Chapter 3 - The Blind School
The day after that, life got busy. Daniel drove Jack to the blind school where he was going to be taking an intensive four-week rehab course. He was the only adult in a class with six teenagers and a cheerful little instructor named Amy.
"What time do you want me to pick you up, Jack?"
"I have no clue. I'll give you a call. You check on Sam and call me if--"
Daniel laughed, having already got the same order from Sam about Jack. "Got it."
Amy's cane tapped. "Are you Jack's dad?"
"Ahh, no, I'm Jack. This was the first class for six weeks and I wanted to get started, I hope that's OK."
There was so much to learn that Jack felt like he was back in boot camp, learning all the thousands of skills that allow a blind person to get along in a world designed for the sighted.
The kids were full of questions about the Air Force. When they found out he had lost his sight in the line of duty and that the circumstances were classified, they naturally assumed it had to do with the war in Iraq. He was surprised at the honest respect these kids had for a veteran, refreshingly free of pity for the poor blind guy. Pity was the one thing that drove his blood pressure through the roof.
Amy said, "Jack, the kids go for soda pop, but if you'd rather have coffee, there's some in the lounge."
"Thanks. May I ask you how you lost your sight? I just mean, you're not what anyone could call handicapped by any stretch of the imagination."
"I was born blind," she said forthrightly. "I've had a lifetime to learn the skills you overachievers are trying to cram into a month! You people do know this is supposed to be a twelve week course, right?"
A boy on his right answered, "Yeah, right, but school starts in September, an' if I don't make the cut for marching band, there goes my f...reakin' scholarship."
"I'm not your mama, Leon, I don't care if you cuss. What instrument do you play?"
"Tri-toms, usually, sometimes snare."
"Cool. I play clarinet, made first chair senior year."
Jack couldn't help asking, "How the hell do you keep your lines straight?"
Amy said, "You guide right, just like always, only by hearing not by sight, and practice, practice, practice so your stride length is always right on the money. We cheated in parades, the girl in front of me put a tack in the sole of her left boot so I could always guide front. On the field, you just have to know every step. Did I say practice, practice, practice? Oh, you also have to memorize your music."
Leon's warm laugh filled the room. "Not gonna be a problem."
Another boy spoke up. "OK, so you can march, but my computer, man, I live online."
Amy said, "Timothy, right? We teach basic keyboarding but you're way beyond that. We'll have to get into voice recognition and some other stuff. I'm not a computer guru myself but I can hook you up with some people who are. Had a guy last year who said it's all ones and zeros, you don't have to output to a video monitor."
"All right! Leon, how'd you get blinded, man?"
"Shit, it was a drive-by. I was standin' next to a brotha wearin' the wrong color tee shirt, can you believe that?"
A girl said, "That sucks!"
"What about you?" Leon asked.
"My mom's perv boyfriend. I told when he tried to rape me and Mom threw him out. That son of a bitch, he threw battery acid in my face. Said if he couldn't have me he'd make sure nobody else would ever want me either."
Leon said, "Well, he was wrong about that, I'll take you out tonight, you wanna go that is. Your voice is *hot*. Your name's gotta be Beyonce, right?"
She giggled. "No, it's Tashandra."
"Ta-shan-dra," he repeated in his best Barry White voice.
Timothy teased, "Get a room!" And everyone cracked up laughing.
"What happened to you, Timothy?"
"I had cancer."
"Oh, God! Did they get it all?" Tashandra asked.
"I talked my little brother through hacking my medical records, and there's a 50-50 chance it'll recur. Hell, that's even odds it'll never come back. I keep going for check-ups, so."
A girl named Lee Ann had been in a car wreck, she had signed up for the accelerated class because it was shorter. A boy named Vincent had taken some bad drugs and now swore he was clean. This class was part of his probation. It was also what he called step one in getting a life. Another boy named Frank had been hurt in a ranching accident and wanted to get back home as soon as possible, so he could start school with his class and run track.
Their first assignment was learning to use a long cane, and then to navigate the classroom, the hall, a stairway, and the grounds outside. They were too busy laughing themselves silly to get uptight about beginners' mistakes. They ran Amy ragged and soaked up everything she had to teach like sponges.
Class let out at three. Jack reached for his cell to call Daniel, and realized he must have left it in the classroom. The day's lessons had been a success. He easily found his way back.
Someone was in the room crying. "Amy?"
"Oh--yes--just a minute." He heard her pull a tissue out of a box.
"Are you OK?" He found his cell phone on his desk, exactly where he had forgotten it.
"Yes, I, today was just a little overwhelming," the teacher replied. "I always come away from these classes with a profound respect for my students, but I don't think I've ever been in the presence of so much heroism before in my life."
"Amy, life isn't fair, you take what you get, box it up and move on. Doesn't make anyone a hero."
"But, Jack, that's exactly what I mean," she said earnestly. "Most people don't move on. You guys already have!"
"Kids are tougher than we'll ever be," Jack said. "I was only a few months away from retiring anyway. They're just starting out."
"I'm furious. I've never been angry enough before to actually want someone dead. But the man who threw acid on Tashandra, the little gang-banger who shot Leon, and whoever was responsible for whatever top secret thing happened to you, I could really enjoy evening those scales."
"All right, Ben Affleck."
Amy laughed. "Well, I think swinging from skyscrapers is a little much. Oh, wait, that was Toby McGuire. Anyway...."
"Did they catch that Ronnie, who attacked Tashandra?"
"Nope," Amy replied. "He threw it and ran, God only knows where. He's about thirty-five, mid-western accent, that's all I know."
"Am I the only one who thinks that's a train wreck waiting to happen?"
Jack walked her to the bus stop before he called Daniel.
That month passed in a flash. Every day Jack felt like he was reclaiming a little bit of his freedom. He missed driving, but with cabs and the bus there was no logical reason to wait around for a friend to give him a lift. For that matter, he could walk just about anywhere he wanted to go, considering that he didn't mind walking five or ten miles to get somewhere.
He found a tutor to come to the house in the evenings to teach him braille. It wasn't easy to learn, but he was going to have to be able to read to go back to work.
The schedule left him with little time to do anything else besides eat and sleep, certainly none to mope around and feel sorry for himself. SG-1 came over together the first couple weekends to help around the house and run errands. Consequently he and Sam had no private time together. They got used to talking on the phone at bedtime.
The first time SG-1 went offworld without him, he lay awake the whole damn night, remembering everything that had gone fubar on every mission he'd ever been on. He went to class the next day running on a quart of coffee, and growled at everyone like a bear with a sore head. Amy refused to be anything but her usual chirpy self, Tashandra was quietly sympathetic, and Leon was a brassy, cheerful pain in the ass. Timothy and the other kids left him the hell alone.
Sam called him when she got in, to report that it had been a boring, ordinary mission and they were all fine. They were both dead dog tired and it was past 0100, but they ended the call with I-love-you's and phone kisses. Jack fell asleep with a sappy grin still plastered across his face.
After a few dry runs in neighborhood shops near the school, Amy took them on a field trip to the mall. Jack surprised the kids by springing for pizza. They learned about shopping for clothes--the kids were buying school clothes--and got to practice the tricks they'd learned about telling denominations of bills apart. They dragged Timothy out of the computer store, where he had been carrying on a conversation in some language that Carter would have understood.
They bundled their prizes onto the bus and rode back to the school, laughing and carrying on like...normal people.
By the time the last day of class came around and they got ready to go back to their lives, Jack realized how much he was going to miss these kids. Except for Leon and Tashandra, who were going to the same high school and had become inseparable, they were all going different directions. The girls were crying and hugging everyone. Timothy had started them a mailing list so they could keep in touch. The farewell party moved down the street to a coffee shop and lasted until closing.
As had become their custom, they waited together at the bus stop, Jack and Amy waiting until all the kids had gone. Normally Leon and Tashandra would have caught one bus, then fifteen minutes later Amy's bus ran, and finally Jack took the express out to the suburbs and walked a quarter mile home.
The neighborhood was a different place after dark, deserted and still. The buses ran less frequently. Jack and Amy were sitting on the bus stop bench. Amy was telling him about the trip to San Francisco that she and her boyfriend had planned. The teenagers were sitting on the low wall around the school behind them, kissing and talking about their senior year starting.
A car pulled up in the bus lane. Leon flashed back on the shooting and threw Tashandra over the wall with him. But that wasn't what was happening. Someone got out of the car.
Jack got in front of Amy. "What's going on here?"
"Stay out of this and nobody gets hurt."
Tashandra recognized the voice and screamed, "It's him, it's him!"
Jack told Amy, "Call 911!"
Leon got hold of Ronnie and landed a couple very solid-sounding punches, but then he yelled in pain. "Look out, he gots a knife!"
Jack ordered, "Tashandra, run!"
She didn't ask questions, just took off across the school yard and into the little kids' playground.
Jack told Amy, "Get inside and pull the breaker!" He chased Ronnie, easily following hard sole shoes running on concrete.
Ronnie had to slow down to look for Tashandra. Jack caught up and dodged a wild slash, hearing Ronnie's shoes scuff. Then he heard the pole lights go out.
"You're on my territory now, Ronnie. Drop the knife and give it up."
Ronnie swung at him again. Jack took a chance and grabbed for his wrist. As soon as he got hold of him, the fight was over. The knife clattered to the concrete. Jack thought about this slimeball throwing acid in a kid's face and had to stop himself from breaking the bastard's neck. "If you ever go anywhere near Tashandra again, I swear to God I'll kill you."
Ronnie had the good sense not to answer back. He had known he was as good as dead.
A couple of minutes later the police arrived. Jack hadn't planned on spending half the night at the police station, but it was worth it to hear Ronnie's shouts and curses disappear behind a slamming metal cell door.
A cop asked, "Is this for real, you're all blind?"
"Sure are," Jack told him.
Amy said, "I think it's safe to say that you all graduated with honors."
Leon put his uninjured arm around Tashandra's shoulders and asked the cop, "You gonna put that freak away, right?"
"I don't think the D.A. will have any trouble getting him to plead guilty."
The kids' mothers arrived. Amy embarrassed Jack and Leon by telling the moms what heroes they were for rescuing Tashandra from a maniac.
Jack left Leon to get all the mileage he could out of the relatively minor knife wound on his arm. There was a guy thing about knowing you could take care of your woman, even when said woman would kick your ass for referring to her that way. He and Leon had both reclaimed something important tonight.
When the cops let them go, Jack called a cab for Amy and himself. By the time he got her home and then got out to his place, it was almost 0400.
He landed on the couch--and sat on somebody. That led to a quick and vicious fight, which ended abruptly when the "burglar" quit fighting and kissed him like there was no tomorrow.
"Wow, Carter, that's one way to get out of a judo hold. Did they teach you that in basic training?"
She snickered, "Oh, that's definitely an advanced move. You scared the crap out of me!"
"Yeah, I figured." He rubbed sore ribs, that was going to leave a hell of a bruise. It wasn't a good idea to scare Carter. "Did I hurt your wrist?"
"Maybe a little. I figured out who you were in time to give with it."
"What are you doing sleeping on my sofa?" Not that Jack minded. It was just weird, that was all.
Carter explained, "By the time we got post-gate physicals and debriefing out of the way, it was almost 2100. I thought I'd help you celebrate but when you weren't here, I must have fallen asleep on the couch."
"How did it go?"
"Oh, fine, lots of hot weather and bugs."
"Did Daniel and Jonas give you any more trouble?"
The two of them had, for some silly male, civilian and/or geek reason, been having a few problems taking her seriously as team leader, and the last mission she'd really given them hell about it. "Not a peep. They act like they think I'm PMSing, but they did what I told 'em, so."
O'Neill laughed. "And here I was thinking you'd have to kick someone's ass."
"Oh, I felt like it," she said, laughing at herself. "Where were you?"
"I would've bailed you out."
Jack grinned. "I wasn't the one locked up this time." He explained what happened.
Sam was proud that he had taken a menace off the street, yet at the same time horrified that, unarmed and blind, he had taken on an acid-throwing, knife-wielding madman.
She would not--ever--be able to protect Jack, and he didn't need or want her to mother him. He would always be who he was, retired or not, blind or not. Pride won out. This was the man who had stolen her heart all those years ago. "Is Tashandra OK?"
"Y'know, I think she will be," he said. "Sam, you...might as well stay."
"Yeah, I had," she smiled.
Jack thought he had been lucky to get out of that jam without a scratch. Usually the winner of a knife fight was the guy with the fewest stitches. But there was a note in Sam's voice that drove all thoughts of sleep from his mind. He was about to get lucky for real. Clothes started coming off on the way up the stairs.
After seven years of waiting for tonight, neither of them wanted to wait any more, especially not for hungry, predatory after-the-fight sex. Plenty of time for long slow lovemaking later. Now, at long last they were where they knew they both belonged, with nothing to stand in their way.
It was past noon when they got up, and then only because they finally got hungry for something besides each other. Sam recovered her sneakers, shirt and jeans from various places on the stairs and ducked into the downstairs bath to dress.
Jack called down the stairs, "Hey, Sam, why wasn't your car in the driveway?"
She pulled her shirt on and buttoned it, feeling like a school kid beating the world's record time for rearranging her clothes before the parents got in. There was nothing like mind-blowing sex to take twenty years off. "My bike's in the garage. Want to go riding later?"
Jack hadn't lost his feel for riding a motorcycle and there were a lot of interesting reasons for riding with Sam. One of those reasons got him a loud yelp about making her wreck the bike and drivers in the other lane seeing everything. Laughing, he settled down and enjoyed the ride, leaning into the curves with her.
They headed up into the mountains, along back roads with little traffic. Remembering the incredible scenery up here hit him like a gut punch. For a long moment he knew exactly what he had lost.
But then he felt the hot sun on his back and the wind in his hair and Sam in his arms. Heard the purr of the engine and the cry of an eagle overhead. No more self-pity. He was going to be too busy living to waste time feeling sorry for himself.
Chapter 4: Doors and Windows
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