Disclaimer: No they are not mine. They belong to Pet Fly, UPN & Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended and no money has changed hands.
Authors Note: A short while ago, a young man in the small community where I live decided to take his own life. It not only left a community in mourning, but in total bewilderment and despair at the senseless loss of someone so young. I wrote this story more for myself than anything else to try and put some reason as 'why' someone who had their whole life in front of them would feel that this was their only answer. I didn't work out the answer and I don't think I ever will.
Thankyou: As always to Starwatcher and Bobbie for giving up their time not only to beta my stories, but for your friendship.
Note: I know that I promise that "The Test" would be the next story posted, but I decided to put it up for auction at Moonridge. So the winner will have it for 30 days and then it will be posted here. The thinking cap is on and I have a definite idea of where I want this story to go. Thank you all for your patience.
Warning: Touches on the subject of youth suicide.
"That'll be eight bucks."
Jim Ellison drew his attention away from the lone, solitary figure sitting on the windswept beach and back toward the food stall vendor. "Huh?"
"For two coffees? You gotta be kidding me!"
"Look Mac, I'm not standing out here freezing my balls off for anything less than that. You want the coffee, eight bucks is the going rate."
"Well maybe your balls will be a lot warmer after I drag 'em downtown and hit them up for extortion," Ellison mumbled, as he reluctantly handed over a ten-dollar bill. "Change," he demanded, holding out his hand for the money that didn't appear to be willingly forthcoming.
"Skinflint," the vendor muttered under his breath, as he slapped the notes into the palm of Ellison's hand.
Letting the comment pass, Jim Ellison turned away and hunkered further down into his jacket as the bitter chill of the Arctic wind blew across the icy waters of Cascade Bay. With a blanket he'd pulled from the front seat of the truck tucked under his arm and two large cups of steaming hot coffee secured within his grasp, he jumped the short distance from the pier onto the sand. He had no idea what he was going to say when he reached Sandburg, or how he was going to broach the subject of what had happened this afternoon but, over the past few years, he'd grown accustomed to the casual nature of their relationship. With Blair, things just seemed to take a natural path, and he hoped that this would be no different.
"Hey," Ellison said quietly, moving to sit next to his partner. "Thought you might need some coffee."
"Thanks," Blair replied, his eyes not shifting their steady gaze from the waves being driven to shore by the blustering wind. Sandburg's voice and body language didn't change; he seemed unsurprised at the appearance of the detective. "How'd you know?"
Shaking out the blanket, Ellison draped it over Blair's shoulders. The question might have given rise to more than one answer, but he knew exactly what the kid was referring to. "Professor Stoddard called me and told me what happened." He nudged Blair's knee with his own. "It's not your fault, you know."
"I know," Sandburg replied as he rolled the styrofoam cup between the palms of his cold hands. "But I can't help thinking that the mark I gave him was maybe that final push over the edge."
"Blair, kids don't commit suicide because they're given a failing grade. Whatever his problems were, they would have gone far deeper than not passing your class."
Sandburg remained silent, reflecting upon what Jim had just said. Deep down he knew Ellison was right, but he still couldn't rid himself of the thought that the power of the pen, his pen, was capable of wielding a lot more damage than he wanted to admit. He'd always tried to be productive with his criticism of the papers presented to him, giving firm and constructive reasons as to why he gave the grades he did. But there were also times when he let his frustrations get the better of him. Frustrations levelled at those students who used his anthropology class as an easy ticket to stay on the football team, or those who, despite countless offers of help, simply couldn't be bothered to put in the extra effort needed for a passing grade. Those were the times when the power of his pen might have been used for a purpose other than the art of effective teaching.
"How well did you know him?" Jim asked, breaking the silence between them.
"Not well enough, obviously," Sandburg replied, shooting Jim a fleeting look of guilt. "I knew he was a quiet, reserved kind of kid and that he was struggling with some of the topics we'd covered. I called him aside on several occasions and offered him some one-on-one help, but he never took me up on it. In the end, I kinda figured that I'd done all I could to try and motivate him and I guess I left the onus on him. Looking back, maybe I should have been more committed."
Jim scanned the dark, grey ocean, tracking the water from the beach out to the horizon. "Chief, how many students do you have in your class?"
Blair shrugged his shoulders. "In that particular class, around sixty I guess."
"And combined with all your other classes?"
Blair looked at him blankly.
"Conservative estimate, I'd be guessing around a couple of hundred," Jim replied, answering his own question.
"It's still not an excuse, Jim. I'm a teacher, for Christ sakes!" Blair replied, anger creeping into his voice. "I should know my students. All of my students."
"Blair, Eli told me that at the beginning of the term you ran this kid's file past him. He also said that you asked him to take a look over the last paper he turned in before you posted his grade."
"I know, I know," Blair stated, pushing back the hair that the wind was whipping across his face. "And he also said that I was being more lenient than perhaps I should be. Apparently he also took Tim aside and had a talk with him, but the reaction he got was that the kid just wasn't really interested in college."
"Which means that whatever this kid's problem was, you weren't the cause of it."
Sandburg raked his hand roughly through his hair. "Then what the hell was, Jim?" he asked, as he struggled to understand how somebody could be driven to such abject depths of despair that they'd take their own life. "No matter how hard I try, I just can't comprehend how things could be that bad, that death is the only alternative. If his life was so horrible, why didn't he just leave, take off, go somewhere else and make a fresh start?" Blair looked directly into the detective's eyes. "It's not that hard, Jim. Finding a new life is not that hard... believe me, I've done it more than once."
The look in his friend's eyes told Ellison that Blair honestly had no idea. He really didn't understand what it was like to be caught up in the spiralling currents of despair and depression. A place where the water was so deep and so murky that no matter how hard you tried to stay afloat, you knew in your heart that drowning would be your one and only surcease. A sudden sense of relief flooded over the detective, for he also knew that understanding the reasons 'why' was a privilege that was strictly reserved for those who had been there. Casting his eyes back out to sea, he said quietly, "Because sometimes Chief, no matter how far you run, it doesn't make a difference."
"Why, Jim? Why doesn't it make a difference? Surely new friends, new surroundings, a new direction... man, that's gotta count for something."
"Because no matter how far you run, you can never run away from yourself." Jim closed his eyes momentarily and pondered his next move. If he said anything more, he knew that there'd be no turning back, not from Blair. But maybe this time he didn't want to turn back. Maybe, after so many years of keeping these feelings and emotions bottled up inside, it was time to let them escape. He could feel Blair's eyes on him, searching for an answer to a question that really didn't have one. Turning his head, he looked into the eyes of the only man he was willing to trust his demons with, and whispered, "I should know."
"Jim?" Sandburg questioned, not sure if the detective's words had been distorted by the buffeting wind.
"I know how the kid felt," Jim elaborated. "I was there once... with no place to run."
"Jim, I..." Blair began, shocked at the older man's unexpected confession. "I'm not sure what to say." He shifted his position, swivelling around to sit cross-legged so he was now facing Ellison. He needed to see Jim's face; he needed to have some way of gauging the other man's emotions, to understand what was going through his mind. "When?... Why?"
Ellison kicked at the sand, grinding the heel of his boot into the cold ground. "The when's the easy part... it's the why that's the hard thing to explain." He stilled his movements. "And I'm not sure even you'd understand, Chief."
Blair moved closer, unfolding the double layer of the blanket, so it would reach over Jim's shoulders. With their bodies now sharing the meager warmth that the blanket provided, he waited. If Jim wanted to talk, he would. There would be no pushing, no coercion. Jim would talk in his own time.
Drawing the edge of the blanket more firmly around himself, Jim could feel the touch of Blair's knee as it rubbed against his thigh. "When I was seventeen," he began, "I was in a pretty low place. I seemed to be always at odds with my father, and my brother for that matter, and life just seemed like a battlefield from the moment I woke up until the time I went to bed. Dad was constantly on my back about school and my grades; and Steven, well he was just basically a little prick. He was always trying to play me off against dad, establish himself as the favourite son. You know, Chief," he said sadly, "if he'd just once taken the time to notice how dad used to look at me, he would have had his answer without putting us both through so much grief."
Reaching out, unable to resist the urge to offer comfort or deny his own need for physical contact, Blair rested his hand on Jim's thigh, his thumb rubbing circular motions into the tight muscle beneath his touch. Without saying a word, he patiently waited.
"It all eventually came to a head one day after a stupid football game. It was the only game in four years that my father actually found time to come and watch, and of course, it was the only time in four years that I also fumbled the winning play. Dad, being dad, would never admit his disappointment in public. Oh no, good old dad had too much class for that. The old man preferred to air his dirty laundry in the privacy of his own home." Jim covered Blair's hand with his own, not feeling any unease in returning the need for contact. "My father had this unique ability to sense when you were at the bottom of the barrel, and just when you were sure that you couldn't possibly sink any further, he'd open his mouth and you'd find yourself in depths you didn't even know existed."
Blair squeezed Jim's leg, silently offering his support.
"After the game I remember going to my room and looking in the mirror. And you know what Chief? I can still clearly recall the hate and contempt I felt for the face looking back at me." Shrugging his shoulders as if the rest of the story was simply another unimportant event in his life, Jim continued. "So I grabbed a bottle of sleeping pills from the old man's bathroom, swiped a bottle of scotch from the liquor cabinet and locked myself in my room. I figured that being dead really couldn't be any worse than being alive, and who the hell would care anyway. I honestly thought that my father would be relieved. That'd he'd be glad to be rid of the freak."
Blair's stomach lurched as listened to the last statement. Unable to keep silent any longer, he swallowed hard, hoping that his voice would be up to the task. "Jim, please, don't... don't call yourself that, man."
Squeezing Blair's hand, Ellison whispered, "Let me finish this, okay? If I don't finish it now, I'm not sure I ever will."
Blair nodded, forcing back the bitter tears that stung his eyes.
Taking in a deep breath, Jim continued. "Anyway I swallowed maybe half a dozen pills before my stomach said 'no way' and I ended up hurling them up into the trashcan." A sad smile crept over his face. "Guess you were right, Darwin. Modern day medicines and sentinel abilities don't mix all that well."
Never taking his eyes off Jim's face, Blair silently nodded his head.
"But do you know what the sad thing was? Dad never suspected a thing. He didn't bother to check on me or say goodnight and when I woke the next morning he'd already left for work. So I put the bottle of pills back in the medicine cabinet and braced myself for another round, knowing it wouldn't take long for him to discover that half a bottle of his most expensive scotch was missing." Jim reached over and flicked a windblown strand of hair away from Blair's face, a strand of hair that was obscuring the eyes he needed to see. Eyes that often revealed more to him about what Blair was thinking than words ever could. "If you're gonna do it Chief, may as well do it with the aid of the good stuff, right?"
Blair steeled his expression. There was so much he wanted to say, so much he needed to tell Jim, but he'd made a promise to remain silent, and silent was how he would remain.
"You know, Chief," Jim continued, "I'm still not sure why I didn't try again; it wasn't like I didn't have the opportunity." He scrubbed his hand over his short hair. "I dunno," he said as if trying to make sense of feelings that had long since passed. "Maybe deep down I knew that swallowing those pills was simply a way of reaching out, hoping that dad would take notice and that we could make an effort to work things out. Or maybe I realised that if I did try again, the next time it would work... that there really wasn't anybody around who'd stop me." Jim sat silently for a few moments, before turning his attention toward his mute partner. He patted Blair's hand, releasing him from his silent prison. "It's okay, Chief. You can talk now."
Still shocked by Jim's revelation, Blair struggled desperately to find the right words. "Jim... I..." He swallowed hard, determined not to let his own emotions get in the way. "How did you get past it Jim?" he blurted out. "In the end, how did you manage to run from yourself?"
"I didn't run, Chief. I boxed myself in and built a wall. I guess as time went by and I got older, my wall was high enough that those feelings didn't have the same impact that they'd once had. The stronger my wall became, the stronger I became."
"And your wall now?" Blair asked, not really knowing if he wanted to hear the answer.
"Still strong." He smiled. "But maybe not quite so high."
Blair released a breath of air he'd been unconsciously holding from the moment Jim started speaking. "You don't know how badly I wish I could have been there for you."
Jim laughed. "Oh yeah, I can just see it. My father up against a ten-year-old Blair Sandburg. The old man wouldn't have stood a chance."
Blair's voice cracked. "Not a chance in hell, man," he said forcing a smile to his face. Turning over his palm, he laced their fingers together. "Jim, you'd talk to me right? If it ever got that bad again, you'd talk to me."
"Chief, it's never going to get to that point again."
"How can you be so certain?"
"Well, for a start, I'm no longer a mixed up, lonely seventeen-year-old, and more importantly, I've got someone who cares about me."
"You do," Blair replied, hoping deeply that he was the one Jim was referring to, but not quite certain enough to put voice to his thoughts.
"Yeah, Junior, I do." Jim brushed the sand from his jeans. "Although there are plenty of times when he drives me completely insane, he's still my sanity." Jim grasped their hands together firmly and pulled Blair up with him as he stood. "You are my sanity, Chief."
Blair chuckled, leaning briefly into Jim's body. "That's the first time anyone's called me that."
Ellison smiled. It was good to hear his partner's laugh. "How about you, Chief? You gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, man I'll be fine." He pulled away. "Jim, can I be honest with you?"
"Blair, you know you can."
"I still don't completely understand. I mean, I know what you're saying, and I get where you're coming from, but I still can't really comprehend how you felt or what you must have gone through."
"Chief, you can't even begin to know how relieved that makes me feel." Jim swung his arm around Blair's blanket-covered shoulders. "What do you say we get our butts off this freezing beach, grab a couple of pizzas and something a little stronger than coffee and head home."
"Sounds like a plan, man." Blair wrapped his arm loosely around Jim's waist. "You know, Jim, if I had known you back then, do you realise how cool that would have been? Can't you just see it? You, me and Naomi travelling the open road, without a care or a worry in the world." Blair stopped walking. "When I was ten, we had one of those really cool hippie vans. You should have seen it, man. Psychedelic paintwork, multicoloured, hand-knitted seat covers, this really thumping stereo system. It was out there, Jim -- way out there. And you know, I bet Naomi would have even let you drive."
"Chief, I didn't have my driver's license back then."
"Neither did I, but that didn't make a difference. She used to work the pedals of course, but that steering wheel, man... that steering wheel was all mine."
Ellison covered his ears and started walking up the beach. "I'm not hearing this."
"What?" Sandburg asked as he took off after his partner. "I was a good driver."
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