Notes: This is an old story I had needed forever to finish.
Thanks to Xasphie for the beta!
Warning: Partly kidfic.
On a camping trip, Jim and Blair share some childhood memories and learn something interesting...
"At first I thought we'd have a great time together, but I should have known he'd turn this into another damn competition."
Those memories of one of the few camping trips he'd been on with his father and brother were ambivalent. However, Jim realized they weren't all bad; it was something he really hadn't wanted to see as long as they didn't communicate. It was a surprise to go back and look at those images like flipping through a long forgotten photo album.
Maybe Blair's idea wasn't so bad at all.
"When I was little, Naomi had this boyfriend, Dean, he really loved the outdoors. Communing with nature and all..."
It was in those early years his mother had taught him to open his eyes to nature, to the majesty of giant trees, the beauty of a sunrise over the mountains, the secrets of the woods. To Blair, it had been a wondrous time where everything seemed possible - even if he knew now that Naomi and her activist friends had often dealt with repression, and their successes were relative in the end.
Anyway, this place where they'd made camp had reminded him of those days, the black silhouettes of the tall trees around them, the sizzling fire, the stars above them bright in the darkening sky.
He'd asked Jim to tell him a story from his childhood.
Setting up the tents was the first challenge. Stephen got some help from their father, but somehow, that didn't help; Jim's extraordinary motor skills (due to a hyperactive sense of touch, but of course, he hadn't known anything about that then) made him complete the task within minutes.
"Are you sure that it won't fall down?" his father asked critically, and Jim frowned.
Typical. Why couldn't he just accept that Jim had won? All the time, he had to question every success, as if Jim was somehow cheating. "Yes, I am," he said sourly. "I'd worry about yours more."
"Jimmy! What's that supposed to mean?" William Ellison's voice held a familiar impatience. Stephen looked uncertain, and it was something Jim couldn't stand.
"Nothing. It's done, okay? I'm going for a walk."
"Don't wander off too far, will you?"
Jim didn't bother to tell his father that the warning was superfluous. He supposed he could go all the way down to the stream, and still hear his father complaining about him. Wishing he could turn all those voices off for once.
He went deeper into the forest. Paying attention to the sounds of different animals, and the scents of flowers, he felt himself relax for the first time since this trip had started. Getting out of the city was always a relief, and here, the voices were more muted, not so scary. In fact, it was pretty cool to be able to see the deer from what he supposed was quite a distance...
After Bud's death, Jim had made a promise to his Dad not to tell any stories about stuff like this anymore, but that didn't have to mean he couldn't do it for himself, right? At least, in a place like this, where nature seemed to embrace him with her calm.
Dean was really cool about being with a single mom - most of the time. That morning, everything had seemed okay; the three of them had breakfast together, and Blair chatted happily about a Jaguar cult of South America he'd read about, declaring he was going to go there soon and find out more about that tribe.
He knew Naomi was incredibly proud of him, for he could already read when he wasn't even in school yet. And it was fun telling the grown-ups about the things in the books.
However, after breakfast, while Naomi had been meditating, Dean had taken him aside. "You know, you're really smart," he flattered. Something about his tone hadn't been quite right; Blair could tell from experience that some people got friendly for the single reason that they wanted something from you, but Dean had been okay so far. "I'm sure you can take care of yourself alone for awhile, can't you? I've got a surprise for your Mom, and I'd like to be alone with her for a bit, if that's all right with you."
There had been no talking about that before this trip, and for all his curiosity, Blair was a bit averse to Dean's idea. On the other hand, he didn't want to spoil the surprise for Naomi, so he reluctantly agreed.
"You can read a watch, right? I'll put some cookies and drinks in your backpack, and you'll be back in an hour, right? I know you'll be okay, you're a big boy, after all."
That assurance made Blair feel a little better. The members of the jaguar tribe in Peru had never shown any fear, so he wouldn't, either.
"You were using your senses even after your Dad forbid it? You know what that means?"
Jim hadn't thought about all this in a long time, and he shook his head in surprise. "It means I couldn't have suppressed them because of what happened after Bud's death."
"So if you stopped using them at will, that's important for us now. It seems like you've always had much more control than you thought you had."
"Maybe. But tell me, this guy really sent you off into the woods alone? At the age of what..."
"Five. I was a clever five-year-old," Blair said with a grin that didn't quite hide different emotions beneath.
The argument with his father was completely forgotten as Jim strolled along the path, passing large trees and dense bushes, and feeling strangely at home here. He could hear the river half a mile away, judging that it was low in its bed due to a longer period of sunny days.
He wouldn't even need a watch to tell what time it was; he'd learned to judge the time of day approximately by the different degrees of warmth from the sun a long time ago. He'd won the competition, after all, so it was up to his father and brother to provide dinner.
Listening again, Jim frowned as his hearing met with the sound of a human voice; a young voice. What was a child doing here alone, talking to himself?
Nope. He was not going to cry. Dean had said he was a big boy, and he would act like one, and any minute now, he'd find the path back to their camp. The one hour had long come and gone, but even if Blair could read a watch perfectly, that didn't mean he remembered the way back, and he'd come by this spot for the second time already which meant he was running around in circles.
Probably would have to stay out here all night, because Naomi and Dean didn't know where to look for him, so he'd be all alone, and there were wild animals...
Wiping his face, he stood in the middle of the path, trying hard to remember where he'd come from the first time - but those trees all looked the same. Maybe he'd get eaten by a bear, and no one would ever know...?
The voice behind him made him jump.
"Hey. What are you doing out here all alone?"
Jim had decided it was time to intervene when the child started muttering about getting eaten by animals - he'd probably been separated from his family somehow. Shaking his head, he wondered what kind of family would let such a young child wander off into the woods.
At the sound of his voice, the boy spun around, hastily wiping his face once more as he regarded Jim curiously through big, blue eyes.
There was quite a bit of suspicion, fitting with the rapid beat of his heart.
"What's the matter?" Jim asked. "You lost?"
The child nodded emphatically, dark curls bouncing. "You, too?" he asked, and Jim suppressed a grin. "No, I was just going for a walk," he explained. "You ran away?"
"No. Dean said he had a surprise for Mom - and that I should come back in an hour."
"An hour? Can you even read a watch?"
"'Course I can," the boy said proudly. "What's your name?"
"Jim. What's yours?" 'Dean', he'd said, so the guy was probably not his father. Another parent who'd run off and never looked back, great. Jim could sympathize.
"You're kidding me. That's a girl's name."
"No, it's not."
The boy's features set in a pout. He turned around and started walking back in the direction he'd come from. Oh well. Jim admitted silently that he'd behaved quite a bit silly himself, and followed him.
"I'm sorry. Okay, Blair --" He had honestly never before met a boy with that name, but anyway... "Why don't you come back with me to our camp? There's my Dad and my little brother, and we're going to figure out how we can find your Mom and Dean."
The boy chatted away happily on their way back to the camp, about tribes of the Amazon in South America, Jaguar cults, and so on - Jim listened with wry amusement, but he couldn't help noticing that there was something enticing about Blair.
Usually, Jim wasn't much interested in younger kids; he had a little brother which was way enough in his opinion, but this was... different.
"You think we're going to find Naomi and Dean?"
He laid his arm around the boy's narrow shoulders and said confidently, "Of course we will."
Friend or foe - Blair had made his decision quickly. He hated being teased about his name, true, but there was something about this older boy who seemed much more serious than others of his age, that made him feel safe. He had promised to find Naomi and Dean, and Blair had no reason not to believe him.
Jim had also listened to all the stories, and even commented - unless most adults who didn't even try to feign interest.
Suddenly, having gotten lost didn't seem so bad anymore, and he was curious about meeting Jim's Dad and brother.
"My God." Blair's eyes were wide with surprise. "I had totally forgotten that! That really means..."
"The day you did that Dr. McKay act wasn't the first time we met." Jim shook his head, smiling, as he opened another beer for both of them. He hadn't thought about that camping trip for a long time. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
William Ellison acted friendly and concerned, but beneath the facade, Jim sensed something that made him angry at his father.
"We should bring him to the next Ranger station, they can try to find his parents then."
"Can't he stay with us for now?"
It was almost as if Jim could read his Dad's thoughts at that moment, //let somebody else take care of the hippie child.// That was what annoyed him; of course it was obvious from Blair's clothes and hairstyle that he belonged to a kind of family the Ellisons usually did not have much contact with.
So who the hell cared? Unfortunately, Jim thought, Dad does.
Catching Blair's anxious gaze at him, he made a decision.
"I knew he'd be pissed as hell, but that was worth it," Jim recalled, self-satisfied.
"You practically kidnapped me. So that's why you keep having to rescue me - karma."
"So Dad is going to get the Rangers. There's no reason why we can't have some fun until they find your folks," Jim announced, determined. "Come on, kid. We're going."
Blair wasn't too sure about this; Jim's Dad had seemed quite a bit intimidating, and he supposed he wouldn't be happy about this, but with the option of becoming a bear's dinner out of the way, his sense of adventure won. "Cool!"
"Yeah. I'm going to show you how to fish. You'll see, it's going to be fun."
*** They walked back up the path into the forest and down to the river, loaded with the necessary equipment -- Jim thought that his Dad would be mad as hell, but that would be worth it. Somehow, he found himself enjoying the company of this little guy who kept nattering away.
And he was reading already, excited about going to school this fall. Jim didn't want to dampen his enthusiasm, but he thought there was nothing special about school. He brought home good grades, but he hadn't made very close friends. He was always too wary not to give anything away, and sometimes, he felt guilty about overhearing teachers talk about tests.
Well, worse had been when Mrs. Madlin had said that there was 'something creepy' about the Ellison kid.
"Okay, here's the spot," Jim announced. "There are many fish in there."
"How do you know?" Blair asked.
"Because I can see--"
But it was too late, the younger boy giggled. "You can't see them from here."
"Yes, little guppy, I can," Jim insisted, even though his Dad had often told him not to talk to anyone about this 'curse'. What harm could come from this boy anyway? He felt much more relaxed already than he had in weeks. "And, I can hear them swim in the water. Just like I can hear your heartbeat."
Blair stared at him open-mouthed, and Jim ruffled his hair, grinning. "You're going to catch flies."
"But... but you are..."
"Yeah, crazy," Jim conceded with a sigh. "My Dad tells me all the time."
"No, no. Naomi gave me book. With Sentinels."
Jim frowned. "What's that?"
"Silly, I told you. They're watchmen for the tribes I told you about. You are."
"Yeah, maybe." He thought that maybe rescuing the kid from his imagined fate of getting eaten by a wild animal had probably led to this. Watchman. His Dad would laugh. silly. "Come on, let's do some fishing now. The adults will be pissed as it is, so maybe we can pacify them with dinner."
Blair watched the older boy with fascination. He really *knew* where the fish were. Together, they caught a few, and maybe he was right and Naomi and Dean would be happy too, just as Jim's Dad and little brother.
Jim seemed so serious, and Blair wished he could come along and travel a bit with him and Naomi; they'd sure have lots of fun. And he could learn more about Jim. Maybe he could even go to elementary school here?
The future was looking much brighter than it had a while ago.
"What the hell were you thinking?" William Ellison demanded. "Wandering off like this; are you nuts?"
Beside him, there was a woman in a colorful skirt and blouse. "What have you been doing with my son?"
Minutes ago, the world had been peaceful. Like little kids do, Blair had suddenly crashed, curling against Jim's side and sleeping soundly the next moment. The warm weight felt weird and comforting all the same. He wasn't usually that close with Stevie, who was his little brother for real.
The kind of connection he felt to this boy, made all the difference. And maybe he had exactly what Jim needed, an answer to the curse.
At least, until the adults intruded on them.
His Dad was furious, and Blair's Mom seemed the same.
"We didn't wander off," Jim said stiffly. "Here's your son, Ma'am. I wouldn't have let anything bad happen to him. Unlike Dean."
The woman blushed at the reproach and bent down to pick up the boy who was just about to wake up. "Thanks for finding him, Jimmy," she said in a calmer voice. "You are right about Dean, though. Come on, Sweetie, wake up. Say goodbye to Jimmy."
"Can't he come with us?" A big yawn was hidden behind a small hand.
Jim had the fleeting thought that Blair and his Mom minus that Dean guy were probably more fun than he was otherwise in for tonight.
"I'm sorry, no," the woman said. "But maybe you can see each other tomorrow; we'll stay for a few more days, without Dean."
"That's not possible," William said. "We're going home first thing tomorrow."
A long, adventurous day was beginning to take its toll on the little boy, and not having his wish met, and being tired, made him a little weepy. When his Mom let him down to hug Jim goodbye, he could smell the salt of tears.
"Don't worry," he said. "I'll find you again."
"Wow. That's one hell of a story," Blair said, his eyes a little bright. "How could I have forgotten that!"
"Well, you were little..." A warning look kept Jim from making the joke that was on the tip of his tongue. "It's pretty amazing though. I wasn't quite sure that all the watchman stuff was for real, but it sure was good not to be called a freak."
"I'm lucky to have met you. Then, and now."
"Yeah, right, Chief. And now let's turn in before this gets any more cozy." Jim shook his head to himself, before he finished his bottle with a long swig.
Only later that night, when Blair was asleep beside him in the tent, and he remembered the boy who'd been so trusty, grown up to be the best friend he could have asked for, he said it,
"I'm lucky, too."
Maybe, one day, they'd be sharing stories again, and he'd even say it out loud.The End