This little bit of nothing is my answer to the archive smarm challenge. As usual, Jim, Blair, and the whole Sentinel concept don't belong to me, darn it, I'm just doing this for fun. Rated PG for a couple of bad words.

written June, 1997



The Brother Thing

by

Susan L. Williams

Jim Ellison let himself into the loft and dropped his keys on the table by the door. The shower was running; over the rush of water, his roommate sang an old Scottish ballad at the top of his lungs. Grinning, Jim shook his head and went to the fridge for a beer. Blair's voice was in rare form today. The kid obviously had no idea that he wasn't alone in the apartment.

Twisting the cap off the bottle, Jim moved around the kitchen island, heading for the living room. Blair's laptop was open on the table, surrounded by open books and papers covered with Blair's flowing script. As he passed, Jim's eyes flicked over the computer screen. Without conscious thought, he zeroed in on one word: Jim.

Ellison tore his gaze away, but his feet had already stopped. Half-facing the table, he ran his thumb over the label on the bottle. He shouldn't. It was wrong, an invasion of Sandburg's privacy. But dammit, he was the subject of the dissertation, didn't he have a right to know what the anthropologist was writing about him? He'd never asked, and Sandburg had never offered to show it to him. But he'd have to eventually, before he published. So what would it hurt to take a peek now? He'd only read a couple of sentences, just enough to get an idea.

Feeling like a schoolkid with a copy of Playboy--or since this was Sandburg, National Geographic--Jim leaned over the table and started to read.

"Sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing here. Spending my days (and nights, half the time) following a cop around, trying to be his partner, even rooming with him! When I found out Jim was a sentinel, I figured maybe, if I was really lucky, he'd let me do a few tests and observe him on the job for a while, in exchange for some suggestions on how to handle his abilities. I never expected this, and I know Jim sure as hell didn't. I don't think there was ever any choice about working with him, though. Once I saw just how strong his sentinel abilities were, and how clueless he was about controlling them, I knew he needed me and I couldn't just hang around for a few days and go on my merry way. Jim didn't. He thought he'd only have to put up with me for a couple of weeks and I'd be out of his life and out of his way. I could see it in his face every time I tried to explain something to him. I don't know exactly when he figured out he was stuck with me for the long haul, but I think it was sometime during the Kincaid thing. I have no idea when he decided maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. Sometimes, I'm not sure he has decided that.

"I guess him letting me move in should have been a clue. I never thought he'd let me crash at his place (never mind Larry!), but I was desperate after the warehouse blew up. I guess he could see that, because it didn't take much to get him to say yes. From the minute I got here, I kept expecting him to kick me out--I was ready for it. I left most of my stuff packed for months, just waiting--but he never did. After the first day, he never mentioned me finding my own place again, even when Larry trashed the loft. Twice.

"It took me a long time to figure out how to deal with it. It? What's 'it', Blair? Acceptance, I guess. Jim accepted me, just the way I am. I stopped being someone he had to put up with for whatever reason, and became someone he wanted to have around. That never happened to me before. Outside of anthropology, anyway, and the student/teacher thing is a whole different dynamic. And Naomi, of course, but she's my Mom. It's for sure none of her boyfriends ever cared shit about me when she wasn't around to see. Not that they weren't nice to me. Most of them went out of their way to be nice to me. But by the time I was six, I knew why they did it. They wanted Naomi, and if they didn't bond with her kid, they couldn't have her. At least I always knew I was more important to her than any of them. Naomi made sure they knew it, too.

"Anyway, acceptance. It doesn't sound like much, I guess, but the word encompasses so much. I've had lots of friends who accepted the surface Blair; it's not like people hate me or anything. But my friends have always been casual, go to a game or catch a movie or discuss the lecture, well that was nice, see ya friends. There was never anyone I could really talk to about stuff that mattered, and there definitely was never anyone who would put his life on the line for me. Not before Jim.

"I can't even count the number of times Jim has saved my ass. At first, I thought he did it because he felt responsible for me, and maybe because he needed me to help him with the sentinel thing. The first part's true, but the second isn't. Jim Ellison doesn't risk his life for selfish reasons. I knew it, I guess, or I should have, but it took our 'rescue mission' to Peru after Simon and Daryl to pound it into my head that Jim will risk anything and everything for someone he considers a friend. When I finally figured that out, I realized that Jim thought of me as his friend.

"Okay, so I'm a little slow on the uptake. Give me a break, I had no basis for comparison. I knew that I really liked Jim, that I was comfortable around him (most of the time. Don't get me started on house rules), that I could talk to him, even though we didn't share a lot of interests. I knew I liked living in the loft, and even though I'd never lived anywhere else for as long as I'd been here, I didn't want to leave. I knew Jim was my friend. I just didn't know he was my best friend, until Peru. But I know now.

"I don't know why, but I know that Jim cares about me, more than anyone ever has, except Naomi. He's risked his life and his career for me. He put his life and his sanity into my hands. And he has this faith in me that scares me to death. When something goes wrong with his sentinel abilities, he knows I'll find a way to fix it. He never doubts that for a minute. But I do. I know I'm just winging most of this. Sure, I can get a little help from my research, and reason some of it out, but the rest of the time, I'm flying blind, and it scares me--no, it terrifies me--that someday, I'm not going to be able to do it. That I'll let him down, and he'll be hurt because of it, or maybe killed. I'm his backup. He needs to be able to count on me, and I don't know if I'm good enough for the job. I just know that if anything happened to him because of me, I couldn't stand it.

"I feel that way about Naomi, too. So, what does that mean? That I think of Jim as my family? Is that what a best friend is, someone who's like family? If I'd ever had one before, I suppose I'd know, but I'm winging this friendship thing, too, and I definitely don't know what I'm doing. It's not like I can look it up in a book somewhere: Friend: How to be one, how to tell if you have one. Mostly, I just try to do what I think Jim would do, and hope that's the right thing. Jim expects a lot, and I don't want him to be disappointed in me.

"Whoa. That sounds like Jim's my father or something. That's not right. I mean, I respect Jim, I really do. There's a lot to admire about him. He's brave, honorable, noble. He always does what's right, and he's the most honest man I've ever known. If a guy's got to have a role model, he could do a lot worse than Jim Ellison. But I do not need a father-figure. Never did, never will.

"A brother, maybe. A brother would be cool. When I was a kid, I used to pretend I had an older brother, somebody big and tough who could scare away all the bullies. Jim fits right in there. He'd make a great older brother. Okay, he's already got a younger brother, but since this is all in my head, that doesn't matter, does it? I can think of him as my brother, but I don't have to tell him. He doesn't ever have to know. It would just embarrass him anyway. Not to mention me. Jim doesn't--"

The shower shut off. Jim straightened, feeling a guilty flush creep over his face. He should never have read this. The moment he realized it was personal and not part of Blair's dissertation, he should have stopped. "a lot to admire" Ha! There was nothing to admire in Jim Ellison today. He was a sneaking, prying spy who couldn't be trusted alone. But if that was true--and he knew it was--then why did he feel so good?

Jim sat down on the couch and took a long swallow of beer. He grabbed the newspaper, opening it to the sports section just as the bathroom door opened. Blair emerged in a cloud of steam and herbs, still singing, rubbing his dripping hair with a towel. The rest of his body was dry. And completely naked.

"Jim!" Blair's voice cracked like a teenager's. He whipped the towel down around his waist, his entire body blushing pink, except for his face, which turned so bright a red that Jim thought he might spontaneously combust. "What are you doing here?"

"I got off early," Jim said, successfully suppressing a grin. "Sorry I startled you, Chief."

"Warn a guy next time, will you?"

"Sorry," Jim said again, as Blair disappeared into his room.

Ten seconds later, Blair burst out of his room, jeans in place of the towel, pulling a thermal shirt over his head as he walked. He went straight to the table and started gathering books and papers.

"Sorry about the mess, man."

Blair put a hand on the laptop, and froze, staring at the screen. He went pale, then red again, and slowly turned to look at Jim. His voice was very quiet.

"You read this, didn't you?"

"Some of it," Jim admitted.

"You had no right."

"I know. I'm sorry."

Blair closed the laptop, stacked it on top of the books and papers, and clutched it all to his chest. "Sorry doesn't cut it, Jim."

He stalked back to his room and closed the door. Seconds later, Jim heard the latch drop into place.



Blair lay on his bed, rubbing his index finger over his thumb, staring at the shadows on the ceiling. He'd never been so mad at Jim--at anyone--in his life. He'd known he didn't have any real privacy here, living with a sentinel, a man who could hear his every heartbeat if he chose. But he and Jim had kept up the polite fiction, acted as though the doors installed on his room really meant something, and everything had been okay. More than okay. For the first time in his life, he'd felt like he belonged somewhere, like he had a home. But that had all been a lie.

Jim had no respect for his privacy, no respect for him. He'd read Blair's private journal without a second thought, and acted like it was no big deal. Oh, sure, he'd apologized. "Sorry," Sandburg, but you didn't really think you had any right to privacy, did you? "Sorry," but it's my apartment, you're only here for my convenience, and if I feel like reading your journal, going through your drawers, or anything else I damn well please, I'll do it. And when I give you an offhand "sorry", you'll just have to accept it.

Maybe he should be happy with that. An apology was more than he'd ever gotten from any of Naomi's boyfriends who thought they had a right to search his stuff for drugs or whatever just because he was a kid. But he wasn't a kid anymore, dammit. And even if he were, no one had the right to do that to him. He wasn't a sentinel, he wasn't a cop, but he was entitled to as much privacy and respect as Jim or anyone else. And if Jim couldn't give it to him, then he'd have to leave.

But he didn't want to leave. God, he didn't want to.

A shadow hovered outside the doors. Jim, of course. Blair sat up, waiting for Jim to knock, or say something. The shadow bent down, slid a paper under the doors, and vanished.

Blair went to the doors and picked up the paper. Returning to the bed, he sat down and stared at the carefully creased sheet of stationery in his hand. It was covered in Jim's bold handwriting, neat and easy to decipher. Blair put on his glasses, unfolded the paper, and began to read.

"Blair

"I'm not good at this kind of thing. Words are one of your strengths, not mine, and I've never been much for writing. But I thought it only fair that I should put this on paper, where you can see it, the way I saw what you wrote.

"I don't know if you can forgive me. I don't know if I deserve it. Reading your journal, or whatever that was, was wrong. I know it, I knew it while I was doing it, but I just couldn't help myself. That's no excuse, I know. I'm ashamed, and I'm sorry.

"That's only part of what I want to say. Maybe I shouldn't talk about this, since I didn't have any right to read it, but I can't forget what you wrote about being comfortable in the loft, and with me. And about me being your best friend. Chief, when I read that, I was proud. It's killing me to think I may have destroyed both your comfort and your good opinion of me all at once.

"You have every right to be mad, Chief. And if you decide you can't be here anymore, I'll understand. But I hope you'll stay, and give me a chance to earn your trust again. Whatever you decide, I want you to know how important your friendship is to me.

"When I first met you, I thought I was losing my mind. In less than an hour, you convinced me that I wasn't. I was scared, and I treated you like dirt, but that didn't faze you. You were determined to help me, and you did. You taught me how to handle these sentinel senses. You saved my life, my job, and my sanity. Without you, I'd be locked up somewhere, and we both know it.

"You still help me. Don't ever think I don't know that. You're always coming up with new ways to use my sentinel abilities to help solve a case, ways that would never occur to me. I know I don't say thank you often enough, but believe me, I'm grateful for you and your brain. You're probably the most intelligent man I've ever met. You sure as hell know more about obscure subjects. The things you know amaze me, Chief.

"You said I was brave. I don't know about that. But I know that you are. We've been in some pretty dangerous situations, Chief, but you've followed me right in, watching my back no matter what, even though you're not trained for that kind of thing. There aren't many men who'd do that.

"I'm supposed to be talking about friendship here. Okay, well, you're right, we don't have a lot of common interests. But I don't think that matters. What matters is that we get along, and we do things for each other. I know you've done a hell of a lot for me. When we met, I had walls up between me and the rest of the world. Nobody could get through, not even Carolyn. But you breezed right past them as though they weren't even there. You got me to open up to you and then to the world. I don't know how you did it, but you brought the walls down. And while you did it, you became something I don't even want to think about losing. You became my best friend.

"You may think I'm saying that just because you did. Don't, Blair. You are my best friend. I hope you always will be.

"Oh yeah. About this brother thing. I am not embarrassed that you think of me as your big brother, Chief. In fact, it makes me feel good. I wasn't much of a brother to Steven--our father didn't exactly encourage closeness. The idea of getting another chance, with you, really appeals to me. If I haven't completely blown it tonight, I'd like to be able to think of you as my kid brother. If I have blown it, then I want you to know just how proud I am to have had Blair Sandburg as my partner and my friend.

Jim"

Blair folded the letter. He took off his glasses, put them on the nightstand, and rubbed his eyes with one hand. Curls fell into his face, and he pushed them back. He turned his head toward the doors, but there was no shadow on the other side.

Gripping the letter tightly, Blair stood and went to the doors. He hesitated, then lifted the latch.

Blair opened the door and came out of his room. Jim turned, watching him, but Blair advanced only a few steps, and stopped. Okay, he could do this. He went to Blair, making sure he didn't stand too close. Invading the kid's space was not what he needed right now. Blue topaz eyes met his, and looked away again, but not before Jim saw the shimmer of water. Blair wouldn't speak first. It was up to him.

"I'm sorry."

Softly. "I know."

"Help me out here, partner. Are we okay with this?"

Blair shrugged. "I guess so."

Relief flooded through him. Jim smiled, but Blair didn't see. "Good."

"Yeah."

They stood in awkward silence, until Jim said, "It's late. I'm gonna hit the sack."

"Okay."

He started to turn away, but Blair's voice stopped him.

"Jim?"

"Yeah?"

Blair's gaze was fixed on the paper in his hand. "The brother thing. Did you mean it? You really don't mind?"

Jim put a hand on the narrow shoulder, and squeezed gently. Blair looked at him, and Jim pulled him in, wrapping his arms around the compact body. After a moment, Blair returned the hug. A warmth flashed through Jim that was unlike anything he'd ever known, but he recognized it, and hoped Blair felt it, too. This was what it was to have a brother, if not of your blood, then of your heart.

"I really don't mind," he said.

 

The End