Personal Casualty
by Wistful

I do not imagine in days I will touch your face,
trace with my fingers what it has lived without me.
- Honor Moore (Premonition)

You see, Blair was there, but he wasn't there.

Sometimes he was just there too much.

Jim's stare fixated on the back of Blair's head as the younger man crossed the bullpen to refresh his coffee. There was a slight twinge in his gut as he remembered Blair's long hair. Now, he wore it trimmed close to his head to tame the curls. It was different and Jim still wasn't sure whether he liked it or not. More sure that he didn't. There was a lot different about Blair these days. Too much.

Some days, Jim was okay with it. Most days not. Things went on much like they always did after Blair started training to become Jim's official partner, except for the things that didn't. And those things, well, those were the things that made it hard to sleep sometimes.

Blair had a new scar on his chin from his face meeting the pavement on a basketball court two months ago. Jim remembered that day clearly from the rust of sunshine on the chain-link fence to the tie- dye hair band that had held Blair's hair out of his face as he dribbled quickly down the court, maneuvering sharply to the left. Jim hadn't been fooled. He'd seen the tension in Blair's torso, saw his foot twist as his direction changed to the right at the last minute, and immediately blocked Blair's drive toward the basketball hoop.

His foot had caught Blair's ankle as he defended the basket, and that had been it. He remembered seeing Blair's skin stuck to the pavement where it had scraped off and feeling oddly hollow in his chest. Blair bled all over Jim's favorite sweatshirt, held it to the lower half of his face as Jim drove madly to the hospital. Jim's fingers had shook at how much blood there was. Red and bitter and covering his hands gripping the wheel.

At least it happened after the wedding, he remembered thinking.

To this day, Jim wasn't sure if tripping Blair had been an accident. It didn't say much about himself, he supposed. He was a poor loser. But then, he'd never had delusions of grandeur about who he was. Blair was the one that had turned him into some kind of Super Hero. At the hospital, he'd sat in the waiting room instead of going in with Blair while he got his stitches.

And older lady with blue-tinted hair peered at him from over the top of Women's Day magazine. She'd had a grisly face and nicotine- stained thumbs. They hadn't spoken.

It had been Friday. Every third Friday of the month, he wanted to hurt Blair. Badly. Dig a knife inside his heart and twist. And then, dammit, Blair would look up at him innocently with that familiar grin, and Jim could only feel guilt for the bitterness he harbored.

Blair was married on the third Friday of May.

"Jim buddy, did you take the Whistler file on me?"

Jim blinked, realizing that while he'd been remembering that day at the basketball court Blair had returned with two cups of steaming coffee. From experience, he knew that it would taste like crap, but he appreciated the gesture anyway, especially after he'd been thinking... those things. Blair looked at him with a concern line between his eyebrows. As he sat Jim's cup down on the desk, a fracture of light from the dying sun outside the office window caught on the ring on Blair's hand.

Simple. Thick. Gold.

Jim swallowed and shook his head to clear away the cobwebs of his distraction.

"You okay, man?" Blair asked, moving to touch Jim's forehead. "Your face is red. Is something--"

Jim backed away from Blair's hand with an uneasy smile, cutting Blair off. "Sure, just got lost in thought. Um, the Whistler file?" He forced his voice to be even. Normal. "Yeah. I, uh, put it on Simon's desk for tomorrow."

"Oh." Blair looked toward Simon's office, a small pucker of worry on his mouth. "I've still got a few more notes to make before we close the case."

Jim shrugged. His sweater made his shoulder blades itch. "I didn't know. It's still there."

"Cool. Thanks." Blair gave him a once over as if he didn't quite believe Jim was telling the truth about his health, and then all but bounced to Simon's office. Jim grimaced and turned his chair so that he didn't have to see. Of course Blair was bouncing. Why wouldn't he be? He was in the third month of a marriage that for all intents and purposes looked like it was going to last.

Poor loser, Jim thought of himself again. Just get over it.

He ruffled through the papers on his desk, searching for something to do. He could finish writing up his report on the bomb threat to the bank last night, even if he hated doing reports. The paper work was one of the worse parts of his job, but he was willing to do pretty much anything that would delay his inevitable return to the empty loft that wore its walls like skin sagging from bones with the fat abruptly removed.

Blair returned from Simon's office, reading from an open folder. He looked distracted and very much like a college professor with his glasses low on his nose and his shirt wrinkled. Jim smiled as his partner sat down and all but melted into his chair while he read. The laces on his left boot were untied and the tongue flapped out loosely like that of a happy puppy's. He sure as hell didn't look like a detective, but the kid had been on the job for a while now. And he wasn't a kid anymore.

There were good days and there were bad days.

This day was one of the bad days.

Jim told himself he wasn't sticking around just for those final few minutes with Blair, and quietly sipped at his coffee, frowning a little at the taste. It had been on the burner too long. Hours too long, probably. Some things just shouldn't be made to wait. And hadn't he learned his lesson like a good boy? A boiling pot always boiled over and if someone didn't take it away from the fire, eventually there would be nothing left to boil.

He watched Blair through his reflection on a laminated folder that sat at an angle on a desk across the room. The glasses slipped down another millimeter. A year ago, he might have reached across the space between them and nudged the glasses back into place. The smile dropped from his face. A year ago, Blair was in the Police Academy and stayed in Jim's spare bedroom, which he'd stop thinking of as spare a long time ago.

Today, Blair and his wife, Tonya, lived in a small apartment way across the city. They had a table made for four, satellite television, and a single bedroom. They were working toward their first home. Blair wanted something with a garage. Tonya wanted a backyard. They both wanted children. Jim imagined Blair would teach them some neo-hippy crap and they'd adore him right from birth. Tonya would watch Blair read stories to their children at night and kiss him on the cheek when they left their kid's rooms after they'd fallen asleep.

Jim would be the grumpy uncle drinking cheap beers at barbecues, always hitting their daddy's shoulder during jokes and revealing toys from behind his back like he was making up for something. Like the kids were his own. Like, maybe, he was more involved than he actually was. They'd love him too. And sometimes, he'd probably go to a bar and tell people the entire story.

Man gets enhanced senses. Anthropologist meets Man. Anthropologist teaches man to live. Man eventually is forced to live without Anthropologist in every way that it counts. Man becomes a lonely, bitter creature spilling his guts to strangers that smell of stale cigarettes and mean alcohol. The end.

Blair grunted suddenly, catching Jim's attention again. The kid leaned over the desk, hurriedly scribbling something down on the sheet of paper before him. He sucked his bottom lip into his mouth like he often did when he was in a hurry and trying to contain himself. Jim slumped in his chair as Blair stabbed the pen against the page, wrote one final note, and then slapped the folder shut with a satisfied sigh. Blair spun around in his chair a little wildy, stopped himself by wedging his foot against the floor.

"Done," he said with a grin on his face.

"Mmm." Jim made a show of opening another folder. The contents were familiar to him. Murder-Suicide. Open and shut case. Nothing more to do there.

"Still got work?" Blair asked sympathetically.

"I just want to make a few more notes," he replied, a deliberate echo of Blair's earlier words. Blair didn't seem to notice. Then again, for someone who spent years as an observer, he didn't seem to notice a whole heck of a lot. "Cross my t's. Dot my i's. You know."

"You'll go home soon?" Blair demanded.

"Sure." Jim nodded absently. "Soon."

"Good." Blair stood up then and arched his back as if his muscles were sore. Today had been one of the days that they spent mostly at their desks, going through paper work that needed to be done or cleaned up. Nothing more than sitting around with their joints getting sorer as the day wore on. "I must be getting old," Blair continued. "I used to be able to sit at a desk for eighteen hours straight without getting so much as a twinge. Now I feel like I've been flattened by a bulldozer."

"It's not polite to mention age in front of your elders," Jim grumbled half-heartedly.

"Right, old man." Blair smiled, sharp and quick like the glint from his eye glasses when the overhead light caught on them, and kicked his chair back into his desk, which sat just across from Jim's. He grabbed his coat from the back of it and flipped it on, stuffing his arms into the sleeves. "Listen, I'm heading home." A quick wince there that Jim concealed by reaching for his coffee again. Blair remained oblivious. "Tonya and I made some kick ass Lasagna last night. We're having leftovers tonight. Nothing better than re-heated Italian. Wanna come by?"

Jim stared blindly at the murder-suicide. "Nah, Chief. Think I'll pass this time. I've still got work."

Blair considered him for a moment, mouth a thin line, head tilted to the side. Jim didn't take his eyes off of the papers on his desk, intent on seeming engrossed when for all his enhanced senses, he couldn't make out a single word on the page.

Blair took a step toward him and slapped a friendly hand on Jim's shoulder, warm and heavy and oh-so-recognizable. "All right, man. But you're coming next week. Tonya's got this friend. I'm talking your type here, Jim. She's got these..."

Jim tuned him out quickly, not interested. The last time he'd went to Blair's apartment for dinner, Tonya had brought one of her friends as well.

"C'mon, man," Blair had urged him quietly in the hallway as Jim hung up his coat and glared. "Don't be a bear. She's hot. She's smart. You'll like her."

Her name was Sharon. She was blonde and tall and owned a restaurant that Jim had heard of from time to time. She was generally perfect in every way, but Jim hadn't been able to quit looking around the apartment at the little touches that made it a home.

Blair's home.

Potted plants with the tips of their leaves turned brown because they hadn't gotten enough sunlight. A blanket thrown over the back of the couch that was from Southern Brazil. The scent of incense lingering in the air. A yoga mat in front of the television. All these things had been in Jim's home once. All these things had been a part of his daily life. He'd never taken them for granted, but they'd always been there. In the way. Predictable. Consistently irritating.

All these things were gone.

He missed them like a dead relative.

Then there were the gentle touches between Blair and Tonya, but by then he'd been used to the way they were always groping at each other like sophomores in high school that were getting high off their first physical contact. It still hurt, but he'd grown accustomed to turning his eyes away discreetly and focusing on something else.

By the end of the night, Sharon had looked bored and restless. Her lipstick had been chewed off and her make up melted away. Still beautiful, still perfect in every way, but rumpled and irritated. She'd shot him a little look out of the corner of her eye as Blair snatched a kiss from Tonya over the open refrigerator door, like she knew just why he immediately dropped his gaze.

Jim didn't know if he could deal with being set up by them again. The women Blair picked out for him were just too damned observant. One of these days, someone was going to tip Blair off.

"You know that partner of yours you tried to shove off on me?"


"Yeah. That guy with the big forehead? He looks at you like you're a T-bone."

And then, Blair would get it. "Oh," he'd say quietly. Then the pity would be there on Blair's face for the rest of Jim's natural life, because Blair would never leave Jim's life completely even if he had packed up his things and moved across the city. Best friends didn't do that to each other, even if one was harboring a big ol' secret that could potentially freak the other one out to the point of a...well. Murder-suicide.

Being open minded only went so far, right?

When Blair finally gave up and left, Jim lifted his gaze to the elevator just as the doors closed and caught one last glimpse of his partner's face. He was tired and irritated by Jim's brush off, but still eager to get home. Jim swallowed deeply, feeling the movement of his throat muscles working against each other. He should have been over it by now. He should have moved on and wished Blair well.

But how did you get over losing your best friend?

Jim left the office as well ten minutes later. His stomach hurt from too much coffee and his knees were stiff from sitting down too long. He maneuvered through traffic with ease, as familiar with the streets as he was with the back of his hand. The keys jingled together with every bump he drove over, and through the white noise on the radio, he could hear a lone voice singing crystal clear.

He stopped at a red light. Waited. He was good at waiting.

On the sidewalk, a woman stood with a long jacket in her hands, struggling to get it on as a cold wind blew down the street, lifting up newspapers and bits of trash from the sidewalk. Jim startled when a car horn blared behind him and saw that the light was green. Jerking into motion, he stepped on the gas a little too hard and almost gave himself whiplash.

The drive was monotonous. People had begun to turn on their headlights, low beams mixed with the occasional high beam that made Jim mutter 'asshole' under his breath. The radio cut back on sharply with some woman singing madly about falling in love for the first time. Jim recalled the day Blair had returned from the academy with his cheeks red and his hair falling down from the rubber band that tamed it. He'd stripped off his gloves and jacket as he came through the door, chafed his palms across each other to chase away the cold, and grinned at Jim like a manic depressive on a good day.


'What's with you?" Jim grunted. "Get an A?"

Blair laughed wildly and threw himself down onto the couch. "Nah, man. She said YES." His arms flapped wide open on the last word, like he couldn't hold them close to his body because there was so much space needed for that statement.

Jim's stomach dropped as he put all the pieces together. The odd shaped object Blair had been carrying around in his pocket for almost a week. He'd meant to ask about that, but never got around to it. A steady girlfriend for half a year now. A girlfriend that Jim actually liked. Completely against his will of course. Tonya was a brunette with rich laughter and kind brown eyes. The kind of eyes anyone would love to wake up to. She taught gun control at the Academy. She and Blair hit it off right way, but spent plenty of time denying the attraction because of the student/teacher taboo.

And now this.

"Something's holding him back," Tonya told Jim once while Blair searched for his wallet in his bedroom, leaving the two of them alone by the door. "Any ideas what it is?"

"No." He'd gone to get a beer.

Looks like there wasn't something holding Blair back anymore.

Jim thought she was great. But right then, even though she'd made Blair beam like this by saying such a simple word, he hated her.

"Yes?" Jim prompted, and his voice cracked at the end.

Blair nodded, distracted, staring at the ceiling as if in a daze. His shirt rode up on his stomach, revealing smooth winter-white skin that probably tasted as good as it smelled. "She said yes." He whispered it this time, like he didn't really believe it. Then a look came across his face, and Jim knew that it had clicked in all the right places of Blair's mind. "Oh Jesus, Jim. I'm fucking getting married."

"Congratulations," he croaked and abruptly dragged Blair up off the couch into his arms for a friendly hug that lasted longer than it should have. When Blair backed away, Jim could have sworn there were tears in his eyes, but it might have been a trick of the light because in the next instant he was grinning so widely Jim's throat clamped shut.

"Thanks, Jim. She's... Oh, wow. Thanks."

Jim nodded, smiled, and went to the store. It wasn't until isle three when he blindly picked up toothpaste from the shelf that he realized he'd left his wallet in his jacket, and he'd left that at home.

When he got back, Blair asked him to be the best man.

Jim didn't refuse.


Jim unlocked his apartment door, acutely aware of how cold the knob was as he turned it and let himself inside the loft. A cool chunk of air followed him in, making itself at home as he hung up his jacket and twisted free of his shoes.

The television screen was blank and threw back Jim's reflection at him as he bent to turn it on. It made a popping sound as it came to life, crackling at the edge of his ears. The feed fluttered, danced, and then steadied into a basketball game. The crowd cheered. A basketball player sat on the bench with a towel wrapped around the back of his neck, wiping spots of sweat from his face with the yellowing tip.

Jim went into the kitchen and grabbed a beer. He drank it slowly, standing with his hip propped against the kitchen sink as he stared at the clock and took another gulp. Someone scored in the game on the television. Jim didn't bother to dial up his hearing to find out who.

He wouldn't let himself go to bed for another three hours.

Since this was one of the bad days, he had to exercise a bit of self- discipline. Besides, he doubted he'd be able to sleep anyway. He'd been having trouble since the day Blair and Tonya had packed up Blair's things to move into their apartment and he'd just stood in the corner with dumb thoughts in his head and masking tape in his hand, wondering how four years could fit into so few boxes. Wondering why he'd been so damn good at waiting when he was supposed to be a man of action.

Jim did his laundry, struggling to ignore the absence of socks Blair used to sneak into Jim's pants' pockets before the designated wash days. He told himself to be happy he wasn't doing anyone else's laundry anymore. His white shirts stayed white. His cotton-blends were treated appropriately. Jim dumped his dirty laundry into the washing machine, turned it on, and left the laundry basket by the dryer.

Warble. Bump. Hum. Thump.

The familiar sounds of the machine rushed into his veins, cooling his nerves.

While he waited for the laundry to finish, Jim lounged on the couch and muted the television while he read the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Nothing too interesting in it. Just the usual articles and photos, only they had new headlines to spice up the pages. Bored quickly, Jim glared at the glossy pages of the magazine and tossed it down on the floor, prudently ignoring the fact that he'd always bitched at Blair for doing the very same thing.

He lived alone now.

Who cared?

Jim winced and tossed an arm over his eyes to block out the ever- shifting light from the television screen. Maybe he'd get a fish. Yeah, that sounded nice. A bunch of them. He'd come home from work every day and he'd feed them. He'd clean their fish tank out a couple times a week and spend odd moments knocking on the front of the fish tank. He would stare into their beady eyes like they knew who their master was and demand a cartwheel or something. That would at least take up an hour of his week, if not more.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad on the bad days any more.

Testing himself, Jim played with his senses. Blair didn't do that much any more. Jim saw him at work and the usual hours friends met up when they didn't live with each other, but there wasn't any research to be done any more. Only check ups, like his regular physical for work. Jim dialed up and then down. He focused his hearing on laughter at the end of the block, two women, possible lovers. They held hands. Palms scraped against each other, dry skin catching.

"--believe it. I mean, he stood right there and looked at me like I was an alien!"

The other woman said, "You go, girl. No, I mean it. Go."

They laughed again, brightly like devious fairies.

Jim opened his eyes and pulled back through the streets, catching heartbeats and the singe of cigarettes dying against sidewalks. Motors sounded like jet planes. Tongues clicking bounced inside his own mouth, and then he was back in his apartment, staring at the familiar stain on the ceiling in the kitchen from when Blair had tried to flip his pancakes like a pro and not quite succeeded.

When had he moved from the couch?

Jim lifted a hand to his face, covered his eyes.

"Fuck, Chief."

When the laundry was done, Jim lifted the heavy load from the machine. Cold water dripped down his forearms from the wet clothes, soaking into the sleeves of his sweater. Jim frowned and placed the bundle into the dryer, shut the door, and pressed the button that set the dryer into humming motion. He stood there for a moment with his wet sleeves, his chilly fingers pressed against the hot dryer like it was the only place he'd find heat in the world.

A minute passed. His eyes grew heavy. Two minutes and his time was up. He couldn't go getting off on a dryer, now could he?

Jim forced himself away from the heat, feeling the last ghostly fingertips of it leave his body as he picked up the movie he'd rented the night before. When he'd sat down to watch it then, he'd been called out to the scene of the bomb threat. Jim put it in the VCR and relaxed against the couch cushions once more. He'd have to pay a late charge for keeping the movie an extra day, but he didn't really care. Casablanca was always worth it. Lots of lust and lots of colorless pain.

The end had never really made sense to him, but there was something like a shameful secret in watching the movie again when it might mean something. When 'hello, goodbye' hurt for someone besides himself. When 'a beautiful friendship' was just starting, not withering away like dried pumpkin leaves.

Some days he felt strangled beneath the weight of his secrets.

Sentinel? Tell no one.

Mad about your best friend? Tell no one.

The dryer buzzed its completion just after the credits began to roll. It made his head give a heartfelt throb that Jim rubbed away with the tips of his fingers against his scalp as he went to retrieve the dried load. Sitting at the kitchen table, letting the sound of the night hypnotize him, Jim slowly and methodically folded his laundry. The shirts were folded so they wouldn't have creases. The socks were flattened and carefully mated. His pants wouldn't bunch at his knees like they did when Blair folded.

Sometimes, he thought he missed the hassle of Blair taking care of laundry wrong.

Just sometimes.

The scent of cooked squash assaulted his nostrils when he was folding the final pair of socks together evenly, and he raised his head from his task, glancing unseeingly toward the window. Honed in with his nose and then his ears. An old lady was cooking for her three adult children. They ate late because the children had to work, but they never missed a dinner with their mother.

She was sick.

"She could go at any time," the youngest whispered. "Should she even be up cooking?"

"Shh," the oldest hushed. "It makes her happy. Now eat."

Jim tuned his senses away from the family, feeling like a voyeur. He had to live with that sensation all the time, when he knew things he shouldn't because he just couldn't help it. He didn't want to back it with anything like the truth.

The truth.


On Blair's wedding day, Jim was the nervous one.

He fussed with his tie in the mirror in the back room of the Hall while Blair lounged casually against the wall, pale but smiling. His usual energy seemed blotted out by the day's gravity. When Jim couldn't get his tie any straighter than it was, he turned his attention to Blair, fussing with his instead.

Blair pushed his hands away. "It's cool, man. Relax."

"Relax?" Jim groaned, completely frustrated. "Sandburg, you're getting married in five minutes and you're telling me to relax?"

"I'm the one that should be nervous." Blair shrugged easily, but his bottom lip shivered. "What's got you all riled up?"

Jim smiled past his dry throat, past the elephant in the room, past the uneasy falling sensation in his gut. Blair probably wouldn't like the truth. Jim fussed with Blair's tie again and dusted the younger man's shoulders off even though the black cloth of the suit was as clean and sharp as the day.

"You're my best friend," Jim explained gruffly, struggling with his emotion. "And I've been through this marriage crap before."

Blair grimaced. "Great thing to say to a man about to walk the green mile."

"Green mile?" Jim laughed, but it burned his tongue. "You're such a pain, Chief."

"Speak for yourself." Blair paused in a tense silence and stared at the door nervously. He suddenly looked like he was about to be sick. "You think I'm doing the right thing?"

And this was it, Jim knew. This was where he revealed everything, came clean, told Blair that he was doing the worst possible thing he could do. This was the moment where he turned everything back around and kissed Blair so gently, so honestly, that he finally understood the biggest secret Jim had never known until it was too late. This was where he--

The door opened, revealing Blair's mother. "It's time," she said, practically jumping up and down. Her cheeks were red and her hair was a mess. She was radiant with joy.

Jim's body shut down for a moment, all his senses flat lining. It was like being pulled under by a river. And then he focused in on Blair's rabbit-fast heartbeat and was abruptly drawn back into reality. He focused on Blair with hard clarity. The kid's skin was slick with sweat, but there was that grin again, a little manic. The moment had been lost. When Naomi was gone, Jim clapped a hand on Blair's shoulder.

"You're doing the right thing," Jim assured his friend. "I know it."

Blair returned his look with surprising intensity, then nodded. Jim watched stoically as Blair pledged his life to someone else. And when it was asked if there was any reason why 'these two people should not be joined', he kept his silence. He was gray throughout the ceremony, but no one noticed. Why would they? People didn't go to weddings to see the best man. They didn't even see the way his hands shook as Blair murmured the damning words.

"...I do."


Jim let himself go to bed. Or tried to. But you see, this was a bad day, and his body hurt in all the wrong places. The loft didn't smell right. It didn't sound right and it certainly didn't feel right. He tossed and turned on his mattress, taking absurd satisfaction in the squeaking protests the box spring made with every violent movement of the man above it. The railing was cold as death when his hand brushed against it, and Jim quickly pulled back, shivering.

It was his own fucking fault that he felt so horrible all the time.

He'd been practically married to Blair for four years, minus the sex. And now the kid was gone and it was like a limb had been severed from his body and he could feel its haunting ache from miles away. It had never been this bad after Carolyn. Jim got a masochistic kick out of the thought of telling Blair about his newest heightened sense.

"Sandburg, I can feel you," he'd say. "When you're not even there."

Yeah. Right.

Jim turned his face into his pillow, inhaling an absent scent, waiting for sleep to take him or to be suffocated by the casing, whichever happened first. Nothing. With a harassed groan, he rolled onto his side and stared blankly at the open space through the railing. Shadows shifted, skulking, and through them he could clearly see most of the loft. He caught thready glimpses of headlights along the walls, bouncing like mosquitoes, before they moved on to some other wall that wasn't his.

He thought about Blair's first few weeks of dating Tonya, because that's what he did on bad days.

"I think I've met someone," Blair had said seriously. Or as seriously as Jim had been able to take him when the kid was talking through a meatball grinder from Subway.

"You always meet someone."

"No," Blair had shook his head, sauce dripping on his chin. "This is different. She's different."

"You say that about them all," Jim'd replied, amused by his friend's messy face and insistence.

"I'm serious this time, Jim. I'm half in love with her already."

Jim had stared at him, unsure what he should say. In the end, he'd settled on a cautious, "Right."

He should have known. Blair wasn't much for talking about love. Jim should have taken him seriously. He should have said something. Like: Blair. Yes, I'm calling you by your first name, but ignore that for a minute. Blair, I... I want to hold you down and kiss you, but mostly just hold you. And sometimes when I jack off, at the end, I just can't get your face out of my head. What do you think that means?

Except he'd never say something like that. And he hadn't.

Jim grumbled and the bed creaked as he shifted again.

"Quit yer bitching," he muttered at it.

He'd have to ask Blair about sleeping pills.

Not thinking very clearly, Jim reached for the phone he'd taken to keeping at his bedside in case of emergencies and dialed Blair's phone number before he gave himself time for second guessing. It rang three times, the amount of time it probably took Blair to stumble out of bed and into the kitchen to stop the ringing annoyance.

Jim's heart pounded fitfully, bass drums in his ears.

"Hello?" A grumpy voice answered, sounding weary and annoyed with whoever was calling. Somehow Jim could sense the warmth of sleep on Blair's skin from all the way across the city. It made him burn, his skin prickle, and his hair poke out like tiny pins from his body.

Jim couldn't bring himself to speak.

A sound, like cloth rustling. A robe being tightened. "Hello?"

Silence that stretched and stretched and--

"Jim?" It was asked as if Blair had his hand covering part of his mouth, a secret name whispered into the mouthpiece of the phone because he didn't want his wife to hear. Didn't want her to know who had called so late and said nothing. Jim shivered and hung up too quickly, almost dropping the phone in his haste to be free of it.

The way Blair had spoken... apology and pity and other horrible revealing things... God, he knew.

Jim took deep breaths in the way Blair had taught him and struggled to keep himself from having a panic attack or a zone or something worse. His heart throbbed unevenly in his chest, as if it might fall over into his stomach at any moment.

'He knows,' Jim thought fearfully, and then, 'God, what will I do?'

Jim had just called Blair in the middle of the night and breathed like a freight train into his ear. Of course he'd finally figured it out. How could he not know? Or maybe he just thought Jim was lonely. Maybe he'd write it off as some sort of post-best friend and guide moving out disorder that had an obscure name that Jim couldn't pronounce.


Jim shut his eyes, trying to push the thoughts away. But they wouldn't go, because he would see Blair tomorrow and his partner's eyes would reflect nothing of tonight's non-conversation. Blair was supposed to be the open one in their relationship, but he said less than he thought and the kid thought a lot.

Slowly, with the care of age, Jim shifted onto his stomach and eased his body down onto the sheets. Each scrape of his skin against the cloth was painful, but he forced his way through the other side of the agony, eventually regaining control of his senses enough to calmly lay his head on the pillow.

He was losing Blair, letting him fade away into a shaky video feed that continued to age until it was blurred and unrecognizable. A personal casualty in the worst possible way, who he'd see grow old and gray, but with someone else.

You see, today was one of the bad days.

And he couldn't let go of someone he'd never had.


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