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Storm Front

by ljc

12/04



Summary: After TSbBS. Blair's introspection on a cross country journey; his reunion with a friend, an original character; and a dark subject matter (see the beginning of End Notes if you want to know).


Rating: PG-13 for subject matter and a few bad words.


Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, and Paramount. All stories are written with the love of the show in mind. No money is being made. All stories are property of the author.


First Notes:) Concerns TSbBS which aired in 1999, but I'm using events from 1997 and 1998, so we'll play 'let's pretend', okay? Storm related incidents and descriptions and statistics in Maine are true as far as I can ascertain, but the storm was huge. It did damage in other states, as well as the Maritime Provinces and Quebec Province in Canada. There are notes about the storm and a few other things at the end if you care to look, but you ought to read the story first, okay?



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1. Soliloquy



I'm supposed to report for classes at the Academy in a month. I have a month to tell Jim I can't, or find a way to do this. What are my other options? Is it what Jim wants or needs? I need to think. I have to be sure.



<>-<>



Saco, CA



Jim went stone cold when I told him I was going away for a while. I hope those damn senses of his were telling him I was just upset and not lying to him. I told him I'd be back. I know he doubts me, even now.



I took the first ride that came along.



<>-<>



Portland, OR



I wanted to tell Simon and the other Major Crimes detectives but Jim said he'd do it, it wasn't necessary for me to go down to the PD. They're really Jim's friends anyway, although I've tried to be a part of Jim's life and theirs. I'm kinda glad I don't have to face them right now, Simon especially. He must have called in a lot of favors to get a badge for a fraud.



I really am a fraud, too. I was at the PD under false pretenses for three years. How many times did I have to lie to the guys in the bullpen? I lied to my dissertation committee too. I could have finished long ago. My deception hurt so many people. I ended up almost ruining Jim's life, and getting Simon and Megan killed. I even lied to my mother and almost ruined our relationship. She shouldn't feel guilty, she was only trying to help me.



Should I e-mail Jim? Just to let him know I'm okay? Or should I put more distance and more time between us?



<>-<>



Brunswick, NV



There were so many things we had to talk out. He began to shut me out a long time ago. I've been ignored, snubbed and rebuffed by people before, but from Jim ... ? The merge of our spirit animals made it so much more than just hurt feelings. The merge had filled me with such hope that past strains in our partnership could be repaired, yet when I tried to talk to him, he couldn't, or wouldn't. I know he was remembering my death. I remember his halting tale of his vision. I wish he'd told me earlier, but that can't be changed now. We have to work with what we have. I'm just not sure what that is now.



I e-mailed Jim today.



<>-<>



Bath, TX



This ... aimlessness, is deadening to the soul. Mom always made traveling such a joy. There were always new people and new experiences. Then when I was on my own at sixteen I looked forward to new knowledge and new adventures ahead of me. But this is a lot different than being between destinations, like with Naomi, or between

classes and expeditions when I was at Rainier. Wandering with no direction is seriously wearying. I just couldn't find a direction that felt right, not for me, and not for Jim.



I didn't miss any calls on my cell phone. I e-mailed Jim again today, just because he used to worry so much.



<>-<>



Wiscasset, PA



Does my future even have to include Jim Ellison, Sentinel of the Great City of Cascade? I'm supposedly his shaman, whatever that means, and his guide, as if he really needs help anymore. He hadn't needed help with zones for a long time. Maybe he'd be better off without this particular albatross around his neck.



I was more a partner than a guide. A partner that wasn't a cop. So was I even his partner? He's lucky I didn't get him killed. No, not lucky, he's just that good a cop, and a sentinel. I wonder how Simon could even sleep at night for worrying about his friend. Maybe I should stay away. Even a rookie cop would be better than me. A rookie would at least have training and a weapon.



No calls today.



<>-<>



Rockland, VA



I'm not a grad student anymore either. Jim's Dad was very helpful. Jim convinced him that it wasn't my fault about the dissertation leaking to the press. William had quickly realized what all that attention could mean. I'm sure he'd been thinking about it since Jim was a child, long before he called Jim a freak.



I remember he gave me this long, appraising look. Measuring my worth? He must have decided that with Jim's future at stake, his own duty was clear. He must have been terribly afraid for Jim.



William did everything he could to get me reinstated. He still carries a lot of clout in the community. Rainier just about rolled over for him. He even got Sid's company to pay an undisclosed settlement without dragging the whole situation through the court, AND publishing an apology. It all helped to take the heat off Jim. The media eventually went on to more profitable 'news'. It's a relief to have my student loans paid off and a little money in the bank. William's a sharp negotiator. Too bad he can't make Rainier forget that they were pressured into overlooking that little academic faux pas of mine.



All through this Jim just looked grim. I don't know what he was thinking. Jim still wasn't talking to me. Did he want the negotiations to fail? Did the money and the possibility of options threaten the partnership further?



Thanks to William I presented the second dissertation I wrote. The 'police subculture' was something I researched as an adjunct to the sentinel diss. I was documenting all kinds of things because I didn't know if I would publish the original, or if Jim would even allow me to finish it. That's one reason why I was always researching and always writing in my notebooks and journal even though I had plenty of information for my thesis. I was frantically trying to keep all my options open. When it came right down to it, I don't think I trusted Jim to keep his end of our bargain. I guess the lack of trust went both ways. What does that say about us?



Should I try to e-mail Jim again?



<>-<>



Camden, WV



I defended the second dissertation before the Academy classes were going to start. I wanted that behind me before starting the training. I thought it would ease the tension between us. It didn't.



What does Jim want from me? The diss doesn't hang over his head anymore. He has control over his senses, at least, he hasn't told me otherwise. I just don't know, and he won't talk. Big surprise there.



I had to leave. Give US time. Jim deserves time and space to process too. Time to make his own decisions. What if I don't go back? Can I live with that? Can Jim? Will he want me back? I wonder if he's alright.



I wonder if Jim received my e-mails?



<>-<>



Belfast, NY



I've discovered I still have a lot of anger to deal with. I still wonder why Jim had me arrested after I was kidnapped by Iris? I've had bad jokes pulled on me before, but never one that scared me half to death. I'd just spent a whole day and night stressed out of my mind, faced death over and over again, hoping for, praying for rescue. I've tried to forgive Jim. I 'have' tried. I can't yet. He knew I was a victim. He'd witnessed my 'almost execution' just before they were caught. Come on, he shot the gun out of Iris' hand! Having me arrested was not a joke a friend would have carried out. And Simon let him. And the others knew. Even Joel.



Really, I can take a joke.



The worsening of our relationship left me feeling empty and bewildered. He rejected my ideas and disregarded my insights. When they were about police matters I could rationalize it. But when they were personal, like with Sweet Roy or Orvelle Wallace or Brad Ventris, I felt betrayed.



He continued to rebuff my attempts to talk, and then when the media was in a frenzy over the diss he accused me of betraying his trust. The pain of his accusation was worse than going through the press conference. Just remembering that conversation ... I just want the pain to stop.



I called Simon today. He was out. Rhonda seemed glad to talk to me. She said Jim was a bear and Simon, too. But I knew Simon had my number and my e-mail address.



<>-<>



Ellsworth, CT



I knew it was over when he read the first chapter of my diss, the part I 'had' to turn in to my committee. I should have explained in depth the observations and psychological jargon that I had to use. I had known how he would react if he read it. When I confronted him I was angry, at Jim, and at myself. Jim's a good, decent guy and a great cop. But that isn't what he read in that first chapter. If you take an idea out of context it can be twisted until it hurts what it seeks to illuminate. I knew that Jim would never let me turn in the dissertation now, but I had to finish it for his sake.



He was afraid of being 'outed' as a Sentinel. He was right, the media was on him like 'vultures on road kill' as my friend Mike would say. I know Jim had reason for his fear based responses. You don't grow up the way he did without internalizing that type of reaction. And you don't do covert ops without learning a thing or two about the dark side of humanity. So I did what I had to do, before the guys in black suits and white lab coats got interested. He was afraid for his future, for his life. Fear and lack of control, they were the two biggest stumbling blocks in our relationship.



I never got to tell him about the real diss, that in the end I only finished it for him. It was a gift for my sentinel, my friend. In my heart, down deep where I wouldn't think consciously about it, I thought of it as a going away present. You see, there were a few times when I thought Jim would kick me out. And one time that he did.



I didn't e-mail Jim today.



<>-<>



Bar Harbor, MD



I wonder why he came after me, to Rainier that day, if he believed I had betrayed him with Alex. Was the merge a mistake? Was my survival a great big cosmic mistake perpetrated by a guilt-ridden sentinel? In the hospital I tried not to let him know the depth of the pain of his rejection.



My anger slowly consumed me. I shouldn't have buried the anger because that allowed Jim to hide from it. We both tried to smooth things over because we were afraid. If I had let myself blow up at Jim then, would that have forced a confrontation that would have destroyed our relationship, or led to a healing of the breach between us? I think we were both afraid to find out.



I was his friend. I deserved his respect. I was his guide. I deserved to have my ideas given consideration. I was his shaman. He needed to hear what I had to teach. Was I so worthless to him that he'd let all these facets of our partnership unravel to nothing?



I go round and round in my head. I feel empty and so tired. I think I only ever felt at peace when I wasn't wandering.



When I was home.



When I was with Jim.



When I thought it was about friendship.



When I thought Jim did too.



Maybe I'll just settle for a while. See if I can put down a few roots, see if they take. I'm just so tired. Maybe I just need to stop for a while. I've found no peace on the road, because no where I've been is home, and no one has been Jim.



I called Mom today. I needed to hear her voice.



<>-<>



2. Haven



Kittery, ME

US Route 1



Blair took stock of his location with an eye to ending this leg of his quest. He'd wandered and hitchhiked the breadth of the country. He found himself in Maine. Such a long way from the hustle and bustle of most of the metropolitan northeast. He hadn't lingered long in that urban cacophony. His steps led him north to another cold and windy state. How ironic. At least Maine is a little drier, but its precipitation still tends toward freezing rain, sleet, snow.



He e-mailed Mike today.



<>-<>



Saco, ME



He had to get into Portland and find the bus station if he wanted to get to Mike's house today. His one thought to get him through this day was to reunite with his old childhood friend. He and Mike met one summer when Naomi followed a boyfriend to Maine to an art colony on one of the islands off the coast. The boyfriend didn't last long but the friendship between the two boys had lasted for years, with both now grown.



<>-<>



Portland, ME



His thoughts turned to reaching his next destination before nightfall. It would take hours even on the express to travel Route 1 'down east' to Bar Harbor, and it would be dark all too soon.



<>-<>



Brunswick, ME



He remembered that summer with Mike well. During the summer the sun set late, with the slowly dying twilight lasting till well after 9 p.m. But when he started going to school, Mike would tell him about having to come home from school on the bus in the dark during the winter. Mike's School District contained thirteen very rural towns and the kids had to ride the school bus for an hour and a half to get home, and twilight began at 3:30 during late fall and winter.



<>-<>



Bath, ME



Blair leaned his head against the cool glass of the window and looked out over coastal marshes to the many islands dotting the coast. His childhood memories intruded on his memories of the past few years. Those memories were a welcome distraction.



He remembered picking potatoes with Mike's cousin Joe one weekend up in Aroostook County, aka 'The County', biggest county east of the Mississippi. Joe started school several weeks earlier than he and Mike because the school system scheduled a harvest break to get in the crops. Blair had always thought that was a cool idea. The kids got a break, earned some money, and helped their parents and neighbors bring in the crops before a killing frost ended the harvest. Now Joe owns the farm and his kids help with the harvest.



<>-<>



Wiscasset, ME



Blair had been hesitant about contacting Mike and telling him about the dissertation disaster. He was surprised and grateful when he found out that Naomi had paved the way for him with his friend, admitting her part.



But what was he going to tell him? He'd been lying to Mike, too, for the past three years. He couldn't entirely disavow the situation. Mike would probably accept his silence on the subject and leave it be, knowing that Blair would talk when and if he could. What would he say then? Blair knew he owed Mike some explanation but was unsure how much he'd need to reveal. He trusted Mike but the secret was Jim's. He cared too much for Jim to do anything that might endanger him.



<>-<>



Rockland, ME



His academic friends had been a disappointment to Blair. He was dismayed at their lack of support. He would never have turned his back on a friend, although he thought he understood. They might feel guilty about their actions but they were distancing themselves from him to save their careers, which was selfish, but human. Chancellor Edwards wasn't forgiving and wouldn't forget. They still had to deal with the Administration at Rainier. Yeah, he understood, but it still hurt even after all these months.



Would Mike turn away from him too?



<>-<>



Camden, ME



As the bus wound its way slowly down east, it made a stop long enough for people to stretch their legs. Blair went into the little grocery to buy some water, grinning at a long unseen sight. There under the bread shelves were bundles of kindling, and in the cooler with the edibles were containers of live bait. The grin faded quickly. They were painful reminders of camping with Jim.



Ruthlessly he turned his mind to Mike. Being on opposite sides of the continent meant that he and Mike had spent little time together physically, but letters and e-mails were frequent and warmly received.



Mike's kindness warmed his heart on this lonely ride. The offer of a friendly face and a place to stay during the holidays eased an ache that had built to a nearly intolerable level, but had been so ever present that he'd scarcely noticed it until he felt its slight easing. This was what having a friend felt like, like warmth in the cold of night, even though this night was less physical and more a darkness of the heart.



<>-<>



Belfast, ME



The bus passed by several patches of blueberry barrens. He wondered if Mike remembered the bear they startled when they were picking berries for one of his grandmother's fabulous pies.



He'd been hesitant about visiting Mike. He worked in an academic community too. He was teaching at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. With both of them teaching they'd had a lot to talk about over the years. Blair knew he'd just finished up some work with interns working on trails and with tourists at Acadia National Park.



Conservation efforts were strong in Maine. Mike was especially fond of the wildlife preservation efforts and took an active interest in the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge Complex . He was proud of his work restoring migrating bird colonies on the forty-two islands and the mainland areas in the refuge.



<>-<>



Ellsworth, ME



Blair hadn't been sure where he could pick up temporary work. The small coastal communities were closeknit, in winter especially. Summer brought swarms of tourists for the Park and the picturesque communities on Mt. Desert Island. Mike would still be working at the College for a few weeks before the semester break. He'd already offered Blair a job. Conservation groups could always use low wage or volunteer help.



He hoped his notoriety hadn't preceded him. The media always followed scandals closely, but retractions rarely made the front page or saw national news coverage. He didn't want Mike to get a lot of flack for helping him out.



<>-<>



Bar Harbor, ME



Mike! Man, it's so good to see you,” said Blair from the steps of the Greyhound parked at the curb.



Mike grabbed Blair as he exited the bus, nearly crushing his 'little' friend in his happiness to see his old friend in the flesh. Blair responded with a grip that didn't ease when Mike started to let go, so his hug turned into a comforting, sheltering embrace that he was willing to continue as long as his friend needed it. Slowly he felt Blair calm within his grip, and with a much subdued and slightly embarrassed smile up at Mike, he relaxed his hug.



Mike looked deep into his friends eyes and vowed to himself to try to ease Blair's hurts whatever they were. He wondered if Naomi knew the toll this trek had taken on Blair. This wasn't the exuberant, self-assured extrovert he'd known and loved. This man was weary beyond his years, with a pain that darkened the light in his eyes, and with a gauntness that worried him.



Come on 'stranger', let's get home where it's warm,” joked Mike. “It's wicked cold out here.” Slapping Blair on the back and grabbing his bag from his shoulder they left the station with the smaller man wrapped in a one-armed hug that Mike wouldn't let go.



Their ride to Mike's house was nearly silent, and another cause for Mike to be disquieted. Blair could talk rings around him. He was the “big, silent type but with depth” as Blair once quoted to him. But Blair seemed to relax in his company. Maybe that's what he needed, a place to weather the storm, a shoulder to cry on, a space of time to renew his control and make some decisions. Well, he'd be here when Blair needed him. Maybe that was the best thing he could do for his friend.



The weekend passed in a comfortable, but subdued, closeness. Two friends becoming reacquainted. Mike watched his friend, waiting for the dam to break.



<>-<>



Mike's home was a trim little cape set back on the hill above a small harbor with a few lobster boats and pleasure craft anchored near the small dock. Mike's land was off the regular tourist routes and it backed up against Acadia National Park.



Hey Blair, when the tide is out, and if we're fast enough, we can walk out and back to the island in the harbor.”



Blair looked warily at his friend. “Couldn't we just take a boat?” he asked.



But Mike and Blair were easily able to walk it and explore the tiny place with a bit of time to spare. Mike showed Blair the tiny salt marsh and the abandoned nests of birds among the rocks. “Sorry the population has gone south for the winter.”



When they reached his home again they went in for coffee. They were chilled and damp from the cold blowing spray from the waves. “I'm freezing, man. Where's the coffee? I can't believe I let you talk me into voluntarily getting cold and wet,” was Blair's shivering comment. He went to stand near the heating vent, looking thoroughly miserable. It worried Mike. The Blair he remembered would be excited by such an outing.



<>-<>



It was over coffee the second day that Blair began to talk about his life in Cascade. “I left Cascade to think things over Mike. Things have been so chaotic these last months, you know? I just needed some down time after defending my thesis. I've finally got those three little letters after my name after all these years,” Blair had to force a little grin.



Blair gripped his mug tighter, “I want to thank you and tell you I'm grateful for your support about the media mess awhile ago. I want you to know that it was all my fault about the mixup. I know Mom called you. She really isn't to blame. She only tried to help me. But that's all behind me now too. I want you to know I really appreciate you letting me stay for a while.”



Something about Blair's grin didn't ring true to Mike. It seemed forced. “You know you're always welcome here Blair. We're friends from way back. I don't know of any reason why that would change. I want you to know that if you need anything, all you have to do is ask.”



Blair wouldn't look him in the eye. What's going on my friend? Mike knew of Blair's friendship with Jim Ellison. He knew how Blair observed at the PD. He knew about the criminal Alex Barnes and how she had drowned Blair and he'd been revived, by Jim. He knew how a 'dissertation' had been released erroneously by Naomi. He knew about Blair's thesis on police subcultures. He began to suspect he didn't really know anything at all.



Mike knew Blair too well. Blair didn't realize his voice and face revealed a whole other story. He thought he'd understood that Blair had begun a new avenue of study. He hadn't been all that surprised about that. He'd always thought sentinels were a legend, a neat little 'superman' myth, but had never fought his friend too hard on the topic. It was his dream after all. But the more he talked, the more Mike wondered. Blair was definitely hiding something. Mike was beginning to suspect it was a sentinel named Jim Ellison. If he was right, what in the world could he do to help if Blair couldn't seem to find his own way? He was one of the most resourceful, most centered, most brilliant people he'd ever met. This would take some thought. But what did Blair want? Did he even know? Is that the real reason for his recent wanderlust?



Mike started his own research. He reread Blair's published work. In reading everything he'd written in the last few years, he saw the pattern of Blair's work turning from sentinel topics to include police culture. And still he wondered and worried.



<>-<>



The holidays were approaching fast. It was going to be good to spend it with a friend in the house. He knew Blair would want to celebrate his own holiday of course, but Blair was happy when they were kids to enjoy any celebration, which was Naomi's way.



He'd encourage Blair to retell his stories of Wiccan and Druidic rituals and festivals, of visiting his grandfather in Jerusalem to study for his bar mitzvah, and about spending one Christmas in Bethleham. This year, 1997, Chanukah started at sundown on Dec. 23.



Blair, do you have a recipe for latkes? Do we need to get anything from the store to make them? You've seen my cupboard, it's pretty basic. I'm no gourmet cook, that's for sure, but at least I don't have to eat at Wonderburger.”



Blair gave a tight little grin, “Wonderburger, huh? Seems I've heard of that place before. You know, Jim loved that place for some reason.”



Hmmm. Blair looks upset. Jim ... of course. The media went crazy. How did Jim react? Did he throw Blair out? Blair hasn't really said much about him.



Well, I figured you could make latkes for Chanukah and I'll cook a big old turkey with lots of stuffing, for Christmas day.” He'd get Blair started on a several day long feast, and maybe get a little weight back on him. And he'd think a little more about Jim Ellison, a maybe - sentinel, and his observer of three years.



<>-<>



3. Storm



Blair's work was supplemented by last minute tutoring. There were always some desperate students who needed just a bit more help to pass those end of semester finals. Blair was glad to be needed; glad to have his time filled; glad to end the day weary enough to sleep.



He and Mike watched the forecast for the coming week. The weather was not going to cooperate for the holidays. The forecasters said some freezing rain. “Well, that sounds familiar. One thing Cascade and Maine have in common is cold precipitation.”



But as with weather forecasters everywhere, they were only partly right. It was a lot of freezing rain. Several dark, dreary, cold days of rain, that froze solidly to everything it landed on. Blair fretted, “Freezing rain, one of Mother Nature's little jokes.”



Mike had finished posting grades. With the threat of bad weather the last of the students had left for home in a hurry, especially the ones from away. They didn't want to be stranded here for the holidays.



Mike watched the gentle rain while standing beside his friend. They were both gazing out the window when the power went out. “Don't worry. We get outages fairly often. It's usually up and running in a few hours.” They didn't know it would take eleven days before electrical service was back at Mike's home and much of the rest of the state.



They discovered that twelve electrical poles around the corner had all snapped at their bases from the weight of the ice. They tried to reach town, but the twelve downed poles completely blocked that direction. Mike was pragmatic, “Let's try the other way. But first let's get some survival gear.” He knew Blair thought he was crazy when he brought out the chainsaw. He knew they'd need it. The next town was six miles away and it took them three hours to get there and back.



I've never seen anything like this, not even in Cascade. I've been to a lot of places that don't rely on electricity like we do in the States. But this ... it isn't just the lack of electricity but the overabundance of ice.” All in all, it was an awesome and sobering experience. Blair was more right than he knew when he said the problem was also the overabundance of ice. The roads were layered in ice and blocked by debris pulled down by it's weight.



Blair was glad that Mike had a supply of batteries. Mike and Blair did the best they could to help out: they listened to the radio. Blair turned to Mike, “It's got to be bad when a radio station goes from playing music to airing requests for aid. It's great that people are willing to help each other out.” Indeed, it was heartening that most requests were answered within ten minutes by someone in surrounding communities. It was the radio that informed them that the state of Maine had been declared a disaster area and that hundreds of thousands of people were without electricity, heat, and water.



<>-<>



Mike had a 4-wheel drive vehicle, “Blair, I'm off. I don't know how long this will take. Some of the hospital personnel haven't been able to get relief so I'm going to help with transportation. Will you be okay?”



Go on Mike. One of the volunteer firemen came by earlier and said some of your neighbors could use some help. I'll find plenty to keep me busy.” Blair tried to help wherever he could. He helped people in the area clear downed branches and trees, to be ready for when repairs could be made. He and other volunteers heeded emergency personnel and checked repeatedly on elderly people nearby. They helped some to shelters in schools or to the homes of friends, relatives, or neighbors that took them in for the duration of the emergency.



Mike had a fireplace and a small generator, so Blair counted himself lucky that they could get water and had heat. City water was great if you lived in a city, but most people had their own wells. Wells, and furnaces, ran on electricity. But the generator Mike had was only used sparingly because gas pumps ran by electricity too. No tv, no music, no lights without batteries, or a generator. In the evenings Blair tried to read by the light from the lantern but he couldn't seem to concentrate. He propped his feet on the hearth to keep them warm, like when they were kids, but he always seemed to be cold.



They cooked using Mike's kitchen stove until they ran out of propane gas. That puzzled Blair. He asked Mike a stupid question, “How can we 'run out' of gas?”



Mike just pointed to the gas tank in the little shelter out in the backyard and shook his head. “City boy,” he said teasingly, with a grin.



They were making a trip to buy gasoline for the generator and Mike's truck one evening, and everything was in darkness. The sight of 'fireworks' got their attention. They stared at each other, stunned. “What now?” said Blair. The stress on the lines that did carry power had caused electrical transformers on the poles to explode. From one hill they could see three burning.



<>-<>



The days were easier than the nights. The darkness was near total. To Blair it felt claustrophobic. Even after the rain stopped there was no moon to shed light because the rain had given way to a gentle, steady snow. The ice wasn't melting and the snow only added more weight to already stressed tree limbs and buildings. More lines went down, plunging more homes into darkness, and delaying repairs further.



The darkness was eery. It was dark everywhere except where he could see candles and storm lanterns and flashlights at use in homes. No neon signs, no streetlights, no homes warm and bright with lights to welcome the slowly traveling cars on the roadways. And all the debris caused lengthy detours onto even less traveled roads for frustrated travelers.



The first three days had dawned with more freezing rain, but on the fourth day an earthbound fairyland of ice appeared with the sun doing its best to shine through the gently falling snow. It took his breath away in wonder. There was the sun, shining through the falling snow, glaring blindingly off the homes, the trees, and even the grass. He was entranced and humbled, and he still longed for a place where a blade of grass wasn't wrapped in a coating of ice bigger than his thumb.



The whole world looked shrunken in the morning's light. Where once the trees were standing proudly, they now drooped along the roadways and along the horizon. Some were bent to the ground, wedded to the earth by a layer of ice. Some would never rise again, being too damaged and weak; others with branches or tops scattered at their feet, to die of a years old decline from disease and internal rot.



He remembered Janet and how they had chained themselves to a tree to save it from loggers. He thought she would have cried. Mike knew some forestry experts from his work at the College. Sixty-five years, they said, for the forests to recover from this storm. It was a sobering thought. He remembered an e-mail Mike had sent him a few years back about the smoke from forest fires in Canada. It blew over most of Maine and caused breathing difficulties for many. How do you clear a whole state of deadfall?



He had thought that with the darkness, night would bring a suffocating silence. It didn't take long for him to wish that it were true. Silence he thought he could bear. Somehow he could ignore the sounds during the day, but at night he could hear the trees falling. He'd listen with his hands knotted in his pile of blankets, lying in bed in the dark. Dozens of times an hour he could hear a limb's sharp crack as it splintered under the weight of the ice. He could hear the shattering crash as it fell through other limbs covered in more ice, and then the echoing boom when it hit the ground. If the tree was close enough he could even feel the vibration when it hit. Then came the almost musical tinkling as shards of ice continued to fall through the branches to the ice and snow covered ground below.



It was a very subdued couple of holidays for them. It suited Blair's mood. With no electricity the 'Festival of Lights' was, rather appropriately, celebrated with the traditional candles and prayers. Then Blair joined Mike later that night at the Christmas Eve Mass, which was also celebrated with candles and prayers. The parishioners were bundled up against the cold, but there were carols and warm wishes nevertheless. He tried to be festive for Mike's sake. He didn't think Mike was fooled for a minute.



He felt a little chagrined at his relief when the cavalcade of Power Company repair trucks arrived on their road to bring light, slowly, to this little corner of Maine. He stayed in the house but Mike was immediately out the door greeting them and getting what information he could about circumstances around town. The crews and trucks had been flown in as cargo to the few major public and military airports, from all over the East Coast.



The crisis slowly wound down. They finally had time to work on clearing the deadwood from Mike's property, and cut down the trees that were too damaged to survive. It was a hard way to get firewood for the fireplace.



Blair thought Mike was surprised that he seemed to be enjoying chopping wood, but it began to be one of his favorite pastimes. It allowed him to tire himself out since he wasn't working right now. It also let him spend some quality time zoned out. Not thinking seemed the easiest route to take.



He knew he was just fooling himself. Nothing had changed between he and Jim. He could make a substitute future if he had to, but he wanted his friend back in his life. Blair had realized he still wanted to be his friend's guide and his shaman but Jim hadn't contacted him, not once, on this journey. He knew it would take both of them to put things right. But if they couldn't come together again as friends .... Okay. It wasn't going to happen. His old life wasn't going to come back. So, what reason did he have to go forward? He suddenly didn't have the energy to chop wood anymore.



The sky was overcast today. Everything was a shade of gray, overlaid on a surreal landscape. He slowly put down the axe. He stacked the wood carefully. He couldn't think of anything else he had to do. The power was back on, the neighbors were safely back in their homes, and Mike's place was in good shape. There wasn't one thing left to do. There wasn't one good thing to look forward to. There wasn't one good reason to go on. He took his coat off and walked into the woods.



<>-<>



Mike decided to head home for lunch. Blair had taken up chopping wood with a such a narrow focus and serious countenance that Mike was concerned that his depression had deepened.



He hoped he'd done the right thing.



Today he'd talk to Blair about their subdued holidays and try to talk him into a properly festive celebration. When he got home he thought it was odd that the house was empty. He went to see if Blair was still working on the wood and found the axe and Blair's coat. The tracks into the woods behind the house shook him. He'd tried not to think that Blair's depression could lead to this. It was so not Blair. His respect for all living things was too much a part of him. Blair couldn't give up. Mike hesitated only a moment to consider what he'd need. He had several hours before the light started to fail, but he didn't dare go in without help. Blair's life was at stake. If he fought him or ran he could lose him.



He turned from the woods to find his finally functioning phone and came face to face with Jim Ellison. But not eye to eye. Ellison's gaze was focused deep into the woods. With a stillness that was unnatural Jim stared past the tree line. There was a tilt to his head that Mike recognized from his uncle who was slightly deaf in one ear. The man was listening, hard. Mike didn't have to wonder anymore and now he felt great relief. Thank God he'd come. Please let it be in time.



Jim finally looked at Mike, grateful that Blair's friend had called him. At Mike's acknowledging nod Jim felt relief. He needn't take the time to explain. He and Mike gathered some supplies and headed into the woods to seek his guide.



<>-<>



Hope was a wonderful thing. Blair had tried to keep it alive on his cross country travels. He'd tried to push past the regrets, come to terms with the results of his actions. He'd tried to take some solace in finally achieving the Phd. in Anthropology. But the hope was gone, the pride in his achievements hollow, and joy was a thing of the past. The world was dull and gray. It seemed a metaphor for his life. How could he live without hope?



Blair hadn't really had a plan that day. He really didn't need a plan to die. He just didn't plan to survive. He kept going until he couldn't. Then he laid down to sleep. That's what he'd done when Jim and Mike found him.



<>-<>



They woke him as much as they could. Bundled him into the coat and blankets and sleeping bag they'd brought to wrap him in. Warmed him with the sweetened tea they poured down him. They waited for him to become more aware and then forced him up to move, to get his circulation going, to get him out of the damn woods so he would live.



<>-<>



4. Dialogue



Jim's regrets sifted through his mind during their return hike. Blair's attempts at communication from all across the country had left him more and more angry. They couldn't talk face to face, did he think it would be easier with three thousand miles between them?



Blair had the settlement money. He had his Phd.. He didn't need to stay any longer and so he left. Jim couldn't blame him. Blair had gone through hell because of his mother's good intentions. And Blair did all that he could have, maybe more than he should have, to try to straighten out that mess.



But Simon tried to tell Jim something was wrong with Blair. Dad tried. Joel. Everyone. He was sure they didn't understand. Blair chose to leave. He'd find his own path, a better future than being underpaid and in a dangerous profession. He had believed it was best for Blair. Blair had made the break, and Jim had let him go. But finally, Mike's quiet desperation got through. Blair was in trouble.



<>-<>



Jim watched Blair. Mike's living room was sweltering with the furnace turned high. Blair was wrapped in his cocoon of blankets with his warmest, driest sweatshirt and pants on. Blair stared into the unlit fireplace. He wouldn't look at Jim. He wouldn't talk to him except to tell him that he was 'fine'. Right. Jim would put up with that for only so long. But he held his temper. And he waited. He waited for Blair with the patience and respect and love that he'd always felt, but had only grudgingly shown, before. This time was Blair's and Jim had almost come too late. This was his irreplaceable friend, and Blair deserved the time to process this experience. Blair had to understand the wrongness of his decision, and if he didn't come to that conclusion on his own, then ... Jim would explain it to him. This was about friendship. Blair understood long before he did. Now maybe it was time for Jim to confirm it.



<>-<>



Mike kept to the background, afraid to leave, uncertain if he should stay. He didn't want Jim to get angry with Blair. He didn't think Blair needed that. Blair would come to the realization that he'd done a really stupid thing. He hoped. That's why he didn't leave. He didn't want Jim to have to watch him alone. He didn't want a moments inattention to allow Blair a second chance to end his life.



Mike felt at loose ends so it finally occurred to him that a warm meal would do all of them good. Puttering around in the kitchen let him still keep an eye on his friend while giving Blair and Jim the privacy they might need to sort some things out.



<>-<>



Blair held his silence but felt the tension in his two friends. They spoke hardly at all, but watched him intently. Blair only looked up at Mike's announcement of supper. He wasn't at all hungry, but knew he'd have no chance of outright refusing to eat. A small sigh and a struggle with the blankets earned him a grasp on his arm from Jim. He tried to balance himself and attempted to pull away, but Jim only pulled him closer. His close proximity had Blair staring into Jim's eyes.



Blair, there's something I need to know.”



Blair looked away, anywhere but at Jim. “What do you need to know Jim that you couldn't have asked me in Cascade? I e-mailed you Jim. You could have answered me and asked your question then. What can't wait, hunh Jim? I think Mike's got supper ready for us. I think this can wait, okay?” Blair wanted to get away, hide, forget the anger and the loneliness and the despair of the last months.



Jim gripped Blair's arm a little harder, gave it a little shake to get Blair to look at him. “I need to know why?”



Why what?” questioned Blair as he tried to wrench his arm from Jim's grasp. He really didn't want to have this talk with Jim but he knew there was no escaping it. “It seemed a good idea at the time.”



Walking out into the woods and trying to die seemed like a good idea?” Jim choked out.



Yes! It seemed like the best idea I'd had in a long, long time. Are you happy?” Blair hissed back.



Why, Blair? I need to understand,” Jim begged. He let go of Blair's arm, perhaps realizing that forcing a closeness was not helping Blair's emotional equilibrium nor his intention to get answers.



Blair rallied in his fury, “I need to know some things too, Jim. Are you ready to answer?” Blair shot back. “You thought I betrayed you. Again. If you believed that, how could you really want me for your partner, to be a cop?



Jim was pale as he tried his best to answer this accusation, the first of many, he was sure, “Blair, you're my friend. I still can't forgive myself for saying those things to you .... In the hospital, when we were checking on Simon and Megan, I told you, “you were the best cop I've ever met and the best partner I could have ever asked for.”* I meant every word, Chief.



Blair's pale face and clenched hands told Jim the anger hadn't dissipated in the slightest. Then Blair said, “I went to you, told you I was leaving and that I would be back but you didn't say anything. Nothing. You were still shutting me out. Did you want me to come back? Were you glad I was going? I needed a clue Jim? Did you want this 'problem' to be gone from your life like a bad dream? Then you'd be free to go on with your life as it was 'pre-Sandburg'. Like I never existed. Is that what you wanted?”



Jim struggled with himself to reveal his feelings. It was way past time to tell Blair the truth, that he'd done what he'd thought was the right thing for his partner, his guide, “You were beside me, partner, from day one. Every time someone asked about your research, I heard your heart beat a little faster with every 'obfuscation' you threw their way ... to protect me. Don't you think I knew how much it hurt you just to be at some of those crime scenes? I thought that you'd finally had enough, been through enough, suffered enough because of me. I thought you'd given up on the 'roller coaster' life of a cop. That maybe that life just cost too much and it was time for a safer, saner life. I can't imagine the true cost of being Jim Ellison's partner, guide and friend. I didn't want you to leave, but I did want you to be safe. I thought it would be the best thing for you. Not for me. I got your e-mails. I was so relieved that you seemed to be safe.”



Blair shook his head. In denial? At the stupidity of his sentinel? “You never said you wanted me to stay so when William offered his help I took it because it gave both of us options. Because of William I got my degree and a chance to get out. I think that's what he was hoping for. I thought maybe he was right, that maybe I should leave. Realistically, I had no future at Rainier. So where did that leave me? I needed time to think. I thought I had no future anywhere except what I could make for myself ... alone. I thought I owed it to myself to take that time, to try to understand what had happened to us, to maybe give you time to make decisions that were uncomfortable for you to make with me living right there in your own home.”



Jim's despair was showing clearly on his face, “I'd made my decision. I couldn't let myself answer your messages. I thought if you could make a clean break you wouldn't be drawn back to Cascade, to me, to that life. You could begin to explore again, study, teach. You could do anything you wanted. Leaving is what everyone else in my life did in one way or another. But I honestly thought it was the best thing for you. I didn't want you to leave. I had no idea how much that hurt you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Chief.”


Blair had been enduring a depression so deep he'd been existing in a daze. He felt awake now, like he hadn't for weeks. The loneliness and the despair of the last months had been overwhelming, but the anger that had lain buried in his heart was burning with the need for the answer to one important question, “I have to tell you Jim. The relationship we had was the best, man. And I know that we had problems even before Alex. But what hurt the most .... it wasn't getting thrown out. It wasn't drowning. It wasn't even your 'addiction' to Alex. Man, it would take at least another thesis to even start to explain the forces that were acting on the two of you. Two territorial sentinels fighting for a guide. A guide that already had a chosen sentinel by the way. You, Jim! And then ending up with you both in the Temple of Sentinels for that crazy ritual with the visions.” When Blair stopped for breath, his voice lowered to a weary, plaintive whisper of his usually vibrant voice, “Why did you shut me out? After I drowned, you just refused to talk to me about Alex or any of it. I needed you. I was hurting and you were my friend. I was always there for you, man. Where were you? I'm not as good at repression as you are man. What about that 'journey' Jim? You know I always questioned being your shaman. I seriously began to question being your guide. After a while, I wasn't even sure you wanted me for a friend. Finally the anger just built until I ... I had to run away... from it ... from you.”



Jim raised his clenched hands in front of him and with force of will held them palm up before Blair. The effort it took made them shake, but still he held them out as if in supplication, “I knew I brushed off your question that day in the hospital. But when I'd almost lost you in the fountain, I was terrified. The grief so overwhelmed me that I did something that I hadn't even known was possible. How could I expect you to understand? I didn't! And so, I pulled back. I refused you what you needed most. You know better than anyone that the spiritual side of things always made me uneasy. Even Simon used to think we were crazy sometimes. But he and the others were there. I don't know what they think now. They must think it was some kind of miracle. But we were there. We know what happened. I begged whoever would listen for help, and Incacha told me the way. But you have to know, better than anyone, that I did take a step on that journey ... for you, Blair. The merge brought you back to me. You've got to believe me, Blair. You're the best friend I've ever had. Don't you know? Don't you understand? I brought you back. I went there ... I took that journey ... for you.”



Blair considered what his friend had finally revealed. He shuddered as his emotional storm broke. With a wrenching sob he started to curl into himself, but Jim caught him up and wrapped him in an embrace that was at first tentative but then became unbreakable.



Blair's sobs dwindled as his ravaged emotions calmed. Two things were finally clear.



Jim had cared enough to make that journey ... alone, to bring Blair back.



And he had cared enough to let Blair go.



But Blair wasn't going anywhere. Except home. Consumed by their own private pain they'd nearly lost everything. But what was nearly lost, was now found. And what they'd found was a miracle.



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Finis


<>-<>

END NOTES: <>-<>Warning: ATTEMPTED suicide.<>-<>

<>-<>


*From Becky's Transcripts.


<>-<> The following are notes about various things.


THE ROUTE: It's the best route cross country that I could devise with the help of: <http://www.placesnamed.com/>.


<>-<>


Actual Timeline:


Chanukah in 1997 began on Dec. 24 (sundown Dec. 23), the day before Christmas.


The ice storm in the story began Jan. 5, 1998 but I moved it up a bit to overlap the holidays.


The episode “The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg” aired May 27, 1999.

From Becky's Sentinel Site. http://www.kelesa.net/index.html


<>-<>


For Dec. 21, 1997

U.S. Naval Observatory, Sun and Moon Data for One Day

http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneDay.html


Bar Harbor, Maine, Eastern Standard Time:

begin civil twilight 6:32 a.m.;

sunrise 7:06 a.m. ;

sunset 3:56 p.m.;

end civil twilight 4:30 p.m.

long. W 68.2, lat. N 44.4


Seattle, Washington, Pacific Standard Time:

begin civil twilight 7:19 a.m.;

sunrise 7:55 a.m.;

sunset 4:20 p.m.;

end civil twilight 4:56 p.m.

long. W 122.3, lat. N 47.6


<>-<>


From Wikipedia:

Definition of down east: The Down East magazine FAQ explains the origin of the term: "When ships sailed from Boston to ports in Maine (which were to the east of Boston), the wind was at their backs, so they were sailing downwind, hence the term 'Down East.' And it follows that when they returned to Boston they were sailing upwind; many Mainers still speak of going 'up to Boston,' despite the fact that the city lies approximately 50 miles to the south of Maine’s southern border."


Mt. Desert Island, pronounced like 'dessert' (di zurt).


<>-<>


The passing mention of Blair spending one Christmas in Bethlehem came from a story I read. I don't rememeber whose, or the title. Sorry.

I'll post it on my comment board if someone can tell me.


<>-<>


About the ice storm:


The Power Company trucks and crews had been flown in from all over the East Coast. These guys were treated like the heroes they were. They worked nearly around the clock in cold, wet, dark, dangerous conditions.



<>-<>



Personal Notes:


The blades of grass that somehow managed to stay somewhat vertical looked like big, fat candles stuck in the snow. The ice reached four to five inches in the hardest hit areas.


You know you live in the country when you have to make 'seven' right turns on narrow roads and travel 'miles' to detour around downed lines just to get to the 'corner store'.


The twelve telephone poles that went down near “Mike's” house blocked the road near my home, and it really did take my brother and brother-in-law three hours to go six miles in the other direction and back again, with the aid of a chainsaw.


My father told me about the transformers burning. He worked for a trucking company at the time and he had to buy gas for generators from a gas station two cities away. The station was on a hill overlooking those cities.


Luckily there were few deaths. There were many cases of illness from kerosene heaters (ALWAYS leave a window partially open for ventilation). And remember, a carbon monoxide alarm can save the lives of you and your loved ones.


The number of cases of depression also increased. Your mood can be influenced by the amount of sunlight you receive. It's called seasonal affective disorder.


<>-<>


There were no electrical appliances running, of course, so the night was filled with the sounds of the falling trees. I remember the cracking, and the crashing booms, and the vibrations when they hit the ground, but I also remember the broken-crystal tinkling sounds of the ice that followed the trees and branches onto the ice covered land.


I hate freezing rain. Drive carefully everyone.


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finis