Blair rolled over, heaving a sigh of resignation. His legs were now even more tangled in the sheet and he had to kick and fight to release them. Once free, he shoved the offending cover off the bed in a flurry of frustrated anger and fell back against the pillow. It was so hot! Summer had only just begun, and already they were having a heat wave. This just wasn't fair. He'd spent much of the winter freezing, literally one time. And now summer promised to be unseasonably hot if this trend continued. Here it was, mid-July, and he couldn't even sleep in his customary T-shirt. Hell, he couldn't even sleep! He'd been lying awake for the past 3 hours, sweating and sticking to the sheets. But of course an hour before he had to get out of bed, sure as he lived and breathed, it would cool down and he'd doze off happily. The fact that they had the weekend ahead to relax didn't help, if it was going to stay this hot, he'd get no rest. Might even be better if they had to go to the Station, at least it was air-conditioned.
At midnight, he'd opened the door to the back alley. At 1:00, he'd turned the little fan back on and prayed the sound wouldn't drive Jim up the wall. At 2:00, he'd even gone to the bathroom and splashed cold water over his face and hair, but by the time he'd crawled back into bed, the water had gone from cool and refreshing to just warm and drippy.
But he couldn't complain. Not after this winter. Blair had explained to Jim the reason he managed going to the jungle on so many research trips was because of the heat. And he'd already taken flak about not liking to be cold. So, he wouldn't complain. There wasn't anything to be done about it anyway. Air-conditioning the loft wasn't a wise use of money, since they'd really only need it three or four weeks out of the year. No, there wasn't anything to do but lie there sweating, and wish he could fall asleep.
He pushed damp hair out of his face again and gazed up at the ceiling, wondering if Jim was awake. His friend never seemed bothered by the extremes. It was possible Jim's Sentinel tactile reactions were more instinctual than he realized, and they were automatically compensating for temperature changes. Or all that time in Peru helped him climatize, and learn to ignore the humidity. Or, he was just one of those people not bothered by extremes in weather.
Blair, on the other hand, was. Sweat was beading up on his chest, soaking what little hair was there and tickling as it rolled down to the waistband of his boxers. His back and shoulders were damply sticking to the bed sheet, and his hair was plastered to the back of his neck. Usually he was able to make a sleepless night work to his advantage. Blair often found he could get a lot of thinking and theorizing done while waiting to drift into sleep. But this was the third night of hot, restless tossing and turning. His mind was just too tired to settle on one subject for more than a few minutes. Jim's Sentinel senses were something he could consider for hours on end. Except now. Thinking about his partner above him, presumably sleeping soundly, only added to his frustration.
"Oh, man, come on. Just clear your mind." Blair took a deep breath, trying to ignore how warm and heavy the air felt, then let it out slowly. He took another, and pictured a crystal clear pool in his mind's eye. The pool was fed by a waterfall, cascading over large, round rocks that glistened with dampness in the moonlight. He let himself get closer to the water, watching the waterfall's little waves rippling over the surface of the cool, deep pool. Birds were singing in the distance, and a monkey's call rang through the jungle's night air. Blair sighed, then let himself sink down to the pond's mossy edge. He could feel the spongy cushion under his naked body, cooling the day's heat from his sweat-soaked skin. Gazing at the water mesmerized him as white moonlight danced and jumped over the sleek surface in a dizzying array of reflected color. A cool breeze began playing with his hair, moving the longer strands around to tickle and caress his shoulders.
Time and the hot sun no longer existed. It was so cool there, so green and inviting, Blair couldn't resist any longer. Already feeling more refreshed and comfortable, he let himself slip into the water. Little waves slapped against his neck as he sank lower, relishing the sensation of cool water enveloping his hot skin. He moved his arms back and forth slowly under the surface, loving the semi-weightless sensation that urged him to push away from the shore and give in completely. It felt as if the water could hold all of Blair's worries and cares while he relaxed. A quick dunk and his hair was soaked and clinging to his face and neck. But now it was cooler, and dripping from clear, fresh water instead of sweat.
He gave in, pushing away from shore, drifting soundlessly into the center of the pool. The water was liquid velvet against his skin, and the scent of orchids filled the air as he swam. The waterfall was nearby, dancing and laughing over the rocks. Blair closed his eyes and turned around in the pool, treading water for a moment before arching his back to float in suspended comfort. The waterfall spoke to him in soothing splashes as he drifted closer. He felt relaxed and calm once again. Secure in the knowledge that he was finally going to get some sleep.
As he slowly drifted closer to the cascading waterfall, he heard the shift in rhythm. It sounded as if something had stepped into the spray, altering its path. Blair was just beginning to turn to see what had disturbed the liquid when he heard it. For one instant, he thought it was another monkey calling from one of the many trees nearby. But even as that thought formed, he recognized the high-pitched sound for what it was.
Blair's eyes opened. His pool of water, the moonlit waves and soft breeze, all vanished as he heard the shower shut off with a wet metal squeal. Damn! It was still dark, wasn't it? Why was Jim up so early? And when was he going to fix that cold water handle? The clock beside Blair's bed glared back at his tired eyes, confirming the time as only 3:00. He moaned and pushed the hair away from his eyes. Hair that was soaked in sweat, not bathed in cool water. His mental imaging had worked, very well. And would have kept him asleep until the alarm went off, if it weren't for that squeaky cold water handle.
"Hey, Chief. I hope I didn't wake you up." Jim stood outside Blair's open door, a towel wrapped around his waist the only thing he wore. "I just couldn't take this heat any longer."
Blair sighed, looking at Jim without raising his head from the sweat-soaked pillow. "Jim, you gotta fix that squeak, man. It took me half the night to get where I was."
Jim's eyebrows arched and he leaned into the door jam. "And where was that, Chief?"
"Oh, man, it was beautiful." Blair gazed at the ceiling. "A little piece of nirvana right in the middle of the jungle. Nice clear pool, cool waterfall, moonlight reflecting off the waves. It felt good." He turned back to look at Jim. "And it took me forever to get to that stage."
"Well, right now, nirvana is a cold shower." Jim ran a hand over the short stubble he considered hair. "I can't believe the heat this early into summer. Feels like we're in the middle of Arizona or something."
"I didn't think it was bothering you so much." Blair rolled over and swung both legs off the bed, sitting up to face Jim. "I figured you for sound asleep up there."
"Not after three days and nights of this. I just don't roll around as much as you." Jim shook his head and moved away from the door, walking into the kitchen. "If you can't sleep, you can't sleep. Changing your position three hundred times isn't going to alter that fact."
Right, like you counted.
"Hey, Chief, you hungry?"
Blair looked up and saw Jim staring into the refrigerator. "Jim, it's 3 AM."
"I know. But I'm hungry."
"You just took a shower to cool off so you could go to sleep. Now you want to stay up and eat?"
"Yeah, I do. You got a problem with that, Chief?"
"No. Not at all." Blair held both hands up in defeat and shook his head. "Cold shower sounds good, though. I think I'll have one of those." He walked to the bathroom and stopped at the sink, staring at his reflection for a moment. How one could be so physically and mentally exhausted, and still be unable to sleep, was a mystery. It was all about what you were used to. And Blair was used to the mild temperatures of Cascade. Sure, he could spend months with various tribes in the jungle heat, but that was different. The weeks spent in the great outdoors, trekking and working your way through the jungle, left you with no other option than to sleep well when you had the chance. And the natives weren't cooped up inside lofts with insulated walls and windows and surrounded by a hot city of concrete and glass.
Blair could hear Jim in the kitchen, still rummaging through cupboards. He slid out of his boxers and stepped into the shower, grabbing the cold water handle. With a deep breath to brace against the shock, he turned on the spray. The chill hit immediately, and it took all his willpower to stay in the water, but as his body adjusted, the effect lessened and became more enjoyable. Blair stepped closer and let his head come under the flow, washing the sweat from his hair as he leaned slightly forward, eyes closed. It wasn't his waterfall at the pool, but at least he was cooling off. Now, if he could only sleep standing in the shower, he'd be fine.
He did try, but after nodding off and slamming his forehead into the tiles, Blair realized it was time to get out. Reluctantly, he turned off the cooling spray, wincing as the squeak of the knob pierced the air. Stepping out of the tub, he grabbed a towel to wrap around his waist and walked back to the bedroom for a new pair of boxers. Hot evening air quickly evaporated the water on Blair's body, giving him a few more minutes of refreshing comfort as he let the dampness air-dry. After trading the towel for underwear, he squeezed the majority of the dripping water from his hair and walked out to the living room, where Jim was seated in front of the television.
"Feel better, Chief?" Jim was wearing boxers now, and was sitting low in the couch, both bare feet propped on the edge of the coffee table, head resting on the back of the couch.
"Yeah, for now at least." Blair nodded to the bowl he could barely see on the cushion beside Jim. "What are you eating?"
"Leftover fruit salad, from dinner. Grab a fork and dig in." Jim stabbed a piece of banana and waved it at the television. "We've got Godzilla versus King Kong here."
Blair nodded, placing a hand on his stomach as he considered the offer. It had been so hot lately, neither of them had eaten much. But now that he was cooler, he did feel hungry. "Sounds good." He got a fork and sat down on the other side of the couch, the fruit bowl between him and Jim, and put his feet on the coffee table. "I don't suppose you've seen a weather report for the weekend?" Blair caught a grape and piece of watermelon on his fork and ate them.
"Yeah, more of the same." Jim sighed. "I've been thinking about going in to work just to cool off. There's always paperwork to do around there."
Blair nodded, wondering if there was any reason for him to go to the University. He'd probably just fall asleep in the office and have Professor Kinyon walk in. Yeah, that would be nice, wake up with your head on the desk, a nice red mark on your forehead and a pen stuck to your cheek. See if she still finds you "simply adorable" after that.
He sighed and sent his fork into the bowl for more fruit just as the psychic
hotline commercial ended and Godzilla returned to stomp around. Blair moved his
feet a bit and got more comfortable, watching the old film with half-closed eyes
and occasionally eating the leftover fruit. The shower, cool fruit and dubbed
Japanese monster movie all combined with several days and nights of temperatures
too hot to sleep well. Before the phone psychics had another chance to explain
the benefits of the first five minutes free, both men had fallen fast asleep.
There was water running again, but this time Blair didn't mistake it for a waterfall. Nor could he have confused the couch cushion his face was mashed into for soft, damp moss. With a groan, he rolled over and sat up, letting his eyes adjust to the sunlight streaming in through the living room windows. It was already uncomfortably warm, but pulling the blinds just made the loft dark and hot. He yawned and stood up slowly, stretching until his back popped. Jim was just finishing his shower, and the squeal of the cold water knob sent a chill down Blair's spine.
"Yeah?" Blair was walking to the kitchen when Jim called out.
"Where are the clean towels?"
"Oh, hang on." He hurried into the bedroom and found the laundry bag. "Sorry, Jim. I brought the laundry up last night but didn't get it folded." Blair quickly rummaged through the bag till he found one of the clean towels and pulled it out. "Here you go." From the bedroom door he tossed a towel into the bathroom.
"I hope that's your laundry wrinkling in there."
Blair was yawning on his way back to the kitchen so his reply had to wait. "Yeah, I just ran out of steam last night. Yours were all in that first load." He reached the coffee pot and yawned again while he poured a cup. God, if this keeps up, I'll be a zombie by noon.
Jim walked into the kitchen, towel wrapped around his waist. "Good." He reached for the pot and Blair nodded, walking to his room. "You know, Chief, I've been thinking. We need to get out of town for a few days. Maybe go up to the mountains, get cooled off."
"That sounds better than paperwork with the air-conditioner." Blair fished another towel out of the bag and walked to the bathroom. Before Jim could reply, the phone rang.
"Yeah, Simon, what's up?"
Blair moaned, shutting the bathroom door so he wouldn't have to hear Captain Banks asking Jim to come in to work on their first weekend off in nearly three weeks. But, he'd go if asked. Sometimes Blair wondered if the people around his partner took advantage of his sense of duty and responsibility, knowing that if they asked, Jim would oblige. But then, he didn't really surround himself with people who would take advantage like that. Well, other than Blair. Not that he'd used Jim's sense of responsibility and honor all that much. Other than gaining a place to live when his blew up. And maybe one or two lab tests. Although, Blair was beginning to realize he'd never actually pulled anything over Jim Ellison's eyes. He may have gotten what he wanted in the long run, and had even been allowed to think it had all been his doing, but deep down Blair knew Jim had been on to him from the start. The fact that he allowed Blair not only to move in, but to believe he'd managed it on his own accord, said more to him about their friendship than any open invitation on Jim's part ever could have.
Blair turned off the shower, bracing for the squeak that still managed to pierce his ears sharply. Jim must have turned his own sensitivity nearly off just to get past that sound. Bats could navigate with that high a pitch. When he stepped out of the shower and started to towel off, he heard Jim hang up the phone. Now that he was cooler and feeling somewhat more awake, the idea of going in to the Station wasn't high on his list of things to do. Crossing the hallway to his room, he saw Jim walking up the stairs and caught sight of a smile on his face. Curious, Blair dressed quickly, choosing a pair of jeans so faded and threadbare they kept him pretty cool, and a faded blue tank top.
He was back in the kitchen before Jim made it downstairs. It was only 6:00 and already too hot to think about cooking breakfast, so Blair opted for cold cereal and skipped a second cup of coffee, pouring some orange juice instead.
"Hey, Chief." Jim came downstairs dressed in jeans and a deep green tank top. "I know you're good with an outboard, but how well can you handle a twin-engine diesel?"
Blair shrugged, noting that his partner was definitely not dressed for the Station. "It's been a couple of years, but I can handle one pretty well. Why?"
"It's our lucky day." Jim was smiling widely as he entered the kitchen and poured shredded wheat into a bowl. "Simon called. He and Daryl were supposed to go out on his uncle's boat for the weekend, but the Captain was called in for a planning meeting with the Mayor. He said the boat's all stocked up and ready to go, and he didn't want to disappoint Daryl, so you and I get the duty."
"No kidding? That's great." It certainly beat going in to work hands down. "So we're taking Daryl out for the weekend? I thought he didn't like fishing."
Jim laughed and shook his head while he walked to the table. "That was last week. You know kids his age. They just don't want whatever dad wants. You must have been hell to live with at that age."
Blair made a face. "Just what makes you think that, Jim? You and Mom haven't been talking again, have you?" Jim's mouth was too full of crushed bits of shredded wheat to reply, but Blair could see the familiar sparkle in his partner's eyes. "Funny." He picked up his bowl and took the dishes to the sink. "So, just how big is this boat, Jim? And where are we heading with it?"
"Simon says he and Daryl were planning to go out in the Straits for some deep-water fishing." Jim finished his orange juice and carried his dishes to the sink. "And it's a 42 foot old wood Chris craft. Sleeps four comfortably with all the comforts of home."
"Let's get out there before he can change his mind." Jim slapped Blair on the back and gave him a push toward the bedroom. "Pack up a change of clothes and we'll hit the road. The boat's up at Shilsoe Marina, prepped and waiting."
"What about Daryl?" Blair found his overnight pack and tossed it to the bed.
"His mother's meeting us at the boat with him in an hour."
By the time he had a change of clothes and a few other necessities stuffed into the backpack, Blair was sweating from what promised to be yet another scorching day. Down on the bay the temperature would drop about 10 degrees, but out in the wind of the Straits, they could probably count on a very comfortable weekend. He hadn't spent time on a yacht in too long, and knowing they'd be well within sight of land must be what was making Jim so willing. Even though his partner had been able to conquer his fear of open water that night on the rig, they hadn't really tested him since then. Zoning out at night while swimming from a large platform oil rig to a tanker was one thing. Being out alone in open water, with nothing between him and the ocean depths but the boat he was on, could be another.
"All set, Chief?" Jim came down the stairs, backpack in hand.
"Yeah, let's go." He hurried out the door and let his partner lock up.
The drive to the marina was a quick 20 minutes of air-conditioned comfort, during which Blair nearly fell asleep. He had to shake himself awake when they parked, hoping he'd be able to stay alert long enough to enjoy the weekend. Just being down by the bay was cooler, and the breeze coming off the water was a nice antidote for the bright sun beating down on them from over the hill.
"Simon left the keys with the harbormaster." Jim locked up the truck and swung his pack over one shoulder. "Daryl's probably here already."
"I hope he doesn't mind spending a weekend with us, instead of his dad."
"Sandburg, don't you remember anything about being a teenager? It couldn't have been that long ago."
Blair rolled his eyes and followed Jim to the harbormaster's office but decided not to reply to that one. They stepped inside and a middle-aged man with a clipboard in one hand and a file in the other turned to face them, smiling.
"Hello. What can I do for you?" He set down the files and Blair could see the ID badge on the man's lapel, identifying him as the Chief Harbormaster, Tom Robbins.
"My name is Jim Ellison. Simon Banks sent me down to..."
"Ah, yes, he called," the harbormaster interrupted with a nod. "I have the keys for you here. Slip 27. And there's a message for you to phone Mr. Banks at the office." He produced a set of keys attached to a large red floater then placed a cordless phone on the counter.
"Thank you." Jim accepted the keys then the phone, setting his pack on the floor so he could dial.
Blair braced himself for a quick end to their short adventure and set his pack down at his feet while Jim waited for an answer. Daryl was nowhere to be seen, but it wasn't like the Captain not to call Jim on the cell phone if there had been a sudden change in plans.
"Captain, it's Ellison."
Blair turned to look out at the boats docked beyond the shore. The sun glinting off their windows was almost painfully bright.
"Oh, no, Simon, we ..... are you sure?"
The water was such a deep blue, the color itself seemed to take on a life of its own. The smell of the salt and seaweed, the sounds of seagulls circling overhead, and the clang-clang of riggings as they slapped into masts brought back fond memories Blair had thought long gone.
"We really appreciate this, Simon. I'm just sorry you won't be with us."
It wasn't the memories he'd thought he lost, but the urgent sense of adventure these sensations brought out in him. The time spent on the oil rig a few months ago had given Blair a taste of what he missed, but relishing the memories had been short-lived when his time was suddenly occupied by a criminal investigation and Jim's confession of a deep phobia, as well as other inconveniences.
"Okay, thanks again, Simon." Jim ended the call and handed the phone back to the harbormaster. "Well, Chief, looks like it's just you and me."
Blair had turned back to Jim when he finished his call, and now retrieved his pack from the floor, following Jim's lead. "What's up?"
Jim nodded his thanks to the harbormaster and walked out the side door toward the dock. "Daryl's mom decided to take him out of town this weekend. Some family thing." He shrugged and opened the gate, holding it for Blair to pass through. "Simon says there's no sense in wasting a stocked boat and a weekend off, so we're on our own."
"You're kidding. Simon doesn't mind us just taking off with the boat for a weekend?"
Jim shook his head and looked at the slip numbers while they walked. "I think he minds being at work while we're out having a great time, but I wasn't going to insult him by declining such a generous offer."
"There, number 27." Blair pointed to the slip they were looking for, then gazed at the boat moored there. "The MarySue. Looks like a classic."
"Yeah, that's the one." Jim led the way, tossing his pack onboard. "His uncle used to live onboard. Now he hardly takes her out."
"It's an expensive hobby." Blair boarded, glancing around with a practiced eye at the woodwork and perfect condition of the yacht. Jim unlocked the cabin and they both went inside.
"You can handle a boat this size, right, Chief?"
"Sure, no problem. It's like riding a bike. Where should we go?" Blair accepted the keys and took a seat at the helm. "He's got the chart mapped out here for a trip through the Straits." The map was tacked next to the compass and he was pleased at how well he could still read a nautical chart.
"Good enough for me, partner. Anyplace cool and quiet. I'll cast off." Jim tossed his pack into the main bunk and walked back on deck. "Let's blow this city before anyone has a chance to change their minds."
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