Beaten down by the repeated assaults of yuckiness masquerading as third season TS episodes, a depressed group of smarmers gathered in #smarm after the airing of "Remembrance." It had been an episode with so much promise, and such powerfully affecting scenes, that the lack of resolution and utter abandonment of Jim and Blair's relationship to each other had been a particularly cruel blow. In the wake of such an episode ending, there was only one thing to do: write the tag that should have been. It was the last group piece ever written on #smarm.
Unfazed, Blair slung his arm around Simon's shoulders again, and with a rolling shrug, Simon dislodged him one more time. His eyes still on Jim, Blair's smile faltered for a moment and the bounce in his step dropped a degree in exuberance. Jim wasn't smiling, wasn't holding his father closely - only assisting him toward the waiting EMTs. There was a stiffness in both Ellisons' backs, a separation between them as they walked that Blair hadn't noticed at first, and the chill emanating from Jim surprised him.
With one last, ignored tug on Simon's arm, Blair desisted and slowed, and moved aside, watching Jim with new, quiet concern. He'd been so happy for his friend, so pleased at the rapprochement and repair of such an important relationship, that he hadn't paid attention to the undercurrents Jim's expressive silences had been trying to convey.
The semi-organized confusion of the crime scene moved around him, a familiar chaos, and Blair felt again the odd discomfort of finding himself not at Jim's side. Used to being included even though not a participant, he found the distance unwelcome, but the perspective it gave him was startlingly distinct from the view he'd had before. Somehow it was easier to see Jim's quiet bitterness from further away, and with distance the stilted politeness he was using looked less cordial, more forced.
Coming to a stop in an eddy of the activity, sheltered from the pathways of official travel by the side of a parked squad car, Blair watched Jim with new care, a growing worry touching his brow and leaving a small line in its wake. When Jim nodded at the paramedics, gave his father one last, brusque pat on the shoulder, then turned away decisively to head for the truck, Blair moved to intercept him.
"He's going to be OK, right?" Blair asked, half-jogging to keep up with the sentinel's ground-eating stride across the grass.
"Yeah," Jim answered shortly.
Blair turned his head back for a moment, surprised to see the older man being loaded into the ambulance. "Is he going to need a ride home or something?"
Shrugging, Jim didn't reply. As they reached the truck he glanced over at the passenger side, noting it wasn't locked, and got in on his side, starting the engine as Blair hopped in and pulled the door closed. For a moment he looked over at Blair, as if on the verge of saying something, but then his normally expressive eyes went cold and remote, and he remained silent for the trip home.
The message on the phone machine when they reached the loft was Simon, letting Jim know the perp was booked, the paperwork put off until tomorrow, and the senior Ellison was safely ensconced in the hospital for an overnight stay despite his protestations. Banks' deep voice had sounded a little puzzled at having to relay that last information, but all he'd finished with was, "Room 235. See you guys in the morning."
Blair had looked over at Jim then and wondered at the shuttered control that was still in place, but it wasn't until he was starting dinner that he got his first chance to dig into how Jim was really feeling about everything that had happened. He was chopping onions for the stir-fry when Jim passed by on his way to the bathroom, and Blair noticed how shell-shocked his expression still was. "Jim, you okay?" Blair asked.
Jim glanced in his direction, but his eyes didn't even focus on Blair. "Yeah, fine," he said in the clearest not-fine-in-a-million-years voice Blair had ever heard from him.
Okay, Blair thought while waiting for Jim to reappear, he's just a little stressed out from everything, who wouldn't be? But that expression and that voice set off every warning bell in his mind. Blair wished again he'd gone with Jim to talk to William Ellison, but there were some situations even he knew he couldn't butt into.
Carefully, Blair considered his tactics. He'd already tried teasing Jim before, knowing that with issues this big a little distance was often a good thing at first, but that hadn't worked so well. Blair threw the rice, onions and other veggies in the wok and started stirring. He would skip the garlic this time, he had a feeling what he fixed was not going to matter to Jim so much as how Blair approached the matter bothering him.
Jim emerged from the bathroom. Blair studied him closely. No, Jim was definitely not "fine" right now. His eyes had the stunned look of a person who'd just been shot. He walked with a jerky, zombie-like gait. Blair was suddenly, causelessly certain that Jim's senses were way, way down, operating below even a normal person's range. The scary part was, Blair didn't think Jim had done it on purpose.
"Hey, Jim?" Blair said. "It's almost done, set the table?" He had a sudden urge not to let Jim get too far away from him for a while. At least until after that lost look faded from his eyes.
Jim turned and looked at him for a moment as though remembering enough English to decipher the request. Then he nodded, but made no move toward the kitchen cabinets.
Uh-oh, this is bad. "The stuff in the dishwasher is clean," Blair prompted.
Robot-like, Jim got out the plates and silverware. Blair hurried to dish out a batch of stir-fry he suspected neither of them was very hungry for. "So," Blair said as he sat across from Jim and picked up his fork, "I take it things went okay with your father?"
"He knew," Jim said.
Blair blinked. "He knew who the killer was?"
Jim shook his head, pushing his rice around a little on his plate. "No. He knew. About me."
Blair stared at his partner. "Not...not about the Sentinel stuff?" No, that couldn't be right, Blair thought. Jim had all the earmarks of someone who had never been comfortable with his senses. Surely, if someone in his family had known, it wouldn't have been as bad? Jim's father, by all accounts, was no prize, but support from anyone was a good thing.
"Yeah," Jim said, his voice still sounding odd, not-quite-there. "I mean," he said slowly, "he didn't know what it was called, but he knew I could...do stuff."
"Man...man, that's incredible," Blair said. "I guess it was just the trauma of finding your friend's body, then, huh? That made you repress your abilities, I mean."
Jim looked directly at him, that lost expression more pronounced than ever. Slowly his brow creased, as if he wasn't sure he'd understood what Blair had said. "No," he said slowly. "That wasn't it." He pushed the rice around his plate for another minute, then gave up and put down the fork. Without a word, he stood up and left the table, heading almost aimlessly toward the living room.
"Whoa, hey," Blair said, rising to follow him. There was a bad feeling forming in the pit of his stomach, fed by the things he had noticed earlier, but he told himself it couldn't possibly be as bad as it was sounding. "Jim?" he said, looking at his friend. "You okay, man?"
Back still to him, Jim shrugged, but it was a strange, uneven movement, as if he was fighting to keep his breathing going at the same time he was moving his shoulders. "Yeah," he said. His voice was way too hoarse and he cleared his throat.
Bad, very bad, MAJOR bad. "Talk to me, Jim. What happened?"
"I tried to tell them what I saw," he said, his back straightening with slow, deliberate force.
"Them?" Blair prompted softly.
He turned. "They didn't believe me. Same as when I saw Danny's killer, that mugger... nobody believed I could have seen what I did. Not the detectives, and not my father. At least, that was what he told me."
Blair shook his head. "You said...you said he knew." Surely, he was not hearing things right.
The nod was slow, inexorable. "He told me I was lying, making it up. That I was making myself a freak by claiming to see what I had." Jim's eyes met Blair's, wide and lost now, as filled with hurt betrayal as they had been that day some twenty-odd years ago.
Blair had one of those moments where the world seemed to recede, the sounds around him to dimming to a faint buzz, the real-life equivalent of one of those funky zooms Spielberg was always using. Desperately, he put forward the one thing that would keep this from being as bad as it was beginning to sound. "That was before...before he knew, right?"
It took Blair a moment to realize the awful sound Jim made in answer was supposed to be a laugh.
The first thing Blair was aware of was a sudden dirtiness across his shoulders where he'd supported William Ellison, helped him walk out of the woods. I should have left him bleed there, he thought faintly.
Jim was already turning away, moving toward the windows, as if he needed the cold rain to beat on his face until it was numb. "He knew," he said again, anger and betrayal and a plaintive cry for understanding all mixed up in his voice.
Blair reacted instinctively, crossing the room, reaching out to touch Jim's arm, to ground him, to connect. He couldn't think... couldn't begin to comprehend what it meant, what kind of... thing would do that to someone, anyone, let alone understand what kind of person would have done it to Jim. "God," he said. "God."
Jim shook his head, not looking back at Blair. "No, god wasn't part of it." Another of those faint, half-sobbed chuckles caught in his chest. "That was about the only ploy he didn't use on me, come to think of it. Alienation from my friends, public humiliation, insanity, personal dishonor... but he never told me I'd go to hell because of what I claimed I could do." He shrugged, and it was as painfully controlled as the last one. "Guess I should be grateful."
The muscles beneath Blair's hand were hard as high-tension wire. Blair felt sick, actually, physically sick, and he was suddenly glad he hadn't succeeded in eating yet. "He made you forget," Blair said faintly. "He made you. He told you you...." Blair shook his head, wishing he could fling the knowledge from his brain. "Why? God, why would he... how could he...." Blair took a breath and closed his eyes against the sudden wave of pure, black hatred. "The son of a bitch." Blair's hand tightened on Jim's shoulder. And I sent him to talk to the bastard. "I'm going to kill him," Blair said casually. At the moment, he meant every word.
"Don't talk like that," Jim said absently.
Blair sucked in a breath, feeling dizzy. Way to go, Sandburg. The guy's an evil bastard, but he's still Jim's dad. "I'm...sorry. I didn't mean...I just..."
"Sandburg, breathe," Jim said, turning toward his friend. "I just meant I don't want you talking like that. He's done enough damage, okay? I don't want any of what he was... touching you."
It took a minute for that to sink past the anger; when it did, Blair found himself lost in a moment of quiet awe. Even now, even to this extreme, Jim was looking out for him.
It wasn't just unlikely; it was amazing. If it were anyone else, Blair would've said it would be impossible. To endure so much, to suffer so greatly, and come through it as strong and good and kind as Jim had - no one else could've done it. His heart ached for the child his friend had been, even as he rejoiced that the core of compassion and wisdom in Jim's soul remained uncompromised.
"Jim..." he said, and then fell silent, unsure what words would suffice to convey the depth of pride and love he felt for his partner. His eyes were full, tears of gratitude warring with empathy and joy. "I can't... I don't know what to say, man." Truth, nothing less. "I don't know how you made it through that, but I thank god you did."
Jim's eyes found Blair's, a frisson of silent communication passing between them like a warm, sweet breath. They both understood it was nothing less than necessity, nothing more than what Jim had had to survive, to find his way here, now.
Jim's hand came up, curving under Blair's clenched jaw; a gentle thumb brushed away a tear that had fallen unnoticed from the corner of one eye. "You understand," he said, soft amazement warming his voice.
Blair nodded, his own voice lost to him, words useless anyway in the face of his raging emotions. Pain, that Jim had suffered. Gratitude, that Jim had survived. Respect for the survivor, love for the child, love for the friend with the battered, scarred, triumphant soul shining strong and true out of brilliant blue eyes. Wonderingly, heart in his throat, Blair reached out blindly for his friend.
Jim's hands closed over Blair's shoulders and pulled him in, one stumbling step to rest against the solid warmth of his chest. He needed this, needed the warm, strong comfort of the one person in his life who had never betrayed him, never hurt him. Blair was healing solidified, and his touch freed Jim from the iron bands of control his father had sealed around his heart.
At first it was just pain. The hurt he'd shoved down, bottled up, locked away, broke from his chest in a sob that ripped his throat raw. Blair's hands went up, one brushing softly against Jim's cheek, the other pressing against the back of his neck, securing him. It was awkward, uncomfortable, and perfect. Jim shuddered once, bent his back to bury his face in the crook of Blair's shoulder, and let the tears come.
"You're not crazy," Blair whispered brokenly, his own tears soaking the soft fabric of Jim's shirt. "You're not crazy. Not wrong. Not some kind of freak. And you're not alone, you never will be, I promise...." The words fell from his lips unnoticed, a steady torrent of love and reassurance, but it was the hand stroking through his hair that spoke most eloquently to Jim's heart. The comfort of touch soothed him, shattered him, and remade him, stronger than before.
"I know," Jim whispered. He said it over and over again, until he believed it all, until Blair believed it all and they stood in the quiet dimness of the loft, silent and sane and certain, now and always, of one safe haven against whatever storms might come. The past would always be there, but now it was bearable. Not forgotten, not even forgiven, but distanced. Set apart from him by the circle of love and trust that surrounded him. That surrounded them both.
Gently, ever-conscious of the precious contact between them, Jim eased back just far enough to meet Blair's eyes. They shone, as he was sure his did, bright and true. "I know," he said again, hands warm and soft against Blair's cheeks.
"You know?" Blair whispered, voice rough with tears yet unshed.
"Of course," Jim answered. He pulled Blair back, reciprocal comfort, giving back all of the love he had received. His heart was so full he could barely speak; he felt clean, finally. Whole. "You showed me."
"I tried," Blair said against the soft skin of Jim's throat. "I always tried." His voice shook, then steadied, his friend's embrace suffusing him with calm. "Jim." One word, confirmation and reassurance in a single breath.
Jim rested his cheek against soft curls, then pressed a gentle, reverent kiss into their warmth. "You did good," he said quietly, arms tightening convulsively as his voice broke on the whisper. "You always do."
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