Blair leaned against the balcony door and stared out at the drenching rain swamping Cascade. He blew on his cup of tea, inhaling the soothing scent of the herbs, wishing they would do their job of relaxing him. Despite the cheery fire blazing behind him and the warmth of Jim's old robe, he felt chilled to the bone.
The dream had disturbed his sleep once more. The fear of being left alone, abandoned, had assaulted his rest on a monotonously regular basis since Alex had trampled through their lives, almost destroying their happy life together and their hopes for the future.
Dream. It was an optimistic term for what fractured his sleep and had him gasping for breath, with a sob lodged in his throat. It was dredged up from the dark recesses of his memory where it had lain forgotten all these years, buried beneath so many other experiences, both good and bad.
So long ago... Blair took a sip of his tea, the herbs finally beginning to calm him. The memory rose unbidden...
In his mind's eye, he could see John seated on the couch, his big frame hunched over, his head hanging. Blair's mother, Naomi, stood in front of the window, her back to him, staring out at the farmyard. Neither knew Blair had crept out, having been awakened by their voices, raised in anger.
"You don't understand," Naomi said. "I can't live here anymore. I feel... stifled."
Naomi shook her head but did not turn around. "No, don't try and placate me. I told you I'd try it for three months and I did. This life... your life is just not me." She turned then and Blair took a quick step back into the hallway, squeezing his teddy to his chest. He couldn't see them now but he could hear every heartbreaking word. "I want to experience life, see the world, make a difference."
"You have made a difference," John replied. "To me, to my life... to Blair's. Think about him for a minute, Naomi. He's happy here. He loves the farm, the animals. He loves me."
"You're not his father, he's only known you for three months. He'll adapt. He can come visit."
"Then leave him here with me." Blair felt a surge of hope rise at John's words. John was right. He loved it here, loved John. He didn't want to leave. "You want to explore the world, fine. Go, do your thing but don't drag Blair with you. He's six years old, Naomi, he needs a stable life."
"He needs me," Naomi said firmly. "He's so smart for his age. This will be good for him. He'll learn so much."
Was John crying? It sounded like he was. Blair longed to move from his hiding place and run into John's arms. Big, strong John, the only man Blair had truly loved. He'd wondered how it felt to have a daddy and then John had come along and Blair knew. It felt... right.
"He's my son. I can't abandon him. I promise he can come and stay with you over summer vacation."
Blair hugged his teddy tighter. He blinked as a fat tear overflowed from one eye and ran down his cheek. He felt a sob working its way up his throat. Turning, he ran back to his room on tiptoe and climbed into bed, muffling his cries of misery under his blankets.
"But why do we have to go, Naomi?" Blair asked as he sat on his bed and watched his mother pack his small suitcase. "I want to live on the farm with John and help him with the horses and cows, and feed Molly the duck every night."
Naomi sighed and straightened, reaching out to comb her fingers through Blair's shoulder-length curls. "I told you already, John and I just aren't happy any more. He doesn't want us here."
Blair shook his head stubbornly. "That's not true. John loves me. He said -" He stopped abruptly. If his mother knew he'd been out of bed and listening, he'd be in a lot of trouble. He dropped his gaze and studied his shoes. He hadn't tied the laces properly and the left one dangled loose. "John said I could call him daddy if I want."
Naomi fastened Blair's lace then held out her hand, waiting until Blair placed his own in hers before picking up the suitcase. "He... didn't mean it, Blair. He doesn't want us anymore, but you know what?" She smiled brightly as she led him to the door. "We're going on a big adventure to see the world. We're going to have so much fun, sweetie. You'll see."
Blair looked over his shoulder at the empty living room. He hadn't even gotten to say goodbye. Naomi had waited until John had gone to the neighboring town on farm business before waking Blair and packing their things. Suddenly he pulled his hand from her grasp and ran back toward his room, hearing his mother's exasperated "Blair" behind him. Flinging open the door, he swooped on his beloved teddy and scooped him up, cradling him against his chest before trotting back to his mother's side.
As Naomi's old sedan roared up the dirt road, leaving the farmhouse behind, Blair closed his eyes, fixing a picture of John in his mind. "Bye, John," he whispered. "I love you and I know you love me."
His cheeks were wet. Brusquely, he swiped at the dampness and admonished himself once more to get over it, to live for now, for his future with Jim. It was easier said than done.
Soft murmuring came from the bedroom upstairs and Blair turned away from the windows to check on his partner. From here, he could just see the bed, and Jim shifting in his sleep as though caught up in another of the dreams that had tormented his sleep as often as they had Blair's.
Blair felt a familiar tug of pain in his chest, the depth and seemingly incurable specter of it far worse than being torn from the loving arms of the man who had loved him like a son... Of knowing that Naomi had lied when she'd said John did not love them anymore. Worse even than the sheer agony of drowning. Of knowing he would not see Jim once more before he died, not be able to ask Jim for forgiveness for wanting too much and losing track of their friendship and their still new love, and knowing the guilt Jim would have borne for his death.
The discovery of the bond they shared had brought new meaning to their relationship and Blair had believed when he'd left the hospital to travel to Mexico, that nothing could ever break it. If a man's love for another was enough to bring him back from the dead, no mortal test could ever have him doubt Jim's love for him again.
But on the beach... Blair closed his eyes as though by doing so, he could shut out the sight but knew it would do no good. Jim and Alex, entwined together, their hands and mouths touching, oblivious to Blair. The shock of Alex turning Jim's gun on him, was minor compared to Jim allowing the woman who had murdered Blair, to escape.
Then in the grotto, when Alex's rampaging senses had overwhelmed her, Blair had watched silently, his hands bound behind him as Jim had comforted her, his innate empathy warring with jealousy and righteous anger that she should suffer for the damage she'd wrought.
On their return to Cascade, they'd slowly begun to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, gradually feeling the familiar warmth of their relationship thaw the chill that had made them walk like strangers around each other in the weeks before. Blair welcomed it, but knew their journey through this storm was not complete. Each night the dream would wake him and he'd yearn to turn into Jim's comforting embrace. Instead, he'd hug the edge of the bed until he felt Jim subside once more into sleep, then he'd come downstairs and try to fight the demons of his past and present, knowing his grief at Jim's abandonment of him at that most dire of times would have to be conquered first before they could finally move on.
Sighing, Blair turned back to the window and rested his forehead against the window, the coldness of the glass soothing.
"Listen to your heart, Blair," John had told him many years ago, as they'd sat together on the back porch, watching another perfect sunset. It'd had little import to the six-year-old back then but the words had always stayed with him, like a blessing, a benediction. Good words from a good man, who had always loved him, even from afar. "When you think things are as bad as they could ever get and you don't know where to turn, trust your heart."
Jimmy Ellison cradled his little brother protectively against his side, shushing his sobs softly as he stared down at the oft-repeated tableau below him. His parents were fighting again, their voices raised as they struggled to out-shout each other, oblivious to the fear and panic the sounds of hate struck into the hearts of their young sons.
There was something different about the scene tonight. At their mother's feet stood two large suitcases and through the open doorway, even in the darkness, Jimmy could see a taxi hovering in the driveway, its exhaust huffing plumes of blue smoke into the chill night air.
"You're nothing but a whore!" William spat out in disgust and Grace's hand struck hard against his cheek, the sound as loud as the crack of a whip in the sudden silence of the room.
"Mom, Dad, please!" Jimmy cried out, raising his own hand as if the action would somehow halt the violence. "Please don't," he whispered brokenly when the angry adults turned their faces up to look at him.
"Jimmy, take Stevie and go back to bed." His father sounded defeated; his cheek was bright red where the blow had landed.
"No!" Jimmy raised his chin, defiant, and turned his glacier- blue gaze on his mother but she stared back at him with an equal measure of defiance, her blue eyes so like his. He broke down then. "I'll do better," he sobbed, uncaring of the tears that suddenly overflowed and ran down his cheeks. "I'll look after Stevie all the time and I won't... won't make up those stories anymore about people talking in my head. I promise..."
His mother turned away, her voice, when she spoke, sounding strained and somewhat lost. Bending, she reached down and picked up her suitcases. "This has nothing to do with you and Stevie, Jimmy. It's between your father and me. You wouldn't understand. I'll call you everyday and you and Stevie can come stay with me as soon as I'm settled -" The taxi horn blasted through the air and Jimmy winced as it echoed against his sensitive eardrums. "I - I have to go."
"No, wait!" Frantic, Jimmy turned to his little brother, not wanting the four-year-old to see his mother walk from their lives. Leaning down, he grasped Stevie's chin and turned the tear-stained face up to look at him. "Stevie, go climb in my bed, okay? In a minute, I'll come read you a bedtime story."
Stevie sniffled and wiped his hand across his nose. "The one 'bout the monster in the closet?" he asked hopefully, a smile beginning to show through the tears.
"Any one you want," Jimmy promised solemnly. Turning his brother, he sent him on his way to the bedroom with a gentle push. Turning back, he watched in despair as his mother strode purposefully toward the front door but as she stepped through, she turned back to look at her son...
Only now it was Blair standing in the doorway, his expression bleak, his dark blue eyes shining with unshed tears.
"No," Jim whispered. "Blair, don't go."
Staring out into the darkness, Blair heard the whispered entreaty as though he was the one gifted with sentinel senses. Turning, he climbed the stairs, walked over and stood by the bedside for a moment, watching Jim shift in restless slumber, his eyes moving rapidly beneath the closed lids, a single tear snaking from the corner of one eye to trail a glistening path down Jim's cheek.
Settling on the side of the bed, Blair raised a hand and brushed the wetness away from Jim's face with his thumb. At the touch, Jim's eyes opened and he looked blearily at his partner.
"Blair?" he whispered again. "Did I wake you?"
Blair shook his head. "I wasn't asleep."
"I'm okay, just a bad dream," Jim assured him. "Come to bed. You need to rest."
"So do you."
In reply, Jim lifted the covers and patted the bed.
Blair smiled and did as he was bid, moving into Jim's waiting embrace, sighing as the strong arms closed around him, a haven from the storm their lives had become. He rested his head on Jim's chest, allowing the steady heartbeat beneath his ear to soothe and calm his own fears. "Shh," he said. "Go to sleep. I love you, Jim."