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and you say hello, and i lose

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Tuesday. Day off. Alone, again.

It was termtime, Verity was at school, so Douglas had no chance of seeing her unless he drove up and caught her in the five minutes between Brownies and bathtime. Maybe he'd pop by tomorrow, see if Catherine was up for dinner, all three of them. It had been a while.

He was lounging in front of the television, jeans and an old t-shirt that might have belonged to Herc once upon a time, shopping done, kitchen cleaned, bottle of wine open. What else was there to do on a Tuesday? Perhaps it was time he started dating again, seriously this time rather than just oozing charm at pretty girls until they came to bed with him.

Doorbell.

Of course.

He'd heard on the grapevine that Herc was single again. They'd not really spoken the past few months, not since Herc had got engaged again – he tended to do that, disappear like they weren't even friends when he was attached. Which was incredibly unfair, really; Douglas always at least made an attempt to keep things civil between them when he had a girlfriend.

Rumour had it that it was over, anyway, that she'd ended it. Of course she had. She was about fifteen years younger than Herc, pretty, educated. She'd clearly worked out she could do much better than a smooth-talking smug pilot.

Douglas strolled to the door, and there he was. As predicted.

"Douglas."

"Hello, Hercules. Back again?"

"Just come to say hello, it’s been a while since we’ve caught up," said Herc, in a tone that might have been convincing had they not had almost this exact conversation multiple times before.

"Of course," said Douglas. "Want a drink?"

They headed inside. Douglas grabbed a second wine glass, filled it up, and there they sat: sofa, wine, radio on. no food – Douglas had had a late lunch, hadn't been expecting company today, and certainly wasn't going to offer to cook something for Herc of all people. Not when he’d shown up like this, no phone call, no invitation. Again.

"Didn't last, then?" said Douglas. No point in pretending he didn’t know what was going on here. Not anymore.

"Apparently not," said Herc. He didn't sound all that upset about it. "Did you ever meet her, Douglas? Pretty girl, used to be a stewardess."

"Blonde, freckles, left AE to pursue her dreams in publishing? I think I slept with her in Stockholm last year."

He knew where this ended. Where it always ended. Wine drunk, kissing on the sofa, Douglas's bed. It would carry on for a few months, as it always did, until one of them found another pretty girl to attach to, and then things would collapse in on themselves again until the next breakup.

It had been fun, once. Early days, back when it was new and exciting, that year he and Catherine had separated, it had been fantastic. They'd both been showing off, young and enthusiastic – and then Douglas had ended things, because Catherine was talking to him again, and they were still married and she was so good for him.

She still was, really, they were still good friends.

Herc, on the other hand ... Herc was a terrible habit he couldn't work out how to break.

"You're very maudlin tonight," said Herc, watching him, that soft little look in his eyes. Once upon a time, Douglas had loved that look. It had felt safe, somehow, in a way that few other things were. These days he wasn't sure he trusted it.

"And you're very cheerful, considering you've just lost out on yet another wife," said Douglas.

"Maybe I’ve had enough of wives."

There he was: Herc the charmer, staring at Douglas like he was everything important in the world. Douglas wished he could say it didn't work on him anymore, wished he could say he was over it all, but ...

Kissing on the sofa again, as predicted. They didn't even make it to the bed, fell asleep on the sofa, clothes strewn around the room. Pathetic.

They'd spend tomorrow together, Douglas thought, because of course they would. Bickering, but softly in the way that they always did in the early days, both remembering how much they liked each other when they tried. They’d sign up for flights to the same cities on purpose to end up in the same hotels, sneak around them and find excuses to end up in the other’s room. They’d drift, together, from Herc’s house to Douglas’s, only separating so that Douglas could see his daughter, or Herc could go to his vegetarian cooking class. They’d sightsee: find theatre, music, opera, food in cities they found themselves together in.

It would be fucking lovely, actually. It always was. At least for a little while, until one of them got nasty in a bad mood, the other took offence, and they spun themselves into that old bitter spiral.

But maybe this time ... maybe this time would be different. Maybe they’d stick it out. Temper the viciousness, talk things out like the adults they were supposed to be. Maybe there wouldn’t be somebody else, Herc wouldn’t run off with the first pretty stewardess who shot him a smile; maybe Douglas wouldn’t charm somebody into falling for him, and mistake his feeling of flattery for genuine affection.

Maybe there was a reason they kept coming back to each other. Maybe this was it.