Jim rolled over and pressed his face deep into the pillow. Sounds nudged at his consciousness, daring him to identify and acknowledge them, but he resisted. It was Saturday morning, and he had no good reason to get out of bed. That was the only thought he allowed inside. A beam of morning sun touched his shoulder where the blanket had fallen away, and he sighed deeply. The heat from the late spring rays gently massaged the recently healed shoulder. Fingers of solar energy worked the stiff muscles, moving slowly down his back as the sun climbed in the pale blue sky. Jim kept tired eyes closed, and willed the massage to continue, picturing golden fingers caressing his shoulder, his back, then gently tickling farther down as they searched for more stiffness to quell.
Slowly, the sun pushed farther from the horizon, and the rays moved their intensity. Rolling onto his stomach, he pulled the blankets farther off his back to expose more skin to the changing beam. Tactile senses opened in response to the warmth, and the pulsing of sun on skin was almost sensual. It had been a cold, wet start to summer, and this unexpected break in the weather couldn't have come at a better time. For once in too long, Jim had absolutely nothing to do for an entire two days. First and foremost on his mind was something he almost never did: Sleep in. Second was going to be a long, hot shower, courtesy of the new tank they'd had installed a week ago.
And third...Right now, third could wait. Jim felt the pulsing of the sun as its heat, magnified by the window it was pouring through, met with soft flesh and willing muscle. Waves of UV moved up and down his back and shoulders, tingling sensations of heat and motion, made that much more sensuous by the use of his senses. By opening up completely, Jim was able to spread the sensations to the parts of his skin still covered, moving the heat and massage and spreading the effects around. His hearing had inadvertently increased with the opening of his reception, and he was made aware of sounds in the loft. Blair was in the living room, the motion of pen on paper reaching clearly up to Jim's bedroom.
The golden hands were still caressing his back. Thin fingers reached down, straining to push their way under the offending blankets. Jim sighed deeply again, letting the fingers find more of his back, listening to the sounds below him, letting himself become aware of another presence in the loft. He pictured those golden fingers, and the hands they were attached to. Soft, warm hands that fit perfectly at the ends of long, tanned arms. Arms that stretched up to nicely rounded shoulders. Blonde hair cascading down over a beautifully smooth back.
The hands moved, and Jim turned to find them again. As he rolled farther around, he heard the coffee pot gurgle to an end, and pictured his golden blonde masseuse downstairs, fixing him breakfast on this lazy morning. Groggily, he opened one eye, and caught sight of her standing in the kitchen. She was smiling to herself, and pouring coffee into a cup. But her perfect, smooth, tan skin was covered in an old T-shirt and sweat pants. Jim blinked, trying to clear some of the languor from his eyes. When he looked again, she had changed.
It wasn't her. It was Blair.
Jim let his face fall back to the pillow. Baseball. Trucks. Math. Come on, Ellison. One look out the window showed him the cloud that had put an end to his fun. The rest of the sky was still a lovely shade of light blue, what he could see of it from where he lay. His morning illusion completely dashed by the sight of Blair downstairs, Jim reluctantly considered getting out of bed. Although he really couldn't see why. The cloud hiding his massaging fingers seemed to be following the sun, preventing his pleasure from returning. A phone rang downstairs and Blair picked it up.
Jim pressed his head into the pillow, willing the phone to be for Blair.
"Oh, yeah, I've got those notes in my room, hang on."
Yes! Now, if that sun would just come back, he could maybe drift off again. As long as you don't see the clock. Move your head, but don't look at the clock! If you see the clock, it will all end. Maybe, if...just sort of -- squish the nose down -- slide the face -- don't look! Damn! He saw it. 8:45.
Well, it was ruined now. No amount of coaxing or solar massage could override so many years of drill instructed guilt. Oh sure, he could lie there till noon, but the pleasure was gone. As were his golden fingers. He sighed deeply, feeling the air as it filled both lungs, then forced it slowly through his nose, forcing his frustration out each nostril. It was no good. Well, at least he had the day to just sit around and catch up on some serious relaxation.
Jim brought both hands up to his chest, and pushed against a mattress that begged him to stay. Legs fished their way out from under a tangle of blankets. Feet searched for a cold floor. The smell of freshly-brewed coffee finally impinged on his awareness, and Jim found the strength to push completely off the bed and stumble toward the steps. When he was halfway down the stairs, the sun returned, teasing him by dancing across the now empty bed. Jim continued down and walked straight for the kitchen, letting the odor of promised caffeine draw him away from the searching golden fingers.
He reached for the pot as Blair came back out of his room, still on the phone. Nodding through a barely suppressed yawn, Jim acknowledged his housemate, then noticed an odd look on his face at the same instant that the lightness of the pot registered on his groggy mind. He looked quickly at the pot, willing his eyes to deny the evidence, then shot Blair an accusing glance when they confirmed the emptiness of the carafe.
Blair moved the phone's mouth piece far enough to mouth the word 'Sorry', then hurried back to the living room, continuing his conversation.
Frustrated, Jim washed out the pot, breathing in as deeply as he could the essence of what he'd missed. Just a slight delay, no big deal. Set the pot up again, turn it on, take your hot shower, and you'll have the whole morning to savor the black liquid. He opened the cupboard. Sugar...flour...a bag of oreos...cereal...something that had a picture on the side Jim didn't even want to identify. No coffee. He checked the other cupboards. No coffee. One more dagger-stare at Blair was met with another "Sorry" and shrugged shoulders as he remained conveniently on the phone.
Jim checked the soggy grounds, trying to judge just how many times Blair had already recycled them. The stimulating scent was still strong, and the craving even more so. Deciding it was worth the effort, he filled the reservoir halfway with water, flipped the switch, and glared once more at Blair before proceeding to the bathroom.
The golden fingers were replaced by pulsing jets of heat, as the shower beat the last of a weeks worth of stress out of Jim's back. He let his mind wander through the loft as he stood under the spray, eyes closed. Several things he'd been unable to find time to do beckoned for his attention, but the loudest voices he heard were those of the couch and newspaper. The shower ended as hot as it began, and when Jim stepped out, dripping and relaxed, his mood had improved once again. Even the lack of clean towels, and a balled up sock that he kicked as he searched the cabinet didn't interfere. Sandburg's idea of what constituted a laundry bag still seemed to include the entire bathroom floor, but Jim was willing to ignore it -- today.
Today was his day. Today he was going to relax, kick back, and let Blair take his turn with laundry and shopping. Jim wrapped the towel around his waist after drying off, added the sock to the rest of the dirty laundry in the hamper, then padded out to the kitchen. The coffee was a lighter shade of brown than he liked, but the smell was still tempting enough to let him convince his mind it would be strong. He poured a cup, then took it upstairs, passing Blair who was just finishing his call.
"Hey, Jim. Sorry about the coffee, man. I was up all night and forgot to go to the store yesterday." Blair's raised eyebrows and apologetic expression did little to improve his status. "I'll go to the store this morning, I swear."
"Uh-huh." Jim left it there and continued upstairs. It wasn't worth an argument that they both knew he'd win. And Blair had, after all, paid half the cost of the new hot water tank. Jim had been surprised, and just a little amused, when Blair willingly and unhesitatingly wrote him a check for $350.00. Even after Jim insisted he was under no obligation to offer. He remembered what it was like being young, and Blair really did work two jobs with only his University paycheck to cover his cost of living. But, it was more a matter of pride, and Jim knew that too. Which was why he had accepted the check, then placed it in his desk drawer upstairs with no intention of cashing it. As rarely as Blair balanced his checkbook, he'd never realize it hadn't been cashed, and it would be there when he needed it.
Jim dressed, made the bed, noting the fingers of sun that had moved now to spread over the entire upper half of the loft, then gathered up a few dirty clothes and his empty cup and went back downstairs. Blair was once again ensconced on the couch, notebook in his lap and papers strewn around.
"I suppose you ate all the bagels last night, too?" Jim passed the couch and took his clothes to the hamper in the bathroom.
"Hmm? Oh, no, man. There's still bagels." Blair didn't even look up from his notes.
Jim walked back to the kitchen and was reaching for the refrigerator when another thought struck. Before he could ask, Blair looked up from his writing.
"And cream cheese." He returned to his work, pushing his glasses back in place. "I'll go to the store as soon as I get some more of these notes organized."
"How about laundry? It's your turn." Jim found the cream cheese, surprisingly right where he'd left it, and retrieved two bagels from the bread box.
He glanced out at Blair, completely unconvinced that his housemate was even listening. Well, he'd give him a few minutes. At least he had breakfast, and the morning paper was right where he liked to find it, untouched even. He sliced the bagels, smeared cream cheese liberally over each slice, placed three of the halves on a plate, stuffed one in his mouth, and poured another cup of the weak coffee before taking his load to the table and his waiting sports section.
The Mariners had lost their third game in a row. Well, there went all hope of a repeat of the Western Series title. No real surprise there. The rest of the sports section was unexciting, so he switched to headline news. The serial arsonist captured in Mexico last month was being extradited this weekend. The trial would start next week. Jim remembered that case. Three of Cascade's best firemen had lost their lives in one of his fires. The entire city was braced for this trial. He idly wondered who the poor saps were who would be saddled with the escort duty on that one. Public cases were no one's favorite. Even if you were just the messenger, somehow having your face on the front page of the paper, standing next to one of Cascade's most well-known criminals, did nothing to further your standing in the public eye.
At least the weather looked good. Sunny and mild for the next four days. Maybe he'd finally go golfing. Jim had just finished the back section when the phone rang again. It was still on the coffee table, so he let Blair answer it while he took his plate and cup to the kitchen.
"Hello? Oh, sure, Captain, he's right here." Blair held out the phone without even looking up from his notes.
Jim sighed and walked out to the living room. Maybe he wants to go golfing? "Ellison."
"Jim, sorry to do this to you on a weekend, but I need you to do a retrieval."
"A retrieval?" Oh no. No no no.
"Eddie Martinez, the arsonist."
Dammit. "He's in Mexico, right?"
"That's right. The Mexican authorities have all the extradition papers worked out, we just need him transported up to Cascade. There's no one available right now. Sorry. But it's a simple job. Just fly down there, pick up Martinez, and fly back. You can take Sandburg to keep you company."
Jim glanced at Blair, still sitting on the couch, absorbed in his writing. He could take Blair, or, he could view this as a nice break and go alone. Then he remembered his morning coffee. "What time is the flight?"
"You leave in two hours. One stop in Mexico City, then a short hop over to Chiautla. Everything is ready for you. I'll see you when you get back."
"Right, sir." Jim flipped the off switch then set the phone on the kitchen counter. "Duty calls, Chief." Blair looked up, eyebrows raised questioningly behind his glasses. "We're flying to Mexico for an extradition. Better bring something to entertain yourself." Jim saw the hesitancy flash across his face and dared Blair to beg out of this one. Instead, the glasses came off and he nodded.
"Okay. When do we leave?"
"Plane leaves in two hours." Jim went to the steps, and paused next to the bookcase. "Might want to bring a change of clothes, just in case." There it was, behind Blair's stack of National Geographic. He'd always meant to read Jack Kelso's book. During his week of recovery last month, he'd read just about everything else. He retrieved the hardback and climbed the stairs. Blair could be heard gathering up his papers and notebooks, then walking to his room while Jim dug his backpack out of the closet.
He was wearing clean jeans, that should do all right. An extra shirt, change of underwear and socks, then he went downstairs for his toothbrush and deodorant. Blair was similarly dressed, having changed out of his sweats, and was stuffing notebooks into his pack.
"Ready to go, Chief?" Jim slung the pack over one shoulder and walked out to the living room to grab a light jacket for defense against the fans and air conditioners of a long flight.
"Yep." Blair followed him out and pulled a coat off the hooks. "Hey Jim, I don't suppose we get to go first class for once?"
Jim laughed quietly and shook his head, opening the door. "Not a chance. Would you want your tax dollars spent that way?" He held the door while Blair walked into the hall.
"I dunno, Jim. Being with you guys has given me a new sense of how unbalanced some of that stuff is."
"Nice try, Sandburg. But I don't think the Commissioner is gonna be impressed." Jim locked the door and secured his backpack to his right shoulder, since the left one still ached a little. They drove to the airport and Jim led the way to the ticket counter. Their tickets were waiting for them in the usual fashion, and after confirming his ID, the attendant gave them the gate number. Thirty minutes to kill left plenty of time for Jim to get that strong cup of coffee he still craved. Blair begged off, claiming his limit had been reached even before his last pot, so Jim left him sitting by the gate with both of their backpacks while he went to the closest coffee shop. He ordered a cup of black coffee and a danish, added a liberal amount of milk, then found a stool facing the boarding gates and sat down.
From there, Jim had a good view of a crowd of passengers loading for a flight overseas. He watched as loved ones said their goodbyes, and noticed several servicemen kissing young women prior to boarding. He laughed a little, watching the young soldiers. They were still at the age where they worried more about a comfortable flight, and would rather go commercial than military if given the alternative. One of the men looked a little like Blair when his hair was pulled back. He was a little taller, and had the regulation hair cut, exposing largish ears. In fact, from this angle, he looked a lot like...
"Flight 117, now boarding at gate 56."
Jim finished the last of his coffee, then walked back out to meet Blair. He was standing to one side of a group of passengers, both packs on the floor in front of him. When Jim approached, Blair reached down and picked up his pack, handing it over. Jim caught sight of a quick flinch and a sudden intake of breath.
"You okay, Chief?" Blair's injuries, while healed now, had been more serious than his own.
"Yeah, I'm fine." He reached down and retrieved his own pack, slinging it over one shoulder. "Just a little twinge now and again."
Jim nodded, unconsciously flexing his own recently healed shoulder. They waited with the crowd until their row was called, then filed onto the plane, finding their seats over the right wing. Blair took the window without complaint, and Jim shoved both their packs into the overhead compartment. The flight was completely booked, but luckily the rows were only two seats wide. He removed his book and Blair's notebooks, then sat down and buckled up. A quick scan of the passengers showed him no small children to complain and cry for the 4 hour flight. Small miracle. It was also a relief to be flying down, and not picking up some informant who hated to fly. Blair flipped open his notebook and immediately returned to the task he had been at all morning with the same concentration level as before. Glasses on, head bent over the paper, pen moving without hesitation as his thoughts flowed. At least this time Blair knew what they were doing, and wasn't spending half the trip trying to guess the reason for a secret night rendezvous on a train in the middle of nowhere.
Jim sighed as the plane began to taxi down the runway. This wasn't the weekend he had planned, but at least he was relaxing, for the most part. And maybe, just maybe, he'd finally be able to tell Jack with complete honesty, that he liked his book.
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