by Maxine Mayer, 5/30/99
I drove us home in a foggy haze of bliss, incredibly charged still by the high of that moment when I knew Blair had given himself to me, for good.
Everything since then had been a kind of walking on air, acting on automatic, a tribute to practice, experience and the way the body moves even when your mind doesn't bother telling it to. All of it, everything, utterly unreal. Only thing real, was my Blair, once and for all, saying in the only way I'd understand, that *I* mattered. Not my senses, not my company, not a free ride, not a dissertation, not a life's dream. Just me.
How many times he's said it - I can't even count. Me accepting it - that was the one barrier between us Blair couldn't break, no matter what he said, or did, or tried. No matter how many walls he climbed, burrowed under, chipped at, successfully. This barrier nobody could break, not even Blair. Not without that ultimate sacrifice I always knew nobody would consider making. For me.
But Blair did. He made the ultimate sacrifice. Threw it all away - every possible saving grace. Every possible back-door. Every last one of his possibilities. The whole backpack full of them. For me.
He also did it without me. Without expectation of any reward from me. Simply to save my hide, thin-skinned as I am. Simply for that.
I think that's what sweetened the pot most. He didn't expect anything in return - not forgiveness, acceptance, trust. None of that. Or care about it. All he did want was for me to get my life back. Me to get my life back. Because of course I can't change or adjust or accommodate. Too fragile. Such a gift - that he knows that, knows me that well.
In these couple minutes since we got home to the loft, while he's putting his stuff away and taking a shower, while I make him a pot of what I call "Naomi tea," and drink an icy beer, I think of that. His surprise when his sacrifice for me earned him a little back, a little reprieve, from others.
The stunned stopping of his heart, for an instant, when he realized he'd got more than he'd bargained for. That he'd got me.
Got me back. Or so he thinks. He thinks that, I know. That he's got me, us, our friendship, our "Rocky Road" relationship, back. That he's still got his Sentinel. Still is my Guide. That I've forgiven him.
The man's got no clue, what he really got.
Do I need to wonder whether he'll want what he got?
Should I worry if he'll want it? Me?
Think not. Nope. I just have to replay that moment of sacrifice in my mind, Blair's final leap to take a bullet for me, in front of the cameras, the world of academia, the world of media, the police department, professors, students, the dean, the girls he's loved, the men he's tried to impress, his mother. I replay that and I don't worry or wonder at all.
Maybe Blair doesn't know it, but he wants me
Well, poor kid - he's got me.
Now I'm gonna watch him figure it out.
Better than any other show, believe it.
"You coming outta there, Chief?" I shout at the closed bathroom door, finally impatient for action. Only so long I can commune with my thoughts, although the smile on my face seems to be ineradicable.
"Fix me a beer. I'm right with you."
And he is. Last time he graced me with his presence in a practically full Monty was when he took a bullet in the heart of a kevlar vest and I bandaged him up against the bruises. Now, he's sporting a head of practically still wet hair, an electric hand-held hair dryer, and a hand towel around his waist - and nothing else.
And oblivious, of course. As always.
He's talking over the noise of the dryer, his eyes incandescent, both arms raised, and I look at his face so I don't zone on his armpits. Sue me, it's a weakness.
I tune in to his words, to help me with my zoneout problem, coming in on the end of a sentence.
" - you think?" And he stops a foot away, flicks the stop switch on the dryer, lowers his arms and looks at me hopefully.
"Sorry, Chief, missed some of that. The dryer -" I wave one hand at his hair.
"Oh. Well, I said I hope the guys - specially Simon and Megan - won't be too disappointed - oh shit, and Joel, he's so keen on it - if I don't take them up on the offer."
"What are you talking about, Blair?" I ask, suddenly wary. I shift my ass off the table and grab up my beer, tightening my hand around the base. And I squint at him, actually squint, like I'm having trouble focusing my eyes. For a moment I'm in an out-of-body, maybe out-of-person state. Torn between wanting to mention that I've made him his favorite tea and wanting to pretend I really don't know what he's talking about. And a third possibility - just plain shutting down again. But that isn't a possibility any longer. That isn't the kind of barrier that could be rebuilt in an instant.
"Me being a cop, man, of course," he tells me with a smile, coming up around me, putting his hair dryer on the table and then going to the stove to take a cup of tea.
"You just said you'd do it - it can't be more than two hours ago, Sandburg," I exclaim, my voice pushing into an almost-shout. And I thought I'd been doing a helluva lot of "almost" things today.
"I didn't really say that, Jim," he replies, his towel clad ass resting against the sink, and sips the tea. "I don't think I actually said that," he repeats himself, and I can tell his mind's searching his memory for accuracy, scientific accuracy, and I don't and can't reply, because I've been in such a haze since the broadcast that I'm not quite certain what anybody, including me, said. He goes on, "I know I didn't agree to cut my hair, for sure."
Okay, I think, why not? Let's play it out. And half my mind is thinking, You were looking for entertainment, were you, Ellison? Now you got it - in spades.
"So, after all that, you're gonna leave anyway? What are you thinking of doing? Hopping a freighter?"
"Leaving?" He straightens up and puts his cup in the sink. Comes over to me. Actually, in the circumstances, too close. Puts his hand on my arm. "You know I'm not leaving you - no way."
"I don't know anything. I thought I knew something. I thought you were gonna get some firearms training and partner me on the force. Now, I don't know what you're thinking. Why don't you enlighten me?"
"I'm thinking that, in the rush of the moment - I was speechless, Jim. What could I say in the face of that kind of vote of confidence? That kind of love?" He pushes many molecules with his hands and arms and then returns his hand to the same exact spot on my arm where he'd had it before. Which is good. That spot was getting cold.
"Chief. Blair. You just blew it for yourself in Cascade as a grad student. As a potential professor, as a Ph.D. You blew your dissertation. I don't think you could get a job behind the counter in a diner, now, not in Cascade. If you don't want to work with me on the force, you're gonna be one starving ex-anthropologist -"
He grins, interrupts. "But not a starving homeless guy, right?"
He stretches, almost loses the towel and grabs for it. "So - what's the problem?" Another loopy-lovable grin. "I'll show up, observe you, without official sanction. Rest of the time, I'll find a job, minimum wage - which is more than I've been making up until now - and the rest of the time I'll study, research, write a book - I dunno - something. When things cool down, when my head settles down, and all the hooplah about sentinels, I'll ask Simon to try to get me official status as an observer again. I'm still as much of an anthropologist as I ever was. I can still help on cases, bring my expertise to bear on weird happenings - why not?"
I don't say anything so he goes on. "You gotta take the long view, Jim. Just because we're in the eye of the storm today, doesn't mean we'll always be there. Down the road, nobody'll remember any of this. Sure, I won't be a Ph.D in anthro, but I might find another field, or get out of academia entirely."
I watch him pace around the loft, waving his arms, his shoulders hunching, his eyes earnestly meeting mine every few seconds to be sure I'm following his reasoning. And he's lost me completely with the words "the long view."
Blair Sandburg is gonna take "the long view." Now I'm sunk.
His head jerks up, and the little scared look I hate comes into his eyes. "What?"
"Blair, work with me here. Okay?"
"Yeah, what?" He stills, standing to one side of the TV, one hand clutching the fold where his towel wraps itself in on itself, making sure it doesn't fall off, the other hand at his side, a picture of stalwart strength, waiting for a cannonball to shoot across from the other ship, strike him in the chest, kill him. Not flinching.
"Blair Sandburg," I begin. Then swallow, begin again. "Blair, you can't follow me around anymore, not if you're not a cop, not as a - a 'disbarred' academic."
"I can't?" It's hard to take in, the incredulity in his voice. Hard to bear the pain. He didn't know.
"No. You can't. That's why Simon fixed it so you could be a cop. So we could work together. Keep on working together." And I admit something I've never told him. "Actually, I'd been thinking about maybe you doing that anyway, after you turned in your diss and got your degree. Not full time - I wasn't expecting you to do it full time. Hell, I'm not sure what I was thinking. You couldn't be a professor full time and a cop full time at the same time -"
"Jim, you're not making sense - none at all. What is it you were thinking?"
"Well, before this happened, I was thinking how we could work together after you started to teach at the university. I mean, I know professors don't have 9-5 jobs. You'd probably end up with fewer hours than you already had going -"
"So you figured I'd have time to juggle a few classes at Rainer between stakeouts?" he asked, a look of pure scientific inquiry in his eyes. I felt like a bug.
"I hadn't thought it through," I mumbled. "But I knew you wanted to continue to help me with my senses so I figured you'd be coming along -"
"You always plan everybody else's life for them, Jim?" Then he waved a hand in my face. "Scrap that. Stupid question. Of course you do."
"I wasn't planning anything specific - just - thinking. Speculating, quarter word." I attempted a grin but knew I'd come up with a grimace.
"Jim, it wasn't like that. It couldn't be like that."
"Well, why the hell not?"
"For one thing, I wouldn't want to do it."
"What? Do what? What wouldn't you want to do?"
"I wouldn't want to shortchange my professional career as a teacher, and a researcher."
"Nobody's talking about shortchanging -"
"Jim, listen, this is all water under the bridge. I'm sorry I let it get me riled up. All those plans - yours and mine - are out of the equation now."
I wondered when my pure unadulterated happiness had taken a nosedive into misery. Because I'd certainly turned miserable, bigtime.
I brought my beer over to the sink, rinsed out the bottle, threw it in the trash. I came back to where Blair was still standing, looked him in the eyes and said, "I'm pretty tired, Chief. I think we should get some rest - scrap that one - I think *I* should get some rest. Maybe, if you feel like it, we can talk in the morning. Figure a way to finesse Simon again on this observer thing. He's always had a soft spot for you, anyway."
"Okay, Jim. But before you rest, just tell me one thing."
"Yeah, sure, what?"
"I still have a home here, don't I?"
"Yes, Sandburg, you do," I replied, exaggerating my longsuffering with the inane question. He'd had a home here even when I thought he'd given me up to the media circus that way, with his diss.
"And you still love me, don't you?" he asked, following the first question with this one like it was some kind of natural progression.
"Yes, I still love you, Sandburg," I answered, as if I was repeating words I'd told him a thousand times, not saying them for the first time.
"And I still love you." He lifted both hands, and I eyed the towel surreptitiously, before my mind caught up with my body and told it to just say no. "So - 'ain't no mountain high enough' - that we can't climb it, right?" he asked, earnestly, with a little lilt to his voice.
"We'll work it out, yeah, kid. Just -"
And I didn't believe I'd opened it up - the whole can of worms of it - with that one word.
He latched onto it like a dog pouncing on a Chinese spare rib tip.
Oh, shit, I thought, I'm a goner.
"Just what, Jim?" he repeated, when I didn't answer the first time he asked.
It was as close to a threatening tone as I cared to hear from anybody.
And again, "Just what, Jim?" when I still stood mute.
I figured I better answer, or he'd never let up asking that.
"Just - I thought - when you made your statement on TV, that you knew you were finished - that your old life was finished. That you'd need to start again. From scratch. Which is why Simon came up with this business about you becoming a real - an official - cop -"
"And you, Jim. Simon and you."
"Okay, Simon and me. Yeah."
He walked into his room, and I could hear the dresser drawers open and close as he took out some clothes - turned out to be a pair of jeans and a t-shirt - put them on, and came back out again.
He sat down on the couch and motioned to me to join him. I did, going to the other end and sitting half turned towards him, mirroring his position with one hand up along the back of the seat.
"Jim, we've been friends for three years, now. I think you've got a pretty good grasp of my position on firearms. Am I right?"
"You accept them as a necessary evil. For law enforcement types like me," I replied, parroting his own oft-repeated characterization of his viewpoint about guns.
"I'm way to the right of Naomi on this but I'm also way to the left of the Constitution. I don't believe in the right to bear arms - not to protect myself. Not to protect my family, friends, kin, anybody. Not for ordinary citizens. I kinda thought you understood that."
"I did. I do. I dunno, Chief." I swallowed. "Blair, listen," I said, desperation in my mind, if it didn't come across in my voice. "It's - important to me that we're together."
"Me, too, man."
"Yes, well, I'm a cop. If we're together on the job, then we're together. I can't do my job without your help. I can't be Sentinel to the Great City without you as my Guide." In an unattractive attempt to make my point, I parroted his words back at him. "I thought you understood my position on this."
"But maybe you can be the Sentinel of the Great City without being a cop," he replied calmly and I could see this wasn't the first time he'd thought about it.
"What do you mean, Chief?" I asked, and I felt myself squinting again, and closed my eyes for a second.
"What I mean is, there must be other ways for us to work together to protect the City, Jim. Ways that might involve you bearing arms but don't involve me doing it, too. I'm not carrying a gun, man. That's pretty much what I'm saying. I suppose it's instinctual that I respond violently when you or somebody else I care about, or some helpless person, is in danger. I know I've landed a couple of blows, a couple of times. I know I've picked up a gun, a few times. I know that.
"But I'm not making that my philosophical statement. I'm not excusing it - just explaining it. It's instinctual. I'm gonna do it again, probably." His voice rumbled on so calmly, so filled with certainty, that I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I didn't bother to check them. I just listened.
"Jim, I think that what I feel for you - the love I feel for you - won't let me *think* when you're in danger. I'm gonna just *do* whatever I've gotta do, to protect you. You're my Sentinel. It's how things are, for me and you.
"But I'd like it if you could work with me, here, too."
I snapped out of my emotional response to his words, my acceptance, on a dime. "What do you need me to do, Chief?" I asked him. I felt hopeful, for the first time in what seemed like hours. He was gonna explain it all, now. Guide me, so I could act. That would be good.
"I need you to find a way to get us working together again, without me throwing the baby out with the bathwater, Jim. I was willing to give up my future because I love you. I'm not willing to give up my soul. Not even for you. I wouldn't be any use to you without a soul, my brother, would I?"
I shook my head 'no' but didn't answer him. I was thinking, hard.
He'd said he loved me about five different times during our short conversation. I'd said it once and I knew he wasn't interested in hearing it again, not in those words.
He wanted other words. He wanted something else entirely.
I'd made a big mistake in interpretation when I thought he'd made the ultimate sacrifice for me, expecting nothing in return.
He expected something, all right. He expected everything.
He expected the ultimate sacrifice from me, too.
Blair Sandburg wanted me to stop being a cop.
No other explanation for this whole rigmarole he'd been spouting, none at all.
He wanted me to give up being a cop.
So we could continue being Sentinel and Guide, without him losing his soul.
He didn't love *me* at all.
He was still hanging onto the dream, the Sentinel, the life. He hadn't given any of that up.
He hadn't made the ultimate sacrifice - just lied to the world, to trick me into believing he wanted *me*.
We were in the same place we'd always been. Blair Sandburg was still using me.
It didn't look that way. It didn't appear to be so. He was helping me, he was helping the police, he was helping the Great City, sure. All of that. So it didn't look like he was using me, the police, the Great City.
But he was. Oh, he was, sure as I was sitting on my sofa, with 'stupid' painted on my forehead in invisible indelible letters.
Despair closed in so fast I almost blacked out.
I pushed it down and inside and nodded at him. No point ranting, raving, screwing things up just when Blair thought he'd righted them all again. No point upsetting him.
It wasn't as if I wanted him to go, because he was who he was. Is who he is. It wasn't as if I wanted to go on without him, just because he wasn't perfect. Just because he was missing a couple markers on his DNA chain - the ones for ethics, morality and truth. The ones for fidelity and honor. I took a deep breath. He had the markers I needed. The ones for brilliance and understanding and compassion. And for beauty.
Mustn't forget the markers for beauty, couldn't forget them.
I'd always had a negative thing about Naomi. Now I knew why.
He'd inherited a lot of great stuff from her DNA. And he'd inherited a lot of dreadful, unacceptable stuff, too.
The chiefest of which is selfishness.
I could live with it. With him. Already had. Wanted to continue to. Intended to. Wouldn't be without.
I nodded again. "I'll resign in the morning, Blair. I'll explain it all to Simon. You won't need to talk to him."
"Jim - I -"
"No, it's okay. You're right. I couldn't use you without your soul."
He grinned. "I didn't think you'd want to. So - what's the plan?"
"We'll start our own business. I won't have any trouble getting a private detective license - might take a couple months, but I'll get it." I grinned. "We'll probably get rich, with my looks and your charm."
"With your cop skills and my computer skills, you mean," he replied with a laugh, all seriousness gone, relaxed, happy, no cares, no woes, again, now that things were going his way, again.
"We make a great team, Chief. And without you, I'm pretty much nothing. I couldn't even be a security guard, without you."
"No, Blair, it's true. I couldn't risk being in the line of fire without you. Too many people could get hurt. We both know that. This way, we can work together and do some good, and you'll have the time to do research, maybe even travel some. Who knows, eventually, you might even find a way to teach again, when all the 'hooplah about sentinels' dies down."
"Jim, I don't know what to say."
"Nothing to say, Chief." I stood with a smile, and so did he. I ruffled his hair, pulling him into a regulation bear hug, nothing fancy, and he wrapped his arms around my waist, like he always did when I showed him affection. "Besides, I like your hair the way it is."
"Of course I do. Otherwise you'd have cut it off years ago, right?"
"Go to bed, Chief. You must be wiped - I know I am. Tomorrow's a big day. Get some rest."
We moved out of each other's arms easily and he turned and started toward his room. When he reached the doorway he looked back at me and waved. "It was worth it to me." I nodded. "It'll always be worth it to me, Jim. Even if none of that good stuff about research and travel and teaching ever comes to pass. You know that?"
"I know. I do."
"Goodnight, partner. Sleep well."
The lines were falling in pleasant places now, again, for Blair and me. And that was wonderful. We'd work it out, whatever came up, I was certain.
And the other stuff, the stuff I'd imagined for a few hours, my dreamlife coming true - well, it wasn't going to happen, I knew.
Oh, maybe someday, someday far in the future, Blair would figure things out.
He'd figure out that he wasn't about to marry any of the women he chased. Wasn't going to find the perfect unmarried woman with one point two perfect children for him to be a good stepdad to.
That I wasn't going to settle down and marry any of the mata hari longstem beauties I attracted and was attracted to.
That we weren't going to move on - in some inconceivable fashion - to a more normal life, a life like other men, regular guys, have. That we were pretty much stuck with each other - roommates, friends, brothers, Sentinel and Guide, Blessed Protector and Shaman - for as long as we both shall live.
Someday, Blair would figure out that we pretty much better lie down with each other, since we weren't getting any from anybody else.
And he'd come to me, in that future someday, with that small scared look that I hate in his eyes, and murmur Guide-low, "Jim, I think we got a problem," and we'd fuss and fret and fondle and fuck and sleep together, like I'd hoped we would tonight but that didn't work out and I'm not sorry, really, I'm not.
Yeah, we'd sleep together. Like married folks. And fuss and stew about who we should let know, and about being out and being gay or bi or whatnot. We'd hammer out contracts and hammer out solutions and hammer away at each other and it'll be really wonderful and sweet and better sex than we ever could've expected.
But it will never be what I'd been in a blissful daze about tonight.
No, it'll never be that.
Never be him loving me, just me.
I know that now.
I know that now.
Blair Sandburg isn't the perfect mate for Jim Ellison. I know that now.
I hate it that it's true. I'm crying and probably will continue to cry myself to sleep, off and on, because that's true.
But what's a man to do?
I do love him.
He wants me. He needs me. He's never gonna love me. Like the song goes. "Two outta three ain't bad."
I may be selfish. But I'm not stupid. And I've never been a fool.
I'll take what I can get, and like it.
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