This Is How Our Story Ends
3: This Is How Our Story Ends
Richard wasn’t looking his best when the timid knock sounded at his front door. Earlier that day, still in the midst of his depressed mood, he had haphazardly thrown on a pair of old faded jeans, baggy and slightly frayed, and simply grabbed the nearest shirt, a blue flannel button up. He never did bother to check if he had in fact buttoned it up properly, and at that moment he didn’t particularly care.
Heaving a great sigh, he pushed himself off of his sofa, a tired grunt escaping his lips at the effort, and trudged toward the door and the offending noise. He wasn’t in the mood for company. He had a full night of wallowing and brooding planned and he didn’t want to be interrupted.
The door swung open swiftly under his unnatural strength and he turned to fix his visitor with a disgruntled stare. “Listen, I’m really not up for any lectur---”
His words stopped abruptly and he was rendered speechless at the sight before him. Eventually, after a tense silence, he exhaled sharply, remembering that he did in fact still need to breathe.
“Hi.” His voice was soft, gentle, and Richard gave a small smile, one full of anxiety and nervousness. “Sorry,” he apologized abruptly, waving his hand about, “I, uh, thought you were Louie, he’s been bugging me the last couple of days so I just assumed…”
His gruff but sheepish voice faded away and he found himself squirming a bit uncomfortably in the doorway, waiting for her reaction. The tiny, barely noticeable smile the redhead on his porch sent his way filled him with a sense of relief and, as if just remembering his manners, he stepped away from the doorway and waved her inside.
Willow stepped inside with great trepidation, wringing her hands unconsciously, occasionally tugging at the hem of her red corduroy jacket as she headed into the living room, passing Richard without even looking him in the eye.
Richard watched her pass him by and cleared his throat awkwardly, looking down at his scruffy appearance and grimacing in self-depreciation. He knew he looked like crap and running his hand through his loose, slightly tangled brown hair, he frowned. If he knew there was a chance she would show up at his house, he would have at least liked to brush his hair.
“How—” he winced as his voice cracked, “how are you?”
“Okay, I guess,” the petite witch shrugged, shuffling her feet self-consciously and looking down at her brown suede boots, apparently fascinated by them. “You?”
“F-Fine,” he replied, a total and utter lie. He knew it and she knew it, but neither called him on it. “Why did you come by?” he asked hesitantly, chastising himself immediately at how harsh that may have sounded.
Instead of taking offense, Willow grinned in reluctant amusement and shook her head. “Right to the point, hmmm? How unlike you Richard,” she murmured to herself. He couldn’t help but overhear her comments and he hid the slight smile they brought to his drawn features.
“Honestly?” she started, forcing herself to look him in the eye, unable to break his gaze once she caught it, “I’m not sure. I’ve felt a little…unsettled lately, so I went for a drive. You know, to clear my head? And—and I don’t know, I just sorta ended up here.” She let out a shaky breath, “I was going to leave,” she admitted, struck by the look of utter panic that crossed his face at the mention of her leaving. “But then I just heard Louie in my head, telling me I needed to talk with you, and I knew it would bother me unless I did. So here I am,” she shrugged, biting her lip. “By the way, that best friend of yours can be a real pain in the neck, you know that?”
“Yeah,” Richard smiled warmly, “I know that.”
A deafening silence fell over them after their tentative conversation came to an end and Richard licked his lips nervously. He was still standing only a couple feet from his now closed front door, hands buried deep in his jeans pockets, she was standing across from him, hands twisted together in front of her, the couch a barrier between them that neither seemed willing or able to cross.
“So…” he started uncomfortably.
“So…” Willow echoed, “Um, this is where we’re supposed to talk, I guess…”
“I guess you’re right,” he acknowledged, with a stiff nod.
“So…” she prompted, not really prepared to take the lead.
“You didn’t have to leave,” he announced abruptly, surprising her with his bluntness. A little embarrassed by his minor outburst, Richard’s cheeks reddened slightly, but instead of backing down, he continued on. “You—you didn’t even tell me something was bothering you. You didn’t give me the chance to fix anything. I mean, you just…left.”
“If you didn’t notice before then that something was wrong, than I seriously doubt having a ‘talk’ would have changed anything Richard,” she countered, trying her best not to sound angry, hurt, or bitter.
“How can you say that?” he asked a little incredulously. “You don’t know.”
“Listen,” the redhead sighed, finally breaking his pleading gaze, eyes glued to the floor. “Thinking about all the what-ifs and everything is pointless. There’s no need to argue about things that can’t be changed. And, you know, feelings can’t change, Richard. Not feelings like love. That’s why I left, okay. It wouldn’t have mattered if we ‘talked it out’ or anything, because in the end, you can’t choose who to be in love with.” She took a deep breath and centered herself, determined not to get emotional despite her inner turmoil. “I—I didn’t come here to rehash everything, or to argue. Louie was right. We have issues, we need closure. But that’s it. Nothing more.”
“That’s not fair,” he countered, voice not above a whisper, but still carrying a note of sincerity and seriousness. “You just decide that things can’t change, without even trying to talk with me. It’s not fair. I didn’t get any say in this, you just up and left.”
“You didn’t need a say in this,” Willow pointed out, her lips pressed together in a thin line. “It was a personal decision, my decision.”
“But it effected both of us,” he exclaimed, amazed at her casual tone. “You came to this conclusion about my feelings, a conclusion that is wrong by the way, and that was it. You didn’t even try. You just gave up. Gave up on us.”
She snorted and shook her head at the hurt look that crossed his face at her reaction. “Why shouldn’t I have given up on us?” she asked, a hint of sorrow heard in her voice. “You would stand there and say you love me and then she would walk in the door and you’d forget I was even in the room. So you tell me Richard, what was there to fight for? I had already lost.”
“This isn’t about Anita,” he said softly, for the first time truly seeing the pain she was in. Her emotions were written clearly across her face and despite her attempts to shield them from his view they were plain to see. She was angry and upset, but most of all she just looked so resigned, heartbroken. At that moment he had never hated himself more. He was the reason for her desolation and it pained him like a physical wound.
“This has everything to do with Anita,” the slight redhead countered, a surge of annoyance flowing through her at his ignorance. “It has everything to do with your feelings for her.”
“I don’t have feelings for Anita,” he replied quietly, his gaze falling to floor, unable to take the sight of her any longer.
“Oh please,” she sniffed, the disbelief combined with sarcasm causing him to visibly flinch, “You love her Richard. You have for years. And you’re not very good at hiding it.”
“My—” he stammered, feeling unsure of himself and licking his lips reflexively, “my feelings for Anita are…complicated, I admit. But Will, I don’t—I haven’t been in love with her for a long time.”
She looked like she was about to argue with him, but he cut her off with a raised hand, a silent plea for her to simply listen to him. Willow looked contemplative for a moment before closing her mouth and tilting her head to the side in acquiescence. He felt encouraged by her small actions and he took a moment to collect his thoughts, knowing he had to get this right. He might not get another chance.
“Anita was a huge part of my life for a long time, you know that,” he started slowly, thinking over his words carefully. “She meant a lot to me, she still does. Just like Oz still means a lot to you. And I do love her, she’s a friend and no matter how much I disagree with the way she lives and whom she invites into her life if she needed me I would be there. But I’m not in love with her.
“She’s not the same person I used to know,” he sighed, a familiar cloud of sadness falling over his features as he remembered his doomed relationship with the Executioner. “She’s so cold sometimes. It frightens me when she gets that look in her eyes, that blankness, and I want nothing to do with her. But then she does something or says something that reminds me of the woman I used to know and I can’t bring myself to turn my back on her. Even in her coldest moments, I know that my friend is still in there somewhere, my friend who needs me.”
“You’re such a boy scout sometimes,” she grinned reluctantly, unable to resist commenting, and he smiled tightly at her soft-spoken interruption.
“If—if it seems like I ignored you,” he continued, his voice hoarse, growing thick with unshed tears he kept at bay. “If it seems like I cared more about her, loved her more, then I am so sorry. You have no idea how sorry. I never meant for it to seem like she mattered more, I just…
“I worry about her,” he admitted, head hanging. “She can be reckless and she doesn’t always think things through. She’s rash and impulsive, and not exactly gun shy,” he stifled a chuckle at that thought and he caught Willow hiding a small grin. “I care about her, I worry about her, and yes, I do love her,” Richard said, glancing up through the curtain of his wavy brown hair, head still bowed, to see her reaction. “But it has been a long time since I was in love with her. I can’t love a woman who can think of taking someone’s life so casually. I can’t love a woman who can’t truly accept all of me.
“I know,” he shrugged, a sheepish smile on his face, “I don’t really accept all of me. But Anita never could really get over the whole werewolf issue. It scared her, she didn’t understand it. How she could accept a vampire more easily I still don’t understand,” he mumbled to himself. “And that’s another reason. She could never be completely happy with me. Because as much as she loved me and cared for me, she still loved Jean-Claude.”
The Master of the City’s name was spat out like a curse, the pain that the vampire had caused still festering in Richard’s heart. “She and I were never truly alone in our relationship. Jean-Claude was always there, lingering in shadows, waiting for a moment to take her from me. And what hurt the most was that, as much as she tried to push him away at first, she couldn’t do it. She may not have wanted to love him, but she did. Even while we were together, Anita had feelings for him. I couldn’t erase them and she couldn’t ignore them, no matter how much we both tried. And I won’t share the woman I love with anyone else, I can’t. I deserve better than that.”
“What are you trying to say?” Willow asked tentatively, taking a hesitant step forward, one step closer to the sullen Ulfric in front of her.
He met her step with one of his own, biting his lip as he looked into her shiny emerald eyes. “I’m trying to say that…” he exhaled sharply, one hand coming to rub the back of his neck in effort to ease the tension. “I’m trying to say that I’ve acted like an ass.”
The witch couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at his choice of words and she smirked slightly at his discomfort. She had never seen him so unsure of himself, so hesitant and nervous. He looked drained, and his disheveled appearance spoke more of his emotions than his words. He looked lost and unhappy, and it was the first time she truly knew that he cared, that he really had missed her.
“I never meant to put Anita before you,” he murmured apologetically. “You—you have no idea how much you mean to me. You—you’re so smart, and funny, and quirky, and cute…” he trailed off, smiling shyly at the pink blush that colored her cheeks unbidden. He took another step forward and she stood stalk still. When she didn’t take a giant step backwards, he moved a little bit closer until he was only a little more than a foot away.
Willow had to bend her head back to look him in the eye; he was so much taller than her. She watched with bated breath as his hand came from his side to brush a lock of hair from her eyes, his fingers lingering by her cheek, playing with the silky strands idly.
“You came into my life and I hate to admit,” Richard spoke softly, “that until you were gone, until I didn’t see you everyday, until I couldn’t talk to you about anything, about everything, I didn’t realize how much I needed you. And I do. I need you here, with me. I messed up, it’s common knowledge,” he mumbled, ducking his head, “but I’ll do anything to get you to trust me, to believe me when I say that I love you, that I’m in love with you and no one else…”
“I—” she stammered, at a loss for words. She hadn’t come here for this. She wasn’t sure what she had expected, certainly some harsh words, but not this. Not sincere declarations and heartfelt words. She didn’t come here to give him another chance, or to even consider rekindling their relationship. But here she was now, standing in Richard’s living room, his hand caressing her hair, his gentle words whispered in complete earnestness.
Willow nearly jumped when she felt his hand slip from her hair to rest on her cheek. She didn’t pull back though, allowing him, after a moment’s hesitation, to stroke her warm skin with the utmost gentleness. She couldn’t move a muscle as he took a daring step forward, so close to her now that she could feel his warm breath flutter through the strands of her vibrant red hair. His other hand joined its companion, caressing her face sweetly and he began to lean in slowly, giving her ample time to move away if his touch was unwanted.
She still couldn’t move. Her eyes merely widened as she watched him move closer, arguing with herself internally. She should still be mad at him; she had come here with every intention of leaving still angry and hurt. But she couldn’t bring herself to be angry at him, even though she wanted to be. Anger was easy, it was simple. If she walked back into this relationship, she would only be opening herself up to pain and heartbreak. He could easily hurt her again and she didn’t know if she could handle that. But at the same time, she didn’t think she could handle turning him away.
Her eyelids fluttered shut when she felt his breath on her face. And then his lips brushed hers, the barest of kisses, the feel of him so achingly familiar, before he pulled away, looking at her questioningly. Her eyes opened slowly and she met his tense, anxious gaze, letting out a shuddering breath.
“Will you…can you give me another chance?” he asked in a hushed tone, fear evident. He was scared, she realized, afraid she would caste him away.
His gaze was pleading, his brown eyes intense, gleaming with an amber color, his emotions beginning to get the best of his beast. Willow took a deep breath, as if preparing herself for what she was about to do. This one act could cost her everything in the end, she was putting herself on the line, but she feared it would hurt worse not to. Her hand came up to meet his, resting atop his hand that lay on her cheek, her other hand drifting up to his hair. Her fingers slid gently through his tangled hair before her hand rested at the back of his neck.
Leaning in ever so slightly, standing on the tips of her toes, she carefully brought his face down to hers, her lips meeting his so softly, so gently.
Richard reveled in the feel of her against him. He gratefully drank in the sweetness of her mouth as he wrapped a loose arm around her waist, pulling her a little closer to him. When she pulled away from him finally, taking a steadying, calming breath, he refused to release her. Instead, he buried his face in the crook of her neck, inhaling her soothing scent.
Willow heard him mumble something into her shoulder as she licked her lips, hoping to calm her nerves. “What?” she murmured, unable to understand what he said.
“Will you come home now?” he asked, a diminutive tremble in his voice.
The big question, she mused uncertainly. Would she move back in? Subject herself to possible heartbreak once more? But then again, he had stood there today, pleading with her to give him another chance. To prove to her that she was truly the one in his heart. Should she take the risk of letting him back in her life? If there was one thing that she had learned during her short but frenzied life, happiness wasn’t a guarantee and when found it should be held onto tightly and guarded fiercely. Richard was her shot at happiness, and no relationship was without its share of pain, so in the end she only had one choice.
“Yeah,” whispered the redhead, Richard’s grip tightening around her waist at her reply. “I think it’s time to come home…”