Jim put his mask on and deliberately shortened the range of his hearing so that he couldn't hear Blair, breathing noisily with his congested chest, tossing and turning and flopping like an old dog on a rug, trying to get comfortable. Ever since that morning in Sierra Verde, when Connor and Blair had surprised him, he had been tuned in to Blair's heartbeat. Jim was pretty sure that meant something: For days before that, he'd been tuned in to Alex Barnes, obsessed with her, but the minute Blair was well enough to haul his ass to the same latitude and longitude as Jim, his heartbeat once again resumed primacy. Jim had not been ready for that at the time, though he had pondered it often since. That morning at the hotel, he'd been confused, on alert, thinking it was Alex waiting for him behind the door. Now, it was incredible to him that he could ever have mistaken someone else's pulse for Blair's.
Lying in his own familiar bed, he pulled his hearing in tight, like Sandburg had taught him long ago, and he relaxed, joint by joint, into the mattress and the clean pale sheets, and slept. His dreams were tangled and futile, full of images of apocalyptic flames and deceptively peaceful jungles. They never achieved the horror of nightmare, but they made his sleep uneasy. His consciousness segued back to the loft, to the ordinary reality of night, riding on a crescendo of Blair's heartbeat. Blair was close. Blair was coming to the stairs to the sleeping loft. The rhythm snaked through the jungle that lingered wetly in Jim's head. He realized he was awake, and staring at the darkness of his closed eyelids. He heard a sniff and registered that Blair was standing at the foot of the stairs. Then his soft, heavy tread. His heart thumped along, too fast.
Jim pulled off his mask and glanced at the clock. Nearly midnight. Blair was climbing, steadily, softly. Jim noticed the stars through the skylight. Blair came right over to the bed and stood there and Jim, with a jerk of his wrist, flipped the comforter down. Blair slid under it. He was wearing a T shirt and boxers, like Jim. Blair's warmth and weight settled.
"Something like that." Blair's voice was no more than a murmur. Jim felt the other man's tension pinging against his own skin. What in the world made Blair finally come up here -- some elusive need for company? A nightmare? Jim had no idea. But whatever it was, he was relieved, and reluctant to show his relief. He tried not to notice how much he wanted to roll toward Blair and pull him close, hide him from a world that could manifest things like Alex Barnes. He inhaled, almost a sigh.
In the dark, Blair was damp skin and toothpaste, traces of sweat and the slightest waft of mustard. Blair's heart was slowing; he was relaxing, too. Then Jim smiled, easy in the dark, nothing to hide, because Blair slowly reached up and laid his hand on Jim's arm. Then Blair bent toward Jim, still moving slowly, and slid his upper body along the sheets to rest his forehead against Jim's shoulder. He stopped there, waiting, and then slowly relaxed again. Jim covered Blair's hand with his own, and while he tried to find the words to express his vast contentment, he fell asleep again.
The alarm woke Jim; a soft chirp that didn't rouse Blair.
Jim leaned on an elbow to kill the alarm and watched Blair sleep. Blair looked exhausted; purple smudges under his eyes, his face too thin, his hair a riot, escaping from its elastic band. He'd rolled to his back in the night, and the sun glinted in his two-day stubble. But he looked peaceful. There was no frown line between his eyes. Jim wondered if he'd ever -- the rest of his life -- get tired of listening to Blair breathe.
He looked at his partner for a while, arguing with himself, and then he leaned down, slowly, slowly, and touched a kiss to Blair's forehead. Blair didn't move a whisker. Jim hovered, tasting Blair's breath, feeling his warmth. Jim didn't often willingly replay the memories of what it felt like to press his mouth to Blair's cold, wet lips, or how heavy had been the weight of Blair's waterlogged body that morning. And he pushed those memories away again now. He watched Blair for a few moments, then quietly slid out of bed and went downstairs to shower.
When Jim emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of steam, wrapped in a towel, Blair said, "French toast okay?" without turning around. He gently waved a pancake turner. He was dressed in what he slept in, but he'd retied his pony tail.
"Fine. Better than fine," Jim returned, all normal, and snagged himself a half a cup of coffee, took one swallow, and left it on the bar while he went back upstairs to dress.
When he came down, Blair was in the shower. Jim ate his French toast out of the skillet, standing up, drinking more coffee, pouring syrup into the pan. Blair emerged from the bathroom fully clothed, his hair dry and flying around his face, his credentials around his neck.
"Ride in with you today?" he said, glance sliding away from Jim's without catching.
"Sure," Jim said.
They didn't talk much on the drive. Jim started to turn on the radio, but didn't. He let the silence fill the space between them. The silence was not awkward.
In the truck, at the desk, in the field, all day, he carried the memory of Blair's warm hand on his shoulder, the taste of Blair's skin on his lips.