Disclaimer: Don't own them, wish I did. :::sigh::: The only character I own here is Brian. The title is taken from an England Dan and John Ford Coley song of the same name, of which I am borrowing the refrain.
Rated PG-13 for language.
Notes: This takes place after S2P2 but before TSbyBS.
Warning: EXTREME ANGST.
I remember years ago
All the plans I had.
Now I watch the river flow.
Time has brought me here with empty hands
Three months after the memorial service and he still couldn't say the words aloud. It was like if he did, it would make them real and then he would have to curl up and die himself.
The salty ocean breeze whipped a dark curl across Blair Sandburg's face and he impatiently shoved it behind an ear. Dark clouds marched across the sky, heralding yet another spate of the rain that had inundated Cascade the last few days. He didn't mind -- the angry sky matched his own fury at the callous fates that had stolen his sentinel from him and left an emptiness rivaling a black hole in his chest. His eyes burned with unshed tears -- tears held in check for months as he hoped and prayed and searched.
What was he even searching for? The body had been identified by dental records, and Jim's badge and gun had been found with him in the twisted, blackened wreckage that had been Sweetheart, his '69 pick-up. Why couldn't he admit that Jim was dea--
"No!" Blair surprised himself when he realized he'd spoken aloud.
He glanced around, at the few people along the pier, the old man who fished there every day, rain or shine, and the homeless woman under four layers of threadbare, dirty clothing. But nobody seemed to notice. Blair was just another lost soul on the fringes of society, trying to maintain a hold on that ephemeral state of mind most people called sanity. That grip was loosening with each passing day -- each time that Blair walked into the loft expecting to see Jim pulling his homemade lasagna from the oven; each evening when he flipped on a Jags game and turned to ask Jim if he wanted a beer; each morning as he laid in bed, waiting for Jim to get up and shower first.
His stomach cramped and bile rose in his throat. He swallowed it back, convulsively swallowing again to keep the disguised sob from reaching his lips. A weight lay on his chest, forcing him to take short, quick gasps. A barge's faint horn gave him something to focus on and he wondered what it would sound like to Jim's hypersensitive ears.
Only those senses were gone, along with the special man who had possessed them. James Ellison, Detective, Sentinel, Best Friend to Blair Sandburg.
The air was so thick he could barely breath; his insides so twisted and his muscles so quivery he wondered how his bones could continue to bear his weight.
You work with facts every day, Sandburg. You put the facts together and come up with a conclusion. The facts say that Jim is dead.
"Oh, God." Blair hunched over the rail of the pier, his shoulders shaking with sobs he could no longer hold back. The tears he had held at bay for so long refused to be held captive any longer. They spilled down his cheeks, creating a burning trail across his skin. He rasped for air through his mouth in between the sobs that rattled his body and soul.
He pictured Jim wearing his Jags cap, his blue eyes sparkling with humor and intelligence, his lips turned upward with a smartass grin, and his arm around Blair's shoulders. The man had become his brother, the center of his universe and now his universe was shot to hell. The only things left to him were grief and madness.
A hand settled on his back and a voice rumbled softly. "Blair?"
For a split second, he thought Jim had returned, then he recognized the timbre. Blair used the sleeve of his flannel overshirt to wipe his eyes and face. The tears didn't stop, just the sobs.
"Simon." Blair focused on the horizon, where the ocean mated with the sky.
"I came to take you home."
Blair shook his head, his curls dancing around his face. "I can't go back there."
"It's yours. He left it to you," Simon said quietly. "He wanted you to have it."
Blair struck the wood rail with the bottom of his fist. The physical pain felt good -- it gave him something else to feel besides the shards of glass shredding his heart. "I don't want it. Not without him."
"You've been living there for three months by yourself already. Nothing's changed."
Blair spun around and the helpless fury that raged from his haggard face made Simon cringe inwardly and take a step back.
"Everything's changed! Damnit, Simon, my whole fucking life has changed!" His Adam's apple bobbed up and down as he turned away once more. "Jim is dead. Do you know what that means?"
Simon wanted to put his arms around the kid, but Blair's stiff backbone and the anger vibrating from his body told him no. Simon had dealt with Jim's death after the M.E. had made the identification of the horrible, blackened corpse. Even thinking about it now made Simon want to lose his last meal.
But Blair had adamantly refused to believe. He'd begun investigating on his own to find Jim, and Simon had allowed him to do so, thinking it would allow Blair to come to terms with the death of his best friend. Only Blair had become obsessed. He'd dropped out of college and concentrated on finding a dead man. He'd gone through file upon file -- all of the cases Jim had been involved in since he joined Cascade P.D., even those where he was only peripherally involved. Simon had tried to talk to Blair then, but he'd only put another wedge between them. Though he'd dragged his heels on pulling Blair's observer badge in the beginning, Simon had no other choice. Blair was denied access to the police computers, as well as Major Crimes, where the very people who could help him through this tragedy worked.
The last few weeks, Blair had seemed to disappear. Simon had called him, leaving message after message, but none had been returned. So he'd gone to the loft that morning, intending to talk to Blair. Instead, he'd ended up following Sandburg's old Volvo to this place.
"What does it mean, Blair?" Simon asked gently.
"It means I'm alone again." Blair's voice shook and he finally looked up at Simon. "And I don't want to be."
Simon surrendered to his paternal instincts and wrapped his arms around the younger man. For a moment, Blair remained stiff, then collapsed against him, his arms going around Simon's waist and his cheek pressed to Simon's chest. Simon held him as the emotional storm passed through his much too-thin friend.
Blair's sobs turned to hiccups and he straightened, drawing away from Simon. "What am I going to do now?" he asked in a lost child's voice.
Simon's heart tightened. "What would Jim want you to do?" he countered softly.
One last tear slid down Blair's face -- a face with too-prominent cheekbones and dark circles beneath sunken hollow eyes. The younger man raised his chin. "He'd want me to get my doctorate."
"Then that's what you should do. The insurance--"
"No!" Blair's vehement voice interrupted. "I won't touch his money."
Simon opened his mouth to tell him that it was his, as sole beneficiary on Jim's policy, but he didn't. Blair wasn't ready to accept it yet. Instead, he rested a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Why don't I treat you to lunch? I'll even go to one of those weird places you like."
Simon watched the struggle between despair and heartache on Blair's expressive face, then a small shadow of the familiar Sandburg smile graced the kid's lips. "All right. But they're not weird."
The police captain grinned and wrapped an arm around Blair's shoulders, steering him back toward their vehicles. "You'll always have friends at the station, Blair. You know that, don't you?"
Blair nodded jerkily. "I know. But... but I don't think I can go back there for a long time. Y'know?"
Simon's throat clogged with emotion. "I know, kid. I know."
Eternity had come and gone, and it had forgotten about him. That was the only explanation Jake Edwards could find as he watched the sun set over the mountains through the bars of the window in his sparsely furnished room.
As it disappeared behind a snow-patched mountain peak, the tall man crossed the short distance to his bed, but paused at the chrome pillar in the center of the room. He stared at his distorted image, trying to see what he looked like. He had no idea. There were no mirrors in the entire building. He knew because he'd spent a day searching for one.
Though his reflection was distorted, he could see that his eyes were blue, a bright blue that reminded him of the clear sky, before the clouds came over the mountains. The rest of his features were stretched across the curved surface and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't put the puzzle together. Slowly, cautiously, he raised his hand and pressed his fingertips against the image.
"I am Jake Edwards," he whispered hoarsely, though the name was no more familiar to him than his face.
The lights dimmed, then came back up -- the signal that it was time for bed. A bubble of rebellion rose in him and he quickly squelched it. The healing marks on his back reminded him of what happened to those who talked back. He didn't want to hurt again. Not without his friend to help him, his friend B--
The name escaped him as it always did, but this time he'd found the first letter -- B. Excitement skittered through him, a strange foreign feeling. Every day in this place was like the day before, the same schedule, the same food, the same people, the same thoughts, the same... But tonight something felt different. He felt different.
He was still standing in the center of the room when the lights went out, but he could see perfectly in the blackness. That had never happened before. His mouth dropped open in amazement, then the sound of someone's voice startled him. He spun around, but nobody was there.
He searched the room, but he was alone. Ghosts? Fear flowed through his veins. There were more voices directly behind him. He whirled around again. Nobody was there. Then came the pounding of a drum, only it wasn't a drum. It was coming from his own body.
Jake pressed his palms to his ears to shut it out, to shut everything out. Even so, sounds continued to bombard him. They filled his head and punched against his eardrums until his brain was ready to explode.
"Go away!" he screamed and nearly passed out from the sound of his own voice. He stumbled back, hitting the wall and he hissed at the pain of his healing skin. Then he slowly slid to the floor, his gown bunching around once-muscular thighs.
A sickening odor struck his nose and his supper rose in his throat, but he managed to hold it back. The memory of his most recent roommate hanging from the ceiling assaulted him. The evening before when he'd returned to his room, he'd been kept outside while people in white came and went. Jake had seen past them to Joey, a sheet wrapped around his throat and the other end around a pipe fixture along the ceiling, and the horrible smell of human waste. A tipped-over chair below Joey's dangling feet told Jake that he had killed himself. Joey had wanted to escape and he'd done so.
The stink slithered through him like a snake, wrapping around his lungs. His last meal climbed up his throat and he couldn't hold it back this time. The odor brought tears to his eyes, made him gag as he searched for fresh air. But there was none to be found.
Jake curled up on the floor, his arms wrapped around his head, beside the pool of vomit. He fixated on a speck on the floor and repeated one word over and over. "Blair. Blair. Blair."
The next day, Jake sat in a corner of the community room on the floor, rocking back and forth as he stared at a monster fly climbing up the wall. Its buzzing filled all of Jake's hearing. None of the other twenty people in the large recreation room seemed to notice it, but it held Jake's entire attention. His bladder told him he should get up and go to the bathroom, but he couldn't leave. If he did, the fly might hurt someone. He had to protect the people.
"Hey, man, what're you doing?"
A low voice sounded faintly in his head, but he couldn't draw his gaze away from the fly.
Then a warm hand touched his arm and the soothing voice came again. "Hey, Jake, you all right, man?"
The fly began to fade and Jake blinked, rubbing his eyes. When he looked again, there was only a tiny fly on the wall. His giant friend had disappeared, as had the insistent buzzing in his head. He focused on the face in front of him -- a gentle, open face with dark eyes and hair.
Raising his hand, Jake touched a short curl on the man's head. "Why'd you cut it?"
The man blinked, then smiled. "I didn't. It's always been like this." He was squatting close to Jake, his expression a mixture of amusement and concern. "Isn't it a little chilly down there?"
Jake suddenly realized his butt was numb and his arms and legs chilled. "Yeah, cold."
The man lent him a hand and pulled him to his feet, then held him upright when Jake almost collapsed. "Take it easy, big guy. It'll take a minute or two for the circulation to kick back in."
Jake stared at the stranger, thinking he should know him. But the man's identity played hide-and-seek with his memory. "Who're you?"
"Brian, your new roommate," the younger man replied. "And you're Jake Edwards, right?"
"Yeah." The feeling in Jake's legs was returning, sending little needles of pain skimming along his skin. He groaned, then gritted his teeth.
"You all right, Jake?"
The genuine concern warmed Jake like nothing else he could remember in his limited memory. He nodded, unable to speak past the lump in his throat. After a few moments he pulled away from the younger man.
"So, what're you in for?" Brian asked.
Jake blinked. Nobody ever talked to him -- well, at least not like in a normal conversation. At least not that he could remember. "I-I don't know."
Brian's smile faded and his eyes filled with compassion, reminding Jake of someone. "I'm sorry, man. I didn't mean to--"
Jake placed a hand on the shorter man's shoulder, the gesture feeling... right. "It's okay. I don't remember much of anything."
The sparkle returned to Brian's face, as did his smile. "Sometimes that's not such a bad thing."
Lunch was announced and Jake fell in step with Brian. The sense of having done this before, in another life, startled Jake, and he wrapped his thoughts around the warm feeling, holding it close. Brian led the way through the line, grabbing a tray for himself and Jake.
"Thank you," Jake said quietly.
"No problem. We roomies have to stick together. Us against them, y'know?" Brian replied with a wink.
"Us against them, yeah." Jake grinned, starting to feel alive for the first time since... The thought ended abruptly and he frowned.
"Something wrong, Jake?"
He shook his head.
Brian sent him a puzzled look, but didn't pursue it. Instead, he started a running commentary on their meal. "I've seen better pig slop than this stuff." He plopped a spoonful of mashed potatoes on his plate with a dull thwump. "Enough starch in these for a drill sergeant's uniform." A dollop of overcooked spinach. "Popeye would never be able to save Olive Oyl with this crap." A burnt chicken breast. "Some poor fowl lost his feathers for this?"
Jake couldn't process everything Brian was saying, but he did understand the humor in his tone and laughed. It sounded like a rusty gate and Jake pressed his lips together, embarrassed.
Brian's hand settled on his arm. "It's all right, Jake. You have a good laugh -- you just have to use it more. I tell you what, I'm going to make it my job to make you laugh. How does that sound?"
Tears filled Jake's eyes and he impatiently swiped at them. God, nobody had talked to him like he was normal before and he liked it. "That sounds good, Chief."
"Chief, huh? So that makes you who -- the Lone Ranger?"
"I don't have a silver bullet."
Brian laughed and Jake decided he liked to listen to Brian's laugh. He hoped he did it more, too.
"Come on, Kemo Sabe. Let's go find a table," Brian said.
Five minutes later, Jake cleaned off his plate, then glanced at his new friend, who was picking at his food.
"You must have lost all sense of taste in this place." Brian dropped his fork with a clatter. "This shit isn't fit for man nor beast."
"You get used to it," Jake said with a shrug.
"Not in this lifetime, buddy." Brian leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head.
Jake copied his motions and looked around at the other patients, the only people he knew. Most of them couldn't walk, and those who did, shuffled around, shoulders hunched and never looking anyone in the eye. Except for Lydia, but she was usually talking with people only she could see and hear.
"Why are you here?" Jake finally asked.
"My parents thought I needed a vacation," Brian said, sarcasm oozing from his tone. "I agreed, only because I knew if I didn't, they'd do it for me. At least this way, I can sign myself out."
"They must care about you."
"Maybe, but I wouldn't bet on it." Brian stood. "C'mon, let's head back to the rec room and grab the ping pong table before someone takes a nap on it."
Later that evening, after the patients were ushered to their rooms, Jake sat cross-legged on his bed, plucking at a thread on his thin blanket. Brian was sprawled on the other bed, his ankles crossed and his hands stacked behind his head as he stared at the ceiling.
"You ever get to get out of this place -- take a vacation?" Brian asked.
Jake shook his head slowly. "No. This is my home."
Brian turned sharply to stare at the other man, and Jake cringed, hoping Brian wasn't mad at him. "But you came from someplace."
A bright sunny room with a high ceiling flashed in Jake's mind. Was that where he came from? "I s'pose, but I don't remember."
Brian sat up on his bed and shifted around to gaze at Jake. "What about family? Does anyone ever visit you?"
"One man, a long time ago. He said--" Jake scrunched up his face, trying to remember. "He said this was better than dead. He said that I would be here for the rest of my life and nobody would ever know."
Concern washed over Brian's face. "Geezus, Jake, he doesn't sound like a friend."
Friend. The image of a young man with animated blue eyes and long curly hair flitted through Jake's thoughts. Was he a friend? Family? He should know him -- he did know him.
Jake stared out the window at the full moon low in the night sky. The moonlight glowed and different colors danced in the moon's orbit, entrancing Jake. It was so beautiful, unlike the white room, the only place he knew. The beauty drew him, teased him, and Jake gave in to the temptation to lose himself within it.
Brian noticed the change in his roommate immediately. One moment he'd been looking out the window, the next his mouth gaped slightly and his eyes became fixed on the moon. He'd thought he'd been lucky to get Jake as a roommate after seeing the rest of the patients, but now he wasn't so sure. The man was definitely firing on too few cylinders.
"Hey, Jake, what're you looking at?" Brian asked.
No answer, not even a blink.
Brian eased himself off his bed and moved to Jake. He grasped the man's shoulder -- a shoulder that still retained hard muscle. Yeah, Bodies by Jake, he thought wryly. Brian had always been smaller, never as strong as his older brother, who had looked a little like Jake on steroids. Brian had tried to live up to his father's expectations, to be more like his brother. God knows, he'd tried. He shook his head. Dwelling on the past was something he couldn't do. Not if he wanted to get out of this place with his sanity intact. Or whatever was left of his sanity.
He shook Jake. "C'mon, Kemo Sabe, snap out of it. You're scaring me here."
Slowly, as if coming out of a trance, Jake shook his head and his gaze focused on Brian. "Chief. What happened?"
Brian smiled at the nickname -- an odd one, but it seemed natural coming from Jake. "You kinda disappeared for a while there. What were you thinking about?"
"Nothing," Jake replied vaguely. "The moon, all the colors, it was so pretty."
Brian turned to glance at the moon, but all he saw was a pale ball with vague crater shadows on the surface. Nothing very exciting there. He wondered if Jake was tripping on some kind of flashback. "Whatever, man."
Brian started to return to his own bed, but Jake's fingers closed around his wrist, surprisingly strong.
"You can't see the colors?" Jake demanded.
"No," Brian replied. "But that doesn't mean they're not there."
"Don't patronize me, Chief. I see them. They're real."
Brian blinked, startled by Jake's impatience and his suddenly mature and intelligent tone. The child-like man he'd met earlier that day had disappeared. Brian frowned. "Tell me what you see, Jake."
"There's the moon, but it's alive, light pulsing from inside. And there are arcs of color around it, kind of like a rainbow, but more vivid. Blue, red, green, orange, all the colors you can imagine, Chief. I see them all, extending out into the dark sky, until they just fade away."
Brian narrowed his eyes, trying to imagine Jake's description. His attention went back to Jake and he knew the older man was more lucid -- and sane -- than any of the other loonies in the hospital. He suddenly noticed how dilated Jake's pupils were, how they nearly covered the entirety of his blue irises, but there was no hint of derangement.
No, Jake Edwards wasn't crazy. But something was definitely wrong.
"I don't see them, Jake. I want to, but I can't. Maybe it's something only your eyes can see."
Jake blinked and his scrutiny returned to Brian. "Maybe."
The lights dimmed once then came back up to full brightness. Jake cringed, covering his eyes with his hands. "Turn them off. Hurts!"
Bewildered, Brian dashed to the door and hit the light switch, plunging the room into darkness. He carefully crossed the room to Jake's bedside. "Is that better?" he asked gently.
Jake nodded. "Yes. My eyes hurt though."
"Why don't you lie down and go to sleep? They'll feel better in the morning."
The immature Jake had returned, but Brian wasn't disturbed. Jake Edwards was a mystery and Brian used to enjoy a good mystery. Besides, he felt an unexplainable fondness for the confused man.
He helped Jake get his legs under the covers, then drew the blankets up to his chest. "Get some sleep, Kemo Sabe."
"Chief?" Jake spoke so low Brian almost didn't hear him.
"Could you hold my hand, just until I f-fall asleep?"
If they'd been any other place but in this hospital, Brian would've slugged him. But Jake's request was the innocent plea of a scared child and Brian didn't have it in his heart to deny the plaintive request.
He pulled the single chair beside Jake's bed and took hold of the man's larger hand. His long slender fingers curled around Brian's palm, trusting him. God, nobody had trusted Brian for a long time and it felt good to care about someone again.
Brian leaned back in his chair, content to listen to Jake's breathing pattern grow more regular until the man was finally asleep. But even then, Brian remained beside him, not wanting to lose the fragile thread of sanity that the black nightmares destroyed.
They were the reason Brian was admitted to the Mountainside Hospital for the Mentally Handicapped -- an asylum for the insane.
Blair rubbed his gritty eyes as he climbed the stairs up to the loft. His pace was slow, his feet heavy and it seemed to take forever to arrive at the third floor. Shambling down the hallway, he stopped in front of 307, turned the key in the lock and stepped inside.
"Lucy, I'm home," he called out, but the words shattered at his feet. There was nobody -- no Jim -- to laugh at them.
He tossed his keys on the small table. Even after four months, his gaze automatically searched for Jim's truck keys in the small basket sitting there. They were never there.
Dropping his backpack to the floor, he removed his jacket like an automaton, going through the motions only because it was the normal thing to do... except "normal" had ceased to exist the day Jim's body was found.
There were times at the university when he forgot, usually when he was teaching, but they only lasted a few minutes. Then the familiar depression would take over until he had to get outside and sit on the grass and try to live in the here and now. He used to be an expert at that -- living only for the moment, the hour, taking each day one at a time. Now, however, only emptiness greeted him each morning and he had to find one reason to get out of bed. Most mornings he spent a long time searching for that one reason.
Blair's shoulders slumped beneath clothes that were too large for him. He had to tighten his belt to keep his jeans up now. He plodded into the kitchen and opened the fridge. The only items on the refrigerator shelves were three hard-boiled eggs, a carton of sour milk, five bottles of Jim's favorite beer that Blair couldn't bring himself to touch and a nearly full container of Chinese food he'd ordered a week ago. He tossed the white take-out box in the garbage that hadn't been carried out in nearly a week.
With nothing edible in the fridge, he closed the door and leaned against the counter, surveying the loft. Books and papers and clothing were strewn everywhere.
"Jim's not going to be happy with you for turning his place into a pig sty," Blair said quietly. Talking to himself or to Jim while in the loft had become as natural as breathing, though if he'd thought about it, Blair would know that it wasn't normal.
No, normal was Jim yelling at him to pick up his stuff and to not use all the hot water and to not write so loud....
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. Who could it be? He'd had only two visitors since Jim had... left. He opened the door.
Simon, Taggart, Rafe, Brown, Megan, and Rhonda stood in the hallway, their arms laden with grocery bags, colorful balloons and a cake.
"Happy Birthday," they said, in unison.
He'd totally forgotten about his own birthday.
"Are you going to make us stand in the hall or can we come in?" Simon asked.
Blair blinked and stepped back, motioning them to enter. He noticed that everyone was looking around surreptitiously. This was the first time any of them, except for Simon, had been there since Jim...
"Happy birthday, Sandy," Megan said, then gave him a hug. "It's good to see you."
One by one, Blair shook hands with the men, then received another hug from Rhonda. As if in a daze, he watched them empty three brown bags of food and set down the cake in the middle of the table. Rafe piled beer, bottled water, and Coke into the fridge, while the others drew bowls and mixing spoons out of the cupboards.
Joel Taggart tugged Blair into the living room, away from the bustle in the kitchen. "We've missed you, Blair."
"I--ah, I've missed all of you guys, too," Blair responded, feeling the sting of tears.
"You should come by some time and go out to lunch with us." Joel patted Blair's concave stomach and concern filled his expression. "You're going to get sick if you don't start eating."
"I know, but it's just that I've been so busy."
"Even grad students have to take time to eat," Joel growled affectionately.
Blair glanced back at the busy group in the kitchen. "How'd you guys know?"
Taggart shrugged. "Simon had it on his calendar, so we decided to throw you a surprise party."
Blair noticed Simon pull on an apron and turned back to Joel, who answered the unspoken question. "He's going to make his special barbecued ribs, Rafe's got a recipe for rice and beans to kill for, Megan's putting together a salad, and Rhonda volunteered her cornbread recipe." Joel's dark eyes sparkled and he smiled fondly. "We're all worried about you, Blair."
Blair's throat clogged with emotion. These were friends he'd made through Jim, and they had become more like family than any of his academic friends. Though Blair had been an interloper when he'd first become Jim's partner, he'd slowly become accepted for himself. The closed society of the police unit had grudgingly cracked open their door and Blair had slipped inside. There were still a few who had never liked him and his long hair and unorthodox methods, but they were a minority. Everyone in Major Crimes had accepted him, made him a part of their group, and even though Blair was no longer associated with the department, they carried over their friendship.
"Hey, you okay?" Taggart asked, concerned.
"Just fine, Joel." He smiled, thinking for the first time in months that he might actually survive.
Two and a half hours later, Blair and his visitors sprawled across the couches and chairs in the living room. The Jags game blared on the TV. Blair had eaten more in the last hour than he had in the past week and his stomach protested a little, but he felt good. He noticed Rafe and Megan sitting side by side, Rhonda beside Megan and Brown in a chair on the other side of Rafe. Rafe and Brown were arguing good-naturedly about the basketball game, while Rhonda and Megan tried to play referees. Joel Taggart reclined in a chair, his head back as he snored quietly.
"Thanks, Simon," Blair said in a low voice to the police captain slouched on the couch beside him, a beer in his hand.
Simon smiled slightly, fondness glimmering in his warm brown eyes. "You're welcome. Nobody's thirtieth birthday should be spent alone. Besides, you looked like you could use a good meal. And some company."
Blair stared at the TV screen to regain his composure and fight back the tears of gratitude. "I guess I've been pretty out of it since... since Jim died."
"I never claimed to understand the relationship you and Jim had, but I do know that you made Jim a better cop, a better person. Your friendship was good for him."
"It was good for me, too, Simon. I'd never known anyone like him, and it wasn't just his sentinel senses."
Silence surrounded the two men, the basketball commentator's voice and their friends' good-natured bantering a soothing backdrop. Drops of rain struck the balcony windows and thunder rumbled in the distance.
"How's school going?" Simon asked quietly.
Blair shrugged, took a sip of beer, and turned slightly to look at Simon. "Okay." He smiled wryly. "I think that's the only thing that's kept me from going crazy."
"You know, we're only a phone call away," Simon reminded.
"I know." Blair took a deep breath and swept his hair back with a shaky hand. "I think I might be ready to pick up the phone now."
Simon reached up and gave Blair's shoulder a quick squeeze, surprising him. Simon had never been one to express his feelings openly. Unlike Jim, who often touched Blair -- a pat on the back or head, an arm around the shoulders, or brotherly fisticuffs and playful boxing. It had been easier for Jim and Blair to show their affection for one another that way than with words.
"Good. You can pick up the next lunch tab," Simon said.
Blair smiled. They watched the game for a couple minutes, then Blair spoke. "I've been considering completing my dissertation. I have more than enough notes from..." he broke off, glanced away to hide the lingering sadness.
"Jim would want you to," Simon said quietly.
"I've been putting it off. I didn't know if I could go through all my notes, reliving all those times--" He rubbed his eyes. "It'll be hard, but I think I can do it now."
Simon nodded. "Maybe it'll help."
"No pain, no gain, right?"
"You know how the grieving process works."
Blair sighed. "Yeah, I know in my head. It's my heart that's having a hard time with it."
"Give it time, Blair."
Time was the only thing he was left with.
Blair turned his attention back to the game and soaked up the first peace he'd found since Jim had died.
"Hey, Kemo Sabe!"
"What is it, Chief?" Jake asked, forcing his attention away from the basketball game on TV.
"Nurse Ratched is working tonight. What do you say we have some fun?" Brian asked in a low voice, his eyes twinkling.
Jake grinned. The stuffy old nurse had become the brunt of Brian's creative practical jokes, and Jake had become a willing accomplice. From hiding her shoes when she was on her break to putting mashed potatoes in her sweater pockets to sticking a post-it on her back that read Kiss Me -- they had done everything. Ever since the younger man had shown up three weeks ago, Jake had felt more alive than he could remember. "What's in that devious mind of yours now?"
Brian blinked in surprise. "Damn, Jake, you gotta warn me when you're going to sound like a real live adult."
Jake's smile slipped away. "I am an adult, Brian."
The younger man clapped an arm around his shoulders. "Sorry, Kemo Sabe. I forget sometimes." He eyed Jake somberly. "You've changed a lot since I got here. Have you been able to remember anything about why you were hospitalized? Or from before you were put in here?"
Jake's gaze turned inward. "Not really, just flashes of people and places."
Brian sprang off the old couch and moved to the scarred coffee table in front of him. He sat down, facing Jake and leaned forward expectantly. "Any names?"
Jake thought for a moment, then shook his head. "No, except I think one of them starts with a B."
"Like B as in Brian?"
"Yeah, but it isn't Brian."
"Can you describe any of these people you see?"
Jake turned his gaze inward. "Long curly hair, the same color as yours. Dark blue eyes. And he's always moving." The image blurred, faded, slipping away like sand through his fingers. His hands curled into fists resting on his thighs as he unwillingly surrendered the memory. "I'm losing him."
Brian's hands settled on Jake's knees. "Relax, Kemo Sabe. Lean your head back against the couch and close your eyes. Take a couple deep breaths and let them out slow-like."
Jake did as he was told, feeling like he was watching himself from above doing the same thing in some other place.
"All right, let your mind wander and just follow it. Describe what you see," Brian said, quietly.
The darkness gave way to flashes of images. "An apartment, high ceiling, stairs to an upstairs bedroom..." Jake described. "That man, younger than me, a few years older than you, same size maybe. He's a friend." He paused, a new figure swirling across his mind. "A tall man, dark, glasses--" Jake wrinkled his nose, "--cigar."
More pictures raced through him. A body on the floor, blood congealing around it. A bar with bodies scattered across tables and chairs and blood meandering across the floor like macabre rivers. His own hands, covered with scarlet and holding a gun.
Jake's eyes flew open and he bolted upright. His heart thundered in his chest.
Brian stood, resting a soothing hand on his arm. "What?"
"A gun. Blood. Dead people." Jake shuddered. "Oh, God, Brian, what if I'm a murderer?"
"No, you're not a killer," Brian said firmly. "Just relax. Take it easy."
His knees trembling, Jake sank back on to the couch. He scrubbed his face with his palms and another vision intruded. A fountain and a body facedown. Long hair floating on the water's surface. Cold water on his legs. Panic in his lungs. Heart hammering in his chest. Mouth to mouth resuscitation. Blue lips. No breath. No familiar heartbeat.
Ice formed in his veins. Lifeless body cradled in his arms. Arms pulling him away--
This can't be happening. This can't be happening.
Brian watched the color leach from Jake's face until the older man's complexion was like marble. Jake's eyes became unfocused, like the night he'd stared at the moon. His mouth gaped open and his breathing became shallow.
He gripped Jake's shoulders. "Hey, c'mon, Jake. Don't flip out on me again, man. Come back, Kemo Sabe."
He shook the man. "Wake up! C'mon or Nurse Ratched's gonna give you the shock treatment."
Desperation made Brian shake him even harder, but Jake's mind had disappeared, gone someplace where no one could follow. Damnit! He thought the change in Jake was good, that the man would remember everything from his past. He hadn't counted on these blackouts.
"What's going on here?" Nurse Ratched demanded, her hands planted on her wide hips.
"Ah, nothing. Jake is just thinking," Brian replied, keeping a hand on Jake's arm.
The nurse waved a hand in front of Jake's unblinking gaze, then shook her head. "Manny!" she bellowed, making Brian cringe.
A brawny attendant joined them.
"Get Edwards back to his room and on his bed. I'll have the doctor check him out."
Manny gave Brian a shove, nearly sending him to the floor. But his own anger was forgotten when the big man slung Jake over his shoulders in a fireman's carry, not bothering to leave him with any dignity.
Brian scrambled to his feet. "Give him some respect, would you?"
His request was ignored. Seething, Brian followed them to the room, but was blocked by a brick wall in the form of Nurse Ratched. "Go back to the rec room."
"I want to stay with him," Brian argued.
"Don't worry. We'll take care of him."
"That's what I'm worried about."
Manny re-joined the nurse and Brian could see past him to Jake lying on his bed. He looked back at Manny, whose expression reminded him of a trained attack dog. Brian held no illusions anymore -- Manny wouldn't hesitate to obey Nurse Ratched's commands.
He raised his hands, palms out and backed away. "All right, all right. I'll come back later."
Pissed off at a whole system that would treat a human being so indifferently, Brian returned to the community room. He dropped into a chair and stared at the monosyllabic people who surrounded him. Jake was the only person in this miserable place who made it bearable. Brian was more convinced than ever that Jake was a victim of some odd set of circumstances. He hadn't forgotten what Jake had told him about the one and only visitor he'd had.
Brian took a deep breath, trying to shove back the dark depression creeping up on him. He had escaped its claws for over three weeks, but now he could feel its grip. The image of his older brother made him gasp. Jumping to his feet, he began to pace. No, he couldn't think about him.
"C'mon, Jake, snap out of it. I need you, Kemo Sabe," Brian whispered and tried to hang on.
Jake's head pounded. He wished they would give him some aspirin, but he knew his request would be denied. After all, he was crazy. Massaging his temples, he felt his roommate's concerned gaze upon him.
"You sure you're okay, Jake? You were out of it for nearly eight hours," Brian said.
"Yeah, I'm all right, except for this damned migraine."
Brian smiled. "Glad to see the new Jake is still around."
Though Jake wasn't sure he understood, he didn't question him. Forming a sentence would take too much concentration.
The two men sat on their respective beds, waiting for the signal for lights out. Jake had no recollection of the trance he'd fallen in. All he knew was that when he'd awakened, Brian was sitting beside his bed, a haunted expression on his face. And even though the younger man's presence soothed him, there was a ripple of unease mixed with it. Something wasn't right, something that Jake could feel, but not express.
"You scared the hell out of me, buddy," Brian said softly.
Jake glanced at him. "Sorry. I wish I could tell you what happened, but I can't."
"What's the last thing you remember?"
Jake tried to press back the curtain from his memory. "I was thinking about water and cold." His brows furrowed. "And there was somebody, I think a friend..." Visceral fear cut through him and he flinched. "He was dead. Drowned."
Brian's face paled. "I'm sorry, Jake." He said it with so much sympathy that Jake suspected he knew exactly what the anguish felt like.
"Thanks." Jake paused. "For everything."
Brian shrugged with forced nonchalance, but Jake heard an increased pounding coming from his chest. He tipped his head to the side, listening. He slid off his bed and walked over to Brian, the pulsing rhythm growing louder. Resting his palm against Brian's chest, he felt his heart beat in time with the sound he heard.
"What're you doing?" Brian asked.
Jake withdrew his hand as if burned. "I hear your heartbeat."
"Your heart, it speeded up."
Alarm rifled through Brian, but along with it was curiosity. "Are you serious?"
Jake nodded slowly. "That's not normal, is it?"
Brian laughed. "Not exactly." He sobered. "But maybe it's normal for you."
The lights flickered.
"Tomorrow we'll talk about this and maybe we can try some tests," Brian said. "After a good night's sleep."
"Tests?" Jake grinned. "Are you going to make me run a maze with cheese at the end?"
Brian laughed. "Nah, but maybe if you do good, you'll get a doggy bone."
"As long as it's a milk bone," Jake shot back.
Chuckling, Brian said, "Goodnight, Kemo Sabe."
Jake wandered back to his bed and climbed in just as the lights went out. "Goodnight, Chief."
He lay awake for a long time, listening to his roommate's heartbeat. It soothed him, yet there was an underlying "wrongness" to it. Still, Jake harbored a protectiveness toward the younger man that felt right.
Brian's steady breathing finally lulled Jake into a restful sleep.
Jake awakened to the sound of a low moan. At first, he thought it was himself or maybe one of those mysterious voices he'd heard before. The noise came again, along with a strangled groan and a barely articulate "no."
He slipped out of his bed soundlessly, the dark not hindering him with his new eyesight, and crossed to Brian. The younger man's face was contorted, a nightmare obviously holding him in its grasp. Sweat rolled down Brian's face and Jake could hear his racing heartbeat, his too-fast breaths.
Uncertain of what to do, Jake stood there motionless. Suddenly Brian's eyes flew open and in their depths, he saw terror.
Jake laid a hand on his arm. "No, it's Jake. You okay, Chief?"
Tears created two moon-glistened trails down Brian's face and Jake gritted his teeth helplessly. He wanted to help him, take away the pain that brought such sorrow to his friend's face. Allowing instinct to guide him, he enfolded the smaller man in a hug. Brian's shoulders shook and Jake could hear the tiny sobs he couldn't muffle.
"It's okay, Chief. Everything'll be all right," Jake soothed.
Deja vu filled him, halting his reassurances. He continued to hold Brian, but in his mind's eye, it was another man and another nightmare. He'd done this before, for his friend, the man with the long curly hair and blue eyes. His guide.
Guide? Where had that come from? He tried to examine the word more closely, but the memory slid away like the ocean's waves receding on a beach. Although frustrated, Jake continued his soothing words and eventually Brian's sobs faded away.
Brian pushed away and scrubbed his face. "Sorry 'bout that, Jake. Didn't mean to wake you up."
"That's what friends are for." Jake sat down on the edge of Brian's bed, deja vu whispering across him again. "You want to talk about it?"
Jake remained motionless.
"Hey, you going into a trance again?" Brian asked.
"No. I'm just waiting."
Brian dragged a hand through his hair. "You don't want to hear this."
Jake shrugged. "Maybe not, but I wouldn't be a very good friend if I didn't."
Brian stared at him, then pushed himself up so his back rested against the wall. "I told you I put myself in here. Well, there was a reason for that."
Jake tilted his head slightly, patiently waiting for him to continue.
"I, ah, don't have a very good relationship with my father. I was always too weak, too small, too different from my brother Mark." Brian paused, lost in memories. "He was everything I wasn't -- strong, good at sports, brave."
"You're brave and strong," Jake said.
Brian flashed him a smile. "Thanks, Kemo Sabe, but most people would disagree with you."
Jake frowned, but stayed quiet.
"But Mark, he never put me down. When Dad would yell at me, Mark would defend me. He was the only one who was ever proud of me. He told me I didn't have to live up to Dad's expectations, only my own. Mark pushed me to go to college and to get my master's degree in chemistry."
Impressed, Jake arched an eyebrow.
"Five months ago Mark and I went camping. We put our tent up by this river, then went swimming. An undertow tugged me down." Brian paused to swallow, his expression filled with pain. "I wasn't strong enough to get out of it alone. Mark swam over and saved me. But--" He gasped raggedly. "A tree limb hit him and he went under. I reached for him, but the current pulled him away so fast. The undertow dragged him down. The next day divers found his body." He closed his eyes and a tear spilled from between his lashes. "My father blamed me. But he can never blame me as much as I blame me."
Jake wasn't certain what to do or say. Someplace deep in his scrambled memory, he had a vague impression of an older man -- his own father? -- shaking him, ordering him to stop lying. He shook his head free of the uncomfortable image. "Mark wouldn't want you to blame yourself," he finally said.
Brian laughed, but there was no humor in it. "I tried telling myself that, but it didn't work. If I hadn't been born, Mark would still be alive."
"He was your brother. He loved you."
Brian tried to choke back a sob, but it escaped and his cheeks reddened. "He shouldn't have. I'm not worth it."
"He thought you were," Jake said firmly.
"He was wrong." Brian turned to stare out the window. "I tried to kill myself, Jake. I took a bunch of pills. All I wanted to do was stop the pain."
Though he was shocked, Jake asked matter-of-factly, "What happened?"
"My mother found me, got me to the hospital in time. That's when I had the option of coming here on my own or have a court hearing where somebody would be assigned my guardian and they would commit me."
"What did your father do?"
Brian shrugged. "Not much. Mom said he was sorry for the way he treated me, but she always says things like that. Like it's going to make a difference."
"Maybe you should give him another chance."
"He's a son-of-a-bitch. If Dad was half the man Mark had been, there might be a chance. But--" Brian shook his head. "He's not going to change. He'll only grow more bitter."
"Then stay away from him. Find your own life, make your own friends. Family isn't always related by blood."
Brian leaned forward. "Like that friend you keep remembering?"
Jake's gaze flickered past Brian to the darkness outside. Loneliness pierced him and he swallowed the anguish that rose in his throat. "Yes," he whispered.
"Someday either he'll find you or you'll find him."
"Not if I can never remember." Jake stood, then dropped a hand to Brian's shoulder. "Your brother loved you, Brian. Don't let his death be for nothing."
He returned to his bed, but the ache of aloneness filled his chest. Brian was his friend, but he wasn't his... guide.
"Thanks, Jake," Brian said softly.
"You're welcome," Jake replied.
Jake fell into a restless sleep, his dreams filled with snippets of a life he couldn't remember.
Blair rode the elevator up to the seventh floor, his heart pounding in his throat and his breath coming in short spurts. He hadn't been to Major Crimes since Simon had taken away his observer's badge and forced him to leave. Looking back, Blair couldn't blame the police captain. Blair had become obsessed with finding Jim alive. An impossible goal.
The elevator swished open and the Major Crimes doors loomed ahead of him. Memories assaulted him: leading Jim down the hallway after he'd been blinded by Golden, Jim teasing him about allowing his girlfriend to read his journals, Blair shadowboxing around Jim... God, so many images buried in his memory.
"You coming or going, kid?" a uniformed cop asked.
Blair shook himself out of his reverie and smiled at him. "Sorry, daydreaming." He stepped out and walked down the hallway, toward those looming glass doors. Pausing to gather his courage, Blair took a deep breath then pushed them open and entered.
His gaze automatically went to Jim's desk -- former desk -- and saw a younger man he didn't know sitting behind it. Blair took a step forward, intending to kick him out of Jim's chair, but memory slammed back. Jim was gone. This person was his replacement. As if Jim could ever be replaced.
Brown was the first to see him and his face lit up. "Hairboy! It's about time you come down to grace us working stiffs with your presence."
Blair found himself laughing. "Only as a study on the common working slob and his interrelationship with his environment."
Suddenly he found himself surrounded by his friends. Even though it had only been a few weeks since they'd all been at the loft for his birthday, they treated him as if they hadn't seen him in ages.
Simon came out of his office, an unlit cigar between his lips. "Hey, Sandburg, I was just going to call you."
"Sorry, Simon. I got caught up after class with a bunch of questions, then there was this one girl..." he broke off, his face reddening.
"The sheila must be pretty," Megan teased.
Blair smiled self-consciously. "We're going out to dinner tomorrow night."
"That's good," Joel said, putting an arm around Blair's shoulders.
"You'll have to let us know how it goes," Rafe put in.
"All right, all right, back to work," Simon said, waving the unlit cigar around like a marching band's baton.
Blair promised to stop by more often, then the others wandered off, leaving Simon and Blair standing alone. Blair nodded toward Jim's old desk. "Is he the one--?"
"He transferred over from Vice a couple months ago," Simon replied.
"Same department Jim came over from," Blair said quietly.
Simon steered Blair toward the double doors. "Come on. I'm starving."
Half an hour later, the two men sat across from one another in the deli frequented by many of the Cascade police department. Simon's plate was empty, but Blair's was still half full.
"Eat up, Sandburg. You can't afford to lose any more weight," Simon chided.
Blair took a bite of his croissant, then set the remainder back on his plate.
"So tell me about this new girlfriend," Simon said.
Blair drew a napkin across his lips. "Not much to tell. Chery's a new TA in the biology department." He leaned back in his chair. "It's only a date, Simon."
"Seems to me this will be your first one since Ji-- in a long time," Simon finished awkwardly.
"Yeah." Blair's gaze drifted to the window and he watched the people scurry past in the misty weather. "I haven't really felt like it."
"How's the dissertation coming?"
"Okay." He shifted his attention back to Simon. "It's been tough. Reading the words I wrote, I'm living it all over again. Then when I'm done, I look around to make some comment to Jim, and he's not there." He shrugged. "I dunno, Simon. Some days are better than others."
Uneasy silence filled the cracks between them, until Blair couldn't take it any longer. "How's Daryl doing?"
As Simon launched into Daryl's latest escapades, Blair smiled and nodded at the appropriate times. Though he enjoyed hearing about Simon's son, Blair's thoughts kept returning to his dissertation... and Jim.
His thoughts always returned to Jim.
"Nurse Ratched is telling Roger to give her the towel, but he wants to keep it," Jake said, his eyes closed and his head tipped to the side. He chuckled. "He's calling her a shameless hussy."
Brian grinned, then stood. "Wait here, I'll be right back."
The younger man dashed off and Jake listened to his footsteps, his heartbeat, and his breathing. He heard him when he turned around and came back a few minutes later. "Damn, that's right. They're in the other wing and you could hear them like they were right next to you?"
Jake nodded. "At least I know I'm not hearing ghosts now."
Brian's excitement was tangible. "Geezus, Jake, did you have these abilities before you came in here?"
Jake's expression clouded. "I don't know."
Brian closed his eyes momentarily. "Sorry, man. Now that you're so much better, I forget."
"That's all right." Jake had been remembering more and more, just little things -- a blue and white truck, more people, an office -- but the specifics remained just out of his reach. It frustrated him, but he didn't allow Brian to see it. The younger man was so enthusiastic about helping him with his super senses that Jake didn't want to dampen his spirits.
He gazed at Brian silently. It had been three weeks since his roommate's nightmare, when he'd confessed why he'd admitted himself to the hospital. Since then, Brian had opened up, telling him about Mark and the things they used to do, and how Mark had urged him to go to medical school. Jake would ache inside, feeling like he, too, had had someone -- a brother? -- he'd been close to. But again he'd kept it to himself. There was nothing anybody could do until Jake remembered his past.
"Why're you still here?" Jake suddenly asked.
Brian brought his head up sharply and Jake heard his heartbeat accelerate. "What do you mean?"
Jake shrugged. "You and I both know you won't try it again."
Brian tugged at the belt around his robe nervously. "You need me, Kemo Sabe. Maybe I need you, too."
"You don't belong here. You need to get into medical school, make Mark proud of you."
"I can't leave you in here, Jake. It's wrong." Sorrow filled Brian's eyes. "You don't belong here either."
Jake wanted nothing more than to leave, but he had no place to go. As much as he hated it in here, the unknown scared him even more. And the unknown lay outside these walls. He shrugged. "I don't have any memories. Everything before I came here is like a slate that's been wiped clean." He grinned crookedly. "Of course, that means I'm not carrying any bad habits over from another life, like cracking my knuckles or leaving my underwear on the floor."
"Just call you Mr. Clean." Brian snorted. He grew serious once more. "I can't just leave you here, Jake. It goes against everything I believe."
Jake took hold of his shoulders. "Listen to me. You have a real life out there. I don't. I'll survive -- and who knows? Maybe I'll have an epiphany where everything comes back to me. Or maybe after you get your medical degree, you'll remember your crazy friend and come back and cure me."
"You're not crazy!" Brian swallowed hard and gazed at Jake intently. "You helped me more in the two months I was here than anybody else in all the time before that."
The two men gazed at each other, hearing the familiar mutterings of the other patients and the blare of the TV in the background. Nurse Ratched's shoe soles squeaked across the shiny floor and one of the brawny attendants muttered something to Lydia, a gray-haired woman who wandered aimlessly, talking to her invisible friends.
Brian nodded slowly. "All right. I'll go, but I'm not going to like it. And I'll be back every weekend to visit."
Jake's stomach dropped and the weight of loneliness mantled his shoulders. He forced a smile, hoping Brian wouldn't see past the mask. "I suppose you'll want to keep testing me during those visits, huh?"
"And I'll even bring milk bones."
They laughed together, the sound an anomaly because it was so normal in their abnormal surroundings. Nurse Ratched glanced at them, her eyes narrowing suspiciously, but Jake and Brian only waved at her.
The next morning brought an unfamiliar awkwardness between the two men. Brian was dressed in regular street clothes and Jake remained in the gown and bathrobe he'd lived in for months now. Their lives were now taking divergent courses, one back to the real world and the other remaining in the only world he knew.
"Well, I guess this is it," Brian said, a tremor in his voice.
Jake nodded. God, he hated this. The one person he'd been able to talk to and who didn't treat him like an idiot was leaving. He was frightened, afraid he'd slip back to the child-man he'd been before Brian arrived.
"You'll be okay," Brian assured as if reading his mind.
"I know," Jake stated, relieved that his own voice remained steady. "Remember those milk bones when you come visiting."
Brian shook a finger at him. "Only if you don't forget everything you've learned about your senses."
They stood in uncomfortable silence. Jake willed his breathing to remain regular and steady. Would Brian really return or was it simply an empty promise to a crazy man? Being more like a child had its advantages -- Jake never used to think so deeply about things. Either they were or they weren't. Simple as that. Now there were so many layers to words and feelings and actions that he didn't know what to believe... who to believe.
Jake stuck out his hand. "Good luck to you, Brian."
The younger man gripped Jake's, then pulled him into a hug. "Thanks for giving me back my life, Jake. I promise I'll do the same for you, even if it takes fifty years."
Jake closed his moisture-laden eyes. "I'd appreciate it if you'd take less time than that. I'd like to leave here with at least some hair left on my head."
Brian laughed and released the older man. "I should've never let you look at yourself in my mirror. Who would've thought you'd be so vain about your looks?"
"Forget the dog bones. Bring me a ball cap when you come to visit."
Brian slapped his shoulder. "You got it, Kemo Sabe." He turned to leave, waiting for an attendant to unlock the door. "Take care of yourself."
Jake nodded, unable to speak. He watched Brian exit, following the corridor to freedom, something Jake wanted to experience someday. Only when Brian disappeared from view did Jake return to the community room. Already, despair ripped through him, making him sick to his stomach. Altering his course, he went to his room that he'd shared with Brian and lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to Brian's heartbeat as it faded away.
It was the wrong one.
Jake's own heart tripped and he concentrated on the other man -- the person he saw in his dreams, both waking and sleeping. His guide. Blair.
He bolted upright. Blair was his friend's name and he was a student.
Jake racked his brain, searching for the answers that crept closer and closer, teasing him. He forced himself to breathe slowly, in and out, and allowed his thoughts to ramble. But no more clues were given.
He knew more answers would come, but only in their own time.
And time was running out.
Blair set the two inch thick sheaf of papers on his desk in his basement office in Hargrove Hall. It was done. His dissertation on Sentinels. He dropped into his chair and stared at the sum of his three years with Detective James Ellison. He thought about keeping Jim's identity secret, but what did it matter? Using his name would make his dissertation a memorial to the man he'd loved as a brother.
Raising his right hand, he laid his palm on the cover page. So much of himself and his friendship with Jim were in these pages. He referred to their trip to Peru, Brackett using Jim and his abilities, Jim saving Blair from Lash in the nick of time, all the times Jim had saved a life, or lives, because of his sentinel abilities.
The only incident that remained absent was Blair's drowning. That had been too personal. He didn't want others reading about that intimacy -- it seemed too much like voyeurism. The secret would remain with Blair until his death, when their animal spirits would meet again.
His vision grew blurry, and he quickly looked away, allowing his gaze to find something to distract his growing melancholy. His eyes fell on a framed picture of himself and Jim -- the one Simon had taken when they'd taken him flyfishing for the first time. Blair stood and his feet carried him to the picture almost against his will. He picked up the framed photograph and his gut clenched. Studying Jim's expression, Blair realized it was one of the few times his friend had been completely relaxed and at peace. Blair's fish was held between them, and the two men's heads were close as they gazed at one another with silly grins on their faces.
He dropped the picture and the glass shattered. He quickly knelt down and retrieved the picture, slicing his finger on one of the shards of glass. Assured the photograph hadn't been harmed, he lifted his head to his visitor as he stick his cut finger in his mouth.
"I'm sorry," Chery said, hurrying to his side. "Here, let me see it."
Blair stubbornly shook his head. "What're you doing here?"
Chery drew back and Blair wished he could retract the sharp words. Instead, he could only apologize. "Sorry, Chery, you caught me at a bad time."
They stood and Chery peered at the picture in his hands. "Who's that?" she asked, pointing at Jim.
"A friend," he replied curtly, the realized he'd done it again. "His name was Jim Ellison."
Blair glanced away. "He was killed in a car accident nearly six months ago."
Chery laid a soft hand on his arm and Blair eased away from her touch. Suddenly he wanted to be alone. "Did you need something?" he asked.
Her cheeks reddened. "I hadn't heard from you since our date, so I thought I'd..."
Guilt compounded Blair's gloomy mood. "I'm sorry, Chery, but I've been pretty busy." He motioned toward the stack of papers on his desk. "I finished my dissertation."
She quickly crossed the room, reaching for the top sheet of the thick stack. Blair grabbed the paper from her hand. "I want a friend to read it first, to make sure it's okay."
The wounded look in her eyes increased his guilt. "All right. I guess I'll go then," she said.
Though relieved, Blair tried to hide it so he wouldn't hurt her feelings again. "I'll call you."
She paused in the doorway. "If you don't intend to call me, don't say you will. I'm a big girl and I prefer honesty."
She held up a hand. "I also don't need any more apologies. Once you get past whatever's bothering you, then call me if you'd like."
"I will." Blair managed a smile. "I promise."
She smiled back. "See you around."
Blair listened to her footsteps fade away down the quiet hallway. He liked Chery, but the date had been a disaster. He hadn't been able to enjoy himself, thinking he was committing some crime by having a good time when Jim was dead. But his friend wouldn't want him to crawl into a hole and die. Jim had thought he was strong and for Jim, Blair would be.
He took a deep breath, then dug in his supply of band-aids in his desk and wrapped a Yosemite Sam one around his finger. After cleaning up the glass, he slipped the photograph into his Burton book on the shelf behind him. Maybe someday he could look at it without falling apart. But not yet.
He studied his dissertation. He did want somebody to read it before he turned it in and there was only one other person who knew of Jim's abilities. But would he be willing to do it?
Glancing at the clock on the wall, he picked up the phone and punched a familiar number.
"Hi Simon, it's Blair. I have a favor to ask of you."
Three days after Brian had left, Jake got another roommate, an old man who lay in his bed with glazed eyes. Jake left the room as quickly as possible every morning and stayed away until they were herded back into their rooms half an hour before lights out.
He practiced extending his senses daily, hoping to impress Brian when the young man came to visit on Saturday.
Friday found Jake sitting in the community room, listening to a conversation between two nurses on another floor. They were talking about a daughter of one of theirs who had gone to Washington state to visit her father. He lived in a town called Cascade.
"Cascade," Jim said aloud, then repeated over and over, rolling it across his tongue. "Cascade... Cascade... Cascade... Rainier University."
Blair was a student at Rainier University! Jake jumped to his feet, startling Lydia and her imaginary friends. He ran down the hall to the nurses station to call Brian.
"I have to make a phone call," Jake said.
Nurse Ratched shook her head. "You know the rules, Jake. You aren't allowed to use a phone."
Jake blinked. He couldn't remember ever using one before, yet he knew how. He had to have used one in the past. "Please, I need to get a hold of a friend."
Nurse Ratched came around the desk and wrapped her fingers around Jake's arm, her nails digging into his flesh. He jerked away from her, taking a defensive stance that felt familiar. "I need to make a phone call. You have no right stopping me."
She crossed her arms beneath her massive chest. "What's gotten into you Jake? Before Brian showed up you were a perfect patient."
"I was dead inside," Jake stated flatly. "Now I'm alive and I don't belong here. I have to get out."
"Manny," the nurse shouted.
Desperation edged Jake and he turned to face the new adversary. Cocking his head to the side, he heard Nurse Ratched whisper for a hypodermic needle.
"No! No more shots. No more pills. I'm not crazy!"
Jake knew the louder he hollered, the more he incriminated himself, but he couldn't back down. Instinctively he knew Blair needed him, and he needed Blair -- his guide from Rainier University in Cascade.
Manny lunged toward him, but Jake sidestepped. Not expecting the move, Manny slammed into the desk.
"Shit! Damnit, Jake, now you're going to get it," Manny growled.
Jake heard Nurse Ratched lean toward him and he spun around, knocking the needle from her hands.
"Get Dennis and Leo," she shouted to one of the other nurses.
Less than a minute later, Jake found himself surrounded by three burly attendants. Helplessness and frustration raged through him.
"Why don't you believe me?" he shouted. "I don't belong here!"
"Relax, Jake, and you won't be hurt," Nurse Ratched ordered.
"Goddamnit, let me make my call!"
Suddenly the three men lunged at him and Jake got in a couple good punches, but his muscles had been weakened after all the months in the hospital. In less than a minute, he was held between Manny and Dennis while Nurse Ratched approached with her hypodermic.
"We just want to help you," she said.
"Bullshit. If you did, you'd let me make my call. It's only one fucking call!" Jake said through clenched teeth.
The needle broke through his skin and Jake felt the cool liquid surge into his vein. His limbs suddenly felt heavy and it took too much energy to hold them up. The lights doubled, tripled, then faded away.
"Blair," he whispered hoarsely as the floor rose up to meet him.
"Get him to his room," Nurse Ratched ordered.
She watched them drag Jake away, her forehead creased in worry. Then she picked up the phone and punched in a number. After four rings, it was picked up. "We have a problem," she simply said.
Jim's voice scared the hell out of Blair, and he quickly pulled his old Volvo to the side of the road. He searched the inside of his car with wide eyes, but he was alone. He gripped the steering wheel to still his shaking hands. He had heard Jim call his name. Of that he was certain.
Oh, God, he was losing it.
His eyes burned as he fought the hope that kindled to life. If Jim were alive, he'd have contacted Blair. Even if he'd been hurt, he'd have recovered enough by now to get a hold of his friends. Geezus, would the pain ever stop?
"Jim's gone... dead," Blair spoke to the emptiness in his car.
After a few minutes, his shaking abated and he pulled back into traffic. Ten minutes later he arrived at the restaurant where he was meeting Simon to pick up his dissertation. Three days ago, he'd given it to him to read and Simon had called him this afternoon, telling him he was done. He hadn't said anything else -- no comment on the material -- and Blair wasn't sure what that meant.
He spotted Simon's car in the parking lot and hurried inside. Finding him after a quick search, Blair sat down across the table from him, his palms damp and his heart racing.
"Are you all right?" Simon asked.
Blair nodded, but the word "no" slipped out.
"What happened?" Simon pressed.
Blair laughed nervously. "You're going to think this is crazy, but I heard Jim say my name on the way over here."
Simon's eyes shuttered, but compassion filled his normally gruff voice. "It only makes sense. You've been working on this dissertation and thinking about him a lot."
That did make sense, but for some reason, it didn't assuage Blair's unease. "I suppose."
Simon's brow creased. "You don't believe it might actually have been him?"
Blair shrugged and raked a hand through his unruly curls. "God, I don't know, Simon. I thought I was getting things back together, then I hear him. It just makes me wonder all over again."
"The dental records positively ID'ed him," Simon reminded gently. "We all wish Jim were still alive, but he's gone, Blair. He's been gone for a long time now."
Blair laughed weakly. "I'm surprised you haven't had me locked away in some funny farm."
"Well, the thought has crossed my mind, but it's been a couple years since I considered that option."
The waitress came and took their orders. Blair took a sip of his water, his gaze landing on the papers sitting on a corner of the table. "Well?"
Simon picked up the stack and handed it to him. He glanced away from the younger man, but Blair caught the damp glimmer in his eyes.
"I never realized," Simon said. "All those times you were riding with him, I never knew how often you pulled him back or how many instances when Jim was credited with saving a life because you were with him."
Blair shook his head. "No, it wasn't me, it was Jim."
"It was the two of you. Together," Simon said quietly, but firmly.
Blair swallowed hard. He kept the dissertation in his hands, feeling the cool smooth paper against his skin. The paper was so commonplace, but the words on those sheets transformed them into something more, something priceless.
"I don't know when I'm going to hand it in," Blair said softly.
"It's ready, isn't it?"
Blair nodded. "It's not that. I'm not sure I'm ready to share the relationship we had with the rest of the world."
Simon studied him for a moment. "Is there a deadline on it?"
"Professor Stoddard knew I was writing it. He's anxious to read it."
"Maybe it'd be best if you gave it to him right away," Simon said quietly. "Maybe it'll help."
Blair's heart raced and his lungs grew tight. He knew Simon was right, but he had to prepare himself. The subject was a large part of his soul. "I'll hand it in Monday," he finally said.
The waitress brought their drinks and Simon thankfully steered the conversation toward safer subjects, like Daryl, and Megan and Rafe's ill-fated date, and Brown's new diet, and Joel's move back to the bomb squad.
But even as Blair laughed at the appropriate times and added a few of his own comments, he could hear Jim's voice above everything else.
Brian had expected a rough week after leaving the hospital, and his expectations had been met. He'd gone to visit his parents. His mother had cried and hugged him, but his father had ignored him. Jake and Mark were right. He couldn't allow his father to make his life miserable. So he'd said good-bye to his mother and told her he'd call, and put his father out of his mind.
He entered the hospital, excited to see Jake again. He hoped the older man had fared well without him. Stopping at the desk outside the locked door leading into the asylum, Brian smiled at the nurse. "I'm here to visit one of the patients, Jake Edwards."
She glanced down her list and her finger stopped on a name. "He's not allowed visitors today."
"Why not?" he demanded.
"He had an episode yesterday."
"An episode?" Brian enunciated carefully. "What the hell does that mean?"
"It means we had to use force to restrain him."
Brian's heart leapt into his throat. "What'd he do?"
"I'm not at liberty to discuss it."
"How is he?"
"I can only share patient information with family members."
Brian's hand fisted and he struck the desktop. "He has no family. I'm his friend. I need to see him."
"I'm sorry. It's against rules."
"Damn the rules! I know Jake and he's not a violent man."
The nurse lowered her gaze as she bit her lower lip. "I never thought so either." She glanced around warily. "I'm going to let you up there, but you'll have to go to his room. Do you know where it is?"
Brian nodded. "Just give me a visitor pass so I can get out again. Put on the log that I'm visiting Lydia."
The nurse appeared surprised that he knew another patient, but nodded without comment. She handed him a pass, then flicked a switch, unlocking the door. Brian hurried through and raced up the flight of stairs to the second floor. He paused, poking his head in the doorway to see if anyone stood in the corridor. It was clear. Scrambling down the hall, he quickly found his old room and slipped inside.
The smell of stale sweat and body waste assaulted his nose and Brian almost gagged. He glanced at what had been his bed and spotted an old man lying there. Only a shallow rise and fall of his chest told Brian he wasn't dead.
He quickly stepped over to Jake's bedside and stared down at the pale face of the man he called friend. Much of the room's stench came from him. His eyes were open and his mouth agape. His gut tightened in horror at his friend's condition. How long had Jake been like this?
Placing his hands on either side of Jake's too-cool face, Brian hoped the touch of another human being would draw him back. "Hey, Kemo Sabe, I've come back. It's me Brian. Come on, big guy, snap out of it. If it's your senses, try to turn them down, like a stereo's volume. Jake!"
He continued urging Jake to come back for fifteen minutes. Finally the older man drew in a deep breath and his eyes became focused once more.
Jake pressed a hand to his throbbing head. "Oh God."
"You back among the living, buddy?"
Jake turned his head to the voice and it took a moment for recognition to return to his features. "Brian!" He drew back and glanced down at his soiled bed and gown. His face reddened. "Shit."
Brian laughed. "Good guess." He wrinkled his nose. "Think you can take a shower by yourself?"
Jake nodded. "Just help me up."
Five minutes later, the shower was running and Brian quickly stripped Jake's bed. Opening the bathroom door a crack, he picked up Jake's dirty clothing. He eased himself out of the room and slipped into the laundry room, tossing the filthy bedding and clothing in a bag. He grabbed a set of clean sheets and another blanket, then returned to the room. After making Jake's bed, Brian perched on it to wait for his friend.
The shower ended and a couple minutes later, Jake emerged, wearing a robe over a clean gown. "I'm sorry you had to find me like that," he said quietly, his embarrassment obvious.
"What the hell happened to you, buddy?" Brian asked. "The nurse downstairs told me you freaked out on them yesterday."
Jake shook his head and ran a hand over hair shorn close to his scalp. He walked to the window, crossed his arms, and stared out. "I wanted to call you. I remembered that man's name, the one I kept seeing in my head. His name's Blair and he's a student at Rainier University in Cascade, Washington."
Brian's eyes widened and he hopped off the bed to join Jake. He laid a hand on the man's broad shoulder. "Why didn't you call?"
"I tried." Jake's fingers curled into his palms, his nails biting into his skin. "They wouldn't let me. Said I wasn't allowed to make phone calls."
Brian nodded bitterly. "You can only do that if you've admitted yourself. Otherwise, you're virtually a prisoner here."
"Nurse Ratched gave me a shot. Knocked me out. Next thing I know, I wake up strapped in my bed. I tried to escape, but the straps were too tight. Then I started thinking about Blair and I must've concentrated too hard and had a blackout." He glanced at the bed and shuddered. "Somebody must've removed the restraints while I was out of it."
"What time was it when you went into this trance?"
Jake rubbed his eyes. "It was after supper -- someone tried to feed me, but I wouldn't eat."
Shock filled Brian. "So you've been lying there for over eighteen hours? Christ, Jake, I'm going to get you out of here."
Jake put a bridling hand on Brian's arm. "You won't be able to fight them."
The words were flat, without emotion, and they scared Brian because he knew Jake was right.
"Do you really want to help me?" Jake asked softly.
Brian scowled. "You shouldn't even have to ask me that. What can I do?"
Jake's blue eyes bored into Brian. "Find Blair. Bring him here. He can help. I don't know how I know that. I only know he will."
Brian nodded without hesitation. "It might take me a couple days. I'll have to fly to Washington, then go to the college and ask around."
Jake's eyebrows drew together. "Where are we?"
"This hospital is outside of Colorado Springs."
Jake turned his gaze back to the towering peaks. "That explains the mountains." Suddenly he closed his eyes tightly.
"Are you going to be all right?" Brian asked.
Jake nodded. "I always get a migraine after one of those blackouts."
"You gotta promise me you'll behave and not fall into one of those trances again." He shuddered. "You scared the hell out of me, Jake."
"Sorry." He smiled wryly. "I scared the hell out of me, too. I don't want to be the same person I was before you came."
"You won't. I promise you." Brian reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a Denver Nuggets cap. "You said you wanted a cap."
Jake's smile damn near blinded Brian. Jake reached for the cap, took the brim in his palms and shaped it. When he placed it on his head, the brim curved around his upper face, framing his intelligent features and making his blue eyes all the more striking. "Thanks."
"No problem. You seemed to like basketball," Brian said with a shrug.
"The Nuggets are all right, but the Jags are better." Jake blinked, then added with a husky voice, "The Cascade Jags."
Brian gave Jake's shoulder a quick squeeze. "I think you're a long way from home. But with a lot of luck, we might be able to get you back there." He stepped back. "I'd best go book a flight to Cascade."
Jake's heartfelt words made Brian all the more determined to find this Blair and ask him what the hell kind of friend he was to abandon Jake in this place.
"As soon as I find him, I'll bring him here and maybe we can get some answers," Brian promised. "Hang in there, Jake."
The older man nodded, looking oddly vulnerable in his Nuggets cap and hospital robe and gown.
Brian cracked open the door and checked the hallway, then lifted a hand to Jake and hurried out. As he descended the stairs, he realized Jake hadn't once called him Chief.
Blair turned off the TV, the PBS logo flickering into oblivion. He'd tried to watch a program on the culture clash in Africa, but his thoughts refused to remain focused. The dissertation sat on the coffee table, the same place it'd been since Friday evening after Blair had brought it home. Now it was Sunday night; the day of reckoning was drawing nearer.
A part of him balked at handing it in to Dr. Stoddard on Monday, but Simon was right. Maybe it would be the final step in healing the open wound in his soul. No matter how hard Blair tried to ignore the grief, it sprang on him at the strangest times. Like when he'd been driving to the restaurant and he thought he'd heard Jim's voice. He couldn't forget that voice -- that tone he hadn't heard in six months, but knew better than his own.
Sighing, Blair pushed himself to his feet and stumbled down the hall to the bathroom. Once done in there, he turned out the lights in the loft. His gaze lingered on the moonlight streaming in to form a block of light on Jim's bed at the top of the stairs. He'd only gone up there twice since...
The first time had been when he'd done laundry a week after Jim's death and had to put away his friend's clothes. He'd ended up sitting on the floor in the middle of the upper bedroom for a couple hours, remembering and too shattered to move.
The second time had been to see if he could. He hadn't returned since.
He retreated to his corner room and mechanically stripped to his t-shirt and boxers, then crawled into bed. For a long time he lay there listening to the silence and thinking about his dissertation sitting in the living room.
Finally, he fell into a restless sleep.
Blair hadn't dreamed in a long time, unless he counted the nightmares. At first, he'd been plagued every night with the black surrealism of seeing Jim drive over a cliff while he'd stood by, helpless to stop him. But the nightmares had lessened in frequency to only once a week or so.
But this one was different. The black jaguar had appeared in it. This was the first time Blair had seen the cat since Jim's death. It sat quietly, the only movement its sides expanding and contracting as it breathed. Its eyes were unblinking, staring at Blair as if in accusation.
Blair tried to talk to it, but his mouth couldn't form words and he stood there merely meeting the jaguar's yellow eyes and drowning in their betrayal.
The alarm startled Blair and he bolted upright, his hand automatically slapping the radio off. His body was drenched in sweat, his hair was plastered to his face, and his underwear stuck to his skin. The sheets had wrapped themselves around Blair, making him feel like a bizarre mummy.
He unwound himself from the damp sheets and swung his feet to the floor. Propping his elbows on his thighs, he buried his face in his shaking hands. First he'd heard Jim's voice, then he'd dreamed about his animal spirit.
It seemed the gods were conspiring to drive him to insanity. Maybe it was the way of things -- if a sentinel dies, his guide is left with nothing to do but follow his sentinel in death or go crazy. It made as much sense, if not more, than any other reason for his inability to accept Jim's death.
Feeling like he hadn't slept at all, Blair stumbled into the shower and readied himself for another meaningless day. Except at the end of this one, he'd hand over his heart and soul to Dr. Stoddard.
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