By Catherine <firstname.lastname@example.org >
Submitted: February 2002
Summary: In this sequel to the author's earlier "Perfect Illusions," things aren't quite resolved for Jimmy and the others.
Every part of Jimmy Olsen's body language screamed, 'leave me alone!' He sat in a wooden chair, arms and legs crossed, chin resting against his chest, but his cold blue eyes were locked on the man sitting across from him.
Doctor Gary Waters, a psychiatrist, stared back at his patient, his green eyes giving away no emotion. He was hoping that the young man before him would break the silence first. With a sigh, Waters ran a hand through his thinning brown hair. This wasn't going the way he'd planned. They'd been sitting here, in silence, for twenty minutes.
"So, are you getting paid by the hour?" Jimmy's voice was full of disdain. "'cause Perry's not the type who would pay to have us sit around for an hour without saying anything."
"What makes you think that Mr. White is paying for this?" Waters leapt on the question, recognizing it as an opening, inadvertent as it was.
"Because," Jimmy began, shifting a little, but not changing his overall position, "I certainly don't want to be here, far as I know Superman doesn't have this kind of cash, and Perry strikes me as the type who doesn't take 'I quit' for an answer."
Waters pondered this for a long time, debating on whether to tell his newest patient the truth. Honesty would be the best policy here, he decided. "In fact, Jimmy, Mr. White is paying for this. He along with many people-"
"Superman," Jimmy said with a sneer.
"Superman among them," Waters continued smoothly, "are very worried about you. Why did Superman come into your mind?"
"What, you think I came here all by myself? Superman flew me here and I didn't feel like dropping five thousand feet to my death. Besides, he threatened to keep flying me here every night at the same time until I talked to you. Figured I could get this out of the way tonight; after all I have a date tomorrow." There was no pride in the young man's voice as he spoke; it was merely a statement of fact.
"Superman seemed to think he had a very good reason for bringing you to my office. He saw you-"
"You know, for all that super vision of his, Superman's real good at getting the facts wrong," Jimmy said, pulling at the sleeves of his black leather jacket. "Just for the record, I hit a wet patch of road with my bike and skidded for that tree."
The young man was starting to get defensive, probably not eager to have his tenuous lie questioned. He was casting furtive glances towards the door, as if contemplating escape. Gary decided to let the topic drop for now. He reached towards the table separating them, saw the young man flinch, even as the psychiatrist reached for a glass of water and took a sip. "So," he said, setting down the glass when he finished with it. "Although you stopped working for the Daily Planet, why do you think that Mr. White would think you need my services?"
Jimmy's lips quirked upwards, but he soon turned sullen again. "I don't know what his deal is. You know, people think he's all sweet and grand- fatherly, he's not…He's so manipulative that it makes me sick."
"How has he manipulated you, Jimmy?" Waters resisted the urge to reach for his note pad. In many cases, that could be misinterpreted; people thought he was being inattentive when he began to take notes. Instead, he settled for keeping track of these things in his head.
The young man gripped the edges of the chair he was sitting in, his face contorting with anger. "He always made me feel like a little kid, patting me on the head when I did something decent, but never letting me get out there to do my own thing. He doesn't even know what my own thing is. None of them do." This last was a whisper, and the former photographer was unable to meet Waters' gaze for the first time this that evening.
"Who are the rest of them?"
"C. K. and Lois, t-they acted like my friends, but when push came to shove, they never knew the real me. They didn't know."
"Does this have to do with your experience last month?"
Jimmy jerked as though struck with a live wire. He leapt out of his chair, his face suffused with rage. "My 'experience'? That's what everyone calls it?"
"What would you-?"
"He violated me, Doc! He took over my body, killed a man and tried to kill Superman in the process! I'd say it was a hell of a lot more than 'an experience,' wouldn't you?"
"Care to tell me more about it?" Waters already knew the details of the case from the police report, but he wanted to hear them from Jimmy. He needed to get the young man's perspective on what had happened to him.
Like a balloon deflating, Olsen slumped back into his chair, his head down, light brown hair obscuring his eyes. "His name is Jeremy Ghayme. We started hanging out online in this techie chat room on the 'net. We started swapping some ideas back and forth and I came to find out that he lived right here in Metropolis."
Jimmy took a deep breath. His shoulders began to shake, but his voice remained steady.
"We were going to meet up at this convention that was coming to town. As I'm leaving the Planet, this limo pulls up and it belongs to Jeremy. So I get inside, b-but as soon as I do, this gas seeps through and knocks me out cold.
"I don't remember how he did it, but he managed to download his consciousness into my brain. See, he had this disease that kept him in a wheelchair, blind and mute. He wanted a chance to live like a normal person. Even had plans in case Superman showed up; turns out he bought a small amount of Kryptonite. Long story short, people eventually figured out what was going on, he was e-extracted from my brain and that's the end of it."
People *eventually* figured out what was going on…Waters wondered if Jimmy realized how much he'd given away with that simple statement. He knew they were making headway; but at the same time, didn't want to push. Instead, he decided to change the track of the conversation a bit. "After you went back to work at the Daily Planet, your friends — "
Jimmy snorted contemptuously.
"— started to notice changes in your behaviour. In my interview with Mrs. Lane…"
Jimmy held up his hand. "Hold on, you interviewed them? When?"
"Throughout the week," replied the psychiatrist. "I wanted to be prepared before speaking to you. Would you like to know some of what they said?" Under other circumstances, this would be a gross violation of confidentiality, but those interviewed had acquiesced to having their statements used. Correctly assuming that he wouldn't get a response either way, Waters continued. "Mrs. Lane said that she noticed changes in your behaviour the day you went to see Mr. Ghayme in the prison hospital several weeks ago…"
Lois Lane and Clark Kent flanked their friend Jimmy Olsen as they walked down the sterile white halls of Metropolis Prison, the hospital ward. None of them spoke a word, though their pace was brisk and determined.
Lois wondered why Jimmy insisted on seeing the man who'd hurt him so badly, face to face. They certainly could have seen each other during the trial, but the photographer had refused to go then. Instead, she and her partner were going to give him some emotional support now.
The prison doctor was waiting for them just outside the doors that led to the prisoner's room. He was a squat, balding man in his late fifties. The doctor held out a hand and opened his mouth to introduce himself, but Jimmy walked passed him, pushed open the doors, and went into the room without stopping.
Lois and Clark stared at each other in shock, scarcely believing the odd behaviour emanating from their young friend. They opened the door to find out what was happening.
Various pieces of medical equipment monitored Jeremy Ghayme constantly. Jimmy was standing beside him, his back to his friends. He stood perched over the bed and mumbling softly. Clark had turned down his hearing to drown out the noise emanating from the prison, so he didn't hear what his friend was saying.
However, Jeremy heard and in response to the words, his heart rate skyrocketed so suddenly that two nurses rushed inside to see what was wrong. The blind man began to strain against his restraints, clearly terrified. He was becoming so distressed that he required sedation.
As the medication began to take effect and Jeremy slumped listlessly against the white sheets, Jimmy turned on his heel and walked out the door.
"What did you say to him, Jimmy?"
A slow, cruel smirk twisted the young man's otherwise handsome face. "Let's just say that you're better off not knowing."
Waters cleared his throat and pulled at his shirt collar. He had training to deal with all kinds of patients, saying incredible things. Yet there was something about this young man's tone, the cold satisfaction, that made him very uneasy. He cleared his throat again, then took another sip of water. That was one area of discussion he did not feel comfortable broaching again.
"A-after this, Mr. Kent said that he noticed a distinct change in your behaviour, both professionally and personally. You started showing up late for work and refused to go out with your friends."
A self satisfied, salacious chuckle bubbled out Jimmy. He relaxed into his chair as though they were two old friends talking about past conquests. "I was making new friends…"
Having swiftly changed into Clark Kent from Superman, the reporter walked into a bar on the outskirts of Suicide Slum. It was a place known as Isis, which had a reputation for loud parties and lewd behaviour. Superman sometimes had to break up fights outside as well as the occasional robbery attempt. Tonight he was here because he'd spotted Jimmy's motorcycle in the parking lot.
For the past several days, Jimmy hadn't been returning anyone's calls and would show up late for work, looking exhausted. If anybody tried to ask him about it, he would snap that he wanted to be left alone. From his nightly patrols, Superman gathered that sometimes Jimmy wouldn't arrive at his apartment until six or seven in the morning, when he came home at all.
Clark knew that he was going to stick out unbearably in his dark grey, three piece suit, but he had to know what his friend was doing. If he was in some kind of trouble, then he wanted to help. Even as he approached the place from a block or so away, he was tuning down his hearing to avoid a nasty headache. By the time he was at the bar's entrance, his hearing was set down to a nearly human level. Taking a deep breath, he paid the cover charge and walked inside.
Immediately, his eyes locked on to Jimmy. It was hard to miss him, because he and a petite girl with purple and silver hair were the centre of attention on the dance floor.
A slow, wordless song was pumping out through the hidden speakers. Jimmy and the girl were moving sensuously to the song, her back to his chest, with her arms wrapped around his neck. His arms were encircling her trim waist. She was wearing a purple tube top and an iridescent silver miniskirt. Her chin was up, masking her expression. He saw Jimmy's hand slide over her skin, pausing just below her breasts. There was something vaguely obscene about the way they were dancing.
But what Clark found shocking was the total detachment on his friend's normally expressive face. Even as the girl turned within the circle of his arms so that they were face to face and pressed her lips to his neck, Jimmy could have been somewhere else entirely.
The moment the song ended, Clark started to make his way over to them. But the girl grabbed Jimmy's hand and together they fled out a side entrance. Clark listened closely.
"Hey wait a minute," giggled the girl. One of her arms slipped around his shoulders. "I didn't catch your name."
"It doesn't matter," replied Jimmy.
"When Mr. Kent asked you about what happened at the club the next morning, you became very defensive."
"Damned right I did."
"Isis isn't your type of club, Clark, so what were you doing there? Were ya' putting those reporting skills to use and following me around? Is that it? Why does everyone here seem to think that I need a baby sitter?" Jimmy was visibly fuming; his face was red and he paced around the room without tearing his gaze off the other man. He looked like a lion on the prowl, fierce and predatory.
Out of the corner of his eye, Clark could see that people were staring at them, even though they were in the meeting room with the door closed. He tried to placate his enraged friend. "Jimmy, I'm worried about you, a lot of us are. Look at yourself."
That much was true, Jimmy did look terrible. He'd obviously lost weight; his clothes hung off his body. The young man's pale brown hair was damp and clung to the sides of his face, despite the coolness of the weather. His eyes were bloodshot with dark circles underneath them. The photographer's lips were ashen and his hands trembled ever so slightly.
"Leave me alone," Jimmy murmured. As he moved to walk out the door, Clark reached out to stop him.
"What happened when Clark reached out to touch you?"
Shaking his head, Jimmy bit his lower lip; that was something he didn't want to discuss. This guy could make him say just about anything, but not that.
He wouldn't talk about how that hand, innocent as it was, coming towards him, reminded him of being strapped to the operating table. How it reminded him of his helplessness as they put a mask over his face to keep him breathing. When they kept him restrained and unable to move as the needle pressed into his temple and the contents forced their way into his body, into his mind —
"Jimmy?" Gary Waters knew a flashback when he saw one. He reached out a hand towards the young man, retracting it quickly when he flinched. Yet apart from that reaction, Waters knew that at this moment, his patient wasn't aware of his surroundings. He was reliving something and, judging from the sheer horror in his eyes, something quite terrible. He squeezed his eyes shut and his breath came out in uneven, hitching gasps.
The psychiatrist repeated his patient's name like a mantra, trying to use his voice to draw the younger man out of his flashback. After several long minutes, Jimmy seemed to respond. He stared down at the psychiatrist, his eyes widening. He was probably surprised that they were now so close together. "Do you have flashbacks often, Jimmy?" Waters' voice was soft, like a parent comforting a child after a nightmare.
Emotionally drained from the experience, Jimmy nodded. No matter what he did, the images just wouldn't leave him. He felt so tired, but then he stiffened in his chair. Sleep only made things worse, because he didn't really sleep at all, thanks to the nightmares. Dully, he watched the psychiatrist settle back into his chair. Feeling more of his energy return, Jimmy also sensed the detachment reasserting itself again; that was nothing new. It was familiar to him now, being separate from his emotions.
"I want to keep talking to you, Jimmy," Waters said. "Even though I'm going to tell you what's wrong, right now: you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."
The ex-photographer glanced at the clock; it was nearly midnight. "It took you two hours to come up with that?" He knew plenty about PTSD, having done research on it for an article in the Daily Planet a couple of months back.
"I figured you out within fifteen minutes." Gary was unable to keep a hint of smugness out of his voice. Yet the seriousness soon returned to his tone, "But since your trauma stems from something that nobody else has experienced before, your symptoms are slightly different. You have the same flashbacks and anger, which is common. But many PTSD sufferers isolate themselves. If anything, you're doing the opposite of that with your…"
"Promiscuousness," Waters corrected sharply. He sensed that instead of drugs or alcohol, Jimmy chose sexual contact as his addiction of choice. And as with any addiction, each 'hit' lead to feelings of self loathing. Gary hoped he could help the young man sitting across from him before he had to add depression to his list.
"Yeah, but slut factor has more zing. Anyway, you were saying…"
They could deal with that later. Right now, they were so close to the root of the problems facing this young person. "But in a way, you are isolating yourself, from your friends. You choose to ignore the people closest to you in order to seek the company of strangers."
"I like strangers," Jimmy's voice was thoughtful, as though speaking to himself. "They don't know me. There aren't any excuses with strangers, no bullshitting, no lies."
"Why do you think your friends have lied to you?"
Waters bit back a gasp as Jimmy locked eyes with him. The young man's gaze was so haunted and lost. Yet the glimmer of honesty reflected in his eyes was the most chilling thing of all.
"Because they don't know me."
Jimmy was pacing Perry's office like a caged animal. He'd been doing that sort of thing a lot lately. The editor of the Daily Planet was watching the young man's movements, waiting for a moment when he was calm enough for them to have a reasonable discussion. Since the photographer had been walking for ten minutes, that wasn't going to happen. "Judas Priest, son, I just got that carpet put in; why don't you sit down so I can enjoy it before you wear a hole in it?"
"What do you want?" Jimmy's voice was flinty, his body tense with outrage.
"Well, to be honest, Jimmy, you've been late for work every day for the past two weeks. Your shots have been a waste of film and… We're worried about you, Jimmy; you just aren't acting like yourself."
"Oh that's rich coming from you, Chief!" Jimmy stopped pacing and planted his hands on the desk in front of the startled editor Perry was glad he'd shut the door before this meeting. "I'm not acting like *myself*… Well, you sure as hell didn't notice when I wasn't myself at all. Hell, why don't we let Jeremy take over my body again so things can get back to normal around here?"
"Now that's out of line, son," Perry said sharply, rising to his feet. "Jeremy managed to fool everyone."
"That's exactly my point! I thought you people knew me better than that, but put some other guy in my body and you just fall for it…no questions asked. Now I'm back to myself and you don't think I'm acting like myself. Does that mean that Jeremy makes a better Jimmy than I do? Oh man, you couldn't lay on the irony more thickly if you tried!"
"Hold on a minute, Jimmy…"
"I thought you knew me better than that; but then again, I've never really lived up to your expectations, have I? Jeremy made you happy though, didn't he?" Though his voice was choking slightly, he managed a fair approximation of Perry's accent:
"These past few days, son, you've really come into your own and I'm proud of you."
The life seemed to drain out of Perry as understanding dawned. He stared at the young man in shock as he fell back into his chair with surprise. His face became deathly pale as he made the realization.
"The entire time Jeremy Ghayme was in control of your body, you were aware of it?" In all his years as a psychiatrist, he'd never heard of something so inherently terrifying. Merely the prospect of that was enough to make him nauseous. Yet he knew that there was more to come. He just hoped he could bear with what this young man had to tell him.
"It was like being totally paralyzed, except for my eyes and ears," wheezed Jimmy through suddenly constrained vocal cords. "I couldn't feel anything, but everything he did, said, saw…everything he thought, I knew. People, my friends, talking about the big change in my work ethic, telling me/him what a great job he/I was doing. The closest thing I can come up with would be your wife screaming the wrong name in bed. Only it was worse than that, much worse. He was taking credit for my entire life and nobody noticed." By the end, his voice was cold and detached again.
"How did that make you feel?" He was finding it difficult speaking himself, Waters realized. As it was, he was having a hard time wrapping his mind around what this patient was saying. For a few moments, he thought that he was in way over his head. Then he realized that Jimmy was talking to him, admitting his problems and those were tremendous steps in the right direction. He had to continue, for his patient's sake.
"I hate him," Jimmy said dully, but with utter certainty. "He took my life away from me. Some days it feels like it did when he had my body; like I can't think or feel and somebody else is talking and moving for me. On some days, I get so mad at the others. At least with people I'm around for just a few hours — with strangers — they don't know me. If something happened, they could tell the cop: 'Dude, we didn't know each other that well.' The others have no excuse like that. Lois, Clark and Perry didn't notice, they didn't…"
"…see that it wasn't me! How in the hell could that not be obvious to you people?" Jimmy shook his head angrily as Perry struggled to find the right words, mistaking the editor's silence for something else. "You know something, never mind. I don't think I want to know the answer." With that, Jimmy lunged forward and grabbed a paper and pen off the editor's desk. He scribbled something down and hurled both the objects at the man sitting in front of him. The pen collided harmlessly with the wall to Perry's left, while the paper fell into his lap.
Slowly, Perry straightened out the paper. His eyes widened as he read the two words scrawled out on the page in bold letters:
"You can't mean that, son," Perry said.
"Watch me!" Jimmy screamed, whirling on his heel and stalking out of the office, slamming the door behind him.
"Tell me why you quit your job."
"I couldn't stand to look at their faces anymore," Jimmy said, shaking his head. "Some part of me can't help wondering why they couldn't see Jeremy. Sure, he was using my body, but I've known them for years and I…a-and I thought they knew me. Now that this has happened… What if they're disappointed? I mean, I hate him, but Jeremy's a genius; he invented the cerebral download and all this other stuff; they all seemed so proud of him. It's hard when you feel like you can't measure up to your own life."
"What happened to you the night you were riding your motorcycle?" The psychiatrist leaned forward in his chair intently.
"I was driving in the outskirts of Metropolis," began the young man, clasping the edges of his chair as though he was riding once again. His eyes remained fixated on the table separating them, like he was watching the scene playing out once again. "All I wanted was to clear my head before heading out to a bar. For that whole time, it occurred to me that I'd given up a job that I'd worked so hard for and I didn't care. It didn't hurt or make me feel sad. There's this empty space inside like where whatever it is that makes me…well, *me* should be. Instead, everything was numb, like it was when *he* was in control. All Jeremy wanted was to live a normal life, so he took mine. Even though he isn't in my head anymore, it was like he was, because things weren't back to normal. For a few seconds I wondered if they'd taken my consciousness out too by accident when they removed Jeremy's. Everyone expects me to be normal again and I'm not. Suddenly, I wanted to feel again, something anything. Happiness, sadness…God, even pain was welcome."
In his mind, Waters flashed back to his conversation with Superman, which had taken place just before he'd brought Jimmy here. The Man of Steel always looked so strong and confident when featured on the cover of a newspaper. Yet, as they were talking, he sounded so — powerless.
/I was keeping an eye on him and he j-just . swerved towards this tree…/
"I swerved towards the tree," Jimmy said abruptly. "Even then, it wasn't scary, knowing that this was probably going to kill me; all I wanted was to feel like myself again." He closed his eyes and bowed his head, as though in prayer. "All I want is to feel again."
"You're not alone, Jimmy," Gary Waters said. "Granted, your experiences are unique, but there are many people out there who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Feelings of detachment, outbursts of anger, flashbacks — those are all symptoms of the disorder. You're not going crazy and you're not alone. It's going to take time and this won't ever go away completely, but now that you know you have a problem, you can deal with it; you and your friends." To Gary, the words sounded contrived and trite, but Jimmy glanced up at him as though he'd been thrown a lifeline, and nodded.
Several days later found Clark Kent sitting at his desk, absently typing up his notes for the morning edition. Ever since Jimmy had quit, he just hadn't found his work as interesting as before. The guilt was gnawing at him. Only he and Perry knew the truth about Jimmy's experience, and Clark only knew because of his super hearing.
In hindsight, though, there were moments during his fight with Jeremy that could only be described as Jimmy's intervention, the way he'd pause or seem distracted for a few seconds.
It came as quite a shock, realizing that Jimmy had been aware but helpless while Jeremy Ghayme had control of his body. That knowledge was probably part of the reason for his behaviour, yet it couldn't be everything. He only hoped that Dr. Waters could help his friend. Clark regretted taking him there by force, but he saw no other alternative. After failing to help Jimmy sooner, he refused to stand by while his friend destroyed himself.
There had been no word from Jimmy. The last he'd seen of his young friend was as Superman, flying him back to his apartment. Neither of them said a word for the whole trip. Of all the things going on, the silence from his normally chatty friend was deeply disturbing for him.
Yet even that didn't come close to the sight of Jimmy Olsen consciously swerving his motorcycle towards a huge oak tree. He knew that Jimmy wasn't the only one who'd come out of this the worse for wear. This ordeal in some form or another had hurt everyone involved.
Lois was at her desk; she didn't look into her task either. They locked eyes and traded tired smiles. As Clark opened his mouth to say something, movement caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. He swiveled around and his eyes widened when he saw the subject of his thoughts step off the elevator.
When more people caught sight of Jimmy, the entire newsroom became quiet. All eyes in the room focused on the young man before them, wearing blue jeans and a blue and white plaid shirt over a white T- shirt. He was keeping his eyes downcast, to avoid making eye contact with anyone.
As people began to wonder what he was doing, Jimmy shuffled towards his desk and began to systematically remove all his personal effects.
When a shout of "Olsen, my office now!" rang out from Perry's office, it seemed as though the good old days had returned. Only Jimmy didn't flash Lois and Clark an impish grin and trot off towards the editor's office. Instead, Olsen jumped, startled by the noise, then slowly walked towards the foreboding door.
Clark quickly tuned down his hearing. This was one discussion that needed to remain private. Yet he found it impossible to go back to his typing. Like everyone else, he found his gaze wandering constantly towards Perry's office. It would be so easy for him to listen in, but this was one conversation that he knew had to remain personal.
An excruciating twenty minutes later, Jimmy walked out of the office and back to his desk. He started replacing the items he'd been removing earlier. When he finished that task, he walked over to Clark's desk. "Can I talk to you two in private?"
The two reporters nodded and the three of them filed into the meeting room. Lois and Clark sat down, but Jimmy remained standing. "I've got my job back," the photographer said quietly. Neither reporter spoke.
"I just had to apologize to you two personally," he continued. "For the past month I've been pushing you away, only because it was so hard for me to deal with what happened and it was easier to avoid you. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that…" he struggled for the words, then changed his mind. He didn't want to see the pity on their faces because he was taking anti-depressants now. "I wanted to say that I'm sorry — "
"I speak for both of us when I say that there's no need, Jimmy," Lois said, rising to her feet. She hugged the younger man fiercely, "It's just good to have you back and if you ever need to talk, you know that the two of us are here for you."
For a moment, Jimmy stiffened, but he soon relaxed. "Yeah," he replied, returning the hug and resting his chin on her shoulder.
"I know that now."