To Hold a Wolf by the Ears
Summary: Set after 'Crossroads'. This is what happens when you watch 'Dogs with Jobs' and read books about idioms at the same time. The title means to basically take a chance on something that could be dangerous. With Jim dismissing Blair in Crossroads, I wondered what would happen if Blair had somewhere else to go, especially if there were people from his past to go to.
Usual thanks to Aly and Joy for betaing and encouragement.
'This is the life', Blair thought to himself as he took in the scenery surrounding him. Things weren't as bad as they could be back home, but with Jim's apparent need to get away from Blair manifesting itself, and his attempt at a holiday backfiring, Blair had wanted to do something to make things better to head off any problems before they developed. He had felt guilty as soon as he'd got home, so when he'd had the call the next morning from Naomi, telling him that their old friends Star and Michael Benton were fixing up a smallholding north of Lake Chelan, just outside the national park, he'd called them and accepted the immediate invitation.
He was on a school break anyway, and without Jim around, he had no reason to stay in Cascade. He called Simon up and told him where he was going, saying that he'd leave a note for Jim and not to worry, he would be safe and with friends, telling him a little about them and their background as well, to calm Simon's mind.
When Simon had put the phone down, however, the captain couldn't explain the knot that had formed in his stomach. There was something in Blair's tone. It was a little too cheerful. A little too bouncy. As if Blair had been hiding something. He tried calling back about half an hour later, but discovered that Blair had already gone. All he could do was hope.
Blair had driven up to the one-horse... certainly not 'town'. Hamlet would have been a generous description for the not-on-the-map location called Pine Rapids. It had taken him hours to get there, and for once, the Volvo had held out. He'd gone prepared, a full survival kit in his backpack just in case. Having had one too many close calls with Jim, he wasn't going to be found wanting on his own.
Now he was there, walking around the dilapidated outbuildings that his friends were planning on restoring, a dog at his feet. The large farmhouse was habitable, if a little run down, Blair being given a small, cosy room which gave the word 'rustic' a new meaning. But it was cool, it was peaceful there. The house had been built over a hundred years before and was a mix of local stone and wood, inside and out. It had a lot of bedrooms as the original owners had had about ten children according to local legend. As space had not been at a premium, the farmer had built on extra rooms on the ground and first floor as the need arose - giving it a quirky character that now suited the current owners as much as the original ones.
The smallholding sat in roughly twenty acres of land, surrounded by extensive forestry. The previous owner had lived there all his life and had died without any family to which to leave it. He'd been a descendent of the original builder, his grandson in fact. The other descendants had moved away and had no interest in running what would be an unprofitable farm, especially as a lot of money would need to be spent on restoring the house and other buildings.
Star - born Bronwen, which she hated - was a veterinarian and all-purpose animal lover and Michael, once he too had given up the hippie lifestyle, had been a high-powered lawyer. Though to be fair, he had worked ecological cases on behalf of the underdogs, always working to protect the land and native peoples whenever he could. They'd had enough of the rat race and wanted to set up a self-supporting farmstead and wild animal hospital-cum-sanctuary. With the money they'd earned, they were able to buy the place outright with enough to spare to do the place up. It wasn't that they wanted a palace, but running water and electricity would be nice.
There was a fresh water well in the yard in front of the house but the only latrine facilities were currently in a small, run down wooden shed and whereas none of the occupants of the house was inexperienced in roughing it, they were all of the opinion that an inside toilet and a bath would really make the biggest of differences to the quality of life.
As far as the outbuildings were concerned, the initial plan was to see what materials they could rescue and to clear out what they could not. Blair decided that the following morning would be early enough to start on that if he wasn't wanted for something else. The sun was starting to set and the aroma of fresh baked bread and a vegetable stew beckoned him back into the kitchen.
With the view that a home needs a focal point, a heart, Star had decided that the kitchen would be the first room to be finished and she'd done it before they'd even moved in properly - though she was still waiting for the final bit of connecting to be done for electricity. All the points were in, it was just a matter of getting the generator and other power sources up and running. She'd insisted on the kitchen being done first for a few reasons, but mainly she wanted somewhere for her family to retreat at the end of every day. As she and Michael had not been able to have children of their own, the word 'family' was a loose description that encompassed friends, children of friends and animals. Lots and lots of animals.
Other friends had left a few days before after helping them get the roof of the house repaired and some solar panels set in place, and more were due to turn up in a few days. Blair was looking forward to seeing the new people. He and Naomi had stayed with Rachel and Isaac Abramowitz (members of the commune he'd once lived in) on many occasions over the years - including the time he reached his Bar Mitzvah. He hadn't seen them in quite a while and was positively bouncing at the prospect.
"Ah, there you are," Star said as he entered the room, taking his muddy boots off right by the door and being careful not to skid over the tiled floor in his socks.
"Here I am. You waft food smells like that out the door and you're never going to need a dinner bell. I can't wait to eat!"
To emphasise his hunger, his stomach rumbled loudly, sending Star into fits of giggles.
"Oh, Blair, honey, you never change. Ever since you were in diapers you've come running at the first sniff of food."
"Only good food, Star," he replied with a grin, dropping quickly into a chair by the table, the dog that had been following him slipping under the table and laying at his feet in seconds. He rubbed his toes into her thick coat, tickling behind her ears and grinning when she nuzzled closer to him, urging him to scratch her more.
She was one of the dogs that Star had rescued over the years. Ketzele, who'd been apparently ironically named 'kitten' by Isaac when she'd first turned up in the Benton's household a few years' previously, was a wolf hybrid. At ninety pounds, she was no small dog and her golden eyes pierced the soul of anyone that looked at her. Her coat was a mottled-grey with pale-brown and white patches. Despite the not-so gentle reputation of some of her breed relatives, Ketzele lived up to Isaac's name for her. She was as playful as a kitten and as gentle as a lamb. At the same time, she was as fearless as one would expect and totally devoted to the alpha bitch of the family, Star. Star had been surprised when 'Ketzy' had met Blair. She was usually polite - if that word could be used to describe a dog - to newcomers, but cool until she got to know them better. Then she'd play. But the second she'd laid eyes on Blair she'd virtually flung herself into his arms and hadn't wanted to be separated from him since.
Blair, needless to say, was smitten. He had no idea why a wolf would want to be so attached to him, but he wasn't arguing. He'd always loved the spirit of the wolf, admiring their independence and survival skills whilst at the same time, appreciating their sociability. He'd waved off Star's attempts to remove Ketzele from him and said she could stick to him as close as she wanted.
Michael came as soon as Star called him and the three sat around the table, other animals also walking in to join them. Three other dogs, all rescued as Ketzele had been, and all of differing breeds. Dozy, a Labrador crossed with heaven only knew what, was a red-golden colour with a shaggy coat, who loved the comfortable life and who'd been rescued from a two foot by two foot kennel in a tiny concrete yard; Speedy, a border collie who'd been beaten until he'd been too nervous to even whimper, and Heart, a terrier of immeasurable courage and indeterminate heritage who had been tortured by some kids and was now hairless in patches. With lots of love and affection, as well as a lot of veterinary care, Star had coaxed the dogs back into health and happiness. Ketzele had just been misunderstood and had been kept out in a shed out of fear of her breed. Her original owners had thought that they were buying a husky and had been horrified when Star, their local vet, had pointed out that she was more wolf than their chosen breed.
There were cats in the house too, none of which were afraid of the dogs. Six - all neutered as the dogs were - and they all huddled around the wood-burning stove in the corner, looking for the warmest spots in the kitchen as cats are wont to do.
Blair looked around and smiled, feeling at peace, at home. The tension of the last few days melted from him. Star, who had known him all his life, could see the difference in him and was curious.
"Blair? Are you going to tell us what's been going on?" she prompted gently.
"Ah, just stuff, you know?"
"Don't obfuscate, young man. I know you far too well."
He chuckled and covered some time by eating. When he swallowed, he carefully explained what he'd been doing. Not the sentinel stuff, naturally, but the work with the police and the strain that he'd been under, finishing with the recent events at Clayton Falls.
"So, this has turned up at a good time," he concluded. "I needed to get away from it all, somewhere to relax. Doing some honest labour will do me good."
"Well, there's plenty of that," Michael laughed. "Whatever you can do will be a help, Blair."
"I'm glad to help," he replied honestly. "I want to stop thinking all the time, want to just be, if you know what I mean."
"Why do you think we gave up civilisation and came here?" Michael answered seriously. "We know, Blair. We understand. You know you have a home with us whenever and for how long you want, don't you?"
"I do. You can't know what that means to me, man."
They stopped talking for a while, Michael and Star pondering Blair's words as they ate. When the food was finished, Star poured them coffees and laced them with whisky. "There. That will warm the cockles of your heart," she chuckled.
"Hmm, a great way to end a great meal. You still cook terrific food, Star," Blair answered happily.
"Tell me about Jim," she prompted. "You say that you live with him. Are you lovers?"
Blair ducked his head and stared at the table, saying a very quiet 'no' as he did. His finger lazily traced a pattern, copying the grain as he did.
"How long have you been in love with him?" she pushed quietly.
He looked up and grinned sheepishly. "A while."
"Yeah. A while. But he doesn't feel the same way."
"Are you sure?" Michael asked. "I seem to remember you saying the same about a certain young man about ten years ago..."
"Ack! Don't remind me. I wasn't in love with Stuart, even if I thought I was. Talk about a mistake," he shuddered. "Mercifully, that didn't last."
The others laughed kindly as they remembered Blair, in his late teens, angsting over a good-looking guy in college. It was a pity that Stuart had, whilst turning out to be gay and interested in Blair, ended up being distinctly uninteresting once you got past the covering. It had taken the smitten Blair only a few minutes to see that the guy he'd been lusting over for months had been as shallow as a drying puddle and very self-absorbed. Blair blushed as they teased him over that one.
"Jim's not like that?" Star prodded.
"No," he sighed. "He's not at all like that."
"Is he good-looking?"
"Gorgeous," Blair admitted, "but that's not why I love him. I know him like no one else does. He's a good man, a protector."
"That's why he's a cop?" Michael asked.
"Yeah, he has an innate need to do the right thing, to protect his tribe, you know?"
"There are good cops out there," Star said, surprising Blair. She'd been anti-authority as long as Naomi had. "It's a pity there are bad ones."
"I agree," Blair replied. "But I can tell you that there are far more good ones than bad ones, Star. The guys in Major Crimes are great. They just want to put the bad guys away and to protect the innocent. I've seen them go out of their way to prove the innocence of a suspect."
"Jim's like that?"
"Very much so. He'll do whatever it takes to get the right criminal. He's saved my life on numerous occasions. He's so brave."
"Sounds like a case of hero worship," Michael suggested.
"Maybe," Blair answered shyly. "But there's definitely more to it than that. It's like he's the other half of my soul."
"Sounds serious," Star said, her voice filled with curiosity.
"It is. But it's one-sided. He cares about me... he'll do what he can to keep me safe. He does love me as a friend, I'm sure of it, but not in the way I want him to."
"Is he straight?"
"I couldn't tell you for definite. We've never discussed it. Besides, he's a cop," Blair sighed. "And as you say, there are bad cops out there. Bigoted ones. If word got back that he was anything other than straight, he could be faced with late back-up and so on. Most cops wouldn't care one way or another, but you'd only need one bad one on duty when you're calling in..." His voice trailed off, not finishing what he didn't need to say.
"So you keep your feelings to yourself?" Star asked. "It can't be easy."
"It's better than not being with him at all."
Blair sounded so resigned to his life that Star's heart felt heavy. She was sure that there was more to it than Blair was admitting, but she was also sure that she'd not get any more out of him that night.
Blair woke up with the sun and grinned. Ketzele was curled up at his feet on the bed and her golden eyes opened and focussed on him within moments.
"Hey, bubeleh," he chuckled. "Did you have a good night?"
The dog let loose a huge yawn in reply.
She stood up and stretched, then jumped off the bed and stood by the wooden panelled door as if she understood him. Blair shook his head in disbelief. He knew that she was a smart dog and that smart dogs often seemed like they understood language, but this was odd. He thought back to the previous day when they'd first met and he'd talked to her, as one would on meeting a new child or pet. She'd inclined her head, a single ear flap raised as if she was taking in everything he said.
"Oh, Ketzele," he whispered as he quickly threw some clothes on. "I wish I could keep you. But you belong to Star and I don't think that Jim would be too happy if I brought you home. He's more of a cat man," he added with a smirk. "But there is something about you, isn't there? Something special. We have a bond I've never felt before with another animal."
He shook himself out of his little reverie and quickly headed down the rickety stairs and charged outside to the small wooden hut that held the toilet. As he left it, he wasn't surprised to see Ketzele waiting for him.
"Come on. I hope Star's got some hot water in the kitchen, I need a good wash. Race ya!"
They scooted back inside, arriving at the same time with Ketzele skidding to a halt on the tiled floor, but not before she'd crashed into a chair leg.
"You two!" Star hollered. "Behave! Honestly, Blair, anyone would think you were five again!"
Blair had the decency to blush a bit as he giggled at his juvenile behaviour and headed straight for the sink.
"Sorry, Star," he sniggered as he hauled his t-shirt off and washed himself down with the water that she'd put in a bowl for him. "I don't know what it is about Ketzy. I've always loved animals, as you know, but she's incredible. It's like I can read her thoughts and she can read mine. She's so playful. Out there, I saw a twinkle in her eye and I wanted to make her happy."
"I must admit, honey, that over the years I've seen incredibly close bonds between animals and owners, but I've never seen one that was forged so quickly. You must have an affinity with wolves."
She handed him a towel and smiled warmly as he patted himself dry.
"Damn, Blair, you've grown!" she teased. "I remember when that chest was as smooth as a baby's bottom."
"STAR!" he exclaimed. "Heck, this isn't fair, you know? You've known me all my life and now you're making the most of it."
"Well, putting up with the tot from hell had to be worth something," she sniggered. "Ah, honey, you were so full of life, so energetic. It used to take the three of us adults to keep you entertained."
"I wasn't that bad," he countered. Then quietly asked, "Was I?"
She reached out and pulled him into a hug before answering. "Yes and no. Yes, you were full of life and no, you weren't bad. You were the easiest child I've ever known in many ways. Rarely upset, interested in so many things. So much fun..." her voice trailed off wistfully, then she pulled herself together, "but that meant you were exhausting at times too. It's not a criticism, sweetie. I'd give anything to have a child like that around the place again. In my veterinary practise, I'd see so many kids being dragged around by their parents; miserable, sullen, too damned quiet. Or else spoiled and pampered, given everything they asked for - usually some poor animal or other, which would end up being ignored and then given away. Trust me on this one, Blair, you were a blessing. Not only to Naomi, but to us, too. None of us regrets one single moment of your presence in our lives. The only thing we regret is that you kept going away."
She let him go and was touched to see tears forming in his eyes. Embarrassed, he ducked his head and covered for it by pulling his t-shirt back on.
"I hated leaving," he whispered. "I loved living in the commune."
He let his mind drift back to the times when, as a child, he would live with Star and Michael, Isaac and Rachel with their kids, and heaven only knew who else. He poured himself a coffee from the pot on the wood stove and then sat at the table.
"Jim has totally the wrong impression of my childhood," he said quietly.
Star got her own drink and then joined him, facing him across the table.
"Oh? What does he think?"
"That the lifestyle we led was bad, even unhappy. I keep trying to tell him that it was good. He doesn't get it. I did hate to leave you, but meeting up with the others, travelling the world... it was exciting. Okay, some of Naomi's love life was something I could have done without, but we always returned to the family."
'The family' was how the original commune members described themselves. Still close after many years, even though the commune had broken up before Blair had turned ten.
"Someone to come home to," Star said in agreement.
"Exactly. I don't think that he understands that it's not a place that makes a home, it's the people."
"Is he home to you?"
"Yeah," he nodded. "Yes, he is."
"Have you told him that?"
"No, I shouldn't," Blair answered seriously. "He's had his own problems in the past and he's got serious trust issues. He won't believe that I won't leave him, no matter what. If I were to push the issue, to try to get him to believe it, it might push him away as he tries to protect himself again."
Star thought for a moment, then she said, "I had a dog like that once. She had been abandoned by the side of the road. When she was discovered, she snapped at anyone that ventured near her. It took me a long, long time to get through to her. From what I learned from the people in the area, she had loved her owner and apparently been loved back, but one day, he took off, just tying her to a tree on the roadside. After a few weeks, she came to trust me. I took her everywhere with me to show her that I wasn't about to abandon her. She hated going in the car as she thought I'd leave her as the one she'd loved did. Eventually, when she settled, I tried to go to work without her. The first day I got home to discover she'd gone berserk. I had to train her to accept that I would go out and that I would be back, that I'd never leave her permanently. It took time, but we got there in the end."
"Are you saying I can train Jim to accept that I won't leave him?" Blair laughed.
"Yes. Humans are animals of habit. If he thinks that you're going to leave him, he's going to push until you do, to prove a point. It's up to you to train him out of that."
"That's the tricky bit and it's going to take time."
"I've got the rest of my life. I'm not going to leave him."
"What if he pushes you away?"
"Then he'll find out just how stubborn I really am."
She smiled broadly at that and put her hand on his shoulder. "Ah, I remember seeing that particular character trait on more than one occasion."
"I was just firm in my viewpoint," Blair blinked innocently.
"HA! Firm, my ass," she drawled, making Blair howl with laughter. "Stubborn as the proverbial mule would be more like it. Damn, Blair, you're a tough one. And that's all to the good. Though it does make me wonder."
"Why you seem to have the affinity with Ketzele, the wolf, and not Heart, the little terrier."
Blair's retort was drowned out by the noise of the other three dogs entering the kitchen with Michael in tow. They'd been out for a morning run and now wanted their breakfast.
Blair got up to sort out the animals' food as Star started on the humans'. As Michael cleaned up, he had some news.
"I bumped into Josiah MacKendry at the gate," he announced. "He's going to be up here in about an hour to help me with the pipe work for the bathroom and kitchen."
This was greeted with cheers from the others. The bathroom suite had already been installed in what had been a bedroom but they were waiting for the water. The roof was covered in solar panels which would be used to power the water heater. A small wind turbine would be installed before too long which would give extra natural power and when all else failed and the weather let them down, a methane gas-powered generator would fill in the blanks (the methane produced in a septic tank by the waste gathered at the house). Wherever possible, they were going to try to live with the land as much as off of it.
"What will you want me to do?" Blair asked.
"There's going to be a lot of shifting things around, so some muscle power will be welcome."
They continued to plan the day's work over breakfast and soon were itching to get on with it. Star, especially, wanted water in the house. Keeping it clean without hot water wasn't easy and whereas she could live with untidy, unclean was not an option.
Two days after Blair and Simon had left Clayton Falls, Jim had packed up and followed them. He couldn't believe it. He'd finally got the peace and quiet he craved and he'd hated every single second of it. When he was at the lake, the fish were biting, the weather was great... so why had he been expecting to hear Blair's voice every few minutes. And why had he missed it when it didn't come? It had got too much so he'd just given up.
His heart had sunk when he'd seen that the Volvo wasn't out the front as he'd pulled up. Thinking that it was a waste of energy, he nevertheless listened out for him as he went up the stairs, kicking himself for being dumb when he heard nothing. He dropped his bags on the floor when he entered the loft, shut the door and headed straight for the kitchen. He was just convincing himself that Blair had gone out for the afternoon, probably to the university library or something, when he saw a note.
Look, I just wanted to say I'm really sorry for following you up to Clayton Falls. I should never have allowed Simon to talk me into it, but hell, the man's persuasive. Probably how he made captain. Anyway, I hope you've had a great week and you've enjoyed the peace. I agree with your thoughts on needing a break and so I'm heading off to see some friends that have moved to some wild and woolly part of the state at the foot of the North Cascades. They need some help fixing the place up, so it's free bed and board in exchange for some labouring. Sounds good to me. Fresh air, good food - and hopefully no terrorists/thieves/kidnappers/drug smugglers (delete as appropriate!) in sight. I am taking my survival gear with me, though, just in case. This includes bottled water for the trip. After the other day... well, let's just say I don't want that stomach bug again in a hurry. I'm not sure how long I'm going to be gone for - I'll definitely be back before the next semester starts at school. At least you're not going to have me in your face 24/7, so that's got to be good, hasn't it? I've got my cellphone so if you need me for anything, you know how to find me. Enjoy the peace and quiet at the loft and in the words of Arnie, 'I'll be back!'.
Jim sat down with a bump at the kitchen table. He was gone? Till the end of the holidays? That could be... he checked the date. Three weeks. Three weeks? Without Blair? What if he zoned?
He shook himself. He hadn't been concerned with zoning when he'd been in a hurry to leave his sidekick, had he? He hadn't been worried about being left alone then, in fact he'd craved it. He read and reread the note, reading between the lines as he went. Blair was really sorry. Really sorry for not leaving him alone. Did he think that he was unwanted?
He was going to stay with friends. Friends? Didn't he consider Jim to be a friend? He kicked that thought into touch. No, Blair was a devoted friend. Oh God, did he think that Jim didn't think he was his friend? No, he didn't. Did he? Did Blair have any idea just how deep Jim's feelings ran? Probably not, especially not after the way Jim had blown him off recently. Shit.
Blair said he was going to be safe. Why wouldn't he be? He'd been all over the world on his own before he'd ever met Jim and come out smelling of roses. It was only since Jim had been around that Blair had got into so much trouble. Blair didn't think that Jim was a bad luck charm, did he? Was there such thing as a bad luck charm? Blair would know that - perhaps he should ring him? Nah, the little guy was going after some peace and quiet of his own, no need to disturb him.
Not in my face 24/7. The phrase rattled through Jim's brain, part of him visualising Blair right there, the two of them nose to nose. He giggled a little hysterically when the image morphed into the two of them stuck together at the nose in the bullpen.
Then he stopped and his temporarily lightened mood dropped dramatically. Reading between the lines he figured that Blair was unsure of his welcome anymore. That he was afraid to... to what? Be there? Be noticed? What?
A fit of anger surged. "So, the little bastard's upped and run, has he? First sign that I might not want to be joined at the hip with him and he's taken off." He kicked himself again when he knew that he'd had that reaction too many times recently, too.
He didn't reread the last line, the one that said Blair promised to return. He knew that Blair wouldn't come back. Yeah, well, see if he cared. As if he needed anyone.
Scowling, he sat in front of the television and turned on the local TV channel.
"Extreme rain in the Northern Cascade mountain range is threatening to cause flash flooding down river. So far, the rain has not spread to the lowlands and the recent uncharacteristic dry spell has caused the land to dry out in some areas. Residents of this area should be aware of the threat and take appropriate precautions."
"Damn." Jim cursed under his breath as he heard that news. He just knew that Sandburg would be in the thick of things - wouldn't that be just like him? If he didn't check up, he knew he'd have to go to the rescue. Using the weather as his excuse, he picked up the phone and called Blair's number.
It rang about eight times and he was about to give up when he heard a breathless woman on the other end.
"Who's this?" Jim barked, a fit of jealousy flaring immediately. "Where's Sandburg? What are you doing with his phone?"
The woman on the other end of the line was silent for a moment, then he heard a laugh. "You must be Jim. We've heard a lot about you. Hang on, I'll get him."
In the background, he heard her calling.
Blair? Blair, honey? There's a phone call for you.
Huh? Who'd call... oh, is it Simon?
Well, he barked at me.
That sounds more like Jim, then. Thanks Ma.
"Ma?" It wasn't the first thing that Jim had meant to say but hearing that had shocked him.
"Oh, hi Jim. Good to hear from you? How's the fishing?" Blair ignored Jim's comment and carried on regardless.
Jim tried again. "Ma? That wasn't Naomi."
"No, that's Star. My other mom. Long story. So, you have any, er, you know what problems?"
"Well, why else would you phone me?"
Jim stopped dead. How many times had he called Blair to solve one problem or another? Had he ever called him to say 'how are you?' or 'Come home, I'm missing you'? The answer to that was 'probably not'.
"Uh, the weather," he said intelligently.
"Yeah? What of it?" Jim heard the phone buzzing slightly as Blair walked out of the house and into the yard to get a better signal.
"Heard a local forecast and they said there could be flash floods in your area and I wanted to make sure you were keeping away from rivers and the like." Even as he said it, Jim knew that he was sounding pathetic.
"Uh, Jim? How did you know I wasn't at the loft? Did Simon drive up to tell you? And how are you phoning me? Cellphones don't work in Clayton Falls."
"No, they don't. I'm home."
"Yeah, I'm here, Jim. Did you say you'd gone home? Why?"
What to say? How to say it? Oh heck.
"Uh, the lake wasn't as good as I remembered it," Jim said. "No fish."
"Must be out of season or something," he muttered.
"Jim. I'm going to ask you something and you are going to answer me truthfully. And before you do answer, remember that I am the one that can make your life a living hell if you lie. Capiche?"
"Yeah, yeah, understood, Chief."
"Is there something wrong with your senses?" He whispered the sentence even though he knew he wasn't being listened in to. Well, by anyone that wasn't a dog.
"No, Chief, my senses are fine."
"Are you feeling sick?"
"No, Sandburg, I'm fine. How many times do I have to tell you?"
"Jim, wonky senses and being sick are two different animals and you know it. Stop being such an asshole."
"I'm not. Everything is A OK. I just didn't want to stay because the fish weren't biting, that's all."
There was another pause on the other end, then Blair said, "Do you want me to come back?"
A warning went off in Jim's head. Be careful how you answer this.
"Come back when you're ready, Chief. The loft will be here when you do."
He couldn't be sure but he could have sworn he heard Blair mutter, "Yeah, but will you be?"
"Heck, I've gotta go, Jim. There's no electricity out here yet so I can't charge the phone battery. It's halfway down. Call me if there's an emergency. I'll pass on the weather warning to Star, okay? Thanks for that."
"Okay. Call me if you need me, Chief."
"Wouldn't call anyone else, buddy. Take care."
Jim was left staring at the phone, whispering, "You, too," when he realised it had gone dead straight after Blair had finished speaking.
Without thinking, he dialled Simon's home number, impatiently waiting for his friend to answer.
"Simon, it's Jim."
"Hey, Jim. You phoning from the Falls?"
"Uh, no. I'm home. Uh, the fishing was no good," he got in before Simon could ask any awkward questions. There was a silence from Simon, obviously digesting the news as he was. "Blair's gone away." It was all Jim could do to refrain from sounding like a lost child. Unfortunately for him, Simon was a devoted dad and picked up on the tone before Jim could shut it down totally.
"Yes, he's gone to visit with old friends. Hang on, I'm coming over."
"There's no need, Simon, I can cope without him, you know."
"I know, but I think we need to talk. I'll be over in twenty. Have you eaten?"
"Uh, not yet."
"Order something in then. I haven't eaten yet either."
"Okay, shall do."
They put down the phones and Simon quickly left his house. Jim dialled up the local pizza delivery place and had a couple of pizzas sent over. He got a beer out of the fridge and sat, waiting for both his friend and his food. Why would Simon want to talk? What was wrong?
Blair, Michael and Star were busy hauling saucepans of hot water up the stairs. The cold water system had been finished and the bath and toilet were plumbed in. Star wanted to celebrate with the first proper bath she'd had in weeks. Her men (as she thought of them both) were happily helping out, thinking that they, too could do with one, but that they'd wait their turn. The next day, the large water heater would be delivered and with Isaac's arrival, they'd get the electricity sorted out. Having an electrical engineer as a close friend helped from time to time. That would mean no running up stairs with saucepans. Best of all, as far as Blair was concerned, tomorrow he'd be able to get up and take a leak without having to put his shoes on first.
"That should do it," she announced at last. "I am so looking forward to this."
"Going soft in your old age?" Blair teased.
"Old age?" she growled. "I'm not so old that I couldn't put you over my knee and spank you, young man."
Blair burst out laughing. "That threat might have worked on me when I was a kid, Star, but these days, you'll find that I might actually enjoy it!"
She joined him in laughter and shooed him out of the bathroom. Michael followed him down the stairs and the two men met in the kitchen.
"You live dangerously," he said to Blair as they got a beer from the pantry.
They sat at the table and Michael smiled as Blair continued to chuckle. "Ah, you have no idea," he replied eventually.
"Tell me. I'd like to know what's happened to you over the past couple of years."
"It's been one hell of a ride," Blair answered with a sigh. "I've been involved in some heavy stuff - big investigations taking down a rogue CIA agent, drug barons, serial killers..."
"Blair? How often have you been hurt?"
"A few times," he admitted. "I've been kidnapped a couple of times. Once by a terrorist - Jim handcuffed himself to the helicopter that was taking us away so that he wouldn't lose me. Um, once by a serial killer." He shut his eyes and shuddered as he remembered that one. "Jim was amazing. He got there just in time and killed the guy. Don't look so shocked, you can believe me when I say that society is better off. He was too damned smart to stay in jail and if he'd gotten out, he'd have continued killing. If it hadn't been for the fact that he'd chosen me as the next target, we may never have caught him."
Michael let Blair take a few sips of beer before prompting him for more. Unwilling to say too much more to upset his lifelong friend, Blair settled back in his chair and told him of the time that Naomi had got involved in the car theft ring.
"You should have seen her, man," he said after a while. "She went undercover like she'd been born to it. She even impressed Simon."
"The captain," he explained. "He's a big bear of a man, and I mean big. About six five in his socks. But a lot of it is bluster. You don't want to piss him off - he's the only other guy that will stand up to Jim..."
"You being the first one?" Michael asked with a grin.
Blair ducked his head and grinned back. "Yeah, well, you know me. I never let a big guy use his height to intimidate me."
"And so you shouldn't. Does Jim listen to you?"
"Most of the time. I can get my own way if I really want it, I guess."
"Tell me more about Simon. Your tone of voice is telling me that you're fond of him?"
"Yeah, yeah I am. He's a great guy. Underneath the bark, he's pretty soft. Like a lot of big men, he's hard on the outside but pure marshmallow inside. Don't tell him I said that, though. If he doesn't like it, I don't get to work with Jim."
"That's important to you, isn't it?"
"It is. It's the most important thing. I have to be there with him."
"So why aren't you?"
"I should go back, but Jim was right. I've been in his face a lot recently. We need a break from each other. He needs a break from me. There's stuff - other stuff I can't go in to, but it means we work really closely."
"He's a sentinel, isn't he?"
Blair's beer was spewed over the table in answer.
"Blair, how old were you when you first became obsessed?" Michael prodded gently. "Did you really think that Star and I - and your mother - wouldn't think it odd when you dropped the obsession suddenly and became attached to a cop of all people?"
Blair didn't answer for a moment but then his heart sank. How many other people would figure it out? He was stupid. How could he have even thought that he'd keep Jim's identity a secret.
"You can't say..." he started.
Michael put his hand on Blair's arm. "Son," he said, "do you think we'd ever do something that could hurt you? Or hurt someone you love? Besides, exposing him would help the government. You know how we'd feel about that." His voice finished in a light, teasing tone and Blair laughed, though his heart had hitched at the word 'son'. As he'd said to Jim, Star was his 'other mother', the woman that had helped bring him up as if he was her own. He'd called her Ma as a joke when he was really small and she'd cried with happiness. So, from time to time, he still called her it to please her. It pleased him, too. Michael had been the nearest thing he'd had to a father and had his own nickname. It wasn't as emotionally bound as Star's, but the love was there nonetheless.
"No, Pops," he answered, smiling warmly. "You wouldn't hurt me. I guess it's ingrained in me to want to protect him, though."
"I seem to remember that you mentioned a back-up, a guide of sorts, in your masters thesis. I take it you fulfil that role?"
"Yeah, he needs someone there to watch his back, to bring him out of a zone. He's pretty well trained these days though. He doesn't need me in the same way anymore."
"That hurts, doesn't it?"
Blair nodded, unable to answer. It hurt a lot.
Facing off over the kitchen table, in a mirror image of the farmhouse, Simon and Jim had finished eating and had put off 'the talk' as long as they could. It was time.
"First of all, I want to apologise, Jim," Simon started.
"For intruding on your holiday. We... no, I should not have insisted on us going with you. I thought... hell, I don't know what I thought. I used the fishing thing as an excuse and I know it. I guess I was just a little hurt that you'd take off like that without planning it, or discussing it..."
"It's okay, Simon. As it turned out, I was glad that you were there. That sort of thing could only happen to me, couldn't it? I mean, there I was in the middle of nowhere and up pops the fake army... if you hadn't been there, I don't think I'd have been able to deal with it."
"Well, you'd have had to have ruined your own coat for one thing," Simon chuckled.
Jim looked a little sheepish, but not for long.
"What about Sandburg?" Simon continued. "Were you glad he turned up?"
"Don't take this the wrong way, Simon, but no. If he hadn't turned up, he wouldn't have got sick. How many times has he been hurt because of me?"
"You want a number?"
"None. Never. Not once."
"What? He's been shot, drugged, kidnapped..."
"Did you shoot him?"
"Did you drug him? Kidnap him? Threaten to blow him up in an elevator?"
"Well then. Shit happens, Jim. Sure, I feel lousy when he gets hurt in connection with the job, but he's no fool. He knew the risks on day one. Before he'd even signed up as a consultant he'd been nearly blown up by Sarris. He blusters about not being a hero and so on, but he's one brave little critter, that's for sure."
Jim nodded, understanding what Simon was saying but it wasn't really helping.
"Why did he run?" Jim asked plaintively.
"Run? I was under the impression that he was going to visit some old friends. He said he'd known them all his life, that they were like family to him."
"Yeah, he said that to me too. Calls the woman 'Ma' of all things. But was it because of what I said in your office? I just wanted a break, Simon. I didn't mean to hurt him."
"I know. He knows that, I'm sure. Let's just say you could have handled it better. Maybe by talking to him at home before dropping it on us?" he suggested. Again, Jim said nothing but nodded in agreement.
"Maybe this break of his will do you both good," Simon said. "Help you both put this sentinel thing into perspective. You've been working closely together for three years now, you need a break away to see the bigger picture. I'm betting that he's thinking about you constantly, you know."
"Is he? I called him to warn him about the weather report..." He told Simon about the weather and the phone call. "He was shocked to hear from me," he finished miserably.
"What do you want me to say?" Simon asked gently. "I know he's getting a PhD out of this relationship of yours, and he has a roof over his head courtesy of you, but for the most part, don't you think you take advantage of his good nature?"
"Probably," Jim admitted. "He's not really bothered about the PhD."
"How can you say that? It's all he seems to work on."
Jim stood up and strode towards Blair's bedroom, beckoning Simon to come with him. When he was there, he showed Simon the folder after folder of information on testing, research, notes from other sources and so on that Blair had compiled.
"Simon, he could have submitted his thesis about six months after meeting me. He doesn't because he knows that when he does, he'll have to stop riding with me. Just showing you this is taking a chance. He's scared to tell you himself. He could have written about twenty theses by now, if he'd been working on it. I know he's been writing a back-up one, on closed societies, just in case he's called on it."
"Does he know you know this?" Simon asked in shock.
"He knows that I know he could have submitted, he told me that himself a long time ago. I'm not sure he knows that I remember that he said it, though. I don't think he knows about me being aware of his second subject. He wants to submit the work on sentinels because that's his subject. His obsession. He's been looking for someone like me since he was a kid, Simon."
"And now he has you, he doesn't want to let you go," Simon said, the truth dawning on him slowly. "Do you want him to go, Jim? Is that what you were trying to say to him? Do you want him to leave?"
Jim's legs started to shake at that thought and he collapsed onto Blair's bed.
"No. I think," he whispered, "I think that if he went, it would kill me."
Simon smiled kindly and sat next to his friend. "Then don't you think it's about time you told him how you feel?"
"But he'll run!" Jim complained. "If he knew that I was in lo..."
Jim stopped suddenly, afraid to say the words out loud.
"You think he'd run because you're in love with him?" Simon asked. "Why would he do that? He's stayed thinking that you're not in love with him. If he was to finally hear the words he's been waiting for, do you honestly think that would drive him away?"
"Waiting for? What do you mean?"
"Call yourself a detective," Simon muttered. "Do you remember when he was dosed with Golden?"
"I'll never forget," Jim shuddered.
"When we were waiting for him to come round, you left for a while to go to the bathroom. He opened his eyes briefly and called out your name. I didn't say anything, I just held his hand because he was looking for yours. He looked so young, so helpless lying there that my heart was breaking," Simon admitted, his voice shaking in a rare show of emotion. "He kept murmuring, 'Jim, Jim, love you.' I didn't know what to say to you, I couldn't say anything. It had to come from him. Part of me was wondering if there was anything between the two of you, but then you started seeing Margaret so I just put it down to drugged up ramblings."
Simon stood up, walked a couple of paces to help him think, realised that he'd crossed the entire room and then paced back to the bed, sitting again before he continued.
"Then you were taken by Oliver not long after. He and I spent a lot of time together looking for you. When we were in the car, I asked him how he felt about you. He said you were his best friend, but he was looking anywhere but at me. I asked him if he loved you, told him what he'd said in the hospital. He panicked, Jim. Confessed to everything, making me promise to keep it to myself. He didn't think that you were homophobic, but he was scared shitless that you'd find out how he felt and reject him. I said I'd keep quiet because he was so afraid. I've seen him scared, Jim. I've seen him put into positions where he should be wetting himself with fear, but he didn't. He held out. When he was shot and they were smoking us out of the mine, he was afraid and in a great deal of pain, but that was nothing compared to how scared he was of fucking things up between the two of you."
"Why did you tell me now?"
"Because I think you've reached a crossroads in your relationship. Something's got to happen, Jim. Either you move on together or you're going to go separate ways."
"What about my job?"
"What about it?"
"If Sandburg and I...?"
"Keep it out of office hours and I won't notice a thing. It's not the way I'd like it to be, but the PD does have fraternisation rules. I know he's a civilian, but I don't think I'd be able to keep him with you if anyone found out. Not unless word of your abilities got out. You two are a great team, the best of the best. I don't want to separate you."
"So we can't get together, not really. If we did, I'm not sure I'd be able to keep it a secret."
"Would you want to be out?"
"Simon, I've spent my adult life in and out of the fucking closet. That doesn't bother me."
Simon raised one eyebrow but said nothing.
"I didn't know that Blair was bi," Jim continued. "We never discussed it."
"Would it have made a difference?"
"I don't think so. I can't see how we'd have got together or anything. I don't think that not discussing it would have stopped Blair if he'd really wanted..."
"He really wants it, Jim. Trust me on this one."
"What should I do?"
"I can't believe I'm advising this, but I think you should go and tell him how you feel and take it from there. If you do decide to take it further, then I don't want to know. Well, I probably do - as a friend, you know? But Captain Banks really doesn't want to know."
"I get that, Simon. Thanks."
"Look, do yourself a favour, Jim. Have an early night, get up early and head on up there."
"Do you have an address for them?"
"Yeah, Sandburg gave me all their details. They do have a phone, it was something that they had installed straight away, apparently. Here."
He dug a piece of paper out of his pocket. "Copy this down and give this back to me. I, er..."
"Yeah, I know, Simon. You worry too."
Simon nodded, saying nothing more, just waiting for Jim to finish writing down the information. "Done. Thanks, Simon. I'm not sure if I'll go tomorrow, but maybe the day after. I've got some thinking to do first. Look, if things work out, I might need a bit more time off..."
"Take what you want. It's quiet at work and you're owed how many weeks leave?"
"Uh, I don't know. I lost count."
"Right. Sort yourself out, Jim. Come back fresh and ready to tackle the bad guys."
Jim chuckled, looking at Simon's twinkling eyes as he teased him gently.
"I'll do that, Simon. And Simon?"
"You're welcome. Go to bed, Jim. I can see myself out."
Jim watched Simon leave, feeling a little better for a minute. Then something dawned on him. Why hadn't Blair left him the address? Didn't he think that Jim would want it?
"Ketzy, it would be really nice if you let me go into the bathroom on my own," Blair complained as he tried to avoid tripping up over his 'shadow' first thing in the morning. "Just a moment, sweetheart, I'll be out soon."
He shut the door behind himself and did what he had to do, shivering as he used the cold water that was the only type available at the sink. It was, however, better than washing in a muddy stream as he'd done all too often on expeditions. As quickly as he could, he got himself ready, thinking that the following day, or soon after, there would be electricity - and therefore hot water - throughout the house.
As soon as he was done, he exited the bathroom, narrowly avoided the dog that was lying outside the door and headed directly for breakfast.
"Shall I feed the animals?" he called out as he entered.
"Please, honey," Star replied, "I've got my hands full with our food."
"Is Michael walking the dogs?"
"Yeah, it's his favourite thing. Up with the dawn and out with the mutts. He usually takes Ketzy, but we can't seem to get her out of your room in the morning."
"Oh yes. There you are, snoring your little head off..."
"Hey, less of the little, please."
She sniggered, then carried on. "Anyway, we open the door, rattle her leash, call her, even try dog biscuits to tempt her, but she won't leave your side. Or rather your feet."
"Hmm, I know that one. She's better than a pair of socks for keeping my feet warm."
"Is it a problem, sweetie? We can shut her..."
"NO! No, don't do that. I like having her with me, honestly. I've never had such a close relationship with a dog and it's wonderful. Probably more so because she's so close to a wild wolf."
Blair put the bowls of food along the wall where the dogs would eat, and the cats' bowls in front of the open fire. Ketzele reluctantly left his side to go eat her breakfast, but only after much persuasion by Blair. She kept looking at him throughout, though, as if afraid that he'd disappear if she lost sight of him.
"Do you think that she knows something?" Blair wondered.
"Knows what, honey?"
"That I don't know," he answered. "It's just like she's afraid. Ah well," he continued, shaking his head, "I'm probably just imagining it."
Star looked out of the window for her husband and then shifted her gaze north-westerly to the mountains.
"I can see what Jim was saying," she said. "The mountains have virtually disappeared. I don't think it's going to rain here, though, the wind is pushing the clouds further north."
"That's good," Blair answered enthusiastically. "It will mean we can get on with some of the outbuildings. Which one are you going to use for the clinic?"
"The old cow shed. It's structurally sound and we should be able to clean it up well. I'm going to get some linoleum to cover the floor to keep it clean. We'll cover the walls and the ceiling with drywall so that will help."
"Sounds good." He was a little vague and had moved close to her, bouncing on his toes as he looked out of the window.
"Blair? Honey what's up?"
"Oh, nothing," he said as he faced her with a smile. "It's just the guys, Isaac and Rachel are coming. I can't wait to see them."
"It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Yeah. Wish Mom was here too, it would be like the old days."
Star's eyes twinkled but she didn't say why. "I miss those days too," she sighed. "I still don't know how we did it. Students by day, hippies by night... always fighting against authority but at the same time we were studying to become a part of it."
"A veterinarian is hardly authoritarian, Star."
"Maybe not, but there were times that I used my position to bring the authorities down on those that needed it."
"I don't think that any hippies would appreciate seeing animal cruelty, Ma. It's the same as the work I do with the police. There are times when it's necessary - the law and its enforcement, I mean. Much as I hate the thought of the government telling me how I should live my life, I can also see that anarchy can only lead to pain and suffering for the majority. It's a fine line to tread - how far do we allow them to rule us and how much do we ask them to protect us? Without the rule, there is no protection."
Star smiled at him warmly. "It sounds like you've grown up to be a well-balanced man, honey. I'm so very proud of you."
"Oh yes. We all are. We knew you were special, even as a child, but we had no idea how you'd turn out. So many times, children turn out to be the complete opposite of their parents. With Naomi's attitude towards the pigs, it wasn't really a surprise that you ended up with the police. But, the fact that you're assisting them, that you're doing it on your own terms, so to speak, that's where the balance lies. I don't believe that even if you decided to join them completely, you'd ever be one of them in the traditional sense. I think you'd use that as an opportunity to influence them from the inside out."
Blair blushed as he grinned, kicking himself for reddening again. Nobody had ever had the ability to make him blush in the way that Star could.
He reached out and took her hand in his and gave it a squeeze.
"There they are," he said a moment later, pointing towards a bunch of dogs running across the field. "And not a minute too soon. I'm starving."
Jim cleared up his breakfast things and headed directly to his bedroom. He pulled out an old, metal trunk, his Army locker, and opened it. Inside were the things that were a part of him. His history.
Sitting back on the bed, he turned the pages of his school year book from the year he'd left, casting his mind back to that tormented time. He'd been a contradiction - a quiet, academically-oriented, sports-mad teenager. He tried to pull some feelings for those he'd known out of his memories and failed. Had he ever really had a friend after Bud? At least until he'd left school? The answer was probably not - except one. All of his 'friends' had been in competition. Who'd be the first to get laid? How good-looking would she be? He remembered the one person that he had any fondness for but he wasn't in his year, he'd left school a year before him. Robert and he had had to hide out. Robert was from the other side of the tracks and neither family would have appreciated their friendship from a purely socio-economic point of view. If either family had found out that the friendship was physical too, there was a good possibility that one or the other - if not both - would not have survived that year. Robert's family were notoriously phobic. Anyone different from them, anyone not straight, not white, not living on the bread line would have been suspect. Bill Ellison hadn't been much of an improvement, though he wouldn't have been quite as vocal in his opposition. Jim would have felt his wrath in other ways.
He had no pictures of Robert, but his memories, thanks to Blair, were much easier to recall than other people's. He shut his eyes and cast his mind back, using the scent of pine to trigger the feelings and scenes. Robert's family had lived surrounded by pine trees in what was not much more than a shack on the edge of town. Jim saw the bright-green eyes, heard the laughter, felt his body...
He shook himself when he felt his own body reacting. Was he lusting after the seventeen year-old? Nah, it was just how he'd remembered it, just how it had happened back then. It didn't mean that he wanted to see Robert at that age again.
Curiously, he picked up the phone and called Simon at the Precinct.
"Simon, could you do me a favour, please?"
"Jim? What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. I was just going through some stuff. Could you check the DMV records for a Robert Cheshire, date of birth, December 6th, 1961."
"You want to fill me in?"
"I... I just wondered what happened to him, that's all."
Simon left it at that, just agreed to check up for him. When he put the phone down, however, Simon was more than curious.
Jim continued to look through his photos and mementoes. His dog tags. Enrico's dog tags. 'Rick' Gonzalez had been more than a friend, more than a lover. It wasn't that he'd been in love with him, he hadn't been - just as Rick hadn't been in love with Jim. But they'd been close, virtually inseparable. They'd gone through basic training together and had even ended up in the Rangers in the same squad. A mission had seen to the end of that relationship though, seen to the end of Rick's life. He'd had no family to speak of and what family remained didn't care what happened to him. Jim had kept his tags as a way to mark his respect for the man.
He smiled as he saw Rick in his mind. Short, a bit taller than Blair, his eyes almost black they were so dark, his skin olive and his jet-black hair in the standard buzz cut. He was tough, feisty, like a terrier in many ways. Never let up when he got his teeth into something. So close to getting in with the wrong crowd as a teenager, he'd been virtually dared by his father to join the Army to make a man of him. Too many times he'd nearly been arrested, making his father, a God-fearing law-abiding man ashamed. Rick had joined up because he'd had nothing better to do. Just before he had died, a couple of weeks into Rick's basic training, his father had finally admitted that he was proud of his son. That was the only time that Jim had seen Rick cry. He hadn't cried when they'd attended the funeral, he'd held it together. To prove his father right, he'd made it through the training and then through officer school, the same as Jim. To prove to himself he could do it, he'd been the best damned officer he could be. Jim had been proud to have known him, prouder still to have called him his best friend. The loss was indescribable when Rick had died.
The phone went and Jim picked it up straight away.
"Jim, I have that information for you," Simon said, his voice sounding like he wasn't happy.
"Simon? Go on, I have to know."
"I'm sorry to tell you that a Robert Cheshire with that date of birth was a murder victim about nine years ago. It took a little digging out. Once I'd discovered no current records at the DMV, I checked out the NCIC. Nothing there, either. Not till I checked with the records office here did I find it."
"What happened?" Jim asked, his voice steady but quiet.
"It would seem that he'd been arrested for taking part in a brawl in a gay bar. Nothing serious, he wasn't even going to be prosecuted. It was just a matter of taking him downtown to sober up and cool his heels with the others that had been involved. Unfortunately, despite requests to the contrary, some idiot of a desk sergeant phoned his parents up to tell them. Turns out the sergeant was a 'phobe and wanted to embarrass the men that had been brought in. Two days later, his body was dumped outside the club at which he'd been arrested."
"Was it his father or his older brother?"
"How did you know?"
"Just answer it, please," Jim pleaded.
"His father. He's still in prison for it. No chance of parole."
Jim's heart sank. That sort of sentence would have meant that the judge had been unusually horrified by the act, especially as it was a one-off killing.
"What was he to you, Jim?" Simon asked gently.
"My first boyfriend," Jim whispered. "We had to keep it so quiet. He was afraid of his family finding out. He knew they'd kill him."
"Why didn't he leave Cascade?"
"His younger sister was disabled, she had learning difficulties. He was the only one she'd really connect with. He wouldn't leave her."
There was silence for a moment, then Simon said, "Do you want me to check up on her?"
"Please. I'd like to know she's okay. Her name is Elizabeth."
"I'll do what I can, Jim. And Jim? For what it's worth, I'm really sorry. It sounds like he was a great guy."
"One of the best, Simon. He was one of the best. Thank you."
He put the phone down and then determinedly put his memories away.
Too many losses, too many people walking out of his life or being taken from him. No way could he go through that again. Not with Blair. Especially not with him. Blair was just too precious.
He decided that he was not going to visit Pine Rapids after all. Maybe Blair would make a home up there instead? Somewhere he was safe. Not like he'd be if he was with Jim.
Blair dropped the pile of wood he was carrying and ran to the sound, Ketzele at his heels. They screeched to a halt in the kitchen and Blair found himself being swept into the arms of a man and woman in their fifties.
"Isaac, Rachel, it's so good to see you."
"We could say the same about you, Blair," Isaac answered for them both. "We have a little surprise, too. Shut your eyes."
Blair did as he was told, smiling a little nervously as he did. He heard a door open and some quiet footsteps, then opened his eyes when told to do so.
He wasn't sure which way to go first. Naomi stood in front of him, smiling broadly, her arms open. Standing next to her was Ziva, the Abramowitz' oldest daughter and long-time partner-in-crime of Blair. He opened his arms and swept them both into them, hugging them tightly, trying to swallow down the shock which was threatening to embarrass him by turning into a sob.
"Oh Mom, Zee, you're here. I don't believe it. I don't believe it."
He murmured the words, unable to speak louder in case his voice broke.
Naomi finally broke the hug with a kiss on Blair's cheek, leaving him to hug Ziva alone for a moment.
"Hey, bro, there's someone here I want you to meet," Ziva said. She pulled back and called over a man that Blair hadn't seen in the kitchen earlier. "Samuel, this is Blair, my bud," she said with a grin. "Uh, bro, this is Sam, my fiancé."
"Fiancé? You're getting married?" Blair asked in shock, reaching out to shake Samuel's hand. "You are getting married?" Now his voice was teasing, so she slapped his arm gently.
"Yeah. Wanna make something of it, squirt?"
"Me? Why would I want to do that, half-pint?" He was smiling fit to burst as they teased each other. "Congratulations, man," he said to Samuel. "I'd say you got lucky, but I know Zee."
"Children, stop it!" Rachel broke in. "You two do not change." She turned to look at her future son-in-law and said, "They've been like this since they could talk. Unfortunately, they were both early talkers."
Samuel wasn't sure what to make of Blair. He felt a bit jealous of the fact that his fiancée couldn't seem to stop hugging him, but then the relationship did seem more like a sibling one. He decided to reserve judgement.
"Tea's ready," Star announced and started to pour mugs of tea for everyone. They all sat around the table and chatter broke out immediately, catching up on a couple of years' worth of gossip.
"Ziva's got herself a new job," Isaac announced proudly.
"You got it?" Blair asked. "The job? The job?"
"Yup!" she replied with a grin. "I'm the new consultant in paedeatrics at the hospital. It'll make a change from the ER, I can tell you. I spent so long training to be with kids and yet somehow I'd ended up patching them up in a hurry. It will be good to spend more time with them, not just seeing them come in and then sending them up to the wards or to go home."
"I'm proud of you," he said with a warm smile. Ever since she'd decided to be a doctor - when she'd been about eight - she'd wanted to do this. "To realise your dream is incredible. I couldn't be happier for you. That and getting married. It's a lot to take in."
He looked at Samuel and asked, "So, you a doctor too?"
"Yeah," Samuel answered. "I'm a neurologist."
"Wow. That's great. You take good care of my sister, right?"
"I promise," Samuel said, relieved as soon as Blair had called her his 'sister'. "I'd rather die than hurt her." He stopped and looked around the room before adding, "I get the feeling that if I did hurt her, there would be a lot of pacifists prepared to abandon their beliefs and hurt me, eh?"
"You've hit the nail on the head there, Sam," Blair informed him.
Ziva cuffed him up the back of the head, complaining that no one needed to get so protective of her and that Sam was a gentleman, thank you very much. Then she started on Blair.
"So, what's the news on the doctorate? You still looking for your subject?"
Blair took a deep breath. Michael already knew. Star too, he was certain. Naomi may well do, but he wasn't sure. He loved these people and trusted them implicitly, but he didn't know Samuel at all.
"Not really," he answered carefully. "I'm studying closed societies from the inside."
"Naomi said you were working with the police," Ziva pushed. "More to the point, she said you're working with a really hot detective."
"Mom!" Blair howled. "Behave, will you?"
"I just call them as I see them, sweetie," Naomi blinked innocently. "Are you telling me that there's still nothing going on between you and Jim?"
"Mom, there's nothing between us, okay? We're friends, partners, roommates. That's it."
"More's the pity, eh?" Ziva asked, nudging him. He just nudged her back. "So, is there anyone in your life?"
"Not really. I've been dating a lot, but you know me, I never settle."
"Which team are you batting for this time?" she pushed.
"Zee, cut it out, will you?"
"C'mon, it's only us."
"ACK! I'm playing it straight, okay? I get enough hassle since I grew my hair long, for crying out loud. Jim's always having to put up with the rumours about us, so I do what I can to negate them. It's not what I want, but as soon as my diss is handed in, my ride will be over, I'll have to find somewhere else to live, and if Jim and I are to remain friends - which I want - I have to keep things kosher."
"Is it that bad at the Precinct?" Naomi asked softly.
"Most of the cops wouldn't give a damn one way or the other, Mom. Most of them are great. It only takes one, though. If Jim's back-up was late because of me... it would kill me, okay? I can't go there. I can't let them hurt him."
He stood up and walked straight out of the kitchen, leaving the others sitting quietly, stunned by the passion in his voice.
"He loves him so much," Star whispered. "It's eating him alive."
"So, what are we going to do about it?" Naomi asked. At the querying looks, she said, "Trust me. Jim loves my son as much as Blair loves Jim. I saw them together, felt their connection. There is a bond there that should not be allowed to break."
"I don't think there's anything we can do," Michael replied. "Can you imagine how Blair would feel if he lost Jim because they'd got together? It would kill him."
"It's killing him to be apart from him now," Ziva said. "Let me talk to him."
She stood up and left the table, leaving the others to offer comforting words to Samuel.
"There's nothing between Blair and Ziva," Isaac said. "You have nothing to fear. They love each other as brother and sister. Nothing more, nothing less. If he's going to open up to anyone, it will be her. At the end of this vacation, she will go home with you, Sam. That is a promise. Please, do not try to come between them. If ever she was to leave you it would be because you had done that. If you can accept their friendship, you have nothing to worry about."
Samuel nodded, biting down on his still present jealousy. He understood that they were close but he couldn't understand why. They weren't related after all.
Star, a very intuitive person, picked up on his body language. "Why don't we tell you about us? About the commune? Perhaps that will help you to understand."
"I'd like that," he replied.
"It was 1969, San Francisco. We'd all met at college..."
Star wove the story, telling him how they'd pooled their resources and bought a farmhouse outside town and done it up. How the couples had become families, how Blair and Ziva had been amongst the children there. How the parenting was shared and how the children had benefited from having pseudo brothers and sisters. Naomi took up the story and told him how she and Blair, as soon as she'd finished college, had gone off around the world, always coming back to the commune when they returned to the country. How when the commune had broken up, some of the closer members had stayed in touch. How Star and Michael, and Rachel and Isaac amongst others had given her and her son somewhere to run to when they'd needed it.
"It's one of the reasons that Blair never minded not having a father," she finished. "He didn't need a biological one, he had real fathers, ones that loved him as their own and treated him accordingly. Michael and Isaac especially. They guided him, took care of him, acted as a proper father should. The men in my life tried to get to me through Blair, but he was always smart enough to see through them. Whenever he needed a father to turn to, it was either one or the other of these two that he called up. He was fortunate to have Star and Rachel there for him too. When I needed to be away from him, when he'd exhausted me so that I needed to retreat to recharge my energy, they were there. I never feared for him because I knew that he was loved as much as if he was with me. Blair is my life, Samuel, so you can imagine how much they love him. Ziva is a part of this, a part of him. He loves her with all his heart and always will do. It doesn't matter whether they see each other every day or not for a few years, they pick up where they left off and rejoin at the hip. Does this help you understand them? Does it help you understand us?"
"I think so," he answered quietly. "You hear all those weird things about the communes and so on, but I've never heard of one that worked in the way that yours did. Still does, in a way."
"We were lucky," Star agreed. "We held the same values, the same ambitions. Mercifully we discovered the one greatest truth in life. If you have love to give, you must give it. And in giving love, you find you have more to share than you thought possible. You see, it is possible to love more than one person intensely. It is also possible to love that much people that you won't be spending your life with - whether as a lover or those who are your blood relatives."
"I see that with Ziva," he said, nodding. "She's just so full of love and compassion - even if she does have a sharp tongue," he added with a grin.
"You've been on the receiving end?" Isaac asked. At Samuel's agreement, he shrugged. "So like her mother."
"So, you gonna tell me about Jim?" Ziva asked, nudging her elbow into Blair's side as she did.
They were sitting on some grass, backs resting up against the fence, Ketzele at Blair's feet as she always was.
"Jim? What do you want to know about him?"
"What does he look like? Is he as hot as Naomi says?"
Blair chuckled. "Yeah, he's a fricking god, Zee. He's six two, looks like a GQ model. He works out but it's not muscles for show, it's the real thing. He's so strong," he added almost dreamily.
"Sounds wonderful. What's the downside?"
"He's a guy, of course there's a downside."
Blair burst out laughing. "Hey! I'm a guy, remember?"
"Well, duh. You're not perfect either. So, does he snore? Fart? Pick his toenails? What?"
Blair was helpless with giggles now. Ziva always got to him like that. "He snores, he farts, he's a guy," he finally shrugged. "I don't exactly see that as a downside."
"So, what's wrong with Mr. Perfect? And don't give me that 'we need to hide out' crap. You know how to be discreet when you want to."
Blair rolled his eyes as he answered. "He's ex-Army. Totally anal about a load of things. A bit of... a lot of a control freak."
"So are you."
"Yeah, I know. But he's a by-the-book control freak. I just like being in control. He epitomises control."
"How does he feel about you?"
"I'm not totally sure. There are times... times when I think that he loves me, but the rest of the time I can't be sure. If only I could be."
"You should say something."
"And get thrown out of my home?"
"Would he do that?"
"I don't know, I don't really think so. It would make things awkward, though. I wouldn't be able to live with him if he didn't feel the same. I wouldn't be able to finish my diss, either."
"He's your real subject?"
Blair didn't answer, he didn't have to. One look from him and Ziva understood better than words could have said. She put her hand on his arm and made a zip sign over her mouth. Once, before he'd found Jim, they'd discussed what would happen if he ever did find a sentinel. The possibility of government intervention had cropped up - anti-authority paranoia being de rigueur back then. She knew that he wouldn't talk to protect Jim. If he wouldn't, she wouldn't.
"Come on, I've got work to do," he said suddenly, then got up and walked directly to the cow shed where he'd been working earlier. Ziva said nothing, she just returned to the house to get changed. They all would pitch in to help with whatever jobs needed doing. She was looking forward to it - it would make a nice break from the trauma work at the ER she'd been doing before she went back to start work in her chosen field.
Four days later, and the electricity was working, the generator had been tested, the windmill had been installed and was running and the solar panels were also working - at least when the sun was out. It had been raining solidly for two days and outside work had ground to a halt. A new weather front from the north east had hit and this time was heading south west over the farm. Mercifully, Isaac had managed to do that work before the deluge had started and had concentrated on internal wiring after that.
Ketzele hadn't left Blair's side at all in that time, so it had been up to him to walk her in the rain. He'd even taken the other dogs with him on the grounds that there wasn't any point in Michael getting wet too. By the time the rain had stopped, however, Blair was getting a bit antsy. The dog walks had been short and he was going a little stir crazy. After all, he was there in the great outdoors but wasn't really seeing much of it.
He didn't even allow himself to think that the fact that he hadn't heard from Jim at all was driving him nuts.
"I'm going to take Ketzy for a long walk," he announced after breakfast. "I'll pack some food, if that's okay."
The others agreed, thinking that some fresh air would do him some good. Ziva had been working closely with him over the previous couple of days and could tell that Blair needed some time alone, so she gave them all a surreptitious nod to encourage them to agree.
"Make sure you pack an emergency pack too," Star cautioned. "Just in case. What time will you be back?"
"Uh, not sure about a time, Ma," he replied, "but we'll be back by dark. I've got survival gear in my backpack," he added.
"Good. Take your phone too, though I don't know what sort of reception you'll get."
She shooed him out of the kitchen to get ready and started to make him some food to take. She put sandwiches in a Tupperware sandwich box and some fruit in a plastic bag, just in case it rained again and his backpack let the water in. She also put a number of dog biscuits in another bag for Ketzy. She'd eaten breakfast, so she could go till late without another meal, but the biscuits would go down well as treats throughout the day.
As soon as he'd got everything ready, he said goodbye and headed off.
Jim woke late and sweating. His panther had appeared to him during his sleep and had taken him to the side of a river. Lying next to it had been a wolf, in pain, looking at him with sad, lonely eyes. Jim didn't know how, but he was certain that the wolf represented Blair.
Without thinking, he got up, showered quickly, threw some clothes on and packed up a kit bag. He was just about to leave the loft when he stopped dead, smacked himself on the head and went straight to the phone. He dialled the number that Simon had given him and waited for it to be answered.
"Uh, hi, is that Star?" Jim asked, even though he was certain that the answer was 'no'.
No, this is Ziva, a friend. Who is this?
"I'm Jim Ellison, a friend of Blair's. Is he there?"
Oh, Jim! Hi! He's told me a lot about you.
Jim was a bit surprised by that, but he ignored his feelings and pushed.
"Is he there?"
Sorry, he's gone out for the day. He's gone for a walk in the forest with Ketzy. She's been desperate to get out with him for a whole day, I think. She's been driving him nuts about it.
Jim wasn't sure he wanted to know who Ketzy was.
"When will he be back?"
He wasn't expecting to return till this evening. Ziva paused for a moment, then she added, her voice a little seductive as she wanted something, Are you still on vacation, Jim?
Why don't you come? Blair said you're good with wood. Having an extra pair of hands here would be a relief.
"Excuse me?" Jim's voice was full of horror and Ziva ran what she'd said through her mind, then fell about when the double entendre hit her.
Oh hell, I'm sorry, she gasped. I was talking about your carpentry skills.
"Right," Jim drawled, starting to chuckle. Ziva's laugh was infectious and he found himself being drawn to her. "Would it really be okay for me to come? Up there, I mean."
She giggled and answered that it would be just fine. He got the directions that he had really phoned for and put the handset back, grinning as he did.
He looked at the sky when he left the building and realised that the rain from the north east was going to hit Cascade that day. It wouldn't be such a bad idea to get out of town after all.
Blair and Ketzele had been gone for a couple of hours, enjoying the fresh air and silence. Blair chatted away to the dog, loving the fact that she seemed to listen to him and didn't interrupt. He pointed out items of botanical interest, really using the 'lecture' to remind himself. It was something that others didn't know about him. He was afraid that if he didn't do that, didn't bring facts back to the forefront of his mind every now and then, he'd forget them. Knowing that his encyclopaedic knowledge was often required back at the Precinct, and coupled with the fact that he was terrified that Simon would revoke his consultant status if he couldn't supply the knowledge they wanted, constant learning and reinforcement was a thing that he did habitually.
They reached the stream that ran down through the forest and Blair was surprised to see the banks of it. There had apparently been flooding recently as they looked unstable. The large stream (or small river, depending on your viewpoint) was flowing rapidly.
"Stay back from the edge," he called out to Ketzele, "I'm not sure that the bank is stable. The last thing we want is to have an accident."
Ketzele moved till she was right by his side at his words and the two of them continued a little further. When they reached a clear spot, just around a bend in the stream, Blair checked his watch. It was more or less lunchtime, so he sat on the grass and took his backpack off, opened it and pulled out the sandwich box and the bag of dog biscuits.
"Here you are, sweetie," he said to the dog, handing her one. She took it and merrily crunched her way through it, nudging him and asking him for another straight away. He laughed, then took out another, before deliberately doing the rest up in the ziplock bag and putting them back in his backpack. "Make this one last," he said. "I'm going to eat, too, and you don't get to have my sandwich."
Star's home was a vegetarian one - though she did feed her animals with whatever was natural for them. So whereas Ketzele would get meat with her meal, Blair's sandwich was just a salad one. Not that he minded, he ate pretty much whatever he was given. They sat quietly, crunching their biscuit and sandwich respectively, and looking around them, taking in the beautiful scenery. Blair packed his box away into his backpack, pulled out a bottle of water and drank some of it before packing that away, too.
"We'd better get going soon, I can hear rumbling in the distance. Maybe it's thunder?"
He stood up and slung the backpack onto his back, just seeing something out of the corner of his eye and automatically feeling uneasy. He was about to call Ketzele to move, but the dog, wanting a drink too, had gone to the water's edge.
As if in slow motion, Blair saw everything starting to go wrong, just as he heard an increase in the near constant rumble. Ketzele's head was dipped to drink, he opened his mouth to call her back, but it was too late. The ground underneath them started to give way, just as another flash flood appeared.
He reached out and grabbed hold of the dog, pulling her to his chest and grasping her tightly. Unable to regain his balance, he lost his battle with the earth and water and soon found himself being taken white-water rafting - without the raft.
"I can survive this," he told himself. "I've been here before, survived it. I've jumped off a cliff and into worse. I can do it."
Over and over again, he forced himself to breathe as the water threatened to take his breath away. One moment he could see sky, the next, his eyes stung from the muddy water that got into them. He became totally disorientated as the water, crashing over the rapids that gave the nearby settlement its name, churned him this way and that, battering him against rocks in its relentless effort to take him downstream. Whenever he got a moment's respite, he forced himself onto his back, to make his body act as if it was a raft. Ketzele, by some miracle, was still in his arms, not struggling like many other animals would in fright, but letting Blair hold her tightly.
Eventually, the water slowed and Blair found himself deposited in a shallow place on the side of the stream, which was almost millpond-like in its nature in a total contradiction to the rest of the water. He tried to stand up, but an incredible pain shot through his right leg when he did.
"Well, fuck," he gasped to himself. "Just what I needed."
He let Ketzele go and she scrambled up the high, muddy bank, flopping down at the top in exhaustion when she got there. Blair gingerly crawled up the same bit of bank, narrowly missing her when he arrived. For a while, the two of them just lay still, trying to accept the fact that they'd survived a terrifying ordeal.
Jim was feeling fidgety by the time he saw the one and only sign for Pine Rapids. Perhaps that was because he would be meeting people out of Blair's past? Or could it be because there was trouble? He just didn't know. All he did know was that he'd feel a whole lot better when he saw Blair again.
Not that he was going to say anything, of course. No way, José. He'd never get involved with him. He just wanted to make sure his guide was all right. Yeah, that was it. Nothing special, just being a cop. A friend even. A good roommate. Yeah.
So why did the little voice in the back of his head - which sounded remarkably like Blair - say 'And just who do you think you're trying to kid, big guy? This is your brain, remember? It's in cahoots with your gonads and they say you're wanting more than just a roommate.'?
He told his conscience to shut the fuck up and carried on looking for the turn that should be coming up... right... about... now.
"What do I need and what have I got?" The first lesson of survival rattled through Blair's mind as he slowly returned to total awareness. His body hurt all over and not for the first time, he wished he had sentinel senses as he tried to catalogue his injuries, wishing too that he could dial down the pain.
One thing was obvious. His right ankle was well and truly snapped. His left shoulder hurt and he gritted his teeth as he pushed his right-hand fingers under his soaking wet clothes to feel it. It felt dislocated to him. He pulled his hand back out and wiped the wet that was running from his hair and into his eyes, groaning when he realised that it wasn't just the muddy water but blood that was making his eyes sting.
Before he did anything else, though, he gave the dog a quick check over and was relieved to find that she seemed to be okay.
"Fire," he said to her. "I need to make a fire so we can dry off. Then I need to make a splint and sort out my head and shoulder."
Thinking back to the games he and she had played, he wondered if she would understand his needs now. "Ketzy, find some wood. Go and find some wood."
He reached out and picked up a loose, damp stick that was nearby and showed it to her. "Find more, please. Go on, Ketzy, find more wood."
The wolf-dog looked at him, tilting her head to one side as if in confusion, then she moved away and disappeared into the trees. Blair held his breath as she went out of sight, hoping that she'd get what he wanted. Their games, as he'd been working on the cow shed, had included her taking bits of rotten wood and placing them on a pile that he was making up. They'd worked side by side and she'd wanted to please him, so she'd happily joined in.
He removed his backpack painfully from his back, edging it carefully over his left shoulder, then he opened it in front of him, tipping out the contents. The bag was drenched, inside as well as out, but the contents were all dry. His use of sealed plastic bags and airtight containers had saved them. He felt grateful and opened up the one bottle of water he'd already started to use, took a sip and then poured some more of it on the cut on his forehead. He rooted around in the first aid kit when he felt more blood dripping down and was relieved to find some cotton wool. Trying not to get the bits of it stuck in the cut, he dabbed carefully, drying the skin around the cut until it would be secure enough for a sticking plaster. It was hard taking the cover off the plaster with only one useful hand, but he finally managed it and was glad to get that one problem at least temporarily taken care of. Next, he knew he had to deal with his shoulder. He also knew that this would be tricky and painful.
As he was wondering how he was going to do it, Ketzele turned up with a reasonably-sized piece of fairly dry wood in her teeth.
"Ketzy! You clever girl!" he praised. He reached out with his good hand and patted her enthusiastically. "Get some more wood, baby," he urged. "Get more!"
She dropped the small branch in front of him and then ran back into the trees.
Feeling a little more confident now, Blair had an idea of how to relocate his dislocated shoulder. There was a small, thin tree nearby. He removed his belt from his trousers. Then, gritting his teeth, he wriggled until he was sitting next to the tree and put the belt around the thin trunk. He did up the buckle on the belt, capturing the top of his bad arm within the belt, he picked up the bottom of his shirt, wrung it out, undid the buttons so he could roll it up until it was thick and then put it in his mouth. He bit down tightly, wriggled some more until his left leg was curled up under him and he was facing the tree, then he pulled himself back, putting all of his weight into stretching his shoulder. He let out a yell, muffled as it was by the material he was concentrating on biting down on. His forehead was covered in sweat, as was the rest of him, but he battled on, doing everything he could to replace his arm in the socket.
Pain was overwhelming his entire body. His ankle was sending electric shocks, his head was thumping, his bruised back and ribs ached and most of all, his shoulder was hurting way worse than his leg had when he'd been shot. He didn't give up, though, knowing that he had to have at least a certain amount of mobility in his arm and soon, if he was going to get home.
With one more incredible, almost superhuman effort, he pulled himself back hard. He realised straight away that his shoulder was in the right position, and he let go, a little quicker than he had wanted to.
The adrenaline started to wear off, and he passed out.
Jim was surprised to hear Naomi's voice and he turned to face her as soon as he got out of the truck. She greeted him with a kiss on his cheek which he returned.
"Naomi. Blair didn't say that you were here."
"He didn't know I was coming, honey. It was a surprise for him."
"I'll bet he was really pleased," Jim answered sincerely.
"Only as much as I was to see him," she replied as seriously. "He's been in need of this break," she added. "What's wrong with him? He's so quiet."
"Quiet? Are we talking about the same Blair Sandburg?" Jim laughed, a little hollowly.
"Yes, Jim," she answered quietly. "The one and the same. Oh, he puts on a good show, but he's with family here, we know him. Something's very wrong."
"I don't know..." Jim started, but he stopped suddenly when he remembered Simon's words about Blair's feelings for him. "I'll talk to him. Is he back from his walk yet?"
"No, he's not due back for a few hours. He and Ketzele are making the most of it not raining."
"Who's this Ketzele?" Jim asked, now curious enough to push for an answer.
Naomi saw a flash of jealousy run across his eyes and it was all she could do to stop herself from laughing.
"Oh, the new lady in his life," she teased. "She's beautiful, loyal, already devoted to him. She has not left his side since they met."
Jim's heart dropped into his feet but he manfully continued on. Naomi ushered him into the kitchen and called the others to meet up with him. Ziva took one look at the man in front of her and thought that Blair's description had been on the money. However, much as Blair was the butt of jokes between them, with Jim there, none of them would say anything to embarrass him.
"Jim, pleased to meet you at last," she said, putting her hand out to greet him. "I'm Ziva, Blair's kinda sister."
"I'm pleased to meet you, too, Ziva," he said, relieved that the young woman's relationship with Blair wasn't a sexual one. But who was Ketzele? He'd never heard that name before and he couldn't imagine what it meant.
He was introduced to the others and soon found himself sitting at the table, eating, drinking tea and chatting with Blair's unusual 'family'. Unlike his mental image of Naomi's hippie friends, they all seemed so... normal, that it surprised him. Finding out what they did, why Star and Michael were out there and why their friends had come to help and how, he relaxed a bit. Blair was safe there, he was welcomed, he was loved beyond reason, and more to the point, he was in good hands. So why had Jim come? He was just wondering this when Michael asked that same question.
"Ziva invited me," he answered lamely. Then he ducked his head and admitted a little more. "I was feeling uneasy about Blair. I got the feeling that something was wrong. I don't know what it is, but I knew I had to be here."
"We're glad you're here," Michael answered. "Blair may well be a great explorer, but his sense of direction is atrocious. He could get lost in his own bedroom," he added with a shrug.
Jim laughed out loud at that. It seemed that these people really did know him.
"If he's not back on time, we can pop out to where we saw him going," Michael added. Then he looked into Jim's eyes. "I understand that you have tracking abilities. From your time as a Ranger?"
Jim nodded slowly, understanding that Michael probably knew more but grateful that he wasn't saying anything about it. He could also see in the man's eyes that he was taking Jim's gut feeling at face value.
Jim stretched his foot out under the table and kicked something.
"Oops," he said, "er, what was that?"
Star didn't even bother ducking down to look, she just said, "That's Ketzele's."
"Ketzele's what? And who is this Ketzele?" Jim asked, thinking that she hadn't been mentioned again since Naomi's words.
"Ketzy's bowl," Star said with a grin. "She started insisting on eating at Blair's feet a couple of days ago. She's a wolf," she added in explanation.
"A wolf?" Jim stopped dead. "I... I've got to find him."
Star put her hand out and touched his arm. "Why? Blair's safe with her. She's a hybrid, more wolf than dog but her character is as if she was a pet. It's why she has her name. It's Yiddish for 'kitten'. She couldn't be more gentle, Jim, and she absolutely loves him."
"No, it's not that," Jim gasped. "I had a dream. A wolf. Hurt. But it was Blair. I have to go."
He stood up and made for the door, the others on his heels.
"Which way did he go?" he demanded.
"Down towards the..."
"River, right? He went to the river. Damn it, I told him not to go near it."
Michael's voice broke into Jim's conscience and he stopped the pacing back and forth that he'd unknowingly started.
"Less blame, more action," Michael said quietly.
"Right. I have to go."
"Let's give you some equipment first. Maybe a medical pack? I take it that as a cop you know how to use one?"
"I was a medic in the Army," Jim said, but his hearing was now starting to stretch, trying to find his friend. Nothing. He either wasn't close enough or... Jim didn't allow himself to think further.
A few minutes later, he felt a large bag being thrust in his hands and took a brief moment to look inside it. A blanket, a first aid kit, some water bottles and a torch.
"Thanks," he whispered, then giving them a brief wave goodbye, he started to jog towards the sound of the river.
The others watched in awe as they saw the steely determination radiating from his body language.
"Shouldn't we go with him?" Ziva asked.
"No, I think he'll be better on his own," Michael answered. "With his Army experience and so on, he'll be held up by the rest of us. Now, we have to prepare. There's a chance that Blair has been injured. If this is the case, we'll need to do one of two things, either take him to a hospital or fix him here."
"The nearest hospital is too far," Star pointed out. "Zee, did you bring your medical bag?"
"Blair's here," she shrugged. "Of course I brought it."
With a little ironic chuckle, Star led them inside to get things ready.
Jim continued to jog through the trees towards the raging stream. He could see broken twigs where Blair had walked and knew that he was on the right path. Blair had been taking the walk slowly, obviously stopping to look at various plants on the way. This meant that Jim reached the water a lot quicker than Blair had. When he got there, he saw a few human and dog footprints in the mud heading downstream and he knew that they had gone that way. He was pleased to see that they were staying away from the edge of the stream. He stopped and listened out, desperately trying not to zone as he attempted to focus in on Blair's voice or heartbeat.
At first, there was nothing. Then, he couldn't be totally sure, but there was a sound that was like a quiet groan. He focussed closer and heard Blair's voice, thick as if he'd just woken up. What he heard made him shudder and he started to run towards the sound.
Blair woke up to the sensation of a dog's tongue rasping up his cheek.
"Oh man," he muttered to her. "Remind me to never pop a dislocated shoulder back in again, will you?"
He opened his eyes, cursing when he realised that more blood had run into them. The cut on his head was seeping through the covering and he needed to replace it.
Tentatively, he undid the belt and released his arm. It hurt like hell but he could at least move it, and therefore use it. Thinking that it may come in handy again, Blair replaced his belt into his waistband.
He dragged himself on his backside to the small pile of wood that Ketzele had brought him.
"Good girl," he said. "You are so clever. Now, let's get warm, shall we?"
He reached his survival kit and opened a tin which contained matches and a paraffin firelighter. He snapped up the twigs, cursing loudly as the sensation of each break jarred his painful arm, then he put them all together, placed the firelighter inside the pile and set light to it.
"We'll need more wood, sweetie, this is only going to burn for a short while," he told Ketzele. "Can you get more?"
She shot off and came back a few minutes later, dragging a much thicker branch with her.
"This is great," he praised. "It should do for now. Right, let's sort out my head again..." He pulled out a bit more cotton wool and another plaster, then replaced the one that had fallen off his head earlier. He got some painkillers out of the first aid kit and took them, washing them down with the last bit of water from the one bottle. He had another, so he wasn't too worried about running out. He got another sandwich out of the box and passed a couple of biscuits to the dog, and they ate, trying to rebuild some strength for their next hurdle. Blair knew that he'd have to splint his ankle if he was to make any move from where he was.
Jim kept focussed on Blair's heartbeat. It was a permanent link to him and comforting in that it meant that Blair was alive. Every so often, words would come into his hearing and he found himself fascinated and afraid by what he heard.
Right, let's sort out my head again...
Sort out his head? That signified a head injury. The good news was that Blair was talking to himself and was therefore at least conscious and aware.
Ketzy, I need more wood to make a splint. I know you're tired, sweetheart, but do you think you could try?
A splint? Shit, that meant he'd broken something. Given that he was asking the dog to find wood, it could mean that it was Blair's leg that was broken. Shit and double shit. Jim upped his jogging speed, but had to be careful as he went, the ground was littered with stones and broken twigs and branches. He stopped short at a small clearing a little further downstream. He could see that the ground had been disturbed. Looking closely, he saw footprints and a faint outline of a dog lying down in some mud. They must have stopped there to eat. What scared him was the fact that it was obvious that some of the riverbank had suddenly collapsed and had been washed away. That explained what had happened to them. Jim looked as far down the raging water as he could, his heart sinking further when he couldn't see Blair anywhere along the side.
Not letting himself wallow in his feelings, he bucked himself up and made his way down the bank of the stream.
Blair was shivering. Night was falling and his clothes were still wet, despite the fire drying some parts of them. He was afraid of getting an infection, too. Ketzy had finally found him some fairly straight thin branches and he decided to splint his leg with them, keeping all the others she brought for the fire. Looking closer at the break, he realised that it wasn't his ankle as he'd first thought, but the spot just above the top of his thick hiking boots. They'd apparently protected his more vulnerable ankle and foot bones, for which he was grateful, but he made a mental note to see if he could find boots that went further up his leg and still retained the flexibility needed for hiking next time he was in town.
Wondering if he was doing the right thing, he took his boot off, removed his belt again and placed the sticks around the break. Then he wrapped the belt around them and threaded it through the buckle. Getting the Swiss army knife out of the zip up pocket in his lumber jacket, he gritted his teeth and sawed through a hole that had appeared in his jeans during the ordeal in the water. Using that as a staring point, he cut the material apart so that he could get at the damaged bit of his leg. Next he opened up the stiletto and when he had marked where the buckle prong needed to go, he used it to drill a hole in the leather. Finally he did up the buckle tightly just over the break, yelling out loud as the pain increased. Shaking hard, he wrapped the rest of the belt around the sticks further up his leg, tucking the end back inside one of the loops when he'd done.
Ketzele moved as close to her as she could and he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly, grateful for the warmth and comfort that she offered.
"Ah, Ketzy, you are such a good girl," he crooned. "You've been so helpful. We wouldn't have a fire without you. You're so clever."
He talked like that for a while and the dog licked his face as if she was thanking him for his kind words. Blair chuckled, realising that she was probably only appreciating the contact and the sound of the words, but a part of him liked to think that she understood him.
After a while, though, his words turned more melancholic and Ketzele responded by whimpering quietly.
I feel like such an idiot.
Jim heard the words that Blair spoke and the tone in which they were spoken. It saddened him immensely, and frightened him too.
I'll bet Jim wouldn't have passed out if he'd had to fix his shoulder.
'You have no idea, Chief,' Jim thought to himself. 'Before my senses came back on line, I'd have passed out if the pain got too much. Wonder what you had to do that was so painful.'
I am such a fucking wuss. Look at me, Ketzy, I've been in worse situations than this and I'm fucking crying. What on earth am I crying about?
'Well, duh, Chief. You're in pain, you're alone, you're not at home. You're probably cold and a bit scared, too. Crying is no biggie.'
Jim wouldn't cry. The original ice man. I don't know how he puts up with me, Ketzy. Well, he probably won't for much longer. I can't hold off submitting the dissertation for ever, they're pushing me for it now. And then what? Simon will end my pass, Jim will have no use for me... Is he going to send me away? I couldn't bear that, Ketz, I couldn't. Can't be without him.
'I won't send you away, Chief. I'll keep you close, I promise.'
Aw fuck it, you're shivering. You should leave me and go home, honey. Go find Star, okay? Go on... Ketzele, go find Star... You can't stay, sweetheart, you have to go home. Just think, you've got food, a warm bed, people that love you. You've got a home, baby. Go on, go to Star... Why won't you go?
'Go Ketzele!' Jim cheered in his mind. It would seem that the dog was being as stubborn as Blair could be. Jim knew he was getting closer to Blair now, he could sense him and smell the fire that Blair had started. He also knew that he had to get to him soon, before his mood got even worse.
Blair gave Ketzele another biscuit, wondering if he should ration out the food. He wasn't sure about how far down the trail he'd been taken and knew that getting back to the farm would be difficult. The others wouldn't start to miss him until a little after dark and then it would be too late to look for him.
"I wish Jim was with them," he said quietly. "He wouldn't need to wait until dawn to come look, and he'd find me quicker." He sighed deeply, then said, "But he wouldn't be with them. He doesn't want me around anymore, Ketzy. I could see it in his eyes when he told me he needed a break from me. Simon's right, you know? I've been treating him like a lab rat and not like a friend. I don't deserve him. It was just easier, you know? If I let him see how I really feel about him, then he'd probably freak out. It was safer just to keep him at arms' length. Either that or he'd sense my raging hormones. I couldn't do that, Ketzy, couldn't tell him how I feel. I don't know what would be worse, you know? Finding out that he would be horrified at the thought or finding out that he felt the same."
'Huh?' The words that Blair spoke slammed straight into Jim's brain. Before he could mull on them, Blair, still hugging the dog tightly, told her more.
If he feels the same, then something would be bound to happen. I'm not afraid of the physical, Ketz, no way. But what could happen to Jim? You've got no idea how bad some of the cops are, Ketzy. I don't tell him everything that's said, but I keep getting comments thrown at me if they think he's not in earshot. Of course, if Jim's not in earshot, then he's a long way away.
Jim really didn't like what he was hearing, especially the hysterical giggle that accompanied it.
They told me, Blair said next, his voice quiet and conspiratorial as if he was telling Ketzele the greatest secret. They warned me. If they think that Jim's fucking me, he's going to miss out on some back-up when he needs it most. I can't tell anyone, you know? One word from me, complaining about the bastards that threatened him, and the others that they have in their little gang will take it out on him. I don't care if they hurt me, sweetie, I really don't. But I'd rather die than hurt him.
Jim heard a sympathetic whimper from the dog as she nuzzled Blair again to cheer him up and he picked up his pace. He calculated that Blair had been taken over a mile downstream and that thought frightened him. That was a heck of a long way to be tossed and turned in the raging waters. Even though the flash flood had long since passed, Jim could see the trail of devastation that it had left, the banks of the stream having been damaged badly in places. His imagination threatened to run riot and the only thing that stopped him from going nuts was the fact that he was where he wanted to be. Right by Blair.
Ketzele shot up out of Blair's arms and growled. Her hackles rose and she showed her teeth, staring into the dark trees upriver.
"Ketzy? What is it, sweetheart? Are there bears? Uh, are there any bears in this part of the country? Wolves? Cougars? It's okay, honey, just come close. We've got a fire, we'll scare any wild beasts off. Just you stay close, eh? Just like you did in the river. Trust me to take care of you, okay?"
She wouldn't back down, sniffing the air she barked at whatever was coming. She didn't leave Blair's side, though, so he was grateful for that.
Blair was startled by Jim's voice and he couldn't respond.
"Sandburg? Are you okay? Call the mutt off, will you?"
Blair put his hand on Ketzele's back and murmured to her. "It's okay, sweetie, this is Jim. He's no threat. Calm down and come here."
He virtually pulled her onto his lap, biting his lip to stop himself yelling out loud with the pain.
"You can come closer now," he said to Jim, not bothering to raise his voice. He sounded calm on the surface but underneath, his emotions were raging as badly as the torrent that had taken him to where he was. Jim might have heard what he'd been saying. If that was the case...
He felt defeated. Totally lost. This was it. Jim would do his duty, take him back to the farm and then probably leave him there. Never in his entire life had he felt so sad and alone. He wrapped his arms around the dog and hugged her tightly, burying his face in the mucky fur.
Jim approached the fire slowly, trying to show Ketzele that he wasn't a threat. He dropped down onto his haunches on the other side of the fire to where Blair was half-sitting, half-lying, with the dog on his lap. Seeing them clearly together, Jim suddenly understood why the dog reacted the way she did. She was trying to protect the human she loved. He could understand that - all too damned well.
"Chief, I need..."
"What are you doing here?" Blair interrupted.
"I asked, what are you doing here?"
"I've come to rescue your sorry hide and take you back to civilisation, that's what!" Jim snapped. The second he said it, though, he knew that it had been the wrong thing to say.
"Great! Fucking great! Big brave Jim Ellison has come to rescue poor little Blair Sandburg, yet a-fuckin-gain. What, did Naomi call you? I can just see it now, you're happily going about your own life, then all of a sudden, you find out that I may be in trouble so you curse me for being a pest, drop everything and come running. To what end? To show me how I'd fucked up again? Because you don't trust me to take care of myself? What?"
Jim sat back on his ass, stunned by the vehemence of Blair's words and tone. He hadn't expected that. He wasn't sure what he had expected, but as sure as eggs were eggs, it wasn't that.
Ketzele looked at Blair as if he'd lost the plot and slinked off his lap to lay on the ground right next to him.
"Uh, Chief? Are you okay?"
Jim had no idea what else to say, so he just asked that for reassurance sake.
"Oh, fine, Jim. Fucking perfect. I've got a smack on the head, a bust up leg and the remnants of a dislocated shoulder, but apart from that, everything's peachy! Of course, I'm going to get back, discover that you're going to pin the blame for this squarely on me, but hell, that's normal too. After all, isn't everything that happens my fault? It's my fault you're a sentinel, isn't it? Hell, it's my fault when it fucking RAINS! So, give it your best shot, big guy, and blame away!"
He waved his hand in the air and then looked anywhere but at Jim. The one side of his brain, the bit that wasn't cold, scared, in pain - and by anyone's definition - loopy, turned to the side that was cold, scared, in pain and loopy and asked, 'What the fuck was that all about? Are you NUTS?' The insane brain raised an imaginary middle finger and told the sane brain to swivel. It was sick to death of Jim's condescending tone and even sicker about having to be rescued again. Why couldn't Jim have just stayed away? Blair could have found a way back to the farm. Sure, crawling would take a while, but he'd get there in the end. His family would have come looking in the morning, so he wouldn't have had to have crawled far anyway. He didn't need Jim.
His sane brain said, 'Ah. That's what this is. Preparing yourself for when Jim's not around so that you can manage without him, eh?'
'I managed perfectly well without him for twenty-six years!'
'True, true, but were you as happy?'
His brain continued to psychoanalyse itself and Blair contented himself with scowling at Jim, knowing full well that the big man would see him doing it, even in the dark.
"I've got a first name, you know!"
"Yes, you have. I'm sorry. I just wanted to apologise for saying what I did. I shouldn't have said that, Blair," he emphasised Blair's name as if he was trying out a foreign word for the first time. "I had a dream, a premonition. I saw you on the bank of a river and you were hurting. Or rather, you were a wolf and you were hurting, but I knew it was you and it was as confusing as hell so I phoned up and spoke to Ziva and she told me you were out for a walk and invited me to come up and I wanted to come up to make sure you were safe because if anything happened to you I'd die."
He took a deep breath to recover from the run-on sentence and saw that Blair was sitting open-mouthed in shock.
"W.w.w..wha?" Blair finally answered intelligently.
"I can't go on without you," Jim said quietly. "I know this. I made the wrong decision to go to the Falls on my own. At the very least I should have discussed it with you in private. I hurt your feelings and I apologise for that."
"No, you don't have to. I have to apologise for not respecting your space," Blair answered. "I've been in your face a lot and you deserved a break from me. Nobody can stand me for long periods of time, Jim. I guess there's just something about me that drives people away. You've stood me longer than anyone else has - in one go, that is."
Jim could hear the shaking in Blair's voice as he spoke now and he had the feeling that the next words from Blair would be painful for them both.
"I shouldn't have yelled at you for coming after me," Blair said as evenly as he could. "I apologise for that. I'm putting it down to having had a fucking awful afternoon, so I hope you can forgive me?"
"Chief... Blair, there's nothing to forgive. I understand, honestly."
"Thank you. That means a lot." Blair tried to sit up a bit, as if to straighten his back to give him strength. "I would appreciate a bit of help getting back to the farm. As soon as I'm able, though, I'll return to Cascade and get my things."
"What? What do you mean, get your things?"
"You said it yourself. I'm in your face, 24/7. Simon was right, I've not been treating you like a friend. I was wrong to behave like that. I'd use the research as an excuse, but we both know that's not the case, don't we?"
Jim didn't answer, he didn't have to. Blair could see him nodding in the firelight.
"Maybe, if I find somewhere else to live, we would be able to at least be friends? I'd really like that, Jim. I don't want to lose what we've got and I know that if I stay, you're going to hate me before long. We can't work together if you hate me. I have to help you with your senses for a while longer, Jim, and you know that, but at the moment I'm nothing more than a necessary evil. Before long, you'll have total control over them and you won't need me anymore. I want to be more than that necessary evil, Jim, but I'll never be that if things stay the way they are."
"Didn't you hear what I said?" Jim asked in astonishment. "Didn't you hear me say that I need you? That I'd die without you?"
"Jim, I understand that. But you've virtually got the zoning thing under control. Without that worry, you won't have to have me around, don't you see? The danger will be gone."
Jim blinked and rewound the conversation in his mind. Blair had grasped, not only the wrong end of the stick, but the wrong stick entirely.
He was just about to tell Blair this when he saw him shivering violently.
"Shit, Blair, let me come closer, please. I've got a blanket here and I think you need it. Can you keep the dog happy when I move?"
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Blair agreed that it would be okay for him to come closer. Jim took his time to move though, as Ketzele didn't take her sharp golden eyes off him. It was as if she was daring him to make a wrong move. Jim made it to Blair's left side - the opposite one to the dog and gave into his instincts. He put his hand on Blair's skin.
"Shit, Chief, you're hot," he said. "We need to get you back to the farm."
"Tomorrow, Jim. I can't see in the dark, remember? Not all of us are special."
Deliberately making the effort to not let his mouth run away with him, Jim forgot that his heart sometimes ruled his body, too. He said, "You are special, Blair. Special in a way you can't begin to imagine."
He took the blanket out of the bag he'd brought, realising that Blair was hot because of fever and not because of ambient temperature. He carefully edged Blair's jacket off him and then his shirt, saying that he wanted to look at Blair's shoulder as he did it. A further shirt came off and then there was only a t-shirt.
"I can't lift my arm, Jim," Blair warned as Jim looked like he was about to try to take that off.
"I know. Please, Blair, trust me. I've done this before. I just want to get your right arm out of it, okay?"
He lifted the t-shirt up a bit and stretched it to the right so that Blair could pull his arm through the hole. When that was free, Jim gently pulled the shirt over Blair's head and then slid it down his arm.
He ran his fingers over the skin, worried that he would cause more pain, but Blair was gritting his teeth and Jim knew that he wouldn't hear of it, even if it did hurt. He could feel the extra heat caused by the damaged muscles and possibly the ligament.
"You dislocated this?" he asked for confirmation.
"Yeah, it was well in the wrong direction, man."
"Ouch. What did you do to get it back?"
Blair told him about the tree and the belt, blushing furiously with shame when he admitted to passing out at the end. When he didn't get teased about that, he turned and looked at Jim. The man had tears in his eyes.
"Jim?" Blair's voice was cracked as he spoke and Jim knew that he had to tell Blair exactly what he was thinking or else Blair would get the wrong idea again.
"Wow," he said. "That was brave. That must have hurt like fuck, Chief."
"Uh, yeah," Blair admitted.
"I think I'd have passed out too," Jim said, his voice filled with awe. "It really took guts to do that."
Jim had done something similar once, a long-time past, and he knew just how painful it would be. He was as much in awe, however, of the fact that Blair had admitted to passing out, knowing that his currently fragile self-image was probably taking a major knock with each supposed admittance that he wasn't as 'big and strong' as Jim. Jim only wished that he could convince Blair that he respected his strength. Blair, however, was stunned.
"Aw, c'mon, Jim, you're always telling me about the things you had to do. This was nothing."
"Nothing? I've had a dislocated shoulder put back with the aid of a local anaesthetic and it still fucking hurt like hell. Anyway, have you taken any painkillers?"
"Yeah, about and hour or two ago, but they're not working."
"Let's get you some more."
Jim looked at the contents of Blair's survival pack and grunted an approval. "You were well-prepared, Chief." He was about to make a remark about himself being a good influence on Blair when he remembered that Blair had been on many expeditions before they'd met. If Blair hadn't been able to take the necessary preparations, he'd not have come back from some of them, that was for sure. Instead, he found a sling in the first aid kit and put it on Blair so his arm could be more comfortable.
Blair didn't answer, he just downed the pills that he was given with some water. He asked Jim to find his enamel mug, the one he always took camping with him. Then he asked that Jim pour some water into it.
"Give it to Ketzy, please," he asked. "She hasn't had a drink today. Her riverside drink break was kinda cut short."
Jim realised that by that statement, Blair was telling him what had happened and why they'd been so close to the edge when their previous tracks had indicated that they'd stayed well away from it. That Blair wasn't going to tell him exactly what happened told him something else, too. Blair had obviously done something heroic - or foolish, depending on your opinion.
"She was swept away and you went in after her?" he nudged.
"Uh, no, the land just suddenly disappeared underneath us. A flash flood hit about ten seconds later."
"How did you manage to stick together?" Jim's words were quiet and inquisitive.
"I, er, held her."
"Blair, I saw the path the water was taking. It must have been a torrent over those rocks. That was a heck of a job. She must have been fighting you."
"No, she was calm. She didn't fight me at all."
"She's a lovely dog, Blair," Jim said then, realising that he had to do more checking out. He wanted to distract Blair so he engaged him in conversation about Ketzele as he worked.
"Naomi said she was the new lady in your life," he teased. "Said you were inseparable."
"Were you jealous?" Blair asked flippantly, a little punch drunk from the events of the day.
Without thinking, Jim said, "Yeah."
Running his fingers lightly over Blair's ribs, he knew he'd dug himself into a hole. Trying to ignore the conflicting emotions that he had, trying hard to get over the sadness he'd endured at losing past lovers and the wall that he'd built to protect himself from hurting over Blair, he took the final chance.
"Absolutely. Scared too."
"You? Scared? Why?"
"Because if she was the new lady in your life and you were as inseparable as Naomi said then I could lose you. That scares me."
"Jim, I told you. You've just about cracked the control thing. You don't need me anymore. You don't really want me, either. I'm not blaming you, man, honestly. It's not your fault. I know I kinda got under your skin, but I also know that it was like one of those worms that burrows into you and kills you from the inside out."
"Chief, self-depreciation doesn't suit you. Stop it. You are not a parasite. If anything, I am. I need you to live. Not because of my senses, either."
"Huh?" Blair turned sharply in surprise, instantly regretting it as a pain shot up his leg, another went through his head and yet another through his shoulder. Jim saw the pain before he even heard the yelp. He wrapped his arms around Blair, pulling the blanket he had up and over Blair's shoulders and hugging him as tightly as he could without adding to the pain.
"I need you, Chief. The loft has been empty without you. I came back from fishing because you weren't there, not because there were no fish. There were lots of fish," he added with a sheepish shrug.
"Jim? What aren't you saying?"
"Oh, I don't know. I thought I was saying it pretty clearly."
"Humour me. I think the water washed at least half of my IQ away."
"I need you in my life, Blair. Without you my life has no meaning. Oh, I could survive, I dare say. I'd get up in the morning, I'd go to work, I'd go home... but there would be no joy in it. No real reason to even get up. Have you any idea how you've changed me?"
"Sure. I mess up your home, I bother you with the diss, I experiment on you..."
"NO. I asked how you've changed me, not my life. I was a surly bastard when we met, remember?"
"You were in pain and afraid you were losing your mind, Jim."
"Trust me, very few people noticed the difference between the time you met me and the time before my senses came on line. I had no sense of humour, I had no life as such. Carolyn left me because there was no passion between us. We lived our lives separately. I think we'd only got married because it seemed to be expected of us. But we didn't play together - I never played, Chief. You taught me how to live life to the full. I've laughed more in the last three years than in the rest of my life put together. You taught me how to love, too. Apart from a very few special cases throughout my life, I haven't loved anyone, and those never had my whole heart. Whether they were friends or lovers, it didn't matter. You taught me that I can love people as a friend, that it's okay to become attached to others like that. I didn't have to keep people at arms' length anymore. Oh, I try. I keep looking for excuses to rebuild those walls, but every time I see you, every time you smile at me or look at me with that twinkle in your eyes, my walls come crashing down. I was prepared to shut you out again, you know? Back in the loft, the place was so empty, I was so convinced that you'd not be coming home that I even dug out my old photos to remind me of what I've lost. But over the last few days, everything I've done has been with you in mind. Would Blair like this? I'd better not eat a Wonderburger today, I had one yesterday. Blair would hate it if I had this for dinner..."
"Man, you must really hate me," Blair muttered. "I've taken over your life."
"You're not listening to me, babe. I want this. Do you really think I'd have let you take over my life if I didn't want you to?"
Blair was silent, his jaw was flapping about but nothing was coming out.
"Blair? Are you okay?"
"You... you... you called me 'babe'. Was that 'babe' in the sense that H calls everyone 'babe'? Or was that 'babe' in the sense of..."
Jim gave up and kissed him. It was the only way he was going to get through to him, he was sure of it. Either that or he was going to have to smack him up the head with a two by four, which he didn't have handy, so he settled for the kiss.
When they broke apart, Jim stared into Blair's eyes. "Does that answer your question?"
"On the grounds that H doesn't usually follow up his terms of endearment by Frenching the recipient, I think I get it."
"Usually, Chief? How many times has H slipped you the tongue?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?"
Jim just laughed and hugged him tightly, forgetting just how battered Blair's body really was. The resulting hiss from Blair brought him up short.
"Oh, hell, I'm sorry Chief."
"No, it's okay, man. I guess the painkillers could do with being a bit stronger, that's all. Did you bring any food?" he added as his stomach rumbled.
"Uh, no, sorry. I kind of left in a hurry from the house. They packed me some emergency things but not that."
"I've got a sandwich left, I think, and some fruit. If we're going to get going, then you can give Ketzele another biscuit and we can divide up what's left of our food."
"Like you said before, we should wait until morning before we go, Chief. Let me find some more wood for the fire. I see you've taken your boot and sock off your one foot, you should do the same with the other so we can dry them out. The more clothes you can get properly dry, the more comfortable you'll be."
"I don't want to be naked in the woods, Jim."
"Why? Who's gonna see you? Besides, you've got the blanket. Survival, Sandburg, it's the name of the game. Now, you strip off and I'll get some more wood. You did a good job getting this lot together, but maybe I can go a little further to find some bigger logs."
"Ketzy did it," Blair informed him. "I asked her to get some wood and she did. She's amazing."
Jim looked at her with a renewed appreciation, even though he'd heard Blair talking to her about fetching wood earlier. He hadn't believed that she could have got the pile that was burning, waiting to be burnt and the pieces used as a splint, all on her own.
"Damn, that's one smart dog. You're a clever girl, aren't you?" he addressed her.
She looked at him with a withering gaze but then inclined her head as if accepting his praise.
"I wish we could eat something a bit more substantial than a salad sandwich," Blair moaned a bit later on. The fire was crackling and he was now stark naked under the blanket. He kept looking wistfully at his clothes but Jim wouldn't let him put them back on as they were currently steaming. With any luck, his boxers would be dry soon, he hoped.
Ketzele was apparently feeling just as hungry as Blair. She stood up, looked hard at Jim as if she was deciding something, then she walked off into the woods.
"Where's she going?" Jim asked.
"Probably to catch herself something better than a dog biscuit. She's about three quarters wolf, Jim, so she has great survival skills."
"I've never seen a dog quite like her," Jim put in. "I mean, I see the mutts at the K9 unit, and they're really smart. Some of them, the better ones, do things that a dog just shouldn't be able to do. They can work out who's most likely to cause trouble in a crowd - and sometimes it's the least likely-looking person. There was this one time when I was a beat officer, I was called to a fight in the street. While I was dealing with one perp, I watched a dog disobey an order to sit when his master was trying to cuff a guy that was already lying down on the ground. The dog just kept pacing up and down. As the officer went to put the cuffs on, the perp twisted around and was about to stab him with a knife no one had seen. Fortunately, the dog had been watching the perp like a hawk and before the knife could connect, the perp's hand was becoming the dog's latest chew toy. But then I look at Ketzy and I see something else in her eyes, not just that she's a clever dog. For the life of me, it's like looking into human eyes."
Blair let out an amused snort. "Oh yeah. I only have to show her something once. The wood thing, it comes from me carrying some from the cow shed to the pile for burning. She wanted to help, so I showed her a piece that I thought she could carry and she accompanied me on the next trip out, dropping the wood on the pile. After that, I only had to point out a piece and she went and did what I wanted her to do without being asked. When I wanted a fire here, I just asked her to get some wood and she did. She is way smart, Jim."
Then he told Jim about her behaviour from the very beginning of his holiday and Jim was impressed yet again.
"Do you think you can get her to like me?" he asked.
"I think that if she perceives you as a threat to me, you're dead meat. However, if she sees we're friends, you'll become a part of the pack."
"So, I'd better be nice to you, had I?"
"Well... hell, yeah!" Blair chuckled. He immediately wished he hadn't as his body was racked with another round of pains shooting through it - followed closely by an over attentive sentinel checking him out.
"I wish I could get you back to the house," Jim muttered under his breath.
"I'm okay, just have to be careful, that's all."
Jim knew that Blair was in a great deal of pain so he tried to take his mind off it.
"When we get home - and I mean home home, will you, er, will you move?"
"Do you want me to?"
"Only to one place, Blair."
"Oh? Where's that?"
"Upstairs. With me."
"Jim, we can't," Blair hissed. "You know as well as..."
"Blair, I heard you telling the dog what has happened to you at the station. I know you've not been physically hurt, but you have been threatened. That isn't acceptable."
"NO! No, 'but Jim'. No policeman can be allowed to be prejudiced, Chief, and you know it."
"I know that, Jim, but that's not stopped there being plenty of bigoted cops out there since the police force was first invented."
"True. But how are we supposed to improve on that, how are we supposed to lose the epithet of 'pig' if we don't clean up our act?"
"I can't let them hurt you. I won't let them hurt you."
"You won't let them do a damned thing, Chief. I'm not saying we should go into the Precinct holding hands or announcing anything to the force at large." Then his shoulders dropped as another reality hit him. "We can't really allow anyone to know officially anyway."
"I, er, I talked to Simon," Jim admitted. "Simon says that it's cool, that we could continue to work together. Captain Banks doesn't want to know or we'll have to be separated because of the fraternisation rules. We might get away with that, but then again, we might not. I don't want to put him into the position where he'd have to make a decision that could affect not just us, but his career, too, if he didn't separate us."
"So even though you want to go after the phobes and even if we got rid of them, we'd have to stay well and truly hidden in the closet?"
Blair's shoulders dropped now and he immediately regretted the movement. Before Jim could fuss, though, there was a rustle in the nearby bushes.
"It's Ketzy," Jim said before she even appeared.
"Ketzy? Where are you?" Blair called out.
The next thing he knew, she was at his feet, a dead hare in her mouth. Looking very pleased with herself, she dropped it into Blair's lap.
"Oh look," Blair exclaimed, "she brought us dinner."
"How can you sound so... happy, Chief?" Jim asked incredulously.
"Because I'm hungry? Have you got a knife?"
"I thought you had one."
"The blade on the army knife isn't really sharp enough to skin this, Jim. So, have you?"
"We're not cooking that without skinning it," Jim announced. "The smell of burnt hair gets right up my nose."
"Well, it would," Blair sniggered. He got his knife out and pulled out the blade, then he started to stroke it against a rock. "Maybe this will sharpen it."
"Give it to me, Blair," Jim ordered. "You need to rest."
A few strokes later and he figured it would probably work. He mechanically set to work and found that the skin came off easier than he would have thought and before long, the hare was ready to cook.
"You want it cooked or raw?" he asked the dog. She looked at him as if he was mad and settled back to wait for the meat to heat through.
"That dog is spoiled," he muttered.
Blair wisely said nothing.
Food eaten, Blair decided that his clothes were dry enough to put back on so he insisted on Jim handing them to him. He could have done without the sentinel staring when he dressed, though. Jim insisted on helping as much as possible, what with Blair's arm being in a sling and all. Blair wasn't comfortable with the fuss and attention, and it wasn't because he was body shy - as such. Sure, he had a bit of a complex when next to the modern-day equivalent of Michaelangelo's David, but he'd long ago learned to live with that. It was just that they hadn't really worked out what was going to happen when they got back to civilisation - or the farm, it didn't really matter which - and he didn't want Jim thinking that he couldn't control his attraction to him if Jim changed his mind.
That was the crux of the matter, really. Blair couldn't believe that Jim would want him, after all, he'd never shown any signs of wanting him up till now. It was only because Blair had had yet another close call that he had let down his guard and allowed any positive emotions be magnified.
Believing this to be the case, Blair was saddened again. He did his best to cover up, however, not feeling up to getting into another fruitless 'discussion'.
"I wish I could tell the guys that I'm okay," he said wistfully. "I tried, but my phone had got a bit battered. It was in a plastic bag, but the rocks in the river must have hit it directly or something."
Jim smacked his head and pulled out his own phone from his jacket. "Do you remember the number?"
Blair rattled it off, silently grateful for his eidetic memory. Jim was grateful that against all odds, there was a fairly clear signal. He heard the phone being picked up and spoke to Michael on the other end.
"Yeah, I've found him, he's injured but more or less in one piece."
What are his injuries? Does he need to be helicoptered out?
"He's got a mild fever and a bad cut on his forehead. I've cleaned that up and cut butterfly stitches for it. If that doesn't work by morning, they'll need doing properly. He relocated his own dislocated shoulder. I think he's damaged the ligament and possibly torn a muscle. That's currently in a sling. The worst thing is he's broken his leg. I don't know if it's a straight break, I haven't looked closely yet. He splinted it himself and I'm loathe to remove the splint. It's not broken through the skin according to Blair. He says there is some bruising, but I don't know how much. It's possible that a trip to hospital could yet be necessary. As far as a helicopter goes, you couldn't really get one out here anyway. I'll get him out of the forest in the morning. If you guys can be at the edge waiting, then that would be a big help. If you bring my truck to the meeting place, that will make transporting him a lot easier."
You'll be okay to sleep out tonight? Do you want us to find you? Bring you anything?
"No, it's not safe in the dark, Michael. The only natural path is near the river's edge and that's what gave way earlier. Blair was swept downstream."
I can't believe he survived that, Michael gasped. Um, what of Ketzele? Is she...?
"She's fine, Michael. Turns out that she was taking a drink when the land gave way. He grabbed her and didn't let go. Judging from his bruising, he kept her away from the rocks wherever he could. She's been a godsend to him, by the way. Fetched him wood for a fire and caught us dinner tonight."
Don't tell Star that, she's a committed vegetarian, Michael chuckled, but his voice was filled with admiration and relief. They make one hell of a team, don't they?
"That they do, Michael. Look, we're going to sleep now, and we'll get going at first light if we can. We just wanted you to know not to worry."
Thanks Jim. Tell Blair we love him and we're glad he's safe with you.
"Shall do. Night."
He switched the phone off and turned to Blair. "Michael said to tell you that they love you and they're happy you're safe."
"With you," Blair added quietly. "He said they're glad I'm safe with you. I heard."
"Who's the sentinel around here?" Jim joked.
A huge yawn cut off Blair's reply.
"Come on, let's settle down for the night," Jim urged. He cleared a space in front of the fire and rolled his jacket up. "Come on, let's get you down on the floor."
"Uh, Jim? You need your jacket or you're going to freeze, man."
"Uh huh, I have a plan."
"I do. Now, Einstein, are you going to trust me?"
"Sure man," Blair sighed. "I always do. Lead the way." He let a stunned Jim manoeuvre him until he was lying on the floor, his head on Jim's jacket. Jim, thinking how Blair always did seem to trust him, picked up the blanket and then lay down next to Blair, gently lifting him and wriggling underneath the smaller man until they were comfortable. With his own head on the jacket, he draped the blanket over the both of them.
"Are you all right?" he asked Blair.
"Uh, yeah, man. You?"
"Oh, I'm fine, just fine."
Ketzele shifted until she was lying right next to Blair, adding to his warmth.
"You seem okay with this."
"This what, Chief?"
"The kiss... the prospect of a relationship..."
"Prospect? I thought we'd sorted that out, Chief."
"Maybe... possibly... not really."
Jim let out a loud sigh and held Blair a little bit closer. "Listen up. You. Me. Couple. 'Kay?"
"I do verbs, you know."
"Yes, Chief. So, you get it?"
"If you say so, Jim."
"You. Me. Couple. I get it, Jim."
"So. You didn't answer my question."
"About you being okay with this."
"I didn't hear a question. I heard a statement."
"Okay, I'm happy. More than happy. I'm deliriously happy. That do you?"
"Will I what?"
*snigger* "Jim?" Blair answered innocently.
"I don't think you're really up for it yet, are you?"
"I didn't mean now, Jim."
"Yeah. I'm looking forward to it."
"Ye-ah. Will you return the favour?"
"Have you ever...?"
"Hmm. Seems that neither of us has been forthcoming."
"Four? What in one session?"
"Shut up and go to sleep."
As Jim had predicted, they woke with the sun. Jim gave Blair some more painkillers, watching as he gritted his teeth against the pain that racked his body. They ate the last of the fruit and gave Ketzele the last of the dog biscuits, took a drink of water and then decided to set off. Jim repacked Blair's backpack contents into his own, folding the empty pack and stuffing it inside so that he would have his hands free. Then he helped Blair to his foot, got Blair to put his good arm around his shoulders and they set off for home.
It took a lot longer than it had taken either of them to arrive. Blair had to keep stopping as hopping was incredibly tiring and painful. Jim's offer to carry him or take him in a travois had been met with a stony silence and a look that sent shivers down his spine. However, after a couple of hours of hobbling, he started to get insistent.
"You are not going to carry me!" Blair yelled after another attempt to get him to give in.
"Why not? What is so bad with needing help, Sandburg?"
Blair couldn't answer him, couldn't bring himself to say that he felt lessened as a man every time he'd had to rely on Jim. He couldn't explain why he should feel this way, either. Logically, he knew that it was a crock. Emotionally, he couldn't bow to reason. He dropped to the floor and sat on his backside. Ketzele licked his face and nuzzled his hand, urging him to get up again.
"In a minute, Ketzy," he replied. "Just give me a minute, will you?"
Jim's jaw ground tight as he saw Blair pulling away from him yet again. He couldn't understand what was going on.
"Chief? Why won't you let me help?" he tried again.
"Because I'm sick of it!" Blair yelled before he could think. "Sick of being so fucking needy!"
It was Jim's turn to drop to his backside. "Is that what you think?"
"It's the truth! I hear what people say, Jim. I hear them sympathising with you for being stuck with me. I know I get in your way more than I help. Don't you think that I can do things for myself?"
Jim took a deep breath and counted to twenty, then he put his hand on Blair's good hand and held it close.
"You are not a burden, Blair. You help me in many ways, not just with my senses. You help me with my case work, you watch my back even though you're not trained to do it and I know I tell you to stay in the truck all the time but that's because I get scared that you could get hurt yet again. Have you any idea what it does to me when you get hurt because of my work? Have you any idea what it does to all the guys in MC? H, Rafe, Joel... they get really, really upset and Simon? Simon is like a bear with a sore head because he cares so much about you. Dammit, Chief, he loves you like a son!"
"He doesn't," Blair whispered, staring at the floor. "He barely tolerates me."
"No, no, you are so wrong there. He's grumpy with you, sure, but think of this. How would you expect him to behave if Daryl was my guide, if Daryl was a civilian observer that was in a position to get hurt in the way you do?"
"I... I... I don't know."
"He'd be as afraid for him as he is for you. It's not because we think you can't cope, Blair. If that was the case, you'd have lost your status a long time ago. It's because we care so much it hurts us to see you in pain. Can you understand that?"
"I think so... it's just nobody's ever..."
"Don't you think Star, Michael, Ziva and the others feel like this?"
"Yeah, but they're family, Jim."
Blair looked tentatively up at Jim, almost afraid to answer.
"Aren't we?" Jim prompted.
Slowly, Blair started to nod, then he grinned a little. "That kind of puts an end to whatever we might have had. I am so not into incest, Jim."
Jim's mouth opened wide silently, then after a pause he burst out laughing and carefully wrapped his arm around Blair's shoulder. Then he moved closer and kissed his forehead.
"Life with you is going to get really interesting," he said. "Not that it hasn't been up till now, but I can see that any hope I had of a quiet life is going to be kissed goodbye. And you know what?"
"I couldn't be happier."
"Strange but true, Chief. Who needs a boring, quiet life when they can have a funny, exciting one?"
"Quite possibly. So, will you let me help you now? Please?"
"Thank you. We don't have far to go to the clearing now, we'll be there soon."
"You must put me down if you get tired. Promise me."
"I promise, Blair. Come on, let's get this worked out."
They figured that if Blair carried the backpack on his good shoulder, then Jim could carry Blair piggyback style. With a bit of wrangling, much to Ketzele's apparent amusement, they got organised and Jim started off steadily.
Blair didn't allow himself to speak all the time that he was on Jim's back. Much as he was slowly being persuaded by Jim's motives, he was still finding it hard to accept that the man wanted him. Sometimes he'd wanted things so much in his life, had set his heart on having them, got close to getting what he wanted, only to have it taken away from him in the end. He was terrified that the thing that he wanted most of all, a life with Jim, would end up the same way.
"There they are!"
Naomi's voice rang out through the clearing and everyone turned to look at where she was pointing. Jim, looking tired but determined, was carrying a dirty, bedraggled and white-as-a-sheet Blair, an equally filthy wolf at their side. They all ran towards them and soon the men found themselves surrounded. Michael and Isaac gently peeled Blair off Jim's back and carried him to the truck, laying him on the bench seat. Jim followed them, waving away the fuss from the others. Ketzy ignored the crowd and jumped into the truck and lay on the floor at Blair's feet.
"Let's get you all back," Star said, taking over the organisation. "We'll clean Blair up and check him out. When you said that Blair had broken his leg, we decided to prepare to treat him here if we could. Sam is in the nearest town getting medical supplies. If it's going to need a hospital trip, then we'll do that, but I know how much he hates hospitals, so if we can treat him here, then all the better."
Jim agreed, grateful that he wasn't going to have to watch Blair either fly away again or hear him fighting down the cries of pain if he had to endure a long car journey.
It was over. The bumpy, but fortunately short trip back to the house was completed. The transfer of Blair to the bedroom, where he was laid down on a bed full of towels so that he could be washed from head to foot was done. Jim had insisted on being the one to do that - to no one's surprise. Blair had loved the bit where he got to lie with his head over the edge of the bed and Jim had washed his hair with the aid of an old tin bath tub, a plastic jug and a washing up bowl to catch the dirty water. As soon as he was clean, Jim had dried him off, put some clean boxers on him and then called the various doctors in.
Sam had checked out Blair's head injury and declared him mercifully free of concussion or anything worse than a deep cut, which was then stitched up to be on the safe side. Ziva checked Blair's shoulder out next and announced that Blair had done a pretty amazing job on himself and that with a bit of therapy, his arm should be better in no time. There was only inflammation and no serious damage to the ligament or the muscles.
Then they undid the splint. It was the one place that Jim hadn't washed, unwilling as he was to touch it until necessary. With featherlight touches, he cleaned off the remnants of the muddy water and ran his fingers over the position of the break. Much to Sam's confusion, he proclaimed the break as clean and straight with no need to reposition the bone.
"How do you know that?" he asked, even more confused when both Ziva and Star accepted his diagnosis without question.
Jim looked at Blair in query and got a shallow nod in return. "He's gonna be family, man," was all Blair said.
Ziva held her breath for a moment. She knew that this would demonstrate what she had hoped for the minute she'd realised just how Blair felt about Jim. If he was to share his secret with them, then he would have accepted them all - and by definition, accepted Blair totally.
"I have a heightened sense of touch," Jim said carefully. "I can feel the changes under the skin."
Sam's natural inclination was to 'do a Blair' and to fire off a round of questions, but his instinct told him to keep shtoom.
"I can do other stuff too," Jim muttered. "But that can wait, can't it?"
"Yeah, it can wait," Sam replied. "I'd really like to hear about it though." His quiet, genuine tone told Jim that Sam wasn't about to treat him like a freak, and that helped a lot.
"Later. Blair's the one you want to talk to, anyway. He knows more about me than I know about myself." He looked back at Blair and saw him raising one eyebrow in amusement. "It's okay, Chief. As you say, they're family. If I can't trust them, I can't trust anyone."
He was rewarded by a huge smile. Blair had said little since his outburst in the forest, truth be told, he was in too much pain and he was too damned tired. But his face was expressive and spoke volumes to those that knew him.
"We can put a cast on this," Ziva broke in. "Sam bought some plaster of Paris in town along with getting some other things. Star, you're used to mixing up that, aren't you?"
"Sure thing. Used it on many an animal," Star answered with a chuckle. "Now I get to use it on my favourite ape."
Blair's reply was cut off by Jim's hand being swiftly and firmly placed on his mouth.
"Sam, can you draw up a dose of whichever antibiotic you brought, please?" Ziva asked.
"Sure. You're not allergic to penicillin or any of its derivatives, are you, Blair?"
"No, not at all."
"Good. There's one dose like this and then it's all by mouth. Let's just get this working quickly. You've only got a mild fever so we'll stop it before it gets worse."
Blair nodded as the injection came his way, then he wiggled his toes in his left foot to distract him as it was stuck into his thigh.
"Chief? Why did you wiggle your toes?"
"Ah. Trust you to notice," Blair muttered. "It's a technique I use, a dentist taught me it when I was a kid. I'd broken a tooth and he needed to numb the area to fix it, but being young, I was a bit scared by the long needle."
"Understandable," Jim answered, who was a big wuss when it came to needles as an adult, let alone as a kid.
"Anyway, he said I should concentrate on my toes and wiggle them. It's not something you can do without really thinking about it. By the time I'd got them wiggling well, he'd put the needle in and taken it out and I'd barely noticed. I guess I just got into the habit of doing it."
"Wish you'd told me before," Jim muttered. "How many jabs have I had to endure since you've known me?"
Blair astutely refrained from answering.
Tucked up in bed, his leg plastered as thinly as Star dared in an effort to make him as comfortable as possible, his shoulder having been given an anti-inflammatory injection, and his stomach groaning from a large meal and decent strength painkillers taking the pain down to a manageable ache, Blair started to relax. Jim had barely left his side unless ordered to, and Naomi had fussed over him, as had everyone else. They'd heard the stories of Ketzele and Star had been especially proud - and grateful to Blair for saving her. It was getting close to bedtime for them all and he could hear the packing-up-for-the-night noises downstairs. Shutting his eyes, he started to wonder about Jim.
He couldn't believe that Jim had allowed his secret to be spoken of. It showed so much faith, so much trust, and, he dared think, so much love.
He was shaken out of his reverie by a tap on the door.
"Come in, Sam," he called.
"How did you know it was me?" Sam asked as he stepped inside.
"Because no one else would have the decency to knock. So thanks for that," Blair answered with a grin.
"How're you doing?"
"I'm great. Well, as well as I could expect to be."
"Yeah, well, you had one hell of an adventure," Sam replied with a sigh.
"I've had a few adventures in my life," Blair chuckled. "Not all of them repeatable."
Sam laughed too, then he went silent.
"You want to ask about Jim?" Blair prompted.
"Yeah. I mean, I've heard about people with a heightened sense or two. As a neurologist, I've even seen the brain scans of a couple of people with them. But when I was downstairs, Ziva said that Jim has all five senses heightened. I've never heard about that. How does he cope?"
Blair took a deep breath and patted the side of the bed. Sam sat, then listened intently to Blair's mini lecture on sentinels.
"Wow. That's amazing," Sam said when Blair finished.
"You must keep this a secret, Sam," Blair insisted. "At least, you have to keep knowledge of Jim's abilities a secret. If the wrong people found out..."
"I get it, Blair. I promise. As a doctor, I pledged to do no harm. Telling anyone would likely harm both him and you. I couldn't do that."
"Thank you," Blair whispered in gratitude. "I can't tell you what it means to have someone that could understand this scientifically."
"How do you cope if he needs treatment? You say that he reacts to various drugs adversely."
"I keep a long, long list of things that Jim can and can't use, both medicinally and in general everyday life. Where possible, I try to treat him with herbal remedies, but he doesn't really trust that."
"I've got no problem with homeopathic remedies for simple illnesses," Sam shrugged. "If you know what you're using, of course. After all, a lot of modern drugs are based on extracts from plants."
"I've had to learn a lot," Blair agreed. "I don't feel confident about treating him sometimes, but knowing the reactions that he has to over-the-counter drugs... well, I have to try, you know?"
Sam nodded in understanding, unable to add more to the conversation without getting too involved and Blair looked too tired for that.
The door opened and Jim entered the room. Sam stood up and wished them both goodnight. Jim was already washed, his teeth were brushed, and now it was time for him to retire.
"Uh, Blair? Is it okay if I...?" He pointed at the bed in question.
"Sure," Blair replied, pushing the cover down in welcome.
Jim quickly changed his clothes and was about to get into bed when he heard a scratching at the door. He opened it and discovered a freshly washed and dried Ketzele looking up at him, hopeful of being allowed in.
"Ketzy!" Blair cried out, and she took that as an invitation. She'd been kept downstairs all day and was not happy about that.
"AHT!" Jim stated firmly. "You can sleep in here, but not on the bed." He'd seen her about to launch herself onto the foot of the bed "Blair's leg is in plaster, young lady. You could hurt him."
She slinked around the bed and lay down on the floor on Blair's side.
Jim shut the door again, turned off the light and then carefully got into bed.
The silence that fell was almost awkward. Jim lay flat on his back, looking up at the ceiling. Even in the dark, he could see the cracks in the paint work, outlining the unplastered planks of wood that it covered.
Jim responded by sighing, turning slightly and snuggling up as close as he dare.
"Yes, Chief, I'm fine. You?"
"Better now you're not acting like a statue."
Jim laughed a little, then he said, "Naomi and the others seem happy that we're together. I mean, it wasn't a shock to them or anything. Are you sure that they're really okay about you being with a guy?"
"Sure," Blair replied cheerfully. "Jim, man, I was brought up in an atmosphere where it was okay to love anyone. Hell, in some communities, Star and Michael would have had a hard time. Just because he's black and she's white, they'd have endured - they have endured prejudice. I knew I was bi from the time I became sexually aware anyway. Like I said, it's not as if I haven't been with a guy before. Er, until we met, I'd been with more men than women."
"I had no idea."
"That was the idea. At first, I didn't know how you'd react. I got the feeling that you'd be okay with it, but I didn't want to push it, you know? You had enough to deal with as it was. Then when I started working alongside you, I had to pretend I was straight, to..."
"To protect me?"
"Yeah," Blair admitted. "You know how it goes."
"I do, Chief, I do. The fact that I'm bi isn't something that I advertise. I'm not ashamed of it, and I don't hide it as such, I just don't talk about it."
"I hear that," Blair sighed.
"So, Naomi's not going to suddenly get annoyed or anything?"
"She'd have a hard time doing that, Jim."
"I'm not the only bisexual in our family."
"Yeah. She loves who she loves, man. She brought me up to love the person and not the gender. For that, I'm really grateful."
"Me too. I'm sorry I jumped to conclusions about your childhood, Blair. It sounded so disrupted that I couldn't see the good."
"That's okay, man. It wasn't all hearts and flowers, but then I doubt any childhood is. Some of Naomi's boyfriends left a lot to be desired. Her girlfriends were usually easier on me. Some of the guys were great though. Like I said, three World Series and five NBA play-offs. I wouldn't have gone to them otherwise."
"You could have told me about her before, you know."
"I know. But when you first met her... let's just say that she was enough of a shock in herself without adding that to the pot."
A huge yawn escaped from Blair at that moment, and Jim urged him to sleep. He watched his guide for a while longer, feeling him relax, bit by bit, and loving the fact that he was safe and in his arms at last. Silently, he vowed never to let him go.
"C'mon, Jim, try."
Jim was used to his senses being tested out, but hell, it had never been like this before. Not with Sandburg on his lap, feeding him small bits of food when his eyes were shut. And certainly not with an audience.
"Why, Chief?" he whined.
"'Cause I want to know Ma's special ingredient in this chocolate mousse. I've been trying to find out for years and she won't let on. You're my only hope, big guy."
"Ah, I'm not sure that's a good idea, Chief."
"You want me to make this for you at home?" Blair asked seductively.
"Well, yeah. But there's a factor you've forgotten."
"Star's really scary."
The others burst out laughing as the big, bad cop refused to take part in the 'experiment'. Jim opened his eyes and couldn't stop grinning. He stood up, lifting Blair as he did, deposited him on the edge of the table and then moved close to Star. He bent down and whispered something in her ear.
"Jim! You figured it out!" she replied in amazement. "The quantities are so small..."
"Doesn't matter," Jim shrugged. "And your secret's safe with me. We'll just have to come up here whenever we want some."
"For that, you can stay here for ever," Star announced.
By the time Jim sat back down in his chair, Blair had already wriggled off the table and back into his own. He was enjoying the hell out of being a sentinel for once in his life. Everyone there had made the promise to keep the secret, not really needing to say it out loud but wanting to reassure Jim that he could feel safe with them, could be who and what he was without fear of misunderstanding or censure. It was like being in the loft, safe and sound with Blair, but on a much larger scale.
Blair was getting better. They'd been at the farmhouse for over a week and the inflammation had gone down from his shoulder, the stitches were out of his head and the bruising had just about gone from his back and ribs. Ketzele was still at his side, but now she was accepting Jim without any worries. Blair was going to be in plaster for at least another month, but he was getting around pretty easily now that he was used to the cast.
The only shadow on the horizon was that the Abramowitz family was going the next day. Sam had come to completely accept Ziva's 'brother' and had given the two of them some much needed time together without worrying at all. In fact, he'd spent a lot of time with Jim, getting to know his new 'brother-in-law'.
"You two are going to come to our wedding, aren't you?" Ziva asked.
"Where is it going to be, Zee?" Blair asked back.
"You having a huppah?"
"A what, Chief?" Jim interrupted.
"A huppah. A canopy. It's traditional, okay?"
"Yeah, we're doing the whole thing, Blair. The works. So, you gonna come?"
"I will do everything I can to make sure I get there," Blair promised. "Uh, Jim? Do you want to come?"
"Try keeping me away," Jim insisted. "It'll be okay, won't it? I mean, me not being Jewish and all."
"No problem," Rachel said. "Star, Michael and a load of other goyim will be there, too. We're not orthodox, as you probably guessed. We just want friends and family there to help us celebrate. The rabbi is really cool," she added. "She's pleased to see anyone and everyone."
Jim grinned. "She?"
"Well, yeah, Jim. Judaism may be a pretty ancient religion but it's not stuck in the stone age, you know," Blair teased.
Jim poked him in the arm.
"Jim?" Isaac asked. "Is that a problem for you?"
"Hell no. I just forgot, that's all. Being a lapsed - a very lapsed Catholic, I still tend to think of the priests as being men."
"A rabbi isn't just a priest, Jim. He or she is a teacher. That's what the word means. To some, the thought of being taught by a woman is anathema," Isaac sighed. "But that's their view and they're entitled to it. It's not ours. All I care about is that the rabbi knows his or her stuff, is able to lead and to teach and cares about the community. I don't suppose either side is right or wrong, Jim. It just is, you know?"
"I get it. I wish there was more tolerance out there - not just in religion, but in everything. In my job, I see so much hate on the streets. Hate for no reason, hate because of racial or sexuality differences... hate because one person's got something and another one hasn't. It hurts me, sometimes. I know in my head that that's the way some people are. Sometimes I understand how things have got to a particular situation even when I disagree with it. When I get like that, I need to remember that not everyone is so hateful. It's one of the reasons I love Blair so much."
Blair dropped his mug onto the table. He'd been about to take a drink but he was shocked.
"You don't hate. You don't discriminate. You're a breath of fresh air, Chief. All the guys at Major Crime think so, too."
"They do, Blair."
Jim smiled and the others laughed quietly, but not cruelly.
"Thanks, I guess," Blair said after a few moments. "Uh, if you guys will excuse me." He stood up and hobbled to the kitchen door and went outside.
"What was that all about?" Rachel asked.
"I have no idea," Jim replied. "I'll just go..." He waved his hand in the direction of the door and then followed Blair outside.
"Chief? Did I upset you? I'm sorry, I didn't..."
"No. No, you didn't upset me. How could you? You said such nice things about me."
"So what's with the shock? Your face is as white as if you'd seen a ghost or something."
"You said you loved me."
"Of course I do. Why else would I want to spend the rest of my life with you?"
Jim took a deep breath and let out a sigh. He wrapped his arms around Blair and hugged him closely.
"Listen to me, Blair. I. Love. You. I want to spend my life with you. I want your family to be my family."
"Wow," Blair said again.
"Very erudite, Chief."
"What do you expect? I'm stunned."
"Will you spend the rest of your life with me?"
"Are you proposing?" Blair asked with a grin.
Jim screwed his face up in thought, then raised his fist to his chin in the classic 'thinker' pose. "I guess I am, Chief. So? Will you?"
"What, marry you?"
Blair mirrored his pose, thought about it for a moment, then he broke out into the biggest smile that Jim had ever seen on him.
"Can I have a huppah?"
"You can have a hula-huppah if you want. Just say 'yes'."
Jim bent down, wrapped his arms back around Blair and pulled him close for a kiss. Their lips touched, their mouths opened, their tongues stroked over each other... and Blair's brain started to melt.
They'd not done anything more than kiss in the days they'd been together, Blair just hadn't been up to it. But now, his body was reacting desperately.
"Jim, I gotta..."
"I know. Me too. Where?"
The two men hurried as fast as they could, slower than they'd like because of the cast on Blair's leg, and neither of them noticed the audience at the kitchen window.
"You think there's going to be another wedding?" Rachel asked the room at large.
"I'm going to be a mother-in-law," Naomi sighed happily.
"A Jewish mother-in-law," Rachel agreed, her eyes twinkling and her eyebrows waggling in mischief.
"Poor guy," Isaac replied dryly.
"Hay. Over there. Quick."
Conversation wasn't exactly high on the agenda as the two men frantically searched out a place to lie down. Inside the barn was a pile of hay and Jim virtually carried Blair to it.
He lay him down and then lowered himself over Blair, trying to be careful but not wanting to stop.
"Come on, man, I have got to get off."
"Patience. All good things, yadda."
"Jim. Light of my life. My reason to exist. My treasure..." Jim looked askance as Blair continued a litany of endearments and was shocked to hear him finish... "Shut the fuck up and fuck me, will ya?"
Jim cracked up.
The barn was filled with the sound of two men laughing and then that was replaced by the sounds of two men tussling gently in the hay, clothing being removed, gasping, kissing, skin meeting...
Again, Jim tilted Blair onto his back but this time he stopped the teasing. He kissed him hard, ran one of his hands up Blair's chest and then pinched one of his nipples.
"Oh God, yeah," Blair murmured into Jim's mouth. "More."
Jim's other hand moved down and undid the button and zip on Blair's jeans, then he pulled them down, freeing Blair's erection. The murmurs from Blair became incoherent as Jim palmed his cock, slowly stroking up and down, Jim nearly zoning on the heat from the silky skin.
He broke away from kissing Blair and slid down, then, without warning, took Blair into his mouth and swallowed him as far down as he could. Blair couldn't think. All he could do was feel. The sensation of Jim's tongue running up and down the shaft threatened to make Blair pass out. He kept muttering, 'So good, so good.'
It couldn't last. Blair had wanted this for way too long. He allowed himself to feel every touch, every lick that Jim placed on him. Jim felt the heat build, felt Blair's balls start to tighten. He relaxed his throat and then swallowed further, deep-throating Blair and pushing him over the edge. The swallowing motion did it for Blair and he let go, pouring hard into Jim's mouth.
They lay there panting until Blair finally got enough breath to speak. "Jim, come up here," he whispered.
Jim somehow found the strength to move and wriggled up the thick pile of hay until Blair let him stop. He felt Blair returning the favour, literally yanking his pants down and hungrily taking his dick into his mouth. Jim felt Blair's fingers pressing into his thighs, bruising him lightly, but Jim didn't care. He'd had many a fantasy where Blair was sucking him and none had matched just how good this was. Like Blair, he couldn't control it, he was on edge, his nerves were tingling.
Blair couldn't believe that he was finally getting what he had dreamed of doing, too. How many times had he wanted this? He didn't know, it was too many to count. He wanted to make the most of it but the noises coming from Jim told him that it wasn't going to last. He trailed his fingers all over Jim's body, concentrating on his balls, his ass. Jim pushed down when he felt a finger near his hole, as if telling Blair that he was welcome. Blair got the message, slid one of his fingers inside his mouth alongside Jim's dick, covered it with spit and the pre-come that Jim was steadily leaking and then returned it to his goal. Without ceremony, he pushed it inside Jim, homing in on the happy button like a heat-seeking missile. It took just one stroke of it and Jim's entire body spasmed, his muscles locking as his back arched and he came.
"Dead. I'm dead."
Blair chuckled softly and somehow found the strength to crawl up Jim's body until he was nose to nose with him. Jim opened his eyes and saw Blair's nose about to touch his, he flashed back to the silly thought he'd had about him and Blair in the bullpen and stuck together like that, and lost it.
"Well, that's nice," Blair harrumphed. "I send you to the moon and you laugh?"
"You had to be there," Jim finally gasped.
"We'll see you in two months for the wedding," Rachel said as they loaded their luggage into the car. Naomi was staying longer, so it was only the four heading back down south.
Blair was sad and had hugged Ziva and Rachel till they were breathless before he'd let them go. Sam was already in the car, waving goodbye.
Isaac was the last one to get into the car. He took Blair to one side, after saying goodbye to the others.
"Will you be okay?" he asked of Blair.
"I'll be fine. Jim and I have some ideas of how we're going to proceed. It's not going to be easy, but we'll stick together. So, do you like him?" he demanded. Much as Blair would do as he pleased, it would mean a lot to him to have the approval of his family.
"What's not to like?" Isaac shrugged. "After all, he seems like a nice goy."
Blair groaned, hugged Isaac and then watched as he got into the car and they all drove off.
Jim wound his arm around Blair's waist and held him. "We'll see them soon, I promise," he whispered into Blair's hair.
"Thank you. I'll miss them."
"I know. Come on, let's get inside. I think it's going to rain again."
"Perfect," Blair muttered. "Just perfect."
Jim watched his lover limping into the house, saw his hair flying messily in the breeze, his shoulders low, and generally looking fed up and miserable. None of that mattered, however. He just thought, "Yeah, Blair. Just perfect."