Been a hell of a day and it's coming on top of a week of them which makes it worse. He opens the loft door, bracing himself with a dull resignation he's too tired to spice with anger, for an onslaught of Sandburg.
Because sometimes, just sometimes, he misses coming home to peace.
He'd been too brain-dead to check ahead with his senses - still not used to them, still handling them awkwardly, the way he had his first rifle (too long, too heavy, hurt his shoulder - until the moment the bullet sang as he freed it and it was part of him, snugged sweetly into the hollow of bone, smelling of oil and metal and heat). That makes the lack of sound a shock, a cool, salt wave of silence slapping against him.
No music, atonal and wailing, no TV chattering. No Sandburg talking, phone trapped between ear and shoulder, hands busy with preparing food as his smiling mouth negotiated more than he would deliver.
The man wasn't built to last; you'd think women would see that. Or maybe they just didn't want him to stick around for long.
He's been living here three weeks and one day past his promised week; Jim can relate to that.
And now he's looking around and there's something different. It's… tidy. Clean enough that he almost wonders, with an odd little clutch of his heart, if Sandburg's gone, but no, his room's still full of his stuff and that looks normal, if your definition of normal includes cluttered and chaotic.
Jim's last words as he'd left in the morning had been bitter after he'd tripped on a plate Sandburg had left on the floor by the couch, sending a stale curl of crust to scatter crumbs and smear butter on the wooden floor. He'd slammed the door on anxiously blinking eyes Morse coding contrition, excuses spilling out of Sandburg's ready, red mouth.
Now he's looking at tidiness, just as he likes it; relaxed enough to be comfortable, but clean, neat. After years in barracks, in a hut, he loves the openness of the loft but what people never seem to realise is that there's nowhere to hide the clutter.
Which means you don't have any, because he has standards. And if letting his room get messy in an act of rebellion had seemed like a good idea at eight, that hadn't lasted long. Not when he'd come home from school to find the door locked and a camp bed set up in the attic. He'd slept up there a week before he'd been allowed to tidy his room and move back in, the gurgle of the cistern and the scratch-skitter of birds nesting in the eaves keeping him awake, wide-eyed and shadow watching.
He sniffs and takes in the smell of something he's cooked and frozen a week earlier; nothing fancy, just a beef stew, but it's simmering away on the lowest heat and the table's set for one. Sandburg's taken a piece of paper towel and folded it into some weird shape that he hasn't quite been able to make work; might be a flower; might be a swan. Jim makes a note to ask him.
He's trying to find something to quibble over, something he can hang the last of his bad mood on, but the best he's got is that Sandburg's going to come in late and wake him up.
Then he goes to the fridge to get a beer and sees a note.
I'm at Tony's for the night, so enjoy the peace.
Just don't get too used to it, okay? I'm coming back.
Under his name, he's scribbled a phone number and added: You need me for anything, just call.
Jim smiles and tips the first, best, coldest swallow into his mouth and down his throat. He's not going to call, even if he knows where Tony lives and it's a fucking dive. He needs this night alone if only to remind him of why it is he hasn't kicked Blair out, because when Blair's there, in his face, he sometimes forgets.
He takes the paper from the fridge and crumples it before tossing it in the trash.
The napkin he unfolds carefully, fingering the creases, before refolding it and putting it in front of him as he eats, staring around at his quiet, tidy, splendid isolation.
It's a nice letter of apology. And he wonders what the Sandburg version of a thank you note would be, or a love letter, and knows he's not going to tell Blair to leave because he doesn't want the first and he's getting curious about the second.
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