AUTHOR'S NOTES: Epilogue for Warriors. Shameless smarm and angst. What can I say? I was in a mood. Many thanks to Amz for the beta.
Although Spalding and his men had finally been apprehended for their part in Incacha's death, Jim still felt wound tight with tension. The loss of the Chopec Shaman was a hard blow and one Jim was having trouble coming to terms with. Incacha and his people had been Jim's saviors in his months in the jungle. Incacha had recognized Jim's abilities and become the sentinel's mentor, guiding Jim and helping him to hone his senses to a razor sharp edge.
The day after Spalding's arrest, Jim and Blair had gone down to the docks to say their farewells to the remaining Chopec tribesmen and pay their respects to Incacha one last time. Jim still felt unable to grieve openly for his loss.
He knew he'd been sullen and unreasonable, knew that once again Sandburg was copping more than his fair share of Jim's short temper and biting remarks but Blair's behavior was as uncharacteristic as Jim's was expected. Jim's reactions to death and personal loss were ingrained, learned from a stoic father with little time to spare for emotion when he was left alone with two small boys and a business to run. You grieved, he'd told Jim and Steven, then you got over it and got on with the job. Blair, on the other hand, would usually be yelling back in Jim's face by now, castigating him over the unfairness of his remarks. This time though, there were no angry outbursts over Jim's less than pleasant attitude, just a resigned silence and an occasional quick, hurt glance thrown Jim's way.
Try as he might, Jim couldn't seem to stop himself from spiraling further into a cycle of self-pity and recrimination and Blair's silence just seemed to spur him on. Jim needed to yell and scream at the injustice and unfairness of a supposedly civilized world where a gentle, simple, supremely wise man could be gunned down just because he wished to protect the land he loved.
Jim leaned back in his desk chair, scrubbed his free hand over his eyes and spoke again into the phone. "So you planning on coming in at all today, Chief?"
"I told you, Jim, this afternoon. Two o'clock at the latest."
"Last night you said you had the whole day off -"
"Something came up," Blair replied. "Something I'd… something unexpected. Look, I have to go or I'll be late."
"Whatever," Jim muttered. "Look, Sandburg, if it's all too much, don't bother. It's only paperwork after all. Making sure we get Spalding and Yeagar for everything we can."
"I want that as much as you do." Blair's voice was quiet, resigned. "I'll be there."
"Fine." Jim slammed the phone down with more force than necessary and turned to the files on his desk. "Make up your mind, Sandburg," he grumbled. "One minute you're worried that if I don't get my senses back, you won't be welcome at the PD any more and the next you're finding excuses not to come in at all."
"He didn't tell you, I take it."
Jim looked up at the sound of Simon's voice. The captain stood in the doorway of the bullpen with a packet of coffee in his hand.
"Tell me what, sir?"
"His friend's funeral is today."
"Oh." Jim sighed. "No, sir, he didn't. Then again, I've been lucky if I can get two words out of him lately."
Simon entered and perched himself on the corner of Jim's desk. "I don't blame him, you haven't exactly been your usual smiling self this past week."
"I lost a good friend, Simon. I'm sorry if I'm not dealing with that as well as I should," Jim replied, well aware his sarcasm was skirting that fine line between friend and superior.
"And you think Sandburg is?" Simon frowned. "He lost a good friend too, a young woman who was simply trying to do the right thing. I don't blame him for not wanting to be here. How do you think he'd feel going over the details of her death - the autopsy report, the photos..."
"I didn't," Jim said.
Jim looked up at his captain, regret showing plainly on his face. "Didn't think." He stood and picked up his jacket. "Damn it, Simon, I've been so caught up in my own feelings, I'd put Janet's murder right out of my head. I've been on Blair's case all week, hoping he'd yell right back at me, like he did when the crime scene guys were at the loft. It's like he's a different person. A week ago, he was in my face, telling me to calm down, ordering me around, forcing me to focus on what was important so that I'd have a chance at getting my senses back, and all the time he'd pushed his own grief aside, ignored it to help me… to help Incacha. I've been an asshole, Simon."
Simon rolled his eyes. "Tell Sandburg, not me."
"I'm just about to, sir. Can you spare me for a couple of hours?"
Simon looked at his watch. "Be back here by two… and bring Sandburg with you. He can take a look at my computer while you finish up the Spalding report. Then," he added with a satisfied grin, "you can take Sandburg and me out for a bite to eat. Your treat." He held up a hand when Jim opened his mouth to protest. "Blair's not the only one who's had to deal with your pissy attitude this week, and that sarcastic comment you made a moment ago will probably be forgotten with a good steak and a couple of beers."
Jim gave his boss a smile of gratitude. "Thank you, sir."
He hated funerals. Seated in his car in the cemetery parking lot, Blair stared bleakly through the windshield. In contrast to Blair's dark depression, the day was sunny and bright. It shouldn't have been. Blair wanted black clouds and drenching rain. It wasn't right that people were out and about, enjoying the early burst of spring when Janet was being lowered into a grave.
His grief and guilt were eating at him, had been since they'd driven into the garage after wasting valuable time on a fruitless search for Incacha and found Janet's lifeless body sprawled on the ground, a Chopec arrow in her back. Blair could only imagine the pain and fear she must have suffered in her final moments. He shuddered and banged his fists against the steering wheel over and over in the vain hope that the pain would erase his horrifying memories.
He needed to scream and yell, to rant and rail against a world where a beautiful young woman who tried to right a grievous wrong against her fellow man could be cut down so brutally and without compassion. There was no one to yell at, no one to listen. Jim was still so caught up in his own grief over Incacha's death that he'd barely spoken to him, except to berate Blair for various infractions of the house rules or to make thinly veiled sarcastic comments over Blair's reticence to return to the PD.
Didn't Jim realize how hard it was for him to go back there, to sit and type out a formal, emotionless statement while Janet's dead face stared up at him from a photo on the desk? Blair had tried to explain, but Jim was closed off and, unlike the day of Incacha's death, when Blair had been able to bully Jim into focusing inward in order to regain his heightened senses, now it seemed as though anything Blair said fell on deaf ears, instead of on those of a man who could hear for miles. Jim remained silent and angry and any approach on Blair's part to suggest they talk was met with an abrupt rebuff.
Blair knew too that he blamed Jim in part for Janet's death. Driving around Cascade, searching for Incacha, he'd begged Jim to abandon the search and get to Janet. At the time he'd had no inkling of the danger she was in, but he had a sense of foreboding and unease that told him something was wrong.
Jim hadn't known either and Blair knew if he was going to be able to get past his grief and rebuild his friendship with Jim, and take the next step together as Sentinel and Shaman as Incacha had decreed, Blair needed to stop blaming him. It wasn't Jim who'd put the arrow in Janet's back and those responsible for her and Incacha's deaths were now locked away.
From the first time Blair had met Janet, they had been almost inseparable. Ambitious and determined even back in college, Janet had organized and attended protests and rallies with passion and fervor. Blair knew that once she'd realized what terrible injustices were being committed against the Chopec people and their land, Janet would have fought for their rights just as vociferously, regardless of the danger to herself.
Opening his door, Blair got out of his car and slowly made his way toward the large group of mourners standing at Janet's graveside, tugging nervously at his tie. He approached Janet's father first, unsure if the man would remember him. "Mr. Myers." He extended his hand toward the grim-faced father. "I don't know if you remember me. I'm Blair Sandburg. I knew Janet when she was at Rainier."
Will Myers frowned and simply glared at Blair's outstretched hand. "I remember you," he replied with barely restrained menace, "and you're not welcome here."
Blair dropped his hand. "I'm sorry. I wanted to come and pay my respects. If it hadn't been for Janet… for her bravery, we might not have been able to catch the men responsible for several murders and crimes against the environment."
If anything, Myers' face grew grimmer. He scowled at Blair. "So you were responsible for getting her caught up in this?" he growled. "It wasn't enough you filled her mind with crap in college, dragged her off to those protests where she was arrested, her face plastered all over the news, for God's sake! When she graduated, she got back on track. She worked damn hard to get where she was and now?" He pointed at Janet's casket with a stiffened finger. "This is where it ends. Because of you!" He paused for a moment but before Blair could respond, spoke again. "You're a cop?" His derisive snort told Blair what he thought of that.
"Not exactly. I work with the Cascade Police, but no, I'm not a cop." Blair hurried on. "Look, Mr. Myers, I'm sorry I didn't protect Janet from those men. I tried…" His throat closed up and he had to force out the rest of his words. "I failed her and you. I'm sorry."
"Just go, Mr. Sandburg, before I do something I might regret."
"Will…" A tall, elegantly dressed woman with tears streaking her cheeks placed a hand on the irate father's arm. A young, well-built man supported her with an arm around her waist. "Please, let's just say goodbye to our daughter." She turned to Blair. "I think you should leave, Blair."
The young man glared at Blair. "I'm Scott Freeling, Janet's fiancé. Just go, we don't want you here."
Blair nodded, blinking back the tears that stung his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said again, his voice raw and shaky, barely a whisper. With a final glance at Janet's coffin, he turned and walked back toward his car. He slowed though and turned, watching as the funeral rites began. Stepping to the side, he leaned up against the trunk of a tree and watched the ceremony through misted eyes.
He was so lost in his thoughts that he barely felt the weight of someone's hand on his shoulder but he knew without looking up that it was Jim. His gaze stayed riveted to the heartbreaking scene in front of him as Janet's mother dropped a handful of rose petals onto the lowered casket then collapsed sobbing into her husband's arms. Wetness dribbled down Blair's cheeks and he looked up then, wondering if it was raining after all but the sky was still blue, the sun still warm on his face.
"Blair," Jim said, his voice sounding rough and wavering, "I'm sorry."
Blair sighed and shifted his weight so that he leaned against the solid frame of his partner. His throat seemed closed tight, but a strangled, muffled sob worked its way past the lump that threatened to choke him. He turned and rested his head against Jim's chest, moving unashamedly into the welcome embrace of Jim's arms. "I'm sorry, Chief," Jim said again. "Sorry that I failed to protect Janet, sorry that I failed you."