"Look at that sunset." Katie sighed, glancing out the window she was facing during a lull in the conversation.
"It's incredible," Blair agreed. "Let me do dishes, huh?" He pushed his chair back and stood.
"You can help." Katie stood also and began to gather up the plates.
Clive reached into the pocket of his cardigan and pulled out the pipe and a bag of tobacco. "Jim, we Canadians have a great source of whiskey, straight out of Scotland. Katie, how about some coffee? Takes the chill right out of these evenings up here."
"Sounds great." Jim stood and followed Clive up the stairs to the top level. He had fallen in love with the view from there the last time he and Blair had been up. Idly, Jim wondered if every visit to the island would involve emotional turmoil as a result of Blair's inability to communicate completely. If he had only called, or answered the phone when Jim called. He knew the news had only just aired as he was making the first of many phone calls to Blair's office. Why hadn't he picked up the phone? Jim could understand his panic at hearing such news, but why hadn't he run straight back to the Station? Or the loft? Why had he run away, instead of to?
"So, is everything all right in the city?" Clive asked conversationally as he removed a bottle of whiskey from his private stash.
"Blair didn't tell you what brought him out here?" Jim was surprised, and somewhat relieved. He had assumed his partner would have told them what happened. He often wondered if Blair was more open and sharing with other people, more than he was with him. If anyone could open that shell he hid behind, Jim would have credited the task to Clive and Katie both. Together, they were a formidable force to ignore, and each had their own unique brand of interrogation that Jim had to admire. But then again, when Blair decided to clam up, there was no getting past his, "I'm fine." Blair liked everyone to think what he saw and did bounced right off his cheery exterior, but Jim knew better. He could see it in the younger man's eyes, read it on his expressive face.
"No. He's being his usual self so far. I can tell something's up. It's not like him to just up and fly out here, without so much as a change of socks." Katie was approaching then, with two cups of hot coffee in her hands. She set them both on the table for Clive to add the whiskey.
"Jim, I've put your bag in the room you had last time. I wouldn't wish those student beds on anyone who's been out of college more than two months."
Jim laughed and nodded. "Thanks. I'm sorry about barging in like this."
"Don't worry about it. I only hope whatever it is that brought you both out, isn't so serious it can't be fixed."
I hope so too. "A case I was working on got a little hairy back in Cascade." Jim offered, not wanting to leave the pair of them totally in the dark. It was their home Blair had come running to, after all. They had a right to know what had brought him there, with Jim so desperately on his heels. "Blair was a pivotal witness in a case against someone, and that man has since been released on bail." Jim tasted the whiskey-laced coffee as he considered his words.
"And Blair has reason to be afraid of this man?" Clive asked quietly.
"Possibly, yes." Jim left it at that. If Blair hadn't told them about the ordeal, then he didn't feel it was his place to. He didn't even like to remember it himself, and recalling the details in court hadn't been easy at all. Jim hadn't been able to sleep at all that night, with visions of his partner lying in a hospital bed, writhing in agony on a regular basis, even with his mind drugged into unconsciousness.
"Well, you're both welcome out here, anytime. I hope you realize that." Katie smiled and reached out for a taste of her husband's coffee.
"I appreciate that," Jim replied. "I think I'll take a walk, enjoy the last of that sunset." They each smiled in response and he nodded, picking up his cup and walking to the stairs. Unconsciously Jim tuned in all his senses long enough to locate Blair, whom he found sitting on one of the couches in the living area, head down in both hands, while he massaged both of his temples. Jim considered having a talk with him then, but he still needed some cool down time, and that sunset would be a good distraction. Blair looked up as he passed the living area and walked out the side door, heading towards a spot he had discovered the last time he was out.
The rock Blair had been sitting on while contemplating the death of his friend had the perfect view of the vivid orange and red streaked sky. Jim eased himself down on a rock that kissed a 20 foot drop and settled in, with his cup resting on a stump level with his right shoulder. The sun was nearly all the way down now, with just a quarter-globe of pulsating orange still visible against a distant island. Jim watched it sink, sipping his coffee. He understood Blair's reaction, he honestly did. What he didn't understand, and what hurt so much right now, was his partner's action. After all they had been through, and all they had discussed, when Blair was cornered, he ran away from Jim. Blair's instincts regarding Jim's Sentinel senses were flawless and instant. But obviously his instincts towards Jim as a partner, and more importantly, a friend, were still nonexistent. Why? After all this time, why?
Jim sighed and rubbed his eyes tiredly. He could feel the whiskey kicking in, warming him from the guts outward, and thought he had better stop. Hard liquor tended to effect his senses more than the occasional beer, so Jim tried to avoid it as often as possible. His senses weren't so dulled not to pick up the sound, scent, and feel of Blair coming out of the building and walking down the path that would lead to his rocky perch. How could Jim be so tuned in, so unconsciously connected to someone, and still be unable to predict his actions? Blair approached from behind, hesitated a moment, then sat down on a rock beside and slightly behind Jim's. They were in exactly the opposite positions from those they had been the last time they each sat there, trying hard to face something neither one wanted to discuss. Jim didn't look back, he didn't have to, to know that Blair was working up the courage, or the words, to say what needed to be said.
"Jim, I am really sorry about this," Blair began, his voice quiet even though both Katie and Clive were still upstairs. "I just...panicked."
"I know you did, Chief," Jim replied, his voice also quiet. "That's what hurts." Blair was silent, and Jim could almost hear his confusion. He still didn't understand what he had done. Jim turned his head and glanced at Blair, seeing the puzzled expression as he struggled to understand what Jim had said.
"Blair, I understand how you felt." He held up a hand to stop the protest he could see forming suddenly in those blue/green, bloodshot eyes. "Don't tell me I can't possibly understand, Sandburg, because I do. More than you know." He turned back to gaze over the darkening water. "Do you think it was easy for me? I sat there, in that hospital room, for countless hours, not knowing if you were going to live or die. Then it wasn't even over when we got home. I saw what Brackett did to you, and I went through hell not being able to stop it." He paused, forcing down the memory to a point at which he could handle it. Blair was so quiet behind him, he nearly turned to make sure his partner hadn't left, but he could hear his breathing, slow and quiet. Unlike the steady, gut-wrenching sound of the respirator that had been the only thing keeping him alive for 2 days while his body fought off the effects of an overdose of Golden. "I know what it felt like, Chief."
A slight breeze had picked up, and Jim could feel a chill coming off the bay. Blair hadn't even grabbed a coat before running out here, and now he was sitting on the rock, in nothing warmer than the jeans and long-sleeved shirt he had put on that morning. At least Jim had the sense to grab the change of clothes and sweatshirt he was in the habit of carrying. He could hear the slight trembling of Blair's muscles, and figured it was from the cold.
"Jim, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking." Blair's teeth were beginning to chatter.
"Go inside, it's getting cold out here."
"No, Jim, I don't want to go inside." He crossed his arms and hugged himself against the chill.
"Why did you come here, Sandburg?" Jim asked. He was tired of playing these games, and dancing around Blair's fear of exposing his feelings. He had to know, now.
Blair faltered for a moment. "I...I don't know. Instinct, I guess."
"That's what I mean."
"What? Jim, I don't get it. I know what I did was wrong, and I'm sorry. I should have called, told you where I was going. Hell, man, the plane barely lifted off before I realized what I was doing. Then it was too late, and I had to get all the way up here before I could call." There was definite entreaty in Blair's tone.
Jim sighed, shaking his head slightly. "Sandburg, ask yourself...why did you run here? Why here, and not the Station, or home?" He had turned around now to face Blair, and watched as his partner thought over the question.
Blair shrugged. "Instinct, I guess. Jim, I just needed to run, and I thought if I was somewhere Brackett couldn't find me, then he couldn't get to you."
"What kind of thinking is that?" Jim turned more so he was facing Blair. "Didn't you learn anything last time, Sandburg? The only way we can beat that man is by sticking together." He could feel the anger returning, coming through in his voice, and in the way Blair flinched. "Does none of this mean anything to you?"
"No, Chief, just listen." Jim held up a hand to silence him so he could continue. "We've been through a lot together, Lee Brackett notwithstanding. But after all that, after everything that's happened, your instincts are still to run in the opposite direction, away from me." He paused and looked at Blair. There was hurt behind those eyes, but whether it was pain of being chastised, or a realization of what Jim was saying, he didn't know. "It hurt, partner. You're always there when I need help, I'd like to believe you know I'm here for you, too."
"I do, Jim." Blair said, his voice barely more than a whisper as he gazed at his feet. "I just panicked."
"And acted on instinct. Blair, I understand that. What I don't get, is why your instincts are to run away. And what's it going to take for your instincts to send you to your friends, instead of away from them? You obviously didn't run here to tell the Hathaways what was wrong. They couldn't get more out of you than how sorry you were to barge in." Blair was visibly shaking, and Jim didn't think it was all from the evening chill. The sun was gone now, leaving a faintly back-lit sky to see by. He reached around and retrieved his cup, handing it to Blair. "Drink this."
Blair looked up at the cup, then at Jim. "It's cold."
"It's mostly whiskey, it'll warm you up." He shoved the cup forward and Blair reluctantly took it. "You need it more than I do."
Blair looked at the contents for a full minute before finally relenting and taking a drink. Jim returned his gaze to the water, glistening in the darkness like liquid black diamonds. He heard Blair take another drink, then begin to roll the cup between his hands.
"Jim, you have to understand, I'm working on a lifetime of instinct. That doesn't just get overruled too easily." Blair paused and Jim waited, watching the emerging starlight dance on the waves. "Naomi was very independent, and raised me the same way. I've been taking care of myself since first moving out, and I've never...I've never had anyone...any friend, quite like you. Hell, I've never known anyone quite like you. I know I was wrong here, Jim. I know that. And if I had taken even a minute to think about what I was doing, I would have gone straight to the Station, and hidden under the desk." Blair stopped again, taking one more drink before going on. "Running was just an animal instinct, a fight or flight reaction, nothing more. I never meant it to...I never thought you'd...hell, Jim, I never meant for you to take this personally. I'm...stunned that you did. I swear, it's the last thing I was trying to do. You've got to believe that."
Jim sighed, turning again to look at Blair. The eyes were pleading now, both eyebrows raised, and there was definite moisture building up behind them. "Look, Chief, it's been a long day. We've both been through hell." Blair's gaze fell to the ground, and Jim waited until he looked back up. "I'm sorry this happened. I told you it would end, and he'd never get out again, and it wasn't true."
Blair looked puzzled, his teeth chattering slightly. "Jim, it wasn't your fault."
"As much as I'd like to believe that, Chief, I have to take some of the blame. If not for Brackett's mistrial, then for getting mad at you for running out here. How many times in these past few days did I tell you to trust me? And then you hear it over the news that Lee Brackett has been let out on bail, pending another trial?" Jim shook his head. "What did I expect?"
"Jim, no." Blair reached out a hand, but pulled it back before touching Jim's arm. "It wasn't your fault. I do trust you, I just...I just freaked. It had nothing to do with you."
It was time to let this kid off the hook, and get past this issue and back on track, where they belonged. After all, when Blair was out of his mind on Golden, at least his instincts at that time had been to trust Jim. If he could trust him then, when nothing else made sense to his drugged mind, then maybe there was hope. "Okay, let's call it even, then. It's not my fault, and you're an idiot."
Blair stared at him for a minute before realizing it was okay to laugh at what he had just said. Jim's own face broke into a full grin and he slapped Blair on the knee. "Let's get inside before we both freeze to death." He stood, and had to wait for Blair to stand and step back before he could move off of his rock. "You didn't even bring a coat, did you?"
"No." Blair shook his head and grinned sheepishly.
"You've got a lot to learn
about being prepared, Chief." Jim reached out and cuffed Blair on the back
of the head as they proceeded back to the house. Yes, they were back on track.
Simon would keep an eye on Brackett, and by the time he and Blair had hitched
a ride back to Cascade tomorrow afternoon, Beverly would have another case ready
for the judge.
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