Disclaimer: Not Mine...they belong to others.

A/N: Pbwr got me thinking with her story Conduct. I wrote this in the wee hours and it's a bit of an experiment as it's written in second person limited. It's also kinda angsty. Also, thanks to Social Distortion and their song "Take Care of Yourself" off their most recent release - Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes. It inspired the tone and flavor of this piece.


But Baby…

You start off in a relationship in a place where everything is shiny and new and where the future isn't a finite concept, but an infinite stretch of contentment and happiness. When you fall in love it all starts off like that. It all comes together so seamlessly that when you have your first argument, the world seems to stop and waits for you to pull it together and apologize.

At least, in your head, that's how it goes.

Honeymoon phases, first fight, first make up and then…

The real world starts to encroach on the soft bedding of new love. The shiny glint of its newness begins to wane, then fingerprints begin to tarnish, tears begin to stain marring the surface of your perfect world. It's how it all started and how it all ended.

It's how you ended up where you are.

At two in the morning, sitting on cold, unforgiving, concrete steps.

Alone.

Miserable.

A self-deprecating, wallowing mess.

At two in the morning introspection comes at you like a wave during evening tide. With your back turned to the merciless ocean, the wave just bowls you over, sucks you down and lets you go only when you stop fighting its pull.

You play with the charm around your neck. The cold metal only marginally sobering. It weighs heavy around your neck, a reminder of what you couldn't force. Who you couldn't be. You tried.

Most of the time.

You did the things you thought were expected of you…sweet words and charming smiles. Pretty jewelry and romantic gestures that made her swoon for a little while. When the novelty wore off, the bitterness violated your actions, cheapened them and exposed them for the short comings they were.

Your stomach churns at that. You tried.

You did your best…

Most of the time.

Laughter, a little shrill, pulls your head up from where it rests in your palm. The yellow light of the streetlamp high overhead casts shadows along the sidewalk, but you manage to make out two stumbling figures headed your way.

The one figure you could make out from another hundred yards away. You could identify the woman in fifty years with piss poor eyesight as she clumsily makes her way down the street towards you. She hangs off the slightly smaller body next to her. Heads bent together, no doubt whispering sweet nothings.

Standing, you look down the alley to your left. You could flee, run away and pretend that you were never here. That this wasn't a ridiculously stupid idea on your part because you have no idea what you're meant to accomplish.

You only know this is where your body brought you.

Before you have time to come to a final decision, a course of action that won't send you reeling, she calls out, her voice soft with worry, but wrapped up in accusation, "What are you doing here?"

The woman with her, shorter than her by a good two inches, blonde hair and light colored eyes, looks between the two of you and raises eyebrows in question. You choose to ignore her. You're not here for the blonde. You're not here to try and win anyone back.

You're just here to speak your peace and hopefully, move on with the rubble of your life – whatever's left and whatever she'll let you have.

The fingers of your right hand drum along your upper thigh. Your mouth opens and closes, the forced sound that escapes your lips is a whimper, low and pathetic.

"I…" you start. You stop. 'I' what?

"Well?" she questions again, her hands planting themselves on her slightly cocked hips. It's her 'losing patience' stance.

You drink her in. The sight bittersweet and cloying inside your chest – right where you think your heart might be if it lived there anymore.

Your eyes meet and it feels kind of like when you were a kid and you and your brothers went out to this swimming hole off the coast of the Pontchartrain. You all would go cliff diving. The highest you ever leapt was a forty-five foot drop into frigid lake waters. You were frightened then.

This is infinitely more frightening. "I, uh…" You lick your lips, close your eyes and fall. You fall forward just like you did years ago, plummeting into icy cold water. "I just wanted to come by and apologize. You weren't home. I figured I'd wait."

Her lips purse and she looks down her nose at you.

She has every right.

"I started thinking about everything. You . Me. Us." Your throat closes so you cough, trying to clear the invisible lump stuck somewhere between the back of your throat and your lips. "I just…I needed to say I was sorry."

"For what, Nora? What exactly are you sorry for? For lying? For keeping us hidden like a dirty secret for so long and then running away as soon as people found out?" Her tone is sharp, bitter and not one question she asks is out of line. It was her life too. Her career.

"All of it." You shrug in response. "I tried, Nikki. I did. I wasn't…I thought I was strong enough and I wasn't. So, I just…I needed to say I was sorry and that maybe one day, no time soon, but that you might forgive me a little." Your eyes close, trying to stave off the tears building.

They trickle past your closed eyelids against your will.

You swipe away the liquid and meet her gaze again. "I wanted to say I was sorry and that I understand. I wanted to come say goodbye, properly. You deserve at least that…"

"At least…" she mocks you.

"You deserve everything I couldn't be," You admit quietly. "I needed you to know that and to tell you I'm sorry I couldn't give you what you needed." You can't look at her anymore.

The ache in your chest too great to ignore and you move, brush by her with a lingering trail of fingertips across her hand.

You're halfway down the street when her strangled voice halts your progress. "Nora!" her voice cracks and you hear her jog after you. You don't turn around at the sound of her question; you know she's too close for you to trust yourself. "Is it true? You're leaving?"

You don't want to turn around. Don't really think you have the strength to meet her gaze again, but you do because your pain, your weakness, your misery is self-inflicted. Hers, hers is your fault. The pain witnessed tonight was caused by your hands. You owe her this.

She's inches from you as you turn. If you lean forward, you could press against her. You don't. You don't deserve the contact. So you jam your hands in the pockets of the thin jacket you have on and nod. "I leave Wednesday," you confirm.

"Oh," her lips round out. "Your family?" she follows up, the concern evident as her eyes shine black under the light.

"Not really talking. Bobby still, but my mom and dad aren't really…"

"John?" she asks about your older brother.

"He's siding with mom and dad," you tell her.

She nods mutely. She swallows as a few of her own tears slip down over sculpted cheek bones. "I didn't want that to happen, Nora."

"I know." You lean forward and press your lips against her cheek, capturing an errant tear, salty and hot, between your lips. The tears on your cheek mingle with hers as you mumble roughly against her smooth skin "Take care of yourself, Nikki." You don't chance leaving her time to respond. You can't take the risk of shattering all over again. So you do what you're good at.

You tuck tail and run.