By the time he finished his soup, and made sure Blair did likewise, they were both falling asleep.
"Well, listen to us go on, while you two are so exhausted. Harold, why didn't you shut me up an hour ago?" Maureen stood and took their empty bowls to the galley. "We have a guest berth, but just the one, I'm afraid."
"Yes, the boat was custom built, and we found having only one extra berth kept the relatives from all wanting to visit and go sailing." Harold and Maureen exchanged mischievous glances. "There's just a double bed, but if you don't mind...?"
"We'll be fine, thank you. I think my partner here could fall asleep where he is and be happy." Jim smiled at Blair's failing attempts to keep the sleeves of the sweatshirt from falling over both hands.
"Please, be our guests." Harold stood and with one hand indicated the direction of the guest berth, at the opposite end of the boat from their own. "The berth has its own head with a shower. Sleep as much as you need. The Coast Guard should be out here sometime late morning. I gave them our coordinates."
"Thank you, again, for everything." Blair stood and Jim had to reach out and take his friend's arm as he swayed.
"Come on, Chief, you need to find your sea-legs again."
"I just can't believe you two lasted that long out there." Maureen shook her head while she wiped her hands dry on a towel. "Just make yourselves at home. Anything you need."
"Thank you." Jim nodded, then helped Blair aft. His own legs felt like wood, and his feet actually hurt having weight put on them again after so many long hours soaking in the salt water.
The berth was spacious, mostly under the waterline where the Grand Adventure swelled out to an impressive size. Blair made it as far as the bed and sat down with a sigh. He reached up to push the hair from his face and found only sleeve where a hand should have been.
Jim couldn't help chuckling at the sight.
"You know, Jim, I was almost afraid of who we'd find on this boat when we got here." He pushed the sleeve up far enough to reveal a few fingers, then forced the hair out of his eyes. "I just knew with my luck they'd be a couple of seagoing Wade's or something."
Jim laughed softly and stepped into the head to splash some cold water over his face. His entire body was caked with minute particles of dried salt, and it was beginning to drive his Sentinel sense of touch off the irritation scale.
"Couldn't be farther from the truth, Chief." Jim stopped after cleaning his face. He needed a shower, but didn't want to waste their host's supply of fresh water. Tomorrow morning he could clean up some more, but right now sleep was what he needed. "They're a very nice couple."
"Yeah. Lucky, too. Not many people get the chance to do what they really want to do with their lives like this." Blair was still sitting on the end of the bed, looking for all the world like a rag doll too limp to just fall over.
"So which are you, Chief?" Jim crossed the room and sat down on the opposite side of the bed, deciding he was too tired and still cold enough to just go ahead and sleep in his borrowed clothes. "Are you living your dream, or one of those people constantly in search of it?"
"Both, Jim." Blair's eyes lit up again, but his voice was too tired to reflect the emotion behind it. "I mean, come on, man. My work is my life. I'm one of those incredibly rare, insanely lucky people whose life's work walks right into his office one day and hands him the future on a silver platter. Or maybe in your case it was a gold shield." He pushed himself back on the bed until his head was up at the pillows. "No, this just doesn't happen to many people, Jim. Don't think I don't know how lucky I am. I'm living my dream, just like those two are. And just like them, I'm finding things I never knew were there."
"Things you never knew were there? Like what, Chief?"
Blair yawned, then shivered slightly and pulled the blanket up over him. "Like you, man. You're not what I expected."
"Oh?" Jim was intrigued now, despite his body's strong need for sleep. Blair was in one of his open moments, probably due to his own fatigue, and Jim wanted to get all he could out of his partner before he clammed up again. "What were you expecting?"
"I don't know." Blair looked up and shook his head, then forced his eyes wide for a moment to try and stay awake. "When I figure it out, I'll let you know. That might take some time, though." He yawned again and pressed his head into the pillow, trying to stay on one side of the small bed.
Jim smiled and shook his head. "You may be living your dream, Sandburg, but you're asleep on your feet."
"Yeah." Blair sighed and wiggled farther under the blanket. He, too, kept on his borrowed clothes against the chill of too many hours in the water.
Jim got into the bed and reached out to flip off the only light, then settled himself under the blanket and closed his eyes. In the double bed, his arm was resting against Blair's side, and his partner shifted, trying to move farther over.
"Sandburg, would you just relax? The bed's too small to worry about bumping into each other, and I'm too exhausted to make a pass. Okay? You need to work on this fear of touch, buddy."
Jim smiled slightly and opened his eyes to glance at Blair. His friend was staring up at the ceiling, fighting heavy lids. "Don't Jim me, Sandburg. Just go to sleep."
Blair laughed shortly, then sighed. He was fast asleep before he could comment further.
Jim turned to look at his friend, sleeping beside him with the blanket pulled up to his chin to ward off the lingering chill from the water. He'd always known Blair's life's work was the Sentinel theory. One had only to look at his face when the subject of his studies came up, to know how passionate he was about his field. But until now, until Blair had put it into words, Jim had never considered himself someone else's ultimate goal in life. The Sentinel senses were a part of him he might never fully understand or appreciate. And they were just as big a part of Blair, and his life, as they were Jim's. But it wasn't just that keeping them together, not anymore. Blair Sandburg had quickly become the younger brother Jim had never had the chance to enjoy with Stephen. Even that description didn't fully satisfy their situation. Lying there, he found himself flooded with a new sense of responsibility. And that sense was followed immediately by such a strong mixture of pride, affection, and relief, it threatened to keep him awake trying to process it all.
Jim closed his eyes and pressed his head into the pillow. His body wasn't yet convinced he was no longer in the water, and the sensation of having to maintain his balance made falling asleep right away impossible. The gentle rocking of the sailboat added to the feeling. With Blair lying next to him, Jim didn't need Sentinel hearing to tune into his breathing pattern, it was already a part of what was helping quiet down his mind. Now that they were out of the water, alive and safe, he could let his mind and body return to something resembling normal alertness while he used his flood of mental reactions as a focus. Even as he fell asleep, Jim set his internal sensitivity to the sound of diesel engines.
Sometime during the night, Jim woke with a start. His mind became instantly awake, but his body protested the notion. A quick focus around the room and then out and around the boat showed him nothing amiss. With a sigh, he glanced over at Blair, and found the young man curled up on his side, facing Jim. Both sleeved-covered hands rested against Jim's shoulder, and the fingers of one were laced tightly through Jim's sweater. He watched Blair sleep for a few minutes, letting his mind calm back down from the instant wake up call. In sleep, Blair sighed and his fingers reaffirmed their hold. Something deep inside Jim sighed with relieved satisfaction. He closed his eyes again, and drifted to sleep.
The sound of seagulls woke him the next time. Their cries above the boat suggested a school of herring was close by. Jim opened his eyes, instantly remembering where they were and why. And with that memory came the realization that he hadn't so much as rolled over the entire night. He looked over at Blair sleeping beside him. His partner was now on his stomach, one arm hanging off the opposite side of the bed, the other curled up around his head. Jim took a deep breath, and in one quick motion forced his aching body into a sitting position. His legs felt like lead, and his feet hit the deck with a dull thud. Arms that protested moving were forced to bring Jim's hands to his face, rubbing the exhaustion away. He sighed quietly, then stood and made his way to the head.
The Warder's guest facilities were fully stocked, including toothbrushes still in their new packaging. Jim cleaned himself up as best as he could without using too much of their fresh water supply, then dressed again in his borrowed clothes. When he stepped back into the bedroom area, Blair was stirring.
"Come on, Chief. The Coast Guard should be here any minute to get us back to Cascade." Jim walked to the bed and stood beside Blair.
"Oh, man." Blair moaned and propped himself up on both elbows, staring down at the pillow. "A little stiff?"
Blair shook his head and forced his body to twist enough to let both legs slide from under the blanket, setting both feet onto the deck with a wince. "I don't even remember sleeping." He reached up to push the hair from his eyes and had to fight with the sleeves again before fingers could be found.
Jim smiled at the sight, glad to see Blair once again out of the water and no longer in danger. "Get yourself cleaned up and you'll feel a little better."
"Yeah." Blair nodded, then slowly stood. With Jim's help, he managed to walk to the bathroom.
The sound of the running tap reminded Jim just how dehydrated he still was. As soon as Blair was ready, they'd go out on deck to wait for the Coast Guard in the company of their rescuers. In the meantime, Jim set about fixing up the bed they'd slept in. His arms and legs began to loosen up with the movement, and he was finally able to convince his equilibrium that what was under his bare feet was relatively stable, so there was no more careening off the walls or the corners of the bed as he moved around the berth.
He kept an ear tuned to Blair in the bathroom, and heard the little quiet moans and sharp intakes of breath that signaled stiff muscles and aching joints. Jim smiled inwardly as he recalled his partner's tenacity out there in the middle of nowhere. Blair Sandburg was as close to being the epitome of bravery as any untrained man or woman could be. Even closer than a few of the trained ones. He had just enough fear to keep himself from doing something too foolish, and just the right amount of guts to follow Jim without question, whether jumping from a plane over the jungle, off a cliff in the middle of the woods, or staying afloat in the middle of the Straits when the tide and odds of survival were against him. Jim didn't know many people, cops or not, who would go through all of that based on nothing more than friendship. Nor could they go through that and come out of it ready and willing to do it again.
But Blair would. Of that, Jim had no doubt. By the time they got back to Cascade, worked out what had happened with Simon, and recovered from the aches and pains, Blair would have shaken this whole incident off, just like Jim had learned to do years ago. Inside, Jim would take credit for that. He couldn't help the sense of pride he felt with Blair and he had no intention of denying it. Last night, after being rescued from a 16-hour swim, exhausted and in pain, Blair had found the energy and enthusiasm to work his magic with Maureen and Harold, drawing them into a deep conversation about their travels and expectations.
"You're right, Jim, I feel better now." Blair stepped out of the head, forcing his hair into a ponytail with a rubber band he had found. His sleeves were now rolled up to the elbow, but showed signs of coming loose at any moment.
"Aches and pains remind us we're alive, Chief." Jim finished folding the extra blanket and set it at the foot of the bed. "They're easier to get over than drowning." He reached out and indicated the bandaging on Blair's left hand. "How's the hand?"
"Better." He flexed the fingers, then began to unwrap the gauze. When he pulled it off completely, Jim reached out and pulled the hand closer for a good look.
"Looks good, Chief." The welt had been reduced in size by more than half overnight. All that was left was a thin, dark red line with a few small blisters covering the length.
Blair shuddered suddenly and pulled his hand back. "You know, Jim, that's the second time I really thought about drowning."
"What do you mean?" Jim watched Blair's face as he looked around the room. For a moment, it looked as if Blair wanted to disappear into the huge sweatshirt he was wearing, then he came back out of it and met Jim's eyes.
"Back in that warehouse. That's how he killed the other three. He drowned them."
Jim suddenly realized what was going through his friend's mind. "David Lash?"
Blair nodded. "At first, I was nearly choking on that water he poured down my throat. I mean, I was trying not to swallow it, and it was going down the wrong way and I really thought for a second I was going to die right there. But then, this little voice inside said to swallow it, that maybe if I was unconscious drowning wouldn't hurt." He looked thoughtful for a moment, then shook his head. "But I realized what that would mean. You know, giving up and all. And I couldn't do it."
Jim smiled slightly. "You did good, Chief. You've got a very healthy sense of self-preservation."
"Yeah, well, I can't tell you what it felt like to hear you come down those stairs, man." Blair shook his head and pushed the rolled sleeves up again. "Talk about timing."
"It's all in the wrist, Sandburg." Jim slapped him gently on the arm then glanced around the room to make sure they were leaving it in good order.
Blair nodded tiredly. "What about Simon?"
Jim laughed and shook his head, placing one hand on Blair's shoulder to steer him toward the cabin door. "Don't worry about Simon. We were no more responsible than if we'd been involved in a hit and run on the highway. He'll understand that."
"So, we point out the danger we were in, play up the part about having narrowly survived, and focus on you and me being alive, giving the Captain no time to realize where exactly his uncle's boat is right now."
They stepped into the galley and were greeted by two smiling faces and the tantalizing odors of breakfast.
"Good morning, how are you feeling today?" Maureen set plates on the galley table and patted the couch where she wanted them to sit.
"Much better, thank you." Jim let Blair slide behind the table, then he sat beside him. "We should be out of your hair soon."
"Oh, stuff and nonsense. You're welcome here as our guests, for heaven's sake." She turned and stepped back to the stove where a pan was steaming. "Harold, breakfast is almost ready."
"Coming, dear." Harold's voice rang through the clear morning air from above them.
"I have coffee, but you two should still be drinking water. And orange juice as soon as I can remember where I put it. Ah, here it is. Wouldn't you know, right where it belongs." She pulled a jug from the refrigerator and poured two large glasses full of the pulpy juice, then set them on the table, followed by two glasses of the same size, filled with fresh water. "I hope you like eggs. Rather mundane, but I've added a bit here and there."
"And she keeps adding every time we meet someone who has a new way of cooking the same old thing." Harold stepped into the galley and nodded at Jim, then Blair, before leaning over to kiss his wife.
"Do I smell salmon?" Jim's skin was still itching with the dried salt, and his mouth tasted like salty toothpaste, but his olfactory senses weren't failing him as Maureen set two large plates of scrambled eggs on the table.
"Dinner last night was fresh catch, and we never let anything go to waste here." She returned to the stove and filled two more plates, then she and Harold joined them at the large table.
"This is incredible, thank you." Blair reached for his fork and his sleeve began to unroll again.
Jim savored the first forkful of eggs and salmon. He and Blair mixed trout with eggs when they camped, but only when there were leftovers. Which also meant they would have to have caught the fish in the first place.
They ate breakfast gratefully, listening to Maureen and Harold discuss the better areas for fishing and the many exotic ways they had learned to prepare their catch. Blair made a few suggestions, adding some items Jim had never considered food, and Maureen wrote them all down excitedly. Before Blair could even offer to help with dishes, they heard the approach of the Coast Guard. They stood on the deck, saying their goodbyes. Maureen handed them their jeans, still damp and hardened from the salt, insisting they keep their borrowed clothes.
Blair jumped from the Grand Adventure to the Coast Guard deck with the help of two deckhands, then Jim followed. The deck was hot on his bare feet, so they hurriedly finished their thank-yous and went inside the vessel.
"You would be Detective Ellison?" Jim was met by a large, dark man in a Captain's uniform, looking down at him from an impressive height.
"Yes, sir." Jim shook the Captain's hand. "This is Blair Sandburg."
"Simon sent me out personally to find you two. I'm Captain Ellsworth." The Captain smiled widely, then shook Blair's hand and laughed as the sleeve of the younger man's borrowed shirt fell all the way down to cover both their hands. "I never did get a chance to personally thank you for the help with that death investigation on the North Star rig this Spring." He released Blair's hand and clapped Jim on the shoulder. "It's a good thing you were there, seeing as how it turned into quite the little twisted plot, huh? Well, come on. You two need to be examined by our medic on the way in, and you can tell me what happened out there." He stepped forward and led the way down a narrow corridor and through a side hatch. "I'm sure we must have something for you to put on that will be more comfortable than those borrowed clothes."
Jim stepped through the hatch into the ship's sickbay. "So, Simon knows what happened already?" He was slightly surprised not to find Captain Banks onboard, demanding to know where his uncle's boat was. Right after making sure Jim and Blair were unhurt, of course.
Captain Ellsworth laughed, a deep belly-laugh that reverberated around the metal walled room. "That poor sap. He was on the phone to me the very minute the call came in from the Grand Adventure, asking me if I'd heard of any problems in the Straits." The Captain nodded to the medic who was waiting quietly off to one side to be introduced to his patients. "No sooner had he told me you two were out on his uncle's MarySue, than I heard the call." He chuckled and shook his head, then reached out for Jim's shoulder and pulled him over to sit on the exam table. "I think he swallowed his cigar." Blair was next, and nearly came out of the sweatshirt when he was pulled over to the opposite bed. "Now, Lieutenant Boggs is going to check you both over. Then you can tell me what happened, and we'll work up something to tell Simon when we reach Cascade."
Jim shook his head and smiled at the massive figure of Captain Ellsworth walking through the small hatch back into the corridor. He didn't know when or how this giant and Simon had met and become friends. But one thing he was pretty sure of, Captain Ellsworth had never been on the high school debate team. If his size today was any indication of what he looked like at 17, chances were, he was the football team.
Lieutenant Boggs was just the opposite. Very frail, very quiet, and just about the blondest man Jim had ever met. He and Blair were examined, then given some Coast Guard sweats that were a much closer fit. Blair's hand was cleaned and one more thin bandage applied to prevent the blisters from becoming infected. After the medic cleared them both, Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder and steered him through the hatch in search of the captain.
"Man, the first thing I need when we get home is a shower." Blair rubbed his arm, trying to scratch through the sleeve of the sweatshirt. "All this dried sea salt is making my skin crawl." He looked up at Jim. "I don't know how you can stand it, Jim."
"I can't. It's driving me crazy, Chief." Jim reached for the hatch that led to the pilot house. "I keep wanting to jump into the bay to wash off. And believe me, if that would help, I think I would." They stepped into the room and were greeted by the crackle of a radio distress call.
"Gentlemen, I think we have another victim here." Captain Ellsworth handed Jim a set of binoculars and pointed out the port side window. "Just got a call from a boat going down three miles out. The boat that rammed them is sinking right along with them."
Jim squinted through the window in the proper direction and had no trouble at all seeing the two boats floundering. Captain Ellsworth was standing farther ahead, with his back to them, so Jim handed Blair the binoculars and pointed.
"Looks like they're going down fast." He could see at least three people in the water, a young woman and two very small children. The captain gave an order for full speed and all hands jumped to their positions. Sirens blared as the cruiser closed the gap between them and the two sinking vessels. Jim focused on the boats going down, searching the water for more signs of life. The young woman was clutching her children and shouting to someone Jim couldn't see as she struggled to stay afloat. The smaller of the two boats finally sank completely below the water, and a man with another child could be seen clutching a piece of flotsam.
"There's a young couple and three kids." Jim answered Blair, then turned and motioned for him to exit the pilot house so they could help the rescue effort from the deck. "I can't see anyone else, but that bigger boat is definitely the one that hit us." He'd seen enough to identify the few ID numbers, and the size fit. If there were survivors, one sentence from any of them would give Jim a positive ID of the partyers responsible for the sinking of the MarySue, and his and Blair's near drowning.
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