Author's note (added 5.9.06): So, I obviously decided to continue my ramble, turn it into a multi-chapter endeavor. (20? 25? I honestly don't know. I've got the first 12 mapped out, and a pretty solid ending in mind, but getting from Point A to Point B is not always a straight line for me.) Anyway, my initial story-concept has sort of morphed into more of a prequel, with Chapters 1 and 2 being Sara's solo exploration into the demons of her past. So, if self-introspective angstiness isn't your thang, Chapter 3 is where the casefiley/lab stuff actually begins. Hope you enjoy! -- Nomadic Soul

Author's note: So, I'm mildly (incredibly) nervous about posting my writing online, as this is the first fiction (fan or otherwise) that I've written in a long time, quite possibly since middle school. (Which was a surprisingly large number of years ago, when I sit down and actually do the math.) This story arose from an idea that kept plaguing me, bouncing around incessantly in my head, until I was forced to release the words on paper, for the sake of my sanity if nothing else. I never intended to take it any further than this… Frankly, I never intended to do anything with it, other than to get it to stop rattling around in my brain. But now that I've opened the dam, some new ideas have started brewing in the ol' cranium, including a casefile angle. So, I'd vastly appreciate any constructive criticism, advice, and/or recommendations from you, dear readers. Continue? And positive reinforcement is always nice too…

Spoilers: Significant references to Nesting Dolls and Committed.

Rating: Umm… Not really sure of the ratings system. Erring on the side of caution with a 'T'.

Disclaimer: I own very little, and certainly not the characters portrayed below. I do own my car, which at this moment happens to be dead. (Although I'm sincerely hoping that it is 'dead' in the Princess Bride definition of the word. Meaning that it's only 'mostly dead.' Meaning that it's 'slightly alive.' Meaning that I'll be able to resurrect it without incurring massive credit card debt. Because if it's 'all dead,' well, then, damn.)

Chapter 1

Sleep, that elusive and seductive siren, once again evades my entreating grasp. I hover, on the cusp of consciousness, but not yet ready to relinquish entirely the tendrils of dreams that taunt me, haunt me, with their proximity, before trickling through my fingers like ebbing waves on a beach, leaving me with only a vague disquietude, a settled unease. The content of my dreams stubbornly eludes me, but the intent retains a stark clarity – a dark and macabre foreboding.

It is in this transition, this undefined stasis between sleeping and waking, that my demons surface to torment me. Consciousness allows me to restrain them behind my carefully constructed barriers, buried in the darkest corners of my mind; and when they arise in my nightmares, the adrenaline surge that fear provokes allows me to battle them back into their gated cells. I still confront them, daily, but the steel bars of their prisons lend steel to my determination to conquer them. However, in the half-aware state between dreams and reality, the demons escape their caged prisons; in the semi-conscious realm where the boundaries between the real and the unreal disintegrate, they ease upon me unsuspectingly, adopting the guise of innocence before revealing their tortured souls. My tortured soul.

Seeking to elude the darkness threatening to engulf me, I focus on the sunlight filtering around the edges of the heavy curtains that I installed years ago, in a futile attempt to deceive my body's natural circadian rhythm. As Helios' rays penetrate the shadows, a chuckle escapes my lips, mirthless but laden with irony, as I think that, no matter how comprehensive a shield I construct, there always seems to be a chink in my armor.

The juxtaposition of light and dark, of sunshine and shadow, casts a mesmerizing spell, tugging me away from consciousness and back toward sleep's embrace, leaving me suspended in the doorway between dreams and reality. I feel my demons rattling their cages, and the walls of their prisons crumble slightly.

I absent-mindedly observe the minutely detectable progression of sunlight across the burnished mahogany of my hardwood floor. Creeping along the folds of the tousled blankets. Kissing the exposed skin of my calf in ultraviolet caresses. I extend one hand into the path of the oncoming light, to have geometric designs etched on my open palm with a stylus of sunbeams. I examine the sun's dappled impression on my skin, noting that it leaves no measurable trace of its passage, no lasting imprint of its presence.

I think of the imprints I leave behind, the traces of my passage. I think of the reciprocity of touch. Weaving in and out of consciousness, I think of how I weave in and out of the fabric of other people's lives, sometimes being an integral fiber to the tapestry of their existence, sometimes being no more than a stray thread. I think of the impressions created when two lives collide, like ripples across still water, whether the collision is a single, isolated encounter or a lifetime of contact. I think of the impressions I make on others' lives, and the impressions they make on mine. I think of how these impressions can be catalogued, quantified, categorized, in a spectrum of touches. Some are fleeting, ephemeral, transient. Some are permanent, a tattoo on my brain, a brand on my heart.

Sometimes it's as fleeting as the whisper of a caress across the back of my neck, a gentle brushing of shoulders as I pass a stranger on a crowded sidewalk. Sometimes it's more lasting – a firm handshake, a warm arm draped comfortingly across my shoulders. Sometimes it's incredibly intense, but ultimately momentary – two gazes locked in a visual embrace, protons and electrons inexorably seeking their opposite charge, but the magnetism, once severed, is never able to reformulate. Sometimes it's painful, but again transient – the sharp crack of my shin against a coffeetable, leaving a butterfly-shaped bruise of violet and indigo, which eventually fades through the rainbow into nothingness. But sometimes a touch, a person, leaves permanent traces – a cut which heals, but will always bear a scar, a physical remnant of a previous contact, an indelible reminder of a past encounter.

I think of how not all scars are physical, not all wounds visible. Of how it is the unseen injuries that are the most dangerous, the most perfidious, because there is no way of knowing whether they are truly healing. There's no convenient scab, fading over time into a slightly elevated discoloration, eventually diminishing further, until only a faint blemish remains on my skin, a mere echo of the original trauma. No, the internal scars, the ones carried underneath the skin, the wounds that weep silent tears of blood, invisible to the world, invisible to myself even, are the most insidious. Because I can't see the scab, can't verify that it isn't being poked and prodded, worried at like a disobedient puppy with a beloved sneaker. I can't ensure that infection isn't festering below the surface.

I think of how my mother bore the knife. And of how my father bled from the resulting wounds. And of how I am the one bleeding still. Of how the knife sliced my father's skin, but it stabbed my soul. Of how, even now, I can still feel the icy steel of that blade, piercing inside me, tearing into my life and leaving behind only tattered shreds. I think of how, through the years, I had managed to delude myself into believing that those internal wounds had healed, had scabbed over, had formed their crusty scars; that the steel prisons I constructed in my mind would suffice to keep the demons confined, restrained, subdued.

I think, self-deprecatingly, of how easily those wounds were reopened, raw and gaping, by force of a few softly spoken words and an earnest gaze, a gentle prodding from the man who has inflicted me with a hundred internal nicks and bruises over the years, with his unintentional callousness and his words-unspoken. The same man who has soothed and balmed an equal number of such wounds.

I want to know why you're so angry.

His entreating tone reverberates throughout the darkest chambers of my psyche, his words acting as keys to the prison cells, releasing the hordes, the horrors, of my memory. He cut open my old wounds, forcing me to face them, as they bled inside me, as I bled tears, scrambling to hold the edges of the wound closed, to keep the pain, the emotion, from bleeding out. Because it isn't blood that flows from this wound, it's pieces of my soul, escaping through the ragged edges; it is laughs that will never cross my lips, smiles that will never grace my face, tears that will never be shed, whether in joy or in sorrow. He cut me open, unleashing my hidden demons from their buried prisons.

And yet… And yet, his hands were there, alongside mine, gathering the tattered fabric of my soul, holding the wound closed, applying pressure to stem the bleeding. His hand reached out to grasp mine. Touching me.

I think of how his hand became my tether to reality, keeping me from descending to the realm where my demons reside. I think of how my hand became that of my 13-year old self, and of how I clasped his hand with the same fervor and desperation that I clung to the hand of a nameless and faceless woman two decades earlier. Of how that contact, that touch, was a lifeline, grounding me from the horrors hovering on the inside of my eyelids.

I think of another touch – the cool, slightly gritty caress of unglazed porcelain, thrumming in tempo with the pulse of my carotid. Words spring unbidden from the shadowy depths of my memory, no coherence to them, no fluidity, just flashes of recognition, like a photo album with every third picture missing:

Vibrating… a certain frequency… 10,000 cycles a second…

I think, self-mockingly and -disparagingly, of how I've now incorporated the insane musings of a homicidal rapist into my self-examination. But then I think, half in detached rationality, half in barely repressed revulsion, of the commonalities I share with Adam Trent. After all, we're both simply trying to escape from the ghosts of our genetics, the specters of our family. The difference is that his ghosts are still flesh and blood, while mine exist solely in the gated confines of my memory; his prison walls are real, whereas mine are constructed from the matter of my psyche.

His words continue to echo in my mind:

Spiritual person?... Bad things… karmic lesson…

I feel the insistent press of porcelain against my neck. Porcelain on skin. Porcelain…skin. Pressing deeper. Deeper. Porcelain becoming scarlet as it presses deeper still…

With a half-strangled gasp, I jerk upright in my bed, my hands rising to grapple with the phantom arm of Adam Trent, the skin of my neck instinctively cringing from the illusory touch of porcelain. I know, rationally, that the ceramic fragment is securely stored in the evidence locker at the lab. Nevertheless, as my hand comes to rest on my carotid's pulsepoint, I swear that I can detect a slight indentation underneath my fingertips. But, as I catch my reflection in the mirror, I see that the only thing touching my neck is an isolated spear of sunlight.

As I study the reflection, the moment seems to exist in a surreal reversal of time and physics, a photographic negative of reality, where black is white, light is dark, and color reduced to shades of grey. I see myself, my breath coming in shallow bursts, the erratic thrumming of my heartbeat galloping through my veins, my hands still raised in self-defense, that lone shaft of sunlight continuing to pierce my neck. I see the attack in stark negative, and, in the heavily shadowed background, I can almost discern the ghostly outline of Adam Trent.

My gaze remains fixated on the reflection, until sunlight stabs my right eye, and I blink, causing the ghostly mirage in the mirror to vanish. I now see only myself, swathed in shadow, with sunlight pooling at my feet. The waking nightmare is over. But I remain all too aware of the demons currently roaming unfettered across the landscape of my psyche – they've once again escaped their hidden prisons. And I remember the dark and macabre foreboding of my dreams…