No spoilers...no warnings...no motorcars...not a single luxury! Oops! Sorry...I got a bit confused there.
Note: For those who have forgotten their Greek mythology, Acheron is the river of sadness and is part of the Underworld.
Many thanks to my numerous betas on this one: Kim, Angie, and Kathleen. Don't know what I'd do without y'all.
This one is dedicated to friendships, especially
those that get us through the rough times and pull us from the dark places.
He felt them drawing him to the surface of a waterless river, pulling him toward The Light. He thought perhaps he should reply or reach out, but The Dark pressed upon him from all sides, and a part of him begged to remain in the protective womb of the river's embrace.
He was confused by this duality within. Someone was calling to him, gripping his hand, commanding him to open his eyes. It was an unyielding voice, one that would brook no argument, and he felt compelled to obey. Yet something stronger--something primal--chose to tarry here, in The Dark, where he was safe.
Safe from what?
From what is no more.
He had no patience for riddles. What is no more?
Not what. Who.
A sliver of chill pierced his soul. He sank further into the river. The voice from The Light became a dying echo.
Who is no more?
He shied away. An ache in the pit of his stomach left him breathless. No, he didn't want to remember.
Remembering would irrevocably change his universe, and though he was accustomed to shifts in the sands of life, this time he would be buried beneath the dunes. He didn't know why this was so, but it was a fact of which he was certain.
He tried to swim from it, struggled to evade Memory as he had the voice in The Light, but it would not be denied. Memory danced all around him. It demanded acknowledgment.
It was no use. No matter where he turned, Memory waited. Expectant. Knowing.
He surrendered to the inevitable.
He approached it, wary and suspicious, but resigned to discovering the secrets it held. He prodded it hesitantly and, ignoring a cry from the depths of his heart, lifted the edge just enough to peek inside.
A shiver passed through him, freezing him to the core.
A voice. His own.
~~"Jim, guess what? Rainier is sending me to San Diego for the weekend!"
Another voice. A familiar voice.
~~"They wanted to get rid of you for a few days, eh?"
~~"Ha-ha. No, they want me to pick up a sculpture of Coyolxauhqui from the Ortega private collection."
~~"Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec moon goddess. It's a cool story. Her brother dismembered her and--"
~~"Families do that occasionally. So, when do you leave?"
~~"Friday morning. They're flying me down there in a private plane, paying my hotel costs--"
~~"Probably stuck you in the Roach Motel."
~~"No way, man. The Marriott on Coronado Island. Guillermo Ortega lives on the island and doesn't want to drive into the city."
He clamped his hands over his ears and kicked out, hoping to propel himself back into oblivion, but Memory snatched up his body in a sinewy embrace from which there was no escape.
~~"Sounds like fun, Chief. Wish I could join you."
He twisted and bucked, desperate to wrench himself from Memory's grasp.
~~"Hey, you can, Jim. The room has two beds, the rates are based on double occupancy, and I can get you on the plane. I know the pilot. Whaddya say? Want to come along so you can say with some authority, 'Yes, Virginia, there is a sun'?"
His guttural, anguished wail obliterated the reply, but he needed none. He recalled everything with clarity.
...boarding the plane... the perfect takeoff... the view of the harbor... climbing above the mountains... the jokes... the laughter... contentment... the odd racketta-rack noise... the violent lurching of the plane... the feel of his stomach leaping into his throat as the they plummeted toward the ground... the blur of trees... the impact...
Memory wound itself around him, crushing him, suffocating him with image upon image, but he was beyond caring. He lay there, drifting in his own personal Acheron, drinking deeply from the river of sorrow.
...pain... blood... calling for Jim... crawling through the wreckage... fighting to remain conscious... a crumpled shape... a man... kneeling beside him... touching... screaming... begging... weeping...
Memory shimmered, then faded. Its purpose served, it no longer needed a corporeal form. It simply became a part of him.
Only The Dark remained. It was no longer comforting, no more a shelter, but within its depths he recognized a kindred entity with which he shared much -- loss, pain, sorrow.
He would remain here.
In the distance a voice still beckoned him, but he would not heed it.
"You can do it. Open your eyes."
There was something within the sound that tugged at his heart, but The Light had nothing to offer him. It was barren.
He wouldn't wake up. They couldn't make him. He wouldn't open his eyes. Not yet, anyway. Now was too soon. Too raw. Later, perhaps.
Later, when he was ready to face the agony of reality.
Later, when the pain had diminished, when it was an angry red scar, sensitive to the touch, healed but never healed.
Not now, though.
The "now" pain was a yawning wound, a Jim-sized hole gaping in the center of his chest. A hollow place where once beat his heart.
"C'mon, Chief. I know you're in there."
His withering heart skipped a beat. No, it was a cruel joke.
It couldn't be Jim.
Jim was dead.
"Give me a sign you can hear me, kiddo. Wiggle a finger or a toe or, hell, an ear. Just move."
It couldn't be Jim.
Jim had been there, at his side, when the plane fell to earth. Jim's screams had mingled with his own, both soon lost in a cacophony of screeching metal and exploding trees. Jim had died, his shattered body cradled in Blair's arms, his blood trailing across his body in rivulets, diluted by Blair's tears, pooling on the forest floor.
Jim was dead.
Why, Jim? Why were you there? Why did you have to make that damned trip with me? Why didn't you say--
In the blackest of nights, a flame of hope flickered once...
...then flared to life.
~~"No, but I wish I could. Sounds a hell of a lot better than working that convention Simon 'volunteered' me for. Maybe next time."
Jim had said...no.
The waters of Acheron swirled about him, confused by this alien concept. Hope? There was no hope here.
Jim had said no.
"Sandburg, if you don't open your eyes, I'm selling your car."
The Dark retreated.
"Please, Chief. Wake up."
The voice was salvation. The voice was life. The voice was an unbreakable bond.
He reached out, grasped it firmly, and ascended toward The Light.
The glow from the overhead fluorescent lamp was too bright, so he kept his eyes mostly shuttered. But even through the shadows there was no mistaking the face before him...or the unabashed joy that graced its features.
Jim enveloped Blair's hand within his own. "Hey, buddy. You had me a bit worried there."
A thousand words slammed into Blair's brain in an instant, but only one made it to his lips.
The smile on Jim's face wilted. "Yeah, I'm sorry, Blair. By the time we found you, it was too late for your pilot friend."
Waves of memory washed across him, but this time Blair did not resist.
...boarding the plane with Ted... joking with Ted... Ted's screams mingling with his own... cradling Ted's lifeless body...
Not Jim. Ted.
The veil of grief descended once more, but this time it was bearable. Ted was a nice guy.
But Ted was not Jim.
Guilt pricked the periphery of his heart, but he would deal with it when he could think more clearly.
Jim's face blurred, and for the breadth of a second Blair feared he was losing his sight. Then he felt something slip from the corner of his eye and trail down his cheek.
Jim gently wiped the tear from his face, then patted his cheek. "It's gonna be okay, Chief. I promise."
Blair smiled as best he could, hoping to ease Jim's concern. These were necessary tears. He had dammed up a river within, immersing his heart and mind in its bitter waters, and had nearly drowned in his own misery.
The dam had collapsed, though, and it was time to release the Acheron.
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