Rating: Anyone OK with two men in a romantic relationship could read this

Notes: They're not mine and I'm not making any money off this. Hell if I know where it came from. I really wanted one about ink and skin and stuff. As usual for the challenges, unbeta'd.


Dark, dark, dark. Black. Thick, choking black air, couldn't even call it smoke, just terrible, heavy air like mud. No smell, not for a while, not since his nose clogged up and he'd been breathing through the wet cloth over his mouth, but the taste was putrid, bitter and pasty. Wailing, too, hanging in the blackness, the screams of sirens and people and the melting steel. The wall to his right was cooler than the air, and he clung to it, put one foot in front of the other, moving forward like there was a homing beacon out there, pinging his radar, calling him on.

Not pinging. Thumping, thudding, galloping, but never faltering, that sound was his light and his breath. He shouldered his burden and kept navigating, cool wall to the right, the steady tattoo out in front.

Then there was light, real light, and clearer air which actually made him gasp and cough, and he tripped over something in his haste to get free. The beat was louder, one among many but so clearly itself that there could be no mistake. A shout, unfamiliar hands, and the lifting of the thing he was carrying--a person, he'd been carrying a person--and that guiding drum was right there, easing him down, holding his head off the ground.

"Jim? God, Jim, can you hear me?"

He tried to wet his lips, the effort to speak a crushing weight on his chest. He gave up and nodded, or hoped he nodded. Reached his hands up to the face that he loved so well. It was wet, all wet, but some of the water had a texture of minerals. He was being rocked like a baby; the cradling arms were strong, like that heartbeat. Looking into those pooling eyes, he saw the thing he'd tried so hard not to see. There was nothing more to be done, no further way to avoid it. He drew on the strength of the thumping heartbeats and wrapped the low, murmured words of care around himself. Another breath. One more breath, then he could let it go. The one who held him leaned down, ear to his mouth, to hear.

"I love you too, Chief."

The grey edge of unconsciousness drew around him; he heard "oxygen" and "IV" and "made it in time" on his way into the void. They'd talk more when he got back. They'd clear it all up, and he'd follow that heartbeat forward for the rest of his life.


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