Words Left Behind
Summary: Jim and Naomi travel to Peru to bring Blair home.
Notes: Tissue and cliffhanger warning (not like me, huh? *g*). Before anyone asks, I don't have time to write a sequel right now - too many irons in the fire. But I would be more than happy if someone else wanted to take this on and run with it. Just let me know if you are interested! If I get no takers, I will probably get around to it eventually.
Acknowledgement: Thanks a million to Xasphie for the quick beta.
"I'm truly sorry for your loss, Senora Sandburg."
Jim couldn't bring himself to look at the studious sympathy in the face of the police official. The tone, dripping in affected, impersonal commiseration, was enough.
It made him want to hit something. Hard.
But Naomi wasn't a sentinel, and perhaps, therefore, less able than Jim to pick up on the subtle verbal cues, confirming the triteness of the platitudes she was being offered. "Thank you," she was saying, "for all you've done. I just want to take Blair home. And," her voice broke a little, "please, I'd like to see him now."
Grinding molars as flat as the Peruvian plateau from which Blair's body had been recovered, Jim watched, as Captain Cardenas led the way towards the morgue, his deceased friend's grieving mother following in the policeman's wake. Jim felt oddly detached and unreal, as though he was an observer on the fringes of this tragedy, rather than an integral part of it. As if he, too, was as dead as Sandburg, and somehow viewing this sad tableau from the afterlife.
He could only watch, ghost-like, as Cardenas paused at a desk, and addressed Naomi. "I almost forgot. Before you view the body - and as I already warned you, Senora, there was little left of your son after the wild animals had their way - we found this at the scene, concealed beneath a rock." Cardenas unlocked a drawer, bringing out a plastic-wrapped bundle, which he proffered to Naomi. She took it from him, reverently.
Naomi gazed down at what she held in her hands. Then liquid brown eyes lifted, to focus on Jim. He rocketed back into the here and now, as the validation in the intensity of those eyes confirmed the reality of his existence. "His journal," she confided brokenly. "It's his journal."
In two strides, Jim was there, his arm around her shoulders. Gazing down into Naomi's brimming eyes, he nodded his understanding, wanting so much to gift her - as all that was left alive of his beloved friend - with his strength.
As usual, Sandburg strength was turned back on him tenfold. "I'm so sorry, Jim," she whispered, the sincere compassion in her voice breaking through his iron composure, as nothing else had. "You loved him too. And he loved you."
Not trusting himself to speak, in dread that all that he had confined within would escape in a primal roar a jaguar would envy, he simply pulled her close. They clung together, the bittersweet pain of love and loss binding them in perfect understanding.
The Captain's voice, infused with barely concealed impatience, jarred them out of their mutual giving and taking of comfort. "Senora, Senor, if you please? We will view the body now."
Naomi pulled away, and wiping her eyes, she nodded her agreement. "Of course. Forgive me. It's just… you see, Blair took his journal everywhere with him - he kept one for many years, since he was a child. It was a shock to see it." She looked up again at Jim, sadly. "Now I know this is real. It all just seemed like a terrible nightmare before."
Jim despondently looked away, hearing an echo of his own turbulent emotions in Naomi's words. He was unable to make any sound past the grief lodged in his throat. She seemed to understand, though, and patted him gently on the arm. Quietly, just for his ears, she said, "We can do this, Jim. Together. We must, so we can have closure. He would want that for us."
Nodding his assent, Jim reluctantly turned towards their destination. As he moved away, a slender fingered hand caught his own, and hand in hand, they followed Cardenas into the morgue. It felt as if they were walking to their doom, on the verge of confirming that the worst dread of their hearts really had come to pass. The plastic-wrapped bundle, Blair's secret thoughts and desires translated to a slim, leather-bound volume, remained cradled in Naomi's other arm.
The stark, white interior of the morgue seemed an incongruous setting for the mortal remains of someone who had been so vibrant; so alive. The stainless steel drawer was unlatched and slid open without any ceremony. And if this cold, sterile room was the antithesis of Blair's life, the skeletal contents within the drawer seemed to hold nothing at all of Blair.
Naomi had taken one look, and with a gasp had turned her face into Jim's shirt. But Jim's gaze was riveted on the cadaver. Eyes that could see clearer than a microscope took in the shape of bone, the angle of eye socket, the alignment of femur. A nose more sensitive than a bloodhound's scented the air, searching for a beloved, familiar scent over the reek of decaying flesh and formaldehyde.
Faced with the amazing, incontrovertible evidence before him, he finally found his voice. "It isn't him."
In his arms, Naomi froze. "It isn't him," Jim repeated, a little louder, his voice carrying, this time, beyond the woman in his arms to their audience. "It's not Sandburg."
Naomi raised her head to look at him.
"Senor," Cardenas was saying, "you must be mistaken. The forensic evidence shows…"
Jim was saved from having to interject, when Naomi whirled to face Cardenas. "If Jim says it's not Blair," she interrupted angrily, "then it's not Blair! What have you done with my son?"
Cardenas held up both hands, placatingly. "Senora Sandburg, this is, I assure you, the body that was found. It is the only body here."
"Then it wasn't Blair you found," Jim stated with certainty, silencing the pointless diatribe. "Sandburg was shot in the leg a while back. His right thighbone was nicked. This body has no sign of any injury." He locked gazes with Naomi, who was looking at him trustingly, triumphantly. "It's not him."
"I know," she said simply.
A while later, back at the seedy hotel, Jim looked down at the well-worn journal, as he turned it over and over in his hands. Naomi had stated a desire to spend some time alone, after the emotional roller-coaster of the past few days; but Ellison needed to get straight down to business.
He needed to start looking for Sandburg.
Feeling, incongruously, a little guilty for intruding on Blair's precious privacy - even in the current circumstances - Ellison finally opened the journal. Skimming through it, he found exactly what he expected. It contained a personal account of Blair's journey to Peru, to which he had traveled to conduct a study of local jaguar legends. It detailed incidents that had happened, and described people he had met along the way, and was written in his characteristic verbose, often witty style.
But, oddly, the final entry was unfinished, as though Blair had been interrupted mid-sentence. And there was nothing to indicate what might have happened to halt him, or why he had disappeared; or how his clothing and other personal items came to be found on a John Doe, high on a plateau in the back of beyond.
But as Jim was about to close the diary, his fingertip encountered something odd as it ran over the last page. An invisible irregularity, which only his own, particular sense of touch could detect. Running fingertips over the faint, jagged indentations in the paper, made perhaps by someone digging a fingernail into the page, Jim's heart suddenly pounded with a surge of adrenaline.
alex b… escaped… here… no trust cardenas…
But it was the three final words, a plea clearly etched for his eyes only, which made his heart turn over in dread and fear.
jim… help… me…