The Reality of Fantasy
Saturday morning, Jim awoke to the smell of pancakes. He padded into the living room to find David piling a stack of pancakes on the bar. "I made your breakfast."
Jim narrowed his eyes. "What did you do?"
David's offense was palpable. "What, I can't just do something nice for you?"
"No, not really, you can't. What did you do?"
David stuck his tongue out. "Nothing. I wanna go to the park."
Jim tucked into the plate of pancakes and shrugged. "I have no plans. If nothing goes terribly wrong today – and I'm assuming it won't, because you managed not to set shit on fire this time – then I'll see what we can manage."
"Ooh, can we go to the one by Leonard's house? There were some weird flying things I've never seen before, and they would be perfect in my kingdom!"
Jim looked up from his pancakes. "Kingdom?"
David's face blanched. "Nothing. Can we go there?"
"I don't know about that." He shoveled half a pancake in his mouth. "Leonard's at work, so it's kinda outta the way."
"Ew, seafood!" David opened his mouth to display his half chewed pancakes to the world.
Jim gagged and nearly choked on his own half chewed food, and ran to the trash can to clear his throat without spitting food all over the clean kitchen. "I fucking hate you right now."
David just laughed. "Puny weakling!"
"I don't even want the rest of those," Jim groaned, pushing the plate away as he walked past the bar. He went back to his bedroom, and flopped back on his bed with a sigh. Before he could get fully comfortable though, the phone rang. Jim lay there and waited for the answering machine to pick up. "Hey there, Jim, it's Kyle, at Scotty's! We're done with –"
"Helloooo nurse!" The phone was in Jim's hand without any conscious knowledge of movement on his part. "She's all done?"
"Yup! You can come in anytime, Jim! But I have to warn you, he's in a mood."
Jim chuckled. "Did someone piss him off?"
"Well, he's been like that since LBPD brought her in, actually," Kyle said. "I think he's been saving all his hollering special for you."
Jim cringed and rubbed his face. "That's... just great. I don't know when I'll actually be able to come by, so maybe –"
There was a buzz, and the phone went dead in Jim's hand. A voice floated from the living room. "Son of a bitch... I didn't do it!"
Jim sighed. "Did you plug something in, dude?"
"I just said it wasn't me!"
Jim groaned and pulled a t-shirt on over his PJ pants, and headed out to the living room. "Whatever, that's fine – guess what? We're taking a little trip."
"Again? " David put down the Playstation controller in his hand and gave Jim the once over. "Don't you ever just stay at home like normal people?"
"I can't be normal people – I have a monster for a kid. Grab a jacket. This might take a while."
"Hang on, I gotta get my book –"
"Leave it," Jim said sharply. "We're gonna be switching cars, and I don't want you to lose it between rides."
David pouted, but he followed Jim obediently to the garage. They jumped in the giant car and zoomed back towards Signal Hill as fast as Jim dared (which, given his fear of rolling over, really wasn't that fast). David grew quiet as they pulled up in the same neighborhood. Jim grinned and winked at David. "Sit here. I'm gonna call a cab."
"What for? Why don't we just go where we're going?"
"Just sit tight, and quit questioning me for once." Jim hurried to the strip joint, all smiles. He was escorted in and offered a complementary drink. Jim just waited for Gary, who, of course, looked worried. Keys were exchanged, reassurances offered that Jim still wanted to be on the payroll, and a request for a cab was denied.
Jim walked back to the SUV, uncomfortable as all fuck. Gary walked right alongside him, talking a mile a minute. When they got to the car, David shuddered and crawled to the back. "Hey, Dave," Gary said, as if they were the best of buddies.
"He's not feeling well," Jim said. "Let him rest, eh?"
Gary gave Jim a look, but he didn't argue. He protested a little when Jim beat him to the driver's seat, but he offered no real resistance. The ride back to Culver City was tense and silent, but they made it to their destination in one piece.
Jim rolled into Scotty's place with the practiced ease of someone who'd been driving a rental he couldn't fucking wait to dump. Several people jumped out of the way with a yelp and a rude gesture or two. "Sorry!" Not really though.
"What in blazes are you doin to my customers?!" A round headed man with a hilarious Scottish burr came waving his arms at Jim, ready to throw the fuck down, until he realized who was driving the monster American SUV. "Jim? The fuck are you doin in that thing? And what the hell did you do to your car this time?" Scotty went off on a tirade that put any of Leonard's infamous rages to shame. Jim watched Scotty freak out for a minute, and then collected David from the back of the Escalade, while Gary was already itching to hit the road.
Once the Cadillac was out of Jim's life for what he hoped was forever, he set David down and followed Scotty into the office, where the tirade continued for another good ten minutes. "Six yards, boy! Six! And not a single one had a proper bumper! I had to put a bloody ad out in Craigslist!"
Jim rubbed his temples and tried not to freak out. "Okay, but you'll be able to put the bumpers on, right?"
"Oh, they're already on. I did that two days ago."
"Then what – " Jim smiled tightly. "How much do I owe you?"
"Besides a bloody heart transplant, because mine is about to give out, what with the state you brought the Enterprise back in? Besides that?"
"Scotty, I didn't ask a bunch of hoodlums to steal my fucking car, man."
"Och, a likely story!" Scotty went on yet another tirade, bitching and moaning about how Jim clearly did this shit to him on purpose. After a while, Jim was able to catch one of Scotty's other guys to get the invoice started. The act of paying seemed to take longer than it ever had before, probably because the other mechanics were afraid of cutting their boss' ravings short.
All the hollering and arm waving was worth it, though, when she rolled around, gleaming white, like a dream.
David giggled. "That looks like a miniature marshmallow."
Jim saw a flash of red, and Scotty's raving stopped. "Oh, you've done it now, laddie..."
When Jim came to, David was hiding behind a stack of used tires, and Jim had a tire iron in his hand and was screaming in tongues. Jim paused, surprised at his own ferocity. "Uh... sorry?"
"Nuh-uh, fuck you! Psycho freak!"
All the mechanics just guffawed and rolled around in the grease. Jim sighed and handed the tire iron to Kyle, who was nearly purple in the face, and beckoned to David. "Yes, I'm psycho about my car. Sorry. Seriously. Come on, we'll get your notebook, and then I'll take you to the park."
"I'm not going any damn where with you, crazy!"
"Not even to the park by Leonard's house?"
David narrowed his eyes at Jim. "Maybe."
Jim smiled and coaxed the boy from his hiding place, and into the car. Once they were both strapped in, and on their way, Jim's mood improved mightily.
David noticed the change. "You drive this car way better."
"What was wrong with my driving before?"
David rolled his eyes. "If you have to ask..."
Jim just laughed. "Whatever, fuck you, you jerk."
"You're a jerk," David giggled.
"You you you you you you you!" This was much better. Nothing could ruin his day. Nothing.
Jim jumped and pulled over to the right. "Dude, you don't have to scream about it." He maneuvered back into traffic with a grimace.
"But I like fire trucks. Fire truck!"
Jim winced and pulled over again. "David. They announce themselves with that obnoxious fucking siren. Seriously, quit shouting in my ear about it."
Jim sighed and gripped the steering wheel tighter as David screeched about the third truck that whizzed past them. He couldn't remember ever getting so hopped up over a goddamn truck, but maybe that was just cynical disrememberance. He eased back into the flow of traffic and hoped to hell that the fucking emergency was done fucking up his eardrums – between the sirens and David's screaming, Jim didn't think he could take any more.
"Do you think it's a bomb?" David was practically standing up in the seat, twisted around in the seatbelt, trying to climb over the gearshift to get a better look at the cars in the left lane.
"What the - are you fucking insane?! Sit the fuck down!" Jim shoved at David's head. "Don't do that!"
"You suck." There wasn't much heat behind David's words, and he settled down in his seat. "Go faster! I wanna see the fire!"
Jim deliberately stopped at the yellow light, ignoring the blaring horns of the angry motorists in the lane behind him. "I'm not chasing a bunch of fire trucks to a disaster so that you can rubberneck out of my goddamn car, David. Sit the fuck down in the seat, face straight ahead, and quit screaming about goddamn fire trucks. It's not exciting, it's not a movie, it's a fucking emergency, and there are probably some really fucking unhappy people where ever those trucks are going. Dude."
"Geez, alright." David made a show of flopping back in his seat, but he didn't say anything else - not even when the plume of smoke rose up in the dusky sky, marring the beautiful California sunset. It looked like a bad one. Jim hoped it wasn't on a block like his, with several multi-unit apartment buildings. A fire like that would be difficult to control, especially if it started to spread.
He began to worry as the plume of smoke seemed to billow up in front of him as he pointed the vehicle towards home - maybe it was on a block like his. He wondered if he would need to show some ID, to prove that he had a reason to be driving down his own block.
It was the first time David had voiced his name - had anything else been happening, Jim probably would have commented on it. But he was too busy staring at the haphazard collection of no fewer than seven fire trucks clustered around the blazing apartment building.
His apartment building.
Jim pulled over, heedless of whether he was blocking a driveway or an intersection or what the fuck have you, and ran towards the apartment, his apartment, his home, his fucking world.
Something snatched hold of his arms, people, strange people, clasping at his arms and waist, calling his name, screaming, crying, denying. Who the fuck? Let go! Can't you fools see? It's burning! We have to save it, it's all gonna burn!
Something snapped deep within the building - he couldn't see it, but he heard it, clear as day over the wailing sirens and people. The building shuddered, and a plume of white smoke and fine debris mushroomed over the building, to join the black stream of smoke that he'd seen from the boulevard. Jim sunk to his knees at the sight, as broken as the caved roof. His home was burning. Everything he had was burning up. All he had left was in the car.
Well. David wanted to see where the fire trucks were.
Someone got down on the ground with him - one of the cranky old dudes who lived downstairs. His face was wet. His eyes were red. He leaned against Jim, shoulder to shoulder. He didn't say a word, but Jim could hear every thought that passed through his head - it's all we have, and now, we don't even have that. Not even this.
Hysterical screaming could be heard in the pandemonium - crying children, crying mothers. Ambulances lined the streets, while emergency crews struggled to contain the madness. Clusters of terrified tenants shoved and prodded their way into the ambulances when they could, while some were carried in on yellow plasticky stretchers. Jim looked back at the building in horror. There had been people inside the inferno.
Jim shoved away from his neighbor to be sick in the grass. Then there were hands on him, large hands, medium hands, someone sobbing on his shoulder. A young woman. Strangers, strangers he saw everyday. People he never bothered to reach out and touch, people he probably wouldn't be seeing again, because where the fuck were they going to go? Where were they going to go?
Where was Jim going to take David?
He twisted around to see the car - he couldn't see David in the seat. Jim struggled to free himself from the grasping, clasping hands, and stumbled back towards the car.
He wasn't there.
Jim stood there, dumbfounded, before he staggered back towards the flames. People tried to stop him again, but he shoved them off with strength he didn't know he had. "David? David!" He began to pick up speed - what if he'd slipped between people's legs and gotten to the burning building? What if he'd tried to run away in terror, and gotten hurt? What if, what if, what if?
Finally, Jim saw him, standing in the street, staring at the building. He wasn't crying, he wasn't hurt, he just... stared. Jim didn't give a shit. He could cry for them both. He ran to the shell shocked kid and scooped him up. To his surprise, David wrapped his arms around his neck and held on tight. He was whispering something, so quietly Jim had to strain to hear, so secretly that he hadn't seen his lips move.
"I didn't mean it. I didn't mean it."
Jim pulled back. "Didn't mean what, David."
But David wouldn't answer. He just clutched at Jim's collar and stared at the building, softly chanting. Whatever it was, he didn't mean it.
Dawn's first light found Jim and David sitting together in Enterprise's front bucket seats, watching the news vans leave the burnt shell of their apartment building in search of new devastating misfortunes to report. A few other residents sat on the sidewalks, mourning their losses - some material, some far, far worse. Jim's hand skittered out towards the passenger seat, grasped warm flesh, was grasped in return. It could have been worse. He didn't lose everything. Not quite.
The little hand in his was shaking. Jim looked down. David was still staring dully at the charred mess, like he had been all night, but his face was drawn and pale, and he looked like he was going to be sick. Jim pried his hand free so he could properly wrap his arm around the boy's shaking shoulders.
David leaned into the embrace as best he could over the gear shift. "What are we gonna do now?" The boy's voice was rough with soot and fear.
Jim didn't have the slightest clue. He detangled himself from the kid. "Buckle up, David." He started the engine, and drove away from the remnants of his home.
Enterprise sailed over the freeways, gliding through the thin Sunday morning traffic, homing in on the only place left in the universe for either of them, as if she had innate knowledge of the true nature of where their hearts lay. She swooped over the double bridges easily, shining in the perfect California sun, blinding unsuspecting passers-by with her courageous beauty.
Jim just dared anybody to say she looked like a motherfucking marshmallow now.
Cars were packed like sardines as usual, but there was just enough space directly in front of Leonard's building for Enterprise to come to rest. She purred and settled in with no effort at all, and went quietly to sleep. Jim stared blankly at the apartment and wondered how they'd wound up in front of Leonard's apartment.
It took supreme effort to leave the safety of Enterprise's bucket seats, but they made it up onto the sidewalk, up the steps, and to the door. Jim poised to knock, but he could hear shouting inside. There was silence, and then more shouting. The volume seemed to vacillate, like Leonard was pacing inside the apartment. He probably was. They shouldn't bother him. But Jim had nowhere else to turn, no ideas of who he could burden with not only his presence, but the presence of a small boy who was broken and lost.
The shouting grew louder again, and this time, Jim was able to pick out words. "Can't... only... weekend... unfair, Jocelyn!"
Jim leaned against the door. His timing was fucking terrible. But it wasn't his fault... but he couldn't do it... He sank to the porch and drew his knees up under his chin, as he began to shake uncontrollably.
"It's okay," David whispered. He snuggled down in the tiny space between Jim and the door and laid his head on Jim's chest. "It's gonna be okay. Isn't it?"
"I don't know!" The dam burst, and the tears flowed anew. "I don't fucking know..."
Leonard's door opened suddenly, startling them both. Leonard stood over them, still screaming into the phone, but he broke off when he registered their miserable faces. He dropped the phone on the floor. "What happened?"
"It's... all... gone," Jim hiccupped.
"What's all gone?"
"Everything!" Jim couldn't explain it any better than that, didn't know how to make Leonard understand.
David stood up and cracked the screen door just enough to squeeze inside. "I saw fire trucks on the way home, and he told me to shut up about them. I wished –" he broke off and rubbed at his eyes with both hands. "I wanted our house to b-burn, b-because he was so m-mean."
Jim's jaw dropped. "That wasn't your fault," he croaked, and stumbled inside to hold the crying child.
"I didn't mean it, I swear!"
"Wait, I'm still lost," Leonard said. "There was a fire?"
"Yes," Jim ground out. "The whole complex." He started to laugh, though nothing was even remotely funny. "I wish I'd let you bring your notebook, little dude. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry."
Leonard grunted. "Well, thank god for small miracles disguised as brain farts."
Jim looked at Leonard in confusion. "Excuse me?"
But Leonard just smiled softly and went to the den. He came back with a limp, tatty fish. "I'll bet you didn't even know you'd left this here, did you, kiddo?"
David shook his head and held his hand out for the toy, but he clung to Jim like a lifeline. Leonard handed him the fish, and stroked his blond curls with the flat of his palm. David clutched his fish and slowly released his death grip on Jim's neck, until Leonard could lead the boy to the couch, where he was tucked in, and fast asleep in an instant. Leonard looked back at Jim, who was still shaking and cackling madly to himself. "Did either of you sleep last night?"
"Where would we sleep? My apartment is nothing but ashes, piling up in my downstairs neighbor's ashpiles. Where would we sleep?"
Leonard held his hands out. "Come to bed."
"I can't leave him alone."
Leonard smiled softly. "He's not alone. He's got that horrifying cat toy, for one. And you'll be right in the next room."
Still, Jim felt the need to resist. "I..."
"Jim, let me help you."
"I told you once I needed time, needed to get to know my son."
Leonard nodded patiently. "Yes, you did. I'll give you all the time you need. But now you need some sleep."
But Jim shook his head vigorously. "I don't need that. I need... I need to know that you'll be here." He reached out and brushed David's cheek gently. "My car is all fixed."
"Uh... that's great..."
"It is," Jim said softly. "We could have died, but my car was fixed." Jim fought back the urge to sob again, not wanting to wake the boy. "We aren't guaranteed tomorrow. I need – " He broke off, unable to speak.
Leonard stared at Jim for a moment, before he went around to the coffee table, and shoved it bodily away from the couch where David lay sleeping. Leonard grabbed a throw from the nearby arm chair, and laid down on the floor next to the couch. "Come. Sleep."
"I'm always here for you, however you need me, whenever you need me. Don't you know that, Jim?" Leonard beckoned again. "Sleep. You're safe with me. I swear it."
Jim slowly crept into Leonard's waiting arms, laid himself against the length of the other man's body, and finally let go of his paralyzing fear. A pair of tabbies emerged from underneath the couch, and curled up on the floor together, above Jim and Leonard's heads, underneath David's dangling feet, as if they'd been waiting all their lives for the perfect place to lay their little striped heads.