SUMMARY: This story takes events from both "Sentinel I and II" and from "TSByBS" as background and is told from Jim's pov.
Walking on the sands
I decided to leave you.
I was treading a dark clay
and I, sinking and coming out,
decided that you should come out
of me, that you were weighing me down
like a cutting stone,
and I worked out your loss
step by step:
to cut off your roots,
to release you alone into the wind.
Ah in that minute
my dear, a dream
with its terrible wings
was covering you.
You felt yourself swallowed by the clay,
and you called to me and I did not come,
and you were going, motionless,
without defending yourself
until you were smothered in the quicksand.
my decision encountered your dream,
and from the rupture
that was breaking our hearts
we came forth clean again, naked,
loving each other
without dream, without sand,
complete and radiant,
sealed by fire.
It would have been the biggest mistake of my life, I know that now; and as Sandburg sits across the breakfast table from me spooning oatmeal into his face and mumbling grumpily behind his wild halo of untamed morning hair, I can only thank all the gods that be that things didn't go as I'd originally planned.
Oh, at the time I'd told myself that I only wanted to give him back his life; I wanted him to be whole, happy, wanted him to reconnect to his interrupted dreams for his future and to have all the things his heart desired. I wanted him to be safe...and as long as he stayed with me, that just wasn't going to happen. I told myself that it would be better all the way around if he left, if he just dropped the whole dissertation/study thing and got on with his life at Rainier, got on with the business of being a fullblown anthropologist and joyful explorer of the universe--or at least as much of it as he could poke his inquisitive nose into over the next five decades or so. And once he was gone I would be free, as well, finally released from the Sandburgian chains of protective responsibility and dependence that had bound me to him for the past three years.
I didn't need him in my life--in my world--anymore; at least that's the story my stubborn head tried to drum into my uncertain heart. Oh, sure, I'd become accustomed to his weird quirks and annoying habits during his time under my roof, and there was no question that he'd helped me learn how to deal with my senses. And yes, during our three years together he also became my friend, someone I admired and respected and even enjoyed having around most of the time. But as time passed it all just became too much; everything started closing in on me, suffocating me, the spectre of that damned dissertation of his slowly but surely crushing the life from me...and from our friendship. And at some point I decided that it had to stop before everything went too far and there was nothing good left between us, nothing salvageable from all our work and time together.
I knew he'd feel hurt at first, hurt and then most likely furiously angry; never let it be said that Blair Sandburg doesn't possess a red-hot temper under all that hair and irrepressible enthusiasm. He may have a long fuse, but once you get him really fired up about something, it isn't wise to be anywhere near him when he finally goes off like a rocket. But that was okay; I could handle it. I'd become used to his little temper fits by now, accustomed to dealing with his sometimes-pissy moods and with the way he'd go off on these power trips where he treated me like some dumb headcase he could order around with impunity. Like I couldn't be trusted to ever figure out my senses on my own or to use them responsibly in the midst of a crisis at work or even when just sitting around the loft. Oh, hell, yeah, Napoleon had nothing on Blair Sandburg when it came to short, imperious dictators.
It had gone on long enough, I decided; it was about time I got my life back, reclaimed my own space, wrenched myself free of the twisted, strangling roots of our partnership. I was exhausted, used up, tired of feeling responsible for Blair...tired of feeling half-resentful and half-guilty for all the negative, tumultuous emotions roiling nonstop in my chest lately, practically from the minute I opened my eyes in the morning to the minute I closed them at night. All of me seemed to be in full overload, my body itching and humming and vibrating like some goddamned low-frequency power line till I was driven to the point of trying to shut him out on both a conscious and subconscious level. I found myself attempting to block the scent of him, the sound of him, the essence of undiluted Blairness from my overwrought senses as I worked at my desk near him during the day or rode with him in my truck...even when I lay alone in my bed night after night in the darkness, surrounded on all sides by everything that was Blair, I kept trying to drive him from my system, to find some small area of the loft and of my life that hadn't yet been overrun by my roommate's manic life force .
But it was no good; I couldn't undo what had been done, couldn't just flip a switch and sever the weirdly intense connection that had sprung up between us during the past three years. I could feel him everywhere around me all the damned time; with every breath I inhaled him, with every heartbeat I absorbed echoes of his strong aura into my skin, into my soul, till I became suffused completely with the indefinable but unmistakable imprint of his spirit on mine. And his physical presence left its signature on my nerve endings, as well, the ceaseless ripples of his unique energy depositing an invisible film of kinetic, Blair-scented residue that stuck to me no matter how far apart we were, no matter how hard and how often I tried to scrub his essence from my skin.
I began to fear that I was losing myself, that I was forgetting how to function without him at my side, forgetting how to live on my own, think on my own, BE on my own. I didn't want to be that needy, didn't want HIM needing me in return to the same frightening degree; and so I told myself that it would be better for us both if I asked him to leave, if I gave him--gave US--back our freedom. No more of this being joined at the hip bullshit that everyone down at Major Crimes teased us about; I was sick of the impression everyone seemed to have that I didn't even HAVE a damned life outside of Blair Sandburg.
Oh, it was fine for him to have all his college buddies and fellow colleagues and an endless parade of over-sexed females panting after him like bitches in heat; but the general consensus around the bullpen concerning his stick-in-the-mud partner Jim Ellison was that I was some sort of angry, pathetic loner with absolutely no life or interests aside from weekly poker night with the gang and Sandburg's 'generous' friendship. To judge by some of the murmurs going on behind my back--snide little comments I had no trouble picking up with these ears of mine, by the way--Blair's taking pity on me and drawing me into the sphere of his energy was practically the only thing keeping me from complete isolation. It pissed me off hearing shit like that--I've got my own life, my own friends and interests outside of Sandburg, and I do just fine with the whole women/sex dynamic, too...when the mood takes me, that is. He isn't the only red-blooded male in this loft, dammit, but half the force seems to think that he's either bi and happily doing both me and every available woman in sight, or that I'm some closet gayboy who only drags out an obligatory female once in awhile to mask my secret obsession with Sandburg's ass. Just because we've been roommates for years, just because we've often had to work together in rather close physical proximity so Blair could help me control and direct my senses at crime scenes, just because here was this little, bubbly, quirky academic suddenly seeming to cozy up to the dour, humorless, butch-looking cop...Well, wasn't all of it just a big old gossip fest waiting to happen?
So I guess as both time and our partnership wore on, I got a little mad, a little defensive; I guess I became so intent on proving that I didn't need him alongside me every freaking moment of my life that I lost sight of maybe THE most important truth my stubborn soul has ever grasped--the truth that in our time together Blair Sandburg had become one of the closest, most loyal friends I'd ever had. In the midst of all the madness that erupted when Alex came on the scene, I somehow lost sight of the vital importance Blair's presence had come to play in my daily life...and in my heart. I was so caught up in my own problems and needs, so lost within the tangled maze of the bizarre Sentinel 'identity crisis' that Alex's powerfully chaotic presence in my life had precipitated, that Blair's guiding voice became little more than an annoying vibration in my ear, his beseeching touch on my arm an unwelcome intrusion into my personal space. He tried so hard to hold onto the unique bond between us, to warn me that something was going terribly wrong with the already disturbing entanglement of our three lives--his, mine, and Alex's. But I wouldn't heed his premonitory adjurations then, couldn't even bear to have him anywhere near me, as his presence was just too much of a distraction in my fevered quest to somehow claim Alex for my own. Maybe I even saw him as a rival of sorts for her affections, never admitting to myself that deep, deep down maybe there was some part of me that saw Alex as a rival for my best friend's affections, as well. He was MY roommate, after all; he was supposed to be helping me with MY senses, not whoring around behind my back dispensing his shamanistic, holistic health 'favors' to some other sentinel. But that small, ugly shaft of jealousy was something I would never have admitted to myself or to anyone else at that time; for the most part, I was still reeling beneath the drunken influence of Alex's pheremones and her unique form of strangely alluring madness, still trying to come to grips with my own shattered illusions about myself and all I held most dear. And then, when Blair died...
Well. When it all fell apart with such horrible, seeming finality, even then I blamed Sandburg in some sense for ever bringing Alex into the sphere of our lives to begin with, no matter how naively or innocently it was done on his part. When that bitch did her best to murder him (oh, hell, who am I kidding; she DID murder him, as unreal as it all seems)...well, even then, in the very midst of the worst agony of spirit I can ever remember feeling, some dark, twisted part of me was still angry with him for doing this to us, for allowing me to lose my head over a sultry but lethally insane female sentinel to the point where I was almost completely obsessed and could barely function normally...to the point where I was useless to him when he needed me the most.
Somehow I justified it to myself, this blaming game I was playing with my best friend; I told myself it wasn't MY fault but was HIS for sneaking around behind my back and trying to 'two-time' me in a sense with his secret meetings with Alex. I argued with myself that Blair should have sensed early on that something was wrong with Alex, that he should have instantly come to me with his suspicions about her sentinel abilities. After all, who would recognize another sentinel better than I would? The fact that he didn't bother telling me right away made me madder than hell, gave me just the excuse I needed to lay most of the blame at his feet for the unbearable tension that continued to escalate between us. I was already simmering with a growing sense of resentment concerning his dissertation, and my nearly uncontrollable lust for Alex merely increased the potency of the toxic emotions roiling ever more powerfully inside me. It took Blair's drowning in that fountain at Rainier--his DEATH--to even begin to snap me out of the horrible enchantment I'd begun living under; and even after that nightmarish day, Alex still had her claws in me, her power and allure calling me to her and drawing me in, despite my insistence that I was only tracking her down in order to bring her to justice.
Looking back, I can't believe that I had it in me to hurt Blair so badly that day on the beach in Sierra Verde; I knew all along that he was there, could hear the frantic spurt of his heart and the disbelieving rasps of his breathing from lungs still not fully healed as he stood there and helplessly watched me exchange a passionate embrace with the very woman who'd murdered him in that fountain at Rainier mere days before. I was supremely aware of his presence, yet I didn't even try to stop kissing Alex, didn't make the least attempt to push her away, much less arrest her and behave like the cop I was supposed to be. Dammit, I even hesitated when she grabbed my gun and aimed it right at Blair, my mind so fogged with lust that all my normal protective reactions where Sandburg is concerned were drunken and sluggish. I still can't figure out what the hell I was thinking, can't in my wildest imaginings come up with the most remotely believable or acceptable excuse for almost making love to my best friend's killer right there on that beach, WANTING her with such savage, unbridled lust despite knowing who and what she was. Blair's lame theories after the fact concerning such things as territorial imperatives, the primal attraction of two powerful sentinels thrown together, and a host of other anthropological gobbledy-gook could never even begin to explain or justify my behavior where Alex Barnes was concerned. My sentinel abilities and a basic code of human honor and decency were in no way mutually exclusive; if anything, my enhanced senses should have made me MORE conscientious and aware of the fine line between the reasoned use and selfish abuse of my skills. I should have had more restraint, more self-control, should have been filled with righteous anger on Blair's behalf for all he had suffered at Alex's hands...but my mind was still clouded with an irrational glut of anger toward my room mate and partner, and on the beach that day I coolly turned away from the devastated hurt in his eyes. God, even now the memory of the expression on his face sickens me and fills me with self-loathing. Blair...There are no words adequate to express to him my regret for the way I treated him, though I tried afterwards to make it up to him. But it wasn't easy, and my own anger then made it difficult for me to swallow my pride and listen to the quiet truths waiting to be rediscovered deep in the core of my soul.
Through all of those bad days, I was nothing if not stubborn. Even after Alex met her grim but strangely just fate, and even after the disturbing spirit walk she sent me on revealed to me the very heart and soul of my deepest fear and my deepest need, I couldn't seem to take that knowledge and use it to make everything okay again. I mean, how could I fix what I'd done, how could I ever make up to Blair for all the nightmarish events he'd had to endure alone, abandoned by me at the point of his own greatest need? Whatever small bit of blame that he might logically have shouldered for HIS part in the whole mess wasn't even worth thinking about, and God knows he'd more than paid the price for his mistaken trust early on in Alex Barnes. And yet, for days I found myself still wrestling with irrational feelings of anger toward him, and it was also a case of my own guilt feelings keeping things tense between us rather than any reluctance on his part to forgive and forget. And I couldn't get past the fact that he'd DIED in that fountain--how could I expect him to forget THAT?! But eventually we'd managed to put our shaky friendship back on some semblance of solid ground, both of us breathing shaky sighs of relief that turned out to be premature, as even more rough terrain lay ahead of us in the form of that damned dissertation.
That was the straw that almost broke the camel's back, the near-final nail in the coffin of our battered friendship; and during the worst moments of this newest crisis between us, I decided that I needed to--that I HAD to--cut him loose from me, make a final break from him, re-evaluate and redirect my life and goals and move on WITHOUT Blair Sandburg in my life or future. Again I was supremely selfish; sure, he HAD created a fiasco with his dissertation, he made my life and my abilities the center of a very troublesome and disturbingly invasive three-ring circus of unwanted media attention and uncomfortable scrutiny by a host of people, some of whom could have been very dangerous to the both of us. He needed to own up to that, needed to take responsibility for the carelessness with which he'd handled this project that had such power to affect the entire course of my life and future...and his. And I know he WAS sorry, that he was filled with chagrin and embarrassment and humiliated anger at his own laxness and at his mother's unsolicited intrusion into something that was none of her business. But his sorrow over the way it all went down didn't seem enough somehow, just wasn't enough recompense in my book for all the trouble and aggravation he'd brought down on my head. I think some part of me WANTED him to suffer as he was making me suffer, and it wasn't until he called that press conference and pretty much ruined his own hopes for an esteemed future in academia that I realized his suffering wasn't really what I wanted after all. Watching him on that tv screen as he struggled not to lose his composure was almost as bad as watching him struggle for life in that hospital bed after we'd pulled his limp body from the fountain; and the sympathetic anguish that coursed through my soul at the shine of misery in Blair's eyes almost brought me to my knees right there in front of our friends from Major Crimes. It all just hurt so much, we'd both brought so much agony and suffering to each other over those past few months, and I just wanted it to stop...for him as well as for me.
So I decided to end it, to release the both of us from the snare entrapping us and holding us so unhappily together; between the time of his press conference and running into him at the hospital where Simon and Megan both lay wounded, I'd come to the conclusion that I would ask him to leave. Not because he'd ruined my life or because I hated him or was still angry at him, but because it had all become too much, too hurtful and complicated and I just couldn't do it, couldn't deal with the raw wound that my heart had become when I thought back to the happier days of our partnership. I told myself it was for the best, that Blair needed to be away from me as much as I needed to be away from him. After all, I'd ended up ruining his life, his career, just as much as his involvement in my life had messed things up for me.
It wasn't ALL his fault, I told myself on the long walk down the hospital corridor to check on Simon and Megan; after all, some part of me had known all along that his dissertation would be finished and presented someday. He'd been careless in not keeping it safely locked away until he'd had the chance to edit it and to protect my true identity, but he had never lied to me about his ultimate purpose in living with me and researching me as his thesis subject. And I know now that it was foolish of the both of us to ever deceive ouselves that no one would suspect his subject's true identity, not after we'd practically been joined at the hip for almost four years. Most of all, I knew that when we first entered upon our agreement, he truly did want to help me learn to manage and control my senses; he genuinely cared about my well being, and we WERE true friends and partners in the few years we worked and lived together. But things change, people change and needs change and life moves on...so I had to let him go, had to take back the shreds of my own shattered life and try to start anew...alone this time, with no Sandburg at my side or back to weigh me down and make me think and feel so much, TOO much...I told myself that I wouldn't back down, that if he didn't end it between us himself, then I certainly would. After all, it would be the best thing for the both of us.
Then I saw him, there at the hospital; and when he came over to me and told me that Simon was going to be okay, Megan too, the relief and sorrow and exhaustion in his eyes was so palpable and strong that I almost fell apart. In that instant, as his subdued gaze briefly met mine and then flitted uncomfortably away, I realized that ever since that day on the beach at Sierra Verde, I'd been walking purposefully away from him, doing my best to leave him behind me as my footprints trailed across the sand and dwindled into the distance. I'd thought then that I didn't need him, that he was messing up my life; but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't erase the heat of his gaze on my back, couldn't escape the tendrils of friendship and love and mutual need that continued to stretch, weakened and thin to the breaking point but still stubbornly, resistantly THERE, between us. And as the last of my exhausted, bewildered rage and pain shattered apart somewhere deep inside me, I looked into Blair's weary, resigned face there outside Simon's hospital room and felt only love and gratitude for all the things he'd given me, for the depth of friendship and connection we'd come to share.
As I heard words of regret and apology and admiration fall quietly from my lips to his ears then, I realized as if for the first time just how precious and unique the bond between us truly was; and the change my words wrought in Blair's eyes--from dulled, hopeless despair to a sort of numbed relief and acceptance--made me want to wrap my arms around him and hug him tightly to me in a vain attempt to erase all the grief and misunderstandings we'd caused each other over the past weeks. But I knew the time wasn't right for such a gesture; I sensed and understood that this forgiveness between us was still too new, too fragile, and that we still had a hell of a lot of work ahead of us to fully reconstruct our friendship.
But as the faintest hint of a genuine Sandburg grin hovered tiredly at the corners of Blair's mouth, I knew with the strongest sense of conviction my soul had ever experienced that we were going to be okay, that we had come through the scourging fires of both Alex and the infamous dissertation and would discover new depths and a greater strength than ever in our partnership. In my mind's eye I went back to that beach, my keen vision searching out the single line of my own footprints in the sand along the water's edge; and as my gaze zeroed in on the lonely trail of my bare footsteps stretching toward the horizon, a smile lit up my face as the single track became two again just ahead of me, my prints and Blair's marking the sand comfortably ahead for as far as my sentinel vision could see.