No spoilers or warnings.

A multitude of thanks to my official beta, Kathleen, who always manages to fit me into her schedule.  Hugs, girl!  And muchas gracias to the OFU gang (Angie, Kim, Becky, Robyn), my unofficial betas.  I may never win the lottery, but where friends are concerned, I'm wealthy beyond belief.

This one is for my pal Felicia, who begged and pleaded and threatened to force-feed me cinnamon pancakes from "Uncle Bob's" (Richmond...our kind of place).

This is a companion piece to Acheron  but is told from a different point of view.  While understanding this story isn't dependent upon reading the first, it might help, since the setting and circumstances are the same.

For an explanation of the title, see the author's note at the end of the story.

Constantine
by
Iris Wilde






He would not leave.

They had tried several times to persuade him to do so, but he remained.

Firm.

Steadfast.

Constant.

Occasionally he shifted positions or stood up to stretch his legs, and twice he'd ventured down the hallway for coffee, but always he returned.

He would not leave.

Sometimes he leaned across the bed railing and spoke to the other, cajoling, pleading, demanding a response.  Sometimes he slipped his hand beneath the tubes and wires and cradled the other's hand.

Once or twice he even prayed.

They encouraged him to rest, so he napped sporadically in the bedside chair, but he scoffed at their insistence that he go home for proper slumber.  They tried to change his mind, but they might well have tried to divert the course of a mighty river with their bare hands.  Here was he needed, and here would he stay.

He would not leave.

They didn't understand.  When they noticed minute changes in the other's respiration or heart rate, they linked it to the patient's physical condition.  Concerned exchanges echoed around him, and the bits of information and medical terminology he gleaned were summarily discarded.  Yes, the other was injured, and yes, they were fighting to keep his condition stable.  But within the other another battle was being waged . . . and lost.

Each breath taken, each beat of the heart, each imperceptible twitch of a muscle told him of the other's struggle.  No machine could reveal the true nature of the conflict, yet sentinel senses easily processed what they detected, and his heart filled in the blanks.  His own diagnosis – that the other's very soul was at risk – terrified him, and his resolve to remain with the other increased a hundredfold.  Again he gripped the other's hand within his own.

He would not leave.

He spoke to the other, his voice at once gentle and unyielding, liquid yet solid.  He knew the other could hear but was choosing not to listen.  Why?  He didn't know, but the slight only increased his resolve, and he redoubled his efforts to rouse the other.  His voice, a river of sound, alternated between whispering shallows and thunderous rapids, but its course remained true.

Firm.

Steadfast.

Constant.

"You can do it.  Open your eyes."

Finally he was rewarded with the tiniest movement of an eyelid.

"C'mon, Chief.  I know you're in there."

He heard the change in the other's heart rhythm even before it registered on the monitor, and he felt his own respond in tandem.  The volume of his voice lifted with his spirits.

"Give me a sign you can hear me, kiddo.  Wiggle a finger or a toe or, hell, an ear.  Just move."

He placed his free hand upon the other's chest, marveling at the sudden increase in the rise and fall beneath his fingertips.  A frown creased the other's brow momentarily, then it disappeared, washed away by some other indiscernible emotion.

He sighed in frustration, weary of the other's slow return to consciousness.

"Sandburg, if you don't open your eyes, I'm selling your car."

He felt the hand within his seek to establish its own fragile grip.  Joy flowed through him and poured onto his lips as he now cradled the hand between both of his, enveloping it like a cocoon.

"Please, Chief.  Wake up."

Tiny slivers of sapphire appeared beneath heavy lids.  Their gaze sought his . . . and held.

~~~~~~~~~~**********~~~~~~~~~~

The glow from the overhead fluorescent lamp was evidently too bright for Blair, so he kept his eyes mostly shuttered.  Jim half-seriously wondered if the glare from his own toothsome smile was contributing to his friend's discomfort, then grinned even wider at the idiocy of the thought.  He needed sleep, but right now, all he wanted was to hear Blair's voice.

"Hey, buddy.  You had me a bit worried there."

Blair seemed to mull over his response momentarily.  "Dead."

Jim blanched, and he felt his smile melt away.  Whatever he'd expected Blair to say, it wasn't this.  Overwhelmed by his fear for Blair, he'd forgotten that there had been two men in the plane.  Blair's friend - Tom?  Ted? - hadn't survived the crash.

"Yeah, I'm sorry, Blair.  By the time we found you, it was too late for your pilot friend."

Emotions paraded across Blair's face, and though he tried, Jim was at a loss to identify them all.  A few moments later, though, a tear slipped from Blair's eye, and it was all Jim could do not to gather his friend into his arms.  Instead, he gently wiped the tear from Blair's face then patted his cheek.

"It's gonna be okay, Chief.  I promise."

A soft smile crept to Blair's lips, and Jim felt the knot in his heart loosen a bit.  He allowed his hand to rest a moment upon Blair's cheek, then removed it as Blair slipped into sleep.  He released Blair's hand and pulled the chair closer to the bed, once again taking up his vigil.  Though his friend was out of danger, Jim knew that his presence would be a comfort in the coming hours, so here he would remain.

Firm.

Steadfast.

Constant.

He would not leave.
 

~~ el endo ~~

*Author's note*

While there may indeed be a Constantine River, this story's title is in no way related to it.  "Constantine" is so named for the Jars of Clay song, "River Constantine."  It's a lovely song, and its message of something powerful and unchanging – something constant – appealed greatly to me:

Carry me, Your love is wider than my need could ever be
Come to me, and I will walk along Your shore
Feel Your crashing waves sing in time with the music of my heart

River deep, could I know You as well as You know me
Constantine, will we travel faster, farther than these
Legs could ever trustworthy be

I also chose "Constantine" because while a series of fics bearing the names of Greek mythological rivers sounds nice in theory, it just didn't work out.  Robyn has a wonderful story, "Lethe" (river of forgetfulness), and I had previously used "Acheron" (river of woe).  That leaves three rivers:

1.  Styx, the river of unbreakable oaths . . . and hate (bleh)  --  Um, I liked the musical group, but it just doesn't work as a title for this story.

2.  Cocytus, the river of wailing --  I couldn't write Wailing Jim if you paid me.

3.  Pyriphlegethon (Phlegethon), the river of fire – Yeah, yeah, "river of fire" sounds nice, but who wants to have "Pyriphlegethon" as a title, for heaven's sake?!  And Phlegethon isn't much better…too close to "phlegm."

So, I went with my first choice and my gut instinct, and "Constantine" it is.  If you don't like it, feel free to write your own, and by all means, call it "Phlegethon." <g>

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Feedback is appreciated, and I will respond ASAP.

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