A/N: I wrote this some time ago but just realized I'd never posted it here
Later, she would wonder. Why had he, in the last instance, appeared not as the love of her youth but as the soul-weary penitent she would only later come to know? In those eyes, and that smile, and the gentle touch which still stirred that part of her immune to all reason, she had seen not the excited promise of new found love but the deep longing for a love believed forever lost. How could she be given a vision of a man she hardly even dared dream possible?
And why the warning, which had likely saved her from the true beast's quiet approach? His desperate need to protect, to do anything to save, had been as palpable then as it would ever be later. Why would the creature have tried to wake it's victim rather than slay her while she'd slept?
None of it made sense.
Yet the simplest explanation was that she herself might have greater insight than she'd previously believed. That the visions had brought the man beneath the monster to the surface, the part of him she still carried within herself, and that she had remembered his true nature despite all that had come between them.
Only. There was just one thing. One small detail she could never explain and which, later, she never dared mention or question. Not even much later when such things could have been spoken in the open. A part of her didn't want to know. And a part of her knew already.
As they'd finished their examination of the fallen creature, the beam of Will's flashlight had lit upon a small stack of gas canisters lying in one corner of the plane. It was possible the creature's illusions had previously concealed them. This was the explanation she gave Will, and she was fairly certain she had been believed.
It was later back at the Sanctuary when she'd checked the manifest that she had been certain. And then she had known. Only she hadn't understood. Not then.
He ought not to have gone. If he'd thought rationally, he would have known that before, and he certainly knew it now. Yet he could not have acted differently; he'd learned of her danger and his need to go had been as strong as his need to breathe. It hadn't required thought. In fact, thought had been impossible.
Because it had hurt. Just as badly as, if he'd given himself time to think, he'd have expected it to hurt. As badly as it should have hurt. Not that he'd meant to speak to her; he'd intended only to ensure she'd adequate supplies to survive until rescue. But he'd surprised the creature which stalked her while she'd slept, and it had slipped away. He couldn't simply leave, knowing it would be back. So he'd taken the only course of action opened to him and woke her himself.
Not that she'd known. Or understood. There wasn't time for that, for the explanation or for the emotions sure to follow it. Not with that creature lurking nearby. Still, he couldn't keep himself from asking the question. Though he'd been certain of the answer once, had felt it in her touch, had seen it in her eyes, had known it when she'd given herself completely to him.
But he hadn't anticipated the power of her hold over him. Even after all the time that had passed, after everything that had occurred between them, at the sight of her - good God at the smell of her - he would have taken the plane apart with his bare hands at her request. Just to make her happy. Or to keep her from harm.
And yet, he hadn't made her happy and he certainly hadn't kept her safe. He'd failed her more completely than he would once have believed possible. It hadn't been his fault; he'd been in the grip of forces more powerful than either of them could have imagined, yet it was still failure.
She couldn't love him. Could she possibly ever have? Because he could never have deserved her. Or her love. Not after what he'd done. Not with the darkness which must have been inside him even then when he'd thought he might be worthy of love. So he'd asked the question, fearing the answer but needing to know. To hear the truth from her, though it destroy him.
And it almost did. But not because she had never loved him, but because she had. He'd had everything and he'd lost it. He'd lost her. Destroyed her love and almost her life itself.
What he'd done was unforgivable; he could never even begin to forgive himself. He had forever lost the right to be part of her happiness, but he still had his power. He could still keep her safe. Even if he spent the rest of his life doing it. It wasn't the least he could do.
It was the only thing he could do.