SAME BUT DIFFERENT
DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Petfly and Paramount. This fanfic was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.
RATING: M (Mention of m/m relationship)
Musings of a friend:
Jim Ellison is a walking contradiction. A tough, no-nonsense cop, one of the best I've ever had the pleasure to have under my command, but an honest man, who would give anyone, friend or not, the shirt off his back, if he thought it would help. Taciturn, not gruff, I reserve that description for myself; it's sometimes the only way I get any respect in the bullpen. Jim's not given to displays of emotion, nor does he wear his heart on his sleeve. At least he never used to.
When I first got the notification of my transfer into Major Crime, I have to admit I wasn't all that impressed about working with Jim. I'd heard about his arrest record, mind you, but I'd also heard other things about Ellison, things that made me wonder whether I wanted him in my department. When I arrived and took charge, he was everything I'd heard, and more. The man was arrogant and cocky, and in those early days, it seemed the only person who could get him to let down his guard, was the partner I assigned him.
Jack Pendergrast was a good friend of us both, and it tore me up almost as much as it did Jim, when Jack disappeared. I watched Ellison begin to retreat inside this shell, or more appropriately, armor. He flinched when you touched him, spoke only when spoken to, and gained a reputation as the cop no one wanted to ride with. It suited him fine, he told me, when the third partner in as many months stormed out of my office, muttering epithets about Ellison and his questionable heritage. He was better on his own, he said, no one to worry about, should he screw up. It should have been my first clue.
Things took an upturn, for about a year anyway, when Jim met Carolyn Plummer, one of our top forensics people. Smart lady too, and beautiful with it, but I could see inside two months that it wasn't going to last. I have to give Jim credit. Normally not given over to flogging a dead horse, he persevered, and fought to save his marriage, but it was a lost cause. In the end, I took him aside and told him to give it up before they ended up hating each other. They were divorced six months later, and I could see Jim beginning to spiral down fast.
I wasn't entirely sure what it was at first, though I suspected it was probably a delayed case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Jim had been the sole survivor of a chopper crash in Peru, and was then stranded there with a local tribe for eighteen months before being rescued. Spending that long in a hot, steamy jungle with a bunch of uncivilized tribesmen, would be enough to send the sanest man nuts, I figured.
I didn't find out the truth until a couple of months after Jim stopped the Switchman. Seems he has this enhanced senses thing, where he can see, hear, taste and smell better than anyone you or I know. Huh, supercop, without the tights and cape.
Which brings me to Sandburg… Blair Sandburg, anthropologist. He came bounding into Jim's life… and mine, blabbering stuff about zone-outs and sensory spikes, constantly bouncing, never running out of energy, driving me crazy… and doing a damn fine job of helping Jim hone his skills until they had an arrest rate second to none. It earned Jim a 'Police Officer of the Year' gong, and suddenly I could see Ellison beginning to emerge from the walls he'd carefully erected around himself.
Looking back, I can see it all now for what it was. Jim's senses, enhanced but out of control; every touch, every voice, must have grated on him until his nerves were raw and frayed. Then Sandburg comes on the scene, and Jim's smiling again. I remember him comforting a screaming child, never flinching from the sound, which I have to admit set my own teeth on edge. He became calmer, closer to his colleagues, inviting us around to the loft for poker nights. He began reaching out to touch people, where before he'd shied away from any tactile encounter.
He touches Sandburg a lot, whether it's a hand on his shoulder, a gentle, joking swat to the head when the kid jibes him about something, or just ruffling those long, unruly curls. All the time, Sandburg's beside him, or just slightly behind, a broad hand resting gently on Jim's shoulder or at the small of his back, his mouth moving as he softly coaches his partner through the motions of keeping the world at a tolerable level for a sentinel.
I have to admit, even I was surprised when Jim let the kid move in with him. Sandburg's a nice guy, really, but he'd try the patience of a saint with his non-stop jabbering and effusive nature… and they're about as different as two men could be. The story from Jim was that the kid was only staying a week, until he could get his own place, but I could see through the wry jokes Ellison made at Sandburg's expense, always out of the kid's earshot, of course. I wasn't at all surprised when Sandburg stayed on at Jim's place.
I heard the locker room talk about Ellison and Sandburg and the cozy thing they had happening, but chose to ignore it. In part, because I didn't want to dignify such filth with a reply, but also, I'm ashamed to admit, because deep down, a part of me worried that it might be true. After the number of years I've spent on the force, I know how tight partners get. I've seen marriages break up from the strain it puts on them when a husband spends more night times with his partner than his wife, my own included. But there was something different with the Ellison-Sandburg relationship, and I was as guilty as anyone else of seeing it for more than it was… at least back then.
The turning point came, I'm sure, when Sandburg drowned. I don't think I've ever seen a man so stricken with grief, as Jim was that day. He was a wreck, his big, normally sure hands fluttering frantically over Blair's silent, wet body. I had to shout at him to get him to listen for a heartbeat, and when he told me there was none, my heart clenched at the pain in his voice. Something happened that day. I've never wanted to know the details of Jim's sentinel abilities, it's a little too 'Twilight Zone' for my liking, but I knew when Jim brought Sandburg back to life long after the paramedics had given up, that there was more to it than just good luck.
If I'd thought that day was the worst and the best in the past several years of my life, I was wrong. Sandburg's dissertation on Jim's abilities became public knowledge, and I watched the two men I'd come to regard as my closest friends buckle under the strain. Lying in my hospital bed, hazy with drugs after being shot by an international hit-man, I watched in disbelief as Blair Sandburg performed the bravest act I'd ever seen him do in the four years I'd known him. He declared himself a fraud to save Jim the agony of living a public life regarded as some kind of comic book hero.
I think it took that terrible career suicide for Jim… and me to truly see Sandburg for what he was. A fine, honest man with a heart of gold.
I wasn't surprised when Jim came to see me in the hospital and asked for my help in salvaging something for Sandburg out of this mess. Hell, I'd already been making calls to the Chief's office whenever the doctor's back was turned, and if Jim hadn't asked, I would have taken the initiative upon myself. Sandburg was not the kind of man, or friend I was prepared to let disappear from my life without an argument, and having watched him as Jim's partner, I'd already come to believe he'd make a good cop.
Needless to say, after witnessing everything these two had gone through: from terrorists to serial killers, and family disputes to scorn from Jim's own colleagues, watching Sandburg risk his life time and again in order to back Jim up, and keep him safe and sane, what Jim told me next came as no surprise. What startled me most was my own reaction to it. I'm no stranger to bigotry. Any black person has a wealth of stories to share about the terrible injustices that men do to one another, because one's skin is a different color, but I expected to feel loathing and disgust when Jim told me he was in love with Blair. I know a picture flashed briefly into my mind, of these two men wrapped in a loving embrace, and I quickly blinked it away. I'm not so perfect that I didn't feel discomfort at Jim's words. But I surprised him, and myself with my acceptance of the situation, and mulling it over later, I realized I felt that way because their relationship was right.
I know Jim thinks that his love for Blair bloomed when he held Sandburg's lifeless body in his arms at the fountain at Rainier University. Over a quiet cup of coffee in my office several weeks after I offered Blair a detective's badge, which he eventually accepted, Sandburg told me he believed he fell in love with Jim when Incacha died. When he saw the fiery passion and sense of loss the death of the Shaman invoked in the sentinel, he said he knew then that he could never leave, and that this was a bond for all time. If you ask me though, I saw it from the moment Sandburg first bounded into Major Crime, his eyes and attention fully on the man who would become his partner in career and life.
Once he'd made the decision to join the police force, Blair embraced his new career with the same enthusiasm he'd shown in everything he did. He graduated from the Academy with high honors. Jim grumbled he would have done better if he'd been prepared to drop his ride-along for the time being, but Blair refused almost before his partner got the words out. Sandburg might be a little guy, but it's not the first time I've seen him stand up to Ellison and win. I saw the relieved half-smile he shot his partner when Jim acquiesced, and didn't miss the one he got in return.
The locker-room talk continued, but it was mostly half-hearted muttering and jealousy, I knew. Those who hadn't been privy to the changes and assistance Blair Sandburg had given Major Crime thought the longhaired hippie was getting an easy ride. Those of us who'd seen what he'd suffered at the hands of crazies and terrorists, and even his own partner, knew differently. So even when Joel Taggart came to see me to voice his concern over the rough treatment Sandburg was getting whenever Ellison's back was turned, I didn't think too much about it. I called Blair into my office and asked him if there were any problems, and he assured me it wasn't anything he couldn't handle. Having seen what he'd handled in the past few years, I took him at his word… and made what could be the biggest mistake of my life.
A week later, on a routine stakeout, Sandburg was shot by an escaping felon. Jim called for backup… that never came. I got the call as I was heading out to pick up my son from my ex-wife's house, and the scene that greeted me at the hospital stopped me in my tracks.
Sandburg was rushed into the ER on a gurney; a paramedic hovered over him, performing chest compressions as a team of medical personnel hurried them into a trauma room. I only got a brief glimpse of Blair through the crowd that surrounded him; his face was sheet-white beneath the resuscitation mask, and the blood staining his chest was blinding in its profusion and intensity. For a brief moment, I had a sense of what Ellison must suffer everyday with his heightened senses.
Jim staggered in behind them, and for a panicked moment, from the amount of blood covering his chest, pants and hands, I thought he too had been shot. He pushed away my concerned question with a dazed "No," and then stumbled after the gurney, his face grief-stricken and haunted.
Six hours later, we got the word that the bleeding had been stopped, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief. I looked around at the assembled crowd of people who had arrived in the past tense hours; Jim and Blair's friends and colleagues, and prayed that Blair would survive to know just how many people have come to love and respect him.
Two days later, as dawn brightened the sky, there was another small step forward, when the doctor announced that Sandburg had been taken off the ventilator. There was a note of weary caution in his words, though and I saw Jim's shoulders slump in despair. Though Blair was now breathing on his own, the blood loss had been so great, they were unsure if he would have permanent brain damage, and I mourned the loss of such a brilliant and vivid intellect.
I placed a hand on Jim's shoulder as he stood to follow the doctor to the ICU. It had been an all-out battle to keep Jim out of Sandburg's room long enough to change clothes and eat, and I felt him tense beneath my hand as though he expected me to try to keep him away.
"Tell him to hang in there, Jim," I said, my voice sounding raspy and tight. "Tell him we're all here for him."
He nodded, his head sinking onto his chest for a brief moment, then he looked up, his eyes blazing blue fire and determination. "He's going to be fine, Simon. We did it before and we'll do it again."
Feeling wound tight with tension and ready to punch a wall, I went back to the office and looked over the reports from that dreadful night. My hands clenched tightly around the report from Matters and Smith, the two cops on patrol not far from where the shooting occurred. They didn't get the back-up call, they claimed. Their radio wasn't working properly and they'd called in a report a few minutes after Ellison sent out his officer down call.
The radio in their car showed a loose connection and I knew I had no proof, except for my gut instinct and my knowledge that these two were the worst offenders in the harassment of Sandburg. I rubbed in aggravation at the headache throbbing in my skull, knowing that I too, must take my share of the blame. Knowing where I wanted to be, in case either of my friends needed me, I headed back to the hospital with a heavy heart, and a silent vow that this incident would not go unpunished, regardless of its outcome.
I sit here now, watching Jim as he leans over the rails of the hospital bed and searches Blair's face in the hope that the kid... his lover might be regaining consciousness. There's a minute stirring from the figure in the bed and Jim reaches up to stroke an errant lock of hair away from Blair's face.
Standing, I inch closer to the bed, fearful of what I might see. Blair's eyes open and he stares vacantly at the ceiling.
"Blair?" Jim's voice is but a hoarse whisper and for a moment, grief overwhelms me, when Sandburg appears not to hear him.
Slowly, Blair's eyes track to Jim and the smallest of smiles upturn his cracked lips. "Hey," he whispers.
I feel my knees buckle and I grasp the railing tightly in a white-knuckled grip. Jim gives Blair a hesitant smile, and I watch as Blair's hand lifts from the bed, trembling a little, and brushes away the tears that streak down Jim's cheek.
Blair's hand flops back to the bed, his eyes beginning to close once more, but then as I move away, he looks at me. "Sim'n," he says, and suddenly my own tears fill my eyes.
Jim clasps his hand in Blair's; interlocking their fingers, then, without a hint of embarrassment, leans over and presses a gentle kiss to his lover's lips.
"I'll get the doctor," I say, wanting to give them some time alone, and not the slightest bit discomfited by what I've witnessed, just in awe of it, and not a little jealous.
Jim nods, but his gaze never leaves Blair. "Thanks."
I leave them in each other's healing hands and go to share the good news with their friends, my mind already planning the welcome home party for Blair, and thanking God for allowing me to keep these two special men in my life. My friends, so different, but the same.
11th March 2003