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Ripples in the Dirac Sea
or
The infinite Amount of Colors between Black and White


"My death looms over me like a tidal wave, rushing toward me with an inexorable slow-motion majesty.
And yet I flee, pointless though it may be.
I depart, and my ripples diverge to infinity, like waves smoothing out the footprints of forgotten travellers..."
-- 'Ripples in the Dirac Sea' by Geoffrey A. Landis

"She pictured myriad mirror-Jehans taking that step along with her, and a myriad that didn't. And in all the worlds across time, it was another step into the future."
-- 'Schrödinger's Kitten' by George Alec Effinger


The room was dark and silent.

Sitting on the sofa, the cold, wet glass of the beer-bottle in his hand, he couldn't see anything, couldn't even make out the shapes of the furniture around him. Furniture was sparse anyway, so what... And besides, he had long gotten used to the fact that he was no longer able to see, hear, feel, smell, or taste more than the average human being. No longer a Sentinel, no, sir. No 'hyperactive senses'. No zone-outs. For that at least he ought to be grateful.

Jim Ellison's lips twisted in a bitter sneer. Perhaps Simon was right -- he was doing his best to imitate those by drinking himself to a stupor every second or third night. And his hangover the next day ensured that he didn't have to think either.

About the reality how fucked up his life had become in a mere six months.

No longer a cop, no longer a fucking 'hero of the city'.

No buddy, no best friend.

No guide.

In short, no Blair Sandburg.

The ringing of the telephone startled him and he needed a moment to identify the sharp pain in his clenched hand and the warm wetness dripping between his fingers. Blood. He had broken the damn empty beer-bottle.

He felt too numb to move, to get to the bathroom and clean his hand, or to switch on the lights and look at the damage. He let the phone ring.

There was no answering machine to pick up. He had broken the thing four months ago when he had heard Blair's voice again pronouncing a cheerful greeting. Unable to stop the tape or accept the reality of his loss, he'd broken the damn machine.

He was unable to face the fact that he had fucked up the best thing in his life -- that he had not only gotten Sandburg killed, not only slept with his murderess, not only let her get away with the nerve-toxin, but that he had also never had the courage to tell Sandburg what the other man meant to him.

Yeah, he was his father's son.

The numbness in his hand gave way to cold but the numbness around his heart eased a bit, and he was helpless against the hot tears running down his face.

He had never told his guide how much he valued his friendship, his company, his presence at the loft, at the station, his infuriating insistence on talking things out, his insistence on getting behind Jim's mask. Sandburg was like a dog with a bone sometimes, not willing to let go.

He smiled but a second later reality crashed down on him again. Blair was dead. Drowned in the fountain. Gone.

And now he could never tell him the last secret, the very thing he had hidden from him all those years. That he loved him.

More than Carolyn, more than Lila, more than anyone in the world. And sure as hell more than a buddy, a brother, a best friend. Loved and wanted him.

His heart constricted painfully.

Dimly, he realized that the caller had finally given up. The phone had stopped ringing. Perhaps it had been Simon calling to check on him. Or Caro, who had returned to Cascade and came to see him twice a week now. Pity -- that was what she felt for him. A sense of obligation perhaps. He couldn't bring himself to care.

Even Stephen came over several times a month now. And his father had invited him to dinner twice since it had happened.

He greeted them, talked with them, made the proper noises at the right moments, even tried to smile now and then. Inside, he felt nothing.

If not for a vivid dream the night he lost his Sentinel abilities, he'd have long since given up and ended it for good. But Blair had been alive in his dream, beautifully alive and vibrating with emotion, a whirlwind of energy, flying dark curls, gesticulating hands, eyes alight with caring, begging him to try. They had kissed in his dream, amidst the jungle, a myriad of shades of green around them, a feast for his senses. And Jim had promised.

And despite the pain, despite the horrifying emptiness inside him, he had tried.

The buzzer of his alarm-clock sounded shrill in the darkness of the loft. He stood up, shivering, feeling light-headed. His shift began in an hour. He needed to get ready for work.

Fifty-five minutes later, Jim Ellison splashed cold water on his face and slowly looked up into the cheap mirror. There were dark circles under his blood-shot eyes, two red lines on his jaw where he had managed to cut himself shaving and a dark bruise on his left cheekbone. In his eyes, there was only dead emptiness.

He considered his uniform. It was black, ill-fitting, complete with a holster, nightstick, cuffs and MagLite. A badge on his shoulder that said 'Planet Technologies, Inc. - Security'. Private security for a bunch of wealthy idiots who feared that someone might be actually interested in their products. Not bloody likely.

He still didn't know who had pulled the strings necessary to get him the job -- Simon Banks or William Ellison. And he didn't care. As boring as the job was, at least the mind-numbing routine prevented him from thinking about the past. And his colleagues had long since given up on getting him to talk to them or socialize. He preferred the comforting silence and ignored their words behind his back. Easier that way.

He drove home in the first light of dawn. His leg ached, just like it always did, after too many rounds over the company grounds. The FBI had finally caught that Zoeller guy, but not before the assassin had gotten off a couple of shots in Jim's leg. Incredibly, the bullets hadn't done any permanent damage. And Zoeller had refrained from killing him, claiming that Ellison hadn't been much of a challenge. Hadn't been worth the effort.

But he had killed Joel and Brian. And crippled Simon. The Jim Ellison of half a year ago would have done his best to get the guy. The Jim Ellison of half a year ago had still had his abilities, still had his guide. Still had a reason to live, a reason to do his best. 'Holy protector of the city'. What a sham.

The Jim Ellison of today... Jim grimaced and pulled into the one remaining parking space in front of the loft. The truck was in serious need of a new paint job but he couldn't bring himself to care. He still had a leftover pizza in the fridge so there was no real need to go shopping. Blair would have had fits over Jim's dietary plan these days. He shook his head in denial and climbed the stairs to the loft, ignoring Ms. Perez' friendly greeting in the hallway.

***

The opening of the door startled him out of the Jags game he was watching on TV, nursing his second beer of the evening. He glanced to the entrance, fully expecting Simon to glare at him in greeting. The captain had resorted to using his own key to let himself in after Jim had ignored the door bell several times in the past. With a visible effort, Jim got up and closed the door behind his friend and former commanding officer. Simon was proficient with his wheel-chair these days, but still found it difficult to close doors.

"Simon? To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

Jim knew he was being unnecessarily sarcastic, but couldn't help himself. Today should have been his 'free day'. It was Simon's turn to look after him tomorrow and his ex-wife's the day after tomorrow.

He fell silent after one look at Simon's face.

"What happened?" He put down the beer and stared at his somber friend.

"A murder. Just four streets from here. You might want to see it."

"Simon. You seem to forget that I'm no longer working for Major Crimes." Jim's sarcasm was biting.

"Ellison. You still might want to see it."

"Why? Who is the victim? It's not -- Caro, is it? Or Stephen -- my father?" Jim felt oddly detached, pronouncing the names carefully, not ready to believe.

"No. I think it is your mother." Simon rolled the chair closer and put a hand on his friend's arm.

Jim just stared at him mutely and rapidly started to shake his head. "That's not possible. No. No, Simon. Mom left years ago. No, it can't be her." His head was aching. No. No.

"It was in the newspaper yesterday," Simon started to say reluctantly, "Grace Jeanne McNamara. Head of the Children Wish Foundation. The big charity ball tomorrow..." His voice trailed off and Jim felt a stab of pain in his heart. That phone call might have been his father, trying to tell him. It would make sense.

He grabbed his jacket from the hook in the hallway and hurried to the door, drumming his fingers against the wall while waiting for the elevator.

Finally, they were both settled in Simon's car, a special model designed for a handicapped driver who was paralyzed from the waist down. Banks filled him in on the details he had gleaned so far.

"Grace McNamara is a big name in charity on the west coast. 58 years old, married to a renowned pediatrician, no kids of her own but a step-daughter from her husband's first marriage. She first worked as an assistant in McNamara's clinic but soon made a name of her own in charity work. The Children Wish Foundation was her idea -- the institution tries to grant a wish to those children who are terminally ill. You know, things like flying in a balloon, swimming with dolphins, meeting their idol. Almost always successful in making that happen. Amazing." Banks fell silent for a moment.

Jim gripped the door handle so hard he felt his bones grinding against each other.

"In the newspaper article yesterday the journalist mentioned that Grace McNamara was, in fact, born in Cascade and married to a businessman here before she got divorced 27 years ago. The name of her ex-husband wasn't mentioned, but the journalist told us that she'd gotten several unfriendly phone calls from the lawyers of Ellison Enterprises. So you can imagine..."

"Yes. It's my mother." Jim whispered almost inaudibly, believing it at last. Of course his father had tried to intervene, tried to get the article out of print, tried to protect his 'good name'. Of course.

His mind swirled madly, pain and anger forming a tight knot in his chest. He could feel the riot of more emotions that he'd allowed himself to feel since that day he'd arrived at the Rainier campus too late. Only to see Blair's face covered by a blanket and his still form being loaded into the van from morgue. All because he'd been too pissed off to answer his radio on the first call. All because he'd tried to punish Blair, because he'd been an utter fool. His fault.

And now his mother was dead. He was only peripherally aware of Henri Brown's and Megan Connor's tentative greeting, staring instead down at the face he'd been unable to forget, a face very much like his own, hidden in the deep recesses of his heart. The face of Grace McNamara, former Grace Ellison, his mother. Slack in death, but still weirdly beautiful. Age had been gentle to her; only the wrinkles around her eyes and the corners of her mouth -- laugh lines?, he thought, anguished -- gave proof to the fact that she'd have celebrated her 60th birthday soon. Her hair was dyed light brown and she wore almost no make-up. She wore business attire and her purse lay beside her on the wet concrete, untouched. The dark stain on her chest was blood. She'd been shot at point blank, killed instantly.

Rain was falling but her face was still warm as the touched it, traced the lines of her mouth and cheek, feathered a caress over her closed eyelids. The big drops falling down on her face weren't rain, but his tears.

Connor had fetched the purse and opened it, using gloves and sorting through the contents. She dropped the wallet and, accompanied by Simon's angry bark, a shower of various papers, cards and photos fluttered to the concrete.

Numbly, Jim bent down again and retrieved a photo. It was a studio photograph of two young boys, clearly uncomfortable in their suits, with tentative smiles on their faces. Dark-haired, they resembled each other a lot. Stevie and himself.

He stumbled to his feet. H tried to help him but he wrenched out of the friendly grasp, stumbling to the nearest patrol car to lean against it, trembling, his mind totally shutting down.

Jim didn't even hear the voice shouting his name or see the well-dressed figure of William Ellison arguing with one of the officers to let him though.

"Yes. It's my mother, Simon. It is her." He ignored the worried look on his friend's face, but habit made him add: "I'll be at the precinct tomorrow for the paperwork."

He pushed through the cordon of the people gathered at the scene, accepting Brown's offer to drive him home. H tried to talk to him but he ignored his former colleague completely until the detective gave up and let him out in front of the loft.

The rain was falling more heavily now. He watched the car driving away. The rear lights disappeared in the distance. All the while, he clutched a small sheet of paper in his hand.

Still standing in the middle of the street, he slowly opened his fingers and read the small, neat handprint: 'You killed my father, Captain. Perhaps you forgot after all those years. I haven't. And I promised you that you'd pay, blood for blood. Your brother is skiing, isn't he? In Aspen, just like every year. Is he? Too bad his log cabin hasn't got a telephone... I won't kill your father, since you don't care about him anyway. But your mother was like a present from heaven. It was so easy. And too bad your best buddy is already dead. The Switchman.'

No explosives this time, no threats to blow up the city, just a return to the essentials. In her madness, it even made kind of sense. His family for her family. Stephen and his mother for Veronica Serris' father.

He crumbled the note, his fingers trembling convulsively, his reflexes too slow to react to a movement in the shadowed entrance of 852 Prospect. All he felt was a split-second of tremendous surprise as he went down on the sidewalk, a bullet in his chest. "Blai..." He was dead before he hit the concrete.

A blonde woman stepped out of the shadows and, with a cruel twist of her lip, kicked him in the groin and the head, pocketing the semi automatic before she bent down and spit on the shattered ruins of Jim Ellison's face.



The room was dark and silent.

Sitting on the sofa, the cold, wet glass of the beer-bottle in his hand, he couldn't see anything, couldn't even make out the shapes of the furniture around him. He sighed inaudibly and dialed up sight and hearing as well as smell, a sudden, blinding grin on his face. Now, he could see the bookcases, the armchairs, the TV set, the disorganized papers on the living-room table, the tribal masks on the walls.

Jim Ellison's lips twisted in a fond smile. Perhaps Simon was right -- Blair hadn't changed all that much, despite the dissertation disaster, despite all the changes he'd gone through from the 'neo hippie witchdoctor punk' to the more toned-down version of the same man. He was now wearing his hair short, leaving out the earrings, dressing in monochromatic shirts and baggy sweaters, doing everything to fit in with the other cadets at the academy. He was still the same in everything that counted. Still, Jim couldn't help thinking about it all.

About how much his life had changed in a mere six months.

He was still a cop, still even the fucking 'Cop of the Year', the third time in a row now, and boy, did Connor tease him about that!

But so many other things had changed, things Jim would have called the unchanging constants of his life. Yeah, Blair had changed. No longer only buddy, or best friend.

No longer only Jim's guide.

The ringing of the telephone startled him; he had been so lost in thought that he reacted badly and clenched his hand. It took a moment to identify the sharp pain and the warm wetness dripping between his fingers. Blood. He had broken the damn empty beer bottle. He cursed vividly for a minute, totally forgetting that Blair was already asleep.

When, a moment later, a tousled head peeked down from upstairs, and a sleepy voice inquired about what had happened, more like: "Jim? Come on, lover, what did you wake me for?", followed by a huge yawn, he couldn't help himself and grinned despite the pain, but knew better than to insist it had been nothing. It was time to let Blair take care of his hand.

With a worried exclamation, Sandburg cleaned his hand carefully over the sink in the bathroom, using iodine and sterile gauze to wrap his hand. Jim gratefully concentrated on the soothing voice of his guide and dialed down the pain.

The phone stopped ringing in the living-room, and the answering machine picked up. He extended his hearing, curiously, and waited for the caller to begin speaking after Blair's cheerful greeting.

The machine clicked, and Jim felt his eyebrows rise almost of their own volition.

It was his father. Of all the people to call at 3 a.m., William Ellison would be the last one he'd expect.

"Jimmy, pick up the phone. This is important. Jimmy, do you hear me? Pick up the phone, son!" A sigh followed. "Oh, you're not home. Well. Please, Jimmy, call me back immediately. I'm still in the office. It is important." With his typical abruptness, his father disconnected.

Jim felt anger flare inside of him. Even after 20 years, William Ellison still expected his son to jump whenever he said so. Fat chance. They might have a better relationship now than during those years they hadn't even talked to each other but he still couldn't forget the past. And didn't want to.

Unable to overcome the deeply instilled rules of conduct of his childhood, it had taken him years to find the courage to tell Sandburg what the other man meant to him.

Yeah, he was his father's son.

The pain in his hand gave way to a slight stinging, the anger in his heart eased a bit, and he was able to look up into Blair's concerned face and dredge up a honest smile.

In all those years Sandburg had been his partner at work, his ride-along, his roommate, his best friend -- he had never been brave enough to tell his guide how much he valued his friendship, his company, his presence at the loft and the station, his infuriating insistence on talking things out, his insistence on getting behind Jim's mask. Sandburg was like a dog with a bone sometimes, not willing to let go.

But Alex, as well as the dream-like apparition of Incacha in the temple of the sentinels, had shown him that unvoiced secrets would only lead to much more heartache and pain. Jim had cast caution, self-preservation and dignity to the winds and told Blair his last secret, the very thing he had hidden from him all those years. That he loved him.

More than Carolyn, more than Lila, more than anyone in the damn world. And sure as hell more than a buddy, a brother, a best friend. Loved and wanted him. Desired him.

Needed him more than anyone in the whole world.

And Blair hadn't betrayed him, hadn't crushed his heart, hadn't mocked his feelings. Blair had given him a heartbreakingly beautiful smile, raised on his toes and kissed him firmly on the mouth.

The very same smile he was giving him at the moment.

He tried to resist, half-heartedly.

"Blair. You ought to sleep. You'll have to get up in two and a half hours. We shouldn't..."

"What?" Blair's voice was deep and seductive and sent shivers down Jim's spine. "Fuck the academy. You forget I'm used to sleep-deprivation, Jim. And besides..." He wrapped his arms around his Sentinel and kissed Jim's throat. Jim trembled. "It's worth it. I haven't seen you all day. And now I want you."

This was followed by a second moist kiss to Jim's collarbone.

The older man lost control just like Blair had already known he would.

Jim forgot all about his hand the second they tumbled down on his -- no, their -- bed upstairs, clinging to each other in a haze of desire. He still wore his work clothes (cursing the stakeout Simon had assigned him and Joel to) and delighted in being able to feel each individual chest hair of his naked lover through the fabric, reveling in his senses, getting lost in everything that was Blair. He dimly realized that Blair was undressing him, kissing him deeply all the time, caressing every inch of revealed skin. Blair murmured his appreciation of Jim's body in disjointed words, still making the other man blush each time they made love. To him, Blair was beautiful -- his strong, compact body, the smell of his hair, but most of all, the loving, kind soul behind the deep blue eyes.

He trembled on the edge of a zone-out when Blair divested him of his last piece of clothing, at the same time guiding Jim's right hand to the waistband of the boxers Blair was still wearing. The touch to Blair's warm skin grounded him, especially when Blair took his left hand and pressed it against his own beating heart.

His guide was alive.

Of their own volition, Jim's hands slowly pushed down the boxers, encountering more skin and coarse, curly hair. The smell of Blair's musk made his head swim. With a panther-like growl, Jim took control of the situation, delighting in Blair's sigh of surrender, kissing his way down from Blair's full lips to his hard cock, engulfing it with his lips, sucking, addicted to Blair's moans of shuddering desire, losing himself in his lover.

The loft disappeared. Only the jungle surrounding them, a myriad of green, a feast for his senses. His guide.

An hour later, Jim tried to hit the alarm-clock to stop the irritating buzzer but to no avail. He sat up, groaning, poking Blair unceremoniously in the side, receiving only a mumbled complaint. Jim grinned, rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and started to tickle his bedmate.

Fifteen minutes later, a shaved and dressed Blair Sandburg stumbled out of the bathroom, not even bothering with a 'Good morning'. At least not until his second cup of coffee.

Jim smiled fondly, almost choking when he found Blair's eyes riveted upon his face, a look of wonder and unspeakable delight in his eyes.

"Blair? Are you alright?"

Blair sounded dazed as he replied: "Sure, Jim. I'm just... happy. I -- I love your smile, that's all." And Blair buried his red face in his coffee-cup and squeezed Jim's thigh.

Jim drove Blair to the academy just like he did every morning and then went to the gym for a half hour workout. The physical therapist had assured him after the Zoeller incident that he'd regain full control of his leg and indeed he had. Only now, he'd always be able to predict a change of weather.

Captain Finkleman had left Major Crimes a month ago, the very day Simon Banks had been declared fit for duty again. He still needed a cane but his surgeon had also been optimistic that Simon would be able to walk unaided again in a couple of weeks.

After the gym, Jim went shopping. It was his turn to cook that evening.

Laden with two heavy grocery bags, he jogged upstairs and smiled at Ms. Perez in greeting. The old lady blushed and wished him a good afternoon.

Back home, he slept for another five hours, then set out to prepare dinner. He smiled. Blair would be home soon. He circled around the phone two times but finally decided that he really didn't want to hear whatever his father had to say. He'd call Stephen as soon as his brother was back from his skiing holidays and ask him. Way better than dealing with William J. Ellison any day.

***

A well-known irregular gait on the stairs and the smell of cigars made him look up from the Jags game he and Blair had been watching, and he carefully disentangled Blair's body from his lap, receiving only a mumbled complaint. He smiled fondly, stroked Blair's brow and opened the door, just in front of an irritated Simon Banks. But this time, Simon didn't even complain about wanting to be able to knock, just once, and his boss' somber face dissolved any teasing comment Jim might have made otherwise.

"Simon? To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

Jim knew he was being unnecessarily sarcastic but couldn't help himself. Today should have been his 'free day'. No stakeout tonight. Just him and Blair. He fell silent after another look at Simon's face.

"What happened?" He put down the beer and stared at his somber friend.

"A murder. Just four streets from here. You might want to see it."

"Simon. Please. I'm off-duty." Jim didn't feel up to another go. Didn't want to see another crime scene that badly needed his 'special abilities'.

"Ellison. You still might want to see it." Jim finally recognized the look on Bank's face. Pity. His heart lurched, his voice sharpened involuntarily: "Why? Who is the victim? It's not -- Caro, is it? Or Stephen -- my father?" Jim felt oddly detached, pronouncing the names carefully, not ready to believe.

"No. I think it is your mother." Simon took a step closer and put a hand on his friend's arm.

Jim just stared at him mutely and rapidly started to shake his head. "That's not possible. No. No, Simon. Mom left years ago. No, it can't be her." His head was aching. No. No.

"It was in the newspaper yesterday," Simon started to say reluctantly, "Grace Jeanne McNamara. Head of the Children Wish Foundation. The big charity ball tomorrow..." His voice trailed off and Jim felt a stab of pain in his heart. That phone call... his father might have tried to tell him that she was in town. It made sense.

He grabbed his jacket from the hook in the hallway and bumped into a wide-awake Blair Sandburg.

Blair, his eyes wide and luminous, reached out and firmly grasped Jim's shoulder, searing his skin through the fabric, calming his wildly beating heart with just one touch.

There was no time for words. Jim transmitted his gratitude with a look, and, sentinel and guide totally in sync, the two hurried to the door, down the stairs and into Simon's car. The tires squealed as Banks put the car into gear. During the drive, the captain filled them in on the details he had gleaned so far.

"Grace McNamara is a big name in charity on the west coast. 58 years old, married to a renowned pediatrician, no kids of her own but a step-daughter from her husband's first marriage. She first worked as an assistant in McNamara's clinic but soon made a name of her own in charity work. The Children Wish Foundation was her idea -- the institution tries to grant a wish to those children who are terminally ill. You know, things like flying in a balloon, swimming with dolphins, meeting their idol. Almost always successful in making that happen. Amazing." Banks fell silent for a moment.

Jim gripped the door handle so hard he felt his bones grinding against each other. Blair turned his head and looked at him, all his love visible in his gaze. Jim unlocked his fingers and twined them with Blair's, clenching his jaw, eternally grateful for his guide's presence.

"In the newspaper article yesterday the journalist mentioned that Grace McNamara was, in fact, born in Cascade and married to a businessman here before she got divorced 27 years ago. The name of her ex-husband wasn't mentioned, but the journalist told us that she'd gotten several unfriendly phone calls from the lawyers of Ellison Enterprises. So you can imagine..."

"Yes. It's my mother." Jim whispered almost inaudibly, believing it at last. Of course his father had tried to intervene, tried to get the article out of print, tried to protect his 'good name'. Of course.

His mind swirled madly, pain and anger forming a tight knot in his chest. He breathed deeply as Blair had taught him and managed to calm himself.

That calm shattered the moment they arrived at the crime scene. He smelled the litter in the alley, Megan Connor's light perfume as well as a fading scent of cordite and the sweet, heavy scent of blood. Only Blair's subvocal reassurances prevented him from throwing up or zoning or both.

His mother was dead. He was only peripherally aware of Henri Brown's and Megan Connor's tentative greeting and the wordless presence of Brian Rafe and Joel Taggart. He stared down at the face he'd been unable to forget, a face very much like his own, hidden in the deep recesses of his heart. The face of Grace McNamara, former Grace Ellison, his mother. Slack in death, but still weirdly beautiful. Age had been gentle to her; only the wrinkles around her eyes and the corners of her mouth -- laugh lines?, he thought, anguished -- gave proof to the fact that she'd have celebrated her 60th birthday soon. Her hair was dyed light brown and she wore almost no make-up. She wore business attire and her purse lay beside her on the wet concrete, untouched. The dark stain on her chest was blood. She'd been shot at point blank, killed instantly.

Rain was falling but her face was still warm as the touched it, traced the lines of her mouth and cheek, feathered a caress over her closed eyelids. He could feel every wrinkle, every tiny pore, could feel the fading warmth as her body slowly cooled down in the rain, the drops falling down on her face, mingling with his tears.

Blair touched the back of his hand, a comforting presence on the edge of the darkness closing down on him, bringing him back to the present, to Megan opening his mother's purse, using gloves to sort through the contents. She dropped the wallet and, accompanied by Simon's angry bark, a shower of various papers, cards and photos fluttered to the concrete.

Jim bent down and retrieved a photo. It was a studio photograph of two young boys, clearly uncomfortable in their suits, a tentative smile on their faces. Dark-haired, they resembled each other a lot. Stevie and himself.

He stumbled to his feet, Blair at his side, clinging to the comforting warmth of his lover for a minute, needing the physical contact to fight the ice in his heart. Not caring who saw them (and besides, they all either knew or suspected, anyway), Blair turned Jim's face down to his and kissed him. Kissing his guide felt like coming home. Jim felt the last of the ice melting, his self-control vanishing completely, for the first time in his adult life. He didn't know how long he wept, crying for a chance lost before he had ever been aware of it, crying for his mother now truly lost to him forever.

Jim didn't hear the shocked gasp in the background the moment Blair touched him, nor did he see the well-dressed figure of an angry William Ellison shouldering his way through the crowd, away from his son.

Finally he was able to speak again.

"Yes. It's my mother, Simon. It is her."

He ignored the worried look on his friend's face and slowly opened his balled fist, showing him and Blair the piece of paper he had picked up along with the photograph.

They all bent their head together to read the small, neat handprint: 'You killed my father, Captain. Perhaps you forgot after all those years. I haven't. And I promised you that you'd pay, blood for blood. Your brother is skiing, isn't he? In Aspen, just like every year. Is he? Too bad his log cabin hasn't got a telephone... I won't kill your father since you don't care about him anyway. But your mother was like a present from heaven. It was so easy. Your best buddy -- or should I say lover? -- will be next. The Switchman.'

No explosives this time, no threats to blow up the city, just a return to the essentials. In her madness, it even made kind of sense. His family for her family. Stephen and his mother for Veronica Serris' father. And Blair would be her next victim. When Jim didn't manage to get her first.

Simon gave a shocked gasp and was on the radio a second later, bellowing to get an explanation -- and soon, how 'that nutcase' had managed to escape from the mental institution she'd been imprisoned in. Jim ignored Simon's angry roars, concentrating on Blair's face instead. The worry there was evident but not for Blair himself. No, it was for him.

"We'll get her, Chief. Don't worry."

"I'm not worried, Jim."

Ellison promised to get to the precinct in the morning and arranged with Simon to have Blair excused from the courses at the police academy until the Switchman had been caught. He couldn't take the risk of anything happening to Blair and refused to let him out of his sight. Banks even agreed to have a patrol unit dispatched to guard the building at Prospect for the time being.

Finally, they drove home to the loft, both of them emotionally exhausted. The rain was falling more heavily now. Jim parked the truck as close to the entrance as he could, staying in front of Blair all the way to the door.

His senses only gave him a split-second warning, registering movement in the shadowed entrance of Prospect 852, and he shoved Blair down hard. He reached for his gun, hearing the silenced report of a semi-automatic even as he dived to the ground himself. His eyes made out a blonde woman in the shadows, close-cropped hair, and he felt the jarring pain as he hit the wet concrete. Three bullets whizzed past him, one of them leaving a burning trail on his forearm the moment he squeezed the trigger. But, in the flash from the muzzle, he saw the woman go down, like in slow motion, with an expression of surprise and anger on her frozen face. Veronica Serris. And her gun erupted once more, highlighting the entrance hall. The bullets hit the ceiling. Her heartbeat stopped.

Jim instantly dismissed her and called "Blair!", urgently, getting to his feet, not feeling the blood dripping from the gash in his arm.

And immediately Blair was on his feet, too, embracing his Sentinel, warm, alive and real, and Jim's face relaxed in a smile.



The room was dark and silent.

Sitting on the sofa, the cold, wet glass of the beer-bottle in his hand, he couldn't see anything, couldn't even make out the shapes of the furniture around him. He sighed inaudibly and dialed up sight and hearing as well as smell, a sudden, blinding grin on his face. Now, he could see the bookcases, the armchairs, the TV set, the disorganized papers on the living-room table, the tribal masks on the walls.

Jim Ellison's lips twisted in a fond smile. Perhaps Simon was right -- Blair hadn't changed all that much, despite the dissertation disaster, despite all the changes he'd gone through from the 'neo hippie witchdoctor punk' to the more toned-down version of the same man. He was now wearing his hair short, leaving out the earrings, dressing in monochromatic shirts and baggy sweaters, doing everything to fit in with the other cadets at the academy. He was still the same in everything that counted.

Despite everything, Jim couldn't help thinking about how much his life had changed in a mere six months.

He was still a cop, still even the fucking 'Cop of the Year', the third time in a row now, and boy, did Connor tease him about that! Stevie and his father didn't say it in so many words but they were proud of him. Just like Blair.

But so many other things had changed, things Jim would have called the unchanging constants of his life. Yeah, Blair had changed. No longer only buddy, or best friend.

No longer only Jim's guide. No, Blair Jacob Sandburg was Jim's lover now.

So, at least, Blair's change had had one advantage -- William J. Ellison would have never accepted the old Blair but the new one... he had learned to deal with Jim's 'significant other'. For his son's sake. Because Jim had made it adamantly clear that he would like to try to repair his relationship with his father on one condition that wasn't negotiable. That his father had to get over his latent homophobia and accept -- really accept -- Blair as Jim's life partner.

The ringing of the telephone startled him; he had been so lost in thought that he reacted badly and clenched his hand. It took a moment to identify the sharp pain and the warm wetness dripping between his fingers. Blood. He had broken the damn empty beer bottle. He cursed vividly for a minute, totally forgetting that Blair was already asleep.

When, a moment later, a tousled head peeked down from upstairs, and a sleepy voice inquired about what had happened, more like: "Jim? Come on, lover, what did you wake me for?", followed by a huge yawn, he couldn't help himself and grinned despite the pain, but knew better than to insist it had been nothing. It was time to let Blair take care of his hand.

With a worried exclamation, Sandburg cleaned his hand carefully over the sink in the bathroom, using iodine and sterile gauze to wrap his hand. Jim gratefully concentrated on the soothing voice of his guide and dialed down the pain.

The phone stopped ringing in the living-room, and the answering machine picked up. He extended his hearing, curiously, and waited for the caller to begin speaking after Blair's cheerful greeting.

The machine clicked, and Jim felt his eyebrows rise almost of their own volition.

It was his father. Of all the people to call at 3 a.m., William Ellison would be the last one he'd expect. After all, he and Blair had met him only yesterday evening for dinner at Stevie's house. Stephen and his fiancée, a beautiful redhead named Clarisse, had giggled like school kids, admitting that they'd waited for an evening like this for weeks to finally announce their engagement to Stephen's family. They'd even made Stevie's business partners believe he'd taken his yearly skiing trip to Aspen. A veritable conspiracy. And William Ellison had forgotten all about his dignified self-control, enthusiastically congratulated them and smiled like he meant it. Unbelievable.

"Jimmy, pick up the phone. This is important. Jimmy, do you hear me? Pick up the phone, son!" A sigh followed. "Oh, you're not home. Well. Please, Jimmy, call me back immediately. I'm still in the office. It is important. Son, I need to tell you..." A sigh, followed by a second of silence, and then his father disconnected.

Jim frowned. Whatever it was, it had to be quite important. His father had sounded unusually tentative, perhaps even frightened. Not like the unshakable man Jim knew, and had taken months to forgive for his behavior during his and Stevie's childhood. But they had managed to repair that damage. Yeah, it had taken Jim years to find the courage to tell Sandburg what the other man meant to him, but he had found the strength to overcome the rules of conduct he'd learned from his father, and he'd opened his heart. And perhaps his father had done the same. Now, he embraced his sons in greeting, shook Blair's hand like he meant it, and liked Clarisse although she was neither rich nor from a 'good family'.

Jim smiled a little and silently promised his father to call him back immediately. The pain in his hand gave way to a slight stinging and he looked up into Blair's concerned face and smiled joyfully.

In all those years Sandburg had been his partner at work, his ride-along, his roommate, his best friend -- he had never been brave enough to tell his guide how much he valued his friendship, his company, his presence at the loft and the station, his infuriating insistence on talking things out, his insistence on getting behind Jim's mask. Sandburg was like a dog with a bone sometimes, not willing to let go.

But Alex, as well as the dream-like apparition of Incacha in the temple of the sentinels, had shown him that unvoiced secrets would only lead to much more heartache and pain. Jim had cast caution, self-preservation and dignity to the winds and told Blair his last secret, the very thing he had hidden from him all those years. That he loved him.

More than Carolyn, more than Lila, more than anyone in the damn world. And sure as hell more than a buddy, a brother, a best friend. Loved and wanted him. Desired him.

Needed him more than anyone in the whole world.

And Blair hadn't betrayed him, hadn't crushed his heart, hadn't mocked his feelings. Blair had given him a heartbreakingly beautiful smile, raised on his toes and kissed him firmly on the mouth.

The very same smile he was giving him at the moment.

Jim felt his pulse accelerate and knew that he had to stop this now or he'd forget all about his father and lose himself in Blair, not remembering the world around them until morning.

It was one of the hardest things he'd ever done but he resisted Blair's smiling lips and caressed his upturned face.

"Blair. That was my father at the phone. Whatever it is, it sounded urgent. Please, go back to bed -- you ought to sleep anyway."

He grinned at the blush rising in Blair's face.

Faking anger, Sandburg growled, "I'm damn transparent to the all-mighty Sentinel of the Great City, am I not?"

"No, but I'm a mind-reader," Jim joked back and gave his lover a good-natured punch against his shoulder. "I'll be back upstairs as soon as possible. And I might even be tempted into a little bit of hanky-panky when you're still awake..."

Blair gave him a mock military salute and disappeared upstairs, not without stealing a kiss first.

Half an hour later, Jim climbed into bed, pressing his shivering body against a sleeping, drooling Sandburg. Hell, with Blair, even drooling was addicting. Careful to let his lover sleep, he still tried to get as much skin-on-skin contact as possible, needing his friend's warm presence to calm his frantically beating heart.

He'd never expected to hear anything like that from his father. Never in his whole life. Never. No way.

Perhaps he ought to look for the pod the next time he saw his Dad. The changes were unbelievable.

As were the things that had happened.

William Ellison had called his son to tell him about an article in today's paper, about a charity ball next Friday with a certain guest of honor who happened to be in town after years spent on the west coast. Grace Jeanne McNamara. Head of the Children Wish Foundation. 58 years old, married to a renowned pediatrician, no kids of her own but a step-daughter from her husband's first marriage, she had first worked as an assistant in McNamara's clinic, but soon made a name of her own in charity work. The Children Wish Foundation had been her idea, an institution which tried to grant a wish to those children who were terminally ill. Things like flying in a balloon, swimming with dolphins, meeting their idol. Almost always successful in making that happen.

So far, that would have been something Jim wouldn't have been interested in, if not for one little fact -- Grace McNamara had been born in Cascade and married to a certain businessman here before she got divorced 27 years ago. To a man called William Ellison. To his father.

Grace Jeanne Ellison, now McNamara, was his mother.

And his father had not only not tried to suppress the publication of that article, no -- he had even used the influence of Ellison Enterprises to get the name of the hotel the McNamaras stayed in for the duration of their visit, as well as their telephone number. And he had -- Jim's mind was still reeling and crying 'Impossible, impossible! Not my father!' -- actually called his ex-wife and asked her and her husband for dinner the next day!

He had a headache. He tried burrowing closer to Blair's sleeping form, taking a deep breath of his comforting scent, concentrating on his guide's heartbeat. The loft disappeared, only the jungle surrounding him and his guide, a myriad of green, comfort and home. He felt his headache lessening.

For his father to have changed that much, to be willing to go out of his way to such an extent, to give that much to please him and Stevie... Of course he longed to see his mother again, to talk to her, ask her why she'd left all those years ago. It was the chance to lay another old ghost to rest. And closed-off, unforgiving William Ellison would make it happen.

Jim felt tears prickle in his eyes, hot and scalding, and he let them run freely in the darkness of the bedroom, drying in Blair's short curls, his heart so full that it felt close to bursting.

He would savor that overwhelming mixture of joy and pain on his own 'til dawn and then he'd wake Blair and tell him everything.

An hour later, Jim sat up silently and kissed Blair's neck, softly caressing his back, waking him with tender kisses and the occasionally tickle.

Fifteen minutes later, a shaved and dressed Blair Sandburg stumbled out of the bathroom, not even bothering with a 'Good morning.'. At least not until his second cup of coffee.

Jim smiled, all of his joy in visible on his face, almost choking when he found Blair's eyes riveted upon him, a look of wonder and unspeakable delight in his eyes.

"Blair? Are you alright?"

Blair sounded dazed as he replied: "Sure, Jim. I'm just... happy. I -- I love your smile, that's all. And besides, you're -- like -- glowing." And Blair concentrated earnestly on Jim's face, although this time, it wasn't difficult at all to make his lover talk.

And Jim told him everything.

Jim drove Blair to the academy just like he did every morning. The only difference was that this time, they were both grinning like loons and, oblivious to the world around them, separated with a kiss in front of the academy.

After dropping off Blair, Jim went to the gym for a half hour workout, the joy still bubbling inside of him. The physical therapist had assured him, after the Zoeller incident, that he'd regain full control of his leg. Indeed he had. The only difference now was that he'd always be able to predict a change of the weather.

Captain Finkleman had left Major Crimes a month ago, the day Simon Banks had been declared fit for duty again. He still needed a cane but his surgeon had also been optimistic that Simon would be able to walk unaided again in a couple of weeks.

After the gym, Jim went over to his father's house. Sally, his dad's housekeeper, would prepare dinner. Jim grinned to realize he got to skip his turn making dinner.

An hour later, he was back at the loft, jogging upstairs and smiling at Ms. Perez in greeting. The old lady blushed and wished him a good afternoon.

Back home, he slept for another five hours, wanting to be well-rested for the evening.

***

Dressed casually but elegantly in dark slacks, a deep blue shirt (Blair said it accentuated the color of his eyes) and a gray blazer, he started the truck and once again drove to the academy. Blair's evening clothes were in a bag on the passenger seat.

Two or three of the police academy tutors greeted him as he took the stairs two at a time, and he nodded at them, hurrying up the staircase to Blair's classroom. The students already milled out of the room, Blair among the first, and he propelled his guide to the nearest washroom, urging him to hurry.

Seconds later, two men, dressed in evening clothes, took the blue-white truck to the Ellison residence.

They had just sat down in the dining room, waiting for the guests to arrive, when Jim's cell phone rang. William Ellison sent his son a disapproving look but Jim just shrugged and answered. It was Simon. And surely important, or his friend wouldn't be calling him on his day off. At least he damn well hoped so.

"Simon?" He knew he sounded impatient and brusque, but right now, he didn't care. His mother and her new husband would arrive in a couple of minutes, and Simon'd better find another detective to...

"What happened?! Simon, you're kidding me, right?!" A short pause during which Blair regarded him worriedly. "You mean she escaped? From a high-security institution, and it took the fucking FBI almost two days to deem it necessary to tell us so?!"

Another pause, longer. "I want a security detail at Stephen's house. And another one at my father's. My mother will be here in about twenty minutes. Yeah, Simon, my mother." His voice was sarcastic but strained, his friend's words having him chilled to the bone. "I'll explain it later." He nodded. "Good."

Jim pressed the end button and was on his feet a second later, gripping the phone so hard he felt his bones grinding against each other. Blair looked at him, all his love and trust visible in his gaze, and Jim unlocked his fingers and twined them with Blair's, clenching his jaw, eternally grateful for his guide's presence.

"Veronica Serris has escaped."

"The Switchman?", his father gasped, clearly shocked. Having collected all the newspaper articles he could, in the past, to learn something about his eldest son's life, William Ellison knew exactly how dangerous the woman was.

"Yeah." Jim swallowed and continued: "And she left a notice at the wall of her room. Written with an orderly's -- blood. 'You killed my father, Captain James Joseph Ellison. Perhaps you forgot after all those years. I haven't. And I promised you that you'd pay, blood for blood. Every member of your family you care about. You brother. Your father. Your best buddy, Sandburg. Everyone. Only then I'll kill you. The Switchman.'

No explosives this time, no threats to blow up the city, just a return to the essentials. In her madness, it even made kind of sense. His family for her family. Stephen, his father and Blair for Veronica Serris' father. When Jim didn't manage to get her first. And...

He dropped the cell phone and lunged for his jacket, eternally grateful that the curtains were drawn closed and even more grateful that, because of Zoeller, mad CIA agents, Russian assassins and other killers, he'd started to carry his gun even off-duty.

"Dad, Chief, Serris has to be out there somewhere. Waiting to get a good shot at one of you. Waiting for my mother to arrive. Rafe and Brown will be here in fifteen minutes, but that might not be enough. I'll have to go outside and stop Serris."

Oh, how good Blair had become at hiding his feelings, at shoving down his worry and fear and be just what Jim needed, now, here, in this second, for he didn't ask, didn't doubt, only became the guide to his Sentinel. And ignoring his father, Jim let himself be talked through another of Sandburg's exercises, concentrated his hearing, blocking out the sounds of traffic, the voices of the neighbors, blocking out everything that belonged here until he'd isolated a single heartbeat, hard, fast and furious, high on adrenaline, that waited on the roof of the garage. It was only with this miracle Blair had made happen that he was able to step outside in a split-second, in the rain, train his gun on the shape of a blonde woman with a semi-automatic and squeeze the trigger before she got off more than a single shot which grazed his hip, but didn't do any real damage. In the flash from the muzzle, he saw the woman loose her hold on the roof and fall down into the garden, like in slow motion, an expression of surprise and anger on her frozen face. Veronica Serris. And her gun clattered to the ground, thankfully silent. Her heartbeat stopped.

He instantly dismissed her, not feeling the blood dripping from the scratch on his hip, instead turning around to envelop Blair in his arms. He needed his presence and wasted no time kissing him hungrily. They stood in each other's arms waiting for Simon and the others to arrive, a couple of squad cars with blinking Mars lights, a gathering of cops in the garden, at the same time a dark limousine stopped in front of the house and a middle-aged couple slowly stepped nearer, curious and a little bit frightened.

And Jim's arms squeezed Blair so hard it must have hurt as he dialed up his sight to regard the woman's face, a face very much like his own, hidden in the deep recesses of his heart for so long. The face of Grace McNamara, former Grace Ellison, his mother. Still beautiful. Age had been gentle to her; only the wrinkles around her eyes and the corners of her mouth -- laugh lines? -- gave proof to the fact that she'd celebrate her 60th birthday soon. Her hair was dyed light brown and she wore almost no make-up. She wore a stunning dress, leaning on her husband's arm, but looked up at the entry hall with an expression of both eager yearning and fear.

The rain was still falling and their eyes met.

And Blair would always remember the open, unguarded, joyful look of a child on his lover's face the moment mother and son embraced.


"The Sentinel" story by allaire mikháil, 9.319 words, James Ellison/Blair Sandburg, 3rd person POV, drama, rated R

The title to this story has been borrowed without permission from Geoffrey A. Landis, from his short story 'Ripples in the Dirac Sea', copyright 1988 by Davis Publications, Inc. My work has been inspired by that story as well as by George Alec Effinger 's short story 'Schrödinger's Kitten', copyright 1988 by Omni Publications International, Ltd. Read them both if you like to think about alternate realities and small actions being the turning point of more than just one person's destiny.
Furthermore, I want to thank MoonShadow for shouldering beta-reading duties on very short notice. She did her very best to kill the worst of my tapeworm-sentences. So anything with more than two commas and three subordinate clauses is something I decided to keep out of sentimental reasons. A further thank-you goes to Ann and Margie for helping me out with the beta list when I had finished this story and started looking for someone to beta it. These girls are fast -- you wouldn't believe it!

I don't own the characters (wish I did, though) and don't get any money off this, either. The respective rights belong to Bilson & DeMeo, PetFly, Paramount, and various other people, which is a good thing, considering that we got four seasons out of it, and a bad thing, considering the number of car chases and -wrecks, explosions, love-intests-of-the-week, and weak plots. Anyway, the actors got into the slash thing and the characters were incredibly close, so I have no real reason to complain. Oh, and this story belongs to me.


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