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Burton Awards 2000 NomineeSummary: Second epilogue to Sentinel Too, part 1; sequel to Blessed Be the Tears. Spoilers for Night Shift and Sentinel Too. Written two weeks after I wrote my first epilogue to S2, part 1, this story is also now in the AU camp...

Yeah, it's another epilogue. There were some issues I wanted to further address, so I wrote another story. Just add it on the end of my first one and considered them a matched set. And, yes, the apostrophe does belong after the 's'. :-) That was quite purposeful.

Souls' Crossing
epilogue for Sentinel Too, Part One
sequel to 'Blessed Be the Tears'
by Becky
June 1998

"No.....!"

Blair jerked awake, sitting up abruptly, panting in gasping breaths, gulping in mouthfuls of air around his choked-off cry. His heart pounded desperately, threatening to pop right out on his rib cage and dance on the bed covers for him. Beads of sweat dotted his face and chest. Startlingly wide and frantic, Blair's eyes searched his darkened bedroom for signs of danger as he tried to swallow the fear and terror overwhelming him.

He reached over and clicked on the bedside light with a shaking hand, then began to relax a little as the soft glow illuminated the room, sending the shadows away. Leaning forward and rubbing both hands across his face, he tucked damp hair behind his ears and concentrated on shoving most of his reaction to the dream away. Down where it couldn't bother him. Couldn't taunt him with terrible images that he never wanted to see in real life, much less in his dreams.

Yeah, right. Like that's worked so far at all.

He could still feel them lingering just beyond sight, waiting for him to just close his eyes. All it took was a moment of weakness and then bam! there they were, all strung up like a parody of museum exhibits to be observed and appreciated. Shuddering, Blair wrapped his arms around his torso.

It was just a dream, Sandburg. Just a dream. Well, maybe not just a dream, maybe more like a nightmare. But it didn't happen, it couldn't happen. He wouldn't do that. It's all just in your head. Get over it already. It's not like it's a new thing to you or anything. You can quote this thing chapter and verse by now. So it shouldn't bother you.

But it did.

And it terrified him more than anything ever had, which was saying a lot considering everything he'd been through in the past few years. Kidnapped by psychos, used as bait, threatened with guns and plague viruses, chased by killers, deliberately drugged, smacked around by bad guys, knocked on the head, forced to jump off a cliff, shot at and just plain shot, and only inches from death more times than he cared to remember.

Near death. He laughed bitterly, staring down at the blanket covering his legs. Hell, I've been dead. What's a little nightmare compared to that? I mean, really, Sandburg, you've done everything now. Been born, gone to school, got a masters, found your life's dream, caught criminals, had your 15 seconds of fame, been dead, and then brought back to life again. What more could you possibly want from life?

Another laugh escaped him, this one more hysterical sounding than anything else. He shuddered as the images from his dream rose up and laughed with him, no, at him. Viciously he fought them away again, determined to win against his invisible and rather implacable foe.

Ever since Blair had woke up in the hospital a week and a half earlier and finding out he was still alive after being drowned by Alex Barnes, he'd been having the same nightmare. Over and over and over. A never-ending loop. Every single time he closed his eyes, it was waiting for him, like a ghoul or a ghost. Haunting him. Any time he'd had it when Jim was there, and Jim had been there nearly all the time, Blair had claimed he didn't know what it was or that it was just from remembering Alex drowning him. Jim had always believed him, had talked to him, telling him he was safe, and had even held his hand as he'd tried to calm down enough to go to sleep.

Usually it worked. For a little while. And Blair could sleep.

When Jim hadn't been there, however, when he had been all alone in the hospital room . . . .

Like I am now....

Blair dropped his head, resting his forehead on his knees, sighing out shakily, wishing he'd asked Jim to stay instead of telling him to go ahead on the stakeout, that he would okay. He'd only been home for four days and Jim was constantly hovering, not letting him out of his sight for a moment. Blair caught him staring at him a lot, like he was worried Blair was just gonna disappear or something.

Which is probably what he is thinking, all things considered. I was dead. He feels responsible and guilty still, even after I forgave him. He paused, thinking back to that first few minutes after he'd awakened in the hospital bed, one hand swallowed by Jim's larger hand. He'd been so tired, so confused, and he'd just wanted things to go back to normal as easy as possible. Jim had looked and sounded so hurt, so lost, so guilty, that Blair had simply told his friend what he needed to hear to begin the healing process between them. The talking had to wait until Blair was strong enough and Jim felt ready enough.

But that time hadn't really come. Jim didn't want to talk about anything that could disturb Blair. Oh, they'd talked a little about the animal fight or whatever it was that happened between the jaguars -- Jim and Alex. But Blair couldn't remember very much, mostly just a jumble of images and feelings of fear that either Jim, himself, or both of them would die. Most of what he remembered was from watching the jaguars fight. The stuff before was all fuzzy. He remembered feeling pain, feeling hurt. And he remembered feeling a strange sorrow which was directed totally at Jim. He wanted to know why. He wanted to know what more had happened that he couldn't or didn't remember.

But Jim wasn't being very helpful in clearing up those details.

How are we supposed to be okay if he won't talk to me, won't tell me what I need to know?

The detective had become quite agile at evading anything he didn't want to discuss in conversations, talking around things, or just simply changing the topic. It was beginning to get on Blair's nerves, as was Jim's hovering. So he'd asked Simon to assign Jim to some harmless stakeout or something, anything to get him out of the loft for the night, just so Blair could have some time alone to decide what he wanted to do about Jim's reticence.

He lifted his head and looked around his room. A stack of boxes filled one corner. More boxes decorated the walls in the main room just outside the French doors. They really hadn't found the time yet to totally unpack all of Blair's stuff yet. Or rather, Blair didn't have the energy to do so yet. Some of the guys from the station helped Jim bring all the furniture back up and Megan kindly offered to help Blair at least fix up his bed and put away some of his clothes in his room so he could be comfortable. Jim was busy directing exactly where each piece of furniture belonged.

A small smile lit Blair's features. It was almost as if an invisible map had been drawn on the floor. Jim knew precisely, to the very millimeter, where everything belonged. The guys had groaned, grumbled, and rolled their eyes, but did what Jim wanted, pacifying him, realizing he was still a bit off from center and still recovering from the emotional shock of Blair being dead, then alive again. And it was an encouraging sign for all -- this was normal Jim behavior, something they were used to and could handle. Even if it was a little on the annoying side.

Now if things would just go back to normal between us. Normal of a few months ago. Blair sighed. What am I going to do about him? He won't talk to me. He treats me like glass. And I still don't know if he really trusts me again -- really, really trusts me. He said he did, but.... Another thought crossed his mind and he shivered. And I don't know if I really, really trust him again or not. I mean, I died. He made me leave and I died.

He closed his eyes, not liking those thoughts and where they led him. The nightmare immediately took advantage and roared up behind his eyelids, mocking him, daring him to confront the truth. Gasping, he jumped out of bed, walking quickly out of the room, heading for the kitchen and a glass of water. His hand shook when he picked up the tall glass, and he grabbed onto it with both hands to set it carefully back onto the counter top. So much for that idea. Slumping against the sink, he stared glassily around, wondering what he should do.

I'm so tired. I need to sleep. I need to get better so I can get back to work, both at the U and at the station -- if Jim still wants me, that is. He let me back into the loft, but he never said anything about the police work. Or the Sentinel stuff.

Pushing away from the counter, he tottered over to the couch and sank down into the cushions, dragging the afghan across him. Finding the remote, he flipped on TV to a late, late night movie and left the volume on really low. Maybe with the noise I can sleep. He rested his head on the back of the couch and stared up at the ceiling, then over to the railing where he could see the top of Jim's bed. Guess I should've let him stay home. At least when he was here I wasn't having this dream.

Blair knuckled both eyes, then shifted and laid down on the couch, snuggling under the afghan. After a few deep breaths, he closed his eyes. Letting the movie noise roll over him, he drifted off to a mostly-restful sleep.

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

<<Running. Running. Running. To safety. To the temple. To protection. Looking back. The enemy was still following, still pursuing, chasing. Catching up. Too close.>>

Pant. Pant. Dodging bushes. Dodging trees.

<<There. There it is. Hide there. Can't hurt me there.>>

Sound. Crunch of footfalls. A smell. Unfamiliar and familiar at the same time.

<<Safety. Protection. He will protect me from the enemy. He means safety, means protection. There. I see him. Wait, no, no, that's not -- No! Don't!>>

Snick. Whoosh. Thwack.

<<Pain! Pain! Pain!>>

Footfalls. Curious look. Tilt of the head. Calm. A voice. Not his. The enemy's.

"You're dead. You're mine now."

<<Where is safety? Where is protection? Where is he? Why isn't he here?>>

Hands pulling. Growling. Yelling. Hurting. Toying with him.

<<Pain! Hurt! Help me!>>

"Mine, mine, mine. Dead, dead, dead."

Echoes. Eternal echoes.

<<All alone. Lost. Forever.>>

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

"Sandburg!! Blair!! Wake up!!"

With a terrified gasp of breath, Blair tore away from the hands that held his shoulders. "NO! Don't! Please!" He covered his head with his arms, warding away the dream images that surrounded him.

"Blair? It's Jim. Come on, I won't hurt you. It's okay. It was a dream. Come on, look at me."

He swallowed, moving his arms down and looking up, blinking several times to focus on the face above his. "Jim?"

Blue eyes met his as a hand rested cautiously on his arm. "Yeah, it's me. You're okay. Was it that same dream again?"

Blair ignored the question. "Aren't you supposed to be on a stakeout or something?"

Jim nodded, shifting to sit a little easier on the edge of the couch. "I convinced Simon to let me come home a little early. I didn't want to leave you alone for too long. Good thing I did come home. From the way your heart was beating, I swore you were about to have a heart attack. What are you doing out here anyway? Shouldn't you be in bed? It's two in the morning."

Glancing at the TV and seeing only fuzz, Blair shrugged. "I couldn't sleep, so I came out to watch a movie. Must've fallen asleep."

"Uh-huh." Jim lifted an eyebrow in disbelief. "Couldn't sleep or couldn't stop dreaming?"

"I...."

"Are you still having that nightmare, the one you had in the hospital?"

"Yeah, sorta, I guess so." Blair shrugged, swinging his legs off the couch to sit up.

"Do you want to talk about it? Can you remember any of it?" Jim moved to sit next to him, an arm draped along the back of the couch behind Blair.

Blair blinked at him incredulously. Now? Now he wants to talk? In the middle of the night? Geez. Well, I guess we take what's given. "Um, yeah, I think I would if you don't mind."

"Is it about Alex?"

"Alex? No, not about her. At least I don't think it is."

Jim frowned. "Go on."

He took a deep breath, then began. "Okay, it's sorta disjointed, but this is how it goes. I'm running, running away from something, something bad, but I'm not sure what. I only know that wherever I'm going is safe, that I'll be protected there. I see it finally, even as whatever it is behind me is catching up. And I see," he hesitated, then pushed on, staring intently at his hands, not wanting to look at Jim as he described the one familiar figure in his dream. "I see something else in front of me. A person. A man, tall, holding a crossbow. He shoots. I'm hit. I fall. It hurts. There's so much noise. Animals growling. Voices telling me I'm dead. I just...." He shivered and curled his arms around himself, pulling the afghan to him more closely.

It took him a few moments to realize how stiffly Jim sat next to him. He dared to glance up and saw Jim staring out across the room, utterly still, utterly composed. Except for his eyes. His eyes were horrified and terribly shocked.

Blair reached across and touched Jim's shoulder, the one nearest him. "Jim?"

Jim swallowed hard and shifted his eyes to meet his. "You were running to me for protection. And I shot you. I shot you! I didn't know. I didn't understand. Chief, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean --"

Dark blue eyes widened in sudden realization. "You've seen all this already, haven't you?"

Jim whispered, "Yes, I did. Before, before I kicked you out, before I made you leave, I had this dream. I didn't know what the wolf was. So I shot it. And then, then it turned into you." He tried to pull away from Blair, lifting his arm away.

Blair, however, latched onto his arm and held tight, refusing to let Jim up from the couch. "No, Jim, we've got to talk about this. Why did you think you did what you did?"

"I don't know." He tried to yank his arm away.

"Why, Jim? Think about it. Tell me why. Tell me what you think about it."

"I said I don't know! Now let me go, Sandburg!"

"No! I won't let you go. I'm not letting you push me away again. The last time I let you do that --"

Jim finally managed to slip his arm from Blair's hands, shooting up to his feet. He started to head toward the front door when Blair finished his sentence.

"-- I died."

The older man jerked an abrupt stop halfway to the door, back to Blair, shoulders trembling with the effort to keep still, to keep himself together. Blair just watched him, not moving from the couch, not wanting Jim to run like he did before, but not wanting to chase after him either. He wanted Jim to come back because he wanted to. It was costing him to only sit though. He knew that if Jim ran again then things would never be the same. If Jim couldn't talk to him, then there was nothing left worth fighting for.

Please, Jim, don't do this to us. Don't let it all go. Please.

When Jim spoke, his voice was broken and halting. "I felt something dangerous coming my way. I knew I had to protect myself, my territory. I saw the wolf running toward the temple. I just ... reacted. I thought it was the danger. I didn't understand. I didn't think. I just ...."

"You reacted to an unknown factor that had entered your territory, not knowing what dangers it might hold. That was normal."

Jim whirled around, fists clenched, yelling, his voice echoing in the loft. "But the wolf was you, Blair! I shot you! And you ... died. I killed you! What was that supposed to mean? What was I supposed to believe it meant?"

Blair leaned forward, shaking his head. "Jim, it was a dream. A dream that happened very soon after you saw that spotted jaguar in the store. A dream that, if I understand the timing correctly, happened just after I started to work with Alex. You were being warned. You just didn't understand the warning."

Jim shot back, anger filling his voice, his words clipped, "Is that supposed to make me feel better, Sandburg? That because I 'didn't understand' you died in that dream and nearly died for real as well?" He shook his head. "I should've known."

"How?" Blair worked on staying calm, knowing one of them had to or they wouldn't get through this thing in one piece.

"I don't know." Jim unclenched one fist to run a hand over his hair. "But somehow, I just ... should've known. I'm a Sentinel. Aren't I supposed to know my friends from my enemies, the good guys from the bad guys?"

Blair hesitated, then asked quietly, "Who am I to you, Jim?"

Jim sucked in a sharp breath, eyes locking onto him. "What? What did you say?"

"Who am I to you, Jim?"

At first, Blair wasn't even sure Jim would answer the question. And just where did that question come from anyway? It sounds familiar.... Jim continued to stare at him for long moments, then finally he swallowed hard and spoke in soft words.

"You're ... you're my friend, Blair. You have to know that."

"Is that all I am?"

Jim blinked. "All? I .... No, no, that's not all you are. You're much more than that. You always have been." Slowly, he walked over and sat down next to Blair again, raising a hand and touching the younger man's shoulder with infinite gentleness. "But I don't know how you can ever trust me again. How could you after all I did?"

"All we did, Jim, all we did. It was misunderstanding and bad communication on both our parts. I should have insisted on telling you about Alex that first night. And you should have told me about the dream instead of freaking and tossing me out."

Jim shook his head, not convinced. "No, it's --"

Blair interrupted sternly. "No, Jim, it is not all your fault. I refuse to accept that. And I do trust you. Mostly."

The 'mostly' made Jim catch his breath. "What? What you do you mean 'mostly'? I thought --"

"Do you trust me, Jim? Do you trust me enough to know what I'm doing when it comes to my dissertation and my work? Do you trust me enough not to panic every time I mention it? Do you trust me enough to let me explain things and not go sneaking around my back to read my papers? Do you trust me enough to know that I know how to do my research, even when it doesn't involve you? Do you trust me that much, Jim?"

Blair fell back against the cushions, worn out, tired, mind still reeling with the knowledge that Jim had seen, more or less, what was going to happen and hadn't said anything, that he'd had a warning and not heeded it. Jim's hand slid from his shoulder, drifting down to land next to his leg on the couch.

As for Jim himself, he just stared at Blair, mouth opening once or twice, but no words coming out. Finally, he swallowed and whispered, "Blair, I ... can only promise to try to trust you that much right now. That probably isn't what you want to hear, but it's the only thing I have to offer."

"Do you trust me as your partner?"

"Yes."

Blair met Jim's eyes steadily, examining them for hesitance or polite lies. "Are you sure? You told me before you had to have a partner you could trust. I got the feeling that I wasn't that person."

"I was wrong. You are that person. I do trust you. And I want you as my partner. My only partner."

Blair finally felt the heaviness of the past few weeks, past few months, beginning to lift. "Then that's all I need right now. The rest will come with time." He smiled. "And thank you, Jim. I never thought I would hear you would call me your partner again."

"I almost lost the chance once. I'm not going to lose it again. Partner." Jim returned his smile widely, reaching up to pat at Blair's cheek before sliding down to grip his shoulder. "So, do I truly have your trust again?"

"As I told you earlier, you never really lost it. Not even when I thought you were the one who was dead. When Alex showed up in my office," he shivered, eyes closing momentarily, lost in memories, "I thought you were dead, that she'd beat you, that she'd only showed up to finish me off as well before leaving town. She caught me waiting for the victor. I had been hoping it was you. And when it wasn't, well, I forgave you. For everything. For throwing me out. For not listening to me. For not trusting me. For not," his voice dropped, "being there to save me, like you always were. I didn't think I was gonna live and didn't want to die with any of that on my conscience. And when I felt myself dying in that fountain, I thought of you and how much our friendship has always meant to me. And how much I trusted you to be there on the other side, waiting for me."

Jim stared at him, mouth open. Then, with a startling move, he reached out and pulled Blair into a hug, holding him close, Blair's head tucked under his chin, Jim's arms wound gently around the smaller body. He rocked back and forth, eyes squeezed shut, a few tears leaking from the corners.

Blair's voice came up muffled from Jim's chest. "So, yes, Jim, I trust you. Now. With everything. Don't mess it up again, okay?"

A short, soft laugh rumbled in Jim's throat, and he pulled Blair more tightly to him. "Yeah, okay, I won't, buddy." Blair felt Jim's head move and his cheek coming to rest on his hair.

Blair wrapped his own arms around Jim's waist, closing his eyes as he leaned trustingly into Jim's chest. Jim leaned back into the couch, taking Blair with him, pulling the afghan up to cover Blair's frame as he rested his head against Jim's shoulder.

Touching Blair's shoulder, Jim asked, "No more nightmares, Chief?"

"No more nightmares, Jim. I think it's all gonna be okay now."

"Good. Now go to sleep, partner. Simon wants to see you in the office later on today. He's got paperwork waiting for you, I think. And so do I. You wouldn't believe how much is laying around on my desk. It'll take you at least a week to wade through it all."

Blair smiled, chuckling as he felt himself drifting. He wanted to respond, to say something, but he couldn't get his mouth and brain to cooperate. Normal. That sounded normal. Finally. The last thing he heard was Jim telling him that he would keep watch until sunrise, that he was safe, that nothing could hurt him. He felt a soft press of lips against the top of his head and then he let himself go, sleeping deeply, knowing nothing could harm him now. Not anymore.

Safe. Protected. And all was well. As it should be. As it was always meant to be.

- The End -