by Ice Bear
Summary: Ten years after his helicopter crashed in Peru, Jim is invited back to Ft. Bragg to pay tribute to his men.
Disclaimer: All things Sentinel belong to Pet Fly and Paramount.
Blair walked into the loft to find Jim staring blankly toward the balcony from his seat at the kitchen table. He looked lost, not a look the Guide connected with his Sentinel. “Everything okay, Big Guy?” He asked, taking a seat across from his roommate.
The sky blue eyes rested briefly on the Guide’s face before handing him an envelope. Blair could feel the thickness of the paper as he pulled it carefully from the open envelope. He read it through once, quickly; his pulse quickening. He went back and read it again thoroughly before looking back at his partner.
“You going to go?”
“I…” Jim shrugged as he stood and headed into the living room, where he began to pace.
“You don’t have to decide tonight, you know. It’s not for another six weeks. I think you should take some time and think it through.” Blair said as he finished putting water on for tea.
Jim grabbed his leather jacket and opened the door. “I need some air.”
“Wait!” The Guide ordered. “Take your cell phone. You have two hours. If you haven’t called or come back by then, I’ll come looking.” Jim gave a slight nod and was gone. “Oh man, I don’t understand why these things keep happening to you. Why can’t your past just stay where it belongs?” The younger man whispered to the closed door.
Jim returned with 15 minutes to spare and gratefully accepted the beer his roommate offered. He went out on the balcony, knowing he’d be followed. They sat in comfortable silence for several minutes. “I don’t know if I can do this,” he said softly, eyes on the horizon.
“You don’t have to,” Blair responded, trying to keep his emotions out of his voice. He knew his friend and partner could not - and would not - turn down the request to return to Ft. Bragg to honor his men, but he desperately wanted to give him an out.
“They were my men…”
“And you did everything you could for them while they were alive – when it counted, Jim!” He was not going to watch him bury himself in the guilt and recrimination over a tragedy that happened ten years ago.
“Chief,” Jim stopped, unsure that he could find the right words. “I know that, but I wasn’t able to attend their funerals. The brass wouldn’t let me. Guess they were afraid I’d say something I wasn’t supposed to. I owe it to my men and to their families.”
“And what about what you owe yourself?” Blair was on his feet, so angry his fingers were clenched into fists.
“Don’t you start with me, James Ellison!” He yelled. “You know that this will send you into a tailspin. Look what happened when Oliver showed up! You don’t deserve any more pain over what happened. It wasn’t your fault!”
“I know that now, Chief, I do,” Jim replied, his voice soft. “But this is about doing the right thing. And if they’re going to have a service to commemorate my men, I need to be there,” Jim looked up into the face he knew so well. “Would you…would you come with me?”
An audible sigh escaped the younger man, and his shoulders relaxed slightly. “I wasn’t planning on letting you go alone,” he eased his words with a smile.
“I’d like you there. Maybe…hell, I need you there. I don’t think I can do this alone, Blair.”
“You got me, Big Guy.”
As the day approached, the Sentinel retreated into himself. Simon and Blair talked one afternoon, when the senior Detective was in court, about the upcoming trip. “Are you sure this is the right thing to do,” the Captain asked finally.
“No…but Jim is. Come on, Simon, you know him. He’d never forgive himself for not being there. It’s just…I hate what this is doing to him! It’s like every time he thinks he’s done with it, someone or something shoves it all back in his face. And I’m scared that one of these times, it’s just going to be too much.” He had been pacing while talking, but stopped before his last sentence and turned earnest eyes on his Captain.
“We have to trust Jim on this one, Blair. I don’t like it any better than you do, but at least this time he knows it’s’ coming. Look, if you need anything…”
“You’ll be the first person we call, I promise. And thanks, Simon, for giving him the time.”
The flight was quiet. Jim had sprung for first class tickets so they could stretch out a little. The older man fell asleep shortly after they were airborne, covered with a blanket Blair brought from the loft. About half way across the country, Blair looked up to see a young woman shaking Jim’s arm.
“Sir, sir?” Jim shot upright in his seat, twisting her arm as he did so.
“Easy, Jim, it’s alright. We’re on the plane.” Blair said, reaching a hand out to anchor his partner. The bigger man shook himself slightly and released the woman.
“I wanted to switch seats, if that’s alright,” she said smiling sweetly at Blair. He groaned; the first sleep Jim had gotten in days, and he gets woken up for this shit.
Jim grinned evilly at him before returning his attention to the woman. “Sorry, honey, but he’s already taken.” He reached out and grabbed Blair’s hand, long fingers resting on the pulse point. He closed his eyes and relaxed back into his seat.
“I’ll get you for that one, Ellison,” Blair growled as the woman huffed and went back to her seat. Jim’s body turned slightly toward his Guide, and he rested his head on the broad shoulder. “Okay, okay, I give,” Blair laughed softly as he ran a hand through his partner’s soft hair.
Once they were off the plane, they headed toward baggage claim. “Captain Ellison, sir!”
Blair felt Jim stiffen as his eyes sought the source. “Mahoney? Uncle Sam has clearly lost his good sense – you’re a Lt. Col!” The two men embraced for a long moment, relaxing Blair. “I’d salute, but I’m pretty sure the regs require you only to salute your superiors,” Jim said with a genuine smile as the two stepped back and sized each other up.
“You look good, Jim. Police work obviously agrees with you.” The man, an inch shorter than the detective, but with a similar build, let his eyes rest on Blair.
“My partner, Blair Sandburg. Chief, this man impersonating an Army officer is Frank Mahoney - best known for all night beer runs and his knack for ending up with the only married woman in town.”
Blair held out a hand and was met with a strong grip and a careful once over. “Detective, I understand it’s only since you joined the force that this bum figured out how to solve a case.”
“I still let him think he’s helping, keeps his ego healthy,” Blair retorted earning a laugh from the Lt. Colonel and a cuff from his partner.
“You here to make sure I don’t go AWOL, Frank?” Jim asked as they grabbed their bags off the belt.
“No. I wanted a chance to see the prodigal son and to let you know the General expects you both for dinner tonight – sports coat, no tie – 1830 for cocktails.”
“Frank?” Something passed between the two that Blair missed, and he made a note to ask about it later.
“Jim, the old man would like to see you. That’s all it is - old friends swapping tales and good scotch. I promise.”
They parted, and Jim remained quiet until they got to their room in the hotel. They’d been offered quarters on the base, but Jim had been adamant in his refusal.
Blair showered after unpacking. Jim was pacing the room when he got done. “Want to tell me what’s going on, Big Guy?”
“Sorry Chief, just…nervous I guess. And seeing Frank…”
“You like him.”
“Yeah. He’s a good man, Blair; one of the best. If the Army had more like him, I’d probably still be in.”
“And the General?”
The blue eyes looked away for a moment. “He was a supporter of mine, my patron. He…when I decided I wanted out, he disowned me…rather publicly.”
“We don’t have to go to dinner tonight.” Blair’s protective side showing itself.
“It’ll be okay. That was a long time ago. I’m going to go run, need to stretch my legs. I’ll be back in an hour.” Jim stopped by the door and turned to face his partner. “Thanks, Blair, for coming with me. It means a lot to me to have you here.”
“I was afraid if you came alone you’d either reenlist or get a tattoo – I’ve never seen so many tattoo parlors in my life.”
“Army town – tattoo parlors, bars and pawn shops – all the essentials.”
Arriving at the General’s house that night, Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Blair stole a hand on his shoulder. Jim patted it lightly and got out. His back was straight, his step precise and he entered the house looking like the strong, confident, powerful man he was. Blair had to smile – anyone looking to cause trouble tonight was in for a surprise.
General MacMillan met them in the drawing room. “I see civilian life hasn’t changed you much, Ellison, still punctual as ever,” the older man said as he sized up his former officer.
“You can take the man out of the Army, sir…” Jim’s hand shot out and was met with a strong grip from the man who had been his mentor.
“It’s good to see you again, Jim. I appreciate you coming back for this.”
“Sir, my partner, Blair Sandburg.” The general looked at the smaller man.
“Can’t say as his hair meets regs, Ellison.”
“Trust me, sir, nothing about Sandburg is regulation. That’s why I keep him around.” Jim’s tone must have sent the right message, as the General warmly shook Blair’s hand and welcomed him to his home.
“Jimmy Ellison! I thought you’d be thrown in the brig if you ever set foot on this base again.” A deep voice boomed across the room.
“Jer! You old dog.” Jim made sure to sweep Blair up with his arm as he headed toward the source of the voice. “Blair, Jerry Cassidy and his lovely wife, Christy. You will have to trust me that she is definitely his better half.”
“I see the Ellison charm hasn’t lost a step,” Christy said reaching out to hug Jim. “And the muscles aren’t bad either.” This brought a laugh from both men.
“Is it true you’re a full bird Colonel now? I mean I know the Army is having trouble recruiting but I wasn’t aware they were that hard up.”
“Hey, at least I’m not getting shot at for a living, like someone else I know.” Cassidy, a head shorter than Jim, grabbed him in a bear hug.
Blair was fascinated, his former life as an anthropologist coming into play as he watched this closed culture up close. These were clearly people who’d been important to his partner, and he was hoping for some insight into the makings of the man. He sensed there was also the likelihood of obtaining some really good blackmail material. Jim kept him close as they worked the room. He made sure that he was included in the conversations and that he was properly introduced.
“So Ellison, you actually had the balls to show up here? I’d say I’m impressed, except you know how I hate to lie.”
Blair felt Jim tense. While his partner had been pleased to see everyone else and had relaxed somewhat from his initial posture, whoever this man was; he was clearly trouble. “Nance.” Jim’s eyes were ice blue and his voice almost as cold as he turned to face the intruder.
“Shit,” Frank whispered loud enough for Blair to hear.
“Ellison. Come back to the scene of the crime, have you?” The man was 5’8”, slim, with a cruel mouth and cold eyes. Blair took a step closer to his partner; the protectiveness of the Guide coming to the fore.
“I was invited, Nance.” Jim’s relaxed body language could not hide his tenseness from his partner as the tell tale twitch in his jaw was a dead giveaway. The General interrupted at that point to call everyone to the table, and Blair silently thanked Frank for pushing Jim toward the dining room.
Nance was not at the table, much to Blair’s relief. He sat across from Jim, seated between Frank and Jer. Christy was on one side of Jim, with the General on the other. He prodded the two men for stories he could use later and could not hide his mirth when Jim caught him at it. “Don’t worry, partner,” he said sweetly, “I’m giving as much ammo as I’m getting.”
The dinner was lighthearted with lots of stories, and Jim was in a good mood when they left. Frank followed them to the hotel, and they met in the bar for a night cap. Jim excused himself to use the men’s room, and Blair used the opportunity to find out about Nance.
Frank looked at him carefully for a moment. “Nance always thought Jim was his biggest competitor for the old man’s attention. He wanted the Peru assignment and was pretty unhappy when it went to Jim. To say he was ecstatic when we got word the chopper went down would be polite. And no one was more pissed off when Jim came out of that jungle 18 months later. The Army needs leaders like Jim, not Nance, and that’s why he’s still only a Major. I know for a fact that the old man didn’t invite him tonight.”
“He views Jim as a threat?”
“He did. But considering Jim’s no longer in the service, I don’t know why he should.”
“Frank explain Nance to you?” Jim asked that night as he was getting ready for bed.
“Yeah. I don’t like him.”
“You always were a good judge of character, Chief,” Jim said with a smile.
“He won’t do anything stupid tomorrow, will he?”
“This is the General’s gig, not mine. So I don’t think so.”
“Going all Blessed Protector on me?”
“Somebody’s got to look out for you. Besides, he gives me the creeps.”
Jim was up early the next morning and went for a run. Blair knew the idea of seeing the families of his men was eating at him. He just hoped it went well. At 1045 hours, a car picked them up at the hotel and took them to the parade grounds. Jim, in his uniform, looked like the Ranger’s poster boy – tall, muscular, imposing, radiating power. Blair fiddled with his own tie, until Jim grabbed his hand and squeezed it once before letting go.
At the parade ground, they followed a junior officer to a small platform overlooking a granite memorial. Jim, before climbing the platform, moved to stare at the names etched in the grey stone. Each name invoked a picture, a laugh, a memory, and he found himself momentarily overwhelmed. His Guide, sensing the emotional overload, anchored him with a hand on his shoulder. Taking the support that was offered, Jim pulled himself together and, sending a grateful smile at his Guide, moved to the platform. Blair took a seat at the back of those set up for guests.
The ceremony was brief and poignant. The General told the brief story of the ill-fated mission – the details remained classified – extolling the virtue of each man. Jim stood at attention during the speech, eyes roving over the faces of the families. Blair flinched, along with his partner, when the first of three volleys exploded, beginning the 21 gun salute. The mournful sound of taps filled the air. And then it was over.
He moved in close, remaining silent, as Jim talked with each family. He received smiles and hugs and had something personal to recount to each family about their loved one. He stoically accepted their hugs and their thanks for bringing their loved one home.
As the last family slipped away to their car, Jim reached back blindly, and pulled Blair to his side. “Thanks, Chief,” he whispered, keeping a hand over his shoulders as they headed for the car.
The General caught up with them a few steps before they reached their goal. “I’m sorry, Jim, but someone’s been talking to the local press, and there’s going to be a story tomorrow about the mission.” Jim remained silent. “I think I know who did it. And he will pay for it, you have my word. The reporter in question has given us the opportunity to set the record straight. But she insists she’ll only speak with you.”
“No!” Blair uttered, Sentinel soft.
“Sir, is there really a point ten years after the fact?” Jim’s voice was even, but the tense hold he had on his temper came through as the muscle in his jaw began to jump.
“You shouldn’t have to take the fall for Oliver, again. God knows the man caused enough trouble while he was alive. I’d set it straight if I could, Jim, but she won’t talk to me.”
“Your house, 1330, sir?”
“I’ll arrange it.”
Jim and Blair were the only two left now. The older man pivoted and strode back to the memorial, his eyes clearly seeing something far beyond the granite.
“Jim, you don’t have to do this.”
“Yeah, I do, Chief. Nance, in striking out at me, is calling into question the service of my men. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that happen!”
“So you’re just going to play right into his hands?”
Jim’s eyes sought the angry blue ones of his best friend. “No. I can finally set the record straight, just like the General said. I’m no longer a Ranger, and that gives me the ability to say some things I couldn’t ten years ago.” He smiled slightly, but that did not ease his partner’s concern.
“I knew coming here was a bad idea.” Blair blurted out.
“No, Chief. Coming here alone would have been a bad idea. Thank you for today. I couldn’t have done this without you. Today was important to me – talking to the families after all these years. I’d sent letters, but it’s not the same thing…”
Blair was unsure why his friend was so calm. Reporters were near the top of the list of things Jim Ellison didn’t like. Changing into civilian clothes, Jim was quiet on the drive to the general’s. Blair, on the other hand, was one big fidget. Jim had given him an out, but had been rebuffed loudly. There was no way Blair was letting his partner walk into the lion’s den alone.
The reporter was young, but had done her own homework after being fed the story. The General and Blair were relegated to the drawing room, while Jim and the reporter took over his office.
Blair alternately paced and fidgeted. The General watched the younger man for a few minutes before he started asking questions. They talked for twenty minutes before he got asked the question he’d been dreading since they arrived. “Your dissertation about Sentinels, it was true wasn’t it?”
Blair looked carefully at the older man. “Look, Blair, when Jim returned from Peru there was something different about him. The doctors did hundreds of hours of tests because he was hearing things no one else could and seeing things that were not in the normal line of sight. After six weeks they seemed to fade. But they came back, didn’t they?”
“Sir, with all due respect, that’s a question you need to ask Jim.”
“I’m glad he has someone to look out for him. I was angry when he wanted out…said some things, unforgivable things, that weren’t true. To tell you the truth, I was surprised he agreed to come back here for the ceremony. I really thought, after all I’d said, he’d never set foot on this base again.”
“You told him he’d be thrown in the brig if he did.” Blair responded, remembering something Cassidy had joked about at the dinner.
“In front of a room full of officers, no less. It was not one of my prouder moments. Nance got hold of the reporter. Normally, I would have let it go but I owe Jim, and its past time the truth came out. You were with him when Oliver resurfaced?”
“Yes. Losing Sam Holland right in front of his eyes was hard for him. The only saving grace, to be honest, was taking Oliver down.”
Jim came out of the office with the reporter and leaned back against the large oak door once she was gone. “Jim?”
“It’s okay, Chief, not my happiest hour but she has the real story – nowhere near as interesting as the one Nance painted for her. Now we’ll just have to see what she does with it.” Blair had moved over by his partner and stole an arm around his waist. Jim’s head dipped down to rest briefly on Blair’s before straightening.
“Jim, I’ve arranged a tour of the base for Blair. I thought you and I could talk while he’s gone.” The General said.
Jim looked at his partner and when he received a nod, he agreed. Frank showed up at that moment and whisked Blair out for the “All the places Jim Ellison almost got busted” tour of Ft. Bragg. Jim joined the General in his den.
Back at their hotel room while they were getting ready for dinner with Jer and Christy, Blair’s curiosity got the best of him, and he asked Jim about his talk with the General. The big man kept his back turned for several minutes, and Blair realized he was trying to get his thoughts in order.
“He apologized for what he did to me when I said I wanted out, and we talked about Oliver. I, he was a good mentor to me, but what he did when I decided to leave, I wasn’t sure I could ever forgive him. But I did today. It felt pretty good.” Blair’s blazing smile in response made him feel good, too. “And he said he asked you about your dissertation.” Blair looked stricken. “He also told me what you said. He decided he didn’t need to know, just was glad I had someone on my side. So am I, Blair.”
Jim went for a run the next morning, returning with the local paper and Starbucks coffee. He handed both to his partner before slipping into the shower. Blair found his glasses and after taking several sips of coffee, he searched for the article – hard to miss on the front page – and started reading.
Jim came back into the room, wearing only a towel, and sat on his partner’s bed. “Well?”
“She reported the facts, and I appreciate the fact that she talked to one of the families.” He had a lot more to say, but needed a better read on his partner before saying more.
“That’s what I thought. While I’d have preferred no story, if there was going to be one, this is a good one. And the focus is on the men and their families – where it should be.”
“Think Nance is happy?” Blair asked, a bit of mischief in his eyes.
“Not as happy as he’s gonna be when he finds out what MacMillan has in store for him for the next two years.” Jim responded, a smile finally breaking out on the handsome face.
“Alright!” Blair crowed.
On the way to the airport, they stopped at the base, and Jim walked over to the monument to his men; straightened to attention, and saluted. “I wish it could have been different,” he whispered before returning to his Guide.
“You ready to go home, Chief?” Jim asked as he settled into the car.
“Let’s go, Big Guy, before that pile of paperwork on our desks takes over the bullpen.”