The Last Straw
Blair kept his head down as he moved through the sterile corridors, too ashamed to dare risk meeting anyone´s eyes. Even so, he was all too aware of the looks, the double takes as people recognised him from the news. And yet, there were less than he´d expected, and Blair found a perverse sense of relief inside the hospital. All around him people were going through the worst day of their lives; losing loved ones, losing lives, dealing with tragedies of every conceivable nature, and few had any time or energy to notice a fraud.
It didn´t matter that he knew the truth, that every single word of his dissertation was true, however much it might sound like a fairytale. In denying his work, Blair had denied himself, claiming to be something he was not, and to protect Jim, that was a pretence he would have to continue for the rest of his life. By acting the fraud he would, in effect, become one, and all the condemnation and disdain that position deserved would now be his to bear.
But Blair could hardly bring himself to care. Instead he simply felt numb, all the fear and heartache at what had happened disappearing in a wave of panic as a shower of bullets had come so close to ending the lives of people he´d called friends. When the panic faded it was as if someone had flicked a switch, bringing with it an eerie calm that had left him walking through a cloud, unnaturally detached from the chaos his life had become.
The psych student inside him recognised it for what it was a mental defence mechanism designed to hold together the shattered remnants of a man pushed too far, forced to cope with too much until it was either switch off or go insane. The man in him simply accepted the refuge for what it was and took advantage of it, needing that small sanctuary as his world collapsed around him.
It had all gone so wrong.
Four months ago he´d been happy, academically successful and having the time of his life living with a real-life sentinel the finest man he´d ever known.
Alex Barnes had cost him that friendship, tearing into insecurities he´d never even known existed, leaving cracks behind that they´d barely begun to repair. Now the dissertation had cost him his work, his reputation, and just as he knew he would never be able to think of sentinels without remembering Alex, his career and all the acclaim he´d received before ever meeting Jim would be forever tainted with the memory of this day.
He´d lost it all, and in giving that press conference had knowingly destroyed his own life, more completely than Alex ever could.
It was finally over. Even before the conference, from the moment he´d realised exactly what he was going to have to do to end this, to stop the media frenzy that was whirling around them both he´d known what that meant, what the declaration was going to cost him, but he´d had no choice, and only that unnatural calm had given him the strength to go through with it.
Standing behind the lecturn, halfway through his speech as he´d looked out at the mass of microphones and cameras, dozens of journalistic vultures eagerly awaiting the next instalment of the story with no thought to what it meant to the people involved, his calm had splintered, robbing him of his voice as one single strand of sorrow broke through the ice in his chest, overwhelming him, and threatening to ruin everything he was trying to fix.
He´d fought it back down, forcing himself to hold it together for just a few more moments until he could finish his statement and get away to break down in private, salvaging the tiniest shred of dignity from the wreck of his life.
And the worst thing, the very worst thing about it all was that all the time he´d been speaking, hell, ever since the first reporter had thrust a camera into his face and asked what it felt to be the one who had found a sentinel, a tiny voice inside his head had been screaming at him to answer, to tell the truth and accept the acclaim he deserved.
Blair stumbled to a halt then, feeling almost blindly for one of the chairs that lined the corridor and collapsing into it, burying his face in his hands.
A million dollars.
A nobel prize.
Everything he´d ever dreamed of and more had been handed to him on a plate, and God forgive him, he´d wanted to take it. They´d even made a joke of it over the years, teasing each other with mentions of the brass ring and just how famous he was going to be. He´d dreamed of this since he was a teenager, the thought of what he was working towards and just how good it was going to be somehow making the journey more bearable on the nights when he´d wondered what the hell he was doing. Nearly thirty years old, still, essentially in school and living in someone else´s spare room, and somehow the dreams of fame and fortune had made the struggle seem worth it, bolstering him through cold, lonely nights huddled in damp warehouses, a constant reminder of what was waiting for him at the end of his journey helping to ward off just a little of the cold.
All the things he´d missed out on over the years a father figure, the stability of a constant family, a stable home for more than a few months at a time he loved Naomi more than anything and she´d shown him a world he could never have dreamed of, but that small, hurting voice inside his head had always, secretly, wanted more. He´d always wanted to belong.
That voice was his own selfishness, he knew that. An all too human part of him that simple *wanted*, without thought to the consequences, a voice that everyone had. It went against all social constructs of morality, but was no easier to ignore just because he could put a name to it.
The finish of his dissertation was supposed to be a celebration, a cause for joy when the years of work were finally over and he graduated, but that would never happen now. That knowledge made him want to throw Jim Ellison to the wolves and go, accept what was rightfully his and in doing so claim his part of the deal they´d worked out when he´d first agreed to help Jim learn to control his senses. Unfortunately, one look at Jim´s face, at the bewildered hurt and betrayal in his eyes even as Blair pleaded with him that he could explain, that this wasn´t his fault, and Blair had known he couldn´t simply walk away. No matter what the cost.
Three years on the rollercoaster; being shot at, drugged, beaten and scared out of his mind more times than he ever wanted to remember and now he had nothing to show for it, probably not even the friendship with Jim that had sustained him through the darkest times.
Damn it, after all they´d been through together, how could Jim have ever thought he´d betray him like that? Blair squeezed his eyes shut against his hands, trying to deny the moisture building up inside his eyes. It seemed that his closest friend didn´t know him at all.
And that same voice in his head was still there, pointing out that Jim deserved it for not believing him, for abandoning him to Alex those months before the same hurt, scared part of himself that still woke up sobbing to the feeling of water slowly enveloping him as his lungs fought for air he couldn´t find
He´d died, was supposed to be six feet under in a box, and no-one seemed to care. Blair had no idea how he was meant to deal with that.
His friendship with Jim was little more than a bitter memory, a pathetic shadow of what it once was, his temper seemed to have a short fuse that he couldn´t control and the only thing that had kept him going these last months was the knowledge that his dissertation was almost finished, the belief that once he had those letters after his name it would be worth it, and all his suffering would have meant something.
Now he didn´t even have that anymore. It had all been for nothing, and that knowledge hurt more than Blair had ever thought possible, leaving him shaken and sick to his very soul.
He´d lost everything.
The quiet voice and gentle touch on his shoulder startled him, making Blair jerk backwards in surprise. The chair rocked back slightly as he glanced up, finding himself staring into the eyes of the doctor who had been operating on Simon.
Mr Banks is out of surgery,’ he said calmly, but Blair could see the man´s gaze rake over him, taking in the pale face and red-rimmed eyes.
Blair hauled himself to his feet, anxious for news on his friends. How is he?’
The surgery went as well as can be expected. He´s being taken to recovery now, and he´ll need some physical therapy to regain full use of his muscles, but both he and Ms Connor are out of danger.’
Blair sighed in relief, feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Wearily he wiped away the tears from his eyes, stepping out of the way of the gurney as they wheeled Simon away down the corridor. The sight of his friend sleeping relatively peacefully helped calm him, and Blair willed himself to hold it together just a little while longer.
All being well we should be able to realise them both in a week or so, barring any complications.’
Blair nodded, thanking the doctor with the first genuine smile he´d managed in days. Everyone was going to be okay, and as much as he regretted what had happened, and was already beginning to mourn the loss of everything he´d known, Blair knew he´d do it all again. Some things were too important, and even though he would have to leave Cascade; should, in fact, have left straight after the conference, Blair had needed to know that his friends were going to survive, couldn´t leave with that uncertainty hanging over him.
Footsteps from down the corridor made him glance up, and his stomach lurched when he recognised Jim walking towards him as the doctor walked away. He stared for a moment, unable to look away as Jim headed in his direction and a strong sense of dread made his blood run cold.
All the strained conversations, arguments and accusations over recent days had taken their toll, and Blair had given the press conference in the naïve hope that it might help fix things. Jim hadn´t even been able to bear looking at him, and Blair would have given anything to get some semblance of their friendship back. He knew he couldn´t stay, no-one would believe he was a fraud if Jim allowed him to stay on at the loft after what he was supposed to have done, but if something of their friendship could be salvaged from this disaster, then he knew, in time, he could learn to cope with the rest.
Jim´s eyes followed the gurney as it carried Simon away, and Blair quickly related the doctor´s reassurances to his former partner, mentally echoing Jim´s obvious relief at the news.
So, I heard you guys probably got Zeller,’ Blair continued, unable to stop the ache that rose that he´d heard about it from the news, and not from his usual place at Jim´s side. It was a feeling he knew he was going to have to get used to.
I don´t know. Somebody probably got him. We´ve still got Bartley to contend with, I don´t know which one´s worse.’ A pause, and then: I saw your press conference.’
Blair´s breath caught in his throat and he glanced away, unable to look Jim in the eyes. The conference had been a desperate, last-ditch attempt to make things right, to fix the damage he´d caused, but if Jim wasn´t interested in patching things up, or God, if he did the same ‘ignore-it-and-it´ll-go-away´ routine that he´d done after they got back from Mexico and Alex, Blair knew that it would finally shatter his fragile control over his emotions. He hadn´t given up his work to be a martyr, and Blair knew he´d do it again regardless of the final outcome, but hell, he was only human, and he needed some kind of acknowledgement that he hadn´t thrown his life away for nothing.
Oh, yeah, you saw it? It´s just a book.’
It was your life.’
Yeah, it was,’ Blair muttered, his voice barely above a whisper as he fought to control his see-sawing emotions. You know, you were right. I mean, I don´t know what I was expecting to do with it, and ’ his voice trailed off for a second and he hated himself for his weakness, for being unable to maintain the calm façade when he so desperately needed it. I mean, where do I get off following you around for three years pretending I was a cop, right?’ he asked bitterly, the words echoing the same accusations Jim had thrown at him in anger days before. He couldn´t bring himself to look in Jim´s eyes, to see the disappointment that had been there for days and it took all the self-control Blair had not to simply turn and walk away, too afraid that nothing had changed. This was the one thing he simply couldn´t bear.
This self-deprecation doesn´t suit you, you know.’ Jim replied quietly. You may have been just an observer, but you were the best cop I´ve ever met, and the best partner I could have ever asked for. You´ve been a great friend and you´ve pulled me through some pretty weird stuff.’
The raw emotion in Jim´s voice shocked him, and the words gave him the strength to look up to find Jim looking back at him, with a fondness and acceptance in his eyes that Blair had thought he´d never see again.
Thanks,’ he whispered, only then realising just how much he´d needed to hear the words, needed to really know that he´d been forgiven.
Are you ready to get busy?’ Jim asked.
He smiled, finally confident that he´d done the right thing. Whatever he´d lost, however hard things were going to become, that the most important thing was still right here. He hadn´t lost everything.
After all, when all was said and done, it was about friendship.
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