Masks: Part 3

Blair sat in Dr. Hawthorne's waiting room, trying to read over his notes. He couldn't concentrate. Every time he looked at the page, he saw Ponytail's face, heard Ponytail's voice--Jim's voice--spouting filth or whispering promises of pain. He sprang to his feet, pacing the room, but it didn't help. He couldn't drive the images away, couldn't shut the voice out. Thank God this hadn't happened while he was teaching this morning. If he'd lost it in the lecture hall, he could never have faced his students again. It had been hard enough as it was, and they had no idea what had happened to him. As far as anyone at the University knew, he'd been sick for the last month. He'd known that going in, but some unreasoning voice within him had insisted that they knew the truth, that their eyes would be fixed on him not because they were paying attention, but because they found him disgusting, or pathetic. They would stare at him, and then they would get up and leave, walk out rather than be taught by him. That hadn't happened, of course. Except for a few expressions of welcome, or sympathy for his illness, the students had behaved no differently than they always did. After the first minutes of utter panic, he'd gotten through the class with no trouble. He just wished things had gone that well at the station yesterday.

The office door opened. A woman emerged, fortyish, with greying brown hair smoothly styled, and warm brown eyes. She wore a classically-cut suit in a soft blue, and a silver pin centered with ever-changing images of stars and planets.

"Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair approached her, shook her outstretched hand. "Um, yeah. Blair. Hi."

"I'm Alice Hawthorne." Her handshake was firm, her skin cool. His own was sweaty, but she gave no indication of noticing. "Come in. Sit anywhere you like."

Blair entered the office, looking around. It was furnished in cool shades, blues and greens, the creamy walls papered in what looked like a pattern of woven grass. She had a desk of dark wood with a couple of chairs in front of it, the couch you always heard about, and three armchairs, cushioned and comfortable. Plants lined the walls and sat on tables: African violets, philodendrons, more exotic types he couldn't recall the names of. He half-expected to hear bird calls, or the chattering of monkeys.

"Whoa," he joked. "It's a jungle in here."

Dr. Hawthorne smiled. "It seems that way sometimes. They just won't stop growing, and people keep giving me more. Would you like coffee? Or tea? I've got a lovely herbal blend from Brazil. It's very soothing."

"Um, that sounds great. Thanks."

The doctor disappeared into a side room, and Blair heard cups clinking. He chose one of the armchairs and sat down, glancing around. Drums and flutes played faintly in the background, in a rhythm that was familiar to him. She must be playing a tape, but he couldn't see a stereo or any speakers. God. Brazilian tea, Peruvian music--had she set this all up just for him? Did she do this for all her patients? How much had Jim told her about him?

Blair's heart began to pound. How could he do this? How could he sit here and tell this woman--this stranger--about himself, about what had happened to him, never knowing how much she already knew, what judgments she'd already made? God, he couldn't. Blair shot to his feet. He couldn't stay here--

The panther paced in front of the door, sleek black coat a shadow among shadows, golden eyes gleaming. Blair stopped, frozen in place. He glanced toward the other room. If Dr. Hawthorne came out now, would she see the panther? What would she do if she did? How would he explain it? He looked back: the panther was gone.

Blair sat down again, set his pack on the floor. Jim had said to do what the panther told him. He'd never seen it while he was awake, except for that night in the attic, and he hadn't been sure, then, that it was real. If it had taken the trouble to appear to him now, here, then it must seriously want him to stay. So okay, he'd stay. He wasn't about to argue with a 200 pound cat, real or not.

"Here we are."

Dr. Hawthorne came back in, carrying a tray holding a ceramic teapot and matching cups in mossy shades of green. Blair stood at her entrance and remained standing until the doctor had seated herself in one of the other armchairs. She handed him a cup, and he sat back, trying to relax, cradling the cup between his hands.

"Well, Blair." Dr. Hawthorne settled back with her own cup. "You know why you're here. Do you know what to expect?"

"Um, you want me to talk," he said, studying the incised leaf-pattern on his cup. "About what happened."

"Yes. About that, and about you. We're going to work together to help you deal with the rape, and with what's happening to you now as a result."

"What's happening now?"

She nodded. "Rape is a devastating violation, Blair. It causes psychological injuries as well as physical, which can take a long time to heal. You don't see things the way you did before--even simple, everyday things. So much reminds you, so much frightens you. It can make you unable to function, make you doubt your sanity. Many survivors of rape blame themselves for what happened. It's wrong--rape is never the fault of the victim, no matter what the circumstances--but they can't help it. My job is to help them--to help you--work through all this, and more. And yes, you do need to talk to me, because if you don't, I can't tell how to help. Are you okay with this, Blair?"

He shrugged. "I guess so."

Dr. Hawthorne leaned forward slightly. "I know it isn't easy. Talking about it will hurt. But it's the only way to help you, and I am going to help you, Blair. I want you to trust me. Do you think you can do that?"

"I don't know. I'll try."

"Good." Dr. Hawthorne sat back again, and sipped her tea. "Why don't you tell me a little about yourself?"

"Like what?"

"Whatever you want."

"Well, I'm an anthropologist." Blair gestured vaguely with the cup. "But you know that, right? And you know that I work with Jim Ellison, as a civilian observer. What else is there?"

"I don't know much about you personally. What about your family?"

Blair stiffened. "What about them?"

"Are your parents living? Do you have any siblings?"

"Yes."

"Have you told them what happened to you?"

"No."

"Why not?"

Blair shook his head. "I don't want to talk about them. They have nothing to do with--with what happened."

"All right. What do you want to talk about?"

A shrug. Blair knew he was being uncooperative, but he couldn't help it. He didn't want to do this. He didn't want to be here, talking to this woman. She wanted him to bare his soul, and he couldn't do it. He sipped his tea, concentrating on that so he wouldn't have to look at her, wouldn't have to think.

"Jim said you were quite a talker. Never at a loss for words."

He didn't know whether to laugh or get mad. "Jim doesn't know everything."

"Does anyone?"

"I thought you did," Blair shot back. Dr. Hawthorne just looked at him. Blair ducked his head, feeling a blush creep over his face. "Sorry. I don't mean to be a jerk. I'm--really nervous."

"That's okay. It's allowed." Dr. Hawthorne drank some tea, and Blair followed suit. "Blair, I have to ask you: Have you been tested for STD's?"

"ST--" Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Like syphilis, herpes--or AIDS. Oh God. "No. No, I--I never thought..."

Dr. Hawthorne picked up a prescription pad from the table next to her chair, scribbled something on the top sheet, tore it off and handed it to him. "There's probably nothing to worry about, but I want to make sure. I'd like you to have a blood test tomorrow. The minute the results are in, I'll call you. All right?"

Blair nodded. He couldn't find words. He couldn't think. Didn't want to think.

"You look tired," Dr. Hawthorne said. "Have you been sleeping?"

It took a minute for the question to penetrate. Sleeping. Had he been sleeping? "Some," he said. Just not last night. "I have--um--I have nightmares."

She nodded. "That's to be expected. Are you having flashbacks, too?"

"Yeah. They were pretty much gone while I was at St. Sebastian's, but when I--when I got back, they started again."

"That's normal, too. You were attacked in your home. Returning to the apartment triggered your memories. Almost anything can, I'm afraid. A sound, a scent--anything that reminds you of the attack."

"For how long?"

"It could be years. It could be--and this is only in extreme cases--it could be for the rest of your life."

"God." Blair pushed the hair back from his face. "God, it can't. I can't go the rest of my life having flashbacks every time I see--"

"Every time you see what?" Dr. Hawthorne asked. He shook his head, unable to answer, but she wouldn't give up. "Blair? Every time you see what?"

He had to force the word, from a throat so tight he could only whisper. "Jim."





Blair came in at 8:30. He dropped his keys in the basket, closed the door, and took a deep breath. Jim knew what he was smelling: garlic, hot oil, the more subtle scent of Parmesan. Linguini with white clam sauce was one meal they could both agree on. Jim didn't want any arguments tonight.

"Hey, Partner," he said, stirring the sauce. "How'd it go?"

"Okay," Blair answered, his automatic response to everything these days. Jim learned quickly. If he waited long enough, the truth might come out. "It was kind of intense. I've gotta go back Thursday."

"Dr. Hawthorne's okay, huh?"

"Yeah, she's nice. And she's honest." Blair shook his head. "This isn't going to be easy."

"You knew that going in."

"Yeah, but knowing it and going through it are two different things." Blair fixed his gaze on the counter, using his finger to trace a pattern of spilled olive oil. "When I first got in there, I panicked big time. I almost ran."

"What stopped you?"

Blair's finger stilled, his body tensing. "The panther."

The sauce was neglected. "In the doctor's office?"

Blair nodded. "He didn't want me to leave."

"Did he speak to you?"

"No. But the message was pretty clear."

"Did you tell Dr. Hawthorne he was there?"

Sandburg looked at him like he'd lost his mind. "No, man, I couldn't tell her that. You didn't tell her about him, did you?"

"No. I didn't want to put any more strain on her credulity."

"You mean, you didn't want her to think you were nuts."

"That, too."

"Your cheese is sticking," Blair pointed out.

"Huh? Oh, damn." Jim went back to stirring, and scraping melted cheese off the bottom of the pan. "Dinner in five, Sandburg."

Dinner went smoothly. They discussed Jim's cases and Blair's class, safe topics that weren't likely to stir up any bad memories for Blair. For that reason, Jim tried to steer the conversation more toward Blair's doings at Rainier, but Blair insisted on hearing the details of every case Jim was working on. Fortunately, there was nothing too gruesome. Blair heard it all without flinching or getting that trapped, terrified, blind stare that meant he was flashing back. He offered some suggestions that were right on the money, and managed to look directly at Jim without the hesitation Jim had learned to expect. He smiled a few times, and even cracked a couple of bad jokes. Jim smiled to himself. If one visit to Dr. Hawthorne had helped this much, Blair would be his old self again in no time.

"So, Partner, you think you can help me out tomorrow?" he asked.

A wariness entered Blair's clear gaze. "How?"

"I've gotta visit that art gallery about the masks. I'd appreciate it if you'd come along and look around, maybe talk to the employees. You know a lot more about this stuff than I do. I can ask the cop questions, but I need somebody to ask the right questions about the masks."

Blair relaxed. "Sure, Jim."

"Great. I've gotta go to the station first. Is that going to be a problem?"

Blair was suddenly concentrating on his fork. "No, Jim. No problem."

No sense challenging him. It would only start a fight. Trying to lighten things up, he said, "Sandy Kolchak was looking for you today."

The fork clattered to his plate. Blair pushed the hair away from his face. "God, Jim, give it a rest, will you?"

Jim held up his hands. "Hey, sorry. I'm just passing the message along."

"Yeah." Blair picked up his fork again. "Okay. Sure." He twirled linguini on his fork, and left it there, staring at it. He had to try three times before he got the words out. "Jim, I'm not ready."

"For Sandy?"

"For any woman. It's too soon. I can't--I--" Blair shook his head, unable to finish. "Don't push me, okay, man?"

"Okay, Partner."

They got through the rest of dinner without a disaster. Blair did the dishes, then went to his room with a pot of some weird, twiggy tea, and turned some music on. Jim could hear it in the living room, but it was fairly mild stuff, without the driving drumbeat behind most of Blair's preferred music, so he let it go without complaint. He watched television for a while, then went to bed and fell asleep to the piping of wooden flutes.





"No! Jim!"

Jim's eyes snapped open, his limbs paralyzed while his ears tried to identify the sound that had woken him. The clock on his nightstand read 2:13.

"Jim!"

Blair. Jesus, Blair. Snatching the gun from beneath his pillow, Jim rolled out of bed and padded barefoot down the stairs. Rain made it dark--too dark to make out anything but shapes. Nothing moved. There was nothing that didn't belong. He heard Blair's heartbeat, his own, no one else. They were alone in the loft.

"No! Please, Jim. Please, don't!"

There was a light on in Sandburg's room. Jim opened the door, cautiously, not entirely trusting his Sentinel hearing. Blair lay on the bed, eyes closed, his body immobilized by nightmare.

"God, stop! Please!"

Christ, what should he do? If he shook Blair awake, he'd only terrify him. But he couldn't do nothing while Blair was tortured by the nightmare. Bad enough that it had happened, without Blair having to live through it all again in his dreams. Jim set his gun on the floor, and approached the bed.

"Sandburg," he called. Louder. "Sandburg!"

No response. Blair was moaning now, wordless, his face twisted in agony. He couldn't let this go on. Blair would get over his fright sooner than the nightmare would let him go. Sweat ran into Jim's eyes. He wiped it away, reached down to grip Blair's shoulder, and shook him.

"Sandburg, wake up! Come on, kid!"

Blair's eyes flew open, a great gasp of air filling his lungs. Jim let go immediately, but it wasn't fast enough. Blair cried out and flung himself away, trying to get off the bed, but he was so tangled up in sheets and blankets that he couldn't get free. Jim held his hands out to his sides, speaking as calmly as he could.

"Sandburg, it's okay. You had another nightmare. You're awake now, it's okay."

Blair stopped fighting the covers and stared at him, emotions chasing each other across his face too fast for Jim to identify. "Oh, God." He buried his face in his hands. "Oh, God, Jim, I'm sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry about, Partner," Jim said gently.

"You don't understand!"

"Then explain it to me."

"I--" Blair looked at him, and away again, whispering, "I can't."

"Blair, you're not responsible for your nightmares."

"I--know."

"You don't sound convinced."

Blair's bleak stare was directed at something Jim couldn't see. "I'm just tired. I'd like to go back to sleep."

"So would I. But I don't think that's gonna happen for a while."

"Sorry, man."

"Dammit, Sandburg, quit blaming yourself for everything!"

Big mistake. Blair jerked back as if Jim had hit him, terror flashing through his eyes. He recovered almost instantly, and flushed deep red, staring down at the bedclothes. Jim cursed himself. Every time he tried to help, it seemed he only made things worse. Now Blair was afraid of him, and he didn't know what to do. It was all that bastard Ponytail's fault. He should've killed the son of a bitch when he had the chance. Hell, he never should've let him get his hands on Blair in the first place. Blair was his partner; he was supposed to watch out for him. He was doing a lousy job of it. First Lash got him, then Ponytail, and they both came right into the loft to get him, the one place where Blair should be safe. And he hadn't been here. He was never here when Blair really needed him. And now on top of everything else, he yelled at the poor kid. He couldn't stand being the cause of the fear in those eyes.

"I'm sorry, Partner," he said quietly. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"It's not your fault, man," Blair said to the blankets.

"This time, it is. I shouldn't have yelled at you. I just get so mad when I see you trying to take the blame for what that bastard did to you. Not mad at you; it just comes out that way, and I'm sorry." Blair didn't move. Jim took a step closer to the bed. "Sandburg, look at me."

Blair raised his eyes.

"None of this is your fault. Not what he did to you, and not anything that's happened after. It's all his fault. All of it. Do you understand that?"

Blair nodded hesitantly.

"There's two things I have to tell you, Blair. I should've told you before now, but--well--dammit, you know how I am with this stuff. I just kept hoping you'd know without me having to actually say it. But that wasn't fair to you. You can't be expected to read my mind all the time. So, here goes.

"First, I would never hurt you. Ever."

"I know that," Blair said softly.

"Maybe. But it had to be said anyway. Second--" Jim took a breath. "Blair, I will do whatever it takes to help you get through this. Anything you want, anything you need. Just tell me, Partner, and you've got it. Okay?"

Blair nodded. His throat worked, but he didn't speak, and his gaze was fixed once more on the bedclothes. Tears glistened in the corners of his eyes. Jim pretended not to notice.

"So, whaddaya say, Partner? How about a peanut butter and sprout on whole wheat?"

Blair looked up. "Now?"

"Sure, why not? My mother always says, 'When you're up, eat.'"

Sandburg shrugged. "Okay, man."

He untangled himself from the bedclothes and followed Jim into the kitchen. They were halfway through a sandwich and a glass of milk each, when Blair glanced up with a look in his eye that Jim had seen too many times.

"So, Jim, tell me something, man."

He braced himself. "What?"

"Just exactly how much does your mother weigh?"

 

End Part 3

Part 4