Title: Objects in the Rearview
Author: A.j.
Rating: Bite me MPAA. No Children under 17.
Notes: collapses in a heap of braindead For Teddi because she asked for it, and Skywater because she helped me mentally formulate the rest. Followup to my story "Numb" (archived at that's more along Josh's side of things. All mistakes are mine.

Summary: Hello, we're back, and we're taking calls. Now what was the question?

Josh wakes up with his hand wrapped around Donna's hip and the sound of her little snores in his ear. He is warm and comfortable, and for the first time in years, he feels okay. Not perfect, not even pretty good, but okay. Like he could get up and face the day without wanting to scream.

The feeling doesn't last very long.

Because when he leans over to brush a kiss on her shoulder, she turns just a bit. Leans back into him, and curls up against his chest a little tighter. He watches her face relax and her breathing even out.

It breaks him. Smashes whatever was left of his detachment – not that there was much of it – and blooms pain out through his chest and body, making everything ache.

This is Donna.

This is the woman who is, and was, so many things to him. His friend. His assistant. His caregiver. His enemy. The bane of his existence.

This is Donna.

This was inevitable.

He gasps a bit, sounding more like a wounded animal than he'd like. The air he pulls in is hers, and he can't help but notice that she smells like him. The shoulder just under his nose is covered with dried sweat that isn't just hers. His come is dried on her thighs and inside of her. They fell asleep last night, curled under scratchy sheets that reek of sex.

He doesn't regret fucking her in a cheap motel. At some point in the past he would have. He'd have spent hours of mental anguish on the fact that their first time didn't involve roses and champagne or banter and sweetness. But this is now, and fingering her off on top of a polyester comforter has a certain amount of... aptness.

She snuffles under his hands, suddenly restless in the cold air of the room. Automatically, he pulls the sheets and comforter up over them.

She is beautiful. She always has been beautiful.

It hurts to look at her like this.

He wants to leave her. Pull on his jeans and shirt and disappear into the desert like some kind of mirage. Show her just how frightening and desolate having someone walk away from you when you've given them everything is.

He wants Donna to live the last year of his life.

But he can't wish that on her. Not really. As much as he hates her right now, he's not stupid enough to deny that he loves her.

Loved her.

Loves her.

She whimpers next to him and shifts around a bit more, exposing her face in a three-quarters view. He fights his issues back and takes the opportunity to really look at her. There are worry lines and tired-bruises under her eyes that he hadn't noticed in the bar the night before. To be fair, he'd been three bourbons down when she'd walked in.

But he hadn't seen her clearly, not in plain light. Not until this very moment.

Just for now, he lets go of everything and tries to look at her through old eyes. Looks at her the way he once could.

Something's happened to Donna in the last eight months. Something that's one what he always thought was impossible. She's lost faith. It's clear in her posture. Had been clear. Still is. Even in sleep.

Nostalgia falls away then, and it's all he can do not to start laughing.

Irony. Parallelism. A dry chuckle starts in his chest and won't be stopped. Where he and Donna have gone, those two elements have always followed. His mirth dies quickly.

Josh isn't sure when he gave up on the future, but he thinks it might have been somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.

He'd made a lot of deals with God during his mad-dash to Germany. Prayed like he hadn't done since childhood. Promised everything that was his to give. And like a miracle, she'd survived.

They hadn't.

She kicks out then, pull the blankets he'd pulled up down and away. It's only by sheer luck that he avoids her fit and stays on the bed. She quiets with a touch of his hand, begins breathing deeply again.

He glances down, running a critical eye over all her exposed flesh. She is beautiful in the lightening room, but then, she always was. Long and lean and pale from top to tip. Perfect in his mind.

But she isn't perfect. There are bruises on her hips from where he held her against the door earlier. They've already darkened to a faint purple. It's a nice counterpoint to the reddish bruises on her neck.

She has scars.

He rolls on his back to stare at the ceiling. Wishes for the pain in his head to stop. Knows he has to get up for work in two hours. Tries to ignore it as Donna rolls over and curls her body around his.

He hadn't believed it was actually her until she'd told him to shut the fuck up. It had been too surreal of a possibility to consider up until that point. But there she'd been; all dusty and haggard from the road and who knew how many miles and problems and weights.

It had been her. In Tucson. In his bar.

God, the universe had a fucking evil sense of humor.

Despite the alcohol and second hand buzz of nicotine, his world had snapped into focus in a way he'd only ever associated with her. His mind had cleared and his mouth had bantered and the miles and dust and years had fallen away.

For a moment, everything had almost been okay.

Then she'd agreed to go back to her hotel room.

Four hours later, he twists his lips in appreciation, and sucks dry air into his lungs. His chest expands, shifting the sleeping woman on top of him just enough to wake the rest of his body up. She is soft and female and uncomfortable against him, and his eyes are still burning from her reality.

Carefully, he starts to stroke the skin of her back. The curve of her spine is natural and right under his fingers. And oh, how it hurts.

He turns his head away from her, looking over the pile of their clothing on the floor and to the room's only window. From sky outside he knows it's before six. Dawn comes earlier and earlier in spring, and if he'd been anywhere other than this barren slab of desert he knows he'd be hearing birds.

Lying here now, he's not surprised that she's here. There's something poetic and destiny-ish about her presence. He's finally found a niche here. A place where he is needed and useful. Something so far removed from anything he's ever done, he just knows she'll gape at him when he tells her.

He's going to tell her. He's going to tell her.

He's missed that so fucking much.

She'd sent a card after his mother had died. A little white scrap of mass-
produced crap with an impersonal little note that meant less than nothing. He'd carried that damn thing with him for months. Something solid while he dealt with the probate and the listlessness and the leaving.

Because it was a connection to something that had been good. Something he could have been. Something not real.

He thinks that the card she sent is still in the glove box of his Saab. Might not be though. The new owners probably cleaned the damn thing top to bottom. For all he knows, it's at the bottom of some landfill.

That makes him smile a bit.

Ten thousand tons of trash heaped on top of her little white card with flowers on it. He stills his hand on her back, palm resting flat on her shoulder.

He doesn't want this to be real.

As gently as he can, he shifts her over and pulls his arm away. They end up on their sides, facing each other. His open eyes tracing her sleeping features.

She looks older. She's nearly the age he was when they met the first time. That realization is jarring in a way he should have expected. Ten years come and gone, and here they are.

So much history lying between them.

She'd walked away from him. Left. Just like everyone else he'd ever loved.

The only difference is that she's come back. Even if it's just for right now.

She'll leave again. That's inevitable too.

"I hate you," he whispers into her hair, tracing a gentle line down the curve of her jaw with his index finger. His voice is soft and careful in the recycled air of the hotel room. He means 'I love you', even though he doesn't.

He wants to leave her.

In the end, he's not strong enough to do it. He never has been.

So he rolls out of bed and pulls on a pair of jeans and goes to stare out the window. The sun is breaking over the mountains in the distance, and the sky is pink and gold.

He thinks, just maybe, that out of all his pain, this hope hurts the worst.