With a snarl he made a fist, plunging it deep into the cold water, smashing the image. It was wrong, lying, it couldn't be true. He couldn't have come this far, done this much, to lose.
The water splashed and churned, then gradually faded back to the same mocking image. And the knowledge smashed into him that he'd lost, after all. Failed. Gone, destroyed. How could he go back now? How could he offer Blair, offer his Guide an animated corpse?
Jim stumbled and fell on his backside as his legs slid from underneath him. How could Blair ever want to be near him? Dedicate his life to him? A killer, a man? His Blair was meant to have a family, a huge one, blue-eyed mop heads running around, poking their noses into everything, sitting on his knee and listening to his stories. What could Jim offer to compare? Humiliation, trapped in an endless sideshow, dragged from place to place with an eternal wanderer, never knowing one place, never knowing a home. No woman willing to join his heart or take on his burden. Ridicule. Disgusted glances and endless scrutiny. In France even, England, anywhere.
It could never be.
He felt his mouth open around a scream of agony, so powerful it was silent, the feeling crushing his lungs until there was no air for sounds. Never. Jamais. Perdue, lost, all his little hopes and dreams destroyed with the war.
He had to leave. Run back to England, back to Caroline with his tail between his legs. Or...take his own life. A life that didn't mean anything to him any more, not without Blair, not trapped alone, out of control, his own body turning traitor and driving him slowly insane. He couldn't go back, not now, not to see the look on the smaller man's face, the disgust twisting it, directed at the man who couldn't save him, the man who left him to the murderers of his people.
But to go in secret, one last time, to see his Guide, from a distance, make his peace...
Jim nodded to himself, head jerking up and down like a marionette's. One last look. Just one, then he would go.
He set off through the gathering dusk, heading through the forest, no longer on the alert, not caring. One last look...
He slipped through the trees, feet falling lightly on the leaves, catlike, the movements of his entire body oddly feline, slinking through, eeling past trunks and rocks, padding through the day that slipped into night with the sure-footedness of a jungle animal.
And then he reached his destination, so sure, just one look, that was it, one look and he would be gone, an utter, complete, heartbreaking certainty that fell around his feet and smashed at the first sight.
And he knew he couldn't leave.
Not for Blair, not for their covenant, not anything but the pure, selfish realisation that he didn't want to go. Like the feeling he used to have as a child on chilly mornings - not his married life, hell inside the bed had been colder than out - the feeling of stretching time out, staring at the clock, promising himself that in another minute he would get up, leave...then another...then another...until he finally admitted defeat and wished he could make time stop.
Make time stop.
He hung there in the shadows, feeling the minutes stretch out past him and slip into the past, just looking at the smaller man. Knowing he could never leave, retreat into the past but too afraid to go forward. Trapped in time. Make time stop.
Blair was reclined in a old chair on the porch, a brightly-covered blanket draped over his legs. Jim watched as he gingerly shifted forward to scratch at the head of a stray cat mewling around his ankles. Leaning down, he offered a scrap of meat to the animal, chuckling as it took the treat from his fingers, licking them clean. With a final affectionate tickle to the fuzzy ears he stiffly leaned back into the pillows stuffed behind him, looking out into the darkness.
Megan came out of the door behind him. "Sandy?" she asked sleepily, one hand ruffling through her hair. "Are you coming in? It's getting late."
"Just a little longer." Blair didn't take his eyes off the night, eyes trying to pierce the blackness.
With a smile, she carded her fingers through his short hair. "Not too longer, ok?" she said, tugging her bedclothes a little more firmly around her. "It's getting cool. And I want to get to bed too, you know." She slapped a hand to her neck, then looked at it. "The mozzies must be eating you alive!"
"Just a little longer," Blair repeated. "I just want to see if Jim.." he looked down and studied his hands.
"Hey..." Megan knelt beside the chair, one hand coming up to stroke a thin arm. "He'll be ok. Jim's been through a lot tougher than this. Besides, there's no nazis left. The yanks have cleared them out. We're safe, it's just gonna take Jim a little time to get back."
"I know," Blair's voice was soft as his fingers clenched and splayed, playing with the threads of his blanket. "I just...I'm not sure..." He looked down at his bent hand, shutting his eyes briefly against the flaw, one of many, he knew, then gazed out into the night again, voice an almost silent exhalation. "I told him, he needs…he left…Does he want me?"
Jim stepped out of the darkness, and into the light cast out from the building. "Oui," he whispered. "If you want...me?"
"Jim..." Blair breathed, holding tightly to Megan's arm as she helped him from the chair. "Jim!" he took one slow step, then another, the blanket falling away as he lurched his feet. "JIM!" he stepped away from the supportive hold and stumbled across the ground, his entire body protesting and screaming, being ignored as he made his way to his Sentinel. Stopping short, he brought his hand up, a breath away from the handsome face, tracing the shape of the strong jaw, the proud nose and lips, sculpting him anew on the cold night air. "Jim..."
Ellison caught the moving hand and pressed it to his cheek, closing his eyes and revelling in the contact, as if for one last time, then he stepped back, letting the hand fall limply by his side.
"Jim!" Megan came up beside them, reaching out to touch one arm. "Are you ok? You were gone for so long, we...OOOMPH!" all the air was pressed out of her lungs as Jim wrapped an arm around her, pressing her to him in a hug.
"Thank you," he murmured into her hair. "For the picnic, for Blair, for everything..."
Blair stood there for a long moment, thin frame trembling, terror and loss stark in his wide blue eyes. Then Jim reached out and took his hand again, squeezing it gently. "Allo, mon 'tite cochon," he greeted, a smile tickling the corners of his mouth. "Comment allez-vous?
"JIM!" With a mad shout Blair threw himself forward, burying himself in the older man's arms. "Vous êtes revenus, mon ami," he babbled enthusiastically, holding on tight. "You came back. Ma sentinelle. Mon gardien."
"Je suis revenu," Jim agreed, throwing his arms around the smaller man's hips and lifting him into the air, smiling as Blair wrapped his legs around his waist, carrying him across the ground to the building, where Megan's mad shouts had already woken most of the other members. "I came back for my Guide."
James Ellison was listed as MIA on the 23rd September 1945. He was buried with full military honours on June 27th, 1946, although his body was never recovered.
Caroline Ellison put a bunch of roses on her husband's grave. "I'm sorry, Jimmy," she whispered. "I wish things had been different. Maybe..." Wiping her eyes, she walked back to her lover, who put an arm around her shoulders and steered the crying woman away from the cemetery.
End Note: Before anyone brings it up, yes I know Darwin was bombed by the Japanese during the war. In fact, they had reconnaissance planes come down as far as Bendigo (frighteningly close to where I live, in Melbourne.) But there was no reason for Jim knowing that at the time.
And no, I have nothing against the majority of the Wehrmacht. My aunt's father was a soldier in the Wehrmacht, and for the most part they were soldiers who were sent to fight with no real idea of what was going on. (In fact he probably fought against my grandfather in Europe. Back then, they were trying to kill each other. And here we are, fifty years down the track, and their kids are getting married to each other. Funny how life turns out, isn't it? I still get a giggle when he relates the story of when he surrendered - this tiny little five foot man who didn't know a word of English surrounded by six foot Americans who didn't know a word of German) For the most part, they paid their price with the death of their friends as they fought.
The ones I do have a problem with and always will are the Geheime Staatspolizei (gestapo) the SchultzStaffel (SS) and the Waffen-SS (the military branch of the SS) They were the ones who knew exactly what was going on, and exactly what they were doing. And they revelled in it.
If there's a hell, I hope they burn in it forever.