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March 31st, 2008


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09:10 pm - Numb3rs fic: Breathe For Me
Title: Breathe For Me
Rating: PG-13 (for images and language)
Setting: just after "Trust Metric"
Summary: Things tickle at the back of his mind: the snap of latex gloves, a gunshot, the flash of light off a pair of glasses. He’s not sure they’re all real.
Notes: This fic is dedicated to my lovely betas, feliciakw and mistraltoes; and to all the readers who enjoyed my previous stories with Colby and with Megan, especially lyraskye14.


BREATHE FOR ME

by izhilzha

~~~~~

He breathes in. Careful, easy, because if it’s too deep, lightning bolts of pain shoot across his chest. But he can and so he does and just that ready flow of air is bliss.

Things tickle at the back of his mind: the snap of latex gloves, a gunshot, the flash of light off a pair of glasses. He’s not sure they’re all real. At least, not the way the edge of the oxygen mask pressing into his face is real. Or the warm weight of blankets over him. Or the voices outside his head, talking quietly, probably about him.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. The hands here are gentle. They were gentle even when he first woke to them, when every touch felt like it would leave a bruise. Soft sheets, quiet, warmth. . . . It’s over, he thinks, and waits for the tickles to subside, for a sense of relief, for the slide back into sleep.

Instead, it’s like someone heaved a boulder onto his chest. It’s over. He breathes deep, because he knows he can, but the pleasure is gone and there’s nothing left but this weird emptiness.

It should be right, that it’s over. Whatever it is. And yet there’s nothing to fill the gap. For a moment, he thinks about not breathing, but that’s not something he could give up if he wanted to.

“Colby?” someone says.

Her voice is totally unexpected, and he opens his eyes before he can remember why he had them shut. The light is too bright. Lines and colors streak and swirl, and he can’t focus on her before his eyes squint closed again.

“The doctors say you’ve been drifting in and out.” She starts talking again, and he was right, it really is Megan. “They won’t let me stay long, but Colby--it’s so good to see you awake. It’s . . .”

She sounds like she might be about to cry. He wants to touch her arm, tell her it’s okay, but his body isn’t keen on moving. Not right this second. How come she’s even here? They can’t know yet, can’t be sure. Not unless he’s been out of it for longer than he thinks he has.

It’s over. Now he remembers what that means.

The lies are over.

His life is over; at least, what he’s called his life for the past two years.

It occurs to him to wonder how, exactly, that happened. Everything’s still tangled together, but he remembers a threat. Remembers knowing that he wasn’t going to make it out of this one. He remembers accepting that outcome. Making some kind of peace with it. The hell? He decides to open his eyes again, and this time readies himself for the brightness.

Everywhere light hits an object, the color runs and spreads, but now he can focus. Enough to find Megan: brown jacket, white blouse, hair lighter than he remembers.

It takes him a couple of tries to find his voice, and when he finally gets words out, they’re muffled under the mask. He tries again, “Megan, hey,” and the sound still falls flat. Frustrated, he reaches towards his face with his right hand, the one not pinched by the IV needle and oxygen monitor.

Cool fingers trap his own. “Don’t.” Megan’s voice is firm, and he’s pretty sure she’s frowning at him. “I can hear you, okay? You need the oxygen. Leave it alone.”

He couldn’t muster the strength to resist right now if he wanted to. So he lets Megan press his hand down onto his chest. Another blink, and he’s got a clearer image, though the edges still blur, details and highlights smearing pale and long. “Hey. Megan.”

Her face moves; she’s smiling. “Hey. How are you feeling?”

Like someone smashed a sledgehammer into my chest. He’s momentarily distracted by wondering if that really happened. It’s not out of the question.

“Colby? You with me?”

He finds his eyelids drooping again, and blinks them open. “What happened? How’d I . . .” His voice cracks into nothing, and he circles his free hand, hoping she gets it.

“How’d you get here?” The words are ready, and clear, as if she’d been expecting him to ask.

He tries to nod, but the mask rubs under his chin.

Megan drops her head for a moment. When she looks up, her gaze is steady, and her voice is calm, focused. Professional shrink face, he thinks. “How much do you remember?”

He takes a deep breath, but images and thoughts tumble over each other, and he’s not sure which ones to grab onto: the glint of a needle; “don’t do this, man, it’s not worth it”; the struggle, the constant struggle to suck in air; the rattle of distant automatic gunfire; breath in his ear, babbling things he doesn’t want to hear, something about, about–


“Kirkland.” The name comes out rough, catching in his dry throat. “Kirkland’s dead. ‘S why I couldn’t reach him.”

Megan’s hand settles over his, and she doesn’t add anything right away.

“How?” He doesn’t want to know. Not the details. But some part of his mind grasps at the hope that his torturer might have been . . . exaggerating.

Megan still doesn’t answer right away. “David and I found him,” she says, finally. She’s turned away from him a little, a shadowy profile in the bright room. “From the tools, from the condition of the . . . of his body . . . He’d been tortured. It hadn’t gone far, though. Kirkland had a congenital heart defect.”

She doesn’t tack on some comment that this was the easy way out, and he is fiercely glad, because in that situation there’s no such thing. And because Kirkland put himself in that position to protect him. “Thanks.”

Megan doesn’t answer that at all. “What else do you remember?”

He swallows, and puts aside the image of Kirkland’s dead face. Turns his mind back to what he knows, to what he actually saw. “I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t be here.” That moment of acceptance still looms large, blocking out anything that came before it. That moment, and then an unbearable wrench of pain in his chest.

“What do you mean?” Her tone is still clear, professional.

He wonders if she’s sounding him out for a certain response. Screw it. This is Megan. “Said he was gonna kill me. Had a needle.”

Megan answers his unspoken question. “Potassium chloride.” She shifts her hand in his and taps his chest with the tips of her fingers. “He tried to stop your heart. Clean up his mess.”

“Because. . . .” He hears the gunfire in his head again, and sees narrowed gray-green eyes behind wimpy plastic frames. “Automatic weapons. You guys?”

“Yeah. That was us.” She doesn’t sound happy about it, though. “Don and David found you, but Colby, they wouldn’t have been in time. Mason Lancer was already dead when they reached you, and you. . . .”

That’s all a blank, all time that must have come after that wrenching pain. None of what she’s saying rings any bells, except for the guy’s name. “Who killed . . . Lancer?”

“Dwayne Carter,” Megan says.

That makes no sense at all. It had been Dwayne’s voice begging him to talk, saying the secrets weren’t worth keeping.

“From what we’ve pieced together, he must have shot Lancer right after Lancer injected you. The plunger was halfway depressed; you only got part of the intended dose. It still. . . . It stopped your heart.” She draws in a sharp breath, and this is the real Megan now, her professionalism crumbling in the face of something he figures she saw herself. “Dwayne’s shot saved your life. Made it possible for David and Don to keep you going until the medics got to you.”

He’s barely breathing, trying to take this in. The asshole who called him a friend, the man whose hands were scarred from that fiery rescue years before, the man he had counted as a damned selfish traitor, had saved his life. Again. “Where is he?” He’ll have to say thank you, have to keep putting up with Dwayne’s “you owe me” shit. But damn, that was a gutsy move to make.

“Colby.” Megan’s head is bowed, and he almost doesn’t hear her. “Dwayne’s dead. One of Lancer’s men shot him.”

The first thing he feels is relief. Okay, he won’t have to thank him. That’s fine.

Then the words sink the rest of the way in, and, Oh. Fuck. He died saving my life?

Dwayne, I was ready, he thinks. It was done, man, over, I’d made my choice. Wasn’t even the worst way to go. Who gave you the right to be my goddamn guardian angel? Who said I wanted that from you?

Something soft brushes his cheek, touches the corner of one closed eyelid. Kleenex, wiping away moisture he hadn’t even realized was leaking out. Megan’s sigh is loud in the hushed room. “I’m sorry, Colby.”

He wants to explain to her that it’s all right. That he wanted to know. That it’s messed up, but also something he’ll live with. And he wants to tell her how much he never expected this. That maybe he underestimated Dwayne. “Why’d he do something that dumb?”

Megan’s fingers are still tight around his free hand. She doesn’t say anything.

He lets his eyes stay closed. Images fade into each other: from the boat, from the truck, from years before in the coals of an Afghani desert. Always, always, Dwayne sticking close to him, holding on like he was a life belt, giving loyalty more absolute than he’d ever given to the Army or the Rangers or the Feds.

“I should have waited to tell you,” Megan says. “I guess I kind of got carried away. I know what it’s like to want to find out what happened while you were out.”

And yeah, he remembers that, from almost a year ago. Her determination to spill everything she’d talked to her kidnapper about, and all the questions she’d been asking, not even two hours after she came out of surgery. But this wasn’t the same. Megan had her team, had someone to go back to. Someone who’d found her.

Huh. He blinks his eyes open, wondering.

They’d found him, too.

Maybe . . .

“That why you’re here?” He tries to read her face, but the blur remains. “To get my debrief?”

She gives a little snort, maybe supposed to be a giggle. “I kinda doubt we’re first in line to get your debrief, Mr. Triple Agent. Maybe third or fourth?” The laughter drops right out of her voice. “I’m here to see you. To make sure you’re all right, that you’re. . . .”

Still breathing, he thinks.

“You have no idea what a relief it was, to--" And then her lips press against his forehead “Just . . . This is an amazingly good day for me, okay?”

He’s not sure what to do with that, because this is Megan. Megan doesn’t usually do these sorts of things. “So,” he says, “you’re glad to have me back?”

“God, yes.” She chokes on the confirmation, though he can’t tell if it’s because of tears or what.

“Fleinhardt know you feel that way?” he jokes.

Megan takes a step back, and that is an actual laugh. “Oh, no fair!” She puts her hands on her hips and stares down at him. “I can’t kick your ass while you’re in the hospital.”

“That’s okay.” He grins at her, cheeks pushing against the oxygen mask. “You can owe me.”

He hears an echo of those last few words, as if someone else repeated them after him, and he can’t keep the smile going.

Megan pats his shoulder gently. “I’ll look forward to paying that debt. Make it sooner rather than later, okay? It’ll be good to have you in the office again.”

It’s odd to think that maybe he could simply pick up where he left off. That maybe what passes for his life isn’t quite as finished as he’d thought. She might not be speaking for Don or for David, but even the possibility makes him vaguely light-headed. He’ll have to think about it when he’s not so damned tired. “Thanks, Megan.”

“I’ll see you soon. Get some rest.” And just like that, she’s gone, leaving the bright lights and warm blankets and the flow of easy air to keep him company.

His eyelids slide down of their own accord, heavy and tired of looking at light. In the dark, he breathes deeply, because he can, and no matter who he owes that chance to, it’s something he can do, and something he’ll keep doing. And even when it hurts, the pain only reminds him that in time there will be an end to that, too.

~~~~~


All comments and criticism more than welcome!
Current Mood: exanimateexanimate

(22 lit candles | Light a candle)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:kalquessa
Date:April 1st, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
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I really want to go back to bed right now, and I want to take this fic with me for a blanket.

*loves*

Dude, how are you so good at these people? Loved all the double-edged relief, here. I am in awe of Colby's reaction to finding out about Carter. That was perfect, the way you navigated his emotions, there. Initial relief followed by oh fuck, he died for me. And the anguish and the hope and threading it all together with Colby just breathing and and and...

And Megan. *clings* I want to be Megan when I grow up. Love the last little bit when she says it's ana amazingly good day for her and they're kidding like they used to.

Very nice work, I am most impressed.
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:April 1st, 2008 11:09 pm (UTC)
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I really want to go back to bed right now, and I want to take this fic with me for a blanket.

Awww! I think that's the most original compliment I have ever received. *g*

Loved all the double-edged relief, here. I am in awe of Colby's reaction to finding out about Carter.

Hooray! I really kind of fought with that bit, because I wasn't sure it would come across the way I wanted it to, but it seems that it did!

I want to be Megan when I grow up.

ME TOO. (Hey, did you watch the gag reels when you had my DVDs? Cause Diane Farr is a riot. Esp when she and Dylan Bruno are in the same shot and keep cracking each other up.)
[User Picture]
From:kalquessa
Date:April 1st, 2008 11:12 pm (UTC)
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No, I didn't watch the gag reels, I must have forgotten. You'll have to show them to me sometime when I'm up there or you're down here. I love gag reels, the one on S1 of SPN had us all giggling like idiots.
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:April 1st, 2008 11:15 pm (UTC)
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Okay, we'll watch N3 gag reels as well as SPN when you come visit. :-)

And speaking of SPN gag reels, wait till the season 2 one. *dies*
[User Picture]
From:kalquessa
Date:April 2nd, 2008 01:27 am (UTC)
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Yay, gag reels!

Ackles and Padalecki are making me break my rule that I crush on characters but not actors. They're just so funny! In a way that makes me want to be their friend and hang out with them all the time!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 1st, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC)

Delightful story!

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This was wonderful. Very well done. I loved it. I could see everything in my head, just like one of the tv episodes.

Great job!

Amy D.
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:April 2nd, 2008 05:04 am (UTC)

Re: Delightful story!

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Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and especially glad that you could *see* what was happening, and felt that it was so close to canon.
[User Picture]
From:rose_in_shadow
Date:April 2nd, 2008 02:59 am (UTC)
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Ooo, that was lovely.

Nice character work (interaction, in-characterness, all of it).

Just out of curiosity, do you post these elsewhere than your LJ?
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:April 2nd, 2008 05:07 am (UTC)
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I'm very pleased that you enjoyed it, and that you felt Megan and Colby were in character in their interactions.

I do post these other than just on my LJ; if you look at my sidebar to the left, there, I have a link to my profile on fanfiction.net (stuff usually goes up there at the same time as it goes up on my LJ), and to my profile on The CalSci Library, which is a Numb3rs gen archive. That's it, though (except for a couple of stories I have over at the Sugar Quill, which are also posted on ff.net, and my contributions to the I-man Virtual Seasons)...I don't have my own website or anything cool like that.
[User Picture]
From:mistraltoes
Date:April 2nd, 2008 04:36 am (UTC)
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Yay, fic!

I've been thinking. Of course, the Fleinhardt joke is the high point of the fic ;-), but the next most smiley part is:

Like someone smashed a sledgehammer into my chest. He’s momentarily distracted by wondering if that really happened. It’s not out of the question.

Love that.

Anyway, it's all good. Just like watching the show, yeah.

Yay! ::shakes pompoms::
[User Picture]
From:dawnebeth
Date:April 2nd, 2008 08:16 pm (UTC)
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Just lovely. I really liked all the description of what he was seeing, blurry images and out of focus Megan sometimes overlaid with memories of Lancer and Dwayne.

Maybe this will give me the kick in the butt to write the missing scene I've had planned for Janus List! lol

Dawn
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:April 3rd, 2008 12:44 am (UTC)
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Thank you, Dawn! I'm so glad you enjoyed it--I had way too much fun writing still-drugged-up Colby. :-)

Maybe this will give me the kick in the butt to write the missing scene I've had planned for Janus List!

Yes, yes! Write that!
From:lyraskye14
Date:April 3rd, 2008 05:45 pm (UTC)
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Oh, my.....I was startled to see my name included in the dedication. Awwww, you're so sweet. Now you get to help me understand my reaction to this story, okay? It's a gorgeous story, beautifully written....and, in its essence, hopeful. Colby will be all right, physically and emotionally. So, why am I so sad?

Part of it is easy....this reinforces how much I will miss Megan. I love her brother/sister snarky stuff with Colby, the fact that she was the first to believe in him after Janus, that he had figured out what her DOJ assignment was and how much it had torn her up. It's hard for me to imagine how they will deal with her absence without killing her off....she seemed to have made the decision to stay with the FBI after the "only way things will get better" conversation with Colby....and there's Larry, of course. She can't just waltz off....and I'm a little apprehensive about what they're going to do.

But, mostly, it's about Colby. The thing is, I believe your characters. Always. Canon may change the events, as with Sua Sponte -- but the Sua Sponte Colby "was" Colby, through and through. In that situation, that's how he would have acted, what he would have felt and thought. No question.

I believe this Colby, too.....which complicates things for me, with my obsession with the Colby-Dwayne/brothers/betrayal/sacrifice stuff that I love (BTW, remember the Colby-Charlie, "It doesn't matter how scared you were" speech? Am I the only one who heard Dwayne saying those words to Colby in Afghanistan? Yeah, sure I am. *sigh*). We talked before about why Dwayne recruited Colby and that I couldn't imagine what Colby could have ever said or done to make Dwayne think that he would betray his country for money or obligation or anything else....and that opened the question of why did Dwayne approach Colby....and I had a whole theory about that. Shucks....I liked my theory.

This Colby, though, will never go there. And I believe him....the relief as the first reaction to Dwayne's death, out of that mess, no more having to put up with someone he can barely stomach.....and, already, that "how dare you?" attitude as a buffer. Yep, that's Colby. I had him all wrong. He'll never go where I want him to go, have the questions I want him to have -- that's just not who he is. So, I'm about to lose Megan and have lost "my" Colby -- because I totally believe yours.

Guess I answered my own question, huh? I know, I know, I'm weird. Ignore me.....except the "gorgeous story, beautifully written" part.
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:April 3rd, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)
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I was startled to see my name included in the dedication. Awwww, you're so sweet.

Well, given that I might not have had the motivation to finish this fic without your prodding and the excellent discussion we had about Colby and the whole Janus/Dwayne/spy thing, I figured I owed you some recognition. :-)

Although, I did need to write this story just for myself, too. After digging into the angst that Colby and Megan each went through over the Janus List thing, I wanted to show how they offered each other hope in the aftermath: Colby by proving that Megan was never wrong to trust him, Megan by being the first to accept him back fully.

So, why am I so sad?

Part of it is easy....this reinforces how much I will miss Megan.


Oh, goodness, yes. I'm having trouble even wrapping my brain around that piece of news. I don't see how they're going to write out that character, with her ties to the team and to Larry, etc, without either messing it up, or killing her off. But they've handled most big changes to this show by staying true to the characters, so I have my fingers crossed that they'll manage this one as well.

The thing is, I believe your characters. Always. Canon may change the events, as with Sua Sponte -- but the Sua Sponte Colby "was" Colby, through and through.

I kind of feel like I should apologize, here. *sheepish grin* Cause I do work at getting the character voices and reactions as close to canon as I may; but it's also true that my canon is not necessarily "actual" canon, and that personal thoughts about unspoken/unclarified backstory may radically differ between two viewers.

And I'm not sure that either view would be "incorrect."

For instance, it's possible (given canon) that your theory about Colby and Dwayne has a good deal of truth in it. It's even possible that Dwayne was something of a mentor to Colby in the Army--I tend to see them more as equals, buddies, but either one fits with what we were given on the show. (And actually, given the context of the war, I could see Dwayne giving Colby something of that "it doesn't matter how scared you were" speech. In fact, it would be way cool if someone would write that--if I had time, I'd give it a go myself.)

[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:April 3rd, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)

pt. 2 (dumb lj)

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I believe this Colby, too.....which complicates things for me, with my obsession with the Colby-Dwayne/brothers/betrayal/sacrifice stuff that I love

Aw, shucks. I don't know if this will help any, but: I'm not sure that Colby's revulsion is to Dwayne as much as it is to whole crappy situation. To being put in a place where he had to choose between his comrade and his country, his honor; to being put in a place where he was forced to live a lie to EVERYONE, and outright betray Dwayne more than once. Dwayne wasn't the cause of that, but I do think Colby sees him as the representative of it, a focal point he can be upset at.

And I also think that Dwayne's death is going to bother Colby for a very long time. He did underestimate Dwayne, whether his morals or his loyalty or just his flat-out bravery. We the viewers saw Dwayne acting like a spy, acting like a traitor, and we accepted that view. (I was pretty shocked by that last act of sacrifice.) Colby saw all that from the inside, spent years internalizing it so he would have the strength to cope with the personal betrayal he was committing on behalf of his country--and now he's faced with the fact that his view of Dwayne was incomplete, if not false. Now that Colby doesn't need that coping mechanism anymore, he can see the flaws in it (or he will be able to, once he recovers enough to face all of this emotional backlash).

Wow, look at me going on and on about stuff that's barely touched on in this fic. Heh.

Yep, that's Colby. I had him all wrong. He'll never go where I want him to go, have the questions I want him to have -- that's just not who he is.

Well, he won't go there at this point, anyway; he's too tired and drugged-out. *g* But I do think he'll have to go there a bit, later. When he's got enough strength to look at those ideas, when he no longer needs that "buffer" attitude.

Ignore me.....except the "gorgeous story, beautifully written" part.

I'll take that last bit, and thank you very much. I'm sorry this story saddened you, but glad that it struck you as true to the characters despite that.

And thank you, always, for reading and for commenting so honestly!
From:lyraskye14
Date:April 3rd, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC)

Re: pt. 2 (dumb lj)

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"I'm sorry this story saddened you"

Don't be. I love stories that make me think and feel and ponder....and yours always do!
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:April 27th, 2008 05:51 pm (UTC)

Re: pt. 2 (dumb lj)

(Link)
Yep, that's Colby. I had him all wrong. He'll never go where I want him to go, have the questions I want him to have -- that's just not who he is.

Well, he won't go there at this point, anyway; he's too tired and drugged-out. *g* But I do think he'll have to go there a bit, later. When he's got enough strength to look at those ideas, when he no longer needs that "buffer" attitude.


Um. Have you seen the latest episode yet? "End Game"? Because...I totally thought of you during the very last scene. *smooshes Colby* In my humble opinion, you just got possible canon confirmation for some of your take on Colby & Dwayne. *glee*
From:lyraskye14
Date:April 27th, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)

Re: pt. 2 (dumb lj)

(Link)
"Have you seen the latest episode yet? "End Game"?"

YES!!!!! As soon as Colby talked about guys coming back messed up in body and mind (bad paraphrase, 'cause I don't have the tape in front of me).....oh man, was I screaming. C'mon Colby -- figure it out!!! OK, so he didn't go that far (that's another episode.....or series, actually, if I had my way....or *ahem* beautiful fic from my favorite writer, maybe?).....but, oh, how I loved that last scene....especially that the picture was not just of the whole group, but that little snapshot of D&C tucked in the corner....the one where Megan said they looked like brothers. Ahhhh. *smooshes Colby right along with you*

BTW, totally off track, did you ever find out which episode of Criminal Minds was filming on your street?
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:April 28th, 2008 05:02 am (UTC)

Re: pt. 2 (dumb lj)

(Link)
C'mon Colby -- figure it out!!! OK, so he didn't go that far (that's another episode.....or series, actually, if I had my way....or *ahem* beautiful fic from my favorite writer, maybe?)

Mmmm, I think Colby did "figure it out," which is why he's okay with getting out those pictures at the end. It is too bad we didn't get to see or hear more of the process, but hey, yeah, that's what fic is for.

No promises, but I was in tears at the ending, and something I connect with like that often ends up inspiring story. :-)

did you ever find out which episode of Criminal Minds was filming on your street?

Oh! Yes; it has already aired, by now. Um. The one in Pittsburgh, with all the people supposedly committing suicide? (I'd have to look up the title of the ep; it aired back in early April.) There wasn't much footage of my street, unfortunately.
[User Picture]
From:astrogirl2
Date:December 22nd, 2008 04:20 am (UTC)
(Link)
Oh, this is great. Well written, excellent characterization, and a nice choice of missing scene to explore. Thanks for pointing me to this! I'm glad to be able to read it, finally.
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:December 22nd, 2008 07:34 am (UTC)
(Link)
Thank you! I'm pleased you enjoyed it--it took me a few months to get around to writing, but it came out well. The bond between Megan and Colby wasn't explored in-depth, but there was enough in canon (between his assignment and the one that gave her so much angst, colliding in this particular storyline) that I call this pretty much canon, too. :)
[User Picture]
From:lorientad
Date:July 12th, 2010 12:36 pm (UTC)
(Link)
it's beautifully written. i love it

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