This piece explores the emotional ramifications of Blair's "confession" as a "fraud" in The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg.


Regrets

As soon as the elevator doors opened, an unmistakable scent tickled Jim's nose -- beer. Withdrawing his keys, he let himself into the loft. His eyes and ears scanned the area as he hung his jacket on the rack. Blair should be home by now. It was well after 7 p.m... and, sure enough, there he was seated outside on the balcony facing the street, a half-empty beer bottle perched on the arm of the lounge chair.

Deciding that a beer was a good idea, Jim detoured to the kitchen and grabbed one for himself before heading out to the balcony. When he opened the glass doors, the cool, Cascade air stung his cheeks and ruffled his short hair.

"Hey, Chief." He walked outside and closed the door behind him, then sank into the neighboring chair.

Blair didn't move, but his breathing quickened. "Jim..." His voice was low, almost a whisper.

Jim straightened, leaning forward to look more critically at his partner. He could see half of Blair's face from this angle, and the edge of his eye and tip of his nose were both red. Had he been crying?

"Blair? Is something wrong?"

Sandburg took a swig of his beer, his gaze focused on the city stretched out before him. "I got a call. Eli died a couple of days ago."

Jim leaned forward further. "Eli?"

"Doctor Stoddard."

Oh. Damn. Jim leaned back and sighed. "I'm sorry, Chief."

Finally, Sandburg turned to look at Jim, his eyes wet and bloodshot. He raised the bottle and finished the liquid, then dropped the empty container to the floor and watched it roll to the wall. "He died thinking I was a fraud."

Jim stopped breathing. Oh hell... Now what? What could he say? What could he do? What, exactly, was going through Blair's head?

Blair looked back over the city. "I met him when I was fifteen. He took me under his wing, even took me on a small expedition once and let me do research. I got my name on a paper as a result -- my very first published article. He wrote my recommendation for the graduate program." He looked back
at Jim. "He knew about my Sentinel research, but I never told him about you." He swallowed and lowered his gaze to the floor. "After the press conference, he never called. I never heard another word from him, even after all the years I'd worked with him. He was in the room, though. Did I tell
you that?" He looked up, and Jim shook his head, his throat too tight for words. Blair shrugged and continued. "Yeah. He was behind the mass of reporters. I saw his face when I denounced my w-work." His voice trembled, a subtle slur finally affecting his words. "I... I..." He trailed off with a sigh, leaning all the way back in his chair. "I just wish I could have told him, you know?"

Jim felt something twist in his chest. He took a deep breath and glanced at the discarded bottle. Just how many beers had Blair consumed? "Chief..." He looked back up at his partner, "I'm sorry." He scrubbed a hand quickly over his face. What else could he say besides 'sorry?' There was nothing he could do to change it now. "Are you going to be okay?"

Blair closed his eyes, and his whole body went limp. "I betrayed him. He trusted me. He believed in me. He went to bat for me so many times, and..." He shook his head. "What if Simon thought you were a dirty cop, Jim? What if you HAD to let him believe that, and then he died believing it?"

Jim didn't have an answer, but the thought of that scenario twisted his stomach.

Blair sighed and opened his eyes, gazing blankly up at the dark gray sky. "I knew what I was doing. I knew I could never tell him, but... I guess as long as he was alive, I thought that it wasn't too late. That maybe... I don't know... I think I kind of wanted him to figure it out, or something. I couldn't tell him, but I'd hoped he knew I wouldn't do that. I don't think he did, though. I gave a pretty convincing performance."

The misery in his friend's voice was just too much for Jim to endure. "Blair." He leaned forward and placed his hands on Sandburg's forearm. "If he knew you that long, he must have figured it out. He was a smart guy, right?"

Blair nodded. "Brilliant."

"Then he knew."

"I don't think he did, Jim. He would have contacted me. All I got was silence. I think he was hurt, or maybe just pissed. I don't know."

Jim paused a moment, collecting his thoughts. What could he say to make this situation better? Nothing... "Maybe he knows now."

Blair raised his head to look at Jim. "And maybe he doesn't." His voice faltered again, and he took a deep, shaky breath. Quickly, he rubbed his eyes, then rose to his feet and turned toward the doors. "I'm going for a walk, Jim. I'm sorry, but I just need to get out of here. Don't wait up." Without another glance at Jim, he hurried into the loft, grabbed his jacket and keys, and left.

Jim sat stunned out on the balcony, listening to his friend's retreat. He thought briefly of going after Blair, but he knew the young man needed to be alone right now. As long as he didn't hear the Volvo start, he'd let Sandburg go.

But he would wait up.

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

Blair walked slowly, his head hung low. He focused on the cracks in the sidewalk as he made his way. It was getting dark out. And cold. He hugged his jacket tighter around himself, but it didn't do much to ward off the chill.

He ached inside. Dr. Stoddard was dead, and now it was too late. Too late for anything. He tried to tell himself that it made no difference. Alive, Dr. Stoddard had believed Blair to be a fraud. Now that he was dead he didn't believe anything one way or the other. But, for some reason, that didn't comfort Blair.

A light drizzle started, but he barely noticed. He just kept walking. He didn't have any particular destination in mind, he just needed to walk. To move. To do something.

He hadn't expected this. He'd convinced himself he could live with the world thinking him a fraud. All that mattered was Jim, Simon, and Naomi. They knew the truth. Maybe the rest of the detectives at Major Crime did, too, but he couldn't be sure. None of them had said so, but he knew they'd seen too much to believe that he'd lied about Jim's senses.

But he just hadn't expected this.

I'm sorry, Dr. Stoddard. I disappointed you. Betrayed you. Lied to you. You didn't deserve that. I'm sorry.

Blair's eyes stung, and he sniffled quickly. Why did all this have to happen? He'd known Dr. Stoddard for roughly fourteen years. The old man had held such faith in him. Misplaced faith, as it turned out.

And why did it have to hurt so much? Why did he even care? The past was the past. He couldn't change it. Eli Stoddard now, hopefully, was resting in peace, unconcerned with one Blair Sandburg and his 'fraudulent' thesis.

Fourteen years. That was a long time. A decade longer than he'd known Jim. Eli had practically watched him grow up. He'd been there whenever Blair had needed him, and he'd always been more than happy to help.

He'd been a good man. A very, very good man. And I let him down. He believed in me, and I threw it all in his face.

Well, there was nothing he could do about that now except try to get over it. GET OVER IT.

But now all he could think about was the look on the old man's face at the press conference, and that memory would haunt him to his grave.

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

Jim snapped his head up, jerked from an uneasy sleep by the groan of the elevator. The pitter-patter of rain against the balcony's glass doors drew his attention to the surprisingly nasty weather outside. The high-pitched ding signaled the car's arrival, and slow, heavy footsteps squished along the wood
floor of the hallway.

He glanced at the VCR clock. The bright green numbers jumped out from the darkness. 1:00 a.m. What had Blair been doing for five and a half hours?

Keys jangled in the lock, and the door swung slowly inward. Blair shuffled in, dripping wet, his hair hanging limply against his cheeks and neck. The darkness cloaked Jim, and it was obvious Blair didn't see him sitting on the couch in the dark. The unmistakable stench of alcohol tweaked Jim's sensitive nose, and he frowned. Blair had been out drinking some more.

Sandburg tossed his keys toward the basket, but they missed and landed with a loud jangle on the floor. He didn't appear to notice -- or care -- as he turned and shuffled toward his room.

Jim rose from the couch. "Chief?"

Blair froze and stood motionless for a few seconds. Then he turned his head slowly toward Jim. "Yeah?"

"You okay?"

"No." He shuffled the rest of the way to his room and closed the door.

Jim's frown deepened and he hurried to the French doors. He didn't bother to knock before he entered. He found Blair laying face-down on the futon, his wet clothes soaking the comforter beneath him.

"Sandburg, Jesus. At least get out of these clothes." He moved the rest of the way to the bed, but Blair gave no response. Jim listened to the younger man's heartbeat and found it faster than normal.

He sat on the edge of the bed. "Sandburg?"

"G'way. 'M tired." Blair's words were slurred and muffled by his pillow.

Jim placed one hand on Sandburg's shoulder and the other on the younger man's hip and pushed him onto his back. Blair flopped over effortlessly, then continued the motion until he was on his side facing the wall.

"Not now, Jim."

"Okay. Not now. But you need to get out of these clothes."

"Nooo, I donnn't."

Jim's frown deepened. "You're cold and wet, Sandburg, and you're getting your bed soaked."

Blair pulled his legs up and curled into a ball. "So what?"

Jim sighed and leaned forward. He wrapped a hand around Blair's arm and forced him to sit up. "Come on, out of these clothes."

Blair jerked away clumsily, his hand batting out to swipe at the old alarm clock perched on the edge of his bureau. The small device flew half-way across the room and landed with an indignant ring when the bells contacted the hard floor.

"I sssaaid g'way and leeeave me'lone, Jim. I'm drunk and I know I'm drunk, but I don't care. I don't care about being cccoooold or getting sick or anything. Eli's deeeeaddd! So just g'way!" He flopped back onto his mattress and shifted toward the wall again.

Jim tugged at Sandburg's arm. "Well, I care, so get up and let me help you out of these."

Blair jerked away again. "Fuck offf, Elllllison. Leeeave me alone!"

"Not until you're dry. Do you know how you're acting?"

Blair chuckled. "Yeaaah. I know I'm acting stupid, and I'll feel like an idiot in the morning, but rrrright now I don't care, Thhhat's why it's nice to be drunnnk. I don't give a shit about anything. So g'way and let me be drunk in p-peace."

Jim sighed and grabbed Blair's arm firmly. "That's it, Chief. I'm getting you out of these clothes. Then I'll leave you alone."

In one fluid motion, he yanked Blair into a sitting position and quickly worked the jacket off. Blair tried to fall back to the bed, but Jim grabbed his arm again and refused to let him move. Then he unbuttoned the flannel shirt and removed it. Finally, he yanked the wet cotton undershirt over Blair's head and tossed it with the other two garments on the floor. He'd worry about picking them up later. Right now he just wanted to get Blair warm and dry, then head to bed himself.

"Now you can lay down, Chief." He let go, and Blair dropped back to the bed, his eyelids heavy and his gaze focused on the ceiling.

"G'way, Jim." Blair's voice was nearly a whisper this time, and Jim couldn't be sure whether the young man was 'all there.'

"Not yet." He slid off Blair's shoes and socks. Then he unzipped the jeans. Those were the hardest to get off, and he struggled with the wet denim for several minutes. Finally, he got the pants off and let them drop to the floor. Blair now lay in only his boxers on top of the wet comforter.

Now came the really hard part -- getting the comforter out from under Blair. He decided on the direct approach. Rising to his feet, he grabbed the side of the comforter and yanked upward hard and fast. Blair rolled to the wall as the material slid out from under him. Jim had to pull a bit hard to get the last of the blanket out from under Blair, but it finally gave. He staggered back a few steps from the sudden release, then dropped the comforter on the floor. Blair now lay pressed face-first against the wall, seemingly oblivious to the whole ordeal.

Jim hurried into the living room and grabbed a spare blanket from the storage closet beneath the stairs. He trotted back into Sandburg's room and reached down, carefully maneuvering the young man onto his back in the center of the bed. Then he draped the blanket over Blair. The kid's hair was still wet, but there wasn't much he could do about that at the moment... well, nothing he was really willing to do at this hour. He glanced at his watch. 1:39 a.m.

Damn, he was tired. Casting a final glance down at his sleeping, inebriated partner, he gave into a slow, deep yawn and headed for his room.

"Jim?"

The soft voice stopped him in the doorway. Slowly, he turned back around. "Yeah, Chief?"

Blair's eyes were closed, and he looked asleep, but he asked in a whisper-soft voice, "Your friend, Danny..."

Jim stiffened. "Yeah?"

"If you'd have found out he was bad, would you have been able to forgive him? Or would you hate him?"

Jim sagged against the door. "I don't think I could ever have hated him." It didn't take a Ph.D. in psychology to figure out the reason behind Blair's question. "And I don't think Dr. Stoddard hated you."

"When you thought I betrayed you, did you hate me? I thought you did..." His voice faded, and Jim wasn't sure whether he was still awake.

"I didn't hate you, Chief. I was mad, but I didn't hate you."

"Mmmm.. forgive me?" The words were barely a mumble

"What was that?"

Blair spoke more deliberately. "If I had betrayed you, could you have forgiven me?"

Jim paused a long moment before answering. There were things he'd said back then that he wished  he could take back. That was the thing with words -- they could be spoken in an instant, but last forever. Looking back, though, he realized something. "I already had, Blair."

~~~~~

Feedback much appreciated

nawdc@yahoo.com