Disclaimer: I don't own anything, I don't claim anything, and I'm very grateful to Mr. Bilson and Mr. DeMeo for starting everything.
Warning/rating/etc.: This is a TS by BS epilogue. Not too surprisingly, there are spoilers for TS by BS. A few vague mentions of other eps come up, too. I'd imagine it's about a PG-13, since I think I used a word or two my mother wouldn't approve of. Oh, and one other thing--this story was partially inspired by the cover of a multi-media slash zine I saw at Revelcon which had Blair (or someone who looked a *lot* like him) sitting on the balcony, drunk. I haven't read any of the zine (yet), but my thanks to the artist for the inspiration.
Finally, feedback (in any form, public or private) is, quite frankly, craved. There's a feedback link at the bottom of the story.
Jim paused outside the loft door to juggle the file folders and sack of groceries he was carrying around so that he could get his key in the door. It also gave him a second to focus his hearing on the inside of the loft, shutting out the noises coming from the other apartments, to see if anyone was home. Naomi was supposed to have left this morning, but the woman wasn't exactly known for sticking with her plans.
He could only detect one person inside. Odds were, that would be Sandburg. The younger man had been spending a lot of time at home lately. He said he was taking the time to get some projects done that he'd been putting off, but Jim thought he was just saying that to cover up the fact that he didn't know what to do with himself. Sandburg had gone from holding down what amounted to two jobs to having no job at all in one gut-wrenching moment. He had free time for the first time in . . . Jim didn't care to guess how long, and from the restless, unhappy look in Blair's eyes, he wasn't enjoying it too much.
Jim sighed, pushing the door open cautiously to avoid losing his precarious hold on the files and sack. He'd seen the paper open to the 'Help Wanted' ads a few times now, but Blair hadn't said anything about looking for a new job. Jim was pretty sure that Blair was still considering Simon's offer of a place on the force, but that was another item on the growing list of things they hadn't talked about recently. Jim didn't know what to do about the sudden areas of silence between him and his partner, but he was afraid that if he didn't come up with something soon, that silence would grow until nothing else was left.
A quick visual reconnaissance showed Sandburg's feet--and presumably the rest of him--out on the balcony. From the angle, it looked like he was sitting on the floor. Jim frowned, wondering why his roommate had decided to linger outside on such a cool, damp evening, then shrugged and turned toward the kitchen. Whatever reason Blair had for being out there, Jim could uncover it after he put up the groceries. Ice cream waited for no man.
A few minutes later, Jim stepped out onto the balcony, squinting a little as his eyes adjusted to the dim light. The sun had all but set, and the air had a damp coolness to it that wasn't unpleasant, but would make sitting on a concrete floor uncomfortable.
If Sandburg was made uncomfortable by it, he wasn't showing it. Given the number of beer bottles lined neatly beside him, though, it was doubtful he'd even noticed the temperature. He'd settled himself on the floor against the brick wall, blocked off by the empty beer bottles on one side and a thick presentation folder on the other.
"Having a party, Chief?" Jim asked casually. As his eyes adjusted, he could see the slightly unfocused frown Blair was directing at him over the half-empty bottle in his hands.
"I thought you were working late." Blair's voice had the careful precision of a man determined not to slur his words. If the bottles beside him were all he'd had, he was on his sixth beer, double his normal limit.
Jim shook his head, not sure if he should be amused or worried. God knew Sandburg needed some sort of release from the tension of the past few weeks, but getting drunk wasn't his usual way of finding it.
"We got done in court early, so I had time to get most of the paperwork I needed to do done and brought the rest of it home with me. What's going on, Sandburg?"
Blair's frown deepened. "I'm getting drunk."
"I can see that. Why?"
"'Course you can see it. You're the sentinel, aren't you?" Sandburg took a swallow from the bottle in his hand. "I think there's more in the fridge if you want some."
"No thanks, I think I'll pass." Jim walked over and picked up the presentation binder, wincing slightly at how heavy it was. "Is this what I think it is?"
Blair shrugged. "I was trying to decide if I should burn it."
Jim eased himself down beside Blair, half expecting a protest. When he didn't get one, he looked back at the binder in his hands. It was huge, obviously the product of a massive amount of work. He opened the cover.
"'The Sentinel,' by Blair Sandburg," he read softly, and felt a faint movement next to him.
"Buncha crap," Sandburg said indistinctly around the mouth of the bottle.
Blair shook his head. "Don't start with me, Jim." His voice had a warning, an edge that said he'd been pushed as far as he could go without breaking.
Jim looked back at the dissertation. He hadn't asked to see it. He'd felt too awkward, and Blair very noticeably wasn't offering. He'd been curious, though, and Blair didn't seem to be objecting now .. . but as he turned the first page, it crackled slightly, and he felt a shudder run through Blair's body. Looking over, Jim could see Blair's gaze locked on the manuscript, the look in his eyes so . . . so hungry that it brought an answering shiver to Jim's spine.
"Don't know what I was thinking," Sandburg murmured, his words an eerie echo of the ones he'd said to Jim after his press conference. "I was so proud when I finally finished that. Felt like I'd accomplished something."
"You had . . ." Jim started.
Blair shook his head. "No. Don't you get it, man? It's all a bunch of lies."
Jim winced. When Sandburg had gone on television and said the same thing, Jim's overwhelming feeling had been one of relief, followed quickly by gratitude as the magnitude of what Blair had done hit him. He'd seen on Blair's face what it cost him to declare himself a fraud. He'd hoped, though, that Simon's offer of a place on the force and his own reassurance that Blair wasn't a failure might make up for some of that.
"No, it's not, Chief. We both know . . ."
"That if I ever told the truth about it, you could wake up dead some morning and it'd all be my fault." Blair finished off the last of his beer and set the bottle down with a muted clang. "Good plan, Jim. Now for our encore, let's try saving the world."
If it weren't for the tiny quaver in Blair's voice, Jim would have been angry. That almost imperceptible shake was his undoing, however. He leaned his head back against the cold bricks and sighed. "I'm sorry."
"No, you're not." Blair swallowed, and his next words were firmer. "I'm not. That thing isn't as important as your life."
Jim shook his head. "That's not what I meant, Chief. I'm sorry that you had to give up something you'd worked so hard for . . ."
"No." Blair shook his head sharply. "No, you're not sorry, 'cause that would make this your responsibility, and it's not, man, it's all mine. I made this choice. Good or bad, I made it. And I'm not going to regret it."
"Okay." Jim held up his free hand in surrender. "Have it your way, Sandburg."
Blair nodded, satisfied. They both sat silently for a long moment, the evening sounds floating up to them from the street below. A few distant voices mingled with the rush of passing traffic. Jim focused on it absently, the sounds so familiar, so normal, that they were almost comforting.
"It's just hard to let go of," Blair finally continued. His voice was soft, sleepy, and Jim could see him blinking rapidly as if trying to keep his eyes open. "I've been working on it for so long, and now it'll never really be finished."
Swallowing against the sudden tightness in his throat, Jim reached out and patted Blair's knee. He didn't know what to say, other than the banned "I'm sorry," so he didn't say anything.
Blair absently shifted his weight, leaning fractionally sideways toward Jim. "I wanted it to be a good day, you know? When I finally got it accepted, I wanted it to be a good day. Maybe go out and celebrate." With a harsh laugh, he lifted up one of the empty bottles and saluted Jim ironically. "Cheers, man."
It slipped out before Jim could stop it. "I'm sorry, Chief."
Blair looked up at him, eyes a little damp in the light from the living room, and smiled faintly. "I'm not, Jim. Not sorry you're safe, anyway." He reached out and traced the edge of the binder on Jim's lap with one finger. "I wish I hadn't had to say it was a lie, though." He laughed again, sadly. "I felt like I was disowning my own child. It was like . . . "
Jim remembered the look on Blair's face during the press conference, thought about what it would feel like to give up something he'd devoted his life to. "Like losing a friend?"
Blair looked at him gravely for a long moment, then shook his head. "No, that would've been a hell of a lot worse."
Jim didn't have anything he could say to that. If he'd tried, the tightness in his throat would have choked him for sure. After a moment, he was able to look away, back down at the binder in his lap. "Can I read it?"
Blair shrugged. "Why not?" he said around a yawn. "You're about the only one who hasn't by now." He leaned his head back against the wall and looked up at the sky. "Be a good cure for insomnia, at least."
Jim grinned slightly. "If it's as creative as those reports you hand in at the station, I don't think I'll get bored."
Blair chuckled, his eyes sliding shut. Jim, already half way down the first page, didn't notice how quiet the younger man had gotten until he felt a warm weight on his shoulder. Glancing down, he smiled. Blair was already asleep, settled against Jim's shoulder as if there was no question in his mind that he might not belong there. He didn't even stir as Jim shifted him into a slightly more comfortable position with Jim's arm over his shoulders.
Jim turned back to his reading. Even to a layperson, it was obviously a well-written work, meticulously documented facts interwoven with a carefully thought out commentary. To another anthropologist, Jim was willing to bet it would at least count as a work worthy of a degree. To a publisher, it was obviously a book worth a substantial amount of money.
But to Jim . . . it was rueful laughter when he reached the part about the effect of modern drugs on sentinel senses. It was a mixture of embarrassment, exasperation, and maybe a little anger when he reached the section on a sentinel's reaction to pheromones. It was pride at the description of the growth of a sentinel's abilities over time, and a quiet, private smile for the hundreds of "just one more test"s that had resulted in that chapter. It was pain, rage, grief, and acceptance over the careful, controlled words that detailed a sentinel's reaction to a threat to a loved one and especially to another sentinel in his territory.
It was three years of history, of sharing his life with someone who had somehow become a part of his soul.
Jim looked down at that man, who somehow in the dim light looked both as young as the day they'd met and as wise as he'd grown since then. For the first time, Jim knew what Blair had been working for all this time and knew what he'd given up.
"I'm sorry" sprang into Jim's mind again, but that wasn't what he wanted to say, because he wasn't and he knew Blair wasn't either. This wasn't about guilt or regret. Then the right words came to him, and he bent down to whisper them to his partner.