If I know not love
"Jim?" a woman asked, her voice familiar, but Jim couldn't place her.
"Jim, it's Naomi."
"Naomi?" Jim searched for something nice to say, but in the end, he really didn't like Sandburg's mother. The woman had upended their lives and then vanished off to one of her retreats. "Blair isn't here yet," he said before she could drag him into some conversation about karma or some crap like that. He frowned at the clock as he realized just how late Sandburg was.
"I know," she answered after a brief pause. "I don't know how to say this."
"Whatever you have to say, just say it," Jim said, his stomach already twisting in fear as his imagination recycled his worst nightmares. Blair had left. Blair was with his mother at some damn retreat. He'd given the kid as much space as he could. He'd shoved his own needs into a corner and locked them up, but Blair still needed more space.
He could hear Naomi take a deep breath. "Jim, Cascade General just called me. Blair's in the ICU. He had an accident."
"What?" Jim nearly whispered the word because he suddenly found he didn't have any air in his lungs.
"The hospital just found me. There wasn't a phone at the campsite where I was staying, so I just found out less than an hour ago, but two days ago, a car spun out on the ice and hit Blair as he was going through an intersection. They said he hasn't woken up yet, and I can't get there until Thursday."
Jim couldn't gather his thoughts enough to even answer that.
"I assumed you knew. I mean, I know he changed his contact information, but I thought the police would have gotten a report or checked on him when he didn't show up for work. But then you said he wasn't there like you expected him." Naomi's nervous words trailed off.
"Blair had the last two days off. He's not late enough for me to start looking for him. What do you mean he changed his contact information, why didn't the hospital call me?" The knots in Jim's stomach tightened until his gut ached. His worst nightmare had been Blair finally leaving, that having his own apartment and his own life wouldn't be enough and Jim would lose the last of him, but this… this was worse.
"I know this is a shock, but I really think you should talk to Blair about that. Oh dear. I really hope you can talk to him. I want to get there, but I can't get to the airport until tomorrow."
Jim could hear the soft crying start on the other end of the phone. Blair hadn't woken up yet after two days. Gripping the phone until the plastic groaned, Jim struggled to find his balance as the bullpen wavered in and out of focus.
"I've got to get to the hospital. I—" Jim stopped. "I've got to go," he finished as he unceremoniously hung up on Naomi. Two days. Two days alone in the hospital and Jim wasn't even listed on his contact information. Jim grabbed his keys and left without even telling Simon where he was going.
~ ~ ~
In the past, Jim could always count on the hospital bending rules; after all, Jim was Blair's official next of kin, and Jim held his power of attorney. Jim knew exactly what most of the nurses thought of their relationship, and the women would look the other way when Jim sat at Blair's bedside, or when Blair sat at Jim's. That's how it worked. Standing at the nurse's station with his teeth clenched, Jim was ready to wake Blair up just to kill him for taking Jim's name off that paperwork.
"Visiting hours are over," Nurse Crotchety repeated, and her brown eyes didn't have an inch of leeway in them.
"Call it police business," Jim said, his fantasies drifting toward murder and mayhem.
"If it was police business, you would have said that in the first place. Besides, Mr. Sandburg can't answer questions in his current condition." She crossed her arms and gave a smug grin that just pushed Jim's last button.
"I'm going to check on my partner, and if you don't want a shadow who will ticket you every time you step off the curb outside a crosswalk, you'll get out of my way," Jim growled as he walked past the station.
"Hey, you can't go down there!" Nurse Crotchety yelled as she came storming out from behind the desk, her bony elbows jutting out like an uncoordinated scarecrow as she tried to dart in front of Jim, only to miss when he broke into a jog. "I'll call security!" she hissed as she chased him down the hall. She never would have caught him except for the fact that Jim had to stop and check the window on each room. That let her dig bony fingers into his arm, which he ignored as he dragged her down the hall with him.
"My badge trumps their hospital ID," he answered tersely as he finally found the right room. Blair looked pale against the white sheets, his hair shaved on one side and cut short on the other. Now it was real. Before they were only words. Blair hadn't woken up for two days. Words. Seeing Blair looking small in the middle of a sea of medical equipment, his face stubbled and his arms a Technicolor of bruises, the accident had become startling real.
"You can't be in here," the bitch complained as Jim opened the door. Letting go, she trotted her bony ass back toward the nurse's station before Jim silently crept into the room. He'd never seen Blair on so many machines, not even after he'd died. A large white bandage covered one side of his skull, and Jim fought against the hot tears that threatened.
"Hey, Chief," he whispered as he moved to Blair's side and touched a limp arm. "What are you doing still sleeping? Of course, maybe you're just trying to avoid me. You took me off your contact information, Chief, why did you do that?"
Using a foot to pull the visitor's chair closer, Jim sank down as he held Blair's hand in his own. He didn't really need an answer, he already knew. Blair had been slowly withdrawing ever since the dissertation. Okay, truth be told, it had started with Alex—with Alex and that damn beach. That's when Blair's words had dried up, and they never came back even after he took the badge.
Jim had tried giving Blair space, and he kept waiting for that puppy-like enthusiasm to bring Blair bouncing back to him, but that saying about letting go of what you loved and it would come back to you—it was bullshit. What you loved didn't come back, not when you didn't know how to love right.
Jim ran a finger gently over the stubble that was left of Blair's beautiful hair. He was going to be pissed. "Hey, buddy. You're going to miss all the fun at work. We've got a triple homicide. I drew it yesterday when you were off, and I was planning on tapping you for it. Of course Rafe thinks he can get you to help with that series of high-rise burglaries, but like I told him, murder trumps jewelry thieves." Jim closed his eyes against the image of Blair's face slack and silent.
"We need to talk to you a minute, would you step into the hall, please?" a polite voice asked from the door. Jim took a deep breath and turned to find a familiar security guard standing at the doorway. "Detective Ellison?" the man asked, visibly shocked.
"Gary, right?" Jim asked, vaguely recognizing the man from the hospital drug thefts he and Sandburg had worked.
"Yeah. Oh god, that's Detective Sandburg?" The guard stepped into the room, and Jim shifted so the guard could see Blair lying in the middle of the wires and tubes and machines, dark circles under his eyes making his eyes look sunken in the pale face. "I didn't know. I'll talk to Mrs. Delgado, explain this," the guard waved vaguely, and Jim knew exactly what the man was thinking. If he didn't, the blush on the man's face would give him a good clue, but Jim didn't care what the guard thought as long as he kept the nurses away. He nodded and the guard backed out of the room.
"Chief, I know you need your space, and I'm trying really hard to be okay with that," he whispered desperately, "but you can't leave. Not like this." Jim tightened his hold on Blair's hand. "I've learned to live without your hair clogging my drains, but I can't do this if I don't get any part of your life. God, I'm pathetic." Jim fought another round of emotion that threatened to choke him. The pain pressed at him until he could feel the strain of it pulling his heart.
Jim rested his forehead against the edge of the bed. The harsh smells of the hospital and the sour stench of Blair's body was almost enough to zone, and Jim let himself float on that feeling and on the way his senses pushed reality away until he couldn't hear the beeping of the heart monitor and the whine and drip and whir of the other machines.
He'd tried to not need Blair. He knew it wasn't fair for him to do anything else, and so he'd dated women and helped Blair move his crap to that shitty apartment of his, and he'd dropped as many hints as he could about not having a problem with a gay partner even if he just couldn't understand the attraction himself. He'd been supportive, and he'd tried to minimize how much of Blair's attention he demanded so that he wouldn't lose the right to some small piece of Blair's life when Blair finally found someone to love. He'd tried to live with less. Right now, he just wanted to scoop Blair up and take him back to the loft and never let him leave again. Right now, he resented every second he hadn't had with Blair because now he realized he might not get any more. Jim finally gave up, warm tears sliding silently down to drop on Blair's bed as he realized that he was a selfish bastard. He wanted back every second that he'd sacrificed in the name of Blair's freedom.
~ ~ ~
Jim sat up fast. His senses stabbed out and the sounds and smells of the hospital flowed back toward him so fast that Jim had to clamp down on an immediate urge to vomit. A man in a white coat stood at the end of Blair's bed.
"Your captain explained that there has been some sort of confusion with the paperwork. You and Ms. Naomi Sandburg share power of attorney?" he asked. Jim nodded mutely. Obviously Simon had found out where Jim and gone, and obviously Blair's power of obfuscation had rubbed off on the man. Jim reached for Blair's hand, hating the feeling of the fingers lying lifeless in his hand. Blair was always moving, his hands dancing in time to his words.
"I thought I would brief you before Ms. Sandburg arrives. She agreed that you were authorized to make unilateral decisions until she arrives tomorrow afternoon."
Jim took a deep breath and braced himself for the worst. "What's the diagnosis?" Jim asked as he focused on Blair's closed eyes.
"He took a blow to the head, that's the worst of the injuries. We operated to repair hematomas in the right hemisphere of his brain. The worst case scenario is that he will remain minimally aware for the rest of his life."
Jim grabbed the side of the bed as the ground lurched.
"However," the doctor quickly said, "that's not the most likely outcome."
"Give me straight answers," Jim growled as he finally turned to face the doctor.
"Brain injuries are unpredictable. The test results indicate there is still activity in the right hemisphere, so I do have hope that he will recover some function, but he is likely to be a different person when he wakes up. He may have trouble controlling the left side of his body or seeing out of his left eye. He may even have trouble with spatial perception or suffer personality changes. Until he wakes up, there really isn't a way to predict the actual damage. I just don't want you to expect him to wake up and be the same as he was before he had this accident."
Jim jerked his head in a rough nod. "Fine. We wait."
"I'm going to send in a nurse to discuss the possibilities—"
"No," Jim cut him off. "I'm not discussing anything until Blair wakes up. My partner has pulled through some rough spots." Jim refused to say how many rough spots Jim himself had caused. Jim had run off to chase Alex even though he knew Blair would follow. Jim had practically abandoned his partner during the whole Ventriss mess. Jim couldn't love his partner. That last was the worst. If only Jim could love him the way Blair wanted… if Jim could just look at Blair and see something besides a little brother, maybe this wouldn't have happened. Maybe Blair would be home tucked into Jim's bed instead of driving back to that shithole apartment with its beautiful view of Target's loading bays.
"Having unrealistic expectations won't help Mr. Sandburg," the doctor started in his patronizing tone. Jim took an angry step forward, his face tight with a frustrated need to take his anger out on someone or something and the doctor decided prudence was the better part of valor and fled.
With the doctor gone, Jim sank down into the chair again. Without fury to prop him up, Jim could feel the despair and fatigue and loss pull him down, and he didn't fight. Putting his forehead back down on Blair's mattress, Jim surrendered to the half-zone where he didn't have to smell and hear and see Blair's pain. Faint regrets pulled at him, but even looking back on the mess that had become their lives, Jim couldn't find the moment when he could have saved their relationship. He could have affected the details of their slow drift, sped up or slowed down the moment when Blair left him, but he couldn't change the fact that he and Blair didn't share the same definition of love. His love for Blair would never be enough. And now, the small part of Blair that Jim had managed to hold on to was slipping away. Jim clung tighter to the lax hand. He couldn't do anything else.
~ ~ ~
Jim walked into the hospital room where Naomi was reading to Blair from an old book with ragged corners.
"How is he?" Jim asked.
"Drifting in and out," she answered in the same sing-songy voice she used to read to Blair. "You look terrible."
Jim scrubbed his face with a hand. He probably did. After two weeks of leave he'd had to go back to work, so he was tired and cranky and worried about the fact that Blair would sleep and wake and gaze around the room without actually engaging with either his mother or Jim. The doctors kept calling the progress promising, but Jim didn't see much to cheer about. Naomi sighed and put the book down on the table.
"I'll let you have some time with him," she said as she stood up.
"Naomi." Jim stopped. This probably wasn't the time or place, but he'd wondered for weeks, and he had finally worked up the courage to ask, either that or the lack of sleep had finally impaired his judgment enough that he was going to ask a question that he didn't want the answer to, one or the other. "Why did Blair take me off his contact information?" Jim focused on Blair's hands, which twitched randomly.
Naomi sighed. "I think you need to talk to Blair."
"I can talk all I want to Blair, but he's not talking back," Jim pointed out with a dry laugh that almost turned into a sob.
"I hear you," Naomi agreed softly, and god Jim had come to hate that phrase. Jim just stood in the doorway, not letting Naomi escape until she offered him an answer, and she sighed again before giving in. "Blair felt like you were trying to move on with your life and he was clinging too much. He didn't want you to feel like you had to be there."
"Blair wasn't clinging," Jim protested. "I've been his next of kin for almost four years."
"And Blair loved every day of that," Naomi nodded. "I know I didn't give him something important when he was a little boy. I thought the road offered him more than a stable home. But Blair didn't want you to feel like…" she stopped and took a deep breath. "Blair didn't want you to be obligated. You weren't his family, and he thought he needed to make those boundaries clear between you again, that too much had been blurred so that your lives were tangled in each other's."
Jim didn't say anything, but he'd liked their tangled lives. He'd liked nagging Blair and giving him shit about making a mess and sorting through tofu monstrosities in his refrigerator. Or at least he'd liked their tangled lives until he'd grown uncomfortably aware that Blair was interested in more than a big brother. "Naomi," Jim said, and he didn't have any other words. Naomi put her hand on his arm.
"I do hear you, Jim," she promised him. Then she detoured around him and left him for his hours with Blair. They'd watch a game while Jim filled him in on all the cases, and once again Blair would aimlessly stare at one random point after another, his eyes reflecting nothing but a dull awareness of the world.
~ ~ ~
"Jim. Oh man, you have to save me from the sadist," Blair insisted as Jim came in at the end of the physical therapy session. Blair stunk of sweat, his blue t-shirt stained wet as he struggled with the parallel bars. His left leg still kicked wide with each step and the foot landed on the instep so it couldn't bear his weight. Jim could see Blair arms tremble from the hard workout.
"One more lap, and I'll let you escape," Randy promised as he walked behind Blair, his hands at Blair's waist.
"I should warn you, my partner is special ops. He can so totally kill someone with a paperclip," Blair said with a knowing look in Randy's direction.
Randy just laughed. "Creative death threats do not work. Come one, one more lap, and this time, get the weight on that lazy leg of yours and not your arms," he prompted.
Blair huffed in frustration as Randy practically lifted Blair, helping him turn so he could walk the length of the parallel bars back toward the waiting wheelchair. With slow and painful steps, Blair covered the distance silently. Jim listened to the labored breathing, the drag of Blair's left foot across the mat as Blair struggled to get it to respond to the brain's signals again.
The doctors kept talking about how lucky he was. He had recovered with his personality intact, minimal vision loss in his left eye, and a seriously lazy leg, but he had recovered. Some days Jim felt like they were lucky. Other days, watching Blair struggle to walk a dozen steps as he panted and made that little whine that only Jim could hear every time he put weight on his left leg… those days Jim refused to call them lucky.
"You're still the reigning champ," Randy congratulated Blair as he virtually collapsed into his wheelchair. Blair drew a deep and shuddering breath as he gave Randy the best smile he could manage. After seeing how some of the patients took their frustrations out on the physical therapist, Jim had to think Randy appreciated the effort. The therapist patted Blair on the shoulder. "And now I deliver you to your big, buff boyfriend, no need for threats or paperclips," he joked.
Blair stopped breathing for a second, but Jim just moved in, unlocking the wheelchair brakes with practiced ease before aiming them toward the exit.
"Oh man, I’m sorry. I don't know why Randy would say something like that," Blair finally recovered enough to say as they reached the elevators.
"Don't worry about it, Chief." Jim could smell the distress, so similar to the sharp scent of fear. The sweat on Blair's body magnified the scent until his nose itched.
"I mean, I know you aren't interested. I never gave him the impression that we were together." That sounded almost desperate, and Blair twisted around in his chair, bracing himself on the arms so he could look up at Jim.
"Calm down," Jim said, his hand landing on Blair's shoulder. "Most of the hospital thinks we're together, and if that makes it easier for me to get information about when you're trying to hide some complication, I don't mind," Jim said as he raised one eyebrow. Blair at least had the decency to blush at that reference.
"You're like a pit bull. I told you it wasn't any big deal," he muttered.
"Yeah, that's what you said. The doctors thought it was a little more serious than that. But like I said, the rumor doesn't bother me, Chief." Jim tried to ignore the hopeful look on Blair's face. He tried to ignore it, and when that didn't work for more than two seconds, he tried to mentally list all the reasons he should give this a try. It would make Blair happy, it would keep Blair close, it would mean he could take Blair home. Jim frowned. It would mean Blair would expect to share his bed, and that's where the fantasy sort of fell apart for Jim.
"Chief," Jim sighed as the elevator appeared. He pushed Blair in, swinging the wheelchair around so Blair would be facing front.
"Oh man, you do not have to explain. I don't expect—"
"Chief," Jim cut him off, his voice sharper than he intended, and Blair immediately fell silent. "Blair, I'm not interested in you like that."
Blair was already nodding. "I get that," he said, sounding suspiciously like his mother with her favorite catchphrase. "Look, I'm doing really well in therapy, and as much fun as your whole blessed protector thing is, I've got it from here."
"No, you don't, and I don't think I'm explaining myself well," Jim said. He felt Blair slipping away again, but this time Jim didn't want to let go. Yeah, he should. He should let Blair go and find some partner who would return Blair's love the way Blair wanted. He'd find some gay lover who wouldn't care that Blair was in a wheelchair and his left side wasn't fully functional and that he'd developed what Blair considered a small complication: intermittent stereotypic movement disorder. After seeing Blair sitting on his own left hand in an effort to prevent it from jerking out of his control, Jim didn't consider the complication all that small.
"Look, I don't need the pity. You weren't interested before, and you sure aren't going to be interested now," Blair snapped. The elevator doors opened, and Blair shoved off, wheeling himself forward across the smooth tile while Jim hurried to catch up.
"Blair!" he called, catching one handle on the wheelchair, and pulling Blair to a stop near the front doors. The van would be here soon to take Blair to the transition house where they were teaching him how to be handicapped in a world that wasn't all that wheelchair friendly. It might be years before Blair could walk well enough to give up the wheelchair, and with the movement disorder, a walker was out of the question. Blair chose the transitional house over Jim's place, and Jim could still feel the sting of that rejection. And from the stubborn look on Blair's face, Jim was about to face a whole lot more rejection. Jim didn't know if selfishness or love was motivating him, but he wasn't giving up easy again.
Taking a firm hold on the wheelchair, Jim pushed it outside and parked it under the shade of a tall tree next to a stone bench.
"I'll tell Randy to back off," Blair said, his voice defeated.
"Blair, I don't give a shit what Randy thinks or the guys at the station or most of this hospital."
Blair glanced up with eyes filled with pain. "Oh man, I wish you did," he whispered. Jim smelled the salt of Blair's tears. Blair never cried anymore. Jim reached out, but Blair immediately wheeled himself back a foot or so, just out of easy reach. "Look, I just need some space."
"Blair, talk to me," Jim asked. Blair started laughing, but it was an ugly sound, full of hatred and anger and a darkness Jim hated hearing come from Blair. "Blair?"
"Blair… not Chief, but just Blair." Blair nodded as if that made any sense, which in Jim's mind, it didn't. "If this were just homophobia, I could do something to make you magically discover that you were just using your anger to hide all these hidden desires and then from there it'd just be one short fall into your bed. Man, I know that fantasy," Blair nodded miserably.
"Blair, I don't—"
"Yeah, I know. Total fantasy. Because it's not that you're this homophobic jerk. No way. No, you just honestly aren't attracted to me, and right now, that's not so surprising," Blair gave another dark laugh.
"I wish I were, and there's nothing wrong with how you are now," Jim pointed out as he got up and crouched in front of Blair. It let him rest his hands on Blair's thighs, and yeah, it was a dirty rat-bastard thing for Jim to do, but he was willing to play dirty to keep Blair this time. He'd tried playing fair, and he didn't like how it turned out. Blair shook his head.
"You have worse vision than I do," Blair snorted.
"Man, I’m too tired to do this." Blair leaned back and closed his eyes, and Jim could count every stress line across his face.
"Blair, I don't want to lose you," Jim admitted quickly. "I don't want you going to that damn transition house, I want you coming home."
Blair slowly shook his head. "No way. You want to move on with your life, and you should. Your reproductive drives have got to be going nuts. It's time to pass on the Sentinel genes." Blair sounded so damn tired.
"Don't I get some say, or is this all about instincts, and I'm just around for the ride as my body hijacks me?" Jim asked. At least that got Blair to open his eyes and look at Jim. "Chief, I want you to come home."
"Not compatible, man," Blair said sadly.
"Just because I don't want you in my bed doesn't mean I don't want you in my life."
"I think the future Mrs. Sentinel might have something to say about that."
"What is it with you and my Sentinel mating urges? Is this still about Alex?" Jim demanded, anger quickly rising up to challenge the hopelessness he'd felt a second ago.
"Is it?" Blair asked, and that totally threw Jim off. Blair was supposed to get defensive, not go all indecisive so Jim didn't have a target to attack. He paused as he regrouped.
"I don't want to reproduce," Jim finally said.
"You could have fooled me."
"Well, obviously I fooled myself as well because I don't get it. Why would you be so sure that I was trying to reproduce, that there will be a Mrs. Ellison to object to you living under the stairs? For that matter, why would you think that I would care what a Mrs. Ellison would think even if I did lose my mind and decide to marry again?"
"You dated half the station," Blair almost shouted. "Debra from the DA's office and Cynthia from records and Jessie from the ME's office."
"I was trying to show you!"
"Show me what? That you could fuck half the women in Cascade? That I was cramping your style? That it's hard to bring the girl home when you don't know if the junior partner is going to be hanging out in his underwear on the couch?" Blair voice rose to a shout.
"I was trying to show you that I didn't mind if *you* dated," Jim snapped right back. "I never brought those women home."
"Because I was there!"
"Because I didn't want to! If I wanted to bring them home, I would have told you to make yourself scarce for the night."
"Only now, you can't. Now, I'm the cripple who you're feeling sorry for. Of course, maybe you want to play martyr. Maybe you want to be able to show off your crippled partner who you're so good about taking care of. Not buying, Ellison."
"Listen you little shit," Jim snapped as three months of patience ran out in one second. "I fucking love you. And if the love I can offer you isn't enough, then fuck you. I want you home because it's your home. You belong there as much as I do and it feels wrong every time I step through that fucking door, and it has since you moved out. I was trying to give you your space so you could find someone who could offer you something better than some dried up old cop who'd rather use his own hand because relationships are just too fucking complicated for me to deal with. I wanted you to be happy. And if that's some sort of crime, then just go fuck yourself, Sandburg."
Jim stormed away. It was only in the truck that he realized he had just broken something so valuable that he could never replace it. But by then the van from the house had appeared and Sandburg had vanished inside. The attendant was still standing on the curb helping a second patient, an ambulatory one, into the front passenger side, but Jim couldn't have part two of this conversation in front of an audience. He couldn't have part two of this conversation at all. Jim thought he should cry at the loss of something so important in his life, but he couldn't. He could only feel numb.
~ ~ ~
Jim answered the knock at the door in his bathrobe. "Simon?" he asked.
Simon looked at him and pulled the unlit cigar out of his mouth. "You sick?"
"Just lazing around the house. It's my day off," Jim said defensively. Simon leaned against the doorjam and looked Jim up and down. "Do you want something?"
"I just thought I'd check on my favorite detective. I hear he got into a lover's spat with his ex-partner down at the hospital yesterday."
"Don't start," Jim warned as he turned his back and headed for the couch.
"Are you going to tell me what's going on?" Simon asked.
"Nothing. Nothing is going on, and nothing ever will and apparently friendship is not that important," Jim said without emotion as he turned the mute button off. The sound of racing cars and tires against asphalt filled the loft, drowning out the silence that Jim had grown to hate.
"You plan to explain that comment?"
"I swear. I've seen you two go through just about everything together, but I never thought I'd see you attack the kid when he's still in a wheelchair."
"Are you planning on closing the door?" Jim asked as he ignored the condemnation in Simon's voice.
"Fine." Jim turned the race up.
"I had planned to tell you what an asshole you're being."
"I already know," Jim answered. He was an asshole; he'd never tried to deny that.
"I had the same conversation with Sandburg."
"He already knows I'm an asshole, you don't have to tell him," Jim said helpfully.
"I actually had a conversation with him about how he's an asshole," Simon said casually. Jim looked up at his boss who was still standing near the door. Simon kept going in the same nonchalant tone. "Did you know he's been accepted into Rainier for a PhD in cultural anthropology?"
"Yeah, I know. Bitch Edwards is gone and the administration that's left is pretty grateful that he didn't sue them for more once the dust settled from the dissertation disaster. But what the hell gives you the right to go over there and call him an asshole?" Jim demanded.
"He was one of my men. And when a man acts like an asshole, he has to expect someone to call him on it."
"He's having a hard enough time without you giving him shit, Simon," Jim said, bothered that Simon would have come down on Blair. Jim had destroyed his relationship with Blair, but Blair would still need a support network of friends, and Jim had thought Simon would be part of that.
"He's having a harder time because he's so damn bullheaded," Simon snorted. "Look, I'll be downstairs, but if I hear anything louder than a bump, I swear, I'll throw both of you in a cell until you make nice."
Jim heard the whisper of wheels across a floor about the same time as Simon's words registered. Blair pushed himself over the door jam with some difficulty, having to back up and take it at a better angle to get through, and Jim just watched as Blair stopped near the kitchen table.
"Blair?" Jim asked.
"I'll leave you two to it," Simon said. His hand lingering for a second on Blair's shoulder before he walked out the door, closing it behind him.
"You love me?" Blair asked softly. Jim closed his eyes and gathered his emotional reserves. He wasn't prepared for this.
"I can't be your lover," Jim said quietly.
"Man, I don't care about that. Okay, so I care a little, and I still plan to have a fantasy affair with you because fantasy is a perfectly healthy part of sexual function," Blair said, his hands dancing in front of his face as he tried to illustrate the normalcy of sexual fantasy with a few waves of the hand. "What I hated was that you looked at those women with all this love and caring and you never looked at me like that, not like before."
Jim opened his mouth, but Blair pushed himself closer. "No way," he stopped Jim. "You had your say, and now I'm having mine. Man, you were my family. You were home. And then you stopped looking at me with any love and I thought I had ruined the only place I've ever felt like I belong. I’m always on the outside, only with you, I somehow got this key and instead of being the funny looking guy on the edge, I was your partner and I was here for poker night and for betting at the track and the guys would threaten me for racing tips." Blair stopped when a tear escaped. He took a deep breath that did nothing to stop the next several escapees from sliding down his face. "You found out how I felt and you just cut me off."
"I never cut you off. I just didn't want to give you the wrong impression," Jim objected, desperate to do or say something to stop the pain he could see in Blair's face.
"I got the impression that you couldn't love me like a brother because of how I felt—that there was something wrong with me and you didn't want me around. You started dating all these women and spending all this time talking about how you didn't mind me being gay until I got the feeling that you did mind and you were just too polite to say it." Blair wiped at his face and took several breaths as he got his composure back.
"I never stopped loving you like a brother," Jim said as he stood up and came around the couch. He wanted to touch Blair, to find comfort in that contact that used to come so naturally between them, but now the gesture felt forced.
"I wasn't feeling the love, man," Blair confessed.
"Shit. I never meant for you to feel that way. I just didn't want to give you false hope. I didn’t want you giving up some perfect partner because you were waiting for me. I didn't want to ruin your life." Jim stopped, determined that he wasn't going to cry. He clenched his jaw, and Blair studied him for several seconds.
"I just want you back," Blair confessed softly.
"Even if I don't want sex?"
"Do you love me?" Blair asked, his voice uncertain and every vulnerability etched across his face.
Jim didn't even have to think about the answer. "Yes. Even when I'm being an asshole."
Blair let out his breath in a gust, and Jim moved forward, not sure how to touch Blair any more. Blair used the arms of his wheelchair to push himself up, and Jim wrapped his arms around Blair and held him.
"I'll always love you. I just don't want you to look back and hate me because you gave up your life for me. I couldn't survive that," Jim confessed, his grip on his own emotions wavering as he felt Blair's body tremble. "Just make me one promise. If you meet some perfect guy, tell me you won't say no to him because of me, and promise that if that perfect guy comes along, I'll still be your family, promise me that," Jim begged.
"That's two promises," Blair hiccuped. "And I promise. I'll always love you, man. I just want my family back."
"You got it," Jim promised. He wasn't crying. He wasn't.
~ ~ ~
"Slow down there, speed racer," Jim complained as Blair zipped down the hall that connected their new kitchen to the second apartment they'd bought and remodeled to turn the loft into one large three bedroom apartment. "And aren't you supposed to be using the cane?" he yelled as Blair disappeared around the corner to his office.
"Yeah, yeah, nag, nag," Blair yelled back before he reappeared, racing back. "I'm late for class, I don't have time for the cane," he said as he braced himself on his good leg and leaned forward to grab his lunch out of the refrigerator.
"They can't exactly start class without you, Dr. Sandburg," Jim pointed out as he gave Blair's short pony tail a tug. He got a glare in return.
"Man, have you never heard of the fifteen minute rule? If I don't get to class, I'm not going to have a class to teach."
"They wouldn't do that to you," Jim said with confidence. "We have a new case if you have any consulting hours left after Special Victims sucked up all your availability last month."
"Totally. I have ten or twelve hours left this month, and my students would so do that to me. Now give them a month, and they will discover that I am way too fascinating to miss. I'll have them eating out of my hand, but on the first day, they're just looking for any excuse, man. Any excuse." Blair shoved his lunch into the saddlebags hanging off the chair and reversed toward the door.
"Take the cane," Jim called as Blair pulled the door open.
"Mother Hen Ellison, strikes again," Blair complained, but he grabbed his cane and dropped it into the sleeve built into his chair for it. "I promise I'll use it at work," Blair said as he rolled out the door, using the rope tied to the knob to pull it shut behind him.
Jim drank his coffee and listened to Blair head down the elevator and out to his van. The motor from the chair lift sounded a little slow. Jim would have the shop check it out. Blair started the van and pulled out, and Jim had a small twinge, the same as every time he listened to Blair driving off. The accident hadn't been Blair's fault. The woman who hit him had been on a cell phone, lost, calling for directions, and not paying attention on icy roads. Blair had just been there. Even so, Jim could admit to feeling a twinge of worry every time Blair got in a car by himself. He even suspected that Blair knew about his irrational fear. But then that's what family did, they worried about each other. Jim finished his coffee and headed for work.
Read the expanded story: Green-Eyed Hope