Fandom: The Sentinel
Original Posting: Timed out zine story (titled "Crossing Time")
Category: Episode related - TSbyBS
Jim would probably never really have a handle on the sentinel thing.
Not when the fates kept shoving new wrinkles at him, like seeing ghosts.
Eyes fastened on the television set and the Jags game, a cold beer in hand, he wondered idly what would pop up next. Maybe Sandburg would discover that sentinels could talk to animals.
Yeah, that would make his day.
Or how about time travel?
Sure, go forward in time, find out the winning teams in pro sports, come back and make a killing in the appropriate pools. Or maybe go back in time, check out…check out something. Maybe find out why Sandburg needed a shrink "almost from the time I was in Pampers, man."
Jim frowned as he cocked his head to the right.
He took a sip of his beer before slowly turning his head toward the child-like voice.
He immediately downed the rest of his beer.
A boy of about five stood next to the couch. He was wearing faded blue jeans that were clearly too big for him, the cuffs having been rolled up several times to keep him from tripping over them. He had on a red sweat jacket with a hood and, under that, Jim could just see a yellow tee-shirt with blue lettering on the front. Jim found himself trying to figure out what it said.
"save the whales. mom got it for me," the boy supplied helpfully.
"Sure, of course," Jim said amicably. He really hoped this wasn't another ghost – there was no way he was up to dealing with a dead child.
"i think we should save the whales and i wear it proudly." The small chin lifted a tad higher. "whales are really neat, you know. i petted one once."
Just in case the kid was real, Jim looked over at the front door. Damn, it was closed … and locked.
Wouldn't you know it? And where was Sandburg when a guy really needed him?
With Naomi, because when Naomi whistles, Sandburg flies.
"So, who are you?" Jim asked because it seemed the thing to ask.
"i'm blair, and yes, i know it's a girl's name, and yes, i'm just a little kid, but i bite, so don't say anything about it, okay?"
Jim found himself laughing at that. This kid was okay. "Hey, I think Blair is a great name. My partner's name is Blair."
The boy took off the sweat jacket, dropped it on the back of the couch, and walked around to where Jim sat. He indicated the space next to him but didn't wait for permission before hopping up and sitting down. His legs were short enough that they didn't hang over and Jim could see his well-worn tennis shoes with mismatched laces; one red, the other set blue and untied. Jim reached over and tied them.
"thanks, that always happens." He held up his hands. "my fingers are too short, like me."
"I don't think you're too short. You're a kid. Kids are short. What, you're five?"
Looking thoroughly disgusted, the boy said, "i'm six, almost seven. i'm very short - everyone says so."
Jim had to congratulate himself. He was really handling this well - extremely well. He looked at the empty beer bottles on the coffee table and thought they might be responsible. There were as many empties as the kid claimed years on this earth.
"i don't mind being short. my cousin says i'll grow when i get older. robert says boys always sprout up in high school. i sure hope so 'cuz i wanna be a great basketball player, a real star."
A kid after his own heart. "You play?"
The boy snorted. "i throw the ball up and it hits the middle of the garage door or my head. i haven't even hit the net yet. but i will – someday. i'm gonna be the best basketball player ever – in the whole wide world."
"So that's what you want to be when you grow up, an all-star?"
He nodded so ferociously, his short, curly hair bounced. Blue eyes gleaming, he said, "mom says i can be anything i want to be and my mom is always right."
Through the haze that too many Coors could lay on a guy, Jim started putting the pieces together. "Your mother's name wouldn't be Naomi, would it?"
The boy grinned, a big, wide, beautiful grin showing Jim that he was missing a bottom tooth. "you know my mom?"
"I'm pretty sure I do. Burns a lot of sage?"
The boy grinned again. "only when she's had a bad day, or some dipstick comes along and tries to tell her how to raise a boy or that she's a bad mother, then we get lots of sage and we meditate. i'm getting pretty good at it too."
Jim arched an eyebrow and said, "Dipstick?"
The boy giggled and shrugged his shoulders. "i don't usually get away with saying it, but i catch my mom smiling when i do."
"Works for me. Are there a lot of dipsticks telling her that she's a bad mother?"
The boy's grin faded. He looked down at his shoes and tapped the toes of them together. Finally he said, "mom is… different. she says people are too narrow-minded and they don't love one another enough and they always think their way is the only way, but the world is full of ways and we should just choose ours and let others do their own thing and respect them for their choices."
Amazingly enough, Jim got every word, in spite of the buzzing in his ears. He thought it was damn wise and that surprised him about Naomi, not that he didn't like the woman, because he did. A great deal, actually. But that didn't mean that he thought she had all her marbles. And as far as raising Blair right – well, he'd always thought that was more Blair than Naomi. Now he looked at the boy that was evidently his partner – albeit shorter and younger than he'd ever seen him – and wondered how much of his mother's son he really was.
"What do you think about those words, Blair? Do you think your mother is right?" he finally asked.
"yep, she's always—"
"Right. I know." He smiled at Blair, who rewarded him with a brilliant one in return. "I don't suppose you know how you got here, or why you're here?"
Blair shrugged and held out his hands, palms up. "i'm not sure, but i think you called me."
"well, see, i was playing marbles with – ooh, i have the most best cat's eye in the whole wide world. wanna see it?"
Not the least bit put off by the sudden change of topics, thanks to three years with the older, slightly taller (he knew that was unfair, but he thought it anyway) version of the boy sitting next to him, Jim said, "Sure. Show me."
Blair leaned on his right hip and dug something out of his jean pocket. Eyes alight, he held out his hand, palm up. Sitting in the middle of Blair's rather dirty hand, sat a truly beautiful blue cat's eye. "it's an eight vane cat's eye, see?" One grubby, stubby-nailed finger pointed at the clearly visible lines radiating out from the center.
"I see. It's beautiful. I think the color works too. May I hold it?"
"you can have it," Blair said generously.
"Oh, I wouldn't want to take your best marble, Blair."
Blair urged his hand forward. "no, really, take it. i want you to have it, please?"
Jim reached out and picked it up. He looked at it closely, seeing it as only a sentinel could. He was just about to lose himself in the swirls of blue when Blair touched his arm.
"i know you can see more in it than anyone else. i think it holds everything in it."
Jim tore his gaze from the temptations of the smooth glass to look at the boy. "It's just a marble, Blair," he said.
"no, no, it's much more. i know it. you'll see. it'll bring you luck."
"Well, I can't argue with that because you gave it to me. That automatically makes it very lucky. Now, why don't you go back to the part where I supposedly called you, eh?"
Blair giggled and covered his mouth. "i forgot," he mumbled from behind his hand. He lowered it, looked sheepish, and said, "anyways, i was playing marbles with susie – and she's real good – when i heard a voice say, 'blair, i need you' and i listened and thought maybe it was real important – so i wondered how i could get to the voice – to you, and suddenly i was here."
Jim thought it sounded like typical Blair even though he was pretty darn sure he hadn't said a thing about needing him. He'd mumbled a few obscenities during the game, and there'd been that whole conversation about time travel and ghosts…and all right, his partner had been gone for four days and things hadn't been all that great between them, thanks to the whole recovering-from-the-dissertation-disaste
And yes, in the last three days, Jim hadn't heard a word. Not one phone call, nothing. But that didn't mean that Jim needed him - or anything.
Suddenly unable to sit still, Jim got quickly to his feet and said, "How 'bout some cookies and milk?"
Blair's face brightened immediately. "what kind?"
"Oreos, of course."
Jim wasn't surprised at how fast Blair scrambled off the couch. Laughing, he stuck out his hand, felt incredibly good when Blair slipped his smaller one into it and, together, they walked into the kitchen. Once there, Jim lifted Blair onto the counter and proceeded to take the Oreos down from the cupboard. He got out two glasses, filled them with milk, and put the carton away. He took out four Oreos and handed them over to Blair before taking out four more for himself.
When Blair unscrewed the first cookie and then dunked the bottom piece into his milk, Jim knew he was looking at the real thing. Blair was the only person he knew that ate Oreos in just that way. Heck, he himself preferred licking off the icing first and he figured that was pretty normal.
Suddenly he was scared at the idea that he was looking at the real Blair, but the reason for the feeling was eluding him.
Maybe because he wasn't that drunk, and he was a sentinel, and this was Blair – his Blair – and there was no reason for this Blair to visit him.
The cold, icy fear grew and gripped his heart. It squeezed so hard, Jim was pretty sure it was spurting blood throughout his chest cavity. He put his cookie down, walked over to the phone and dialed the number Blair had left. It rang…and rang…and rang. He glanced at his watch, noted that it was ten here, which meant it was…one in the morning in New York.
They should be home and in bed.
But the phone was still ringing.
He let it ring.
The phone dropped from his hand as he stared at the wall.
Without looking toward Blair, he said, "You know my name."
"guess so. didn't know i knew until it just came to me. it's a strong name. i like it."
"James Joseph," he said automatically.
"i'm just blair. no middle name," blair said sadly. "wished i did have one, though."
Jim didn't bother to pick the phone up from the floor before heading back into the kitchen. He tuned out the insistent and annoying buzz a phone makes when warning its owner that it was off the hook. He got another beer out of the kitchen, unscrewed the top and, after taking a much needed gulp, said, "So, tell me about your life with Naomi."
Feet hitting the lower cupboards as he aimlessly kicked his legs, Blair said, "right now, we live in austin. that's in texas. i'm not sure i like it, though."
"too hot, and at night the spiders and bats come out. i don't really mind the bats, but i prefer them in the zoo, you know? and the spiders are everywhere. as soon as the sun goes down, they come out." He gave a little shiver. "i hate spiders. i'm not supposed to, 'cuz they're god's creatures, but i don't care. i hate them anyway."
"So are you visiting or living there?"
Jim put down the beer bottle. "What do you mean you're not sure?"
"we moved there when mom met this guy – his name is jack – and we live in a really neat house with a big back yard and a swing and i have my very own bike, which i can ride without help or baby wheels--"
Jim grinned. "Sounds to me like Austin is just fine."
Blair's cheeks pinked up and he ducked his head. "guess so. but not the spiders."
"How does Jack treat you?" Jim asked, suddenly worried.
"he's pretty cool and seems to like me although he says i read too many books—"
"Blair, trust me on this – you do not read too many books, okay? You love to read and you read just the right amount. You're very smart."
Blair smiled shyly and ducked his head again. "okay. anyway, we live on this street and everyone decorated for halloween and i got to go trick-or-treating and got a huge," he stretched out his arms wide, "pillowcase full of candy and mom is actually letting me eat one piece a day…."
As Blair went on about Halloween, Jim looked around the loft, his gaze coming to rest on the two pumpkins, one carved, one not, that sat on the balcony ledge. He remembered how Blair had tried to cajole him into going to the park, where they were having a special night of trick-or-treating for the neighborhood kids, but Jim, tired and grouchy, had waved off the idea. Blair had ended up spending the evening in his room, working on trying to get through the police procedural manuals he'd use if he went to the academy.
"… and i was a bum, you know? and jack let me use his old dinner jacket, and i had on a dirty white undershirt and a red and white tie and suspenders and baggy pants, and mom smeared the lower half of my face with eyebrow pencil stuff so it looked like i had a beard, you know? and for shoes, jack sliced the front open at the sole so it flapped as i walked, and i had a stick with a handkerchief attached, you know? and it was my first halloween ever and i really think my costume was the best in all of austin, even though a lot of other kids had store bought costumes. after i went all over the neighborhood, i came home and jack was having a party and i got to have punch and these little things called orydurves and everyone thought i had to have the biggest haul of candy of anyone. but now, see… mom and jack are arguing all the time and i'm thinking we'll be moving back to san francisco soon."
Jim stared at the boy on the counter next to him, the sentinel in him hearing so much more than Blair could possibly know he was sharing. He reached out and brushed some cookie crumbs from Blair's face as he asked softly, "Have you moved around much?"
"i'm six and i've lived in five cities since i was born but visited tons more."
Smiling, Jim said teasingly, "Can you name the ones you lived in?"
Grinning at the dare, Blair said, as he counted off on his fingers, "san francisco, buenos aires, astoria, las vegas, and austin."
"Wait, did you say Buenos Aires, as in South America?"
Blair had another cookie in his mouth so he nodded. When he swallowed, he said, "i was born there." He leaned in toward Jim and whispered, "my mom ran away from home."
Trying to hide his surprise, Jim asked, "To South America? Kind of far to run, wasn't it?"
"it would be far for me but she was older. she was seventeen and they went down in a vw van and mom painted daisies on it and she and her friends were going to help poor people and a little while later, she had me." he patted his chest proudly. "i can say a lot of things in spanish because mom says that technically, it was my first language 'cuz the first word i said was 'leche'." He grinned and held out his glass, one eyebrow rising, making him look cuter than any kid had a right to look.
Jim got the milk out again and, after pouring half a glassful for Blair, he watched him drink it down, leaving a white moustache behind. Putting the glass down, Blair said, "mmmm, good," and grinned.
Jim tore a square of paper towel off the roll and smooshed Blair's face with it, the boy raising his hands and giggling in his efforts to push Jim away. When they both settled down, Jim asked, "Why do you think I needed you, Blair?"
It seemed the right time to ask, and evidently Blair thought so too, because he put a finger to his mouth and looked up at the ceiling.
"ummm, not sure." He cocked his head and tried to close one eye, but both closed, so he put his hand over his left eye and peered at Jim with his right. "you look pretty normal, but i think you need more than other people do. don't know why though. you're big and strong, i can see that – but you need a whole lot."
Stunned by the words, Jim started to shake his head but Blair just giggled and said, "the bigger they are, the more they need. i'm little so don't need much."
"You're wrong, Blair. The smaller and younger the child, the more they need, and the more they should receive."
"just 'cuz i'm small doesn't mean i need more. i'm very self suff… self … sufferage."
"Sufficient?" Jim said with a grin.
"Don't you think I'm pretty self-sufficient?"
Blair studied him for a moment and then shook his head. "nope," he said firmly. "you need someone but just don't know it." He looked at the cookie bag and said, "could i?"
"Don't you think you've had enough?"
"nope," Blair said cheekily.
Jim rolled his eyes and pulled out two more. Blair grabbed them and gobbled them up before Jim could blink. Mouth full, Blair said, "thamk wu."
The older Blair wouldn't have done it much differently.
Jim's smile faded as he caught himself glancing over at the phone on the floor.
He'd always been good at denial and now was as good a time as any to do just that.
The young Blair was NOT here because something had happened to the older Blair.
End of story.
Eyes still on the phone, Jim picked up the same wrinkled paper towel he'd used a moment ago and smooshed Blair's face again. Laughing, Blair let him. When he was done cleaning the boy up, he lifted him and set him on the ground. He was startled by how light Blair was. He supposed he shouldn't be.
Hand on Blair's back, he said, "Come on, let's go sit down. I want to hear more about Naomi, Buenos Aires, Jack; all of it."
Jim turned off the television and, before joining Blair back on the couch, he turned up the gas for the fireplace. "There, that's better, isn't it?"
Blair nodded happily and Jim sat down next to him. "Okay, so you think you're here because I need you. What about your mother?"
"what about her?" Blair asked, clearly puzzled.
"Doesn't she need you?"
"i don't think so. do parents usually need their children? they love them and take care of them, but they don't need them – do they?"
Jim was most certainly the wrong person to ask about that. He gave Blair a "damned if I know" look.
"no, i don't think so. besides, i'm not here forever, just – tonight – maybe. mom won't miss me, she and jack were fighting again."
"What do they fight about, Blair?"
Blair started playing with his shirt, twisting it around his fingers, as he said, "mom likes to go places, see things, but jack just likes staying home. he likes sitting down for dinner instead of catching a meal as we go. he wants her to be a…wife."
"I didn't know they were… Naomi is married?"
"well," blair said thoughtfully, "i don't think so, and i'm sure i'd know. whenever jack tells her he wants a wife, she tells him she isn't his wife and a wife is what a mom is when she's married, right?"
"Uhm, yeah. So he wants a wife but Naomi wants to travel?"
"she wants to go to…to…the big easy, yeah, the big easy, but jack doesn't. he wants to be home for thanksgiving and christmas and mom wants to be in london at christmas."
"Do you celebrate Christmas, Blair?"
"not exactly. we saved a tree last year and decorated it and kept it outside in the ground, and we have a menorah because we're jewish, but mom knows lots of different holidays and we celebrated the winter solstice and do you know what that is?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. I've celebrated it, along with Christmas and Chanukah, for the last three years."
"that's good. we don't celebrate enough and all cultures have celebrations that we can all… that we can all…."
"Benefit from?" Jim guessed, figuring that Blair was channeling his mother again.
"yes, bene-fit from." He tilted his head and regarded Jim rather solemnly. "so why do you think you needed me? do you live alone? do you have children? are you married? is someone lost?"
He'd been smiling at the questions until the last one, which, for some reason, hit him hard.
Was someone lost?
Had he lost Sandburg?
"are you lost?"
Jim blinked at that, then smiled and asked, "How can I be lost, Blair? I'm right here."
"so? doesn't mean you're not lost. my mom was lost at her home, and that was with a mother and a father and a brother. their life wasn't her life and no matter how hard she tried, it could never be her life. she told me that. she told me that going to south america was the best thing she ever did – other than have me," he added proudly. "and she said, once she had me, she wasn't lost anymore."
Jim looked at Blair's round face, small pug nose, heart-shaped lips, and wide blue eyes. He could see the innocence staring back at him and wondered if Blair truly understood what he was saying.
"mom says children are the greatest gift any person can have. mom also says that even if someone doesn't have children, they do."
Jim had the insane notion that he was going crazy. Of course, if he were – than the notion that he was -- wouldn't be insane – or it would be, because he was crazy? "Blair, you're going to have to explain that one. How can someone who doesn't have a child – have a child?"
Blair reached out and touched Jim in the center of his chest. "you have a child right there and you're supposed to take care of him. we're supposed to take care of ourselves and our friends, and protect their child too. mom says so. and mom is always right."
Sensing that a great secret had just been shared with him, Jim found himself asking, "Do you have many friends?"
"well, i've only lived in austin for a little while and school just started last month, but mostly – well, i'm – like, you know, way shorter than everyone, and i have to wear… when i'm in class, i have to wear," he reached toward his sweat jacket and pulled something from a pocket, "these," he finished, holding up a pair of very ugly black glasses. "and i'm kind of … i know a lot of the answers and school is kind of boring sometimes but when i get to go to the libary and read, it's fun. there's mister evans, he's my teacher and i like him, 'specially when i get to learn about the world. he tells us lots of stories about other countries and people and he's a grandfather, he told me he has four grandchildren…."
Jim listened, smiled, nodded appropriately, and acknowledged that the six year old Blair didn't take breaths either. As he listened, it was obvious that the junior version of his partner didn't have any friends, that more than a few children on his block thought his mother was "weird" because she didn't bake or carpool and she wasn't a crossing guard and she didn't bring cookies to school or attend the PTA. She was also younger than all the other mothers, and Jim, reading between the lines, understood that younger meant prettier than most of the mothers, which automatically made her, and thus her son, an outcast.
Jim stemmed the tide of information with another question. "Do you want a friend, Blair?"
Blair looked down at his shoes and scrunched up his face before finally answering. "i have a friend; my mom. she's my best friend, but she says someday i'll have a real friend and…yes, i want that, because my mom is…you know, my mom."
"I bet when you find that real friend, you'll be the best friend he ever had."
Jim was gifted with another brilliant smile, which encouraged his next question. "Do you think one friend should change their whole life for their best friend? Become something they hate for that friend?" He realized the minute the words were out of his mouth, that the questions were too complicated for this Blair – hell, they were too complicated for him.
But he was wrong - the questions were perfect for this Blair.
"mom says there's one friend you must never disappoint, and that's this one," he touched his own chest this time. "if you never disappoint yourself, you won't disappoint your friend. i'm not sure what that means, but i think you have to honor yourself first. i know that if i ever get a true friend, i will treasure him or her, and be the best i can be and protect them, and be true to myself. if that's not enough – then they aren't my friend."
Jim felt the truth of Blair's words deep inside and it warmed him, unraveled the knot of fear that had been living inside of him for more years than he cared to count. Smiling tenderly, he said, "It'll be enough, Blair. Trust me."
"doctor fergie doesn't think people can ever be true friends with one another," Blair suddenly said.
"he's the doctor i used to see once a week in austin. i'm not sure he gets it, though. he understands we have to be best friends with ourselves, but he doesn't believe you can include others. he says people are… intrin… intrin…."
"yeah, that. he says we're selfish and intrins—"
Feeling angry, Jim said, "And just why were we seeing this jer…this guy?"
Blair's legs started jiggling as he said, "i was seeing doctor gwen in san francisco because i get kind of nervous sometimes and i can't breathe."
"I see. Do you know why you can't breathe?"
Blair looked down at his shoes again as he said, "prob'ly."
Jim smiled softly at that – it was so typical of his Blair. Voice low and encouraging, he asked, "Care to share?"
"it's really silly 'cuz i know it's not true, but sometimes – just sometimes – i think my mom might run away from me." He looked up at Jim and smiled sheepishly. "see? silly. my mom loves me and i know that, but sometimes she'll leave me with friends 'cuz she has to go on a … re… re – treat." He grinned again. "i'm a handful."
Jim found himself reaching for the boy, responding to a look in the depths of those wide blue eyes. He rested his hand on the back of Blair's neck and said, "I'd bet anything that your mother doesn't think that at all. And I'll also bet that the first thing she does when she comes back from wherever she's been, is hug you to death, right?"
This time, Jim was favored with a shy smile. "she does hug me hard – almost squishes me! but I like it."
"See? That's because she missed you something fierce. Adults have to do certain things, like leave their children every day to go to work, or go on work trips, or to retreats to help them stay balanced, but that doesn't mean they don't love their children. After all, wouldn't you spend the night with a best friend if they asked? And leave your mom alone for the night?"
"she has jack."
"What if she didn't?"
"i… might. but i'd hug her big and kiss her face and give her smooshes when i got home."
"There, you see? So honestly, I know Naomi will never run away from you."
At least not until you're older and thinking about becoming a cop.
Blair curled his fingers in and made a fist, which he promptly used to pound his leg. "i know that but i can't seem to not be afraid sometimes. i try, i really do. but…i think doctor fergie was right – i'm kind of a baby."
"Blair, tell me your mother doesn't make you see him anymore. Just tell me that."
"jack wanted me to keep seeing him, but you're right, mom said no. she didn't like him, said he smelled like mothballs." He grinned and wrinkled his nose. "she was right."
"Thank God. He sounds like a real jerk, Blair. Doctor Gwen sounds much better."
"she was nice and smelled like roses and gave me hugs when i left, and a sucker too."
"Now that's my kind of doctor. Hugs and suckers. You can't beat that."
Blair giggled, but then went quiet as he cocked his head. "oops, i gotta go now, jimmy. mom is calling me."
Jim felt an incredible sadness at Blair's announcement. He started to protest when Blair added, "i'll miss you, jimmy."
Feeling a rush of emotion, Jim said, "I'll miss you too, very much. Maybe you'll come again?"
Blair cocked his head, covered one eye and peered at Jim with the other one. He shook his head. "i don't know – maybe. but i have a feeling that we're both fine now."
How funny. Jim actually did feel better, and clearer of mind regarding the older Blair and their future. He got to his feet and said, "Okay, hang on, let me get you a few more cookies…for the road, so to speak."
"i'm down with that!"
Jim walked into the kitchen and over to the counter but stopped to scratch the back of his head in puzzlement. What had he wanted again?
He looked around and spotted the Oreo cookies on the counter and frowned. Okay, he'd had beer, but he sure as hell didn't remember taking out the cookies. He picked them up and put them away before turning toward the refrigerator. He got out another beer and started to twist off the top when his gaze landed on the phone in the middle of the floor.
What the hell?
He put the beer down and walked over to the phone. What the fuck was the receiver doing on the floor? He picked it up and was about to return it to its proper place, on the charger, when he had the sudden need to call Blair. He pulled the pad over, the one Blair had written his mother's number on, and punched it in.
"Naomi? It's Jim. Is Blair around?"
"He's already gone, Jim. Didn't he call you from the airport?"
"Uhm… no, no, he didn't. What time's his flight due in, do you know?"
"Eight. Flight 2033 on United. And Jim, I just want to say…to tell you that…I know you'll watch over him as he watches over you… and that this new direction his life is about to take is…well, it's so obviously what he wants that I can't help but support him. Just don't let anything happen to him, okay?"
Stunned, to say the least, Jim found himself speechless.
"Are you all right?"
"I…yeah, sure. And…thanks, Naomi. And as for taking care of him…trust me, I won't let anything or anyone hurt him. You have my word."
"Jim, don't you know by now that you're the only person who could?"
Oddly enough – he suddenly did.
He had a little under an hour to prepare so time to get cracking. Heading for the stairs, his gaze came to rest on the couch. He paused a moment, puzzled, and then walked up to it. He ran his hand over the back, a small frown creasing his forehead. Something was tickling at his mind – but he couldn't capture it. He gave himself a little shake, grabbed the empty beer bottles, tossed them into the recycling basket under the sink, and wiped his hands. He had a partner to pick up at the airport and, before that, a couple of calls to make.
Blair watched the ants turn into cars, spotted Route 55 as it crossed the Cascade river, recognized the warehouse district, spotted the Panorama Building, and then the plane was parallel to the ground, the wheels bouncing before settling. They taxied up the runway and finally came to a stop. People got up, stretched, opened overhead compartments, got down their luggage, and moved into the aisle to await their turn for disembarking. Blair stayed where he was, since he had a window seat, and waited for the crowded plane to empty. His mood during the flight had been – hopeful, but now, now back in Cascade, he was starting to get that lost feeling again. He unbuckled his seatbelt, pulled his backpack out from under the seat in front of him, and moved into the aisle. He walked towards the exit, the stewardesses smiling at him.
"Good-bye, Mr. Sandburg. Thank you for traveling United."
He nodded, smiled, and moved onto the gate ramp. He held his pack in his hand as he trudged down the ramp and finally out into the airport. Many of the passengers were in the arms of loved ones and Blair brushed past them, eager to get outside, eager to breathe fresh air.
He froze for a moment before finally turning toward the voice. "Jim?"
He was standing off to the side, a gentle smile on his handsome face. At Blair's use of his name, he stepped forward and into Blair's space. "Welcome home."
"Jim, how did you…why are you—"
"I called, spoke with Naomi, found out you were on your way back and thought I'd meet you. You don't mind, do you?"
Blair looked up at his friend, unsure about what was going on. When he'd left, the air between them had definitely been clogged with all the shit that had gone down after his mother had sent his dissertation to a friend in the publishing world. Even though everything was back to normal for Jim, Blair's life was in flux. And now Jim was looking at him as if everything was fine, as if their future wasn't at stake.
"No…no, I don't mind."
Jim reached down and took Blair's pack. "I made dinner reservations at Yang Chow's. Sound good?"
Jim was already steering Blair toward the exit and all he could do was let it happen. "Yeah, sounds…terrific. I love Chow's."
Jim smiled down at him. "I know."
Blair was flabbergasted. The trip to the restaurant had been made with quiet chatter about Naomi, her friends, and her life in New Orleans, her favorite city in the world. When they were close to the restaurant, Jim had parked two blocks away because Blair loved walking the main street. The weather was cool, but not uncomfortable, and he found himself enjoying the sights and sounds of Chinatown. Jim seemed relaxed and had listened to every word Blair uttered, which of itself, was weird. When they reached the restaurant, Jim got the door for him, and he felt odd preceding Jim inside.
If he didn’t know better, he'd say they were on a date.
But he did know better.
Jim gave his name to the hostess and she told him it would be only a few minutes before they'd be seated. Hearing that, Jim turned to Blair and asked, "How 'bout the bar and a drink, Chief?"
They made their way to the elegant lounge and took a seat at the long bar.
"What can I get you two?"
"Scotch and water for me," Jim said as he reached for a handful of peanuts.
"I'll have a Coors," Blair said.
The bartender nodded and moved down a bit to put Jim's drink together.
"Hope you're hungry, Chief."
Before he could answer, his stomach growled.
"Good. Figured the pretzels you got on board wouldn’t cut it," Jim said with a grin.
Blair chuckled and joined Jim in the hunt for the perfect peanut. A moment later, an ice cold beer was put in front of him while the scotch and water was placed in front of Jim, who said, "Put it on our dinner tab."
"Sure thing. Enjoy."
They each took a sip of their respective drinks and smiled at each other. Blair put off asking the dozen questions piling up in his mind for the simple reason that he didn't want to ruin this rare good mood of Jim's, not to mention the feeling of security he was experiencing.
"Mr. Ellison, we can seat you now," the hostess announced from behind them.
They took their drinks and followed her through the restaurant to a secluded corner booth, which was another surprise. Jim usually preferred tables near windows and doors, with a clear view of both the exterior and interior of the restaurant.
Blair slid in on one side, Jim the other. They were each handed a large red velvet-covered menu before the hostess glided away.
"I'm betting you don't need that, Chief."
"You're right. We both know what I'll be having."
"Yep, but I think I'll try something different this time," Jim mused.
Since that was another shocker, Blair thought there might be something to pod people after all. Although…in this case, Pod!Jim might be a good thing.
"Is the crab soup as good as you always make it out to be?"
"The best anywhere, man."
"Okay, so we both start out with the soup and then, maybe, we share the steamed meat dumplings?"
"Uhm, yeah, they're great. Let's go for it."
"I'm in the mood for Chow's ribs too, want to share that as well?"
Blair felt he should be taking notes. Pod people got hungry - real hungry.
"Uhm, yeah, sure."
Their waiter showed up with a large and welcoming smile and, while Blair ordered their soup and ribs, followed by his usual honey-walnut glazed shrimp entree, Jim gave the menu a final glance before putting it down. When the waiter turned to him, he said, "I'll try the prawns with lobster sauce."
"Excellent choices, gentlemen. I'll have your soup and appetizers up in a few minutes."
Alone again – naturally, Blair thought. The questions were burning a hole in his brain and getting ready to spill down to his mouth, so mood or no mood, it was time to ask. "Okay, Jim, I've been remarkably restrained since you picked me up, but we both know my time limit for restraint is about up. What the fuck is going on?"
Jim couldn't help it – he laughed, and then laughed even harder when Blair rolled his eyes. When he finally calmed down, he said, "I've got to admit, you lasted a hell of a lot longer than I thought you would."
"Yeah, yeah, so what's going on?"
Jim's expression softened as he said, "Would you believe that I'm not sure? I just know that one minute I was drinking my way through the afternoon and the next – I was on the phone to your mom. I feel like I had an epiphany, but don't exactly know when or the full details. And yet – I seem to know all about it. Does that make sense?"
"Yeah, kind of. No. Not for you. So you're saying that the end result of this epiphany was picking me up at the airport, making reservations at one of my favorite restaurants, asking for a nice secluded table, and treating me like the best date you ever had? Would that cover it?"
Jim grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, that's about it." Playing with his fork, he asked, a bit too casually, "So how would you feel if you were the best date I ever had?"
Blair didn't know where this was coming from, but it was so different from the last few weeks, and so needed and welcome, that he didn't care. He reached across the table and placed his hand over Jim's still busy one. Stilling it, he said, "I know I'm the best date you ever had. And I'm going to be the best everything you ever had - best partner, best friend, best lover. I'm also going to be the last of all of the above that you ever have."
Jim slipped his hand out from under Blair's and slowly laced their fingers. "I know."
Blair sat back and patted his stomach. "It's a given that I haven't eaten this well, or this much, in a long time, and I don't regret it a bit."
"Same here, Chief. I take it dessert is out?"
"Are you nuts? No way. You think I could come here and not have the Peking Dust? Get real, man."
"What was I thinking? So two Peking Dust's – or maybe we share?"
Eyebrows waggling, Blair said, "Oh, yeah, we share."
The light dessert had been devoured, an act that had nearly driven Jim crazy. Every time Blair took a spoonful of the frothy, whipped-cream covered, almond-flavored dessert to his lips, Jim had been forced to hold back a groan. It had been the best dessert Jim had ever shared.
Now they were finishing the last of their coffee, both quiet and contemplative, but Jim's curiosity finally got the better of him and he asked, "So how did your visit with Naomi go?"
"Not too bad, really. There were a lot of 'You never hear me's' from me and 'I hear you, sweetie's' from mom, and finally, after I shared what it would be like if she weren't welcome into my life anymore, she got the message."
Jim turned his coffee cup around a few times and murmured, "I thought you were running away."
"No, you thought I was putting my mother's needs before yours, which, in a way, I was. To be honest, your needs weren't really bowling me over at the time, hell, neither were mine." He looked pensive for a moment before adding, "Okay, maybe I was running away, for a little while. You were awfully hard to live with," he held up a hand when Jim started to speak, "I know, so was I. But damn it, once the press conference was over, your leg had healed, and you'd returned to work, I figured things would go back to what passes for normal between us. I didn't expect you to go all silent on me."
"I was scared. You'd given up too much, Chief. Too damn much. How could I accept the loss of your career and expect you to settle on being a cop?"
"Maybe because it was my choice?"
"Sorry, it didn't seem like much of one to me, Chief. You didn't have a lot of options."
"Sure I did. I could have sued Sid, Rainier and the news media. I could have said a million different things about my dissertation. But all that would have done was prolong the agony, destroy my mother, and probably get you and Simon thrown off the force. So I took the easier road; the less painful road."
Jim looked incredulous. "Easier? Less painful? Are you nuts? You trashed yourself, Blair. You lost everything."
"Did I? How does Simon feel about me, or Joel, Megan, or Henri? How do you feel about me?"
"You know how they feel. They can't wait until you're official. Of course, that's mostly so they can really razz you, but hey. As for Simon – he loves you, Blair. It's that simple."
"And you?" When Jim didn't respond, Blair grinned and said, "Come on, I know you can say it."
"You really need to hear it, don't you?"
"No, but you need to say it."
"Damn, I can never get anything past you, can I?"
Blair simply waited, a half-smile on his face.
"I love you, you jerk."
"There, don't you feel better now, Jimmy?"
The waiter walked up and set the bill folder on the table before walking away. Jim reached for it, checked it, and reached into his pocket for his wallet. As he did, his fingers felt something small and round. Curious, he pulled it out. "What the hell?"
Blair put down his coffee cup and craned his neck to see. "What is it?"
Jim held it up between his two fingers. "Apparently I had a marble in my pocket."
Blair took out his glass case and put on his glasses. "Wow, man. I had one just like that. It's very rare."
Blair reached out his hand and, as Jim passed it over, their fingers touched, sending a strange electrical jolt up Jim's arm. A memory surfaced, cloudy and surreal. Voice low, he asked, "What happened to yours?"
"I don't know. I lost it, I think. I mean, one day I had it and the next, I didn't. It was my very favorite and I was certain it was my good—"
"Your good luck charm. You were certain it would bring you good luck – and keep your mother from running away from you," Jim said, his voice distant.
Blair tightened his hold on the small object. "How the hell…where did you come up with… Jim, what the fuck is going on?"
"You had panic attacks because you were afraid your mom would run away and leave you behind. When you were six, you moved to Austin because she moved in with a guy named Jack. At some point, you realized she'd never run away from you and the panic attacks stopped."
"Jim, how do you know that? I've never…I never told you any of that."
Jim blinked a couple of times and seemed to come back from wherever he'd been. He looked at Blair's hand, at the marble, and said, "That's yours, Blair. It's yours."
Blair stared at the cat's eye and knew instinctively that Jim was right. It was his. He glanced up. "Okay, how?"
"You remember that epiphany?" At Blair's nod, Jim said, "I think you were it."
Blair turned on the light and both men took off their jackets and hung them up. Moving almost as one, they walked over to the couch and sat down. For several minutes, neither man said a word. Finally, Jim rose, walked to the fireplace and got it going. Once the flames were warming the loft, he turned out the light and sat back down next to Blair. He coughed, cleared his throat, chuckled nervously, and said, "I think this is better said in semi-darkness because I can't believe I'm going to say it. Are you comfortable? Do you want to change or anything first?"
"I'm fine, Jim, just fine." Bair knew he sounded odd, but he was still trying to wrap his mind around epiphanies that involved a marble he'd lost when he was six.
"Right, okay then." He let out a breath, took another, and said, "You were here today."
The words dropped between them like a lead balloon. Blair could have had several different replies, but none of them seemed to express what he was really feeling, not that he knew what he was feeling.
"You were a lot shorter and a hell of a lot younger. You were, in fact, six."
Jim looked at Blair for the first time since retaking his seat. "You don't believe me. You, Mr. 'No Problem with Ghosts or Spirit Animals' Sandburg, and you can't believe that the shorter version of yourself was here. This is a red letter day."
Blair got up, walked into the kitchen, checked a couple of cupboards, found the brandy, took it down, got two glasses, and walked back to Jim. He handed him a glass, poured, sat down, poured his own, and set the bottle within reach. Warming the glass between his hands, he said, "Problem is – I do believe you. Problem is – I don't think you believe you. But you're acting like you do, and there's my marble and all, so keep talking."
Jim took a gulp of the brandy, and his eyes popped open as the entire time with junior Blair came flooding back.
Blair reached over and grabbed his arm. "Take it easy – you know the drill."
Jim dialed everything down, blinked hard at the tears that formed, and waited for the heat in his mouth to dissipate. When he could see clearly and his mouth felt half-way normal again, he said, "Wow."
Blair chuckled and said, "Okay – wow."
Jim coughed again, holding a fist to his mouth. He shook his head and said, "I really do believe it. I didn't block it out or anything, and maybe I wasn't supposed to remember, but when we touched, and the marble and all, and I had this flash of something… and just kind of knew. Then we walked in tonight and maybe it was sense memory or something, but it just came back, all of it – just like that. You were wearing a red sweat jacket with a hood, jeans that were too big for you and rolled up. You had on sneakers and a yellow t-shirt that said—"
"Save the whales," Blair whispered.
"Yeah. You didn't like Austin because of the spiders, but you loved the house and Halloween and Naomi let you have some candy a day and you dressed up as a bum, and I gotta tell you, Chief, you sounded cuter than a button in that costume. You gave me the marble for good luck, said I needed it more than you."
"Can't argue with that," Blair said with a wry grin. He took it from his pocket and handed it to Jim.
"Jim, I was very wise when I was six. It went downhill from there. Take it."
Smiling, Jim let Blair drop it into his hand. He rolled it between his fingers, feeling Blair's warmth, and it seemed that he could feel … both Blairs. Looking at the wonder of the marble, Jim said, "Chief, I don't want to lose you as my partner, but I don't want to lose who you are either. I've been so worried about our future, about you as a cop that I've been unbearable to live with these last weeks. For that – I apologize." He tore his gaze from the marble and looked into Blair's eyes – eyes that had as much depth as the round piece of glass. "I love you, Chief, and the idea of doing my job without you is unthinkable, which means that whatever you want to do, wherever you want to go, I'll be with you."
Blair felt something tight inside of his chest relax and the burning sensation in his stomach that he'd been carrying around for weeks - faded away. He could see the remarkable truth of Jim's words in his eyes, could see that not only did Jim mean it, but that he was happy with the decision, truly happy and content. He didn't understand the whole visit by his younger self, but he wasn't going to question it either.
Now for the hard part.
"Jim, I love working with you and I'll go to the academy if it's the only way, but the idea of permanently carrying a gun scares the hell out of me. I've carried for you, I've even fired the damn thing a couple of times, but man, it's just not me, you know?"
"I do, Chief. I know. And I'm glad it's not. I love you just the way you are. You've managed to back me up all these years just fine. Hell, you've saved my life more than a few times. But I don't have to be a cop and I don't have to live here to be a sentinel. The way I figure it, anywhere you are will be my tribe."
"I think my heart just snapped."
Looking skeptical, Jim said, "Huh?"
"You know, that feeling you get when someone tells you you've got the job, or that you're the best sex they've ever had, or that they love you more than chocolate?"
"Ah, that snap."
At the sarcastic – but fond – tone, Blair punched Jim in the arm and said, "Hey, what can I say. That was the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me."
"You're just so…you're so—"
Grinning, Blair said, "I know. Ain't it grand?"
"Now that you mention it – yeah," Jim said.
Blair scooted closer to him, picked up the older man's arm, slid under it, draped it across his shoulders, nestled in, and said companionably, "So now what? I mean, obviously we're going to have sex later, although I'm not sure how I feel about that considering that you spent the day with the six year old me, but I've always been flexible."
With his free hand, Jim scratched the back of his head and said, "What does spending the day with the six year old version of you have to do with us having sex?"
"Hello? You've seen me as a kid, Jim. Duh?"
"Sandburg, I've seen your baby pictures. I've got the one where you're buck naked and running around the yard 'spraying' the flowers, okay?"
Blair slapped a hand over his face. "I still can't believe she showed you that one, let alone gave it to you."
"I thought the one with you on the junior version of a toilet – and what was that, a dragon?"
"Oh, God," Blair mumbled from behind his hand.
"Your mother actually bought a dragon baby potty?"
"Okay, so we're not going to have sex later. We're never having sex. I have a firm rule: anyone who's seen me naked and on a dragon potty – does not have sex with me."
"So we'll just fool around," Jim said reasonably. "Does fooling around violate any of your rules?"
Blair brought his hand away from his face and smiled brightly. "No."
"There you go."
Blair sighed. "You know – you really are a cop and this is your city and you are the Sentinel of the Great City so I'm thinking – we stay."
"Blair, that isn't possible. I won't hit the streets without you."
"So we find another way, Jim. We're smart, we can do this."
Jim looked sideways at his partner and said, "You've flipped, Sandburg."
"Will and way, man, will and way. Tomorrow, we talk to Simon. We'll come up with something, trust me."
"I do. So now that we have a plan, more or less, let's go upstairs and fool around." He tugged on Blair's hair in encouragement.
Blair bounded up, grabbed Jim's arm and hauled him up and into his arms. "Fooling around is good, but if you'll swear to that you never saw me on that dragon thing, we can do way more."
Jim leaned down, nibbled on Blair's left ear a bit, and mumbled against heated skin, "What dragon thing?"
"That's my man."
"You two are nuts," Simon said as he dropped down into his chair.
"That's not news, Simon," Blair said. He shifted on the edge of Simon's desk and added, "Look, either we figure something out or Jim leaves and neither of us want that."
Simon shook his head. "Of course not. Sentinel or no – he's the best detective out there. Hell, he's the best period." He looked at Sandburg, smiled slightly, and added, "And you're a damn fine partner. I don't want to lose either one of you."
Blair grinned, slapped his hand on the desk and asked, "Okay then. So how do we arrange this? Make it happen?"
Jim, who'd been standing by the window, arms crossed over his chest, said, "Chief, would you give us a minute?"
"Aw, man, Simon and I were having a moment and now you've ruined it."
Smiling, Jim walked over to his partner, patted him on the head, and said, "I'm sure you two will have other moments, Chief. Please?"
"Right. This is me…leaving."
He walked out and shut the door behind him.
Facing Simon, Jim said, "There's only one way, Simon - only one way."
They used Simon's second door, Jim adamant that Blair not see them, not know. Once in the corridor, they hurried to the elevator, took it down to the parking garage and got into Simon's car. Simon made quick work of the drive to City Hall.
Blair could admit to a bit of nervousness. He hadn't actually been back to the Department since the day Jim had tossed him the badge and, at the moment, it felt weird. Not that everyone wasn't as friendly and welcoming as they'd always been, but still – it felt weird.
What the hell were Jim and Simon doing, anyway? He'd given Jim way over a minute. He looked at his watch and huffed some hair out of his face. Way over. Try forty minutes over.
He was officially worried.
The idea of Jim giving up what he did, who he was, scared the hell out of Blair. Jim was a cop first, and it was such a huge part of him, deep down inside, that Blair really didn't believe he'd be happy anywhere else, doing anything else. He also knew that Jim needed what Major Crime provided for him: a support system. It didn't take a genius to figure out that the sentinels of old were a far cry from a modern day sentinel. In the city, even a man as private as Jim Ellison needed family, needed the protection that an ancient sentinel was granted by the very nature of the land they roamed. A man like Jim needed friends, and he needed a friend like Simon.
Hell, Blair needed them too.
He smiled as he looked around the squad room. He'd hated the idea of leaving these guys. They were his family too, something Naomi had come to understand. She finally got how important he felt his work with Jim was, in the grand scheme of things. He was doing more for people, thanks to Jim, then he'd ever be able to accomplish in academia or in the field. Sure, anthropology was a big part of his success with Jim, his past experiences and the accumulated knowledge had made him uniquely qualified, in his eyes, to work as a partner to a cop.
He was happy with Jim, happy watching him work, happy watching Jim.
He grinned and did a little spin in the chair. He was a Jim-watcher from way back.
Simon rested his head against the steering wheel and said, "I can't believe you did that."
"Was I wrong? Was there another solution I missed?"
Simon raised his head and peered at Jim. "We only worked on the problem for what, fifteen minutes? You didn't give us a chance to come up with anything else."
"Was I wrong?" Jim asked again, more insistent this time.
Simon put the key in the ignition and said softly, "No." He started the car and added, "Ben's a good man. He'll keep your secret safe. We can trust him."
"That's why I figured it was worth a try. Blair has a place now and the pressure is off your shoulders. The gang already knows the truth, and now, so does your boss."
Simon blinked behind his glasses and, in the dark, he looked strangely exotic, which was a word one didn't normally associate with Simon Banks. Big, bad and gruff worked, though. Jim grinned at himself. Truth was, he felt more relieved than he would have imagined. He felt lighter than air, trouble-free, and he couldn't wait to give Blair the news.
"You know, Jim, I think this could be the beginning of a great friendship."
Jim laughed outright. "Yeah, you, me, Sandburg, all of Major Crime, and the Commissioner."
Blair sighed again. He was bored.
Really, really, really bored, so bored that even fantasies surrounding Jim, his body, their bed, a feather duster and some melted bittersweet chocolate weren't helping. The fantasies weren't hurting, but damn it, he was about ready to storm the Bastille and demand his sentinel be returned to him.
Blair spun around on the swivel chair, eyes wide with shock. "Jim?"
"None other. And in case you failed to recognize him – this is Simon, our fearless leader."
Simon waved jauntily.
Blair glanced over his shoulder at the still-closed office door and then back to Jim and Simon. He frowned and scrunched up his mouth. "Uhm, Jim?"
Jim tugged on a curl and said, "We've established that, Chief."
Before Blair could say anything else, Simon raised a hand and said in a loud and clear voice, "People, gather 'round. I have some interesting news."
Acting as though they hadn't been acutely aware that something was up, and that they hadn't been listening to every word, the entire gang jerked their heads up, feigned surprise, and then quickly surrounded Jim's desk.
Satisfied that he had everyone's complete attention, Simon moved to stand in front of Blair and, with exaggerated slowness, reached into his jacket pocket. Then, with equal slowness, he raised his arm just above Blair's head and, with the same excruciatingly slow movement, opened his fingers.
Blair's ID badge dropped down to dangle from the familiar Cascade PD lanyard in front of Blair's face.
His eyes almost crossing in an effort to see what it was, Blair said, "Uhm, Simon?"
"You'll have to excuse Sandburg, guys," Jim said with a chuckle. "He's a little slow today."
Blair shot Jim a killer look right before snatching the swinging ID from Simon's hand. He held it up in order to see it – now that it wasn't in front of his nose and swinging - and his eyes went totally round, his mouth following.
"Gee, Jim, I do believe he's got it now," Simon said with a happy grin on his face
"This is my ID badge, my old ID, but…but…but it says…it says—"
"It says," Jim interrupted, "Blair Sandburg, Official Consultant to Major Crime."
Numb from the top of his head to his toes, Blair nodded.
"And with that new title," Simon added, "comes a real paycheck. One, I might add, that is none too shabby, as paychecks from the city go."
Jim glanced over at Simon and gave him the thumb's up sign. "Sir, I do believe we've accomplished the impossible. We have rendered Sandburg speechless, as without speech."
Simon raised his hand to Jim and they high-fived each other.
"I have speech. I have lots of speech, words galore, in fact. But if I started on them now, no one would get to lunch, let alone home," Blair said, a wide open, amazed grin on his face.
"Jim, get him out of here - quick - before the deluge." As Jim started to do just that, Simon added with a finger wag, "But I want both of you back in one hour, ready to work. And that includes the time it will take to get Mr. Speechless here, once again employed with the Cascade PD. Am I understood?"
"Completely, sir." Jim took Blair's arm, pulled him up, grabbed their jackets, and started for the door, dragging Blair behind him.
They were almost out when Blair dug in his heels. "Hey, I don't have to pee in the cup again, do I?"
"What are you worried about, Sandburg?" Jim asked, one hand on the door.
"That double latte I had while you two were doing your magic act. It's like déjà vu all over again."
Leering at his partner, Jim said, "Not quite, Sandburg, not quite."