"Non.....NON!!" The heart-rending cry tore the still night air apart as Blair screamed and twisted in the grips of a nightmare. Jim jerked awake at the sound, hands cupping the smaller man’s face.
The instant his hands touched, Blair bucked against him, fighting with all the strength left in his frail body as his mind relived the agony locked away in that single, sterile room. "Je vous en supplie!! Je ne -" he threw his head back and screamed.
Jim desperately stroked his hand over the back of Blair's head, trying, wanting to hold him closer, but afraid of re-opening the terrible gouges on the smaller man's back. There was no blanket, no sheet to cling to the suppurating flesh, their naked bodies pressed against each other for comfort and a little warmth.
With a final despairing gasp, Blair collapsed bonelessly against the strong body trying to keep him warm, breathing slowing as tears rolled down his face, chest heaving against an agony too terrible to be borne. "I d-don't know...any...thing...."
Jim gently touched the trembling face, caught every tear that fell from those cerulean eyes, agony mirrored in his own bright blue. He murmured reassurances, not in French, or English, or any other recognisable language, just a continual, soothing mantra, a little prayer keeping them in their own world, sealed away, safe.
He didn't know how long they lay there like that, a few seconds, minute, hours ...years. Agony compressed and expanded, wrenching through twin souls. Finally Blair raised his head, blue eyes awash with tears. "Jim...?" he whispered tremulously.
The taller man smiled gently down at him. "Oui."
"Jim..." Blair rested his forehead briefly on Jim's breastbone then struggled up, each inch of his flesh sliding slowly against his the other man’s as he shifted upwards. "Jim...Jim..." He raised himself painfully up and propped an elbow either side of Ellison's face, staring deep into his eyes for a long moment, then bowing his head, a contact between their brows, noses brushing, souls entwining. "Jim..." He rubbed his forehead against the older mans, a desperate mewl breaking from his throat. "Forgive...me?"
Jim leaned up and gently brushed a hand across his face, feeling a few final tears slip across his fingers. "Nothing to forgive," he whispered gently. Reaching up, he took Blair's broken hand in his and turned his head, pressing the bandages to his lips in a healing kiss. "Rien."
And finally, Blair believed.
"Jim!" he spoke it as if for the first time, all his fears and daemons dropping away, dying at the sound of that name. "I knew you were one of them," Blair babbled into this chest, clinging tightly. " I knew. J'ai su que vous étiez un d'eux... une sentinelle. Gardien. Vous êtes venus pour moi. Vous êtes revenus. You came back for me. You came back. Guardian. Sentinel. You came back for me. J'ai su. Vous êtes revenus pour moi." He gripped Jim’s arms almost desperately, clinging to the older man as if he were a rock to hold him back from madness, voice slipping into an almost silent, awed whisper. "Votre Guide. Your Guide. I saw. I saw. Mon gardien. Ma sentinelle. Mon Dieu..." he was weeping now, in pure, unfettered joy. "Mon dieu…"
Jim moaned silently at the titles. Guardian. Protector. God. How could Blair see him that way? He’d failed, totally and utterly, broken at every turn, leaving his friend to dance alone with the nightmares of his past.
The roles. The names. They it comfortably, like donning a well-known but somehow just discovered cloak. Sentinel. Guardian. Protector. Blair his Guide…
The knowledge hit him like a freight train, eyes flying open from the ghostly impact. It was something he had known from the beginning, yet only just discovered. The closing of a circle. A joining of two souls. This wasn't some casual friendship, it was deeper. Not sexual. Deeper. Bone deep. Soul deep. Not something to be remembered, but moved onwards from, this was for life. And beyond. From this life to the next and to the next, through each incarnation a calling for reunion, a continuation.
And then the healing began.
It was slow at first, nightmares tearing at a fragile mind already teetering on the thin edge of sanity, only to be drawn back, soothed, loved again by Jim's tender touches and gentle words. A broken body trying pitifully, but so hard, to attempt the tasks that had come so easily before.
Blair swore and wept at the feeling of helplessness every time Jim had to hold him steady on the cracked chamber pot when he had to go, every time damaged nerves betrayed him and he made a mess, every time his frail and damaged body failed him, again and again.
And each time, Jim would hold him close, clean him up, wrap him in a blanket of safety with gentle touches and soft words, using the strength that had been trained to kill to tenderly support the smaller man too weak to even sit up unassisted.
Because of his back, Blair couldn't sit reclined and meals were agonisingly painful affairs, propped sideways against Jim’s chest, sipping at the cup of weak soup pressed to his lips, following the gentle pleads for him to drink it all, eat a little more, large hands stroking his hair as a soft voice told him stories of all the places he could go when he was well. Places untouched by the war, places of sunshine and happiness, places where it was never cold, places where he could sleep free of nightmares, sleep without being rudely awakened by the dreaded rattle of gunfire or the scream of a dying man.
The names and places became embedded in his mind, sometimes so real he could reach out and touch them in his dreams, sometimes as pale and insubstantial as mist. Unimaginable. Wanted. An eternal Shangri-La. Arizona. Mexico. Palestine. Chile. Darwin. He repeated the names to himself over and over before he slept, his mangled left hand clutching at Jim's, nestled close to the strong body, a constant physical reminder of the joining between them.
Or Peru, with the tribes he had read about, people who had never seen a gun or a grenade, or any of the filthy weapons of war he had become so horribly intimate with. People so unused to killing and murder they would welcome strangers with open arms and hearts. Places he could heal, places he could see himself, strong and whole, living the life of peace and safety he had yearned for so long. Places where he would no longer rage at the uselessness of his body as it failed to perform the most simple of tasks, places where he was no longer a broken, mangled casualty of war but a man, a real man, one who could spend his days learning.
That was all he wanted to do, his entire life. Learn. Gain knowledge.
Not how to strip and clean a Sten with a screwdriver and a scrap of rag, not dry knowledge sucked out of a thousand books, but to learn of people, of life.
Holding onto Jim through every dark night and pain-filled day, he burned his resolve, keeping himself, waiting for the time he was healed and it was over, the time they could leave, leave all this death and pain behind to be forgotten deep inside.
Time stretched slowly on, days bleeding into a week, and he slowly began to heal, gradually gaining the strength he had lost in five short days, his physical body mending under Megan's watch, his heart and mind under the tender ministrations of his Sentinel. Taking joy every time his body obeyed him, every time he made a choice, remembering all to clearly the time when it wouldn't, when the choices were never his.
Jim revelled in each moment, each of those glorious days they had. Days of peace, up there in that little place, days to learn, realising his gift what he could do, the smile breaking over Blair’s face every time a tentative theory was made true. Counting clouds, stones, listening to the growth of flowers, anything to see that smile again, to see the light returning to those haunted eyes
But under it all, an all-consuming hate prickled at him, seeping under his skin and making him itch, making him gasp awake at night, hands clutching around a phantom neck. But he swallowed it, each mouthful becoming more and more bitter. Waited. Until it became too much, the acid eating at his soul. Until he was sure Blair was strong enough to be left in the care of the people of La colle-sur-loup, who were more than happy to watch over the little man they had taken into their hearts.
And then he went out. Gun in hand, no longer human but a solid mass of rage. All his training, all his skills came together as he slipped through the woods, to the few remaining German outposts left after the US Task Force Butler began their invasion - even the denizens of the self-proclaimed 'super-race' could tell they were gone, defeated, and were now running for the most part - mauling, maiming, killing anything with a swastika, or a hated blue-grey uniform.
And with each corpse his anger grew, knowing he had been cheated of his vengeance, knowing that he could kill and kill, until there was nothing left and it would still never be enough.
Until there weren't any more.
Between General Patch's men and the uprising of French people until now too timid to fight back, the nazis were gone. Dead or captured, or running for some sort of asylum the neighbouring countries would not give them.
And Jim realised it was done. Over. Finished. Nothing left to do, for him at least.
The war was over.
He should have felt something, anything. Not this...emptiness. He'd longed for this moment, dreamed of it. It had been his raison d'etre for so long, and now it was here, he felt...
Looking down at the Beretta in his hand, he weighed it thoughtfully for a moment, then threw it to the ground. He didn't need it any more.
Out of force of habit, he picked it up again, tucking it in the back of his pants, then moved to the stream tricking nearby, one of hundreds trickling through the hills of France.
Rinsing his face in cupped hands, he stopped and stared at his reflection in the rippled water, the unshaven jaw, the gaunt cheeks.
The cold, dead soul screaming from behind his eyes.
The war had won, after all.