He had no memory of having dragged Sandburg out of the surf. He had no conscious memory of Sandburg at all. Sometimes, through the pounding assault of noise, he heard a gentler sound, one that soothed for a few moments instead of hurting. But it came and went, and he couldn't tell it from the flash of familiar-feeling blue that his vision passed in its wild swings. Clinging to those moments of not-pain was impossible, and he only knew brief surcease when they came, and deeper agony when they were gone again.
Jim couldn't tell he was crying, the sound of his own voice lost in the madness around him, the slight warmth of his own tears inconsequential in the sharp anguish of cold and harsh textures scraping his skin raw.
When the warm pressure descended on his mouth, the flash of pain at the contact was quickly gone, bringing with it the revelation he was capable of a sensation other than pain. Though he didn't know it, his voice stopped its keening, his lips trembling as they moved against the fingers laid there with soft urgency. For no reason he could begin to understand, the touch soothed him, allowed the rest of the torment of his battered body to recede just a little, just far enough he could stop wishing for death in every conscious moment.
The contrast confused him, making his whole body shake with the effort to reconcile the extremes. His own weight resting on the beach drove daggers of pain into his side, yet the pulse of blood faintly woven through the fine strength of the touch over his mouth gave him peace. He needed more of that contact, needed it to enfold him entirely and keep away all the pain, give him the time and a place to heal until he could think again on his own. "Please, Blair," he moaned, not knowing where the words came from or how they could form without his will.
This time, the sounds that soothed him carried meaning as well. "Jim, we have to move to cover. Now."
The contact was lifted, its warmth and the last trace of safety leaving as Blair's hand moved away, releasing him. Jim sobbed aloud at the agony of losing it, at the loss of the only thread of hope he knew.
Urgent and low, the sound nevertheless ripped through him, past the places where his control and defense would have been had they not been torn from him by force. Jim cringed, another sob catching in his throat, the damp, salt-laden air as cruel to breathe as pure fire. Then he gulped another breath, fervently wanting the destruction as much as he had sought salvation moments ago. Either was an end to the torment, the only goal he had left.
Oh, Jim. I'm sorry, man. Oh god I'm sorry. Blair didn't say the words out loud, though. He'd already done enough damage.
For a moment he had thought Jim was responding. Jim even managed to say his name. Then Blair had hissed that warning, and Jim flinched away as though he'd been shot. Hating himself for his carelessness, Blair wept inside, knowing the sibilance must have felt like a damn gunshot to the sentinel's wide-open senses. The big man twisted out of Blair's hands, his face turned desperately away, gulping air and shuddering with every breath.
Light flashed down the beach, across the waves. Loud, angry voices were just beginning to reach Blair over the roar of the surf. They had no need to be quiet. They were sure of their quarry.
Blair felt the heat of panic prickling across his scalp and knotting in his gut, shifting almost at once to a cold, desperate fury. He would not allow this happen. He wouldn't allow them to take Jim again. So all right, Sandburg, he told himself furiously, you've got about two seconds to make a decision, and it damn well better be the right one. Jim can't process language right now. But you've got to make him understand you. Stop the hurting enough to let him see you. Touch you.
Blair reached out again, his hands on Jim's shoulders, but he wasn't strong enough to hold him. Jim writhed away from him, half turning, knees drawn up, his arms crossed desperately over his own face. Terrible sounds poured from his mouth. Gibbers and moans. Soft, broken. Horrific. Hearing them, Blair felt the return of the despair that had nearly drowned them both in the surf.
And once again pushed it aside, raging. Sorry, Jim. You made it this far, now we're gonna survive this or die trying. He reached out, ready to touch the trembling shoulder that was turned away from him, that was trying to turn away from the whole world. But at the last moment he hesitated, unwilling to add more to a sensory burden that had driven Jim into madness.
Then the beam of a flashlight skittered across the sand within a few yards of the place where Jim and Blair lay huddled. If not for the heavy rain defusing the beam's power, the outermost edge of light might have brushed across them. There was no time for delay anymore.
Praying for Jim's forgiveness, praying he was doing the right thing, Blair put his hands on Jim's arm and shoulder and pulled him over onto his back. The sounds breaking from Jim's throat rose, despairing and terrified, so Blair clamped a hand over his mouth, because there was no time left to be gentle. Jim arched up against the pressure, eyes suddenly wide open, but Blair couldn't allow him to escape it. Keeping his hand over Jim's mouth, he flung himself down over Jim's straining body, pinning him to the wet sand with his weight.
In the first shock of contact Jim's back rose in a terrible arc, lifting Blair momentarily, and for an instant Blair thought he wouldn't be strong enough to hold him. But as powerful as Jim was, his strength was defused and broken. He fell back, shuddering, his head turning frantically from side to side, eyes still wide open and blind with terror.
Blair kept his hand pressed over Jim's mouth, but he managed to snake his other arm around Jim's neck. That stilled Jim's thrashing for a moment, but there was nothing in those eyes. Blair felt the tremors running one after another through the body under his own, and it was impossible to believe anything could break through so much trauma and pain.
But then, after a few endless moments, Jim's shuddering did seem to ease, just enough to make Blair think that maybe Jim did understand who was holding him. His heart soared with desperate hope, just as a flashlight stabbed through the darkness again. Jim's pursuers were perhaps a quarter of a mile down the beach.
Blair dropped his head fast. He didn't think they could be seen yet, but time was running out. Jim was breathing hard, limbs twitching, still struggling weakly under Blair's weight. But it wasn't his imagination, Blair thought. Jim wasn't as violent as he'd been even moments before. Then Jim's hands came up. He was still twisting, his head thrown back, muscles straining --
But his hands knotted in the back of Blair's shirt and held on hard.
Jim, Blair thought. Oh, Jim. But this time he was careful not to speak.
Jim's arms locked around Blair's back, holding him so tight his ribs were starting to ache, but the desperation of that embrace filled Blair's heart. He lifted his hand from Jim's mouth. Jim was still making soft noises, but the frantic edge was gone. Blair unwound his other arm from around Jim's neck so he could hold Jim's head with both hands, pushing his chin back to bare his throat. Lowering his head further, Blair touched his lips to the hollow of Jim's neck, tasting salt, feeling the sensitive flesh twitch and flinch under the soft pressure. The arms around Blair's back tightened.
Blair spoke without a whisper of breath, moving his lips against Jim's throat, forcing himself to believe he could reach Jim through the madness and confusion and pain. "Jim. Let me help."
Jim's hands shifted slightly, almost spreading wide, then clenched against Blair's back.
"We've got to go. We've got to get to cover. Jim, please let me help." He wondered how he would know if Jim were even capable of understanding, but there was no other way left to him. Blair had to be doing it right. Jim had to understand, because if he didn't, then the men who had done this to him would find the two of them here like this, and they would finish what they had started.
Jim moaned. So softly that Blair felt the hair on the top of his head moving from the breath and the thrum in Jim's voicebox before he realized he could hear the sound. Then Jim's arms relaxed. Came down, pushed weakly at Blair's shoulders.
Oh, Jim. Blair eased himself up to crouch over him in the sand, sheltering him for those few seconds from the cold downpour. He took Jim's arm, gently as he could, slowly, knowing that every new sensation was a shock to Jim's battered system.
Jim allowed himself to be pulled up. He clutched at Blair, still moaning, and Blair realized from the blind, helpless way Jim reached out that his eyes were shut tight again, but he struggled to his feet nevertheless. Still afraid to risk the violence of speech, Blair wrapped his arm around Jim's waist and urged him forward. Jim's arms were heavy around his shoulders, his fists wrapped around handfuls of Blair's shirt as though he feared Blair would try to get away.
Blair urged him forward, supporting as much of Jim's weight as he could, the two of them lurching awkwardly up the strand toward the meager shelter of the rocky breakwater, barely visible as a deeper shadow against the cloud-blackened sky. In the shadow of the tumbled boulders, under cover of this dark, moonless night, Blair thought they would be able to hide until Simon's people or the feds could find them. They would be here soon, right? Surely Jim had been monitored when he went in. They must know something was wrong by now.
The tiny voice of despair in the back of Blair's head whispered that they should have been there to rescue Jim hours ago.
Then Jim's grip loosened. Blair grabbed desperately at him, trying to pull him along, wrapping his arms more tightly around Jim's waist. Jim wailed aloud as his knees buckled, and pushed Blair away with surprising force. Blair tried to reach for him in time, but he wasn't strong or fast enough to hold him, and Jim crumpled to the beach. Sprawled as if pounded flat by the rain, he shuddered and then went still, only his heaving sides giving any sign of life.
Oh dammit, dammit, dammit. Blair fell to his knees beside him. A few more feet and they would have been in the shelter of the granite boulders. Here they were so exposed the next sweep of the flashlights might well reveal them to Jim's pursuers.
Then Blair realized something. After that first wail of pain, Jim hadn't let another sound escape him. He was still shattered, still broken, but he remembered enough to be quiet.
His sudden understanding of Jim's courage shocked Blair into movement. All weariness and weakness vanished. It would not be in vain. He wouldn't allow it. He lurched to his feet, leaned over, and grabbed one of Jim's outstretched arms, holding the wrist with both hands. Leaning backward, using his whole body for leverage, he dragged the inert form bodily across the last length of open sand. It must have been agony for Jim but hardly a whimper escaped him, even as Blair hauled him around behind the first, huge rock.
In the shelter at last of the tumbled granite boulders, Blair fell to his knees and gathered Jim close. He knew he was being too rough with him, but by this point he needed the comfort of the embrace as desperately as he suspected Jim did. His back against a rock, he hauled Jim up against himself, Jim's back pressed to his chest, Blair's arm wrapped around Jim's ribs. With his free hand he eased Jim's head back, gently, until it rested against Blair's shoulder. Jim was shivering violently, little sounds still escaping him, but they were muffled and soft. Jim was trying so hard to be quiet.
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