I Can Always Pretend
Birth of an Obfuscator
Author: Clea Saal
Fandom: The Sentinel
Rating: 13+
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Birth of an Obfuscator

It had been several days since Jim had learned of Naomi's death, but other than a rather forced admission on that first night Blair had never allowed the subject to be brought up again and it didn't seem like that situation was bound to change any time soon. If anything Blair seemed to be growing more defensive with each passing day and Jim finally decided that he'd had enough. He knew his partner wasn't ready to talk about his mother's death but that wasn't the only thing that was bothering him. In spite of his best efforts Jim was still having trouble coming to terms with Blair's reasons for not telling him. The fact that Blair hadn't trusted him to care bothered him and he was determined to get to the root of that particular problem. Of course, Jim knew that wanting to talk to Blair about something and ambushing him into cooperating were two entirely different things. Blair was a master obfuscator and what Jim needed to do was to get to the root of those obfuscations. Not knowing what else to do Jim decided to try the direct approach, knowing that doing that would make it difficult for Blair to talk his way out of it. It was going to be a very long night and somehow Jim had the feeling that finding answers to some of his questions wasn't going to help him sleep any better.

After dinner, while they were watching some TV, and when Jim noticed that Blair was somewhat distracted, he decided that it was as good a time as any to confront his partner.

"Chief, we have to talk."

"About?... Oh no, man! No way! We are so not going there! I'm not talking about it."

"I'll make you a deal," Jim said, knowing very well what 'it' was, "we won't talk about what happened, but in return I want you to promise NOT to obfuscate. There are some things I need to know. It's just a couple of questions, I promise."

"We won't talk about it?"

"Not unless you bring it up."

"And just what is it that you want to talk about?" Blair asked, suddenly suspicious.

"Just a couple of things." Jim said, refusing to play into his partner's game.

"Why do I have the feeling that refusing to talk is not an option?"

"Because you are my Guide and you know me?"

"So it wasn't really a question."

"Did I phrase it like one? I said 'Chief, we have to talk.' No questions can be found anywhere in that statement."

"What do you want, Jim?" Blair said with a resigned sigh.

"The truth, with no lies, half truths or obfuscations."

"What? The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Am I on trial or something? You want to swear me in?"

"I want you to be honest with me."

"I never lied to you, not when it mattered."

"I know, I'm sorry, it's just that..."

"OK, if it makes you feel better, I promise, scout's honor."

"You were never a boy scout."

"Your point being?"

"Never mind, I'm not going to let you derail this conversation."

"So, we are going to play Q&A?"

"Is that the way you want it?"

"I don't want to do this in any way, but seeing how I was never given a choice, just fire away and let's get this over with."

"OK, here we go, could you tell me when was the first time you pretended? Where did that idea come from?"

"Is that what this is all about? It's really not a big deal, Jim."

"I need to know, Blair. Do you have any idea how I felt when I heard that tape? It was like you didn't trust me, and I need to understand why."

"It's silly. I was staying with some of Naomi's friends, and before you go ballistic on me, they weren't mean to me or anything like that. I mean, I had three meals a day, a roof over my head and they really never messed with me at all. In fact they hardly ever spoke to me. Anyway, I was seven, I looked five and I had skipped a grade so most of my classmates were eight or nine. In other words I was a perfect target for any bully who wanted to prove how tough he was. I was getting beaten up almost daily in school and I just waited for the people I was living with to notice what was going on, to say or do something about it, but they never did and I couldn't bring myself to say anything either. After a couple of weeks I kind of knew that they had seen the bruises, but I still kept telling myself that if I were to tell them what was going on that they would do something about it."

Blair's insistence that those people hadn't been ' mean' to him set the alarms off in Jim's mind, "Blair, did anyone ever hit you? An adult?"

"A few times, but it wasn't really bad. I mean, there were no broken bones or anything like that. I was lucky that way. You see, usually when a kid gets beaten at home it's really confusing because the kid cares what the person doing the hitting actually thinks and that makes matters a lot worse. I may have gotten smacked sometimes, but never by someone I cared about so it wasn't all that different from what happened in school almost every day. It was just a matter of grinding my teeth and waiting for it to be over with. Sometimes I had to learn how to work around them though."

"Work around them?" Jim really didn't like the sound of that one.

"Yeah, I mean, there were some guys who would get angrier if they heard me crying, and others who wouldn't stop until they had 'broken' me, so I had to learn when to endure stoically and when to cry almost immediately. Luckily Naomi never told me that boys don't cry so I had no real problems with wailing to get them off my butt if I had to. I know it doesn't sound too dignified, in fact it's kind of embarrassing as I think back, but at the time it seemed to be the way to go and it worked. It was like conceding the battle to win the war. The worst ones were those guys that had 'fixed' punishments I couldn't really shake no matter what I did, but those were usually pretty consistent in their reactions so I could avoid getting in trouble in the first place, well mostly."

"Are you telling me that this was a common occurrence? I mean, it sounds like you had a number of strategies planned in advance."

"Well, it wasn't an every day occurrence if that's what you mean, and I didn't stay with any of these people for a really long period of time, so it wasn't really a bad situation, but it did happen a few times. Remember, back in the seventies child abuse was not the hot social issue it is today and none of the beatings I got would have been described as abuse back then, even if we may perceive them as such in hindsight. I wasn't being abused or anything like that but our standards regarding child abuse have changed a lot in the past twenty years so today things may be perceived differently. At the time it was still pretty much a spare the rod, spoil the child mentality in most of the country and as long as no one got killed, or ended up getting permanently maimed, people weren't really paying much attention to what was happening in other people's homes. Even though Naomi was opposed to those kinds of punishments they were basically seen as part of growing up and no one made a big deal about it. Even today in some schools spanking is not unusual, which is highly hypocritical when you consider that that means that the state retains the right to physically beat the kids even though if parents were to do the same thing it would be considered illegal. Did you..."

"But Naomi never hit you?" Jim interrupted, determined to keep Blair from going off on an anthropological tangent.

"Of course not! I was her child and she loathed violence. She wouldn't have done that, and she never would have let anyone else hit me either. If I had told her we would have left."

"So this didn't just happen when she left you with some of her friends?"

Blair hesitated for a moment, but he had promised to tell the truth, even though he was sure that Jim wouldn't understand. Reluctantly he said: "For the most part it was when she wasn't around, however there were a couple of her boyfriends who were kind of rough, I just never told her about it. They were careful not to do anything in front of her and I didn't want her to know. Telling her would only have made matters worse for her. One was after a rather rough break up. It was one of a handful of times in which someone left Naomi rather than the other way around and she really didn't know how to cope, so she ended up with a guy who was a real jerk, but she liked him. She was happy with him and I didn't want to ruin it for her. Another time I could see that it wouldn't last, and I knew that if I had told her she would have felt guilty about it, so I kept quiet and just waited for that relationship to end. That one only lasted a couple of weeks."

"And the people she left you with?"

"Most of them were OK. I mean, even though most of them weren't telling me that they loved me on a daily basis or anything like that, it wasn't really all that bad. They left me alone and that was fine by me. For the most part Naomi was always careful about making sure that I'd be safe, but she wasn't the only one with revolving door boyfriends, and there were some guys who came into the picture while I was living with some of her friends who were really not happy with the idea of getting saddled with a brat that wasn't even their girlfriend's, and most of Naomi's friends wouldn't have put a strange kid ahead of their lovers, so I was kind of stuck until my mom came back."

"But why did she keep leaving you?" Jim said, trying to control his anger and failing miserably.

"There were several different reasons, it wasn't just one thing. Sometimes she was going someplace where I wouldn't have been welcomed --either because I was a child or because I was male-- sometimes she was going somewhere where there would be no school for me to attend, sometimes I asked to stay behind if I wanted to finish the year in a school in which I had found some friends and sometimes she just needed some time alone. I couldn't ask her to stay."

"How old were you the first time she left you?"

"I don't know, I really don't remember. The first time I sort of remember I was two, maybe three, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the first one. The funny thing is that I don't really remember her leaving me, just that when she got back I was really pissed at her and that made her sad. I tried not to get mad at her for leaving after that because I didn't like seeing her so sad."

"And how did you cope with her different boyfriends?"

"The truth is that they were never much of an issue. I had learned early on that they really didn't care about me so for the most part I just tried to stay out of their way. I mean, some were nice, some were not, but even the nice ones just saw me as an in to get to Naomi. They were kind to me because that earned them brownie points with my mother but that was about it. I think there may have been a couple of guys who may have grown to like me if I had given them a chance, but by that time I had already figured out how the game was played and I wasn't taking any chances. I never allowed any of them to get close to me."

"You didn't want to get attached to any of them." It was a statement rather than a question.

"Of course not. I knew they would be leaving in a few months at most, and I really didn't want them to have any kind of power over me."

"Power?"

"As long as I didn't care what they thought, whether they stayed or not, if they liked me or not, they couldn't hurt me no matter what they did. Besides, I think Naomi lived with over sixty guys before I left for college. I don't think I could list them all and it certainly would have been a bad idea to become attached to each one of them."

"SIXTY?!"

"Calm down! It's not as bad as it sounds. Some of those relationships really just lasted a couple of weeks, so they kind of added a lot of bulk but very little substance. I'd say that less than a third of those sixty lasted more than two months and only three of them stayed around for six months or more."

"So it was pretty much you, Naomi and some random guy? At least when she was there."

"Don't make it sound so gloomy. It was OK for the most part, and I did get attached to a few others along the way, just not her boyfriends. The ones that really cared about me may have been the exception but there were some really cool people among those my mom left me with, some even stayed in touch with me after I left, so I did end up growing myself a sort of family. In fact since I was about thirteen Naomi usually asked me where I wanted to stay when I wasn't traveling with her, and she made it clear that if I had a problem with any of her boyfriends I had other options."

"I thought you said she would have left if you had told her!"

"She would have, but I never did and then when I was old enough I no longer had to choose between telling her and making HER choose or keeping quiet and putting up with someone I wasn't comfortable with. If I didn't like someone I could always ask to go stay with one of my uncles."

Jim knew that there was no way to continue that conversation without getting angry. As it was it had been a major challenge to keep his own emotions in check, so he decided to let it slide, at least temporarily. What bothered him the most though was that Blair wasn't angry or even upset. He had been keeping an ear on his partner's heartbeat and, with the exception of a couple of moments in which Blair seemed to have reacted to his anger, his heartbeat had remained remarkably steady, in fact he seemed to have calmed down as their talk progressed, as if there were nothing troubling in the words he had spoken.

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