Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Drama

Summary: An unexpected phone call elicits emotional memories for Jim and Blair.

Notes: I started out wanting to write a good, solid smarm story, but then got distracted by angst along the way ... which then developed into something I didn't expect. Post-TSbyBS; spoilers for Sentinel Too; set after my previous story, Reverie, meaning Blair has graduated and has his Ph.D.

Thanks muchly to Robyn who beta'ed this and helped smooth over a few rough spots.

Afterimage
by Becky
September 2001

Three days after graduation, Blair Sandburg, Ph.D. stepped into the bullpen of Major Crime at the Cascade PD for the first time in his new position as a paid official consultant and, more importantly, Jim's partner. Megan would still be tagging along with them on most cases as Jim's police backup, but his spot guarding the sentinel's back remained solid. At the entrance, he paused to lean against the doorjamb, taking a sip from the Starbucks coffee cup he held in one hand. Six months ago, he expected to walk out and never return. His friends had proven him wrong. A hand touched his shoulder, and he looked upwards to see Jim's canted eyebrow, the question 'are you okay?' written clearly on his face.

"Blair?"

Smiling widely, Blair straightened. "Just...absorbing."

Jim's lips curled into an answering smile but before he had a chance to say anything, voices erupted from inside the bullpen, welcoming them back to work after their short vacation. Long minutes later, Blair finally sat down at his desk, complete with his own computer, an already half-full inbox, and a gold nameplate that read "Blair Sandburg, Ph.D., Consultant."

A fat case file in his hand, Jim appeared and sat on the outside edge of the desk. "You doing all right there, Chief?"

"Yeah." He grinned as he turned on the computer. "Still...absorbing."

Jim chuckled. "Absorb all you want, but trust me, this is real." He lifted the file. "While you get settled in, I have to run the Yeardly case down to Homicide." Blair recognized that as a case Jim had taken a look at for the Homicide department the week before. "I think Simon's got something for us when I get back. On the phone yesterday, he called it a 'real treat'."

Blair snorted as he waited for the computer to finish booting up. "Somehow that doesn't encourage any good feelings about the case."

"No argument here." Standing up, Jim turned towards the door. "Be back in a few."

Already typing in his passwords and getting into his PD email account, Blair waved absentmindedly at Jim's disappearing form. "Uh-huh..." He read through a handful of short congratulatory/welcoming messages from scattered friends throughout the station, a couple mass station mailings, and an email memo from Police Chief Warren about limiting the expenses for auto damage during investigations. Blair smirked at the last one, thinking perhaps the Chief had a particular individual in mind.

As he pondered his partner's response to the memo, Jim's phone rang. Out of habit, he answered the call from his own phone by hitting Jim's line. "Major Crime. Detective Ellison's desk."

A male voice answered him. "This is Dr. Savasta from Wallace Hospital. Is Detective Ellison available?"

Recognizing the hospital name as a long-term care facility on the outer edges of Cascade, Blair frowned, wondering why the doctor was asking for Jim. A case, perhaps? "He's not here at the moment." He grabbed a pen, then yanked open a desk drawer, looking for something to write on. "I'm his partner. Is there something I can do for you? Or could I have him call you back?"

"It's nothing terribly urgent. I just wanted to give him an update on the status of one of our patients, Alexis Barnes. She died early this morning..."

Illusive paper forgotten, Blair froze. Silence hit the office in coincidence for a few seconds before the ambient noise rose again, no one the wiser of the doctor's words. Old memories flashed in his mind, jolted from the forgotten corner where he'd hidden them. Trying to help Alex, not knowing just who and what she was. Jim reacting badly to her presence in Cascade, unaware of Blair's tie to her. Alex in his office, pointing the gun at him. The fountain. Sierra Verde. Jim on the beach with her, kissing her. The temple. He gave himself a mental shake as the doctor continued to speak.

"...slipped away."

Blair forced himself to breathe. "I...see. Was she... Did she ever say anything?"

"You're familiar with Ms. Barnes' situation?"

"I..." He blinked a few times, fingers flexing on the phone receiver. "Yes, I'm familiar with it."

"Very well. She never said much that made sense. Every now and then during the past year, she roused long enough to mutter something about being hot. Or that it was too bright." There was a pause, then the doctor continued in a curious tone. "Then just before she fell into the coma two days ago, I remember she said 'it's so quiet.' One of the volunteers read to her, but I don't know if she ever heard them."

He flinched at the words but pushed the resulting twinge ruthlessly aside. She tried...she killed you, Sandburg. You tried to help her, but... Taking a deep breath, he said, "Thank you for letting us know. I'll give Jim... Detective Ellison the message."

"And please ask him to call me when he gets a chance. He has my number."

After slowly hanging up the phone, Blair stared at his computer screen, watching the multi-colored geometric design bounce off the boundaries of the monitor. Alex...the only other sentinel he'd ever met...the only other sentinel he'd probably ever meet...dead. She'd killed him, separated him from Jim physically and emotionally, took them on a chase through the jungles of Mexico, and nearly exterminated them all with toxic gas. He should be relieved that she was finally gone, never to hurt him or anyone else ever again. And in some ways, he was.

And yet...

I'm sad.

Some part of him, a smaller part, mourned her loss, mourned what she could have been, what she should have been. He remembered telling Jim in Sierra Verde that Alex had 'lost her way.' For months after returning from Sierra Verde, Blair had wondered what would have happened had Alex not lost her way, had she been a "good" sentinel, like Jim. Would she have been a cop as well? Someone who protected? Someone who helped others? What would their meeting have been like then?

And then there was the part of him he'd shoved way back in the dark recesses of his mind. The part of him that felt guilt for what she'd become and now for her death. The part of him that cried out "you are a guide; you are supposed to help sentinels; that's what you do."

His lips thinned into a firm line. And I tried. She refused. It was...it was too late for her. The hints of guilt and sorrow remained. Angrily he jerked open another drawer and found a stickee pad. Snatching one, he scrawled a quick note on the top paper before standing and heading over to Jim's desk. He placed the note on Jim's computer monitor where he'd see it, smoothing his finger over the uneven handwriting once.

"Sandy? Are you okay?"

Blair looked up to see Megan standing in front of Jim's desk. Her eyes were worried, and he saw her hand twitch toward him before she settled on playing with the pens in Jim's pen holder. "Yes. Yes, I'm fine."

"Are you sure?" She frowned, unconvinced. "You look...upset."

Moving out from behind the desk, he stopped close to her, touching her shoulder lightly. "Just some unexpected news. That's all. Really." He held her eyes another moment, then stepped away and edged past her to the door. "If anyone asks, I'm in the breakroom. Getting coffee."

Behind him, Megan watched him go, then turned to look at Blair's desk -- and at the still-steaming takeout cup of coffee from Starbucks. "Coffee. Right."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Idly reading a forensics report from one of his and Megan's current cases and humming quietly under his breath, Jim sauntered into Major Crime. At the door, he paused a moment to flip through the pages to recheck a photo of the scene. Definitely a pattern. Wonder if Sandburg could shed any light. Even though he had become more comfortable working with the Australian inspector, he missed Blair's unique input. He continued inside, lifting his head to scan the room for his partner.

Jim frowned.

Blair wasn't anywhere in sight, although his coffee was still on his desk, the only observer of the screen saver on the computer monitor. A carelessly discarded pen, half-resting on a stickee pad, lay uncapped by the phone. Tapping the file against his other hand, Jim walked over to Megan's desk. "I bumped into Dan on the way back up; he gave me the Leighton forensics report on the scene."

Looking up from studying an open file on her desk, Megan took the report from Jim, flipping it open to scan the contents. "Great. Maybe we can make some headway on this thing."

"I was hoping Sandburg could take a look at some of the photos." Jim rested one hip on the edge of her desk. "Maybe he might see something we're missing. Do you know where he went?"

Megan froze a second, then raised her eyes from the papers. Subtle concern tinged her features and Jim's frown deepened. I was only gone for ten minutes. What...?

He voiced his question. "What is it?"

"I'm not sure," Megan answered softly. "Sandy took a phone call. I don't know what it was about, but he seemed ... upset. He said he was fine, but..." She gestured towards Jim's desk. "He left a note on your computer, then said he was going to the breakroom. To get coffee."

Jim blinked. "Coffee? But he's got coffee."

"I know."

Shoving away from her desk, Jim strode across the bullpen and leaned across his own desk to snatch the small stickee note from the computer monitor surface. The message was short but effective -- "Dr. Savasta called. He had news."

Damn.

Megan watched in silence as the detective angrily crushed the note in his hand before dropping it into the nearest trash can. Five seconds later, he disappeared down the hallway. She remained still a moment longer, then reluctantly returned her attention to the case file. Whatever it was, the problem was obviously best solved by Jim.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Focused on slowly peeling the paper away from the half-empty water bottle on the table, Blair barely paused as the breakroom door opened behind him. He didn't need to turn around or look up to know Jim had entered the room. The silence and the quiet click of the door as it was reclosed told him that. A few moments passed, then Jim joined him at the table, sitting in silence, hands folded in front of him. Memories of sitting in this room, discussing cases and personal issues, flittered through Blair's mind before he took a deep breath.

"So."

Jim echoed him. "So."

Sliding his hands down to rest at the bottom of the water bottle, Blair glanced over at Jim, their eyes meeting for a few bare moments. Then he stared at the water bottle again. "You didn't tell me you were keeping tabs on Alex."

"I..." Jim hesitated, then sighed. "No. I didn't. Only Simon knows."

"How long?"

"Since the moment she was admitted to Wallace Hospital." The chair squeaked under him as he shifted. "I had to know where she was, what she was doing."

"And you didn't want me to know," Blair stated flatly.

"Alex is my responsibility, not yours."

Blair's head snapped up at Jim's quiet declaration. "What?! But I'm--"

Jim interrupted and rolled over Blair's protest. "I knew she was here before you did, remember?" His voice remained even and calm. "I saw that spotted jaguar. A part of me recognized her presence and knew she was dangerous."

"That still doesn't make you responsible for her." His hands tightened on the bottle, popping the plastic under his grip. "I should've--"

Sliding his hand across the table, Jim grasped Blair's wrist, squeezing to get his attention. "No. We're not doing the 'should have' game, Sandburg. It's in the past. Over. It happened. We both made mistakes. We survived."

Blair chuckled grimly. "Story of our lives."

Jim echoed the laugh before pulling back to his side of table.

His smile dying, Blair looked back at the label he'd partially stripped from the plastic surface. "It's all in the past now. For good."

"What do you mean?" Jim frowned, wondering at the sudden chill in the air.

"Alex..." He tore the hanging strip away from the affixed label. "Alex died. That's why Dr. Savasta called. He wanted you to know."

"Oh." Jim blinked. "Oh."

Blair concentrated on tearing bits from the strip of paper. "He said she fell into a coma two days ago and died this morning. Just slipped away."

Silence followed his statement, then... "That's why it's been so quiet," Jim murmured under his breath.

This time, Blair blinked. "What did you say?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Startled back into reality, Jim jerked in the chair and looked at Blair. "Huh?"

"You said 'that's why it's been so quiet.'" Blair's eyes drilled into him. "That's what Alex said before she went into that coma. What did you mean?"

"I..." Jim fidgeted, then abruptly stood up. He stalked over to the snack machine and braced both hands on it as he leaned forward slightly, facing away from Blair. As much as he didn't want to talk about it, he had to. When he and Blair had talked after the whole dissertation mess had blown over, they had both made a solemn promise not to keep anything so important from each other ever again.

"Jim?"

He took a breath and let the words flow. "When things are really quiet, like at night, I can ... I could hear her. Usually it was that other jaguar, but sometimes I could almost hear her voice." Jim stopped, remembering the stark loneliness in that call. He shook the memory away. "I got used to it. But two days ago, it pretty much stopped."

Blair's voice was quiet as he broke the stilted silence that followed. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"

Jim turned slowly and rested one shoulder against the snack machine. "I don't know. I thought about it. A lot. But something told me it wasn't necessary, not like before when I should have told you. It wasn't a warning; just a lost ... sentinel looking for ... comfort." He gazed past Blair, through the windows into the busy hallways. "I wanted to hate her, for all that she did, for killing you, for nearly destroying us. But I couldn't. The ... attraction I felt in Mexico has never really gone away; just faded to--to--"

"An afterimage?" Blair suggested as he rose to his feet and walked toward Jim.

Meeting Blair's eyes, Jim nodded. "Yeah." He turned as Blair stopped in front of him. "It wasn't that I didn't trust you enough to tell you, Blair. I just didn't know how." Pausing, he watched several emotions slide across his friend's face. He knew Blair was working up to asking something, but he didn't want to push. Instead, he continued, adding one other thing that had weighed in on his decision.

"I don't know what you'll do with this, but when I look at Alex, I see me. I see what could've happened if we hadn't met, if I'd never learned to control my senses." Seeing a protest rise in Blair's eyes, Jim quickly clarified his statement. "Not that I would've turned to crime, but I could have ... lost my way. Just like she did." He raised his hand and rested it on Blair's shoulder. "I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad we met."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair blinked several times, feeling happily surprised at Jim's words. His answering smile to Jim's quiet declaration was brief but true. "Me too." He paused, debating the other issue on his mind, then finally asked hesitantly, "Are you ... are you sad that she's gone?"

"Sad?" Jim pursed his lips in thought. "No. Mostly just relieved. Maybe a little hopeful that she's found peace. Why do you ask?" He looked more closely at his partner and answered his own question. "Because you are." Something flashed across his face too quickly to identify, but Blair thought it might have been a touch of jealousy.

"Yeah. I shouldn't be, but I am." Eyes closed, Blair rubbed his forehead. "Alex did so much damage. Or at least was a big part of it. Just her name reminds me of all the anger ... and the hurt ... and the horror. But I can't helping thinking of what she could've been, what she should've been." He dropped his hand to his side. "If only I'd met her sooner. Maybe..."

Jim gripped Blair's shoulder warmly, giving him a shake. "What happened to Alex wasn't your fault, Sandburg. You have to know that."

Shrugging under Jim's hand, Blair replied, "I thought I did. But when I heard she died... I don't know. It's all so complicated."

"Grief usually is." Jim shifted slightly and brought up his other hand, clasping Blair's other shoulder. He massaged the stiff tendons under his grip. Ducking his head a little to try to catch his partner's lowered eyes, he said, "You have a right to feel sad. And angry. She was a sentinel. Someone who should've been a protector; someone you thought you could help. Her loss is a loss to everyone. But she was also someone who betrayed you."

Blair raised his eyes to meet Jim's; at the same time, he lifted one hand and wrapped his fingers around his partner's forearm. Uncounted moments slid by as the two men communicated without words. Finally, Blair blew out a heavy breath. "Okay."

"Okay?" Jim questioned, eyebrows tilting upward for confirmation.

"Yeah." Blair nodded. "Okay. I might...I might need a little time, but I'll be okay." He swallowed and looked at his hand, still clutching Jim's arm. "Thanks for...understanding." He got only the warning of a soft huff of breath before hands and arms eased over his shoulders and tugged him close in a brief but meaningful embrace.

"Always."

~ The End ~