With everyone else gone most of the time, it was Alan who was somehow always there as I began the laborious process of learning to walk again. That was no exaggeration, either; at times I felt like a toddler as I began the painful process of reviving muscles that hadn't been used in many weeks. Slowly I found my lower body once again starting to obey my brain's commands. It was Alan who caught me when I started to fall, who brought me reading materials when I threatened to go out of my mind with boredom, and who insisted that I push myself a little harder each day, even when in frustration I just wanted to crawl back into bed and let the whole business go to hell. And, true to his word, he'd never again brought up the issue of his feelings for me.
It was about two months after the "incident" that I finally asked him an unusual question. I was walking mostly unaided now, although I still teetered unexpectedly once in a while, and the two of us were sitting in one of the hospital lounges sharing a snack. It was the wee hours of the morning, and most of the patients were asleep; we were alone in the little room.
"Alan," I said gravely, "you told me a lifetime ago that you loved me. You promised never to bring up the subject again, and you haven't. But I need to know if you still feel that way." He stared at me, speechless.
"The truth, Alan," I persisted, although the look on his face already told me what I wanted to know. Slowly he nodded.
"Alan, I want you to tell me something," I said. "You were in the party that rescued me. I want to know exactly what you found there." He fidgeted uncomfortably.
"Well, we found you, and we found Rokun, and the Futaba."
"No," I said, looking directly into his eyes. "I mean me. What did you find?"
"I'd really rather forget that," he mumbled. He suddenly looked grey, I thought.
I was insistent. "I'm sorry, Alan, but I have my reasons for asking. What did you find?"
He paused for a moment as he unearthed what was clearly a profoundly unsettling memory. "You have to do this?" he said finally. I nodded gravely. He took a deep breath.
"Well," he said tightly, "you were lying on your side. Your leg was--uh, obviously broken, sticking out at an unnatural angle." He shuddered involuntarily and went on. "There was blood all over your face and a lot of it under your head. We all thought you were dead. And then--" He stopped.
"And then?" I pressed.
"You opened your eyes for a few seconds, and I knew you were alive." He blinked a few times. "I don't think I could ever feel such sheer joy again to equal that moment," he added softly. You're wrong, Alan. You can and you will.
"Did I say anything?" I inquired innocently. I saw him pale noticeably, and I knew. I watched as he fought some kind of battle within himself.
"No," he said at last. "No."
I laughed gently. "Alan, you're a liar, and not a very good one. Of course I said something. I said, 'I love you, Alan.' I know that you heard it, too." Slowly he nodded, his expression frozen. "What's more," I continued, "I meant it then, and I mean it now."
He sat there stunned, apparently afraid to say anything for fear the moment would shatter into a thousand pieces. Finally he spoke. "When did you decide, Senaria?"
It had taken me a long time to find the right words, but I'd had a lot of time. I knew that we were both about to cross a divide and that neither of our lives would ever be the same again. "I've loved you since that day that you and Kiri and Will and Rann and I all sat on the mountainside overlooking Fontana," I began slowly. "I remember listening to you, listening to every word you said, and not daring to even look in your direction. I'd had someone I loved literally destroyed in the most horrible way, practically in front of my eyes, and the one other person I'd ever really loved was sitting there next to you with her newlywed husband. I sat there still hurting so much inside, and I couldn't believe it was happening to me again, and I told myself I couldn't love someone again, I couldn't take the loss again."
"I realize now that I jumped at the first excuse I could find to end it, even though everything in me fought it and nearly tore me apart, and since then I've tried to shove you to the very farthest back corner of my mind. And you've stayed there, never leaving me, no matter how much I tried to make you go away. I finally recognized, lying on that ledge, that nothing I was doing made any sense. With no tomorrow left, living for whatever time I had left, I decided that it was time to let you out of your box and become part of me."
I paused for breath for a moment. "Now I have my life back again, and I still want you to be part of it. If you're willing, of course." I gently ran a hand over his face, feeling the deep lines of age, the two-days' growth of stubble.
"I really have changed, Sen," he whispered. "I'm not the same Brinkman that I was before."
"Actually, Alan," I said, "you haven't changed at all." His face fell at that; for a second he looked for all the world like a kicked puppy. "You're the same Alan Brinkman you used to be," I continued. "Except that you've finally scraped off all those years of accumulated crud and grime and cynicism, and polished what was underneath until it gleams."
"But somehow I knew who you really were that first day I met you. I guess that's why I was so surprised and disappointed when that other Alan Brinkman treated me the way he did. Now Alan, don't go getting all blubbery on me; that's ancient history now." I reached out and wiped a tear from his cheek. "But we're going to be honest with each other, aren't we?"
He nodded, unanswered questions still in his eyes, clearly not yet fully trusting the reality of what was happening.
"Why only now?" he said uncertainly. "Why so long? A test?"
"I suppose it was," I said. He looked hurt again, I thought.
"Yes, it was a test," I repeated ruthlessly. "You know, Alan, that the wounded wield a tremendous amount of power. Whether they intend to or not, they can bind people with almost unbreakable shackles of compassion, of misplaced duty, of loyalty. Even though those are the finest of impulses, they can lead to the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons, and a lifetime of misery."
"I didn't want you tied to me by bonds of pity, or duty. Only love. And I had to make sure, for your sake, that that's what held you." He stared at the floor for a long time before speaking.
"Why did you do that?" he said finally. "Put me through all that about Rouaas? I still don't understand." I took a deep breath.
"Because I know what it's like to be haunted, Alan. By images that burn themselves into your brain, that appear in your nightmares, that redirect your life down all the wrong paths. I knew what you saw. I was still conscious there, if only barely. And knowing how you felt, I knew what it could do to you. Am I right?" He lifted his head, and I saw two fresh streaks glistening on his cheeks. "For those first three weeks, when you thought of me that was all you could see, wasn't it? The broken thing you found on Rouaas, or the living corpse in the hospital bed that you kept vigil over for so long." He nodded wordlessly.
"But now you know the truth, Alan," I continued softly. "That even when I was lying there on Rouaas, lying in my own blood, closer to death than I've ever been, I was thinking of you. And I want you to remember that, not the horror, for the rest of your life. Can you?" He was staring at me in astonishment now. "Can you?" I repeated, more insistently.
"I can," he said, and I took him in my arms and kissed him.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|