Fandom: the hour
Characters: bel rowley, lix storm, minor: randall brown, hector madden
Warnings: canon compliant, hurt/comfort
Summary: written post-finale, in the aftermath of death, two women piece together their lives without any of the right pieces
Bel's her own worst enemy, carefully blanketed narcissism and a newly aquired penchant for hard liquor.
'I'm fine,' rings through the screeching as Lix stops, chalk poised at the board, writing up the schedule for the night. She looks so tall and withered. Every single crinkle in her shirt sags but she says nothing. Bel feels judged anyway.
Nothing about the world is the crystal-clear plans she'd created for herself so long ago. She's exactly where she wanted to be and it feels like nothing. And yet she's so overwhelmed, drowning herself in four clicks of a scotch glass. She presses her nail into the ashtray, slowly extinguishing her cigarette. Automatically, she reaches for a new pack and feels half alive again when the nicotine smoulders down her throat.
Lix loops through her name and glances back at her, horn rims down at the very bridge of her nose, the red rims around her eyes unyielding.
'I would stop with the pitying looks,' Bel says, speaking from the side of her mouth as the cigarette flitters helplessly.
Lix offers her a half-smile and leans over her desk to take the scotch glass from her.
'Cheers,' Lix says as she seats herself in the chair across from her. Bel inclines her head and pulls another glass from her desk drawer.
The news that night are depressing, sombre - like any other night she supposes. But tonight she thinks its the world telling her that her state is not unique to her. She is nothing special. There were killings in Darfur, the Russians were making even bigger weapons and the Suez was still a mess.
One small man. One small, mess of a man. One man that couldn't tie a tie or pick a good pinot. And yet her grief was all consuming, clawing its way to the surface as she watched from the production mezzanine.
'And tonight, we commemorate the extraordinary life of..' Hector continued, blurry despite her glasses.
She reaches for the door as Randall stops her, hand hesitantly resting on her shoulder. She turns, half-expecting him to have a leave application in hand and a pitying 'take some time, Rowley'. Instead, he presses a handkerchief into her palm and shuffles away from her.
It becomes a ritual, a monthly thing, because heck, neither of them have any proper time. What little daylight hours they have are spent in the copy room buried under telegrams and reels deciphering intel and writing news the nation should hear.
But every month, the two women meet at 8.54pm in front of the pictures and watch whatever is still playing. It's been this way for a year now and the owner doesn't even write the session up anymore, it's always Gone with the Wind. There's only ever two people in the dinky small screen at the back of the complex, anyway.
Lix and Bel buy a carton of popcorn and wash down the salted kernels with some sherry. It's a foul combination but it was the only thing Bel had left in her liquor cabinet the first three months they went, so it stuck.
These days they just chat, stockinged feet perched on the seat row in front of them. It's quiet, the reel churning over the slides, but the white noise is a welcome companion.
It is the only place they ever speak about the past. About Freddie. Outside of this movie theatre, a melancholy alcoholic commemoration to the time he died is not acceptable.
'Last night's special was stupid,' Lix mutters, scathingly.
'No flair, no moral, nothing. No heart.'
Lix sighs. Her comment was intended to ignite some worn gossip on Hector's underbite and how Randall always shuffles economic news over the international bureau and how much that drives them both insane when it's nothing more than a rehashing of the obvious.
'Are you ever going to write me a conversation that doesn't-, you know..'
'Isn't that why we come here?' Bel whispers, side-eyeing her defensively. She thinks for a moment that this is Lix's fault, this well-oiled practice of self-pity in a dirty back alley theatre watching a movie neither of them have ever really watched. The woman shrugs, accepts all of Bel's blame and more because there is more to this tradition than Bel recognises.
'Sure, but does it make you miss him less?' Lix replies, hits the nail on the head so hard Bel feels her eyes burn with tears she can't even cry out anymore before the older woman pushes the arm rest up and puts her arms around her, tense and awkwardly maternal.
'He said,' Bel whispers evenly, 'he said.. things. Impossible, stupid, completely Freddie-like things. Things I can't just forget.'
Lix purses her lips and shakes her head. 'The dead are not around to forgive us. They have the happy misfortune of being dead.'
Bel goes home to a jammed door that she still jimmies open with a screwdriver and the leftover dregs of sherry that both of them felt too pathetic to drink.
She thinks about all the time, the years they worked together and the missed opportunities. She feels guilt. The sort that sleeps deep, deep down in her navel and coils itself around her heartstrings and sometimes pulls them so tight she can't breathe. It all reinforces an immersive reflection. She thinks about all those moments. In the car home from the BBC when Bel got the assistant producer position for the primetime news, their intertwined cigarette smoke didn't hold as much promise as they did in that moment, mouths touching, laughter on laughter sitting outside her apartment with Freddie's arrogant congratulations lingering.
'You're too much. Too full.'
'Afraid I'm going to get a big head with my swanky promotion?' she'd replied, eyes alight.
'No, it's going to be beautiful,' he had mumbled, pulling out a cigarette. 'You're going to be bloody, goddamn amazing. It's going to be incredible.'
Freddie pressed his lips to the corner of her mouth and Bel laughed at that too but it was incredible.
'And you'll be head of the news team and I'll executive produce and we'll start our own show. Our very own show. The very best. Most important.'
'Oh yeah?' Freddie had said to her, leaning on the seat, facing her.
'The very best.'
'We'd make a great team,' he'd told her quietly, reaching out to straighten her collar, his thumb brushing over her throat and she'd remembered swallowing so hard. Biting down on her 'no Freddie, its not you, it's not you but it is and I can't and I love you but I can't because you don't love me like I want' she'd smiled and leaned away and that had been that.
The worst part of the whole grieving process is that she is less haunted by him now, a year gone, with nothing but his belongings left behind. Nothing smells like him anymore. Dank and dusty, he doesn't even appear in her dreams anymore. Freddie is slipping away from her. All over again.
What did he look like?
How did he laugh?
What was his favourite pen?
Did his hair settle on the left or the right?
Nothing. Freddie is blurry and the face she sees in photographs isn't the one she remembers. The dissonance, only exaggerated over time, terrifies her.
Randall stands at her door for fifteen minutes before he walks inside, staring at her like she should know what this is about.
'I haven't a clue,' she replies to his indignant question, as if his demeanour was supposed to give it away.
'They've hired someone new,' he tells her, flatly and she looks up. There is nothing cruel about Randall. His management style was perplexing but she respected him. She would even go as far as to say that she liked him. And if Lix had slept with him, there must have been something to the man. She breathes out, unevenly and nods. She appreciated the brevity.
'Are they decent?' she asks, wondering if the BBC were ever going to extend her the courtesy of treating her like she was an actual producer and not some half-assed bint that just made the place shiny?
'I chose them.'
'Oh, well I appreciate the regard for my choice.'
Randall frowns and starts, 'look, Bel. It wasn't personal. She's going to be an excellent fit and I didn't want this to become a political choice.'
He lets out what she thinks is a smile.
'It's 1959. It's about time.'
Bel surveys him over her glasses, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
'Send her in.'
Hector visits her that night and he sits beside her on the couch where they fucked half a dozen times with a bottle of gin between them, no glasses these time, sleeves rolled up like he's about to build something or break something or both.
'I don't understand,' he says for the third time. 'I still don't understand,' he clarifies before taking a long draught from the bottle.
The liquid sloshes towards the bottom, it's half empty see, and he wipes angrily at his mouth, gin dripping into his collar. For some reason, Bel pictures a bruised jaw, a blackened eye and upended promises. The cold cadaver of a man she'd identified on a police morgue's slab. It'll never really leave her.
She presses herself into Hector's side and curls up.
'Yeah,' he replies and wraps his arm around her.
He smells of something awful and old mistakes. He is everything comforting.
They hire three new writers to take on the programs extensive material. They get a two hour slot on Wednesdays to cover the ministerial agenda. It becomes the program to watch.
Bel keeps getting job offers in the mail and still, the BBC's executive invites her out to lunch with them. There's talk of another show, a lighter program, isn't she getting bored down there? Because, they assure her, she has so much promise.
She rolls her eyes a dozen times, thanks them sarcastically and lets Randall handle the pleasantries.
The Hour, her show, their show, her and Freddie's project, is everything. Pure, unadulterated news. Information journalists were educated to present. It is magical.
This is her legacy. His legacy. She thinks sometimes of changing careers, getting as far from her mistakes as possible but she has nothing else to hold on to. This one perfect achievement. The only place Freddie still exists with as much pizzaz as he exuded in flesh.
This is the only place where she feels a modicum of happiness. This is the place where every single half-truth conversation, every almost kiss and missed opportunity exists in fruition.
And maybe the dead weren't able to forgive the living, and maybe she was always going to feel a little like something was missing. But she had loved, and been loved and maybe it hadn't been said or shouted but it had been shown. Every half-truth conversation, almost kiss and missed opportunity.