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After the Storm

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Blair sat on a log, enjoying the sounds of the woodland around him. The forest was actually kinda nice and peaceful now that there weren't any drug dealers running around shooting machine guns at them. With predictable Washington unpredictability the weather had cleared up beautifully. It was a perfect place to think, and Blair Sandburg had quite a bit on his mind these days.

Nothing in his life had ever been static, and his relationship with Jim was no exception. He wasn't sure yet where it would lead them, or were he wanted it to go. Something was happening though, and he felt it more and more lately. Even the banter between them had changed, filled with innuendo and charged with an energy that he felt to the tips of his toes. When he thought over, it was almost like...like they were more than partners and friends. Lovers in every way except the sex. It was a weird thought, and he didn't know what it meant. That the rest was inevitable? Or once again they had to make new rules for this unique symbiosis?

Blair automatically tensed up when he heard the brush rustle close by, then forced himself to relax. Not even they would have the bad luck to be attacked twice in one day. Would they? A moment later Jim came into view. Blair gave himself a mental duh! as he stopped himself just in time from asking Jim how he'd found him. He was the last person that should forget about Jim's unique senses.

Jim paused a moment before sitting down beside him on the log, as if waiting in case there'd be an objection. Close, but not touching. They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes.

"How's the nose?" Jim asked again, for probably the 100th time.

He was resigned to being fussed over, and answered amiably. "Fine. How's Rucker?" With typical Ellison stubbornness, the coast guard man had refused to let himself be taken to the hospital, insisting on remaining at his post. The EMT's had cleaned up what turned out to be only a nasty flesh wound, and he was advised to stay off his feet.

"Bitching because I won't let him out of bed."

A smile came unbidden to Blair's lips. "I should be so lucky," he found himself blurting when he'd really meant to make a crack about being glad someone else was getting a taste of Ellison's mothering.

Jim scooted closer. "Play your cards right..." he trailed off.

Ah, and that's the reason Blair had been sitting here in the middle of the woods, trying to figure out where this relationship -- if that's what it was -- was going. They were still at that awkward stage, and Blair wasn't sure they'd ever be at ease with it. It was tough to figure out when he didn't know what Jim was thinking, and Jim never talked about his feelings. Not that Blair had a right to complain, since he wasn't sure how he felt, either.

When Blair took too long to respond, Jim's demeanor changed, as if backing off. "Y'know, there's something I've been wondering."

"Yeah, what?"

"When Rucker was talking to Andy, and you thought... What did you mean by, 'that explains a lot'? What did you think it explained?"

Blair shifted uneasily, not for the first time cursing the vow of honesty he'd begun with Jim awhile ago. "Well... nothing, much."

"Um hum," Jim said, unconvinced, waiting.

"It's stupid. I just thought maybe that's why you were so anxious to have me come along on this trip out here."

"You lost me, Chief."

"Well, like, you know, bring me to meet your gay cousin and his lover..."

"Nope, that's not why," Jim said mildly, got up casually and patted him on the shoulder before walking away through the woods.

Blair stared after him. Some days, he smugly believed he knew Jim Ellison like no one else ever. Others, like today, he wondered if he'd ever figure the man out.

 

XXX

 

Jim sat on the dock, halfheartedly making an attempt at fishing. Being inside with his grumpy cousin was making him stir crazy, and Blair wanted his space. Oh, not that Blair had said so, but Jim prided himself on reading his roommate pretty well. That left him with time on his hands to think. He hated that.

Well, what a fiasco this had turned out to be, nearly a disaster in fact. He snorted ruefully, noticing as he did so that he'd scared away a fish that had been swimming in his direction. Sometimes it just got too much, watching the parade of women in and out the revolving door of Sandburg's love life. Especially lately, it seemed every time he turned around there was a female there to complicate things. And more often than not she was not good news. He was beginning to think...

Well, he had to admit women were never his strong suit. Hadn't stopped him from trying, but it never amounted to anything, or ended well if it did. Hit even the stupidest person on the head enough times and they eventually learn to duck. He wondered if he himself wasn't going to grow old, waiting for Sandburg to figure out what he already had.

Jim had thought this was such a brilliant idea. Help his cousin celebrate a birthday, it just so happened to be on a remote island where there wouldn't be a woman around for miles. He was looking forward to isolating Blair from all temptation for one weekend. So what did they end up with? Another damsel in distress, and naturally Sandburg fell for her line of deceit. It wasn't that he was anxious to see Blair's innocence and trust erode... it just hurt to watch...for a few reasons he acknowledged and a few more he wouldn't.

Would Blair ever finally figure out what Jim was beginning to see so clearly?

 

XXX

 

"Hey--"

Jim looked up from his reading, accepting the mug of coffee Blair held out. It was early evening, darkness just having descended. Rucker was already asleep in the back though, the excitement and pain having gotten the best of him.

"I just wanted to thank you."

"For what?"

Blair sat down carefully, gazing into his own mug briefly before lifting his eyes to meet Jim's. It was what Jim recognized at the prelude to one of his serious, personal talks. "For respecting my personal beliefs, and accepting me the way I am, despite the fact that it doesn't necessarily jibe with your beliefs."

"When did I do all this?" Jim asked in amused self-depreciation.

"I know that you've had to use a lot of violence in your life, and you believe it's often necessary. But despite the fact that our lives were at stake, you accepted my hesitancy with the gun and didn't expect me to shoot anyone. I know this puts a lot of responsibility on your shoulders; if the only way out of here alive for us was kill or be killed, you accepted that it would be you doing it. You could call me a wuss, make fun of me -- or worse things. But you never have, even in the beginning. You accept my differences whether you agree with my views or not. I...thank you for that."

Jim cleared his through gruffly, not sure how to respond. This kind of intimate talk was rare with them. "I know all about unfairness, about forcing someone to be what you think they should be, regardless of what they want. I lived it every day of my life growing up. I've always...made it a point not to be like my dad."

Blair lightly touched his arm. "You've done an incredible job," he smiled. "You coulda turned out a complete dick" he said the last two words with typical energetic vehemence, "but you rose above it all. I'm so blown away by that."

Flattery was one of those things Jim never knew quite what to do with. Unless he was feeling particularly smug himself, in which case he'd enjoy the agreement. "Yeah, we're both a couple of incredibly wonderful people. We deserve each other." He was pleased with himself for sneaking his own pet theory into the conversation.

"I'm wonderful?"

The look on Blair's face reminded Jim of his expression when they'd been fly fishing, and Jim had praised his skill. He was caught in that look. Backpedaling furiously, too aware of his blunder, he cast about desperately for...something.

Finally, he gave in. Unconditional surrender. "I've always thought so," he said quietly.

To his surprise, Blair broke the mood by snorting in amusement. "Yeah, right. You thought I was -- what? -- when you first met me?"

There was no answering that question with total honesty. Those waters were too shark infested. Jim didn't go there.

"Neo-hippie witch-doctor punk or something like that, wasn't it?" Blair answered his own question.

"Better than being a caveman."

"Hey, technically, you said caveman. I didn't say caveman."

There was a short pause.

"Yes." Jim said.

"Yes, what?" Blair gave him a puzzled expression.

Jim rose, pausing for just a second to tug on one of Blair's curls. "I always thought you were wonderful." Then he left to get himself some more coffee, not bothering to register Blair's reaction.

 

XXX

 

Jim lounged in the hammock he'd tied between two trees, watching the clouds go by. They'd stayed an extra day to help out, but it was one day too long. Rucker's injury made him irritable and he took it out on those in the vicinity, Blair was bored, and Jim was moody. They each spent most of the day trying to avoid the others.

Jim was second guessing his motivations. Did I really tell him I think he's wonderful? He winced inwardly at the memory. What was he, some kind of teenager with a school crush? Maybe what he needed wasn't time alone with Sandburg, it was time away from him. To get perspective.

Jim sighed as he heard the object of his thoughts approaching. Not likely that was going to happen any time soon. They lived in each other's pockets.

“How does Andrea put up with him?” Blair asked in exasperation.

“You'd be surprised at what you put up with when you're in love.” Silence met his words. He watched Blair kick a rock around the clearing for a moment, then sighed again. “I forget how young you are.”

“Hey, no fair. I've lived more, done more and seen more than most people half my age.”

“You could take it as a compliment that I forget.”

“Gee, thanks Jim.”

“Your sincerity is heartwarming Chief, really.”

Blair snorted in amusement. “I'll be glad when our plane gets here,” he commented.

“Sorry, Chief, I don't know what I was thinking dragging you out here.” No, the problem was, it was too soon for the things he'd been thinking.

“Is this about my age again?”

“Are you saying you aren't bored?”

Blair kicked another stone. “I've been out in the middle of the Amazon for weeks at a time, on digs. No computers, no phones, not even books on tape. Not to mention all the camping and fishing trips we've gone on.

“You're right. Sorry, guess I misjudged.”

Blair pinned him with an intense gaze. “Maybe you've misjudged more than that.”

Jim wondered what he meant by that. Was he reading too much into it? The noise of an engine cut into his thoughts, and he reflexively turned his head towards the sound that only he could hear.

“Plane's coming,” he told Blair, climbing out of the hammock to join him in walking back to the station to get their things.

“None too soon,” Blair answered. “I've had enough of being swore at in Mandarin.”

“I'll make it up to you,” Jim promised, slinging an arm around his partner's shoulders. “Maybe we can talk more, when we get home. You can tell me about the things I've misjudged.”

“I'd like that,” Blair told him.

“Me too, Chief. Me too.”

 

the end

8/23/19