Sea and Sky XVIII:
A Thousand Regrets
by Dannell Lites
Standard Disclaimers apply:):) Not mine! Don't sue:):)
I must have sat in my car for almost an hour in the hospital parking lot before I finally got up the nerve to actually walk into the hospital itself. I sat there with the windows rolled up, sweating like a pig, hoping the security patrolman who kept giving me the evil eye whenever he passed by would disappear in a puff of smoke.
No such luck.
I've never been so frightened in my entire life. And I've led one hell of a life, so that really says something special, I think. Not sure what. But I *do* know that I don't *like* what it says.
Not one little bit.
It actually *hurt* when I opened up the big double glass doors and stepped into the Lobby. The air conditioning and the smell of antiseptics smote me like a hammer, right between the eyes. My head suddenly felt like it was going to explode. My stomach rolled and pitched like a ship at sea caught in a raging typhoon. I raced for the rest room and just barely made it. I tripped and fell. I crawled the last few feet up to a urinal before I vomited up the greasy tacos that passed for my lunch. Levering myself painfully to my feet, I stumbled to a wash basin and rinsed my mouth of the sour taste of my own vomit. Very pointedly I did *not* let myself look in the discolored mirror. I splashed my fevered face with cool water and sighed in relief.
''Nothing to worry about.' I told myself. 'Just the quick change in temperature is all it is.'
I did look in the mirror, then, and I stared at myself for long moments. I ran cool finger through my sweat soaked hair. What in the hell was I doing here, I wondered?
I gritted my teeth until they hurt. Almost relishing the small pain, I sneered at my image in the mirror. 'Get with The Program, Grayson!' I snarled at my too handsome reflection. 'You're here because JP is here. Because you *put* him here. Or did you forget?'
My hand lanced out and smashed the silvered glass that mocked me so. The blow was perfect, snapping from the shoulder with my whole arm behind it Just the way Bruce taught me. My mocking doppleganger shattered into a thousand myriad pieces, fractured and ugly, now; revealed at last for what it truly was.
A lot like *me*, actually.
I stood there for many moments bleeding into the porcelain bowl of the wash basin, staring at the truth laid bare for my eyes.
"No, I haven't forgotten," I whispered.
Calmly, I turned on the cold water and rinsed the scarlet blood from my hand. With care, I picked out several visible shards of glass from the wound and discarded them in the waste basket at my feet, examining the deep cut. I was going to need stitches for this one. I'm an expert when it comes to wounds ... giving and receiving them. Wrapping my hand in my handkerchief, I forgot about it.
Later. I had things to do, now.
Oh, yeah. Things to do. You betcha. Uh huh.
"I'm here to see a patient," I informed the pretty young blond receptionist behind the front desk, smiling for all I was worth. That championship smile. Works every time. "A patient named Jean-Paul Valley. Could you tell me what room he's in, please?" Coloring coquettishly she turned to her computer and punched up the patient roster.
I knew I was in trouble when she frowned.
She turned to me, looking unhappy. "I'm sorry, Sir ..."
God, don't you just hate those three little words? Almost as deadly as, "I like you, BUT ... "
Yeah, believe it or not, I've heard those words, too.
" ... Mr. Valley is a patient in our ..." Her voice lowered itself until she was virtually whispering, as if her next words weren't quite fit for polite company. " ... well, in our *psychiatric* Ward ... " She squirmed in her seat in discomfort. "And Dr. Bryan's orders specify NO Visitors. I'm terribly sorry."
OOOOO. *Terribly* sorry, yet.
Yeah. Right. Tell me another one, sweet cakes.
Time for the ol' Grayson charm - patent pending. It's a sad sitch indeed when it won't get me what I want. *Terribly* sad sitch. I lowered my eyes.
"I - I don't want to get you into any trouble, Miss," I murmured piteously. "But it would mean so much to me ... " I looked up and let her catch a glimpse of the pain in my eyes.
That part, at least, was very real.
I turned away and took three steps away from her, my shoulders slumped in just that perfect angle of defeat and dejection, before her soft cry of "Wait!" summoned me back. I shuffled back, looking anxious and tired. Not a real hard job at the moment.
"I'm not supposed to do this," she chewed her bottom lip like a dog with a bone. "I could lose my job if anyone finds out. Are - are you a relative?"
Without so much as a twitch of the lip to betray me, I nodded. "We're ... cousins," I said softly. "We grew up together. I - I haven't seen him in a long time. And, now, for something like *this* to happen ... He's always been high strung, you know? His father was like that, too. But I never thought ... " I choked, running my fingers through my boyishly disheveled hair, the very picture of sadness and stress.
"Room 656," she whispered, caving like the Grand Canyon. I smiled to reward her and took off for the elevators at a dead run.
So, there I was, talking fast, conning my way past the psych receptionist and into the Ward proper when I was totally blown out of the water by a single accusing voice.
"You rotten son of a bitch!" cried Dr. Brian Bryan from behind me. "How dare you show your face here? Get out! Get the hell OUT!"
I froze for several moments before I turned to face the stout barrel-chested psychiatrist. I thanked God that my voice didn't tremble nor my hands shake. Miracles did still happen, apparently. I told myself that I was calm as I turned and faced the irate healer of the mind. As ever, I was very good at lying to myself.
"Hello, Brian," I said softly. "Good to see you, too."
"Are you deaf?" Bryan thundered. "I *said*, 'Get OUT!'"
I planted my feet and gazed directly into the blazing eyes of the furious man. "I came to see JP," I replied firmly.
"And I'll die before I'll let you," the physician snarled.
They tell me I'm a hero. You couldn't have proven it by me, just then. I knotted my fist and stamped a restless foot. "Damnit, Brian! Are we back to that?"
"We never left, Mr. Grayson!" Brian icily informed me. "Or, if we did, we took a quick detour right back there when I can home a month ago and found Jean-Paul weeping into a spreading pool of his own blood, calling your name. But you were nowhere to be found, were you? No, you were most decidedly *not*. Damn you. Damn you to Hell. Where were you, Dick Grayson? Where were you while Jean-Paul and I paced up and down every street in Hell?"
I swallowed convulsively, but I would not let myself smile or laugh at the irony. "Strange," I whispered, "I never saw you there .. "
The receptionist was looking very confused. The beginnings of alarm crept it's insidious way into his smooth face when Brain scowled fit to frighten one of Hell's demons and shouted, "Were you *looking* Mr. Grayson? Were you even looking? You can't have missed me. I was the one burning in the seventh circle of Phlegethos. As for Jean-Paul ... all you need do is follow the trail of blood and tears. It would have lead you straight to him."
I inhaled a deep breath. "Brian," I pleaded, "this isn't doing either one of us any good. Or JP. Can't we at least try to talk to one another like reasonable, civilized human beings? Please?"
"I'm not really feeling very reasonable right now, Mr. Grayson." Brian snapped.
"For JP," I entreated. "Please. This thing's got to be resolved, okay?" I closed my eyes, terrified of the answer to my next question.
"How - how *is* he?"
For his part Brian still looked as if he would cheerfully slit my throat at the first opportunity. But his voice was calm enough. "How do you *think* he is, you bastard?" he demanded. "He's bloody catatonic. Doesn't see or respond to anyone or anything. He's like one of those poseable children's 'Action Figures'. You can arrange his limbs any way that suits you; stand him in a corner and he'll remain there, just the way you placed him, for hours, without moving. Jean-Paul is ... gone ... gone ... "
Every word was like a body blow. Battered, I sank silently to the floor covering my head with my arms for protection. It didn't work, of course. Not even Bruce's careful instruction could shield me from this. At least I hope I was silent . I don't think I cried out. God, I hope not.
But, I'm not sure. I might have.
Something happened. That's certain. What I'm not sure. But suddenly Brian's skilled hands were stroking the back of my exposed neck with compassion.
"There, there, Dick," he soothed. "No need to beat yourself up so. Not when I'm perfectly willing to do it for you."
"The line forms on the left," I cracked.
The joke fell very flat.
Brian knelt and lifted my chin. "I want to hate you," he told me, staring directly into my eyes. "I want to hate you so badly I can taste it. But I can't. We share the blame, after all, don't we? You ... made a mistake ... And I? I let it happen. There's more than enough guilt to go around, my young friend. The only real innocent here is Jean-Paul. Jean-Paul ... who's trapped and can't get out. Alone."
I clung to him. "This isn't the first time this has happened to him," Brian confessed. "Once before he ... "
My head snapped up, quiveringly alert. "Before? He's been catatonic before?"
Brian nodded. "Yes. Not this badly, though. Only mildly. When he rescued Shondra Kinsolving from those two brutes who kidnapped her. He recovered swiftly after that ... "
His eyes went distant, deep in thought, and then he grabbed my shoulders and shook them with joy.
"That's it!" he cried. "God, I am such a hopeless fool. No one ever believes me when I tell them I'm the world's worst psychiatrist ... But here's the proof! How could I have missed it?? How? Jean-Paul recovered before from catatonia! Recovered when he *rescued* someone! Azrael is 'he who rescues'!"
He leapt to his feet more agilely than I might have expected and offered me his hand. "I've an idea, Dick, my lad!" he exclaimed. "Are you game?"
"Anything!" I fervently vowed. "Just tell me what to do, Brian."
"I want you to show Jean-Paul what you just showed me. All the agony of mind." He smiled. "Let him 'rescue' you from your torment and guilt!"
My eyes widened. "My God! Do you really think it'll work?"
His hands trembled he was so excited. "I have absolutely no idea," he admitted. "But it's worth a try, wouldn't you say? Christ knows, I've tried everything else. None of the standard treatments seem to work, I'm afraid. I may be just clutching at straws, but I'm desperate, here!"
I knew the feeling.
He grabbed my hand to pull me a long, a patient tug to my ocean liner. Berth: Room 656.
JP was sitting in a window seat ... staring out the bars, enjoying the sun on his face. I tried really hard to believe that. Until I noticed that his eyes weren't focused. Not on anything in *this* world, at any rate. My heart fell. Brian didn't bother to address him but I couldn't help myself., honest to God.
"JP? JP, it's Dick, Angel Dude ... "
All right. I'm an idiot. Sue me. I don't know what I was expecting, exactly. I guess I was hoping that the mere sound of voice would snap him out of it.
It didn't, naturally.
"He can't hear you, Dick," Brian said in a tight, sad voice.
I swallowed and stepped forward. He didn't move. Not even when I lay my hand on his shoulder. JP likes to be touched. I suppose he didn't get much of that when he was a kid. Now, if you give him half and chance and make him feel comfortable, he's a very touchy feely guy. Usually. Making up for lost time, huh? But not even an eyebrow stirred. I took his arm and turned him around so that he was facing me. His arm remained in place when I released it, stretched out in front of him until I lowered it tenderly
But he wasn't *seeing* me, if you catch my drift. Not really. He just stared right through me as though I weren't there. Hey. At least I've had practice with this kind of thing. I've seen Bruce kinda a little like this once in a great while. When he's exceptionally tired or frightened and unwilling to admit it.
Sudden flash of insight. I closed my inner eye against the glare and almost turned to Brian to say, "That's what catatonia is all about, isn't it? Fear. He's found a nice safe place to hide and he doesn't want to leave."
I smoothed his mussed hair. JP always likes to be neat. Alfred never had to yell at him about his appearance, I'll bet. Not like he did me, anyway. Suddenly, as I have so many other times when I needed him, I could hear Alfred's voice.
'There's nothing wrong with being afraid, Master Dick,' that fine British voice echoed in my thoughts. 'Fear is nature's way of telling you you're in for a spot of trouble. Listen to it.'
Bruce was much more to the point.
"Learn to *use* your fear, Dick." he told me.
JP didn't even twitch when I stroked his cheek and my stomach spasmed so hard it was an actual physical pain. That used to be our signal, see? I'd stroke his cheek and he'd know that I was mellow and in the mood. JP doesn't have a signal. I don't think in our entire time together that he was ever the aggressor. Not even once. That was always up to me.
And he was always so grateful ...
Always just so damned *grateful* ...
As though, no matter how many times it happened, how often we made love, he still couldn't believe it. Couldn't believe that anyone wanted him.
That anyone -
I stopped myself right there. Derailed that runaway train of thought smack off the track. Yeah. Right.
Well ... almost ...
'That anyone *what* Grayson? That anyone loved him? Oh, yeah. You showed him that all right. You betcha.'
That's when I lost it.
I clung to him, shaking and trembling like a sapling tree in a high storm wind. Laying my head on his chest, I wept.
"Oh, God, JP ... Say something! Do something. Hit me! Curse me, I don't care - just *do* something. Anything. I can't take this. Help me .... help me ... "
He just sat there, not even knowing that I was in the world. And I wasn't really. Not in *his* world, anyway. I closed his hand over the small pool of my tears collecting in his palm.
"Angel Dude, I know you're frightened. So am I. But I need you. You've got to come back, hear me? You've got to. I need you ... I need you ... "
Defeated, my head drifted down to rest on his chest again. But this time I heard his heart race; I felt his hands patting my head, stroking my hair.
Startled, my voice shook. Tears running down my face, weeping and sniffling like a child, I was a mess. But I knew that if only I could see it my eyes were shining with hope.
"Little cricket?" he said.
The tears came faster, now. Harder.
"Yeah, Angel Dude, it's me. W-welcome home." I fumbled in my pocket. "Brought you a present." His sapphire eyes lit up. JP loves gifts. Especially ones for 'just because' as he calls it. 'Just because it was there.' 'Just because I was thinking of you.' The less practical the better.
And this one was pretty impractical.
The tiny ornamental straw cage was painted a soft blue with the chinese ideogram for 'peace and serenity' etched in gold leaf on the hood. From inside came the pleasant sound of chirping. I held it to his ear and his face blossomed like a garden. Smiles everywhere.
"Cricket," he said.
I nodded. "Mr. Fong says he's your lucky cricket," I said. "Remember Mr. Fong? Chinese grocer on the corner? Fresh bamboo shoots, kumquats and litchi nuts? I named him Richard. He's singing for you. Hear?" I smiled. "Hey, I *tried* to teach him to chirp the 'Hallelujah Chorus", but it didn't work.'"
Brian bustled up, grinning from ear to ear, and took JP's hand. "Well, boyo," he breathed, "good to see you. You'll be staying for a bit, I hope?"
JP nodded. Brian seemed to breath easier somehow. "We three have got a lot to talk about." he pointed out.
And so we did. We even ordered take out pizza for dinner we talked so long and JP got gooey, stringy hot cheese and tomato sauce all over his nose. JP loves pizza.
"But no hairy little fish!" he cautioned. Brian and I both laughed. JP does *not* like anchovies.
The sun was long set by the time Brian tucked JP carefully into his bed sleeping peacefully. Out in the hall he slumped into a chair, very tired. I sat down next to him and he opened his slumberous eyes.
"Thank you," he said. "I think he's going to be all right, now. Oh. we're not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot. But there's light at the end of the tunnel, now, thanks to you."
I dismissed the praise. "No, thanks to *JP*," I corrected softly. "He's the one who fought his way back. And I'm not leaving, yet, Brian. Not if JP needs me. Not this time."
He settled in his chair. "That's good, Dick. Jean-Paul probably will need your support in the days to come."
I looked at him askance. "And what about you, Brian?" I asked.
"What about me, Dick?" His puzzled frown was a classic.
I knew he was going to cut up stiff about this. But I said it anyway. Because I thought it needed to be said.
I sighed. "Brian," I opined, "what JP needs more than anything else is someone who loves him. Genuinely loves him. That's you, dimbulb. Face it. Out of all the people JP has known ... me, Bruce, Lilhy, Leslie, his father, Nomoz ... you're the only one who's never hurt him. And you love him. When are you going to ever admit it him?"
He looked at me quite as if I had lost my reason. "Now why would I want to do such a foolish thing?" he wanted to know, mystified.
"Jeezus, Brian!" I exploded. "Do you think JP gives a damn what you *look* like? I can guarantee you he doesn't. Not even a little bit. Talk about not giving the guy credit! What matters to him is how you feel. You're a great guy, Brian. Smart and kind and you've stuck with JP through thick and thin. Any lover would be lucky to have you."
He blinked. "Have you any idea how deeply unethical it is for a psychiatrist to sleep with one of their patients?" he spat, still fighting feebly. "I've been down that road, my young friend. Never again."
I grinned. "Then resign from the case. Find JP another shrink. *After* you carefully explain how you feel about him and why you're doing this." He looked stunned for a moment and I almost laughed.
"Brian, he needs a friend right now more than he needs a psychiatrist, okay? Think about what I said. Promise?"
Smitten, he nodded slowly. "Promise," he vowed.
Rising, I chucked his shoulder and, turning, made my way down the long empty hall.
In the distance I could almost hear Richard happily chirping.