Title: A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain Chapter Seven
Beta’ed by t_verano Thanks again for maundering through this story. Picture by slipperieslope.
Summary for A Fair Distance: A year after Blair left Jim, and Cascade, they meet again in a small Tennessee town where Blair's been arrested and is being held for questioning at the request of the Cascade PD.
A Fair Distance can be found at my LJ here or at 852 Prospect here, if you prefer one text file(but it only has the first arc A Fair Distance: Running on Empty, and not Ball and Chain or at Artifact Storage Room 3 here, to read chapter by chapter, including other stories in the series.
Ball and Chain is the second arc of A Fair Distance
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Seven
I’d been playing so long that the ends of my fingers were sore, but I wasn’t ready to put this old guitar down yet. I’d lost myself in the music, letting my subconscious have free range to analyze, dissect, and reassemble my fucking life.
Those words I’d said earlier tonight – about the choices I’d made that resulted in me losing Jim, the only lover I’d ever actually loved – had sounded like an echo to me. Protect him… Protect her.
I needed to meditate; clear my mind and really reflect on why I had thought not telling Jim about my employment troubles would protect him. Or was it that I’d thought it would protect me?
Protect me from Jim’s disappointment in my ability to take care of my own self? Protect me from Jim thinking I was too much trouble to keep in his life?
I stopped doing anything with the guitar except lightly strumming it, not even bothering to play any chords. I was wiped out but still wired from the confrontation with Jim. There was no getting away from the fact that I was going to have to abandon this bedroom and face him again.
Ah, shit. I’d known the hiatus wouldn’t last, anyway; I was a fool for starting to believe Jim and I could be friends and lovers again. Jim was so disgusted with me; he’d just forgotten about it for a while. My eyes watered as I thought about him spying on me at the bar, watching men and women touch me, and how he must have thought I’d enjoyed what they were doing. I hadn’t; I’d figured it was something I just had to put up with in order to keep my job. When I thought back to all the insinuations Jim had made before I left him – including bringing up that fucking stupid table leg comment again and the remarks on the way I dressed – well, now they made sense. From a Jim point of view, anyway.
And the way he would slap my ass when I left for work… I’d known he wasn’t doing it to be funny, but I hadn’t understood what he meant by it. Tonight, I’d figured out he’d wanted to punish me and that was how he had sublimated that desire into a symbolic gesture. Except, when his hand had landed on my ass, it had stung. So maybe not entirely symbolic, after all.
Jim really did think I was a slut. My chest felt so tight when I thought about how he was sure I’d just dumped him and turned around and left town with somebody else. He’d been so angry with me for a year for supposedly doing that, and I just bet he thought I’d been sleeping my way across the country. Either being promiscuous for sexual relief or trading my… assets, in order to be able to eat and have a roof over my head.
God, I shouldn’t have weakened and enjoyed our moments together the last two days. But I had.
Man, love sucks.
I lost track of time, just strumming every minute or so. My body was giving out for the night, but I really didn’t want to see Jim right now. Procrastination, thy name is Sandburg. I felt stuck; this ‘clearing of the air,’ as Jim called it, wasn’t finished by a long shot. I guess it was good for Jim to know I hadn’t cheated on him, but I wanted a break. Meditate. Meditate. Meditate. Except I was too tired and fuzzyheaded to even begin the process. And I didn’t want to look in Jim’s eyes, knowing the low opinion he’d held of me – still held of me. How could he want to get back together when any time I was out of his sight he’d probably be wondering if I was flirting or coming on to somebody? Or letting them come on to me. Letting them touch me. He’d drive himself nuts and take me with him. We’d have a repeat of ‘The Final Days of Cascade.’
‘The Final Days of Cascade…’ Huh. That sounded like an old Roman movie, and my brain started sliding sideways into imagining Jim in a toga; of course, he’d be a noble Roman, a centurion who’d come back from whatever war and was now a senator. And I would still be a Jew, his scribe, a captured scholar coerced into handling his correspondence or doing research for my Roman master… or, or be a bath slave forced to give the noble senator massages and oil his muscles and scrape them down with -- what was it called? Oh, that’s right -- a strigil. But… I’d probably talk too much, or he’d think I let the slave master touch me without protesting -- making me a slut, and he’d want me gone or punished… Would lashes be a bit over the top just for a slave talking too much? For being in a position where I didn’t have control over who was allowed to touch me, or who made me touch them?
Maybe I’d be hit with a rod instead… Would that hurt less? But finally, he’d get tired of putting up with me, the talkative slave who couldn’t stop people from touching him, and sell me. Or maybe I’d run away. Yeah, I liked that better. I’d miss him… no, it would hurt more than just missing somebody; it would tear me apart, but wouldn’t that be better than staying and feeling the heat of his derision?
I was interrupted from the last scenes of the movie in my head by a knock, and then a note was slid under the door. And I heard Jim talking tiredly to me.
“Just read it, please. Since I seem to screw up so much when I open my mouth, maybe this will work better. I keep telling myself not to hurt you and I keep on doing it anyway. But see, I didn’t know I’d be stepping on a land mine when I told you I forgave you for leaving town with your new boyfriend -- your non-existent lover. You’ve been through a lot, and I shouldn’t have pushed you. Jesus, you’re sick and worn out; and crap, Sandburg, I feel like I’ve kicked a puppy. Just read the damned thing, will you?”
A puppy? Jim felt like he was picking on poor little me? Fuck. I needed to stand up to him. Go toe to toe. I’m not fragile, damn it. I’d just needed some time to gather myself. Well, time was up. Jim Ellison wasn’t going to bed thinking of me as some poor-lost-sick-little-mutt. I was going out there and kicking some Ellison ass. But I’d read his note first. I heaved myself off the bed and picked up the note. It was folded over, and I straightened it out. And read it. Twice.
I’m sorry as hell that I pushed you again to tell me your secrets. I just wanted us to be straight with each other to avoid any more jumping to wrong conclusions. But I want you back even if it’s with the condition that I keep my mouth shut about things that used to bother me and, to be honest, will probably keep bothering me.
But somebody’s helped screw up your thinking, somewhere over the years. And I’m at fault, too, for not emphasizing that switching from friends to lovers meant to me you wouldn’t keep your troubles to yourself anymore. You’ve always been independent as hell, Blair, and I’ve always felt that I needed you more than you needed me. But please, you don’t need to protect me by keeping your problems to yourself-- I want to know about them. I want to help. I won’t think you’re ‘high maintenance’ and kick you out the door. You will never be too much trouble for me. You know, we met because I had problems that you knew how to fix. It’s been way too one-sided since then, though. I think maybe we fell into a pattern where my problems became what we both would focus on, and your problems got shunted to the side for you to deal with on your own. And I haven’t always taken your issuess seriously in the past; I’m thinking about Brad Ventriss. No wonder you doubted that I’d want to help you when you needed it.
And I was an ass about the way I treated you when the diss hit the fan. If we had seen that mess as our problem to work out, instead of it being your problem to make right -- no matter the cost to you -- maybe we could have come up with an answer that didn’t call for you to take a bullet for me.
I’m promising you right now that I’ll treat your problems seriously and they will be our problems to solve.
I apologize for spying on you. I knew you’d be pissed, and you can kick my ass about it.
I’m not pushing here. I won’t say a word to you about this unless you bring it up, but what you said about the reason you let yourself be molested, that’s just not right. Yes, molested; you know the definition as well as I do. You felt coerced because you wanted to keep the job, because you thought I’d dump you if you didn’t contribute. That letting yourself endure sexual touching was an acceptable price to pay so I wouldn’t realize you had problems, problems you were convinced I wouldn’t want to know about, and if I did, I’d decide you were too much effort to keep around.
Blair, what happened to you to make you think that way? I don’t ever want you to feel that you can’t tell me or anybody else NO to unwanted advances. And I’m wondering -- have I ever touched you when you didn’t want it? I’m not sure, after what you’ve said this afternoon, if you would have stopped me whether you wanted sex or not.
I guess, also, I found it hard to really believe that you could settle down and commit to me after dating so many others. That was my hang-up, and I’m realizing now how it slanted my perceptions of you. I never even considered that the guy you were seen speaking with was talking to you about a job. Some detective I am.
I’m running out of paper, so please come out and talk to me. You talk; I’ll listen.
P.S. I love you.
Of all the stuff he had written, I couldn’t stand it that Jim was thinking he’d maybe raped me, and I yanked open the bedroom door. He was standing by the sliding glass doors, gazing at the lake. He didn’t turn around, and I knew he must’ve heard me – unless all this emotional bloodletting was screwing with his senses – which worried me even more. I practically ran over to him and put my arms around his chest, laying my head on his back. I squeezed him tightly, and said, “Jim, can you hear me?”
“Yes. And I’m sorry, Blair.” Jim’s voice was quiet. Not looking at me and not talking with his usual confidence. This was not good.
“Listen. You have never touched me sexually that I didn’t welcome it, okay? Have you got that clear? You have never raped me. You have never…” I stumbled over the word, “molested me.”
“Do you know how uncomfortable I felt watching the video of me pushing you against that wall in the Sweetwater PD? I know what I did, Chief. Findley was probably right. I wanted you on that table, and I was no doubt going to rape you. And you didn’t want me touching you then, Blair. You told me no, and I ignored you.”
I sighed and loosened my arms from around Jim’s body. I stepped away from him, far enough to accomplish my purpose. Then I raised my foot and kicked him in the ass. Not hard, just enough to really get his attention.
“I said to listen to me. I’m not lying to you. And that day in Sweetwater, I told you no because we were in a police station, and because you were trying to kiss me. I didn’t want you to catch my germs. But Jim, if you’d laid me on that table and fucked me, it wouldn’t have been rape. I’d have felt embarrassed if we were caught, and annoyed at you for picking the wrong place and time, but I wouldn’t have felt raped. So, do I need to kick your ass again, or are you going to believe me?”
Jim turned around and asked, “Are you sure, really sure?” and I nodded yes and raised my foot.
“Okay, Chief. I believe you. You can put that deadly weapon down.”
He looked at me then, and I realized he was patiently waiting for me to spill my guts about his letter. Did I want to? Not really. Well, not about some of the stuff he’d written. That was going into the meditation checklist first. But right now I was going to make him admit to considering me a slut. And that he hadn’t trusted me not to cheat on him. And I wanted to hear him explain why he thought he had the right to spy on me. I’d bring that up first.
“Some stuff I don’t want to talk about right now. But I want to hear why you thought it was necessary to spy on me.” And I crossed my arms and waited for Jim’s confession.
Jim turned me around. “You’re tired. Hell, I’m tired, and I don’t have mono. So let’s do this on the couch, okay?” He settled his arm around my shoulder and walked me back to the seating area. He dropped onto the sofa and pulled me down next to him.
I waited for Jim to begin, and after a few throat clearings he started to talk. But he wouldn’t meet my eyes.
“See, when I went with you to your job, those couple of times, I could hear what the customers were saying about you. And I could smell their lust. I told you about it, but you didn’t seem to care. I know you told me it was only a job and to get over myself, but I’d be at home, wondering if you liked what they were saying, or doing, and I’d go over to check it out.”
Jim rubbed both of his hands along his jaw for a moment, then continued after glancing over at me.
“I know you didn’t start anything, Chief; they always made the advances, but you seemed to like it. You would laugh at them, and they’d just do more things. I focused my sight on you when I was across the street hiding out in the truck, and then piggybacked my hearing to find out what the ones who couldn’t keep their hands off of you were saying. With your regulars it became kind of a bet to see who could finally get you to say yes when they propositioned you.”
Jim picked up my hand. He kissed it and then held onto it. He still wasn’t meeting my eyes, and I realized how hard it was for him to tell me all of this.
“You have no idea how beautiful you are, Blair. How attractive and graceful you can be when you’re ‘on.’ And you were pumping your energy into making sure people were having a good time. You’d smile and laugh and tease, and after watching you put on a show, I came to the conclusion that what we had wasn’t enough for you. That you needed more than I could give you. That maybe you weren’t cut out to stay with one lover. It made me feel bitter, and mean, but I didn’t want to tell you what I’d seen because I was afraid that would be the excuse you would need to leave me.”
Jim’s eyes met mine and he tightened his grip on my hand. I felt a little stunned. Jim had worried that I was looking for an excuse to leave him?
And I hadn’t known some of the customers had made harassing me into some kind of perverted game where sex with me was the prize.
“I should have stayed home, but instead I would go over and drive myself crazy. Sometimes, I stayed until the bar closed down and watched to make sure you got to your car okay, if I didn’t like what I’d heard the assholes saying about you that night. Sometimes I’d have words with the ones waiting outside who wanted to ‘persuade’ you to keep partying. I, uh, did flash my badge and suggest it would be in their best interests to move along.”
Jim glanced down at our hands, grimaced, and met my eyes again. “I was always short of sleep and that made me cranky with you – not to mention frustrated because I kept trying to get you to quit, and you wouldn’t. Since I didn’t know the reason why you’d left those other jobs, it just reinforced to me that you wanted the job at the bar because you needed to feel desired by a lot of people. I’m sorry.” And he waited to see what I’d say.
I didn’t feel like kicking Jim’s ass anymore. I’d been blind, apparently, to a lot of stuff that had been going on.
And my head was aching, but I needed to make sure I understood Jim’s words to me. And there were still things I wanted to hear him say. The truth shall set you free, right? Wasn’t that what Jim was asking for between us now? Yeah, and be careful what you wish for because then the chips will fall where they may. I shook my head a little, hoping to clear it. Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, Blair, concentrate and quit thinking up clichés.
“You realize that it was wrong of you to spy on me?”
“I’m not pleading the fifth here, Sandburg. Yes, I knew it was over the line.”
“You were worried about me. You were jealous of the customers who were touchy-feely.”
“Yes and… Okay, yeah, I was jealous.”
“You thought I was a slut who missed getting laid by a lot of people.”
“No, I never said that. Not like that. I just figured that you liked the attention, that you had a need for more than what I could give you…”
“Don’t bullshit me, Jim. You thought I liked a promiscuous love life. And you’ve thought that for a long time, way before I got the job at the bar. Do the words ‘table leg’ mean anything to you?”
Jim was staring at me, and in no hurry to put his foot in his mouth, evidently. Well, he’d been honest; I could be honest, too.
“Before we became lovers, I tried very hard to keep things separate in my relationships. I had friends who I didn’t want to change to lovers, because I felt close to my friends. I had lovers who I enjoyed sex with and they enjoyed sex with me, and that’s all we wanted. I didn’t feel close to my sexual partners at all; I just liked them in a superficial way. Sex was a way of scratching a mutual itch. Then there were the people I dated. Dating, for me, was the process where I decided if they were going to be a real friend – which meant emotional attachment, but no sex -- or if they were going to be a lover, which meant sex with no strings, emotional or any other ones. If a lover wanted more from me, I ended the relationship… or they did, when I wouldn’t go along with it. And I never asked friends to sleep with me; well, not until I asked you to be my lover. So, I dated a lot of people, kept some as good friends, and had flings – usually fairly short ones -- with my lovers, and told a fair number that we just weren’t going to work out. I’ve had lots less sex than you think I’ve had, Jim. So, tell me the truth. Did you consider me promiscuous?”
Jim sighed, and I squeezed his hand hard.
“Blair. Are you sure it’s a good idea for me to answer this question? I don’t want to hurt you. Why do you need to know?”
“I’m tired of guessing about what you think of me. I want to know.”
Jim sighed again, and looked at me. He traced the outline of my lips with a finger, then dropped his hand back to his lap.
“Yes, I used to think you were kind of promiscuous. I mean, you were going out with a ton of people all the time. And you would say something inane indicating you were trying to sleep with somebody, or double book your dates, or look at someone sometimes like a kid turned loose in a candy store, and it all made me think you were always checking people out as potential sex partners; remember when you’d drag me with you to the bars? But I never thought of you as a slut, somebody who’d do anything for sex. I… I thought you were young, with a strong sex drive, and that you weren’t ready for a serious relationship. I had no clue that you’d developed a system -- and Chief, your system seems pretty cold; I’m not sure how I fit into it… But the longer I knew you, the way you ‘dated’ increasingly annoyed me. I think I can safely say now that it was because I was feeling more and more strongly about you.”
Well, I’d wanted to know what he thought, and I fought to keep my feelings from showing on my face.
“When we got together, did you think I could stop being promiscuous?”
Jim nodded yes, then qualified his answer. “At first, I thought being with me would satisfy you, but after you seemed so attracted to the bar life, I started having doubts. I blamed myself for not being enough for you. And I started to resent you, Blair, for making me feel that way. By the time you saw me with Melissa, I was sure you wanted to play with fire, applying to work at a place where you’d be asked to sleep with the high rollers. I was so angry you were there that when I got home I was going to lay the law down to you about sleeping only with me. Of course, you were gone when I did get home, and I thought the worst of you.”
“Yeah, about that ‘worst’ thing. You really believed I had a Plan B lover waiting around ready to leave town with me whenever I decided to cut and run out on you?”
“Well… I told you I checked with your coworkers at your job; their statements convinced me that you had left town with the guy you were seen with there, so, yeah -- I did believe you’d left with him. Then Edwards was murdered, and Simon okayed the investigation into your work history. I saw how much traveling around you’d been doing, and all those gaps in between the jobs on record. I thought you’d been…”
“Bedhopping. Right? You thought I’d been sleeping my way around the country.”
“Uh… I hope you know what you’re doing, Sandburg, with these questions, because it sounds really bad to hear it laid out like this.” Jim looked highly uncomfortable, but I wanted – no, needed – to hear what he had thought of me.
“Answer the question.”
“Yes. I pictured you latching onto lovers and following them wherever they went. I figured the restlessness I ‘thought’ I’d seen happening in Cascade was still burning in you. I don’t believe that anymore. Now I have a whole new set of pictures that torment me. I see you sleeping in your car because you didn’t have rent money. Staying at shelters and eating at soup kitchens when your jobs fell through, and needing a doctor, but not going because you couldn’t afford it. I see you going hungry, and hitchhiking in the hot sun or the rain. Look at me and tell me I have a good imagination, Blair. Tell me those things didn’t happen to you this last year.”
I squeezed his hand again. I couldn’t tell him they hadn’t happened, but really it wasn’t a big deal at all. “Jim, I was fine.” And I had been; I’d survived just fine.
“Blair…” Jim looked troubled by my answer, but I didn’t want to get sidetracked by stuff that didn’t matter, so I shook my head at him.
I had a very important question left to ask Jim. I held his gaze with mine, and felt my heart speed up.
“I’ll own to being promiscuous in the past, though not to the extent you’d imagined. Can you really make yourself trust me not to want that back, if you and me become lovers again? Because I crossed a line for you – and okay, it was my line, so if anybody could change the rules about it, I guess I could -- and I did, Jim. I just sailed over the friendship line right into lovers’ lane with you. You weren’t like anybody else I ever slept with, because you were my friend and my lover, and it was weird for me. I wanted a connection so very badly, Jim, when everything else that tied me to you was being severed, that I broke my own rule. I took a huge fucking chance and it looked like it was working, and then it wasn’t and I couldn’t go back to being friends, and you couldn’t go back to being friends; although when I got out of jail I thought maybe we could try being just friends again, but you want to be lovers and it’s so fucking scary because I’ve never, ever, ever felt so fucking bad before as I did when I left Cascade -- I thought you got tired of me, and I don’t know how to be in a real relationship--”
Jim gently put his hand over my mouth and started kissing my forehead.
“Sh – Sh -- Sh. Settle down, here. Shush now.” He hauled me over, hugging me so tightly that I could hear his steady heartbeat while I rested against his chest.
“You and me are going to be okay. I understand more about you now than I did, and the more I know about you and the more you know about me, the better our chances are gonna be that we’ll make this work. I don’t think I’ll get worried about you wanting other people, not anymore, but if I start to feel that way I’m going to tell you. We aren’t going to let stuff fester this time. New mottos, here. ‘My problems and your problems are our problems.’ And ‘I trust you and you trust me.’ Also, ‘We are committed to each other and anything that threatens that commitment gets hauled out of our heads and dealt with pronto.’ We’ll make a list and call them relationship rules. And Chief, they’ll be a hell of a lot more important than the house rules ever were.”
I felt shaky and scared. This was much more terrifying than jumping out of an airplane or off that cliff had ever been. The first time I made the decision to invite Jim to be lovers, I really hadn’t known what I’d be asking of myself. Now I did know – Karma and physics and the whole yin and yang aspect – and for every high that being Jim’s lover and partner would bring there was also the potential for just as much of a low, if we failed again. Trapeze-swinging without a net, relying on Jim to catch me, and he’d have to have faith that I’d wouldn’t drop him, either. Shit. As much as I’d babbled a little while ago, now I felt like I’d been struck mute. I didn’t know what to say to Jim.
“I can see the panic in your eyes, Chief. Don’t worry; you don’t have to say anything right now. Just understand that I love you, and think about what I said. Now, how about some tea and a blanket?” And he got up and walked into the bedroom and brought out a quilt and dropped it around me. He stroked my hair for a moment, then went into the kitchen and while I huddled under the blanket, kind of in shock, he made me tea and brought it and a half-peeled banana out to me. And more medicine.
I sipped the tea, which he’d dumped too much sugar into, but ignored the banana till Jim sighed and picked it up and wrapped my hand around it.
“Look. You’re underweight and you aren’t taking in enough calories. Eat the banana, Twiggy. It’s full of calories and vitamins, and you might as well get used to the idea because there are a lot of bananas in your future.”
I raised my eyebrows at him, but man, I should pick my fights and I was too tired to get roused up about a flippin’ banana. Besides, I had to admit Jim had a point. I was too thin. But if I didn’t give him at least a token protest, he’d keep up the mother-henning until he started clucking and laying eggs.
“I’m about the same weight I was when I started college.”
“Exactly my point. I’ve seen your freshman pictures, Chief, the ones with you and Naomi. You were a good three inches shorter and a skinny teenager. How do you feel about protein shakes?”
We argued about the merits of artificial food supplements, and I felt myself relaxing with the familiar back and forth banter. I felt better; not great, but better. Maybe there was some hope for us after all.
“Chief, there’s one last thing we need to talk about tonight.”
I tensed up. Maybe there wasn’t as much hope as I’d been starting to believe.
“Jesus, Sandburg, relax. It’s only that you really need to take a shower. Me, too.”
“Are you telling me I stink, Ellison?” But I had to grin with relief.
“Yeah. There were some powerful emotions going on tonight, and they each have their own smell. Anger and fear, sorrow and despair -- I can’t sleep next to you smelling all that pain on your skin. So, come on, let’s make the ecologically right decision and shower with a friend.”
Jim pulled me up off the couch and we headed to the bathroom. Later he’d check me again for a fever and then shackle us together. A Jim Ellison special -- two parts nurturing, one part cop, and one part lover. I was thinking I could maybe live with that.
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Eight