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DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters. No profit is being made. It's all for fun.
A/N: This is a little darker with a different tone than my previous fics. I hope those of you who have read and reviewed in the past (thank you!) will enjoy it. I'm rating it M right now just to be safe since I'm not entirely certain what dark places we'll reach along the way, though I do know where the end of the journey leads.
Graven Images (1?)
The nightmares have changed, and I don't know why. They scare me. That's why they're nightmares, I tell myself. It's their job. Not that the old versions weren't frightening enough, but in some way I got used to them. I always wondered if some day, from some corner of my subconscious, the answer would creep into the frame. I think that might be exactly what's happening. And my answer is creeping damn slowly. Be careful what you wish for, Jordan. Maybe slowly is the best thing.
I'm actually thinking of calling Stiles. Of course, I might end up autopsying his cold corpse after he keels over from heart failure due to shock. I have a pretty good idea what he'd say anyway. The nightmares have changed because you're finally ready to know the answer.
The answers won't bring her back. They won't change who I am, won't restore to me the people I've loved and pushed away. They won't erase the years of knowing how to run as far and as fast as I could.
And then there's the image of Stiles. He's telling me they just might do all those things I think they can't. I can even hear him saying it.
I groan at the morning sunlight bronzing the floor and turn my alarm off before it can jar my last nerve. Sometimes – three guesses as to what times – I really miss Pollack. I miss coffee and pastry in bed. I miss the security of knowing he'd be there in the morning. I even miss his terrible renditions of Australian folk songs. I sit up and hug my knees to my chest. The day promises to be sunny and warm for May. Summer is coming much faster than the petty pace my nightmares have set. Winter's coming in Sydney. Maybe I should visit…. He did say I was welcome any time.
Stiles pops up again and tells me I'd be running away one more time, and I should know by now I can't get away from them. I'm going to have to face them. He also asks me how I really feel about the reporter fellow he'd heard about. And in my head I have to admit that Pollack was a great distraction and he made me feel safe in ways I hadn't in a long time, but I won't ever love him, not the way I should if that mental plane ticket to Australia is one-way. I owe him more than that. I owe myself more than that.
I uncoil, my body already tense and aching. A night of tossing and turning isn't conducive to a cheery morning. A week or two weeks' worth of those nights isn't conducive to seeing straight. I trudge to the shower, hoping once again hot water and caffeine will work their magic and I can function at work. I haven't tried to stab Lily with a pencil lately, but she still has that look around the corners of her mouth, the one that says she knows something isn't exactly right and, if things don't improve soon, she'll turn me in to the state's shrink and all my mental conversations with Stiles will be held live and in person. I shudder.
Lily's hovering when I get to my office. She's smiling, but the smile is tight, her eyes dark. She speaks too quickly. "Jordan! Hi! How is everything?"
I allow myself to give her a look that asks what she's been smoking and if I can have some.
She blushes. "It's just – You know – I thought today might be kind of a tough day for you."
God, she knows more than I thought. "Tough? Why?" I arch my eyebrows and am relieved to hear my voice hold just the right note of confusion.
Her eyes bore into me. "You know," she says.
"No, Lily, I don't. Tell me. Please." I already need at least four of the ibuprofens in my desk and if she doesn't stop acting like we're sharing some big secret, I'm not going to be responsible for my actions.
"This time… A year ago." Her voice is soft, sad.
It hits me like I'm a toddler at the beach when an unexpectedly big wave comes in, sending me thudding to the sand, washing over me, making me cry and scream in panic as the now retreating water tries to steal me with it. My dad used to warn me and warn me about those waves, but I was too stubborn to listen to him. When I'd get swamped, he'd be there, coming to my rescue, picking me up, wrapping me in a big, soft towel and holding me close in his strong arms. He'd ask if I'd learned my lesson and I'd tell him yes. Only to do it all over again the next time we went to the beach. I guess it's a lesson I never really learned.
I can't do much more than nod at Lily. I choke out some response about needing to look at some reports and I put my hand on the doorknob, twisting it. It feels huge in my hand and as cold as… death. Cliché, but true. The door opens and pulls me with it. All I really want to do right then is go home, pack a bag and run. Sydney. Seattle. Timbuktu, for all I care. Somewhere that isn't Boston. A place where my mother wasn't murdered, where my father didn't spend most of my life hiding the truth from me, where, a year ago to the day, I didn't spend what seemed like my whole life in a hospital waiting room wondering if the man I love will live or die. A place where that same man never informed me that he didn't want my pity and my panicked declaration didn't change anything. I tell my mental Stiles that I can outrun the nightmares, just as surely as I can outrun Woodrow Wilson Hoyt. Or I can sure as hell try.
I know my shoulders jolt upward at the surprise. I turn and give Garret my best possible smile. He isn't fooled one bit. "Hey, Garret." I edge around to my chair, take my time sitting down and force down the trembling in my voice. "What can I do for you?"
He sits across from me. "You can tell me what's eating at you."
"Who? Me?" My voice is strident. I tone it down. "I'm fine. Really."
"No, you're not," he insists. "When was the last time you took a day off? A real one?"
I wave a hand at him, dismiss the question. "I think you'd be happy I've been such a model employee."
"Jordan, I appreciate all you've done. This place would have fallen apart if you hadn't – uh – organized everyone during my – my absence. And I know you think that you're doing a really good job covering up whatever is going on with you, but I know something's up. Lily knows. Hell, Jordan, I think the guy with the espresso cart on the corner knows."
I fight not to slump.
"You need a break. And if it's more than that, you need to talk to someone. I didn't, remember? I had some great talks with Johnny Walker, but they didn't solve much."
I want to tell him that I'm fine. Really. Just fine. A little tired from pulling the extra shifts and things, but other than that…. He pulls out a report. I recognize the case as one I did a couple days ago.
His voice is calm; he doesn't accuse. "You recall Mr. Nowicki?"
"What was his cause of death?"
I force the tired wheels of my brain to chug along and slowly retrieve the information. "Hit and run. They got the driver though."
Garret's eyebrows flick up. "You sure?"
I nod again.
"So you can't think of any reason the D.A.'s office would think this report is a little strange?"
I swallow. "No."
"Because you listed cause of death for Mr. Nowicki as end-stage uterine cancer."
I feel heat rising in my cheeks. There's nothing I can say.
"Go home, Jordan. Take a few days. Get some sleep."
"I can't," I murmur.
"Of course, you can. I'm telling you-" He breaks off, hearing the undercurrent in my refusal. There is a new look of concern on his face. "Why not?"
"I'm having nightmares. About the day – the day my mother died. Different ones."
I shrug. "A week or two."
"Damn it, Jordan! Why haven't you said something? Called Stiles? Talked to someone?"
I can only shrug again. I chew on my lip for a moment. "I feel like – like maybe there's something… anything… an answer."
"The answer." He doesn't make it a question. He doesn't even wait for my nod of confirmation. "And you're not sure you're ready."
"I always thought I was." I snort. "God knows, I've spent most of my adult life searching for the answer."
He leans forward. "I could play Stiles with you, Jordan, but I'm not going to. Call him. Go see him. Something. Maybe the answer's there and maybe it's not."
"It won't help," I answer with a sigh.
"Can it hurt?"
I hold still for a long time – or what feels like a long time. Then I shake my head.
Stiles is maddening with his demanding questions. Even more demanding than he was in my head, which is almost as unbelievable as it is frustrating. I'm here for answers, not more of his Why-laced queries. I pace until the look on his face – you can't pace the dreams away either – makes me sit down, determined to be calm, cool and collected. He smiles at me and suddenly changes the topic. Only, of course, I know with Stiles the shift is neither sudden nor genuine. He planned it and we're still talking about why – why the nightmares have changed, why now, why I'm suddenly not certain I can face the answers.
"So how's that reporter fellow I heard about? Not serious competition for yours truly, I hope."
I glare at him. "Pollack?"
"Have you been seeing more than one reporter?"
I ignore that. "He's – He's fine. I guess."
"Still in the picture?"
"He moved back to Sydney," I respond with a sigh.
"How did that make you feel?"
The cool, calm, collected Jordan snaps. "Oh, for Christ's sake, Stiles, I'm not here to talk about my love life!"
He grins. "But you have one. I call that progress, Jordan."
I snort. "Had."
"How long did it last?"
I dip my head, wanting to tell him this is ridiculous, that it isn't helping, but I know him too well. "A – A while."
"A month? Two?"
"Almost six months."
He raises his eyebrows. "I'm impressed."
"He – Uh – He moved in with me for the last couple of months."
His eyebrows rise further. "That really is terrific."
"So you must have trusted him."
Now I snort and get to feel superior. "Trusted Pollack? He's a reporter! He was always on the lookout for some big story and hoping the next body I autopsied would be it. What?" Stiles is grinning at me and shaking his head.
"I didn't mean that, Jordan. I'd heard enough about him to guess he found your line of work a tempting source of information."
"Then what did you mean?"
"Who suggested moving in together?"
"Would you quit answering my questions with…." I bite my lip.
Stiles' voice is softer now, serious. "That really is a lot of progress, Jordan."
"Oh, come on. He'd been shot. By a psycho who was going to kill him unless I killed her."
"You could have brought the chicken soup to his place, I'm sure."
I let out a pent up breath. "He got shot because he didn't trust me."
"And you wanted him to?"
Biting my lip again, I nod grimly.
"So, you trusted him." He holds up a hand to forestall my contradiction. "Personally. You trusted him on a personal level."
"And you wanted him to trust you?"
"How did it end?"
I shrug. "He got a job offer he couldn't pass up."
"But he thought about turning it down?"
Damn Stiles! "Yeah. He thought about it. He – He wanted me to – to come with him."
Stiles is nodding now like one of the Three Wise Men. I'm hoping his gift is gold, because Frankincense and Myrrh never sounded that appealing to me. "Why didn't you go?"
"My life is here." There's nothing to add.
"Is it fair to say things ended well?"
Slowly, I nod. And I see it. I may have locked horns with Pollack over work issues a time or two, but emotionally I could trust him. He never hid his problems from me, never played games – if anything he always knew when I had fallen into my old habits and he always called me on it without accusing me of anything more than exactly what I'd done. It ended not because he betrayed me, not because we'd struggled for control of the relationship. It had ended because our lives had gone on separate paths. Natural causes. No autopsy required.
Stiles gives me one of his damn smiles. They're so – so knowing without being smug, sympathetic without being cloying, concerned without being overbearing. All of which makes it impossible to loathe the smiles. I know because I've tried. "So maybe there's hope for you yet, Jordan."
I clasp my hands between my knees and rock forward. "Maybe." My voice falls like lead to the floor. "It's not like I – you know – I made some long term commitment – kids, all of that."
"Who cares?" He is so blithe about it. "It sounds as if it was a normal relationship with normal ups and downs. Something you've never really trusted yourself to have – and survive, right?"
God, I hate this man. Who the hell gave him the right to pick the locks in my brain and wrench out all of my rusted, moldering fears? Why can't he be some incompetent shrink? I can only nod again. Jordan Cavanaugh at a loss for words. I can count on one hand the number of people who'd believe that ever happens.
"But you did it, Jordan. So maybe it's time. Maybe your subconscious mind is telling you that you're ready to handle the truth about your mother, too."
"Couldn't my subconscious mind just tell me I'm ready to take up something like bungee jumping or sky diving? Couldn't it tell me to quit my job and run off to join the circus?"
He chuckles at me. "It could. Would you listen?"
"Are you nuts?" I shudder. "I know what one tiny slip of that elastic cord or one little stitch wrong in the parachute can do to a person."
"That still leaves the circus."
I shake my head. Somehow he has teased me away from my near-paralyzing anxiety and back into the realm of merely sweaty-palmed, heart palpitating anxiety. I stand up. "Thanks."
He eyes me with caution. "Do you want to go over it? The doorway and everything?"
"No," I tell him, an odd calm descending on me. "I think I need to be alone." The truth is I've always been alone when it comes to my mother's death and he's right – I can survive the truth. I've survived the lies.
There's a message from Garret on my machine, telling me to take a couple of days, not to argue and to call if I need anything. There's another from the dry cleaner's – was Mr. Pollack ever going to get his blue dress shirt? With a pang, I miss him. The job offer had been sudden, our ending rushed, but it had decidedly been an ending. The last message is from Eddie Winslow hoping I know how to get in touch with Max. Eddie wants to invite him – and me, of course, he says as an after thought – to his wedding.
Life goes on.
I think I'm ready to go on with it. My gaze falls on a picture I'd found recently while cleaning out some boxes. Someone's birthday at the morgue. Silly party hats, noisemakers, streamers. One well-wisher had managed to snap a few pictures to immortalize the event. Woody was there, in full party regalia. You can see his hand resting on my shoulder. His face is relaxed, his eyes sparkling with a delight that can't come from the striped paper cone he's got perched on his head. I'm leaning back against him, smiling, my cup of bad fruit punch raised in a toast of some sort.
Life has gone on. I'm not going to autopsy what went wrong with Woody. I'm going to have my regrets and my memories and I'm going to move on as he has. Maybe that ticket to Australia will be one-way. Probably not.
I'm too wired to concentrate on anything much, too wired to sleep. Besides, I know that if I go in search of the answers, they'll stay behind the locked door of my memory. I have to let them push their way out in their own time.
I can at least sleep now, though the answers don't come. May gives way to June and June is sneaking up on July. I skip Eddie's wedding, offering to work that weekend so Garret can spend some time with Abby. I smile a smile that I hope is fooling most of the people most of the time whenever I see Woody with Lu Simmons. I keep pricing flights to Sydney. I even take the online immigration test to find out if I have a skill the Australian government thinks is valuable. Turns out, I do, and they'd be happy to have me. I wonder how long that feeling would last.
The weather is getting more and more humid each day. The nights aren't a lot better. It's not quite the Fourth yet. July and August are going to be a bitch. I'm lying in bed – the last night of June – tossing and turning, trying to ignore the angry, shouted argument I'm hearing in the street below, telling myself the popping noise I heard was a car backfiring, insisting the sticky warmth on my hands is sweat. I lift them up and look at them.
They're red with blood. It rims my nails, gathers in the creases of my fingers and paints my palms with a destiny I'll never escape. I look down. My blouse is stained with it, too, and my skirt. The plaid is splashed and blotched with dark patches of red, in between the blue. My right hand holds something heavy. I know what it is. I'm never supposed to touch one – it's not a toy. It's a gun. Guns have bullets and… Daddy taught me all about it. But I'm holding one. And there's a funny smell in the air. Finally, I look down at the floor.
I watch her lying there. I wait for her to get up. Her eyes are open, but maybe she slipped and fell and hit her head. There's blood everywhere that might make her fall. She'd been – not running really – but moving fast. There'd been yelling. Lots. And then the loud pop and the funny smell that stings my nose.
And now Daddy is here. I think he will run to Mommy, wake her up. I wonder if he'll yell at me for playing with his gun even if I don't know how I got it. I want to cover my ears, but I can't move.
Daddy's voice is soft instead. "Oh my God, Jordan. What have you done?"
With a shriek I bolt up in bed. I'd drifted into my dream without knowing it. And my answer at last came out of its corner.
Oh my God, Jordan. What have you done?
"What have I done?" I whisper in the dark, still air.
END Part One