Why was I missing, then
That whole December?
I give my usual line...
I don't remember.
--Sting, Ghost Story
_______________

Memory Bound Chapter III
(c) 2000 B Stearns

Lovall was the doctor on call that morning, but wasn't due for rounds until 3. Jon decided to pass the time relaying what he'd learned, but not all of it. He didn't question himself about why he decided to veer away from the fact that Theresa had seen something besides the empty space that the other bystanders had. He didn't like the thought of repeating the story aloud to Neal and Ross, because if there was a chance someone was listening...

Not the nurses. It didn't matter what they heard. But he had to wonder about the walls.

"What do you wanna do?" Neal said.

Jon looked at the doors to the ICU.

"No," Neal said. "No way you're riskin' that again. We need a plan, this time."

"Tell him," Ross said.

Jon looked at him and waited for an explanation.

"Lovall," Ross said. "He's a reasonable enough guy. He knows about the green light. He might not really know about you yet, but he knows something's really going on with us. You can at least ask for official time, rather than busting in there."

Jon shook his head. "I'm not trying to explain this. He'll toss us out of here."

Ross pursed his lips and looked around the waiting room. "I don't think so. I got a pretty decent impression of the guy. Don't go the hard way when you don't have to."

"And if it doesn't work?" Jon snapped. "If we get chucked out of here, then what?"

Neal leaned forward in his chair and lowered his voice. "Me and Ross can only put up so much of a distraction. If it comes down to it, though, we'll make sure you get your chance. I'll be spendin' the night in jail, if I have to. There's a way. I just want you to try the easy one first."

Jon sighed. But he relented.

Neal patted his knee and said, "Then let's go get something to eat."

"No, I--"

"Out," Neal said, standing with a grip on Jon's jacket. Ross did the same from the other side, and they pulled Jon to his feet. "You're not eating, you're not sleepin', and if you get a chance to do what you're meaning to, I think you'd better be ready this time. He'll be fine where he is. You're not fine."

"Besides," Ross said, "we gotta tell you what we were up to, this morning. You'll love it."

* * *

When they returned, they had company in the waiting room.

A couple in their 30's had taken up one corner, faces gray and stunned, holding hands, holding a silent vigil. Jon, Neal and Ross kept a respectful distance and kept conversation to a minimum, feeling the pall of the couple's grief like a weight on their own shoulders.

There was also a message waiting. Marv had been there and was gone again. But he'd gotten some of the story, and he was looking specifically for Jon. They'd deal with it later. Or it would deal with them, Jon wasn't sure which, didn't care yet.

Just before three, Jon asked one of the nurses to page Lovall, then paced slowly around the waiting room. One of the nurses watched him with open suspicion. She'd been on shift the previous night and had been the one to call security. They paid her no mind, and Lovall walked in roughly ten minutes later.

He greeted them with reserved politeness, and before he could say anything else, Jon said, "I need to talk to you."

Lovall looked at him with surprise, as if he saw something unexpected in Jon's expression. Then he nodded to Ross and Neal and made a motion toward Jon that indicated the latter should follow him. They walked out of the ICU and down the corridor to the elevators, traveling two floors up in silence. The doors opened on a floorplan similar to ICU, but with more access to natural light. The colors weren't quite as muted, but the furniture was more haphazard and functional than decorative.

Lovall led Jon down another hall of plain doors, pausing by one with a plaque that bore his name. The doctor opened it and ushered Jon in ahead of him. Again, utilitarian furniture, the centerpiece being a low desk scattered with paper. A small southern facing window was shuttered against the afternoon light by blinds that looked white enough to be brand new. A couple of family pictures stared out of a photo cube beneath the lamp on the desk; diplomas broke up the glaring continuity of the white walls.

Lovall leaned against the desk, gesturing at the visitor chair to his left. "Please."

Jon sat, trying not to feel like he was about to be subject to an inquisition, hoping the whole thing wasn't a mistake. He mentally rehearsed his opening line again, would you consider letting me in to see Steve again for a few minutes, and managed only to clear his throat.

"I'm thinking this is about the green light," Lovall said, "and how your friend suddenly had brain activity, after."

Jon met his gaze and didn't answer, didn't try to fill the space. People never realized until it was too late how easy their lives could be if they just didn't try to fill every silence. He just let the shock of the statement roll over him and away, because he didn't have time for it.

"I saw him shortly after he came in here," Lovall said. "Pupils fixed and dilated, skull fractured. Or fractured is the medical term for it. I've seen pumpkins dropped off balconies on All Saint's that were in better shape." He used one finger to indicate an area behind his own right ear. "Open fracture, roughly three-quarters of an inch wide. He was a scarecrow."

Jon felt himself cringe, felt his toes grip the insides of his shoes at the choice of words.

"Funny thing, though," Lovall said. "That fracture is nothing but a hairline now, almost perfectly sealed. Can't even see it. Like it never happened. He's far from healed, he still might never awaken the way he is. But he's light years from where he was." He paused to look at Jon expectantly, but with an underlying and almost eerie patience.

Jon realized he was fidgeting and tried to still his own hands, which were cold. "You know who I am," he said. "If I was nuts, even being in the music business wouldn't excuse it forever. I'd've been in rehab or locked up somewhere by now. I'm not really sure what I did."

"Yes you are," Lovall said politely.

"I'm not," Jon said. "I don't understand the how or why of it. I don't know if I can do it again, or what the result'll be. But I have to try."

"And that's where I come in," Lovall said.

Jon shrugged, found himself looking at the carpeting. "How the hell do we explain a miraculous recovery? Were there x-rays taken when he came in?"

Lovall shook his head, kept shaking it when Jon glanced up at him. "But the morning staff in the trauma center got a good look at him, just like I did. His charts are on file, now. It'd look like a mixup, or a gross misdiagnosis if he gets up and walks out of here."

Feeling chilled at how easily Lovall was discussing it, Jon left his hands on his knees and dropped his gaze again.

"That doesn't mean I don't want to see it happen," Lovall said. "I always wanted to believe there was something like you in the world. When I was a kid, I used to pretend that there was, and if I was good enough it would happen to me, that I could earn it."

You don't know, Jon thought. You wouldn't want it, but you'd never believe that until it happened to you. "I'm...not exactly a healer," he said, keeping his gaze down, feeling a trickle of sweat run down his back. He was digging his fingernails into his jeans without realizing it. "It doesn't work that way."

"You'd better get a handle on whatever the hell it is, then," Lovall said. "Security said you had a nosebleed when you came out of there last night, and a bad time staying upright. Guess it doesn't work on you."

Of course there'd been questions. Jon wasn't surprised Lovall knew what he did. He shook his head. "It didn't occur to me to try."

"Does it work on anyone besides your friend?"

"I don't know," Jon whispered. Aloud, he said, "I'm pretty close to these guys, and I think that's why it works. I just...reverse stuff. The why never got answered."

Lovall nodded to himself. "The nurses have a shift change coming up," he said, checking his watch, "in about half an hour. I know all of them, so I'll ask one to run an errand for me. I'll distract the other. You'll need to close the inner curtains and use what time you have wisely."

Jon looked up, didn't see anything different in the surgeon's face. He might as well have been discussing baseball stats.

"Two things, though," Lovall said. "If security gets called anyway, I can't help you. And if you aren't successful, there's no guarantee you'll get another shot."

Jon was already nodding, and Lovall held a hand out to stop him. "He's scheduled for surgery day after tomorrow to put rods in his back, keep those vertebrae stable. The x-rays done this morning show you missed those, so it's the only thing we can repair. I won't be able to explain delaying that, because he's stable now."

"You've done some thinking about this, I guess," Jon said softly.

Lovall paused. "I'm only doing this because I saw him when he came in. I don't give a good goddamn who he is, who you are. I saw him. I wanna believe there are people like you walking the earth, but when you guys are done here I want you the hell out as quickly as possible. You're a dream no one can afford, do you understand?"

Jon stared back calmly, careful not to move.

"No, you don't," Lovall said. "I'm going to pretend I never ran into you, when you're gone, because the day will come when someone that can't be helped comes through here, and I'll try not to think about you. Especially when I break the news to their family."

Jon thought about the gray-faced couple in the waiting room. Thought about his own family.

Lovall unfolded his arms and straightened abruptly from the desk, signaling an end to the conversation. "Go finish what you started, if you can. He'll probably need to be here for another few days, but I suspect it'll be somewhere downstairs from ICU." He opened his office door, and Jon stood stiffly. Lovall held a hand out, and Jon shook it.

Jon wouldn't talk to Neal or Ross when he rejoined them in the waiting room. All he'd say was that he had his chance, and needed to think about it. He watched the clock and tried to settle his thoughts, breathing carefully. He sat as quietly as he could, remembering how it felt to look for a pattern, trying to lay the groundwork so that he could make the most of his time. Neal sat close to him without speaking, trading occasional glances with Ross and wondering if it was possible to lend Jon any of his own strength.

The couple sharing the space with them came and went several times, together and separately, and otherwise did nothing to break the silence.

At twenty five or six to four, the shift change began, and the morning nurses began briefing those coming on. When only the new nurses remained, Lovall came out and greeted them unseen. A few minutes later, one of the nurses exited through the waiting room and down the corridor.

Jon rose without a word and headed though the swinging doors he'd been through the night before. Neither Neal or Ross tried to stop him.

* * *

"Jonathan?"

Without opening his eyes, Jon waved the voice away. It had to wait, whatever it was. He was too goddamn tired. "Jonathan. C'mon, open your eyes. You're makin' me nervous."

"Go 'way," Jon said thickly, and felt his own voice reverberate through his skull. He kept his eyes shut. "Go away, Neal."

"No," Neal said, shaking him. "You talk to me for a second, and maybe I'll leave you alone."

"Shit. Leave me alone now." But he opened his eyes a little.

The room was dim, and his head hurt like hell. Even his teeth hurt. He could see his own pulse behind his eyes. Concussion-class headache, or something like it. He tried to look at Neal without moving his eyes. "What."

Neal said, "How many fingers?" and held up the first three on his left hand.

Jon frowned at him, then immediately smoothed his features back out again. Frowning hurt. He held up the middle finger on his right hand and said, "You tell me."

Neal laughed softly, a sound of relief, and patted Jon's shoulder. "Okay. Fine."

"Where'm I?"

"Where the ER docs crash between marathon shifts," Neal said. "They were thinkin' about admitting you, but your vitals are fine and I told 'em the stress just got to you. They bought that, because you're a musician and we're always collapsin', right?"

"The vapors," Jon said.

Neal laughed again. "You've been down a couple of hours, so I figured I'd get you up and out of here. Make you go home and get some real sleep."

It all came back to Jon, then; the conversation with Lovall, the changing of shifts. The less than five minutes that had felt eternal before he was satisfied he'd done all he could for Steve.

He'd walked out of the ICU on his own, the world a lurid Crayola nightmare of inappropriate color. Inappropriate to him, anyway. But he didn't remember Neal and Ross walking him out of there, or blacking out in front of the elevators.

He sat up, holding a hand to his head in an effort to stop the pounding. It didn't work. His stomach lurched a little, but held steady. "Steve," he said.

"He's fine. Nobody saw you. He's been upgraded again, because not long after you came out of there Lovall ordered another series of tests or x-rays or whatever the hell it is they do, and I guess they're gonna move him out of ICU. Surgery's been called off. He's still unconscious. Nobody's sayin' anything, and they're acting like it's not happening. But they're lookin' at us. Doesn't matter. Mission accomplished." He paused. "You, though, you look like shit."

"Thanks," Jon sighed, dropping his head into his hands. "Doesn't matter if he's unplugged now or not, right?"

Neal dropped a hand on his shoulder. "He doesn't have enough solo material to get on Unplugged."

Jon dropped his hands but left his head hanging, squinting in confusion even though it hurt.

"Paging Jonathan Cain," Neal said. "Unplugged. MTV. Stay with me here, Jon."

Jon felt himself smiling, felt the humor spread through his chest. He held a hand out, felt Neal take it. "MTV fucking hates us," he said.

"I'm glad something in the world still makes sense," Neal said. "Aren't you?"

Jon went on smiling and looking at the floor, holding onto Neal, recognizing a lifeline when he saw one.

"I'm gonna take you home," Neal said, "then come back and keep an eye out."

"I'll stay," Jon said.

Neal leaned down further to get into Jon's line of sight. "You listening? I just told you the game plan, mama hen."

"Who died and made you the control freak?" Jon said.

Neal snorted. "The resident control freak is out of commission, so I'm subbing. Come on."

* * *

He should have waded upward slowly, like a diver avoiding the bends, but he didn't. He snapped awake like a dark room suddenly flooded with light, his mind suddenly flooded with consciousness. He lay with his eyes closed for some untracked amount of time, seeing dim gray light through the lids. He did a bit of mental inventory and came up with nothing more than a mild headache and some stiffness in his back and one shoulder.

For a moment or so he got the impression that something significant had happened, but it faded. He tried to open his eyes, couldn't, didn't mind. Scents drifted in; antiseptic and clean bed linens, and a suggestion of industrial floor cleaner. Right after that his hearing kicked in, and he hadn't realized until then that he'd been in total silence. The soft hum of some sort of machinery was audible to his left; a shuffle of footsteps moved past him somewhere in a Doppler effect. A hushed, distant voice; and somewhere, the aimless chatter of a TV show.

Then he heard the page turn.

Strange, that; how one pedestrian, innocuous sound could define everything, make you realize so much. It was the soft, crisp sound of a page turning that made him try again to open his eyes.

Pushed. He heard it as he opened his eyes to a daylit private hospital room. It was his own mental voice but not a thought. No, never that.

At first he thought it was the quality of light in the room; the blinds were open on a pale winter-cast day, emitting enough light to dispel that thought. He looked slowly around, blinking carefully, waiting for the illusion to pass. It didn't. It couldn't.

There was no color.

Not in the paint on the walls, or the drapes, or the covers on the bed. Not in the framed garden scene on the wall opposite the bed, either. Not even in the man--who he didn't recognize--seated several feet away, reading a colorless book. He was trapped in a black and white film, left with varying blends of gray.

Disconnected. Something was just...loose, somewhere...

It's me, he thought clearly. I'm disconnected.

He tried to figure out why he was there, and nothing came.

He kept blinking, tried to swallow. When he tried to move a hand, it took a moment to work, the signal delayed. There was an IV in the back of his left hand, standard hospital fare, but his right was free and he used it to grip the metal railing on the side of the bed.

Jon saw the motion in his peripheral vision and glanced up automatically. Steve's eyes were open, and the singer was staring at him with an alarmed confusion. Jon closed the book softly and laid it on the bedside table. "Steve?"

That quickly, Steve sat up as if he'd been held down until that moment and the weight had been lifted.

Jon startled to his feet, hands held out. "Wait," he said, keeping his voice down. "Don't do that, yet. Not yet."

Steve went on staring at the gray man, vaguely knowing him and what had happened but unable to access the particulars. He gripped the railing and opened his mouth to say, who are you, what happened, where am I--any of the obvious things. He formed the words, heard and felt them, but when he spoke all that came out was a hoarse monosyllable. "Pushed."

Jon never thought relief and horror could have anything to do with one another, but he learned differently then. "I know," he said, stepping closer to the bed. "I know. But it's over. It's done and behind you."

No, Steve thought. There is no behind, or before. Not anymore. But he didn't understand what that meant, so he tried again to ask the gray man something, anything. All he could say was pushed.

The gray man laid a hand over his on the railing and said, "Yeah, but you'll be okay, now. Don't think about it. Just lie back down."

Something clicked almost audibly behind Steve's eyes, tumblers turning in a combination lock, and a piece fell back into place.

Jonathan. Jonathan Cain, and not just a name but a whole history, a sense of familiarity. An idea of the person.

Steve frowned and closed his eyes briefly.

Briefly to him, at any rate; when he opened them again he was lying down, and the light had faded, and he was alone.

He wondered for a bit if Jonathan had been real, and decided he had when he saw the book that was still on the bedside table.

When he awoke again, it was dark outside, and a nurse was offering him something to eat. Hospital tray, hospital food, but it was like he'd never eaten before. It was all shades of gray, but he could make out a bread, a vegetable, and some kind of soup that turned out to be a chicken broth. The smells and tastes were familiar but bizarrely sharp, as if the dulling of his eyesight had freed up more room for other things in his brain. The nurse didn't leave, either, but settled in, talking to him in a soothing voice, asking him basic questions. How did he feel, was he warm enough, could she adjust the bed for him. He didn't want to go on repeating the only word he seemed to know, so he played dumb.

He realized after a little while that he could hear things outside, in the other rooms, and on the floor beneath him. He hoped that didn't last. Because he'd be crazy soon, if it did.

He never remembered falling asleep, but when he opened his eyes again, Jon was back.

Steve sighed aloud and tried again. Jon, what the fuck am I doing here? "Pushed."

Jon came to stand beside the bed. The railing was down this time. He started to explain again, then saw the look on Steve's face, watched the singer roll his eyes and sit up. He looked like he'd intended to voice a string of obscenities. Jon had known Steve too long and too well.

"Wait," Jon said, and walked back out to the nurses' station. He was back a moment later with a pen and a pad of paper, holding them out to Steve, hoping it was just verbal difficulty and not a total inability to communicate.

Hoping he wasn't responsible for it.

Steve took the articles gratefully and began to write, the motion strange, his hand slow. But it only took him a moment to reestablish that connection, because he held the result up for Jon to see a moment later.

START TALKING. NOW.

Jon grinned. "Okay. You remember anything?"

Steve shook his head.

"Neal's gonna love it, that you can't talk," Jon said, and the last word came out strengthless and broken. Jon bent his head and covered his eyes with one hand, trying to put the unexpected emotion back in its box. He dropped the hand with a sigh a moment later, eyes bright with tears. "I'm sorry."

Steve shook his head and gestured Jon closer. Jon dragged the chair closer to the bed and lowered himself into it like he'd aged, like he'd fallen down a flight of stairs

(pushed)

or something like it. Steve offered him his right hand and was grateful when Jon gripped it solidly. The contact was like a barrier being erected against the rest of the world, a relief. Steve sighed with it, and Jon looked at him with concern. Weary, hurt concern. He felt of it to Steve, and the singer squeezed his fingers.

"You okay, otherwise?" Jon said.

Steve nodded, and waited expectantly.

"You've been here for three days," Jon said. "You were pretty much gone, when you came in. By this world's rules, anyway."

Steve understood the reference but not the particulars, the same way he'd known Jon but not recognized him at first. He frowned in confusion.

"I...found out you'd been hurt," Jon said. "I don't know what you remember. But it turns out we can do stuff, over here. I took most of it back, when I had the chance."

Steve squeezed his fingers again, knowing what he meant by taking most of it back, his face an open question.

"You were out on a morning walk," Jon said, tone hesitant, watching Steve's face to see if any of the details would resurface behind the singer's eyes. "There was...an accident."

Steve looked for a moment like he might disengage his right hand long enough to grab the front of Jon's shirt and shake the rest out of him. Seeing it, Jon said, "Most of the folks who saw it say you threw yourself in front of a bus. Tried to commit suicide."

Steve squinted at him, then began shaking his head.

Jon nodded. "I know. I know better, now. You didn't do it."

Steve let go of Jon long enough to scribble on the pad. NO!

"It's what the police report says, though," Jon said. "It's what the hospital thinks. The only reason you can have that pen in here is because I'm sitting here with you."

Steve glanced around in alarm. Everything was plastic, unbreakable. The nurse had been watching him while he ate.

He began shaking his head again. No, this isn't right, it can't be happening.

But he didn't remember. He couldn't really say if he'd done it or not. But he knew better. He protested aloud, not caring what came out so long as he got his point across. "Pushed!"

"Yeah," Jon said. "You were."

Steve stared at him, then finally understood the word and what it was for. It was no coincidence that it was all he could say. Something awful had happened, so awful that he could feel the mental aftertaste of it. It was like a corpse left closed up in a hot, airless room that could never be aired out afterwards, because death pervaded the very walls and smeared it's bloody hands all over whatever it could reach. The inside of his head felt like that right then, sounded like the shrieking of a fan belt right before it gives on a long stretch of desert highway 200 miles from the nearest help.

The words rattled a doorknob somewhere in his head, testing the locks, and he ignored it. Didn't want it.

Who, though? Who had done it? Who had pushed...

...and Neal walked in the open door, a paper cup of coffee in each hand, coming to relieve Jon. He looked from Steve to Jon and began to grin.

"Hey," he said to Steve, "Jon said you'd been awake."

Steve felt hands on his chest in the act of administering a brutal shove, felt momentarily weightless. Saw the cruel, mocking expression on a face that stood grinning at him then as if nothing had happened.

Saw the face of his own killer.

Jon felt Steve go rigid, and the hand in his tightened while the singer relived the impact of the bus. He felt the temp in the room go up a notch and tried to tell himself it was due to emotion. Neal saw the look on Steve's face and took an involuntary step back, the grin dropping in favor of nervousness. It was over in the space of heartbeats, but the moment seemed to drag out with a stuttering doggedness.

Very clearly, Neal thought, if looks could kill, because never had an old phrase been so appropriate. Then it bordered on the truth when the air directly in front of him was no longer fit for breathing, no longer air at all but something hot and leaden, putting a weight on his chest.

Jon felt Steve's rage and fear through their joined hands; it stung him on many levels like an open current of electricity. He felt the pressure building and said, "Neal, walk away."

Neal stood rooted in place, still trying to take that one breath, his ears ringing like he was in a lightning storm. Something built in the room, pinning him against the wall and taking the air out of him.

"Jesus, Neal, get out of here," Jon said, trying not to shout. "Hurry."

Neal turned abruptly and took two strides back out the door and into the corridor. He managed to take a breath and keep walking, because part of whatever had been pinning him against the wall was still trying to get at him...

* * *