Fifty minutes had passed since Charlie and Duffy had heard the radio broadcast that confirmed their worst fears, and the majority of it had been spent in silence. At Duffy's insistence, they'd turned back to Charlie's place without retrieving any clothes or getting any food. She had convinced herself that the police would be watching her house, and although Charlie had told her that stakeouts like that were purely found in fiction he hadn't been quite sure enough to risk it.
Now they sat opposite each other at the kitchen table; Charlie looking down at the wood grain with his head propped up in his hands, Duffy chewing her thumb nail, too worried even to cry. Their private musings were interrupted by a knock at the door, and Duffy stared at Charlie saucer-eyed with fear.
"It'll be the pizza delivery, Duffy. Don't worry." He got up and headed to the door pulling a couple of notes from his wallet as he went.
"Don't worry!" Duffy scoffed as he vanished from sight. "How can I not worry?"
A minute later he reappeared, carrying a large flat box which he opened and deposited on the table. However hungry their bodies were, their appetites were nonexistent. Charlie took a mouthful before giving up, Duffy only managed to pick up a stray piece of pepperoni and pop it in her mouth.
"Good thing pizza's edible cold, isn't it?" Charlie said as he flipped the lid back over.
"Hmmm," Duffy replied distractedly, not even bothering trying to hide what was on her mind. "Charlie, what am I going to do?"
"Nothing. Like I said before, there's no evidence. Not even Philip can say anything to incriminate you now."
"Oh well, that's alright then!"
"Duffy…" he said soothingly, trying to placate her fears.
"No, Charlie, don't give me that 'calm down you're overreacting' rubbish. I'm not overreacting. Last night I murdered someone; maybe that was overreacting, but now I'm perfectly calm. See?" She held out her slightly quivering hand flat in front of him, "Steady as a rock. The problem is working out what the hell I'm supposed to do now."
"Last night that sick bastard tried to rape you. Believe me, I would have done worse to him."
"Oh, so that should be my defence then should it? 'The prosecution calls Lisa Duffin to the stand', 'Ms Duffin what have you got to say for yourself?', 'Well, my friend would have done worse'! I don't think it'll work, Charlie!"
He frowned. "That's not what I meant. Anyway, it'll never get that far."
"You heard what the radio said. The police are treating it as suspicious. There'll be an investigation, someone will say I was with him yesterday evening. The police aren't stupid, they'll put two and two together and I'll end up in jail, the boys will be in care, it'll ruin all of our lives…"
"Duffy, please calm down…"
"Charlie, I am guilty of murder!" she shouted, making him flinch. "The police might not have any evidence yet, but they will sooner or later and they'll come and get me!"
"They'll have to get past me first," he stated with cartoon like bravado. Failing to understand that while the sentiment was honourable it sounded positively ridiculous.
"What?" she spat.
"I-I-I'll give you an alibi. Tell them you were with me all evening…" he suggested.
"Charlie, it'll be your word against, what, the staff at the restaurant, the cab driver who drove us home, half a dozen other people..? If you start making up stories you'll only get yourself in trouble too."
"Duffy, I concealed a crime, disposed of evidence, harboured a criminal… I'm an accomplice after the fact. I am in trouble. We both are, and we have to stay calm and stick together."
Duffy's shoulders sagged as she listened to him. She had realised, of course, that she'd asked Charlie to lie for her but it had never really occurred to her that she was asking him to commit actual crimes. Crimes that could land him in a lot of trouble.
"I didn't think of that," she said softly. "Oh God, what a bloody mess!" Her head fell onto the table, leaving her hair to splay out around her, and her shoulders trembled with her sobs.
Charlie got up from his seat and squatted on the floor next to her. "Duffy, don't cry. I'll sort this out, I'll think of something."
It took a second for his words to penetrate her confused mind, but when they did she sat back bolt upright in her chair, scraped it backwards across the tiled floor and stood up.
"No, Charlie. It's my problem, you've already done too much." She started moving to the door, and Charlie instinctively straightened up and followed her. "Don't. Charlie, please stay away from me; I'll just ruin your life too!"
The force of her order made him stop in his tracks and he called after her, "Where are you going?!"
"To hand myself in. End this. I'll keep your name out of it, I promise. You aren't to blame, I am." She swiped her tears away with her sleeve. Charlie darted toward her and grabbed her arms, and she whimpered in pain as he touched her bruises. He loosened his grip reflexively.
"Don't do it," he said through clenched teeth. "Promise me, Duffy, you won't go to the police."
"I have to!" she wailed.
"No, you don't".
"Yes, I do, and I swear to you I won't even say your name. It's me they want, not you. You'll be OK."
"For Christ's sake, Duffy, I don't care about me! It's you that I'm worried about. If you go in there like this they will arrest you for murder, because you seem so convinced that you did it."
"But I did!"
The determination in her voice frightened him. He could just imagine that given an unsympathetic judge, and there were plenty of them around, they'd have her locked up for first degree murder before you could shout 'objection'.
"You fought back in self defence, that's not murder. It isn't."
She didn't look convinced. As far as Duffy was concerned she'd violently killed someone, regardless of the circumstances. She knew that she wouldn't be able to cope with the guilt of that, but her guilt was compounded by the knowledge that she could be responsible for destroying Charlie's life as well as her own. There was only one way to even begin to put things right.
"I know you're only trying to protect me, but I can't live with the knowledge of what I've done hanging over me."
"Of course I'm trying to protect you, I love you."
"You love me?" she repeated, all other thoughts melting away as she contemplated the implications of his words; hoping against hope that he meant it the way she wanted him to, but not daring to believe it until she'd had it confirmed.
He paused. Had he really just admitted that he loved her? He knew he'd said the words to her before, but he'd always qualified them by adding 'as a mate' or something similar into the mix. She was still waiting for an answer, and he wondered if he'd be able to backtrack somehow before he completely ruined their relationship. Surely she didn't need his feelings complicating matters…
Taking his pause as proof that she had misunderstood, she tried to shrug off his words. "Just as friends right?" she said, but couldn't keep the note of disappointment from her voice.
A note he detected with some surprise.
"No... Not just as friends, not anymore; not for a while actually," he admitted, reaching up and stroking her cheek. "I really do love you."
She pulled herself closer to him, one hand snaking around his waist, whilst the other reached the back of his head and drew his mouth toward her own. Their lips met nervously, trying out the unfamiliar territory with soft butterfly kisses before their confidence grew enough to explore deeper.
His hands, which had been clasped around her waist moved slowly up her back, hugging her close with increasing passion until she pulled away sharply from him. He'd touched one of the sensitive bruises the were scattered across her back, not only hurting her, but breaking the mood and causing her to remember just what was going on.
"Duffy? What's the matter? I thought this was what you wanted…"
"It is," she interrupted him. "It's just the timing, Charlie. I have to go."
Charlie sighed, feeling like he was on the losing side of this argument, "Please…?"
Duffy gazed into his pale eyes as they begged to her to reconsider her plan. She hated disagreeing with him at the best of times but when he was trying to talk her out of something she didn't like the thought of anyway it was harder than ever. She wished she could give in and believe his promise that he'd sort it out somehow, but she couldn't. She couldn't simply hide away and leave it all to him. She prayed he'd understand that one day.
"Won't you at least wait until morning?"
Her determination faltered. Perhaps he had a point about her state of mind, it wouldn't hurt to get her story clear in her head first. Besides, a few more hours wouldn't make much difference in the grand scheme of things, and although she didn't want to presume what he might be suggesting, she wasn't about to turn down a night with him.
"OK," she nodded slowly, "just 'til morning though."
He allowed himself a long blink of relief and a deep breath as she placed the palm of her hand on his chest, and he wondered if she could tell how fast his heart was beating. He didn't know how to express his feelings to her, everything seemed to be marred by the sword of Damocles hanging over them. He'd never felt quite so awkward with someone he loved so much before.
"I think it's the right decision, after all..."
She placed a finger against his lips to silence him. "I said I'll wait until morning Charlie, can we try to put it aside until then?"
As she ran the back of her fingers across the first signs of stubble on his face, it suddenly occurred to him what she was suggesting. "Oh… well, I suppose we could try…" He kissed her again, took her hand, and led her willingly upstairs.
The bedroom was pitch black, its curtains still closed from the morning and, after colliding with the chest of drawers and causing Duffy to let slip the first proper laugh she'd laughed in days, Charlie switched on the bedside lamp. Suddenly the room was bathed in a warm glow, softening the features of the world-wearied nurse as he stood nervously by his bed.
She stood in front of him, reaching forward to unbutton his shirt. He stretched out his own hands to remove the shirt she'd borrowed from him earlier, and brushed her long hair back behind her shoulders as the garment fell to the ground. Even in the dim light, he could see the dark patches of bruising across her chest and the tops of her arms and without conscious thought his brain clicked into medic mode.
Noticing the look on his face as she became his patient instead of his lover, she wrapped her arms across her bare breasts. "It's not as bad as it looks, just a few bruises."
He didn't answer, instead he turned on the main overhead light. Browns, yellows, and greens scattered her body, and when he examined her back he discovered a few more vivid colours, interspersed with small cuts and grazes.
"You didn't tell me how badly he hurt you. I mean, I thought… I don't know what I thought but, Christ, Duffy, I should have got you seen by a doctor."
She turned to face him, "Its not that bad. I am a nurse, don't you think I would know? It doesn't make any difference to us, does it?"
"I'm scared to touch you in case I hurt you."
"Maybe I should just sleep downstairs again," he suggested downheartedly.
"Stay. Please. If this is going to be my last night as a free woman, I want to spend it with you."
He didn't need asking twice, and very gently took her in his arms once more.
Charlie lay on his back with Duffy asleep, pressed against his side. Their attempt at lovemaking had faltered on account of her injuries and his reluctance to hurt her anymore than she was already. It had left them both in state of some frustration, although it wasn't that which kept Charlie awake until the small hours of the morning.
When he thought of what had happened to her, or worse still what might have happened if it wasn't for her quick thinking, it made his blood boil. And now she intended to hand herself over, as though she was the criminal? It was wrong, in all senses of the word. Why couldn't he make her see that? All those years of arguing with the top brass at the hospital and Duffy was still one of the most stubborn people he'd ever met.
There had to be some way around the situation, something practical he could do to help. After all that was what he was good at, wasn't it? Finding solutions to impossible problems - he'd kept an Accident and Emergency department running with only two doctors and a handful of nurses during a 'flu epidemic, why couldn't he find a way through this?
There had to be something, but short of taking the blame himself, what could he do? He looked down at her sleeping form as she nuzzled in closer to him. He couldn't imagine her in prison, and even if it didn't come to that she'd definitely get suspended from work for the duration; how would she support her children through that?
A plan, albeit fuzzy and frightening, started to form in the back of his mind. What if he did take the blame? What if he told the police that he did it? He could certainly make it sound believable, if he had found Philip after what he'd tried to do he would have wrung his neck, or castrated him, or both - and slowly. Of course, she'd never let him hand himself in. He'd have to go before she woke up, not to mention before he wimped out. But it would save her. It would screw him; but it would save her. It would mean a lot of lying, and breaking every principle that he held dear, but if anyone was worth it, Duffy was.
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