Every Other Time
The first time Courtney meets Duncan, they are sixteen and playing a game on an island for a considerable amount of money. She finds him nothing short of an unbearable, oafish ogre, but he probably thinks she's a control freak, so whatever. But really, the nerve of him suggesting that she should be voted off when she's clearly the most valuable asset, what with all her being a CIT and everything. So she got lucky with Ezekiel's sexist slip of the tongue, but Courtney makes a mental note to herself to bring up her training a couple more times in front of her teammates in order to really assert her worth.
Because even if he is sort of cute, in that rough bad-boy totally-not-her-type kind of way, Duncan has another thing coming if he's under the impression that he can get rid of her so easily.
The first time Duncan meets Courtney, they are fishy allies in a dodge ball war against their fuzzy island foes, and he's struck with the sudden realization that this prissy little princess, who was barely a blip on his radar a second ago, is kinda hot when she gets all up in your face. If their exchange is any indication, she can give as good as she gets, and Duncan likes that in a girl. At least, he's just decided that he does, seeing as how he's never actually encountered it before.
And from that moment on, he decides that he's gonna pay this crazy chick a little more attention. Because maybe, just maybe, she'll prove to be more interesting than your standard-issue Type A.
Of course, she ends up proving that and more by the time she's done with him.
The first time Duncan misses Courtney, she is sailing away on a boat and he's throwing a wooden skull of his affection after her retreating form. He's cringing as he stalks back to camp, both angry at himself for letting his emotions broadcast themselves on national television and whoever screwed with the votes. And although he's still wrestling with a generally pissy mood once he reaches his cabin, Duncan regains his cool by the time he's walked through the door. He'll miss Courtney, he tells himself as he casually greets Geoff and jumps into bed, but there are a million dollars to be won. And that goal is far more important than pining over some girl.
But as Duncan pulls the blankets around his muscular frame, he can't seem to get the faintly sweet smell of her hair out of his head.
The second time Courtney meets Duncan, he is text on a screen after two years without contact. Never has the word 'Hey' looked so threatening, so bloated with complexities and feelings she wants to ignore but simply can't.
She's been dreaming of this moment for weeks, months, even years (even though she'd never admit it aloud) – imagining all the ways she'd crush him with pointed and spiteful rejection whenever he decided to resurface. Ideally she'd have a boyfriend at this point, and she'd wave him in Duncan's face with an air of superiority, saying things like, "We really shouldn't be talking, it just wouldn't be fair to my relationship with (insert impressive and cultured name here, something like Gregory), because he and I are so very in love."
And even if she's not in the relationship she hoped for, there's something to be said for an indignant silence. Courtney often figured that the most powerful message might be no message at all. It is this course of action she resolutely decides upon after a few careful minutes of considering the terse text message that still lights up her tiny cell phone's screen. She flips the device closed with a definitive thwack, and places it defiantly on her kitchen counter. There are better things to do than converse with someone who hasn't bothered to pick up the phone and call in two long years. Things like watch television, or catch up on her homework.
Ten minutes later, she's back in her kitchen, flipping open her phone, and tapping out a reply.
"Hey, it's been a while. How've you been?"
The first time Courtney misses Duncan, it's her nineteenth birthday and she has chosen to blow off class for a cup of coffee. She's never missed a lecture before, and she's not entirely sure she feels comfortable enough to ever do it again, but something about a latte just seemed right this particular morning. She briefly considered inviting Duncan, but judging by the rambunctious previous night they shared and the state she left him in back at her dorm, he wouldn't be conscious any time soon. She knows he'll be leaving this evening and she should be trying to spend as much time with him as possible, but Courtney values her time alone as much as the time she shares.
Besides, they have the rest of the day to be together. One little coffee break when she's meant to be in class couldn't hurt.
Except…well, they're probably taking notes in class. Detailed notes. Extensive detailed notes. Notes that would probably be on the upcoming exam. What if the exam was made up of only the notes the class was taking today? Oh God, what if she were to fail the exam? She might as well just fail pre-law as a whole, then. It's not like she could ever get anywhere with anything less than a perfect on that exam. She really should rush into class. But if she went in now, the professor would view her as tardy. As in, not perfectly punctual. Which she clearly is. Except for today, because she's sitting here drinking a latte. What is wrong with her? Just because it's her birthday means that she's entitled to failing at becoming a successful and punctual lawyer? What kind of fool is she?
Courtney can practically hear Duncan's sharp, barking laughter in her head, then his smooth voice telling her to chill, because she's being ridiculous. She tries to focus on not hyperventilating, just for him.
Once she's finished off the latte and regulated her breathing somewhat, she decides to head back to her dorm room. Her class finished fifteen minutes prior, and there's really nothing she can do now except hope that Duncan's calm words can keep her from falling head first into the pit of a nervous breakdown.
The room, however, is empty upon her arrival. Where Duncan once laid unconscious on her bed only a small blue notebook remains, a bow stuck haphazardly on top. Curious, Courtney crosses the room and flips the notebook open with growing apprehension.
Your roommate woke me up ever so kindly this morning, informing me that she met you on your way out for coffee instead of class. I've gotta say, Princess, I'm impressed. Way to give the system the finger on the day that should belong to you alone. I totally approve, even if it meant that your roommate had the distinct pleasure of kicking me out. Now I've gotta break the bad news: I'm taking off early – the garage just got a flood of cars to fix up and the boss wants me in as soon as possible. I know I shoulda mentioned this last night when I got the text, but things got kinda…well, you know. Hot. Anyway, I wish I could've found you to wish you happy birthday in person, but there are about a million fucking coffee shops on this stupid college campus of yours, and you know I really need this cash. So I'm hitting the next bus back, but before I left, I figured I'd put an end to that little freak out I know you probably had while you should've been enjoying your latte. Happy birthday, Beautiful. Enjoy your present, cause it was a bitch for me to put together.
PS: There's a necklace for you on your desk, too. But I figured you'd appreciate these more.
The following pages are filled with rows and rows of neatly outlined and organized notes from the class period she just missed. Courtney finds herself somewhere in between fury at him for leaving so abruptly and complete adoration for how meticulously he took the notes, a task that must've positively killed him. Sure, the necklace is beautiful, but it's the notebook that Courtney clutches to her chest and causes her to release a noise that sounds dangerously close to a swoon.
The third time Courtney meets Duncan, his mildly amused tone is telling her not to get her panties in a bunch, because he's only about three minutes away. But that's just it, isn't it? He's only a few minutes away. A few hours away. A few cities away. And there's nothing mildly amusing about that. In fact, it's getting to drive her a little insane.
And she intends to tell him this. Soon. Really.
But he just looks so damn happy, hopping off his motorcycle and strolling over to meet her in front of the campus fountain with that trademark smirk plastered all over his face.
She has to tell him this. Soon. She and Bridgette talked about it. Long distance relationships limp by for a while, but always bite the dust in the end. And maybe it's time this one made its home in the ground.
Courtney's trying to keep up the casual catch-up conversation, but the way her hand is limp in his warm, firm grip sets off warning bells in his head, and she can just tell it's now or never. So it begins with the tears that she's been fighting so hard to quell, and it ends with the sweetest kiss she's ever known.
And even though she chose to end it, as he's walking away they both know his heart isn't the only one breaking.
The second time Duncan meets Courtney, he is twenty one, at a Total Drama Island five year reunion special filming, and spots her talking to an old friend across an expansive room and sneaks up with the intention of scaring the living crap out of her.
"Nice try, Duncan," she says smoothly, pivoting on him when he's just inches away.
He is taken aback by her awareness of his would-be attack. "How did you-"
"Mirror," Courtney cuts him off, hitching a thumb in the direction of their reflection on the wall. Bridgette, who's been standing next to Courtney for a while now, slips into the passing crowd of Beth, Lindsay, Cody, and LeShawna so she might avoid playing third wheel to her friends' awkward bicycle.
They smile hesitantly at each other, surrounded by cameras and old friends and foes alike, basking in the uncomfortable silence of a defunct relationship.
"Chris must be loving this," Duncan remarks, tugging at the hem of his shirt. He's not used to being unsure of his next move, and the eagerly approaching cameraman isn't doing anything to put his nerves at ease. Stupid Geoff for giving that stupid test the waters with her, maybe you guys can be friends motivational speech. Stupid Bridgette for stupidly encouraging her fiancé's stupidity. Stupid him for listening to all their stupid advice. Stupid cameras all up in their stupid faces.
"Yeah…" Courtney looks like she's trying to figure out how to say something important, and for once Duncan gives her the time to think. "Look, Duncan, about how things worked out…"
"No hard feelings, Princess," he responds easily, reciting what Geoff instructed him to say in the event that she decided to talk about the break up. "I totally understand."
"It's just that…I've graduated college now and…and the distance thing, well…" Courtney's stumbling over words in a way he's never seen before, and he's praying pretty damn hard for an atheist that she's not trying to say what he thinks she is. "It's just that I could maybe…relocate, I guess. And maybe the distance thing wouldn't be such a problem? Because…because I don't think I was really ready for our relationship to be over when we ended it."
The entire room seems to fall silent at her words, and the verbalization of Duncan's fears and the uneasy, self conscious expression on her usually steeled face is absolutely killing him. Though he can't admit it on national television, he wants like nothing else to not have to speak the words he knows he's obligated to say:
"Courtney, I have girlfriend."
The second time Duncan misses Courtney, it is her wedding day and he's so desperate to change her mind that he ends up climbing through her bedroom window to confront her about it.
"Don't do it." It feels like the hundredth time he's said this.
"I don't even know why you're here, or why you care so much about my life and what I do with it. Why don't you just go back to your girlfriend or something," she spits angrily, and a brief silence follows her outburst. Even she appears surprised by the spiteful nature of what she's just said.
"T…Tiffany?" Duncan finally splutters indignantly, spreading his arms out wide. "Are you kidding me? That was forever ago."
"And forever ago was when you chose her over me," Courtney continues, and Duncan briefly wonders if she's aware of how utterly irrational she sounds (not to mention how hot she looks with that wild-eyed expression), but apparently she's thrown logic to the wind as she stands before him with the silk of her wedding dress bunched up in her white-knuckled fists.
"I just don't think you're gonna be content with this guy," Duncan pleads, gritting his teeth, well aware that his intentions are anything but wholly altruistic. "I'm worried about you."
"Well don't be," Courtney snaps, stalking her way out of the room. "Carter is perfectly nice. He treats me well, and he's actually going somewhere in the world, unlike you." The door slams behind her, and he can hear her voice faintly yelling back at him him that he can see himself out whenever he deems necessary, because she'll be on her honeymoon for the next two weeks.
"You're making a mistake!" he calls after her, but if Courtney can hear him, she certainly isn't responding.
The third time Duncan meets Courtney, they're at one of Geoff and Bridgette's little house shindigs and finds himself utterly unable to avoid making eye contact with her, despite his best attempts. To his credit, she's looking pretty bashful herself, and a little less vivacious than when he lasts remembers seeing her in that admittedly flattering (okay, dead sexy) wedding dress.
"Hey," she says softly when he approaches, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear and biting her lip nervously. It's like the reunion all over again, with the addition of that wedding ring on her finger, weighted with a significance that he doesn't care to acknowledge.
"Hey yourself," he returns with a half hearted smile, crossing his arms in what he can already see Courtney analyzing as defensive.
"Duncan, you made it!"Geoff is suddenly sidling up to him with a huge, edgy grin plastered on his face just as Bridgette lopes over to Courtney's side and begins to drag her off to another part of the house, talking animatedly about the new curtains they just had installed. "Nice to have you here, bra!"
"Was that really necessary?" Duncan asks with an irate sigh as soon as the girls are completely out of earshot.
"Dude, you guys were like the Queen Mary. Crash and burn against an iceberg." The rare grimace Geoff is sporting is more of an indicator of the imminent disaster that their conversation could've been than his ignorant analogy.
"The Titanic, Geoff. The Titanic hit an iceberg."
"Yeah, that one."
The second time Courtney misses Duncan, she's been married for three years and is ready to blow her brains out if she has to listen to one more cubicle story. Her husband is quite proud of them, and that's all well and good, but there's really no need to bring all that mind-numbing boringness into their everyday conversation, is there?
But he's got a good job climbing the figurative corporate ladder, and he's home every night for dinner even if she's not, and he always saves her leftovers and sometimes surprises her with flowers. The sex is alright, nothing wild and raunchy but nothing to complain about either. He's the perfect husband, really, in every sense of the term. What more could she possibly ask for? Nothing, that's what.
Because imagine life otherwise? Life with, say, a prodigal bad boy who was always flirting with the line between right and wrong? Not to mention flirting with stupid whores named Tiffany who Courtney is sure is a perfectly lovely individual. At least, this is what she tries to convince herself of in between gnashed teeth and balled fists.
Courtney's husband asks her a question, and she gives an entirely unrelated answer. And when he inquires as to what's wrong, she attributes her lack of focus to a trying day at work and attempts not to think about a boy with messy, green-tinged black hair, enough piercings to set off a metal detector, and a smirk that positively melts her soul.
The fourth time Duncan meets Courtney, her picture is smiling back at him from her big, impressive law firm's online profile page. The words next to the image are describing her age (27), degree (Harvard Law) and accomplishments (a handful of successful high-profile cases) in the insipid tone of someone who was paid to do write-ups of people he didn't give much of a damn about, but all Duncan really cares about are the dull brown eyes staring back at him. There's no life there, no passion in her expression. Whatever used to drive her seems to have all but vanished from her pretty features, now strained with the endless parade of joyless years. The smile is forced, more of a tightened smirk, like Courtney was seconds away from snapping and beating the photographer senseless with his camera.
This comes as no surprise, but Duncan finds no solace in the familiarity, only an uncomfortable sadness.
His computer mouse locates the Employment and Internships tab of the law firm's website and he clicks it firmly. The image vanishes from the screen as a new page loads, but it lingers in his mind, both a fresh wave of nostalgia for their teenage past and an unpleasant reminder of the fractured present.
The fourth time Courtney meets Duncan, he's an anonymous voice on the phone, very pointedly ignoring her sharp inquiries regarding his identity, instead choosing to argue the logistics of inter-office romance.
"Sir, I insist that you inform me of your name and intentions immediately."
"My name is irrelevant and my intentions are to argue with you until you admit that I'm right."
"You're wasting my time."
"You're a lawyer. Aren't you paid to argue yourself hoarse?"
"Are you planning on paying me?"
"…Good point. Still, what's so bad about a little office flirtation?"
She can't resist the bait.
"What you're talking about isn't casual flirtation. It's sex and emotions and complications that get messy in the workplace." There's an unspoken you imbecile attached to the end of her explanation.
"It can light a fire under employees. If the sex is good, guys get ten times more productive."
"I assume you have statistical evidence to back this up."
"When's the last time you saw a pissy, uncooperative guy who's regularly getting a good lay?"
"…I'll give you that," Courtney concedes with a sigh. "But that doesn't change the fact that when things go south-"
"Why do you assume things will go south?"
"Because they always go south," she snaps harshly, before she can even register that the words have left her mouth.
"I assume you have some statistical evidence to back this up?" The male tone on the line is mocking her. Vague familiarity buzzes at the base of her skull.
"No, just…" Courtney can't find the words to defend her point any longer, and she's running out of reasons to continue the conversation with this anonymous individual who's seeming more impossibly recognizable by the second. "Ugh, you are a terribly frustrating individual." She can't remember the last time she was this flustered.
"Now tell me you're not all hot and bothered for me right now, Princess."
"I most certainly am no-" the nickname hits her like a pile of bricks to the head. "…Duncan?"
She can hear his faint laughter just before the deafening click.
The third time Duncan misses Courtney, she's close enough for him to reach forward and touch her, but far enough that he can keep himself from acting on said ability. Regardless of this fact, he's extremely pleased with what he sees: the vigor in her voice is unmistakable, her stature predatory as she plants both palms firmly on the desk in front of her and leans forward, narrowing her eyes into a vicious glare in the direction of the witness. This is the Courtney he remembers; forceful and controlling and terrifying and sexy all at once. Not a hint of the profile picture's dejection and gloom in her body. She's simply alive in every form of the word, and her presence fills every inch of the crowded courtroom.
Clearly, Duncan is not the only one who knows that Courtney can put on quite a show.
She's sauntering forward now, tearing into the witness with her aggressive line of questioning and leaving the poor man at a loss for what used to be his alibi before Courtney stood up and ripped it to shreds before his very eyes. Ever one for theatrics, the brunette wheels suddenly on her captive audience and poses a question to them, something related to the case and the utter impossibility of her witness' original statement, as though his stuttering isn't proof enough that she's nailed him. And despite every instinct in his body telling him to floor his gaze immediately, Duncan's eyes stay level, watching her every move. And when her inquisitive stare sweeps the room for support, it halts very suddenly in his direction, her majestic dialogue hitching, if only for a moment, from recognition. Her cheeks flush, but she stubbornly turns back toward the judge and continues her very public massacre of the witness.
Duncan takes this opportunity to bolt for the door, any questions he had completely satisfied by Courtney's most recent performance.
The fifth time Courtney meets Duncan, she makes a point to drag him into an empty courtroom for appropriate cornering despite the pressing matter of the documents she has in hand. She always feels more commanding in a courtroom.
"What, are you stalking me now or something?"
"Not even a hello?" Duncan shakes his head and smirks. He certainly hasn't changed a bit. "Where have your manners gone, Sunshine? You'd think married life would've tamed you." He visibly regrets the sting as soon as he voices it.
"Manners? You think this is about manners?" Courtney tries to keep her fuming to a minimum because she knows it only encourages him, but she's finding it hard to swallow. "First that completely random and unnecessary phone call-"
"Which you enjoyed. When was the last time you remember being challenged like that outside of court?"
"And then following me into last week's trial-"
"What can I say? You're kind of a courthouse celebrity."
"-like I wouldn't recognize you without that green hair of yours, and suddenly you show up on the firm's list of new lawyers-"
"Pretty sure I've been there for a while, and you're just too busy to ever peruse office documents on a regular basis…"
"Would you just shut up?" Courtney's been ticking off offenses on her fingers but now she's all but given up, throwing her hands up to the air in the universal sign of frustration. "I don't even know what to do with you. What the hell do you even want from me?"
Duncan seems to have an immediate answer on the tip of his tongue, but a moment's contemplation prevents him from saying it. Instead, he takes a step back and perches on the edge of the defense attorney's table and considers her for a full minute before speaking again.
"No I'm not," Courtney retorts automatically, but she can hear exactly how rehearsed the words sound as they escape her.
"At first I thought it was because you'd ended up being a boring lawyer type-"
"There is nothing boring about being a lawyer!" Courtney quickly exclaims, and it's clear that there's conviction behind her outburst.
"I know, Princess. I realized that as soon as I saw you in that trial last week." Duncan shakes his head. "Being in the courtroom is the only thing that makes you feel alive anymore, right? It's like your lifeblood these days. The rest is all just…background noise, yeah? Your home life, your husband-"
"My husband, as I've told you a thousand times before, is-"
"'A nice guy,'" Duncan quotes flatly, rolling his eyes. "Right. But what the hell else is he, Courtney?" The use of her real name shocks Courtney into silence, and suddenly he's up and off the defense's table and has her leaning back on the prosecutor's table because he's drawn so close. His voice adopts a sharp falsetto as he mocks her. "Oh, he's secure, Duncan. And sweet. And so nice." His laugh is not a pleasant one. "So Goddamn nice."
"And what the FUCK is wrong with nice and secure and sweet, Duncan Fletcher?" The severity of the curse causes him pause, but no halt.
"Because you're bored, Courtney! Because there's no challenge in your relationship with him. No fight, no spark. And whether you want to admit it to me or not, the monotony is suffocating you. The complacency of it all is driving you batshit insane." Somewhere in the midst of all this yelling, he's managed to pin his entire body against hers, the prosecutor's table behind her the only stability she has, his face mere inches away from hers. They're both breathing so heavily, and they're just so damn close that it's almost impossible not to notice the fire in Courtney's eyes and the surprised smile that's fighting its way onto her face. She seems to remember what it's like to have someone yell back, and the desire, the need for consistent confrontation is visibly overwhelming her.
He wants her. But more importantly, she wants him. He knows it and she knows it and his body pressed up on hers is making it exceptionally clear that he's not letting her go, not again. It's becoming clear that this is one argument that she simply cannot win. And maybe it's not true love. Perhaps it's not now and forever. But she's had quite enough of holy matrimony and anything resembling it, thank you very much. It's not like any of that shit's gotten her very far over the past few years anyway. Yeah, some would call it settling for imperfection, but eternal bliss be damned, imperfection is hot.
And with a throaty, primal growl that lights a deliciously lecherous fire in Duncan's already greedy eyes, Courtney tosses the file she's been holding carelessly behind her, the loose-leaf pages fanning out across the prosecutor's table, then gathers the front of his shirt in both fists and pulls him to her, greeting his lips with a heated kiss they've both been yearning for longer than either is willing to admit aloud.
They proceed to have sex on top of Courtney's divorce papers, and neither can remember being happier in a long, long time.
The fifth time Duncan meets Courtney, they're staring each other down from across a packed courtroom. Proceedings have yet to begin, but the tension is palpable. Quite a crowd has gathered behind them – the legendary Courtney Nevarez going head to head against the new hotshot defense attorney Duncan Fletcher is not a show to be missed. With the minutes before court is called to order ticking away faster than Duncan is altogether comfortable with, his girlfriend approaches with a challenging smirk twitching at the corners of her lips.
"So the ex-con becomes a defense lawyer to defend his fellow Neanderthal," she remarks, drawing ever closer. "It's almost poetic."
"Glad you approve, darling," Duncan responds with an easy smirk of his own, utilizing the pet name he knows will irk her. "Just don't expect me to go easy on you because we're fucking now."
Courtney regards him with a harsh glare, and he shrugs it off uncaringly. Anyone who can't tell they're together at this point is far too oblivious to have overheard his admittedly loud and public comment. After a moment's pause, seemingly to appraise their surroundings, Courtney finds it appropriate to lean into Duncan and let her fingers dance lightly over the waistband of his suit pants, exhaling hotly on his neck and smiling when she feels his breath hitch at her touch.
"After the way you tortured me last night, expect to be filleted and roasted in front of the judge, jury, and audience, darling." With those parting words, Courtney releases him, spins on her pointed stiletto heel (oh God, her legs in those things), and marches back to her side of the courtroom.
Duncan struggles to suppress the shudder that crawls up his spine as she retreats, turning rigidly to occupy himself with his pre-trial notes in hopes of preparing himself for what is sure to become one of the most demanding and difficult fights of his life against a woman he might just love.
Surely one of many more to come.
He's certainly looking forward to it.
I absolutely love some parts of this, and loathe others with the fire of a thousand suns. But it's done, and I think that's what counts right now.