A sharp explosion of pain in Cabanela's chest drove him to his knees. It faded as quickly as it came and brought with it a very different kind of pain. A sudden absence. A gaping hole ripped wide open where a presence so natural it was a part of him should have been.
And another pain washed over him, a mirror to his own. Shock, loss, confusion.
Her name slipped from his mouth like a death knell. "Alma…"
He had no idea how long he was frozen to his floor, stunned, before he forced himself up and flung himself at his phone.
The endless silence on the other end of the line was all the answer he needed as if it wasn't already etched into the depths of his soul.
Pain was one thing, but feelings had to be strong to pass over. Jowd sat hunched on the edge of the hard bed, head buried in his hands. He'd never had much trouble distinguishing what belonged to who before.
Alma always came in soft and settled, something mellow in the background like a fountain or a stream. Even her anger came quietly, if persistent.
Cabanela came in sharp flashes, bright arcs like lightning, or a flash of sunlight off metal. Often overwhelming, but quickly gone.
Now, now everything felt entangled, compounding on one another. The rage was Cabanela's and how it burned. A sense of betrayal, that was surely his as well. Good, embrace it. Forget him.
But what of the rest? The despair and guilt and emptiness? A deep sorrow—was that his or Cabanela's? Did it matter?
Wouldn't it be easier if he could retreat? Wouldn't it be easier on all of them if he withdrew? Their lives broke apart. Let them stay that way.
Jowd sighed and put down his paintbrush, no longer able to ignore the persistent nagging niggle of pain in his head. It should be easy to ignore, he reasoned. It wasn't his pain, but then he knew how hard it was to escape echoes and shadows, didn't he?
He rubbed at his temple as if it could do anything. "Just take something," he muttered. Stubborn fool.
Maybe it was a form of revenge, he thought idly. Another punishment for ripping her out of their lives. So be it.
Cabanela jerked awake and flung himself out of his bed, careful to avoid touching anything with warm and sticky hands. He elbowed his bathroom light on and stared at his hands, bracing himself for the red he'd see there.
They were clean.
He scowled into the blank expanse of his sink. Pain yes, strong enough feelings yes. A dream had to be intense to share. And it was… oh it was. He shuddered.
He'd put the pieces together. He'd guessed it was the case. After all they knew which gun took her life and it wasn't Jowd's, but he was ever the thorough one, wasn't he?
He knew, despite claims to the contrary, that no matter how good or strong a guess was there was always a chance it wasn't fact. Or maybe this was merely the one time he'd hoped it wasn't.
Confirmation never tasted so bitter.
Jowd rolled his shoulders. The day's work had hardly been taxing, but a heavy weariness wrapped around him as a deep ache in his bones. It was only as he sunk under its weight to sit on his bed he finally realized it wasn't his.
Strange. He wasn't aware the human spring was capable of such a feeling. His gaze wandered to the painting tucked in the shadows. Not so easy being at the top, is it?
Or had other factors played into it as well? The nightmares had returned lately. Had he felt some effect?
"Don't worry. You won't have to suffer my presence for much longer now."
One month and everything would end. One month and they would be free of him.
Cabanela toyed with his teacup in the last minutes before he had to go. This was it, their final night in this hell, their victory at hand. He thrummed with tension.
It wasn't enough. The man was set to die tonight. Shouldn't there be something else? He hadn't looked forward to whatever might seep through, even as he relished any chance for the connection. Instead he found himself very much alone with his own buzzing thoughts and feelings. Was he really so far gone?
He'd show him life yet.
Jowd's breath escaped in a gasp. Lynne and the Justice Minister's voices faded to a drone as a wave of pain ripped through him. He was being torn apart, shattered into a thousand burning pieces until it faded to a persistent ache under a far more pressing question.
He was alive, he tried to comfort himself. He felt this, continued to feel the remnants which meant he was alive.
Then a very different sort of feeling hit him as all the sensations that weren't his, but for their intensity may as well have been, were abruptly cut off as if by a heavy curtain.
Cabanela was fire and sparks and sunlight dancing off glittering water. This dull static, this grey sense of detachment. They weren't him. He was present, but wasn't. Something was very wrong.
The phone's ring was shrill and cut through the fog. Jowd forced himself to focus on the Justice Minister's voice as it grew more frantic and shocked until he set down the phone with a hollow eyed stare and all the anxiety of the night seeped back into the lines of his face.
"Inspector Cabanela! He… he called for your execution."
The curtain lifted. The pain rolled back in, bringing with it a faint sense of anger, fear, and loss.
"We have to go," Jowd said.
"The junkyard at the edge of town," Sissel supplied.
"Go to him. We'll catch up."
Jowd only feared what they might find.
The professor's hands were slow and careful as he helped Cabanela back into the chair. A good effort on the professor's part, but not enough to stop his pained gasp as he felt like another piece of rubble stabbed at his side and his ribs ground together and bile rose in his throat.
He winced at the sudden spike of worry from the urgent mass like a deep pool caught in a storm that had settled into the back of his mind.
But it was… nice in a way. There was care. The man really could still feel. If the minister grew an ounce of sense and if their ghostly friend continued to prove as reliable as he had already… they still had a chance.
It's almost over, old friend. We can still win.
He could only hope Jowd could feel something of his assurance.
The surgeon swore and just managed to pull back and avoid adding another injury as his patient abruptly sat up with a strangled scream and clutched at his chest.
His face was a twisted mask of rage and terror as a nearly incomprehensible slew of words poured from his mouth and the nurse fought to keep him still. It took several seconds to recognize the stream of 'No's and what sounded like a name, 'Jowd'.
"He's gone," the man said in a pained whisper before the nurse was able to get him down and the sedatives pulled him back under.
The surgeon stared in awe at the unconscious man. If he hadn't just witnessed it with his own eyes he would never have believed it. A multitude of injuries, suffering fatigue and under heavy sedation. What could pull a man out from that?
Cabanela's vision swam and he staggered against the station wall under the sudden onslaught of confusion. He winced as a burning lance of pain shot through his leg and he struggled to steady his breath against a bubble of nausea. His own urgency had been enough without Jowd's. Now this?
This pain… he swallowed hard. Dear gods, his gun had been taken and Jowd had given chase. What other explanation was there?
In his wildest dreams he would never have guessed at a meteorite shard.
Jowd shifted uncomfortably in his seat, causing his knee to protest. He tried to ignore the look both Alma and Cabanela shot him. Yes, it was uncomfortable, yes he took his medication, yes it would ease up soon; stop worrying.
It shouldn't be enough to bother them, he thought, but they'd both been too alert, too aware since the day in the park. He'd lost track of how many searching looks they'd thrown his way already.
Alma's hand slipped over his with a reassuring squeeze, as she and Cabanela continued their conversation. Jowd closed his eyes, content to listen and bask in their presence.
Things would be… complicated. Had already been so in the deepest hours of the night when he woke in a cold sweat and had fallen into the old dark pit, only for Alma to sit up seconds after, her fear rippling through him for reasons he knew she would never be able to explain. He prayed Cabanela hadn't joined them.
It was harder to hide in the light than buried away in a cell. More difficult to avoid the connections that bound them.
But, for now they were here, alive and happy with an ever steady warmth, and nothing could be more important. Jowd was content.