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Right Memory

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When Jim wakes up, it's to the too bright blankness of a white ceiling. It looks a lot like a hospital ceiling. The sounds are hospital sounds; the smells are hospital smells. Hospital paraphernalia has its hooks in all over Jim's body. That's not good, not least because the last thing that Jim clearly remembers is his own anger and frustration that two men are holding guns on them; that, and Blair's attempt at insouciant dorkiness. It didn't convince Jim and it didn't convince their captors. The bad guys were equal opportunity risk evaluators; Blair was as much a risk as Jim. They smacked Blair around to prove the point.

Jim turns his head, which is a bad move. Dizziness and headache join in unholy alliance, but their victory doesn't matter, because Blair is sitting next to the bed. His face isn't pretty unless greyish purple is a favourite colour, but he's there and Jim closes his eyes and sinks back to a less disorienting world. He knows the important stuff now.

When he wakes up the next time, it's Simon sitting by the bed. Jim's mouth feels like he's marched ten miles with a filthy gym-sock in his mouth, and he doesn't try to speak. He raises the hand that isn't stuck with needles, instead.

"Welcome back, Detective." Simon's expression is grim, but Jim knows the look. It's Simon's 'that could have gone better but at least nobody important is dead - this time' look. There's no good news in his face, but there's no bad news that Jim can't live with either.

"Before you ask, Sandburg will be okay, you'll be okay, you didn't kill Corcoran, Murray is dead, and Waters is on the run, possibly in Canada by now."

Jim swallows, and Simon leans forward holding a paper cup of ice chips. "Take it slow."

When the last of the slivers is gone to blessed moisture, Jim rasps, "Define 'Sandburg will be okay'."

"You'd need the full Crayola range to draw his bruises; he has some loose teeth which should stay put, and he promises me faithfully that he has stopped pissing any colour that he shouldn't be pissing. In the usual fit of Sandburg TMI he informed me that he was drinking so much that he was peeing clear as a mountain stream."

"How long have I been out?" Jim tries to sit up, but he's got all the co-ordination of the guys in the drunk tank on a Saturday night.

"Stay put. You've been here a week, and this is your first fully awake patch. You've been in and out of consciousness, and Sandburg's been in here reminding staff of your weird reactions to practically everything, every day. And night, when he was in here for observation." Simon smiles. It's not an appreciative smile. "I have enough trouble explaining Sandburg at Central."

"I don't remember too much. I didn't kill Corcoran?"

"No, you didn't, although you knocked the son of a bitch silly. He pumped you so full of weird shit no-one's going to blame you for that." Simon sounds satisfied at this assessment.

Jim frowns. He remembers Corcoran's face and name, and there's a brief flash of memory. A needle? Blair's voice, sharp with anger? But it's gone.

"There's a report. And you can get Sandburg to fill you in, once we're sure that you're not going to remember more on your own. I look forward to you writing a full report for me." Jim knows that Simon is looking forward to Jim being fit enough to write the report far more than the report itself. But he has a reputation as Captain Hard-Ass to uphold.

In one way it's harder at the start, when Jim is still sufficiently lucid to know what's happening to his body and his mind. Watching Waters drag at Blair's head with a knuckled grip in his hair while jabbing the muzzle of a gun to Blair's temple ensures that Jim holds still for Corcoran and his hypodermic. Blair looks like he's one short gasp away from hyperventilation but he still spits out something about 'Mengele in a cheesy leather coat'. Maybe Corcoran gets the reference, maybe he doesn't, but he gets the tone. Blair gets a couple of kicks to his back that leave him arched in awkward, sweating pain, before he stumbles across the room to Jim. He can't do a thing, but he tries. His voice is terribly calm and even, telling Jim to breathe, just breathe, and Jim tries, he really tries, but should the walls be doing that? The walls shouldn't do that, right? Sandburg, they shouldn't do that.

Simon's (and Jim's) hope of an actual cop report is disappointed because Jim's memory stays fuzzy. The doctors aren't concerned by this. Memory loss and blackout are common when the brain is left adrift on a sea of foreign chemicals. Jim, however, feels vaguely cheated. Blair has helped Jim figure out a few things, and one of those things was that Jim doesn't forget things unless he wants to forget them. The shame of the loss of his men, and his confusion and disorientation in the jungle - yeah, that went. Finding Bud with his throat slit - oh god, yes, that got buried deep, as did his father's bewildering, scary strictures that Jim shouldn't be what he was. He forgot those things but he still acted on them.

When he doesn't want to forget, Jim has a good memory. Jim has a great memory - for faces, for event, for facts. It's not quite eidetic, but Jim is still very, very efficient at recall. Maybe too efficient - he sees, he hears, he feels. Memory can be too much like a flashback ambush.

The report that's put together from Blair's statement, and the statements from attending officers and Corcoran ought to be enough. But bald facts aren't enough and Blair isn't even trying to be patient with Jim anymore.

"Tell you what, Jim, how about I ask you some questions? You remember how that goes? Dissertation? I ask questions, you bitch about how you're not my lab rat. Both of us are happy."

"Are you getting help for that happiness thing delusion you're suffering, Chief?"

Blair flips a finger at him. "No delusion, Jim. You love bitching."

Blair pulls out the big guns - sarcasm becomes clearly the veneer over earnest pain. "I have gone over what happened with you about one hundred times, man, and I don't have any insights to offer. You were drugged and freaky, I was scared as hell, we both survived, even if that poor dumb bastard Murray didn't. And now, I would like to have the chance to do the manly thing and just not think about things, okay?"

"Are you saying that I'm not manly, Sandburg?" The tone is mockingly aghast, and Blair smiles at the concession. Jim is letting himself be diverted. Maybe he is being an ass-hole, but anxiety keeps gnawing at him. He ought to remember, damn it. He ought to, even if he doesn't know why.

"Totally letting down your macho side." Blair gets up from the chair by the table, and pats once, oddly tentative, at Jim's shoulder. "We're both okay and that's good. Let the bad guys beware, huh?" Then he's back at the table, pecking away at the laptop, squinting at the screen until he remembers his glasses; not looking at Jim at all.

There are words for what Jim feels in this instant - this never going to end, infinitely frustrating and scary instant that he doesn't know how to deal with. Disoriented. Manic. They're words, and words aren't anything Jim can use right now. His mouth is moving, his throat is vibrating and he doesn't have a clue what he's saying, or what Blair is saying. Blair has his hands out - entreating Jim to do something or not to do something, but all that Jim knows is that he's all wrong. Everything is wrong, sight is wrong and shutting his eyes does nothing. His skin is crawling, crawling, because there's something in his clothes. Lice; he tried in the jungle, but when you only have one set of clothes, the lice come and make a home. That's why his skin itches, and he throws his things off, and then he shudders as a tidal wave of goose-bumps inundates his skin. He's cold, but he can't bear his clothes, can't bear this, can't bear anything, can't bear the fright in Blair's voice, can't...

"I was thinking," Jim says, "that maybe you could do that meditation thing with me - like we did when we cleared Jack. Help me remember."

Blair looks wary. "I don't think that would work. With that message, okay, you didn't consciously remember it, but the information was there. Corcoran's drugs - they probably just wiped everything. Drugs do that."

Jim suppresses irritation. Drugs do that, sure, but he knows that it's there. He dreams sometimes. Snatches of memory come to him. He thinks that they're true memory. He can tie that moment to that bruise, that moment to that sentence of the report. But there are still too many moments that he can't tie to the report, and he can't tie Blair's reluctance to try this to the report either. Blair Sandburg reluctant to play around with Jim's abilities? Reluctant to go digging in Jim's brain? Now that's downright unnatural.

Jim dreamed a noise - a low, pained groan, and he can't place it. He can't place Blair's tension about Jim's continuing efforts to remember what happened, either.

"What aren't you telling me, Sandburg?"

Blair throws his arms into the air in utter exasperation. "Will you give me a break?"

'Long-haired pretty boy'. Was that Waters's voice, or Corcoran's voice? "Did those bastards throw sexual assault into the mix along with those little love-taps they gave you?" Jim's voice is ferocious, and Blair shrinks down, just for a second, before he smiles, and shakes his head.

"My virtue is safe, Jim." Blair's voice becomes bitter. "Waters and Corcoran were on that special place on the Kinsey scale where they got all the jollies they needed just smacking me around. And watching you freak out." Blair's fists are clenched. He looks at Jim and his face softens once more. "Look, Jim, I get why you want to remember. You're all about control, I know that, man. But even if you can remember, and I'm not entirely convinced that the capacity is there, do you really want to remember spiking like crazy, and tearing your clothes off because you think that you're crawling with insects,and all the crap that goes with an incredibly bad trip?"

"Did I hurt you?" The idea has been growing in Jim. The more that Blair dances around, the more that Jim thinks that this is the answer. Blair sketches a picture of Jim out of control, and Jim colours it in with the greens and greys of Blair's bruises.

Blair rolls his eyes. Outside is still exasperated. Inside, his heart is hammering. A light film of sweat covers his skin. "No, Jim. You did not hurt me."

"So why won't you help me with this?"

"You know, Jim, for a civilian guy, I think I deal pretty well with the ups and downs of crime. Guns, serial killers, generally hairy situations involving life and death." Blair raises a hand as Jim opens his mouth. "Let me finish here. Sometimes people react out of proportion to one situation because it's not just that situation, it's a reaction to other situations that have gone before. Well, I'm declaring this my out of proportion reaction. This is the time that I get to freak out, and declare certain things off-limits. This is the life and death straw that temporarily broke the camel's back, and you are just going to have to deal." Blair's voice has dropped. It's even and steady, the voice of a man who is keeping himself tightly on a leash, even when he's talking a mile a minute. Blair stands up, gathers up his belongings, marches into the refuge of his little bedroom and shuts the doors behind him.

Jim stares after him. Who needs x-ray vision when you have super-smell and super-hearing?

"Stop invading my fucking privacy, Ellison." Blair Sandburg knows Jim way too well.

Blair won't help him directly. God helps those who help themselves, though, and maybe Jim can help himself with just a little assistance from his own memory. Now there's an irony. How many times has Blair guided Jim through meditation and relaxation exercises? Blair has access to bio-feedback machines, the whole nine yards, and Jim can sit down and remember just how he felt during those exercises, just what he has to do to remember, how it feels when Blair's voice goes low and directed, and takes Jim down with it.

Jim is past knowing he's going crazy. Right now, he doesn't know anything at all; feeling is all he has left, and a driving need to escape from sensation that he can't understand or control.

The sound at least is manageable; it's low, comforting, vibrating with emotion that he can't process. Meaning isn't important. There's warmth, the ridge of a shirt placket and buttons against his cheek.

"Hey, hey, Jim? You're getting cold here, buddy. Want me to get your shirt?" The warmth shifts. The world is close to shifting with it, and Jim makes sound of his own, denial, and all is stillness again.

"Okay, okay. I get it. You're happy where you are right now."

Jim turns his head and catches a whiff of scent - dirt, urine, old food, chemicals. He wrinkles his nose and turns his head back to warmth and a better scent. Not perfect. He can smell fear and hurt, but it still smells familiar, safe. Concrete is hard and cold underneath his knees and he shivers. The shivers take on a life of their own, shaking up and down his skin, and not even the anchor he's found is enough to still them, no matter how hard he holds on.

"Jim, come on, you need your clothes, just let me shift here... Damn stubborn...god, I could kill that bastard...hey, it's okay. I won't move. Okay."

Something is touching Jim, hands on his back and shoulders, warming and soothing. "I am such a fucking idiot." There's more movement, but only minor and then a layer of heat descends on Jim. He flinches. "Shhhh, it's okay, just my shirt, you don't want yours, not like you can wear this, but it'll keep the drafts off you."

Perhaps Jim sleeps for a while. Perhaps he zones. There's a voice, not the comforting one. Jim aches to attack, to rend with his hands and his teeth, but his limbs are shaking too much. Finally the voice is gone. The shivers recede. Jim sleeps again and wakes to the anchor of scent and comfort once more. He stretches out his hand. Stubble against his palm, the weave of a thin t-shirt, the rising and falling of a chest as someone - Blair, that's right, Blair - breathes in and out. Hand on the roughness of denim, shape of a hip - and the rhythm of the breathing hitches into irregularity.

"Hey. Hey, buddy, that's maybe not a good idea. Come on, come on, Jim..." Blair shifts. "Ow." Wrong, wrong touch, but if Jim moves, if Jim does that - right, right touch. Blair whispers, "Don't, don't do this, Jim ... oh, oh, bad idea, Sandburg. Oh, damn." Scent is good; the scents of filth and hurt are pushed aside, ignorable. Touch is good, touch given as well as received. The only noise that comes from Blair now is his breathing, and one low groan. Not a sound of pain.

Jim stares unseeingly out the window. You wanted to remember, he reminds himself. Better be careful what you wish for. His head falls against the back of the couch once more, and he can hear Blair's voice, the two of them lying together on that filthy floor. "Don't remember this, god, please don't remember this," Blair's new mantra, while his hands tried to rub sense and feeling back into Jim's skin, keeping decorously, and far too late, to Jim's shoulders and hands and face.

Jim leans forward, head in his hands. His stomach is queasy and his skin is covered in sweat. "That's some pile of dirt you've been trying to sweep under the rug, Sandburg."

He needs a beer. Maybe it'll push down or flush away that something in Jim's gut that wants to come up. He goes to the fridge, gets a bottle, opens it. The condensation makes it feel greasy in his hands, so he needs to take a good grip when he throws it against the wall. Glass shards and beer cascade down, and the pattern they make on the floor is almost pretty.

Blair pokes his head of his room. "Jim? What happened?" He takes one look at Jim standing in the kitchen and then takes a couple of steps like a condemned man shuffling forward to the electric chair.

"Looks like I made a mess," Jim says.

"Yeah," Blair breathes. He heads for the closet where Jim keeps the pan and broom and all those other little items that you need to keep things clean and tidy. Jim leans against the kitchen island and watches while Blair carefully sweeps up the mess and mops up the spilled liquid.

"Your mantra didn't work, Sandburg."

Blair is wrapping the broken shards of glass in an old newspaper. His head is bent low, giving the task the kind of attention he usually reserves for ugly statues and urns. "What?" he asks.

Jim's voice is quite different in timbre to Blair's, but he gets the inflection just right. "Don't remember this, god, please don't remember this."

"Oh, shit."

"You're a good teacher. All that meditation and bio-feedback. Useful stuff." Jim swallows. His hands are hot and his face is cold; although his face isn't as cold as his voice. "Do you think you ever would have said anything? If I hadn't remembered on my own?"

"No." Blair's looking into Jim's face, and his jaw is set so hard it's a wonder to Jim that he can get the word out.

"Well, thank you so fucking much there, Chief. It's good to know that your friends will tell you the important things."

Blair turns his head then. "Look, I'm sorry."

"You just hoped that I wouldn't remember any of it."

Colour blossoms in Blair's face, red anger. "Fuck you, Jim. It's not like I purposely slipped you some hypnotic roofies. I just..." He shrugs and Jim can nearly hear Blair's shoulders creak with the effort.

"You just would have preferred that I forget all about it. Nice. Let's not mention that I fucking molested you! Jeez, what a good friend you are."

"That's right, Jim, that's what I was trying to be, because it wasn't your fault and you weren't responsible for what happened. I'd rather spare some anger for the evil piece of shit who drugged you for fun and profit in the first place."

Jim watches Blair, who looks about ready to bolt. Where to, Jim doesn't know, and right now he's undecided about whether he should let Blair go, stand aside and watch him leave in a cloud of dust. Off into the sunset, never to be seen again.

"Good job on the obfuscation. Never a lie. You were right. I didn't hurt you." Something nasty worms its way up Jim's throat with the words, and leaves a bitter taste in his mouth, reminiscent of the musky scent of semen on Blair's clothes.

Blair's chin jerks up then. "Shooting the messenger? That I didn't expect. Maybe I should have. Yeah, I came, man; and so did you."

"Why the hell didn't you tell me?" Jim roars.

"Why the hell do you think!" Blair shouts right back. "Because there was no fucking point, because you didn't remember, and it wasn't - your - fault. Damn it!" Blair's waving his arms around again. "Do you want me out of here?"

That stops Jim in his tracks. Momentum is a bitch and so is emotional whip-lash. "Do you want to go?"

"I asked first," Blair snaps, like they're both eight years old and establishing the playground rules. "Do you want me out of here?"

"No." Why should Blair lose his home because of something that Jim did? Why should Blair go? Oh, yeah. Because Jim humped all over him in some drug-induced trip. Who's the dog with a table leg now, Ellison? "No, I don't want you out of here. But I'd understand why you'd want to go."

Exhausted suddenly, Jim slumps down in a chair by the table.

Blair stays standing. "Well, I don't want to go either. But I'd understand why you might want me to leave." He takes a huge breath. Meditational control is clearly on hiatus right now. Then he sits down in the chair opposite Jim and hides his face in the cradle that his arms make on the table. "You wanted to know. Happy now?"

The truth shall set you free. Except that Jim doesn't feel free so much as he feels exposed and abandoned. "I'm sorry," he says to Blair, and he means it desperately.

Blair's head stays down, but one arm rises briefly into the vertical and a hand waves in surrender. "It's okay. You weren't responsible. And as you so cogently pointed out, you did not hurt me." Blair's voice is muffled, but Jim can hear the shame.

"You weren't responsible either."

Blair's head lifts; his shoulders hunch defensively. "I wasn't out of my head, man." He's pale, and he looks tired, and Jim can see about a hundred colours in his hair.

"I know." Jim could offer a load of bull-shit about stimulation and involuntary response and the need for comfort and release in a stressful and dangerous situation. It would all be true but it wouldn't be the whole truth, and Jim's always believed that a truth has to be whole to be worth anything. "When it - when it was happening, what I remember is that it felt right. Emotionally speaking. It felt right." Maybe it felt right, but he thinks he must sound like a moron. A moron who's wandering in a mine-field.

Blair's staring at him. "That sounds vaguely reassuring, but not very clear."

"I'm sorry that I freaked."

"Why do you think I didn't say anything?" There's a pale imitation of a smile on Blair's face. "Too busy dealing with my own freak-out."

"Yeah." Jim tries to marshal some clear-headed thought. Blair was too busy dealing with his own freak-out; sure. But he was also dealing with his freak-out over Jim's potential freak-out too. "Maybe I was getting ready to shoot the messenger, you know?"

"Because that message was kind of scary?" Blair's gaze flicks from Jim to his own arms folded in front of him on the table. Jim sees the aborted movement, the twitch as if Blair was thinking about moving his hand. He reaches one hand across the table, and after a small hesitation, Blair rests his hand on top of Jim's.

"Just promise me that you won't talk this to death," Jim asks.

Blair's eyebrow rises. "Jim, we haven't even established which this it is that I'm not supposed to talk to death. And five minutes ago you were ready to have my hide because I didn't talk. You have to make up your mind."

Jim twists his wrist so that their hands rest palm to palm. "What about your mind?"

"Well, my mind was thinking that you were going to freak out and kick my ass, but I guess one out of two is better than I expected." Blair's fingers close against Jim's wrist. "A lot better. I've been remembering longer than you. And the situation totally sucked, but the touching..." Blair's face quirks in irritation - at himself, Jim presumes. "The sex felt right. Taking into account that it was bad, trippy, Corcoran is probably going to come back soon and shoot us and dump us in Puget Sound, sex."

"So what you're saying is that we could probably do better?"

Blair's face does that thing where his expression goes all over the place. Jim can only assume that it's symbolic of space being made for new ideas.

"It seems likely," Blair says cautiously; he's a man turning over a bright, shiny hypothesis.

"Okay," Jim says. "I guess I can stand some talking." And some of that talking will be about Blair not hiding things that Jim thinks that he ought to know. He's still angry about that, he realises.

But the other thing is that they're still - well - they're also still holding hands. Right touch.


Right Memory by Mab: