Sorry for the delay in posting a new chapter. Bad week at work, bad week at home, just... bad week. :(
Anyway, hope you enjoy!
The Art of Denial,
While no nightmares haunted her for the remainder of the night, sleep still did not come easy to Annie. She'd never been one for self-deception and so, try as she might, she could not get away from the fact that what she was doing was wrong.
She was in bed with a man who was engaged to someone else.
The fact that they'd done nothing more than sleep - or try to, in her case - didn't matter.
He still belonged to someone else.
Stifling a sob, she willed herself to stay still for fear of waking up her partner or, even worse, of letting him know she was awake. As long as she kept up the pretense of sleep, she didn't have to talk, didn't have to ask questions she didn't want the answers to...
She mumbled something unintelligible, hoping he'd leave her be, if only for a little while longer. She hated herself for the uncharacteristic weakness - she wasn't not the type of girl who tearfully pined away for a guy, and she certainly wasn't the type to hide from the truth - but she couldn't seem to help herself.
"I know you're awake," he said, his voice sounding odd.
She slowly opened her eyes against her better judgment, immediately wishing she'd hadn't. He looked... lost, for lack of a better word... and seeing him like that just about broke her heart all over again. "What time is it?" she asked with a not-entirely-fake yawn, desperate to steer the conversation away from anything to do with the ring in his jacket.
"It's still early, about six," he replied, tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her ear.
"Need more sleep," she mumbled as she burrowed deeper into his embrace in an effort to delay the inevitable.
"I know," he replied as he gently pushed her way, "but we need to talk before I go home."
"Whatever it is can wait," she argued, silently begging him to let it go.
She wasn't ready to face reality.
She wasn't ready to have him tell her he was going to marry Nathalie.
And she certainly wasn't ready to admit that she'd lost her chance to be with him...
He remained silent, and she actually thought she might get a reprieve, if only a short one.
She should have known better...
"I said yes," he told her very quietly, never breaking eye contact. "I told Nathalie I would marry her."
"Okay," she said inanely, shocked to discover just how much it hurt to hear him say the words. "You should probably go, then," she added, fighting to keep her voice steady as she tried to put some more distance between them. "She must be wondering where you are..." She trailed off, trying not to squirm as he studied her intently.
"You knew," he said with a sigh, pinching the bridge of his noise between his thumb and forefinger. "How?"
"Your phone was ringing, I went to answer it, and the ring fell out of your pocket," she explained in as neutral a voice as she could muster. "It wasn't too hard to figure out what it meant," she added with a small shrug.
"I'm sorry... I-"
"It's okay," she said, cutting him off. "You don't need to apologize. It's not like we've had a lot of alone time, is it?" she asked with a mirthless laugh.
"I know, but-"
"I'm happy for you," she told him, quite proud of the fact that she almost sounded like she meant it.
"That would make one of us," he replied, sighing as he rolled onto his back. "I made a mistake."
"You don't mean that," she argued. "I've seen the way you look at her, the way you light up when she's around." She trailed off, steeling herself for what she was about to say. "You love her."
"However I feel about Nathalie, it's nothing compared to what I feel about you," he said, sounding miserable. "I was a fool to think I could just ignore those feelings and build a life with her."
"I knew it was a mistake the minute I said it," he continued, ignoring her protests, "but I still said it, and now I'm going to have to deal with it."
"Why did you say yes, then?" she asked, knowing she was treading on dangerous ground yet unable to stop herself.
"The Cordova case really got to me, all that talk about family being everything, and then you got shot, and I wanted..." He trailed off, obviously struggling to find the right words. "I wanted to stay with you, to make sure you were okay... but mostly just to be with you... and you didn't... want me... or need me... so I went home to Nathalie, who did want me, and so I just... I said yes."
"How can it be okay?" he asked. "She's going to get hurt because I didn't have the guts to tell you that I love you."
"I'm sorry," she said, not knowing what else to say. She was all too familiar with settling for someone simply because they showed interest...
"Why are you sorry?" he asked, turning to face her. "You didn't do anything."
"Yeah, that's the kind of the point, isn't it?" she sighed. "I could have said something."
"I don't understand-"
"When Nathalie told me she was going to propose, or when you told me she had, or even when you came to check on me after I was shot... And there were times before, times when I knew I wanted more than friendship from you... I could have spoken up, could have told you-"
"Don't," he said, cutting her off. "Please, just... don't."
"Why not?" she asked, brow knit in confusion. "What difference can it possibly make at this point, unless you-" She stopped cold, realizing he hadn't actually said he was going to break things off. She'd just assumed, and assumptions could be very dangerous things...
"It's over," he assured her with a sad smile, her expression obviously having given away her thoughts. "It's been over for quite a while, really."
"Because I'm never going to be able to get out of this bed if you actually say it, and I... I need to go home. I need to make things right with Nathalie before I can start anything with you." He reached for her, pulling her close as he pressed a kiss onto her forehead. "Okay?"
"Yeah," she mumbled into his neck. "But just so you know, the minute you've squared things away, I'm going to say it," she warned him. "And then I'm going to say it again. And again. And-"
"I think I get the picture," he said, laughing as he let go of her. "And I will hold you to that."
"Good," she replied, grinning. "Now get your ass out of my bed, Godfrey," she said, giving him a playful shove.
"Yes, ma'am," he drawled, giving her a mock salute before climbing out of bed and heading out into the living room to retrieve his clothes. He ducked back into the bedroom a few minutes later, once again fully clothed and ready to go. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he told her as he checked his gun then holstered it.
"I'll be here," she mumbled as she burrowed deep under the covers, sleep claiming her before her partner had even slipped out of the apartment, locking the door behind him...