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Title: The Honor of Friendship
Summary: Jim receives a letter that disturbs him.
Style: Gen
Size: 1,805 words, about 4 pages in MS Word.
Warnings: None
Notes: Challenge story, written September 2004. Nominee for Burton Awards 2005 in the "Favorite Smarm Story" category.
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org





The Honor of Friendship

by StarWatcher





Blair started talking before he reached the door, knowing his sentinel would hear him. "Hey, Jim, it's your night to cook and I'm starved. Hope you have something filling planned." Shutting the door behind him, he set his backpack under the coathooks and tossed his keys in the basket. "Or were you planning to order out? Let's make it soon, because like I said..." He drifted into silence, finally noticing the dimness and silence of the loft; no lights were on, and no dinner preparations underway. Cautiously, he approached the unmoving figure on the couch.

"Jim? What're you doin' sittin' here in the dark, man? What's wrong?" The lack of response increased his concern; he sat on the coffee table and laid a gentle, but firm, hand on his friend's knee. "Come on back, Jim. Whatever it is, we'll handle it. Listen to my voice and --"

"I'm not zoned, Sandburg," Ellison broke in, a thread of irritation lacing his voice. "I'm just... thinking. And... remembering."

"Oh. Well, okay. Um... you want me to start making dinner while you think?"

A disinterested, one-shoulder shrug did nothing to alleviate Blair's concerns. He focused on the sheet of paper clenched in Jim's fist; the salutation, 'Dear Uncle Jim' was clearly visible. Uncle Jim? Casting about for more clues, he discovered that he was sitting on an envelope; the name 'Nakamura' was in the top left corner, with an address in Seattle. Tentatively this time, feeling a little awkward, he laid a hand on Jim's knee and patted gently.

"Um, is it bad news? Is there anything I can do to help?" When a half-hearted headshake was the only response, his voice sharpened with the beginnings of irritation. "C'mon, Jim, you can't just sit here like a lump. Whatever it is, it's thrown you for a loop, but it won't get any better if you don't face it. Talk to me man, and let me help."

"The daughter of one of my men is getting married." The tone was lifeless, more suited to announcing death than marriage.

"One of your men? You mean your team from Peru?" He waited for a short, confirming nod. "But that's... good news, isn't it? Why has it got your shorts in a twist?"

Finally, the stunned expression in Ellison's eyes was dissipating. The look he gave Blair was almost challenging as he explained, "She wants me to give her away."

Blair blinked in confusion. "And that's a bad thing? I suppose, if she doesn't have any male relatives, and you were her father's commanding officer, even if you weren't friends, she might think of you --"

"We were friends," Jim cut in. "Good friends. Sammy Nakamura came into my unit about four years before that last mission." The tension in his body eased slightly; he leaned back into the cushions as he continued. "Friendliest guy you'd ever want to meet; he'd give even you a run for your money. The first major holiday after he joined the team -- Fourth of July -- when he found out I wasn't going to spend it with family, he invited me to join his, and wouldn't take no for an answer. We had a picnic in the park -- fried chicken, homemade potato salad, the whole schmear. He had a wife who adored him, and three of the prettiest little girls you've ever seen, and about two dozen various relatives who were all as friendly as he was, and made me feel welcome. It was a good day; probably the best July Fourth I ever spent." He lapsed into silence.

Blair waited a few moments, but his curiosity overcame his patience. "And...?" he prodded gently.

Jim sighed deeply. "And after that, the family took me under their wing and invited me to quite a few Saturday barbecues and various holiday celebrations. The kids saw me so much that they took to calling me 'Uncle Jim'. And then I took their father on that last mission, and eighteen months later I had to explain to them that the light of their lives was gone forever."

Jim sprang from the couch and stalked across the room to stare out the balcony doors. "God, Sandburg! Maria -- his wife -- never said anything, but I knew what she was thinking... just what Veronica thought. Why should I come back alive when he died? I stood with them at the funeral -- Sammy deserved that respect -- and they invited me to come back to visit, but I knew how much they had to hate me. I just couldn't face that. And Veronica proved I was right."

"And you haven't seen them since?" Blair ventured.

"No. Not when the mere sight of me has to remind them of what they lost. And now Lilianna wants me at her wedding? I can't do that to them!" His voice was ragged with suppressed grief.

"Jim." Blair rose and followed his friend to the window, standing close in silent support. "If they hated you, they wouldn't ask. No rational person could blame you for what happened; apparently Maria was wise enough to recognize that, and strong enough to teach it to her kids. You said there are lots of relatives. That means you're not a 'last resort'. Lilianna specifically wants you. Probably as a link to her father, since you served with him, but also because she remembers you with affection -- 'Uncle Jim'. And I imagine she got her mother's permission before she wrote, which means Maria's okay with it, too. They're offering you an honor, man, not a reason to... to... immolate yourself."

Ellison's tension eased further as he considered Blair's words. "You're probably right," he conceded. "But... it's been so many years. How can they --"

"Years don't count if the friendship is real. Obviously they can, and that's the only thing that matters. Now what you have to decide is, will you do it, or not? But think about this, Jim." Blair's voice firmed, warningly. "They're willing to overlook the years of non-communication from you; they probably understood that you had to grieve in your own way. But if you turn this down -- don't at least attend the wedding -- that'll be an unforgivable slap in the face to the whole family. Do you really want to do that to the memory of the man who was your friend?"

He paused. "Right. I guess that's all I have to say on the subject. I'll leave you to think about it while I go out and pick up some dinner. Re-read the letter, Jim, and look at it from their point of view instead of yours." He grabbed his jacket and keys, and flipped on the light as he walked out the door; not even a sentinel would be able to read in the room that had become increasingly dark.




Jim wiped his mouth and tossed the napkin on the table. "Thanks, Sandburg, I needed that. Didn't realize how hungry I was." He regarded his friend soberly. "I also needed that little pep talk of yours. Thanks for that, too."

"So? You gonna do it?"

"Yes, I think so. It'll be good to see Maria and the kids again -- see how much they've grown, and like you said, lay some ghosts to rest." He hesitated. "Still, I could use a little moral support. The invitation is for me and a guest; I suppose they expect a wife, but... July twenty-seventh; you'll be on summer break. If you want to, that is," he finished uncertainly.

Blair beamed. "I'd be honored, big guy. I love weddings -- there's no stronger affirmation of man's hopes for the future. Hey, what about presents? Do you remember anything about her likes or dislikes? Do you want to pool our money and get one really nice one, instead of two ordinary ones? I know a place..."




Jim parked the truck and eyed the once well-known house uncertainly; maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. But as he approached the gate, he heard excited squeals and the sound of running feet. "Uncle Jim! Uncle Jim!" He submitted to a group hug, listening with delight to the cadence of happy young voices.

The girls finally let him loose and stepped back, their words tumbling over each other as they welcomed him. His eyes sought Lilianna. She had grown into a stunning young woman with a bright, open countenance and -- he searched closely -- no shadows in her eyes when she looked at him. The knot in his chest loosened. Apparently Blair was right; she really didn't blame him for her father's fate.

He looked up as Maria stepped from the front door and hurried toward him. The years had been kind to his friend's wife; her face was serene and unlined, and only a sprinkling of gray dusted her hair.

"Captain Jim!" she called. "It is so good to see you again." She reached him and enfolded him in a careful hug, almost as if she would comfort a child. "Thank you for coming; your presence will honor our family." The smile she gave him showed none of the blame that he had felt burdened with for so many years.

His throat was thick as he answered, "Maria, I'm happy to be here; it's an honor to be asked. I'm just so sorry --"

"No," she said gently. "You have nothing to be sorry for. And we will not allow old hurts to shadow this time of joy. My eldest daughter is getting married. Her father will be watching from Heaven, and you shall stand at her side in his place. Now, come inside, sit; we have so much to talk about...




"I tell ya', Jim, your friends really know how to throw a celebration. And wasn't Lilianna a beautiful bride? You looked really good, too, in your dress blues. I thought it might be too stark for a wedding, but the contrast really highlighted everyone else's finery. And when Lilianna and Damien pledged their vows -- I swear, the love was palpable, man, damn near visible. It certainly gives us hope for the human condition, doesn't it? I mean..."

Ellison let his friend's words wash over him, a comforting background of sound as he drove homeward. It had been good, but even better was a new sense of peace he had gained. Maria's and the girls' acceptance had provided a healing balm that comforted his soul.

"Sandburg..." he started, but didn't know how to continue.

"Yeah?"

"Just... thank you." Would Blair know what he meant?

"No problem. That's what friends are for."

Blair did know. Thank God for good friends; his road was lighter because of them.

"I know. But thanks anyway."



The End



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