Actions

Work Header

Windsong

Work Text:

Thursday

Whistling, Blair Sandburg hitched his backpack a little more securely onto his shoulder as he stood at the top step in front of Hargrove Hall and surveyed this section of Rainier campus from his elevated post. White and purple hyacinths were blooming in a nearby flowerbed; even his unenhanced olfactory senses could recognize their fragrance carried on the gentle breeze. Butterflies flitted between the dandelions that inevitably dotted the grass, and the trees' newly-leaved branches cast a comforting shade against the bright, late-spring sunshine. Somewhere nearby, a mockingbird was staking out his territory in vibrant song, and a mourning dove's plaintive counterpoint revealed its hiding place in a willow tree. Mother Nature was gifting Cascade with a rare, glorious day, and Blair was duly appreciative.

He took a deep, intoxicating breath of the gently-crisp air, grinned, and started down the steps. Blair had always loved the springtime, when it seemed that human blood rose to quickened life, just as the sap in the trees. It was at this time of the year when Naomi's wanderlust would most often entice her onto new paths and she'd set out for the promise of a fresh kind of enlightenment, pulling her son into new cultures and new experiences.

He had to admit, he felt a touch of that wanderlust himself. In previous years, he would have been trying to join whatever expedition was being planned. Or, failing that, he would have tossed his backpack and a duffle bag in the back of the Corvair, traveling on a shoestring budget wherever his nose led him, following the back roads to find the small, isolated communities, or crossing several states to visit a Native American tribe. It didn't matter. Whether he was talking to a wise tribal shaman or an elderly town librarian, the mothers hanging their wash or the children playing in the streets, men working in the fields or teens gathered in their local hangout, Blair was supremely happy to learn about people, places, and customs. His curiosity was always burning but, this time of the year, it flared even more brightly than usual.

                                  The wind blows free
                                  Over land and sea;
                                  Who would follow the wind?

Not this year, though. Blair shook himself out of his introspection and grinned as he hurried to the car. He was supposed to meet Jim at the PD and, together, they'd go over a recent crime scene to see if Jim's senses could pick up anything that forensics had missed. Well, Jim would go over the crime scene while Blair grounded him and offered suggestions on the possible use of his senses – and that was why Blair could ignore the tug of wanderlust. He had found his Sentinel, the dream he'd been searching for over half his life, and nothing was more exciting or mentally stimulating than working with Jim, helping him to be – oh, all right – 'the best he could be'.

Blair grimaced at using such a cliché, even to himself, but it was true. Ellison was almost larger than life – strong, smart, honorable, caring – a Tribal Protector in its truest sense. On the other hand, he was human; Jim could sometimes be impatient, acerbic, inflexible, resistant to suggestions, and he didn't suffer fools gladly. In fact – Blair glanced at the clock tower as he passed it, gave a mental 'Whoops!' and pressed more firmly on the accelerator – if he didn't hurry, he'd be late again, and earn himself a vivid reminder of just how impatient Jim could be.

But the wanderlust was there, Blair admitted to himself, even if sublimated. Briefly, he wondered how Jim would feel about taking his two-week vacation 'on the road', following the will-o'-the-wisp of an anthropologist's curiosity. Then he snorted and shook his head; no way would Jim Ellison be happy – or even comfortable – traveling without a plan, trying to make conversation with a succession of strangers. No, this year, and for the foreseeable future, he'd stay in Cascade, by his sentinel's side, and that was more than enough; it was everything he'd ever wanted.

Still, it can't hurt, he mused, as he drove with the windows and top down, the breeze tangling his hair, to pretend, just for a few moments, that instead of taking the turn toward the PD, I'll just head out of town, and keep on going...

But the siren call was firmly ignored as he sped past the exit to Route 84-East and then, half a mile later, turned onto Fairmount to take him across town to the police station. Jim was counting on him.


Saturday

In the interests of catching the 1:30 exhibition game between the Jags and the Lakers, they'd split up the chores; while Blair had headed out with the shopping list, Jim had finished the laundry, sorting it and folding everything neatly. He carried Blair's pile of shirts and jeans into the small room and set it on the bed, shaking his head ruefully at the disorder in which the kid lived.

Turning to leave, Jim passed too close to a tottering pile of books and papers, and everything tumbled to the floor. With an exclamation of disgust, he picked them up and built a neater, more stable pile – larger books on the bottom, smaller on top, papers neatly aligned in a separate pile next to the books. As he smoothed out one last wrinkled piece of paper – if Blair had meant to throw it away, he could do so again – he automatically scanned the words. When his brain caught up with the meaning, Ellison froze, a sick feeling churning in his stomach. Despite some scratchings-out and revisions, the message was clear, and a chill settled on his heart.

                    It's a good life, to follow the wind,
                    To go where the heart desires.
                    The world will give, to a friend of the wind,
                    Hidden arts and secret fires.
                                  For the wind sings a song,
                                  And the world plays along
                    With the voice of a heavenly choir.

A bleak realization filled him as the page crumpled in his clenched fist; Blair was thinking of leaving. Maybe not right away, or he'd have said something, but wasn't poetry supposed to be the mirror of the soul, or something like that? If the kid was writing about following the wind and going 'where the heart desires', he must be getting restless. And who could blame him, being stuck working with a man whose senses hampered as much as they helped, instead of trotting off to Borneo and other exotic places where he could function as an anthropologist instead of a nursemaid. Who knew how many expeditions Blair had turned down since that day he'd passed himself off as an 'expert' to help a dysfunctional sentinel? Jim knew of only the one, but surely there'd been other offers...

Wearily, feeling ninety years old, he replaced the page on top of the pile of papers, smoothing it out mindlessly. He left the room, closing the door gently and carefully, as if to avoid disturbing someone asleep, and wandered almost blindly onto the balcony. His 'aerie', as Sandburg had dubbed it, usually gave him a sense of peace and helped him think.

But he didn't want to think; it would be too painful. He watched a sparrow land in the gutter at the end of the block, and clearly saw the large crumb it picked up from some child's dropped and smashed cookie. A clicking of toenails on concrete drew his focus to Mrs. Blumenfeld walking her terrier mutt; the acrid odor was easily discernable as it marked its territory against the lamppost.

Sandburg gave me this, Jim realized. I can control my senses, instead of being ambushed and blindsided by them, and it's all thanks to one hyperactive, fast-talking anthropologist.

And that was the problem, wasn't it? Blair must be feeling that he had completed his part of their agreement and, if he wasn't finished writing his dissertation yet, he surely didn't have to be living in Jim's back pocket to get it done. Blair wouldn't regard his plans to leave as – deserting Jim; he probably saw it as just moving on to the next job.

Intellectually, Jim knew he should let Sandburg go, that he should be grateful for what he had and happy that Blair would be advancing his own career. But he had an uneasy, gut-level suspicion that his senses were under control only because Blair was still around. Jim was almost certain that, without the support and grounding – the guidance – that his partner gave him on a daily basis, even as informal as it often was, his so-called control would soon be thin and tattered, and essentially useless to him. Much as he hated to admit it, he needed the other man, but not only as a guide. Jim was – and probably always would be – essentially a loner, but in Blair he'd found a congenial and valued companion. He needed the friendship that Blair so freely offered, the emotional warmth that was so generously given, the exuberant connection to life that was so much a part of Blair's fundamental nature; he realized he'd feel bereft without Blair's presence in his life.

But friendship wasn't enough, Jim thought bleakly; people always left, no matter how close the friendship supposedly was. And Blair had been raised with the concept of 'detach with love'; the distancing of their friendship probably wouldn't bother him at all. Especially since – looked at from Blair's perspective – Jim's friendship was a grumbling series of 'stay in the truck, Sandburg', and 'you're not a cop, Sandburg', as well as a string of not-so-subtle digs about his food, clothes, car, hair, women, general interests, living habits... Not to mention the automatic resistance Jim raised every time his guide wanted to test his senses, or suggested new ways of using them.

No wonder the kid's thinking of leaving; I'll bet he feels like he's living in a prison camp instead of a 'home'. Hell, that's why I left home; why should Sandburg be any different? But, God, he wished the kid wouldn't go; wished he had some way of convincing Sandburg to stay around, at least until he finished his thesis and his doctorate was official. Maybe –

Jim cocked his head as he heard the distinctive beat of the Corvair's engine, five blocks away, turn onto Prospect. Okay, lunchtime, then the Jags game. And, starting right now, he was instituting 'Operation Make Sandburg Want to Stay'; he wouldn't let his friend leave without a fight, undercover though the battle would be.


Sunday

"So, Sandburg, got any plans for this afternoon?"

"Not much; maybe a little grading, but that can wait. Do you need help with something?"

"I just thought we might go by AutoZone, get some spark plugs, oil, and a filter. Your car's sounding a bit ragged, and I don't want to have to come haul your ass out of the seedy part of town if it breaks down. I figured I'd do a minor tune-up – change the oil, spark plugs, set the timing – and you could help me use my senses to tell when everything's adjusted correctly."

"Cool!" Blair's eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. "Man, that would be so awesome! But you know I'm gonna ask where you learned to do mechanic's work."

Jim grabbed his keys and ushered Blair to the door. "It's no secret, Chief. The guys in the Army motorpool are often backed up, just like everyone else. So when your life might depend on your vehicle not breaking down as you get the hell out of a nasty situation, you learn to do your own basic maintenance, or at least be able to check that everything's A-OK before you start the mission. I remember one time..."

They headed down the stairs, Blair's attention firmly fixed on Jim, drinking in every word. It wasn't often that his friend was this forthcoming, and he treasured every chance to learn more about the man and what made him tick. He shoved the need to grade student essays to the back of his mind. The insight into his sentinel's previous life was worth staying up late to get the grading done, and he'd be getting a tune-up on the Corvair as well; couldn't beat that with a stick.


Monday

Jim finished proofreading his report, hit 'Send', then stretched weary muscles as the printer started spitting out the pages. It had been a helluva day; they'd finally nabbed the lowlife creep, but it had taken long hours to do so, and Sandburg had been with him every step of the way. Now his friend was sitting at Dills' desk, busily grading classwork while waiting, but he looked tired. Jim glanced at the clock and frowned; no wonder. He hadn't realized it was so late – 7:35 PM – and they hadn't eaten yet. He noticed Sandburg's stomach rumbling in irritation; it was loud enough to be heard even without sentinel senses.

"Time to pack it up, Chief. I know it's your night to cook, but you're bushed, and I sure as hell don't feel like it. What do you say we stop on the way home, have a nice quiet meal, no dishes to wash. My treat."

Blair looked up and blinked in confusion while he made the mental shift from anthropological essays to the mundane, but important, trivia of life. "Uh, well..." He hesitated to throw Jim's offer back in his face, but... "I'm sorry, man, but I just don't think I can face WonderBurger tonight. Just the smell of the grease will –" He shrugged, letting Jim fill in the blanks.

"Yeah, buddy, it's been a hard day," he agreed. "WonderBurger might be a little heavy even for me tonight." He grinned at Blair's incredulous look. "I was thinking of that new health food restaurant over on Grand. Thought you might want to give it a try."

"You? In Healthy Choices? I dunno, man, it might bring about the downfall of Western civilization. I can't see you chowing down on a salad of tofu and bean sprouts, you know?" He chuckled at the image of Jim Ellison primly eating such a concoction, pinky finger daintily raised in affected elegance.

Ellison favored him with a mock glare. "Sandburg, I have been known to eat a few green things in my time. Besides," he shrugged, "I'm assuming they have to serve some kind of meat, even if it's labeled 'healthy' – ostrich burgers or buffalo steak, or something like that. So, what d'ya say? Healthy Choices, or leftover chicken cacciatore at home?"

"It's good chicken cacciatore, man!" Blair reminded his friend. "But hey, I can't refuse an offer like that. Lead on, McDuff; I'm with you all the way."

Blair gathered up his books and papers and stuffed them in his backpack while Jim shut down his computer and put the finished report in Rhonda's 'In' basket. They headed for the parking garage together, anticipating a relaxing evening and a tasty meal shared with a good friend.


Tuesday

Blair hurried into the loft, vividly aware of the ticking of a mental clock. He really wanted to attend that lecture tonight, and he had exactly twenty minutes to shower and change and get out of here if he wanted to be there on time. Dr. Fujiyama's expertise was renowned; his talk on 'Daily Living Customs of the Jarawas Tribes Before Their Contact with Western Civilization' should be fascinating. Blair intended to not miss one single word.

He tossed his backpack on the bed and hurriedly stripped, kicking everything into the 'dirty clothes' corner. He yanked open the drawer to grab clean boxers and socks, and paused. He didn't even own that many pairs of boxers, or socks. Surely Jim couldn't have accidentally combined their piles when he did the laundry?

A closer examination revealed that that was not the case; the boxers were his size and brand, and the socks were – WOW! – argyles, also in his size. Either they had house-fairies, or Jim was feeling generous for some reason.

But now was not the time to wonder what was up; he'd already wasted a whole minute in considering the puzzle. Making a mental note to ask Jim about it later, he clutched the needed items and dashed toward the bathroom. Seventeen minutes left...


Wednesday

Ellison pulled into a parking space near the loft, congratulating himself on his good planning. He'd take advantage of Sandburg's being out on a 'study-date' to sneak a supply of the kid's favorite organic snacks into the cupboards. Blair rarely had enough money to buy the expensive treats, preferring to use his funds for books, but he'd enjoy them if they were available.

As Jim neatly stowed away the apricot-coconut fruit and nut bars, the Lushus Lemon energy bars, the oat 'n honey granola bars, and the more ordinary organically-grown apples, mangos, and oranges, he couldn't help wondering if his efforts had had an effect yet; was Sandburg still feeling the wanderlust that his poem had indicated? True, the past few days probably weren't enough to change his mind, but it couldn't hurt to scope out the lay of the land. Could it?

He pushed open the door to Sandburg's room, resisting the urge to glance over his shoulder. The kid wouldn't be home for hours and besides, if he did come home early, Jim's hearing would give him early warning.

Resolutely quashing the guilty feelings, Jim flipped through Sandburg's notebooks – and there it was. His stomach clenched as he saw that accursed poem again; a new verse had been added.

                    It's a hard life to follow the wind,
                    But there's beauty along that road.
                    It's a lifelong journey that has no end,
                    And little peace does it hold.
                                  For the wind will call,
                                  And hold him in thrall,
                    With no release till he's old.

Well. He'd known it was too early for results. Jim heaved an unconscious sigh, mentally renewing his resolve. He'd just have to work harder. Sandburg had to want to stay; Jim would just have to provide enough incentives to change his mind. There simply couldn't be another outcome.


Thursday

Blair hurried through the doors of Major Crime, already speaking before the doors closed behind him. "Jim, man, I am soooo sorry! I left Rainier on time, I swear I did, but there was a big traffic holdup on Fairmount. You'll never believe it – an egg truck overturned; broken eggs all over the place, and the truck was laying crossways across both lanes, so no vehicles could go past. And not only was cleanup being hampered by the usual looky-loos, there were at least a dozen cats and dogs trying to lap up a free lunch – makes you wonder where they all came from, not to mention why the dogs didn't chase away the cats, but I guess the eggs were more enticing than inter-species antagonism – and every time someone shooed them away, they just ran around and came back from the other side. What a mess! Literally." He grinned as he hung his backpack on the coat-rack and crossed to Jim's desk. "Anyway, by the time I realized I was driving into a jam, there were people behind me and I couldn't back up. It took traffic control half an hour to get the backlog untangled so that we could detour around it. And then when I tried to call you, I found out I left my cellphone at home this morning, and I knew you'd be steaming, but I really couldn't help it, and do you think we still have time for that interview you wanted to do?" He sank into the chair next to the desk, combing his hair into place with agitated fingers.

"Breathe, Sandburg," Jim said automatically, as he gathered the pages from the printer. "I heard about the traffic jam, and since I know you usually take Fairmount, I called and rescheduled. So it all worked out; gave me a chance to finish this report, and you're right on time for us to make the interview. And your cellphone's in my coat pocket; I saw it and grabbed it on my way out this morning."

"Uh, Jim?" Sandburg seemed confused, glancing uncertainly around the bullpen, as if searching for an answer to one of life's mysteries. "Don't take this the wrong way or anything, and I know it's not my fault, but – why aren't you yelling? The last thing you said this morning was, 'Not a minute past two, Sandburg; this is important'. And I promised, and I really tried, but it's..." he glanced at the clock, "...two thirty-five, and you're not even clenching your teeth. Did you win the lottery or something?"

"Geeze, Sandburg, can't a guy be considerate of his friends? I identified a potential problem, took steps to solve it, and used the unexpected time to get some work done, so there's nothing to yell about. But I will if it'll make you feel better." Jim winked at his friend's slightly-stunned expression. "How about this?" He assumed a threatening scowl as he summoned his best 'drill-sergeant bark'. "Sandburg, get off your ass, grab your backpack and let's go; we have an appointment to keep!"

Blair snickered at the ridiculousness of the situation and snapped a sharp salute. "Aye, aye, SIR! Whatever you say, SIR! And may I say, happy to see you in such fine form, SIR!"

"I'll 'sir' you, Private." The mock growl was accompanied by an equally mock swat toward Blair's head. "Move it, or I'll make you eat WonderBurger tonight."

"No, no, anything but that!" Blair replied in a quavering falsetto. "I'll come quietly, officer, I swear!" He followed his partner out of the bullpen; his focus on the upcoming interview made him forget his curiosity about Jim's recent change of attitude.


Friday

                    Who follows the wind has little rest,
                    He finds no place to pause.
                    But he knows the wond'rous world at its best;
                    He lives by Nature's laws.
                                  He sees great things,
                                  And lives on dreams,
                    But often, dreams have flaws.

While Jim set the table, Blair poured the spaghetti into the colander to drain, then reached into the oven to pull out the garlic bread and carry it to the table. Jim started to slice the bread as Blair filled two plates with the spaghetti, then ladled a generous amount of meat sauce over each, topped with five meatballs on Jim's plate, and two on his.

It had been a good week, Blair mused as he sat down. Jim's cases had gone well, and the usual petty politics at Rainier had been at a low ebb. And now he could look forward to a good meal with his best friend, followed by watching the Jags – hopefully – bust the Chicago Bulls' collective butt. A man couldn't ask for much more than that.

Best of all, Jim had seemed more... open, more forthcoming this week than Blair had ever known him. Maybe he was finally settling into an acceptance of his sentinel senses, with a corresponding relaxation of a subtle tension that Blair hadn't known was present. Or maybe, as their friendship became stronger, Jim was just relaxing some unconscious but ever-present defenses that he used to keep the world at a 'safe' distance. Whatever, Blair thought as their conversation ranged from the latest closed case to the Jags' chances of winning to 'classic' cars (in the truest sense) to some of his previous anthropological expeditions to Jim's similar experiences in unspecified areas of the world. He wasn't going to question or analyze the change, or the strongest feeling of 'home' he'd had since he was five years old. He'd just enjoy it, and store up pleasant memories for the time when, inevitably, he would have to move on.

Blair got up to pull the key lime pie – one of Jim's favorites – from the refrigerator. As he turned back toward the table, he saw the package sitting next to his plate, wrapped in plain brown paper. He set the pie on the table, then paused. A slight frown creased his forehead as he glanced from Jim's oh-so-innocent expression to the package, and back to his friend. "Okay, Jim, what's going on?" he asked, suspicion coloring his tone.

"Happy early birthday, Chief. And is that the way your mother taught you to accept a gift?" The twinkle in his eye belied Ellison's scolding words. "You said it was such a good buy that it'd probably be sold before you could afford it, so I decided it deserved to go to someone who would really appreciate it – like you."

Hardly daring to believe, Blair sat down and picked up the package, stroking a loving hand over the wrapping. "Jim, man... I don't know what to say. You shouldn't have," he breathed. "I mean, of course I appreciate it, but it's just too much."

Ellison could no longer keep the broad grin off his face. "In the first place, Sandburg, I decide what's 'too much', and this isn't it. In the second place, you don't even know what you're thanking me for. You might find it's just a bigger notebook to keep data in about my cases when we're in the field, and be really pissed."

"Never," Blair said fervently. "You... you... ah, hell, anything I say will sound sappy. But it means a lot that you were thinking of me. It could be a book on 'Tatting for Grannies' and it wouldn't change that you thought of me. But if you insist..." With sudden energy, he ripped off the paper to find, as he had known he would, a first-edition copy of Medicine Men on the North Pacific Coast by Marius Barbeau. He'd wanted to buy it for the past two months, and Jim had heard several low-key grumbles about his inability to manage the funds. "Jim," he said quietly, "this is just... just..."

"Well, now the mystery is solved," Ellison teased. "Under the right circumstances, it is possible to reduce Blair Sandburg to speechlessness. Who would'a thought?" Becoming serious, he continued, "You're worth it, Chief. I don't say 'thanks' enough, but I really do appreciate you sticking by me through all this sentinel shit. I hope you'll remember that the next time I grump at you.

"And now, enough of this sappy stuff," he announced. "The game starts in twenty minutes. Let's do the dishes, then eat our pie while we're watching, what d'ya say?"

"Sounds like a plan; I got your back."

Working in harmony, they quickly cleaned the kitchen, then settled on the couch in front of the TV, each with a large slice of pie instead of their usual popcorn. Once again Blair wondered about the new 'Jim-openness', but shelved the thought in favor of cheering as Orvelle Wallace made his first basket.


Saturday

"See you later, Jim. I figure, after the study session is over, I'll swing by the farmer's market and see what's fresh, bring something home for supper. Should be back about four, okay?"

"Sounds good, Sandburg. I'll enjoy the peace and quiet while you're out." He grinned at the answering snort as Blair walked out the door, then went back to reading the latest copy of 'US News and World Report'.

A few moments later, Sandburg's voice drifted up from the street. "Shit! Shit, shit, shit! And dammit-it-all-to-hell!"

Jim walked out onto the balcony and looked down. He saw Blair rooting in the trunk of the Corvair, finally emerging with a tire-iron clutched in his hand. "Sandburg?" he called. "You got a flat?"

"Yeah, Jim; the off rear. Why the hell do these things never happen at a convenient time?" He lifted the spare tire out of the trunk as he spoke.

"Sandburg, is there ever a convenient time to have a flat?" He shook his head in amusement, crossed to the basket by the door, grabbed his own keys, and walked back to the balcony. "Hey, buddy, c'mere a minute."

Blair looked up, frowning in irritation. "What? I don't have time to 'c'mere', I have to get this tire changed." But, even as he spoke, he walked closer to the building, until he was almost under the balcony.

Jim dangled his keys so that Blair could see them. "Why don't you take the truck? Leave your keys in the Corvair; I'll come down and change the tire, then take the flat to George's place and have him fix it for you." He dropped the keys, and watched as Blair's hands automatically came forward to catch them.

"Are you serious, man? I mean, I really appreciate it, but this is hardly a matter of life or death. I thought no one was allowed to touch your truck short of that, or an Act of Congress. Are you feeling all right?"

"Feeling just fine, Sandburg, although you won't be if you damage it, so be careful."

Blair grabbed his backpack from the Corvair, and grinned at his friend as he crossed to the truck. "Jim, you are a prince! Yes, I'll be careful, and I'll think of some way to repay you. Thanks, man."

"Cherry pie for dessert!" he called down, and saw Sandburg raise a hand in acknowledgement as he drove away.

Ten minutes later, Jim frowned as he examined the state of the Corvair's tires. He hadn't noticed that the tread was getting so worn; the damn things were an accident looking for a place to happen. It was a safe bet that Sandburg hadn't noticed either. Or maybe he was just hoping they'd hold together until he had enough money to buy some better used tires; a brand new set would be out of his price-range.

But these tires were a direct danger to his friend and guide; Jim hated the thought of him driving on them any longer. Jim had three hours; he could take the Corvair to Tire-World and have them replaced. He'd think of some way to justify it to Blair. The question was – brand new, or good used? Would it make any difference to the level of pissiness that Blair might feel if he thought that Jim was 'treating him like a child', or something equally ridiculous?

Brand new, he decided. If, god forbid, his 'campaign' didn't work and Blair left, Jim would feel better knowing that his friend had many more safe miles in his tires. He had three hours to think of a good explanation to deflect Blair's anticipated irritation; surely he could some up with something to satisfy the kid.


Sunday

Blair watched covertly as Jim perused the sports pages of the morning paper while eating his huevos rancheros. Jim had seemed in an unusually good mood lately; maybe he wouldn't protest too much when Blair suggested that it was a good day for some tests. But, in the interests of an optimal resolution – Jim actually saying 'yes' – he'd let the man enjoy his breakfast and newspaper in peace before bringing it up.

Finally Jim folded the paper and set it aside, scooped up the last bite of eggs-and-salsa, and drained his coffee cup. He leaned back and regarded his friend, amusement glinting in his eyes. "All right, Sandburg, spit it out. What con are you waiting to spring on me today?"

"Not a con, man!" he protested. "Just – you know – I think it's a good day for some tests. We could go to the park, or maybe the beach, practice hearing through the competing noise of all the natural sounds, and switching your vision back and forth between close and distant objects. Nothing outrageous, just... refining your control. I won't always be around, you know; the original idea was for you to learn to handle your senses by yourself, and we need to work toward that."

                    Who follows the wind must love the wind,
                    He knows no other life.
                    He has no time for other friends,
                    Or family, or wife.
                                  The wind unfurls
                                  A glorious world,
                    But demands an entire life.

Once again, Jim felt despair settle in his heart. 'I won't always be around' – how much plainer could it get? Sandburg was planning to leave although, like the honorable man he was, he intended to make sure he had helped Jim as much as he could before taking off.

He squashed a dishonorable impulse to say 'no'. If he didn't practice, he'd have less control, and Sandburg would feel obligated to stay and continue to help him. But that was a cheap trick to play, and would more than likely come back to bite him in the ass someday. Sandburg was right; he needed to be more independent in the use of his senses. Even if his guide decided to stay, he couldn't be with Jim every minute of every day; Jim had to be able to function on his own as much as possible. Someday a case – or a life – might depend on it.

"Sounds like a plan, Sandburg," he said easily; he couldn't let the other man know how the prospect of going it alone terrified him. "Just leave the sour milk at home, okay?"

Blair stared at his friend in dropped-jaw amazement. "That's it?" he demanded. "No grumbling, no griping, no 'not now, Sandburg'? Just, 'okay'?"

"Hell, Sandburg, even if I complained, we both know that you'll eventually talk me into it. I'm just saving us some time." He shrugged. "If it'll make you feel better, I'll make you work for it – you'll pay for lunch."

A delighted smile crossed Blair's face as he bounced from his chair. "Oh, man, I am down with that! I'll even let you choose the place, and zip my lip if it's WonderBurger." He gathered his breakfast dishes and carried them to the sink. "C'mon, let's get the dishes done and head out; time's a-wastin'!"

Jim stifled a sigh and rose to follow Blair's lead. He didn't know what else he could do to convince Sandburg to stay, but he was determined to think of something. He had to find something to change Blair's mind, or go crazy when he left.


Monday

Jim called up Google, then sat staring at the screen; Sandburg was so much better at searches than he was. How could he find the 'something big' that would knock Blair's socks off, and convince him not to leave? What would mean enough to him?

Well... start with the obvious – 'anthropology'. He groaned internally. 32,100,000 matches; not much help there. He'd already given Sandburg the book, so another one wouldn't mean much. Maybe if he refined the search with – 'exhibit'. Better; only 483,000 matches. Now, could he find something within driving distance, and new enough that Blair wouldn't have had a chance to visit it yet? The larger sites were more likely; he tried 'Olympia', and then 'Seattle'.

Yes! Jim felt a surge of satisfaction; apparently he'd learned something from hanging around Sandburg, after all. Now...

It took another thirty minutes, but he finally had a room reserved – two double beds – for Saturday and Sunday, and tickets to the exhibit.

Just before he shut down the computer, another thought struck him. Blair might be suspicious if the only reason for leaving town was an exhibit geared to his tastes. Jim needed something else, a more logical reason – in Blair's eyes – to entice Jim out of Cascade.

With a sigh, he called up Google again and started another search.


Tuesday

"Sandburg, I think I need a break."

Blair lifted his head from the lesson plans scattered across the kitchen table. Jim was watching the news, but had muted the TV during the commercial break. "Well, I can understand that," he said neutrally. "What did you have in mind?"

"I'm thinking, out of town, so Simon can't call on us if something comes up. I can clear my calendar for this weekend, thought you might like to come along."

"Fishing?"

"Actually, something a little more urban – Seattle."

Blair snorted. "Jim, trading one big city for another can hardly be considered a 'break'. C'mon, give. What's in Seattle that you're interested in?"

"There's a classic car show on Sunday, everything from the early nineteen hundreds to nineteen-sixty-five. I figured we could do that in the morning, then find a museum or something that you'd enjoy after lunch."

Blair considered for a moment, then shook his head. "Thanks, Jim, but I've seen museums before, and a classic car show isn't that big a deal for me. You must get tired of me hanging around all the time; I'll just stay here and catch up on my schoolwork. Why don't you ask Simon, or maybe Joel?"

Jim shook his head; it was amazing that such a smart man worried about 'intruding', instead of recognizing that he was wanted. "Okay, Sandburg, you're ruining my surprise, but I guess it's the only way to get you there. There's a big anthropology / archaeology exhibit opening on Friday, and I've already got the tickets, and reserved a room for the weekend. You could have a blast wandering around there on Saturday, and if you're not interested in the car show, we could find something else for Sunday. Just two friends hanging out, taking it easy. We both need it, so what d'ya say?"

Blair's eyes narrowed as he stared at Jim. He chewed his lip in deep thought, then slowly rose and approached his friend, laying a palm on Jim's forehead. "Okay, you don't have a fever, but this is hardly in character. So, who are you, and what have you done with Jim Ellison?"

Jim batted the hand aside, and rose to his feet to face Blair. He drew 'offended' around him like a cloak; 'attack' was a better position for a confrontation than 'defend'. "What? I was just trying to plan a much-needed break for both of us, something that we'd both enjoy. Can't a man be considerate of his friends?"

Blair snorted and threw his hands in the air. "Yes, a man can be 'considerate of his friends'. Even tough-guy Jim Ellison is considerate of his friends, but he's usually a lot more low-key about it. This is just 'out there', you know?" He cast his mind back, trying to remember. "I mean, in the past ten days, you haven't uttered one single irritated word in my direction. You've tuned up the Corvair, put new tires on it, treated me to a dinner that's not WonderBurger, and it had to be you who stocked the cupboard with my favorite snacks – I didn't put 'em there, and I quit believing in the tooth fairy a long time ago. On top of that, you loaded my drawer with new underwear – underwear for god's sake – bought me a book I've been lusting after for two months, didn't bitch about testing your senses, and now this. It's too much, man; if I didn't know you're straight as an arrow, I'd think you were... were... wooing me, and that's just crazy! It's not Jim Ellison; it's not even 'average American male', so I gotta ask again, what's going on?!?"

Ellison clenched his jaw as he stared at his irate friend, desperately seeking an answer, any answer, that would satisfy Sandburg other than the real one. "Protection," he supplied, turning away and staring resolutely out the balcony doors. Inadequate, but it stopped Blair in his tracks.

"Protection?" He was puzzled, examining all aspects of that idea, until outraged disbelief signified his sudden understanding. "Protection! What, I'm some mob boss that you have to pay off so I'll feel generous enough to pull you out of a zone before a bullet takes you? You can't be serious, man!" Blair began pacing as he tried to work through his agitation; Jim turned to watch him, unable to think of anything to say that might head off the approaching train-wreck. "When have I ever stinted in giving you the very best backup I know how to give, or indicated that I'm not totally invested in helping you make the sentinel thing work? We're friends Jim; doesn't that concept mean anything to you?" Blair was sputtering in his anger, hands waving wildly in emphatic punctuation of his words until he spun around and advanced on Ellison like a wolf stalking its prey, finally poking a firm finger into his friend's chest. He continued his tirade while the larger man stood silent in appalled fascination, watching the finger as it attacked, retreated, and attacked again.

"I am sick and tired"  (poke)  "of you always"  (poke)  "acting like friendship"  (poke)  "is a commodity."  (poke, poke)  "You've got to learn"  (poke)  "that friends stick together,"  (poke)  "and monetary compensation"  (poke)  "has nothing to do with it."  (poke)  "In fact, your attitude"  (poke)  "is an insult!" Blair pulled back and stared fiercely into Ellison's eyes. "So tell me, what do you have to say for yourself?"

"I'm sorry," Jim whispered, closing his eyes as he saw his world start to crash. He'd made such a mess of things; Blair would be certain to leave now. "I didn't mean... I only wanted..." He faltered into silence, unable to find words of explanation in the face of Sandburg's wrath.

It was enough; Blair's anger dissipated as he realized that something was actually wrong, and Jim was hurting. "Ah, man, I'm sorry, too," he sighed. "I shouldn't have blown up like that. Let's sit down and discuss this calmly, and you can tell me what's going on." He gave Jim a gentle shove to encourage him toward the couch, then made a detour through the kitchen to grab a couple of beers before sitting sideways on the arm of the couch to face his friend. He handed one of the beers to Jim, and each man took a fortifying gulp.

"Okay," Blair said easily, "it's obvious that you've gotten some wild hair up your ass. Tell me about it, and let's get this mess cleared up."

Jim sighed, and stared at the bottle he was rolling between his hands. There was no way out of this; any attempt to shade the issue would be worse than the truth. "I found that poem," he admitted, "and I thought you wanted to leave, and I was trying to make you want to stay."

"What poem?" Blair's face showed his confusion; apparently he had no idea what Jim was talking about.

"The wind one." No reaction. "The one that talks about wandering around the world, following the wind." Blair's jaw dropped as understanding dawned. "I thought it meant you were feeling tied down, and you'd pick up and move on, and I... just didn't want to face that." The beer bottle was obviously fascinating, as he focused on it and avoided looking at his friend. "I know you've done a lot to help me, and I thought you might figure you were finished, but I really don't think I can do it without you, so I just... tried to give you reasons to stay." Finally he glanced toward Blair, needing to see his friend's reaction.

"Jim, Jim, Jim-Jim-Jim," Blair sighed, slowly shaking his head. "Man, you have got to learn to talk about things; look at all the grief you'd save yourself. That poem is just a contest entry! The Lit Club is hosting a poetry competition, instructors against students; I figured I'd get some brownie points by participating."

Hope blossomed slowly. "That's it?"

"That's it. Nothing more than an exercise in meter and rhyme, and tuggin' the ol' heartstrings so my entry might be more memorable and maybe have a better chance of winning."

"But the theme you chose... I figured it was probably expressing your real feelings." He had to know. "Even if they're kind of hidden, the feelings have to be there for you to write about them, don't they?"

Blair paused with the bottle halfway to his mouth, and lowered it slowly. He couldn't lie; the sentinel would know. "Yeah," he conceded reluctantly, "the feelings are there; springtime has always been a time when Naomi and I would pick up and go. And I have to admit, I thought about it last week... Nothing permanent, just a short travel-break," he hastened to assure the rigid form in front of him. "It lasted for like, five minutes tops before I shelved the idea. There'll be other years, and other chances to travel. But until you have a really good grasp on handling your senses, I'm here for you. Nothing has changed, Jim," he said earnestly. "Nothing will change. It's still about friendship, and friends don't run out on each other." He turned a challenging glare on his sentinel, almost daring him to protest. "Ya' got that?"

Ellison returned the stare with his own searching look, evaluating the depth of commitment behind Sandburg's eyes. What he saw reassured him. There might come a time when Sandburg would pack up and leave, but that time wouldn't be soon; he fully intended to stay until Jim was comfortable with his enhanced senses. The tight muscles in his neck and shoulders relaxed with his relief. "Yeah," he acknowledged, "I got that."

"Good." Blair nodded sharply. "So you'll go back to treating me like a friend and partner, instead of a skittish would-be lover, right?"

"Right," Jim agreed. "Except..." Blair's raised eyebrow dared him to continue his 'wooing' attempts, but he forged valiantly ahead. "Look, Sandburg, the tickets are already bought; it would be a shame to let them go to waste. I could cancel the room reservation, but I think we should make the trip. We can both use the break. You don't need to think of it as a bribe, just..."

Blair waited, but Jim seemed disinclined to continue. "Just...?" he encouraged.

"Just... thank you." His eyes met Blair's once again, conveying a depth of emotion that he seldom showed. "I really do appreciate your help, Chief, more than I can say."

"Certainly more than you do say," he teased, relaxing in turn. "Okay, Jim, in the spirit of friendship and appreciation, I accept your kind invitation." He raised his bottle in a 'toasting' gesture, which Jim matched with a similar motion. As the bottles met with a ~clink~, Blair offered, "Salud."

"Yeah," Jim said and, together – almost ceremoniously – each upended his bottle and drank to the reaffirmation of their friendship.

"So," Jim continued, "you want me to go back to treating you in the 'normal' way, is that it?"

"Yeah, man, I think it's about time, don't you? I mean, it was nice and all, but it's just not you, ya' know?"

"I know, and you're absolutely right. So... Rule forty-two-B, Sandburg; feet belong on the floor, not the couch cushions!"

                                  The wind blows free
                                  Over land and sea;
                                  Who would follow the wind?




The End

 

          WINDSONG
          by Linda R.
          Spring, 1975

                        The wind blows free
                        Over land and sea;
                        Who would follow the wind?

          It's a good life, to follow the wind,
          To go where the heart desires.
          The world will give, to a friend of the wind,
          Hidden arts and secret fires.
                        For the wind sings a song,
                        And the world plays along
          With the voice of a heavenly choir.

          It's a hard life to follow the wind,
          But there's beauty along that road.
          It's a lifelong journey that has no end,
          And little peace does it hold.
                        For the wind will call,
                        And hold him in thrall,
          With no release till he's old.

          Who follows the wind has little rest,
          He finds no place to pause.
          But he knows the wond'rous world at its best;
          He lives by Nature's laws.
                        He sees great things,
                        And lives on dreams,
          But often, dreams have flaws.

          Who follows the wind must love the wind,
          He knows no other life.
          He has no time for other friends,
          Or family, or wife.
                        The wind unfurls
                        A glorious world,
          But demands an entire life.


                        The wind blows free
                        Over land and sea;
                        Who would follow the wind?