Author : Dani D.

The Will to Live

Rouleau was dead.

I felt guilty.

I felt guilty for driving him over the edge; I felt guilty for being glad that he was dead. Lizotte really had been right about revenge, but I had dreamt of it for twenty years. Now that revenge was mine, yes, I would have to live with it, but first... I was desperate just to live.

Just live.

Dare to hope and believe that I could recapture even a fraction of the humanity Rouleau had stolen from me.

And so began my clinical test. That's what it was, originally. A test to prove to myself whether or not I could ever recover. I wanted it to work; I wanted to feel. Specifically, the all-encompassing emotions opposite those at the darkest end of the spectrum, to which I am more than well-acquainted and accustomed. Love, desire, passion…these were but distant memories, so far back into my past that I sometimes wondered if I had ever experienced them at all. Could I ever feel them again, that was the hypothesis to investigate.

Oh, how clinical of me.

I realize now that after two decades of detachment, I could never have prepared myself for actually living the array and magnitude of emotions that would be awakened within me. It would've been impossible for me to predict what it would mean to really feel alive. To drop my defenses and find myself not only unscathed, but protected. To be loved and desired, and actually believe it. To finally possess the ability to return someone's love and desire, and enjoy pure, true give and take. I never could have imagined how that would feel.

You see, I had chosen the perfect co-conductor for my experiment. A man who despite a perpetual fixation on playing l'Espion in matters of my past, I trust with my life. There could be no other I would trust with my heart.

It's a funny thing, really. I haven't trusted a single soul for as long as I can remember. How could I possibly trust someone who constantly goes behind my back to find out information I guard more emphatically than my very life? I have analyzed the justification time and time again and, all other factors aside, the conclusion is quite simple and invariable.

His silence.

His unmitigated, unwavering silence.

When I quit the SAS and blasted him with his answers about Washington, he told no one. Instead, he took the fall for me when the guys asked, blaming my departure on himself and how he had treated me. When we volleyed opposite points of view on whether killing Legris had anything to do with Washington, he argued without any specifics, even though I know that it made everyone curious. He erased all the information concerning me on the tape I had made to bait Lizotte, keeping it to himself, and he never let anyone know that the root of my problem was in the police force. He never mentioned my grave to the guys, and when they watched him comfort me in the woods, he stayed silent as to why Pascale's body had really affected me. He never said one word to anybody about my scar. When he figured out that Rouleau, the prime suspect for the rapes and murders being investigated by our squad, was the answer to everything he had ever questioned about me, he didn't reveal it to a single soul.

Concealment and anonymity are most precious to me. They are not important, they are vital; to be preserved at all cost. I had never, ever confided in anybody. While my disclosures to Gabriel Johnson were not usually a matter of choice, they still, in effect, placed him closer to me than anyone on the planet. Both my divulgence and his position were extremely dangerous and antithesis to my very sense of self-preservation. However, the fact that he has never betrayed me speaks volumes, and it is a bond I cannot ever deny. A powerful, priceless, and treasured link words are incapable of defining. For this, he is special to me.

I think his incessant need to unlock my heavily-guarded secrets began initially out of mere curiosity and suspicion. Impatience and frustration were added later, and finally, genuine concern and care for my well-being. For the record, almost all attempts were unwelcome. Still, I have learned that he acts primarily one of two ways where I am concerned. He either spies, pries, and infuriates me, or he is tender, chivalrous, and fiercely protective of me. Years ago, I teased him that he was my gallant knight. Lancelot, I called him. It was a joke because he was unnecessarily defending my honor against a harmless, nonthreatening adversary. Nevertheless, in the times I have truly needed him, he has always come to my rescue, physical or emotional, and that offsets the times he aggravates me.

He has been hounding me for as long as I've known him to quit being so independent and to ask for help when I need it. Go figure, the only time I heed his advice, I ask him to help me make love.

I would've bet my degrees that I have never astounded him so completely as I did just then, and I have given him plenty of shocks during my four years on his squad.

For once, it was a pleasant surprise. He deserved the reprieve. My past has affected him in ways I never would have dreamed, and nothing ever jarred him more profoundly than my scar. He had only known of the sexual assault, no details and certainly no knowledge of what had preceded it. I wish there had been a better way to answer his question of "sadique, coléric, ou opportuniste," but I couldn't articulate the brutality into words. So, instead, I opted for the biggest risk and leap of faith that I had ever taken with anyone, trusting him enough to actually show him the sadistic souvenir that would never fade.

The man who is no longer affected by dead bodies was paralyzed by my revelation. It unnerved him completely. Even the heavy burden of letting two parents know that their daughter had been raped and murdered did not remove the image from his mind. He asked yet again for the name of the cop, but this time… The question was exhaled with such desperation and anguish that, even with my sanity hanging on by only a thread, I knew there wasn't a single hint of pity or simple curiosity. No, he was earnestly sharing in a pain he longed to eradicate.

His sense of helplessness would later be infinitely compounded when I switched places with him at Rouleau's. I have never seen him so frantic… Absolutely wild with frenzy at the thought of leaving me alone with that monster. I knew it was of no comfort to him to hear that there were some things he just couldn't do for me. I could never have made him understand that it was my score to settle, my hunt to complete, no matter what the outcome.

He might have been helpless to change my past, but that night at the station, after everyone had left, he alone had the chance to help my future. While he did not respond verbally, I knew his answer. There could be only one single response, of that I have no doubt. I am aware of how deeply he cares for me.

The only detail from that entire night that I cannot recall with utmost clarity is the drive to my house. It seemed as if one second we were at the station, the next we were in my kitchen, making small talk as I fixed chocolat and he petted Fernand.

He came and stood beside me at the stove, and momentarily just watched the pot. Then, he touched my wrist, lightly skimming his hand up my arm, as a prelude to stepping in behind me and moving both hands to my shoulders. I realized that every action had been deliberate; he wanted me to foresee each next move, and to be comfortable with his proximity. The sheer sweetness of the gesture made me smile and duck my head.

He used the opportunity to brush my hair aside and gently massage my neck and shoulders. "Relâche-toi," he murmured quietly, in an effort to calm me. His voice had lowered to the soft, caring, and devoted tone that has always had tremendous effect on me. We can be at each other's throats and he will drop his voice like that and instantly dispel my rage and frustration. And it's a timbre he reserves only for me. "Tout sera correct. Je promets. Je te promets, Anne."

I exhaled deeply at his words, alleviating a portion of my nervous energy and anticipation. I suddenly found myself leaning back into him, and closing my eyes. I believed him. I knew everything would be okay because he was the one who was there with me. His arms encircled my waist, lifting mine on top, and he placed his chin on my shoulder.

And there we stayed.

He turned his head slightly, toward my neck, the feel of his breath electric against my skin, sending a tremor rippling straight through me.

My eyes flew open and I held my breath, waiting for the crippling surge of repellence to rip me away from him.

Another wisp of air, another shock wave. No fight-or-flight response.

Impossible…

I should have felt panic. That's what I was fully prepared to feel, what I knew to expect. I had entered this experiment hopeful, but I was also realistic. For twenty years, any advances from a man physically sickened me, making my skin crawl, making me flinch and draw back. While Rouleau's death had given me a sense of freedom, it was a long time in coming. There was much for me to work through and overcome. Yet, there I was, enveloped in the arms of my greatest protector, content and unafraid. I cannot say which surprised me more, the fact that I was enjoying how it felt, or that I had no fear. All at once, a world of possibilities seemed to open up, and I realized that our night together might actually work. The spark of revitalization burned brighter while my clinical light dimmed. I gave a single laugh of utter amazement.

Turning around, I smiled fully at him, still speechless. Handing him a mug, I motioned for him to sit at the counter.

We talked, openly and freely, as we had done in the bar after our meeting with Griffin. We did not discuss the past nor the future, only life and its value. At one point, I trailed off mid-sentence, words suddenly failing me as I was struck by the mirage of emotions that was reflected in his soft gaze. Smoldering desire tempered with control, deep love paired with protection. My stomach immediately flipped.

He sensed my comprehension, and ran a finger gently along my jaw, to my chin.

I knew, it was now or never.

I took his hand in mine, and led him to my bedroom.

Once there, we stood facing each other, almost touching. He lifted a hand to the billowy scarf around my neck, and ever so slowly slid it off, bending away from me only long enough to drape the fabric over a nearby chair. Righting himself, he gingerly placed his hands on my hips, drawing me to him for an embrace.

My arms clung tightly to his shoulders; I trembled from the emotional cyclone of nerves, hope, anticipation – too many feelings to qualify – that was racing through my system. "Gabriel…"

The three syllables had been whispered, yet they resonated around us as effectively as if I had shouted them in a canyon. We both froze.

I have never called him by his first name. Ever.

It was a question, a statement, everything I didn't know how to ask or how to say. Simply, everything I couldn't possibly verbalize.

He slowly slid his face along my cheek, until our mouths hovered mere millimeters from one other. He finally swept his lips lightly, back and forth across mine before kissing me tentatively, testing my reaction.

My reaction… Could it be?

I needed more.

With one accord our kisses deepened. My hands flew to his face, anchoring us together.

His, in the meantime, snaked from the small of my back, around and up my sides, underneath my blazer. I lowered my arms just enough for him to slip off the jacket, our mouths never separating, then untucked and unbuttoned his shirt.

Beyond need, I wanted this.

A thought that would have – should have been inconceivable. I was beginning to understand that I would have to reevaluate many perceptions I thought were truths.

Article by article, the rest of our clothing dropped to the floor.

His gentle, feather light touches ignited my skin wherever they trailed, overwhelming my logical mind, quieting it at last. Conscious thought became so suspended that his hand had reached my scar before I could register protest, horror, or the need to recoil.

"Mon Dieu…t'es belle, Anne," he whispered in a tone that I could only describe as reverent.

Beautiful?

Me?

I was suddenly fighting for air. My heart stopped beating – or, was it beating for the first time? My entire reality began to unravel.

This had to be a dream.

He traced the reverse path of the knife, as if to erase the eleven inches from my side, and the twenty years from my soul.

And for that moment, he did.

Once upon a time, I had been a whole person. Past and present were now colliding, bridging decades of a dissociated existence. In the tender, magical world he had created for the two of us, the grip was broken. The pieces of myself that I had buried, and the remnant that had never left the warehouse, he rescued. I was healed, and I was whole. And I felt beautiful. I actually believed him. Only him.

In that moment, with him…I came back to life.

Every emotion denied to me for half my years on earth suddenly surged to the surface, filling the void at last. I thought I had lost it forever. The ability to feel. The will to live.

He had been right.

He told me once that friends were not just for coffee, that friends could save your skin. Had it not been for the friendship and love I know only he could provide me, I would not be truly alive. I looked at this sweet, caring man with the clarity of reawakening, ready and willing to give back to him every vibrant feeling he had revived in me.

All the briefing and preparing I had done, all the visualizations I thought I would need to help me actually see this night through to completion, I had no use for any of them.

Breaking contact with him was unthinkable.

We maneuvered blindly to my bed, collapsing onto to it intertwined, without ever separating. Our kisses were slow and deep, our caresses gentle and determined, so unlike my rapid breathing and frantic pulse.

He supported himself on outstretched arms, keeping the majority of his frame off mine, and leaning only his head down to kiss me. I was so lost in the moment that I did not understand until I gazed questioningly into his eyes.

He did not want me to feel pinned or trapped.

I let out a soft sigh, my eyes filling with tears. Ever my Lancelot… I wondered how I could possibly have had any doubts about this journey when he was the one who was to help and share it with me.

Having cried in front of him more times than I have cared, I instead pulled him to me, channeling all my newfound emotions into a searing kiss that I wish could have lasted forever. I was desperate to convey to him that his weight on top of me was welcomed, not even remotely constraining, providing me with the most complete security I have ever felt. To my absolute astonishment and relief, delight and exasperation, I could not get close enough to him.

Our passion became like wildfire, blazing with all-consuming intensity. He paused only once, shaking from the restraint of holding back, to lock his eyes on mine, seeking my permission.

The most precious gift of control.

His selfless reserve was my undoing. I knew there was no way he could mistake how much I wanted this – him – and still he asked for my consent. I would expect nothing less from him, and yet my senses reeled once again from his infinite, constant attentiveness. If I live to be a hundred, I will never be able to recount to him how much I treasure his priceless request or how much I love him for it. With all my heart, and all my soul, I pleaded, "make love to me."

Never in my life, not even before it fragmented, have I experienced such tenderness. Such overwhelming love. We mirrored each other's actions in perfect give and take, and I was living solely in the present moment, without any definition, hindrance, or tie to that nightmare so many years ago. There has never been a time when that has happened.

I finally understood.

This is how it feels to be alive.

So, why then, after such a beautiful and meaningful experience, did I give him the sedative Diazepam without his knowledge?

I am not proud of it, but it was necessary.

To be frank, I panicked. But, not for any reason I had anticipated, far from it. No, my one and only motive was centered on cherishing every last detail of my time with him. He would want to discuss this, everything. And I…I could not. Not yet. Articulation would require thought, and thinking would break the spell. Reality, rationality, and responsibility would all come flooding back soon enough. In the morning, he would be my boss again. My analytical mind would resume its frantic pace, and part of the magic would be lost. I could not allow that to happen just yet. No, I wanted to remain in this spellbinding bliss for as long as possible.

Lying with his arms wrapped securely around me, I could feel him drift off to sleep. I was overcome with gratitude and humbled fascination. Armed with the safety of his slumber, I lovingly whispered into the darkness, "you have no idea what you've done for me…".

My healing is not complete, and it may never fully conclude, but I know that I have changed. And I won't go back. I am now, finally, incapable of going back. What he has given me… There are no words to describe such a gift.

Clinically speaking, the experiment was a success and my colleague and I have answered my hypothesis affirmatively. Vitally speaking? I sought to regain humanity, and with the aid of my noble knight, my fears were slain, my heart and soul reclaimed, and my life restored.

Denial and dissociation are very powerful and protective defense mechanisms. I am no stranger to walling myself off from overwhelming pain or fear, but although I don't have the slightest idea where we will go from here, I have no intention of blocking out a single thought, feeling, or moment of our precious night together. I will need time to process, yes, and it will be difficult, no doubt, but I will not forget.

I will never forget.