Recovery Epic

Cycle One: Discoveries

Color Crucible

011. Red

Red. Blair looked down at his hands and felt an overwhelming urge to throw up. Unfortunately he didn't know a way to disgorge his emotions, and throwing up his salad from lunch wouldn't help matters. Crimson. Red. Blair considered wiping his hands on his pants, but then he's just have red over more of him. Funny how the red came from trying to help and not the actual act of violence.

"Hon, you okay?" Bets asked in a concerned voice.

"Oh man. Oh man, I shot him," Blair whispered.

"Babe, I would rather have you shoot him than him shoot us."

"I just wanted to ask a couple of questions." Blair was vaguely aware of his voice taking on a petulant, whining tone, but he couldn't seem to control that any more than he could control the shaking in his hands. He just thanked god Bets had taken his gun away as soon as the backup arrived.

"Sometimes it works that way." Blair felt Bets' arm around his shoulders, and he leaned into her, taking comfort from her soothing voice and pretending she was someone else.


012. Orange.
The psychologist had recommended a week off, and Blair wasn't protesting. He would have asked for the time if no one had taken his gun and made him go home. He threw his laundry into baskets as he tried to keep his mind off the image of the suspect's surprise when Blair's bullet had torn through his chest.

Blair shook his head in frustration as he refocused himself on sorting dark pants and white shirts and multicolored shirts and tan pants and dingy socks and underwear and blue shirt.

Blair stopped and looked at the shirt in his hands. Dull orange splatters on the cuffs.

Sliding down the wall until he was on his knees, Blair's resolve, which had held him together through the report and the psychologist's office and Captain Roth's lecture, failed him. While Blair hoped that taking a deep breath would somehow cleanse him, instead it released the tears that he had tried rationalizing away.

Yes, the man had been evil. Yes, without Blair another child would have died. Yes, the shooting was justified.

It didn't matter. Blair sat on the floor and sobbed over orange dots on a blue shirt.


013. Yellow.
"I'm not sure, but I think I'm a coward--yellow-bellied, chicken livered, gutless, pusillanimous coward," Blair slurred the word pusillanimous into one long syllable as he curled his fingers around the neck of his beer bottle to try and steady himself. Unfortunately, the bottle just slid across the scratched surface of the bar as Blair started tilting backwards. A hand at the small of his back pushed him back into the bar so that Blair could feel the cold metal of the rail pressed into his chest. "Hey, you take calls with Bets, so I know you're not a coward."

"Watch it, white boy, or you'll find out just how intimidating I can be."

Blair was fairly sure the first voice was Jeff, and he knew the second voice was Bets. Hmmm. The well-dressed teasing cop and the tough lady cop. What did that remind him of? Blair had a passing thought about life and clichés, and then it was gone in the fuzzy-grey world of blessed intoxication.

"Frizzy, you are the bravest son of a bitch I know," Bets said, and a warm hand settled on his shoulder. Blair let his head sink slowly to the bar.

"Less than ten suspects a year are killed, and I killed one," Blair informed the surface of the bar. Faded white ring stains winked back at him.

"And if you hadn't shot either you or I would have been laying dead on that street, so don't talk like you did something wrong," a demanding woman insisted, and Blair wondered where the Australian accent had gone. He missed it.

"Yellow, yellow, yellow," Blair chanted as he tried to bring the beer bottle to his mouth. He found himself putting a knuckle in his mouth because the bottle had mysteriously vanished. "Scared to go back to work," he muttered around his knuckles, and then the world started waving in and out of focus. Blair solved his problems by simply passing out.


014. Green.
Breathing in the damp air thick with the scent of pine, Blair could hardly believe he was in the same state. The ride up into the mountains had made Blair's ears pop several times, and now that he opened the door of Bets' huge Expedition, the first thing Blair noticed was the green. Living in the valley he had grown used to brown rock front yards and pale green leaves on light ash colored trees and grey boulders. Now all he could see was light green moss clinging to the sides of the rocks and deep green needles clothing the pine trees and verdant green weeds crowding the ditch. The green of life, Blair realized, and suddenly he didn't feel like he belonged here.

"Grab the table cloth," Bets ordered, and Blair reached back for the garish yellow piece of plastic.

"It's beautiful up here," Blair commented as he spread the cloth over the lone picnic table at the small roadside stop.

"Babe, that's what I love about this state. Even in the blistering heat of summer you can come up here and forget that we live in a damn oven." Bets started loading the table with covered dishes, far more than two people could possibly eat. "So, can't say I'm good with this sensitive crap, so I'm going to come right out and speak my piece. You did a good thing last week, and now you're pissin' me off by acting like you've somehow sinned against the universe."

"Oh man, I know I had to, but my heart hasn't quite caught up with the program." Blair sat down heavily on the gouged wood bench attached to the table.

"When the perp pulled that gun, you went by the book. If you hadn't pulled the trigger, what would have happened?"

"Bets, I know. Man, I totally get that it was a justified shooting."

"Then why are you playing martyr?"

"I'm not."


"Bets," Blair warned with his tone that he did not want to have this discussion, especially not if he was expected to eat afterwards.

"No. I'm not dropping this until you get over it. Since I don't know how to do the careful and caring shit, this is my version of supportive. So either pull your head out of your ass or you're going to see this side of me a whole lot, Babe."

"God help me," Blair moaned as he let his eyes follow the line of the mountains around them. The peaks he could see now were the home of the Hopi Kachina spirits who lived on the mountain six months a year and with the tribe the other six. Blair wondered if he could manage to wrangle an invite to a Kachina dance when it came around next time.

"Do not go wandering away when I'm giving you advice," Bets snapped.

"I thought you were yelling at me," Blair dryly commented as he turned his eyes to Bets who had her hands firmly planted on her hips in challenge.

"Same thing," she said with a complaisant shrug. "You've got to get your head in the job," she said in a nearly compassionate tone as she took a seat opposite of him and pulled the cover off a bowl of ribs before pulling one out.

"And if I can't?" Blair asked. Bets stopped and considered him with the rib sticking up in the air.

"Then you can't do this job." Bets words made Blair stop and blink in surprise. "And don't you dare give up because I am tired of taking calls with Russo. I'm going to end up shooting the man if I have to ride with him."

"I don't know if I can live with this. I killed a man."

"I really hate sounding like our local headshrinker, but you gotta talk about it."

"I've talked about it until I can't talk any more," Blair pointed out defensively as he pulled the bowl of ribs over to his side of the table.

"Babe, you have talked about statistics and cultural beliefs about killing and the fucking history of firearms, but you have not talked about anything that really counts. So stop trying to bullshit an old bullshitter like me."

"You're not old."

"And again with the creative topic change." Bets tore a piece of meat off her rib, and Blair pushed himself up and away from the table.

"I'm not hungry," he said dropping the rib he had just snagged on the top of the covered bowl before walking away from table. He hadn't understood why Bets had wanted to come so far for a simple picnic, but after enduring the three hour drive, he got it. He was essentially trapped here with Bets while she poked at his soft emotional underbelly. The woman was a predator.

Blair walked away from her and into the trees. So much green. Putting a hand on the rough bark of a tall pine tree, Blair breathed in the smell of life, the smell of green, and he wished that he still felt like he belonged to this world of living things. But since wishes weren't horses, he was going to have to walk.


015. Blue.
Blair could hear the sound of water, and he wandered down a path made of woodchips and marker posts topped with bright orange paint. The small trail led down to a stream, and Blair slid the last few steep feet to the edge of the water. The stream slid over rocks with frothy white-blue crests and dark blue eddies and blue-green spots where algae clung to rocks. Even though Blair desperately wanted privacy, he could hear Bets hot on his trail, her heavy footsteps making the bark chips snap under her weight.

"Maybe it's time to head back," Blair said as soon as she came close enough to hear him, but he never moved his eyes from the stream.

"Not even," Bets snapped.

"You know, this might be described as kidnapping."

"My ma always said a person should try everything once, so I guess this is your day for gettin' kidnapped."

Bets' words made Blair snort so loud that he made his own nose sting. "Oh man, you're like years too late to be my first on that count," Blair laughed darkly. "Years, man. Like about a dozen kidnappings too late to be my first."

Blair sat down on the damp ground and he could feel the moisture from the grass soak into his jeans.

"A dozen? You've lived an interesting life Frizzy." Bets sat down next to him, and Blair bit his tongue before he said too much.


"Kidnapped, huh. Must be an interesting story."

"Not really. Kombai tree people thought I was an evil spirit but then they figured I was a geek and took me back to meet the family. An insane man thought he could kill me and steal my identity. A gun-runner grabbed me after I fell for his daughter. Then there's the paramilitary nutjob who grabbed me twice and the survivalists who tried to blow me up and the dirty cops," Blair glanced over and Bets was looking at him like he had lost his mind. "And I think I'm just stopping there."

"You're either one hell of a liar or the biggest trouble magnet I've ever met."

"Try both," Blair said with a sigh. "Died once." Blair bit his tongue harder as he realized that he had said the one thing he didn't mean to say.

"Did ya now?" Bets leaned back into the slope of the stream bank, and Blair followed her example. Just like in the valley, the sky was a uniform crisp, clear blue.

"Yeah," Blair whispered as he stared up into the air.

"What that feel like?" Bets words sounded casual, but Blair didn't miss the sharp steel under the honeyed tones. He didn't doubt that Bets would keep him up here until she was satisfied that he had, as she put it, pulled his head out of his ass. Blair considered just how long they could be up here because he felt like his head had taken up permanent residence there.

"Cold," he finally answered. Bets didn't answer and Blair could feel the silence winding around him like a hungry snake. "Fucking terrifying," Blair added. The warm air moved over his face, and he kept staring up into the bright blue sky that didn't match his mood at all. He remembered the cold of the fountain where Alex had shoved his head under the water until his lungs had burned with the need for oxygen and his mouth had finally opened. He remembered the blue dreamscape where the jaguar had found him.

"I felt helpless," Blair spoke into that silence and drove away the snaking memories that tried to trap him.

"I bet you did. Did you feel like that when you killed Fielder?"

Blair opened his mouth to protest, but then he realized the truth. "Yeah," he whispered. "No fucking control. Just watching my life change, and I can't do anything about it," Blair whispered the truth to the sky above, driving the fears into the open.

"Funny thing about that. Killing makes a bad man feel powerful, but it makes a good man feel helpless."

"I didn't fucking want to do it. That asshole. He could have just dropped the fucking gun." Blair surged to his feet and ripped a small branch off a nearby tree. "He looked right at me. What? Is it so obvious that I'm not cop material that he thought I'd stand there and let him shoot me?"

"Oh, Babe, he knew you'd shoot. He picked his death because he couldn't face what prison held for a child molester and killer."

"And he fucking used me for his suicide."

"Sucks, don't it?" Bets asked quietly, and Blair clung to the branch he'd just ripped from the tree as if he could use it to beat the memories away.

"Man, more than I can say. I know that I didn't have any other choice, but I can't get guilt and the anger out."

"Don't try. Figure they'll be a part of you for a long time, but you just stop puttin' on yourself. Know that the guilt is Fielder's and you have a right to be angry."

"Bets, I think I just need some time. Maybe a chance to get my thoughts together."

"Wish you had somebody you could let help ya." Bets' words brought an image of ice-blue eyes and a smiling face to Blair's mind.

"I just need to work this out myself," Blair said softly.

"Okay, Babe. You want some ribs and coleslaw, and I'll be up at the table." As Bets started back up the trail, Blair kept his eyes focused on the turbulent blues of the stream as the water just kept rushing past. For some reason he couldn't stop thinking about the old adage about never being able to step in the same river twice. Closing his eyes, he let himself sink down into lotus position as he searched his mind for some sort of resolution.


016. Purple.
"Hey, Frizz," Maria called across the room, and Blair waved absent-mindedly as he read the report in his hand. Two and two were adding up to five, which was making Blair increasingly frustrated. Dropping into his desk chair, Blair slowly lowered the file. He was so caught up in the report that the sight of a purple and red monstrosity on his desk startled him badly enough that he dropped the file and all the papers across the cheap gray carpeting of the bullpen. Behind him, a half dozen voices roared with laughter. Blair swiveled his chair around to glare at his various co-workers. Maria and Jeff leaned against the wall by the coffee machine, Bets was at her desk literally slapping her thigh and Carl snorted rather unsubtly from behind a file of his own while Russo just nodded happily.

"What the?" Blair looked again at the stuffed toy. A long curved red horn sat in the middle of the forehead right above a rather evil looking eye. The short purple fur covered the body while long curved red nails came out of each paw. In short, it was the creepiest looking toy Blair had ever seen.

"Man, if someone plans to give this to a kid, you'd better be able to afford the therapy bill."

"Nah, that's all yours," Jeff offered from across the room.

"Um, thanks?" Blair looked at the hideous thing again.

"You know, Babe, the song… the guy too tough for the one-eyed, one-horned purple people eater to eat." Bets commented and then made it clear the conversation was over by turning her back and slipping on headphones as she typed up a week's worth of reports. As the rest of the room wandered back to work, Blair sat looking at the small purple toy that suddenly seemed a lot less grotesque.

Blair reached out and touched the purple fur on one stuffed arm before putting the creature on the top of his in basket. He idly wondered if it was too morbid to name the thing Alex.


017. Brown.
Brown hair, brown eyes. Great description, Blair thought as he wandered the ASU campus. The vague description of the attacker made Blair glare at every brown-haired student who passed him on the quad. With his messenger bag slung over one shoulder, he knew he looked the part of a middle-age returning student. Hell, he fit in on campus better than at the police barbeque, which is why he'd pulled bait duty. "Man, if you guys had any idea how often me being bait has backfired," Blair hissed into the phone. Ironically, the phone wasn't connected, but the wire he wore on his collar would carry the words back to the rest of his team. The rest of his team who were inside the nursing building while he was wandering the dim shadows between various buildings with a phone to his ear and a bag slung over his shoulder like the oblivious student he was supposed to be.

A brown-haired man approached him from the north as he came out from between two buildings, and Blair tried to not *look* like he was tensing up. Considering he'd seen the pictures of the vicious assaults, it wasn't easy: broken bones, internal injures, head trauma. The man passed with a small nod. Blair started to breath again.

Blair was within sight of the Student Union when something hard and crushing hit him in the kidney from behind. Blair fell to his knees with a gasp, and before he could recover his breath, he found himself dragged into the shadow of the old library.

A second blow landed, but Blair had rolled and squirmed so that the metal bar caught him in the hip instead of the more vulnerable back. Blair scrambled for his weapon, pulling it out with one hand as he grappled with the attacker with his other.

"Phoenix police, put your hands up and step back," Blair demanded as he lined up his gun with the suspect. For one moment, the shadow form that Blair could see froze, caught between attacking and fleeing and surrendering, and Blair felt a bubble of warm panic rise in his chest. Then the shadow raised its hands and began to retreat.

Blair pushed his way up to his knees while holding the gun steady, and a whole chorus of running footsteps heralded the arrival of backup.

Shouted voices ordered the man to his knees, and Blair slipped the safety into place before sliding his weapon into the holster under his multicolored vest. As his colleagues cuffed and Mirandized the suspect, Blair stood in the shadow, leaning against the stone building, and slowly smiling. Oh yeah. He'd done it. For the first time since the shooting, he'd pulled his gun.

The bubble of panic shrank rather than disappearing completely, but as Russo pulled the suspect to his feet, Blair looked at the attacker's wide face and brown eyes and brown hair and realized that he had just saved some random student from months of pain. He'd helped to stop the monster. The adrenaline rush Blair had felt so many times in the past came back, and he smiled wider as Russo roughly pulled toward the parking lot where they had left the unmarked police vehicles.

"You okay?" Russo asked in passing.

"Oh man, I'm more than okay. I'm so jazzed. I'm riding adrenaline," Blair said as he slapped Russo on the arm. Russo just rolled his eyes as he gave the suspect's arm another jerk to get him moving faster.


018. Black.
Blair didn't realize he was dreaming until he saw the black form dart through the trees. Really, he should have recognized the blue jungle, but until he saw the black jaguar, he accepted the twisted trees and eerie light as normal. Moving forward toward the shadowy form of the jaguar, Blair also realized that he had four feet, which should have been another indication of dream. Well, he could do lucid dreaming. Man, he had read enough about lucid dreaming and altered states of consciousness to teach a whole catalogue of classes on them, if he had still been a teacher. Blair concentrated and forced his body to take on more human features although he couldn't seem to lose the hair.

As Blair stepped forward into the night, he nearly tripped over the body of a large deer. Blair was briefly tempted to complain about the improbability of the elk-like creature being in Peru, but then he was a timber wolf in Peru, so logic really didn't have much to do with it. The deer had its stomach torn out, and Blair felt his own stomach churn at the sight of slick intestines and organs slowly sliding from the warm interior of the animal.

"Chief, I didn't want this for you."

Blair spun around, and Jim stood there in his jungle fatigues with a tired expression on his face.

"I shouldn't have suggested it," Jim said sadly as he looked at the dead animal.

"Great man. I can't get you to talk in real life, so my subconscious just creates a new you," Blair snorted his disgust with a half-laugh and half-sob sound.

"Chief," Jim said as he took a step closer, but then he stopped. "Chief, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Jim. Man, even in my subconscious you're still playing babysitter, but I can handle this." That must have been the wrong answer because Jim gave him one last look before shifting back into the black jaguar and disappearing into the jungle.

"Jim!" Blair called out, and a jaguar scream answered him. The sound ripped through Blair, and he took off running after Jim, suddenly terrified that something had gone horribly wrong. He tried to call out again, but his face had changed and when he opened his mouth, his tongue hung down as he ran.

Leaping over a fallen tree, he spotted the jaguar, black fur stained with red. Blair hurried forward, desperate to reach the cat's side. As he closed the final distance, the cat reached out a paw and slashed him across the face so that he could feel sharp points ripping through the flesh of his cheek.

Gasping in pain and reaching up to touch his cheek, Blair sat straight up in bed. The black of night surrounded him, and he could feel the unblemished skin of his face where the jaguar claws had torn him. Blair sat there trying to calm his heart beat and wrestle his own fears into submission. Reaching to his bedside phone, he picked the handset up and the numbers glowed softly before Blair put the phone back down and the room went black again.

Yeah, like he could just call Jim up in the middle of the night because he had a nightmare. Blair settled back down onto the mattress, but he spent the rest of the night staring into the darkness until the first glow of dawn crept into the space between the blinds and the wall.

Maybe he should go for a run, he thought as he lay there trying not to think of a black jaguar bleeding in a blue jungle.


019. White.
Blair stared at the white wall of his kitchen and tried counting the spackled nail holes in order to distract himself from the anger that threatened to spill out. "Sweetie, I can understand why you accepted the position in Cascade, but this..." Naomi's voice trailed off in definite disapproval and confusion.

"Mom, I like the work. I like figuring out how the clues fit together, and I like helping people."

"I hear you," Naomi answered, and Blair was struck with a desire to strangle the phone, a desire which quickly faded into a tired sigh.

"Mom, I'm making a life here."

"And I'm so proud of you for picking up and moving on, and honey, I am so sorry that I made this trouble for you."

"I know, Mom. I don't blame you."

"I just wanted you to find your happiness, and I thought it would help."

"I know, Mom."

"But sweetie, as your mother this thing now worries me."

"Mom," Blair tried using a sharp tone to warn her off dangerous territory, but as usual Naomi ignored the warning.

"I mean, in Cascade you had Jim and I understand how you two became linked. Your spirits touched each other, and I understood that you needed to follow Jim even to the point of joining the force. I know that. But sweetie, you..." Blair could hear his mother's voice catch on the edge of tears.

"Mom, it happened. It was miserable, but I survived."

"You killed a man." Naomi's words sent a white hot spear of regret through Blair's soul, but he took a deep breath as he switched over to counting threads on the spider web growing in the corner, the delicate strands almost invisible against the wall.

"I know, Mom. I didn't have a choice, and as much as I wish something different had happened, I won't wish that it never happened. If I hadn't started questioning the construction workers, more children would have died."

"Oh honey, I hear you. And I am proud that you are living your beliefs. I just worry about you."

"I can take care of myself Mom."

"I know that. I've always had confidence in your judgment. You were the most mature ten year old I've ever seen, but you never showed any interest in police work before Jim."

"And now that I know how good it feels to help people, to make a difference, I don't want to go back to writing papers that maybe a hundred people will ever read."

"There are other ways to make a difference, honey. You could join an advocacy group or investigate corporate misconduct or become a spokesperson for an aboriginal tribe."

"I could be more like you," Blair snapped, and immediately he regretted it as the silence on the other end of the phone revealed his mother's distress far more than any words.

"I hear your frustration and confusion, sweetie. I just don't want you to try to be Jim now that you don't have him in your life."

"I'm not Mom. I have my own life here."

"As a detective?"


"Carrying a gun?"


"Playing a white knight?"

"Oh boy, I am not trying to play anything, Mom. I just wanted to make a new life away from the diss and the whole disaster. The rest just happened."

"We make our own destinies," Naomi pointed out quietly.

"Then this is the destiny that I've made for myself."

"I hear you, but I still worry. I'm your mom, sweetie, and I worry about you."

"And I love you for worrying, but I'm okay."

"What if it happens again?"

"I hope it doesn't, but I'll just have to deal with that when the day comes."

"Honey, you are throwing your life away."

"No, I'm not."

"You could do so much better..."

"Better than what? Better than a cop? Better like three million dollars better? Maybe I don't want to do any better." The ugly words slipped out of Blair like knives, and he could feel a white-hot anger rise like a monster from the deep. The silence from the other end condemned him far more effectively than any words. He took deep cleansing breaths as he tried to center himself. It hadn't been Naomi's fault, it really hadn't, but he still felt the anger curled inside.

"You deserve to vent. I made your life very difficult, and that wasn't my intention. I just want you to find your own path and not walk in someone's else's shadow... anyone else's shadow."

"Mom, I'm not in shadow here. I'm doing okay."

"And is that a white lie to make your mother feel better?"

"I'm as okay as I can be," Blair said truthfully.

"Have you heard from him?" Neither Naomi nor Blair had to define 'him.'

"No. I've talked to Simon and Megan a couple of times, but..." Blair struggled to describe it. "It just isn't the same."

"Oh sweetie, you just have to detach with love," Naomi said in a suddenly soft tone.

"Yeah, I did the detaching part, now I just have to learn to live with it," Blair answered. "But I'm doing okay, Mom. Promise."

"My little white knight," Naomi said fondly, and Blair had to smile at the tone, a tone she had always used when he had brought home some injured animal he wanted to save. The tone she used when the injured animal had died in Blair's arms.

"Always," he promised her.


020. Colourless.
The sky was a sort of blend of grays and blues and whites, and the air heavy with humidity. While Blair enjoyed the hot, dry weather that was normal in Phoenix, this pre-rain blanket that fell over the valley left him sweating madly and seriously considering cutting his hair. Ever since the shooting, the other officers had promoted him from Frizzy to Frizz, but right now Blair thought damp and stringy described his hair better than frizzy. Thick, weedy grass covered the cemetery's property and sent creepers onto the concrete paths where the grass searched for ground where it could send down roots. Jeff had explained that this grass that crept into every available space and took root in rock and clay and dirt grey with lack of nutrients only thrived in the bake oven summers. Come winter with its mild weather the grass would lose its color and disappear only to come back from the root when the sun started blasting the valley again next year.

Wiping his hand over his neck, he considered losing a layer of clothing, but he didn't want to take off the multicolored vest that he wore over the short-sleeved green shirt. He didn't want the gun visible. Not here. Not now.
Blair looked at the limp paper in his hand and turned it as he tried to figure out the landmarks well enough to find his destination. He flashed on an image of Jim glaring at him from under a Jags hat as Blair admitted to getting them lost again. Jim would sigh dramatically even while having laughter in his eyes.

The sight of the Gethsemane marker pulled him out of his memory. If he was reading the map right, his goal should be in this section of the cemetery. He stepped off the path and walked between the sunken markers lined up in rows.

Death wasn't neat or clean or orderly, and the crisp order of the gravestones suddenly seemed like the world's biggest hypocrisy. Hell, death was even less orderly than life, and yet here it was cleaned up and trimmed and put in order so that the living could come and see the neat version of death instead of the messy reality.

At the far edge of the garden, the gravestones disappeared so that the land looked like a lawn interrupted only by small round markers with letters and numbers. Blair knelt down and pushed the creepers back off a marker in order to read it: 48B. Standing almost took more energy than he had in the thick, humid air, but Blair pushed on to the next marker. 49B. Blair took the map and figured out north so that he could estimate grave sized widths. 49B-lot 3. Moving to the piece of land that matched the highlighted square on the map, Blair sat on the ground.

"Hey man," he said to the ground or the putty colored sky or the soul that may or may not be able to hear him. "Thought I'd come out and just talk. Figured I had a few things to say to you." Blair stopped as he tried to collect the thoughts that kept scattering to the corners of his mind.

"I talked to your mother. Apologized really. She... um... no offense man, but she's a bit of a loon. I mean, she makes Naomi look like Betty Homemaker. I think she was stoned. Actually, I hope she was stoned because if she's like that when she's sober, that's really sad. Anyway, I told her how sorry I was, and she said she missed you. Well, it was between bouts of cursing me out, but she's just angry that she lost you." Blair took a deep breath.

"Your sister told me about the neighbor. She told me how you never wanted anyone to touch you after that." Blair blinked as the world suddenly lost its sharp edges as tears filled his eyes. "She knows you never meant to do something so evil, but sometimes we get evil put in our souls and we don't know how to get it out. The poison just keeps spreading." Blair tried to reconcile the feelings that flowed through him, but he couldn't find any middle ground between his anger at the evil this man had created and the compassion for the boy that man had once been.

"Man, you hurt a lot of people, but I know how you covered them up, dressed them again and put them somewhere safe so they would be found. I know you didn't want them to be lost or in pain. But man, you were the adult. You needed to get the poison out, and you just tried to fit in by poisoning everything around you. Not cool, man."

A distant rumble of thunder suggested that the promised rain might actually fall, but then it had felt like rain for hours and the clouds remained a colorless dull blanket over the valley.

"Oh man. I wish you would have asked for help earlier because I would rather have helped you find a therapist than helped you commit suicide. It wasn't fucking fair. I didn't deserve that any more than those children deserved what you did to them... any more than you deserved what happened to you. I'm just sorry for the whole mess." Blair closed his eyes as the wind started to blow.

"You know, usually when I solve a case I get all jazzed, but there just isn't anything to get jazzed about here. There's no good side. But man, I wanted to say that I forgive you. I know that you weren't strong enough to survive the poison that got into your soul, but I am. I'm okay, and I hope wherever you are, you're okay too. Well, maybe a little extra karma or a lifetime or two as a bug. You hurt kids, man, and maybe a few cycles of getting stepped on will teach you to be a little more careful of others, but after you've gotten the poison out of your soul, I hope you have a chance for something better. I hope my bullet wasn't the end for you. I hope you have a chance to make a different choice.

Blair opened his eyes, and the dust made his eyes sting and water as his hair whipped around his face. Blair turned and looked at the wall of dust descending on him. He'd read about haboobs, the wall of dust that would swallow the east valley whole and bury it under a dust storm. They only happened two places in the world, and Blair watched in wonder as the wall seemed to creep forward even though his mind told him that the leading edge of the dust storm could actually travel quite fast.

Blair continued to watch as the sky dimmed and his skin felt the prickles and then the wall engulfed him. Color disappeared in the thick dust and the wind pulled at the edges of his clothing. Blair had been in much worse storms, but the sudden shift as the dust enveloped him left him in awe. He could practically feel the storms power ripping past him.

Making a final silent prayer that Fielder's soul had found peace that it never found in life, Blair moved through the colorless dust storm back toward his car which had become a shadow in the sea of sand. He had work to do.


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