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Previously published in 'Mourning', a Tribute Zine available from AllGen Press.
DEDICATION: In memory of all who suffered on that terrible day - 11th September 2001.
'May we rise up victorious from the ashes of hate'
Blair Sandburg looked up from the list in front of him and shook his head sadly. "Im sorry. Her names not here."
The man on the other side of the table tapped an insistent finger on the paper. "Shes got to be. I know she was there. I spoke to her on the phone just before "
Blair stood up, blinking away the fatigue that threatened to overwhelm him and walked around the table to place a consoling hand on the other mans arm. "Im not doubting you, sir. I just know that shes not on the list I have in front of me. There are other places that you can register your details, in case shes among those who well, who havent been identified yet."
Suddenly, the front of his shirt was fisted in a large hand and he was barreled back until he hit the wall with a resounding crash. Pain flared brightly in his head as it smacked against the plaster, and his vision grayed out briefly. His assailants face pressed close to his own, breath hot on his face, the mans features twisted into an angry snarl.
"Shes not dead," he growled, giving Blair a vicious shake to punctuate his words. "She cant be. Shes my wife. Id know." Suddenly, his face transformed into a mask of grief and he slid down until his knees hit the floor. "I'd know. I dont know what to do," he sobbed. "The kids need her. I dont even know how to change a diaper."
Blair lowered himself until he was kneeling in front of the distraught man. Reaching out, he wrapped his arms about the shaking shoulders and gathered the man close. "Jack, Im sorry," he whispered, his own tears running freely down his cheeks. "Dont give up yet. Well find her. Somehow."
The man nodded against his shoulder, then looked up as another hand was placed beneath his elbow and he was helped to stand. "Im sorry," he whispered.
Blair nodded and accepted the mans hand. "Me too." He watched as Jack was led away, the photo he clutched tightly in one hand looking too bright against the grayness of the day.
Marian Kelly smiled at Blair, her own tired eyes bright with tears. "Take a break, Blair. Youre due one."
Blair nodded his thanks and stumbled toward the lounge that had been set up at the back of the hall. He poured himself a steaming cup of coffee and carried it to a table near the open door. Lowering himself with a weary sigh, he sipped blissfully at the bitter liquid.
Hed come to New York three days before the catastrophic attack had occurred. His partner, Detective Jim Ellison, was attending a law enforcement seminar in the city and Blair had decided to take the opportunity to accompany him and catch up with an old friend and colleague at the university. Together, Jim and Blair sat in their hotel room and watched in horror as the World Trade Center had collapsed to the ground.
After a moment of indecision, Jim had gone to offer his services to the depleted rescue workers digging frantically through the wreckage in search of survivors. Blair wanted to accompany him, concerned that the sentinel could zone whilst using his hyper senses to search for victims but Jim had waylaid the idea firmly. "Theyre not going to let you in there," he reasoned. "Not this time. Put your skills to use out here."
Blair had relented and watched the other man leave; then hed packed up his laptop and a change of clothes and gone to the Red Cross office, offering his help. Hed been directed to a hall that had been set up not far from the devastated site and hed stayed there for the past two days, helping grieving and lost relatives in their search for their loved ones.
"Hey." A touch on his shoulder brought him back to the present and he looked up into the reddened eyes of his partner. "Jim! Are you okay?" Blair noticed the dirty bandage covering the detectives hand and jumped up quickly, pulling out a chair and ushering the other man into it. "What happened? Do you want something to eat? What about some coffee?"
Jim raised a hand to stem the flow of words. "Im fine. Coffee would be great."
He stared into space as Blair hurried off and procured the drink then carried it quickly to the table. Placing the cup in front of his friend, Blair sat down opposite him and gestured at the bandage. "Whats this?"
Jim picked at a stray edge of the gauze. "I caught my hand on a piece of metal. Its not bad. A couple of stitches. Just lost my focus for a moment."
Blair straightened in his chair. "You "
"No, I didnt zone," Jim finished for him. "I was tired and wasnt concentrating. I slipped and put my hand out to break my fall. Everyones tired. Some construction workers spelled us. Im not going back for four hours."
"Good." Blair swirled the dregs in his coffee cup, unsure how to phrase the next question. "How How bad is it?"
Jim sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair, sending fine dust billowing into the air. "Its bad," he answered. "But its not hopeless."
The two men sat in comfortable silence; each lost in his thoughts, heedless of the activity around them.
Blair looked up at the summons and watched as the burly man hed spoken with earlier strode toward him, clutching the hand of a petite, disheveled young woman. Blair and Jim both stood as the couple approached, and Jack wrapped a protective arm around the womans shoulders. "This is my wife," he said, tears running unashamedly down his dirty cheeks. "This is Cathy."
Blair extended a hand and took Cathys small one in his. "Im very pleased to meet you, Cathy."
The woman nodded, still looking pale and shocked.
"Thank you for your compassion, Mr. Sandburg," Jack said. "You tell everyone not to give up hope. Okay?"
Blair nodded. "I will. Good luck to you both."
"We have to go pick up the kids from their grandmas." Jack waved toward the exit. "Remember, dont give up."
Blair watched as the man ushered his wife ahead of him and steered her solicitously to the door. He turned back to his partner and smiled, and for the first time in a very long while, he felt the fog of disbelief, grief and exhaustion begin to lift. "No, its not hopeless. Not by a long shot."
-29th September, 2001.
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