Title: A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Nine
Warnings: just language for this chapter. See the overall warnings for the story.
Beta’ed by t_verano. Thanks again for a fabulous beta.
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 Nine
Inhale… hold… exhale… I focused on my body’s position and my breathing pattern as I lay flat on my back, relaxed on the rug at this night’s cabin.
A quiet voice interrupted the completion of my yoga session.
“Are you falling asleep again?”
I opened one eye; Jim was watching me. “Nah. Just doing the corpse position.”
Crap. Jim’s face telegraphed fear and dismay for an instant before he sucked it up and resumed a look of mild interest in what I was doing. Merciful Kuan Yin guide my thoughts, I should have known better than to have reminded him of me dying at the fountain. And he had heard men plotting my demise only days ago. Telling him I was imitating a dead man was oh, so not helpful.
I bent my knees, pushed myself to one side, and then regained a sitting position. Jim was stretched out on the couch and still watching me with an affable expression.
“Going to give meditation another try, Darwin?”
“Yeah. And, um… sorry about…” I waggled my hand indicating the floor where I had been lying. He nodded, acknowledging my words; his expression said to let it go.
So I did.
“Man, I can’t believe I fell asleep earlier while I was meditating. That’s like such an amateur thing to do. Maybe the half hour of yoga I just did can get me back on track because I really need to get my head clear.” And to quit teetering on the edge of crankiness.
“Well, Chief, if at first you don’t succeed…” And the big goober winked at me. I made a face back at him.
“You are just a fount of wisdom, Jim. Have you ever considered a career with Hallmark? Or writing Chinese fortune cookie sayings?”
“Still on the grumpy side, I see. But if you’ve got the energy to be a smart-ass, you must be getting better.” Jim smiled at me, and I couldn’t stay annoyed any longer; I gave him a half-hearted smile back. I had been out of sorts ever since I'd woken up from my second – no, third – nap since we'd arrived at this cabin. I'd stumbled out of the truck and Jim had steered me over to the queen-sized bed; I'd crawled into soft inviting covers, half asleep still from riding in the truck. The second nap… yeah, I'd fallen asleep on Jim's shoulder after we talked on the couch, and third snooze had been when I'd recently attempted to meditate. Blasted mono -- making me sleep all the time. And shit, that last nap was embarrassing. I might have to swear Jim to secrecy. I sure didn’t want Naomi to hear about it – man, she taught me better than that.
Jim pushed himself off the couch and walked over to me. He pulled me up and gave me a hug that would have knocked the stuffing out of me, if I'd had any stuffing. He pushed me away, just far enough so that he could kiss my forehead -- which was getting to be a regular routine with him – and then pulled me close to him, his hands wandering down to my butt, and lifting me against his groin.
“No fever. If you’d rather make out than meditate…?”
“Tempting. But no. Before I decide which – if any – base I’m heading for, I need to get my head screwed on right. Jesus, Jim. First I thought you dumped me for some chick, then you were sure I left town with a lover I was keeping in reserve. My job interview turned out to be an audition to be a prostitute – and I never even caught on. I found out you didn’t write those fuck-Sandburg-over letters, but that you had spied on me at work. I thought you hated me, but now you want us to be lovers again. My brain needs some serious down time to process.”
Jim kept a tight grip on me, and I could feel his dick hardening against mine – which wanted to join in the fun but this was one time I didn’t want to let my dick do the thinking. Jim and me -- crap, we were too important to screw up with a quick fuck. Still... if he pushed for sex right now -- I’d do it. And feel like shit about it later, probably. But hugging, and yes -- admit it to yourself, Sandburg -- cuddling was good. My skin was hungry for Jim’s touch. Yet, we could have just a platonic friendship and touch like that. We’d done it for years before I jumped the do-not-cross-over line from friends to lovers. Shit, I so needed to meditate.
Jim must have figured out my turmoil -- probably from my changing scent, which I couldn’t help but think was just so cool every time he identified emotions from their scent signatures – because he gave me one quick last squeeze and then released me, my hand lingering on his for a moment longer before we separated.
“Go meditate. I’ll be in the bedroom waiting for you when you’re done. Do you promise…?”
“Yeah, yeah. I won’t sneak off tonight or in the morning. But I’m not ready to promise for longer than that. Is that okay, Jim? Can we skip the leg shackles tonight?”
Jim nodded, and I gave his hand a last stroke. A promise without words that there would be a connection kept between us – even if I wasn’t sure what form that connection would take.
Ambling back to the rug, I sat down in my usual meditation position and closed my eyes, listening to Jim checking the doors and windows. He made a side trip to the john, then went into the bedroom and shut the door. I smiled to myself before getting serious about starting my breathing exercises; it was a nice thought, to know that Jim would be waiting for me to join him in bed. Then I began the familiar process of altering my brain wave patterns, and hoped some clarity and insight into what I should do would come to me.
After finishing my meditation, I did a few more yoga stretches, then walked over to the large picture window. Standing by windows was getting to be a habit of mine on this little forced excursion. I supposed it gave me the illusion of freedom.
The meditation had helped; I did feel a little more settled. A little. Jim was asking me to make a huge life decision and I wanted to get everything right this time.
For one thing, I'd believed as a sentinel he needed me, but he seemed to have managed well enough with his senses while I was gone this past year.
Now that I wasn’t just reacting to whatever he told me, I was starting to wonder about what he hadn’t mentioned to me. I breathed on the window and created a frost-flower, then idly doodled around the edge of it thinking about when I lived -- had lived -- in Cascade with Jim. I’d learned so much, and not just about Jim’s senses; I’d learned I valued Jim over my career. “It’s about friendship,” I’d told Jim when I turned down going to Borneo. And I’d tried to make things right, after the diss had been released. The bottom line had been that I fucked up, and I couldn’t make Jim pay for my mistake. I should have protected my work from my mother. I knew how nosy she could be and how easily she could bend promises around to suit her. Ah, well… I breathed a second flower on the cold glass.
But, being a guide to a sentinel… I’d loved helping Jim use his senses to the fullest extent he could. It was just so fascinating, and I didn’t think I’d ever get tired of watching him use his gifts. However, for the most part, after I’d been blackballed from the P.D. I’d been excluded from being an active guide for him. That was what had convinced me that we needed to have a different kind of union. A carnal bond. Man, I’d used sex with Jim like a band-aid to cover the wound being separated from him had caused. And I’d loved being physically intimate with Jim -- knowing him on a whole different level. But it just seemed to cause more secrets and tension than were healthy in a relationship -- and I did, theoretically, know what was needed to maintain a good relationship with your partner; secrets and tension were not it. And man, really loving the person you were tangled up in the sheets with... that had been uncharted territory for me.
I drew a heart this time on the window. Why had I kept so many secrets from Jim? those reasons seemed stupid now, when I thought about it. Crap, I’d overreacted. Way overreacted. So what illogical thoughts had been in my head that made keeping the guy I loved in the dark about my employment problems seem like the right thing to do? Not telling him about Naomi signing my name to Sid’s papers – okay, I had been protecting my mom. I knew why I hadn’t told him back then. And after I’d fessed up tonight, I'd been so glad that Jim hadn't been mad at Naomi or me. Although, I could live with him being a little mad at her. I still was, just a bit, but I was working on letting that go.
But Jim was right. I should have told him about Edwards' campaign to keep me unemployed. I should have told him I'd filed a grievance against her, and that Rainier had denied my petition. Or had they? Nathan had filed it for me, and he was the one who, it seemed, had set me up for Edward’s unlamented-by-probably-everybody-on-camp
A Barred Owl hooted its strange cry somewhere in the woods surrounding the cabin and I felt a little lonely as it called again. I thought of Jim waiting for me in bed, warm and muscular; if I slipped in beside him, he would pull me tightly to him and I would feel his strong arm lying across my chest. And I wanted that suddenly. I didn’t want to think anymore about the case, or my grievance; I didn’t want to weigh the pros and cons of living back in Cascade as Jim’s lover. I didn’t want to think about how my mother’s actions had hurt me in the past.
I wanted Jim. And I moved away from the window, visited the bathroom, and then quietly crawled into bed. He sleepily snuggled me against him, spooning with me; I held onto his arm and felt that loneliness drift away as I slid into sleep.
“Jim, we could make it back to Cascade in two days, if we push it. I could spell you for driving.”
Jim snorted and changed lanes. “No way in hell, Chief. I’m not putting you behind the wheel; you’ll fall asleep and we’ll be road kill. There’s no real hurry, anyway. Once we get there, you’ll just be staying at a cabin again. We can’t use any of the regular safe houses. So pick us a place for the night and I’ll call Findley. Or you can. He wanted to say hi to you yesterday, but you were asleep. Simon should check in with us, too. I wonder if he’s getting any nibbles on his find-the-leak line.”
Jim zoomed past an ancient truck that seemed stuck on forty-five miles an hour. It was a wonder somebody hadn’t driven right up the guy’s tail pipe because traffic was flying on Interstate 94. I looked up at Jim from where I was tucked next to him, his arm around my shoulders. I needed to convince him that I wasn’t a helpless invalid. So far today, I’d only run one low fever. My throat was better and I felt lots more energetic.
I was getting impatient to get my life back. I could ditch Jim and go into real exile, or I could work this case and get myself out of protective custody.
I tried again to convince him to let me help drive. “I can stay awake. I’m just about over the mono.”
Jim snorted again. I’d have to let him know that was a really unattractive habit he had there.
“Chief, did you even read the handout the ER doc gave you? You’re not over it yet, and you’re going to be feeling the fatigue effects for weeks, buddy. You haven’t even gone one day without running a fever since we left Sweetwater. And if you’re tired, you should sleep.”
I shook my head.
“I’m not tired, and I’m telling you I can stay awake." I was quiet for a moment, then I nudged him with my shoulder. "Jim, I want to help with the case when we get to Cascade. Just listen to my plan, okay? Now, Bergman needs to be tied in with my car, right? If you find the car, there'll be trace evidence linking it to Edwards' murder. You need some proof that he was the current owner of my Volvo when the chancellor was killed.”
I wiggled away from him, my hands gesturing – I could always explain things better if I could move my hands. “Right now you don’t have enough probable cause to get a search warrant served on him. So I’ll call him, tell him I’m at a truck stop on the outskirts of Cascade and I’m debating returning to Rainier and appealing my grievance. I’ll tell him I'm sitting on the fence about it, and I'd appreciate his guidance in hashing my options out. I’ll offer to come to his office or see if he would like to let me buy him a coffee at the truck stop. He won’t want me anywhere near the university, so he’ll come to me. I’ll be wearing a wire, and I’ll bring the conversation around to his buying my car. It’ll be on tape that he admits to being the owner – bammo, search warrant time – you find the car, arrest him, and I’m done with protective custody.”
Jim had listened, but he was shaking his head. I could feel the Sandburg stubborn gene gearing up. This was a good plan and I was going to get him to agree with me.
“He’ll come, Jim. He doesn’t want me on campus asking questions; he’ll come to talk me out of it. And hey. I’m thinking that he never filed the grievance for me in the first place. I want to check on that. I could still, maybe, be allowed to finish my doctorate.”
Jim took a deep breath and blew it out in a gust. “Look, Chief. I appreciate that you want to help, but for one, you’re sick, and two, you’re not a cop. You can’t put yourself in harm’s way like that anymore. I won’t let you and Simon won’t either. Your grievance not being filed… How about we ask Kelso to do some quiet digging into that? An ex-CIA guy right there on campus should be able to get the records without tipping off Bergman.”
I also took a deep breath, but let it out slowly. Yelling at him wouldn’t accomplish anything. “I was in harm’s way plenty of times when I was an observer; you and Simon have both asked me to do undercover stuff before. I won’t be in harm’s way this time, though, because I’ll be in a public place and you can be listening and there can be plenty of undercover guys hanging around to watch. Shit, I’ll wear a vest, even. But he won’t shoot me. It would attract too much attention, and besides, I've been thinking about why he used my car to kill her and didn't just shoot her or strangle her. Want to hear my profile?"
Jim nodded, and I held up my fingers, ticking off Bergman's actions. "Whatever his reasons for killing her, they must be intensely personal -- possibly for revenge or hatred. He's organized, plans ahead, and is patient. He's resourceful; he has a reputation at Rainier for being a guy who can come up with solutions to problems."
Jim was really listening, which made me feel good. It had been a while since I'd used my brain and instincts like this. "He exhibited that patience and resourcefulness by buying my car for cash and not registering it. And he made sure it was ticketed so that there would be proof that there was a green Volvo belonging to me on campus the night she died. He needed to throw suspicion my way -- I had a motive to kill her because of her throwing me out of the doctorate program -- and at the same time he was making sure I didn't stay in one place too long by sending those letters to my employers. Jim, I think he was stalling, hoping that the investigation would fizzle out over time. And he's kind of a fastidious man; I don't think he'd want to deal with blood spray or be that close to somebody while they finished dying. Maybe that's another reason he hit her with the car -- all that metal protected him from being too close and then he could leave the mess behind when he drove away. We won't give him an opportunity to do another hit and run. So, I think it'll be okay to meet him at the truck stop. And he might get panicked after he convinces me to leave town again, and go check on the car to move it to another location. If he’s tailed, he might lead the cops right to it.”
Jim frowned. “He might not even have the Volvo any longer. He could have sunk it in the bay. Or sent it to a chop shop -- although we’ve checked out the chop shops and couldn’t find any leads there. And you’re not an observer now, and did you forget the orders from the brass that make it clear you’re not to be allowed to participate in any police investigations or even be in non-public areas in any police station?”
I looked over at Jim and said, “Fuck those orders. I’m already involved in this investigation, and how long, I wonder, will the brass okay protective custody, once they find out it’s me who's got hired killers after him.”
“End of discussion, Sandburg. You aren’t going to be bait. Not this time. I’ll call Kelso and ask him to check your file about the grievance, but you aren’t meeting with Bergman. It was a good plan, Blair, but I’m not risking you getting hurt.”
He cleared his throat and then changed the subject. “Now, how about our stopping point for the night?”
I picked up the atlas I’d laid down on the seat earlier and reopened it. Okay, I guess Plan B was going to have to go into operation. I hated to do it to Jim, but the soft, reasonable approach hadn't gone over, so it was time to play hardball with him. I needed him to look at me as a partner, and not try and coddle me. And I would stay awake for the rest of the day.
I slowed down for construction as we were approaching the border for Montana, and I felt Sandburg start to wake up as he lifted his head from my shoulder. I didn’t intend to say a word to him about falling asleep after he’d been so adamant that he wouldn’t. Blair was used to telling his body what he expected from it; he wasn’t used to his body calling the shots instead of his willpower. Occasionally during finals, after he’d pushed himself way past reasonable limits, I’d seen him collapse and fall asleep – once or twice even sitting up at the table -- but it only would take a short power nap and he’d been able to go back to half killing himself with studying or grading tests.
Blair resettled himself against me and gave a contented sigh as he went down for the count again. He’d probably do this a couple of times before he was totally awake. He’d actually lasted longer than I thought he would; he’d made it two hours past the lunch we’d eaten at a pizza place before conking out.
He hadn’t mentioned his scheme to me again for getting Bergman to admit he’d bought the Volvo, but I was sure I hadn’t heard the last of it. He had told Findley about it this morning, when Blair called him to set up tonight’s cabin. The guy had agreed it was a good plan, and Blair’d shot me a triumphant look. Too fucking bad. I still wasn’t going to let him do it.
I’d lost him twice now – once, when he’d died at the fountain and the second time when my stupidity had driven him to leave Cascade – and I wasn’t going to risk losing him for a third time. I’d gotten him back the first two times, but my luck wasn’t that good to chance his life again. The silver lining to his being denied the detective shield he’d been promised was that he wasn’t out there risking his life on the job anymore. Although he would have been great as a detective -- he was smart and creative and fast on his feet. Like he’d told me when I first was getting to know him, anthropology used a lot of the same reasoning skills as police work. I think he would have been wasted writing tickets as a uniform, but detective work was right up his alley. The brass had okayed Simon’s recruiting Blair because Simon had the stats to show the increase in case closures from our observer’s assistance; in no way had the proposal been about doing me and Simon a favor. And we never could get a satisfactory answer as to why the Chief of Police had rescinded the offer made to Blair, just some baloney about ethics.
Blair had quizzed me this morning about how my senses had behaved while he was gone. It had been kind of galling to have to admit how much using the sentinel stuff depended on regular contact with him. I’d had to tell him I’d cut way back on using my senses, and that when I’d felt too shaky, I’d had to rely on listening to our answering machine to hear his voice and opening the sealed bags where I’d shoved the cut up soiled sheets he'd last slept in so I could breathe in his scent. I’d told him about the hairs from a brush I’d kept that I would finger every so often. I hadn’t told him how angry I’d felt each time I’d had to do those things. It had been like rubbing salt in an open wound to me.
I had seen the wheels going ‘round in that curly head, and I’d been sure he was coming up with reasons why I seemed to need such a physical connection in order for my senses to range safely. So after lunch, partly to save myself from being interrogated some more, I’d given him Findley’s family history. He’d been thrilled to find another source of information on sentinels in a tribal society and had moaned and groaned about the wasted opportunities to interview Findley, if he’d only known about the Cherokee sentinels and guides while he had been ‘rotting’ in jail. That had kept him busy till he’d fallen asleep.
Traffic had slowed down to an absolute crawl by the time Blair finally shook himself awake. At this rate, it would take us another two hours to get to tonight’s rental, and I was tired of driving. We needed to restock our supplies, too.
Yawning and stretching, Blair reached for his bottle of water and gulped down half of it. He was quiet as we cleared the construction zone at last, and I thankfully was able to push the truck back up to the normal speed limit. And then some.
“For what, Darwin?”
“For not riding my ass about me falling asleep. I tempted Karma too much, I think, by saying I wouldn’t nod off any more.” I pulled him back closer to me. I think I’d driven the majority of this trip, after the first day, with Blair right next to me. I liked it – I liked feeling him against me and scenting him.
“It will pass, Blair. Just give yourself some time to get better. Hey, we need to get some supplies. Want to make a list?”
Blair busied himself with his backpack and notebook and checking with me on what we needed. He seemed nervous – couldn’t be about shopping. I figured he was going to give convincing me to agree to his game plan another shot. Blair Sandburg never in his life gave up on anything easily. He could be really annoying when arguing his point sometimes -- but effective. Just look at how many times he’d gotten me to do something I wasn’t crazy about. But I wasn’t giving in this time. On the plus side, if I could convince him to take another chance with me, then I knew that stubbornness would make him stick to me like glue.
That idea, I liked.
Blair fiddled with the shopping list, folding it and unfolding it, and then started doodling on it. I decided to cut him off at the pass.
“No. You’re not going to meet with Bergman. It's not up for debate. Why don’t you keep thinking of other ways to connect him with Edwards' murder instead?”
“Shit, Jim. What? Are you psychic now? How did you know I was going to try and get you to see reason here? And – hell, yes – we’re going to discuss it again! It’s a good plan. It’s safe for me. You’re just being an overprotective mother hen; even Dave – who, believe me, has mother hen instincts of his own – thought it would be worth trying. You’re not being objective enough. You can’t wrap me up in cotton batting, you know. I can handle myself, Jim. Fuck – I was going to be your official police partner. You can’t let the fact that you've slept with me make me into some… some… kid who needs you to hold his hand to cross the street. I’ve been in dangerous places and situations long before I ever met you. I can take care of myself, Ellison.” Frustration and annoyance darkened his expression, but I didn’t care; I wasn’t going to budge. But I would try to sound reasonable when I responded to him.
“Look – you profiled Bergman and predicted he wouldn’t try violence face to face with you. But what if you’re wrong? And what if he contacts hit-men to take you out at the truck stop? And yes, I know you’ve lived on the edge before – and you’ve been damned lucky not to have been killed. That rathole of a warehouse you were living in? The fire marshal said it was a death trap. The electrical wiring was not up to code and would have eventually caused a fire. Not to mention living next to a drug lab! Shit, Chief. And those rats were big enough to carry you off.”
I clenched my teeth. Blair may have been in tight spots before meeting me but the danger to him had increased tenfold when he’d become an observer. My observer. Kincaid. Lash. Alex. Parachuting into jungles. Jumping off of cliffs. Drugged. Dead. No more.
“You’ve had too many close calls for me to agree to put you back into danger. You’re just going to have to live with that, Chief.” Live being the operative word in that sentence.
“Fuck. Fuck! You’re letting your fears be in the driver’s seat, Jim. Life is dangerous, man. Even if you keep me locked up in a tower, like Rapunzel, I’m still going to die. I could get cancer, or trip and break my neck. And I triggered this overreaction of yours by falling apart the other day, didn’t I. I lost it and you rocked me, like a kid, and now that image is overlaying how you think of me. I’m not a child – even if I cried like one that night. And you took care of me, and I… yes – I needed that then -- but I don’t need you to do that now!”
“And what if I want to do that, Chief? What if I want to love you and cherish you and keep you safe? Are you telling me that you don’t deserve to be protected by me?”
Blair looked up at me and shook his head. “No, Jim. I’m not telling you to stop protecting me. Just balance it out with understanding that I’m a competent adult and trust my judgment when I say I can handle something. Shit, man. You handed me a gun and trusted me to protect a whole busload of people when the Switchman took the tour bus hostage. I’m still that same person, Jim.”
“Look, Blair. In this case, I don’t think the gain outweighs the risk. I know you’re not a kid. The rocking thing? I was glad that I could be there for you and hold you. Shit, you’d been through a tough time and you were sick and exhausted. It was okay, buddy, to let me try and make you feel better. Someday, you can return the favor, all right? But my decision is final about meeting with Bergman. It ain’t gonna happen.”
Blair undid his seat belt and moved over next to the door. He was pissed at me, but I was through letting him take wild chances with his life.
“All right – I get the message. You’re ticked off. But you still need your seat belt on. Okay?”
Blair complied and then said, to the window beside him, “I’m not promising anymore, Jim. You’d better handcuff me when we stop.”
“Chief, is that really necessary?”
“You’re not treating me like your partner, so you’d better treat me like your prisoner.” And Blair turned sideways in the seat so he wouldn’t have to look at me. He smelled of anger and annoyance and… regret. Well, hopefully, he’d cool down and see my point.
I tried to get that damn stubborn kid to promise to stay put, or at least to agree to come in the store with me, after I’d refilled the gas tank. He wouldn’t, of course. I surveyed the parking lot of the little grocery store and listened in to a lot of mundane conversations and decided he was safe enough. I took his backpack and put it in the back of the truck, just in case he had something he could use as a tool to pick the handcuffs. There was nothing in the truck he could use and I still had his Swiss Army knife in my pocket.
“Blair, c’mon. Don’t make me do this again.”
“You do what you think you have to, man. And I’ll do the same.”
“What, this is like chaining yourself to some tree to stop loggers? Some kind of protest thing?”
“Naomi taught me well, man. I’m just living up to my hippie heritage. I’ll say it again, Jim. If you won’t treat me as your partner, then you have to treat me as your prisoner. And partners don’t make arbitrary decisions for each other. Even with the best of intentions. Hey, I know you’re scared for me. Don’t you know that half of the time we were working together I was terrified of you getting hurt? Especially with your tendencies to jump onto moving vehicles – like helicopters and semis? When your old commanding officer kidnapped you, I just about went nuts. Ask Simon sometime about it.”
“You’re a civilian.”
“I’m your partner. That trumps everything else. You say you want me to be with you again, and to me that means I’m your partner. I’m not going to be cut out of your life ever again, Jim. Even if we never have sex at all, I want to be your partner. I’ve figured that much out about myself, anyway. But it’s a two-way street. You have to let me be your partner and not keep shutting me out. Take the bitter with the sweet, man. You can’t stick me on a shelf somewhere and only take me down when you want to play. So, Jim, will you really listen to my plan? If you’ve got technical problems with it – then let’s hear them. But if it was somebody else – say Rafe, for instance -- who wanted to wear the wire, would you have the qualms you have now?”
I didn’t say anything and after a moment Blair sighed. He held out his hands and said, “Do it already. We should be able to get to that cabin in about half an hour and by that time I’ll need to pee.”
I shook my head, but I cuffed both his hands together, after passing the links through the steering wheel.
“Yell if you need me or if you change your mind.”
And I left him there.
It took longer than I thought to get our supplies. There was only one cashier, a long line, and every woman in front of me had a shopping cart full. While I waited for my turn to pay, I checked on Blair, pinching myself to avoid zoning while I listened to him mutter about stubborn sentinels. Reluctantly, I kept thinking about what he had said – about being partners again. And that I wasn’t treating him like a partner. I – uh – maybe was feeling more protective of him. After all, he was sick, and he'd had those panic attacks. And he'd been such a forlorn and exhausted bundle in my lap following his hysterical giggling fit his first night in protective custody.
He just seemed kind of vulnerable to me, and maybe Blair was right in accusing me of wanting to wrap him up in cotton batting. And maybe I was being a bit hypocritical about using him as bait, because that’s what I had done to get those hired guns to follow us to the roadblock when we left Sweetwater. I had used him as bait. But I had been right there next to him and I knew I could control what was going to happen. Perhaps that was it. I couldn’t be next to him if he talked to Bergman and I couldn’t control the situation. Well, shit.
I walked out of the store and headed back to my truck. My new truck. I was going to miss Sweetheart. I decided that Bair and I needed to talk once we got to the cabin and settled in. Thinking over what I’d said to him -- End of discussion, Sandburg -- I had been a little… authoritarian with him. My gut reaction had been to say no, without compromising… Shit, I’d sounded like my father. My dad not being willing to listen and take my point of view into consideration had been one of the prime reasons I’d cut off contact with him for so long. We’d gotten past that now, thank God. Yeah, I should tell Blair that we’d talk about it tonight, and that I would really consider this plan of his. Even if I didn’t like it.
I opened the truck door, my mind mostly on the conversation we’d be having in a moment, and then I dropped the bag of groceries.
Blair was gone!
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Ten.