For there was another. And another. And another. Wounded littered the halls, minor to major, a place of healing turned into a charnel house for victims of battle.
Jim followed the stretcher blindly, barely aware of the concerned hands that tugged at him, made him sit, not even registering the sting of a needle as his own wound was stitched, eyes fixed on the still form lying on the bare mattress.
Two harried, overworked orderlies took hold of the stretcher and Jim stood, pushing aside the nurse trying to tend to him, the torn edges of his shirt flapping around him as he moved through the confused jumble of moaning, bleeding bodies, following his friend as he was wheeled through the crowded halls.
A room was found at the end of the hall, and Jim hovered in the doorway, watching with fixed eyes as Blair was moved to the bed. The orderlies arranged the IV and hastily left with the empty stretcher, returning to where many more awaited their care.
Jim moved forward into the room, watching Blair's too-still face and untangled the blanket from the form in the next bed. The man was dead, only freshly so, judging by the residual warmth in the corpse. Jim took the time to raise the sheet over the dead face, feeling faintly ghoulish for stealing the blanket. But the man was already gone and Blair needed the warmth.
Jim gently spread the blanket out over the smaller man, tucking the edges in over the thin gown, careful not to disrupt the IV, pausing to take the moment to run tender fingers over the small red path marring the pristine bandage on the smaller man's right shoulder, shuddering a little in fear at how close it had been.
Blair's chest rose and fell with reassuring regularity, the even and deep breaths of a sleeper, and Jim settled himself in a battered chair, mesmerised by the continuous evidence of the other man's life.
Of his own accord, his hand rose to touch Blair's unmarred cheek, the backs of his fingers gently stroking across the slightly stubbled surface. Blair leaned into the caress, a faint wrinkling of his brow and Jim soothed the lines away with a touch, trailing his hand down to take hold of Blair's hand in his, feeling the warmth there, the pulse of blood revitalising tissues.
Moving the chair closer to the bed, he held that hand to his chest, over his heart and waited.
The moon began its journey through the sky and still Jim waited.
Blair had finally begun to stir, shifting a little on the thin mattress. Curled on his uninjured side, the faint moonlight shining on his face, bathing the rigid keloid of his scar in an ethereal light.
Jim reached forward and ran hesitant fingers over the scar, forever imprinting it on his memory. No longer the hideous disfigurement that had marred the almost angelic features when they first met, it was now a badge of courage, of honour, in itself a thing of beauty, part of Blair, and no part of his friend could ever be wrong in his eyes.
Leaning back in his seat, he took one of the smaller hands in his, absently running his thumb over the back, stirring the dark hairs there as he pondered the words Blair had snarled at him. Was the resistance fighter right? Did he force the smaller man into a feminine role? Did he assume a higher, unnecessary position, effectively castrating him?
No, of course not. Jim shifted in the seat, one hand going to touch the bandage on his own arm, a little nick, a flesh wound not even felt. I just want to protect him, that's all. Lord knows the kid could do with someone looking out for him, I mean, before I met him, he was...
Jim sat bolt upright as his own thoughts struck home. Before he met Jim, Blair had been a fighter. He had escaped from nazis not once, but twice, saving countless others, made his way to a resistance group, fought, and yet he still retained his humanity. Score three counts more than Jim himself had been able to do.
What right did Jim have to control his life? Even attempt to?
It was like the old games his father had taught him. Never view anyone as equal. No one is equal, a million different structures and substructures, a sick, twisted net. Greater. Lesser. And you skulked on the edges, working away, pushing, shoving, forcing more and more people to be less than you to make yourself feel greater. Real. Like you had more purpose, more soul than the ones you belittled, the others below you.
And in the end, you lost yourself. Caught up in a web of lies, walking the tightrope, watching your step, knowing there were hundred of greedy faces below, hands reaching up to pull you down and make you one of them, make you lesserÖ.
"jim...?" the little voice from the bed snapped the bonds of almost primal terror that held him at the thoughts and he tried to move impossibly closer, one hand gently stroking the matted curls back as the other returned his grip.
"Right here, Blair. It's ok."
Blair blinked at him, drinking in the sight. Alive, they were both alive. Safe, warm, cared for. He began to feel a little hope. They had survived against a seemingly insurmountable German attack, perhaps he could dare to dream.
His eyes travelled over the other manís body, stopping at the white bandage past a cut sleeve. Wincing, he struggled to sit and reached out with a trembling hand. "You're hurt..."
Jim caught the hand and held it in his own. "Shh, it's ok, it's nothing, it's all right.." He eased Blair back down on the bed. "Try and rest, I'll be here," he promised.
Blair sank back onto the mattress, eyes fluttering with fatigue, but refused to surrender to sleep. "Rafe?" he managed in a whisper so slight the Leftenant had to strain to hear it.
"He's fine," his hand returned to the tumbled curls, stroking them back, hoping he wasn't a liar. He had no idea of the Englishman's condition, eyes and ears only for Blair. "You saved his life, Chief," he added an affectionate name from his childhood, squeezing his hand a little fondly. "How's it feel to be a hero?"
"Hurts." Blair chuckled weakly, then hissed as he jarred his wound. Jim squeezed his hand reassuringly and he smiled, returning the pressure, revelling in its solidity. "Sam?" he asked hesitantly, a terrible fear burning inside him. He could remember the explosion, running forward, but nothing after that.
Ellison didn't reply, studying his hands, heart breaking. How could he tell his friend his last link to his old life was gone?
The Leftenant looked up, and his eyes gave Blair the answer.
"No.." Tears pooled in Blair's eyes and ran freely down his cheeks. "Jim, no, not her...not..." he burst into tears, one sob breaking free, then another, his uninjured hand jerking convulsively free of Jimís and flying up to cover his face. "Oh god Jim, please..."
His own heart breaking, Jim gathered the other man into his arms, rocking
him gently back and forth the lonely hospital room, the dim face of the
moon the only witness to their sorrow.