New Year, Old Sentinel
By Gil Hale – firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: All disclaimers, usual or unusual, apply.
Jim Ellison moved a fraction of an inch, to reach the TV remote, and wished he hadn’t bothered. With painful unanimity his strained back, gashed side, and wrenched shoulder all protested at once. His fingers clenched round the remote, but he sat and endured silently for a moment before he found the energy to use it. Might as well have saved himself the effort. The TV companies evidently assumed that anyone watching TV on New Year’s Eve was at a party, couldn’t hear over the din, and was probably too drunk to care about the content anyway.
He wondered which party Blair had reached now.
He’d never told Blair about being able to sense the exact passage of time. It had seemed just too… testable. Usually he found it a handy tool. Times like this it was more like the Chinese water torture. The throbbing all over his body resounded not just in pain but in the audible thump of his pulse, and it was all infuriatingly out of synch with the passing of the seconds. The rhythm of the group on TV was out of synch with both. A touch of the remote banished them, but the other disharmony seemed to jar more horribly in the silence.
He wondered if Blair was dancing to the beat of jungle drums.
It took him a ridiculous length of time to get to his feet. Hell, he felt old. Old and stiff and definitely sorry for himself. Moving one limb at a time, cautiously, he set out on the heroic quest for coffee. Any old lady with a zimmer frame would have beaten him easily.
He realised as he poured the coffee that he’d put ready the herbal tea bags as well; it was too much trouble to put them away.
Simon looked in for five minutes on his way to the Major Crimes party. “If it’s any consolation, Jim, the perp looks worse,” he said with irritating cheerfulness. “Wish I could have seen his face when you came in through his truck window. Shame you scared him into totalling the thing, but at least it wasn’t your own truck you wrecked this time. Can I get you anything before I go and act the parent at this party?”
“No, Sandburg saw to everything before he went. He’s been invited to seven parties tonight—I had to practically throw him out to get him to go to them, but he’ll enjoy himself once he’s there—you know Sandburg. He should finish up at Major Crimes.”
“Trailing a harem of girls from the previous six parties I suppose.”
Jim had a brief mental image of a comet Sandburg, hair streaming, with blondes, brunettes, and redheads tugged along in his wake. He decided it was the medication.
He must have dozed off for a while. Bad move. Now he felt even stiffer and his back seemed to have seized up completely. Maybe he really was getting too old. It hadn’t been that bad a crash. Ten years ago he’d have walked away from it.
Memory presented an image of the destroyed truck. Limped away, anyway.
Ten years ago muscles had been that bit suppler, he’d had that bit more edge. Of course, ten years ago he’d still been in the military, and maybe it was a good thing there was some fuzziness about his memories of the person he’d been then.
Ten years ago he’d have been near Sandburg’s age. He couldn’t imagine Sandburg ever becoming old or slow or stiff.
Even with his senses mostly dialled down he was aware of the rising anticipation in the city as the New Year approached. Why, he couldn’t imagine. Very few of them were so stupid as to believe it was going to be any better than the last one. The years were just a human measurement anyway, an attempt to bottle infinity and give it a neat label. Anticipation was for kids.
He thought, although it was way too early, that he heard a familiar footstep in the hall. Before he knew it, he was creaking to his feet, listening for the sound of a key turning in the lock.
Blair came in, smelling of stale parties and traffic fumes, overlaid with cold fresh air, and more intangibly surrounded by something of light and hope. Jim used his finely honed detective skills and deduced that, as he’d flung his coat on the floor and dropped his car keys where he wouldn’t be able to find them in the morning, he was home to stay. He tried not to look too pleased.
“What are you doing here, Sandburg?” he asked gruffly.
Blair grinned, not fooled. “I’ve been the life and soul of seven parties and now I’m seeing the New Year in my way.”
With uncanny skill, Blair gave him a supporting hand in the one place where it didn’t hurt to receive it. “We’re going out on the balcony, Jim. We’re going to watch the New Year sweep in over your city.”
It was cold and clear out on the balcony. It numbed some of Jim’s aches and pains. With Blair’s hand a light warmth on his arm, anchoring him, he looked out over the homes of all the people he was sworn to protect and knew with sudden understanding that for him this was the one possible place for the New Year to make sense.
The seconds passed, measured. Midnight grew closer. The sounds rose and swelled. Bells and chimes, noisemakers and popping corks, voices raised in greetings and cheers and familiar songs. It grew into a crashing wave of noise, cresting on the hour, and with Blair’s presence buoying him he rode it, exhilarated, ’til at last it ebbed.
“That’s it, man,” Blair said, his face alive with enthusiasm, the light of distant and decrepit stars rejuvenated as it bounced from his hair. “Can’t you feel it? The old year’s gone…” he gesticulated vaguely, “and the new one’s here.”
Jim looked at his waving arm. “I’ve got to tell you, Sandburg, the direction you’re pointing in is definitely not west.”
“Whatever,” Sandburg said, unabashed. “Come on, Jim. You can feel the difference, can’t you?”
Jim gave the matter a couple of second’s thought. He could certainly feel a difference from how he’d felt half an hour ago. He didn’t think it had a lot to do with the measurement of the calendar though. He decided he wasn’t too stiff and sore to pull Blair into a half wrestling hold, half hug.
“Happy New Year, Chief,” he said, and for this man, he meant it.
“Happy New Year, Jim,” and when Blair said it, it actually seemed a possibility. They stood there a while, watching their city, their closeness a warmth in the surrounding cold.
Eventually Blair stirred. “You’d better not stand out here and get stiff. It must be well into the morning now.”
“00.16,” Jim said incautiously.
Blair looked up at him, not missing the fact he hadn’t looked at his watch. “You can just tell, like that?” he said, his face alight with interest. “Cool. You know, I’d wondered once or twice before, watching you, whether sentinels could sense time and I thought we could try…”
Jim cut through this ruthlessly. “There’s something I thought we could try before we went in,” he said. “Pointing North. Or South, East and West if you’d rather. We really need to tackle your sense of direction, Chief.” He looked at Blair’s face, and saw he’d got him this time. “After all,” he went on solemnly, “what’s going to happen to a sentinel with a geographically challenged guide?”
Blair laughed, sentinels and time at least temporarily forgotten. “Only good things, man,” he said answering Jim’s question. “Only good things.”
He said it lightly, but somehow it carried a wish, or maybe a blessing. Jim ruffled his hair and turned him back in towards the lighted interior. He was still stiff, and the stitches in his side pulled a bit, but it had all become a minor background annoyance. They’d have a hot drink, Blair would tell him about the girls at the parties, he’d very carefully keep off the subject of time. Later, in the silence of the dawn he’d hear Blair’s heartbeat and it would hold the world in harmony.
The New Year was okay after all.
~ End ~