Author's disclaimer: Sentinel belongs to Pet Fly, UPN, Paramount and others who don't respect them nearly enough. This is not for profit, but for love.
Boy Who Didn't Know How to Shudder (one version of the title). I've changed many elements, but the basic idea stays true. I still have some potty mouth going on.
He had been a great trial to his mother, turning her auburn hair silver before he'd reached his third summer. It wasn't that he was a wicked child, or a sickly one; it was that he was a fearless child, without any sense of self-preservation. He climbed where no bairn would, he crawled where no other could, he cuddled snakes and spiders like others cradled rag dolls, and always with this wild, fierce joy, as though he were just savouring the world. By the time he'd reached his sixth summer, his birth name had been lost to a given name. All the others in the village called him Fearnot, for that was the truth of him, straight and simple enough.
It wasn't that he was a lackwit, for all that's what you might be thinking. He was bright as a King's new copper, sharp as the tanner's needle, quick as the fox in the hen house. He asked questions enough, and most of them starting with "Why...?" It was more that he had a hankering to find all the answers himself, and he didn't much care where the questioning took him. Everything was a source of wonder to him, and a challenge, and there wasn't much point in fearing what you didn't know or what you'd already bested. And so it was, he spent his childhood sticking his head in beehives and climbing too-tall trees and riding bears home after a day in the forest. But that's another story entirely, the bear, and would only be distracting us from our story.
By the time he'd reached a man's height, he decided to try his way in the world. He had poked and prodded all he could in his own village, and had driven the village fathers half mad with his questioning ways. It was said that in the cities, there were great Temples of Learning, where all a body's questions might be answered, and he thought me might just find some of what he was looking for there.
Naomi watched as he packed up his gear into his knapsack and suitcase, trying to reconcile the lean, stripling man with the chubby boy that she was sure she'd tucked into bed the night before. His square jaw, nothing like hers at all, was dark with beard-stubble, and his relentlessly curly hair flopped around in small tufts and ringlets. He looked a bit silly, really, but he was determined to grow it out. He was sure the longer hair would add a few years to a face that was still a trifle feminine in it's youth and beauty. She startled as he let out a quiet stream of expletives when the zipper bulged precariously over one last book he was trying to cram in. She laughed at that, a small, breathy sound that pulled his attention to her, focused the deep blue of his gaze and she thought, for a moment, her heart might stop. His full mouth, so like her father's, quirked in a half-smile.
"What's so funny, Mom? Did I use a new one?" he asked, and she just shook her head at him for a moment, then crossed over from the doorway and folded him to her in a hug. "Ah, separation anxiety."
"Maybe a little," she confessed, smoothing back the hair that hung in his eyes, kissing his forehead. "It's been you and me for almost seventeen years, sweetheart. I just can't believe you're going to college already!"
"University," Blair corrected, smiling at her. "Yeah, I'm having a bit of trouble wrapping my brain around that. But there wasn't much left for me in high school, so I'm glad I took the accelerated program. It's time I moved on with things, don't you think?"
Naomi nodded, not quite trusting her voice. Detach with love echoed in her mind, but it was so much harder this time, harder than ever before. Before, there would always be coming together again, but this ... this had the feel of finality. One cycle ending, another beginning.
"I know, Mom, I know," Blair said, and those eyes of his were going through her like light, like water, like fire--elemental in their intensity--and she let a few tears slide free and she wiped them off on shoulders broader than they had a right to be. His arms tightened around her; she remembered doing this for him, each morning before a new school, a new home, a new experience, and she marveled at the man that her son had become.
"I love you, Blair," she said softly, smiling.
He touched her auburn hair, gently, as though memorizing it. "I know, Mom, I know," he repeated. He pulled away slightly, turning back to his knapsack. "I am starting to get annoyed with this," he said conversationally, poking at the bag, and Naomi pulled back, already beginning the process of detaching. With love, but detaching. She peered over his shoulder and started laughing.
"Honey, I think they have books at the University," she said. "I don't think you have to bring all your own!"
Blair shot her a dark look. "I like my books, Mom, and if I leave 'em here, they're going to end up at Goodwill next time you move. Besides," he pulled out the book he'd been trying to fit in, "they won't have this one!"
Naomi touched the worn leather cover, saw the name Richard Burton. "That's the explorer, not the actor, right?"
"Right," Blair confirmed, smiling at Naomi like she was the gifted child in his own little classroom. "Got a feeling that this is what I want, Mom. Anthropology seems a natural for me. This is the road map to my destiny, this book!" He brandished it in the air, and for a moment Naomi saw her chubby little boy again, all energy and enthusiasm.
"Well, then, we'd better make sure you pack it," she said, smiling at him so hard her face hurt. "Take out some of the others, and we'll pack them up in a box and ship them along with you as freight."
Blair hesitated. "Can we afford that on top of the bus fare?" he asked, diffidently.
Naomi nodded. "Yes. We can afford seven or eight dollars for you destiny, dear. You did your part, winning the scholarships. Let me do mine." She ran her thumb lightly over his forehead, lingering over his third eye, feeling the chakra pulse there. So strong, so powerful.
He hugged her suddenly, hard. "I love you, Mom."
"I know, honey, I know," she said, and she did, she really did.
The city was a marvel, it surely was, and Fearnot took to it like the proverbial duck to water, sliding in and getting wet in all the puddles and pools and pubs, and he threw himself into his studies as he did everything else. Unlike the village elders, many of his teachers approved of his questions, saw them as a sign of intellect, of wit, as an argument for their very existence. "See," they would say to the world, "this is why we exist, to make minds such as this!" But Fearnot's mind was not a product of their teaching, it was a thing unto itself, and in a few years he had questions they could not answer. You might well imagine the consequences of that. Soon enough, he got up to his old ways, though in the city there were no beehives to stick his head in, nor any bears to ride save for those in the pits, and those were poor mounts, indeed.
He was young, he was bright and he was Fearnot; he found other pursuits. Daring things, foolhardy things. Pretty, scented, giggling things. Tall, laughing, broad-shouldered things. He dabbled in wine and lovers and alchemy and every now and then a touch of blasphemy. Soon enough the fathers of the Temple of Learning were pulling at their beards just as surely as the village fathers had when he was eight and impossibly venturesome and contrary. They did not wish to expel him, because it was agreed that if he ever settled in he could be the greatest of them, but he had to settle first, and they were afeared he'd burn their halls down or blow them up in his questing.
At last they got word of a teacher in a distant land, in a wild place, a desert place. They took it upon themselves to hire a man, a soldier, to conduct the precocious youth to the distant teacher, to carry him out of their land and take Fearnot either to his death or his destiny. They prayed for Fearnot's journey, for his safe passage, and hoped, in their hearts, that in the many years this journey would take he might earn a new name, one less dangerous to himself and those around him.
Fearnot was overjoyed at the opportunity, and didn't think to question their motives. For the second time in his young life he packed up his gear and set out to seek his fortune, without a single qualm.
Blair sat in his 'office', music playing loudly enough to rattle the windows, sifting through the dusty first -edition he'd been able to finagle out of Maggie. She managed the rare editions collection for the department, and Blair had learned at seventeen she had a weakness for his winsome smile. Nine years later, she still baked him brownies on a regular basis and pinched his cheeks and let him 'borrow' things that most tenured professors could barely even get to breathe on. A man used the advantages he had.
She was right, there was a damned good sentinel reference in here, although the writer called it a watchman. Same difference, he mused. Five heightened senses and a unique role within the tribal hierarchy. Over the years he'd managed to collect a number of references, hundreds of accounts of hyperdeveloped senses, and a really, really good overview for his thesis, but his empirical data of a sentinel remained nil. Buptkiss. Sweet bugger all.
He sighed, pulled off the glasses he'd started wearing in the last six months, and rubbed his eyes. Things were starting to get serious here. His advisor was making noises, and he had the sinking feeling he'd either have to change his dissertation, or find something else he could work with. Rainier was not about to continue paying out a fellowship for a dead-end project and a deadbeat grad student. The only things that had given him this much slack were his prelim research, his success in the classroom and a hell of a lot of obfuscation.
He reached out, pulled open a desk drawer and pulled out the leather-bound book he'd brought with him on his journey, the one he'd found in a second-hand bookstore when he was twelve. "Where the hell are you. man? I know you're out there somewhere, I know it!" He pressed the old book up against his forehead, inhaling the scent of old leather and paper, and sighed. "Some destiny you are," he muttered. "C'mon, we're running out of time with this!"
He sighed again, and put the book back in its drawer and returned his attention to the latest Maggie had slipped him. Maybe if he documented well enough, he could just shift the focus a bit, rather than ditching his thesis entirely. There had to be some angle he could work on this. There was always an angle.
A flurry of knocks interrupted his studying an hour or two later, and he looked up just as a lanky, blue-haired guy poked his head in the office. "Hey, Blair, got a fax coming in for you, marked urgent, from that nurse you've been boning."
Blair shut the rare edition, tucked it into a drawer and locked it up. He felt hot and cold all over, the same feeling that had overtaken him when he'd pulled the Burton book out of a box in the back end of that musty-smelling bookstore fourteen years ago. "Great," he said, and he was amazed at how steady his voice sounded. "I'll be right up to get it. And Greg," he added, before the blue head disappeared, "for chrissakes, don't use the word boning. It's, like, so 80's, man. And likely to get your balls taken off by someone."
"Whatever," Greg said, rolling his eyes. Blair grinned and went up to get the fax.
A minute late he was hightailing it for his Corvair, repeating the name Ellison under his breath.
The soldier was older than Fearnot, and gruff to him, but not unkind. He stood tall and straight as a tree, and as soon as he saw him, the young man was struck by an urge to climb him, just as he would a tree. He thought, rather, that there would be many things to see from those shoulders, from those eyes. They were keen eyes, blue as old, old ice, and sometimes they saw so far the soldier got lost in the distance. At those times, Fearnot had to touch him, speak him out of the farseeing, but he always came back, and after a time together, he could see the distance and not lose himself, secure in the knowledge Fearnot was there.
Their journey together was long and arduous, and Fearnot being what he was, fell into scrape after scrape, and the soldier pulled him out time and time again; more than once he blistered Fearnot's ears with scalding words, but they never seemed to daunt the younger man. He still poked and explored and chewed his way through life with a vigour that alternately amazed and terrified the soldier.
One night, when Fearnot came late back to the inn where they were staying, clothes askew and smelling of sweat and heat and hunger, he stood and watched the soldier sleep in the bed they shared. He watched the slow, steady rise of the big man's chest and the way his eyelids fluttered, until they fluttered open and their gazes were locked. It lasted forever and passed in a second, breaking when a heavy pounding on the door sounded the arrival of the three brothers to Fearnot's latest adventure.
When the soldier had at last soothed them away, he turned to his charge in dismay, and asked him if he had the sense to know when something was too dangerous to risk. "For I swear," he said, "that you'll end up dead and I'll be blamed but the gods alone know how to deal with one such as you!"
Fearnot stripped down to his breeches and climbed into the still warm bed and peered up at the big man with curious eyes. "And how do you know when something is too dangerous, too much to lose?" he asked at last.
The soldier thought a bit, and slipped in beside Fearnot, laying his hands behind his head and considering his words carefully. "You feel a shaking in your belly, in your balls, in your spine, called a shudder. Leaves you cold. That should warn you, tell you to tread carefully."
Fearnot yawned. "Ah. Never felt that," he murmured sleepily, drifting almost at once into dreamless slumber, but not before the soldier spoke, his voice soft, pitched to the night and the gods, and dry as the far desert they sought.
"That, my boy, is no surprise."
A month later the soldier ignored his own warning, and allowed himself to fall into the blue of Fearnot's eyes, and was lost utterly.
"C'mon, man, you know you want this," Blair's voice purred against the side of his throat, and Jim Ellison groaned a small protest as his body thrummed to instant life under his Guide's onslaught. His rational mind told him that this was foolish, that this was incredibly unwise, but Blair had almost died, again; he had, in fact, been sure of it when the elevator crashed and he couldn't deny himself this small miracle, this affirmation.
"Do you understand what you're asking here, Chief?" he asked hoarsely as Blair pushed his shoulders down against the couch, as Blair's mouth trailed fire down his chest, down to the button on his jeans. Cool air and then all-encompassing heat were the only answers he got, and a moment later he was beyond words, beyond reason, beyond rationality.
He was in love.
They stood at the desert's edge and argued for what seemed a day and a night. Try as he might, Fearnot could not persuade the soldier to join him. "I cannot follow you there," the soldier said gravely, absolutely, and his eyes were like ice, melting in the sun. Fearnot, while still unafraid, was sad and angry and many words welled up in him, unthinkable words, unspeakable words, but the tragedy was that he thought them, and he spoke them, and he wounded the soldier in ways that a lifetime of wars had not.
Fearnot turned his back and walked into the desert, and told himself that the soldier held nothing for him; the truth of the matter was somewhat different, however. Late at night, sleepless beneath the stars, Fearnot found himself terribly full of questions, and he suspected the answers all were to be found in the slow-smiling mouth of the soldier, in the brightness of his gaze at midnight. For the first time in his life Fearnot felt the sting of putting his hand in the beehive, and he nursed the hurt even as he found his teacher, and laboured under him.
Blair Sandburg worked under the heat of Mexico's sun and tried very hard to not think of Jim Ellison. It was like trying not to sweat. Seven weeks along and he still found his vision blurred by tears almost as often as perspiration. He'd worked through it in his mind, but try as he might he had yet to figure out what the hell he was doing here, instead of in Cascade, being Guide to Jim's Sentinel. All he knew was that there was a hole inside him that made Seaton's excavation look like a child's sandbox, and neither hard work nor tequila did much to numb the pain of it.
The fight hadn't been anything unusual, the same shit they'd done for two years. They didn't even yell anymore. Jim got tense and pissy, spoke his piece, Blair calmly explained how it was his job to back-up Jim, that it was part of the deal, and yeah, shit yeah, it had risks, but he was a big boy, it was his choice to make. Jim never liked it, but he was a grown-up, he accepted the reasoning. It usually led to sex that made them walk funny for a couple of days, and then things went back to normal.
Only this time, this last time, Jim hadn't followed the script. He'd rested atop Blair, too quiet, even for him, and then said, "I think I need some distance."
"Roll off, then," Blair had laughed, but there was no answering smile, and the warm, sated feeling turned slowly to ice.
"I don't think this is working anymore, Chief," Jim had said gravely. "I don't think you understand what it does to me when you just charge in, firing all thrusters and risking yourself. I can't take that, I can't go there with you, not anymore," he said gently. He kissed Blair's startled mouth lovingly, regretfully, and then rolled off. A moment later he headed for the bathroom, leaving Blair alone in the middle of a storm-tossed bed, sweat cooling unpleasantly on his body.
No amount of arguing could persuade Jim otherwise. He became granite, stone, and nothing Blair said or did could push past the walls he erected. Reasoning and ranting and pleading had no effect, and at last Blair had packed the bare minimum and found a place to get lost into.
Now, weeks later with skin brown and blue work shirt faded almost to white, he carefully dusted and bagged sherds and suddenly realized that he couldn't get lost, couldn't detach with love, couldn't run away. He wondered how it had happened, at what point, exactly, he had lost his heart and soul to the stubborn jackass; he knew, too, that if he was going to survive this, he'd have to face Jim down. He'd finish his stint under Seaton, then head back and talk to Jim again, have it out with him and find out just what the hell the arrogant jerk thought he was doing, where he got off. He straightened, comfortable with this new resolve, and began to bundle and catalogue what he'd recovered. He was almost done when Seaton's voice cut through the thin air, pulling him back to the here and now.
"Sandburg, there's a call being patched through to you on the radio. A man named Simon Banks, Cascade Police. It sounds serious." The older man's expression was concerned, kindly, and he took the foam box from Blair's suddenly nerveless fingers, shouldered him back to the camp, and then held him as he threw-up in the biffy when the call was over.
Fearnot was a good student to his master, but the silence and stillness that grew in him had less to do with his teacher than with the memory of his soldier's eyes at their parting. At last, rich with lore and knowledge, he knew there was nothing more this man could provide him; he finally understood that he had to go back, find the answers he'd left at the desert's edge. He packed up his books of wisdom, his words of power, and set back towards the world he'd left behind.
The first place he tried was the garrison at the nearest town, but when he gave the soldier's name, their faces were solemn and dark; Fearnot felt something terrible then, something cold and merciless clamping in his bowels, shaking down his spine. The soldier, it seemed, had fought one battle too many, and his farseeing eyes had led him beyond the world of men.
Fearnot shuddered, fell down with trembling, and had to be helped to his feet. He demanded to see the soldier, demanded to see him, wept to see him, and they shook their heads at his madness but took him to the ward where the soldier sat and saw what no one else could see.
He was pitiful, really, thinner and unkempt and they'd let his hair grow shaggy and his beard grow in, and he smelled. Fearnot wept over him and pulled him into his arms and rocked him as his own mother had tried to rock him, years ago. He begged his soldier to come back, to make the shudder go away, that he hated it, hated it, hated it and it wouldn't stop, he couldn't stop shaking with it, and he thought he might tremble to pieces, it wracked him so.
"Then stop," the soldier said, his voice worn and dusty, like unused door-hinges, and his arms came around Fearnot. They were weaker than Fearnot remembered, but they had strength enough to quell the shudder.
Blair peered through the observation port of the isolation room and snarled in disgust. "Get that door the fuck open before I tear someone a new asshole," he growled, rounding on the doctor. "What the hell were you people thinking?"
The doctor raised placating hands. "Mr. Ellison was admitted for sensory hallucinations that led to a violent episode in a public place. All attempts to medicate him failed, he became physically abusive of the staff and had to be restrained and isolated for his and our safety. Since then, he's lapsed into this ... state, which I must admit I'm hard-pressed to define accurately. What were we supposed to do, Mr. Sandburg?" The woman's voice was reasonable, not defensive, and that managed to penetrate the red haze that fogged Blair's vision.
He rubbed his hands wearily over his eyes, pressing his palms into the eye sockets as though he could somehow dig out the exhaustion that dogged him. "Right, I'm sorry. But open the door. Obviously he's not violent now, and trust me, the only way for us to get him back is for me to go in there and pull him out."
The doctor looked from Blair to Simon Banks, who stood a little off to the side. When the big man nodded, she sighed. "You're on all his legal paperwork, and quite frankly, he's not responding to anything else. However, if he becomes distraught, you will be removed immediately."
Blair nodded. "Yeah, thanks. Just get me in there, okay?"
A moment later he was crossing the padded floor, kneeling beside the vacant-eyes Sentinel. "Jesus, James. Now whose turn is it to scare the piss out of the other? I leave you alone for just a little while and everything goes to shit."
He threaded his fingers through Jim's hair, grown slightly shaggy, and heedless of the cameras kissed the older man square on the mouth. "Well, I'm here now, and no matter what you say, I'm never leaving you again, you got that? Because no matter how scary it is together, it's way fucking worse apart, y'know? I mean, look at us. I've lost all those pounds you put on me the last couple of years, and you look like an extra from 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. Nobody looks good in wrap-around, man, nobody," he babbled, stroking the older man everywhere he could reach, rubbing himself against him, kissing him, trying to anchor his Sentinel's senses on the Guide, trying to bring him back. "C'mon, Jim, c'mon, dude, babe, sugarhips, c'mon back to Blair, don't leave me alone, can't leave me alone, can't make it without you, babe."
He wiped the trickle of spittle that shone down Jim's chin, pulled the big man into his lap and tried his best to surround him, immerse him, and he talked himself hoarse, wept himself dry. "Ah, shit, Jim, you're scaring the hell out of me, and I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. If this is what you felt all those times, then I'm so fucking sorry, so fucking sorry, but it's who we are, don't you see, what we are." He lapsed into nonsense crooning, rocking Jim in his arms, and just about zoned himself on the motion.
"Don't call me sugarhips," a dry, papery voice roused him at last, and he glanced down to see Jim looking at him, looking at him and he gave a whoop and leaned in and kissed the older man so hard their teeth clacked. "Not in front of Simon," Jim protested once Blair let him draw a free breath.
"Right about now, I'd do it on Jerry Springer," Blair said, grinning like an idiot as the doctor rushed in, Simon close behind. He held onto Jim as the doctor began her exam, despite her protests, and whispered a thousand things, sentinel-soft, all of them meaning the same thing.
I love you.
Fearnot did not return to the Temple of Learning, but instead followed his soldier. He learned the meaning of a shudder, and even when to heed it and when to push ahead despite it. He still quested all his days, seeking knowledge, but carefully, prudently, knowing now what price he was willing to pay, and what he was not.