Jim makes an effort to minimize his limp as he walks through the bullpen to Simon’s office. He ignores the sympathetic glances and tries not to see the pity in the other detectives’ eyes. He knocks perfunctorily, knowing Simon is expecting him.
Simon’s deep voice calls out, “Come in!”
Jim enters and closes the door behind him, grateful to be away from the curious stares of his co-workers. “Hey, Simon.”
“Good to see you up and around,” Simon says immediately, coming around from behind his desk. “Sit down.”
“I’m okay,” Jim protests, knowing that he sounds a little peevish. “Really.”
Simon gives him a sharp look, but he retreats behind his desk, giving Jim the space he wants—and needs. “I know you’re not thinking about returning to work yet.”
“I’m not cleared,” Jim confirms, as though that’s the only thing that would keep him from coming back right this minute.
The truth is a little more complicated than that.
“What can I do for you, Jim?” Simon asks gently.
Jim blinks and looks away, unable to meet Simon’s eyes. Simon had worked harder than anyone—other than Blair—to find Jim before O’Dell finished the job.
And that’s why Jim thinks he can make this request.
“I want to take Blair somewhere,” Jim says. “Just—get away for a while.”
Simon rubs his chin. “You know Blair has used just about all his vacation time on this, don’t you?”
“Then I can donate some of mine,” Jim replies a little desperately. “I know it’s been done in the past, and we need to get away from all of this—just for a week or two.”
“Since you don’t take a day off unless you’re injured, you’ve got the time to give away,” Simon agrees. “All right, I’ll make it work. I didn’t think I’d get either of you back until you were cleared anyway.”
Jim smiles, relieved that he doesn’t have to fight for this, too. “Thanks, Simon.”
Simon nods. “I know you’re fine, but how’s Blair?”
Jim looks away. “That’s kind of why I want to get out of town for a while.” He sighs. “Blair isn’t exactly talking to me right now. He keeps asking how I am, but he won’t talk about how he’s doing.”
“Which is why you’re getting away for a while,” Simon says knowingly.
That isn’t the only reason, but Jim can’t quite articulate why it’s so important to get out of Cascade. Partly, it’s because he thinks it might help Blair, who doesn’t seem comforted by the familiar surroundings of the loft. Partly, it’s because Jim suspects that if they stay in Cascade, one or both of them will be pulled back into work before either of them are ready.
And partly it’s because Jim feels helpless in the face of Blair’s quiet rage and despair, and he has no idea how to fix it. He has no idea how to break through to him.
“Where are you going to go?” Simon asks.
Jim thinks of a vacation he took once, when he was on leave from the Army while briefly stationed at Fort Bragg. The Outer Banks had been beautiful. Many of the beaches had also been designated wildlife refuges, and there had been stretches of beach devoid of human presence.
That’s where he wants to go, because he thinks the quiet will do Blair good. He thinks it will do the both of them good, and maybe he’ll be able to break through the walls Blair has thrown up.
“I’ll give you the address,” Jim says. “And the phone number.”
Simon nods. “I’ll arrange it, and I promise I won’t contact you unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“Thanks, Simon.” Jim holds his hand out to Simon, and is surprised when Simon comes around the desk to pull him into a quick hug.
“I’m glad to see you up and about,” Simon says. “I had a bad few days. We all did.”
Jim nods, astonished. “Yeah,” he manages, unable to come up with any other response. “So did I.”
Simon claps him on the shoulder, almost as though he’s reassuring himself that Jim is alive and in one piece—relatively speaking.
When Jim emerges from Simon’s office, he finds that most of the other detectives have found a reason to be up from their desks. Joel is the first to greet him, asking immediately how Blair is doing. Jim figures his own state is fairly obvious.
“He’s hanging in there,” Jim replies, in lieu of a better response. “I think he’s still worried.”
“He’s not the only one,” Joel says, before Jim is inundated with well wishes from Henri and Rafe and Connor.
“Tell Blair we’re thinking of him,” Connor says.
Jim smiles wryly. “Of course.”
“Not that we aren’t thinking of you!” she insists, flushing slightly. “It’s just that you’re here, and we can see how you are, and Sandy—”
“Yeah,” Jim replies. “I know.”
And he does know, because Jim has seen combat on several continents, and he’s pretty sure he’s seen it all at this point. Blair has only been a cop for nine months, and though he’d been through a lot in his time as an observer, it isn’t the same thing.
“I’m looking out for him,” Jim promises her.
Connor nods, as though satisfied. “Take care of yourself, too, Jimbo.”
“I think Blair’s doing that for me,” he says with a smile, but he knows it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. He’s too worried for that.
The girl is young, little more than a child, and her face is bruised, tears trickling out of the corners of her eyes. Blair wants to go to her, to offer some measure of comfort, but his feet are rooted to the floor. He sees O’Dell approaching her, wearing a bloodstained t-shirt and jeans, knife in hand.
He can’t look away from the girl, and Blair sees the knife reflect the light as O’Dell raises it above his head.
Blair’s vocal chords are as frozen as his feet, and Blair can’t cry out, he can’t stop what he knows is coming. The man brings the knife down, slicing the girl open from sternum to navel, and then he turns his attention to the far wall.
Blair sees Jim hanging from a meat hook suspended from the ceiling. Jim’s hands are bound, his arms stretched above his head, his bare feet just trailing the floor.
Blair wants to go to him, or at least to shout some kind of encouragement, but he still can’t move, can’t speak. Jim is unable to defend himself, and the knife flashes again—
Blair wakes with a gasp, Jim’s blood red in his vision. So much blood
In reality, the girl had been dead by the time they’d arrived on the scene, and blood had soaked the waistband of Jim’s chinos. The only saving grace had been that O’Dell was taking his time with Jim, which had given Blair just enough time to shoot him—five shots center mass.
Blair isn’t sure what pisses him off more—that he’d been forced to kill the man, or that it had been so easy. He still isn’t sure, especially since it’s mostly his fault that it had happened in the first place.
Blair hears the front door open, and he pushes himself up and off the couch, pasting on a cheerful expression. “Hey, how did it go?” he asks.
Jim shrugs. “Everybody asked about you.”
Blair watches Jim’s progress through the loft, his uneven gait as Jim makes his way to the fridge and pulls out a couple of beers—and he thinks, my fault. All my fault.
“You’re on pain meds,” Blair objects when Jim uncaps two bottles.
Jim smiles briefly. “I haven’t taken anything recently, and I won’t take anything for another couple of hours.”
“That’s cutting it close,” Blair remarks.
“You know I hate the way those meds make me feel,” Jim says, handing Blair one of the bottles. “Besides, I need to talk to you about something.”
Blair feels a short burst of panic, and tries to keep it under tight control. He’s deathly afraid that Jim is going to say, “Thanks for everything, but you fucked this up, and you’re gone.”
“Yeah, sure,” Blair manages. “Whatever you want to talk about, man.”
Jim waits until they’re both seated in the living room before he says, “I think we should get away.”
Blair blinks, because that’s about the last thing he’d expected. “Excuse me?”
“I donated some of my vacation time to you,” Jim explains, sounding uncharacteristically hesitant. “I know you’re close to maxing out. I’ve got the plane tickets, and a house rented. I can probably get some of the money back if you don’t want to go.”
All Blair can think to ask is, “Where?”
“North Carolina, the Outer Banks,” Jim replies. “I was there once, and I thought you’d like it.”
“You liked it there?” Blair asks, none too sure of his own judgment right now.
Jim shrugs. “Yeah, I did. It was peaceful.”
Peace isn’t something Blair expects to find again, but he responds with, “That sounds good. Yeah, I’ll go. So, tell me about the station.”
Jim does, but his eyes droop as he speaks, and Blair reminds himself that the doctor had said this was perfectly normal. Jim would sleep a lot as he healed.
Blair takes the half-empty bottle out of Jim’s hand before he drops it. “You should sleep.”
“Don’t really want to climb the stairs,” Jim mumbles.
“Then stay here,” Blair says, helping him to stretch out on the couch. He takes the blanket from the back of the couch and throws it over Jim. “Sleep.”
Jim mumbles incoherently, and Blair sits down in the recliner, intent on watching him. In a couple of hours, Jim will wake up, in pain, and Blair will be ready.
He’ll always be ready; he owes Jim that much at least.
The flight is harder on him than Jim expected. The hum of the engines grates on his ears, and he can feel the vibrations down to his bones, and that’s after the trip through the airport set his injuries to throbbing.
“There’s no shame in taking the meds, man,” Blair murmurs as the stewardess begins coming down the aisle to take their drink orders.
Jim wants to argue. He wants to insist that he’s just fine, thank you very much, but he can’t fool Blair. “Just the Tylenol,” he insists. “You know the other stuff knocks me on my ass.”
“Tylenol for now, then,” Blair agrees. “But once we land, and we get where we’re going, you’re taking them.”
Jim grunts in response.
“We should have waited a little longer,” Blair frets.
“Too much longer and neither one of us would have had enough vacation time to take this trip,” Jim points out. “Besides, I can recuperate just as well on the beach as at home.”
Blair subsides and hands Jim his Tylenol. Jim wishes he were recovered enough to surf, but he’s not stupid enough to try. It’s going to be another few weeks before he’s up to surfing.
At least he will be able to surf again someday.
It’s a relief to get off the plane, to stretch his legs and leave the humming of the engines behind. Blair insists on getting both their bags, and Jim doesn’t argue, instead limping after him, grateful that his knee had only been wrenched.
He’s grateful for a lot of things these days.
Jim would have preferred renting a truck or an SUV, but climbing into one would have presented a problem. Instead, he’d booked a full size sedan, and willingly handed the keys over to Blair.
“Maybe you should take your pills now,” Blair suggests.
“And leave you to haul my ass into the rental house?” Jim asks. “I can wait until we arrive. You have the directions?”
“Great.” Jim leans his head against the window and trusts Blair to get them there.
The sky-blue house Jim has rented is on stilts, but then most of the houses in the area are. Jim leans heavily on the railing, but he makes it up the stairs without falling over, so that’s a small mercy.
“You really went all out, man,” Blair remarks as he follows Jim inside. The walls are painted in pastels and hung with quirky seascapes and contemporary paintings.
The furniture is wicker and canvas, and the cushions are well padded. The sitting room is all clean lines and large windows, opening into a well-lit kitchen. Blair walks down the hall to find a large, luxurious bathroom, and two large bedrooms. He drops Jim’s suitcase in the room nearest the bathroom and snags Jim’s medications.
“Hey, I’ve got your meds,” Blair calls, but he doesn’t see Jim immediately. The French doors to the deck are open, though, and Blair steps outside to find Jim leaning against the railing.
“Look at this view,” Jim says with a smile.
Blair looks out at the ocean, the blue-green water crashing up against the shore. He glances up and down the beach to see other nearby houses painted in shades of blue and green and pink, silvered decks stacked on top of each other, connected by stairs.
It’s picturesque, like something off of a postcard, and Blair leans next to Jim. “It’s great, Jim. You shouldn’t have.”
“We needed to get out of town,” Jim says simply.
Blair doesn’t immediately reply. He’s mesmerized by the waves and the circling seagulls. In the distance, he can make out a couple of surfers, children by their size, and there’s a man on some kind of buggy being towed along by a large kite. “You were right about it being peaceful,” Blair admits.
“Think I’ll take the meds now,” Jim replies, reaching for the pill bottle Blair is holding. “But I’d like to stay out here.”
Blair glances at the loungers set off to the side. They look comfortable enough, and he thinks the fresh air will probably do Jim good.
“And stop worrying, Chief,” Jim orders affectionately. “I’ve been hurt worse, and I came through okay.”
“Yeah, I know, sorry.” Blair knows he’s been hovering, but he can’t seem to help himself. The memories are too raw.
“And dammit, stop apologizing.” Jim’s tone is one of familiar impatience. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Blair decides not to respond to that statement, because Jim doesn’t need to hear his self-recriminations right now. “I’ll get you a glass of water, and then I think I’ll go for a walk.”
Jim seems to relax a bit at that. “Yeah, you should do that. That’s why we’re here.”
Blair nods, and reminds himself that this trip is as much for Jim’s benefit as for his. If they’d stayed in Cascade, Jim would probably go back to the station sooner than is good for him. They’re 3,000 miles away from it all, with nothing but a week of sand and surf stretching out before them.
And that might be the problem, Blair admits, if only to himself. There’s no escape from his memories here.
Jim has always loved the ocean—not when he’s surrounded by deep water, maybe, but he’s surfed since he was a kid, and he loves standing on the shore, smelling brine and feeling the waves lick at his feet. The susurration acts as white noise, and makes for a more restful night.
At least, it would, except the pain meds are starting to fuck with his sleep. It’s not unexpected, but it means that Jim has a legitimate reason to refuse the pills. Well, a reason that Blair will accept, anyway, which amounts to the same thing.
With a sigh, Jim rolls out of bed, careful not to put too much weight on his bad knee immediately. When he’s sure his leg will hold him, Jim grabs the dime store novel from his bedside table and limps down the hall towards the sitting room, feeling the cool, smooth wood under his feet. He sinks down into the overstuffed cushions of the couch with a sigh, facing the ocean through the French doors.
The moonlight is bright enough for him to read by, but Jim lays the paperback on his chest, focusing on the way the light reflects off the water, and the sound of the waves.
He’s so focused on the view outside that he doesn’t immediately recognize the sounds of distress from Blair’s room. When the sound of Blair’s panicked heartbeat finally alerts him, Jim immediately knows that Blair is in the middle of a full-blown nightmare.
Jim is halfway off the couch before he thinks better of trying to wake Blair, who has been touchy lately. Normally, Jim wouldn’t hesitate to go to his partner, but Blair has been shying away from any discussion of how he’s dealing with their latest case.
Jim had always hoped that Blair wouldn’t have to kill anybody, but it’s part of the job, and he’d figured that if Blair did have to shoot someone, Blair would come to him.
Except that Blair hasn’t come to him, and Jim doesn’t know why.
When Blair’s bedroom door opens, Jim pushes himself off the couch. “Blair?”
“Jim? What are you doing up?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” he explains briefly. “You know how those meds mess me up.”
Jim can see Blair nod in the dim light. “Guess you’ll have to cut back.”
“The pain isn’t too bad now anyway,” Jim lies, half-expecting Blair to call him on it.
“That’s good,” Blair says vaguely. “So, you’re okay?”
Jim frowns. “Yeah. It’s just insomnia. Nothing new. You okay? You want to talk about it?”
He can hear Blair’s heartbeat pick up speed again. “No. Why?”
“It was a nightmare, wasn’t it?” Jim asks.
“I guess,” Blair replies vaguely, gesturing to the bathroom. “Mostly I had to piss.”
Jim doesn’t buy it for a second, but he’s disinclined to press the issue right now—not when it’s the middle of the night, and at the beginning of their vacation. He hopes Blair will open up by the end of the week, but if Blair doesn’t, Jim will press for answers if their time grows short.
“You know where to find me,” Jim replies.
Blair grunts, and Jim turns back to the ocean.
Between the peaceful view and the soothing sound of the waves, Jim drifts off, waking as the sun begins to creep over the horizon, turning the water orange and pink.
Jim limps down the hall to grab some clothing, pausing in the hallway to listen in on Blair. Judging from the slow heartbeat and deep respirations, Blair is asleep, and Jim lets out a relieved sigh.
He dresses on his way to the sitting room and leans heavily on the railing as he climbs down the stairs. The sand under Jim’s feet offers some resistance as he climbs the dune between the house and the shore, which causes his knee to ache anew, but it’s worth it when he reaches the shoreline.
The wet, hard-packed sand is firm and easier to walk on, and he strolls along slowly, the waves hitting his ankles at irregular intervals.
The sun is just starting to warm the sand when Jim turns back. By the time he approaches the house, he can smell coffee, and as he’s brushing the sand off his bare feet, Blair sticks his head outside. “There’s not much for breakfast. Do you want to go somewhere?”
“Yeah, that would be good.” Jim’s sore, but the pain isn’t unbearable, and he slips inside, accepting the mug that Blair holds out. His stomach growls, but even that’s pleasant, since the pain killers have been leaving him vaguely nauseous since he got out of the hospital and started taking the pills, rather than getting it in his IV.
He has a pair of sandals he only wears when he goes surfing, and when he puts them on, Blair stares openmouthed. “What the hell, man?”
Jim frowns. “What’s the problem?”
“You look—” Blair falls silent and gestures, probably referring to Jim’s threadbare cargo shorts, holey t-shirt and sandals.
Jim shrugs. “I thought it was appropriate for the beach. We are on vacation.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Blair replies, his eyes focusing on Jim’s bare legs. “I just didn’t know you had it in you—or in your closet.”
Jim smirks. “There are a lot of things in my closet you don’t know about.”
Blair’s eyebrows go straight up. “I’ve seen the interior of your closet.”
Jim just smiles secretively, and doesn’t reply.
After his nightmare, Blair isn’t that hungry, but he orders breakfast anyway, knowing Jim will worry if he doesn’t eat. The sea air must be good for something, though, because when his egg white omelet shows up, Blair’s stomach rumbles, and he tucks in with relish.
In spite of Jim’s pallor and the pain lines on his face, his appetite is good. Blair doesn’t even have the heart to tweak Jim on the cholesterol in the eggs, bacon, and hash browns, because Jim seems so pleased.
“I’m glad you’re eating,” Jim says once Blair has cleaned his plate.
Blair shrugs. “Must be the sea air.”
“Must be,” Jim agrees, chasing a smear of ketchup across his plate with the last of his potatoes.
The meds had dulled Jim’s appetite, and Blair is glad to see him enjoying food again.
“How are you holding up?” Blair asks quietly.
“I’m sore, but I’ll live,” Jim replies.
Blair sips his coffee and tries not to let on how heavy the silence feels to him. He can’t think of anything to say that doesn’t somehow touch on the elephant in the room.
“What’s the plan for today?” Blair asks.
Jim raises his eyebrows. “We’re on vacation, Chief. I figured we’d work on our tans and get caught up on our reading, maybe take a swim if you’re up for it.”
“You mean if you’re up for it,” Blair replies, but it’s a weak comeback, and he knows it.
Jim shrugs. “I talked to the doc before we left. The stitches are out, so I won’t have a problem getting the incision wet, as long as I don’t overdo it physically.”
For a moment, Blair is back in the warehouse with the body of the dead girl and Jim hanging from the ceiling, blood soaking his pants, and when he blinks, Jim’s large, warm hand is blanketing his own.
“Hey, you with me?” Jim asks, concern shading his voice.
Blair nods, glancing around the restaurant to root himself in the here and now—the blue vinyl-lined booths, the nets and ubiquitous seascapes on the wall, the waitresses bustling around in their short, green dresses. “I’m with you,” he promises, because he is.
They’ve promised each other that much, at least. Whatever comes, whatever happens, they’re together.
“Come on, let’s walk off some of our breakfast,” Jim suggests.
The town is less touristy than Blair expects, although there are a few shops selling souvenirs. Down one side street, they find a used bookstore packed to the rafters. Blair reaches for the old fashioned doorknob before he can think better of it, but then pulls back.
“Go ahead, Chief,” Jim says gently. “I don’t mind browsing.”
Blair frowns. “Are you sure you’re not too tired?”
“I’m fine.” Jim gives him a shove towards the front door. “I’ll let you know if we need to head back.”
When they enter, Blair makes note of an older man seated behind a high wooden desk at the front of the shop. “Holler if you need anything,” he greets them. “But feel free to browse.”
With one last look at Jim, Blair begins to look around. It takes him a little while to notice the tiny, hand-written genre labels on the shelves, but other than that, there’s no rhyme or reason to how the books are sorted. To his surprise, he finds a section on anthropology, and there are half a dozen books on police subcultures, including a couple that Blair hasn’t read that are only a couple dollars apiece.
From there, Blair drifts over to the history section, finding a lot of books on the Outer Banks, North Carolina, and the Wright brothers. He runs his fingers along the spines and breathes in the smell that says old books and dust.
And for the first time in more than a week, Blair relaxes.
It’s not until his stomach growls that Blair realizes how much time has passed, and he kicks himself for forgetting about Jim. He grabs his purchases and heads up to the front, pausing when he sees Jim sitting down behind the counter with the old guy, chatting animatedly—about fly-fishing, if Blair’s not mistaken.
The older man spots Blair coming and smiles. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Since I didn’t know what I was looking for, I found more than that,” Blair replies cheerfully, glancing between the two of them and trying to rein in his curiosity.
“Jerry here was telling me about the best spots for fishing around here,” Jim explains. “We could probably go if you want.”
“Maybe so,” Blair replies hesitantly. “If you’re feeling up to it.”
“Your partner here tells me you saved his life,” Jerry says as he rings up Blair’s purchases.
Blair’s surprised that Jim has told Jerry that much. “Sometimes I have good timing.”
“That’s the most important trait in a partner—good timing,” Jerry replies. He holds out an arm, and Blair sees a faded tattoo of the Marine Corps emblem, with Semper Fi in script below it. “I had a buddy in the Marines who had the best timing of anybody I’ve ever known. He saved my life a time or two.”
Blair’s almost afraid to ask. “So, uh, what happened to him?”
Jerry grins. “He owns the surf shop down the street.”
Blair grins in reply, and lets out a relieved laugh, because about the best outcome he can see right now is that he and Jim live to a ripe old age, still within shouting distance of each other.
“I’ve been telling your partner here that you got to have a retirement plan,” Jerry continues. “You put money away, find something you love, and then you invest in it.”
Blair glances at Jim, who has an indulgent smile playing around the corners of his mouth. Blair wonders if that’s because Jerry is a vet, and Jim can see himself in the old man.
In another fifteen years, Jim will have reached mandatory retirement age, and he’ll have to find something else to do. That’s not something they’ve talked about, but Blair understands the allure of Jerry’s story.
He can see himself growing old with Jim. More to the point, he wants to grow old with Jim.
“That’s good advice,” Blair manages, and pulls out his wallet to pay, and Jerry quotes a price that’s less than half the total of the penciled prices inside the covers of the books.
Blair frowns. “That’s not—”
“Don’t argue with me, young man,” Jerry scolds. “I know my own business.”
Jim’s grinning broadly now, and Blair has to concede defeat. “You do,” he agrees. “And we’ll probably be back. I foresee doing a lot of reading this vacation.”
“What else is a vacation for?” Jerry asks with a sly grin. “Enjoy yourselves, and come back if you get the chance.”
He hands Blair a plastic sack with the books, and Blair thanks him sincerely. As they’re walking away from the bookstore, back toward the car, Blair comments, “You guys seemed to have hit it off.”
“He’s seen a lot of action,” Jim replies. “He was a commanding officer in Vietnam.”
“Who was his buddy?”
Jim smiles. “A sergeant in his unit. He managed to make sure they served together until they both retired.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Blair agrees.
Jim slings a companionable arm across Blair’s shoulders, and Blair notices he’s limping pretty good. “Promise me you’re not going anywhere, Sandburg.”
“I’ll try, man,” Blair says readily. “We probably should hit the grocery store if we don’t want to eat out for every meal.”
Jim gives him a sharp look, but he nods. “Yeah. I guess we should, but maybe we should get a burger? I heard your stomach growl.”
Blair rolls his eyes. “You have a one track mind, Jim.”
“Aren’t you hungry?” Jim asks innocently.
“Starving,” Blair admits, knowing when he’s beaten. “Although they don’t have Wonderburger here.”
“I’m sure we’ll find a place.”
They end up asking the cashier at the grocery store, and drop off their supplies before heading for the local tap house for a burger, as recommended. Blair has the fish special, but Jim falls on the burger as though he hasn’t eaten for days.
Blair doesn’t comment, because Jim hasn’t eaten much since this whole mess started, at first because it had fallen on them to solve the case, and then because—
By the time they finish lunch, Jim looks sleepy and content, and Blair drives them back to the rental house. Jim rouses enough to climb up the stairs to the house, but he flops down on the couch and is almost immediately asleep.
Blair watches him for a little while, reassuring himself that Jim is okay, and when he’s certain Jim is down for the count, he heads outside to the beach and sits at the ocean’s edge, hoping to find a little of that peace Jim had talked about.
After a couple of days of doing little more than reading, sleeping, and taking near-silent strolls along the beach, Blair finally starts to unwind, and Jim feels a corresponding release of tension. Now, if Blair will just talk to him about what happened, he’ll know Blair is okay—or that he will be.
On the fourth day, Jim changes into his swim trunks. “Hey, Sandburg, you want to go for a swim?”
“You sure you’re up for it?” Blair asks.
Jim shrugs. “If I get tired, I’ll rest. Come on in. The water’s nice.”
Blair gives him a strange, sharp look at that, but he nods shortly. “Yeah, okay. I’ll be out in a minute.”
Jim swims out, feeling the stretch and burn of muscles he hasn’t used in a couple of weeks. He feels the nearly healed wound in his stomach pull a bit, but it’s not entirely unpleasant—it’s just a reminder of how lucky he is.
Although it’s been a long time, Jim remembers how to angle his body just right to let the wave carry him back to the shore. Blair approaches the water, wearing a pair of cut-offs and nothing else.
His skin is pale against the dark hair on his chest, and Jim can’t help but notice the breadth of Blair’s shoulders, and his well-muscled arms. He stifles the surge of desire he feels—he’s always thought Blair attractive, but lately those feelings have been harder to ignore.
It’s not worth it, Jim thinks. He can’t risk losing Blair’s friendship.
Blair wades out to meet him, a smile on his face. “Looking good out there, man.” His eyes drift down, and Jim knows Blair is checking out the incision.
“It’s healing fine,” Jim says. “There’s barely a twinge.”
Blair reaches out, and then stops. Jim grabs Blair’s hand and puts it over the wound. “See? No problem here,” Jim says quietly.
Blair’s fingers trace the edges of the wound. “No problem.”
Jim feels goose bumps emerge, and he puts his hand over Blair’s. “You ever body surf before?”
“Not for a long time,” Blair admits. “You gonna show me how it’s done?”
They swim out together and ride the next wave back in, grinning at each other triumphantly. Jim splashes him, and Blair returns the favor, and then they’re wrestling in the surf together like children, struggling good-naturedly for the upper hand, until they’re both panting and laughing, collapsed on the sand.
“God, Jim,” Blair says, the smile fading from his face as he looks at Jim’s stomach. “You were so close—I was so close…”
Jim puts an arm around Blair’s shoulders and pulls him in close. “You ready to talk about it?”
Blair heaves a sigh. “I guess so, but not here.”
“Let’s go get cleaned up, then,” Jim suggests.
Blair lets him take the first shower, probably because he knows how badly the sand and salt water chafes him. Once Jim has cleaned up, Blair slips into the bathroom, and Jim grabs the chips, salsa, and a couple of beers.
He’s munching away when Blair finally emerges from the bathroom, and Blair approaches the small kitchen table with obvious trepidation. Jim pushes the second bottle toward him and nudges the bag of chips his way, too, but he says nothing, knowing that Blair will speak when he’s ready.
Blair sits there, picking away at the label, and he finally says, “It was my fault, you know.”
“What was your fault?”
“He targeted you because of the Sentinel thing,” Blair explains. “He took you down with a dog whistle, man.”
Jim frowns. “Is that how it happened?”
Blair’s eyebrows go up. “I thought you knew.”
“No one told me,” Jim replies absently, running the memory over in his mind. He knew he’d been felled by a loud, piercing noise that had taken him by surprise, but he’d blamed himself for not staying sharp. O’Dell had been sending him threats and taunts for a couple of weeks, and Jim had known he was a target.
Jim still feels as though he’s at fault. O’Dell, the bastard, had called him a super cop, and he should have expected O’Dell to use his senses against him. He should have been more on his guard.
“I’m sorry, man,” Blair mutters. “So fucking sorry.”
“Blair, it wasn’t your fault. You aren’t responsible for what O’Dell did.”
“Don’t,” Blair says. “Don’t try to make me feel better. If I’d been more careful, no one would have ever known about you being a Sentinel.”
Jim has no idea what to say to convince Blair that he holds Blair blameless. Anything he says right now is going to come off as patronizing, and Jim suspects that if he doesn’t find the right words, this is going to chip away at the foundation of their relationship until it crumbles.
And that’s the last thing Jim wants, because he wants to wake up thirty years from now and still have Blair’s friendship. He wants them to be like Jerry and his buddy.
Hell, Jim wants even more than that.
So, he does the only thing he can do: he agrees.
Blair shreds the label methodically, waiting for the ax to fall. He’s not even sure what he wants Jim to say; he just knows he wants Jim to say something, now that he knows the truth.
He’s a little surprised that Simon hadn’t told Jim about the dog whistle they’d found on O’Dell—Simon or Megan, since they’re the only ones who know Jim’s secret. All this time, he thought Jim knew, and Blair had been waiting for the recriminations that never came.
And now, he sits, waiting for Jim to speak—to condemn or absolve him.
“You know, you’re right,” Jim finally says in a calm, measured tone.
Blair looks up. “What?”
“You’re right.” Jim sets his bottle aside. “He targeted me because he knew I was a Sentinel.”
Blair feels each word like a separate blow. “Yeah, I think he did.”
“I should probably hold that against you,” Jim agrees. “Because it was your fault.”
Blair swallows and looks away.
“Just like you hate me for what happened with Alex,” Jim continues.
When Blair stares at him, Jim’s wearing a fond smile. “Jim—”
“After all, I got you killed.” Jim takes a slow sip of his beer. “And I know you still hate me for it.”
Blair feels a surge of anger, quickly followed by irritation and then admiration. “You bastard.”
“Careful, Chief,” Jim advises. “Now you’re insulting my mother.”
“I don’t hold that against you,” Blair says. “You know I don’t.”
“Then you must not think much of me,” Jim replies. “If you think I’d hold what O’Dell did against you.”
“No,” Blair protests. “I just—I can’t get it out of my head.”
“What?” Jim inquires.
“Seeing that girl, seeing you,” Blair replies.
Jim raises his eyebrows. “Not shooting O’Dell?”
Blair flushes. “I haven’t lost any sleep over that.”
“And have you lost sleep over not losing sleep?” Jim asks shrewdly.
Blair shrugs. “Should I?”
“I didn’t,” Jim admits. “Not with the first one. The ones I lost sleep over were the ones I regretted killing. O’Dell’s not worth it.”
“He killed four girls, maybe more than that, and he would have killed you. I don’t—I can’t—regret saving your life.”
Jim reaches out and puts his hand over Blair’s, and the moment between them turns electric. Blair isn’t sure what he wants to happen right now, but he doesn’t want to let Jim go.
Blair turns his hand to entwine his fingers with Jim’s, and Jim looks startled for a moment, and then a pleased, shy smile crosses his face.
Feeling greatly daring, Blair closes the distance between them, waiting for Jim to pull back or turn him away. Instead, Jim meets him halfway, his mouth warm and inviting. The kiss is everything Blair might have hoped for if he’d ever dared to hope.
Jim is gentle but insistent, his free hand tangling in Blair’s still-damp hair, his other hand still in Blair’s. When he pulls back, it’s only far enough to rest his forehead against Blair’s. “What do you want to do?” Jim asks.
Blair glances outside and realizes that the sun is beginning its slow descent, and he realizes that he’s been so sick with guilt, he hasn’t really appreciated the scenery yet. Right now, the ocean reflects the pink and blue of the sky, and there’s a breeze coming through the open French doors.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” he asks, still hanging on to Jim’s hand. “After that—I don’t know. We could grab dinner, maybe do something else.”
“Anything,” Jim promises, and brushes Blair’s cheek with his thumb so tenderly that Blair has to look away.
“I’m okay, Jim,” Blair insists.
Jim’s hand slides around to cup the back of Blair’s head. “And are we okay?”
“Yeah, of course,” Blair says.
“And you’re with me?” Jim presses.
“All the way, Jim,” Blair agrees. “Let’s go for that walk, and then—well, we’ve got two beds to choose from, don’t we?”
Jim grins broadly, and then he kisses Blair again, and it’s a promise of things to come. “You were right,” he says when he pulls back. “The water is nice.”
Blair swallows. “Isn’t it though?” he asks, and his voice cracks a bit.
Jim smiles and pulls Blair in for another kiss, long and slow and sweet.
And for the first time since this whole thing started, since before Jim was taken, Blair doesn’t feel quite so alone.