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Watching Blair was second nature.

Jim saw the way sweat plastered stray strands of hair to Blair's skin. Dust and grit mingled with his sweat, deepening the thin lines around his eyes. Those eyes were half-closed, downcast as Blair studied his hands with unnerving intensity. Jim could make out the merest fleck of blue beneath the lashes.

His gaze moved lower, to the unhappy curve of Blair's lips. Dry lips, the delicate skin cracked in places. Lips parted, a tongue peeked out to moisten the flesh.

Listening to Blair was second nature. Blair's breath hitched as he turned toward Jim. Jim heard the pain in his breathing as Blair struggled to hold some sound inside. Blair tugged absently at his sleeve and only Jim heard the rough slide of cloth over skin. He listened to Blair's heart and the steady beat reassured him that Blair was physically okay.

Jim took a step toward his partner. Blair half-raised one hand, as if he were about to stop Jim, but thought better of the gesture. His hand dropped; his eyes turned upward, meeting Jim's gaze.

Gunpowder residue left a familiar, acrid tang in the air. It mingled with the metallic scent of fresh blood, the warm aroma of Blair's leather jacket and the faint but still discernible spice of his aftershave. Jim laid a comforting hand on Blair's shoulder and, drawing the smaller man closer to his body, he reached down to his right hand.

Gently, Jim prised the gun from his unresisting fingers. The barrel was still warm to his touch.

Jim clicked the safety without thinking about it and the sound seemed as loud as the gunshot. He pocketed the weapon, freeing his hand to touch Blair's curly hair. Blair flinched away from the attempted caress and his eyes flickered to one side, indicating, Jim thought, that others could see them. But other eyes didn't matter to Jim. Only Blair's eyes mattered, the unshed tears they held the only sign of the depth of his feelings. If only Jim could take him out of here, but there was too much left to do.

He ran his palm down Blair's arm, tracing each tiny imperfection in the leather. The warmth of Blair's body radiated through the jacket and Jim inched closer. He could feel the trembling tension in Blair's muscles from holding everything in. He raised his hand to Blair's cheek. Rough stubble sandpapered his fingertips as he gently turned Blair's face upward.

The blue eyes widened, just a little, but he did not pull away. Jim slid his hand back, crooking his fingers into the warmth of Blair's neck. He closed the small distance remaining between them, leaned down and pressed his lips to Blair's.

Jim heard and felt the sharp intake of breath. Blair swayed on his feet, a movement imperceptible to anyone but the man who held him. Jim knew the exact moment when Blair finally let go; he moved his hand to the small of Blair's back, supporting him. In the slow but chaste kiss they shared, he tasted the salt of silent tears.

After a long moment, Jim drew back. Blair was steadier now, the trembling gone from his muscles. His blue eyes blinked, his gaze flickered away from Jim and then he looked back, still unsmiling, but better.

"Not your fault, Chief," Jim said quietly, but firmly.

Blair nodded, squeezing Jim's arm briefly. His lips parted as he drew in a deep breath, steeling himself to continue. Jim watched Blair raise his chin as he turned around, his expression now resolved. He had never been more proud of his partner.

Blair stepped away from Jim, ready to face the other waiting cops.