Disclaimer: All characters belong to Pet Fly, UPN and Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended and absolutely no money has changed hands.
Note: I've never written a "Jim" story before, so I thought it was about time I did. But don't worry. I haven't forgotten Blair. A Sentinel story just wouldn't be the same without him! This was first posted on SA as dues.
Thankyou: A very special thank you to StarWatcher for your beta support and continued friendship, and to wolfpup for always making my stories look great.
Feedback: Any feedback is always appreciated. firstname.lastname@example.org
He slammed his fist into the wall just above the panel, his rage no longer contained. "Would you just fucking open!" The stainless steel facade remained stubbornly closed, not willing to let the angry man past its barriers. He lashed out again, this time with his foot. His boot connected, hard, causing the thin metal sheeting that covered the doors to buckle. He looked at the dent, feeling no guilt. "Serves you right." He didn't care about the sheer stupidity of his act, or the fact he was talking to an inanimate object. He was angry; nothing else mattered.
The patter of feet drew his attention to the foyer. The small dog growled, its owner bending down to gather it in her arms. He forced a smile to his face. "Elevator's not working," he informed the middle-aged women. She nodded her acknowledgment, moving quickly to the stairs, hushing quiet words of comfort to her beloved baby.
He turned back to the doors, his reflection staring angrily back at him. He traced the lines of his face in the polished surface. My god, when did you start looking so old? He leaned his forehead against the metal, feeling the coldness penetrate his skin, a coldness that suitably matched the icy fingers that had taken a hold of his heart. Pushing himself off the door, he moved over to the stairs and sat down heavily. He couldn't take this home. Not anymore. Home was no longer the place it used to be. Home was now his sanctuary, his haven. These feelings, this rage, needed to be left outside. He would not let them infiltrate the refuge that he had come to treasure, corrupting it with their hate. Leaning his head against the wall he closed his eyes. His mind wandered back to days gone by. Days when he would have entered the loft bringing his anger and hate with him. Sometimes it was met with a cool disinterest, other times, met with nothing at all.
He opened his eyes, startled. Relief came quickly as a face was put to the voice. He wasn't losing his touch. He'd never had it when it came to the person who had moved to sit on the step above him. His eyes drifted shut again. The weariness he felt was physical as much as emotional.
As if trying to judge his mood, the voice began, "I just finished having a very interesting conversation with Mrs. Muller. She said you snarled at her."
He cracked open his eyes. "I didn't snarl at her. I smiled."
"Baring your teeth doesn't count as a smile, big guy. You actually have to turn up the corners of your mouth when you do it. See, just like this." A stupid smile spread over the face of the young man.
He snorted at the dumb expression. "If that's what a smile looks like, then I think I'll stick with the snarl. At least it's got some credibility."
"She told me you frightened 'Baby'. You didn't threaten to flush her again, did you? You do know that you can't flush a Chihuahua -- don't you?"
"Yes you can, I measured the pipes."
The smile changed, taking on an expression he was more than familiar with. A light hand touched his arm, fingering his damp sleeve. "You're soaked."
"It's always raining." The hand took a firm grasp, "Come on, you're freezing. Let's get upstairs before you catch your death. "
"That's a fallacy," he said letting the hand pull him up.
"Being cold. You don't get sick from being cold. It's the same as boils."
The face that was now level with his looked at him, this time with a confused expression, bordering on worry.
"Sally always used to say that if you sat on cold concrete, you'd get boils. It's not true. I wonder why they tell kids stuff like that?"
The tug on his arm was more persistent. "Come on. Cold or no cold, you need to get warm. You're leaving more of a puddle than Baby did."
"The mongrel didn't, did it?
"Yep, right outside our front door."
"I don't care what you say. I'm setting a mouse trap."
The hand encouraged him to climb the stairs. "No you're not. Besides, it was your fault Baby lost control, according to Mrs. Muller anyway. 'Baby's not used to antagonistic behaviour. She has a very sensitive constitution'. Quote un-quote. And stop calling Baby a mongrel. 'She's a purebred you know'." The snooty tones were a deadly accurate mimicry of their neighbour.
He stopped in his tracks. "That thing's not a purebred. I've seen better-bred cockroaches. How about a can of Raid?"
"No." The hand tugged on his sleeve, propelling him forward once again.
The trudge up the last flight left him breathless, feeling light-headed. Perhaps there was some truth in the 'old wives' tale after all. Maybe he was getting a cold. The hand increased its grip, snaking its way around his waist. The door to the loft was pushed open and he was ushered inside, carefully manoeuvred around the puddle by the front door. Concerned eyes assessed him closely. He figured he must have passed muster, as the supporting arm left his waist. "Stay here while I get you some towels. Can't have you breaking your own rules. I think dripping on the floor is number ten, if I remember correctly."
"Number twelve, dripping on the floor is number twelve. Ten is leaving the toilet seat up." Rules, he thought. I never had a use for them before you came along. You don't need rules when you live by yourself.
As quick steps moved toward the bathroom he was left with a feeling of emptiness, of hollowness. In an effort to chase away the once-familiar feelings, his eyes scanned the room, taking immediate comfort in its ambience. Once bare, naked walls were now covered in vibrant hangings. Soft, gentle watercolours of places visited and others still dreamed of were illuminated by the soft glow of overhead lights. Shelves were neatly stacked with books -- some detailed and longwinded, filled with facts that held no interest to him, others existing only for the pure pleasure of reading. Once empty nooks and crannies were now overflowing with memories, photographs that were dear to him. They were reminders of the life he now lived. They were the slayers of his lonely past. Standing, shivering and dripping just inside the front door, he imagined the same scenario a year ago.
"Jim you're dripping all over the floor." She flung a towel at him from across the room. "I don't really feel like cleaning up after you tonight. I've had a hard day." Her annoyed look bore into him "Why are you wet anyway?"
He peeled off his jacket, mindful of the drops that splattered the floor. He was about to answer her, about to share his day, about to unload his heavy burden. His words stuck in his throat. She was settled again on the sofa, glass of wine in her hand, her attention firmly fixed on the program she was watching. He made his way across the room, annoyed at being dismissed as nothing than more than an interruption, a nuisance.
"I suppose there's nothing to eat?"
Irritation was clearly evident as she spoke again. "Well, seeing as you couldn't be bothered to phone and let me know what time you'd be home, I didn't bother cooking for you."
"I was a little preoccupied. You could have called me."
"I didn't marry you to become your secretary, Jim. My job is just as busy and just as stressful as yours. The last thing I need when I come home is to have to worry about you."
He stopped in his tracks. "Funny, I thought that was what marriage was all about."
She glared at him, throwing the remote onto the coffee table. "I can't handle this tonight. I'm going to bed."
Angry footsteps pounded up the stairs. Two pillows were flung over the railing, followed by the spare blanket.
His jacket was stripped from his shoulders, taking with it his memories. "God, you're turning blue, Jim. I've got the shower already warmed. Just leave your wet stuff on the floor, I'll take it down to the laundry later." He kicked off his shoes, filling the air with a wet, musty smell. Despite the odour, they were picked up immediately. "I'll put these by the fire to dry." A small push had him heading toward the bathroom. He entered the tiny room, billows of steam wafting out into the hallway. He left his wet clothes on the tiles, as instructed, and stepped under the spray. The hot water hit his cold skin, causing him to hiss.
"Jim. You okay?" The voice was concerned. When no answer was forthcoming it barged into the room, not bothering with etiquette. "Jim?"
He turned, staring at the intruder. "I'm fine, just getting used to the water."
His wet clothes were bundled up. "I've put some clean sweats out by the fire. They should be toasty warm by the time you've finished in here. I'm just going to duck down to the laundry. You going to be okay?"
Toasty warm, he thought. What a deliriously wonderful concept.
"You going to be okay?"
"I'll be fine, just fine."
He was left alone again, alone with his thoughts.
Wet and dripping, he fumbled with the keys, his cold, numb fingers finding dexterity difficult. Finally working the lock, he pushed open the door. Open to darkness, to coldness, to nothingness. When he flicked on the light, the only thing eliminated was the dark. The coldness, both in temperature and atmosphere, remained, hanging ominously in the air. He kicked off his shoes, his wet socks squelching as he walked toward the bathroom. His shower, although hot, did nothing to warm his spirits. He was alone, sharing his misery with only himself.
He pulled a TV dinner from the freezer and threw it into the microwave. Grabbing a six-pack from the fridge, he settled on the sofa. He watched as the rain lashed against the window, its fury aided by the howling wind. He stared at the droplets catapulting against the glass. They were incessant, barging time and time again as if desperately trying to break through. Trying to flood him, to drown him.
Before he knew it had happened, he was settled on the sofa, a beer in one hand, the remote in the other. Smells from the kitchen wafted through, bringing with them a comforting effect.
"You made stew?"
Busy hands were occupied in the kitchen, but not too busy for their owner to answer his question. Never too busy to answer him. "Yep, sure did."
Another sniff, another surprise. "With dumplings?"
"Yep, just how you like them. I've also whipped up a batch of your favourite garlic mash, to mop up the gravy."
His beer was plucked from his grasp and placed on the small table beside him. Before he knew it, a tray was placed on his lap.
"Why did you cook this?"
"Don't you like it?"
"It's my favourite. You know that."
"Well I guess that's why I cooked it. You better dig in before it gets cold."
He looked at the dancing flames flickering from the fireplace, their performance spreading warmth to all those who cared to watch. "I shouldn't be eating on the couch. Rules you know."
"They're your rules, I figure you can break them."
The sofa dipped beside him. Same plate, same tray.
"What about you? What's your excuse?"
"No excuse. As I said they're your rules, not mine."
"I don't like where this is heading. Maybe we should rename them 'our rules'.
"Nah, man. You can keep them all to yourself. I've never been able to see the point of rules. We're talking free spirit here, remember?"
He sniffed the air again. Green apples, sugar, milk and butter pastry. "You made my favourite pie."
A chuckle vibrated through the room. "Every pie is your favourite pie, big guy. I could have made blueberry, peach or even rhubarb and you would've said the same thing."
"I love pie."
Conversation dulled, not started up again until bellies were full.
"You want to tell me about your day?"
He got up, leaving the warmth and safety of the sofa, staring blindly out the balcony windows. The rain pelted down with the same ferocity as times gone by. But this time it was different. He wasn't alone. He had someone who cared enough to keep its torrent from pouring in. This time it couldn't drown him.
He felt a presence beside him -- a presence that always encouraged him to share his day. "I don't understand people. Why do we do it? Why do we kill our children? He could have just left, walked away and not looked back. But he didn't, he chose to die and chose to take them with him. They were just babies, so small, so innocent. They deserved a future." He turned around, tears welling. "Why? Why did he do it?"
Arms immediately wrapped around him, offering him the comfort of their strength. A wise voice increased the comfort. "I can't give you an answer to that, Jim. I wish I could, but I can't. I've studied people of all races, cultures and backgrounds, but it would take me a lifetime to even begin to comprehend what makes them tick. Maybe it's the fault of evolution. Maybe we've come so far as a species, that we've all but lost our animal instinct. Maybe that urge, that drive to protect our young has been wiped from our genes. Or maybe we've just become so overwhelmed with modern life that the pressures are too enormous to overcome. I can give you countless hypotheses and theories, but the one thing I can't give you is a reason. I can't give you an excuse for the inexcusable."
The strong arms gave him a final squeeze. "Come on, how about a second helping?"
"I couldn't eat any more."
"Yes you could, you've got hollow legs, remember?"
"For being my home."
The smile that answered him was 'that' smile. It wasn't the smile he got when he told a joke or made a wisecrack. This was 'that' smile. It was the smile that started with the lips and raced on wildly, not stopping until it expressed itself in vivid blue eyes. 'That' smile was the smile that genuinely came from the heart. It was a smile of love, of caring, of devotion. It was a smile of home.
The smile remained as Blair turned away, making his way back into the kitchen. "Always big guy, always."
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