A/N: Does anyone know what I am going to say? I'm willing to bet it's obvious, even though you can't see the shame on my face. 'It has been too long,' I say. 'Too long!' And for that I apologize. But I thank each and every one of you who has read or reviewed this story thus far, and I am determined someday to finish it, even if that day only comes when I am thirty-five. Thank you especially to lisa reisert, Sophik, all the many Maelwys, mellifluously, GreenCat3, and Euterpe's Bard for your reviews. They nagged at me in the back of my mind until I finally updated. I hope you all enjoy this chapter!
(And yes, I shamelessly stole a line from Kurt Vonnegut in this chapter. I'm sorry, Mr. Vonnegut. I hope you don't mind terribly.)
I'm dreaming again. I know I am, but I can't do a thing about it.
"Darling…" she looks at me, and all I can see are her eyes, dark, expansive, gentle. Her gaze isn't accusatory. There isn't any anger in those eyes, none at all. Only a melancholy sort of acceptance and a question: "Darling, why did you do it?"
It's always the same, has been the same since the day a little less than a week ago that I nearly drowned myself a few hundred yards from a sunny island in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I ask her what she means, what act she's referring to. But I don't this time, and it's just as well, because she never answers anyhow. Just looks at me, because she knows she doesn't need to clarify. I'm not quite sure what I did, but I'm always sure of the answer to her question.
The words come, and I say them: "For you. For them." Her eyes grow sadder somehow, at that; they are laced with guilt.
"Are you so certain?" The concern is voiced softly, but I wince at its implications.
"Of course I am! It was for you! Always for you!" My voice is louder than it needs to be, than I meant it to be, and I'm not quite sure anymore whom it is I'm trying to convince.
Her eyes leave me a thousand messages: ' darling…we loved you…we haven't stopped loving you…If you had truly been acting on our behalf, you wouldn't have condemned yourself to misery.' But the only words she actually voices as she slowly shakes her head are these: "It was never for anyone but yourself..."
I woke with the pain, bolting upright to sit as my head throbbed and the world decided to waltz dangerously before my eyes. My breath flowed in gasps to pool in my lungs nauseatingly, and there was a tremor in my arms that I couldn't control. The liquid sky above me was still dotted with stars, but growing ever lighter as the morning light crept quietly in to chase away the world's nightmares.
I was afraid to glance over at where Marie was curled in her sleeping bag, afraid to see that I had ruined more than just the peace and quiet yet again. I could feel her gaze as tangibly as the pricks of sweat on my skin, and I knew the question wasn't far behind.
I cleared my throat, nodded in response.
She was quiet for a moment. "Do you think it's the same one?"
I hesitated, swallowed hard in an attempt to force the lump in my throat away. "I'm…not sure. I just can't hang on to it for some reason…" I let my voice trail off, and the lie hurt so much more than my headache.
Marie didn't reply, and I risked my first glance at her, but she turned her head away, stood up. She sensed that something was wrong, but she knew better than to ask. I reminded myself tepidly that it was better this way. I had done enough to her already.
I wasn't convinced.
"I have an idea," Marie forced a smile, brushing sand from her sleeping bag. "Why don't you take a walk and I'll start packing things up? You could use a break."
I wiped a hand over my brow. It was getting muggy already. "I can't let you do that. It wouldn't be very chivalrous of me…"
She waved away my concern, and I knew her suggestion was less about my needing a break than her needing me to leave her alone. The lump in my throat returned with a vengeance. "Go. I'll be fine. And Charlotte will keep me company, won't you, Charlotte?"
The dog remained curled in a tight ball on the sand, obstinately ignoring the world.
"All right," I murmured. "I'll be back in a little to help." It was our last morning on the island, and we were planning on leaving in the early afternoon. I was also planning on avoiding another boating catastrophe, if at all possible.
But Marie had already turned her back to me, was busy rolling our sleeping bags into tight little curls that reminded me of snails and the pain in my stomach, so I reluctantly left her and set off into the brush.
I climbed the path Marie and I had discovered and hiked a few days earlier, not in the mood to stay out on the beach where the sun would burn my eyes and illuminate my fears. I felt less on edge beneath the canopy of shimmering leaves, where the only sunlight to be found dribbled splotchily over the dirt and my skin, as though playing hide-and-go-seek with the shadows.
Branches arched gracefully overhead and birds fluttered cheerfully just out of reach as I forged deeper into the forest. One tiny bird landed on a gnarled limb close to my head and spoke matter-of-factly to me, its musical proclamation bittersweet:
After a good fifteen minutes of walking, I reached a clearing in the brush through which ran a rather indecisive stream. It meandered this way and that amongst the trees, until it finally dropped mischievously out of sight. I lowered myself to a rock beside it, rubbing the back of my neck listlessly. A mosquito droned past my ear and I swatted it away without conviction.
The bird's question echoed in my mind as I considered my reflection in the eddies of the river. The swirls of water distorted the image, made it shimmer and dance elusively. That was just as well, because if my likeness had been clear I would have been tempted to attack the river in lieu of myself.
Blue eyes flickered into clarity for just a moment and I was struck with the memory I had unearthed beneath the ocean's surface. Suddenly the man who shared my eyes and presumably so much more was there, up to his waist in muddy water and grief, demanding that I remember, threatening to tear me apart.
I let out the feral roar that I had held back in Marie's presence and threw myself from the rock, stamping out the despised eyes with the most passion I had mustered all day. My sneakers stirred up clouds of dirt that sailed swiftly away on the current, and the violence that had so suddenly consumed me followed behind it, leaving me to slump to the ground, trying desperately to control the sobs that crashed against me without invitation.
I buried my face in my hands and cried as the image of bullet-ridden bodies filled my mind. I could hear a little girl's voice cooing about her older brother, who feigned a nonchalance that couldn't mask his own fondness. I caught glimpses of dark eyes and pigtails and dusty paths filled with such life that they betrayed the finality of the empty forms. But above all was the question, the question that I had answered so horribly wrong:
The sun had risen high above the beach when I marched back to our campsite. The white sand sizzled quietly, but the blue flowers clutched in my hand blazed brighter. Marie was sitting on a log by the fire pit, jabbing at the ashes with a twig, her mouth set in a line and her face blank, but she stood when she noticed my approach. She gave me a sheepish look, as though she supposed she had some reason to feel guilty.
"Jason, I…I'm sor-"
I ignored her attempted apology, not ceasing in my march until I stood in front of her and had pulled her tightly into my arms.
"Jason?" Marie whispered, uncertain.
"I love you," I murmured, my cheek pressed to hers, praying she couldn't feel the tears. "I love you so much, Marie!" 'I'm sorry I can't tell you about them; I'm sorry you can never know; I'm sorry I've hurt you like this, that I'll hurt you again because I can't help what I am, can't change what I've done. I'm so sorry…please forgive me.' "I love you…"
Marie stayed frozen for an excruciating moment, but she quickly recovered from her surprise and wrapped her arms around me, returning my embrace. We held each other silently for a long time, plans of departure and urgency forgotten, willing reality to simply vanish.
When I finally pulled away, I found that I couldn't meet Marie's eyes. I held out the haphazard bunch of flowers instead, a pathetic, miserable peace offering. "These…are for you," I muttered, the statement laughably superfluous.
She took them from me, smiling gently. Somehow her hands made the blue blossoms seem gorgeous.
"Jason…these are Forget-Me-Nots."
"What?" I glanced wildly at them, horrified. "No! I didn't-they were just-! I never meant-Marie, I would never-!"
Marie tossed the flowers onto the log took my face in her hands. "Calm down, Jason. I understand; they're beautiful." She paused, searching my eyes for something, apparently making an important decision. "Besides," she murmured softly, "'how could I forget about you? You're the only person I really know.'"
I swallowed, felt my face burn and tears sting my eyes once more. But this time the tears weren't born out of hopelessness and despair. A smile tugged at the corners of my lips. "Yeah," I answered hoarsely. "Yeah; that's true."
Marie grinned, kissed me deeply, her hands in my hair. I kissed her back, aware that I had been forgiven by some freakish miracle, desperate to never let the moment end. Finally Marie broke the kiss, rested her forehead against mine as she stared into my eyes, evidently finding nothing in them to hate or flinch away from.
"I love you, too, Jason Bourne."