Author's Note: Last installment. This was fun enough to write, even though there was a little bit too much sappy 'I love you' moments for someone like me to handle. ;-)

V. Confessing Her Truth

Meredith Brody's life hadn't exactly been an easy one. Oh, there were undeniably many people in the world who had it much worse than her, she knew. And perhaps she should be grateful that she'd only suffered a few heartaches, however devastating they might have been -continued to be- to her soul. She didn't have to scrounge for food, for survival. She had a comfortable home, friends, a decent job. One that she was even sort of good at, if she did say so herself... Well, most of the time.

But, god, how she'd failed this time. Hearing the gunshot. Watching Chris crumple to the ground in a rapidly forming pool of blood. She hadn't been able to run to his side fast enough. She should have been there to begin with, but instead had been perusing the assorted junk filling the old airplane hangar. It wasn't an uncommon practice. One agent doing the questioning, the other checking out the premises. Besides, the man shouldn't have been a threat. LaSalle obviously hadn't detected anything suspicious about the 'witness', had let his guard down. But that was the very reason they often went to interview persons in pairs. A partner should've had his back.

Pride would've probably noticed, saved the younger man from being shot at point blank range in the chest.

Oh, god.

Bile bit at her throat even remembering the sight of the agent, her friend, lying there with the life draining from him. So much blood. Pouring from his chest, and from beneath his back onto the cracked, grease-stained cement. The exit wound on his back had to have been larger than the one on his chest she'd hastily tried to stop up with her jacket... the once grey fabric now stained dark rusty brown with his blood, sitting in an evidence bag.

Oh, Chris.

She carefully snaked her hand over the scratchy fabric, skimmed over the pleasantly warm flat stomach, until she had her arm completely draped over the unconscious man's waist, using it as leverage to snuggle further into his left side, nuzzling the exposed skin above the low neckline of the hospital gown he'd been half-dressed in after surgery. He smelled of stale sweat, the feverish perspiration of the ill, of the sharp tang of potent disinfectants, and beneath the more repulsive scents, the aroma she'd come to associate with her friend, a mixture of earthy maleness and the vaguely citrus soap she'd found in his shower. It was an aroma that often sweetened her dreams.

Resting her head on his shoulder, she stared at the bulky bandages swathing the right side of his torso. They looked white and clean. Deceptively so. She hadn't seen the damage, not clearly, just when it'd been a geyser-like hole in his shirt, but she imagined what sort of grisly sight it currently was, thick black stitches and raw, red healing skin. But likely, hopefully, not infected. At least, it was probably antibiotics in that IV bag, the tube disappearing into the back of the limp hand resting on his thigh.

The nurses had tucked him in with the blankets pulled up to his chest. But Merri knew how hot he got in his sleep, especially when she was lying pressed up flush to him, and had pushed them down to the foot of the bed before climbing onto the narrow mattress to curl up against Chris' uninjured side, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest, both of his lungs working properly again, his breathing steady and strong, not that wheezing, rasping, suffocating noise he'd been making when she'd abandoned him in the hangar to drown in his own blood.

It had been the most painful decision she'd ever made in her life. Literally, painful. There'd been a tight knot in her chest as she forced herself to leave him, to run two miles down the overgrown trail back towards where they'd been forced to leave the SUV, until finally she'd gotten a signal on her cell phone, called 911 and breathlessly struggled to relay her plea for help. Agent down. GSW to the chest. Hurry.

Agent down.

Her friend. Chris LaSalle. Bleeding to death. All alone. Two miles away. Chris LaSalle. Who loved her.

She stared at the placid features of his face, his lips looking parched in the dry hospital environment, his cheeks normally clean shaven shaded with a couple days of stubble, and his expression entirely blank. It wasn't right. He was always cracking a grin, the one that lit up his entire face. Or, god, that intense look of his. Or when she watched him sleep, the corner of his mouth or an eyebrow twitching, like a sleeping dog with a vivid dream of rabbits. Never like this, though. He never looked like this, like some sort of marble statue carved by a third rate artist who had no skill for giving a subject soul.

Where was he?

Where was the man who always tried to make her smile when she was feeling blue? Who teased her almost incessantly, beyond the point when she wanted to punch him in the arm? Who silently took her hand and squeezed it when she was on the verge of tears? Who cuddled up with her on the couch for a quiet relaxing Saturday watching old movies? Who held her in his arms when she fell asleep with her head on his shoulder? Who whispered a secret in her ear as she dreamed, one that warmed her heart, that made her feel as if she'd finally found her home?

"Come back to me," she whispered, taking his hand and squeezing it, returning that gesture he'd so readily bestowed upon her during her most vulnerable moments. There was no real reason to worry. The doctors said he'd make a full recovery, that he only hadn't woken up yet because his body was too busy healing, too worn down by the pulmonary trauma he'd suffered. But her heart wasn't as logical as her mind, and she only wanted to bask in the gaze of those blue eyes of his, in his ridiculously charming smile that melted her insides, to lie in the cozy embrace of his arms.

When had he become the most important thing in her universe?

Merri didn't know. And she didn't care. And she no longer had the energy to even deny it.

"I love you, Chris LaSalle," she said softly before burying her face in his neck, trying to fight the tears, the thought of losing him breaking her heart along the fault lines it already possessed.

Something tickled her palm, making her start, and then she realized it was his fingers slowly twitching in her hand, and she pushed herself up to look down upon his face, to see a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, just like when she watched him having a pleasant dream as they lay curled up on the sofa. She stroked his forehead as the little movements grew larger and his rise to consciousness continued, concluding with that half-whine-half-groan noise he usually made in the back of his throat when he woke and stretched like a cat before proceeding to squeeze her tight and tickle her neck with his nose. This time, however, he only blinked a bit and then stared up at her with his blue eyes as vivid as dark sapphires, a lopsided little boy grin curling his lips.

And Merri cried as she smiled back down at him, the man who for some unfathomable reason loved her, who she herself had accidentally fallen in love with and couldn't seem to regret it. Especially not when he was so alive and looking at her like she was the center of his world. Which was fitting, for he'd become the center of hers, as well.

"I love you," she said, just one more time, for good measure.