'Meditating?' Jim silently questioned as he hung his wet jacket on the correct hook along with his equally wet ball cap. The rain that had begun as a gentle mist earlier in the day had gotten heavier as the afternoon passed. While not sheeting down, it was falling heavily. All in all, it was a good night to be comfortably inside with a nice fire and a good book.
Jim quietly stepped into the living room, loathe to disturb his meditating partner. As he realized there were no burning candles used by Blair for his mediation, the curled form on the couch slightly moved. Blair Sandburg sat curled on his right side, staring out the balcony windows into the rainy twilight.
"Sandburg?" Jim hesitated at the soft, flat tone of his friend's voice. "I figured you were meditating."
Jim's blue eyes narrowed. "You feeling okay?"
Blair's curly head barely nodded.
Jim looked around, trying to figure out what was wrong. A silent, stationary Sandburg flew in the face of all the known laws of nature. "Somebody do something to you?"
"No." Blair wrapped his arms tighter around his waist and seemed to dig himself deeper into the back of the couch.
Without another word, Jim reached for the brightly-colored afghan that lay across the back of the couch. He gently draped it across Blair's tightly-curled form then walked to the fireplace to start a fire.
Fussing with the fire until it was burning the way he wanted, Jim carefully monitored his Guide with his senses. He only marginally relaxed when he determined Blair's heartbeat and respiration were only slightly lower than normal. 'Okay, he's not upset about something…is he?'
Standing, Jim looked at his friend. "You hungry?"
Jim inwardly sighed. Blair's actions…or non-actions were starting to make him nervous. He silently went into the kitchen and began making hot chocolate. By the time he returned to the living room with two cups of steaming hot, sweet liquid, Blair had turned from staring out into the wet darkness to staring at the warm fire.
With a small sigh, Jim stood next to Blair silently holding out one of the mugs. After a few seconds, Blair glanced up. A small smile flickered across his lips as he reached for the mug.
"Comfort food?" he quietly asked.
Jim shrugged. "Comfort drink." He casually sat next to Blair on the couch, blocking his view of the balcony windows.
Blair sipped the hot chocolate, relaxing as he felt the hot liquid spreading warmth through his stomach. "Didn't realize I'd gotten cold."
Jim silently nodded, keeping his own eyes on the fire.
"I'm okay, Jim," Blair quietly spoke. "I'm not hurt or sick."
Jim risked a look at his friend. "I've just never seen you like this," he finally admitted.
Blair shrugged. He seemed to be searching for words, yet another action that bothered Jim. Words came as easily to the young anthropologist as breathing.
Jim patted Blair on the knee. "It's okay, Chief. Talk when or if you want."
Blair's teary blue eyes found Jim's. "God, I HATE it when I get like this," he muttered. He took a deep breath. "Did you ever just…I don't know…like…look around and…" The younger man shrugged as though it wasn’t worth the effort to finish the sentence.
Jim slowly sipped his own hot chocolate. "Not any more," he eventually admitted. He felt Blair's eyes on him and shrugged. "I did for a while." He leaned back into the couch. "You're not the first person to question if all the work and sacrifices are worth it. Each day it seems the world gets more violent. Less civilized. Less caring."
"I've always had this…I guess you'd call it optimism inside me," Blair whispered. "Until today."
"What happened today?" Jim gently asked.
"It rained," Blair whispered in return. He leaned forward and put the cooling mug on a nearby table. "Rainy days like today…" He shrugged. "It always made me feel good when I'd get home. Curl up and get toasty warm. Enjoy the sound of the rain hitting the windows. Snug and safe while the rain washes all the dirt and grime away."
Remembering his own earlier thoughts, Jim silently nodded.
"But today…all I could see was the dirt and grime," Blair shakily explained. "All I could see were the people who didn't have a place to be snug and safe. They're cold and hungry. And for all that we do…all that you do…nothing changes, man! Not one damn thing!"
Blair suddenly jumped to his feet, throwing the afghan to one side. Angry, he began pacing back and forth.
"The rich get richer. Sitting in their fancy homes. Drinking the finest wines and eating fancy food. Listening to music on a sound system that costs thousands of dollars. Not giving one single solitary thought to an elderly couple trying to find a somewhere safe and dry and warm for themselves. Someplace for them to rest for just one night."
"What happened?" Jim softly asked.
"I stopped in at the post office over on Quentin. You know I've been doing some tutoring over there. I stopped in to get some stamps." He leaned against the cold wet glass and stared out onto the balcony. "The inside area with the clerks was closed, but you could still get to the vending machines. I walked around the corner and…"
"Blair?" Jim prodded when the young anthropologist halted.
Blair took a deep breath. "There was this elderly couple lying on the floor. Lloyd and Charlotte Tucker. Man, I thought they were dead or something, you know? Mr. Tucker was asleep, but Mrs. Tucker was awake. She was laying up against him…clutching the lapel of his coat and looking up at me with such…fear in her eyes." He turned to stare at his partner. "God, Jim, nobody's ever looked at me like that."
Jim silently sat his mug on the nearby coffee table.
"I just…stopped and looked down at them." Blair rubbed both hands over his face. "I asked if they were hurt…if I could help. Turns out, they'd been evicted from their apartment. Some rat-infested hellhole. The landlord had confiscated all their stuff for non-payment of rent. Mrs. Tucker had been really ill…almost sick with pneumonia. They'd spent their money on doctors and medicine. So that bastard took everything they had and kicked them out! They had no place to go, Jim! Their son is coming in sometime tomorrow to help them. But they had no place to go tonight. So they wound up sleeping on the floor in a post office!"
"Where did you take them, Chief?" Jim asked with a slight smile.
"St. Brendan's Church," Blair admitted. "I knew Father Ryan would find some place for them even if the shelter was full." He shrugged. "It took a while for me to convince them to go with me. I explained that anybody could walk in on them at the post office. Mr. Tucker wouldn't take charity. So Father Ryan explained he could do some work at the parish hall, washing dishes or something, in exchange for meals and a place to sleep tonight. It just about killed Father Ryan to do that, but it was the only way they'd stay."
"How's their son going to find them?" Jim frowned.
"Father Ryan is going to take them to the courthouse," Blair muttered. "They were supposed to meet their son there tomorrow afternoon. He's hoping to be able to do something for them. If nothing else, he'll take them home with him."
"Who's the landlord?" Jim casually asked. "We can look into his business practices."
Blair angrily stared at his partner. "Why, Jim?" His voice lowered. "It's not gonna change. Ever!" he hissed. "Nothing we do is gonna make much of a difference! Not in the long run! I mean…it will for those people we immediately touch. But…" He waved his hands towards the balcony windows. "It's just not gonna change!"
"There will be poor, pathetically struggling. Look at the good things you've got," Jim murmured. He saw Blair's surprised expression. "Yes, Sandburg. I can quote from 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. You don't know everything about me." He absently sipped his hot chocolate, grimacing at finding it had cooled considerably.
"How do you live with it?" Blair desperately whispered.
Jim shrugged. "Chief, everybody…" He took a deep breath. Platitudes weren't going to work, he realized. "I'd been in the Rangers for about a year and still had a bit of idealism that hadn't been knocked out of me. We were coming back from a mission in…" He smiled. "Doesn't matter where, does it?" He got to his feet and walked towards the balcony windows. "Anyway, we were flying back to our home base. One of the plane's crew had a small transistor radio. He liked trying to pick up transmissions from local stations. Anyway, we heard a news report that basically told us that our mission, while deemed successful by the brass, actually wasn't going to change anything." He half-smiled. "The names had changed, but the players remained the same."
Blair sat on the edge of the couch, completely entranced by Jim's story.
"I looked out the window. Just looked down at the ground and thought…what would it matter if I jumped?" Jim recalled. "Nothing would change. All we'd gone through and sacrificed…it hadn't changed anything. And I could easily be replaced."
"What happened?" Blair whispered.
Jim shrugged. "One of the guys on my team came to me a couple of days later. I'd been acting…out of character, I guess you'd call it. I wasn't much for analyzing my feelings in those days, either. But he said something that's stayed with me." He returned to the couch and sat next to Blair. "There are dark nights of the soul, my friend. Just as there are beautiful bright days of the soul. And sometimes those dark nights sneak up on us when we're least prepared for them."
Blair crossed his arms over his stomach and curled up on the couch facing Jim. He didn't move when the Sentinel again covered him with the afghan. "How did you deal with it?" he finally asked. "This is tearing me up inside."
Jim shrugged. "I could either understand there were things beyond my control, or I could make myself crazy." He suddenly smiled. "Neither seemed a viable alternative." He patted Blair's shoulder. "So I developed a more than healthy cynicism about humanity. But there are good people in this world. People who devote their lives to trying to help as many as possible. And there are good people in this world who quietly go about their lives helping when and where they can. People like you, Sandburg." He sighed. "I try to keep that in mind when I'm ass-deep in serial killers and child molesters. The most important thing is to not try to get through the dark nights of your soul alone. So, talk to me when you need or want to, Darwin."
"I want it to stop," Blair moaned as he closed his eyes. "You don't do this," he added almost resentfully.
"No, I just bite huge chunks out of my best friend," Jim admitted. "I get mean, and I get nasty. I'm hurt so I turn around and hurt the nearest person to me. And that's almost always you."
Blair's blue eyes slowly opened. "So…you go through this all the time?" he asked after several seconds.
"Smart ass." Jim lightly smacked his partner's shoulder. "You're getting better. Your sense of humor is back." He reached for both mugs and got to his feet.
"Who was kidding?" Blair muttered. He watched over his shoulder as Jim took the mugs to the kitchen and rinsed them. In the distance, he heard the faint howl of a siren. "Hey, Jim?"
"What?" Jim grunted. He opened the refrigerator and looked inside as though waiting for divine intervention to show him what was still edible.
"What do you think when you hear a siren?" Blair quietly asked.
Jim looked over his shoulder. "That help is on the way for someone who needs it."
Blair half-smiled. "Yeah?" He rested his chin on the back of the couch. "Yeah." He watched as Jim started pulling containers from the refrigerator, sniff, wrinkle his nose, then discard what didn't meet his approval.
The young man turned back and snuggled into the couch. Pulling the afghan closer around him, he stared first into the rainy darkness then into the comforting fire. "Jim?"
"Thanks for not letting me go through this dark night alone," Blair quietly spoke. "I mean…I know in my head what you've said is true. But…"
"But it's hard to convince the heart," Jim concluded. 'Been there. Done that,' he reminded himself. "Hey, Sandburg. There's little to no food in here. We have to grocery shop tomorrow." When Blair didn't answer, he walked back to the couch. "I'm ordering in so what do you want? Chinese? Thai?"
"Pizza," Blair answered after a moment. He looked up at Jim and firmly continued. "Hot, greasy, artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising pizza." After a moment, he added, "And more hot chocolate. With marshmallows."
'Good old-fashioned comfort food.' Jim nodded with a grin. "I hear you, Sandburg."
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