Abesse: How Like a Winter
by Fortuita James
Author's webpage: http://www.squidge.org/~virgule/
Author's disclaimer: This does not bring profit, only personal satisfaction. Toys from someone else's box.
Abesse: How Like a Winter
Fortuita James <email@example.com>
Jim drove to the station. He parked smoothly, stepped out of the truck, locked up, and moved upstairs.
He didn't speak to the two people he passed on the way. He didn't smile when he entered Major Crimes. When he reached his desk, he didn't start working. Mostly, he stared. Things were fading away.
It had been happening since yesterday, but he hadn't noticed it then. He had only noticed it this morning, after sleeping. There was a noticeable change, instead of a gradual decline. The things around him and the people had lost a dimension.
Something was missing.
There were changes to be seen in Jim, but nobody to see them. Or so he thought.
One pair of eyes saw when he heedlessly walked into the corner of a desk, when he didn't look up at the sound of his own name. That same pair of dark brown eyes noted apathy, and more importantly, obliviousness. There was no way this man could work.
"Ellison!" Vacation time.
Objects outlined on a canvas. Shadows and angles hinted at something, but Jim could barely remember what it was. He felt strange and insubstantial, as if he wasn't present in this unreal room.
Flashes of warmth and cool. But they didn't come from anywhere, and didn't go anywhere. They just touched him, and then did not.
There was something sharp, something arresting, but without duration. An implication of scent, no more. It was immediately followed by another almost odour, leaving Jim with nothing to hold on to and no residue to identify.
Mechanically, years of autonomous physicality coming to the fore, Jim ate. The first solidity, something actually inside himself, but without character. A mixed taste of crumbling and lumping food.
At the far edges of his consciousness: sounds. Voices without personality. Mechanism without resonance. Nothing gave Jim distance and nothing gave him anchorage.
He drifted around the loft. Not senseless, but single-dimensioned. He nearly found something, nearly, but then it was gone. Loss. It was gone.
Suddenly, both a lightening and a weight. He had more focus; he had depth. Scents swirled through him. Sounds teased and then drifted past. Objects took on colour and form. There was something right. A second exploration modified that. It was close to right. He had more focus, but it wasn't as it had been.
Enough, though. It was enough.
The clarity of rapping on wood echoed through him. He was satisfied. The cool and solid of the handle. And behind the door... He clenched tight, drew in, but the deprivation of stimulus shocked him out of the defensive withdrawal.
"Jim," she said easily, unaware of his fraught state. "I was in Washington, so..." she moved past him. "Blair!" "Missing," he said instinctively, and she whirled on him in shock.
He tried to formulate his thoughts. "Not missing, I mean not here." He waved a hand at Blair's room. "Gone."
"Moved out?" she asked suspiciously, noting her son's belongings here and there.
"He's in the field."
"For how long?"
"A month. Two more weeks."
She frowned, seeming to think for a minute. "Look, I'll bring you a letter for him. Pass it on, okay?"
She turned to go, and Jim felt a sudden panic at the thought of unreality returning.
"Naomi!" The rare depth of emotion in his voice arrested her.
"Why don't you stay here? Wait for Blair to get back."
She frowned again. "Why? I'm sure I'll be back in a few months anyway. I'll see him then."
She again moved towards the door. This time it wasn't deep emotion that held her back. It was something quiet. There was insecurity, like shame in his voice.
"Wait, I... need your help."
She regarded him for long minutes. Finally, quietly, she said, "I believe you."
Jim stayed tense, the pain of exposure still raw. He'd had to force his speech through years-deep layers of silence and resistance. There was also fear. All his need, his vulnerability, had been given over to a woman who had no reason to like him. He had her belief, but how could he anticipate her decision? He had no right to command her time. He just had to hope she understood the importance of what he was asking, and trust that it was equally important to her son.
He nodded tensely.
He felt the first edge of relief, but it was still difficult to grasp. "Thankyou, Naomi."
She acknowledged it with a small smile, and started making plans. "I'll get my bags and bring them back." She moved towards the door, but stopped before she opened it. She looked back to Jim. He had half-risen from the couch, and was frozen with a hand against its back.
"You'll be okay?"
He straightened up slowly, his jaw clenching. "Can I... drive you somewhere?"
She smiled gently. "No. But you can help me carry my bags."
They sat for a minute after Naomi switched off the TV; the last shouts of righteous crowds abruptly curtailed, leaving silence. She broke it.
"Would you have been there? At the airport, to meet that sanctioned ravager?"
He met her eyes, avoiding flippancy. "I might have been. It was a large crowd. There were threats to his safety."
"So you would have been protecting Mr Nakana?"
"No," he admitted, "I would have been watching the protestors. Making sure they didn't do anything criminal."
"The protestors aren't the criminals there." She paused. "Why do you do it?" There was a wealth of anger behind her words.
He answered, as gravely as he could, "I have to."
She nodded slowly before moving away to shut herself in Blair's room. She couldn't stay with Jim. Not the way she felt. 'Only a few more days,' she reminded herself. 'For Blair.'
Jim sat in solitude on the couch as the last flickers of static died on the TV screen. It was bearable. He could comprehend his surroundings and act on what he perceived. Naomi was doing her best to overcome both their personality conflicts and her lack of knowledge. But he still ached inside. He still felt a loss, a lack of connection. He was rudderless, set adrift by a severed line and without lasting recourse. He wasn't going to sink, but he would starve.
Four more days.
It wasn't working. He couldn't live like this. Naomi was like a badly cut pair of pants. She chafed, and she sat awkwardly. He couldn't get used to her, and there were so many ways in which she wasn't enough.
She certainly wasn't enough when she wasn't even there. It was like her presence was a partial palliative, but seeing her everyday didn't help at all when she was away.
He sensed a lightening and ease, and sighed in relief. She was back.
One more day.
"Naomi? That you? Did you find what you were looking for?"
Blair stepped out of the cab and, slinging his pack on his shoulder, walked into the building. He was a day early, but of course there was less than no chance of surprising his sentinel. Jim probably already had the door open. Blair smiled at the thought.
The door was open, but Jim was nowhere to be seen. Blair stood in the middle of the main room, and slowly turned around. Empty. But why was the door open?
His answer came when someone bumped into him from behind. An exhilarated "Jim!" died on his lips. It was replaced by the voicing of a rather stunned, "Naomi." She was pulling something after her, the reason she hadn't seen him, and for a minute he had a flash of his mother killing his room-mate and disposing of the body, but dismissed it. The roll wasn't big enough. It was hardly big enough for the corpse of a dog, let alone his tall partner.
"Blair! Hi sweetie," she said happily, letting the roll drop to the floor and wrapping her arms around him.
"What are you doing here?" he blurted.
She looked hurt for a moment, but recovered quickly. "I came to visit you."
"I'm not here," he said, rather improbably.
"Hm, I know." She accepted the statement blithely. "You won't be here until tomorrow. Get back early?"
"What... yes, but what are you doing?"
She looked confused, and he gestured pointedly to the abandoned roll.
"Oh that. That's nothing. Just a mat. I was going to use it and then leave it for you."
He nodded his understanding, and then shook his head in confusion. He didn't understand at all.
"Does Jim know you're here?" He answered his own question. "Of course, the door. He said you could do this? While he wasn't here? 'Cos you don't want to be doing this kind of thing if he didn't."
A noise drifting down from above made him freeze.
"Naomi? That you? Did you find what you were looking for?"
Jim moved to the stairs. It felt strange, but he wanted to connect for a moment. It wasn't something that he had felt with Naomi before, but for some reason, he needed it now. He wanted to ground himself; return to that partial contentment he had found since she had arrived. The state where all was nearly right with the world.
She responded. "I found..." Jim stopped. He looked. He was seeing something in depth, with accompanying essence. "...what you were looking for."
He almost tripped down the stair, striding across the room and reaching out a hand. His foot hit something and he stopped instantly, his fingers only centimetres from their goal.
"Hi Jim!" It was cheerful, deep, and he drowned in it. The words, identified as unnecessary, were processed as meaningless. It was the sound. It permeated him, resonated, made the sounds of the last week, month, seem tinny and dry.
With very little subtlety, Naomi kicked her mat out of the way and moved towards the door. She exited quietly; perfectly aware that at least one of her companions wouldn't even know she was gone.
Jim made contact.
He reoriented himself. His memories and his perceptions suddenly jibed. His vision had snapped on line near the top of those stairs. Now the air felt warmer, clearer. He could feel motion, and, most importantly, the rush of blood under Blair's skin.
He breathed deeply, sensing both the slide and flavour of the air. It was all freshness. It was perfect, the way he remembered it. He had begun to think that life a fantasy, magnified by his dissatisfaction. But now.
"It's a nice shirt and all, but I don't think it deserves that kind of love."
The words made no sense to him. He looked blankly at his guide, who shrugged gently. Jim realised he had both hands curled around Blair's shoulders. He made a conscious effort, and they dropped to his sides.
Blair's stance and expression were a tapestry of curiosity, suppressed by a greater force. Jim tacitly allowed inquisition with a subtle shifting, creating a more approachable, casual picture.
"What was Naomi doing here?"
Jim looked away just long enough for Blair to become suspicious. "She dropped by to visit you."
"When?" he said pointedly.
Jim coloured. "About two weeks ago."
A sudden and horrible feeling of dread seized him, and he almost took the few steps to his room to check for signs of occupancy, but found he couldn't. He didn't want to know. He dropped his pack where he stood, facing what he tried to convince himself was the real problem.
"And she stayed because...?"
"It doesn't matter. You're back now."
Blair tilted his head and pondered the possible meanings behind that statement. The explanation already on his mind surfaced first, but he forcefully pushed it away, judging Jim's response on face value. It seemed instinctive, but he had no idea what it indicated. It was also defensive, and distracting.
"I'll conditionally agree to the second part of that."
"I'm back now. On the condition that you admit it does matter, and tell me about my mother." His gut was clenched in trepidation. The answer he expected, the one he dreaded, and he was asking for it. If Jim said what Blair anticipated, nothing would ever be the same. Blair felt the first tiny piece of their relationship break away.
"You're telling me she guided you?" Blair was filled with a raging conflict between desperate relief and an overwhelming curiosity.
"Sure sounds like it, man."
"She didn't. She's not my guide." There was little reason in Jim; he just had to speak, to deny these patently false words. "She isn't. But I was... it was easier, okay?"
Blair's eyes narrowed. 'Easier than what? Naomi hadn't been there the whole time.' "Easier than what?"
Jim looked past him with great determination. Over his head, in fact, and there was nothing that pissed him off more. He reached over and took hold of Jim's chin, swivelling it forcefully in his direction. "What happened?" he demanded. "Tell me what the hell went wrong."
"I'm not talking about this," Jim stated, seemingly mildly.
Blair had an almost tactile sensation of the jagged edges that lay underneath. "Yes you are. This is important. Don't jerk me around on this one, Jim."
Jim pushed past him forcefully, physical offence the last blockade defending his silence. Blair let him go. There was little he could do, and this reaction meant Jim was close to talking anyway. It would only take time. While he waited for that time, there was his mother.
"What did you do here?"
She smiled ruefully. "I stifled."
"But you stayed?" He regarded her neutrally, waiting.
"Jim needed help." It was spoken automatically, without thinking. Blair waited calmly while she mulled it over. "I couldn't say no," was the best she could do, and she sounded surprised.
"And you and Jim were okay?"
"Nope," she denied cheerfully. "Not at all. I understand you love him, but if I had to live with him one of us would be dead in a month." She sipped her water, not noticing the way Blair's faade of disinterest shattered for a moment before he pieced it back together.
"Okay." He groped for control. "So I guess that means you won't be staying?"
Her smile faltered for a minute. "Sorry, sweetie. And I had this time in Washington, too."
He signalled his acceptance and his real understanding. "Next time, Naomi?"
"Yes." Her smile was tender, and just a little bit grateful. "Next time."
He saw her out the door; her easily stowed gear in hand, and then surveyed his field of battle. A strategic position was necessary. The stairs rose away in front of him. He moved towards them a little uncertainly, but once his foot hit the bottom step he was firm. This was about him. He had a right to know.
The object of his scrutiny was shrouded in a darkness that concealed him from Blair's gaze, but would be no camouflage against his own discerning sight.
"I couldn't live like that," he said quietly, holding his body absolutely still. His voice continued to drop as more revelations floated into the air. "I couldn't feel anything. Nothing was real." Blair had to strain his ears and guess the import of the final statement, but what he thought he heard sent a shiver down his spine. "I can't live without you."
He moved forward in the dim room, standing near to his hurt sentinel. "You don't have to." He reached out blindly, no visual clues to tell him how Jim was feeling. "You just have to tell me what you need." His hand encountered a warm and tense shoulder, and he felt a racking shudder.
"Every time you do that," Jim gasped out, before reigning himself back.
Jim brought his own hand up to cover Blair's. "Everything snaps into focus." His clenching fingers opened and closed over his guide's passive knuckles. "You have no idea how much I can feel."
"And," Blair said with sudden insight, "how much you couldn't feel when I was gone?"
There was a flicker of movement visible in the greyness, and Blair guessed he had received a nod. He knew Jim wouldn't do this if he could be seen, but he could be felt. He shifted his free hand to mirror the position of his captured one, before sliding it up Jim's neck to rest lightly on the side of his face.
"Yes," Jim sighed. "It was like... the world wasn't real."
"And now?" Blair prompted him gently.
Jim looked up, barely illuminated by a vestige of light, and Blair was astonished by the blazing joy he could see on his face. "It's amazing."
The faint desire to quantify, to record, came over Blair, but it was suppressed by the greater need to comfort and bond. "It can always be that way, you know, Jim. You just have to talk to me." He felt a loosening in the shoulder, and a tightening in the face. Jim's head had dropped back down, so he couldn't clearly identify his expression, but he hoped it was good. It felt good. "Anything you need, man. You can ask me."
Jim gently removed Blair's hands, severing all physical contact. Blair felt a moment of crushing rejection, before Jim reached out quickly to catch their hands together. "It's still not the same," Jim explained in a hushed voice. "Wide and beautiful, but disjointed. Help me, Chief, I need clarity."
"I need light." His tone was humorous, but there was no doubting his sincerity. He was tired of having this conversation in the dark, and they were far enough gone that Jim could not back down.
The moment he spent away was nothing, a hitch. When he moved back to Jim's side in the new electric glow, their hands slid back together most naturally, the tableau exactly the same. The only difference: in the light, Blair could see what Jim had been hiding. Terror. Stark and absolute, as if he had just seen something he had not previously imagined could exist. And it was all so tightly contained.
He moved forward instinctively, needing to help, looking for a viable answer. He had to respond, he was compelled, but he didn't know what to do.
There was a laying on of hands. It escalated. Blair wrapped himself around Jim, enclosing as much of his large form as he possibly could. Jim felt cold, hot to the touch, but cold. Blair still didn't know what to do, but it didn't matter, because the cold was seeping away, and he could sense Jim's control going with it.
"Need you," Jim whispered, and Blair felt the first hints of shivering. "Want you." He looked directly into Blair's eyes, only centimetres away, and said forcefully, "with me, Blair. I need you with me."
Blair had wanted Jim for so long. So long. And now he knew that he was everything to Jim, that Jim would give him anything.
"I can't live without you any more," Jim breathed, gripping Blair's thigh, his shoulder with all the desperation and force of hands that had been empty too long. He whispered it again. Again, as Blair ran light fingers over every available surface, surrounding Jim with his touch.
"I'm here," he murmured, Sentinel-soft, and waited. He waited a long time, cradling Jim's body and rebuilding the bastions of Jim's faith. Something drained away, and Jim seemed to reach a point where it was enough, and he could believe.
"I can't live without you." It was spoken at normal volume, and no longer held any pain.
"You don't have to, love, you don't have to."
Jim woke. There was a presence by his side, something that belonged there. Something he was certain would always be there. Always from now.
The world glowed.