Jim stares at the contents of his refrigerator, wondering if it will magically fill up with food if he glares at it long enough. Sighing, he decides against making his go-to: spaghetti with homemade sauce. Without a salad and garlic bread, it wouldn't be much of a meal. His eyes flick longingly at the pile of take-out menus, then he sighs again and opens the freezer. They'd been busy enough the last month that restaurant meals have become a way of life and he's getting tired of it. Tomorrow, their day off, will have to be a shopping day.
He takes inventory and spots the frozen chicken breasts. Stir-fry it is he decides. He throws the chicken into the microwave and hits "defrost". He grabs frozen snow peas, then goes back to the fridge for celery and carrots. He adds an onion and pulls out the cutting board to begin chopping. The microwave dings and he pulls out the chicken, slicing it thinly, pouring a marinade over it, then putting it in the fridge. He washes his hands, then starts the rice. One last look shows everything is ready for when Blair walks in the door.
He frowns and pulled out a beer.
His irritation has little to do with their meager food choices and everything to do with the envelope, festooned with colorful stamps, addressed to Blair. Although it'd been close to a year since Naomi had breezed in and blew up their lives, the incident still evokes sharp pains of anger. He supposes it's natural -- so much has happened since then, with little time to "process", something he hates to do at the best of times.
When Simon offered Blair a Detective badge, he was not at all sure Blair had wanted to become a cop, but he surprised them by accepting it. Blair and Simon agreed waiting until the next Academy intake, four months away, would allow the press to chase some other headline. In the meantime, Blair found a highly competent lawyer who slapped a gag order on Berkshire publishing, Sid Graham, Rainier University and Chancellor Edwards, then proceeded to sue them for theft and release of his personal intellectual property.
The Berkshire settlement money was substantial, but the other stipulation was more satisfactory: Sid Graham was fired. Although everyone signed a non-disclosure agreement, Graham had not been able to find employment anywhere in the industry. Sid had also been ordered to pay Blair damages out of his own pocket -- icing on the cake.
Rainier also paid punitive damages, and a subsequent investigation uncovered a pattern of fund-raising abuses. Chancellor Edwards was given her walking papers and several other professors lost their tenure. Blair was reinstated in the doctoral program. He immediately submitted his thesis on police subcultures. By the time he entered the academy, he was Doctor Blair Sandburg.
It took him a while to finally get up the nerve to ask Blair why he was associating with Rainier, because he secretly feared it meant Blair would leave. "It will give me gravitas when I'm on the stand, Blair explained solemnly. "You know, in case the fraud issue comes up. Why would Rainier award a doctorate to a fraud?" The next day, Blair drove to the Academy.
He was also a little pissed Simon had downplayed the badge requirements, but Blair didn't seem bothered. "Think about it, Jim," he explained patiently. "They can't just accept your word, even though you're Cop of the Year." It was reasonable, he explained, for the Academy to make sure he could be certified and prevent his colleagues from believing he got preferential treatment. Blair petitioned to test out of as many classes as possible, which cut his time in half.
Another nasty surprise was the department's requirement for Blair to work as a uniformed officer before promoting him to Detective. Again, Blair merely shrugged as he groused. They were both on friendly terms with a lot of the career uniforms and he was paired with Tom Feeney, whose partner was on maternity leave.
So, it was another three months where they continued to be out of sync. Between the vagaries of his schedule and Blair's 12-hour shifts, they barely nodded to each other in passing. When time allowed, he met Blair and Tom for lunch, but their conversations weren't the same as the intimate talks they used to have at home.
He missed those talks.
There was no use wishing for what he couldn't have, so he threw himself into the job, working on his own when Simon let him and pulling in a partner when necessary. His co-workers, friendly with Blair and sympathetic to his plight, were supportive.
One byproduct of what he privately called "the Naomi fiasco" was how it affected his personal relationship with Blair.
He'd been getting vibes, especially after they came back from Sierra Verde. Of course, he felt terrible about his behavior -- overreacting about Blair's innocently helping Alex, throwing him out of the loft and, of course, beyond all else with a grief that left him gasping, Blair dying. Overcome with guilt and self-loathing, he tried to make it up to Blair by explaining, in painful detail, everything that happened, allowing Blair to ask as many questions as he wished. As Blair gently probed, he got a better handle on the spiritual aspects of being a sentinel which he'd tried to ignore.
Afterwards, he'd wished he hadn't rebuffed Blair's offer to "take that trip", only belatedly thinking it might have meant more than an esoteric exploration. Perhaps Blair had been hinting at a more intimate partnership. But he'd backed off.
From there, their world just seemed to fracture. Brad Ventriss, the Archers, the Conkles -- the cases all had deep, personal connections. They were both on edge during those months, sometimes barely coping. Sometimes barely speaking to each other.
Despite that, Blair believed in Jim when he saw Molly's ghost and others made jokes. Blair believed in Jim when Internal Affairs was grilling him over the missing heroin. Blair believed in him, even when it got him killed. Despite being married and the string of women he'd dated before and after, he'd never known love like they talk about in poetry; he wasn't sure it existed. But through that last tumultuous year he thought maybe, just maybe, what he had with Blair came close.
And then Naomi failed to keep her nose out of Blair's life, and it all went to hell.
Except it didn't. Blair did what he always did -- cleaned up the mess. By walking away from his life's work, refusing a three-million dollar offer to sell Jim's story and cheerfully accepting a career he never wanted. It might not have been a love story like you'd read in a fairy tale, but it had come damn close. The only piece missing was the part where they fall into each other's arms, declare their love and kiss.
Instead, Blair got determined and he got busy. He put all his considerable efforts into mitigating damages. His work, as usual, paid off. His restored reputation allowed him to accept the badge and the monetary reparations gave him a very nice nest egg. They settled, at last, into something resembling their old working partnership. Except now Blair carried a gun and he couldn't order him to stay in the truck. And they never talked about anything serious except their cases.
The sound of Blair's familiar tread interrupts his wool-gathering. He gets a beer from the kitchen and waits until Blair enters the loft, opening the bottle and handing it to his partner.
Blair grins at him and takes a long swallow. "Thanks, man, I needed that."
He quirks an eyebrow. "I thought you were going to get re-certified at the range. Problem?"
Blair walks over to his room. These days, he carries a messenger bag instead of a backpack and throws it on his bed. "Nah, that went fine. Some bozos got into a fender bender on Oak and decided to exchange blows instead of insurance cards. I actually had to pull my badge and threaten to arrest them before they backed off."
He frowns. "Why are you getting involved in such a volatile situation? You could have gotten hurt."
Blair rolls his eyes and takes another swallow. "Says the guy who pushes his nose into every out-of-jurisdiction crime he comes across. I'm a big boy now, Jim. I've got a badge and a gun and everything. Besides, you know I can talk a hind leg off a donkey." He snorted in agreement. " These guys were child's play. By the time I was done, they were thanking me."
"Nice to know you're using the Force for good, Obi Wan. Are you hungry?"
"Starved." He glances at the cutting board. "Wow, you actually found something to make for dinner?"
"Just barely. Grocery shopping tomorrow. I'm sick of restaurant food."
Blair nodded. "I hear ya. Do I have time for a shower?"
He waves his hand in a shooing motion. "Rice is done. I'll make the stir-fry once you come out." He started washing the cutting board. "Oh, by the way, you've got mail. From the stamps, it looks like Naomi."
"I'll check it after dinner," Blair replies, walking down the hall toward the bathroom.
He wonders whether things are going as well between son and mother as he thought. They seemed to have made up, keeping in touch through phone calls during which Blair always sounded genuinely fond. But Naomi hasn't visited once, and Blair hasn't offered to meet her anywhere. Not that he'd had time. But in the past Blair would have immediately opened a letter from Naomi, delightedly reading her adventures while sharing stories of growing up with his unconventional mother. He mentally shrugs.
Dinner is comfortable, each of them sharing their day. They plan out the next day, clean the dishes and agree on a game to watch. Blair flops down on the couch, several piece of mail in hand. He tosses two credit card offers, then opens the letter.
"Where's Naomi this time?" he asks, hoping he doesn't sound snide.
"She was in Mumbai for Diwali," Blair says as he reads her letter, "but she's going to Uruguay."
"What's in Uruguay?"
"We have some distant cousins who emigrated there to escape the Holocaust. They settled outside of Montevideo." He shook his head. "She's going to be there all of December through Twelfth Night. Of course, she wants me to come down. She still thinks I'm footloose and fancy free." He folds the letter and puts it back in the envelope.
"Would you like to go?" he asks.
Blair shrugs. "Maybe. I've never been. When I was younger, Naomi was down there protesting the treatment of the indigenous and thought it was too dangerous for me. Later, between my studies and expeditions, I just didn't have the time -- or the money. It would be nice to gather some family stories while there's still time."
There doesn't seem to be anything else to say, so they spend the evening watching the Jags lose to the SuperSonics.
They walk into the Major Crime bullpen to loud cheers and clapping. Both of them look at each other and he has an awful, momentary feeling of déjà vu from a year ago, when his sensory secret had been accidentally revealed. He shakes himself mentally. Their coworkers had been quietly told about his abilities, so this couldn't be related.
"Congratulations, Hairboy," Henri Brown says, coming up and clapping Blair on the shoulder. "I thought your luck only helped you with the horses."
Blair looks at him in confusion. "What do you mean, H?"
"Haven't you heard?" Rafe, Henri's partner, asks. "You won the Department rookie vacation pool. You get to have a week off for Christmas."
"But that's for the uniforms," Blair protests.
Rafe shakes his head. 'No, it's for anyone who's been a cop for less than a year. Your name went in the hat with all the others."
"So, do you have any plans, Blair?" Megan asks with a smile. "Ice fishing in Whiteswan Lake? Sunning on the beach in Cabo?"
"Wow," Blair replies, turning to him. "What do you think, Jim?"
"We're signed up to work Christmas week, Chief," he says, a little stiffly. Because Blair had no seniority, Jim had just volunteered to work the holidays with him.
"Oh, yeah," Blair answers. "Does it have to be Christmas week? Can it be anytime in December? I'd prefer to be off for Solstice anyway." He turns to Simon, who's just exited his office. "Christmas is Monday, so maybe the week before?"
" You can both have the previous week off," Simon answered. "I'm sure the rest of the squad will be happy not to have to shuffle their holiday plans around. Congratulations, Blair."
"Thanks, Simon," Blair says with a grin. "But what about the time off? I don't have enough vacation days accrued."
"You have almost enough with comp time," Simon replies. "The rest you can borrow against future vacation earnings." He looks around. "Now, can we all get some work done around here?" he asks meaningfully.
They walk to their desks. "What about it, Jim. Do you want to take a quick trip to Uruguay?"
He looks at Blair, shocked. "Just like that? And you want me to go with you?"
"Yeah, just like that." Blair looks at him, excitement in his eyes. "Jim, this is a windfall! After the tough year we've had, we deserve a little fun. All the more so because it's unexpected."
"But," he asks hesitantly, "don't you want to take someone else with you? Some woman you're dating?"
Blair frowns, giving him a look like he has two heads. "Are you kidding?" When he doesn't answer, Blair picks up his coffee cup. "Let's get some coffee." He follows Blair to the breakroom.
Blair makes a fresh pot, pours them both a cup, then sits down across from him. "Jim, why would you think I'd want to take someone else? Have you seen me dating anyone in the past six months? In the past year?"
He shrugs, knowing it's true. Neither of them have had much of a social life lately. "I know you've been busy. I just figured once things slowed down, you'd go back to dating." Blair says nothing. "Maybe you might use this to restart your romantic life, Chief," he says softly.
Blair sighs. "I've been busy, yes. It's been a hard year -- for both of us. We could both use a break and what could be better than someplace warm and beautiful? Unless… unless you don't want to go with me."
"No, no. It's not that. I thought maybe you might want to get away -- reconnect with Naomi. Do… family stuff."
"Jim, I've spent more time with you in the last five years than I've spent with any other family, friends or lovers. In case you haven't noticed, we are family." Blair waits until he nods. "Okay, then, let's talk about what to do in Uruguay. Since the end of military rule, it's become one of the safest, most peaceful democracies on the continent. Although there's not much crime, so you won't have anything to solve," he says with a smirk.
"Ha, ha, Shecky. Why don't we talk about this after work? I'm sure Simon would appreciate it if we gave some of our time to the department."
Blair grinned and holds up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. How are we protecting Cascade today, partner?"
He feels his heart warm as he follows Blair out of the break room.
Apparently, there were any number of pleasant things to do in Uruguay, what with the summer weather allowing for outdoor activities as well as indoor. He hadn't found time to surf since the arson case with Debra Reeves and he was hoping to find some good waves. He'd make sure to pack his favorite board shorts and sunscreen. As he typed up the notes on the Tyler smuggling ring case, he planned one of their days in his mind. Ocean fishing if the surf was bad or para-sailing if the wind was good, both of them pleasantly tired and wind-blown, ending with dinner at one of Montevideo's famous steak houses.
Of course, Naomi had all sorts of ideas for how they should spend their time when Blair called to let her know they were coming. Blair had explained gently but firmly they would visit her but had their own plans as well. Eventually, she got it.
Blair walked in with an envelope in one hand and a bag in another.
"That'd better be my buttermilk doughnut from Clara's, Chief," he says by way of greeting. "I've been getting all our paperwork done with no help from you."
Blair grins. "Wow, I'm amazed you remembered how to type." He drops the pastry bag on his desk and points to their coffee cups, eyebrows raised in question. He nods. "Oh, by the way, I picked up our tickets." Blair hands him the envelope and heads to the break room for coffee.
"Blair, these are first class tickets," he says when Blair came back.
"Can't get anything past those sentinel eyes," Blair teases. "Seriously, we'll be spending almost as much time in the air as on land. Shouldn't the whole trip be fun? Besides, the last thing I want to do after an awesome vacation is sit in economy class. Do you?"
"No, but these are pricey. I know you said you'd get the tickets, but…"
Blair rolls his eyes. "Jim, try to remember I'm no longer a poor, starving student. Besides," he shrugs, "Naomi paid for the tickets -- I just upgraded them to First Class." He laughs at Jim's thumbs up.
Relaxing in his seat, he decides he'd rather have fewer trips if it means traveling first class. From the moment stewards took their luggage and whisked them through Security, to the crystal glasses of champagne pressed into their hands, to the warmed washcloth he uses to wipe his face and hands, he feels… special; cared for. There is good food, good drink and a decent night's sleep on the narrow but nevertheless comfortable bed. At Carrasco International Airport, they stop at the private Arrivals Lounge for a quick shower and change of clothes before finding their rental car. All in all, it's a good start to their trip.
They drive to the address Naomi had given and arrives at a huge estate. A servant comes out and removes their luggage while another parks the car. "Whose place is this?" he asks Blair quietly.
Blair shrugs. "No clue."
"Blair! Sweetie!" Naomi screams as she flies out the door. "I'm so glad you made it!" She hugs Blair tightly and he returns it enthusiastically. They part and she turns to him. "I'm so glad you could come," she says and sounds sincere. He hands her the flowers and wine they'd picked up at the airport and she takes them, smelling the flowers. "Ah, Jim, you're always such a gentleman." She kisses him lightly on the cheek and then, smiling impishly, pulls him into a hug. "Now, let me show you to your bungalow. How are you feeling? Do you need to rest? Are you hungry?" She peppers them with questions as she takes each of their offered arms.
Traveling through the immaculate gardens, they arrive at a lovely bungalow painted in natural colors. Inside it's light and airy, with the sitting room opening onto a lanai. "This is beautiful, Mom," Blair exclaims. They continue the walk through, until Blair stops short. They both stare at the only bedroom -- the one with one large king-sized bed.
"Mom… what is this?"
"I thought you two would like privacy, so I gave you the bungalow."
Blair looks at him. He's just about to say it's okay, they've slept closer together when they've camped. Blair frowns slightly and shakes his head, obviously not wanting him to intervene. It's just as well. The thought of sleeping near Blair for a week while he's having feelings isn't a good idea. Blair takes Naomi's arm and leads her outside, well aware he would be able to hear them.
"Mom, Jim and I are not together that way."
"Blair, you're kidding, it's obvious---"
"Naomi, I don't care how obvious anything is to you or anyone else. I'm frankly upset you're still, after everything we've been through, making assumptions about Jim or me or our lives. Now, if you can't find us two separate bedrooms somewhere in this mansion, then we'll pack up and go to a hotel. We're here to have a good time and traveled a long way to enjoy ourselves."
There is silence. Then a subdued "Okay, honey, you can have the rooms in the east wing. The sunrises are beautiful."
"I'll apologize to Jim," she says. "I just wanted to--"
"Okay, Sweetie, I hear you. Dinner's at eight if you want it and there's plenty to munch on now."
Be nice he tells himself. She's just being a mother, although he really doesn't have a lot of experience with how mothers behave. However, they'd come all this way and he doesn't want to spoil their trip before it begins. He produces a genuine smile when Naomi comes back in the bungalow.
"I'm sorry, Jim. I didn't mean to offend you."
"No offense taken, Naomi. I know to an outsider," he catches her slight wince at that last word, "our relationship may look… different than what it is. You'd be surprised," he adds wryly, "there've been some rumors at the Department in the past."
She looks at him with an expression he can't read. "Well, let's just say no more about it. I'll show you your rooms and then you can relax." She takes his arm again. "Have you talked about what you want to do while you're here? There's plenty to see in the city, but you might want to explore a little farther out.…"
He shares his ideas as they make their way back to the main house. "By the way, Naomi, this place is beautiful. Are you renting, or…"
"Oh, Jim," she says, "that's quite a long and interesting story…."
The rooms in the east wing are lovely.
Neither were interested in sitting around after the long flight, so they consult their wish list and go down to the beach to check out surfboard rentals. The owner suggests some places to surf and shares the tide report for the next few days. Then they walk around the Ciudad Vieja, admiring the art deco buildings. They stroll the Mercado del Puerto and decide to have dinner at one of the steakhouses. Blair calls Naomi to let her know they won't be back for dinner, then they continue to stroll until it's time to eat. He'd extracted one promise from Blair: no nagging about his eating habits. He plans to enjoy all the regional favorites guilt-free.
The meal is extraordinary. He's amazed at how different the meat tastes from what he's used to at home, even from the prime beef of the steakhouses in Cascade. Their server explains it is due to the local grasses and herbs the cows graze on. He entertains Blair by describing the subtle tastes of the food and local wine and grins, surprised as always at Blair's wide-eyed enthusiasm whenever he shows off his abilities.
He hadn't realized how much he missed that.
Between the time zone change and the longer daylight hours, neither was tired. They spend the rest of the evening walking off dinner by exploring the city. When they finally make it back, the entire household is asleep.
They'd already agreed to spend Solstice with Naomi, so he decides to surf the next day. High tide isn't until afternoon, so they're free to do more sightseeing.
"Did you sleep well?" Maggie, the cook, asks. "Do you want anything to eat?"
"Slept like a log. Just coffee's fine. I'll wait for Blair to see what we want to do for breakfast."
"He's not an early riser?" She asks as she pours him a cup.
He snorts. "The time zone change doesn't help, but he's more of a night owl anyway. I think he tried to just soldier through without sleep, but I poked my head in and he was dead to the world." He takes another sip, closing his eyes in pleasure. "I'm planning to do some surfing this afternoon. Any suggestions?"
"Well, Punta del Diablo is one of the best spots, but it's quite a drive -- about three hours away. La Paloma is half the distance and is still very good."
"And something to do for this morning? Blair wanted to check out some museums." They spend the next hour discussing pros and cons before Blair stumbles in, blindly reaching for coffee. He shoots Maggie a knowing look and pours a cup for his partner. "Here ya go, Chief. Try to actually taste it before you chug -- the flavor's amazing."
Maggie smiles. "We get it from a local plantation. They'll roast and grind it, too, but here we do it ourselves."
Three cups of coffee and a quick shower has Blair ready to face the day. They passed on having breakfast at the mansion, deciding instead on sampling street food.
While they wait for the museums to open, they pay for a Hop On - Hop Off tourist bus to see more of the city, spending an enjoyable couple of hours seeing the sights and getting oriented. They get off and walk the few blocks to the Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales, enjoying the works of local artists, until Blair's stomach growls loudly. They pick up empanadas and bottles of local beer.
He drops Blair back at the house, as he's going with Naomi to meet their relatives. He changes into his swim trunks and a T-shirt and head out. Blair's voice yelling "Don't forget the sunscreen" follows him out the door.
The weather is perfect -- the slight breeze keeps it from being uncomfortably hot. He chooses a board, gets in the water and shoves off, nodding at fellow surfers as he paddles out. He turns around, waiting for the right swell and then he'ss flying. Heart pumping with adrenalin, his body automatically adjusts the board to the pitch of the wave. Much too soon, the ride is over. He turns around and starts paddling out again. He's always found peace in the intense, repetitive competence surfing required. He feels years of stress roll off him.
When he first learned in his teens, he'd daydreamed of becoming a surf bum, wandering the world without a care. As he got older and took on more responsibilities, the dream changed. He'd surf whenever possible and save his money to travel to the best waves. More recently, he saw himself retiring to the beach, like those white-haired surfers he'd once admired. Maybe he'll teach Blair to surf and they could spend their golden years together. Maybe run a sandwich shop on a pier.
And maybe you should get something to eat, he thinks, shaking his head at his obvious foolishness. His blood sugar is definitely low.
He takes one more ride, then walks back to the surf shop, returning his board and exchanging pleasantries with Eduardo, the owner. He showers at an outdoor stall, then returns to the car to towel off and dress. On Eduardo's recommendation, he finds a food stall on the pier and picks up four choripan -- spicy chorizo hot dogs, split open and piled high with chimichurri and nestled on grilled bread. He pays for two beers as well and heads back to the surf shop. Eduardo is delighted with the unexpected meal, eating and swapping stories. He describes his childhood in a rural town near the Brazilian border and his experiences since coming to the city. He seemed fascinated with a policeman who surfed and asks Jim many questions about America.
Blair would have loved this he couldn't help thinking.
He contemplates driving around, but suddenly the day's activities catch up with him and he heads back to the estate. He's disappointed to discover Blair and Naomi are still gone. Maggie greets him, then bids him good night after he assures her he doesn't need dinner. He wanders into the library, selects a promising book and reads until he falls asleep.
When he wakes, he's surprised to see the sun is already quite high. He takes a quick shower, dresses and made a beeline for the coffee pot. Maggie isn't in the kitchen and he's contemplating whether to stay in or go out for breakfast when he hears voices in the garden.
Maggie, Naomi and Blair are sitting around a wrought-iron table, which holds a large coffee pot and dishes of food. He recognizes the empanadas; the other dish holds something fried.
"Good morning," he greets them. They return his greeting and Maggie tops off his mug.
"Jim, have you tried sopaipillas?" she asks. " It's a simple dough that's rolled out, then deep-fried so it puffs up. You can eat them with cinnamon sugar or the pumpkin puree, if you prefer savory."
He gives Blair a sidewards glance, wondering if he will chide him for eating what is essentially a doughnut, but Blair just gives him a wide smile. He tries his first taste plain, giving a small groan as he bites into the pillowy treat. He spoons the puree on the rest of the sopaipilla and finishes it with gusto. "These are wonderful," he says as he picks up a second one. He sprinkles on the cinnamon sugar, eating it with another ecstatic moan. He then sits back, picking up his mug and looks at Blair. "So, how was yesterday?"
"It was great!" Blair enthused. "I didn’t realize we had so much family -- the American branch is so tiny. These are distant cousins on Mom's mother's side. When they settled here, they became trade merchants. It helped them learn the language and fit into the local society better. I took lots of notes, drew up a family tree diagram and we recorded a bunch of stories. Then, of course, they stuffed us to the gills." Naomi says nothing, but he notices her smile eyes are slightly shiny. "So, how was your day?" Blair asks.
"Ah, Chief, the surf couldn't have been better. I've got to get you up on a board." He describes all the previous day's activities, including some of Eduardo's stories. "You would love him, Blair. There's something, I don't know, calm and eternal about him." The look Blair gives him is kind of… soft; fond. "Anyway, what should we do today? Want to hit more museums?"
"Nah," Blair replies. "The weather's too lovely to stay inside. Why don't we just take a road trip, maybe do some hiking?"
"I can make you a picnic lunch," Maggie offers.
He shakes his head. "I'm sure we can find food along the way. I wouldn't say no to packing up some of these sopaipillas and empanadas. What's in them?"
"The square ones are eggs, ham and cheese. The half-moons have shredded beef, chimichurri, and green olives. Let's wrap them up and I'll give you a cooler with some drinks. If you go off the beaten path, you won't find food easily."
"Don't forget to wear hats," Naomi calls out as they head back into the house.
"Yes, Mom!" they call out together.
Her tinkling laugh makes them both grin.
Armed with Maggie's suggestions and a map, they stop at The Fingers of Punta del Este, a huge sculpture depicting a human hand emerging from the beach. Then, they head toward the interior. They stop anywhere that catches their attention: mountain vistas, deep green forests, old colonial buildings, modern farmhouses, even a lighthouse.
They speak sparingly, simply happy to enjoy the sights. He recalls a few family vacations from when his mother was still with them. He remembers rushing around, seeing many things and taking lots of pictures. He contrasts it with the vacations he'd taken with Blair. Yes, there was lot of activity, but it seemed more… focused. It had purpose. Like fly fishing all day, satisfied even if they never caught a fish. Kayaking a river's cataracts, whooping and calling out to each other, then settling around a fire and roasting potatoes and marshmallows. Did Blair do this for him; knowing sentinels needed to get back to nature to decompress? Would his hyper partner prefer a vacation where you fit as much as possible into the available hours?
"Chief, are you sure you don't want to hit some other spots while we're down here? We can climb mountains at home."
Blair shook his head. "Nah, this is wonderful. Look at all the colors and sounds and smells. The grasses and wildlife -- even the insects are different. What could be better?"
"Don't you want to see a few more, I don't know, artifacts? Things you're interested in?"
Blair turns toward him and smiles. One of those rare, full-throttle smiles he hasn't seen in a while. "Jim, I'm exactly where I want to be. Here, with you, enjoying this beautiful country."
Satisfied, he returns Blair's smile with one of his own, and they continue down the path.
"So, tomorrow is Solstice," he says as they drive back to the city. "What do we have to do? Dance naked to worship the longest day?"
He glances at Blair, who looks like he's giving the statement serious consideration. "We should probably check for public nudity laws first. I'll pass, but you're in good enough shape to show off your assets," Blair answers, laughter in his voice. "I'd like to go to the beach and greet the sunrise. We could head out early and build a fire.
"Naomi's planned a little shindig. She was originally going to The Gate of the Sun in Bolivia, but she wanted to spend time with us. When we come back from the beach, we can help with the gardening. There's a plot on the back end of the estate that needs to be replanted, so there's weeding and digging and planting. Lots of eating and drinking, although it's all vegan -- sorry Jim."
He rolls his eyes. "I've gone without meat before. I'll survive."
"Yeah, I know. But that's why we should find another steak house tonight. Anyway, there'll be other back to nature stuff like making flower wreaths. You know, the usual."
"Sadly, I actually know what that means." It earns him a light punch in the arm.
"Maybe they'll build a bonfire and you can dance naked. There'll be plenty of others who'll join you."
"I'll keep it in mind, Chief. Now, pull out that guide and find us a restaurant. Those sopaipillas were a long time ago."
He wakes just before his alarm sounds at 3:30 a.m. It's still dark, but his sensitive sight notices there are less visible stars. He's dressed and just about to knock on Blair's door when it opens. Blair is fully dressed, his usual bed head combed out, hanging loose but tamed. He's glad Blair had decided to let his hair grow out. He hadn't cut it completely short -- just enough to comply with regulations. It frames his face like a soft corona, giving him an ethereal look in the pre-dawn light.
They arrange the firewood on the sand in a classic cone configuration. It lights quickly and burns hot, giving out a comfortable warmth and plenty of light. He and Blair walk up and down the shore, nodding to the few people sharing the beach, enjoying the quiet and sharing the thermos of cocoa Maggie presented them. She was already up and working, making dough.
As the horizon gradually lightens, he asks, "So, do we make a wish, or what?"
Blair laughs. "You can. You can do anything you want." Blair closes his eyes and faces east. "I wish every day to remember the happiness I have here and now. I wish for everyone in the world to experience such happiness."
Just then, the sun breaks over the horizon, illuminating Blair's face, and his heart clenches, realizing he's also happy -- truly happy -- to be here with Blair. Could Blair possibly feel the same way? With Blair's eyes still closed, He feels brave enough to reach over and cup his cheek. Blair's eyes startle open and he stares, wide-eyed.
"Are you happy, Blair?'
Blair gives him a gentle smile. "I am. Perfectly happy." He leans into his hand. "Almost perfectly."
He moves his hand to beneath Blair's chin and tilts his face up, bringing his own down so their lips touch. When Blair responds, he deepens the kiss, then pulls away and looks into Blair's eyes.
Blair smiles. "Now, it's perfect."
They stroll into the house, holding hands like kids. Maggie looks at them. "Thank God!" she declares with feeling. "Would you like to move to the bungalow, now?"
They look at each other, slightly embarrassed. "Nah," Blair answers. "We're only here for one more night anyway. We'll probably use my room." He looks around. "Where's Naomi?"
"Overseeing the garden remake. I'm sure she'll understand if you want to skip it."
Blair smiles and pulls him out to the back. As they approach the project plot, they hear a buzz of voices interspersed with cries of laughter.
Naomi is wearing the most casual outfit they'd ever seen: a light floral silk shirt with forest green overalls. A wide-brimmed straw hat festooned with ribbons and fresh flowers covers her head. She's unpotting a plant when she looks up, dirt smudging her face. "Boys!" she cries, "Come and look at this layout. I think it follows feng shui well enough, but I don't like the color combination. Jim, what do you think?" He gives Blair a hopeless shrug and walks over. How can he say no to his mother-in-law?
He confers with Naomi while Blair introduces himself to the others. His ears prick up when he hears
one person declare she knows "all about you and Jim" while several others speak up to agree. As he listens to them, he's surprised to learn that it's true.
As they dig and weed and trim and plant, the group cheerfully shares of what they know about his cases. They describe the car theft case where Naomi pretended to be a ringleader in great detail. However, they were most enthusiastic about how he and Blair had stopped the poaching of endangered species, brought Cyclops Oil to justice and saved Genevieve Benet's life. They also know about Blair's expeditions and ask specific questions about his experiences.
Thankfully, no one brings up their personal lives except for Frannie Schwartz, one of Naomi's oldest friends, who says they "looked good together" and gives him a lascivious wink.
The garden project is thankfully completed before the weather gets too warm. Everyone washes up, then meet on the veranda, where Maggie has set up iced pitchers of pastel-colored drinks: Strawberry sangria and cucumber/lime gin and tonics. She also set out an abundance of summer fruits and vegetables, cooked and raw, to munch on.
As the drinks flow, everyone talks easily. Some weave wreaths of flowers and herbs, others prepare food for dinner and two people assemble a bonfire for later. A man named Big Mel loads chunks of oak in the very impressive wood-fired pizza oven standing at the far end of the courtyard. Each person will make their own pizza, he explained.
He switches to a light summer ale. Mel shows him how to distribute the wood embers around. He can hear Blair in the kitchen, helping people assemble their pizzas. He watches Mel's competent technique of sliding the pizzas in, a few at a time, and moving them around with a pizza peel. The aromas are mouth-watering. He heads for the kitchen to make his own.
Blair, who'd also switched to beer, is stretching out a piece of dough. He smiles when he walked in. "Hey, just in time. I was getting your pizza ready." He waves his hand at the variety of toppings. "Help yourself."
"Don't mind if I do," he says, walking over and surprising Blair with a kiss. He breaks it, only to have Blair pull his head down for a longer one. Blair tasted like beer and freshly picked tomatoes and passion.
"Sorry, our timing wasn't better," Blair says. "I bet you'd rather be in bed making love than getting ready to dance around a May pole, huh?"
"I'd rather be wherever you are," he replies softly. "Besides, Naomi's been pretty reasonable this visit. We can give her this. As long as you leave the party with me."
He can't remember a more pleasant party. The difference between his father's stiff gatherings and the Department's boring get-togethers make him wonder whether he should hire Naomi as a party planner.
They wake up to their last full day of vacation curled comfortably around each other. While it's tempting to stay in bed all day and continue exploring each other's bodies, both want to take in some last sights before the long plane ride home. But, since high tide isn't until mid-afternoon, so they had time to linger.
There's a light knock at the door. Blair throws on a robe and opens it, finding a breakfast tray on the floor. He grinned, carrying it over to a side table. "Sustenance!" he announces.
"Bless Maggie's heart," he says as he accepts a cup of coffee. "She must have known we needed refueling."
Blair gives a little embarrassed laugh. "Yeah, I think she's happy we figured things out before she had to intervene. Her next step would probably have been to strip one of our beds, so we'd be forced to sleep together."
"Well, we have to find her something especially nice to thank her," he says, giving Blair a fond smile.
"Definitely. But… later." Blair puts down his cup, takes off his robe and slips into bed.
Naomi had given them the name of a local potter whose work Maggie loved. They buy a sculpture plus a couple of bottles of Dunbar whisky, which they'd learned was her favorite. In the same plaza, they find a jeweler and buy a necklace and bracelet set made of Uruguayan amethysts for Naomi.
They stop by the coffee grower and pick up coffee for Simon and boxes of alfajores for everyone else.
"Is there something you want?" he asks, as they continue to window-shop. "Maybe a yerba mate cup? We've seen some beautiful ones."
Blair smiles at him. "I don't need a souvenir to remember this trip. I gotta say, getting you is like Solstice, Hannukah and Christmas all rolled into one!" He waggles his eyebrows. "And it's the gift that keeps on giving."
He grins back. "Well, why don't we get back to unwrapping?"
There wasn't enough time to get in any more surfing, but he brings Blair to meet Eduardo, then they head back to the house where they spend the hours before dinner unwrapping each other.
Dinner is at a lovely bistro and he's happily surprised to see many of the Solstice group have joined them, including Big Mel and Frannie, who is currently monopolizing Blair's time. He eyes them, slightly worried, but Maggie pats his arm. "Don't worry," she says. "Frannie's like a grandma. She hardly sees him anymore, now he's settled, and she just wants to catch up. She's on your side."
And Naomi? He thought. Is she on my side? She'd always been friendly, except when his job affected Blair. Now Blair was part of the "pigs". He suspects her real interest in hurrying Blair's thesis along was so he'd graduate and leave the PD -- and him. He glances at Naomi, who is talking with one of the Wiccans. He doesn't remember her name.
Feeling slightly guilty at eavesdropping, he dials up his hearing to focus on Blair and Frannie.
"… look good. True love agrees with you."
"Getting in shape to pass the academy physical helped."
"I'm serious. Your auras are good together. I didn't realize this was so new. What are you going to do?"
"What do you mean? Love him. Start this new phase in our life."
"I mean your work. Are you going to be out? I can't imagine it will be easy with all that testosterone floating around."
"Oh, that. I don't know yet. I guess it's something we can discuss on the flight home."
"Please be careful. There are still a lot of homophobic assholes out there."
"Frannie, we'll figure it out. Together. Okay?"
"Okay, honey. Just… write and let me know how you're doing. I'll drop in on you if you don't keep in touch and no one wants that!"
They hugged tightly. "You're always welcome. Anytime."
They broke and she smacked him on the arm. "And make up with your mom!"
"Don't worry. We're almost there."
Blair walks over, sits down and picks up his menu. "Have you ordered? Anything good?" He looks at him. "What?"
He smiles fondly. "Nothing, Chief. Everything's great." He looks at the menu. "Naomi's ordered a bunch of appetizers for the table. I'm pretty well beefed out. I'm going to try the grilled squid."
"Sounds delicious. I'll have the mussels. Have you ordered wine?"
"On it's way." Blair puts his hand under the table and squeezes his. "Save room for dessert."
They sit in the Departures lounge, enjoying cocktails while waiting to board. Blair is drinking some concoction that looked like a lime rickey. He sips a Maker's Mark. Blair seems blissed out, either from the alcohol or the trip. He marvels at how much things could change in a week.
When they'd arrived back from dinner, Naomi asked to speak to him privately. Blair kissed him, then went to their room. He walked out to the veranda where Naomi was seated with a bottle of wine and two glasses. He poured and sat. "What's on your mind, Naomi?"
"Jim, I'm sorry about the bungalow. I truly thought you two were together."
He let out a huff. "If you knew he loved me, why'd you give his paper to Sid?"
"I didn't know then," she said. "I suspected he loved you early on. He was so passionate -- every time he talked it was Jim, Jim, Jim." She sighed, looking out into the distance. "But then, those last six months he'd changed. He lost his enthusiasm; he barely spoke of you at all. I thought you two weren't together anymore, or it never started. When I saw he'd finished his thesis, I thought he was trying to wrap things up so he could leave. He looked so stressed out, I wanted to help."
He looked at her, waiting.
"And then he… stood up in front of all those microphones. He threw away everything he'd worked for his entire life, just like that. For love. And I'd ruined his life." She looked down at her glass. "And then he called to say he decided to become a cop. When we talked after that, he sounded like his old self -- enthusiastic and happy. So, I thought you'd finally gotten your head out of your butt and returned his love. That this trip was a honeymoon." She sighed. "Imagine my surprise." She finished the wine and poured another glass.
He held out his own glass and she filled it. "So, is this a truce?"
She made a sour face. "I'm hoping for forgiveness."
He reached over to clink her glass. "Mutual forgiveness. Blair does better when we're on the same side."
"Penny for your thoughts," Blair says, pulling him out of his reverie.
He smiles. "I'm thinking this is easily the best trip we've ever been on. I couldn't have asked for a better honeymoon, Honey."
"Ugh, please don't add that to the never-ending list of nicknames. Speaking of which, what are you going to call me at work?" He knew Blair meant more than endearments.
"We've got a nice, long flight to figure it out. Since we can't push the cabin beds together, we'll have time to discuss what we want to say and who we want to say it to. Okay?
"Sounds good. Although I'm pretty inventive. I bet I could find a way to squeeze us both into one of those beds."
"Well, Chief, I've always admired your creativity-- give it your best shot. But for now, drink up. Here's our boarding call," he says as he watches the steward walking towards them, waiting to escort them on their way.