Land is Kind
A/N: Unbeta'd, though I did spellcheck. The title is from a song called Romeo. The whole line goes something like, The land has been kind to me. I want to rest now.
It's a beautiful day for a drive, early in the autumn, when the air is a dry sort of cold. The sky is a uniform shade of gray - like a blanket, Sandburg says. I leave the descriptions to him.
A companionable silence surrounds us. I drive and listen to the wind. It's fast, but not raging; this would be a good day. By my side, Sandburg nods, as if agreeing with my unspoken words.
It was a while, a long one, before we saw Naomi again. Sandburg worried endlessly.
"Like your guilt isn't bad enough," he told me one day, "I have to hers to deal with, too." Which was my not-so-subtle cue to stop offering him tea and rides every five seconds.
I'm pretty sure she came to see his graduation. I smelled her in the hallway when we left the auditorium. Her scent is... Unique is a good word for it. So is pungent. And besides, I've been trying to catch signs of her since the ceremony began.
Wishful smelling, Sandburg called it later, and cracked up at his own lame joke.
She finally showed up three years after that. We came back one evening, and there she was, waiting for us beside the door. She lost a lot of weight, and the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth were deeper.
Sandburg was hugging tightly her before I could say hello. I offered her my hand; she took it, and pulled herself closer to hug me just as tightly. Eventually, she let go and we followed Sandburg inside. She talked to him while I cooked, and I did my best not to listen.
After dinner, she said, "Would you boys mind if I stayed for a couple of nights? I'm thinking of finding an apartment around here."
Blair, eyes shining, said, "That's great! Of course--"
I stayed doubtful. In Sandburg land, you never knew what 'a couple of days' meant. I didn't say anything, of course; a guy's mother is his mother, and you can't turn family away, even if you kind of expected them to stay in a hotel.
Amazingly, though, she found an apartment. It was only five minute's walk away from the loft, but it was all hers - and bought, not rented.
Sandburg was happy as anything to have her around. From the looks of it, the pleasure was mutual. I remembered the way she once looked at that charlatan Springs, and her eyes now held the exact same shade of adoration when she looked at my partner.
She came by often; Blair had given her a key, and she wasn't afraid to use it. Sometimes it was a blessing, like when we'd come home after a really bad day to find something cooking and the loft lit and warm. She even learned to cook according to my, uh, sensitivities.
One of these evenings rolled by, and I came home alone for once. Sandburg called and told us not to wait for him, so we didn't.
Eventually, I said, "It took you some time to come back."
She sighed. "You're right, Jim. It did."
"You know, I'm curious. Why now?" I got up and began clearing the table.
"It was time. I needed to get to know Blair."
I stopped and looked at her.
"He changed so much-- in a good way. And you've been a lot of help to him." She pursed her lips and shook her head. "No, I'm not saying it well at all. What I mean to say is-- Jim," and she pierced me with a semi-pleading gaze, "I hurt him so much. First I tried to change him, then I avoided him."
With a tremulous smile, she said, "I think I'm ready to deal with him as he is now."
It was a good summer. Naomi came over at odd times, and Sandburg called her every evening. He kept expecting her wanderlust to take over, and it kept not happening. He asked me one night whether some people were just born to roam. I waved it off and distracted him with a beer.
He still looked bothered. I made lasagna the next day, and called to invite Naomi over. Just in case. Later I heard them talking to each other. I turned on the TV and concentrated on the game.
On her way out, Naomi paused to look at me. "I never thanked you, Jim. For both of us."
She was out of the door before I could answer.
We found her an hour or so after she passed away. Blair had called, she hadn't answered. In the note she left, she told us about the tumor.
"I don't want to die bit by bit," she wrote. "I don't want to go suffering. I love you, Blair, and I've missed you terribly. You've become a better person than I had any right to hope."
He cried for a couple of nights. He'd never missed her before, since he always knew she'll be back, but he was already more familiar with grief than I liked to think about. Maybe it made things easier.
We're pretty high up, but Sandburg isn't flinching for once. He opens the urn and tips it slowly over the edge. The ashes are slightly heavier than dust, but they still float. I track them until they're out of sight.
"She'd have loved that," he says, quietly. "It's a shame she can't always just go with the winds."
"No one can. We all hit the ground sometimes." I grope for something comforting, and come up with, "It's good, coming back to land. She said the land was kind to her."
"Yeah. It was."
It's a long walk down and a longer drive, but it's good to be back. The memory of Naomi, her footsteps and her voice, is embedded in the loft now.
Even free spirits need a home. Naomi, I hope, found one.
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