The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg
Summary: An AU of Jim and Blair's first meeting.
Notes: Jim's POV
Feedback: Constructive comments welcomed. Oh, and, you know, fawning *snicker*
Jim's hand shook as he dropped the book onto the coffee table with a 'thud' that reverberated throughout the sparsely furnished loft. He ran both hands over his face and head in an effort to calm his nerves. He couldn't believe what he'd just read. Though it was merely a work of fiction, Jim felt as if the author had been talking about him. As if he'd peered into the disarray Jim's life had become and managed to find the one thing he'd tried so hard to keep hidden so people wouldn't think he was a freak.
Then he'd turned that deep, dark secret into something wonderful and normal that could be controlled and used to help others. Jim laughed at the positive spin the author had given to what he called 'hyperactive senses' and wondered what he'd think if he had to suffer through them, then realized he was acting as if this person actually knew what he was talking about.
For a brief moment Jim allowed himself to hope that this was the way it could be. That he could gain control over his senses, rather than having them control him. To actually be able to use them. He snorted at his own fanciful notions. The author probably had no idea what he was talking about. Jim wished he'd never picked up the book when it captured his attention that morning while he was standing in the checkout line at the bookstore.
Disgusted, Jim steeled himself, picked the book up and shoved into a random spot on his bookshelf, and then determined to forget he'd ever heard of The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg.
A week later, after a particularly bad reaction to the sound of the washing machines in the laundr-o-mat a block over, Jim found himself pulling the book back out. He ran his hands over the cover, feeling the raised lettering, and then turned it over so he could read the teaser on the back.
Lost while hiking in the Cascade Mountains, Adam Tyner is rescued and returns to civilization with more than he left with: hyperactive senses that allow him to hear, see, smell, taste, and feel what others can't. Tyner seeks help with his senses from Bailey Saunders, an anthropology student at Rainier University who has been studying hyperactive senses. Together they use Tyner's senses to help the citizens of Cascade.
Telling himself not to expect too much, Jim opened the cover and read the author's bio. Dr. Blair Sandburg, PhD, was a professor at Rainier University and had been studying Sentinels since he'd found a monograph written by the explorer, Sir Richard Burton. Though he'd discovered many people with one or two hyperactive senses, such as taste or smell, he'd never found one with all five. Undeterred, it seems, he'd continued studying Sentinels, published several papers and articles on the subject, and wrote his dissertation on Police Officers: the Modern Sentinel. Sandburg had taken the information he'd gleaned about police work and used it to write a book about a modern-day Sentinel who used his senses to 'protect his tribe', which he claimed was the function of Sentinels in tribal cultures.
Jim read the bio several times. He couldn't believe that Sentinels, people with all five hyperactive senses, were real. Or had been real. Were still real, if he was any indication. How strange was it that Blair Sandburg had been living in Cascade for the past ten, fifteen years, looking for people with five hyperactive senses, and yet he and Jim had never met. Well, maybe not so odd, since Jim had been hiding his senses as best he could ever since they'd appeared several years ago.
An hour later, giving himself no time to talk himself out of it, Jim found himself ensconced at a table in the back of the library at Rainier University, anthropology journals spread out around him due to the helpfulness of the librarian who knew right were Dr. Sandburg's work on Sentinels could be found. His visit drew no surprised looks or undue attention, as it seemed several folk had been interested in the articles ever since Dr. Sandburg's book hit the bookshelves. She'd even confided that there was now a waiting list to take his classes.
Still pessimistic, Jim tried to ignore the voices around him as he opened the first journal. Dr. Sandburg was certainly long-winded, he thought, but at least the subject matter was interesting. And it was clear that Sandburg found it fascinating and was thrilled to share his knowledge of Sentinels with others. Jim pulled out the small notebook and pen he carried with him out of habit, and started taking notes.
A visit to the Registrar's office under the guise of wanting to audit one of Dr. Sandburg's classes eventually garnered Jim the Doctor's class schedule. Standing outside the door to Sandburg's office, Jim realized he could have saved himself a lot of time and aggravation, since the same schedule he now held in his hand was taped to the door. The only difference was that the schedule on the door included his office hours. Jim pulled his pen out and noted the office hours on his copy.
Suddenly, Jim realized that he could hear the voices from inside the room. He didn't want to eavesdrop on a private conversation with a student, but found himself relaxing as he listened to the man he assumed was Dr. Sandburg explain the concept of why it was important to have your work completed on time. Jim grinned at the Doctor's tone, which combined 'I was a kid once, too' with the voice of authority.
Jim sat in the chair beside the door and let himself drift, hearing the timbre of Sandburg's voice without listening to the words, which he told himself made his eavesdropping okay. When he heard noises that indicated their conversation was coming to a close, Jim panicked, suddenly unsure of whether he was ready to meet Dr. Blair Sandburg. He stood and hurried out to his truck. It wasn't until he was pulling out of the parking lot that he realized the near-constant headache he'd been sporting had vanished.
Two days later, a trip to his favorite bookstore, the one where he'd found The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg, resulted in the information that Dr. Blair Sandburg would be doing a book signing the following weekend. Jim read through the flier they'd handed out twice, but the sheet still said that Sandburg would be giving a talk on Sentinels prior to the signing. Jim hated crowds these days, often unable to block out the noise, but he held onto the flier like a lifeline.
Jim arrived at the bookstore early for Dr. Sandburg's talk. About twenty chairs had been set up in an intimate grouping. Jim took a seat near the back so he could escape quickly if the noise got to be too much for him. The chairs soon filled up, but Jim didn't notice. His attention was focused on a man he had yet to see, but the voice was as familiar to him as his own.
At the appointed time, Dr. Sandburg walked through the crowd and picked up the microphone sitting on a high stool. Sandburg had dark, curly hair that hung about shoulder length, blue eyes that shone with a lust for life, and lips that seemed to be perpetually curled into a smile.
"Hello!" he greeted the crowed that had gathered, and a few stragglers drifted over.
"Hello!" the crowd called back.
"I can't believe you all came here to listen to me talk," Sandburg continued, as he took his seat on the stool. "I'm not all that interesting, really, but Sentinels are, so let me tell you a little bit about them."
Sandburg reeled off his speech about Sentinels, his search for one, and his dissertation, which had served as the impetus to write his book. Jim only listened with one ear, allowing Sandburg's voice to soothe him. All too soon, Sandburg was finished speaking. He answered a few questions from the audience, and then was led over to the table where he'd be signing books.
Jim stayed where he was seated, once again unsure as to whether he should approach the Doctor. He once more let himself drift on the sound of Sandburg's voice as he greeted the people who had purchased his book and brought it here for him to sign.
Jim startled out of his daze when he realized that Sandburg's voice was much closer than he'd expected. He jerked around to see the man sitting beside him.
"Uh, hi," was his stimulating reply, but Sandburg just smiled at him and indicated the book he was clutching.
"Did you want that signed?"
Jim looked down at the book as if he'd forgotten he held it. "I, um, uh, yeah, I do," he finally stammered.
"Cool." Sandburg held his hand out, and Jim stared at it a moment before placing the book in it. "What's your name?" he asked as he opened the cover and held the pen ready.
"Ah, Jim," Jim said.
Sandburg tilted his head and grinned at Jim from beneath a stray curl that had fallen into his face. "Are you sure?"
Jim felt himself blushing. "Most of the time," he said with a sheepish grin in return.
"So, what did you think of the book?" Sandburg asked as he turned his attention back to the pen he held.
"It was, um, good fiction," Jim hedged.
Sandburg stopped writing and looked up at him. "Well," he said slowly, "that's what it was supposed to be, so I guess it was successful?"
"Would that really help?" Jim asked. "I mean, could Bailey really help Tyner control his senses?"
Sandburg straightened deliberately in the chair, blue eyes boring into Jim's. "Based on the research I've done, there had to be a way to control their senses, or the Sentinels wouldn't have been able to function, much less be as important a part of tribal culture as they were."
"Jim, how long?"
"Couple years," Jim replied shortly.
Sandburg remained silent, thinking, then looked around them and pointed. "What is that woman at the register saying?"
Jim turned his head to see the woman Sandburg was pointing to, then hesitated. He could still pretend not to know, tell Sandburg it was all a joke. "She's asking when the next JD Robb book will be released."
Sandburg stared at Jim in amazement, and Jim suddenly found himself wanting to show off his abilities for this man. "That woman over there..." He pointed. "..is wearing White Shoulders." He grimaced. "Someone should tell her that less is more." He glanced out the window. "Riley's Grill has a special on grouper tonight." Jim looked back at Sandburg. "And your heart is beating very... very fast."
Dr. Sandburg looked blown away. "Jim..."
"Why does the sound of your voice make me feel better?" Jim interrupted.
Sandburg's mouth fell open. "Ahh...it does?"
"At the University..."
"Wait! You were at the University?"
"The library. I read your papers, and then came to your office," Jim told him.
"You didn't stay?" Sandburg sounded devastated.
"Too nervous," Jim admitted. "This isn't something that I... No one knows."
Sandburg looked stunned. "No one knows? But, Jim...!"
"I didn't want to be a freak, all right?" Jim hissed.
"Oh, Jim," Sandburg said, rubbing Jim's arm. Jim would have left right then if it had sounded like pity, but it sounded more like... wonder. "You're not a freak, you're a miracle, man!"
Jim shook his head. "It's hard to believe that, after so many years of trying to hide it."
"Do you..." Sandburg swallowed hard. "Do you still want to hide it?"
"Can you help me?"
Sandburg was nearly bouncing in his seat. "I can try!"
"Where do we start?" Jim asked.
Sandburg held out his hand. "Hi, Jim, my name is Blair. How do you feel about grouper?"
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