Holding It In

by Kathryn A

Rating:      PG-13
Date:        2001-12-15
Size:        15K, 2500 words

Disclaimer: Ain't mine, just borrowing them. Spoilers: none
Warnings: AU
Category: AU

Summary:     Portrait of another universe's Blair.
             For the fourth Sentinel Lyric Wheel, the Halloween Wheel.

You're so beautiful -- burning like a comet across the sky -- but you don't love me. It took me a while to figure that out, partly because you don't realize it yourself. Oh, you like me, and your body loves me, and you give, and smile, and care, but there's a hollow inside you, and I'm not the one who can fill it.

A single tear dropped onto the paper, and Leah put the pen down and looked around, hoping nobody had seen her. She stared at what she'd written on the purple, scented paper that she never used, that someone had given her for her birthday many years ago. She was a secretary; if she was writing a letter it made more sense to type it, or send email. But something so personal ought to be written by hand. She looked at it again. "Dammit!" she whispered, and with a few quick motions, ripped it into pieces, crumpled them up, and threw them into the waste basket. I can't do this.

She stared sightlessly at her computer monitor until the phone rang. She started, then picked it up and put on her professional voice, "Rainier University, Department of Paranormal Studies. Can I help you?"


It was his smile that hooked her heart. Of course, she'd been curious when she'd transferred to the department, what with all the gossip about crazy Prof. Sandburg, not to mention his reputation as a Wise Man. With all that, she expected him to be older than he was -- certainly not just over thirty, with that mass of curly hair that would put many women to shame. That was the first surprise.

The second was that as soon as she'd laid eyes on him, she knew she would fall in love with him. It wasn't wishful thinking -- it was fate. She had a touch of the Sight, one of the reasons she'd been selected when the opening came up. It wasn't a very strong gift, but she'd taken the requisite courses (though not at Rainier), and she knew what a genuine hit was.

Or maybe it was just a self-fulfilling prophecy.

She'd expected him to be solemn, so Wise as he was, solemn and self-important, like so many other professors. But that was never the case. Oh, it wasn't as if he couldn't be wise and solemn, but he was a spring of energy, bubbling with enthusiasm, never still; with a smile that wouldn't wash away. When he put his mind to it, he was very charming -- but somehow, not innocent. There was an edge to him that she saw, even then, and more when she got to know him better.

Blair Sandburg was still an anthropologist at heart, with a love of learning that just glowed. But it isn't everyone who becomes a full professor due to the violent supernatural death of the previous incumbent. Legends were bound to spring up around events like that.

And not all the rumours were false. Leah nearly had a heart attack the first time he took her with him after curfew.

"But, but..." she stuttered, "why take such a risk? It's dangerous!"

"That's when the energy comes," he said. "And the dark side's light, it's when you can see it..." He stretched out his hands, sketching the invisible on the air, and continued on in a long lecture which would have done a guru proud.

She didn't ask again, and she was too proud of being asked, being trusted, to raise the obvious objections: night is when the vampires roam. But there was something about being with him, something charmed. No matter how many times they went out, they were never attacked. That might have been because of the cross he always wore, not your classic plain crucifix, nor the Catholic kind with the eternally crucified Christ still hanging there for all to see, nor the woven-knot Celtic cross -- this one was different, sort of crooked, with markings sharp and angled, like runes. When she asked him about it once, he said it was from a faith that died before Jesus came.

But it wasn't just the cross. Some people thought he was a Holy Man, but she knew him too well to think that -- he was no saint. But he did have power, having been initiated into the secrets of many cultures, from Africa to Asia to South America. She'd seen him wear sandals in the snow and not shiver; and search for ghosts in the halls, and question them. Not to mention his ability to talk anyone out of or into anything, including persuading a gunman with hostages to give himself up. If any creatures of the night had decided to get serious, he would probably have convinced them to go home.

But sometimes I wonder if you were just flirting with death, for the heck of it. She couldn't forget the first time he'd taken her to his home. It was an old church, and how on earth he'd been able to get permission to live there she didn't know. When she'd asked, he'd given her a know-it-all grin and told her an outrageous story which she knew even then was completely fabricated. Candles glowed on the old altar as stained-glass saints looked down at them. There was a framed poem hanging on the wall, slightly curled and battered with age, printed in a calligraphic typeface.

I am a pit of despair
in which love is drowned
a cracked vessel
broken in the firing
I leak
tears of salt and doubt
Why bother?
Better to throw the pot away
and start again
with another.
Nothing entices me
to live.
All my talents are superficial
no matter what you say
it will fall on my deafened ears
drowned out
by the roar of self-reproach.
Whether better or worse,
all things point to
my lack.

They say that suicide
is a cry for help -
the fools!
It is the laying down
of an unbearable burden.

"Who wrote this?" she asked.

"A friend," he said, and launched into a comparison of the attitude towards death in different cultures.

But that didn't succeed in distracting her entirely. "Did he die?" she asked, gesturing at the poem.

He looked away from her. "Yes. But he got better."

That was when she wondered if he'd written it himself. The next time she visited, the poem was still there, yet she never mentioned it again. But she wondered. Because some of the rumours said that Blair had been there when Professor Sharman had died, or been the one to find his body. And still she wondered.

Because there were other things. One night you woke up screaming aloud, crying words in a language I didn't know. I didn't understand the words, but I understood the tone -- begging, pleading, asking for something that wasn't granted.

She wondered if he kept busy because he didn't dare stay still. Can you look out the window without your shadow getting in the way?

I've seen the burn scars on your chest. You said that they were from an initiation rite, that you were sworn to secrecy about. That might be so, or it might not. I was used to your obfuscations by then. You choose your words so carefully; something most people wouldn't notice, but I've started to. Your words are a smokescreen to hide what's below, what's behind your eyes. You're holding on, and holding it in, you never really let go.

Because you don't dare to.

Not even with me.

Leah glanced out the door, wishing she could see around corners. The last thing she wanted was for Blair to leave his office and poke his head in the door.

Because he would take one look at her and ask her, "What's the matter?" Because he would know. He always did.

The last thing she wanted was to burden him with her pain. Get over it, you can't let him know, it would hurt him too much.

That had been the last secret, the thing that nobody knew, the thing she alone had begun to suspect. That it wasn't just wisdom, it wasn't just intuition, it wasn't just the Way, that made Blair Sandburg so uncannily perceptive, able to catch the mood of a room or a person at a glance. Because none of those would have taken so much out of him, made his hands shake at the end of a long day, made him dive into meditation like it was an oasis in the desert. She knew how many candles he used up -- she was the one who had to replenish the supply. She was the one who boiled the water when he made himself the special tea he kept in a locked cabinet in his office; she'd seen his eyes, hollowed dark bruises of pain, when the police consulted him about Dark happenings.

He needed her. He needed her to be strong, he needed her to love him. But it wasn't enough; she was only a temporary solution, a salve to soothe his hurts. He needed a shield, and she wasn't that.

I'm not the one. That's what hurts so much; I can't give him what he needs. How long can I wait until he finds the one? When he doesn't even know he's searching?

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the open door. She looked up, and up. The man framed in the doorway was tall, and solid, with short cropped hair, and ice-blue eyes. He wore dark blue trousers, a light blue shirt, and a frown.

"Can I help you?" Leah asked.

"This is the department of Paranormal Studies?" he asked.

Leah hid a smile. The name was blazoned across the door. "Yes," she answered.

He took one step inside. "I'm supposed to --" he began, looking at the floor. What, was he embarrassed? He looked up again. "This is where you sign up for Sight classes, isn't it? My captain... said I had to."

He must have come to the gift late, and recently. Sometimes the Sight is brought on by trauma. Captain? Is he in the army? He's got the muscles for it. And Sight training was mandatory for all government workers who showed the talent for it. "And you are...?"

He pulled out a wallet and opened it out on her desk. A detective's badge and photo-ID. "Detective Ellison, Cascade PD," he said.

She looked up at his face -- and had a hit. A black panther stood guard over a wolf, in a jungle full of bright heat and sun and deep, dappled shadows. The panther's eyes were blue and pale. Then the eyes, the same eyes, were in a human face, darkened with black camouflage stripes, sweating in the same jungle. It was Ellison. The wolf bounded up to him, and its lolling grin transformed into a smile on a human face -- Blair's face. Blair was laughing, and Ellison was there too, smirking, sitting together on a couch with beer bottles in their hands. Blair hadn't laughed like that for a long time.

She knew that Blair Sandburg's search was over.

It was as if a ten-ton weight had rolled off her heart. She was left with a bittersweet ache, and a desire to interrogate Ellison to the third degree; would he really look after her Blair the way he needed to be looked after? He looked about as sensitive as a Mack truck. Still, he apparently had the Sight -- he was going to have to learn to be sensitive, one way or another -- the easy way, or the hard way.

She smiled up at the detective. "Now, let me just get you the forms..." She pulled open the file drawer to her right, pulled out the relevant forms and put them down in front of him. "When you get to section D, just put in "Cascade Police Department"," she added.

He started filling the form in. She pulled up the timetable on her computer. "I assume you'll want to sign up for the evening classes, yes?"

"I guess so," Ellison answered.

"That's Wednesday nights, from six 'til seven in the summertime," she said, businesslike. "And a practicum, there's room on Thursday night, same time -- is that okay?" Her heart beat faster as she waited for his answer.

His forehead creased in a small frown, then he shrugged. "That's fine," he said.

She beamed at him. "Good," she said, and typed rapidly into the computer, adjusting, altering. There hadn't actually been a practicum on Thursday nights -- but now there was. Taken by Professor Blair Sandburg and having a total of one student -- James Ellison.

It didn't hurt to help destiny along a bit.

Thanks to Sue Wells for the lyrics. Though I love this song, I couldn't think of how to make this fit with the Sentinel until it occurred to me that this could be about a very AU Blair in a kind of science-fantasy universe.

Thanks to CiceroCat and Susan Foster for inspiration.

Thanks to Aubrey Robin as ever, for betaing.

And thanks to the Author of us all, without whom there would be no subcreation.

Here's the lyrics.

Building a Mystery

(Sarah McLachlan)

You come out at night
That's when the energy comes
And the dark side's light
And the vampires roam
You strut your rasta wear
And your suicide poem
And a cross from a faith
That died before Jesus came
You're building a mystery

You live in a church
Where you sleep with voodoo dolls
And you won't give up the search
For the ghosts in the halls
You wear sandals in the snow
And a smile that won't wash away
Can you look out the window
Without your shadow getting in the way
Oh you're so beautiful
With an edge and a charm
But so careful
When I'm in your arms

'Cause you're working
Building a mystery
Holding on and holding it in
Yeah you're working
Building a mystery
And choosing so carefully

You woke up screaming aloud
A prayer from your secret god
You feed off our fears
And hold back your tears

Give us a tantrum
And a know it all grin
Just when we need one
When the evening's thin

You're a beautiful
A beautiful f**ed up man
You're setting up your
Razor wire shrine

'Cause you're working
Building a mystery
Holding on and holding it in
Yeah you're working
Building a mystery
And choosing so carefully

Oooh you're working
Building a mystery
Holding on and holding it in
Yeah you're working
Building a mystery
And choosing so carefully

Yeah you're working
Building a mystery
Holding on and holding it in
Yeah you're working
Building a mystery
And choosing so carefully

You're building a mystery...