Notes: Ideas about the nature and healing of psychological trauma, attributed to a character in the story, are taken from TRAUMA AND RECOVERY (HarperCollins, 1992) by Dr. Judith Lewis Herman, M.D. "Final Notations" by Adrienne Rich from AN ATLAS OF THE DIFFICULT WORLD (W.W. Norton & Co., 1991) is quoted without permission. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit of any kind is being made.
As a cop, Jim Ellison had always had the ability to step outside circumstances and see the bigger picture, with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of perspective. Sometimes, it was a damned lucky skill to have. Sometimes, it kicked in at the least opportune moment possible. Like in the middle of chasing down a dangerous fugitive, an extremely disturbed mental patient escaped from the Conover facility. Still, he couldn't help thinking the whole operation was a study in overkill. Half the Cascade PD were in pursuit, and there was enough firepower to win a minor military skirmish trained on one desperate, terrified, seemingly unarmed woman. How was that right?
Jesus, Ellison, get a hold of yourself. You're beginning to sympathize with the other team.
It was just that she didn't look like a deranged lunatic who'd pickaxed her husband.
He knew people weren't always what they appeared. He'd learned that the first year on the job. You thought you knew what evil looked like. You assumed it conformed to all your prejudices, that you'd just know it when you'd see it. But nothing could be more untrue. You quickly found that evil came in a variety of packages, some more outwardly expressive of the inner hideousness than others, but all of it evil, just the same.
He'd been taught that lesson by a cold-blooded killer, his first child murder case, never far from his nightmares. The whole time they'd been investigating the series of sickening crimes involving the abduction, torture and drowning of grade school kids he'd imagined the killer's facereptilian eyes beading with malice, greasy hair, contorted features, disgusting, pasty flesh, Beelzebub incarnated. The person they ended up apprehending looked like he'd just stepped out of a Hollywood movie, the all-American boy, blond, clean cut, big innocent blue eyes. He'd used those wholesome good looks and his mild-mannered demeanor to gain the children's trust and lure them to their deaths.
After they'd handcuffed the guy and Jim was putting him in the back of the patrol car, the perp had flashed him the most beatific expression he'd ever seen, a knockout of a grin, the perfect features lighting up with the power of a thousand suns, a million-dollar smile. And then Jim's mind had flashed on images of the children's bodies, blue and bloated and icy as the grave. He'd shoved the bastard the rest of the way into the car, not worrying whether he banged his head, wanting to throw up. It had been a lesson well-taught, and he'd never forgotten it.
He tried to tell himself that's what was going on here. A small, pretty blond woman didn't fit his notion of a crazed ax murderer. But she did hack her husband to death. Don't forget that. And she was cunning enough to escape. And another attractive blond woman nearly ended your world, so never underestimate them.
They had her cornered on the roof of the Lorden Towers, a high-rise office building in downtown Cascade. There was no telling why she'd been drawn there. Most likely there was no rational explanation. According to Dr. Smith, who had been in charge of her treatment at Conover and had reported her disappearance, she was delusional and disoriented, prone to violent psychotic breaks with reality. Of course, she'd had enough sense to find street clothes somewhere. And she'd managed to make it this far, bypassing security to get up to the roof which was supposed to have restricted access. Crazy doesn't mean stupid.
The woman was trying to hide behind an air conditioning duct on the far side of the roof. The cops were hanging back at a safe distance, for the moment, taking precautions in case she had a concealed weapon, giving negotiation a chance before moving in with force. She was too far away for anybody else to see her clearly, but Jim could monitor her with his Sentinel sight. He could see she was shaking. He narrowed his vision and focused on her face. Her pupils were dilated, and she appeared to be under the effect of some kind of drug.
"I'd like to be the one to talk to her, Captain. I've been working with her for a while. I might be able to get through to her," Dr. Smith said.
Simon nodded. "Go ahead. We've got you covered."
"If this doesn't work, I'm afraid...you have to understand, Captain, she's far too volatile and potentially dangerous to leave this roof not in custody."
"Why don't you leave it to us, Doctor? We'll bring her in one way or another, but we don't make it a habit of shooting unarmed women. Not when there are other options." Jim couldn't keep the sarcasm out of his voice. There was just something about this guy that irked him. He had the kind of cool, detached smugness that Jim always associated with psychiatrists and didn't like one little bit.
"She seems more scared than anything else," Blair ventured quietly.
"If you'd seen the photographs of what she did to her husband, you'd think differently," the doctor said snidely.
Simon cleared his throat. "Are you ready, Doctor?"
He nodded and took a couple of steps forward. "Elizabeth? It's Dr. Smith. I want to talk to you. I know you've been making progress lately, but you still need to be at the hospital, getting treatment. Remember what happened to your husband? I know you're sorry about it and would never want to do anything like that again. But you're not well enough yet to be sure you won't. Are you, Elizabeth? Think about your husband. We don't want a repeat of that, do we?"
Jim watched her face contort at the doctor's words. Absolute horror. She fled to the edge of the building and over the side.
"Shit! Nice fucking technique, Doctor," Jim shouted at the man, pushing him out of the way.
He ran to the spot where she'd gone over and looked down. Thankfully, she was huddled on a narrow ledge a few feet below, eyes closed, tears streaming down her face, rocking very slightly, talking to herself in desperate, broken phrases.
"How could I...I didn't mean to, I couldn't have, oh God...but I did, I did it. I'm so, so sorry. God help me. My poor, poor Sam. Oh God, how could I?"
"Is she..." Blair asked, voice anxious and Sentinel soft, from a few yards behind him.
He turned around. "She seems to be okay. She landed on a ledge just a little ways down. I can reach her. But I don't want to scare her and make her fall. I'm going to try to talk to her and see if I can get her to trust me. Maybe I can get her to let me pull her back up."
Blair nodded, inching forward a little, eyes peeled on Jim, watching for any signs of a zone out, the last thing they'd need under the circumstances.
"Elizabeth? Elizabeth, can you hear me?" he asked.
She opened her eyes and looked up at him. Her face was filled with agony and remorse, and it was like staring into a mirror. He knew that look, recognized those feelings, the very same ones he'd had for three months, ever since he'd found Blair in that fountain, dead, if only for a few moments, and all of it his fault.
"He gave me everything," she said. "And I...oh God...look how I repaid him. I don't know how I could have. I loved him so much. I really did. He was a good man. And he saved me. He gave me my life back and my sanity and a reason to go on. He trusted me. But I didn't deserve it. And I don't deserve to live either, not after I did such a terrible, terrible thing. I can still see the blood. On my hands. His blood. To remind me I'm guilty. That's why it doesn't come off. Can you see it?" She held her hands up for him to see, staring at them herself, both mesmerized and repelled.
"It never, never comes off."
"I don't think you meant to hurt him, Elizabeth," he said in his most gentle voice.
"But I did hurt him. Very badly. I...killed him."
"I don't think you meant to."
She shook her head so violently he worried she was going to topple off. "How could you know?"
"Because I can hear how sorry you are."
She sobbed, "I am sorry. Very, very sorry. I don't think I meant to do it. It gets hard to remember. But he's still...and I'm so sad."
"I can see that too. And you know what? I think you deserve forgiveness."
She became agitated. "No! It was a bad, bad, horrible thing I did. There's no forgiveness. Not for that."
"But you're sorry. I can see how sorry you are. And I know you wouldn't have done it if your judgment hadn't been clouded. If you had been thinking clearly."
Her face twisted with concentration, trying to make sense of it. "My mind hurts when I try to think about it. There's just the blood. See? It's on my hands."
"You see, Elizabeth? It's unclear in your own head. That's why I don't think you ever meant to hurt him. It was more like an accident, a terrible accident. And now you're really, really sorry about it. And people who are really sorry deserve forgiveness."
"Do you forgive me?" she asked in a broken, shaky voice that anyone else would not have heard.
"Yes, Elizabeth, I do. And I'd like you to come back to the roof and go on living and get better and try to forgive yourself. Because I'm sure that's what your husband would have wanted."
She nodded. "Sam would have wanted that. He was such a good man. I guess I could try. For him."
"Okay, Elizabeth, that's great. Now, all I need you to do is give me your hand, and I'll help you back up. Okay? Do it for your husband. Just give me your hand."
She blinked at him, still slightly dazed, but slowly understanding what he wanted her to do. She reached out tentatively with her hand.
"That's right, Elizabeth. I've got you now. I'm going to pull you up. Just hold on."
He almost had her over the wall when the doctor moved between them and reached out for her hand.
"Let me help you, Elizabeth."
"NOOOOOO!!!!" It was the most bloodcurdling scream Jim had ever heard.
She pulled away violently and fell backwards, barely catching the edge of the ledge, nearly plunging to her death. He watched her struggle to pull herself back up to safety. Once there, she lay completely still, face down, only her back rising and falling with her labored breath. He could hear her muttering disjointedly to herself.
"Not going back there. Not going back there. It's a bad place. Makes my head crazy. Can't make me do bad things. Can't make me. Can't make me. Rather die. Rather die."
He slammed the doctor into a nearby wall and got in his face. "You fucker, you asshole! What the hell do you think you're doing? I told you this is a police matter, and we'll handle it. Our way. You got that Doctor?"
"Jim!" he felt a light touch on his arm, his Guide's warm, gentle hand.
He let go of the doctor. "Ramsey, get this idiot out of here and make sure he stays back."
The uniformed officer came forward and took the doctor unceremoniously by the collar, manhandling him back behind the police lines.
"Are you okay, man? You seem a little involved here. What's going on with you, Jim?"
He only shook his head, unsure how to answer. How could he tell his Guide that he understood this kind of pain all too well, that he empathized with this woman who'd destroyed the one thing she most treasured. How could he tell his Guide how sorry he was and have him really believe it?
"No matter what she's done, Chief, I just...I don't want to see this end badly."
Blair nodded. "I'm down with that. Do you think you can reach her again?"
He shrugged wearily. "I don't know. But I've got to try."
"Okay, man. I'm with you."
She lay in the same position, unmoving, whispering the same disconnected thoughts like a chant.
"Elizabeth? I'm sorry about that. I'm sorry he scared you. I promise he's gone now. He's not going to come back. I won't let him. I'd still like to help you get out of this. Will you let me? Will you give me your hand again?"
No response. She lay still as an inanimate object.
"Elizabeth. Please. Let me help you. Elizabeth..."
"Beth! Beth!" A desperate voice, barely audible to anyone but a Sentinel, called from the other side of the roof.
The woman looked up for a moment, a mixture of shock, disbelief and hope on her face. Jim felt his gut wrench.
"Not another dream," she whispered and lay her head back down.
"You have to let me through." Jim could hear the man's voice rising, a slight Southern accent, arguing with Ramsey. "You have to let me talk to her. I can get her off that ledge. Look, I'm her husband. She'll listen to me."
"Buddy, that woman killed her husband. That's why the doctor and all the rest of us are out here. So if you don't want any trouble, then I'd advise you to go back where you came from. Hey, Patterson, can you give me a hand with this jerk?"
Jim could see the dark-haired man struggle as the officer began "helping" him toward the door.
"You don't understand! I am her husband. She didn't kill anyone. That's just what that pig wants you to think," he screamed, pointing at Dr. Smith. "Why don't you check his credentials? Call wherever he claims he's from. He's not who he says he is. If you want to arrest someone, arrest that bastard for what he's done to my wife."
"Chief, I need you to keep an eye on her for me. See if you can get her talking again. Call for help if it looks like she's going to jump. I'll be right back."
Blair nodded and moved over to the edge of the building. Jim could hear the low, soothing patter of his partner's words, as Blair unconsciously switched into Guide mode to try to reach the distraught woman. Jim quickly crossed the roof and intervened between Patterson and the man claiming to be her husband.
"I can handle it from here," he assured his fellow officer.
"He says he's the nut case's husband."
"Okay. Thanks Patterson. Good work. I'll get it sorted out. They could probably use some more help keeping people off the roof if this guy managed to slip past."
Patterson hesitated slightly, ready to have it out with the persistent pest. But Jim was his superior, and he finally just nodded and took up a position by the entrance.
"So you want to tell me what this is all about? How do you know the fugitive?" Jim asked.
Anger flashed through the man's dark eyes. "She's not a fugitive! That's just some bullshit story they made up, so you'd do their dirty work for them. That bastard and whoever he's working with kidnapped my wife and held her against her will for the past month. I've been searching for her all this time, and I finally tracked her to Cascade. Actually, I was here in the building meeting with a private investigator I hired to help me find her. Somehow, she must have managed to escape, and now they're trying to cover up their crime. You can be damned sure they don't want her to make it off this roof alive. The doctor is here to make sure she jumps or you people shoot her. He'll tell you any lie to see that happens. But I swear to you. It's all lies. She's completely innocent."
Throughout the tirade, Jim monitored his vital signs. He was agitated, pumped up with adrenaline, angry, but telling the truth. He had known there was something wrong with the doctor earlier, something rotten about this whole situation, another flash of intuition he hadn't paid close enough attention to.
And then there was the why of it all, why this woman had been taken. The part that scared him.
"So could you enlighten me as to why these people are after your wife?" he asked.
The man looked away. "Who knows why people do the terrible things they do?"
Jim heard the slight flutter in the heart beat, and he could smell the anxiety. The man was lying, as Jim suspected he would. And he pretty much knew why. Damn it! It was just about the last thing he ever wanted to deal with again.
"Please, Detective, let me talk to Beth. She's in bad shape, and she really needs me," the man pleaded softly.
Jim jerked his head toward the other side of the building, and the man followed him.
As they passed by, Simon grabbed his arm. "Jim? What's going on?"
"Simon, I think we may have been mislead here. This man claims to be her husband. He wants to try to talk her off the ledge."
His commanding officer gave the man the once over and shot Jim a questioning look.
"I think we should give him a chance and sort it out after we have her safely back on the roof," Jim said.
Simon nodded. "I'll order everyone to stand down. But if this doesn't work..."
He motioned to the man, and they joined Blair in his vigil by the side of the roof.
"She's not responding," Blair said, sounding worried.
He put a hand on his partner's shoulder and maneuvered him back from the wall. "Let him try, Chief."
Blair looked puzzled but followed his lead. The man stepped up to the edge of the building.
"Beth? Sweetheart, it's Sam. It's really me, sweetie. Listen to my voice. You know it's true, baby. I'm not dead. You didn't kill me. You never hurt anybody in your life. Whatever they made you believe, it was all lies, Beth. See? I'm here, and I'm not going to let anybody hurt you ever again. Okay? So please, please don't hurt yourself, sweetheart. Come on back, love. Let me help you back up here. We'll get this mess cleared up, and then I'll take you home. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
Jim tried not to flinch. He recognized the honey silk texture of that tone so well. It was so much like the voice that had lead him out of the darkness a hundred times.
"Yes, I want to go home," came Elizabeth's answer on a choked sob.
"Good, sweetie, good. Now can you sit up for me. Be careful! That's a girl. Now give me your hand. Reach it out to me, sweetheart. I'm going to pull you up. Okay? You just hang on. That's my girl. Here we go."
Jim helped him, and together they managed to pull her up from the ledge, over the low wall and onto the safety of the roof. She collapsed into a heap on the blacktop, weeping. Her husband knelt beside her, taking her in his arms, cradling and rocking her, stroking her hair, murmuring reassuring words, broken phrases of comfort. She clung to him, clutching handfuls of his shirt, trying to get out words between the sobs, struggling to make sense of it all.
"But they told me...oh God, and I remember it. I still see it whenever I close my eyes. How can I see it if I didn't...oh God, I really thought I had. I'm sorry, Sam. Oh God, I'm so, so sorry. I can see you lying there on the ground. And there's blood everywhere. And it's on my hands, and it doesn't come off. And it was me who did that to you. At least, I thought it was. Oh God, I thought I killed you."
He kissed her head and rubbed her back. "Shh. Shh. Hush now. You didn't do anything wrong. You didn't hurt anybody. You have nothing to be sorry for. I know it's hard, baby, but you have to let go of those images in your head. None of it ever happened. It's just what they wanted you to think happened. They planted all that crap in your mind. They're not real memories. Can you think back and try to remember what really happened?"
The sobs were beginning to subside, and she frowned, trying to concentrate. "Maybe. It's hard. Wait. Yes. They had on ski masks. And they wore black. All black. They broke into the office."
He held her tighter. "That's so good, Beth. You're remembering. You had a few late patients that day. You stayed late to get caught up on some paperwork. The people in black broke in. Can you remember anything else? Do you know where they took you?"
She shook her head. "It's all fuzzy."
"That's okay," he soothed her. "We'll figure it out when you're ready. How do you feel? Are you all right?"
"My head feels weird. Heavy. And everything looks...it's like it's all behind gauze. And far away."
"They probably drugged you. We'll find out at the hospital. Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"That's good, baby. I was really, really worried about you. I wasn't sure if I'd ever see you..." he broke off, pulling her closer.
"I'm so glad you're...oh God, I'm so relieved. Thank God, Sam. Thank God. I love you so much."
"I love you too, sweetheart."
Jim watched his partner stare at the reunited couple, taking in the scene of resurrection and redemption, a tangle of emotions playing over his naked face. And he longed to hold Blair, as the man held his wife. He wanted nothing more than to stroke the wind-tangled curls, to whisper gentle reassurances into his ear, to tell him how relieved he was, how glad, how much he...
Not now, Ellison, not now. Gotta keep it professional, keep your mind focused on the job. Besides, you lost the right to say all those things to him when you failed to protect him. When you treated him like shit and kicked him out of his own home like the asshole you are. And left him undefended for that bitch to...shit! Not gonna go there. You know he's never really forgiven you and probably never will. And it's all your own doing. And you'll just have to live with it. At least, he's still alive and for whatever crazy reason, still lets you be part of his life. For now anyway. Thank God, thank God for that at least.
A thought jolted through his misery.
"Shit!" he whirled around, not really expecting to find what he was looking for.
"What, Jim?" Blair asked, his eyes wide.
"That asshole doctor. Or whoever he was. Where the hell did he go?"
Blair helped him look. Together, they searched the roof, checked with the other officers, including Ramsey, who'd been keeping an eye on him. Unfortunately, during all the excitement, Ramsey had gotten distracted, and the doctor was now nowhere to be found.
"It's beginning to look more and more like our 'fugitive' is actually the victim here," Simon said. "I called for an ambulance. Let's get her to the hospital, and then work on confirming her identity and her story. I'll put some men on the mysterious doctor's trail, but I'm sure we all know how much good that will do."
"Damn it!" Jim cursed. "I can't believe I let that weasel get away. I knew there was something off about him the minute I saw him. Something wrong with this whole situation. I have got to learn to trust this...whatever this thing is."
Blair put a reassuring hand on his arm. "Don't you think you're being a little hard on yourself, big guy? You're not the only one on duty here. And it's not like anybody else noticed him slipping away."
Jim rubbed a hand over his eyes. He was beginning to get a headache. He lowered his voice. "But I am the only one here who's a Sentinel, Chief. When I don't listen to this intuition, people get hurt. And that's not okay."
Blair blinked at him, recognition dawning that they weren't really talking about the case at hand. Words formed on his lips but went unsaid, as they did far too often these days.
Jim sighed and put a hand on his partner's back. "Let's get her off to the hospital and then head down to the station to start figuring out what happened here today, huh, Chief?"
Blair just nodded, lapsing back into the now familiar silence.
It took some convincing, but they finally managed to get Elizabeth to agree to the hospital visit. When she first saw the EMTs, she let out a terrified scream and tried to lunge back toward the side of the building. Fortunately, her husband had a firm grasp on her and was able to calm her down and explain they were only trying to help, that they weren't the same people who had kidnapped her. After some minutes of soothing and reassurance, she let them put her on the gurney, although she kept a tight hold on her husband's hand. Together, they left in the ambulance for the hospital, accompanied by several uniformed officers. Elizabeth was under protective custody until they sorted out the whole mess and just in case the kidnappers came looking for her again.
Only a few hours later they had all the confirmation they needed that Sam and Elizabeth had been telling the truth. A quick call to Conover told them that Elizabeth had never been committed there, and they had no Dr. Smith on staff. They took fingerprints from the couple, and the computer came back with a match from DMV records in California. They were exactly who they claimed to be, Dr. Elizabeth Knowlton and her husband, Sam Crawford. Jim called an old friend at the San Francisco PD and learned that Mr. Crawford had reported his wife missing a little over a month ago. Dr. Knowlton was well-known in the city, had a thriving psychiatry practice and even did some consulting for the state parole board, making recommendations at parole hearings. Given Dr. Knowlton's ties to the criminal justice community, the police had put some real time into the case but had come up with no solid leads. They didn't consider her the type to run off, so they were treating her disappearance as suspicious. Her husband had an airtight alibi and was not considered a suspect. They'd pretty much had to reconcile themselves to waiting for the body to turn up, figuring she was already dead if there'd been no word from her and no ransom demand.
"I'm glad to hear it turned out happier than we expected," his friend said before they hung up.
"Yeah, me too," Jim agreed. "Look, I owe you one."
"You owe me more than one, Jimbo. But who's counting? Take care of yourself."
Blair looked at him expectantly.
"SFPD confirmed the husband's story. It's just like they said."
"Geez, and to think what could have happened to her up on that roof," Blair shivered.
Jim patted his shoulder. "Yeah. I know what you mean, Chief. I'm gonna go update Simon. You wanna come?"
Blair shook his head. "Nah, man. You can handle it. I'm gonna start on this paperwork."
"Okay, Chief. Whatever you want."
There was a time when Blair would not have let him go into Simon's office to discuss the weather without him. Nowadays, he hung back more and more often. Jim just wondered how long it would be before he stopped working with him altogether. And then moved out of the loft and left Cascade and fell out of his life completely.
Don't go there, Ellison. It'll come soon enough. No need to anticipate it. Try to hang on to him as long as possible. Try to enjoy him while you can. Try not to think about the sadness in his eyes and who put it there.
He knocked on the captain's door and waited for the bellow that invited him in.
"What've you got, Ellison?"
"Their story checks out, sir. Here's the information on the victim, Dr. Elizabeth Knowlton. I'd like to go down to the hospital and see if I can get a statement from her. If that's okay with you. I assume we'll want to investigate it as a kidnapping, cooperate with SFPD on it."
"And let's nail the 'doctor' for impersonating a state official while we're at it."
"I'll get right on it, Simon," he said, reaching for the door.
"Wait a second, Jim."
"How's Sandburg doing? I mean, really doing. Not the official story you tell your supervisor, but the truth, for someone who's a friend. Because from where I'm sitting he doesn't seem any closer to being over it than he was three months ago. Hell, he hasn't even once lectured me on the dynamics of a closed society. He'll go a whole day and barely say three words. And that's the most un-Sandburg like thing I can imagine. I gotta tell you, Jim, I'm concerned here."
Jim sighed and sat down. "Me too, Simon. But I don't know what to do for him. I suggested that maybe he should go talk to somebody, and he gave me the silent treatment for two days afterwards. I can't tell you how hard that was to take coming from Blair."
"Does he at least talk to you about it?"
He shook his head.
"Never? Not even right after it happened? You mean you didn't even talk out the stuff that happened with you guys before...didn't you at least make it right between the two of you?"
"He said he forgave me, but..."
"You don't think he did?"
Jim shook his head sadly.
"Don't you think it would be a good idea to try talking to him again, instead of just letting it fester? It's obviously not doing either one of you any good."
"I don't know how to Simon. I always relied on him to...do this kind of thing. Now that he's not talking..."
"Well, Jim, you're just going to have to figure it out, because I can't let this go on much longer. If Blair's not a hundred percent, he could be in danger out there. He could put you at risk. I can't have that. Listen, you know the last thing I want to do is yank the kid's credentials, but if things don't improve, I won't have any choice."
"I'm afraid that may not be an issue much longer anyway, Simon."
"You mean, you think he's gonna quit?"
"I have to badger him into coming to work with me as it is. It's pretty much the last thing he wants to do. And yeah, I don't think he's gonna keep it up much longer."
"Geez, Jim, I didn't know it was that bad. You really do need to sit down and have a serious talk with him. He needs to know that you still want him around here, that we all do. Tell him how valuable he is to the department. Let him know how much you need him. As a partner. And with the Sentinel thing. And as a friend, if you have any sense at all."
He shook his head and felt a heaviness settle in his chest. "I think I already missed the boat on that. I just took him for granted once too often. I don't know what I expected. That I could act like a prick whenever I felt like it and he'd always just forgive me. But I said some things...well, I guess there are just some words you can't take back."
"I really hope that's not true, Jim."
"You and me both, Simon. You and me both."
"Let me know how it goes. With Sandburg. And Dr. Knowlton."
"Will do, Captain."
He closed the door behind him and rejoined Sandburg at his desk.
"Hey Chief, you up for coming with me to the hospital to talk to Dr. Knowlton and Mr. Crawford?"
"Well, I've still got all this..."
"Come on, Chief," he coaxed. "I could really use your help down there."
He hesitated a moment. "Okay, man. Let me get my coat."
The truck ride over to the hospital was silent, as it tended to be these days. Jim watched Blair out of the corner of his eye, but his partner just stared out the window the whole way.
Once at the hospital, they checked in with Elizabeth's doctor and found that she had been admitted.
"We're still doing tests," Dr. Langtree told them. "But she's definitely been drugged. My best guess is a combination of psychoactive drugs that were used to induce hallucination and extreme suggestibility. We've begun some basic detox. Once we know exactly what we're dealing with, we'll be able to prescribe better treatment."
"Can we talk to her?" Jim asked.
"I'm afraid she's not likely to be of much help right now. She's pretty out of it. Fading in and out of consciousness."
"We'd like to try anyway, if that's okay with you."
The doctor shrugged. "Sure. She's not in any imminent danger. Her husband's with her. If it's okay with him, it's okay with me. She's in Room 317."
They took the elevator up to the third floor and found Elizabeth's room.
"I'll wait for you out here. She's probably not in any shape to have a lot of people crowding her."
"Okay, Chief. I'll be back in a few," he said, pushing open the door.
Somehow in the safe, orderly environment of the hospital, Elizabeth Knowlton looked even more worn and fragile than she had up on the roof. She lay curled near the edge of the bed, sleeping, close to her husband, who was stroking her hair and holding her hand. She had large dark circles beneath her eyes, chapped, cracked lips and an unhealthy pallor. The very set of her body suggested extreme exhaustion. It was clear she'd been through hell.
Jim was about to clear his throat and get their attention when he heard the murmuring, low and gentle, Sam quietly comforting his wife. Too quietly. He watched her snuggle closer, seeking solace in her husband's physical presence and his sweet words. Jim felt the room spin, the edge of his vision shimmering and sparkly. He had to close his eyes to keep from becoming violently ill. He should have been prepared for it. He had more than suspected it up on the roof, but to have final confirmation...that threw him. It had been his fervent hope never to run into another Sentinel again as long as he lived. But here she was. No other explanation.
He opened his eyes and found her watching him, eyes still a little clouded from the drugs but filled with understanding. A moment, a look, a signsomething as old as timepassed between them. He knew what she was. She knew what he was. It was the mutual recognition of two Sentinels and all the questions that went along with it.
She closed her eyes again and fell asleep once more, pale and weak. Not a threat, it ocurred to him. That must be why I don't have the same sense of danger that I did with...the other one. But what about when she gets well? How will I react to her then? What will she try to do? Warring impulses tore through him, the Sentinel and the cop unusually at odds. The Sentinel wanted to grab his Guide and get him to safety and keep him there until this woman left his city. The cop, on the other hand, understood that he had a sworn responsibility to protect this couple who were still most likely in grave danger.
The cop won, but the Sentinel remained on high alert.
He went back outside. Blair looked at him expectantly, but he simply laid a hand on his partner's shoulder and took out his cell phone.
"It's Ellison, Captain. Look, we've something of a situation down here at the hosptial. Dr. Knowlton and Mr. Crawford are in more serious danger than we thought. We need to double the guards and arrange for a safe house for them once she's well enough to be released from the hospital."
"Why, Jim?" Simon asked.
Blair's expression repeated the question.
"Because she's a Sentinel. That's why they took her. And they can't afford not to finish the job."
"Oh lord, not another one."
Blair only gasped and then went sickly pale.
"Yeah, I know, Simon. I'm no more happy about it than you are. Look, I'll be back at the station in about an hour. I want to get Sandburg home."
"Take care of him, Jim."
"Don't worry, Simon. That's exactly what I intend to do."
Jim wrapped a protective arm around his partner's shoulders and led him out of the hospital.
Blair said nothing on the ride home, which didn't come as much of a shock, but when they got to the loft, he slunk off to his room, without a word, banging the door behind him, which did surprise Jim. Oh, great! It's going to be one of those spells. Blair seemed to have two moods these days: depression and fury. In three years of living together, he could count on one hand the times Blair had gotten really pissed with him, overlooking occasions when even Jim realized he was being an asshole. Now Blair's flashes of anger were an almost everyday occurrence, and for the life of him, Jim could never figure out what he'd done to trigger them. Sometimes it was something as small as getting the wrong kind of takeout food. Sometimes even Blair didn't seem to know what had caused it.
He could hear Blair toss himself onto his bed, shifting restlessly, the springs squeaking with each movement. He knocked softly on the door. "Hey Chief? Can we talk?"
Blair let out his breath in a long sigh. "What is it, Jim?"
"I'd rather not do this through the door."
"Well, come in then."
He opened the door and found Blair regarding him with irritated impatience. "What do you want, Jim?"
"I want to know why you're mad at me all of a sudden."
"Oh believe me, it is not all of a sudden."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you treat me like I'm some kind of baby who can't make a decision for himself, and you have since we began this partnership. If I can even call it that. What'd you even come in here for, Jim? Forget to wipe my butt?"
I'd like to kick your butt about now. Jim counted to ten and then back down again. "You know it's not like that, Chief. You're not exactly being fair. I'm just concerned about you."
"Well, back off, man. I do not need a damned babysitter. I can decide what my limits are and when I need to go home. And when I don't."
He sighed. "You know finding another Sentinel upset you."
"Yes, it did. Since the last one tried to kill me, I think I'm entitled to that. But you at least might have asked if I wanted to go home. Instead of treating me like some invalid or a basket case."
"That's not what I did, Chief. It's certainly not what I meant."
Some of Blair's anger began to drain away. The outbursts never went on for very long. "Yeah, well...that's how it felt."
"I'm sorry then."
'Yeah, okay. Just don't do it again."
"I won't, Chief. Promise. I'll ask first."
"Okay. Good. Thanks."
"I was going to heat up some soup for lunch. You want some?"
Blair shook his head. "I'm not hungry. You go ahead. I have some reading to do."
If they hadn't just had a fight, Jim would have insisted. Blair was not eating well, and the effects were beginning to show. "Okay. Let me know if you change your mind."
Blair nodded distractedly. He settled back onto his bed, opening a book, curling up in a way that made him look so young and vulnerable it nearly broke Jim's heart. He left his partner to his reading, closing the door quietly behind him. I am so tired of this. Sometimes I really wish he would just come out and say it. That it's all my fault, that he doesn't forgive me, that he...hates me. As awful as that would be, at least it would be out in the open. God, he missed Blair, the old Blair. And the old days, the way things used to be. But the days when the two of them had companionably shared a meal or just hung out together on the weekends seemed like a dream. Nowadays, it was either silence or an explosion. That's how they related to one another.
Jim ate lunch and was just finishing up the dishes when his cell phone rang, the station calling him back down with developments on another case he was working.
He knocked on Blair's door. When there wasn't any answer, he opened it and peeked in. Blair was still in the same position, concentrating intently on the page he was reading.
"Chief?" he called, as quietly as possible. But not quietly enough. Blair jerked with a violent start.
"God, Jim, give me a heart attack."
"Sorry, Chief. Didn't mean to scare you."
"You didn't scare me," his partner insisted defiantly.
He sighed. "Then I'm sorry I interrupted you. There's been a break in the First Fidelity robbery. You want to come along?"
Blair froze, looking both stricken and guilty for not wanting to go. This is why it's just easier to make some decisions for you, Chief. You may know your limits, but you're not very good at respecting them.
"You don't have to," Jim said gently. "It's nothing earth shattering. I can handle it on my own."
"Well, if you really think so..." he said, his voice filled with relief.
"I think so. I'll see you tonight."
"Okay, Jim. See you tonight. Oh, and Jim?"
He turned back around.
"I'm really..." Blair stopped, but his face said everything.
"It's all right, Chief. I understand."
His reward was a brief, tremulous smile. It was the most Blair could manage these days. "Thanks, man."
Jim could not remember a time when doing his duty had been such unmitigated hell. Even the months in Peru paled in comparison. He would take hunger, isolation, the merciless elements any day over watching Blair in a near constant state of panic. Not to mention being forced to face his own demons.
Dr. Knowlton had remained in the hospital over a week, while the doctors purged the drugs from her system and began building back her strength. Three days ago, they had moved to a secured location where the couple were under twenty-four hour protection. It's not that he'd wanted to volunteer for the assignment, but since he understood what they were dealing with better than anyone else, he was the logical choice. Blair had insisted on coming with him, despite his vehement, rather loud protests to the contrary. In the end, Blair had won, as usual, and they'd both moved into the safe house for the duration, supported by teams of other officers, to give the couple round-the-clock security.
Whenever Jim asked, Blair insisted he was fine, but he could hear him working overtime to keep his pulse and respiration under control. Every time Blair put his breathing into a calming pattern, Jim cringed. Elizabeth had been very weak and still largely out of it when they first arrived. Every day, though, she seemed to get a little stronger, able to sit up in bed, take a shower with her husband's help, and even have a meal at the table that morning. She still slept a great deal, but she was definitely recovering. And Jim had begun having a bizarre reaction to her as he'd thought he would, only it wasn't remotely what he'd expected it to be.
That's what he felt toward her. Or more precisely, toward her relationship with her husband. Her Guide. He was ashamed of himself, but he could not help listening in on them. It was as if his senses had a will of their own. He would have loved to pretend it was a protective impulse, the cop doing his duty, the Sentinel looking out for his Guide. But finally that had nothing to do with it. He was no better than a common voyeur, intruding on their intimacy, fascinated and jarred to his core all at once by this unique opportunity to observe firsthand another Sentinel and Guide relating to one another.
What time he didn't spending monitoring them he used to replay the scene up on the roof, thinking back on what Elizabeth had said on that ledge when she thought she'd killed her husband. He gave me everything and look how I repaid him. Oh God, and how had he repaid Blair? Packing up his stuff. Throwing him out of the loft. He could still picture the precise expression on Blair's face when he realized all the stuff in the cartons was hisa pained disbelief, a hurt that cut to the bone. It still made Jim wince when he remembered it, all these months later.
And if that weren't bad enough, there was that whole scene down at the station, the stuff of guilty nightmares for years to come. He still didn't know why he'd done it, why he'd gone out of his way to hurt his Guide. Because there was no more calculated way to hurt Blair than to tell him he didn't need him, didn't trust him, didn't want either their partnership or their friendship. He knew he had a capacity for cruelty, but it made him ache deep inside that he'd used it against Blair. In the light of all they'd been through together, it stunned him that he could take away Blair's home and security with such coldness, without remorse, without even caring at the time what happened to him, the man who was the best friend he'd ever had.
You know where to find me. Those had been Blair's parting words that day. But God. Oh God. He never expected to find him where he did. His own personal hell would always be an image of blue, blue water with curly brown hair floating on the surface of it. And the way his partner felt beneath his hands as he tried to breathe the life back into him, cold and clammy, the grave already laying claim to him. And that terrible sound, the absence of a heartbeat, nothing but silence at the center of the world. And the surreal quality of the entire afternoon. It was such a beautiful day. The sun was so yellow and the sky so blue, and Blair was the color of pale death on the green, green grass.
And then the EMTs finally arrived, but they didn't bring salvation, only their hateful pronouncements, the two most god-awful words in the whole of the English vocabulary. I'm sorry. But he was the one who was sorry. As his colleagues held him back, to prevent him from pummeling Blair's defeated body in a vain attempt to get him back, he saw with perfect clarity how every mean-spirited comment, every scornful look, every ingratitude had lead him to this moment. Blair would never have been in danger if he hadn't pushed him away. He would never have died if he'd repaid Blair with the love, trust and respect he'd deserved. What had he ever actually given Blair? A home that he'd taken away from him, an attitude every time his Guide tried to help him, friendship he'd rescinded with an ease that was hardly human.
Jim hadn't even given Blair back the life his foolish actions had robbed from him. Blair had managed that miracle on his own, the heart wondrously beginning to beat again, the lungs taking up their work once more, as the EMTs scrambled to get him into the ambulance, at a loss to explain his stunning rebirth. And the whole way to the hospital, kneeling by his partner's side, holding the pale hand tightly in his own, he'd praised God and cursed himself.
That feeling had not changed during the three months Blair had been back among the living. Elizabeth saw blood on her hands. He saw the blue water.
He could hear the shower running upstairs, and he didn't even try to fight his hearing as it zeroed in on Sam and Elizabeth. He could hear the spray travelling down the curves and angles of their bodies, the slippery slide of soap, hands ranging over wet flesh, the sound of shampoo being worked through hair, low murmurs of contentment and affection, the occasional gasp as Sam discovered some new bruise or cut, the fading evidence of Elizabeth's captivity.
He cast a sidelong glance over at Blair to see if he was aware of this guilty eavesdropping, but his partner was bent over his laptop, working on the mid-term for his class. He realized it wasn't just curiosity he felt toward Elizabeth. It was envy. She'd gotten to wake up from her nightmare and have her Guide back intact, the whole thing no more than a drug-induced delusion. He'd gotten his Guide back, but the nightmare was still between them. Blair had been changed. Blair had been damaged. That's why Jim could never feel the perfect happiness he wanted that Blair was safe and sound and alive. Because there had still been a death that day, and he was in mourning. It just wasn't Blair's body that was gone, but a part of his spirit. A part that Jim had loved so much without ever even realizing it, and now it was gone. Because he'd killed it.
They should have talked about it. Of course, they should have. He should have made Blair open up to him. Maybe then, there wouldn't have been all the terrible silences. Maybe then, he wouldn't have had to stand by and watch as the wound only deepened. Instead, Jim had simply moved Blair's stuff back into the loft, hoping his actions would say what he found so difficult to communicate in words. He'd brought Blair back to their home after the doctors released him, hoping somehow they could restore all that had been damaged between them. And in some ways, they had. Blair had convalesced, and after that, they'd gone back to their jobs and their routine and their everyday lives. But they'd left all the most important things undone, unsaid, unhealed. They had not come to terms with the fact that Blair had almost died, that he had died, and only by some chance or grace of God had made it back. They had not discussed the rupture in their friendship or the very obvious fact that Blair was struggling with what had happened to him. In fact, it seemed that they talked about very little these days, more and more evenings spent apart or mindlessly in front of the television, the electronic buzz standing in for company and consolation.
Jim knew it was his fault. He had always followed Blair's lead in emotional matters, waiting for his Guide to draw him out, to understand him, to fix it. And now it was his Guide who needed help, and he was failing him yet again. He had been waiting for Blair to be Blair, the person he knew before the fountain. He'd been waiting for Blair to do the talking. And waiting and waiting. It was a longstanding inequity in their relationship, he realized. He depended on Blair to handle their communication, since it same so easily to him and felt like a hundred different kinds of torture to Jim. Only now Blair was shut down tight. Silent Blair. Blair so deep within himself that to get him to talk about the ordinary happenings of his day was a major accomplishment. Blair with all the energy and enthusiasm taken out of him. This was Jim's handiwork. This was what he had returned for all the good Blair had done him.
Blair shut down the computer and began gathering his things to take up to the bedroom he was using.
"Hey Chief," he said softly. "You want to catch the Jags game on TV with me?"
Blair shook his head. "Sorry, man. I'm kind of wiped. Think I'll just head on up to bed."
He nodded and watched his friend climb the stairs, looking pale and spent. It was ten o'clock. He bet Blair hadn't gone to bed this early since grade school. But now it was more and more often, like his partner could barely summon up enough energy to get through the day.
He went to the refrigerator for a beer. It probably wasn't a good idea. Technically, he was on duty. And he didn't give a shit. He flopped onto the couch and flipped on the set, tuning in the game. He half watched it as he listened to Sam and Elizabeth settling in together for the night, as he monitored Blair's too-fast pulse that told him his friend was having little luck falling asleep.
He sat on the sofa drinking his beer, trying to figure out when the hell everything had gotten so far out of his control, until he drifted off to sleep.
It was like floating on a fluffy cloud to Elizabeth's still recovering senses. Oh yes, it was a comfortable chair, oversized and overstuffed, soft fabric, soothing white color, with cushiony arms where she could rest her head whenever it started to hurt again. She still could not stay awake for long stretches of time, but she was sick to death of lying in bed. Two days ago, she'd graduated to the living room and the big chair. She spent as much of the day as she could in it, fighting to stay conscious as long as possible, drifting off to sleep when she lost the battle. It was a definite improvement. It made her feel saner somehow, more part of the normal world, waking hours in one place, sleeping hours in another.
The time up on the roof seemed more and more distant. In her mind, it had a photographic quality, like something she'd seen in a magazine, something she'd read about, something that happened to someone else. That wouldn't last forever, she knew. She was a psychiatrist, and she specialized in treating trauma. She understood what disassociation meant, the way the mind distanced itself from painful events. But she could not help wanting to hang onto that distance as long as possible. It was comforting to remember so little and feel nothing. She was too tired to do anything more than lie curled up in her favorite chair in a state of blissful numbness.
The panic still came over her at times. For a brief moment, she would believe Sam was dead again, and her pulse would race and her breathing stop. When Sam was in the same room with her, he would realize it and put a hand on her arm or back. That always comforted her. If he was somewhere else, her senses would shoot out into the house like someone had fired a starting pistol. They would fasten on Sam's pulse, his voice, his smell. She tried to get as many different kinds of sensory input as possible to keep from zoning on any particular one. She'd taken to wearing his shirts, so she'd be blanketed in his scent all the time, so she could hang onto the knowledge that Sam was wonderfully alive. So she could fend off those moments of spiraling confusion and the black hole of loss that kept threatening to suck her back in.
That's what the whole time away from Sam seemed like now: a black hole. The first few days in the hospital really were like the beginning of a new creation for her, light separating from darkness, the world taking shape once more. She had gotten her full-fledged senses back, and that hurt like hell. The drugs in her system interfered with her control, causing her senses to fritz out completely at times and then spike painfully at others. Sam had been working with her on it, and finally, they seemed to have calmed down, which was a great relief.
Now, it was her body that needed to recuperate. And her spirit, which would take longer and be much, much harder to fix. But she didn't want to concentrate on that just yet. She recognized denial when she saw it, but she didn't care. It was so much easier to take a professional interest in the people around her, to figure out how she might be able to help them. Physician heal thyself. She shook her head. Maybe later.
Once her senses were back online, it didn't take long to realize that Detective Ellison's partner was having a negative reaction to her. She felt him seize up and heard his pulse go off the chart whenever she was around. It was a startle response. He could get it under control after a few minutes, but he couldn't prevent it from happening. Or how could she possibly have missed the way Detective Ellison scrutinized her whenever she was in the same room with his partner? He would tune into Blair's vital signs, getting the same grim expression on his face every time he heard the heartbeat go crazy.
She'd been trying to desensitize Blair to her presence, little doses at a time, being in the same room with him, sitting at the same table, passing in the hall. He had almost gotten used to her. This morning, Jim had gone into the station to finish up another case. Sam was catching up on some work, using the desk in their bedroom as a makeshift office. Blair was sitting on the sofa, grading papers, and she had taken up her usual position in the big chair. They'd spent most of the morning like that, just the two of them, and his vital signs stayed close to normal.
She listened to the scratching of the pen across the paper. It seemed like a lot of red ink. "Was it a hard test?" she asked. He started for a moment, surprised she'd spoken, but not overly agitated. "Um, I don't know, maybe. Yeah, actually I guess so. Harder than I meant it to be. They're not doing very well."
"You teach anthropology?" she asked.
"I took an anthopology course in college. The thing I remember most clearly was what the Aztecs did to their captives. That ripping the beating heart out thing kind of got to me."
He smiled. "We're covering material that's a little less gruesome than that."
She smiled back at him. "I'm glad for your students."
"Did you like it? The course you took?"
"I did. A lot, actually. I've always been interested in what makes people tick. Usually on a more individual basis. But it was also interesting to get the larger vantage point, to understand how societies are structured, how they operate and the formative effect all that has on individual behavior."
"I guess when you put it that way it's not all that different from what you do in your field."
She shook her head. "Not really. It's mostly just a matter of macro vs. micro. And even that's really a false distinction. In the work I do with trauma survivors, the community is actually quite important. How well traumatized people heal has a lot to do with the reaction of the people around them and the society's attitude toward the type of traumatic event they suffered."
"I've read some of your work, mostly case studies. To help me understand things I see down at the station a little better. We deal with a lot of hurt and scared people. You've gotten some pretty amazing results."
"I've been lucky. What with my senses and all. I know you know about that."
"Jim figured it out," Blair said, a little uncomfortable.
She smiled. "When he came to see me at the hospital. I guess you could say we kind of recognized each other. It's okay. I don't mind your knowing. You understand what this is. You've seen it before. With Jim. I know you won't reveal my secret."
"It's safe with me," Blair assured her and looked thoughtful. "So you use your senses in your work as a psychiatrist?"
She nodded. "Yeah. The hardest part of conducting therapy is trying to figure out what people want to tell you but can't or act like they want to tell you but really are fighting tooth and nail not to. My senses are invaluable to me in figuring out what to explore and when to press and when to hang back, when it's time to offer reassurance, to work on establishing safety. It sure does beat relying on intuition alone."
"It must get hard at times, though. Hearing all those terrible stories."
She sensed an opening. She held his eyes. "It can be. Truly unspeakable things happen to people every day. That's a difficult reality to accept. But I also see the strength and resilience of the human spirit on a daily basis, and that is an amazing thing. Political prisoners.Rape victims. Abused children. People who have survived encounters with human evil, who have endured ultimate powerlessness, who have faced death. And they're still here, as shattering as the experience was. And they're still fighting. And I find it a sacred duty to bear witness for them, to grieve with them, to help them learn to celebrate the fact that they are still alive."
His attention was riveted on her. She used her senses on him the way she did with her patients, to assess his state of mind and let them guide her next move. "Were you badly hurt?" she asked softly. "By the other one like me."
He choked slightly on the coffee he was drinking. "What? What makes you think that?
She regarded him compassionately. "I'm a human heart monitor, Mr. Sandburg, remember? Plus, I'm a psychiatrist."
He retreated into silence, and she let him, knowing he would speak when he was ready. "You can call me Blair," he said finally.
She smiled. "Thank you. And I'd love it if you'd call me Elizabeth."
"Is it just written all over me?"
"Not at all. Certainly not to anyone without my...skills. And it took me a while to piece it together. I'm sorry. I really wasn't trying to intrude on your privacy. It just wasn't possible not to notice how you reacted every time I got near. I knew it couldn't really be fear of me.I'm hardly at my most imposing just at the moment. And while a lot of people dread shrinks, most people don't find us terrifying. So it just made sense that you'd met up with another one of us somewhere along the line, and it wasn't a very positive experience."
Blair laughed, but there was no humor in it. "That is the understatement of the century. She...she tried to kill me. Actually, she did kill me. But the worst part is..."
She waited a long moment before prompting him. "What's the worst part, Blair?"
"Because of her, I betrayed Jim." Tears trickled down his cheeks, and he hurriedly wiped them away with his sleeve.
Elizabeth made her voice as low and gentle as possible. "Somehow I don't think he sees it that way."
"You don't know how it's been...everything's changed between us. Even before it happened, he said he couldn't trust me anymore. And why should he? I'm an idiot. I got it all wrong. I was so romantic about Sentinels, naive. I wanted to believe so badly, since I first learned about them. Heightened senses and a biological imperative to protect. But finally, Sentinels are just human, like everyone else. Not super heroes or fucking saints. And Alex proved they can do just as much harm as the next person."
"What exactly did Alex do?"
He sighed and rubbed his eyes tiredly. "She was a thief and good at it. She killed a security guard during one of her jobs, shot him through the heart. She stole enough deadly nerve gas to kill everyone in Cascade ten times over and sold it to terrorists. She came after Jim. Then she...she tried to drown me, left me for dead. And she got away. And I helped her do it. I taught her how to manage her senses, how to use them more effectively. And that's how she put them to work, that's how she chose to use her gift."
"But Blair, nothing in nature is perfect. In every species, every group, there are aberrations. Couldn't that explain Alex? That she doesn't define...what do you call us again? Sentinels?...that she doesn't define us so much as point out that there are exceptions to every rule."
He looked at her sadly. "It's not an easy prospect, is it? That Sentinels can be both good and bad. It's tempting to look for any other explanation. But the proof is in the deeds. And Alex's were all evil. That stands alongside all the good Jim has ever done, all the good you've done."
She paused a moment. "I hope you'll have proof sometime that this gift does have a higher purpose and all fully developed Sentinels have that knowledge, that drive, deep in their bones, in their very souls."
"That would be great. But I kind of doubt it's going to happen."
"You never know, Blair. Keep an open mind, huh?"
She heard Jim's heart thudding in the hall. He had just come in and stood listening outside the living room, monitoring his partner, the Sentinel on full alert, ready to protect Blair if it should come to that.
"I'm too tired now, but if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to talk to you some more about Sentinels later. There's so much of the background I don't understand, and you have so much knowledge. Would that be okay? Would it make you too uncomfortable?"
He hesitated. "No, I could do that. It's just that...you have to understand, I don't have quite the same enthusiasm for it that I once did."
Elizabeth winced for the detective hearing those words but nodded. "I understand. And thanks."
When she passed Jim on her way out of the room, she smiled at him, but he only stared at her in return, blue eyes remote and decidedly unfriendly. She felt that icy gaze follow her up the stairs, and she couldn't quite keep from flinching.
It was three days later that Elizabeth was alone in the kitchen with Jim and decided it was time to end the tension. She had learned that sometimes the way to earn someone's trust was to put your yourself on the line with them.
"It's not the first time I was kidnapped," she told him.
His expression was completely startled, and she went for it while she had him off balance. "The first time I was nine. My father was an oil company executive. They took me from the playground at school and locked me in this old fallout shelter outside of town. I was so terrified. They left me alone a lot, and when they were gone, I was afraid they were never coming back. But then when they did, I was so scared they were going to hurt me. After a while, though, I could hear them coming. I could sense whether they were agitated or calm. I could even smell what kind of food they were bringing me."
"That's how you developed the Sentinel senses."
She nodded. "After I was rescued, I blocked out everything about the experience, including the senses. When my mother tried to talk to me about it, I would swear I hadn't been kidnapped, that I'd been away at camp and it had been lots of fun. Neither of my parents were all that comfortable talking things out, so they were just as glad I wanted to pretend it never happened. This was before we knew how damaging it is to be silent about traumatic events. It wasn't until I was doing my psychiatry residency, when I started working with other trauma survivors, that it all began coming back to me. The memories of what happened. And these flashes of intense sensory experience that just kept getting worse. I had these awful headaches. When I tried to sleep, the sheets hurt me. The fluorescent lights at the hospital were torture. It was like trying to stare into the sun. Between the flashbacks and the sensory spikes, I couldn't function anymore."
Jim kept the stony facade in place, but she could tell he was listening. "What did you do?" he finally asked.
"I took a leave of absence. I left town. I literally just drove away. No idea where I was going. Somehow I made it to New Mexico. I really don't know how. I was in a lot of pain, and those days are still a blur to me. Anyway, I found this retreat in the mountains north of Santa Fe. It was supposed to be for artists, and you were supposed to make a reservation. But they took one look at me and knew I need that kind of solitude, so they took me in. That's where I met Sam. He studies and writes about eastern religions and meditation techniques. As soon as we met, he started looking out for me, helping me. He really...well, he saved me. Literally. I had decided that if I couldn't get the thing with me senses to stop I'd have no choice but to kill myself. But then there was Sam. The first time he touched me was like a flash in the darkness. I could finally see a way out. I finally had a reason to hope, something to grab on to.
"I know what that's like."
"I thought you might."
He frowned. "Why are you telling me all this?"
She touched his arm very lightly, very briefly. "I just wanted you to know that I appreciate what you did for me up on that roof. I would have died if you hadn't helped me. I also wanted you to know that we're not meant to be enemies with our own kind. No matter what Alex did."
She could see him bristle. "Blair told you about that?"
"How could he talk to you about it and not to me?"
"Because I wasn't part of it. I don't have a stake in it. And I'm trained for this sort of thing. And I guessed most of it anyway. That's what I do with my senses. I use them to figure out the right questions to ask."
"So you've been monitoring us."
She half smiled. "The way you've been monitoring Sam and me."
He had the good grace to blush.
"It's all right. I understand. And it doesn't bother me. It's not an easy thing to shut down. And there are some things that are just too hard not to notice. Like the way you tense up whenever I get near your partner. Is he...what does Blair call it?...your Guide?"
Jim nodded. "For the time being at least."
She looked surprised. "You're thinking of ending the relationship?"
He rubbed his forehead. He was getting another headache. "No, but I doubt Blair will be up for it much longer."
"That's not the impression I got from him. He seemed to think you're the one who doesn't want him around."
"He can barely stand to spend time with me. He won't talk. He doesn't want to come to work with me anymore. Let's face it. I screwed up, and he can't forgive me for it. Can't say I blame him."
She looked confused. "He told me he was the one who messed up. Well anyway, I think you're misinterpreting his actions. What you see as rejection and a lack of forgiveness are actually post-traumatic symptoms."
"How can you tell?" he asked, not able to meet her eyes.
"Professional insight. Enhanced senses. Personal experience. Let's just say I recognize that unnatural quiet."
His laugh was strained. "You have no idea just how unnatural a silent Blair is."
She smiled gently. "I think I have some inkling. People who have survived a life-threatening ordeal often have difficulty reconnecting with loved ones. They feel outside of ordinary daily experience, separated from life. They're frequently depressed, have trouble eating and sleeping. They don't have the same enthusiasm for things they once enjoyed a great deal. It takes time to work through. And it's not reasonable to expect that things will ever be exactly the same again. All our experiences leave their mark on us. But this is a stage. It doesn't last forever. Dealing with it can help it pass more quickly."
"I don't know what to do for him. Nothing I've tried has helped."
"It's mostly his work to do, and he may not have been ready to tackle it before now. But I think it's a positive sign that he was able to talk to me. I know he misses you. I think he'd like to talk to you about it."
"How can I get him to do it then?"
"Let him know you're there for him. Be ready to acknowledge that you've both suffered a loss and allow yourself to mourn with him. It's not an easy thing. But it is necessary if you're ever going to move on."
"Is that what you're going to do?"
She stared down at the table. "When I'm ready. Which isn't just yet. Right now, I still don't remember that much of what happened. And what I can recall is more like a movie. It's like watching myself. No pain attached to it. I don't look forward to having those emotions again. I want to hold onto the blankness a little while longer. When I'm finished here and get back to San Francisco, then I'll have to face the demons of the past month. And so will Sam."
"It sucks, doesn't it?"
"It sure as hell does, Jim."