A/N: I know this topic has been elaborated before by others, but I´d just like to add my two cents to the scene.
And of course: any characters and lines you recognize from the Avonlea episode "Return to Me" are not mine, and I do not make any money with this story!
I'm NOT a Coward
Return to Me from Gus´s point of view
The damage was done: Odelia had called.
She would come here. Sooner or later she would track him down and come to get him; no one who knew Felicity King would even dare to doubt that.
And he knew her better than anyone.
So he had to prepare himself. To strengthen, to pantser himself. After what had happened... He gulped painfully at the memory. He had nothing left to offer her. Not even a pair of fashion boots – and that was once all he owned, according to her.
But it was no use. After what he had witnessed there at sea – the deaths, the fear, the destruction – he felt he had grown cold inside. How could a man ever give love to anyone, with such horrid images haunting him, day and night? Why couldn't he have drowned right along with the others, and rest in eternal peace at the bottom of the ocean? Why did he have to go on living, with eyes that saw nothing but the images he so fought to shut out – only to have them return more persistently, more accusingly each time?
Nothing to offer her. She deserved better than a man who couldn't love her. Better than a useless blind man burdening her. She deserved happiness with a man who loved her truly.
But knowing Felicity, she would never leave him. Especially not like this. She was way too decent to leave him now that he was blind. She'd want to take him home and care for him... and grow into an old spinster who had never known true love in her life. He could not let that happen. Not to her. Not Felicity.
But that meant he'd have to deal with her one of these days. Firmly; harshly even. It was only for her own happiness; she was far too stubborn, too tenacious for her own good anyway. But this time she'd have to give in. To give him up. He'd have to make her. Even if... even if, in a small corner of his heart, he yearned for her loving embrace...
The dreaded moment came even sooner than he had anticipated.
It was on a Friday afternoon, about the time Miss Lydie and Odelia usually returned from choir practice, when the door of his room creaked open. Some footsteps, but they halted at the entrance of the room.
"Miss Lydie? Back from practice?"
Mechanically his hands continued to plait the reed under his hands. It was monotonous work, that did little to divert his gloomy thoughts. But at least it saved him from the guilt of living totally on Miss Lydie´s charity.
No answer yet. That was strange. Or had he just imagined the creaking? "Miss Lydie?"
Someone was definitely there: he could hear their quick breathing. It couldn't be Odelia, could it? One of the kids maybe? Or... "Who's there?" A sudden dark misgiving struck him. She couldn't... She couldn't have found him that quick, could she?!
But it was her voice, choked up with emotion, that answered him: "Gus... It's Felicity..."
The adrenaline rushed to his head. This was the moment: he had to convince her once and for all. Now! "Get out!" he roared.
And gulped. Felicity... His Felicity, she was here, she had come! He wanted... he couldn't... he had to... "Get out!!"
He could feel her shock. "Gus, no!"
But he had to get her out. Leave. He got up and and flung himself in her direction. "Get out, I said!" He tripped over one of those blasted baskets. It only enforced his resolve to spare her a future with him, as she and someone – Miss Lydie probably – were instantly at his side to help him up.
But he mowed their helping hands away. "Didn't you hear me?!" he yelled as he struggled to his feet and bustled them towards the door. "Get out and leave me in peace!"
His mind was reeling as he slammed the door shut behind them. His roars sounded like a mad man's in his own ears – perhaps he really was going mad? Pushing away the only one who – even in his present state – would be able to give him a little happiness, just by being with him. And he pushed her away, out of his life, unable as he was to command the selfishness to claim her love, no matter the circumstances.
Panting heavily he leaned against the wooden door. She couldn't... he couldn't. "Just go away," he panted. "Go away..." Now you've seen what I've become. Now go away and get on with your life. I'll be the first to wish you all the happiness in the world...
He touched his way back to the cot and slumped down on it, his head buried in his hands. It was over now. Well, the first shock of having to face her; the dreadful waiting till her inevitable walking in here.
He doubted she would go away and give up yet. The Felicity he knew sure wouldn't. She'd be back in here within the next few hours, ready to fight for what she thought she wanted. But he wouldn't budge. He couldn't let her. He couldn't ruin her entire life. She had to get on without him. And he without her. No matter how bleak things became of that thought.
Trembling, he took a few deep breaths to steady himself. Better get back to work. Knowing Felicity, she'd be back in here soon. He couldn't let her see the weakness in his pantser. He couldn't let her see the desperate longing for her he still felt – despite everything. He had to think only of her now. Her good and her happiness. His own life was over anyway, and he could do it: he'd had enough practice in self-denial in his life. She...
He turned as the door creaked open. Felicity?
No, it was a male voice addressing him. Gently – the way you speak to a madman in order not to risk upsetting him.
"I don't know you, and I barely know Miss King. But don't you think you owe it to the girl to at least talk to her?"
This was easier. A stranger. "Felicity deserves better. And she's too decent a person to leave a blind man." He heard himself just how much love these words conveyed – even if his voice didn't.
The stranger approached him until his eyes picked up a shadow. And from very close to him, the voice said compassionately: "I know what you're going through, son."
Instantly annoyed – everyone always thought they knew exactly what he was going through, yet no one came even close to understanding his feelings – he snapped: "No. You don't. And neither does she."
The man moved out of his sight – ha, what sight! – but continued as if he hadn't heard him: "That young lady has undertaken an incredible journey, with nothing to go on but faith. Faith in you." He was moving across the room as he spoke: "Surely you can find a corner of your heart to soften toward her. What has she ever done... but love you..."
She was there. He knew it; he sensed her presence.
He struggled not to show his emotion. He couldn't; not now. But the guy had struck a sensitive nerve. A corner of his heart...
Her hesitant voice cut through his thoughts: "Gus..."
His eyes flitted towards the sweet sound of her voice. Footsteps coming closer... He had to stay strong! She had to go home; it was no use!
But as he felt her knee touching his leg as she sat down, and heard the rustling of her dress, and felt her breath brushing against his skin... everything in his mind just blurred. She was here; Felicity was here and that was all that mattered. His face twitched as the tears he had choked down for so long suddenly filled his eyes. He hadn't been able to cry over the death of his mates, but now that Felicity was here...
Slowly, and of its own accord, his hand began to move upwards. He knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't stop it; he just had to caress her. One last time perhaps, that's all. Then he'd...
Her cheek so soft. Even softer than he remembered. Baskingly she leaned onto his hand, setting his heart racing. Then cool, soft fingers lovingly embraced his coarse hand, and a soft, sweet kiss was placed on his fingers.
Suddenly his longing prevailed upon all common sense: he drew her close and into a kiss. A desperate kiss of longing and love and loneliness... Her hands around his stubbly jaw, and for the first time ever he felt the wonder of her surrendering completely, without awkward second thoughts about self-consciousness or propriety. A loving kiss as the medicine for all he'd been through.
And finally, finally he felt he could have faith again. Believe that everything would be allright, as long as...
Slowly, their lips parted, and unwilling to let go of the basking homey feeling, he drew her into his arms. To hold her, to be held by her. Her small, lovely breasts against his chest, her loving supportive hands on his back, her sweet stubborn chin resting on his shoulder, the brim of her hat tousling his hair, her lovely scent in his nose... Home. Felicity.
He felt her sigh with relief over his shoulder.
Brusquely he pushed her away and turned his back to her. There was no relief. For the likes of him, life simply didn't have happy-ever-afters. And he didn't want her compassion. Or her charity. She had to leave him, for her own good. He had always been known as the guy who could do anything he put his mind to. Well, he had put his mind to driving her away, so she'd have some chance of finding happiness in life. And succeed he would!
Felicity's voice cut through his decisive thoughts. Pleading. Accusing. "Why didn't you let me know you were alive?"
"I couldn't." Through clenched teeth. No time as the present: "I want you to go back to Avonlea and get on with your life."
"Gus, how could I?" Tormented. And how could it be otherwise? Finally having found him after more than a year of believing him to be dead?
Still: "You could if you tried."
He sensed her hope turn to despair – her relief to anger.
"The only way that I will go back to Avonlea is with you."
Exactly what he'd been afraid of. What he had known she would say. But he had to stop her, to make her see... "Look at me..." He ground the words out. "I'm useless! Don't waste your life."
She didn't give him a chance to finish: "Who are you to tell me not to waste a life!"
She had to... "Go home!"
She ignored his words: "Sitting here, with your baskets..."
He had to make her understand; she just had to: "Go home, I said!" he repeated forcefully. "You think we can just go on and live happily ever after... " Nothing he'd want more, but... "But you don't know what it feels like for me." He struggled to get the unfamiliar touch of sarcasm into his voice: "For some people life doesn't have happy-ever-afters."
"We would be fine!"
Oh yeah. Trying to convince him, wasn't she. Well, not this time. He had one more arrow on his bow. A deadly one he'd have preferred not to use. But knowing Felicity, he had always known he would have to. As a last resort, because she just wouldn't give him up. But she had to. He had to convince her.
And grabbing her by the shoulders he forced himself to recite the words he had practised in his mind ever since he had learned of Odelia´s call: "I've gone cold inside. Like stone. I've no love to give anybody. If I have to spell it out for you, I will." His heart was being torn apart as he sensed her realization of what he was saying; her shock. The lovely vague outline in front of him... he couldn't continue, he couldn't do this!
´You have to,´ he told himself sternly.
But he had to turn away; he couldn't face her as he choked out the horrible, untrue words both his heart and his mouth flatly refused to say: "I don't want you no more."
He sensed her shock; she sat deathly still. But he had to concentrate all his willpower on not turning back to her and bursting out in tears in her arms. His breathing was heavy – as if his lungs suddenly were forced to take over the function of his broken heart.
It was over. Over. He'd convinced her, he was sure of that. She would go and...
The pain... It hurt... oh, how it hurt! He could scarcely breathe for the pain in his chest. But she would go and he would never see her again. And that's the way it had to be. For the best.
He heard her get up without a word and go towards the door. He focused on the sound of her soft footsteps; the last he'd ever hear from her. They hesitated near the door, and turned around. Probably for a last look.
"I won't leave you."
Her voice, choked up with emotion but with a stubborn determination he had never heard before – not even in her voice – continued: "I will live the rest of my days out here if I have to, but I will not go back to Avonlea unless you are with me."
He turned around in a flash. "Felicity!" His mouth started to call her back, but the door fell already shut behind her before any sound had left his throat.
He made a motion to get up, to go after her, but the footsteps already retreated outside.
And then there was silence.
He sank back on the cot in despair, and buried his head in his hands for the second time that day.
He had failed. Failed miserably. The man who could do anything he put his mind to had not been able to succeed in the one most important mission of his life: to ensure his Felicity's happiness. He knew her well enough to know that she would stay with him, heading for a life of misery and poverty. She had chosen him, and with him a fate he so much had wanted to shield her from. Felicity, his dear, dear Felicity would be doomed to a life of hard work and poverty, caring for a man who was nothing but a burden on her.
Why... why!? Why couldn't he convince her? Why had he failed in this one final vital task?! Why?!
He felt tears dropping from between his fingers. And finally, finally he allowed himself to cry.