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Author's Note: Something a bit different. Stream-of-conscious almost, but not really. Definitely experimental. Hope people are still interested enough in this fandom to read and review. Or at least read and enjoy.

Timeline: Immediately after "The Rising"

Rating: PG for language

FREEFALL

"You're still the only person to call me by my full name," she says.

He doesn't have the heart to tell her he wouldn't remember either way.

i.

Is betrayal something new? John wonders. Or is it something he'd grown accustomed to before. Perhaps that explains this sense of unreality that grips him, the small voice telling him what he saw was merely a trick of the light, a play of shadow across exhausted senses and strained heart. Someone who may look familiar for a brief instant but it can't be Digger. Can't be. Because he doesn't want one more thing in his shadow of a life to be an illusion.

Shuddering, gasping sobs against his shoulder and a hand twisted in his shirt bring him back to the woman still beside him. Teresa, elusive shadow herself, a phantom to chase for so long it's difficult to believe she could ever exist outside of his fragmented dreams. Yet here she is, solid in his arms and no longer a ghost. Human. Repeating a mantra of Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…

He rises, stiff and sore – how long had they lain there? – pulling Teresa to him, murmuring comforting nothings to her as he guides her toward the tunnel entrance. Away from the natural sunlight streaming through the grate above, the reminder of the bright spring day which exists outside of this place, and into the dark, only to head towards another sort of light. He's sure there's irony there (did you know eighty-one percent of all Americans believe there's a heaven?) but he fails to appreciate it.

The cavern is full of NSA and police, their commands echoing off damp stone walls. The Phoenix members, dressed in matching, somber black suits and blank expressions, offer little resistance, calmly accepting capture. They say nothing nor would John expect them to.

Frank sees them first, eyes meeting John's with a brief nod of the head. Wordless communication.

Is even that real? John has no time to dwell on the question as Frank jogs over to meet him and the trembling woman hiding her face in his shirt, arms tight around his neck.

"This is…"

"Yeah," John says. "We need to get her to a hospital."




ii.

Teresa passes out on the way there, though her hand doesn't drop from his once. It's only after the doctor explains to him that it's quite impossible to conduct a decent examination when another person is attached to the patient that John lets go. Even then is he never more than five feet from her. Can't afford to take his eyes off of her for even a second or she'll vanish. A mirage in the desert.

His vigil continues by her bedside as she sleeps the sleep of the heavily sedated. John uses these quiet moments to study the planes of her face, the way her cheekbones curve and her mouth is drawn down by worry lines at either corner. He can't see her eyes but he now knows they're blue, not his dark indigo but light and pale, the color of the sky on a clear day. Her brown hair looks limp, though it's still thick. He has no doubt that it must be a welcome point of vanity for her when she's healthy, when she's free. She is a splash of color against his monochrome world, impossible to look away from even if he wanted to.

John would know her face anywhere but he still can't remember her last name. And out of all that has happened to him recently, that comes closest to breaking him.

"John." Frank's warm baritone and a hand on his shoulder. John tenses but doesn't move away. It's only a friendly touch, human contact and a reminder of what's behind him. That's all. Nothing more.

"Digger."

The name tumbles out without thought, a word that's been on the tip of his tongue since that glimpse between shadow and light.

"What?" Frank says.

"It was Digger, Frank." Truth hurts even worse when you say it out loud. "Stocking Cap was – is Digger."

The hand's gone now and John risks taking his eyes off Teresa to gauge the detective's reaction. Frank looks – upset, confused.

"You sure?"

"Yeah." Wipe it clean and Frank's expression simply shuts down. Poker face. John belatedly remembers that Digger was Frank's friend, too.

"I'll be back in a little while." Frank walks out as quietly as he came in. John turns his attention back to the slim feminine hand resting in his own. It's rough, the skin cracked in places, old scars giving way to new ones. The nails have been bitten to the quick. John wonders if that's a new habit or an old one.

"Doe."

Agent Clarkson this time, whom John heard come in but just didn't feel like acknowledging. He doesn't particularly like Clarkson and sees no reason to start changing his opinion of him now. He answers an unasked question.

"I know what I saw. It was Digger."

Clarkson doesn't answer immediately, probably hovering between his acceptance of John's remarkable abilities and the required skepticism of an NSA agent. Acceptance must win out because all he says is "I'll see what I can do."

Click of the heels, a door swinging shut and it's just John and Teresa. Or Tommy and Teresa. Or Teresa and a man who only pretended he existed for a little while.



iii.

"John. John."

Someone shaking him awake and a woman's alto in his ear. He jerks under the contact and comes back to himself.

"Go home, John."

Jamie over his shoulder with a slight frown and a worried furrow in her brow. Jamie of the green eyes.

John realizes he must have dozed off and a moment of sheer panic grips him until he sees the figure still lying in the bed beside him. Not a ghost after all.

"Are you listening to me?" Back to Jamie, her frown deepened. He tries to give her a reassuring smile but by her expression he doesn't entirely succeed.

"Sorry. What were you saying?"

She sighs, raising one hand to rub her temple. "You're a mess. Go home. Get some sleep."

"What?" Low-key shock. His hand has moved back to Teresa's. "No, I can't. She, ah, she needs me."

"*You* need sleep," Jamie tells him and it's in the exact same tone she uses when she thinks someone's bullshitting her. "And, no offense, she's not exactly going to notice if you're here on not."

"Not necessarily. While most doctors don't recommend over stimulating coma patients within the first few days, many suggest that-"

"John." The way she says his name suggests it might be in his best interests not to argue. "She's not a coma patient, she's on a morphine drip. You aren't family. And you certainly won't be any good to anyone if you exhaust yourself."

Sea green darkens to emerald, a shade he's only seen once but he knows Jamie, knows how her eyes shift color depending on her mood. And he knows this is a fight he won't win.

"Can you…?" He gestures helplessly, never finishing the question, allowing the meaning to follow in the silence afterwards.

Jamie nods. "I've already got guards posted outside, good people." She sees his hesitation. "I'll be here. Promise."

He doesn't insult her by questioning that vow, though he barely catches himself before he does. Other promises made and broken have left him wary; trust too easily given only to be shattered.

"John…"

He gives her a small, forced smile. "I'm going, I'm going."



iv.

The shrill trill of a phone bringing him back from the edge of dreams he can't quite grasp. Still half-asleep, he fumbles for the receiver. "Hello?"

A pause, then "Hello, John."

The phone slams back into the cradle so hard he nearly breaks the plastic casing. Wide-awake now, John sits up, breath coming in harsh gasps as he realizes his hands are trembling. God, of course. They know where he lives. Of course, of course.

The phone rings again and for a moment, he can't breathe at all. He balls his left hand into a fist. He should unplug the line, cut them off completely. But he only listens in paralyzed horror as the phone continues to ring until –

"Hi. Not in right now. Leave a message after the beep."

Beep.

"John, I know you're still there. Pick up, man." The voice of gravel on stone, abused by too many years of whiskey, cigarettes and hard living. "Are you listening?"

They both know he is. It's a game, cat and mouse, two men a lifetime apart.

The answering machine sighs. "John, Karen was never supposed to be involved in this."

The snap of his temper is nearly audible and the phone is already in his hand as he yells at Digger, at himself, at the world. "Don't say her name! Don't you ever *fucking* say her name!"

Silence. Stunned, perhaps, but not for long. "It violated my orders. Ka – she didn't know anything."

John sinks to the floor, back to the bed and sleep nothing more than a distant memory. "You goddamn liar."

"John-"

"No." He shakes his head, realizing the futility of the action but not caring. "No, you knew where she was the entire time. You could've stopped it and you *didn't.* So to hell with your orders and to hell with you." He almost hangs up then and there but Digger's next words stop him cold.

"We know where you are, John. We know where Teresa is. Hell, we know you better than you know yourself. Do you really think there's anywhere on this planet that you can go where we won't find you?"

Shots to the heart, dead-on accurate, as they're meant to be. John's voice is surprisingly quiet steady as he says, "Digger?"

"Yeah?"

"If I ever see you again, I'll kill you."

He hangs up and allows the tremors in his hands free reign. He's not sure which scares him more, that Digger was telling the truth or that he was, too. Or maybe it's the fact that he's been brought to such a point he just doesn't care anymore one way or the other.



v.

A tired Jamie who looks like she could use some sleep herself greets his arrival back at the hospital. "She's been asking for Tommy."

His heart rate speeds up. "She woke up?"

"Just a couple minutes ago. She's still pretty freaked."

"Can't really blame her."

"Not really, no."

They walk back to the private room in the ICU side by side. Frank stands outside the door. He frowns, possibly confused or merely thoughtful, John can't tell. He wonders idly when the detective returned but doesn't ask. There are more pressing matters at the moment.

John turns to Jamie. "Look, um, can you-"

"-stay here?" She nods. "Yeah. Not a problem."

"Good luck," Frank says.

John takes a steadying breath and walks into the room, closing the door behind him.

She isn't looking at him when he enters nor does she turn immediately. Instead she looks out the window at a rare, sunny day and the city of Seattle laid out beneath it. She's got a great view and he hesitates to draw her away from it. He does anyway.

"Teresa."

She turns towards him, eyes widening, a gasp. She fluctuates briefly between a smile and stifled tears before settling on both, arms raised in silent supplication. "Tommy."

He almost recoils, not from her but from the name she speaks. He had hoped, prayed, that now that they'd found each other her presence would finally break down the wall that so frustratingly blocked him from his memories, even if that hope had no reasonable basis from which to spring. Instead, Tommy refuses to mean anything to him, stubbornly eluding his increasingly desperate grasp and for a moment, bitterness leaves a sour taste in his mouth.

Her smile falters at his pause and her arms begin to drop. But before they can fall further, he's there, holding her as she begins to cry, body trembling under his touch. Her sobs aren't demonstrative this time, just quiet little hitches of relief.

Eventually her tears run dry and now it's just the two of them with only the missing past in between. Teresa mumbles something into his shoulder. He tilts her chin up and grazes a flushed cheek, tucking an errant strand of chestnut hair behind her ear. Blue eyes rimmed with bloodshot red stare at him.

"You're real, right?" Teresa asks.

"Close enough," he answers truthfully.

She looks away but tightens her hold. "I was so afraid."

"I know."

"I though they'd caught you and then – and then I saw you. I *saw* you only you didn't seem to see me and the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it was really you, if I only wanted it to be you. And then they found me again except they kept asking me what happened to you, where you were, what did I know and all I could think was thank god, thank god you made it and I wasn't dreaming." Her fingers dig into his back, almost painfully, but the reminder of her presence doesn't bother him. "I'm so tired of dreams."

He has no answer to that so he just keeps holding her, this product of wishful thinking that has finally manifested itself in physical form, his own dreams leaking into the waking world.

Perhaps sensing some question lingering with him or merely wishing to fill the silence, she says, "Tommy?"

"Teresa?"

For some reason, that pulls a small, tired laugh out of her. At his frown, she gives him a watery smile as she wipes away the remains of tears from her cheeks.

"You're still the only person to call me by my full name," she says.

vi.

John sits in the empty space that was once The Sea. Frank told him it'd been cleared out before he and Clarkson had even gotten there. That was a week ago and it's only now he's felt up to seeing it for himself. The one thing left to suggest that this empty warehouse was a lively bar mere days before is a lone matchbook with the logo across the cover. A bit of mockery, just for him.

Teresa had said he'd escaped. John isn't sure that's true anymore. He thinks he just got a longer leash.

He'd told her about the amnesia. She hadn't been happy and he's noticed she hasn't touched him since, not even casually. She seems hurt that he can't remember her and if he hadn't before, he really wishes he could now if for no other reason than to find out what it is he's lost to her.

Perhaps he's not here to see the remains of broken promises. Perhaps he's here so Teresa doesn't have to look him in the eye for a little while.

He pours himself a shot of Jack Daniels, glass against glass echoing in the lonely room. He doesn't drink it right away, instead contemplating the amber liquid before him. When socializing, he contents himself with a beer or wine if the situation calls for it. On his own, in his darker moments, he's a strict bourbon man. He's not sure if he was always like this or if it's a product of his second life but he halts that train of thought before it can go any further. He's thoroughly sick of searching for a past he's not even sure exists anymore.

The door behind him opens and closes with a resounding bang but John doesn't look up, assuming it's Jamie or Frank come to drag him back to the world. Which is why he's shocked into open-mouthed silence when Lucas Deja hunkers down and sits across from him.

Lucas remains silent for a moment before saying, "You plan on drinking that or you just find the meaning of life at the bottom of it?"

John starts, aware once more of the glass he'd forgotten all about. He looks down at the whiskey and, seeing as Lucas gave him the suggestion, drinks it all in one near-spastic swallow. When the burning in his throat cools, he attempts to reassert his previous solitude by chasing Lucas off with a half-hearted glare. "What're you doing here?"

Lucas smirks and John suspects a master of maintaining solitude has just trumped him. "Curious to see what happens to a man after he's found the Holy Grail."

John grits his teeth. "I haven't found the Holy Grail."

"But you got the girl. Close enough." A strategic strike. Lucas is playing with him, pushing his buttons until John starts asking the right questions.

"How did you find me, anyway?"

"Oh, you know, friends in high places. That and I asked Peewee where you'd be most likely to go when you want to brood."

Most people John's met like to maintain a certain air of mystery. Lucas, when not baiting someone, is almost disconcertingly straightforward. John sighs. "Wonderful."

"You're predictable."

"Thanks. Nice to know."

"It wasn't a compliment." The amused detachment has vanished. Lucas is annoyed now. "You'd think a man who has everyone after him would take a hint."

"And you'd think a recluse wouldn't be so interested in my life," John snaps. "What do you *want?*"

"Payback." Lucas shrugs at John's frown. "You're everything we ever wanted to find in the project. I'm not above a little petty vindication."

"So I'm your prize. Great. Even better."

Lucas's fingers twitch, as though he's resisting the urge to smack John upside the head. "Yeah, you're my prize, a sulky amnesiac with lousy social skills. If that was all I was looking for, I'd have gabbed my senile old man out of the nursing home."

"I don't get-"

"One," Lucas holds up a finger to count off, "you have the Talent but you're sitting around whining about it instead of learning how to use it. Two, I hate it when people do that. Three, if there's a chance to piss off the government or undermine the efforts of an arrogant clandestine organization, you can bet I'll be there."

John shakes his head. "You just want to use me."

"It's an even trade, pal. You learn exactly what you're capable of from a competent teacher." The 'which, of course, would be me' goes unsaid. "I get to really bake Clarkson's noodle. We use each other."

It's too easy, John thinks, so he says, "I'm not really interested in getting a mentor."

Lucas looks at him with disgust. "Do I look like Obi-wan to you, Skywalker?" He holds out a hand. "Is this the beginning of a beautiful friendship or not?"

John hesitates. He recalls another hand held out to him, the rough calloused skin of a large palm nearly swallowing his own. But this time there are no promises attached, no guarantees and nothing that doesn't come without a price.

He finds that strangely comforting. Before he can stop himself, he's shaking Lucas's hand and saying, "You know, the character of Sam in Casablanca was originally supposed to be female."

"John." Lucas's expression remains carefully blank. "Remember how I said you were normal?"

"Yeah."

"You aren't."

Beautiful friendship, indeed. For that moment, John lets his worries disappear, let's his questions and his fears and that piece of him that Teresa's stolen to all fall away.

Because right now, the first time in far too long, he feels grounded.

FIN

Fact checks:

www.trinity.edu/~mkearl/never.html

www.imdb.com