Shadows and Flames

by Kathryn A

Written For: The First Sentinel Lyric Wheel Disclaimer: The characters and concepts of The Sentinel are owned by

              Pet Fly Productions.  I'm just borrowing them for a while.
Rating:       PG (language)
Summary:      After the fire, guilt and nightmare.  Hurt, angst, a
              little comfort.

If I shut my eyes, I can see the fire burning; the sky bleeding in sunset; the clouds of smoke, like frayed black silk; the flag on the flagpole burning, burning. And the smell; all the layers of smoke, the wood, the paint, the plastic, the plaster, the heating glass. I can still smell the smoke. In the middle of this stark, antiseptic disinfectant-laiden air, I can still smell the smoke.

It was a miracle we both made it out alive. If not for these damned senses, none of this would have happened. Well, the school would still have gone up, but we wouldn't have been in the middle of it. I'm a liability. If I hadn't - you wouldn't have - we would have been well out of it. Well, you wouldn't have been there at all.

My hands ache where they were burned. Not as badly as you were. The bandages feel like sackcloth. Isn't that Biblical? Sackcloth and ashes. The chair digs into my back, as I shift, in the waiting room. They won't let me see you. They won't tell me how you are. You were alive when I pulled you out. Barely conscious, but alive. My fault. My fault.

Why do you stay with me, Chief? I remember the chance you threw away, the trip to Borneo. If you tear yourself in two again, like that... Can I bear this? How many times has it been? How many times have you been hurt because of your involvement with me? Serial killers, drug dealers, kidnapped, nearly killed more than once, not to mention shot at, punched, bruised, threatened... It isn't worth your life, Chief. If I could see you walk away, safely through the flame; if I could let you go; if I could throw my lifeline to the wind... If my lifeline is still alive. Wouldn't they tell me? My lifeless lifeline. How profound. Damn.

I can feel the tears well, and I open my eyes, trying not to blink. Trying not to show my weakness. Not here, not now. Colours crash, collide in my bloodshot eyes. Bright posters, meant for distracting children, glare on the walls. A black-and-white poster, by contrast, comes to focus in front of my face: "Ray Charles shouldn't have been blind."

Tired. I'm just tired.

If I could, you know I would let it go, this desperation, this need. Anything to see you safe.

Where are you, Chief?

I lean back in the chair and close my eyes, preparing to send my ears tiptoeing down the corridors of the hospital. If I can't find you, well, maybe you aren't there. Not anymore.

I listen. I reach to the borders of my hearing, searching for your heartbeat. I hear many hearts, but which one is yours? Is yours there? I can feel myself approaching the edge of a zone-out. Maybe I should just let it go. Surrender. Dislocate.

With my eyes shut, they won't even know it's a zone. Not for a while. If I went so deep that not even you could get me out, well, then you'd be free. What's a little anger to trade for your safety? If you should ask then maybe they'd tell you what I would say: your true colours are painted in black and blue; the bruises which I should have taken for you.

It's not right. It's not fair.

God, I sound like a child. It's too much. I'm so tired of it all. What a temptation, to let it go, and so fade away. Nothing here but me and my ears. Isolation. Nothing.

The smell of tobacco overlays the antiseptic, the blood and the smoke. A familiar voice. "Don't disturb him. He's asleep."

I'm wide awake, Simon. I'm not sleeping. But I don't move. I can't. It's burning. All over again.

I let myself fall into the flames.


Lying on my front, my back still hurts, despite the pain-killers. Utterly stupid, Sandburg. You should have insisted. You shouldn't have stayed in the truck. You should have gone with Jim. Then he wouldn't have zoned. You barely got to him in time. And he still got hurt, dragging you out of there. I deserve all the condemnation I can get. You stupid asshole! You dumb shit!

Tears well out of my eyes, drip down the side of my face and dampen the sheet. A nurse chooses that moment to come in and check on me. Bad timing. She increases the medication in my drip, thinking they are tears of pain, not shame. I am too groggy to tell her otherwise.

I fall over the edge of sleep, into something which isn't quite a dream.

I run, see you standing like a black statue against the flames. I touch you, yell at you, can't get through to you. I hear the crack, push you out of the way. Searing pain on my back. But you're awake, back, aware again. You pull me from under the burning beam, burning your own hands in the process. We stumble through the fire together. But this isn't the school. As we run ahead of the inferno, out of the smoke, I see the trees. The jungle. The jungle is burning.

We flee through the trees with the crackle and roar behind us like breakers from an ocean of air and fire. We stop, finally, at a stream, and lave our burns in its cool water.

"You're safe, Chief," you say. "I need to know that you're safe."

Then you turn and start walking back the way we came.

I get up, ignoring the pain. "Jim! Where the hell are you going?"

"I need to make sure you're safe," you say.

"I'm safe," I say. "Now come back here." I take a few more steps towards you.

You shake your head. "When it's all gone, you'll be safe."

I don't like the sound of this.

"When what's all gone, Jim?"

"Everything," you answer. Your face is as grey as the ashes falling around us. "I'm tired, Blair. Tired of trips to the hospital, tired of wondering if you're okay. Tired of wondering what will happen the next time. Tired of... everything."

My heart thunders. You're gonna cut me lose. You can't do that! "I'm sorry, Jim, but -"

"'Sorry' doesn't cut it, Sandburg!" you yell, doing your patented grab-Sandburg-and-shove-him-against-the-nearest-tall-object thing. "At this rate, you'll be saying 'sorry' as a ghost!"

I can't help my grimace of pain, as the tree does terrible things to my back. You notice, of course, and let me go.

"Damn! I'm sorry Blair," you say. "Damn!"

I sit down.

You sigh, and squat next to me. "I can't risk you with me, Sandburg."

"But you need me!"

"I know," you say, wearily, rubbing your eyes. "I need you. I can't do it without you. You're too damn loyal for your own good. I know that too." You stand up again. "So there's obviously only one solution." You turn and start walking to the flames.

"No! Jim! No!"

And the dream ends.



The ashes fall around me like dirty snow. I cannot find the flames. They have died, like everything in this dead world. The coals radiate heat in red and black. Blair is gone. Why should this separation hurt so much? I'm trying to set you free, dammit! You're better off without me.

Something. A whisper.

I shake my head and stride on.

Unfortunately, I can't close my ears. I hear it again. Jim, don't leave me!


I tremble suspended between sleeping and waking, trying to get back to the dream. Trying to get back to you. Thinking that I can do some good, somehow. Get through to you. And then I'm there.

It is night, clouded black. The air is full of smoke and ashes. The only light is that of the coals. Jim, where are you? You can't do this to yourself. Please! What is he trying to do, anyway? Don't analyse it, Sandburg, this is a dream. It's all symbolic. Yeah, but a dead, burnt jungle is pretty symbolic, isn't it? It's symbolic of death.

I start walking. It doesn't matter that I don't know where I'm going. I'm looking for you, that's all that matters. If you twist and turn away, I'll still follow. "You gotta protect me, big fella?" I mutter. "Well, that's a two-way street, man." I've got to find you. Because you're definitely going the wrong way.

The ashes keep falling. I keep walking. "Jim, where are you?" I can't see anything. The ground is uneven with the corpses of trees, and other things. I stumble, but don't fall - this time. "Jim!" I cry out, "Dammit, Jim, don't leave me!"

Something looms in front of me. I backpeddle and trip backwards, landing on my butt.

"Sandburg!" An exasperated shout. Jim.

"I found you!" I say, as you extend your hand and pull me to my feet.

"Can't I get away from you?" you say.

"Nope!" I grin. "Can't say much for the decor, though." I know this is a dream; but whether it's my dream or your dream, there's some things I can't do. If I could, through myself, set your spirit free, I'd lead your heart away, see you break away into the light and to the day, out of this night of desolation. If I could. But that's your choice. Your ashes. But I keep clasping your hand; just in case.

"Let go, Sandburg."

I shake my head. "No way, man! Not after all the trouble I went to find you."

"Don't you trust me?"

"I trust you with my life, man - but not with yours."

You smile, suddenly. "Funny, I'd say the same of you."

I snake my arm around his back and give him half a hug. "Two of a kind," I say. "I'm not leaving. And you aren't either."

"Sandburg..." You snort. "What am I going to do with you?" You wrap your arms around me, and rest your chin on my head. "I'm just so tired," you murmur.

"Then rest," I reply.

"Rest?" you say, as if you'd never heard the word before.

"Rest," I repeat. I pull you down, and we sit on the ground, against a log which, blackened though it is, is no longer burning.

You put your arm over my shoulder. "All right," you say. "I'll try." You shut your eyes, and the tension melts away.

Quietly, without fanfare, it starts to rain, a gentle drizzle that washes the air clean.

"It will all look better in the morning," I say.

And it does.

The End.

Thanks to CC for the helpful comments, and to all the Wheelies for receiving it so well.

The Ray Charles poster is from my doctor's waiting room.

Here are the lyrics, sent to me by Jennifer. Thanks for sending such an inspiring song! I sorta went overboard in the "include lines" stakes, but this was just so good!

'=' means a line used
'+' means a line alluded to


(U2 from the The Singles 1980-1990)

=If you twist and turn away
=If you tear yourself in two again
If I could, yes I would
If I could, I would
=Let it go

+If I could throw this
+Lifeless lifeline to the wind
Leave this heart of clay
+See you walk, walk away
Into the night
And through the rain
Into the half-light
+And through the flame

=If I could through myself
=Set your spirit free
=I'd lead your heart away
+See you break, break away
=Into the light
=And to the day

=To let it go
=And so to fade away
To let it go
And so fade away

=I'm wide awake
I'm wide awake
Wide awake
=I'm not sleeping
Oh, no, no, no

=If you should ask then maybe they'd
=Tell you what I would say
+True colors fly in blue and black
+Bruised silken sky and burning flag
+Colors crash, collide in blood shot eyes

=If I could, you know I would
If I could, I would
=Let it go...

=This desperation
+In temptation
Let it go

And so fade away
To let it go
And so fade away
To let it go
And so to fade away

I'm wide awake
I'm wide awake
Wide awake
I'm not sleeping
Oh, no, no, no