In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody but unbowed.
   
- Invictus by William Ernest Henley
No one has love greater than this, that he should surrender his soul in behalf of his friend.
   
- The Bible, New World Translation
        John 15:13


In the Fell Clutch of Circumstance
"The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg" Alternate Ending

"We're going live," a reporter announced just as Blair Sandburg took the podium in front of the packed room.

"Hi. Thank you all for coming," Blair began, his voice shaky and his eyes tinged with red.  "I just have a short speech prepared here. Um... In our media-informed culture, a scientist receives validation by having his or her work published, and after years of research there is great personal satisfaction when that goal is reached. However, my desire to impress both my peers and the world at large drove me to an immoral and unethical act. My thesis, 'The Sentinel' is a... is a fraud. While my paper does quote ancient source material, the documentation proving that J-James Ellison...." his voice caught, and he took a deep breath as he struggled to hold back the tears, unable to look anyone in the eye, "...actually possesses hyper senses is fraudulent. Looking back, I can't even say that it's a good piece of fiction," his control slipped momentarily, but he managed to find a measure of superficial calm before continuing. "I apologize for this deception. My only hope is that I can be forgiven for the pain I've caused those that are close to me. Thank you," he choked out at last, jerking away from the podium and hurrying out of the room.

The chancellor followed closely behind, her voice angry. "You've embarrassed this University for the last time. I want your office cleared out by Friday!"

Blair ignored her, not even bothering to slow down as he left the building. He just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible before he broke down in front of a dozen cameras and half of the faculty. As he headed in a near-run toward the parking lot, the tears broke free, coursing down his cheeks. He didn't made it to his car fast enough. A hand grabbed his arm and spun him around.

"Blair, what have you done?"

Blair wiped quickly at his face and looked up into the withered face of Doctor Bailey, his original advisor when he'd started at Rainier fourteen years ago. "I told the truth," he said, pulling out of the older man's grasp and turning away to continue to his car, his eyes low.

"Like hell you did," Bailey hissed, rushing in front of him and planting a firm hand on his chest, stopping Blair in his tracks. "I've known you since you were sixteen Blair. You think you can fool me? I've watched you -- seen how hard you've worked. I've consulted with you about your work. We're talking almost fifteen years of your life, Blair! We're talking about the Nobel prize, here. The Nobel prize! You could make history, my boy!"

Blair couldn't find it within himself to meet the older man's glare. "I'm sorry, Doctor Bailey, but it's the truth. My thesis is a fraud."

"Blair, I went to bat for you -- all those absences, all those times you needed someone to cover your ass. I wrote your recommendation for the doctoral program. I talked to the chancellor about getting you a better office. This isn't just your reputation on the line here. It's mine and the university's. Beyond that, it's an affront to the truth and to science. You're renouncing work that could potentially help a lot of people. People with hearing disabilities or visual impairments. Hell, even other sentinels."

Finally, Blair did look up, but the old man's image was distorted through a haze of tears. "I'm renouncing a fraud. I'm s-sorry." Almost angrily, he pushed past the older man and all but ran to his car.

"Blair, damn you!" The older man yelled after him, but, thankfully, did not follow. "If you're doing this for your friend, think about what kind of a friend would let you throw away your life's dream!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair stood in Simon's office, his eyes scanning the memories in every crevice.

"Hey Blair, what're you up to?" Joel asked, strolling into the office.

"Taking a last look around," Blair replied.

"Last look? You going somewhere?"

"Yeah. I cleaned out my desk over at Rainier and I thought I'd do the same thing here." A painful memory clutched at his chest. He'd tried to get in and out of his office as quickly as possible, but Dave, one of his students, had intercepted him.

"Say it isn't true, Mr. Sandburg?" The young man pinned him with a wide eyes.

Blair swallowed. "It's true, Dave."

"How...? I mean, you stood up to Brad, put your job on the line because he had cheated, and you refused to let that go. I can't tell you how many people you impressed. That guy thought he owned the world, but you stood up to him. How could you have the gall to go to the chancellor about him cheating when you were doing the same thing all along -- only worse? I mean, he just faked a paper, you faked your entire dissertation. Man, say it isn't true. It can't be. You're better than that, Mr. Sandburg. I know you are."

Blair grabbed his box and headed for the door. "It's true, Dave. My thesis is a fraud. Sorry to disappoint you."

Blair blinked, coming back to the present. He met Joel's steady gaze with one of his own. "I'm a fraud, man. I don't think Simon's gonna want me hanging around."

A booming voice interrupted Joel's reply. "Sandburg! That is not your office!"

A surprised smile touched Blair's face, and he hurried to greet the Captain as Jim wheeled Simon into the bullpen. "Hey, Simon, they let you out?"

"No they threw him out," Jim explained.

"They didn't throw me out. They said I was too cantankerous," Simon protested.

"You know..." Jim teased, pinching Simon's cheek.

Naomi pushed through the crowd of officers standing around the injured Captain, a smile lighting her face.

"Mom? What are you doing here?" Blair asked, surprised.

"I'd never miss this occasion, darling," she said, giving him a hug.

Blair nodded. "I know, it's great. Everybody's safe, and out, and happy."

"That's not exactly why we asked your mom here," Simon corrected. "I understand you gave up your job at the university and I saw you over there in my office, so we decided you needed to do something to keep you under control."

"You're... uh... You're finished in this department, Chief." Jim said.

Blair swallowed. "Yeah, well, I sort of... I figured that."

"As an observer," Jim finished with a smile, throwing Blair a black leather fold.

Confused, Blair opened the fold to see a shiny new badge. "This is um... What is this? This is a Detective badge. What's going on? I don't deserve this."

"No you don't," Simon agreed gruffly, snatching the badge out of Blair's hand. "At least not until you go to the police academy and complete firearms training, and if you do, Detective Ellison is looking for a permanent, official partner."

A tiny, disbelieving smile lifted the edges of Blair's mouth, and he looked at Jim for confirmation. The Sentinel was grinning madly, sauntering toward him with a swing in his step.

"Yeah?" Blair inquired.

"Say something, Sandi," Megan prompted, grinning.

Blair took a deep breath, his eyes locked with Jim's. His chest grew warm, and his face flushed. God! They would do this for him? How on earth had Simon managed to get him a badge? I'm a fraud. A liar. How did he convince the brass to let me on the force? He glanced at his mother, seeing the smile on her face. That surprised him. What a change from when she had yelled at him and asked him if he'd next be wearing "Jack boots." Now Simon's talking about me going through weapons training -- that means carrying a gun, and she hasn't even flinched.

A gun. And what if I have to shoot someone? The warm feeling in his chest turned cold. What's happening here? I gave up my life as an anthropologist to become a cop? The roller coaster ride was great, yeah, but that was as Jim's partner and friend when I still had the university. But now, as a full-fledged cop... carrying a gun... God! What's happening to me? Three years ago I wouldn't have even considered "packing" a weapon. Now I'm thinking about carrying one on a daily basis. And if I use it? If I shoot someone? What then? Who am I here? Am I becoming just a reflection of Jim? His shadow? Will there be anything left of me in a few years? I'll be going from learning about Yanomamo marriage rituals to learning how to aim a firearm. Instead of discussing the shamanistic practices of various Bali tribes, I'll be listening to some instructor tell me to aim for a man's chest to bring him down. To kill him. So he doesn't get up ever again.

What's happened to me?

His smile died, and he lowered his head, looking back down at the pristine badge.

"Blair?" Jim prompted tentatively, almost warily. "What do you say, buddy?"

Blair looked up, his eyes wet, and tossed the shield back to his friend. "Thanks, Jim." He looked at Simon. "And thank YOU, too, Captain. This means a lot to me. It really does... but I can't be a cop." He looked back at Jim, his heart breaking at the crushed look on the Sentinel's face, the pain in those blue eyes. "You know it's not me, Jim. I told you I didn't want to carry a gun. Besides, I'm a fraud. How can I be a cop? My word means nothing, now. You know that. It's a nice thought, man, but it just can't happen."

A tense silence reigned for several moments, the smiles that had touched his friends' faces now gone.

"Look, Sandburg, about you being a fraud," Simon persisted. "I've cleared this with the brass, and --"

Blair shook his head. He had to get out of there. He was about to lose it, and he didn't want Jim and the others to see him break down. "I'm sorry, sir," his voice cracked, and he turned away, grabbing the backpack he'd stuffed with the items he'd cleaned out from Jim's desk. "I've got to go." His voice quivered, and he waved them away, hoping Jim and his mom would just let him leave without a hassle. "I've got everything I need here. See ya around." Swinging the backpack onto his shoulders, he headed toward the hall.

"Blair.." Jim's voice stopped him in the doorway, but he didn't turn to face the Sentinel.

"Yeah Jim?"

"What are you going to do?"

He swallowed. "I don't know, Jim." Then he left, leaving his friends and family behind.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He didn't get very far. Jim stopped him before he even reached the elevators, placing a hand on his arm.

"Don't do this, Blair. Take the job."

With a tired sigh, Blair turned to face his friend. "Sell myself out for -- what? -- thirty-five or forty thousand a year?" He shook his head. "I guess you really don't know what I'm about."

Jim looked like a little boy who's puppy had just died. "I know you'd make a damn good cop, Blair... and the best partner I could hope for. I already told you that... and I need you, Chief."

Blair swallowed, his gaze dropping to the floor. "Until the next time I screw up and you decide I've betrayed you?"

Blair could almost feel Jim's jaw twitching. "That's not going to happen," the older man said. "I'm sorry about the way I treated you --"

He looked up at Jim, his eyes hot with the sting of tears. "It hurt Jim. It hurt that after all this time -- even after Alex -- you thought I'd stab you in the back like that. Even after you found out I hadn't, you still didn't want me anywhere near you. I didn't give that press conference to win your trust and friendship back. I gave that press conference to give you your life back. As for the trust, well, that's a two-way street, Jim, and it seems I've been traveling down a one-way road these past three years."

The elevators dinged, and Blair ducked inside, but Jim followed right behind. "I said I'm sorry, Chief. What more can I do?"

Blair punched the button for the garage, and the doors closed, shutting the two men off from the outside world. Blair wrapped his arms around his torso and moved into the corner. "You can't do anything, Jim. This is just the way you are. It's okay, though, man. You're still the best friend I've ever had, and you've saved my life over and over again. Have I thanked you for that?"

"You don't need to," Jim said, his voice rough. "You've done the same for me... " He reached out, but Blair shifted away from the touch. "Come on, Chief," Jim pleaded, his hand falling to his side. "Don't do this. You and me... We can be partners. You'll have a job, a life --"

Blair looked away quickly, a sob catching in his throat. "Not MY life, Jim. Yours. My life is gone."

The elevator languished to a halt, and the doors slid open. Blair hesitated for a moment, immersing himself in the silence. He listened to Jim's breathing, knowing that his friend was hurting. Before he knew what he was doing, he lunged forward and wrapped his arms tightly around Jim's waist. Jim hesitated a moment, then slowly returned the embrace.

"I love you, Jim," he whispered unsteadily, then pulled away quickly. "Please just give me some time by myself." Without waiting for a reply, he hurried out of the elevators and rushed toward his Volvo, leaving his stunned friend alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim returned to a silent bullpen. Everyone looked as though someone had died, and Naomi... God, Naomi looked about ready to fall apart. Quickly, Jim rushed over to her and she leaned into his embrace.

"I've ruined his life," she cried into his shoulder.

"Shhh. It's okay, Naomi. I'll make sure he's okay."

She shook her head and pulled back, wiping at the tears. "I'm so sorry, Jim."

"It's okay, Naomi," he repeated, then moved toward his desk. The drawer hung open, a reminder that Blair had removed his things. Absently, Jim closed the drawer... and a second later an icy realization gripped his heart.

"Oh God." Jim yanked the drawer open, rifling through the contents, flashing back to a time years before when he'd found himself doing exactly the same thing.

"What is it, Jim?" Simon asked worriedly.

Jim felt the color drain from his face, and his throat was so tight, he could barely get the words out. "My backup .38 is gone."

There was a moment of shocked silence, then the reaction hit.

"Sandi... He wouldn't --" Megan stuttered.

"He's not the type," Joel insisted.

"He just threw away his life," Rafe said. "He's pretty upset."

"Oh God," Jim repeated. Move! he commanded his feet, and, thankfully, they obeyed, hurtling him toward the stairs like a bolt of lightning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair drove like a madman toward his destination, seeing the world in a blur through his tears. He was shaking so badly, he could barely maintain his grip on the steering wheel.

They want me to learn how to use a gun... So I'll use one. Not much to it, just point and pull the trigger. He released a choked sob. This was it. This was really it. What was he doing? What about Naomi? This would destroy her. He flashed on an image of her face, pictured her crying at his funeral. The image alone felt like it could kill him. And Jim? Would Jim hate him for doing this?

This is all I have left. Life is just a ride, and I want off now. I want off...

But how could he do this to Jim and Naomi?

A blur of motion zagged in front of the Volvo, and Blair reflexively slammed on the brakes. The Volvo skidded to a halt inches before plowing into the blue-and-white Ford truck.

Oh God. He watched in stunned horror as Jim hurtled himself around the front of the truck and charged toward the Volvo. In a flash, Blair's car door was thrown open and strong hands reached in to yank him out. He was slammed hard against the side of the Volvo, and eyes full of fire glared at him. Blair wanted to die right there.

He knows. Oh God, he knows.

Jim sniffed the air, then ducked into the car long enough to retrieve Blair's backpack. He opened it, searching the contents madly until he found the gun. When he did, he became still, his jaw so tight the muscles looked like they would snap. Then, subtle at first, he began to shake. He dropped the backpack and turned angry eyes onto Blair, hands whipping out to grab the front of Blair's jacket.

"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!" Jim bellowed, slamming Blair into the Volvo, shaking him like a ragdoll. "What are you doing?! What are you doing?!"

Blair's shoulders contacted painfully with the glass several times, and his control broke, sending him into sobs in the face of Jim's rage.

"Don't you do this! Don't you ever --" Jim's voice cracked, tears springing in his eyes, and he suddenly pulled Blair into a tight embrace, practically crushing the smaller man. "Don't you ever..." he repeated more gently. "Please, Blair, please, don't ever..."

Blair was crying so hard, he couldn't speak, and his face was pressed into Jim's chest, making it hard to breathe. He wrapped his arms around the older man, holding on for dear life, all of a sudden terrified... Terrified by what he had almost done.

It was a long time before he got himself under enough control to speak. "I'm sorry, Jim," he choked out, the words muffled against Jim's chest. "I wasn't going to. I mean, at first I was, but I changed my mind. I couldn't... I just kept thinking about you and Naomi. I'm s-sorry. Please, don't hate me. I'm sorry."

Jim's hold loosened a fraction, one hand sliding up to cradle the back of Blair's head. "Shhh. I don't hate you. I could never hate you, Blair." He saw some bystanders staring unabashedly at them, but he didn't care. He had come too close to the unthinkable... Too close to losing his best friend. And I didn't even see just how MUCH he was hurting... Didn't realize he was this bad until I looked into the drawer. He closed his eyes, feeling Blair's pounding heart against his own chest, listening to the shaky sobs. "Don't ever leave me, Chief... Please," he whispered.

Blair's sobs died down, and he pulled back an inch to look up a Jim. "Who knows?"

Jim opened his eyes to meet Blair's gaze. "I realized the gun was missing in the bullpen. They all know."

"God," Blair closed his eyes and dropped his head back onto Jim's chest.

"I'll tell them I found you and you were fine." Jim said quickly. "The gun got put in your pack by accident when you were cleaning out your things. You were in such a hurry, and upset. You weren't paying attention to what you were doing. The gun got mixed in between some books you had shoved in the drawer. You didn't even know it was in your backpack until I pulled it out."

"They won't believe that."

"Yes they will. Trust me."

"I--" his voice cracked again. "I do, Jim."

Jim rested his chin on top of Blair's head, unable to release his friend just yet. "Just please promise me you'll never do it. Promise me."

"I promise," Blair said, and this time his voice was steady.

Jim closed his eyes. "I'm going public, Chief."

Blair pulled back suddenly, looking like he'd just been punched. "What?"

"I said I'm going public. I'm going to tell your chancellor and everyone else that your thesis was legit. I'll prove it to them."

Blair shook his head harshly. "No, no, Jim. You can't --"

"You were about to commit suicide, Blair," he spat the word out, his chest twisting at the thought. "This is killing you, I know. You gave up your life for me, I can do the same for you."

The sorrow in Blair's eyes turned to anger, and he stepped back, his movements rigid. "Don't you dare, Jim. Don't you dare... This was MY decision. Yeah, it sucks, and, yeah, I got a bit lost, but I'm back now and I know what's important. I can handle this. YOU'RE more important than a stupid book or three letters at the end of my name."

"And your dream... and the Nobel Prize.. and --"

Blair raised a hand to stop the Jim. "This is my decision, Jim. End of discussion."

"But --"

"No! You do it and I'm out of here, Jim. I mean it. You'll never see me again. If you do this, that's like betraying me, man. I'm asking you not to. I'm begging you not to."

Jim's jaw tightened, and he studied Blair for several long seconds. Finally, he sighed, and his shoulders sagged. "Okay."

Blair released his own sigh of relief.

"But please reconsider taking Simon up on the offer. I'm sure we can talk to the Chief and get him to allow you on the payroll in a more civilian capacity. You won't have to carry a gun."

A small smile tweaked Blair's lips, and he seemed to consider the offer. "And I won't have to cut my hair?"

"You won't have to do anything you don't want to," Jim said, his tone serious.

Blair's smile faded, and he swallowed hard. Damn, he was going to start crying again. He didn't trust his voice, so he just nodded.

Jim's face lit up. "Thank you, Chief."

"Ooommmph." Blair found himself being crushed by another hug. He closed his eyes and leaned into the warmth provided. Everything would be okay, as long as he had Jim Ellison as his friend.
 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The End ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ready, Aim, Fire
Flame Away. LOL!
Oh, I know I broke a rule: I changed perspective in the last scene a couple of times. Did it work?