Author's Note: This is a sequel to my story God's Answer. It's probably not what most people were hoping for, but it's what the muse felt like showing me. It's just a short little piece. This precedes Storm Changes.
Reflect -- To think seriously, to meditate. 4th meaning
A year ago, life as I'd known it--ended. And a new one began.
I'm a--paraplegic. There. I've said it. I don't like the word. Sandburg thinks I'm avoiding the issue. I'm not. I just don't like thinking about it, but I've mostly come to terms with it. It happened. There was nothing either of us could have done. Oh, I still have some shitty days. Sometimes, when I'm not looking, depression will reach out and pull me under, but Sandburg's always there to pull me out.
I look at him now, staring out the patio doors, watching the reflection of Christmas lights flicker and flash on the wet streets. He's been sitting on the couch for a couple of hours. Ever since he got home from the station. I've had to stay home the past few days with a bladder and urinary-tract infection. I'm easily susceptible to those now.
He's been brooding a lot lately. I think I know why. Today is the anniversary of the shot that took my legs.
Sometimes I think he takes my paralysis harder than I do. No, I know he does. At first he seemed all right. He was bound and determined to convince me that life would go on, even without the use of my legs. The thing he didn't realize was that I didn't need convincing. I already knew. In one of my infrequent flashes of insight, I also knew he needed to think he needed to convince me. Once I woke up in the hospital and could keep my eyes open for more than ten minutes, I saw how close to the edge he was. I let him give me the pep talks. He needed to give them for his own sanity, and I needed to make sure he didn't crack. Besides, it didn't hurt to listen to his encouragement.
He wishes he could turn back the clock and spot Rodriguez before he can get a shot off, so he can shoot the bastard before he shoots me. So do I--I mean I wish I'd seen the perp before he could shoot me, too. But hey, the clock can't be turned back. Shit happens. The fact is, I saw it coming. In that nanosecond between spotting Rodriguez on that roof and turning, I knew it was too late for me. The bullet was already speeding toward me. My gun went off when it hit. I still remember the brief flash of pain. Out of all the times I've been wounded in the line of fire either in the Army or as a cop, not one was as excruciating as that one brief moment.
Sandburg can't fathom it. From the start I was more accepting of my paralysis than everyone figured I would be. Don't get me wrong, I went through my "rage against the gods" phase. I still do once in a while. But I have only to look at Blair, my partner, to recall that without him, I would have nothing. No job, no mind, no life. What's a measly pair of legs in the face of that alternative? Hell, even with no legs I'm still a cop. It's true. I've been back on the job for a month now. I'm a modern day Ironside. Isn't that a laugh? I can't chase crooks anymore, but Sandburg can--and has. Much to my poor heart's distress. I'm a special investigator now. I consult on difficult cases and help Forensics uncover evidence. I'm still part of Major Crime, fortunately. Sandburg's still my partner, or is that I'm Sandburg's partner? Anyway, the consulting gig isn't bad. I still get to do detective work. I'm still one of the PD's best investigators, and with my senses and Sandburg as my partner we're unbeatable.
As recently as two years ago, or maybe even a year and a day ago, I wouldn't have admitted that. Now, I don't have a choice. I used to think I didn't need anyone or anything, even after it was proven to me time and time again that I did need at least one thing--Blair Sandburg. Annoying though he could be and still is sometimes, without him as my friend and guide, I'd be dead or in an asylum somewhere. I still hate it sometimes, and in my darker moments I still rage against it. Beginning with my childhood, life has taught me that I can't depend on anyone but myself. Sandburg has slowly chipped away at my shell of defense built up over years of conditioning, and I'm slowly adjusting to the fact that I like having someone to count on other than numero uno.
Now it's my turn to help my friend and brother out of the darkness of depression. He's brooded long enough.
I release the brake on my chair and quietly wheel over to him. For obvious reasons the furniture has been rearranged. The couches are angled now so I can pull up beside the sofa without banging into the coffee table or the dining room chairs. I sleep downstairs now, too, and Blair sleeps upstairs. In some ways, that's the hardest thing to get used to.
"Hey, Chief," I say quietly.
He turns and gives me a slight smile. "Hey, Jim. How are you feeling?"
"Not bad. Temp's been normal since this morning. It should be licked by the time we go back on duty Wednesday. How'd it go at the station?"
He shrugged. "Paperwork's done on the Henderson case. We're waiting for pre-trial information on the Dempsey case, and that's about it."
I nod, then lean over and lay a hand on his shoulder. When he gives me his full attention, I ask, "What else, Chief?"
His bottom lip trembles, but he doesn't give in to the emotion. "I couldn't stop thinking about it, Jim. All day, it was just there. Any time I saw the calendar, it all came back. A year ago today. One year since ."
"Let it go, Chief. I'm here. We're both here. What's done is done. I saw it coming, there was no changing it--well, other than the fact that I lived instead of died."
He takes a ragged breath. "Oh God, Jim, I'm so glad of that. You'd think that'd be enough. That's all I wanted at the time, for you to live, damn it. You'd think I'd be grateful for that and not wish for anything more. But damn it, I wish you could have the use of your legs back."
I squeeze his shoulder. We've been over this many times in the past few months. Whether it was him or me wishing for the impossible. There isn't much I can say. Just be here.
After a moment, he smiles. "I have a surprise for you."
I raise an eyebrow at him. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." He bounces up off the couch and retrieves something from his coat. "Close your eyes."
With an exaggerated sigh, I oblige him. I hear the faint tink-tink of metal.
"Okay. Open them."
He's dangling a set of keys on an electronic key fob.
I stare in surprise. "It's finally here?"
"Yep. I picked it up before I came home tonight."
"Where is it?"
He laughs softly, though his smile is melancholy. "Where do you think, man? Come on, see for yourself."
He goes to the patio doors and opens both panes wide. I wheel out onto the balcony and he helps maneuver me close to the railing so I can pull myself up enough to look over the edge.
Parked on the street is a shiny new, blue and silver, full-size conversion van. A specially equipped conversion van. One that will give me wheels of a different kind. I'll be able to drive again--after I take the requisite driving courses to learn how to use hand controls. But it still has the foot pedals too, so Blair can drive it.
"Let's take it for a spin. I want to check it out!" I'm already maneuvering to go back inside.
"Jim! You've been sick, and it's dark. Why don't we wait until morning?"
I stop and look back over my shoulder. "Blair, I've been cooped up in here for three days. I want out."
He nods and heads for the coat rack. Once we have our jackets on he opens the door, and I pop a wheelie in my eagerness to get out. I hear his breath catch, but he says nothing. He gets nervous every time I do that, kind of like I feel when he chases suspects and I can't follow, I suppose.
Soon we're outside and I'm getting a closer look at my soon to be new wheels. A push of a button on the key fob opens the side doors. A button on the inside of the door makes the lift come out and lower. Sandburg helps me back on to the platform, locks the chair in the clamps, gets out of the way, and raises the lift.
I feel like a kid at Christmas. We've been waiting on this thing for three months. When it became certain that I would be able to return to work, Simon put in the requisition for the specially equipped van. In the meantime we've been "leasing" a wheelchair accessible van from the PD's fleet. I can only ride in it, not drive it. And it's gray, blue, and yellow like the squad cars. Yuck.
Blair closes the doors, runs around to the driver's side and hops in. He lets me look around and examine everything, for once only offering explanations when I ask. That's odd, but I don't say anything.
When I'm satisfied with all the details, he starts the motor and we take it for a nice little drive. It rides nice for a van, though it has a firmer suspension than most because of the additional weight of the lift. It'll probably only get about thirteen to the gallon, but hey, you have to do what you have to do.
"It's not the truck, is it?" Sandburg says quietly.
Ah. So that's it. We had to sell both the truck and the Volvo because neither was practical for a paralyzed man. The truck was too high for me to pull myself into and strong though he was, Sandburg just doesn't have the height or mass to lift me in. The Volvo was next to impossible to get me out of. Plus I was uncomfortable having Sandburg drive it every day when I knew its reliability was shaky at best. I didn't want him to get stranded somewhere when I had no way to get to him. We were both attached to our respective vehicles, and despite what others believed, Blair actually liked the truck. It was like saying goodbye to old friends when we sold them. They were replaced by a newer, and more reliable, Ford LTD. I hate it. Sandburg isn't too thrilled to drive a "boat" either, but at least I can get in and out of the thing by myself. The van will be a happy improvement, though it won't replace my truck. Ah well. Life changes.
When we get back to the loft, Sandburg is still quiet, but he seems more reflective than depressed. I've been doing a lot of thinking, too.
"Jim, do you ever wonder about the 'what ifs'?" he asks as we ride up in the creaky elevator.
I'm surprised by the question, but think I know what he's asking. "I try not to. I've got so many what ifs in my life that I'd go crazy if I let myself think about them."
Sandburg nods and doesn't say anything else until we're inside the loft.
"How do you forget them? I mean, I told your dad virtually the same thing after the shooting. I said I'd played the 'if' game, but nothing would have been different."
I sigh. This is a tough one. "I don't know, Chief. I guess I accept the decisions I make, right or wrong, and don't let myself dwell on my mistakes. Like the Tommy Juno case. Look how wrong I was to tap his phone line. That was stupid, I know it, you know it, and Simon knows it. I did it. I can't take it back. Would I have done something different if I'd been thinking better?" I shrug. "I don't know."
Sandburg wanders into the kitchen and retrieves a couple of beers, despite knowing that I shouldn't really have alcohol while on antibiotics. When he hands me the bottle I realize it's one of the 'non-alcoholic' varieties. I smile and silently follow him to the living room.
As he turns the TV on low and finds a game on ESPN, I pull out a large manila envelope I was hiding behind my back.
"Hey, Chief, I've got a surprise for you, too."
"Yeah? What's this?"
I almost laugh when he takes the envelope and eyes it suspiciously. I'm surprised to see his hands shaking a little as he opens it. His eyes widen when he realizes what it is.
"The deal went through? You got the condo?"
I grin. "Yep. The bank sent someone over today and I signed the papers. We can start moving in after Christmas."
"That's great!" He seems enthused, but the smile quickly fades.
I'm concerned. This isn't the reaction I'd hoped for, but I don't say anything. I think if I wait patiently, he'll let me in on his thoughts. I'm right. After a moment he looks at me and gives me a faint smile.
"I'm going to miss this place. Naomi would have a fit, but I've grown attached, man. The thought of leaving it is kind of--hard. You know?"
I mirror his smile, glancing around the loft I've lived in since I got out of the service. I know how Sandburg feels, but the place just doesn't work for a man in a wheelchair. With a major renovation the place could be made wheelchair friendly, but the building itself couldn't. The hallway is a bit too narrow, the elevator is a scary proposition even when it is working, and the staircase is too steep for ramps. Nope, as much as I like the place, it just won't work.
I nod. "Yeah, I know. It's definitely been like an old friend, hasn't it?"
"Well, we'll make the new place just as comfortable. Probably more so. You won't have to help me into the bathroom anymore, or fix all my meals." I grin again, hoping he'll take the humor.
It works, somewhat. He smiles a little wider. "Yeah, I won't even have to lift you into the tub, you'll be able to wheel right into the shower. You'll be able to reach the stove and cook, not that you did a lot of the cooking anyway?" He actually grins at this. "We'll even have a decent view of the bay."
"You're always telling me to try new things, that change is good. Let's make this a good change. We might not be able to change the past, Chief, but we can affect where we go from here. How 'bout it?"
After a second's thought, Sandburg nods decisively.
I raise my beer bottle. "A toast to the future, Chief."
"We're gonna make it, aren't we, Jim?"
"You going anywhere?"
A furious shake of the head.
"And I'm not going anywhere and since we can't go backward and we can't stay
still, I'd say we're future bound. You, me, and Wheeler."
Sandburg nearly chokes on his non-beer. "Wheeler?"
"The van, Chief. All heroes name their horses, you know."
"It's a 250 horsepower engine. Do we have to name every one of them?" He's grinning again.
"I think one will cover it."
Blair holds up his bottle. "To the future. You know, I was thinking...."
I sit back and listen to him talk. Another depression, another stumbling block dealt with. It doesn't matter who. It doesn't matter what. All that matters is that we tackle them together.
The End (until next time)
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On to Storm Changes