A Grief Observed

BY: Lyn

FEEDBACK: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of others. This story was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been made and no copyright infringement is intended.


AUTHOR'S NOTES: Originally written as a Slash fic, I thought it fitted the Gen genre just as well.

BETAED BY: Annie and Tate. Thanks, guys. You’re the best - family and fen, what could be better.

"All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever."

- The Problem of Pain - N. W. Clerk.

It was the photo that did it. Jim sat at the dining room table, staring morosely at his breakfast; a cup of strong black coffee and three aspirin, the latter an attempt to numb the headache that pounded at his temples and the pain from the bullet wound in his thigh. The morning newspaper sat at his elbow, pushed aside, and he wanted desperately to close it, to go back to reading the headlines of Zeller's demise, but his hand refused to move and his eyes kept getting drawn back to that photo.

Though it had seemed headline news to him, the story of Blair's fraud confession had been delegated to page three, given only a couple of small perfunctory paragraphs that Jim had read, snorted over in an 'If only you knew, buddy' kind of way, and forgotten. The photo that accompanied the story though couldn't be dismissed that easily. The photographer had caught Blair as he left the university after holding his press conference. Chancellor Edwards could be seen at his shoulder, her face a mask of fury and disgust, but it was Blair who had Jim's attention riveted.

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and if that was true, then Blair's soul in that split second of captured time, was desolate. Blair's face was haggard and gaunt, his shoulders slumped in weary defeat, but his eyes… His eyes were what suddenly made Jim feel like the world was off-kilter again, just as it had been in the first days of the dissertation debacle when Jim's senses had become public knowledge, when they moved around each other like strangers, when Jim had shunned his dearest friend, his partner, instead of offering him the support he so justly deserved.

Blair's eyes were dark and haunted, but there was a frightening resigned acceptance there too, and Jim knew in that first glance down at the paper what that meant. Blair was leaving.

It didn't matter that Blair had now been offered a detective's badge and a permanent position at Jim's side. Apart from his first, nervous, "I am not cutting my hair" remark in the bullpen, Blair had still not made a definite decision. He'd asked Simon for a few days to think it over and while that had caused a frisson of concern in Jim's mind, they had all thought everything was fine. Blair would go to the Academy and then return to be Jim's official partner.

Things were still strained between them though, even after the talk at the hospital. Blair seemed wary and non-communicative. He'd been going out of his way to avoid having to spend time with Jim alone, and until this morning, Jim had simply thought it was the tension of the previous days catching up with both of them. Looking into Blair's eyes in that photo, Jim realized he was still seeing that look, that sad, haunted, defeated look every day.

The door slammed shut and pulled Jim from his dark thoughts. Blair stood in the hallway, his backpack hanging from one hand, his body tensed as though he was about to flee.

Not going to happen, buddy. He hurriedly closed the paper and stood, preparing to take what would be the most important step since he'd walked into Blair's office that first day four years before.

"Hey," Blair said, offering Jim a half-hearted wave. "I thought you'd be gone already."

I know, Jim thought but he simply shook his head. "Going out again?" he asked as Blair turned toward the door.

"Just a few things I need to do," Blair replied.

Jim took a couple of steps that brought him close to his partner and his senses automatically opened up as they often did at the nearness of his guide. Blair had told him it was a sentinel thing, an autonomic response and Jim agreed, though he wasn't entirely convinced it was a sentinel thing, more a very human, though heightened reaction to the presence of someone he cared for. "When were you going to tell me?" he asked, his voice not quite steady.

Blair fiddled with the strap of his backpack, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed convulsively. "Tell you what?"

"That you're leaving."

Blair's eyes slid away from Jim to study a spot over Jim's shoulder and his heart rate began a frantic thumping that merged with the pounding in Jim's head. He sighed and slumped, the backpack dropping to the floor with a thunk. "When I figured it all out. I haven't decided where to go yet -"

"But you are leaving."

"Jim, you don't need me anymore. You haven't zoned for at least a year and you have all the sentinel information right here at your disposal whenever you need it. It's not about not being a cop, it's just that the journey's over, you said that yourself. It's time for me to move on."

Jim shook his head. "I can't let you leave."

Blair's mouth upturned slightly in a nervous half-smile. "You gonna handcuff me to a chair?"

"If I have to. I need you, Blair, I can't let you go."

"The sentinel stuff is over, Jim," Blair pleaded. "You don't need a guide anymore."

"I think you're wrong there but that's beside the point. I need you." Jim reached out and grasped Blair's shoulders. "*I* need you. Not the sentinel, not Detective Ellison, but me, Jim."

Blair's eyes widened and a tear glistened then overflowed to drip down his cheek. Reaching up with one hand, Jim wiped it away. "I'll just screw it up," Blair whispered.

Jim shook his head, not understanding. "Screw what up?"

"Being a cop, being your partner."

"Blair -"

"No, it's true," Blair replied vehemently. He scrubbed at his face roughly and took a step back, out of Jim's reach. "From the time I walked into that hospital room, I've fucked up. First thing I did was offend you, calling you a caveman -"

"And the second thing you did was save me from getting run down by a truck," Jim reminded him.

Blair shook his head. "What about Lash? If it wasn't for me, waving my arms around, drawing attention to myself at the funeral, you've would have gotten Lash then."

"And when he took you, you kept him talking, despite being drugged and scared out of your mind, giving me time to get to you."

Blair looked away and stared at the wall. "I shot up the police garage."

"Because you were deliberately drugged."

Blair looked at him then. "What about Alex?"

Jim raised a hand. "Don't go there, Chief. We both fucked up with that."

Blair shook his head. "Jim -"

"No!" Jim said firmly. "Fair's fair, Sandburg. If we're going to dredge up all your misdemeanors, let's talk about mine too. Don't you know there isn't a day goes past that I don't chew myself out over leaving you unprotected to that bitch? And then just a few days ago, I do the same thing. I knew you didn't do any of this deliberately but instead of backing you up, I allowed you to take the blame for it all and give up the one thing in your life that means more than anything to you."

Blair shook his head again. "The one thing that means more to me than my dissertation is our friendship. If I could save that and give you back your freedom - It was my choice to make."

Jim snorted in self-disgust. "Right, like you had a whole lot of options to choose from."

"I just don't want to let you down again," Blair said uncertainly.

Jim took a step forward, placing him within arms' reach of his guide. "You won't, regardless of whatever decision you make. All I care about is our friendship. Walk away from the badge, if you want. Hell, walk away from being my guide but don't give up on our friendship."

Blair nodded, tears glistening in his eyes once more but not falling. "Thank you," he said, moving forward, meeting Jim halfway, giving and receiving the comfort and reassurance they both sought and Jim felt the world right itself once more. "For having faith in me." He was silent for a moment then looked up at Jim. "How did… how did you know? That I was going to leave?" Blair's question came out in a hoarse whisper.

"Your eyes," Jim replied, just as softly. "I could see it in your eyes."