"Every man has his own destiny; the only imperative is to follow it, to accept it, no matter where it leads him." Henry Miller
Jim Ellison turned in his bed, gradually coming awake to the sound of the familiar voice below. The book of quotations fell off his chest onto the covers. He thought back to the chapter he'd been reading when he drifted off... "Choices." Ellison tried not to focus on his partner's phone conversation, but even with his hearing at a normal level, Blair's voice reached him in his room above.
"Yeah, Mom, everything's fine. Classes at the academy are going great. Really. In fact, I'm at the top of the class right now. Four years experience in the field with Jim has put me ahead in a lot of things."
"No, Naomi. No regrets. I know..."
"Yes, I know you had second thoughts after you left Cascade, Mom. I know you never visualized me as a cop. Yes, I do realize what I gave up..."
Jim closed his eyes again as Blair listened to the other end of the conversation with his mother. I shouldn't be listening to this. I should let him know I'm here... Before he could act, the voice from below resumed. Jim picked up the hint of irritation in his friend's voice.
"No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently." Agnes de Mille
"Mom, I'm trying to be patient, but I want you to listen to me for a minute here. Just listen, okay? Okay. You think I sacrificed my life, my career, for Jim. And I know you think he doesn't really appreciate it. Well, you are wrong, Naomi. Wrong on both counts."
"See, Mom, anthropology was my life. The key word there being was. But the entire time, it wasn't the writing; it wasn't the publishing, not even the teaching, that was my focus. It was the sentinel thing, Mom. Finding a sentinel was my real dream. And I did it! I found my sentinel, Naomi, and it was even better than I ever dared to dream it could be."
"Why? Because it was Jim that I found. I found a friend, Mom, a brother...and a home. You gave me a great life, Naomi, in a lot of ways. But I'm not you! I need some stability in my life, a place to belong, a place I can come home to every day and feel wanted and needed... Jim's given me that."
More silence from Blair. Jim heard the defensive edge in his voice when he continued.
"I know it's not always easy to see it with him, but he does care about me, Naomi. A lot. That tough guy exterior covers up so much, but not that. Jim loves me. I see it in his eyes when he thinks I'm not looking; I hear it in his voice when I'm hurt or sick. I feel it when he touches me, whether it's a pat on the cheeks, a hand on my shoulder, or a hug when I need one...or he does."
"You're right, we've had problems this last year...lots of problems...but we've survived them all. And I know we're stronger for it! Kinda like a broken bone, y'know? Hurts like hell when it breaks and when you set it, but once it's mended, it's stronger than ever. And we're never gonna break like that again; I know it. I won't let it happen, and neither will Jim."
"The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously." Henry Kissinger
"See, Naomi? I really didn't give up all that much in comparison to what I've gotten in return. I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing...what I believe with all my heart that I'm meant to be doing. Life's full of choices, and once I really evaluated the choices I had, it wasn't that much of a decision at all."
"You've always taught me to detach with love. But, I couldn't do that with Jim, see? Never. So I made the only other choice open to me. I detached from the university, from my studies. That I could do. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't easy, but it was possible; leaving Jim wasn't."
He listened for a minute. "Sure, sometimes I miss it, Naomi. I'd be lying if I said I didn't. I still think about my students, wonder how they're doing. I'll always enjoy reading my anthro publications, wondering about all those mysteries still waiting out there to solve. Of course I miss it. But not nearly as much as I'd have missed Jim if I'd chosen my work over our friendship. That would have been..." His voice cracked slightly, and he hesitated. "Too much... It would have been too much, Mom. More than I could have handled. Giving up on our friendship, our partnership, that would have been the real sacrifice."
"We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours." Dag Hammarskjold
After a brief pause, he continued. "Yes, I am happy. No regrets. I think I've been growing into this for a long time now. And it feels right. It feels comfortable. I'm going to make a good cop, Mom. I'm working hard at it, and I know I'll be good at it. Maybe I won't be a cookie cutter cop, I think I've already broken the mold, but I'll bring something different to the job, something unique. I'll do my best. Jim says I'm already the best cop he knows, the best partner he could have."
"It's funny, looking back, I realize that I've always loved the excitement of this life. Naomi, I remember this case we were working not too long after I hooked up with Jim... There was this huge shootout, automatic weapons and everything... See, I got this firehose and opened it up on the bad guys! It was all I could do to help Jim. And I got this unbelievable adrenaline rush! I was like high for days! Jim even called me 'Conan!'. I think he was really proud of me that day. I mean..."
Jim grinned at the memory of his hyper partner on that long ago afternoon. At first, he'd thought Sandburg was unnerved by all that had happened on the street that day and had tried to reassure him. Then to find out that he was just on a mega adrenaline high... He had been proud of him; the kid had handled himself well under very tough circumstances. His thoughts returned to the present when he heard Blair continue.
"I know, Naomi, I know... You really don't want to hear about the cop stuff. Sorry. I'm just saying that I do like the life, Mom. Now I'm just getting to do it all for real."
"I know all you've ever wanted is for me to find where I belong, Mom, where I'm supposed to be in my life. Well, I have. And it wasn't at the university, it wasn't out in the field doing research...it was with Jim. As his partner and his guide and his friend. I know this is hard for you to understand, but sometimes where we belong is exactly where we already are, Naomi. We don't have to go searching any more when we've already found our niche...our home. Our best place to be."
"I told Jim once that I didn't think I could leave the excitement of his roller coaster world and go back to the merry-go-round academic life I had before. That was even more true than I realized at the time. I'm happy, Mom, really happy. All I ever wanted was to be Jim's partner, watch his back, and help him with his sentinel abilities. That was my true dream. Now I can do that, more than ever before. Every day is new and exciting and a challenge. My work is rewarding; I feel I'm making a difference in the world, here and now. And I'm doing it all with the best friend I've ever had in my life. What more could I ask?"
Another pause as Blair listened.
"I'm glad you feel better about it all, too, Mom. I never wanted you to be upset about this, but I know you'll probably never really understand it. Just try to honor my choice, okay?"
"I know you will. Thanks. Yeah, I'll tell Jim hello for you. Love you, too. Bye!"
"A man must be able to cut a knot, for everything cannot be untied." Henri Frederic Amiel
For the first time since the nightmare of Sandburg's press conference, Jim Ellison's heart felt light. He hadn't realized until that moment, the irritating, nagging doubts about Blair's decision that had been eating at him. Now he knew. Blair was at peace. He was happy. No regrets, no wishing to turn back the clock and rethink that fateful day and monumental decision.
Jim heard Blair walk into the kitchen and begin preparations for dinner, humming quietly under his breath. The sentinel rolled out of bed, taking one last look at the page he'd been reading before falling asleep. A quotation jumped out at him:
"There is a point at which everything becomes simple and there is no longer any question of choice, because all you have staked will be lost if you look back. Life's point of no return." Dag Hammarskjold
You reached your point of no return, didn't you, Chief? And faced it with more courage, more selflessness, and more responsibility than I can even imagine. Closing the book, Jim headed downstairs to take responsibility for his own actions.
"Hey, there," he said softly as he entered the kitchen.
"Jim!" Blair turned from the stove in surprise. "I didn't know you were here, man. Where's your truck?"
"In the shop. Figured it was time to change those two tires that were wearing thin. Simon gave me the rest of the afternoon off, since things were slow and I'd put in so much overtime recently." Ellison moved toward the living area. "Got time to talk for a minute, Chief?"
Blair turned down the heat under the sauce he'd been stirring and wiped his hands on a dishtowel. "Sure. Be right there."
Jim settled on the couch and watched the clouds drifting by outside. He never tired of the view from the loft. Always changing, never static or boring. Kinda like our lives, he thought wryly.
Sandburg settled down on the floor in front of the couch, looking up at his partner. "What's up?"
"You know I heard your conversation with Naomi. I'm really sorry, Blair. I didn't mean to invade your privacy. I turned my hearing down to normal, but..."
His friend interrupted, "S'okay, Jim. One of the perils of living with a sentinel, y'know. Besides, I didn't say anything I haven't already told you over and over. Nothing new." He flashed an understanding smile. "Don't worry about it, okay?"
Jim nodded and smiled a small, grateful smile. "Thanks, buddy. Actually, it made me..." His voice trailed off.
Blair looked at him quizzically. "Made you what, Jim?"
His friend leaned forward, putting his hands on Blair's shoulders. "l was relieved, Chief. I know you've told me that you have no regrets about your decision, that you're happy with it. I guess I still had some doubts, though. That maybe you were just telling me the words you thought I wanted to hear...to make me feel less guilty about my own behavior and driving you to it. When I heard you explaining how you really felt to Naomi, without realizing I was listening, I understood that you meant it. You really are okay with all this...your new life...your new career. I feel...I don't know...lighter somehow."
Sandburg stared into Jim's blue eyes for a moment. "You really did have doubts, didn't you?" At Jim's nod of confirmation, Blair stood up and went toward his room. "I think it's time I showed this to you. Be right back."
"Of all paths a man could strike into, there is, at any given moment, a best path which, here and now, it was of all things wisest for him to do. To find this path, and walk in it, is the one thing needful for him." Thomas Carlyle
A few minutes later, Blair was seated beside Jim on the couch, a white box in his hands. "This is the hard copy of my dissertation, Jim." He removed the cover, and they both looked down at the title page. "The Sentinel" by Blair Sandburg. "I think it's time you actually read it, especially the first few pages."
He glanced at his friend's face. Jim was looking at the thick manuscript as though it were a living thing, the embodiment of all the obstacles and heartbreak they had faced over the past year. Blair put his hand on Jim's arm and squeezed gently. "It's just a paper, man. Just a paper. It was never my life, never my heart. Please, Jim. Until you face your fears, you'll never grow beyond them. And I think this paper, this collection of words, is a big fear for you, buddy. Read the first few pages for me. Even if you never read the rest, look at those, okay?"
Jim's small smile was resigned. "Okay, Chief... If that's what you think will help put all this behind us, I'll read it. It's not that I never wanted to, Blair. I know the amount of work that you put into this. It was just..." The sentinel's voice faltered, and he felt his guide's hand firmly on his arm, supporting him.
"S'okay, Jim," Blair said softly. "I think I understand. This paper was our pink elephant, man. It was there between us for four years, and we basically ignored it. Thought that if we didn't talk about it, the elephant wouldn't really be there. Well, our pink elephant charged us head-on, didn't it? We've had to face it now, Jim, and I think it's time we completed the process. Okay?"
Jim nodded and watched as Sandburg carefully removed the thick stack of papers from its carton. He saw a small smile on Blair's face as he held it out to Jim. "Kinda like handing over my first born, man."
Jim took the papers reverently and studied the cover sheet. He let his fingers trace over his friend's name, feeling the indentation of each typed letter. "You should be proud of this, Chief. You deserve to be."
Blair grinned. "It is a little like giving birth, I guess. Except this one took a hell of a lot longer than nine months." He slipped back down to the floor beside Jim, and picked up his crime scene investigation text from the table beside the couch. "I'll just sit here and study while you read." He opened the book and began reading.
After a few moments, Jim turned to the next page. This was the signature page where Blair's committee members would have signed off on the study. All the signature lines beneath the names were blank. A wave of sadness broke over Ellison's heart at the thought that the lines would remain empty forever now, never to be completed. He quickly turned to the third page.
Blair's vita. How do you describe your life in one page, Chief? Especially a life as full as yours? He began to read the two short paragraphs. The first one consisted of a few sentences naming Naomi as his mother and describing his early education through high school and his early entrance to Rainier University. Jim was touched by the absence of any mention of a father. Any man should be proud to call you his son, Chief. I know I would. The second paragraph listed the undergraduate and master's degrees Sandburg had earned at Rainier. Jim read the last sentences carefully.
He is a teaching fellow at Rainier University in the department of anthropology. In addition, Mr. Sandburg is a part-time advisor to the Cascade Police Department.
Jim closed his eyes for a moment. What a simple summary, Blair. Too simple, too concise. I know that's all you're supposed to write here, that's the format, but it doesn't begin to cover all that you are. All you've done with your life.
He turned that page over and read on. The next three pages were the abstract of the dissertation. The pages described the purpose of the study and the methods used to reach the conclusions Blair had made about sentinels. Jim scanned them quickly, discovering that they were very cut and dried. What a sentinel was. A quick summary of Burton's research and Blair's theories. Some of the tests and data Sandburg had gathered on him. A conclusion that this subject was a true sentinel with all five of the expanded senses as described by Burton. Nothing new there.
Jim glanced down at Blair as he leaned back against the couch beside Ellison's legs, his shoulder barely touching Jim's jeans. Sandburg's eyes were still focused on the academy text, seemingly oblivious to Jim and his reading. The detective turned to the next page and stopped cold. The dedication page.
"It is the heart always that sees before the head can see." Thomas Carlyle
He read the brief paragraph.
One special person deserves my heartfelt gratitude. My dreams, especially those that go above and beyond this collection of data, could not have been realized without you. It hasn't been about this paper for a long time, you know. It's been about friendship, and your friendship means more to me than I can express. It's everything. Thank you for all you've given me...for everything you are to me.
Then there was the date. Right there in black and white.
Six simple sentences. Only a few words, yet they brought everything into focus...into shining clarity. Blair had written this dedication months before the fiasco that led to his heartbreaking press conference. Stunned, Jim sat silently, reading and rereading the words, as if to convince himself they actually existed. He ran his sensitive fingertips over each letter, confirming their reality.
At last, Jim fought against the tightness in his throat enough to speak. "Blair, I... I don't know what to say..."
His partner tilted his head back, a wide grin on his face, and a sparkle in his blue eyes. "Told you I had no regrets, man. Do you finally believe me?"
Suddenly, Jim slid over on the couch so that he was behind his friend. Reaching down, he wrapped his arms around Blair's shoulders and hugged him fiercely, his own face pressed tightly against his guide's. "Yeah, I believe you, buddy," he whispered roughly. "Thanks...for making me read this...for writing what you did...for everything..."
Blair closed his eyes in gratitude. Finally, they could put it all behind them, get on with their lives. "It's okay, Jim. Just wanted you to know...to understand...I already had everything I really needed right here. Compared to that, those three little letters meant nothing...less than nothing. Do you understand that now? Really?"
Jim nodded. "I get it now, Chief. Thanks. And you were right. It...This..." Jim shook his head and tightened his hold on his guide. "...is everything, Blair. All that really counts."
Blair Sandburg smiled and leaned back deeper into Jim's embrace. Sometimes his sentinel could be a little slow to catch on, especially to the emotional aspects of life. But when he did...it was definitely worth the wait.
"You don't get to choose how you're going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you're going to live. Now." Joan Baez
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