Forty Years Short
Blair stood with a pain in the bottom of his throat as though he were about to be sick. Part of him wanted to be sick, to have an excuse to run as far as he could. He wanted to tell everyone that he needed time to process and just walk away. He wanted the aching pains in the back of his arms from where he had hugged himself to soreness to vanish. He wanted the crick in his neck from sleeping in the chair to fade. He wanted Jim back.
He could feel eyes on him as he concentrated on a flickering candle, the image blurring in and out of focus as he gripped the smooth wood in front of him. A hand closed over his, and he tensed, wanting to pull away, but not having enough energy to make the muscles move. Instead he remained frozen as people wandered by and muttered words he couldn't understand.
Another hand settled in at his back, pressing, and Blair leaned forward. He didn't want anyone to touch him. He didn't want to touch or be touched. He wanted all these people to leave so he could just crawl into the casket with Jim and die. He was dead anyway, and making his muscles move and his mouth eat and his ears listen to the pointless words that didn't change the truth… it wasn't worth the dull ache in his soul.
A hand pulled at him, tugging him downward, and Blair resisted for a moment, focusing on the candle flame which had for the moment come into sharp focus. Then his knees failed, and he collapsed on the hard bench so hard that tears sprang up from the sharp pain in his tailbone.
The pain distracted him and in that moment, his eyes betrayed him, sliding over to look at the black coffin, its gold rails and trim shining with the light of the candles that lined the front of the church. Cream satin lined the opened lid, and Blair struggled not to look just inches lower… to Jim's strong face frozen in time.
"Blair?" the sound of his name reached Blair when nothing else could. He looked over at Megan, her graying hair pulled back tight and her uniform crisp. It wasn't how Jim would have remembered her. Jim would have preferred her in jeans with one of her horrible coats that Jim said made it look like an animal had crawled around her neck and died. Blair's mind went skittering away at the thought of that word.
Forty years wasn't enough. Forty years of sarcasm and fighting over the last beer and sitting by each other's hospital beds and Jags games and Christmas mornings and barbeques with the guys from work… it wasn't worth the feeling that his guts had been torn out leaving a Blair-husk to wander through the rest of his life alone.
"It'll be alright, mate," Megan whispered as a minister started the service with a prayer that washed over Blair without registering as actual words. Alright. Blair doubted that. He'd lived up to this point without ever having this ripping void in his heart… Forty years ago, he should have kept living alone in the crowd. He could have kept right on only showing people the Sandburg-chipper surface, but Ellison had to go and burrow deeper, into the soft core that craved love and belonging. And now the bastard had gone and left him—taking part of Blair with him to the grave.
Blair suddenly felt the lack of air in his lungs, sucking in a deep breath. The hand around his wrist tightened.
Why had he ever let himself fall so deeply? Blair glanced at the large picture of Jim standing to the side on a small table. The blue eyes looked back mischievously, and for a second he remembered when they had been young… or younger…. Why had he fallen in love? Why had he let Jim so far under his skin that living without him hurt so damn much? Looking at the framed picture, Blair remembered how, when those eyes had really seen him, everything had seemed like a good idea at the time.
Forty-One Years Short
"Oh man, you are going to be really pissed with me," Blair said to the empty chair that sat across from him. "Yeah, I know what you're going to say," he said as he held up one hand palm out. "You're thinking that this is private information and that you don't want people snooping around in our business."
"Well?" Simon asked as soon as Blair came into the room. The man used his cane to push himself up but Blair waved him back down into his seat. "Are you a doctor or not?" Simon demanded, standing up anyway.
"It doesn't work like that," Blair pointed out as he sat in the deep chairs of the visitor's lounge. "I defended my work and now the committee needs to discuss the merits of my research.
"I'm sure they'll accept it, Sandy," Megan offered as she looked up from her crossword. "Are you feeling okay?" she asked.
Blair let his head drop onto the back of the chair. "I'm nervous, terrified, tense and on the verge of throwing up—does that qualify as fine?" Blair asked.
"Megan, this is my life's work," Blair said as he sat forward and braced himself on his knees. "This is my holy grail that they're holding in their hands. This is the book that could help people recognize and help Sentinels instead of forcing them to suppressing their gifts out of fear. This is…" Blair ran out of words to describe the importance of the day, so he sat back, sagging into the chair as he absent-mindedly rubbed his own shoulder. "This is important," he said as he closed his eyes and tried to relax despite the tightness in his chest.
"Sandburg, you've been obsessing over every word in that book for the last forty years. They'll like it," Simon added, and Blair could hear the leather couch groan under Simon's weight. Even into his eighties, the man was formidable.
"Thirty," Blair corrected him.
"Thirty years. Jim and I were too busy having sex for the first decade for me to get any writing done." Blair smiled when the magazine hit him in the chest.
The sun came through the windows in a warm stream across his legs and Blair worked on taking deep breaths as he waited for his advisor to come get him.
"Advisor," a familiar voice snorted.
"Yeah, he's a little young to be giving actual advice," Blair admitted.
"He's half your age, Chief," Jim said. Blair rolled his head to the side and looked at Jim who stood in the middle of a room which suddenly looked blurry.
"This is a nice dream," he said, and Jim smiled.
"Didn't think I'd leave you alone today of all days?" Jim walked over, and sat on the edge of the overstuffed chair.
"Your age-spots are gone," Blair pointed out as he reached up to run a finger along a familiar arm.
"Just how it works, Chief," Jim answered with a shrug.
"You're still bald."
"Vanity, thy name is Ellison," Blair teased.
"Yeah, well I'm not the one who spent ten years with hair that required an hour of primping every morning."
"It was a statement," Blair insisted as he twined his fingers with Jim's. It looked funny with his wrinkled knuckles and age-spotted hand in Jim's young and strong one. "I miss you," he whispered, and Jim's fingers tightened, holding him. "I miss you so much."
"I know, Chief. I'm with you the whole time, and some days I find myself making a joke and wondering why you don't laugh. I have to remind myself that you can't hear me. I want to touch you so much. I want to feel you lying next to me. Jim slid off the arm of the chair and went to his knees in front of Blair.
"Oh, Chief, what are you doing to yourself?" he asked as he reached up and ran a thumb over Blair's face, and only then did Blair realize he was crying.
"I can't do this without you," Blair admitted, closing his eyes tightly until spots appeared in the darkness and the tears stopped.
"You're never without me," Jim said softly, and Blair opened his eyes again. The fern in the corner of the lobby had grown to a half dozen small trees and the blue light of night filtered in through the windows.
"This isn't a dream, is it?" Blair asked as he looked into Jim's eyes. He could see his own pain reflected back.
"You're having a heart attack," Jim admitted. "But you could have years yet: years of lecturing and teaching. You might even find a few Sentinels… they're out there, Chief."
"But I can't have you." Blair sighed as Jim's palm cupped the side of his face.
"I'll wait for you, Chief."
"Congratulations, Dr. Sandburg," a voice yelled, and Blair turned to the doorway where his advisor stood with a stupid smile on his face.
"Chief, it's the life you wanted from the time you were twenty," Jim whispered, "It's okay to live it." Blair turned back, and Jim was fading, the yellow light of the sun slowly poking holes through the blue of night.
"No. No, that's not what matters." Blair insisted, grabbing Jim's hand where their fingers twined and refusing to let go.
"You could have years, maybe decades."
"Without you," Blair protested. He could feel his left arm quivering as he tried to hold on to Jim. His muscles weakened and his chest grew tight.
"I'll be with you. God, Chief, I swear I'll never leave you," Jim said as he struggled to pull their hands free. "Shit, I shouldn't have come."
"Don't say that. Don't say that you fucking bastard. You fucking left me and now you're trying to do it again." Blair threw himself forward and grabbed at the indistinct edges of his lover.
"I'll hate you," Blair yelled. "You do this, and I'll hate you." Jim's form became a little more distinct around the edges.
"Chief, don't say that," he begged.
"I will. The dissertation, it was just so I could hang on to you. That's not the life I want. I chose you over that life decades ago and you don't have a right to take that choice away from me now."
"I'm not taking anything away. I'll be here."
"I swear I'm adding a chapter on fucking Blessed Protector Syndrome and how it turns Sentinels into bastards who can't seem to understand simple English statements. I love you. I'm not fucking leaving you, and if you leave me again, when I do see you, I will kick your fucking ass through whatever plane of existence you're hovering in." Blair pushed himself up from the chair and used his right arm to pull at Jim's jacket as his left quivered in pain.
"Chief. Don't make it so hard to do the right thing," Jim said through clenched teeth, and now Blair could see tears reflecting the blue light of the jungle.
"The right thing is to hold on to me," Blair whispered. He could feel Jim's body jerk and then a strong arm grabbed him, crushing him to Jim's chest. Blair buried his face in the familiar smell. Jim's body shuddered with sobs, and Blair clutched at him with his good arm.
Then Blair screamed as pain ripped through him, his left arm seizing and going rigid as he panted out the agony.
"You can't have him back; he's mine," Jim growled, and Blair felt himself twirled around so he and Jim had switched positions.
"Jim," he called before shrieking again, his whole left side burning.
"Let him fucking go," Jim screamed as his arms tightened, crushing Blair. Blair felt a snapping as though ripping a band aid off some internal organ and then nothing.
"God, Blair, are you okay?" Jim asked, lowering him to the ground. Blair lay on the damp earth and felt large hands run over every part of him. Two hands took his left arm and started massaging the limb even though it felt fine. Despite his sudden bout of feeling totally healthy, Blair couldn't get his breath.
"I know it's hard. It's okay, just take deep breaths, Chief," Jim muttered as hands continued to check him. Blair tried to take a deep breath, but he lost the air before he could really get it into his lungs. Finally, he pulled in enough air to actually complete the laughter that rolled through him.
"Blair?" Through tears, Blair could see Jim leaning back on his heels looking at him in confusion. Blair just laughed harder as he gulped at air.
Blair fought his laughter down to a hiccupping chuckle before looking up at his lover.
"Am I okay? Am I okay?" Blair asked incredulously. "Um, newsflash, I'm dead, you goof," he pointed out aiming a punch at Jim's leg. Jim retaliated with a headlock.
"Nice, I'm trying to show concern and you have to go for the irony." Jim said as he messed up Blair's long hair.