Chapter 6


"Come back, Jim, you know me, you can trust me. I won't hurt you, I could never hurt you, I only want to help you. I'll do anything, Jim, you know that, ask me for anything and it's yours, anything. Shhhh.... Please don't hurt any more, Jim. I need you to be OK, I need you to come back to me." His voice was deep but it shook, and the fingers combing down the back of Jim's neck trembled with exhaustion and a full heart's share of the hurt Jim had suffered. On and on, the same words over and over again, but he had no idea if Jim could understand them and, after an endless while, Blair let his voice trail off, wondering if it were even worth the effort. Maybe silence was better for Jim. Perhaps more sensory input of any kind was the last thing Jim needed.

But almost at once, Jim's sobs began to rise. He turned his head up blindly, seeking. His hands spread wide against Blair's back, then clenched into fists. OK, Blair thought, horrified. So shutting up had been a really bad idea. "Shhh, Jim," he murmured softly, hopelessly, but talking all the same. "Shhh, I'm so sorry. I'm right here. Not going anywhere, you know that. I'm right here with you. I've got you, and I'm not going to let you go." He shifted against the rock, sitting up a little and trying to make Jim more comfortable, but the movement frightened Jim too. He clutched frantically at Blair, pressing his head up, bearing hard against Blair's chest and throat. Crying still.

Blair moved one hand from Jim's back so he could hold his head. "Easy," he said, amazed that his voice sounded so calm when inside he was screaming raw cries of pure anguish. "Easy. I'm right here." He swallowed and went on since Jim needed his voice so badly, choosing his words with care, pausing to compose himself as much as he could while Jim wept, broken and lost in his arms. "Easy, Jim. I'm not going anywhere. In fact, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about," Blair said. He swallowed again, shivering. God, it was cold out here. Where the hell were the Feds? Where the hell was Simon? and how in the name of everything holy could this have happened to Jim?

There was nothing holy in the world anymore. He knew that now. Despair swept over him, blacker and colder than the tide that had nearly drowned them both.

NO!

He shook his head and took a gasping breath of air. "Jim, " he said frantically, anything to keep talking now, "About the grocery shopping next quarter. There's something I've got to talk to you about." He broke off with a laugh that was way too close to being the first few sobs in an endless series. Oh come on, Sandburg, get a grip. For Jim's sake. For Jim if you can't do it on your own.

OK. A little better now.

"Now I know how much you hate going on Saturday morning, and I know I said I was going to be able to work my schedule so I'd be off on Wednesdays and we could go then." He stopped again, but only for a moment, wiping his eyes clumsily with the sleeve of the coat draped over Jim's shoulders. It was wetter than his eyes had been, and added more salt, stinging rather than helping. "But see --" he was losing his voice again, shattered against the rocky face of Jim's anguish. "But see, Jim --" There, he could manage better at a whisper. "There was a scheduling change. Professor Goss's seminar is going to be Wednesday mornings now. So, maybe just for one quarter we could do the shopping thing on Saturday? Ten weeks. Ten Saturdays. That's all it would be."

It was a little easier to talk, once he got into the swing of it. "Maybe we could even trade off Saturdays, so you wouldn't have to lose your weekend like that every week. No reason we both have to go to the grocery story, really." Except that I'm never letting you out of my sight again, Jim. His arms tightened enough to elicit a startled sound from Jim. The sobs didn't stop, but they were quieting a bit. Jim was resting easier against him. Just a little bit, surely. Blair wasn't imagining it. Jim was getting calmer.

Or he's simply too exhausted to keep going any longer, Blair thought an instant later, despair crueler than ever after a fleeting instant of hope. "OK," Blair tried again, "So forget alternate Saturdays. We do it together or not at all."

There was no way Jim could have understood that. Not the way Blair was gasping out the words, his fleeting control slipping away as quickly as it had come to him and, along with it, his ability to pretend there was still a future to look forward to. Any place and time anywhere in the distance that it would matter in the least when he did the grocery shopping.

It was so cold the rock at his back felt like a damn glacier, but there was at least some warmth hoarded between them. Jim's chest and side pressed against his own, Jim's arms wrapped around his back, Jim's hands spread across his back holding on to him, fingers spread wide and trembling on his skin . Blair shifted again, but he was more careful this time, pulling Jim to him as he did, holding him carefully, but with all the strength in his own arms. It wasn't a whole lot by this point.

"So OK, Jim, maybe I'll start coming to the gym once or twice a week with you. I always thought I could keep up, but I've got to tell you, tonight's really taken it out of me." He tried to laugh. All he could really dredge up was a smile, and he had a good idea it was a pretty piss poor one at that. Jim couldn't even see it, with his head down and pressed to Blair's chest. Blair kept smiling anyway, all he could manage, and moved his head, resting his cheek and chin against Jim's temple so that Jim could feel the muscles in his cheek. Rain caught in his hair and drizzled down his face, rivulets so cold he couldn't feel his skin where he wasn't touching Jim, most of his body slowly going numb under the weather's touch.

"But you gotta promise not to laugh, man. I don't have any idea how to use all that fancy equipment -- and free weights, I don't know. Doesn't seem my thing, somehow. Now if they had a yoga class," Blair whispered. "Ever thought about yoga? It's cool. I think you'd like it."

Blair was letting one hand rest on the back of Jim's neck, just below the hairline, his other arm across the broad, smooth curve of Jim's strong back. His hand was at the small of Jim's back, and he could feel muscles twitch and jump under his fingers, everything out of control. Otherwise Jim was still. He was quiet as well, but he wasn't calm, even though he lay against Blair and let Blair rattle on about nonsense. It was the unnatural peace of exhaustion, and perhaps of something worse. Jim was here now, Blair knew that. Half an hour before, out there in the water, Jim had been wholly lost to him, trapped in a private hell. At the time, he hadn't thought anything could be worse than Jim's madness. But as Jim lay huddled in his arms, silent and so still, Blair began to wonder if perhaps there was something more frightening even than oblivion.

Blair kept talking though he had no real idea what he was saying anymore. Talking about trying to find a yoga class they could go to together. Right. Like that's really going to happen. But it was something to keep his voice going while his mind worked frantically.

Take it easy, Sandburg. Jim nearly died tonight. Perhaps a part of him really has died. So he's not just gonna bounce back, no matter how much you want him to. Just keep him safe as you can until Simon gets here. That's all you can do. Try to make sure the two of you don't die of hypothermia in the meantime.

Except, it wasn't enough. Simon might not get there until morning. The men who had done this to Jim might come back. And if they did, Blair would have no way to defend him. He would give his life for Jim, easy, but it wouldn't do any good. It wouldn't delay the inevitable for one single moment. Blair would die beside him because he wouldn't stop short of his own death to protect Jim and couldn't bear to go on alone, but that wouldn't help Jim in the least.

Somewhere along the way he had stopped talking about yoga classes. He heard his own voice with some surprise when he realized what he was saying to Jim. "You can tell me, man, if you think I'm being selfish here, but it's the truth. I can't help it. Things are pretty bad. I should have been able to do more, but I couldn't. Too late, now. Anyway, the bottom line is, it may not matter anymore that I gotta do the grocery shopping on Saturday next quarter. I got kind of a bad feeling that tonight might be it. And if..." Blair's throat closed for a moment. He gasped, just so he could keep breathing, keep talking. "And if it is, Jim -- Jim, I can't stand to let you go on like this. I can't stand it. There's something broken, I know. And it's too soon to ask you to put it back right. I'm not asking you to, not totally. But I need you. I need you, Jim. I'm sorry. I can't just let you go."

Easily, carefully, so as not to frighten him, Blair pulled back the hand that had been cradling Jim's head. Which pocket was the swiss army knife in? He couldn't remember. He felt in his left hip pocket. Geez, his butt was numb. Nothing. He hoped he hadn't lost it in the surf. Maybe he could use a bit of broken shell or something, but it would be messy and hurt worse too. Last thing either one of them needed tonight. More pain.

Hopefully it was in his other pocket. Gently, slowly, he put his left arm back around Jim, and felt in his right hip pocket with his right hand. Jim stirred uneasily against him. There, got it. "OK, Jim," Blair said calmly. "We're gonna shift a little here. It's OK. I'm right here. I've got you. Just going to change positions. It'll be easier like this." He sat up, his arms still around Jim. The knife was hidden in the closed fist resting against Jim's back.

Jim whimpered in fright as Blair tried to shift him sideways. "Hey, hey, it's OK." Blair carefully drew his arm from around Jim's shoulders and stroked his face tenderly, palm cupping the jawline, feeling the quiver there as Jim fought to quiet himself. "I'm here, I'm right here. Not going anywhere, Jim, promise. Just want to change positions here. It's your turn to sit propped against this stupid rock, man. All right? That's all." He drew Jim's head close so he could lay his cheek against Jim's for a moment. His face was warm where it had been pressed to Blair's chest.

Changing places was awkward and slow, but Jim didn't resist being moved, and Blair was as gentle as he could be. He pushed at Jim's shoulders and shifted him around. When Jim was sitting propped against the cold rock, Blair got up on his knees and knelt over Jim's outstretched legs, keeping his weight off Jim's thighs. With his left hand, the one that wasn't holding the knife, he held the back of Jim's head, touching his forehead to Jim's. "There's going to be some blood, now. I know you hate the smell, but I don't want you to be frightened. OK? You still with me?" The rain pelted Blair's back, stinging the bare skin, surprising him with its vehemence.

Blair sat back on his heels and tried to see Jim's face, but the darkness stole all the subtlety from his countenance. It was impossible to see the laugh lines around his eyes and mouth; nothing was visible to Blair but those noble planes, and the shadowed eyes. "There's nothing to be frightened of," Blair said again as he opened the knife.

Jim heard the sound, Blair could tell from the way his head cocked just a little. "Easy, now," Blair said. Way down inside, he wondered if he was as far gone by this point as Jim was. He wished he could just shut his eyes, but with his luck, and badly as his hands were shaking, he'd probably miss. "Easy," he said again. "Don't freak, man."



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