In the middle of editing something else entirely, this came to me (even my subconscious endorses procrastination). Kind of two bigger ideas being lightly skimmed over together in one go. May go into them further, one day. A little OC, but then, it is make-believe. Thoughts? Would really like to know.
"I think the problem is that you spoil me," he told her.
"Spoil you?" She looked at him incredulously. "Artemis, how do I spoil you?"
"You give me too many chances. Every time I do something you dislike, you forgive me. If I knew that I had only one chance left, and that that was all there would ever be again, do you think I would be foolish enough to waste it?"
She looked at him for a long moment. "Sometimes," she said, "yes, I think you would be. And if you didn't waste that one last chance to prove yourself to me, if you made it over that final hurdle, what would happen the next time?"
"What do you mean? That would be the last time."
She laughed bitterly. "'That's the problem here: there is no last time with you, Artemis. There will always be another time when something comes up and you just need to do this one thing and ..."
"But only because I know that no matter how many times I make the wrong choice, you will always take me back. That's what I meant. Don't you see? If you didn't forgive me, I would learn my lesson."
"You'd learn it too late, you mean! If I didn't forgive you, there would be nothing left. You'd learn your lesson once you'd already failed the exam. Where's point in that?"
He seemed taken aback by her ferocity but still spoke matter of factly, which didn't help. "Holly, if I came to you and swore that was the last time. If I swore I'd never lie to you again or steal so much as a nickel, you would take me back."
She looked at him, stony-face. "Would I, Artemis? Do you think I'd believe you? Haven't you already promised me never again? And if you haven't, you bloody well should have."
But she was warming to her topic. "This is just like you, Artemis. I offer you my friendship, my trust, again and again and again. And, instead of respecting me for it, instead of appreciating what it costs me and treating me kindly, you use it as an excuse to do what you want. Bloody brilliant."
"And if I learnt my lesson," he spoke softly, "if I learnt my lesson too late and you walked away, would you miss me?"
"Why the hell do you think I never walk away, you idiot?" There was nothing soft in her voice.
"Do you regret me? Regret letting me in at all?"
Her hand cut through the air in a silent denial. Turning away from him, she pressed her lips together so tightly they disappeared. Face pinched, she looked up at the ceiling.
Her hand made a vague, incomplete gesture as though she would've pushed him away had been any closer. Still looking away from him, she sat down on the couch, crossing her legs beneath her.
"No!" she said at last, and the word shot out of her, so long held in. "I could never ... I wish I could though! I'd walk away and never look back! Frond, I wish- I wish-" she hiccupped, and he was horrified to see something on her cheek catch the light before she swiped at her face and hair. Her right knee jiggled uncontrollably. "I'm not made for pain, Artemis, I'm not. I'm a happy person by nature, but you ... you don't make it easy. Just what is it going to take for you to learn your lesson? Because I haven't got much more left to give."
He swallowed. She looked up at him and he could see that she really had been crying. He closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them she was still watching him, still waiting for him to answer.
He came and sat on the floor before her and, hesitantly, reached forward, putting his hands on her wrists. "If this were another time, what would we be, Holly? How would this story go?"
She gave a half-laugh, half-sigh and smiled down at him like an exasperated mother. "Another time, Artemis?"
"Mm hmm." He was on his knees, looking up at her.
She brushed hair from his eyes. "We'd ... we'd be different. I'd be younger. You'd not have lied. I'd have kissed you on the bonnet of that car because you'd have told me that this time and this place, they weren't so bad."
"Would we have been lovers?"
She smiled in full then. "Probably. Who else would there be? Mulch would make fun of us for years to come. But really, we are all we'd have."
"And when I grew old? When I died, what would you do?"
"You wouldn't have grown old. In this place we'd be the same. We'd live above ground, so I could fly."
"Would everyone live together?"
"Yes. That's it. And your father would never have got lost and your mother would never have gone crazy and Butler would never have died and then grown old."
"You would never have died." He took hold of the hand that still lingered above his cheek and held it there.
"No. And you wouldn't have been mind-wiped because you'd never been a threat."
"How did we meet then, I wonder?"
"In a grocery line."
"Not hardly, we didn't. I refuse to buy my own groceries."
She threw her head back and laughed. "Through Juliet then. She and I, we'd go to the same gym. She'd bring me home and you'd be smitten at the sight of me."
"Oh, would I now?"
"Yes, because I'm the prettiest thing you've ever had the privilege to look at."
"Would I still have your eye? I should like to."
"Of course. Want a couple fingers as well, just for good measure?"
"I think I'd look a little odd with seven white fingers and three brown ones."
"Maybe just a little."
"Will we live here, or in town, or somewhere else entirely?"
"In Ireland, I think. I love it here. And everything will be green all year round for us. And our children will never know what loss is."
"What will we call them?"
"Julius. Except no, no he's not dead either. There's no such thing as Opal. Oh, I don't know, what about Clare? Or Finn, I've always liked the name Finn."
"And you'll stay with me?"
"Of course. I can't do without you."
"I suppose I'll have to try and learn my lesson sooner rather than later then," he said, "for I should hate to be in such a world without you."
She blinked and the spell was broken. "Artemis, it was just a-"
"Don't, Holly." He took the hand he still held in his and brought it down to his lips. "Don't say that."
"It isn't rea-"
"Shh." And against her skin he murmured, "I can at least wish it was."