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Summary: With Jim's support, Blair works through the aftermath of a horrific kidnapping and murder.

Author's Note: Written for the Moonridge auction 2010 - many thanks to everyone who donated for this story. Huge thanks to my beta, [livejournal.com profile] snycock AKA Psychgirl.

Category: Explicit slash, angst, H/C

Warnings: Violence.






Survivor Guilt
By Fluterbev

May 2010


Jim’s coming, Blair tells himself. He’ll be here soon.

He tells himself this at least once every few seconds, holding onto that lifeline with all the strength left in him, because he has nothing else keeping him together, nothing at all. After what this guy has done to him, after everything he’s forced Blair to watch him do, he’s losing it.

The poor kid he’s locked in with, Ryan – a student in Blair’s Anthropology 101 class - is dead now. They were taken together from the Rainier campus, their abductor holding a knife to the terrified freshman’s throat to coerce Blair to get in the car as well. Blair didn’t have any choice but to comply.

Now Blair’s the only one left alive in this room, and he knows that, unless Jim gets here soon, he’s going to be next.

Please, Jim, oh man! Blair begs silently. Please come get me out of this!

Sudden gunfire, somewhere close by, jaggedly punctuates Blair’s terrified silence; one, two, three, four, five shots, sparking a shocked tailspin of memory, so reminiscent of another time he was chained up like this, a time he can’t help but remember so well especially right now. He flinches with each echoing discharge but otherwise doesn’t move. He’s been keeping still for a long time now, so still and quiet, like a mouse in the lair of a cat, silence and invisibility his single defense against the madman who took him, who maimed and killed and made him watch…

Don’t go there, Blair, he admonishes himself silently, pointedly not turning his head to look. He can’t afford to think about it, to think about what he’s seen and what’s beside him in this room, what’s been promised to him. He can’t allow himself to make a sound, to allow himself to react in any way which might make the guy remember he’s here.

But man, the gun, the gun he heard just now, that’s something new. The knife he knows, the knife he’s seen up close and personal, but he didn’t know the guy had a gun. Maybe, if he’s shooting now instead of slashing, the end will be swift, after all.

He can only hope it will be swifter for him than it was for Ryan.

Someone is approaching the door, now. Blair can hear their approach easily, as though he’s a sentinel just like Jim (Oh god, Jim, please be Jim). It’s as if he’s become sensitized to every footfall, every sound in this place. He holds his breath, but he’s not naïve enough to believe that stillness can truly save him. It’s an instinct, that’s all, but a futile one; an innate, defensive behavior of the utterly defenseless. He can’t really make himself invisible, no matter how much the frightened child in him, the one who’s so much to the fore right at this moment, wishes to believe he can.

Jim, he pleads silently, hopelessly, as the door swings open. Please. And to his utter amazement he sees that Jim is actually standing there - his savior, not the madman come to finish him off at last.

If he could bring himself to move or make a sound, Blair might have laughed at the absurdity. Five shots, just like before, when Lash kidnapped him. Stupid, so stupid - he should have known it was a sign.

Jim’s seen him, and acknowledges him with a nod, but stays in the doorway and casts his gaze around the room. His professional calm is clearly shaken when he sees what’s chained against the wall to Blair’s right. His shocked eyes come back to rest on Blair. “Chief,” he breathes. He walks into the room, then, straight across, and crouches down beside him. “Are you okay?” he asks.

Blair doesn’t have it in him to respond right away, because the answer is a complicated one. Jim’s here, his knight in shining armor come to the rescue, and Blair is still alive. Presumably the bad guy has been neatly dispatched, and it’s all over. But if he says yes it’s a lie because, despite this awesome eleventh-hour rescue, he’s really not okay, when it comes down to it. And he doesn’t know how to articulate his level of not-okayness without screaming.

Instead he settles for a pointed, sideways glance at the other occupant of this room. The one whose blood has trickled in rivulets across the uneven floor, pooling beneath him so that Blair’s pants are now stiff with gore. The sight hasn’t gotten any easier now Ryan’s stopped making the terrible sounds he made before he died, and Blair breathes unevenly as he looks at him, lost in graphic memory of what that other, far less-fortunate soul was forced to endure. That poor kid, one of Blair’s own students, who he was utterly impotent to save.

A palm on his cheek, then. The touch is familiar and safe, so Blair doesn’t resist when Jim’s insistent hand steers his gaze front and center, away from the horror which shares this cell with him. Jim’s looking him right in the eye and he speaks, his voice soft but insistent. “Blair, come on,” he says. “Stay with me here.” His hand moves now, and Blair can’t help leaning into the comfort of it as Jim’s touch traverses his neck, his throat, his torso – and Blair realizes, when he flinches sharply and Jim eases off but doesn’t stop, that he’s checking him over for injuries other than the ones he can see.

“Backup’s here,” Jim warns Blair, effortlessly hearing it first, so it doesn’t come as a shock when the sound of movement and voices outside this room intrudes, and Blair’s grateful for that. But, needing an anchor as badly as he needs air, Blair keeps his focus on Jim even when other people enter. He’s conscious, though, when Simon Banks gets here, hears him speaking in his authoritative, booming voice; a welcome, comforting presence that, along with Jim’s careful hands on him, makes him understand once and for all that it’s over.

He loses his composure slightly at that, hating himself just a little for the loss of dignity in front of these men who he respects so much and the other professionals who are now occupying this space. The room blurs, but he bites his lip and won’t let himself make a sound; he’s in control enough to keep it quiet, keep it at least nominally together. He’s earned a few tears, he figures. But he’s not gonna let himself break down completely; not right now.

To his relief, Jim keeps it professional too, not acknowledging Blair’s turbulent emotions other than with an understanding pat on the shoulder before he shifts aside, moving deliberately into a position which blocks Blair’s view of what’s left of Ryan. But he stays right beside Blair when the paramedics move in and the cruelly-tight chains are cut free, one hand always in contact – on Blair’s shoulder, his neck, even holding his hand - throughout the whole ordeal. Blair stays passive and quiet, even though it hurts like hell, although he sucks in a few hard breaths as he’s moved and strapped to a backboard. Then Jim’s there beside him again, his hand once more on Blair’s shoulder, speaking over Blair’s head to one of the paramedics. “I’m coming too.”

“No problem, Detective,” Blair hears the guy say, before he sticks Blair in the arm with a needle. Then Blair watches as the ceiling whizzes past above his head, followed in quick succession by the blessed, overcast sky and, ultimately, the starkly lit interior of the ambulance. The doors shut with a loud clang behind him, and the whole time Jim’s hand remains as a heavy, reassuring presence on his shoulder.

Puzzled, Blair ponders this anomaly. He’s been hurt a time or two before, and so has Jim. On other occasions both he and Jim have been transported alone, the other partner following on behind to catch up with them later. Paramedics don’t usually permit anyone else in their working space, not unless it’s a dire emergency, at any rate; some life-or-death deal.

That notion scares him, and at last Blair finds his voice. “Jim?” he croaks, aware now that the ambulance is going full-tilt, the siren heralding the way.

Jim gets right into his line of sight, his face thrown into shadow under the overhead light. “You okay, partner?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” Blair says truthfully, before getting to the crux of the matter. “Am I gonna die?”

“No, of course not!” Blair feels his cheek cupped by one of Jim’s warm hands, Jim’s earnest face filling his vision. “You’re gonna be just fine,” Jim tells him firmly. He’s weaving around a little in the rock and sway of the ambulance, making it hard for Blair to keep track of him, but he sounds like he means it.

Blair’s never known Jim to lie outright; not about important stuff like this. “Oh,” he says, accepting Jim at his word. “That’s all right, then.” And he closes his eyes, feeling the rigid tension go out of him, like a deflated balloon. “I’m really tired, man,” he explains, feeling somehow as though he’s being rude, conking out on Jim like this.

Blair feels Jim’s hand shift to stir his hair. “Don’t worry, Chief,” Blair hears him say, his voice so incredibly kind. “Just rest. Trust me - everything’s okay.”

Blair takes a long, deep breath, and does exactly that.

He rouses at intervals when they reach the emergency room, momentarily troubled by pain and discomfort as his wounds are treated and lights are shone into his eyes and the usual responses are demanded. For the most part, though, he lies quiescent, calm and unafraid. These are the good guys, he knows. They’re here to help him, not hurt him.

He realizes at some point, once he’s finally out of the ER and settled in a room, that they must have given him the good drugs because he is consumed with a kind of strange, light-headed euphoria. He’s full of the joy of being alive, drunk on the milk of human kindness. He loves the world right now and everyone in it, and he says so. He’s aware of Jim by his side, smiling at him indulgently. “Yeah, Chief, you’re nothing but a big old hippie.”

“Hey, you’re the one who’s old, man!” Blair protests. But he follows that up by telling Jim how much he loves him, too. Jim just rolls his eyes indulgently, which just makes Blair do it more until, apparently exasperated, Jim tells him to knock it off. But, rather than intimidating him, the mock-stern expression on Jim’s face just makes Blair laugh like a loon.

Blair dozes off sometime after that, so exhausted he can’t stay awake any longer. He’s aware of Jim’s hand on his arm as he falls asleep, an anchor to safety and security as he lets himself go. But at some point during the night Blair comes adrift, lost in shark-infested, nightmare waters full of blood and pain, terror and death. Spluttering and struggling he surges to the surface, where Jim catches him, holding him close. “Hey, hey!” Jim tells him. “Settle down, Chief. It’s okay!”

But it’s not okay. Every bit of Blair hurts, now he’s awake, the narcotic relief he was dosed with earlier having worn off, leaving him raw and smarting. But worse than that, much worse, are the images which flood his mind, the graphic vision of messy, ignoble death which replays itself over and over like a movie in his head, featuring Ryan’s agonized screams as the soundtrack.

Eventually he manages to claw his way back to the present, the reality of the hospital room he’s in asserting itself around him. Early morning daylight is beginning to encroach through the blind, and he realizes he’s clinging onto Jim, which embarrasses him vaguely, but he can’t seem to stop himself. He takes deep, conscious breaths, fighting to get himself under control, and after a little while he manages it. Jim seems to realize that he’s over the worst, because he steers Blair to lie back on the bed and Blair goes with it, letting go of the death-grip he has on Jim’s shirt without protest.

Jim must have pressed the call button, or maybe someone heard Blair cry out, because a nurse is now in the room, preparing to inject him with something. Blair shakes his head fervently. “Don’t give me any more,” he pleads. He’s never gotten on well with sedatives or heavy painkillers – they mess with his head, and he needs desperately right now to banish his demons and stay awake. “Please. That stuff really knocks me out.”

The nurse hesitates, and Jim intervenes. “How about something just to take the edge off?” he suggests to Blair. “You’re still hurting, right?”

Blair shakes his head. “Only a little,” he says. He’s not injured all that badly. Sure, he’s bruised and crisscrossed with shallow knife wounds, and his wrists are rubbed raw from the chains, but the guy had barely even gotten started with him. He’d maimed and killed Ryan slowly and methodically, drawing it out over a long time, savoring not only Ryan’s suffering, but also Blair’s horror and increasingly fearful anticipation as he demonstrated graphically what he was going to do to him when his turn came.

It was just Blair’s luck that he’d been second in line. I’m saving the best ‘till last, the guy had told him, something that made no sense then and even less sense now. Yet if Blair’s suspicions were correct, and they had both been taken because of his connection to Jim, there was an odd, brutal kind of logic there.

Blair shivered at the memory, reliving in his thoughts once again the terrible sounds Ryan had made as he died, oh-so-slowly, and his bottomless guilt that the poor kid had been brutalized in that way simply because he’d been with Blair at one particular moment in time. Blair had been helpless to stop him from being taken, despite his constant entreaties on Ryan’s behalf. And afterward, as time had gone on and Ryan had been reduced to nothing more than barely living strips of agony right before his eyes, Blair had come to the clear understanding that the suffering he was witnessing heralded his own planned fate. To his profound shame the demands he’d continued to make up to that point - that the guy let the kid go and do whatever he wanted to him instead – had then turned into nothing more than shrinking, cowardly silence.

“Chief?” Jim’s repeated urging stirs him out of the past once again.

It takes Blair another moment to remember what the question was. Finally he gets it, and addresses the nurse, who is still waiting patiently, syringe in hand. “I don’t need that… whatever it was I was given before. I’m really not hurting too bad. But I guess I could handle a painkiller, as long as it’s something not too strong.”

To his relief the syringe is put away, and pills offered instead – ordinary Tylenol, which Blair knows he can handle. It won’t render him unconscious, won’t force him back into a confused, drugged dreamscape he has to struggle to escape from. He takes it gratefully, and washes it down with iced water which Jim pours for him.

Blair hobbles to the bathroom after the nurse has left, the mundane and laborious business of getting clean, shaving, and brushing his teeth helping to ground him in the here and now. Breakfast is delivered, and he finds that as long as keeps his mind reasonably blank he’s ravenous. As he eats he’s feeling better by the minute – clearer-headed, more substantial and very much alive.

He doesn’t forget for a moment, though, even though he’s making an effort to push how it happened to the back of his mind, that Ryan is dead.

The doctor arrives just after Blair has finished eating, and while he is being examined Jim heads off to get his own breakfast. Blair is relieved when the doctor declares him good to go. He’s not seriously injured, although he gets prescribed antibiotics to stave off infection in the numerous shallow cuts which run across his torso – something Blair’s captor had done to him as a promise of things to come. He’s got to come back in ten days to get the stitches out, as well as for the results of blood tests because the knife used on him was most certainly anything but clean.

The doctor encourages Blair to go for counseling, of course. Blair was expecting that, and so he’s ready with an answer. “I’ve got a regular therapist,” he says. “I’ve, uh, been involved in something like this before. I’ll make an appointment to see her as soon as I can.” That seems to satisfy, and Blair is only too happy to sign the usual paperwork in readiness to go.

The only problem is, he’s got nothing to wear – he assumes that the slashed, blood-soaked clothes he was wearing yesterday were taken away as evidence. With no other recourse he gets back into bed, hoping Jim will help him to find a solution.

Jim solves the problem as soon as he reappears from the cafeteria. “I just called Simon,” he says, sitting down in the chair beside Blair’s bed. “I asked him to run by the loft to pick up some clothes for you. He’s bringing them over right now.” At Blair’s raised eyebrow, he confesses, “I listened in when the doctor examined you, and knew you’d been discharged.”

Blair squirms a little. “Jim, man, come on. Stuff like that’s supposed to be private.”

Jim looks only a little bit shamefaced. “Cut me some slack here, okay, Chief? I’ve spent the last three days worried out of my mind. I’m not finding it all that easy to switch off from you right now.”

Warmth blossoms and spreads throughout Blair, stealing his breath for a moment. He knows Jim cares about him, it’s evident in every facet of their interaction, but such an admission speaks volumes. Jolted out of preoccupation with his own troubles he finally takes a good, long look, and sees how pale and exhausted Jim appears to be. He realizes, with a flicker of guilt, that Jim must have sat right here with him at his bedside all night, after presumably working round the clock trying to track down where he was being held.

Tender feelings for his friend consume him, and Blair’s so close to reaching out and offering a hug, but he’s afraid he might bawl like a baby if that happens. So instead, he asks, “How did you find me?”

“It’s a long story,” Jim tells him. “You weren’t the first ones he did this to - the Feds have been chasing this guy across state lines for the past ten years. He’s used so many aliases we still don’t know his real name. He was good at covering his tracks, but he never had a sentinel on his case before.”

Blair feels intense pride at that revelation – Jim’s incredible senses, allowing him to do what no one else could and rid the world of yet another serial killer, while once again saving Blair’s ass in the process. Putting aside all the questions he wants to ask about how Jim managed it, Blair focuses on the one thing he really needs to know. “You said ‘was’. Did you kill him?”

Jim nods. “Yeah,” he says, with clear satisfaction. “I did.”

“I heard five shots,” Blair said. “Was that you? Or did he have a gun too?”

“It was me,” Jim confirms. “He came at me with a knife, so I had no choice.” Then he shrugs. “He was dead after the first shot. The other four were because I was pissed.”

“Oh,” Blair says. “Right.”

Jim leans forward, looking earnestly into Blair’s eyes. “I knew, as soon as I got there, that you were alive,” he says. “I could hear you in that room – I know the way you breathe, the way your heart sounds. But you were so quiet and still and all I could smell was blood. I needed to deal with him permanently so that I could go in there and give you what you needed, without having to look over my shoulder.” Jim takes a deep breath, then lets it out. “But now, I regret it,” he admits, “because he died too goddamn easy.”

That’s not a debate Blair wants to have; not now, not ever. He’s seen death that came too goddamn hard, and he wouldn’t wish that on anybody, although he understands himself well enough to know that once his current numbness wears off the anger will come. At that point, he guesses that he might feel differently.

He’s saved from any further ruminations because Jim announces suddenly, “Simon’s here.” And a moment later the captain comes into the room, a bag containing Blair’s clothes under his arm.

Simon is uncharacteristically gentle in his manner toward Blair, but that lasts all of five minutes because Blair’s not about to be treated like some victim, like that poor kid, the real victim who died in his place, and he makes that clear by behaving exactly as he always behaves around Simon – pushing the limits of deference, and getting in a few subtle, sarcastic jabs. He’s been hanging out with cops a long time now, and he’s gone through some pretty rough stuff, yet he’s always come through it whole. He’s not planning to let this time be any different, and he needs his friends to understand that right from the start.

It’s not as if he’s the one who died screaming, after all.

That’s one reason why, as soon as he’s dressed and ready to go, he tells them that he wants to head straight to the station to give his statement. “Let’s just get it out of the way, huh?” he says. “Besides,” he addresses Jim, “I’m guessing it’ll get IA off your back for the shooting.”

Simon wastes no time in confirming that Jim’s in the clear. “There’s no doubt it was a justified shoot,” he says. “It’s clear to everyone what went on in that room, Blair. You don’t need to worry about Jim.”

“And anyway,” Jim puts in, “there’s no rush. The guy is dead. It’s not as if we need your testimony to catch him. Why don’t you give yourself a couple of days to recover, first?”

“No,” Blair says firmly. “I want to do it now.” Emotion stirs in him then, something dark and unpleasant he’s having difficulty containing all of a sudden. “Goddamn it, why won’t you listen to me? Quit it with the kid gloves, already.”

They backtrack at that, although both of them continue to display a palpable level of wary gentleness toward him as he gets ready to leave. And as they usher him out of the hospital and into Simon’s waiting car, Blair finds that he’s suddenly too exhausted to protest their careful, hyper-courteous handling.

***



When they get to the P.D. Blair is relieved to hear that it will be someone other than Jim who will take his statement, because he doesn’t think he’ll be able to get through it without breaking down if Jim continues to be so goddamn nice to him. But he’s less happy when he discovers that it will be Henri Brown instead. He’d prefer it to be someone he doesn’t know so well, someone who will treat him totally dispassionately. But Henri is the only Major Crime detective available so, because he’s argued so strenuously to get this over with straight away, Blair doesn’t really have any choice.

Henri is good at this stuff, though, as Blair quickly comes to realize. He keeps Blair focused on giving factual answers, and manages to be encouraging without condescension whenever Blair finds it tough to articulate what he’s gone through – or, more to the point, what he watched Ryan go through.

He’s gotten to the part where Ryan is being carved up, piece by piece, and he has to take a break for a moment, just a moment. That’s all he needs. He forces himself to breathe slowly, deliberately; his pulse continuing to race despite his best efforts to slow it down. This part of the story is hard, because this was where he lost it in truth. The point at which he truly understood that there was no turning back for Ryan, and that he would be next.

“I tried, man,” he says after a few moments. “He was one of my kids, one of my students, and I was responsible for him, you know? I tried to convince the guy to leave him alone – I mean he already had me, right? I tried over and over to make him stop, to let Ryan go. But… looking back, I think he liked to hear me beg. I think now it’s what he wanted me to do. Oh god.” A realization hits him then. “What if saying all that stuff actually made him take it as far as he did, because he liked to hear me plead with him? What if I made it worse? Maybe he’d have left Ryan alone if I’d kept quiet, if I hadn’t tried so hard to make him stop. Maybe he’d have done it to me instead. Maybe Ryan would still be alive if I’d just kept my big mouth shut…” he swallows heavily, tasting bile, and covers his face with his hands as he tries to hold himself back from breaking down. Guilt consumes him, insistently dragging him into despair.

Blair hears the door open and knows, even without looking, that Jim has come into the room. He doesn’t flinch, therefore, when a hand lands on his shoulder. He hears Jim say to Henri, “Give me a minute here H, okay?”

As soon as Blair hears Henri leave the room, he forces himself to sit up straight and meet Jim’s eyes. “I’m okay,” he insists, shrugging off Jim’s hand.

Jim drags a chair over, and sits right up in Blair’s space. He looks sympathetic but, when he speaks, he gets straight to the point without softening the edges, which Blair appreciates. “Lose the guilt, Sandburg. I mean it. There’s only one person who is responsible for what happened to that kid, and it isn’t you.”

Intellectually, Blair knows that’s true, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ryan is dead, and he’s alive. “How am I not responsible, Jim? Ryan was my student. And you know, man, I accepted the risks when I started to hang with you – the risks for myself. I’m cool with that. But why the hell should an innocent kid like Ryan suffer because his teacher is working with a cop?”

“Where the hell are you getting this crap from?” Jim exclaimed. “What happened to Ryan had nothing to do with our work together - the guy didn’t even know who you were. It was random selection, and you were just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time. He was trawling the campus looking for someone to take, and he spotted the two of you and seized the opportunity. That’s all there is to it.”

“No, no way, man,” Blair protested. “That’s too big of a coincidence.”

“I swear to you, Chief,” Jim insisted. “I had no history with this guy. Like I told you, he’s been doing this for years, moving from state to state, abducting and murdering young men at random. The Feds think he’d only been in Cascade for a couple of weeks, at most.”

But Blair’s guilt would not be so easily assuaged. “So why’d he kill Ryan first?” he demands. “Why not me? What the hell was it about me that made him do that to a nineteen-year-old kid instead?” Blair’s voice cracks. “Goddamn it, I know exactly what it was - I studied psychology, man. The minute I opened my mouth I gave the guy the reinforcement he wanted – I kept on pleading with him to stop, which just encouraged him do it more. I played right along with his control fantasies, and I made him keep right on hurting Ryan until he was dead.”

Jim grabs Blair by the shirtfront, not gently, and for an instant Blair imagines being dragged out of his chair and pushed up hard against the wall in a familiar expression of Jim’s frustration. But instead Jim just grips him, his fists bunched tightly in the fabric so that the material strains uncomfortably across Blair’s shoulders and chafes the stitches which are peppered over his chest. “You. Are not. To blame.” Jim punctuates the words with deliberate meaning, his voice the low, menacing one he uses when he’s really pissed. “Stop it right now, Sandburg.”

Jim’s controlled aggression effortlessly cuts through Blair’s self-recrimination. Angry as hell, Blair brings up his forearms and forcefully disengages Jim’s grip on him. “Fuck you,” he says, his jaw clenching against even worse expletives. “You weren’t there, man! You have no idea what it was like!”

“Listen to me, Sandburg,” Jim tells him, keeping his hands off him but otherwise not backing down an inch. “You were kidnapped by a psycho. You were chained up, slashed with a knife, and forced to watch someone you knew, a kid you cared about, being tortured and murdered right in front of you, all the time knowing that you were going to be next. You’re an innocent victim in this scenario, just as much as Ryan was.”

Blair shakes his head, hating to hear the horror he lived through put in such stark terms.

But Jim isn’t finished. “Nothing you did or said made it play out differently, because the bastard who took you stuck to his regular M.O. and did exactly what he always did. From what the Feds have told us he always took two victims at a time, and made one watch while he killed the other. If there was a noticeable difference in age or status between the two, like a student-teacher relationship, he killed the younger one, the student, first. He then held off a couple of days before making the second kill, presumably to increase the fear of his second victim and draw out the anticipation. Nothing you said to him, nothing at all, would have made him do it any other way.”

Blair makes an inarticulate noise, the protest he wants to give voice to dying on lips which have suddenly lost the ability to form coherent sounds. If he accepts what Jim is saying, that what happened was a ritual which could only play out one way, then he has to acknowledge that his words had no power at all, and he doesn’t want to believe that. He’s used words as a weapon in the past, and it’s worked. If Blair takes on board that Ryan would have died screaming no matter what he did or didn’t say, then he has to accept that he had no hope of influencing the guy at all. And then he’d be exactly what Jim said he was: a random, powerless victim, just like Ryan, and therefore blameless in the matter of Ryan’s death.

Acceptance of all of it is hard, but what Jim is saying has the ring of truth so he can’t help it when the guilt diminishes just a little. Not much, of course; it’ll come back full-force soon enough, and Blair will have to face it and work through it some more. But right at this moment he just feels grief-stricken, vulnerable and exhausted. “Jim,” he whispers brokenly. “I don’t know how to deal with this.”

This time Jim’s hands on him are an inexpressible comfort, and his embrace the sanctuary Blair so desperately needs. “You think I don’t understand where you’re coming from?” Jim murmurs, holding him tight. “You’re wrong, Chief. I understand all too well. I buried my whole team, remember.”

Blair nods against Jim’s shoulder, acknowledging the truth of that. He shamelessly basks in Jim’s support for a little while longer, then manages to pull himself together. Jim calls Henri back in, reassuringly all-business once again, and Blair finishes giving his statement.

Heading home afterward in Jim’s truck, alive despite all the odds and with his friend a staunch, dependable presence at his side, Blair makes a promise. He tells himself that if Jim can survive his own terrible losses and still face himself in the mirror day after day, then he will somehow find the strength to do the same.


***



They arrive home mid-afternoon. After they eat Jim takes a shower, while Blair wanders around their home, reconnecting with the mundane objects which decorate his life and which now, after his most recent brush with death, have taken on such profound meaning to him. He never truly thought, during his darkest hours, that he’d ever come back here.

He picks a small, carved figure off a shelf, part of his Zuni collection, and weighs it in his hand. Strange how the smallest things, like this, make him so emotional. He’s biting back an urge to let fly with a few cleansing tears when Jim walks out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist, and makes his way straight over to Blair. In the next moment Blair finds himself pressed against shower-damp skin, breathing in Jim’s clean, masculine smell. The urge to cry is gone.

“I’m heading up to bed,” Jim murmurs into his hair, and Blair remembers that Jim has probably not slept for days. “Come with me.”

Blair gasps out a helpless chuckle, his own profound exhaustion catching up with him all at once now Jim’s got hold of him. “I, uh, don’t think I’m up to much, man,” he says. He and Jim have gone to bed together a time or two since they met, indulging casually in a strong mutual attraction neither of them are ready to call anything more profound than sex. Right now, though, Blair doesn’t think he could get it up even for Jim, weary and sore as he is.

“Just to sleep, then,” Jim tells him. “I’m pretty tired myself, Chief.” And not seeing any reason not to, utterly lacking in energy, Blair does as he asks.

Once he is between crisp, clean sheets, Blair finds himself pulled up close alongside Jim’s warm body, enveloped once more in arms that could snap a man’s neck or gently dislodge a butterfly before letting it fly away, unharmed. Jim exhales a long, audible sigh once he’s got Blair where he wants him, a sound full of satisfaction and peace, and Blair listens as Jim’s breathing settles into profound slumber before slipping away himself, feeling safe for the first time in forever.

He surfaces later out of disturbing dreams, at some strange hour he can’t estimate, his body clock all turned around as though he’s got jetlag. His cheeks are wet and his throat is sore, which makes him think he’s been crying in his sleep, but that isn’t what woke him up.

Jim’s kneeling between his legs, sucking wetly and skillfully on Blair’s dick. Blair makes a strangled sound, emphatically not a protest, but Jim eases up anyway and looks at him, his lips pink and glistening. “Easy, baby,” he says huskily. “Let me make you feel good.”

He clearly takes Blair’s inability to form words as permission, and gets back to work. Blair reels with the sensation of it, going with the flow as Jim’s hands get busy too, cupping his balls, his ass, fingers sliding right inside his cleft and seeking his hole.

What Jim is doing feels fantastic, and Blair gasps with sensation as Jim manipulates his pleasure, knowing exactly what he likes. But despite the fact that Blair is incredibly turned on, somehow it’s not enough. He’s hurting all over, the pleasure not quite supplanting the pain, his mind flirting, despite the awesome feelings Jim’s mouth and hands are wringing from him, with an edge of darkness. He finds he wants something more, something raw and primitive, something where he takes control.

Blair shifts on the bed, communicating his need without words, and Jim obligingly gives him one last, decisive suck before sliding his mouth off and lifting his head, then sitting back to rest on his heels. In the semi-darkness, the loft dimly illuminated by what Blair now realizes is the diminishing light of early evening, Jim looks mussed and debauched as he kneels there, his lips swollen and slightly parted, his eyes dark with want and his own cock a jutting tower between his shadowed thighs.

Blair pushes himself upright and kneels in front of Jim, not taking his eyes off him for a second. He reaches out and cups the back of Jim’s neck, before bringing their mouths decisively together. Jim’s lips part for him, and Blair rewards him with sweetness, but when Jim reaches out to embrace him he pulls back. “No,” he says.

Jim obeys, placing his hands back to rest on his thighs, but there is a mocking edge to the motion. Blair likes that – he wants a challenge, not a pushover. He pulls Jim toward him again and, this time, he shows him a little of what he’s made of. Not so soft, now. Pressing their mouths together almost hard enough to bruise, a little biting promise on the lower lip. And while Jim accepts it, he’s hardly passive – he’s a bulwark against whom Blair can apply his strength, indomitable against the force of Blair’s assault.

It’s time for Blair to shake things up a little, and put a dent in that wall of steel. He pulls back, feeling the need for this so keenly it hurts. “Lie back on the bed,” he orders. Then, so Jim gets the message, he adds imperatively, “Now.”

Jim cocks his head and flashes him a sardonic little smile, but he does as he’s told. He moves like a cat, slow and deliberate and with just a touch of proud superiority, which makes Blair want him so badly he can hardly stand it. Jim lies back and places his hands behind his head, his pectorals flexing as he displays himself, then opens his thighs, shifting to place one foot flat on the bed, the knee arched. Then he raises an eyebrow provocatively, his whole demeanor screaming: bring it on!

Blair has to breathe for a few moments to get hold of himself, but he doesn’t take too long – he needs to wipe that self-assured expression off Jim’s face, and he won’t do that by sitting around panting. He reaches into the drawer where Jim keeps supplies, and pulls out what he needs. Condom on first, then lube. Greasing up his fingers, he moves in close. “Open wider,” he commands, and Jim obeys, lifting both knees and spreading his legs.

He’s only just started when Jim orders him huskily, “Just do it. Come on, Chief. I’m ready.” Jim’s cock is twitching on his belly as Blair’s fingers work inside him, clearly as turned on as Blair. He’s tight, though, and Blair’s usually careful about this, but there seems to be something equally imperative running through them both right now which he can’t ignore. Pulling his fingers out Blair smears the excess lube on his own erection, then he’s right there, pressing his weight down on Jim, pushing in, giving no quarter.

Jim grunts a little when there is resistance, but Blair doesn’t stop and Jim doesn’t protest. Then he’s in all the way, Jim’s ass clenched around him like a vice and feeling so fucking fantastic. Jim is splayed out beneath him, his hands still tucked behind his head in an epic display of self-restraint, his mouth twisting with a mixture of discomfort and pleasure, his cocky expression obliterated.

That is exactly what Blair needs to see.

Turned on beyond bearing, Blair goes for it. He grips Jim’s hips tight enough to leave marks and pounds hard into him, over and over, loving how he can use his strength on this man in a way he never feels able to with a woman. Jim meets him force for force, canting his hips and pressing into the thrusts, his breathy gasps turning to barely-stifled moans as Blair pushes them both closer and closer to the edge. Blair’s already starting to see stars when one of Jim’s hands slips free to grip his own dick, which he pumps fiercely.

They come at exactly the same moment, the frantic drumbeat of Blair’s heart obliterated in a breath-stopping wave of almost painful ecstasy.

When Blair comes back down Jim is holding him in his arms, cradling him in a protective, full-body way Blair can’t remember ever being held by anyone before. He realizes he’s crying now for sure, big gulping sobs that he doesn’t remember starting and just can’t seem to stop. Jim just holds him through it, dependable and indomitable, the single stable point in the whole universe.


***



Blair’s not the sticky, tearstained mess he would have expected to be when he wakes, so he can only assume that Jim performed yet another kindness for him while he slept. It might just be, though, that Jim is a little pernickety about the pristine condition of his bed and those within it. Blair grins wryly, fully expecting that the sheets they slept in will be unceremoniously stripped and washed before too long.

Jim’s in the kitchen cooking breakfast. Blair bids him a cursory, “Hey, man,” as he shambles past, heading straight for the bathroom. Jim flashes him a smile, and Blair is reassured that everything seems back to normal this morning.

That sense of normality lasts only as long as it takes for him to see himself in the mirror, his chest an ugly patchwork of red lines and uneven black stitches. It all itches like crazy, which he takes as a good sign, a sign of healing. But the bleak look his reflection bears, and the sick feeling of grief and horror which lurks in his gut, might take a little longer to overcome.

Blair forces himself to get moving. He shaves and carefully showers, before donning his bathrobe and heading back out into the kitchen. Jim’s ready with coffee, and he’s pointedly put Blair’s antibiotics beside his plate along with a glass of water. Shivering at the thought of what had been on the knife which cut him, Blair takes a pill without protest.

Food is served and they eat, the palpable familiarity of it all incredibly reassuring to Blair. Jim’s such an easy person to be around, here in his own space. A truly great guy, endlessly witty and good company. Blair knows he’s privileged to see this side of Jim. He’s privileged to see another side of him as well, the side he saw last night, but that’s not something they tend to refer to in the clear light of day. Therefore, consumed with gratitude once the last mouthful of eggs has been swallowed, Blair focuses on a less intimate aspect of their relationship, but no less profound for all of that. “I… I’m really grateful, man. For everything you’ve done. If you hadn’t found me…” he swallows, momentarily lost for words.

Jim’s hand reaches across to cover his on the table top, then twists to enfold it, his thumb stroking across Blair’s knuckles; a demonstrative caress of the kind they don’t usually indulge in outside the bedroom. “If I hadn’t found you alive,” Jim says, “I don’t know what I’d have done. I can’t lose you, Blair. Not like that.”

Blair looks at him sharply. Jim’s expression is open and unguarded, and perhaps a little shy. Something has changed fundamentally between them, Blair thinks, and he’s not entirely sure how to react. He doesn’t want Jim to let go of his hand, however, so he guesses that says something about how he feels, deep down. He squeezes Jim’s fingers back reassuringly, communicating that he’s okay with this – whatever this is.

His emotions are still on a rollercoaster ride, though, and he can’t help hating himself more than a little for taking such pleasure in Jim’s care for him, Jim’s touch. Ryan is dead, selected in Blair’s place as the first to die, instead of breathing this morning’s air and being comforted by someone who loves him. “It just doesn’t seem fair,” he chokes out after a moment, trusting that Jim will understand what he means. He can't honestly say he's not glad to have survived, but he can't bear it that Ryan did not.

Jim does. “You’re not alone with this,” he says. “I know what you’re going through; what it’s like to be the one left alive.”

Blair looks at him, seeing so clearly the mingled strength and vulnerability of this man, his friend who he loves so very much. “You were alone,” he says, his heart breaking for the pain Jim suffered, “when you buried your team.”

Jim smiles, a little sad and wistful, but he looks at Blair steadily. “I’m not alone now, am I?” he says.

“No,” Blair tells him, the words a vow. “You’re not.”


***



Ryan’s funeral is hard for Blair. He still feels guilty, as though his survival is an affront to Ryan’s loved ones. He almost expects them to berate him for being the one left alive, to tell him he is not welcome here. Certainly he feels as though it would be justified.

Ryan’s mother, though, opens her arms to him, telling him tearfully that she’s so glad he’s all right, and Ryan’s two older brothers pound him on the back in manly displays of shared grief. He tries to tell them he’s sorry, but they confound him with gratitude. “The cops told us what happened,” the elder brother says. “The students who saw you getting into the car, who reported it, heard you trying to persuade the guy to let Ryan go, and take you instead. You’re a hero, man.”

Blair knows that he is no such thing, but to argue the point would be inappropriate right here, at Ryan’s graveside. Plus he seems to be having difficulty forming words right now.

Jim is there, suddenly, and Blair gratefully lets him take charge. “Blair’s still recovering, so I hope you’ll excuse us,” he says. And after a further round of hugs and expressions of sympathy, Jim leads Blair away. Blair goes with the flow, feeling, as Jim drives them further and further away from the cemetery, increasingly like an unexploded bomb, so many conflicting emotions are churning him up inside.

Jim parks up, and Blair realizes he’s driven them to a stretch of beach north of the harbor. Jim’s barely cut the engine when Blair explodes out of the truck, impelled by something primal and ugly he needs so desperately to excise from his soul.

Blair runs down the slipway onto the sand, the wind-driven sea spray mingling with the furious tears which once more dampen his cheeks. He reaches the water’s edge and swerves to run along the shore, staying close to the water. He puts on a burst of speed, his feet pounding the sand relentlessly, splashing onward through encroaching seawater until eventually, lungs burning, he can run no more, only stand there and scream his pain and rage and grief out at the ocean.


***



Jim’s sitting serenely on a bench near the truck when Blair gets back, looking out to sea, his Jags cap obscuring his eyes. He doesn’t say a word but shifts a little, making space for Blair to sit down beside him, which Blair gratefully does.

After a moment of sitting silently, shoulder-to-shoulder, Blair murmurs, “Sorry about that, man. I, uh, I guess I kinda lost it there for a while.”

Jim shrugs. “I figured you needed to.”

“Were you worried?” Blair asks. He indicates the disappearing beach. “The tide’s almost in.”

Jim shakes his head. “Nah,” he says. “You’re a big boy, Sandburg. You can take care of yourself. I knew you’d come back when you were ready.”

Blair smiles, at that. Jim knows him so well, knows that there are times he needs space or he just can’t breathe.

Right now, though, this is what he needs: Jim’s beloved, reassuring presence right here beside him, the setting sun shimmering across the water of Puget Sound, and the certainty of their future together, stretching out before them. No doubt it will be full of unpredictable highs and lows, all of which they’ll survive just as long as they’re together.

“Everything’s gonna be okay,” Blair says eventually, breaking into their peace now he’s found a little of his own. And at last, he finds that he means it.


The End





Comments are welcome, but absolutely not necessary - all of my stories are offered freely and without obligation. If you do wish to comment below please sign your name/pseudonym if you are not logged-in to Dreamwidth or Open ID, or alternatively you can email me at fluterbev@gmail.com



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Date: 2010-08-06 07:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hawk-soaring.livejournal.com
This was beautiful. The stark agony brought me to tears.

Date: 2010-08-06 08:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Aw, that's so nice, that it moved you. Thanks for letting me know :-)

Date: 2010-08-06 09:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] killedmedead.livejournal.com
*sniff*
Sad, and beautiful~

Date: 2010-08-07 12:17 pm (UTC)
ext_14365: If you made this, tell me and I'll credit (Default)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev.livejournal.com
Aw, thank you! x

Date: 2010-08-06 10:34 pm (UTC)
embroiderama: (Dean - eyes!)
From: [personal profile] embroiderama
This is really beautiful. In particular, it made a lot of sense to me that it would be a real blow for Blair to realize that his words had been powerless.

Date: 2010-08-07 12:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! And it's nice to know that part rang true for you :-)

Date: 2010-08-06 10:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mab-browne.livejournal.com
An enjoyable piece of angst, and I always enjoy it when Jim steps up to the plate. :-)

Date: 2010-08-07 12:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Why thank you, ma'am! :-)

Date: 2010-08-07 04:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stoneygirl77.livejournal.com
Blair and Jim are both men with extremely strong character and this story proves that. It was very painful to read but an excellent read it was. I was amazed at how you didn't use a lot of descriptive gore but I was able to picture it none the less. To me that's some mighty fine writing. Excellent.

Date: 2010-08-07 12:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thanks for your lovely comments! x

Excellent!

Date: 2010-08-07 10:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] starshine24mc.livejournal.com
Thank you so much for sharing this!

Re: Excellent!

Date: 2010-08-07 12:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
You're very welcome!

Date: 2010-08-08 12:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cluesby4.livejournal.com
Wonderful! Thanks for sharing the Moonridge treat.

Date: 2010-08-08 04:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thanks, so nice you like it! And it is a pleasure to share :-)

Date: 2010-08-08 12:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pattrose.livejournal.com
Very sad and moving story. I felt so bad for both of them. Survivor guilt is an awful thing. I'm glad they have each other. Thank you for sharing.
Hugs, Patt

Date: 2010-08-08 04:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you, Patt, for letting me know what you thought of it - it's nice to hear that it moved you ::hugs back::

Date: 2010-08-08 03:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sfulton229.livejournal.com
Wow, very moving fic! Terrific look at the emotional fall out. Fantastic! Thanks for posting this.

Date: 2010-08-08 04:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thanks for your lovely comment!

Date: 2010-08-08 05:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] batgurl10.livejournal.com
wow, very stark and powerful imagery. I read u had a new story and literally ran over here! THOSe R the boys i loved so much. Im always impressed by how well u capture their voices. so sad, but blair has jim to help him through it. :)

Date: 2010-08-09 12:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Aw thanks so much. It's especially nice that you think that their voices come over authentically :-)

Date: 2010-08-08 08:55 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Not too graphic H, thank you, and just the right amount of C. I love the morning after, it is just lovely. Thank you :-)

teddy

Date: 2010-08-09 12:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thanks! So nice that you liked it :-)

Date: 2010-08-08 10:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] skeptic7.livejournal.com
Lovely story. Its nice to see that Blair's "The world is out to get me and Jim" was so totally untrue. Blair and Ryan were in the wrong spot at the wrong time and picked up by a sadistic torturer who always killed the younger victim first. Also Jim understood the guilt of walking away when someone else died so well. Thanks for sharing this.

Date: 2010-08-09 12:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you, I am pleased you enjoyed it :-)

Date: 2010-08-09 03:03 pm (UTC)
ext_9226: (Default)
From: [identity profile] snailbones.livejournal.com


I've just had a gloriously angsty wallow, thank you! You always write the Jim and Blair in my head; the way I want them to be... And not to lower the tone (she said, instantly lowering the tone *g*), but that has to be one of the best comfort sex scenes I've ever read.

Thanks for sharing. ♥

Date: 2010-08-17 11:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
I am so happy you enjoyed it, honeybun. I am endlessly delighted that you like what I write :-).

And not to lower the tone (she said, instantly lowering the tone *g*

Heeeeee! :-D

Date: 2010-08-09 05:34 pm (UTC)
ext_2160: SGA John & Rodney (Sentinel)
From: [identity profile] winter-elf.livejournal.com
Nicely angsty, and I loved how Jim cared for Blair.

Date: 2010-08-17 11:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! :-)

Date: 2010-08-10 01:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] franscats.livejournal.com
You really show the quality of the friendship Blair and Jim share. This was a wonderful piece. Thank you.

Date: 2010-08-17 11:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! So nice that you liked it :-)

Date: 2010-08-16 03:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] t-verano.livejournal.com
“Are you okay?” he asks.

Blair doesn’t have it in him to respond right away, because the answer is a complicated one.


I love how that complicated answer unfolds naturally throughout the fic, the ups and downs, and Blair refusing to be a victim but finding he still has to accept that he *was* a victim and powerless to change what happened. That scene at the station with Jim using anger to cut through Blair's guilt is so very (very) satisfying. And oh, that scene in bed ::whimpers:: I love that. And love the morning after, how low-key it is while still being intense, which seems so real to me (and Jim's thumb stroking Blair's knuckles -- that just fills me with melty, happy rightness). That final scene just makes me happy too -- so matter of fact and so profound at the same time. Which is one of my favorite things ever in fic.

Loved this. It says so much and the guys are so real and the connection between them is so solid and so 'guy' -- and it totally captures how I think both Blair and Jim would react to something like this. Strength and vulnerability from both guys, and Jim knowing how to give Blair what he needs -- you've made me very happy. :-)

Date: 2010-08-17 11:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you for such a thoughtful, detailed comment. You made me happy too ::hugs:: :-)

Date: 2010-08-16 11:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] grlewis.livejournal.com
wow. this was a very powerful story. i loved the subtle way the boys' relationship seemed to change after they made love.

jim understands only too well what it means to be the one who walks away whole from a damnable situation. he can support blair in a very special way here. i believe it will take some time for blair to process the fact that his actions had nothing to do with the fact that ryan was taken or killed and that his words had no effect on the killer. jim will probably have to reinforce this with blair a number of times.

you kept the gore to a minimum, but i could clearly picture it in my mind. i'm afraid that it was pretty horrific.

in fact, most everything you wrote in this story was subtle with little nuances of change or inferences about feelings and events. it was masterfully done.

Date: 2010-08-17 11:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you for such a lovely, detailed comment. I am knocked out by what you say, truly :-)

Date: 2010-08-29 04:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] laurie-ky.livejournal.com
His kidnapping and torture was a random act of terror and violence that makes no sense to Blair, because he's a scientist and he wants to see cause and effect. He's Jim's partner, Jim's a cop, the violence must be attached to that association, of course. How complicated his feelings are when he does understand that this was random, that if could easily have been two other people taken instead, if Ryan had come an hour earlier or later to Blair's office.

And I agree with [livejournal.com profile] embroiderama. Blair realizing that his words were powerless to sway the outcome would so effect his sense of himself.

Jim's a trooper all through this. He knows Blair, knows when to come on strong and when to let Blair take the lead.

I kind of want to smack both of them upside the head (as we say 'round these parts) for thinking they're just fuck buddies who care about each other and engage in casual sex. Wasn't nothing casual about that encounter at all.

YOU GUYS ARE MARRIED! OKAY! SHEESH! Somebody, maybe Simon, needs to draw them a picture since they seem to not get that.

Lovely story.

Laurie

Date: 2010-09-04 12:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thanks for your lovely detailed comment, Laurie. Much appreciated, as always! x

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