Ordinary Magic Part 3: Visshuda
Summary: Smarm. Rated R for language.
Notes: For Kitty, who thinks I'm never hard enough on Bill. Maybe this does it. And hugs to Brook and TAG for special comments!
Disclaimer: Jim, Blair, et al., belong to large corporate entities and not to the author.
We worked on smell for an hour. We were mining for a Sunday afternoon at the end of November, 1973. All we brought up from the shaft, though, seemed to be the Friday afternoon before. Or the Friday afternoon before some football game anyway, it wasn't terribly clear. Whispering, Jim gave me vivid, detailed descriptions about that afternoon we weren't looking for: what he was wearing, what Stevie was wearing, what Sally was wearing, what the neighbor from three doors down was wearing. . .
Details of smell--the rotting pumpkin that had fallen into the bushes beside the Winston house across the street. The pot roast Jimmy was having for dinner. The curb that had been sprayed by a male cat. But no matter how we approached, no matter what I asked him, he could not get to Sunday or even Saturday.
"Ok," I said, finally. "Maybe we're doing this the wrong way."
"What did you have in mind?"
"Chuck the sense memory. It's not working. Stand up." Nervously, he stood, and I stepped gently into his personal space. I didn't push. I didn't open. "Ok?"
I closed my eyes and breathed. Calm down, I told myself. Relax. Get the shape of him. But I was scared to death. A serial killer was leaving Jim's picture on the bodies of his victims. If there was any personal connection to Jim, anything he'd seen or heard when he was a kid, we had to know. Yes, this was a bad idea. He was apparently repressing all kinds of crap I didn't know about, and searching for those memories under pressure, in a hurry was *not* the way to do it. But he needed his memories. If he knew anything we could use, anything that could help him--I swallowed, making myself pay attention. "Jim, one more time. Think about what you smelled last night."
This time I was watching, and around me, his aura lit up like a Christmas tree just plugged in. There were blocks everywhere, suddenly floating to the surface, illuminated. Shit. I was feeling crap now that I mainly only felt when we were deeply trancing together. Traces of what brushed against me now were sweet, warm. Good things Jim was carrying somewhere. . . but most of it was auric crap--blocks and knots. Trauma he'd never released. It was all tied together, knotted into a sad tangle. The chakra in his throat had a huge block, sickly pink and as hard as a ball of irregular glass. I could see it, behind my closed eyes, before the moment ended and the disturbances around Jim faded a little.
I raised my hand slowly to hover at his throat, nudging at the block. He shuddered. "What do you see," I asked.
"I dunno. Football? Bud?"
The neighbor again? The neighbor who knew about Jim's senses? Why was he coming up more than the murder? What was he doing, hiding in this block? Oh, god, god. What if that man'd hurt Jim somehow? This was bad enough for physical abuse by somebody a kid had trusted. I panted, trying to let my fear and anger go. Jim couldn't afford to cope with my pain on top of his too.
I gave us a moment to collect ourselves, then lightly reached out with my hand and stroked the scarred vortex at his throat. Jim shuddered again. "Breathe through it," I whispered. "Just keep breathing."
"No..." he murmured.
"Jim, we have to. We need this memory." But I was no longer sure this trauma was the one we were looking for. It was bad enough to qualify, but any of Jim's weird side-trips might be minefields, too. Maybe this was the wrong block to be looking at.
I thought of a murderer who strangled men and then stabbed them. This was an emergency. We needed an answer. This was the block connected to that smell. It had to be. Regardless of what Jim *said*, his energy couldn't lie to me. I formed a hard point and dug at the block, trying to pierce it.
Jim's blow caught me straight down my front, slapping my chakras and slamming me back into my center. I stumbled to the side, tripped over the coffee table and landed hard on the floor. Jim gasped, looking surprised and contrite and hurt. "S-Sandburg?" He leaned toward me, but his hand was shaking, and it wouldn't, quite, touch me.
I stung. On the inside. A sharp, pointed pain spread over my body. I tried a breath. "S'ok. We had a little accident. M-My fault."
Jim looked unsteady, breathless. "Chief--did I? Did I just hit you?"
Hit me? Raked me with claws, more like. But it wasn't his fault. Jim couldn't have controlled this intuitive defense. I had way underestimated his fear of whatever was behind this block. I should not have forced him. I'd known it was a bad thing to do. I was just hoping our intimacy would be enough to carry us through.
Now Jim was standing over me, looking as if he were afraid I would bite him. Shakily, I got my knees under me. "We're ok--"
"God, Blair. Look at you!" He reached for me, but flinched before touching my skin.
"This is not your fault," I said, standing up as quickly as I dared.
"Jim, I'm ok."
"I tore you!"
"It's ok. I can fix this."
He closed his eyes, and I realized he was watching me from the inside out. With his eyes closed he could see my energy as a three-dimensional, color picture. Crap. I tried to pull the edges of the torn energy together. "Give me a couple of hours. Jim, I'll be fine. Listen, this wasn't your fault. I pushed you way too hard."
He sighed and sat down.
"Did I . . . hurt you?" I asked. I couldn't feel him. He was a blank wall, flat and hard. He was shutting me out, and I could hardly blame him.
"It wasn't you." He said. "Blair, I'm sorry. I just don't know how to . . . open that up. I-I can't."
"It's not your fault, Jim."
"I need that information!"
I knew that. Damn it. "Let's rest? Ok? Get something to eat. Take a few minutes." Let me sort out the mess we'd made of my, well my me. Gods, I was depressed. I had failed, I had nearly hurt Jim--would have hurt him, if he hadn't forcibly stopped me. And the Countryclub Strangler was going to come for Jim. The body we'd found on campus could be Jim in a few days. We'd find him some morning, in a ditch somewhere, blue and quiet, with just a little bit of blood.
"Hey--easy, Chief." Jim got up and did touch me, finally. His hand cupped my abdomen, a place corresponding to the worst of the tearing. "Ok. All right. Let it go. We'll rest for a while, eat."
But late that night, I could almost hear him above me, shoving around his memories behind his muffling wall, like a man moving furniture in another room. I didn't offer to help. Lot of good I'd done so far. Crap, I was practically useless...
I tried to ignore my depression. It was from the hurt I'd gotten earlier, that was all. I was still sore inside, still uncertain and sad. I made a mistake. A miscalculation. That was all. An accident Jim could recover from. He had been set back a bit, but really, his best friend scaring the living daylights out of him was the least of Jim's worries. His real problem was a serial killer who used his baby pictures as a calling card.
I shuddered. Obviously my anxiety was way out of control. Obviously. Jim could take just about anybody his own size or larger. He'd be fine, even if the Strangler did try something before Jim caught him. And Jim would catch him. I tried to breathe, to center myself. I had to get myself together, now, before my depression and paranoia made me do something really stupid.
The next day we were both messed up. I'd had bad dreams all night. Jim, I was sure, hadn't gotten much sleep. Meanwhile, while we had been chasing our tails, the Strangler had been busy. There was another body, and another message for Jim.
I was furious. If I had had that murderer in front of me right then, I would have killed him without hesitating. Part of this might have been because I was still unbalanced by what had happened last night. But maybe not. I had gotten a very good look at what whatever had happened twenty-five years ago had done to Jim. I could see what it was doing to him *now*. And yes, ok, you let the past go, and maybe the present. But the bastard was still trying to hurt Jim, would continue to hurt him very badly, and whatever it was in my power to do to protect him, I would do.
But of course there was nothing I could do. If he were anyone else, he would be in protective custody right now. He'd be somewhere safe, and possibly given a psychologist to talk to.
Just before lunch he went to see his father. That emotionally abusive idiot who manipulated his sons by pitting them against one another and no doubt pushed them to be 'men.' How much of the uphill battle I'd had over the last two and a half years had been against dysfunctions he'd installed? I didn't want Jim going near that creep.
But he had to do it. Not just for the case. Intellectually, I knew that. Seeing his dad was the right thing to do. Things had happened to Jim that had hurt him so badly he had had to encase the memories in blackness and lock them away. And I wasn't sure. Maybe it wasn't just the case that had done it, maybe it *wasn't* only finding that body or whatever. I didn't know. Maybe that neighbor did something to him. Maybe the police gave him a hard time. He'd mentioned his mom once; maybe she had added to the mix. Whatever had messed him up was related to this case or at least to this *time,* and as we dug deeper into ancient history, that old pain was going to be dug up, too. Whatever was so horrible that he defended his denial desperately was just a time bomb waiting to go off. This case would make it impossible to keep his secrets from himself. He was going to have to deal with it. He was going to have to face those memories, talk to those people, live with his past.
Even aside from the case, he couldn't keep fighting with himself like this. The blocks were festering now. Whatever he'd been through, it couldn't be ignored anymore. Protecting him from his past, from his pain wouldn't be any help.
But, Gods, I wanted to protect him!
He came back grumbling that he hadn't gotten anything useful, that it was all a waste of time, that nothing had changed. I didn't pry. We went to the other side of town, out by the freight yards on a lead Simon had. When we got there though, the man we'd come to see was dead, and Jim was smelling that smell again. Jim took off like a bird dog, and I called it in.
Fifteen minutes later two uniforms brought Jim back, along with a knife that matched the coroner's description of the weapon used by the strangler. His skin was white and his energy was walled off and stilled to almost nothing. Shock, I realized. And then I thought, Crap. He saw the strangler, fought with him. He lost him. It must be hell,
I got him into the truck and dug the emergency blanket out from behind the seat. I drove and Jim sat with his head back and eyes closed. Not asleep, but pulled into himself. Hurting. "We'll get him, Jim." I said.
"You were right," he whispered. "About sense memory. I just needed a big enough smell of that knife."
"I remember finding that body. In the woods. It was Bud. A dead businessman, strangled, with his wallet open on his chest . . . there was blood. . . ." I could barely hear him.
My tires squealed as I tore into the parking lot of a Chucky Cheeze and threw on the brake. "Jim--?" But what could I say?
"I had to go, and find the coach. I said, 'we'd better call the police.' Sally and Stevie--were already gone. We were only a few blocks from home..."
Oh, god, oh god. I undid my seatbelt and turned toward him, but I didn't know what to do. I had been afraid that this Bud had hurt him, but this was--this was--how did you even deal with this? We were facing a huge repressed mess when all we knew was that Jim had found a body when he was ten. Even without figuring in that the body had been horribly murdered, even without figuring in Jim's senses and that he would intimately *know* what a living body was supposed to sound like and to smell like and that he would experience this death in high-resolution, full-sentinel Technicolor--it would have been enough to break a child. But now it was so much worse. Aw, geeze. The friend he trusted. The only person in the world who understood.
"At funerals people always say, 'how peaceful he looks,' or 'he looks like he's sleeping.'" Jim breathed. "It's nothing like sleeping. He didn't look peaceful. He looked dead. He looked undone. He'd fought, he'd--I could smell the fear. Blair . . . There wasn't any light in him."
I got up on my knees and squirmed toward him. "Jim . . . ."
"We didn't go to his funeral."
Heartbroken, I put my arms around him. Jim began to cry--the way a little kid cries, not the way a man weeps. Something brushed against my soul. It was heavy and suffocating and flowed into me from Jim like a glacier seeping downhill. It felt massive, crushing. I let it go through me and out. Even as I grounded it another block broke free of Jim and followed the first downhill into me. This one was an emptiness, not a weight. A 'missingness.' In my arms, Jim said in a small voice, "I never said good-bye." He choked. "God, Blair, make it stop."
"Let's not," I whispered, and pulled his next block into me. Jim screamed behind his teeth, his face pressed to my shoulder. I held him tight to me, pulling his energy in. Jim howled and sobbed, the noise hurting even my ears in the small cab. But he didn't fight me. He was too exhausted, too heartbroken to resist as I opened pain after pain and dragged them into the light. Mom, I thought dimly, would have had a fit. Trying to do this all at once, letting someone else's crap penetrate me so deeply . . . . It was dangerous for both of us. I just didn't see what choice we had.
"I don't understand! Dad said all that mattered was winning. We *won* the game! Why was Bud hurt? Why is he gone?"
Oh, god. I pulled and pulled until nothing more would unravel, nothing more would fall. Then I held him until he cried himself out. We sat there for a long time, holding on to each other. It began to get dark. "Well," Jim said. "That was . . . really horrible."
I laughed weakly and pulled back so I could look at him. He was pale but calm. His energy was open again, flowing slowly. The pink block was still in his throat. It had moved and it was leaking something bright but it was still there.
"What?" Jim said, looking at me over a fork full of reheated stew.
I touched my neck. "You're still blocked. Here."
He shrugged and pushed his stew around. "I'm usually blocked there."
"Yeah, but..." I frowned. "It's connected to what's been happening. I'm sure. But your remembering everything should have affected it more."
"But, look. Blair. Knowing why you have a block doesn't mean you don't have one." He put the fork down, not even trying to eat now.
"Well, yeah." I said. I had plenty of blocks which I understood intimately. Over my left arm was a spot Jim described as 'squishy' and 'thorny' which corresponded roughly to a broken bone I got falling out of a tree when I was nine. Jim said the block actually glowed when I was having trouble with heights. I knew the problem very well--I had worked on it for years. Mom had worked on it for years before that. And recently, Jim had been working on it. It was better than it had been, but it never stopped being there.
The thing was, there were ways and ways to get rid of blocks. Manipulating shapes of energy was just part of the story. Trying to change dysfunctional patterns of thought or behavior was most of the rest of it. Deep down, I never really believed that feeling a really profound--ah--respect for high places was dysfunctional. People fell off of things all the time. Sometimes they went splat at the bottom. Freaking and freezing were dysfunctional, sure. Staying away from high places and getting safely down as quickly as possible was just . . . a good idea.
But Jim--chakra five was about communication. Information. Interaction with others. Expression of the self. These weren't things Jim seemed to have extraordinary problems with. Did he? I mean, he had his moments, but--this bad? Was there something he'd buried so deeply I hadn't noticed? Something he covered so smoothly I never questioned? Crap. I just didn't know. His problems seemed pretty normal. Surely not worthy of that nasty pink constriction.
Frustrated, I put the plates--still mostly full of congealing stew we hadn't eaten--in the sink and went to stand behind him. I laid my energy gently against him. I could feel where he'd been grabbed in the fight; somebody else's hatred was lodged in him. The energy of it was strong; hours later it was still trying to eat at him. Fortunately, it didn't have the coherent sting of a deliberate attack, and I scraped it off easily and burned it clear in my hands. Jim sighed.
I slid two fingers into the neck of his light sweater, gently examining the skin. "Ow," he said. I nodded. Some bruising here. The muscles in his neck were hard, his other shoulder knotted and rigid. His jaw was hard. All that might be related to problems with Five. Or maybe not. "*What* are you doing?" Jim asked impatiently.
"I just want to make sure this isn't some kind of mistake. I'm not going to push. I swear." Avoiding the bruise, I gently worked at his neck and shoulders with the tips of my fingers until the muscles moved a little more easily. Then, grasping his head firmly, I began to move it from one position to another, sometimes applying a little pressure with the palm of my hand. Mostly, this was shiatsu. It would move energy by moving his body into positions where it could flow more easily. If the block was just a little stuck or jammed, this might push it free.
Nothing. Well, Jim seemed to like the massage, which was something. But this close, this tuned into him, I could feel that warped vortex like an eddy in a fast stream. Crap. I could not bear to see him like this.
I rested his head against my abdomen and, placing my hands on the tops of his shoulders, eased his shoulders back half an inch. *This* would move energy. This would turn the stream into a river. And I could feel it, the pressure building--
"Stop! Blair, I--stopIcan't! I can't!"
I let go. Without thinking, I folded around him, curling protectively around the block I had been trying to destroy. "Ok. Ok. I won't. It's ok."
"I'm *sorry*, Chief. I just--can't."
"I know. It's ok. You don't have to."
"But the case--if there's more--"
"Screw the case," I whispered. The block was hurting him. Removing it before he was ready would hurt him more. I was sure--sure! it was close to ready. But it wasn't up to me. "Enough. Ok? Look." I separated us, rebuilding Jim's barriers as I pulled out of him. Peace and quiet. Privacy. Let him heal. If he reached for me, ok. I was always open to him--often even when I wasn't trying to be. But I wouldn't force him.
I stepped away and finished clearing the table. Jim tilted his neck back and forth; at least the massage had loosened him up. He was still favoring the bruise, though. I dug some frozen vegetables out of the freezer and handed them to him. "Here, this should help."
We talked about the case. We talked about his memories. We talked about sneaking into the PD by the back stairs to avoid the reporters in the lobby.
That night, Jim's dreams woke me. I didn't think they woke him. I lay for twenty minutes, listening, and there was no sound. Asleep, he leaned on me, clung to me. Shit, what was this? Sad, yes. Ok. He was leaking sad into me. I understood that. But there was something else, and I couldn't figure out what it was. It was . . . fear-ish. It was small-making. I could only find the edges of it, but I didn't know what it was or why Jim had it.
Shit. Gods. I wasn't up to this. The universe should have sent Jim somebody better trained and a hell of a lot smarter. Carrying him while he coped with the senses, I could manage that. Teaching him to be stronger, yes, that too. But this was too much. I didn't know what I was doing! I couldn't fix this--hell, I couldn't even figure out what it was. Tears began to prickle at my eyes.
Mom would be very disappointed by all this negativity. I smiled a little at that. She was in Manitou Springs, teaching again. I could call her for advice. There wasn't a lot I could tell her though, without compromising Jim, and he was very attached to his secrets. I sighed.
Another wave of that sadness. Crap. I couldn't--
Ok. No more negativity. I thought of last summer, of Jim teaching me fly-fishing. I thought of Jim, his energy flowing out and connecting to the ground and the stream and the sky. He had been so open and so bright. He had filled himself, and poured the overflow into Simon and me, so easily in and out of both of us. He'd been like a star, healthy and beautiful. Dizzying. Glorious. I remembered thinking at the time that it was just too damn bad he hadn't become a game warden or a park ranger. Something less dangerous to the soul than being a cop.
Above me, Jim was calming. He was still holding me, but not so desperately tightly. I reached up to him and held him back.
The next morning, we went to the morgue to have a look at the video technician's body. Jim didn't find anything useful. We met Simon on the way up. As we walked to his office, he told us that they had a name for the Strangler. This was good news. Wonderful news. Practically a miracle.
The bad news was, Scott Jefferies had disappeared thirty years ago. What name he was living under, where he was working, where he lived . . . there wasn't a clue. A picture did arrive finally, though. Jim gaped when Simon handed it to him. "I remember this guy." A kind of shadow seemed to pass over him, and he visibly shook himself. "I saw him. He was at the game, and I saw him again. Later. He was leaving the crime scene. Of--the murder."
"What?" Simon asked. He took the photo back. "That isn't in the report!"
No, it wasn't. I'd read it six times.
"I saw him," Jim repeated. He thought for a minute. "I'm gonna talk to my old man again. See if he remembers anything. Maybe he met this man, or knows somebody who would have."
I followed him out of Simon's office. "Want some company?"
I stopped, surprised by the vehemence of his refusal. Jim sighed and nudged me into a corner of the room. "Listen, Chief. It's not that I don't appreciate--I mean, I just--"
I realized that while he'd been tripping over his explanation, his energy had flowed over me and crystallized around us both in a smooth barrier. He was shielding me. It was probably involuntary, but still, a pretty nice job. I wondered what was so terrible at his father's house that twelve miles away, he felt the need to protect me from it. "I get it. It's ok. I'll be here, ok?"
"Don't you have class?"
"Not today," I lied. "Go on. I'll see you later."
I read the old file again. And again. Jim came back just under two hours after he left. "Where are we?" he snapped.
"Five Mick, Mitchell, or Michael Fosters in the Cascade/Seattle area, but only one is a match for age. Rafe's watching the house right now. Simon is downstairs talking to the SWAT guys. The warrant will be here any second."
Jim nodded and took out his gun to check it. This was not one of his usual nervous habits. I stepped a little closer. He made no move to touch me. There was no opening and click as our energy came together. I frowned, taking a good look--
Jim was completely contained, closed and blank. He might as well be Henry, for all that I could read him. "Jim?" I whispered. "What's going on?"
He put his gun away and took a deep breath. "Chief--Not now? Ok? I do not have time to deal with this now."
His energy was still masked from me, but his eyes were haunted. "What happened?"
Simon came in then, at a dead run, just passing through. He grabbed his jacket and three people as he went by, all the time spouting orders. There wasn't any more time to talk.
When we got to the address, Rafe reported no movement in or out. I hunched down in the truck while SWAT surrounded the house and Jim and Simon went to the door. I was sweating. I could tell from Jim's body language that there was nobody inside. They weren't walking into a trap.
They did find a body in that empty house. Mick Foster was dead. About three days ago, killed by the same MO he'd used himself thirty and then twenty years before, except he'd been knocked around some first. From the looks of things, he'd also been pretty sick. His body was too thin, and there were bottles of medication everywhere.
The SWAT team gave quickly before the coroner's office and forensics. Cassie's people spread out like a swarm, tossing the place in an oddly silent, organized way. A uniform brought over the file on Mick's son Aaron, and Simon called Joel and sent him over to the paper where Aaron Foster worked. We had to find him. Or figure out who his next victim would be. Or where he would go if he fled.
The tiny house was awful. It was full of invisible stickies and nasties. I hated to think of what had gone on here for the last twenty-five years. Mental illness. Child abuse. Elder abuse. The planning of murders. The remnants of it crowded around me, hung limply against my edges. I kept having to go out onto the porch. I watched Jim, but his barriers were always better than mine. He seemed to be ok. Well, ok for a cop who couldn't find his serial killer.
God, I wished this was over.
We had been at the Foster house for about three hours when he called. Aaron. He was at the house where Jim grew up, holding Jim's father.
Jim's house was only ten blocks away. We got there just as the black and whites were pulling up. Jim and Simon tore into the house, and, barely two minutes later, tore out again. I spent those two minutes staring up at the huge, white colonial, so scared I couldn't think straight. When he came out, Jim barreled past me without slowing down. I scampered after him and jumped into the truck. I had no idea where we were going until Jim grunted, "He's got my father at the football field. He wants me."
Fuck. I didn't ask how sure he was his dad was still alive. I tried to reach for him, but I still slid along the outside of him like glass. He was focused entirely away from me. Really, there was nothing I could offer to help.
The football field was empty. "Maybe you were wrong," I said.
"No. I'm not wrong. This is where he wants me."
"Where is he?"
Jim looked around. For a moment, he seemed to fade even further away from me. He pointed at the woods behind the soccer goal. "Stay here," he said. "Wait for Simon."
Well, obviously, I had no intention of waiting there. But I let Jim get ahead of me. Interfering with his focus would be as bad as getting in his line of fire, and I was determined to do neither one. So I ran after Jim, staying well behind him, looking around carefully, prepared to duck. The woods were cold and damp, the trees mostly short, scraggly overgrowth. Between the bushes I caught a glimpse of a creek; this area had probably been left undeveloped for drainage and flood control. Without meaning to, I thought about Foster bringing Bud out to this bleak place and murdering him. Crap. I ran faster so I wouldn't lose sight of Jim.
I caught up to him just as a figure streaked off to my left. Jim grabbed me and shoved me at his father and took off after Aaron Foster. I looked after Jim, furious that he was going alone. But there was no help for it. I leaned down over the older man. Jim's dad. "You ok?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm. . . ." He was also looking after Jim.
I squatted beside him. "I'm Blair Sandburg. I work with Jim at the station."
He looked at me uncomprehendingly.
"Mr. Ellison, where are you hurt?"
"No. No, I'm not hurt. He just. . . ." There was blood on his face, bruises coming up above his eye, on his knuckles. He was shaking. I opened to him, quickly, desperately looking for physical injuries. He was a mess, but not, I thought, badly injured. I held out a hand and helped him to his feet.
The trip out of the woods seemed much longer than the trip in. I couldn't see Jim, and I was worried. But as badly as I wanted to run, Jim's father wasn't up to much more than a slow hobble. When we finally cleared the trees, though, Foster was being led away by uniforms and Simon was standing with Jim. Jim homed in on us at once, his eyes on his father. I handed him over and stepped out of the way, suddenly overcome by the idea that it was over, that nobody had died today, that Jim hadn't been hurt, that I wouldn't be holding him while he grieved for his dad. I said a quick, grateful prayer.
My first thought would be to celebrate with Jim, but he was occupied, so I happily goofed off with Simon. We caught the bad guy. We got him. It was over. Jim was safe. Well, as safe as he got, given his line of work. But not being stalked by a nutcase anymore. Safe enough.
I was giddy for the next half hour. While I floated, Simon saw Foster off and talked to the press. Forensics swarmed into the woods collecting evidence. Mr. Ellison got checked out by the paramedics. Jim stood off to the side, watching everything with expressionless eyes.
"Come on," Jim said, coming up to me. "Let's take him home."
"Who?" I hadn't heard him approach. He was still keeping himself very closed. "Your dad? But--the hospital?"
"But we need the documentation."
"For the trial?" Jim snorted bitterly. "The bastard's crazy, Chief. This isn't going anywhere near a trial." Angry. Nobody would be punished for this. No justice for Dr. McCain or Jim's dad or Aaron's other victims. Any more than there had been justice for Bud. Sighing, I laid a hand on Jim's arm. Aaron going into a state mental hospital wouldn't give Jim a whole lot of comfort. . . .
We collected William Ellison and drove him the short distance back to his house in the truck. He sat between us. I asked him how he was doing, if he needed anything. I mentioned that I knew a couple of crime victims support groups--yeah it was too soon to talk about that now, but he needed to know that there were options out there. William looked at me in blank confusion and Jim's spirit nudged me to be quiet. It was the first contact we'd had in hours.
Jim and his father had no contact at all. William reached out more than once. You'd expect that. Parents, even bad parents, have tight energy ties to their children. Jim was still completely contained and impenetrable. His father couldn't get near him.
At Jim's house, Serena was standing outside, talking to an older Asian woman. As we pulled up, they broke apart and the Asian woman rushed to the car. She flew into Jim's arms and he folded around her filling, feeding, soothing over a horrible raggedness that hovered around her. So this was Sally. Jim had mentioned her a few times.
"I'm glad to see you," Serena said as I got out. "She's been worried, even though we got word that everyone was ok. I couldn't convince her to leave." She looked around. "We're finished up here. We've got quite a lot. It'll be day after tomorrow before we have a complete report."
"Send it to Simon. He's detective of record."
"Right. Tell Jim I'm glad everyone's ok."
I thanked her and followed Jim and his family into the house. The house was--
Well, I'd known Jim came from money, but this was. . . . It had this staircase whose purpose wasn't to get people upstairs so much as intimidate them as they walked in the front door. And the tiny table by the door looked like antique rosewood. I didn't even want to wonder about the huge vase in the corner.
William went upstairs to get cleaned up. Jim sat down in the living room. Sally said she was going into the kitchen to make some coffee. I introduced myself and followed her, offering to help.
"So, is it true?" she asked. "They've arrested him?"
"Oh, yeah. Yeah. I was there. Jim caught him." She flinched at that, and I thought perhaps that was more than she needed to hear. "Everything's ok."
"That's what they told us last time."
Oh. Right. She must have known Bud. Crap. She would have had to deal with Jim, after. . . . God. What a mess for this family. And somebody would have to call Stephen. It was odd that we hadn't heard from him before. He might be out of town, he'd been traveling quite a lot lately. "We're sure." I said, and then, "Jim's sure."
We drank coffee with them in the kitchen, eating homemade cookies and not talking a lot. Mr. Ellison reached out to connect with Jim twice, and twice Jim froze him out. That alarmed me. I couldn't imagine being so angry at Naomi that there was no line between us at all. I mean, yeah, fathers and sons could have weird dynamics that I couldn't even imagine, but after what they'd just been through, surely there should be something they felt for each other.
We finished the coffee. Jim politely shook his father's hand, hugged Sally, and we left. Jim said nothing to me as we went down the walk or once we were in the car, but at the edge of the development, he pulled over and turned the ignition off.
He motioned me to be quiet, but at the same time seized my hand. "I just--need a minute, Chief. Ok? Just--" He stopped and closed his eyes.
Right. Ok. He'd had no chance to process any of this. We'd been at a dead run all day. I held his hand back. He was moving his thumb back and fourth, needing the sensory input. And he was leaning on me, although I still could not make out the shape of his energy.
"I think . . . you're going to be ashamed of me, Chief."
My head snapped up. "Jim, why would I ever--" He squeezed my hand sharply, and I shut up.
We sat in silence.
"He just kept apologizing. My father. I wanted to--just pretend nothing had ever happened, but he just kept apologizing. He wouldn't let it go. Huh. As bad as you, Chief, he wouldn't let it go, and finally I remembered what he was apologizing for." Jim's voice trailed off and he got still again. I covered his hand in both of mine.
"Simon wanted to know why it wasn't in the police report. That I'd seen Foster."
"I told them. I told the police. They said that it was too far away. I couldn't have seen it. They said I'd made it up."
Oh, shit. Shit. The Juno brothers all over again. Only that had been the *second* time, hadn't it? No wonder Jim had started to fall apart.
"Jim, you were a kid," I whispered miserably.
"So I did it. I knew the truth, I knew I was right--and I shut up. That's why I stopped being a sentinel. Because I stopped, because I was afraid." He paused again. "Dad told me I had to stop playing games. That people wouldn't understand. He said people would think something was *wrong* with me. And I believed him. I gave in and stopped . . . telling the truth. Even to myself, I stopped telling the truth . . ."
I felt as though I'd been kicked. "Jim, it was a mistake," I whispered. "He didn't know! He--"
"He knew. He knew. I was telling the truth and he knew I was right. And he told me I had to stop telling lies or people would think I was a freak."
Oh, gods. I closed my eyes. There was nothing I could say.
"So. There it is. I'm sorry, Blair."
I tore out of the seatbelt and crawled up onto the bench. "Jim?"
"I believed it. All I cared about was being . . . normal. Blair, I hate him. I hate myself--"
I caught his face and turned his head so our foreheads were together. There was nothing I could say that he would hear, but I had to reach him. I cupped my left hand at the back of his neck, my right hand at the front, and called to him so hard my heart ached. I needed him to open. He needed to touch me.
"God damn it! Wayne Hollow died because I was such a fucking coward!"
"No, no, no. You were a kid. It wasn't in your power to stop it. You shouldn't have seen that, you were ten, you weren't ready, nobody would have been! And you couldn't have changed the world afterwards."
But my denial only made him go more rigid. "The man who murdered Bud went free for twenty years! Twenty years! He lived his life. He was a free man. He beat his son. . . ." "No. Jim."
"No!" But denying his reality was not a way to reach him. He wasn't ready to hear that he was wrong. I squeezed my eyes shut. "You feel responsible," I whispered.
He nodded spasmodically. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!"
"You're sorry," I whispered. "You're sorry you didn't stand by the truth."
Jim melted under me. I could feel a tearing all through him. The blockage at his throat was gone, but it felt like it had been ripped out with an ice pick. The lies were gone, but the truth was almost too terrible to bear. "I--I--"
"Yes! Yes! I hate him."
"God, Blair, what kind of shit am I? He almost got killed today. Because of me. Aaron came after him because of me. I should--And--God! He kept apologizing. How can I--I mean, what kind of horrible person wouldn't forgive him--"
"You're angry. You're angry with him. You're angry with yourself. Anger is ok." I felt ill. I had sat there drinking coffee with this man. The one person Jim should have been able to trust, and he'd called his impressionable little boy a freak. He'd terrorized the sentinel out of him. He'd hurt Jim so badly that he'd repressed the memories completely.
"I believed it. I went along with it--"
"You don't believe it now." I cupped his throat in my hands. "There's nothing wrong with you. You have your truth *now*."
"There's nothing wrong with me!"
"No, there's not."
"He was wrong!"
"There's nothing wrong with you. You are exactly the way you were meant to be. He was wrong."
"Let it go. It isn't true any more. You know better now. You fixed everything."
"Aw God, Sandburg."
"Right here. Right here." He leaned into me. I held him. "It's real, you know," I said suddenly. "I've documented it. It's real. You can read a license plate at two hundred yards. I've measured your hearing up to thirty kilohertz at eight decibels. It's real. I have proof you can hold in your hand."
A strangled chuckle. "Wanna print your results out on some nasty tasting paper so I can shove them down his throat?"
"Whatever you want."
"Sandburg--" A short silence. The truck creaked faintly in a soft gust of wind.
"If it's real and normal and such an advantage, why isn't everybody like this?"
Aw, hell. I sighed. "Well, it's like, with auto racing--"
"Not everybody is a driver. If everybody is in a car, it doesn't work. You need pit crew. The guy to drop the flag. Announcers. Crowd."
He managed a small smile. "Sandburg, that has to be the stupidest analogy--"
"Jim, a society couldn't function if everybody was having spikes at the same time. Who'd bring the aspirin?"
"And there are things that couldn't be done at all if everyone were--I mean, Jim, could you work in a sewer? Or and abattoir? It would break you."
"But--Blair--I mean, *I* know we didn't evolve with those things being an issue!"
"Jim, I think such heightened senses doesn't confer a selective advantage on an individual." He looked at me blankly. "I think--overall, it won't increase your number of surviving and reproducing offspring, but it will increase the chances of your, your tribe. Your extended family. Like altruism. The advantages--The *personal* advantages are pretty much canceled out by, well, by you always being in the most dangerous possible place." It was hard for me to talk about. I didn't like to think about the risks Jim took because he could. I didn't want to think about where that would leave me when the odds caught up with him. But I had wondered why he hadn't asked these questions before. It had seemed strange that he would never think about this, that he wouldn't wonder . . . .
"There aren't *many* people like you, Jim. There never were. The volume of information you have to process, a lot of people couldn't do it. Or they couldn't do it and manage anything *else*."
He looked away. "I couldn't do it . . . without you."
Another subject I didn't like thinking about, one I didn't want to talk about today, here in the truck in the gathering darkness. But Jim had never tried to go here before. "I've wondered about that too," I said. "But I think. . . . knowing what we do now, I think you would have developed normally, if . . . ."
"If I hadn't sabotaged myself by repressing my senses."
"No! No. If you hadn't been so badly traumatized so young." I squeezed his shoulders and at the same time brought my inner self around him and overlapped us both. "It wasn't your fault. For the past three years, you've been making up for lost time. That's all. There's been a lot of things you've had to learn. And a lot of stuff you've had to deal with on top of the sentinel stuff. It's--you're ok, Jim. Really. You're getting there." I touched his five, clear now, but damaged and atrophied.
"That . . . hurts."
"Yeah. Yeah. What kind of hurt?"
"Like there's . . . . something wrong with me." A shudder. "But there's not. Is there?"
"No. Nothing." He was wonderful. Magnificent. Right. Good. I let him see it in my eyes. I let him feel it in my heart.
He closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. "Ok." Tentatively, he adjusted his energy. "You, um, you were right about everything."
He offered up sweet warmth with that, a soft 'thank you' that I accepted by passing back a warmth of my own and teasing, "Can I have that in writing? Or, no. I want it embroidered. In neon orange."
Jim smiled, but his eyes leaked over in tired tears.
"Let's go home," I said.
We stayed up late that night. I just let Jim talk; he went round and round over the same ground we'd covered in the truck. He was angry, he didn't like that anger, and he couldn't make it go away. He felt guilty--about a lot of things, including his anger. It was hard, to see and feel and hear his distress, but at least he was letting it out. I wasn't going to stop him. Every time he got quiet, I prayed for him and waited.
It was good and it was hard and it was . . . sad. He was strong. He was so close to his true center. Soon, I thought, he wouldn't need me. Soon, he would be able to get by just fine without my help. Maybe it felt this way to Naomi back when I was looking at college catalogs. Surely I wasn't petty enough, selfish enough to be sorry that Jim wouldn't always be dependent! He deserved to be strong and free. He was so beautiful, when he was strong and free.
But someday, things might work out so that he wouldn't always be casually passing in and out of my energy, that his soul wouldn't automatically reach for mine when he was happy or tired.
And if it did, I would miss that.