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More Than One Thing

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"Isn’t it true, Mr. McVeigh, that you’ve had an affair with Holly Westfall."

Somehow, she continues to live in a world where these words exist. She gets up; she goes to work. She rids her workplace of the woman who betrayed her in the most public way possible and she wonders if this should make her feel better.

It doesn't.

Neither does getting away, despite all the well-meaning people who kept telling her it would. All it does is give her too much time to think. She gives up after a day.

And still she does not talk to him.

He leaves message after message on her voicemail and she listens to them all, over and over again as if through repetition the words will somehow change from tearful apologies to believable denials. It must be some kind of mistake. He wouldn't do this, not the honourable man she married, not her cowboy.

At first the calls come every day, multiple times a day, but as time passes they become less frequent. He's losing hope; she can hear it in his voice: the sadness, the resignation. She wants to be relieved, but somehow she's not.

"You have to talk to me eventually, Diane," the most recent message says. "We can't go on like this forever."

She's knows he's right. She has to make a decision, one way or another. This state of limbo isn't fair to either of them. Like he was fair to you? a niggling voice reminds her, and her throat closes over again.

 ***

"How many," she asks, her own voice so rough and broken she doesn't recognise it. They sit at her dining room table, stiffly and at opposite ends. It feels almost like a board meeting and that gives her some illusion of control.

"How many?" he repeats, his brow creased. "I don't..." He gestures helplessly.

"Women, Kurt. How many times have you made a fool of me? All those pretty young students...I had actually started to think it was funny how those girls would attach themselves to you when you had no interest in them." She gives up fighting the tears that stream down her face. "Joke's on me, right?"

"No!" He looks horrified. "No, Diane. It's not...I never. This was the only time, I promise."

"You promise," she repeats bitterly. "Well, as long as you promise. So when was it? Where?"

He sighs, shakes his head. "Does it matter? I fucked up. How will knowing the details make it better?"

"You don't get to decide what makes me feel better!" she snaps. In her lap away from his sight, her fingernails bite into her palms.

And so he tells her. He was away on a job in Miami. She remembers the trip, the last one he made before his abrupt retirement. More time apart, but it had become so commonplace by then, a three-week absence barely rated a mention. She remembers making a wildly optimistic suggestion about flying down for a weekend. It hadn’t happened. It never did. If he had been disappointed, he hadn't let on.

She feels like she's underwater, slowly drowning in her own despair and regret. It fills her ears, her mouth, her lungs, her mind, until there is no room for anything else. She looks at him across the table and sees a stranger.

The story emerges haltingly, as he looks anywhere but at her. She watches his lips move, but he could be speaking a foreign language for all the meaning she's able to take from what he’s saying. Occasionally a word, a phrase, penetrates the tidal waves of pain sweeping over her - too much to drink, involved years before, didn't mean anything, just sex, over as soon as I saw you again, I'm so, so sorry, I love you. The words are horrible, ugly cliches she never wanted to hear from his mouth. And yet here they are.

Abruptly she stands, runs to the bathroom and vomits, the sick feeling she's been carrying around since she first laid eyes on that woman finally demanding acknowledgement. For untold minutes she crouches in front of the toilet, heaving until her stomach is empty and her legs scream in protest. Slowly, hand on the counter, she levers herself upright. Hands shaking uncontrollably, she pulls a length of paper from the roll to wipe her mouth.

Heavy footsteps approach, and he knocks twice on the door. "Diane? Are you okay?"

Is she okay? The question is so absurd she laughs out loud, the sound harsh and mirthless.

"I'm sorry," he says again. "Do you want me to leave?"

No!

"Yes."

***

She wants to stop loving him, wants to push him away so hard that he’ll never find his way back. She wants to forgive him, to invite him back into her home and her bed and pretend the last few months never happened. She feels weak, indecisive, pathetic because she’s wholly incapable of choosing between the two extremes and she can’t seem to find the middle ground. Maybe there isn’t any.  

She wants to forget she ever met him.

They sit together on the couch, not talking, not doing anything but drowning in their own misery again and again and suddenly she just can’t . Can’t continue to exist in this awful limbo for another moment; can no longer balance on this precipice.

She has to jump.

Abruptly she stands and turns in place, then kneels on the couch beside him, taking his face in her hands. When he opens his mouth – to encourage her, or to protest, she doesn’t know and doesn’t wait to find out – she presses her lips to his. If she’s shocked him, he recovers quickly, kissing her back like he’s a man dying of thirst in the desert and her kiss is an unexpected oasis.

His arms slide around her waist as he pulls her roughly into his lap, his grip on her like a vice as they devour each other.

Minutes pass, or maybe only seconds, she doesn’t know or care, but suddenly he’s pulling back, wrenching his face from between her hands. She refuses to meet his eyes, knows he’s probably looking at her like he’s terrified this isn’t real, and maybe it isn’t, but they can make it real. If they just force everything else from their minds and concentrate only on this , they can make it real.

He opens his mouth to speak and she knows, knows , she can’t listen to anything he has to say right now, so she kisses him again, hard and insistent, then backs away only by a fraction of an inch, just enough to form words.

“I need this, Kurt. I need to feel something besides anger, besides loss and pain and fear. Please, I just, I need to feel you. Please don’t talk.” She’s practically begging him not to break this spell, whatever it is, and when she squirms in his lap and he reflexively pushes his hard cock up against the underside of her thigh, she knows then he won’t stop, not now, not even if she breaks them both in two.

Twisting around to straddle him, she takes his face his her hands again and pulls him to her, shoving her tongue in his mouth and grinding hard against him. His fingers grip her hips so tightly it almost hurts, but right now physical pain is a welcome distraction to her emotions. Meaning to encourage that line of thought, she breaks their kiss and buries her face in the crook of his neck, biting down on the first skin she tastes.

“Fuck, Diane,” he curses and the sound of her own name only spurs her on. Reaching down, she grabs his t-shirt on each side and yanks it free of his jeans, tugging until he raises his arms so she can pull it off over his head. She tosses over her shoulder and only then looks him in the eye for the first time since this all began.

It's already over and some part of her knows it, knows it by the sting of tears that rise in her own eyes, by the way she wants instantly to look away. Her eyes flood over until she can no longer see him and she is grateful.

But if they can just get through this... stubbornly, madly, she holds on to the thought that they can rebuild something physically where all words have failed. If they can just get through this, then she will learn to put the past behind her. Then she will remember the man he had always been to her. Then they will find their way back to one another. She is so tired of talking, and words had never done very much for them anyhow.

She slides off his lap again and pulls him down after her, the full weight of him hard and real and tangible, everything endless thinking and talking could never be. She closes her legs around him, her arms holding him like a vise, willing him to smother her, to consume her, to crush every last breath and thought and feeling out of her so she can start anew.

But he has seen her tears, and he is kissing them away now, slow, soft kisses diverting the stream down one cheek and then the other. His tenderness is not what she needs now, will not make her forget. His gentle hands slipping under her shirt and soothing over her bare skin can only remind her there are wounds that need healing. And remind her where those hands have been.

He should know what she needs, but she will show him if she has to, pulling his face to hers again and kissing him hungrily, grinding hard against him until he gives in with a low moan. Did she ever have to work this hard for it, or was he was all too easy to break? She shoves the thought away and pulls him closer, holds him impossibly still closer. And he touches her like she wants him to then, rough, needy, full of lust and love and everything she feared was gone all these months, feared was gone forever.

His hands move over her in the ways he knows she likes, the ways that should work , and she struggles to lose herself as she always inevitably does. But he feels somehow further and further away, as if this were happening to somebody else. Did he touch her this way too, or are there other, different ways he touches her, because he knows what she likes just as well? And which would be worse?

He whispers her name as he presses hard against her, and it brings her back to him for a moment, but it is the ghost of that other name that lingers on the edge of her mind, imagining how it sounds in his voice when he comes. He whispers his love, reverent as ever, but the words sound hollow now, just as easily said in a hotel bed after four beers.

She wants to return the words, wants to so badly she could scream, I love you. Always, she had said. She had meant it. She knows now, she still does. Always.

"Stop. Stop, I can't." These are the words that rise from her throat instead.

He backs off immediately, his eyes filled with concern she can't bear to see as she pulls herself to sit upright again, straightening her skirt around her knees. She is never going to stop feeling this way; she knows this just as certainly. Never. Never.

She can’t continue like this.

"I need you to go," she says, looking straight ahead at nothing, numb. Done.

He begins to protest, but stops himself. She doesn't look up again to see him cry, although she knows he does. She doesn't look up again to watch him walk out without another word.

***

The next day, she calls David into her office and asks him to get the paperwork ready. It's complete and filed before lunch.

He calls almost immediately after he receives the documents. She picks up the phone, but says nothing. She has so little energy left to give this.

"Diane...? Are you there...?"

She can tell by the sound of his voice he is stricken, has been crying again, and the anger swells up in her again. How dare he. He is the one who chose this for them. Him, not her.  "Yes," she says shortly.

"Diane, we need to talk - I'll sign this if that's what you want, but - please...." He trails off, cutting short the tremble in his voice.

She closes her eyes resolutely, steeling herself. She has made up her mind - she can't keep letting him make her doubt. "There's nothing left to say, Kurt."

He is silent for a long moment. "Just tell me, is this really what you want?"

She closes her eyes more tightly, holding back tears now, useless tears she wishes to hell she could stop. She knows he means it; he'll do whatever she wants. He'll sign the papers, he'll go to court, he won't make a fuss about anything, he'll move out of town probably to make sure he never bothers her again, he'll leave her life completely, if that's what she wants. The tears are rolling silently down her cheeks now. She swipes them away angrily, steadying herself so that her voice doesn't betray her. "I want to be married to the man I knew. But we can't go back, Kurt. Goodbye."