Even though Blair's fierce grip on Jim's hand had slackened when his exhausted friend had finally succumbed to sleep, Jim couldn't bring himself to let go. In his mind, Blair's voice from a few moments ago still haunted him; desperate, pleading. "Don't leave me... please man, I can't... please don't go."
Jim had leaned over the hospital bed, stroking Blair's brow gently with his other hand, and enforcing eye contact. "I'm not going anywhere, Blair. You hear me?" The hand clutching Jim's had tightened, and Jim had squeezed it back firmly, Blair's panicked blue eyes held in the grasp of his gaze. The moment had endured until, in minute increments, Blair had at last capitulated, his trust in Jim gradually superseding his dread. And Jim had nodded encouragement, his tone decisive. "That's it, buddy. It's all right. Everything's gonna be all right now. You're safe, and I'm here. I'm staying right here."
Finally Blair had let go, though not of Jim's hand. His breathing had evened out and the dreadful, ice-hard set of his muscles had slowly but surely melted in the warmth of the security Jim offered him. Eyelids had fluttered closed as he had ceased to fight his exhaustion. But the grip on Jim's hand had remained like iron, and Jim had returned it in kind.
Listening now to steady puffs of air, combined with a slightly congested wheeze through Blair's swollen, misshapen nose and lips, the image of Blair as he had been when Jim had found him continually attempted to superimpose itself over the peaceful figure of his sleeping friend.
The perp who had kidnapped his partner, in an attempt to get back at Ellison, had chained Blair securely to a post in a dank basement, the cruelly tight links cutting, during the several days he had been forced to stand there, into his flesh. There, under cover of pitch-darkness (all the better to terrorize his victim) the sadistic thug had worn night-vision goggles to enable him to inflict repeated sessions of pure, animalistic torture.
Ellison had finally tracked down the lair of Blair's abducter, and his gun had decisively and uncompromisingly ended his life. Barely pausing to ensure that the sick bastard was dead Ellison had progressed immediately into the dilapidated building, leading the team unerringly to Blair.
More than one of them had blanched at the sight, as well as smell, of the wild-eyed, feral creature waiting for them. Teeth bared, the barely human captive had snapped at the helping hands that reached out, like a wolf in a trap, his eyes squinting and tearing against the sudden return of light. No one had been able to get close.
No one, that is, except Ellison, who strode unerringly up and took Sandburg's snarling face between his hands. Ignoring the stench of blood, feces, urine and despair Jim decisively captured Blair's attention, forcing eye contact. "Blair," he had demanded, urgently. "Stop it. It's me, Chief. I'm here. It's over."
In the space between one breath and another, Jim's words had somehow penetrated, and Blair had let out a sound which raised the hairs on the necks of everyone there; a keening, primal wail of anguish and pain. Jim simply got closer, placing his forehead against his friend's. "It's okay, it's okay," he had whispered over and over, his hands framing Blair's bloody face, "I'm here, Chief. I'm right here." As he kept up his litany, others used bolt cutters to cut loose the terrible, confining chains. Once free of that agonizing support, Blair had at last slumped into Jim's arms, his strength spent.
As Jim had held him on that cold, rank floor, Blair had uttered his first words since they had found him. "Don't leave me," he had pleaded, in a voice made hoarse by screaming and thirst. "Please, Jim..."
Jim's heart had contracted, and he had promised, "I won't. I'm with you, all the way, Chief. Not going anywhere." And he hadn't left - not when Blair was taken in the ambulance, and not while the medics worked on him in the emergency room. Then, moved by the desperate trust in Blair's eyes, Jim had taken over from a nurse who had begun cleaning off the worst of the filth caking his friend's body. And afterwards he'd remained right here, by Blair's bedside.
Now, freed from the intensity of his vigil by Blair's current slumber, Jim cradled Blair's bandaged hand in his own, and gave into his own exhaustion with a sigh, closing eyes that prickled with fatigue. He hadn't slept for the whole time that Blair had been missing. Instead, he had tirelessly investigated lead after lead, pushing himself mercilessly, until the break they had all been waiting for came along. Adrenaline had sustained him during the mad dash to the derelict house where his friend was being held captive, and Blair's need since then had ensured his constant vigilance.
A soft voice nudged him away from the edge of slumber and, reluctantly opening heavy eyelids, Jim realized that Simon had arrived, and was gazing down at him compassionately. "Jim," the Captain repeated, "Why don't you go home, get some rest? I can stay here with him for a while."
Rubbing his eyes with his thumb and index finger, Jim shook his head. "I promised him I'd stay."
Simon didn't seem surprised at Ellison's decision, and he didn't question it. Instead, he moved to stand over Blair. "How's he doing?" Simon's soft voice betrayed his own weariness, and his concern for their observer.
Jim stretched one arm high over his head, muscles and tendons popping as he yawned. His other hand never shifted, still holding Blair's. "He's worn out. Scared," he answered. "They have him on a drip to get fluids and nutrients into him - that bastard starved him, along with everything else he did." Jim paused, his renewed rage against Cunningham rising up once again in a red haze.
He almost wished the fucker wasn't dead, so he could kill him all over again.
Simon's voice once again dragged him back to the here and now. "How bad is it?" he asked, hesitantly, as though afraid of the answer.
Jim let out a huge sigh. "Believe it or not, it's not as bad as it looks. Apart from the pressure sores from the shackles and chains, it's mostly superficial. No serious injuries."
"Thank god," Simon uttered. Then he frowned. "Why? I mean, Cunningham had the kid chained up in a cellar, for three whole days. He quite obviously brutalized him, given Sandburg's state when we found him. How is it that he isn't more badly hurt?"
Jim shook his head. "The guy was a sadist. You remember he was put away for kidnapping and abusing prostitutes? He enjoyed torturing his victims psychologically; messing with their heads. Everything he did to Blair was to cause terror and pain, not serious injury. I think he intended for us to find him eventually, when he'd finished having his fun. He knew that hurting Blair would hurt me. And he blamed me for busting him, back in my Vice days."
"Jesus," Simon swore softly, the curse heartfelt. A large, gentle hand came to rest carefully on Sandburg's blanket covered shoulder. "Thank god we got him back. Poor kid."
Jim wearily ran his free hand over his face. "Yeah." His eyes drifted to his partner's quiescent, battered face. "Amen to that, sir."
Ellison surreptitiously watched Sandburg, as he perched on the edge of Henri Brown's desk, laughing at some inane joke. Jim could hardly credit him as the same frightened damaged creature of three weeks before. Blair's hands, which had clung to him so tenaciously, gesticulated wildly as he illustrated his words, fluttering birdlike as if describing flight patterns in the air.
Silently, Jim marveled at Blair's obfuscation techniques. His partner was capable of putting on one hell of a show.
Not that Sandburg wasn't resilient. Oh no. That an untrained observer - a grad student, anthropologist, child of a hippy mother - could survive and overcome everything Blair had gone through, yet still come back for more, was a testament to his durable nature. Just like the periods after Lash, Carasco, Galileo and a dozen other near misses with psychos, Blair was working double time to put the hell Cunningham had inflicted firmly behind him. He had determination and strength that any soldier, who had seen active service, would envy.
No sooner had Blair gotten home from the hospital than he was back out in the world, living his life. As soon as the worst of his injuries had been well on the way to being healed he had gone back to work at Rainier, and just a few days later had returned to riding with Jim. To a casual observer, it was almost as if his kidnapping and torture had never happened.
But by no stretch of the imagination could Jim be described as a casual observer. His extraordinary skills never failed to miss Blair's minute flinches at a casual or accidental touch, or the galloping heartbeat and quickly suppressed expression of panic in his partner's eyes whenever some innocuous situation sparked a memory of pain and fear. And, unlike everyone else in his proximity, he alone was privy to the times that Blair allowed his guard to drop, when terrors invaded in the dead of night.
"Hey." He was disturbed out of his reverie by a soft voice. "You okay, man?" Sandburg had finished talking to Henri, and was now hovering a little uncertainly by Jim's desk.
Jim looked up at Blair, noting the fading panorama of bruises and scars hiding behind the façade; visible reminders of his ordeal, which only he could still see clearly. "Sure," he answered, schooling his face to professional neutrality. "You ready to get busy, Chief?"
Bouncing a little on his toes, Blair offered a blinding smile, as he nodded agreement. "Yeah. What have we got?" He snagged a spare chair and pulled it over, unfolding and putting on his glasses as he sat down beside Jim. He leaned over to look at the open file on the desk, and Jim ruthlessly quelled all thoughts of his partner's recent ordeal as he started to outline the case he was working on.
It had been a productive day. Blair had brought his unique insight to bear on the case, ultimately deducing a critical lead that had been overlooked, and which was likely to be the catalyst that solved it. It was times like this, Jim ruminated with satisfied pleasure, that he reveled in their partnership. Different, practically opposing, personalities they might be, but he'd never had a partner he could work with as effectively as Blair. It was as if they were two halves of a whole, yin and yang, in perfect balance.
"How about Thai tonight, Chief? My treat," Jim had offered, feeling incredibly well disposed, as they traveled home in the truck. And so they had detoured to Blair's favorite restaurant to get takeout. Arriving home, they had eaten and downed a couple of beers, while watching TV in companionable ease. It could have been any night in a long line of similar such nights, two best friends hanging out after a day at work, relaxing and basking in the satisfaction of a job well done.
Later, just like any other night, the dishes were washed and left to drain, the trash was taken out, the doors and windows closed and secured. Bathroom ablutions complete, both men headed to their respective beds. Lights were extinguished, and breath from two sets of lungs deepened, assuming the pattern and rhythm of sleep.
And there, right on the edge of dream-filled oblivion, the scenario departed from normality just as it had every night for the past three weeks whenever the loft was plunged into silent darkness. Breath hitched, a heartbeat raced, and after a few moments, bare feet padded hesitantly across wooden floorboards and up the stairs, coming to a halt by the side of Jim's bed.
"C'mere, Chief," Jim said sleepily, hoisting up the covers, and Blair scooted under, his shuddering body pressed close to Jim's. And Jim wrapped his arms around him.
"I'm sorry, man," Blair muttered miserably into Jim's shoulder, abject humiliation in his tone.
"It's okay," Jim whispered, pulling him closer. "It's okay. Not a problem."
"This has got to stop, man," Blair berated himself. "I've got to get over it."
Jim's hand stroked Blair's hair soothingly, and he was rewarded when the other man sighed heavily and relaxed against him. The shudders began to die away. "It doesn't matter, Chief," Jim said softly. "Anything you need, buddy, I'm here. You don't have to go through any of this alone. And besides," he added wryly, "Don't tell me you wouldn't do the same for me."
Blair sighed again, the resistance leaving his body on the exhale. After a few moments, when Jim was once again on the very cusp between sleeping and waking, Blair shifted away to settle on what had lately become his side of the bed. Then he whispered, "Thanks, Jim. Thanks for being here."
"S'okay," Jim responded distantly, already drifting off. "Not going anywhere."
In sleep, Jim thought, Blair looked so vulnerable.
The good-natured, quick-witted bravado, which saw his friend through each day, totally evaporated as he lay sprawled across his futon, making him look open, young...
But Blair wasn't that, in actuality. Not unguarded. Not at all. He'd given up crawling into Jim's bed at night, but Jim was here to guard him, nevertheless. Here to protect him. Here to prevent the Cunninghams of this world, the Lashes, from getting near to him, ever again.
Standing at watch just inside the door to Blair's room, the sentinel maintained his nightly vigil.
Jim was making coffee. "Morning, sunshine," he quipped, as his disheveled roommate somnambulated past the kitchen, and headed towards the bathroom. Blair vaguely raised a hand in greeting as he disappeared out of sight.
Jim made a start on making the eggs and toast and, by the time Blair re-emerged, homing in with bee-like instinct on the coffee Jim had poured for him, the food was ready. "Sleep well, Chief?" Jim asked as he spooned out eggs onto two plates.
Taking a huge mouthful of black, viscous liquid as though it was the water of life, Blair swallowed with a contented sigh, then gave a mock shudder as he sat down at the table. "Fine, man, but I had this weird dream. Kinda like I was being watched, you know? It was a bit freaky."
"Oh?" Jim joined him at the table, and picked up a fork. "You know, Chief, if you're feeling worried, I don't mind if you want to crash upstairs again."
"No, no." Blair shook his head. "I'm fine now, really I am. I appreciate that you let me do that, after everything that happened. Above and beyond the call, man. But I'm okay now. No," he shook his head, frowning, blue eyes looking quizzically at Jim. "This wasn't scary, or threatening, you know? Just a weird dream. Almost like someone was there, in the room, watching over me. But not in a bad way."
Jim didn't react. "Right." Changing the subject, he asked, "What do you have on today?"
Blair turned his head, and squinted at the clock, then exclaimed, "Oh man, I'm late! I've got an early class." He gulped down the rest of his coffee as he stood, and snagged a piece of toast to go. "I should be at the station after lunch. Gotta rush."
"No problem," Jim replied to Blair's retreating back.
As the door slammed closed in his partner's wake, Jim put down his fork and rubbed his eyes in exhaustion. Then grabbing keys and jacket, he abandoned his half-eaten breakfast and headed out, his senses ranging ahead to track the route that Blair had taken.
It had been a stupid mistake. An error of judgment that, had Ellison not been so exhausted, he would never have made.
Simon Banks, not surprisingly, reamed him a new one. "What the hell is wrong with you? You are a long time out of the academy, detective. You are not some fresh-faced rookie, still in diapers. What the hell were you thinking?"
Jim couldn't argue with Simon's assessment. "I'm sorry, sir. It was my fault, my responsibility."
"Damn right it was!" Simon stood up to his full height. "Do you realize how close you are to surrendering your badge and gun, right now? If it had ended any other way, if Rafe had been killed, you would be on suspension so fast, mister, your ass would spin on the way out the door!"
The captain's words flayed him like lashes, but it was no more than he deserved. As Ellison stood at parade rest, absorbing his boss's anger, his hands, clasped before him, began to shake.
Strangely, Simon seemed to notice that the same moment he did. The captain's voice lowered as he stepped close, and brown eyes peered deeply into his own. "Jim," he asked softly, the anger supplemented by naked worry, "What is going on with you?"
Ellison couldn't answer. His screaming mind sought momentary oblivion in the subtle shades and nuances of color within Simon's corneas, but he was shaken out of the almost-zone when the door swung open, admitting a very freaked-out looking Sandburg. "Jim? I just heard what happened. Are you okay?"
Suddenly, it was too much. Blair's anxious face superimposed itself over the memory of Rafe's horror stricken face, at the moment of his almost-death because of Jim's unforgivable negligence. But the face Blair wore in this vision was caked in blood and filth, like it had been two months ago, when Jim had rescued him from the cellar.
Pushing past him, Ellison fled.
In Jim's mind, the parade of the dead kept trying to beckon one more into its ranks.
Bud, his team in the Rangers, Danny Choi, Incacha. Strangely, others - not, to his knowledge, dead - were marching there too; his Mom, his Dad. Stephen. Carolyn.
They all had one thing in common. They had all, in one way or another, found him wanting, and they had left him. Some had died, and he had been unable to save them. Some had abandoned him, physically or emotionally.
He had never been good enough for any of them.
He still wasn't good enough. His stupidity had almost killed Rafe. And he hadn't been able to prevent what had happened to...
The terrible vision, the one he could never banish, rose up and obliterated the others. A young man, with long hair, terrorized and chained to a post.
"I've been looking all over for you, man." The words, at Jim's back, were soft; reasonable. But Jim could hear the undercurrent of anxiety in Blair's tone.
Reluctantly, Jim raised his too-hot forehead from where it lay pressed against the cold headstone, his sense of failure every bit as heightened as his five primary senses. He had lost all track of time sitting here, the bolt-hole to which he, a despicable deserter from his post, had fled.
He watched out of the corner of his eye, as Blair crouched down beside him in the grass, and ran a finger over the words inscribed into the memorial. "Karl Heydash," his partner murmured, not looking at Jim. "Your mentor, right? Bud?"
Blair already knew the answer to that question, but Jim breathed an answer nevertheless. "Yes."
Blair swallowed audibly, nodding. "Right." He bowed his head.
They both remained quiet for a while, and Jim could practically hear the synapses firing in Blair's brain as he tried to work out what to say next. Jim kept quiet, having nothing to offer but the silence of his regret.
Just one more letdown, in a monumental catalog of failure.
Finally, Blair ventured cautiously, "Simon told me what happened. At the bust." A measuring look was turned on Jim, and when he failed to acknowledge it, Blair carried on, "He's worried about you, man."
Jim wearily raised his eyes to focus on the tree line around the cemetery, shrouded in mist which heralded the onset of drizzle. "I screwed up," he stated. Again, the scathing voice in his mind completed. After a moment, he dragged his vision back from the distance to glance at Blair, and inquired almost belligerently, "He gonna suspend me?"
Blair shrugged, still watching Jim intently, an unfathomable expression on his face. "Not officially. You'll have to talk to him about it. But he does want you to take some time out. He said," Blair paused, "that you seemed tired. Like you hadn't been sleeping."
Jim didn't reply, intuitively registering the implicit question in Blair's statement. And he realized that his guilty silence held an answer just as eloquent.
Blair, however, was a man of words, and ruthlessly forced the issue into the open, giving no quarter. "It wasn't a dream, was it? You were there, in my room, watching over me." As he spoke, the rain began to fall in earnest, huge droplets splashing on the headstone and running off it in rivulets. "You've been staying awake nights, ever since I started sleeping alone again. Guarding me."
Ellison shivered, as water ran into his eyes and down his neck, and sighed resignedly.
It didn't take long for Jim to recognize how fundamentally wrong he had been about Sandburg. He had no choice but to consider one question: at what point since he'd been rescued had Jim begun to see him as so vulnerable and weak that he needed to be guarded in his sleep?
One reason for his lack of choice was that Blair forced him to confront that very issue all the way home. Jim had surrendered his keys without a fight, and as a captive audience in the passenger seat of his own truck he had no choice but to endure his irate friend's unending tirade. "What the hell were you thinking, Jim? I mean, c'mon, seriously, what did you think was going to happen? That I was going to get attacked by the tooth fairy?"
On the road a horn blared, adding fuel to the rage that had ignited in Blair, and Jim blessed the few seconds that his partner's ire was transferred away from him, and onto the offending motorist instead. "Get out of the goddamn way! Hey, you! Yes, you! Fuck you, man!" Gestures were exchanged, and then blazing eyes were turned once again onto Jim. "Well? What the hell was it all about?"
He should have known better, Jim realized, than to think, even for a second, that Blair was going to let him off the hook. "Chief..." he began, but Blair angrily cut him off, simultaneously doing the same thing to another truck as he shifted lanes. Horns blared again.
"What the hell," Blair demanded, "did you think you were doing? Running off like that?" Dividing his livid gaze between Jim and the road ahead, Blair absently flipped the bird to the most recent driver he had offended, as his vehement outburst continued. "Simon freaked, man, and I spent the whole day, the whole fucking day, driving around looking for you, you asshole." Blair rhythmically hit the steering wheel with his hands, punctuating his anger. "So. Goddamn. Selfish!"
Just as Jim was beginning to think he might have to seriously consider arresting Blair for reckless driving, they turned (to his very great relief) into the parking lot opposite their apartment building on Prospect. No sooner had Blair parked than he turned off the engine and launched himself out of the truck, whirling like a tornado into the building. Jim was almost surprised when fire hydrants, trash cans and parked vehicles were not sucked up in the wake of his passing.
Jim retrieved the keys and, after locking up the truck, followed Blair's trail of fury. He felt numb and unreal, the drenching he had taken chilling him to the bone. Riding silently up in the elevator, Jim dimly registered that Blair must have taken the stairs, as it had already been waiting on the ground floor. In his mind's eye, he envisaged him striding up two and three at a time.
Reaching the door to the loft, he could hear Blair inside, talking on the phone. "Yeah, man. I'll tell him. But he's okay, Simon. He'll be okay..." On the threshold of his sanctuary, listening to his roommate talk to his boss about him on the phone, Jim's endurance suddenly gave out and he sank down in the hallway to sit beside the door, his whole body shaking.
He must have drifted a little, because the next thing he was aware of was a warm body crouched in front of him, two hands rubbing his biceps. "Come on, man. Let's get you inside. Get you warm." The anger that had infused Blair's voice had entirely disappeared, replaced with a weary kindness. Jim almost wept at the sound of it.
Docile, he let himself be led inside, too worn out to protest when he was steered to the bathroom, and his jacket was pulled off of his shoulders. Blair started the shower and left him there, and like an automaton Jim stripped and stepped under the steaming spray. The heat was wonderful.
A little while later, dressed in sweats that had miraculously appeared, he felt not even a flicker of annoyance that Blair had entered his private space to retrieve them from a drawer. He felt, instead, as though he had lost the right to complain about him breaching his privacy. After all, hadn't he been doing exactly that to Blair, night after night?
The moment he emerged from the bathroom Blair was there to intercept him, and he was unceremoniously guided to the couch. A mug was put into his hand and, taking a sip of the hot coffee, Jim grimaced at the sweetness. Anticipating his reaction Blair called from the kitchen, "You need the sugar, man. Just drink it." And to the amazement of a sardonic inner voice, Jim obeyed his partner's command.
Now Blair had the upper hand, he seemed intent on breaking every house rule in the book. The second Jim's mug was empty a plate of pasta, adorned with a mountain of grated parmesan, was placed in his hands, in utter defiance of the ban on eating in the living area. Suddenly ravenous, Jim wolfed it down, barely registering the taste of basil and pine nuts in the sauce. When the bowl was empty Blair retrieved it, and ordered, "Go to bed, Jim."
Jim was halfway to the stairs when the incongruity struck him: he had been a child the last time anyone had sent him to bed. He turned and opened his mouth to protest, but Blair had apparently anticipated the possibility of resistance. "Don't even think about it," his adversary warned. Standing with hands on hips he was every inch the assertive, uncompromising man who had fought with Jim - and won - immediately after Incacha's death.
Prudently Ellison closed his mouth, and obediently went up the stairs.
Waking an indeterminate number of hours later, from a sleep so sound he didn't even remember lying down, Jim extended his senses below, hoping peevishly that Sandburg had gone out.
No such luck, he was forced to acknowledge, as Blair's disembodied voice drifted up to where he lay. "Hey, man, coffee's just about ready." Wondering briefly if Blair possessed sentinel senses of his own, having absolutely no idea how he'd guessed he was awake, Jim grunted a monosyllabic reply. Then he rose, and resignedly went to face the music.
At least Blair had the decency to wait until breakfast was over and the dishes cleared away before he began his interrogation. Jim knew the moment he had been dreading had finally arrived when Blair sat down opposite him at the table and fixed a forthright stare on him. "We need to talk," Blair announced, rather unnecessarily.
"No. Really?" Jim quipped, and was rewarded when Blair's mouth quirked slightly.
"Really," Blair affirmed. It seemed, for the moment, at least, that he was prepared to be merciful. "Would it help if I went first?"
It would only delay the inevitable, but Jim could live with that. "Be my guest."
"Okay." Blair paused, apparently considering his words carefully. Then he took a deep breath. "I've been doing a lot of thinking," he confided, "while you were asleep. And I've worked out why I'm so mad at you."
Mad. Oh shit. "Yeah?" Jim queried reluctantly.
Blair nodded. "Yep." He paused, studying the table intently. Then he looked up. "Okay. It's like this. When you let me sleep upstairs with you, I was so grateful, man. You never pushed it, you just let me take what I needed. You never made me feel any less of a man for needing it. It really means a hell of a lot to me that you did that. And it really, really helped."
Jim was nodding. "That's good, Chief." Although he knew there was going to be a 'but'.
"But." Ah, there it was. "This... this vigil thing you've been doing, it's different."
Blair was wide open, Jim realized, baring his soul, and he mentally ordered his inner, sarcastic voice to shut the hell up.
"It feels like you don't trust me," Blair continued sadly. "Like you think I'm weak or something. And I'm guessing standing guard wasn't all you did. You followed me, didn't you? To the U? I thought I was just being paranoid." He shrugged. "That I was imagining it. But it was you. Wasn't it?"
Oh god. He wasn't going to get away with anything. "Yeah," Jim confessed shamefacedly.
"Why, Jim?" Blair's eyes were wide with disappointment. "Do you think I'm so screwed up, I'm gonna freak at any moment? Do you think I can't cope with stuff, because of what happened? Because if you can't trust me to handle myself, man, then this partnership might as well be over."
For a smart guy, Blair could be amazingly dim at times, Jim realized. "Oh Chief," he sighed unhappily, shaking his head. "You've gotten it so wrong."
Blair leaned forward, his eyes fixed earnestly on Jim. "Then tell me, man. Because I just don't get it."
The moment of truth had arrived. And Jim felt strangely calm as he laid himself bare. "It's not you who's weak, Blair. You are the strongest man I know. The weak one is me. I did it for me." He swallowed. "I wanted to keep you safe. I didn't want... I don't want to... I can't lose you too."
The light dawned in Blair's eyes, as connections were made, and pieces of the puzzle that comprised the sum total of James Ellison fell into place. "You went to Bud's grave." Blue eyes, filled with compassion, blurred in Jim's sight like the memory of mist in the graveyard. "Did you go to Danny's too?"
Unable to answer past the enormity of grief and fear lodged in his throat, Jim simply nodded.
"Oh, Jim." Arms came out of the mist, warm, alive, to wrap themselves protectively around his heart. "It's okay," Blair murmured into his ear. "It's okay, Jim. I'm still here. And I promise you, man. I'm not going anywhere."