by Jane Davitt

The drip of a tap plucks at the air, insistent, maddening, met by the skritch of nails as Blair scratches his denim-clad leg. Other than that, it's quiet. The TV's been first muted and then turned off, so the still air isn't even disturbed by the flicker of changing colors from its screen. The room's dimly lit by the excess spill of streetlights and headlights and Blair tries to let the absence of stimuli calm him, soothe him.

No phones ringing, no chatter of voices, no stampede of feet. Blair moves daily between two noisy environments and now that it's mid-December, the journey from Rainier to the police station is set to a jingle-jangle of carols, repeated so often that any seasonal joy has been squeezed out of them.

These hours alone should be balm to his spirit. He should be meditating, resting, recouping.

A key grates in the lock, unexpected, loud, and Blair jerks out of a doze and turns his head eagerly to the door. Jim, Joel, and Rafe walk in, talking over each other, their voices forming a deep, rumbling chorus, familiar and friendly. They carry with them the scent of the frosty streets and their smiles tell him that the raid was successful. Cascade's Finest: 1, Villains: 0. Jim flicks on the lights and Blair blinks, dazzled.

His sprained ankle keeps him sitting, but he grins a welcome and soon he's absorbed into the conversation, an audience of one to be thrilled and appreciative as they recount the night's events.

Jim's watching him closely -- always does -- and when Rafe's taking a leak and Joel's refilling the bowl of chips, he leans in, his words covered by the music Rafe insisted on playing.

"Too much for you? I know you wanted some peace and quiet, but they really wanted to see how you were." There's a knock at the door, and Simon joins them, carrying beer and pizza. Jim gives Blair a rueful smile and goes to greet him.

Blair waves at Simon. There's no way that he'd exchange this friendly clamor for the quiet solitude of earlier.

Earlier, he'd been a fly caught in amber, helpless in his concern. The mugging four days ago left him emotionally fragile, though he's recovering well, they tell him, but his anxiety has turned outward, and it's Jim's safety that weighs on his mind. Jim out there alone, Jim facing down men filled with far more cold purpose than the two teenagers who attacked Blair, desperate for a few dollars and a quick fix. They've been caught, dealt with; Blair's not thinking about them now.

From across the room, Jim catches his eye and mouths something that Blair can't translate, but the smile that goes with it, loving, relaxed, is easy to read. Jim's happy.

Blair sighs with pleasure and closes his eyes as the noise level mounts and the phone starts to ring.

Jim's home safe and sound. They all are.

Peace, perfect peace.

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