Number six. This one was started on the trip from...well, never mind. I don't want to talk about it. I know I said I didn't plan to continue this series, but I've had so much feedback about it that I gave in.
As usual, not my characters. No money. Please, don't sue.
Time For Living
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It was time. Past time, probably. Somehow, he felt as though he should have left years ago. So many things had changed. The world was so different from even a decade ago. It was definitely time. Especially with the current administration making so nice with the same people who had been our fiercest enemies for most of the past century. Nothing changes that much or that fast. At least not people. He looked around his office. He realized that he wouldn't miss it. It wasn't important. He smiled. Content. Turning one last time to the door, he switched off the lights for the last time. He left, closing the door behind him without another backward glance.
He smiled at his secretary as he paused for the last time at her desk.
"Goodnight, Sarah." Smiling. Her, he would miss.
She smiled up at him. "Calling it a day, Sir?"
His smile widened. "Definitely. It's definitely time to call it a day." Knowing she wouldn't get the more archaic meaning of the term. He smiled at her one last time as he left.
"Have a good weekend, Sir." She called out to him for the last time.
He went home. Looking around his apartment, seeing the boxes and crates ready for shipment. He went into his bedroom and picked up the two suitcases there. The people who would be coming to ship his belongings were people he could trust. Not that it mattered, really. There were at least a dozen different places his belongings would be going. Changing carriers, senders, ownership, or so it would appear. He left the apartment, turning off the lights for the last time. Carrying his bags to the elevator, down and out to the street. Not to the garage and his car. He took a taxi to the airport.
First, a flight to Washington, DC He smiled at the idea of someone trying to track him. He took a cab to Langley. From there, he took another cab back to the airport. From there, he took another flight to Chicago. At O'Hare, he changed clothes, from his business suit to something more casual. He disposed of his hard-sided suitcases, having packed soft-sided luggage and placed them inside the hard-sided cases. He rubbed a colouring gel into his hair, darkening the grey to a light brown. From there, he took a cab to a hotel, where he spent the rest of the night. In the morning, he dressed in even more casual clothing and took a cab to the train station. He boarded the train, his tickets allowing him to travel to Los Angeles. He got off again, immediately on the other side of the train. He slipped out a side passage. He again took a cab across town to another hotel. There, he booked a room for two nights, paying cash in advance. He spent all of the first day in his room. Repacking his luggage into the duffel bags he had in the high quality soft-sided suitcases. Repacking his luggage into the duffel bags. He dyed his hair a darker brown and inserted brown contact lenses in his eyes. Smiling at the stranger in the mirror, he undressed and went to bed.
He awoke well before dawn. Showering, shaving, and dressing in jeans and a cotton shirt, he picked up his duffel bags and left the hotel less than eighteen hours after he arrived. He hung the 'do not disturb' sign on the door as he left.
He took the bus back across town to the train station, where he boarded the Twentieth Century Limited, bound for Los Angeles. He relaxed and enjoyed the several days of the trip. In Phoenix, he detrained and rented a four wheel drive. After a stop to purchase some camping supplies, he headed out into the desert. He notified the rental agency to pick the car up in Las Vegas, six days later.
By now, his beard and mustache had grown to a respectable length. Using more colouring gel, he dyed his beard and mustache to match his hair.
From Las Vegas, he took a bus to Los Angeles. From there, he consolidated the things he needed into one duffel bag and packed the rest of his things and shipped them. Then, he rented a motel room in a seedier section of the city. There, he washed some of the colour from his hair. Leaving his hair, beard and mustache streaked with grey. He left the brown contacts in, however. He wanted to find a Laundromat, but knew that clothes that were too clean would be too noticeable. He slept like a child.
It had been two weeks since his 'Retirement'. He wondered in passing what was happening back in his old world. But not enough to go to the trouble to find out, yet.
He caught a Greyhound Bus north. From Fresno, he caught a flight to SeaTac. Throughout the flight, he debated contacting his son and nephew. Finally deciding that no matter how much he would like to, it was still too dangerous.
At SeaTac, he purchased and mailed a few post cards. Certain that by now he couldn't be tracked. Particularly considering who he had become. Sometimes, paranoia could be a Godsend. The last person who had known his birth name, other than family, had died more than thirty years ago. He rented a car and drove south to Portland. From there, he flew to Dallas/Ft. Worth, knowing that he wouldn't be expected anywhere in the south. He then took another bus to Atlanta, and from there a plane to Boston. He immediately caught another plane out, simply because it was too close to home base. Back in Chicago, once again, he lay low for another week. It had now been a month since his 'retirement'. He was still alert. Waiting for one of his former acquaintances to spot him. Although, with his beard and mustache, darkened to match his dyed hair and the brown contact lenses, he would be surprised if anyone did recognize him. Except, maybe, family. He smiled at the thought. Now might be a good time.
"Hey, Chief. You got a post card." Jim smiled. The nice thing about post cards was that it was OK to read other people's mail.
"Who's it from?" His hyperactive grad student partner called out.
"Here. Read it yourself." Smiling broadly.
Taking the proffered card, Blair's eyes widened with surprised delight. "Oh, wow! It's from my Dad! He says he'll be by to visit in a week or two. He's... retired?" He looked up at his friend. "Uh, I didn't know that was allowed in his line of work?"
Jim frowned. "It didn't used to be, but times have changed. Of course, how many people do you suppose are alive who even know his real name? Let alone where he's from, or where he might be going? I'm sure he's just taking a circuitous route to make sure he doesn't bring anything down on us."
Blair nodded his agreement. "Yeah. That makes sense." He smiled up at his partner, "So, Coz, what d'ya think he's been up to?"
"Oh, I'd say about five foot ten or so." Smirking.
"Oh, ha ha." Giving a shove to his much larger companion. "You know perfectly well that that isn't what I meant."
Laughing, Jim replied. "I suspect he's simply covering his trail so they can't find him once he settles down. I wonder what made him decide to retire?"
Blair blushed. "I think it had to do with how his family accepted him back after his Dad died."
"Yeah. I can buy that. But I'm willing to bet that it also had something to do with you. You know, the 'I never knew you existed, but you're my son' thing." He could hear his friend's heart accelerate.
"Well, maybe." Lifting hopeful eyes up to his friend. "Do you really think so?"
"Hey, he called you after I sent that letter you wrote, what do you think?" He said it softly, once again amazed at the low self-esteem his friend was prone to; the expectation of rejection. It was one of their most frequent battles, the constant reassurance that he was wanted and cared for.
Blair smiled up, "Yeah. He did, didn't he?" Starting to bounce in anticipation. "So, how soon do you think he'll come?"
Jim laughed. "Well, the card says one to two weeks. What's the postmark?"
"Uh, two days ago, from...SeaTac. He was so close, how come he didn't come?" Worried.
"Laying a false trail, I should imagine. Come on, Chief. He's been in black ops so long that he wouldn't be able to do anything the easy way. Don't worry unless he isn't here in three weeks, unless we hear from him, OK?"
"OK. I can do that." Still excited.
It was late on a Friday evening. There was a soft knock at the door of the loft. He wasn't worried when there was no answer. He simply picked the lock and walked in. He glanced around the loft, automatically checking it out. Satisfied, he set his duffel bag by the door and sat down on the couch, the silence was soothing, and soon he was fast asleep.
"Man, I am like, so tired. What time is it, anyway?" Blair asked, with a yawn.
"One-thirty." Jim replied, checking his watch. "Good thing we don't have to get up early. We can sleep as late as we like." Trudging up the last flight of stairs to the loft.
Jim had his key out and in the lock when he suddenly froze. "Back up, Chief. We've got company." Gently pushing his friend away from the door.
"Wait, Jim. Are they awake, or asleep? How many of them are there?" Hoping that there was only one intruder, and that he was asleep. It had been nearly two weeks since he'd received the post card.
"One. Asleep. You think it might be your Dad?" Knowing how his friend had been anxiously awaiting the promised visit.
"Maybe." Hope in his voice, body quivering with anxiety.
"Well, let's see." He knocked on the door. Listening as the sleeping man inside woke up. He tapped on the door again. Listening as the now awake man stood and approached the door. Tracked him to the side by the hinges, turned his hearing down in time for the voice asking: "Who's there."
Blair was bouncing furiously in his excitement upon recognizing the voice. "Just us." He replied. The door opened, and they caught their first sight of their visitor.
Blair gasped. If he hadn't recognized the voice, he would never have known who this was. The beard and mustache were thick and full. Blair suddenly realized where his own heavy beard had come from. The hair was darker, as well. The eyes were...brown? They stood that way for more than a minute, just looking at one another. Finally, Jim prodded his young friend through the door.
"Hi." Blair's voice was nearly whisper soft, suddenly shy before the man he had so recently discovered to be his father.
He smiled. "Hi, yourself." Uncertain, he held out one arm. With a sudden, bright smile, Blair launched himself into his father's offered embrace. Jim gently tugged the gun from his other hand and lay it on the little table by the door, freeing that arm to encircle his son, as well.
They just stood there for a few moments, perhaps a minute. Allowing the hug to reconnect them, remind them of their relationship. That it was one that was wanted by both of them, no matter how lately discovered. When they finally released each other, they stood there with matching goofy grins on their faces. Glancing past his son, the old man tracked his nephew's movements.
"And how have you been, James?"
"I'm fine. How's Mom?" He'd gone to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water, showing what was available and silently offering, his uncle shook his head, declining.
"She was just fine when I left there this morning. It took a little longer to replace my lost ID." He smiled. He had 'lost' his ID before Jim had been born.
"I'll just bet. Did they even have any record of you?"
"I had to take in my birth certificate and Social Security card, as well as a photo ID. Good thing I know the right people, or I could have been in trouble." He replied with a smile, one arm still around his son's shoulders.
"I can imagine. How long can you stay?"
"No commitments. I'm retired. I can go when and where I please, and stay as long as I like...or am welcome." The question soft in his voice. Jim and Blair exchanged looks. Jim realizing where maybe just a little of Blair's insecurity came from. This man had been disowned by his family since before Jim's mother even met his father. He had been unwelcome with most of his family until after the death of his father. He had good reason to doubt his welcome. Well, time to end that particular notion, once and for all.
"You're family. You will always be welcome here." Jim insisted. Receiving an almost Sandburg intensity smile as his reward.
Blair tugged at his father's arm, pulling him farther into the room and over to the couch to sit down. "So, where have you been, what have you been doing?"
"Chief, it's late, and I'm sure that can wait until morning." Shaking his head in wonder at the young man who had gone from exhausted only a few minutes before to ready to interrogate his father.
"Oh, yeah, uh, sure." Smiling shyly at his father, "Let me change the sheets on my bed, I'll sleep on the couch." Standing to do so.
"That's all right. I can take the couch. I was sleeping pretty good there, anyway." Jim and Blair exchanged dubious looks. Blair shook his head.
"Huh uh. You get the bed. It's pretty comfortable, for a futon. Come on, it'll just take a couple of minutes."
Sighing, he gave in.
Within thirty minutes, the loft was silent, except for the normal sleeping noises from the three men.
Odd, he thought. He hadn't had a single nightmare since he had walked out of his office for the last time more than a month before. No matter where he was, or the circumstances of his accommodations, he slept well. He awoke, stretching slowly and thoroughly. Listening, he could hear the soft snores of his son in the living room. There was the soft sound of a footfall on the stairs, indicating that Ellison was up and about. He rose and slipped into his robe.
He opened the door just as Jim reached the last step. They smiled at one another. By mutual consent, they headed for the kitchen. Over the loading of the coffee maker, they spoke softly, mostly about how he was enjoying his retirement.
"It's funny, but I haven't had a single nightmare since I walked away from it all. I suppose I should let them know that I didn't defect, or anything."
"What about your friends? Do they know what happened to you?"
"No. I made a clean break with the past. Well, except for family."
"You didn't even tell McCall?" Surprised.
"Well, I told him I was retiring, and that I'd be in touch. He doesn't know about Mickey. Or you and Blair. And I won't tell him."
"I thought he was your friend?" Puzzled.
"He is." He thought about it for a minute while the coffee filtered into the pot. "It's still dangerous for anyone to be connected to who and what I was. Robert was a part of that old life. I protected him when he 'retired', until he had built up enough of a profile to protect himself. I was still able to call on him for certain specialized problems. With me gone, he won't have to do that any more. I, on the other hand, have never been contained. No one in the agency knows my real name, or where I came from. The 'real' invisible man. Or, the man who never was. It took me a month before I even felt safe enough to mail that card. I changed identities fifteen times during that month, and never spent more than two days in any one place. On top of which, I never left the Continental US. No one knows where I am or who. I'm about as safe as I'll ever be."
"Well, the beard and dyed hair with brown eyes is probably enough to fool most people." He pulled cups from the cupboard, handing one to the older man. "Blair has been excitedly waiting for you ever since you sent that card. I hope, for his sake, that you can stay long enough to answer a lot of his questions."
"I hope he doesn't mind answering the same questions for me." The older man replied with an introspective smile. "I once had a conversation with Robert about how I envied him his courage to start a family, in spite of the odds. I still do. He, at least, got to see his son grow up, at least part time. We didn't even have that."
"What about your other two children?" Jim asked softly.
"I keep my word. It wouldn't be fair to them to expect anything at this late date."
"How old are they?"
"Peter Mark would be thirty-four as of last February, well, technically, he'd be eight and a half. And Penelope will be thirty-two in July."
"Your son was born on February twenty-ninth?"
He chuckled. "Yes. I missed every actual birthday. I have a lot of regrets. I wish, sometimes, that I had quit and stayed with Laura. But I didn't. If I had, Blair wouldn't exist, at least not as he is. I wouldn't trade that for other possibilities. I did see them graduate from school, I'd sneak a look at them every time I was in Europe, so it's not quite like I 'never' got to see them. More like I was never involved. Like with Blair. I want to know him so much that it's a physical ache. When I got the letter he wrote, I decided, upon reading it, that it was time to retire and do something important. It was high time I stopped being 'Control', and took control of my own destiny. He's my son, and I love him. Hell, I 'liked' him after I saw how he insisted on tagging along after you to Peru. Even though he was afraid. Now I understand why, but at the time, it was puzzling. Then, after I discovered your secret, that trip to find you...I'd just as soon not ever have to go through anything like that again. I owed you."
"No, you didn't. The fact that you were willing to let us stay free was payment enough. Blair's right, it is about friendship."
"I know. That's when I realized that you had already passed from acquaintances to friends. It was a strange feeling. I've never made friends easily. I wonder how much was blood calling to blood."
"I don't understand?"
He smiled. "Blair would probably find the concept interesting..."
"What concept?" Blair mumbled, entering the kitchen, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Jim already had a cup of coffee poured and held out to his partner.
"The concept of blood calling to blood."
Blair perked up. "Oh? Where's it from?"
"Well, the General was about half Shawnee. From both sides, although more from the Savage side. He smiled at the obvious pun. From what I understand, that's where the name came from. They always said that blood called to blood. If you met someone who you were drawn to for no apparent reason, if you looked hard enough, you'd find you were related somehow."
"Cool." Blair replied. "Maybe that explains Jim and me." Bouncing in his excitement. "You got any documentation of that particular theory?"
"You'll have to talk to Twin about that. She's the keeper of the family archive."
"Archive? There's an archive?" Bouncing faster.
"Yeah. There are journals going back to the first half of the 1800s. I never got into them very much, myself, but Twin has. When you come for the reunion in July, I'll make sure she shows them to you. Not that you'll be allowed to bury yourself in there, but I'm sure you'll be allowed to take some of the journals home to study."
"Oh, wow. That would be neat. Maybe I can get a paper out of it."
His enthusiasm was met with laughter.
He'd spent an entire week, already. He was amazed. He couldn't believe it. They had talked late every night. Met for lunch, laughed and joked and told one another about themselves. Steven had even come over one night for dinner and a discussion of their family relationship. Steven was a bit shy with his uncle, still; although, he had been in fairly regular contact with his mother, with whom Jim was still just a little strained. Blair and his Dad chalked it up to Jim being the eldest and trying to take care of his brother, so that all the bad Karma (as Blair would say) fell to him, but he was working at it as well. Wanting to come to terms with his relatives. First, his reconciliation with Steven, then a partial reconnection with his father, now his mother, which led to all the other relatives he'd never had the chance to know. It was a time of stress, but not so much in a bad way, for all of them.
It was Friday. Jim and Blair had talked him into joining them at the weekly poker game at the Taggart's. He had reluctantly agreed, only after Joel had called and extended the invitation personally. It wasn't as though the guys at the station didn't know about him. Just that he felt so vulnerable with so many people knowing his past and who he really was. Once at the Taggart home, he realized that he needn't have worried. He was made to feel welcome and no one mentioned his past.
They were all in trouble. If they thought that Blair or Jim had been good poker players, they had nothing on Blair's Dad. He didn't flinch, shift, change expressions, or even blink to indicate whether or not he had a good hand. He kept the same half smile on his face the entire evening, even beating Blair, most of the time. Much to everyone's dismay. He had somehow managed to keep track of who lost what to him. At the end of the game, he returned everyone's money, saying he only played for fun, not profit. They tried to force him to keep it, but he insisted that the interest from his inheritance from his father was more than any two of them made in a year. Reluctantly, they agreed. Telling him that the next time he played, they'd use play money if he was going to be that way about it. He agreed, that if there were a next time, he would do that.
After a second week, he was starting to feel a little stir crazy. He packed and had his bag by the door when they got home from work. Blair paled when he saw it. Looking frantically at his father, he was careful not to say anything, for fear of rebuke.
"I need to go home for a while. The walls are starting to move in on me. Don't worry, Son. I'll be back. You can call me at any time. I pick up my messages daily, yes, even here. Don't worry." He said, stepping into his son's space and embracing him. "You're my son. I love you." Holding the young man closely.
Blair couldn't help reaching his arms around his father to return the hug. Holding on tightly, he mumbled. "Love you too." Unable to keep the tears at bay. "I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you, too. But I'm not used to being with people, I'm having a hard time dealing with the close proximity. Even at the same time I love being with you both. I promise that I'll keep in touch. I'm not willing to give you up." Raising his head to include his nephew. "Either of you." Jim smiled. He understood the need to get away. A little surprised that it had taken this long for the stress to build up.
"When's your flight?" Jim asked.
"Not until late. I prefer flying the red-eye." He chuckled, dryly. "I guess I've just learned to sleep well on planes over the years."
They went out for dinner at the local steak house. They laughed and talked as they had every single night for the previous two weeks. Afterward, they drove along the beach for a while, talking softly, making reassurances that what they had was only beginning. Finally, they went to the airport. Blair tried hard, but he ended up crying when he had to let his father go.
"It took so long to find you, now I don't want to let you go."
"I know, Blair. But you have your own life to live, as well. I promise that I'll be back. At least I don't have the demons haunting me like my brother does. I'll keep in touch on a regular basis. I promise."
Blair had to be content with that, knowing that his father never made empty promises. They waited until the last boarding call was made, and then Jim and Blair watched as the plane taxied down the runway and disappeared into the distance.
Jim, understanding his friend's fragility at the moment, placed a strong supporting arm around his shoulder; while Blair slipped the corresponding arm around Jim's waist. Together, they walked out of the terminal and into the night. Comfortable with each other, offering and accepting solace. Both men looking forward to the big family reunion coming in July.
Gee, no owies! This is six, and it's still only Wednesday! I just might make it. Of course, I just got reassigned to work in another division starting tomorrow. For a different Colonel. Sigh. I like where I am. I like the man I work for. I do not want to go. Fortunately, it may only be for a week. I have to sit in for a lady who was in a car wreck. Sigh. I hope she gets better, soon. I like my desk and the toys thereon.
Well, let's see, now. Story number seven. What shall it be? I really haven't worked on any of the other challenges lately. Hmmmmmm.
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