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Phantom Pain

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Phantom Pain

by April Valentine

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I don't own these characters, I simply use them for my own sick enjoyment.

Thanks to everyone who was so supportive when I first wrote this story and who encouraged me to use it in "Warriors." I welcome feedback and don't mind if this story is discussed on lists.

This story and its sequel have been published in "Warriors," my slash TS fanzine, which was first published in May, 2001 and is still in print. This story contains serious injury to a main character. If you don't like this sort of thing, you might not want to read it. There are two sequels to this story. The one that is also published in "Warriors" will be posted as soon as possible, the other will appear in "Warriors 2" which will resolve everything in the first 2 stories -- and I do mean everything. Warriors 2 will premier at MediaWestCon at the end of May, 2002.

I know it was wrong of me to leave. Well, it shouldn't be something that boils down to wrong or right... but it wasn't right of me. Except for the fact that it was something I had to do. Needed to do. For a long time now. I needed to leave. For me. For myself. That's what made it right.

But the same thing that made it right is what made it wrong.

I left for me. I had to think of myself for a change. But thinking of myself meant I had to stop thinking about Jim. That's why it was wrong of me to leave.

I know my leaving hurt him. But I was hurting too. I've been hurting for months now and even though it's not really his fault, he's part of the reason. Yes, he saved my life. Yes, because of him, because of what he did, I am alive. But you know what? Living isn't always all it's cracked up to be.

Sometimes you can lose so much, you don't care if you're alive.

You know, I never thought I'd be the kind of person who'd feel that way. I always thought the most important thing was staying alive. I've been kidnapped, serial killers have tried to make me their next victim, I've been shot, punched, trapped in elevators, pushed into fountains by renegade female sentinels and I've told the world I was a fraud... and every time, I told myself the important thing was -- I survived. I almost got killed and had to live with nightmares, with emotional scars, with even physical scars, but at least I was still alive. And I had Jim. Yeah, Jim saved me from so many things... I had him to thank for my life a hundred times over.

One more time shouldn't have made so much difference.

If somebody would have told me how much difference that one more time would make I would never have believed them. Funny, you think you know yourself. Then something totally unexpected happens and you wake up to see a stranger in the mirror, to find a stranger in your head. And that stranger is strong enough to make you forget who you used to be. The stranger is reality, the reality you live when something you could barely imagine happens to you and you react, not like you'd hope, not like you'd fantasize, not like a hero, but like a real person would, all the same.

A real person sometimes can't forget the nightmares, even when it's morning. A real person looks down and sees the scars. They're there every day. And there's no better reminder of what you've lost than seeing those scars.

And then there's the pain. Even if you don't look down and see the scars, or if you cover them up, take all therapy they tell you to take to be able to go back to your life, the pain is still there. You can't stop it, because it represents something that's missing. A missing something that you can't get back no matter how hard you wish, how hard you pray. No matter how much money you make or you pay. Even if you put something in its place, nothing can really take its place. It can look like what you've lost, it can do what you've lost -- well, almost -- but you know it isn't the real thing. And even though it's there, trying to fill in for what it's replacing, it only covers the scars and the pain is still there.

They tell you it's all in your head. It can't be real. And you know that. But knowing doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. That it's not going to always hurt. You might be crazy, but you're not stupid. You might be stupid, but you're not crazy. You know perfectly well it's all in your head. Things that are gone can't hurt, can't cause you pain. Still, even if you try to convince yourself they can't, you know they can. The hurt is still there, even if you ignore it, even if you pretend it doesn't exist.

I tried pretending once. I even told myself I wasn't pretending. I'd lost... well, everything I'd ever thought was important to me. But at least I had my life. I might have committed professional suicide, but I didn't die. I gave up my career but I still got the brass ring. I got Jim. And when he gave me the chance at a new career, I took it. I caught the badge he threw my way and was glad of it. I ignored the pain I felt that fall, when classes were starting and I wasn't at the university. I shoved aside the pain all my closed textbooks represented. I downplayed the pain not having a certain three letters after my name meant. I had other things to put in the place of what I didn't have anymore. A badge. A job. A new career.

A whole new life. For a little while, everything seemed new and good. A fresh start. Everything was possible. I even thought, the way he'd been acting, some of the things he said, that what I'd dreamed about Jim and me might even come true. It felt like we were closer than we'd ever been, like any day he might say the words I'd been hoping to hear for four years.

But Jim was... well, Jim. Stubborn. Stoic. Proud. Unemotional. It's hard for him to show how he feels. Hell, it's even hard for him to know how he feels. I know he's repressed far more than most men remember and I'll bet I don't even know everything he's repressed in his life. He's endured a lot of pain, not all of it my fault. He's got scars, some of them almost worse than mine. He doesn't really know how to be happy. I thought I might be able to show him how. I thought we could be happy together.

But with Jim, things move slowly. Even after four years, after the whole diss debacle, he couldn't say what I sometimes saw in his eyes. I almost said something myself a lot of times. But I didn't say anything. I had to wait for him. It wouldn't work, I told myself, if it didn't come from him first.

Hell, none of that really matters now. I don't blame him for not saying anything. I should have said something... he always did better when I said things first. And you know, sometimes, if people are meant to be... together... they get together. If it's not meant to be, it doesn't happen. Even if there's chemistry -- and Jim and I did have chemistry -- if something doesn't happen after a certain period of time, then it's never going to happen.

I thought realizing that might be the worst thing that ever happened to me. But even that, I thought I could live with. I still had his friendship. We were still partners on the job. That should have been enough.

But then, the unexpected happened. Just when I thought nothing else could come out of left field and shatter my life, just when I was feeling pretty confident about being a cop, it all changed. Whatever made me think my life was ever going to go smoothly?

Jim and I got into another... situation. I don't know what else to call it. Naomi calls it an accident. But that's not what it was. It might have started out an accident but it ended up being something more than that. So I call it a situation.

It started out simple enough. We went out on an investigation up in the mountains outside Cascade, tracking down a witness. Probably we never should have done it, should have contacted the police up there to do the leg work for us... Right, leg work...shit... Anyway, one thing led to another and it was raining really hard and... the bridge went out and the truck went off the road and rolled over... It was the worst accident we'd ever been in...

They say your whole life passes before your eyes at a time like that. I remember my press conference... that whole thing was totally surreal, you know? And at that moment, my whole life with Jim passed before my eyes. From the first time I saw him slipping his shirt on in the hospital, to him shoving me up against the wall in my office, to me grabbing him by the waist to pull him down and keep that garbage truck from killing waking up spitting up water from the fountain... to being beside him in the truck when those reporters rushed us the first time. I saw it all ending, all the good stuff, all the great times we'd had, all my dreams and aspirations, all Jim's hopes for a normal life. And I couldn't stand losing all of that, so I did... what I did. It seemed like the right thing to do. For awhile, it really did.

But when the truck started rolling, I didn't see my life pass before my eyes. I saw Jim's face instead. He looked so strong sitting there, trying to recover control over the truck, but his face had gone white. His arm snaked out, grabbing me, trying to protect me... he always did try to do that... and the thought flashed through my head that this time, he couldn't. This time, it wasn't going to work. This time, Jim was going to fail me.

I know, I know... I shouldn't say that. He didn't really fail me. Well, he didn't stop the accident, but he did save my life. But in so many ways... so many ways I wish didn't count... he did fail me. I wish... I wish my life had passed before my eyes when the truck started rolling. I'd've been ready to die maybe, if that had happened. I wouldn't have said I wanted to live, in those first few minutes after it happened. And Jim... Jim wouldn't have made the choice he made... wouldn't have done what he did to save my life that really ended up being something that destroyed my life... I know he didn't mean it, that he had to save me... but for a long time now, I've wished he hadn't. I should have died in the truck that day, up on the mountain in the rain. He should have let me go.

That's why I left. He couldn't let me go, so I had to be the one to leave. I can't stand the way he looks at me now, with the guilt brimming in his eyes, with the scars me getting hurt that day have left on him. He looks older than forty-one... and god knows, I feel older than thirty. Old and yet young, Like a kid with a dream of everything turning out right after all. Stupid, I know. A kid can dream of things getting better someday. But for me, there is no someday -- there's only now. And I'm an adult. I'm an old man at thirty. I'll never do the things most thirty year olds do. This is my life. I've gotta accept that. And I have. I really have. And accepting it is what told me I had to leave Jim. Make him let go of me. Make myself let go of him.

I have nightmares sometimes. I dream I'm back there on the mountain, in the rain and the cold, with the water pouring down on me from the river, no matter how much stuff Jim tried to pile up to keep it off me, with the pain throbbing through my body. I was scared, more scared than I've ever been before and I was hurting more than I ever hurt before. I couldn't think, I couldn't plan, I couldn't help Jim. All I could do was lay there in pain, in fear for my life.

You know, you reach a certain point where you figure it's over. You're too scared and you're too tired and you hurt too much to care anymore. You realize you're going to die so that's what you start praying for. You don't pray to get out of the situation, you don't pray for hope. You pray it'll all be over quick 'cause you can't stand any more pain and you know... you know it's so bad that if by some miracle you don't die, you know you'll wish you had.

It's not really the same as giving up. I always thought it was but that day, I found out it isn't. It's a choice. A realization. It's facing up to reality. I was surprised as anything when I decided I knew the score, that it was over for me. I was facing reality. The only trouble was, Jim wasn't.

"I'm gonna get you out of here, Chief," he said for what must have been the tenth time. "It's gonna be okay."

No, it isn't, I thought. But I didn't say so. I could hardly breathe. It took too much breath and energy to talk. If I opened my mouth, instead of words, nothing but moans of pain would come out anyway. And nothing but water would get in.

I really don't remember everything, not the actual details. I know what happened because I've been told but my own memories of that night are really just impressions and feelings and one or two really, really clear images. I remember not being able to get out from under the truck. I remember the pain. I remember Jim's face, determined. I remember the strain on his face as he tried to pull the truck off me, his frantic digging as he tried to get me out from under the truck. I remember the anguish on his face when he saw that nothing was working.

The wind and rain were lashing both of our faces and the water was getting higher and higher. The cell phones wouldn't work and the wreck had totaled the truck's radio. Something was burning...I'm not sure what... It made a surreal light around the place but all I remember was wondering how it could keep burning in all that rain and wind and water. Must have been gasoline. I think Jim was worried the truck would blow up or something, even though he always used to make fun of how every car that ever went over a hill on TV burst into flames on the way down.

"Jim," I remember saying, "you've gotta get out of here. If you stay and the truck blows up, you'll die too."

"Nobody's going to die out here, Sandburg," he told me.

I knew he was wrong.

I took hold of his collar. I could hardly feel it, my fingers were so cold and numb.

"Jim," I said, hoping he could hear me over the wind, "I love you, man. Go on, get out of here, please."

And he looked at me like he'd stopped breathing for a minute, or maybe like his heart had stopped. But he didn't look surprised. Maybe he'd always known and had just been waiting for me to say the words, the way I'd been waiting for him to say them.

"I love you too, Blair."

I can remember his voice when he said those words, how clear it sounded to me, how sure he was. How can I remember it like that when almost everything else that night is fogged with pain and blurred by time and muffled by noise?

There had been a time when I'd thought I'd die if I didn't hear him say those words to me, and here I was dying and finally hearing them. Why did we wait so damn long to say those words to each other? We could say them now, I realized, when it was too late to do anything about the feelings we had. I didn't know which one of us was the bigger coward.

The next thing I remember was a wall of water hitting me hard and submerging me under it. This is it, I thought, Jim said he loved me and now I can die happy. But I didn't feel happy. I hurt, in my broken body and my broken heart. But it was going to be over quick now, just like I'd prayed, 'cause the water was over my head and I couldn't see anything more, not even Jim's beautiful face all torn with sorrow. All I had to do was wait a little bit and I could go. Just wait 'til I was out of air and it would be so easy...

And then I felt Jim close to me again. I was confused, seeing his face so near, blurred by the dark water. I tried to push him away, but he held onto me, like he was desperate, and he leaned in and I felt his mouth on mine, his lips and tongue opening my mouth. He was kissing me, here, now, finally. I was going to die as Jim kissed me.

But it wasn't a kiss, even then. Instead, it was air. Jim was buddy breathing, still thinking I could somehow survive this, still clinging to the hope that somehow we'd get out of the situation and everything would be all right again.

Let me go, I tried to tell him. I'm almost gone, Jim, don't prolong my agony breathing for me. You'll only hurt more when you do realize I'm gone.

You should have kissed me for real, Jim. I wished I was strong enough to kiss him instead of greedily sucking the air he offered me with his cold lips. I shouldn't have been able to see his eyes down there under the dark water. Maybe I couldn't and memory is playing tricks on me. Maybe we were so close in that moment it just seemed like I could see his eyes and maybe he felt he could see mine too. But I remember him looking at me, the most intense gaze I've ever seen, like he was willing me to stay alive for him. But I couldn't. I wanted to tell him I was sorry, but I couldn't even do that.

You'll be okay, I wanted to tell him. You haven't zoned in ages.

But then Jim seemed to move away. I couldn't see his face any more. I couldn't see anything because a new, harsher, sterner pain suddenly slashed through my body and I screamed, swallowing river and rain, and then what I was sure was death rushed up like a ravening shark and pulled me under, under, under where there was no sound, no pain and nothing, ever again.

Nothing until I woke up, cold and aching in a white room. Not heaven, I realized. A hospital.

I looked down, trying to figure out what kind of shape I was in.

I screamed.

I think I screamed until Jim was there, bending over me, saying he was sorry but that everything was going to be all right.

He was sorry. But everything wasn't all right. Months went by, but it wasn't ever all right again. He had made me live, but he couldn't make me feel alive. I was dead inside. Well, most of me. Some of me hurt like hell, even though they told me those parts shouldn't hurt, couldn't hurt.

Yeah, well, a broken heart isn't supposed to actually hurt, but it does, doesn't it?

And when it feels like your heart's been cut out of you, it still hurts.

That's what they call phantom pain.

Jim was in pain, too, pain so bad his senses shut down. I kinda thought they'd come back on line eventually, but when six months went by and they still hadn't returned, both of us knew the Sentinel thing was over for real.

I couldn't be a cop any more. And Jim didn't need a guide any more. For a long time, I just sat in the loft, looking out the balcony windows. I couldn't stand the way Jim looked at me when he came home. I couldn't stand to look at him, so tall, so strong, walking wherever he wanted to.

He didn't say he loved me again. I didn't say I loved him. I remembered his kiss... what I'd thought was a kiss. Sometimes, in my dreams, it was a kiss.

Jim took care of me. Put up with my depression, my moodiness. I was a worse patient than he ever was. He touched me so gently, so tenderly. I wished it would make a difference. It never did. My heart was gone. All it could feel was phantom pain.

So, finally, I decided it was time to go. I put in some applications and was kinda surprised when I got a job offer. Baltimore is about as far away from Cascade as I could get, so I said yes. I got on a plane and arrived yesterday. Classes start next week.

I wrote Jim a note. I told him thanks. I told him I was sorry. I meant it for not being able to love him anymore. For not being able to love myself enough any more to care about him or me or anything else. I meant it for blaming him.

He should have let me die. I didn't want to live like this.

Damn, it hurts. It's a dull pain, but persistent. Like steady fire. I wish I could hit it and make it go away.

But you can't hit something that isn't there, even though it hurts all the time.

I look down at myself and I still can't believe it. I can't believe he wanted me to live so bad he did it. Sometimes, I dream it isn't true.

But it is. The pain I feel isn't real, they say. Legs that have been amputated can't hurt. Legs that have been cut off by someone you love to save your life aren't supposed to burn like fire, hurt like hell. But they do.

It's phantom pain.

But it's real.

End Phantom Pain by April Valentine:

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