Disclaimer: The Sentinel is a Pet Fly production and all related characters and situations belong to those who hold legal copyright. No infringement is intended.

Author's Notes: The title comes from T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. A Sentinel Too, Part 2 epilogue.

'Til Human Voices Wake Us



He's always here, because I'm only here when he is, he leads me out of the nothing with his voice, and the smell of him, and the gentle pattern of touching my cheek, my arm, over and over, and I'm awake without it hurting. I remember a story from when I was little, a story about a poisoned princess awakened with a kiss. I mentioned it to him once, but it made him sad so I didn't ask if he kissed me Before. Before I was like this and I lived in the world Outside the walls.

I think I remember kissing him once, but I don't know if it's real, it's hard to know which things are real here. The cat is not real, the big spotted cat over there on the floor by the windows, basking in the sunshine. No one else can see her, she's not real, she's like the dirt Renata sees on her hands so she washes them until the skin comes off and she bleeds, or the things Phyllis says are crawling in the walls. I try to tell her she's not real, but she only snarls and lashes her tail at me so I pretend I don't see her and listen to Blair read to me.

He's reading poetry now, which I don't understand, the words are supposed to help you make a picture in your head, but how can words make pictures? I don't mind. Blair's got a pretty voice to listen to.

Sometimes when Blair comes he brings a book with pictures, pictures called paintings, and he tells me I used to do that Before, though none of the pictures in the book are ones I made. I almost remember that, if the remember is real, looking at the blank square of canvas and trying to make a picture in my head to put on it. Cats and plants, lots of green plants not like the ones in the tame Outside they put in with us by building walls around it. Jungle plants. And Blair and water and a funny stone building and the Other...

I don't like this remember, it's almost like being in the nothing when Blair comes, when I can see and hear and feel but I don't know what any of it means, but Blair's voice is still telling me the poetry, making pretty sounding words, so I try to go into the remember like coming out of the nothing. Maybe if I can remember Before I went crazy I can be like that again.

... Blair and water. I put Blair in the water, but that can't be real, why would I be giving Blair a bath with his clothes on? It doesn't make sense, but it's in the remember, and then going away with the man who tricked me, the bones in his neck went pop when I twisted. The white sandy beach and the blue-blue water and Him, the Other one, the one who the black cat who isn't real either belongs to. In the jungle, meeting the man I was going to trade the shiny silver bottles to, but he tricked me too, and He, the Other, warns me and I run, and the helicopter falls down, and I see the spotted cat who isn't real and follow her to the funny stone building where there are words on the walls and I can read them, and water again, me and the Other in the water...

I lose the remember and myself with it, like trying to hold onto a handful of sand in the wind.

Someone's crying. It's me. Someone's touching my face, wiping the tears away, touching my arm, rubbing gently, saying a word over and over.

"Hey, now, Alex, don't cry. It's okay, Alex, listen to me, follow the sound of my voice, Alex..."

A, my name is Alex. I know him. "Blair! You came to visit?" He looks sad for a minute, like I said something wrong, and then smiles.

"Yeah, Alex. I came to visit."

Blair's here. He's always here, because I'm only really here when he is, he leads me out of the nothing with his voice, and the smell of him, and the gentle pattern of touching my face, my arm, over and over, and I'm awake without it hurting.

Blair Sandburg swallowed against the bile in the back of his throat and waved goodbye as the therapist led Alex Barnes off, to make the most of the window of opportunity. It could be hours before she zoned again, it could be all day. They'd cut her hair. She looked different without that glorious cornsilk mane, more vulnerable. Her pallor and the atrophy-softening muscles added to that illusion. He'd seen her, blank and shambling, following where she was led, before he woke her to the fragments of lucidity Sierra Verde had left her. He had a few words with her doctor, some ideas about her care. It was obvious the doctor didn't understand why he came here. The doctor, of course, knew the public details of the case.

Blair felt nothing but anger toward the woman who murdered him. But that Alex Barnes had died in Sierra Verde, a more permanent death than his own. Blair did what he could for the broken mind in the woman's body out of pity and regret for what might have been. Alexandra Barnes had been abused by her foster parents, in and out of Juvie, in and out of jail, abused by the system for so long that by the time he found her she was damaged beyond repair. Unlike Jim, who, despite betrayal after betrayal, was watchful and wary but still willing to trust.

Blair walked through the doors of the hospital for the criminally insane feeling ten years older than his actual age. He smiled a little when he saw the blue and white truck. Jim was pacing. Around his truck. In circles. Blair wondered what would happen if he pointed out to Jim that he was displaying territorial behavior again. The close-cropped brown head snapped up, blue eyes targeting him and tracking his progress.

When Blair told me he'd been coming out here every visitor's day to see Alex Barnes and he needed a lift because the Volvo was in the shop again, he said I could just drop him off and pick him up again in an hour. I didn't yell. I didn't accuse him of sneaking around behind my back. Even though the thought of him alone with that woman makes my skin crawl. I could hear his side of the argument anyway, that he didn't tell me that he was doing this because he knew it would upset me. Upset me. Because I don't even like to think about how close I came to losing the kid for good. Seems funny that the wolf is his animal spirit; he should have the jaguar. After the Golden, and Lash, and Alex... it's obvious Sandburg has nine lives.

And I've got a second chance and I'm not screwing it up. So I just said, when do you want to go? And I didn't even ask why. I trust him. He's doing this for a reason.

But after he went inside I couldn't just drive off and leave him with her. I know nothing's going to happen, it's a hospital, but... I can't leave him. So I wait in the truck and read a fishing magazine I had stuck under the sun visor. Then I cleaned out the glove compartment. And after awhile I caught myself drumming my fingers on the steering wheel. Reminded myself to tell him that just being in the parking lot has me acting like I did the first time around. I want to go inside. I want to kill her. I want to take Blair away from here. It might help him understand my instinctive reactions to Alex, and why they changed when we all were down in Sierra Verde. When I didn't want to kill her anymore. I'm just glad we didn't, I'd never feel clean again if I'd...

The truck started to feel too small, confining, a cage, so I got out to stretch my legs and took a look around. Didn't look too bad, for a state mental hospital. The trial was over pretty quick, with the evidence and the fact that Alex had gone from animal to vegetable. The docs analyzed that bug juice she mixed up, found a mild sedative that might be commercially viable if they can figure out the recipe, but nothing to indicate why it just gave me a dream that was weird even by my standards and hit Alex like bad acid.

I didn't know how long Blair had been inside, but it had been too long. This was wrong, I should have gone in with him, I shouldn't have let him go in there alone. That's when I noticed I'm pacing in circles around the truck. Nice, Jimmy, anybody works here sees this, they won't let you back out of the loony bin. Just like Dad always said. Not sure how I know, but I do, and turned just in time to see Sandburg come through the main doors.

They didn't speak. Blair got into the truck and passed over his wallet for Jim to show ID to the guard at the gate. It wasn't until they were on the road back to Cascade that Blair began to talk. He described her deteriorating mental and physical condition, how she was zoning, and more than zoning, the signals scrambled so she was tasting sounds and hearing colors. The planned treatment, the slightly bitter irony that she was providing a psych student with a thesis subject. The prognosis that she would be institutionalized for the rest of her life, prison term or not.

Jim Ellison didn't say a word, though his hands clenched on the steering wheel and a muscle in his jaw jumped. Blair looked out his window at the passing scenery. The leaves were beginning to turn. Fall was coming.

"I don't get it. After all she did to you, to us, why do you still care?"

"I don't care about her, man. But it could have been you."

~ End ~

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Page last updated 8/15/03.