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Fight or Flight

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Blair hardly thinks about it now. It was a long time ago, life has moved on and so has he.

Memories come to him in dreams sometimes, distorted by the vagaries and surrealities of the subconscious into joy and exhilaration and (sometimes) terror. But it happens a lot less frequently than it used to. And these days, when they come, the dreams rarely instil in him the same desperate longing and sharp, stinging edge of grief that used to assault him when he woke, gasping, alone.

Occasionally his heart still speeds up at a glimpse of a tall man, a receding hairline, a familiar-sounding voice. But it is a brief, ephemeral and utterly impotent exhilaration. It isn’t him; it’s never him, it never will be him. Blair has long-since accepted that to be the case, such that he looks away automatically when it happens, hardly ever experiencing more than a millisecond of doomed excitement or bothering to take a second look.

Blair’s grown and changed since he left Cascade, when he opted in his shame and humiliation and deep, deep hurt to embrace flight rather than stay and fight. Now, seventeen years later, he is no longer idealistic, his youthful ebullience banked by maturity. He’s learned patience; he’s learned caution. He’s learned to let go, to move on, to live a life unencumbered by mortal risks.

In his quieter, more reflective moments, he sometimes wonders what his life would have been like if he’d stayed. Would it have all blown over? Would they have continued to fight crime, side by side, the super-cop and no-longer-boy-wonder? He tries, sometimes, to see himself at the age he is now as a detective: hard-bitten, uncompromising, carrying a gun. It’s a fantasy, unreal, inconceivable.

He has no room for fantasy in his actual, ordinary life. He keeps his head down, plays it safe. A middle-aged man in a business suit, on a modest salary, living in a compact apartment that he managed to buy outright with money his mom left him when she died a couple years back. It’s an unremarkable life, steady and safe. He has a number of good friends in this small town, no significant other (he tried that a few years back and failed spectacularly), and is looking to the future, saving for retirement now he no longer has to pay rent. It might take him a while, he’s far from being part of the one-per-cent. But he likes the idea of one day moving out to the sticks, growing a Grizzly Adams beard and fishing for his dinner.

He’s reached a kind of hypnotic status quo, wearing mundanity like a security blanket, coasting comfortably throughout the remainder of his life. It’ll be like this forever, he thinks.


Blair is at the mall when it happens. It’s Saturday, and he’s at Home Depot buying grout. He’s gotten pretty handy at home decorating, and he’s planning to finish off tiling his bathroom this weekend. He walks back out to the lot, puts his purchases down and fishes in his pockets for keys. He’s opened up the trunk and is positioning his bags in-among the groceries he bought earlier when something, a sound, catches his attention.

 “Oh, come on, that long?” Out of the corner of his eye he can see someone tall standing by a car a few feet away, talking on a cell phone. “I’ve got to be in Springville tonight.” The frustration in the man’s tone is intensely familiar. Blair’s breath catches in his throat, he daren’t look as the man adds (with bad grace), “I guess I’ve got no choice then. I’ll book into a motel here. Call me tomorrow as soon as you know. Bye.” Blair guesses he’s hung up, because his voice is less measured the next time he speaks. “Goddamn it! Assholes!”

Blair is frozen in place, one of the paint pots he bought still in his hand. His heart is pounding and skipping. It’s him. This one time, it’s him, it’s actually him. It’s Jim.

The other guy is moving round to his own trunk and opening it, and doesn’t seem to have noticed Blair. Jim’s perfectly oblivious behaviour toward the nervous breakdown occurring right next to him causes Blair to think: what the hell is up with your senses, man? I’m right here!

Blair makes himself move. Deliberately he stashes his purchases in the trunk and closes the lid. He glances Jim’s way – Jim! – then looks away, taking steady breaths. What the hell Jim, you’re a sentinel. It’s me, goddamn it! You should have sensed me already! My heart is pounding like a jackhammer! But Jim has simply retrieved what looks like an overnight bag from his vehicle and is now thumbing his phone, looking for something - a motel listing, maybe - still utterly oblivious.

Or, Blair’s more unforgiving inner voice suggested, he knows you’re here, he just doesn’t give a fuck. You ran out on him buddy, you severed the tie. Maybe he wants it to stay that way.

Jim is talking on the phone again now. He’s booking a motel room, asking for directions. He asks about taxi firms; it seems his car has broken down, and he’s stranded here. Shamelessly Blair listens, his very ordinary senses enabling him to build a picture of a man with a deadline and place to be, a man thwarted in his aim, a man brimming in the sort of single-minded frustration that blinds him to his immediate surroundings even when he is so remarkable he can normally hear a pin drop two blocks away.

So, this is the crunch time, Blair knows. Part of him wants to get in his car right now and drive away. He’s always wondered if Jim is pissed at him for cutting him out of his life after he left. Abandonment cuts deep with Jim, it always had. Maybe he’ll punch Blair out. Maybe – and this is infinitely worse, and Blair can’t stand the thought – maybe he’ll look at Blair with cold, dismissive anger and turn away, shunning him forever. It’s that latter possibility that makes Blair’s palms sweat with terror. You fucking hypocrite, Blair berates himself. You did exactly that to him. Why wouldn’t he do it to you?

So, should he risk it? Fight, or flight?

In the space between one heartbeat and the next, Blair makes his choice. He’s not a risk taker anymore. He’s used to playing it safe, to keeping his steady life on an even and stress-free keel.

He wasn’t always like that, though. And right now he’s in the mood for risk.

He walks over to the other man, whose back is turned, still looking down at his phone. Something, the heat of Blair’s sudden proximity most probably, makes him turn. Jim is thinner, Blair can see; his hair thinner too, and fully gray. He looks good, though. He looks even better when the look of uncompromising annoyance on his face morphs into astonished recognition.

 “Hey, Jim,” Blair greets quietly, and recklessly opens his arms.

“Chief,” Jim breathes.

Jim doesn’t punch Blair out, or push him away. Instead, he accepts the invitation.

Some risks, Blair learns very quickly, are worth taking.


 

They walk back into the mall, where Blair leads the way to a burger bar that he thinks Jim will like. Jim is talking, regaling Blair with the story of his road trip here: how his goddamn hire car gave out on him, and how they’d better foot the bill for his unscheduled layover since they are planning to make him wait until tomorrow for a replacement. Blair is smiling, nodding along and making encouraging sounds, but he’s hardly aware of the words Jim is speaking. Instead he’s lost in a moment ago when Jim’s arms came around him. Jim is big, and warm, and smells just the same as he used to, and he still hugs like he’ll never let you go. Blair could almost cry with the joy of it, but of course he won’t.

They get seated and Jim orders a beer: “Because it looks like I’m not driving anytime soon.” Blair orders a beer as well: he is driving, but it isn’t far, and he thinks something to calm his nerves right now would be a really good idea.

“So,” Jim says, once they’re seated with their drinks, and the server has left with their order. “How’ve you been?” He’s smiling and his eyes are fixed on Blair’s face, his crinkly-eyed gaze a little more intense than Blair is used to being subjected to by anyone these days.

“Good,” Blair says. “Things are good.” He can feel himself going crimson under Jim’s unexpected regard, and so tries to deflect the intensity a little. “Oh, hey. What brings you to this neck of the woods anyway? Did I hear that you were heading for Springville?” Belatedly he realizes that Jim hadn’t told him where he was going, and would now be aware that Blair had eavesdropped.

But if Jim realises, he doesn’t seem bothered. “It’s a family wedding. Steven’s eldest son, Daniel, you remember him?” When Blair nods Jim continues, “Dan’s a lawyer now. He’s marrying a girl he met in college, A.J. She’s a lawyer too, comes from Springville. I’m supposed to be there tonight for the wedding rehearsal but, to tell you the truth,” Jim laughs conspiratorially and Blair feels his own grin widen, “I’m actually a little relieved to miss it. You know how much I hate that kind of thing.”

“Oh, yeah,” Blair agrees. “I remember.”

“Steven’s already been there a week,” Jim goes on, taking a sip of his beer. “I got the impression he wants me to rescue him from Dan’s prospective in-laws, but he’s a big boy, I’m sure he can handle it by himself for one more night. The wedding’s on Tuesday, so I’ve got plenty of time to get there for the really important stuff.”

“So,” Blair says, after a moment. “You and Steven, you’ve gotten pretty close, huh?”

“Yeah,” Jim agrees. “Even more so since Dad died.”

Blair feels his heart sink, at that. “Oh god, Jim. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

Jim shrugs. “It was a few years back. Sudden. He didn’t suffer.” He gives Blair a look of sympathy. “I heard about your mom.”

The rush of familiar pain – coupled with an overwhelming sense of guilt that he’d been oblivious to Jim’s own tragedy – makes Blair look away for a few seconds to compose himself. When he looks up again, Jim is watching him kindly. “How did you know?” Blair asks softly.

“I saw the obituary,” Jim tells him. “It’s how I knew you were still alive. ‘Survived by her son Blair’, and all that.”

Blair winces. It seems they are going to get into this sooner than he expected. “Jim, I’m sorry I ran out on you…”

But Jim holds up a hand, damming the torrent of words. “Look, it’s okay. It all happened a long time ago and, for what it’s worth, I understand why you left. I’d have probably done the same thing. Water under the bridge, okay? But I want you to know, I’m sorry about your mom. I liked Naomi, and I know you two were close.”

Damn it, Blair thinks, he might cry after all. Oddly, it is less Jim’s expression of sympathy than his understanding (and apparent forgiveness) that affect Blair the most. He takes some deep breaths, struggling for composure, and thankfully is saved from potential embarrassment by the arrival of their food order. The next little while is occupied with chowing down on burger and fries and ordering a second round of beers (what the hell, thinks Blair), and very soon they are comfortably back to small talk.

“So,” asks Blair eventually. “Are you still a cop?”

Jim grins. “Nope. I got out of that game a while back. Went into the family business, can you believe it? I guess my old man got what he wanted out of me eventually. Steven and I are managing it in partnership.” He shrugs again, always so self-effacing. “We’re doing pretty well.”

“Oh, man!” Blair is grinning too. “I never figured you for a CEO.”

“Me neither.” Jim laughs, that deep, throaty, slightly naughty laugh that Blair used to love so much. It makes him feel like a co-conspirator. “And,” he adds, “you’ll be glad to hear that the senses are good for things other than detective work. We moved the company’s focus to green energy and, let me tell you,” he taps his nose meaningfully, “We make sure our investments are going to the right people and places. Using my senses to guide our business decisions ensures that our portfolio is as ethical as it gets. We’ve done some good work in Peru, for example, putting right the mess left by Cyclops Oil. And we make sure that the Chopec lands are kept completely untouched.”

“Still taking care of the tribe, huh?” Pride is rushing through Blair at Jim’s words. This man, this amazing man, with so much to give to the world. “That’s… that’s just incredible.” You’re incredible, he wanted to say, but of course he wouldn’t, not out loud.

“So, how about you?” Jim asks. He’s wiping his mouth with a napkin, his plate cleared (half of Blair’s, however, is still untouched, he’s too captivated by this discussion). “Still educating the next generation, huh, Teach?”

Blair shakes his head. “Nah. I’ve not taught or done research, or even set foot in a school since… well, since Cascade.” He sees a fleeting look of unhappiness cross Jim’s face, and wants to reassure. “Hey, no, it’s fine. I decided to change tack. You know, grow up, and go for the steady job. It was way past time.” At Jim’s wordless prompt, he clarifies, “I do administrative work, you know, in an office. It’s not very grand or anything, I work for a company that oversees the implementation of I.T. business projects. I’m not an I.T. guy or anything like that, I just make the coffee.” It’s meant to be a joke, but it falls flat. He feels a little embarrassed talking about his shitty job to Jim, who has continued to do something truly worthwhile. He shrugs and smiles, feeling slightly ashamed. He’s sold out and given up, he knows that. He thought he’d come to terms with it, but apparently not as well as he could have, faced with Jim’s success. “It pays the bills, keeps me off the streets, you know?”

Jim, thankfully, doesn’t say anything, but Blair knows him well, even after all this time, and he can tell he is shocked and a little dismayed. Blair defuses the situation by gesturing at a passing server for the check, and as soon as it comes he insists on paying. He might not draw a CEO’s salary but, goddamn it, he has his pride.

They walk out to the lot together and, when they reach where their cars are parked, Blair says, “Hey, you want a lift? I can take you to your motel.”

Jim graciously accepts the offer, and goes to retrieve his luggage from the broken-down hire car. Blair takes a moment to shift a newspaper and other detritus from the passenger seat, and catches Jim’s amused glance when he returns to catch Blair at it. “Some things don’t change, huh, Chief?” Jim says, and Blair can’t help but grin in return.

At the motel Blair parks up and waits for Jim to check in. Then he accompanies Jim to his room, carrying one of his bags for him. He’s feeling antsy now; unsure. He’d love to spend more time with Jim, and the thought of making his farewells and driving away after such a brief time together makes his stomach hurt, but he’s not sure that Jim would welcome him trying to prolong this chance meeting. Jim’s been pretty quiet on the ride over here, and Blair takes that as a bad sign.

Jim uses his passkey to open the door and they both step inside. The door closes behind them, and Blair walks over to one of the beds, where he lays the case he is carrying down on top of it. This is it, he knows; time to say goodbye. He swallows. Time to give Jim an easy way out. He plasters on a smile, ready with an excuse – I’ve got to get going, man. My bathroom won’t tile itself! – to find Jim right up behind him when he turns around. In the next moment, he is enveloped in an all-encompassing embrace.

Blair’s breath hitches at the suddenness of it. The mixture of joy and anxiety he’s mostly managed to keep in check until now is so, so close to the surface with his face smashed up against Jim, and the sound of Jim’s breathing in his ear. “I missed you,” Jim murmurs, holding him tight. “I can’t tell you how good it is to see you again.”

Blair can’t speak, so he holds Jim back even tighter instead.

“When you left,” Jim tells him, his arms a comfort beyond anything Blair has ever imagined, “I was pissed at first. But mostly, as the days went by, I got worried. After a while I remembered that you were resourceful, a survivor, and I began to think you’d probably be okay. But I thought about you often. I always wondered where you were, if you were okay. I thought about looking for you, but then I thought, if Blair wants to get in touch he can. He knows where I am.”

Blair’s sense of guilt about all that happened, which has never truly gone away, rises up in him now. “I’m sorry,” he says, his voice cracking. “I’m so sorry, Jim, I never wanted to hurt you, I never…”

“Hush, no, stop it. Shhh,” Jim says imperatively. “I’m not angry with you. I’m not upset, either, not anymore. I get it, Chief. I understand. You don’t have to be sorry.” He holds Blair tightly a moment longer, then as his arms loosen they pull back to look at each other. Jim’s expression is as serious as Blair has ever seen it as he gazes into Blair’s eyes. “Finding you here, like this…” he stops, looks down, breathes a little, and Blair feels like he is on a precipice, waiting. Then Jim looks back at him. “Let’s just say that I’m really glad to see you. Really glad.”

“I thought about you too,” Blair says. He is determined to give something back to Jim, in the face of the other man’s honesty. He wants to give his heart to him, but he has most likely forfeited that right, so he vows, instead, to at least give him the truth. “I… to be honest, I tried not to think about you. It hurt too much, remembering how much I’d disrupted your life, made such a mess of everything…” Jim makes a negative sound, and Blair lurches away from further self-recrimination: it seems he is still following Jim’s lead, even after all this time. “As time went on, after I got things straightened out in my head and wanted to talk to you, I thought by then that you probably wouldn’t want to hear from me. And I… I couldn’t take that risk.” His voice cracks again. “Because as much as I hurt you by leaving, and as melodramatic as it sounds, it would have killed me, man, if I’d contacted you, and you didn’t want to know me anymore.”

Jim makes a sound and pulls Blair close again. “You’re a fucking idiot, you know that, Sandburg?” He says grouchily. And the oh-so-familiar aggrieved tone makes Blair laugh suddenly, involuntarily. A second later Jim joins him and they cling to each other, tears rolling down their faces, unable to stop laughing, both of them laughing and laughing until they hurt.

Once their guffaws finally subside, Blair gives Jim a watery grin. “You asshole,” He says. The insult feels good; familiar.

Jim rolls his eyes, then the next second Blair’s in a headlock getting a fucking noogie. “Ow!” Blair protests. “Get your fucking hands off of me, Ellison!”

“Yeah, right,” Jim says. “Make me.” But there’s laughter in his voice, and his hands have already gentled by the time Blair straightens up.

Jim reaches out, his touch tender as he brushes Blair’s cheek. “So, what now?” he asks. Blair really likes the way Jim’s eyes crinkle into laughter lines; Jim has aged well. He was a handsome man before, but now he is absolutely gorgeous. “You gonna show me around this town, huh?”

“Oh yeah.” Blair can’t stop grinning. He doesn’t think he’ll ever stop. “Hey, you know, I’ve got the perfect way to keep you entertained this afternoon, man. You are gonna love it.”

“Oh yeah?” Jim puts his arm around Blair’s shoulders, and it feels so right, so natural. “What, a ball game? Fishing? A movie, what?”

“Oh no, my man. No, much better than that. You see, I’ve got this project going on. Big project, very important. Needs a steady hand and an eye for detail. You could be the man for the job.”

“Oh yeah?” Jim looks amused. “So, what does this project entail?”

“Jim, does the word ‘grout’ mean anything to you? Because I’ve got a whole load of it in my trunk, and a pile of tiles back home with your name on them.”

Jim looks to the heavens and shakes his head. “I might just keel over from excitement.”

“Or,” Blair continues, “We could, I don’t know, just hang out together, like old times. No pressure, just… spend some time together.” He’s all serious now; this is too important to fuck up. “Work out where we are with each other. Where we want to be.”

“As long as I get to keep you in my life, this time,” Jim says. He’s serious, too. “I mean it, Chief. Even if it’s just talking on the phone, or by email, or whatever way we do it. I don’t want to lose you - to lose touch with you – again.”

“I can do that,” Blair says, and he means it too. He doesn’t think he’d survive messing things up with Jim a second time.

He absolutely doesn’t intend to.


Blair has always been garrulous and sociable. He likes getting to know people and finding out what makes them tick. On reflection, he muses, it is probably the main reason he chose to study anthropology back in the day. Human interaction is just so damn fascinating, and he’s never been able to get enough of it.

He’s made plenty of human connections in his time. Right now, living here in small-town America, he loves being able to go out to this bar and that movie theatre, and see someone, however fleeting, that he recognises at least enough to nod a ‘hello’ to. And there are lots of folk he can quite happily share a beer or a coffee with and put the world to rights. It makes him feel like he belongs, like this is his home despite the circumstances that brought him here. It’s a comforting state of affairs, and vastly better than when he first arrived in town and didn’t know anyone at all.

But there is something even more satisfying, he is finding, in reconnecting with his old friend Jim. 

They have kept in touch on Facebook, mostly, ever since they met up again by chance a few months ago. Like everything else about the two of them, they each use Facebook in their own particular way. Blair finds it a little bit heart-warming that Jim’s online persona is a lot like his offline one. He is a man of few words, his friends group small and select, his profile private. When he posts - which is rarely - it is because he has something important to say. And his comments - when he leaves them - are brief, meaningful and cuttingly witty.

By contrast, Blair has a lot of Facebook ‘friends’, and is a member of so many communities and groups he has lost count. He posts a lot, and engages in verbal sparring at great length, arguing the case for environmental protection, gun control, feminism and any other issue he feels strongly about. Sometimes he plays the devil’s advocate; he’s been called ‘troll’ more than once. He finds it all endless good fun, if a little infuriating at times.

Behind the scenes he and Jim message each other frequently, which is where most of their conversation happens. A day hardly ever goes by when they don’t chat in this way, right through the day, even if they are not always online at the exact same moment. They talk about all kinds of things, mostly mundane day-to-day stuff, sharing and griping about what is happening to them right now. Blair’s phone is always buzzing, and he has to remember to turn it to ‘silent’ in the office, and he guesses Jim does the same.

By unspoken agreement they never, ever allude to Jim’s sentinel senses online, even in private messages. Too many ears potentially listening in - they have both taken Ed Snowdon’s warnings to heart.

There is a strange magic in this kind of virtual contact, Blair feels. The fact that they can participate in an ongoing conversation and be a part of each other’s day-to-day lives, despite the vast distance between them and their conflicting schedules, seems like a kind of hi-tech sorcery. It’s like Blair has an invisible Jim right by his side nearly 24/7. It’s not exactly the same as living together (“No more hair in the drain, Sandburg,’” Jim once noted wryly), but sometimes it feels pretty damn close, despite the fact that they cannot see or touch each other. 

They do talk on the phone as well, but only once or twice a week. They could use Skype, to add another layer to their connection, but they tried that a couple of times and found that private messaging works for them better. It feels more immediate, more intimate, and makes them consider their words more carefully. Sometimes Blair wishes they’d been able to communicate in a more considered way back in the day - it might have saved them both a lot of trouble.

They’ve gotten close in a way Blair would never have dreamed possible a few months back. There’s something about their friendship (even conducted in this weird, virtual way) that throws all of Blair’s other human interactions into the shade. Something really wonderful about having someone constantly in his life who knows him so well, and has known him for so long. Blair doesn’t have to try to be anything special with Jim. He can just be himself, secure in the knowledge that Jim values him just the way he is. And he’s touched that Jim appears to feel the same, despite (or maybe because of?) everything that happened between them years ago. 

Blair is moved, late one night, to post a meme on his Facebook wall bearing the legend: ‘Happiness is: meeting an old friend after a long time and feeling that nothing has changed’. He’s amused, though not surprised, when Jim ‘likes’ it but doesn’t comment: it is Jim’s familiar, understated style of public interaction. But Blair is warmed right through a moment later when he receives a private message from Jim. He half expected him to say something sarcastic, making fun of Blair posting something so twee and corny (Jim doesn’t do memes), but instead what Jim says is simply: “Me too.”

A couple of days after Blair posts the friendship meme, Jim messages Blair to tell him he’s going away on a business trip.


James Ellison: 
Heading off to Edinburgh, Scotland Friday. 
Conference on sustainable energy. 
Steven can’t go so I’m standing in.

 

Blair Sandburg:
Wow, sounds great. 
Edinburgh is amazing, I went there with mom when I was a kid. 
You presenting a paper?

 

James Ellison:
Ha ha no, that’s your area. I’m speaking at dinner on Saturday night. 
30 minute after-dinner speech on our operations in Peru. 
Shoot me now.

 

Blair Sandburg:
You’ll be great! 
Just wow them with your dazzling good looks and winning smile… 
Uh wait, nope scratch that, better go with plan B, be an awesome speaker :-p

 


James Ellison:
Come with me.

 

Blair Sandburg:
LOL yeah right. 
Just show them what you’ve got you’ll be fine.

 

James Ellison:
No I mean it. 
Come with me. 

 

Blair Sandburg: 
I wish!

Like I can just jet off to Europe on a whim.
You’ll be fine, Jim. You don’t need me.


 Blair is still waiting for Jim to respond when his phone rings. He is not surprised to see that it is Jim. “I do need you,” are the first words Jim says when Blair answers. “And I mean it, Chief. Come with me.” Jim laughs, and his tone is a little self-deprecating. “Hey, I don’t want to waste my plus-one for dinner. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather humiliate myself in front of.”

Blair is immensely touched to be asked; there is nothing else he would rather do than head off overseas with Jim. But he has to be practical. “Jim, I’d love to. But there are a million reasons why I can’t come with you.”

“Shoot,” says Jim. “What reasons?”

Blair chuckles a little. “Okay, how about the cost? I can’t afford it, Jim. My car is falling apart, I need to replace it before the end of the month, so that’s my big priority right now.”

“The company’ll pay for your trip,” Jim responds. “It’s no big deal.”

“Jim, you can’t do that.”

“Yes I can, I own the company. You can be my speech consultant and save me from making an ass of myself. Consider it your consultancy fee.”

Blair knows that Jim can afford it, but that’s not the point. “I can’t let you do that, man. And anyway, I need to work. There’s no way I’ll get time off at this short notice. I’ve no vacation days left, anyway.”

“Use your sick days,” Jim says. “Tell them it’s for the sake of your health. I hear laughter is the best therapy, and my shitty speech is guaranteed to make you laugh. Probably at my expense.”

Blair is already laughing helplessly. “Yeah, like they’ll go for that.”

“Or how about this? Quit your job, and come work for me,” Jim says bluntly.

Blair stops laughing, thrown suddenly off-balance not just by the words, but by the way it was said. “You don’t really mean that.” In the prolonged silence that follows, he hears how serious Jim is. “Jim?” he prompts, a little helplessly.

After a pause Jim says, “You know, one of the hardest things in a company like mine is finding the right people to do the job. It’s a lot more difficult than you imagine. So, on the rare occasions I find someone with the qualities we need, with the experience, skills and ethical outlook we’re crying out for, I headhunt them, like any good CEO would. Steven does the same. So here’s the thing: I really want you to work for me because I know what you’re capable of. It’s not charity, or nepotism, or anything like that. It’s because we need people like you. I need you, Blair. You have so much knowledge and ability you are wasting right now, that would benefit everything we do. Our work in Peru, our clean energy portfolio, all of it. Come to Cascade and work for me, and you’ll be doing some good in the world. And I’ll make it worth your while.”

Blair takes a few deep breaths. It seems Jim has anticipated Blair’s arguments, and all of the reasons why he absolutely can’t accept Jim’s offer, and addressed them right up front. “So,” Blair says carefully, “how long have you been planning the speech you just gave me?”

“Uh… a few months, I guess,” admits Jim, and Blair hears a defensive tone slip in. “Pretty much since we hooked up again, to tell you the truth.” Jim is nervous, and trying not to show it. “And I mean every word, Chief. I really want you. I need you. And I’m sorry if any of this offends you, or makes you think I don’t respect your independence, because I do, and I’m damned proud of how you’ve picked up your life and carried on. This isn’t some attempted rescue, here. This is about valuing what you have to offer.”

Blair nods to himself. “I guess… the content is well targeted. You should always know your audience, so you did a good job with that. But you could do with some work on your delivery.”

“Huh”? says Jim.

Blair is grinning now. “Hey, if I’m going to be your speech consultant on this trip, we may as well start right away. You got to be open to critique though, man, or I ain’t buying.”

“What are you saying?”

Blair takes a deep breath. “I’m saying yes. Yes to the trip, and yes to coming to work for you. I’ll quit my job tomorrow.”

“You’re serious? Really?” Jim sounds increasingly relieved and elated, sparking an answering frisson of excitement in Blair. “You mean it?”

“Yeah,” Blair confirms. “I mean it.” A sense of rightness is settling into Blair’s gut; a sense of things falling into place. “My job here, it’s just a job. A pay check, nothing more. It’s like you said, I’m wasting my time with this shit. You, and Steven, you’re making a difference. And if I can help you with that, then I will.”

“Well,” Jim says, relief in his tone. “That’s great, Chief. But I was worried that… I mean, you’ve got other things going on. Your apartment, your new life.” Jim sounds a little uncertain. “It’ll mean you relocating to Cascade. Are you sure? Don’t you need some time to think about it? I know it’s a big step. I don’t want you to do something you’ll regret. Most of all,” his voice deepens, resonant of the newly rekindled intimacy they share. “I don’t want to risk our friendship. Or…” Blair shivers as he ventures into as-yet unspoken territory, “what we could be.”

“I’m sure,” Blair tells him, feeling the truth of it deep in his bones. “The thing is, I’ve been wondering, maybe just as long as you have, about how I could make it happen. How I could go home.” He pauses, considering the risks, then recklessly opens his heart. “How I can be with you. And you know, man, I’ve worked with you before, and despite everything that happened we’re still friends.” He grins, gripped abruptly by the excitement of it all. A new beginning, full of promise, with Jim. “Let’s do it, man!”

“Okay,” Jim says. One, simple word, but the meaning is clear.

They chat for a while longer, working out the logistics of their upcoming trip to Scotland, making each other laugh some more. They don’t talk much more about the major stuff, or about the logistics of Blair’s big, impending change of circumstances - that will come later.

It’s okay, they’ve got time.