It was a solemn group that entered St. Nizier that evening, the last stop before Vassieux. Sam caught up with Jim and Blair just before they reached the outskirts. With a challenging stare to Ellison, she tossed Blair his canteen, and a pair of boots before moving on.
Blair stopped short in the middle of the road, staring at the canteen in his hands as the people streamed around him and into the town. The boots fell unnoticed and unwanted to the ground, his gaze locked on the little metal shape in his hands. He studied it from all angles, like a times crossword, worrying a little at the lid, playing with the belt clips.
A large hand slid into view and Jim took the canteen away, replacing it with his own. The Maquisard looked up and gave the larger man a grateful smile before slinging an arm around his shoulder as they walked into the town together.
With a decided pout, some exaggerated yawning, and a handful of real francs, Blair secured them a little house in the town center. There were even more Maquis here than in Grenoble, all headed for the strongholds in the Vercors mountains, thrumming with energy, alive, thrilling in the reunion with old friends, mourning the loss of those who didn't make it, buzzing with speculations of the Allied plans for them now D-Day had come.
After so long, it looked possible. They dared to hope that La Patrie would soon be free.
With a saucy grin, Blair liberated another handful of francs from Jim and went in search of a meal, wandering through the crowds, stopping every so often to touch a person, return an embrace, hold a conversation.
Jim wandered a little aways, to what was once a local picnic spot, where young lovers would come to spoon. He ran his fingers over the names carved into the tree, generations meeting and loving, most probably being conceived here, in this spot.
Idly he wondered if there would be any more young lovers left to return after the war. Not if the nazi's won, of that he was sure.
"Ellison." He turned at the low voice, unsurprised to find Sam standing there. "I want you to leave Blair alone." She took a step closer, unconsciously dropping into a fighting stance. "He's not for you. Leave him alone."
Jim resisted the urge to laugh in her face, remembering Blair's soft entreaty whispered late one night. "Be careful with her, gentle. She is a great woman. Beautiful, before the war, inside and out. It's not her fault the nazis want her dead." "Why?"
"You tell me, yank." Sam moved closer. "You tell me you are close to him. You, a man, a Goy, an American. You tell me you are his friend when you have your warm safe bed at the end of your mission, and we are still here sleeping on the ground. You tell me when you sleep and we run, hunted down because of who we are."
Jim spread his arms in a conciliatory gesture and tried a smile.
Sam punched him in the face.
Jim staggered back from the blow, one hand cupping his nose. "Ellison!" he looked up to see Rafe approaching and held up a restraining hand. This was his fight. Wiping a smear of blood off on the back of his hand, Jim feinted to the right, then swung his legs out in a scissor kick, bringing Sam down as well.
Sam snarled and jerked a knife out of the rope wrapped around her waist as a belt. Jim dodged the first wild swing and backhanded her across the face, snatching the knife from the resistance fighter's grasp and holding it to her throat.
"JIM!" Another hand snatched the knife from his hand. "What the FUCK do you think you are doing????" Blair shoved him away from the supine woman, dropping to his knees to help her sit. "Are you ok?" The basket of food now lay spilled across the ground. Ruined.
Sam wiped a splash of blood from her lip and winced, nodding, smiling at him and brushing his hands away as he fussed over her. "I'm ok, Blair," she whispered in Hebrew. "Hakol beseder."
Blair looked at the blood on her face, an abstract little smear on the side of his hand. Picking the knife up from the ground beside him, he studied it for a moment. "Jim, why did you do this?" he asked, voice steady. "Give me one good reason." His voice was rising now as he slowly got to his feet. "Is this what they teach you in America? Do they teach you how to kill innocent women? Slit their throats like animals in a slaughterhouse?!"
Jim tried to force his brain to form a coherent sentence in a language, any language at all. "She said...I...she was talking...about you, she -"
"About me? You did this over me?" Blair whispered it at first, then he was shouting. "OVER ME?" He hurled the knife to land blade first in the ground before Ellison, a warrior's challenge. "And what after Sam?" he demanded, anger surging through every inch of his frame. "Who's next? Joel? Simon? How many will you kill? Will you kill all my friends so that I am yours alone?"
"Blair, I -"
Sandburg let loose with a right hook that sent him to the ground. "How many Jim? Tell me that?? HOW FAR WILL YOU GO?" Blair had totally lost control, wavering between English and French, even German, a language forever fixed in his mind as one for harsh screamed insults, as he raged at the Leftenant. He called him a bastard. He called him a murderer. All his fears and pains and losses over the duration of the war boiled over and scalded his friend.
Jim got to his feet, wincing mentally under the tirade, ignoring the protest from his aching head.
And walked away.
"COWARD!" Blair screamed after him.
The Maquisard stood there until the older man had disappeared into the forest, letting loose with a stream of invective until he ran out of breath, chest heaving. He made to step after him, but Rafe grabbed his arm.
"Sandburg!" The SOE operative had to use every ounce of strength he had to hold the incensed man still. Finally wrestling the smaller man to the ground, he sat on his chest and told him what happened.
The full story.
Blair lay there dazed for a moment after he had finished, breath coming in quick rasps as the enormity of what he had done hit him. Scrambling to his feet, he stared for a long time at the knife, still embedded in the ground, then turned on Sam. "Is this true?"
Sam got to her feet and wiped her face with the back of her hand. "You trust the word of an Englishman over me?"
"Sam. Is it true?" The sullen look on her face gave him all the answer he needed. "Oh god." Blair turned to head off after Jim.
"He won't want you," Sam snarled. "Look at him. The great white American. You think he really likes you? Look at us. Starving hunted Jews. Killers. You think he will take you home? Share his happy house and his wife with you? He will go home and laugh when he remembers us." There was a harsh bitterness in the words she spat at Sandburg. "You are nothing to him. A joker. A trickster. Harlequin. Something to keep him entertained while he plays with the war."
Blair froze into immobility as her words hit home, smashing into all his hidden fears and insecurities. "Jim?" he whispered, an odd, queer note to his voice.
Rafe came up beside the smaller man and shook him by the shoulders. "Blair," he waited until the haunted blue eyes locked on his face. "Blair. She is lying. Jim loves you. I don't understand it - hell I don't even know if I want to understand it, but he loves you. More than anything I've ever seen. There's no other word for it."
Blair blinked slowly, his thin frame beginning to tremble. "His wife? He didn't even tell me he was.."
"He's not. Not in anything but paper." Rafe shook his head and told Sandburg what he knew of the reasons why Jim joined the Reseau. "Jim has nothing now," he finished softly. "Nothing but you. I don’t know how I-" he shook his head in frustrated confusion, before continuing in a gentler tone. "You’re like his brother Blair. His mentor, his tutor, his soulmate…Hell, there aren’t any words to fit it! But you are."
Blair stared at Rafe, tears glistening in his eyes. "I told him to go," he whispered. "I called him a murderer, I told him he stank of blood and death. I- I pushed him away. Oh God." He sank to his knees, the tears uncontrollable now, pouring down his face over and over, dampening the ground beneath him. "Comme je suis fou! Comme je suis sot, quel idiote suis-je..." he couldn't continue, the words stolen from him as he snatched in desperate breaths. Rafe caught the smaller man as he collapsed to the ground, holding him close, rocking him slowly and gently as he gasped for air, apologies falling like rain from his lips.
Rafe looked up into Sam's brown eyes. There was an almost undefinable emotion in them as she studied the intimate way Rafe held Sandburg, then it coalesced into a mixture of feelings. Anger, regret, sorrow, jealousy all passed through before burning back to the steady rage that was her usual state. Without another word, she picked her knife up and walked away, stuffing it back into her belt.