Note: This is a rather meaningless bit of nonsense I played with while trying to overcome a bout of writer's block. Sadly, still blocked...

Interlude 1 - White Zone
(Remote Control, one month later)
-- by Mackie/

He was back in the loft, or at least his senses were -- his body seemed to have deserted him. As formless as a half-felt draft, he found himself swirling around the leather-clad figures as they held his best friend and roommate helpless in a numbing chokehold. The bigger of the two, dressed in motorcycle leathers, stood in front of Blair, his masked face only inches from the black hood that covered his captive's face. He cupped his prisoner's chin in his hand. "You breathing OK?" he asked idly, rocking Blair's head up and down. "Sure you are -- I can see your chest moving."

"Who are you?" Blair gasped from behind the heavy hood stretched over his head. His voice was hoarse from the choking grip of the smaller man who stood behind him, one arm snaked tightly around his throat.

The man in motorcycle leathers did not hear the question or chose to ignore it. "I can't hear you 'round that chokehold, but no matter. All you have to do is keep breathing for now." His hand stroked Blair's cheek through the cloth. Blair tried to jerk away, but he could only gasp in helpless pain as the grip around his throat tightened.

"Get away from him, you bastard!" Jim raged voicelessly, helpless to do anything to save his partner. There was evil all around; he could feel it permeating every corner of the room. These men were evil, and they would do evil things to his friend if Jim gave them the chance. Why couldn't he make them see him -- hear him -- feel his anger and his fists?

"It'll get more interesting later," the larger man promised. "Come on, we'll take him down the back stairs."

"No!" Jim muttered desperately, throwing himself into their path. They walked right through him as if he wasn't even there -- well, he wasn't really there, was he? He was zoned out inside some damned video-taped picture on the TV screen. "You need to take his coat!" he added despairingly as a cold wind blew through the open stairwell door. "It's freezing outside..."

Everything suddenly shattered around him, and Jim felt himself being torn apart, shredded to his very molecules and scattered like fine particles of sand into a netherworld of pure white...

Then he was outside himself, staring downward from the ceiling of Simon's office, watching his Captain sweep up the dust of what had once been Jim Ellison and tip it into a trash can. "Had to happen sooner or later," Simon murmured conversationally to the two people in his office. "He's been falling apart for quite some time now."

The computer kid, CB, pulled out a huge bottle of white glue. "Maybe we can use this to glue him back together again."

The psychologist, undulating in a dress of black, shimmering scales, laughed derisively. "I knew he was on the brink of emotional disintegration," she commented, her breathing heavy with perverse satisfaction, "but I never dreamed it would be so complete -- "

"Hey, Simon," Jim said from his vantage point on the ceiling. "Have a little more respect for the dead, will you?"

"What was that?" Simon asked curiously, looking around, finally seeing the snow on the TV screen. "Oh, just some white noise. Turn that off, will you?"

With a maniacal chuckle, the woman complied, and Jim Ellison winked out of existence --

 

-- and shot awake in his bed, his body soaked with sweat, the sheets tangled around him.

His roommate's feet pounded up the stairs. "Jim!" Blair arrived, nearly tripping on the top step in his haste, and stopped by the bed. "Man, are you OK?"

Jim nodded, not trusting himself to speak. It felt as if every muscle in his body was burning with tension, and he swung his legs over the side of the bed, bending over, his elbows on his knees as he fought away the last vestiges of the nightmare.

Blair calmed down once he saw the worst was past. "You had the dream again, didn't you?"

"Yeah." Jim looked up at his partner. "Did I wake you up?"

"No, I was grading some mid-terms," Blair answered. "When I heard you thrashing around up here, I figured you weren't having any ordinary bad dream." He sat down beside Jim on the bed. "Are you ready to tell me about it?"

"No."

Blair frowned in frustration. "You've been having the same nightmare for over a week now. You're not getting enough sleep, and your nerves are shot. I might be able to help you work through it."

Jim nodded. "You're the only one who can," he admitted.

"Then let me." Blair couldn't understand Jim's reluctance. "It's not as if you haven't talked me through a nightmare or ten."

"This is different," Jim protested, but he knew he was running out of choices. Either he worked through his dream, or he became a liability on the job. No one wanted an incident involving a sleep-deprived cop and a loaded 9mm. "It's going to be tough -- on you."

Now Blair was thoroughly confused. "On me? How?"

"I need to ask you some questions about what happened to you -- when Hicks kidnapped you."

Blair's eyes widened in surprise. "I don't understand," he said a little weakly, dreading the prospect of reliving his own very-real nightmare but willing to try if it would help. The kidnapping had been less than a month ago, and he still felt a shiver whenever a stray image darted unexpectedly into his memory. "What do you want to know?"

"I want to know every detail of what happened here in the loft," Jim explained quietly.

"But you said it was all on the video," Blair said, relieved Jim's questions would not extend to the warehouse where Hicks had taken him; the time spent bound to the chair where he was tormented by his captor had been one of the longest, most terrifying experiences of his life. He wasn't certain he was up to exploring it in detail.

"Most of it is," Jim answered. "But I need to know some things, and I don't want to ask you about them or I may taint your memory of what really happened."

"Do you want to do it now?"

"Are you up to it?" Jim certainly wasn't going to get any more sleep tonight, and Blair didn't look remotely tired. The kid had hidden reservoirs of energy.

"OK," Blair said reluctantly. "But just what happened here, in the loft, right?"

"Right, in as much detail as you can remember."

Blair stood up and started to pace the room, as if movement would lessen the memories of helpless terror. As he told his story, he didn't look at Jim, but rather focused somewhere beyond the room, where the dark memories lurked.

He and Jim had watched the first video tape together, then Jim had left to take it to the lab despite Blair's protest that it was late and could wait until morning. "For awhile, I blamed you for leaving and allowing Hicks to take me," he admitted shakily. "I know it's irrational, and I don't feel that way now..."

"It's OK," Jim said gently. "The doctor at the hospital said we'd both have episodes like that. One of mine involved a fantasy about the water heater and a sledge hammer."

Blair nodded, remembering the incident. He sighed and continued his story. "Anyway, I made some tea and sat down to grade some papers. The TV was on, MTV or VH-1, I don't remember -- is that important?"

"It was VH-1, and no, it's not important."

"After awhile, there was a knock at the door. I thought it was Steve, who was going to pick up some reference books from me because he's failing one my classes. I muttered something about him being late and went to answer it. I never even saw who was there -- I took a squirt of mace right in my eyes and couldn't see a thing." He grimaced at the memory. "I staggered backwards and fell over something -- a chair, I think. Then one guy -- Holder, I guess -- yanked me up and put his arm around my throat. The other man -- it was Hicks, but I didn't know anyone's name then -- pulled a black bag over my head. I couldn't see, and I could hardly breathe -- " He faltered to a halt again. "Sorry."

"OK, that's enough," Jim said softly.

"But that's not everything that happened," Blair protested. "If there's something you need to know, I want to finish this. It's important to you."

"Not important enough to put you through this," Jim returned with a sigh, running his hands through his hair and brushing it back. Even a nightmare was preferable to making Blair relive the kidnapping.

"No," Blair said firmly, sitting down again on the bed next to Jim, drawing strength from his nearness. Without waiting for assent, he continued recounting his experience. "Hicks said I should concentrate on breathing. Then he walked around the loft -- I don't know what he was doing. He said something, but he wasn't talking to me -- "

"Can you remember exactly what he said?" Jim asked. "Sorry, but his exact words are important."

Blair shut his eyes in concentration. "Hi ya, Jim," he said, and it was weird to hear the words of Hicks coming from his mouth. "I hope you didn't scratch your pits or play with yourself or -- " Blair stumbled over the words, resolutely continued, " -- or kiss your boyfriend here. It would be embarrassing, wouldn't it?" Blair opened his eyes and looked at Jim. "That's close to what he said, isn't it?"

"Almost verbatim," Jim agreed mildly, feeling the same surge of anger he'd felt when hearing Hicks speak on the tape.

Blair got up and paced the bedroom some more, unable to keep still. "Jim, couldn't you just get all this off the video?" he asked a little anxiously, not eager to continue.

Jim looked away, and Blair knew the next words he spoke were a lie. "Yes. I'll do that."

"No, I've come this far, I can finish it," Blair said firmly, gathering his resolve. "Hicks walked up to me and took me by the chin. He asked if I was breathing OK, and nodded my head up and down with his hand, as if I was agreeing with him; like I was a puppet or something. Then he said, 'Sure you are, I can see your chest moving.'"

Jim suddenly looked very tense, but his voice was calm. "Then what happened?"

"I was choking from the arm around my neck, but I think I asked him who he was," Blair continued awkwardly, the memories making his voice tight even now. "Then Hicks said that he couldn't hear me, but that all I had to do was keep breathing; it would get more interesting later. Then he told his partner to take me down the back stairs. They took me out to a car in the alley and shoved me in the trunk." Blair sighed. "That's it."

"Thank you," Jim said gratefully. "I know that was hard for you."

"Did it help?" Blair asked.

Jim shook his head slightly. "I'm more confused than ever," he admitted glumly.

Blair sat down on the bed again. "Can you tell me what's bothering you now?"

"Hicks went to the door and picked up the overcoats he and his partner had worn to cover their leather outfits," he explained. "Then he replaced the outgoing message tape on the answering machine and went to the potted plant to get his video camera. He carried the camera after that, so it only showed random shots of the room, not what he was doing. It didn't show him cupping your chin in his hand or nodding your head up and down; it didn't pick up your voice when you asked who he was."

"OK, but that's what happened," Blair insisted, thinking Jim was doubting his memory.

"I know," Jim whispered. "I saw him do it. I heard you speak."

Now Blair was thoroughly confused. "If it wasn't on the tape, how could you know those things?"

"Because in some weird way, I was there," Jim blurted angrily. "Somehow, I zoned out on the video and wound up inside it."

"No, Jim, that's not possible," Blair protested, almost laughing with relief. "You saw what you saw because -- "

"Because I know what the loft looks like, I knew what the camera would see," Jim interrupted. "Except the camera didn't see it, and I've had a lab tech go over the audio portion of the tape with his most sensitive equipment, and your words aren't part of the recording."

"They must be," Blair said doubtfully, "if you heard them."

"My hearing's good, but not that good. I can't hear what isn't there."

"And that's what your nightmare's about?" Blair asked, thinking wildly about the implications of what Jim had experienced, each scenario more implausible than the last. "You think you actually entered a video picture and witnessed past events that weren't recorded on the tape?"

"I don't know what I think," Jim retorted in irritation. "It's your job to figure out this crap." He grimaced suddenly. "Sorry, I didn't mean that -- this thing just has me bugged."

"Maybe it's some weird kind of sentinel extra-sensory perception," Blair murmured to himself, as if he hadn't heard Jim's outburst or the subsequent apology. "Some kind of telepathy triggered when you saw the video." He shook his head in bewilderment. "That's just plain stupid. I'm way out of my depth here, Jim."

Jim held up a hand to stop the rambling. "There's more."

"More?" Blair looked almost comically anxious. "You get me all weirded out here, and you tell me there's more?"

"Hicks turned off the video camera when the three of you left the loft. The tape went to snow -- white noise."

Blair scowled suspiciously. "What happened?"

Jim had trouble recounting the sensations he'd experienced. "I felt as if my entire body exploded into all its individual molecules," he explained uncomfortably. "As if I became part of the white noise for just a moment."

"What brought you out of it?" Blair asked.

"Simon -- he was really shaken. He said I stopped breathing."

Blair frowned as he tried to understand what Jim was saying. "Do you really think you might have died?"

"In my nightmare, I do die," Jim explained. "I'm hovering at the ceiling in Simon's office, like an invisible spirit. And then that damned doctor, McMahon, switches off the TV, and -- poof! -- I just wink out...gone...dead...."

"You actually die in your dream?" Blair asked anxiously. "That's not good, or at least everything I've read about dreams says that's not good."

"Trust me, it didn't feel good either," Jim answered. Hopefully, he asked, "What do you think?"

Blair sighed. "I think now that you've talked about it, you're going to sleep just fine. I'll be the one having the nightmares while I try to figure out a way to deal with this." He pushed Jim back down toward his pillow. "In the meantime, I guess you won't mind if I start nudging you when we're watching TV or go to a movie."

Jim readjusted the pillow to his satisfaction. Surprisingly, he did feel more relaxed after exposing the details of his nightmare. He grinned. "Are you afraid I'll end up inside Jurassic Park and get eaten by T.Rex?"

"I don't even want to joke about it," Blair retorted, grimacing at the improbable scenarios racing through his mind. "Your zone-out was probably triggered by a particular set of circumstances -- stress, anxiety, lack of sleep. As long as we're aware of the possibility, we can take precautions to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Jim nodded, already dozing off. "If you decide to experiment, could you pick a good movie -- something with Sandra Bullock maybe?"

Blair thought about it, trying to think of something safe. "While You Were Sleeping, maybe -- either of the Speed movies, forget it."

But Jim was already asleep himself. Carefully, Blair stood up and started down the stairs, murmuring, "And while you're sleeping, I have some journal entries to write -- how the heck am I going to explain this?" As his fretful muttering receded, Jim smiled from his slumber and snuggled more deeply beneath the covers.

THE END