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Summary: Post TSbyBS, Blair can’t take the pressure any longer.

Author's Note: This is the first story in The Dawn to Dark Series; but it can also stand alone as an epilogue for The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg. It is the second story I ever posted online.

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On the Edge of Dawn
By Fluterbev

December 2003

There was something almost otherworldly about greasy diners at bus depots in the middle of the night. This one was no exception; it had a dreamy surreality, as if it existed somehow outside of time and space. The too-bright fluorescent lighting of the interior grated on Blair's nerves, a stark contrast with the abrupt cessation of his uncomfortable and unsatisfying doze on board the Greyhound bus just a few minutes ago.

Wrapping his cold hands around the warm mug, inhaling the burnt scent of coffee brewed for far too long, Blair glanced around at the few other weary travelers inhabiting this bleak way station, waiting like him for further connections.

Then he looked for the thousandth time at the cell phone lying dormant by his hands on the formica tabletop.

He had switched it off just before he had boarded the bus in Cascade yesterday. It had felt like a concluding ritual; a final closing of the door to all that he had been and could be no more. He had been tempted to dump the phone in the trash before he got on, but for some inexplicable reason, it had found its way into his pocket instead.

Now, it haunted him, begging to be switched on.

Blair put down the mug and rubbed his tired eyes. He swallowed, and the lump in his throat vied with fatigue-induced indigestion for supremacy. Idly he wondered if he should eat something, the acid taste in his mouth reminding him that it had been too long; but his stomach still felt peculiarly unsettled - had, in fact, for over a week now. His current bout of nausea was probably due to a mixture of travel sickness and exhaustion; although it was intermingled with something hard and angular in his gut - a constant sensation for the last few days - which he finally recognized as grief.

He took another sip of the too-strong coffee, and again set it down. Unbidden, his eyes went to the phone again.

He picked it up, turned it over in his hands. It would be so easy, he mused, to turn it on one last time. To see if he had any voice mails, any messages, any evidence of frantic calls from Jim. Even knowing that it would be painful, he had a sudden fierce desire to hear Jim's voice, hear that he still cared, even if he was angry because of the way that Blair had left. It was like being an addict, Blair suddenly mused. I can't throw this damn phone away, and I can't stop thinking about switching it on.

But he knew that it was a bad idea. He was too far down the road to be entertaining second thoughts, and hearing Jim's voice would be certain to give him pause.

Blair had, after all, left Cascade so deviously because he couldn't face the inevitable keep-in-touches, the bon voyages. This was not a trip he was taking out of any positive choice - he was running from, not to. He absolutely understood that leaving in secret like this, with no clear destination, was no more than a cowardly escape from the disaster his life had become. He had failed in practically everything meaningful to him; his academic career, his friendship with Jim - even his ability to ever again trust his own mother. His overwhelming and unbearable sense of that catalogue of failure had prompted his decision to get as far from the scene of the disaster as he could, slinking shamefully away; enduring no leaving parties, no gifts.

No goodbyes.

He had spent the last week surreptitiously clearing out his office at Rainier and his room in the loft, and had yesterday been removing his few remaining belongings from the PD when the offer of a Detective's badge had come out of the blue. Blair had thought for a few tense moments that his plans were going to be ruined - but he was not known as the king of obfuscation for nothing. Jim and he had fooled around, putting on a show in the bullpen, and even Ellison had been deceived by Blair's performance. The fact that Jim had shown no inkling of the turmoil in his partner's mind, or of his secret escape plan, had been just one more example of the ever-widening lack of connection between them.

A short while afterwards, Blair had left the impromptu celebration at the PD and boarded the bus south. All he had brought with him were a duffle bag and backpack full of clothes and other essentials, and a few personal items he could not bear to part with. The rest of his belongings had been dumped, sold or donated. The only exception was his sentinel documentation, including the precious Burton monograph, which he had left in the loft for Jim.

Years of his life pared down to two bags. And the damn phone.

The phone felt slightly warm in his cold hands. It had stored a little of his body heat as it had sat in his pocket on the bus, his hands periodically grasping it like a security blanket. Which was what it was, really, he mused. His last link with Jim. The last point of contact they would have - if he chose to use it.

A blast of cold air disturbed the scant warmth in the diner as yet another nocturnal traveler entered, and Blair was struck by a sudden sense of deja vu, of other times in his life he had sat in similar places while traveling, waiting for the next bus into the unknown. It seemed such a long time ago now. He remembered the sense of excitement he had felt as he set off on journeys, expeditions and adventures. The feeling of freedom, despite the tedium of much of the trip.

He felt none of that now. Only emptiness. A hollow sense of having left something behind, something vitally important. He almost checked through his bags to work out what he had forgotten, but he didn't need to. Not really.

The enormity of what he had left behind couldn't be packed in luggage.

Once again, his eyes came back to the phone. It couldn't hurt, could it, just to see if Jim had called? It was the kind of thing Jim would do, once he had discovered that Blair had gone. Maybe he had left a message for Blair to say he understood, that it was okay that Blair had decided to go. He might even agree that it was for the best.

Even if Jim was pissed, at least Blair would know that he still cared enough to get mad with him. It would be something to take with him wherever he ended up, some evidence of the depth of the friendship they shared. Had shared. It wasn't as if they were going to speak in person or anything, so there was no danger of Blair being persuaded to go back. Not that Jim would be likely to do that anyway, after the mess Blair had made of things.

Impulsively, Blair switched on the phone, watching impatiently as it located the network. Then waited for the notification of missed calls; or that a message or voice mail had been received.

And waited...

And waited...

But the phone remained quiescent.

After what seemed an eternity, he took a deep breath, and slowly placed the phone down on the table.

Jim hadn't tried to call. He probably hadn't even noticed that Blair had gone. Or - the painful lump was back in Blair's throat - perhaps he had noticed, but hadn't felt any desire to contact Blair. Jim was most likely relieved to be rid of him.

Oddly overwhelmed suddenly, vaguely conscious of - and disgusted by - the rank self-pity inherent within his conflicting emotions, Blair closed his burning eyes. He felt adrift. Stuck in a greasy diner, in the middle of nowhere. With nowhere to go.

And no-one to care.

Oh god. What the hell was he doing?

The phone rang.

Blair jumped, torn abruptly out of his miserable reverie. Snapping his eyes open, he saw that the caller display read ‘Jim’. Almost without thinking he snatched it up and pressed the answer button. He didn't speak, unable for a moment to think of anything to say, which was just as well, as the lump in his throat seemed to have cut off his air.

Then the familiar voice of his partner breathed, "Sandburg." There was a pause. Then: "Look out of the window."

Blair turned, seeing his own ghostly reflection peering back at him. Squinting past it, peering out into the lamp lit parking lot across the street, he saw the dark shape of a familiar truck parked directly across from the diner.

And a tall figure leaning against it, holding a cell phone to his ear.


With his cell phone still against his ear, Blair sat frozen as he watched Jim enter the diner, blowing on his hands and rubbing them against the cold, limping a little as he favored his bad leg. Jim slid into the seat across from Blair, then reached an arm across to prise the phone from his partner's fingers. "Breathe, Sandburg," Jim said as he switched the cell off and placed it back on the tabletop. He signaled to the waitress, and casually ordered coffee for him and a refill for Blair, and two breakfast specials.

Blair watched in a daze as Jim pulled out his own cell phone again and dialed. "Simon? Yeah, I've found him. No, he's all right at the moment, but I'll tell you where I leave the body." He grinned, the smile not quite reaching his eyes, which were measuring Blair's reaction (or lack thereof). "Yes sir. I'll tell him. I'll be in touch. Bye." The food arrived as he thumbed off the phone, and he tucked in like a starving man, his eyes drifting frequently back to Blair, his expression unfathomable.

When Sandburg neither spoke nor made a move to eat, Jim said, “So. Chief." He took a mouthful of coffee, then gestured around at the diner. "Do you come here often?"

Blair finally found his voice, totally unable for once to come up with a witty answer. "Jim, man, what are you doing here?"

"Just passing through the neighborhood. You going to eat that?"

"I'm not hungry."

Jim sniffed delicately. "Yes you are. You've not eaten since, what, yesterday? Day before? I can smell your stomach acid, gurgling about with all that coffee you've been drinking. Believe me, Chief, You're hungry. Even if you don't know it."

Blair just looked at him incredulously. "What, you came all this way to make sure I had a good breakfast?"

In answer, Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper, which he tossed onto the table between them. Blair glanced at it, recognizing his own handwriting. "What?"

Jim took another forkful of food, chewed it leisurely and swallowed. "Read it," he pointed towards the paper with his fork. "That's why I'm here."

Blair made no move to pick it up. "It's my note. I know what it says."

Jim picked it up, unfolded it, and slammed it down hard on the table, causing a couple sitting two tables over to jump. A nervous feminine giggle drifted over. Jim pointed to the paper, his finger stabbing hard on a part which had been underlined in pencil. "There. Just there. What does it say?" His voice hadn't increased in volume, but the tone was the one he used on perps.

Too weary to argue, Blair reached into his pocket and pulled out his glasses. He put them on and leaned over, reciting tonelessly, "'I'm sorry for this, but you'll be better off without me around.' Quote. Unquote." Blair looked up at Ellison, who had fixed his iciest stare on him. "I left you a note, Jim. Then I got out of town. I know you're probably pissed because I didn't tell you first, but at least I left you this."

Ellison didn't answer immediately. Instead, they entered into an impromptu staring contest, Blair determined not to back down in the face of his friend's obvious annoyance. Finally Jim blinked, and despite the sentinel caving first in their battle of eyeballs, Blair didn't feel that he had won. Jim leaned forward, his voice low and deadly. "Do you have any idea what went through my mind when I read this?"

"That I'd gone?"

Jim nodded. "Right,” he drawled. “Gone. You could say that." A mirthless smile teased the corners of his mouth. "I'll tell you what I thought, Chief. I thought: Blair has lost it. He's finally reached his breaking point and decided he can't take anymore. Which, actually, seems pretty accurate from where I'm sitting, incidentally." He paused. "But, did I think: Blair has disappeared into the sunset riding a Greyhound?"

Jim leaned forward even more, his eyes boring into Blair's, his voice deadly quiet. "I'll tell you. I thought, how's he going to do this? He's fucking afraid of heights, so jumping is out of the question. Water?" He shook his head. "Not his favorite thing anymore, so he's unlikely to have gone for a winter dip in the sound. Drugs? He's hardly on speaking terms with western medicine, so an overdose? I don't think so."

Impaled on Jim's frigid gaze, frozen by a growing sense of horror, Blair hardly breathed as Jim continued. "You know what I did first, Sandburg, after reading this note? I went looking for my fucking backup weapon, because I thought: Blair hates guns, but hey, he's been known to use one in a crisis."

Breathing hard, Blair pushed abruptly away from the table, his chair screeching on the floor. Jim stayed where he was, listening, as Blair flung the door of the diner open and fled. Satisfied that Sandburg hadn't gone far, Jim kept part of his attention on the sound of his partner retching up the meager contents of his stomach, followed by the sniffs and breathless gasps typical of someone crying but trying hard to keep it silent. Allowing Blair the privacy he needed, Jim finished his own food without hurrying, before appropriating Sandburg's bags and heading outside.

He easily found Blair, a crouched ball of misery leaning against the wall around the back of the diner. Blair didn't look up as Jim spoke to him. "Just tell me one thing, Chief. You're a master of words. You know how to make an unambiguous point, even when you turn anthropological on me. So you'll understand why I find it hard to believe that your note wasn't intended the way I read it. Tell me now that suicide never crossed your mind when you wrote that. Tell me you really just meant you were getting the hell out of dodge, and I'll believe you."

Blair took a deep breath, and lifted his head. His eyes and nose were red, the tear tracks plain to Ellison's sight even in the dim pre-dawn light, but he was composed now.

"I can't," he admitted quietly.

Ellison nodded. "That's what I thought."


They took a room at the motel next to the diner. Like the rest of the area around the bus depot, it was less than salubrious. Part of it was closed for repairs, limiting the choice of available rooms, so they opted to share; although Jim would have insisted on that in any case. He did not intend to let his partner out of his sight.

The hard ache in Blair's stomach seemed to have eased a little with the arrival of his friend; but after his mini-breakdown behind the diner he felt oddly fragile and shaky. He let Jim take the lead without protest - strangely relieved to have someone else make decisions for him - wordlessly going along with Jim's urging that he shower and change into sweats. He ate without protest the salad sandwich that Jim bought from the diner, limp lettuce and all, and drank the bottle of water placed in front of him.

Feeling slightly more substantial, perched on one of the twin beds, he looked wearily up at Ellison, who was hanging up their jackets in the drab room's open closet. "Jim," he began. "I'm sorry man-"

But Jim cut him off. "Not now, Sandburg. I'm tired; you're tired. Get some rest. We'll talk later." Jim turned off the single bedside lamp between the two beds, plunging the room into an ethereal grey dawn light. The dark silhouette of his tall frame moved to stand over Blair. "And Sandburg - we will talk." Blair complied passively as Jim's hands urged him to lie down, feeling oddly comforted by the feeling of the covers being drawn up to his chin and patted down. Sleep began to claim Blair almost immediately, and as he drifted off he imagined a feather-light touch on his head, and a whispered, "It'll be all right, Chief."


Blair emerged out of sleep as though surfacing through treacle. His eyes felt gummed together; the inside of his mouth bone-dry as though he had been snoring. He looked blearily around the unfamiliar motel room, dimly lit by an external electric light filtered through cheap polyester curtains. It was dark outside. Not remembering immediately where he was, Blair turned his head, taking in the neatly-made empty bed next to him - Jim's bed. Then it all came back in a rush - the diss, leaving Cascade, Jim coming after him, the damned note. "Oh man," he groaned, rubbing his eyes. What the hell had he done?

He wondered vaguely if you could die from terminal embarrassment - he had all but admitted to Jim this morning (or whenever it was) that he had considered suicide. But he wouldn't have done that. He hadn't, for Christ sakes. Sure, he had thought about those things that Jim had said - who hadn't thought about it, one time or another in their lives? Maybe it had even crossed his mind when he wrote the friggin' note. But he hadn't done it. He'd gotten on the bus, traveled more than a day to get here (wherever here was). Gone off to start a new life. That was positive, wasn't it?

He sighed. Who did he think he was kidding? He was running away, pure and simple. And Jim (and probably everyone else in Cascade, given that Jim had called Simon) knew it. "Oh man. I am so fucked," he groaned. With another sigh he levered himself out of bed and went to use the bathroom.

A short while later, as he was pulling on his clothes, the door opened, startling him momentarily, until he registered that it was Jim coming in with two large paper cups balanced in a cardboard tray in one hand. "Hey, Rip Van Winkle," Jim greeted as he closed the door behind him. "You're awake."

Ignoring Jim's stating of the obvious, Blair asked, "What time is it, man?"

Jim passed him a cup, then took a seat on the edge of his bed, sniffing his coffee appreciatively. "You slept for nearly a whole day, Chief. About twenty-three hours, to be more exact. It's about six-thirty." He took a sip. "A.m." At Blair's continued look of puzzlement, he clarified, "Sunday."

Blair's eyes widened as he sipped his coffee, sitting down on his own bed facing Jim, their knees almost touching. He ran a hand through his hair. "Jeez. I can't remember the last time I slept more than six or seven hours straight. Twenty-three hours? I must have been more tired than I realized."

"Yup." Jim put his coffee on the nightstand, then stretched. "Not sleeping will do that to you." Blair suspected that Jim wasn't just referring to the day and a half Sandburg had been on the road. He hadn't slept well since Naomi's disastrous bombshell. Not since some time before that, actually; he had been burning the midnight oil for quite a while, finishing his dissertation. He just hadn't realized until now that his partner had noticed.

Jim picked up his cup again. "So," he ventured, "You feeling better now?"

"Yeah, I guess I am." Blair realized with surprise that he meant it. The awful sensation of anxious exhaustion, which had become his constant companion, seemed to have diminished since Jim had appeared and hit the core of his emotional breakdown square on; although a strange sense of fragility still hovered at the edge of his psyche.

Blair gulped some coffee. His stomach rumbled in response. "So. Here we are. Wherever here is." He looked up at Jim, more than a little unsure of the next step. "What now?"

Jim shrugged, his expression carefully neutral. "Don't ask me. I didn't plan beyond finding you."

Blair considered that particular enigma for a moment, then asked "Hey, how did you find me? Even I didn't know where I was going."

Jim gave him a withering look. "I'm a detective, Sandburg."

"Yeah, I know. But how did you know I was on that bus? And you must have left Cascade pretty fast to catch up."

Jim leaned across and smacked him on the forehead with the back of his hand. "Duh, Einstein." Blair glared at him. "While I ran around Cascade looking for your preferred suicide venue," - Sandburg winced - "I had Simon arrange for a check on your credit card. You used it to buy your bus ticket - not very smart, if you didn't want to be found. I asked around at the bus depot, and discovered which bus you took, then followed. Piece of cake.” He sipped his drink. "The bus stopped often enough for me to make up time. When I caught it up, I knew you were still on it because I could hear you."

"Hear me? I wasn't doing anything."

"Chief, I could hear you talking to a woman. She was asking you what you did for a living."

"Oh. That." The memory came back unbidden. The woman making conversation - "I'm an artist. What do you do?" Blair had been totally unable to come up with a meaningful answer.

He glanced at Jim, seeing for the first time the tight lines of pain and stress around his friend's mouth and eyes. Jim had driven, seemingly for the whole time the bus had been on the road, following it and waiting for Blair to get off, all the while believing that Sandburg was suicidal. Jim, with a half-healed bullet wound in his leg.

Jim, his very private friend, whose life had become the subject of a media frenzy. Because of Blair. Who had been shot, along with Megan and Simon. Because of Blair. Who had pulled out the stops and found a way for Blair to continue as his partner.

Which Blair had effectively thrown back in his face.

The guilt Blair had felt ever since the whole mess had started came back full-force, almost overwhelming him. Finally beginning to comprehend some of what he had put Jim through, in this latest of what amounted to a catalogue of errors, Blair didn't know how to begin. Taking a deep breath he began earnestly, "Jim, man, I... I'm so sorry-"

But Jim held up a hand. "Whoa, stop right there Chief. Save the heavy stuff. There's a hell of a lot needs to be said, by both of us. But not on an empty stomach in a seedy motel room." He stood. "Get packed. We'll go eat breakfast before we get into any of that."

Blair was nodding unhappily, his stomach again in knots. Characteristically unable to stop himself, he waded in again. "Right, right, Jim. Okay. But... look, I need to say this first. I don't think this can wait." He registered the flicker of irritation in Ellison's features, and held up both hands. "Hey man, I know you're probably pissed as hell at me right now-"

"No, Sandburg, I'm not pissed." Jim's voice rose, the frustrated anger and fear he had managed to keep in check erupting. "I just drove several hundred miles into the back of beyond behind a fucking Greyhound bus, because my partner led me to believe that he was heading back into the damned fountain, metaphorically speaking. Why the hell should I be pissed?"

Blair had paled during Jim's outburst. Now he nodded. "Right," he whispered hoarsely. He rose from the bed, his movements jerky. "Right," he croaked again, still nodding. "I hear that. I hear that." He moved round the other side of the bed, turning his back to Jim, his hands clenched into white-knuckled fists at his side. His voice came again in a whisper, as though he didn't trust that his normal voice would hold. "I know I've fucked up man, and... and I really want to put this right. But I have no idea how to do that." He swallowed audibly, cutting off anything else he might have wanted to say.

Jim watched his friend's shoulders shake as Blair tried to dam his involuntary emotion back, then cursing himself he went over to him. He slid an arm around Blair's shoulder. "Chief, c'mon. Don't do this." When Blair didn't respond, He moved to put both arms around Blair's rigid frame. "Blair," he tried again. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that about the fountain. That was over the top, and I apologize."

After a moment, Blair nodded. He turned slightly towards Jim, but didn't speak. Gradually his hands opened, and he moved them around Jim's waist, pressing his face into Jim's shoulder, breathing deeply in an attempt to get himself under control. In response, Jim pulled him further into the hug.

They stood like that for a while. Then Ellison said quietly, "I have to tell you, Chief, I'm feeling more than a little conflicted right now. I love you, I do. But you've gotta accept that I'm probably not going to be all sweetness and light here. You scared the hell out of me. I'm tired, my leg hurts, and I'm no good at this emotional stuff. Give me a break."

A weak incongruous chuckle, and a muffled comment was Jim's answer. "What?" he asked.

"I said," Blair's turned his face to look at Jim, the agonized expression of a moment ago replaced by a watery smile, "that you're not doing so bad, for a tough guy." He frowned. "And anyway, what is that? Your leg hurts? Find the dial man!"

Jim rolled his eyes. "Sandburg. You never give up." Then, more seriously: "Please, Chief, don't ever give up. We'll get through this. Both of us, together. All right?"

Blair looked down for a moment, then up at again at his partner. "All right," he agreed.

"Good." Jim patted Blair on the back as his partner pulled away, wiping his eyes. "We okay now?"

Blair considered a moment, his expression serious. Then he met and held Jim's gaze. "I have a lot I need to get off my chest." He shook his head. "This whole thing..." He tailed off as Jim shook a finger at him.

"Ah, ah, ah, ah! What did I say?"

Blair lifted an eyebrow. "Breakfast first, talk later?"

Jim nodded. "Absolutely." He grinned. "Don't worry, you'll get your chance. I didn't come all this way just to make sure you had a good breakfast."

Blair smiled back in answer, hearing his own words from yesterday tossed back at him. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "Then we're okay. We'll be okay."

"Good. So, let's go eat, Junior. I'm starving! You should see the size of the pancakes in this place." He swiped Sandburg lightly across the head.

"Hey man!" Blair tried his best to look affronted. "Not the hair!"

The End

The second story in The Dawn to Dark Series can be found here: Into the New Day

Comments are welcome, but absolutely not necessary - all of my stories are offered freely and without obligation. If you do wish to comment below please sign your name/pseudonym if you are not logged-in to Dreamwidth or Open ID, or alternatively you can email me at fluterbev@gmail.com

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Date: 2007-08-01 01:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] klgrem.livejournal.com
What a great start. :) Poor Blair, he's his own worst enemy. Great story so far. :)

Date: 2007-08-01 08:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! :-)

Date: 2012-09-12 07:14 pm (UTC)
kernel852: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kernel852
I am very poor at leaving comments because I feel I ought to say why I liked a story and I usually struggle to work that out and give up .
I have read lots of Blair running away fics but there is something about this one that really moves me. I am there with Blair in the bus station. I feel his sense of complete dislocation and loss of purpose and the dithering over the phone and then turning on and ... nothing. And the realisation of what Jim thought reading the note. So I liked it. Thanks.


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