Warning: For language.
Note: Throughout this story, I will be referring to lyrics from the song, 'I Will Remember You', by Sarah McLachlan…
Context: This story is an AU of sorts and is in response to a request from Dreamcatcher for a story following Blair's death at the fountain, but in this version, he isn't all right, but in fact suffers brain damage…and Jim has to contend with all that that means and his part in all that happened…
Will You Remember Me?
I will remember you.
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by…
Weep not for the memories…
"Sandburg was dead, Joel," H told me, awe in his voice, his eyes wide with shock. "I swear to God-he was dead." He was standing with Rafe and Megan in the Emergency lounge at Cascade General, and they all looked disoriented. I had just arrived at the hospital and had no idea what was going on or what had happened-I'd only heard that Sandburg had been badly hurt and had been brought to the hospital.
"Dead?" I repeated, appalled and sickened by hearing the words I had never thought to hear in the same sentence: Sandburg and dead. Normally buoyant, brash and smart-mouthed, Henri's hushed words and stunned behaviour were so out of character that my chest got tight and I felt breathless. Dead? Sandburg?
"It's all right, Joel," Megan said quickly, reaching out to grip my arm, as if to steady me, but she was pale and trembling like a leaf in the wind. "Jim brought Sandy back."
I shook my head, trying to understand what they were telling me. "You mean, he crashed-went into cardiac arrest?" I clarified, thinking it must have been close, that that's why they all looked so shell-shocked. I looked to Rafe, who'd been silent up until then, staring into space. As if he felt my gaze upon him, he turned his head to meet my eyes.
"No," he replied quietly, his eyes haunted. "Blair had been dead for some time, likely between fifteen and thirty minutes before we found him-too long. His body was blue…cold from being in the water. He'd drowned in the fountain at Rainier…murdered. Simon and Jim tried real hard to bring him back. And the medics tried. For a long time-it'd been almost an hour since we got to him before they gave up. Said he was gone…"
I guess I must've looked-well, sick. When I found my voice, I asked, "Then…how?"
They looked at one another, and then Megan took up the telling of the miracle they had witnessed. "Jim wouldn't accept it. Couldn't, I guess. He kept saying it couldn't be happening and yelling for Sandy to come back…H and Simon dragged him away from the…from the body, tried to get him to accept Sandy was gone, but Jim pulled away from them. He…uh…he knelt beside Sandy and cupped his face. It was… heartbreaking to watch. And then, there was this blinding flash of light and he called out to Simon that he could hear Sandy's heart." Swallowing, she took a ragged breath, and continued, "He called back the medics and started mouth to mouth again. And Sandy-he gagged up water and started to breathe."
"Damnedest thing I ever saw," H rumbled. Rafe swallowed hard and nodded. Megan's hands came up and fell again in the universal gesture for saying, 'Don't ask me how…'
I nodded, silent, thinking about what it meant-about all that it meant. I believed what they'd told me. They were experienced cops who were more familiar with the look and reality of death than anyone ever wants to be. If they said that Blair was dead-then he was dead. Jesus. We'd all known there was something different about Jim, and his relationship with Sandburg. There was a kind of affinity between them that I'd never seen before-an inter-dependence that went beyond even the most profound relationship of partners.
I knew about partners…I understood a relationship that in many ways was closer than the one a cop had with their spouse.
But I'd never seen anything before that transcended death; that could deny the finality of death.
My God, resurrection is not an everyday experience! I had to struggle to wrap my head around it. What kind of power could achieve that? It was awesome and frankly, in some ways it was terrifying.
What did it mean about Blair, about his life, that he was so essential that he be allowed to live again? What kind of purpose must he have? Must they have together that it was worth a miracle to save? What kind of power did Jim have, to work such a miracle?
Looking around, unable to deal with the reality of it, I focused on more mundane issues. My throat tight, I asked the obvious, "So, I guess Jim and Simon are with him?"
But their eyes fell away.
"Now what? Don't tell me that boy is alone?" I demanded. "Where the hell are they?"
"They went after Alex Barnes," Megan said then with a sigh. "She…she's the one who likely killed…" but she choked on the words. Taking a breath, Conner continued, "Barnes tried to kill Jim last night, too. And she still has those canisters of gas. They were going to check the burned out remains of her apartment…for all the good it will do."
I didn't know what to say to that, and I didn't want to think about what had happened to Sandburg, still couldn't really take in the magnitude of it. So I focused on Ellison and Simon, feeling mystification at first, wondering what could have possessed them to leave Sandburg. Was it duty? Surely someone else could be tracing that bitch. Or revenge? Did the need to retaliate, to seek retribution outweigh being with Sandburg now, when the kid would need support more than he'd ever needed it in his life? How could Jim do that? How could he leave Blair alone? Or was it that he couldn't face…oh, God. Sandburg was alive, but no one had said if he had suffered brain damage.
"Do we know…" I wasn't sure I could bear the answer, but I had to know. "Do we know if Blair is all right? I mean…he's alive. But, is there damage?"
"Jim saw him for a couple of minutes, and said he was lucid-a bit spacey, but lucid," Megan replied wearily as it all caught up to her. "So I guess he's all right. As far as we know, he's been asleep since."
I rolled my eyes as I looked away. Blair would have been in shock, an adrenaline surge. Might not even remember seeing Jim when he woke up again.
"There's, uh, more you might not know," Megan said hesitantly, looking from H and Rafe back to me. When I wordlessly quirked a brow, wondering what else there could possibly be, she continued, "Jim kicked Blair out of their apartment last week."
"He did what?" I exclaimed, staggered. And I began to seriously wonder if this was some of kind of really terrible nightmare. None of it made any kind of sense. I couldn't imagine Jim walking away before he knew for a fact that the kid was all right-but kicking Sandburg out of the loft-that wasn't possible. Lord knew, Jim could be a cold bastard, but he just wouldn't do that.
She nodded as H corroborated the story, his face grimacing in disgust as he stated flatly, "We found all of Blair's stuff in boxes in his office when we did the preliminary investigation after he was taken to the hospital."
"And the last time I saw Jim's apartment, it was completely empty-barren, and very spooky," Megan added, looking a little sick. "They'd been fighting about this Barnes woman and Jim was pretty angry with Sandy."
I heaved out a breath. Great. Just great. Those two were always yammering at each other, but it never meant anything. What in the hell had caused this rift…and what did the problem between them have to do with the fact that Blair was murdered by Barnes, and that she'd apparently tried to kill Jim, too?
"But Jim really wanted Blair to live at the fountain. I've never seen him so desperate and out of control-wild with grief," Rafe murmured, in case anyone wondered if the breach between them was still an issue. From Ellison's frantic behaviour, it seemed it wasn't.
But did Blair know that?
Why the hell wasn't Ellison here, to be with the kid when Blair woke up again and needed him?
What an unholy mess.
Well, I'd be damned if Blair was going to wake up alone.
"Do you know where Blair is now?" I asked, feeling suddenly very angry. Well, it wasn't right. The kid shouldn't have been left alone. Maybe it's just me, but I think that a guy who had been murdered and then miraculously brought back to life might appreciate it if someone noticed and cared that he was still around!
"They were taking him to Intensive Care for observation," Rafe replied, sounding distracted, like he couldn't quite put all the pieces together in his head. "They're afraid of lung infection from the water he aspirated."
I didn't need to ask why they were still down here in the Emergency lounge instead of upstairs. Not after what they'd told me. They couldn't bring themselves to leave but didn't have a clue what to say to him. They were in shock themselves. How did the family and friends welcome Lazarus when he walked out of the burial cave? After they expressed joy, what then? How did you talk to a man who had been dead? Would he ever be the same again? Would any of them? Was that why Jim and Simon had taken off? Had it overwhelmed them, too? I sighed and scratched my head. Whatever the reason, they'd be back before long. I sure didn't mind staying with Blair until they returned.
"Fine. Look, you three look wasted. Go make out your statements at the station and then head home. I'll go up to check on how he is," I told them then, maybe sounding more brisk than I'd intended, but I wanted to get to the kid.
I watched them go. Stiff, disorientated. They were happy Blair was alive, in awe of it. They just didn't understand it and their minds hadn't had time to really absorb what had happened. What they'd witnessed.
Couldn't blame them. I was having a hard time absorbing it all myself. Still, in some ways, I envied them. Not everyone gets to see a miracle as wonderful as they did at the fountain.
That had been about an hour ago. The ICU staff were amazingly accommodating when I showed up. None of that 'only relatives' or 'five minute limit' crap. I think they also knew someone had to be there when he woke up. Someone he knew. So, now, I'm sitting here, gripping his hand, thanking God for the miracle of this extraordinary young man's life-and wondering where Jim and Simon were. Jim anyway. I'd expected him back by now.
He was starting to wake up…shifting a little. Squeezing my hand. Holding on.
"Blair? Can you hear me, son?" I called to him softly.
"Mmm?" he mumbled. Frowning a little, trying to wake up. Blinking, his eyes were unfocused but tracking around the small room, trying to get his bearings. When he looked at me, I could see confusion in his eyes.
I wasn't the one he'd expected to see.
"Joel?" he murmured with a frown, his voice hoarse, rough.
"Yeah," I replied quietly. "How're you feeling?"
But he only squinted in concentration, his gaze again drifting around the small cubicle. "Where's Jim?"
Well, I'd known that would be the first question. I wish I had a better answer for him. "He, uh-he and Simon left…"
"Left? Where?" he asked again, his eyes coming back to meet my gaze, troubled...frightened?
"They went after Alex, Blair," I told him. "She still has the canisters of gas." Maybe saving the lives of millions of people was a good enough reason not to be there when your best friend and partner woke up after having been dead. Maybe there was no one else who could go searching for trace elements of evidence that had been blown sky high.
It was bullshit and I knew it.
From the look in his eyes, before he quickly looked down and away, he knew it, too. "Oh," he sighed, so softly I barely heard him. Then he swallowed and nodded, a short, jerky motion, tight and contained.
"He'll be back, Blair," I told him. Insistent. Certain. Like that could be enough.
He flashed me a quick look before he turned his head away and closed his eyes, as if he was going back to sleep. But when his fingers loosened from mine, I knew it was a deliberate action-a deliberate letting go.
I'd seen the expressions that had flashed in his eyes before he hooded them. I'd seen the disbelief and hurt. The lost look of abandonment…a poignant, aching look of hopelessness. And then empty resignation, as if he understood and it was no more than he should have expected.
It scared the hell out of me.
I told myself that it would be all right, that Sandburg really did understand and accept it. Like he always seemed to understand and accept the sometimes apparently irrational and often nasty behaviour from Ellison when the rest of us didn't. I told myself that because I needed to believe it.
I was wrong.
God, so wrong. If I'd acted then, maybe things would have turned out differently, but I didn't know, really didn't understand how deeply wounded Sandburg was. But, dammit, I should have called Simon and Ellison right away instead of sitting here like a stupid lump.
I was afraid, you see. Afraid if I left him, he wouldn't be there when I got back.
So I stayed, gripping his limp hand. Not letting go. When a nurse came in a while later, I told her he'd been awake, and she tried to rouse him again…but he wasn't responding. Frowning, she checked his vital signs. Shook her head.
"What?" I demanded, every muscle in my body tense with dread.
Licking her lips, she shook her head again as she brushed his brow lightly and then took his pulse. "His blood pressure is down a little," she replied finally, and then took his temperature. I could feel it, too, in his hand. A fever was building.
After that, there was a flurry of blood tests, and a doctor came in. Sandburg was given a shot of something …a different antibiotic, I think. I'm not really sure. There were limits to what they'd tell me. I wasn't a relative, after all.
I wasn't the one who held his power of attorney.
Within another hour, I could hear the congestion in his breathing. Thick and heavy, his breath hitching. The fever had risen and despite the tepid baths, the medication they were giving him and finally the ice packs they placed on and around his body, the fever rolled off him in waves, building higher and hotter.
I did try to track down Jim and Simon then, when it was only too clear the kid was sinking. I didn't have the first clue about where to begin trying to find his mother.
But it was already too late. They'd caught a flight to Mexico. Without even coming by the hospital first-they'd just gone. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't fucking believe it…
Two hours after that, he convulsed for the first time.
It was only the first of many convulsions that terrible evening and night.
His breathing was so congested by midnight that his lips were blue and he was finally put on a respirator; after the third convulsion, they hooked him up to an EEG monitor. We were bathing him constantly now, trying to bring down the fever. I helped. Had to help. Had to do something. I couldn't just stand there and watch. And I flat out refused to go when they tried to make me leave the room. I know, I'm usually pretty easy-going and cooperative, 'phlegmatic' my wife tells me, but I'm a big man and nobody makes me do what I don't want to do-and my badge stopped hospital security in their tracks. I wasn't leaving the kid alone with folks who didn't know him, and that was that.
Bathing his limp, burning body, listening to that respirator breathe for him, being helpless when he convulsed…I was shaking, I'm not ashamed to admit it, sick to death that we were going to lose him.
H told me later that Megan was so spitting mad at being left behind on her own case, that she took off on the next plane to Mexico. She's more like Jim than she likes to admit. Action, going out after the bad guys, is always easier than waiting and worrying…
By morning, I didn't know whether to call them or let them do what they had to do. By the time they'd've reached Mexico, he'd been convulsing for hours, and the doctor looked bleak when he studied the brain waves. Blair was in a deep coma, his brain function depressed. From the stiffness of the doctor's expression, and his sigh as he turned away, I could tell…
It was too late. The damage had already been done.
I guess I sat there for a long time, just looking at the kid. Numb. God…he was so young, so bright, with the whole world, a whole life, in front of him. Special in ways I could feel but could never begin to put into words-special enough to have been brought back from the dead. The fever had finally dropped, the convulsions had ended, and he was lying there looking like a bruised and broken angel. The waste of it …the tragedy…
I brushed his damp hair back from his brow, and then went down to the hospital chapel. Sitting there, I tried to get hold of my emotions. I hadn't felt like this since my son died, years ago. Angry…so angry. My chest ached so bad, was so tight, I had trouble taking a breath. The sadness welled up and filled me until I shook with it.
"God damn it," I ground out.
And then I cried.
In the absence of any family to demand 'extraordinary measures', what with Naomi only God knew where and Jim someplace in Mexico, the doctors determined that maintaining the support of the respirator was pointless. I was with Sandburg when they came to act on that decision, and I protested-loudly, very loudly. Hell, I was shouting at them that they couldn't just give up on him. They couldn't! He deserved better!
They were patient with me, understanding, I guess, that I was the closest thing the kid had to family right then, as they explained that given the trauma of the drowning, and then the infection and fever, the convulsions-his system just hadn't been able to cope. The coma, the depressed brain activity all signaled to them that the man Sandburg had been was gone. Surely, they said, I wouldn't want him to live like he was, on a respirator and unaware forever. Surely that was no quality of life, no mercy to him. He wouldn't want that for himself, would he?
That's what finished me. No, Sandburg wouldn't, ever, want that. The kid was the definition of vibrant life-just seeing him, being with him, made people around him feel more alive. He wouldn't want his spirit chained to a body that was never going to wake up.
Devastated, I asked for a few minutes alone with him and, kind people that they were, they granted my request.
I stood there by the bed, stroking those wild, beautiful curls back from his face and wishing with all my heart that there was something I could do to save him. There'd always been a light inside Blair that glowed from his eyes and his smile, and filled a room when he walked into it-that fueled a boundless energy and optimism. He always seemed younger than he really was, and somehow innocent, though he'd handled situations that would have unnerved older, more experienced men…and given his childhood, innocent he could not have been. It was his enthusiasm and his energy that gave him a youthful air-and his openness to people and ideas, his unwillingness to judge or condemn, his everlasting hope in the potential of people and for our society, that made him seem innocent. And brilliant? I've never seen a mind that held so much or could correlate information faster. The kid thought at light speed…maybe because of that light that lived within him.
How could all that be gone?
"I don't know if you can hear me or not, Blair," I murmured finally, my voice cracking with the grief of letting go. "But…I don't want you to leave, you hear me? I want you to stay. I think we need you in this world and it's too soon for you to leave us. I really believe that this is your decision, more than the doctor's or the help of the machines. They are going to remove the respirator because they don't think you'll live without it-they think you're already gone. I can't…I just can't accept that. Don't want to, I guess. If you can hear me-if you still care for us, please don't go."
I was weeping then, and had to brush the hot tears from my face, and take a breath before I could go on. Squeezing his hand, stroking his brow, I told him then, "But if you do decide you want to go, then…that's all right. It's your decision, Blair. I know you're tired…and I know you're hurt. But, please…give life another chance? Please, son…I really don't want you to go…"
They came back then, and I had to step away from the bed while they turned off the equipment and removed the tube from his throat.
He surprised them.
He kept on breathing.
I hung my head and blew out a sob, grateful to hope that maybe he'd heard me and decided to hold on after all-at least for a little while longer.
They moved him out of ICU and into a small room at the end of a hallway on the medical ward, just a small out-of-the-way cubicle where he could die quietly. H, Rafe and I took turns being with him, trying not to believe it was a deathwatch but I guess none of us really expected he'd ever wake up again.
He didn't wake up…
…but he didn't die, either.
It took me two days, but I finally managed to track down Simon and tell him what was going on with the hope that he'd have Ellison on the next plane home. But Jim had taken off into the jungle after that damned Alex Barnes, Megan right behind him. Simon was organizing back up with the local authorities to fly in on Megan's transponder signal. He planned to head into the jungle the next morning and, hopefully, they'd get Barnes and the canisters and then they could all come home.
I didn't give him all the details. What was the point? There wasn't anything he could do about it in Mexico. But I did tell him that Sandburg had taken a turn for the worse and it wasn't looking good. I told him to get Jim back just as soon as he could. I think the tone of my voice probably told him how very bad it was.
Simon called Rhonda a little while ago to leave word that they'd be back on the late evening plane via Los Angeles, and said that they'd all come directly to the hospital. Seems Jim tracked Barnes down to some ancient temple in the jungle. Sounds like it must have gotten pretty hairy for a while, what with some local drug lord also tracking Alex Barnes for the canisters. But, the local bad guys had all been either killed or incapacitated by Jim, and whatever had happened in that temple, Alex Barnes had come out of it in a catatonic stupor. I nodded as I listened to Rhonda's report on the phone in Blair's room, but I gotta say, it all sounded remote and didn't really register with me. As for Alex Barnes, who cared if she was alive or dead or a vegetable? What had she ever done in the world to warrant a moment's sorrow or grief from anyone? Or to be remembered except with bitterness and loathing?
H, Rafe and I decided to be there at the hospital when they arrived. By calling in all my IOUs down at the station, I'd wangled back up in MCU from Homicide and Vice. Rhonda, bless her, agreed to hold the fort, though I knew she wanted to be with us. But that let the three of us take turns covering all the shifts both at work and with Sandburg over the last few days, making sure he wasn't ever left alone, that there was always someone there to talk to him. I just had this feeling that if he was left alone that he'd slip away…and the other two guys agreed with me. Don't ask me why we were so sure of that…it just seemed that whatever thread was still holding him to life was too fragile, too uncertain, to take for granted. We decided that when the others got there, I'd take them down to the chapel, to explain what had happened while they remained with Sandburg.
So, when I heard the sounds of many steps hurrying down the otherwise quiet corridor just before midnight, I knew they'd finally arrived and left the room to meet them in the hall so they wouldn't just rush in. They needed to know what they were going to see.
Needed to understand how very bad things were.
I firmly closed the door behind me, standing foursquare in front of it, my arms crossed.
They were coming fast, three-abreast, as if despite their rumpled and exhausted appearance, each was driven by their own fears and needs to see that Sandburg was in better shape than my message had allowed them to believe. They were doomed to be disappointed. Ellison was half a step in the lead, pale and haggard, the look on his face hunted, focused on one thing…getting to Sandburg.
I held up my hand, and said firmly, "You can't go in…"
"The hell I can't!" Ellison snapped, as if he was about to plow right through me.
But I'd had enough…and in my mind, my heart, this bastard was the reason that kid in there was dying. Blaming him wasn't rationale, was purely emotional, I know that. But I firmly, truly, believe that if Ellison had been there when Blair had awakened, none of the rest of it would have happened.
I grabbed his collar with my fists and lifted him to me, throwing him off-balance, as I snarled harshly into his face, my voice venomous, "What…leaving him to die wasn't enough? Now you want to go in there and finish it? Is that it? Damn you, Ellison! Do you have any fucking idea of what you've done?"
"What…" he stammered, shock in his eyes as I forced him to focus on something other than his mission to get to Blair. I guess he's not used to seeing my dark side.
Simon moved in and put a hand on my fists, saying quietly, "Let him go, Joel."
But I was far from ready, or able, to calm down and be reasonable. Shooting a disgusted, furious, look at each of them, retaining my grip on Ellison's collar, I shook my head.
"You, all of you, left him here for days…a few more minutes won't make any difference now. You're all coming with me and you're all going to listen to what happened before you barge in there!" I growled, not backing off. "I don't know what he can sense, if anything-but I will NOT have you all rushing in and becoming hysterical. He doesn't need that. He's suffered enough. AM I CLEAR?"
Ellison nodded as if he were in a daze or caught in some nightmare he didn't understand, and I could feel his muscles slacken, so I let him go. "How bad…" he mumbled, squinting, as if trying to clear his thoughts.
"To the chapel," I said, waving my arm back down the hall. "There's a small room off the side of it. It's the one place we can talk with some privacy. MOVE!"
They moved, though Simon had to grab Jim's arm to drag him along.
The chapel itself was empty, just a few soft candles burning, so I waved them to the pews rather then trying to cram all of us into the small side chamber.
"Joel, what the hell…" Simon began, but I held up a hand cutting him off.
I thought I was ready for this, ready to tell them-but tears clogged my throat at the memories and I had to pace a bit, marshalling my breathing. Finally, I turned to them. Simon was looking alert and alarmed, Megan just plain scared-and Ellison looked like he was facing a firing squad. As well he might.
"When I got to the hospital and heard what had happened at the fountain," I said to Simon and Ellison, while Megan hung her head, remembering that day, "I couldn't believe it when I heard the two of you had taken off searching for some evidence of where Barnes had gone and left the kid to wake up on his own! What the hell was wrong with you? Jesus, there are two thousand cops on the force…couldn't you just trust us to do our jobs? And maybe I missed the memo, but the last I heard, Mexico was a long way out of our jurisdiction!"
It was a rhetorical question and I didn't expect an answer-waved it off with no little disgust when it looked like Simon was going to explain. Ellison looked like I'd just sandbagged him. Nice time for his thinking to click back into gear and realize what he'd done. In my anger, I couldn't resist adding, "Especially after you'd kicked him out of the loft…did the kid even know if he had a home when he was murdered in that fountain? He sure as hell looked lost when he woke up."
Jim winced, and even moaned a little, bowing his head and wrapping his arms around his body. I wish I could say I felt compassion for him, but I didn't.
"I found him in ICU and sat with him, so he wouldn't be alone," I picked up the thread of my report then, knowing my voice was raspy with control. "He woke up about an hour later and the first thing he asked was where you were," I told them, my eyes boring into Ellison's, who had again lifted his head, watching me as I reported on Sandburg's condition. "I had to tell him that you and Simon had gone off to look for Barnes, that she still had the canisters, as if I actually believed no one else could have gone after her; that it was a suitable reason for his partner to have left him behind with no word, no warning and evidently no apparent concern."
Ellison's eyes flickered away again and my voice cracked. "The look in his eyes, the sheer, wretched anguish at having been abandoned…"
"Joel…" Simon cut in, warningly. I knew he was trying to tell me that there was no point in this, that I was heaping guilt on Ellison that the man didn't need-but they had to understand.
I shook my head, rejecting the cautionary note. "But that wasn't the worst," I grated, pummeling them with words. "The worst was the look of acceptance in his eyes, as if he didn't deserve anything more, and shouldn't have expected anything more…and then the hopeless, lost, empty look of resignation before he turned away."
I had to stop and take a breath, and bite my lip against its trembling. Sniffing, I swiped impatiently at the wetness on my face. "He let go of my hand," I reported, hoarse. "He deliberately let go…and then he faded away into unconsciousness. His temperature spiked within the hour, and then he convulsed and convulsed-nothing anybody did seemed to help. We bathed him, and they gave him medication-got him on a respirator-but nothing helped. Dammit. Do you understand? I think he wanted to die!"
Silence hung like a shroud in the chapel, broken only by the sound of raspy breathing as they cringed away from me and struggled to control their emotions. "I tried to call you, but you'd already left the country-you didn't even stop by the hospital to check on him before you took off! Did you even spare him a moment's thought? Did you care at all about what was happening to him? When I tried to reach you," I said, turning to Megan, "you'd gone, too. What is it with the three of you? Did you want revenge that badly? Or was it just that you couldn't face the miracle you'd been given?"
They just all shook their heads, wordless in the face of my rage and grief. "I hope to hell you're glad you caught the bitch, because you sure paid a heavy price to get her personally," I sighed, feeling empty all of a sudden, deflated.
"He's dying," I told them, then. "They…they removed the respirator two days ago because they didn't think he'd be able to breathe without it and he'd slip away. There's…there's brain damage." Looking away, blinded by tears, I whispered, "I begged him to hold on. I don't," my breathing hitched, "I don't know if you can work another miracle-but God knows, that's the only thing that's going to save him…"
Sweet Jesus, I thought, looking from Joel to Jim, wondering which of them looked worse. I'd never seen Joel so blind with anger or look so hopeless. And Jim-Jim looked like he'd been beaten within an inch of his life, barely hanging on, verging on total collapse.
"And you were lusting after that bitch while he…" Megan snarled, her eyes flashing, fury sparking to over-ride and deny her grief.
"Conner!" I intervened sharply, too late. Jim had been shattered by Joel's words and now he looked like he'd been bludgeoned and might well go down for the count.
"I didn't…" he mumbled, his face dropping into his hands.
"I saw you…" she raged bitterly.
"What?" Joel demanded, confused as he looked from one to the other.
"I saw the two of them on the beach, practically rutting!" she spat.
"Conner, ENOUGH!" I snapped, but she was not to be denied, having bottled it up too long.
"And then you protected her when we could have brought her down at the ambush…and even at the temple!" she hissed. "We could have been back here days ago if you hadn't…"
"What are you talking about?" Joel demanded, not wanting to believe what he was hearing.
"He protected her, lusted after her-the bitch that murdered Sandy," Megan seethed, tears glimmering in her eyes as she wrapped her arms around her body and rocked with the pain of her rage and guilt for having been a party to it all. "Protected her when he should have been bringing her down!"
Visibly trembling, ashen, Jim held up his hands, a curious gesture of surrender as he grated, "I was insane…I can't explain it…and now's not the time." Pushing himself up, swaying a little, he muttered hoarsely, "I have to see Sandburg…"
I stood quickly and reached to steady him. Megan looked away, rigid with anger, fighting the grief, trying to deny what Joel had said, feeling her own guilt for having followed us. Joel just looked at Jim and shook his head, infinitely sad and more than a little disgusted, his own rage evidently spent.
Jim tried to pull away as he headed toward the doorway, but I held onto him and went with him, the others following us. Wordlessly, we took the elevator back upstairs and made our way down the long corridor. When we got to the closed door, Jim paused for a moment, as if gathering his last remaining shreds of strength and then he pushed his way inside.
Ah, God, how do I describe that first sight of the kid-so pale and still, the hollows under his eyes so dark he looked bruised, his hair lank and tangled. He seemed almost ethereal, his breath so shallow I wondered if he was even still alive, and I felt my heart lurch, my breath caught in a gasp of denial. From where they'd been sitting on either side of the bed, H and Rafe silently stood from their chairs to move back toward the walls, ceding space to Jim.
Ellison stumbled, and then he sank onto the chair beside the bed, his head cocked a little and I knew he was listening to Sandburg's heartbeat and his breathing. Reaching out, he took the kid's hand and then laid his other palm over Sandburg's brow.
"Ah, Chief," he sighed-and I could hear his heart breaking…
I had thought that nothing could ever be as bad as it was at the fountain, but this was worse. Then, we'd been fighting to save Sandburg, scarcely having time to think, only aware of the horror. Jim had been wild with denial, frenzied in his efforts to bring Blair back, unwilling to accept that we were too late, that it was over-and Sandburg was dead.
Those were some of the worst moments in my life-followed by one of the absolute best, that blinding flash of light and then Jim crying out that he heard a heartbeat. Dear God, it had been a miracle.
Fools that we were, we thought that was all that was needed, that the kid would be okay. We'd all forgotten, I guess, that from Sandburg's point of view, Jim had thrown him out of the loft and out of his life. That he'd been alone when he'd died-and he would have had no knowledge of Ellison's insane desperate denial of his death and outright refusal to accept it-or any way of knowing, but for those few bleary minutes in Emergency, that we were all desperately glad to have him back. And how could he know even then? Jim told me on the plane down to Mexico that he'd choked up, and hadn't been able to express what he'd felt. Like that was a surprise, I thought wearily then…and again, now.
No wonder Sandburg had felt abandoned, bereft of any hope, when he woke and found out Jim had just taken off and left him behind…the last thing he might really remember was Jim telling him that the trust between them had been destroyed and that Jim didn't want to work with him anymore-that their partnership, even their friendship, was over. Normally, the kid would have dealt with it and found a way to cope. He was strong and resilient. But then? Weak and probably disoriented? Maybe remembering what it had been like to die alone in that damned fountain? Exhausted emotionally and physically? He hadn't had anything to fight back with when the fever attacked. I don't pretend to understand this Sentinel and Guide mumbo-jumbo but I do know that one draws strength from the other, and alone, they are both diminished. Maybe, alone, they can't even survive. God-what a wretched thought that is…
Because, if that was true, then by leaving without making absolutely certain that Blair was okay and understood the chasm between them had been breached, then we'd wasted the miracle we'd been given. We'd left the kid to die.
Why had we gone? Why had I allowed myself to be swept up with the need to go after Barnes personally, to stop her? Why hadn't I insisted that Jim return to the hospital instead of setting out on that mad and disastrous escapade to Mexico? It sure as hell was a long way outside our jurisdiction. Oh, sure, we'd gotten her and the damned canisters. I don't know what happened in that damned temple. I only know that her brain was Swiss cheese when she was carried out of it, and Jim looked shell-shocked when it was over. When I told him that Joel had called to relay the message that Sandburg had taken a nose-dive, Jim had just stared at me for a long moment, the most stricken look on his face that I have ever seen-and then he collapsed.
Conner had been taut with rage, completely unsympathetic to Jim's evident and overwhelming despair when I finally revived him, and I guess I couldn't blame her. Jim's behaviour toward Barnes, his protectiveness and…lust…toward her had all been completely inexplicable, and frankly downright sickening whenever we thought about what she'd done to Sandburg. But there was no time to think about any of it, no time to get answers in the middle of that damned jungle. I got us all out of there and on the first flight back…praying the whole time that we wouldn't be too late. Jim was a basket case all the way home, barely functional and completely unresponsive. He hadn't zoned-he just seemed totally wrecked.
Listening to Joel's words down in the chapel, blasting and biting into us like a spray of deadly weapon's fire, I knew, without any doubt whatsoever, that if Sandburg was indeed lost that we'd lose Ellison, too.
And now, all I could feel was immeasurable pity as I listened to Jim calling softly to Blair, his voice ravaged with emotion, eyes red with unshed tears-and Sandburg just lay there. The others were holding up the walls and watching wordlessly, waiting-hoping-for another miracle. I could barely swallow as I swiped tears from my own face.
How many miracles can anyone hope to see in one lifetime?
Jim was begging now, pleading with Sandburg not to go. It was terrible to see-terrible to hear. Ellison's voice cracked, and he kept saying he was sorry, so sorry, and then he begged again, pleaded with the kid to wake up, to come back…and he stood to cup Blair's face, like he did at the fountain. Desperate. So desperate.
But this time, there was no bright, blinding light.
I didn't know how much more I could take, to be honest. Waves of rage at the waste of it, at our stupidity, washed over me, followed in their turn by waves of sorrow and guilt…and then I just felt like I wanted to hit something, anything…it was just so damned pitiful…
I was about to leave, and order the others to come with me, to give Jim some measure of privacy in his spiral into utter and absolute devastation. I knew there was nothing I or anyone else could say to save him, and I couldn't just stand there any longer, helplessly watching both of them slip away into the darkness.
But then Sandburg sighed, and moaned a little. His head turned toward Jim's voice.
Holy Mother of God, I thought, scarcely daring to believe what I was seeing. The tension in the room was palpable, electric, as everyone stiffened to attention, holding their breath, watching, and scarcely even daring to blink…
Sandburg took a deep breath, and then another. He frowned as if struggling to hear, to wake up…
His lashes flickered, and he sighed again…and Jim just kept calling to him, calling him back…
"Blair…please," I rasped as he weakly shifted in the bed, his ashen face turning into my palm as he blinked and squinted into the light. "That's it, buddy…come back, please come back…"
"Hmm?" he mumbled, blinking again, trying to focus. Gradually, his eyes cleared, but something was wrong; I could feel it.
His heart picked up and he gave a little gasp, his eyes clouding with confusion.
"Blair?" I called, wanting him to say my name.
But his eyes shied away from mine, flickering around the room, and he stiffened as he saw all the others staring at him so intensely.
"What?" he murmured, his voice raspy and dry with disuse; he licked his lips, shaking his head a little as he refused the water I held to his lips-and he pulled his hand away from mine. "Where am I?" he muttered, looking lost and worried. "What happened?"
"You've been sick…" I stammered. What could I say? 'You died and then almost died again?' Somehow, I didn't think that would hold the reassurance he needed to hear. "You're in the hospital."
He raised a hand and rubbed his temple, wincing against what looked like a hell of a headache.
"You okay?" I asked. I had to ask-had to know.
He grimaced, and then peered at everyone again, seeming to shrink into himself as he pulled the sheet up toward his throat as if it was some kind of shield. "I don't remember…" he mumbled. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No, you didn't do anything wrong," Simon assured him, studying him intently. "Do you remember your name?" he asked then, and I cut an irritated look at him. What the hell kind of question was that?
"Yeah-Blair Sandburg," my partner replied, but he sounded lost.
"You're okay, Chief," I assured him. "You're going to be just fine." He had to be fine. I couldn't bear to even consider any other alternative.
Swallowing, he flicked a quick, sideways look at me, no recognition in his gaze. That look was worse that a punch to the gut.
"Chief?" I murmured, shaking my head a little, not understanding the wariness in his eyes.
"I'm, ah, sorry, mister, but I don't remember you," he muttered then, blushing in embarrassment. Cutting a look at the others, he added, "Not any of you." Taking a breath, trying not to show how afraid he was, but I could sense it in his rapid heartbeat and the hitch in his breathing, he asked unsteadily, "Did-did my Mom leave me with one of you?"
"What?" I gasped, blinking, trying to make sense of the question.
"Blair…how old are you?" Simon asked then, frowning, his voice strained.
"Um, twelve…almost," he murmured, looking up at Simon, fear in his eyes. "Where's my Mom? What happened to me?" he asked then, shivering a little, more afraid when no one would meet his eyes. That wide, questioning gaze came back to me, and I could tell he thought something had happened to Naomi, and that the thought terrified him.
"Shh," I reassured him, taking his hand again in my own. "Your Mom's fine. She's just not here right now…"
"Oh," he replied, a defensive look shuttering away other emotions, but not before I saw a flash of sorrow-and abandonment layered with weary acceptance and he seemed diminished somehow.
Was that what Joel saw before Sandburg let go?
The look terrified me, and I gripped his hand as I stammered, "It's all right, Blair. Please…it's all right. You're not alone."
He looked away, embarrassed I think that I'd seen the fear and lost look in his eyes before he'd shut the feelings away. Nervously, he pushed his fingers through his hair, and then froze. Slowly, he pulled a strand of long curls toward his eyes and his lips parted in shock. He blinked, and then looked at his hand and the hair on his arm-and then felt the stubble of beard on his face. "Whhhaa…?" he gasped, utterly shocked. "This isn't…I'm not…"
"Easy, easy," I tried to soothe him, as his eyes, wide with panicky fear, came back to mine.
"I'm not…I'm not a kid anymore," he gasped, breathless. He shook his head, as if he thought he was having a nightmare and could shake it off. His eyes filled with tears of outright terror and he started to shake so hard that his teeth chattered.
"It's okay," I chanted, "Everything will be all right. You…you're staying with me-and you aren't alone."
I didn't know what else to say. I could hear the others murmuring in shock, breathy whispers of grief and helplessness a counterpoint to the hammering of his heart and the fast, shallow hyperventilation as he gasped for breath.
How did you tell an eleven-year-old kid that he was really twenty-nine years old…and he'd forgotten eighteen years of his life?
He swallowed convulsively, trying so hard not to panic, but everything was out of control and he didn't understand-he was surrounded by strangers, and he was so desperately afraid. A sob broke loose, and then another.
I couldn't stand it. I pulled him into my arms, stroking his hair, holding him close though he tried to pull away. "It's all right," I soothed, knowing it wasn't. "Easy, kid…breathe…just breathe. You need to rest…and then I'll explain everything…"
He stopped fighting and started to cling to my jacket instead, a bulwark against chaos. Gradually, his trembling eased, the tears dried up and he sniffled. I was looking at Simon, wondering how in hell I was going to explain to Sandburg what had happened to him-but it was only too clear that Simon had no answers.
Finally, he was almost slack in my arms and I eased him back, to look down into his face. He was starkly white, his eyes dark with horror. "I've been in a coma, haven't I?" he whispered. "For a long time…"
I closed my eyes and bowed my head, overcome with a grief I could scarcely contain. Even believing, feeling he was only eleven years old, the kid was fucking brilliant-faced with inexplicable facts, devastated by them, believing he was essentially all alone in the world, he'd still managed to come up with the only explanation that made sense to him, that made sense of the absence of memories.
I took a shuddering breath and nodded, opening my eyes to look into his as I stroked his hair. "Yes, you were, for a little while," I murmured. "You need to rest now, and we need the doctor to come and see you. Don't worry about anything right now. I…I promise you. I'll take care of you."
He looked at me for a long moment. Swallowing, he asked, his voice very small, "Who are you?"
"Jim," I replied, my throat tight with tears I couldn't afford to cry, not then, not in front of him. I'd betrayed him too often lately and I sure as hell couldn't afford to fail him now. "My name is Jim."
Eleven years old? I thought, shaking my head. Was he serious? But then I cursed myself for even daring to think Sandy would pull such a stunt. God, look at the kid-he's terrified. And Jim. I don't know what the hell is going on with that man, or why he treated Barnes like he did in Mexico, but there's no doubting that what's happening to Sandy is killing him.
"All right, people," Simon sighed, his deep voice a hoarse rumble. "Maybe we should let Blair get some rest." As the others filed past him into the hallway, he asked, "Jim-I assume you'll be staying here until the doctor has a look at Blair?"
Jim nodded numbly, still holding Sandy loosely in his arms, looking down at the kid with tear-glazed eyes.
Remembering the loft and the boxes in Sandy's office, I murmured, "Jim, if you give me your keys, I'll get the guys to help sort out the loft, and bring his stuff back from his office…"
Ellison looked up at me, surprised I think that I was no longer raging at him like some kind of vengeful harpy. But I couldn't sustain the rage in the face of the tragedy that was happening. "Let us help," I whispered.
He nodded and fumbled in his jacket pocket, pulling out his keys and handing them to me. "His office…?" he muttered, not really able to think clearly.
"It's alright, I've got keys to it from University Security," I assured him. Turning to Sandy, I touched his shoulder lightly, rubbing a little, as I said, "Don't worry. Everything Jim said goes for all of us. We love you and you're not alone. I'll see you again soon."
He swallowed and gave me a shallow, uncertain nod. And then I remembered that he didn't have a clue who I was, who any of us were. "My name's Megan," I told him, "and this is Simon," I added as I left the room.
The others were clustered in the hallway, staring at the walls or the floor, unable to find words to express what they felt about what they'd seen or about Sandburg's current state.
"I'm going to need everyone's help," I told them, holding up Jim's keys. "Ellison clearly expects to take Sandy home, and right now, the loft is a wasteland. We need to get the furniture and other stuff moved back in, as quickly as possible."
I think they were grateful to have something concrete to do. Certainly, none of us wanted to go home and be alone with our thoughts, haunted through the rest of the night by the realization that Sandy was…wasn't the same. Might never be the same. When Simon came out of the room, he agreed to help, too. He said, in that dry way he has, that he just needed to stop by the nurses' desk to tell them Sandburg had awakened and they might want to let his doctor know.
Megan and Simon headed to Rainier to load up the boxes of Blair's belongings and bring them back to the loft, while H, Rafe and I shuttled furniture and boxes from the basement back upstairs. I have to admit that I was inordinately grateful that the unpredictable elevator was working. At one point, grunting as he maneuvered the heavy bookcase into the elevator, to lean on the equally heavy sofa we had positioned vertically against the far wall of the small box, H muttered under his breath, wondering how Ellison had managed to move everything out by himself. Having no idea, I just shrugged.
It took hours just to get everything back into the apartment, and then we still had to unpack and probe our collective memories about what had been hung where on the walls. Good thing we were all detectives, schooled in observing environments and tucking away small, seemingly irrelevant details. As we unpacked, we found that things had been stuffed into boxes hurriedly and haphazardly-and there was some breakage as a result. Simon began the inventory of what needed to be replaced while Rafe made a list of what to pick up at the supermarket in the morning-the shelves and refrigerator were as bare as old Mother Hubbard's cupboards.
Rafe and H staked claim to the kitchen, while Megan took on Blair's bedroom and Simon and I restored the living room to its former appearance. I worked on the bookcase, hooking up the electronics before replacing books, pictures and knickknacks, while Simon dealt with the television, straightened furniture and began hanging stuff on the walls…like that ugly old mask of Sandburg's-my throat tightened as I shied away from that thought, trying hard not to wonder if Blair would ever remember how he'd gotten that mask in the first place, or what it represented.
None of us were talking much-none of us wanted to speculate on the kid's condition. We were trying hard to be glad he was alive and talking.
Trying really hard not to think about what it would mean if he never got to be more than eleven years old for the rest of his life.
It was sometime after dawn, and we were all losing steam as exhaustion smothered us, relentless and refusing to be ignored forever, when Megan wandered out of Sandburg's room with an old book in her arms. The leather was cracked and some of the pages looked loose. She was also clutching one of Blair's perennial notebooks in her hand and there was an odd look on her face.
"Simon," she said, her voice strained, her eyes narrowed a bit as she looked up at him, "what does it mean that Jim's a 'sentinel'?"
Banks looked like he'd just been pole-axed.
Son of a bitch! I thought, aghast at Megan's question. I'd forgotten all about Sandburg's journals! Dammit! I should have been unpacking his stuff myself regardless of how unbearable I thought that task would be.
"Sentinel?" I asked, all innocent, wondering if anyone there would buy it. H and Rafe had turned from the kitchen cupboards and Joel was just staring at me, shaking his head. Nope, I guess I wasn't being very convincing. Maybe sinking down into the chair because my legs wouldn't hold me up had been the giveaway.
Turning back to Megan, Joel asked the obvious question. "What are you talking about? What's a 'sentinel'?"
Frowning, Megan looked from the notebook in her hands to the ancient, battered text in her arms. "I found this stuff in a box along with other notebooks and cassette tapes. From what I can make out, 'sentinels' are people with naturally occurring enhanced senses that used to protect their tribes in more primitive cultures. It looks like Sandy was, I don't know, helping Jim get to understand and better control his senses. One of the notebooks records the results of tests to see how far and well Jim can see…and this one deals with his hearing, and 'piggybacking' his hearing to his sight. It's very weird…but, maybe, it explains a lot."
She looked back at me, as did all the others. What the hell could I say? This was Jim's secret, and Blair's-not mine. "Jim's not psychic at all, is he? This is something else entirely…" she added, her voice soft, questioning.
"Simon?" Joel prompted. "What do you know about this?"
"Yeah, Captain?" H added. "Sure explains why Hairboy has been riding with Jim all these years-makes a lot more sense than that stupid 'thin blue line' paper he's supposed to be writing."
"Explains why Blair has been living here, too," Rafe mused thoughtfully.
"And it explains some of the weird stuff Jim can do," Joel interjected. "Like he's always able to hear things that others can't, and he seems to know what the lab is going to say about evidence before the reports come back."
"Like hearing Sandy's heartbeat at the fountain," Megan murmured, frowning with concentration.
Wearily, I took off my glasses and rubbed my face. These were my people, my team. I couldn't lie to them.
And I couldn't tell them the truth.
I looked away and rubbed the back of my neck, trying to figure out what to say. I guess my silence was all the confirmation they needed. They're detectives, and damned fine ones at that. They didn't need anyone to connect the dots for them.
"Jim doesn't want anyone to know," Rafe stated then, flatly, as if it were obvious.
"Probably feels like some kind of freak," H said, a tone of resignation underlying his words.
"Sandy wouldn't ever lie to us unless it was to protect Jim," Megan added, biting her lip.
Joel sighed and then said, "Put the books away, Megan. So far as anyone is concerned, you never found them and we don't know a damned thing."
"But why wouldn't he trust us?" H protested. "Hell, we're his colleagues!"
Joel shrugged. "You know what Jim's like," he said then as if very tired. "The man's so private he'd rather die than admit there's something about him that's…odd or different."
"Especially if he doesn't know how to control them," Megan added thoughtfully, again looking at Sandburg's notebook. "He hates not being in control."
They were hurt, I could tell, that Ellison hadn't trusted them. But they were doing their damnedest to try to understand. I was proud of them. Very proud.
"We owe it to Sandburg," Rafe said then, his expression solemn. "He's kept Jim's secret all these years-he wouldn't want to think that it was because of him that we found out. Joel's right. You have to put the books away."
"And we can't ever admit to Jim that we know," Joel added with a quick cutting look at me.
I closed my eyes and nodded, grateful that they understood, that they'd spared me having to say one word about any of it.
"But…if what I've read is true," Megan questioned, sounding worried, "Jim really does need help. The notes say he 'zones'-and that seems to mean that he loses track of everything around him when he focuses too hard or too long with one of his senses. Sandy says in his notes that he needs to 'ground' Jim, with a touch or with his voice…or by stimulating one of the other senses. If Sandy can't help him anymore-what are we going to do?"
"We do what we have to do if it's ever necessary," Joel said steadily. "We just try not to let him know that we know what we're doing…"
Once again they all turned to me. Sighing, I shrugged and nodded, and then got up to finish hanging the mask on the wall.
Behind me, I heard them all get back to work as Megan walked quietly back into Sandburg's bedroom.
And I heard Joel say softly, "It's okay, Simon-we understand that you couldn't ever let us know what was going on. It's okay."
I know I went still for a moment, my hands holding the mask as I bowed my head. Inexplicably, I felt like weeping, my eyes filling with moisture and my throat all clogged up. "Thank you," I finally managed to choke out, hoarse with emotion.
Taking a deep breath, I went back to work.
But I couldn't help thinking about Jim, and how hard it was going to be for him without Sandburg backing him up, covering for him--helping him make sense of his senses. Bitterly, I thought about how I'd teased the kid about not wanting to know anything about it, about the 'Sandburg zone'-and I can't begin to tell you how much I wished I could find myself back in that zone.
Dammit, I thought, having to bite my lip to keep it from trembling. I felt so bad for the kid. He'd always, only, ever tried to help. Only ever gave his best. And now…
I couldn't think about it.
I'd fall apart if I did.
And, after all is said and done, I am the 'Captain'.
Captains aren't supposed to fall apart.
Not in public, anyway…
Remember the good times that we had?
I let them slip away from me when things got bad.
How clearly I first saw you smilin' in the sun…
Wanna feel your warmth upon me, I wanna be the one…
A nurse had blown into the room just after the others had left, and then stopped in her tracks, just staring at Sandburg, her mouth slightly agape. Shaking herself visibly, she pulled herself together and moved to the bed to check his vital signs and pose the routine questions.
"So…you decided to wake up?" she observed with forced cheerfulness, taking his pulse. She was only too evidently shocked to find him awake, and seemingly alert. That had clearly not been the expected outcome.
When Blair just stared at her, she asked with a hard won professional detachment, "Do you know your name?"
"Blair Sandburg," he murmured and swallowed.
"Do you know what day it is?" she asked then.
"No," he replied, his voice quavering a little, but he forced himself to go on with a painful honesty, "I don't even know what year it is…"
Frowning, she looked from him to me.
"He thinks he's eleven years old," I explained.
"No, that's not right," he interjected, studiously sincere, trying his best to be as rational as possible in the face of the impossible. "I feel like I'm eleven years old, and I can't remember anything since then…but I know I'm a lot older than that." He reached up unconsciously to again touch the bristle of beard on his face. "I don't remember what happened to me…"
God, he sounded so lost, so confused and scared. And he was trying to be so brave it broke my heart.
"Oh," she said, not quite knowing what else to say. Biting her lip, she added, "You've been ill, with a high fever, and unconscious for a few days. The doctor will be in to see you in the morning and will no doubt have a few tests that will need to be done…"
"Do you think," he asked, faltering a little before continuing, "…do you think this is permanent?"
Her expression softened then, in compassion for the fear in his eyes and his poignant uncertainty. Brushing his hair back from his brow in an oddly maternal gesture, she answered as honestly as she could, "I don't know, Blair…let's see what the doctor has to say tomorrow, okay?"
He swallowed and nodded, looking down at the sheet as he picked at it nervously. He trembled when she turned to me, and said, "Visiting hours are long over-you should be heading home."
"No," I replied, squeezing his shoulder and I could hear his breathing hitch. In relief? I'd like to think so, anyway. "Blair's understandably pretty upset by all this. He's my roommate and my best friend-I don't want to leave him alone right now."
Relenting, she nodded. "All right," she allowed, but turned back to Sandburg. "You've had a hard time of it. You need to try to rest."
He nodded again, uncertainly, but wouldn't meet her eyes. Rest? How the hell could the kid rest with what was happening? With all the questions, and the fears, he must have? He looked wan and exhausted, but too enervated to rest.
I found myself watching him pick at a rough spot on the cotton sheet as my mind flinched away from the enormity of what had happened-and my guilt for the role I had played in bringing him to this. And isn't that typical? I thought bitterly. Avoiding what I didn't want to face, like the weird visions of a spotted jaguar and nightmares about killing a wolf that morphed into Sandburg. Because I didn't trust the visions, didn't want to have them-didn't understand them and couldn't control them.
No more than I'd been able to control the irrational feelings I'd had. Sensing a dangerous, deadly, unseen and unknown enemy, but not telling Sandburg. Not trusting him. Because I smelled the threat on him and couldn't stand it. Because in my mixed up, muddled paranoia I thought he was betraying me. Frightened that I'd end up killing him for a betrayal that made no sense and had no real basis in anything but my knowledge that there was an enemy in my territory. Driving him away with no explanation or warning.
And then it had become clear what he'd done. Befriending her! Putting his damned research ahead of our friendship, our partnership! I had wanted to shake him or slug him…how could he do that! It hadn't mattered that he was sorry. He'd betrayed my trust-had made me a thing, something to be studied and compared to another thing. Not his friend, not his partner…just another lab rat to be observed for his goddamned dissertation. I couldn't even stand to look at him. It hurt too much. God, I'd trusted him with everything that I was…and he had betrayed me. Made me feel like the kind of freak that my father had feared I'd be labeled so many years ago.
I couldn't get past it, didn't think at the time that I'd ever get past it, until after Alex had almost killed me, and I realized what I had done in my paranoia and hurt. I'd left him alone and vulnerable with that she-demon stalking both of us. Memories swirled, sickening, horrifying memories of Sandburg floating face down in the fountain. Of cold, flaccid lips and blue skin…of the silence in place of that sure and steady, necessary, heartbeat. Nausea roiled in my gut and I had to clamp my jaw and swallow hard to force it back.
I'd gotten a second chance. I didn't understand it. More of those inexplicable visions of a dead shaman and animal spirit guides, whatever the hell they were. A power surging through me that scared me, but that gave me back my friend. My partner. My Guide.
And how did I react the first time I saw him conscious in the hospital afterwards? Did I grab him and hold him close, and tell him how I felt? Did I tell him I was sorry for having doubted him? For having reacted without thought and only out of blind, hurt emotion and instinct? When he wanted to talk about the vision we'd shared, about what it meant that he had died and between us, and our spirit guides, we had somehow worked a miracle and gotten his life back, did I allow that conversation, encourage it, understand his need?
Of course not.
I didn't want to think about the fact that he'd been dead. Didn't want to deal with visions I didn't understand…didn't welcome the mysterious and find it wonderful like he did. I didn't hug him… hell, I didn't even touch him. And I could hardly look at him-because of my guilt and my fear of the power we'd unleashed. No, I just shut him down and told him to get some rest.
And I walked out-driven to find Alex Barnes. Driven by an instinct I didn't understand and couldn't resist. Walked out assuming he knew our fences were mended, that we were okay again…that he'd be coming home. Assuming he knew how damned grateful I was that I hadn't lost him.
More of those visions in Barnes' burned out apartment. An irresistible urge to go to Mexico, to find her. To stop her? Hell, yes. She had enough nerve gas in those two canisters to kill a million or more people. I had to stop her-she'd murdered my Guide! Left him unconscious, floating face down to drown in knee-deep water. I wanted to kill her.
So what happened on that beach? What madness drove me to lust after her? To want her so badly I was blind with the need of her? God, when Megan called out and broke the spell, I nearly vomited at what I had done. But I still couldn't stop her, couldn't shoot her…frozen and stunned, only able to watch her run away. Damn I needed Sandburg then, to make sense of it.
Or during the ambush, on the edge of the jungle? Why the hell did I warn her, need to protect her? Because she was another sentinel? Her? A sentinel? No way. She might have had the senses but she sure in hell didn't have a shred of integrity or the least impulse toward protecting anyone but herself.
But I was driven to chase after her by instincts gone wild. Unthinking-just acting. Part of me knew, even then, I should never have made that journey after her without my Guide, but I couldn't stop myself. And then Incacha sent me to the temple, leaving Megan behind, unguarded, at risk. Damn it. Those bastards could have killed her. She had every right to despise me.
And then the visions in the pool. Terrible visions of blood and death-and Incacha shouting at me, demanding to know what I feared. Swirling, confusing, dizzying, horrible visions…and Sandburg. Smiling, looking hurt, dead…and alive again.
And I knew then what I feared most. Loss of control. Being dependent upon another person to function, to survive. I feared Sandburg and his power over me. I saw clearly, for the first time, that he was both my greatest fear and my salvation if I'd let him be-if I surrendered to him.
Alex Barnes lost her mind in those pools, went insane.
I found my sanity. And his name was Blair Sandburg. My best friend. My partner and my Guide. The one person in my life I could trust with my life. I'd finally figured it out.
And then Simon told me…told me…
I was spiraling, losing myself in that knot of cotton that he kept picking at, and in the too loud sound of his fingers scratching at it…falling…
"Jim?" he whispered.
And his voice pulled me back, as it always had. He didn't even know what he was doing and he was still grounding me. Saving me from my own senses.
I guess he felt me jerk back into awareness. I'd forgotten I still had a hand on his shoulder and I felt him flinch as he cut me a frightened look, not understanding that I'd almost zoned.
"Sorry," I muttered, "I was…thinking…"
Yeah, right. Thinking about me and not him. Willfully not thinking about the possibility that the most brilliant mind I'd ever known had been irreparably damaged. Willfully avoiding the question of whether my best friend might have been all right if I hadn't abandoned him to chase after Alex Barnes.
He watched me warily but then his gaze shifted away as he murmured, "You told the nurse we were best friends…"
"Yeah, we are," I replied quietly. "We have been for more than three years now."
"How old am I-really?" he asked, still not looking at me.
"Twenty-nine," I told him.
His eyes flew wide open and he looked at me, stunned. "Twenty…" he gasped.
"Easy, Chief," I soothed, gripping his shoulder a little harder. "I know you don't remember, but we'll work it out."
His gaze darted around the room, like a frightened bird, and then came back to me. "Who am I?" he whispered, trying so hard to make sense of what was happening to him.
"You're Blair Sandburg, son of Naomi, teaching fellow at Rainier University, working on your PhD dissertation in Anthropology. You're my best friend, my roommate and my partner…"
He pulled back from my grip on his shoulder, his eyes narrowing as he stared at me. "Partner? Roommate?"
And I sighed. This was Naomi Sandburg's little boy, who had grown up in communes in an environment of 'free love'. He might only feel eleven years old, but I doubted if this kid had ever been allowed any innocence at least in so far as intimate human relationships were concerned. "Your place burned down almost four years ago and you moved into my spare room temporarily," I explained quietly. "But, we got along all right and it made sense for you to stay with me since you were helping me work on some stuff…you just never…" I almost said 'moved out', but that wasn't quite true, was it? "You always seemed happy enough with the arrangement."
"What do you mean we're partners?" he demanded then. "Are you a professor or something?"
"No, I'm a cop-a detective," I told him, and I could see it only confused him further.
"The others who were here…they're cops, too, aren't they?" he asked then. When I nodded, he muttered something about that explaining why they were all giants, even the woman.
"Megan," I said and he looked at me oddly, not realizing he'd softly murmured the thought aloud…or at least not loud enough that I could hear him.
He frowned in thought, his agile mind turning over the bits of information, but he shook his head. "I don't understand…it doesn't make any sense."
"I know," I agreed, but I didn't think this was the time to go into it all. He looked wiped out, fighting the need to sleep as he grappled with the mystery of who he was and what had happened to him. "Look, I'll explain everything, I promise. But the nurse was right. You really need to get some rest."
"What if…what if I don't get better?" he asked then, his eyes averted.
"Let's not jump to those conclusions just yet, okay?" I asked, for myself as much as for him. "We need to see what the doctor says, and what the tests show…"
"But…" he began.
I cut him off. The last thing he needed right now was to wonder what would happen to him if this were, God forbid, permanent. "But, regardless," I said firmly, "You'll be coming home, back to the loft…where you belong."
"But…" he tried again.
"No 'buts', Junior," I insisted. And I meant it. "If we find out your memories are gone for good, we'll make new ones. You're the smartest person I ever met-it'll be damned shame if you have to relearn everything you already learned once before, but you can do it, if you have to. We'll work it out, Blair."
He thought about that for a while, and then rolled over onto his side, toward me. "I wish I could remember you," he murmured, sounding lost.
"I'll remember for the both of us," I told him. "Now-go to sleep."
A wan smile played over his lips as he studied me. "You know, you look pretty wrecked, Jim. Maybe you should sleep, too." He hesitated and then offered softly, "Maybe you should go home."
I shook my head. "Not until we hear what the doctor has to say, Chief."
He relaxed a little at that, and sighed as he unconsciously curled closer still. I reached out to stroke his hair. "Go to sleep, Blair. I promise, I'll be here when you wake up."
He blinked up at me, his lids heavy with exhaustion. Finally, with a deep sigh, he let his eyes close. Short minutes later, he sighed again as he slipped into sleep.
Watching him, I wondered how I was ever going to explain what had happened to him…why he'd gotten so sick that he'd almost died-again. Trembling with the memories and my fears about what the future might hold for him, I began to ease my hand away from his head, but he reached up in his sleep and curled his fingers around my wrist, holding my hand in place.
Unconscious, innocent trust.
I bowed my head and felt the hot prick of tears in my eyes. Would he ever trust me again when he finally found out what had happened? I fought the lump in my throat and forced back the sob that threatened, covering my mouth with my hand.
But I couldn't stop the guilty, grief-stricken, tear that trickled down my face.
When all is said and done, this was my fault-and I knew it. I'd betrayed our friendship, denied it, abused it, over and over again in the last few weeks. I'd failed in my role as his Sentinel.
Why the hell was he the one who had to pay the price of my failure? I could wallow in guilt for the rest of my life, but it wouldn't change the fact that I had, in my blindness, my rage, my fear-I had left my Guide vulnerable, and in leaving him had destroyed his life.
I will remember you.
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by,
Weep not for the memories…
A female, Afro-American lab tech pushing a portable EEG machine arrived before 8:00 am, waking both of us. Stiff from having fallen asleep on the chair sometime during the night, I rubbed grainy, tired eyes, wondering what the hell I was doing in a hospital…and then I remembered. And felt nausea cramp in my gut.
Gritting my jaw, determined to hold onto my control for the kid's sake, I looked at Sandburg who was silently watching the technician, a thin middle-aged woman with short, grizzled, graying hair, shake out leads and then he endured having them stuck in place on his temples and other key spots on his head.
"What are you doing?" I asked, wondering why so many hospital staff forget that patients are scared, and often don't know what the hell is going on and need some kind of explanation when they are rudely awakened for some test or other. Okay, I wanted to know what was going on, so sue me.
"Dr. Jeffreys, the neurologist, wanted this set up first thing so that he can assess the readings when he comes in later this morning," the impersonal woman replied. But when she actually glanced into Sandburg's wide eyes, she seemed to soften a little. "This shows us the activity in your brain," she explained. Patting his shoulder almost absently when she'd finished hooking up the leads and had turned on the machine, she murmured as she turned to go, "I'm glad to see you woke up after all."
Sandburg blinked at her words. He hadn't known until then that there'd been any question about him waking up. He took a deep breath, swallowed and then flicked a look at me as he said quietly, "Maybe you should tell me what happened. How long was I out of it, and why?"
"Sandburg-Blair," I stumbled, "the short version is that you almost drowned about a week ago, and you got an infection in your lungs. The high fever led to convulsions…"
I stopped when he winced and cursed myself for my lack of bedside manner. I was scaring him.
"And the long version is…?" he asked softly, looking worried.
"Complicated," I replied, looking away. "Look, I promise I'll tell you everything, but later…after we know what the doctor has to say, okay?"
His eyes narrowed as he studied me, and I thought for a minute that he was going to demand the details there and then. Well, it wasn't as if he didn't have a right to them. He was the one trying to deal with the loss of almost twenty years of memories and the sense of still being eleven years old. But he clamped his lips shut and looked away, and I had the impression I had just failed a test. Though he didn't move, I could feel him withdraw from me.
"Talk to me, Chief," I encouraged, reaching out to touch him-but he flinched away.
"About what?" he asked, sullen…angry.
I shrugged and pinched the bridge of my nose. It was a good question. He'd told me what he wanted to talk about and I'd just cut him off. Licking my lips, I sighed, "I don't know-how about what you do remember? Where were you when you were eleven? What's your most recent memory?"
I wasn't sure he was going to answer at first, but then he spoke, low and clipped, "Some trailer park outside of Tucson. My Mom had just left to go to a retreat in Sedona…"
"She left you?" I exclaimed. I'd known Naomi had dragged Sandburg all over God's green earth, but I didn't know she'd ever left him behind.
He cut me a defensive look as he challenged, "Yeah, so what? It's not like it's easy for her having a kid trailing along behind her all the time. Sometimes she has to do adult stuff and I'd just be in the way. No big deal. She always comes back."
I gaped at him, blinking as I tried to assimilate all the messages that I wasn't sure he knew he'd just given me. And then I remembered what he'd asked when he'd first awakened. Had his mother left him with one of us? Left him with people he didn't recognize. Dear God.
"Who did you stay with when she was away?" I asked.
He sighed and shrugged. "Whoever was handy; in Tucson, it was a guy named Eddie that we'd been living with for a couple of months."
"How often did she leave you?" I asked then, wishing Naomi was close enough to shake.
"What's with the third degree, Kojak?" he snapped back, crossing his arms as he hunched away, curling toward the far wall. "It's not like it's any of your business. According to you, that was a long time ago."
That often. Shit. He was used to being left behind. Used to being in the way, a burden. Used to wondering if he was wanted. And I'd done the same damned thing to him.
"Chief…" I began, wanting to make peace.
"Why do you call me that?" he demanded, cutting me off.
"I-it's just…it doesn't matter," I replied lamely. There was no reason.
"Yeah, well, my name is Blair," he huffed. "When your name's all you got, you appreciate when people use it."
Swallowing, I sighed. "Okay, Blair. Can we stop fighting now?"
He shrugged and just kept staring at the wall.
Sagging back against the chair, I pushed my fingers through my hair. "Look, I'm scared, too," I said then, not knowing what else to say or do. Whatever tentative link we'd established last night had just gone down in flames.
He stiffened and then mumbled, "Yeah, well, I guess anybody'd be scared to think their thirty-year-old roommate just became the son they never wanted. Shit, man…don't sweat it. I don't expect you to take care of me. I'm not your responsibility."
"That's not what I meant!" I exclaimed, standing to move around the bed to see his face, but he just rolled the other way. I reached for his shoulder but he shrugged me off. "Dammit, Sandburg…I'm scared for your sake! This has got to be hell for you."
"You can't really miss what you don't remember," he muttered back, but his voice was unsteady. I closed my eyes and listened to the hammering heartbeat that gave the lie to his attempt to appear tough and able to face whatever came on his own. At that moment, he was just a scared kid, who didn't know what was going to happen to him or if he'd ever get better. But it was all too evident he was used to coping with whatever happened without a whole lot of help from anybody. What kind of childhood had he really had? The little he'd ever said made it sound like one big holiday, traveling from one exotic place to another. Evidently, there was a lot he hadn't said.
Just then Dr. Jeffreys walked in and introduced himself as the neurologist on Blair's case. Blair pulled himself up into a sitting position, his back against the frame of the bed, all of his attention focused now on the doctor. Jeffreys studied Sandburg, checked Blair's pupils and reflexes and shook his head. "I must say, Mr. Sandburg, you are a surprise. I never expected you to wake up."
"Yeah," he sighed as he bit his lip, "I got that impression from the technician who wired me up this morning."
Nodding, the neurologist's eyes narrowed as he asked, "I understand that you don't remember approximately twenty years of your life…and that when you woke, you thought you were eleven years old. Is that still what you think?"
Sandburg looked at him owlishly and shook his head. "Not exactly. Given the evidence to the contrary," he replied with a vague wave at his body, "it's pretty clear that I'm not eleven years old. Jim says I'm really twenty-nine. But…to be honest? I still feel eleven."
"I see," Jeffreys nodded, sagely, as if he knew what was going on. I had to wonder if he really did or if he was bluffing. He shifted away from Blair to read the long printout from the portable EEG and then he studied the wavy lines on the screen, rubbing his chin, pondering whatever it was he was seeing.
Blair held himself tensely, trying his damnedest to appear calm, but his heart was hammering in his chest and his breathing was rapid and shallow. He watched Jeffreys but didn't say anything-and then I understood. He was afraid to ask.
"What do you think?" I asked for him, for both of us. "Is this a temporary condition?"
Jeffreys looked at me and frowned. "I'm sorry…are you a relative? I'm not sure I should be discussing Mr. Sandburg's condition with you."
"I'm Detective Jim Ellison, Blair's best friend and we share an apartment. I have his power of attorney," I explained, trying to stay calm. 'Condition' didn't sound promising.
"Ah, I see," he nodded, suddenly brisk. Looking from me to Blair, he at least did my partner the courtesy of talking to him directly. "Your EEG is abnormal. Certain critical functions appear very depressed, almost as if you were in a deep meditative state, which is clear you are not. I'm sorry-but from what I can determine at this time, given the parts of your brain that are affected, your condition is likely to be permanent."
Blair paled; a small, muted moan of protest escaped his lips, and this time he didn't pull away when I gripped his shoulder. I felt like I'd just been punched in the gut-and couldn't begin to imagine how those words had affected him. He seemed completely stunned, so again, I asked for him, "But-Blair can learn again, right? I mean-I wish it wasn't necessary, but he's really brilliant. He can, I don't know, 'catch up'? With help? Right?" God, please, I wanted to shout, don't condemn him-please don't do this!
Jeffreys sighed and actually looked very sad. I guess cops aren't the only ones who have tough jobs. Then he shook his head. "I'm really very sorry, but from the evidence of current brain activity, the sectors of the brain impacted and the functions that are grossly depressed because of the extent of the damage from the fever convulsions, no-I don't believe Mr. Sandburg can learn, certainly not well enough to function at the post-graduate level, which is what I understand he was engaged in until now."
The kid literally sagged at that, like a balloon losing its air. I glanced down at him, cut deep by his pallor, and the way he blinked hard to clear the glaze of moisture from his eyes as he stared into space. I felt dizzy and had to take a couple of deep breaths, fighting the explosion of pain in my chest. Swallowing, I shook my head, in denial I guess. "You don't know Blair. You have no idea of what he is capable of," I protested.
The doctor's lips thinned as if he was biting back words, but then he just nodded. "Perhaps-I would not discourage either of you from trying, but I caution that the frustration may be severe." He drew a card from his pocket and seemed to hesitate between us, but then handed it to me. "I would suggest that both of you pursue counseling with Dr. Marion Reynolds. This is a very, very difficult adjustment."
Blair's eyes flashed as he looked between the doctor and me. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't talk about me like I'm invisible," he grated. "Jim is NOT responsible for me."
Dr. Jeffreys sighed. Turning to Blair, he explained, "At this time, Mr. Sandburg, you have the mental competency of a minor. There is no reason, eventually, why you cannot be rehabilitated into supportive living arrangements, and even have a simple, uncomplicated job. But, for now, either a parent, or Detective Ellison, who holds your power of attorney…"
"What's that?" he demanded, not understanding.
"It means I can act for you legally when you aren't competent to act for yourself," I explained, feeling sick. I'd never wanted this. Never imagined a conversation like this could ever happen.
"You mean, you have power over me, my choices-you can force me to do what you want," he demanded, clearly not liking the situation at all.
"Basically, yes," the doctor answered before I could say anything.
"Blair, this doesn't have to be a confrontation. You're my best friend. I respect you," I said, trying to soften the message. But why would he trust me? I was a stranger. Hell, worse, I was the one who'd done this to him, whether he knew that yet or not. I'd survived that damned pool by holding onto him-but when he'd needed me, I was nowhere to be found.
"Yeah, right," he muttered.
Turning back to Jeffreys, I asked, "When can I take him home?"
Jeffreys glanced again at the EEG monitor and said quietly, "Now that he has fully awakened and is alert, there is really nothing we can do for Mr. Sandburg here. Again-I urge you to pursue outpatient follow up for various competency and intellectual potential assessments and transitional counseling-Dr. Reynolds' office can arrange all of that. Mr. Sandburg's chest infection is well under control and there is no real reason to keep him in hospital any longer. I'll sign the papers permitting you to take him home today."
"Thank you," I said, meaning it. I wanted to get him home.
I wish I thought that he wanted the same thing.
Dr. Jeffreys took his leave and left us with a heavy silence.
"I'm sorry," I said, my voice tight. God, how inadequate those words were for what I felt, for the horror and tragedy of what had happened to Blair Sandburg.
He sat hunched against the bed frame, his arms crossed and his knees pulled up…his head bowed so that his hair hid his face. "He can't be right," Sandburg finally said, his voice cracking with emotion. "I want to be a scientist, man. I've dreamed of going to university. I want to be an anthropologist and understand people and societies. He can't be right!" His voice broke and his shoulders shook as he lifted one hand to cover his mouth, trying to hold back the sobs.
My own vision blurred and I couldn't do anything but sit down on the bed and pull him into my arms-and hold him while he wept. I'd just witnessed the demolition of all the dreams of the best man I'd ever known-and I didn't have the first clue about how to comfort him.
There was no way to make this right.
"You're not alone, Blair," I told him, my own voice hoarse and husky with emotion. "I swear to you-you'll never be alone."
Simon walked in just then, looking absolutely exhausted, I guess to bring me back my keys and to drop off clothing for Blair before he headed home. When he saw us, and the understanding of what it must mean crashed into him, he sagged against the wall and his face crumpled. Neither of us said anything, we just looked at one another while I held Blair against my chest. I shook my head.
He crossed his arms and curled a little against the wall, as if he'd just been shot or stabbed. His bit his lip as a tear silently slipped down his face.
Blair was embarrassed when he realized Simon was there and had seen him crying. I guess he hadn't learned yet that it's not a bad thing for boys to cry…or if he had, he didn't believe it when he was eleven. It's a tough age, not quite a child, not yet a teenager. In-between and awkward. And he was stuck there.
Once he'd stopped crying and I'd wiped the moisture from my eyes, he got dressed while I spoke with Simon in the hall.
"The doctor says this is permanent and it'll never get better-that he can't learn," I said bleakly. "God, Simon-I can't take it in. I can't believe it…"
Good man that he is, Simon wiped his eyes and said, "Sandburg at eleven was already brighter, and probably knew more stuff, than 90% of the population. We have no idea what his potential is yet and nobody has the right to write him off. Whatever he needs, Jim, or you need, we'll be behind you all the way."
"Thanks, Simon," I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck. I couldn't begin to explain what I was feeling. Guilt, grief, devastation… the words don't even come close to describing how God-awful I felt. But beyond all that, I had this need to protect Sandburg and take care of him-to give him the best life I could.
Simon squeezed my shoulder, told me he'd tell the others and then left. Watching him walk slowly down the corridor, I thought he looked like he'd aged twenty years. Turning, I went back into the room and found Blair dressed, sitting dejectedly on the bed.
"Ready to go?" I asked.
He nodded wordlessly and followed me out-didn't even protest when they made him ride downstairs in a wheelchair. I flagged a taxi from the queue and took him home.
When we got back to the loft, he followed me upstairs and into the apartment. He stood uncertainly, looking around as I took his jacket and hung it up.
"Welcome home," I said, meaning it. And it was only then, as I looked around and remembered how it had been when I'd left for Mexico, that I realized how much work our friends had done during the night to make it a decent home to bring him back to and I felt a wave of gratitude toward them all. What would the kid have thought if I'd brought him home to the barren emptiness that it had been?
He nodded and moved to the balcony to look outside, while I went to the kitchen to cook a simple breakfast, my throat tight when I saw that someone had stocked the cupboards and the fridge. I had no idea when he'd last eaten-and wasn't sure he was hungry, but I didn't really know what else to do. So I scrambled up some eggs, made some toast and coffee.
"Coffee all right with you or do you want tea…or milk?" I asked, suddenly uncertain.
He shrugged. "What did I usually drink for breakfast?" he asked.
"Coffee," I said. "But, you don't have to if you don't like it yet…"
He sighed. Lost. A child in a man's body, with no idea who he was any more. "I'll try the coffee," he finally said.
Setting the loaded plates on the table, I asked, "You feel like eating?"
He smiled a little and shook his head. "Fine time to ask," he observed wryly, but then nodded. "I could eat."
Afterward, I showed him to his room and he looked curiously at the laptop on the desk. "What's that?" he asked.
"Your computer," I replied.
His brow quirked. "Computer? That? I know how to use a computer? I mean…I knew how?"
"Oh, yeah, and later today or tomorrow, I'll show you how it works," I assured him.
"Cool," he murmured. I wanted to weep. In the midst of all the shit, he was still Blair-give him something to learn and the guy was intrigued. It was ingrained into his personality. But what if the doctor was right, and he just couldn't learn any more? What would that pain do to him?
He looked at some of the artifacts he had in the room, on the desk, the bookcase and the wall, and then picked up one of the heavy textbooks. "You said I was working on my PhD?"
"Yeah," I sighed, unable to look at the wonder and sorrow in his eyes.
"I liked it, didn't I?" he murmured then, his voice soft, not really needing an answer. At eleven, he already knew he loved to learn. He put the book down on the desk and stuffed his hands in his jean pockets and I couldn't help but see his gesture as a deliberate statement to himself that he didn't have the right, somehow, to touch those books any more. He sighed a little and looked around the room again. Trying to get his bearings, trying to make sense of his life. "How did we get to be friends, Jim?" he asked then, cutting me a quick, almost shy look. "I mean, I can see we're pretty different."
"You saved my life the day I met you," I replied-and that got his attention.
His head whipped up and his mouth dropped open. "You're kidding, right?"
"Nope," I replied and smiled at him. "C'mon back into the living room. It's time I told you more about…you. And me, I guess. About our work together."
Intrigued, well that was Sandburg…I was caught by the sense that he was still the same person, maybe not the exact same man, but his essential motivations, interests, beliefs and values would be the same. I remember in a course once, when the military was trying to shift its culture to one more welcoming of diversity, that we'd been shown this film, called, 'What you are is what you were when'. It was a grainy, black and white three-hour monologue by this frenetic but actually quite interesting and amusing guy. I guess that's why I remember it. Anyway, the bottom-line message was that we are all essentially shaped by the time we are ten years old. Our values and beliefs, our core personalities, the way we interact with others and the world. Sandburg was stuck at eleven…but he was still essentially the person I'd known. According to the guy on the film, we only really change after that if we are hit by a devastating emotional experience that requires us to change and we want to change as a result of it. I thought about that as I moved into the other room, and wondered if what had happened wouldn't maybe, ultimately, change me in more fundamental ways than it had Sandburg. All this had happened because of my inability to deal with anger, threat and control issues…but I was going to have to do better. I was going to have to be more than I'd been to help him now.
Anyway, 'intrigued', Blair followed me into the living room and unconsciously chose his regular spot on the couch, folded his legs up underneath him for comfort and pushed his hair back behind his ears, giving me his full attention. He even looked eager, like a little kid, hardly able to wait to hear how he had saved my life.
"Blair," I asked, not entirely sure where to begin, "have you ever heard of 'sentinels'?"
"Sentinels?" he repeated, sitting back, his eyes going unfocused as he accessed memories. "You mean like tribal watchmen?" he asked for clarification.
"Yeah, like that," I agreed, encouraged when I saw recognition of the idea flash in his eyes.
"Uh huh, last year when Naomi and I were in Central America. We spent some time with one of the tribes in the mountains in Paraguay. There was this old guy, a shaman, and he didn't seem to mind spending time with me, telling me stories. He told me about the tribal watchmen, who sort of looked out for, protected, the community…they'd literally stand watch on the perimeter. It's a neat idea, and when I got back where there were libraries, I looked it up and found out that it's a pretty common concept. In the ancient Hebrew texts, the Book of the Apocalypse and the Book of Enoch, they say the watchers were sons of God, angels sort of, who mated with mortals and their offspring were called 'sentinels'. They usually have some special skill. Like, for example, if the Greek hero, Hercules, was the son of a 'watcher' who was known as Zeus, his special skill would have been his strength. Mostly though, they seemed to have better senses than the rest of us, to stand watch, to listen for danger, to smell changes in the wind…like that."
I know I was gaping at him because he gave me this funny look. "What?" he demanded, fidgeting, uncomfortable.
"You're brilliant," I stammered. "You are so fucking brilliant, it's scary sometimes. How did you learn all this stuff? They don't teach it in schools."
"Oh, well, um, I didn't spend a lot of time in regular schools," he said diffidently, looking away. "We were always on the move, you know, and so I kinda just picked up stuff on the way, and went to classes when we were near a school, for a few months, here and there…"
"Then how did you learn?" I asked again, frowning a bit in wonder.
Shrugging, he licked his lips and explained, "Well, I always liked to read and there are libraries practically everywhere where you can read for free." Smiling fondly, he bobbed his head as he reported, "Mom said I taught myself to read when I was three, but she's probably exaggerating. Anyway, I learned about geography because we traveled a lot, and then I'd read about the place that we were, its history and stuff. And I liked hearing peoples' stories, so I'd ask them how they got to be there, about where their ancestors came from and stuff like that. It was the stories they told, and talking to people like that old Shaman, that made me want to study anthropology, cause there's a lot of wisdom, you know? Things people have learned that we've forgotten, 'cause we move so fast now and we think the old ideas and myths aren't important anymore." He stopped and looked away, embarrassed as if he'd revealed too much, or maybe hiding his sorrow that he'd not be pursuing those studies now, thinking about what he'd 'forgotten'.
Clearing his throat, he continued, "Naomi was always into the environment and I figured if I was going to be in protest marches with her, I should know what we were protesting. So I talked to the people with us, and her, and read about air and water pollution…which led me to want a better idea of what a healthy earth would be like, so I ended up learning about plants and animals, water systems and the atmosphere. And I always thought the universe was really interesting, amazing. I mean, there're billions of stars and planets out there and, well, we can't be the only ones who are aware of it all-that would be scary-so I ended up reading articles and books on the big bang, especially by that guy, Stephen Hawking, you know? Didn't understand everything I read. Some of it was pretty complicated. But I got the gist of it. So…I learned something about physics and inertia and stuff like that. Mom taught me some things specifically, you know, how to meditate almost as soon as I could talk, and see auras and access the body's energies through the chakras and how to link with the energy of the earth. And I know they don't teach that in schools, cause whenever I'd try to talk about it to the other kids, they pretty much thought I was nuts."
"How did you get into university if you never went to regular schools to get the marks and diplomas you'd need?" I wondered.
What a stupid question. He just froze and then said very quietly, "I don't know. I don't remember. But every couple of years or so, Naomi would take me to whatever school was nearby and browbeat them into giving me their standard tests and then get a certificate or something from them, to prove I was learning, I guess…"
"I'm sorry, Blair, that was a dumb question. I just forgot," I said.
He shrugged and gave me a wry grin. "Well, we're in real trouble, man, if I can't remember stuff any more and you're just naturally forgetful," he teased. When he'd got me to chuckle over that, he straightened and said, "I, uh, guess I've been talking a lot. People tell me I never shut up. But you were going to tell me how I saved your life…so, um, I'd really like to know."
"Yeah, right," I replied, also straightening. Looking at him squarely in the eye, I said, "I'm a sentinel. Nobody but you and Simon know that…"
"You're kidding!" he exclaimed in wonder and natural enthusiasm. "Really? What kind of gifts do you have?"
"I can see, hear, smell, taste and touch a whole lot more than average people can," I told him. "You told me I was kind of a human crime lab, perfect for my job as a cop."
He leaned back against the sofa, his mouth slightly agape. "Wow," he breathed, and then his eyes went out of focus again as he thought about that. "Cool," he murmured softly, but then frowned. Looking back at me, he reflected, "But…that's gotta be pretty uncomfortable some times. I mean, bright lights, the loud sound of sirens all the time, itchy clothes…the stink in rotting alleys…yech." He curled his lip in sympathy. "How do you stand it?"
Shrugging, I told him, "I thought I was going crazy, until you found me. I didn't have a clue what was happening to me. I guess I'd repressed them and then when I was working a long, isolated, stakeout, they came back on line. You taught me how to control them by imagining a dial in my head for each one, and turning the dial down when the impact is too extreme."
"I did that?" he blurted, looking astonished. Then nodded. "Good, I'm glad if I was able to help. But that's really not like saving your life or anything…I mean, it's just visualizing stuff like you do in meditation."
"Believe me, kid, that help alone was a life-saver," I assured him, "but you did a lot more than that. When I focus too hard on one sense, I lose track of everything else. You call it 'zoning'. Anyway, when I left your office, I got distracted by this red Frisbee flying through the air and stopped dead…in the middle of a street. I would have been run down by a garbage truck, but you came out of nowhere and tackled me, pulling me to the ground so that the truck passed over top of us. You really did save my life."
He shuddered a bit at the description of what he'd done. Swallowing, he shook his head. "That had to be pretty scary," he mumbled.
"More for you than for me…I didn't have a clue what was going on until it was over," I replied. "You acted very bravely that day-and you've been very brave many times since. Simon, my boss, the Captain of the Major Crimes Unit, agreed you could be a civilian observer and ride along with me, to help me with my senses, and that's what you've been doing for the past more than three years, while you kept up your work at university at the same time. You're my Guide, Chief."
"Guide?" he echoed. "You mean like the watchman's companion…the one who watches the watchman's back?"
"Exactly, but you also have given me hundreds of tests to help me work out how to better understand, use and control my senses."
He went quiet again as he thought about that, looking down at the floor so that I couldn't read his eyes. Finally, he asked, his voice very soft and worried, "But you don't need a guide any more, right? You do okay now on your own?"
"No," I answered. "I need a guide. Oh, I do a lot better now in normal situations because of what you've taught me, but I still need a guide."
Swallowing, he looked up, his eyes dark and wide with concern. "What are you going to do? Who can we get to help you now?"
"I like the Guide I've got, Chief," I told him. "I don't want to make a change…and I don't think a change is really possible. There's a mystical thing to all this that I don't understand, but it's like we're connected -we belong together. Like Fate or something."
"But…but I'm no good any more," he stammered. "I can't do what I used to…I can't remember any of that stuff. You could get hurt…"
"It's all right," I soothed him, lifting my hands in a calming gesture. "You have dozens of notebooks in a box in your room about all the tests and everything you learned and taught me. You can read through them…"
"But the doctor said I can't learn, that I've forgotten how to process or something, or maybe I just can't remember new stuff…" he was on the edge of hyperventilating. Scared. For me. Jesus.
"I don't think he was right," I replied flatly. "Learning is a part of who you are, how you, I don't know, interact with the world."
He took a deep breath. "We'd better find out fast who's right about this, you or him. Shit, Jim…I'm scared for you. I don't want to screw up…"
"You won't," I told him. "A lot of the time, it's just the sound of your voice or your touch that is enough to bring me back from a zone."
"That's not really good enough, man," he argued, pushing his hands through his hair. "I mean, what if I died-you said I almost drowned. What would you have done? There's gotta be a way for you to get a new guide."
He looked up and something on my face must have shocked him, because he went all still. "I screwed up, didn't I?" he whispered. "I did something dumb to almost get myself killed. That's why you won't tell me what it was, isn't it? I'm sorry-whatever I did, I'm sorry."
I shook myself and protested, "No! You didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't your fault."
"What happened? Why do you look so-sick-whenever you think about it?" he demanded.
He really did need to know, had a right to know. But if I told him the whole story, would he ever be able to forgive me? He'd lost his life because I couldn't deal with my emotions and fears…
"Jim, tell me what happened," he asked, a pleading note in his voice.
I looked away. Swallowed. Rubbed my neck. Sighed. "I will," I said finally. "Just, not today. There're some papers you need to look at first. Your notebooks on the tests you gave me-and the first chapter of your dissertation on me. They'll help you to understand me, how I react to things. I-I wasn't all that happy about some of what you wrote about me in the chapter, but-I know you were right."
He looked scared and confused, and no wonder. I was throwing a huge amount of information at him, and still not explaining some of the most basic things he needed to know about what had happened to him. "Look, spend the rest of today reading some of that stuff-and if you have any questions about it, if there're things that you don't understand or don't make sense to you, ask me and I'll do my best to explain. And then, tomorrow, I'll tell you what happened. Okay?"
He nodded and moved to get up off the sofa. "Show me this stuff, Jim. I really need to read it."
After I got him settled in his room with the box of notebooks and cassettes that was under his bed, and the copy of his dissertation chapter, I had a shower and went up to bed. I felt like I hadn't slept in a month and I just really, really needed to crash.
His heartbeat was the same, and his breathing. He still mumbled softly, unconsciously, when he was reading and concentrating hard, as if holding a conversation between himself and the ideas, and the sound of the pen scratching on paper was the same. I'm ashamed to say I let the ordinary, routine sounds soothe me, and allowed myself to believe that maybe things hadn't changed all that much…that it was more like amnesia than something stranger and a lot more complicated than memory loss.
I woke to the inviting scent of a casserole in the oven mingling in the air with the smell of fresh perked coffee. Blair was in the kitchen, chopping up something. Wrinkling my nose, concentrating, I caught the earthy smell of mushrooms…he was likely making a salad, too. It had grown dark while I slept and glancing at my watch, I saw that it was after seven p.m.. Rolling out of bed, I pulled on jeans and a loose sweatshirt and headed downstairs.
"You didn't have to make dinner, Junior," I called out, noticing his still damp hair and realizing he'd had a shower. I was glad he was making himself at home.
He looked up, tilting his head a little and I realized I'd once again forgotten to use his name. I wondered if the 'older' Blair had minded all the nicknames.
"Well, it was getting late, and I was getting hungry," he replied with a shrug and a half smile, going back to preparing the salad. "Besides, I have to pull my weight around here if I'm going to stay."
Was it just me or did he keep giving me loaded sentences? 'If'?
I puttered around behind him, checking out the food cooking in the oven, pouring a coffee and sipping it. It was good. For someone who didn't drink it, apparently, he knew how to make it. "Smells good," I observed. "So you know how to cook."
He laughed at that. Dumping the sliced mushrooms onto the greens in the bowl, he pushed his hair behind his ears as he turned to the sink, washed his hands and then a tomato before turning back to the island to slice it up. Talking all the while, "Cooking is a survival skill, man. And I kinda like it. Naomi, well, she's a pretty good cook when she remembers it's time to eat, but I learned early that food was not one of her priorities. And, well, when you're crashing with other people, they appreciate it if you're not just a freeloader. If you don't have money to buy food to contribute, well, you do other things, like cook, to help out."
"Anything I can do to help?" I asked.
"Nah, it's all under control-should be ready in a few more minutes," he replied good-naturedly. Waving to the table, he said, "Take a load off and relax."
As I pulled out a chair and sat down to face him at the counter, I wondered how much to push to find out more about what his life had been like-he'd been pretty defensive in the hospital earlier, but seemed more relaxed now. "You said you moved around a lot and stayed with 'whoever was handy'…"
He stiffened, and bent his head to his task of slicing the tomato.
"Look, I'm not being critical here, or anything, I'm just curious. I'd like to know more about you," I said, trying to sound as non-judgmental and encouraging as possible.
He laid down the knife and lifted his eyes to face me. "If I've lived with you for more than three years, why don't you already know this stuff?"
"Blair, I didn't lie to you…you have lived here for years," I protested, wondering if he was questioning everything I told him.
Shaking his head, he replied, "I didn't mean it like that. I can see from the dates on the notebooks I've been reading that I've been working with you for that long, but-how come you don't know this stuff about me? From the notes, I seem to have learned a lot about your life…"
Out of the mouths of babes. Why didn't I know all this stuff?
Frowning, I rubbed my face and shrugged. "Part of it's because you weren't all that forthcoming about your past, I guess; you talked a lot, but never said much about yourself," I explained. Good, make him responsible. "Uh, I think you were afraid that I might not approve of how Naomi raised you. I'm a pretty conservative guy, and you, well, your life was very different from my childhood. Not worse, just different. And," I hesitated, truth time. "I guess the fact is, I'm a pretty self-centered bastard and I don't think I asked or seemed particularly interested. We were focusing on me, my senses, what worked or didn't and why or why not. My cases at work…I didn't pay a lot of attention to your work. I'm sorry."
His lip twisted a little, an ironic look that was strange on the face of someone who viewed the world from eleven-year-old eyes, and shrugged. "Don't sweat it," he replied. "Just makes you like most other people. I've noticed there aren't many who are really interested in anyone's life or issues but their own. Why do you want to know now?"
"I guess because if I know more about you, I'll have a better idea of how to help you with what's happened to you."
"Oh," he murmured. The oven timer dinged and he turned to pull out the casserole, and then busied himself with pulling out plates, dishing up and I stood to help shift the plates, cutlery and bowls to the table.
As he moved to his own chair, his eyes anywhere but on mine, he said as matter-of-factly and confidently as possible-he kept forgetting that I'm a human lie detector-as he replied, "You don't have to worry about helping me cope, Jim. I'm pretty used to taking care of myself. I mean, you don't have to think of me as a problem or some kind of burden, you know?"
"Blair," I answered quietly, "look at me."
Reluctantly, his gaze lifted, but he was wary, guarding his feelings from shining through, at least as much as he could. The kid never did have the first clue, though, about how to shutter the windows to his soul. "You are not a burden, nor are you some kind of problem to be solved. You're my best friend." Damn, I almost lost it…heard my voice crack and where did the damned tears come from. Clearing my throat, blinking, sniffing a little, I continued, "You're scared stiff. And you have every right to be scared. What's happened to you is more terrible than anything I could ever imagine. I told you yesterday, you are not alone. You've got me…you will always have me. I want to know about your life now because I'm curious, and I'm ashamed about how much I don't know about the most important person in my life."
I could see the fine tremble in his body as he fought to contain his emotions. He bit his lip to still the quiver that had begun and his gaze dropped to his plate as he fiddled with his fork. Finally, he nodded jerkily. "Yeah, you're right. I'm scared. And I'm really mad, too. I feel so angry that I can't have what I always wanted, won't be who I dreamed of being. That I had it!" His voice cracked as he waved toward his room and the books, the computer that symbolized his academic life. "And I lost it! And I'm stuck, man, stuck in this body. When you look at me, or anybody looks at me…shit, when I look in a mirror, I see someone I expect to be an adult. To know the stuff grown-ups know. To behave like a man, not a kid. And it's hard…because I don't…I don't know how I'm supposed to be. I'm going to screw up and I'm going to look like an idiot. I hate it! I hate that I'm just a kid inside!"
There were tears on his cheeks, and he swiped at them, furious with himself for crying. He sniffed and took shuddering deep breaths to get back control of his emotions. "I really hate this, man," he muttered, leaning forward, elbows on the table, face buried in his hands.
I got up and moved around to kneel beside him, one hand rubbing his back. I wanted to hug him, or something, to make the pain go away. But I didn't want to intrude on his dignity, and I had to keep reminding myself that he didn't know me, not really, not anymore. "Let me help," I asked, though God knows I didn't have a clue how to help him.
He sniffed and shook his head wearily. "I don't think anyone can help me with this, Jim. I just have to learn how to deal, you know? I just have to live with being Peter Pan." Wiping his face, he stiffened away from my hand. "Dinner's getting cold, man. We should eat."
I squeezed his shoulder than went back to my own chair. Thinking about what he'd said, I told him, "I really want to know about your life with Naomi. I think…I think it'll be easier for both us if you know that I'm talking to you, seeing you, not…not who you were, but who you are now. Am I making sense?"
He blew out a breath as he pushed the food around on his plate. Nodding, resigned, he began, "I guess you know I don't know who my dad was?" I nodded when he cut a quick look up at me, and then he continued, "Naomi was young when I was born, just barely seventeen. By the time I was eleven, she wasn't as old as my body is now. She…she was just a kid, doing her best to raise another kid." He paused and shook his head. "This is really hard to try to tell as if I'm not eleven, as if I'm seeing her from an older viewpoint. I don't think I…"
"Don't worry about trying to tell this as if you're almost thirty," I told him. "Just…just tell me, from how it looks and feels to you now."
"Okay," he murmured. He looked up at me and then at my plate. "What's the matter? Doesn't it taste any good?"
"The food's fine," I said, though I could care less.
"Then, eat," he said, forcing himself to take a bite. Forcing himself to swallow. "You have to eat," he muttered, too low for anyone with ordinary hearing to make out the words. "You have to eat when there's food available…to be strong when it's not."
Jesus. He'd gone hungry. He said it as if he expected that he might be hungry again some day. 'If'. 'If' he stayed, he'd said earlier. I saw him force another bite.
"Blair, you're tired and upset, and we're talking about tough stuff," I offered. "If you don't feel like eating now, the food will still be there later."
He looked up startled, for all the world as if he'd thought I'd read his mind, and then he gaped a little as he gasped, "You heard me! You heard what I said to myself! Oh man, I forgot…"
"It's okay, you'll get used to it, and I try not to invade your privacy," I reassured him. "Now, you were going to tell me the story of your life," I reminded him. Eleven or twenty-nine, this kid knew how to misdirect, how to hide himself in plain sight. Why? I wondered. Why does he have to hide?
"Uh, right," he replied, giving up on dinner as he pushed the plate away and sipped at his glass of milk. Pushing his hair back behind his ears, he continued, "Well, you've met Naomi, right?"
"Yeah, she visited a while ago," I told him.
"Probably burned sage and then wanted to rearrange the furniture," he stated, certain, a fond grin playing around his lips at my surprised look. "It's what she always does when we go someplace new. First she purifies the air with the sage and then she aligns the furniture to be in the right energy flow."
He grinned broadly then, in memory. "My Mom's a little weird, but…she's sweet, you know? Wouldn't hurt a fly, and I mean that literally. She chases them out of the room or the tent rather than kill them. She says all life is sacred. She loves me. She likes to play with me and read to me and tell me stuff about the world, about the struggles of people who live in dangerous places, so I'll understand how lucky we are to be free and safe and healthy."
He looked away then, and his voice became a little uncertain, as he continued, "But-I know it's hard for her sometimes, having a kid. Sometimes I see this distant look in her eyes, especially when she talks about being free, and I guess she wishes, sometimes, that she really was completely free to do what she wants. She's kinda like those lilies in the field, you know? She doesn't worry about where the next meal is going to come from, or where we'll find shelter from the rain. The food and the shelter will come. When I got old enough to understand, I figured that was more my job, you know? To keep an eye on the weather and on what dangers might be around…to forage, I guess you'd call it. It's good. Makes me feel like she needs me. That I'm good for something."
He was looking past me, out toward the balcony windows and the sky beyond, but I don't really know what he was seeing as he talked. His voice got a kind of faraway quality, and his expressions were unconsciously mobile, smiling wistfully, or with humour, looking reflective and thoughtful, revealing his feelings as he talked. I didn't say anything, didn't dare. I was afraid if I interrupted, he'd stop.
"We've been to France and Spain, Italy and Greece…Morocco and South Africa, India and Thailand. We lived in a kibbutz in Israel and in a sharecroppers' camp in Texas. We lived for a few months in an abandoned cabin in Bolivia, and with the Indians I told you about in Paraguay. We drifted through Peru and Argentina, but didn't stay long, 'cause it wasn't safe. We lived in communes in California, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming…and then back down to live with the Pueblo Indians in Arizona…and then to that camp in Tucson."
When his voice drifted off into silence, I asked softly, "Why did you travel so much?"
He shrugged. "Naomi is looking for something. 'Enlightenment' she calls it. She's restless, like she's looking for home but never seems to find it, so she moves on, still searching. And, she's curious, a kind of adventurer in her own way. She goes on retreats a lot, learning about meditation and spiritual growth."
"Is that when she leaves you with other people for a while?" I dared ask when his voice again died.
Nodding, looking into the distance, he said softly, "Mostly, yeah. Sometimes, though, I think she just needs her space. Hey…she sometimes just needs to spend time with other adults-men. She doesn't need a kid hanging around at times like that."
His eyes drifted back to mine, and whatever he saw on my face-anger? Sorrow for how he'd been treated? I don't know. Whatever it was, he straightened his shoulders and his jaw came up, defending her, as he asserted, "I was always okay. She wouldn't just ever leave me. I don't want you to think anything bad about her. She loves me; I know that. And, like I said, she always comes back."
I looked away and nodded, my jaw tight. Whatever I said now would determine if he trusted me with anything else, or just kept it all hidden away. Looking back at him, I said steadily, "I won't pretend that I think she acted like an appropriate mother. You'd know I was lying. But, however she raised you, I have to tell you that it must have worked, because you are a uniquely gifted and compassionate man. You don't ever judge other people, and you have the ability to make friends with everyone you meet."
My eyes shifted away from his, and my voice dropped as I continued, "You may have seen stuff in your notes about my childhood. I grew up rich, in a big house. Lived in the same neighbourhood all my life; went to the same school year after year. But-I never learned how to love like you do. I never learned how not to be afraid of change or how to accept that it's possible to be safe without being in control. So, I can't say what she did was wrong, not given the results."
When I looked back at him, I could see he was shyly pleased with what I'd said about him, and distinctly uncomfortable with what I'd said about myself. Well, that made two of us. But I wanted to keep this focused on him; I needed to learn more about what had happened in his young life.
"So, when Naomi needed to get away from time to time, who did you stay with?"
"Lots of different people," he replied indifferently; evidently there were so many there was no point in even trying to recount them all. "But, mostly, they were okay. I mean, I wasn't ever hurt, if that's what your suspicious cop mind is worrying about. As long as I didn't cause problems, helped out, stayed out of the way, well, it was all fine. Some of them liked kids more than others, I guess. And I got to see how lots of other people lived, what mattered to them, how they got along with one another. Learned to like different foods and spices, and even learned bits of different languages, enough to get along. Sometimes, I think I've been really lucky…most people never get to see as much of other people from the inside…you know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I know," I replied. He'd learned how to be an observer very early, how to be almost invisible when he wanted to be. And he'd turned what could have been a disruptive, insecure and uncertain childhood into a constant life learning process.
"What?" he asked as I continued to gaze at him reflectively.
Startled out of my thoughts, I said, "We need to get those tests arranged for you as soon as we can."
He blinked at that-it was quite a change in subject and he must have wondered where my words had come from.
"I always knew you were one of the smartest people I'd ever met. Your mind is like an encyclopedia and it accesses and matches information faster than any computer I ever saw," I said, trying to explain.
His breath hitched and he looked away. "Maybe…once…" he murmured.
"No," I protested, leaning forward on my elbows, pushing my own plate aside. "No, that's not what I meant. When I listen to you, and how you figured out life as a kid, the way you've taught yourself and what you've learned, how you adapt, what you already know…I think you're going to blow them away. Simon said this morning at the hospital that he thinks that even at the age of eleven that you're brighter and know more than 90% of the population. I think he may very well be right."
Sandburg looked uncertain-hopefulness mixed with the dread of getting bad news. I steered the conversation back to where we'd been: on his past.
"You said your most recent memory is that Naomi had gone on retreat and you were staying with Eddie," I reminded him of our conversation early that morning.
It was odd. For the first time, he really stiffened up and I saw the defensive aggressiveness I saw in his eyes earlier in the hospital. When he just shrugged and looked away, I asked, "What's Eddie like?"
A look of disdain flitted across his face and was gone. More neutrally, he replied, "Eddie's…a jerk, actually. I love my Mom, but I gotta say that she's got terrible taste in men. I haven't met one yet that didn't think more of himself than her, and Eddie's no different. She sees muscles and blue eyes and a killer smile and she's like, gone. Must be hormones or something."
"I'm betting Eddie wasn't really thrilled about having you stay with him when she took off…er, went to the retreat," I observed, trying for a mild, conversational tone. It wasn't unlike interrogating a nervous suspect or witness, but I hated treating Blair that way. Still, I wanted as much information as I could get.
"Nice save, man," he noted, at my 'took off' slip. But he grinned as if amused, as he continued, "No, Eddie wasn't thrilled. But that's okay. I don't need a fulltime babysitter. I read, watched TV, went out for walks, made his dinner, got out the way when he brought his buddies, or shit, his 'babes', home. I know when Mom gets back, we'll be on our way again…" And then he caught himself. Blushing, he stammered, "I mean…I 'knew' that. I know that was a long time ago. It's not like I'm expecting her to come back now."
Again with the subtext. He didn't need a baby-sitter; he could take care of himself; he didn't expect his mother to come for him. Was he letting me know that I didn't need to worry about taking care of him? Was he scared because there was no 'grown up' in his life that would be coming for him or that he could rely on to be there for him now?
I answered his last statement. "Well, that's good. Because you live here now, and frankly, I want you to stay here."
"I read the dissertation chapter," he reported then, "and scanned quite a few of the notebooks." It didn't take a genius to figure out that when I said, 'want', he heard 'need'-and he was right, but it wasn't one or the other. It was both.
"What did you think of the stuff?" I asked, as if it was something impersonal, not words that had laid my soul bare.
His lips thinned and he looked away. "It's hard for you to trust anybody," he said quietly. "I think that's what the dissertation stuff meant, mostly. I've noticed in library books, text books that I've read, that fancy words like 'paranoia' and 'fear of intimacy' are just hype to say someone has trouble trusting and likes to keep private things private. I guess that's why you don't want anyone to know about your senses. But," he hesitated as he looked back at me. "I found myself wondering why you'd trusted me, or if you really did. Or if you just needed the help so you put up with me 'cause you didn't really have a choice."
I felt as if I'd been punched. I'd forgotten that the thing about kids is that they don't mince words. Either they haven't learned the sophistication of softening messages or if they don't even think about not being directly honest about things they want to know about, but kids can come out with the damnedest things.
I frowned and did my best to be honest. "In the beginning, you're right, I let you 'in' because I really didn't have a choice. But-we really did become friends. Best friends. I learned the hard way that I do trust you. More than I've ever trusted anyone in my life. More, I guess, sometimes, than I trust myself."
Suddenly, I felt very tired. I knew where this conversation was going and I just couldn't face it this late in the day. He had that questioning look on his face, but, damn, he'd already learned not to ask for what I wasn't ready to give. The kid blew me away. That doctor didn't have a clue about his intellectual capacity. But that didn't mean he didn't feel as a kid, perceive the world as a kid. And he didn't need to go to bed the first night back in a home he didn't remember with the story of how I'd betrayed him echoing in his ears.
I made a show of looking at my watch. "It's late," I observed unnecessarily. "You cooked, so I'll clean up. Why don't you head to bed? In the morning, help yourself to the shower, but don't use up all the hot water if you get up first, okay?"
Blair grimaced in that resigned way he has when he knows he's not going to get what he wants, in this case, the story of what had happened to him. "What day is it?" he asked, unsure. "Don't you have to go to work?"
"Tomorrow is Sunday," I told him. "I don't have to go back in until Monday."
"Okay." He gave me a half wave as he headed toward his room. "'Night."
"Good night, Chief," I replied. I caught the slight chuff and indulgent grin-I guess he was getting used to my propensity for calling people by nicknames.
I can't say I slept much that night.
Well, it was kinda fun teaching him how to shave this morning. He looked so comical with his face all lathered up, looking at the razor in his hand like it might bite him. I had to laugh, right? Had to make it seem perfectly natural, especially when I caught the flash of real anxiety in his eyes. I mean, crying wouldn't have made it any easier, would it? Sure wouldn't have done either of us any good. Wouldn't change anything.
I've got this ache inside, though, that's just not going away. God, I don't know how he does it, keeping cheerful, pretending he's adjusting just fine. I always knew he was brave, though he called himself a coward. I have to deal with this, for him, both who he is now, and who he was. But, I miss him. I miss my best friend. And it hurts like hell.
Simon called while we were still eating breakfast…pancakes, fruit, juice and coffee. Sandburg was making progress in re-developing a taste for good, strong Columbian beans.
"Hey, Simon, how's it going?" I asked when I recognized his voice.
"I might better be asking you that," he observed wryly, and then his tone softened as he continued, "Seriously, how are you and Sandburg doing?"
"We're finding our way," I said and smiled at Blair, who realized he was being discussed. He gave me a slow smile back. Remembering how relieved I'd been when we got home and found it in one piece, and stocked with food, I added soberly, "It, uh, helped a lot to come home and find everything taken care of."
"Good, I'm glad to hear that," Banks replied, but he sounded a little uncomfortable. Before I could say anything else, he continued briskly, "Look, I managed to wangle seats for this afternoon's Jags' game. I'm taking Daryl and I wondered if you and Blair might like to come, too."
"That sounds great!" I replied. "Meet you at the stadium at, what? Two-thirty?"
"Yeah, it's the usual three pm start time," he agreed. "See you then."
Blair gave me a questioning look as I hung up. "Simon's got tickets to this afternoon's basketball game. The Jags are pretty good, well, doing better this season. And, you…"
"Is Orvelle Wallace still playing with them?" he asked, his face lighting up with excitement.
"As a matter of fact, he's the assistant coach now. And, I'm happy to tell you, you guys are friends-he'll be glad to see you," I told him and had to smile as his eyes grew as wide as saucers. For the first time, I clearly saw the child who was now in Sandburg's body…and I realized I loved the kid, as someone distinct from the man he'd been, and it gave me a kick to see him excited and happy. And it was always an accomplishment to strike Sandburg dumb with amazement.
Cleaning up the table and kitchen, while Blair washed the dishes and pan at his insistence, I suggested, "How about we go for a walk and you can get re-introduced to your neighbourhood?"
He nodded. Looking back at me over his shoulder, he said, "I'd like that."
So a few minutes later we headed out into the crisp, clear Sunday morning. As we walked along the quiet streets, I told him about our involvement with the Jags so that he'd understand any references to the past that might come up with any of the players if we stopped by the dressing room after the game. I wasn't sure if he'd want to or not and planned to see how he felt about it at the game.
I told him the names of the people who worked behind the counter at the downstairs bakery, so he'd know who they were when they greeted him by name the next time he wandered in. Showed him the convenience store we used for staples like milk, beer and munchies. The drycleaners, and the video rental place. Ambled along the route that would take us to the small park, a few blocks away-a place he'd always really liked to go to think or just to watch people.
I noticed as we rambled through the park to a bench near the creek, that he was watching a couple of very pretty young women strolling along the path nearby. And he was blushing.
"Chief?" I asked. "You okay?"
He jerked as if he'd been caught doing something wrong and looked away. I laid a hand on his shoulder and could feel a slight tremble through his jacket. His heart rate and respirations were up a little. "Blair, what's wrong?"
He dropped down on the bench behind us, his knees tight together and sat hunched forward, his hands scrunched into his pockets. If anything, he blushed even more as he swallowed and looked everywhere but at me.
I sat down beside him and again touched his shoulder. "What's going on, here, Chief?"
His muscles were tense and he looked down at the ground. "It's silly, and I guess I should have expected it. Sure seen it happen to other people often enough…"
"You're losing me, Sandburg," I told him.
He took a shuddering breath and flicked another look at the girls disappearing around the curve of the path. "They were, um, very pretty," he said, his voice tight.
"Uh huh," I agreed. "You've always had an eye for the ladies."
"I have?" he squeaked, and then cleared his throat. "I'm eleven in my head, Jim. I haven't, um, reacted to a pretty girl like…I felt a kind of rush, and like I wanted to touch…"
He was stammering and I caught the scent of arousal and realized what had happened. His body had reacted like the man he was physically.
"It's perfectly natural, Blair, to be attracted to women," I told him, glad I wouldn't have to actually explain the birds and bees to someone who, as Naomi's kid, might well know more on the subject that I did.
"Yeah, I guess," he puffed. But a stricken look came into his eyes. Turning to me, he asked with staggeringly innocent candour, "What am I going to do? I can't ever…I mean…I'm a kid, sort of. But, what do I do about how I feel when I want…oh, geez…" He moaned low in his throat as he looked away. "I can't ever have a family, a wife or kids…ah, shit!"
"Whoa, slow down," I told him. God, how had we gotten from admiring a pretty girl to the impossibilities that might or might not exist in his future? "It's way too soon to know what you can ultimately have in your life. Way too soon."
He sat with his shoulders hunched, and his head down, but he cut me a sideways look. "You think?"
"Yes, Junior, 'I think,'" I assured him as I patted him on the back. "It's going to take some time to work all this out. Don't try to rush it all before we've even begun to get some facts or see how things go. Okay?"
"'Kay," he mumbled. "Thanks."
When we got back to the loft and had hung up our coats, he moved into the living room and sat down, an expectant look on his face. "It's tomorrow, Jim. You told me you'd tell me what happened to me…"
"Right," I sighed. Dreading this. I got myself a beer from the fridge. "You want anything to drink?
"Some juice would be good," he called back. So I poured him a glass and carried it to him and then sat down in my chair and took a swallow of the beer.
"This isn't a good story, is it, Jim," he asked, his eyes dark with concern.
"No," I confirmed, my voice tight. "This is a very sad, terrible story. And, if I'm honest, I'm afraid to tell it to you."
"Why?" he asked, honestly puzzled. "I mean, I know it's about why I ended up like this…but, there's no reason for you to be afraid to tell me about it. Is there?"
"I'm afraid you'll hate me," I admitted then, picking at the label of my bottle.
"What?" he whispered. There was silence as he thought about that, but then he asserted, "I don't see how that's possible." When I glanced up at him, surprised, he continued, "I'm still figuring a lot of things out, and you're right, it's going to take some time. But-from the moment I woke up, you have been with me. And I can see that you really care about the guy I was. You wouldn't ever do anything to deliberately hurt me. So…what's there to be afraid of? Was it an accident?"
It wasn't fair. I was making him play guessing games and he needed to know. I had to do this, had to tell him. I held up a hand to stop his speculations, and then began, "These last few weeks have been the worst since we became friends. I think it started when I read the chapter of your dissertation. You didn't want me to…said it would compromise the research. But I snuck around and read it anyway. And I got mad at what I read. Defensive. We had a fight, but I eventually apologized and cleared the air. But I guess I didn't get past feeling like a lab rat again, like I do sometimes when you're making me work through tests. I know they're for my own good, but I really hate them. Hate not being in control. Hate the fact of being 'studied', I guess."
"I'm sorry," he murmured, alarm in his eyes.
I shook my head. "No, I don't want you to be sorry about anything I'm going to tell you. We both made mistakes, but you've paid a price that…" My voice cracked and I rubbed my face, took another sip of the beer. "Just let me tell it, okay. And then, if you have questions afterward, we can talk about it."
"Okay," he replied softly, grabbing a pillow and holding it against his body, unconsciously, like a shield.
"Not quite three weeks ago, I saw a spotted jaguar during a convenience store robbery. It wasn't really there. I…I see spirit animals. Mine is a black jaguar. Yours is a wolf. Anyway, it shook me, but I didn't want to talk about it. I don't like visions…"
"Can't control them…" I heard him whisper to himself, under his breath. I nodded. He was right.
"I started feeling antsy, like something was very wrong, but I couldn't figure out what it was," I continued, just blurting it all out, like it was some kind of case report or a formal statement in court, being careful of the details and as flatly unemotional as I could manage. "I'd gotten a flesh wound in my arm, so I was stuck here in the loft, and I found myself just pacing, like an animal in a cage…feeling trapped or hunted or something. And then one night, I dreamed I was back in Peru, in the jungle after the Coverts Ops team I'd been with had been all killed when our chopper was shot down. I was hunting with a crossbow. And I shot a wolf…but when I went to check the kill, its body morphed into you. Scared the shit out of me."
I paused and took another swallow. "I didn't tell you about it, and I should have. But…it was a vision and I didn't understand it or want to think about it. It made me uncomfortable around you. I was afraid it meant I might hurt you. And there started to be something about you; I didn't know what it was at the time, but I think it was a scent…her scent. The woman who went with the spotted jaguar. Her name is Alex Barnes. You overheard her down at the station talking to Megan and realized that her single vehicle accident had been caused by what sounded like out of control, heightened senses. I found all that out later. Anyway, you really can't resist helping anybody, and another possible 'sentinel'…well, she was irresistible. So, you offered help and she accepted and you started working with her at the university. She was further evidence for your dissertation that sentinels do exist."
"I didn't tell you right away?" he asked softly, sounding worried.
"No," I replied. "I think you might have tried one night, but I was irritable and cut you off. And then you told me that you figured you needed to make the 'first contact' between us something that fit research protocols or some damned thing. Whatever. Turns out, Barnes was a deadly criminal. But before we knew that for sure, before I knew anything about her, the feeling of being caged, hunted, my sense of terrible danger, kept getting stronger. I didn't tell you about it. I should have. Instead, one day the loft seemed to close in on me and I started packing everything up. When you came home that evening, I had most of your stuff in boxes and I told you to be gone before I got back and then I walked out."
I stopped, remembering the look on his face and then looked up to see a look of appalled disbelief on the kid's face. "I'm sorry," I choked out then. "You didn't deserve that. And it hurt you. I'm really sorry."
He shook his head and sort of waved a hand, wordlessly telling me to continue the story.
I rubbed my forehead and then ran my hand over my head to rub my neck. "I cleared everything out of the loft and carted it all down to the basement…the place was completely empty. I turned off the lights and the heat and stood on the balcony, listening, looking, sniffing--trying to figure out what the hell was wrong in my city. It wasn't long after that that we connected Alex to some crimes, and you realized the suspect was likely her because on a videotape from the security system at the crime scene, the perp was reacting to loud noises the way I do. And how many people with senses heightened to that extent could we expect to be in the city at one time? When you told me about her, I was furious. I felt as if you'd deliberately betrayed me…that I wasn't your friend but a lab rat, pure and simple, something you studied to get your PhD. You apologized, more than once, but I wasn't listening. Things went from bad to worse. She stole canisters of nerve gas that could kill millions of people…and I blamed you for that. If you'd told me about her sooner, maybe we could have caught her sooner."
When I looked up at him then, I could see he was horrified by the thought he'd contributed to something so terrible. I hastened to reassure him, "It wasn't your fault. You had no way of knowing she was a criminal. As soon as you did know, you did everything you could to help apprehend her. But I wasn't thinking straight, and it didn't help that you were blaming yourself, adding credence to my desire to put you at fault. Blaming you because I hadn't caught her yet. It looked like she'd gotten away with the canisters and I was sick about it. So-I took it out on you. And I was hurt by the fact you hadn't been straight with me. I-told you our partnership was over, that we were done, and wouldn't listen when you tried to talk about it. I watched you walk away, and I felt…miserable."
I stopped to gather my thoughts. All of that had been bad enough, but the rest was a nightmare. I cut the kid a quick glance to see how he was taking it all, and he looked pale and scared. I wished I could tell him it would be all right, that it would all work out in the end. But I couldn't. He'd been the living sacrifice to the instinctive, tribal conflict for domination between Alex and me.
I bit my lip, and then continued, my voice low and hoarse. "Alex tried to kill me that night in a warehouse. Megan arrived and saved my ass. But I had a flash of that vision again, the dead wolf morphing into you… and I knew. She'd gone after you. By pushing you away, I'd left you vulnerable, without protection. I should have known she'd go after you. You're a guide. You knew her weaknesses. I'd betrayed my first duty as a Sentinel, the duty to protect my Guide. By the time we got to the university, it was just after dawn. We ran to the entrance…Megan and I. Simon and H and Rafe, the other guys in your room when you woke up Friday night, they were there, too, because Megan had called in that we thought Alex had gone after you. I don't know what made me stop but I turned around and saw…saw you floating face down in the fountain outside Hargrove Hall."
I heard his breath hitch and his heart was hammering. I looked up into his wide, frightened eyes and told him bluntly, "You were dead. Had been dead for some time. We hauled you out of the water and Simon and I tried to revive you. The EMTs came, and they tried, too. But…you were gone. You'd died thinking that I didn't care-that I'd trashed our friendship. You died alone. I couldn't…couldn't…"
My voice broke and I bowed my head, covering my eyes. "I saw a vision of the dead shaman, Incacha, who had befriended me in Peru, and he told me to trust our animal spirits. I knelt beside you and cupped your face with my hands…and then I saw the jungle, and the black jaguar and the wolf racing toward each other, leaping to merge in blaze of light. And your heart started to beat again." I looked up at him. "It was a miracle, Chief. I got you back. I can't tell you how glad…"
But my damned voice cracked again and I tried to blink and sniff away tears. But I couldn't. I lost it then and there, bowing forward to cover my eyes, trying to swallow the sobs. And he was suddenly holding me, and murmuring that it was all right. That he wasn't dead and I'd brought him back and it was all right.
I hugged him then. Hugged him like I should have hugged him in the hospital when he'd first awakened after the fountain. Stroking his hair, I whispered hoarsely, "No, it's not all right. There's more. When you woke in the hospital, you were almost euphoric but lucid-you were all right. And you remembered the same jungle vision; wanted to talk about it. But I couldn't. I didn't want to think about you being dead. So I cut you off and told you to get some rest and I left you there. I went after Alex. God help me, I wanted to kill her."
I pushed him back, holding him by the shoulders. "I caught up with her in Mexico, with Simon and Megan. I don't know what was happening to me there-but all of a sudden, I was-lusting after her and protecting her when I should have been arresting her. I followed her to an ancient temple in the jungle and things happened there…she ambushed me and dumped me in a pool, forced me to drink a potion, and I had terrible visions of the future. But, through the visions, I finally understood how much I really need, and want, you in my life. Thinking about you, being anchored to you in those visions, kept me sane. Alex… Alex didn't have anyone to hold onto…the pool and the visions drove her mad."
"Jesus," he breathed, his lips a little agape, his eyes wide.
"When I came out of the temple, Simon was there and he told me…told me you'd taken a bad turn and I…I guess I passed out. When we got back, we headed straight for the hospital. Joel was with you…he was the big, heavy-set black man who was in your room the other night when you woke up. He told us what had happened after we left. You'd awakened again and asked for me. He told you that I had gone after Alex."
I stopped and looked away. "He said…he said that you looked lost, and then resigned, like you couldn't have expected anything else-couldn't have expected me to be there for you. We'd all forgotten, I'd forgotten, that the last you really knew was I'd told you I didn't want anything more to do with you; that our friendship and partnership were over and you'd been kicked out of your home. When I saw you in the hospital after you drowned, I assumed you knew that I was sorry, that you'd be coming back home. We even kind of joked about it and I teased you that you owed me back rent. But, I wasn't clear. I guess, now, that you figured that things were still bad between us; that I had left you behind when I went after Alex because I didn't want to be around you. Joel said you deliberately let go of his hand and turned away. You slipped to unconsciousness, and the fever kicked in…and they couldn't bring it down, no matter what they tried. You convulsed repeatedly, and…and that's when the brain damage happened. The doctors didn't think you'd ever wake up, so they stopped life support. When we got back from Mexico, Joel told us you were dying."
I sighed and shook my head. "I begged you to wake up. I told you I was sorry and I pleaded with you to come back. And I guess you heard me, 'cause you woke up."
I forced myself to look back into his eyes. "And you know everything that's happened since. I'm sorry. If I'd been there when you woke up in ICU, maybe you would have fought harder, or maybe I could have helped you somehow. There's something about this Sentinel and Guide thing-we give strength to one another somehow. Need each other in ways I don't really begin to understand. But I wasn't there. You thought you were all alone, abandoned. And you'd been murdered, you'd died…and had no one to talk to about that…didn't have me to talk to, cause I'm the only other person who really knew what happened. How I got you back. I'm so sorry, Blair. I think you were so hurt and weak that you gave up because I wasn't there, and I think that what's happened to you is my fault. And I can't fix it. I can't make it right for you."
He was staring at me intently, studying my eyes, and then his gaze went out of focus as he thought about everything I'd just told him. He was perfectly still under my hands, and I found myself holding my breath, wondering what he was going to say, how he was going to react when it all sank in. I thought he might be angry, or hurt, or hate me for betraying and abandoning him-hell, I don't know what I expected.
I just know I didn't expect what happened.
His face bleached of expression and his eyes suddenly shuttered, so that for the first time, I couldn't read them, couldn't see what he was feeling. He looked away into the distance and said very quietly, with painful sincerity, "It's not your fault if I screwed up the trust between us or if I gave up in the hospital. You're not responsible for what happened to me, except for the parts about saving my life-twice, I guess. You shouldn't feel guilty." And then he pulled away from my grip and stood up. "Thank you for telling me-for being honest with me."
Before I could say anything, he turned and ran to his room and closed the door.
I'm so tired, but I can't sleep.
Standing on the edge of something much too deep.
It's funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word,
We are screaming inside but we can't be heard…
I left him alone for about an hour, and then decided I needed to know how he was. His heartbeat had slowed back down to its normal cadence and his breathing sounded okay, but I'd smelt tears at first. I knocked on his door and then poked my head in. He was sitting on the bed, the ancient book on 'Sentinels of Paraguay' in his hands. He looked up and I thought he seemed dazed, distracted.
"You okay?" I asked.
"Yeah," he replied with a shrug. "Just…thinking."
"Do you have any questions?" I offered.
"No. I understand what happened," he sighed.
"You want to talk about what you've been learning about sentinels?" I asked then, reaching for something we could talk about, wanting contact with him. Needing to break through the wall that seemed to have appeared between us.
He shook his head and looked away. "It's pretty straight-forward actually-just common sense most of it. Not like I have to learn and remember complicated formulas or anything like that."
Nodding, I moved into the room and gestured toward his computer. "You want me to show you how your laptop works?"
He didn't answer for a moment, but then nodded as he set the book down on the bed and shifted to stand by the desk. I spent the next half hour running through the basics with him and showing him how to access the internet and how to do a general search for information on any subject he wanted to know about. And I showed him how to access the few computer games he had.
He looked uncertain, confused by how it all worked, as if he was having trouble assimilating the technology and the commands. I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. This was the first really brand new thing he was being introduced to, that he had absolutely no memory or reference point for-and it was a struggle for him to absorb how it all worked.
I glanced at my watch as I stood up and moved toward the door. "Look, we've got about forty-five minutes before we have to leave for the stadium. Why don't you just fool around with it for a while? Get used to playing with it."
He nodded uncertainly and sat down in front of the tool that had been so much a part of how he'd interfaced with the world as I left him to it.
About fifteen minutes later, I heard the snick as he quietly closed it up, the scrape of his chair on the floor as he stood and the slight squeak of the bed springs as he sat back down on it. I guess he'd gone back to the book. Back to something he'd learned something about before his brain had forgotten how to learn new things. Back to something he had a hope of understanding.
I wanted to weep…but if I ever let go of the control that was holding my emotions in check, I didn't think I would be able to stop the rage and the guilt and the pain from swamping us both.
As we drove toward the stadium, he stared out the window. Sighing, he said quietly, "I guess I'll have to get in touch with the university and tell them I won't be coming back."
"You don't need to do that right away, and I'll help when you do. For now, you're on sick leave," I told him, hating the lost, desolate sound of his voice.
He nodded. Without turning to face me, he asked then, "Is my Mom coming to see me soon?"
Shit. "I'm sorry, Blair," I told him then. "We don't know where she is or how to reach her. She doesn't know anything about you being hurt or she'd be here by now. It can be months between her calls, so I don't know when we'll hear from her again."
He nodded again. Just taking one piece of rotten news after another. Absorbing it. I'd rather he rage or cry or something, anything but this flat acceptance, this lack of emotion. It wasn't natural. It wasn't him.
Dad and I met Jim and Blair in the stadium's main entrance lobby-the other guys and Megan had already gone in to find our seats. I was nervous, wondering what Blair would be like now. My Dad had told me some of what had happened. I knew Blair had drowned-that bitch had murdered him. And I knew it was some kind of miracle that had brought him back. But it hadn't been enough. He'd gotten sick in the hospital, pneumonia Dad said, from the water in the fountain. And-I knew his brain had been affected and he thought he was eleven years old now.
It wasn't fair, you know! Blair's one of the neatest guys I know. He never made me feel like some stupid kid. He always listened, and was interested in what I thought. Like he respected me. And he was so funny. Man, that guy could make a stone sit up and laugh. Smart, too. Scary smart. He always made hard, complicated things seem simple and straightforward-like he couldn't see why people made easy stuff so difficult and complex. I figure you gotta be really smart to see the simplicity in stuff that seems hopelessly messed up and complicated to everyone else.
I feet real bad about what Dad told me happened to Blair. Like I say-it just wasn't fair. That guy only deserved good things to happen to him…he was sure good to everyone around him. Nice, really nice. And kind. Thoughtful. Always remembered what was going on in my life, like exams, or some girl I liked, and he always asked how the test had gone or if I'd gotten a date yet. Like it mattered to him that I be happy. I don't know any other grown-ups who care like that about kids who aren't family.
Finally they arrived, Blair walking a little behind Jim, looking around, like he was nervous. He wasn't talking-and that was weird. Blair is always talking when he's not listening. But Jim wasn't talking either. Jim looked-wasted.
"Jim, Blair-how are you feeling?" my Dad asked.
Blair flicked him a look and nodded, tried to smile but it sure looked forced to me. "Fine, thanks. I'm doing fine. Um, thanks for getting tickets to the game. I'm looking forward to seeing it."
Well, fuck. Blair was acting like a scared kid, all nervous and politely formal. This wasn't the Blair Sandburg I knew at all. No teasing. No sparkle in his eyes.
"Blair, this is my son, Daryl," Dad said as he laid a hand on my shoulder. "You've met before, but I know you can't remember."
Way to go, Dad. Remind the guy his brain got fried. Shit. Smiling, I held out my hand and when he took it uncertainly, I shook and said, "I'm sorry about what happened to you, Blair."
"Thanks," he murmured. Jim put a hand on his shoulder and we all moved through the arches to find our seats.
We were behind them and I saw Blair stiffen when he saw the other MCU guys already in the seats in front of and behind ours. Jim introduced him to everyone, and they all touched him…his arm or shoulder, smiling at him…but looking kinda sick around the edges…as they all told them how glad they were to see him. Poor guy-must be overwhelming. God, he looks like he'd like to sink right through the floor.
Moving forward, I caught his arm and turned him toward me. "C'mon, Blair. It's our job to go buy the grub-you know, dogs and beer and stuff. Dad," I said, turning to hold out my hand for the money. Good old Dad gave me an odd look, but forked over the cash.
I pulled Blair with me back up the steps and out into the refreshment lobby. Splitting the stack of bills, I handed some to him. "You're the one who has to buy the beer. They won't sell it to kids."
He swallowed and looked like a deer caught in the headlights. I cocked my head as I looked at him. "I know you feel like you're eleven, but you know you look like you're thirty, right?"
He barked out a laugh. Seriously. And seemed to relax. When I looked a little startled, he shook his head and briefly touched my arm before pulling back. "Thanks, Daryl. It's kind of a relief to have someone just be straight-forward about this, you know? Like this is normal…like in a weird way, I'm normal."
I grinned at him. "Blair, you were never 'normal', man. Where would the fun be in that?"
He laughed again and took the bills from my hand. "So, six beers, right? You don't drink, do you?" he asked as we moved forward in the line.
"Nope, I'm not legal yet," I told him. "Once we've got the beer, we'll go get the dogs and some soda. But you can have a beer, if you want one."
He shook his head. "It'd feel too weird, and man, I gotta say, life is plenty weird enough right now."
I laid a hand on his shoulder as I replied, "I hear you, man."
He looked a little surprised by the familiar gesture. And grateful, which made me uncomfortable. He shouldn't be grateful-it was because of him that we were friends.
We'd gotten the beers and he was carrying that tray, while I handled the hotdogs and put all the gunk on them. "So, you want to get together some night this week? You could come over to my Dad's place or we could meet at the mall and hang out," I suggested.
He blinked. And swallowed hard. "Uh, Daryl, maybe you don't understand what happened-I really am, like, eleven inside."
"Yeah, so?" I asked. I guess I must have looked confused, cause he immediately explained why I wouldn't want to hang with him anymore.
"Well-I don't know how much fun it would be for you to hang around with someone who's really just a little kid, you know? Gotta be kinda boring for you, don't you think?" he stammered, looking humiliated.
"Ah, shit, Blair," I replied. "I'm sixteen and you're twenty-nine. You never acted like it was boring to hang out with me before. We're friends, 'cause you wanted to be friends and you made time for me. What's so different now that you feel more like eleven? We're closer in age now than we were before you got sick. I don't see why we can't still be friends. I mean…if you want to be."
Damn. Now it looked like I'd made him cry. His eyes got all glazed and he had to blink and look away. He took a real deep breath and said, "I'd like that. I'd like that a lot. Thanks."
"All right," I replied, like it was an everyday thing. "C'mon, we gotta get back before the game starts."
Fuck. It was so unfair. He really didn't deserve to be hurt so bad. And he sure as hell shouldn't have to feel so grateful just 'cause someone wants to be his friend. Damn, I felt bad for him.
He was quiet during the first half of the game, but he seemed excited about seeing Orvelle Wallace down on the floor. And I thought he might die of surprise when Orvelle spotted us and loped up the steps at intermission to say 'hello' and make a fuss over him. I guess Orvelle didn't know everything that had happened to the kid. Shit, now I'm thinking of Blair as a kid. Gotta watch that. He is and he isn't.
Anyway, Orvelle comes beaming up the steps and literally hauls Blair out of his seat and gives him this big hug, saying, "God, it's good to see you, Blair! When I heard about how you'd been hurt at the fountain, I was just sick about it. I'm really glad you're all right, son."
Blair looked like a kid on Christmas morning, and I remembered then that he'd said once that Orvelle had always been his hero when he'd been a kid. Guess he didn't know he was now one of Orvelle's heroes. Blair saved his ass when everyone else thought Orvelle had committed murder.
"Thanks, man," Blair stammered, glowing, literally glowing, with excitement. Oh, man, Blair seemed absolutely speechless.
I guess all of us decided he needed to be rescued at the same time. Jim and Dad both stood up and introduced Orvelle to Rafe and H and Megan and the Coach said hello to Joel, who he'd met before. Meanwhile, I looped an arm around Blair's shoulders…guy's so short that I'm as tall as he is. He used to tease me about that. "You're special, Blair," I said softly. "A lot of people owe you and think you're really great. Get used to folks making a fuss over you."
I could feel him tremble a bit at my words. "But, I'm not special," he whispered hoarsely. "I don't remember any of you or anything about what happened before. Nobody 'owes' me anything, man. Jim told me, so I know the facts…but, man, I didn't expect Orvelle to treat me like…like…"
"Like he loves you?" I suggested. "Why not? He does. A lot of people do."
"They love the guy I used to be," he said then, looking away. Looking really sad.
"You're still the guy you used to be…you just don't remember, that's all," I told him. "You're still you, Blair."
Joel must've seen us talking on the side, cause he moved over to join us in the aisle. And, damn if he didn't hug Blair, too. I just grinned as I listened to him say, "I didn't get a chance to tell you in the hospital the other night, but I am so GLAD you woke up, Blair. I was really scared we were going to lose you."
Blair looked a little helpless, like he didn't know what to say, but then H and Rafe joined us, too. H laughed as he flicked Blair's hair. "Gotta say it's good to see ya outta that bed, Hairboy. Real good."
"Sure is," Rafe added with a warm smile. He hesitated a moment and then he added quietly, and very sincerely-Rafe is a very sincere kinda guy-"We know how it is now, for you. If you ever need anything, all you gotta do is call any one of us. We're all your friends, Blair. We all care about you and want to do anything we can to help make things easier for you."
"I'm okay," he stammered, blushing. "I-thanks for…for caring. I appreciate it."
"You don't need to thank us, Sandy," Megan chimed in, having come up behind us in time to hear what he'd just said. "Caring about each other is what friends do."
"Yeah," he allowed, nodding, looking mortally embarrassed by all the attention. Trust my Dad to pick up on the signals and call out in that 'I'm the boss and listen up' tone he's got, "Game's about ready to start up again, people. Better take our seats."
Megan couldn't resist hugging Blair before she followed the others back to her seat.
Once we'd gotten settled again, Jim leaned across me to ask Blair, "Doin' okay, Chief?"
He nodded and said, "Yeah, Jim, I'm fine."
Jim didn't look all that convinced, and I gotta say that the thin tone of voice didn't convince me either. Something wasn't right-something more than him being embarrassed by the affection of people he didn't really remember.
Under cover of the cheering and shouting as the game moved along, I leaned over and asked him, "What's wrong?"
"Huh?" he muttered like he didn't have the least idea of what I was talking about. But I'm wise to that wide-eyed innocent look he's so good at. I used to tease him about it all the time.
"Don't give me that-something's not right, I mean, more than the obvious stuff that's not right," I replied. Rolling my eyes, I said, "You know what I mean…what's up?"
He tensed and looked away, and then cut a quick look back at Jim, who was watching the game. "I can't," he mumbled so low I could hardly hear him. "It's nothing. I'm okay." And he cut Jim another look, almost like he was watching to see if Jim was listening to us, but there was no way Ellison could hear us in all that noise.
But it sure looked to me like Blair thought he could.
And whatever was bothering him had to do with his partner.
It's weird, but I could have sworn Jim stiffened beside me. He didn't look at us, but it did look like he was listening. I've noticed he kinda tips his head a little, unconsciously, when he's listening to something that's not easy to hear. What was going on?
Blair must've noticed too, because he started talking really fast, covering up that he was upset about anything by babbling away, "Well, okay, I admit that this is all strange and I'm still getting used to it. And I guess I'm afraid people will think they owe me something-like Rafe, who said I just needed to call if I needed help. Nobody owes me anything. I don't want people to feel that way. My life's kinda messed up, sure. But I don't want to be a burden-I don't want anybody feeling like they have to be nice to me or help me or feel sorry for me. I can take care of myself. I really can. I always have."
He cut me a sideways look then to see if I understood, and I thought I did, but when his gaze slipped past me to Jim, I really got it.
But it freaked me out when Jim stiffened beside me and swore softly under his breath. Damn. How had he heard that? Blair had been practically whispering and it was pandemonium around us.
But I had no doubt that Jim had heard every word. And hadn't much liked any of them.
"We feel bad about what happened to you, Blair," I said, hoping I was saying the right thing. This was way out of my league. He should really be talking to my Dad-he'd know, for sure, what to say. "But nobody feels 'sorry' for you-like, it's not about pity or stuff like that. It's just that, well, we all really like you-love you, even. We care about you and want to help, if we can. I guess we can't, not really; we can't change what happened. But you're our friend, Blair, even if you don't remember us very well. We remember you."
He went all thoughtful, and then he nodded. "Thanks," he murmured. "I mean that. Thanks."
I couldn't stop thinking about what I'd heard Blair say to Daryl during the second half. I didn't like it. Didn't like him feeling like some kind of burden, or that I was acting out of guilt or because he thought I thought I owed him something. Really didn't like his insistence that he could take care of himself; that he always had. Kept remembering yesterday morning, when he'd said, 'if' he stayed. It was all crap and we had to clear up a few things real fast.
So, on the way back home, I said, "I think you're mixed up about a few things, Junior."
He stiffened. Maybe it was my tone. I know I didn't sound happy. So, all right, maybe I barked at him instead of being calm and considerate. But this was important and I, well, I was scared-I didn't want him pulling any vanishing acts or reverting to the Sandburg tendency to make like a gypsy and wander off.
"Like what?" he asked, not looking at me.
I pulled the truck over to the side of the street so that I could focus on him. "You are not a burden. I don't want you around because I feel guilty or because I feel I owe you something. I want you around because you're my best friend. I like having you around and I'd miss you-more than miss you-if you were gone. Got it?"
He cut me a slow look, and then nodded soberly. "Got it," he replied. Then he just had to add, "But I can take care of myself, Jim."
"I'm sure you can, Chief," I replied tightly, putting the truck back in gear. "The point is, you don't have to do this alone. It's not a bad thing to let friends care about you or help you, Blair."
He blinked a few times and then nodded again. "I hear you," he said and then turned to look back out of the window.
Shit. He'd forgotten I knew the code. 'I hear you'. In other words: 'Fine. But I don't really agree.'
Well, I guess I'll just have to give him some time and show him that I mean what I say.
When we got back to the loft, he asked, "What time do you head out to work?"
"About eight," I told him. "You want to come in with me?"
"No, thanks," he replied. When I hesitated, he went on, "I really don't need a baby-sitter, Jim. I'm a big boy now, in more ways than one."
"Yeah, I know you are," I sighed. "Look, if you go out tomorrow, just leave me a note, will you?"
"If I do go out, I'll be back in time to make dinner…" he tried to protest, the whine of an offended child in his voice.
"Just humour me, Sandburg," I insisted. "If you go out, leave me a note to say where you're going."
"Alright," he agreed, shrugging like he thought I was nuts and 'way too protective. "Leave out that card that Dr. Jeffreys gave you," he said then, wanting to make the point, I guess, that he really could do things for himself, "and I'll call tomorrow to see if I can set up the tests I need."
I smiled then and ruffled his hair. "Good thinking, Junior. I'll leave it on the counter. Good night."
I guess we both were having trouble sleeping and I heard Sandburg shifting frequently in his bed, and could pretty much tell when he resorted to meditation to help himself relax. His breathing deepens and slows when he meditates and then his heartbeat slows as well.
Usually, once he's slipped into sleep from a meditative state, he's good for the rest of the night. But that was before-well, before.
Less than an hour after he'd settled into sleep, I heard him moan softly and start thrashing on the bed, twisting and turning, hitting the mattress with his fist. And then I heard him begin to mutter, sounding upset, sometimes angry…sometimes achingly hurt.
I didn't like to interrupt his sleep-a guy has a right to some privacy and he didn't get a lot around me. I figured his dreams were private. But the muttering got louder and he sounded so distressed that I just couldn't stand it anymore.
Padding downstairs, I listened for a minute outside his door, still debating whether to wake him up, when the words caught my attention.
"I didn't mean it, Jim! Please…give me a chance…Alex! What a waste…NO! Don't want…please…don't want to die…Jim…JIM!…sorry…so sorry…"
Jesus! He was dreaming about what happened-our fight. Alex. Dying…
I shoved open the door and moved quickly to his side. He was flushed and sweating, restlessly calling out disjointed and garbled words, hurting from the torment of his dreams. I shook him, not hard, not enough to scare him…just to wake him, and called his name. He jerked and woke suddenly, blinking, disoriented.
"Easy, Blair, you were having a bad dream," I soothed.
He looked at me for a long moment, and I wasn't sure if he was fully awake. There was such sorrow in his eyes. But then he blinked and mumbled, "Sorry," as he rolled over to go back to sleep.
It wasn't until later, when I was back in my own bed that I realized what I'd heard. Memories. Memories he wasn't supposed to be able to access anymore, that were supposed to be gone because of irreparable damage to his brain.
But the memories weren't gone.
Not all of them.
God, I hoped that if he was going to remember things, that it wouldn't only be the nightmare of his death…
Sandburg had still been asleep when I left that morning. When I called around midmorning, he told me he was fine and I shouldn't worry about him, but when I called around three in the afternoon there wasn't an answer. So he'd gone out for a walk or something. No big deal, right?
But he still wasn't home when I called an hour later.
A long walk, apparently. Or, maybe he'd gotten a fast appointment for those tests.
Nobody gets an appointment that fast.
He still wasn't home at four-thirty. Well, it's not like I was working on anything that couldn't wait, just some paperwork for an upcoming court case.
I grabbed my coat, told Simon that Blair wasn't answering the phone at home, and he immediately frowned in concern.
"He's probably just gone for a long walk to explore the neighbourhood, but I'm going to head home," I said, to alleviate my own anxiety as much as Simon's.
"Call me if there's a problem," he said. I nodded and left. There was no reason to be concerned. Hell, from the little Blair had told me on Saturday about life with Naomi, he'd learned a long time ago to manage pretty well. In some ways, he'd been the parent most of his childhood.
But-I was worried. He'd said he be home to make dinner. Blair wasn't the type to make promises, even small ones, which he didn't plan to keep. And, to be honest, I was worried about the nightmares he'd had during the night…wondered what they meant, if they meant anything at all.
I knew before I opened the door to the loft that he wasn't there. By then, I was really hoping he'd done as I'd asked and left a note.
I heaved out a sigh of relief when I saw it on the table. Gone to the park, it said.
It wasn't far, but I took the truck anyway. It was faster.
By the time I got to the park it was after five and it was getting a deserted look. I loped to the bench we'd stopped at yesterday morning. From there, I could see most of the small recreation area and playground. A couple of people were jogging along the path, but no Blair.
I fought the tight feeling in my gut and forced myself to calm down. Closing my eyes, I cast out my senses. Smell. Hearing.
And I heard it. His heartbeat. Over by the trees…
I jogged like a homing pigeon across the playground to the small fringe of forest.
And I found him hunched under a tree, hiding in the shrubbery back from the tree line. He had his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them. His head was down and he was shivering.
"Hey, buddy," I asked, kneeling beside him, reaching out to grip his shoulder, "what's wrong? What are you doing hiding back here?"
His breathing hitched-and I smelled the salt of tears. "Blair-are you hurt? Talk to me."
"I'm sorry," he whispered, his voice cracking.
"For what? What happened?" I demanded, running a hand over his body, forcing his arms away from his legs to make sure he wasn't hurt.
"They…they threatened to call the cops," he stuttered. "I didn't…didn't want you embarrassed…"
"Chief, slow down," I told him. "You're not making sense. Start from the beginning and tell me what happened."
He swallowed and swiped at his face, brushing away tears I knew he hated to have anyone see. "I came to the park to…to play, I guess," he said in a small voice. "But when I got here, I realized how stupid that would look. So I just…just kinda hung around and watched the other kids." His breath hitched and even in the dim light of the forest late in the afternoon, I could see his blush of humiliation.
"Tell me, Chief," I asked quietly.
"I guess I must've looked like a pervert or something, 'cause some of the mothers came up to me and told me to stop looking at their kids-and if I didn't leave the park right away, or if they ever saw me here again, they'd call the cops. One said that I was disgusting." He looked up at me, tears glazing his eyes. "I swear, Jim, I didn't mean anything-I wouldn't ever hurt anyone. I wouldn't. I was just-watching and wishing I could play, too. But-but they thought I…I mean, they saw this grown man staring at their kids and-and-they thought…"
But his voice broke and the tears spilled over. I pulled him into my arms and hugged him, holding him while he cried. "I'm a freak, Jim-I'll always be a freak."
"NO!" I protested, holding him tighter. "Don't you ever say that! Don't you ever feel it."
"It's true," he whispered, sniffing and trying to catch his breath. "I'm an embarrassment and a freak. And I'll never be any different than I am now."
I bent my head and pressed my lips against his hair as I rubbed his back. "Listen to me, Blair," I said, struggling to keep my own voice steady. "You are not an embarrassment. Not to me, to yourself or to anyone. You are not a freak and I won't let you call yourself that. Those stupid people don't know anything. The next time anyone hassles you, you tell them to go ahead and call the cops. Tell them to call me and I'll give them hell."
He sniffed. "I just wanted to play…" he murmured. "That's all. I just wanted…"
"I know," I soothed him. "It's all right. You're allowed to play. You don't have to pretend to be grown up all the time. I know it's hard."
He shivered again and took a deep breath.
"Why didn't you just go back home?" I asked him then. "It's cold out here."
He sniffed again. "I didn't know if they were still out there. And I didn't want them to call the police. I really didn't want to embarrass you, and I knew it would if I got hauled into the cop shop."
I blew out a long breath and then shifted him so that I could look into his eyes. "You will never be an embarrassment to me. Ever. No matter what. I don't ever want you to be afraid of that, or afraid of the police. If you get into trouble, like might have happened today, you just tell them who you are and who I am and have them call me. I won't ever mind. I promise you."
He blinked and nodded, suddenly looking infinitely weary. "I wanna go home, Jim."
"Good idea," I said, helping him to his feet and keeping an arm around his shoulders as we walked back to the truck.
I wanted to smack the women who'd scared and hurt him. I wouldn't have, even if they'd been standing in front of me…but I sure as hell would have told them what I thought of them.
Which wasn't a whole hell of a lot.
When I told Simon the next morning what had happened, he swore under his breath and looked like he wanted to punch something. "The kid okay?" he asked.
I shrugged. "He didn't say much last night and he went to bed early. I think he might have caught a chill, which is the last thing he needs after…well, after drowning and the infection in his lungs. I don't know how long he was out there, scared."
Simon sighed and shook his head. "I can't even imagine what the world looks like now through his eyes. Must be a kind of hell."
I nodded. I thought the same thing.
"What have you got on your plate?" he asked then.
"A few reports to clean up, a file to get ready for the DA," I said. "Should be done by noon."
"Okay," he replied. "Why don't you take the afternoon off-take the kid somewhere he can play without feeling foolish. Maybe one of those laser light places where you can chase each other around in the dark and pretend you're Ninja Warriors or something and nobody gives a damn."
"Great idea," I smiled. "I wouldn't have thought of that."
"You don't have a son," he replied wryly. "Go on…the sooner you get that work done, the sooner you can get out of here."
I called Blair and told him the plan, wishing he would sound more enthusiastic about it, but I guess he was still upset about feeling he was wrong to want to play when he looked like he was all grown up. Hell, if he could have remembered, he'd've known that he'd be the first one to say that nobody ever gets too old to want to play.
It was cold and raining heavily by the time I got back to the loft, but despite the dark, lowering clouds and the chill of the rain-slicked streets, I felt good and couldn't help smiling at the idea of the fun we'd have that afternoon. I figured we'd go grab lunch somewhere and was glad Simon had come up with an idea for some fun that was indoors.
I loped up the stairs and unlocked the door, pushing it open as I called eagerly, "You ready, Chief? Let's go!"
But there was only silence. I stopped in my tracks and my chest tightened as I felt a sudden sense of foreboding shiver up my spine. All the lights were off and the loft was dark but I could see the small pale square of paper on the table. Swallowing, shaking my head against what I feared I was about to find, I crossed the floor to pick it up…
Jim, You shouldn't have to leave work early to take me out to play. I'm a burden and I know it. And, honestly, I don't really think you need my help-I'm not much of a Guide anymore. So, I'm just going to take off. I'll call you sometime and let you know that I'm all right, so you won't worry. Thanks for trying to help, man. I know you really care. But I gotta deal with this on my own. Love, Blair
"Son of a bitch," I snarled as I crumpled the note in my hand. Not wanting to believe it, I couldn't stop myself from quickly checking out his room-and sure enough, his backpack and some clothing were gone. I slammed my fist against the wall and looked out the window. At the cold, driving rain.
I'd called three hours earlier. He could be anywhere.
Going back to the kitchen, I called Simon. "I need you to put out an APB," I told him bluntly when he answered. "Sandburg has run away. He's out there somewhere, in the cold and rain and I don't have a fucking clue where he went."
There was a startled, smothered, "Damn," on the other end of the line and then Simon said, using his 'I will be calm' voice, "Easy, Jim. We'll find him. What's he likely wearing?"
I gave Simon the description of Blair's coat and backpack, and told him Sandburg was probably wearing jeans, running shoes and a couple of layers under the coat. He never could stand the cold.
"I'm going to go out and cruise the streets," I sighed. "Maybe I'll get lucky and hear his heartbeat or something."
"Okay, Jim-but take it easy and don't try too hard. The last thing we need is for you to zone while you're driving," he cautioned. "In fact, come down and pick me up. I'll ride along with you."
"Thanks, Simon," I breathed into the phone as I kneaded the tight muscles in the back of my neck. "I'll be there in twenty minutes."
But I will remember you.
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by,
Weep not for the memories…
Ah, the poor child. He looked so sad and lost. And he was soaked clear through, shivering as he plods along back alleys and cold, dark streets hour after endless hour. And he couldn't seem to stop crying…not wrenching sobs, just a slow drift of sorrowful and frightened tears down his face that mingle with the rain. He kept brushing them away and knuckling his eyes with one hand, as if he was ashamed to cry or is impatient with himself, disgusted by his despair. Once again as I often do, I found myself wondering why he, like so many, seem to have to suffer so. I know there's a purpose, there always is, but I often don't understand. To remind myself that none are ever forgotten in their misery, I chanted softly, "For the Lord will not cast off forever, but though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men.'
But still, on this dreary, wet and chilly night, he was a lost lamb. Afraid. Alone. And my heart ached for him.
I'd been trailing him for hours, making sure he didn't wander dazedly into traffic, or get set upon by thieves. I'd have done the same for any in my charge, but, you see, I remember him, his kindness. He's a good man. A good soul. He's one that really, truly, cares about the hurts others suffer and does his best to help. I remember his gentleness and concern when he held me, unselfconsciously crying over me, so sad that I'd been hurt. Someone he didn't know-a stranger, just some homeless bum off the street.
He had wept for me.
I wanted so much to comfort him now in his pain, to shelter him as he had tried to shelter me.
But it was not yet time.
As I shadowed him, I wondered if he believed me when I told him the hardest part of a miracle was to make it look like an accident? I think he did. I think he believed in me. Not many do.
Most think I'm crazy, but essentially harmless.
But I think he was inclined to believe. I wondered if he'd remember me at all now. Probably not, given his state of mind. He'd worked hard to forget everything-to let it all drift away so it wouldn't hurt anymore.
I continued to chant softly as I wandered along in his wake, 'A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…what has been is what will be and what has been done is what will be done and there is nothing new under the sun…there is no remembrance of former things…'
I knew his friends were out searching for him, sick with worry for him. And they came close once. That's when I realized he was more aware of what was going on around him than he looked. Because he spotted the blue truck before they had seen him, and ducked into an alley, hiding in the shadows.
He was trying his best to protect them. Trying not to be a burden on them. Too young to know that one of the most satisfying ways of showing our love is to care for a loved one who needs us-to safeguard and cherish and protect. He'd spent so long taking care of himself and anyone else who needed him, that he didn't know how to let anyone take care of him.
'For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven…'
I wished the rain would stop. It was not helping…but it seemed oddly appropriate. As if the skies were weeping with him. Sharing his heartbreak. But he was so cold. Almost blue with it.
And he was sick. I could feel his fever-sense his growing confusion. He didn't have any idea where he was. This wasn't a good part of the city. It was dangerous here, especially at night.
Lost. So very lost. In more ways than one.
'A time to kill, a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up…'
I watched him seek some modest shelter under an overhanging eave of a building, in the alley beside a dumpster. He huddled down, so cold, so tired. He should have eaten something before he set out on his journey. Should have brought some food with him. Especially since he didn't have any money.
He could have begged a handout. There's no shame in it when you're in need. It's a mercy to allow others to show their charity. But-he didn't beg. I don't think he knows how. Not for himself, anyway. Maybe for someone he loved…or just someone who needed help, even a stranger. For others, he would beg.
But now that he had stopped moving, now that he was settled somewhere and too tired to resist…it was time to help him find himself. He'd been alone and afraid long enough. Whatever the purpose, I thought, with a weary glance at the sky, he had suffered enough.
I shuffled closer, slowly. I didn't want to scare him. I'm good at looking harmless, friendly. I like to smile.
He glanced at me as I came closer still and stood near him. But he just curled up a little tighter against the night. He'd pegged me right. I am harmless towards those who mean no harm. The innocent have nothing to fear from me.
"You look cold," I said, in that soft, singsong voice that disarms.
He nodded and sniffed. "Yeah," he mumbled with a dejected shrug.
"And wet," I added, shifting to squat down beside him.
"Wet is my world," he muttered, tired, discouraged.
"Are you lost?" I asked.
He nodded. "Yeah, I guess I am," he said softly with a shiver.
"Sometimes I feel lost, too," I replied. Poor child. I wanted to draw him into my arms and make him feel warm and dry and safe. But that was not my role that night.
He looked at me curiously, worried that I felt lost. "You need help?" he asked, suddenly concerned and focused only on my needs. "I'm sorry, I don't have any money or food…but…"
"No," I couldn't help but smile as I answered him. Even now, lost, alone and afraid, he offered help. Yes, he was a good soul. Reaching out, I touched his arm lightly. "I'm here to help you tonight."
His eyes narrowed as he studied me, and looked down at my hand on his arm. He was no fool this child. He knew there were predators in the world. He didn't fear them, particularly, but he was wary of them. Swallowing, he shook his head a little, and shivered again. "I don't think anyone can help me," he said bleakly. "But, thanks, anyway."
"You don't remember me, do you, child?" I said then as I studied him.
He frowned. "No, sorry-I don't remember a lot of people these days. You know me?"
"Oh, yes, I do," I told him. "You were very kind to me once."
He smiled a little then. "Was I? I'm glad. But, I really don't remember you. I'm sorry. I've…I've been sick."
"You still are, my friend, but you can get better," I said with a smile. "My name is Gabe. I'm an archangel."
That surprised him. I could see it in his eyes-they widened a little as he studied me earnestly. And then he smiled the innocent and beautiful smile of a child. "You here to work a miracle, Gabe?" he asked wryly with ingenuous humour. "Because I could sure use one right about now."
I shook my head. "You don't need a miracle," I told him. "You just need to remember."
He took a deep breath and heaved it out as he turned his face away from me. "Yeah," he whispered softly, sorrow darkening his eyes. "That's all I need to do." He shrugged as he stifled a yawn. "But, you see, I can't. I was sick and…and my brain was damaged."
"No," I informed him then. "It wasn't."
He frowned and shook his head slowly like he wasn't hearing right, or maybe he thought he was dreaming a very strange dream and it was time to wake up. He was right, in a way. It was a strange dream, of sorts. And it was time for him to wake up.
"It wasn't?" he repeated, yawning and blinking heavily. The cold was getting to him and the exhaustion.
"No, child, your brain is not damaged," I said, gripping his arm a little harder to get his attention. He started at my vehemence, but he was drifting away and if he didn't remember now, he might forever be lost. No doubt he really thought that I was most likely what I appeared to be-a simple, slightly crazy, harmless, homeless person. "You turned off your memories," I told him then with gentle sternness. "You shut away your life. You went back to a time in your mind before the first time you felt completely and hopelessly abandoned. You can remember -if you choose to."
Yawning, he frowned at that. "But the doctor said…"
"The doctor said it looked like you were in a deep state of meditation. Too often, people don't see the truth because they do not believe it possible. You are in a deep meditative state…you shut yourself off, buried yourself away because you gave up believing that you had worth or that anyone would ever truly love you…it hurt so badly, being left alone, especially so soon after you'd died alone."
Shivering, he jerked away from my grip on his arm, pressing into the brick wall behind him. "How do you know what happened to me?" he gasped. I'd frightened him. I hadn't wanted to do that.
"I'm an archangel. I know many things," I told him calmly. Well, it's true. I am and I do.
"Really?" he asked, a poignant, plaintive note in his voice. He wished so much that it was so but the cold and weariness, the fever was leaving him weak and confused.
"Yes, really," I assured him and again laid my hand on his arm. "Believe, child. Believe in your friends. They do love you. Jim loves you. He's searching for you even now, you know he is."
"He just feels sorry," he mumbled then as he curled into himself, shifting, settling into sleep. "He feels guilty. He shouldn't. None of this is his fault."
"Didn't you believe him when he told you that he wasn't really in control of himself? That he was sorry for putting you out of your home, for rejecting you and not protecting you? Didn't you believe him when he said he both wanted and needed you in his life? Don't you believe that he loves you?" I asked, pushing him perhaps too fast. But he'd stopped shivering and that wasn't a good sign. He was having a lot of trouble staying awake.
"I-I'm afraid to believe him," he whispered, drifting, more asleep than awake. "It hurt so bad…"
"But you do remember now the way it hurt when you woke up and realized he'd left you behind?" I asked him then, softly, gently. Even as sleep clouded his mind, it lowered his barriers and opened the pathways to his memories.
He nodded slowly, his eyelids blinking open and then drooping closed again. "Yeah…I didn't want to try any more. I was so tired and I felt so bad. It was like…" he whispered, but then his voice cracked and stopped.
"Like when Eddie lied to you? When he told you your mother wasn't ever coming back for you because she didn't love you and never wanted you and he tossed you out into the street?" I asked.
"Yeah, like that," he murmured, nearly asleep. "I was so scared…"
"But you went after her and found her and learned she hadn't really left you…that she loved you then and loves you still," I murmured.
He nodded, slipping further into the darkness.
"Jim didn't really leave you either, not for good. He was planning to come back for you," I assured him. "Do you believe that now? Can you let yourself believe that?"
"How?" he asked, blinking, struggling to make sense of what I was saying, sounding so lost.
"Just believe he really loves you, and that he is sincerely sorry," I told him. "Accept your memories; accept that they hurt and let the hurt go…"
He sagged, almost unconscious from the cold and wet, from the fever and exhaustion. I caught him and held him for a moment, stroking his hair. "Believe, Blair…and let the hurt go…"
"Jim?" he sighed and then passed out.
I chanted to him quietly as I rocked him in my arms, "Rejoice, oh you young man in your youth, and let your heart cheer you; walk in the ways of your heart and in the sight of your eyes…but know for all these things, God will bring you into judgment…"
Then I laid him gently on the ground and pulled off my own coat to place over him. It wasn't much, but it would help protect him from the rain. And I didn't really need it.
Leaving him there in the shadows, I walked toward the lights of the next street. I didn't have to wait long. When I saw the blue truck, I strode out into the street, and stopped and then turned to face it.
The brakes squealed and the truck slid a little, but stopped just before it hit me. I smiled into the bright headlights, looking past the glare at the two men inside. And then I turned my head toward the alley and lifted my arm to point toward its shadows.
And then I walked away into the rain and the darkness.
"Holy shit!" Simon shouted, bracing himself on the dash as I hit the brakes.
It was close, too damned close, but I got the truck stopped before I ran the crazy guy over. Jesus. Who walks out in front of a truck and just stands there watching it come at them?
Shaking, I blew out a breath. And blinked…and stared out at the redheaded tramp smiling peacefully at us. He was caught in the sharp illuminating glare of the headlights and he seemed to glow, as if surrounded by an aura of light. He looked at us as if he could actually see us-as if he knew us. And then he turned his head toward the alley and lifted his arm to point at it.
Simon frowned and squinted at him. "Wait a minute. I know that guy. Isn't that…?
"Gabe," I gasped. "It's that crazy Gabe!"
I was out of the truck and running down that alley without conscious thought. Who cared if I was blocking traffic? They could damn well drive around the truck if it was in the way.
I heard his heartbeat before I saw him, lying there, huddled in the darkness and unconscious.
"BLAIR!" I shouted, dropping to my knees beside him. Simon had raced down the alley behind me and gasped at my shout.
I pulled Sandburg up against me, and I could feel his fever. "Simon, call an ambulance! Hurry!"
I heard him punch in the code on his cell phone but I didn't really pay attention to him. "Chief?" I called out, pushing Sandburg's wet hair off his face. "Sandburg? Can you hear me?"
He moaned softly and shifted a little in my arms. His eyes blinked open and he just looked up at me. And then he reached up with a trembling hand to touch my cheek.
"Jim?" he whispered and then smiled softly. "I remember you…"
I'd've felt better if he hadn't passed out right after he said it.
He remembered me?
He'd smiled…and the look in his eyes. Aware. Sparkling. Genuinely happy.
Pulling him closer, I looked up at Simon. Must've been the rain in my eyes that made him look so blurry.
"He remembers me," I choked out. "Simon, he remembers me."
He woke up in the hospital, once he was warm again. He had a fever, but not too bad. The doctor figured it was just a touch of 'flu, not the infection in his lung starting up again. And he was suffering from mild exposure, but not seriously. He was okay.
I heard all that from the waiting lounge. Dammit, I wish they would allow me to be in there with him.
I relayed the information to Simon, who relaxed in relief.
The doctor, a tall, thirty-something blond, came out a couple of minutes later and told us Sandburg was fine, just needed a couple of days in bed, lots of fluids, the usual drill. The important thing was I could take him home.
I thanked the doctor, I think, and pushed past her to go to Blair.
He was sitting up on the side of the stretcher, looking paler than I liked, but he lit up like a Roman candle when I walked in.
I just froze, my chest tight at the recognition in his eyes and stared at him. "You really do, don't you? You really remember…"
"Yeah, Jim," he said softly as he nodded. "I saw Gabe…"
I gritted my teeth against the sob in my throat and just strode straight at him, grabbing him in a tight hug. I couldn't stop the damned tears from burning in my eyes, much as I tried-it's Sandburg who figures it's okay for men to cry. Not me. And even he doesn't like anyone to see him cry.
"Ah, Chief," I whispered into his hair as he hugged me back. "I was scared-and I missed you."
"I know," he said quietly, his voice a little hoarse. "I remember everything, Jim. I remember how kind you were and how safe you made me feel. I remember you holding me in the park." He paused and then said even more quietly, very softly. "I was so scared and ashamed by what they'd thought. And I felt so bad about wanting to play and not being able to…about being a freak. But-I knew you loved me anyway." Hesitatingly, he continued, confiding so softly that I could barely hear him, "You know I don't know who my Dad is…never knew what it was like to have a Dad. But in the park yesterday-I knew if I'd ever had one, I would have wanted him to be like you were then."
"You weren't a freak," I muttered. But what he'd just said filled me with a rush of warmth-I was real glad I'd made him feel safe-and loved. But this was all getting a little too mushy and could wait. I could feel the fever radiating from his skin. Not high, but I needed to get him home, where he could rest.
"I know that now," he said. But then he pulled back quickly, turning away to sneeze. I pulled out my handkerchief and handed it to him, shaking my head when he offered it back…used. He grinned at the expression on my face, but then sobered, I guess remembering what I'd said-that he wasn't a freak. He looked at me, dead in the eye, seeing as he always does, straight to my soul. "And neither are you."
"I hear you," I said solemnly. He'd been telling me that for more than three years now. Maybe, someday, I'd believe him.
He shook his head and smiled at me, knowingly, wisely. "Don't snow me, Ellison. I know you know what that means. If takes the rest of our lives, I'm going to convince you that we're both okay."
I smiled then. "Sounds like a plan, Chief. Come on. Let's go home."
I'm so afraid to love you, but more afraid to lose.
Clinging to a past that doesn't let me choose.
Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night…
You gave me everything you had, oh, you gave me light.
We'd been searching for hours, driving around dark city streets through the rain, stopping to show Sandburg's picture, getting nothing, feeling more and more discouraged, when the call came in that the APB was cancelled and the missing person had been taken to Cascade General. I looked at H, but we didn't need to say anything, and I just pulled a u-ey and headed to the hospital.
We got there just ahead of Joel and Megan, and we all headed into Emergency together. Looking around, we spotted Captain Banks in the Lounge and hurried over to him, Joel calling out, "Simon-how is he?"
Captain Banks stood when he saw us coming and lifted his hands in a calming gesture. Man, he's really something, I thought. He looked as tired as we all felt, but he's like this pillar of strength that we all lean on and turn to-and he never fails to pull us all together.
"It's okay," he said reassuringly. "Sandburg's all right-suffering from a little exposure, maybe, but he's fine. Jim's just gone in to see him, and will be back in a couple of minutes."
"Thank God," Joel sighed, running a hand over his head. Megan nodded and I could feel H relax beside me.
"Here they come now," Captain Banks reported with a smile.
I turned and saw the two of them walking down the hall toward us, Ellison's arm slung around Sandburg's shoulders. The kid looked wet and tired, and he sneezed, but he was on his feet-and that was good to see. As they got closer, Blair pulled away from Jim's arm to walk toward us, and there was something different about him. It took me a second, but then I realized his eyes were sparkling, like they hadn't sparkled since-since I couldn't remember when. Before the fountain, that's for sure. And all of a sudden, I felt this burst of happiness, and I knew, I just knew, this was our Sandburg!
He walked straight to Joel and gave him a hug. "Thanks," I heard him murmur. "Thanks for asking me not to give up, not to go-for staying with me…"
Joel looked confused for a second, but then he understood. Blair meant before, I guess, in the hospital when he'd been so sick. Joel bit his lip and closed his eyes, but not before I saw the glaze of tears in them. He hugged Blair real hard, too choked up, I guess, to speak.
And then Sandburg turned to H and me. "I was pretty out of it," he said quietly, "but I remember you guys sitting with me in the hospital. I heard you talking to me, asking me to stay. Thanks-it, ah, gave me something to anchor to, to hold on to. I owe you."
"Nah, you don't owe us a thing, Hairboy," H said as he reached out to grip Sandburg's shoulder, and I thought his voice sounded pretty husky, like he was trying not to cry or something. "Just real glad to have you back, you know?"
He gave us a small smile and a nod, and then turned to Conner and Captain Banks. "I'm glad you didn't let Jim go off after Alex alone. Thanks for sticking with him…"
"Oh, Sandy!" Megan blurted, not even bothering to hide the fact she was crying as she hugged him.
"What happened, Sandburg?" Captain Banks asked softly. "Was it Gabe?"
"Gabe?" Megan exclaimed, pulling away and looking from the Captain to Sandburg. "That homeless guy who disappeared after he was shot the night of the strike a few weeks ago?"
"Yeah," Blair nodded. "He found me in an alley. Told me he was there to help me-told me I just had to remember…" Sandburg shook his head, thoughtful and amazed.
"Well, this is all real interesting, but I've got to get Einstein home," Jim cut in. "We can compare notes about what happened another time. Thanks…" he added, looking like he really meant it, "thanks for helping to look for him tonight."
Wow. Gratitude from Ellison…seemed we were getting one miracle right after another…
Yep, I had the old Sandburg back. The wary, sad silences were gone. Shivering still with cold, his arms wrapped around himself, sneezing and hoarse, he was nevertheless fairly bouncing with energy in the seat beside me as I drove us home, talking a mile a minute. Excited, awed by the mysterious…
"I'm telling you, Jim-I saw Gabe. You know, the guy who said he's an archangel. He said he'd come to help me…" he babbled, continuing the story he'd begun as we left the hospital.
"Did you see him? Oh, man, I was so tired, you know? Could hardly stay awake…"
"We'll talk later, Chief," I cut in. "Just settle down a little bit. You're wet and exhausted and you've got a fever…"
"Later, Sandburg," I insisted. And he stopped talking and just looked at me, blinking, his mouth slightly agape. But then some of the sparkle seemed to go out of him and he slumped back against the seat, staring out the window.
Why do I do that? Why do I cut him off when he needs so badly to talk? All he wants me to do is listen. But I can't. I was so scared we wouldn't find him…and then so relieved that he was okay, really okay. I just wanted to get home and have things back to normal. I hate hashing over all the weird stuff, the stuff I don't understand. Makes me feel queasy. What's the point, anyway? He's okay. Can't he just be glad about that? Can't we just be grateful and move on?
Sandburg got up without being called the next morning. Hell, I'd been planning to let him sleep in. But he was in the kitchen, getting the coffee ready when I came out of the shower.
"Hey, Chief, what are you doing up?"
"Well, I figured I'd go down to the station with you…"
"NO!" I interrupted, holding up a hand, like we learn how to do in traffic cop school. "Uh, uh. You've been through the blender, Sandburg, and you need to rest."
"Jim, I'm fine!" he asserted, pushing his hair behind his ears-just before he sneezed.
"Yeah, sure you are," I mocked. "Today, you're doing nothing but taking it easy."
He rolled his eyes, sneezed again, and gave up. "Yes, Mom…" he mocked right back, sounding long-suffering, but couldn't quite hide the grin. He protests being coddled, but he actually likes it so long as I don't overdo it.
Now that I knew more about his childhood, I understood better why that was.
"Smart ass," I drawled as I headed upstairs to get dressed.
Maybe leaving him alone all day hadn't been the best idea. He'd had time to do some thinking about what I'd told him about what had happened in Mexico. So of course he wanted to talk about it. I wonder if all guides are chatty types who want to rake over everything and just won't let anything go?
"We need to talk, Jim," he said, almost pouncing on me as soon as I walked in the door.
"Do you mind if I change and get a beer first?" I asked, mildly amused, glad to have him back and normal. Really glad. "And maybe have some dinner? I'm starved."
"Uh, yeah, sure, sorry," he muttered.
So he let it go until after we'd eaten. Not that he shut up. Wanted to know how the day had gone. Wanted to know what cases I was working on. So I obliged him and told him about another boring day of paperwork getting ready for some court appearances on old cases.
"See!" he exclaimed. "I knew I should have gone in with you! I could have gotten that stuff done, no sweat."
I nodded and looked away. He was right. We did need to talk. I'd made a few decisions during the day that he wasn't going to like, but he was going to live with. The operative word here being 'live'. Wordlessly, I stood and cleared the table. I knew he was looking at me funny, wondering what had changed the atmosphere in the room, going back over the words we'd just spoken.
"Oh, God," he whispered, appalled. "You still don't trust me, do you? You don't want me as your partner. Nothing's really changed…"
He was up and moving for his room so fast that I had to lunge to grab him by the arm, halting his escape.
"Let me GO!" he yelled, twisting and pulling away, breathing hard now, eyes glazed with tears. "Why did you bring me back here if you don't want me around?" he demanded furiously. "It was guilt, wasn't it? God damn it! Well, I'll just pack and be gone, no sweat."
"Would you just shut up for a minute and sit down!" I roared at him. It was really the only way to cut in to the endless flow of words, the only way to get his attention when he was on a roll.
He flinched and stopped struggling, panting, shaking with emotion. Damn. The pain in his eyes made my gut clench. This was not how I'd wanted this to go. "Just-just sit down, Chief. You're right. We do need to talk."
He closed his eyes, but then he turned toward the living room and stomped to the couch, collapsing down on it. "Fine," he huffed. "So talk."
I paced back and forth in front of the fireplace as I said, "I want you to spend less time at the station, that's all. You need to focus on Rainier for a while. Finish your dissertation. I'm not saying I don't want you to be my partner…"
"What are you saying, Jim?" he demanded sharply. "What's with the sudden concern for my other life? You've never given much a damn about it before."
I winced. He was right. And it bugged me that he was right. I stopped pacing and took a breath, a deep breath. But I still couldn't face him, could barely choke it out, "Chief-you died. Almost died twice in less than a month. Why? Because you spend too damned much time at the station. Hell, I wasn't even there when you met Alex! I was here with a bullet wound in my shoulder! What the hell were you even doing there?"
"Your reports," he muttered tightly, his jaw clenched as he looked away. "So this is about how it was my fault that I got myself killed. Well, fine, it was my fault."
"NO! It wasn't your fault," I protested, turning to him. "But it's too dangerous-can't you see that? You're not…"
"…a cop," he cut in bitterly, but then flashed back, "But I AM your partner! Or I was…"
"You still are," I assured him. "I just-I just want you out of the line of fire, for a while…"
"Jim, I can't do my job, can't back you up, if I'm not there," he protested, his eyes flashing with frustration and his voice brittle.
Circles. Our conversations always ended up going in circles, going nowhere except where we'd already been.
"Chief-this isn't up for discussion," I said, maybe more harshly than I meant. "I'll have Simon pull your pass if you push me."
He paled and sagged back against the sofa. And then his eyes flashed with fury and he was up again, heading toward his room and I had to grab him again and pull him around to face me-and he pushed me back, breathing hard.
"If you don't want me to be your partner, to back you up, then there's no reason for me to hang around, is there?" he shouted at me, his voice cracking. "You want me out of your life, just say so. I don't do pity, Ellison. I can find another place to live."
"I didn't say that," I chuffed. Damn it, why was it so hard for him to understand? Isn't he supposed to understand this stuff? Hell, he's been studying me for three fucking years. He's the one who wrote all about my 'fear based responses'. "Sandburg, I'll call you when we're going to a crime scene if I think I'll need you-or on stakeouts. And I don't want you to move out. I just-I just need you to be in a place that's safer, you know? I don't want…I don't want to go through what we went through in the last few weeks ever again."
"You're scared," he said then, startled, anger swept away by the concern that flooded his eyes. Finally. Getting it. I nodded stiffly and moved away to sink into my favourite chair. He followed me and sank back down on the sofa. "I'm sorry," he murmured. "I know it was hard on you…"
Dear God. HE died and he's sorry 'cause it was hard on ME?
He sat back and pushed his hair behind his ears. "Okay, well, maybe you're right. I've missed so much time at Rainier that they'll be throwing me out on my ass if I don't start hauling my weight again there."
I nodded again, letting him get used to the idea, talk himselfinto why it was the right way to go.
"I don't like it," he muttered. "But, okay-providing you call me before you go out and do something that might strain your senses."
"I'll call," I assured him quickly.
He gave me a narrow look, but nodded slowly again. "You've been doing pretty good for a while now. Not zoning…maybe you're right. Maybe you don't need me…"
"I need you, just not every hour of every day," I replied, then bit my lip at the look on his face. Like I was saying I didn't want him around. That's NOT what I was saying. But the look faded, so I guess he figured that out.
"Why did you go after Alex without me?" he asked then and I blinked. Where did that come from?
"You weren't in any shape to be tearing off to Mexico, Chief," I replied wearily. "I'm not even sure I should have gone after her."
"You shouldn't have, not without me," he snapped. Well, he was likely right about that. His voice was softer, though, as he continued, "We need to talk about what happened there, Jim."
I rolled my eyes. What was with this need to nitpick everything? I'd told him what happened. He clearly remembered what I'd told him when his memories had been frozen…oh, God…he remembered what I'd told him…
"Sandburg-I don't…" I tried to deflect him.
"Jim, we have to talk about this. It could be important, really important," he insisted. "You said…you said you lusted after her and kissed her…"
I closed my eyes and fought the nausea his words invoked. I kissed her. Wanted her. The woman who had killed him-hell, not many hours before I found her on that damned beach, I'd been blowing air past his cold, blue, flaccid lips…
I shook my head to clear away that memory. If I didn't, I would throw up. "I had a dream, and then the next thing I knew, I was running toward her on the beach and she was running toward me. I didn't know what I was doing…it didn't make any sense. I HATED her. But I did it again and again. Protected her. Kissed her again in the temple…"
Sandburg frowned as he thought about it. God, how could he sit there and calmly think about me kissing the bitch that'd murdered him? Maybe not so calmly. His heartbeat was sure hammering away.
"This is 'way beyond my research, man," he sighed. "There's so little that's really known about sentinels, you know? Maybe-maybe it was some cosmic force, some innate need for sentinels to mate…or maybe it was just pheromones you're genetically programmed to find irresistible."
Way to go. That's reassuring. NOT! Hell, the senses are bad enough to have to try to control, and now he's talking about 'cosmic forces' and 'innate needs' that take over my body and make me do their will? I so do not need this.
When I didn't say anything, he blew out a breath. "Okay, tell me more about the temple and the visions you had…"
"Sandburg-I really don't want to talk about this, you know?" I sighed. "It's over-let it go."
"But they might be important!" he argued. "I need to know what happened to you…"
"I said, let it go," I growled, shifting in my chair, trying hard not to think about those terrible visions of death, visions of things I couldn't stop in the past and never wanted to see in the future. They were just visions. Warnings. I'd be careful. Keep him out of the line of fire. It would be all right. We didn't need to talk about them.
He was angry, but he knew an impenetrable wall when he saw one. Hell, he'd had enough experience battering against walls just like it for the past three years. He almost started to say something then stopped and swallowed. "Fine," he finally said, his voice low, tight. "You don't want me to work with you and you won't tell me what happened to you. What the hell do you want from me? How am I supposed to help you?"
Stay alive? Keep breathing? Don't leave me? But I didn't say any of those things. It was all too close to what I'd learned in the pool-that I was afraid of him and his power over me. And I didn't want to be afraid of him. I just wanted…I just wanted things to be okay. The way they had been before it all fell apart.
When I just shook my head, not looking at him, he sighed in frustration. "Fine," he said again, his voice clipped and cold. "I'll spend more time at Rainier and finish the diss, like you want. You see how you do without me on a regular basis. But hear this, Ellison. I don't like it. I don't like being shut out. I can't help you when you won't talk to me …and we get in trouble when we're not straight with each other. Haven't you learned that yet?"
I nodded but still wouldn't look at him. "Right," he muttered. "Fine." He pushed himself up and went into the kitchen and filled the sink with water to wash the dishes, anger flowing off him in waves that filled the loft.
It was only then that I'd remembered my intention to ask him if he wanted or needed to talk about what had happened at the fountain, or later in the hospital when he woke up and found out I'd taken off. Or about what had happened with Gabe last night.
But, watching his rigid back, I figured now wasn't likely a good time. Sighing, I stood to move to the kitchen to help. But when I got there, he dried his hands and turned away, went to his room and closed the door.
With Sandburg, even the silences are loud.
Well, this is awkward. Either Jim has forgotten it's me and not Sandburg with him at this crime scene, or he's oblivious to the fact that he's finding clues no ordinary detective would have a hope of discovering. I know I agreed with the others to pretend like we don't know what's going on with him but I can't just stand here like an idiot as if I'm not noticing what he's doing. He spots a single strand of blond hair that forensics missed at the point of entry, oh say, thirty five feet away, casually mentions the aerosol spray used to highlight the security beams-I guess he must've been able to smell it-'feels' an electromagnetic charge around the computer and then gets a name from feeling the imprints on the top page of a notepad. Just ordinary detective work. Right.
Sigh. I can't pretend that I don't think this is-unusual. I'd look like an idiot. How the hell am I supposed to act like what he does is not worth mentioning? Damn, why isn't Sandburg here? I'm too close on this one. It's not like the last few years when we only heard about stuff second hand or had Sandburg around 'obfuscating' his little heart out to cover. I'm going to have to come up with a plausible reason for being able to accept that what Ellison does isn't beyond the bounds of normal men.
What the hell is Sandburg doing here? He's supposed to be at the university, not at my desk working on the computer! What's he talking about? A rape? With no statement by the victim, no witnesses and nothing on the alleged perp, what was the name, oh, yeah, Ventriss? What does he expect me to do about it? I don't want him involved in criminal activities. Don't want him going on off half-cocked to investigate this on his own.
So I shut him down. Hard.
And, man, he is almost incandescent with fury. I've never seen him like this.
Dammit, he just couldn't let the Ventriss thing go. That guy with the baseball bat could have killed him if I hadn't been close enough to stop the assault. And trying to keep deflecting Sandburg isn't working…he's not listening to me, not being sensible about this. Like Sandburg will ever walk away from something he believes is wrong. Damn it.
I'm going to have to keep him with me. Can't afford to leave him on his own if that assault is any indication of the kind of violence Ventriss is capable of offering. Not that it's a surprise. Rapists are violent bullies and from what Sandburg has said, the guy cheats at school, too. He's rich, arrogant and used to getting his own way. Which is why I wanted Blair to drop this in the first place. There's no evidence, but that doesn't mean the guy isn't potentially dangerous.
He didn't appreciate my crack about his love life and I guess I could have been more sympathetic than just fling him a bag of frozen peas to put over the bruise around his eye, but I'm really angry. I don't have any doubt that it was Ventriss who had those thugs go after him, and Sandburg could have been seriously hurt. And why? Because he doesn't have enough sense to back off when he doesn't have a damned thing to go on, just keeps pushing and pushing…like prodding a nest of vipers and then wondering why they are suddenly swarming all over him.
I don't have time for this. I've got a murder to investigate.
Damn, I'd really wanted to keep Sandburg out of the way of danger. Seems like danger is determined to track him down…and if it won't, he just goes out looking for it!
What the HELL is wrong with Sandburg? Oh, he's often irreverent, but not deliberately provocative. I've never seen him so bitterly angry, or out of control. Damn it. I didn't want to threaten yanking his pass, but I can't have that kind of aggressive insubordination-and I had to get his attention, get him to stop running off at the mouth to listen or he could compromise this whole case.
He wants Ventriss so bad he can taste it. It's not normal. Blair isn't stupidly or wantonly aggressive. Why is he taking this case so personally? I don't get it. I really don't get it. And I sure as hell don't appreciate him suggesting I'd fold just because the heat is on! He knows me a lot better than that. Or, I thought he did.
But if he doesn't settle down, he's going to blow our chance to get this guy. Ventriss' daddy is a rich, powerful man and we don't have the evidence we need yet. If we're not careful, we'll get a harassment suit slapped on us and it will compromise our ability to investigate his involvement in the murder. Hell, we all know he's likely guilty as sin, but knowing isn't the same as proving. Normally, Sandburg would see that. He KNOWS what happened when Jim went off half-cocked after Juno when Danny Choi was murdered. Shit.
I wonder how much of this is related to the mess over Alex Barnes? Did Jim ever really clear the air with Sandburg? Or is Sandburg suffering some emotional fallout? Wouldn't be surprising. Maybe I need to arrange some time for him with the departmental shrink.
Maybe I should arrange some time for both of them.
Wonderful. Now the personal conflict between Ventriss and Sandburg has cost Blair his job. Damn it to hell. This whole case has been out of control from the beginning. Escalating too fast.
I wonder if Sandburg meant it-that he'd take a paying position with the PD? Does that mean he'd go to the Academy, become a cop so he could be Ellison's 'official' partner? He wouldn't do well as a regular cop on the beat, but he's already shown that he has the smarts and instincts to be a damned fine detective. I wonder how he'd feel about carrying-using-a weapon? He hasn't flinched when he's had to hold a weapon on some slime in the past, like on Quinn's girlfriend, Lisa. Or is he hinting at a consultant-type position? Some of the big city departments around the country are beginning to employ 'forensic anthropologists'. Maybe I should start looking into options. He's had a good run on that 90-day pass, but it can't go on forever.
And I really didn't need Joel's cute suggestion this afternoon that I should look into the 'investigation course' that Ellison took that lets him do all this amazing detective work. I knew it would only complicate things when the others found out about Ellison's little secret. But, Joel's right, I guess. He couldn't pretend to just not notice. That wouldn't be believable if Jim ever stopped to think about it.
Speaking of Ellison, he's been acting oddly, too. He seems to be resisting having Sandburg around lately, though he told me he needed someone else's back up at the crime scene because Blair was tied up at the university. But if that was true, then why did I see Sandburg in here before Ellison got back with Joel? Couldn't he at least try to be a little more circumspect when he's working with the other guys? Not so blatant about what he's picking up with his senses? And it's pretty clear Ellison and Sandburg are at odds, but that may be because Sandburg is so out of control on this case.
Which brings me back to what the HELL is going on with Sandburg?
"He just did it again, Simon," I muttered after I'd cuffed the rich guys and read them their rights before handing them over to the uniforms for transport. "He didn't make any bones about hearing a conversation that was impossible to hear."
"I know," Simon sighed as he took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. Replacing his glasses, he turned to me as he asked, "You got any theories about what's going on with Sandburg? I've never seen him like he's been the last couple of days."
"The kid's hurting, Simon," I replied, and I likely looked disgusted as I continued, "And, much as he cares about the kid, Jim's not the one to help him work out what happened to him-but Jim's the only one he'd likely want to talk to about it. It was Ellison who worked the miracle to bring him back, right?"
"They've worked stuff out between them before," I offered with a shrug. "I guess we just have to hope they can work it out this time, too."
Simon nodded as he looked after the disappearing blip of the helicopter, but he didn't look reassured.
Now that the case is over and Ventriss and his girlfriend are in custody, we can all relax a bit. I couldn't help but pull Simon's chain a little, though, over this whole ‘sentinel' thing. Catching up with him in the corridor, I waved a textbook at him as I said, "Captain, I found the detective science course that Ellison took. Man, this book's got it all. I mean, it's really in-depth. You know, we should offer it for everybody.
I mean, we could all be like Ellison." It was all I could do to keep a smirk from my face.
"Joel," Simon replied with a long-suffering tone as he glanced into the bullpen to see if Ellison was listening, "I don't need you to be like Ellison. I need you to be you. Can you handle that?"
I couldn't miss the warning in his eyes. Jim could hear us. Right. Of course he could. "Yeah," I countered," as if I was completely serious, "but it is a good book."
Simon shook his head, not knowing whether to smile at my nonsense or throw up his hands. Maybe it would be a good thing if Jim did overhear our conversation. Maybe it would remind him to be a little more careful about what he does in front of people who supposedly don't know what's going on.
Blair seems-okay, I guess. He got his job back. And he was joking when he came into the station. Letting me know that he knew he'd lost his objectivity. And I joked back, letting him know that I understood and it was okay. Hoping that we were okay again.
But something seemed off. He made like 'the Beav' and gave me that loopy grin…but I could see from his eyes, his heart wasn't in it.
It'll be fine. He just needs a little time. It's been hard the last while. Hard? It's been hell.
I'll just keep him focused on his responsibilities at Rainier, and things will settle down.
I wasn't really sure that Sandburg would show up today for the charity gig with the Jags. He's been so quiet lately, hardly says a word around the loft, when he's there at all. Guess I'm getting what I wanted-he's all wrapped up at Rainier these days.
But I should have known the lure of seeing Orvelle and the guys would prove to be irresistible. I remember commenting dryly to Simon when I saw Blair bolting down the steps something like, "Look who's coming," and made some crack about him being a player for the 'Woodstock All Stars'. And he looked so happy, you know. His eyes sparkling and grinning like a kid, looking like one next to all those giants. I hadn't seen him look that enthusiastic or joyful since-well, not for a long time.
I was sorry we had to dampen that glow. Sorry to see the sullen anger surface, though he held it in check, when Simon told him he couldn't be in the commercial because 'he's not a cop.'
He's tired of hearing that, and I can understand why. The kid has more than earned his stripes the hard way over the past few years. But, I'm glad he's not a cop. I think. It would be great to have him as my full-time partner…except that would put him in full time danger.
No, it's better this way. I'm managing with my senses and he's spending time in the academic environment where he really belongs.
And where it's usually safe.
Shit, I'm scared. I don't want to be…I want to be brave like my Daddy. But, fuck, these guys are going to kill us!
Blair said a while ago, when I was surprised at how frightened he looked, that all the cops he knows, he doesn't think they ever get over being scared. But, I was surprised to see that Blair was scared. I mean, he's been hanging around with Jim for years now, and has faced all sorts of violent shit. The first time I ever saw him, it was when Kincaid took over the PD, and Blair was claiming to be an undercover cop from Vice. He was so cool…didn't look scared at all that time. An' I found out later that was his first day at the station. Man, I was impressed.
And even if he was shaking earlier, he was still keeping me safe and trying to figure out how to help my Dad and those players. We almost did, too. Would have if Kincaid and his bunch hadn't come around the corner right then and caught us.
And now I know Dad thinks they're going to kill us all. He tried to get Kincaid to let me go…and I know he's a whole lot more worried about me than he is for himself. It's the weirdest thing, but all of a sudden I remembered the hard time I'd given him over the separation and divorce, mouthing off, and then, like flashes of light, I saw him rescuing me from Kincaid's bunch at the station, and then remembered seein' him trapped in that truck in Peru, yelling at me that he loved me, and to RUN! So that I'd save myself. So I ran. But I was so scared they were going to kill him and I'd never see my Dad again.
I hugged him, tight, like I could burrow right into him, and I didn't care who was watching or how 'uncool' it looked. His arms came around me, strong and warm, and he rested his chin on my head. I'd felt sick running and leaving him behind in Peru. If they are going to kill us tonight, well, at least I'll be with my Dad and I'll do my best to be as brave as he's always been.
I looked up and saw that Blair was trying to stay cool, sitting as calm as he could with his hands clasped between his knees. Waiting. He was so sure Jim would rescue us. I didn't know how. But Blair…he was real sure.
God, I hope he is right.
All I have been able to think about since that phone line went dead in my hand is that I'm out here and they're with Kincaid and his bloodthirsty pack of wackos-Simon, Daryl and Sandburg. At least that idiot newsman gave me the chance I needed to get close and find a way inside. It was a goddamned basketball game! Who gets taken hostage during a sporting event? My partner, that's who. The one whose supposed to be staying safe and away from danger.
Maybe I forgot to send him a memo to make that point clear.
Okay, good-I'm in position and with any kind of luck at all, I won't have the whole army to deal with when they open up the back of the truck to kill the hostages.
But I will deal with them all if I have to.
They've threatened my tribe and got my friends. Hell, they've got Sandburg and I'll be damned if I won't get him back.
Man, I couldn't believe it when Jim came through the roof of the truck! Blair was right. This guy is Superman. I don't know how Jim does it, but he sure has got great timing.
He looked at Blair kinda funny, though, after he'd shot a round of bullets into the back of the truck and said somethin' like, "I'm killing you…" real deliberate like, as if he was trying to give Blair some kind of message.
Jim wouldn't want to say he was really killing Blair. That wouldn't make any sense. Maybe he's trying to make it clear how close it was. Like Blair and the rest of us didn't already know we were in deep shit.
Have to say, I was surprised when Blair took the handgun Daddy held out to him. I've never seen Blair use a gun, and I've always kinda figured he had something against using them. But he's pretty sensible for all that Dad and the others tease him about being 'weird'. There's not much doubt if we don't stop these guys, they'll only come back stronger and scarier than ever. I'd take a gun, too, if Dad would give me one.
Gotta say, I felt pretty good about being the one to find those tear-gas canisters. Made me feel like I was helping, you know-and not just in the way.
It's over. We've got Kincaid and his bunch under control. Nothing like a little tear gas to make a man cry 'uncle'.
I caught a glimpse of Sandburg actually shooting that gun Simon gave him-backing me up, giving me cover. Maybe he really could…
No, I'm not going there. I don't want him in messes like this every day. He gets into enough trouble as a civilian. No, I'm sticking with the plan. He's going to be a professor and I'm going to be fine. He's taught me a lot, and I really can control my senses pretty good now. Hell, if getting into that air vent at the stadium and dealing with the fan and the fall didn't prove that to me, nothing would.
It'll work. We can be friends and he can be available if something unusual comes up…but he can be safe. Live safe. Live.
God, I am such a sap. When am I going to learn that I just can't afford to trust anyone? But, I loved her, dammit! Oh, grow up, Ellison-you should be used to this game by now. You loved your mother and she walked. Carolyn walked. You loved Lila and she was a fucking assassin. So, you loved Veronica once, okay, maybe never really stopped loving her, and she set you up. Maybe you just have lousy judgment, or luck, or whatever, when it comes to women. Unlike most of the men who have been important in your life, at least two of those four women didn't then die to really end any hope of…of what? Reconciliation? There was nothing there. Not really, not with any of them. You just thought there was. Wished there was.
Hell, Sandburg saw the set up before you did. Tried to tell you, twice. But you wouldn't listen. At least you were man enough to apologize to him, tell him he was right and you were fucking wrong.
He stuck with me. Didn't need any proof, didn't care what the evidence suggested-just stuck with me. Believed in me. I needed that. I wonder if he knows how much I needed that.
I know Simon didn't have any choice but to pull my badge and weapon. I KNOW that. It was better than having to be put on suspension by that scumbag, Aldo. It was Simon's job. But it just served to point up that Sandburg is really the only one I've got in my corner who I can always depend on. Oh, I know he screwed up over Alex Barnes-like I didn't? But he didn't have any way of knowing she was trouble, and, hell, maybe it's a 'guide' thing. He just has to help-and he couldn't resist the lure of another 'sentinel' for his damned dissertation. Oh, I know it's the deal we made, but I really hate it. I hate the tests. I hate the fact that he's 'studying' me. Every time I want to trust him, and believe I can, without question, 'cause he backs me unconditionally, I remember that it's not really unconditional.
What happens when the dissertation is done, huh? What then? Will he still want to hang around the PD or will he be drawn back into academia because his work with me will be done. Shit. I know better than that. I know he's told me, and proven to me, that in his head it's about friendship. But I won't really know for sure, will I, until he's got his PhD and we see what happens then?
What the hell is wrong with me? I don't even want him hanging around the PD anymore. It's too goddamned dangerous and I will not risk him getting hurt again. I won't!
But I guess I have to be honest with myself, if with no one else. I miss him when he's not there. And it's getting harder to maintain control. I need him. I hate that. But I really do need him. Maybe if I'd let him help me during the shit with Veronica and Alan, I wouldn't have gotten so messed up, so blinded, by my old feelings for her. Maybe if I'd let him help when he offered, and listened better instead of cutting him off, I'd've clued in sooner.
Sandburg has signaled that he'd be willing to listen if I want to talk about it. Like he's always willing to listen. And, for someone who talks as much as he does, I got to admit, he listens pretty well. Come to think of it, he's not talking as much as he used to.
But what is there to talk about? That it hurts? That I screwed up? Right. Talking won't change that.
I learned a long time ago, that when it hurts, you suck it up, grit your teeth and move on.
And do your best to bury it.
God, I'm tired.
I finished pouring myself a cup of fresh perked Jamaican Blue that my cousin had sent me, and then stood staring out into the bullpen as I blew on it and then sipped gingerly. Frowning, I let my gaze drift over the scene outside my office walls.
Ellison looked like death warmed over. He had dark circles under his eyes indicating that he wasn't sleeping well, and he was slumped, as if he didn't have any energy left. Too pale for my liking. I'd wonder if he's coming down with something except he's been like this for some time now. That mess with his old girlfriend didn't help, but he was looking peaked and tense before that case came up. The whole IA disaster only made things worse.
And Sandburg. He's just dragged in looking like a cat drenched in the rain and too damned tired and dispirited to care. Ellison hardly spared him a glance, and it must not have been welcoming, because Sandburg flinched, almost as if he'd been struck, and then just quietly moved to the empty desk behind Rhonda's to sort through files and reports that needed to be done. His shoulders are hunched, and his head is down, his hair pulled tightly back in a tie…like he's trying to scrunch into himself and maybe make himself invisible.
Come to think of it, I haven't seen those two teasing or even really talking for a while now. Haven't seen either one of them so much as crack a grin, let alone a smile. Something's not right.
Looking at the others, I can see that they've also noticed something is off. Joel looks worried, Megan annoyed, H confused and Rafe is trying to pretend he's not noticing a thing, but he looks a little sad. Rhonda is doing her impersonation of the self-effacing secretary, asking if she can get anyone a coffee-her cover for wanting to mother Sandburg and get something warm into him.
I can't figure out what's going on with those two. You'd think after the terrible things that have happened that they'd be tighter than ever, but they seem to be only barely acknowledging one another's presence. The anger that had driven Blair a few weeks ago is gone. Now he just looks remote, sometimes even a little sullen, and that's not like him. He hardly says a word anymore. And Jim, well, he just looks exhausted but he covers it by being surly and distant.
The others keep casting surreptitious glances at me, as if they expect me to fix whatever's wrong. But there's really not much I can say. Ellison and Sandburg are doing their jobs. If something's wrong between the two of them, it's really not any of my business, or anybody else's for that matter. Shaking my head, sighing, I figure they'll work it out, whatever it is.
Hope they work it out soon.
What is wrong with that kid? He can't even drive down the street at night without being almost car-jacked, not to mention, shot at, and crashing his vehicle before tripping over a murdered man when he's trying to get away? Jesus. I can't be with him every minute of every day and night. How am I supposed to keep him safe if he keeps running into trouble? Hell. If I'd let him come down to the PD like he used to do, he wouldn't even have been on that street to get into trouble in the first place!
And now it looks like I'm seeing ghosts. Or at least, that's what Sandburg thinks. I think I'm cracking up again. Losing control of my senses because I'm trying to do too much without his back up. Trying to concentrate on not zoning and remembering what to do while I'm doing it, without him there, grounding me and talking me through it.
I'm losing it, here.
So, Blair thinks Jim is seeing ghosts now, does he? Well, who knows? Maybe he is. With those senses of his, and the weird stuff that happens around those two, I wouldn't lay money against it. Anyone who brings someone back from the dead might well be able to see ghosts.
But, I'm worried about Blair. He's hardly around any more. The anger is long gone, but there's still a tinge of bitterness about him sometimes, you know? He never smiles anymore. And his eyes look funny. There's no sparkle, no enthusiasm. I can't decide if he's depressed or what. Megan, H and Rafe have noticed it, too. We've talked about it. We've even thought about asking Simon if he knows whether there's something wrong, something going on that we don't know about. But that would just put Simon on the spot and we know he can't talk about this 'sentinel' business with any of us. It would be a betrayal of Jim's confidence, and Blair's.
But this ghost business is too good to pass up. It's a chance to tease Blair a little, maybe bring some of that sparkle and that humour back.
Well, I guess we blew that big time. We thought Hairboy'd get a kick out of us ragging him, yanking his chain. He always used to give as good as he got…better.
But the look on his face when he realized it was a set up tonight? Shit. Like he really thought we were seriously mocking him, putting him down.
Dammit. I don't know what's wrong with him, but it's beginning to bug me. Joel thinks he might be depressed about dying an' all. He never talks about it. Never mentions it. And it's gotta be, I don't know, hard to deal with. Hell, it's hard to deal with just having seen it happen and none of us have to get up every morning and look in a mirror and think we might have been dead…and wonder why we got to come back.
Let alone have to go through losing all our memories and waking up and thinking we're, like, eleven years old again. How freaking scary must that have been? Oh…and then there's the 'archangel', Gabe, who had something to do with him being all right again. He could've died in that back alley, cold and sick, in that part of town. Who is that 'Gabe'? I mean, he can't really be an archangel, can he?
I think Joel might be right. I think the kid's bottled it all up inside.
No wonder he doesn't find the idea of ghosts anything to laugh about.
Yep, I'm seeing a ghost all right. Like I need this? But she looks so sad, and it's beginning to look a lot like she was murdered. I can't pretend I can't see her. Can't just walk away.
At least it's given Sandburg a reason to perk up. He's been researching and fiddling with all this fancy equipment. And I got to hand it to him. He's done a lot to help us figure out who she is and what likely happened to her. I haven't seen him this upbeat in months.
The good part is, even though I feel like a freak around the guys at the station who think this is just too crazy for words, Sandburg and I are working together again. What can happen-the murder occurred more than forty years ago. No current threat to that. Just a puzzle to work out.
But I zoned again. Haven't done that in months-maybe a year or more. I know Sandburg thinks it's just because dealing with a ghost is different, a strain somehow on my senses. But it's not that. It's just getting harder to hold the control without him. At least he was nearby and brought me back without much trouble.
No danger dealing with a ghost, huh? I should have known better…the whole business started with a recently murdered guy in that building. But because Sandburg had been with me, working on the ghost side of the puzzle, he was there when the shooting went down. At least he stayed behind me.
I don't know what to do. I want to keep him safe. But I need him with me. I don't see how to resolve this. I guess I can't, not on my own. I need to see what he wants to do once his dissertation is done and he has his PhD. Can't be long now. He's been working on it pretty steadily since I've been holding him to his agreement to spend less time at the station. I need to know what he wants in his life.
This can't just always be about me.
There's something odd going on between Sandy and Jim-well, odder than usual. Which I suppose is saying a lot about those two. But, I don't know…how do I describe it? Sandy's not himself. We've all noticed that. He's flat, and somber, and he hardly comes in any more. When he laughs, it sounds forced. He's one unhappy little koala, that's for sure.
And Jim can't seem to make up his mind whether he's glad when Sandy drops into the unit or not. He's all growley, and getting worse, when Sandy isn't here. He lights up for half a tic when Sandy walks into the Ops Room and then glowers, like Sandy's not welcome here. What's that about?
I can't figure the two of them out. But it's been 'wrong' since, well, since that craziness with Alex Barnes.
I shouldn't have teased Sandy when he was sort of flirting with me today. It didn't even occur to me that he might be acting the gent and trying to protect me from that charming old lecher, Vince Deal. But I think I hurt Sandy's feelings-and that's the last thing I want to do, that any of us want to do, especially right now.
It's like walking around on eggshells with the two of them. Like a storm is building and you can feel the electricity in the air. Something's going to blow soon. And I'm afraid it's going to be a whopper.
Well, this is fun. Oh, Jim's not well pleased, but Sandy is having a great time playing the lothario-and I got to give him a killer kiss to make up for making him feel bad the other day. Think I actually shocked him. He blushed!
But, he carried on. What a trouper. So now we're yelling and making like we're two over-sexed 'roos and his eyes are sparkling again. Lord, how long has it been since I've seen that sparkle or that killer grin?
Uh, oh. We're blown! Hell and damnation! Ellison is going to kill me! God help these twerps if they hurt Sandy. They might as well kill me if they do and be done with it. I'll be 'gator meat, anyway.
Damn. How am I going to get him out of this in one piece?
I knew it was a mistake to let him go undercover with Conner! But would anyone listen to me? Oh, no. 'It'll be fine, Jim.' 'No sweat, Jim.' 'It's just a set-up, Jim-what could go wrong?'
And now those ruthless bastards have got him and Megan. Rafe's lucky he only got a bump on the head.
And now, listening as I close in on the warehouse, what do I hear? Gunshots. Shit! If they've hurt either Sandburg or Conner, I'll…
Cool it, Ellison. Just do your job. What's going on in there? You can still hear their voices, okay? They're still all right. Don't blow it.
'Click'-I think my heart just stopped at the sound of that gun cocking. I'm still too far away, dammit! But wait! Megan is talking, trying to deal for Sandburg's life. There's still time…
Oh, great-the 'hero' is claiming to be me to save her!
When I get them out of there, I'm going to kill both of them…and then I'm going after Vince Deal.
That jerk Bentley is mouthing off. Good, I need another couple of seconds to get into position.
"Why don't you guys get your stories straight? The real Ellison..."
"...is right behind you, pal. Don't move! Put your gun at your feet. Really slow."
Well, it got a little wild for a few minutes there, but I was in time. They're both all right. But, God, it was close. Too damned close.
And we still need to get the bad guys. Since I obviously can't let Sandburg out of my sight…
"Chief, I want you to come with me," I order while directing Megan, "You stay with Mrs. Peel."
So now I'm in a high-speed chase after the perps, with Vince gunning along in the car beside me, and Sandburg yelling about my driving technique.
I just want to do my job, you know? Be an ordinary detective and do my job without…what? The only partner I want? Shit. Life sucks.
I will remember you.
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by…
Weep not for the memories.
Well, since trying to keep him out of the action hasn't seemed to work all that well, I've got Sandburg tagging along with me again. His classes are almost for the semester, and he says the diss is nearly finished, so I really don't have an excuse to keep putting him off, anyway.
And…damn it. I missed working with him.
It's just a stakeout to do the Feds a favour. They think this legendary safecracker, Harry Conkle, is likely to contact his daughter, Lindsay. Why you ask? Are they known to have a close relationship? Hell, no. She hasn't seen her father in years. But it seems he's been writing and phoning ever since she had the baby, and now she thinks he might even be stalking her. The man's #9 on the Most Wanted list and if there's a chance of apprehending him, well, great. And he could be dangerous. Seems he killed a couple of cops during a heist a couple of years ago. So now we have her and her son on twenty-four hour surveillance.
Frankly, it all sounds a little off to me. Why would he get into contact after all this time? Why did he change his MO during that last heist? He's a career thief, not a killer.
Good thing Harry isn't a cold-blooded murderer or Sandburg and I would be dead right about now. The man tells a strange story, but as Sandburg says, why would he lie? And, if he's as ruthless as the Feds think, why didn't he just kill us when he caught us in his trap? I don't know, maybe I'm going soft, but I think his story about having cancer is true. When he got hold of Lindsay and Tyler the other day, he just talked to them. It seems pretty clear that he's desperate to establish some kind of relationship with them again.
So, we set him up. Let him think Lindsay was sick and in the hospital. And we got him.
But I want to give him a chance to prove his story. If it's true, there's another killer out there. Sandburg's with Lindsay and the kid, so at least I don't have to worry about him while I play this out.
Gas! Not again! Shit! I kicked in the door and checked the unconscious cop on the way to opening a window to air the place, too aware that Sandburg's just slumped there, out cold. But I can hear his heart; he's alive.
"Chief? Chief?" I call as I slap his cheek, trying to rouse him. Damn it. He better be all right! "Chief, come on, wake up."
Lindsay came in with some groceries and gasped at the sight of the unconscious men. But Blair's moaning a little, beginning to blink. That's it, Chief. Show me those baby blues.
"You all right?" I demanded as soon as his eyes began to focus.
"Yeah," he muttered, still a little disoriented. He's all right, though. He'll be fine.
I started to pay attention to Lindsay then, and when she demanded to know what had happened to her son, I knew I'd screwed up again. Trust. I always forget. You can't trust anyone. Harry seems to have set me up and taken off with his grandson.
Son of a bitch.
Well, maybe I wasn't such a fool to trust Harry, after all. It worked out okay. We got Tyler back, safe and sound, and caught the real killer, too.
And it was good, having Sandburg involved in the case. Could've gotten him killed again, though. Twice.
He's inside, working on the damned dissertation. He says it won't be long now and it'll be done and I can finally read it. I'm out here on the balcony, nursing a beer and counting over the number of times he's been at risk in the last, oh, five or six months. Alex killed him. Then, he almost died again from the fever resulting from the infection in his lungs from drowning-only to wake up and find his whole life had gone down the tubes and he couldn't even remember most of it.
I still feel sick when I think about his fear during those awful days and nights. His pain. Then he ran away and courtesy of an 'archangel' who disguises himself as a homeless person, sigh, I got Sandburg back and he got his memories back. Okay, then Ventriss' thugs took a baseball bat to him. I guess jumping out of the helicopter wasn't really life threatening. I can let that one slide. Kincaid took him hostage at a basketball game and planned to kill him and Simon and Darryl and a bunch of other guys. He was shot at by car-jackers and crashed his car. Had a gun cocked in his face in a warehouse. Could've been killed twice in the last couple of days.
What's that, not counting the helicopter jump into the ocean? Eight, nine times in five or six months?
And this when I'm trying to keep him safe.
Guess it goes to prove that I can't keep him safe-no matter how hard I try.
I can't keep living on the edge of losing him. But I both want, and need, him to be my partner; I know that.
He sure as hell doesn't seem to think any of those incidents were any particular problem. But then, we haven't been talking all that much these last few months, so how would I really know?
What the hell am I going to do? What does he want to do?
After more than three years, you'd think I'd know the answers to those questions.
Maybe he's right. Maybe we don't talk enough.
On to part 2