Note: This story deals with faith healing in the Christian tradition, so beware, there's religion in here.
Blair leaned into the hot spray of the shower, supporting his weight against the tiled wall, trying to take some of the burden off the bad knee. It hurt anyway. There was nothing new in that. He washed his hair, conditioned it, soaped up his body, all the while trying to avoid looking at the injured leg, trying to pretend it was not the knotted, twisted, discolored flesh that it was, trying not to think of himself as damaged beyond repair.
But the pain wouldn't let him forget, the constant, nagging ache that was always with him. He directed the hot water against the knee, hoping the warmth would loosen it up a bit, that maybe it wouldn't hurt quite as much as it had yesterday and the day before that and every last minute of the five weeks since he'd gotten out of the hospital.
Jim knocked on the door. "Hey, Chief. We're gonna be late. Can you pick up the pace?"
He sighed. "Yeah, Jim. I'll be right there."
Blair closed his eyes, trying to enjoy the last moments of warmth. And quickly opened them again. It was as if the image of the blast had been burned onto his retinas. Every time he closed his eyes, there it was againthe white hot flash of the explosion, the terrible force, the flying debris as dangerous and deadly as any bullet. And with the images always came the remembrance of that sharp searing pain, the ghost of the agony he'd felt that day in the warehouse.
It had just been a routine search, the police looking for drugs on an anonymous tip. But suddenly something had gone terribly wrong, a booby trap set off. The blast had not been so powerful that it had done major damage, at least not to the building or to any of the others. But for Blair...well, for him, it had been devastating. When he closed his eyes, he could still remember, as if it had happened just yesterday, the sick combination of shock and pain as the metal shard embedded itself in his knee, throwing him to the ground, causing him to twist in agony.
He turned off the water and got out of the shower, reaching for a towel. He shivered with chill, but it was not from the cold air. This icy feeling came from inside him, leaden and fearful. He felt balanced on the fine edge of a chasm, ready to fall, poised to lose everything he had or at least what he valued most.
Pick up the pace. That seemed to be the world's message to him these days. He could feel the impatience coming off strangers unfortunate enough to get stuck behind him in the grocery aisle or going up the stairs at the university. Can't you pick up the pace? He could feel their eyes boring into him, impatiently. But the answer was no, he couldn't, no matter how much he wanted to, no matter how hard he tried.
Blair dragged his uncooperative body to the sink to shave. He looked into the mirror and saw one scared man staring back at him. Every time he went in for physical therapy, Jim always made some comment about how he was improving, how he'd soon be walking normally again, be back to his old self, just fine, perfectly healed. Jim always said it with the same grim determination, as if that would make it true. Blair got the same sick, desperate feeling in the pit of his stomach each time, because it wasn't happening. He wasn't getting better, the knee wasn't healing, the limp wasn't disappearing. But he could see his future vanishing right before his very eyes, and apparently he wasn't the only one. Every time he went to the station, he could feel Simon and the other detectives in Major Crimes give him that long look of appraisal as he made his way across the bullpen, as if they were wondering just how much longer he'd be around.
It made him want to scream at his body. Heal! Damn you! The voice in his head was beginning to take on a hysterical edge. It was just that he knew the score all too well. If the knee didn't get better, there was no way the department would let him continue to work out in the field, and that seemed to him to put his entire future with Jim in jeopardy. It depressed the hell out of him that after all these years he was still fighting for his place by Jim's side, that he could lose it so easily. He'd told Jim repeatedly that it was about friendship, but he'd never received that message back from him. No, it appeared that for Jim it was about usefulness. And if Blair didn't get better, he'd be of little help. He couldn't imagine what kind of relationship they'd have if that happened. Or if there would be any relationship at all.
Blair wrapped a towel around his waist, went to his room, got dressed. He made his way out to the kitchen to grab a quick glass of juice. Jim was standing by the door, waiting for him, watching him with narrowed eyes, taking in the exaggerated way he favored the right leg. But he said nothing. Blair drank his juice and washed out the glass.
"Ready, Chief?" Jim asked, some edge in his voice, impatience maybe, like the strangers stuck behind Blair in the stacks at the library, just wanting him to pick up the pace already.
No. It wasn't going to be much longer.
Working with Jim had made Blair a veteran of many crime scenes, but none of them had seemed as...well, just plain wrong as a murder committed in a church. Some people just have no shame.
The minister, Reverend Leonard Cleveland, had discovered the body when he'd stopped by to pick up some notes from his office. It was Larry Randolph, the church custodian, who'd come in early that morning to clean the sanctuary and freshen the flowers on the altar. That's where the body had been found, on the floor in front of the altar, like some kind of horrific sacrifice, one side of his skull smashed in, a heavy silver candlestick covered in blood nearby, apparently the murder weapon.
"I can't believe this. I just can't believe it. Lord, help us," Reverend Cleveland kept saying over and over.
Blair put a comforting hand on the elderly man's arm. "You've got Cascade's finest working the case, sir. They'll find out who did this."
"I just don't know what kind of person...I mean, Larry was a simple, good-hearted soul. Not an enemy in the world. And to do such a thing here, of all places? I'll never understand the wickedness that lurks in the heart of man to make somebody do a thing like this."
Blair didn't know what to say to that. There really was no answer. It was one of the most brutal truths in lifethat evil did, in fact, exist in the world. For Blair, that realization had been one of the hardest parts of working with Jim.
"Reverend Cleveland?" Jim said, joining them. "I'm Detective Jim Ellison with the Cascade Police. I just need to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind."
The pale-faced man nodded. "Of course, detective. I want to cooperate in any way I can. We have to find out who did this terrible thing to Larry."
"We will, sir. Now can you tell me exactly what happened this morning?"
"I came to the church, about ten o'clock. When I got here, the door was already open, which was unusual. Larry usually comes in pretty early on Mondays to clean the church after the services on Sunday, and he always locks up again when he's done. So when the door was unlocked, I thought he must be running late. But then I came into the sanctuary and found him..." the minister said, his voice trailing off painfully.
"I'm sorry, sir. I just need to ask a few more questions. Did you notice anyone hanging around the church, anything out of the ordinary?"
Reverend Cleveland shook his head. "No, nothing at all."
"Can you tell me what you know about Mr. Randolph?"
"Good heavens, I can tell you everything there is to know about him. Larry grew up in the church. I baptized him myself. His mother had a hard labor with him, and he was born with brain damage, had trouble learning, never did have much more than the mind of a child really. But he was always such a sweet boy. Everybody liked him. When he was old enough, we gave him a job tending the church. He was a good worker, liked everything to be just so, especially the flowers. His father died when he was just a little boy, and he lived with his mother until she died two years ago. Since then, he's lived at a group home over on Avedon, a nice place with a lot of other young people like him and nice people on staff. The church took up a special fund to help cover the expenses, on top of what we paid him for his salary. He was such a harmless person, detective. And it's not like he had any money for anyone to steal. Why on earth would anybody want to do such a horrible thing to that poor, sweet boy?"
Jim shook his head. "I don't know yet. But trust me, Reverend Cleveland, I will find out. I promise."
"You do that, young man. You do that. And may the Lord help you in your search."
"Thank you, sir. One last thing. Has anybody new joined the church recently? Is there anybody you don't know well?"
"Well, yes...but he wouldn't have had anything to do with this."
"We haven't had any new members to the church in a while now, other than babies that have been born. But we do have a guest minister visiting us this week, leading us in our revival. Reverend Harker. He's quite an inspirational speaker and has a true gift for healing. So many have been helped already. We're expecting folks from as far away as Seattle and Vancouver. We're very honored to have such a servant of the Lord visit our humble congregation. He's...oh, there he is now," Reverend Cleveland waved to the man at the far end of the sanctuary. "Walter, oh Walter, the most terrible thing has happened."
The other ministermuch younger, in his early thirties, light brown hair, balding, fairly nondescript in appearancequickly joined them, putting a hand on Reverend Cleveland's back to steady him. "I saw all the commotion outside, Leonard. What's happened?" the man asked, in a thick, deep Southern accent.
Reverend Cleveland wrung his hands, the haunted look returning to his face. "Our Larry...Larry Randolph that takes care of the church for us...I found him dead here this morning. Murdered."
Reverend Harker paled. "Oh, my God! Has anyone figured out who's responsible?"
"That's just what we're working on now, Mr. Harker," Jim said. "Reverend Cleveland, we're finished for the moment. But if we have further questions, I'll need to come back."
"Of course, detective. I'm here anytime you need me. Well, I suppose I need to start letting people know the terrible news. And Lord, I hate to even think about it, but we'll need to get someone in here to clean the...it's too late to postpone the opening night of the revival. There'll be too many people already on their way."
"We'll let you know when we're finished with the crime scene," Jim told him.
"I'll be glad to help you in any way I can, Leonard," Reverend Harker offered.
"Oh, I'd surely appreciate that, Walter. Maybe you could..."
"Actually, I'm going to need Mr. Harker for just a moment first, Reverend Cleveland," Jim said and turned to the younger minister. "You wouldn't mind answering a few questions, would you?"
"Well, no sir. Of course not. But..."
"Fine then," he said. "And Reverend Cleveland, I promise we'll just keep him a minute."
"Well, all right then. I'll be in my office, Walter. If you wouldn't mind..."
"Of course not. I'll be there as soon as I can."
The older minister nodded gratefully and headed off to perform his difficult task.
"Ellison," Jim told him.
"And..." Reverend Harker turned to Blair.
He extended his hand. "Blair Sandburg. I'm an observer with the department."
"It's a pleasure, Mr. Sandburg," the minister said, shaking his hand, and Blair could have sworn he felt the weirdest pulse of energy shoot up his arm.
"Uh, Blair, please," he said, momentarily flustered by the strange sensation.
If Reverend Harker noticed, he didn't react. "Blair then," he said, his Georgia drawl putting an extra syllable in the middle of the word. "And I usually go by Walter."
"So, Mr. Harker, my questions..." Jim said, impatiently.
Blair couldn't help noticing the tone in Jim's voice and the fact that he didn't address the man as "Reverend." How not surprising. Jim's probably gonna start investigating the guy for fraud.
Walter ran a hand through his hair distractedly. "Yes sir, of course. But I'm not sure how much insight I can offer. I expect Reverend Cleveland's already told you I'm only here this week for the revival."
"Yes, but we need to talk to everyone who had access to the church. So you're here to lead the revival and also to heal people?"
"Yes sir, that's right. I'm blessed to be able to serve the Lord in that way."
"So you lay on the hands, and people just miraculously recover? Is that your claim?" Jim asked, disbelief and a hint of sarcasm evident in his voice.
The minister regarded him tolerantly, a testament to his professional poise, or so Blair had to think. "Not quite, detective. You see, everybody has the power to heal themselves already inside them. I just kind of help out a little, nudge things along. Help them see it's been in their hands all along, if only they weren't afraid to be whole."
Blair couldn't help but feel that the man was talking to him. He felt the minister's warm brown eyes on him, not intrusive or prying, but light and curious, filled with compassion. It's as if he knows. Blair thought, frowning. But he couldn't know. I've been standing still the whole time. It only shows when I walk.
"I wouldn't think being whole would be something most people would find all that terrifying," Jim said.
Walter smiled, somewhat enigmatically, a sparkle in his eye, the expression transforming his face entirely, making the man anything but nondescript. "You'd be surprised, detective. Very surprised, indeed."
The minister smiled at Blair, and again, he had the distinct feeling that the man was talking specifically to him.
"Where were you this morning, Mr. Harker?" Jim asked, in that direct, intimidating way of his.
Walter looked at him sadly. "Do you consider me a suspect, detective? Because I want to lessen people's suffering?"
"This is purely routine. We need to ascertain everyone's whereabouts at the time of the murder."
"I see. Well, I'm staying down the road a piece at the Red Lion Inn. I went to breakfast about eight o'clock this morning, in the dining room there. Afterwards, I went back to my room to polish up my sermon a bit. Then I came to the church to get a look at where I'd be preaching. I usually like to do a practice run, give my talk from the pulpit before I inflict it on the people."
"So, after you had breakfast, you went back to your room. Is there anybody who can confirm that for you?"
"No sir, I'm afraid not. I was alone the whole time."
"And that was how long? Close to two hours?"
"That sounds about right. You know, detective, I do have to wonder if we'd be having this same talk if you didn't have such a deep mistrust of what I do. Maybe, if I talked about energy meridians and blocked chakras and the chi, and called what I do reiki therapy and charged two hundred dollars an hour for it, instead of calling on the power of Jesus and sharing my gift with anyone who needs it, maybe then you wouldn't feel the need to investigate me."
"I wouldn't feel the need to investigate you, Mr. Harker, if somebody hadn't smashed in an innocent young man's skull."
The minister just watched Jim for a long moment, as if trying to figure him out. Finally, he nodded. "Point taken, Detective Ellison. But why don't the two of you come tonight to our revival? It'd give you an opportunity to see what it's really like, the work we do."
"That sounds kind of..." Blair began to say, the anthropologist in him stirring.
"We won't be able to make it," Jim said firmly.
"You won't believe how much good it does your heart to see people realize that there is help for any hurt, if you just know where to look, if you just have the courage to ask for it."
This time Jim, too, seemed to feel that the message was directed at Blair. He put his body between the minister and his partner, sending a message of his own. "We'll contact you if we have any further questions."
Jim put his hand on Blair's back, guiding him away, toward the door. Blair could feel Walter's observant eyes on him, taking in the limp and his pain. He couldn't help looking back.
"Think about what I said," Walter said.
Jim glared at the man and tightened his hold on Blair's shoulder, a warning as clear as any words.
But Blair couldn't help remembering how it felt, that surge of electricity through his hand at the other man's brief touch. And he had to wonder.
<<<Blair felt so light, so very free. He moved easily, fluidly, happily around the kitchen, taking ingredients from the refrigerator and cabinets, chopping and mixing and preparing the perfect dinner. He hummed, somewhat tunelessly, under his breath. He was in such a good damn mood. He had no idea why. But hell, go with it. How often does it come around and for no apparent reason at all?
"Hey, Chief, what smells so good?" Jim asked as he came through the door.
"Dinner," Blair told him, smiling.
"Thanks for the details," Jim said, joining him in the kitchen, cuffing him lightly and playfully on the head, inspecting the contents of the pots on the stove.
"Go take a shower or something," Blair said. "It's not quite ready yet."
"Yeah, okay," Jim said, trying to distract him, while he tasted from the spoon Blair had left in the sauce pan.
Blair smacked his hand. "Go!"
Jim held up his hands, surrendering, and headed off to the bathroom. Blair could hear the water running, while he put the final touches on dinner and set the table. God, Jim was right. It does smell good. He smiled the smile of the deeply satisfied. Yep, this was why it was just too damn good to be alive, the ordinary daily rituals, like having a nice, relaxing dinner with his best friend.
Hey, I bet Jim could use a beer. Come to think of it, so could I. He moved to the refrigerator, his hand on the handle, as Jim emerged from the bathroom. He smiled at his friend, but Jim's face had changed. Gone was the open, sunny expression from just a little while ago. In its place was a look Blair recognized all too well. Jim was focused, his senses working overtime. Danger.
Suddenly, Blair was not in the loft. He was back at the warehouse. Jim was there too, on the other side of the floor, just as he had been that day, one minute everything normal, a stark expression stealing over his face the next. Blair had known the moment he saw it. He could see the terror and protectiveness flash over Jim's face like lightning. In that instant, he knew his life was in the worst kind of danger. And then Jim was shouting at him, but he couldn't make out a single word his partner said. His own mind drowned out the sound of Jim's voice, repeating that one word, "danger," loudly, over and again, in a sick frenzy. He'd started to run toward Jim, and Jim had been running too, trying to reach him. He knew he needed to go faster. Danger. Danger. Shit! This time, he knew precisely what the terrible consequences would be if he didn't get to safety, to Jim, in time.
But invisible forces seemed set against him. He couldn't move fast enough, no matter how he strained, as if he were caught in some sort of hellish quicksand. Then his healthy body began morphing, as if by malicious sorcery, the lightness and fluidity he'd felt earlier deserting him. His knee began to twist and tear, returning to its damaged state, bringing back the searing pain, slowing him down even more, crippling him. In his heightened state of awareness, he could feel the floor begin to shake beneath his feet, premonitory tremors, and his sense of urgency only became more dire. He was so close now. Jim's hand was outstretched to him, and he reached for it, the sound and the tremors growing more violent, the deadly explosion very near now. If only he could go a little faster, but the injured knee refused to cooperate. It hurt so bad. He could feel the blast gathering its force, ready to strike, the flash of that awesome heat on his back, the deafening roar, the terrible violence closing in. Jim was his only hope now. If he could only stretch out his fingers a little further, he could reach...and even as the blast overtook him, he kept grasping for Jim, knowing his partner was the only possible salvation from the terrible wound that would never heal, hoping against hope, that this time he would reach him...>>>
Blair screamed and sat bolt upright. The violent shuddering was still with him, but he recognized it now as the pounding of his own heart. He ran a hand over his face, wiping away the cold sweat, trying to get his frantic breathing back under control. He could hear Jim stirring above him, a moment of indecision, before settling back down again. The nightmares had been going on so long he'd finally asked Jim not to get up to be with him anymore, beginning to feel guilty for depriving his partner of so much sleep, afraid of becoming a burden.
The dream was always the same. Hell, he should almost be used to it by now. One minute he and Jim were going about their normal liveswatching the Jags on TV, working at the station, camping in the mountainsand the next, they were back at the scene of the explosion, unable to change the outcome. It didn't take Sigmund Freud to interpret this one. The normal fabric of Blair's life had been rent apart. He and Jim were so distant with one another these days that it truly was like he couldn't reach his partner anymore.
Blair sighed. He had quickly learned that the worst part of being permanently injured wasn't the pain or the inconvenience or even the lifetime of things he might never do again. It was the way it marked him, set him apart, isolated him, cast him out of the ordinary circle of life. No one could possibly understand this kind of life-altering experience unless they'd traveled the same road, not even the people who loved him most...perhaps them least of all. Jim seemed so impatient sometimes, wanting him just to get back to business as usual, but that was not possible. He had not come out of that warehouse the same Blair who'd gone in. Even though no one could see the raw, angry wound, he felt disfigured all the same. Such a grave and lasting injury was not only a blow to the body, but an insult to the psyche, his bodily integrity violated by a malicious act. In a way, he felt raped, something precious taken from him, against his will, in violence, his sense of wholeness destroyed, a certain kind of innocence lost forever.
And he felt so alone. God, did he ever feel alone. He curled himself into a fetal ball, pressed close to the wall, riding out wave after wave of pain, seeking solace any way he could find it. He supposed Jim must have gone back to sleep by now. He knew he'd told him not to come down when he had the nightmare anymore. He'd been vehement about it...kind of an asshole actually. But oh God, when has he ever listened to me before? Why isn't he here? Doesn't he know I need him? He tried not to be unfair. Jim was honoring his boundaries; that should be a good thing. But he was desperate and desolate, and Jim was the only one with the power to comfort him.
He curled even tighter in upon himself. It was funny; once he'd felt so safe and secure in his bed, here in the home he shared with his best friend. But tonight, he felt cold and full of despair, the night falling across his room, darker than he ever remembered it. And there was Jim asleep upstairs in his own bed, no comfort to be had.
Blair closed his eyes and tried to return to sleep himself, although he knew the effort would be fruitless. He rocked himself, trying to ignore the agonizing pain in his knee, trying to soothe the empty place in his chest that would not stop aching.
Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian joy;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.
Blair carefully followed along in the hymnal, since the words were unfamiliar to him, trying to pick up the tune, which everyone else seemed to know so well. His voice croaked along with the people surrounding him, trying to keep his shaky singing low and unobtrusive.
Before our Father's throne,
we pour our ardent prayers;
Our fear, our hopes, our aims are one,
our comforts and our cares.
This was the third night in a row that he'd come to the revival, and each time, he'd felt the same sense of wonder at the diversity of people assembled, old and young, many ethnicities, all walks of life. At the same time, there was something alike in them all, their faces open and receptive. And the air was thick with an electric sense of excitement, the expectation of great and awe-inspiring events to come.
We share each other's woes,
our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
the sympathizing tear.
Blair wasn't entirely sure why he kept being called to this place. His interest in religion in the past had always been purely anthropological. It's not that he didn't believe in divinity. He did. But there was something about organized worship that made him nervous, even within his own faith. Maybe it was just that belief seemed so very personal and individual to him that any kind of dogma felt unnatural and constricting.
Still, since he'd been coming to the revival, he hadn't once had the bad dream, and that was certainly a comfort. And there was a part of him that kept returning in the hopes that he might have that same feeling again, that somehow Walter was speaking directly to him, that there was a message in those words that would lead him out of his suffering. So far, it had eluded him though, and he felt compelled to keep coming back, to keep trying.
He'd also found the whole thing fascinating. His only other knowledge of this sort of religious practice came from documentaries on faith healers and watching the storm and drang of televangelists. Those images had always had a kind of carnival atmosphere to them, a sense of overwrought fraud. But this...this had a sincerity and humility that moved him, that made him, too, wonder what might happen next.
When we asunder part,
it gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
and hope to meet again.
The chorus swelled around him, making him feel physically carried aloft on the shoulders of the music. The words of all the verses seeped into him, and it was then that he realized the problem, why the sense of connection he longed for had remained so elusive. He had come to the church each evening with a split self, the man seeking connection and answers, and the anthropologist who habitually detached himself in order to study. And he knew, although he did not understand how, that half a heart would not do in this case. He must lose himself in the experience, become part of the fellowship of kindred minds here tonight. In order to be whole again, he would need to put his entire soul into the effort.
Blair took a deep breath and began to relinquish the many roles he played: Blair, the scientist and Blair, the student and Blair, the observer. It was like stepping off a cliff into unknown territory. He wasn't quite sure what he would be without the things he depended on to define him. But when he was finished and had at last reached his own foundations, he was simply Blair, a man confused and more than a little scared, trembling and humble before the higher power, arms held up in supplication, asking for the help he so desperately needed, at last ready to receive it.
Suddenly he felt the same electric spark in the air, like that brief moment when the minister first touched him. Walter stepped up to the podium and seemed to reach deep inside himself, searching for the sincere, heartfelt words, setting them free. Blair could feel something narrow in on him, something enormous, as if just for that brief moment he had the full and undivided attention of the cosmos.
"There is none to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you. How many of you have come here tonight with that fear in your hearts?" Walter asked the congregation, and there was a low rumble of assent.
The minister nodded his head sadly. "I thought as much. The pain of the body can be so defeating. It can leave you very much alone and filled with despair, seemingly outside the warmth of the fellowship we all seek. Health is the foundation of all our possibilities. It is our wholeness, the most precious thing we can ever possess. The Lord said: Health and soundness are better than all gold, and a robust body than countless riches. Who here tonight, with pain or sickness, would not give up all their earthly possessions for simple health?"
A murmur ran through the crowd. There was no one, including Blair, who would not trade in every last dollar, every personal belonging, just to feel whole and well again.
"And true wellness is not simply wholeness of the body, is it? For the Lord also said: There is no wealth better than health of body, and there is no gladness above joy of heart. Was it an accident that God put these two thingshealth of body and joy of heartin the same passage? No, of course not. There are no accidents or mistakes in God's wisdom. We are meant to understand that our bodies and our hearts are intricately related. When we are weak and broken in body, our hearts suffer. When our hearts are barren and desolate, we can never be truly whole."
Walter paused to take a sip of water, and Blair found himself waiting, sitting on the edge of his seat, recognizing himself so clearly in the minister's words, eager to hear how the puzzle would be solved.
"Here is the heart of my message to you. Those who have come here in pain and sickness for healing, look inside yourselves, into your hearts. Here you will find the ultimate cause of your suffering. Here you will find secret grief and long denied desires, buried fears and guilty conscience. Here you will find what pricks you and spills your blood. Is it not true? How many find these words adrift in your minds: My grief is beyond healing, my heart is sick within me? So many of you I think."
Beside Blair, a woman bent her face into her hands, sobbing. It was only then that Blair realized tears were running down his own face. Yes, there were many things in his heart that he'd denied for too long.
"But do not despair, my friends. The Lord God is merciful, and so there is always help for every hurt. There is medicine for the body and balm for the soul, for he lifts up the soul and gives light to the eyes; he grants healing, life and blessing.
The sense of hope that surged through the crowd was like a physical sensation. The electric pulse buzzed over Blair's skin, as he sat poised, lips slightly parted, concentrating, waiting.
"There is great power in belief, my sisters and brothers. In a sense, you have the power of creation in your own hands, to remake your own lives. When you keep the blinders on, when you see nothing beyond your everyday circumstances and earthly existence, when you hold to your worm's eye view, you remain enmired in the circumstances that torment you. But when you open your eyes and your heart to the true vastness of what God has made, you transcend your troubles."
It shocked Blair, the way his heart lurched in his chest at those words. He had been living with hopelessness all the many weeks since the accident, but he had not fully realized how it weighed on him until that moment.
"Always remember that the Lord God is no miser. He has created a universe overflowing with goodness and bounty, wonder and beauty, love and righteousness. He has set out the great feast before you. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. And why does God want you to have the pure and honest desires of your heart? Because such gladness is beautiful in his sight. The sounds of earthly joy are as music to his ears. The time has come, my friends, to open yourselves to this ecstasy of the Spirit. In this way, and only in this way, will you find true and lasting healing and happiness."
There was a stirring in the crowd, a wave of anticipation, the sense of a presence. And Blair understood, at last, that it didn't matter he was a Jewish man in a Christian church. He was not an outsider. There was no such thing. God the Father, gentle shepherd or Goddess Astarte, Great Mother who pours out her love upon the Earth, God of the Jews or Christians or Muslims, Buddha on his lotus throne, Krishna in the sacred grove. These were all just names, modes of understanding. There were no words that could adequately describe the Light. The Divine was so far beyond all names and details. And there was only one Spirit, the magical, mystical pulse that gave life to the Universe, the great embodiment of all the sacred names and stories, the shimmering presence that now graced the church, that moved among them, sending a thrill of awe and thankfulness into all their hearts.
"Who is ready to take the Light into their bodies and minds and hearts, and heal the old wounds?" Walter asked them. "Who is ready to take that reverent, carefully considered step? Because it will not just be the healing of the affliction that brought you here tonight, but also the unlocking of the secret heart. Who knows what fear or anger or desire lurks there? Who will have the courage to find out? Who among you is ready to confront the inner darkness and, in that way, to claim for all time the true and pristine desires of your heart?"
Every night, Walter had offered the same invitation, and every night before, there had been a part of Blair, probably more his mind than his heart, that had wanted to answer. But the leaden resistance ruled him, and he'd just stayed seated instead, watching other hopeful supplicants rush up to the altar. Tonight though, it was as if Walter had spoken directly to him, and the irresistible electric pulse was inside him, pushing him to his feet, out of the pew, into the aisle, urging him on faster and faster, dragging the lame leg behind him, as he hurried to the front of the church.
Blair took his place with the rest of the petitioners in a line facing the altar. Walter started at one end, giving each of them a light touch of his hands and a few soothing words. It was nothing like the operatic displays on television that were always so hard to believe. This was quiet and sincere, serene and transporting.
When Walter got to Blair, he smiled gently, encouragingly. Blair couldn't believe he'd ever thought of this man as ordinary looking when he was so animated with energy and compassion.
"Touch is a powerful thing, Blair," Walter told him quietly. "It's a symbol for love. From our first day on earth, our skin is hungry for contact with other human beings. Babies who don't get enough of it, who don't get the touching and the love they need, fail to thrive. And so do we as grownups. It's like we get malnourished in spirit and die a little bit more each day, way down deep in our souls where no one can see. But it's a death just the same, Blair. Do you understand?"
Blair looked up at the minister with huge eyes. "I don't know."
Walter smiled at him mysteriously. "Well, you will. And soon, I think."
And then Walter laid on his hands, touching first Blair's face, with the lightest pressure imaginable, before moving on to his knee. What Blair had felt the other day was nothing compared to the jolt of energy that passed through him now, so white hot and intense it bordered on pain. Then the momentary discomfort passed, and Blair felt unknown levels of awareness open to him. He could see and sense so deep inside himself, and his whole body was abuzz, as if he could feel the very motion of his blood, the minute vibration of his cells, mending and rebuilding and healing. He imagined it was something like what Jim experienced with his Sentinel senses, only so much more.
"Go in peace, Blair," Walter blessed him. "And don't resist your heart's desires. They have a reason and a higher purpose. And much good will come from their fruition."
Blair staggered backward slightly, overwhelmed. He went back down the aisle to his seat. He wasn't sure if it was his imagination or not, but the leg seemed to drag less than before. He sat down and closed his eyes, his awareness still turned inward. When all the petitioners had been healed, the congregation took up a final song.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Blair knew that it didn't matter how the Spirit was called in the song. The impulse to praise was all that mattered. He was filled to overflowing with it, and he lifted his voice along with the others, now an intimate part of the kindred fellowship, no longer tentative in his singing, but loud and rich and full. He had never been more certain in his life that blessings flowed freely through the Universe and that he had just been touched by its miraculous hands.
The next morning in the shower, Blair couldn't take his eyes off his injured knee. More like formerly injured knee. He propped it up on the edge of the tub, inspecting it from every angle. There was no doubt that it had dramatically improved overnight. The scar tissue had shrunk significantly. The ugly color had faded so that it was now almost his normal flesh color again. It no longer looked raw and angry, but like an old wound that was well on its way to healing.
And he could bend it. I never thought something so small could make me so happy. But it did. He practiced bending it, over and again, like a little kid with a new toy, reveling in the easy way the joint worked, the stiffness almost completely gone. He moved cheerfully around in the shower, stepping into the spray to rinse his hair, propping up his leg to reach his toes, elated to be able to do such normal, everyday things without pain. His good mood swiftly escalated into euphoria, and he finished his shower singing loudly and robustly, a little ditty he'd learned from a tribe he'd spent a summer with in Ecquador, an upbeat song they sang to their Goddess of the Hearth, in celebration of a fruitful harvest. Yes, there were so many ways to offer praise, and he planned to become well-versed in them all.
He dressed and went to the kitchen to make breakfast for himself and Jim. His partner was just dragging himself down the stairs, ready now for his own shower, looking badly in need of a cup of coffee.
"What's with the Mr. Sunshine routine, Chief?" Jim asked, his voice scratchy, squinting at the clock on the microwave with sleepy eyes. "Geez, Sandburg, it's only 7:30. When are you ever up and cheerful at this hour?"
"I'm in a good mood today. Go get a shower, and I'll make you breakfast."
Jim just glared at him, apparently in no mood for anyone else's jollity.
"Go on," Blair urged and began moving spryly around the kitchen, taking out eggs, putting butter in the skillet, making coffee.
Jim grumbled, something Blair couldn't quite make out with his non-Sentinel hearing, and stumbled off to the bathroom. Blair began singing his little song again, tapping his toe in time to the beat, as he finished making breakfast and set the table. He poured a cup of coffee for himself and one for Jim, and sipped his while he waited for his partner to shower and dress.
When Jim finally made it to the breakfast table, Blair dished him up a large plate of eggs and some toast, and served himself a heaping portion as well.
"Hungry, Chief?" Jim asked, watching him closely.
Blair beamed at him, a little goofily. "Ravenous," he said and launched into his breakfast.
Food had never tasted so good before. Simple pleasure sang through him. His recent experience had given him a whole new appreciation for the basics in life. Good health. Good food. A good night's rest. He didn't know why he'd never seen it before, why he'd never fully appreciated the very simple satisfactions with which his average day abounded.
"What's up with you?" Jim demanded, his eyes narrow and observant.
Blair could feel his face automatically taking on the wide-eyed innocence that always worked so well on Jim. "What?"
"You're smiling at your food."
He couldn't help the big silly grin that broke out over his face. "Tastes good, man. Really, really good."
Jim frowned. "Yeah, whatever you say."
They finished the meal in comparative silence. Blair was happy just listening to the morning birds singing outside, while he ate second helpings with noisy gusto. Jim watched him like a hawk, his expression growing darker and more austere with each passing minute.
Jim washed the dishes, and Blair finished gathering his things.
"You ready to go, Chief?" Jim asked him.
"Yep, big guy. Let's do it," Blair answered, bounding past him out the door, making Jim wonder about him even more.
At the station, Blair was back to his old self, or perhaps more like his old self on super, ultimate high test rocket fuel. He greeted people cheerily, slapped the guys good-naturedly on the back, flirted with everything in a skirt, throwing out compliments like confetti, treating everyone in his path to the same huge, luminous smile. All the while, Jim walked grimly by his side, taking in every last detail, saying nothing, the tense, twitching jaw a clear indication of his displeasure.
Once in the bullpen, Blair high-fived Henri, low-fived Rafe and gave Megan, seated at her desk, a quick peck on the cheek and a compliment on the red sweater she was wearing.
"Thanks, Sandy," Megan said with amusement. "Well, I see somebody got lucky last night."
Blair beamed. "More than you know, Megan. More than you know."
"So did the earth move, the heavens sing?" she asked, leaning in, enjoying the gossip.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"That good, huh?" she laughed playfully, "Well, it seems to have done you a world of good, Sandy. You really look like you're feeling a lot better."
"I am, Megan. Thanks," he said.
"I'm glad to hear it," she said, fondly.
"Hey, Chief, can I get some help over here? Or are you and Conner not finished with the coffee klatch yet?" Jim growled.
Megan rolled her eyes. "You better go get to work, Sandy, before you lose your job. Oh wait, that's right. You don't actually get paid for this, do you? You just volunteer your services here, to help us out, with nothing but our gratitude for a reward."
Jim glared at Megan, but he didn't answer her barb. Blair couldn't help smiling at her when Jim turned back around, and she winked at him conspiratorially.
Still, Blair didn't actually want to make Jim's already foul mood any worse, so he left Megan and quickly joined Jim at his desk.
"And the leg's looking better too," Megan said, amazed.
"It's feeling great."
"Hey man, that's really good news," Henri said.
"Yeah, Blair, I'm glad to hear it," Rafe chimed in.
"Hey, thanks, you guys."
"Could we all just get back to work here?" Jim asked, his voice rising testily.
After a moment of pin-drop silence, everyone began busying themselves at their desks, going out of their way to look like they were attending to CPD business. Blair started on some paperwork, while Jim fumed over the case file in front of him. They worked like that for much of the morning, saying little. But Jim's bad mood had not burst Blair's bubble. The happy song continued to play in his head, and he moved in his seat to the beat, pretending not to notice Jim's rather obvious annoyance. Despite Jim's black humor which had everyone in Major Crimes tiptoeing around him, people still found a way to tell Blair how happy they were that he was feeling better. When he went for coffee, he got waylaid in the break room by a group wanting to know the details of his amazing recovery. Whenever he walked across the bullpen, on his way to the bathroom or en route to the photocopier, someone remarked on the absence of the limp. Even Simon came out of his office to marvel over Sandburg's startling progress.
That was the final straw as far as Jim was concerned. "Chief, let's go to lunch," he said, in that way that meant they had something to talk about.
Blair nodded. It really was time he found out what the problem was. Besides, he was hungry, his renewed vigor completely undampened by Jim's behavior. No matter what kind of pissy mood Jim's in, life is still good. And I'm still so happy I could spit. He followed Jim out to the elevator and down to the truck with the same goofy grin he'd sported most of the day, making Jim only that much more sullen.
"Hey, where do you want to go for lunch, Jim? Maybe Wonder Burger?" Blair asked, buckling his seatbelt, waggling his eyebrows at Jim over the mention of his favorite fast food joint.
Jim stared at him a moment, as if he'd just sprouted a second head, before putting the truck in gear and driving the short distance to Wonder Burger in tense silence. They ordered their food, Blair getting twice as much as usual, and found a quiet corner booth in the back.
Blair hadn't even finished unwrapping his burger before Jim demanded, "So, what the hell is up with you, Chief?"
"Nothing, man. You're the one acting like he got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. What's up with you, Jim?" Blair asked as he drenched his fries in ketchup.
"I'm worried about you," Jim said, looking down at his food as if eating was the last thing on his mind.
"But why, man? I'm feeling GREAT. Better than I have in a long time."
"That's what has me worried. Blair, are you taking anything to...you know, make the knee feel better?"
Blair stared at him in stunned disbelief. "What?"
"Are you using drugs?"
Blair's face turned deep red. "I can't believe you're asking me that. You know I don't do that. Jesus, Jim, don't you know me at all?"
"I thought so, Chief. But this behavior today...well, I don't know what to make of it. You're walking around in this happy daze like you're high as a kite. You're all over everybody, like some kind of puppy. And the knee just suddenly, miraculously doesn't hurt anymore," Jim held up one hand to stop any denials Blair might make. "I know it doesn't hurt. I can always tell by the set of your body when you're in pain. Then there's the matter of where you mysteriously went the last three nights. When I asked you about it, you evaded, obfuscated, in good old-fashioned Sandburg style, something I seriously thought we'd moved beyond in our partnership. So what else am I supposed to think?"
Blair's eyes glittered with quiet fury. "Oh, I don't know, Jim. Maybe that I'm not nearly stupid enough to take illegal drugs and then go in to the police station."
Jim shook his head. "Not stupid, Chief," he said sadly. "Maybe just a little...I don't know, desperate. I know it's been really hard on you since the accident. You've already been through so much. I just don't want to see you have any more trouble. You don't deserve that. You never deserved any of this."
Jim's soft tone and his evident sorrow defused Blair's anger. He finally understood the distance he'd felt between them since he'd come home from the hospital. It wasn't impatience on Jim's part, far from it. It was a classic case of Sentinel guilt, Jim torturing himself that he hadn't done enough to protect Blair, shouldn't have been so careless, should have seen, heard, smelled, known.
Blair put a hand on Jim's arm. "It's no one's fault I got hurt, except maybe the bastard who planted the explosives. And I swear to you, Jim. I swear to God. I swear on everything I value mostNaomi's life and my Sentinel research and our friendshipthat I'm not taking drugs."
Jim searched his face a long moment, and Blair could tell he had his Sentinel senses trained on him, listening and smelling and watching, trying to decide. "Okay, Chief. If you say so," he finally conceded, although Blair could tell he wasn't completely convinced.
Blair debated with himself about what to do. He couldn't let Jim go on half believing he was a junkie. On the other hand, he had never intended to tell his partner about what happened at the church, for so many reasons. He knew going to Walter wasn't the most professional thing he'd ever done, what with the investigation still open and all. And this was just the kind of experience Jim categorically denied as impossible.
"Reverend Harker healed me," Blair finally said, coming clean with it, his voice the thinnest whisper.
"What?" Jim asked, although Blair knew perfectly well he'd heard.
"I know you said we shouldn't go, but I don't know...it just seemed like my last hope and so I went. The first two nights, nothing happened. I didn't feel anything. But then last night, something came over me, and I could feel something...I don't know...very large at work. So I went up front to ask for help. And Walter healed me."
Jim stared at him as if he didn't quite understand the meaning of those words.
"I know it's not the kind of thing you believe in. But I swear, Jim, he touched my knee, and now it's better. And that's why I've been in such a good mood."
"You can't possibly believe that."
"Why not? I believed you when you told me about your senses. That's pretty far fetched, but it also happens to be absolutely true. Why wouldn't I believe in Walter's ability? I'm somebody who believes in things. And I saw it work for myself. I mean, look at me. I'm so much better, just overnight."
"Hey, Darwin, have you ever heard of the power of suggestion? The knee was getting better all along, the physical therapy finally beginning to pay off. It can be like that sometimes. You keep working, working, working at it, and see a big spurt of progress, all at once. And now this charlatan has you convinced it's the hand of God or something."
"It wasn't getting better," Blair said, with determination. "I should know. And if you're really truthful with yourself, you know it too. Besides, I felt something....when he touched me. It was just the most amazing thing."
Jim turned red, his voice a low tinderbox of anger. "Stay away from him, Blair. For your own sake and the good of the investigation."
Blair didn't say anything. As the officer in charge, Jim had every right to tell him to back off. Besides, he really had no reason to return to the revival, now that his knee was healed. He decided just to let the subject drop, hoping Jim would do the same. The two of them quickly finished their meal, in near silence, before heading back to the station.
When they walked into the bullpen, it was apparent something was up. Simon, Rafe and Megan were gathered around Henri's desk, engaged in some kind of conference.
"Hey guys, what's going on?" Blair asked, hanging up his coat.
"We got back some interesting information on the minister at the church with the homicide."
"Reverend Cleveland?" Blair asked in disbelief.
Simon rolled his eyes. "No. The one who's not eighty-five years old, Sandburg."
Jim's interest pricked up. "Harker?"
Simon nodded. "We did a background check. Guess who's got a record?"
Jim took the printout from Henri. "Assault with a deadly weapon. Got five years, did two."
"I don't believe it. Let me see that," Blair said, taking the paper out of Jim's hands.
"So what do you think of your healer now, Sandburg?" Jim asked, mocking.
"Before you start gloating, Jim, did you check out how long ago this was? Over ten years. The guy was still a kid then. Kids make mistakes."
"Yeah, but most of them don't nearly kill someone in the process. Looks like your man of God's got a dark side."
"Well, he's not the only one, Ellison," Blair countered.
"Does anybody know what the hell these two are fighting about?" Simon asked, exasperated.
"No sir," Megan answered.
"Not a clue," Henri said.
"Me either," Rafe chimed in.
"Nothing, Captain. Just a little difference of opinion between me and Sandburg. I think it'd be a good idea to go over to the church and have another talk with Reverend Harker."
"Good idea, Jim," Simon said.
"I'm coming with you," Blair said, grabbing his jacket.
"No, you're..." Jim began to protest.
"Am I your partner or what?" Blair demanded.
Jim fixed him with the stony stare, his jaw twitching with irritation, before realizing that Blair knew him far too well for the usual intimidation tactics to work.
He sighed heavily. "Come on then."
Blair followed him out the door, and they waited for the elevator, the tension between them apparent to anyone who knew them at all.
They found Walter in Reverend Cleveland's office. The minister got up when he saw them standing in the doorway, moving to shake hands with Blair, extending his hand to Jim who ignored it.
"I'm sorry, Leonard's not here right now. He had some sick visits to make over at the hospital. But I expect he'll be back in the hour if you'd like to wait."
"Actually, we came to talk to you, Mr. Harker."
Walter looked taken aback, but quickly recovered with good grace. "Won't you sit down then?" he asked, gesturing to the chairs.
"Thanks," Blair said, smiling pleasantly at the minister, taking a seat.
Jim remained standing. "We found some interesting things when we looked into your background, Mr. Harker. For instance, I find it quite interesting that you were arrested and did time for assault with a deadly weapon. Then the very day you show up at this church, there's a murder. Don't you find that interesting?"
Walter regarded the detective with complete calm. "Actually, I fail to see how one relates to the other, Detective Ellison. If you took the time to actually read the details of the case, I'm sure you already know that it happened fourteen years ago and that it was a barroom brawl that got out of hand. The 'deadly weapon' was a broken beer bottle. Not that it wasn't wrong. Not that I didn't hurt the man I was fighting with. Not that I don't regret it with all my heart. I was a very foolish young man. I acted without thinking, the way, unfortunately, foolish young men often do. But I paid for my mistake, and I really and truly saw the error of my ways. I'm not the same person I was back then. And ever since, I've done everything in my power to help people, not hurt them."
Jim glared at him. "I wonder what the good people of Mt. Hebron church would think if they found out their healer has a criminal record of violent assault?"
"Actually, they saw it as an example of how giving your life over to God really does lead to redemption."
Jim looked absolutely stunned. It was not at all what he was expecting. In all honesty, Blair was rather surprised himself.
"It's the first thing I tell people when I conduct a revival. But you didn't come the first night, Blair, so you missed that part," Walter said. "I'm not proud of what I did. In fact, I couldn't be more sorry about it. But I never try to hide it. I believe that everything has a purpose. As unworthy as I am, I have to believe I was chosen for this work to illustrate that no matter how low you've fallen you can always change your life. Whether it's putting yourself back on the straight and narrow or healing some sickness or overcoming unhappiness. Whatever it is. The Lord is merciful, and there is always salvation."
Blair nodded, mesmerized as always by the simple, heartfelt way Walter spoke. Jim shifted with irritation.
"Don't leave town without letting us know where we can find you. And when we have further questions, or more evidence, we'll be back."
"I understand, detective," Walter said, not the least bit non-plussed.
"Come on, Chief," Jim said, putting a possessive hand on the small of his Guide's back.
"See ya, man," Blair called to Walter as Jim pushed him out the door.
Walter smiled in that mysterious way of his. "See you soon, Blair."
Once in the truck, Jim turned to Blair, his face twisted with fury. "Did you have to buddy up to the guy while I was trying to conduct an investigation?"
"I was not 'buddying up.' That was what we laypeople call common civility. But you wouldn't know much about that, would you?"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It means you didn't have to be so rude," Blair said.
"He's a suspect, Sandburg! What was I supposed to do? Invite him to tea?"
"How about viewing the case with objectivity?"
Jim turned so red Blair worried he might have a stroke. "You're questioning my objectivity? That's just fucking unbelievable coming from you, Sandburg! You're the one who thinks Walter walks on water or something."
"Don't go there, man. We were talking about the case."
"Okay, let's talk about the case then. We have the battered body of a defenseless retarded boy. We have the good reverend with a record for violent assault. He comes to town for the revival the day before the boy is killed. Everyone else has been part of the church community for years, and none of them has even the slightest motive for committing the crime. Plus, Harker has no alibi, and he had access to the church. Am I painting a picture for you yet, Chief?"
"That's all completely circumstantial, Jim, and you know it. You don't have any real evidence. And what is his motive? He doesn't have one, either."
"I just don't want you around him, Chief. It's too dangerous. He could be the killer."
"I don't think you really believe that," Blair said. "Look, Jim, I'm telling you, he's a good man. He healed me. He's healed a lot of people."
"Your leg was getting better anyway," Jim insisted loudly, his patience shot.
"God, why is it so hard for you just to believe? After all you've been through with your senses, why do you have to reject every possibility that there's something more, something greater?"
"Maybe I've just seen too much shit. My God, Blair, I watched you almost get blown to bits. I didn't hear the bomb. I didn't smell the explosives, at least not in time. So what the hell good are the senses anyway? If I can't use them to protect the one person...you're right, Chief, I do refuse to believe. I prefer to think that human beings are responsible for what goes on in the world. It's a lot better than having to believe that God is one hell of a son of a bitch."
That brought Blair up short. He'd never considered the reasons for Jim's bleak cosmological outlook or that what had happened to him might figure in it.
Jim put the truck into gear, staring straight ahead. "Just stay the hell away from him, Chief. And I mean that."
After the day they'd had at the station, Blair and Jim were glad to get home, although it did nothing to thaw the chill between them. Blair hung up his jacket and went to his room to do a little reading before dinner. He could hear Jim go into the bathroom, the shower running. He tried to keep his attention focused on the anthro journal in his lap, but he kept chewing on the fight they'd had. He still thought Jim had been out of line, and he had no doubt that Walter was innocent of any involvement in Larry Randolph's death. But he could see now that Jim's excessive reactions were in some way tied to his protective instincts toward him, an impulse that had only gotten more powerful since his injury.
A knock on his door startled him out of his brooding. "Hey Sandburg, Chinese okay?"
"Yeah, man. Fine. Sesame chicken for me."
"I'm calling now."
Blair decided to see if he could make some kind of peace with his friend, gathering up his laptop and the most recent chapter of his dissertation that needed editing. He found Jim sitting on the sofa, drinking a beer, flipping channels. Blair took a seat at the table, setting up the computer, spreading out his papers.
Jim frowned at him. "We're going to be eating soon."
"I'll move it," he reassured his roommate.
Jim turned back to the TV, and Blair worked on his dissertation half heartedly until dinner arrived. Jim didn't say a single word to him in all that time, answering with a grunt or a shake of the head when Blair tried talking to him. He didn't have much more to say over dinner, only a stray word here or there, a request for the egg rolls or an expression of annoyance that the restaurant hadn't sent more duck sauce. Blair always hated it when he and Jim were out of sync, and this was far worse than their usual bickering, leaving him feeling more and more crest fallen with each passing minute.
Jim cleaned up after dinner, waving off Blair's offer to help, and then went back to his television watching. The mood to work on his dissertation had passed, and Blair joined Jim on the couch, settling gingerly into the corner, half afraid he might object. But he didn't react at all, just stared straight ahead at the screen, as if he were truly mesmerized by the hand-painted Austrian birdhouse available on the Home Shopping Channel for $24.95. Jim's silence felt like a force field, keeping him out, and something about that impression made it impossible for Blair to speak, the words dying in his throat before he could get them out.
Finally, he decided that if he couldn't get any work done and Jim was just going to ignore him then he might as well go to bed.
He stood up. "Good night, Jim."
Jim's answer was merely the briefest nod of the head. Somehow that was the final blow. Jim wasn't even going to observe the niceties. You know, big guy, the part where I say something to you, then you say something to me. And at the end of the evening, we wish each other goodnight. You know. That common civility thing again. Blair sighed and went to his room closing the door behind him. He threw off his clothes, caring even less than usual where they landed, and slid into bed. After tossing restlessly for a while, he did finally manage to fall off to sleep.
<<<Jim was sitting on the sofa, flipping channels.
"Hey, Chief, grab me a beer, huh?"
Blair brought back two bottles from the kitchen and joined him on the sofa. "I thought we were going to watch the game."
"What do you think I'm looking for, Sherlock?"
"Oh, I don't know. I thought I saw you eyeing some of the merchandise on Home Shopping. That crocheted golf hat could be a good look for you."
Jim cuffed him playfully on the head. "Very funny. Hey, wait. Here it is."
They both settled in comfortably to enjoy the game, which turned out to be a rather close contest.
"Oh man, I do not believe that call," Blair griped.
"He walked! Did you see that, Chief? What? Are these refs blind?" Jim yelled at the screen.
"The only explanation."
Suddenly Blair felt a chill on his arms, and soon he was shivering.
"You okay, Chief?" Jim asked, noticing his discomfort.
Jim looked over at the terrace doors, which were open. "I'll go close them for you."
Jim got up, and Blair turned his attention back to the game. But when Jim didn't come right back to the couch, he glanced over again. All the light-hearted good humor was gone from Jim's face. In its place was an expression of...sheer horror, Blair realized with a sick start. Not again! And then there was a white hot stabbing pain in the vicinity of his heart. When he looked down, his chest was raw and open and wounded. He looked back at Jim with stricken eyes, too terrified to scream for him. He could feel something wet and sticky on his fingers, and when he lifted them to his face, they were covered in blood. Jim put a hand over his mouth, aghast, and reached for Blair. And Blair, holding an arm over his gaping chest, reached back for Jim, trying to get up from the sofa despite the pain, fighting to stumble over to his partner, to Jim, the only person who could possibly save him...>>>
Blair woke up gasping for breath, yet again, feeling like his lungs were going to explode in his chest. He ran a hand over his face, his body trembling all over. It was like all the other nights when he'd had the terrible dream. He was wide awake, alone and cold in his bed, his heart desolate and aching. The only difference was that now his knee didn't hurt. Who would have ever believed that would turn out to be such cold comfort? This time he didn't even hear Jim stirring upstairs, even though he knew his distress must have registered with his partner's senses. Damn! He'd been so afraid that he'd lose Jim because of the injury, but somehow, now that he was better, his partner was farther away than ever.
Blair was beginning to understand what Walter had said in the church that day, about the healing needing to go beyond the obvious injury. Although Blair still couldn't quite fathom the mysterious desires hidden in his heart, it was beginning to appear that he'd only gotten half the miracle he'd been wishing for.
Blair had hoped that morning would bring with it a fresher perspective and a lighter mood. Unfortunately, when he woke up, he found that the Cascade weather was its usual self, drab and uninspiring, and he felt much the same way himself. He stretched and closed his eyes again, seriously considering going back to sleep. The nightmare had ruined his night's rest, and he could use a few more hours in bed. But the moment he woke up his sense of unease returned, upset by the tension with his partner. The nagging emptiness and sorrow were back as well, ready to torment him another day.
He sighed heavily and got up. Maybe he could at least use the morning to reestablish friendly relations with Jim. He could make breakfast. They could linger over the paper the way they usually did. Normal. Perfect. But when he went out to the kitchen, he was struck by how silent the loft was, and he knew that Jim wasn't there. Looking around, he noticed that his partner's gym bag was missing. An early morning workout. On Saturday. God, he hasn't done that since the first few months I lived with him. That realization added to the burden weighing him down. Saturday mornings when they were both off had become something of a ritual. They hung out, chilled, took their time easing into the weekend. Jim always went to the gym later in the day, after they'd spent some time together.
Blair drifted aimlessly about the kitchen for a few minutes, not sure what to do next. Well, I guess I may as well get on with my day too. He sighed again, more heavily than the last time, and headed off to the bathroom. After he was dressed, he made himself a quick breakfast and washed up the kitchen. Okay, what now? Work, I guess. He got out the laptop and spread out his papers on the table, just the way he liked them. See? This isn't so bad. Nobody to grumble about the mess. He put on his glasses and bent over the computer, ready to lose himself in his schoolwork, laying out extremely ambitious plans for how much he could accomplish now that he was free from distractions.
His concentration lasted about fifteen minutes. It was impossible to pay attention to his dissertation, when every few seconds he felt the need to calculate and recalculate how long he thought Jim had been gone. Over an hour, at least. Maybe more like two. He's never gone much longer than that when he goes to the gym. What he did accomplish was hardly his best work, since he'd edit a sentence or two and then stare at the door for a while, willing Jim to appear. He knew he was being a little crazy, but he just wanted Jim to come home, damn it!, so they could talk.
Finally, he realized there was no way he was going to accomplish anything even remotely productive. Jim would come home when he was ready to, not a minute before, and certainly not just because Blair wanted him there more desperately than he'd ever wanted anything in his life. He sighed once more, this time the heaviest of all. He knew he seriously needed to get out of the apartment if he wasn't going to lose his mind entirely. A drive. To clear my head. Yes, that was the remedy. He grabbed his jacket and fairly ran out the door, trying to escape the demons that swirled like thick fog around the loft.
After what felt like hours of driving, Blair found himself parked outside the church. Of course. He felt a twinge of guilt. While he hadn't specifically promised Jim he'd stay away, he hadn't openly defied him either. In fact, he had really intended to heed his partner's wishes, even if Jim's vehemence seemed kind of irrational and out of proportion. After all, this was an open investigation, and Jim had been right about his being personally involved in it. Geez, he was involved up to his eyebrows.
I could just sit here a minute, get myself together and go home. I don't have to go in. He shook his head at himself and laughed softly. Yeah right.
Blair got out of the car and walked up the stone steps. "Walter?" he called once inside, but there was no answer.
He walked up the aisle, further into the sanctuary, and sat down in one of the pews. The hushed stillness came over him. It was the same feeling he'd experienced in every sacred place he'd ever visitedtemple, cathedral, shrine, mosque, rough hewn altar in the wildernessthe sense of the Spirit at work. He'd felt that same power at work inside him the other night, and he'd thought he could take it away with him, that it would become part of who he was. But now it was lost, and he was back here once more, the despair returned yet again.
"It's peaceful, isn't it?" A soft voice startled him.
"Walter, man, I didn't hear you there."
"Sorry, Blair. I should have realized how deep in thought you were. It's nice to see you again."
"Thanks," Blair said, a little nervously, feeling like a revival groupie. "I'm sorry about yesterday, about how Jim treated you. He was way out of line."
Walter shook his head. "He was doing his job. And he obviously worries about you. He wouldn't be much of a friend or partner if he didn't. I certainly don't hold it against him. So can you tell me why you've come back, Blair?"
Blair looked at him helplessly, not sure how to begin explaining.
Walter looked at him closely. "You know that it was never about the knee, don't you?"
Blair stared at him, stunned that Walter knew, finally managing to nod.
"Yeah, I thought as much when I saw you sitting you here. The knee was definitely bad," Walter acknowledged. "But it wasn't so bad it couldn't have healed on its own. That happens sometimes. A sickness or injury becomes more than itself. It becomes a symbol of how you don't feel whole, a physical manifestation of something you're struggling with in your mind, in your soul, some way you're hobbled, incomplete. Healing is tricky in those cases. You fix the injury but the wound remains."
Tears shimmered in Blair's eyes. "I feel this terrible emptiness inside me, Walter, this horrible sense that there's something missing. What do I do about that?"
"I'm not sure I can tell you the answer, Blair. It's really up to you. But I can tell you a story. My story. About when I got into trouble way back when. You know, when I think back on the person I was in those days, I make myself shiver. There was nothing inside me, nothing giving me substance, nothing binding me to the earth, no reason to do right by others. It was a powerful emptiness at the center of my being. Oh, I covered it over with a swagger and an attitude. I camoflauged it from myself with my short temper and my endless griping about how this one had done me wrong or that one hadn't given me my due. But it was always there just the same, an endless well of despair that had nothing to do with anyone else, that was all my own."
Blair shook his head. "Man, even though I know about the bar fight and the arrest and everything, I still find it so hard to believe that was ever you. I mean, you're so...calm, so at peace. You have to be the most centered person I've ever met."
Walter smiled slightly. "That's good of you to say. And these days, I am at peace. With God and the world and myself. But not back then. No sir. And I wasn't very self-aware either. I never had any idea where that dangerous emptiness might take me. Not until the very moment I saw my hand grind that jagged beer bottle into the other guy's face, almost like it wasn't even me doing it. I was most definitely not a gentle person back then. I never considered the consequences of my actions. I never thought."
"But you think about everything," Blair protested. "You spend more time thinking than I do, and that's, like, got to be a record or something."
"Prison will do that for you. Believe me, I had all the time in the world to think while I counted off the long days in the penitentiary. And they sure were no easy days, Blair. But when I got out, the rage had all dried up, like your knee got better. I could finally see what the true problem had been all along, how I was missing something inside, how I was incomplete."
Blair suddenly couldn't sit quite still. He fidgeted in his seat, and there was a part of him that just wanted to run, as quickly as he could, as far away as he could get. He knew he couldn't listen to the rest of Walter's story without facing the emptiness and aloneness inside him. It's going to hurt like hell. And he was already so worn out from pain.
"We don't have to do this," Walter said gently.
"No, I want to. Really. I'm just kind of scared of what I'm going to find."
"I understand that. I was scared, too."
"You were? Really?"
"Oh, yeah. I think that's why when I go paroled I ended up seeking out the last place I'd felt really and truly safe. The place where I'd found my greatest comfort, the fullest sense of who I was. For me, that was my grandmamma's. I used to spend summers with her when I was a little boy. I'd help her with all the things around her farm, and we'd sit on the porch in the evenings, drinking iced tea and resting, not talking much, but understanding each other perfectly well. You know how that can be? And every Sunday, we'd go to services at the little white church down the road where she'd been a member for a good fifty years."
Blair suddenly flashed on Jim, the two of them making dinner together, tackling a pile of paperwork down at the station, arguing over the last of the hot water, the kind of images that been in his dreams. He realized that if it weren't for Jim he never would have been able to relate to Walter's story, he never would have understood what it meant to be at home. His life with Jim was regular and comforting, secure in a way he'd never known before. It gave him a sense of permanence that had always been missing while he was growing up, that he'd been searching for his entire life. That's why it had been so terrifying when it seemed like the knee injury might cost him all that.
"After I got out of prison, Grandmamma took me back in, like nothing had ever happened," Walter said. "And we went back to the way things were when I was little, me helping her with the farm work, going to church on Sundays. The first time I stepped back into that simple, humble old building, oh Blair, I can't tell you what that feeling was like. Homecoming. Revelation. It had me down on my knees, tears streaming down my face. I meant it when I said I saw the error of my ways. I saw it in great detail, every misstep and wrong turn in the road. And worst of all, the damage I'd done along the way, to myself and others, all the wasted opportunities to be a part of this life, to make some kind of difference, to do some small good. To carry my weight in the world, like a man."
Blair found himself nodding. Yes, that was what he had always wanted, some way to contribute. And he'd found it with Jim. Even if it was only in a small way, he was part of what Jim was. He was Guide to the Sentinel of the Great City. It had given his life significance and meaning beyond anything he ever could have imagined.
Walter stared into space, as if he were going inward, searching himself for the truth. "And then, I could see it, Blair. I could finally see the empty, gaping darkness at the center of my soul where all those misdeeds of mine had their origin. Down on my knees in that little country church, with good people surrounding me, my grandmamma's neighbors and kinfolk and friends, all praying for me and calling on Jesus' name, urging me to take that step, to reach out my hand, to take hold of what had always been there, I saw it, Blair. I finally saw it. The answer to the terrible emptiness had been within my grasp the whole time. Faith. That's what it was for me. And there on the floor of my grandmamma's church, just about as low as a person could get, I opened my heart to God. I, at long last, said yes to life. I didn't know exactly how it would all work out, but I knew this was the right path to be on, the one I'd been searching for all my life, only I'd never realized it."
A sharp wave of longing welled up in Blair, taking him by surprise. MORE! His rational mind tried to reason with that greedy, demanding part of him. After all, he had a very full life. He had his scholarship and his teaching, his Sentinel research and his work down at the station. He had his friendship with Jim. He felt certain he was on the right path, and he knew he should be grateful for all the good things in his life. But now that the wanting voice had been unleashed, it would not be stilled. MORE! MORE! MORE!
Blair tried to keep focused on what Walter was saying. The minister watched him closely, but continued with his story. "The people in my grandmamma's church were ecstatic for me. They were no strangers to powerful religious conversion, and they decided that while the Spirit still had a hold on me I ought to be baptized. They all just picked themselves up, the minister grabbing his prayer book, and they led me down to the river, right that very moment, to claim my soul once and for all for the Lord. And I was trembling with fear, I was so afraid. This thing was so much larger than I was, and it had control of me. But I knew if I turned back there was only the empty darkness, and I wasn't ever going back to that again."
The terrible feeling from the nightmare slammed back into Blair's body. Empty darkness. Yes, that's exactly what it was. And he, too, wanted so desperately to be free of it.
"So I walked with those good people down the road to the banks of the river," Walter said. "I listened so carefully to the preacher's words and I made my answer to them, with my whole heart. When he pushed me under that water, there was a moment when I wasn't sure if this was the way to life or death. But then I had this feeling come over me, just the most miraculous feeling you could ever imagine. It was the Light moving inside me, taking me over. I felt more alive, more aware, more insightful, more free than I ever thought possible, and all that magical power concentrated itself in my hands. But the most amazing part of all was that it didn't go away. When the minister pulled me back up again and declared me consecrated to the Lord, I still felt it. It was inside me now, a part of me. From that moment on, I had the gift in my hands and a vocation that gave my life true meaning and a way to accomplish some good in the world. That had been my heart's desire all along. When I opened myself up to the possibility, I finally found it."
Blair couldn't help shaking his head. "I don't know, man. I just don't think..."
Walter put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm not saying that you'll find your answer the way I did, Blair. You certainly don't have to call it a miracle and attribute it to Jesus. Maybe what you're looking for isn't faith. Or a vocation. Maybe it's something or someone else entirely. I'm just saying that it's within your reach, Blair. Your heart's desire. That much I can see as plain as day. There are things larger and more majestic than we are, forces at work in the universe we can't even begin to imagine, and there are plans for us, for how we use our lives, for who will be by our sides. When we follow our heart's desire, that's our chance to tap into the magic. Isn't that cause to rejoice?"
Blair couldn't help grabbing Walter's arm. "I want that. I swear I do. But I don't know what to do, Walter. I don't know how to find it."
"You keep looking outside yourself for it, Blair. You have to look inside. If the answer's not in there, you're never going to find it out in the world. You know, Blair, people's spirits are a lot like landscapes. When I look at you, I see a lush, wondrous garden, well-tended, filled with light, rich in potential. But there's this one little bare spot at the very center of you where you never let anything grow, reserving it, for something special, for just the right thing. Nothing else will do. And I'll let you in on a little secret. I think you already know what you want there. You just haven't made up your mind yet to go out and get it. But when you do, it will truly be yours. And it will complete you."
Blair blinked at him. "Walter, man, I seriously need to do some thinking about all this. I feel more confused than ever."
Walter nodded. "You go and do that, Blair. Think on it carefully. And I wouldn't worry too much about the confusion. That's just the way of things. Your thoughts get their murkiest just before the flash of clarity hits you."
Blair nodded, getting to his feet. "Yeah, I can see how that might be the case. Hey thanks, man! I already feel better than I did."
Walter smiled. "I'm glad to hear it."
Blair walked with Walter to the door. "I'm going to go drive around some more, maybe take a walk in the park. You've really given me a lot to think about."
"While you're doing all that thinking, keep in mind there's a reason why the Bible says that the greatest of all gifts is love. That means love in all its many guises."
Blair frowned slightly. Walter always said things that jumpstarted his brain and stirred up his emotions, but a lot of the time he really had no idea where it was leading. Walter's understanding was whole dimensions ahead of his.
Blair pushed opened the door and stepped outside, noticing that the perpetual Cascade greyness had lifted, the sun now glowing warm and yellow. The greatest of all gifts is love. He waved good-bye to Walter and went down the stairs. The answer to the terrible emptiness had been within my grasp the whole time. He unlocked the car door and slid into the driver's seat. There are plans for us, for how we use our lives, for who will be by our sides. He thought a moment about where to go and then put the car in gear. There's this one little bare spot at the very center of you where you never let anything grow...but you do know what you want there.