What Was Lost

Jim sighed and moved carefully into the kitchen. He wished he could remember everything he needed for his meals all at once, so he wouldn't have to continually stand up again and retrieve the missing items. He'd had to start allowing an extra fifteen minutes for every meal, just to accommodate his forgetfulness.

He could have done without, of course. But that felt somewhat like giving in, admitting that he was growing forgetful and accepting it as... as acceptable. Jim had always had a keen mind, and seeing it grow dull frightened him. He preferred to force his mind to work even when it would have been easier to let it go. Easier to stay seated and leave the napkin or salt or glass of water on the counter where he'd left it than force his aching body up and shuffle into the kitchen after it.

Somehow he didn't mind as much the failing of his body. He was old, he knew that; what was more, he felt it. Every morning he woke up and felt a little older. It took longer to pull himself out of bed, longer to make his way down the hall to the bathroom. Perversely, the days were growing longer as it grew harder to get through them.

When he returned to the table and his meal, Jim sighed again. Whatever it was he'd gone to get, it obviously hadn't been the right thing. He dropped the extra fork beside the silverware he'd already had, and looked at his preparations. Food, utensils, drink, napkin. What had it been, then? What had he believed he'd forgotten?

He didn't know. He started to sit down, anyhow. Perhaps, just this once...

He had wanted tea. There was a little container on the shelf, tea leaves and a mug set aside for just the purpose of brewing tea. Glancing at the kitchen, he wasn't sure he still wanted it. He had water already. But yes, he wanted tea. The cool, fresh mint would taste good -- his sense of taste had grown numb along with the rest of his senses, the rest of his body. It was almost like being normal. But decades of living with a heightened awareness left him missing the sharper details; mint was one of the things he could still taste that clearly.

Almost that clearly. It hadn't been completely clear for nearly a year. He could remember the first time they had failed, in fact, though he rarely felt like doing so. All his life, since Blair had died, he had maintained his senses and his sanity with the remembered teachings of his Guide. Blair's voice would whisper in his head, helping him through one difficult task after another. The advice seemed lacking at times, in new situations they had never encountered when still together. But Jim had managed to get through them with his Guide's voice saying no more than "You can do it, just concentrate."

Even when he'd retired from the police force Blair had been there, helping him navigate a strange and confusing new world of an aging body and aging mind, but still too-sharp senses. Nothing specific there either, just "You can do it" repeated in his head as he grew older and his senses struggled to adjust.

Then they, too, had finally begun to falter. Blair's guidance had begun to fade, then, his voice growing dim against the silence. It had been a bad several months, especially when there was no one left alive who knew what Jim was -- had been. Simon, Steven, Joel, Naomi... all gone, some, years gone. His friends still alive did not know, and there had been no reason and no way to tell them. He'd despaired of hearing his Guide's voice again, now that he could no longer be a Sentinel.

By now he'd grown used to it. He hated it, he wanted to change it -- deny it -- but he could do nothing. It was something else to let go of. Something else to lose.

Jim began looking in the kitchen cabinets for the tea. He didn't find it in the spot he thought it should be, so he began searching the nearby shelves, and then the others farther away. The container was nowhere to be found.

He stifled the mild anger, and began looking again. Maybe he'd moved the tea into a different container. He began checking each possibility, having to open each lid because he could no longer smell the tea through the metal cans.

Ten minutes later, he had found no tea. Half a dozen other things he didn't know why he owned, but the tea was gone. Maybe he'd drank it all?

Then why did he have such a clear memory of the small blue container, decorated with red and green designs, a hinged lid being pried open... and dropped, spilling tea leaves everywhere. Laughing, then, and Blair had offered to find a broom. Jim had grabbed him around the waist as he'd gone by, and they'd wrestled a bit, laughing and vying for control of each other's arms and hands.

Jim turned to ask if they had bought more tea, and it was then that he remembered. He fell silent, then closed the cabinet door. Slowly, still aching, he returned to the dining table and his meal that was growing cold.


The next morning he opened his eyes and considered the value of climbing out of bed. He'd done it the day before, and had gotten up simply from determined stubborn will. This morning he felt too tired. He had done nothing yesterday worth doing, despite his stubbornness.

He closed his eyes to return to sleep.

The smell of mint drifted gently into his awareness. He sniffed and recognised the tea he'd looked for yesterday. Curiously, he opened his eyes and sat up.

And found Blair holding out a mug of steaming tea.

"Blair?"

Blair smiled at him. He looked exactly the same as he had the last time Jim had seen him before they'd parted ways. Before he'd gone to Phoenix and found his best friend fading into nothing. Before he'd ever said "I love you."

"Blair?" he whispered again, knowing that this must surely be a dream. He felt his throat tighten, and prayed not to wake, not just yet. Let him touch his lover's hand, first.... He reached out cautiously.

"Hey, Jim. You still want this?" He indicated the mug of tea. Too stunned to think otherwise, Jim accepted the mug. His fingers brushed Blair's hand as he did so, and Jim froze.

He was real. The skin was warm, and even with that little contact, Jim could feel Blair's heartbeat. His fingers tightened on Blair's wrist, and he pulled ever so slightly, too terrified to tug harder and demand that Blair come closer.

But Blair smiled again, and moved forward. Standing there before Jim, and Jim suddenly realised he was standing. He looked down, startled. Then he looked around.

"Where are we?" It was a field of some kind, up in the mountains. It looked a lot like places they'd been camping, years ago. The air was thick with pine and dirt and fresh, clean aromas of flowers.

"Doesn't have a name, Jim. You can call it whatever you like." Jim looked down to see Blair shrug. "Heaven, maybe?"

"Heaven?"

Blair shrugged again, easily. "I could list a dozen names for it, if you're interested. None of them fit. And they all do, sort of."

It occurred to Jim that Blair was being awfully subdued about this entire thing. Given the chance, he should have been going on about the various world religions and how they compared and contrasted with each other on the nature of the afterlife.

So maybe his memory was failing here, too, and even in his dreams he could no longer find his partner.

Blair reached out and took his hand. It felt real. Jim swallowed. "Can I stay for a while?" Even a dream, even with a Blair he misremembered, would be better than breakfast alone with multiple trips back to the kitchen.

He was surprised when Blair's eyes went wide. "Of course! Don't--" Jim watched as surprise gave way to understanding, and Blair nodded. "You don't get it. Do you? Jim!" He tugged at Jim's hand, and he was beginning to get excited. That was familiar, more accurate. Blair pulled him closer, and placed his other hand on Jim's face. "Love, you died this morning."

"Oh." Jim stared at Blair quietly for a moment. Died. Well, of course.

Died.

That meant--

"Blair?" he whispered, hearing his voice break. He couldn't feel it, couldn't feel anything except the hammering of his heart, and the touch of Blair's hands.

Blair leaned up, tugging at Jim's hand to draw him down. As he moved, Jim realised that nothing hurt. He was about to look to see if that meant what he thought it meant, when Blair kissed him. Slow, gentle, and deep, touching and tasting everything. Jim's senses were flooded with Blair -- fully heightened senses, and fully focused on his Guide who was standing right here, in his arms, moving and breathing and kissing him as if....

Jim's arms went around Blair's waist and he held on tightly.

"Blair."

He felt Blair's face against his, and heard that never-quite forgotten voice whisper in his ear. "Jim."


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