Looking For Space by Annie

Looking For Space - Annie

"You know you want to call him, so why don't you do us both a favor and get it over with?"

Blair looked across at his friend who was grinning smugly at him from across the campfire. "Call who, Ben?" he asked, feigning ignorance.

"Jim. Who else?" Ben's grin broadened from smugness to know it all confidence and Blair suddenly felt like poking his tongue out at him.

"No reason for me to call Jim," he said instead. "He didn't want to come. Said he needed some space. I'm giving it to him." The shrug accompanying his words wasn't nearly as nonchalant as Blair would have liked. The memory of the fight he and Jim had just before Blair had stormed out of the loft and down to Ben's car was a little too close for that just yet.

"I swear you two are like an old married couple," Ben replied. He picked up a s'more, taking a bite then went on around the mouthful. "Is this the first time you've taken a break without him? He's always been a pretty unsociable type. Can't be the first time he's asked for some space."

Blair flashed back to when he and Simon had followed Jim to Clayton Falls. It hadn't been the pleasant vacation he'd been hoping for. Criminals posing as the army had held the whole town hostage, and Blair had gone down with the virus they'd put in the water supply. He'd recovered reasonably quickly but it still wasn't a time Blair looked back on with any fondness. "Jim's not unsociable once you get to know him," he said. "But since we got together we've been pretty much in each other's space 24/7. I guess I can understand him needing some time alone."

"And you don't?" Ben asked.

Blair shook his head. "I'm in love with him," he replied simply. "Sometimes even 24/7 doesn't seem enough time for me."

"Blair Sandburg, eternal romantic," Ben said with a smile. "Who'd a thunk?"

"Oh shut up," Blair said good-naturedly.

"So, you going to call him?"

"Nope," Blair replied firmly. "I'm going to give him what he wanted. That way, by the time I get home, hopefully he'll really be pleased to see me."

"TMI," Ben said, holding up his hands in mock-horror. He shivered. "Getting cold out here. Think I'll hit the sack."

"Yeah, me too," Blair agreed, standing up to toss the water from the coffeepot onto the fire and making sure it was out. "Hey, you want to hike along the river tomorrow. It's supposed to warm up by late morning."

"Sounds like a plan, buddy. Goodnight." Ben waved and headed into his tent and Blair went to his. He lay awake for a long time, wishing he had called Jim but knowing that he'd been right not to. Jim had had a point when he'd asked for some time alone. He'd said he was worried that spending all their time together would cause problems with their relationship. He'd lived alone for a long time before he and Blair had met. Blair knew that Jim was doing all he could to make sure their relationship didn't end up the way his marriage to Caroline had. Didn't mean Blair had to like the enforced separation though. He undressed down to his thermal underwear then crawled into his sleeping bag. "Goodnight, Jim," he whispered into the still night just before he fell asleep.

**********

Jim picked up the last of Blair's t-shirts and folded it. He smiled ruefully when he couldn't resist holding it to his face and inhaling deeply, needing just this small sense of Blair's continued presence in his life. Seemed pretty silly really, he thought, as he added it to the pile of clean laundry and carried the basket of clothes back up the stairs to the loft. After all, he was the one who'd pressed for this temporary separation. It had been the last thing Blair had wanted. He'd tried to cajole Jim into at least accompanying him on his camping trip with his friend, Ben, but Jim had been adamant, leading to one of the few arguments they'd had since they'd gotten together as a couple. Jim regretted that more than anything but he didn't doubt his motivation for his decision.

He'd always been something of a loner. Not friendless certainly, and definitely not unsociable, but his need for space from time to time had caused many arguments with his ex-wife and had probably been one of the major causes of their eventual divorce. Well, Caro finding out he was bisexual probably hadn't helped the marriage any but Jim still remembered something Carolyn had said to him a few years ago. "Lights are on but nobody's home. Or if there were, how would I know?" Jim's relationship with Blair bore no comparison to his and Carolyn's but he still got that overwhelming need to be alone from time to time. Blair, on the other hand, would have spent every moment with Jim, if he could. Jim wondered how much of that was due to his mom's habit of dropping him off with the most convenient relative or friend when he was a kid so she could traipse off in search of parts unknown and whatever the latest whim of hers was.

The phone was ringing as he pushed open the door and Jim canted the clothes basket against one hip while he scooped up the phone. He smiled as he did so, fully expecting to hear Blair's voice. "I thought we agreed no phone calls either," he mock-growled.

"Um, Jim, this is Ben Maxwell, Blair's friend…" Ben's voice trailed off momentarily and Jim heard him swallow then his next words came out in a rush. "There was an accident, a flash flood. Blair's missing."

Jim felt as if his heart had literally plummeted down to his feet. The basket fell from his suddenly nerveless fingers, the clothes tumbling out onto the floor. Jim gripped the phone fiercely, his world narrowing down to the voice on the other end. For a moment all he could focus on were two words, 'Blair's missing'.

"Jim? You there? Look, they've got search party out but I thought you'd want to know, maybe come down here…"

Jim took a deep breath then consciously relaxed his grip on the phone and refocused his attention. "If I leave now, I can beat the afternoon traffic," he said, "I'll be there in around four hours. If they find him, call me immediately."

"I will," Ben promised. "I'll see you when you get here. You know where the camp is?"

"Yeah, Blair and I camp there a lot too." Jim hung up the phone then picked it up again and called the PD. His captain was in a meeting so Jim left a message with Rhonda, his secretary, then hung up again and charged up the stairs to pack.

By the time he'd hit the outskirts of the city, he was only just holding his panic in check. The minute he saw the sign that allowed him to speed up, he planted his foot on the gas pedal and kept it there till he reached the circuitous road leading up into the mountains. Then he had no choice but to slow down, telling himself he'd be no use to Blair if he got in a wreck. It was a close won thing though and several times he glanced at the speedometer and had to force himself to ease up on the gas.

The campgrounds were milling with people, some civilians, but most in uniforms of various kinds. Jim spotted Ben heading towards him as he pulled into the park and hastily slotted his car between a police car and a ranger's jeep then climbed out, grabbing the backpack he'd brought with him.

"Glad you're here, Jim," Ben said as he reached him.

"No news?" Jim asked tersely.

Ben shook his head. "Not yet." He pointed out towards the river. "That's where he went in," he said. "I tried to follow for as long as I could but it was moving too fast and I couldn't keep up."

Jim grabbed him by the shoulders. Ben looked on the verge of collapse, his face white and his eyes shadowed with exhaustion and worry. "This is not your fault," he said firmly. "Blair's a good swimmer. Hopefully he was able to make it the bank further downstream. How long ago did it happen?"

"Just before I called you," Ben replied. "Five, six hours maybe."

Jim's heart clenched at that. If Blair had made it to the riverbank, he surely would have been able to get back to the campsite or at least to some form of help by now. He shook off his fear and patted Ben's arm. "Then I'd better get started finding him," he said. He gave Ben what he hoped was a confident smile. "Blair's gotten himself out of worse situations than this. I'm sure he's fine." He opened his backpack and checked the contents one last time. "Okay, I'm going to check in with the rangers then I'm heading out."

"Maybe I should go with you?" Ben suggested, reaching out to grab Jim's arm. "You know, to help you with your…" He trailed off then lowered his voice. "In case you zone or something."

Jim turned and stared at him. "You know about my senses? Blair told you?" Resentment momentarily welled within despite the dire circumstances.

Ben looked back at him steadily and shook his head. "He didn't have to," he said. "Blair would have never lied in his dissertation. He's not a fraud."

Jim blew out a shaky breath. "I'm sorry. You're a good friend. A better one than I was to Blair at the time."

"You're here for him now. He really wanted to call you last night, you know," Ben said, heading toward where the rangers were gathered.

"I wish he had," Jim replied. He shook off the awful fear that he'd never see Blair again. "Let's go find him."

**********

Blair regained consciousness slowly and painfully. By the time his vision was no longer quite so blurred and he could haul himself shakily to a sitting position, he was almost sorry he had. Every part of his body felt battered and bruised; he was soaked through and chilled to the bone. He shivered continually as he took inventory of his injuries. Apart from the bang on his head and a couple of really tender places on his chest and arms, his upper torso seemed to have escaped serious damage. What he saw when he looked down at his legs though brought nausea rushing to his throat. At some time, in his headlong rush down the suddenly swollen river, a small tree branch had impaled his left leg. It had gone right through and watery blood discolored his jeans all the way down his leg. He supposed, in some clinical way that he put down to shock, that the branch still being embedded was a good thing. It was at least controlling the bleeding, acting like a plug. Otherwise there was a chance he'd have bled out before he even regained consciousness. Part of him longed to just grit his teeth and pull the damn thing out but he knew it was probably the worst thing he could do.

He looked around for anything that could help him and heaved a loud sigh of relief as he saw his backpack on a rock just inside the water's edge. He gritted his teeth and forced himself shakily to his feet. The pain that shot through his leg the minute his foot touched the ground almost made him pass out, but he held onto a nearby bush and breathed his way through the imminent faint. Once he was sure he could move, he began to hop very slowly over to the bank of the river.

Once there, he got down on his stomach, keeping his injured leg turned to the side and inched forward till he was almost over the still swiftly flowing water. His fingertips just brushed the strap of his pack and he groaned with frustration as he realized he was just short of his goal. Swallowing hard and tamping down the fear that he'd end up back in the water again, he shuffled forward a scant inch, reached out again and snagged the strap. Triumphantly, he edged back, biting his lip as his injured leg protested the movement. Once he was well clear of the water's edge, he rolled to his back, pushed himself up and began to go through the backpack.

The first thing he pulled out was his water bottle and he raised a sardonic eyebrow at that. "Last thing I really need," he said but then looking over at the river, he decided it was a good thing that he wouldn't have to brave the treacherous sandy bank in order to try to get water for now at least. He set the water aside and riffled through the rest of his pack. His cell phone was out of commission, which didn't surprise him, but miraculously he found the small first aid kit Jim always insisted he carry, and his Swiss Army knife. He opened the kit and checked out the contents. Unfortunately the Tylenol pills had suffered water damage and were a soggy mess but there was an intact bottle of disinfectant and some damp but still useable bandages. He uncapped the bottle, gritted his teeth and poured the disinfectant over his leg wound then unwrapped the bandages and managed, amidst much cursing, to get one wrapped around the tree branch to hold it firmly in place and used another to wrap as much of the wound as he could in the hope it would slow the bleeding. He used the knife to carefully cut the branch down till there were only a couple of inches protruding from his leg. It'd make it easier for walking. By the time he'd finished he felt light-headed and shaky and was already dreading his hike back to safety.

Looking around, he spotted a tree with some low-lying branches that he could use for a crutch. He managed to crawl across to it and used his knife to cut one and then whittle into a more or less useable crutch.

He was set now but his stomach churned at the thought of getting to his feet. He gave some thought to just sitting it out and waiting for rescue to find him but he knew he'd been swept a long way down river and it could take searchers some time to find him. By then he could be dead from blood loss or infection could set in. He firmed his resolve. He wanted nothing more than to see Jim again. Jim had taught him a lot in the time since they'd met and Blair was now more than able to take care of himself. He decided that this time his survival was in his own hands and grabbed the crutch and pushed himself to his feet.

The pain wasn't nearly as bad as it had been the first time he'd done this. The crutch meant he was able to keep his weight off his injured leg. He knew though that the hopping would jostle it and so he managed to come up with a kind of shuffle that just barely involved touching the foot of his bad leg to the ground and leaning on the crutch to pull it the rest of the way through. He wasn't going to win any races but he could cope. He took a swig from the water bottle then turned back upstream and started to walk.

**********

Jim had expected some disagreement from the rangers when he'd told them he and Ben were setting out on their own to look for Blair but they'd agreed readily enough once he flashed his badge. He had the feeling they were pretty sure there was no way Blair could have survived. He knew Blair wasn't dead, though he couldn't have said how he knew. It was enough for him right now that he did. He was also pragmatic enough to know Blair might not stay that way if they didn't find him soon. He grabbed up his pack again and motioned to Ben. "Let's move out."

An hour later and Jim was surprised to find Ben was still keeping pace with him relatively easily. "You're pretty fit," he observed as they crested a small hill and started down the other side.

"We're not all geeks," Ben replied with a smile. "University students and teachers, I mean. Blair's not one either."

"No, he's not," Jim agreed. "Blair's been in more dangerous situations since he hooked up with me than I like to think about but he's always come out of it."

"With your help," Ben said.

"Sometimes," Jim replied. "There were a few times when his wits kept him alive more than I did."

"Like when he got kidnapped by that psycho, Lash?"

"Yeah, and when the PD got taken over by the Sunrise Patriots. Blair's tougher than he looks and he thinks on his feet. He's never really needed me to ride to his rescue. I guess I sometimes just like to think that he does."

"Except maybe this time he might be too badly hurt to help himself," Ben said softly.

"Or not," Jim said. He put one hand above his eyes to shelter them from the sun then focused his vision as tightly as he could into the distance.

"What?" Ben asked.

Jim pointed. "Blair. He's about one klick away. He's limping badly. Looks like he's using something as a crutch." He turned and shot a triumphant look at Ben. "I knew he was alive," he said. "Let's go get him."

Ben grinned broadly at him as they started off again at a fast walk. "Wow, you really can do all that Superman stuff."

"I can't see through walls," Jim deadpanned.

"Kind of come in handy, those senses, I guess."

"Yeah, there were times I wished I didn't have them but at times like this I realize Blair was right about them being a gift." Jim broke into a run. "Move it," he called over his shoulder. "He just fell."

**********

Jim felt as if his heart stopped momentarily as they entered the clearing where Blair lay on the ground. Blair's eyes were closed, and for a second it looked as if he wasn't breathing.

Dropping to his knees next to him, Jim reached out a shaky hand then expelled a huge sigh of relief as Blair turned his head and opened his eyes.

"Well, you're a sight for sore eyes," Blair said raspily.

Jim laid his hand on Blair's head, "You too, Chief." He could hear Ben calling for a rescue chopper behind him and he turned and gave him a thumbs up then started checking Blair over.

The worst injury seemed to be Blair's leg. Jim swallowed as he saw the branch embedded in his flesh. The bandages seemed to be holding the bleeding to a minimum though so he left it alone and instead pulled a water bottle from his pack and let Blair have a small sip then used some of it to wash the dirt out of the cuts and scrapes on his face and hands. "Looks like you went one on one with the river," he said.

Blair reached up and grasped Jim's hand, squeezing it gently. "I won," he said.

"Yeah, you did. " Jim gave him a kiss then sat back on his haunches, still holding his hand. "Now why doesn't that surprise me, tough guy?" He cocked his head to listen and heard the welcome sound of a chopper heading toward them. "Let's get you to the hospital."

"Um, you remember how I feel about helicopters, right?" Blair asked.

Jim laughed. "This time I'm riding with you, Chief. No way am I letting you out of my sight for a while."

**********

Jim unlocked the front door and let Blair hobble in on his crutches ahead of him. Blair had come out of his river misadventure surprisingly well, and after surgery to extract the tree limb from his leg and repair the consequent damage, he'd only been kept in hospital for two days. He watched as Blair settled himself on the sofa with a relieved sigh.

"I hate crutches," Blair said.

"Don't blame you. Must have been pretty painful getting around on that one you made for yourself." Jim sat beside him and pulled him in for a hug. "You did damn good out there, Chief."

"Yeah, well, I'm not just a pretty face," Blair said, turning his face up for a kiss, which Jim willingly bestowed.

"I've been thinking maybe from now on we should just take all our vacations together—" Jim began but Blair cut him off with a finger to his lips.

"No. I've been thinking too and you were right. We both need our own space from time to time. Besides, I got myself out of this, didn't I?" He waited till Jim nodded then went on. "And there's always the fact that I know how pleased you'll be to see me when I get back."

Jim pulled him in for another deeper kiss. "I'm always glad to see you," he whispered.

Blair pushed himself to his feet, picked up his crutches then held out one hand to Jim. "Show me," he said.

The End

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Notes: This is not a Christmas story as such. It's more a story of love and friendship and the extra mile people will sometimes go for those reasons, which in a way is what Christmas is really about. Thanks to Lyn for the beta. For Patt, always being an encouraging voice in my ear.