A Capra Cascade Christmas
By Donna Smith
Part 1: Faithful Friends Who Are Dear to Us
Jim sat next to Blair’s hospital bed, listening to the sounds of his breathing, his heartbeat. His partner had a severe concussion and hadn’t woken up yet—the doctors weren’t sure if he would. Jim felt a helpless rage building inside him. This should never have happened! Jim had chased a robbery suspect into an abandoned warehouse. Blair was so intent on helping him that he hadn’t seen the suspect’s accomplice sneaking up behind him with a bat. That sound! Jim would never forget the sound of that bat making contact. He’d lost himself in that horrifying sound until Simon’s voice pulled him back. He looked at the ashen face of his unconscious partner, his best friend. Jim’s fingers clenched so tightly into impotent fists, that blood trickled from his palms. Blair had gone through so much because of him. It was always one thing after another. Jim thought he’d lost him at the fountain, but they’d gotten a reprieve then. They wouldn’t always be so lucky. Someday, maybe today, Blair would die—because of him and his job.
“Jim?” Simon quietly opened the door and came in to sit next to Jim. “You’ve been here all day. You need to go home and get some sleep. You won’t be any good to Blair in this condition.”
Jim laughed. It was a cold, mirthless sound. “Any good to Blair? It’s my fault he’s here!”
“Don’t say it, Simon! Don’t say it’s that perp’s fault, don’t tell me it’s just one of those things, and don’t say it was Sandburg’s choice to be there. I need him and so he’s there. He’s too loyal to think of his own safety first. And I let him do it because he makes my life easier, better. But what if he dies?” Jim jumped up from the chair in agitation. “I can’t do this! I can’t watch him die again, knowing it was my fault! It would have been better for him if we’d never met.” Jim suddenly felt very uncomfortable having blurted all that out to Simon. He couldn’t stay in the room with him right now, not while Simon had that look on his face that said they should talk. “I need some air. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Jim went outside to stand in the frigid night air, still listening to the sound of his Guide’s heartbeat in the building beside him. He looked up at the lit window of his partner’s room with tired eyes. “You and Incacha keep telling me that we need to do this Sentinel-business together. But how can we do it together if I get you killed? I know if you hadn’t come along to help me with my senses, I would’ve ended up dead or in an asylum. I think I could accept that now if it meant you’d be ok. Your life would be so much better if you’d never met me, Chief. You could’ve done all the other things you’d dreamt of doing instead of tying yourself to me. All I ever seem to do is get you hurt or hurt you myself.”
“Incacha!” The old shaman of the Chopec always moved silently—even to a Sentinel’s ears. Maybe it was because he was dead. When had seeing a ghost stopped being such a strange thing to him? “Why are you here?”
“Because you are troubled.”
“Sandburg is in the hospital again because of me. Yeah, I guess you could say I’m ‘troubled’.” Jim turned away from him to look back up at Blair’s window.
“It is good that you worry for your Guide, Enqueri. It is good to protect him. But his destiny is not yours to choose. All have dreams, all have desires, but fulfilling every dream is not always possible and not always wise. What is left, then, to reach for? If his dreams mean so much to him, he will follow them someday. Perhaps you will join him. But he is living his greatest dream now. Being your Guide.”
Jim felt words tumbling from his mouth—things he usually wouldn’t say to others. Incacha’s presence always had that affect on people. “But he’s not the man he used to be. I’ve changed him. He could’ve been other things, better things—an anthropology professor like he was meant to be. Not a consultant with the police department. Not always in danger.”
“So now the Sentinel of the Great City knows what is best for everyone? He sees the future that might have been? All have choices, Enqueri. Some make good choices and fulfill great destinies. Others make bad choices and always wonder what they have missed. But all must live with what they have done. Do you deny the Guide his right to choose his own path?”
“He feels obligated to me out of a sense of duty, friendship, and family. Being the kind of person he is, that limits his choices. I’ve taken away what he could’ve been. If we had never met, the whole world would have been open to him. If we’d never met...”
“You think this is true? That the Guide would have greater freedom and happiness without his Sentinel? What of the others such a bonding has touched? Would they be happier? Your eyes see farther than any man’s, yet you are still blind. Your Guide has taught you much, but you need more. Come. I will show you that there are many paths and many journeys. I will show you a clan without its brother-warrior, a city without its protector, a Guide without his Sentinel. Cover your eyes.”
Jim barely got a hand up in time before a brilliant white light flared up around him.
Part 2: Gather Near to Us Once More
Jim dialed down his eyesight until he thought it was safe, then slowly brought it up to a normal level and looked around. He was at the station. How..? Something else wasn’t right. The furniture had been rearranged. Where was his desk? If Rafe and Brown were playing some kind of practical joke, they’re timing was really off. He was in no mood. “Rafe! Where’s my desk! Rafe! I’m talking to you!” Rafe walked by, completely ignoring him. Jim reached out to grab his arm and demand some answers. “What do you think you’re…” His hand passed right through the other man. “What the..?” He tried to grab Rafe by the shoulder, but the same thing happened. He felt strangely cold as he looked behind him to see that he’d just walked through a pillar. “What’s wrong with me? I’m a…a ghost.”
“You are a only a watcher here, walking through shadows of possibilities. This is not your world, but it could have been. When choices are made, there are always consequences. Some are easier to live with than others. You are here to see, to understand.”
Understand? Jim didn’t understand any of this. He’d had visions before, but this didn’t look like any of them. It seemed so real—but terribly wrong somehow. “If this is supposed to be the station, where’s my desk? Where are my things? Who are those detectives over there? They act like they work in Major Crimes but I’ve never seen them before in any of the departments.”
“Enqueri. In this place there was a Sentinel who never met his Guide. This Sentinel was killed by a woman who blamed him for her father’s death.”
Jim’s voice was the barest whisper. “Veronica Sarris.” He looked around again, more warily this time. “What are you trying to show me, Incacha? Incacha?” The Chopec shaman was gone. It looked like he was on his own for now. He listened in as Henri walked over to Rafe.
“Hey, Rafe! I thought I saw Simon in here a while ago.”
“Yeah. He came by to drop off some paperwork then he was heading home. He said he was feeling under the weather, but I think it’s Christmas that’s bringing him down.”
“Man! The holidays have got to be hard on him. Ever since…” He shook his head.
“He’s hurting. I think the best thing for him would be to work through the season, but he just wants to be alone. The bad part is, we really need him here. We’re swamped.”
“I know what you mean, Rafe. I think every crazy criminal on the West Coast has relocated to Cascade the last few years. The city just isn’t what it used to be. We put one scumbag away and two more take his place. Sometimes I wonder if we’re making a difference anymore.”
“I feel it, too. Especially after disasters like with that nerve toxin. I don’t ever want to see stuff like that again. That was… No one should. But we’ve got to stay strong, man. I always try to think of what Joel would tell us if he were here. He wouldn’t have ever let us talk crazy like this.”
“Neither would Ellison. None of us really knew him very well—heck, he didn’t let anybody get to know him—but he was hardcore cop all the way. He never let the crooks move in without a fight.” They both looked sadly towards two plaques on the far wall.
Jim focused on one of the plaques until he could see the words, In Memory of James Ellison. He courageously gave his life in service to the city he loved.
“But…this. It’s not…”
Jim heard a sigh behind him. Incacha. “It is as I said. In this place there was a Sentinel who never met his Guide. Without his Guide, he was not strong enough to face the challenges that rose up before him.”
As if in a daze, Jim’s eyes drifted to the other plaque.
In Memory of Joel Taggart. He was a true hero who died so others might live. He will not be forgotten.
“No! He can’t be dead! I just saw him today, just talked to him!”
“The Sentinel’s brother warriors fought the evil that plagued their city, but they were not strong enough. Here a Sentinel was needed, but there was no Sentinel. An evil warrior took many in this place hostage. A good warrior of the Great City stepped in to fill the Sentinel’s place. He saved many, but not all. And not himself. Many other evil people have come to this city since then. These warriors have been brave, but it has not been enough. Choices, Enqueri. There are always consequences. How much is your guilt worth?”
Part 3: Happy Golden Days of Yore
Jim turned to ask Incacha something else, but he was gone again. He suddenly found himself standing in Simon’s living room. Simon sat hunched over in his recliner, clutching something. Jim had never seen him look so bad—not even when he’d been in the hospital. His face was gaunt, haggard. He even seemed thinner somehow, disappearing in the folds of his shabby robe. This couldn’t be Simon. Not his Simon. He’d just seen him in Blair’s room and he hadn’t look so…so lost. “Simon? Simon, can you hear me? Are you ok?” He reached out to touch Simon’s arm, but found that he was still just a ghost here.
Jim looked around, noticing how dark the place was. Where were the decorations? Simon and Daryl always went all out with the tinsel and lights. They even made a big special event out of setting up and decorating the Christmas tree. But there was no tree. No lights. Simon just sat there holding something close in the dark. Jim turned up the dial on his hearing when he noticed Simon mumbling.
“Why couldn’t it have been me? Why couldn’t it have been me instead?”
Jim focused his vision on the object in Simon’s hands, seeing it clearly now even in the dark. It was a photo—a photo of Daryl. Why would that upset Simon?
“You were the best thing to came out of my marriage, Daryl. Maybe the only good thing. I was just getting to know you again. It’s not fair. Kinkaid killed you because he knew you were my son. Why couldn’t it have been me? Why couldn’t Joel have been able to save you, too? You would’ve been spending Christmas with me this year. It was always our holiday. But what does it matter now? What does any of it matter? This is all I have left of you. It’s just not enough.” Simon clutched the picture tighter, burying his face in it as sobs shook his hunched shoulders.
But that didn’t happen! Daryl didn’t die in the siege of the station. Neither did Joel. Blair had stalled Kincaid and his men until Jim and the others got there to stop him. But if Blair and he hadn’t gotten together…
“Ah, Enqueri. You see the tangle of paths? The Sentinel never met his Guide so the Guide was not there. And the Sentinel was already dead and gone. Many died who would have lived.”
Jim stared at his friend before him—a broken shell of the man he knew. He’d given Sandburg a hard time about taking stupid risks like he’d done that day, but what if he hadn’t? Is this what would have happened as a result? “I think I get the point, Incacha. You can take me back to the hospital now.”
“You begin to understand, but there is one more thing for you to see. The most important one of all.”
Part 4: If the Fates Allow
Jim suddenly found that he was no longer in Simon’s living room. He was at the University. It looked like the next hallway over from the one where Sandburg’s office was located. A young man was leaning against the wall talking to a blonde young woman and a redhead.
“That was a cool lecture this morning, wasn’t it?”
The blonde shrugged. “I guess.”
“Blair seemed a little off today. Well…not just today. Haven’t you noticed? His lectures are still good, but it’s like he’s just going through the motions, ya’ know?”
The redhead nodded in agreement.
“Yeah. I had a couple of his
classes a few years ago and they were much better. It’s like…I dunno. He’s
depressed or something.”
“He’s probably stressin’ over his thesis. I heard the committee’s coming down hard on him about it. I think they want to see a real Sentinel—not just the myths and stuff.”
The guy looked surprised. “He’s still doing that Sentinel thing? I thought he changed topics after he couldn’t find one.”
“No way! He’s totally obsessed. Why do you think he takes so many expeditions? I heard the U’s not happy about that, either. They think he’s taking too much time off from teaching to go looking for some crazy myth.”
The redhead sighed. “I think it’s sad. He doesn’t hang out with anybody anymore. He used to be a lot of fun, but he never dates or goes to parties or anything now. He just shuts himself up in his office when he’s not teaching or on expedition. And he started drinking, too. A lot. Never before a class, but…” The three of them started walking down the hall. Jim followed. How could they say those things about Sandburg? Apparently these kids didn’t know him at all.
The guy broke the silence. “Maybe he’s burnt out. It’s usually the smart ones who lose it like that.”
“Well it’s true. They say it’s…”
Jim stopped listening as they turned the corner. If the other things Incacha showed him were any indication, he wasn’t going to like what he saw. Were those kids right? Was there something wrong with Sandburg? He shook his head at that. No! What could be wrong? In this place, his life would be normal. He could do all the things he’d dreamt of without having to worry about getting shot or stabbed or beaten or killed. His partner would be ok now. Jim’s senses drifted to the familiar room Sandburg occupied at the University. He could hear his heartbeat. He wasn’t in the hospital, because he’d never been clubbed. Sandburg was alive and well and in his office where he should be! Jim headed in that direction.
The smell of cheap whiskey suddenly assaulted Jim’s nose, forcing him to turn down his sense of smell a few notches. It couldn’t be his partner. It couldn’t. Sandburg rarely drank anything stronger than an occasional beer. When he reached the office, he passed through it to see his friend sitting behind his desk, rubbing red-rimmed eyes. Blair’s hands shook as he popped the cap off a bottle of pills.
“Why aren’t these things working anymore? I still can’t sleep and my head is killing me.” He tossed back four of the pills and washed them down with whiskey.
“Sandburg! What are you doing? Are you crazy? Give me that bottle!” Jim tried to grab it out of his hand, but he couldn’t touch it. “Incacha! Let me stop him. He’s hurting himself. Incacha!” No one answered.
Blair staggered over to the window, rubbing his throbbing temple. “They told me they wanted to see a full Sentinel—proof of my theories. Fat chance of that! I should’ve switched topics a long time ago. Why didn’t I? Why?” He sighed, a deep, bone-weary sound. “Because I know they exist. I just need to find one. I just need… Are you out there, Sentinel? Will I ever find you?”
Sandburg went over to a corkboard he had hanging on the wall. Jim had never seen that before. Jim pierced the shadows with his heightened vision only to see pictures of himself. Newspaper clippings all about him were thumb-tacked to the board. His military career. His rescue from Peru. His police days.
Blair patted the board sadly. “Man, I think you were the one. The Holy Grail. I wish my friend had called me sooner. Maybe I would’ve been able to meet you up at the hospital. I kept trying to catch you at the police station, but you were always out. And then you…you got killed. I’ve played it over and over again in my mind. If you had heightened hearing, why didn’t you hear the bomb? Did you just not know how to listen for it, or did you zone-out on the sound? If I’d have been there… I’ve thought about that over and over again. Maybe I could’ve helped you. Maybe you didn’t have to… Sometimes things don’t work out like we think they should. This city could use a Sentinel.” He took a quick swig. “Who am I kidding? I could use a Sentinel. I’m so close to getting kicked out of here, man. I’ve really messed up. I’ve been all over the world and I can’t find anyone with five senses. The real thing. Each expedition…the failure…it gets harder and harder.” He took a long gulp of whiskey this time. “It’s weird. When I first heard about you, I was so sure. It was almost like I could feel you out there, watching over the city. It seemed right somehow. But then you died… I didn’t even really know you, but I felt so… I’ve looked and looked. I’ve done everything, given everything for this one dream…”
Jim watched in horror as Sandburg starting tearing the clippings from the board, throwing them all over. He swiped everything off his desk with fury before he collapsed to the floor, his head leaning against his desk. Papers and books lay strewn all around him.
“Ah, Chief. What are you doing to yourself? You don’t have me dragging you down anymore. Why aren’t you happy?”
Blair’s dull eyes drifted back to the window as he pulled his knees up to his chest. “Are there any more Sentinels out there? Were you the only one? Or were you just the only one I’d ever have a chance to meet—a chance that didn’t pan out?” Blair held his head, wincing in pain. “Why does it still hurt so much? Why do I feel so empty? Why aren’t these things working!” Blair took the pill bottle out of his pocket, trying desperately to open it with trembling fingers.
“Incacha! Stop this! Please! He’s safe. He’s supposed to be happy. This isn’t what I wanted for him!”
“And now, Enqueri, we are back to your wants. What makes the wants and needs of the Sentinel of more value than those of the Guide?”
Unbidden, the memory of an old argument with Carolyn came to mind, her angry voice ringing in his ears. “You always have to be in control—of yourself, of the people around you! You think you know what’s best for everyone else. Well, guess what? The world doesn’t revolve around you! Other people have needs, too.”
Jim’s voice was quiet. “It’s not about me. Sandburg tried to tell me after the fountain. I didn’t want to listen then. I was…afraid. A part of me wanted him to leave, to run so far away from me he’d never get hurt again. But I couldn’t let him go. I kept him with me.”
“Your jaguar spirit went to find him after he drowned. Why did you allow this if you feared for him?”
“Because…I need him. He’s my partner, my friend, my brother, my Guide.”
“But the wolf spirit was walking away. Did you seize it and pull it back to the world with you?”
“No. It turned. It saw the jaguar and came running to meet it.”
Incacha shook his head knowingly. “I see. He did not come back by force…”
Jim lowered his eyes. “…He came back by choice.”
“Yes, Enqueri. The universe is not always about what you desire. A Sentinel needs his Guide…”
Jim finally understood. “…And a Guide needs his Sentinel.”
Part 5: A Merry Little Christmas Now
Jim covered his eyes just in time to avoid being blinded by another flash of light. Where was he now? Suddenly, he picked up a sound that he would recognize anywhere. Sandburg’s heartbeat. Jim was standing right outside the hospital.
“J…Jimmm. Yu thare, man?”
Blair’s voice! He was awake! It was a quiet, slurred, confused voice, but it was there. Jim ran through the hospital doors, dodging anyone that got in his way. He flew up the stairs two at a time and took off down the hall as he reached the third floor. With just a moment’s hesitation, he swung open the door. Simon sat with a groggy Blair while a doctor examined his pupils. Jim put a hand on Simon’s shoulder. “Thank you.”
Simon merely nodded.
Jim felt strangely energized, but his captain looked like he was ready to fall over. “Maybe you should go home and get some sleep, Simon. I’ll be here.”
Tired as he was, Simon didn’t even register the fact that he had been telling Jim to go home only a short while ago. He wearily pushed himself up from his chair and headed for the door.
“Simon? About earlier? I’m really… I’m…”
Simon smiled and slapped him on the arm. “I know. Just take care of him, ok?”
“I always try. I always try.”
“Jmm?” Blair was waving his arm as if he were trying to find something.
Jim sat down in the visitor’s chair and grabbed his partner’s hand. Sandburg relaxed and closed his eyes, a contented smile on his face.
“When you get better, Chief. We’re going to have a talk. I wasn’t ready before, but I am now. I just hope the offer’s still open. I thought I knew what was best for you. Maybe I need to really listen to you this time. For now, just get better. I’m not going anywhere.”
A week and a half later, at the loft
“Hey, Chief! You’re supposed to be stringing that popcorn, not eating it.”
“It’s a crime to put something this good on a tree! Whoever thought of using edible decorations was a real sadist, man. Next you’ll be putting candy on the branches.”
Jim picked up a box of gourmet candy canes, shaking it temptingly. “I’d better not catch you eating any of these before we take the tree down this year, Junior.”
“That is so not fair! You deliberately got the fruit-flavored ones you know I like. Can’t I have a blueberry one now?”
“Nope. They all go on the tree. I’ll be counting to make sure they’re all there.”
As Jim put the last of the candy canes on the tree, he glanced over at his friend. He noticed that Sandburg moved a little slower than usual, but he’d only gotten out of the hospital a few days ago. The doctors had been very pleased with his progress and didn’t see any reason why he couldn’t go home for Christmas. Christmas was only two days away, but Jim had wanted to wait for Sandburg in order to decorate the tree. He stepped back to look at the finished project. The ornaments on his side were evenly spaced while those on Blair’s side looked like they’d been thrown on by a tornado. But for some reason, the tree looked perfect to Jim. “I’ll make us some hot cider to fit the occasion. See if you can find something good on TV.”
Blair plonked down on the sofa and started surfing the channels. After a few minutes, Jim came over with the cider, watching as Blair ran through the programs at lightning speed.
“Wait! What was that?”
“What was what?”
“The show on that channel you just zoomed by. Go back! Stop! What is that?”
“It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a holiday classic, man.”
“I haven’t seen that in years.” Jim sat down, watching as George Bailey and Mary danced in the high school gym.
“I’m not surprised. It’s one of those really mushy movies you always avoid.”
“Let’s watch it.”
“Are you serious? Personally, I love this movie, but… Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Maybe I finally get this movie. Or I could just be in a mushy mood.” He glanced sideways at Sandburg, gauging his reaction. “Maybe I might want to talk later, too. About…stuff. I wasn’t ready before. But I am now. If… If you still want to.”
Blair stared at him like he was crazy at first, confused about what his friend was trying to say. Then it dawned on him—personal “stuff”. “The offer’s always open, Jim. Whenever, wherever.” He watched as George and Mary fell into the pool of water. Their friends started jumping in to join them. Blair smiled. “It looks like Christmas is coming a little early this year. I guess I really do have a wonderful life.”
Jim let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Then he smiled and handed Blair a blueberry candy cane.
“No man is a failure who has friends.”
What Clarence the angel wrote in the book he gave George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life.
Notes on this Story
1) I think this is the shortest fanfic I’ve ever done!
2) I don’t remember if Blair’s office had a window. It doesn’t matter, anyway. I needed one for the story, so I wrote it in (a small indulgence).
3) Those gourmet fruit-flavored candy canes are much better than the classic ones.
4) The titles of the various chapters are kind of long, but they’re all lines from the song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”—which, incidentally, is not a merry song. It was sung by Judy Garland in the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis. The original line of the song was "Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last..." But Judy hated the line and asked the writers to change it. Since it was written especially for her, they did. It then became "may your heart be light". It’s a melancholy number about moving on, leaving things behind, and holding tight to the moments you have now because they won’t last forever. It may be the last happy Christmas you spend with your family and friends so you should be thankful and enjoy it.
5) I know I said I didn’t like how Blair always seems to get badly hurt in fanfic and that I wanted to write him stronger, but I needed a reason for Jim to be upset and full of regret. So I broke my own rule and put Blair in a coma. Technically, though, Blair didn’t get hurt in my story—it happened “off-stage”, so-to-speak. He was already in the hospital at the beginning of my tale (heh, heh, heh).
6) This story is more about me pondering the season (which always makes me mushy) and some of my philosophies on life, with Jim and Blair as my helpers. Two major influences were on my mind when I wrote this: It’s a Wonderful Life (hence the Capra in the title of this fic) and John Donne’s “No man is an island…” essay. They both have to do with the fact that no one lives in a vacuum. Our existence, whether we like it or not, affects the people around us. I’m not saying we should live our lives only following the wishes of others. That would make most people miserable. But I do think we should all be more aware of how much what we do and who we are affect others—even when we think they don’t matter.