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Something Never Changes

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It’s not that he doesn’t notice the frequent turns of heads or the confusing smirks from the people passing by. He just doesn’t care. He knows it’s not a matching picture: a manly folk like him holding a well-wrapped, not just red but bright red gift box in his hand, not to mention the dramatically huge white flower-like ornament glued on it. He is familiar with this scenario. Back to the first time he did this, he was holding a much bigger gift box with a lilac bow on the cover. Her assistant was gobsmacked seeing him holding that gift and appearing at her office.

“Sorry, sir, but Ms Lockhart is in court.”

“I know,” He chuckles, “She was still there when I was excused. Will you be so kind and give this to her when she’s back?”

“Oh, sure.”

“Thanks then.”

He was not sure how she would react to his gift, but an inner drive promoted him to do something, anything to show his intention. When she finished cross-examining him, “Thank you, Mr McVeigh.” she said then gave him an approbatory and meaningful smile. The way she pronounced his unfortunate last name made his heart skip a beat. At that moment, he knew for certain that he craved to know more about her and he would see her again. His eyes followed her graceful figure clad in a black suit dress with a shiny belt outlining her narrow waist back to the attorney’s desk. She sat down, raised her head and gave a quick glance to the stand. Meeting his gaze, she swiftly turned to her client and patted her slender fingers on the young man’s arm. After being excused, he rushed to the nearest book store. When he was waiting for the staff to find a nice gift box, he leaned on the counter, pondering. “She’s way out of your league.” An inner voice screaming. Ever since their first meeting, that voice kept reminding him how different they were in values, political stands and lifestyles, but he just couldn’t help it. It was like an instinct to frame his photo with Sarah Pailin, to place it prominently in his office, and to even imitate a similar phone call, leaving her waiting impatiently in his wooden chair. He was enchanted.

 

Standing at the front desk of her new firm, he wonders how their status has evolved. Back then, they were not even dating and now they are married but separated.

“Diane Lockhart please.” He steps forward.

“Do you have an appointment, sir?”

“Uh, no. I’m ...”

“Mr McVeigh?” He is trying to explain to the receptionist but interrupted by a shrieking call of his name. He turns and meets a young girl with curly black hair wearing a huge smile.

“Yes, uh...” He frowns with embarrassment not able to recognize her.

“Marrisa, Eli Gold’ daughter. We met at Jackie and Howard’s engagement party. Remember?”

“Right, right. You work here, too?”

“Yes, they want me for diversity hire.” She jokes with an energetic laugh and turns to the receptionist, “This is Ms Lockhart’s husband. I’ll show him in.”

He follows the girl and is a little intimidated by her perky nature already.

“Wow, you brought a present I see.” She eyes the nicely wrapped box in his hand, “So romantic! That will cheer her up. An Hermès scarf?”

“No.” He answers plainly, but it surprises him that actually he hasn’t given Diane any present like that. “She’s not happy here?” He asks.

“Generally yes, but you know, the Ponzi scheme and all the money she’s lost. It’s not her best time. She never tells me about it, though. I’m observant. I can tell that she feels down even when she tries to look tough. I love Diane, I mean, she gave me this job, but to work with someone like Diane,” her eyes glisten with admiration, “I just want to impress her. Frankly, it must feel like an idiot to disappoint her.” She shoots him a knowing glance but receives nothing but an uneasy look on his face. She realizes she’s said too much. “Sorry, excuse my verbal diarrhea...well, I’ll just shut up.” She makes a zipping motion on her mouth.

He doesn’t blame her and in his mind, he pleas guilty for that, “I’m that idiot for sure.”

 

“Diane, someone is here to see you and he has a present.” Marrisa announces their entrance with a smirk.

Facing the inside of the office room. she is on the phone right now.

She turns. There’s an evident halt of astonishment in her eyes when she watches him step in. He called on her uninvited before. She used to be surprised with joy and welcome him with her big grin and warm hug. But who is he fooling? They are not there any more.

She wraps up the phone call.

“Hi!” She greets softly.

“Do you want me to stay and take notes?” Marrisa says maliciously.

“No, thank you.” She stresses her answer but ends with a slight lift of the corner of her mouth when Marrisa drawlingly moves her steps out. She likes this chatty girl.

They exchange short pleasantries. Then he mentions a missed call from her.

“No, that must be an accidental dial. I think my phone is, anyway, I’m sorry.” She apologizes with an embarrassed smile. He lets it go and asks her for a favor to review his speech to the police union.

“Really? Well, that doesn’t sound like you.”

“Yes, it isn’t.” She cracks up but restrains her laugh. It feels like a century since the last time he heard her symbolic husky laugh.

“I was hoping that you could read it.” He hands her his speech draft.

“Sure. Is tonight okay?” She takes the paper and assumes to unfold it.

“Yes, I will have to give it tomorrow.” Her eyes follow his movement of taking the red box from under his arm. “And...thank you.” Gently, he puts it on her desk and smiles at her coyly.

A smile vanishes almost the second it emerges on her face. Again, she tries to restrain her joyful side in front of him. Or maybe, she is just being polite, there is no pleasure to receive a present from him. The thought crosses his mind but doesn’t linger. He eyes down on the box then shoots her a short but genuine look before turning to leave.

It feels like he was back in high school and just dropped a love letter to the girl he had a crush on. The only thing that stirred his mind was whether the girl felt the same about him. Just like how he feels right now. On his way out, he realizes that they only talked for like two minutes or maybe fewer, but it felt like hours. The strained air between them, both of them tiptoeing when talking to each other, studying small expressions of each other. Will this be the way they talk from now on? Their last meeting didn’t end well with her ceasing the hope for reconciliation and him yelling his refusal to divorce her. Or maybe from the moment he was questioned about his affair in the court, things can never be the same as they were before. He wasn't gonna tell her about the speech until he saw her name on his phone screen. He was gonna be in town anyway and he knew nobody better in wording or speech than she is. Without thinking too much, he went through his working studio and found a cardboard box in the lower layer of the safe under the working platform. He lifted the lid of the box and ran his fingers over the cold steel of the stainless barrel. A lot has changed between them for the past few months, but she loves a revolver, maybe that hasn’t changed yet.

Chapter Text

“Do you like it?”

“What?” She looks at him over the realm of her glasses. He fetches the wine bottle from her cabinet. The cardboard box is lying in there.

“Oh, the 64? It’s beautiful. Thank you.” She smiles and turns her eyes back to the laptop continuing typing.

“You know the model?”

“Originally a typical police gun, but this one got a longer barrel and a bigger grip, which may cause a stronger recoil.” Her eyes never leave the screen, so she misses the aghast look on his face. Holding a new bottle of wine, he sits next to her on the couch. She is working on the ending of his speech.

“How did you know stuff like that?” He is surprised but more impressed.

“I…had…a…good…teacher.” Her words drawl so that what she is saying cannot be messed with what she is typing.

“I showed you this one? I thought I only had you shoot…”

“29 and 19? Yes, you did.” She turns to look at him, smiling, “By teacher, I didn’t mean you.” and turns back to the screen.

After a few seconds of silence, he still doesn’t refill her glass on the coffee table. She turns. He is frozen there still holding that bottle in his fist, eyes down on his knees. His knuckles turn white.

“Kurt?” She wakes him from his thought and looks a little amused by his upset expression. “I’m not seeing someone. You really think I would shop for your type. God, it’s not that appealing to argue with more than one Republican. I learned that from a lesson.”

“A lesson?” His voice rises. He is relieved but more confused. “Like a firearm lesson?”

“Yes.” She avoids his querying gaze. She is reminded that she was taking those lessons for him.

“You, Diane Lockhart, taking firearm lessons? How…I mean…when?” He still cannot believe what he just heard.

“A couple of years ago. Would you just calm down? It’s not like I suddenly support the Second Amendment. I was curious.” She pauses, “I wanted to be more professional and better informed when dealing with gunshot cases. It’s, it’s for work.” It’s a lame explanation, she knows, but what else could she do? Telling him in the face that she was so in love with him that she made herself acquainted with all the things that interested him? She didn’t tell him before, so what’s the point telling him now when they are in a separation?

Nibbling her lower lip, she blames herself. Why couldn’t she just pretend knowing little about this gun? Maybe it’s part of human nature that it’s hard to pretend not knowing something when you do.

Like right now, she cannot look at him, because she knows he’s looking at her the way he used to, with his affectionate gaze and a lopsided smile, an expression that she can never resist. She was about to write a perfect closing remark. “What was that again?” She cannot remember. A heat spreads from the back of her neck to her cheeks. It must be the alcohol, she convinces herself. It only takes a bottle of wine to feel so easy with his company again like how they used to hang out together. He doesn’t say anything. She knows him too well. He will not pursue the matter when he is aware of her unwillingness to dwell on the topic, and it’s not necessary to keep digging when he already knows the answer.

 

Her fingers tent her lips. Frowning a little bit, she is trying to remember how she wanted to end it. “Oh, right.” She moves her fingers from her lips adjusting her glasses and starts typing again. She finishes the last sentence, then scrolls to the top and proofreads it for correction.

Her fingertips slowly graze the touchpad. Her head slightly swings when reading through lines. Her mouth is pursed a little when she pauses to reconsider a better word. She looks so charming when she is concentrated.

She tucks a strand of her hair back to her ear and softly clears her throat.

“Did I spell this correctly? I rarely used this word. I typed it just the way on your draft, but it shows  that it needs correction.”

He moves closer and leans forward to the screen, his thigh touching hers and his upper arm rubbing her elbow. The texture of his plaid shirt feels soft and warm on her skin. His bearded face is three or four inches away from hers. Close enough to breathe in the smell of gunpowder, she studies him quietly. Maybe it’s because of his facial hair, he looks much older.  She curls her fingers into a fist over the touchpad, restraining the impulse to tuck her fingers into that thick hair and caress his bristled cheek. She misses the smell of his clothes and the feeling of holding his face in her palm. He did nothing but being himself tonight, mostly quiet and patient. It shouldn’t be this easy to feel so attracted to him again or maybe she always does.

“That’s correct.” He turns to face her. Now they are even closer.

Their eyes lock.

“Nitrocellulose.” He looks deep in her eyes, but her eyes swim to his lips.

“Nitro…” She starts.

“cellulose” He finishes, eyes lingering on her fuchsia lips.

Her heart is beating fast, and she is afraid that he could hear the sound. It would be so easy to put aside what happened for a moment and just lean forward meeting his wanting lips and tangling her tongue with his. If only it could be that easy, but that is not how she really feels. It’s not affection. It’s not forgiveness. She knows it’s just weakness under alcohol. She’s not ready, and she cannot let him misunderstand her feelings. It’s not fair for her or him.

She leans on the back of the couch distancing the former closeness and takes off her glasses.

“Then it’s done.” She smiles at him. He smiles back with a hint of disappointment in his eyes and moves to the other side of the couch. It distresses her to make him aware that she feels guarded.

She didn’t do anything wrong but she feels sorry for him.

 

“What time is this?”

“At 6:00 PM.”

“I’ll see if I can make it.”

“Don’t feel obliged to come, Diane, it’s okay. I know the work here keeps your hands full.”

She turns to the screen then frowns.

“Wait, it’s not okay.” She raises her voice.

“What?” He doesn’t know where this is coming from.

“You should greet the audience with ‘Good evening’ not ‘afternoon’.” She says in all seriousness. He hears the typing sound again then the noise from the printer.

He stands up and walks to the small printer on the side desk beside the glass wall.

Picking up the first page, he smiles. She adds the subject and his name at the top in different sizes. She loves making things formal. Collecting them all, he arranges the paper on the desk.

“Don’t fold it, please?” She says kindly.

“Then how do I keep it together?”

“Wait here.” She walks out and looks through the desk outside her office then comes back with a black folder in her hand.

“Keep it flat till you are on the stage.” She hands him the folder. “Creases may make audience doubt your credibility and professionalism.”

“Really? I didn’t know they would notice.” He carefully puts the paper in the folder.

“No. I made that up. Nobody cares. It just really irritates me that you folded it up and put it in your rear pocket. It’s a speech, okay? Not a receipt. You don’t see King George take a folded paper from his pocket and then give a speech to his subjects.” She lectures him but her severe tone only makes him chuckle.

“But I’m not a king and I don’t stammer.” He talks back just to piss her.

“The attitude matters, Kurt, not the status or speech disorders.”

“Kay. If you put it that way.” He flips the folder and finds a sticker with capital letters “ME TOO”.

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t notice that. That must be Marrisa’s. I can find you another one.”

“No, no. It’s okay. This will do. Harassment to men also needs a voice.” He makes her laugh.

“You’re lucky she’s not here, or you’ll in for a treat of a debate.” They have a good time sharing a laughter together.

 

“You’ve been a great help, Diane, thank you.” He picks up his jacket from the armrest.

“No problem. I was bribed, anyway.” Sitting in her chair and putting down the laptop, she clears the windows on her desktop before shut it down.

“You ready to go? I can drop you at your apartment.” He offers.

“I…I haven’t quite finished yet. It’s okay. I’ll call a cab myself.” She reopens her mailbox.

“I didn’t know you still had work to do. Sorry for keeping you too long.” He raises the folder.

“Don’t be. It’s a shift of mind. I am glad to be of help.” She pauses, “You’re staying at the Westin?”

“Yes.” He wants to ask if she’s up for a dinner tomorrow night, but before he raises the question, she speaks.

“I see. So, good night, Kurt.” She shoots him a smile then turns her eyes back to the screen.

“Good night.” He walks to the door, takes a halt there and looks back at her. She is busy in reading something and doesn’t look up. Not saying another word to disturb her, he leaves. Staring at the laptop, her eyes are pricking with tears. The sight is too blurred to see the email displayed on the screen. It doesn’t matter anyway. She already read it hours ago.

Chapter Text

“Good evening.” Standing at the lectern, he is now facing an auditorium seating more than 500 police officers. For a man who seldom speaks to such a large audience, not to mention in a very formal occasion, he feels his lungs full of hot air. It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust to the strong lighting, and the heat, he is sure, will make his forehead sweat within five minutes. He recalls the advice she gave him just seconds ago, but apparently picturing a bunch of policemen in their underwear doesn’t help, at least not for him.

He pauses to gather himself before he continues.

“Take a hair from your head. Now imagine that you can split that hair down the middle not once, not twice but fifty times. That is the equivalent for two microns.” She was right. It works. With an analogical illustration, he draws the audience’s attention, and more importantly, it makes him less nervous. He looks aside to the wing. There she stands with a radiant smile and sparkling joyful eyes, both of which he lost the fortune to receive for a long time. The spotlight behind embroiders her slim frame with a golden lining. Even if without that, she still glows. Then, she makes a thumbs-up gesture, silently praising his smooth opening, a gesture that he used to receive when she watched him give a concise and poignant expert’s testimony on the stand, though she didn’t know how hard he fought the distraction she caused. He shots her an almost unnoticeable grateful smile before he turns back to the audience and continues his speech.

 

“Thank you.” The auditorium bursts into huge applause. He nods for appreciation and turns his eyes to the wing, expecting to meet her gaze, to see the pride in her eyes, and maybe a congratulation hug later, which he has been thinking of since she shot him that smile, but there is no one there. Unanticipated disappointment squashes his early smile. He folded up the speech and puts it into his pocket in dismay. Within a short moment, he manages to squeeze a feigned smile when he turns his head back to the audience. A second ago, he was so happy that this went well, yet right now the applause from the audience and the approving nods from the sheriffs at the front row suddenly seem pointless. He never had so much confidence when doing something he was not good at, not to mention speaking in public. He accomplished it only because he knew she was there supporting him and maybe caring about him. He laughs at his own thought. “What made you think that she would be there watching you for forty minutes? It was nice enough of her to just show up. She always gave as much as she could to help people around even when she herself was in a difficult time. She came because that is what kind of person she is, not because of how she felt about you. Or maybe, she came despite how she felt about you.” It breaks his heart to think that she still resents his company, resists any more private time or closeness with him. He recalls how she pretended that there was still work to do last night just to avoid sharing a cab with him, to avoid spending more time with him when it was not necessary. “Take the hint, McVeigh. You fucked up. The door is closed.”

 

He talks with the top officers from the police union for a while when the audience exits. 

“We should do this more often.” One of the officers offers his compliment.

“I hope I didn’t embarrass myself.” He smiles coyly.

“Oh, don’t be so modest. It was quite enlightening.”

“Thank you for coming.” He shakes hands with the gentlemen before they leave. The corner of his eye catches a figure behind. Turning to the seating area, he finds her standing before the front row, in her usual elegant posture and wearing a rejoicing and proud smile. She never left. She was there the whole time. A warm feeling spreads to his chest. Right now, there is only one thing that he wants to do so desperately. She may reject him if she wants to, push him away if she wants to, but he needs to do this, he has to. The impulse drives his legs to stride right toward her regardless of his previous concern about the uncomfortable closeness he might cause her.

“Great. I mean, you didn’t rush. You made all your points comprehensible.” Her voice somehow trails off as she watches him getting closer, and her eyes fall on his lips when she finds him already standing impossibly close to her and realizes what he is about to do.

“I mean…” Before she can even start the next sentence, she feels his large powerful hands on her arms almost the same second his lips firmly pressed on hers.

He feels a sudden tensing of her muscles shortly followed by a relaxation of her lips as his hand reaches up to brush her shoulder blade gently. He didn’t give too much thought about what if she dodged her head, what if she pushed him away and just left aghast and offended. The truth is, she doesn’t do anything like that. She tilts her head from the short stiff halt and responds to him by slowly rubbing her upper lip on his mustache and mirroring the movement of his lips with softer but consistent bites. Her hand creeps to his chest and lightly caresses the part of his shirt revealed between the suit lapel and his tie. Over the thin layer of the cotton material, he can feel the slender shape of her fingers, which do not linger too long there before explore their way up to his neck. Her hand wanders around his jawline brushing his stubbly cheek endearingly. How he loves kissing her, one of his many ways to show how much he loves her, how much he treasures her, and how afraid he is of losing her once their lips are parted. If he knew that it would have been this long since the last time he kissed her, he would never stop that goodbye kiss on the morning she left home for the Florrick trial. If only she never left for that trial, if only he were never summoned to the court, if only… he never betrayed her. This long and sensual kiss awakens something that has been buried deeply in him since that day he watched her stride out of the courtroom, leaving him to the abyss of guilt and remorse he dug himself. He knows, there is no way he can compensate her for what he has done, he doesn’t deserve her forgiveness of any kind. The fact that he hurt her the way he has tore him apart day and night. During the past months, every time he thought about that day, he wished that it would be better if he were killed in a car accident before he was even able to reach the court, before she had to be humiliated by his infidelity in the least private way. How could it be possible for her to bear looking at him again, to share a room with him, to be intimate with him? That would make her throw up, he thought. But right now, the way she kisses him back and the way she runs her fingers over his cheek like she used to love doing give him a sign of a slim hope that she may still have feelings for him, which is enticing enough to rekindle his desire to fight for her rather than just pitying his own low-priced grief.

He opens his mouth wider for one last deep exploration to her tongue before he slowly leans back and parts their lips. He gazes at her fluttering lashes as she gasps before opens her eyes. Desire lurking in incredibility, he has seen that in her eyes before, just like the way she looked at him after he kissed her for the first time. Suddenly realizing that it is not appropriate to violate the distance she has requested, he removes his hand from her waist, where it roamed wildly just seconds ago when he was deepening the kiss by teasing her tongue with his. On the loss of his touch, she looks down embarrassedly and nibbles her lips.

“I, I’m sorry, Diane. I…uh…I was…uh…it, it was…uh.” He takes a breath, eyes closed, giving up his lame explanation. “Well, you look stunning.”

She chuckles.

“What?” He is confused, so afraid that it may be some irony he doesn’t understand.

She shots him a coy smile. “You stammered beautifully.”

He chuckles remembering his argument last night denying any resemblance between him and King George VI.

“And…” She continues, “You were great. I heard people say nice things about you.”

“Thanks to you. I only made like six officers fall asleep.” He jokes.

”Then you owe me one.”

“Yes, a big one.” He licks his lips, not sure whether he should ask her. “Would you like to have dinner with me, at the Westin? As a thank-you.” He looks into her eyes expectantly.

Her smile gradually fades away. She hesitates before saying.

“I, I don’t feel like going there.” A hint of displeasure lingers in her ocean-blue orbs.

How stupid of him? He blames himself. He just suggested taking her to dinner where they had their first date, their first kiss and their first night together.

“Sorry, I should have asked earlier. I didn’t mean…I supposed that…” He is trying to find the right words to rescue himself.

“Kurt,” She places her hand on his arm to cut him off. “We can go ho…” Shocked by her own careless slip of tongue, she looks away before continuing, “I mean, go to my apartment.”

He gives her a long stare before saying with a lopsided smile, “Kay.”

 

Chapter Text

“Sorry about the take-out. I forgot I got nothing left in the fridge.” She apologizes bashfully, handing him a tumbler before sitting on the couch.

“It’s okay. I like Chinese food.” Taking a sip of the whiskey, he smiles, seated on the other side of the couch.

There was not much conversation during the meal. He asked how was everything with the new firm and received a scarcely informative answer. She asked if he was on any cases recently but showed limited interest in hearing the answer with polite yet careless nodding.

 

“I heard that you’ve been to France?” After a long while of staring at their beverages, he breaks the silence.

Being caught unguarded, she is reminded of her already-ruined retirement plan, in which, she just realizes, she didn’t even have enough time to consider him. The decision to finally make the curtain call of her career and leave the country to begin a life in Provence was driven by the long-time tiresome of the domestic political farce and everlasting office politics from time to time. It was time to take a break, just enjoy her later life and leave her aspiration in career and concern in politics behind, but she did not realize that she would leave him out of the picture she’d been blueprinting. A sudden tensing of nerve stiffens her tongue.

She gives a short glare to his expectant gaze before drifting her widened eyes back to her drink.

“I, uh,” She licks her lips. “Yes, only for a week.” She takes a big gulp of the liquor.

“I’m glad.” He says genuinely, shooting her a warm smile.

“Why?” Still caught in her own stirring mind, she asks surprisedly. Does he know about her dream house? Does he realize that not even giving any thought about what to do with their marriage, she just decided to begin a new life and leave everything behind, leave him behind?

“Well, you’d been talking about a trip to France forever but we never made it. Actually, we never even had the time to plan it.”

 

She recalls the many nights when they cuddled in bed with her head resting on his chest and his fingers drawing small circles on her bare skin, just talking about what they would like to do once they both could make the time.

“How about us spending a month just traveling around?” She suggested.

“A month?” He smirked with a snort. “You’re joking. You cannot even spare a week.”

“Not now, but I can, someday.” She argued, “I always wanted to visit south France and pretend to live like French people for a while, enjoying the wine, the scenery and a life where you don’t have to prove yourself every day.”

“I thought you prefer Amalfi coast.”

“Oh, there, too, but just for a few days. You know, hot tourism spot may lose its charm after a glimpse. After that, we can go to some French village no one knows, live in a cottage and maybe grow something.”

“You? Grow something?” He laughed.

She rolled her eyes and raised her head, feigning an offended look at his sneering smirk.

“Okay, you grow something.” She playfully squeezed his jaw with her fingers, before pressing a peck kiss on his lips.

“Don’t worry about it, hon. I’ll teach you.” He gripped her wrist to keep her from drawing away and leaned closer for a full kiss.

 

“Diane?” He awakens her.

“What?” She doesn’t notice that she has drifted away in her thought.

“I asked, how was it.”

“Oh, it was great. When you were there, time just slowed down.” She smiles at him before continuing. “It was interesting that suddenly all your senses just came back to life. You could hear the leaves breathing, smell the coldness and limpidity of babbling creeks and taste the sweetness in the air.”

“Sounds like the perfect place to live.”

“Yes, it is. People there don’t give a damn about who’s the president or who’s the dictator. They just put their lives first.” Why did she choose those words? She doesn’t know. It’s just what came to her mind.

“Make a life, and put our lives first.” His proposal echos resoundingly in her head. He was right about one thing. They didn’t do it then, and never have they. Given their current status, it seems quite certain that never will they. It just occurs to her now that what she described is exactly the kind of life he always wanted for them. It was him that kept pushing her to embrace nature more often, to put aside the burden of work for a moment and to simply relish the vigor gained from the connection with nature.

A feeling of remorse creeps to her chest for unconsciously neglecting the influence he brought to her perception of life over the years and so many aspects he’s introduced to her to feel more alive than ever. Apparently, he’s aware of her indifference and sometimes even a hint of annoyance of his presence. He understands that this is the consequence he has to take for what he did and respects the way how she processes it just like he always respected how she chose to arrange their married life for her convenience even though he did not approve of. Both fixating their eyes on the drinks, they share a mutual silence remembering that day he proposed to her in a very subtle way.

 

“I did call you.”

He looks at her quietly with no intention to interrupt her, noticing her eyes a little reddened.

“Work had me think about you.” She pauses, taking a sip of her wine. “And about us. But I didn’t know what to say so I hang up.” Her eyes are fixed on the tumbler in her hand, avoiding his gaze.

“Thinking about you is not easy, Kurt, because when I do, there comes this mental image of you,” she takes a breath, “and her.” She takes the remainder in her tumbler all in.

”It’s so silly, isn’t it?” She forces a smile. “I didn’t ask you about what happened, but I indulge my imagination for my own version of it. Then I try to remember some good memories of us, which only makes it worse.” She puts her empty tumbler on the coffee table and tucks a stray of her hair back before adjusting her position on the couch. “So I try not to think about us. I know, it’s cowardly but that’s how I can keep everything else rolling.”

His heart is bleeding while hearing her confession. He made the mistake, yet she is the one they both count on for where their marriage should go. When he was lying in his cabin in the middle of the night hoping that she would give him another chance, it never crossed his mind what kind of pain she’d been through just thinking about him. He realizes how selfish he has been the whole time, doing nothing but waiting for her to process it, to heal the wound he cut and to make the decision of their relationship when he clearly knows yet unwillingly to admit that there is an easy option, an option that will break him down but will stop her from thinking about him for good. But he can’t do it. They spent years wandering around each other before finally deciding to spend their life together. She’s the best thing that has ever happened to him. How can he let go of her? But if he really loves her, how can he bear the fact that she has to suffer such pain because of him? Torn inside, he squeezes the tumbler in his hand, fighting the tears pricking his eyes.

 

“I don’t deserve your forgiveness, Diane. It won’t change the fact that I hurt you.” Not looking at her, he still fumbles his drink.

“I will do anything to relieve you from the agony I cause.”

“Anything.” He stresses, turning to her and meeting her gaze.

“Kurt?” She’s intimidated by his serious stare.

“If,” He looks down, fighting his almost shaking voice, before raising his eyes and looking deeply into hers. “If you want to start a new chapter without me.” Hard as he has struggled, his eyes are filled with tears. “I will sign any paper you give me and give you everything you deserve, neither of which is enough to make up to you though.” He gasps.

“I love you, Diane, more than anything. I want to make you happy with everything I can give but I failed. If being with me, even just the sight of me, means nothing but pain to you, I’d hope you can move on. I will not stay in the way.” He looks down to the gap between them on the couch frowning and his face wrenches with his lips pressing tightly.

She never saw him being so vulnerable, struggling with his will. He’s the most strong-willed person she knows. Now seeing the man she respected, admired and loved, collapse like this, sorrowing in his mistake, her heart breaks into pieces. He made a mistake but he shouldn’t be defined just by that. She feels terrible that her demeanors have made him feel so unwanted and resented. Regretting that she just shot out her mixed feelings for him, which he misinterpreted only for the hurting part, she blames herself for making him belittle himself. “Oh, my dear silly cowboy, it’s painful because I cannot touch you or kiss you the way I used to even though I want to so badly. It’s painful because the affair you had makes you a strange person to me when I also know you are still the most honest man I know. It’s painful because no matter how many times I try to tell myself that you’re dead to me, part of me still cannot hate you. It’s painful because I cannot stand seeing you in pain when you are trying so hard to make up to me in your stoic way. It’s painful because I love you, still.”

 

Biting her lips, she tries to keep herself from weeping, but her sight is blurred. She fails to restrain the urge to move closer to him. Putting her hand over his, which previously kneaded the cover of the couch to brace himself, she strokes the back of his big hand in a slow and tender move. What should she say to release him from this self-loathing abyss? On the touch of her slender fingers, he looks up to her glistening eyes filled with sympathy. For a moment, the sight of her face and the touch of her flesh make him regret what he just proposed, which is soon quenched by the reminder that it was him who made her suffer so much. His eyes run down and take a halt at her quivering lips. He closes his eyes momentarily, swallowing hard, before locking her eyes with his again.

“Sorry, Diane, I didn’t mean to make you feel worse. I, uh, I should probably go.” He retrieves his hand from her hold and stands up.

At the sudden loss of his touch, she looks up to his moving figure in astonishment. He’s leaving and he will never be back. The thought almost gives her a palpitation, wherein she actually feels a piercing ache inner her left chest.

It only takes a few strides to reach the hallway. He doesn’t look back, he cannot. One more look at her will so easily change his mind. It’s not about his feelings. It’s about her, only her. He loves her so much that he is willing to take any option if it will make her happy again. This is the right thing to do. He turns the doorknob. A gust of night wind blows to his face, drying the tears in the corners of his eyes, but the crack ceases widening suddenly, as he hears the click of their wedding rings and feels her hand tightly pressed on his. He turns meeting her watery orbs filled with grievance, an expression he feels obligated to dissolve. He didn’t hear her steps after him, now notices that she is barefoot.

“You can’t just leave me like this.” She says in a wobbly voice. “Kurt, I…” Before she finishes, he wraps her in his arms and presses his mouth fully on hers. The door falls shut behind him. He turns her back against the heavy oak with one arm tightly wrapped around her shoulders and the other clinging across her narrow waist. She sank into his kiss on the first touch of their lips. She couldn’t stand watching him leave, couldn’t stand another lonely night without him on her bedside but the full occupation of his presence in her mind. She didn’t know what was the right thing to do. She only knew that she couldn’t let him go. Now, her tongue is dancing with his and swiping the roof of his mouth for a full taste of the remaining whisky. Her brain goes blank under the powerful stroke of his tongue on her lower lip. There is no room for consideration of where they are in this marriage. Melting in his arms, she only craves for him to hold her tighter and kiss her harder.

She becomes unaware of the time, not knowing how long they’ve been kissing so passionately and sensually. Her fingers tuck in his thick hair, caressing his scalp in irregular patterns. As he feels up the curve of her torso, his thumb unconsciously strokes the lower rim of her breast, provoking a dangerous but exhilarating signal to her core and a tensing gasp in her smothered mouth. He loosens the touch of their lips by lightly nibbling her lower lip before leaning back a little and gazing at her glinting moist lips.

He kisses her flushed cheek on a trial to her birthmark then the hairline near her temple and puffs his hot breath in her ear.

“If you want me to stop, tell me now.” He murmurs in his low magnetic voice and then stares at her light blue orbs, expecting her instruction.

Still panting for air, she eyes his silver hair, sparkling eyes and desperate lips hovering over hers. Unlike the devastated look he was wearing, now he looks imposing and extremely sexy with the way he looks at her. Retrieving her hand from his tousled hair, she caresses his stubbly cheek.

“No one’s asking you to.” She hisses breathlessly. Standing on her toes, she reaches for his lips, letting her eyelids slowly draping, then feels a rough and firm brushing of his mustache on her upper lip and his tongue colliding with hers fiercely. His hand trails across her waist to her abdomen, causing a light moan from her throat, then snakes its way upward to cup her breast and rubs her stiffened nipple covered by the delicate fabric of her dress. Not breaking the glued kiss or the inseparable embrace, they stumble their way to the bedroom, to the unbearable darkness both of them have hated to sleep in for the past few months, but tonight they will illuminate that darkness by reigniting the long-sealed burning desire for each other. As their shadows shimmer in the hallway, their quivering figures gradually disappear into the dark end of the stairway.

Chapter Text

She switched on the bedside lamp before putting her jewelry on the nightstand. A beam of dim light shot on the empty bed. The sheet was made so smooth that there was not a tiny crease. Why did she still keep two pillows when she had been in this bed alone for the past eight months, she wondered. There were times when she woke up from one of those maddening dreams in the middle of the night, she reached her hand in search of him in vain then ended up realizing that they were separated for now, or maybe forever. Failing to receive the comfort she sought for to soothe her illusional fear in the dream, she was stricken by the cruel fact in reality that she had lost him. Her hand trailed upwards and grabbed the pillow, holding it tightly against her front and resting her chin on the soft material of the pillowcase. It usually took a while to rid her mind of him and get into an unsteady sleep until the morning glow shot through the crack of the curtains, poking her eyes before she woke up in this large bed alone, again. The very person that had been occupying her mind during bedtime was in her living room right now. She had excused herself to use the bathroom, the only way that she could think rationally for a moment without his presence.

“So you’ve invited him to your house, and then what? Would he interpret this as an invitation to something else?” She admitted that she was a little carried away when he kissed her so passionately just an hour ago. Nibbling her lower lip, she could still feel the itchiness caused by his bristled beard. She recollected how unabashedly natural it was to respond to him within a second on the touch of their lips. Before she realized it, she was savoring the sensuality and sweetness of that kiss until she felt a little dehydrated in her throat and tongue.

“So pathetic!” Licking her dry lips, she felt sorry for her weakness. It was so strange how this one person, who used to be the source of her strength, now made her weaker than she could ever think.

“Just act indifferently and hide your emotions. The night will be over soon.” She tried to brace herself but her eyes roamed back to that empty bed, again, then came the image of them cuddling under the sheet, which only covered their bodies from the waist down. She was squirming in his half embrace, returning his consistent kisses and running her fingers in his silver hair. He wrapped his arm tighter across her shoulders and turned her back against the mattress. Her arms tightly encircled around his neck to hold him closer. As he adjusted the position, her breasts were pressed against his bare chest. He ran his large hand all over the silky skin on her back and then changed its path to graze the sensitive skin of her lower abdomen before slipping it further down into the sheet where her loins were covered. A sudden pounding from the front door dissipated the image. She shook her head and blinked hard to gather herself, as she heard the following sounds of the door opening and then closing.

“Diane, the food is here.” The howl came from downstairs. She licked her lips hard and took a deep breath before answering him.

“Coming.” She walked to the door but took a halt there, bracing her hand against the doorframe. She shot one more look at the bed covered by the perfectly smooth sheet, not a crease, still.

......

She doesn’t remember how they made it to the bed, nor does she know how he was able to land her on that flat sheet like a feather. What makes sense to her now is that she is caressing his bearded cheek and kissing him senselessly. His hand firmly runs over the curve of her body at a gentle pace, as if she were a delicate artwork that he could accidentally break with a bit more powerful grip. His darting tongue tangles with hers fiercely, another reassurance that this is not a dream and that she is no longer alone in this bed. His hand trails around her waist and crawls upwards her spine to the back of her neck, where he feels the zip of her dress. He doesn’t rush. Feeling up her back, he locates the zip, again and starts to pull the tiny device downward slowly, the way of which is later blocked near her lower waist. His fingers sneak in and then his entire palm. Feeling the round and soft shape of her ass, he cannot help but giving a quick squeeze, which provokes a light moan from her throat and the involuntary arching of her back to press her pelvis tightly against him. His hand doesn’t linger there for long and starts its way back by caressing the revealed skin of her back and unhooks her bra when he finds it in the way. His long fingers reach her shoulder and gently rip down the shoulder strap together with the neckline of her dress. She has to take her hands off his face for a moment to release her arms from the sleeves before he can do the rest of the job of undressing her. The short break of their touch only makes her suck harder on his lower lip and lock her arms around his neck more tightly once they are available. With nothing else in his way, he continues the mission. His large hand takes over her chest and grazes her skin downward across the dip between her breasts, then her ribcage and wanders around her stomach, making her dress, which has already lost its integrity, wrinkle in a pile around her waist. His tie falls on her stomach, sweeping her cleavage. The cold material grazing her skin reminds her that she is naked from the waist up, when she just realizes that she has been so drawn to their kiss and his tender touch that she forgot to do him the same favor.

Her hands circle around to the front of his neck and loosen the knot of his tie before discarding it carelessly over her head. She begins unbuttoning his shirt with her slender fingers caressing each exposed inch of his hairy chest, causing a muffled groan from his deep throat. Unlike the soft and warm cloth of his plaid shirt that brushed her arm last night, the texture of the shirt he wears today feels unfamiliarly slick and cold. The last time she saw him attiring so formally was the day they registered marriage in the courthouse. The stunned look on his face watching her approach him and the calla lilies he prepared for her still remain one of her favorite memories. It was the happiest day of her life. No one could make her so happy and content like he did, as she constantly reminded him before. No one could ever have such effects on her as what he is doing with her right now. It’s like that his hands understand the exact needs of her skin and his lips are created just for her pleasure. It always amazed her how he was able to make her feel so preciously treasured and fervently loved only with his large hands, which were powerful enough to operate heavy machinery like a tractor and maneuver pistols and guns of any type. Is this the way he only applies to her? Or does he have other tricks for another woman? Did he touch that woman like he is doing to her right now? Did he manage to make that woman feel the same as she does right now? She never believes that people are not aware that they are cheating when they are cheating. The idea, alone, just defies her understanding of human conscience. How is it possible that he was sober enough to know his moves when having sex with another woman but not sober enough to remember he was married, not sober enough to care how hurt he would make her? The thought floods in her mind. It’s true that no one made her feel so loved as he did, but no one ever hurt her like he has, either. No one could.

She feels a lump in her throat and tears pricking her eyes before she can hold them back. The new wave of emotions takes up her lungs, causing ragged breaths in her muffled mouth. She unglues the tight seal of their lips by closing her mouth and slightly turning her face to the side as she feels a corresponding loosening grip of his arms around her. With no idea what just happened, he opens his eyes, tracing hers but only catching her profile. Her eyes are tightly shut. There are small creases between her brows and glistening tear droplets on her fluttering eyelashes.

“Diane?” He calls her softly.

She opens her eyes meeting his concerned gaze. In her reddened orbs, he reads dejection and a hint of vulnerability. He knows immediately what is haunting her. Frowning, he widens the distance between them and looks into her eyes affectionately.

“If you’re thinking of….,” he pauses, swallowing hard, “Diane, we don’t have to do this.” No groping or squeezing, his hands stay where they were the moment he sensed her rejection, giving the space she needs for the moment. Somehow, the guilt and fear in his tender gaze soften her broken heart. A drop of tear rolls down her temple and disappears in her hair. She covers his cheek with her hand and shoots him a begging look before saying softly, “Then stop me from thinking.” A new layer of tears fills her eyes.

His eyes widen with a short astonishment and hesitation, which is soon succeeded by a frowning determination. He closes the gap between them and presses an open-mouthed kiss over her lips, so hard a kiss that it’s like he is devouring her. His hands quickly resume fumbling all over her more frantically than ever. If he was trying to restrain his lust and desire previously for her sake, now the inner beast is about to be released. As he swallows the responding tease from her tongue, he tucks his fingers in her hair and directs her scalp in accordance with the movement of his head. His other hand drops on her shoulder and trails the distinctive shape of her collar bone before moving downwards to fully cup her breast and giving repetitive and solid strokes there, with his thumb and forefinger rubbing her hard nipple. He can tell that he has wiped her mind completely since she is shaking under his touch and wrenching his collars into her fists to pull him impossibly closer. His mouth escapes from hers and slides down to suck the tensing muscle of her chin. His hot lips sweep across her long throat and leave burning kisses on her fast heaving chest before finally nibbling the soft breast still tightly held by his large hand. Head throwing back against the pillow, her eyes are tightly shut, and her mouth is half open to take in as much air as she can, which still cannot reduce the excitement he has caused her. Her arms lock his neck, keeping his head tightly against her chest, as he licks her areola firmly while brushing his bristled lips over every soft spot of her breast. Even just hearing the intermittent kissing sounds he makes with his flaming lips over her body bring waves of throbs to her core, which she tries to cope with by tightly clenching her legs. However, the feeling of his erection sticking her inner thigh puts her attempt down the drain. Writhing her pelvis beneath him, she bends her knee to grind the tent on his crotch. The cloth of his trousers is not thick enough to hide the hotness of his hard length. He lets out a loud groan as his mouth feels over the muscle line on her abdomen, being reminded that she is always capable of making him feel twenty years younger. Separating his lips from her skin, he follows the lead of her hands on his face to meet her blurred eyes, filled with lust and amazement. Her mouth slightly parted, cheeks aflame, she is panting heavily.

“Kurt.” She mutters his name then licks her lips, attempting to say something.

“Shush.” He tucks a stray of loose hair to the back of her ear, cutting her off even before she can form her words in her mind. He lowers his head, lips hovering over hers.

“About to get started.” Puffing his hot breath in her mouth, he whispers. Narrowing the small gap between their lips, he gives her a chaste kiss before pulling back.

She stares at his face as his hand skates over her lower abdomen, tucking into the wrinkled pile of her dress. She gasps and closes her eyes when his fingertips sneak through the waistband of her pantyhose and the thin lacy of her panties before rubbing her clits with his long and formidable fingers and pressuring her pubic bone with his palm. He ventures his fingers to the hot wetness that coats her labia before inserting them inside her, finally releasing the long-waiting joy he has been brewing in her. Her head jerks back on his rough invasion. Pricking his shoulders with her nails, she bites her lower lip hard, preventing herself from screaming but failing to hide constant high-pitched moans from her throat. He always loved observing the look on her face when he did this to her. She even challenged him to do it in the parking lot of the courthouse after she was so aroused by his testimony, which he was totally unaware of when they exchanged frequent eye contacts in the court. He never knew that he had the charm that could so easily turn her on. His drawling tone, the way he pronounced her name, even just simply standing could draw her to curl up in his embrace and purr the erotic love words into his ear with a kitten smile on her face that he could never resist. Every time he doubted whether he deserved her, a pure embodiment of perfection in every term, she assuaged his doubts by showing her overwhelming admiration of his integrity and purity and making him aware of her ardent love for him. She is the best lover, and as it turned out, he doesn’t deserve her, after all. It is not fair to ask for her forgiveness when he feels like rubbish every second after he woke up from a hang-over with another woman in his arms. He probably never swore that much before that morning not to anybody but to himself. He was torn whether to tell her right away, but the fear of losing her prevailed. It was the most selfish thing he ever did. Cheating and then lying, maybe, he was never that guy she had been looking up to. If he is not who she thought he was, then there are no possible reasons that she could still love him. It was like a silent agreement that they started living apart with neither of them proposing a proper talk to discuss their status. He understood that she needed space and didn’t intend to give her any pressure, in fear of leading to no progress other than a confirmation that she was done with him.

He inserts the full length of his fingers inside her before stroking hard on her walls. Her body suddenly tenses up and her back arches, pressing her breasts against his bare chest. As he continues the strokes, he rests his chin on her shoulder and presses long kisses on the crook of her neck, sniffing her hair and every pore on her soft and silky skin. He has been missing the sweet scent he used to sleep in when she was in his arms.

“Kurt!” As she screams his name, a new layer of wetness coats his digits.

Slowly pulling his fingers out of her, he looks at her expectantly. She opens her eyes meeting his gaze with the same affection. He dips his head and she meets him halfway. Their lips melt together. She wiggles to get rid of her dress from her legs and then off her feet. His hands seize the waistbands of her underwear before ripping them off. With no idea when he took off his trousers, she feels his length inside her already, welcoming his hardness with the instant contraction of her clits. A joyous moan escapes from her deep throat and is devoured by his smothering kiss as she wraps her arms around his neck, again. Circling his arm around her waist, he tries to position her in the proper place. He breaks their kiss and pulls back before pumping inside her. She braces her elbows against the mattress and arches her back to tighten the connection of their bodies. The wild frictions of their groins inflame her skin. Their stares lock. As his hardness starts thrusting into her in a regular rhythm, they examine each other’s expressions. Her cheeks flush. Her lips parts. Her throat shudders as she swallows hard in response to his fierce grinding inside her. He loves the satisfaction filled in her eyes and lingering expectation for more. Her long, smooth legs straddle his hips with her calves brushing his firmly tensing ass, a movement that motivates his speeding-up rocking between her legs. Small twitches cross his face when he tries to stick the tip of his length deeper and deeper, bringing such ecstasy to her nerves that her lashes flutter like a million times before her eyes drift close and roll back to her brain and she stretches her long neck to its full extent. Her soft breasts and stiffened nipples keep teasing his chest as he closes the gap to press a sucking kiss on her tensing throat. As his hot length strokes her walls harder and harder, she is close to come. She groans with enormous pleasure in the sound escaping from her deep throat, when she feels the bulging hotness around his cock cupped by her full contraction before a powerful ejection into her. Right there, both of them peaks the most euphoric sensations that they can cause each other.

She throws her head on the pillow and lets her legs slide down his thighs, the pace of which is slowed by the rough friction caused by their perspiration, before falling on the mattress as his length inside her goes limp. He rests his face fully in the crook of her neck for a moment. He pulls his penis out of her before rolling over and landing his head on the pillow beside hers. Both heavily panting, they lie like that for minutes. Fighting the heaviness of his eyelids, he opens his eyes and turns to study the afterglow of their love-making on her face. Eyes shut, her mascara is a little smudged from early tears. The curve of her nose and the outline of her parted lips make a perfect profile. Her chest, damp with glistening sweat, is heaving. Always a vision! He drags the sheet to cover her naked body and finds her fond stare when he ends tucking the edge around her breasts. He returns her with a coy smile, leaning closer, and resumes the physical connection of their bodies by wrapping his arms around her from behind and molding his front to her back. She flinches by his grip but soon relaxes in his embrace with his arms under her breasts. He buries his face in her hair and gives a hard sniff before pressing a long kiss on the nape of her neck followed by another on her shoulder. Turning her head, she tries to face him in an awkward position. He presses a feather kiss on her cheek and brushes her blushed cheek with his bearded face to save her effort. Squirming in his accordance, she turns a little more to meet his mouth by brushing it with her soft lips. Her long fingers caress the back of his hand, which now holds the weight of her breast near the mattress. No grindings of tongues any more, just letting their lips do the dance, they relish this long lazy kiss. She can’t tell which brings her more joy, the wildness he just put her through or the long, sweet making-out in his arms. Slightly nibbling her lower lip, he gradually separates the touch with her mouth and stares at her blurred orbs with full affection and tenderness in his darkened eyes.

“I love you, Diane.”

She raises her hand to caress his cheek.

“Kurt…” Words are almost formed to her quivering lips when a hint of hesitation flashes across her eyes. She swallows.

“I have to get up early. Let’s get some sleep.” She gives him a chaste kiss and quickly rolls to her side of the bed, leaving the sheet drops to her lower back, before she has to torture herself with the hurt and disappointment in his eyes. However, her eyes are wide open staring at the dark night outside the window. The silence is killing her. She doesn't hear a sound for a while until his hand drags the sheet upwards with the back of his fingers gliding innocently across her bare skin and tucking it around her neck. Biting her lips and clenching the sheet tightly in her fist, she fights the urge to roll over, respond to his confession and resume the nostalgically enjoyable feeling of being held in his arms. After a light rock of the mattress, she hears a voiceless sigh. The corner of her mouth twitches. Frowning, she closes her eyes. A tear drops on her pillow, which is audible in contrast to the silence they are sharing.

Chapter Text

The light music and the chatting sound from other tables mingle together. His cup is half-filled, near which there is a half-filled glass of Chardonnay with lipstick print on the rim and a wrinkled napkin next to the empty plate. The vacant chair next to his reminds him to look up to the exit of the restaurant. There she is, clad in her royal blue dress walking away in a hasty stride. He stands up from his chair instantly and runs after her. His steps quicken as he sees her turn around the corner and loses the sight of her. When he makes it to the lobby, he finds himself rubbing shoulders with a crowd. Why are there suddenly so many people? He doesn’t know, nor does he care to figure out. He’s busy looking for her in the crowd. A tiny spot of that blue color appears and then disappears as he tries to make his way through the crowd. He’s got the feeling of a deja vu, but he has no time to recollect.

“I can’t. I’m sorry. I want to, but I can’t.” Her words echo in his mind. As he gradually approaches her, she has reached the revolving door.

“Excuse me! Diane!” Rushing through the crowd, he yells her name, but she doesn’t look back and then disappears in the spinning glass.

“Diane!” As he goes through the door and tries to reach her, he finds himself not at the outside of the hotel but is surrounded by dazzling white light, so bright that he has to block his eyes with his hand.

 

When he opens his eyes, again, he is lying in the bed of his cabin. He’s alone, but the pillow next to his still smells of her perfume, the only trace that she was here last night.

“It’s me missing you and hoping you feel likewise.” He recalls her sparkling eyes filled with affection and tenderness. His reminiscing is interrupted by the sound of heels hitting the wooden floor from outside the half-opened door.  He gets up, walks through the hallway and goes downstairs to trace her by following the sound of her steps. As he reaches the living room, he hears the front door is opened.

“Diane?” He turns from the staircase to face the door, only catching her back attired in that beige coat. Her slender fingers holding the doorknob gradually disappear before the door is heavily shut behind her. He runs to the door, hearing the sound of tyre grinding the gravelled road.

“Diane!” He opens the door. Again, there’s no leaving vehicle but a strong light that pokes his eyes.

 

He is sitting on the stand, but he notices that the attorneys, the judge, and the audience are looking at the same direction. He follows their stare. Her heels hit the marble floor of the courtroom resoundingly, only leaving him the back of her striding figure to the door.

“No. Not this time.” He stands up and almost jumps out of the bench, running after her. His hand holds the door before it shuts. His eyes reflexively squint in fear of another shoot of strong light, but there is nothing but an empty hallway.

“Where is she?” He looks around. He walks through the hallway. Turning around the corner, he finds her leaving the courthouse but clad in a black dress-suit that he has never seen before. Catching up with her steps, he grabs her arm before she can reach the door.

“I can explain.” Out of his breath, he says.

She turns, looking at him confused. “Excuse me? Are you mistaking me for someone else, sir?” She smiles at him politely, still wearing a confused look.

“Diane, what do you mean?” Startled by her answer, he frowns.

“Ah, yes, that’s my name. Have we worked together before?” A little scared but also interested, she rids her arm of his hold, acting like he is a total stranger.

“I, uh, the Broussard homicide, Diane, that brought us together.” He cannot believe he is explaining how they met but he has no idea what else to say.

“Broussard…” She frowns for a second. Then her eyes widen, like being hit by an epiphany. “Oh, Will’s case. Right, that’s why you look familiar.” She smiles.

“Will’s case?” His voice raises, astounded.

“Yes, Will Gardener, my late partner. He was the litigator on that case.” Her words hit him like a bat on the head.

The images flash in front of his eyes. He was in Will’s office, sharing his strategy on Broussard case. When leaving, he shot a look at the office opposite, only an empty red chair in the sight. In his farm, it was Will to whom he duplicated the shooting and showed the similar wound of the victim. He went for another appointment with him to share his opinion on Bianca Price trial. He shot a look at the female partner’s office while waiting for Will. The blonde partner was occupied in a meeting with a young reporter. He could hear the confident throaty laughs coming through her open door, but she never noticed him. When he was leaning against the wall outside the courtroom waiting to give his testimony, she walked past in a haste, not even shed a glimpse to him. He worked on Sweeney’s gunshot case as a returning favor for Will Gardner’s previous defence for his lawsuit against Jason Beltran. She was never involved in these cases directly. He only saw this powerful feminist partner through glass walls while co-working with her partner. There was never an occasion where he had the chance to talk to her, not to mention getting involved with her. They never started anything.

But what about those memories with her? Her bending over and kissing him passionately before leaving on their first date; her staring at him affectionately after throwing jealous comment on his student; her looking so hurt when his affair was exposed in court. Are those illusions? He feels a lump in his throat and tears pricking his eyes. “What is happening?”

“Sorry that I haven’t properly introduced myself. Diane Lockhart, Mr?” She shoots him a big grin, reaching out her hand.

“Kurt McVeigh.” He swallows before answering powerlessly and shaking her delicate hand. On the touch of her flesh, he recollects how her cold fingers once on his cheek and in his hair. The feeling is so real.

“McVeigh? Oh, what an unfortunate name! Hopefully, no relations?” She laughs hard before feeling sorry for her careless joke and gathering herself.

“Sorry, no offense. It’s always a pleasure to talk with someone who worked with Will, but I’m really late. Nice meeting you, Mr…uh…McVeigh.” She smiles at him, a little embarrassed, before walking away and leaving the door shut behind her.

He stands there, aghast, still shocked by the revelation that he has been weaving an illusional relationship with her. He has never been in her life? His sight blurs. His head is spinning. His heart is racing. He cannot catch his breath.

“If none of those memories are real, there would be no marriage, no betrayal, no Florrick trial. Then where am I? What am I doing?” He hears a muffled voice. He looks around the empty hall. There’s no one. Then the voice becomes clearer.

“Kurt.” It’s his name. He tries to find where the voice comes from. If this is some kind of prank, someone, please, ends it.

“Kurt.”

“Diane?” He recognizes her voice.

 

He blinks hard before opening his eyes. Panting heavily, he stares at the ceiling. His heart is racing frantically. Realizing where he is, he feels her cold hand on his chest. Dark as it is, he gradually catches her face lighted by the milky moonlight pouring through the window.

“Kurt, are you alright?” She asked concernedly, bracing herself with her elbow against the pillow.

Still feeling dizzy, he cannot squeeze a word other than stare at her with eyes wide open and mouth ajar.

“You’re talking in your dream.” The sound of his pumping vessel is still punching his ears. He holds his tears at bay on hearing her almost whispering voice.

Putting her hand on his cheek, she wants to make sure that he is with her. He takes her hand in his palm. Placing his quivering lips on the back of her long fingers, he gives a kiss on her wedding ring. Thank god, this is reality.

“Kurt?”

Separating his back from the mattress, he wraps her tightly in his arms.

“Oh,” Startled by his sudden embrace, she runs her fingers in his hair and whispers in his ear softly, “What’s wrong?”

The touch of her soft breasts on his chest makes him wide awake. He buries his face in the crook of her neck and drops small kisses on her shoulder.

“Thank you for being in my life.” His voice is a bit shaking. Landing her on her side of the bed and pulling back, he gazes at her with his glistening eyes.

“What?” She frowns, without a clue where this is coming from.

“I miss you so much, Diane.” He dips his head and kisses her fully. The touch of her soft lips  reassures him that she is right here with him and has been a major part of his life since the day they met in her office.

“God forbid. Whatever it takes, I will never let her leave me again.” His arm clings around her narrow waist, holding her more tightly against him.

Forgetting her confusion, she wraps her arms around his neck and squirms under him, responding to his firm lips. They keep cuddling for a long while until both fall asleep in one another’s arms.

……

The noise of light traffic and the sound of birds’ twitting creep in her ears. She wakes, but the heaviness of her eyelids prevents her from opening her eyes. She reaches her hand to his side of the bed only finding it empty. Frowning, fighting the sleepiness, she opens her eyes. Her heart sinks. There’s no trace of him, but her mood is slightly lightened seeing her silk robe neatly folded on his pillow. Rubbing her eyes, she takes a big yawn, trying to recover from the extra exercise last night. She gets up and puts on her rope before collecting her laptop and glasses from the coffee table and climbing back to bed. The screen remains the renting website she scanned yesterday.

Scrolling the webpages, she cannot take in any information. Not just annoyed by the lousy options that she would never live in, she cannot vacate her mind from the wild sex they had hours ago, nor can she stop thinking about his murmuring of her name that woke her in the middle of the night. Given how dreadful he looked, it was certainly a nightmare. But what did he mean by “being in his life”? Did he have a dream that she died?

 

“Hey.”

“Good morning.” Taking off her glasses, she greets back. Not knowing that he hasn’t left yet, she’s a little startled by his appearance.

“What’s with the boxes?” Too occupied elsewhere, he didn’t notice the boxes piled up around the couch last night.

She tells him that she’s considering moving.

“Why?”

“Just for a change.” She shrugs slightly, trying to sound no big deal.

“Change to what?” He keeps pursuing while adjusting his suit jacket.

“A new place.” She’s not answering the question, shooting him a smile before returning her eyes to the screen.

She instantly folds up the laptop when he walks closer and gingerly seats himself on the edge of her bedside, hands folded on his lap.

“Do you want to move in together?” He gazes expectantly at her vigilant eyes.

She looks aside, avoiding his gaze. Last time he proposed to live together, it was some time after his affair. An attempt for change was made out of guilt to compensate his betrayal. She felt stupid every time she recalled herself naively rejoicing over his fake thoughtfulness. Now, a new proposal is made out of sympathy, the last thing she wants from anyone, especially him. Rubbing her thumb over her laptop, she looks like contemplating, like she needs to.

“No.” Short and resolute.

“Why not?” She smirks in her thought. What a pair they are! He looks naive expecting to receive a different answer.

“It’s my problem.” She doesn’t bother if her emphasis might hurt him. She just wants to close the subject. Besides, she is telling the truth. They have been living separate lives before and after they got married. She has to admit that they were occasional lovers, a colorful name once thrown at her by the vetting staff for her supreme court judgeship. There hasn’t been a “them” in their relationship. A marriage certificate hasn’t changed that fact, which can hardly make what they are having a real marriage.

Putting the laptop on the mattress, she thinks the matter’s settled. But he moves forward closing the gap between them and stares at her unyieldingly before pressing his lips firmly on hers. Sunk into his kiss, she feels dizzy and helpless. His bristled lips brush hers dearly, reminding her where they have been last night. She feels heated in her lungs, making her chest heaving unevenly. She is about to respond to him before he gradually draws away. Taking a breath, she tries to wake her brain back to work.

“I have to get to work.” Her eyes linger on his lips shortly before drifting away.

“Diane, let me help.” He offers sincerely.

She eyes his silver hair, his affectionate orbs and then his lips.

“Kurt, last night was great, but I have to get to work.” Apparently, “great” underestimates what they had, and she knows. Hands against the mattress, she braces herself to sit straight, a movement forcing him to remove his hands previously residing beside her hips. As she does so, his hand innocently grazes the slick fabric of her robe over her thigh. He takes the hint and sits further away reluctantly. She puts her glasses on the nightstand. Taking in enough of her feint indifference, he pats her knee softly before standing up and heading to the door. Now certain that he is leaving, she feels at loss. Lightly biting her bottom lip, she tastes the bitterness of mouthwash left by him.

 

He knows his wife well enough to understand that nothing could make her take his gesture, not in their separation, but he couldn’t help making his offer. It agonizes him that he couldn’t tell how she really feels about him based on her shifting attitudes. With no idea if there is anything else he can do to make up to her apart from giving her space and time, he is just relived that she doesn’t resent his presence any more, at least not evidently. Blinking hard, he feels his eyes so heavy. He rarely slept after that horrifying dream. It still scares him that there might be a parallel universe where he lives a totally different life without even a chance to know her. It’s stupid to ponder over a meaningless dream, but if she never forgives him and finally decides to erase him from her life, he will be nobody but a stranger to her, just like the way in his dream.

“Kurt!” Before he reaches the front door, his name is called. Has she changed her mind?

“Yes?” He turns with a hint of exhilaration in his voice.

Her long legs show from time to time as she descends downstairs. He cannot help staring.

Standing in front him, she looks a little embarrassed by his previous blatant staring.

“It’s just…you forgot your tie.” She hands him the roll. “I found it at the foot of the bed.”

“Ah…” He takes it, looking disappointed, “Thanks.” Putting it in his pocket, he is about to leave.

“Kurt.” He turns to her. “I just want to tell you, uh, you don’t need to worry about me. It’s a bad time, but I’ve met worse. I mean, way worse.” She forces a short smile before continuing seriously. “I’m not shutting you out. I can handle it.”

His gaze softens, with a lopsided smile emerging on his face.

“I believe you can. You’re always my hero.”

She smiles shyly.

“So,” He continues, “Care for that dinner I still owe you? Maybe after you claim a victory in your new firm?”

“Sure.” She laughs.

“Great.” He leans closer and drops a peck kiss on her cheek before turning the doorknob. A gust of wind flips the hemline of her robe. The cool air runs through her body reminds her that she’s not wearing any underwear. “I’ll call.” He shoots her another smile before closing the door behind him.

 

Standing on the kitchen floor, she pours herself a cup of coffee. Taking a bite of the toast she just made, she realizes that she has skipped breakfast for a while. She finds it unusually delicious. She keeps telling herself that it is because of her deliberate plan to claim her value in the firm, but it is clear who is occupying her mind right now.