Summary: AU future where Blair doesn't become a cop. Warning for profanity. Written as dues for SentinelAngst.
Note: There's one real (and he was a one-of-a-kind) character. I really didn't do Max justice (poor neurotic little furball that he was; but I still miss him).
Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, Paramount and the SciFi Channel. No money is being made. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written by ljc with the love of the show in mind.
Blair puttered around his small, one bedroom apartment looking for items he rarely used: the starched and ironed shirt, the cuff links, and where was that tie. It was his one and only tie so he had to find it. Can't go to a fundraiser without a tie.
Of course! It was under the cat. Max had an uncanny habit of lying on, chewing on, or shredding the one thing he had to have at the moment. He gave the old cat a little scratch between his ears and moved him gently aside. He didn't want to damage the longstanding truce they had. It had taken years before Max would deign to climb up in his lap. Blair had been astonished that first time, but he'd learned quickly that he still wasn't allowed to pat him while he was there.
Max reminded him of Jim sometimes: grouchy, standoffish, proud and independent ... and like Max, seemingly untouchable. Jim had been like the lion in the fable who didn't want to accept help even though he had a thorn in his paw. But like Androcles, Blair had plucked up his courage and had helped the lion, well, Jim. Blair sighed at the thought of Jim Ellison, his friend, his sentinel.
He sighed deeply, because there was no time to think, to remember, right now. The memories always ambushed him at the worst moments, but that couldn't be allowed to distract him tonight. The fundraiser was too important. Too many inner city programs depended on the funding, and as unlikely as it was, Blair Sandburg had to go and schmooze with the people with the deep pockets.
At the thought of the night's upcoming excesses, he felt a wave of desolation sweep over him. This was necessary, but he hated it with all his soul. Years ago he'd started on this path because he'd wanted so desperately to help, and yet here he was getting dressed up to go to some extremely overpriced venue to practically hold out his hand like a beggar of old. The thought made his stomach hurt, so he popped some antacids; took one more look in the mirror; decided he was as presentable as he was going to get; and headed for the Regency Hotel for a night of star-studded misery.
Jim Ellison's jaw was clenched in pain. He limped around the hotel's accommodations, lacking his usual feline grace. The ability to dial back the pain had faded along with most everything else. He knew that a hot shower would help. There'd been a lot of injuries during his highly decorated careers and now those old injuries would act up in foul weather, which was nearly constant in Cascade. But that wasn't the reason he'd moved away to someplace warmer after his retirement from the Police Department. He'd been surprised that Sandburg had stayed. For all his wanderings during his life, Blair still lived off Prospect Ave.
Well, Jim had only come back for this miserable fundraiser. His Dad had asked him to take over his charitable activities since his health had deteriorated so severely in the past few months, and Jim felt he couldn't refuse him even though they were still barely speaking. The work was important, so he'd agreed to do it ... but also to appease his father, who would keep asking until he agreed anyway.
And that reminded him of Sandburg again and his ability to be persistent to the point of fond irritation. Well, he'd better put those memories away. He needed to get into his tux for the formalities. The sooner he put in an appearance the sooner he'd be done, and the sooner he could get out of Cascade.
Blair swallowed a sip of the very expensive wine and sighed. He realized that he was getting burned out. So much to do, so little time, so little money to accomplish anything of real consequence. But the real kicker was that after everything he'd done, so little had changed in the lives of the people who needed it the most.
He'd turned down the badge that Simon had offered, partly because he couldn't see himself carrying a gun. But also because the part of police work he loved the most was when he was able to put a name and a face to the good work he'd done. He'd thought he could do good work in more immediate ways; face to face with the people in need; try to become the Shaman that Incacha had named him.
Maybe if he'd just volunteered in some local programs it would have been better because he needed that kind of contact, not the kind of social function planned for this evening. This type of function just made him feel defeated before he'd even begun.
He hadn't sought out the administration of the city's social programs, but he'd had little choice if he'd wanted to accomplish anything useful. There'd been so much waste, so very much disorganization and inefficiency that he'd finally taken on that project himself in self defense. Now, he felt like the frustration and the disillusionment were slowly killing him.
He took another swallow of the wine thinking that it just might be the only thing he'd enjoy about this evening. And then he saw Jim Ellison. That was a shock. He'd thought that William would be here tonight. He'd hoped that the rumors about William's ill health had been wrong. Blair and William Ellison had gained a certain respect for each other. William for the charitable works he supported, and Blair because he'd proved to be a capable, honest, and a seemingly tireless administrator. Blair didn't know exactly how he felt about seeing Jim here tonight instead of William. He knew he'd have to talk to the man, but ... how would Jim react? He wasn't really sure.
After he'd turned down the badge, he and Jim had drifted even further apart. He'd stayed in the loft until Jim was completely healed from Zeller's bullet, then he'd started looking for a job in social services. He had adequate credits from Rainier to make him eligible for a decent position, and with recommendations from Major Crimes Captain Simon Banks, Assistant District Attorney Beverly Sanchez, several of the Brothers from St. Sebastian's Monastery, as well as other friends, he'd found a job fairly quickly, and moved on ... and moved out.
His mother had been ecstatic. But Blair was well aware that she'd grown less enthusiastic about his choice during later visits as she saw the toll it took on him. Naomi was never one to keep her opinions to herself, but opinions were one thing, answers to his problems were another.
Blair tried to keep in contact with Jim and his friends in Major Crime. But Jim was proud, and stubborn, and any communication between them dwindled until the calls finally stopped altogether. When Blair realized it, he arranged a dinner invitation to make sure Jim was really alright. Blair had been hurt when Jim had stood him up. Jim had called to apologize later and said that something important had come up. That had been the last call.
Blair had then called Simon and they'd met for lunch. Simon assured Blair that Jim still used his senses on the job, and Megan was backing him up. It seemed obvious to Blair that his guiding wasn't needed any longer. And therefore Blair could only assume that, as far as Jim was concerned, Blair wasn't needed any longer either.
Well, then, fine! he'd thought. If Jim needed help, he certainly knew where to find him, and at that point he remembered another scene, pre-fountain, which only confirmed that history did indeed repeat itself. So, the senses weren't a problem, and there was no relationship to cling to anymore. It had been a friendship of convenience after all, at least on Jim's side, if not on Blair's.
So what was he going to say to Jim tonight? It was pretty sad that he had to plan an opening line for when he came face to face with his ... friend? ... former roommate? Well, he'd work his way around the room first. Maybe something would to come to him.
Jim saw Blair. He didn't approach him directly, but he did approach, giving himself time to prepare. He picked up a glass of wine and walked slowly around the crowd. It wouldn't be easy facing Sandburg after all these years.
He watched him surreptitiously as he sipped the wine. He watched, and wondered what they'd say to each other. What do you say to someone when there's nothing between them anymore except an old lapsed friendship?
Then he looked at him more closely. The graying curls were much shorter but still brushing his shoulders. He looked like a stereotypical eccentric professor. Then he looked more closely and saw the fine lines. He watched the adept greetings to other attendees, handshakes given and received with well-practiced ease. Sandburg looked very much at home in these surroundings for all his too-casual dress.
These people were here mainly to get their names in the paper and a tax write-off; Sandburg just wanted their money. Jim felt disgust for a moment, then disquieted at his own reaction. He knew Blair better than that ... at least he did once upon a time. He turned to watch Blair as he made the rounds, more aggressively persuasive than he remembered, unless he was trying to talk Jim into more tests, or himself out of a tight situation.
Jim stepped back into the darkest recesses of an alcove where he could stand and observe, sight unseen. He watched Sandburg move through the crowds like a dancer that knew all the steps but lacked the beat ... or maybe the Sandburg bounce. Something was definitely missing.
Then he saw Sandburg look around. He wondered if he was looking for someone because when he didn't find whatever he was looking for, he sighed deeply, and a visible weariness came over him. He shook it off enough to grab another glass of wine from a passing waiter. Sandburg stared into it for a moment, then tossed it back like it was water. Then Blair grabbed another and stepped out onto the balcony.
Jim shook his head in dismay. Was that really Sandburg? He knew it was Blair of course, but the attitude, the way he presented himself, was off. And he looked tired. Jim looked around at the crowd, and nodded slowly. Yeah, these people, from his father's social circle, could burn you out fast. He'd known he could never live that life a long time ago. There was more than one reason why he'd left his father's house.
But Blair had a job that he'd said he loved; that let him make a difference. Maybe that was then ... but now? Idealism was one thing Sandburg had had in abundance. But Jim knew from experience that real life can be fulfilling, or it can be heavy enough to destroy a man's soul.
Standing in the alcove, he pondered for a moment on his own life. Since his retirement, he'd only been drifting. He'd never married again, or really settled down. He snorted softly as he realized that he was nearly as nomadic as Sandburg had been before Jim had met him. He traveled, camping or visiting old friends. Maybe hoping to put the past farther behind him. Solitary, and burnt out in his own way. Not knowing how, or where, to settle back into life. Not knowing if he wanted to bother. Drifting was ... easier.
He was getting morose, but life had felt flat and boring for a long time. If he was honest, it started when Blair left. Sandburg had moved on, and Jim had just kept moving. Just inertia. And tonight, Sandburg didn't look all that happy either.
Jim sighed. He knew he had to at least speak to the kid ... oops, gray hair, not a kid. He smiled wistfully in remembrance of the kid bopping to that jungle music, or sitting surrounded by candles and still seeming on the verge of exploding into motion. That wasn't Sandburg now, and that thought hurt. Jim felt an ache at the loss of young Sandburg. He knew how foolish that was. It was just that Sandburg looked old, and not just older, but weary. That's what hurt. Sandburg looked like he'd lost his enthusiasm for life ... or like he'd lost his best friend. But that was wishful thinking on his part.
He'd never told Blair, well, except during that Clayton Lake fiasco, that he loved him. He'd said it almost jokingly because he knew that feelings were not always reciprocated in kind, and if Blair didn't feel the same way then he could treat it like a joke, too. It would let them both off the hook. But he should have just told him straight out that he was his family, because he did love Blair, even now. He'd tossed him out of his loft once, and had lived to regret it dearly. He'd held his lifeless body in his arms, and he'd never, ever forget the pain of that.
He'd never forget his friend, even if his friend had moved on. It had been hard, but Jim had let him. That had hurt. It had hurt to let him go, but the senses went haywire because Sandburg was too far away, even if it was only a couple of blocks. The sentinel stuff was all so easy with Blair beside him, but those two blocks might as well have been two miles. So he had to let him go ... because of the senses, because it hurt too much ... at least that's what he'd told himself.
He could have kept on visiting and calling, but when he did, the senses would punish him unmercifully for days, trying to find Blair when he was out of reach. It was finally easier to just not contact him anymore. The senses weakened but they were still there. He had chosen to be a sentinel after all, and he kept that promise as best he could.
He should probably have told Blair what was going on, but Sandburg was diving into his new career with all the enthusiasm at his command, which was considerable, and Jim didn't want to ... hold him back. Hold onto him. No, that would have been the wrong thing to do. Like speaking to him tonight. It would just reopen old wounds.
Sandburg was probably just having a bad night. This wasn't exactly the kind of thing Blair enjoyed doing, or the kind of people that Blair relished rubbing elbows with after all. He was probably just pissed off that he'd had to get dressed up, not in flannel, and schmooze for an evening. That was it. Blair would be back to work tomorrow, and he'd be in his element again, doing the work he loved and helping those in need. The enthusiasm would be back online. He'd be fine.
Jim rubbed his forehead. He had a migraine starting. He should get back upstairs to his room. He gave a little nod of understanding ... of course, it was his proximity to Sandburg. It must have made his senses twitch having him so close. He'd feel better in the morning. Better still, his flight left at ten a.m..
Leaving Cascade would dampen his senses again, then he'd be fine. He took a last sip of wine and placed it on a waiter's passing tray. He gave a long melancholy look at the balcony where a lone figure leaned heavily on the balustrade and stared into the lights of downtown Cascade. Jim straightened his tie and turned for the exit. He walked straight and tall and never looked back.
Blair stared out at the lights of Cascade. He'd seen Jim for just a moment across a crowded room, then he'd glimpsed him off and on as he worked the crowd but when he'd thought he was finally in reach he couldn't find him.
Then he realized that he must have left. Jim must have seen him ... of course he saw him, or smelled him, or heard ... damn! Jim walked away without saying a word, not even, Hey, Sandburg. How are you? It was probably more than he wanted to know.
Blair knew that that was pretty pathetic. He knew the friendship had ended long ago. He didn't need this, this slap in the face for confirmation.
He sighed, straightened up from the railing, and stared into his wine. He wondered morosely if Jim was going to take over for his dad. If he did he'd probably move his headquarters to wherever he was living now. He thought he might never see Jim again. And then he wondered bitterly why he cared after all these years.
Blair had thought that it was about friendship. But was it? Blair thought about all their many and varied experiences because of Jim's sentinel senses and wondered once again if perhaps fate had been cruel when it had allowed them to meet. Then he remembered that Jim had given him a home. He remembered how very much that had meant to Blair Sandburg, neo-hippie witchdoctor punk.
He'd been terrified half the time that he'd do something wrong, something that would hurt Jim or hurt one of the cases they were working on, but Blair knew that Jim had been grateful for his help. He just had a hard time showing it. Blair's bitterness evaporated because he was truly glad that he'd been able to help him years ago. He was glad that he'd looked well tonight.
Blair had been afraid at times that he might be holding Jim back, or worse, be a danger to him, especially after the dissertation mess. That was the main reason he'd moved on to social services. The media had been bad enough, but he remembered Brackett, and knew there were others like him, or worse. No matter what happened since between him and Jim, he'd never have wished anything bad to happen to him.
Blair breathed deeply of the cool Cascade air, and thought wryly of the Great City and it's Sentinel. Jim didn't live here anymore, but the city had managed to move on, too.
Blair looked at his half empty glass, then lifted it toward the bright city lights, and thought, To Jim Ellison, the Sentinel ... and the best friend I ever ... had. I love you, man.
Blair drank his glass dry and set it onto the railing. Then he turned back to face the crowd. He firmly pushed his painful thoughts aside. He could admit that he loved Jim Ellison. Now if he could only, and finally, learn to detach with love, as his mom would say.
Blair still had work to do tonight, and maybe it was the least favorite part of his job, but he also knew that he'd become quite good at it. He breathed in one more deep breath of the cool night air, adopted his brightest smile, and got ready to turn on the charm. After all, if the Ellison's did decide to take their financial support elsewhere, his job would become that much more difficult. So he might as well start tonight ... pull out all the stops ... charge ahead, full tilt ... After all, there were people that depended on him.