Blair shrugged, glancing out the front window. "I'd be in Borneo, with Dr Stoddard," he replied. "But that never could have happened, 'cause you started experiencing your Sentinel senses coming out, and I had that friend at the hospital. You never could have avoided me, man." Blair's attempts at levity didn't work, with Jim or with him.
"Listen, there are things that happen every day that affect your life. You just make a decision, and go with it." Jim glanced at Blair to make sure he was listening. "You can drive yourself crazy wondering 'what if' until you're blue. It won't change where you are." Blair was nodding, glancing out the window. "Keep an eye out for Seacrest Ave," Jim said. "It's been a while since I've been out here." He decided Blair wasn't ready to open up, not here in the truck. But, Jim was determined they'd hash out whatever was nagging him before the weekend was up. He had paint, and his cuffs, if it came to that. But whatever it was, Jim had decided that now was the time to put all the cards on the table, and see where they stood. Both of them.
He had made up his mind last night, while listening to Blair toss and turn below him all night long, that it was time to find out just how committed his partner was willing to be. He'd learned something in Peru, when they went there together to rescue Simon and Daryl, something he couldn't talk about earlier. Maybe it was time to talk about it now. If Blair was worried about Simon, or what the future held, then maybe it was time they discussed it. If he could get Blair to open up, and understand. But, was Jim ready for his answer, whatever it might be?
"Hey, there it is." Blair was pointing to a road off to the left, so Jim turned onto it.
"Yeah, I remember this now. The house is just a mile down here, on the right." Jim slowed down, watching the houses pass by, looking for the one he remembered. It wasn't long until he spotted the house, looking old and lonely in its peeling, light blue paint. "Poor thing's starting to look its age."
"How long has it been since someone's lived here?" Blair asked as they pulled into the long driveway and up to the house.
Jim shrugged. "No one's been inside since the last renters moved out." He parked the truck and they both climbed out, standing in the driveway to stare at the old house. "Carolyn was going to come out here a while back, but she never did." He fished in his jacket pocket for the keys and walked up to the house. "Well, let's have a look."
It took some doing to get the front door open, swollen as it was by disuse and moisture. Once inside, they were assaulted by a musty odor that had Jim reeling backwards a half-step.
"Oh, man, I guess it needs some airing out." Blair waved a hand in front of his face to ward off the odor and glanced at Jim. "You okay?"
Jim was squinting against the smell of abandonment that had filled his sensitive nose. "Yeah." He nodded, still squinting a little. He'd have to turn down the senses for a while, until they could replace the stagnant air with fresh, sea breezes. "Let's get the windows open." He stepped inside, leading the way through the small living room, around the only couch, to the kitchen that consisted of a counter facing the living room, a small gas stove, and refrigerator. "Get this one, Chief. I'll go down the hall." Jim left Blair to fight with the sticking kitchen window as he continued down the hallway to the single bedroom. Inside, the air was even more rank, with what looked suspiciously like mouse droppings in a far corner near the closet. The room was empty, except for a small bed pushed up against the wall. Jim hurried over to the single window and pushed against protesting wood, forcing the pane up and open to the ocean it faced. They'd need a cross breeze to air the house out, but the only other window that could be opened was in the bathroom, also on the sea-side of the house. Jim went inside the tiny room and forced that window open as well, noting with some disgust the filth coating the tiled floor, and what looked like rust staining the inside of the sink and tub.
"Man, should have come out here sooner," he mumbled, wrinkling his nose up at the sight.
"Hey, Jim, this place does have indoor plumbing, doesn't it?" Blair was standing in the hallway, glancing past him into the small bathroom.
Jim looked at him, then back at the toilet. "I hope so." He reluctantly reached out and flipped down the lever, watching as the brown water slowly gurgled and churned down the drain, sending a moan of protest through the walls as the plumbing reluctantly spasmed into working order. "Small wonder," he said, glancing back at Blair. "I should have come out here sooner."
"Yeah, well like you said, you've been busy." Blair turned back to the living room and nodded. "I left the front door open, for a breeze. Are there any other windows?"
Jim shook his head, then stepped out of the bathroom and followed Blair back to the livingroom. "No, this place is just this one room, the kitchen, and a bedroom. Pretty small." He stepped outside, breathing deeply through his nose to clear the passages of the stale stench that lingered in his sinuses. "Place needs more work than I thought. I'm not sure it's going to be worth it." They both reached the truck and Jim stopped, gazing back at the house. "I thought I could fix it up, then rent it out again like Ted did, but I'm not so sure that's a good idea."
Blair was looking around at the other houses nestled rather close, then out to the ocean they could see behind the house. "I don't know, man. I mean, it's your decision, but it's sure nice out here. Maybe a little crowded." He gazed at the neighboring houses again, then over the hood of the truck to Jim. "I just can't fathom actually owning something like this. I mean, in as much as someone can own land that never belonged to anyone in the first place."
Jim raised his eyebrows. "You didn't plan on living in that warehouse forever, did you Chief?" Was Jim going to get his answer now? Could it be that simple?
"No, man, it's just that I never really thought about actually owning something like a house, or land. It's so...permanent." He shrugged and moved to the back of the truck to start unloading the supplies.
Jim followed, hefting out a few cans of paint. "There's nothing wrong with permanence, Sandburg. It's called stability. Everyone needs a place they can call home, whether they own it or not." They each had an armful and began to walk back inside the house.
"I dunno, man. It's a nice idea and all, but I'm just not used to it." They set down their loads and walked back to the truck for more. "I mean, when I was a kid, Mom and I moved around a lot. Mostly we stayed with the guys she was seeing, sometimes we had a place to ourselves for a few months, maybe a year or two. I just get antsy after a while, and need to move around."
Jim stopped him as he was reaching into the truck for more. "Hang on a minute, Chief." Blair stopped and looked up. Jim could see the wall still there, so he sighed and glanced around for a second. "You and I need to have a talk."
Blair pulled his arms out of the truck and wrinkled his eyebrows, a worried look crossing his face. "What about, Jim?"
Jim shrugged slightly, slapping his right fist into his left hand gently while he looked down at Blair. "About a lot of things. That's why I dragged you out here. The house can wait. There's something bothering you, and we need to get it worked out."
Blair shook his head, looking at the ground for a minute, "There's nothing bothering me, man. I'm fine." He reached back into the truck and took out a box of tools, glancing quickly back up at Jim.
Jim looked away, then back to Blair, rubbing his eyebrows with one hand. "Fine. We've got the weekend to get this worked out." He looked at Blair again, "But you're not getting back to Cascade until we've had a talk."
Blair laughed slightly, then turned towards the house. "Sure, anything you say, Jim. But there's nothing bothering me."
"Right," Jim said quietly to himself. He looked around for a few seconds, gazing at the houses next door, before picking up the last box of tools and supplies and following Blair into the house.
"So where do we start?" Blair had set the boxes down in the living room and was looking around the small house when Jim stepped inside.
Okay, we can take it slow. "Check that closet over there, to your right." Jim nodded towards the door as he set his box down. "Ted used to keep a vacuum cleaner here for the renters."
"Got it." Blair produced the machine from the small closet and began to unravel the cord.
"If it works, start in the bedroom. I think there are mice in there."
Blair stopped what he was doing and looked up. "Mice? You sure these are mice, Jim?"
"Relax, Sandburg. I only saw the evidence, not the mice themselves." Jim shot him a look of amused tolerance and nodded with his head toward the bedroom. "Just see what you can do with that old thing. Then work your way out here. I'm gonna get this kitchen cleaned out and then work on the bathroom."
Blair hesitated a moment longer, then took the vacuum cleaner into the bedroom and started working on the carpet. Jim laughed a little as he watched, then moved into the kitchen and opened up the refrigerator. He'd had his olfactory senses turned down completely before opening the fridge, but luckily, it was empty and merely smelled of cold, stale air. There were bits and pieces of things he couldn't, and didn't want to, identify, and something sticky all over the bottom tray, but with some hot soapy water, he felt confident it could be renewed to some semblance of cleanliness. Jim found a bucket, and some soap he had brought from home, along with a pair of rubber gloves, and a large sponge. He filled the bucket with hot water, listening to the pipes in the kitchen groan with disuse just as the bathroom had. The refrigerator cleaned up without too much hard work, so Jim moved on to the sink and counters, laughing now and again at the exclamations of disgust coming from Blair as he vacuumed the bedroom.
Jim hadn't really given much thought to the house and what he was planning to do with it once it was cleaned up. Looking at it now, he even wondered if cleaning it up was possible. Renters had done as much damage as being left empty for a year, and the house was really showing its age and construction quality. Landlording from Cascade was not an idea Jim was relishing, but keeping it for himself wasn't something he wanted, either. The house would require a new roof soon, and possibly all new plumbing. Then there were the property taxes, with a view like this, being right up against the shore, they would be steep. He could sell, but the house itself wasn't going to be worth much. Carolyn might have had the right idea, wanting nothing to do with the property. Jim finished up the kitchen as Blair was making his way down the hallway into the living room, with a permanent look of disgust on his expressive face. Jim chuckled as he passed his partner, and considered offering to switch jobs, but Blair was better with a vacuum than cleaning a bathroom.
The bathroom turned out to be less work than Jim expected, with the rust-colored scum cleaning off easily under hot, soapy water and a little elbow grease. By the time he finished, he heard the vacuum cleaner shut off, and Blair falling onto the couch with a sigh. He emptied the bucket down the tub, watching as it drained down easily, then glanced into the bedroom before joining his partner on the couch.
"I don't know if this Ted guy did you any favors, here, Jim," Blair said tiredly.
"Yeah, well, like I said, I should have come out here sooner." He sat back and sighed, gazing at the ceiling. There were stains in spots, indicating several leaks. The house had gas heat, but also sported a small fireplace in the far wall, opposite the couch. Above the mantle was an old clock, still working, with a large, brass pendulum swinging back and forth slowly. Jim watched as the clock reached 4pm, then announced the time with four loud chimes.
"You hungry?" he asked, still leaning back on the couch, with his head resting against the cushions.
"Yeah, I guess."
"Good. You can fix dinner. I want to check the roof before it gets too dark." Jim slapped his knees and stood, looking down at Blair who was still sitting on the couch, showing no signs of getting up. Jim just shook his head and walked out to the driveway, looking for a ladder. He had forgotten to bring one, and debated asking a neighbor, but changed his mind and moved the truck up closer to the house. By climbing onto the cab, he could easily lift himself to the roof. Once up, he carefully walked along the entire house, checking for any signs of dryrot or bad shingles. The entire roof needed replacing, but he didn't find any obvious holes or seriously sagging areas. Once done, he sat down on the pitch and gazed out over the ocean. The view was incredible, better than he remembered, with the sun slowly sinking down below the waves at the far horizon. The sky was turning orange, reflecting off the wet sand below. Jim was aware of noises coming from the other houses, teenagers shouting, music playing, all in conflict with the serenity he could see before him. There was a time when all these houses were used for vacationers only, but with the build-up in the area of large business and factories, more and more people were living here on a permanent basis, bringing their clutter and noise with them.
Jim sighed and sat back, watching the sun set as he focused on Blair in the kitchen below him. His partner wasn't prone to talking to himself unless he was working up the courage to do something, so Jim rarely picked up on any clues when he decided to try and eavesdrop. Tonight was no different, as the only sounds he could pick up on were the boiling of noodles, and something being chopped up. He watched the last of the glow fade from the sky and water, then opened his vision to allow a safe retreat back off the roof via the truck. When he walked back inside, he noticed the musty smell of the house had finally been replaced with fresher, salt air that blended with the subtle pasta salad smells as Blair mixed steaming noodles with the fresh vegetables he had finished cutting up.
"Hey man, dinner's on." Blair turned to him for a moment, then back to the salad. "How's the roof?"
Jim reached into a box and retrieved the two plates he had packed, and two sets of silverware, then set them on the counter. "Not too bad." He waited while Blair filled both plates, then took his and a beer from the fridge and walked back to the couch. "I can't believe how this area has grown in such a short time." He sat down and Blair sat at the other end, as the couch was the only piece of furniture in the house, other than the one small bed.
"So, what are you going to do with this place?"
Jim frowned a little, shaking his head. "I think we should slap up a fresh coat of paint in here, then go find a realtor and unload it." He twisted the top off the beer bottle and took a drink, setting it on the floor when he finished.
"Unload it? Seems like a shame."
"You want it?"
Blair laughed. "Right, Jim. The taxes alone are out of my league. I just mean someone leaves you a house in their will, it seems a shame to just sell it off."
Jim shook his head, "Ted wouldn't have expected me to move out here, and Carolyn doesn't want anything to do with the place. I can't see putting a lot of money into it, then trying to rent it out from Cascade. In fact, with the taxes due at the end of this year, I might be lucky to come out even." He put another forkful of pasta in his mouth, watching Blair. His partner was looking thoughtful, playing with his dinner more than eating it.
"What kind of man was this guy, anyway?"
Jim finished chewing, then took another drink and set the bottle back down before answering. "He was a real loner. A hermit, most of the time. Maybe that's why he and I got along so well." He paused a moment, remembering. "Most of Carolyn's family is a little strange, but Ted was all right. He and I would go off fishing and leave the rest of the family to sit around and gossip. He was old fashioned, believed in hard work. Just generally a great guy." He ate more salad, then shook his head. "I didn't see him more than maybe once or twice a year the whole time Carolyn and I were together. I was surprised when he left this place to the both of us, knowing we were divorced."
They ate in silence for a few minutes, listening to the crashing waves outside, mixed with the sounds of a woman shouting at her husband, three teenage girls laughing, and a stereo from somewhere down the block. When they were finished, Blair took both plates to the kitchen and rinsed them off.
"You know, Jim, I think you might have the right idea about selling this place after all." The ocean could hardly be heard now for the mixture of stereos and shouts outside. He pulled the kitchen window shut as Jim shut the front door, dampening the clamor slightly.
"I tell ya, Chief, a couple of years ago and this place would have been downright peaceful." Jim went into the bedroom and pulled the window down in there also. The noise outside was reduced, but he had to turn down his hearing to get any respite. While in the room he looked around, checking for fresh mouse droppings. The tiny closet showed signs of abuse, with sagging hinges and a door frame that looked ready to fall apart. There were no more droppings anywhere that he could see, and the carpet had cleaned up nicely, a stark contrast to the stained walls. Before leaving the room, Jim checked the small bed, sitting on it carefully to test its stability. Surprisingly, it held his weight and sprang back with little resistance. One small favor. No, keeping the old place was no longer something Jim wanted to consider. He'd gotten the kitchen and bathroom to look rather clean, and the carpeting was holding up well. A fresh coat of paint, and he'd unload it to the first realtor to make an offer. A profit from the old house was out of the question, he knew, but breaking even against the property taxes would help. What he hadn't wanted to admit to Blair, was that Ted was a nut. More so as the man got older, but during the last year of his life, Jim would have classified him as genuinely crazy. He always suspected it had something to do with spending so much time alone, avoiding contact with others, even family, except when absolutely necessary. He took friendship seriously, but preferred to see even his closest friends only once or twice a year. Jim could understand privacy, and even solitude, but there came a time when friends were needed.
Jim sighed, rubbing his forehead and listening to Blair as he cleaned the dishes. If he couldn't get his partner to open up about what was bothering him, then maybe he could open up to Blair. Ever since Peru, and the panther that Blair had labeled his spirit guide had spoken to him, he'd wanted to have a talk with his Guide about their future. But, each time he thought Blair was ready to discuss the issue, he'd mention something like today, about getting antsy if he stayed in one place too long. And then overhearing Simon talk about getting Jim a new partner would send Blair into one of his quiet moods, giving Jim cause to think that maybe he was ready for a commitment. He just didn't know what Blair was thinking anymore. One thing he did know, he needed his partner, and he had made up his mind to keep Blair around. But was Blair ready for such a permanent idea? Did Jim have the right to ask him? He rubbed his eyes again and got off the bed. Whatever the answer was going to be, he needed to know this weekend. He didn't want a repeat of Peru, when his senses left him as they reached the jungle. But, if his Guide was going to leave, he'd need time to readjust to normal life again.
"Hey, Chief, how about a fire?" Jim entered the living room and stepped over to the small fireplace, glancing around for any sign of matches.
"Is that thing safe?" Blair asked, walking out to stand next to Jim. "There's wood at the side of the house."
"Let's check." Jim got down on hands and knees, parting the metal curtain to peer up the chimney. He had to focus through the dark, but once he did, he could make out clear night sky above. "Looks clear." He pulled his head back out and wiped his hands on his jeans. "Why don't you bring in some wood, I've got a newspaper and some matches in the truck." He stood and followed Blair out the front door, squinting a little against the shriek of a young girl running from her brother down the street. No wonder Ted left this place for a trailer in the woods.
Within a half hour they had a nice fire going, warming the small room. Jim was sitting on the couch, facing the flames, with Blair sitting on the floor next to the fireplace. The temperature was dropping significantly in the late spring evening, but the fire warmed the small house quickly and easily. Most of the noise from outside had subsided, as the younger ones went to bed and the other houses closed their doors and windows against the chill.
"Hey Jim, you've never mentioned why you left the army. I mean, what made you leave all that and become a Detective?"
Blair's question startled Jim a little. He realized then that was one of the few subjects his partner had never asked him about before. "It was a lot of things." Jim shrugged, watching Blair's face for clues as to what might be going on behind that wall of his. "After they found me, I was pretty tired. I mean really tired. That's mostly what I remember from there, just being tired and needing a serious change. After the de-briefing and about a year's worth of paperwork that followed, I needed a new direction." He paused, thinking. It wasn't any easier to explain than it was for him to understand. All he knew, was that he needed a new path. "After the kind of work I was used to, being a cop seemed like a natural progression."
"And no regrets?" Blair asked, a little quietly.
Jim shook his head. "No, Chief, no regrets. I had one career, then changed to another. And then this whole Sentinel thing happened, and I feel like I'm on a totally different path. Things change. You start out with one plan, and somewhere along the way, something happens, and you change with it." Blair was just sitting there, nodding. "What about you? You've gone through some changes lately."
Blair shrugged and glanced around the room, "No, man, my life's right on track."
Jim sighed. Now would be a good time to come out and discuss the issue that was nagging at him, but he suddenly found he couldn't. It was Borneo all over again, and he wasn't sure what he was going to do if Blair announced he wanted to move on, that he was done with his research and ready to get on with his own life. Jim knew Blair had a very casual outlook on life, and friendship, and was used to coming and going in and out of people's lives, just as most people had done with him all of his life. Even his own mother saw him once or twice a year, as they both enjoyed very transient lives. The last time Blair had mentioned leaving was to go with Dr. Stoddard. Jim hadn't wanted him to leave, but he knew he had no right to stand in Blair's way in the face of such an opportunity. But the threat of his Guide leaving, coupled with the loss of his Sentinel senses, gave Jim a clear view of what his life would be returned to if he lost his new partner. He might not lose the abilities altogether, but he would most definitely lose most of his control. Now was the time to get this straightened out, get an answer from Blair, and get on with whatever the future held. But now, sitting there, he suddenly didn't want to know.
"Well, I'm gonna turn in. Shall we flip for the bed?"
Blair shook his head and stood up. "It's your place, Jim. Besides, that couch is too short for you."
Jim glanced at the couch as he stood. "Okay, I won't argue." They each retrieved their sleeping bags from next to the door and Blair tossed his onto the couch. Jim put another log on the fire before going down the hall to the bedroom. The whole house was pretty warm, and they had enough wood for the night, but he pulled out a sweatshirt from his bag and walked back out to the living room. "Here, Chief, you might need this."
Blair accepted the sweatshirt that was tossed at him. "What about you?"
"I'm fine. Good night." Jim returned to the bedroom and unfolded his sleeping bag on top of the bed. He had a second sweatshirt, just in case, but he always preferred it cooler than his housemate. In the morning, they'd slap up some fresh paint, fix a few doors, call a realtor, and get this whole partnership issue out in the open. Maybe not in that order.
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