"Sandburg, you gonna take all morning or what?"
Startled, Blair opened his eyes, blinking away the last of the water showering down on his head. "Oh, sorry. I'm done." He caught the towel Jim tossed him and started to dry off before stepping out of the small enclosure. "You know, Jim, Eli will put your name on the paper when he publishes these new drawings."
Jim grinned, cocking his head to one side as he considered that. "Yeah? So I suppose this will bring me as much fame and wealth as it has you?"
Blair wrapped the towel around his waist and stepped out of the shower. "Hey, it may not exactly be coffee table reading, but among specific circles, these things do mean something." He followed Jim back to their tent to get dressed.
"I know, Chief. Eli showed me some of your publications the other night."
"He did?" Quickly, Blair tried to recall everything he'd ever published, trying to judge what Jim's reaction might be to each. They weren't things he would ever expect anyone outside his academic circle to ever encounter. "So, what did you think?" He pulled on a pair of jeans.
"I was impressed." Jim shrugged matter-of-factly. "I can't say I understood much of it, but I was impressed."
"Really?" He had to be just saying that. But Jim never just said things he didn't mean.
"Yeah. I was."
Blair pulled a T-shirt over his head, then looked at Jim. "Thanks, Jim. That means a lot."
The look he got in return was one of puzzlement, then acceptance. "You're welcome." Jim tossed over a new flashlight. "Now, let's get back to those caves, huh?"
Nodding, Blair clipped the light to his belt and headed out of the tent.
"Just do me a favor, Chief." Jim stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "If we stay till dark, don't let me stand there with my mouth hanging open for an hour, okay? It could get a little embarrassing."
"Sure, Jim." Blair laughed and patted Jim's arm as he started through the tent flap. "Maybe just a half hour, though. What do you think?"
It was tempting, even just to witness such a complete and total zoneout for so long. But Blair kept Jim's attention throughout the experience. The group spent one entire day documenting the new drawings and comparing them to the ones found in the other caves while Jim and Blair scouted around more thoroughly for more. They found three submerged groups in a second cave, and helped sketch them out when lights became few. That night, Dr. Stoddard and Craig remained in the caves, discussing the likelihood of more drawings, while Kathryn and the rest of the group that had joined them stayed above, not wanting to be that close to the bats.
Blair kept Jim talking this time, preventing any complete loss of awareness around him. The next day the party returned with more lights, notebooks and enthusiasm than the day before. Jim seemed to enjoy watching them all work, but Blair suspected he was just being tolerant of something he simply didn't share the excitement about. Every now and again, Blair found himself babbling on about this or that figure they had found, and what it meant. Each time he caught himself, he found Jim simply listening and nodding, as if he actually cared.
Knowing Jim Ellison the way he did, Blair knew that wasn't faked. Neither was his intense enjoyment of the effect two million bats' sonar had on him. By the time they said their goodbyes, Jim had developed a reputation among the group for having a strange affection for bats. A fact Blair had been sworn, at least five times during their flight home alone, to keep to himself. The sixth came when they were sitting on the couch, too exhausted from their flight to go to bed.
"Jim, I told you, no one's even going to understand." Blair laughed, then finished his beer and pressed his head into the back of the couch, wondering if he should just sleep right there tonight.
Beside him, with both feet propped on the coffee table, Jim sighed. "You know, we're going to be eating macaroni and cheese for about a month. That flight took a big bite out of my savings."
Blair nodded with his head still pressed into the cushion. "I've spent a lot of years eating macaroni and cheese, Jim. It's not all that bad." He glanced over at his friend. "Besides, it was worth it."
Jim finished his beer with one long drink, then stared at the empty bottle for a moment. "Yeah." He turned to meet Blair's gaze. "It was."
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