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Waiting for the Miracle

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*  *  *  *  *


Hank lights up a cigarette, leaning on the bar like he's three times as charming as he's capable of being, which is not particularly charming, but will do in a fix.  The hippy little blonde next to him -- who he's been oscillating rather recklessly between flirting with and just plain aggravating -- narrows her eyes at whatever it was he said last, which he's having some issues remembering barely ten seconds later.

Hank attempts to calculate what the odds are she's about to throw her drink on him, because he likes this shirt and it'll take considerable effort to dodge effectively, but he's pretty damn drunk, and the made-up values keep blundering aimlessly around in his head.  He was never particularly good at math to begin with, so the variable for She looks pretty pissed keeps getting jumbled with I feel like fucking shit, until nothing in his head makes sense anymore.  Eventually, he just shrugs to himself and takes another sip of Scotch.  Occam's razor says: Hank is too drunk to care either way.

Blondie stalks off in a huff, her fake breasts and chin held equally high, and he suddenly has a pretty good guess as to what tasteless remark he might have made.  So the charm apparently didn't work, nor did the follow-up veiled insult, but he still feels pleasantly buzzed and is ten shades and an hour past caring, so at least the alcohol did its job.  "Yay, booze," he snickers to no one.  Charlie picks this shining moment to reappear from the other side of the bar.

"Do you ever button your shirt even close to all the way?" Charlie grumbles with a scowl, apparently having struck out as well, though just as drunk and in a much crankier mood about it.  Hank raises his eyebrows, looks down, then back up with great effort, nonplussed.  He's pretty sure the question answers itself.  Charlie shakes his head, both laughing and sort of not at the same time.  "And you wonder why women are always throwing themselves at you."

"I saw no throwing of women," Hank slurs slightly, looking around in mock confusion, as if one will come flying from behind him at any moment.  "And I never wonder that."

That gets him a laugh from Charlie, a good one, and he pats Hank on the shoulder sloppily.  "C'mon, man.  We… are… outta here," he says, exaggerated umpire voice and all.  Hank would smack him upside the head, if he could get either one of his arms to cooperate.  One never fully realizes what motor skills are worth until they decide to betray you.

He calls shotgun instead, because that tired old joke never fails to amuse Charlie when they're waiting for their cab, and just tries to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.  Charlie doesn't pay as much attention, and nearly walks right smack into a loose barstool.  "Baby steps," Hank calls over his shoulder, his head fuzzy, giggling to himself like a juvenile delinquent.

*  *  *  *  *

"I feel like fucking shit," Hank announces.  Because he still does, several hours later, naturally.  And since he can't seem to write jack, at least he can narrate his own life aloud, however much it might suck.  That's something, right?  Unoriginal and pathetic as all hell, but it's something.

"I don't think that's physically possible," Charlie counters vaguely from somewhere that is not the floor, because he is Hank's best bud, through thick and thin and all that clichéd, sentimental shit, and whenever he can, he will make grammatical corrections to Hank's swearing.  Which isn't even practical, but Charlie is nothing if not persistent, even if it's in all the wrong ways.

"Fuck off," Hank shoots back, because it's his knee-jerk reaction to most stimuli, even Charlie.  And because he's Charlie, he won't take it personally.  He'll just shrug, maybe smile sadly, nudge Hank with his foot, tell him to get the fuck off the floor at least, leave him to wallow, and drag him out of bed tomorrow afternoon for the sake of food, because he knows the morning does not exist in Hank Moody's universe, not after days like today.  Good man, good man, that Charlie.  Maybe this roommate idea of his won't end in doom and fire after all.  It's a pretty optimistic thought.  Hank, unused to optimism these days, lets it rattle around in his head along with the headache, and frowns.

Charlie does it all tonight, not necessarily in that order, but he does his usual Charlie things all the same, and Hank feels slightly less like drowning in a puddle of his own vomit.  Which is, if nothing else, some small improvement.  He pats Charlie's leg from his place on the floor, which he has decided is a good place to be, because it's the only part of the room that will stay still for five fucking seconds at a time.

"Get some sleep," Charlie says, because Hank's already halfway there, and that's the only way he'll ever do anything he suggests.

*  *  *  *  *

Hank dreams; watery, incomprehensible fever-dreams when he drinks too much, which is most of the time, but the subject matter is generally all right.

In dreams, Karen looks like fading sunshine, strands of yellow-orange light woven through her hair like the threads of a dream catcher's web.  Sometimes, in his less drunk and more poetic moods, he thinks she must have his words -- his hopes, his dreams -- still caught up within her, too.

He wishes she'd give them back, but, well.  That's not really how it works.  All he knows is he just doesn't write anymore.  He can't even recall the last time he had something worthwhile to say that couldn't be reduced to some self-righteous tirade, and that's what that stupid-ass blog is for, apparently.  Maybe it's better this way.

*  *  *  *  *

His cell phone rings, shocking him awake in pretty much the most obnoxious manner possible, because when it boils down to the basics, that's really all cell phones are good for anymore.  He whacks his head against the coffee table while rolling aimlessly on the floor, hunting around for it: "Motherfucking piece of shit-- Hey, sweetie."

Becca, Becca, Becca...  She likes to call late at night, at least once a week, and talk when they're both half-awake and half-riddled with dreams.  It's become a Thing.  Hank is cool with that.  They talk about big things and little things and all the in-between things that will be forgotten before the conversation ends.  Her voice calms him like waves on the sea, like a good cup of coffee and a better book on a street corner back home, and when she's addled with sleep like this it reminds him of putting her to bed when she was still little enough to carry.  He'd rub her back and stroke her hair and count the mermaids with her as she drifted away.

She's growing up smart, spunky, fiesty.  He likes that.  She's pretty too, just like her Mom.  His girls.  It worries him a little, what with his being her Dad and all, and the things they'll occasionally hear from her teachers, but that's all part of the parcel, he figures.

He loves to engulf her in over-sized bear hugs that last a little too long, wrapping her up completely in his arms, because she still lets him.  He knows it won't be long before she outgrows them, outgrows him, and gets too big, too old, too jaded to hug him back like she does now.  He tries not to think about that much, because then he gets to thinking: what would he do, where would he be without his little girl?  It's a slippery slope.

He knows she has a love-hate relationship with his childishness; at times, it makes it easier for them to relate, to communicate, but other times he knows she needs something more.  He does what he can.  He knows she likes that, too.  He's doing the best he can.  He only hopes that's enough.  He knows there are times when it's not; she's not so gentle that she won't tell him that, now.  It hurts, but they both need it to be said.

Sometimes he'll back up a bit, take a long look at her and think, Wow, look at that.  Look at what all the not-so-fucked-up parts of him (coupled with the best parts of her Mom, for good measure) can make.  Sometimes, she even reminds him that he isn't completely, utterly hopeless.  Not as long as those parts of him are still in there, somewhere.

*  *  *  *  *

Becca makes her hasty goodbye when they both hear Bill calling for her from somewhere in the background noise.  Bill really isn't such a bad guy, on the whole.  You know, except for the part where he's a complete tool.

The harder part is, Hank really does feel bad for the guy.  When he's not being a completely passive-aggressive ass; just standing around looking clueless and without any real sense of place, Hank feels sorry for him.  He thinks of Mia too, which he usually tries not to do but which happens anyway, whether he likes it or not (like just about everything else in his life, so what else is new?), and how fucked up she is.  Completely, royally fucked up.

Sure, she's pretty much a mirror image of most of Hank's own problems, only with slightly less boozing, much less smoking, and a hell of a lot less pointless pussy (he hopes), but it's wrong, that's she like that.  She's sixteen, for fuck's sake, you're supposed to grow into that kind of shit.  You're not supposed to be throwing your life away before it's even really started; that's a job better left to the adults.

Growing up isn't all it's cracked up to be, but Mia doesn't even get to have that depressing life lesson tucked away for later.  Her life's already blown to shit.  She must feel alone most of the time; mother dead, father as good as, for all the attention he pays her, and not another scrap of family to be found.  No wonder she goes out of her way for attention; at least when Hank felt like making an ass of himself, he had sisters to look after him.

Sure, Mia makes crappy decisions and drives him up the fucking wall and could be a hell of a lot smarter -- is a lot smarter -- than she's letting on, but she's still just a kid.  He has a hard time being mean to her, when she can still wilt like a little flower at a moment's notice, get that look like a toy that's been abandoned for something shinier, just like his own daughter can.  He wonders sometimes when she finally broke; what it was that broke her.

*  *  *  *  *

"Look, just--" Charlie starts, and Hank takes a nice long drag, and prepares himself, because the pathetic bitching, it is coming.  "Don't be such an asshole, okay?"

"Too late!" Hank replies cheerfully, because Charlie walked right on into that one, only about ten years ago.  But really, this act of his has gotten to be old hat by now.  "Will you just call her, already?" Hank whines, though not as obnoxiously as Charlie has been whining all goddamn day, which is really fucking obnoxious.  Ly.  Obnoxiously.  (God, he can't even write his own internal narrative properly anymore.)  Fuck it all, Hank thinks, stubbing his cigarette out on some scraps of paper on the desk.  I used to be able to do this shit.

Charlie evades him with his eyes, retreating behind his trusty little agent desk, and his computer and his appointment book and his pager or cell phone or whatthefuckever he crams this pseudo-post-modern nancy little office with.  Hank stops caring and hunts around vaguely for the wadded up ball of rubber bands he wasted fifteen minutes making and then chucked at him last week, scattering papers as he goes.  "I can't just... just call her, man," he answers finally, an edge to his voice like they're ruminating the apocalypse and not just a phone call, even though that's a pussy answer.

So Hank says, "That's a fucking pussy answer."  Because it is, and someone had to say it.  He finds the rubber band ball lodged in some shiny, metallic IKEA excuse for a pencil cup on the desk.  Score.

"I fucked up, man, I just really fucked it all up," Charlie concedes after a while, slumping into his desk chair.  Hank can't care too much about the admission, because that's only obvious as hell, and it's not like Hank hasn't done it all before (because of course he has), and Charlie should really know better.  Sitting across from him, hunched over on the couch and dicking around with a ball of rubber bands just because, is his best buddy who is the prime example of I Fucked My Life Up One-Handed, Thanks For Asking, Asshole.

Hank should feel bad about this, because Marcy was pretty damn cool, Charlie is pretty damn pathetic without her, and they were pretty damn good together.  They were friends, all four of them, once.  And he did feel bad for a while, but then Charlie kept right on bitching and didn't do jack shit, just kept burrowing further and further into an oblivion of denial, which just pisses him off and exhausts him.  Well beyond the point of genuine sympathy, he rolls right on past gentle and into a more Hank kind of reply, which is: "Grow the fuck up, man."

"Oh, like you're one to talk," Charlie snarks, clearly not in the mood to hear anything but himself, with the whining.  Which Hank has had more than enough of at this point, for Christ's sake.  Like he doesn't know he's a bright little beacon of childish fuck-uppedness, shining onto the rocks that Charlie's wrecked his life on; making the whole mess clearer, throwing both their mistakes into sharp relief.  Charlie can resent him for that all he likes, it's not going to change a damn thing.

Hank may be at fault for what's happened to him, the total shit-storm that his life's become, but at least he doesn't kid himself about it.  He knows he's a self-induced, colossal fuck-up, thanks very much.

"Meh," announces Hank to the ceiling.  He is done with this conversation, as of three minutes ago.  Charlie rolls his eyes so hard, Hank thinks his retinas are going to be feeling it tomorrow.

The ball of rubber bands ricochets off the window, scattering the blinds loudly, bounces off the desk, and comes to rest anti-climactically in the middle of the floor.  No basket today, apparently.  Hank eyes it from the couch, sighs, decides it's not worth the effort, and lights up another cigarette.


*  *  *  *  *

Hank flips through the channels, achieving a magnificent slouch on the sofa, not really watching anything, bored out of his skull and uninspired as ever.  Flip -- news; war, death, taxes, yadda yadda yadda.  He laughs with Jon Stewart for a bit, but it's always a little tiring to find things funny when he's already depressed, because the things they're laughing at are more than a little depressing all by themselves.  The farce of life, she is a vicious cycle.

Flip -- people scarfing disgusting things down in record time; flip -- lots of garbled yelling, something blowing up, blah blah blah.  He lands on another channel for a minute, hears: "Mulder, it's me," in the sultry tones of the one and only Gillian Anderson, and pauses for a minute.  He knows this one, it's a good one; it's the episode where the same day keeps happening, over and over, like Groundhog Day, but not quite.  More bombs, fewer scheming rodents.  It's a little too close for comfort, the idea of the same mistakes repeating on a loop, but he doesn't feel like switching to something else, either.

He silently thanks the Sci-Fi channel, not that he'll ever admit it, because... really.  It's Sci-Fi; talk about your mind-numbingly formulaic, overly recycled crap.  "You shut the hell up," he says to Yusef in his own defense, who's been sitting and staring pointedly at Hank from near his feet.  Yusef just makes a bored, growly noise, twitches his ears, and rolls over on the floor.

Hank decides that The X-Files is an exception to the Sci-Fi rule, because it's a classic (much like The Twilight Zone), and it's usually a good fix when he's depressed.  Fox Mulder is a character who, if nothing else, reminds one that it could always, always be worse.  Still, when all is said and done, and the forty-seven minutes are up, no matter how much shit he's gotten into, at least he still has Scully.

Must be nice.

Wow, way to plum new lows, Moody.  Just when your life can't seem much more pathetic...  Jealous of a guy who never, ever gets laid.  Spec-fucking-tacular.  He turns the TV off and translates his magnificent slouch to the bed, where it metamorphoses into a massive tangle of sheets and restless sleep.

*  *  *  *  *

He really doesn't want to dream about Karen anymore because he's depressed enough all on his own, but when has Hank ever gotten what he really wanted?  Everything falls right into his lap except what he's actually looking for, without fail.  And so, he dreams.

She turns him over to face her, and they just stare at each other for a while.  She's going for unreadable, wanting to be mysterious and unattainable like always, but Hank's smarter than that, no matter what she thinks.  No matter what she tells herself, he knows her, dammit.

He knows what she's thinking, right now, and all he can think is how fantastic her lips look, how big and beautiful her eyes are, and how close both of those things are, along with the rest of her -- the closest they've been in a long time.  He kissed her a couple of weeks ago, but that was different; she wasn't there like she's here now, not really.  Also, anything that starts with getting drunk and ends with getting shoved into a pool generally isn't the best point of reference for anything remotely romantic.

She looks at his lips and back to his eyes, leans a little closer, and all Hank can think now is, Can't we ever be on the same page at the same time?  Does that not ever happen anymore?  Did that ever happen?  Can we just--

Karen finally kisses him, and he stops thinking about anything but the feel of her, threading his fingers through her hair.  Fuck thinking, he's waited too long for this.

Hank does love women; he loves the way they smell, how their voices sound, how they can be so soft and so strong at once -- a perfect paradox he's attempted to capture in words fruitlessly so many times.  But none of them are soft like Karen is, none of them sound like Karen does, and he's sick of the endless searching for a substitute he knows he's not going to find.

He'll be sorry for this in the morning, they both will, but he just can't give half a fuck about that right now, not when she feels like this, like all the better things he's been dreaming about ever since she left.

He'd have been sorry in the morning, anyway.  That's just how it goes.

He was.  They both were, but not in the same ways; never the same ways, anymore.

The problem is, nothing they do or feel is ever for the same reasons, at the same time.  He wonders whether that will ever stop fucking them up, or if they'll just keep tripping over that exact same snag in the fabric of their lives, over and over again.

His apartment is empty when he rolls over to the cold side of the bed.  Even his footsteps sound empty as he pads barefoot out of his bedroom, just to be sure.

When he's positive Karen is gone -- not that he's surprised or anything, because fuck if anything ever goes right in his life, ever -- he hunts around for one of the eleven or so packs of cigarettes he's lost or buried amongst the sea of random piles of papers and miscellany; worthless junk, all.  Pulls one out, thins his lips out over the bitter paper, pauses.

"Nice one," he says to no one.  "Well played."  It sort of echoes back off the cluttered kitchen countertops and the wood-paneled floor, then seeps out the open patio door.

Hank wanders outside, squints in the sunshine for about five seconds, grumbles "Fucking hell," and then retreats back inside, even though it's not nearly dark enough here, anywhere, for his liking, for his mood.  He remembers why he hates this time of year; the night never lasts long enough.

"Here we are," he remembers suddenly, "fucking our way to the end of days."  Maybe Mia was onto something there.  Smart kid.  Too bad she's always, always such a spectacular pain in the ass.

He finally lights up, the flick of his thumb and the tinny little crack of the flint the most hollow sounds amongst all of the empty space that surrounds him.

Here we are, he thinks.


Hank wakes up when the phantom flame crackles to life in his hands, feeling like he hasn't slept at all.


*  *  *  *  *

Hank bursts into Charlie's office in the middle of the night, which would be weird if he hadn't known where to find him.  Charlie likes to work late these days.  If by "work," you mean "sit around in the dark, moping."  Which Hank does, of course, and which Charlie is doing, right now.  Hank is too angry to care, whatever the excuse of the day might be.

"Motherfucker," Hank barks, having not been quite this angry in a while.  "Fucking fuck."

Charlie raises his eyebrows as high as they'll go, pursing his lips into a tiny little "O" shape and looking silently horrified.  "Say 'fuck' one more time," he says, sounding both impressed and exasperated.

"Fuck," Hank supplies helpfully, then adds "off" as an afterthought, remembering that he's still really pissed.  What a guy.

"Hank Moody, ladies and gentlemen," Charlie chuckles, hamming it up, giving himself a good laugh.  He probably thinks this is some kind of a joke.  Like hell.  Hank hasn't had a break like that in years.

Charlie's still laughing a little, and Hank makes a mental note to hide Charlie's car keys somewhere he'll never think to look, possibly crammed in a stack of manuscripts in his Inbox, and then see how fucking funny he thinks everything is.  He sits down in a blur, fidgeting like he's hopped up on meth (not at the moment), and attempts to explain.  Maybe it's like throwing up; maybe if he gets it all out, he won't feel so completely, royally fucked.

"So, let me get this straight," Charlie muses aloud several minutes later, steepling his fingers beneath his chin, elbows on his desk.  Hank does not have the patience for this affected therapist shit.  "You got carjacked."


"The same day you bought the car."

Hank nods.  He hates the word "yep," if it's even really a word, why did he say that?  He decides he's not going to say it anymore, ever.  Christ, he's so pissed off, he's getting marginally cranky at words.

"And your manuscript, of which there was only one copy--"

Hank tries not to think about that part (thanks a million, Charlie), because he's definitely been drinking, and even if he hadn't been, that part of the story still makes him want to throw up.  So much for the figurative spilling of guts alleviating that symptom.

"--was in the passenger seat."

"What can I say?  I'm one lucky motherfucker."  Hank screws around a bit with his lighter, debating whether or not to do the wasted teenager thing and test the pain tolerance in his fingers with it.  Anything that will turn his brain off for a minute or two, at this point, will do.

"So... it's gone."

"That's right."  Hank flicks the lid of the casing back, staring hard at the lighter, but not really focusing on it.  Funny, his hand feels empty.

"Gone."  Charlie seems to have finally let it sink in.  Some fucking joke.

Hank resists the urge to set any stack of papers within reach on fire and chuck it in Charlie's face.  Yes, gone.  Gone, gone, gone.  His hand still feels empty, which is definitely strange, because he's staring at it, and the lighter is certainly there.  His knuckles have gone white against the cheap plastic.

*  *  *  *  *

It's not Wednesday yet (Becca Day, he likes to call it, and Saturdays too); which means he has no legitimate reason to be at Karen's.  But Charlie made the mistake of leaving his car keys in plain view after driving them both home, and Hank is looking for someone who will stand still in the center of his livid orbit, who'll maybe even yell back; he just needs someone to blame.  Two-bit criminals with their yippy little dogs certainly don't stick around long enough.  Even if it would've gotten jacked anyway, he still wishes she would've bothered to read it.  Maybe then the entire thing wouldn't have been a complete fucking waste of time.

He would've written until he had however many words it took for her to listen; enough words to even kill an entire goddamn tree (not that she would've appreciated the metaphor much), if she just would've read it.

Karen doesn't want to fight in front of Becca, as if she's too young to know what's going on, which both she and Hank resent, but they're fighting now anyway.  She keeps edging him toward the door, until the two of them end up spilling out onto the driveway outside, snarling at each other.  He's all riled up tonight, full of pent-up resentment ever since that night they spent together, weeks ago; all potential energy in a balled-up fist, waiting to let loose.

"See, the thing is," he starts, mumbling roughly around another cigarette, which he knows annoys her -- but he doesn't really care about that, not now.  "You think you're better, now."

He thinks she might flinch a little at that, but it's dark, and they're both angry and tired, and he can't tell for sure.  "You think you're too good for me, and so does everybody else, but I don't buy it anymore."

Karen opens her mouth, but he knows what she'll say.  She'll say something hard and mean and cold that has no substance, to try and avoid talking about anything that matters, especially this.  They're always talking in circles; never talking about, never feeling the same things at the same time.  He's done with that.  She needs to listen for once, instead of always talking over him, just waiting for him to shut up.

"You think you are, but you're not."  He inhales deeply, glancing down, watching the bright orange flame curling slowly up the paper.  The nearest street lamp has been burnt out for a week now, and the bright embers almost seem to ignite the inky black space between them.  "I love you, Karen, but I don't think you're much better off than I am.  Fuck, maybe you're even worse."

She seems to shrink before him, though she hasn't moved.  Her drowsy eyelids close, as if she can blink him out of her life, if she concentrates hard enough.  Good one, Karen, he thinks acidly.  Try blinking harder.

"Quit kidding yourself.  You don't have to love me back.  Or maybe you do, and maybe you don't, I don't fucking know anymore if I ever did to begin with, but stop pretending like everything's all fine and fucking dandy when you don't even know what you really want.  All the pretty little houses in the world aren't going to fix your life any more than all the booze and pussy and drugs and pointless shit have saved mine."  She looks surprised, but he just keeps right on talking, bolstered by her unexpected silence.  "Keep on telling me to grow the fuck up, that's fine, but you might want to practice what you preach."  He slips the cigarette from between his lips, exhales a bit of smoke as he drops it, smirking tiredly at her as he stubs it out with the sole of his shoe, gesturing vaguely at the space between them.  "Just a thought."

He imagines he can actually see the hairs on her arms stand up, the moment she prickles before him like a cactus.  "Go to hell, Hank."  Her voice sounds brittle in the cold air, like she might shatter into a thousand angry pieces if he touched her, which he won't.  He's tired of being shrugged off only to be begged back later, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.  Even the dumbest dogs figure that one out eventually.

"Already there, honey," he shoots back from the cold, deep shadows of the empty street.  He's feeling particularly unforgiving tonight.  Maybe if she hadn't fucked him like it meant something, then turned her back on him all over again.  Co-grieving, my ass.  Maybe if she hadn't called back his muse from wherever it had gone, yanked that novel out right out of his heart, and then dropped it right back in his lap, bloody and wide open, without ever turning the first page.

She's gone, the novel's gone, he's pretty sure he'd only had that one last something real left in him at this point, and it's all gone, gone, gone.  "Careful what you wish for, it's a one-way ticket."

She stares at him for a long moment, while he shoves his hands in his pockets and stares up at her Barbie dream house, all sharp angles and impeaching post-modernism, its pretension practically spilling over into the neighboring yards.  He hates this house, just like he hates this city and basically everything in it, but loves, loves, loves her still, so he stays put, blowing a few more tendrils of leftover smoke into the vacant, quiet night.

Karen shifts her weight slightly, her eyes flashing at him in the dark, and he gets the feeling like she expects, maybe even wants him to come over and grab hold of her like he's always doing, burying his face in her hair and her neck and escaping his fucked up life for a precious half-second.  But he just chuffs a little laugh to himself and digs his heels into the gravelly ground.  I'm done, he thinks, I'm done letting you do this to me.  What's left for you to take, anyway?

He looks back up at the house; discovers Becca watching from her high bedroom window.  Her hair, dark and sharp against her pale face like always, gives the illusion, through the glass, as if she is half made up of shadow.  He watches her press her perfect little fingers against the glass, spread wide like a white starfish in a tank.

Thanks for the reminder, beautiful, precocious daughter of mine, he thinks.  Not that he needed it; he's just being melodramatic.  Ever since she was born, she's been a constant undercurrent in his mind, no matter how bushwhacked he is on alcohol, drugs, sex, wasted life, et cetera, et cetera.  Like the low humming drone of a beehive, ceaseless and hypnotic, she's there.  I won't let her take you from me, not ever.  Karen must have noticed him looking by now, but he doesn't care.

Becca's dark eyes sparkle at him from her little bubble up on high, somehow not so far away.  He winks, just barely, and she smiles her knowing, sad little smile.  The one just for him; the one that makes his heart ache in a heavy, pleasant way they both understand, both embrace.  He used to wonder what that meant, what that said about them both, but he knows better now; he's learned to just take what he can get.

They stand there for a while, not saying anything; Karen hovering stiffly on the slight curb of the white sidewalk and Hank bleeding from the edges into the asphalt in the middle of the street.  After several long minutes of nothing, she moves, soft and silent like water (he supposes she's taken her ridiculous, clunky shoes off for the evening), crosses the distance between them and stops just a breath away from him.  No matter what, he's determined not to move.  He's said everything he needed to say, anyway.

A few heavy beats pass, and then her hand comes up and she rests her palm against the roughness of his perpetually unshaven jaw, the skin of her long fingers warm and familiar and everything he wants to just reach out and take.  He imagines for a brief moment she might even let him, if he tried.  He thinks he might actually flinch a little at the contact, not that he'd ever admit to it later.

She leans over and brushes her lips against his, something in her every muscle pulled taut like she just can't help it even though she might fly apart in a moment, and he still doesn't move, just closes his eyes and lets her.  They share a breath, a moment, a dip in their mutually counterfeit equilibrium, bowed out by that one dangerous little touch of dark desire that never seems to go away.  Still, Hank remains motionless, concentrating on the feel of her eyelashes stuttering against his cheek, and how she tastes just like he remembers, always.

Someone down the street, maybe the next street over, drops a can while taking out the garbage; the tinny, aluminum clatters its hollow echo against faraway pavement, and it's over.  Karen flits away from him like a spooked fish, like she was never there, and maybe she wasn't.  He doesn't know anymore, just thinks, Thanks for proving my point.  How considerate of you.

He tucks his heart carefully back inside his jacket pocket; the movement concealed as he pulls out another cigarette and his lighter too, just to fill his empty hands.  In the periphery of his tired eyes, he sees the little star of Becca's hand wink back into the darkness of her room.  Her fingerprints twinkle at him like some secret constellation, even across all this distance, from the way the moonlight strikes the paneled glass.

He just doesn't fucking know.  He strikes the flint, hard.

All he knows for sure is all his words are gone.


*  *  *  *  *