"Are you sure about this, Blair?" Rebecca Britten asked, a frown of concern marring her face. "You know the old saying of two's company…"
"No, of course I'm not sure. But I've got to do this. Jim needs to be saved from himself."
"And it wouldn't hurt if he was eternally grateful to his savior, and fell right into his bed as a result?"
"No, not out of gratitude. He'd realize that I'm his one true love."
"But he'd fall into bed…"
"Yes, of course that would be the best conclusion." Blair finished filling his back pack with supplies and looked around to make sure that he wasn't forgetting anything.
"Blair, stop!" Becca said, putting her hands on his shoulder to get his attention. "Please, explain it to me again, slowly. So that it makes sense." She walked out of Blair's room and into the kitchen, where she put a kettle on and got some tea out of the cabinet. "Start from the beginning."
Blair put everything down and followed her out, watching her putter. He took a deep breath. "During our last case, we were dealing with guys who were poaching animal parts for the Asian black market." Becca made a disgusted face. "Yeah, I so agree. Anyway, we hooked up with these two Fish and Wildlife wardens. One of them was a woman, Elaine Walters. We went undercover, pretending to have illegal goods to sell. Walters supplied them from confiscations that the Department had. Hey, you should've seen the narwhal tusk they had. It was enormous--"
"Oh, yeah, sorry. Anyway, Jim was dealing with this smuggler named Tommy Wu. So, Elaine wants to be in on the action and she tells Wu that she and Jim are married. So, they spent the night on Wu's yacht in the same stateroom. Then the other Fed, his name was Frank Rafferty, turned out to be a reformed poacher who wasn't so reformed. He almost got the drop on me, but I got the drop on him and left him on an island. Then this big cheese gangster, Ho Ng, finds out we're all undercover and ties us up on the yacht and is going to blow us up. We escaped and captured Ng but Wu got away. After everything worked out, Walters continued to flirt with Jim and invited him on a 'fishing trip'," Blair said, using air quotes. "He said he didn't have a tent, which he totally does, and she offered to use her tent, so they left early this morning for a long weekend of supposed fishing."
Becca stared at Blair, mesmerized by his story, when the kettle whistled. She turned off the gas, poured water into the mugs and added the tea bags. "So, what's the problem? Why shouldn't Jim go with her, even if they aren't actually going to be fishing?"
"I don't trust her. She's pushy and sneaky and cold-hearted. She didn't even blink when she found out that Ng had killed her partner, not that he didn't deserve to have something bad done to him for what he tried, but I was thinking serious jail time, not death!"
"Wha--" Becca started.
"And besides, Jim has terrible instincts when it comes to women. Either they love him and leave him, or they're using him or they're actual criminals. Who knows what will happen when she's got him alone with no one around for miles?"
Probably get a good lay, Becca thought. She dunked her tea bag a few more times, then took a tentative sip. "So, what's your plan?"
"I'm going to camp near them and keep an eye on her; you know, watch his back."
"Or his backside," Becca said wryly. "Does Jim know how you feel about him. Does he even know you're bi?"
Blair looked down. "He's never said."
Becca put her hand on Blair's arm. "You know, if you ever want a chance with Jim, you're going to have to tell him." Blair nodded. "So, how're you going to hide from them?"
"That's why I'm borrowing your Jeep! Jim's never seen it. They'll just think it's another camper."
"Somehow, I don't think it's going to be that easy. But you know I'm in your corner. Go out swinging, honey."
Blair gave her a hug. "Thanks, Bec. I'll call you as soon as we get back. Here are the Volvo keys. It's just had a tune-up and is running great."
"Just be careful, okay? Give my best to Jim." With that, she left.
Blair cleaned up the tea things and finished packing. With one last look around, he picked up his pack and the small tent from the storage room and left.
"You're kidding," Jim said, looking at the woman in front of him, hands on her hips and looking fairly pissed.
"No," she drawled. "I love being looked at like I've lost my mind simply because I suggested we retire to the tent." Was this the thickest guy on the planet? "I thought all that playing house on the yacht was mutual."
"That was an assignment," Jim protested, then immediately realized he was throwing fuel on the fire. "I mean, I thought you were pretending. I didn't realize you were serious…" He looked at her clearly for the first time.
His annoyance at how she'd tried to take the lead on what he considered his case had clouded his opinion. He could see that she was, in fact, an attractive woman, someone who was probably looking for the same thing he did after a tense case--a way to blow off a little steam with recreational sex. Well, he could do that. "Sorry, Elaine," he said. "I misread the signals." He smiled his most charming smile. "Do-over?" he asked.
She returned his smile. "It's a good thing you're cute." She looked around their campsite. "As long as we're here, we could catch dinner. Do some small talk and see where that leads?" she suggested, raising an eyebrow suggestively.
He nodded, relieved. "Yeah. I've got a new fly I'm been wanting to try out."
They spent a pleasant day hiking and fishing in the pristine river. Despite Elaine's previous boast that the salmon were so plentiful "they'll almost knock you over", they didn't catch anything. Still, it was a pleasant day. Jim didn't worry about the lack of salmon; he always came prepared with a back-up plan--in this case, the steaks and potatoes in his cooler. Beer, too, although he wondered whether Elaine would have preferred wine. He never had to worry about that with Blair--they were always on the same page when it came to food.
Well, almost. Blair would willingly eat steak, but Jim usually had to endure a lecture on healthy eating first. Funny how that didn't seem to annoy him. Jim shook his head, clearing it. He wasn't here to think about Blair. He was here to think about Elaine. He cast his line again and looked up at the sky. Another half hour and they should head back to start a fire.
"Ready to head back?" Elaine called out. "I think we're out of luck for today."
Jim nodded. "I was thinking the same thing. I'll fill up the jug I brought so we've got water at the site."
Jim packed up his gear, then filled a four-gallon jug from the river. Even though he was going to boil it, he added purification tablets, just to be on the safe side. He waited for Elaine to join him and they walked back to the campsite.
"Sorry," she said, as they stowed their fishing equipment in his truck. "I thought for sure salmon would be on the menu tonight."
"No problem," Jim replied. "They might be biting in the morning." He pulled out the cooler from the truck bed. "I brought dinner fixings just in case." He got out two beers, handing her one. "Let's get a fire started, huh?" She nodded.
The next half hour was filled with gathering enough wood and kindling for a fire, arranging stones for a ring and setting up the wood. Jim lit it with a match, then pulled out two potatoes, already wrapped in aluminum foil. He wedged them between two stones, so they would be easy to retrieve once they'd cooked.
He went back to the truck and pulled out what looked like a toolbox. Inside were Coleman cooking pans, plates and utensils. He pulled out a frying pan and a small box of seasonings. Satisfied, he sat back to drink his beer and watch the fire. He unfurled his hearing a little, making sure there weren't any animals close by. The last thing they needed was a bear, or even a skunk, to mar the day. He was surprised to hear something unexpected. Concentrating, it sounded like a person setting up a tent.
"Elaine, is this a campsite?" he asked.
"Not an official one, but some people use it. It's so off the beaten path that I usually find I'm alone when I come here. Why?"
Jim realized that he'd used his enhanced hearing. "No reason, just curious. It's such a beautiful area I thought it'd be more popular," he obfuscated. When she didn't respond, he took a relieved breath.
"That was delicious," Elaine said as they finished their meal. "Putting the pan juices on the potato is a great idea."
"To be honest, it was Sandburg's. He said it would taste better than throwing butter and sour cream on them and a lot less fat."
"Sandburg? You trade cooking tips?"
"Well, yeah. Unless you want to eat out every night, you learn to cook. He's a perpetual student, so doesn't have much cash for restaurants, and I prefer to eat home-cooked meals. I find they over-salt the food in most places." He didn't add that trying to deal with the vagaries of restaurant cooking wreaked havoc on his sense of taste.
Elaine shrugged. "I'm so tired most nights, I end up ordering in." She looked at him with a teasing smile. "What's for dessert?"
Jim looked toward his cooler. "Mm. Well, I've got a bag of marshmallows we could roast."
"You brought marshmallows?" Elaine asked in surprise.
"Yeah, they're light to carry and a nice thing to cook over a campfire. Sandburg loves them."
"You camp with him?"
"Yeah. I used to camp alone, but I took him once and he's a lot of fun." Jim saw her strange look. "Don't you do things with your partner?" Jim realized almost immediately how insensitive the remark was. He'd forgotten that her partner was dead. "I'm sorry, Elaine, I forgot."
"No, it's okay. Actually, I'd only been paired with Frank for a few months. This was our only case together." She looked at the fire. "He was… secretive about his private life, so we didn't socialize." She sighed. "Anyway, I had something else in mind for dessert," she said, in a sultry tone.
Jim smiled, thinking the day couldn't have been more perfect. He was about to respond when a noise caught his attention--that camper. "Sounds great. Why don't you… get ready? I want to do a perimeter check before we settle in for the night."
"I'll be waiting, Soldier Boy," her voice full of promise.
Jim threw out his senses as he got closer to the campsite. There was a camper chair set up next to a small fire. The fire itself was built well--no chance of it getting out of control. The campsite was organized, as if the camper was experienced. The Jeep was older but looked well-maintained. Jim sniffed a little, out of cop's habit, checking whether there was anything illegal like drugs or ammo. Not drugs, but something familiar. Shit! He opened up his hearing to double-check what his nose was telling him. Sure enough, he could hear Blair's heartbeat and smelled his distinctive aftershave.
He waited, knowing Blair would be out in a few minutes by the way he was moving around. When Blair opened the flap, Jim was standing in his most looming stance--the one he used to intimidate suspects. Blair saw him and startled, falling back on his butt. "Jim! Don't give me a heart attack, man. What are you doing here?"
"Shouldn't that be my question?"
Blair gave a nervous little laugh. "Funny thing. I wasn't doing anything this weekend, and a fishing trip sounded great. And, you know, ours got interrupted and anyway, that place was catch and release, and I had a taste for some fresh-caught salmon, so I thought that I'd just take a little trip and do some relaxing in the great outdoors…" He trailed off as Jim continued giving him his "bad cop" glare, one that worked well enough on perps but usually bounced right off Blair. He sighed and shrugged. "I was worried about you."
Jim stared at him incredulously. "Worried about me?"
"Well, Elaine was kinda pushy, you know? I was thinking that maybe she wanted to do you some harm, maybe she was really pissed at how you took over her case and wanted some revenge or something."
Jim shook his head, as if trying to clear it. "Okay, let's say I buy that. What were you planning to do?"
"Just keep an eye on her. Make sure she was on the up and up. If things looked okay, I would have left and gone back home."
"Where'd you get the Jeep?"
"Becca Britton. We traded cars. I wasn't sure how rough the roads were, so I thought the Jeep would be a better option. And anyway--"
"And anyway, I would have noticed the Volvo."
"Well…. yeah. I figured if nothing was wrong, I could just slip away and no one the wiser."
Jim was still having trouble believing this was happening, but he was hard-pressed to be really angry--Blair showing up was just one more bit of weirdness in the weird situation that began when he impulsively accepted Elaine's invitation for this weekend. He sat down in the camper chair and stared at the fire for a few minutes before he spoke. "Blair, look. You can see I'm all right. I think you should just pack up and head home--"
"Jim, what the hell?" Both men looked up to see Elaine glaring at them with her hands on her hips. "You took so long, I thought you'd been attacked by a bear or something. Instead, you're dallying with your boyfriend." Elaine pulled herself up to her full height and crossed her arms. "Sorry, boys, I don't do threesomes. Though even if I did, there isn't room for me between you two."
Jim and Blair both spoke at the same time.
"No, we're not--"
"You don't understand--"
"Oh, come on," Elaine cut them off in exasperation. "Blair's recipe for steak and potatoes, Blair's marshmallows; it was probably Blair's favorite beer, too. How thick do you think I am?"
Both men stared at her, then at each other.
"Well, since I can't exactly hail a cab, I'm going to need you to take me home." She held up her hand as both men began to speak. "Don't bother. I'm going to break camp. You two say your goodbyes. Just be quick about it." With that, Elaine stomped off.
"Jim, I'm so sorry. I thought this was a good idea, but I just didn't think it through."
Jim sighed. "Me either, Chief. You were right about Elaine wanting something more than a simple getaway. I was clueless there."
"Yeah. Anyway, I'd feel better if I knew you weren't out here alone. I've got to get back there. Can you get packed up and out of here? I'll meet you at home. We can talk then." Blair nodded and Jim left.
"Why didn't you say something?" Elaine asked after an hour of silence. "I feel like an idiot."
"Join the club," Jim said. "Honestly, Elaine, we're partners at work and roommates, but we've never broached the subject of taking it further. I didn't even know he was interested."
"Are you?" she asked.
"If you're asking if I'm gay, I'm bi. In my line of work, there's still a lot of prejudice, so it's easier to go out with women, and I like them, a lot. All evidence to the contrary," he added. "I truly am sorry, Elaine. I guess I've been too involved with the job and too out of the dating scene--I didn't pick up on your signals."
"Or Blair's," she added ruefully. He could only nod. "Well, fortunately, in the DFW, there's plenty of men to choose from." She gave him a wry smile. "Let's just chalk this up to bad timing?"
Jim let out a gust of breath. "Yeah."
They arrived at her apartment and he helped carry her gear to the door. They gave each other a hug. "Good hunting," Jim said, with a smile.
"I'd wish you the same, but I think you've already gotten your quarry." They laughed, and Jim left.
When Jim pulled up in front of their building, the Jeep was already there. He grabbed his gear out of the truck and headed up the stairs. When he opened the door, he saw Blair sitting on the couch, nursing a beer.
Blair looked up with real contrition in his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Jim. I know that doesn't help. I don't know what I was thinking." He took a long drink. "I claim temporary insanity."
Jim got his own beer, opened it and sat opposite Blair. "I don't get it, Chief. I thought you were encouraging me to go out with Elaine."
Blair took a deep breath and let it out. "I was getting really mixed signals. When we started the case, it sounded like you couldn't stand her. You even said you were repelled by her."
"And then she asked you to go camping with her this weekend. And you went."
"And I thought you were okay with that."
"Not really. I got bad vibes from her. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that maybe you weren't thinking straight. Like maybe it was her pheromones, like with Laura. So, I thought I would keep an eye on you and make sure she wasn't a criminal, like Frank."
Jim looked at Blair like he was having trouble believing how convoluted his thinking had been. "So, how did you know where we were? I know you didn't follow me; we left well before you did."
"Checked at the precinct. You usually leave an itinerary, just in case. I guess we've been together so long, Dispatch didn't think anything of giving me the info." Blair shrugged. "So, why did you go with her?"
"I really thought she just wanted a fishing trip. It sounded like a good way to unwind after that case. I guess she had a different method of unwinding in mind."
"So, you weren't really attracted to her?"
Jim looked at Blair. "The truth is, Chief, if things had worked out a little differently, I might have ended up with Tommy."
Blair's eyes widened. "Oh." Then he looked away. "But not with me," he said softly.
Jim reached over and turned Blair's face toward his. "Until tonight, I didn't even know you were interested in me, or into men at all. You chase pretty much anything in a skirt. I've never seen you with a man."
"You either," Blair pointed out. "I'm bi, but I've had more luck with women. In a lot of ways, they're easier. Besides," he continued. "Lately, there's only been one guy I'd be interested in."
"Someone who would make you come up with a cockamamie plan to break up his date?" Jim asked with a smile.
Blair smiled back. "Yeah."
"Well," Jim said. "It seems you owe me a nice weekend. Since our own fishing trip got interrupted by poachers, and our gear is already out…"
"And we've already got the marshmallows…"
"Yeah. Only let's find someplace new. When it comes to you, I don't want to do catch and release." Blair gave him a brilliant smile. "Now, why don't we head upstairs. We can discuss where we're going… and other things."