Far Away

by Sharilyn

EMAIL: Sharilyn

 

(note: the lyrics at the start of each chapter are from the Duncan Sheik song, "Far Away.")


1.

If again you wander
If, too soon again you wander
Far away, far away...


Sometimes I almost don't want to come home; sometimes it just hurts too much, stepping from the normal world outside these walls into the deceptive peacefulness of this place. I'm grateful for this sanctuary, glad for Blair's sake; this is his haven now, his refuge from all the demons who snap and growl and circle just on the edges of his fragile psyche. Without this place he wouldn't be able to function at all; without the house he'd have been institutionalized long ago. And it would have killed me to see that happen to him; there was no way in hell my soul could bear that.


In the early days I would have done anything--ANYTHING--to bring him back to me, to make him well again; I still would, if only it were possible. But the fates are sometimes cruel; he never got better, no matter how many 'professionals' he saw, no matter what drugs and treatments were attempted, no matter what I said or did or tried...Time elapsed, it dragged and shuffled and crept along until slowly, by excruciating degrees, exhausted resignation drew up a chair and settled within my spirit for the long haul. The final diagnosis--no hope: severe, persistent brain damage, permanent disability, the man you knew exists no more...Learn to deal with it, Mr. Ellison; that's all you can do now. Figure out a way to cope, to go on living when half of your own soul has been effectively destroyed...


Far away...he's gone away from me, so far away, his mind wandering down tangled pathways where no one else may follow; every time I see him it's like a knife in my chest--every second I'm with him is the most excruciating agony, the harshest apotheosis of helpless love, of unrequited need, ever experienced by any soul sentenced to eternal damnation.


I'm dying by degrees--not dying like everyone else dies, blissfully unaware of time's relentless thievery sucking out the sweet marrow of existence--but dying breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat, exquisitely, achingly aware all the while of my slow and steady demise. Who knew expiring could take such a torturously long route, could drag out with such glacial precision...cutting a snippet here, a tidbit there, at times taking a healthy bite big enough to leave a mark, savage enough to bring a grown man to his knees, begging brokenly for a release that never comes...


But this is my life now, mine and Blair's...this is what I have, this is what I do. I can't do anything else; there's nowhere to run, no escape, no turning back. I've lost him but still I love, still I hold on to the shell of the man he once was. My Blair is gone from me, gone so far away; but still I wait, every goddamned day, for the return of a spirit too lost and fragmented to ever truly find his way back to me. This is the love that dictates every breath I take, that knifes into my soul each time I glance into his beautiful, lost eyes; for good or ill, this deceptively serene house is the twisted, Daliesque landscape Blair and I inhabit together, wandering its hallways like two souls stumbling through Hell.

2.


Let this, too, be with you
An old tune somewhere within you
Far away, far away...


As soon as I enter the house, I know he's had a bad day; the instant I step inside through the kitchen entrance, I can smell the fading but unmistakable scent of Blair's fear-sweat, the slightly acidic whiff of nervous apprehension that his body always gives off whenever his mind is at its most confused. And when Irma, Blair's live-in caretaker, comes forward to meet me with that certain look of weary regret on her face, I know Blair has had some sort of crisis today.


"You never paged or called me, so whatever it was, I guess it wasn't a full-scale disaster," I quip tiredly as Irma gives me a look of mild irony and holds out a cold can of beer for my resigned acceptance.


"Nothing too serious," she agrees in a low voice, her shrewd brown eyes sending me a message of mingled apology and reassurance. "It was one of his more...alert...days today; I think he actually heard me moving around in the kitchen, maybe even saw me for a brief moment. I guess it startled him."


Though her tone is calm, the slight tension in her shoulders clues me in to the unspoken load of guilt she's carrying, and I suppress a sigh as I nod and rub the cold aluminum can across my forehead. Dammit, another headache coming on, but what else is new? As if the day I had at work wasn't shitty enough, I come home to face the aftermath of yet another of what Irma and I like to call 'episodes'--brief periods of quasi-lucidity when Blair swims up just far enough from the unfathomable depths of his damaged mind to connect, however fleetingly, with the real world going on outside his head. It usually scares the hell out of him, and his behavior can be unpredictable at those times.


"But you're all right?" I remember to ask, my gaze sweeping from the straggling wisps of rich brown hair escaping from its elastic band at the back of Irma's neck to the slight lines of strain around her mobile, expressive mouth. My senses have already catalogued her vitals, running a quick scan the second I picked up on the aura of stress still lying like a thin vapor over the atmosphere; I can tell right away that the situation is stable now, that everything from her heart rate and blood pressure to the chemicals and endorphins in her body are registering in the normal range. She isn't in any pain, so thank God Blair didn't try to clock her one this time around.



"I'm fine," she assures me, her hands twisting themselves together in an unconscious gesture of mild agitation. "But Blair had a bit of an accident. Oh, he's fine, too," she hastens to add as every line of my body tightens with instant trepidation, my gaze darkening and narrowing on her suddenly apprehensive face as a nasty jolt of fear runs through me. But the sight of her discomfort in the face of my instinctive descent into 'protector mode' reminds me that this is Irma, the only other person I trust completely with Blair's care; and I make a conscious effort to dial down my breathing and the strong, apparently dangerous aura of feral rage that still flares helplessly to life within me anytime I sense a threat to Blair's well-being.


"What happened?" I force myself to say calmly, relaxing my tensed muscles with an effort of will and dropping my gaze a bit, deflecting this cliff-edge moment of incipient interrogation into a milder venue of quiet concern. "Where is Blair?" I've just now realized that I can't detect his heartbeat anywhere inside the house, and a frisson of helpless apprehension ripples down my spine in spite of the reassuring expression in Irma's eyes.


"Well, you'll never believe this one," she begins, a slow grin of wry surprise twitching at the corners of her mouth. "I had to go look three or four times myself just to be sure I wasn't having a little 'episode' of my own, no offense intended."


She lifts steady eyes to mine at that last, and I merely shrug a rueful reply. I've learned over these past three years not to be so sensitive to the things people say, to not take instant offense when others mention Blair's condition in anything even approaching an ironic tone. I've come to realize that the people who count--the ones who really care about Blair and about me and who still consider us a part of their lives--would never knowingly say anything cruel or hurtful. Irma loves Blair, she truly does; and if anyone has earned the right to be a bit facetious now and then in reference to his condition, it's this woman standing before me, the slightest hint of mischief sparking in her eyes now at my obvious curiosity.


"He's outside, Jim; he's actually outside at 6:05 pm, sitting under the willow tree." A slight flush of something approaching admiration rises in her lovely cheekbones as she speaks, and as my eyebrows lift in sceptical disbelief, she gives a small laugh that is surprisingly and charmingly girlish coming from her sensible, forty-something frame. Not at all the usual, brief snort that passes for amusement with her. But this isn't amusement I see glowing in her eyes now; no, this is happiness--this is a tiny ray of something much like joy, come all unannounced to perch on the sill of just another mundane afternoon, offering up a brief song of spontaneous beauty in a world too often painted in shades of muted gray.


"You're shitting me," I say crudely, setting the unopened can of beer down on the kitchen counter as Irma grins at me with quiet satisfaction. I have got to see this, I think to myself, a rush of something that might almost be construed as anticipation flooding through me as I turn and head quickly through the kitchen door to the wide hallway beyond.


"You're telling me he walked outside all on his own, without me?" I continue grilling her as she hurries along behind me, the rubber soles of her practical work shoes making the slightest of squeaking noises on the warm terrazzo tiles under our feet. "What the hell brought that on?"


"I haven't a clue," Irma mutters behind me as I make my way through the house to the living room, heading straight for the glass doors leading out onto the deck. For the first time all day I can feel a tiny thread of something positive, something light, curling up from deep inside my chest, slithering with cautious stealth from my heart's protective darkness into the last of the sun's fading rays, still warm in the quiet room.


"Well, what happened just before that?" I question doggedly, pressing both hands to the glass doors, my gaze traveling beyond the peaceful scene of the deck and pond just outside the house to the familiar landmark of the willow tree halfway down the gently sloping lawn. "You said you inadvertently startled him earlier and that there was an accident of some sort?"


Even before she answers me I've extended my senses beyond the boundaries of this room and of this house, out beyond the deck and the pond and across the lush grass of the yard, my attention divided between hearing Irma's explanation behind me and listening for the familiar cadence of Blair's breathing and heartbeat. It can't have been too bad, whatever it was that happened, I try to soothe myself; and as my ears pick up the unique rhythm of Blair's steady heart beat somewhere beneath the tree's downswept canopy, I close my eyes in a brief moment of silent gratitude.


Oh, God, it's still as strong today as it's always been, this overwhelming NEED I have within me to hear that singular sound, to feel within my very soul the measured cadence of my lover's life force, pulsing strong and regular through the shell of his beautiful body. At times it seems the cruelest sort of joke, to measure with my senses the healthy vitality thrumming through his organs and bones and muscles and then to be hit right between the eyes with the ice-cold reality of the tragic ruin of his once brilliant mind.


Just as it's done every goddamned day for the past year, my heart sinks like a stone within me as my senses slide past the comforting thud of Blair's heart to the horrifying void that now resides in his head; my soul flinches briefly in despair as it comes up against the stygian darkness that has replaced the incandescent spark of vibrant intelligence that once lit up the space all around him with such wild, kinetic energy. Nothing burns there now inside the abandoned cave of his mind save the barest embers of fractured sentience; instead of the intense hues of bright, healthy color that once described Blair's unique spiritual and mental 'aura,' all I sense these days when I'm in his vicinity are muted shades of gray and sickly yellow, with an agonized burst of blood-red or angry purple now and again whenever he's sick or hurt or afraid. And he's so often afraid, always so lost, so alone...


But I won't think of that now; as I force myself to pay attention to Irma's recital of the incident with the coffee mug and the minor burns Blair received on his feet as a result, I ruthlessly squash the thread of wistful longing that unravels from my spirit, trying to ignore the yearning that pushes me to relinquish my shattered spirit to the fantasy of coming home to discover that fullblown color--a riotous, glorious, MIRACLE of light and redemption and healing--has returned to chase away the darkness in Blair's clouded mind. I HATE myself when I fall under the insidious spell of such useless reveries; I despise this weakness within my soul that wants nothing more sometimes than to avert my eyes from the reality of the way Blair is now, that wants only to become lost in futile fantasies of how it could be--how it WOULD be--if only I could find some magic elixir, some secret potion, to make him whole again. It's been close to thirteen fucking months now, and this is all she wrote; this is all we have, Blair and me, this is all we're GOING to have. Forever. Always and always, world without end. Amen.


"...and at first he was just too freaked for me to even approach him; you know how he gets," Irma is murmuring just behind my right shoulder, her words a steady counterpoint to the agitated pulse throbbing in my temples. "I knew he needed those burns tended to as quickly as possible, but he was just standing there, frozen in that scared-rabbit position he goes into when something frightens him; and I didn't dare approach him right then, not till he'd calmed down a bit. So I gathered up the bandages and ointment, and by the time I returned Blair had already forgotten the whole incident, forgotten that he'd seen or heard me. He was heading for the library, so I followed him; he was fussing around on the desk, looking for his glasses and muttering to himself under his breath, like he always does...and as soon as he'd found them he picked up a book and settled himself in his favorite chair. I waited till he was really engrossed in the pictures--it was one of those National Geographic compilations he likes so much--and then I carefully lifted his feet onto my lap and cleaned up his burns. The coffee had scalded him just a bit, but I knew it wasn't bad enough to require a call to Dr. Inatsch. And he was very docile; he didn't make a sound or pull away or fuss at all while I was tending to him."


"That's good," I hear myself say, my mouth working on some sort of mindless automatic pilot as a wave of grief washes over me at Irma's description of Blair's habitual withdrawn behavior. I'm glad he didn't fight her, glad he tolerated her ministrations and that he wasn't badly injured; that counts as a good day for the two of them. Since she's been with us, Irma has had to learn a few 'takedown' moves to use on Blair for both his safety and her own, keeping them in reserve for those times when I'm not around and something sets him off into one of his rages. She's only had to utilize the techniques I taught her a couple of times, and in both cases I was satisfied later that her use of physical restraint against Blair was fully justified. She would never willingly hurt or mistreat him in any way, but it's vital that she have the necessary defensive skills and the good judgment of knowing when to use them to protect herself from harm at Blair's unwitting hands if it becomes necessary.


Before Irma came I tried hiring male caregivers, men who would be both emotionally empathetic and yet strong enough physically to handle Blair's occasional outbursts of violence...but none of them worked out. I never could bring myself to fully trust Sandburg to the unsupervised care of any of the men sent to us on a trial basis; and he reacted negatively for the most part to everyone we tried. I stayed home with him myself for almost five months, taking an extended leave of absence from work and trying desperately to find someone--anyone--who could help us, who could 'fix' Blair and put an end to the ongoing nightmare our lives had become. But there was no help to be found, no miracle cure available anywhere on the whole damned planet. I knew that eventually I would have to go back to work, for financial reasons if nothing else, and it seemed that when that day came, my only choice would be to put Blair into some kind of longterm institutional care. And that was something I didn't even want to contemplate.


Then Irma came into our lives, bless her stalwart soul; and with that stubbornly determined streak that is so much a part of her nature, she quickly set about making herself indispensable to the both of us. She never batted an eye when I told her I'd hire her only with the caveat that she never, EVER talk down to Blair or ignore, neglect, or mistreat him in any way; and her practical acceptance of my insistence that she allow me to train her in passive restraint techniques signalled the beginning of a very satisfactory arrangement between the three of us. Any initial misgivings I had about her qualifications or suitability to care for Blair fell by the wayside once I realized that she had genuinely come to love him, treating him with simple grace and patience and reacting to the many ups and downs of a typical Sandburg day with a wry good humor that did much to lighten the heavy, ceaseless grief in my heart.


Irma has truly become an indispensable part of our lives here, an honorary member of our tiny family, I think to myself now; and I turn away from the view outside long enough to give her a weary but completely sincere smile of gratitude. "You did good today, Irm; thank you. Thank you so much for...for taking such good care of him. Of both of us, if the truth be told. You know I couldn't do this without you."


"Don't even start, damn you," Irma replies with a fierce scowl, waggling one ominous eyebrow at me; a telltale gleam of moisture slides across her clear brown eyes, and she glares at me as if I'd just insulted her. "You know I can't handle that mushy shit; I swear to God if you make me cry, I'll kick your ass. And you know I can do it, too; after all, you taught me all the moves."


"Remind me never to get on your bad side, if this is your reaction to a simple compliment," I snort lightly, the unrepentant glint of humor in my eyes drawing a grudging half-smile from her lips. "God, woman, just go home now! I've already been threatened with bodily harm by your bad self; all I need is for that body-building husband of yours to come tear me a new one for keeping you here past quitting time."


"Reggie's just a big old sweetheart, and you know it; much like yourself, Jimbo," Irma sneers delicately, and a brief grin of satisfaction lifts the corners of her mouth as I reply with a fake growl:


"I told you NEVER to call me that; now get out of here before I dock you that hefty Christmas bonus I promised this year."


"All right, all right, already; I'm going. Sheesh, leave the 'tude' at the office next time, Ellison." A fullblown grin stretches her lips now as she turns and heads for the doorway, and as I call out an affectionate good-bye, she wiggles her fingers at me over her shoulder without looking back.


"Oh, hey, has he had his dinner yet?" I remember to holler after her, and with her apologetic reply of "Not yet; he wouldn't come in, so I put it in the warmer," sounding in my ear, I turn back to the view outside while I listen absently to the sounds of Irma gathering up her things and letting herself out the kitchen door into the growing dusk.


Once I've assured myself that she's gotten safely on her way home to her husband, I turn my attention back to the stretch of lawn sinking into shadow outside and to the huddled figure sitting as still as a statue beneath the lovely old weeping willow tree gracing the yard. For some reason Blair has always been drawn to that tree; I think in some fashion he considers it to be a friend, the main point of safety and of refuge for him outside the walls of the house.


If I dial up my vision just a bit I know I'll be able to see his face quite clearly, even in the gathering darkness; but I find I have no desire to do so. As long as I can only see the general outline of his body blending peacefully into the backdrop of the tree's drooping branches, I can almost fool myself that it's just Sandburg pulling another Nature Boy meditation session--just my favorite professor's way of unwinding after a long day of trying to flog some sense into the university's latest crop of dewy-eyed freshmen in his Intro to Anthro classes.


God, it hurts, fantasizing for even one brief moment that anything so normal, so everyday mundane and usual, could ever be real again...those days are gone, forever gone; the figure fading into indistinguishable shadow beneath the tree will never teach another class, will never finish his dissertation or get his Ph.d. The Blair sitting under that tree now can't even read anymore; oh, he might hold a book for hours in his beautiful hands, glasses perched on the bridge of his nose as his eyes flicker back and forth across the same few lines, over and over again, his lips moving soundlessly as he recites to himself the phantom words of books he read long ago, mouthing words that no longer hold meaning within the vacuum of his mind. Sometimes I even catch him holding a selected book upside down, his brow creased in puzzled concentration as he whispers and whispers to himself, one thumb sliding up to his mouth to be caught between white teeth and nibbled at in bemused distraction. It's sheer torture to watch, to sit and bear mute witness to the cruel travesty of his broken mind acting out the very same things that once made him who he was, that once gave him such intellectual joy and provided an outlet for his limitless energy and creativity.


"Look at you, Chief, sitting in the dark," I murmur softly now as I ease open the glass doors to the deck, keeping my movements slow and deliberate for his sake; the chance that he'll even notice my appearance is very small--probably miniscule, in fact--but just in case he's still surfing somewhere on that wave of shallow awareness that seems to have captured him this afternoon, I want to be very careful that I don't startle him like Irma did. Blair lives almost completely in a shadow world now, his mind cut off from everything going on around him; and along with the isolation of his mind, his senses usually stay in a state of protective detachment, as well. Most of the time he doesn't see or hear us; his world is one in which he is the sole survivor, his existence a never-ending purgatory on a hellishly lonely planet inhabited only by himself and the broken echoes of his shattered thoughts.


But sometimes, for very brief periods, his senses come back online, connected by tenous threads to the real world outside his head. And whenever it happens--when the veil of selective blindness and deafness lifts for a tiny interval--he becomes at least peripherally aware of things going on around him. In those moments Irma's presence or my own-- the sound of our voices or the sight of us moving around the house--come to him with a murky, nightmarish sort of immediacy, and the experience is invariably traumatic for him.


I'm sure that to him we must appear in those moments as disembodied ghosts or spirits, inexplicably coalescing into existence only to fade away again as he descends into abject terror and slams shut the impenetrable door cutting his mind and his senses off from everything around him...from everything outside of himself. And I never know what's more horrifying--witnessing his fear and his terrible lostness and being unable to comfort him, or seeing for agonizing seconds now and again the fleeting glimmer of sentience, of awareness, that still flickers feebly somewhere deep in the ruined catacombs of his mind, unable to break free.


I try not to think of it too much; to do so only invites more rage and sorrow than my mind and heart can bear. I've learned to follow Blair's lead, to read the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle signs his body gives off and to respect and accomodate his 'mood of the day', whatever it might be. It's the only way to deal with him, the only way to offer him the comfort and the security his troubled mind craves so desperately. It's living hell for me, being here with him like this with the full awareness of all he's lost--of all WE'VE lost--and dealing on a daily basis with the relentless, grinding exhaustion that takes possession of both my body and my soul as the months unroll with no change, no improvement.


Sometimes I want to run away, far away; sometimes I want to meet someone else, someone who can help me remember what it is to feel whole again, to feel normal and healthy and alive. Somedays when I head into the city to work, I tell myself that this is it, that I'm not coming back here, not coming home again...this place isn't home, anyway, at least not to me. The house is undeniably lovely, strong and secure and surrounded by beautiful, well-manicured grounds; for Blair the house is sanctuary, safety, is his entire world. And for that reason alone I should love it, too. But I don't.


I hate this place, hate it sometimes with a sick passion that eats at me as I lie awake far into the night, feeling like a hostile interloper within its walls. This is the house that violence built, a house constructed with settlement money thrust into my rage-clenched hands with the laughable notion that a goodly amount of dollars could make up for what happened to Blair, that fucking MONEY could ever be just recompense for the loss of his mind and soul to a bullet fired by a hopped-up, rich-assed politician's son...a spoiled, amoral little snot who was pissed at us for busting in on his little drug party and ruining his fun.


Good old Daddy tried to fix it all by throwing money at the problem...the 'problem' being my partner, my best friend, my lover, effectively destroyed by the twitch of a finger on a trigger...Oh, yes, how to fix the 'problem' of a once-brilliant, once-vibrant young man becoming little more than a mindless automaton in the aftermath of the path of destruction that bastard kid's bullet left in Sandburg's brain? Why, just build the vegetable a nice, cozy house and stick him in it, far away from the prying eyes of the public, safe from wagging tongues and exaggerated sympathy and the guilty conscience of the son of a bitch politician who'll spend the rest of his fucked-up life trying to convince himself that he did the honorable thing, that it was just Sandburg's bad luck to get in the line of fire and hey, Sonnyboy hadn't REALLY meant to pull the trigger, anyway...


Stop this, I tell myself now, the voice in my head sounding coldly furious in the evening silence. Just...stop. I know that Blair has seen me now; As I stand at the edge of the deck, one toe scuffing idly at the razor-straight border of grass that begins the lawn, I keep my head lowered just enough to avoid intimidating him with a straight-on stare while still affording a clear view of his huddled form at the base of the tree. He froze the instant I stepped outside, his head coming up off his knees like a gazelle scenting danger on the wind; with my senses dialed up I can hear the agitated rush and flutter of his pulse, smell the rise of sweat and adrenaline in his system, see the startled dilation of his pupils as he strains through the growing darkness to see me. To see me...oh, God, he sees me.


That knowledge alone is enough to make my own pulse beat faster, to send my heart into overdrive and leave my palms sweaty as I struggle to stay still, to stand relaxed and mute as I give his wildly fluctuating senses time to adapt. For him to have dared to venture outside at all in the evening is a first; Blair never leaves the security of the deck once the noon hour has passed, at least not without Irma or myself along to gently prod him into movement. Most times he doesn't resist when we do escort him outdoors; he never gives any indication that he knows one of us is with him, but he seems happy enough to be led along, oblivious to the inane chatter Irma or I might keep up along the way.


So for him to have voluntarily taken himself out of doors and over to his favorite spot on the grounds is definitely an extraordinary occasion; throw in the added shock that he's actually aware of my presence right now, and I find my own state of equilibrium doing a surreal little dance under the faint sliver of moonlight glowing overhead.


"It's okay, Chief; it's only me," I murmur softly, holding my statue pose as Blair tightens his grip around his knees and begins to rock back and forth, the movement almost stealthy as he attempts to comfort himself while simultaneously endeavoring to escape my notice. "No ghosts here, no boogie men; just one very tired, very grumpy security consultant, happy to see you out here enjoying the peace and quiet."


I know he can't hear me from this distance, but I can hear him; there's a momentary hitch in his breathing, a slight increase in his heart rate as he keeps it up with the rocking, sliding surreptitious glances over the tops of his knees each time he leans forward. I've spooked him a bit, not enough to set off a panic reaction but enough to make him wary; and it tears me up inside to know that it isn't really me he's seeing right now through his slitted blue eyes. I have no idea how I must appear to him as I stand here on the edge of the lawn--maybe in his confused mind I'm just a dark shadow, an ominous phantom figure materializing out of the night without rhyme or reason, I muse sadly. Or maybe in his eyes I'm some sort of freakish monster, the stuff of a child's nightmares.


Oh, God, Chief, if only I could drive the darkness from your mind, if I could just lift that veil of isolation long enough to make you REALLY see me...I would give my fucking soul to have you look me in the eye and recognize who I am and what we meant to each other before all this happened. I just want you to know me again, to be completely present with me here in every sense of the word.


I've been so lonely without you, Blair, wandering in the aimless landscape of my days and feeling every bit as cut off and deadened to the world around me as you are. Hell, when it comes right down to it, maybe I'm the one more deserving of pity; while you don't even realize for the most part how alone you are inside your head, I live every single minute fully aware of the bottomless chasm stretching between us, separating us from each other more efficiently and far more cruelly than any mere physical distance ever could.


He's humming to himself now, the muscles in his throat vibrating softly as he soothes his nerves with a tuneless, repetitive noise that sounds an awful lot like a selection from one of those tribal chant cds he always used to play in the loft. Even in his dementia he's still so uniquely Sandburg, pulling from the disused vault of his mind not some innocuous top twenty hit from three years ago but rather an obscure, primitive mantra, one that emerges from his lips now in a strangely hypnotic rhythm.


I guess for Blair this is as nostalgic as it gets; and a frisson of heavy melancholy settles over my heart as I begin to move very slowly across the grass in his direction. Entangled somewhere within his wordless solo is a small, precious vestige of Blair's true soul, a lost fragment still struggling sporadically to express itself, still trying to survive. And the sound of that soul's faltering attempt to communicate some tiny wisp of its fading essence to the oblivious night around it is almost too painful to witness. He's becoming agitated again, and the salty fragrance of his tears wafts into my nostrils on the still air as he buries his face into his knees and begins to cry very softly. The sound fills me with helpless sorrow; but even knowing that my presence here with him is the most likely cause of his distress, I can't just walk away and leave him on his own, adrift and unprotected.


"Easy, babe...easy," I croon softly now as I draw close enough to see the flash of panic in his eyes without any need to dial up my sense of sight to detect it. "It's okay, it's only me...just Jim, home from yet another exciting day of providing useless security advice to stressed-out bigwigs who have no clue how fragile their so-called 'security' really is in this unpredictable world. I guess we could tell them a thing or two about unexpected traumatic events, eh, Chief?"


I've reached his side now, and though he keeps on rocking and humming, shutting me out of his private little world, that sense of furtive awareness that called to me from across the lawn throbs even more strongly now that I'm up close and personal, as it were. Very, very slowly I ease down onto my haunches next to him, curving my lips in a gentle smile even though he refuses to look up and see it; and even if he did notice, there's no guarantee that it would mean anything to him. But I smile anyway, ruefully admitting to myself that in spite of everything I AM glad to see him, glad to be out here with him in the serene summer dusk.


"So, Chief, how was your day?" I murmur barely above a whisper, my eyes traveling down to the glaringly white bandage wrapped around his left ankle. "Anything exciting happen while I was away?"


For a breathless moment Blair goes absolutely still and silent, his head cocked inquisitively to one side as if he really is listening to me and considering my question; and in the dimness his eyes gleam briefly at me, deep and liquid and unfathomably mysterious. My breath catches brokenly in my throat as his indigo gaze flows with silent grace across the hollowed angles of my face and then melds with my own, his eyes holding mine for one incredible, heart-stopping instant. In that nanosecond of time some restless, seeking energy flickers to life in the abandoned shell of his consciousness, and I find myself choking out his name in a voice that trembles with helpless need.


"Blair? Hey...oh, Jesus, Blair...look at me,buddy, please!...Just for a minute, look at me, hear me--"


I want to cringe at the level of naked desperation trembling in my words, but I can't help myself saying them; and I can't stop my hand from reaching out to stroke so lightly, so carefully, along the pale patch of skin at the nape of Blair's neck. The curly ends of his hair brush against my fingers like silk, individual strands clinging to my thumb and wrapping themselves snugly around my knuckles as if welcoming my caress. A low moan escapes me as my senses are suddenly overwhelmed by the scent of him, the feel of him, the sound of him all around me and in me, filling me up, drowning me in the unstoppable flood of agonized wanting that rushes through my soul like a raging tsunami.


I can feel him flinching beneath my hand, can sense his frightened mind trying desperately to pull away from me and skitter back into the protective shadows of forgetfulness; but I can't let him go. I WON'T let him leave me tonight, not without a fight.


"Sweet Jesus, Blair, please look at me...feel me touch you...Oh, God, Chief, can you SEE me now?"


For his eyes have lifted to mine again, an expression of soul-shattering grief and loneliness burning in their depths; and as my fingers coil in his hair in a reflexive move to bring him nearer to me, to pull him from the terrible hell he's been trapped inside of for so long, his eyes widen and clear. And for one indescribably holy moment in time MY Blair is here with me, looking out at me with such anguished love and torment that I almost lose sight of him behind the flood of tears that fills my eyes.


Say it, I want to moan aloud to him, my hands shaking convulsively as I reach to clasp his head, needing so desperately to draw him closer, to break this evil spell that he's been under. Oh, God, say my name, all I want is to hear you say it while you still KNOW it's me...And for an incredulously elated instant I really believe he's going to do it, that with one, short syllable the evil spell will be broken and everything will be all right again.


"Blair," I murmur brokenly, my crazed heart imploring him as my hands fumble awkwardly in his hair, struggling through physical contact to hold onto the ephemeral wisps of spirit peering out from behind his beautiful eyes. But I'm too late; already he's leaving me, everything shutting down, closing up, my name frozen in mute despair on his tongue as he bites down hard on his bottom lip and savagely pulls away from me, his consciousness immersed once more in hellish visions of demons and phantoms come to torment him.


"No, babe, no; you hang on to me, listen to me...DAMMIT, DON'T YOU FUCKING GO AWAY AGAIN!" I hear myself growl hoarsely, and I know that this is bad, very very bad, that I'm only driving him deeper into the abyss again, terrifying him with the voraciousness of my own need. I want to grab him and yank him up against my chest, hold him there and shake him till he snaps out of it, scream at him till he just fucking STOPS all this nonsense and comes back to me, comes alive...


"No," I whisper, stunned by my loss of control; my hands falling empty to my sides, my dulled eyes watch with numb incomprehension as Blair falls onto his side in the grass and curls up into an impossibly tiny ball, a strange, distressed keening erupting from his chest as he disappears once more into the void.


"Oh, God, I'm sorry, babe," I whisper brokenly, paralyzed by the immensity of our joint devastation; "God, Blair, I am SO sorry...Please, please..."


And as he continues to lie in the thick grass, shaking uncontrollably while tears fall from his unseeing eyes, I close everything down inside myself, lock it all away, turn off all the lights and shut down all the dials but the bare minimum needed to keep my body functioning, to keep my wits sharp enough to do what has to be done. I don't mean to be callous, or cruel; but I can't survive this pain, can't retain my own sanity if I allow these feelings tearing me apart inside to have free rein. This is my fault, all my fault for pushing him too hard, for expecting something he no longer has inside himself to give; and now his beautiful summer night has become a chilling showcase for all the horrors that stalk his shattered mind.


"Come on, Chief; it's time to go inside," I murmur softly, knowing he will fight me now, knowing he won't go easy, or well. "I'm sorry, but I have to touch you--I need to get you inside the house and put you to bed. You'd like that, wouldn't you, to be safe and snug in your warm bed?"


He doesn't answer me, and when I reach hesitant fingers to touch his cringing spine, he erupts into a series of terrible, high-pitched screams that brutalize my sensitive ears no matter how low I set the dial on my hearing. Knowing that going slow and easy is pretty much too little, too late at this point, I grimly force myself to ignore the abject terror emanating in waves from his body as he fights me like a wild thing, kicking and gouging and punching as I wrestle him into submission on his stomach and pin his flailing limbs down to keep him from hurting himself.


"Easy...easy, love!" I pant into his ear as I rest above him, straddling his hips with my legs on either side of his; "Shh, babe, it's all right; it's going to be all right..." His heart is pounding wildly, his lungs straining for air as his traumatized brain becomes convinced that he can't breathe; and all I know to do is to keep talking softly to him, sliding my hands very carefully and very slowly to his shoulders and just resting them there for a long moment before I begin to glide them up and down his back, stroking his fear-tightened muscles with exquisite gentleness as he goes rigid beneath me.


"Will you let me take you inside now? I know it's dark out here, and I know I scared you; and I'm sorry, Chief, I didn't mean to do that. See, everything's okay now, we just need to get you inside and run your bath and then you can have some tea or milk and maybe I'll put a video on to watch or listen to so you can fall asleep...Won't that be good, Blair, to go to sleep in the house?"


And as I keep talking to him, making sure not to vary my calm, deliberate tone one iota, I can feel him gradually calming beneath my touch, his convulsive shudders slowing to weary tremors before dying out altogether. I estimate it's taken me a good fifteen minutes to soften his fear-locked muscles into something approaching quiescence, and my own body is crying out with the strain of keeping myself so carefully in check. As Blair finally gives a deep sigh of exhausted surrender and goes utterly limp beneath me, I allow myself one tenderly illicit moment of slumping against him, stretching my longer frame out carefully over his with my chest and groin pressing lightly into his back and his ass.


"Good, Blair, you're doing so good," I whisper tiredly against the back of his neck; and even though I know I'm running the risk of inciting him to another round of sheer panic, I can't seem to stop myself from pressing my lips lightly to the vulnerable curve of his nape and kissing him once, twice, again. His skin has cooled from his earlier heated struggles and tastes of defeated fear and drying perspiration; a lock of sweat-dampened hair tickles my nose as I gently rest my face against the back of his head and just breathe in his scent, my heart breaking within me as the moon rises higher in the silent sky, distant and cruelly serene.


God help me, I think, my soul crying out in hopeless despair. Oh, God...somebody help me. It hurts too much, this is just too much...But the night is empty and we are truly alone, Blair and I; and as he begins to groan complainingly beneath my greater weight, I struggle to my feet like an old, old man and pull him up after me, cradling him to my chest as he staggers on unsteady feet and then allows himself to sag into the support of my waiting arms, his head resting with childlike trust against my breast.


I can't save him, can't fix him, can't do anything now but turn and guide him slowly, so slowly and carefully, across the night-drenched lawn to the lights of the waiting house; and as he stumbles along beside me with both arms clumsily hugging himself, I can't erase from my mind the look in his eyes when our souls connected so briefly there under the willow tree. God, it's going to be a long night.

 

3.


Calling to forgotten feeling
The passing ghosts and scattered leaves
If, again, you love him,
If, too soon again, you love him--
Far away, far away...


It's easier getting him ready for bed than I thought it would be; by the time I've walked him back up to the house, our feet silent on the grass, he's blinking sleepily and wearing that hazy, bemused expression that always makes me want to tuck him in with a teddy bear and a bedtime story. Even as my heart breaks at the circumstances behind his guileless innocence, I can't help but admit to myself that he can look awful damned cute sometimes, especially when he first emerges from his bath all tousled and damp and sweet-smelling.


I manage to get a bit of supper down him, though he merely picks restlessly at his food as I choke my own dinner down sitting at the table beside him. All through dinner his eyes blink tiredly, and I think we're both relieved to finally leave the kitchen behind us and head off to the master bath for Blair's nightly soak in the tub.


He doesn't like showers much, not anymore. The water cascading down over his head seems to distress him, and the few times I've put him into the shower in lieu of a bath, he always huddles in on himself and trembles miserably through the whole experience, even under the warmest water. It's almost as if he expects some monstrous threat to his safety to suddenly appear within the steamed-up confines of the glassed-in cubicle; and even though he will eventually accept the soap and wash cloth I always proffer and will take care of washing his body himself, he always does so with such nervous haste that I often have to gently push him back under the spray of water, forcing myself to ignore his anxious groans of entreaty as I give him a second scrubbing to be sure he's really clean.


So it's just easier most of the time to run him a bath; of course I don't dare stray too far from him while he's lounging in the tub, just in case he has a sudden panic attack or falls asleep and slides beneath the water. But he's usually happy when he's soaking in warm bubbles, and it seems to soothe him even more if I sit and read to him from the newspaper or from one of his old books while he contentedly turns to a wrinkled prune.


Tonight he takes to the water like a satisfied duck, settling himself into the froth of bubbles and resting his head against the back of the tub with a little sigh of relief. Occasionally I'll leave the water plain save for a bit of bath oil for his skin; but when he has to sit in a tub with no bubbles to distract him, he always gets this almost comical look of disgruntled disgust on his face and begins to mutter darkly to himself in the incomprehensible, garbled language that is all he can produce now, his irate tone letting me know in no uncertain terms that he much prefers the sudsy cover of bubbles to the sight of his own knobby knees and other Blair bits peering up at him through the water. I usually buy unscented bubblebath, or sometimes aloe vera; once Irma bought bubble-gum scented by mistake, and that was a little too weird, a little too childlike given his already-confused and helpless mental state. Plus the smell was hell on my senses and made me sneeze nonstop for hours after I'd put Sandburg to bed. I couldn't even get near him for the rest of that night without going into a sneezing fit and had to fight the urge to drag him out of a sound sleep just so I could scrub the smell of those damned bubbles off his skin.


But tonight it's aloe vera and vitamin E, the fragrance so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable; and as I take up my customary vantage point on the closed toilet seat, Blair scrabbles indolently beneath the cloud of bubbles enveloping his wiry form and comes up triumphantly clutching a fuzzy green wash cloth in one hand.


"Don't forget to scrub behind your ears," I chide gently as I reach for tonight's reading selection; as usual he ignores me, his blue eyes going drowsy and dreamy as he droops a bit further beneath the warm water and begins dragging the wash cloth across his naked chest, lathering his skin in a langorous pattern that I find hypnotic to watch. If this was the old days, I'D be the one doing that for him--and not just to make him clean, I think to myself, my chest tightening in sorrow with the bittersweet memory of all the decadently sensuous nights the two of us spent making slow, incredibly erotic love in the shower back at the loft.


God, it hurts now to remember, to watch the man I love more than life itself sitting in a tub of bubbles, zoned out like some fucking little kid who played too hard today and ate too much dessert at dinner and now just wants his jammies and some milk and to be tucked in and kissed on the head. This isn't right; it's just so fundamentally WRONG to see him like this, to bear helpless witness to the almost complete disintegration of the smart, stubborn, unbelievably sexual man who whirled into my life like some insanely energetic force of nature almost six years ago and changed everything in my life for the better. EVERYTHING.


God, he did so much for me, right from the start; he helped me, healed me, gave me back to myself and then, as a wholly unexpected bonus, gave me a fucking huge chunk of his own soul, as well, offering freely and without reservation the inestimable gift first of his friendship and then his love. In retrospect I feel like all I did for the longest time was take and take from him, deluding myself all the while into believing that he was getting back an equal return on his investment...fooling myself that ours was a completely equitable partnership in terms of give and take and the mutual benefits accrued by working and living together.


But I think that deep inside myself I always felt like I was taking advantage of him; the fact that he was living under my roof practically rent free and using ME right back as fodder for his dissertation quickly lost any effectiveness for me as a rationale for continuing to accept Blair's guidance and assistance with my senses and for continuing to demand that he ride along with me on duty and put himself in actual physical danger on a daily basis. Not to mention making so many demands on his time that he was always hard-pressed to keep up with his collegiate responsibilities and his work on his dissertation, on top of the load dumped on him by myself and the Cascade PD.


Once things began to change between us, evolving into something much deeper and more complicated than mere friendship, I tried to apologize for my thoughtless selfishness earlier on; but Sandburg would have none of it. Every time I tried to express my regret for the many instances of casual indifference or arrogant expectation that I'd hit him with in the course of our friendship, he would get actively pissed at me, telling me in no uncertain terms to just drop it and get over myself, already.


He was forever reminding me of the all the ways he'd taken advantage of ME in the few short years we'd been friends and colleagues; and when it became obvious that the growing attraction between us was much, much more than mere professional admiration or simple friendship, Blair had informed me with undisguised satisfaction that he fully intended to collect on any unpaid dues I owed him by turning me into his willing sex slave. At the time I'd laughed at the very notion; but from the first string of hungry, incredibly hot kisses we'd exchanged, I realized he was right.


Sex with Blair was beyond description, better than any of the torrid, late-night fantasies about making love with him that I'd nurtured in secret for so long, back in those empty, frustrating days before either of us actually dredged up the courage to do anything about the erotic attraction growing between us. Being with Blair sexually was like finally finding myself--the real me--reflected back with loving acceptance and not a bit of humor from his infinite blue eyes; and with every touch of his beautiful hands on my body, he taught me something new about my soul.


What developed between us was far beyond gender considerations and the mere physical logistics of lust and arousal and figuring out the mechanics of gay sex; with Blair I finally realized what it meant to truly love another person--body, mind, and soul. Even on our worst, pissiest days together--days when we just couldn't see eye to eye on anything or days when we both got on each other's last nerve--I never for one second felt anything but love and gratitude for his presence in my life. Any anger between us was always momentary, any disagreements fleeting; maybe our added bond as sentinel and guide went a long way toward molding our relationship in a decidedly symbiotic direction, making it almost imperative that we learn to get along in order to facilitate the work we were destined to carry out together. In that sense it was essential that we pull together and learn to quickly work through any difficulties between us.


But even if the whole sentinel thing did act in some sense as the initial impetus for the development of a sexual relationship between us, it certainly wasn't the ONLY impetus, the only reason. When it came down to the truth of the matter, I didn't need Incacha or my animal spirit to tell me what I was feeling or to nudge me into pledging my love and loyalty to Blair. With eyes wide open I made the decision on my own, fully aware of the strong sentinel/guide bond between us but equally certain in my soul that even if I lost my sentinel abilities forever, I would never stop loving Blair with everything that's in me.


And that hasn't changed. Our bond has been severed, at least on a conscious level; Blair is lost to me now, trapped in some shadowy netherworld that my sentinel abilities can't even come close to breaching. My senses are definitely a mixed blessing these days; they truly come in handy when dealing with Blair's special problems now, with helping me to keep him safe; but they bring me torment, as well, help me see TOO much of the damage to my lover sometimes. It would have been so much easier just to permanently let my abilities in that area go, to reject the heavy burden they became once I no longer had Blair's guidance in controlling them and using them to best effect. And I did push them away for awhile once it became apparent that Blair wasn't going to bounce back from the terrible damage that bullet did to his brain.


Everything already hurt too much, was so unbearably painful; experiencing the horrible tragedy that ripped our lives apart with the added weight of fully hyped-up senses thrown into the mix was almost enough to send me tumbling into the same black abyss Blair had disappeared into. So in the days after the shooting I dialed them all down to nothing, down and down until for all practical purposes my abilities ceased to exist. It was a desperate attempt on my part to escape the reality of what was happening to him--to US--to evade my own rage and fear; in those early days I became as lost as Blair.



For weeks and weeks after he was injured, I repressed my ability to hone in on all the subtle nuances of his breathing and heart rate and the faltering repair attempts going on inside his body; for weeks I couldn't let myself extend my senses and delve beneath Blair's motionless exterior lying in that hospital bed because it hurt too damned much to go that deep, to FEEL how damaged he was. It was an agony I can't begin to describe, knowing to the extended depths that my eyes could see, that my ears could hear and my fingers touch, just how close to being forever gone he was. After awhile I just couldn't deal with it anymore; after awhile I just wanted the deceptive peace of becoming numb, of not feeling.


But it was Blair himself, all unaware, who called my sentinel abilities back into being; as the months passed and he remained for all purposes catatonic, my increasingly desperate need to extract SOME glimmer of the man he used to be from the wreckage of his mind drove me to begin experimenting again, albeit reluctantly, with my senses. If I could somehow use them to pull him out of his comatose state, to call him back to me, then I had to try.


Simon did all he could to help, to keep me grounded and centered as I took those first, stumbling steps back toward the re-possession of the abilities I'd pushed down deep inside me, so deep that it seemed I might never fully recover them again. He was the only one who fully understood what I had given up and why--the only one who comprehended the deeper implications the loss of Blair's vibrant intellect would have on the sentinel who was now left without guidance, without that subtle but necessary push here or prod there to steer me in the direction I needed to go with my abilities.


To this day I owe Simon Banks a debt of gratitude I can never repay, not only for his willingness to step up and help me with a task he felt so unequal to, but for the courage he displayed both in standing up to me and in staying there with me when I'd fly into towering rages of grief and frustration and terrible despair...And afterwards, always, he was right there to offer me staunch emotional support and to hold me up until I could compose my shattered soul well enough to stagger around under my own power and try one more time--just one more time--to control my erratic senses for Blair's sake, to help Blair...


A low, disgruntled humming noise cuts into my morose reverie now, and I blink myself back to full awareness to catch my heart's desire pulling himself upright in the tub, both his hands gripping its marble-veined sides as Blair cocks his head very slightly to the right, listening to some elusive sound only he can hear. Curious, I dial my own sense of hearing up in the dim hope that maybe he IS picking up on something tangible here, something real as opposed to the phantom whispers that usually crowd his dim consciousness.


Nothing unusual impresses itself on me in the quiet night settling in around us, and it takes me another minute to realize that it isn't a sound at all that he's listening to; it's the LACK of one particular sound that has him sloshing so restlessly now in his bath, his forehead creasing in mild perturbation as he tilts his head to the left and strains to hear the one noise that's missing here in the steamy warmth of the bathroom.


As I realize what he's doing, what he's searching for, a sharp twist of pained love clutches at my chest; and in its shaky aftermath it takes a supreme effort of will to keep myself from moving over to the tub, taking his beautiful, troubled face in my hands and covering his mouth in a series of long, slow kisses...taking something I no longer have a right to claim. There is so little left to me now in the way of meaningful interaction with him, I think sadly; but as he gives an irate little huff and blows a froth of bubbles across the top of the water he's immersed in, I smile and reach for the book on the vanity next to the toilet, knowing what he wants now and feeling strangely pleased that at least I can give him this much.


"Okay, okay; I know what you're waiting for," I smile wryly at him and open the book to the page I'd marked from the last time. And as I begin to read aloud to him again from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, something like contentment creeps over his face, smoothing out the lines of agitation from his forehead and loosening the tight pursing of his lips as he slides back into an indolent lounging posture against the back of the tub.


Lulled by the familiar sound of my voice, Blair allows his hands to slip back under the water; his whole body goes lax and boneless, and his eyes close in peaceful relaxation as the travails of Huck and Tom and the evil machinations of Injun Joe provide aural accompaniment to his bubble bath. I know the words I read mean nothing to him; I could just as easily be reeling off the list of ingredients from the back of a cereal box for all he cares. It's the sound of my voice that soothes him, and as I read I find myself admitting ruefully that this particular ritual between us has come to mean comfort and serenity to me, as well.


The sight of him so at peace, the torments of his mind temporarily forgotten in the haze of warm water and bubbles and my own, quiet voice, fills my heart with such hopeless love that my steady tone falters and I have to clear my throat before I can continue reading. Blair jerks reflexively at the hoarse ahem! that interrupts the smooth flow of dialogue between Huck and Jim; but when I forge ahead with no more jarring hitches to our routine, he settles back again and hums to himself just once, very softly.


It's his hum of contentment, a poignantly bubbly little sound that rises from him only rarely and always means that all is as well as it gets now within his ravaged mind. Hearing it usually makes me immeasurably sad, knowing all that he's lost, recalling all the things that used to make him happy and never will again...


But tonight, as I turn to the next page of the book and settle myself more comfortably on the padded toilet seat, all I feel is gratitude for having this time with him, for the blessing of being allowed to sit here and breathe him in through every pore of my body as the night drapes itself around us and I read till Blair's skin becomes too water-wrinkled and pruny for me to continue.


When he's had enough I help him from the tub, making sure he doesn't slip as he clambers out; armed with plenty of towels close at hand, I offer him one and stand waiting as he takes it and begins to pat himself down. Sometimes he abandons the towel before he's even halfway dry, but tonight he rubs industriously at his wet skin and so I back off and leave him to it, merely satisfying myself that he's dried off thoroughly before I step up and help him fit his arms into the sleeves of his robe. Standing behind him, I grasp the garment's belt where it trails from its loops on either side and gently slide my arms around his waist, reaching in front of him to loosely tie the ends of the belt over his flat stomach.


"There, all done, right, Chief?" I murmur softly against his ear, and for one brief, lovely moment he stands still and quiescent, tolerating the careful press of my body against his from behind, not protesting the sensation of my arms gently and lovingly squeezing him around his middle.


"You smell good, babe; so nice and clean," I whisper into the side of his neck, and I can't resist pressing my lips to his skin there, absorbing the rosy heat left over from his bath along with the delicious scent of him that wafts up into my nose and sets all my senses tingling with a subtle pleasure that's close to pain. I want to just stand here forever, drinking in his essence; but after another moment he stirs restlessly within my grasp and shrugs away from me, moving as he always does to rub a clear space in the gently fogged mirror above the vanity so he can look at his reflection.


A pensive expression crosses his face as he leans in close to the glass, squinting his eyes a bit at the tousle-headed vision squinting back at him; and for about the millionth time I find myself wondering what it is he sees when he confronts his own image like this. Does he even recognize himself: would he remember his name without Irma or me repeating it endlessly to remind him? Sometimes he gazes so intently at his reflection, his eyes narrowing in concentration as he searches the exotic angles and sensitive hollows of his own face as if looking for the elusive answer to a question his damaged psyche is powerless to form, much less ask aloud. It breaks my heart to come upon him and find him mesmerized by that lost figure in the mirror, his confused soul's silent pain reflected back to him in a cruel verisimilitude of the person he once was.


"Come on, Chief; we'll skip shaving your ten o'clock shadow for one night," I murmur quietly now, stepping up beside him and reaching carefully to take his lightly stubbled chin in my hand so I can turn his face away from the mirror. "We've both had a rough day; let's just get you in your pj's and then call it a night. You can admire your bad self tomorrow, okay?"


For a moment he resists me, his posture stiffening as he gives an aggrieved little grunt and tries to tug his jaw from my grasp; stubbornly he keeps his eyes canted toward the mirror, trying to catch another glimpse of himself even as I do my best to distract his attention away from what could turn out to be a marathon session of absorbed self-perusal on his part.


"Come with me, Blair," I coax softly, beginning a very light caress along his jawline with my thumb. "We'll find your favorite t-shirt and boxers and then I'll put on your quiet music so you can fall asleep. Come on, babe, let's go to bed."


For another long moment he continues to stand at attention, his hands clenching and unclenching rhythmically at his sides as I stand next to him, no part of my body touching his save for the slow, steady glide of my thumb along the beautiful curve of his jaw. Softly I murmur to him, telling him how nice the mattress is going to feel when he lies down to rest, reminding him that his favorite pillow and the striped comforter he likes to cover himself with await him in the other room.


Gradually his eyes slide from their frustrated efforts to recapture his own gaze in the steamed-up mirror and drop instead to his bare feet and to his toes peeking up at him from the edges of his robe. A fleeting twist of bemused satisfaction ghosts across his face as he wiggles all ten toes, observing the movement with drowsy interest; these are mine, his expression says, and I swallow down the pain that rises in me as the simple revelation strikes him with the impact once reserved for some major anthropological discovery. But I refuse to dwell on my own bitterness; relieved that his attention has been successfully diverted from the mirror without a big fuss, I steer him gently in the direction of the open doorway and the master bedroom beyond, silently reminding myself that I'll need to doctor his burns again once I have him dressed and settled in for the night.


"Come on, buddy; let's get you dressed," I murmur as he allows me to maneuver him through the doorway and over to the king-sized bed I'd turned down just before his bath. "That's it, sit right there, on the edge of the mattress; I'll brush your tangles out in a minute, you'll like that..."


And as I busy myself with gathering up Blair's clean boxers and t-shirt and the soft-bristled brush I always use to coax the tangles from his damp hair, I keep up a soothing litany of mindless conversation, fighting off the sudden, devastating attack of sorrow that threatens to overwhelm me as the person I love beyond reason, beyond life itself, plucks distractedly at the folds of his robe and begins to whisper incomprehensibly to himself, the dark mournfulness in his eyes haunting me as his gaze slides past me and off into the stygian gloom of that place in his soul where I cannot follow. I've lost him again, even this smallest bit of what's been left for us to share; and as he wraps his arms around his torso and begins to rock mindlessly back and forth on the side of the bed, I close my eyes tight and search grimly, exhaustedly within, for the tattered remnants of patience and for enough grace to see me through one more night of loving so intensely someone who can no longer love me back.

To Part Two

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