Chapter 58


"It might be great coffee," Blair said a bit too quickly, a little too loudly, trying to banish the echoes of those screams from his imagination. Jim stirred uneasily, then pressed closer against him, and Blair spoke more carefully as he drew his hand over Jim's head again. The words were less important than the kindness of his touch, whether he caressed Jim with his hand or his voice, and he made them both as gentle as he had ever been before. "It won't be, I know, but remember last night, how good we thought it would taste when we finally got some? It would be so hot and strong and wonderful, and we wouldn't even mind if it was burnt and stale, so long as it didn't taste like seawater."

Jim's head moved the slightest bit, enough to be felt, not enough to tell whether he was remembering the same thing, or agreeing about the coffee, or merely settling more comfortably. It didn't matter. "Aw, Jim, I'm sorry, I didn't tell him to bring any raised glazed donuts with the breakfast stuff. It's hard to screw those up, and you would have liked that better than eggs or cereal even."

The damp spot where Jim's tongue had touched his skin felt cool next to the warmth of Jim's head resting heavily on his breast. It was a transient chill, limited to the surface and gone long before the deep core of banked white heat rekindled by Jim's trust had settled down to a steady background of gentle power. Blair's eyelids drooped, sliding closed as he stroked Jim's head one last time, allowing his hand to continue down past the prickle of hair, skimming over the smooth skin below the hairline until his palm flattened over the coarse weave of the coverlet laying over Jim's back.

In the dim half-light of the room, the shapes of the furniture began to blur and shift, melting into each other and from there into darkness as his eyes drifted shut. The world slowed and quieted until the only thing he was aware of was the loose-limbed weight of Jim's body secure within his embrace.

Another breath and he would have slipped into sleep, the vertigo of its pull drawing him down, but the peaceful fall was broken by a sharp edge of sudden tension that spiked through Jim. With a half-caught breath, Blair jerked awake, his arms tightening protectively around Jim's back. "What is it?" he whispered, raising his head off the pillow and straining to hear what Jim was reacting to. There was nothing he could detect beyond the sound of the air conditioner humming in the room next to theirs and the distant slamming of a door.

Jim's head moved, the weight of it lessening fractionally, the brush of his hair shifting over Blair's skin and leaving cool air in its wake. "Somebody outside," he rasped, his voice so low Blair could barely understand the words.

A second later, a thump against the door made Blair start in alarm, his whole body twitching with reaction. "If he bangs on the door I'll go strangle him myself," he muttered, his arms still close and tight around Jim's shoulders, holding on as if he could protect him from the battering noise. Under the pressure of his hold, he could feel Jim's ribs move with a huff of breath that could only have been a laugh. "I will," Blair insisted with mock severity, an illogical smile pulling at the corners of his mouth and making his voice sound indulgent. "I'll go running right out there and wring his scrawny, pimply little neck. You'd be so proud of me."

Close against his side, Jim's hand shifted, the wrist flexing from its loose drape until the palm rested with deliberate firmness over the curve of Blair's ribs. Then it lifted, once, twice, a gentle pat that brought a quick flash of heat to his eyes, because he knew what it meant. I already am. But pride was only a little part of all Jim was telling him, and Blair knew that too. He answered the same way, drawing his hand up to run over Jim's head again, so lightly he put no force on the slight tension in Jim's neck, even though he loved the full weight of that head resting peacefully on his chest.

The second part of his response was harder, but he knew it was as important to Jim. "I'll just go get the stuff," he said, his voice as steady and casual as if there could have been no reason at all why he would not simply stand up and go to the door. As he had known it must, Jim's head nodded, neck stiff with the strain of holding himself suspended above Blair. Sharp heat prickled at his sinuses as Jim dropped his head down to lay heavily on Blair's chest, as if taking one last memory of the sound of his heart, even while he dragged his leg off of Blair's thighs and shifted away to the side, his hand trailing last like a lingering farewell.

All he could do to honor Jim's strength was to act as though he had not noticed the effort it took. As Jim slid the last of his weight off, Blair lifted his arms from around Jim's shoulders and rolled toward the edge of the bed. Moving as quickly as he could without appearing to be in a hurry, he swung his feet over the side and stood up, taking the first couple steps toward the door without thinking of anything but grabbing the stuff and getting back to Jim as quickly as possible. The hoarse sound of Jim breathing his name stopped him in his tracks and he swung around, prepared to slide back in to enfold Jim if it was needed and to hell with the stuff, it could sit out there all day if it had to.

But Jim wasn't calling him back, he was smiling again, those tiny lines around his eyes showing what his bruised mouth could not. "Sandburg," he said, his voice hoarse from disuse, but still stronger than it had been only an hour ago. "Put something on. You'll scare the horses."

Blair snorted in surprised, happy laughter. He put his fists on his hips, trying to be dignified, and suspecting he was anything but. The look in Jim's eyes pretty much confirmed that. "If we haven't scared the horses by now, man, I don't think we've got anything to worry about." Jim actually raised one eyebrow at that. Blair could have kissed him, but instead he grumbled happily, "All right, but only because I couldn't bail either one of us out of a public nudity charge this morning."

He walked back around the bed to the closet alcove. His change of clothes was still stuffed down in his backpack. Clean shirt and jeans, and oh good, crumpled up there at the very bottom, a pair of boxers. He stepped into the boxers and pulled them up, swaying a little when he straightened up too fast. God, he was tired. And it didn't matter. He pushed the weariness aside irritably, like mosquito netting hanging inconveniently before his path, and made his way to the door. He looked over his shoulder at Jim before he opened it. "Probably be a good idea to cover your eyes," he said quietly.

Jim obediently brought his hand up and hid his eyes. Blair swallowed hard and turned back, checking through the spy hole first. There was no one outside that he could see. He eased open the door to find three bags piled up on the sidewalk, leaning on the threshold: a white plastic pharmacy bag, and two grease spotted, brown paper ones. The smell of coffee and toast was maddening, intoxicating. Blinking in the bright sunlight, Blair snatched up the bags and carried them in, depositing them on the dresser by the TV before he turned and pushed the door shut behind himself. Jim was still covering his eyes in that childlike, trusting gesture.

"It's OK, now, Jim," he said. "Hey, we got food." Jim lowered his hand, eyes still closed, little lines radiating out from the corners drawn darker with shadows. "Smells great, doesn't it?" Blair opened the first bag and found, as he expected, two extra large styrofoam cups, coffee stains on their lids. He hauled them both out along with a greasy receipt that indicated breakfast had cost $9.63. That reminded Blair of his change and, with little hope, he checked the other bags as well. There was no receipt from the drugstore, and no change. He sighed. Oh well. He'd confront the kid when they got out of here.

He carried the coffee cups to the table between the beds, and set them down carefully. "What do you think?" he asked Jim quietly, easing himself down on the edge of the bed and reaching out to put a hand on Jim's shoulder. "Can you sit up? Maybe try to eat something?"

Jim's eyes opened in the dim light. He looked up at Blair, and then at the cups on the bedside table. "Oh, come on," Blair heard himself pleading. "Just a bite or two? I'm sure it'll make you feel better."

Jim's eyes closed again, but he reached out and grasped Blair's forearm tightly and nodded, his head moving against the pillow. "You ready?" Blair asked quietly. He stood up so he could brace Jim as he sat up very, very slowly. Jim was trembling, his head bowed, the muscles in his shoulders corded and tense with the effort. He propped himself laboriously on his elbow, drawing his knee up and then shifting on his hip so he could rest his back against the head of the bed. "Jim?" Blair reached out, laying the backs of two fingers against Jim's cheek. "You still with me?"

Jim opened his eyes. "With you," he whispered.

"All right," Blair said in quiet triumph. He felt himself beaming at Jim. "It all gets better from here, right? It has to. It just has to." He laid his hand on Jim's shoulder, squeezing gently. "Start with some coffee?"

Jim looked a little uncertain about that. Blair smiled harder and felt an odd, tight pain in his jaw. Weird. He put his hand up and felt the sore place at the hinge of his jaw. He couldn't remember where that had come from. So much flailing around tonight, there was no telling when it had happened.

Then he saw the look in Jim's eyes had gone from uncertain to grieved. "Hey," Blair said quickly. "Stop it. I'm fine. We're both gonna be fine, remember? You notice how I keep having to tell you the same thing over and over again?" That wasn't coming out right. He made himself stop babbling and leaned forward, planting his fist on the bed to balance himself as he touched his forehead to Jim's. "And I'll keep telling you," he said, very softly. "Just as long and as often as we both need to hear it. OK?"


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