Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters belong to Bilson and DeMeo. Paramount and UPN I grudgingly acknowledge as well.

Thanks Wolfie.
Note: I was sifting through my Sentinel fiction tidbit file and came across this. It was written post Night Shift and pre Sentinel Too. Shiloh and I had decided to work on a birthday story in honour of Garett Maggart's birthday. The story never materialized...my fault. This is more of a vignette than a story and is mostly introspection. Definitely different from my usual and you'll probably see bits and pieces that eventually made it into The Rift.

Some very minor spoilers for Night Shift.


THE GIFT



Paula






Stretching his arms out and over his head, extending them until he heard the joints almost pop in protest, Jim could feel the tension and fears that had eaten away at him for the last few days, finally slip away. Frowning, he thought over the ground he and Blair had covered. What had originally been planned as a surprise birthday getaway for his guide had turned into an almost desperate attempt to repair the breach that had been carrying them further apart. It had been close, so very close.

Ellison stopped, listening for sounds from the cabin. Satisfied that his partner was still sound asleep, he let himself examine the emotions that had almost carried them to the brink. Ruefully shaking his head, he had to admit that they were nothing to be proud of. His small indiscretion... no, be honest...his transgression had managed to throw them into a scene of bitter words. Jim's own anger had surprised him. Curiosity? Fear? Something had urged him to read the dissertation even though Blair had asked him not to. He wanted to believe that it had been only curiosity but that would have just been another lie. When he had read those words "motivated by fear" and "paranoia" it was as if he had been slapped in the face with every self-doubt he had ever had. Reason had deserted him with every line until only the anger had been left. His friend...his partner...his Guide had bared Jim's soul to the world all in the name of academia! Or at least that was how it had seemed. Suddenly the young man who had been a welcomed invader of heart and home had become an interloper. Blair had betrayed him.

"Betrayed," Jim spat the word out with disgust. There had been no betrayal, at least not on Sandburg's part. The two men had struck a deal. Blair could study and write his dissertation as payment for helping Jim learn how to control his senses. He was sure that neither of them had banked on the emotional commitment that had developed. They were no longer subject and scientist, probably never were. Ellison knew that his friend could never follow his mother's philosophy and "detach with love". From the first meeting Sandburg had tackled his part of the bargain with a fervor that had nearly sent the hardnosed cop packing. It had soon become apparent that there was much more than the dissertation at play. The Sentinel had found his Guide.

"And thank God for that." Gazing up at the early morning sky, the detective allowed himself a smile. Things were going to be okay. Blair had recognized the insecurities the thesis had caused. How could he not? An intimate study of three years had given Sandburg better insights into the workings of his psyche than probably Ellison himself had. So Blair, God bless him, had stood there and taken the hits. Had never once returned fire. Sure, he had been angry and hurt by it, but he hadn't indulged in the personal attacks. There had been no question of friendship or trust. And now that he had a chance to look back over it, Sandburg had never even demanded an apology. Whatever forces had brought this particular pairing of sentinel and guide together had known what they were doing. Sandburg's open and forgiving nature had proven equal to his hard and judgmental one. He more than equaled it. The younger man had found the way through the maze of self defenses that had been erected since childhood and dared Ellison to see the future through his eyes. The sudden brightness of that future had almost blinded him but he had taken that dare and would forever defend and protect it.

Today was Blair's birthday, but it was Ellison who had been given a gift. He still had a partner. But even more important he still had a brother. How do you repay that trust? He had something for his friend, the Peruvian tribal mask Blair had coveted when visiting Cuzco. Alejandro had been more than happy to send it to Jim and he knew Blair would be thrilled by the present. But it didn't seem enough. It didn't say enough.

"Hey man, c'mon, shove it over." Startled, Jim looked to see the rumpled and still sleepy-eyed Sandburg standing next to the rock he was sitting on. "There's room for two up there and the grass is wet."

Reaching down, the sentinel extended his hand to his friend. His eyes caught on their clasped hands, feeling the warmth and strength of Sandburg's grip. Any fears he had had of what Blair would publish were obliterated in that instant. Blair had once told him that a guide's duty was to guide and protect his sentinel. How could he ever have forgotten those words? He swore he never would again and promised himself that he would never again be the cause of the hurt he had seen in his friend's eyes.

The quotation Blair had chosen for his dissertation floated through his thoughts. "A faithful friend is a strong defense : and he that hath found such a one hath found a treasure." He didn't know how he was going to tell the anthropologist he had gotten it all wrong. Ellison had found the treasure and would guard it with his last breath. Perhaps that was the only gift he could offer.

Smiling fondly at the young man seated next to him, Jim hoped that Blair would somehow be able to intuit the rush of emotions he would never be able to express in words. Impulsively throwing an arm around his friend, he held him in a tight embrace and managed to whisper out the only words he could find.

"Happy birthday, Chief."


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