Slow Turning Pain


AUTHOR: FigFan
EMAIL: FigFan2002@yahoo.com
CATEGORY: Angst/Romance with a side of fluff
RATING: PG-13. Abby swears a bit.
SPOILERS: Anything up to and including "A Thousand Cranes"
DISCLAIMER: Right. Not mine. Although I'd take em…
AUTHOR'S NOTES: "See, these two chicks, one in Indiana and one in Florida, decide they want a good Carter/Abby story that explains what happened after the end of A Thousand Cranes but also explains why Abby is wearing no ring. Wackiness through instant messages ensues for two weeks. Finally, they post something. Let's take a look."

In other words, this is actually a companion story with christyedna's fic of the same name. (I fully claim that I got this idea from the marvelous Lanie and IAS… imitation is the best form of flattery. :-D) So while both stories follow the same plot and have the same dialogue, reading both gives you the perspective from Abby AND Carter. It's like two for the price of one!

The title is from "Fall At Your Feet" by Neil Finn… which is like.. the ULTIMATE Carby song.

Much love to Ed, cause you're my partner in crime, babe. :)

Enjoy!

Feedback is a girl's best friend. FigFan2002@yahoo.com

SUMMARY: Post "A Thousand Cranes", companion to christyedna's "Slow Turning Pain"



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The whistling of the kettle mixes in with the ringing in my ears and I can't tell where one stops and the other begins.

Holy shit.

That's about the only thought I can form right now. Everything is swirling around so quickly…

He had-has a ring.

I can barely keep my thoughts straight. I won't lie. I told my mom that he didn't mean what he said on the roof, but at the same time I could barely suppress my smile.

Turning the kettle down to low I contemplate reaching in his coat pocket to glance at the ring again.

I think I should have been more shocked than I was when I found it.

He didn't mean what he said on the roof.

But something in my head knew what was coming next.

I was waiting for it at the restaurant. And nothing happened. So having the box fall out of his pocket…

I run through our conversation at dinner to try and find the turning point.

Everything he said was so genuine. So real. He's in the right place. I am too.

I'd love to know what's going on. I have an idea of where the ship started to sink, and I know it was my fault.

I turn the kettle off completely, I'm no longer in the mood for tea.

I stand outside the bathroom door and ask myself if I really want to do this. Maybe I should just wait until tomorrow, tomorrow when everything will go back to normal and we'll just pretend this never happened.

No.

I knock on the door gingerly, and when there's no answer, I carefully let myself in. A cloud of steam engulfs me, almost suffocating.

I pad quietly towards the sink, trying to make myself invisible. He knows I'm in here, but for some reason I can't bring myself to say anything quite yet. Maybe this wasn't the best idea. Maybe I'll just slip back out, out of the bathroom, out of the front door. He doesn't want to give his heart to me, he chickened out, so I should be allowed to chicken out now too.

"Abby?"

Too late.

I think quickly to try and cover for myself. "Uh, I just wanted to get some of this makeup off of me."

I stop and stand in front of the shower door as I wait for an answer. None comes.

I don't know how to break the ice. There are so many times when the silence between us says everything, but this isn't one of them.

So instead, I try to make some small talk.

"You were right, that soufflé was pretty good..." Somehow I manage to maintain an air of casualness.

I'm getting no answer from him, and I really don't know what to do. I want to just scream out that I found the ring and yes, I want to marry you and I have never ever doubted your love for me, but he won't believe it.

Besides, it's not totally true. Yes, I want to marry him. But never doubted his love? Constantly. Always unfounded concerns, but this is how my mind works.

I try to inject a little bit of humor, but like everything else tonight it falls flat. "Can we rent out restaurants every time we go out?"

More silence, but the water turns off and I'm hopeful. That flicker is extinguished with the force of a waterfall as he steps out of the shower, grabs a towel, and leaves the room without so much as looking at me.

I sigh and decide to let him be, if only for a few minutes.

Looking around the room, I spot two piles of clothes: His old Northwestern sweatshirt and shorts, and my pink pajamas. My first instinct is to pull the worn sweatshirt over my head, but I know better than that tonight. As much as I need him, I need myself as well. So I step into my own clothing and walk out.

He's perched on the edge of the bed, lost in thought. I stand halfway between the door and the bed, poised to make a run towards either. My mind is so torn, part just says to run away.... far away, to make everything easier.

But then he talks to me and my heart screams at to stay. "Did your mom get home okay?" He won't look at me, but I know it's at least a start. His voice is barely a whisper.

"Uh, she's stuck… there was a big snowstorm…"

He nods, and then moves to the nightstand and turns off the lamp. I catch his glance, trying to read what's going on.

"I have an early shift tomorrow…"

I nod slightly and watch him as he burrows himself under the covers.

I try not to be hurt. How many times has this been the other way around? The nights where he was giving everything to make sure I felt safe, and I turned the other direction?

There's nothing I can think of doing that would make this situation better, so I follow suit and crawl into bed next to him. We don't touch, but I can feel his warmth.

Sleep doesn't come.

I lie there staring at the ceiling, the shadows from the tree branches dancing patterns across the white surface.

If only I knew what he was thinking.

He doesn't want me to marry him. He deserves so much more than me. But at the same time, I don't think I could handle being without him. He told me that he wasn't going anywhere, and now I know I need to say the same things to him.

I just don't know if I can. My heart wants to scream these affirmations to the world, but my head always restrains me.

That's me, over analytical Abby.

His back is to me, but I know that he isn't asleep either. I turn slightly to look at the clock. It's been 15 minutes since the lights were turned off. 15 minutes of me drowning in my thoughts, my desires, and my worries.

I decide to make it stop.

I shut my eyes tightly and will my mind to form the words that have been yearning to come out since we walked in the door.

"I'm sorry."

I open my eyes and try to calm my breathing. The wind has picked up outside, and the tree branch shadows on the ceiling thrash around violently.

I wait for a response.

"What are you sorry for?"

Dammit, Carter. You know where I'm going with this. You've been able to read my mind so many times before, you know my thoughts, and you know every part of my being.

Apparently I haven't answered quickly enough, so he repeats his plea.

"Abby, what are you sorry for?"

I take a deep breath and wonder if this is the time to do it. The tone of his voice is scaring me. It's all scaring me. I never meant to hurt him this badly. I didn't know my words were capable of doing this much damage. I roll over more to face him, even though I know he won't turn and look at me, not yet.

"John-The ring... I-I found it. I was picking up your coat and it fell out of your pocket-" My voice shakes a little bit, but I'm determined to finish before he can cut me off with excuses. "I know you didn't plan things to go the way they did tonight, because if you had planned for it we wouldn't be lying here feeling like this."

The silence is deafening between us as I lie there and wait. I can see him visibly tense up and stiffen.

Tell me. Tell me what's going on. Why is this tearing you apart so much? I didn't say no. I didn't say no because you didn't ask.

His voice finally drifts back towards me. It's calm and carefully calculated, but I know in my heart it's just a façade. "Wouldn't be here feeling like what?"

"You feeling like my heart's not into this..."

Because it is. Every part of it is.

"...And me feeling like this evil thing because I hurt you so badly."

I will him to me silently. Please look at me. Please.

He finally does turn towards me and my world shatters. His expression is one of desolation.

Fuck you, Abby Lockhart.

I still have no read on what he's thinking. It's been so long, so long where he's been there unconditionally...loving me when I don't deserve to be loved. Taking care of me, forgiving me, showing me all the things I didn't think were possible in life.

Has it really come to the point where I've crossed the line one too many times?

I readjust the pillow behind me so I'm sitting up. I want to reach out to him. Take his hand, have some sort of physical contact. But I know better, and instead start fiddling with the edge of the sheet.

I start slowly. "I don't... I don't know how to do this. I'm not one to express things easily. But I love you. I love you more than I thought was possible. And it scares me. But as much as it scares me, it leaves me comforted too...."

I stop momentarily as the tears finally come. I pray that they're silent enough that he doesn't notice. "…and I've finally gotten to a point where I know you feel the same way. I believe it now. I really do."

I avoid his gaze once more and instead focus my attention on the pattern of the bedspread.

I don't wear my heart on my sleeve like he does. But I've told him now. I've told him I love him, not as many times as he's told me, but it does get said. And maybe not at the times when he's wanted to hear it, but it comes.

I don't know what emotion is tugging at my heart more, sadness or sheer confusion.

It is because I didn't take him seriously on the rooftop? It was the middle of a fight. It was the constant game we play, each of up one-upping the other. It was his move, and he said it to make me stay.

Well, it worked. Game, Set, Match: John Carter.

I would have taken him seriously at the restaurant. I knew it was coming, but it threw me for a loop anyways. A little more time and I would have gotten there. But he just stopped.

Like so many times tonight, his few words jolt me back to reality.

"Abby, if you felt that way, why didn't you say so?"

His question hits me like a ton of bricks. Why didn't I say so?

Because it scared me? Because I use my flippancy as a way out? Because I was sure it was all a dream and didn't want to get my hopes up?

The tears have stopped as quickly as they started, and I've noticed that Carter has relaxed, if only a little bit.

I start to form my reply, knowing full well that my answer might send him back into his frenzied state.

"You didn't ask me how I felt."

He opens his mouth to protest but I cut him off. Tonight is my night to talk.

"You asked me if I thought we were changing and growing. And yes. I did say that I thought people never really changed. Part of me really does believe that. I will always be Abby the alcoholic. Abby with the screwed up family. I can't change that, no matter how much I want to. But I have changed. If not, I wouldn't be here with you. I would have run away the first time I felt like you were trying to fix me. But I didn't. Change. It happened."

I sigh against the pillows and run through the day in my head once again... what else could have set him off?

My voice grows quiet. "Did Maggie tell you anything?"

I start to fiddle idly with the afghan next to me as I run through the worst case scenarios of what my mother could have told him.

I haven't really tried to quit smoking.

I drank more than just the tequila the other night.

The abortion.

"Maggie said a lot of things to me. Maggie all but tried to talk me out of this. I had to convince her that I know what I'm doing, that I know what I want."

I know what I want too. I want you. Always and forever. But… it's not the time. I'm ready, just not that ready.

"But I don't think your mother is the problem here. If you were feeling all of this when I was sitting there with that goddamned ring in my hand then why didn't you say something? Why would you say something like you did?"

For the first time tonight I hear the anger in his voice. And it traps me.

I feel like I'm under a huge weight. Even if I wanted to, there would be no way for me to get up right now.

Just tell the truth.

I close my eyes and vow my voice to have a rational quality to it. I'm not angry, but the last thing I want to do is make him feel like I am. If anything, I'm angry with myself.

"Why would I say something like that? I don't know. First thing that came to my head. I was fucking terrified. I didn't know you had a ring. I knew something was up though. I love you and want to be with you, but that doesn't give me a free pass to not be nervous when I know something big is about to happen!"

I take in a breath and grip the afghan tighter. I'm sorry I didn't tell you everything. I didn't lie to you. I promise I didn't lie to you.

"I slipped. I told the truth though. I feel like I'm in the right place now. I want this to stick."
I finally open my eyes and dare myself to glance in his direction.

He looks back and for a moment I believe it might have been better when we weren't able to see into each other's soul. His eyes are tired, hurting, and I just want to make it all better. I fucked this up, let me fix it. Or try to.

Say something. I'm tired of doing all the talking. Let me in.

I know in the back of my mind that he shouldn't. When have I let him in? Once, twice?

"I still don't know how much nerves had to do with you throwing me for that kind of loop, but I can live with it for now. Do you want to know what Maggie said to me?"

I nod more forcibly than I should. I know that my mother wasn't the problem tonight. It was me. But I'm in need of something tangible to make sense of right now.

"Maggie was telling me things in the car today- when I was driving her to the bus stop we got stuck in traffic…"

Here it comes.

"…and everything she said, I knew already. So I told her…I told her how I spend 23 hours a day wondering if we're going to work… with all the extra baggage we carry around…"

I involuntarily flinch and focus on my hands. I'm finally becoming comfortable with this. With us. I didn't lie when I said I thought I was in the right place now.

When did the roles switch?

"… but then there's that 24th hour. And I realize that I've spent the past 23 hours thinking about you. And everything makes sense, everything is worth it because I keep coming back to the fact that I love you. Ever since that night on the rooftop, Abby... I've been living in that 24th hour."

I look up now, and our eyes meet for a flicker of a second. And yet it's enough, and I feel the tears starting to come once again.

It's his turn to look down now, and he continues. "But then… tonight at dinner…"

His speech has melted any sort of resolve I may have had, but when he finally breaks down into tears I know I've officially hit rock bottom. I congratulate myself for making the one person who unconditionally loves me feel about as worthless as a sack of shit.

I can't take it anymore; I nearly dive to his side of the bed and wrap my arms around his chest. I let my own tears mix with his as I repeat my earlier sentiments. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..."

He doesn't respond; his arms remaining limp against his side.

Despite what efforts I'm making, I'm not doing anything to make him feel any better. I wish there was some way I could get through to him, some way I could convince him. Unfortunately there's no way to crawl into his chest and place a gentle kiss on his heart and tell it how sorry I am, so I'm going to have to try harder.

I thought I felt horrible before, but this... This is way worse. I'm sure that years from now, I'll die with the knowledge that I made John Carter cry, and it will break my heart even in the last moment of my life.

It's not so much the fact that I made him cry, but the fact that I made him cry because he truly believes that I don't love him as much as he loves me.

I control my tears enough to look up in his direction. Maybe if he can tell me...

I feel his feet against mine at the end of the bed and I make sure to stay very still. I don't want to lose this one thread of connection we have right now.

I whisper to him, half pleading, half dreading what the answer will be. "Tell me how to fix it..."

"You want to know how to fix it." It's more of a statement than a question. I can feel his chest moving up and down rhythmically, his heart pounding like he's just finished a marathon. "I don't know if it's something that can be fixed."

Fear creeps in as I hear his answer.

I don't know if it's something that can be fixed...

I virtually tune out the rest of his comments, my brain focuses on that dagger that has been plunged into my soul.

Is it something that can't be fixed, or is it something that he just doesn't have the energy to try and fix anymore?

Have I really gone this long without realizing this big gaping hole in our relationship?

I spent so much time telling myself that it wasn't going to work out that maybe he started telling himself that too. Hell. He did tell me he thought that.

I break contact with him for a moment and wipe the tears from my eyes. I let my hands linger there for a moment, rubbing as if it would release all the conflicting emotions residing in my body. I start to say something, but then realize where he's going with all of this. So many times I told him that I didn't need to be fixed, and like so many other things tonight, the roles have been switched.

I shouldn't try and fix him tonight. Slapping a band-aid on the situation won't do us much good.

I look him in the eyes and for the first time, I don't break contact as I speak.

I want to see everything.

"Whatever needs to be fixed- We'll work on it. And if it can't be changed, so be it. All I know is that this is where I want to be. Right here. Always."

No sooner than the words leave my mouth do I see his eyes close again. Carefully, I slide my hand up towards his and rest my fingers on his, but I don't look his way. I don't know if I want to see his eyes when he opens them.

I pray with every ounce of my being that he believes what I just told him. It's the truth.

I find myself squeezing his hand like it's the end of the world. He doesn't release my grip, but he's not responding either.

And then the question comes. "Do you really want to do this?"

My heart wants to scream phrases of affirmation at the top of its lungs without hesitation.

I wait for my mind to catch up with the usual contradictions and reasons why I shouldn't do this, why it's wrong, why it will end badly.

But this time they don't come. My heart and my mind agree, with only one provision.

Timing.

I cease my attack on his hand and reach up to gently cup his face. He tries to move away, but something stops him. His cheek is warm and tearstained, which sends another pinprick into my heart.

"Yes. I do. But I can't-"

His face moves away from my hand and I continue quickly before he gets the wrong idea.

"I can't right now. Timing, John. We've never had it, but it's always seemed to work in our favor. I just can't get married-be engaged now. I just sent Maggie back home, and Eric is still missing, but god, you have no idea how much I've wanted to scream yes since you asked me on the rooftop. I want to be with you forever, but I just don't think I'm ready to make it official yet."

I take a risk and quickly brush my lips against his.

"Please give me time. Time to show you how much I really do love you and want this."

I break contact, but I still can't look his way. Will he understand? That I'm giving him everything I have right now?

He slowly pulls the covers from him and gets out of bed.

My stomach leaps into my throat and I feel like my heart has been stomped on.

Oh my god.

It's over. I sit up and watch his form retreat into the kitchen.

I'm immobilized, my insides gone cold and my spirit dashed. I opened up my soul to him and it was still not enough.

Words are jumbled in my head and coherent thoughts are hard to come by, so I sit there, still as the night.

It was too late. He loved me, but I didn't. Not in the way he needed me to love him. It took too long. He gave me everything, and only now did I start giving back.

He comes back in, and confusion is added into my stew of despair. I've felt all of these things too many times tonight; I don't know how much more I can take. Why is he back?

In his hand is the blue velvet box I found in his pocket what feels like so many hours ago.

He must see the mixture of emotions dancing across my eyes because he immediately shakes his head.

"No. I'm not."

He sits down at the foot of the bed, and fingers the box gently, without opening it.

Reaching for my hand, he places the box in it and softly curls my fingers around it. The only words I hear from him are "When you're ready..."

I quickly focus again, and look up at him, waiting for more.

"And not a minute later. I don't care what kind of hell I have to go through to get to you, when you're ready, tell me, because I'm going to be excited from waiting for you." My eyes are filling with tears, it's something I've become accustom to while dealing with this man. I can barely feel his fingers rubbing against mine, but I know they're there.

I reach up to wipe tears away, but he catches my wrist and holds it tightly. I bite my lip and glance at him. He's smiling.

He moves close to me and whispers in my ear, "I thought we were done crying for the night…"

I try to laugh, but it comes out more like a sob.

And finally, he pulls me to him. I shift so every part of our bodies are touching, and bury my face in his neck. It feels like we've never touched each other before. I'm surrounded by him, and I know at this moment that I would give everything else up in my life to be able to capture this feeling forever.

I sniffle once more, and elicit a laugh from him. I giggle lightly, and tighten my grip around his neck.

He moves back and starts to softly brush my tears away with his thumb. "Abby, does this work for you?"

I pull his hand down from my cheek and take it in my free hand, while the other turns the velvet box over and over again.

The answer to his question is clear. There will be no flippant answers, no fear in my voice, just reassurance that this is where I want to be.

This isn't a fairy tale. I'm not going to open the box, put the ring on my finger and pretend like nothing ever happened.

I never liked fairy tales as a kid anyways.

I carefully place the box down on the bed and cup his face as I funnel all of my emotions into a single kiss. Every ounce of love, hope, joy and even those lingering doubts are now being shared between us.

I break away and smile.

"Yeah, it works fine."



Companion: Slow Turning Pain [Carter's POV]
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