It wasn't going to work. Again.
He couldn't do it. Again.
Blair put the Volvo into reverse, backed out of the parking space and pointed the car toward the backroad that would take him to the rear of the campus.
Fifth day in a row. Seven days all together. And he still couldn't do something as simple as enter Hargrove Hall from the front....because he'd have to pass..... the fountain. "The" fountain.
Every morning back at Rainier had started the same; He'd pull into his usual parking space, turn off the ignition, gather his books, look at the short, tree lined path that would take him to Hargrove Hall and the fountain....the bile would rise to the back of his throat and he'd drop his books back down onto the seat, shove the key back into the ignition and get the hell out of there as fast as his trusty Volvo would take him.
He simply couldn't get to his office that way. He - couldn't - pass - the - fountain.
It was stupid. Cowardly. Childish. But that didn't change the facts. He still couldn't do it.
Angry and depressed, Blair parked in the spot that was fast becoming his "usual", grabbed his books and began the mile hike to the back of Hargrove Hall. To his office.
His office. Another problem. It wasn't just the fountain. He was also having difficulty in his office....he could go in....he just couldn't....stay in. And the closer he got? The slower his legs moved, the faster his breathing became and the sweat would literally "flow" down the long yellow streak that he called his spine. But hey, at least he could go to his office.
He reached his door, put out a shaking hand and after three tries he finally got the key turned and the door open. He hit the lights, kept his eyes focused straight ahead, dropped his books on the desk, bookbag on his chair and looked out the window....a safe view. His lips moved in a silent prayer, a prayer that today would be the day. The day he wouldn't see Alex, wouldn't hear her, the day he wouldn't be crippled by his memories.
But it wasn't. The day that is.
Of course, none of this would have been so bad if he'd had someone to share, to confide in...but he didn't. This was his. His to shoulder. His burden. His fear to vanquish. Besides, who would he tell? Jim? Oh, yeah, he could hear that conversation now.....
"Hey, Jim, old man....guess what? I can't walk past the fountain. What fountain you ask? Oh, you know, the fountain Alex dumped me in and left me to die. Yeah, that fountain. And by the way? I can't sit in my office for more than 20-30 minutes either. Why? Oh, I don't know. Maybe because it's where I started to betray you? Maybe because it's where I stayed, waiting for you, hoping you'd show up and forgive me? Or maybe it's because you didn't come but she did.....and maybe it's because when she pointed the gun at me and I knew I was going to die? That....I didn't - care. What? You think I'm crazy? Yeah, me too, Jim, me too."
Yeah, that would go over real well. But it was a conversation that wouldn't happen now anyway. Blair was out of Jim's life. Since coming home. Since arriving at the airport and Jim taking Blair to the loft as if nothing had happened.
And since Blair had walked into the loft and couldn't help but notice that Jim had put everything back....everything except Blairs things. All the boxes, all his furniture, all remained downstairs, in storage.
Blair had stood there, in the middle of the place he'd called home for almost three years, and had known Jim still didn't want him there. So he'd turned around and left. And Jim hadn't stopped him.
Now ten days later and he was living in some flea bitten motel, away from Jim, and trying to come to grips with everything that had happened. And failing miserably......
Blair let his gaze roam the office, but every item, every surface, was tainted by his betrayal.
God, he had to get out - now. He grabbed his work, his laptop and hurried out - out to the grass, the open air, out where it was safe, to the big elm that was now like a second office.
Once settled under the protection of the giant tree, he opened his laptop and started to work, but his thoughts kept interrupting.....thoughts like; if he could just go back, undo some of the havoc he'd created....fix things, tell Jim right away about Alex, tell him even when he pushed him away....or better still? Back to the fountain, when Jim came after him.....he could simply refuse to come back.....Hell, not coming back was certainly preferable to watching Jim and Alex together. To watching Jim risk his career and his life for her.
Had it been some Sentinel Mating Imperative? Yes. But "not" Sentinel to Sentinel. The imperative was for Sentinel and Guide.
After all, what were the odds of two sentinels meeting? And not being enemies? Zero. Sentinel protects the tribe...from other tribes. And other sentinels. And Alex and Jim were enemies, not meant to mate. So what had happened? Simple. Jim had transferred the imperative from Blair to Alex. He'd told Blair as much in the hospital.
"I don't think I want to take that journey with you."
"With you". With Blair. Could he have been any clearer? Jim knew as well as Blair exactly what had happened at the fountain. And Jim had made it crystal clear that there would be no journey between them. That the detective was refusing the bond.
Unfortunately, that refusal hadn't protected Blair. He had experienced everything Jim had. The urges, the visions....he'd seen the two of them on the beach, the beach that was Sierra Verde....arms and limbs entwined, hearts beating as one.....their coupling hard and urgent and soft and gentle, words of completion, oaths shared......and he'd rushed to Jim's side, on that same beach, the beach of his visions and found Jim......in Alex's arms. And his dreams ended, smashed and he'd had to accept the horrible knowledge that it was his hand that had smashed everything, his betrayal.
But where did that leave him now? He'd given up his life and his soul for his sentinel. And there was nothing to fill the void. And man, it was a cold business, being without a soul. How was Jim handling it? Was he this cold? Did he know why? Did he realize that the guide was supposed to take up the void of the lost soul? And that the sentinel was supposed to do the same for the guide? Sentinel fills guide, Guide fills sentinel. Easy equasion. Each replacing the surrendered soul, each protecting the life sacrificed.
And when something goes wrong? When the Guide betrays the Sentinel? And the Sentinel refuses the Guide? What then? But he knew that answer. The Guide dies.
And that was exactly what was happening. Blair was dying. He knew it. Just a matter of time. His life had been forfeit. Yes, Jim had brought him back but now refused him, so Blair would die. Again. He could accept that. Life without Jim was death anyway.
But he'd be dammed if he'd accept death and not face that fucking fountain.
Blair closed his laptop, got to his rather shaky feet, looked across the wide expanse of lawn, toward the direction of the fountain.
He would face it today.
He began the walk, feeling much the way a condemned criminal must feel as they take their final walk.....
The closer he got to his nemesis, the heavier his legs....his breathing started coming in short pants, his heart hammering in his chest, he was certain that implosion was imminent, and the sweat, trickling down the side of his face and in his eyes......
<I can do this. It's just cement and water. I can do this>
He was on the side of Hargrove Hall now, a few more steps, around the corner and it would be in view. But he froze.
Students moved hurriedly around his body as they scurried from one class to another....some brushing by him, others bumping into him, murmuring vague apologies, but no one really noticed him.
No one really saw the man in faded blue jeans and blue and white flannel shirt, hair pulled back and tied, wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, sliding down due to the fine sheen of sweat covering his face, eyes wide, pupils dilated, mouth open slightly, trying desperately to take in air.......
Blair forced his feet forward, took another step, rounded the corner....and there it was.
He was surprised.
The fountain looked the same. It was completely unchanged.
Shouldn't it look different? A man had died in its icy waters. Shouldn't it be marked somehow?
He focused on the cement rim around the pool. He could see where his left knee had rested, as he'd struggled sluggishly to avoid the water......
Her hand pressed hard against the back of his head, her other arm holding his right wrist, twisting it sharply behind him, her knee pressed firmly into his lower back.....pushing, straining, believing that once she'd clipped him on the side of his head with the butt of her gun, that it would be easy....that "he'd" be easy, she'd seen the defeat in his eyes, the acceptance....so she was surprised when he fought....he was surprised.....but fight he did.
Through the pain, his vision blurring, struggling, then his head went under, and he held his breath, he could feel her knee digging in, he tried to grab the arm holding his head......he could envision how it must have looked, his arm flailing wildly, missing her arm, plunging into the water, hand connecting with the shallow bottom, pushing now......pushing up, turning his head, getting a brief gulp of wonderful air....his head reeling, her body shifting to compensate, to remove his anchor, his hand.....her other knee coming up and to the right, pushing against his back, while her right leg now swung out and connected with his elbow, dislodging his hand from the bottom.....the momentum throwing his body forward, deeper into the cold water.....his head striking the bottom, the pain.....and her entire body weight, bearing down, fingers wrapped in his hair, pushing, relentlessly, his breath finally expelled in a painful exhale, his mouth opening, the inhale he couldn't avoid......water rushing in.....swallowing, again and again, the pain in his chest unbearable, an endless burning, searing pain....his head, shrinking, eyes bulging.....the knowledge that he was going to die....no one to save him.....no last minute rescue......and the most unbearable pain he'd ever experienced.....as his lungs caved in, his heart thundered in his head.....exploding.
And Jim's face. His voice. Jim's last words to him, words echoing, louder than the sound of his own heart, louder than the sound of oxygen starved lungs, louder than the sounds of all of his systems shutting down, one by one, and finally louder than his own desire to live. His arm went lax, his knee finally gave in....Jim's voice and face faded.......death claimed him.
Blair's whole body shuddered as it experienced his death again. He wanted to close his eyes, to turn and run, but he was rooted to the spot, unable to look away, the life of Rainier swirling around him, his whole being focused on the scene of his death. His murder. His suicide.
He could see Alex. Standing there, still holding what was now his empty body. Dawn casting a golden glow over his grave as she finally let go, giving his body a satisfied shove as he floated face down, jacket billowing up, filling with the very air he'd been denied.
Blair saw the blonde head tilt to the side and he knew she was hearing sirens, still miles away. She gave the shell that was his body one last look and then ran.
The stillness of his death site was broken by sirens, screeching brakes, car doors slamming, running......Blair could see Jim, first up the stairs leading into Hargrove Hall, stopping suddenly, somehow sensing that what he was looking for was behind him.....he turned, spotted the "body" and rushed toward the fountain.
Blair concentrated on Jim's face, his words, as he watched the doomed efforts to save him....and when everyone gave up, he saw the glow that surrounded him, saw Jim go back down onto his knees beside the still body, hands moving lovingly over the face......Blair could see the tears the others couldn't....could see the love....the hands caressing with love, in love......
<he loves me>
Without conscious thought, Blairs legs began to move, taking him closer to the fountain.....
The campus was quieter now, classes in session, a few students still rushing, but Blair saw none of it....as he got closer still....
A voice whispering in his mind, "Listen.....", Blair cocked his head, strained his hearing....then relaxed as he realized he need only open his heart to hear....
He was running. A beautiful forest, clear, clean air, the scent of freedom........But a voice stopped him.
Blair? Who was Blair? He was "Blair", no - he used to be Blair.....now Blair was gone and he was free.....
"Blair? look at me."
The wolf looked behind him. On a crag stood the most majestic panther he'd ever seen. The wolf felt a tingling in his tail.....his whiskers twitched....he sniffed the air above his head.....
"Come back, please."
Too late. He turned to leave.
Mate. His mate? Behind him? Not in front? The wolf turned back and trotted over to the edge of his world.....sniffed again, yes, his mate. Go back? How?
"Jump, Blair, I'll meet you in the middle, don't be afraid."
Afraid? No way. If he had to jump the Grand Canyon in a single bound to get to his mate, he would. Whatever it took.
Both animals leaped.......their bodies merged in mid-air, became one, their orgasms filling them, a name came unbidden to the wolfs mind....Jim.
Then pain....lights....cold, wet grass....voices....
Blair blinked, his world came back into focus, and he found himself standing next to the fountain. He felt so cold....it was seeping in again, trying to claim him....to take him back.
He shook himself. No. No cold....warmth, he wanted warmth....the warmth of the panther and wolf merging, wanted to feel that love again...that possession.....the safety and strength that came with the merging of two people destined for one another....
How could Jim ignore it? Blair now knew that Jim loved him.....he'd felt it.....felt Jims love. So why turn away? Why let him go? Was his betrayal so irreversible? So unforgivable?
He stared down at the water, as if the answer could be found floating in its shallow ripples....
The voice came again....."Look".......and once again he let his heart see.....and the water drew him closer still.....
He looked down into the clear liquid....seeing no bottom where there should be one...seeing instead Jim....his face, looking back up at him, from the chamber pool of the Temple of the Sentinels.....Blair saw what Jim had seen....the violence, death.....Jim crying out Incachas name, the visions changing....and Jim's final scream, "That's not me!"......
And with the vision came clarity. And understanding. Jim had refused Blair, had denied their connection to protect....to protect the guide. Fear overruled destiny. Fear for the guide. Jim didn't understand, but Blair did. Now.
The air around the man settled. The fountain was once again - just a fountain. It held no power, it was an inanimate object, couldn't hurt him.....it was.....just there.
Blair squinted against the fragmented sunlight bouncing off the water, then opened his eyes wide, taking in his surroundings, the beauty of the campus, the vibrant colors that enveloped him....and for a moment he experienced life as his sentinel did.....the very air around him caressing him, as a lovers finger, brushing his skin.....tantalizing him.....every sound, clear, pure and energized...the sound of feet crunching gravel underfoot, the various voices, so different in timbre, depth and inflection, and those colors.....vibrant, shaded, strong strokes blending with gentle pastels, the simplicity of a blade of grass....he could spend a lifetime counting each shade of green in the simplest leaf.....and the sky....he'd no idea of the intricate shadings from the palest *almost not there* blue to the deepest azure.....Is this how the world looked to Jim?
He took a deep, cleansing breath and with the breath came a truth. Home. He would go home. To Jim.
Blair pulled up in front of his home. His home. Jim's truck was parked in its usual place which, considering it was 11:45 on a Wednesday, was highly unusual. Jim should be at the station.
He took the elevator up to the third floor, got out and turned left like he'd done a hundred times before.
He stood in front of 307. Should he knock? Or use his key? He used his key. It "was" his home.
The door swung open.
The cold hit him first. Then the smell. Old, musty....unused. He stepped in further, letting his duffel bag drop to the floor.
Was Jim gone?
Blair was shivering now, ice cold. He walked over to the thermostat with the intention of turning it on and up when a voice stopped him.
"It's on. Set for 85."
Blair looked up.
Jim stood at the railing of his bedroom, gazing down at the younger man. He was wearing jeans and his old bathrobe, his feet covered with a pair of white socks. His hair was mussed, he was unshaven and even from where Blair stood, he could see the bloodshot eyes.
From Jim's viewpoint, the vision wasn't much better.....Blair was thin, too pale and the dark circles under his eyes could rival the depth of the Marianna Trenchs....
Jim started down the stairs.
"What are you doing here, Sandburg?"
The voice held no real interest.
"This is my home."
"I might have something to say about that."
"No, no you don't."
Jim was at the bottom now and just stood there, staring at Blair, one eyebrow lifted, his head cocked.
"Hey, Jim, when was the last time you were at the station?"
The question surprised the detective.
"Six days ago."
"No. They're gone. Banks put me on leave....medical leave."
Banks. Not Simon. Banks. Not good.
"Well, it's your fault. You and your fear-based decisions. Shit. Wonder why it's so cold in here? Because you're cold, it's inside you, man, like it's inside me."
Blair took a couple of steps closer to Jim.
"I know I should never have left, but you used my insecurities....see? And you didn't even know it...naturally I really believed you wanted me gone. That you hated me, couldn't forgive me. I'm always so afraid. Fear is my life too. That's why I understand it in you. I'm always afraid I'll fail you. Not be there when you need me.....or god forbid, try to help, fail and you die. Sound familiar? And of course, we both know what an asshole I am.....difficult to live with, impossible really....so naturally I believed you'd be better off without me, anyone would be."
He was rambling, nothing was coming out right, the way he wanted....he took two more steps toward the larger man...two more steps closer to warmth, to safety, to his arms wrapped around Jim....to holding and being held.
"I'm not making much sense here, am I? I've had this little problem and today I solved it. I was having difficulty getting to my office. Weird, uh? Couldn't walk past the fountain. But see, I'd decided that as long as I was going to die, why not kick that fountain in the butt, you know?"
Jim reacted to that, violently.
"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I DIDN'T GO THROUGH ALL THIS SO YOU COULD FUCKING DIE."
He was in front of the smaller man in one stride, hands clutching Blair's arms.
"But Jim, that's what happens when you deny the guide. You brought me back, we became one, we bonded, then you denied the bond, what did you think would happen? Why do you think it's so cold in here? The cold is in you. The cold is in me. Because we're not together. Tell me something, Jim....if I'd stayed dead, would anything be worse than it is now? Would the loft be any colder? Would you be any colder? Would your senses be anymore gone?"
Jim's hands dropped from Blair's arms, his head drooping.
"Yes. If you were dead, I'd be dead now too."
"So you're dying slowly instead? Jim, letting me go does not ensure my safety....or a happy life. There is no such thing if I'm not with you. And yes, I know that's why you did it....I saw everything today....I saw and experienced my death again, you coming for me, the love you have for me....and I saw you in the chamber pool, your visions, you pleading with Incacha...I saw it all. Jim, you can shut off being a sentinel, remember? "A sentinel will always be a sentinel as long as he chooses to be." But, Jim, I can't shut off being a guide. I don't have the choice. So I'm dying. Will die. Without you. Dammit, look at me, Jim."
The head lifted, pain-filled eyes gazed at the guide, saw the death, hovering, waiting, saw it in the pale face, the dry skin, the feverish eyes, the limp hair.....
"Oh, God, Blair. I didn't know, didn't realize. I believed I was protecting you....all I saw was your death, over and over again....fires, explosions....."
"But Jim, you saw something else too, didn't you? You saw us, a light, a ring, protecting me....that ring was you. Don't you see? Without the sentinel, the guide will perish. But even if I weren't your guide, and you were not my sentinel, it would be the truth. I have no life if James Ellison is not in it."
And Blair Sandburg prayed. Prayed Jim would see. And his prayers were answered.
"Blair, forgive me? I didn't know. I should have. But....seeing your body in that fountain, pulling you out....not hearing that strong, stubborn heart beating, your face....so still, and I couldn't bear it.......don't you understand?"
"Yes. I understand. But you - brought - me - back, the power of "us", brought me back. We have that power, Jim. Together. God, I'm so cold. Please? Shit, I'm always so cold anyway, you can imagine how I feel right about now. Please, can I come home?"
"You are home."
Blair smiled, reached out and pulled both of Jim's arms forward, wrapping them around his own waist.
"No, now I'm home."
And then he wrapped his sentinel in his arms, pulling the tired head down onto his shoulder and resting his against Jims, their bodies melding together and he whispered into the sensitive ear, "And now you're home."
Warmth and light entered the loft once again.