Past The Guilt

BY: Lyn

EMAIL: Lyn

 

Jim really didn’t want to be at the party tonight. He’d never really been one for celebrations and Christmas, especially, had always held too many unpleasant childhood memories to be anything other than a drain on his emotions.

Until Blair had come along.

Jim found it impossible to ignore the sheer pleasure Blair took in the whole Christmas thing, from finding the perfect Christmas tree to the secretive stowing of gifts – and the surreptitious peeking. He’d dragged Jim along to faculty celebrations, never batting an eye at Jim’s suggestions that he’d be better off taking a date, until Jim had finally bought a clue and realized that the only date Blair wanted was Jim. Considering Jim had been wanting that himself for way too long, he didn’t argue the point.

In turn, they joined their Major Crime family, because, almost from the moment Blair had walked through the doors of Major Crime, trailing behind his dissertation subject, that was what they had become, in celebrating assorted holidays and other more personal occasions, such as Joel and Martha’s wedding anniversary and Henri’s baby girl’s christening. It was good to have somewhere to go where they felt they didn’t have to hide their relationship. If anything, most of their friends only seemed to wonder what had taken them so long to finally get together, claiming to have seen it coming for years. Blair would usually roll his eyes and give Jim a full body nudge, explaining that Jim had always been somewhat clueless when it came to matters of the heart.

Jim smiled now, remembering those good times, but his happiness at the fond memories was quickly replaced with sorrow at what he had lost. It was his fault that Blair wasn't here beside him tonight, enjoying the camaraderie of their friends. Absently, he swirled the ice in his scotch glass and stared out at the darkened sky.

Tonight, as so often lately, the memories of that night rose up from the ashes of his regret, the scene so vivid, it was as though he was stuck in that time and place and the here and now was a dreamscape.

They’d argued earlier in the night. It hadn’t been a big thing. Jim still worried a little over Blair’s wellbeing, though the drowning was months in the past. Blair seemed to catch colds and other respiratory ailments more easily now – and took longer to recover.

Blair usually withstood Jim’s over-attentiveness with slight impatience and good humor, but Jim’s suggestion that he not accompany his partner on tonight’s stakeout had obviously been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Jim had pointed to the rain lashing down against the balcony doors. It was freezing cold outside and the downpour had been incessant for most of the day. Blair, however, was not going to be refused and eventually, Jim caved in, as they both knew he would.

Jim was still a little pissed off at the situation by the time they reached the stakeout. Blair had recently recovered from a bout of bronchitis, and he still looked somewhat pale and tired, though, as usual, he insisted to anyone who asked that he was just fine.

The perp they were lying in wait for had turned up, spotted them and immediately taken off in his car, his tires spraying water as he accelerated at high speed down the road.

Jim sped after him in pursuit, cursing their quarry, who showed no regard for oncoming traffic and raced through intersections without slowing down in the slightest. At one point, Jim had almost lost control of his truck, and had to fight hard to get it back on the road. Blair sat beside him, white-faced, his fingers taloned on the dash. "It’s getting too dangerous," Blair finally said, his voice slightly higher-pitched with fear. "Let him go. We’ll find him again."

Jim cut a glare sideways at his partner and simply pressed harder on the accelerator, grimly ordering Blair to make sure he was buckled in.

The small sedan had come out of nowhere. Even now, Jim had no idea of color or make. Jim wrenched the steering wheel hard to the right to avoid an impact and the truck slid, aquaplaning on the slick blacktop with Jim fighting to put it into a controlled skid. He hadn’t known what they’d hit until several days later – the impact with a stationary car, thankfully unoccupied, had thrown him against the side window with a resounding crack. Oblivion was immediate and absolute. He didn’t even hear Blair’s strangled scream of agony.

Jim hadn’t regained consciousness until several hours later. He had no memory of being cut from the truck or the trip to the hospital. When he’d awoken, his first thoughts were of Blair, and the news Simon conveyed had him shriveling up inside. Blair’s worst injury was to his left leg. His femur had been pretty much shattered, the muscles and tendons torn. Blood loss from the injury had been severe and the doctors were still uncertain if the leg could be saved. Blair was in critical condition in the ICU, heavily sedated to keep the pain at bay, until he was stable enough to be taken to surgery.

Jim lay in a bed a floor below, barely aware of Simon, who sat beside him, his own expression bleak with worry. In his mind’s eye, Jim conjured up images of the crash, based only on his dark imaginings, since he had no real memory of them; of Blair screaming in agony as the twisted metal of the truck smashed into his leg. Over and over, he cursed himself, wished himself dead, for ruining Blair’s life, if indeed he survived at all.

Blair had come home months later, his leg saved but far from healed. Months of physical therapy lay in the future but doctors held out little hope that he would ever regain full use of the limb. Even once the cast was off and Blair was hobbling around with the use of a cane, it quickly became apparent that there were many situations when Blair’s lameness put both him and Jim at a disadvantage out on the street. There had been one incident where Blair had almost been shot when he'd dived forward to push Jim out of the way of a sniper’s bullet.

Equally as bad as the absolute fear Jim had felt when he'd hurried to Blair's side to check for thankfully non-existent bullet wounds, had been the sheer agony Blair had suffered for a week after, as a result of falling full force on his lame leg.

Blair’s leg was getting stronger but the going was slow and painful. As Blair’s frustration at his inability to keep up with his partner grew, Jim’s guilt increased exponentially. More often than not, Blair was relegated to deskwork while Jim seconded Henri or Rafe to accompany him on the street. He was finding teaching hard too. He’d adamantly refused Jim’s suggestion of a wheelchair during lecture periods, insisting instead on continuing his habit of pacing in front of his class, until the pain finally forced him into a seat.

Things came to ahead one evening when Jim came home to find Blair white-faced and sick to his stomach from the agonizing cramps that had gripped his thigh for the better part of the afternoon, after he’d slipped on a slick patch on the sidewalk. Jim hovered over him, desperate to do anything to alleviate Blair’s pain, but even his sentinel touch had brought only further agony and eventually they’d resorted to the emergency department of Cascade General. The following morning, Blair had climbed out of bed early and limped downstairs. Jim was up quickly and followed him down, fearful of his lover falling on the stairs. Blair ignored him and made his way slowly over to the balcony windows, where he stood and stared out at the grey morning.

"I can’t do this anymore," he finally whispered.

Jim swallowed past the lump in his throat. "Do what anymore?"

Blair reached out a hand and traced the trail of a raindrop down the glass door. "Live with the pain."

Jim stepped in closer and wrapped Blair in an embrace, pulling him back to rest against his chest. "It’ll get better," he said, knowing it was only half-truth. "You just need to take it a little slower. You’re pushing yourself too hard. Think some more on that wheelchair, okay –"

"I can’t afford a damn wheelchair!" Blair didn’t sound angry, just enormously weary and dejected. "My insurance won’t cover it."

"I’ll buy it." Jim bent his head and pressed a kiss to Blair’s curls. "You were working with me. I’ll check with Simon about compensation."

"No."

"No what?"

Blair turned in Jim’s arms and looked up at him. "I can’t live with the pain anymore. Your pain."

"I wasn’t the one who was hurt," Jim protested. "I’m the one who caused this!"

"And every time I look at you, that’s all I see in your eyes," Blair said. "Guilt." He pushed out of Jim’s embrace and limped over to the couch, seating himself with a small pained gasp. Gingerly, he massaged his thigh. "You made a mistake but unless you can get past the guilt, we can never move on."

"How can I do that?" Jim asked, exasperation creeping into his voice. "I crippled you, for god’s sake! Your Psych classes tell you how I’m supposed to get past that?"

Blair looked up at him, a sad smile curving his lips, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He shook his head. "Nope. But I know from experience. I had to get past the guilt of what happened with Alex. If I hadn’t, our relationship would never have had a chance."

"That was as much my fault as yours," Jim replied. He looked away from Blair’s piercing gaze. "Hell, even then, you were the one who got hurt."

"We got past it," Blair reminded him.

"This is different. This is your life on hold, maybe ruined… because of me."

Blair leaned back and rested his head on the couch, his eyes closing. He looked defeated. "Just think about what I said. I can’t deal with this," he gently tapped his injured leg, "and your pain too."

Nothing more had been said. Jim had gone to work, leaving Blair at home to rest. Blair had been forced to take a couple of days’ leave from the university to allow his leg to regain some strength and knew he wasn’t up to accompanying Jim to the station.

Jim left with a heavy heart. He phoned a couple of times during the day but the answering machine kicked in each time. Knowing Blair had some heavy-duty painkillers to take when the pain in his leg got too bad, Jim didn’t persevere, not wanting to disturb his lover’s much-needed rest.

When he came home to an empty apartment and a brief note from Blair, he berated himself for that decision over and over.

Blair was gone, taking only a few belongings but his letter left no illusion that he might be back. There was no indication of where he was going, who he’d be staying with. No clue to how long he'd be gone, if he'd ever return. Between the lines, seeing past the crisp words as though with Sentinel sight, Jim could feel Blair's utter despair.

Jim kicked his detective skills into high gear. He phoned Naomi, who was out of the country and could only give Jim a few vague suggestions of old friends Blair might contact in time of need. He headed to the university to discover that Blair had organized to take an extended leave of absence, on Chancellor Edwards’ suggestion. Once again, the specter of Blair’s lengthy absences from teaching reared its ugly head, and Jim was reminded again of how so many of those absences were due to Blair riding along with him.

"My choice," Blair had told him once. "Going back to just teaching would be like jumping off the rollercoaster and back onto the merry go round." But all Jim could think of right now, was that he’d failed in his most important job – protecting his guide. Because at the most basic level, even if they had not become lovers, a sentinel could not function adequately without his guide.

Jim had searched for days, then weeks, had enlisted pretty much all of the Cascade PD in an attempt to find his missing lover, but to no avail. Blair had either given up on his physical therapy and his regular doctor’s visits or had changed to someone new. A search of insurance records came up blank. Blair had gone to ground, covering his tracks so well, that even the man who loved and knew him best, had no idea where to turn next.

"Jim? Your turn."

Jim shook off his despairing thoughts at the sound of Connor’s voice. He turned to face her, pasting a strained smile onto his face. "What’s that?" He nodded at the greenery that dangled from her fingers.

She smiled back at him but her eyes looked sad. "Mistletoe. Do I get a kiss?"

"Can’t let tradition down, can we?" Jim said. He walked over and took the mistletoe from her, holding it above their heads before bending down to bestow a chaste kiss to her lips. He was startled when her arms wrapped around him and she hugged him tightly.

"Don’t give up, Jim," she whispered, her voice catching. "We’ll find him."

~o0o~

Jim regretted now asking for Christmas Day off. He’d organized it with Simon the week before Blair had left, looking forward, for once, to celebrating the day. Now, he knew he wouldn’t even be able to stay at home where constant reminders of Blair’s absence would assault him at every turn.

Standing up from his desk, he walked over to the notice board and checked the flyer that Henri had pinned up there the week before. Several of the local charities called for volunteers to help at their soup kitchens over Christmas. It would be good, both for Jim and them. Jim could spend the day with his mind occupied on things other than his absent lover and help some of the city’s needy at the same time. Jotting down the address in his notepad, Jim poked his head into Simon’s office to say good night and wish him a Merry Christmas before he left for the night.

The captain looked up from the stack of reports on his desk. He’d been working solidly on them all day, in order to keep Christmas Day free to spend with Daryl. It would be the teen’s first Christmas with his father since the divorce. Normally, Joan insisted that Daryl spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with her, sending Daryl to Simon the following week. This year, she had relented and agreed that Daryl could spend the big day with Simon. Jim knew how excited Simon had been about it. He’d talked of pretty much nothing else for days, and Jim also suspected the captain had pretty much over extended his credit card to buy Daryl some pretty neat gifts.

"You sure I can’t change your mind about having lunch with Daryl and me tomorrow?" Simon asked.

Jim stepped into the office and shook his head. "Thanks anyway, Simon, but this is a special day for you."

"I’ve invited Connor to join us," Simon replied.

Jim gave him a curious stare and Simon waggled an admonishing finger at him.

"Don’t go there, Detective. She’s a long way from home and doesn’t know too many people in town. As her captain, I figured it was the right thing to do."

"Of course." Jim kept any further comments to himself. "I’ll call in later tomorrow afternoon," he added. "I have a gift for Daryl and Blair has –" He stopped and swallowed before continuing. "Blair left something there with Daryl’s name on it too."

Simon sighed and put down his pen. "Still no luck tracking him down?"

"No. I have the impression he doesn’t want to be found."

"But you won’t let it go." It was a statement.

"No. I’ll find him." There was a strong determination in his voice that he didn’t quite feel. But to sound less than certain would be akin to giving up and he knew he couldn’t do that. "Anyway, Merry Christmas and have a good day tomorrow."

"If you change your mind, there’ll be plenty of food."

Jim gave Simon a grateful smile. "Thanks."

~o0o~

 

Jim made his way down to the soup kitchen adjacent to the local free clinic. He and Blair had volunteered here the previous Thanksgiving, after Blair had promised Jim that they’d get just as much enjoyment from doing this than they would have if they’d stayed at home. It had taken some cajoling on Blair’s part, but at the end of the long, busy day, Jim had to admit that he had indeed enjoyed himself, particularly with Blair at his side. It wouldn’t be the same this time, and Jim felt a twinge of guilt that perhaps he wasn’t doing this for the right reasons. That spending the day surrounded by people whose problems were far worse than his was more a plan to take his mind off his own woes than any philanthropy on his part. Still, the charities were desperate and any help, he supposed, regardless of why it was offered, was better than none at all.

He was almost past the free clinic when the front door burst open and a woman emerged, screaming. Acting without thought when she made to rush past him, Jim grabbed her arm and turned her to face him. "Miss? What’s wrong?"

The woman was dressed in a white nurses’ uniform, her face was pale, her eyes wide with fear and she struggled for a moment to free her arm.

"I’m a police officer," Jim said. "What’s wrong?"

"There’s a man in there," she stuttered. "He – he’s going crazy. Stabbed the doctor with a scalpel. He’s holding an orderly, says he wants drugs. I told him we don’t keep any here but –"

Quickly, Jim pulled his cell phone from his pocket and thrust it into her hand. "Call 911 and tell them to send a unit."

Not waiting to see if she obeyed, he made his way over to the front door. Peering through the glass, he could see a few people seated on chairs in the small front waiting room. None of them seemed bothered by the angry shouts that could be heard from further within the building, but it was likely that in this neighborhood, it was something they’d become used to. Opening the door, Jim let himself in, putting a finger to his lips as an elderly woman glanced up at him from her position at the receptionist’s desk. He pulled his sidearm from his shoulder holster – a cop was always on duty after all - and hoped he’d be able to either talk the attacker down or get the jump on him before anyone else was injured.

He headed quickly but quietly toward the rooms in the back of the building. He didn’t need his enhanced senses to hear the agitated shouting.

"Get the drugs, man or I swear I’ll kill you!"

The answering voice sounded hoarse and tight. "Told you… no drugs here."

There was a curse from the perp and then the sound of flesh hitting flesh. When Jim reached the open doorway, he could see a man in a doctor's coat, sitting propped up by the wall, clutching a hand to his bloodied side.

The perp was standing over by a medical cabinet on the far side of the room and Jim could just see a smaller figure in front of him, held fast to the man’s chest.

"Police! Throw down your weapon!" Jim leveled his own sidearm at the man in front of him, who spun to face him, dragging his hostage around with him. He’d tossed the scalpel and now held a handgun, which was pressed to the smaller man’s temple.

Deep blue eyes, wide with fear stared into Jim’s stunned ones. Shocked to the core, Jim had to fight to keep focused on the life-threatening situation at hand, though his heart threatened to pound out of his chest. "Let him go!" The words scraped out from a throat as dry as the Sahara but the perp merely tightened his grip on his victim and ground the muzzle of his gun in harder.

Belatedly, Jim saw the blood snaking down the hostage’s neck, staining the collar of his shirt a crimson red.

"Let him go," Jim ordered again. His sight was already dialing up, his finger beginning to tighten on the trigger, waiting his chance at a clear shot. And in the blink of an eye, he knew he was about to lose everything all over again.

The perp smiled, though there was no humor in it and with heightened sight, Jim saw the trigger pushing minutely back.

"Sandburg, get down!"

At the same time as Jim shouted the order, Blair stamped down on his captor’s foot – hard, then threw himself forward. Two guns fired seemingly simultaneously. The perp was thrown back into the medical cabinet, spraying shards of glass into the air from the impact. Blair lay, curled on the ground, unmoving.

"Blair? Oh God, no!" Jim hurried forward and knelt by his partner, sparing only a cursory glance at the dead man. His hand shaking, he reached down to touch Blair’s shoulder and attempted to roll him onto his back.

Blair stiffened beneath his touch. "Ow! Fuck! Ow!" His hands clenched around his bad leg, he began to rock backward and forward.

Jim felt the blood rush from his head and didn’t fight his descent to the ground. He landed on his butt beside Blair. "Chief?"

"Shit! Fuck!" Blair muttered. "Cramp. Oh, man, that hurts."

"Stretch it out, Blair," the man in the corner said, his voice breathless from pain or shock, likely both. "You’re only making it worse scrunching it up like that."

"Easy for you to say." Blair stopped rocking and lifted his head, glancing over toward the doctor. "John! You okay, man?"

"Just a scratch," the white-coated man said, though his voice was tight with pain. "You?"

"Just this freakin’ leg!"

Jim finally found his voice. "B - Blair?"

Blair rolled onto his back and stared over at him. His eyes were still crinkled in pain but he wore a wan smile. One hand released its grip on his leg and he gave a shaky wave. "Hey, Jim. Merry Christmas."

~o0o~

The perp was dead, the doctor’s wound not life-threatening and Blair had come out of the whole thing essentially unscathed… and Jim had found him. Where they went from here, Jim didn’t know. Blair now sat, leaning back against the wall of the examination room with Jim hunkered down beside him. Blair watched, with a concerned look on his face as his friend, John, was checked out by the paramedics. When the doctor was finally lifted onto a gurney for the trip to the hospital, he turned his attention to Jim, who’d remained silent till now, lost in his own dispiriting thoughts.

"Jim, let me explain."

Jim looked down at where Blair’s hand rested on his. "How’s your leg?"

"It’s fine, aches a little but it’s okay. Jim –"

"Let me see your neck." Blair’s hand squeezed his but he shook it off.

"Jim, please…"

Jim merely glared at his partner and tilted Blair’s chin up, trying not to notice how his hand trembled. Blair sighed and acquiesced. After a moment, Jim nodded in satisfaction. "Doesn’t look too bad. Might need a couple of butterfly closures. I’ll get the paramedics." He rose up from his knees but Blair grabbed his hand again and yanked him back down.

"Listen to me for just a minute."

Jim threw him a disdainful look. "I can’t see there’s anything to explain," he ground out. His throat ached with tightness. "You wanted to leave, you left. I searched everywhere, only to find you…" He ran out of words and shook his head.

"Hiding in plain sight," Blair finished for him. "I need to explain. I was… I was going to phone you tomorrow." At Jim’s skeptical look, he added fervently, "I mean it!"

Jim stood then and held a hand down to Blair who took it, his expression bleak. When Blair wavered, Jim steadied him against his chest, and had to swallow past the lump in his throat at the rightness of having Blair back beside him, in his arms. "You sure you don’t need to see the paramedics about your leg?"

Blair pushed away from him and stared over at where the medics were about to wheel John from the room. "It’s fine. John," he nodded at the doctor, "has been working with me, in return for me helping out here. The leg’s a lot stronger than it was. I was planning on going back to Rainier after the break."

Jim glanced down at the blood encrusting Blair’s shirt. "You need to get cleaned up and have that neck wound cleaned and bandaged."

"I can handle that. I live out back." He glanced quickly at Jim. "Free rent in return for night watchman duties."

"Got it all figured out, haven’t you?" Jim didn’t hold back the sarcasm in his voice.

"I did what I had to do," Blair shot back, then added in a much smaller voice, "what I thought I needed to do."

Jim sighed. He needed to sit down, that much he knew. His legs were shaking and his head pounded in concert with his heart. Grasping Blair’s arm in a firm but gentle grip, he waved his other hand toward the exit. "Lead the way. I’ll fix that cut up for you."

~o0o~

Jim took one look at the dingy bathroom, tacked onto the equally rundown ‘apartment’ at the back of the clinic and scrubbed a hand over his eyes.

Blair shrugged apologetically. "There’s a shower in the clinic." A stain of red colored his cheeks as he bent to pull a tangle of clothes from a box on the floor of the living room – cum - bedroom.

Jesus, Sandburg, Jim thought, I got you out of one hell hole and now you’re back in one. Spotting the discomfiture on Blair’s face, he immediately regretted his thoughts. Coming to a decision and hoping Blair wouldn’t fight him on this, he pulled his truck keys from his pocket and motioned toward the door. "Grab your stuff. You can take a shower at the loft."

The guarded optimism on Blair’s face made his heart clench. And never leave again! he ordered silently but fervently.

"If you’re sure…"

Jim nodded. "I’m sure. We can talk then."

As Blair preceded him out the door, Jim couldn’t resist giving him an affectionate whap on his head. When Blair looked up expectantly at him, uncertainty warring with the beginnings of a smile, Jim shook his head. "You’re a trouble magnet, Sandburg, I swear."

~o0o~

Jim finished setting up the first aid supplies once he’d shooed Blair into the shower. He still felt a little shaky after all that had occurred today and underlying that, was the anger that welled up whenever he thought of Blair having been so close all along. The only thing that was preventing his ire from spilling out and stopping him from grabbing his partner and shaking some sense into him was the relief that Blair was back, safe and pretty much sound. That, and the guilt that still ate at him.

Try as he might, he knew he couldn’t get past it, even if it meant Blair walking out of his life once more.

He looked up when the bathroom door opened and Blair walked out, a blue towel slung low about his hips, droplets of water from his still damp hair dripping down his neck to mingle in the water still caught in his dark chest hair. Jim’s breath caught in his throat, remembering the many times Blair had walked out of the bathroom just like this, the times when Jim hadn’t been able to control the lust the sight of his half-naked lover fueled in him. He took a shaky breath and motioned to the supplies on the table. "Come on over and sit down."

Blair held up a hand. "It’s fine, Jim. I’ve cut myself worse shaving."

Jim was not going to be moved. "It’s opened up again from the warm water." He pointed to the chair. "Sit!"

Blair sighed and did as he’d been asked, walking over and seating himself. Jim didn't miss the limp that showed his leg was not fully recovered.

"How’s the leg?" he asked as he busied himself gently cleaning the cut on Blair’s neck.

"Not too bad," Blair replied but Jim could see him surreptitiously massaging his thigh.

Jim concentrated on placing two butterfly closures on the wound then stepped back slightly to survey his handiwork. "That ought to do it," he said. The words that had remained unspoken until now would no longer be denied. "I thought you’d left Cascade. I tried everything to find you."

Blair stared down at the table, shifting his hand from his leg and clenching both together. "I tried to leave. I thought maybe with some distance between us, I could get past it all but I couldn’t… It was like there was something holding me here. I needed the time to sort things out in my head. What I was going to do if the leg never fully healed. I couldn’t do that here, knowing you couldn’t let go of your own guilt. So I did the next best thing to leaving. I made myself invisible." He looked up and smiled. "I’ve learned a few tricks over the past few years riding with a cop. If I wasn’t working for a wage, there was no paper trail to follow. I’m sorry I hurt you but it was something I needed to sort out on my own, without my own guilt over how much you were hurting coloring my decisions."

"And what did you decide?" Jim asked. At Blair’s questioning look, he added, "You said you were going to call me."

Blair nodded. "I was going to ask you for another chance. My leg was getting stronger and I know I’m ready to come back to the PD, at least part time. Maybe I’ll never get back to backing you up the way I should but I know my limitations now. For a while after the accident, I was trying to prove to myself, and you, that nothing had changed. I thought that if you could see that I could still be your partner, the guilt would somehow magically disappear. When it got to the point where nothing I did seemed to make a difference and you started leaving me out, taking Rafe or Henri with you, I thought it was over."

"I love you," Jim said, "that will never be over, no matter what happens on the job. I promised you that the first night we spent together."

"I know that but it wasn't enough. Still isn't. But with John's help, I moved past that, accepted what I can't change… adapted."

"I haven't." When Blair glanced up at him, Jim went on, "I haven't adapted to not having you in my life. Partner or not, you'll always be my guide and the man I love. I told you after the accident I'd find a way to fix things. I spoke to the Chief. There's a position opening up at the PD. They want someone to run a community policing squad, educating the public, particularly the disenfranchised, about the law, assessing their needs, steering them in the right direction to get the legal assistance they need." He smiled at the instantly interested look on Blair's face. Blair had always been the one to reach out to the victims, to offer the solace that Jim felt unable to offer, needing to keep his emotions in check in order to focus on the job. It had worked well for them over the years. "Of course, it would mean, you wouldn't have as much time to ride with me -" He held up a hand when Blair looked about to protest " - but I explained to the Chief that I needed you to be flexible in your hours, to be available when I need you. He'd already organized applications for support staff to be distributed when you left."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

Jim shrugged. "It wasn't a done deal and I didn't want you getting your hopes up. You'd already had too many disappointments."

"Too late now, I guess." Blair's frowned. "I'm such an idiot! At the time, leaving seemed the best thing to do."

Jim reached out and rested a hand on Blair's shoulder, massaging gently. "Might not be too late. The program was still going ahead, with or without you. Interviews are starting next week for the lead position. I could put a call into the Chief. He seemed to think you'd be the best man for the job, anyway." He took a deep breath. "That is, if you're planning on staying?"

Blair looked up and stared at him for a long moment then he reached up and covered Jim's hand with his own. "I'm staying."

And then before he knew he’d moved, Jim was leaning over Blair, grasping his shoulders and capturing his lips in a hard, deep kiss. Blair moaned softly, his arms snaking around Jim’s waist, his mouth opening beneath Jim’s.

Jim took his time, exploring the depths of Blair’s mouth, reveling in the pleasure and memories it evoked. Finally needing air, he pulled back slightly and drew Blair up to stand in front of him, cradling his lover close. "Jesus, Blair," he whispered, "don’t you ever leave me again."

"I won’t," Blair said, his voice muffled against Jim’s chest. "I had to, though. I couldn’t see us going on like that anymore. I couldn’t see a future beyond the guilt."

Jim placed a finger under Blair’s chin and titled his face up. He stared into the deep blue eyes he loved so much. "I wish I could say I’m past it but I can’t. All I can promise you is that I’ll put it aside, work with you to get you back where you belong, with me. I guess in some ways, I was relieved when you couldn’t ride with me anymore. That way, you were safe. I couldn’t risk…" He trailed off, unable to say more.

Blair smiled at him, and Jim saw the glitter of unshed tears in his eyes. "It wasn’t until I left, until I started seeing an improvement in my leg that I was able to see past my own guilt and realized, regardless of the outcome, of whether I ever worked with you again, that I couldn’t live without you in my life."

"Wait a minute," Jim said. He pulled out of Blair’s embrace and stared at him. "Your guilt? How do you figure that?"

Blair shrugged. "If we hadn’t argued… If I wasn’t so damn stubborn all the time…"

"And if I had listened to you," Jim said. He reached out and pulled Blair back into his arms. "I won’t promise you I’ll ever forgive myself but I swear to you we’ll turn this around. Do whatever we need to do to get you back to the PD and the university."

"Well, I am going to need a new work out partner with John laid up. Think you can keep up with me?"

Jim grinned and swatted Blair’s towel-covered rump, then had a better idea and whipped the towel off. He shivered when he felt Blair’s erection press against his groin, awakening his own cock. He pulled Blair back to him, cupping Blair's bare buttocks and massaging them. "Let’s try a work-out upstairs and see who can keep up, Chief."

Blair grinned up at him, then turned and grabbed Jim’s hand, leading him toward the stairs. He looked back at Jim. "I almost forgot. It’s Christmas! I didn’t get you anything. Money’s been kinda tight."

"You said you’re staying. That’s the only Christmas present I need," Jim said.

"I’m staying," Blair affirmed and then he turned to face the stairs and trotted up them, the limp still there but barely noticeable now to Jim. "Come on, big guy, or I’ll start without you!"

END

Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Annie as always for the beta.

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