Disclaimer: You'd never believe me if I tried to claim these boys as my own, so I ain't gonna try. Title stolen from an XF episode tagline. Oops, sorry.
Summary: The world may have turned its back on Blair, but his true friends won't.
It'd had been nearly two weeks since Blair Sandburg made his declaration to the press. Two weeks since he claimed to be a fraud in front of the press and populace. Two weeks since he'd been fired and kick out from Rainier University. Two weeks since he'd been given the option of entering the Police Academy. Two weeks since life as he knew it had changed irrevocably.
The paparazzi-fest had only begun to die down in the last few days. The press unwilling to give up such a lucrative story as a doctoral candidate ruining his life over a piece of fiction. His partner, Detective Jim Ellison, had gone from star Sentinel-slash-Cop to sideline character witness for his lying roommate. Not much of an improvement privacy-wise, but at least he wasn't the main focus of the press harassment anymore.
No, the reporters had quit hounding his partner about being a Sentinel within minutes of his speech. Instead, they'd hounded him for tidbits on what it was like to live with a fraud.
That's what he was now. A fraud. And the whole world knew it. A reputation like that one was nearly impossible to shake off, he'd be infamous in the academic world for the rest of life. He'd only ever be remembered as a fraud.
God, he hated that word.
It wasn't so much giving up his life's work that hurt the most either. No, it was the looks of pity and barely concealed contempt he'd seen in the faces of people he'd use to call friend. Even complete strangers he'd never seen before had made no attempt to hide the scorn from their expressions when he passed by them. He'd only just survived cleaning out his office at Rainier because Jim had been there to help him.
Jim. His friend, his partner, his Blessed Protector. . . his Sentinel.
He still wasn't sure if he'd forgiven Jim yet, but he didn't have it in his heart to be angry at the man. Hell, he couldn't even be mad at Naomi for sending his thesis to that editor friend of hers. Nor could he be mad at Mr. Grant for leaking the contents of his paper to the press. So why should he be mad at Jim for not trusting him when the shit hit the proverbial fan?
Angry? No. Hurt? Yes. That's why he still had trouble sitting in the same room as Ellison. That's why he still couldn't look his friend in the eyes for very long. Not because he was ashamed of himself or that he felt guilty for revealing his secrets to the world--because he wasn't. He wasn't ashamed of what he'd done, and he wasn't guilty of outing his friend. True, he still felt terrible for having written the paper in the first place, but it had been the whole point for being with Jim all along. No, what kept him from making peace with his partner was the hurt he felt from Jim's mistrust in him.
Even after all they'd been through, Jim had still blamed him first. Hell, the man had even gone to his Captain and demanded things go back to ‘the way they were before'. Pre-Sandburg. No press, no senses, no partner. . . no Guide. That had hurt more than Blair had ever imagined it would. Even during the whole Alex debacle he hadn't been hurt this bad. Probably because he'd subconsciously always been waiting for the moment when he'd find his ass out of the loft. But he'd thought they'd gotten beyond those fears of betrayal. He'd actually, foolishly, thought they'd learned to trust one another without a shadow of a doubt.
He'd been wrong.
But there was little sense in worrying about it now. The guys from Major Crimes would be coming over soon for the weekly poker game. He wouldn't have to tip-toe around Jim tonight, because there would be plenty of other folks to distract him. Blair was very thankful for them. Most of the men and women of the Cascade P.D.'s top unit had been good to him, even after learning he was an untrustworthy liar. He had to hand it to them, they were truer friends than the roving former-Anthropologist had ever thought to have. Their continued friendship was really more than he'd hoped for.
But by no means as much as he'd wanted.
The game was progressing well as far as Jim could discern. Captain Joel Taggart was currently holding the winning pot, a fact which the former bomb squad captain, now Major Crimes detective, took great pleasure in flaunting to his fellow officers. Ellison himself was barely breaking even, his focus just wasn't on the cards. No, what held his attention was the oddly quiet man beside him. Blair usually won whatever rounds of poker the guys let him play, which was why they usually only let him play a few hands before shooing him off for beer runs. Except for this game. This game, he'd played every hand. . . and lost. The despondency that plagued his Guide worried the over-protective Sentinel part of him almost as much as it did the friend in him.
Not that he'd proven himself much of a friend lately. He knew Sandburg was still hurting from his accusations that the kid at deliberately blown his secrets wide open. Shit, he was ticked at himself for doubting Sandburg's loyalty. He knew, dammit, knew it in his soul that his partner and friend would never consciously betray him. He hadn't needed the sacrifice of a lifetime to prove it either. But that's exactly what he got.
The last time Jim had lost his faith in their partnership, his best friend had wound up floating face down in a fountain. This time, it hadn't been any less drastic. Blair was still alive, thankfully, but he'd given up his *life* to protect his Sentinel. It was the death of Blair Sandburg, Academic and Anthropologist--a fate almost as devastating as losing Sandburg himself.
And now the detective was determined to right his wrongs as best he could. He'd started by going to Simon to see what could be done to help Blair via the police. After all, the station had become Sandburg's second occupation--he spent almost as much time here as he did at Rainier. Or at least, he used to. Now, the kid had no where else to go.
They'd come up with the idea of getting Blair a permanent position, to make him Ellison's official partner. The kid had already managed to work himself quite a little niche in the department as far as the Major Crimes crew was concerned. He contributed to the investigations almost as much as they did. With his eclectic knowledge and fresh viewpoint, he'd quickly become an enviable asset to the department.
In the end though, the Commissioner and Chief of Police had required a demonstration of the truth of Jim abilities before they'd agree to let Blair Sandburg among their ranks again. They had planned to pull his Observer credentials, since proven frauds could never be trusted within the department doors. Showing off his Sentinel talents like a circus show-dog had been a small price to pay for their cooperation. Once they'd seen what he could do, they smartly realized the importance of keeping his senses a secret and their new respect for the sacrifice Blair had made for him had been apparent. But they still hadn't been willing to let Sandburg stay on as his partner. No, he and Captain Banks had had to cajole them to make the realize the true import of the Guide for a Sentinel--and even then it had taken a threat to abandon his post at the Great City of Cascade before they understood.
Once that feat was accomplished, his only concerns were how his partner and the rest of the cops they worked with would take the news. Turns out he needn't have worried about his fellow detectives. They'd enthusiastically approved of the idea the second he and Simon had brought it up. Even Blair's free-living pacifistic mother had been happy with the suggestion--a shock to all who knew Naomi, no doubt.
Sandburg's reactions had been a little bit less worry-free. In fact, the whole unit had worried over how the ex-student would take the offer to become a cop. They all knew about his aversion to guns, but he'd have to learn how to fire one if he were to pass the Academy. And that was only a minor point. What had most of the detectives worried was wondering if their favorite former-Anthropologist would accept entering the dark life of being a cop. Sure, he'd seen more death and crime in his three years working with Jim Ellison than most cops saw in their entire careers, but he'd always been able to balance that dark side of humanity with the light one of his academic life. He'd never be given that escape again.
The kid had proven to be as unpredictable as ever though, and had gone and surprised them all by not only accepting the shiny gold detective's shield, but actually wanting to go the the Academy to earn it. And for a while there, Jim had been able to believe that things were finally settling down and were gonna go right for them. Until he noticed that depression was only thing settling over partner in the long run.
The press were now targeting Blair, and Ellison had been in Blessed Protector mode almost constantly. All the stress was beginning to wear thin on both of them, and neither seemed fit to handle anymore surprises for quite a while. Which was why he'd insisted the gang get together for their supposedly weekly poker game at the loft. They'd put the last game on hold due to The Iceman and Banks and Connor's injuries. Now, everyone needed the friendly, *normal* atmosphere in order to recover from the damage they'd been done in so little time.
"You planning on hording all those chips, Joel?"
"Sorry Ellison, but you ain't getting a piece of this fine pie tonight, my friend. She's gonna be *all* mine, just you wait and see. I've been waiting months for this payday to come along." The big man smiled in satisfaction as he rearranged his ever-growing stack of poker chips into neat piles.
"Don't be so sure of that, Cap'n. I bet you Hairboy's just pullin' our chains with this losing streak. You know, trying to get us to lower our guards or something. Ain't yah, Hairboy?"
Sandburg smiled indulgently at Det. Henri Brown, but didn't otherwise comment as he ante-upped.
Jim watched the proceedings with a small smile of his own. Their friends had noticed Blair's withdrawal too, and had been trying to draw him out of the funk he'd fallen into all night. His appreciation for the loyalty his coworkers had shown increased ten-fold at this display of caring. Blair Sandburg had managed to worm his way into all their hard-as-nails hearts over the years. He was as protected by them as he was by Jim, a fact which relieved the Sentinel of a great deal of anxiety when it came to the well-being of his Guide.
"Okay, gentleman. . . and lady," the Captain of the group added, upon receiving a glare from Megan Connor, "enough chit-chat. Let's play some poker. I don't plan on losing my money to one of my detectives. It's embarrassing."
"As opposed to losing your money to a grad student?" Det. Rafe spoke up, laughter tingeing his voice as he remembered all the times his ego had suffered at the hands of a certain Anthropologist.
The almost imperceptible gasp which followed went unnoticed by all but the Sentinel. He'd been monitoring his partner all night, waiting for the moment when the truth of his predicament would catch up with him. Judging from the pained expulsion of air Rafe's words brought, that moment was now at hand.
Blair's expression had paled to a sickly shade with the mention of his lost identity. He had managed to hold up quite well up until then (as long as he wasn't alone), having not been confronted with the reality of his declarations since the night he'd made the broadcast. And the amiable atmosphere at the precinct and here in the loft had only added to the illusion that all was right with his world. But Rafe's innocent words, combined with his own dark thoughts from that afternoon, had slammed it all in his face.
His life in academia was over. Over. Just like that. A few words and fifteen years of his life comes crashing down.
Oh, God. He needed to get out of there right now. . .
"Excuse me, guys. I--um, I gotta go. . .." Blair never even realized his voice was shaking as he quickly fled the loft.
The game paused in shock as Sandburg practically ran from the table. Jim's eyes met his friends momentarily, communicating a pained look, before he took off after his roommate. He didn't even pause to close the door behind him as he track his distressed Guide's flight down the stairs to the street.
With both gone, the others sagged in their seats. The night had just deteriorated into hell, and none of them felt much like continuing on with a stupid card game when their friends were suffering. When one of their own suffered, all felt the pain.
Rafe was blaming himself for triggering Blair's panic attack. "I'm sorry, guys," he said sadly, "I wasn't thinking. I--"
"Not your fault, babe. Anyone one of us could have slipped up. It's gonna take a lot of getting used to for us to accept that Hairboy's got a new life now."
"Yeah." Megan added her hand to Henri's on Rafe's other shoulder, lending her support both physically and verbally. "I bet even Sandy had forgotten for a little while there. But don't worry, Jim'll take care of him. We've just gotta watch over them both. Sandy's going to have a hard time from now on, and Ellison will be just as bad from worrying about him."
"Those two will never catch a break, will they?" Joel interjected quietly, his gaze studying the grain of the wooden tabletop. When he looked up, the sorrow in his eyes was reflected back at him from four other sets. "Between all the psychos that go after them, the trouble they get into on their own, and the hostility they endure from those jealous of them. . . it's a wonder they've even managed to survive. Why do they stick around when it seems like the whole city's against them?"
"Because they're the Guardians of Cascade and they'd never turn their backs on their tribe. Even if the tribe's turned its back on them."
Everyone turned to stare at Captain Banks with similar expressions of confusion, although Connor's was for a slightly different reason. She hadn't been privy to the discussion he and Jim had had regarding telling their coworkers of his abilities. Simon had initially had strong objections to verifying the rumours which Sandburg's dissertation had produced. However Ellison had only countered by stating that they were trained detectives and they'd be liable to figure it out soon anyway now that they new what to look for.
Simon decided now was as good a time as any to tell their friends. He didn't think Jim or Blair would mind too much not to be there when he did it, but he thought it was more important that the gang know just how important their support of the pair would be.
"Sandburg's dissertation? It wasn't a fraud. The only thing fraudulent about Blair Sandburg was the load of lies he told at the press conference. Jim really is a Sentinel, and Blair's his Guide."
There was a moment of stunned silence before the questions started flying.
"What? You mean--?"
"You're kidding, right?"
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, boys, he's sure." Megan said, following her Captain's lead. "I found out about them last year when we chased that Alex bitch to South America. She was a Sentinel too, only Sandy said she didn't have the protective instincts that made a Sentinel a Sentinel, so that's why she had no Guide of her own."
Taggart, Brown, and Rafe all turned shocked gazes back to their Captain after this disconcerting revelation from the Australian Inspector.
"How long have you known about this, sir?"
"Since the beginning. Ellison told me right away when his senses started to go haywire. At the time, he didn't have a clue what was happening to him--he thought he was going crazy. He even checked into the Hospital to see if the Doctors could find any reason for his problems. But it turned out the answer to his questions would come in the form of a long-haired neo-hippy Anthropology grad student in a basement office at Rainier. Sandburg had been dating one of the nurses who'd treated Jim, and he'd quickly learned that Ellison may be the prize he'd spent his life looking for.
"He arranged to meet Ellison so he could explain his senses to him, in exchange for being allowed to study Jim as his main research subject for his dissertation. Jim agreed just because there didn't seem to be anyone else who could help him gain back his control.
"Since then, Blair has come to fulfill his role as Jim's Guide and Ellison has developed into the best cop imaginable. And it's not just his heightened senses which give him an edge, in fact they are often more a hindrance than a help, but it's been his relationship with Sandburg that really changed the man for the better."
While the others sat quietly absorbing what they'd been told, Megan decided it was time to ask a question that had been plaguing her since she'd first learned of Jim's secret.
"How are Ellison's senses a danger to him? What exactly is Sandy's role in the whole Sentinel thing? He never really got around to explaining that to me properly."
Simon sighed. This was the one question everyone seemed to ask first. They were always in awe of Jim's talents, but they never seemed to notice just how crucial his partner was to their function. Heck, he was ashamed to admit that even he'd had doubts about that. It had taken a lot of painful circumstances before he'd finally accepted Sandburg's value to the team.
"Sandburg's role is to guide Jim in the use of his senses. He keeps Jim from winding up in the nuthouse, or worse--the morgue. Ellison has the very real danger of losing control of his senses if his partner isn't there to ground him. He could focus too tightly on any one of the them, to the point where he ‘zones out'--as Sandburg calls it--and loses touch with reality. In those almost catatonic states, the man is as vulnerable as a newborn. But normally, Sandburg just keeps Ellison sane by helping him keep a tight reign on senses which could easily overwhelm him with stimulus if he's not careful. And he's taught Jim a lot about how to use his senses to the best of his ability. In short, he watches his Sentinel's back."
And his Sentinel in turn, watches his Guide's.
Jim followed the sounds of Blair's rapidly beating heart to the small city park a few blocks from their apartment building. As he approached, he noted the deep, calming breaths his partner was taking were having the desired effect. The pounding th-thump of his Guide's heart was slowing to its more natural rhythm. He gave his friend a few more minutes to pull himself together before sitting down beside him on the park bench.
"Chief? You okay?"
"Okay? Yeah Jim, I'm just great, man. Peachy." Blair's sarcastic words conflicted sharply with the dejected sigh that made his whole body tremble.
Unable to sit by and do nothing while his best friend hurt, Jim pulled the younger man into a bone crushing hug. "Shit, sorry, Blair. Stupid question." The detective released his own sigh when he felt his partner relax and melt into his embrace, his own smaller arms wrapping just as tightly around Jim's waist.
"S'kay, Jim." Sandburg's voice was muffled with his face pressed close to Jim's neck, but the Sentinel had no trouble making out the mumbled words. "Did'n mean to snap at you."
"You have every right to, Chief. You're allowed to be angry, and I deserve just as much of that anger as anyone else. Hell, I deserve more." He felt Blair start to shake his head in negation, but quickly stifled his denial by bringing a hand up to still his partner's movements. "I failed you, Blair. I didn't have enough trust in you or our friendship. And I know I hurt you by doing so." The hand in Blair's hair started carding through the silky tresses, stroking peace into the quaking form in his arms almost of its own volition.
Almost unbidden, the fears that had pestered Blair since the horrible moment when he'd learned his paper had been leaked to the press rose to the surface--and with it came all the pent-up hurt and anger the Guide had felt at his Sentinel's betrayal.
"How could you think I'd ever do anything to jeopardize you, man? You're everything to me. You're my best friend, my partner, my blessed protector. . . you're my damned Sentinel, Jim! You are the most important thing to ever happen to me, I'd never risk losing that. I'd never risk losing you if I could stop it. I need you, James Ellison, even if you don't need me anymore." With the rush of anger bleeding away, the last words were whispered by a man in the zenith of despair.
Horrified, Jim pulled back from Blair's warmth so he could see his Guide's dispirited expression. The anguished look in the blue eyes that struggled to meet his nearly broke his heart. He had no idea his friend felt that way about him. He was furious at himself for ever giving this precious being cause to doubt his worth.
"God, no, Chief. Never. I'll never not need you. I need you more than I've ever needed anything in my life. You're my Guide, my Shaman, my friend, my partner. For Chrissakes, Sandburg, you're the very reason I am who I am! You make me whole, Chief. You're the missing part of my soul that was always out of reach before you came into my life."
Framing Blair's face in his hands so he could force the eyes of his soulmate to meet his own, Jim Ellison made sure to pronounce his next words clearly and distinctly so that there could never be any doubt thereafter. "Listen closely to me Chief, this is important. I do need you. I'll always need you, and I'll always want you by my side. Without you, I'm not whole, Chief. You complete me, Blair. Guide to Sentinel, Friend to Friend, Partner to Partner. One can't exist without the other. Got that?"
Seeing the shaky nod of affirmation, the older man just wrapped his arms back around his friend and held on for dear life.
By the time Jim and Blair returned to the empty loft, it was very late. The two men had wound up just sitting there on that park bench for several hours, doing nothing but quietly rejoicing in being together. Now as they made their way up the steps to their third floor home, Blair's heart rate spiked as he remembered they'd both run out on their friends earlier.
"Relax, Chief. The guys will understand. Simon and I were gonna tell them the truth about me soon anyway. He had the perfect opportunity tonight. They'll support us, you know that. They are good people, we can trust them."
"I know, Jim. You're right." He graced the man beside him with the first real smile to light up his face in over two weeks.
At the door to apt. #307, a small hidden key was visible only to Sentinel eyesight. He quickly scooped it up from the crack under the locked door, and let himself and his partner in.
"Guess we both kinda forget our keys when we bolted, eh man? Good thing Simon thought about us."
"And cleaned up after us, too." Ellison nodded toward the tidied living room and folded up card table leaning on the side of the wall.
"We've got great friends, Jim. Really great friends."
Smiling affectionately down at the shorter man, Jim couldn't help but agree. "Yeah, but it's late, Chief. We should go to bed."
Sandburg nodded, and slowly shuffled over to his bedroom. He paused at the french doors to take a deep breath, knowing he would need it before he could go in there. With no place else to put everything from his Rainier office, most of his valuables and books had wound up littered in his tiny room while the rest went into storage. For the past two weeks, Blair had been effectively sleeping on the sofa, when he did sleep, because he hadn't been able to face the blatant proof of his disgrace from academia.
Jim must have noticed his hesitation, because a large comforting hand landed softly on his shoulder a moment later.
"Why don't you come sleep with me upstairs, Chief?"
Ellison held his breath as his partner froze, then slowly turned to face him. He had known that Blair hadn't been sleeping in his room, of course, even if he hadn't known the reason why before now. But their talk out on the park bench had revealed a lot to the detective, and compelled him to do whatever was necessary to ease the wounds hurting his friend.
"You sure, Jim?" Blair's tentatively hopeful expression was enough to allay any fears Jim may have had about his partner's reaction to his offer.
In response, Jim took Blair's hand and led him up the stairs to the loft bedroom. His bed was a lot bigger than Sandburg's was, so they could both sleep on it comfortably without being elbowed someplace painful in the middle of the night.
Stripping to his boxers to crawl into bed beside his partner, he couldn't help the tranquility he felt when his Guide snuggled up against his side. He dropped a kiss onto his partner's forehead, gratifyied when the smaller man settled into a restful sleep with a smile. Jim easily drifted off right after Blair, the soothing tone of the familiar heartbeat so close lulling him smoothly into dreams.
For the first time in two weeks, the Sentinel stood down from Blessed Protector mode, confident that his Guide was safest right where he was.
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