Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Smarm

Burton Awards Nominee 2005

More or less a sequel to Embrace.

Essence
by Becky
June 1998

Stretched out on the couch, Jim watched idly as his roommate and partner bustled around the kitchen, fixing breakfast. Or rather late morning brunch. After the stakeout, the surprise shootout, the much-undesired trip to the hospital, they'd both slept in late. Fortunately, Jim had the morning off on account of the slight head injury he'd acquired, and Blair didn't have any classes until late afternoon.

Jim reached up a hand to tentatively touch the white bandage where it covered the tender spot the bullet had grazed just bare inches above his ear. Now wouldn't that have been a pretty sight. Closing his eyes, he shuddered once at the picture his mind happily supplied to him of what could have happened if he hadn't heard the gun cock when he did. Not pretty at all. He winced at the pain the movement woke up in his temples and had to resist the urge to rub them. I don't think it would help much at all.

The couch sunk down next to him, and Blair's hand appeared out of nowhere to gently remove Jim's hand from the bandage. "Is your head hurting?"

Jim sighed quietly as his guide's fingers stroked softly over the area, barely even making contact. The pain diminished with each pass of Blair's gentle touch. How does he know these things? How does he know when I'm hurting? How does he know exactly what to do, to say?

"I know you're hurting because I'm your friend, Jim, your friend, your guide, and your partner. It's my job to know these things." Blair's voice was quiet, soft, low, deliberately in a matching cadence with his fingers. His hand shifted, coaxing Jim to lean his head back against the cushions and relax.

Jim pried open his eyelids to squint suspiciously at the much amused face of his young friend. "And just how do you know what I'm thinking? You got something you need to tell me, Chief?"

Blair smiled wider, but shook his head. "No, I'm not psychic or anything -- unlike some people I could mention." Jim snorted softly, amusement turning up the corners of his lips. Blair laughed, then went on. "It was just . . ." He shrugged, not slowing in the soothing movement over the bandaged area. "It was just the way you sighed and the way your forehead wrinkled in confusion." Sliding a few gentle fingers over to Jim's forehead, he slowly smoothed away the creased lines marring the skin.

Eyes closing again, Jim felt himself drifting and fought against the lethargy. I just got up 15 minutes ago. I don't need more sleep.

The roving, comforting hand slid down the side of Jim's face to his shoulder, squeezing, kneading before moving on. "You don't have to sleep, Jim. Just rest. Okay?" The hand pressed against Jim's heart, palm flat on his chest atop the soft gray robe.

Jim almost rolled his eyes, but decided against trying anything so daring now that the pain in his skull had died off to a more tolerable level. Wonder-Sandburg does it again. "I don't know if I like this new 'reading my thoughts' trick of yours, Chief. Getting a little strange, even for you."

Blair just chuckled and raised his hand to pat Jim's shoulder. "Yes, Jim." The couch creaked as the other man rose and padded in stocking-feet back to the kitchen.

Keeping his eyes closed, Jim listened as Blair puttered around fixing the meal, identifying the noises he heard just by hearing and familiarity. Silverware drawer. Extra kitchen utensils - probably looking for the second whisk since the other was still in the sink waiting to be washed from yesterday. Knife block - paring knife since it took so little time to come free of the wood holder. Cutting board plopped on the counter. Refrigerator. Cupboards opening. Frying pans from the sound of that hinge squeak. He made himself a mental note to oil it - again.

**clang**

Jim winced at the noise which his head promptly identified as the frying pan hitting something, probably Blair's coffee mug. His hands twitched where they lay curled in his lap and made abortive half-movements upwards. The instinct to cover his ears wasn't something he could unlearn - even if it didn't help much.

"Sorry, Jim." Blair's whispered voice verged on mortified.

"S'okay. Accident." Jim waved his hand slightly, waiting for the echo to go away.

Blair paused another moment, not doing anything, muttering under his breath too low for even Jim to hear. Then Jim followed his steps across the room to the stereo system. A few moments passed as Blair clicked some buttons and then soft music floated through the loft like gentle puffs of cloudy air, designed to act as something to soothe the nerves, cushion the soul, distract from pain, and cover the less pleasant noises of cooking. Jim almost didn't hear the footsteps stop behind him. A hand rested on his head in a whisper-soft apology, then slid softly away and disappeared as Blair padded back to the kitchen.

Letting the music roll over him, Jim drifted on the sounds that made up his home. The refrigerator motor humming, the stove clicking on as a pan was laid gently on the burner, coffee maker steeping on the counter. And then there was the unique background noise that had most recently become part of his life - the new age music playing on his sound system - something he would never even thought of looking for in music stores, much less listening to, before three years ago.

And then there was Blair.

Jim smiled to himself, restraining the chuckle that would only make his partner curious - and probably nervous as well. It takes more than just sound to define Sandburg. And somehow I don't even think the five senses - even my five senses - would cover everything. Relaxing further into the couch as tension melted away, he pondered those last thoughts, wondering just how one Blair Sandburg could be defined by his senses.

Sight, of course, was easiest and first.

Unwilling and too comfortable to open his eyes, Jim formed a mental image of his roommate in his mind's eye. Curly brown hair, dark blue eyes, more facial expressions than Jim could keep track of, short but sturdy frame, strong hands. All physical attributes that told nothing of the sheer life force that rolled off Blair Sandburg. When they'd first met, the young man had been constantly in motion - or so it seemed to Jim. In time, he matured, calmed down some, learned to think more before doing, grew more anchored, more secure. But there were still times when something would send Blair on an adrenaline rush, making him nearly bounce with excitement.

Jim had seen less of that excitement in recent months, but he knew that the potential was always there. The life energy always sparkled in Blair's eyes, hidden just below the surface, just waiting for a reason to burst forth. Sometimes Jim sensed the excitement rolling off his partner before he could even say anything. It could be the bounce, the sparkle in his eyes, the way his hands moved as he talked a mile a minute. Other times, even without the visual cues, Jim just knew, almost as if he'd caught a scent in the air.

Smell was another facet of Blair.

Herbal shampoo! One of the first things Jim had noticed, even before Blair had moved in with him. And after that had happened, Jim had added many interesting, and usually foreign, foods that he couldn't - and usually didn't want to - identify that lurked in his refrigerator. Scented candles and incense had quickly found their way in as well. It had taken Blair a few weeks to find scents that didn't make Jim sneeze, but he had. Blair still was sensitive enough to Jim to meditate with those candles when he would be gone for awhile. But, truth be told, Jim was used to the candles, sometimes even finding their scent pleasant and relaxing. But just try to get me to tell Sandburg that!

Under all those scents was just the 'Blair' scent. It wasn't something he'd ever told Blair about, worried that it might unnerve him, worried that he might misinterpret the idea. Even as he thought over his reasoning right then, he realized it was more himself that was concerned. Sandburg would probably love it and want to test me on what everybody else's 'natural' scent is. I don't think so. I think this one will just stay with me. What else?

Taste. This was a little harder, but not totally impossible.

There were tastes he associated with Blair. Different foods, different drinks, stuff that Blair had tested on Jim to find out what he reacted to, what would bother his senses. Sour milk is definitely something that I associate with Blair! And sometimes those foreign foods lurking in the refrigerator would slip onto the dinner table. Some Jim liked, others he didn't. He tried to let Blair experiment with various things from time to time. After all, he'd eaten all sorts of interesting things during missions when he was in covert ops. At least with Blair he knew he wasn't going to be poisoned.

But I still think I prefer WonderBurger to ostrich chili. Even if he does complain about it and tell me how unhealthy it is.

Sound - probably one of the most vital parts of their partnership - the Sentinel partnership, that was.

Jim stretched out his hearing, extending it toward the kitchen, checking up on his partner's progress. Still cooking. Humming slightly under his breath in tune with the soft music. Mumbling about what he had to do in his classes that afternoon. Dropping in further, Jim could hear Blair's steady, rhythmic heartbeat and the swoosh of air through his lungs. Both comforting. Both grounding.

More grounding was Blair's voice. That low tone that led him through crazy problems with his senses, guiding him so he wouldn't get lost in the sensory input, calling him back when he did get lost. The excited tone that came with new discoveries. The curiosity to know things. The worry that appeared during cases. The fear during times when one or both them got in danger. The bravado against bad guys. The gentleness to victims. The soothing tones used to comfort his hurting partner, whether physically or emotionally. And the courage and honesty to confront Jim about the occasional problem areas in their friendship and partnership, knowing not only when to speak, but also knowing the words to use to make him listen, to make him open up.

Grounding. Definitely grounding.

And last of all - touch.

At the beginning of Jim's at-first-unwilling partnership with the "neo-hippie witch doctor punk" anthropologist, the touch had gone mostly one way -- from Jim to Blair. Face slaps, shoulder taps, back patting. Blair hadn't seemed to know what to do about the teasing way Jim treated him. And then their friendship became more comfortable. And the touches changed, lingered, became less teasing and more friendly, more brotherly. The touches became more of a part of their lives.

Touch became their connection. A hand on his back helped keep Jim from zoning too much. A hand on Blair's shoulder steadied him when times got rough. The rougher things got, the longer the hands would stay in contact, would keep the connection. Blair's hand would change from simply touching to rubbing if Jim's senses were strained. Jim's hand would go from a simple hold on Blair's shoulder to a firm squeeze, maybe adding in a gentle rocking to communicate his understanding.

Out of those simple but effective touches grew hugs. Sometimes they could be as simple as arms loped around each other's waists as they laughed together about some silly thing, just enjoying each other's company. Other times they would be stronger, full body hugs to express relief and fear. Like the one the night before at the docks when Jim had been caught in the middle of a two-sided shooting fight, as the investigating team had discovered hours later. No one even knew the police were even there. It had all been coincidental. Jim getting shot hadn't been purposeful by those on the docks at all. He had just been in the wrong place when the shooting started.

But it didn't lessen Blair's response - or Jim's - to the situation. Both had needed the hug, the embrace, to reconnect, to allay the fear, to show concern. Two years ago, Jim knew he would've scoffed at such a need from his partner for such comfort. Two years ago, Blair wouldn't have even felt the need. But now . . . now that they had made a commitment to the whole Sentinel thing, to their partnership, to their friendship, well, that connection, that embrace was something Jim had come to count on.

In that soulful embrace was held the very essence of who they were.

Essence. Yes. A good term. Jim smiled. A Sandburg term. But a good one nonetheless.

A hand touched his shoulder, shaking him. "Jim? You still awake in there?"

"Yeah." He opened his eyes drowsily, staring up at Blair standing in front of him. "I'm awake. I wasn't really sleeping."

"Uh-huh, sure, Jim."

Sitting forward slightly, Jim yawned, wincing at the pull of muscle around his head. "Really."

Blair frowned and sat down next to him again, shifting his hand to touch Jim's head, tilting it slightly, running a finger over the site of the injury. "Are you sure you're okay? I mean, you could take something for it."

Again the pain died away with Blair's touch, mystifying Jim. Ignoring the mystery for the moment, Jim replied to Blair's concern, "And we both know how well pain medication works on me. It's okay, kid, I've got the dial turned down for the most part. I'll be okay."

Leaving his hand against Jim's head, an unhappy frown still on his face, Blair conceded, "All right. But you tell me if it gets any worse, okay, Jim?"

Smiling, Jim gently pulled Blair's hand away, squeezing it once before releasing his hold. "Yes, Blair, I'll tell you. Stop worrying so much."

Blair rolled his eyes, sitting back against the arm of the couch, crossing his arms over his chest. "Hey, you worry about me a lot of the time. Let me worry about you for once."

Jim raised a hand in defeat. "You've got me there." Blair laughed and Jim asked, "So, is it time to eat yet? I'm starved."

Rising from the couch, Blair gestured grandly to the table. "Yes, while you were, uh, 'not-sleeping', I finished getting stuff ready. Your meal awaits you, sir."

"Good." Jim inhaled deeply, letting the rich scent of hot cinnamon rolls and fresh coffee, plus a plethora of other appetizing smells, fill his senses. Smiling in anticipation, he pushed himself forward and slowly rose from the couch. Blair's arm automatically went to rest lightly around his waist, offering support. Jim paused a moment, waiting to see if he would get dizzy, then looked down at Blair, his recent thoughts still in mind. Blair looked back up at him, a purity of soul shining through deep azure eyes.

"What? What is it, Jim?"

Instead of answering, Jim pulled Blair into a gentle embrace, wrapping both arms around his partner, resting his cheek against his hair. Blair's arms returned the gesture instinctively. Long moments of silence passed with the only the strains of the new age music still echoing softly through the loft and the sounds of their breathing, underlaid by heartbeats, to mark time's passing.

Then Jim pulled back and met Blair's curious and softly warm eyes. "What was that for, Jim?"

"No reason. Does there have to be a reason?"

Blair opened his mouth to say something, closed it, then shook his head, a small smile on his lips. "Guess not." A pause, then, "You ready to eat now?"

Jim shifted, smiling, as he released Blair from the physical embrace. "Lead on, Chief. Or should I call you Chef?"

Blair laughed and led him around the couch to the table, one hand on Jim's arm as a reminder that even though the physical embrace was gone for the moment, the spiritual and emotional embrace would never end. No matter the time, no matter the distance, the essence would always remain.

- The End -