Soft scrape of cloth against skin. He looks up with blurry eyes, catches the faint sensation of dark hair and darker eyes. "Gilly?" he gasps, her name strangling in his throat...half-whisper, half-cry.
The hand on his knee is too heavy to be hers...the fingers too thick...but the touch is gentle. "No, Ryan. It's me again."
Jake. Of course it's Jake. He's always here. Hovering. Waiting. Wanting. Wanting Gillian *back*. But he can't have her. He can't. She belongs to *him*. She always did and she always will.
He closes his eyes, banging his head against the wall...wondering if the fraction of pain is anything like what his wife felt when the bullet entered her brain. Did she hurt? Did she scream? Did she simply slump into Ilene's arms? Did she see the disappointment on the assassin's face as the bitch realized she'd shot the wrong woman? Did she wonder why he hadn't been there? Why he hadn't been the last thing she saw?
Because *he* wonders that. He can't stop.
He shouldn't have just dragged Ilene away from the turret. He should've gone in. He should've found his wife lying there, bleeding...awake. He should've gotten to her in time. It should be *her* chocolate brown eyes watching him right now. Not Jake Martin's. It should be her hand on him, comforting him, as they wait for news of their friend's surgery. And it shouldn't be her heart going into Laura's chest. Because her heart belongs to *him*. It always did and always will.
"I loved her, too, you know." The doctor's voice is low, broken. Not so smug anymore. Not so officious. "Everybody loved her. They couldn't help it."
He swallows hard, feeling the acidic sting of bile in the back of his throat. "I-I couldn't help it," he agrees, staring straight ahead. Maybe if he stares real hard at the opposing window, she'll appear there. And she'll wonder why he's sitting on the floor of this empty, sterile, room...why he and Jake are in here instead of out there with her and Leo and Brooke. *"You'd better not be fighting over me, Ryan. Because you won me, you know."*
Princess. Princess. Princess. Mrs. Gillian Andrassy Lavery. So foreign, so exotic...so familiar, so very his . Yes, he won her. He *won*...the best prize in the world. The best gift. She was never Jake's. Not really.
"Do you know that?" he asks, softly. "Do you know she always loved me best?" He doesn't care if the question hurts. It can't hurt half as much as he does right now...the numbness seeping under his skin, creeping into his bones.
The good Dr. Jake is silent for a minute. Maybe holding back what he really thinks. Maybe humoring the grieving husband of a lost patient. *Fuck him.* "Yeah, Ryan. I did," he says, finally. Quiet. Maybe honest, maybe not. "It was in her eyes every time someone said your name. In the way she held herself every time she thought I wasn't watching. She missed you. And she was never happier than when she got you back."
He drags his hand through his hair, feeling the short, awry strands of it scraping against his palm like a thousand tiny pins. "You mean it?" he wonders, stricken, turning to stare at the too-earnest face too close to his. "You *really* mean it?"
Something flickers deep in those eyes...in the lines of the serious mouth. He thinks it might be the memory of his wife...their wife, really. Maybe how she looked bathed in moonlight? Maybe the sound of her laugh? Maybe the vague brush of her lips in a 'good morning' kiss?
"Yeah," Jake murmurs, long eyelashes folding over, hiding the private vision but not the tears. His fingers skim up from Ryan's knee, flattening out over the ache in his heart, touching the place, that, beneath the clothes, belongs to Gillian. It always did and it always will. "Yeah, I mean it."
He feels the light fingertips through the thin pullover sweater he's had on for two days...feels them more than anything he's felt in hours. They're almost as gentle...almost...just like...he catches them, clutches them in his own and squeezes. They squeeze back, like *hers* didn't--couldn't--before the doctors wheeled her away. "Oh, God...oh, God...how am I supposed to live without her?" he demands, harshly. "How am I supposed to *live*?"
"It'll come...it'll come in time."
He ducks his head, stares into the abyss between his spread knees, at the floor somewhere down below. "H-how much time?"
He whips his gaze back up, feeling the hot, wet grief coursing down his cheeks yet again. "H-how about y-you? W-will you, Jake, huh? Will you heal?"
Unflinching pain. Stark anguish that mirrors his own. And an honest answer. "Yes." And, suddenly, there is a hand against his face, catching the tears, wiping them away. Jake's other hand...because he has turned fully here on the floor...moved into his space, his air. The doctor's knuckles gently stroke his cheek, perhaps the way they used to stroke Gillian's. "We'll both be okay, Ryan. Because she would want us to be. She would want us to survive...for *her*."
He chokes down a sob, shaking his head violently. "But it's so hard...it's just so hard..."
"I know..." And Jake is pulling him close, wrapping his fingers around the base of his neck and urging him to find rest on his broad shoulder. "I know...shhh...just let it go, Man. Let it go...let *her* go..."
"Oh God...Gilly...Gillian...Gillian...*Gilly*..." The agony overtakes him, the sobs overwhelm him. Raw and angry and frantic. "I-I can't...oh, God...oh, fucking Hell...Gillian.."
He buries his face in the curve of Jake's neck, ushers him between his legs and obliterates the distance between them. Jake rocks back on his heels, cradles him against his chest...solid, reassuring, whispering soft, soothing things that make no sense and too much sense. He is calm and warm and safe...so safe. This must be why Gilly married him, he thinks, awed by the lunacy of the realization. *This* is what the good doctor had that he didn't. Security. Strong, firm hands that stroke his hair and his neck and his back in rhythmic circles...yielding, brooding lips that form steady words and beautiful promises.
"It'll be okay, Ryan...I swear it'll be okay..."
Jake Martin is a good man.
A better man.
And his mouth tastes blessedly familiar. Sweet and warm and loving...exotic and passionate and sexy. *Princess*. *Gilly*. He feels her...he feels her deep inside, deep below the surface of the tanned skin and crumpled blue scrubs beneath his seeking fingers. Below the surface of the zealous, consuming, kisses he can't stop returning. Her memory, her life, her love. His memory, his life, his love.
All wrapped up together, intertwined in...
Jake. Of course it's Jake. He's always here. Hovering. Waiting. Wanting. Wanting Gillian *back*. But he can't have her. *They* can't. She's gone now. But they can have this. *This* belongs to them.
Maybe it always did... and maybe it always will.
He clutches it...he grasps it hard...and he holds on tight.
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