Disclaimer: The usual. Not mine. No money made. Just borrowing them for a time, I promise.

Author's Notes: I've always disagreed somewhat with the perception that the boys are so drastically different. On the surface yes, but underneath? The Muse must lean in my direction, because she favored me with a mischievious smile and the result is this story. Another short one, but pretty smarmy, so be warned. No big plot in this piece, and no owies for the boys. They cover a fair amount of ground though—even if they don't leave the loft. <g> My thanks once again to Carolyn for her fine-toothed beta comb, and to Linda for her encouragement and flattery.

Testing the Differences
K. Ryn



Jim Ellison breathed a sigh of relief as he let himself into the loft. It had been a long week, but a successful one. With two difficult cases completely wrapped up, his desk was clear heading into the weekend. Monday would bring its own set of new worries and challenges, but until then, he intended to relax.

He glanced into the living room, seeking the physical presence of his roommate, whose heartbeat he'd heard from downstairs. Blair Sandburg sat on the floor in front of one of the couches, legs crossed under him. Stacks of white cards, roughly 10 inches square, were spread in a semi-circle on the carpet, effectively surrounding him. A heavy textbook was balanced in his lap and the ever-present notebook and pen rested next to one knee.

Ellison grinned, recognizing the familiar concentration level of the anthropologist in one of his classic study modes. Not quite ready to enter the Sandburg Zone, Jim dropped his keys into the basket near the door and slipped out of his jacket, hanging it on the rack. Holster and gun followed the outer apparel and a weight much heavier than the five pounds of weapon and leather lifted off the detective's soul.

He wandered into the kitchen and pulled a beer from the refrigerator. With a deft twist he removed the metal top. A flick of the wrist sent the cap sailing with pin-point accuracy into the garbage can. With a satisfied smile, he took a long pull of the amber liquid, grinning in pleasure as the chilled beverage slid easily down his throat. He automatically found himself cataloging the various tastes and sensations and shook his head.

Just enjoy it, Ellison, don't analyze it, he admonished himself.

It was hard not to. His enhances senses sometimes seemed to have a mind and will of their own. Granted, now that he had a better handle on them, they were an invaluable asset for police work. But there were times that being a walking crime lab was more than he wanted to handle. With all the sensory input assaulting him twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, being just plain, normal, Jim Ellison was a difficult thing to achieve.

And that was what he wanted now. The work week was over. He'd finished the paperwork on their last case earlier in the day. Unless something came up, he had the weekend free. It was time to relax and regroup: maybe sleep in—assuming his internal alarm clock would let him—or do some surfing if the weather stayed clear. He and Blair had discussed a couple of restaurants to try out for Sunday brunch, but other than that, neither had specific plans for anything else.

Or at least they hadn't when they'd spoken earlier that morning. Jim glanced into the living room and frowned. The younger man still hadn't acknowledged his presence. Bent forward over his book, he seemed completely oblivious to the world around him. Blair had his teeth into something.

Half curious and half apprehensive, Jim took another sip from the bottle and wandered out of the kitchen. He perched on the arm of the couch and studied the cards on the floor. Each was a flat white cardboard sheet with a different splotch of ink in the middle. He turned a suspicious glare on his Guide when he realized they were.

"Don't even think about it, Sandburg," he growled softly.

Blair's head snapped up and he twisted around in surprise. Blue eyes widened and a broad smile split his face. The younger man's entire being seemed to light up with a genuine inner warmth that flowed from Guide to Sentinel effortlessly, like water rushing downhill.

"Hey, Jim. Welcome home. I didn't hear you come in."

"That's obvious," Jim noted. He had to struggle to keep a grin from ruining his serious expression as Blair cocked his head and stared at the older man curiously.

"Don't think about what?" Blair asked, finally coming up to speed on Jim's earlier comment.

"I thought we'd agreed that this was going to be a quiet weekend, Chief. No cases, no insane schedules..." The Sentinel gestured toward the cards on the floor, "... no tests."

"Tests?" Blair's bewildered expression turned to amusement as realized what the older man was talking about. "Oh... these? These aren't for you, Jim." He chuckled and shook his head. "I'm just helping out a friend from the psych department. You remember Erica?"

The detective paused for a moment, searching through his memory for a face to put with the name Blair had used. "Is she the red head with the incredible legs that I met at the last impromptu mid-terms party at your office?"

Blair's grin widened and his eyes sparkled mischievously. "Careful, big guy, or you're going to break the house rule about no drooling on the couch."

Jim shot him the glare that had frozen killers in their tracks, but the younger man laughed and managed to dodge the accompanying swat that Jim aimed in his direction. "Yeah, that's Erica. She and I are trading favors."

"What kind of favors, Chief?" Jim asked with a chuckle of his own.

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Ellison. Erica and I are friends. Platonic relationship type friends," Blair retorted.

Jim snorted his disbelief, but Blair ignored him.

"Erica needed help with a project she's working on. I agreed to help her out and in return, she's agreed to let me put her name in my book."

Jim couldn't resist. "Which book is that, Romeo? The novel on your life, or the little black one?"

"The green one, Jim. That one's more important," Blair answered.

Now it was Jim's turn to be confused. "More important than your date book?"

"Much more." Blair flashed Jim a quick smile and then looked down at the book in his lap, somewhat nervously thumbing the edges of the pages. His voice was softer when he began speaking again. "The green one has the emergency numbers for all the people who've agreed to pitch in for me when I need to dump out of my academic life at the drop of a hat. Erica said she'd take notes for me in one of my lectures and proctor an exam if I need her to. She doesn't feel comfortable taking on my office hours or giving a lecture, since it's not her field, but I've got other people who can handle that."

The quiet explanation left the Sentinel speechless. He knew he was staring at his Guide as though he'd never seen him before. The truth was, he hadn't really given any thought to how Blair was almost always able to accommodate their erratic working schedule, even with his own nearly overwhelming commitments at the university. Sure, he'd heard Blair on the phone to one person or another, asking for them to fill in for him, but he hadn't realized the amount of planning and scheming that went into making that happen.

"You want a beer?" Jim asked abruptly.

At the younger man's nod, he went back to the kitchen to retrieve another bottle. The short delay gave him a few moments to put his thoughts into perspective. He handed Blair the beer and settled himself in the armchair so that he could get a good view of the younger man's face.

After nearly three years, his Guide was still amazing him. Not just with his incredible energy level, or his intelligence, but with the depth of his heart, his friendship, his loyalty and his passion for the role he played as a Sentinel's companion.

There had never been any doubt that Blair took the responsibility of assisting him with his senses seriously. From the outset, he'd been the one leading the way, making suggestions, prodding, cajoling, and resorting to yelling if necessary to get Jim to give an idea of his a chance. Time and time again, the younger man had placed himself in the unenviable position of dealing with a stubborn Sentinel who fought his unique gifts as much as he used them.

Yet Blair had never faltered. At first, there had been the standing jokes about screenplays and movie rights—about the thesis that would turn into an overnight best-seller. But those wisecracks had been primarily on Jim's part—a last ditch effort to hold onto the boundaries he'd established to keep everyone at bay. Once they'd returned from Peru and Blair had made a commitment to stay, the need for testing was past—their partnership had solidified into one of mutual trust and a shared goal.

And their friendship had grown stronger with each crisis that they'd faced together.

Jim studied his friend carefully, contemplating the young man who had changed and enriched his life. He and Blair were distinct opposites—that was the general consensus at any rate. Whether it was in reaction to their being friends, partners or roommates, nearly everyone—from the cops at the station to his own father—seemed to buy into that assessment. They drew their conclusions by a quick glance at the outside layers; short haired, by-the-book cop versus long haired, academic flower child; military versus militant; brawn versus brain; stoic versus emotional; reserved versus hyper-active.

Two separate individuals with distinctly different personalities...

Or were they?

Jim reached down and picked up one of the cards, examining it casually.

"So what exactly do you have to do with these?"

"Nothing really. Erica's already done all the testing. I just need to correlate the data so she can analyze and interpret it," Blair explained. "I borrowed a set of the cards and a couple of her reference books so that I'd have a better handle on the procedures and what some of the results meant. You know, 'a little knowledge... '"

"'Is a dangerous thing,' especially with you, Professor," Jim teased.

Blair gave him a disdainful glare. "Even though it's fallen out of favor in some circles, Detective, the Rorschach test is still an accepted, viable scientific tool in regard to the study of personalities, abnormal or otherwise. And I am a scientist, you know."

"I seem to remember seeing that listed somewhere among the many talents and titles on your long and distinguished resume, Chief," Jim grinned.

"Nice to know I make a good impression at least on paper," Blair joked. "I take it from your wise-cracks that you're familiar with the Rorschach test."

"It was a pretty standard part of the psych workup in the military," Jim answered, nodding. "The last time I was subjected to one of those evaluations was when I came back from Peru."

"Did they ever tell you if they found any significant changes in your answers?" Blair asked pensively.

"No... I seem to remember a few raised eyebrows from the clown who was giving the test, but they didn't hold up my discharge papers, so I guess there was nothing too weird..." Jim's voice trailed off and a slight frown creased his forehead.

"I'm sorry. I didn't intend to remind you of that. Those first weeks after you came back must been a really difficult time for you." Blair's voice had dropped into the soft tonal ranges that Jim always thought of as the younger man's "Guide" mode. The Sentinel instinctively relaxed as the warmth and supportive comfort of the words and empathic timbre washed over him.

"Yeah. I didn't like being their lab-rat any more than I enjoy being yours."

He hadn't meant the comment to be a censure of his partner, but the flash of uneasiness that abruptly crossed Blair's face and the physical flinch that jolted the anthropologist's slight frame told him that it had come across that way.

He immediately started to apologize. "Chief, I didn't..."

"I don't mean to treat you that way." Blair's voice was almost a whisper . The Guide's eyes flickered toward the Sentinel, filled with a serious, searching need for understanding. "The tests... I know they're a pain, man, but it's the only way to try to figure out what's going on with you... the only way I know how to try to get enough information on your senses so that I don't..."

Blair broke off abruptly, and stared down at the book in his lap. The racing beat of his heart filled the quiet loft with a frantic thunder.

"I understand, Chief." There was a desperation in his Guide that he'd sensed too many times before—a fear that he would somehow fail his Sentinel at a critical moment. It was a concern that Jim couldn't understand. Blair had always come through for him, and not just as his Guide, but as his friend and partner. There was no reason to expect that to change. That was what trust was all about.

He trusts me, why doesn't he understand how much I trust him?

Jim wanted to reach out and touch the younger man, to do something casually demonstrative, but he knew that action wouldn't put the demons running around in Blair's head to rest. He resorted instead to words—the words his friend needed to hear and that he seldom offered. "You always take good care of me. You haven't let me down."

A nearly silent whisper floated back to him.

"I can't afford to."

"Blair, you've always found the answers we needed, no matter how bizarre the problem" Jim said firmly. "It's not your fault that you got saddled with an uncooperative subject."

The wry, self-effacing comment had the effect he'd hoped for. Blair didn't look up, but the tension in the younger man's body seemed to abate.

"I never should have made that kind of comparison," Jim continued. "I understand your motives, believe me. And I want you to know that I appreciate what you've done—what you continue to do. It's just that sometimes... well, sometimes I just need to step away from being a Sentinel and just be me."

"But that's who you are, Jim." Blair raised his head and looked Jim directly in the eyes. A full range of emotions skittered across the younger man's face—pride, respect and, oddly enough, amusement. "You are the most incredible detective, Jim, but sometimes you can't see the facts that are right under your nose—sensitive as it is. You are a Sentinel in the truest interpretation of the word. Think about it. Five heightened senses don't account for the kind of man you are. There's no sense that defines loyalty or bravery, none that dictates your willingness to risk your life for someone else's."

Blair shook his head and finally smiled again. "Even without your enhanced senses, you'd still be looking out for the best interests of your chosen tribe, whether that was one person or a whole city. I see it in action everyday, man, especially with me. Your senses are just icing on the cake. They augment your own natural tendencies—your own instincts and personality." Blair gestured toward the card in Jim's hand. "I bet if you looked for it, you'd find a 'Blessed Protector' in one of those ink blots."

Jim sat back in the chair, decidedly uncomfortable at the words of praise.

"Not to say that you're not a stubborn, opinionated throwback at times," Blair added quietly, the smile now dancing in his eyes.

"Maybe it's the Guide's personality that dictates those tendencies," Jim answered with a short laugh. He eyed Blair with a speculative air. "Or maybe it's the Guide's penchant for finding trouble. It seems to me I get enough practice testing my senses just keeping tabs on you."

"Hey, if I can't get you to do the tests the easy way, I have to do it the hard way," Blair shrugged, not in the least fazed by the insinuation. "Have to do something to validate my existence here... besides cooking breakfast, that is."

"Just remember, Sandburg," Jim answered with a scowl that barely hid the warmth that had been rekindled in his soul. "We agreed, no tests this weekend. Don't think you're going to con me into anything. If that means locking you in the loft for the next two days, to keep you out of trouble, then that's what's going to happen. And keep your ink blots to yourself."

"I have far wilder schemes in mind than to waste the precious few tests you do agree to on your subjective interpretations of some black blobs of ink," Blair chuckled.

"They're not really black, you know," Jim remarked absently, staring down at the test card in his hands.

"Well, half of them are," Blair countered. "Five black, five colored cards—ten cards to the standard set."

"But even the black ones aren't solid black," Jim insisted, running his fingers lightly over the ink blot. "There's a concentration of black in the center, but it flares out to other colors on the edges."

"You can see that?" The delight and awe in the younger man's voice and expression was obvious as he moved closer to the Sentinel to examine the card himself. "That is so, cool, Jim!" Blair bounced in his excitement. "How many other colors can you see? Is it a full spectrum, or is it primaries only, or..."

"Settle down, Mr. Science." Jim gave himself a mental slap to the forehead and rolled his eyes at the anthropologist's enthusiasm. After all his protestations, he'd just fallen right into the trap of another test. And he couldn't even blame his partner for pushing this one.

Open mouth, insert foot...

He traced a pattern over the card again, his fingertips pausing over an area as he pointed out the color shifts that his partner couldn't see. "The black spreads out here into blues. There's red edging that area, blending into yellow browns and soft greens at this side. The blue is the most intense hue after the black—it reminds me of that goofy bowling shirt you picked up at the resale shop."

"Amazing..." Blair muttered, reaching for his notebook and pen. "You're right in that black isn't a solid color, although the rest of us non-Sentinels see it that way. In a light spectrum, black is the absence of all color, but in pigmentation, it's a mixture. Printers often use blue ink or a combination of colors under a pass of black ink to make the black appear more intense—more saturated. Under the right conditions, black inks separate out into the full range." He glanced up at Jim and grinned in triumph. "Guess Cassie won't have to beg purchasing for that new chromatography equipment after all. We can just add that little skill to your resume. Thanks, Jim."

Blair reached out to take the card from Jim's hands, but the older man pulled it back. "Not so fast, Junior. You owe me."

"Jim, you volunteered that information," Blair laughed. "I didn't set this up as a test for you..."

The Sentinel raised an eyebrow and fixed him with a level stare.

"Come on, Jim," Blair protested. When Jim's expression didn't change, he sighed and gave in to the inevitable. "Okay... what's this little tidbit of information going to cost me?"

"Give me the rest of the cards," Jim ordered. "And the books."

Blair looked puzzled, but picked up the remaining nine cards and handed them to the older man. "Jim, those aren't mine..." he began anxiously.

"Relax, Chief. I'm not going to damage them. I'm going to use them."

The look of comical confusion on his Guide's face was priceless. The expression when Blair realized exactly what fee Jim was going to extract was even better.

Turnabout was, after all, fair-play.

Blair blanched and launched into ten minutes worth of pacing and protesting when Jim announced that it was time for the younger man to be on the receiving end for a change.

"Jim, you can't be serious. I don't take the tests, I give them. It's your senses, not mine that we're investigating here."

"Sit before you give yourself a heart attack, Chief." The Sentinel waited until his Guide managed to settle down long enough to perch on the arm of the couch before continuing. "This test isn't about senses. It's about personality—you said so yourself."

Jim glanced down at the reference book to read part of the test description aloud.

"The Rorschach is a projective test designed to be ambiguous and vague in order to enhance the likelihood that a person's response is determined by internal ways of structuring and perceiving the world, rather than by the objective demands of the situation. Psychodynamic theorists maintain that it reveals unconscious conflicts and processes within individuals..."

"But Jim..."

"Now ambiguous and vague certainly fits your obfuscation skills and you've spent enough time in an unconscious state since you started working with me to have experience in that area, so I think we've definitely got a match there," the Sentinel decreed with a grin. "Ten cards. I show em to you, you tell me what you think they look like. It's easy, Chief."

"I've already seen the cards, Jim. That'll throw off the test," Blair protested weakly. "Besides, who's going to interpret the results?"

"I'm sure Erica wouldn't mind, or maybe Cassie would like to take a shot at it. She's dabbled in everything else..."

"Cassie? No way! That's like handing her a loaded gun, man." Blair nervously pushed back a stray lock of hair. Then he brightened and peered at the Sentinel with his most innocent and entreating expression. "Look, if we have to do this, how about using the Thematic Apperception Test instead? A guy at Harvard came up with it. It consists of 30 pictures about which the subject must tell a story. I can do that one easy."

Jim vetoed the suggestion immediately. "You do that one all the time, with or without pictures, Sandburg. No, you owe me; a test for a test. Now it's either stare at a few ink blots or I'll come up with something really nasty. Something that matches that taste test with the spoiled milk."

Blair bounced off the couch and stomped around the living room for a few more minutes, muttering under his breath. Jim held firm. Finally the anthropologist plunked himself down on the carpet again with a resigned sigh.

"Relax, Sandburg. You're not going to lose any blood or major organs, here."

"Might be less painful..."

The test had turned out to be far more enlightening than Jim had ever imagined—more fun, too.

The anthropologist had finally stopped protesting and the resulting answers that he'd given had had both men nearly doubled up with laughter. At one point, Jim had demanded that Blair retake the test because his approach had been decidedly less serious than the situation required. The grad student had cheerfully responded by admitting that his attitude sucked and promptly retrieved two more beers so that he could work on it. His next round of answers had taken at least an hour to complete because of the elaborate explanation he'd given with each.

Jim had delivered the next round of drinks after phoning in an order for Chinese carryout. During that intermission, Blair had managed to regain control of the cards and in a flurry of stirring words and waving hands that would have done any politician proud, had somehow convinced the older man that he should have a go at the test. Following his Guide's lead, the Sentinel had found himself dropping his normally reserved demeanor—blurting out the first ideas that popped into his head.

It had quickly become a contest of one-ups-manship, each trying to out do the other, each harassing the other over the absurdity of their answers.

They had both been laughing so hard that the delivery boy had finally resorted to pounding on the loft door in order to make himself heard. With dinner served, the test cards had been abandoned on the floor of the living room. The warmth and sense of camaraderie that had enveloped them had followed the partners to the kitchen table. The balance of the evening had passed quietly—Blair turning to the task of compiling the original test data for his friend, and Jim stretched out on one of the couches in charge of the TV remote.

It wasn't until much later, after his Guide had yawned his way to his room with a mumbled 'good night', that the Sentinel took a good look at the lists of answers that they'd generated. Like the good scientist that he was, Blair had written them all down; Jim's in a numbered column on one side of the page, his on the other.

Breaking his own house rule, the Sentinel propped his feet on the coffee table, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he read through the scribbled entries. Even if Blair hadn't labeled the columns, Jim would have immediately known whose answers were whose.

The anthropologist's responses to the test images were a true reflection of his inventive and clever mind. They ranged from albatross to a map of Zimbabwe and included a ruined Incan temple, a set of Kewpie dolls, a rainbow reflected back onto itself, an Egyptian scarab and its matching fossil. Mixed in among it all were an amazing assortment of bird images—always in motion, never at rest.

Jim's own answers included birds as well—birds of prey mostly. The panther had even made an appearance. However, the rest of his responses seemed mundane in comparison to Blair's—a pair of hiking boots, twin mountain peaks, a stained glass window, breaking waves, and a cityscape that had seemed very much like Cascade's.

Overall, the answers they'd both given had revealed nothing earth shattering about either of them. With a slight sense of disappointment, Jim started to close the notebook, intending to lock things up and head to bed. That's when he discovered that there were several more pages of numbered entries.

At some point during the evening, Blair had taken the test again. On his own.

Puzzled, Jim glanced toward Blair's bedroom, and then back at the coffee table, where the stack of white cards gleamed dully in the dim light. He vaguely recalled the younger man paging through them while he'd been preoccupied with the end of the Jags game.

Curious as to what his Guide had written, the Sentinel scanned the pages, bewilderment immediately turning to wonder.

There was one set of ten responses, all written in his partner's distinctive script. Unlike the previous lists of entries which had been scrawled and scribbled haphazardly, the characters that flowed across these lined sheets were painstakingly crafted—as if each individual word had been rendered with the utmost care and conviction.

There was a story for each image—not just a single word or phrase—insightful descriptions of emotions and sentiments painted with all the richness of a fine work of art.

Some of the images that Blair had envisioned were dark, reflecting the insecurities and doubts within the younger man: a high jagged cliff fronting a bottomless abyss; two massive storm fronts colliding and destroying everything in their wild tempest.

Yet there were also descriptions of stunning beauty—sunrise meeting sunset in an intense flare of brilliant color; reflections upon reflections in a single teardrop; the tranquility of a peaceful mountain lake at early evening—revealing the poet within.

Others were filled with mystery and wonder. There was an elaborate description of an ancient warrior's ceremonial mask, each imagined symbol and brush stroke admired and noted with reverence. In another, the lush, moist foliage of the Peruvian jungle beckoned to the Sentinel enticingly, whispering of ancient truths and wisdom.

With each word, each thought, Jim felt like he was peeling back a layer of the obscurity that Blair wrapped himself in, revealing the hidden soul of the intricate, unique human being that he was privileged to call friend, partner, and Guide. The heart of the matter—and an unshakable truth—was found in the final entry...

Card #10 —"Two falcons, wing-tip to wing-tip, soaring on the winds of time... one is a bit smaller than the other, and younger... Most often they fly in tandem—the younger bird slightly behind the older, more experienced one, following his lead in the hunt... but sometimes the younger falcon takes the lead, guiding them to places where the older bird might never have gone alone...

"Watching his companion glide ahead of him worries the older falcon, for dangers lurk within their world of earth and sky and wind, waiting to strike the unwary... It is his instinct to protect, to shelter the younger bird, yet he also knows that he must let the fledgling try his wings and fly free, for there are times when they must both soar alone, each seeking their own paths and desires for a time before they reunite...

"And the younger bird is no less protective, his own battle cry a fierce piercing shriek of rage if he senses danger to his companion... If one is injured, the other falcon stands watch over him, holding back the darkness of sorrow and pain until the day breaks clean and clear... and the winds blow gently again...

"Then they fly as I see them now; joyfully, swooping through the mists, plummeting toward the earth and then beating upward on wings that know no weariness toward the pale blue ocean above... They are bound together by the laws of the sky, the currents of air, and by their need... for in the end, they were meant to be thus... separate winged spirits... paired souls."

When the Sentinel finally climbed the stairs to his own bedroom, he carried with him the comforting weight of the knowledge that he had gained.

With the shimmer of stars overhead and the steady throb of his Guide's heartbeat below, the Sentinel grinned a Cheshire Cat-like smile into the darkness. He stretched and let the tension seep out of his body and mind, luxuriating in the feeling of balance and rightness that permeated the loft.

They were very different; he and his Guide.

But when you looked underneath those differences—really looked—the distinctions faded.

Both were strong men who were passionate about what they believed in—loyal to a fault once trust had been given. Raised in totally different environments, they shared the need for stability, roots and family. Jim knew he was just as much of a 'soft touch' as his partner—the number of hot-dogs he'd fed to stray, hungry looking dogs in the park attested to that. And while it appeared that Blair wore his emotions openly, he was just as adept at hiding his true feelings as Jim was.

They shared a common bond that was made even more intricate by their connection as Sentinel and Guide. Both were driven by an instinctive need to serve and protect—a desire to see light where there was darkness.

Those things that made them different, perceived or otherwise, should have thrust them to opposite sides of the globe, and into separate lives. Instead, they had somehow found a way to learn from one another and to form an unbeatable partnership.

Both had grown and changed.

Both were stronger and richer because of it.

Two separate individuals with distinctly different personalities?

Yes and no.

They were separate entities; each one dramatically different, each with their own strengths and talents.

But united, they merged into one paired soul, eclipsing the differences.

~ End ~

Author's Additional Notes: So there you are... point made... smarm delivered! <g>

E-Mail K. Ryn at kdkm@aol.com
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Page last updated 8/15/03.