Longing for the Light
That was my first clue that something was really wrong, when I came by to drop off the CDs I'd borrowed a few weeks ago. Wally is not, by nature, a neat-freak, and while Linda is more organized than he is, she's too busy to put much effort into housecleaning. So the place is only this meticulously neat when Wally is going stir-crazy and isn't working it off in the costume for some reason. Sometimes he just wants a break, but more often it means something is wrong.
When I found him in the dining room, sprawled half-conscious in a chair, it was immediately obvious that this was one of those times. The empty bottles scattered around him and the heavy smell of alcohol in the room gave silent evidence that the clean-up routine had long since been abandoned for a more conventional form of escape. Wally's superspeed metabolism processes alcohol a lot faster than the rest of us; he has to really work at it to get and stay drunk. Apparently, he'd been making the effort.
"*Wally*?" The word was almost yanked out of me; I'd *never* seen him like this before.
He jerked up at the sound of his name, a flash of hope flickering and dying in alcohol-clouded green eyes as recognition set in. "Donna." He thought about that for a moment, then conscientiously added "Hi."
I let out a long breath. I could only think of one thing that would put him in this condition. "Wally? Where's Linda?"
His hands blurred on the glass and the bottle, and when I could see them again both were empty. Yup, got it in one. "Gone. Gone away and not coming back..." The words were slurred, almost singsong, but that didn't lessen the near-visible weight of misery in them. Oh, please let him not mean... "She left me a note," he added, and I relaxed. All right, bad, but not *that* bad.
Keeping my voice gentle, I asked, "Did you havea fight?"
He laughed, and I flinched at the ragged edge to it. "No. No. You have to be there, to have a fight. And I'm never there. Flash. Always Flash." He looked up at me miserably. "Said we had to talk. I said later, ran out..."
I winced. Wally is one of my oldest friends, and I love him dearly, but he has an unfortunate tendency to shoot himself in the foot whenever anything resembling an emotion is involved.
"And then..." He waved vaguely at the room, and probably by extension, the empty house. There was another alcoholic blur of motion, and he slumped further onto the table.
"You didn't go looking for her?" That didn't sound like Wally.
"Asked m' not to," he mumbled. Ah. Yeah, that would do it if anything would. No wonder he'd been going out of his mind.
But this was a problem for the morning. Right then, I had a drunken friend who was about ready to pass out; I figured it was best if I got him to bed and let him sleep it off. I got him up out of the chair with minimal resistance, although I had to hang onto him tightly to keep him upright.
"Wha'r you doing, Donna...?"
"Putting you to bed."
He thought about that. "'M not sleepy."
I rolled my eyes and brought out the firm tone I use on Lian and...on Lian. "Do it anyway. Trust me, you'll thank me in the morning."
He subsided, and I steered him awkwardly towards the bedroom--not that he's too heavy for me, of course, but he's a tall, lanky armful, and as out of it as he was, he wasn't being any help. He seemed to rouse a bit when we bumped into the doorframe, though, sudden awareness coming into his eyes, and we maneuvered the final few feet more easily. Only then...
I hadn't given any thought to holding him, to the feel of his body against mine--he was just Wally, just my friend who needed help. But suddenly, without my quite knowing how it'd happened, he had both arms wrapped around me, and his face was next to mine, and then he was kissing me--
No, that's not right. *We* were kissing. For a moment I forgot that we were old friends, forgot all the reasons why we shouldn't do this, and just...kissed him back.
It was only for a moment. Really. I came to my senses and pulled gently away, careful not to unbalance him--he blinked mournfully at me, and for a crazy instant I wanted to wipe that disappointed look off his face. But no. "Go to bed, Wally," I murmured. He sighed in acquiescence as I helped him into bed, tucking him in with the skill of a veteran mother. He was out like a light, of course, but...not quite immediately. Not before one last wistful breath of sound had escaped his lips.
Did he know who he was kissing? Did he just see a dark-haired woman and let alcohol and desire blur my face into the one he wanted to see? Probably.
But that's not the problem. Not really. He was drunk, he was hurting, I was there--he reached out for a little comfort... Am I going to condemn one of my oldest friends for that? I don't think so.
The problem isn't that he kissed me. It's that I kissed him *back*.
I could tell you that he took me by surprise. That it's been too damn long since I did anything but look. I could even tell you what a great kisser he is. And that would all be true. But it wouldn't really explain the moment I stood there, just drinking in the warmth and the passion of it...
It *was* a great kiss; intense and thorough and desperately sweet. All that passion, all that focus, all that energy--all directed right at me. Like sun-bathing on a cloudless August day, leaving your whole body drenched in the warmth... It was the kind of kiss someone gives you when there's nothing and no one in the world for them but you.
And I can't stop myself from wishing I'd been the one it was meant for.
I remember what it was like, you know. My memories may be sketchy and disconnected, but some of the flashes are almost painfully clear. Terry on our wedding day--awe and joy and disbelief all mixed together. And after, that frank unconcealed desire, flavored with the laughter I always seem to remember in him... Worried looks he thought he didn't see, when I was off on some insanely dangerous Titans mission--the silent tears in his eyes when I came back to him after Brother Blood. Waking up in the still of the night, wrapped in his sleeping embrace, feeling the beat of his heart, the steady rhythm of his breathing against my skin--so warm, so deeply content I almost couldn't bear it...
I miss it. I miss *him*.
I'm not sure how it all went bad. I don't think I ever was sure, even before I was taken apart and put back together like a jigsaw puzzle with too many pieces missing. Maybe we could have fixed it. Maybe, if we'd had time. But we didn't.
I'll never know, now. Never see his smile again, never feel the touch of his hand. Never know what Jen and Bobby would have--
I don't want to think about that. Please, I don't want to think about that...
I should get to bed soon myself--the couch in the living room folds out for visitors. Wally's going to feel like hell in the morning, and I should be there to get him breakfast and aspirin and a little sympathy. And after that, well, I'll make some calls--nobody asked *me* not to look for Linda. Maybe she'll listen to me--I'm supposed to be good at that, after all. And if there's anything at all I can do to make this better, to get rid of that look of misery on my friend's face--I'll do it. Love's too precious to waste.
But for now...I'm going to sit here in the kitchen, just for a while, and remember that kiss.