Author's Notes: This story is set early first season, soon after Blair moves into the loft. Contains references to "Switchman", "The Debt" and "Killers".
First, thanks to Ankaree, Glenda and Josh for agreeing to beta this story.
Information for this story was obtained from -- Becky's Sentinel Transcript site (specifically "The Switchman" transcript). http://www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/3650/transcripts.htm
~*~ This story is dedicated to Mary Ellen. Thanks, ME, for being a great friend, beta, co-writer and for just being there when I need someone to listen to me rant. <G> See, told ya that I could do Jim angst. <LOL> ~*~
Walking into the darkened loft, Blair carelessly tossed his keys towards the basket as his eyes were drawn to the solitary figure quietly sitting on the couch. Unable to take his attention away from the shadowy, hunched form, Blair blindly reached behind him and felt around until his hand made contact with the open door. Giving it a gentle push, instinctively knowing that he shouldn't disturb the somber atmosphere permeating the room, he flinched as the soft click echoed loudly in the stillness.
Softly, his footsteps a mere whisper, Blair padded over to the couch and knelt down beside Jim. Looking up, his breath caught as he found himself confronted with the startling image of his friend's face. Reaching up a trembling hand, he laid his palm against Jim's cheek. "What is it, Jim?"
Startling a little when the softly voiced question sounded like a shout in the silent room, Blair became further alarmed when Jim only ignored him and continued to stare out the balcony doors. Continuing to watch Jim, Blair let out a small gasp when the look of naked pain and suffering on the detective's normally stoic face deepened into an expression of such grief and regret that it literally took his breath away. "My God, Jim, tell me what's wrong! Did something happen today? Is it Simon? Joel? Brown?"
Instead of answering, Jim leaned back. Dislodging Blair's hand, breaking the intimate contact between the two of them, he schooled his expression into an emotionless mask. Voice betraying none of the emotions that had recently been so evident on his face, he turned to stare at his crouching roommate and asked, "What are you doing here? I thought you had some class tonight."
Sitting back, coming to rest on his heels, Blair studied the older man for several long seconds. "I did but it got canceled. The instructor called in sick." Once again attempting to make contact with Jim, Blair laid his hand on the other man's knee and leaned forward slightly. "So you mind telling me what's going on here?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." An irritated scowl on his face, Jim reached over, picked up Blair's hand and pointedly set it on the couch several inches away from his leg. "Nothing's going on."
Not deterred, Blair shifted around until he was sitting on the floor. It was then that he noticed the bottle and glasses sitting on the coffee table. Staring at the eight shot glasses and bottle of Jack Daniels, something nagged at the back of his mind. Slowly he raised his hand to touch one of the glasses but his movement was impeded when a hand clamped down on his wrist. Gaze locking on the restraint, Blair's eyes traveled from the white knuckles up the flexing forearm before finally meeting the heated glare being directed his way. "So, is this a private party? Or can anyone join in?"
Releasing Blair's wrist, averting his eyes when the younger man immediately grasped it and started to rub the already bruising flesh, Jim let out a weary sigh. "Do me a favor, Sandburg? Get lost for a couple of hours, would you? Go to a movie or the university. Anywhere." Unmindful of the pleading tone that had crept into his voice, Jim added, "I need to be alone for a while."
Still holding his throbbing wrist, Blair glanced over at the items lined up on the coffee table. "Jim, man, I think that the last thing you need right now is to be alone." Eyes coming to rest on the detective again, he indicated the bottle with a jerk of his head. "Especially if you plan on starting in on the booze. There's no telling how it'll affect your senses."
Letting out a bitter sounding chuckle, Jim stood up. "Is that all you ever think about? Are my senses always the first thought in that head of yours?" Ignoring Blair's frantic attempt to scoot out of the way, he stalked over to the balcony doors. Staring out over the darkened city below, he leaned forward until his forehead rested against the slightly chilled glass. His breath lightly fogging the windowpane, he softly asked, "Did it ever occur to you that there's more to me than just my senses? That there's Jim Ellison who's just a man and not your idealistic version of some tribal guardian?" Without waiting for a response, he turned to stare at his roommate. "Just because I took pity on your pathetic hide and let you move in here, that doesn't mean that this isn't my home anymore. I don't think a few hours alone are too much to ask for."
Stinging from the hostile barb the older man had flung at him, Blair cast his eyes downward. "You can say whatever you want, Jim, but I'm not leaving. Not until you tell me what's going on."
Throwing up his hands, Jim exclaimed, "Why don't you tell me? You seem to know so much about me. You've always got some rationalization for the things that I do, for the way that I act. So let's hear it, Sandburg. Let's hear how the way that I'm acting right now ties back to this Sentinel crap! According to you everything does, doesn't it?"
"Jim " Trailing off, for once not knowing what to say, Blair simply stared at Jim.
Just as suddenly as it had come, the burst of energy departed and left the usually invincible seeming man appearing weak, almost frail. Shoulders drooping, Jim turned his back to Blair again. "I'm not the best company right now, Sandburg. So just get out of here before I do something that we'll both end up regretting."
Remaining on the floor, Blair drew his legs up to his chest and rested his chin on his knees. "Am I supposed to take that as some sort of threat?"
"You can take it anyway that you want just as long as you do it somewhere else."
Blair tilted his head and peered up at Jim. Slowly, his eyes traveled over the tense shoulders then down the strong back to finally settle on the feet firmly planted apart. Blair could feel the vibes radiating from the older man; vibes that sent a warning to stay away or risk facing the wrath of the obviously agitated man. "Sorry, but you're going to have to try something else."
Spinning around, Jim walked over to Blair and stared down at him. Expression turning to one of disgust, the angry man growled, "You just can't take a hint, can you? Well let me make it clear for you, Sandburg. I want to be alone tonight. I don't care where you go just as long as it's somewhere other than here. Get out!"
Squatting down, causing Blair to jerk backwards slightly, Jim reached over and grabbed two fistfuls of Blair's flannel shirt. Pulling the younger man towards him, their faces coming to within a few scant centimeters of each other, Jim hissed, "Like I told you already, I'll do something that you'll regret."
"And like I told you already, you're going to have to try something else." Not intimidated, Blair remained still as Jim's fists tightened and caused his shirt to pull against his back. "That won't work with me. It might have a little while ago, but not now. You won't hurt me."
"What makes you so sure of that?" Eyes narrowing, making him appear dangerous and threatening, Jim softly asked, "Are you willing to bet your life on that, Sandburg? I mean, think about it for a minute. Maybe you don't know me as well as you think you do, as well as you claim you do. After all, we haven't known each other all that long."
"Long enough, man."
"You really think so?"
"I know so," Blair insisted. "I know you, Jim. I know you."
Finally releasing Blair's shirt, Jim sat down on the floor. Drawing up his knees, unconsciously imitating his roommate's posture, Jim rested his arms on his knees and let his hands dangle between them. "No matter what I say, you're not going anywhere are you?"
"Well how about if I throw your ass out of here?" Jim asked. "Would you leave then?"
Bestowing a soft smile on Jim, Blair answered, "Nope. Sorry. You're stuck with me. So I guess you're just going to have to give in and tell me what's going on." When Jim didn't immediately respond, Blair demanded, "Talk to me!"
Shifting until he was facing the coffee table, Jim pointed to the glasses. "What do you see?"
Momentarily thrown by the odd question, Blair's eyes darted between Jim and the table. "I see some glasses and a bottle of whiskey."
Sounding lost and alone, Jim replied, "That's all, huh?"
Voice lowered, Blair whispered, "Tell me what you see, Jim. Where is your head at right now?"
"Where's my head at?" Reaching out a finger, Jim lightly traced the rim of the glass closest to him. "In the past, Sandburg. In the past."
Watching as Jim continued to run a finger along the glass, Blair became worried when he looked over and saw the vacant expression in the other man's eyes. "Jim " he began but paused when everything suddenly clicked into place. When the significance of the number of glasses, not to mention today's date, clicked into place. "Why eight, Jim? There shouldn't be eight, should there?"
Hearing the sudden understanding in the younger man's tone, Jim turned to look at Blair. "So I guess you don't need me to do any explaining now, huh?"
"I I guess that I didn't make the connection before. With the date, I mean."
"Why would you?" Returning his attention to the glasses once again, Jim reached over and grabbed the Jack Daniels bottle. Pulling it towards him, he began to open the whiskey. "After all, what's so special about March 14th?"
Watching as Jim began to fill each of the eight glasses, Blair countered, "March 14th, 1988. Isn't that what you mean?"
After filling the last glass, Jim set the bottle back on the table. Dipping a finger into one of the glasses, he grimaced as the wetness registered on his sense of touch. Raising his finger, he watched as the alcohol slowly beaded at the end of his finger before dripping back into the glass. "March 14th. Seems like just an ordinary date, doesn't it? Nothing special about it at all, is there? Hell, it isn't like it's something memorable like December 25th or July 4th. Or even April 1st. But then again, I guess we did have a joke played on us that day."
"We? You mean your team, don't you?"
"Who the hell else would I mean?" Angrily, Jim turned to look at Blair. "You figured it out. You know what I'm talking about. Don't pull any crap with me right now, Sandburg."
"I'm not." Laying a hand on Jim's still tense shoulder; Blair tried to reassure the other man. "I mean it, Jim. I wouldn't mess with you about this. You have to believe me."
Shrugging off the hand, Jim retorted, "Sure I do, Dr. McKay."
"You can try and push me away all you want, but I'm not leaving you alone tonight."
"Not that I'm not touched by this show of concern, but I've dealt with this day for a long time now. All without having you here to hold my hand. I'll handle this on my own. Just like I have every year since since "
"Since the crash," Blair finished. "Every year since that day March 14th, 1988 when your helicopter went down in Peru. When your team was "
"Damn it, just shut up, Sandburg! Shut up! I don't want "
" to deal with it?" Blair finished. "Or is it that you don't want me to see you deal with it?" Catching the uneasy glance Jim directed his way, Blair straightened up and stared at the other man. "That's it, isn't it? What's the matter, Jim? Can't stand for someone to see you vulnerable? Can't stand for someone to see you hurting? I already have! Remember? In that alley, when Danny Choi was killed. That was you in pain. That was you grieving for the death of "
Turning, Jim lunged forward and pinned Blair back against the couch. "That's enough, Sandburg! Just stop right there! I may have agreed to let you study my senses, but I never agreed to let you psychoanalyze me. You want to play shrink with somebody? Then go somewhere else because I don't need it."
"I'm not trying to psychoanalyze you. Or play shrink." His rapid breathing matching his partner's breath for breath, Blair refused to back down or be intimidated. "All I'm trying to do is help you. And and to be your friend. Let me do that, Jim. Please. Let me be a friend to you. Like they were. Like they were your friends."
Pressing closer to Blair, Jim's eyes traveled to the younger man's earring filled ear then to the unrestrained hair partially obscuring his face. "You're nothing like them, Sandburg."
Realizing that the words, despite the sharp tone, weren't meant as an insult but merely as a statement, Blair smiled. "No, I'm not. But I can still be your friend." Nodding toward the table, he said, "So tell me about the glasses. Why eight?"
Releasing Blair, Jim moved to sit beside his roommate. Leaning back against the couch, he stared at the glasses. "One glass for each man that died that day. Each year on this day on the anniversary of the crash I have a toast to each of them."
Confused, Blair once again looked between the glasses and Jim. "But I mean Well Hell, Jim, I thought that there were only seven men on the helicopter that day. That is unless you count well, unless you count yourself among " Trailing off, Blair turned to stare at Jim in shock. "Jim?"
"There were seven men with me on that helicopter. In all, there were eight of us that went down in the crash. And there were eight men that died that day." Meeting Blair's gaze, he added, "Eight men lost their lives. Seven, physically. And the other..."
"The other what?" Blair prompted when Jim fell silent.
"The other was just a poor, stupid son of a bitch who blindly believed in duty, honor and country." Leaning his head back until it came to rest on the couch, Jim stared up at the ceiling. "A captain who was foolish enough to believe that his superiors were trustworthy men who cared about the men under their command as much as he did. And even though his body survived the crash, the soldier that he was the man that he was died that day as well. So while his men lost their physical lives that day he well, he lost his soul. Sometimes, I think that they were the lucky ones."
Stunned not just by Jim's words but also by the fact that the other man had opened up to him had confided in him Blair remained speechless for several long seconds. "You're wrong, you know."
"Really? About what?"
"You didn't lose your soul that day, Jim," Blair answered. "It was damaged, I know that. But it survived. Just like you survived. I look at you at the man you are today and I know the things that you've been through the things that you've been forced to endure and I'm amazed by you."
Turning his head to the side, Jim looked at Blair. "Riiight."
"I'm serious! Even with the crash even when dealing with the loss of your men you still carried out your mission. You did your duty. That kind of dedication that kind of fortitude and strength it takes someone with a strong spirit with a strong soul to carry on the way you did after the crash." Pausing momentarily, Blair stared down at the floor and then continued in a soft voice. "I I know that there are scars the ones that you can see as well as the ones you can't. I feel them every time I watch you deal with each new atrocity you face as a cop. But despite that, you still do the job. You protect your tribe. So, yes, the soldier that you were may have died that day. But the man that you were the man that you are still lives. In soul as well as in body."
"Sandburg, I I "
"Tell me about them, Jim."
Raising his head, Blair met Jim's gaze. "Tell me about your men. I want to know about them. The kind of men that they were."
"I don't "
"You can't tell me that you don't think about them on this night," Blair interrupted. "That you don't sit here and remember the times you had together before you have a drink in each one's honor."
Turning to stare at the glasses, Jim murmured, "I do."
"Then do it again tonight. But this time, don't do it in mourning. Do it in celebration of the men they were. Do it to celebrate their life and to share their memory with someone else ... with me."
"At least give it a try," Blair pleaded. "I think it will help, I really do."
Sighing, Jim reluctantly agreed, "Fine. Where do we start?"
"Hang on a minute." Jumping up, Blair ran into the kitchen and began banging around.
Not moving, Jim yelled, "What are you doing in there?"
"Nothing," Blair called out. "I'll be right back."
A couple of minutes later, Blair returned. In his hands, he was balancing an assortment of mugs and glasses. His precarious hold threatening to send the items crashing to the floor at any moment, he looked down at Jim. "A little help?"
Shaking his head, Jim climbed to his feet and grabbed a mug just as it slipped from Blair's grasp. "Mind telling me what this is about?"
Smiling his thanks when Jim grabbed the glasses, Blair leaned over and placed the remaining mugs on the table. "Just sit those down right here."
Bending down, Jim set the glassware on the table then resumed his earlier position on the floor. "Well?"
Grabbing the bottle of Jack Daniels, Blair poured a small amount of whiskey into the eight mugs and glasses he had brought from the kitchen. After finishing the last one, he placed the bottle on the table and then sat down next to Jim. Catching the irritated, and somewhat exasperated, look directed his way he smiled. Picking up a shot glass, he handed it to Jim before grabbing a mug for himself. "Well you can't have a toast by yourself, can you?"
Nodding his thanks, Jim accepted the glass from Blair. "I guess not."
Touching his mug against Jim's glass, Blair ordered, "So toast."
Smiling slightly, his eyes becoming unfocused as he became immersed in memories of his lost men, Jim returned the toast. "To Sarris." After he and Blair had both downed their drinks, he began to talk. "You know, I remember this one time in training when Sarris "
Leaning back against the couch, his shoulder touching Blair's, Jim continued to talk about his lost men; sharing a toast with Blair before relating a story about each man who had died on that day so long ago. And as he honored the anniversary of their deaths, he didn't just mourn their loss; but, for the first time, he celebrated their life as well.
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