AN: I started this story about three months ago, working on it whenever I had a free moment, or when I needed a break from my longer stories. Then, as Christmas approached this year, I decided it needed to be a big "thank you, love you" present for both comewhatmay and The Very Last Valkryie. So, this 17,000+ word beast is going to be split into three chapters, one posted each day until Christmas.
Lyrics are from "Same Changes" by The Weepies.
This story takes place about five-sixish years after the Season 3 finale, but disregards everything that has happened in S4. I consider it my magnum opus of evidence that Nate/Jenny should happen, and that YES, Jenny should have been (and could have been) redeemed after her S3 epic fail.
Arms around my body;
kisses on my skin.
I walk away, I walk away,
but he lingers.
In the beginning, back before his world had splintered apart, Nathaniel Archibald had had a very specific dream.
Before his dad had become a cokehead and an embezzler and had left the country, and then returned, only to be sent to jail.
Before he'd been secretly in love with his girlfriend's best friend, before he'd slept with her, only to find out that she'd left town the next morning, leaving him to a year of misery and numbness and doubt.
Before said best friend had returned to town, and he'd had to tell the truth to his girlfriend.
Before his girlfriend had decided an eye for an eye wasn't merely an ancient cliché, and had slept with his best friend. Before his ex-girlfriend had fallen in love with his best friend and they'd torn apart anything left standing , all for their all-encompassing love and equally all-encompassing hatred for one another.
Before all that, Nate Archibald had had a dream. Go to California—to USC, to Stanford, to Berkeley, just somewhere that wasn't on the East Coast; somewhere his grandfather's influence couldn't reach—and try to discover the part of himself that had never belonged in the Upper East Side.
In the wreck of who he'd believed was his true love, he'd tried the cure that Chuck had always sworn by: women, women, and more women. But it only took a few weeks before Nate realized that it hadn't ever been a cure. Chuck had been lying. It didn't make you feel any better to lie in the arms of a woman you didn't love. That you didn't even know. It didn't make you feel any less alone; it made you feel more alone.
But he couldn't call Chuck and tell him that he'd been wrong because Chuck was gone, in Europe somewhere, and wouldn't return his calls or his texts.
Serena had left too, not for good, but for long enough—long enough for him to know that she'd probably never loved him. But then, had Serena ever really loved anyone except for herself? Worst of all, she'd taken Blair with her, ostensibly so Blair could recover from the latest meltdown with Chuck, but Nate knew better. Nate knew Serena better. She'd taken Blair for her own comfort after the breakup—fuck his own ability to repair himself.
Blair, despite being the person who could have torn him apart, had instead become one of his best friends. Though it had been odd at first, they'd learned to resurrect the one part of their relationship that had ever worked—their friendship—and he'd missed it. He'd missed her. Not the same way he'd missed Serena, but whatever it was, he still felt left. Empty. Lonely. Alone.
Nate did the only thing left to him, the one thing he hadn't done before because he'd been too scared to leave the comforting environs of the Upper East Side behind. But now there was nothing left for him, nothing to feel bad about leaving because he'd already been left first.
So he left too.
He packed his bags and flew across the country and enrolled at the University of Southern California. Under the bright sun, things became alarmingly simple. Nate kept waiting for the complexity, for the Machiavellian manipulations, the backstabbing and the blackmailing to start. It never did, and gradually, Nate began to relax, to smile again. To not think about Serena every time he saw a tall blond girl walking down the street.
He graduated from USC and without his grandfather's influence got a job in politics, and he discovered, away from the brilliant, twisted minds of Chuck and Blair, he could be pretty smart. Not as smart as them—or as perverse, he'd think with a smirk—but he was good at what he did, and even better, he enjoyed it.
Time marched on, and though he went home once or twice a year, he felt removed almost completely from that lost, aching, numb boy who'd sat through all those Upper East Side cocktail parties—waiting for his best friend to supply him with some drug that would miraculously make all this tolerable; waiting for a girl with a forced smile and too straight posture; waiting for her blond best friend to finally come home.
Chuck would call, because even though they lived on opposite ends of the country, Chuck was the kind of guy who would call even if you were on a different planet. Sometimes Nate thought he called just to complain about Blair and Nate always rolled his eyes when he heard the latest blowup that had happened between them.
He always said the same thing when Chuck brought up Blair: "Man, I'm so glad it isn't me."
And, no matter how much he complained, Chuck would typically say the same thing back: "And I'm glad it is."
Usually, Nate didn't begrudge Chuck the upheaval that Blair, possibly the most managing woman in the world, caused him, but whenever his best friend said that, Nate couldn't help but feel the tiniest bit jealous.
For the longest time, he'd thought he'd met his soul mate in Serena. He'd known her his entire life, and at least for a little while, she'd made the burden of being Nate Archibald lighter. But Serena hadn't been his soul mate; she'd never made him feel whole. He'd never felt that way, not once, and that was something he could envy.
Chuck had met his soul mate, but where was Nate's?
Two years after college graduation, Nate was on the balcony of his townhouse one evening, watching the sun set over the Pacific, a cold beer in his hand, when his phone rang. He briefly checked the caller ID and was not at all surprised to see who it was.
"Chuck," Nate answered. "Good to hear from you, man. How are things?"
"Not good," Chuck said brusquely, and Nate took another drink of beer. It was going to be one of those conversations. For two years, Chuck had been proposing to Blair, and even though it had taken dozens of proposals, she had finally agreed to marry him. Of course, that was only the beginning
"And don't you dare say you're glad it's not you," Chuck continued, his voice harried and a lot more haggard than normal. "I'm not sleeping and I can't take your fucking sarcasm today."
"That bad, huh? I mean, I always wondered what Blair planning a wedding would be like, and well, clearly I underestimated how bad it would be."
"We all underestimated," Chuck said.
"I don't suppose I can bail on you. Not be your best man."
"Not a chance," Chuck growled. "If I have to fly to Southern California and airlift your sorry ass off the fucking beach, you'll be standing next to me at the front of the church."
Nate sighed. "The good news is that you only have a few weeks to go. You're in the home stretch."
"That's not really a consolation."
"You love her though," Nate said.
Chuck made a defeated sound over the phone, and Nate thought it was the closest his best friend had ever come to saying he didn't love Blair Waldorf. "You know I do. You're the first person I ever fucking told."
"At your dad's wedding? God, that was a long time ago."
"You were with Vanessa, remember?"
Nate had forgotten entirely about Vanessa Abrams. When he thought of her now, he could only vaguely remember a tangle of dark hair and an even worse tangle of necklaces. "Right. A long time ago. Serena's still the maid of honor, right? Blair hasn't, I don't know, killed her yet?"
"Not yet. Though there was some . . .drama over the dress Serena was going to wear. I had to intervene."
"You should have locked them in the elevator," Nate said with a laugh. "I remember when you stranded them at Cotillion."
Chuck sighed. "Blair's too smart for that now. She refuses to ever get into the elevator with anyone besides me. Oh, and Jenny."
Memories shocked him like a jolt of electricity. Jenny. Jenny. Even though he'd dated Vanessa Abrams on and off for two years, and he'd never actually dated Jennifer Humphrey, he remembered the latter—could remember every single moment he'd spent with her. Even remembered when he'd been young and stupid and had seen a blonde in a yellow dress, wearing a mask, and had automatically assumed it was Serena, the object of his then-forbidden desire. But it had been Jenny instead, and he could practically still feel the way her pulse leaped in her throat as he'd closed his arms around her, his lips brushing against the smooth skin of her neck.
"Jenny," Nate said, hoping his voice didn't sound too odd. "I haven't thought of her in awhile. A long time, actually."
"Blair's actually even more pissed at her than she is at Serena right now. She just moved to California, to work as a stylist. Finally left Eleanor's atelier. Wanted some freedom. Smart girl, actually."
"To get away from Eleanor? No kidding. Blair should have done it a long time ago."
"Blair's never going to be able to get away from Eleanor," Chuck snapped, and Nate knew there was a story there, but he was too mellow to ask. "Even when Eleanor's in Paris, she's here, if you get my drift."
"You knew what you were signing up for," Nate said, half-jovially, half-not-quite-so-jovially. There were moments when he imagined what his life would have been like if he'd stayed in New York, stayed on the Upper East Side, stayed with Blair. Those weren't the most pleasant of daydreams.
"I did. And let me tell you, the alternative is worse. Being with Blair is better than not being with Blair. I've tried it both ways, remember?"
"Man, you've tried it all kinds of ways," Nate couldn't help but say, and his best friend chuckled knowingly.
"Blair wants you to come back to New York. Permanently. Just as a friend I thought I'd warn you. Also, if I were you, I'd watch out for elevators."
"She's decided that since she's so blissfully happy with the love of her life, everyone else needs to be equally beatific."
"Oh no," Nate groaned, "not Serena again."
"She's single, and currently dateless for the wedding. And you know what that means."
"Blair has a plan." It wasn't a question but a statement. Nate might have been out of UES politics for years, but he still understood the basic tenets of social manipulation.
"I can't confirm or deny at this juncture," Chuck continued, as Nate heard the clink of ice cubes in a glass and the smooth liquid pour of scotch, "but I wouldn't be surprised. She's always wanted to see you and Serena together. Weirdly enough."
"No fucking kidding. There was a point where I thought she might castrate me for what I'd done with Serena."
"How times do change," Chuck said whimsically. "All I'm saying is that bringing a date would be a wise choice."
"What, so Blair can do to them what she's done to every single girl I've dated since her?"
"Since Serena," Chuck corrected. "That one she approved of, remember?"
"I distinctly remember going on a date with you two and Bree Buckley, and coming back to the table expecting to see that Blair had ripped Bree's head right off."
"Blair can be a trifle. . .hot-headed," Chuck said.
"Or insane," Nate muttered.
"Do you need me to find you a date?" Chuck interrupted. "I can make a call."
"To one of your old hookers? No thank you. I'll just avoid elevators while I'm in town. Besides, Blair will be too busy making sure her wedding is the most perfect that the Upper East Side has ever seen. She won't have time to play matchmaker."
"If you say so." Chuck didn't exactly sound convinced.
"I think you know something," Nate said suspiciously, "but if you tell me and Blair finds out, she will castrate you. Or worse, cut you off for the next six months."
Nate could practically feel the force of Chuck's smirk over the phone. "Plausible deniability. Dorota and I learned a long time ago that it's safest not to get involved when the Queen B has her sights set on something she wants."
"She doesn't want me. She's marrying you, remember?"
Chuck sighed. "You know what I mean. She wants you for Serena. And if you honestly believe that the wedding will in any way impede Blair's ability to achieve this, then you've been in California for too long. The sun has fried your brain and you've gotten soft."
"Not soft, exactly," Nate said wryly. "More like relaxed . . .laidback . . .sane."
"Don't say I didn't warn you. And whatever you do, don't tell Blair that I tipped you off."
His flight to New York was delayed, and Nate was prowling anxiously around the tiny airport store by his gate when he saw her.
The blond hair was shorter than when he'd last seen her, cut into a tousled, sophisticated bob, but it was definitely her. Legs still going on for days; he would recognize them anywhere.
She was looking down at her Blackberry, absorbed in what she was reading, and didn't see him coming.
The amused shock in her blue blue eyes when she looked up at him made him smile for the first time today. Usually he didn't mind going back to New York, but this whole trip had him uneasy. Nate knew he should be happy for Chuck and Blair, and he was, but the conversation he'd had with Chuck had made him nervous about another blond and her expectations.
"Nathaniel Archibald," Jenny said with genuine smile on her face. She'd gotten beautiful—not that she hadn't been in high school, but then most girls were rather eclipsed by the stunning force of Serena and Blair—and he couldn't help but kind of gawk at the stunning woman in front of him.
They'd all called her Little J in high school, but Jenny Humphrey wasn't little anymore, that was for damn sure.
He leaned in, and brushed a kiss across her cheek, her boots making her almost as tall as he was. "It's great to see you. You on this flight?"
She nodded. "Chuck and Blair's wedding," Jenny said by way of explanation. "I had to come out here right before—though I thought she'd never forgive me."
"Blair hasn't changed," Nate said wryly, "but then you have."
Jenny shrugged. "I grew up. Didn't we all?"
"Some of us more than others. I was talking to Chuck the other day and he told me all about your success at the atelier and you moving out here to be a stylist." Nate hoped after the words had already left his mouth that this didn't sound creepy or stalkerish—as if he and Chuck Bass talked about her all the time, when in fact that had been the very first occurrence.
"I had to get away from Eleanor," Jenny said, a hint of the mischievous smile she'd always had peeping through her serious, "adult," face.
"Why do you think I moved all the way to California?" Nate asked with what he knew was his most charming smile, vaguely aware that he was flirting with Jenny Humphrey. After all this time.
Maybe Chuck had been wrong and nothing really changed.
Of course, right then, their flight number was announced over the loudspeaker and Nate scrambled. As sure as he'd been that he probably wouldn't ever see her again, suddenly she was in front of him, a miracle in $800 boots and a smile that wasn't Serena and wasn't Blair either, but something entirely her own—and he didn't want to let her go, now that he'd seen her again.
"You in first class?" he asked casually as she slipped her phone into her studded leather bag.
Jenny—was she even still Jenny, or had she finally succumbed to the more sophisticated Jennifer?—nodded, and he thought the way she couldn't take her eyes off his face might be a good sign.
"Great, me too," he said enthusiastically, as if an Archibald would ever travel coach. "Maybe we can switch and sit next to each other. Catch up."
Jenny looked as if she was actually considering this, right until they reached the gate. She turned to him, the same look on her face that he remembered from her Queen of Constance days, and smiled. "I'm sorry, I've got to work on the plane, but maybe at the wedding?"
"Of course, sure. That would be great," Nate said, aware he was babbling like a fool. Naturally every man who met Jenny Humphrey would be slavering all over her. She probably had a boyfriend. Or ten boyfriends. She hadn't been pining away for him all these years and it was ridiculous to think she would even want to talk to him. After all, he'd left the Upper East Side and never looked back. It was presumptuous of him to assume that she'd been dreaming of him in New York, while he'd been three thousand miles away in California.
He was almost down the ramp to the plane when she stopped abruptly and he almost fell right over her. "I've been thinking," she said, and he was surprised to hear a whisper of hesitancy in her normally confident voice, "do you have a date to Chuck and Blair's wedding?"
Nate shook his head. Blair would have answered differently but he had no intention of letting Hurricane Serena back into his life. He'd been there, done that, and he knew from Chuck's phone calls and his occasionally run-ins with Serena that she hadn't changed at all. She was still the same flagrant mess she'd always been, and now that he was older and (hopefully) a bit more mature, there was something distinctly unattractive about a girl, who at 26, still couldn't get her shit together.
"You're the best man. I'm not the maid of honor, but I'm still a bridesmaid. Number one bridesmaid, according to Blair."
"Blair numbered her bridesmaids?" Nate asked in surprise. But then he shouldn't have been. That seemed like fairly mild behavior when you considered some of the other things Blair had done in her endless quest for perfection.
"Oh yes," Jenny nodded. "Penelope was fairly unhappy about being relegated to number two bridesmaid, so I should be pleased with my position in the bridal party. Regardless, I'm not the maid of honor, and I know you're acquainted with her . . ." Nate took this opportunity to grimace. ". . .but I'd like you to be my date instead."
"That sounds great." And to his everlasting surprise, he found that he really meant it. It was great, it was fantastic . . .and then he realized it was so great he was grinning at her like a moron.
It seemed she didn't want to turn away from him either, because she just stood there, her own smile nearly as wide as his.
"Excuse me, sir. Miss. You need to clear the passageway for the other passengers," a flight attendant insisted, and they were finally forced to make their way onto the plane, where Nate was frustratingly sat two rows behind Jenny's halo of golden hair. He spent much of the cross-country flight watching the way the slight mussed strands of her hair bobbed and weaved as she typed on her laptop, and by the end of the trip, he felt desperate and slightly deranged. As if the clock had suddenly wound back 8 years and he was 18 again, standing on a rain-slicked sidewalk, outside a pedophile's apartment, gazing at Jenny Humphrey as she demanded he explain just why he cared about her.
And the answer now wasn't anymore enlightening than the answer then had been.
After the interminable flight, she exited the plane ahead of him but he hadn't been sure that she'd wait for him by the arrival gate—he'd half expected that the next time he'd see her would be at the rehearsal dinner the next evening. But it seemed she had revisited her own side of their history, because he raised his eyes and saw her slim figure waiting at the edge of the concourse, a wry, nostalgic smile on her face.
"I had to check an additional bag," Jenny said casually as they emerged onto the main concourse, as if traveling together to their destinations was a perfectly natural assumption. It wasn't, but Nate thought he would have to be a lot dimmer to argue with her, so as she turned towards the baggage claim, he followed her.
Neither of them spoke as they waited for Jenny's bags at the baggage claim. Usually women made incessant small talk with him, awed by his job or his face or his famous family. He'd always been comfortable with Jenny though, even when it probably hadn't been in his best interests to feel that way.
He remembered the night of Blair's birthday, so many years ago, when he hadn't been able to face his ex-girlfriend and so he'd spent the evening wandering the streets of New York with Jenny. Blair had naturally been furious, and had buried her displeasure in his absence by screwing his best friend.
Had he ever imagined back then that Blair would end up marrying Chuck instead of him? It didn't bother him anymore, but back then, he'd been livid at the thought of Chuck stealing her, though in the end, it had been more him giving her up than Chuck taking her.
Regardless, he remembered that particular birthday of Blair's with crystal clarity. Remembered the street lights shining down on a sweep of blond hair, innocent, wide blue eyes gazing at him with a surprisingly wise understanding of his frustrations.
She, too, had never wanted to settle for what her family wanted. And he couldn't help but think as he glanced over at her, that, just like him, she'd left those expectations far behind.
Not shockingly, the "bag," was instead a mammoth Louis Vuitton suitcase. Jenny had always rivaled Blair and Serena in their love of fashion, but unlike their more rigid designer following, Jenny had always dressed slightly off-kilter, in a funky combination of couture and her own designs.
"Let me take that," Nate offered, grasping the handle of the heavy suitcase. "Where are you going?" he asked her, as they made their way to the revolving exit of the airport.
"The Empire, of course," Jenny said. "You?"
His mother had naturally demanded that he stay at the house for what was apparently considered the UES wedding of the year—maybe even of the decade—but he felt uncomfortable staying with her since he'd done everything he could to reject the traditions of the Archibald and Van der Bilt families.
"I thought you'd be staying with Blair at the penthouse," Nate observed, shifting the suitcase to the other arm, trying to delay or remove entirely the frisson of electricity that had spun through him at the fact she'd be in the same hotel as him for the next few days.
"She wanted me to," Jenny said wryly, "but I knew I'd need my own space, a few precious minutes away from the whole circus."
"Well, I'll be at the Empire as well. Maybe we can get a drink and a few moments of peace and quiet together."
"I'd like that," Jenny murmured, her manner more reserved than it had been only a moment prior. Nate told himself that this had nothing to do with them being under the same roof for the first time in years, that it had nothing to do with the coalescing idea that maybe, just maybe, they were both finally in the right place, in the right time, but mostly importantly, had nothing to do with that elusive first date, so many mistakes in the making, that might be finally happening between them.
"Tonight is the bachelor party," he said, as they headed toward the door. "Who knows what Chuck has planned. I'm just surprised he didn't demand a whole Lost Weekend."
"I doubt he'd get away with it now. Blair told me she had a surprise for us girls tonight. I know she wouldn't ever be as tasteless as to have a traditional bachelorette party, which means we'll probably drink martinis and be forced into watching Breakfast at Tiffany's."
Nate pushed the glass door open and swore as he took the brunt of a full-on bitterly cold wind.
"Fucking hell," he groaned as Jenny flagged down a cab. "Why Chuck and Blair thought a December wedding in New York was a good idea, I'll never know. It's fucking freezing."
The winter air in Orange County had been mild and refreshing , with a whisper of breeze like the softest, sweetest kiss brushing your cheek.
Winter in Manhattan was a vindictive bitch slapping you breathless in the face, her nails raking across your cheek and threatening to stab your eyes out.
A cab slowed in front of them, and Nate helped the driver stow their baggage before gratefully sliding into the warm interior of the car. "You've gotten soft," Jenny laughed softly. "Too many years of California sunshine."
"Chuck said that too, though he was accusing me of losing my manipulative edge."
"But you work in politics," she objected. "I have a feeling you could give Chuck or Blair a run for their money these days when it comes to social destruction."
All those years of Blair's petty games—the crown at Constance, the disaster of NYU, her heavy-handed attempts to control everyone at Columbia—as well as Chuck's constant PI surveillance, lockbox of secrets and under-handed business tactics, had soured him to the Upper East Side's constant need for social destruction. But Nate had never looked at it from the angle of trading one vice for another. He did his own share of scheming, just in a different realm.
"You're right," he told her and he was all-too-aware how awed he sounded. 17 year old Jenny had been a force to be reckoned with, but 24 year old Jenny was a potent hurricane of devastating smiles, keen intelligence and a halo of blond hair that he was dying to muss up.
The cab pulled up in front of the Empire Hotel. He didn't want this bizarre, nostalgic interlude to end just yet, but he couldn't come up with a good reason to extend it. After all, they only had a few hours to get settled before this evenings' wedding festivities began. Reluctantly, Nate shoved a handful of bills in the driver's direction, and reluctantly exited the cab, shielding his face against the blinding wind and the snow flurries whipping through his hair.
Jenny was already outside, gathering her bags, and Nate grabbed the massive suitcase again, following her into the foyer of the hotel.
The Empire looked busier even than Nate remembered. Of course Chuck was more successful than ever, the hotel his jewel in the crown of a New York real estate empire already rivaling his father's.
A staff member instantly recognized Jenny. "Miss Humphrey," the young woman exclaimed, "it's so good to have you back with us." Jenny followed the concierge over to the privately-situated desk behind a potted palm. "Your usual suite, yes?"
Jenny nodded, and the woman looked up at him, questions in her eyes. Nate was speechless for a second, then belatedly remembered that he'd been out of the city for so long that he wouldn't be recognized by sight alone. It was an odd feeling—to be the unknown entity in comparison to Jenny's your usual suite. Not bad, just. . .odd.
"I'm also a guest of Mr. Bass," he explained. "Nate Archibald."
"Ah, yes. Mr. Archibald." The woman typed briskly on the recessed keyboard. "Mr. Bass' best man in the wedding."
Nate told himself that it was good to be known now simply as Chuck's best man, and not for his father's coke habit, fraudulent business practices, and then his parents' nasty divorce after the Captain was finally released from prison. Nevermind the bevy of blondes that had always trailed after him, Jenny included, and the gossip from when he'd broken up with the bride.
It had been forever ago, but standing here next to Jenny, the corner of her lips upturned at the concierge's inability to recognize him, it felt more like days or months than years.
"I'll show you to your rooms," the woman said, and Nate and Jenny trailed after her, taking the elevator not up to the penthouse that had always been Chuck's—and then for a year had been his too—but to the floor directly underneath it. "The family floor," Jenny murmured, leaning in close enough so that he could catch the barest hint of the perfume she wore.
The elevator doors dinged open, and he was surprised to see only a handful of doors in the expansive, luxurious hallway. The concierge showed him to the first door on the left, and to his surprise, Jenny turned and slid a keycard she'd extracted from her bag into the recessed slot next to the door across from his.
She caught him gaping at her, and laughed. "You lived here," Nate said, his jaw barely staying closed. "Here. At the Empire. With Chuck only a floor away. How the hell did you manage that? I thought Blair banished you from Manhattan."
Nate knew instantly that he'd said the wrong thing. Jenny's face closed and her eyes went icy—a barren, cold blue—and her back straightened as Blair's always had when you insulted her, even by accident.
"I'll see you at the rehearsal dinner," Jenny told him, her voice an aural representation of the Great Wall of China. "Have fun at your bachelor party." Before he could even echo the sentiment, and demand an explanation for why she was so pissed (though he thought he might already know), the door was shut unceremoniously in his face.
He briefly contemplated knocking on the door and trying to figure out how to apologize, but that was before he realized, hand poised just over the thick mahogany, that it was a huge mistake to go in now.
As Chuck would have said, he didn't have any weapons, he didn't even know the lay of the land, so what were the chances of him winning the war? Or even the battle?
Nate dropped his hand to his side, and turned back to his own door, keycard in hand.
Chuck. He would be able to tell him everything that had happened with Jenny. He wasn't sure why he hadn't been told, though Chuck rarely indulged in UES gossip when they spoke on the phone, and Blair usually complained about Chuck. Serena always wanted to have phone sex. So the subject had never really come up before. He couldn't ask Blair and risk having his mild interest blown out of proportion. Serena was also completely out of the question. But Chuck would tell him what he needed to know and not make a bigger deal out of this whole thing than it was.
Glancing at the clock, Nate realized he'd have to hurry or he might be late. As he stepped into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and shucked his clothes, he told himself that all he wanted was the right information, and then to use it to apologize for bringing up the entire subject.