[personal profile] starwatcher_fic

Title: Small Victories
Summary: Jim helps out with Blair's good deed.
Style: Gen
Size: 2,365 words, about 5 pages in MS Word
Warnings: None
Notes: March 2005; challenge-story for Sentinel Secrets - "Get Jim and Blair out of Cascade."
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org

Small Victories

by StarWatcher

"It's a damn shame," Jim commented as a commercial replaced the news of the latest tanker oil-leak befouling the northern California coastline.

"Yeah, it makes me sick to think of all those birds and animals dying because some big corporation's too cheap to build their tankers with reinforced, double hulls. Dammit!" Blair tapped his pen restlessly on the notebook as his gaze unfocused, his thoughts several hundred miles away.

Jim grunted an acknowledgement and turned his attention to the sports update, deliberately pushing from his mind the situation that he couldn't control. Ten minutes later, when he snapped off the TV, Blair stirred and spoke.

"Jim, you know I have Spring Break next week, and you always have a buildup of vacation days. D'you think you could get the week off?"

Ellison gave the suggestion due consideration. "I suppose so, unless something big comes up tomorrow or the next day. What's on your mind, Junior?"

"The cleanup. They'll need all the volunteers they can get, to help locate and clean the animals and birds that got all oiled up. I'd like to help, but I don't want to leave you chasing after criminals without my backup, and I'm thinking that your senses would be invaluable in helping to find the ones that are too weak to struggle anymore, and might be overlooked by normal eyes."

"Chief, that sounds like a recipe for heartbreak," he began, gently. "There's no way we can --"

"Jim, I know they can't save every animal, but every one they do save is a victory against Man's careless destruction of the ecosystem. I just want to help, and I know you and I together can accomplish a lot more. You'd be using your senses a lot, but I'll be there, and at least it'll be a different kind of use, not having to filter out all the big-city input. Of course, the stench of crude oil might be a problem, but I'll help you with that. But still, if you're not interested, I understand; I can go alone," he said firmly. "I just hope you'll take the time off anyway, so there's less danger of your senses acting up."

Blair paused in his headlong rush of words, waiting for Ellison's response, knowing he might be asking too much, but desperately hoping that his friend would join him.

Jim studied the hopeful face in front of him as he considered Blair's request. It would hardly be a relaxing break, but it would be a change from his normal routine. And as much as he enjoyed surfing and fishing, wasn't he obligated to give something back, if he could?

"You got it, Sandburg." The brilliant smile he received convinced him he had made the right decision. "You make the arrangements. We'll fly out after work on Friday, be all set to help bright and early on Saturday."

"Oh, man, thanks, Jim! You won't regret it, I promise. I'll get on the Internet right now and check on flights and a hotel room." With a burst of energy, he gathered up books and papers and trotted into his bedroom. Ellison grinned with mild amusement; he wondered how much energy Blair would still have at the end of next week.

"Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Benjamin McAllister, of the Oceanic and Wildlife Animal Rescue Center." The small, slender man pacing the front of the room with energetic movements surveyed the group of about forty volunteers. "I'm grateful to have so many eager helpers today. We'll divide into groups, washers and searchers. Each search team will have an experienced captain to show you what to look for, and how to handle the animals you find. You'll be dropped off at different areas, about half a mile apart. When your team captain feels that you've covered your area thoroughly, you'll be transported to a new spot, half a mile from the last group in line. With luck, we'll be able to cover six or eight miles today." He shook his head at the dissenting murmur that passed through the group. "Small steps, people, is all we can do, but we'll keep progressing in small steps until we've covered the affected area. If we clear eight miles, it means that every live bird or small animal in that area will be captured and brought in for treatment. It's worthwhile work, and I guarantee that you'll feel proud and satisfied at the end of the day, knowing you've helped so many helpless creatures."

He smiled a challenge. "I also guarantee you'll be dead on your feet, and sickened by the smell of the oil, and what these animals have to deal with. It's disgustingly dirty work, and heart-breaking that many creatures you find will have already succumbed. Just remember that every one you do save will be a victory, and every one counts."

Hearing the same words that Sandburg had used to urge his participation, Ellison glanced at the young man sitting beside him. Blair's face was set in firm resolve, and Jim suspected that he'd have to watch his friend as the day progressed, to ensure that he didn't work himself to collapse.

"All right, folks; talking doesn't get the job done. Those who want to help with the washing, follow Tom." He pointed out a big, bearded man standing near a side door. "Searchers, you'll find knee boots and slickers in the back of the room. Choose a set in your size; believe me, you want to keep as much of this stuff off your skin and clothes as you can. Grab a good supply of the plastic gloves, too; when one pair is too fouled up to continue to use, you'll want a fresh pair. When you're kitted out, gather in groups of four or five; your team captain will use one of our vans to take you to your designated area.

The group of three men and four women stood on a bluff above the rocky beach, surveying the devastation in stunned silence. The waves moved sluggishly, weighted down by the deceptively rainbow-colored sheen of oil floating on top. The rocks were coated with black slime that blurred their outlines and obscured all details, and the sand was an ugly matte black that repelled any ideas of approaching it. The reek of the crude oil, even at this distance, had people breathing shallowly, unconsciously trying to avoid the ghastly odor.

At the edge of their group, Blair spoke quietly to his sentinel. "Dial it down, Jim. Your sense of smell will be totally useless out here; no information can get past that stink. Might as well turn it right down to zero, and boy do I envy that ability now." He waited till a short nod confirmed success. "Good. And remember, try not to let any of that stuff touch your bare skin. It won't be easy, even with this gear, but the less you get on you, the less chance you'll have an adverse reaction."

"I know, Sandburg; we covered this last night!" A thread of irritation laced Ellison's voice, and he was beginning to wonder if he should have agreed to this little excursion. Still, he knew he'd have been uneasy if Blair were here without him. "You can quit the mother-hen routine; I said I'll be careful."

"Yeah, I know big guy, just... oh, hell; we'll both be careful, all right?"

"Okay, folks, listen up!" Their team captain was Amy Trenton, a solidly-built woman with graying brown hair. Blair, always eager to talk with the people around him, had learned that she had been with OWARC for seventeen years; her knowledge and experience were impressive. "The trick is to stay sharp, and don't take anything for granted. Watch for the slightest movement; some of these birds and animals are frequently so sick or worn out that they can barely shift their bodies. Examine everything closely; a mess of seaweed on the sand could be disguising an exhausted animal, sprawled out and covered up.

"As Ben said, we'll find dead animals as well as live ones. Use these markers," she was passing out small orange flags on wire stands as she talked, "and put them next to the bodies. This will let the disposal people find them easily; they need to be picked up, to avoid scavengers getting sick from eating the bodies." She pulled a jar of Vicks Vapo-rub from a carry-sack. "Pass this around, and dab some under your nose. Nothing will cut the smell of this shit, but it will make it more bearable." She waited while everyone complied, even Jim dabbing on a little to avoid drawing attention to himself. "Okay, good. We'll work in pairs, because we've found that two sets of eyes in the same area really are better than one. And if you find one that's mobile, you'll have to work it from both sides in order to catch it. Grab your boxes and towels and follow me."

"That one's pretty mobile, Sandburg. I'd think it could manage on its own."

"No way, man! When it tries to clean itself, it'll end up swallowing some of the oil, and that will kill it as sure as any poison." He surveyed the area. "Maybe if we flank it and move real slow, don't scare it, it'll try to hide under that piece of driftwood and we can sneak up on it."

Jim considered what he knew of hunting. "Almost, Chief. I think if it does go to ground, I should go around to the other side before you try to sneak up on it. If it tries to escape, I can catch it as it comes out the backside."

The plan worked as if it had been choreographed. When the small, brown-speckled gull settled under the seaweed-draped driftwood, Blair waited for Jim to take his position on the other side. They crept forward cautiously, pausing when the bird shifted nervously, moving when it settled. Jim's silent gestures told Blair that the hiding place was more accessible from his side, and Blair waited while Jim reached into the tangled mass. At the last moment, the bird recognized its danger and struggled away from the grasping hands. With a quick step forward and outstretched towel, Blair caught it, wrapping the towel around its body and flipping a corner over its eyes to quiet its desperate struggles.

"Great, Chief. Hold him while I get the box."

Leaving the Thayer's gull in the dim, quiet security of the box, they continued down their section of the beach, eyes searching for any movement, or any ill-shaped irregularity that might signify an oiled animal. After a few minutes, Blair called a time out.

"Jim, we're using only half our resources, here. How about we add your hearing to the mix?"

"Sandburg!" Jim's tone combined amusement and exasperation. He gestured toward the ocean. "What we have here is a giant white noise generator, and those guys up there," he waved toward the dipping, wheeling gulls above, "are making a helluva racket. What good's my hearing going to be?"

"You can block that out, man," Blair urged. "Recognize the sound of the waves, and set it aside. Then locate and set aside all sounds that come from above you. What've you got after that?"

Reluctantly, Ellison followed his partner's suggestion. With his back to the ocean, he swept his hearing in a 180-degree arc. Just as he'd thought, there was noth-

"You're right Sandburg; this way!"

Huddled under the overhang formed by a cluster of boulders, its black-streaked brown fur blending perfectly with the shadows, was a half-grown sea otter. It didn't move as Jim gently draped the towel over it and gathered it up, then placed it carefully in the box that Blair was holding open.

"Thanks, Chief," he said, closing the box and tucking it under an arm. "Let's go get the seagull, drop these guys off at the van, and come back with more boxes and towels."

Blair flopped on the bed with quiet groan, although a big smile spread across his face. "Man, am I wiped; Ben was sure right about that! It'll be good to get home tomorrow. But we did great didn't we? Five days to find a hundred and eighty-two birds and animals that'll be rehabilitated and returned to the wild, and thirty-five of 'em were ours. It feels just as good as I thought it would."

"'Ours', Sandburg?" Jim smiled gently at his friend's enthusiasm as he started removing his clothes. "We're not taking any home, unless you're holding out on me."

"Yes, 'ours'," he insisted. "When we rescued those guys, we gave them life -- continued life -- just like they'd been born a second time. I'll never see them again, but just knowing they're out there, where God and Nature intended... it doesn't get any better than this. Admit it; you feel the same way!"

Jim's sternly repressed his smile. "I admit nothing; we had a job to do and we did it well." The disbelieving snort from across the room said that Blair wasn't buying his act, so he let the broad grin break free. "Well, then, we need to celebrate one hundred and eighty-two small victories. How about a steak dinner after we get our showers? Amy told me that the 'Slim Jim's Steakhouse' serves a mean Porterhouse."

"Oh, man, I am so down with that! Hurry up, or I'll sneak in ahead of you."

"Not you or any army will keep me from my shower, Sandburg. I'll be out in ten. Why don't you call a cab, and tell it to be here in half an hour."

Jim stepped into the shower while Blair reached for the phonebook, each man secure in the knowledge that one of the great victories in life was the friendship they had found in each other. It didn't get any better than that.

The End

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