember how I said once that there are no random acts in the universe? No coincidences?"
"You're not helping here, Chief," Jim mutters, but he doesn't try to pull away from my touch. He's listening and with Jim, getting him to listen is half the battle.
"Hear me out, man. No, you did not shoot me on purpose, but maybe there's a lesson you need to learn here. A lesson I've been trying to get you to understand for a long time, and maybe you needed a really mind-shattering experience to drive it home." I don't know if I'm reaching Jim at all; the entire time I'm speaking, his face is set in stone.
A quick flash of curiosity in Jim's expression occurs at precisely the same instant as the next crack of lightning. After the thunder has faded, he asks, "A lesson? About what?"
"Control." I wait for the eruption, but there isn't one. So far so good. Taking a deep breath, I plunge in headfirst. "You function under an illusion, Jim. An illusion that you're actually in control."
"I control my senses," he counters, and I can read the defensiveness in his voice.
Stay calm, Sandburg. Don't rise to the bait. I count to ten slowly, then try to speak softly. "To an extent, yes. But you don't control them completely, and you know it. Some powerful, unexpected input can still catch you off-guard, and then it's overload city. Face it, man. Control is an illusion, and the sooner you quit expecting to be able to ensure that everything happens the way you want it to happen, the easier life's gonna be for you. I mean, you can't control what some head case is gonna do or how an innocent victim caught in the middle of a violent crime will react. Or what the weather will do tomorrow, or what kind of mood Simon's gonna be in when you step into his office." I stare hard into those familiar blue eyes and add, "Or the path a ricocheted bullet is gonna take. None of us is really in control, Jim. Not really. Not even you, as much... "
I stop in mid-sentence, staring at the face cupped between my hands.
Jim is smiling.
Sure, his tears are still mixing with the rain pouring down his cheeks, but Jim is actually smiling. "What?" I'm totally confused. Did I say the right thing, or is Jim merely laughing at my feeble attempts to make sense of this whole thing?
He pushes himself to his feet, then Jim reaches down and catches me beneath the arms, lifting me easily so I'm standing in front of him. Another streak of lightning cracks through the darkness. It is truly evening now, and the thunder rolls violently across the endless night.
Jim closes his eyes and lifts his face to the sky. Rain pours over him in waves, yet he doesn't seem to mind in the least. Suddenly, I see the truth that not only does he not mind the cold or the rain, he is soaking in the wildness of the storm. He turns to face the sea, facing the howling wind head-on, a sentinel challenging its dominion over the night. No, maybe that's not quite it, for that secretive smile still lingers, giving Jim's face a look of peaceful acceptance.
After the last note of the rolling thunder has faded, Jim turns back to me. "Where's your cane?" he asks, eyeing my leg disapprovingly, its bandage obvious beneath my jeans.
All this, and he's chiding me for coming out without my cane?
The laughter begins deep within. It's a gut-level release of tension combined with a sudden dissipation of fear and an abundance of love for this man who can frustrate me like no one else, yet can bring me the greatest joy I've ever known. The rain has completely drenched my hair, and as I bend over in laughter, it droops loosely over my face. I don't even bother to push it back. "Ellison! I... ! You... !" I'm laughing almost hysterically, unable to complete a single thought.
Then, as unexpectedly as it began, the laughter evaporates, leaving me standing lopsided on the beach, covered in wet sand, dripping, and staring up into my sentinel's eyes with a multitude of emotions welling up from my heart. I'm left completely weak from the sheer power of those feelings. "Jim... " I can't get the words out; they refuse to move past the huge lump in my throat. I can only stare mutely into that face, so familiar, so dear to me, and thankfully, once again so strong, so gentle, and filled with courage.
Even if I can't voice all that I'm feeling, it seems Jim understands anyway. His voice is warm with compassion as large hands descend to rest heavily on my shaking shoulders. "Hush. I know. It's okay now."
I stare up at him, my mouth open, wanting so much to tell him, aching to express in words the beautiful music my heart is singing, but it's impossible. I'm left completely helpless, unable to speak. Jim merely smiles, then slicks the hair back out of my eyes with a gentle palm.
"Sandburg speechless. This is one for the record books." I hear what lies behind the teasing words, and I know for certain that we're going to be all right, and I smile. It's a halting, tremulous smile, and my teeth are beginning to chatter from the cold, but right now, none of that seems to matter.
Jim's arms come around me, pulling me close against him for a tight hug. I yield willingly - gratefully - and encircle his waist, holding on like I'll never let go. That's exactly what a huge part of me intends to do - never, ever let go of what I've found with this man.
Come hell or high water.
All around us, the storm rages, battering us with its fierce power, but I feel oddly safe and secure.
For I know where the greater power lies.********************
I must have been crazy. At least, temporarily. Why else would I stay out on a beach, of all places, in the middle of a thunderstorm? And keep Sandburg out there with me, no less. I've always been a guy with a pretty cool head on my shoulders, but that certainly wasn't the decision of a rational man.
Had to be it.
Next question - why the sudden attack of the crazies?
That's an easy one.
My partner was shot.
I've had partners before. In the military, I worked closely with dozens of men, fellow officers I'm proud to have called my friends. As a cop, I've had my share of partners, some of them friends, others merely people I worked with for a short time, but they were all partners to one degree or another.
I've seen partners shot or injured in the line of duty. Some didn't make it out alive; others did. I didn't go temporarily insane then, not even when Jack disappeared, and he was probably closer to me than any other guy I'd worked with before.
So why this time?
Another easy one. Doesn't take my genius roommate to figure out that this time was different for two very important reasons.
First, it was a bullet from my gun that shot my partner. That in itself would be enough to bring on an ocean of guilt.
Second, the partner I shot was Blair.
There are partners, and then there's Blair. He can't even be put into the same category as the others.
End of discussion.
They were partners. Co-workers. Friends. When we clocked out or when the mission was completed, we pretty much went our separate ways. We lived our own separate lives.
If there's anything I've discovered about my relationship with Sandburg over the years that we've lived, worked, and vacationed together, it's that there's no separating myself when it comes to him. I don't check my relationship with my partner at the bullpen door everyday when I go home any more. At first, that seemed a distinct disadvantage of this sentinel/cop/guide/observer relationship we'd entered into.
All these years later, I can't imagine my life any other way.
I wouldn't even want to try.
So, to use Sandburg's lingo, I freaked when it finally hit me that I'd been the one who almost killed him.
He's my best friend.
My teacher and my brother and my guide and so much more I don't have the eloquence to begin to put into words.
I think I was entitled to lose it.
I almost lost so much more.
It's late. Two days after the storm that slashed along the coast - the storm that by rights should have sstruck us both down on the beach that insane night.
To the same degree that night was violent, this night is serene. The house - our 'home away from home' - is dark; a single dim candle flickers behind its glass hurricane shade on the mantle. I haven't yet started the fire. Tonight, the darkness lies unbroken by any light save that of the moon, and somehow, that seems appropriate.
I need that low, natural light and the peace it provides.
Stepping out the back door, I immediately tune into the sensory song of the sea. I hear gulls crying far away, the raucous shouts a contrast to the soothing rhythm of the surf. A thousand odors mix together on the breeze, bringing messages of home and distant lands, fish and suntan lotion, life and death. A gentle gust brings enough salt to sting my face. I remember the days long ago when, like any man, I could smell the salt in the sea air, but I never realized before I was a sentinel that the minute particles it carries can sting. Such are the observations of a sentinel.
I prop lazily against the deck railing, resting my hands on its weathered boards, turning down my touch dial enough that the roughness doesn't distract me. If tonight is a contrast to the night of the storm, I am just as much a study in contrasts. Two nights ago, my emotions were so tumultuous, I was on the verge of a complete breakdown. Tonight, I'm as calm as I can ever remember feeling.
Centered, to use another Sandburgism.
This night is oddly suspended in time, as though the earth's rotation has been frozen in mid-turn. The past doesn't haunt me, and the future seems distant, a vague shadow resting somewhere on an unseen horizon.
In keeping with the mystical feeling in the air, the moon is full tonight, splendid and huge, a glowing, creamy crystal ball suspended over the calm sea. If I gaze at that mystical orb long enough, will the moon allow me a glimpse of the future? I'm not sure I'd steal a look, even if it offered such a luxury. I can't change the past, and frankly, for once, I don't give a damn about what tomorrow will bring.
It's enough to stand here in the night and soak in the silvery healing radiance rising slowing over the sea.
We're here. Now. Safe and together, and that's all I can ask.
It's a miracle I've been granted this much.
The ocean is so calm tonight; its waves barely create ripples on the glassy surface. Before me, the moon's light falls in a perfect extended triangle on the water, a spotlight illuminating the dark stage of the sea. Tiny ripples dance and glow like living things, creating a billion sparkling stars against the dark backdrop of a watery sky. I open my sight dials almost completely, drinking in the wonder of such a perfect apparition. As much as I sometimes wish for 'normal' senses, at times like these, I realize how fortunate I am to be able to see so deeply, so far beyond daily surface beauty.
A blur of motion draws my attention from the water to the beach. A figure moves slowly into the moon's radiant spotlight.
He cannot be aware of me standing here on the back deck. His movements are too unstudied, too free. If he's favoring his bad leg tonight, it's mercifully invisible to me. Long curls skim his shoulders, their chestnut highlights glowing brilliantly under the silvery light. His blue jeans are old and faded, so thin I'm sure he can feel the caress of the breezes through the worn, soft fabric. He's shirtless and tanned by days spent in the sun. I don't think Blair's worn a shirt a half-dozen times since we arrived here. There's something freeing about living at the sea, something that expresses itself in a more relaxed, less constrained way of life, a gift we both embrace with open arms while we can.
Blair's back is to me, and with my sentinel vision open, I can see him breathing - the soft rise and fall of his body with each inhalation and exhalation. He's staring out at the beautiful, shimmering sea, and I know even without seeing his face that those blue eyes of his are wide with wonder. Instinctively, I open my hearing to him. The first sound I hear is the soft thrumming of Blair's heart, pulsing steadily above the quiet rush of the low waves, a living metronome quietly marking the seconds of our lives.
As deliberately as the moon's rise, Blair moves slowly into the water, still without a sign of a limp. Waves lap around him, first at his bare ankles, then his calves, knees, and finally his thighs. The glittery rays softly caress his torso, playing off his deep tan in a vivid contrast of silver and brown.
Somewhere behind me, a jet roars on its journey into the darkness, but I don't wonder at its destination. The jet and its passengers are part of what lies beyond our beach, in a distant place out of reach of this magical realm, and they are unimportant.
If Blair hears the jet, he gives no sign. He's waist deep in the sea now, and I can hear the delicate waves as they tease his skin, creating an unpredictable counterpoint to the rhythmic duet of his heart and the brush of wave and sand.
As I watch Blair, silhouetted by the moonlight, and listen to the water, my mind flashes back to Mexico and the sacred pool where I had my vision. I held all the secrets of the universe in the palm of my hand that day; the mysteries of life lay revealed before me.
Yet, when it was all over, I remembered only one of those secrets, and it was the most essential of all.
I see that single truth being replayed before me now as Blair basks in the moon's glowing arms. A truth confirmed on this very beach only two nights ago as he saved what remained of my sanity and my hope.
It is a truth so simple, yet so life shattering, that it took the powerful experience of the temple for me to finally face that truth and embrace it.
Blair is my light.
As a sentinel, I can see the smallest speck on a distant leaf, but without him, I am blind.
I can listen to the music of a thousand songbirds soaring above the earth, each one creating an individual symphony, but without Blair, all is silent.
My fingertips can distinguish the individual whirls and whorls of a long abandoned fingerprint, yet when I thought I lost him, I could not touch my own soul.
Effortlessly, Blair dives into the magically shimmering waters and disappears, leaving the moon's light depleted somehow in his absence. I lean forward slightly, instinctively on edge until I detect the slightest disturbance of the calm water and know he's about to surface. I know his leg still hurts, even though I'm impressed that tonight I've barely noticed a limp. I don't know if I'll ever be able to lose this protective streak I have toward him. If I'm honest with myself, I don't want to let it go. After so many years alone, it's a good feeling to have someone to care about, to worry over.
Blair rockets upward, arms extended above in a diver's pose, breaking forth from the darkness of the sea in a powerful, energetic blur. Water droplets erupt around him, splattering in a thousand individual triplets. Moonlight flashes on Blair's wet skin, shimmering and sparkling in a concerto of light, a duet between space and sea.
I realize that in calling Blair my light, I grossly underestimated him.
Blair is light - a living, breathing, glowing essence that is so brilliant, so radiant, that I can scarcely bear to look at him. He's been my light, yes, but when I consider all the joy and passion - all the light - he's brought to others, I know his gifft of light doesn't begin or end with me. His mom, his students, his friends, his professors, the guys at the station, the victims he's consoled - we've all been the recipients of Blair's very special light.
And we're all better for having basked within it.
Pausing for only an instant to breathe, Blair dives forward, arching through the air and into the sea like a playful dolphin, then surfacing to swim with long, sure strokes parallel to the beach. I knew he was a strong swimmer, but tonight he swims with a grace seldom seen except among professional athletes.
My God, he never ceases to amaze me. Just when I think I know all his talents, he pulls another surprise out of his bag of tricks. I am so thankful that the horror of the fountain didn't spoil his love of water.
It occurs to me that Blair's light isn't simply white light, like that of the moon. With all his interests and his quick, brilliant mind, the light he gives is filled with all the colors of the rainbow, all the nuances of a shimmering prism on a bright summer's day. I smile as I watch him - my partner - his multi-hued light eclipsing that of the moon.
The moon's bright shadow is wide enough that Blair remains within its warm embrace as he swims. He flips to his back, not paddling, just floating lazily on the surface. Gentle waves lift him, then lower him carefully again. Looking up, I catch sight of what he is watching out there on the breast of the sea.
Above us is an astounding starscape, an endless carpet of blackness, its ebony void punctuated by an infinite number of shining pinpricks of light, their light hardly dimmed by the moon's stunning brilliance.
I stare upward, dialing up my vision to try to catch the rainbow of colors in each sparkling star. There... that most distant pinprick... all the shades of blue and green and...
Blair's voice drifts to me on the breeze, summoning me back, and I chuckle softly at myself. How could I have thought he wasn't aware of my presence? Blair always knows about me. I cannot hide from him, emotionally or physically. Just another fact of life as a sentinel with his guide.
"Isn't it beautiful, Jim? Just look at all those stars, man. We never see so many in the city. You ever wonder how many people live out their entire lives, never looking up, never seeing the beauty of their light?"
Do you ever wonder, Chief, how many people live out their entire lives never knowing the happiness, the contentment, that you've given me? Do you know that those stars have nothing on you, kid? They merely illuminate the darkness. You light up my entire world, bringing laughter and understanding and warmth where there once was none. I barely remember what my life was like before you. Don't you ever sell yourself short. You'll have to answer to your Blessed Protector if you do.
"Oh, man, this is so perfect. The water's warm and so smooth. Just look at that moon, Jim! It's the biggest moon I've ever seen, and the way it's shining on the ocean... What must it look like to you, man? Sometimes, I wish I had your senses, just for a few minutes, you know?"
He's still floating languidly on his back, staring into the sky, as he whispers to me, so sure I'm listening to him. His voice is a lifeline tied to me, anchoring me to the here and now, when it would be so easy to lose myself in the beauty and magic of those stars.
Not long ago, I read a quote Blair had jotted on a napkin, but left lying forgotten on the kitchen table.
Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.
Those words stuck in my mind then, and tonight, they flood over me in an undeniable wave of truth. That light of his is always with me - in my 'roots'... in my soul... in my heart.& Blair will always be with me, no matter how far I go, even if some day, unthinkably, we should be separated forever. The realization makes me shiver, a stunning assurance of permanence in a life filled with so much uncertainty.
"Hey, Jim. You okay? Give me a sign, man."
I hear the note of concern in Blair's voice and shake my head slightly to clear it. While I was caught up in my own thoughts, he stood up again, waist deep in the liquid silver of the sea, and he's staring through the moonlight toward me. I'm not sure if he can actually see me, even in the light of the moon, but he knows I'm here. Somehow, I believe he has sensed the hammering of my heart, a heart as full as the moon that hovers above.
Focusing my sight on that so-familiar face, I see clearly the worry swimming in the liquid depths of Sandburg's eyes. For an instant, I feel my emotions hovering dangerously close to the abyss he pulled me from two nights ago. Seeing his concern and his fear for me, I wonder again how I can live with the fact that I almost ended that very special life. Then, just as quickly, the feeling of despair dissipates, just as a fine ocean mist vanishes into a trail of lustrous moonbeams.
Blair pulled me from those depths once, and I will not allow myself to sink back there again.
Control. He said it was all about control, and he was right. Absolutely dead-on right.
My whole life, I've fought to control my destiny.
And failed miserably.
Just look at the failures I've left in my wake when I sought control over myself and fate.
No matter how much I loved her, my mother still left.
As hard as I tried to make my father accept me, he didn't.
I wanted to be the perfect commanding officer, but my men perished in that hot, blazing fire.
Jack Pendergast and Danny Choi died despite my best efforts at being a partner and role-model.
No matter how desperately I fought to make my runaway senses obey, they dominated me completely.
I thought I could control them alone, and Blair paid the ultimate price for that failure when he ended up face-down in that damned fountain.
Despite my pride in my perfectly controlled emotions, it was my 'fear response' that nearly drove Blair away forever and cost him his dreams and his career.
So where has my grasping and grappling for control taken me?
To hell and back, over and over again.
Two nights ago, I finally faced the truth.
I've never had control.
Not over my life, not over other people's love for me, not even over my own five senses.
I'm a detective. So why hadn't I ever seen the evidence to the contrary?
It was only when I allowed Blair into my life that my senses came under my own control, and I was free from that particular hell at last.
It was only when I let go of my past and stopped caring what my father thought of me that we began to salvage some remnants of our relationship.
It was only when I accepted myself as a sentinel and gave up fighting my senses that I became the 'cop of the year' who was honored by his city.
There is no control, so I don't have to fight for it any more.
What a marvelously freeing realization that is! Blair seems to believe that a power greater than ourselves is leading us - guiding us - along this road of discovery, showing us with lessons great and small what it means to be a sentinel and guide.
Maybe he's right.
Maybe this was the next step on that road - accepting that I'm not really in charge at all, that I must relinquish control. Accepting that I must trust that wherever this road ultimately leads, it will be to a destination that is right for me. And for Sandburg.
I gaze at the moonlight shimmering upon the water, a luminous trail leading beyond the horizon, beckoning us to splendid destinations unknown. And there, at the beginning of the journey, stands Blair. Waiting patiently, calmly, for me to join him. Understanding that while I may not sacrifice my illusions of control easily, in the end, I will make that sacrifice. I will make it because he has taught me that it is necessary, just as he's taught me so much else.
Unable to remain on the deck any longer, I start down the steps, then, as I step onto the boardwalk, I break into a jog. By the time I hit the sand, I'm running at full strength. Just as I ran along the beach two nights ago in the storm.
But this time, there is no storm, either inward or outward. There is only the glow of the moon and an all-encompassing peace.
I'm not running away from my pain and my fear.
I'm running toward my light.
Blair waits for me in the sea, and I barely slow my pace as I hit the water. By the time I reach him, the concern in the deep oceans of his eyes has turned to puzzlement. I stop beside him, breathing a little fast from my plunge through the sand and water.
"You okay, Jim?" He looks up at me with that wide, sea-blue gaze and waits.
Do I tell him the truth?
Do I tell Blair that I'm not merely okay, but that I've never felt more alive?
Do I tell him that I owe him not only my sanity, but my peace of mind as well?
That my future lies alongside his, no matter what path he follows?
How do I explain that at last, I've surrendered my illusions, and I'm ready to follow, ready to accept, ready to experience whatever lies ahead of us?
Coward that I am when it comes to matters of the heart, I lack the eloquence and courage to express any of the multitude of emotions swirling wildly in my heart. Looking down at him, seeing the openness in that honest gaze, I know I have to find a way to express all that I'm feeling, even if it's not with words. 'Are you okay, Jim?'
How do I explain without words, without making a total fool of myself?
For a long time, neither of us speaks, then I grasp his bare shoulders. Blair trembles slightly beneath my hands. Whether it is from the cold or his sense of my own emotions, I don't know, and it really doesn't matter.
Slowly and carefully, so I don't jar his injured leg, I guide him to face toward the moonlight. It stretches out before us, glowing wide across the sea in a welcoming path. I feel that we have only to take a single step, and we'll be on our way.
Wrapping my arms around him, I draw Blair back against my chest, sheltering him as much as I can from the slight chill in the night air. He melts against me, completely at home within the circle of my arms, and his hands come up to capture my wrists. Bending lower, I tell him softly, "I'm fine, Chief. Just fine."
Blair angles his head upward and gazes at me in silence for several long seconds. Apparently, he approves of what he sees and smiles. Then he rests his head back against my chest once more. As he watches the sparkling waters, Blair asks, "Didn't I tell you, man?"
My head is bent close to his ear, my voice soft. "What, Chief? What did you tell me?"
Taking one hand from my arm, he sweeps it through the sea. "The water's fine, man. The water's fine."
And so it is.
So it is.
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