Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. I use them out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit.

Warnings: This story contains bad language and mature themes.


Morality Tale
by
Ismaro

ligela@sympatico.ca

 

Ellison was incandescent with rage. Sandburg was white with a variety of emotions. The door to the loft had never been so nearly broken in (except when broken in intentionally) as when Jim pounded through the door. Blair had never been so silent. It was Thanksgiving Day.

Once the door was open, the Sentinel rounded on his Guide and let the rage loose.

"What the hell was that? I mean, what the hell was that? Do you realise what you did back there? How far over the line you've gone? Christ, I should have arrested you. I should arrest you now. Why haven't I arrested you?" Jim was beyond frustration or exasperation. There didn't seem to be a word for what he was feeling. The tic in his jaw was almost pulsing through his skin.

"I don't know, Jim. You're right. You should." Blair Sandburg turned his back to his partner, putting his wrists behind him. "Go ahead," he mumbled defeatedly. "Put the cuffs on."

Finally, Jim looked at Blair, really looked at him, using his enhanced senses rather than eyes red with wrath, and took in his Guide's utter moral collapse and the brokenness within. It was written in pallor of the skin, the slumping of the muscles, the irregularity of the heart rate, the threadiness of the breathing, the drop in body temperature, the near inability to speak above a whisper, the stench of old sweat and new fear.

His partner was in shock. Blair had at last recognised the consequences of what he had done.

So instead of cuffing the man who had saved his life and his sanity too many times to count, Detective Jim Ellison put his hands on his partner's square shoulders and steered him to the couch in the living room. Blair was barely capable of comprehending what was happening as Jim settled him down and went to fetch a stiff brandy.

When he returned, Blair had folded his arms on his knees and set his head on his arms and was subvocalising hopelessly, "How could I have done this to Jim? How could I? How could I have done this to Jim? Oh, God, how could I have done this to Jim?"

That heartfelt remorse reverberated through Jim Ellison's defences and the walls of Jericho fell. Justified or not, his anger could not stand against so deep a contrition, devoted entirely to Jim himself. Of course his Guide had recast the entire incident in terms of what it meant to Jim Ellison, Officer of the Year, Sentinel of the Great City of Cascade; of course he had decided the real crime was committed against the man whose destiny was bonded to his own; of course the healer in him had taken on the guilt of believing he had hurt and betrayed his partner without hope of redemption or ever deserving Jim's hard-won trust again.

He clearly felt he deserved anything Jim turned on him, from arrest to eviction from Jim's life to being beaten to death at his best friend's hands.

Blair did not need breaking down. He needed bracing up.

With gentle hands, Jim pulled his partner into a sitting position, held the brandy to the muttering lips and forced a shot past the throat. Choking swallows brought Blair out of the state of near catatonia and he raised his hands to cup the glass. Jim let him take it.

"Drink it all, Chief." The use of the nickname was deliberate, an affirmation that Jim Ellison was not Blair Sandburg's enemy, judge or executioner, that instead the bond of Sentinel and Guide was still in place. But the tragic deep blue eyes of the Guide were fixed on his Sentinel's calm aquamarine ones and Jim had to lift the glass to Blair's mouth again.

"Come on, Chief. Drink up. We have to talk and decide what to do. This will help."

After an eternity, Blair nodded and forced down the brandy. Jim monitored its effect. Blair was far from normal, but at least he was coming out of the despair enough to be able to talk to his partner.

"I am so sorry, Jim. And I know 'sorry' doesn't cut it. Give me a few minutes to get myself together. Then take me in." Blair drew in a long shaky breath, obviously trying to find the peace of mind and physical fortitude to face the criminal charges he should have incurred.

But Jim sat down on the couch next to him, and was chafing his arms and face to stimulate circulation, and the detective was saying things his ridealong did not understand at first.

"Jim?" he asked at last, bewildered.

Jim looked into the expressive face and there was a relaxing of his facial muscles that in other circumstance might have been a smile. "It's not okay, Blair, it's a long way from being okay, but it's not that bad."

"God, yes, it is! I don't know how I could have done it to you. I deliberately wrecked your case. No excuses. I did it intentionally. You know it and I know it. And you can never trust me again." Staring into a void, Blair was clearly off and running on a guilt trip neither sane nor logical, driven entirely by emotion which was overwhelming him.

Jim took his Guide's face in both his hands and turned it toward him, forcing Blair to focus on him instead of on his own feelings. "I want you to tell me why."

"Why?" Blair almost laughed. "Wasn't it obvious?"


They had pulled holiday duty at last, and because of shortness of staff in the police department as a whole, and the higher incidence of crime always associated with holidays, had caught a late afternoon case that should have been Homicide's, not Major Crimes'. It was a domestic killing, the husband known as a small-time link in the chain of organised crime in Cascade. The wife was traumatised, sitting in the kitchen, staring down at the body of her husband, new bruises dappling her face bearing silent testimony as to why she had shot her spouse.

Their four children were crying hysterically and clutching at her, not one of the little ones over nine years old.

The two uniforms had called it in and requested paramedics, who were not expected any time soon. Other than that, they had secured the site and waited for the detective and the police observer to arrive and take charge of the investigation.

Neither Jim nor Blair was anywhere close to being comfortable with this tragedy. But Jim just shut himself down emotionally, his military and police training his tools for dealing with the hardships of the job. Blair did not have those to fall back on. He was an anthropologist, not a cop or an ex-soldier; he was Jim's partner under the guise of being a police observer but in truth he was there because he was necessary to Jim's being able to retain essential control over his extraordinary senses.

Jim, at six foot three and built like the Colossus of Rhodes, was one of the most intimidating of men when he was tense or closed in. He had gotten nowhere in questioning the woman, who merely stared mutely from him to the body of her husband. So he left Blair with the task of trying to get her to speak.

Blair was Jim's direct opposite, non-threatening and casual and outstandingly sympathetic. He was the most persuasive, the most comforting presence Jim had ever known. The Sentinel's own debt to his Guide and partner for bringing him back from the edge of insanity when his senses intensified beyond human endurance, and for healing the wounded spirit within the embittered war hero, was proof of Blair's unique ability to connect with others in times of great trial. Whether the wife or the children, there was no one more likely to get through to them than Blair Sandburg.

So while Jim Ellison was trying to process an overload of sensory information, taking note of the condition of the husband's bourbon-reeking body—one shot, right through the heart, she must have gotten lucky—and checking the woman's hands from across the room, visually and by scent, for residue clear to his Sentinel senses, and deciding to locate the gun, which was not to be seen, by piggybacking his sight on his sense of smell from the gun oil, he was also listening to his partner's quiet conversation with the prime suspect.

It did not go as Jim had expected.


Blair started out straightforwardly enough, checking over the children, soothing their distress, telling them everything would be all right, using his very genuine concern for them as a road to reaching the wife. Then he spoke with her. Was there anyone she wanted to have look after the kids? No, she had no relatives and she did not want them to go to her husband's evil family, which was where they should have been spending the Thanksgiving Day evening. She did not have to say the plans had been upset by her husband's drunken violence and its aftermath.

Oh, God. Social Services would have been better, and they were not good, and it looked as if the kids would inevitably be raised by a crime family connection. Jim could almost hear Blair shudder as they both realised the implications of the woman's words.

Sandburg next inquired as to who her doctor was—hers, not her husband's or his family's—and was delighted to know that she had one. He called her on the cell phone to arrange an emergency house call, telling her softly that all five of the small family needed hospitalisation.

Then, whispering too softly for any but the Sentinel's ears, his Guide promised the wife absolute protection if only she would do as he said. Jim froze in shock as his partner told her and the children to say nothing more, but to cry instead. Blair then warned the mother not to speak to anyone other than her own lawyer, and asked her where the gun was.

When the woman pointed it out, hidden from view behind a radiator except at a certain angle, Blair murmured to her to pick it up and hand it to him, standing back and to the side a pace or two.

Then came the crunch.

"Wait, isn't that the gun there?" Blair announced to the room, apparently innocently, gesturing at the weapon as if he was seeing it himself for the first time from his new vantage point, as indeed he was. Drawing everyone's attention to the radiator, which was right behind the wife.

No one could get to her fast enough to keep her from picking it up, although Jim lunged like a panther on its prey. Right under their noses, the woman contaminated the evidence. Her fingerprints on the metal, and the residue on her hands (and dress, as she wiped her hands off on it) were now both completely explained, witnessed by a detective, two cops and a police observer.

Jim had gone red with fury, then white, then red again. He ordered his partner out of the scene, and Blair, playing ruefulness to the hilt, taking responsibility for stupidity and lack of training, went like a lamb.

Well, that was the end of making a case against the mute wife. Forget about trying to link the gun directly to her; it had to be her husband's and it had to be illegal and untraceable, falling anywhere in the chaos of crime-connected weapons. Motive alone was not enough; there were probably a hundred other Cascade residents who might have ordered the husband hit and one shot to the heart was 'lucky' for a nonprofessional. She would not have loaded the weapon, so there was no hope of finding her fingerprints on the rounds still chambered. It all added up to reasonable doubt. They needed a confession and the physical evidence to convict, and Blair had annihilated both.

To beat the rap, all the wife had to do was stay silent and everyone in the room knew it. She had looked into Blair Sandburg's compassionate, authoritative eyes, had seen the sacrifice he was making for her and her children, and she was keeping the faith. "I want a lawyer": that was the mantra she chanted, holding her children close and weeping. Nothing more. Ellison gave in and did not charge her. She and the children were now officially survivors and victims, whisked off to Cascade General under doctor's orders.

Sandburg had sabotaged the case.


"Wasn't it obvious why I did it?"

Now that Blair was rational again, Jim took his hands away from his partner's face. "It was the kids, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, the kids. But, geez, Jim, did you get a look at her? That bastard must have been beating on her daily. And on the kids, too. Didn't you notice? They came in for some pretty rough treatment too." The Guide was close to tears of sympathy at the memory.

"Actually," Jim said, "no, I didn't." He had been concentrating on too many other things. Maybe even blocking the children out of his mind on purpose so he could get the job done without thinking about how it would affect them. Few people knew the tender-hearted side of Jim Ellison, especially where children were concerned, but Blair knew it well.

"Oh, yeah, even the littlest, and she couldn't have been more than three, Jim. Bruising, welts old and new, and I mean like within minutes, man. Just being charged was so too much for that family. The kids seeing their mother taken to jail for killing their father, probably to protect them? Then, then a trial with the older kids testifying against their mom? And who knows if a spousal abuse defence would go over, with a guy who's as connected as the corpse, so the mother might be convicted! Who do the children go to, even interim, until the case is tried, let alone later? One of the mob families?

"I just couldn't let it happen, Jim." Blair's defeatedness came out in his voice and face, the one almost too soft for even Jim to hear, the other slack with grief.

But he wasn't finished. "The worst thing, the worst of all, was that I didn't stop to think of you even once. I left you out of my thoughts entirely. I just acted on instinct. It felt so right to stop what I saw as a total social injustice from happening, so natural to just obfuscate it all away, so necessary to keep those kids safe from the hell they were facing, that I did it without thinking about you. About us.

"Jeez, Jim, it wasn't that I messed up your case while you were still investigating it, or that it was a bust you missed for your solved crimes record because I deliberately screwed it up. I used you, man. I used you to get away with it. And it didn't hit me until afterwards. I stabbed you in the back as the Sentinel of Cascade. And I'm supposed to be your Guide."

Something clicked in Jim Ellison's mind. He suddenly saw something new, with the eyes of his soul, not of his body. Something Blair Sandburg had not seen, and need to know.

"Oh, shit, Jim, I'm so sorry," his partner choked out at last.

Then the heaving sobs started.

Jim put his arms around his best friend's shoulders and hugged him tightly. When that did not work, he put one hand up to cradle his Guide's head and neck and rested his chin on Blair's brown curls.

"It's okay, Blair. It wasn't before, but now it's okay." Jim kept repeating the words until his partner's storm of emotion wore itself out and Blair could actually listen to him again.

Then the younger man pulled back, and Jim almost smiled at the anger flashing in the sapphire eyes. Much better than the silent 'I wish I were dead' messages his partner had been spilling for the past half hour.

"What do you mean, 'It's okay'? It's not okay! It's not okay for me to trade on your loyalty! To expect you to be my Blessed Protector when I commit a crime! Don't you understand? Whatever the uniforms might have guessed or suspected, I know you knew for certain there was powder on her hands and where the gun was and all the rest of it!

"I know you heard every word I said to that woman. I threw myself between you and your job as a cop and your duty as a Sentinel by wrecking the evidence you already had, even if it wasn't bagged yet. You should have arrested me! And the only reason I can think of for you not doing it is loyalty! I used you! That is not okay, Jim! That will never be okay!"

Jim actually laughed out loud. Blair became more irate for a moment, then cycled down into stark puzzlement.

"How can you laugh at this, Jim? I betrayed you! Why does that make you laugh?"

Jim shook his head, smiling still. "Blair, you didn't betray me. Made me angry, yes. But you know what anger usually covers in me."

"Fear."

"Yeah. I was terrified I wouldn't get you out of there before the uniforms caught onto the fact that you ditched the case on purpose. Seeing that one case die on the vine is not a problem for me."

"It's not? But you were talking about my going over the line and arresting me and asking why you shouldn't. I don't have an answer except loyalty, and that's not acceptable to me." Blair was whispering again, and his eyes were trained on his lap.

Jim cuffed him lightly and Blair looked up, startled at the gesture of friendship. "I was talking out of anger, Chief. Please forgive me."

"Forgive you?" Utter blankness.

"Yeah. Listen, Chief, I have to tell you you're one of the most decent and upright people I know—except that you do obfuscate rather too well—and I can't quarrel with the way you saw the case going down. Don't you think all three of us cops, me and the uniforms too, were quite happy to see the wife walk on this? Sure, I'd have found the gun and bagged her hands for testing, if you hadn't gotten in my way.

"Only I think you were supposed to get in my way."

Blair just stared.

"Too much of what happened here is more than coincidence, Chief. How many domestics do we get sent on?"

"None. It's not our department."

"Right. How many holiday details do we pull?"

"Almost none. You've got seniority."

"But we got today's. And how many women can kill their husbands with a single shot to the heart from across the room?"

"That's how he died?"

"Uh-huh."

"Um, that is lucky shooting, I guess. More consistent with a hit than a domestic, huh?"

"Definitely. And last but not least, how many people associated with the Cascade P.D. would have done for that woman and her kids what you did, partner? How many could have? Being on the scene, seeing what I didn't and reacting so fast, so completely, so simply, obfuscating without even thinking about it, one easy plan to kill the case coming to mind instantly, and acted on without hesitation? How many people could and would have done that?"

"Yeah, well, that's kinda my point." Blair was still too busy to catch Jim's point.

"Yes, it is, but not the way you mean it. It's all just a little too coincidental for me to think it happened by chance." Jim took a deep breath as he tried to show Blair Sandburg the truth he had grasped earlier. "I think you were supposed to handle this case as Shaman of the Great City, and not me."

Blair was gazing intently at his partner. This was something he had never considered. Handling a situation himself, instead of following Jim's lead. Making the term 'Shaman of the Great City' mean something more than his duty to Jim as Jim's Guide and partner. Having Jim follow his lead for once, support him in a decision he would never himself have made. Not that Jim was not supportive, but Jim was the cop and this was police work. Blair knew his official limits very well, even if he sometimes, okay, often, ignored them.

Jim went on. "She's never gonna kill another human being in her life. The kids need her. They don't need to go to her husband's family. Those people needed a second chance. You gave it to them."

"But I shouldn't have, Jim. Not by law. You were right. I crossed the line. Badly."

"Look, I have never claimed that the system is ideal. This is a perfect example. If the physical evidence is there, the system demands that we run with the ball. Cops and prosecutors alike. This case would have had to go to court, and all the injustice of making the wife and kids go through that and the chance that she would go to prison so the kids end up in the wrong hands, all of that would have happened—if you hadn't gotten in the way."

"Yeah, but..."

"No, wait. First, you can't think you're the only person who ever looked the other way on a case. Cops don't always give out speeding tickets; we do have some discretion when laying a charge isn't right or necessary."

"This isn't a speeding ticket and I didn't just look the other way. And I'm not a cop with any kind of discretion."

"No, you did more. But if I'd found the gun with her prints unexplained, and residue on her hands, I wouldn't have been able to look the other way. I'd checked my heart on the way in, I was in full cop mode. And you'd seen the injuries on the children I didn't. You may not have realised it, Chief, but you didn't just do that for them. You did it for me, too."

Blair gasped as Jim went on. "How do you think I'd have felt afterwards, if I'd seen the case through to the end, knowing what might happen, knowing that if I'd only looked at the kids before I looked for the gun, I might have had a chance to do what you did."

"You do what I did? No. I don't believe it. I just don't believe it. You would never tamper with evidence just to promote your own view of social justice. You're a cop and a Sentinel. It defines you, Jim."

"Well, the cop in me is quite satisfied with the result and the Sentinel is even more grateful."

"What? Your Guide just slit your throat! You can't be grateful for that!"

"Blair, you didn't slit my throat, you didn't stab me in the back, and you aren't trading on my loyalty. You're being the Shaman of Cascade. And my Guide. Remember what you said about it being instinctual, feeling right, it being necessary, something you had to do?"

"Yeah, so?"

"All of that's the Shaman in you. Protecting that vulnerable family. Protecting your Sentinel from what might have been one of the worst calls he ever made. Yes, the means were illegal. No, there's no point in even trying to arrest you; that was just angry hot air; I can't make a case against you, you know. How would it play in Court: 'Your Honour, I saw the residue on her hands from across the room, smelled the gun oil on the gun and would have found it as soon as I followed the scent to it, oh, and I heard my partner whispering into her ear from 14 feet away.'

"And if you think I'd let you confess, think again. I'd beat you black, blue and bloody inside of three minutes and you'd walk on the technicality that I'd infringed your constitutional rights."

Jim was shaking his head in humour and Blair's sorrow-dark eyes began to brighten a little.

"Besides, I spent a lot of years in Covert Ops and Vice, and believe me, I know when the exercise of a questionable discretion is necessary. And I've done things far, far worse, much uglier, than what you did today. I am no one to preach on the subject, despite whatever 'White Knight on a Horse' idea you have about me." Jim finally fell silent.

"Jim, I am not in some kind of hero-worship mindset here. I know you, warts and all, and I've never seen you do anything I consider immoral or unethical since I've known you."

"Yeah, you have," Jim Ellison said sadly. "You've just either endorsed it or understood it and forgiven me for it all and forgotten it entirely. The second time we met, I nearly put you through a wall, using my size and military skills against you, a civilian, a half a foot smaller than me, when you were only offering to help me get my life back. That was ethical of me? I don't think so.

"Plus, I've nearly dropped one perp down a mine shaft, another out a window, and third into a sewer, and given you misplaced guilt over it for life. And I emptied every bullet in my gun into Lash when I knew the first had killed him. I don't have to go on, do I?"


Blair shook his head, astonished at the depth of feeling Jim was allowing himself to show. So often he had had to guess where he stood with his Sentinel, firmly rooted in the gifted man's shadow, usually taken for granted, but always linked by a bond that both felt but neither was secure in discussing in depth. To hear Jim acknowledge the strength of the friendship between them was a rare treasure indeed, even if it had come out of a hurt Blair had inflicted and had not found a way to live with yet.

"And I know you will always forgive me, for all the stuff I did before I knew you, even the stuff you don't know about yet, even the stuff that's lost in memories and I don't know about yet. All the shit I'm sure to hand you in the future too. I can be one moody son-of-a-bitch to live with, we both know that, and I was far worse when we first met. Out of control and dangerous to boot.

"But you never let me down. You've stood by through thick and thin, as my partner and my Guide and my brother, yeah, my brother, my real family, Blair. We may argue like cat and dog at times, but we always work it out if we try hard enough.

"I think a little reciprocity from me is in order, if you can bear having me know you, warts and all. Understanding when you make a questionable call, maybe even endorsing it. Not just forgiving it, but being grateful when the outcome is as good as it was for that woman and her four children tonight."

Jim's ice blue eyes were piercingly honest. Blair knew that what he saw in them was a genuine statement of his partner's feelings. It left him speechless.

"And when it comes to trust, there's no one I'd rather have at my back, no one else I'd confide in, no one in the world whose judgement I'd accept above my own. And I respect your judgement. Sentinel to Shaman. You did the right thing."

"Not legally," Blair protested. "Not right when it interferes with your job."

"No, not legally, but that's my field, not yours. Spiritually, you were right. Instinctive reaction. A shaman thing. A judgement call from the Shaman of the Great City in the execution of his job, one his Sentinel abides by." Jim finished his speech with a smile.

"God, Jim." Blair was so moved he could not put more than those two words together. "God, Jim."

So Jim put out one long arm again and hugged his Guide's shoulders and was latched onto by a body made energetic by relief and joy. Both needed a diaphragm full of air when they were through.

"Jeez, Jim, what do I tell Simon tomorrow?" Blair asked suddenly. "God, he could pull my credentials for this."

"Nah, it won't come to that. We'll both go in and confess to screwing up."

"How did 'I screwed up' become 'We screwed up', Jim?" Blair was not likely to allow his Sentinel to shoulder a fault he knew he alone committed and for which he alone should pay the price.

"It was a domestic. You have no experience with domestics. I should never have left you to question the prime suspect on your own. I should have found the gun before you pointed it out. As to that, well, it's a 'Shit happens' excuse. You just blurted it out without thinking. The uniforms bought it."

"Simon Banks won't. He knows I'm more experienced than that, knows my predilection for misdirection and obfuscation too. He'll guess."

"So unofficially he'll know, and officially he'll be glad he doesn't. He's the captain and he'll rip us both new ones, but he's not gonna lose both of us over this, and we're in it together. It's no worse than forgetting to Mirandize someone at the right time, at least on the surface. And he'll see to it that we never get assigned to a domestic like that again. So neither of us will ever have to face that situation again."

"That's a good thing. I don't think I could promise not to do it again, Jim." Blair still looked worried.

"If it's your job as Shaman to make that kind of judgement call, you shouldn't even consider making promises like that, Chief."

Jim's calm eyes and voice finally sold the idea to his Guide. Blair whistled a sigh of relief and a gleam re-entered the sea blue eyes which the Sentinel was very glad to see again.

Then, "What time is it, Chief?"

It was nearing 9:00 p.m.

"We have just enough time to make our reservations for dinner. You want to shower first?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Jim. Not about the shower. About knowing me better than I do myself. For supporting me, accepting me in the role of Shaman. Showing me my duty extends beyond our relationship. I hadn't thought about that at all. Thanks for all of this."

"That should have come from me to you, Chief. This is a day for thanksgiving. Just about everyone has a reason to be grateful. The woman and her kids, too. Me for having you in my life to keep the cop in me from overriding the man."

"Me, too, for you. Always. Thank God."

"Thank God."

Then the Sentinel and Guide got ready for their quiet celebration of the feast of Thanksgiving in a restaurant, at a table for two, together.

~ End ~


E-Mail Ismaro at ligela@sympatico.ca
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Page last updated 8/15/03.