NOTE: Big thanks toWod, Christi and Pam, my beta posse, who were all so generous with their feedback and ideas for the rest of the story. I really appreciate it, you guys!
I didn't even realize I'd fallen asleep until I felt gentle pressure on my shoulder. I opened my eyes, groggy in that way that totally disorients you. I blinked and frowned. For a moment, I was utterly lost, no idea where I was.
"Hey, Chief. You okay?"
Jim was kneeling on the floor beside me, looking rather unnerved. I let out my breath. At least, I remembered where I was, if not who.
"I'm okay, Jim." I yawned and made myself sit up. "God, I get tired, though. Just trying to read this journal totally wiped me out."
Jim didn't answer, just nodded. But the way relief flowered in his eyes was painful to see. It was easy to imagine the vague dread he must have nursed all day. Easy to see the scene of me slack and unconscious on the sofa through his worried eyes. I picked nervously at the seam of the upholstery to avoid looking at him. I didn't want to imagine. Didn't want to see.
"You have to expect that," Jim said. "Being tired."
His voice was quiet, contained. If he noticed my unease, he certainly wasn't going to let on.
"I guess you're right," I said.
He smiled crookedly. "I'm always right, Chief. You'll see."
There was something sharp and anxious behind his playfulness, though, a question in the tension of the hand that lingered on my shoulder.
"I didn't remember anything today," I said.
Unfortunately, nothing about the journal had seemed even remotely familiar. It hadn't jogged even the faintest memory. Jim sucked in a deep breath and stared down at the rug, studiously, as if he'd never seen it before.
"It's okay," I told him. "I know you want to ask me."
He pressed his lips together. "I'm sorry, Chief. I'm trying not to push. It's just--"
"Jim. I understand. And I want me to remember, too. You know that."
He nodded, and I could feel him relax a little.
"I brought some stuff for dinner. I just need to heat it up. You hungry?" he asked.
"I could eat."
He patted my shoulder. "Good."
He went into the kitchen. I got up and followed. Not that I thought he needed help. I just wanted to be near him, even if we didn't talk, just to have a sense of shared human contact, a reminder that there was some place in the world where I belonged. Without Jim, the loft had felt strange and desolate all day. That's what had exhausted me more than anything, trying so hard to fend off a lingering sense of uneasiness. Now that Jim was home I just wanted to soak up his presence, as if that could somehow fill in the empty places inside me.
There was a bag sitting on the counter, and Jim started to pull food containers out of it.
"You get something to eat today?" he asked.
"Yeah. Some of that casserole that Megan brought over."
He nodded as he emptied beef stew into a pot and set it on the stove to heat.
"And took your meds?" he asked.
I smiled. "I know my brain's a little scrambled, but I can remember to take my pills, Jim."
He stiffened. "Sorry, Chief."
He turned away under the guise of getting down a bowl for the salad. I blinked, kind of confused. We had these moments sometimes, where he took me the wrong way, or I took him the wrong way, or something.
I touched his arm. "Hey, I didn't mean it like that."
"I don't mean to nag," he said. "I just--"
"You care. I get that. And I appreciate it. A lot. Truth is, it's just about the only thing that makes me feel-- real. Like I'm an actual person and not just-- a ghost or something."
His face drained of all color.
"Oh, God. Jim. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have--"
He shook his head. "Of course, you should-- Say that-- If that's how you feel. I just--" He let out his breath. "The ghost thing. I can't think about that--"
He broke off, those internal shutters of his slamming shut, closing me out. His expression was stoic as he fished a wooden spoon out of a drawer and made a production of stirring the stew. I swallowed hard, but couldn't do anything to budge the lump in my throat. I felt so helpless. I didn't know what to do with him in situations like this.
"Jim, you know it's okay to--" I flailed, in an attempt to offer him whatever comfort I could.
"It's fine, Blair. Really." His tone left no room for discussion. "So how'd it go today? You get along all right?"
Now it was my turn to stare at the floor. "Yeah. It was fine."
Of course, it had been anything but fine. But I felt pretty sure that if I told Jim how desperately isolated I'd felt he would never go to work again. Maybe if he really could cushion me from the hard reality of knowing nothing about myself, I would have been that selfish. But there was nothing he could do about the fact that the journal was utterly unfamiliar.
It wasn't just that the memories were alien. It was the voice, the vernacular. The whole worldview. Reading it had given me this slightly uneasy, almost guilty feeling, like I was prying into a stranger's private thoughts. That's how I thought of it. His. His journal. His feelings. His life. Not me. Not mine.
Then there was the little problem of not always liking what I was reading. Maybe not completely liking who I had been.
"Did the journal answer some questions?" Jim asked, trying to keep the expectant note out his voice, unsuccessfully.
"Well, uh, I don't know. It was interesting, at the very least." That seemed a safe thing to say. "Kind of reads like an action novel. I mean, I didn't get exactly what was happening all the time. But there seemed to be a lot of explosions and getting kidnapped and stuff."
Jim's hand tightened on the wooden spoon as he stirred. "Yeah, Chief. I'm afraid there was a lot of that."
"And then-- I kind of wondered--"
"Well, what Simon said at the hospital--about how I ended up living here--it made more sense once I started reading the journal. I seem like kind of an-- operator. I mean, pretending to be a doctor to get close to you and all that."
Jim smiled gently. "You're-- exuberant about what interests you. Not to mention creative when it comes to finding out about it."
"Not shifty? Not kind of-- well, a liar?"
He stiffened. "You're not a liar, Chief. That's not you at all."
I shrugged. "From what I've read so far, I'm just not sure I would trust me. I'm not sure why you would."
"I do trust you, Blair," Jim said, stridently, almost-- well, defensively.
I looked at him, quite startled.
"I'm sure you do, Jim. Really," I said, trying to smooth it over.
Although, truthfully, I had no idea what it might be, what landmine I'd inadvertently stumbled onto this time. God, was it this fraught all the time?
"It's just that when I was reading the journal I had to wonder," I explained to him. " Why you would come to my office when you already knew I was only pretending to be a doctor. When you already realized I was a fraud."
"You weren't--" Jim's knuckles went white where he gripped the counter. "Fraud isn't the right word. You needed an opportunity to slip me your card. You took the one you got. I could see that. I could tell you were-- okay. And I--"
"I-- There was no one else. No one else who knew the first thing about what was happening to me. And I just-- I couldn't handle it alone."
"So you took a chance on me?"
It was strangely hard to breathe, thinking about a desperate, hurting Jim with only me to turn to. The me from the journal. From what I'd read, I felt certain I hadn't truly grasped the gravity of the situation, that I practically had a man's life in my hands. Hopefully, I had figured that out at some point.
"Did I help at least?" I asked.
His expression lightened. "Yeah, Chief. You did. It was such a relief to have someone actually believe what I was saying and not just look at me like I was some kind of psych case."
"I'm glad I was there for you."
"Me too," he said, softly.
"What?" he asked.
"It's just-- I mean, from what I read-- You didn't seem all that thrilled with what I had to say. Not at first."
He let out his breath. "No. I guess I wasn't."
"You pushed me around a little."
"Yeah. I did."
"Was I that obnoxious?"
He smiled crookedly. "Kind of."
I had to smile, too.
"Truth is I'm not very easy to deal with when I need help," Jim said.
"Who is? It sucks to feel helpless."
Jim looked at me sharply. "You mean, you--"
"A little bit. Yeah."
I shook my head. "It's not you." I shrugged. "It just-- is. You know."
He nodded. "Probably better than anyone."
"Yeah. Probably." I studied him. "Did I say something in particular that pissed you off that day?"
"Well-- It was more how you were looking at things. You kept acting like what was happening to me was some big gift."
"And it didn't seem that way to you?"
He ducked his head. "I thought I was going crazy."
"Aw, Jim. Jim." I put my hand on his arm. "But it got better? Less overwhelming? Didn't it? "
He nodded. "Yeah. It did. Thanks to you."
He said it with such simple gratitude it made my stomach tilt.
"I'm glad, man."
Jim's face was stark, blinking, in a half startled way, unbearably naked. Like all this self-revelation was so painfully unaccustomed it left him as flailing and defenseless as a newborn. And yet, I couldn't stop asking questions, some insistent impulse driving me to know him, as if that were my only hope of knowing myself.
"Do you think it's a gift now?" I asked, softly. "The things you can do?"
He pursed his lips. "I think it's useful," he said, after some consideration.
"Since you told me about your senses, I have to admit-- I've wondered what it would be like. Thought how cool it would be," I said, almost guiltily.
It seemed suddenly inexcusable that I hadn't stopped to consider what it might be like for Jim, who actually had to live with it. Of course, there would be so many ways in which having heightened senses would be exceedingly uncool.
God, it pained me, the notion that he was saddled with something that hurt him, that made him unhappy. I desperately wanted there to be something more. Something better.
"But doesn't it ever feel good?" I asked.
"It has its rare moments." He cocked his head as he thought it over. "There was this one time when we went camping. Up to Crawford's Notch. It's a tough hike. Hardly anyone bothers. Out there, I could just let go. Really listen." He got a faraway look on his face. "I could hear everything. Every sound of every animal, every bird, even the smallest insect. Each individual blade of grass as it moved in the wind. Drops of water dripping from leaves. Everything. Like there was nothing separating me from any of it. Like I was it."
I watched him with fascination. "That must have been incredible."
"Yeah, it was," he said, as if it surprised him to realize.
"And it didn't bother you to have me around? I mean, you must have been able to--" I started to say "smell", but then it struck me as strangely intimate. "Sense me. That didn't get in the way?"
He shook his head. "Nah, Chief. That's how I could afford to get so lost. 'Cause you were there to ground me. I knew you'd help me get back if I couldn't do it by myself."
I blinked. "I can do that?"
He smiled. "Sure can."
He shook his head. "Honestly? I really don't know. Sometimes it's your voice. But sometimes it's just hearing your heartbeat. Or feeling your hand on my arm. It's just your-- well, you-ness, I guess."
"Other people can't do it?"
"Not as well. If I go into a really deep zone, you're usually the only one who can snap me out of it. I have no idea why."
"That's pretty cool, though."
"It definitely comes in handy. Especially out on the street. Having you there to watch my back."
"But when I was an anthropologist, before I joined the force-- Wasn't that ever a problem? I mean, didn't you find it a drag? Having someone without any experience trying to back you up?"
"You're the best partner I've ever had, Chief. Badge or no badge."
I must have been frowning, because he reached out and touched my arm.
"Hey, I'm not just saying that."
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, Jim. I believe you. It's just-- I still really can't imagine myself as a cop. No matter how much I try."
He nodded, but didn't say anything. All that unguarded honesty from just a moment ago was gone, his face carefully composed once more to reveal nothing.
"The reason I'm not an anthropologist anymore," I said. "Was is because I had to give up the dissertation?"
The lines around his mouth tightened. "Something like that," he said.
"Because of Brackett?"
He shook his head. "No. Years after that. Why would you think Bracket had anything to do with it?"
"The journal. I wrote about Brackett. I was worried about protecting your identity. Trying to prepare myself for the possibility that I might someday have to let my work go. You know, if it ever came down to it."
Jim had been pouring the heated stew into bowls, and he froze.
"You mean--" he stared at me. "You had a-- A plan? All along?"
"Seems so from what I read."
He set the pot down and cleared his throat. He looked suddenly stricken.
"What?" I asked him, not understanding at all.
Certainly this couldn't be news? After all, I had stopped being an anthropologist. I had become a cop. He hadn't told me why, but I was certain it had something to do with him, with his abilities.
"I just-- Didn't know it was something you'd thought about-- Before--" Jim took a deep breath. "Before."
I had assumed that Jim holding back things from me was all a result of the amnesia, some misguided attempt on his part to cushion me from uncomfortable aspects of my old life. But now I had to wonder if it was something that came between us all the time. It was clear I didn't tell Jim everything. I had said as much in the journal. And Jim-- Well, he was the very definition of "closed book."
I'm not sure why, but it really bothered me. To give myself something to do, I started opening cabinets, looking for glasses. Jim didn't say anything, just let me find them for myself. Maybe he needed a moment, too.
He carried the food and silverware over to the table. I opened the refrigerator and looked inside.
"You want water? Or something else?" I asked, glass in hand.
I poured glasses for us both and joined him at the table. We sat down to eat, and for what felt like forever, the only sounds in the apartment were the clink of silverware on porcelain and the rattle of ice in our glasses. It was kind of unnerving. At least it was to me. Jim didn't seem surprised or bothered by it. And that made me wonder all the more. How often was it like this? How often had we sat right across from each other and acted as if we were a million miles apart.
Jim cleared his voice. In the enormous stillness, it seemed much louder than it actually was, and it made me jump. For a moment, he held my gaze, and it seemed like he wanted to say something. I waited. But then he just looked away.
"So I, uh--" I cleared my throat, too. "I guess this is something we do-- Sometimes. Not talk."
His spoon stopped in mid air. He opened his mouth, closed it again.
Finally, he said, "Yeah. I guess it is." He sighed tiredly. "Not because you don't try, Chief."
"I don't know about that, Jim." I looked down at the table. "In my journal-- There seemed to be things I didn't tell you, either."
"You mean the dissertation?"
"For one. But other things too."
Jim hesitated for a moment, curiosity shining in his face. He clearly wanted to ask what, why. But he held himself back, a point of honor. I understood at least that much about him. I didn't realize the implications of anything I might say. And he wouldn't press an unfair advantage.
"There were a lot of things I should have told you, Chief," he said. "Like that time up at Crawford's Notch. It's not that I didn't want you to know. I just-- I didn't have any words."
"I can understand. An experience like that--"
"I mean, for how grateful I was. To you. That you helped me. Let me have that. Because I couldn't have don't it without you. That's what I should have told you."
The lump was back in my throat, no easier to get around. "I'm sure I must have known," I said, gently.
"I don't know, Chief." The way he looked at me would have broken an iceman's heart. "There were a lot of things that I always thought you knew. But then-- Seemed like you didn't."
I stared at him helplessly. "I don't understand."
He nodded. "I know, Chief. I just can't explain it any better. Maybe when you--"
"Yeah. I know. When I've read more, maybe I'll get it."
"It's okay. I mean, I do understand. There are things between people that you just can't--" I shook my head. "Just can't explain."
Jim let out his breath. "Thank you."
Jim looked up warily. "What?"
"When I understand more, I want to talk more. I realize-- It may not be comfortable. But I need it, man. I really need it."
"I know. I'm trying."
I smiled at him. "I get that. And I do appreciate it."
He let out his breath and smiled at me. Pure relief. So human. So him. It sent this stabbing fondness for him right through me, so intense and unexpected it almost hurt, so odd, when I couldn't even remember our time together. When it was becoming increasingly clear, in general terms if not actual details, how imperfectly we'd known each other in the past.
Jim cleared his throat. Again.
"So-- People were asking about you down at the precinct today."
Jim nodded. "I was thinking, when you're up to it, maybe you could stop in, look around. Might jog some memories."
"Mmm," I said, trying to be as noncommittal as possible.
I swirled the spoon around in my half-full bowl of stew, absently, making random patterns. I didn't know why, but just the thought of going down to the station made me a little panicky. I really didn't want to. I just didn't know how to say that to Jim.
"And I was thinking we could go to the university." Changing the subject seemed at least as effective as throat clearing. "Walk around the campus. Maybe talk to people I used to know there."
He got a funny look on his face. "Sure, Chief. We could do that." His voice was flat, neutral.
This was definitely not going to be the day when we finally came clean with each other. I laid down my fork with a sigh. I couldn't even pretend to eat any more.
"You done?" he asked, a little surprised.
"Didn't eat much."
I shrugged. "I just don't get very hungry. I think it's the pills."
He nodded. "Maybe we should talk to the doctor."
I smiled, faintly. "I think it'll be fine."
He looked a little sheepish. "Right. I'm doing it again. Sorry." He sighed. Piled his spoon and butter knife in his bowl. Stood up. "I'm just going to clean up the kitchen real quick."
I nodded and got up too. Jim headed for the sink and started running the water. I made trips back and forth to the table and put things away.
Jim loaded up the sink and went to work. I just stood there and watched. We didn't talk. I got the feeling Jim had already said more in one evening than he usually did in-- I don't know, a week? A month? Who really knew?
Still, it was strangely comforting, despite everything, just to stand there beside him while he washed the dishes. It didn't matter that I was so tired I couldn't stop yawning. I had that almost desperate feeling you get when you're a little kid and it's bedtime. Just five more minutes. Five more minutes.
Finally, Jim turned to me, his face soft with concern. "You look beat, Chief. Why don't you go get some rest?"
I nodded. He was right, after all. But I didn't go. Didn't budge. Jim didn't push, either. He went right on with the dishes, in his well-ordered, meticulous way.
When he finished, he let out the water and dried his hands.
Then he touched me gently on the shoulder. "Hey, I'm tired, too. What say we turn in, huh?"
It was just past eight. Jim probably hadn't gone to bed that early since he was in the third grade. But I appreciated the gesture.
"Okay," I said. "I just need my journal. Want to read a little more."
I padded over to the sofa for it. When I turned back, Jim was watching me with the most tender and bemused expression.
He shook his head. "Nothing. It's just-- That's so like you. Even when you're practically falling over, you still want to read a few more pages."
I picked up my journal and walked back over to him with what must have been a pretty dopey grin on my face. This thing between me and Jim-- it was just full of contradictions. We could suffer through dinner like every question was a new form of Inquisition. But then he could say just the right thing to me, to make me feel almost-- whole again. Exactly what I needed.
I shifted my weight awkwardly. How did you thank someone for affirming your very existence? He seemed to understand, though. He smoothed one hand over my bare head, his fingers warm, his touch gentle. Like a benediction. Or a vote of confidence for my addled brain. Decidedly tender, no matter how you interpreted it.