Blair lay in silence on his bed, staring up into darkness. He knew what the ceiling looked like from memory. High and dark with yellow pipes running the length. Kind of like a warehouse, but much nicer than his old place. As a matter of fact, the loft was probably the nicest place he'd ever lived. It was quiet, spacious, and well-kept. The only place he'd really called home in a long time. Okay, Jim had a lot to do with the "well-kept" part, and actually, Jim had a lot do with it being home, too.
He swallowed hard, tears springing to his eyes. Damn. I shouldn't have walked away like that. I asked him and he told me. Now he'll probably never tell me anything again.
He just hadn't expected the blow. When Jim had told him what he'd heard -- what Blair had mumbled in his sleep -- it had turned his insides to ice and brought it all flooding back again. Being tied to the bed, helpless. Tommy's screams. Balentine... He hadn't suppressed those memories, he'd just managed not to dwell on them. Until Jim had given voice to the silent prayer Blair forgot he'd ever made. I'm not seeing this. I'm not hearing this..
But was it true? God, a part of him hoped so, because if it wasn't true and his condition was physical, then he'd probably never see or hear again, and he couldn't -- he just couldn't -- live this way. It was like being trapped in a black box all the time. Sleeping. Awake. Morning. Night. They were all the same to him. Well, actually, he preferred sleeping, even with the nightmares, because there were times when his dreams were pleasant, with lights and sounds all around him, and it was those times that he cherished. His world was alive in that dreamland and things were back to normal. He could go fishing with Jim, listen to the Sentinel's laughter, and catch a glimpse of victory in his friend's blue eyes as he reeled in a fish. He could sit around a campfire at night listening to the crackling of wood as he gazed up at the starry sky.
But what about Tommy? Damn, he was a selfish bastard, bemoaning the fact that he couldn't see or hear when Tommy didn't have anything because he was dead. Blair could still do some things. He could still enjoy foods and smells -- tongue on pita bread and candles burning, filling the air with sweet scents.
Tommy didn't even get the chance to grow up... and why? Because you waited too long. You were weak, and you stayed on the bed while Tommy was dying on the floor, so maybe you deserve this.
So maybe Jim and the doctor were right. Maybe his "condition" was psychological. Induced by guilt?
Guilt. There were all different kinds of guilt. There was the good guilt that nagged at you when you'd done something wrong and pushed you into making it right. Then there was the bad kind of guilt, the false guilt, that turned you crazy inside and out, beating at you relentlessly for something you couldn't change, regardless of whether you had actually been at fault in the first place. And then there was a whole different kind of guilt. The kind that nagged at you for what you were doing now, and were going to do in the future.
Blair was feeling all three kinds of guilt. Guilt because he'd waited too long on that bed. Guilt because Tommy had died. Guilt because he was taking out his turmoil on Jim. Guilt because he couldn't help Jim with his senses and couldn't be there for him in the field. Guilt because, without someone to guide him, Jim might zone and end up dead.
What I wouldn't give to be able to turn back time. Okay, so, yeah, if he could turn back the clock, he'd do things differently. He'd take a different route so that he never saw Tommy. Oh God, what an awful thought. But, really, what good had he been to the boy? No good at all. In fact, maybe if Blair had never found him, Tommy would still be alive. Maybe Balentine wouldn't have caught him in the alley, or maybe the sequence of events leading to whatever had caused that explosion wouldn't have happened. Hell, if Blair hadn't kept mouthing off, maybe Balentine would have gotten drunk less often, and maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have turned on the gas.
What good did thinking about it do? Tommy was dead -- he had been raped, and Blair had been unable to do a damn thing about it. Now Balentine's behind bars, and I'm blind and deaf. Thinking about it wasn't going to change any of those things.
Or would it? What if Jim were right? What could it hurt to try? At the very least, he'd be doing something, and if it failed, at least he could tell Jim he'd tried.
He took a deep breath and tried to calm his raging thoughts. He'd meditated so often that he attained a light meditative trance with very little effort. Being blind and deaf helped since there were no distractions to intrude upon his internal solitude. He focused on his breathing and the thick, stifling silence. It was strange to be breathing and not even hear the air moving in and out of his lungs.
When Jim had been blinded by the Golden, Blair had told him to "remake the connection through an act of will." Now it was time to take a dose of his own medicine. If his condition was psychological, then he should be able to make himself see again. A little meditation, a little willpower and, hopefully, he'd get his senses back.
Yeah, right. Like anything was ever that easy. But I'm going to try, and then I'll tell Jim and the doctor that I tried, and then they can stop blaming me for this. It's not like I LIKE being this way -- blind, deaf, away from Jim. Useless. A burden. It would have been easier had I just died in the explosion...
He clenched his eyes shut. No. It was no good going down that road. He survived, and now he was going to have to live.
He threw himself into the darkness, letting it envelope him like a blanket, imagining it as a living entity. There was nothing else but the darkness. His mind was clear and calm, focused on one repeating mantra.
I can see. I can hear. I can see. I can hear. I can see...
It would have worked better had his burns not started itching again.
Jim stood over the stove, mechanically stirring the pot of soup, his mind going over the conversations he'd had with Blair and Dr. Gardner. The psychiatrist had told him to wait it out. See how Sandburg was in the morning. She'd stressed again that Blair would likely be edgy and grumpy from his healing wounds. Burns didn't heal comfortably -- they'd itch and tighten and pretty much make him miserable. Fortunately, most of the second degree burns were on his arms, and the more minor burns on his face, so if any scarring did result, it would be in an easily-concealed area.
He glanced at the clock. 2 p.m. Blair had been in his room for three hours, but judging from his heartrate, Jim didn't think the younger man had slept during any of those hours. That fact was somewhat surprising considering that Sandburg slept a lot lately. Probably not much else for him to do.
Glancing down at the soup, Jim realized it was boiling. His nose told him it was done, and he turned off the flame. He grabbed a large mug from the cabinet and poured the soup, his eyes following the bits of vegetables and chicken as they flowed into the cup. The soup was for Blair since the kid hadn't eaten all day, hadn't taken in any fluids either, except to swallow the pills that Jim had given him just after the bath. The mug would allow Blair to consume the soup easily and on his own -- something that was becoming a serious issue with the younger man.
Jim set the pot back onto the burner and carried the mug to Blair's room. Pausing at the French doors, he cocked his head and listened. Blair's heart rate was slow and even and his breathing shallow. Jim figured the younger man had finally succumbed to sleep. Glancing down at the steaming mug in his hands, he decided that Blair needed food and liquid more than he needed sleep at this point.
He turned the knob and walked into the room. Blair was lying on his back staring blankly at the ceiling, and Jim didn't know if he was awake or asleep. His heart rate was slow and steady, indicating sleep, but his eyes were wide open. If Blair were blind, Jim supposed it was possible for his friend to fall asleep with his eyes open.
Setting the mug down on the bureau, he stooped over to place a hand on Blair's arm. Blair didn't jump or flinch this time, as Jim had half-expected him to. Instead, he simply turned his head a fraction toward the touch and said, "Jim?"
Jim tapped once in reply.
"Is that food I smell?"
"Smells like the chicken vegetable soup I make."
One tap. Jim grabbed the mug as Blair worked his way upright, propping his back against the wall at the head of the bed.
"I am kind of hungry. Thanks, Jim." Blair's cheeks flushed, and there was a note of apology in his voice.
Jim smiled and placed the mug in Blair's hand, his other hand closing over Blair's to secure the young man's grip. He held the touch a moment longer than necessary, then pulled back. He hesitated, wondering if he should stay or go. There wasn't much communicating he could do with Blair while the younger man had his good hand wrapped around the mug, and he felt odd just staying in the room watching Blair drink soup.
Deciding to leave his friend alone, he bid a slow retreat out of the room. The disaster had, it seemed, been averted -- at least for the moment.
The morning sun shone bright outside, bringing a clear day to Cascade. Jim had just set the coffee pot to brew when he heard the ding of the elevator outside the apartment. Footsteps drummed against the hallway floor, accompanied by the faint odor of cigar, and then three zealous knocks pounded on the loft's door. Leaving the coffee to brew on its own, Jim unfastened the chain and opened the door.
"Good morning, Simon."
"Morning, Jim." The captain walked into the loft, looking around, his eyes settling on the half-open French doors to Blair's room. "How's Sandburg?"
Jim shrugged. "That's a loaded question, sir. Coffee? I just put a pot on."
"Yeah, thanks. What do you mean 'that's a loaded question'?"
Jim moved to the cupboards, getting two mugs ready while the coffee dripped. "I sort of screwed up yesterday. He started asking about his, uh, condition and I told him what the doctor said."
"That it's probably psychological?"
Jim nodded, turning around to face the captain and leaning against the sink. "Yeah."
"He didn't react well, I take it."
"No, he didn't."
Simon frowned thoughtfully, taking a seat at the kitchen table. "Look, Jim, I hate to rush this, but..."
"I don't know that he's ready yet, sir."
"We've got to get his statement soon."
"I know, sir. Just let him see the psychiatrist first."
Simon nodded and released a slow sigh. "How long?"
"A few days."
"Okay. We'll hold off until then. Do you -- ?"
A moan and a rustle of covers from inside the bedroom caught both men's attention. Something soft hit the floor, followed by a pained groan, and Jim pushed off the sink to head toward the bedroom.
"Excuse me, sir. I'm guessing Sandburg has to use the bathroom."
Simon held up a hand. "More info than I needed, Jim."
Sandburg groaned, woken by the soft light and the insane itching all over his arms. He shifted beneath the covers, and a deep ache flared in his left leg.
Oh man, did a train hit me? He felt like crap. Rolling onto his side, he saw that his doors were hanging partially open. Huh? He never slept with his doors open, especially with a Sentinel in the house. Tossing off the covers, he pushed himself into a sitting position, pain coming to life in his right hand.
Damn. "Ouch." He gritted his teeth and looked down, just then noticing the bandages covering his arms and the small brace over his right thumb.
"What the -- ?"
He heard voices outside his room, the men making no effort to be quiet. Simon? Jim? He caught glimpses of words, his brain too muddled with sleep to focus clearly on the meanings.
"... see the psychiatrist first..." Jim's voice.
"Okay we'll hold off 'til then... " Simon's voice.
Blair swallowed, his tongue thick and his mouth dry. What the hell happened?
He swung his legs over the edge of the mattress and pushed himself off the bed. His left leg throbbing angrily, eliciting another groan from him. Slowly, he hobbled toward the door. His right foot caught on something, sending him stumbling forward through the doorway and into a solid, warm mass.
"Whoa, partner." Strong arms wrapped around him, steadying him, and he leaned into the support, taking the pressure off his aching leg.
And why is it hurting like this? he wondered again, looking up into Jim's concerned face. He saw a flicker of surprise in the Sentinel's eyes, then uncertainty, and Jim's eyes glanced away. Blair followed his friend's gaze to see Simon sitting at the table observing the spectacle with obvious interest.
"Have you been feeding him, Jim?" Simon asked as though Blair wasn't even in the room.
Feeding me? What am I, a dog? "What the hell's going on?" Blair growled, shifting again as the throbbing in his leg continued. "Why am I wrapped like a mummy and what's wrong with my leg? I..." He tried to think back to last night for something to explain his current condition, but all he remembered was getting in his car late at night to drive home. Wait... He'd been halfway to the loft and... something... had dashed out in front of his car. A dog? "Was I in a car accident?"
"Blair?" Jim was staring at him like he'd grown a second head. He held up two fingers, waving them in front of Blair's face. "How many fingers am I holding up, buddy?"
"Two," he answered irritably. Damn, his leg was really hurting and if his arms didn't stop itching he'd go crazy and...
He found himself pulled into a quick, firm embrace, his face pressed into Jim's shoulder. Then, just as suddenly, Jim pulled back, his knees bent slightly as he stooped to eye-level with Blair, a goofy grin splitting his face.
"You can see and hear, Blair?! This is great!"
Okay, something was going on here, and it couldn't be good. Yes, he could see and hear just fine, but that wasn't the issue and certainly not something he needed to be told. What concerned him was why he was bandaged and limping and why Jim was looking at him as though he'd just come back from the dead -- again -- and why Simon looked like he'd just swallowed his cigar.
He opened his mouth to ask -- again -- what was going on, but found himself being pushed gently but firmly toward the couch.
"Jim, I --"
"Just sit down, Chief." Jim pushed down on Blair's shoulders until he was forced to yield and sink onto the cushions. "Just put your bad leg on the table here." The Sentinel reached down and carefully lifted the injured leg to prop it on top of the coffee table. Blair narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Since when did Jim encourage anybody to put their feet up on the table? "I'll get you some breakfast and some tea and then we'll talk, okay? Do you have to use the bathroom?"
"No, my bladder's fine, but --"
Jim patted him on the shoulder and shuffled away, joining Simon in the kitchen and speaking in a low voice to the captain. Blair twisted around to look at the two men, annoyed. He was being dismissed like a child while the two "grown ups" talked. It pissed him off, and the fact that his leg was killing him and his arms were itching terribly wasn't helping matters any.
"Jim, damnit, will you tell me what's going on?! I wake up and I've got bandages all over my arms and these patches on my face, and my leg feels like someone drove a nail into it. You ask me if I can see and hear and pretty much treat me like I've just woken from a coma. What the hell is going on?"
Jim and Simon exchanged glances, then the Sentinel sighed and strolled casually over to the stove to grab the tea kettle. "Just give me a few minutes, Chief," he said, filling the kettle with water. "Can you do that?" He glanced over his shoulder, his eyes wide with uncertainty.
Blair nodded, relaxing a fraction. "Sure."
He could give Jim a few minutes to do whatever he needed -- make tea, get his thoughts in order -- just as long as he answered the questions soon. Blair turned around and rested his head against the back of the couch, cataloguing his aches and pains. His left leg hurt, and his right thumb felt stiff and hot. His wrists hurt, and the skin around them felt tight and itchy just like the skin on his arms. His face also itched, and he reached up with his good hand to feel the smooth patch covering his cheek.
He saw Jim's reflection in the TV's dark screen as the detective grabbed the cordless phone from the kitchen counter and shuffled toward the hall, disappearing into the bathroom. Blair frowned, sighing with frustration. Just who was Jim calling that he didn't want Blair or Simon to hear?
Jim lowered the toilet seat and sat down, the phone held to his ear. "Dr. Gardner? It's Jim Ellison."
"Good morning, Detective. How's Mr. Sandburg?"
"That's why I'm calling. Uh, as you know, yesterday Blair asked me some questions about his condition, and I told him the truth. He ended up upset and went to his room. Stayed there all day, but he finally came out this morning, and well, uh, he has his vision and hearing back."
"That's great! I'd like --"
"That's not all, Doctor," Jim interrupted quickly. "Blair can't remember anything about what happened to him. He's blocked it all out. He's asking me what happened because he has no idea how he got injured."
"Oh... I see." There was a brief pause, then, "Can you bring him by my office today? Say... " The sound of pages flipping filtered through the line, "... one o'clock?"
"One is just fine, Doctor. I'll see you then."
"Good, try to act normal around him and --"
"What do I do? Do I tell him now? He wants to know how he got injured, and he seems to be getting agitated by my stalling."
"Tell him he was in an explosion, and when he comes to my office, we'll talk more about it. Okay?"
"Okay. Thanks, Doc. We'll be seeing you in a few hours."
He clicked the phone off and rose to his feet, heading out of the bathroom and mentally going over how to tell Sandburg what he needed to tell him without telling him the things he couldn't tell him. He was confused as hell, actually, but he had to tell Blair something because the kid wouldn't let it go until he received an answer.
Jim walked into the kitchen, passing Simon at the table just as the tea kettle began to whistle. He avoided looking at Sandburg, though he could see out of the corner of his eye that Blair was watching him like a hawk, his body shifted so that his back rested against the arm of the couch.
"Jim?" Blair started.
"Be there in a minute, Chief," he answered casually, turning off the flame and pouring the hot water from the kettle into the mug. He placed the kettle on the cold back burner and opened the cabinet above the sink, searching for Blair's chamomile tea. Soothing. Relaxing. Just what he needed for the occasion.
Jim pulled out one of the tea bags and dropped it into the steaming water. Moving to the refrigerator, he grabbed a lemon from the fruit bin and sliced it into four pieces on the cutting board. Lemon and honey -- that's how Blair liked his tea.
When he finished preparing the drink, Jim carried the hot mug over to Blair, placing it carefully in the young man's good hand.
"Thanks, Jim." Blair managed a grateful smile as he shifted straight on the couch.
Jim sat in the armchair and waited as Blair took a few sips of the tea. Jim glanced up at Simon, and suddenly the captain rose from his chair and cleared his throat.
"Uh, I've got to be getting back to the station now. Keep me updated, Jim." Simon hurried to the front door.
Jim nodded and waited until the captain left before turning his attention back to Sandburg.
"Okay, spill it, Jim."
Jim sighed and shifted in his seat. "You were, uh, in an explosion. That happened almost a week ago."
Blair's eyes widened, and the mug tilted precariously in his hand. Jim rose quickly from the armchair and snatched the cup from Sandburg before its hot contents could spill. "Easy there." He set the mug on the coffee table.
"A week?" Blair's voice was soft with disbelief.
Jim nodded and sat back down. "You have an appointment with the Doc at one O'Clock today."
"What doctor?" Blair asked apprehensively, his eyes slightly glazed as though he were still processing the discovery.
"Doctor Gardner, the psychiatrist."
Blair's eyes snapped into focus. "Psychiatrist? What for?"
"Uh... I'll let you two discuss that. Right now, we need to get your bandages changed and clean your burns."
"Burns?" Blair looked down at his arms as though seeing them for the first time. "Oh, right. The explosion." He studied his bandages for several moments, then looked up. "What blew up?"
Jim rose to his feet and walked over to Sandburg. "Just an old building. No more questions just now, okay? Can you wait a few hours until you see the doctor?" He reached down and gently grabbed Blair's arm, urging him off the couch. "Right now, we really have to get those bandages changed."
Blair nodded, still looking dazed. "Okay, Jim." He let himself be pulled off the couch, his brow furrowed and his eyes distant as though he were trying to solve some complicated math problem in his head.
Blair shifted in the chair, resisting the urge to scratch his arms. There had to be something they could give him to stop this incessant itching, because if it kept up much longer he really would go crazy.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Sandburg?"
Blair shrugged, studying the blue and white seascape on the wall behind Doctor Gardner's desk. The woman had nice taste, and under other circumstances, Blair just might be tempted to ask her out on a date. She looked to be in her early thirties and had the largest, darkest eyes he had ever seen. Unfortunately, those eyes were currently fixed on him in a critical gaze.
"Can you be a tad more specific?" A hint of humor touched her voice, and Blair pulled his gaze away from the picture to look at her.
Blair swallowed, tapping the toe of his sneaker on the carpeted floor. "Depends on what you mean."
She smiled and leaned forward. "Fair enough. I mean how are feeling generally -- physically and emotionally?"
"Physically, my leg hurts and my arms and face itch. My right thumb feels about three sizes too big and hot like its ready to spontaneously combust. Emotionally, I'm getting pretty ticked at the fact that no one seems willing to tell me what the hell happened to me other than 'you were in an explosion.'"
Wow. He'd said all that in one breath and now she was looking at him weird, like he was a fruit fly on a microscope slide.
"What's the last thing you remember before waking up this morning?"
Blair glanced at the door. Jim was seated in a small, cushioned chair on the other side, probably flipping through a decade-old magazine or maybe listening into the session. Blair pursed his lips, trying to decide if Jim really was the type to spy into a therapy session.
Yes, depending on the situation. If I asked him not to, though, he would respect my wishes... but I didn't ask.
Blair's attention snapped back to the psychiatrist. "Oh sorry." He'd forgotten all about her question. "The last thing I remember? Uh..." He glanced at the ceiling, his thoughts going back to the night he'd left the university. It still seemed like just last night to him, but both Jim and the doctor had told him that nearly a week had passed.
Damn. One week. What the hell had happened during that week?
"Mr. Sandburg? Are okay?"
Blair refocused his attention on the doctor. "Yeah. Sorry. Just thinking."
"That night. What I remember last. How one week of my life could just disappear."
"What do you remember last?"
"Driving home from the university. I was on a dark road in an old part of town. I think something dashed out in front of my car, but that's the last thing I remember before waking up in my room."
"When you woke up this morning, how did you feel?"
"Mostly itchy and in pain and a little confused when I saw the bandages."
"Did you have a headache? Any ringing in your ears? Spots in your vision?"
Blair shook his head. "No, none of that."
"How about during the rest of today?"
"Nothing but a bit of pain and itching. Really, Doctor, all I want to know is what happened to me."
She pursed her lips and leaned back in her seat, tapping her fingers absently on the arm of the chair. "Mr. Sandburg, I'll be frank with you. You went through a fairly traumatic ordeal -- something your mind chose to block. This past week, you had full recollection of what happened, but you woke up this morning without that memory. You need to think seriously about whether you really want to know the details of what happened to you, but before you decide, there's something else you should know."
Blair straightened, leaning forward. "What?"
"The explosion left you blind and deaf..."
The room went suddenly cold, and Blair shivered, realization making his jaw slack. So that's why Jim was acting so weird and that's where that "you can see" comment came from.
"The condition was originally physical but failed to alleviate as soon as expected. This past week you've been without your two main senses, and I believe, that was a result of your psychological trauma. It's no coincidence that when you finally repressed the memories of your ordeal, your vision and hearing returned."
Blair chewed on his bottom lip, pondering the psychiatrist's explanation. What had happened to him? What could be so bad to make him go blind and deaf just from the psychological trauma? Did he really want to remember? What would happen if he did remember? Would he break down? Lose his vision and hearing again?
Can I live with knowing? With not knowing? And what about Jim? He knows. What things are burned into his brain? There's something in his eyes. I can see it. He's afraid for me. Jim Ellison is afraid for ME, and that's terrifying all by itself.
The other concern that nagged at his brain was how much the rest of the guys knew about whatever had happened to him. Simon? Joel? Rafe? Brown? If it was so bad, had they seen some it? Had he been found somewhere? They'd said he'd been in an explosion, but that wasn't traumatic enough to cause him to repress a week of his life. So what then?
He turned his attention inward to the various pains afflicting his body in hopes that those would give him a clue as to what had -- and what had not -- happened to him. His left leg hurt. Nothing new there. When he'd last used the restroom, he'd pulled down his jeans and inspected the leg, but the wound was covered by a thick bandage that provided him with little information about the nature of the injury. He could have hurt the leg in the explosion -- either by landing on something hard or sharp or by being stabbed by a flying piece of debris.
His right thumb also hurt, and the large brace on it told him he'd probably broken the digit. His wrists burned with a dull ache, and it hurt to move them. If he had to guess, he'd say he'd been bound tightly and developed some serious rope burns or cuff wounds.
He remained aware of the doctor's steady gaze and dropped his own to the floor. "Was I held someplace against my will?" He swallowed hard and took a deep breath. Whatever ordeal he'd been through, no matter how ugly, he had to know.
Doctor Gardner nodded. "Yes, you were." She sighed and leaned her elbows on the desk. "Why don't you go home and think about whether you really want to know the full story right now. We can schedule --"
Blair looked up quickly. "No, I want to know now." There was no use putting it off, because he had no intention of changing his mind.
She nodded. "Okay." Taking a deep breath, she leaned back in the chair and continued, "You were driving home from Rainier that night, and a young boy dashed in front of your car. From what Detective Ellison has told me, you got out of your car to help the child and were then attacked by the kidnapper. You and the child were taken back to an abandoned building. The boy was molested, you were not -- at least, not as far as we've been able to tell. Your kidnapper had a drinking problem and left to go to a bar one night. He either intentionally or accidentally left the gas stove on with the flame out. You were held to a bed with handcuffs around your wrists, but you managed to escape. You carried the boy outside, but a spark from something inside the building led to an explosion. The boy died, and you sustained moderate burns. Your kidnapper, fortunately, has been taken into custody."
Blair didn't move for several seconds, the detached words that described the past week cycling through his head. Kidnapped... Boy... Molested... Fire... Death. He understood all the words, but they had little impact, as though he'd heard the story on the news and it had happened to someone else.
"Mr. Sandburg? Are you okay?"
Okay? Me? "Yeah. I'm fine. It, uh... It just doesn't seem real. I mean, I don't remember any of it, so it's like you're talking about someone else."
She nodded. "That's understandable."
"How long was I held?"
"About two days."
"And in the hospital?"
"A little over three days."
That summed up the week. Kidnapped, escaped, hospital... now here. Still, as hard as he tried, he couldn't remember any of it, so the knowledge itself didn't affect him. He glanced at the clock, noting that his session was five minutes from finishing. Close enough. He didn't feel that the session was doing much for him other than providing some additional information about what had happened to him. Maybe it was a blessing that he didn't remember. On the other hand, it was a week of his life gone... and a little boy who deserved not to be forgotten.
"Thank you, Doctor." He struggled to rise out of his seat. His left leg still ached, so he pushed himself up using the arms of the chair and reached forward to grab his cane from its propped position next to the small table a few feet away. "I guess I'll call you later. Maybe reschedule an appointment if I think I need it."
Her face flickered with surprise, and she stood up, moving around the desk to stand next to him. "Mr. Sandburg, I really think you should see me again. How about in three days? I can have my secretary --"
Blair shook his head. Normally, he was all for going to therapy, but right now he just didn't feel like going through all that "talk." He didn't have much to talk about, anyway, since he couldn't remember a thing of what had happened the past week.
"No thank you, Doctor. Really, I'll call. Just give me a few days. Okay?"
She still looked reluctant, but managed a small smile. "All right, Mr. Sandburg. If that's what you want. I really can't force you to come."
Blair smiled his thanks. "I appreciate it, Doctor, and thank you for your help."
Holding the cane in his left hand, he hobbled awkwardly toward the door, his leg protesting every time he put weight on the limb.
"You're welcome." She opened the door for him.
Jim rose from the narrow armchair he'd been forced to wait in as Blair limped through the doorway. The Sentinel smiled warmly, but his eyes betrayed a hint of concern as he greeted the pair.
"Thanks, Doctor Gardner." The detective shook her hand.
"No problem. I hope to see him again soon." She winked at him, then shifted her gaze quickly to Blair, conveying a silent message.
Jim nodded tersely and took hold of his partner's elbow, steering him carefully toward the chairs. "Wait here a second, Chief? I'd like to talk to the Doc for a moment."
Blair sank into the seat willingly, but looked up at Jim with skeptical eyes. He glanced quickly at the doctor and saw the silent reassurance in her eyes that his session would remain confidential no matter what Ellison asked; however, since Blair didn't know if Jim had actually listened in to the conversation, her silence might be completely unnecessary.
Looking back casually at Jim, he shrugged and leaned back in his seat. "Sure, no problem. I'll just sit here and read the magazines." He flashed a smile and snatched an issue of Time from the top of the small stack on the end table.
Jim returned the smile and followed the doctor back into her office, closing the door behind him.
Great. Just great. Blair tossed the unopened magazine back on to the table and sank lower in his chair, his injured leg braced straight out in front of him. He was starting to get a bit irritated with everyone talking behind his back like he was incapable of deciding what was best for himself.
Jim didn't bother sitting in the chair, so the doctor didn't sit in hers. Instead, she leaned against her desk, her hands gripping the edge.
"Doctor, I know you can't tell me what went on in your session with Blair, but I would like some information on what I should be doing? Has he remembered anything yet? If not, should I tell him things if he asks? What if he catches the news and sees a report on Balentine or Tommy? What about --"
"Detective Ellison," she interrupted, "I know how worried you are about your friend. To answer your question, he has not remembered anything about his ordeal. He has no idea who Tommy is other than what I told him, and what I told him was the bare-bones facts. He knows he was kidnapped and that a boy was molested. He knows there was an explosion and that the child died. I did not tell him any names, so he doesn't know that the kidnapper's name is Balentine or that the boy's name is Tommy. He does know that he wasn't actually raped himself. I explained to him about his blindness and deafness, and he knows that they were psychologically-induced."
"How did he handle what you told him?"
Doctor Gardner took a deep breath, obviously considering her next words. "It really didn't seem to affect him very much. He seemed rather distant and apathetic, lost in another world. To him, Detective, all I told him was a story. He doesn't remember it, so it's like it happened to someone else. Right now, don't push him to remember. Just let things happen at their own pace. Don't go out of your way to hide things from him, because that will likely just irritate him. Instead, try to limit what info he receives, and just let his memory return on its own -- if it's going to. Odds are that it will, but there are no guarantees."
Jim nodded. "So if he asks me questions about what happened, I should tell him?"
"Yes, just try to be vague and remain calm. If he sees that you're upset by what you remember, it'll just upset him."
"Okay, I think I got it. Thank you, Doctor."
"Try to get him to make another appointment with me soon, Detective. It's important."
He nodded. "I will. You can count on it."
During the ride back to the loft, Blair remained silent, gazing solemnly out the window at the passing scenery. After about ten minutes of that silence, Jim couldn't take anymore.
"You okay, Chief?"
Blair looked over at Jim, his eyes somehow brighter in the dim interior of the truck. "Yeah. I just feel weird."
Blair shrugged and looked back to the window. "I feel like I should feel something, you know?" He sighed and looked back at Jim. "Tell me about the little boy who died."
Jim swallowed, having a hard time keeping his eyes on the road. Instead of looking directly at his partner, he kept the young man at the edge of his vision, his hearing honed to Blair's steady heartbeat. "What do you want to know?"
"How old was he?"
"What was his name?"
Jim hesitated. Doctor Gardner had told him to keep things "vague," but just what had she meant by that? Should he not tell Blair the child's name? If Doctor Gardner hadn't mentioned the boy's name, that probably meant she thought it best he didn't know right now.
Damn. He couldn't figure out a way to skirt around the issue. "Uh... Tommy."
"How long was he missing for?"
"Two days before you disappeared."
Jim gripped the steering wheel tighter. "Mother, father, and a brother."
There was such an odd quality to Blair's voice that Jim pulled his attention away from the road to look at the young man. "You okay?"
"Was there a funeral?"
"Yeah." He looked back at the road just in time to stop at a red light.
"Did I go?"
"No, you weren't up to it."
"Oh." Again, that strange, haunted quality. "I should feel something, shouldn't I?" He looked back at Jim, his eyes wide and beseeching. "I mean, a little boy died, but I don't even remember him. That seems kind of... I don't know... I can't explain it. It just feels weird. I know I was there with him, and he was molested and then he died, but I just don't feel anything, and that seems wrong."
The blare of a car horn snapped Jim's attention back to the light, which had turned green. Quickly, he pressed the accelerator, jerking the truck forward a bit too quickly and jarring them in their seats. "It's not wrong, Chief. It's human. Don't worry about it right now. Just be thankful you don't remember, okay?"
There was a thick moment of silence, and then Blair's soft voice ended the reprieve. "What do you remember? I mean... Well... Is there anything I should be embarassed about?" Jim saw the small smile that touched Blair's lips, but it was obviously forced. Even out of the corner of his eye, the apprehension in the younger man's eyes was clearly evident.
Jim looked over at Blair. "No." His voice was steady, his gaze even. "You have nothing to be embarassed about."
Blair's smile faded, and he swallowed hard, looking quickly back out the window. "Okay. Thanks."
Jim pursed his lips, a headache growing behind his eyes. He didn't like the flat, distant quality of Blair's voice, nor the slackness of his face. It was just like the Doctor said -- Blair seemed to be off in his own world. What's going through your head, Chief? He wished he knew, but he dared not ask Sandburg. He felt at such a loss, not knowing what to do or say. On the one hand, he was incredibly relieved that Blair's vision and hearing had returned, but on the other hand, he was worried that the walls Blair had constructed around his memory would suddenly crumble under the smallest assault and leave the young man's psyche a mass of rubble.
Maybe he wasn't giving Sandburg enough credit. The young man had certainly proven his resilience time and time again. Blair was strong, and yeah, he'd gone through some terrible shit, but he'd bounce back just like he always did. All he needed was time and understanding -- and Jim could be understanding and patient and whatever else his partner needed.
Stealing a glance at Blair, Jim pulled the truck into the handicapped space in front of his apartment building. He turned off the engine and shifted in his seat to look at his partner.
"Are you really okay, Chief?"
Blair shrugged as he opened his door, offering a small smile. "Yeah, fine."
Uh-huh. Jim let the lie slide and opened his door, swiveling out of his seat. He locked his side and walked quickly around the front of the truck as Sandburg eased his way to the sidewalk.
"Easy." Jim grabbed Blair's cane and helped the younger man get steady on his feet.
"I feel like an old man with that thing."
"If you're old, what does that make me?"
Blair smiled, and a hint of his old self shone through. "Ancient."
Jim had dinner ready at 6:30. Blair had situated himself on the couch with his injured leg propped on the table and his cane braced against the arm of the sofa. Idly, the young man drifted through the channels, never staying too long on any one program.
The subtle scent of tobacco tickled Jim's nostrils, accompanied by the soft patter of footsteps out in the hall. Jim set the oven to low to keep the lasagna warm, then headed toward the door. He turned the knob just as Simon knocked.
The captain nodded, glancing past Jim at the figure on the sofa. "Evening." He lowered his voice and leaned into Jim, a useless gesture given Ellison's Sentinel abilities. "How's the kid?"
Jim mimicked his captain's behavior, leaning in and whispering "Okay," with exaggerated secrecy.
Banks looked over Ellison's shoulder to see Blair smiling at him. "Hello, Sandburg. How are you feeling?"
"Not bad. You gonna come in or stand in the hallway whispering to Jim?"
Jim snorted a chuckle and moved aside to let his captain in. Simon threw the Sentinel a glare on his way into the living room, then turned his attention back to Blair.
"How's the leg?" He sank into the armchair and gestured to Blair's outstretched limb.
"A little sore, but manageable."
"Would you like some dinner, sir?" Jim made his way back into the kitchen. "I made lasagna."
Simon's face lit up and he sniffed the air appreciatively. "Yeah, that'd be nice. Thanks."
"You're welcome." Jim slipped on a pair of oven mitts and opened the stove, pulling out the dish of meaty lasagna.
"Oh, Jim?" Sandburg called.
"Uh... Has anyone talked to the university? I mean, for the week I was gone?"
"All taken care of." Jim set the hot dish on the front burners to cool. "Somebody named David Platt is taking over your classes."
Jim looked over his shoulder to see Blair continue his idle search of the television channels, seemingly oblivious to Simon, though the captain kept a concerned gaze focused on the young man.
"What did you tell them?" Blair asked finally.
"That you had been in an accident and were recovering. Doctor Wagner sent them a note so you could have official medical clearance."
"Oh, okay. Thanks." Blair continued to flip through the programs.
Simon rose abruptly from his chair. "Need some help, Jim?" His voice sounded almost desperate, and Jim's head snapped up to look at the captain, noting the anxious gleam in the older man's eyes.
"Yeah, you could set the table for me, sir." It was obvious that Simon was seeking escape from the somber young man in the living room. Probably has no idea what to say to Blair. Probably afraid that, if he tries, he'll say the wrong thing. He knew just how the captain felt.
Simon moved to the drawer near the sink and pulled it open, withdrawing a set of forks and knives. He'd been to the loft enough times to know where Jim and Blair kept things.
"Has he remembered anything yet?" Banks whispered, glancing toward the living room.
Jim's jaw went rigid and he shook his head tersely.
"There's a problem, Jim."
He stiffened. "What?" No bad news. I can't handle bad news right now.
"Balentine. At the prelim, his lawyer got his confession thrown out under a Due Process violation. In the interrogation, Rafe alluded to there being a physical threat to Balentine by the other prisoners if he didn't cooperate. That 'you know what they do to child molesters' spiel." He sighed, rubbing his temples. "Without the confession, if this thing goes all the way to trial, Sandburg will have to testify."
Jim dropped hard into one of the kitchen chairs. "No, sir. He can't. He doesn't even remember."
Simon took a long, deep breath. "Jim, I... I think if this thing goes all the way, we're going to have to try to get Sandburg to remember."
"No!" Jim spat in a harsh whisper, shooting out of his chair to glare at the captain. "Absolutely not. You've seen what this has done to him. The doctor specifically told me that we should not push his memory."
"No! There's other evidence. They don't need Sandburg."
"The place blew up, Jim. Most of the evidence was destroyed. That leaves us with Sandburg as the only eyewitness. That's pretty strong evidence, and the D.A. will have to call him to the stand."
"No, we have Balentine's fingerprints in the first building, and his footprints leading to the alley. We have Sandburg's and the boy's blood in the alley and Tommy's bloody footprints leading from the building."
Simon looked looked almost ill. "Yes, and that might very well be enough, but the D.A. doesn't want to take the chance of reasonable doubt. I'm sure Balentine's working on a good story in his defense. Sandburg's testimony will --"
"Damnit, Simon, I said no!" He slammed his fist down on the table. "We'll be making him a victim all over --"
"Jim?" Blair's concerned voice resonated from the living room. "What's going on?"
Both men straightened automatically as they turned to look at the young man. "Nothing, Chief." Jim glanced at Simon. "I'm sorry, just a little disagreement." The sudden light, carefree quality in his voice would have been comical under different circumstances.
It was obvious by Blair's narrowed eyes that he wasn't buying the explanation, but he seemed willing to accept it as he turned back to the televsion.
"Listen, Detective," Banks began again in a soft, harsh voice, "the D.A. calls the shots on this unless... I don't know, unless you can get his psychiatrist to clearly state that bringing this up with Blair will do irreperable damage to him. Otherwise, we're going to have to approach the kid."
Jim sighed, his shoulders sagging, his previous anger gone. "Maybe. Maybe that will work. I think she'd do it."
"Then Balentine might go free."
Ellison's head snapped up. "He won't go free."
"You never know what a jury's gonna do."
"There are other --" He cocked his head suddenly, then turned around to look at the television, his throat going tight when he saw the newsbroadcast.
"... and in the case of Joseph Balentine, the man arrested for the abduction, molestation, and murder of Thomas Baynor..."
"Shit!" Jim sprung into action, leaping over the stray kitchen chair and landing heavily next to the couch to snatch the remote out of Blair's hand, causing the young man to jump.
"... and the kidnapping of police obs --"
He jabbed the remote at the reporter's image and the screen went dark.
Blair twisted to look at Jim. "Hey, what are you doing?"
Angry, Jim waved the remote in front of the young man's face. "Damnit, Sandburg! Pick a program and stop flipping around! I --"
Blair jerked back, his face going slack with surprise.
"Ellison!" Simon bellowed from the kitchen.
Oh God. Jim stopped midsentence, feeling suddenly ill. What the hell am I doing? Blair was flinching away from him, scooting to the far end of the couch, his eyes wide with horror. Jim's Sentinel hearing picked up the frenetic pounding of the young man's heart, but even normal ears could hear the quick, shallow breaths.
He took a hesitant step toward Sandburg. "Blair, I'm sorry."
The young man continued moving away until his back hit the arm of the sofa, then he went rigid, his eyes locked with Jim's and his breathing so rapid he sounded on the verge of hyperventilating.
Slowly, Jim lowered himself onto the cushions and inched toward his friend. Was Blair having some sort of flashback? "It's okay, Chief. I'm sorry. I'm not going to hurt you." He reached out a hand toward the young man, but Sandburg pressed himself harder into the sofa's arm, so Jim let his arm drop down to the cushion.
"No!" Blair's face went white, and he released a hard, shuddering breath. Then his eyes rolled back, and he went limp against the cushions.
"Chief?!" Jim slid forward, monitoring Blair's steady breathing and even heartbeat as he pressed a palm against the young man's forehead. "He's a bit hot." He looked up at Simon long enough to catch the worried crease in the older man's brow, then turned his attention back to his partner. Gently, he lifted Blair's eyelids one at a time, checking the pupils. They looked slightly dilated, but equal, and they did respond to the light by constricting.
Simon leaned forward on his toes to get a better look at Sandburg. "What's wrong with him?"
"He passed out, but I think he's okay."
"He remembered something."
"Yeah, I think so, too." Jim looked up at the captain and frowned. "Do you see, sir? We can't push him."
"But if he remembers, now..."
"Let's wait and see."
Simon caved, nodding slowly. He stood rigid, his face a mask, but his eyes betrayed an inner turmoil. "Okay, Jim. I'll explain this to the D.A., and you get on the phone with Sandburg's psychiatrist."
Jim nodded, the lines in his face easing with relief. He dropped his gaze back to Blair and slid the afghan from the back of the couch on to the unconscious young man. Blair's head was tilted back at what looked to be an uncomfortable angle, so Jim gently readjusted his partner, scooting him down a few inches until his head rested squarely on the arm of the couch.
Simon ventured over to the couch as Jim tucked the afghan around Blair's shoulders. "You sure he's okay? Maybe we should take him to the hospital."
Jim shook his head and looked up at the captain. "No, he's sleeping now, and you can see the color's come back to his face."
"Yeah, okay, if you think he'll be all right... Well, uh, I guess I should be going now."
"Captain, wait a minute." He rose to his feet and maneuvered around the couch to stand in front of his superior. "I know you just want to make sure Balentine gets put away. I do, too, but I won't risk doing more damage to Sandburg to help the D.A. with his case."
Simon looked away from Jim, his gaze falling to the sleeping figure on the couch. "I know, Jim. I'm sorry I pushed earlier. If Sandburg doesn't remember on his own, then we'll just have to find another way to make sure Balentine goes away for good."
"Thank you, sir. I --"
"Noooo." The soft mumble from the couch stopped Jim cold, and he immediately focused his senses on Blair.
"Noooo. No more, Jim, please...." Blair's forehead creased, and he shifted his face away from the two men.
Jim gripped the back of the couch, his jaw tight, kicking himself again for losing his temper. He'd just been so angry that the confession had been thrown out and the heat had been shifted to Sandburg. Then the newscast had come on, and he'd wanted to toss the damn TV through the balcony's glass doors. Instead, he's misplaced his anger, like he usually did, and Blair had gotten hit with the fallout.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked back to see Simon gazing at him with wide, solemn eyes. "It's just a dream, Jim. It doesn't mean --"
"-- that he's afraid of me, now?"
"No more..." came the murmured words again, and they hit Jim with almost physical force. "Please... not Wonder Burger again, man..."
Simon removed his hand from Jim's shoulder and burst into unrestrained laughter.
Darkness bathed the loft. Jim sat in the armchair, immersing himself in the silence and the soft, steady rhythm of Blair's breathing. He watched the younger man sleep, his thoughts in turmoil. Simon had left hours ago, promising to contact the D.A. first thing in the morning, and Jim had then taken up his position in the armchair, standing vigil over his unconscious friend.
I should never have lost my temper. Why the hell do I always do that? I take everything out on Blair, and he's the last person who deserves it, especially now. He'd let his frustration with the D.A. and his concern for Sandburg bubble into anger. The newscast had just been the icing on the cake, but he still should have been more in control of himself.
He only hoped he hadn't screwed things up too badly. Would Blair be okay when he woke? Would he remember? If Sandburg had been dreaming about something as trivial as Wonder Burger, maybe that was a good sign. He hadn't had any nightmares since passing out, so Jim suspected the mental barriers had been erected again the moment the younger man had passed out.
Jim glanced at the clock. 11 p.m. Should he try to wake Sandburg and put him to bed, or just let him sleep on the couch in his clothes? He'd tried to contact the psychiatrist, but it was after hours and she hadn't answered her pager yet.
Jim snapped his attention back to Blair, surprised that he hadn't noticed the change in the young man's breathing. He leaned forward, his throat tight. "Yeah, Chief?"
"Why are you sitting here in the dark?" Blair worked his way out from under the afghan and sat up, leaning his elbow on the arm of the couch.
Jim studied Blair's face, knowing Sandburg wouldn't be able to see him doing so in the darkness. He looked relatively calm - a bit confused, but otherwise okay. There was no sign that Blair remembered anything more about the traumas he'd experienced.
Blair's brow creased and he leaned forward, squinting at Jim. "You okay?"
"Me? Yeah?" He realized he hadn't answered the earlier question. "I was just relaxing, Chief. I'm actually about ready to go to bed."
"You're sitting here at --" he glanced at the digital VCR clock, "eleven at night in pitch blackness just relaxing?"
"Yeah. It's nice and quiet -- well, except for when you were snoring, that is."
Blair smiled and ran his fingers through his sleep-messed curls. "Well, if I do snore, it's not like I can help it."
Jim rose from the chair and walked past Blair, ruffling his curls on his way to the staircase. "Go sleep in your room, Junior."
Jim grinned as he listened to Blair's grumbles about "the hair" and headed up the stairs to his room. He'd keep an ear on Sandburg until the kid fell asleep, then he'd catch a bit of overdo shut-eye himself.
"Your burns are healing nicely." Doctor Wagner finished rewrapping Blair's right arm and gave a nod of approval. "The topical should help with the itching, and tomorrow you can unwrap your arms and let the skin breathe a bit. Remember to keep the burned areas clean and change the bandages frequently. In a couple of days, the new skin should be well-established, and you'll be able to get rid of the bandages completely."
"Thanks, Doc." Blair hopped off the table, sparing a glance at Jim and flashing a victorious smile. He was more than happy to find out he'd be out of the mummy suit soon, and maybe the new prognosis would prompt Jim to relax his concerned hovering.
The detective had driven him to the hospital and seemed intent on staying close. Blair had urged Jim to go get something to eat at the cafeteria while the doctor conducted his exam, but the stubborn, over-protective Sentinel had refused, obviously either oblivious to or ignoring Blair's not-so-subtle hint that he'd like privacy with the doctor. Actually, he just wanted a little space away from Jim. The guy had been breathing down his neck -- in a good way, he supposed -- for the past two weeks.
But now he had a clean bill of health, and hopefully, things would get back to normal soon.
Two days later, Blair decided he'd stop at the university to check in on his workload and answer any questions for Dave, who'd been taking over his class and workshop. The bandages were off now, but his long sleeves hid the discolorations caused by the new, pink skin.
He hadn't expected the gaping stares when he'd walked into Hargrove Hall. He walked past three students who literally stared open-mouthed at him. Then he walked into the secretaries' office and met with a similar reaction.
"Jenny?" He stopped at the assistant's desk, trying to ignore the astonishment in her wide, hazel eyes. "Is Dave around?"
She blinked, seeming to recover from her stupor. "Uh... Blair. My God, what... What are you doing here?"
He raised his eyebrows and put forth his most brilliant smile. "Just checking in."
"How are you feeling?"
"Fine. Just fine."
"You can see?"
He held the smile a moment longer. "Yep, and you look beautiful today. I love that blue shirt you have on."
Jenny leaned back in surprise, but chuckled delightedly. "I can't believe this. I mean, it's been all over the news and..."
"The news? Oh, uh, I haven't seen much about it. Actually, I don't remember much about it."
Her smile faded. "Oh. I suppose that's a blessing." She rose from her seat and maneuvered around her desk to stand in front of him, her eyes pinched with uncertainty. "Would it hurt you if I gave you a hug? I mean, your burns..."
In answer, he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Nope, doesn't hurt at all. In fact, it feels really good."
She pulled back and mocked a swat at his shoulder, but seemed careful not to make contact. "You're a brat, Blair. You know that?"
He chuckled. "I try to be."
A soft whimper caught his ear, and his smile faded as he looked past her to see a small boy crouched in the corner next to the desk. The child wore only a thin, white T-shirt and cotton underwear, and he had the largest, saddest brown eyes Blair had ever seen. I didn't know Jen had a boy, but why's he in his underwear?
He looked back at the secretary. "Does he belong to you?"
Her smile dropped, and her brow furrowed with confusion. "Pardon?"
Blair jerked his chin toward the child. "The boy, is he--?" the words stuck in his throat when he glanced past her and saw an empty corner.
"Blair? You okay?"
He blinked and looked back at her. "Uh, yeah, I just thought I saw..." What? What did I see? "Never mind. Nothing." But he WAS there. Am I going crazy now? He forced a smile back on his face. "So is Dave around?"
"I saw him earlier this morning. I know he has a class at two. You want to leave a note in his box?"
"Uh, no, I'll just give him a call." His eyes strayed back to the vacant corner, and a cold tingle slithered down his spine. A sudden feeling of foreboding descended upon him, but he pushed it into the back corner of his mind. It's nothing. Just get out of here. With a polite smile and a nod, he said his good-bye and spun on his heels, resisting the urge to break into a run as he headed for his car.
Jim finished the Dichek report and glanced at the clock. 2:34 p.m. Sandburg had said he'd be going to the University to take care of some business, then he'd stop by the bullpen. He was coming down with a full-fledged case of cabin fever, and since the doctor had given him the okay to drive, he'd evidently decided to take care of things on his own. Jim had offered to drive him, but that suggestion had been met with a speedy, "No, thanks."
Okay, hint taken, Chief. You need space. He just hoped no one at the university said anything to tempt Blair's memories into resurfacing. That's all Sandburg needed -- a breakthrough-breakdown at the university right in front of his peers and superiors.
'Course, I can't keep you locked away. He sighed tiredly and leaned back in his chair. He felt totally off his game on this one. He didn't know what to do. He'd never encountered anything similar to the disaster that had apparently wreaked havoc with Blair's psyche. First the hysterical blindness and deafness, then the amnesia -- trading one band-aid for another. Of course, he preferred the amnesia to the blindness and deafness. And if Blair never regained his memory, that might not be such a bad thing.
So what exact trauma was Blair repressing? Obviously something he saw and heard. If his sleep-induced mumblings were a reliable indication, Blair was blocking the boy's molestation from his memory. That said something profound about the young man. Here was someone who had lived through several different forms of hell -- from being kidnapped by a serial killer to being dosed with Golden, and finally, to being drowned in the fountain by Alex. And those were just the highlights. But he'd bounced back from each and every one of them.
Not this time, though. Apparently the final straw had been having to witness brutality against a child. And maybe some guilt on top of it. Guilt over Tommy's death. Jim wasn't sure, but he figured it was a good guess. The child had died right in Blair's arms. Who the hell wouldn't want to forget all that?
And that's why Jim hoped Blair never remembered Tommy or Balentine. After all, the only lingering traces of experiences lay in the memories they created. If the memories vanished, it would be almost like the experiences never happened. And this was one nightmarish experience Blair should never have gone through.
The ding of the elevator caught his ear, and he cocked his head. Footsteps beat against the hard floor, approaching the bullpen, and Jim looked up to see his partner shuffle through the doorway.
Jim stayed seated, not wanting to appear too anxious. However, the other detectives -- Joel, Brown, Rafe, and Megan -- apparently had no such inhibitions because they all rushed from their desks and crowded around the young man. Jim noted with some interest that no one, though, touched Blair. Too afraid they might hurt him. He almost smiled. Blair's burns were pretty much healed, and even the new, pinkish patches of skin weren't all that sensitive.
"How are you feeling, Sandy?" Megan asked, her australian accent suddenly thicker.
Blair smiled -- looking almost tolerant. "Much better. Thanks."
"It's been too quiet around here without you," teased Brown.
Blair rolled his eyes. "Thanks, man."
"You back at work?" Joel asked.
"Almost. Not quite." He gestured toward Jim. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I see someone vaguely familiar sitting on his butt over there."
A spatter of laughter met his comment, but the small crowd parted to let him pass. Jim leaned back in his chair as Blair approached. "How are you feeling, Chief?"
Blair shrugged and dropped into the vacant chair near the desk. "Fine. Much better."
Jim frowned. Blair looked fine, and he sounded fine, but there was something in his voice -- or maybe in his expression -- that told Jim not everything was fine. He just couldn't put his finger on it. "You sure, Chief?"
"Yeah, sure. Stop worrying. I'm fine."
"Okay." Guess I'm looking too hard. "You feel up to catching some dinner later?"
"Not catching it, but I'll gladly sit down at a restaurant and have it served to me."
Jim chuckled. "Well, if you want to take the adventure out of it..."
"Adventure? We'll get plenty of that just fighting traffic and finding parking."
Hours later, Blair lay in bed and stared up into the darkness. All the running around he'd done during the day had left him exhausted. He hadn't realized just how inactive he'd been these past few days. Actually, he'd been home for longer than that -- a week, maybe? But he couldn't remember his first few days home. Had he stayed in bed during that time?
Either way, he needed to get used to activity again. God, he felt like an old man, with aches and pains all over. His arms and legs felt heavy, and fatigue pulled at him, but he couldn't get to sleep. He'd been laying in bed for over two hours, but here he was with his eyes still open -- tired as hell, but wide awake.
A few minutes later, he became aware of a subtle pressure on his bladder. With a sigh, he slid out of bed and shuffled out of his room. Although it was dark, moonlight cascaded through the balcony windows and bathed the interior of the loft in a soft, hazy light. He headed down the short hallway to the bathroom, hoping the soft scrape of his socks against the wood floor wouldn't wake Jim.
He closed the bathroom door to minimize any noises he'd make. Without the moonlight, it was pitch black, and he flicked the switch, blinking as the harsh light stung his eyes. Squinting, he made his way to the toilet and went about his business. When he finished, he washed his hands, turned out the light, and opened the bathroom door...
... And gasped, taking a surprised step backward, his heart jumping to his throat.
There in the hall stood the little boy he'd seen at the university. Dressed in his underwear and covered only by a thin, white T-shirt, he blinked up at Blair with large, dark eyes. Although the moonlight was barely enough to see by, Blair could make out the boy's features clearly -- as though the child glowed with a light all his own.
He flinched, startled, and his eyes snapped to the end of the hallway. Jim stood there looking at him, but Blair couldn't see the Sentinel's face in the darkness. He looked back at the little boy, but his eyes found only darkness. The child was gone.
"What is it, Blair? What's wrong? Your heart's going a mile a minute."
It is? He immediately became aware of the hammering in his chest, and he swallowed hard, his legs suddenly shaky.
"Whoa. Easy there."
"Huh?" He blinked and found himself sitting on the cold wood floor with Jim's arms wrapped firmly around his chest, supporting him.
"What happened?" He realized he was shaking all over.
"You tell me." Jim pulled back, keeping one hand on Blair's back.
"I... I feel strange."
"You almost fainted, I think. What happened?"
Blair took a deep breath and shifted closer to Jim, afraid the ghostly child would appear out of nowhere again. "I saw a boy. He was standing right here in the hall."
"There was no one here, Blair."
He swallowed. "I saw him."
"What did he look like?"
"Young. M-Maybe five or six years old. Dark hair. Dark eyes. He was in his underwear and wearing a white T-shirt."
He felt Jim tense and looked up to see the Sentinel frowning down at him, his face cast in shadows.
Blair shivered. "What is it?"
Jim's face softened. "Let's get you back to bed."
"It was him, wasn't it?" He heard the faintest gasp as Jim stopped breathing. "I'm seeing Tommy, aren't I? I'm going crazy."
"No." Jim leaned closer to him. "You're not going crazy."
"I'm seeing things. This is the second time."
"The second time?"
Blair nodded and swallowed hard, trying to still his trembling. "I-I saw him earlier today at the university." He's coming after me. Because I lived. Because I let him die. Because I forgot him.
"What happened at the university?"
"Nothing. I thought he was the secretary's kid. I didn't know... I didn't realize... He's... He's...." His chest hurt, so tight he couldn't breath. A shiver snaked down his spine and puckered the skin on his arms. He felt cold, and crossed his arms tight for warmth, his gaze falling to the floor.
"Shhhh. Take it easy."
The room suddenly seemed infinitesimally brighter, and a tuft of black, curly hair caught Blair's eyes. He looked up at Jim... No, not Jim. Cold, dark eyes glared at him from a face he didn't recognize.
He cried out and scrambled backward until his back hit the wall, his heart pounding. No. No. No. He wedged himself in the corner, pulling his knees up to his chest. What's happening to me? Am I going crazy? Am I dreaming? He closed his eyes. "Jim." If he called and closed his eyes he would wake up. Jim would come and wake him up and everything would be as it should be. Normal. No boys haunting him. No dark eyes staring out at him from the darkness.
"Jim, please." Jim. Jim. Jim.
"Hey, hey. Calm down. It's okay, Blair."
Jim? He opened his eyes and nearly sobbed when he saw the Sentinel crouched in front of him, the soft moonlight bathing him with a faint aura.
"I'm going to turn on the light." Rising, Jim switched on the hall light.
Blair blinked against the sudden brightness and looked up at his friend. Sure enough, it was Jim, not some guy with black hair and dark eyes. He closed his eyes and sagged against the wall, taking a deep breath. "I'm remebering, aren't I?"