Chapter 1: Prologue
“I feel it in my fingers,
I feel it in my toes,
Love is all around – “
“For fuck’s sake, Stu.” Irwin’s voice cuts Dakin off mid-chorus.
I’m getting too bloody old for this shit, Dakin thinks to himself as he looks around the studio and realises he’s surrounded by backing singers who can’t be more than half his age. He pushes the depressing thought away and turns his attention back to his long-suffering manager, who’s sitting on the other side of the glass looking like he’d rather be anywhere else.
“Did it again, didn’t I?” Dakin sighs. “Shit. Tom, you know this wouldn’t keep happening if you’d just let me sing the proper lyrics. Then maybe we could all knock off early and get pissed instead.”
“Tempting as that sounds, Stuart, I’ve got the label riding my arse to deliver them a Christmas number one, and somehow I don’t think a straightforward cover’s going to cut it.”
“So there’s nothing I can do to change your mind about the Christmas gimmick? We both know it’s shit.”
“Of course it is, but it’s shit that sells .”
“I don’t want to make a sodding Christmas record. You know I hate Christmas, Tom.”
“Well, you’d better start pretending you don’t, because right now this song’s the only thing standing between you and bankruptcy. Let’s go for another take, shall we?”
“Fine,” Dakin groans as the track starts up again and the backing singers chime in with their saccharine oohs and aahs. He begrudgingly joins in for the godawful chorus (rewritten by the label at Irwin’s behest):
“I feel it in my fingers,
I feel it in my toes,
Christmas is all around me,
And so the feeling grows…”
The only feeling growing inside Dakin is the hope that the rest of the session is mercifully quick so that he can drag Irwin away from work for once and the two of them can go for a drink. He’s been asking for weeks but Irwin always insists he’s far too busy managing his other clients – though truthfully Dakin suspects it’s because if he agreed then Irwin would have to admit that they’re actually friends. Which of course they are – Irwin may be bitchy and impossible to please, but he wouldn’t have stuck around all these years if he didn’t have a soft spot for Dakin. On the other side of the glass, Irwin fidgets with his glasses in a way that Dakin’s long since accepted he finds adorable, and Dakin tries to push aside any thoughts about the faraway look in Irwin’s eyes that he’s started to notice whenever Irwin watches him sing.
“It’s written in the wind,
It’s everywhere I go,
So if you really love Christmas,
Come on and let it snow…”
Chapter 2: First Ocelot
In which Scripps is a Pinterest dad, and Parkwood Primary's annual Nativity isn't what it once was.
5 weeks until Christmas
It may be freezing in the school playground, but Scripps can’t help feeling a sensation of warmth as his ten-year-old daughter comes barreling through the door and into his arms, her golden brown curls falling out of the neat little braids he’d scraped them into that morning.
“Angie, darling, how was your day?” he asks.
Her big brown eyes light up with glee. “We got our parts for the Nativity today, Dad!”
“Really?” Scripps says, amused. He has fond (if embarrassing) memories of his own disastrous Nativity plays at Parkwood Primary. One year he’d played Joseph and Posner had somehow allowed himself to be roped in to play Mary when one of the girls got sick on the morning of the show. Posner’s parents had kicked up a right stink when they found out and (Scripps’ mum had only made matters worse by cooing over what a lovely couple the two of them made). “So who are you playing?”
“First ocelot,” Angie crows.
“How many ocelots were there at the birth of Jesus?”
“Don’t be silly, Dad. There weren’t any. But Miss said we could pick any animal we wanted and I picked the ocelot because it’s my favourite but then Sophie Proctor copied me and said she wanted to be an ocelot too so now there’s two of us. But I’m first ocelot because it was my idea.” She huffs indignantly and for a moment her father wishes that ocelot-based disputes were the extent of his problems.
“Don’t worry, sweetie,” Scripps reassures her. “I’ll make you the best ocelot costume you’ve ever seen. Better than anything Sophie Proctor’s mum could make. Then she’ll be sorry she copied you, won’t she?”
This seems to satisfy Angie and she takes Scripps by the hand as the two of them begin the walk home, and Scripps makes a mental note to find out what the fuck an ocelot is.
Chapter 3: The Wedding
in which lockwood is emo and so am I
(struggled writing this because mark and juliet are. by far my least favourite couple in the movie, but chapters should be speedier from here on out because I'm still clinging to the hope I can finish this in time for christmas)
Lockwood watches the crowd filing into the mosque with the sinking feeling of a man who's about to watch his best friend - with whom he happens to be hopelessly in love - marry someone else.
Beside him, Akthar fusses with his kurta and his already-immaculate hair. The traditional get-up suits him - makes him look sort of regal. He must have been staring, because suddenly Akthar notices him and stops preening to ask him what's wrong.
"Nothing," Lockwood replies a little too hastily. "You just seem... nervous, is all."
"I'm getting married, mate. It'd be weird if I wasn't nervous... right?"
Lockwood realises if he doesn't say something now he's going to regret it for the rest of his life. He places a gentle hand on Akthar's shoulder and lowers his voice so none of the wedding guests can hear.
"Adil, mate... You know you don't have to go through with this. All this arranged marriage stuff... I know your parents are keen on it, but... is it really what you want?"
"They wouldn't make me do it if I didn't want to, Jimmy. They're not like that. Besides, it's not like they're marrying me off to some stranger. I've known Khadija since we were kids. I sort of always knew this was going to happen."
"And you're really okay with it?"
"I like her. We'll be happy enough, I reckon."
You deserve more than just 'happy enough', Lockwood wants to say. You deserve fireworks and shooting stars and the thrill of first love. You deserve to feel the way I feel about you.
He doesn't say any of this, of course, because at that moment a cab pulls up and out comes Posner.
"David!" Akthar calls out. "I was starting to think you wouldn't make it. No plus one?"
"Steve's feeling a bit under the weather, I'm afraid, but he sends his regards. I felt bad leaving him laid up in bed, but my brother offered to look after him for a bit. Keep him company, that sort of thing."
"Well, give him my best. Shall we head inside?"
Posner nods excitedly. "I've never been to a Muslim wedding before."
"Well, it's just like one of yours, only everyone's better dressed." Akthar quips.
He waits until Posner's safely inside to turn his attention back to Lockwood. "You're a good mate, Jimmy," he says. "But you don't have to worry about me. I'll be fine."
Lockwood doesn't know whether or not he wants to believe him, but he lets the subject drop. There's no reason why it can't work, after all. Khadija seems nice enough, and maybe they really do like each other. He pushes down the rising feeling of doubt, convincing himself it's just jealousy, and slings an arm around his best friend as the two of them head inside.
Chapter 4: No. 10
it's election day so please vote if you're in the UK! and enjoy PM crowther being hopelessly heterosexual :')
As the car pulls up outside No.10, Crowther is greeted by a sea of camera flashes as the mob of journalists gathered outside all clamour for a moment of his time. I'm never going to get used to this, he thinks to himself as his bodyguard - his fucking bodyguard - ushers him inside. Wilkes seems nice enough, if a bit of a God botherer, but having a bodyguard is certainly going to take some getting used to.
As the door of 10 Downing Street closes behind him, he’s pleased to see a familiar face.
"Amber!" he calls out, as his closest advisor - and the only person in politics he trusts enough to call a friend - rushes to greet him.
"Chris! How the hell are you?" she asks, pulling him into a tight hug.
"Oh, you know. Getting sick of being asked the same interview questions over and over again. How does it feel to be Britain's first black Prime Minister? Don't get me wrong, it feels great. But it'd be nice if they'd ask me about my policies for a change."
"Try being a black woman in politics. You get patronized on both fronts. Shall I introduce you to the staff?"
"I just need a moment to take it all in," he replies. "I'll be right with you." Crowther marvels at the grand entryway. It's unlike anything either of them could have dreamed back in 1987, when they were both fresh out of Cambridge and decided on a whim to apply for Labour Party internships. Now here he is, running the country. And given the state the last lot left it in, it isn't about to be easy.
He follows Amber into the hall, where the household staff are waiting . He's introduced to a kindly-looking old white lady, June, who's to be his housekeeper. There's a bloke too, Neil something or other, who's in charge of the day-to-day running of the place. He barely even has time to forget their names, however, before he's utterly floored by a gorgeous, blue-eyed, strawberry blonde woman around his age. Apparently she's Fiona, his assistant, and she looks just as nervous as Crowther is.
"It's her first day on the job," Amber explains.
"Not to worry," Crowther reassures her. "It's mine too. We can figure it out together."
She smiles, relieved. "Thanks, Chris." Her face falls. "I mean, Mr. Crowther. I mean, Prime Minister. Shit!"
Crowther chuckles. "Chris will do just fine."
"And now I've gone and sworn at the Prime Minister!"
"We'll you're not the first. And you certainly won't be the last. It's been lovely to meet you - all of you, I mean. I'll let you know if I need anything." And with that, he makes a beeline for his office, shutting the door behind him.
"Well, fuck..." Crowther says to himself as he resigns himself to his utterly dismal fate:
"I'm in love."
Chapter 5: Anthony Timms, God of Sex
After the ceremony, Lockwood manages to avoid speaking to Akthar for the most part - he's been tasked with filming everything, and the camcorder provides a useful barrier between himself and any kind of human interaction. That is, until the reception - when he spots Timms trying to chat up Khadija's sister over by the buffet, and considers it his duty as a friend to stop Timms making a tit of himself.
"Iman? That's a lovely name," Timms is saying as Lockwood elbows his way through the crowd to stop the impending train wreck.
"You want one of these... canape things?" Timms offers her his own plate, which is already piled high.
Iman shakes her head politely.
"Probably for the best. All this spicy stuff'll give you the shits."
Lockwood's arrived too late, but he silently prays Timms will stop talking anyway, before he dies of second-hand embarrassment. Timms takes a bite of samosa, and Lockwood briefly thinks he's in the clear, but all too soon Timms spits it back on to his plate in disgust.
"Ugh," he moans. "It's all vegetables and shit! You were right to avoid these."
"Tony..." Lockwood warns him under his breath. "Don't - "
"Not now, Jimmy," Timms says. "So Iman, what do you do?"
"I'm a caterer," Iman replies through gritted teeth.
A moment of silence, then - finally - realisation from Timms.
"So this is your - "
Timms looks helplessly at Lockwood, who simply shrugs.
"I tried to tell you, mate."
Iman leaves - presumably to talk to people who actually appreciate her cooking - and Timms and Lockwood head outside for a smoke (and, in Timms' case, a sulk).
"I just don't understand - " Timms says, taking a drag of his cigarette, " - why I've such rotten luck with women."
"Maybe don't talk about diarrhoea when you're trying to get laid?"
"It's part of my charm! I'm irreverent."
"You're gross ."
"I'm Anthony Timms, god of sex. I'm just sorely unappreciated by the women of Sheffield."
The door swings open beside them and they're joined by Scripps.
"Hey Don, you alright?" Lockwood asks.
"Yeah," Scripps replies, though he seems somewhat distracted. "Just... looking for Pos."
"Think he went home to check on Steve," Timms chips in.
"Oh, right... Yeah. Of course. He said he might. What were you two talking about?"
"Why Tony's so crap with women," Lockwood replies, earning himself a justified elbow in his side from Timms.
"Maybe this just isn't your crowd, mate?" Scripps suggests.
"It's not just that!" Timms protests. "It was the same at uni, and at school before that. Everyone's just so uptight, and - British ..."
Lockwood can see the beginnings of an idea dawning on Timms and he's powerless to intervene.
"Don, that's it!" Timms exclaims. "You're a genius."
"Whatever you're about to say, I don't want credit in case it goes horribly wrong."
"I should be trying my luck with a cooler crowd. People who get my sense of humour. Don. Jimmy. I'm going to America! American girls would eat me up. They'd be obsessed with my cute accent - "
"You don't have a cute accent, Tony," Lockwood reminds him. "You're from Sheffield."
"Whatever. I'll just tell them I went to Cambridge and they'll be lining up to shag me. Right, I'm off to get a girlfriend."
"You're leaving now?" Scripps asks, incredulous.
"Well, no. I'm heading home to see if I can book a cheap flight last-minute. But then I'll be knees-deep in American - "
"Alright, we get it!" Lockwood interrupts. "Just please stop talking."
"Fine. Just don't expect to hear from me this side of Christmas. I expect I'll be busy , if you know what I mean."
"I really wish I didn't," Lockwood replies, but Timms is already off, Scripps and Lockwood once again helpless - despite their best efforts - to dissuade Timms from another of his cack-eyed schemes.
Chapter 6: The Funeral
my sincerest apologies to peter rudge
Rudge has had plenty of time to prepare for this moment, but standing before the crowd at his wife's funeral, he couldn't feel less prepared. From the front row, his wife's ten-year-old daughter, Polly, looks up at him with tears in her eyes. The only thing helping him keep it together right now is the knowledge that right now, his stepdaughter needs him to be strong. With her red hair and freckles, she looks strikingly like her mother, and Rudge's heart aches for all the time she's lost - the days ahead that she should get to spend with Lisa, now cruelly taken from her.
"I don't need to tell you," he begins, "what a wonderful person Lisa was. What a wonderful mother, daughter, friend... wife - she was. I don't need to tell you how much she loved each and every one of you and how much she was loved in return.
Now, Lisa was quite insistent on this song being played. I should explain that it's the song that was playing when we first met, and even though I told her it was wildly inappropriate for a funeral, she wouldn't let up. And... Well, it's her day. I couldn't exactly argue. So instead of me talking any longer, my darling wife is going to say goodbye to you through the immortal words of the Pet Shop Boys."
He gives the thumbs up to Lisa's brother, who cues the song and the slideshow on his laptop.
"At school they taught me how to be
So pure in thought and word and deed
They didn't quite succeed..."
There's pictures of Lisa cradling baby Polly in her arms, dropping her off on her first day of school, family holidays on the beach together.
"For everything I long to do
No matter when or where or who
Has one thing in common too..."
Then there's Rudge and Lisa on their wedding day, with a tiny Polly looking adorable in a tiny bridesmaid's dress. Family holidays with the three of them. Christmases, birthdays.
"It's a, it's a, it's a, it's a sin
It's a sin
Everything I've ever done
Everything I ever do
Every place I've ever been
Everywhere I'm going to
It's a sin"
Rudge wishes it could have been the three of them for a little longer, but as the song fades out and he looks over at the little girl he's come to love like his own daughter, he thinks maybe some things are worth the heartbreak.
Chapter 7: The Assignment
sorry this took so long but have some absolute gay disasters being stupid and in love
When Scripps is called into Mrs Lintott's office first thing Monday morning, his first thought is that he's in trouble. It can't be helped - his editor has always had an air of 'disapproving schoolteacher' about her, with her severe haircut and sensible suits. She seems to be in a good mood, however - she even smiles at Scripps as he takes a seat at her desk.
"Morning, To- er, Mrs Lintott," he says cheerily. Mrs Lintott has always had an oddly formal habit of insisting that her staff call her by her last name. (Amongst themselves, they've taken to calling her Totty, but she pretends not to know.)
"Is this... about an assignment?"
"You could say that."
It isn't like Totty to be cryptic. Usually she's devastatingly blunt, particularly when it comes to matters of journalism.
"How long exactly have you known Posner, our delightful education correspondent?" she asks.
"David? Blimey, nearly - thirty years, I suppose. We went to school together."
"I see. And how long exactly have you been in love with him?"
Oh. That. "Nearly... thirty years? I suppose."
Well fuck, he thinks to himself. He's just admitted it out loud for the first time - and to his boss, of all people. What's worse, however, is her apparent and complete lack of surprise.
"Your... assignment," Totty continues, "if you want to call it that, is to finally do something about it."
Totty rolls her eyes. "I don't know. Invite him out for a drink and then casually drop into the conversation that you'd like to marry him and retire to the Peak District with half a dozen cats."
"How did you know - "
"Just think about it, please. For all our sakes."
And with that, Totty gets up and shows Scripps out - just as Posner walks in with a face like thunder.
"He cheated!" Posner snaps, slamming his briefcase down at his desk. "He fucking cheated."
Everyone looks up from their desks, baffled by Posner's uncharacteristic outburst. Scripps rushes across the room, anxious to calm his best friend down before he breaks something.
"Who?" Scripps asks tentatively.
"Steve! I went home before the wedding reception to check on him, and he wasn't even sick. My brother was 'looking after him' all right, though!"
"Oh, God… Steve - with your brother? I'm so sorry."
Scripps struggles to keep track of Posner's terrible boyfriends at the best of times, but decides now isn't the best time to ask which one Steve is. Instead he takes Posner out for coffee and lets him rant and rave for all it's worth. It's a long-standing tradition of theirs - Posner venting about his latest breakup while Scripps listens in quiet agony.
"What's wrong with me?" Posner sighs miserably as he finishes the last of his cappuccino.
"Hey now, none of that," Scripps chides him. "It's not your fault these blokes don't appreciate how wonderful you are."
"If I'm so wonderful, why do I only seem to attract guys who just want a quick shag?"
Scripps casts his mind back to the advice he gave Timms not too long ago. "Maybe you're just looking for love in the wrong places. I mean, this Steve… you met him - clubbing, right?"
"No, that was Grant. Steve was my hairdresser."
"Right, the hairdresser…"
"And now I have to find a new hairdresser! That's the worst part."
Scripps stifles a laugh. "Hey, I'm sure you can find someone who'll give you a short back and sides without bonking your brother."
Posner gives him a playful shove. "At least I'm putting myself out there! You've been divorced since you came out and I still haven't seen you date anyone."
"Maybe I'm just waiting for the right person," Scripps replies. He can practically hear Totty screaming at him to say something, to tell him how he feels, but it's too soon right now. Pos needs to hurt for a while, and Totty's 'assignment' is just going to have to wait - which reminds him…
"We ought to get back to the office," Scripps says, quickly and conveniently changing the subject, "before Totty assigns us to write some schmaltz about the Christmas lights switch-on just to spite us for getting back late."
"Say no more," Posner replies, already putting his coat back on.
They make it back in time by the skin of their teeth. In the office, Hazel - the newest addition to the Sheffield Gazette's staff - is blasting some godawful Christmas music. Scripps is about to tell her to turn the bloody thing off, when he realises he recognises the voice coming from the radio.
"So if you really love Christmas,
Come on and let it snow…"
Scripps shakes his head in disbelief. "Fucking hell," he says, "Dakin's really phoning it in these days."
It's only a few days into this ridiculous press tour Irwin's booked him on to plug the new single, and already Dakin wants to cancel the whole thing and stay holed up in his flat until the festive season is over. The record has, predictably, not been well-received by critics, but Irwin was right about one thing - sales have been steady. Dakin supposes this is what they call 'selling out', but he's been far too busy with press bollocks to think about that.
Today it's Radio 1, and Irwin's so nervous about Dakin screwing it up that he thinks Irwin would probably rather ram a hand up his arse like a ventriloquist's dummy and speak for him if he could. Granted, interviews aren't Dakin's strong suit - he's lost his patience with his fair share of interviewers who have asked him one too many stupid questions. He's determined to stay in Irwin's good books, though - if only because he hasn't got anyone else to spend Christmas with.
The day's already off to a dismal start, however, when a baby-faced intern asks him to sign an autograph only to tell him it's for her parents. (It always seems to be the parents these days.) By the time he gets into the studio he's already in a foul mood, and it doesn't help that Irwin's forbidden him to get drunk until after the interview is over.
The host (Victoria or Vanessa - something beginning with V, Dakin can't remember for the life of him) introduces him with the usual spiel.
"Welcome back to the show, you're listening to BBC Radio 1, and I have a very special guest with me in the studio today. You might remember when he shot to fame with his 1983 hit Brief Encounter - well he's back with a brand-new single, it's Stuart Dakin! Welcome to the show, Stuart."
At first, it's the performance of a lifetime. Dakin forces a smile and tells... Veronica? how happy he is to be here, et cetera. But soon the topic of conversation shifts to the dreaded Christmas single.
"So," she says, "it's a cover of Love is All Around..."
"Only we've changed the word 'love' to 'Christmas'," Dakin replies through gritted teeth.
"Ah, yes - if you really love Christmas, come on and let it snow, right? So, Stuart - do you?"
"Do I what?"
"Do you really love Christmas?"
Dakin sighs and casts a sideways glance at Irwin, who's nodding encouragingly. He should play along, he knows he should, but something in him snaps.
"If you must know, Vivian..."
Valerie. That was it. "I can't stand Christmas. I hate it, always have."
"Oh? But Christmas is a time for being with family! Friends! People you love!"
Irwin's staring daggers at him now, but Dakin can't stop himself. "Maybe for some. For me it's just a reminder that I'm alone, miserable and another year older. You know, I was eighteen when I wrote Brief Encounter? While my mates were all applying for university, I went from being just some kid from Sheffield to a teen idol practically overnight. I left behind everything I knew - those lads I went to school with? I barely remember half their names. And then by the time I turned thirty I'd already been consigned to the scrapheap. So now I spend Christmas with the only real friend I've got left - my manager Tom, who's even older and grumpier than I am."
Valerie stares at him, wide-eyed. "Wow..." she says, "in all the years I've been doing this show I don't think I've ever heard anyone give such an... honest answer to a question."
"Yeah? Go on, ask me whatever you like. Full disclosure. I'll tell you anything."
"Alright, then. Let's lower the tone. You ever get off with anyone famous?"
Now there's a topic of conversation Dakin's comfortable with. "New Year's Eve, 1989. Snogged David Bowie. Best kiss of my life."
"Wow... okay. And how do you think the new record compares to your classics?"
Dakin gives her a withering expression he's had decades to perfect. "It's shite, Valerie. It's a steaming pile of cack. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. But - God, wouldn't it be great it just this once, Christmas number one wasn't some fucker from BRIT school, but a middle-aged, bisexual, former coke addict just trying to revive his career at any cost?"
"It's certainly something to think about. Why don't we see what our listeners think? Here it is, Christmas is All Around! And don't forget to call or text if you have any questions for Stuart."
The rest of the interview goes surprisingly well, and it turns out several of the callers actually agree with Dakin. People with shitty families who can't stand the forced merriment of Christmas, people who are sick of the same smug-faced cookie-cutter teens dominating the charts (and of course, people who desperately want to know more about the David Bowie thing - not that Dakin's telling). Still, he's dreading the inevitable lecture from Irwin about sticking to the script - but even Irwin manages to surprise him.
"I... I had no idea you felt that way," Irwin says once they're outside the studio.
"About you being grumpy? I tell you that all the time."
"No... about you hating Christmas because - because you're lonely. About me being your only friend."
Dakin smiles, but can't quite bring himself to look Irwin in the eye. "Yeah, well... I didn't see anyone else coming to visit me in rehab, did you?"
Irwin hugs him then, something he hasn't done in all the time they've known each other - in fact, Dakin isn't sure if he's ever seen Irwin hug anyone. Slowly but surely Dakin hugs him back, trying to ignore the fact that Irwin's touch against his skin feels... electric.
All too soon, however, it's over - although, unless it's the lighting (or Dakin's wishful imagination), he's pretty sure Irwin looks a little flushed.
"You tell anyone I did that and I will personally torpedo what's left of your career," Irwin says only half-jokingly.
"Yes sir," Dakin replies with a cheeky wink. "So... how about that drink?"
I always wondered how someone as vain as Dakin would handle getting older, and after much consideration I have decided the answer is... not well at all
Chapter 9: Small World
merry christmas! I was hoping to have finished this fic by now, but it ended up being way longer than anticipated. I fully intend to finish it though, in the meantime have some crowther and fiona - I wanted to give fiona the character development she deserved in thb, and since natalie doesn't get much either I took some Liberties with the scene. I also couldn't have crowther as PM without addressing his race, I briefly touched on it last time we saw him but I wanted to delve a bit deeper into how he feels about it in relation to his career. comments, as ever, are welcome :)
4 weeks until Christmas
That Crowther is one of the most powerful men in the free world, but a nervous wreck around women, is one of life's cruellest ironies, he decides. It's a week before he's able to strike up a proper conversation with Fiona. She brings him the usual tea and biscuits and he thanks her with a polite smile, but as she turns to leave his office he decides it simply won't do, not this time.
"Fiona," he calls out, "have you got a second?"
When she turns around, her expression is one of utter panic.
"Don't worry," he adds quickly, "you aren't in trouble."
She sighs, relieved, and takes a seat opposite him.
"I'd just like to get to know you better," Crowther continues. "Seeing you every day and never bothering to ask you about your life seems… I don't know, weird and elitist."
"Oh… well, there isn't much to tell. I left school at sixteen, started working as a secretary, and I've been doing it ever since."
"Where are you from?"
"No way!" Crowther exclaims. "Me too. You got plans to go home for Christmas?"
"Yeah. Spending the holidays at my sister's in Parkwood Springs."
"I grew up there! Whereabouts?"
"I was just around the corner! We're practically neighbours."
Fiona smiles. "Funny to think we never met - "
" - But we run into each other here."
"Small world, I suppose," she shrugs.
"And now you work in Downing Street! Not bad for a local girl who left school at sixteen. You ought to give yourself more credit."
"I guess you're right. My ex was always really down on my job. He reckoned it wasn't proper work, just… running about after people."
"He sounds like a right knob!" Crowther says. "And what exactly did he do, that gave him the right to be so superior?"
"Accountant. Not a nice bloke, in the end."
"Well, I'm the Prime bloody Minister, and I can tell you he's full of shit. Honest work is honest work, what matters is that you're happy, not what some bellend thinks. Biscuit?"
Fiona happily accepts. "It would have been nice to go to university, I suppose," she admits. "It just wasn't an option for me. Growing up, it was just me, my mum and my sister. I was the oldest, so I had to get a job to support them."
"Well, it's never too late. If you still want to, I mean," Crowther says, taking a sip of his tea. "I can't tell you how nice it is to find someone I can actually talk to here."
"Well, likewise. I'm really glad you won. That social housing programme of yours is going to really help a lot of people back home."
"You know my policies?"
"I'm not just a pretty face. I like to know who I'm working for."
"That's not what I meant!" Crowther protests. "It's just - so many people, when they look at me, all they see is… well, you know."
"You mean the race stuff? I figured if you wanted to make a big deal out of it, you would. And if you wanted to talk about it until the cows came home, you'd be well within your rights to. But you seem to just want to - "
"Get on with running the country?"
"Yeah. Am I wrong?"
"No," Crowther replies. (In fact, he thinks to himself, it's about the most perfect thing she could have said.) "Of course I'm flattered by all the stuff they're saying in the press. And I'm proud of who I am and where I've come from. But I didn't sign on to be the - face of a movement, or whatever. I just want - I just want people to see me."
"Well, then. I guess you'll just have to change the narrative. Give them something else to talk about."
"Yes, I suppose so…" Crowther agrees. "It's been lovely talking to you, Fiona. I won't keep you any longer."
"Any time, sir - sorry, Chris." Fiona says with a smile, and if Crowther thought he was head over heels before, he's well and truly fucked now.
Chapter 10: Small Talk
me continuing this fic into the new year because I am incapable of sticking to deadlines is one of the many reasons I, unlike totty, should not be a journalist
Though the Sheffield Gazette's new arts editor comes highly recommended, it takes Mrs Lintott a while to warm to Hazel. She's nothing short of a model employee, but it soon becomes abundantly clear that they're about as different as two people can be. Hazel wears colourful clothes that float and billow, her hair is always artfully dishevelled, and she plays actual honest-to-God music in the office. Her presence, while a much-needed breath of fresh air, has certainly taken some getting used to.
The first thing she notices when she walks into the office is the heady scent of Hazel's perfume, followed by the music blaring from the little radio on her desk.
"Is that… Stuart Dakin?" Mrs Lintott asks. "God, I loved him back in the eighties, but this new record of his is an affront to music."
"I like it," Hazel replies. "I don't think you're supposed to take it seriously. It's just… fun and silly. It's Christmas."
"I suppose... Are you settling in alright?"
"Yes, everyone here's been simply wonderful. It'd be nice to get to know you better, but I suppose being editor-in-chief must keep you terribly busy."
"Yes, quite. I don't imagine I'll have a night off until the office Christmas party. It's usually a bit of an ordeal, but the staff like it. I suppose I'll see you there?"
"With bells on!" Hazel exclaims. "Quite possibly literally. I do love a good Christmas party."
Of course she does, Mrs Lintott thinks to herself. "Oh, and I have a strict no-children policy, but people usually bring partners, if you want to bring your… boyfriend? Husband?"
Hazel lets out a raucous laugh. "Heavens, no! I'm a lesbian, and currently… unattached. What about you? Will Mr Lintott be joining us?"
"I sincerely doubt it. He ran off to Dumfries with his secretary. Last Christmas, actually. So you can imagine it's not my favourite holiday."
She's not sure why she's telling Hazel all of this, or why Hazel's interested in the first place, but she supposes this is what people call 'small talk'. She's never been one for it herself, much preferring to skip the pleasantries and get straight to the point.
"Oh… I'm sorry," Hazel replies. "Sounds like an idiot, if you ask me."
"Smartest thing he ever did. I'm better off without him."
"That's the spirit, Totty!" Hazel laughs again, but stops herself when she realises she's let the nickname slip. "Oh. I mean… I'm sorry, it's just everyone else on the staff calls you - "
" - I know."
"Should I not have - "
" - It's quite alright. A nickname is a badge of honour, really - even if it is somewhat ironic."
"I'm sure it's not! The staff adore you. But... what would you rather I call you?"
"Dorothy is just fine," Mrs Lintott replies. She's not sure why she lets Hazel in on the small, intimate circle of people allowed to call her by her first name, but the words are out of her mouth before she can stop herself. (That's two of her own rules she's broken today.) "I have some… things I should take care of in my office, but it's been lovely to chat," she adds, finding herself actually meaning it for once.
"Alright, then," Hazel replies cheerily. "See you at the Christmas party, Dorothy. I'll be under the mistletoe."
Mrs Lintott doesn't know what to say to that, so she hurries into her office, shutting the door behind her. It's only when she's alone that she realises there's a terrifying possibility that Hazel may have been flirting with her, and an even more terrifying possibility that her attentions aren't entirely unwelcome.
Chapter 11: Hot Chocolate and Heart-to-Hearts
In which Rudge is Doing His Best, and my Sheffield knowledge consists of having been there precisely once
It's been a week since the funeral, and while Rudge doesn't expect Polly to be back to her usual sunny self just yet, it does worry him that his stepdaughter hasn't left her room for anything other than school and meal times. He finds himself reverting to a habit he'd gotten into back when he first became a stepdad a couple of years ago - ringing Scripps for parenting advice. His daughter is around the same age as Polly, and fatherhood fits him like a good pair of reading glasses.
Scripps picks up the phone after the third ring. "Pete, mate, how's it going?"
"Not so good, Don," Rudge confesses. "I don't suppose I could trouble you for some advice?"
"Of course, whatever you need. Fire away."
"I'm worried about Polly. At first I thought she was just missing her mum, but she barely comes out of her room and - and when she does, she always looks like she's been crying. I'm worried something else is going on, but I don't know how to ask. She always used to talk to Lisa about this stuff."
"You know... girly stuff. Feelings."
"Look, obviously I can't imagine what you're going through, but... just let her know you're there for her if she does want to talk. And maybe see if you can get her out the house. Is there anywhere you and Lisa used to take her?"
"She used to love the Peace Gardens, especially at Christmas."
"Well, there you go - take her out, buy her some Christmas tat from the market, and ask her what's on her mind. And Pete?"
"If you ever need to talk, you know you can come to me, right?"
"Cheers, Don. It's just... it'll be our first Christmas without Lisa, and... God, I miss her so much," Rudge says, suddenly finding himself blinking back tears. "I'm still getting the hang of this stepdad thing, and now I'm doing it on my own I'm worried I'm just screwing it up. If she was here right now she'd know all the right things to say, but me... I'm..."
"Hey," Scripps interrupts. "None of that. You're doing the best you can given the... godawful circumstances. Now, that kid thinks the world of you, and I know you think you have to stay strong for her, but maybe if she knows you're struggling too she'll feel a little less alone."
"Yeah, I guess - I guess you're right. See? I'm no good at this emotional stuff. Not like you. Is it like, a gay thing?"
"Oi! I'm trying to help you."
"Sorry, mate. Shit. I didn't mean anything by it. I just… wish I wasn't so useless at this."
"You're not. I just got lucky, I suppose. My dad always taught me it was okay to... you know, have feelings and talk about them. Yours..."
"Mine, not so much," Rudge sighs in agreement. It's no secret that Rudge's dad didn't set him the best example when he was growing up. "But I want to be better. I want Polly to grow up knowing she's not weak for having emotions."
"Then all you have to do is tell her. You've got this, Pete."
"Thanks, mate. And we'll catch up soon, yeah? It'd be nice for the girls to spend some time together outside of school."
"Of course, mate. Any time. And remember, if you need anything - "
"If I need anything, I'll call you. Got it. See you, mate."
And with that, Rudge hangs up the phone and makes his way upstairs to Polly's room. It turns out to be surprisingly easy to get her out of the house - though she barely says a word as they stroll through the gardens together, even when he buys them both obscenely sugary hot chocolates piled high with whipped cream. He tries to keep Scripps' words in mind, however - the last thing he wants is for Polly to feel alone.
"Polly, sweetheart..." Rudge says. " I know how awful the last few months have been for both of us, and you've been so brave, you really have. But you don't have to be. You can talk to me about anything, whether it's your mum or - or something else..."
Polly looks up at him and says more words than Rudge thinks he's heard her string together in the last week. "It's not just Mum. I mean, I do still miss her, and Christmas without her is going to be weird, but... there's something else, too."
She takes a long sip of her hot chocolate. "You won't be able to help."
"I can try! And even if I can't, talking about it might... I don't know, make you feel less alone."
"Alright, here goes..." Polly sighs, stopping to perch on the edge of the fountain and gesturing for Rudge to join her. "The truth is, I - I'm in love."
"Oh..." Rudge isn't sure if that's better or worse. "Is it a boy at school?"
Polly shakes her head. "It's a girl."
"Oh, right... well, there's - there's nothing wrong with that - "
"I know that , Pete. But she's the coolest, prettiest girl in school and there's no way she'd like me back. And it feels rotten, because I know I should be sad about Mum, and I am, but I can't stop thinking about this girl."
At least this is something Rudge can help with. He's been there often enough with countless girls when he was a kid (minus the bereavement, of course) - and maybe helping Polly with her crush will distract both of them from missing Lisa.
"Well," Rudge replies, "you don't know for sure she doesn't like you back. I thought your mum was out of my league - and she was - but she married me, didn't she? Have you actually spoken to this girl?"
"Yes. We're... in the Nativity play together."
"Well, that's perfect! Think of all the time you'll spend rehearsing together. Only reason I was ever in any of my school plays was to impress the girls in the chorus."
"Did that really work?"
"No," he admits. "But I'm sure you're a better actor than I was. It's worth a try, don't you think?"
For the first time in weeks, Rudge thinks he sees something resembling a smile on Polly's face. "I suppose so," she says, stifling a laugh. "By the way, you have whipped cream on your nose."
Chapter 12: Working Late
sorry for disappearing, I spent the last month grappling with what turned out to be a sinus infection. have some pos and scripps being absolute goddamn idiots, because they are nothing if not in character
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Over the next few days, Scripps nurses Posner through the aftermath of the break-up by inviting him to share in his and Angie's annual Christmas tradition of re-watching Pride and Prejudice. Much to Mrs Lintott's frustration, Scripps is determined to wait a respectable amount of time before making his move - but a healthy dose of Colin Firth seems to do the trick, and within the week Posner is practically good as new (though naturally, he's dreading Hanukkah with his family).
The following week they find themselves working late, the office practically deserted (besides Totty, who keeps shooting exasperated looks in their direction through her office window). He's sure Pos must have noticed by now, but if he has, he isn't about to let it distract him from his work.
"How's it going?" Scripps asks him, stifling a yawn as he peers over his computer at David's desk.
"Just about ready to head out," he replies. "You?"
"Nearly done. Just give me a second, I'll come with you." His article will have to be finished tomorrow morning - if Totty complains, he'll just have to tell her he was working on her other assignment. He hurriedly saves his work and starts packing away his things.
"What were you working on?" Posner asks as the two of them head out together.
"Nothing interesting," Scripps sighs. "Just some puff piece about the town hall renovations." He's pretty sure Totty's trying to bore him into submission with banal assignments until he finally asks Posner out - but then again, nothing much happens in Sheffield anyway.
"You're kidding!" Pos replies, voice dripping with sarcasm. "Stuff like this is why I became a journalist in the first place."
"You mean it's not just because you hated teaching?"
"Well, that too. Seriously though, Scrippsy, doesn't it drive you mad? You're far too good a journalist to waste away at this local rag forever."
"I suppose I just… I don't know," Scripps says eventually. The truth is, he's turned down offers from far better papers because… why? He doesn't want to leave Sheffield? He doesn't want to make Angie leave her school, her friends? He can dress it up however he likes, but the truth is that as long as there's a chance something might happen with Posner, he'll never leave. "Maybe if I hang around long enough, Totty will finally make me a junior editor?"
"Don You're one of the best writers I know. Any paper would be lucky to have you. But… don't you think, if it was going to happen, it would have happened by now? Maybe it's time to cut your losses. If you do, you might have a shot at actually being happy ."
Ouch. If only Pos knew what he was really talking about.
"Of course," Posner adds, "if being a junior editor at the Sheffield Gazette really is your lifelong dream, you could just tell Totty how you feel."
"It's worth a shot," Scripps replies. "And if y- she says no, at least I can move on. You want to come for a drink tonight? Angie's at her mum's for the weekend, and it's ages since we've gone out."
"Maybe not tonight. I'm pretty tired."
"Oh. Um - I can't tomorrow either. I've - got a date, actually."
"Already?" Scripps exclaims. "Sorry if that sounded judgmental. I'm happy for you. It just… seems fast."
"I know. But I really am over Steve. You were right, it's his loss. And I met this bloke the other day, in a bookshop of all places, and it just felt… right."
"A bookshop? God, that's perfect," Scripps says miserably.
"His name's Frank," Posner continues, utterly oblivious, "and I know it might be a bit early to say, but I think he might be the one. It just feels… meant to be."
"That's great. That's really great," Scripps replies, barely even listening now he's (thankfully) nearing his bus stop. "Well, best of luck. See you Monday, yeah?"
When Scripps arrives home, the empty house has never felt emptier. Of course Pos is running headlong into another relationship before Scripps has even had a chance to tell him how he feels. If it doesn't work out, they're bound to repeat the whole sorry performance again, and if it does… Maybe Posner was right. About the Gazette and his love life. Time to cut his losses. With a heavy heart, he pulls out his laptop and fires off an email to the Guardian. They've been trying to poach him for years, maybe it's time he finally comes crawling back to them. Besides, a little distance from Posner is probably for the best.
(the bit about pride + prejudice was inspired by @cuppaktea's fic It Is A Truth Universally Acknowledged That Watching TV With Dakin Is A Bad Idea, which I have basically accepted as canon and would highly recommend)
Chapter 13: The Emergency
3 weeks until Christmas
Lockwood’s been doing his best to forget about Akthar in the last week or so, and he’s done alright up until now - even finally started sleeping better. However, he receives a rude awakening - literally - when the phone starts ringing late Saturday night. Bleary-eyed and still half-asleep, he drags himself out of bed and answers the call.
“Jimmy? Thank fuck.”
“Adil? Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“Sorry. Couldn’t sleep. Jetlag’s a bitch.”
“Of course. How was the honeymoon?”
“Yeah yeah, Thailand was amazing. Kay and I loved it. Got a bit of an emergency though.”
So it’s Kay now, Lockwood thinks to himself. Of course he wants Akthar to be happy, but there’s a small part of him that can’t help being disappointed that things seem to be going well between him and Khadija.
“Jimmy. You there?”
“Sorry. Zoned out. What’s the emergency?”
"Okay, so you know the late-night Doctor Who marathon on telly?"
"Adil, I'm not coming over in the middle of the night to watch Doctor Who with you."
"No, I was going to tape it, and - I'm jetlagged to buggery, mind - I grabbed what I thought was a blank tape, and I'm halfway through Genesis of the Daleks when I realise I'm taping over the fucking wedding video!"
Lockwood can't help but laugh. "Jesus, mate! You're fucked."
"I know! But then I remembered you were filming stuff during the day, so I wondered - could I borrow the tape? Just until I work up the courage to tell her what happened. Things have been a bit weird since we got back - I guess that's why they call it the honeymoon phase - and this'll only make things worse."
The news isn't as welcome as he'd expected - but then again, he never could bear to see Akthar unhappy. "I'll have a look, but I wouldn't get your hopes up. I probably wiped it myself, you know what I'm like. How do you mean, things have been weird?"
"I don't know, I think we're just - taking a little while to connect. Sometimes it feels like we're still stuck in the 'awkward family friends' stage. Even the sex is just… sort of okay. You sure you can't help with the tape?"
"Sounds like you need to talk to your wife, mate," Lockwood snaps. He doesn't mean to sound harsh - he blames the cocktail of sleep deprivation and unrequited love, combined with the mental image of Akthar having sex with someone else. "Sorry, it's just - even if I do find the tape, it sounds like the real problem goes deepr than that. And if you want the marriage to work, you have to be willing to do the work. You have to be honest with her."
"You really think I can make it work? It's so much harder than I expected."
The selfish part of Lockwood wants to say no, but he doesn't have it in him - not when Akthar sounds so bloody helpless and scared. Jimmy knows what he needs to hear.
"Of course you can, if it's what you both want. It might not be easy, but what marriage is? The fact is, you liked her enough to give it a go. You're still getting to know each other, though. That connection or spark or whatever - that takes time. I mean, have you even been on a proper date yet?"
Akthar sighs. "No, I suppose not. At least, not without our parents there. You're right, I should take her out once we're over the jetlag. And you and I should go for drinks soon, too - the married life's alright, but - I've missed my best mate."
"Missed you too, Adil. I should get back to bed, though - I haven't been sleeping so well and I'm exhausted."
"Sorry about that, mate. Anything I can do?"
"Yeah - hang up , you silly bastard."
"Right. Night then, Jimmy."
He hangs up the phone and practically crawls back to bed - his last thought before he falls asleep being that even if his advice doesn't work, hopefully Akthar will forget all about the wedding video - because if he ever sees the camcorder footage, Lockwood's well and truly fucked.
Chapter 14: The Visit
i'm back!! real life has been a cruel mistress, but I've channelled my rage into this chapter. tw for sexual harassment and general felix-being-felix (apologies for making him american but he was far too good for the role of pervy president for me not to take some Liberties)
Just as Crowther's starting to feel settled at No. 10, the time comes for the part of the job he's been dreading most - the President's visit. Felix Armstrong is chiefly known in the UK for two things - his divisive politics and his caterpillar moustache - both of which set Crowther's teeth on edge. However, he knows that the sooner they sign this trade agreement, the quicker they can get this over with, so he forces a smile while the two over them pose for pictures outside Downing Street. With the media circus out of the way (at least for now), he shows Armstrong and his men inside.
"So, Chris," Armstrong says, "It is alright if I call you Chris, isn't it?"
"Um - "
"Who do I have to screw to get a decent cup of coffee around here?" He continues before Crowther can answer. "The coffee at the airport was dreadful. Though I suppose tea is more up to speed for you Brits. Right, Chris?"
Crowther squirms at the President's too-familiar tone, but tries his hardest not to let it show. "I'll have Fiona bring a pot of each up to my office - and some biscuits, too."
Right on cue, Fiona comes hurrying downstairs - and Felix's jaw drops faster than a lead turd.
"Holy shit!" Felix says, barely under his breath. "You didn't tell me your assistant was a total knockout."
Crowther feels a fierce surge of protectiveness towards her - Armstrong's reputation with women precedes him, and while he's hardly Fiona's type, any resistance on her part isn't likely to deter him.
"She's impeccable - at her job . Very professional," Crowther replies, his own veneer of professionalism wearing thin.
Felix simply laughs. "Whatever you say, Chris. I'm just glad the First Lady is otherwise engaged. This visit just got a whole lot more interesting."
Rather than dignifying Felix's comment with a response, Crowther turns his attention to Fiona.
"Fiona, I don't suppose you could fetch us some tea and coffee? Oh, and some biscuits." Then lowering his voice so the President can't hear him, he adds conspiratorially - "Not the nice biscuits, mind."
"Tea, coffee, and a plate of our most boring biscuits coming right up," Fiona replies. "Give him hell in there, boss."
A couple of hours and several plain digestives later, however, they're still no closer to reaching an agreement. Felix is the most wilfully obstinate person Crowther's had the displeasure of meeting - no doubt spoiled rotten as a child, he thinks to himself. Finally he suggests - for what good it'll do - that they take a break from the so-called negotiations. He even relents and asks Fiona to send up some bourbons - there's no way he's getting through this without a serious chocolate fix. (He knows all this sugar can't be good for him, but if it puts him in an early grave at least he won't have to deal with Felix any more.)
On his return trip from the men's room, he runs into Amber, who's angling after an update on Crowther's progress.
"Pretty non-existent, to be honest. You know he wants us to sell off public services to American contractors? Says he won't sign otherwise. I've offered him a billion alternatives, but he's refusing to bite."
"Typical bloody Armstrong," Amber sighs. "You're not considering it, are you?"
"Of course not! But I've got to give him something . The last government let the banks run riot and tanked the economy. Now I've got to clean up their mess, and if I can't deliver on this trade agreement they'll crucify me."
"You'll think of something," she assures him. "Something that doesn't compromise your principles."
"Yeah," Crowther replies, forcing a smile that's deeply unconvincing. "Well, I'd best get back to it. Wish me luck?"
"Good luck, Chris," she says, giving his shoulder a supportive squeeze. And with that, she's off, leaving him to face up to his new archenemy alone.
As he rounds the corner and cracks the office door, however, it's clear that resuming their meeting is the last thing on Felix's mind. Abandoned on Crowther's desk is the plate of bourbons, and backed up against the desk is Fiona, looking like the proverbial deer in headlights. Blocking her exit is Felix, hands on her waist the cherry on top of the whole nightmarish tableau - one that's thankfully short-lived, as Felix is clearly caught off-guard by Crowther's entrance and loosens his grip enough for Fiona to make a break for the door. She rushes past Crowther and disappears around the corner. Maybe Crowther ought to run after her and make sure she's alright, but shock and outrage have briefly rendered him unable to move. He grasps for right words, but every insult he could throw Felix's way feels painfully insufficient.
"You - you…"
Felix, having regained his composure, leans back against the desk and shakes his head in disappointment. "Things were just getting interesting," he sighs. "Not great timing, Chris."
"That's Prime Minister to you!" Crowther explodes. "You're not my fucking friend. And after that little display, you can forget about any sort of political alliance between us either. We may be a small country, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let you walk all over us and - and treat my staff like your personal fucking playthings - "
"You're really going to blow up this trade agreement over some piece of ass?" Felix laughs.
"She's a human fucking being! But it's not just about Fiona. You want me to betray everything my party stands for. But the NHS isn't for sale, and neither am I. So you can take your... your terrible moustache - and get the fuck out of my office."
"You need us more than we need you," Felix seethes, beetroot-red with rage. "You'll regret this, boy. Just you wait."
However, Crowther's beginning to realise that Felix's words are just that - empty words. As the President storms out of his office, Crowther doesn't give him a second thought, instead rushing off in the opposite direction to find Fiona.
Chapter 15: Working From Home
welcome back! writing has been. hard, as of late (lockdown has not been kind to my morale but I finally managed to Words again)
a short chapter, but a chapter nonetheless: in which scripps has many strengths, but making nativity costumes ain't one. I hope you're all, like scripps, working from home - and finding ways of staying (halfway) sane during covid craziness <3
“WE’RE NOT FOR SALE”, PM TELLS ARMSTRONG AS TRADE NEGOTIATIONS BREAK DOWN
by Don Scripps
The government will no longer be pursuing a renewed trade agreement with the US, Prime Minister Chris Crowther revealed in last night’s press conference, citing Felix Armstrong’s “unreasonable demands”, as well as the President’s “appalling conduct”.
“As Prime Minister I was elected to best represent my country’s interests, and I couldn’t in good conscience accept the President’s terms, knowing that ordinary, hard-working people would suffer as a result of the proposed trade deal,” Mr Crowther said. “Throughout these negotiations the President has shown a flagrant disregard for everything this great country - and I - hold dear. His demands have been unreasonable and his conduct appalling. For these reasons I have decided it would no longer be productive for us to pursue a renewed trade agreement.”
Mr Crowther’s statement comes as a shock to those who expected that in last night’s press conference the Prime Minister would announce that a new agreement had been reached. However, the government has praised his strength during this time of economic uncertainty. Amber Miller, MP for Swindon North, said that the PM's decision showed "tremendous moral fortitude" and that he was "exactly the kind of leader we need".
The phone rings, startling Scripps and forcing him to look up from the article he's typing. The sound's definitely coming from his mess of a desk, but he can't see it for the life of him. He starts rifling through piles of books and papers in an all-too-familiar scramble to find the phone before the last ring.
"Dad!" Angie calls out from the other room. "Phone!"
"I've got it!" Scripps replies. "Just as soon as I can find - there it is! Hello?"
"Hello, is that Donald Scripps?" a woman's voice enquires.
"Hi, this is Monica from The Guardian. We spoke the other day?"
"Of course. Hi! I, um… didn't expect to hear from you so soon."
"Don't worry, it's good news. We were delighted to hear from you, and your timing couldn't be better! A junior editor position's just opened up in our London office. Only thing is, we'd need you to start as soon as possible."
Scripps is momentarily dumbstruck. It's his dream job - but taking it means moving a hundred miles away and finally letting go of the hope that something will happen between him and Posner. This is the sort of thing he'd usually discuss with Pos before making such a huge decision, but Scripps has been keeping his distance since David's bookshop bloke came on the scene. The last thing he wants to hear about is the undoubtedly blissful honeymoon phase of their new relationship, so lately he's thrown himself into working from home and making good on his promise to make Angie the best Nativity costume ever.
"No problem," Scripps says, pushing every last thought of Pos from his mind. "I'll have to give the Gazette a couple of weeks' notice, of course, but I can start before Christmas if need be."
The rest of the conversation is a blur of pleasantries and promises on both sides to follow up via email, and it isn't until Scripps has put the phone down that it dawns on him - this is really happening. He's moving to London. He'll need to find a place to live, a new school for Angie…
Shit, he's got to tell Angie. He knows she won't be pleased at having to leave school and her friends, but hopefully the allure of London will make up for the upheaval. (He'd taken her once before, for the weekend, and she'd fallen in love with the zoo.)
Right on cue, Angie comes rushing into the study, brandishing the old T-shirt that Scripps has done his best to paint ocelot spots on.
"Dad!" Angie whines. "What's this?"
"It's for your costume, sweetheart. Is something wrong?"
"These aren't ocelot spots! They're leopard spots!"
"Oh? Is there a difference?"
"They're completely different, Dad. Don't you remember the zoo? Let me see if I can find you a picture…"
"Actually, sweetie," Scripps interrupts, "can it wait? There's something I need to talk to you about. It's important. Why don't you sit down…"
Chapter 16: The Tape
in which alcohol is consumed, secrets come out, and many, many chips are stolen
(cw: angst, idiocy)
2 weeks until Christmas
Presumably, Akthar has been busy taking Lockwood's advice for the last few days, because he hasn't heard from him since their late-night phone call last week. By the time Adil resurfaces, he seems to have forgotten all about the wedding tape fiasco - thank fuck. When they finally do meet for that drink, it almost feels the way it used to - just the two of them catching up over a pint (or several). For a few blissful moments Lockwood's able to pretend that nothing's changed - that is, until Adil mentions Khadija (because of course he's going to, they're married for fuck's sake) and the heartbreak hits all over again, leaving Jimmy wondering if things can ever be normal between them again. Then closing time comes around and they're unceremoniously turfed out of the pub, and when Akthar suggests they grab a takeaway kebab and hole up in Lockwood's flat for the rest of the night, things couldn't feel more normal.
"By the way," Akthar says as he leans across Lockwood's sofa to steal another handful of his chips, "I'm sorry about the other night. I shouldn't have dumped all that stuff on you - about my marriage and all that. It was… a lot."
"Don't worry about it, mate," Lockwood reassures him. "You needed someone to talk to. I'm glad I could help in the end - I'm just sorry I was such a mardy prick about it."
"I dragged you out of bed in the middle of the night. I doubt I'd be my usual charming self if you woke me up at arse o'clock because you were having a freakout."
"Yeah, you're right, it's entirely your fault," Lockwood jokingly agrees. "I don't know why I put up with you - oi!" (He's interrupted by Akthar hurling a chip at his head - which, considering he nicked them from him in the first place, adds insult to injury.)
"Speaking of the other night, though - did you ever find that tape?"
Fuck. "No luck, sorry mate."
"Well, we're here now, why don't I help you look?"
"You're wasting your time, I'm telling you..." Lockwood protests feebly, but Akthar's already peeled himself from the sofa to take a closer look at Jimmy's video collection. It's not long before he finds it - after all, he'd stupidly labelled it Adil's Wedding and left it in plain sight, sandwiched between Tomb Raider and Jurassic Park on the shelf above the telly.
"Come on, you don't want to watch it now, do you? I probably taped over it, anyway, like I said. Just… stick on a film or something."
"I just want to see!" Akthar says, with the high-pitched excitement of a man who isn't about to drop the subject any time soon.
"Fine, you got me. I didn't tape over it. It's not finished, though - it… needs editing - "
Lockwood's objections are useless, however - the tape's already in the player and next to Akthar another, smaller Akthar appears on the screen, looking every bit as resplendent as Jimmy remembers in his wedding getup.
"Fuck me!" Akthar exclaims. "I look good."
Then the camera cuts to another close-up of Adil, and another, as Lockwood buries his head deeper and deeper in his hands.
"You've made me the star of the show!" Akthar crows delightedly. "Kay'll be fuming."
Lockwood doesn't dare look up.
"Oh…" Lockwood can hear the realisation in Akthar's voice, and his heart sinks as Adil turns off the tape. "It's me. It's… it's all me."
"I'm sorry," Lockwood says at last. "I didn't want you to find out like this. Or - or ever, really."
"All this time…? But - you never said anything - "
"How could I? You were happy - or at least, I thought you were."
"I thought I could be. I thought this was my only chance. I've never had it as easy as you, you know."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I never had the same luck you did. Back at uni you were always bringing some girl or guy back to our flat, and I just had to pretend it didn't bother me. But as the years went by it just felt like…. Like I was running out of time to find someone. I only went along with this fucking marriage because I didn't think I had any other options."
Lockwood's taken aback by Akthar's tone - he sounds almost angry with him for letting the wedding go ahead. For not saying something sooner. And maybe he's right and he could have tried harder - he knew it wasn't what Akthar wanted, not really - but there's one thing he's wrong about. It was never easy for Lockwood to shag his way through half of Cambridge while the only boy he'd ever really loved remained blissfully oblivious to the way he felt.
"So - what, you're saying things could have been different?" Lockwood asks. "If I'd told you - "
"Well, it's too late now, isn't it? I'm married - to a nice Muslim girl, and my parents are finally fucking proud of me, and I've actually got something to lose now."
And maybe it's the hurt and the rejection, or the sheer injustice of Akthar blaming him for his own stupid mistakes, but he's drunk and angry and can't stop himself from lashing out.
"Oh, give me a break, Adil," he sighs. "This isn't about your family or your religion. You're just scared."
"You're a crap Muslim, you always have been. You'll happily drink like a sailor and smoke like a fucking chimney - just so long as we don't tell your parents - so how do you choose which bits of your religion you actually give a shit about?"
"Oh, fuck off, Jimmy. You don't get to talk to me about my religion. In fact, you don't get to talk to me about anything anymore. I don't think we should see each other for a while. I need to get home - to my wife."
Lockwood knows he's gone too far, but it's too late now. Akthar can barely even look at him, stopping only to grab the last of Lockwood's chips before leaving the flat without another word and slamming the door on his way out. Once he's gone, the quiet emptiness of the flat tightens around him until it's practically suffocating, and all he can do is cry.
Chapter 17: The Aftermath
In which Crowther is deeply obvious, and I grow ever fonder of writing my OCs
Crowther's unable to find Fiona in the immediate aftermath of the Felix incident. Eventually, he manages to track down June from Housekeeping, who tells him Fiona wasn't feeling well and she's taken off early. Crowther must have just missed her - either that or she's avoiding him. He can't say he blames her for needing a bit of space, though - which is why he doesn't think anything of it when it's June who brings him his coffee the following morning. Fiona deserves the day off, he thinks to himself. She'll be back when she's feeling better.
A week passes, however, and while Crowther could get used to sweet, motherly June bringing him his coffee and fussing over whether he's eating properly, he's beginning to worry about Fiona. He'd give her a call himself, if only he'd had the bollocks to ask for her number in the weeks they'd been working together. He's pretty sure she's friendly with Amber, though, so the next thing he does is corner his advisor at lunch.
"Amber," he says, doing his best to sound casual, "You know Fiona, my assistant? She's been off for a few days now, and I just wondered if you'd heard from her? No particular reason, just… I hope she's alright."
"Oh." Amber looks at him with… what exactly? Please, God, don't let it be pity. "I thought she would have told you…"
"She's not coming back. She gave her notice on Friday."
Fucking hell. He knew she'd been upset - who wouldn't have been, having had Felix's grubby hands all over them - but he'd had no idea she was going to quit. "What? No - she can't have - did she say why?"
"Oh, she was a bit vague on the details. Job just wasn't right for her, I guess. Last I heard, she was staying at her sister's in Sheffield. She's thinking about going back to school, though - doing one of those uni access courses."
"Oh? Good for her, I suppose."
"She reckons you inspired her to do it and all. Something you said, apparently - about it never being too late?"
Suddenly, that conversation seems a lifetime ago. "Yeah, I guess I did say that. Didn't think she'd be so quick about jacking in the job, though. She was a good assistant."
"Don't worry, I'm sure your next one will be up to scratch. They don't let just anyone work here, you know. Of course," she adds, almost as an afterthought, "that's not really why you're upset, is it? Everyone round here with a pair of eyes knows you're sweet on her."
"It's that obvious, is it? I was never… inappropriate with her, if that's what you're thinking. I'd never - "
"Of course not! I know you, you'd never hurt a fly. And for what it's worth, I think she might have had a bit of a thing for you too - oh, your face!"
Crowther can only imagine what he must look like - he can practically feel his face light up at the thought, but he's past caring. Of course, it's only a small consolation next to the knowledge that he may never see her again. Bloody Felix. "Oh, Amber," he sighs. "What do I do?"
"Depends," she muses. "You're the boss, it probably wouldn't be too hard to get hold of her number - if you wanted to give it a go. You and I both know this job and dating don't go hand in hand, though."
"No, I guess not. Especially not with me here and her back home… no, she deserves better than that. I suppose it was just… one of those things. Timing was all wrong. It's a shame, but - maybe for the best?"
Amber doesn't look convinced, but she puts a supportive arm around him. "I'm sure you'll do the right thing, whatever that is. I really should get back to work, but I'll see you around, yeah?"
"See you." Crowther manages to keep a brave face until Amber's gone, though he can already feel the beginnings of tears pricking at his eyes.
Chapter 18: The Plan
in which Rudge is no Pinterest dad but he tries his best, and maybe someone ought to check in on Dakin
There's not long to go now until the Parkwood Primary Nativity, and when Rudge isn't working he and Polly are concocting schemes to get her crush to notice her. (She hasn't given him a name yet, but he's working on it.) Like any good parent, he knows that the school Nativity is an unspoken costume contest, and that every other kid (and parent) in the school hall will be judging them. While he's pretty sure there's no meerkat in the traditional Nativity, he's going to make sure Polly's the best meerkat those fuckers have ever seen. And maybe, while she's at it, she'll catch the eye of her special someone. It's a good thing he hasn't packed away any of Lisa's stuff yet, because he's going to need to raid her crafting stash.
He refuses to let the sewing machine intimidate him - though just getting the bastard thing threaded up is far trickier than he'd anticipated. His first attempt ends with him hunched over the machine, swearing at the tangled threads as he tries to cut the needle free without breaking the bloody thing.
"Pete? Are you alright?"
Rudge turns around, startled by the sudden sound of Polly's voice - realising too late that he probably looks completely deranged.
"Sorry you had to hear that, love," he says sheepishly. "I just want your costume to be perfect. I don't suppose your mum ever showed you how to use this thing?"
"Once or twice. But I wasn't very good at it. I don't know if I want to do the play any more, anyway."
Rudge stops himself short of swearing again. "But… why not? You've been so excited about the play. It's all we've talked about. Did something happen with… with Mystery Girl?"
"She's leaving!" Polly cries. "Her dad got a job in London, so she's leaving at the end of term and my life is basically over."
"Oh, sweetheart…" Rudge abandons the sewing machine (probably a lost cause now, anyway) and hugs her tightly. "I'm sorry. I know you really liked her."
"I don't just like Angie, I love her!"
"Angie… you mean - Angela Scripps? Don's daughter?" Rudge makes a mental note to have words with Scripps about why he's never mentioned this London job before.
"Yes. You might as well know now, I guess. Not like anything's going to happen."
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Because you tell him everything, of course," she replies, shaking her head fondly. "I'll bet he already knows about me being in love, doesn't he?"
"He's one of my best mates! I wouldn't have told him it was Angie, though, even if I'd known."
Polly doesn't look convinced, but she lets the subject drop. "I just want to watch TV and forget about it," she sighs. "Will you sit with me?"
"I'll do you one better - I'll make you one of my signature hot chocolates," Rudge says, ruffling her messy curls. "Go on, get a blanket, get comfy. I'll be there in a sec."
The lazy evening does Rudge some good too - a nice change of pace from wrestling with the sewing machine. Polly sticks on the music channel and they sing along to the songs they know - usually there isn't much overlap between their tastes, but since all that's playing at the moment is Christmas tosh, they get to duet. Rudge doubts they're going to be appearing on Pop Idol any time soon, but it's a favourite pastime of theirs nonetheless. That is, until Rudge spots a familiar face on the telly - suited, booted, and cavorting with models in a way he used to envy, but now just makes him cringe. The girls are dressed in tacky elf costumes that look as if they were pulled from the bargain bin of Ann Summers, and they look young enough to be the older man's daughters.
"I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes…"
Rudge knows it shouldn't still bother him that Dakin never called after he moved to London - after all, not even Scripps hears from him these days. But since he stopped making good records, the only thing keeping his name in the news has been his string of failed relationships with D-list 'celebrities' and numerous stints in rehab. And now he's plugging his Christmas single, donning a Santa hat for a cheesy music video - despite once calling Christmas singles shameless cash grabs (and only ever wearing a Santa hat under extreme duress). Rudge has to wonder if he isn't having some sort of nervous breakdown. Polly, none the wiser, happily sings along, until -
"Pete! I've just had the most wonderful, brilliant, genius idea."
"Hm? What's that then, sweetheart?"
"Well, girls love musicians, right? Even the weird ones have girlfriends. I mean, look at Stuart Dakin. He's old - "
"None of that! He's the same age as me," Rudge says indignantly.
"He's over the hill, Sophie Proctor's mum said so. But women still love him! So I'm thinking, what if I play in the band for the Nativity? I mean, Angie would have to notice me then."
"What would you play? You've never picked up an instrument in your life."
"I'll just sign myself up for something easy like percussion. Then, I'll play absolutely brilliantly and Angie will have to fall in love with me. Right, you'd better untangle that sewing machine. I've got to practice my drumming. If you need me I'll be in the kitchen banging pots and pans together."
Chapter 19: The Office Party
in which there is alcohol, confessions, and unprovoked abuse of meadowhall shopping centre
(I haven't personally been to meadowhall but I know people who have, and I have been reliably informed that the 'meadowhell' descriptor is accurate)
Eventually, the dreaded office Christmas party rolls around, and though Scripps isn't looking forward to seeing Pos on the arm of some other bloke, he is looking forward to a night off from planning the move, which has been far more exhausting than anticipated. He still hasn't gotten around to telling David yet, but he's hoping to break the news to him after they're both a few drinks in.
When he arrives, the party's already in full swing, and everyone (with the exception of Totty) is decked out in tinsel and tissue-paper crowns and the like - even Posner is sporting a rather festive pair of antlers. Don's own natty Christmas jumper he wears every year is starting to feel like a bit of a feeble effort by comparison.
He nearly doesn't spot David behind Hazel, who's gone all-out and is wearing what might actually be a miniature Christmas tree on her head, complete with all the bells and whistles (some actual bells, sprigs of mistletoe and what appear to be homemade pom-poms). Pos waves him over, mulled wine in hand - and, Scripps notes, no date in sight. He thinks he sees him mouth the words help me, but isn't sure why until he gets close enough to hear the heated discussion Totty and Hazel are engaged in.
"Absolutely not!" Totty says indignantly.
"Oh, come on, Dorothy! It'll be fun," Hazel insists.
"What'll be fun?" Don pipes up.
"Our esteemed editor hasn't done her Christmas shopping yet," Hazel explains. "And I just thought, since I'm going to Meadowhall this weekend-"
"Meadowhall? At Christmas?" Scripps shakes his head. He knows the shopping centre well, but not fondly. He's been dragged there by David on far too many shopping trips, and though Don's yet to be convinced to broaden his usual repertoire of tweed, corduroy and knitwear, David remains optimistic. (Don, on the other hand, has privately nicknamed the place Meadowhell .) "Your definition of fun is very different from the rest of ours."
"So I can't persuade you to join us?"
"I'm coming too," says Pos. "I've still got some shopping to do. It'll be better with you two there, though. Strength in numbers and all that." His pleading tone doesn't go unnoticed by Scripps, who assumes Posner only agreed to accompany Hazel shopping out of politeness, and is now desperate to get out of being alone with this Christmas-loving madwoman.
"Posner, aren't you Jewish?" Mrs Lintott reminds him.
"Yes," he sighs, "but my sister had to go and marry a sodding Catholic, didn't she? Much to my parents' disappointment. Me being gay they could handle, but when Annie brought him home they were inconsolable. Anyway, if I don't get presents for the nieces and nephews I'll never hear the end of it."
"I suppose I'll come too, then," Scripps sighs. "Strictly present shopping, though, David - if you try and talk me into a pair of skinny jeans again, I'm leaving."
Totty remains unconvinced. "I get one day off a week - if I'm lucky - and you want me to spend it traipsing around Meadowhall with you lot? I see enough of you as it is."
"Well, exactly!" Hazel persists. "When are you going to get another day off? Might as well get all your shopping done while you can."
"I suppose at least if I got it all out the way I wouldn't have to think about it anymore," Totty muses. "Oh, go on then. If I must."
"Excellent!" Hazel exclaims, jumping up and down a little in celebration, making the bells on her hat jingle and the whole thing wobble alarmingly. "Right, Scripps - you've been here all of five minutes and you still don't have a drink in your hand. I think we ought to remedy that, don't you?"
A couple of hours - and several drinks - later, Pos finally persuades Scripps to get up and dance, and things between them feel different tonight, somehow. They don't usually like to take themselves too seriously when they dance - much easier to send themselves up than have someone else do it - but as David takes him by the hand and leads him to the improvised dance floor in the middle of the office, there isn't a hint of irony on his face. They sway gently to the music - some schmaltzy ballad or other, but thankfully not one of Dakin's - and as they look into each other's eyes Scripps feels that familiar sensation of warmth (though it may just be the mulled wine starting to take effect).
Scripps breaks the silence, worried he'll do something stupid if he doesn't. "So, um - could Bookshop Bloke not make it tonight?"
Posner's face crumples into a confused little frown. "Who? Oh, you mean Frank ." He laughs heartily at the realisation.
"Yeah, you know - the one you were obsessed with a week ago?"
"God, I was, wasn't I? How embarrassing. No, we went on one date and it was awful. Can you believe he told me he prefers Hughes to Plath? Clearly no future there."
"Clearly not," Scripps agrees, silently cursing himself for having gotten so disheartened by Posner's newfound happiness - and thinking for the first time that he may have acted a little rashly moving over a hundred miles away just so he didn't have to hear about it. (He's still working up the courage to tell his best friend he's leaving, but neither of them are drunk enough for that conversation - yet.)
"I'm sorry, I must have been insufferable the other night," Pos says sheepishly. "I think I just really wanted it to work and I got caught up in the fantasy of it all - love at first sight, the big romance, that sort of thing. I think you were right, though, about me looking for love in the wrong places. I've been obsessed with this... idea - this fairytale romance, but I think I've been missing the real thing."
And Scripps isn't sure whether he's imagining it or whether Posner pulls him in a little closer. He can't feel the same, can he, he thinks to himself, not now I've finally given up waiting around for him and decided to make my own happiness?
"I think," Pos continues, "the real thing might have been in front of me all along, actually. I think maybe it's in front of me right now."
He leans in and it's finally happening, David's finally about to kiss him - and it should be the happiest night of his life but he feels like the biggest fucking idiot alive. And he can't let it happen, not when Pos doesn't know about London - he can't lie to him about there being a chance for them when he's leaving so soon, and he certainly doesn't want him to feel used or abandoned afterwards, it wouldn't be right -
"I'm moving to London," Scripps blurts out, and he hears the words before he realises he's the one who's said them.
"What?" Pos splutters. "Why? Are you having me on, Scrippsy?"
Don shakes his head. "I wish I was. No, after our talk the other night I realised you were right and I needed to make a change. So I reached out to The Guardian and they basically offered me my dream job. I start in a couple of weeks."
"That's incredible. I'm so happy for you. Rotten timing, of course, but - can't be helped."
"I couldn't wait any longer. For the promotion, for you - I needed a fresh start."
"For me? What have I got to do with it?"
"Oh, shit. Right. I never told you. I might have been… a bit in love with you. For the last… few… decades."
"Now I know you're having me on. Either that or you're drunker than I thought."
"No, it's true. I wanted to tell you - properly - but I never get the chance, you jump from bloke to bloke too quickly - and I just assumed, like you said, if something was going to happen it would have done by now…"
"That was about me? I thought you were talking about your job. That's not why you're leaving, is it?"
"No!" Scripps says a little too quickly. "Alright, a bit, at first - but I'm really, really excited about it now and it's something I want, that isn't about Angie, or you, or anyone else."
"I never asked you to put your career on hold for me! I just wish you hadn't had this realisation now, when I'm finally realising that what I want - what I should have wanted all along - is you."
"Fuck," Don groans. "Do you have any idea how long I've wanted to hear you say that? I can't believe it's happening like - like this."
David smiles ruefully, his eyes betraying the beginnings of tears. "Me neither. Oh, Don - I'm going to miss you so much. You deserve this though, you really do, and I couldn't be happier for you. So - you should take it. Like you said, it's your dream job. Don't let me stop you. By the sounds of it, I've held you back for far too long."
He pulls away, and Scripps reaches out for him but the crowd swallows him up and by the time he manages to elbow his way to the exit, Pos is nowhere to be seen.
Chapter 20: An Impulse Purchase
in which Totty hates Christmas shopping and Hazel lives for the drama
Mrs Lintott is feeling confident about implementing the latest phase of her plan, so when she arrives at the agreed-upon cafe and Hazel is the only one in sight, she assumes the others are just running late and suggests the two of them grab a drink while they wait. As they order a pot of tea and take a seat among the droves of exhausted Christmas shoppers, she congratulates Hazel on her impeccable performance at the party.
"Our little double act worked perfectly," Mrs Lintott crows. "I knew Posner would be far too polite to say no, especially after I so cruelly rebuffed you."
"And wherever he goes, Scripps follows, just like you said."
"Now all we have to do is lose them somehow. Shouldn't be too hard - this place is a labyrinth."
They raise their cups, toasting their success - however, their celebratory mood is short-lived as one by one, their phones buzz with messages. The first is Hazel's, with a text from Posner - apparently something's come up and he can't make it. Following swiftly thereupon is a text from Scripps to Mrs Lintott, saying he's not feeling too well and he's going to have to cancel.
"Hung over, no doubt," Mrs Lintott mutters. "He was hitting the mulled wine pretty hard last night."
"Unless - you don't think they're together?"
"No, no. Posner left early, like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight - and Scripps headed straight for the bar. By the time we caught up I couldn't get much sense out of him. "
"They've probably had some silly misunderstanding and are still avoiding each other," Hazel says. "That'll be why neither of them have shown up."
"You mean I came to this godforsaken place for nothing?"
"Well, not nothing. I'm here, aren't I? And we're enjoying a lovely cup of tea."
"Lovely is a strong word. As is enjoying."
"Well, there's still the shopping to do."
Mrs Lintott groans. "Can't I just leave it until the last minute like I always do? I only came here to try and bring those two idiots together - if they aren't coming, we might as well call it a day."
"My dearest, darling Dorothy, have you considered that the very reason you so despise Christmas shopping is because you leave it until the last minute? Just try it my way, won't you? You'll see."
It's been a long time since Mrs Lintott's been anyone's dearest darling anything, and she's just as confused as she is flattered by the terms of endearment. "Fine. I'll stay for an hour, but only because I've nothing better to do."
She lets Hazel drag her from shop to shop, feeling largely uninspired by the selection on offer but allowing herself to enjoy Hazel's company. Around the second hour, though, the inevitable fatigue sets in - and she still hasn't bought a single present, while Hazel is laden with shopping.
"Come on, Dorothy," she says despairingly. "There must be someone you know what to buy."
"I'm afraid I'm feeling rather uninspired, still. Sorry to let the side down - I'll happily just follow you around, though."
"No, no, no! I'm helping you if it kills me."
"Fine," Dorothy sighs, looking around her at the department store shelves. "I quite like that… um, vase? Yes, I'll buy that for - my… aunt, I think. Happy now?"
"It's a start. Which one?"
"Behind you - no, over there." While Hazel's back is turned, Dorothy takes advantage of the opportunity to sneak away. It's not her proudest moment, hiding like a child behind the display cases - but she can't think of a polite way to tell Hazel she needs a break. Besides, she's managed to wander into the jewelry department and some rather fetching necklaces have caught her eye. Like most jewelry, they're far too ostentatious for her taste - more Hazel's style, she thinks to herself, then, shortly thereafter - hang on a minute…
By the time Hazel catches up with her, Dorothy's already bought the necklace and stuffed the box into her handbag. It's not the sort of thing she usually does, buying gifts on impulse (especially not such expensive ones) - but she supposes her new friend brings out her spontaneous side.
"Where did you run off to?" Hazel asks, sounding chirpy as ever, if a little out of breath.
"Terribly sorry! I thought you were behind me, and then I turned around and - well, there you weren't," Dorothy lies.
"No matter. Find anything good?"
"Nope. Nothing to see here. I suppose I'll just buy that stupid vase and then call it a day."
"I thought you liked it?"
"Oh, it's far too loud and obnoxious for my taste. Perfect for Aunt Margaret."
Having spent an eye-watering amount of money between Hazel's gift and her aunt's, Dorothy is only too glad to see the back of the shopping centre. It isn't until she gets home that she fishes the necklace out of its box and takes another look at the delicate silver chain and myriad of stones arranged into little floral designs. It's the sort of thing her ex-husband might have bought her, likely as an apology for an affair or a missed anniversary. Perhaps that's why she's never put much stock in fancy gifts, she thinks to herself - but now she finds herself desperately hoping Hazel likes it and isn't embarrassed by the extravagant gesture. The thought of her wearing it fills her with a fluttering feeling and she has to put the necklace back in its box, wrap it and shove it at the back of her closet just to put the image out of her mind.
Chapter 21: An Englishman Abroad
in which lockwood is mopey, and it turns out timms has game after all
just a short silly one - this has been sitting in my drafts forever and I kept tinkering with it but I finally decided to let it fly
1 week until Christmas
As it happens, booking a trans-Atlantic flight weeks before Christmas turns out to be easier said than done - but eventually Timms manages to find a seat aboard a one-way flight to Cleveland, Ohio, thanks to a fortuitous cancellation. (He decides it's for the best that he books a one-way ticket anyway, since his plans are currently up in the air - pending developments on the sex front.) Having sublet his flat for the time being, he spends the last few days before his departure staying with Lockwood - who is unconvinced, to say the least, by Timms' latest get-laid-quick scheme. Despite his misgivings, though, he seems glad of the company, and even drives Tony to the airport to see him off.
"So why Cleveland?" Jimmy asks him on the way to the airport. "I'd have thought you'd want to go somewhere a bit more glamorous - New York, LA…"
"Those tourist traps? Please!" Tony scoffs. "Those were all booked up months in advance - besides, do you know how much those flights cost? The business is doing well, but not that well."
"I still don't understand why you had to leave straight away. America will still be there after Christmas."
"But why wait? Come to think of it, you look like you could use some time away too - you've been a right misery these last few days. You and Adil still not speaking?"
"Nope." Lockwood keeps his eyes firmly on the road, but his expression betrays regret. Timms has never known the two of them to fight like this - let alone over some silly nonsense like Akthar's wedding video getting taped over.
"It's an easy enough mistake to make - I tape over stuff all the time. Don't worry, mate. I'm sure he'll get over it eventually."
Lockwood doesn't seem so sure. He lets the subject drop, but the rest of the drive to the airport is quiet - and not the usual sort of comfortable quiet the two of them are happy to occupy. He even tries to fob Timms off with a measly handshake in the departure lounge - Timms, though, is having none of it and pulls him in for a firm manly hug.
"Well, best of luck to you, mate," Jimmy says, giving him a squeeze back. "I still think this is a bonkers idea, but I'll miss you, in a weird sort of way."
"Thanks - I think," Tony replies. "Oh, and do sort out whatever's going on with you and Adil while I'm gone. I don't think I can stand you two fighting any more."
Cleveland is, for all intents and purposes, perfectly ordinary-looking, underwhelming even - but Timms hasn't come to see the sights. He remains optimistic that a smorgasbord of sexual opportunities awaits him on the other side of the pond. As soon as he's through customs he hails a cab and demands to be taken to a bar - any bar. Nonplussed, the driver drops him outside a place called Benny's - and he thinks he maybe ought to have been more specific with his directions because the place is wall-to-wall sports memorabilia and Timms fears the bloke to babe ratio may not be weighted in his favour. Oh well - too late now.
First things first - he orders a beer - and no sooner has he done so than he's joined by what might be the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. She's model-tall, dark-haired and dark-skinned, with gorgeous green eyes and freckles dancing across her nose - Tony falls in love instantly.
"Hi," she says with a friendly smile. "Was that a British accent I heard? Sorry if this seems a little forward, I just - love British guys. They're so cute."
"Told you, Jimmy," he says under his breath.
"Nothing. I'm Tony."
"Pleased to meet you, Tony. I'm Julia. My friends call me Jules."
"Can I call you Jules?"
"With that accent, you can call me anything you like."
Timms grins from ear to ear. "I think I'm going to like it here..."
Chapter 22: The Necklace
I meant to post this eons ago, but I'm finding it hard to motivate myself to write at the moment. I do plan on finishing this at some point but angsty Darwins are where I live, so I want to write more of them in 2021
It's the last day before the office closes for the holidays, and Mrs Lintott's been in two minds about whether to give Hazel the necklace at all - but the thought of having to brave Meadowhall again to return it strengthens her resolve to give it to her. Hopefully, any potential awkwardness surrounding the gift will be forgotten over Christmas, and they can go back to the curious sort of friendship they've struck up in recent weeks.
It's dark outside, and they're the only two left in the office - Hazel sporting another Christmas jumper from her seemingly infinite collection, and Dorothy huddled in a sensible cardigan for warmth. (The heating must be on the blink again - it has a habit of breaking in the dead of winter when they need it most.) She fidgets with the box in her pocket as she finishes the final checks of tomorrow's edition, keeping an eye on Hazel through the little window between the main office and hers. It's only when she sees Hazel make a move to leave that she makes a move of her own and pokes her head around the door.
"Hazel?" she says as nonchalantly as she can manage when her heart is beating at a million miles per hour. "Before you go - can I have a quick word? In here."
Hazel looks worried - clearly, Dorothy still needs to work on coming across less intimidating - but drapes her coat back over her chair and follows her inside, a puzzled little frown crumbling up her features.
"Something the matter, Dorothy?"
"Nothing's… the matter , no," she replies delicately. "I just - bought you a little something. For Christmas. It's silly, but - well, you make me want to be silly and spontaneous and all of those things. Just - oh, you'll see."
She hands over the box, carefully wrapped in tissue paper and ribbon, and Hazel cautiously accepts.
"Oh… Dorothy, this is lovely of you - I only got you a card though, I feel bad."
"Don't be silly! It was a lovely card - clearly you put a lot of thought into it. And effort. And - glitter…" She sighs, thinking of the card shedding glitter into her handbag as they speak. "I'm hopeless at anything - arty or crafty…"
"You don't have to say that, but thank you. And thank you for this! Do you mind if I open it now?"
"I don't see why not," she replies, not quite able to look Hazel in the eye as she delicately unties the ribbon and unwraps the box.
For a moment Hazel is taken aback, stunned into silence, but it isn't long before she gets her breath back. "Oh, my... Dorothy, it's beautiful."
She sighs with relief. "Oh, thank God. For a moment I thought you might hate it. It's not too much, is it? I wasn't sure-"
"I love it, I just… wasn't expecting…" She holds the necklace aloft, admiring it in the dim light. "If you don't mind me asking, Dorothy - what does it… mean?"
"Well, is it… just a necklace? Or - is it, say, a necklace and friendship? Or a necklace and… something else?"
"Oh. I - um…" Dorothy stammers. "I think that sort of… depends on you. On what you want it to be. Maybe I've read this all wrong and you don't… feel the way I think you do, but - oh, I'm no good at this. Hazel, I like you. And… it's been a while since I've done anything like this, so - if I've misread the situation, then we can just… forget all about it. But I thought it worth mentioning, just in case there was a chance that you-"
"You're right, you are no good at this," Hazel says, shaking her head fondly. "So I'm going to make it easier for you."
She steps forward, closing the gap between them, and places a sweet, gentle kiss to Dorothy's lips.
"Was that… alright?" she says softly.
Dorothy nods in response. "Can we do that again?"
"Of course. Just… let me know if I start moving too fast for you, Dorothy."
"I think we've waited long enough," Dorothy chuckles, taking Hazel by the hands and pulling her in for another kiss.