Standard Disclaimer: I own no rights to the Sentinel characters (waah!) or to the exceptional holiday classic It's A Wonderful Life.
Blair Has A Wonderful Life
Blair sat in the back of the ambulance, wincing as the EMT dabbed antiseptic on his split lip. He'd taken a hell of a shot to the jaw and knew it would be nice and bruised soon; right now it was throbbing rhythmically. The hour had grown late and bed was sounding especially good right now, though clearly getting there wasn't going to be easy. He watched as Jim finished up his verbal report to another uniform and made his way over, sighing at the stormy expression on his Sentinel's face.
"Jim…" he said as soon as his partner got close enough, trying to forestall the inevitable argument.
"What the hell were you thinking, Sandburg? I told you to stay in the truck!" Jim's blue eyes flashed in anger.
"You needed backup, Jim." Blair tried to keep his tone calm and soothing, despite the resentment that started to burn in his gut.
"Some backup. You got your clock cleaned and nearly got yourself shot! How is that helping me?"
"I had it under control," Blair grumbled. He slid out of the ambulance, arms crossed and back rigid. It was a lie, of course. Jim had saved his life…again.
"Yeah, I could see that," Jim said sarcastically. "All set to catch that bullet with your face. When are you gonna learn that you're not a cop?"
"Gee, it's kind of hard to forget it when you keep reminding me! I'm cop enough to write all your reports, and do your computer research. I'm cop enough to talk to the witnesses that you intimidate. But when it comes to all the macho gunplay and chasing suspects, I'm just not good enough. Is that right?"
Anger joined resentment until Blair started to feel sick. He was so tired of this. Did Jim honestly think he wanted to throw himself into potentially life-threatening situations? But someone had to have the Sentinel's back and he had volunteered. On days like this he had to wonder if it was worth it.
"I didn't need your help," Jim snapped. "I don't need you constantly hovering over me."
Blair threw up his hands. "Fine! You don't need me? That's fine. Well, you know what? I don't need this."
He strode purposefully towards the Volvo, fishing his keys out of his pocket as he went. The Guide part of him wanted to go back, smooth things over. But his anger was bigger, as was the gnawing fear that Jim was right. He really hadn't needed help with his senses for a while now. So what was he still doing here? Why did he keep putting himself through this?
"Don't you walk away from this," Jim growled. Blair turned around.
"I wish I'd never met you," he said quietly. Feeling a sick kind of pleasure at the shock and dismay on his partner's face, Blair got behind the wheel of his car and pulled the door shut. For once, the Volvo cooperated by starting right up. He drove off, not sure where he was going but glad to just get away from Jim.
Blair drove aimlessly for a half hour. His anger had mostly melted away, leaving him feeling tired and sad. He hated getting into arguments with Jim, hated losing control of himself like that. And it seemed to be happening with greater frequency, despite all the meditating he'd been doing. What he'd said to Jim…that had just been hurtful, and he wished he could take it back. Not that he didn't feel it was true, most of the time; Jim would've gotten a handle on his senses eventually, with or without Blair's help. He knew how much the Sentinel resented being dependent on everyone, and knew he'd be happier being on his own again. Maybe…maybe it was time to just move on.
Suddenly a woman appeared in the road in front of him, waving him down. Blair slammed on the brakes, stopping just in time. The woman just stood there, eyes wide, her curly blonde hair forming a halo around her head in the glare of the headlights. Taking a few deep breaths to steady his hammering heartbeat, he got out of the car.
"Are you okay?"
"Oh, thank you for stopping!" She came over and clutched his arm. If he wasn't still trying to calm himself from almost running her over, he'd have appreciated the view. The woman was slightly shorter than him, and very curvy.
"My car broke down and I haven't seen anyone in so long, I was worried I'd be stranded here."
Now that she mentioned it, Blair could see her car; his mouth hung open in envy. It was a 1960 Corvair, shining in his headlights as if it had just come off the factory floor. One of the tires was flat.
"Do you have a spare? I can change that out for you."
"No, which I know is foolish." The woman smiled up at him. "I don't suppose you could give me a ride?"
"Of course." Blair held out his hand. "Blair Sandburg."
She had a nice, firm grip. He held open the passenger door for her before hustling himself in the driver's seat.
"Where would you like to go?" he asked.
"Could you take me to Rainier University?"
"Sure thing. Actually, I'm a grad student there. In the Anthropology department." Blair put the car in gear, casting one longing look at the Corvair as he drove past it.
"What a coincidence," Suzan said. "I'm going to see someone in the Anthropology department."
Blair may not have been an official officer of the law, but after working with Jim so long he had certainly developed some cop instincts. And right now his gut was telling him that this was stretching coincidence. A woman broken down on the side of the road who just happened to be on her way to see someone in the Anthro department? He tried to keep his tone light.
"Well, I know everyone. Who are you meeting with?"
"Just a friend," was the evasive reply.
Now Blair was really suspicious. Had he picked up some kind of psycho or something? He knew what Jim would say, and hated that he'd proved the man right again. But what was he supposed to do? Not help a damsel in distress?
"It's kind of late to be meeting someone there, I'm sure everyone has gone home."
"Oh, not this fellow. He's always there late."
Blair wasn't sure what else to say. If Suzan was up to something, it was probably best not to provoke her. He'd just keep an eye on her and keep his cell phone handy in case he needed to call Jim for backup.
It was only another five minutes before they reached Rainier, and Blair parked in his usual spot without even thinking about it. The only lights he could see on in Hargrove Hall were safety lights. Suzan got right out of the car and looked over at him with an eager, avid expression.
"Would you like to come along? You should really meet my friend."
Blair surreptitiously patted his pocket, making sure the phone was in there. When they got to the front entrance he started digging around for his key, but Suzan just gave him an amused look and pushed the door open. He made a mental note to contact security in the morning; that door was supposed to be locked after hours.
Suzan certainly seemed to know where she was going. She turned down a side hall and came to a stop in front of a door, the glass frosted over and etched with a name that froze Blair in his tracks.
Dr. Blair Sandburg, Anthropology Chair
"What?" he asked, confused. Suzan opened the door and he could see there was someone in there, head bent over a large, dusty looking text. The office itself was quite large, as would befit a department chairperson, and the walls were lined with shelves full of books and various little stone statues and fetishes.
The man behind the mahogany desk sighed and shut the book. He looked up, stretching, and Blair felt everything in him freeze. He was looking at his own face, or what his face would look like in another few years. There were lines permanently etched on his forehead, and his short-cropped curls were turning gray.
"That's me," he whispered. The apparition continued to stretch, seemingly unaware that he had visitors.
"Yes, it is. You achieved your goals, got your doctorate and just last year you became the chair of the department. The youngest chair they've ever had." Suzan walked into the office, running her fingers along the polished surface of the desk.
"What's happening here?" He'd meant it to come out forceful and authoritative, but instead his voice sounded like a rusty hinge.
"You wished, Blair. And some wishes get answered."
"Wish? What wish?" He couldn't take his eyes off the older version of himself, who was now returning the book to its spot on a shelf behind the desk.
"You wished you'd never met Jim Ellison. This Blair never did."
He wrenched his gaze away, looking at Suzan with wide eyes. "What? How did you know about that?"
She shook her head, still looking amused. "It's my job to know about that, Blair. Just as it's my job to show you the repercussions of your wish. Where I come from, we take un-making wishes very seriously."
"I have a concussion, don't I? This is some kind of hallucination."
"Why do you doubt your senses?" Suzan asked with a slow grin.
"Because a little thing affects…no, I'm not quoting Dickens with an imaginary woman. Man, this is surreal." Blair shook his head.
"I'm not a hallucination. I'm just here to show you the way. A guide for the Guide, if you like." Suzan patted him on the head. "I'm just as real as you."
Blair could feel a headache coming on, but it was hard to argue with her. He was fairly certain no figment of his imagination could be quite so detailed, in full surround sound and Technicolor, with a few smells thrown in for good measure. He turned back to his doppelganger, watching as he moved to stand by the window. The man's shoulders were slumped, and he seemed so…defeated, somehow.
"Why is he here so late?" Blair asked.
"He has no reason to go home. His apartment is empty. He is a man with many acquaintances but no real friends; he's been too busy with his studies to take the time. Professionally, he's at the top of his game. Personally, he's a lonely man with commitment issues. He's had many lovers, but no one person he wants to spend his life with." Suzan walked up behind the other-Blair, touching him gently on the shoulder. "He never did realize his fondest wish. He never found a Sentinel, has even given up looking for one now."
"I don't understand. I was happy before I met Jim."
"You were younger then, more open. You have this deep-seated need to take care of people, Blair. Jim isn't the only one with a built-in directive to help the tribe. When you worked with him, you were able to better satisfy that need. You made a difference. This version of you must operate on a much smaller scale, and by now he's mostly suppressed his needs. He's unfulfilled. And in the end I imagine he'll be quite bitter, without ever really knowing why."
Blair studied the man in front of him. He'd been robbed of the chance to know Jim, which didn't seem now like a good thing. For all that his partner was rigid and controlling, he was also someone who cared deeply for others. He'd given Blair a place to live, gotten him a pseudo position at the PD, and made him feel part of something much greater than himself. Why did he seem to forget that so often?
"I'm so sorry," he said to his other self.
"Time to go," Suzan said, not unkindly. "There's more to see."
"I don't think I want to," Blair said.
"It's not about wants, it's about needs." Suzan tugged on his arm, drawing him out of the office and back down the hall. "Why do you think Jim yells at you so much?"
"What? I don't know. Because he's a cranky guy."
"Of course you know," Suzan insisted. "You're letting your emotions cloud your thinking."
Blair gave her a sour look, but his mind was already working. "Fear-based responses," he said after a while.
"He cares a lot about you, Blair. But he's so afraid; of you leaving, of losing you to violence, of needing you too much. For a Sentinel, he carries a great amount of fear within him."
"And it manifests as anger." He sighed. "I know. I know better than to let him push my buttons. But see…if we never met, he wouldn't have me to worry about like that. He could just do his job."
Suzan shook her head. "You don't know your value, Blair. Maybe our next visit will get the message across."
Blair stopped the car in front of Simon's house. There were no lights on that he could see, but the front window flickered with the glow from a television set. He sat there for a while, even after Suzan got out and stood waiting for him on the front walk. He tried to deny what was happening, but a call to Jim's cell had turned up someone who was not Jim and had never heard of Detective Ellison and was getting very annoyed that Blair kept dialing his number. He wondered if he'd gotten some kind of brain injury from the altercation he'd had earlier, and that's when he realized that his jaw didn't hurt anymore. A quick look in the review mirror showed that his split lip was no longer split. It was as if none of that had happened.
"Where's Jim?" Blair asked, getting out of the car.
"We're not here to see Jim." Suzan led the way to the front door, walking inside as easily as she had done at Rainier. Blair trailed along. Simon's house seemed much the same, except for the bare walls where pictures of his family had once hung. The Captain himself was sitting in a recliner in front of the TV, a beer in one hand. He looked…diminished somehow, a frailer version of the vital man that Blair knew.
"What happened to him?" he whispered.
"The Sunrise Patriots happened," Suzan said. "They took over the police department. He'd just stepped out, missed being locked inside by mere minutes. Mr. Kincaid killed several officers, including Joel Taggart."
"That didn't happen," Blair said, shaking his head back and forth, horror surrounding him like a sodden, weighty blanket.
"Captain Banks' son was visiting that day. Mr. Kincaid took him as a hostage, up to the roof where a helicopter was waiting. When they'd cleared the building, he threw Daryl out. Captain Banks had to watch his son fall, unable to do anything to help him."
Blair's hands clenched into fists. "That didn't happen! I was there!"
"But you weren't, Blair. You never met Jim, never signed up to be a police observer. You weren't there to help, to put yourself in harm's way so that others would be safe." Suzan put her hand on Simon's head. "Captain Banks resigned. He couldn't do the job anymore. Maybe, if he'd had the support of his friends, of you and Jim, he might've been able to get past such a tragedy. Maybe not. I guess we'll never know."
Blair turned and walked out of the house, awash in a sea of guilt. But still Suzan wouldn't let him be, following him down to the car.
"Think of all the people you've helped, Blair. Who was there to save their lives when you were gone? Who was there for Brother Marcus, Stacey Neumann, and so many others?"
"No. I don't accept that." He turned on her, but she didn't so much as flinch at the anger and desperation in his eyes. "Jim would still be here. He was already a cop, already protecting his tribe. He wouldn't let that happen."
"Why can't you acknowledge your own worth?" Suzan asked softly. "Is it so hard to believe the impact you've had on the people of this city? Why do you doubt your contribution?"
Blair shut his eyes, trying to swallow down the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. "I'm nobody," he whispered, hugging himself. "I'm just an anthropology student with dreams of grandeur."
"To the world, you're only one person. But to one person, you are the world."
"I think I read that on a pillow somewhere," he snorted in reply.
"Doesn't make it any less true." Suzan pushed him towards the car. "One more visit to make, and then maybe you'll understand."
"What are we doing here?"
Suzan had directed Blair to an unfamiliar destination far outside of Cascade. It was a sprawling brick building on manicured grounds, with shaped topiaries and riotous beds of wildflowers all illuminated by spotlights. A sign at the end of the long, curving driveway read simply St.Matthews. Blair thought maybe it was some kind of hospital, or retreat. He couldn't fight the feeling of dread that was making his chest tight.
"We're here to see Jim."
He followed Suzan inside. It was quiet in the halls; at this hour whoever was inside was likely sleeping. The band around Blair's chest squeezed even tighter when they passed by what was clearly a nurse's station, the nurse on duty filling out some paperwork. Had Jim been hurt on the job? Was this about him not having backup? He'd forgotten that his partner had worked alone before hooking up with an overzealous grad student.
"Just tell me," Blair said, stopping in the middle of the hall. "Please, I don't…just tell me."
Suzan looked at him with a sad smile, shaking her head. "You have to see to understand."
It took everything he had to get his legs moving again. He followed her to the end of the hall, to the very last door on the left. And then the door opened and Blair couldn't help but look. Couldn't help but see.
The room itself was narrow, and shockingly white. The walls, the floors, even the ceiling was padded. There was no furniture inside. Nothing but the man curled up in the far corner, wearing a pair of white scrubs. The sight of him was a physical blow to Blair, who had to grasp hold of the door frame to keep on his feet.
Jim was rail thin, his cheeks hollow and gaunt. His arms and face were lined with thin red scratches. He had his hands over his ears, his eyes tightly closed. There was no movement from him at all, save the rise and fall of his chest as he took in shallow breaths.
"God," Blair breathed. "How…what happened to him?"
Suzan walked into the room, her feet sinking a bit into the padded floor. "He never met his Guide. His senses were already getting out of control. He even asked Captain Banks for time off to figure out what was happening to him. Doctors couldn't determine a cause for his symptoms, which only worsened. He couldn't work, he couldn't go out, he was barely able to keep himself alive."
She knelt down in front of the once proud Sentinel and laid a hand on his cheek. "His father had him committed. They try to limit his sensory input as much as possible, but there's no way to remove it all. Sometimes he zones for days at a time. He has no contact with anyone now, except the staff here. For the most part, he is alone in his own head."
"I didn't know," Blair said, his voice barely audible. "I didn't realize."
Suzan turned to face him. "No, you didn't. You've brought Jim more than just control of his senses, Blair. You've brought him friendship, companionship, and love. These are things he hasn't had in a very long time, and it would destroy him to lose them, to lose you. You make him a better person, Blair. But he makes you one, too."
She stood and walked back to where he still clung to the door. When she pulled him into a hug, he broke down, clutching her tightly and trying so hard not to look at the shell of a man in the padded room.
"You are more important to this world than you know, Blair. You touch so many people, so many lives, in a positive way. Without you, the empty spaces never get filled." Suzan rubbed his back. "The next time you wish your life away, remember that it's not just your life anymore."
Blair hugged her, hard. "Please, I'm sorry. I take it back. I take the wish back. Please, take me home. Take me to Jim."
The next thing Blair knew, he was standing beside the Volvo, hugging himself. He looked around in surprise. This was the spot where he'd almost run over Suzan, but both she and the Corvair were nowhere to be seen. He let out a tremulous breath. Had that all really happened? He'd prefer to think it was all the result of a particularly nasty blow to the head, but the images were so clear in his mind.
He had to find Jim. He had to find him now. He dug the cell phone out of his pocket and tried the number again. He was somewhat relieved when his partner's brusque voicemail kicked on, but he needed the actual man.
"Where are you, Jim?" Blair muttered to himself, noting that his damaged jaw was back to throbbing. He got into the car, and his breath caught when he saw a note propped up on the dashboard.
Never forget your importance, Blair. And remember - be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Best of luck, Suzan.
He held the note in a trembling hand. It had really happened. All of it. Wishing he could forget how Jim had looked in that horrible, blank room, he turned the car back on and did a u-turn. He needed to get back to the loft, to talk things out with his partner. To put things right.
Blair didn't make it very far. A mile down the road he caught a familiar vehicle in his headlights, parked on the shoulder. Jim's truck. The engine was running and the man himself was sitting behind the wheel. Blair immediately swerved to the side and practically catapulted himself out of the car.
"Jim, oh man! Am I happy to see you!"
There was no response. Blair leaned in the open truck window and took a closer look. Jim was zoned, his head cocked to one side and a look of panic frozen on his face.
"You need to work on your timing, man." He opened the door and put his hand on Jim's shoulder, squeezing with light pressure. "Come on back, Jim. Hear my voice. Feel my hand. Come on big guy, I really need you here."
Jim gasped, sucking in a lungful of air. "Chief?"
Not caring what his partner would say, Blair threw himself at the older man, banging his back painfully against the steering wheel but not caring.
"Oh, God, Jim. You have no idea how happy I am to see you. It's been a really weird night." He knew he was babbling, but he couldn't help himself. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry for what I said. I didn't mean it. God, I really didn't mean it."
"Slow down, Chief. Blair." Jim pushed him back and got out of the truck. "What happened to you?"
Blair found himself under the scrutiny of the Sentinel scan, as his partner used his senses to assess his physical well-being. "I thought you might be going to Rainier. I followed you, zeroed in on your heartbeat."
"It just disappeared. I couldn't hear it beating. Couldn't…sense you at all."
"Your heartbeat, Chief. It just…stopped."
Well, that shed some light on the zone. It also reinforced for Blair that his experience had been real. Whatever Suzan had done, she'd taken him right out of existence. At least the one he was a part of.
"Jim, I can tell you all about it, not that you'll believe me. But not here. Can we please go home, man?" He put his hand on Jim's arm.
"Blair." This time it was Jim who surprised him, pulling him into a hug that was so tight he almost couldn't breath. "I'm sorry I yelled. I was just…when I saw him stick that gun in your face…I couldn't…"
"It's okay, big guy." Blair used his Guide voice, trying to soothe his Sentinel, and rubbed his back. "I understand. It's okay. Let's go home, Jim. Please, let's just go home."
Jim took a deep breath, pulling himself together. He released his hold on Blair, though he kept a hand on his shoulder. "You okay to follow me?"
"To the ends of the Earth," Blair replied, with all sincerity. He was rewarded with a rare but brilliant Ellison smile. "Or at least till the end of the day."
"I'll hold you to that, Chief."
They each got into their respective vehicles, and Blair waited for Jim to turn the truck around. He looked up at the night sky through the windshield; it was full of stars, all of them seeming to twinkle just for him.
"Thank you, Suzan. Thank you for giving me my life back."
Of all the stars shining in the vast darkness, one in particular seemed to momentarily gleam brighter than the others. With a wide grin of his own, Blair put the Volvo in gear and followed Jim back to the loft. Back to his life.
AN: Okay, I'm really getting tired of these bunnies attacking me when I have bigger fics to be working on. Sigh. This one zapped me in bed the other night and I was compelled to write this down as quickly as possible. I hope you liked it!
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy Whatever I Forgot to all!