NOT ONLY ABOUT PRIDE
Neil ends his relationship with Willie.
An established relationship story.
Written: June 2006. Word count: 1,065.
PRIDE: The consciousness of one's own dignity.
PRIDE ONESELF ON/UPON: Be especially proud of a particular quality or skill.
"That isn't the reason, Willie." Neil spoke calmly, as he tried to maintain his cool demeanour. It was difficult. Willie was furious and hurting, with good reason.
"Then what is it, Neil? Why are you ending our relationship? What's changed, apart from you being promoted? If it's not about pride, then what is it?"
"I -" The sound of Willie's phone ringing stopped Neil.
Willie glared at it, paused for half a second, then strode across to grab it. "Caine . . . Yes, he's here. It's for you." He held out the phone, taking great care not to let his fingers touch Neil's as Neil took it from him.
"Burnside." Neil listened for a moment or two. "I'm on my way." He hung up and turned to Willie, who had his back to him. "I have to go."
"Fine. Then go." Willie didn't turn around.
"Willie, I . . ." Neil trailed off. What could he say? Nothing. Nothing that would help. So instead he simple said, "Goodbye, Willie." He wasn't particularly surprised when Willie didn't answer him.
As he walked through the dark, cold streets of London on his way to HQ, he let his mind return for a moment to the argument.
It wasn't about pride, or at least not in the way Willie thought it was. That wasn't why he'd ended the relationship. The relationship that never should have begun. That both men had entered into almost by accident. The relationship that meant far more to him than he ever could have believed possible.
And that was why he'd ended it.
As D. Ops it would be his responsibility to send the Sandbaggers out on missions. Missions from which more often than not they might not return alive. Caring about, he wouldn't, couldn't, use the word 'love', Willie as he did, would have made that an impossible thing to do. It would be difficult enough with them being friends; with them being intimately involved, it would have been impossible.
So why didn't you tell Willie that?
Because his pride had stopped him.
He had always prided himself on remaining detached, on being able to cope with anything and everything. Of not allowing himself to care, not really care - yet another reason why his marriage to Belinda had fallen apart.
Neil Burnside was a proud man. Needing others had never appealed to him. Caring about others was an alien concept. No one got through his barriers. No one except one William Caine.
Tell him. The voice said.
Willie had his pride too.
It was the only thing that prevented him from tackling Neil about what he'd done, of begging him to change his mind. Instead he slipped back into the friendship they'd had before the time they'd ventured into bed together. Put up walls and acted as though Neil walking out on him didn't bother him. That their time together hadn't meant anything.
It was only in the dark of the night, often before he went off on a mission, or had just returned from one, that his pride faltered, and he had to fight the almost overwhelming urge to pick up the phone and ring Neil.
TWO YEARS LATER
"Burnside." Neil listened as Mike spoke.
He had been seconds away from boarding the plane when the call had come. And just for a moment he had considered not going back to answer. Why should he? He was leaving SIS anyway. Let them think he'd already left the country. Let them think he was on his way back to England. He should have been; would have been, had the flight not been delayed.
Now as he heard the words 'Willie's been shot', he didn't know whether he wished he had ignored the call or not.
As he sat by Willie's bedside, waiting for him to open his eyes, or not - the doctors offered no promises - he was finally prepared to admit what he'd known for two years. Ending the relationship, for the reasons he had told himself were true, had been wrong.
Not sleeping with Willie had changed nothing. The caring hadn't vanished or even diminished. The concern for Willie, and that Willie might not return alive from a mission, was still as strong as it had always been. And he was far from detached.
He'd known all of that within weeks, even days, of the evening he had walked out of Willie's flat. But once again his pride had prevented him from telling Willie he'd been wrong. Although again it hadn't been just pride. Once again it had also been fear.
He had believed that Willie would try to talk him into changing his mind, or at least show that he was upset, angry even But he hadn't.
Within twenty-four hours of Neil leaving the flat, Willie had slipped back into the friendship they'd had before they had gone to bed together. Had behaved as though the previous three years hadn't happened, or rather as if they'd meant nothing.
So Neil hadn't said anything. That way he wasn't leaving himself open to a loss of face or dignity.
It was only as he watched Willie's far-too-still body, that it hit him that Willie was as proud a man as he was. All Willie had done was what Neil himself would have done, had Willie been the one to walk out on him.
God they were both fools.
When Willie opened his eyes, Neil refused to believe - couldn't believe - that he wouldn't, he'd swallow that damned pride of his and tell Willie that he had been wrong.
Suddenly the words his grandmother once spoke to him came flooding back. Pride goeth before a fall, Neil.
How right she had been.
TEN YEARS LATER
After all the hurt, the pride, the defences, the fear, the building of walls, the pretence, it had been amazingly simple.
"Will you come home with me?"
And ten years later they were still together.
The word 'love' had still not been spoken, except maybe at times when the other was asleep, or the sub-conscious had its say. But when both allowed their barriers to fall, allowed themselves to be honest, they both knew the truth of what they had.
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