Forest In The Sky
Blair looked up from his notes and pulled the glasses from his face
as he gazed through the patio doors. Jim had been out there for two hours, sitting
quietly, nursing the same beer he'd started with. His mood during dinner had been
fine, and their day had gone quite well. In fact, they had been celebrating most
of the day about the jury's verdict on the Sommers case. That one had taken a
real toll on Jim for the past three weeks in court, but it was finally over. Blair
reviewed the day from the moment he got out of bed. Finding nothing he needed
to apologize for, he decided it might be safe to join his friend on the balcony.
It was a brisk fall evening. The kind of night that demands full attention,
with stars sparkling insistently through a clear night sky. Faint signs of a vivid
orange sunset trailed down to the bay where the orb had vanished several minutes
ago. Blair stood in the opened doorway, hesitant to interrupt Jim's quiet reverie.
He was sitting in the chair nearest the doors, beer bottle propped on one knee
as he gazed out over the city's lights.
"Hey, Jim, feel like some company?"
Jim glanced up, smiled and reached out to pat the seat beside him. "Yeah."
He had to move his legs to let Blair by, then got comfortable again, leaning back
into the chair.
Cascade was quieter than usual. Blair sensed that as soon as
he sat down; the traffic below seemed miles away, and far lighter than a Thursday
night should be. He glanced at Jim as he was settling into the seat and was silently
offered the neglected beer. Taking it with a nod, he swallowed one mouthful and
set the bottle on the small table between them. Jim's body language was unmistakable,
but also somewhat reassuring. There was an almost sad smile on his face that reflected
quietly in his eyes. But the smile Jim directed at Blair when he sat down was
void of any irritation for having been interrupted. In fact, it seemed warm with
That message was clear, and Blair was glad he'd come out. He got comfortable
in the large chair, leaning down so his head could rest on the back, giving him
an angle he loved. The potted plants on the balcony's rim obliterated the building
across the street, leaving Blair a view of plant fronds and sky. Jim often did
the same, but for him, propping his feet on the table was necessary in order to
get his taller frame down far enough to block out the view of concrete and brick.
Jim sighed and moved in his chair to achieve that very pose. Blair gave him
another glance, feeling a warmth spread inside that momentarily dispelled the
night chill. He wanted to find out what that sad smile meant, and why it was keeping
his friend outside on a cool evening staring at the stars. But right now, his
silent presence was needed more than any questions or voiced concerns. Knowing
that he had done the right thing just by coming outside and sitting quietly with
Jim gave Blair a strange sense of responsibility. Though what he'd expected, he
wasn't at all sure.
He certainly hadn't expected the night to be so cold. The
warm, settled feeling deep inside his gut was slowly becoming a chilly, settled
feeling spreading through his extremities. Going inside for a sweatshirt wouldn't
be all that difficult, but Blair found himself reluctant to break the mood. They'd
been outside for nearly half an hour, and Jim hadn't said one word, but the feeling
of need hadn't passed, and Blair wasn't about to abandon that even for the minute
it would take to get something warm to wear. He knew he could sit there and freeze,
as long as Jim might need him to.
But his shivering wasn't something he could
hide. Jim glanced over just as he pulled his hands into his long sleeves.
Chief, put this on."
Blair looked up, watching Jim peel off his heavy
sweater. Underneath, he had another shirt of a medium weight. "Are you gonna
be warm enough?" Blair accepted the sweater gladly, only fleetingly thinking
how easily they could both go inside.
"I'm fine." Jim settled his
shirt back down and got comfortable again.
Hurriedly, Blair pulled on the large
sweater, feeling it swallow him up as it came down over his head. It was the same
feeling he got when he put on Jim's old Cascade PD sweatshirt. He loved that feeling.
As his head popped out, he noticed Jim smiling at him, a smile that nearly turned
into a chuckle and ended with a slow shake of his head.
The dark blue sweater
was still warm from Jim's body heat and felt good against the night's chill. "Thanks,
Jim." Blair got situated inside the garment, pulled both feet up and got
into as best a lotus in the chair as he could, hugging his knees close to the
"I love nights like these." Jim spoke to the night sky,
but his body had turned more toward Blair and his smile grew slightly. "The
air is so clean and clear, it's like you can see forever. It's peaceful."
Blair nodded, not wanting to interrupt.
"When I was in the jungle,
sometimes late at night, Incacha and I would gaze up at the stars for hours. They
believed the stars held the souls of the dead." Jim paused, glancing around
the sky. "The soul had two duties in life. The first, was to come to earth
and live among nature. Then the second came after death, when the soul was sent
to the stars where it could watch the rest of us living our first lives. After
the soul learned and saw all that it could, it was allowed to move on and share
what it had learned with all living things."
Jim nodded. "When their time in the second life is finished, they run
with great joy into the heart of the universe."
Blair looked up at the millions of stars glittering back. He knew now what the
sad smile was for, and once again his heart ached for Jim's loss. "I wish
I'd had a chance to get to know him."
Jim turned and met Blair's eyes.
For one instant, an odd look flashed there. It was a look of sadness, but also
something close to pride.
"He knew you."
Blair was going for the
beer but stopped mid-reach. "Jim, I hardly met him. I mean, we just had a
few minutes together that one time, and I couldn't even speak the language."
Jim shrugged. "He knew all he needed to know about the person you are,
Chief. He had a knack for sizing people up pretty quick."
flashed back to the couch, with Incacha's bloody hand gripping his arm. The overwhelming
sense of responsibility that moment had carried had threatened to send him collapsing
under the weight. Even now, the memory was enough to make Blair afraid again.
Afraid not of failure, but of failing Jim. He picked up the beer and took a long
swallow, washing down the remembered feeling. He'd always assumed it had been
a matter of Incacha having trusted Jim's judgment.
"I know what you mean,
though. It would have been nice to see you two together."
setting the beer back down. He hugged himself farther into Jim's sweater, letting
the sleeves fall over both hands. "You've been thinking about him lately,
Jim sighed and looked down, focusing somewhere deep inside.
When he found what he was looking for, he turned to Blair. "In five days
there's another full moon. They hold a ceremony during every full moon to honor
"So, this is when the spirits of the dead move on to their
Jim looked up, slightly puzzled. "You know about this?"
"No, I mean, not really." Blair backpedaled, fearing he'd just ruined
what they were sharing by entering into Anthropologist mode. "I just--it
made sense, that's all." He shut himself up in time to notice the look on
Jim's face. The sad smile was still there, not the irritation he feared. "Is
there a ceremony?"
Jim nodded, looking at the beer bottle between them
but not touching it. "Yeah, there is." He fell into silence again and
Blair waited. Somewhere in the distance a small dog barked, then a window was
slammed shut, muting the animal's announcement.
"Have you ever seen it?"
Jim nodded and sat back again, visibly relaxing though Blair hadn't been aware
of any tension before . "Incacha lost a son in the civil war. They had a
ceremony three months after I arrived. It's pretty powerful."
I bet it is. I've seen a few with other tribes in other areas. Our own funerals
are nothing compared to them." Blair adjusted the borrowed sweater a little,
thinking about what was happening here. "Jim, I did make sure Incacha's body
"I know that, Chief." Jim glanced at him. "And
I appreciate it." He sighed, stretching. "I think I'm ready to call
it a night, how about you?"
"Yeah." Blair stood, grabbing the
unfinished beer, and waited for Jim to get up so he could follow him inside. The
change in temperature was mild, but enough to remind him how cold he'd been earlier.
After tossing the bottle into the recycle bin, Blair pulled off Jim's sweater
and handed it back. "Thanks, Jim. Are we going in tomorrow?"
took the sweater and set it on the back of the couch, nodded. "We have to
get those reports logged in, and get all that evidence back into lockup."
He walked to the bathroom and left the door half open so Blair could hear him.
"I'll talk to Simon tomorrow, about all this overtime. I wouldn't mind a
day off myself." He came out of the bathroom and tossed the towel he'd been
using to the counter, patting Blair on the back as he walked to his stairs. "Good
"Good night, Jim." Blair watched him head up
the stairs, then walked to the bathroom and started his evening routine.
had gone from quietly contemplative, to his regular happy self. But Blair couldn't
help feeling like something was happening. He wasn't sure what, and he didn't
feel too alarmed by it, but there was something. As he got undressed and into
bed, Blair had to keep pulling his mind away from the cultural student mode it
kept wanting to slip into. Thinking about the natives, what the Chopec ceremony
might be like, if it was anything like the death rituals of the Ugundi people.
He was going to stay awake and think about it for a while, but the next thing
Blair realized, Jim was taking a shower, and his own alarm was thirty seconds
from going off. Rolling out of bed, he rubbed his face, pushing tangled hair back,
and reviewed the day ahead. Just some paperwork at the Station, nothing at all
exciting. But , they couldn't all be roller coasters.
Blair pushed himself
off the bed and let his nose lead him to the fresh coffee dripping into the pot.
He reached for a cup and heard Jim come out of the bathroom.
how about the bakery for breakfast, huh? My treat." Jim stood in the hallway,
wrapped in a towel and holding a can of shaving cream.
The bakery meant doughnuts.
Which for Blair would translate to bagels and cream cheese, which he could really
go for today. "Sounds good." Jim smiled, then returned to the bathroom.
Blair took his coffee to his room, searching for clean clothes while he waited
his turn in the bathroom. Tomorrow was laundry day, but he was already running
low on underwear. He'd better get some things done tonight. At least he had a
clean shirt left for today, and his jeans looked okay. He laid the clothes out
on the bed, then took his turn in the bathroom.
After a quick but pleasant
breakfast in the bakery down the block, they settled in together behind Jim's
desk to enter reports and clean up a few loose ends so they could get caught up
and take a much needed day off. Blair keyed in the reports while Jim made notes
and marks and double checked everything. They finished the files before 3:00.
After Blair handed back the last one, Jim gathered several up and stood, stretching
until his back popped.
"Come on, Chief, we're outta here. If you take
laundry duty, I'll do dinner and dishes."
"Oh, you are on, man!"
It was Italian, and it was fantastic. Blair had two loads of
wash done in time for dinner, which passed in a pleasant mix of food, conversation,
and game four of the baseball playoffs. Jim did the dishes while Blair went for
the dried clothes. When he came back up, Jim was hanging up the phone with a shake
of his head. A shudder visibly coursed down his body when he turned to watch Blair
set the clothes on the table.
Jim walked to the small
closet under the stairs and pulled out the iron, handing it to Blair. "Mrs.
Needlemier. I've been hearing strange noises from her place lately, I thought
she had rats or something."
"Yeah?" Blair plugged in the iron,
and started to separate their clothes.
"She's got a new hobby." Jim
shook his head, returning to the kitchen. "Chihuahuas."
Blair laughed, wondering if that was the dog he'd heard barking last night. It
sounded more like a mouse with a sore throat.
"Yeah. Says she's going
to breed the things." He pulled a bottle of water out of the refrigerator
and made a snort of disgust, still shaking his head. "I hate Chihuahuas.
Ugly little rats pretending to be dogs. And that bark, it's like fingernails on
a chalk board or something." Jim was eyeing the bottle in his hand. "Did
they change the label on this stuff?"
"Oh, yeah, they did. New company
Jim took a drink and made a face. "Tastes like tap
water. Are these my shorts?" He reached for a bundle Blair had stacked, but
hesitated. The two on top were plaid, something Jim had only recently started
Blair looked up from his iron and examined the stack quickly. "Yep,
those are yours." He folded over the shirt and set it on the table. "Oh,
and I think I lost another of your white socks."
Jim lifted the stack
of underwear and was reaching for his shirts when he stopped and glared at Blair.
"Sandburg, that's the fourth sock this month."
"I know, I know."
Blair held up a hand in defense while the other gathered up the cord of the iron.
"I can't figure out where they're going. I checked everywhere."
let his gaze burn a moment longer, gathered all of his clean clothes and shook
his head. "Great." He took his bundle to the stairs and walked up, still
shaking his head.
Blair knew Jim thought it was a conspiracy on his part to
slowly rid the loft of white socks, and one of these days it would work.
Blair looked up in time to see the light green plaid boxers seconds before
they landed on his head.
"Those aren't mine."
He reached up and
pulled the underwear from his face, nodding up to Jim. "Thanks, Jim."
His partner's chuckles could be heard as he returned to his dresser. When he came
back downstairs he walked out to the balcony.
Blair finished the laundry, then
followed his partner outside, leaning beside him against the rail overlooking
Cascade. "You know, Jim, you could have gone back with Incacha, and been
there for this ceremony."
Jim turned to look at him for a moment, shaking
his head. "I'm not one for funerals, Chief."
"Yeah, I know what
you mean. From a cultural standpoint, they're very significant. That's just about
the only way I can deal with them myself." Blair gazed out over the city
lights, trying to imagine what was going on in the city around him. He often spent
hours staring out over the night life of Cascade, contemplating the alter-ego
of the city he'd come to call home. And sometimes, comparing it with the dual
nature of his own life. A life he could never have imagined happening, and now
could never imagine being without.
After a time, he felt Jim's eyes on him
"What do you fear, Chief?"
The question took Blair
by surprise. "What? What kind of question is that?"
"Just a question someone asked me a little while ago. I was wondering how
you would answer it." He took another drink from the water bottle he held
and made a face. "I think we need a new brand. This really tastes like tap
Blair shook his head, trying to keep up with the sudden shift
in topics. "Um, yeah. It probably is. Some guy in New York filling bottles
out of his tap and slapping a label on them with a picture of a glacier and we
pay money for it. Here, let me see it." He took the bottle and scanned for
a list of contents. "You know, Jim, after that problem you had with the imported
water, we need to keep a better eye on what you eat and drink."
I thought this Sentinel thing was supposed to be a big help, not a big hindrance,
Chief." Jim turned and walked back inside.
"Jim, it is a big help.
We just have to keep in mind how much more sensitive you are to everything, and
adjust ourselves accordingly." Blair followed him inside, tossed the water
bottle into the trash.
"Yeah? Well how come it's always me doing the adjusting?"
Blair turned, ready to jump on the defensive, but the smile on Jim's face assured
him he wasn't angry. "Listen, it's been no walk in the park for me. I mean,
at least Incacha had the luxury of finding you first."
had that pleasure, Chief." Jim rubbed his forehead and sighed. "Man,
my head is killing me all of a sudden."
"Are you okay? I knew I should
have checked that water once I saw the new label."
"No, I'm fine.
Just a headache." Jim shook his head and stepped toward the stairs. "I
think I'm gonna turn in."
"Yeah, good night, Jim." Blair went
back to the kitchen and pulled the water bottle out of the trash. He was going
to have to pay more attention, especially after the adverse reaction Jim had to
the imported water from Sicily last month.
He'd just turned to ask about the
water's taste when it happened. Jim was only two steps up when he doubled over,
clutching his stomach.
"Jim!" Blair rushed across the living room
but was too late to prevent his friend from falling to the floor. "Jim!"
He was unconscious, probably had been before he hit the floor. Blair immediately
felt for Jim's pulse and found it racing. "Dammit!" What had he been
thinking? He knew that water had changed manufacturers, and after the incident
with the imported water, he had vowed to keep better track of this.
took hours, he was convinced. Holding Jim's head in his lap, Blair had to shout
for the paramedics to come in. His partner was sweating with fever already, and
hadn't regained consciousness. This was no simple case of vertigo.
through the confusion of it all, Blair registered the fact that he was sitting
in the waiting room of Cascade General. How he'd gotten there, and how long he'd
been there, he had no clue. As if coming out of a nightmare, he glanced around,
forcing his surroundings to make some sense. His hands still felt warm from Jim's
fever, and he had a bruise on one arm where the paramedic had to pry him off his
friend. The sudden flash of embarrassment that memory provoked quickly dissipated
in light of the situation.
How long had it been? And what was happening in
there? He knew they'd taken Jim into the exam room ahead of him, he was convinced
he'd have know if they'd come back out. He had no sense of time.
But he did
have a sense of urgency.