Disclaimer: Again, they don't belong to me. They belong to Pet Fly UP and Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended and no money has changed hands.
Warning: This story is NOT slash but the possibility is alluded to in a very roundabout non-specific manner. If the mere mention of this topic troubles you, then perhaps you should pass on this one!
Special Thanks: Thank you StarWatcher for your amazing beta job. It always astonishes me the things you pick up... very clever! (not just my typos or bad punctuation either) PS. Great dissertation title by the way!
Thanks also to wolfpup for my great new home. It's fantastic
Rated: PG for some bad language (not too much)
Feedback: Yes please. I love to hear your thoughts firstname.lastname@example.org
Detective Jim Ellison was a man possessed, a man with a mission, a man with tunnel vision, a man who saw only the means to an end. Nothing else was of consequence.
Blair Sandburg was a man caught in the middle, a man trying to balance his sense of responsibility with his sense of friendship, a man on the edge. Just one more push, and it was inevitable that he would topple over.
"Blair Sandburg," said the weary grad student into the telephone.
"Hey Chief, you about ready? I'll be there in around twenty minutes to pick you up."
"Yeah, sure Jim," replied Blair despondently as he looked at the stack of term reports that was piled high on his desk. He was behind; no, make that way behind. He had promised his students that their reports would be marked and their grades would be posted by the last day of term. To keep that promise, he was going to have to work twenty-four hours a day for the next two days. But hey, he thought, that shouldn't be a problem. I've practically managed to do that for the past week anyway. He grabbed a stack of reports from this desk and wondered briefly if he should take them along. Maybe if the stakeout were uneventful he'd have a few spare minutes to grade a few more papers. "What's the point?" he mumbled to himself. In his frame of mind, he was sure that his brain was incapable of any intelligent thought processes. At the pace that he was functioning, even some of his worst students could very likely end up with A's. God I hate this, he thought. Perhaps he should tell Jim that he was unavailable tonight. After all, he did have a life and a career outside of being an unofficial consultant to the Cascade PD. He was employed by the university, and he had a responsibility to both Rainier and his students.
Shouldering his backpack, he left his laptop on the desk and made his way out of his office. There was no way he would tell Jim 'no'. His sentinel depended on him to keep him grounded. If anything were to happen to Jim because he was too busy to help, he would never forgive himself. Jim Ellison was his sentinel, and he was Jim's guide. In the life of Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison came first.
"Sandburg!" shouted Jim impatiently, spotting Blair plodding across the lawn toward his truck. He gave the horn a quick blast in frustration and shouted again. "Will you get a move on Chief? I don't have all day." As soon as Blair was in the truck, Jim pulled urgently away from the curb with his attention fully focused on the job at hand. Not once did he notice the pallor of his guide's skin, or the dark rings that smeared the red-rimmed eyes. The only thing on Jim Ellison's mind was to put Dale Mason behind bars. In the life of Jim Ellison, his job came first.
"Jim," said Simon as he entered the bullpen.
"Simon, what are you doing here so early; what's up?"
"The investigation into Dale Mason has just been officially called off, Jim."
"WHAT?" shouted Jim in angry disbelief, knocking over his chair as he surged to his feet. "Simon we are this close to making an arrest; how the hell can this happen?" He glared at his Captain. "I hope you realise exactly how many hours we've put in on this?"
"Calm down Ellison," ordered Simon. "The investigation has been called off because there is no suspect left to investigate. It seems that our boy Mason and his car had an argument with a semi on the freeway... the semi won by the way," he added, trying hard to contain a smile and remain professional. "And since I do happen to realise how many hours you've put in on this, you are, as of now, officially off duty, detective. I do not want to see you back in this office for the next five days. I hate to say this Ellison, but you look like shit." Simon gave a quick glance toward Blair, who was sitting scribbling furiously in his notebook. "And take your partner with you; he looks worse than you." Simon gave Jim a pat on the arm before heading into his office. "Enjoy your vacation Jim," he said, closing the door behind him.
"Well Chief, looks like we've got some unexpected downtime. How about we head off for breakfast and then home for some well-deserved sleep?"
Blair glanced at his watch. "Sounds great Jim, but I really don't have the time. I'd appreciate a lift back to the university if you don't mind?"
"Chief, it's five-thirty in the morning and you've been awake all night. What could be so important that you can't at least take time out for breakfast?"
"My career, that's what," said Blair tersely, his patience beginning to wear thin. Not wanting to get into an argument in the middle of the bullpen, he took a deep, cleansing breath. "Look Jim, I'm sorry, but I've gotta get going. I have a class to teach this morning and I'm not even halfway prepared. If the ride's a problem, I'll just catch a bus." He gathered up his backpack and started toward the exit.
"Okay, Sandburg, don't get your shorts in a twist," said Jim, grabbing his jacket and keys. "I'll drive you. God, try and do a guy a favour," he mumbled as he pushed past Blair as the elevator doors opened.
Blair breezed in and out of Jim's life for the next forty-eight hours. Full days at the university were followed by full nights studying and grading papers; the only reprieve for the grad student was coming home to grab a quick shower and a change of clothes. On the last day of term Jim finally cornered his roommate before he hurried out of the apartment once again. "Chief, you got five minutes to talk before you rush on out of here?"
"Better make it quick, Jim. I've gotta get these grades posted before nine," said Blair, who was now doing a juggling act between a piece of toast, a cup of coffee and his books.
"Since today is the last day of term, I was wondering if you're gonna be around tonight. The guys are coming over for pizza and to watch the game, and I was hoping that maybe you'd be here."
"I'll see what I can do Jim; can't make any promises though. I'll catch you later; I gotta run." He took one last mouthful of coffee and grabbed his jacket.
"Hey, wait up. If you can't make it home tonight, how about I swing by the university about twelve-thirty and we'll grab some lunch?"
"I honestly don't think I'll have time, Jim."
"Oh come on, Sandburg, you've been at it for nearly two days straight now. Surely you can take a break for an hour. You still have to eat, you know, and there's this new Thai place just opened up that I've been wanting to try."
"Look Jim," Blair snapped, "I have a lot of work to get through before the end of the day. I can't always change my plans to accommodate you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that just because you've got some time off work it doesn't mean that I have. In case you haven't realised Jim, I do have a job. A job that I happen to take very seriously, even if you don't. And if I want to keep this job, I have to turn up every so often and at least look like I'm putting in some effort. You seem to take it for granted that I can leave work whenever you want me to." Blair snatched his keys from the basket and opened the door. "Look Jim, I really don't have time for this, I'm late already; I'll see you later." He closed the door firmly behind him.
Well that went well, thought Jim, picking up Blair's cup and brushing the toast crumbs off the coffee table. I don't take him for granted... do I?
"Hey Hairboy, how's it hangin'?" asked Henri from his position on the couch as Blair stumbled into the apartment.
"Hey Chief," said Jim. "Here let me take that; you look beat." He grabbed the backpack that was now slipping from the young man's shoulder.
"Jim I'm sorry about this morning, man. I didn't mean to blow up at you."
"You had every right to, Chief. But let's talk about this later okay? I've got a feeling I have some serious apologising to do. You go take a load off, I'll grab you a beer." Jim gently pushed Blair toward the living room.
"I'm gonna take a shower first," mumbled Blair, his speech slightly slurred.
"You okay?" Jim became concerned as Blair stood by the door, seeming unsure of how to get to the bathroom.
"mmm okay Jim... just tired... just really, really tired."
"Come on Junior." Jim grabbed Blair's arm and led him toward the bathroom. "You hit the shower and I'll grab you a towel and some clean sweats."
By the time Jim had gathered up some clean boxers and sweats for his exhausted roommate, Blair was sitting naked on the closed toilet seat, with his jeans pooled around his ankles.
"Can't get my jeans off," mumbled the dejected-looking figure.
"Helps if you take your shoes off first Darwin," replied Jim, bending down to remove the sneakers from the young man's feet. With sneakers and socks out of the way, Jim pulled Blair's jeans completely off. Adjusting the temperature of the shower, he patted Blair gently on the shoulder. "Come on Chief, your shower awaits." He helped Blair to stand and guided him into the stall. "All set buddy. You think you can manage the rest?"
"Yep, I'm good," yawned Blair as he closed his eyes and let the warm spray of the shower saturate his weary body. Closing the door to a round of shouts and cheers as the Jags shot another point, Jim wondered if it would be possible to cut the evening short. His partner was dog-tired, and the last thing he needed was an apartment full of rowdy cops.
Simon toed off his shoes and loosened his tie. "Hey Jim, grab me another beer while you're up will ya? This game's just getting interesting and I don't want to miss anything."
Guess there's gonna be no chance of an early night, thought Jim as he grabbed another six-pack from the fridge. He kept his hearing focused on his guide as he settled back down in the armchair. He didn't want to invade Blair's privacy, but in the kid's condition, the young man was a prime candidate for taking a nosedive in the shower. He definitely did not need a trip to the emergency room... he'd had far too much to drink for that.
Jim listened as Blair opened the bathroom door and made his way into the living room. He nearly choked on a mouthful of beer as he jumped out of the chair to intercept his guide, who was headed for the front door... naked as the day he was born. Ignoring the jeering and wolf-whistles from the men on the sofa, he placed himself between Blair and the door. "Chief," he rumbled, crossing his arms against his chest, "Where ya going?"
"Gotta get to school Jim... I'm running late." Blair's speech was slurred and he seemed to be having a hard time maintaining his balance.
Jim looked over Blair's shoulder. "Simon, pass me the afghan, will you?"
Blair seemed to be patting imaginary pockets. "Can't find my keys Jim," he muttered. "You haven't seen them have you?"
Simon laughed as he came up behind Blair. "Love the new fashion statement Sandburg. Nice buns kid," he teased, handing the afghan to Jim. His comment sent howls of laughter through the apartment.
"Simon will you cut it out?" Flashing a quick look of annoyance at his captain, Jim turned his attention back to his guide. "Blair... buddy, you with me?" Blair's eyes were unfocused and vacant. It was almost as if he were acting on automatic pilot. Jim wrapped the afghan snugly around his partner's shoulders. "Come on Chief, time for bed."
"Jim... I can't... I gotta..." was all Blair managed to get out before his eyes rolled back in his head and his knees buckled.
"Shit," gritted Jim as he grabbed the unconscious man before he hit the ground.
"Sandburg!" exclaimed Simon, reaching out to assist Jim.
Jim adjusted Blair's body to get a firmer grip. "Help me get him to his room Simon." The sounds of laughter that had filled the loft quickly dissipated as three worried men followed Jim and Simon through the French doors.
"You want me to call an ambulance?" asked Joel.
"Let me see if I can rouse him first," replied Jim, adjusting the pillows beneath Blair's head. "Chief... come on buddy, time to wake up." He gently rubbed his thumbs over Blair's cheeks. Not getting a response, he tried again, this time giving Blair's face a firm pat. Receiving only a murmur as Blair turned his head away, Jim opened the front of the afghan and ran his knuckles down Blair's breastbone. As the pain registered in the tired grad student's brain, he opened his eyes and blindly battered away the offending hand.
"Chief? You with us now?"
"Jim... what's going on?" asked Blair, who was now trying to focus on the worried faces above him.
"Thought you might like to tell us the answer to that, Junior, since you're the one who collapsed."
"Yep, went down like a sack of potatoes. What's the last thing you remember?"
"I was in the shower."
"So you remember nothing of your bare-bottom parade through the living room?" asked Simon.
"What! Jim what did I do?"
"Nothing to worry about Chief, at least nothing that's gonna leave these four walls, right guys?"
"Sure Jim... absolutely," came the instant response. "Our lips are sealed."
"H?" asked Jim. His threatening undertone was very evident.
"Promise I won't say a word Jim," replied Henri, holding up his hands defensively in front of him... all the while trying desperately to hold back a smirk.
"Do you think he needs to go to the hospital Jim?" asked Simon.
"No!" exclaimed Blair immediately. "I'm fine... really."
Jim dialled up his senses and gave his partner a quick once-over. "No; I think after some rest he should be fine," he replied. "If you guys don't mind, I'll just help Blair into a more suitable state of dress." Jim stood and waved the men out of the room.
"We probably should get going and let Blair get some decent rest," suggested Joel. "You get a good night's sleep Blair."
"Yeah Hairboy, take it easy.
"Night Blair," said Rafe. "You get some rest."
Simon gave Jim a pat on the back. "I'll clean up a little first Jim," he offered.
"Thanks Simon, I'll be out in a minute."
As Jim helped Blair into some sweats he couldn't help overhear the conversation between the guys as they made their way to the elevator.
"I'll bet twenty bucks," snickered Henri.
"Twenty bucks on what?" Rafe asked, as they paused in front of the elevator doors.
"Twenty bucks on whether Ellison and Hairboy are bumping uglies."
"You betting for or against?"
There was the sound of a meaty ~thud~, followed by the sound of a hand vigorously rubbing over heavy cloth.
"Ow... What did you do that for?" exclaimed Henri.
"I don't believe you two," Joel growled. "You both should be so lucky to have a friendship like Jim and Blair's. Why the hell are you going around starting stupid rumours? I think that Blair's got enough on his plate without having to worry about gossip being spread around the station."
"I didn't start them," complained Henri.
The elevator doors closed behind them, and Jim stopped listening.
Simon looked up as Jim closed the French doors. "He okay?"
"I think so. I'll keep a close eye on him for the rest of the night, but I think he's just exhausted. What's that?" he asked, nodding toward the book Simon held in his hands.
"Blair's day-planner. It fell out of his backpack when I moved it away from the door. I didn't mean to pry, it's just that something caught my eye."
"What?" Jim snatched the calendar away from Simon
"Every page is full. I had no idea, Jim. No wonder Sandburg collapsed. With a workload like this, it's a wonder he's even functioning."
"Yeah," sighed Jim quietly. His eyes scanned over the sentence that was continually repeated throughout. 'meet Jim -- station'.
Jim checked his sleeping guide for the umpteenth time. "No more Chief. This is going to stop. Tomorrow you and I are going to have a long talk," he told the sleeping man. Deciding to take a shower before he hit the sack, he left Blair's door ajar as he left the room. Stripping down and stepping under the hot spray, Jim let the water wash away the events of the evening.
As he rinsed the shampoo from his hair, Jim suddenly had an uneasy feeling that something wasn't right. "Sandburg," he exclaimed, shutting off the water and grabbing a towel. Homing his hearing in on Blair, his heart skipped a beat when he realised the sound he heard was the front door opening. "BLAIR!" he shouted, wrapping the towel around his waist and running out of the bathroom. "Damn you kid," he growled. The front door was now wide open and Blair was nowhere to be seen. Jim knew he didn't have a lot of time. Sandburg might be sleepwalking, but at the rate he was going he would be down in the street in no time. Without time to even pull on a pair of jeans, he ran out the door after his guide. From the sound of his partner's breathing and heartbeat, the kid had already reached the ground floor. Bounding down the last flight of stairs, Jim was just in time to see Blair push through the main entrance of the building. "CHIEF!" he yelled, but to no avail. Blair was obviously caught in a world of his own.
With his heart pounding, Jim pushed through the door after Blair. The scene in front of him seemed to play in slow motion as he made a frantic grab for his partner. With his fingers latching roughly on to Blair's waistband, Jim yanked him back onto the sidewalk and out of the path of the speeding car. Jim winced as the blast of the horn from the errant motorist vibrated through his skull. Unable to speak, the best he could manage was to wrap Blair in a steel grip and hold him close to his chest. "My God," he breathed into the mop of auburn curls. Detective Jim Ellison stood half naked in the street, clutching the most important person in his life tightly to his bare chest. Finally able to compose himself, he turned the young man around to face him. Gazing at Jim with bewildered blue eyes, Blair simply said, "Sleepwalking?"
"You could say that Chief," whispered Jim. Brushing back a stray curl, he said quietly, "Come on, let's get back inside."
By the time he reached the third floor, the sentinel's decision had been made. There was no way he was letting his guide out of his sight for the rest of the night. Securely locking the apartment, he gave the grad student no choice and frogmarched him up the stairs to his bedroom.
"Jim is this really necessary?" asked Blair, who was now very wide-awake.
"Absolutely," said Jim firmly. "You were just very nearly roadkill, Chief. I can't believe how blase you're being about this. I'm going to make damn sure that there are no more nocturnal wanderings tonight." He pushed Blair to get him moving again.
"But Jim, what about my reputation? If this gets out man, I won't get a date till I'm ninety."
"I wouldn't worry about your reputation, Romeo. From the comments I've been picking up in the last few minutes, half the building already thinks we're an item."
"Mrs. Jenkins was at her usual lookout by the window. What do you think she's assuming at the moment? After all, she did have prime position for a view of me, half naked, holding you in my arms."
"Oh, man," groaned Blair. "By tomorrow morning the whole building's gonna be talking."
"And this doesn't bother you?"
"Nope... should it?"
"Jim, think of our reputations, man... I mean, does the phrase 'shot to hell' mean anything to you?"
"You know I don't give a damn about what people think Chief. Now," he said as they reached the top of the stairs, "get into bed."
"Well since you put it so nicely," grumbled Blair. Too exhausted to have an argument with a stubborn sentinel, he crawled into the far side of Jim's bed. "Oh man, do you have to do that?" he asked, covering his eyes with his hands.
"Oh come on Sandburg, stop being such a prude," said Jim, fishing around in his top drawer for a pair boxer shorts, his towel now flung over his shoulder. "This is not the first time you've seen my dick, Chief. God, we practically play shower-tag most mornings."
"I know, but it doesn't mean I actually look."
"Sandburg, all this time we've been living together and you're trying to tell me that you've never once taken a look?"
"Oh course I've taken a look," replied Blair as he took a peek to see if Jim was covered. "I mean," he clarified, "I've done the usual obligatory glance to make sure that your endowment wasn't larger than mine... and once my suspicions were confirmed, I've never taken any more notice. I don't know where you get the nickname 'big guy' Jim, 'cause I gotta tell you man, it ain't all that impressive."
"Sandburg," smiled Jim, folding his towel and laying it neatly over the chair, "The only thing that you have bigger than me is your fat head. For your information, I've also taken 'the obligatory glance' and when they say the word 'weenie'... well, I guess they must be talking about you buddy, 'cause it really is woeful." He demonstrated by bringing his fingers only inches apart from each other.
"Are you coming to bed or are you just gonna stand there gabbing all night?" huffed Blair, pulling the covers up over his body.
Jim climbed into bed next to Blair and turned off the bedside lamp.
"Jim?" said Blair, breaking the silence.
"Thanks for saving my life, man."
With a huge smile on his face, the big detective leaned over and whispered into his guide's ear. "You're welcome, lamb chop."
"You really are a prick Ellison," was the only response as Blair turned his back on the chuckling detective.
Jim packed Blair's shaving kit in the duffle and zipped up the bag. It was just before dawn, and he hadn't had a good night's sleep. Although Blair had stayed put for the remainder of the night, he still woke with a start nearly every hour, his mind unable to shut down. Jim needed to take his guide away, even if only for a few days. Blair needed some time to wind down and forget about work and his responsibilities, some time to forget about being the sentinel's guide, some time to find Blair Sandburg.
Blair needed some time to wind down and forget about work and his responsibilities, some time to forget about being the sentinel's guide, some time to find Blair Sandburg.
"Hey Jim," said Blair as he came down the stairs scratching his stomach. "What're ya doing up man? It's not even light out."
"I could ask you the same question," replied Jim, smiling at the dishevelled figure standing on the stairs.
He yawned as he moved toward the kitchen. "Couldn't sleep. I mean, I'm tired but I guess I'm just too wired."
"How about we head off for a drive today Chief?"
"A drive? Where to?" he asked, grabbing Jim's coffee cup from the countertop and taking a sip.
Snatching his stolen coffee back from the young man, Jim gave Blair a dirty look. "Oh I don't know, why don't we just head up the coast road and see where it takes us?"
"Hey I haven't done that in ages... you know just hit the open road and see where it leads. Sounds like fun, man."
"Good; why don't you go and get dressed. We'll grab breakfast at a diner somewhere along the way."
Rummaging in his closet, Blair shouted, "Jim you haven't seen my blue shirt have you... or my black jeans for that matter?"
"Probably in the dirty clothes hamper," lied Jim. "I didn't get around to the laundry yesterday." He hitched Blair's duffle over his shoulder and grabbed his own bag. "I'm gonna go check the oil and water, Chief. I'll meet you down at the truck. You've got ten minutes. Don't forget to lock the front door," he added, leaving the apartment.
"Yes dad," snorted Blair, scrounging around for something else to wear.
Just as Jim had expected, the rhythm of the car on the highway had Blair asleep in no time. The exhausted grad student had remained dead to the world for the past three hours. When he noticed a sign that read 'Port Lincoln Exit', Jim decided that this was as good a place as any to stop for breakfast. Half an hour's drive along the coast road brought him to a quaint little seaside village. Jim drove slowly through the village, taking in the sights of the glorious coastline on which the town was situated. Spotting a sign that read 'Cabin for Rent' gave him an idea, and he pulled into the small parking area. He had the rest of the week off work, and Blair had two weeks off, so what better place to spend a day or two? The beach was magnificent, the weather glorious, and the Sentinel's decision was made. He shut off the engine, slipped quietly from the truck and headed down the stone path that led to the main house.
Marcie Granger turned off the water to the hose when she spotted the handsome man walking down the garden path. "Can I help you?" she asked, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Yes ma'am, at least I hope so. I noticed your sign on the road and was hoping to rent a cabin for a few days.
"Ellison... Jim Ellison." He extended his hand to the lady, who he estimated to be in her early sixties.
"Nice to meet you Mr. Ellison. I'm Marcie."
"Please to meet you Marcie," Jim replied warmly, immediately taking a liking to the woman. "And please, call me Jim."
"Well, as I said Jim, you're in luck. I have one cabin left, which is unusual for this time of year. If you'd like to follow me," she said, heading down another path that seemed to lead straight to the beach. "Are you here by yourself?"
"No, my partner's in the truck, asleep."
"Well this is it," she announced, opening the back door to the cabin.
Jim followed Marcie down the hallway, which opened up to a large, comfortable living area adjoining a small, but fully functional, kitchen. Opening the sliding glass doors, which led out to a huge deck, Jim breathed in the sea air as he leaned against the rail and admired the view. The cabin was situated right on the beachfront but, like the other four, was nestled discreetly amongst the coastal vegetation, giving it a sense of privacy and seclusion.
"The bedroom's this way," said Marcie walking along the deck to another sliding door. Just as Jim thought he'd found the perfect location for his partner to wind down, he spotted a potential problem. There was only one bed. It was king-size, true, but the fact remained that it was still one bed.
"Well Jim what do you think?" she asked.
"It's great Marcie, but there is a slight problem. There's only one bed and I'm not sure how Blair's going to feel about that."
"Oh... I'm sorry Jim, but the only two-bedroom cabin is already booked. I don't have anything else to offer you."
Jim stepped back out onto the deck and watched the crystal-clear waves lapping gently against the pristine white sand. Guess the kid won't mind too much, he thought. I mean it's not the first time we've had to share a bed. And it's only gonna be for a couple of nights.
"I'll take it," he decided. "Blair will just have to get used to the idea." He smiled at the older lady.
"Hey sleeping beauty," said Jim, slapping Blair on the leg. "Come see what I've found."
"What?" Blair was startled awake by the sting in his leg. "Where are we?" he asked, hopping out of the truck and stretching his cramped limbs.
"Follow me and I'll show you," he replied, taking off down the path.
"Follow you where?" grumbled Blair.
"Just follow me, Sandburg."
Jim took Blair around the front of the cabin and up the stairs which led onto the deck. "Well what do you think?" he asked, a huge smile spreading across his face.
"Wow, this place is fantastic Jim," said Blair as he wandered into the living room. "But why are we here?"
"Because you need some downtime and when I spotted this place, I figured... why not?"
"But Jim, I thought we were just going for a drive, you know, a day trip. I didn't pack anything for an overnight stay."
Jim dragged Blair's duffle out from behind the sofa. "Ah yes, but I did," he boasted.
"Jim... I don't know what to say man. I mean I appreciate the gesture, but you didn't have to do this," he said, gazing around the room with a stunned expression.
"That's where you're wrong Darwin. I did have to do this. Chief, you're run into the ground and I suspect that it has a lot to do with me."
"Ah-ah-ah, let me finish. When you passed out last night you had me really worried, buddy. You need to get some rest and relaxation, and the only way you'll do that is if you're away from Cascade, the university and the station. So what do you say?" he asked hopefully. "Wanna spend a few days by the sea?"
Blair looked at his sentinel's expression and didn't have the heart to say no. "Sure Jim... sounds like a great idea," he replied.
"Glad we agree," said Jim, slapping Blair on the back. "Now I don't know about you, but I'm staving. Why don't we go see what's cookin' around here."
"Hey Jim, how come there's only one bed?" asked Blair, who was now taking a look through the rest of the cabin.
"Um... I was going to talk to you about that," said Jim, quickly ducking out the door and onto the deck. He hastily headed down the stairs to the beach, away from Blair and away from the grumbling he could hear coming from the bedroom. "I knew he'd understand," he chuckled to himself.
The two men shared a leisurely late breakfast at a beachside cafe, enjoying bacon and eggs and each other's company. After much debate and a promise to keep the bed-sharing scenario strictly under his hat, Jim finally got Blair to concede how ridiculous he was being with regard to the sleeping arrangements; he pointed out that they actually slept closer together every time they went camping.
Sentinel and Guide decided to walk back down the beach to the cabin and strolled quietly side by side, simply enjoying the peace and serenity of their surrounds.
"Why don't you go and hit the sack for a while Chief? You still look worn out," observed Jim, unlocking the sliding door.
"I might, if you don't mind. What are you gonna do?"
"I might take a ride back into town later and pick up a few groceries, and maybe see what there is to do and see around here."
"Are you sure you don't want me to go with you?"
"I think I can handle this mission on my own Chief."
"Well if you're sure man," said Blair as he made his way into the bedroom. "Just don't get lost. I mean, you really suck at directions."
Jim ignored the comment. "So, you want to eat out tonight? I'll see if there are any good restaurants around. You feel like anything in particular?" he asked, following Blair into the bedroom.
"Jim you're not being serious are you?" replied Blair, who now had his shoes off and was pulling back the covers. "You saw the size of this place. I don't think we're going to have a lot of culinary choices, man."
"No, I guess you're right," agreed Jim, heading back out to the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. He would wait until Blair was asleep before heading into town.
After wandering around town and discovering that the only decent place to eat that was open in the evenings was owned by Marcie and her partner, Jim entered the cabin via the back door. Already aware that Blair was no longer asleep, he tracked his partner's whereabouts to the water's edge. As he stood on the deck watching the lonely figure, he became uneasy when he heard what sounded very much like crying. Unable to contain his concern, he made his way to the beach and quietly came up behind the young man.
"Chief... buddy are you okay?" After waiting patiently for a reply that didn't come, Jim tried again. "Chief, what's wrong?"
"I can't do it anymore Jim," Blair whispered, his body now visibly shaking.
"Can't do what Blair?" he asked, now becoming even more worried.
"I don't know... I just know I can't do it anymore. I can't do any of it," he said, trying very hard to stop his voice breaking.
Jim took hold of Blair's shoulder and started to turn him around.
"Don't Jim... please man, just don't." Blair wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve. "I'm sorry," he sniffed. "I didn't mean for you to see me like this." He pulled away from the older man's grasp and headed off down the beach.
"Blair wait... talk to me buddy." Jim easily caught up with his friend. "Don't shut me out here, Chief."
"DON'T YOU GET IT JIM?" he shouted, turning angrily around to the sentinel. "It's finished, over... no more. I can't go on like this. I'm so tired Jim," he said his anger suddenly disappearing and replaced with sorrow. "I'm just so tired, so empty. I have nothing left to give, and it's all been for nothing, my whole life's been for nothing."
Jim held Blair by the shoulders and followed the young man down to the sand as his guide dropped to his knees.
"My whole life's been for nothing," he whispered again. This time the tears were left unchecked and trickled down his cheeks.
"Blair, don't say that." Jim rubbed his hands up and down his guide's arms in a futile attempt to give some comfort. "You're just exhausted kid," he said. "All you need is some time to rest and get things back into perspective. I guarantee that after a few days of doing nothing, you'll start to see things clearly again."
"That's the whole problem Jim." Blair's eyes were pleading with the older man. "I don't have a few days. I'm so far behind on my dissertation that I don't have the time to get things into perspective. I shouldn't even be here, man. I should be at home working. Every time I turn around I see my degree slipping further and further away. You know my whole life all I ever wanted to be was an anthropologist. I wanted to be Doctor Blair Sandburg, with all those stupid little letters after my name. But I'm never gonna get there Jim," he said sadly.
"Why not, Chief?"
"Because I met you."
"I don't understand." Jim felt as though he'd just been punched in the gut. "I thought meeting me was your life's dream. I thought finding your sentinel was more important to you than anything."
"To find a sentinel yes, but I never envisioned finding you as well."
"You're losing me here kid," said Jim worriedly.
"Don't you see Jim, I found you. Not just a sentinel. I've found someone who, over the past few years, has become more important to me that anything else in my life. More important than school, my degree, or those stupid little letters," he whispered, shifting his gaze away.
"Blair..." Jim cupped Blair's face and turned it back toward him. "I still don't understand. What has finding me got to do with you not finishing your dissertation?"
"I'm afraid, Jim."
"Afraid of what, kid?"
"Afraid that the day I'm too busy at school to come to the station is the day you'll zone, and that's the day I'll get you killed. I couldn't live with myself if that happened, Jim." His tear-filled eyes now stared directly at his best friend.
"Oh god Blair," groaned Jim, pulling him into a tight hug. "I had no idea, Chief. I'm so sorry. I didn't realise the pressure I've been putting you under. Blair, you listen to me and you listen good, kid." He pushed the younger man back and grasped him firmly by the shoulders. "You will not give up your dissertation because of me. You will go back to school next term and you will get that degree. You will become Doctor Blair Sandburg with a string of letters after your name, and you will make me proud. You understand?" he finished, giving Blair a gentle shake.
"No buts Blair, you will not settle for second best... understand?"
Blair stared down at the sand. "I don't now how I'm gonna fit it all in Jim. I honestly don't."
Jim bought his forehead close to lean against his guide's. Grabbing the back of Blair's neck and squeezing gently he whispered, "I promise you, Chief, that we'll work something out. You just worry about your degree and let me figure out the rest... okay?"
Blair nodded slightly as he savoured the warmth of Jim's hand against his neck. For a brief moment he would take comfort from the strength that was being offered. For a brief moment he would let himself believe that it would all work out.
"Come on Junior," whispered Jim, his lips ghosting across Blair's forehead as he spoke. "You are well and truly overdue for a nap." Reluctantly breaking contact and coaxing Blair to stand, he wrapped his arms tightly around his friend and led him toward the cabin.
"I really hope that they come to their senses," said Marcie to her partner. From their living room window, the two women had been watching the events on the beach with great interest. "I think they make such a lovely couple. Anyone can see that they're meant to be together."
"Sort of reminds me of us when we were that age," replied Judy giving Marcie's arm a gentle squeeze. "Remember how confused we were?"
Blair woke up after a five-hour nap, feeling rested and -- as expected -- very embarrassed about his breakdown on the beach. "Jim, about before, man, I'm really sorry you had to see that... I guess it just all finally got the better of me. I didn't mean what I said; I'm sure after a few days rest I'll be off and running again."
"Blessed Protector," was all Jim said as he put down the book he was reading.
"What?" asked Blair.
"Blessed Protector... isn't that what you called me after we first met, Chief?"
"Yeah, I guess so... but I didn't really mean anything by it. It's just an old Chinese proverb, Jim."
"Well Darwin, it means something to me, and lately I haven't been doing a very good job of it."
"Jim, I'm not your responsibility, man."
"Well I don't happen to agree with that. You are my responsibility... just as much as I am yours. It's called friendship, Chief."
"Yeah I guess it is," replied Blair moving to the sofa to sit by Jim.
"Well, I'm gonna go and grab a shower now that you're awake. I found somewhere to eat tonight and booked a table for around 7.30. There's a beer in the fridge if you want one," said Jim, giving Blair's knee a quick pat before hoisting himself off the sofa.
After taking the beach route to the restaurant, the friendly face of Marcie Granger greeted Jim and Blair at the door. "How are you enjoying your stay?" she asked, leading the two men to a table which overlooked the beach. Handing Jim and Blair a menu she added quietly, "Did you manage to sort out the sleeping arrangements, Jim?"
"Yes, Blair finally came to his senses," whispered Jim, giving the older women a sly smile. "Marcie, I'd like to you to meet my partner, Blair Sandburg."
"Um... pleased to meet you," replied Blair looking suspiciously at Jim. "You've got a fantastic location here."
"Yes, it's quite beautiful," she replied. "Can I get you both something to drink?"
After Marcie had taken the drinks order, Blair lowered his menu and whispered harshly, "Why do I get the distinct impression that she thinks we're an item? What exactly did you tell her when you checked in, Jim?"
"Nothing, I just said that I was here with my partner for a few days," he grinned.
"And when you mentioned 'partner', you did clarify 'police partner' didn't you, Jim?"
"Partner... police partner, what's the difference Chief?" replied Jim, who was now more interested in the menu than his partner's grumbling.
"Oh gee Jim, let me take a wild stab in the dark here," said Blair, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Perhaps leaving out one vital piece of information, especially given the fact that we are two guys staying in a sleepy little seaside cabin, with only one bed, might have led her to form an opinion about what kind of 'partners' we really are."
"Chief, people will believe what they want to believe and no amount of explaining will change that. She had her mind made up the minute I agreed to rent the place."
"Well it still wouldn't have killed you to try and explain things to her."
"Sandburg, haven't you heard of the expression 'I think he protests too much'?"
"I think the more time you spend protesting your innocence, the more people will think you have something to hide. So I guess we're stuck in a vicious circle Chief. Besides, who cares what she thinks? We'll probably never cross paths again."
"I suppose," mumbled Blair. "It's just with half the building at home thinking we're doing 'it', I guess I'm a bit touchy."
"Don't forget half the cops at the station," said Jim, taking a sip of water.
"What?" exclaimed Blair. "You've gotta be joking man... please tell me you're just pulling my chain. What reason could anyone at the station have for possibly thinking we're anything but friends?"
Jim put the menu down and looked at Blair in disbelief. After studying the bewildered expression on his guide's face, he remarked, "For a smart guy, Sandburg, you can be pretty dumb sometimes. Are you sure that anthropology is a good choice kid?" Not receiving a response from a still shell-shocked Blair, he continued, "Chief, we work together, we live together, we take vacations together, we play sports together, we cook for each other, we do each other's laundry... not to mention the fact that we have, on more than one occasion, been known to share a bed," he teased.
Blair gave Jim a swift kick under the table and hissed, "Did you have to say that part so loud? If I didn't know better I'd say you're enjoying this Ellison," he complained.
Jim leaned over the table so he was closer to his partner. "So in conclusion, my little guppy, basically we spend an awful lot of time together." Jim gave Blair a wink as Marcie placed two beers and a basket of hot rolls on the table. "I'll be back shortly to take your orders," she said.
"Just because we spend a lot of time together in no way gives justification for anyone to think that we are an 'item'. I mean, I have been known to date, Jim. You know the kind -- people with all the right pieces in all the right places. Why would any of the guys possibly think I'm interested in you?"
Jim shifted tack. "Okay Chief. Let's look at this from a different perspective. Let's just switch places with the guys at the station for a while," he continued, smothering a hot steaming roll with layers of fresh butter. "Imagine that you're one of the guys down at the station, and one day this young, good-looking guy walks through the door sporting weird clothes, long hair, and a variety of body-piercing and jewellery... nipple ring included in that inventory," he smiled. "Anyway, out of the blue this young, good-looking guy is teamed up with an equally, if not more so, handsome, ex-military, hardnosed 'I definitely do not need a partner' cop. All of a sudden this cop, who barely tolerates a 'good morning' from his fellow officers, is putting up with more crap from this afore-mentioned 'neo-hippie witch doctor punk' than he would from any other person. Don't you think, given these circumstances, that tongues are gonna start wagging?
"Well if you look at it that way, I guess I can see what you mean," said Blair despondently. He moved the butter away from the detective. "I'm sorry Jim. Why didn't you say something before? I never meant to embarrass you.... hey you really think I'm good looking?" he added.
"Sandburg," said Jim, after taking a long swallow of beer, "Have I ever once asked you to change your clothes, cut your hair, or remove any of that painful-looking jewellery you wear, for that matter?"
"Exactly, and do you know why I don't ask any of these things from you?"
"I guess 'cause you don't want to hurt my feelings," replied Blair
"Because Chief, as I said before, I don't give a damn what people think. All I care about is that I have his incredible friendship with one hell of an incredible guy, and if others perceive this friendship to be something more than it is, then that's their problem, not mine."
"Wow... thanks Jim. I don't know what to say, except... well, ditto, man."
"Good. Now that's settled, can I please have the butter back?"
After enjoying an appetizer of fresh oysters, Blair selected a bottle of red from the wine menu. Jim had chosen steak for his main course, while Blair had opted for the lobster. After Marcie cleared away the used plates and poured their wine, Blair spoke. "Jim can I ask you a question?"
"Chief even if I say 'no', you're still gonna ask it, aren't you?"
Ignoring the older man's ribbing, Blair gathered his the courage. "Jim I was wondering if you have... I mean," he stumbled, "I was curious to know if you've ever... you know... 'done it' with another man."
"Excuse me?" exclaimed a startled Jim. "Where the hell did that come from Chief, and more to the point, where is it leading?" he asked cautiously.
"I don't know," replied Blair feeling somewhat embarrassed. "I was just wondering. I mean -- god Jim, you spent years in the army. Wasn't there ever a time when you were on a mission in the middle of nowhere and you... well, you know what I mean."
"I think the term you're looking for is 'buddy fuck', Sandburg."
"Gee Jim, do you have to be so crass?" hissed Blair, looking around to see if any of the other patrons had heard. "I was thinking more along the line of being intimate with another male," he said quietly. "And you still haven't answered my question, by the way." His courage was growing along with his consumption of alcohol. "I won't judge you Jim. I'll completely understand. After all, a guy's gotta have some way of relieving the tension when he's away from home, so to speak."
"The answer to your question is 'no' Chief. I have never been 'intimate with another man', as you so eloquently put it. And as for relieving the tension, I guess I'm just lucky I have big hands." Pouring another glass of wine for himself and topping up Blair's, curiosity finally got the better of him. "Am I going to regret asking you why you needed me to answer that question Chief?"
"Jim, do you ever stop to think that maybe there's more to this Sentinel/Guide thing than we are aware of? I mean you said it yourself. How do two guys who are so incredibly different end up friends?"
Jim sat back and savoured the red wine. With the amount of alcohol that Blair had already consumed this evening, he knew this was going to take awhile.
"I mean, I wonder what type of a relationship occurred between a sentinel and guide in their most primal state," Blair continued. "From what I can gather from my research so far, the Sentinel and Guide were basically considered as one by the tribe. They seemed to have a unique connection with each other... even to the point where I believe that one wouldn't be able to function without the other. What happens if they were supposed to be bonded on more than one level for this relationship to work at its full potential?" he asked. "I mean, what happens if there needs to be a 'coupling' or some sort of 'joining' ceremony that has to happen in order for their relationship to function at its full capacity? I suspect we're only just scratching the surface as far as the spiritual part of this relationship is concerned."
"Chief, do I dare ask what exactly is it that you are trying to say?"
"Jim, what if we're not working together as a sentinel and guide should, because we're conforming to society's expectations of what is deemed acceptable in a relationship? What happens if we're ignoring our primitive instincts?"
"So what are you suggesting Chief?"
"All I'm saying is that if our relationship does need to be based on more of an instinctual one, and if a 'bonding' does needs to take place in order for us to fulfil our destiny as Sentinel and Guide, then I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm glad I've got you as my sentinel, and I'd be willing to take that leap with you."
Jim stared at Blair in total surprise. This was the last thing he expected to hear. Carefully studying his somewhat intoxicated friend, all he could see was absolute sincerity shining in his guide's eyes. Slowly, the reality of what Blair was offering him hit home. His guide was actually prepared to give up a part of who he was for the sake of his sentinel. At a loss for what to say, Jim swallowed the remaining wine in his glass.
Thankful for the interruption as Marcie placed their main meals on the table, Jim thought carefully about his response. Try as he might, he just couldn't picture it in his mind. Sure he cared about Blair, he'd even go as far to say that he loved the kid, but that's where it stopped. The fact of the matter was that they were both heterosexual. He simply didn't have an interest in Blair sexually, and he knew that Blair didn't have one in him. "Blair," he said finally, "I thank you for your offer buddy, I truly do, but are you honestly trying to tell me that you would be in any way comfortable with that?"
"No," replied Blair quietly.
"Then why did you offer?"
"Because I am your guide."
"Blair, being my guide or me being your sentinel doesn't mean we have to change who we are."
"But what happens if I'm right? What happens if we do need to bond? What are we gonna do then?"
"Look, Chief, I'll tell you what. Why don't we just sit on the fence with this one for a while and see how things pan out. If in -- say, thirty or forty years -- we realise that we do have to 'bond' as you put it, then we'll talk about it. There's no need to rush into these things. Let's just take the time to study your research and get all the facts... okay? If I know us, and I do know us, if this bond is meant to happen somewhere down the track, then it will happen when we both feel that it's the right thing to do. How does that sound?"
Blair breathed a sigh of relief. "I was really hoping you were gonna say that man. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally committed to us, it's just that... I mean I..."
"Blair, I understand. Now, how about giving me a taste of that lobster?"
Dinner continued in a less intense fashion as both men polished off their meals, dessert and another bottle of wine. More than slightly drunk, they said their goodbyes to Marcie and her partner and stumbled their way along the beach.
"Jim," Blair piped up when they finally reached the stairs to the cabin, "You do realise that if we do wait thirty or forty years, you'll probably be too old to even get it up? I mean, you're already sliding down the other side of the hill when it comes to that kinda stuff."
Jim grabbed Blair by the waist to steady him as they climbed the stairs. "That's what I'm banking on Chief," he smiled.
The bullpen had been a quiet place for the past week. Jim had forbidden Blair to come to the station, insisting that he stay at home and work on his dissertation. His guide was now back to his old bouncy, energetic self as some of the pressure had been lifted from his shoulders. Jim glanced at his watch. Since school resumed tomorrow, Blair was coming in to meet him for lunch. Smiling as he heard the familiar heartbeat, Jim closed the file he was working on.
"Hey Jim," said Blair, waltzing casually into the office.
Before Jim could answer, Simon stormed out of his office and shouted, "Sandburg, my office, now!"
Blair looked at Jim in surprise.
"Don't look at me kid, there's no way I'm going in there. Especially considering the mood he's in."
"But Jim, I've only just walked in. What could I have possibly done?" hissed Blair.
"With you Chief, it could be anything. I wouldn't keep the captain waiting if I were you," Jim replied as he patted Blair on the back. "Good luck!"
Ten minutes later the door to Simon's office opened. "Listen up people," he announced loudly. "Take a good look at Sandburg; this is the last time you'll be seeing him around here for a while. As of today, Sandburg's ride-along pass has been pulled."
"What!" chorused Joel, Henri and Rafe. With all three now surrounding Blair and Simon, Jim leaned back on his desk and smiled, listening to the protests.
Simon soon had enough and bellowed over the voices. "If you three would just shut up for a few minutes, I'll explain." With the room finally quiet he continued. "I've just had word from the mayor's office that a new position is opening up within Major Crimes. We will be lucky enough to have the services of an official consultant whose field of expertise will be anthropology.
"Congratulations Blair," said Joel, enthusiastically shaking the young man's hand.
"Way to go, Hairboy," laughed Henri, giving Blair a hearty slap on the back.
Blair was smiling widely at their excitement. "The job's not in the bag yet guys," he cautioned. "I've got to finished my diss and graduate first."
"Well it's a certainty then," chuckled Joel.
"Alright, gentlemen I believe you all still have some work to do. I suggest that now might be a good time to get back to it," said Simon, heading back into his office.
"Jim," said Blair, walking over to the big detective who was still leaning against the desk, "You're being awfully quiet. I take it you had something to do with this?"
"Just got the ball rolling Chief. Simon did all of the hard work. So how do you feel about it? Ready to be a fulltime consultant?"
"It's more than I ever dreamed of, Jim. After the excitement of riding with you for the past few years, the idea of fulltime teaching just seems kinda dull. I don't know how to thank you," he said, his blue eyes shinning with gratitude.
"Just remember, Darwin, you promised to let me read your diss before you turn it in."
"Jim this whole dissertation thing has been worrying me for a while now."
"Well I couldn't figure out a way to keep your identity secret so a while back I started working on the 'Thin Blue Line' concept for real. It's called 'Our Tribal Protectors: The Role of Policemen in a Modern Society.' Pretty cool title don't you think; cleared it with my committee and everything." Holding up his hands, he stopped Jim before he could even get started. "My mind's made up Jim. This sentinel thing is far too important to let it go public, at least for the time being." He laughed quietly. "I somehow don't think the world is ready for us quite yet."
"I think you could be right Chief," Jim straightened up and engulfed Blair in a quick bear hug. "Thank you," he said. "So, how about we go out tonight and celebrate?"
On the other side of the office, Henri stood beside Rafe as the detective withdrew twenty dollars from his wallet. "Thank you very much," said H, plucking the bill from Rafe's hand.
"Jim, I can't tonight, I'm sorry. I've got a hot date with Melanie lined up. You know Melanie, as in head cheerleader of the football team? She's asked me back to her place after dinner. I can't let an opportunity like that go by," he said, giving Jim a nudge. "Hey," he thought suddenly. "Why don't you come with us? Melanie's friend Amanda has had the hots for you ever since you came by my office last month. We could double date."
"I don't know Chief, you know how I feel about blind dates."
"It won't be a blind date Jim, you've seen her. Remember the blonde with the big... um, personality?" He smiled devilishly.
Jim returned the grin. "How could I forget that Chief? She had the biggest personality I've seen in a long time. You think she'll be free tonight?"
"For you big guy, I'm sure of it," replied Blair, as both men made their way toward the elevator.
"I'll just take that back, thank you." Rafe quickly snatched the twenty dollars from Henri's grasp. "Pay up," he ordered, holding out his hand.
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