The Distance

"I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken - and I'd rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived."-Margaret Mitchell

He would have thought by now he'd be used to pain.

He's been shot, stabbed, even tortured before, brushed against death too many times to count.

And yet watching her, the distance between them like an empty sea, is more pain than everything he's endured before.

He sees her across the room, draped in satin as stormy grey as her eyes. A man holds her arm, his touch loose as if he wouldn't care if someone stepped in and pulled her away. He'd known she married twice, divorced twice.

There's a champagne glass clenched in her hand, her fingers white around the slender goblet. Any tighter and the glass will shatter.

She doesn't look his way and it almost frightens him to think she might look and not know him. He's changed. Too many drinks on lonely nights, too many missed meals, and hard living have left him with a gaunt, ill look. Many of the scars are new, as well, so many more than when he last saw her. The thick one, corded to the right of his heart, was only a stitched wound then.

He studies her face, the lines that age has put there and yet somehow made her all the more beautiful.

Only her eyes have changed, faded and washed out like the tide ebbing from the sea.

He remembers when her eyes were afire with life, filled with dreams. He'd killed that fire, banked it with their last mission together, the capture of a defecting agent they'd somehow bungled.

They'd carried him back that day, the bullet lodged in his lung, his blood spilling over onto his friends' clothes, her hand covering the wound, keeping him alive.

He wasn't expected to live then, not with so much damage.

But he'd beaten the odds, fought for life, fought to breathe on his own again, while through it all she never left his side, his limp hand held tightly in her's.

But when he opened his eyes for the first time since that day he'd seen the change in her. She was distant, quiet. And he knew that everything had changed, broken into a thousand pieces he couldn't paste back together.

She couldn't stay, couldn't watch him die bit by bit until one day they'd close the coffin and he'd be gone.

She couldn't marry him.

And so the day he took his first steps on his own she'd walked away, slipped out of his life as if she'd never existed at all.

He'd moved on, of course. A new job, more dangerous work, and he'd put his former life behind him.

But he'd watched her from a distance over the years, followed her through fashion magazines, and tabloids, watched as she passed through two marriages and the sizable wealth that dissolved them. He'd learned the parties she attended, the circle of friends she'd made.

But he'd never seen her until tonight.

Her head lifts, almost as if sensing someone there, turns his direction.

Her eyes meet his, flicker like a fading candle. He sees the recognition in the sudden tears that start to her eyes, the emotion she's faked so many years and yet always was real with him.

Her eyes shimmer, fluttering through the past like a hand turning a book, tears washing away the years as he takes the first step toward her.

And as long as he can see those tears, he can believe there's still a chance to start over.