The following story is a work of fan fiction based on UPN's The Sentinel. It is not intended to infringe on the copyrights held by Paramount, Pet Fly, or any other Powers That Be. I do not claim the characters, setting, or concept, but the story is mine. The only profit I receive is from the enjoyment writing brings, and since that's about the only profit I get from my job as well, there's no point in suing.

Warnings/Ratings: Not beta'd, but proofread several times. Spoilers for "Prisoner X". PG for minor language.

Notes: This scene popped into my head the minute "Prisoner X" was over and I realized that Blair and Jim weren't going to have the time they needed to work things out. So, I decided to give them that time. This is my first TS fanfic, so I'd really like feedback [insert shameless begging here].

Choosing the Light
by Katie

Blair Sandburg entered the loft almost hesitantly, unsure of what might lie in wait. His roommate, Jim Ellison, had been somewhat less than social lately, and Blair had begun to find the atmosphere in the loft distinctly cold.

It had been three days since Jim came home from his undercover job in the prison. Since that time, his usual "Iím quiet because I only talk when I have something to say" demeanor had become an "Iím not talking because something is tearing me up inside, and if you bother me, Iím going to tear you up as well" attitude that had Blair walking on eggshells.

Not that Jim was normally the most loquacious guy on earth, but there was this huge difference between Jimís everyday, self-contained silence and the brooding he had been doing since he returned from the prison. And then there was the balcony thing. It seemed like, if Jim was in the loft, he was out on the balcony. Okay, Blair could understand that.  Heíd overheard Jimís comment at the prison about needing to be outdoors, which was more than understandable given that heíd been stuck in a prison for several days. But it was cold and wet out there, and Blair had a feeling that, whatever the problem was, it wasnít going to be solved simply by Jim freezing his butt off in the fresh air.

Blair had given Jim several opportunities to talk about what was bothering him, like every time they were in the same room for more than five seconds at a time, but Jim just gave him an inscrutable look and found something to read, clean, or otherwise occupy his attention, as effectively shutting Blair out as if heíd slammed a door in Blairís face. Fine. Jim Ellison might be the master of stubborn, but Blair Sandburg wasnít exactly a lightweight in that particular arena himself. He would get Jim to talk about whatever was bothering him, and soon.  The only question was how he intended to storm that particular door.

A quick survey of the loft as he hung up his jacket and backpack found Jim--surprise, surprise--standing out on the balcony, staring morosely at nothing. Ok, now was as good a time as any. Fort Ellison was about to come under attack. First, the weapons. A quick trip to the kitchen supplied Blair with a couple of beers, and a detour to his room provided him with additional armor in the form of a particularly heavy sweatshirt that Jim only thought still belonged to him. Then, taking a deep breath, Blair stepped through the door into battle.

"Hey, Jim. Want a beer?" Blair asked rhetorically, handing the bottle to his roommate before Jim had a chance to refuse. So far, so good. Jim opened the bottle, took a drink, and gestured "thank you" with it, all without making any suggestion, verbal or physical, that Blair needed to find something else to do, preferably somewhere other than where Jim was. All in all, an improvement over the last few days. On to step two.

"So, how was your day?" Not exactly scintillating conversation, but he had to break the ice somehow. "You do much at work?"

Shrug. Way to go, Ellison. Given up on verbal communication all together, have we? Let's just see about that.

"You know, Jim, I was just thinking, one of the things that separates humans from animals is that we have this interesting way of communicating. It's called talking to each other, and we do it by opening our mouths and, like, letting words come out. It's surprisingly effective. You ought to consider trying it sometime."

With a snort that was equal parts amusement and irritation, Jim growled, "What do you want, Sandburg?"

Blair hid a grin. Now that he had Jim's attention . . .

"Just wanted to make sure you still remembered how to talk. For a while there, I thought you were taking my 'pre-civilized man' comment a little too seriously."

"Is there a point to all this, Darwin?"

Blair could actually feel Jim's attention, which for a second had been focused on their conversation, turn inward again, and had a sudden, totally weird feeling of abandonment. He shook his head to clear it. Focus, Sandburg, focus.

"Just that you've hardly said a word to me or anyone else since you got back from the prison. What's going on, man? Is it your friend that got killed?" Blair lowered his voice to that soft, soothing tone that Jim seemed to respond to better than any other, and was rewarded when his partner's tense shoulders slumped a little and he sighed.

"No, not really. It's just . . ." Jim frowned, rubbing a his hand over his mouth as he tried to find the words. "It was so dark in there. Evil. So much hatred, violence, all locked up in this one place that wasn't big enough to contain it all. It gets to you after a while, Chief; it's like you absorb it through your skin, inhale it, swallow it--everything you do, or touch, or taste, it's there, even though you can't really see it."

Jim shook his head, seeming frustrated at his inability to describe the experience in more concrete terms. Blair couldn't help but wince at the raw pain in his Sentinel's voice. The seemingly impervious Jim Ellison had run across something too big and terrible for him to process alone, but naturally he was determined to try. It was up to Blair to help him, though, regardless of how stoic Jim was trying to be.

"Jim, it's not really surprising that you picked up on something there. That many angry, antisocial, even evil men stuck in a confined space--they have to give off some kind of negative vibes or something. You probably just picked up on that, and with your senses, it seemed worse than it would have to anyone else. I mean, I thought the place was oppressive, I can imagine what it must have felt like to you."

Jim shook his head again.

"You don't get it, Sandburg. It's not just something I 'picked up on.' It wasn't just the prisoners." He paused, took a long drink of the beer, and for the first time since Blair had gotten home, actually looked at his partner. The look in his eyes made Blair want to reach out, put his arms around him, and protect him from whatever was hurting him.  It was a look of pain and self-doubt that was so not Jim Ellison that it was actually scary.

With a deep breath like a man about to jump into freezing water, Jim said softly, "It was me, Blair. That darkness was in me, too. I could feel it when I was fighting Vincent. There was this, this relief, almost a joy, when I was hitting him.  It was so strong I felt like it was going to drown me. It wasn't just that I was glad he paying for killing others.  I was glad I was the one hurting him. It wasn't about justice, just hatred."

Okay, this was bad. Blair had to force himself to take a deep breath against the agony in Jim's eyes. He was Jim's guide, here, and Jim was definitely lost. How was he going to lead his partner back from this abyss? Jim needed some kind of reassurance that he wasn't evil, that he didn't have the same darkness in him that he'd seen in some of the convicts, but it wasn't as simple as Blair just telling him that he was a good person. Jim was a strong, extremely self-disciplined man with very high expectations for himself. Blind faith and acceptance of his flaws wouldn't be enough for him.  He needed someone he could trust to judge him by the same standards he held for himself. Only if he believed that Blair was evaluating him by those expectations would he believe his guide's assurances that he was a decent person. Blair lowered his eyes from Jim's for a moment, took another breath, and plunged in.

"Jim, that darkness you're talking about--that's in all of us, man. Everyone alive has the capacity for violence or evil or whatever you want to call it. It's part of being human. It's just the flip side to having goodness in us.  If we didn't have the potential for evil, we'd never be able to understand the difference between the two."

Damn it, this wasn't working. He could see Jim's mental withdrawal. The stone façade went back up in front of his face and his eyes refocused on the distance. Suddenly afraid of losing him all together, Blair started talking faster, grabbing Jim's wrist as if physical contact could convey his meaning where words couldn't.

"Jim, listen to me, man. I know you. I watch you practically every day, all day. My job is too study you, and I'm telling you, you're the most decent, caring, good man I know. That darkness you felt, yeah, it's in you, just like it's in me, and Simon, and Joel, and everyone else on earth. What matters isn't that you have it in you, it's what you do about it. So what if you were glad you were hurting Vincent? Hell, I'm glad you beat him, 'cause if you hadn't, you'd probably be dead and I'd be out here talking to myself. You didn't just hurt him because you hated him; you did it in self-defense. And then, you refused to fight Turner. Don't you think if you were really evil you would have fought him too? Come on, man, you can't just assume you're a bad person just because you had some bad thoughts."

Jim was listening now, at least, but Blair could tell he still wasn't convinced.

"You weren't there, Sandburg. You don't know what I did, what I felt."

"Jim, look at me. Listen to me. I told you, I know you. I'm not saying you don't have your faults, but that darkness you're talking about is such a small part of you, you almost can't tell it's there. What's important is what you do about it. Do you let it control you, or do you control it?"

Jim looked down at the intense figure of his guide. Blair was so focused on what he was saying that he didn't seem to notice how damp his hair had become or that he was shivering faintly in the cold wind, and Jim needed so much to hear his reassurances that for the moment, at least, he didn't pay attention to it either. It wasn't so much Blair's words as it was the look of absolute faith and trust shining from his eyes that reached into the dark pit that had swallowed up Jim's soul and somehow illuminated it. Blair's soft, comforting tone--what Jim had long since mentally labeled his "guide voice"--somehow managed to break through the confusion and self-disgust he'd been feeling and restore order to his chaotic thoughts.

"Having the darkness is human, man, and it's okay, 'cause you also have a, a light," Blair's hand left Jim's wrist in an effort to illustrate what he couldn't find words for, and Jim felt a faint chill. Almost instinctively, he reached out to touch Blair's back, anchoring himself again as he listened to his partner, "or something, I don't know, something that makes you good, and you can choose to have more light than darkness. That's you, man. You always choose the light. It's, like, who you are. Your light is a whole lot bigger than your darkness."

Jim closed his eyes and let the wave of words crash over him, their assurance seeping into even the darkest corners of his doubt. Blair trusted him, and he trusted Blair. Did that mean that he could once again trust himself?

"Blair." He cut softly through the flow of words, turning Blair toward him with his hands on Blair's shoulders so that he could look into the eyes shining up at him with equal parts worry and faith. "Do you really believe that?"

He didn't specify what "that" was, but Blair understood.

"I know you, Jim."

Gazing down at his guide, it occurred to Jim that if he had "a light," then Blair had an incandescence, one that couldn't be dimmed even by exposure to the terrible darkness of the prison.

Then something else occurred to him as wel, and he grinned.

"Sandburg, it seems to me I mentioned something about what I was going to do to you if you followed me into that prison. Something about your head and football practice?"

"But, Jim . . . ."