Remains of the Day
The half-flippant, half-apologetic words - though I wondered if the apology were for me, or for Audrey, who had apparently stood Duke up - echoed through my mind for long after he had spoken them.
'I probably would have done it anyway.'
I'd already admitted, at least to myself, how much it had hurt, just . . . not being a couple anymore. Somehow I hadn't expected it - at least not to such a deep extent. I almost laughed, though there was no humour in the thought.
Our post-relationship sniping had come naturally, of course - it always had, even when we were together. It had never been so unrepentantly cruel before, though - and we'd had the fallback of lying in bed together at the end of the day, or even in midafternoon, to erase any bitterness with the casual, comfortable warmth that had always lingered between us.
I found my mind wandering, despite my determined attempt not to think about it . . . to the desperate question of whether Duke would have made the same choice when we were trying to be a proper . . . 'us'. I didn't think he would have, but…
How could I know? I snorted quietly, trying to focus on driving. Exactly why I shouldn't allow my mind to follow that particular path of reasoning - of wondering.
Duke's unrelieved sniping at me made me feel only marginally better as I forced myself to keep the façade going - god, I didn't even know why we started it.
I wasn't surprised that Audrey hadn't found out about our history together, even though we hadn't done anything in particular to try and hide it.
No one in Haven was ever really that comfortable with us when we were together - probably the fighting, good natured as it had always . . . well, usually been - and now that we weren't, no one was talking about it - about us - at all, save for our 'legendary animosity', as far as I could tell.
I couldn't figure out if they were simply trying to pretend we never had been together, or realising - much as we, or I, at least, had done - just how much worse it was now that we had broken up.
As intense as it was, as everything was, the day seemed to pass by me incredibly swiftly, in a confusing mass - everything merging into a single, drawn-out blur and leaving me to snatch at only a few clear images.
Duke sharing his fear of dying alone, and me reassuring him that he wasn't going to die - not until he was killed, personally, by me. His quiet, pained laugh, still familiar to me despite how long it had been since I had heard it, and the changes this day had wrought in his voice.
Duke nearly dying under my hands, and the tight pull, deep in my chest, to tell him the truth . . . even as I realised that my throat was too tight to speak any more, and that he probably wouldn't hear me even if I could.
Cooing briefly over Jean, instantly recognising a few, tiny parts of her that reflected Duke - but with the lingering, depressing thought in the back of my mind that Duke would never get to be even this close to his own daughter. Then the bright spot of pain as I remembered - I knew I would never have children. Audrey's teasing about my changed behaviour around little ones didn't help with anything - in fact, it made me feel worse - but I couldn't bring myself to explain why, though I knew she would stop if I did.
The moment of supporting Duke, when he had finally admitted, if only through the body language I was still so adept at reading, that he needed the assistance. It was the closest I'd been to the man I still loved since we broke up - save the violent incident when I had been under the influence of that dangerous, insanity-triggering melody.
The incredibly odd realisation that the woman I had known for most of my life was . . . well, a part of her, was responsible for the deaths of several men - including one we'd gone to high school with.
Nathan knew that Audrey would have decided to tell Duke the truth about Jean, even though he couldn't remember much of the previous day. There was a niggling thought that maybe it should stay that way - wouldn't it really be kinder to allow Duke that ignorance? At least on the existence of his daughter, as he could never, ever see her?
Still, Nathan couldn't keep himself from going to the Gull, just to reassure himself that Duke was really all right. That he'd recovered fully, even if they hadn't - even if there were parts of Nathan's own mind - and Duke's, he was sure - that might never recover from that day.
When Duke came to the window, looking distraught - at least to someone who knew him well enough to read past the façade - Nathan froze in place, meeting his gaze squarely.
Duke half-smiled at him, and Nathan felt the shimmer and warmth of a familiar feeling building in the pit of his stomach, and he quirked a small smile. Duke returned it with a somewhat wavery version of his own, wide, practically trademarked grin, and they stood, separated by a mere thirty feet and a thin pane of glass, eyes locked.
The pause stretched out for long moments, only half-comfortably, and then Duke flicked the curtain shut, and Nathan turned around and headed back to his truck.
Maybe things weren't quite as irredeemably awful as they had seemed before - as both of them had thought they were.
Maybe there was a chance of salvaging something of their previous intimacy. Of them.