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Archive summary: After a four month separation, Jim anxiously awaits Blair's return to Cascade for the holidays.
Disclaimer: Jim, Blair, Steven, Simon, and everyone else you recognize are owned by UPN and Pet Fly Productions and are used without their permission. All songs inspired by the Very Special Christmas CDs, volumes 1 & 2. This story is not intended to infringe upon any copyrights, nor is any profit being made from it.
There are a lot of people to thank for helping me with this. Big hugs for Saraid, Regina, Jeana, and Heather for everything from beta reading to moral support. Many thanks for the wonderful suggestions and encouragement. All mistakes are mine, since they were probably corrected at some point or another.
This story is part of the series Songs You Know by Heart. The previous parts can be found at Merry's 852 Prospect site, or just e-mail me directly for them. There be sex in them thar pages -- so if you weren't alive before M-TV started broadcasting, take a hike.
//Indicates song lyrics//
December 23rd, 3:30 PM
//Bells will be ringing the glad, glad news
Oh what a Christmas to have the blues
My baby's gone, I have no friends
To wish me greetings, oh once again//
Taking another sip of coffee out of the styrofoam cup in his hand, Jim Ellison sighed deeply. It was Christmas, dammit. The season of peace, goodwill towards men and all that crap. Obviously, somebody forgot to pass that information along to the gang of carjackers that had been plaguing the parking lots of Cascade's two largest shopping malls.
Although he would never say it out loud, Jim had to admit that the idea was a sound one. The gang would place a few of their people inside the mall to keep an eye out for a mark who was doing all of his or her Christmas shopping in one day, especially those who bought jewelry. The inside person would follow the customer around, and then use a cell phone to inform his cohorts from which door the mark exited the mall. The outside team would track the victim to their car, hold them up at gunpoint, and not only take the car, but all of the mark's purchases as well. It was a fairly easy plan that so far had been flawlessly executed.
The biggest problem for Cascade's finest was the seemingly random pattern of the crimes. The first incident had occurred on the day after Thanksgiving at the Harbor Mall, the second two days later at Cascade Town Center. There were few leads to go on, so the police stepped up their presence in the parking area, hoping to deter further incidents. It wasn't even assigned to the Major Crimes division until the second victim decided that his car was more important than his life. In the ensuing struggle, William Braddock was shot and bled to death before help could arrive. Jim was certain that Braddock's wife and children would have preferred a Christmas with no presents over the funeral that they had attended four weeks ago. It saddened the detective that some people were more concerned about 'things' rather than their own safety; but more importantly, it struck a nerve that this gang chose what was supposed to be the season of peace and goodwill to commit these crimes.
"Hey Ellison, you didn't zone out on me or anything, did you?" Brian Ryf's voice broke into his thoughts. At Blair's departure almost four months ago, Simon Banks had insisted that Jim take on a new partner, one who was to have full disclosure of the detective's Sentinel abilities. Although their first few weeks working as partners had been rough, Jim and Brian had managed to struggle through. Ryf quickly learned how to work with someone who had enhanced senses, and the Sentinel came to depend on the younger man to help him stay focused while in the field. Together, they maintained the best case-solved rate in the Cascade Police Department, although Jim's number had been slightly higher when he was teamed with Blair.
It may not have seemed like a big deal, but Jim always referred to Ryf as his partner, never his Guide. That was one role that would forever belong solely to Blair Sandburg, Ph.D.. Even if he had tried, the Sentinel doubted that he would ever feel the same connection to his new partner that he had with the anthropologist. What Jim shared with Blair was something that only happens once in a lifetime, a bond that they had nurtured carefully, allowing it to grow from reluctant partners, to roommates, to tentative buddies, to best friends, and then finally, to so much more.
"No, I'm still here, unfortunately," Jim mumbled the last part under his breath. There were a thousand and one errands the Sentinel needed to finish before Blair's arrival, and sitting in an unmarked car with his partner in sub-zero temperatures was not the way to get any of them done. Ryf droned on about the cold weather, bitching about it the same way Blair used to. With nothing else to do, the detective felt his mind begin to wander over the events of the past few months.
Four months. Four long months since that one magical night had happened. The night before Blair was to leave for his new job in Virginia, he and Jim found comfort and solace in each others arms. A single kiss borne of unspoken love led them to the single most passionate night of lovemaking the Sentinel ever experienced. They fell asleep in each others arms, only to have their world fall apart the next morning.
Unable to cope with the fact that he had actually slept with another man, his best friend and Guide at that, Jim emotionally backpedaled away from Blair the next day. His actions left the younger man confused, angry, and hurt. After a week of sorely missing his Guide's presence, Jim was able to gradually get past the initial denial of his feelings to accept that he did, indeed, love Blair. However, coming to grips with that fact proved to be an uphill battle.
When Jim finally called Blair later that same week to apologize for his immature behavior, he found himself confessing that he was willing to eventually pursue a physical relationship with the younger man. With wisdom beyond his thirty years, Blair suggested that they wait before reaching that decision. As was his nature, Jim pressured his Guide to admit that he, too, wanted this new aspect of their love for each other to continue. In the end, Blair left the choice of whether or not they would pursue a sexual relationship up to the older man. Whatever Jim decided, Blair would abide by it and not push for more. The younger man was true to his word, he never mentioned the subject when they spoke on the phone; however, he would discuss it freely when Jim brought it up.
From that point onward, daily phone calls were the only contact between the two men. The initial pain of separation faded somewhat, but it never went away completely. The calls were almost a necessary evil; a mix of heaven in hearing each other's voices, and hell with the knowledge that another day had passed and they were still apart. The need they felt to be near each other wasn't so much a sexual hunger as it was a basic instinctual yearning to go back to the deep friendship that had bound them together for almost four years. In fact, what Jim missed most about his friend was the thousand little things that haunted him daily; Blair's soothing voice, his endless knowledge of all things trivial, the comforting sound of his heartbeat that let the Sentinel know when the younger man was simply somewhere close by.
When Jim mentioned that last part in one of their conversations, Blair made an audio tape of just his heartbeat and sent it to his partner. The Sentinel often used the recording to help him on those occasional nights he had trouble falling asleep. It wasn't enough to completely fool his senses about his Guide's absence, but it was a start. The simple fact was that there was nothing that would appease Jim's fundamental need for Blair, except the man himself.
One night in October, Jim tried to explain the feeling to Blair. "I don't know if it's about friendship, love, or even a Sentinel/Guide thing, but it's like a part of me is missing." Blair understood completely, even though he, too, was unable to find the exact cause. "I think it's probably a combination of all of those things," he answered softly. "Do you believe in soulmates, Jim?" Up until that time, if anyone else had asked that same question, the detective would have laughed, but now he knew better. Somewhere, sometime, one of Blair's infinite number of gods had decided to divide one soul into two pieces. They gave one half to Jim Ellison and the other to Blair Sandburg, forcing them to come together to be complete.
Religion and mysticism aside, it wasn't always easy for Jim to accept the realities of his destiny. The fact that the detective loved his friend in platonic terms had never been an issue; he knew it, and more importantly, Blair knew it, even though Jim never said as much. They showed each other how important their friendship was in dozens of ways every day, whether it was giving each other rides to work or saving each other's lives in the course of their police cases.
The most difficult part for Jim to come to grips with was the fundamental change that he was making in his sexual orientation. Up until that night, he would have classified both of them in the category 'heterosexual -- devout and devoted.' Never before in his life had Jim been attracted to another man, and the concept of being bi or gay was so alien to him, the detective needed warp capacity just to be able to entertain the thought.
No matter how many times he told himself that he wanted to pursue a sexual relationship with Blair, there was still a tiny part of his mind that was still repelled by the thought; after all, forty years of a certain mindset was not going to be supplanted by one night of passion. Without the object of his affections nearby, Jim went through periods where he was sure that the whole situation had been a figment of his imagination, some nightmare brought on by too much beer and bad chili-cheesedogs. When those times occurred, Jim often found himself uncontrollably angry; at himself for his feelings, and at Blair for bringing those emotions out in him in the first place.
It was his Guide's misfortune to call one night during one of those rages almost two months after he left Cascade. Jim gave the younger man credit for not hanging up the phone at the hurtful things that seemed to fly out of his mouth of their own volition. Despite the fact that the venomous words were cutting him to the quick, the younger man listened to every syllable that the detective snarled at him. By the time Jim's anger ran out of steam, the older man was almost in tears, begging for Blair's forgiveness for his outburst. Always looking out for his Sentinel's well-being, his Guide forgave him unconditionally, and reminded Jim that he, in fact, was in control of their relationship.
They talked for hours the following night, a no-holds-barred discussion of their hopes, desires, and fears about the situation. What began as a heart-to-heart of their own deepest feelings eventually evolved into a thorough conversation that spun slowly into various tangents -- the pros and cons of loving another man in today's society, whether or not they should be 'out' or more specifically, who they should inform about their new relationship, professional repercussions -- everything right down to the actual mechanics of sex between two men.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise, but Jim was nevertheless mortified when Blair revealed that he had done some research on the subject of homosexuality. "What do you expect, man? Research is what I do for a living," the younger man laughed. He never told Blair, but a few days later, Jim bit the bullet and surfed the net to do some research of his own. Although it was not enough, Jim found some degree of comfort when he anonymously logged into a chat room dedicated to helping those who were having problems coping with their newly discovered 'alternative' sexual drives.
The most awkward point in the conversation, however, came a little later. Almost two weeks after the night they spent as lovers, Jim realized that they didn't use any type of protection in their sexual encounter. In all of their previous phone calls, the detective never felt comfortable enough to bring up the subject. For some bizarre reason, Jim was afraid that Blair would find any inquiry a sign of disrespect, or even worse, a lack of trust. In all honesty, Jim figured that with all of Blair's various stays in the hospital over the past four years, at least one of the lab work-ups conducted on the younger man would have alerted the medical workers that there was something wrong with his partner. Besides, there wasn't a doubt in Jim's mind that Blair would have ever engaged in unprotected sex if he was HIV positive. Still, the virus could remain dormant for years, and with the number of women his roommate had gone through just in the time he had known him, the Sentinel couldn't help but wonder.
Without the slightest bit of censure, Blair informed him that the night he spent with Jim was the first time he had engaged in unprotected sex since he turned 20. "One of the few rules that Naomi actually drilled into my head was 'no glove, no love,' and she ought to know," Blair quipped, referring to his mother's numerous casual affairs. As if his word wasn't enough, later that same week Jim received a Priority mail packet that contained copies of his Guide's medical history, including the negative results of five years' worth of HIV tests. Jim didn't bother to send Blair his own records, seeing as how the younger man had been given access to all of the Sentinel's medical files back when he was working on his dissertation.
The relief that Jim felt was augmented by the next turn in the conversation. It took some coaxing, but Blair finally admitted that he hadn't been on so much as a date since he'd left Cascade. The happiness that flowed through Jim when he heard that tidbit of information caused his heart to soar, only to have it come crashing down to earth when he realized he couldn't offer his Guide the same comfort.
If Blair was at all upset by Jim's revelation, he did an amazing job at hiding it. Even Jim's enhanced senses couldn't detect any hint of distress in his Guide when the detective admitted that he had not only been on two dates, but that he had also slept with one of the women. Blair took the news in stride, understanding that at the time Jim was feeling a need to prove to himself that he was still attracted to the opposite sex. Feeling extremely guilty, the detective pointed out that he hadn't taken either one of the women out on a second date. That information got a reaction from his Guide. It didn't take Sentinel hearing to recognize the relief in Blair's voice when he teased Jim about his inability to go out with a woman more than once.
That single phone call helped Jim to make great strides in reaching a certain amount of peace with the situation. Although he was still fighting small battles and skirmishes over the realities of having a relationship with another man, he finally came to terms with the fact that he had already lost the war when it came to loving Blair Sandburg. In the end, the patience and understanding Blair gave him drove home the fact that, even though sex was the aspect of their new relationship that spooked Jim the most, it ultimately wasn't the central issue.
Truth be told, deep down, the Sentinel knew instinctively that he started loving Blair after that psychopath, Lash, kidnapped the younger man. That was the first time the detective realized just how important Blair was to him, not as his partner, or as his Guide, but simply as his friend. The guilt Jim felt over allowing Blair to be taken was nothing when compared with the overwhelming happiness that overcame him when the medics finally signaled that Blair would be alright. It was at that exact moment when he knew that somehow all of his efforts to keep the younger man at an emotional distance had failed. Somehow, Blair had found a way to get into his heart, just like he had managed to worm his way into Jim's life.
After that conversation, Jim's anxiety attacks became fewer and further apart. Every now and then, one would creep up on him, but Blair was always willing to help his Sentinel through it. It meant the world to Jim that the younger man never once tried to force their new relationship on him. From the beginning, Blair left the ultimate decision up to his partner.
The last panic attack Jim suffered occurred four days before Thanksgiving. It wasn't a surprise, as both of them were expecting it at some point before Blair actually returned to Cascade. While they were apart from each other, it was easier for the Sentinel to pretend that he was accepting of the change in the nature of their relationship. However, with his Guide actually present, the reality of the situation would be unavoidable.
For two solid days and nights, Jim played the 'what if?' game. What if his feeling for Blair weren't real? What if he was no longer attracted to the younger man? What if he couldn't handle getting intimate again? What if people saw them together and figured out what happened? Unaware of the cause of his best detective's agitation, Simon sent the Sentinel home before taking it upon himself to call Sandburg behind Jim's back to ask the younger man if he could figure out what the problem was. Another all-night conversation with Blair calmed him enough so that he could return to work the next day.
The following day, Jim walked on air, looking forward to Blair's arrival later that evening. It had been a long three months, and the Sentinel was truly looking forward to seeing his Guide again. However, as with everything in their lives, if they didn't have bad luck, they'd have no luck at all.
Hours before he was to leave for the airport, Blair's latest subject with enhanced senses, Sabra Lowstein, lost control of her car while on the way to pick up her instructor to take him to the airport. The impact of hitting a telephone pole at 35 miles-an-hour broke almost every bone on the left side of her body and left her with massive internal damage. Blair called Jim from the hospital as he waited for word on whether or not his newest student would live or die.
The call came through on the cell phone while Jim was at the station. Whatever disappointment the Sentinel felt when Blair said he wouldn't be coming for the holiday instantly evaporated as his Guide explained what happened. Although he had never met Sabra in person, the detective had talked with her many times, discussing various aspects of their heightened senses. While the Sentinel was upset by the tragic news of the young woman, it was the grief and utter devastation Jim heard in his Guide's voice that caused the color to drain away from his own face. This was the first time since their separation that Blair actually needed his best friend and Blessed Protector, and Jim's inability to be there for his partner weighed heavily on him.
The detective's loss of composure and his worried tone was enough to attract the attention of almost every set of eyes in the bullpen. Seeking refuge, Jim moved quickly to the relative safety of Simon's office. The Captain's head rose sharply, ready to chew him out for just bursting in without knocking, but one look at the Sentinel's pale, shocky complexion was enough to forestall any comments.
Seeing Simon's brows arch questioningly, Jim reached for a legal pad and a pen. Without breaking his stream of comforting words to his Guide, the detective jotted down a brief outline of what was going on with Sandburg. Simon knew how rattled Blair became in hospital waiting rooms -- God knows, he had seen it often enough anytime Jim was injured. It used to amaze the Captain how well the observer could keep his head in the most dangerous situations; but once the stress was over, the kid shattered like so much fine crystal.
For his part, Jim was desperately trying to calm his frantic Guide. Although Blair was probably unaware that he was in a full-blown panic, the Sentinel couldn't help but notice that the younger man's heart was racing at dangerous speeds as he rambled on about the unfairness of it all. What was worse was that the detective just knew that it wouldn't take long for the guilt to set in. It was simply Blair's nature to find some way, no matter how twisted, to blame himself for every little ill that befell those he was close to. Sadly, Blair didn't disappoint him when he spoke his next words.
"It was my fault, Jim. She zoned out. I just know it, man. I'm here to teach her how to control her abilities, and I failed her," Blair muttered through his sobs.
Every fiber of the Sentinel's being was screaming at him to jump on the nearest plane to be with his Guide when the younger man so obviously needed him. Jim scribbled another note to Simon, asking for time off to go to his distraught friend. Without another thought, the Captain simply nodded his assent and picked up the phone to have his secretary make the arrangements.
An hour later found Blair crying again, this time in relief when the surgeon informed him that Sabra had made it through the surgery, but warned him that her chances of surviving the next twenty-four hours were not promising. Rhonda had no luck in finding Jim a ticket, Eastern Virginia College was simply too close to Washington, DC, and with everybody trying to get home for Thanksgiving, there were no seats available on any flights for the next two days. Simon went above and beyond the call, instructing his secretary to inform the airlines that Jim was travelling on official police business. The tactic was usually enough for the reservationist to 'magically' find an open seat, but not this time.
After two hours of constant use, the battery in Blair's cell phone finally gave out. Knowing that the younger man would call back on a land line in just a few minutes, Jim took advantage of the short pause to get in touch with some old army buddies. His intentions of calling in a few outstanding favors to secure a ride on a military transport was useless. With so many soldiers headed home on leave, there was no room for any more passengers.
Stymied in his attempts to reach Blair in person, the Sentinel did his best to reassure his Guide by phone. Jim continued talking to the younger man on his cellular as he left the station and made his way home. Once back at the loft, he called the pay phone at the hospital, and settled in for a long night.
As the hours slowly passed, the conversation often lapsed into longs periods of silence. Despite the crick in his neck, the thought of hanging up never occurred to him. Right now, the open phone line was the only physical connection between them, and the Sentinel instinctively knew that his Guide desperately needed it to continue. It was almost as if the fiber optics not only carried the sound of Jim's voice to Blair, but his strength, support, and love as well.
Twenty-four hours later, Sabra was still alive, but still in critical condition. The doctors believed that although the worst was over, she wouldn't be completely out of the woods until she woke up from the coma she was in. Her recovery was going to be long and painful, and Blair swore that he would be there every step of the way. Exhausted and relieved, both men ended their vigils; Blair's over Sabra, and Jim's over Blair.
Sabra regained consciousness on Thanksgiving Day. Through the constant haze of pain she was experiencing, she was nevertheless quick to reassure Blair that the accident was the result of sliding on a patch of icy road, rather than a zone out. The information helped to alleviate most of the guilt that had shrouded the anthropologist. There was only one good thing that came from Sabra's accident. It drove home the point that even though Jim and Blair could function independently, they could still fall back on each other in times of crisis -- just like they always had.
Nevertheless, Jim still planned to fly out to Virginia on Friday to provide moral support for his Guide, but once again fate intervened. At some point in the wee hours of Friday morning, the hot water heater in the loft blew up, forcing the detective to clean up the three inches of standing water. As if that situation weren't bad enough, the first three carjackings happened over the same weekend. Between Jim's surveillance hours and Blair's teaching schedule, they mutually decided to hold off on seeing each other until Christmas.
As the weeks passed by, Jim's emotional ups and downs settled to a more median level. The Sentinel was eager to see his Guide again, but he still couldn't help feeling a little nervous about what would happen when they were finally together. By that time, Jim knew that he wasn't nervous about 'being' with Blair again; instead, his trepidation's came from worrying about the opinions of his friends and peers.
As much as he wanted to keep Blair in the loft for the whole week of his visit, Jim knew that the younger man had been invited to Simon's annual Christmas Eve party, and that he was looking forward to seeing everybody from the department again. The detective was terrified that his colleagues would take one look at the two of them and instantly know that they were sleeping together. He knew that he could keep his own face as blank as a slate wall, but Blair was a different story. Even the smallest shift in emotions showed itself on that ever-expressive face.
On to Part 2
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