Jason walked into his apartment, Connie's arm in his. His vision wavered; he staggered. She caught his arm, helped him over to the couch. "Are you okay?" she said, eyes full of concern.
He leaned his head in his hand, trying to catch his breath. "I'm okay. That was a pretty long walk, and the heat didn't help any."
"I'm sorry! I should've asked if you wanted to go back but I wasn't thinking and—"
"It's okay, Connie. It's good for me to push myself."
"I don't know about that. It's only been a week since you got out of the hospital."
"You haven't been out of the hospital long either."
"But I only got knocked out. You got knocked out twice and—I'm sorry. You don't want to think about that."
He looked up. "I don't want to hide from what happened. That was part of the problem last time. I let hatred build up inside of me until it touched everything I did, and I didn't even realize it. It even hurt my relationship with you. I kept things from you. I thought I could handle Gray. Fix things. Instead—" He shook his head. "I can't hide from the things I did either."
"I know, Jason." She touched his cheek, ran her hand gently down to his chin. "But for now, I think we should forget about it, at least for a little while. We've got a movie to watch."
"It looks like a good one."
"We'll see about that. It looks a little too action-y to me."
"It was my turn. You made me watch—what was that, Letters to a Notebook or something?"
Connie just laughed and stepped into the kitchen. "What do you want—water, lemonade, Mountain Dew?" The sound of the fridge suctioning open. Clinks of cans and jars.
"I'll get it." He tried to get up; pain stabbed his side where the knife had seared into his skin.
"Don't you move. I'll get it."
He gave in. "Water's fine."
"If there is any."
She came back in with a glass of water complete with ice cubes, and a can of Mountain Dew for herself, which she set on the coffee table. "I've got to try to stay awake for this thing."
"I don't see how you could fall asleep to a World War Two movie."
"We'll see." She picked up the DVD, pulled it out of its Netflix sleeve. "Are you sure you want to watch this? It's about war, it might remind you of—"
"I think I can handle it. I've always been able to tell the difference between fiction and real life."
"Just so you're sure." She leaned down and slipped the DVD in, then sat down beside him.
The movie started out a little slow—it had to introduce the love interest, of course—but once the spy got sent on his mission the excitement built.
Connie leaned closer to him as it got more intense; he took advantage of this to press his hand over hers. She laced her fingers through his and smiled at him, the light from the screen flashing across her face, her eyes mysterious in the dark.
He brushed her hair back from her face, slid his hand over her cheek to bury his fingers in her hair, drew her to him, gently. He kissed her cheek; her eyelashes fluttered against his skin. Kissed her chin—and there were her lips, slightly parted, inviting invasion-
He kissed her slowly. She grasped the back of his neck; the kiss intensified—
It was his love for her which stopped him. This was their first real kiss out of the hospital, and being so long away from each other had made him forget everything but that she was here beside him, and there was nothing between them, not even that much pain.
He pulled away; the force of their bond protested.
"We haven't really decided on boundaries since the hospital," he said.
She turned away, leaned her arms on her thighs. "After the bomb, all the rules kind of got thrown out the window."
"For now, maybe it's best to stay on the safe side. It's not like this—" he took her hand in his—"is so bad. Or this—" He kissed her on the cheek.
She laughed. "Let's get back to the movie. Looks like it's at one of the few good parts."
Still holding hands, they turned their attention to the movie again. Contrary to what Connie had said, it was at a slow part again. Romance was okay in real life, but in movies, it made him either disgusted or uncomfortable.
Finally the hero jumped back into action, dodging bullets that zinged past him like a superhuman. This is getting a little too ridiculous, he thought. In real life, he'd have been hit a long time ago.
And then—it got a little too realistic. A bullet caught the spy, slamming into his leg. He fell to the pavement, writhing in pain. When the Nazis came out of the shadows, he tried to grab his gun, but the leader stomped on his arm and a cry rent the night.
"You won't be needing that," said the leader in a cold voice.
They dragged the spy into a Gestapo prison and strapped him to a chair under a bright light. The leader bombarded him with questions, and when he didn't answer, the leader withdrew a knife, its metal blade singing into the air.
The past flashed across Jason's mind. He was back on that table, the knife carving fire into him, while Gray's cold voice sliced his soul into bright shreds of fading light.
He jumped up, tearing away from Connie's hand which held him prisoner. She said something like, "Maybe we should turn this off," but he barely heard. He retreated into the kitchen, leaned his palm against the cool wall, trying to shut out the memories but it flooded back to him, and Gray was attacking him again, tearing into him—
A creak on the floor behind him. He spun around to face his enemy. Grabbed his arm, forced him to his knees.
A shriek of pain.
Not the enemy, but Connie kneeling on the floor, cradling her wrist, tears spilling from her eyes.
Horror twisted through him.
I hurt Connie. I hurt the one I love.
He knelt beside her, longing to take her in his arms, but he didn't trust himself to touch her. "Connie—I'm so sorry." The words were terribly inadequate. I should have known it was her, after all, I'm not in a dark prison anymore, I'm in my home, this is supposed to be over—
She shook her head. "I'm okay." Her voice was full of tears. "I shouldn't have come up behind you like that. I wanted to make you feel better but I only made things worse."
"It's not your fault. I shouldn't have let it affect me that way. I shouldn't let any of that affect me anymore. There's no excuse for…hurting you."
She held up her wrist. "See? No harm done. And Jason, I don't think you should be over it yet. After all you went through, I don't think either of us will be over it for a long time." She climbed to her feet and touched his shoulder. "Let's watch some videos on YouTube instead. I'll make us some popcorn."
He rose reluctantly, and followed her back into the living room. The screensaver was on; she'd stopped the movie. It hadn't mentioned the hero getting captured on the description; then again, if it had, it would have given away a major plot twist.
"I told you we shouldn't have watched that movie," she said. "Now if we'd rented Pride and Prejudice, we wouldn't have run into anything like that."
She could make light of it, but all he felt was weighed down by guilt. A shadow fell over the evening, and he had to force himself to be engaged in the videos she was showing him. His mind kept drifting back, going over and over what he had done. Was there any way he could make it right? How could he guarantee it wouldn't happen again, even with his best efforts to control his reactions? If something as innocuous as a movie could randomly trigger a reaction like this, what might he do in a more intense situation?
Will it always be like this? he wondered. I've forgiven Gray, but that doesn't mean I've forgotten. The imprint of what he did will always be on my mind. Will God ever heal me completely? Last time Connie helped so much, but this time…the fear runs even deeper. What if to be near her means the hazard of hurting her? Even one more time, physically or emotionally—I couldn't bear it.
If being whole again means at the expense of her pain, it cannot be worth it. Though she is the one I love, perhaps I am not the one for her after all.
The thought filled him with such sorrow he cried silently beside her, hoping she wouldn't notice the tears slipping down his face in the dark.