Masks: Part 15

"You're not nervous, are you, Jim?"

"No."

Blair was on his feet, pacing the waiting room. He'd sat down for about two seconds when they first came in; since then, he'd been moving. Jim sat in one of the chairs, watching him.

Blair hadn't said a word about last night's episode with the scrub brush. He didn't even seem to have noticed the towels on the living room floor this morning. Maybe the kid didn't remember it. But Jim did, and the more he thought about it, the more it disturbed him.

Blair glanced at him, pushed his hair back. His heart was going a mile a minute. "'Cause there's nothing to be nervous about. We're just gonna talk."

"I know, Sandburg." Hoping to calm the kid down, he added, "I've done this before."

That stopped him. "You have? When?"

"Every time I shoot someone in the line of duty. When I came back from Peru. And--" Might as well tell him now. "While you were at St. Sebastian's."

Blair sank into the chair beside Jim, turning to face him. "Why?"

Damn. He shouldn't have brought it up. This was not going to help. But he wouldn't lie to the kid. "You remember what happened when Danny Choi was killed?"

"Yeah, your senses kept cutting out on you, because--" The puppy-dog eyes locked on his. "Oh, Jim, it happened again? Because of me?"

Jim shook his head. "Not because of you, Blair. Because of what happened to you. Because I couldn't stop it."

"But you did stop it, Jim."

"Not until after he'd--hurt you. And I was almost too late."

"But you weren't too late, man, you saved my life. Again. Jim, you can't feel responsible for what he did."

Jim almost smiled. "Wanna bet?"

Blair shifted gears into Guide mode. Jim could see the transformation of his features, from scared kid to brainy anthropologist. "Your senses aren't still going out on you, are they?"

He did smile then. "No, Doctor Sandburg, they're fine now."

Another shift. Rare anger sparked in the blue eyes, lightning in a clear sky. "When were you planning on telling me about this?"

"I just did."

"Jim--"

"Blair, you had enough to worry about. I didn't want to add anything else. Okay?"

Blair heaved a sigh. "Okay."

Which meant it wasn't. Dammit.

The door opened, and Doctor Hawthorne came out. She wore a deep green jacket, and a long skirt of the same green, patterned with violets. Jim instantly thought of camouflage. He and Blair rose, and Dr. Hawthorne smiled.

"Blair," she said. "Jim, I'm glad you came. Come in."

Blair went in first, and laid claim to one of the chairs. Jim took the chair opposite him.

"Did you think I wouldn't come, Doc?" he asked.

"Blair thought you might be a little uncomfortable with the idea," she said. "Would you gentlemen like coffee, or tea?"

"Coffee," Jim replied, at the same moment that Blair said, "Tea, please."

Dr. Hawthorne just smiled. Minutes later, they all had their respective beverages, and Dr. Hawthorne was seated on the couch. Blair kicked off his shoes and drew his legs up in the lotus position. Jim sat with both feet on the floor. He wasn't particularly thrilled about being here--he'd never really been comfortable in therapy, though he had to admit it had helped him--but if this was what Blair needed, he'd do it for as long as he had to.

Dr. Hawthorne got things started. While she talked, Blair closed his eyes, breathing deeply, trying to calm himself. His heart slowed down a little, but not much. God, what was the kid afraid of?

"Jim, I asked Blair to invite you here tonight because I've received the impression that you're finding it hard to be completely honest with each other. Blair's rape and the subsequent attacks were traumatic for both of you. More so for Blair, of course, but you are both in the process of recovery. During this period, you share many of the same feelings. Articulating them can be difficult, particularly when you have the added burden of wishing to spare each other pain."

Jim frowned. "Are you saying we're so worried about hurting each other that we lie?"

"Not lie, necessarily. Hold things back. Hesitate. I suggested to Blair that you might find it easier to be open with each other in a neutral setting."

"With a referee, in case things get rough."

"And also to get the ball rolling," she added.

Jim nodded. It made sense. If he knew Dr. Hawthorne, she already had plans for them, something to do with exploring their feelings. Just the kind of stuff he hated. He'd do it. But first--

"Before we do anything else, Doc, there's something I need to ask Blair about."

Blair's eyes flew open, his expression so alarmed that Jim had all he could do not to reach out to him. "What is it, Jim?"

"Do you remember seeing me when I got home last night, Partner?"

Blair shrugged, the alarm only slightly lessened. "Sure, Jim. You woke me up from a nightmare."

"Before that."

"Before?" Blair shook his head, glancing at Dr. Hawthorne. "No, man, I was asleep."

Damn. This was going to terrify the kid. But he had to say it. "Blair, when I got home last night, you were in the living room, trying to scrub a bloodstain that isn't there out of the rug."

Blair's mouth dropped open, and he started to shake his head, his eyes focused somewhere in the distance. Dr. Hawthorne called him, and he blinked, turning to look at her.

"It's all right, Blair," she said. "It sounds like you were walking in your sleep." She shifted her gaze to Jim. "Was he aware of you?"

"No. His eyes were open, but he didn't see me. He answered me when I talked to him, though, and did what I told him. I wasn't sure what to do, so I tried to play along with him until I could get him back into bed."

"When you spoke to him, what did he say?"

"He was upset--scared. Of me." Blair winced, his gaze fixed now on the floor. Jim continued. "He kept saying he had to clean up the blood, or I'd be mad at him."

"Blair, do you remember this at all?" Dr. Hawthorne asked.

"No."

"Do you have a history of sleepwalking?"

"No. I don't--I don't think so." He raised his eyes to hers. "Will I do it again?"

"You might. Situations of extreme stress can cause episodes like the one Jim described."

"I know what caused it," Jim said. "Blair was robbed at gunpoint last night. The thief took some evidence he was carrying. Blair blamed himself, and was afraid I'd blame him too. I'm ashamed to say that he was right."

"No, Jim," Blair said softly. "It was my fault."

Jim closed his eyes for a moment. "Blair, listen to me. It was not your fault. You should never have had to handle that evidence alone. And it won't happen again. Next time you call me, I guarantee you'll get through. But that's not the point, here. The point is that you were so afraid of me you walked in your sleep and then you had a nightmare about me killing you."

"It was just a nightmare, Jim," Blair said hastily. "It doesn't mean--"

"It wasn't the first one," Jim said, determined to have it all out. "You've had other nightmares about me, worse than that. God, Blair, I've heard you. You scream my name, and beg me to stop. No matter what I say or do, you still think I'm going to hurt you, don't you?"

"No, Jim." Blair shook his head, but wouldn't look at him. "No."

"Yes you do."

"No! You don't understand."

"Then tell me, Partner." Jim leaned forward in his chair, as close as he dared to get. "Right here, right now. Explain it to me. Please."

"I can't, Jim," Blair whispered. He was trembling, and there were tears in his eyes. "You'll hate me."

"Because of your nightmares? Blair, how big a jerk do you think I am?"

"I don't. I don't think that."

"Then tell me."

A breath. "I can't."

"Blair, look at me. Come on, Partner. It's me, it's Jim, your Blessed Protector, remember?"

Blair closed his eyes and threw back his head. Tears slid down his face. Slowly, the blue eyes opened and met Jim's. Jim made his voice as gentle as possible.

"Blair, whatever it is, you can tell me. I won't get mad. I won't hate you. You've trusted me with your life, Partner. Trust me with this."

Blair opened his mouth, and looked away from him again. He bit his lip, and Jim watched his chest rise and fall, his nostrils dilated as though he were in physical pain. Minutes passed before he managed to speak.

"I--I've been dreaming about--the attacks. Sometimes, it's like--reliving them. Everything's exactly the same. Other times, it's different. Instead of ending, they go on. Or it'll be happening someplace else. Or--" Blair fought to get the words out. "Or instead of Ponytail r--raping--me...."

"It's me," Jim finished for him. Oh, God. No wonder. No wonder Blair was so terrified every time he woke him from a nightmare. The nightmares were all about him.

"I'm sorry!" Blair choked. "God, Jim, I'm so--sorry."

"No," Jim said, shaking his head. "No, Blair, there's nothing to be sorry for. God, kid, it's not your fault."

Blair stared at him. "You don't--you don't mind?"

"Of course I mind." Jim bowed his head, and ran his hands over his face. His leg muscles tensed, wanting to get up, but he forced himself to stay seated, and to keep his voice quiet. "I hate that you're having these dreams, Blair. I hate that you're afraid of me because that--bastard--stole my face when he hurt you. I don't think I've ever been so angry. About anything. But I'm angry at him, Blair, not at you. If I had him here now, I'd--" His fists were clenched so hard they were shaking. Jim forced his hands open, rubbed them on his knees. "He took your trust away from me."

"God, I knew you'd think that!"

"Because it's true, Blair. I know you still trust me with your life. You trust me not to hurt you physically. But you thought I'd hate you because of these nightmares. You didn't trust me to understand."

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault. Ponytail did this to you--to us. We're just going to have to work through it. I want you to understand that you can tell me anything--absolutely anything--and I won't hate you. I might get mad--hell, I'll probably get mad--but I'll never hate you. You're my partner, kid. You're stuck with me."

Blair gave him a small smile, his voice soft. "Thanks, Jim."

Blair's heartbeat was slowing to normal, but he needed time to compose himself. Jim looked away from him, giving him as much privacy as he could. Dr. Hawthorne gathered up the teapot and cups and disappeared into the kitchen area. She returned a few minutes later with fresh coffee and tea. By that time, Blair was pretty much recovered.

"So, what now?" he asked, pouring himself a cup of the fragrant tea.

"Now, we'll go over the ground rules for some discussions you can have at home. I'd like you to talk to each other every day, if possible. And before you tell me you do, I don't mean talking about police work or school work or what you want for dinner. I mean honest, open discussion of your feelings. You've made an excellent start tonight. I'll give you a list of assignments you can try until you're comfortable enough to broach any subject either of you needs to discuss."

Jim held up his hands. "Whoa, Doc: assignments? Are you talking about emotional homework, here?"

Dr. Hawthorne smiled. "That's an apt description."

"I dunno, Doc. I'm not good with that New Age, touchy-feely crap."

"Then you'll be pleased to know that these are proven aids to therapy that have been accepted practices for decades. You don't have to do them, of course, but I believe some structured assignments would make it easier for both of you; at least, in the beginning."

Jim looked to Blair. "What do you think, Partner?"

"We don't have to do it if you don't want to, Jim," Blair answered. But his eyes sent a different message, one Jim couldn't ignore.

"Okay, we'll try it."

Dr. Hawthorne gave them a list of rules, which mostly had to do with agreeing that neither of them should feel guilty about what Ponytail had done, a requirement Jim wasn't sure he could live up to. Dr. Hawthorne had helped him tone down those feelings when he was seeing her--it was guilt that had made his senses cut out on him, just like it had been when Danny was killed--but they hadn't gone away completely, and he wasn't sure they ever would. Even though he knew it was impossible, that he couldn't have anticipated Ponytail, he still felt like he should have done something to prevent Blair's rape. But he agreed to the rules, as did Blair, though the kid blushed and wouldn't look at either Jim or the doctor.

"So, are we about done here, Doc?" Jim asked.

"Not yet, Jim. You asked your question earlier. Now it's Blair's turn. Blair, do you have anything you want to ask Jim?"

"Um, yeah." Blair turned his teacup around and around in his hands. He raised his eyes to Jim's. "But, Jim, you've gotta promise to be honest with me, man. No trying to spare my feelings. Okay?"

"Blair, I--"

"Jim, please. I need to know the truth."

"All right. I promise. Go ahead."

Despite his promise, Blair hesitated, finding new fascination in the cup. When he spoke, it was in a rush. "Do you ever think about getting another partner?"

Jim almost laughed. "Another one? I've got all I can do to handle you."

"No, man." Blair was blushing again. "I meant, instead of me."

"Why would I want to do that?"

"Come on, Jim, I'm an embarrassment. I can't even take care of myself. I can't watch your back the way another cop would."

"No," Jim agreed. "You watch my back better than another cop would. You help me to use these Sentinel senses, and you keep me from zoning out. No one else could do that. Okay, so you've gotten into some situations you couldn't get out of on your own. So have I. All cops do, that's why we have partners. As far as taking care of yourself, I've seen you do it plenty of times. So you use ingenuity instead of your fists, or a gun. Believe me, Blair, I'll take a partner with a brain over one with a gun any day."

"You will?" Blair asked.

"Yep."

"So, you don't want another partner?"

Jim rolled his eyes heavenward. "No, Sandburg, I don't want another partner. I've got a partner. He's a smartass kid, but I think I can make something out of him. You got that?"

"Yeah." Blair was grinning. "I got it."

"Good."

"Very good," Dr. Hawthorne echoed, smiling. "There's one more thing I'd like to work on tonight, if you're willing."

They gave her their full attention.

"Blair's nightmares are causing you both a great deal of stress. There's a technique called controlled dreaming that allows the dreamer to end unpleasant dreams, or even to program the subject of the dreams before going to sleep. Eventually, Blair, you may be able to do that yourself. But right now, the trauma of the rape is still too recent. What I'd like to do is teach Jim to help you to switch the nightmares off, or to wake you up without having to touch you."

"How?" Jim asked. "I've tried calling him, but it just doesn't do it. I end up having to shake him, and it scares him."

"If this works, all you'll need is a code word, which you'll repeat until Blair comes out of the nightmare."

"If it works?"

"This method requires a great deal of trust on Blair's part, which might not be possible in this situation. Ponytail mimicked your voice as well as your appearance. If the sound of your voice reminds him of the attacks, this won't work."

Jim turned to Blair. "It's up to you, Partner."

"I'd like to try it," he said. "How do we pick the code word?"

"You choose it," Dr. Hawthorne answered. "It should be a word that reminds you of a time when you felt peaceful, calm, happy, and safe. When Jim says the word, it should trigger those feelings again."

"Just make sure it's something I can pronounce," Jim said.

"Okay. Let me think for a minute." Blair closed his eyes, leaning back in the chair. A slow smile spread across his face. "Got it."

"Well, come on, Darwin, what is it?" Jim asked.

Blair opened his eyes, the smile still illuminating his face. "Transcendent."

 

End Part 15

Part 16