Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Drama

Lethe by Robyn (graphic by Robyn)

Burton Awards 2001 NomineeSummary: Jim wakes to a world unlike the one he remembers, and the only way out may be to drink from the river. Warning: wistful melancholia and ample emotional Jim angst. Rated PG. Spoilers for assorted episodes throughout all four seasons.

Written while listening to the soundtrack from the Babylon 5 finale, "Sleeping in Light," by Christopher Franke. Thank you to Becky for her support and beta skills.

Lethe
by Robyn
August 2000

"This will make you feel better."

"Go to hell."

Brightly blurred images wavered before his vision. The more he tried to concentrate, the more they wavered, so he decided to rest his eyes and just listen. He could make out the spoken words better than he could see.

"...sorry about that... still disoriented."

"...don't worry...pain shot. With all his injuries, he has to be hurting... looked uncomfortable."

"Thank you. I appreciate everything."

<sound of door clicking shut>

Something wasn't right. Eyes still closed, he sighed, his forehead unconsciously wrinkling as he worried over the voices, the beeping, the scratchy sheets, and the residual but fading pain in his arm and tried to make sense of it all. He wasn't succeeding very well.

He felt a hand on his arm. Its touch felt tentative but it was trying its best to comfort. He decided to try opening his eyes again and his lids flickered open.

"It's okay. It's me, Jimmy."

"Dad?" Jim's forehead wrinkled again. A rough scan of the room and he knew he was in the hospital. He must have been injured and couldn't quite remember the accident yet.

"I'm glad you're going to be all right, son." The blurred man gradually came into focus. The grayish hair, the glasses, the scratchy voice -- it was his dad. Their eyes met, and within their depths Jim saw relief and concern mixed in with awkwardness. Both of them seemed to sense it. His father uneasily looked away, but he sounded nervously happy. "Stevie, your brother's awake," he called to a corner of the room.

A few seconds of rustle and footsteps, and another familiar face joined William at the bedside. "Hey, Jim." Steven cleared his throat. "You gave us quite a scare -- but I'm glad you're going to be fine," he rushed to add. The younger brother looked nervously hopeful, too. Maybe even more than his dad did.

Jim's throat felt dry. "It was nice of you to come," he rasped. Then he smiled as warmly he could. Maybe that would help them relax. He was rewarded by big smiles from both. Jim licked his lips again and asked the question he really wanted to know. "Where's Sandburg?"

His father and brother's smiles faded almost instantly. They looked silently at each other.

"What?" Jim demanded. He looked back and forth between their faces. "What happened? Is he injured? Tell me!"

William gave his older son a concerned look. "Who's Sandburg?" he asked quietly.

"You know who Blair is, Dad," Jim said, his voice getting more agitated. "Where's Simon? Maybe he knows!"

A previously inconspicuous beeping next to Jim accelerated, triggering the heart monitor's alarm.

"Son, calm down."

"You can't tell me where he is and you want me to CALM DOWN???" cried Jim.

The door swung open and an older man in a white coat entered, followed by a nurse.

"I'm sorry, Dr. McCoy. I didn't mean --" Jim's father was speaking to the white-coated man.

"Give him five of Valium," the doctor said to the nurse, who nodded and began drawing up the medication. "It's okay, Mr. Ellison. You didn't do anything. Anxiety and disorientation are common after such trauma..."

*************************

The next time Jim awoke, he was immediately aware of the restraints on his wrists. He sighed. Opening his eyes, he saw his dad and brother standing by the window, looking out. They're still here, he thought.

"Dad," he called softly.

"Hey Jimmy," his father answered, hurrying back to his older son's bedside. "How are you feeling?" Steven hung back a little more this time, but he looked concerned.

"Better," answered Jim. "I feel calmer now," he lied.

"Good," said William, relieved.

"Dad?"

"Yes, son?"

"Do you remember who I was asking about earlier?"

William's expression changed to anxious again. "Jimmy, you should rest."

"I'm okay, dad. Really. I promise. I just need to know."

The father looked doubtfully at his older son. "You sure? There's plenty of time for this later, after you get rested."

"I'm sure, Dad," said Jim. He grasped his father's arm to emphasize his sincerity.

After a pause, the older Ellison spoke again. "Blair San--?"

"Sandburg," Jim said. "Blair Sandburg. My partner."

William and Steven shook their heads as if the terminology confused them. "Was he one of your men, Jimmy?"

"My men? No, he isn't one of my men. He's my partner at Major Crime."

"You mean the Cascade P.D.?" asked Steven.

"YES, the Cascade P.D.," Jim said, barely hiding his impatience again. "Why are you looking at me like you don't know who I'm talking about? You both know Blair." He paused. "Wait, I get it. You're joking with me, right?"

No return smiles reassured him.

"What do you mean you don't know?" asked Jim as he tried to sit up in bed. "What's going on?!?"

"Jimmy, please," said his father, putting a hand on his shoulder to get him to lay down again. "You've been through a lot. I promise to tell you everything, but you need to take it easy."

"I want to know NOW."

Steven glanced meaningfully at the elder Ellison. "You'd better, Dad. Jim hates being in the dark, and it isn't going to get any easier."

William sighed. "You're right, Stevie." After a moment's pause, Jim's father pulled up a chair and inched it closer to the bed. "Jim, I'm going tell you some things you aren't going to like. I don't know all the details, but I'll tell you what your commanding officer told me. You were leading a team of Rangers to Peru for training exercises. You --" His father rubbed the bridge of his nose.

"Go on, Dad," said Jim.

"Your helicopter -- you and your men crashed in the jungle somewhere," continued William. "You were there for eighteen hours before they could find you, but you were rescued. You were able to get an SOS signal out. They brought you back here, to Cascade. You're in Cascade General Hospital. Thank God you're safe."

Jim looked at his father, absorbing the information. "Yeah, I remember. Oliver," he murmured.

"Oliver?" asked his father.

"Never mind. I was just mumbling to myself. What about the rest of my team?"

"Don't worry, son. Most of them were injured, but they told me all of them will make it." William looked at his son. "You don't look as happy as I thought you would. If you're feeling bad about the mission, I'm sure it was nothing you did."

He jerked his far-off gaze back to his father. "No. I mean, I'm relieved to hear everyone's all right. Yeah, that's great. Thanks."

The door swung open, startling Jim.

"Whoa, Captain," said the older man in the white coat as he walked into the room. "It's just me, Dr. McCoy. I didn't mean to startle you."

"I should've heard someone coming..." Jim whispered to himself.

"What?"

"I'm sorry, doc. Just a little jumpy, that's all. I feel much better now."

The white-haired doctor looked skeptically at his patient. "You're sure about that?"

"Yes, sir."

The doctor sighed. "I guess I'd be jittery too, if I'd been through what you have."

Jim shifted uncomfortably in bed. "Doc -- do you know how --" he hesitated. "Is Ed Sarris okay? He was one of my men on the mission."

"Ed Sarris is doing fine. His broken arm was infected, but we got him on antibiotics right away and he's doing much better now. He was asking about you, too."

"How about Chapman and Gonzalez and Hsu?"

"They're all fine, Captain." The doctor smiled, pleased that his patient had remembered so many of his men's names accurately. "Maybe you are doing better, Ellison. With the concussion you had, I wasn't sure." He moved to loosen the restraints. "Looks like it's safe to take these off."

"Thanks."

Dr. McCoy gathered the restraints and set them on a side table. He turned his attention to Jim's father and brother. "Gentlemen, perhaps we should give Jim some time to rest. He's had quite a day."

William and Steven agreed readily to the suggestion. For the first time Jim noticed that both of them appeared haggard and sleep-deprived. "I'll be fine," he assured them. "Go get some rest."

Both men retrieved their jackets and William ushered Steven out before him. The older man paused at the door, looking back at his son.

"Thanks for coming, Dad," Jim called.

His father looked as though he'd been rewarded. "I -- I know it's been a long time, Jimmy..." He cleared his throat and smiled. "I'm glad I came, son."

*************************

Collapsing back into the bed, Jim stared at the ceiling. He'd been confused and disoriented before, but never this badly. Over and over, he rehearsed what he remembered of the past. Yes, he was Jim Ellison, former Army Ranger in covert ops. Yes, he and his team had crashed in the Peruvian jungle. But his team had not survived, and he had not been rescued for eighteen months, not eighteen hours. He'd rediscovered his heightened senses after joining the Cascade P.D., and a brilliant, albeit unconventional anthropology graduate student named Blair Sandburg had saved him from himself. They were partners now. They were friends...

A car squealed its brakes on the street far below him. The loudness of the sound scared him. Despite what he recalled, he knew his senses were not what he remembered them to be. They seemed to fade in and out in acuity and he had been unable to control them since awakening despite numerous attempts. It was as if they had retreated to a deeper autonomic level, out of his voluntary reach.

Closing his eyes, Jim focused on his hearing, concentrating the way Blair had taught him. He pictured the room next to his. A woman was talking. The pauses between her words implied a one-sided phone conversation, but he couldn't quite make out what she was saying. The television was going and also sounded garbled. Jim couldn't tell whether his sentinel hearing was picking it up or whether he was simply hearing the sounds through the wall like an ordinary person. His eyes flew open.

An ordinary person.

The very thought terrified him.

Blair wouldn't let me give up so easily, he thought. He forced himself to close his eyes again.

The next time he tried advancing his hearing into the hall outside his door, trying to ignore the clumsy, artificial feeling the process evoked. He heard more female voices and some phones ringing. The rattle of a wire cart passed by, its plastic wheels squeaking. But he heard nothing exceptional enough to honestly convince himself that his senses were really back on line. His head started to hurt. Just when he was about to give up, he heard something.

Then it was gone.

Wait! There it was again.

A beat, steady and regular. A heartbeat! He was hearing a heartbeat. And he was sure it was Blair's.

He hung on tenaciously to the familiar sound as if it were the sound of water in the Gobi desert.

Laughter. Only Blair chuckled like that. Then the voice -- yes, it was Blair's voice. A woman's laugh answered his.

"Blair!" he called, jumping out of bed. He winced as he landed on his right leg. He had forgotten he had a leg injury, but it stopped him for only a second.

"Blair!" He ran to the door and flung it open to see a man standing there, his hand poised above the handle.

"Jim!"

Jim blinked. The man had dark hair, but it was cropped close to his head in a military buzz. He had a wide smile. His right arm was in a sling. He wasn't Blair.

Jim looked past the man into the hall, listening, grasping for the heartbeat and the voice.

They were gone.

"Ellison? You okay?"

He looked back at the man standing before him. "Ed," he said.

*************************

"If it weren't for you, we'd all be dead."

What do you say to a friend who is dead? Used to be dead? Ed had been a friend, one of the few men on the team he'd known prior to the Peru mission, a fact which had only added to his guilt over the mission's deadly failure. Ed had sustained a compound fracture to his upper arm -- initially not a fatal wound, but when the tropical infection had set in and the antibiotic in their limited first aid kits had failed... He'd tried to set up a distress signal, thought of every possible solution, but the equipment had been too damaged. Ed had died.

Or had he?

"What's on your mind, Ellison?" asked Sarris.

Jim looked down at his arm. He still had the scar there from being shot by the thief in the convenience store, and he remembered sitting on the tiled floor while Blair called for help. He considered his left thumb. There was the scar from the nail he'd used to keep himself awake when he was captured by Oliver while he was waiting for Simon and Blair to find him. He turned to Sarris. "Ed, you know me pretty well, right?"

"Better than some," he responded.

Jim held out his left hand. "Where did I get this scar?"

Ed looked at him incredulously. "A time like this, and you're thinking about your skin?" he teased.

"I'm serious, Ed. Do you know?"

Ed looked quizzically at him, as if the answer were obvious. "You got it when we were being held hostage by that Columbian drug cartel. They gave you a sedative and you used a rusty nail to keep yourself awake. A thought that still gives me the willies. Don't you remember?"

Jim looked back at him for what seemed like a long time. "Yeah. I remember," he said finally. "So how's Veronica?"

Ed grinned. "Fine, just fine. Doing well in school, glad her daddy's okay. She and my wife just left."

Jim nodded and looked away. Finally, he looked back at Sarris. "I'm glad for you, Ed. Enjoy them while you can. You never know how much time you have."

*************************

"Jim."

He groaned and rolled over, pulling the covers up closer to his neck.

"Jim." A hand on his shoulder was shaking him gently now. "C'mon, man, wake up. The fish are waiting."

A weight sat down beside him on the edge of the bed, but Jim ignored it, snuggling deeper into the covers. "Too early," he mumbled. He felt so tired, even the prospect of fishing wasn't enough to lure him from bed.

"And he calls me a sleepy head," the voice beside him complained good-naturedly. "Well, let it be said that on this day, Blair Sandburg wasn't the lazy one in this house."

Blair? Blair! Jim's eyes flew open and he rolled back over to his left. He gazed upwards. Brown curls, plaid flannel shirt, blue eyes, amused smile -- yes, it was him. "Blair!"

The anthropologist looked down at him and chuckled. "Yep, it's me. Were you expecting someone else?" His expression shifted to concerned. "You weren't dreaming again, were you?"

Jim exhaled. "No. Uh, yes. Maybe. I don't know," he stammered. He glanced around him. It was dark outside the loft windows. Must be really early in the morning, he thought.

Blair shook his head, then pulled to a stand. "That stakeout really wore you out last night. That's okay, man. I'll drive. I know the way to the river, and that leg of yours is still bothering you. I've got coffee in the thermos, and by the time we get there you'll be nice and awake." He patted Jim's arm, then headed for the stairs.

"Blair," Jim called after him.

His partner paused at the top of the stairs, turning at the sound of his voice. "Yeah?"

"How long have I been here?"

"Since sometime past midnight, I guess. I don't know -- I must've been asleep when you got in. Why?"

Jim sank back into bed. "Nothing. I just had this dream that I was hurt, in a hospital."

"So you were dreaming."

Jim hesitated. "Yeah, I guess I was."

"Must've been some dream. I hate those. Oh well, at least you're awake now, and I can assure you this place is no hospital." Blair grinned. "Look at your bed. They don't have down comforters at any hospital I know of." With that, the younger man padded down the stairs.

Jim looked down. Sure enough, his old yellow down comforter was spread over his lap. He reached down to touch the friendly softness.

It was rough and thin. It was a hospital blanket.

Jim whirled to his left, calling again. "Blair!"

No one answered. Jim turned and looked out the windows again. It was still night, but there were no stairs, and the heart monitor beeped along quietly on the table next to him.

*************************

He lost track of how many hours he lay in there in the hospital bed. He dozed, jerking awake every so often and hoping to find himself back in the loft, or at least hoping to see Blair. Every time, though, he was still in the aseptic room with pale blue walls, alone. The monotony was broken only by a nurse entering every few hours to take his vital signs.

He was starting to wonder if he was going crazy.

Then he heard it again, down the hall.

<thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump>

The laugh, the voice.

Blair's laugh. Blair's voice.

He listened hard for several moments, half-waiting for the sounds to go away.

They didn't.

Climbing out of the bed, Jim limped to the door and opened it. He looked down the hall, unsure at first whether to believe what he saw.

It was Blair.

There he was, standing at the nurse's station, talking animatedly to one of them, his curls bouncing every so often. I'm in the hospital and he can't bring himself to pass up a chance to make a date, thought Jim.

Unable to hide his smile, Jim hobbled down the hallway toward the station at a barely controlled speed. "Blair!" he called.

The anthropologist's hands froze in mid-motion as he looked in Jim's direction. He looked confused.

"Sandburg, what took you so long?" Jim heckled in a friendly way.

Blair looked at Jim, then at the nurse. "I'm sorry, I don't understand."

"Do you know Mr. Ellison?" the nurse asked Blair.

Blair shook his head. "No, sorry. Is he one of your patients tonight, Judy?"

"Yes, he is," she answered. "You should get back to bed, Captain."

Jim felt his excitement slipping away from him into a deep, dark hole. "No. No. Blair, don't you know me? It's me, Jim. Jim Ellison."

"You must have him confused with someone else," Nurse Judy was saying in a soothing, almost patronizing voice. "Come with me, Mr. Ellison." She took his arm and started to lead him back to his room.

"Wait," said Blair. He seemed a little surprised, but curious. "How do you know my name?"

Jim fought back feelings of desperation. There was so much to say and he didn't know where to begin. He was about to be led away like a patient on a psych ward and he didn't have the luxury of time. This was Cascade General, the place he and Blair had met. Blair had been dating a nurse and she had faxed him a copy of his medical records. It wasn't supposed to be like this. "Look, you're doing your doctoral thesis on sentinels, right?" he blurted.

Blair looked taken aback. "No. I was, a long time ago, but not anymore. That turned out to be a bust. I'm studying police sub-culture now."

He's trying to protect me, thought Jim. "I understand you can't talk about it in front of --" he nodded at the other people milling around them.

"No, really, I dropped it," Blair said. "There are no sentinels." He looked at the nurse and shook his head slightly.

"But -- but I'm a sentinel," Jim exclaimed. The nurse began leading him away. "I have all five hypersenses and you helped me understand how to control them. Please!" His voice trailed down the hall, but Blair had turned away, as if the sight was too uncomfortable for him to watch. "Please! You need me!"

Just before he was escorted into his room, Jim looked down the hall. "I need you," he whispered.

*************************

"Did you bring any water? I'm thirsty."

He was with Blair again, riding in the truck.

His friend glanced sideways at him. "Sure, there should be a couple bottles of water in that bag by your feet."

The paper bag crinkled and crunched as Jim took several moments to paw through it. He shook his head. "I don't see any, Chief."

"That's strange," said Blair. "I could've sworn I stuck the water in there. Sorry, man."

"Don't worry. We'll just stop at a convenience store and get a couple bottles," said Jim.

"Except that we passed the last one I know of about 20 minutes back. Do you want me to turn around?"

Jim hesitated. "No," he decided. "It's not that bad."

"Okay," Blair agreed as he turned the steering wheel to follow the road's curves. "We're almost there, and I think the portable water filter is still in the truck from our last camping trip. We can filter some water from the river..."

*************************

~ The next morning ~

Hands shoved in the pockets of his civilian pants, Jim stood on the walkway leading up to his father's huge white house. It was exactly the way he'd remembered it, with the green hedge in the front and the white columns surrounding the entrance, his dad's car parked in the driveway. He felt lonely and confused. Tired, too, from trying to reconcile the sight of his childhood home with the overwhelming sense of unfamiliarity it gave him, though that too, could be explained. He hadn't been home in years. Or had he?

He was on medical leave now, he'd been told before being discharged from the hospital this morning. His dad had driven him home, saying something about him needing a place to rest and getting some of Sally's home cooking. At that point Jim remembered that when he'd returned from Peru, he hadn't bought the loft yet.

Worse, the rest of last night, Jim had not heard any more of his partner's heartbeat, nor his voice or laugh. Nothing.

Maybe he was going crazy, after all.

*************************

It was weird to park in the visitor's parking and sign in on the visitor's clipboard to get a visitor's pass. They'd even told him where the elevator was and which floor to get off on before he'd assured them he knew the way to Major Crime.

There was Rhonda, sitting at her desk, taking a phone call.

Jim waited until she had finished. "I'm here to see Captain Simon Banks," he said.

Rhonda reached for the appointment book. "Your name?"

"Jim Ellison, ma'am. I don't have an appointment. I'm an old friend and happened to be in the area --"

Rhonda nodded and smiled. "One moment." A few seconds later, she emerged from the captain's office behind him.

He looked the same -- wearing a charcoal gray shirt and vest with no tie. Jim could see the cigar smoldering in the ash tray on the desk behind him.

"Can I help you?" Simon's polite smile meshed seamlessly with the impatient, I-don't-have-all-day veneer beneath it.

Jim swallowed. So this is what it was like to be on the end of the captain's customer face. He didn't have to ask to know whether Simon knew him. He knew he was an outsider. But Jim plunged on anyway. "Captain Banks, I'm Jim Ellison. It's good to see you again."

Simon shook his hand but raised an eyebrow. "I'm sorry -- do I know you?"

"You may not remember me, sir, but I remember you," Jim continued. "I just came by to see how you and the rest of Major Crime was doing. Keeping Taggert and Brown in line?"

"Doing my best," Simon chuckled. He still looked confused. "Did we work together?"

"Yes," said Jim. He was at a loss as to how to explain further and hoped Simon would be too embarrassed to ask.

"Ah." The captain paused awkwardly. "So what are you up to these days?"

"I -- I'm on leave -- medical leave. From the Rangers."

"You've joined the Army? The force gets a lot of good men from them," Simon answered.

"So how are Joan and Daryl?" Jim said lightly.

Simon frowned, his tone instantly suspicious. "How do you know my wife and son?"

"Uh --" Jim glanced over his shoulder back into the bullpen. He saw a brown-haired woman pass by the doors. "Carolyn and I -- we met them at the department picnic."

"You know Carolyn?"

"Maybe I'll say hello to Joel and Henri," Jim changed the subject. He looked across the bullpen and spotted something that distracted him immediately.

"Sure, take your time," Simon was saying, sounding relieved that the bizarre conversation was over.

Jim, however, had already headed in the direction of his desk. What used to be his desk. The computer was the same and there were a few piles of paper and manila folders on it. No one was sitting at it at the moment. Wait -- the picture -- his picture frame was still there! The one of him and Blair. He rushed to the desk and seized the wooden frame with trembling hands.

Sure enough, Blair was still in the picture, but the other person...

"The Kincaid case is all wrapped up, sir. Blair and I finished all the paperwork this morning," a woman's voice said.

Jim's mouth hung open as she walked past him and deposited several thick folders into Simon's arms.

Simon was chuckling. "You two are quite the team, Barnes," he said.

"Alex?" said Jim.

The woman turned as if just then noticing him. Jim noted the flash of gold badge at her waist hanging just beneath the edge of her dark plum jacket. She, too, looked surprised, but not hostile.

Extending her hand, she smiled and said, "Alex Barnes. I don't believe we've met."

Oh yes, we have, thought Jim.

"Detective Barnes," added Simon over her shoulder. "She's the best."

The blonde woman appeared a little embarrassed. "All the detectives here are good. Besides, I'm a part of a team. My partner's the better half most of the time, I'm afraid."

"Got that right," murmured Jim under his breath.

Alex laughed and gestured to the photo Jim still held in his hand. "You must've heard of him. Blair Sandburg is one amazing guy."

Jim fought against the jumble of disbelief that Alex could possibly be good and an overpowering need to protect his friend. "Is he a detective?" he managed.

"Oh no, not exactly," Alex said. "He's working on his doctorate in anthropology and is an official consultant to the department. We really value his expertise on many cases."

Jim nodded. "I'm sure you do. Does he still live at 852 Prospect?"

Alex's expression instantly shifted to wary. "If you'd like to visit him, he might be by here later today."

"Working with him is better than trying to kill him, isn't it?" Jim said evenly.

"Excuse me?"

"I saved him from a fountain you tried to drown him in."

The woman's eyes widened. "I don't know what you're talking about. Funny, because if you ask any of the people who were there, I was the one who pulled him out."

"That's not the way I remember it," Jim shot back. "Captain Banks, I'd be careful around this detective of yours if I were you. I know who she is."

Simon's eyes narrowed in extreme displeasure. "So do I -- she's Detective of the Year. And whoever you are, you're on dangerous ground. Taggert! Brown!" he shouted. "Get this guy out of my bullpen!"

Hands grabbed him as Brown and Taggert escorted him out. At the entrance, Jim turned and took one last look at his former workplace, an environment that now considered him foreign. Alex had already began to flip through another folder and was no longer looking at him. He whispered, "I know what you are."

For a second, the folder's pages stopped flipping.

*************************

Jim paused at the frosted glass front door. A noise like someone playing in the water caught his hearing, and he looked down the street.

There was Blair, crouched by the river's edge, using the water pump.

Finished with assembling the rest of their fishing tackle, Jim carefully laid their poles against the sticks that served as rod holders. He could hear the filtered water trickling into the cup Blair held. The sound merged with the rush of the river flowing over its rocky bed.

Finally, Blair pulled to a stand, holding out the cup. "Here, Jim. Nice, clean mountain water for you."

But something kept Jim from reaching out to take it.

"What's the matter, man? You've drank filtered river water before."

"Maybe the filter didn't get out all the impurities," Jim stalled.

"What are you talking about? This thing gets out everything -- bacteria, algae, Giardia, fish eyes... You even picked the pump out yourself!"

Jim shook his head. "Thanks, Sandburg. Maybe later. I'm not so thirsty anymore."

He turned away, back to the front door, and turned the knob.

*************************

His hand lingered on the roughness of the greenish paint on the door. Then he traced the brass numbers. How could he be so close to home and yet light-years away?

He knocked, but no one answered. Impulsively, he reached up and ran his hand across the top of the door jamb. Something small and metal passed beneath his fingertips and he picked it up. The key. He still keeps a key there.

Once inside the empty apartment, Jim closed the door behind him. Most of the furnishings were different, of course. Other objects -- Blair's tribal masks and artifacts -- were the same. Some weren't.

Come to think of it, he didn't recognize a lot of the native items. Sculptures and large, brightly colored paintings of single eyes...

They were just like the paintings he'd seen in Alex's apartment.

They were Alex's paintings. Maybe, just maybe, if he tried to touch one, it wouldn't be real. He reached out...

"Looking for something?" a voice behind him spoke.

Jim reeled around. "Blair! I -- I'm sorry. I --"

"What are you doing in here?" he asked, reaching for the kitchen phone.

"Wait!"

Blair hesitated with the receiver.

"Please," begged Jim. "I mean no harm. I -- I just had to know."

Blair's voice softened. "What did you need to know?"

Jim swallowed, trying to get past the way his friend's voice made him feel. It had always soothed him, made him know someone cared, that someone understood and was there for him. "Blair, don't you remember me?" he asked quietly.

"I --"

"Don't you remember how you saved me from getting run over by a garbage truck when my senses were new to me? Don't you remember how we crossed that mined bridge with the red and black squares and saved Cascade from Brackett's Ebola virus? Don't you remember how Lash wanted to be you and I barely got there in time? Don't you remember... us?" he cried.

Blair stood silently, looking at the taller man before him. Then, he nodded. "I remember all those things," he said softly. "But they were with Alex."

Jim shook his head. "No. No, it can't be. Blair, you've got to believe me. I'm a sentinel. I know what a zone is, how to piggyback my senses, how it's a genetic advantage that manifests itself after prolonged isolation. I know being a sentinel is a choice."

The anthropologist searched Jim's eyes. "How?"

"You told me." Jim continued, "Look, I know this sounds impossible, but the way I remember it, I was the sentinel you found and helped. Maybe this is some weird time line mixup or alternate universe, but I remember. We were partners in Major Crime. This -- this was where we lived."

Several agonal seconds passed before Blair spoke. "When you asked me before about studying sentinels --"

"I know," Jim said. "Alex is one, too."

"What's going on?" a woman's voice appeared from just outside the doorway. "What are you doing here?" she demanded.

"She lives here?" asked Jim quietly.

Blair nodded. "This is my partner, Alex Bar--"

"We've met," Alex said tightly, her hand on her gun as she moved into the loft's entryway. "He showed up at the bullpen today, claiming to know Simon. Then he tried to accuse me of drowning you."

Jim began to back away, toward the balcony doors.

"Wait," called Blair. "He knows things about us no one else does. We could go back to the station and see if we could figure out what's going on..."

"Stop!" yelled Alex, aiming her gun at Ellison.

But it was too late. The balcony doors hung open.

He was gone.

*************************

At the damp base of an evergreen, between the forest ferns, he collapsed, panting. He leaned against the hard trunk, not caring that the coarse bark felt uncomfortable against his back and head. He was too tired to care.

They'd find him. Eventually. Panicked, he'd even run to a place from his past, which didn't help. He could still see the edge of the abandoned old football field from his childhood through the trees.

This place had been the spot of so many endings -- the tragic end of his mentor's life, the end of his innocence, the end of his childlike gift. Now it was going to be the end of his hopes to return to life as he knew it.

Someone was coming.

Blair climbed cautiously over the rocky beach, carefully balancing the cup of water in his hand. "C'mon, Jim!" he said. "You can't tell me you're suddenly not thirsty anymore. You were complaining about it all the way up here."

Jim shook his head again. "Really. I'm not thirsty anymore."

"See? I'll show you it's safe," Blair said, taking a sip of the water. "Ahh. Nothing like cool water from the Cascades. You'll forget you were ever thirsty, and we can start catching us some fish."

"Lethe," Jim murmured.

"What?"

"Lethe. The River of Forgetfulness," murmured Jim. "One of your Anthro students wrote a paper on it, remember?"

"This is no River Lethe, Jim," said Blair. "And if hell has fishing streams this good, maybe it isn't such a bad place after all," he chuckled.

*************************

Someone was coming. He could hear their footsteps entering the woods. He could ignore the pain for a little longer. Biting off a groan, Jim struggled to his feet, leaning on his good leg. Stumbling, he aimed himself in the direction of the deeper woods, limping as he ran.

<crash>

Gasping in pain as he tripped over a rock, he landed on his injured side, rolling a few feet downhill through the brush.

The footsteps behind him grew louder. They were almost here.

<crash>

Someone fell behind him.

He started to crawl away when the voice called to him.

"Jim! Wait! I want to help you."

He was still as the person scrambled through the forest undergrowth toward him and stopped at his side, touching his shoulder.

It was Blair. "Come with me?" he asked, holding out a hand.

Jim took it. Its grip was still the same. Strong, yet gentle. Trustworthy.

They emerged from the forest, arms around each other's shoulders to help Jim as he hobbled.

Simon, Alex, and several patrol cars worth of uniformed officers were waiting for them in the field.

Alex approached him, grabbing his arms. "Jim Ellison, you're under arrest for breaking and entering. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law..."

As he felt the cuffs enclosing his wrists, Jim looked at his friend. The younger man was being held back by Simon. "No, this isn't the way it's supposed to be! There's got to be another way. Simon! Alex, please!..."

Jim looked away.

*************************

Bail.

He never thought he'd be using it himself. Fortunately his father was wealthy and had posted it within hours of his arrival at the station.

Jim looked down at the water cascading before him into the low, stone-enclosed pool that lay so placidly in front of Hargrove Hall. Staring into its depths, he relived the dreadful day again -- the day he had arrived too late only to pull his beloved partner, limp and dripping, from its fatal hands.

Maybe it was better this way. This way, Blair never died. Alex wasn't just good; she was a good sentinel. His team from Peru hadn't died, and Veronica hadn't turned homicidal from her father's death. Simon and everyone else at the P.D. seemed to be getting along great without him, and he and his dad and brother were already on the way to repairing their relationship -- something that hadn't happened for years after Peru, the way he'd remembered it. As long as he knew Blair was safe, he'd find a way to go on.

Maybe.

"Maybe," he whispered aloud.

*************************

Hunched forward, Jim sat on a fallen log, staring at the river flowing before him. His pole lay on the ground beside him, forgotten. Blair sat next to him, silently.

"Jim," Blair said gently, finally breaking the stillness with both arms held out in a typical Sandburg gesture. "I know what's bothering you."

Jim didn't answer.

"You remember things the way they used to be," he continued. "You want things to go back to the way they were. You need to let go, Jim. You need to stop remembering. Then things will be better. You can go on."

"How can I go on? You don't even know me anymore."

"We'll become friends again, Jim. We were always meant to be friends. You believe that, don't you?"

Jim searched his friend's eyes. He never wanted to forget the way they looked at him, the way they saw into his heart and soul without judgement. "And lose every memory of you -- of us -- that I ever had? I can't do that."

"It's not as bad as you think," Blair said. He offered Jim the cup again.

"No!" cried Jim, knocking the cup aside. Its contents spilled on the ground, spreading wetness over the rocks.

*************************

He was so immersed in his thoughts, he didn't notice the person standing beside him until he felt a small card being placed in his hand.

Then the person was gone.

A gust of wind blew droplets of fountain water across the card as Jim read it.

Rainier University
Blair Sandburg, B.A., M.A.
Department of Anthropology
Hargrove Hall

*************************

"I don't know what it is about you, but I feel -- different -- around you." Blair pleaded at the door of his office.

Jim hesitated just outside. "Are you sure you can trust me?" he said softly.

Blair nodded. "Please. Tell me everything."

So he let Blair lead him into the room full of dusty artifacts and term papers, and he told him everything.

Sitting in one of the old wooden chairs in Blair's office which his friend had pulled up next to his own desk chair, he talked while Blair listened. He told it as if he were telling it for the last time. As if he were passing on the information for someone else to be in charge of remembering. He told him everything, up to the kind of Chinese food they had ordered the last night before everything had changed.

When Jim had finished, he waited silently for long moments before speaking again. "It must be strange to hear how you had such an influence on someone's life that you don't even remember knowing."

"That changes today," Blair answered.

"No, Sandburg. Nothing changes today."

"Yes," Blair contradicted. He reached out and laid his hand on Jim's. "I want to start knowing you. Now, if you'll let me."

"I --"

<bang>

"Alex!" Blair exclaimed, jumping out of his chair as the detective burst through the door, her gun drawn.

"I won't let you, Blair," she said. "He's crazy and I won't let you. Get away from him."

"No, Alex," Blair protested. "You don't understand..."

"No, you don't understand!" yelled Alex. "You don't get it, do you, Blair? If Ellison remembers being the good sentinel and me being the evil sentinel, and here I'm the good one, then what if he's the bad one?"

Suddenly, Jim was shoving Blair aside, and with a well-placed kick, the gun flew from her hand. Jim grabbed it quickly, turning it on her.

"NO!" cried Blair. Alex began to pull another revolver from her ankle when someone jumped toward her.

A shot was fired and Alex screamed. Blair lay limply against her, bleeding.

Shaking, Jim fumbled the recently fired weapon as it dropped to the ground.

He ran out the front door, down the steps to the fountain, sinking to his knees in front of it. Grasping its wet granite edge, he looked into the water.

"Let me drink!" he cried.

Crawling up on the edge, he plunged head first into the shallow pool, feeling the searing pain of a bullet as it pierced his back while he fell forward into the pool.

*************************

He ran along the shore, wild-eyed, calling. "Blair! Sandburg! Bring me the water! I'm ready!"

The river was deserted.

"Sandburg, I'm thirsty!" he screamed, but his only answer was the constant flowing of the river.

Scanning the shore, he spotted the log. There! He could see a portion of the white plastic cup peeking from behind the log where it had fallen.

Seizing it, he ran to the river and filled it. Raising it to his mouth, he closed his eyes and tipped it, feeling the wetness brush his lips.

"NO!" Someone was yanking the cup from him, flinging its contents back into the river.

Jim's eyes opened, and someone was holding him close, cradling him.

"I don't want you to forget," Blair whispered close to his ear. "I lied. I know it's selfish, but I want you to keep all your memories of me -- of us. I want you -- I want you to remember." He reached up, placing a hand along the curve of Jim's face. "But it won't be without a price. You'll have to live with the painful memories as well as the good ones."

Jim looked back at his friend. "I will," he answered softly.

"You sure?" asked Blair.

Jim covered Blair's hand with his own. "First thing I've been sure of in days."

*************************

He awoke with a start, panicking. The river's rushing was gone, and everything was quiet.

He was sitting on the cool wood floor, cast with glowing stripes from the early morning sun. Someone's arms were still wrapped around him. He shivered and the arms drew around him more closely.

"It's all right, Jim," a voice whispered. "You're okay."

Jim relaxed again. He was safe. He knew this place. He was in the loft, for real, and Blair was with him.

"You were dreaming," the younger man said. "I thought you were never going to wake up."

"Neither did I," murmured Jim.

Blair reached up behind him and pulled the yellow comforter down from the bed behind him, spreading it over their laps. "What were you dreaming?" he asked.

"We were at a river," answered Jim.

"Fishing?"

"No. Lethe."

"Really," said Blair. "Did you drink from it?"

Jim sighed and pulled on the comforter, noticing its softness. Slowly, he tucked it around himself and Blair before answering. Reaching up with one hand, he fingered one of the brown stray curls that hung over his shoulder, letting its silkiness pass through his fingers. He turned his cheek against Blair's neck, feeling its warmth.

"No. No, Chief, I didn't."

~ The End ~

Author's Notes: Inspired by the Farscape episode "Won't Get Fooled Again." For those not well-versed in Greek/Roman mythology (including myself), the River Lethe (also known as the River of Forgetfulness or the River of Oblivion) is one of several rivers in Hades. People would drink from the River to forget their past lives in preparation for the afterlife.