Memory Bound Chapter I
(c)1999 B Stearns
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Jonathan was ready to scream.

Cursed or blessed. Can't make up my mind.

Salt Lake City had been bad, earlier in the summer. How did you beat a damn tornado? And the fire in the rafters, Jesus, he didn't even remember which city that'd been, didn't want to. And even Deen spraining his wrist. That could have been worse, he'd admit. It hadn't been bad to have Mugs on drums again for a couple of shows.

Now it was one thing right after another, even though that night's show wasn't officially part of the tour. The main sound guy was down with e. coli, and Kevin Elson was off running sound for Nine Inch Nails and couldn't sub. One of Neal's guitars was missing. And Aug had woken up that morning hoarse. The singer was walking around at sound check with a terrified look on his face and gargling with salt water. Deen was breaking out in hives over the preparations being made for his wedding later that month. Ross was his regular self, thank God. Aug had been swinging his mic stand around on stage again and only clocked the bassist once. Once was all it took to get them to relearn a subliminal onstage choreography with each other, from scratch.

The show in question was a benefit for the prevention of suicide, something he'd jumped at when given the chance, something he felt strongly about. They were there early to get things together, and it was a good thing, the way it was going. They had all day to get it straightened out. He shouldn't have been as worried as he was. Journey was alive and well, and things had been going well on the whole.

But he was coming out of his skin.

Something was off, with them, with him, with the world, twisting back out of control. He felt like a sentient crash dummy, watching the wall coming for him.

You're trying too hard.

That sentiment had come from a lot of people, finally even Neal.

Journey was going to live, even if he had to force it, even if it meant carrying it by himself. It wouldn't come to that. They were doing fine. But he wanted better. If it died, so would a part of him he wasn't sure he could do without. Knowing what it was worth...

The nightmares had been tapering off. The resentment resulting from the manipulation they'd survived probably never would. So long as they were left alone, he felt he could handle anything.

But it just wasn't a surprise to him when he heard a distant ringing in his ears he couldn't explain, felt the air leave his own lungs while he was talking to Aug about putting 'Remember Me' back into the set. His watch said 7:31, he could see it because he'd gone to his knees and had his hands flat on the floor in front of himself, and he thought the bus is late.

It faded a bit at a time, letting the world return like the tide coming in, and he sat back up a little. Aug was on his knees in front of him, face drained of color, a tentative hand on his shoulder. Aug had said something, but Jon had no idea what it was, and Rindell was suddenly on his other side. Neal was a step behind, looking concerned, asking Jon what the hell he'd had to eat.

He took a slow breath and blinked his eyes rapidly, listening to the ringing in his ears recede. "I'm okay," he said.

"What's going on, Jon," Aug said, leaving a hand on his shoulder. "That wasn't light headedness."

"I'm okay," he said again, waving them off. "I'm coming down with the goddamn flu, or something. Give me a second."

Aug backed off a little, glancing up at Neal, who was staring at Jon with more than a touch of suspicion.

"How about if I drag you out of here for a bit, and you get some fresh air," Neal said, and when Jon opened his mouth to negate him he added, "I phrased it like it was a choice, but it's not."

Jon nodded, glancing at his watch again. 7:32, and it was damn important to him for some reason. He had a feeling he didn't want to know why. Neal offered him a hand, and he had no trouble making it back to his feet.

He felt fine.

Neal clapped Aug on the shoulder and murmured something to Rindell that Jon didn't hear, then steered Jon out one of the service entry doors. Out into a semi-gray November morning. Rain was threatening from the south, and the air was bracing. Jon breathed it deeply, resting fingertips against one temple.

"Give," Neal said, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"There isn't anything to give," Jon said.

"Uh huh. You wanna go to the ER?"

"No. I'm fine, I just...stressed out, or something. I don't know what happened."

Neal nodded. "I'd make you go to the damn doctor, because that looked like a freakin' seizure. But I've seen you do that before, somewhere else."

Jon looked blank for a moment, not making the connection. Then it sank in, and he dropped his hand and said, "Ah, shit."

Outside Athyri, while he'd still been connected to Steve, and The Lady had been tearing into the singer.

But this was the 'real world', and he clung to that despite the things he'd seen since the last time they'd returned from that place. Steve was keeping close to home these days and leading a relatively pedestrian life, from what he knew. They'd lost touch, and he'd stopped really 'feeling' the singer a while back. The lack of contact had helped that. So who else was he connected to?

He snapped his eyes back to Neal's, fear obvious on his face.

Then he ran back into the building, slamming the service entry door open in a panic, ignoring Neal's shout for him to wait.

He scrambled for a phone, any phone, thinking of the road outside his own house.

Strangers and bandmates alike watched him come tearing through the building like a madman, and kept out of his way. Watched him dial frantically and pace like a caged animal until someone picked up on the other end. Watched him visibly calm while he got answers he desperately needed to hear. Watched him stand there and listen to a dial tone long after he'd said goodbye to Liz and told her he loved her minutes later.

Neal took the phone out of his hand, cradled the receiver, and steered Jon away again, away from a multitude of eyes.

"Put the lid back on," he murmured. "You're acting like a fuckin' nutcase."

"What the fuck is going on," Jon whispered, and the edge on it was hysterical.

"We'll find out. But you calm down, or I'll drive your ass into 'Frisco proper and schedule you for a cat scan or something. Calm down. Your family's fine."

Jon nodded, finding a comforting affirmation in hearing the words spoken aloud. "Yeah, they're fine. You guys are fine. Okay. I gotta know what this is about."

Neal stepped back and spread his arms, and Jon headed for the phone again. He paused, trying to recite the numbers accurately, waiting for his memory to kick in. He hadn't dialed Steve's number in some while. He stood with shaking hands, feeling cold and scattered until Neal spoke the area code aloud. Then Jon dialed the numbers automatically and listened to the phone ring unanswered. After the fifth ring, the answering machine kicked in, and Jon listened to Steve's voice tell him to leave a message.

"It's Jonathan," he said. "Just...call me, let me know you're okay. Please." He'd left his phone in the car, and rattled the numbers off by rote. "Steve, I'm serious. I need to hear from you."

He hung up, and listened to the inside of his own head for a moment, to see if there would be followup. There wasn't. He looked at Neal and tried to shake the whole thing off, felt the panic begin to drain away. He didn't like it, but there wasn't much he could do. He wasn't going to go driving all the hell the way to Steve's every time he 'felt' something. They had too much to do, and there wasn't time.

Neal gestured at him. "Come on, Forrest," he said. "We're getting out of here for a little while so's you can get your box of chocolates sorted out."

* * *

The show, by all accounts, went off without a hitch. Nothing was out of place. Neal's missing guitar had shown up. Journey's set blew the doors off, and the proceeds for the evening exceeded the hopes of even the sponsors. It was a success. Jon listened to the last chords echo away and felt them, felt the whole thing, that indefinable entity he knew as their music. Different, now, but still whole, a comfort.

They came off stage, jostling each other, gathering in the staging area. The morning's rigors and fears were forgotten. They signed autographs, shook hands and thanked everyone for coming. Yeah, we're working on an album. Going back into the studio after Thanksgiving. Yeah, there'll be a tour. You'll see us again.

It was after one a.m. before they decided to part ways, having watched most of the load out. Deen was the first to go, making some remark about seeing them at the wedding. There were some risqué' remarks to go with that, but no one remembered them after.

Jon wasn't sure what triggered his memory; that morning was far, far off, and he finally remembered to check his messages. He brought his phone in with the rest of his stuff at some point just before the show, and he dug around for it then, while they were saying their goodbyes and heading for their cars. Ross, Neal and Aug were still with him when he punched in his access code and found one message waiting.

A cool, authoritative voice telling him the Lemoore police had obtained his number from Steve's answering machine and would like to talk to him.

He listened to the message again, trying to get something out of the few words spoken, the tone of voice, anything. Anything. He knew what he was going to be told, and the guilt that came with his imagination was a kick to the midsection. He didn't realize that the others had paused to stare at him. They spoke his name unanswered, traded glances with each other, ended up watching him listen to the message three times.

"Everybody go home," he said softly. "I got something I gotta handle." He wanted to be alone when he heard, because his grip on his emotions was suddenly so fragile that he didn't know what he would do.

"No," Neal said. "This's been coming all day, right?"

Ross frowned, having been absent for that morning's peculiarity. Aug kept still, his eyes shifting between the other three.

Jon stared at Neal, unable to speak for a moment.

"Whatever it is," Neal said, "we're here. Just tell us."

Jon glanced at Aug, the suggestion obvious. Odd man out, who hadn't been through everything they had. Jon didn't think now was the time to let him in on it, if ever.

Ross shook his head. "What're you guys spooked about?"

Neal decided to cut the explanation short. "Jon got a feeling he should call Steve," he said.

"No answer?" Ross said, catching on.

"Until now," Neal said, looking pointedly at Jon.

"It's the police," Jon said. "Telling me they got my number off his machine. Wanna talk to me."

Aug made a soft, exclamatory sound that sounded half expletive and half prayer, outlining what they all thought of that.

"You left a pretty worried message," Neal said softly, feeling disappointed and trying not to sound it. "It might just be--"

"Neal," Jon said, and his voice broke.

They were all silent for a long moment. Aug said, "I'll call, if you want me to."

Jon shook his head. He still held the phone, indecisive.

"It's already done," Neal said, "whatever it is. Nothin' you can do, or could've done."

Ross shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying to catch Neal's attention, and when the guitarist looked up he swore he heard what Ross was thinking. This better not be what I think it is. We're done with all that. No more missing singers.

Neal nodded.

Jon remained frozen for another moment before dialing the number he'd been given. He waited, then identified himself to whoever picked up. The rest of them hovered near him under the mercury safety lights, searching his face for clues.

"I don't understand," he said softly. Then he turned away and they couldn't see his face at all. He repeated the phrase, then said, "No."

Silence. Aug realized he was clenching his own hands until they hurt.

Then Jon said, "Where is he now?"

Neal traded glances with Ross again.

Jon thanked the person on the other end and broke the connection, lowering the phone deliberately, tucking it back into his things.

"Jay," Ross said softly.

Jon shrugged, turning to look at them. He suddenly felt exhausted, and beaten, and too hurt to even articulate it. "He tried to kill himself," he said. "A bunch of people saw him jump off a curb, in front of a bus, of all goddamn things."

They let it sink in. Then Ross said, "He gonna live?"

"No."

* * *

Bullshit.

It was the only thing he was able to say for awhile, the only thing Neal could get out of him.

Aug and Ross were somewhere behind them, having ignored Jon's protests. Neal had insisted on driving, because Jon wasn't really paying attention to much, and Neal didn't like the possible outcome of that at 70 mph. They were twenty minutes out from San Francisco General, where Steve had been airlifted that morning because it was the closest hospital with a major trauma center.

"This is too much," Jon said again.

Neal was inclined to agree, but for reasons other than Jon's, or so he figured.

"Too much for coincidence. He does this, on the same day we hold a benefit against suicide? Don't you think that's fucking ironic?"

Jon's voice rose, and Neal kept his eyes on the road. He didn't know what he thought, yet. He was surprised. But more than that, concerned with Jon's mental state and what he would do once they got to the hospital. What the hell they were supposed to do, he couldn't imagine.

"You know what I think of coincidence, Jon," he said.

"Right."

"What'd you wanna hear, then? Conspiracy? The namers did it? I don't see it. They've had a million other chances. They didn't need to help us bring him back in the first place. If they've changed their minds, wouldn't they do something a little more...shit, I don't know. I don't know what I'm sayin'."

Jon readjusted his seatbelt, fiddled with the radio then snapped it back off. He worried at his wedding band, turning it around and around on his finger, something he did when seeking wordless comfort, as if doing it would summon Liz. She had offered to come, and he had said no.

"He wouldn't," Jon said.

Neal glanced over. "What, then? He went off the curb. There was no one near him."

"He could have gotten his goddamned pain pills refilled, and done that. That would have been easy as hell. Easier, actually."

"Not if he wanted to make a point. It worked, didn't it?" Neal said, then wanted to take it back. Jon was looking at him, and he didn't turn his head because he didn't want to see the look on his face.

"He would have done better, if he was makin' a point," Jon said.

Neal shook his head and kept his mouth shut.

"You're pretty goddamn calm about this," Jon said.

"You're freaking out for us both, Jonathan," Neal said, putting enough emphasis on his name to indicate how worried he was.

"I don't think he did it."

Neal sighed. "Something's done. We're never gonna know."

"I need to hear it from him."

Neal did look at him then. "What the hell are you talkin' about?"

Jon was staring straight ahead, something determined in his face. "If he wants to go, fine. He can go. But I gotta hear it from him, first."

Neal felt a seed of panic take root somewhere. "Okay, listen. That stuff doesn't work over here, and you know it. You think they're gonna let you into the ICU? To do what, Jay? Try and get to him? His fucking head smashed open."

Jon's face scrunched in pain, and Neal's hands tightened on the wheel in self recrimination. He was frightened for a moment that Jon would burst into tears.

Won't be able to handle that, he thought. Can handle lots of stuff. Can't handle that.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry. I don't know what to do, I don't want you settin' yourself up for a big letdown when you find out there's nothing you can do."

"It worked over here for awhile," Jon said shallowly, twisting his ring again.

"Steve and I were--" Neal began, then snapped his mouth shut. Shit. "Connected, then, and I don't know why that let us get away with everything we did. Once we were separate again, it wasn't happening. We had it explained to us, that we can't do anything over here. We've got music over here, and that's all. The music is like somethin' else, over there."

"Then what if...we got him over there?" Jon said.

Perry, if you meant to do this, I hope you burn in hell, Neal thought. Then he heard Jon, really heard him, and heard his own thoughts subjectively. If. What the fuck do I mean, if? "You better elaborate on that."

"Something worked over here, while you guys were connected," Jon said, talking fast, running with the thread he'd picked up. "I have to try. I have to. If it doesn't work, if I can't get through, at least I tried. Goddamnit, if nothing works over here, why the hell did I feel the bus hit him?"

He was shouting at the last, and stopped himself, looking at his hands. "Doesn't make sense, Neal."

"You're not gonna let this go, are you," Neal said, and as soon as he did he felt that he'd said the word before, deja' vu off the scale, and couldn't place it.

"Too much for coincidence," Jon said.

"Too much, all around," Neal said.

There was silence for a long moment, a destructive silence. Then Neal said what he had to, what he knew had to be said.

"He's not Journey," he said. "You can't force him to live, if he don't want to."

Silence.

* * *

At first it was just damn hard to find the right place.

ICU had it's own floor, the third. And they were wandering through one of the largest Bay Area hospitals trying to get answers from folks who recognized them. One of the nurses they spoke to had been at the goddamn show, had the good grace not to ask for autographs. Thank God, or somebody, it was the middle of the night and the halls and waiting areas weren't as busy as they could have been.

Once they figured out where they had to go, it was a matter of entering the waiting area with a semblance of calm, of not calling any more attention to themselves than they had. To their amazement and relief, it was empty. There was a hush on the place, a tension, like breath being held, and no one felt it more keenly than Jon did.

It was Ross who approached the nurses' station, making a low-key inquiry. When he returned to them, his expression was disappointed.

He held something out to Neal. A business card, and when Neal took it, he said, "Only two people been here, sometime mid-afternoon. Marv, once they got hold of him. And someone who was scoping the local police blotter."

A reporter. Just one, but that was all it took. The associated press folk had picked up the story, and by morning Steve's suicide would be places no one wanted it.

"It'll be the fucking Kurt Cobain thing all over again," Neal said, then turned fast when he felt Jon move, grabbing for him. "Hold on!" he said sharply.

"Bullshit," Jon hissed. "We don't need this all over the fucking papers."

"It won't be, at first," Neal said, keeping his voice low, his expression willing Jon to do the same. "One hack isn't gonna get further than a blurb on the wire. It's when MTV News picks it up that it'll go out of control." He wanted to say, I'm sure the Journey Digest already knows, they know everything before we do, but he couldn't be flip, not then. Before he could think better, he said, "I'll take care of it."

"How?"

Neal looked at Ross. "I got his business card, don't I? I can at least make 'em hold off. We don't want you in jail right now, Cain, which is exactly what would happen if you went over to the Chronicle and got all emotional."

There was a light in Ross' eyes that Jon didn't like, but he let it all go. Usually, if Neal said he'd take care of something, he did.

"Marv was here," Jon said.

"Yeah," Ross said. He looked at the pastel carpeting, registering that the design and decoration in the room were purposely soothing, meant to cushion blows. "He was here, most of the day, left at about midnight. He's gonna spend tomorrow making arrangements."

Jon paled even further.

"I told the nurses who we are, that we're pretty damn close to family, and they're gonna get the doctor on call to talk to us," Ross said.

"And he's not gonna live, is he," Jon said.

"They already told you on the phone that the prognosis was pretty bad," Ross said.

"Not 'pretty bad', Ross," Jon said. "He should've been dead at the scene. I have to see him."

"They're gonna make you talk to the doctor first," Ross said. "Even then, they may not let you in. This is family only."

"Family only for folks who might recover," Jon said. "He's as good as dead, so there's no damage I could do."

"Don't argue with us, man," Ross said softly. "You made your case, here, already."

Aug stood slightly apart, eyes wide and sad. Neal glanced at him, something apologetic in his face. "Why don't you and Aug go down and get some coffee or something," he said.

"No," Jon said automatically. "I wanna wait here."

"Nothing's gonna happen, here," Ross said. "Not until the doctor shows up."

Neal saw it in Jon's face too late, and kicked himself later for not anticipating, for not realizing the scope of his desperation.

"I'm not waiting for a doctor," Jon said, then turned on his heel and walked through the door that said Personnel Only like he had every right to.

Neal and Ross locked gazes, neither moving after him or doing anything that might draw attention to him. Ross ran his hands over his face before dropping them to his waist, cursing under his breath. They had only moments before Jon was discovered.

"Distraction does wonders," Neal said to Ross, then went after Jon.

Ross went back over to the nurses' station with a smile plastered on his face that felt like it would shatter. Aug went with him.

Jon looked up and down the hallway he found himself in, heart pounding, mouth dry. What the fuck is wrong with me? he thought. I might have gotten an OK to do this. Now I'm getting us all thrown out.

But it had been one word, and he knew it. Arrangements. God, he hated that word. He'd been the one to make the arrangements when his dad had died, wanting the burden, wanting things done right, wanting to save the rest of the family from the pain of it. There was still a connection between him and Steve, and arrangements were more than he could handle.

There were a series of doors, and he realized he hadn't even bothered to find out where Steve really was before he went off. He paused, hearing his tennishoes squeak on the polished white floors, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. Listening.

At first there was only the pervasive antiseptic smell of a hospital, something else he could have spent his whole life not experiencing again. He heard the door he'd come through woosh softly, and ignored it, opening his eyes and moving, just moving without thinking, running a hand along the wall to his right, ignoring the series of numbers and letters on the doors, not seeing them or the charts hanging next to them. Avoiding a crash cart and a gurney in his path as if they didn't exist, as if he was dreaming it.

Warm...warmer...

Warmest. The fourth door in.

He opened it quickly and was in, closing the door behind.

There was a wall of Plexiglas opposite the door, looking into the nurses' station so that the patients were always visible.

He crouched automatically, grateful the room--no more than a cubicle, actually--was as dim as it was, and scooted across the floor toward the bed. Praying he hadn't been seen. He only had a couple of minutes at best, but dammit, it had to be enough.

He would make it be enough.

He came to rest with his back against the side of the bed, listening to the machinery that was keeping Steve alive. Whoever had come through the door behind him, they hadn't followed him this far. Rising to his knees, he looked up over the bed, seeing no movement on the other side of the glass, and he straightened a little further, resting a hand on Steve's chest. He didn't know how he knew it was Steve; the dimness and amount of bandages

holding his skull together

would have made it difficult to discern the figure's identity. Jon shook his head against the thought that had slipped in, searching for one of Steve's hands.

Who am I going to make a deal with, if we have to call him back? he thought. He didn't wanna come back, last time, and I made him...

Gotta hear it from him, this time, if he wants out of here for good.

Then he was holding Steve's right hand and listening, listening with what felt like his whole being, willing something to happen and hoping he'd recognize it when it did. Trying to remember what it was like on the other side, to search for a pattern and find it. Sweat broke out on his face, and he was squeezing his eyes shut so tightly that he saw lights behind the lids.

You're trying too hard.

He didn't know where the admonition came from, but he heeded it immediately, trying to relax. The connection was long unused, but he knew it had to still be there. He didn't stop to worry about whether it would work if Steve was no longer in his body, or what he would do if Steve told him he wanted to die. Or worse, if Steve told him to finish the job.

He held Steve's hand tightly between his own, reaching, calling, fixing on the memory of what Steve's 'pattern' had been like the last time he'd encountered it.

For a long minute, nothing. Jon could hear his own breathing above the machinery, rough, desperate, exhausted. He wanted to scream. He wanted to shake the figure on the bed, demand answers, anything but the silence.

There was a fluttering in his head, like a butterfly in the peripheral vision of his mind's eye. His head began to hurt, only a dull ache at first, then a raging headache that made him rest his forehead against the bed's railing. There was a spark of something, repeating itself over and over, just out of reach, a pattern. The only one. There was nothing else coherent in the shattered mess but that one spark that blinked over and over like the indicator on an answering machine that held on to what it had heard until someone finally pushed the play button...

Jon reached for that one pattern, that one spark, a small overlooked beacon...

Pushed.

He didn't understand. But he was envisioning an answering machine for some reason, he knew there was something to that. The thought hadn't been his...

There was an image of Neal's face, and one word, pushed. The pattern repeated over and over, on automatic pilot, a denial and accusation. No one was home, but a message had been left, the singer's last energy spent trying to explain. Jon didn't completely understand, realized he didn't need to. He listened to the pattern repeat itself again. Pushed.

He had only his memory of what Steve's pattern had been like, and held it up in front of his mind's eye while he reached for something else, a warmth he remembered. He caught hold of the beacon he'd been left with without understanding how and began to work backward. It had been so long, almost twenty hours by then, and he wasn't sure if there was a time limit, didn't care. It wouldn't stop him. He worked backward the way he would have gone back over a song to find where the distortion had occurred. It was all patterns, only patterns, and if he worked back far enough Steve's would resurface out of the tangled ruin. He stood over the bed by then, barely conscious, not hearing the voices headed toward him in the hallway, aware of nothing but

pushed

and reweaving a pattern he remembered by backpedaling over the damage. Undoing it, throwing the whole thing into reverse and waiting for it to gain it's own momentum. He didn't know the room had turned green around him, didn't realize he'd gained a hell of a lot of attention. Something caught beneath his hands, something was slowly whirling into shape out of the chaos, a melody playing over and over...

Hands shook him. The overhead lights were on, he was on his knees, and the world was colors it shouldn't have been. His head pounded, but his fingers were still locked in Steve's.

"Jonathan," Neal said, and Jon heard the fear in it. It helped to bring him around, and he looked up. The light was unbearable. There were other people in the room, nurses, a couple of guys in uniform. Hospital security.

He let them help him up and take him out into the hallway, where the light was even worse, for chrissakes. There was a splatter on the linoleum, blue...no, red. He put a hand up to his face just as Neal said, "His nose is bleeding. He's had a rough night, goddamnit, let him go."

They did. More words were exchanged between Neal and security, and he was busy staring at his hand...

Gaze cast downward to the blood on his hand, Steve said, "It broke something...using me."

...until someone handed him some tissues. He pressed them to his face. The world was orangish, and that alone amazed him. They were walking back out to the waiting room. "I'm not done," he heard himself say, and the words became the most important thing to him, once they registered. "Wait--I only reversed a little of it. I can't leave him like that."

"Hey," Neal said, keeping a hand on Jon's arm, making sure the security guards heard him, "it's been a really long day, and you're exhausted. There was nothing you could do, Jon. It'll be okay."

"No," Jon said. "I have to....he's..."

"Don't get us thrown out of here, Jon," Neal said softly, pushing him gently though the swinging doors and into the waiting room...

Pushed.

Jon jerked away and stared at him for a moment like he didn't recognize him.

One of the security guards began to look like he meant to move for Jon again, and Neal said, "He's in shock. I'll take him downstairs, get him to settle down. We'll wait down there."

"You all have to calm down, or you'll need to leave," The heavier one said, and Neal nodded at him but he was staring at Jon.

Ross took Jon's elbow. "Come on. Nothing'll happen while we're gone." He glanced at Aug pointedly, and the singer fell into step behind them.

Jon went along, pliant as an obedient child. His head was pounding so hard he could see his pulse beating in his eyes. His nose stung, and the world was still a little off, like someone had been playing with the tint on a television set. Whiter whites and brighter brights, he thought, and laughed a little.

Ross looked at him but didn't say anything, walking him into the elevator. When it started down, Jon grabbed for the wall with a gasp, and Ross held a hand out to him, walking him right back off the elevator a moment later. There was another stretch of impersonal hallway, then the entry to the cafeteria.

Ross sat Jon down and said, "Don't let him move" to Aug, then walked toward the vending machines that lined one wall.

Aug regarded Jon cautiously. After a moment, Jon looked up and let Aug swim into focus. "Hey, Aug, welcome to the band."

Aug's mouth twitched like he wanted to smile, but he was scared. Scared for the people he was with, maybe a little scared of them by then. "You guys got something you wanna tell me?"

Jon wiped his nose and pulled the tissues away to check the bleeding, and he pinched his nose between his thumb and forefinger. The colors were getting closer to real.

Unfortunately, life was not.

"No," he said. "But we gotta, now. Not my story to tell alone. You're part of us now, and things might get bad from here on, so you have....the right to know. You might have to make a couple of choices."

"I'm not leaving you guys," Aug said suddenly, and Jon looked at him again.

"Where'd that come from?"

Aug's face was set. "That green light was visible all the way out into the waiting room, Jon. You guys got some weird shit going on. But it's not gonna drive me off. If you need me, if I can help, I'm in."

Jon went on staring at him, even after Ross put a bottle of juice into his hand and placed a packet of Tylenol on the table. He was thinking of the first time Aug had slid across the top of the Whale onstage during 'Lovin' Touchin'' without warning him first.

"Hold up, Junior," Ross said, but his voice was friendly. "You'd better listen to the whole thing first."

"Doesn't matter," Aug said, his eyes still on Jon's. "I'm here."

And he meant it.

"You're a crazy bastard," Jon said, twisting the cap off the juice and opening the Tylenol.

"Tough talk from a pansy-ass rock star who can't take his Tylenol dry," Ross said.

Jon grinned. It was weak, but it was there. Aug looked down.

Jon took the pills and made a face at the juice. "I fucking hate cran-raspberry," he said. He looked at Aug. "There's been enough people pulled into this already. Enough people hurt. Perry is a case in point."

"Then he's gonna live," Aug said. "Whatever you did worked?"

"I think so," Jon said. "But I'm a little out of it right now. Something's gone really wrong, something that should have been over. We're being..."

violated

"...screwed with, again, and there's no way we can stand and take it."

Ross was looking at him like he'd heard something beneath all that. "This more than a theory?" he said.

"I don't know," Jon said. "We gotta go back upstairs."

"Finish the juice first," Ross said. "Stay out of sight for a few minutes more. You put on quite a show."

"What happened?"

"Well, no one knew what was going on until it started looking like aliens were landing down the hall," Ross said. "Then the nurses saw it and thought there was a problem with the lighting system. Then they saw you. Neal bought some time by standing outside the door and forcing them to call security."

Jon nodded, feeling more like himself all the time, feeling the headache slowly begin to recede. Feeling his determination and sense of self return.

When they went back up several minutes later, it was to wary glances from the nurses and another warning from security to keep it down. Neal had done some fast talking in their absence, and apparently he'd gotten through. They could stay, if they kept still. As bad as Jon wanted another crack at what he'd started, he wasn't going to risk losing the chance entirely, so he sat placidly.

"You okay?" Neal said.

Jon sighed, still a little high on whatever had happened, waiting for the exhaustion to creep back in. "Yeah," he said. "You?"

Neal nodded. "You gonna talk, or do I need to slap you around first?"

"I didn't mean to look at you like that," Jon said.

Neal looked down. "That was pretty goddamn weird."

"I wasn't seeing you through my eyes. I don't understand what I saw. But I don't think..."

Another figure walked into the waiting room, a rumpled man in his mid-forties that looked them over before tossing a wave of greeting and disappearing into the nurses' station.

"There goes our chance for a fair trial," Ross murmured. "They'll fill him in on our shenanigans."

"Our shenanigans precede us anyway, Ross," Aug said.

"Amen," Ross said.

The man reappeared with a chart on a clipboard several minutes later and introduced himself as Dr. Lovell. They were all too tired and shaken up to bother making jokes about it. They all shook hands and remained standing, even after he asked if they wanted to sit down.

And out came the gory details.

Massive head trauma. Shattered vertebrae, broken ribs, a punctured lung. Dislocated shoulder, broken collarbone, fractured pelvis, greenstick fracture of one femur. The only thing that hadn't suffered damage had been the new hip.

Hooray for technology.

"You'll need to talk to Lemoore PD to get the particulars," he went on, "but my understanding was that bystanders saw him fall backwards off the curb as if he'd timed it on purpose."

"There was no one else with him?" Jon said.

"No. If it wasn't a suicide attempt, then it was a spectacular accident. The majority of the injuries were sustained after the bus hit him. It propelled him about fifty feet onto the windshield of another vehicle in the oncoming lane."

Jon took a sharp breath and looked at the ceiling, trying to stay in control.

"I'm sorry," the doctor said softly. "You asked for particulars."

"It's okay," Jon said. "I need to know. Go on."

"I normally do this in my office," the doctor said. "But since it's so quiet out here--"

"Go on," Jon said, eyes still on the ceiling.

Lovall shrugged. "He still had a pulse when he was brought in, but his pupils were fixed and dilated. There was no brain activity. The majority of his injuries have been patched up, but failing the presence of brain activity...well, he's on full life support. Removal of it would cause immediate death."

Jon let the words sink in, and stared at Lovall in horror.

Marv was here to make arrangements.

"You didn't say any of this to the press, did you?" Ross said softly.

Lovall shook his head, his eyes on Jonathan.

"No," Jon said, and it drew out into a sob. Alarmed, the others froze. "You can't."

"Mr. Cain--"

"You have to give him another chance," Jon said brokenly, the room blurring through tears he couldn't clear away. "Oh, God, don't." He leaned over and braced his hands on his knees, a sob tearing loose, dimly aware of Neal's hands on his back. "They're gonna unplug him."

* * *