Thanks to the unequaled Spotzle for her beta powers, and general day to day chattiness. I wouldn't be here without her.
Long winded author's note at the end.
So, let go
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It's all right
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown
We were frozen in time. The moment drew out, and I was afraid to say any more. I was afraid to even breathe too much, and break the tenuous link between us.
His eyes closed and he drew in a deep breath through his parted lips. I watched him, fascinated by his stillness and by the heat that was still radiating through my body from where his hand still loosely clasped my wrist. I was still looking at him when he started to let go and rise to his feet.
I scrabbled at his hand, clutching it with what was probably unnecessary force, but I was desperate. "Don't go." My voice was trembling, all my emotions projected out and laid bare for him to accept or reject at his will. I felt like my heart stopped beating while I waited for him to respond.
His eyes slowly opened. He opened his mouth to say something, but sighed instead and sank back to his knees, leaning until his forehead was resting against the side of the bed.
"I didn't mean to fall asleep," his voice rumbled. I hadn't heard it in weeks, and I felt it resonate inside my chest.
"Have you been?" My voice cracked and I couldn't get the rest of my question out.
His head nodded against the mattress. "I couldn't let the pain come back." He lifted his head to gaze at me and my heart flipped over. If I believed the look in his eyes, I'd think that maybe he didn't hate me after all. I fought the urge to throw myself into his arms and beg him to love me, just for a little while, or just for forever.
"Thanks," I said weakly.
He shrugged and started to rise again.
"Don't go," I said again, stronger than before. "Please. Please stay."
He stood there uncertainly for a moment, and then sat gingerly on the foot of my bed. The silence that stretched between us was hard to break.
"Quil," I began. "Quil, I… I just… It's just…" I struggled with how to begin. "Quil, I don't want you to hate me but I understand if you do."
He looked at me as if I were speaking another language, and shook his head slightly, like he was trying to clear water from his ears.
"For all of this." I waved my arm vaguely. "I know that things wouldn't be the way they are if I'd never left. And I know that it put you through a lot that you never asked for. And then I come back and things start to get better and I push you for more… and…" My voice broke again, and I sat there trying to regain control of my breathing. I couldn't hear a sound from Quil, so I chanced a peek at him to gauge his reaction. He was there, still as a stone, looking nothing less than heartbroken.
"I'm so sorry… so sorry," I blundered on. "It's just… I just…" I couldn't form my thoughts into complete sentences. I'd been wanting to talk to him for weeks, to smooth things over and put it back to rights, and now that I had the chance I couldn't even get anything out of my mouth.
I realized, suddenly and with a slight sense of horror, that I was still sleep tousled and had morning mouth. I started to get up.
"Will you stay? For just a little? Will you stay?" I didn't care if it sounded like I was begging.
He looked at me, his eyes pulling me in even now, and nodded his head. I turned and shoved my way into the bathroom before I could say something that I would regret. I didn't know what that would be, but he was finally consenting to stay in the same room with me while I was conscious, and I didn't want to take the chance.
I took care of my morning ablutions as quickly as I could, fearful that I would open the door to an empty room. He was there though, his legs stretched across the bed as he leaned against the wall. His eyes were closed, but I knew he could hear everything and knew I was there. My heart was thudding mercilessly as I crossed the room to climb back onto the bed.
I decided to start simply. "I missed you." My voice was hoarse, but there was nothing to be done about it.
He opened his eyes slowly, turning his head to gaze at me with that look again. It held a sadness that was so deep I could barely tolerate it, and something else that I wanted to mistake as love, but I wouldn't let myself. I couldn't hold back my tears, though, and they spilled over. I ducked my head to try to hide them and continued mumbling, "I didn't mean to…"
His hand came into my line of vision, and I quit talking as he wiped my tears gently with the tips of his fingers. I closed my eyes at the touch of his hand. I couldn't help it. Maybe I should have been mad at him for hiding from me for so long, for only being there with me now because I caught him, but I couldn't. Blame it on the imprinting – I had stopped caring by then.
"Claire." His voice was all low rumble and I fought another wash of emotion as I heard him say my name. "I could never hate you."
I lost it when he said that. I couldn't do anything but put my hands over my face and cry. I'd never been a person who cried over good news before, I had way too much sadness in my life to waste tears on happy things, but I needed some sort of release and couldn't control how it came about. I was having a minor breakdown, and I the only thing I could do was hang on for the ride.
I expected him to leave at any moment, and I felt the mattress dip as he shifted to get up from the bed. I curled up on myself and tried to bring myself under control, but lost it again when I felt his arms go around me as he pulled me onto his lap.
The sense of warmth and security was palpable, and I burrowed into his chest, seeking more. One of his arms was tight around me, holding me close while the other stroked my back. He rocked me gently, making shushing noises into my hair, while I slowly calmed down from my sobbing fit.
The thought that he was holding me on his lap, on my bed, walked dimly through the back of my mind, and I thought ruefully that crying was probably not the best way to end up in this kind of situation. I hiccupped, and wiped at my eyes, leaving my head on his shoulder for as long as I could. Quil's hand on my back began to slow, and I wished that he would have the same kinds of thoughts that I was having.
My nose was almost on his neck, and I could see the slow, steady throb of his pulse beneath his skin. He had tilted his head while he was rocking me, and his cheek was almost resting on my forehead. The barest of inches separated his lips from mine, and I wished with everything that I had that I was brave enough to kiss him, just once, even if it was the only time I ever would.
He started to turn his head, and I thought for one moment that he had heard my thoughts, or felt the same things that were making my heart pound so furiously, but he simply shifted me so that I was back on the bed. My heart sank, but he kept moving until he was stretched out on the bed, and he pulled me down to lie beside him.
We lay there, side by side, staring at the ceiling. I felt drained after crying, and elated to have some sort of the quiet time with Quil restored. I tried to remember all the things that I had planned on telling him when I rehearsed these scenarios in my head, but I couldn't remember anything. Maybe if I'd stuck to one and practiced it, I would have had some sort of plan to follow, but I didn't. But he was here, and it was quiet, and there was nothing to do but get it out, however it came out.
So, I opened my mouth and said the first thing that popped into my head.
"It's not desperation." That surprised even me. I hadn't planned on bringing that up, but maybe my mouth knew more about what needed to be said than I did.
Quil didn't say anything. I closed my eyes for a moment, and suddenly a face came into my memory. "Chris," I sighed, and covered my eyes with my arm. His eyes had been so blue, so pure, almost glowing in the middle of his stark white face. I felt Quil shift slightly next to me, waiting.
"I know desperation," I began. "And I won't argue that it's powerful and can take you down, especially if you're willing to go."
I lifted my arm and looked at him. He was watching me, unmoving, his eyes studying my face. I dropped my arm again. The story would be easier to tell if I didn't have to look at anything.
"So… I told you before about how things have been for me. How we would try different treatments and protocols and whatever. All this medical crap that apparently didn't have anything to do with anything." I tried to keep the bitterness out of my voice, and shrugged off that line of thought.
"I was 16, almost 17, and I was in the hospital, inpatient again. And I hadn't been there for that long, probably only a couple of days, when he showed up. I was there because my counts were low, but they weren't bad enough to put me in isolation, and I was going to be starting a new drug that had really high doses for the first part. He was there because he had a tumor in his head that was inoperable, and they were trying some sort of experimental treatment."
I laughed, "Do you know we never even saw the bottom half of each other's faces until maybe the eighth or ninth time we saw each other? Hospital stuff seriously warps your sense of perception. But he had these eyes… they were at least three shades of blue all at the same time…" I sighed.
"He was about the same age, a few months older, and we really hit it off. Both of us were tired of all the crap we had to do, but couldn't do anything about it. Both of us had overbearing mothers who didn't really ask if we wanted to do what they signed us up for. And both of us felt like we were just hanging around waiting to die.
"We hung out together as much as possible. We were old enough that our parents went home to sleep at night, and neither one of us slept very much, so we'd cruise the hallway and bother the nurses. We hung out in each other's rooms and watch bad late night TV. My hair fell out and he cried with me, because he knew all about how it was.
"We talked a lot. More than anything, we talked. It was so great and awful and great anyway to find someone who felt the same way I did and who got it, who really, really got it. We made each other feel normal.
"But he got weaker. The drugs weren't working. I started having to hang out in his room more than he hung out in mine. He started talking about dying more, and how he didn't really regret anything, but…" I trailed off and I knew I was blushing. Quil didn't try to prod me.
"He… well, neither one of us had ever really had a boyfriend or girlfriend. So all that physical stuff that…" I swallowed. "It had just never happened for either one of us.
"So we kissed. It was probably stupid, but we didn't care and did it anyway every chance we got. And it was exciting and terrifying at the same time because we were so afraid we'd get caught and they'd separate us. The nurses always had to knock and pull open the curtain every time they came into a room, so we had plenty of warning and we always sat on the bed to watch TV anyway. They probably knew but they acted like they didn't. Poor dying kids and all…
"It wasn't hard for things to move along pretty fast. Hospital gowns and pajama bottoms aren't the best barriers to that kind of thing, and neither one of us felt like we had much time to get experiences in. It was like we were racing to cram a whole lifetime into just a few weeks, and any rules be damned if they were in our way.
"So one night we decided that we'd just try and go for it, because he was getting weaker and I was getting more tired by the day and we were running out of time." I paused, remembering the smell of the sheets and the room freshener his mom insisted on having plugged in to "make it smell more like home," not knowing that the hospital smell was just as much home as home was, sometimes.
"What happened?" Quil's whisper stole through the air.
"We'd waited too long, or something. Maybe it was because we were desperate and not really in love. Or maybe we were in love, but too sick for it to matter. Or only in love because of the circumstances and not because of anything else... but nothing worked the way it was supposed to, you know, the way you read about in books. IVs got in the way, his head hurt him, we were so tired, and my whole body hurt so badly… We started out fine but we ended up just holding each other and crying."
I let my arm fall off my eyes so it was above my head, and I stared at the ceiling. "We didn't try that again."
"What happened to him?"
I closed my eyes and swallowed heavily. "Hospice. He had a scan a few days later that showed the drugs weren't working, so there wasn't much point for him to be in a hospital anymore." I paused, remembering. "I didn't find out about his funeral until it was over." I sniffed, and dabbed at my eyes. I was tired of crying.
"I'm only telling you about it so you'd know. I know what desperation feels like. There's all the heart pounding and exciting and oh-my-I'm-in-love feelings, but it's all heavy. Your heart sinks down instead of feeling like it's going to fly right out of your chest, probably because you aren't doing something because you want to."
I couldn't lie down anymore, so I sat up and turned to look down at Quil. His stare was direct, and I felt like I was in the exam of my life. My entire future hinged on whether I passed or failed.
"You're doing it because you're afraid of doing nothing and not having anything at all, so you grab whatever you can get your hands on."
"Like a cure."
There was no venom in his words. He said it simply, like there was no doubting and no argument to be made.
"Is that what you think?"
His eyes barely moved. He was seeing me, but he wasn't seeing me, and he was getting it all wrong.
"I was worried about you before, did you know that?" I couldn't look at his eyes anymore and dropped my gaze to his hands, clasped loosely across his chest.
"No." His answer was a whisper.
"Yeah," I half laughed, half sobbed. "Yeah I was so worried about you because Emily said that you'd been hurt really badly before. I guess that was by me, too. But I didn't know that then, and I was afraid that I was falling for you, and what if you did for me and then I died and you got hurt all over again."
I tried to keep my lips from trembling. "I guess I didn't need to worry about that. I mean, you said that you could never hate me. I'm sorry about that. I'm sorry you never had a choice in the matter." I knew I needed to be more pragmatic about the whole situation, and I tried to shrug into the personality that had served me so well when I was getting hard news before.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Quil looked bewildered, but at least he was showing some expression on his face.
"I mean, I had a lot of time to think, after the…" I paused to chew my lip. "Well, after that picnic disaster. I mean, it's all romantic to think about being bound to someone, or living for someone, or that kind of thing. But this isn't some romance novel. This is our lives, and you didn't ask for it. It's not like you woke up one day and planned on seeing some two year-old so you could be at her beck and call for the rest of her life or something." I shrugged. "It's just biology run amok. You don't have to like it. I can't blame you for resenting it. And now it must really suck big time to have to come be near me or both of us start to fall apart."
He sat up suddenly at that, turning and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He sat there, arms leaning on his thighs, and looked at me over his shoulder. His mouth opened, closed, and opened again before he huffed and stomped out of the room.
"Well, that went well," I muttered to myself, drawing my legs up to my chest and resting my chin on my knees. I could hear Quil taking his frustrations out on the kitchen cabinets as he banged around in there, and then the noise of his footsteps as he came back down the hall. I knew he must be mad, because I normally never heard him as he moved around the house. I didn't know what to think when he walked in and thrust a bowl of cereal and a spoon at me.
I took his offering gingerly, not knowing what to do or how to react. I was hungry though, and he watched as I scooped a bit into my mouth.
"I stayed away for so long because I can't say what I want to say and get it right. Because when I do talk it ends up coming out wrong, and then you say all these things and I don't know what to do about it."
He sat down on the side of the bed again, his eyes slightly wild. "You talk and say all these things, and you make me feel things and I haven't felt anything in a really long time and…" He got up from the bed and started pacing across the floor. I didn't want to say anything, because that seemed to be part of his problem. All I could do was watch him and finish my cereal as quickly as possible, stashing the bowl on my bedside table.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do about it." His voice was anguished as he turned toward me and sank to his knees, leaning over the edge of the mattress. "It all the things you said about biology, and not having a choice, and how nobody knows what they're talking about when they try to tell me what to do. None of them have been where I was and no one knows what kind of hell you went through, and I'm so sorry and ashamed of myself because I don't even care!" His voice was cracking, and louder than I'd ever heard it before.
"I thought you were dying when you got out of that car. I thought you were going to be here for a few months, and then you'd be gone forever, and I wouldn't be able to stand it and if I was lucky then I'd just die, too, and I wouldn't have to feel that way anymore. And then you were doing all right, and then we had that meeting and figured out that maybe the broken imprint was causing it and it would be healed as long as we were together. And I told you about it, and you just accepted it so well, and told me that you thought you loved me, and how could I believe that when you don't know all the selfish, jealous things I was thinking about having you back. I didn't care about your past until then. I didn't even stop to think about what you'd been doing your whole life until now, until you told me about it.
"I don't care if it's biology or chemistry or imprinting or, or… I don't care!" He rocked back and slammed his fists down on his thighs. "I don't care why, and I don't care about what happened anymore, Claire." He seized his head in his hands and ground the heels of his hands into his eyes. "And all that you said about desperation, it fits, but it doesn't. And I feel like I should care about that, about all that we went through, about you not having a choice, but I don't. I don't!"
I slid off the bed and walked to him, pulling him to me and holding him as tight as I could. His breathing was so fast, I felt my body swaying in time to it. "Shhh." It was my turn to croon at him. "It's okay. It's okay."
I pulled him slowly to his feet, and we sat heavily on the side of the bed and leaned back so that we were lying side by side, once again staring at the ceiling. I was actually starting to feel drowsy when I heard his voice quietly say, "Claire?"
"What are we supposed to do now?"
"I don't know." I wriggled up so my head was resting on his shoulder. "Maybe we're supposed to let go of the past and just keep going."
"Is that what you want?" We both spoke at the same time. I cracked a smile. It felt good.
"I want to be happy," I told him.
It was so peaceful lying there with him, after the storm of emotions we'd just been through. I didn't mean to, but I fell asleep.
I woke up almost an hour later, and we had changed positions. We were now lying properly on the bed, Quil's head on my pillows. He had turned us so we were on our sides, with him spooning me as my head rested on his arm. I was insanely comfortable and warm right to the tips of my toes. I stretched luxuriously and felt him chuckle lightly behind me.
"Sorry," I said, sheepishly. "I don't know why I fell asleep."
He pulled me closer to him, tucking me close so I could feel his breath rushing over the top of my ear. "I fell asleep, too. I guess we needed it."
I couldn't see his face, so I felt brave enough to ask my next question. "Quil?"
"You said that I make you feel things. What do I make you feel?"
"Well." His arm lifted and he rubbed the back of his neck for a second, and then dropped his arm back around my waist. "I feel happy when I'm around you, and I want to be around you all the time. You make me feel angry when you say things like it must suck to have to be around you. I feel excited when I'm coming home and I know I'm going to see you, and scared you won't be here when I get back. And I feel kind of stupid for telling you all of this now, because this probably isn't the way people do things, but I don't know what I'm doing."
I turned on my back so I could see him. He had his head propped up on one arm and was looking at me, embarrassed. He shrugged his shoulder.
"I was sixteen when I first saw you. Before that I'd had the kiss-the-girl-in-the-parking-lot kind of thing, but I'd never had a steady girlfriend. I was all talk and no action. I joked a lot to cover up how nervous they made me, so I was more of a clown than anything. So I don't know what I'm doing but you keep looking at me and waiting for me to say something, and I'm not used to talking about this, or anything."
My heart was thundering again. He was starting to say the kinds of things I'd hoped to hear from him, but I couldn't believe in it. Not really.
"But you don't have a choice in the matter," I blurted.
"Maybe not. Without the imprint, I wouldn't even have known much about you when I first saw you. I mean, you were a baby. But I might still be hanging around like most of the pack, and I probably would have seen you visit Emily some time… Maybe… And it's not like you have much of a choice either. If I left you'd start getting sick again, start hurting again."
My heart spasmed when he mentioned leaving, and I shook my head. "I started falling for you that first night I was here. I didn't know why, but I couldn't get you out of my head. I thought of you all night, wondering who you were and why you looked so haunted. You're the one stuck by an imprint."
"No!" His eyes were blazing. "I don't care about the imprint. I don't care about biology, or any of it. Didn't you hear me before? The past doesn't even matter to me. All I want is whatever you want to give me. I'll take any of it, Claire. Whatever scrap you want to throw my way, I want it all."
His eyes were moving rapidly over my face, and then he fell back onto the pillow with a huge sigh. I lay there in shocked silence. Did he really say what I thought he just said?
"And that's why I was staying away from you," he said, speaking to the ceiling. "Because I don't know how things are supposed between a man and a woman. I don't know what to say, and I say the wrong things."
I turned toward him, propping my head up on my hand, but he wouldn't look at me. "Quil, that was most definitely not the wrong thing to say," I said, fighting a smile. "And the way things normally go between a man and a woman ends up being stupid and leading to misunderstandings half the time. Being direct and saying what you mean is so much better."
He finally looked at me. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." I beamed at him, and he started to smile in return.
"Simple and to the point," I agreed.
He turned on his side and propped his head up on his hand, mirroring my position. The mood of our conversation abruptly changed.
"Say what you mean," he whispered, his eyes flickering back and forth between my eyes and my lips.
"Yeah." I could barely get the word out, and I bit my bottom lip.
He brought his hand up to cup my chin, sweeping his thumb over my lip. "Stop that," he murmured, his voice barely more than a whisper. "You'll hurt yourself."
I couldn't answer him. I closed my eyes, feeling his warm breath on my cheek, and tipped my head up slightly when he nudged me with his nose. His lips were soft, hesitating a little before growing more firm and purposeful. The hand on my chin stroked across my cheek and came to rest on my neck. I reached up and rested my hand on his cheek in return. My heart thumped furiously against my ribs, and it did not sink in desperation.
Okay! Yes, I am alive. Yes, I will finish the story. No, this is not the end.
To all the people who pm'd and reviewed to say nice things: thank you so much. I'm so happy and surprised that you're still here with me!
To all the haters: meh, you've probably left anyway. And the baby outranks you any day and every day.
It's been a long time, yes I know. Google high needs baby + attachment parenting + infant reflux + elmination diet + + + + and there you go. Some babies sleep through the night when they're a couple of months old. My children do not have that gene. But one day I will be able to sit down and eat a whole meal at one time while it is still hot! and I will probably complain about being lonely. So there you have it. I do love to write, but I'm a mom first, so thanks to so many of you for understanding that.
And honestly, I can't believe that you're still here! Reading what I wrote down... it blows my mind. You probably had to go back and reread everything to even remember what is going on, and yet you're still here! Thanks for sticking with me. Thanks for knowing that I'd come back, even when I was too busy being covered in assorted baby goo to know it myself. All of you are awesome. No really. Bonified awesome.