Needy or needed? A fine line....
This story takes place after "The Sentinel, by Blair Sandburg."
With thanks and apologies to Pet Fly and Warren Zevon, and proceeding under the assumption that forgiveness is easier to ask than permission....
The sky was on fire
DON'T LET US GET SICK -- Warren Zevon
Cold and weary. The whole world seemed that way....
Two vehicles rolled slowly down the darkened street, nosing through shreds of fog that lay heavily above the asphalt as if clinging to its fading warmth. Weighed down by the rain, dragged down to the pavement and held there, the air itself seemed thin and barely breathable at face level; Blair literally gasped as he slid out of the Volvo and into the chilly mist. Lungs permanently scarred by past misadventure choked on the saturated ether, and it took determined focus to banish the smell of chlorine that he knew was not real. Damp sneakers squeaking, he limped toward the pickup truck that had pulled up next to him.
He and his partner had begun the day separately but, as often happened, the day had brought them back together ... then beaten them, thrown horrors at them, sapped their vigor and will and soundness of soul and left them desiccated of strength and spirit. The horror had not been that Death had visited Cascade, but that He had not taken the woman and the child and the baby quickly enough to spare them the abominations they were forced to suffer before He laid His claim.
That horror had savaged the Guide's heart with a power that it had not wielded for a long time, not since the early days.
And the Sentinel....
Blair tugged the truck door open. Jim Ellison swung his legs out, let gravity pull him from the seat, and leaned heavily against the wet metal of the cab. Blair sighed and reached for the tattered and bloody coat, slipped one arm under a rounded shoulder and pulled the unresisting weight of his friend upright, and kicked the truck door shut. The cold sound of metal on metal seemed a bleak coda to the end of a brutal day.
Slowly, leaning on each other, they made their way into the building, into the elevator and, eventually, into the apartment. Dark and cold here too, as outside ... but light wasn't necessary, they knew their way around, and heat would have to wait. Wordlessly, Blair shed his soaking jacket and let it drop to the floor, then worked to free Jim from his coat.
"I don't need your help, Sandburg."
"I know you don't."
Blair continued to tug at the coat, and wasn't surprised when there was no resistance beyond the curt denial of need ... a clear sign that Ellison was at the end of a long day that had used him up completely. Blair steered him to the kitchen table, guided him into a chair and left him there, lost in a zone that Blair, for once, welcomed.
Senses withdrawn deep into his aching body, the sounds of the teakettle rattling on the stove burner were blunt blows to Jim's eardrums, hurtful but distant. He slumped, eyes closed and body lax. He barely noticed the bowl set down on the table next to him, hardly registered the aroma of herbs and potions released by the steaming water. At any other time he might have analyzed and named them ... had done so, many times, for his insistent guide. But not tonight.
Wordless, Blair did what was necessary. Gently he lifted Jim's arm to the table and carefully slipped the scissors under the shirt cuff, into the tear that began at the wrist and climbed up the forearm to the elbow, where thankfully the angle of the knife and the heavy fabric of the ruined coat had turned the blade from its intent of further damage. Capable fingers pulled the reddened fabric apart, fisted on it, shredded it from wrist to elbow, and left it hanging loose and apart from the broken skin, then moved to Jim's collar and fumbled with the buttons until the shirt could be stripped completely from the shivering man. The cotton t-shirt, also soaked with blood and rainwater, was tugged over Jim's head, and both were rolled into a filthy ball and tossed into the sink.
"Leave you alone. Yeah, okay."
Blair dropped the soft cotton washcloth in the warm water and twisted it over the knife slash, letting the scented liquid wash the blood away without touching cloth to wound. He repeated this process several times before he actually began to bathe the lacerated skin. Jim winced and sucked his breath in when the nap of the cloth scraped against the ragged edge of the open wound, but made no sound; Blair's lips tightened but he too remained silent as he continued his hurtful task.
Finally the cleaning was done, and antibiotic ointment had been applied, and soft gauze wrapped over and around the injury, gently but firmly as caring hands could manage. Blair stood and took the bowl to the sink, leaving Jim motionless in the chair, then returned a moment later with clean herb-infused water and a fresh washcloth.
He looked at Jim with sadness and hesitation, but closed eyes did not notice the scrutiny. Hesitation stilled his hands for a moment, although the water in the basin trembled; but finally Blair took a deep breath, set the water and clean cloth on the table, and pulled his chair close. He dropped the cloth in the water and wrung it to heavy dampness, and began to bathe Jim.
"Damn it, Sandburg."
Cheek muscles tightened, but eyes remained closed. Skin pungent with sweat and gore shuddered at first touch and then went slack again, shivering from moment to moment but otherwise unresponsive. Was it acquiescence, Blair wondered, or apathy? Trust or mere surrender?
He didn't know, and he tried very hard not to care. This wasn't about him ... it wasn't about him and Jim together. It was about Jim and his need. And perhaps, a little, about Blair's need to be needed ... but Blair would not think about that just now. Do what is necessary, do what is right, said his heart. And, as always, he followed his heart's direction.
Face, gently and with care. Let the water run down like the rain outside, clean and cleansing. Let gravity draw it down and take with it the terrible remains of the day. Neck and broad shoulders, sponging down across the chest dappled with dark bruises and striped with small cuts. Try to forget that the blood here isn't Jim's ... this blood belonged to a nine-week-old baby. Pull the pliant body forward and bath the strong back, also bruised and abraded. Sponge across the tight belly, the shuddering muscles spasming uncontrollably at the light touch.
Cleanse the body, if not the heart.
Blair put the cloth back in the basin. Jim sat motionless, eyes still closed. Slowly, Blair reached out and slid one finger inside the waistband of the khaki pants.
"What the hell?"
Jim's eyes flew open, wide and wild, white showing around the iris. A big hand slapped down on Blair's wrist, fingers locking so tight that he gasped in pain. But Blair didn't pull back, didn't fight ... instead, he began to croon in soft, wordless murmers, as if to a wounded animal who needed gentling to accept help.
"Nothing, Jim. It's nothing. Nothing that you want, nothing that you need ... nothing at all."
It worked. Slowly, the eyes closed, the grip on Blair's wrist loosened and the hand fell away. With gentle economy of motion, Blair reached again to take the snap of the slacks in his fingers and release it. He tugged the zipper open and slipped his hands between skin and cotton, pulling the cloth down and away, gathering it against the chair seat. A gentle cue encouraged Jim to rise while Blair's other hand slid the pants down over his thighs to his ankles; another soft shove guided him back into his torpid slump against the rigid back of the kitchen chair. One at a time, Blair lifted long legs and pulled shoes, socks and pant legs off and pushed them under the table. Then, with Jim naked and unresisting, Blair completed the bath; hips and thighs, knees and shins, and finally the big feet.
"Don't worry ... it's nothing. Don't worry ... don't think ... don't ..."
He realized that he was talking to himself then, and while his hands continued to clean and calm and comfort, he fell silent.
"Far enough, Sandburg. I don't need anything more from you."
"Got it, man. You're on your own."
Yellow and blue were merely shades of gray in the darkness. Blair kept one steadying hand on Jim's bruised arm while the other pulled the sheets and comforter back. Strong hands steadied him as he sat heavily on the edge of the bed; they lifted his long legs up and eased his broad shoulders down until he lay naked and shivering on the sheets. Blair drew the soft cotton over the blemished skin, slipped one palm behind Jim's head and cradled it for a moment while the pillow was put in order.
"I hate it when you do this, Sandburg." The face was expressionless, the voice flat, without emotion.
Blair paused at the top of the stairs. "I know. Go to sleep." And continued on his way, slowly feeling his way down the steps on bare feet.
Needy, or needed?
Alone in the darkness, Blair's eyes fixed sightlessly on his cooling tea and wondered which term applied to him, and if it mattered.
"Needy," Naomi would surely say, and then go on to recite the reasons why he shouldn't let himself be used in such a fashion.
"Needed," Jim might say ... might. Maybe. If he could be persuaded to answer the question at all.
Somewhere in between, thought Blair. The best of reasons, and the worst of consequences. For one of us, anyway. Does the end justify the means?
A small sound drew his eyes upwards through the dark. A whisper ... "Blair...."
He got to his feet and walked to the foot of the stairs, listening intently, hopefully, but the somnolent murmur did not come again; instead, the bed creaked and the quiet returned. Blair's footsteps did not disturb it as he padded quietly back to the kitchen. He poured the tepid dregs of his tea into the sink and set the cup down, unrinsed, bending Jim's rule so as not to disturb Jim's sleep.
Needy, or needed?
Needy, he decided as he settled on the couch. Needing to hear his given name used other than in times of stress. Needing to know that the beloved blessing of this home wouldn't crumble at a misstep. Needing to touch his sentinel's body with more than mere guidance in his hand. Needing to find some way to touch Jim's heart, to open it and find his own invited to take up residence there.
Needing to be needed. And wanted. By Jim.
Again, the soft murmur drifted down the stairs. Blair sighed and curled up in the corner of the couch. He tucked his bare feet beneath him and pulled the afghan around his t-shirt-clad shoulders. Outside the rain was still falling, harder now; wind drove it against the windows, and thunder rumbled in the distance. The storm might wake Jim, or the dreams might. Either way, Blair would be there.
Just in case he was needed.
The moon has a face
Don't let us get
~ 30 ~