I think that this one will include my own wishful thinking. What I'd rather be doing this week, well, sort of. I'm sorry, but even though I had planned to spend this week on a horse, I will probably never write such a thing for TS. I just can't get the hideous 'Brother's Keeper' scenes out of my mind. It was so phony and faked. shudder**So, instead, I guess they'll just have to walk.
They aren't mine, I've just borrowed them for a little fun. I promise to put them back when I'm through (See, my father taught me to do that.). :) I won't make any money from this, so please don't sue me.
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"...And try to stay out of trouble, this time."
"We always try to stay out of trouble. It just seems to have a way of finding us, no matter how hard we try to avoid it." Blair replied, with a grin.
"We'll try to, Sir. I'll have my cell and pager if you need us."
"Well, be careful."
"Will do." Smiling, the pair left their Captain's office, heading out of town for a little camping and fishing. Both in need of a little R & R. They had packed and loaded the truck the night before, so all they had to do was stop to fill the truck with gas and head on out of town.
"Where are we going, Jim?" Blair asked, once they were on the road.
"There's a little town east of here, Chief. Quiet. Peaceful. Good fishing. There's even a fishing lodge where I've rented us a cabin for the weekend."
"Uh, not Lyman, is it?" Remembering the last time they had headed east.
"No. Different set of roads. No highway." Smiling. "Stop worrying."
"Uh huh. Tell me that again after we get back. We have too much history for me to believe it until after we get back home safe and sound." But he smiled as he said it.
Jim chuckled. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
The drive was uneventful. The fishing lodge was nearly full with weekend fishermen, but the river access covered a long distance, so there was plenty of room. Unloading the truck, Blair noticed that Jim had brought a garment bag. Curious, he asked:
"Jim? What's with the garment bag? You plan on wearing a suit to fish in?"
"Uh, no. It's for Monday." Taking the bag in question and hanging it in the closet.
Puzzled, Blair watched his friend and partner. The great stone face wasn't giving anything away. "You going to tell me what this is all about, Jim?"
Jim turned and stared at him, "Oh. I guess you haven't been with me on this weekend, before, have you?" A little surprised.
"No. I've usually been working on setting up finals over Memorial Day. You usually go out of town, though. Is this where you come?"
"Not always. I try to go to a different place each year." He turned back and finished putting his things away.
"Jim? Are you going to finish explaining? Or am I just supposed to keep guessing?" Unsure. Jim's reticence making him nervous.
Jim stopped moving, turned to look at his friend and sat down on the edge of one bed. "Sorry, Chief. I try to spend each Memorial Day in the home town of one of my men. The ones who didn't come back from Peru." He explained. "I put on my uniform and go to the memorial service. I've done it ever since I came back. Except once, when I was in the hospital." He smiled ruefully, "So, here I am. I'll find his parents, talk to them after the service, offer my apologies, and then go home."
Blair watched his friend, closely. "Punishing yourself for surviving?" He asked.
"Maybe. I think of it as remembering fallen comrades." He kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the bed, lacing his hands behind his head and closing his eyes.
"You want dinner?" Hopeful. Recognizing the depression in his friend.
"Maybe later." Talking about it had stolen his appetite.
Blair went out to the local cafe a short time later. He ordered two dinners, to go. Bringing them back to the lodge. Hoping the smell of the food would entice his friend to eat. It worked. Jim roused up enough to eat his dinner, but he went to bed right afterward. Blair pulled out his research, and started working on it, feeling too wound up to sleep yet.
"C'mon, Chief. Rise and shine. The fish are waiting for us." Jim called out, not too loudly. Shaking the lump buried under the mound of covers.
"Mmaffff tmmmm zit?" Mumbled the lump
"Three-thirty. Come on, Sunshine. Time to rise." Jostling the bed.
"'K" Blair blearily replied, pushing the covers off his head. "Why so early, man?"
"I want to beat the amateurs, Chief. If we catch our limit early, we'll be done before the rest have even started."
They dressed and, gathering their gear, headed out. To Blair's surprise, the cafe was already open. They stopped for a big breakfast and lots of coffee. Jim even bought some to fill his thermos, for later.
Just as Jim had predicted, they had caught their limit by the time the sun came up and any of the other fishermen showed up. Stopping by the cafe on the way back, Jim paid to have the fish cleaned and packaged for them to take home with them on Monday. Blair only watched while his partner asked about the family of his former team member. Tagged along on the drive by the house, watching the pain in the eyes of his friend.
"Jim, it wasn't your fault. You did the best you could. You were set up. You know that."
Jim sighed. "I know. But it doesn't matter. I'm still here, and they're not."
"That's true. But taking on guilt that isn't yours won't change it. It won't help any." He wished he could figure out what to say to help his friend. But he couldn't find the right words. "Why don't we go in. You know, go knock on the door. Talk to them now. Why wait until Monday?"
Jim looked at him in surprise. "Why?"
"Have you ever talked to them?"
"No. I've never met them or talked to them, before. I was, being debriefed, then off for R&R." Puzzled eyes on his Guide's face.
"OK. Come on. Let's go." Blair opened the door and got out, checking for traffic, he started across the street. Jim had to scramble to catch up.
"What do you think you're doing? He hissed as he followed his Guide up the steps of the house.
"Finding you some closure."
The woman who answered the door, after Blair explained who they were and why they had come, invited them in. She called out, and her husband and one of her other children came in to meet them. Jim, hesitantly told them about their son's last days. How sorry he was that he hadn't been able to bring him home.
"Oh, Captain. He was so proud to be in your unit. He thought the world of you, you know." Her smile was teary-eyed, but proud. "You have no idea what you're coming her like this means to us. Thank you."
They invited Jim and Blair to stay for lunch, but they declined, opting, instead, to return to their cabin. Blair watched his friend, closely. Trying to read the emotions so habitually hidden. Sensing some of the turmoil his friend was struggling with. Settled back in their room, Blair gave Jim all the time he needed to come to grips with his feelings, staying near, working on his dissertation.
Jim just lay on his bed. Hands clasped behind his head. Eyes closed as if in sleep; but they both knew that he wasn't really sleeping. He was reliving the crash, the deaths of his men. His survival. The reactions of the family they had met earlier. How proud they seemed. Of their son/brother. Of the man who had led the unit their missing relative had been so proud to be a part of. Of him. How happy they had been that he would come and see them, even after all these years. Tell them how his team died. How he had buried them, how he survived, and came back. He had cried with them. The tears cleansing the deep, old wounds, allowing the healing to finally begin. It was nearly dark before Jim finally finished processing everything.
"I'm hungry, Chief. What say we go to the cafe and get some dinner?" Sitting up and scrubbing his face with his hands.
Blair looked up, gauging his partner's well-being. "Sure. Let me finish this paragraph and I'll be ready to go." Finishing as quickly as he could.
They walked down to the cafe, chose a quiet booth, away from the noisy tourists who were bragging about their fishing prowess. The waitress smiled at them as she grabbed menus and followed them.
"Hi. Good choice in seats. You were in for breakfast, weren't you?"
"Yeah. Don't you ever go home?" Blair replied with a smile.
"Normally, but my sister's sick and I'm covering for her." She glanced at the group of tourists, then, leaning closer to make sure not to be overheard, she whispered, "They're bragging about their catch. Not a one of their fish came close to the smallest one of yours. That's the difference between fishermen and tourists." She leaned back with a smile. "Best things on the menu are the meat loaf, and steaks. Dinner includes..."
They opted for steaks. They spoke very little, but the silence was warm and comfortable. Blair watched his companion, waiting (for once) patiently for him to be ready to talk. Knowing that it might take a while. Content to be patient, for once.
"C'mon, sleepyhead. The fish are waiting." Blair grinned at being the one to awaken his Sentinel, for a change.
"What time is it?" Jim grunted, struggling to wake up.
"Three. I figured we'd be able to get some breakfast and catch us some fish before the tourists even think of getting up." Smiling.
"OK." A little surprised at his partner's exuberant behavior so early in the morning. "Did you sleep last night?"
"Yup. Slept like a baby. Woke up about half an hour ago. I feel great, how about you?" Watching as the older man stretched and then climbed out of bed.
"Good. I'm good." He paused on his way to the bathroom, "By the way, thanks for yesterday. You were right."
"Was I?" His smile softening.
"Yeah. It was the right thing to do. I...I'm...I don't know. I'm feeling...peaceful, somehow. Thanks for making me go and talk to them. You were right. It was much better than surprising them tomorrow would have been." Turning back toward the bathroom.
Once again, they had caught their limit before the sun was up. They again went back to the cafe, to add to their catch from the previous day. This time, the tourist-fishermen were present to see their catch. The bragging stopped at the sight of twenty-five to thirty pound salmon. Blair smirked at the envious glares. The same waitress from the previous day was again there to take care of their catch.
"You fellas sure know how to catch fish." She congratulated. "Almost as good as the old fellas who live here." Smiling at the pair.
"Yeah, but we fish in the morning, and they fish in the evening, I'll bet." Blair replied, with a smile.
"Some of them. Sometimes. Most do their fishing during the week, letting the tourists have the weekend, knowing that the big ones strike best in the dark." Taking their catch and taking it into the back to be cleaned and packaged. Returning, she was surprised to find that the pair had taken seats at the counter. She automatically poured them coffee, then hovered to see if they wanted anything else.
"I heard you went out to see some local folks, yesterday." She started.
"Yes." Jim replied. "Their son was under my command in the Army." He looked away. "He died on my last mission." He added, softly.
"I remember. He was a good man. I remember the articles from when you came back, too. His folks were so proud. That you had completed the mission in spite of everything. That their son had been a part of that, even though you were the only one who survived. The whole town was proud."
"Why?" Blair asked, softly.
She smiled, a little sad, "I guess it had something to do with honour, and duty, and belonging. He was proud of what he did. We were proud of him. He died doing his job, and the job got done, even though he didn't come back." She looked Jim in the eye. "You finished the job, in spite of overwhelming odds. You allowed him not to have died for nothing. It's important, you know?"
"Yes. Yes, I do know. Thank you." Jim smiled, sad, but honest. "Thank you."
"Why are you thanking me?" Surprised.
"For reminding me that the mission was successful. That by completing the mission, I brought honour to all the members of my unit. Even though they didn't come back. Sometimes," he hesitated, took a deep breath, and continued. "Sometimes, in the pain of having lost them, I forget the bigger picture. That we had all sworn an oath to complete our missions to the best of our ability, no matter what the odds. I had forgotten that. You just reminded me. Thank you." He smiled, his eyes meeting hers.
After sitting around the cafe and drinking coffee for several hours; visiting with the locals as they came in after the tourists headed for the river; being accepted because of the tale that had raced through the town about how he had come to pay his respects to the family of one of his fallen comrades; they ate lunch and then returned to their cabin for a nap. It was mid-afternoon when they awoke. They wandered through the town, surprised when people greeted them like members of the community, realizing just how small and intimate a town this was. Truly, everyone knew everybody else, their families, their personal business. Blair started waxing professorial about it, only to have Jim gently place his fingers over his mouth to silence him.
"I understand, Chief. It's OK. You don't need to explain it all to me. OK?"
Blair stared into the eyes of his friend, and realized that he was OK. Smiling, he replied, "Sure. Sorry."
"Not a problem." They again had dinner at the cafe. The tourists were notably subdued, but the locals greeted them like old friends. They accepted the invitation to join them at the counter. They talked fishing and flies. Politics and religion. Exchanging ideas and stories. One elderly man asked what Jim did, now that he was no longer in the Army. He told them, only to be greeted with knowing nods and approving grins. They were accepted. No one gave Blair a disparaging glance. He was with Jim. In fact, they were aware that he'd been the one to encourage Jim's contact with their neighbour. They were even invited to join the weekly poker game. Smiling and thanking them, they declined.
Returning to their cabin, Blair asked Jim how he was feeling, after all that had happened. Jim stopped, tilting his head back to look up into the clear night sky. He took a deep breath, held it a moment, and let it out. Turning to his friend, he smiled.
"Good, Chief. You were right. Come on. The fish bite early around here, and I want to get some sleep, first." Grasping his friend by the shoulder and turning back toward their cabin.
The tourists just didn't get it. Although a few of them did show up before dawn, they still weren't catching the big ones. Jim and Blair just smiled in a polite, friendly fashion as they passed the brave souls who had managed to make it out before dawn.
After dropping their catch at the cafe for processing, they returned to their cabin to shower and change. When Blair exited the bathroom, he stopped in shock at the stranger before him. Jim Ellison in his full dress uniform. Red beret to spit shined shoes. Jim was dusting off a few microscopic particles of dust from his shoes when Blair's gasp made him look up.
"What?" Concern evident in his voice.
"Wow. You're really something, you know?"
Puzzled, looking down at his uniform, he asked, "What do you mean?"
"I just, well I never thought I'd ever see you in uniform. OK?"
"Oh." Blushing. "Only today, Chief. Only for today."
"Right." Blair turned to dress, "Uh, Jim? When is the parade, or whatever?"
"Starts at noon. Just a get together in the park, speeches, stuff like that. That's all."
"Oh. Are you going to give a speech?"
Jim laughed. "I don't plan on it, Why?"
"Oh, just wondering. You're dressed to give a speech."
Blair was the one who wasn't surprised when Jim was asked to speak. Hesitantly, he made his way up to the podium. He hadn't prepared for this. He wasn't sure what to say. Seeing Blair staring up at him, confidence radiating from him, he took a deep breath, and began.
"As most of you know, I used to be a Captain in the Army. I was the head of a Ranger unit. We got the hard jobs, because we could do them. My men and I had one of the best records in the Rangers. We took on the worst of the worst, because we were the best of the best." He paused. He wouldn't tell them the truth about how they had been set up, only what happened, and how it turned out. "We were shot down over the jungle. Most of my men died immediately, in the crash. Some lived a few hours, a couple, a few days. The hardest thing I have ever had to do in my entire life, was bury my men. We were a team. I was their leader. I felt guilty for having survived. But I did survive. And I managed to complete our mission. I managed to not let them down. I kept going. It was the only thing I could do. To have quit would have been to dishonour the men who served under me. Today is Memorial Day. A day to remember our fallen comrades, our lost sons and brothers, daughters and sisters. A day to honour their memories, of what they fought and died for. A day to come together and cry for what they meant to us." He choked up, unable to continue. Swallowing hard, he lifted his head and looked out over the crowd, seeing their tears. With military precision, he snapped to attention, turned smartly and snapped a salute at the flag flying at half-mast. The mournful sound of taps played by two elderly veterans rang out back and forth across the field.
Closure. Finally. At last. Peace.
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