Chapter 52

He dropped his hand again, this time resting his fingers on Jim's head. "Going to have to get up again," he told Jim quietly. "But it's just for a couple of minutes, and I'll be right back." Even in the dim light, Blair could see the drawn lines of tension at the corners of Jim's closed eyes and the edges of his mouth, as though he had closed his eyes in an attempt to remember something terribly important, not like a man escaping into the peace of sleep. Blair kept himself from reaching out and stroking his thumb across the tense lines on Jim's face, despite how he wished to smooth them away. He was afraid the intimacy of that touch would awaken Jim, and he needed sleep so badly. A few hours of real sleep would probably do far more for Jim than Blair could accomplish with a grab bag of supplies from the pharmacy. "Right back," he said again anyway, and his voice seemed to reach Jim in sleep, because Jim breathed out a long, deep sigh, and the hand laid over Blair's thighs twitched.

Blair set the paper and his pen aside, then laid his hand over Jim's and slowly lifted it, freeing himself from Jim's unconscious embrace. "Not going far," he murmured, laying Jim's hand down on the sheet as he scooted away from him. "Just sleep. Don't worry about a thing."

But Jim's eyes opened at once, lost pools of blue alight with fear in the shuttered room, and he cried out for Blair in a voice Blair knew he would hear in his nightmares.

"Jim, no, hush, I'm here, I'm right here." He didn't even know what he was saying as he curled over Jim, laying his cheek against Jim's and trying to wrap his arms around Jim's shoulders. "Jim, I've got you, everything's going to be all right now."

Jim made soft sounds, pressing himself desperately into Blair's embrace. Blair heard his own name, but he couldn't make out anything else. He didn't think Jim was actually saying anything else, still more asleep than awake, voicing cries of need. Exhausted echoes of the things he had screamed only a few hours ago, before Blair had found him, and the thought was more than Blair could stand. No matter how badly Jim needed to sleep, Blair couldn't leave him in that nightmare. "Jim," he said, his voice a little louder. One arm was still behind Jim's trembling shoulders, but he brought the other around as he lifted his head from Jim's cheek, and brushed his fingertips across Jim's moving lips. "Jim, it's all right," he said, desperately wishing he could make that true. "I'm here." He spread his hand across Jim's face, softly stroking Jim's bristly cheek, the skin still a little damp from the shower. "Come on, you remember. It's really me. It's all over now, I promise." He laid his hand across Jim's forehead, gazing intently into Jim's wide, frightened eyes. "You're with me. I won't let anyone hurt you."

Jim gasped for air in short, hard pants, exhaling with harsh subvocal cries as though every breath hurt him. He twisted in Blair's embrace, managing to roll onto his back. The arm that wasn't caught between himself and Blair was flung open, outstretched so it lay off the bed from just below the elbow. His hand clenched into a fist, slowly twisting, muscles flexing up his arm. As though he were bound, at the elbow and wrist, Blair thought, horrified. Trying to pull himself free from the ropes his body remembers.

"Jim," he pleaded, half-crawling over Jim so he could catch Jim's fist and draw it back. Jim wasn't just damp from the shower, a fine sheen of cold sweat was making his skin moist. "Listen to me, please." He managed to tuck Jim's fist under his chin, running his hand gently down Jim's forearm. His other hand was on Jim's face. He spread his fingers across Jim's cheek, then ran his hand back through the soft bristle of damp hair. "Jim," he said a last time, his voice breaking, and Jim's eyes cleared suddenly.

He gazed up at Blair, and his lips moved. "Chief."

"That's right," Blair said, his own voice just as soft.

Jim's fist uncurled against Blair's throat, and his fingers stroked upward, losing themselves in the tangle of wet hair at the back of Blair's neck. "Think I was dreaming," Jim remarked, the tone almost conversational save for the hoarseness of his terribly quiet voice.

Blair nodded. A lock of hair swung down and brushed Jim's face. "I think so. Just take it easy, OK?" He spoke in less than a whisper. "You're safe. We're both safe."

Jim's nod was more cautious. "We're at your motel?" he asked softly.

"That's right." Blair tried to tuck the stray lock behind his ear, but when he did, a wave of damp hair fell in its place. Blair smiled helplessly and tilted his head so at least it wasn't falling in Jim's face. "You finally fell asleep."

"Good," Jim said, his voice soft and serious. "Probably need to rest. Was I asleep long?"

"No," Blair had to tell him. "Five minutes maybe?"

Jim exhaled and his eyes closed. "Seemed like longer," he confessed sadly. He seemed to realize then that he was still holding Blair over him, one hand knotted so firmly in the hair at the back of Blair's neck he couldn't move away, even if he'd wanted to. With an effort Blair could see in the determination on his face, Jim unclenched his fist and let his arm fall.

Blair shifted away, but only far enough to the side so he could stretch out beside Jim, one arm resting carefully over Jim's stomach, his head resting with equal care upon the soft place under Jim's shoulder. He knew the heat of his flesh against the burns on Jim's chest must be hurting him, but this closeness seemed more important to him than whatever pain the contact might have caused. Weak as Jim was, his arm came up behind Blair's back and patted his shoulder, then remained there, cradling Blair in a gentle embrace.

"It's going to be all right," Jim whispered to him, after a long moment of silence. He turned his head to press a brief, soft kiss to Blair's forehead. "I felt it, just before I fell asleep." His voice was so low Blair wasn't even sure he was understanding the words. His heart understood them, though. He felt the painful, joyous weight even while he was still trying to figure out exactly what Jim meant.

"It is going to be all right," Blair murmured in return, telling Jim the one thing he was sure of. He could feel the heat of his own breath warming the space between his face and Jim's throat. "It's going to take a little time, I know, but you'll get there, and I'll be with you the whole time."

Jim went very still, his arm tensing where it lay around Blair's shoulders, and for a moment Blair wondered wildly if he had said that wrong somehow. Then Jim whispered, low and urgent, "Someone's coming."

His arm tightened around Blair as if he would draw him closer, wrap protection around him, and Blair pressed himself against Jim's side to let him know he accepted that shelter, even as he answered very quietly, "Shh, it's OK, it's just the front desk guy coming for the money. He's gonna go get us some stuff."

Jim's breathing paused and Blair knew he was straining outward to verify the identity of the intruder, risking resubmerging himself in the hell of uncontrollable input to ensure no danger approached. With a gentle squeeze, Blair drew Jim's attention back to him. "Hey. Quit that." He patted Jim's side, carefully keeping his movements slow and predictable. "Even if it isn't him, there's nothing either of us can do about it, so don't get all hyper-vigilant on me here." He began wriggling backward slightly, drawing away, and the air felt cold on his skin where the dampness between them made their bodies stick together a little bit. "I gotta get the list, man, and I need you to tell me if I forgot anything."

The arm around his shoulders had pulled tighter instinctively, fighting the separation, but then Jim let it fall open, releasing him completely. Instead of continuing to shift backward, Blair laid down over Jim's arm and rolled onto his back so he could reach the list where it lay on the center stand. Grabbing it, he rolled back, coming to a stop against Jim's side. "OK, I got breakfast here, just plain basic stuff, and Neosporin, some Bayer, bottled water, a couple rolls of sterile gauze, tape, and mineral oil. And I thought maybe a toothbrush for you, and baking soda. We'll want to get out of here eventually. How's that sound?"

"Mineral oil?" Jim asked, a crease of puzzlement between his brows.

"Yeah, I figured you'd probably strained quite a few muscles with -- well, with everything that's happened, and I thought I could work on rubbing those out later when you're feeling better." He raised his eyebrows questioningly. "You think it would help any?"

Jim looked blank, as if he didn't understand the explanation and Blair had to smile quickly to keep his face from crumpling into tears. "Don't worry about it, we'll leave it on the list and if we don't need it, no big deal, OK?" The expression in Jim's eyes was still lost, and Blair wasn't sure what to say next. The, sudden, violent pounding on the door kept him from having to come up with anything.

The sound startled and infuriated him. He could feel the echo of each thunderous contact between the door and the desk clerk's fist in Jim's body flinching beneath him and, twisting in place, he yelled angrily at the door, "I'm coming, already, give it a rest!"

"I ain't got all day, dude, hurry it up." The surly answer yelled back at him was inconsequential, practically unheard under the hoarse gasping sob that rattled in Jim's throat. Pinned by Blair's body over his arm, Jim couldn't curl up, but he was trying anyway, weakly pulling away to face the wall, his legs drawing up and catching on the sheet as he tried to retreat from the assault of sound.

"Oh, god, Jim, I'm sorry," Blair whispered in misery, hunching over him helplessly. "I wasn't thinking at all, I'm sorry." He couldn't even stay here to comfort Jim, not if he wanted to get those supplies. Telling himself that getting the food and medical supplies would help Jim more in the long run, and trying to make himself believe it, he pressed his hand to Jim's cheek. His hand shook with his conflicting need to be only tender. "I have to go, Jim, but it's just for a minute, honest. You gotta hang on here for me, please. Just a minute or two, that's all, I promise."

Return to the Inner Sanctum