After untying the last line, Jim gave the MarySue a massive shove away from the dock, then jumped back onboard. Blair had the engines warmed up and began to ease the boat away from the marina while Jim pulled in the bumpers. The temperature difference alone felt like a vacation, and the sights, sounds and smells were invigorating. As they moved farther away from the docks, the noise and the heat of the city, he could feel the tension of work and sleepless nights fade away. With a sigh of contentment, he took a seat aft, facing forward, and gazed at the blues and greens ahead. Blair was handling the controls like a seasoned pro, and Jim watched him for several minutes, wondering just where his friend had picked up this particular talent.
He'd heard of only the one uncle, but with Naomi's habit of attracting men, there was no telling how many different personalities had a hand in shaping a young, impressionable Blair Sandburg. Of course, his mother alone was just quirky enough to explain everything Jim found in his friend. But he did wonder now and again how much Blair had picked up from those men. He knew from experience how having a less than ideal family shaped your personality, and he sometimes wondered what his life would have been like had his father acted just that much more kind, that much more affectionate. Somehow Jim couldn't imagine Blair with any other type of personality than the one he had developed. But then, he also knew better than to regret the past. Whatever had happened yesterday, good or bad, was what brought you where you were today.
And where he was today was exactly where he wanted to be. He had a stable job, one that he was good at. His Sentinel senses, as strange as they still seemed, were at least more in control. And he'd finally found in Blair a friend he could trust everything to. He was friend, partner, little brother, and even teacher when the need was there. Jim trusted Blair with more than his life, he trusted him with his sanity.
Once they cleared the last marina marker buoy, Blair opened up both engines and headed up the channel toward more open water. Jim stood and walked forward, ducking slightly as he entered the cabin. He slapped Blair lightly on the back as he passed, moving into the galley. The refrigerator was fully stocked, just as Simon had said. The cabin itself was large and roomy, with a propane stove and oven, lots of cabinets fully stocked with dry goods as well as utensils, pots and pans. There were two settees, one of which unfolded to make an extra bed in addition to the master berth fore and guest berth aft. Each berth boasted a head, shower, and queen-size bed. And in a storage locker below one of the couches, Jim found the fishing gear.
Since it was only 8:00 in the morning, two cans of ginger ale accompanied Jim back to stand next to Blair at the helm. "Not bad, huh?" Jim handed his friend a can and leaned against the back of the seat, gazing out over the bay and the many boats they were passing.
"Pretty nice, actually." Blair accepted the can and popped the top, smiling. "I don't know what we did to deserve this, but let's try and do it again sometime."
Jim laughed, nodding. "So tell me, where'd you learn how to handle a boat this size, Chief?"
Blair swallowed ginger ale and set his can on the sidebar. "One of Naomi's friends had an old clunker he was fixing up, and for the 18 months she lived with him, I got to know my way around it pretty well. He had four daughters, none of them lived with him, but when they'd visit, they hated the boat. Three of them got seasick just looking at the water." He shrugged and glanced out the port window at a sailboat they were passing. "He was so thrilled to have a kid around who would listen when he talked, sometimes I couldn't get him to shut up." Blair retrieved his can and took another drink. "By the time Naomi and I moved out, that boat was running pretty well."
"So, Skipper, how long will it take us to get out in the Straits?"
"About 3 hours. There's a great spot just off the point, sort of midway between the peninsula and the first of the islands where the fishing can't be beat. Or at least it was a good spot 10 years ago."
"Any spot away from Cascade is a good spot, Chief." Jim took off his shoes and socks, stuffing them under one of the cabin seats, then walked aft. "Just wake me when we get there." With a nod, he returned to his seat at the stern and got comfortable on the padded cushions forming a couch over the transom. The twin engines encased beneath provided the perfect vibrating massage. That, coupled with the fresh, cooler air, had him dozing in minutes, only vaguely aware of the sounds around him.
The change in the engine's pitch and the reduction of his massaging vibrations alerted him to their arrival several hours later. Stretching, Jim looked around, taking note of the large land masses visible in the distance to either side of them. Not that he needed the reassurance, he really was over that fear thanks to his partner, but it was still an instinct to want to know your position relative to any given point of reference. Judging by the distance to either shore, and the huge expanse of deep blue water around them, Jim decided this must be the "spot".
"Hey, Jim, is this great or what?" Blair shut off both engines, then flipped a switch on the console that lowered both bower and sea anchors. "I don't care if there's fish out here or not, man. Just being out of the city for a while is worth any trip."
Jim watched as Blair, seemingly out of habit, checked the instruments before securing the helm. He couldn't help but wonder sometimes what his partner had been like as a teenager. But then some days, usually when women were around, he thought that couldn't have been more than a few hours ago. "Yeah, I think I'll drop a line and see what comes up." Jim walked back inside the cabin and put his empty can in the trash, then went below and changed into shorts himself.
When he came back out on deck, fishing pole in hand, Blair was already napping on the bow. His jeans had been traded in for cutoffs, and he was using his shirt as a pillow. Before Jim could question his good sense, he spotted the tube of sun screen next to the tackle box. After setting up his line and securing the end of the pole inside one of several braces, he applied some of the sun screen, grateful that it was non-scented, and relaxed in the sun. It seemed odd, how the exact same sun that was now--and had been for nearly a week--beating down on the city with such force it kept them awake even at night, could at the same time be so much more pleasant from a different location.
Jim set both feet up on the transom as he found a more comfortable position in the seat. A quick focus forward told him Blair was napping, so he set his own mental clock to wake him in thirty minutes should he fall asleep himself. If Blair was down for a good long sleep, sunblock or not, someone would have to roll him over. With eyes closed, Jim let his hearing wander over the waves, listening to the sound of water lapping against the hull, seagulls in the distance, and even the bark of an occasional seal.
The gentle rolling was hypnotic, and the hollow sound of the waves hitting the boat drew Jim's attention downward. Letting his focus change direction, he began to notice different sounds coming up from the depths. Sounds that seemed almost alien in nature. Clicks and whirs presumably from fish, or maybe even some whales in the distance. Bubbles bursting on their way up from the sea floor. The echo from waves as they hit the MarySue, bouncing back down to the blue depths. Sitting there, eyes closed and attention directed downward, Jim was struck by the presence of the sea itself. It wasn't just the multitudes of sea life, or even the mysteries still to be found, but something more. Something so profound it defied description. It was as if the deepness itself had a presence. As if you could remove all life found there, and still there would be something alive. It felt as though depth was no longer a unit to gauge, but a distinct object in its own right. If the sea had a soul, it was the very depth of it.
Jim came suddenly alert. He glanced instinctively at his watch and was rewarded once again with infallible timing. Running a hand over his face he stood, then looked down at the very water he'd been zoning into. No doubt I have Sandburg to thank for that moment of philosophy.
After checking the pole, he walked through the cabin and up to the hatch that Blair had left open. "Hey, Chief, how about some lunch?"
Blair rolled over sleepily and looked down at Jim. "Man, I could sleep for a week."
"Yeah, but we've only got the weekend. Just roll over while I fix something to eat."
He nodded and wordlessly changed positions, falling almost instantly back to sleep once he'd gotten on his stomach.
Jim stretched again, letting his back pop a few times before going into the galley to see what was available. The MarySue was well equipped to house several people for a few weeks at a time, and by the looks of the cupboards, Simon had expected to be out for a while with Daryl. There was a large assortment of meats and cheeses, as well as fresh fruit. Already tired of fruit salad, Jim gathered up the bread, meats, and other sandwich fixings and set about making a substantial lunch. The city had been so hot, neither man had much appetite over the past several days. But out on the water, with the cooling breeze blowing steadily in from the ocean, Jim felt like making up for some lost time. He made sandwiches, then found a bag of chips and retrieved two beers from the fridge since they were anchored for the duration now. After placing lunch on the main table, Jim walked forward and tapped on the window Blair was resting against.
"Wake up, Chief, lunch is on." He waited until his friend began to get up, then walked back to the table and sat down.
"Oh, man, that felt good." Blair rubbed his face as he approached the table, then pushed a few escaped strands of hair back out of his face.
"Have a good nap?"
"I wasn't napping, Sandburg, I was fishing." Jim picked up his sandwich and took a bite, eyeing Blair as he removed the top from his beer bottle.
"There's a difference?" He grinned, then took a drink.
Jim shook his head while he chewed, but decided to ignore his partner's editorial comments. He'd always known that while Blair enjoyed boating, kayaking, and just about every other outdoor activity there was, fishing was just something he did when he was hungry for fish. Jim, on the other hand, could spend hours casting a line or watching a pole, and didn't care if he caught a thing. There was a relaxing quality to simply being there, listening to the water, watching the play of light on the waves. Sentinel eyesight had proven an asset to fresh water fly fishing, since the water was crystal clear and typically rather shallow. But out here, the water was far too deep and murky with plankton and kelp to see more than a few feet down.
They finished lunch, then went aft, Jim to once again sit beside the pole he'd set in search of some bottom fish, and Blair to sit lotus-style on top of the transom facing him. The seas were calm and the breeze blowing steadily southward seemed to lessen. Jim set his beer down and pulled the pole out of its holder so he could slowly begin to reel in.
"Check that out." Blair nodded starboard. "I bet they're heading up the passage."
Jim looked in the direction his friend had pointed and saw the three-masted schooner. "Looks like a charter." He turned his attention back to the pole. "I almost took one of those up the inland to Alaska last summer."
"Really? What stopped you?"
"Money, Chief. My old truck had finally given up and I had to make a choice. Take a vacation I didn't need, or buy a new ride." He glanced up at Blair. "Turns out, the charter was the same price as that red jeep."
"You see, that's the trouble with money. As soon as you get ahead, something happens that inevitably costs exactly the same as the money you've got." Blair shook his head. "That's why you never want to win the lotto, Jim. I'd hate to see the kind of problem that would occur in direct relation to that kind of money."
Jim laughed a little as he continued to reel the line in. "That's one way to look at it." He had nearly half the line back on the reel when it suddenly tugged. Realizing it was more of a snag than a fish, Jim stood to get a better angle and continued a steady re-wind.
"You get something?"
"No, more liked snagged something." Jim tried to focus through the water but it was too murky to see the end of his line. Blair got up and stood next to him, peering over the side. "Probably some kelp." The line was getting harder and harder to bring in, and just when Jim feared he'd have to cut it, his eye caught sight of something orange slowly surfacing.
"Oh, man, would you look at that!"
Jim set the end of the pole down and glanced around the deck. "Sandburg, get that grapple over there." Blair spotted the hook and went to unstrap it from the storage section. "I haven't seen one this big around here in a long time."
Blair returned with the grappling pole and began to extend it, gazing at the huge, deep orange jellyfish as it bobbed and pulsated next to the boat. "Ever get stung by one of these?"
"Yeah, it's no fun." Jim reeled in as close as he dared, careful not to raise it out of the water while Blair tried to hook the line and pull it close enough to cut. "Those stingers are like battery acid. Don't see many of these, thank goodness. The white ones are nothing." The line was close enough now, so Jim reached out with the fishing knife and started cutting. "Me and a buddy in the Rangers did a night dive one time, during training. We couldn't see the thing till we were right on top of it." Three passes of the knife and the line snapped, freeing the jellyfish. "I got a few stingers wrapped around my legs, but my partner really got tangled. He was in the hospital burn unit for two weeks."
Blair made a face and looked back at the orange glob that seemed to be staring back at them. "It's amazing, isn't it? Almost everything deadly, poisonous, or in the least bit dangerous to be around, is beautiful to look at."
"What happened, Chief? You ask Sam out again?" Jim laughed, dismantling the pole.
"No, her window closed again right after I forgot our last date. Which, if I have any sense, will be our last date."
"If you have any sense?" Jim glanced at the jellyfish that was slowly pulsating its way away from the boat, trailing several yards of stingers behind it. "This from the man who showed his girlfriend his journals, forgets 48 hour windows that I still don't understand, and who asks women out almost compulsively."
Blair rolled his eyes and held both hands up in defeat. "Okay, okay, I get it." He returned to his seat on the transom and finished his beer in one swallow.
"I've been trying to teach you all I know, Chief. You should be taking advantage of my many years of experience. One failed marriage taught me more than enough about the complexities of a relationship."
"At least I'm learning."
"Slowly, Sandburg." Jim stowed the pole and picked up his beer before sitting back down. "Very slowly." He laughed at the look on his friend's face, but before he could add another comment, the sound of twin engines and breaking water caught their attention.
Rounding the point was a large, ocean going private yacht that out-shadowed their own by at least 40 feet. Jim focused on the vessel as it began to slow, still a few miles away from them and veer off toward the shore slightly. It took several minutes for the boat to lose all forward momentum, then the sound of two large anchors plunging into the water was clearly heard.
"Looks like we'll have neighbors tonight." Blair pulled his sunglasses down from their perch on top of his head and put them on, gazing at the new arrivals.
"At least they're keeping their distance. Sound travels far enough out here without them parking it too close." Jim turned away and looked out over the water behind them, watching a seagull fly overhead.
"You ever think about running away, Jim?" Blair was still watching the yacht, an oddly contemplative look on his face.
He turned to look at Jim and shrugged. "You know, just up and leave. Go on some grand adventure, escape the confines of society and work and all that day to day crap that builds up in your life."
"What brought this on, Chief?" Jim eyed his friend, seeing easily through the dark glasses to those expressive blue eyes beneath. "You're not planning on going pirate on me, are you?" One thing he had come to realize was that Blair's moods could alter with the tide, and would sometimes take bizarre twists and turns before coming back to settle in one place.
Blair shrugged. "When I was a kid, and I'd see a yacht that size, I'd start to daydream about just getting onboard and shoving off. Sail the world, visit exotic places, never staying in one place for very long." He glanced at the yacht again. "You know, when you're out here, nothing can touch you. Sometimes I think if you could find a place big enough, open enough, you could get lost and nothing could catch up."
Jim sighed, hoping his friend was just feeling the beer and childhood daydreams. "That's just it, Chief. You can't. There's no place big enough, or far enough away that reality can't catch up. Running from something doesn't make it go away, because nine times out of ten, the problem isn't outside, it's inside." Jim pointed to his chest for emphasis and watched Blair closely as he nodded his understanding. "Just what is it you think you need to run from?"
"Nothing, Jim, I was just...romanticizing, I guess." He gazed around, gesturing with one hand at their surroundings. "You know, the wide open sea, tales of adventure. Boyhood fantasies of conquering the world."
"Yeah, that and maybe you shouldn't drink beer when you're tired." Jim stood and walked over to remove the empty bottle from Blair's hand. "I think maybe you need to cool off, before heat stroke sets in."
"Jim, trust me, I was just making conversation." Blair held up both hands and shook his head. "There's nothing to read into here."
Jim nodded slowly and deliberately, then looked over the side at the deep blue water, making sure there was no lingering sign of the jellyfish they'd so recently had as a visitor.
"Jim, just put that thought right out of your mind." Blair stood and took a few steps away, still shaking his head.
"It's been awfully hot lately, Chief." Jim smiled and looked in the opposite direction, scanning the gently rolling waves around the boat.
"You know that water's cold, man. Even more so when you're hot."
"Yeah, just about right, I'd say." In one quick move, Jim turned, catching Blair easily by both arms and pulling him to the side and over before he could protest. His friend hit the water with a huge splash, then surfaced quickly, spouting curses. Jim heard only the first few. He dove off the boat himself and submerged close to his friend. When he came up, Blair palmed water at his face.
"You know, Jim, one of these days I'm going to start keeping a record of how often you throw me to the ground."
"As long as you're also writing down the reasons why, Chief, I've got no problem with it." He laughed, then watched Blair shake his head and begin to swim away from the boat.
They swam several yards out, side by side, then turned and made their way back. When they reached the boat, Blair declared he'd had enough and climbed back on board while Jim went out for another lap. After their swim, both men got comfortable on the bow and let the sun dry them out while they dozed. By early evening, the wind had stopped blowing completely, and the water was almost dead calm, lending a stillness to the hot summer air. Blair volunteered to put dinner together, so Jim set about re-stringing the fishing line and attaching the new reel before he stowed the gear. Within an hour, the table was set with steaks, salad and rolls. There was beer for Jim, but Blair opted for water. They ate, happy again to have appetites and knowing that if the hot weather continued after returning to the city, they wouldn't feel like eating this well for a while.
After dinner Jim cleaned up the galley while Blair made a pot of decaf. He found a bottle of whiskey and added a modest splash to the coffee before they retired to the stern to watch the sun set. Their neighbors also seemed to be enjoying some libations for the evening, but Jim had to focus to hear the party and found he could easily tune them out, so he did. Blair had been in a fine mood all through dinner, giving no hint that his little run-away speech had been anything more than the idle daydreaming he'd said it was. But Jim still took note of his body language. One thing he'd learned, among many since meeting his new partner, was never to completely discount anything he said. Some of it was bullshit, some of it was just his tendency to think out loud--a habit Jim often found more informative than anything he'd say on purpose--but typically it was what Blair didn't say that needed to be heard.
But tonight, all seemed well. They watched the sun sink below the distant waves, quietly marveling at the array of orange and red that sparkled and danced as it reflected off the water. Bright oranges soon gave way to muted reds which in turn morphed to an almost purple-hued blue before fading completely to black. When the sun left, the moon appeared, shining down like a spotlight directly above them. One by one, stars joined in, until the night sky was filled with lights.
"Look at that." Blair leaned back, resting on both hands as he gazed at the display. "Reminds me of a summer Mom and I spent up at Big Sur. She'd spend hours meditating under the stars."
"Yeah." Jim found the north star, then followed it until he could identify some of the constellations. "When I was ten, I thought I wanted to be an astronaut."
Blair looked at him, eyebrows raised. "That would be interesting. Testing out your sight and hearing in the vacuum of space." He paused and Jim could see his mental wheels spinning with lost possibilities and speculative results of impossible tests. "I'd love to see what differences you'd pick up if atmosphere and filtered light weren't big factors."
Jim smiled, more at the sight of his partner in discovery mode than the idea of him in space. "That might have made it harder for you to come to work with me every day, don't you think, Chief?"
Blair shrugged dismissively. "There's always a way around things, Jim."
"With you, Sandburg, I believe it." Jim shook his head and gazed out over the sparkling moon-lit water. It was true, of course. And he'd known Blair too long now not to believe he could find some way to do exactly what he wanted, no matter what obstacles lay before him. Jim was a Detective in Major Crimes, and Blair had managed a permanent position as his partner. Not only that, but he'd managed it while still keeping Jim's Sentinel abilities a secret, making his reasons for being there even more of a mystery to the rest of the Precinct. Somehow he knew, if Jim was still a Ranger, Blair would have managed to be there beside him. Or if he were an astronaut, a firefighter, or even a deep-sea welder, he'd still have a partner. How on earth he'd accomplish it, Jim had no clue. But he also had no doubts as to Blair's ability to get what he wanted. It was a trait he'd come to count on, and admire, no matter how mystifying it could be.
Blair stood and stretched. "I'm gonna turn in. I think this will be my first full night's sleep in a week."
Jim finished his coffee and nodded. "Yeah. Might be the only one for a while, if this weather keeps up." He handed his empty cup to Blair to take back to the galley. "Good night, Chief."
Jim stayed on deck, watching the moon slowly move across the night sky. The sounds and smells of the sea reminded him of Carolyn's uncle's old house at the ocean. That in turn reminded him that she had called last week, leaving a message on the machine about the insurance and that mysterious gas leak that caused the house to be destroyed. He'd have to call her back about that, one of these days. Voices could be heard in the distance, and Jim turned his attention to the yacht anchored nearby. On the water, and especially at night, sounds carried dramatically. Luckily, the party goers seemed to be taking it indoors, and Jim found if he blocked them out, he could still enjoy the peace and quiet of the water and not be kept awake.
As the lights on the other yacht went out one by one, Jim decided it was time for him to go to sleep as well. He secured the cabin, glanced around the galley to make sure they'd cleaned up everything, and went forward to the main berth. Blair had taken the guest berth aft, but it was a simple matter of direction for Jim to pick up on his partner's quiet breathing. He used that as a focal point to keep the sounds from the other yacht from interrupting. As the night progressed, the party there seemed to rise and fall in decibels.
Onboard the MarySue, all was quiet. Jim got out of his clothes and into bed, letting the sheet cover only his legs. This weekend had turned out to be an unexpected treat, instead of the sweltering tedium he had expected. And he had Blair to thank for most of his enjoyment. His fear of open water made trips in the wider Straits somewhat nerve wracking, even if they didn't hold the same all-out gripping terror as the open sea. But now that he'd been able to overcome that fear, thanks to Blair, this trip held none of the old twinges of discomfort associated with his former phobia.
Jim fell asleep, wondering if Blair would have been able to conquer his own fear of heights, if Jim had turned out to be a Sentinel helicopter pilot.
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