Chapter 1: one-man shift in the weather
“You can’t say anything.”
Karen laughs, and Matt leans over the table and grabs her arm to get her attention.
“I mean it, Kazza, you can’t say—you can’t even hint at—”
Karen rolls her eyes and pats his hand. “Oh, calm down, would you?” She smirks. “You think I’d leak a story this big to the Huffington Post?” She pretends to look affronted. “I have class, Smith.”
Rather than reassure him, or make him laugh, Matt’s face goes even whiter as he shakes his head frantically, hair falling over his eyes. “Karen, you can’t tell anyone. The press, or Steven, or even Arthur, you can’t say anything, it would ruin everything and it’s not—it’s not what you think it—”
Karen shushes him as the waitress comes by to take their orders. She smiles winningly, orders three coffees and tells the woman they’re waiting on a third party. Matt offers a tight smile and a curt nod, fiddling with the edges of the white tablecloth, sneaking glances at Karen every few seconds.
As soon as she’s gone, Matt leans back over the table and catches Karen’s gaze. “You can’t say anything.”
Karen leans in, unable to resist winding him up. “Say anything about what? Your ABBA collection?”
Matt flails his arm, nearly knocking over the small flower centrepiece on the table. “Karen—”
“Your freaky obsession with footballers? The fact that I caught you and Alex shoving your tongues down each other’s thr—” Matt clamps a hand over her mouth and looks around frantically, trying to see if anyone heard. Karen rolls her eyes and pulls away. “Way to be subtle.”
“She’s going to be here any minute,” he hisses, scanning the small, nearly empty cafe for their interviewer.
“Well she’s not here yet, so spill. You’ve been avoiding talking about this for a week, and now I’ve got you cornered.” Matt shifts restlessly, frowning at a small stain on the tablecloth. He tries to rub it out with this thumb. Huffing, Karen tosses her hair out of her face. “What’s the big deal? So you and Alex shacked up, it’s hardly surprising.”
Matt’s eyes widen comically, and Karen resists the urge to laugh. “What?”
“Your flirting could power the entire block of Harrods, so it was only a matter of time before—”
Matt shakes his head furiously. “No. No. We haven’t—we aren’t—” His hands flutter uselessly in the air between them. “It was just that one time, it was just...” He lowers his voice. “kissing.”
“You seriously expect me to believe that with the way you two are all over each other?”
“We’re not! We’re friends, Kazza, we’re good friends and--”
“Yes,” she teases, “very, very good friends who apparently like to snog each other’s faces off and go back to yours for a bit of hanky panky.”
“No!” A few customers look up, and Matt flushes, quickly ducking his head and leaning over the table again. “No. There’s no...hanky pank— who even says that, honestly, Gillan?”
Karen puts her elbows on the table and waves a finger at him. “Don’t change the subject, Smith. You and Alex are shagging like rabbits and I want to know how long it’s been going on.” A horrified look crosses her face, and she shakes her head. “Oh, god, tell me you didn’t do it on set. Have I touched anything that you violated? You did it on the TARDIS, didn’t you? I can see Alex going for that. Ugh, god, no, stop thinking.”
As she muses, getting more and more disturbed, Matt turns bright pink and twitches, knocking the underside of the table with his knee. “We haven’t done anything!” he hisses, just as the waitress returns with their drinks. She wings an eyebrow at them and Matt fumbles through an apology. Karen’s phone goes off, and she checks her messages, pointedly not saving him from the waitress’ flirty smile and slight of hand as she passes him his cup.
Matt forces a smile and thanks her, quickly turning to Karen to ask about her text. The waitress moves away, and Karen rolls her eyes. “That was the interviewer. She’s almost here, she got stuck in traffic.”
Matt breathes a sigh of relief. “Thank god.”
“Don’t think you’re getting out of this so easily,” she warns.
“Promise me you won’t say anything.”
“Tell me why you’re making me promise,” she counters.
“Because it’s nothing,” he insists. “It was just one snog, and I don’t want it all over the papers because you can’t keep your ginger mouth shut.”
His tone is harsh and clipped, and Karen’s eyes widen in surprise as he looks away from her, staring down into his coffee with a frown.
“Oh my god.”
He looks up sharply. “What?”
“You like her.” Matt shakes his head, but Karen keeps going, her voice low but brimming with excitement. “Oh, my god, you properly like her.”
“You do! It’s all over your face, I don’t know why I didn’t see it.”
“Does she feel the same way? Did you talk about it?” she presses, unable to taper down her smile. “Are you going to be all romantic and gooey on set now? Should I bring earplugs?”
Matt flounders, scrubbing the back of his neck with a palm. “We’re not...it’s nothing. Look, just forget it, okay?” He looks up at her, pleading, and Karen feels her heart drop.
“You didn’t tell her.”
Matt looks away, staring out the window with a glazed over look in his eyes, and Karen sighs softly. “Oh, stupid.”
“I can’t. It’s not—I mean, I don’t want to—” He stares morosely into his coffee.
Karen leans across the table and squeezes his arm. “I’m sorry.”
He nods and offers her a weak smile. “Sorry I snapped.”
She shakes her head. “I didn’t realise...” She pats his arm before withdrawing. “You should tell her.”
“And say what, Kazza?” he asks quietly. “I’m half her age, I’m always working. She spends half her time in the States, with her daughter, no less—I’m not dad material, I can’t even take care of a house-plant. What do I have to offer her?”
He looks so miserable, so thoroughly defeated, that Karen can’t bear it. “Do you love her?”
Matt doesn’t answer, turning to stare out the window again. Across the street, a blue car pulls into a parking space, and their interviewer gets out, waving to him. He waves back, forcing a smile, and turns to Karen. “She’s here.”
Karen ignores him. “Do you love her?”
Matt shakes his head, watching through the window as the woman tries to dodge traffic to cross the street.
“Matt,” Karen presses, eyes flickering to follow his gaze. Behind them, the door opens and the bell rings, and the woman interviewing them quickly makes her way across the cafe.
“I’m so, so sorry,” she apologises, extending a hand first to Matt, then Karen. “I’m Catherine Lawson, I’m from the Huffington Post. Traffic was a nightmare; have you been waiting long? Oh, coffee, bless you both.”
Matt smiles as she takes a seat, placing her bag on the floor and reaching for the coffee.
“Thank you,” she says earnestly, and Karen laughs.
“No problem. Take a breath for a minute.”
Catherine returns her smile, and they chat for a few minutes, getting comfortable before she pulls out her notepad and digital recorder, and begins the interview. She asks them about Amy’s departure, the future of the show, Matt’s tenure, and other acting-related inquiries.
“You’ve both recently played very iconic British characters not related to Doctor Who,” she says, taking a sip of her coffee. “Christopher Isherwood and Jean Shrimpton. Have you got any other real-life people you think you’d like to be playing soon?”
Karen frowns, tapping a green-painted fingernail on the table as she thinks. “Oh, that’s a really difficult question...”
Matt resists the urge to roll his eyes, and answers to cover for her, “I’d really love to play Ted Hughes or Chet Baker.”
Catherine looks mildly surprised, but nods in consideration. “You’ve got completely the right profile to play Chet Baker.”
Matt laughs. “I hope so.”
Karen smiles, a sneaky, ridiculous smirk that Matt knows Catherine won’t recognise, but he feels his chest tighten all the same. “I love that poem by Ted Hughes. I can’t remember what it’s called, but at the end it’s like, “They wore each other’s faces.” It’s about a married couple snogging each other for the first time.”
She gives Matt a pointed look, and he tries his best not to scowl, to keep his face neutral as he nods in agreement. “He’s amazing. I’d love to play him,” he answers diplomatically, while under the table he presses his heel into Karen’s foot. She jumps, glowering.
Catherine turns her attention to Karen, asking her about future rolls, her love of 60s era projects. They deviate into American television for a bit, and Matt feels himself start to relax, safe in these unassuming topics. She asks him more about his future on Doctor Who, and he responds enthusiastically, excited even by the prospect of more episodes, and more time on the show. More time with the stories, with the crew, the sets, the people...more time with Alex.
“So you'll be coming back for the 25th reunion then?” she asks, after politely grilling Karen about her plans.
“I have exactly the same answer,” he says, motioning to Karen. “I mean, it's such a privilege to be part of the heritage of the show. And the opportunity to be a part of the changing stories every week, to travel the world, to develop some of the closest relationships I've had in a working environment, with Karen and Arthur and Alex Kingston.” He clears his throat, trying to keep professional distance by using her full name, and Karen outright laughs, seeing straight through his cover and kicking him lightly under the table. Matt flushes, trying to regain control, and forces a chuckle. “Don't laugh! It's true!”
He hopes to god the interviewer doesn’t think anything of it - can’t see inside his mind and know that he’s not really thinking about anyone or anything but Alex - the soft curve of her hip that fits into his palm perfectly, how she laughs at his jokes, the smile she gives him every morning, the way she catches his arm before he trips, holding him to her just a little too long.
He misses most of what Catherine says, then, tuning back in at Karen’s loud, “Really?” She looks at him pointedly, waiting for an interjection, and, judging their tones, Matt takes a chance.
“No way! That's so exciting!”
The interviewer smiles, and Karen rolls her eyes, mouthing ‘lucky shot’ at him across the table when she isn’t looking.
The interview carries on, and afterwards Catherine sticks around for a bit of small talk and another coffee. Matt wants to leave, to beg an excuse to get back to set, but he’s afraid of leaving Karen alone with her, even for a moment. He doesn’t think she’d intentionally give him away, not now, but the anxiety runs deep, and he keeps steering the direction away from the cast and onto easier subjects.
Of course, that all goes to hell when Catherine finally admits, “You know, I’m actually a huge fan of Alex Kingston.”
Karen barely muffles a laugh behind her mug as Matt chokes on his coffee. “Oh, yeah, she’s great,” he offers, trying to subtly clear his throat. Karen presses her lips together tightly, unable to speak for fear of laughing.
“I watched her on ER for years. She’s such an amazing actress.”
Matt nods. “She’s a blast.”
“Off the record, and this is just for my own knowledge, what’s it like to work with her? Is she a total diva?”
Matt laughs at that, and Karen joins in, finally having an appropriate outlet for her amusement. “Alex?” Karen shakes her head. “Complete opposite. Seriously, the crew have to beg her to let them fetch her a cuppa.”
“Really. Best daughter I could ask for,” Karen laughs.
“How do you feel about him snogging her all the time?” Catherine teases, and Matt flushes bright red. “Oh, bless! I didn’t think you’d be so shy about the whole thing.”
Karen barely manages to restrain herself as Matt fumbles for a reply. “Oh, no, no, the snogging’s great. She’s a wonderful kisser. I mean, not that we snog a lot. Just on set. For scenes.” He coughs, and Catherine gives him a curious look. Matt shoots Karen a pleading glance, and she finally steps in, redirecting the conversation back to Alex’s time on ER, then ER itself, then general doctor shows and their mutual dislike for Grey’s Anatomy. Finally Catherine checks her watch, panics, and insists she has to be off and has a deadline in three hours.
“It was wonderful speaking to you, though,” she insists, shaking their hands again. “Give my regards to The Moff.” She laughs. “And Alex as well, when you see her.”
Matt nods stiffly. “Will do,” he promises. Catherine waves goodbye and hurries out of the cafe, and Matt slumps back into his chair, resisting - but barely - the urge to bang his head on the table.
“And you were worried about me,” Karen teases, but her voice is gentle, and she lays a hand on his arm.
Matt looks up at her through the fringe over his eyes. “That was awful.”
“You did fine.”
“I’m going to bugger it up before I even start anything.”
“No, you won’t.” Karen scoots her chair around the table next to him and drapes an arm over his shoulder. “You gotta try before you can admit defeat, yeah?”
Matt chuckles, but Karen can tell by the way he’s wringing his hands together that he isn’t convinced. Realising that this will take more than a meaningful words disguised as jokes, Karen sighs and takes his hand in hers.
“You’re a good guy, Matt. You’re sweet and occasionally charming, and most of all you care. I’ve seen the way you look at her. Alex has dealt with a lot of rubbish blokes over the years. She could use someone like you.”
Matt shakes his head. “She’s got so much at stake.”
“So do you.”
“That doesn’t matter. I just...I want her to be happy, you know?” He meets her gaze. “Even if it’s not me, I just want her to be happy.”
Karen smiles gently and ruffles his hair. “You’re an idiot.” He frowns, and she pokes him in the chest. “You make her happy. Even if she doesn’t realise it yet. I think your hardest job is going to be convincing her that she makes you happy.”
Matt frowns. “Why on Earth would she—”
“Because she’s Alex?”
He sighs. “Good point.”
Patting his leg, Karen stands up and offers him a hand. “Come on. We’ve gotta get back to set, and you have some wooing to do.”
Chapter 2: chasing some mirage in my mojave sun
- see part one
Arthur drops onto the seat across from her. “So I take it you finally laid one on him?”
Alex’s eyes shoot to his and she panics, shaking her head. “What? No. We’re friends.”
Arthur arches an eyebrow. “What are you talking about?”
Alex swallows. “What are you talking about?”
He points a thumb over his shoulder. “Just saw The Moff come through here, thought you finally caught him.” Pulling out his phone, he shows her the Instagram photo of Moffat’s cheek, covered in lipstick kisses.
Alex sighs in relief and tries to smile. “Oh, yes. We’re all showing love to our Overlord today.”
“What did you think I meant?”
Alex laughs uneasily. “Nothing.” She waves a hand. “I was just being—I was just distracted.”
Arthur follows her gaze to her sleeve, where she’s been steadily picking apart the seam for the better part of an hour. Arthur nods stoically. “Damaging costumes is an underpaid job, but someone’s got to do it.”
Arthur doesn’t say anything, and when she finally looks up, he points to her sleeve. Alex immediately drops her hands, cursing. Arthur shrugs. “It’s an easy fix, don’t worry about it.”
“You sew now, do you?” she says, and though he can tell she’s trying for friendly her tone falls flat. Alex waves a hand in front of her face. “I’m sorry, dear.” She offers him a tight smile. “I’m knackered and irritable today.”
Arthur shrugs, producing a bag of gummi bears she’d brought back for him from LA and spills them out on the table. Alex cringes, hoping he doesn’t try to eat them after that, watching as he sorts them into colour piles. “Haven’t been sleeping well?” he asks casually.
Alex shrugs. “No better or worse than normal.”
“You sure? You’re looking a little more English than usual.”
“Thanks, dear,” she laughs, and Arthur smirks, attempting to stack the bears on top of one another.
“So who’re you just friends with?”
Alex inhales sharply. “Sorry?”
“You said you were just—”
“Oh!” She forces a high laugh. “No, just —Steven. I was talking about Steven. I didn’t realise you meant...” She trails off, waiting for him to interject or cut her off. When he doesn’t, the silence settles awkwardly, and Alex shifts.
Arthur shrugs. “Okay.” Lifting two gummi bears, he licks the top of one and the underside of the other, then squishes them together.
“Good.” She picks at the seam of her shirt again, then notices what she’s doing and forcibly rests her hands on the table. She stares down at them, remembering the way his hands felt over hers, holding her wrists so softly, staring down at her with barely restrained joy. The way his thumb stroked over her pulse, thready and fast beneath his touch. The way he leaned in, slow enough to let her refuse, but he never dropped her gaze, not until his lips brushed hers and his eyes fluttered closed and his hands skimmed up her arms and around her shoulders, holding her gently until she raised a hand to his cheek and deepened the kiss; then his arms tightened around her and he pulled her in, crushing her to his chest, his mouth slated over hers and his tongue in her mouth, and everything hot and bright and—
Alex jumps, her eyes flying to Arthur's as she chokes. “What?”
Arthur looks at her curiously. “I said do you think they need help hanging the mat? For the set.” He points behind her to where several crewmen are trying to cover the side of the building with a large, plastic sheet for filming later.
“Oh.” She forces a laugh. “Oh, yeah, they probably do, I should go—”
Just as she moves to rise, three more crewmen come over to help and Alex’s window of escape closes with a snap. Arthur shrugs. “Four’s a crowd,” he offers, and Alex sits back down reluctantly.
Arthur bites his tongue in concentration as he strategically places a fourth bear on the stack. “You can talk about it, you know,” he says, not taking his eyes off the tower. “Might make you feel better.”
Alex frowns. “Talk about what?”
“Whatever it is that’s bothering you.”
She smiles gently. “Thank you, dear, but I’m fine.”
He nods. “You’ve been ‘fine’ since last Thursday,” he agrees, placing a red gummi at the top. The stack wobbles precariously, and Arthur holds his hands out on both sides in case it falls. It doesn’t, and he relaxes, reaching for another bear.
“I’m just tired. Haven’t been sleeping well.”
“Thought you said you weren’t sleeping any better or worse than usual.”
Alex falters. “Yes, right. I just meant—”
Looking up from his project, Arthur shakes his head. “You don’t have to fake it, it’s fine. Everyone has their off days.”
Alex sighs. “Yeah.”
She glares. Arthur looks up from his gummi bears and sighs. “You’re going to make me ask, aren’t you?”
Alex blinks at him innocently. “Ask about what?”
Arthur mumbles something about stubborn women under his breath. “Karen told me, you know.”
Alex freezes, her muscles tight as she considers him. “Told you what?”
“Fiction becoming reality.”
“Arthur,” she warns, but he merely directs his gaze to a fifth gummi bear, attempting to place it at the top of the stack. As soon as he lets go, it crumbles to the table. Frowning, he pushes them aside and gives her his full attention.
“I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.”
She shakes her head. “There’s no thing. It was nothing.”
“Didn’t seem like it to Karen.”
“You know how she gets, it was just...” She can’t bring herself to say mistake, and Arthur seizes on her hesitation.
“No. Yes.” She huffs and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “I don’t know. I don’t—It just happened, all right, can we not make such a big sodding deal out of it?”
Arthur shrugs, leaning back away from her and picking up a gummi bear, examining it intently. Alex watches as he starts picking at it, tearing off its limbs and rolling the sticky substance into tiny, misshapen balls. She sighs, deflated, and reaches across the table for his arm.
“I’m sorry, dear, I didn’t mean to snap.”
“It’s fine. I get it. You’re conflicted.”
Alex pulls back, frowning. “Conflicted?”
He nods. “Sure. Makes sense, really. A guy you’ve worked with for three years now suddenly wanting to be more than friends. That’s enough to throw the best of us for a loop. On the other hand, it’d probably easier if it were just ‘a guy’ instead of, well, him. Anyone would have been easier to handle, am I right?” He looks up, catching her gaze pointedly.
Alex stiffens slightly. “You seem to have it all worked out.”
“Not all of it,” he says, a throwaway line just before he starts again. “But since it is him, and you do have feelings for him—”
“I never said—”
“You never had to. So,” he continues, “now you don’t know if it really was a one-off, or if he’s looking for something else. And if he’s just looking for sex, you wouldn’t go through with it. Too much risk. You could lose him as a friend.”
Alex swallows tightly, her heart pounding as Arthur effortlessly lays her fears out one by one.
“If he wants more than that, though, you’re in even deeper trouble. You’re colleagues, he’s half your age, you’ve got a daughter to think of. The press would probably hound you both.”
As he speaks, Alex’s chest tightens. She tries to get rid of the lump in her throat, but the more he talks the worse it gets, until her hands are shaking and her eyes are bright and wet. Arthur doesn’t seem to notice, lining up the gummi bears phalanx style, picking picking tiny chips out of the wood table and jabbing them into their arms like weapons. Alex tries to focus, but she feels lightheaded, weak, and Arthur just keeps talking, laying out all the reasons it could never work.
“Stop,” she murmurs, but he doesn’t hear her.
“Kids could be an issue, if he wants them,” Arthur muses. “Though you could always adopt. One of you’d have to move, and it’d probably be him since Salome’s still in school.”
“After the show’s over you wouldn’t get to spend a lot of time together, I bet, with you both working and such. So you’re probably asking yourself, what could you possibly give him that no one else could?”
“Arthur, stop it.”
He looks up, finally, and his gaze softens immediately. He abandons his army and leans over the table. She looks away, trying to school her features, but her heart is pounding and her mind is reeling over everything he said, everything she’s thought but refused to give voice to. Through the haze, she feels his hand cover hers.
“The only thing I don’t understand,” he says softly, “Is why you think any of that is insurmountable, and why in the world you think you’re not worth the effort.”
Blinking in surprise, she turns back to him, eyes wide. Arthur chuckles and squeezes her hand. “Arthur—”
“What you should be asking, is what can he do for you.” He frowns in consideration. “You have seen his face, haven’t you, Alex? He’s not put on some sort of disguise for you, like Phantom of the Opera? You’ve seen how bony it is, yeah? I don’t want you to go into anything and get blindsided.”
Alex laughs weakly, shaking her head. “I’ve seen his face, dear, you don’t have to worry.”
“I do, though,” he admits softly. “You’re one of my best mates, and I don’t want to see—” He cuts himself off. “Giant pillock that he is, I’d still hate to have to hurt him.”
Alex stares at the table intently. “You aren’t worried I’ll hurt him?”
Arthur chuckles. “Alex, the only thing you could do to hurt him is to say no when he finally plucks up the courage to ask. Other than that...I’m afraid you’re fairly perfect.”
“Not nearly, dear.”
Pulling back, Arthur returns his attention to his gummi sentries. “Yeah, well. He seems to think so, and I’m inclined to agree. Which is rare. I try very hard not to do that.”
Alex smiles fondly, but it doesn’t last very long. She turns away, watching the crew finish up the set, knowing she’ll have to get back to work shortly. A few minutes later the director pokes his head outside and tells them to be ready in ten. Alex nods and rises, intending on grabbing a cuppa and making a stop in makeup before she’s called. Arthur follows, stopping her just before the door.
“Look, what I said, before.” He scratches his head nervously. “I wasn’t trying to convince you it’s a bad idea. The opposite, actually. I mean, it’s not all fairy tale, obviously, but...what’s a love story without a little drama? If it were all smooth sailing, it wouldn’t be half worth it. And it is, you know.”
“Worth it. You’re worth it. He’s finally got it in his head that he can make you happy, so... let him try, yeah?” Arthur cringes. “And don’t tell him I said that.”
“I won’t,” she murmurs.
“Good.” Leaning up, Arthur kisses her cheek briefly.
Arthur nods curtly, face slightly flushed, and hurries away. Leaning against the wall, Alex takes a long moment to compose herself before pasting on a bright smile and entering the studio. Across the room, the opposite door bursts open and Karen comes in, singing at the top of her lungs, followed by Matt, who has his fingers in his ears. He looks up, and Alex’s catches his gaze for a long, aching moment. Matt doesn’t look like he’s breathing, and Alex feels the same, almost afraid to blink for fear he’ll vanish. Mustering up a smile, she gives him a hesitant wave, her stomach rolling when he instantly brightens, and waves back. She laughs to herself, and Matt grins, his hair falling in his face as he ducks his head. Karen gives him a shove, and he trips, barely managing to right himself without falling. She disappears toward makeup after that, and Matt makes his way over to Alex, trying not to look sheepish.
“Hey,” he offers as he approaches, then cringes.
Alex laughs softly. “Hey yourself. How’d the interview go?”
“It was fine, I think.” He scratches the back of his head. “The Huffington Post sends its regards.”
He shrugs. “Our interviewer said she liked your work.”
“A little less enthusiasm, darling, you’re making me blush.”
Matt reddens and fumbles over his words. “No! Not—I mean, she genuinely was—and I told her I would—”
She lays a hand on his arm, and his skin warms hers instantly. “I’m teasing, Matthew.”
“Really, though, you’re amazing.”
She meets his gaze, expecting the teasing mischief she so often finds there. Instead he’s smiling softly, his face open and honest, almost bashful, and she has to fight both the desire to run away and to snog him senseless right there.
“You’re not so bad yourself.”
Matt can’t help the grin that takes over, his eyes crinkling in excitement, hands reaching for her and then pulling away, reaching for her and pulling away. Alex laughs fondly, shaking her head as he clears his throat and tries to stand up straighter and move his feet less.
“We should, um, probably talk, yeah? About...” He trails off, eyes darting around to see if anyone’s listening in.
Alex nods, sobering. “We should. But not here.”
“No,” he agrees, “definitely not here.” He hesitates. “My place? After we get off?”
Alex arches an eyebrow and he reddens instantly.
“Get off work, after we get off work, we could—I wasn’t trying to imply—because you’re—well, you—I mean—”
He makes a horrified face, and Alex feels her stomach drop uncomfortably. No, of course he wouldn’t. Obviously.
She nods, but doesn’t really hear anything else he says besides, “So, ‘bout an hour then, after work?”
“Sure thing, darling.”
Smiling broadly, he throws a quick glance around to make sure no one’s paying attention, then leans forward and kisses her, just to the side of her mouth—quick enough that if anyone saw, he could claim he was aiming for her chin—sweet enough that she knows it’s intentional, the same way his hand fits into hers and his thumb strokes her wrist.
Confused, Alex tries not to frown as he pulls back and points over his shoulder.
“I should, um. Costume. Doctor.” He backs up and nearly trips over an electrical cord. “Not die.”
She can’t help but smile. “I’d prefer that,” she says, and Matt flashes her one last grin before disappearing toward costumes. Alex takes a deep breath and wonders what the hell any of them are thinking.
Chapter 3: and things that matter too much to say any way but lightly
- see part one
Matt runs a hand through his hair and checks his watch. Then the door. Then his watch. He’d given up pacing two hours ago, and now sits sprawled in an oversized arm chair, tapping his fingers, turning the TV on and off, and checking his phone. There’s a text from Kaz he hasn’t bothered to read, and a missed phone call from his sister he hasn’t listened to, but nothing from Alex. He hasn’t heard a word from her since they left work, offering awkward smiles and short waves, a silent acknowledgement of their agreement to meet at his flat later and talk.
At first he’d been confused—Alex is always punctual—then concerned, but he couldn’t bring himself to call her or show up at her flat. Worry had finally given way to embarrassment, even as he continues to star morosely at the door, waiting.
“Stupid, stupid Matt,” he mutters finally, dragging himself from the chair. He pads across the floor and locks the door, and turns off the light. He crawls into bed and begs for sleep, but every time he closes his eyes he sees her face, her smile, the look of surprise she’d worn just before he kissed her. The bright laugh that had made him do it in the first place. They’d just been talking, flirting and teasing one another like they always did, and then he’d made a joke—a bad one, he’s sure—and she’d laughed, soft and sweet, and his eyes had been drawn to the column of her neck, her jawbone, her flushed cheeks and wild hair and in that moment he couldn’t imagine going another second without kissing her.
So he hadn’t.
And she’d kissed him back.
Rolling over and punching his pillow, Matt sighs heavily. She’d kissed him back.
He hadn’t known what he was expecting, what he thought her reaction might be, but for some reason he never considered it would be that—her mouth opening under his, her arm scooping under his shoulder-blades to tug him closer. Her legs slotted between his, one hand through his hair and her fingernails scraping gently against his scalp and along the back of his neck.
Matt shudders and flops over on his back, staring into the dark.
He doesn’t understand, her reaction or his, and he hadn’t realised how terribly he’d wanted to see her until she hadn’t shown up. Until he’d cleared away the glasses of wine he’d poured and discarded and then poured again. Until he’d thrown away the single white gardenia he’d picked up on the way home, the one he knew would look perfect in her hair.
She’s a friend, and she’s always been a friend and he’s an idiot for thinking one kiss is going to change that; she’s probably just saving him the humiliation of turning him down to his face, and he should be grateful.
Slamming his eyes shut, Matt curls his hands into fists and tries to forget the way her pulse felt under his thumb, how perfectly his hand fit against her cheek.
He falls restlessly asleep, and dreams that her hair has turned to falling wildflowers, and he collects them in his pockets as she walks away.
Alex drags a hand through her hair and bites her lip as she scans the room. She’s arrived early, on barely any sleep, trying to catch Matt before the day started, but he’s nowhere to be seen. She should have called, she knows, or at least sent him a quick email to let him know why she wasn’t coming, but there hadn’t been time. She’d barely gotten through the door when Salome called her in tears, frantic, and they’d spent hours talking, Salome crying on and off and Alex desperately wishing she weren’t so far away. Florian had insisted on talking to her for another thirty minutes, and then Salome was back on the line with more tears, and Alex didn’t have the heart to leave until she was sure her daughter was smiling again. By the time they’d hung up, sunlight was peeking through the blinds and Alex barely had the strength to make it to her bed before she collapsed, getting less than one precious hour of sleep before her alarm went off.
Glancing around the studio again, she jumps when Arthur suddenly appears at her side, proffering a Starbucks cup. Alex looks at him in surprise, but he merely shrugs, leaning carefully against the craft table.
“You look like you need it.”
Alex smiles tiredly and takes the paper cup, too exhausted to be insulted; she knows she probably looks twice as bad as she feels, even under the make up.
“Thank you, dear,” she murmurs, clutching the warm drink in her hands.
Arthur nods and takes another drink from his mug—tea from set, probably. “I just saw him in the hall,” he says casually. “Steven wanted to go over a few more things before he leaves.”
“Thank you,” she says again, touching his arm briefly.
“You talk to him yet?”
She shakes her head. “I was supposed to.”
“Teenage angst?” he asks with a slight smirk.
Alex laughs softly. “What else?”
Arthur distracts her for a while, filling her in on his latest embarrassing fan encounter, and by the time Matt shows up she’s laughing, feeling lighter and more at ease than she has in a week. It crumbles when she spies him, hovering near Karen on the opposite side of the room, pointedly not looking in their direction at all. Arthur rolls his eyes, and Alex swats his arm playfully.
“I didn’t say a word.”
“I could hear the sarcasm gears spinning.”
Arthur makes a face and she laughs, and Matt looks up sharply, quickly wiping the glower off his face but not before they notice. Arthur gives her a shove.
“Best go figure it out before he starts passive-aggressively staking his claim. I’d like to be able to chat with you and not get punched in the face.”
“I promise not to let that happen, dear.”
Arthur follows her as they join Matt and Karen, discreetly sneaking her off for a fag. Matt shifts awkwardly, and Alex shakes her head fondly.
“Can I talk to you a moment?” she asks, inclining her head toward a quieter area of the set.
Matt pastes a smile on his face and nods. “‘Course.”
He looks tired, she notes, moving down the hallway near one of the empty costume rooms, and she feels the guilt settle back in her stomach, tight and weighted. He looks miserable—rejected—and Alex knows how that feels, the ache of it, and quickly starts to clarify.
“I’m sorry about last night. I meant to come, I did, I should’ve called, I—”
He cuts her off with a wave of his hand, his jaw tight. “It’s fine. Probably for the best anyway, right?” he says quickly. For a moment, she wonders if he’s forcing the words; but then he smiles awkwardly and shrugs, and she feels her heart sink. That’s what he wanted to tell her. Why he’s been avoiding her.
“Oh,” she breathes. She can feel her hands shaking around her coffee cup, and she grips it firmly to steady herself as she tries to smile. “Yeah, of course.”
Matt fumbles, tugging at his hair as he stares at her cheek. Alex closes her eyes briefly as she tries to school her features into one of indifference. “I just mean, you know, we work together and we’re friends, so, we shouldn’t start anything based on a one-off.”
He says it as a statement, not a question, and Alex feels her cheeks burn. “No, you’re absolutely right, dar—That’s exactly what I was going to say. It had been a long day and—”
“Yeah,” he interrupts, looking over his shoulder toward the set. “Won’t happen again.”
“No.” She clears her throat. “Definitely not.” Sensing his impatience, and dying to find a quiet corner to berate herself, she quickly asks, “So we’re good?”
He smiles tightly. “Right as rain.”
“Good.” She hesitates, and when he says nothing, gestures behind him. “I’ve got to get—I’ll see you later?”
“I’ll be here.”
“Excellent,” she says, slipping past him, doing everything in her power not to bolt from the room.
Karen corners him on a break halfway through the day and promptly punches him in the shoulder.
“What did you do?”
“Oi!” He jumps away from her and cradles his arm. “What was that for?”
Karen steps forward and punctuates every word with another punch. “What. Did. You. Do.”
“Nothing!” He bats her hands away. “I didn’t do anything.”
“That’s the point, numpty.” She tries to hit him again, but he dodges and throws her a glare. “I thought you’d be having a quickie in the costume room by now, but instead Alex is withdrawn and you look like someone ran over your puppy.”
“I don’t have a puppy.”
“Your sister, then.”
Glaring, Karen puts both hands on her hips. “Spill.”
“Nothing to spill, Gillan, it’s fine.” She arches an eyebrow. “We agreed, it was a mistake, we just—”
“A mistake? Yesterday you loved her and today it’s a mistake?”
Matt frowns. “I never said that.”
“You may as well have, it’s been plastered to your enormous forehead for two years now.” Matt gapes, arms flailing at his sides, but Karen ignores him. “So, I repeat, what did you do?”
“Nothing, Kaz, we’re fine, we’re totally—what do you mean ‘two years?’” They’d kissed last week, and it wasn’t like he’d been pining—he’d had a girlfriend for god’s sake.
“Two. Years. You’ve been walking around with an “Alex, Love Me!” sign around your neck ever since she landed on you in the first episode.”
“I have not!”
“I haven’t! I had a girlfriend!”
Karen wrinkles her nose, as she always does, and waves a hand dismissively. “Yeah, you did, and now you don’t and the first person you went to was Alex. Why do you think that is?”
Matt glowers. “It certainly wasn’t going to be you or Darvill.”
Karen wags a finger in front of his face. “That excuse doesn’t work, Smithy; you broke up with Daisy months ago and I’ve seen you turn down enough pretty girls to please Mother Theresa, and then, what, I’m supposed to believe that all of a sudden you just decided to snog Alex?”
Matt fumbles. “I didn’t—I don’t—we’re not—I do not turn down pretty girls!”
Several crew members look up, amused but unsurprised by his outburst, and Matt quickly lowers his voice and leans into Karen’s personal space. “I get laid plenty, thank you.”
“I wasn’t talking about sex, stupid.”
“Then what are you—”
Karen holds up a hand and starts ticking names off on her fingers. “Sheila asked you out for dinner, you said no. Kali’s been pining after you for years, and you know it. Jenny—Supermodel Jenny—only got to three dates with you before you scarpered, lo and behold, back into Alex’s waiting embrace—”
“That was on screen!”
“—and let’s not even mention—”
“Yes, let’s not.”
“—Olivia, sweet, gorgeous Olivia who, prior to Daisy, you’d been following around like a stray pup.”
“She has a fiance.”
“She does now; she didn’t when you were single.”
Matt flails his arms. “I am single!”
David looks up from the camera and waggles his eyebrows in jest, and Matt waves him off with a grudging smile and a huff.
Karen folds her arms across her chest and glares at him pointedly. Matt sighs and drags a hand through his hair. “Look, we both agreed we’re professionals and it shouldn’t happen again. It was a one-off. She’s just a friend.”
“Yeah,” she snaps, and it finally occurs to him that she’s not just being Karen, but rather by the look on her face and her tight stance, she’s actually angry. “And you’re just a regular sized pillock. I don’t buy it for a second, Smith.”
Affronted, hurt, and still reeling from her words, Matt snatches his script from his seat and stares at it intently. “Well could you not buy it someplace else?” he snaps, moving away. “I’m busy.”
Three steps in, he promptly trips over an electrical cord, knocks over a chair, and drops his script, accidentally stepping on it and ripping several pages.
“Oh, yes,” Karen drawls. “Busy being so very professional.”
Matt resists the urge to throw his script in her face. “Oh, shove off, Kaz.”
“Gladly,” she snaps, and with that turns and stalks away from him, leaving Matt slumped and defeated and wondering what in the hell just happened.
Arthur flops back against the wall next to her and holds out a cigarette. “Fag?”
Alex smiles, shaking her head. “No, thank you.”
“I’ll smoke one on your behalf, then,” he says, lighting the end and taking a drag.
“How considerate of you.”
“I try.” He turns his head and blows the smoke away from her. “Wanna talk about it?”
She tries to smile, but knows it’s flat and lifeless as she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and stares at her feet. “Not really.”
Arthur shrugs. “Okay.” She can feel his gaze on her, but can’t bring herself to meet the pity she knows she’ll see there. Arthur turns away to take another drag, then changes the subject. “Have you met the new camera girl yet? She seems cool. Steller music collection.”
“She’s a dear,” Alex agrees absently, digging into a crack in the pavement with her toe for a moment before remembering she’s in costume.
“She and Matt get on well,” Arthur says casually, and she isn’t sure if he’s just trying to make conversation or if it’s part of his obnoxiously clever circular logic.
He never presses her about anything, not outright, but he always seems to manage to wheedle her thoughts out of her before she’s even realised she’s said anything, and does so in a way that she can’t bring herself to regret telling him. It’s how he found out in the first place, how he got her to admit, sitting in a quiet corner of a cafe after one of their theatre outings, that she wasn’t half in love with her co-star and had been for a year. She’d been so embarrassed, so horrified by what had come out of her mouth, but Arthur had just taken her hand in his and smiled an awkward, lopsided smile that had calmed her nerves than any amount of alcohol or denial had ever done.
Then he’d sat back and changed the subject and had never spoken of it again—never teased her or implied anything when they were all on set together. Never confronted her about it. But he was always there, with a subtle hand on her shoulder or a nudge or a cup of coffee. Always there, like he is now, as if waiting to catch her should she fall.
“Apparently she’s shot a few of his other projects, and he asked Steven to bring her on,” he continues, and Alex nods absently.
“I’m glad it worked out.”
He snorts, and she looks up in confusion. “Of course you are.”
Alex frowns. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just that you seem incapable of wishing a cartoon anvil on anyone’s head, regardless of how big of a twat they are.”
She huffs softly in amusement. “He’s not a twat.”
“He’s a total and utter twat.”
Alex shakes her head, still smiling. “You and Karen really need to stop gossiping so much. It never ends well.”
Arthur arches an eyebrow. “Who said anything about an ending?”
She hesitates, pulling her eyes away from him to stare at the ground. She’s gone back to poking at the pavement, and has to forcibly keep herself still. “I looked like a fool,” she says finally, barely audibly under the noise from the set.
“No, you didn’t.”
Alex rolls her eyes. “Well, I certainly felt like one.”
“And thus my twat remark stands.”
She chuckles lightly, and Arthur bumps her shoulder with his. “I think he’s scared, though, you know? Doesn’t want to ruin what you have now.”
Alex shakes her head, biting her lip as she stares out toward the trailers, away from him. “He doesn’t look at me that way, Arthur,” she murmurs, “he never has. And no matter how much I—” She cuts herself off and shakes her head, willing the thoughts away. Pressing her lips into a tight smile, she turns toward his gaze, and falters—he looks angry, almost, just for a moment, before his face returns to its impassive expression. She blinks, sure she imagined it, and shrugs. “He’s right. He’s absolutely right, it was a ridiculous notion to begin with.”
“You don’t really believe that,” he says quietly, a hand on her arm. Alex turns away again, and misses Arthur’s disbelieving look. “You do really believe that. Alex...” He hesitates, and Alex turns to stare at him curiously. Arthur swallows tightly. “Give him some time,” he says finally. “He’s just figuring this out, and since he’s not a complete bonehead it won’t take him too long. You’ve been there for him above and beyond—all through filming, handling the press, making sure he relaxes. You were there for him when he and Daisy split. He’ll figure out what it means.”
Alex shakes her head and offers a tight smile. “I’m not sure I want him to. I’m old enough to be his mother, for God’s sake.”
Arthur merely shrugs. “Works for René and Celine.” Alex glowers, and Arthur suppresses a laugh. “Not helpful. Right. Look, I’m just saying—”
“I know what you’re saying, dear,” she says gently, “and you’ve been incredibly sweet. But I’m asking you to let it go.”
There’s a long pause. Arthur stares at her blankly, his expression unreadable, before finally turning away and nodding. “All right.”
“Thank you,” she says, touching his arm briefly. Arthur shrugs and pushes off the wall, flicking his cigarette away and moving to stand directly in front of her.
“Just one more thing.”
“I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating: you’re worth it, Alex. And if he can’t or won’t admit that then he doesn’t deserve you. Not the other way around.”
Mouth agape, Alex stares at him. Despite his friendship—the best she’s had in a long time, if she’s honest with herself—she’s always thrown when he says things like that. They’re incredibly rare—they’re similar, in that respect, not to wear their hearts on their sleeves—but when he does, when he opens his mouth and says something so perfect she never knows how to respond; and he never makes her. Catching her gaze, he quirks an eyebrow pointedly.
Alex huffs and rolls her eyes, resisting the urge to hug him and never let go. “Yes, Dad,” she says instead, and Arthur turns away, looking back toward the studio. Offering an arm, he inclines his head toward the door.
“Come on. We’ve got scenes to shoot, and Jed spiked Karen’s cuppa with a shot of licorice rum and I am not missing out on that facial expression spectacular.”
Alex loops her arm through his as they make their way back to the set. “You are horrible.”
“Only for my own amusement.”
“Now who’s being a twat?” she teases, and Arthur shrugs.
“I prefer git, actually.”
Alex laughs, dropping her head against his shoulder. “Well, you’re my favourite git, then.”
Arthur chuckles and wraps an arm around her shoulder. “As it should be.”
Chapter 4: everybody looks so luminous
- see part one
- so, i love kaz and arthur. they are staying. this is now semi-au.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Matt watches quietly as Alex runs through her scene with Arthur and Karen, frowning whenever she laughs at one of Karen’s jokes or touches Arthur’s arm, feeling—as he has for weeks—excluded and out of synch. Nothing has changed much—Alex still flirts with him and smiles and catches his arm when he trips, and Karen appears to have forgiven him for whatever it is she was angry about before. They still hang out off set, him and Arthur and Karen, but for all her bright smiles and silent assurances that everything’s fine, he’s never felt so far away from the one person he desperately wants to be around. Alex treats him the same as she always has, but he’s suddenly finding it lacking—he doesn’t want her to look at him the same way she looks at Arthur or Karen or the crew. He doesn’t want her fond smiles and gentle teasing. He’s tried to convince himself it’ll go away, that it’s just an infatuation, but Karen’s words keep ringing in his ears, and he can’t help but wonder if she’s right—if he’s just now waking up to see what’s been there for years. It makes him edgy and defensive even as he tries to pretend everything is normal, when all he really wants to do is find an empty room and kiss her until she feels the same way.
And then he remembers waiting, the flurry of nerves, the stinging rejection he’d felt when he’d finally admitted to himself that she wasn’t coming, that it was over before it started. He looks away, focusing his gaze back on his script and trying desperately not to think about the woman standing so close, and yet so far away.
Unable to look away for long, he glances back up in their direction and finds Alex staring at him, a soft, unreadable expression on her face. Her eyes widen when he meets her gaze, and she looks almost surprised, caught, and laughs and gives a little wave. Matt smiles easily and waves back, and then the director calls for quiet and attention and the moment is over, Alex seamlessly relinquishing control to River.
He’d been thrilled when Steven had informed him that not only would Arthur and Karen be staying on another full season, but also that Alex would be joining them for over half the episodes. He hadn’t understood at the time why her increased presence made him so giddy, but looking back it makes a hopeful, painful kind of sense.
Matt shoves the feeling aside and goes back to his script, reminding himself over and over that she isn’t interested—why the hell would she be?—and he just needs to get over it before it affects their working relationship.
He’s staring at her again before he realises it, a small, fond smile on his face as his eyes trace her jaw line, the curve of her ear, the curls in her hair.
He finds himself doing the exact same thing some ten hours later, crammed into a smoky jazz bar where Arthur had decided to have his birthday dinner, watching her from across the room as she tilts her head back and laughs at something one of Karen’s friends says.
There’s a small dance floor in front of the band, where happily drunk patrons are pretending they can swing dance. Matt leans against the bar—open all night, thank God—and takes another long, hasty draw from his beer. He’s turned down about three women so far, and he wishes Karen would hurry up and stop bouncing around and come protect him.
“You’re a big boy,” she’d said, already tipsy, “You can take care of yourself. Better yet, get Alex to do it for you!”
“I hate you,” he’d muttered, but Karen had only smiled widely and disappeared into the crowd, laughing and hugging almost everyone she saw.
That was hours ago, and he’s getting tired of the advances. He’d tried to flirt back a few times, he really had—but they were all too young or too short or too thin and he doesn’t want high-pitched and giggly, he wants low and throaty and confident; he wants to run his hands through her hair and tilt her head back and draw kisses up her neck; he wants to make her squirm and moan in his arms. Hell, at this point he’d just settle for being close, but he’s spent all night trying to dredge up the nerve and he doubts it’s going to happen anytime soon.
As if on cue, Karen plops down on the barstool next to him and spins around, grinning and chattering on about how she had her doubts but Arthur’s party is fantastic after all and there are so many people and the music’s great, but he isn’t really listening. Not until she bumps his shoulder and throws him a look.
“You should ask her to dance.”
Matt swallows and tries to school his features into one of confusion. “Why would I—?”
“Seriously?” Karen interrupts, “That’s the way you want to play this?” She arches an eyebrow and Matt does everything he can not to look away. After a moment she huffs, annoyed, and shakes her head. “Fine. Miss your chance.” Jumping off the barstool, she shouts Alex’s name across the bar and holds out her arms.
“Come dance with your mummy!”
Alex laughs, excusing herself from her conversation and meeting Karen on the dance floor. Matt watches as they proceed to dance goofily, a somewhat drunk, clumsy version of the Lindy Hop. He can’t help but smile. Alex is terrible, of course—spinning Karen around and tangling their arms together. She barely moves her feet, just sways back and forth and lets Karen careen into her, always ready to steady her after a twirl.
Eventually Karen wanders over to another partner, a broad-shouldered man she’s been eyeing all night, and Alex moves to leave the floor. And then there’s Arthur, slipping in from out of nowhere and holding out a hand. Matt feels his fingers clench around his beer as Alex grins and curtsies and takes Arthur’s hand. He leads her toward the centre of the floor, and unlike Karen’s wild thrashing, Alex loops her arms around Arthur’s shoulders and they just sway, talking with their heads pressed together. Matt’s stomach drops, but he can’t look away. He knows they’re just friends, but there’s something about the way Arthur’s standing, the way he’s holding her, how he gets to be close and Matt doesn’t that makes his skin crawl.
He lasts about five minutes before he can’t take it anymore and, draining his beer, straightens his jacket and moves confidently toward them through the other dancers. When he gets there, however, standing right next to them, he panics, looking wide-eyed at Alex as she turns to him and smiles, halting her conversation with Arthur.
“Need something, mate?” Arthur asks.
Matt’s mouth goes dry and he tries not to twitch.
“No, I was just—I thought I’d come say—” He takes a deep breath and nods to Alex. “Mind if I steal the next one?”
Arthur frowns for just a moment before nodding, stepping away from Alex. As soon as his hands leave her sides, Matt relaxes.
“Sure.” He turns back to Alex. “I’m gonna check on Gillan and float.”
Alex smiles and squeezes his hand. “Thank you for the dance.”
Arthur nods stiffly, then turns away, disappearing into the bar.
Suddenly alone, Matt has no idea what to do with himself. They stand there for a long moment, both awkwardly trying not to be awkward, and finally Alex lets out a breathy laugh.
“Oh, this is ridiculous,” she mutters, and offers him her hand. Matt takes it gleefully, pulling her in close as she wraps her arms around his shoulders, his hands coming to rest on her waist. We fit, he thinks, resisting the urge to brush his thumbs over her ribcage. He grins instead, wearing what he knows is probably a ridiculously stupid expression, but he can’t help it.
“Hey,” he says, nearly giggling, and Alex rolls her eyes fondly.
If possibly, he grins even wider at the term. “You look beautiful.”
“You look quite dapper yourself.”
He chuckles and leans in closer so he doesn’t have to shout over the music. “Hipster-dap, Kaz calls it.”
“I have no idea what that means, but it seems fitting.” Matt laughs, his arm snaking tighter around her waist as he pulls her a bit closer. “Don’t laugh at an old woman, Matt, it’s ungentlemanly.”
He makes a show of looking around. “I don’t see any old women.”
She swats his shoulder gently. “Charmer.”
“Only for you,” he murmurs, and it’s more serious than he intended, more raw, and Alex stares up at him with a frown.
Matt swallows tightly when she bites her lip, and instead of saying anything, takes one of her hands in his moves them closer, their bodies pressed together, hands cradled together against his chest. Alex sighs and leans her head on his shoulder. It feels out of time, almost—the music is still loud and the people around them are still dancing, but they seem slowed down, just streams of light instead of bodies; the only body he cares about is the one currently in his arms, his hand on her lower back, her breath hot against his neck. Bending his head, he presses his lips against her crown, a barely-there touch as he breathes her in—smoke from the club and wine and peaches.
They stay that way, swaying gently, commenting every so often, but for the most part they both remain quiet. Alex closes her eyes and curls her fingers tighten around his. Matt feels his heart beat double time, and wonders if she can hear it. If she knows what it means.
He takes a deep breath. “Look, Alex, about...what happened...” She pulls back, almost reluctantly, tense in his arms, and he wants to reassure her but he doesn’t know what the reassuring thing would be; only that if he misses this chance, if he doesn’t tell her he was wrong, he’ll regret it. “I’m—I was wondering if we could—I mean, I know what we said, and it’s probably wise, but I think we—”
The music stops abruptly, and one of Arthur’s friends clambers onto the stage and drunkenly announces that it’s time for a rousing Happy Birthday. Someone else pushes Arthur on stage and demands a speech, and Alex pulls away, turning her attention toward the stage, smiling and clapping and laughing as Arthur fumbles his way through a few words before announcing that the bar is open til three and jumping down off the stage as fast and gracefully as possible.
Matt stares at the back of her head, lost, and before she can turn around, slips away into the crowd. He doesn’t know where he’s going, what he’s doing, only that he needs to get out of there before she finds him; before he has to face the look on her face.
He finds Arthur and gives him a clap on the shoulder, selecting an excuse at random to beg off early and tells him he’ll see him on set in a few days. Arthur nods, but he watches Matt carefully, and before he can leave leans in and quietly asks, “You okay, mate?”
Matt nods and gives him a one-armed hug. “Tell Kazza for me, yeah?”
Arthur rolls his eyes. “Oh, that’ll be fun.” Matt chuckles, and Arthur pauses. “And Alex?”
Matt opens his mouth, but he can’t think of anything to say. He doesn’t know what to tell her. What she wants to hear. He doesn’t even know how to say goodnight, for god’s sake, and so he shrugs and waves his hand dismissively. “If you see her.”
Arthur rolls his eyes but agrees, and Matt hurries out of the bar before anyone else can waylay him. He’s more than disappointed when he makes it out free and clear.
Throwing one last look at the bar, Matt turns up his collar and begins to walk.
Thank you everyone for the comments and kudos and encouragement! *hugs you all* ♥ I'm sorry this is so short! I'll be out of town for a bit, but I'll try to work on it on vacation so I have something longer to post when I get back. :)
Chapter 5: something's bending to break, it's just a matter of when
- see part one
- i am so so sorry this took so long and so so sorry it is so short and i'm just so sorry, i'm so sorry, please forgive me ilu
“I’m sorry I won’t make dinner," Arthur says, shrugging guiltily at missing Alex’s last night in Cardiff before she, as he puts it, “scarpers off to LA for some much-needed sanity. And better weather.”
Alex laughs and squeezes his arm fondly. "Don't worry about it, dear. You're allowed to have other friends."
"No, he's not," Karen protests, a bit too much truth in her glare. Alex frowns slightly, and behind her Matt shifts uncomfortably. He hasn't said anything, but it's been obvious things between him and Alex have been strained. Not to the crew, naturally; even Steven doesn't seem to suspect anything yet. But Karen and Arthur have been in the eye, and they're both acutely aware of the tension that, for once, it isn't flirty and sexual. Karen glares at Arthur, still annoyed he's abandoning her to dinner alone with the two of them.
“I just don’t get how he found them in the first place," Matt ribs, "Did you bribe them?”
Arthur sticks his tongue out at him, and Matt smirks. Alex shakes her head and cuddles into Arthur, who rests a hand on her back, exchanging a heated look with Matt when he narrows his eyes.
“Stop it, both of you. Don’t listen to them," Alex says to Arthur, squeezing him in a hug. "You’re brilliant. When I get back, we’ll go to the theatre. My treat.”
“Alex—” Arthur protests, flashing a quick look at Matt, whose jaw is clenched and smile is tight. But Alex remains oblivious, and Karen rolls her eyes.
“We’re going, and that’s final. A girl’s got to spoil her dad sometimes," she says brightly, though her tone brokers no argument, and Arthur affects a heavy sigh.
“I suppose. Are you going to buy me a sports car, too? Because that I'd have no problem accepting."
Alex laughs, head thrown back and smile wide. "You're an old soul, dear, but not quite mid-life crisis yet," she teases, adding with a hint of self-deprecation, "Believe me, I would know."
Arthur groans. "I can only hope our mid-life crises look as good as yours, then," he says, and Karen hums in agreement as Matt stares off at a point behind Arthur's head.
Ignoring his obvious discomfort, Arthur turns into Alex's embrace and hugs her tightly, holding on a little longer than necessary. "Take care of yourself," he whispers into her hair, too low for the others to hear. Alex smiles against his shoulder.
"You too, dear."
"Oi!" Karen protests, suddenly weaselling herself in between them, "Mummy Pond is feeling very left out."
"Oh, well we can't have that, can we," Arthur says dryly. Karen presses them apart and opens an arm to Matt, "Come on, Smith Dog—it's not a party without the crazy son-in-law."
Matt hesitates, grateful, embarrassed and impressed by Karen’s (apparently) stealth move, then smiles and steps into their circle, instantly surrounded by Karen's gangly limbs and nestled into Alex's side. He inhales deeply, pressing his nose into Alex's hair. It isn't more than a moment, he's sure, but time seems to slow; Karen's speaking, but he can't understand her. His senses are overwhelmed by Alex's arm around his waist, his hand on her lower back, her face so close to his. Then she turns, their foreheads pressed together, and gives him a wink, and he really laughs for the first time in weeks, a low chuckle that warms his skin and sends a blush to his cheeks.
"All right," Karen declares, disentangling herself from the group and pushing back her hair. "We better go if we're going to make our reservations for the best restaurant in Cardiff, sans Darvill because he's a prat."
"Behave, Mummy," Alex teases, but her eyes are lingering on Matt as he steps away, considering his shoes with far too much intensity.
Karen and Arthur bicker all the way to the cars, pausing only to punch each other before Arthur climbs into his Prius and Karen scrambles into the backseat of Matt's car, tapping the shoulder of the driver's seat like an excited child.
Before Matt can round the boot, Alex touches his arm briefly, halting him. Matt frowns, and Alex stares up at him with wide, concerned eyes.
Perhaps not as oblivious as he thought, then?
"We're—we're okay, right?" she asks quietly, and Matt feels his chest tighten at the worry in her voice. He doesn't know what they are at the moment, if he's honest, but the anxiety written so plainly on her face only allows him one option. Smiling reassuringly, he nods. "Course we are, Kingston."
She breathes a sigh of relief, about to reply when Karen pokes her head out the window and glares.
"Oi, chauffeur, stop making googly eyes at my daughter and drive!"
Dinner goes better than she expected, and she's rather positive she owes most of the comfort and laughter to Karen's interference, always keeping the conversation light and, in true Kazza fashion, the cocktails coming. By the end of dinner Alex feels pleasantly tipsy, and judging by the flush on his cheeks, Matt feels the same. Karen, on the other hand, has reached the point of zero brain-to-mouth filter, public singing, and a weird hip-jiggle she claims is dancing, but Matt remains unconvinced.
Terrified of what she might accidentally blurt out in her inebriated state (and glaring at her all the while for the smirk she simply can’t or won’t wipe off her face whenever she looks at Alex), Matt hurries her into a cab at the end of dinner despite her protests and breathes a sigh of relief as soon as the car pulls away.
Then he freezes. This will be the first time in over a month and a half that they’ve been together, alone, and Matt just sent his wingman—albeit his highly drunk and giggly wingman, but wingman (“Wingwoman!” he can practically hear Karen protest) nonetheless—into a taxi and off into the night.
And now he doesn’t know what to do.
Because it’s Alex, and she’s right there, not five yards away, probably watching him as he stares stupidly into traffic trying to work up the nerve to say something, anything that will end the awkwardness between them.
He’d rather work up the nerve to snog her, but he figures coherent speech and decent flirting would be a good first step.
Groaning inwardly, Matt squeezes his eyes shut and tries to compose himself. Dinner was wonderful, honestly, and he’ll need to send Kazza flowers or shuttle her to the Tesco without complaint for a month to make up for what she’s done—both her presence and her leaving—but at the same time he’s lost, and he’s never been so lost before, not like this, not so much that all he has to do is catch Alex’s gaze and he wants nothing more than to fall into her in any way he can; in any way she’ll let him.
But she hasn’t let him, flat out rejected him, even, and yet he can’t seem to stop pining away in her shadow like the pathetic, needy, lovesick boy he is.
...lovesick? he thinks, then shakes his head, pushing his own thoughts and Karen’s words to the back of his head. Lustsick, maybe.
But then he remembers her voice, the fear and anxiety blatant there when she’d asked if they were all right and how strongly he’d wanted nothing more than to comfort her the way she’d comforted him after Daisy, during his first week on the show, the month between shooting for series five and six when his dad was ill and Alex had phoned from LA every other day to make sure he was all right.
Steeling himself, Matt turns to see Alex watching him bemusedly, sipping from her water bottle, the pink umbrella from his “girly” cocktail (the one he’d ordered and shared because Alex couldn’t decide) sticking out of the top.
She’d been there for him the entire time, and he’d never even noticed. With a tight gut, Matt wonders suddenly, achingly, who had been there for her?
Shoving his hands in his pockets, he shakes his head to dislodge the thought. “So.”
He glances at his watch for show. “It’s not even ten.”
Alex snorts and pushes off the restaurant wall, moving closer to him. “You say that as if it’s early.”
“It is!” He grins, waving his arms around and nearly knocking the bottle of water out of her hands. “The night is our oyster. Well, the open bars, anyway.”
“Ah, to be so young.”
Matt rolls his eyes. “Oh, come on, Kingston, I know you have more stamina than that.”
She arches an eyebrow cleanly, a flirtatious smirk tugging at the corners of her lips. “Do you, now?”
Lowering his voice, Matt leans into her personal space, flirting before he even realises he’s started it. “Well, not first hand, of course. Though that could always be rectified.”
“As if you could handle it, darling,” she teases, and Matt winks.
“I can handle anything you give me, Kingston.”
“Quite,” he declares, puffing out his chest as he leans back. He has just enough time to blink before Alex summarily dumps the contents of her water bottle, umbrella and all, on his head.
Dripping wet and momentarily stunned, it takes him a long moment to process what has happened, and by that time Alex is already scampering away, running awkwardly even in her sensible heels, laughing and looking over her shoulder.
He runs after her, skidding through the crowds of people outside other bars and apologising as he nearly knocks into a couple, sloshing their drinks. Alex giggles, the sound bubbling up and making him grin despite his state, and he quickly catches up to her half a block later, grabbing her around the middle and tickling her sides mercilessly. The water bottle flies out of her hands, disappearing down into an alleyway, but Matt barely notices. Her body is warm and soft against his and even scolding her, he can’t keep the laughter out of his voice.
“Matt! Stop it!”
She’s still laughing, bent over in his arms as she shakes the water out of his hair, all over her. Shoving at him vainly, she finally manages to gasp out, “Uncle! Uncle!” and he stops, still holding her tightly to him.
“That was rude,” he murmurs into her hair, delighting in the way she squirms against him, trying to get free.
“But hilarious,” she returns breathlessly, grinning up at him innocently.
Matt splutters, pretending to be offended, but in reality he’s brilliantly happy—just like that, the awkwardness has disappeared, and he’s perfectly content to be a little wet and cold if it means he gets to hold her in his arms. “You threw water in my face!”
“Actually,” she corrects, settling down in the circle of his arms and turning to face him, one hand on his chest. Matt’s breathing hitches, but she doesn’t seem to notice. “I poured it on your head, there’s quite a difference.”
“Which would be?”
She grins, then, and reaches up to fiddle with something on his head. “The umbrella’s stuck in your hair.”
Matt pouts, taking one hand off Alex’s back to rid himself of the offending pink accoutrement. Carefully, he tucks the umbrella in her hair, just above her ear.
“There,” he says softly, brushing a curl away from her face, his fingers lingering against her skin. Alex’s eyes widen, and he can feel her fingers flex against his chest, gripping the lapel of his shirt tightly. She doesn’t look like he’s breathing, but then neither is he, and it takes every ounce of strength and self-control he has to pull his hand away from her face. “Perfect,” he concludes, and Alex blushes, eyes falling shut for a moment before she looks up at him and licks her lips.
Matt’s breathing stalls completely, and by its own accord the hand on her back pushes her in closer, and his free hand, dangling at his side, finds hers, tangling their fingers together. She doesn’t pull away, doesn’t move, but there’s a long pause before she curls her fingers around his.
“Matt—” she starts, with obviously no direction in mind.
Fuck it, he thinks suddenly, bending toward her, eyes on her lips. Alex inhales sharply, lips parting and eyes fluttering shut and thank god, he thinks, sliding his hand up to cup the back of her neck.
There’s a sharp noise in the background, but before he can process it Alex hauls him against her and to the side. He stumbles, their foreheads knocking together sharply and Alex’s hands wrap firmly around his back as they crash sideways, somehow managing to stay on their feet.
“What the hell—”
He whirls around in time to see a couple on a motorbike speeding down the sidewalk. People at the bar up ahead shout and curse and it takes Matt a moment to realise Alex is speaking to him, running her hands over his arms worriedly.
“Are you all right?” she asks, gripping his shoulder tightly. Matt turns back to face her, frowning.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine, what—”
She shakes her head. “I heard the motor before I saw anything.” She shrugs, reaching up to touch the bright red mark on his forehead from where they collided.
He grins despite himself, and his lost opportunity. “You saved me, Kingston.”
She smiles ruefully. “I’m afraid I’ve rather injured you in the process, darling.”
Matt reaches up and presses his forehead lightly, wincing. Then he brushes a thumb gently over her own forehead, smiling at the way she shivers just slightly.
“Well, at least we match.”
She chuckles at that, smiling down at the space between their feet. Then she turns, looping an arm through his and tugging him close to her side as she begins to walk.
“I believe you promised me an oyster bar, Smith.”
He laughs, shaking his head. “Not quite, but I’m sure will think of something, so long as you don’t mind being seen with a mangy mutt.” He shakes more water out of his hair for emphasis. “No thanks to you.”
Alex rolls her eyes fondly. “Well mangy or not, I think I’ll keep you.”
Matt’s face splits into a wide grin, and it’s all he can do to keep from skipping ecstatically. Instead, he tightens his hold on her arm and leans in to murmur into her hair.
“Does this mean I get to sleep in the bed with you?”
Alex laughs. “Only if you refrain from licking my face.”
Matt waggles his eyebrows. “But other parts are okay?”
Huffing, Alex nudges his shoulder playfully. “I think that cocktail has gone straight to your head, darling.”
Smiling, Matt shrugs. “Not really the cocktail that’s doing it, Kingston.”
Her step falters just barely, and she blinks up at him in astonishment for just a second before schooling her features into a wry smirk. “You’re a terrible flirt, darling. One of these days it’s going to get you into serious trouble.”
Grinning brightly, and feeling for all the world weightless and content, Matt can’t help but press a lingering kiss to her temple. “Looking forward to it, love.”
Chapter 6: or else a love with intuition
- see part one
She doesn’t call. Or text. Or email. Not that he expects her to, really—she’ll only be gone a few more days. But he keeps checking his phone, slipping from the set or away from the crowded pub, hoping.
Karen finds him on Steven’s balcony during an episode wrap party, phone in hand, staring blankly up at the sky.
“Hey, grumpybutt.” She swings into place next to him, back to the railing. “Wow, not even a glare. Must be serious.” She’s teasing at first, then frowns when he doesn’t respond. “What are you doing out here? It’s freezing.” She gives a dramatic shudder.
Matt shrugs and tosses his phone from hand to hand until he fumbles, nearly dropping it over the side. “Just needed to think.”
“About what?” He shrugs again. Karen frowns and moves closer, placing a hand on his arm. “Matt?” He blinks, finally looking over at her. “Are you okay?”
He tries to smile, but it doesn’t meet his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I just...” He stares at his phone. “It’s nothing. Forget about it.”
But Karen shakes her head, reaching out and taking the phone from his hands before he breaks it.
“You’re thinking about Alex, aren’t you.” She doesn’t say it as a question, and Matt can barely scrounge up the energy to glare. “You looked pretty cosy at Darvill’s party,” she says, holding his phone out of reach when he tries to grab for it.
“That was weeks ago, are you still on about that?”
“Well, it was surprisingly good,” she admits with a smirk, and Matt snorts. “Besides, this is the first time since Alex has been gone that we’ve had a chance to talk.” Prodding him in the chest, she affects a pout. “And you’ve been avoiding me.”
She says it carelessly, but Matt knows her better, hears the undertones of hurt in her voice, and sighs. “I didn’t want to talk about it,” he mumbles, flashing her a guilty, apologetic look.
Karen just huffs. “Can we talk about it now?”
Matt shakes his head, turning to squint out at the treeline. “She’s just a mate,” he says, but even he doesn’t believe it, and Karen rolls her eyes.
“I’m a mate, and you better not think about me like that.”
Unable to stop himself, Matt makes a disgusted face, and Karen laughs and points a finger in his face. “Busted,” she crows, “but we already knew that.”
“We’re just friends, Kaz,” he murmurs. “That’s all we’ll ever—”
Karen sighs and wraps an arm around his shoulder. “Don’t be such a stupid face, yeah? You’re not gonna know until you ask.”
“I did ask,” he snaps, pulling away, “she stood me up.”
Karen frowns. “What’d you mean?”
Matt stares at his shoes and mumbles. “After the interview. She never showed up.” He swallows tightly and shrugs, taking advantage of Karen’s momentary surprise to snatch his mobile back and pocket it. “It doesn’t matter.”
Karen stares at him blankly for a long moment. “You are such an idiot. Seriously, you are the biggest—”
“She was on the phone with Salome, you nutter.”
Matt blinks and reels back slightly. “Until four am?”
Karen rolls her eyes. “Florian’s a great dad, I’m sure, but you can’t blame the girl for wanting her mum to help her pick out tampons.”
“Pick out—” Matt blanches and resists the urge to cover his ears. “She’s a little girl!”
“She’s growing up.” Her smile dissipating, Karen sighs heavily and digs around in her back for a smoke. “Even though they spent hours on the phone, Alex felt awful for not being there.” Lighting the end of her cigarette, Karen gives him a dubious look. “How did you not know about this? I figured Alex would’ve told you why she never showed.”
Matt turns away, scratching the back of his neck. “I, uh... I may not have given her the chance.”
Karen snorts and takes a drag, blowing smoke pointedly in his face.
“Idiot,” she returns.
Matt sighs. “I know.”
Stomping out her cigarette, Karen shoves the butt back into her pack and snaps her purse shut. “Question is, are you going to stop being an idiot any time soon? Alex gets back in three days,” she reminds him, wagging three fingers at him.
Matt glares, but Karen just raises an eyebrow and though he doesn’t say anything, she can see the gears spinning and the no doubt sappy, overly-romantic ideas swarming in his head. Looping an arm through his, Karen decides he’s had enough moping for one evening and drags him back toward the door.
“Come on. I’ve got 50 quid with Caro that Darvill will take his trousers off, and I want pics for Twitter.”
Matt laughs, tightening his grip on her just slightly. “No wonder the internet loves you.”
Karen beams, guides him over to the bar, and proceeds to ply him with enough whiskey to loosen his tongue (or his fingers) to text Alex and ask if she wants to meet them at their usual pub after she gets in, drinks on him. Her answer is almost immediate—and by you, you mean Arthur?—and Matt grins, insisting that no one will pay and they’ll all just mope if she doesn’t come, heh heh, winky face.
Well, with an ultimatum like that, how can I resist? ;)
They coordinate a time just after her flight gets in--she insists she’ll be fine, and that a girly cocktail will do her a world of good after the time cooped up in the plane--and Matt spends the rest of the evening giddy and ridiculous, but he doesn’t care.
In three days, Alex will be home, and by then he’ll have a plan. He doesn’t know what it is, yet, but it’ll be a good one.
It’ll be amazing.
Alex drops her bags just inside the door and sags, resisting - but barely - the urge to slide down the wall and curl up and never come out again.
Every part of her aches. Her body aches and her mind aches and her heart keeps clenching around one guilt after the next. It’s all she can do to drag herself inside, to hang up her coat and kick off her shoes before collapsing into the sofa.
Damn him, she thinks, then, no, it’s not his fault, then, damn him anyway. A relaxing weekend with her daughter was all she had wanted; just a few precious days, and he couldn’t even give her that, not without a fight.
Her eyes sting as she remembers his words, his threats; Salome’s tear-stained voice over the phone. She’d wanted to see Alex off at the airport, like she always did, to go through their ritual of saying goodbye very formally, with handshakes and curt nods before dissolving into tearful giggles and oxygen-depriving hugs, and Salome’s questions, the same questions every time: “But Mum, what if there aren’t any planes next time?”
“Then I’ll take a ship back.”
“What if there aren’t any ships?”
“I’ll ride a dolphin.”
And here, Salome always laughs, breaking character, then asks, “But what if there aren’t any dolphins?”
“Then I’ll swim the whole ocean back, but only if you give me a kiss.” And Salome, always smiling, flings her arms around her neck and kisses her cheek.
But Florian didn’t have time, they were going to a show, he said, him and Barbara, and Salome was going with them and it just wasn’t going to work out and neither was summer, he added, just at the end. She’d tried to call him all the way to the airport, then after security and until the plane took off, but he never answered. She got Barbara once, during her layover at JFK, telling her they were at dinner and would call later.
They didn’t, even though her flight was delayed two hours and they had plenty of time, and she resisted—but barely—the urge to leave Florian a voice message telling him exactly what he could expect when he finally did get ahold of her.
She curls her fingers around the edges of a pillow and tries to will away her tears. Her head is pounding and her throat is dry and all she wants is to sleep.
It’s a long moment before she registers the sound in her skull as a knock on the door.
Dragging herself to her feet, she takes a deep breath to compose herself before opening the door with a false smile.
Matt rears back, obviously trying to see through the peephole and offers a shy grin. “Hey.”
She blinks in surprise. “Matt. What are you doing here?”
“We missed you at the pub.”
“The—?” She frowns, then remembers their texts. She hadn’t even let him know her flight was late. “Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Feeling the love, Kingston,” he teases. She hasn’t realised she’s stepped back until he’s sliding past her into her flat, and god, she just wants him to go, to be alone; she wants him to stay. So, so badly, she wants him to stay, to hold her, wrap strong arms around her waist and steady her. She wants it so much she can barely move.
“I’m sure you managed just fine,” she says, amazed at how steady her voice sounds. “Where are Arthur and Karen?”
“Still there.” He fiddles with the dead flowers on her table. “Drinking competition.”
“They’ll regret that tomorrow.”
“I know. Kaz always does.”
She nods and tries to retort, but what comes out is a half-choked gasp, and she grabs the arm of the sofa. “Alex?” He’s in front of her in less than a second, eyes scanning her face, hands fluttering near her waist. “Alex, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Her voice shakes, and she clears her throat. “Nothing, sorry, just a bit jet lagged. Haven’t quite got myself together yet, I--” From her purse, her phone begins to ring. “Damn it. I have to—”
Fumbling, she manages to answer the call, turning her back to Matt as she speaks.
Matt’s eyes narrow behind her, even as he tries to pretend he isn’t listening.
“No, I told you— I just got in, Florian, I’ve barely had time— we talked about this.” Alex glances over her shoulder at Matt, who abruptly looks away and studies the tassels on one of her sofa cushions. Alex swallows and moves to the far side of the room, trying to keep her voice quiet. “I’m not saying you can’t date her, that’s ridiculous, I’m saying Salome—”
He cuts her off, and she sneaks a glance back at Matt, who keeps shifting from foot to foot and looking for all the world like he wants to grab the phone out of her hand and finish the conversation for her. She doesn’t quite understand why, but it’s endearing all the same.
“I understand that, but-- You can’t disrupt her summer plans just because— Yes, of course they are!” Matt flinches, but she doesn’t notice. “We agreed. I know she needs more time, but I don’t think forcing her is going to hel— stop interrupting me! She’s coming here for the summer, Florian. That’s what she wants, that’s what we agreed. No, we’re not going to talk about this later, it’s over. She’s coming here—”
Florian cuts her off again, harsh words rattling down the line, and Alex clenches her jaw to keep from crying. “She’s my daughter, Florian, you can’t keep her from me. I love her more than anything in this world, so don’t you da—” She inhales sharply, and out of the corner of her eye sees Matt take several steps closer to her, then stop. “Don’t you dare!” She straightens, eyes narrowing. Her voice is firm and flat, without a waver. “Her flight’s on the sixteenth. Put her on the plane, Florian, or I’ll get a judge to make you, is that clear? Good.”
Alex disconnects the call, flicks the volume to silent and tosses the phone onto a nearby chair. She doesn’t say anything for a long moment, her back to him, shoulders pressed together. She can feel Matt behind her, hesitant and awkward, and she wishes suddenly that they were more. That she could fold herself up in his arms and be as small as she feels. Just for a moment.
Instead, she clears her throat and turns, maintaining the distance between them.
“I’m sorry you had to—”
“No, don’t even apologise.” His voice is so soft, so warm. “Are you...?”
She inhales sharply. “I’m fine. Just a bit of a spat.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
She closes her eyes briefly, berating herself. He’s just being nice. He’s being Matt. He has better things to do than listen to her sorry life.
“No, it’s all right. Thank you.” She moves toward her bags by the door. “I just need to finish unpacking—I’ve got quite a bit of Salome’s things, I need to set up her bedroom for the summer and air out the room, it—”
He grabs her arm as she passes.
“Alex, you’re shaking.”
She forces a smile. “I’m fine.”
“No, you aren’t.”
Both hands find purchase on her arms, running up and down in soothing motions. He tilts his head toward the door and squeezes her elbow. “Come on. Let’s go get a pint or a cuppa, you can tell me about it.”
She shakes her head. “No, really, that’s quite all right.”
“My treat,” he offers. He sounds so desperate, his hand so comforting on her arms that she almost takes him up on it. Almost says yes, says anything to get him to keep touching her like that; to keep holding her.
But she knows, even in his state, she knows that the instant she lets him in, she’ll never be rid of him. He’ll stay, long after he’s physically gone and it’ll be just her and the ache, all over again, and she’s survived it twice but she doubts a third time she’d be so lucky.
She doubts she’d be so lucky with him.
“I appreciate it, but—”
“I’d really rather be alone right now, Matt.”
He drops his hands from her arms, as if stung.
Alex’s eyes widen and she reaches for him, but he steps away. “I’m sorry—”
“No, no, of course, it’s understandable. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have just—I’ll, uh.” He backs away toward the door, and Alex’s heart drops.
He was just looking for an excuse, of course he was. He’s wonderfully sweet, she knows, and he’d listen to her talk for hours but it’s not his problem, they aren’t together, and he has better things to do. Better people to be with.
“I’ll see you in a few days, then, yeah?”
She nods, unable to muster more than a weak, “Yeah.”
He wavers in the doorway for a long moment, and Alex turns away, unable to stand his pity, to watch him go.
The door shuts softly, and Alex exhales, her body trembling as she tries to get a reign on her emotions.
“Idiot,” she mutters to herself, “Stupid, stupid idi—”
She whirls, colliding with Matt who is somehow right behind her. His hands grab her hips to steady her, and embarrassed half-smile on his face.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to--”
“What are you--?”
His grip loosens, becoming more of a caress, and he shakes his head, hair falling over his eyes. “I couldn’t just leave.” He proffers a lopsided smile. “Takes more than a verbal shove to keep me away. Besides,” he murmurs, “You weren’t very convincing.”
Alex chuckles softly, relaxing a bit and bringing her hands up to rest against his chest. “Maybe you just aren’t as gullible as I thought,” she manages, sniffing slightly and hoping she doesn’t look as teary as she sounds.
Matt smiles and brings a hand up to her face, brushing a thumb across her cheek. The movement makes her freeze, breath stalling in her throat as she tries to convince herself it means nothing. “In another circumstance I’d take offence to that,” he teases lightly, but his eyes are warm and serious, holding her gaze, his hand now cupping her cheek. She leans into him instinctively, lips just barely brushing over his palm. She hears him inhale sharply, and before she can open her eyes his hand slides around to cup the back of her neck and his lips are on hers, light and tentative, but so warm and welcoming and honest that she can’t help but press herself in tighter. Her fingers curl into his shirt as the arm around her waist tightens, pulling her in as he deepens the kiss, and she knew she wanted this, but she’d never realised before how badly she’d needed it; needed him and his words and his touch and his presence, invading her senses.
He kisses her like he knows her, like he loves her, and though the thought is ridiculous she clings to it for as long as she can, the absurd notion that he wants something more than sex—that he wants her, despite everything.
But he doesn’t. He can’t, and it’s that nagging whisper that eventually makes her tear herself away, shaking her head.
“I’m sorry,” she gasps, pushing weakly at his chest. “I’m sorry, I can’t—”
And then he pulls her back in, arms around her shoulders, her head tucked into his chest and whispers softly that he’s sorry, too. For what, she doesn’t know, and doesn’t want to ask as he gently leads her over to the sofa and sits down, tugging her against him.
She makes a token protest, but he just laughs gently and shushes her.
“I’m a much better pillow than these things, Kingston,” he murmurs, waving a decorative, scratchy pillow in her face before tossing it over the back of the couch.
“Not better than my bed,” she mutters, curling her legs beneath her.
“We’ll see about that,” he returns indignantly, puffing out his chest a bit to make her laugh.
They settle into silence, for how long she has no idea, just relishes in his warmth, the rise and fall of his chest, his steady heartbeat beneath her ear. When she finally feels collected, more herself, she tries to make excuses, but Matt won’t hear it. Tightening his grip around her waist, he holds him to her, his eyes shut and head tilted back against the couch.
“Shush, you’re ruining my nap, Kingston.”
“We’d both actually get a good night’s sleep if we were in our beds,” she huffs, though she can’t bring herself to actually be mad. Not when he’s trailing his hand up and down her spine.
“Why, Kingston, are you propositioning me?”
Alex chuckles and slaps him lightly on the chest. “I said beds, not bed.”
Matt yawns loudly. “My bed could be your bed,” he mumbles, shifting further down into the cushions and curling his arm around her, holding her securely against him. With a soft sigh, he presses a kiss to her crown. “Go to sleep, Alex.”
Much to her surprise, she does.
Chapter 7: my hand is outstretched toward the damp of the haze
- see part one
Matt paces the length of the set, eyes flickering every few moments to the studio door. They’d called him in early for a quick reshoot, and though he’d left a note, he’s terrified she’ll think badly of him for scarpering. He wants her to know—needs her to know, really—that it wasn’t a farce. That he wasn’t just convenient or an apathetically willing ear.
He wants her to know what it meant to him—to hold her, for her to let him hold her, let him be the one that could offer some semblance of comfort. He wants her to know he’ll always be there, he wants to be there, but he’s never been good with words and he knows his actions—disappearing in the early hours of the morning, leaving her alone, curled into her sofa with a blanket tucked around her and a hastily scratched note on the coffee table—will speak louder than he wants them to.
Running a hand through his hair, Matt risks another glance at the door on the next pass.
He’s vaguely aware of Arthur griping at him to sit down, and Karen defending him with just enough mockery to placate Arthur, but she’s there, suddenly, talking with one of the cameramen on the other side of the room. He freezes, and suddenly his rehearsed speech and apology fly out the window when she looks over at him and smiles.
He waves back, but remains rooted to the spot until Karen raises both legs and kicks him in the lower back, pitching him forward. “Stop ogling and go get your woman,” she says, never taking her eyes off her book.
Matt stumbles just enough to cause a racket, turning to glare at an apathetic Karen before straightening his tweed jacket and ambling over to Alex as casually as he can. He waits by the craft table, poking at an array of crackers in an effort to appear busy, watching her out of the corner of his eye so he’ll know the second her conversation is over, and he can move in.
Instead, she comes to him, startling him out of his preoccupation with a bruised grape.
“Hey,” she offers, head ducked and voice low.
He smiles, turning to give her his full attention. “Hey. Sorry—about this morning, I had to be here and they called me early, and I didn’t want to wake you so I just let myself out.” He digs around in the Doctor’s jacket pocket and hands her a key. “I didn’t want to leave the door unlocked, so I nicked it from the rack. Took me four goes to find the right one.”
Alex laughs softly, accepting the key, her fingers brushing his. “Thank you.”
Matt swallows. “I hope you didn’t think—I mean, I didn’t just run off, I—”
“I got your note, darling,” she assures him, placing a hand on his arm. “You’re fine.”
Relaxing for the first time all day, Matt smiles. “Good, good.” He hesitates, rocking back on his heels. “So, um—” he starts, at the same time Alex takes a deep breath and says,
“Look, about last night...” She smirks ruefully, and Matt makes a motion with his hands for her to continue. “I just...I wanted to apologise.”
Meeting her gaze, Matt frowns. “What for?”
“For taking up so much of your time, and—” She cuts herself off, and he tries not to flinch. Sorry for kissing you, is what he’s sure she intended to say. Instead she shakes her head and squeezes his arm gently before releasing it. “It was really sweet of you. To stay. I—thank you.”
She looks so unsure, so ill at ease, that Matt barely stops himself from reaching out and touching her. He wants to grab her shoulders and force her to look him in the eye, to make her see what he sees. Make her feel what he feels.
But there are people everywhere, and cameras and lights and this isn’t the place, and more than that, he knows it isn’t the right time. Not for her, at least.
“Apology not necessary, but you’re welcome,” he says instead, as sincerely as he can. “Any time. And I—I won’t say anything, if you’re worried about...”
“No, that’s not—I know you wouldn’t,” she reassures him, and he breathes a sigh of relief.
She smiles, and for an aching moment he can’t tear his eyes away; can barely restrain the urge to press his lips to hers and hold on to her for all he’s worth. Instead, he reaches for her hand, his thumb brushing gently across the back of her knuckles.
She stiffens and pulls away, and Matt tries not to let the devastation show on his face.
“I, um. I should get to make-up.”
He nods stiffly. “Sure.”
She opens her mouth to reply, but says nothing. The look on her face is open and raw and for one, brief moment, he thinks, maybe.
Then she shakes her head and pastes on a smile and offers a quick wave before turning toward the makeup trailer.
She turns, but Matt says nothing, just stares, lips parted and eyes wide, his gaze entirely focused on her. Alex raises an eyebrow in question, but Matt just shakes his head and looks away briefly before offering a dull, tense smile. “Nothing. See you in a bit.”
Alex nods, turning back toward the trailer, and Matt closes his eyes tightly.“You’re such a fucking pillock,” he mutters to himself.
Scrubbing a hand over his face, Matt turns back to his friends, and tries his best to push aside all his conflicting emotions, at least for the time being.
“You all right, mate?”
Arthur gestures to the leaves in front of him. “You’re pondering a prop.”
“It’s a complex organism, Darvill, show respect.”
“It’s a cheese plant.”
Matt smirks, but can’t quite bring himself to smile. Arthur sighs and leans back against the wall, taking a drag. “You want to talk about it?” he offers eventually.
Matt shakes his head, but at the same time can’t stop himself from saying quietly, “I don’t know what to do.”
Arthur exhales smoke. “About Alex?”
Startled, Matt whirls to face him, eyes wide. “How did you—did Kazza—I’m going to wring her little ginger ne—”
“As much as I’d like to see that, I can’t in good conscious send you to your doom on false pretences.”
Matt glowers, still confused. “Then how did you—”
“Not blind. Not a moron,” he says, ticking them off on his fingers. “Pretty much the only two requirements in this case.”
Matt nods absently, moving to lean against the wall next to Arthur, holding out his hand. Arthur rolls his eyes and grudgingly hands over his pack and a lighter. “Moocher.”
“Addict,” he tosses back. Arthur arches an eyebrow as Matt lights a smoke, taking a deep drag before exhaling. “I’m not on my game,” he offers, and Arthur snorts.
Matt shrugs, but can’t be bothered to defend himself. His lack of scathing retorts is hardly his biggest problem at the moment, and he knows he’s been a bit rubbish to his friends lately, especially Karen. For all the advice she’s given him and consoling he’s done, not only hasn’t he thanked her properly, but he’s still got nothing to show for it.
As if sensing his thoughts, Arthur turns to face him. “She’ll come ‘round, you know.”
Matt grits his teeth and stares at the lit end of his cigarette bitterly. “Will she? There’s so much at stake for her, at all times, and I don’t...” He stops, shooting a brief look at Arthur. He isn’t even sure he should be talking about this, to anyone, but it’s been three weeks.
Three weeks of playing it cool. Three weeks of tripping over himself trying to help her, three weeks of her—sweetly and politely—declining. Three weeks of Karen telling him to man-up and Arthur shooting him strange glances and three weeks of Alex’s fake, plastered-on smile.
She hides it well, so, frighteningly well, that the first few days he thinks he’s imagining things. Thinks maybe she really is fine, that it’s all okay. She doesn’t say anything to him about Florian or Salome, and he doesn’t know if things have gotten better or worse. He offers to take her out for coffee, invites her over after filming for tea, but she always shakes her head and smiles and tells him to go out and have a good time and see his friends, or whatever it is you kids do these days.
She says it with a laugh, a fondness in her eyes, but it hurts.
It’s been three weeks since he’s been able to touch her or really talk to her, and he knows they need to have a real, proper conversation about what they are. What this is. How he feels.
And at least Arthur is willing to listen.
Shaking his head, Matt stubs his cigarette out in the concrete. “I don’t want to make it worse,” he admits. “I just want...even as a friend, I just want to be there for her but she won’t let me. No matter what I do, she just doesn’t...” He swallows tightly. “She doesn’t want me.”
There’s a long silence. Matt stares at the ground, smearing ash into the pavement with his toe as Arthur lights another cigarette next to him.
“That isn’t true,” he says finally, and Matt feels his neck twinge as his head snaps up.
Arthur looks away, frowning at the cheese plant props lined up outside the doors. “That isn’t true. She’s...” He hesitates, and Matt can tell by the way he fiddles with his smoke that he’s choosing his words carefully. “You gotta give her some time, mate. And...” He looks up, then, looking Matt squarely in the eye. “And you gotta be sure. She’s dealt with enough rubbish blokes in her life, we don’t need to add to the mix.” He says it calmly, simply, but Matt can hear the undertone of warning in his voice. “If you think—if you know positively that what you feel for her is genuine, then I think you should go for it. But if you have any doubts then just leave it. Leave her alone.”
Arthur holds his gaze until Matt nods, and he must find something in his expression because eventually he backs away, averting his gaze to his feet.
“When did you get so protective?” Matt asks, nudging him with his shoulder.
Arthur shrugs. “I’m her on-screen dad. It’s my job.”
There’s a tension there Matt doesn’t entirely understand, but Arthur says nothing else, and Matt nods.
“Duly noted, then, Centurion.”
Matt gives a sloppy salute, and Arthur glares. From the studio, he can hear Karen’s voice getting louder as she heads toward the outside, and Arthur raises his voice quite a bit.
“And for god’s sake, talk to Karen, she’s screeching in my ear like some sort of gossipy, pre-teen banshee,” he says, right as she walks out the doors.
“I heard that!” she shouts as she passes, sticking her tongue out at him. Arthur mimics her and Matt laughs.
“You were meant to!”
Karen shouts something back, but Matt isn’t listening. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Alex steal across the lot, slipping through the backdoor on set. Frowning, he makes a motion to Arthur and slips away, trying not to look too obvious as he hurries in the direction that she’s headed.
As much as he hates to admit it, his friends are right. They need to talk, properly talk, and he needs to start acting more like an adult and less like a wounded schoolboy with a crush. Because it’s more than that.
Arthur’s words ringing in his ears, he knows it’s more than that.
He’s had several weeks to think, to mull it over and turn it around every which way in his head, and he always comes to the same conclusion. He’s tried to imagine staying friends. Tried to imagine even a solely sexual relationship with her, and every time he does it leaves a knot in his chest that grows tighter and tighter the more he dwells on it. Every time he remembers her hands threading through his hair, her lips against his, her breath in his mouth and the way her eyes flutter shut, he’s confronted with the overwhelming desire to give her everything. Lay it all out at her feet and beg her to give him just one small fraction of herself in return.
He knows it’s probably not the healthiest attitude, but he’s so far gone he can’t bring himself to care.
Two years, Karen said.
He’s finally starting to get it.
Turning the corner, Matt stops and frowns. Alex is gone, disappeared from the winding hallways. Grabbing one of the costume assistants, he asks if anyone’s seen her. Frazzled but warm, the assistant nods toward the end of the hall.
“I think she’s in the green room,” she offers, and Matt smiles and thanks her and jogs down the hall. The door is mostly closed, and just as he’s about to push on it, he freezes.
Karen told him to talk to her. She didn’t tell him what to say.
He berates himself a dozen times, pacing outside with words in his head that sound so worthless on his tongue. He can see her inside, the door cracked open, running her hand through her hair. Just do it, he thinks. Just open on the door, and do it, and whatever happens, happens.
Easier said than done, he knows, by the way his hands are shaking slightly and, standing in the hallway like an idiot, he’s never met a door that looked so intimidating. It isn’t until he’s raised his hand a second time, poised to enter, that he hears her voice.
“No, I’ve told you before, that’s not how this—no.”
He takes a step back. She’s arguing with someone on the phone, which he hadn’t noticed before, and he has a few guesses as to who. Fingers clenched, he tells himself to walk away, to leave her in private, but when she speaks again her voice is shaking, and he can’t help that he gravitates to her.
“No! Why are you— why are you pushing this? We’ve had a more than civil agreement for years, why now are you—”
There’s a long, empty pause, and Matt wonders if she’s hung up until he hears her voice again, much softer. He can’t hear everything, just bits and pieces, but it makes sense. An awful, nauseating sense as he listens in, suddenly overcome with the urge to wrap his arms around her and take her far, far away.
“I see. Well, congratulations. Honestly, I mean it, you deserve to be happy. But I refuse to let you put Salome in the middle of it. Have you even— Florian— she’s not a baby anymore, you have to respect her op— don’t interrupt me.” Alex sighs heavily, and Matt bites his lip to keep from intervening, from making whoever’s on the other end of the phone listen to her. The conversation sounds stale, even to his ears, and he’s almost positive this isn’t the first time she’s said these words.
“I said do—damn it, Florian, would you shut up!” Her voice cracks, and Matt has to force himself to step back, to move away. “I don’t give a toss about dates and logistics, you promised me—yes, of course, I will happily fly her back for the wedding.” Matt’s head spins. “No. No, that’s up to her. Florian... no!” She expels a harsh breath, and Matt leans in, peering through the open crack, her profile visible in the reflection in the mirror. He’s struck suddenly by how tired she looks, how frail. It isn’t something he’s ever associated with Alex—flirty, funny, feisty Alex with a compassion and zest for life that has always intrigued and humbled him. But here, in this quiet moment that he shouldn’t even be privy too, she looks defeated.
“I haven’t said anything, you know me better than that,” she says quietly. “No—no, look, I have to go—” She shakes her head. “We’re done, Florian. We’re done.”
She hangs up abruptly, and the silence that follows is harsh, like electrical static, singeing the air around her. Matt hesitates. He could go in, try to talk to her, comfort her. He should go in, he knows, but she’s trying so hard to keep it together, to pretend, even as she presses a hand tightly to her mouth, her eyes screwed shut and he’s never felt someone else’s pain hurt so much.
Three weeks she’s been at this. Three weeks she’s gone home alone to an empty house and god knows how many arguments across the ocean, just for the right to see her own daughter.
Three weeks he’s been too much of a coward to step up and help.
Matt isn’t sure he’s ever hated himself more than he does in that moment, lost in the silence from the other side of the door. Steeling himself, he takes a deep breath and moves, slipping into the room.
Alex jumps when she hears the door click shut, whirling around, the beginnings of a plastered smile already on her face.
“Don’t,” Matt says softly, shaking his head. “Don’t do that.”
Frowning, Alex clears her throat and tries to make her voice light. “Don’t do what?”
Scratching the back of his neck, Matt steps away from the door, moving toward the centre of the room slowly. “I heard you on the phone,” he admits, avoiding her gaze. “I didn’t mean to—I was looking for you, and—”
“And, what? You thought you’d stick around for the show?”
Startled, Matt snaps his gaze to hers. Her arms are folded across her chest, her stance tight and defensive, and though part of him wants to retaliate, he shakes his head and quickly backtracks over his words.
“No! No, that’s not—I didn’t want to interrupt.” Alex arches an eyebrow, and Matt sighs, tugging at his hair nervously. “And...I couldn’t just leave.”
Still suspicious, but slightly softer, Alex lets out a slow breath and says, “That seems to be a recurring theme, lately.”
Matt chuckles, shrugging his shoulders awkwardly. “Yeah, well. It’s not going as well as I’d hoped.”
He looks up when Alex inhales sharply. Her arms are still folded, but more wrapped around herself, protective, and her eyes are wide and glassy.
“Matt, you can’t—” She sighs and drops her arms, turning away from him. He can see her reflection in the mirror, her eyes closed and her face pained. There’s a long silence as she collects herself, and he wants nothing more than to go to her, even just to touch her shoulder or hold her hand. Before all of this, he would have. As a friend, he’d have been able to do that, but now he doesn’t know, now he’s trapped, and when she turns back to him and says, “Nevermind. Thank you,” so genuinely, he wants to shake her and make her say what she really meant; make her tell him how she really feels.
Instead, he nods, and holds out a hand. She takes it almost instantly, and Matt releases the breath he didn’t realise he was holding. “It’s okay to talk about it, you know,” he offers, squeezing her hand tightly. “You don’t have to, of course, but if you want to...or if you just want to...not talk, that’s fine, too.”
Lips twitching in a smile, Alex raises an eyebrow. “And what would this ‘not talking’ entail, darling?” she teases, and though he hates how easily she brushes him off, he’s so relieved to see her smile that he plays along, pulling her slightly closer.
“Oh, the usual. Not watching telly. Not reading a book. Not wearing clothes.” He winks, and Alex chuckles.
“Well, I can do that all by myself.”
“Better with two.”
Alex inhales sharply and moves to pull away, but Matt keeps a grip on her hand and tugs her in, so they’re almost chest to chest. He wants to tell her everything, or show her, or just snog her senseless until she gets it, but he can tell that this isn’t the time, or the place, not with her muscles in her hands still quivering under his and a damp sheen over her eyes.
“I mean it, Kingston,” he says instead, his voice firm but gentle as he holds both her hands in his. “It’s...it’s okay, you know?”
Cursing his inability to use words, Matt cringes inwardly and prays that she understands, that she can see on his face what he can’t say with his voice.
There must be something, he hopes, something she reads in the lines around his lips or the look in his eyes because she smiles, then, almost shyly, and kisses his cheek.
“I know,” she says, squeezing his hands before letting go completely. “I know.”
Chapter 8: for you i'd burn the length and breadth of sky
- see part one
She wakes up with a heavy, inexplicably unsettled feeling in her stomach. As if there’s something off, something wrong just out of the corner of her eye that she can’t quite pinpoint. She skips breakfast and opts for tea instead of coffee, arriving on set earlier than usual, grateful for the quiet, calming effect the set has come to have on her.
As always, Matt is there, bright-eyed and energetic, quickly stealing away from his conversation to bound over to her, his smile infectious, and though it doesn’t quite settle her anxiety, he’s still a salve on a scabbing wound.
She doesn’t know exactly what’s been happening between them, or why, but over the last week, since he eavesdropped on another of her many arguments with Florian, he’s been sticking especially close, always greeting her on set, walking her to her car, occasionally even getting her to come out to dinner with him and Arthur and Karen.
He looks at her as if there’s something he wants to say, but never does. Instead he smiles, or holds her hand, or slings an arm around her shoulder and pulls her in, and though she’s loathe to admit it, she’s never been more thankful for the comfort. His comfort. She knows had it been anyone else, it’d have been easier to hide; to paste on a smile like she usually does. But for the first time in a long time, she doesn’t feel the need. It’s so easy with him, just to sit and talk and let him distract her with amusing stories and casual brushes of his hand across her knee. She still can’t bring herself to open up, not really, and he seems to respect that; to understand in a way that no one has before that she simply isn’t ready. So he makes jokes and flirts with her and brings her lunch sometimes, and the knowledge that he’s there, that she could turn to him if she needed to, is almost overwhelming.
She pushes that thought aside as he steps in front of her, walking backwards so he can see her face.
“Today’s the day, yeah?” he says, rubbing his hands together gleefully before stumbling over a cable.
Alex grabs his arm on instinct, hauling him upright, and laughs. “Probably not the best idea, darling. You can barely walk with your eyes front.”
Matt snorts indignantly, promptly trips, and flails his arms about like a windmill. Alex isn’t entirely convinced he didn’t do it on purpose just to make her laugh (the comedic timing was almost too spot on), but she appreciates it all the more. Linking an arm through his and pulling him to walk along side her, she smiles.
“And yes. Salome gets here late tonight.”
Try as she might, she can’t keep the joy out of her voice, and though there’s still a nagging thought in the back of her head, the anticipated presence of her daughter quickly overshadows it.
“What time? Do you need a lift?”
She shakes her head. “No, I’ll be fine.” Smiling apologetically at his somewhat dour expression, she squeezes his arm. “I’m afraid I’m rather selfish when it comes to her. It’s her first day back and—”
But Matt waves her off with a grin. “Say no more, Kingston. I know when I’ve been replaced.”
She laughs brightly. “Never replaced, darling, just temporarily usurped.”
Matt affects a heavy sigh. “Owned by a twelve year old,” he grouses good-naturedly. “Will I ever live it down?”
“If it makes you feel better, she’s demanded to come to set tomorrow. Apparently she saw a video of you with someone named Charlie? She’s insistent on making his acquaintance, though personally I think it’s just an excuse to see her favourite Doctor.”
Matt frowns for a moment. “Charlie?” Alex shrugs, and then Matt laughs, remembering. “The badger!” Alex arches an eyebrow at him. “I have a badger named Charlie. I’ll bring him.”
“She’d like that.”
He bops her gently on the nose. “Anything for the poppet.”
Alex smiles just as Karen bounds over to them, pulling Arthur in tow, and starts chattering on about a play and a musical and how awesome it would be to have a Doctor Who musical, to which Arthur rolls his eyes and sticks his fingers in his ears, and before she can really join in, Alex gets swept away by the make-up and costume departments.
They only have one scene today, then a break, then a late read-through for the next episode planned to favour Steven’s hectic schedule, and then she’ll finally, finally get to see her baby girl again. She texts Florian about the time Salome’s due to board the plane, but unsurprisingly doesn’t receive a reply. Anxiety flickers in the pit of her stomach, but she shakes it off. Their last conversation had hardly been civil, and she knows he’s just angry about Salome leaving.
She figures she’d feel more guilt over it if she weren’t so excited, but as it stands she finds it’s all she can talk about on set, and over lunch, and even into parts of the read-through.
Arthur mimes a talking hand, mouthing what looks like ‘blah blah blah’ at Karen, who dutifully swats him in the arm. “Don’t make fun of my granddaughter!”
“I wasn’t, I was making fun of Alex,” he says dryly, but he winks and Alex laughs.
“Just wait ‘til you have children, Arthur,” she scolds, and Karen wrinkles her nose in disgust.
“Ugh, one is enough, okay? We don’t need a miniature version running around in dumpy sweaters.”
Arthur throws his pen at her. “My sweaters are fabulous.”
“-ly ugly,” Karen retorts.
Alex smiles as she listens to her friends bicker, exchanging a knowing glance with Matt across the table. At her feet, she can feel her phone buzz in her purse, but ignores it in favor of tuning back in to Steven’s pointers and Arthur’s dry interjections.
Matt slouches forward, his elbow propped up on the table, and she can feel his ankle touching hers under the table. She shoots him a questioning look, but Matt merely winks and leaves his foot where it is.
The next time her phone buzzes, he arches an eyebrow.
The third time, Arthur makes a joke about giant wasps, and Karen whimpers.
The fourth time everyone ignores it, and the fifth time in ten minutes, Alex reaches down in frustration to turn it off when she sees her ex mother-in-law’s name on the screen. Frowning, she quickly checks for voicemails or texts—there aren’t any. Just as she’s about to shrug it off, the phone rings again. Steven gives a mock-heavy sigh.
“Who knew we had the Queen herself on call today,” he teases, and Alex pouts.
“Do you mind if I—”
Steven rolls his eyes fondly and gestures for her to leave, telling everyone to take five. Alex smiles gratefully and slips out of the conference room, phone already to her ear.
“Alex, thank goodness. I thought you weren’t going to answer,” her ex-mother-in-law huffs. She sounds amused, but there’s an undertone of tension there that makes Alex frown.
“I was in a read-through,” she explains. “What’s going on?”
There’s a pause on the other end of the phone.
“Now, I don’t want you to get upset, all right, because everything’s fine, but—”
Alex’s heart drops. “What’s happened?”
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Arthur look up, a frown marring his face.
“It’s under control,” Madeline says, but her voice wavers and Alex feels her earlier panic return, the unsettled feeling in her gut that something is wrong, so, so wrong.
“Just tell me,” she snaps. “Is it Salome? Is she all right?”
Madeline says nothing. Through the phone, Alex can hear muffled voices in the background, some louder than others.
“She’s missing,” Madeline says finally, her voice flat and shaking as she barrels over her own words. “But we’re looking, everyone’s looking, and she couldn’t have gotten far, so don’t—”
“What do you mean, ‘missing’? She’s supposed to be on a plane! Did she miss it? If she’s in the airport, then security should have been—”
“She’s not at the airport,” Madeline interrupts, and Alex grabs the wall, suddenly untrusting of her own body to keep her upright. Images flash through her mind, Salome laughing, Salome at the park, Salome in a dark, dark room, crying, scared, alone and she forgets how to breathe. Her vision swims and goes black and she can feel her heart pounding in her chest and the world tilting.
“What?” she manages.
She doesn’t notice the hand on her arm, save the fact that she hasn’t fallen yet.
Expelling a harsh breath of air, Madeline admits, with more than a touch of reproach, “Florian didn’t take her. He wanted her to stay for the summer, you know. I tried to tell him—”
“What the hell do you mean he didn’t take her.”
Her voice doesn’t sound like her own. The words don’t even belong to her. Madeline tries to explain, but all Alex can hear is her daughter’s voice, her mind conjuring up the worst scenarios unbidden.
At her side, she’s dimly aware of Arthur saying her name, of a commotion in the background. She turns, and she can see his lips moving, but there’s no sound, just the hazy interference of Madeline’s voice through the phone telling her not to panic, that they’re searching, that they’ve got it under control. It’s the last bit that finally snaps her out, and she pushes away from the wall, from Arthur, practically growling into the phone.
“Well obviously he doesn't or this wouldn’t be happening. Put him on the phone.”
“Alex, dear, I don’t think that’s a good—”
“Put him on the phone,” she says slowly, each word punctuated and harsh. “Now.”
There’s a fumbling sound, soft murmurs, and then Florian’s voice, noticeably panicked. “Alex, I’m sorry, I woke up this morning and she was gone and I—”
“I’m on my way,” she says flatly, already turning back to the conference room to collect her bag.
“You don’t need to—”
“I’m on my way, Florian,” she repeats, oblivious the looks of her co-stars and friends as she grabs her purse, fumbling for her keys. “I’ll get the first flight out, and so help me god, Florian, if you haven’t found my daughter safe and sound—”
“Don’t you even think of justifying yourself to me.” Florian says nothing, and Alex takes a deep breath. “I’m on my way. Start praying, Florian,” she warns, black spots still dotting her vision as she moves blindly down the hallway.
“I already am,” he says, and she feels a flash of guilt that is quickly replaced by rage and fear as she hangs up the phone, wanting to run but not trusting her legs to carry her.
There’s a voice to her side, but she can’t understand. “I have to go.”
“No, I have to—I have to go, I have to go home, I—”
Someone jumps in front of her, two hands on her shoulders, holding her in place. She tries to shake them off, but whoever it is holds fast.
“Let me go, let me go, I have to—”
The person shakes her roughly, and she blinks, her eyes clearing. It’s Arthur standing in front of her, Matt just to her side with his arm around her waist, holding her up. She doesn’t know how long he’s been there, how long either of them have been there, only that her eyes are burning and her throat is tight and she can’t breathe.
“My baby,” she manages, gasping for air. “My—”
Arthur looks over at Matt. “Get my keys. I’ll get her to the car.”
“Are you su—”
Matt moves away, and Alex reaches out, grasping at his shirt sleeve. “Don’t—”
“I’m just going to tell Steven and get the car keys so we can take you to the airport, all right?”
She tries to protest. “You don’t need—”
“You’re not driving like this, Kingston. Just go with Arthur, I’ll be right behind you, okay?”
She hears the comforting tone of his voice more than his words and nods, forcing herself to stand straighter and take a step forward. She’s dimly aware of Matt running back, and Arthur hovering at her side as she makes her way toward the parking lot. She pulls out her phone at one point, telling Florian to make sure the police check the train station, and asks if Salome knew what airport she was supposed to leave from.
He says no, but he calls back ten minutes later and says he thinks she may have checked his e-mail for the flight confirmation, and that the police are already on their way.
“How long?” she demands, staring straight ahead as Arthur speeds through traffic. Next to her in the backseat, Matt grips her hand as tight as he dares.
Alex hangs up, and everything else happens in a blur. She’s in the car, then she’s not, then she’s on a plane. Time passes by emails that she checks on her phone, updates from Florian and Madeline and Matt, whose number she gave to her ex-husband to call if anything happened. Before takeoff, she gives the police as much information as she can, and tries to concentrate on the information they give back. They tell her they don’t have sufficient evidence yet to file an Amber Alert, and Alex distinctly remembers telling them exactly where they can shove their sufficiency until Florian takes the phone back and tries to calm her down until take-off.
She’s somewhere over the Atlantic when the flight attendant shakes her gently and says she has a phone call.
For a moment, Alex just sits, staring at the young woman. She tries to move, wants to run to the phone, but she can’t. For a long moment, she can’t. Then she takes a deep breath and follows the flight attendant to the front of the plane. She’s vaguely aware of her hands shaking as she presses the receiver to her ear.
“We found her,” Florian says, before she can even breathe. “She’s fine.”
“Put her on,” she manages, but barely, until Salome’s sniffling voice echoes over the line.
“I’m sorry, mummy, I’m so sorry—”
“Shh, it’s okay, sweetheart, it’s okay.”
“I didn’t mean to—I just wanted to see you and—” Salome gasps for air, and Alex presses her hand against her sternum, as if to contain her heart.
“It’s all right, I’m on my way, okay? I’m on the plane.”
Alex closes her eyes and tries to absorb the sound of her daughter’s voice. “Yes, darling, right now.”
“Where are you?”
“Still several hours away,” she admits, “But I’m going as fast as I can.”
Salome sniffles again. “Don’t take a dolphin,” she says, “they’re really slow.”
Alex laughs tearfully. “I promise I won’t. Get some rest, sweetheart, and I’ll be there when you wake up, okay?”
“Okay. I love you, mum.”
Alex swallows tightly. “I love you too, darling. Put Daddy back on the phone, all right?”
Salome does as requested, but they exchange few words before Alex hangs up and returns to her seat, still shaking with fear, and now relief.
It’s a long time before her hands still enough to send an email to Matt, but she manages just long enough to tell him Salome’s okay, and to thank him. She doesn’t go into detail, but only because she doesn’t trust herself to keep it together if she does.
Blocking out everything but the sound her her daughter’s voice in her ear, Alex closes her eyes and prays for time to fly.
Salome’s in her arms before the door closes, and Alex drops to her knees, everything else forgotten as she wraps her arms around her daughter and clings. She’s vaguely aware of Florian, Barbara, and Madeline in the background, but she doesn’t care.
She doesn’t remember much about the rest of the flight, or the car that picked her up from the airport and drove her to Florian’s house. All she knows is that Salome is safe, cuddled against her and sobbing into her neck, and that she is never, ever letting her little girl out of her sight ever again. Tears burn her eyes and she keeps them tightly closed, burying her nose in her daughter’s hair. Pulling back just slightly, she presses a firm kiss to Salome’s forehead and meets her gaze.
“Don’t you ever, ever do that again,” she whispers fiercely, voice trembling. Salome nods, and reaches up to brush a tear off her mother’s cheek.
“I’m sorry, mom.”
Tugging her close again, Alex exhales shakily. “We’ll talk about it later,” she says, and Salome nods reluctantly, burying her face in Alex’s shoulder. “It’s okay,” she whispers, squeezing her tightly, “It’s okay, sweetheart, you’re okay.”
Salome sniffles and mumbles into her neck. “Can I go back with you?” she begs, and Alex’s heart clenches at the fear and anxiety in her voice.
“Yes, yes, of course you can.” Pulling away, Alex kisses her cheek. “Can you go upstairs and get your bag, sweetheart? I need to talk to daddy for a moment, and then we’ll go, okay?”
Salome nods, wiping a hand under her nose. Alex hugs her again, reluctant to let go for even a second, before finally standing up and pushing Salome gently in the direction of the stairs. She goes tentatively, but looks back over her shoulder at Alex.
“I’ll be right behind you,” Alex promises, and Salome finally turns fully and hurries up the stairs to her room. The moment she’s out of earshot, Alex rounds on Florian.
“I don’t know what in the hell you’re playing at, Florian, but I swear—”
“Don’t. Not one word.”
Balling her hands into fists, Alex keeps her distance, several paces between them. She doesn’t trust herself not to snap, and while the rational part of her knows Florian was just as terrified as she was—still is—the irrational, emotional part of her wants to strangle him.
“You’re lucky I don’t take your miserable arse to court right now and sue you for full custody. Keeping her here was a violation of our agreement—”
“I was going to call you,” he insists, hands out in a placating gesture. “We just delayed the flight. I told Salome—”
“Oh, I don’t want to hear it.”
Madeline clears her throat and steps forward, halfway between them. “Now, look, I’m sure if you both just talk it out—”
“I have absolutely nothing to say to you right now,” Alex says lowly. “I’m taking Salome back for the summer and if you’re very, very repentant I will fly her home for your wedding but right now I’m inclined to leave it entirely up to her.”
“Alex, if you would just let me explain—”
“I don’t want to hear it!” she snaps, her voice cracking. “Right now there isn’t an excuse you could give me that would take away the last twenty-four hours—”
Florian reaches for her, eyes soft. “Alex—”
“Don’t touch me!”
Covering her mouth, Alex turns away, desperately trying to rein herself in, to calm herself down. Salome doesn’t need to see or hear her fall apart, not now, not ever. Squaring her shoulders, she turns and affixes sharp eyes on Barbara, standing just behind Florian with a hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t know why my daughter doesn’t like you. At this particular moment, I really don’t care. But believe me when I tell you that if you’ve done anything—anything at all—to hurt her, I will—”
Barbara pales, shaking her head frantically. “I would never—”
Florian holds up a hand. “Alex, that’s enough—”
“Don’t you dare talk to me about enough, Florian! This is enough.” Swallowing tightly, Alex turns away again and takes several long, deep breaths. Her muscles are tight and her hands are shaking, and she quickly folds her arms across her chest to keep them hidden.
Behind her, Florian speaks softly, voice heavy with guilt. “You think I don’t know that? She’s my daughter, too, Alex.” His voice wavers, and when Alex turns, she can see tears in his eyes. “She’s my daughter too, and I—” He inhales sharply and clenches his jaw.
Softening, Alex lets her shoulders and arms drop. She doesn’t touch him, can’t bring herself to, but she exhales softly and nods. “I know,” she murmurs, “I know.”
It’s as close to an apology as she can give him, and she isn’t ready to hear his just yet. Florian runs a hand over the back of his head and sighs. Alex stares out the window blankly, while Barbara and Madeline awkwardly offer to make coffee, leaving them alone in the living room. When Alex looks back up, Florian’s watching her with kind, sorrowful eyes. “You look tired,” he says gently, moving closer.
Alex chuckles humourlessly. “I am tired.”
“You should stay here tonight. Catch a flight in the morning.”
Alex shakes her head. “I need to get back. I need—I can’t stay here, Florian.”
He squeezes her shoulder briefly in understanding before moving away. “I’ll go see if Sal’s ready.”
Alex nods stiffly. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry, Alex,” he offers.
Not waiting for a reply, Florian climbs the stairs and Alex takes a deep, shuddering breath. Fumbling in her jacket pocket, she pulls out her phone and makes a call.
Chapter 9: i know we're transcontinental
- see part one
- thanks to Pam for the read-through and encouragement! ♥
- so so so sorry this took so long! forgive me :/
Arthur sighs heavily and disconnects the call, taking a moment to breathe deeply before turning to his friends.
"They found her."
Matt snaps to attention, eyes narrowed. "Where?”
“Union Station. She was trying to get to the airport.”
Karen makes a noise of utter disapproval, but Matt just grips his own mobile tighter. “Is she okay?”
“A little shook up, but fine, according to Alex." Matt nods, but Arthur can see the question in his eyes, more pained than jealous, and looks away. "A security guard noticed she was by herself and stayed with her, even though Salome refused to tell him her name or her parents’ names.”
Matt almost laughs, a choked sound that makes Karen stub out her cigarette and wrap an arm around his. “Stubborn.”
“Just like her mum," Karen agrees, then turns to Arthur. “How’s Alex?”
Arthur shakes his head, watching Matt carefully. He's hunched over the balcony, eyes unfocused, staring at the blank screen on his phone.
“She didn’t say, but I can only imagine.”
“I feel so bad for her," Karen says, squeezing Matt's arm. "I can’t even imagine what she must be going through. First Ralph and now Florian.”
“I’d deck myself on behalf of all rubbish blokes if I thought it’d help," Arthur agrees, and Karen's face lights up.
“It’d make me feel better.”
“Not you I’m worried about, Moonface.”
“Oi!" She lets go of Matt to slap Arthur on the chest. "My face is not a moon.”
“No, it’s the moon.”
“Shut up," she grumbles, catching Arthur's eye. She knows he's trying to lighten the mood, but Matt doesn't participate. Instead, he looks even more forlorn than before. He's more than relieved, of course he is, that Salome is safe and unharmed, and in that regard he doesn't care where the news came from. But it's Alex, the woman he's been trying to prove himself to so desperately, and when she needed someone the most, she didn't call him. She called Arthur instead.
Trying not to show his hurt, Matt shrugs it off best he can for the time being and turns to his friends. "We should let everyone know."
He can't resist another glance down at his phone, just in case, and Arthur offers awkwardly, "Her contacts are alphabetical. She probably just—"
"It's fine." He forces a smile. "Come on, Moonface," he says, tugging at Karen's arm. He knows it isn't fair, but he can't stand Arthur at this moment. Can't deal with the open, sympathetic expression on his face, and despite his illogical anger and resentment, he's never been more grateful for Arthur's silent understanding.
"I'll tell the crew, you guys call Moff?" he offers, and Matt nods, disappearing with Karen back into her flat.
She knows it’s him before she answers the door. Arthur and Karen had both called, making sure they landed safely, and Steven had checked in with her by text message a short while ago. She knows, but it doesn’t stop her breath from catching in her throat at the sight of him, hovering awkwardly on her doorstep, hands shoved in his pockets. His whole face lights up when he sees her, and she doesn’t know how she manages to smile through the guilt.
“Hey,” he greets, offering a short wave.
Alex chuckles. “Hey, yourself.”
Matt rocks back and forth on his heels. “Steven said you were back.”
“We just got in a few hours ago.”
“It went okay?” he asks softly, looking up at her through his fringe. She has a sudden urge to brush it back to trace his cheekbones and the line of his jaw, and quickly curls her fingers into her palm.
“No, not really,” she says, stepping aside to let him in. “It’s...it is what it is, I suppose. Florian’s still in shock, I think, and I...” She shrugs, leaning against the closed door with her arms crossed. “I could have handled myself better.”
Matt scoffs. “You’re her mother. You have every right to be upset.”
“Yes, but I...” Alex hesitates. Part of her wants to tell him. Wants him to realise that she isn’t perfect. That she isn’t all teasing and laughs and awkward moments—that she can be bitter, hostile even, especially where her daughter is concerned. She wants him to know her, and at the same time it petrifies her, the day he can see everything. He’ll leave. She knows that, solidly, that once he understands, once he truly knows her, he won’t want to anymore, and she’ll be left again to pick up the pieces. But he looks so hopeful, so trusting, that she has to give him something, even if it can never be what he thinks he wants. “Never mind. Let’s just say there are a few people to whom I owe an apology. Including you.”
Matt snaps his head up, his eyes almost comically wide. “What? Why would you—”
“I called Arthur,” she says softly, and Matt winces. Closing the distance between them, Alex places a hand on his elbow. “I know how that looks, darling, and I just...” She trails off, uncertain of what to say or how to say it, and Matt shakes his head.
“You don’t have to explain.”
“No, I do,” she insists, tightening her grip on his arm. “I do. You need to understand that I—that it’s not—” She exhales sharply, frustrated.
Matt takes pity almost instantly, pulling her into an awkward half-hug. “Hey. It’s okay. We can talk about it later, yeah?”
“I’m—I was afraid I’d lose it,” she says, voice muffled by his shirt. “If I heard your voice. I couldn’t afford it, so I just...”
There’s a long pause, and Alex desperately tries to get her breathing under control. Matt tenses, pushing her back slightly, eyes bright and confused. “Why?”
Smiling sadly, Alex places a hand on his chest. “I think you know why.”
Wounded, Matt tightens his grip on her, his voice almost frantic as he says, “Alex, I don’t—that’s not—I don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk to me, or that I’m not there for you, even from—”
Alex’s eyes widen and she shakes her head, pressing her fingers to his lips to stop him from babbling. “No, no that’s not it at all.” Thumping his chest lightly, Alex lets out a broken laugh. “God, I’m really rubbish at this, aren’t I? All the more reason—” for you to leave. The look on Matt’s face makes her feel guilty for even thinking it.
“Nothing. You’ve been there for me so much these last few weeks and I just...” She shrugs, smoothing out the collar of his t-shirt. “I really appreciate it.”
“So you’ve said,” he teases lightly, carefully, and Alex feels her heart swell.
“Yes, well. It bears repeating.”
Matt grins, then leans forward and places a gentle kiss to her forehead. “Anytime, Kingston,” he murmurs, and she knows, in that moment, she knows if she doesn’t move now she never will. She’ll stay there, locked in his arms for as long as he’ll allow and she can’t have that, can’t afford it. Neither of them can.
Clearing her throat, Alex pushes him away carefully, turning her face away while she babbles an excuse. “Gosh, I seemed to have left all my manners abroad. Can I get you something? I’ve got water, tea—well, water and tea.”
She forces a smile, but it barely lasts in the face of Matt’s broken, yet patient smile. “Tea’s great, thanks.”
Alex jumps at the opportunity to do something, and Matt follows her into the kitchen, leaning easily against her door-frame, like he belongs there. “How’s my poppet?” he asks quietly, and Alex’s chest tightens at the endearment.
“Asleep, finally,” she answers, setting the kettle to boil. “She cried half the flight. I think she’s been holding it in for a while now, what with everything going on, and...”
She trails off, and Matt offers awkwardly, “You mean Florian’s new, um...” He scratches the back of his neck, and Alex can’t help but smile at the sight.
“Yes, his new ‘um’,” she says wryly. “She and Salome don’t get on well, and I think she just... She’s never reacted like this before. Florian’s dated other women and it never seemed to bother her.” She sighs. “Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.”
“I’m sure that’s not true. You’re a great mum.”
“I’ve hardly given her the nuclear family she deserves.”
Shaking his head, Matt insists, “You love her, and she knows that. That’s all that matters.”
“I wish it were so simple, darling,” she murmurs.
The silence stretches until the kettle begins to hum, and Alex quickly fills two mugs, proffering one to Matt. He smiles in thanks, blowing on it lightly, seeming deep in thought. Alex putters about, wiping down the counter and offering him milk and sugar. He pours more than a generous amount of sugar into his mug, and Alex rolls her eyes fondly. Matt smirks, and winks, and sometimes she can’t help but wonder if he does ridiculous things like that on purpose, just to make her smile. It’s a horribly narcissistic thought, she knows, but sometimes she catches him watching her reaction, and he seems almost proud that he’s tripped over another cord or broken another prop. It’s ridiculous, but it makes her feel funny, warm and weightless. It takes her a moment to realise Matt’s speaking again, eyes drawn to his half-empty mug.
“You know, my dad wasn’t around much when I was a kid. He travelled a lot for business, still does, actually. But he always tried to make it back for the important stuff - birthdays, boxing day, football matches.” Matt shrugs, but she doesn’t miss the flicker of regret across his face, and has to stop herself from reaching for him. “It didn’t always happen, but he tried, you know?” Matt continues, “And if he did miss something he’d always call and let my sister and I go on about it.”
Alex smiles. “He sounds great.”
“He is,” Matt agrees casually. “And so are you. It may not be perfect all the time, but she’s never going to ask if her mother loves her.” If he hears her sharp intake of breath, he ignores it, taking another sip of his tea. “That’s written in stone.”
Speechless, Alex stares at him, floundering in her head for something to say. She still can’t wrap her head around it, the notion that this man—this perfect, utterly adorable, wonderful man—wants anything to do with her at all. That when he could be out with his friends or on a date or just relaxing from his own stressful life, he chooses to be here instead—content to be standing in her kitchen drinking cheap tea at one in the morning.
Mustering a smile, Alex squeezes his arm. “You didn’t have to come all the way over here,” she says, and hopes he understands it’s her way of saying thank you.
“It’s no trouble. I wanted to make sure you were all right.”
“That’s very sweet.”
He grins. “Well, Sweetie is my nickname.”
“Yes, it is.”
He smiles, then, a real, full-blown smile that makes her breath catch, and she has to move away to physically stop herself from giving in; from falling into him like she wants to so badly. Alex clears her throat awkwardly and Matt scuffs at her floor with his shoe, and places his mug on the counter.
“Well, I, uh, I should let you get settled and, um, back to, you know, hanging...things,” he offers, and she breathes a quiet sigh of relief. “I’ll see you on set tomorrow, yeah?”
“Brilliant.” Leaning forward, he kisses her cheek. “I’m really glad you’re back.”
Matt leaves, and Alex sinks against the counter with a sigh. “Me too, darling.”
Karen flops into the chair next to him, nearly knocking them both over. “Have you told her yet?”
Matt starts. “What?”
“You should,” Karen continues, and Matt relaxes slightly once he realises Alex isn’t anywhere within earshot. “It’s getting forever, let’s get this show on the road already.”
Frowning, Matt fixates on the script in his lap, tearing little pieces off at the corner. “I don’t know how.”
“Don’t think about it. The more you think about it the more you’ll panic and bugger it up; just knock on her door and snog her senseless,” Karen says, then rolls her eyes. “Again.”
Matt shakes his head, trying not to let his anxiety show. “Maybe she’s just trying to be nice about it, you know? Maybe she knows and she’s just letting me down without having to say it.”
Karen snorts and grabs his script, rolls it into a tube, and smacks him over the head.
“What was that for?”
“You’re a pillock,” she answers, tossing the script back to him. Matt rubs the back of his head and glowers.
“It’s a reasonable point, you know. It’s not like I’ve been hiding it. Mostly.”
“Yeah, but it’s Alex. Not exactly the queen of subtlety.” Matt starts to protest, and Karen holds up a hand. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m saying puppy-dog eyes and a few suggestions aren’t gonna cut it. Just be honest with her.”
“And if she says no?” he asks, his voice smaller than he’d like, and he winces. But Karen’s eyes soften and she leans over to pat his knee.
“If she does, she’s an idiot. I’m only gonna say this once, and I mean it in an entirely sisterly way because ugh, no, but you’re great. You’re a really, really great guy, Matt. You’re sweet and funny and mildly good looking, minus the chin—”
“—and she would be lucky to have you. And if she doesn’t see that, then she’s not worth it.”
She placates him immediately. “Don’t get me wrong, I love her to death. But you’re- you’re my best friend, and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
Matt stares at her, mouth open, and Karen shifts awkwardly under his gaze. Shaking his head, Matt smiles and squeezes her knee, causing her to jump. “That was very Pond of you, Gillan.”
She laughs, her breathy, high-pitched giggle that always makes him smile. “I try, I try,” she says, flipping her hair over her shoulder dramatically. “I mean it, though.”
“I know. Thanks, Kazza.”
Nodding, Karen shoves him out of his seat. “Now go get’her, Rambo.”
Contrary to Karen’s orders, Matt does nothing. He still brings her tea and invades her flat in the evenings and complains to her about his incessantly cold feet, but as far as his feelings go, he keeps them under wraps. He tells himself it’s a strategy—that she isn’t ready to hear his confessions, that he won’t push her; anything that’s going to happen between them, he’s decided, has to be her choice. In the meantime, he’ll simply insinuate himself into her life so carefully and seamlessly that before she knows it, she can’t live without him.
That’s the plan, anyway.
Karen thinks it’s a rubbish plan, but Matt does his best to ignore her and focus instead on spending time with Salome and making Alex laugh. He tells himself patience is foolproof, but on nights like this, when Alex has fallen asleep in front of the television at only half gone eight, it’s harder to hide the fact that he’s just scared. Terrified, even, not only of what they could have if she’d ever let them, but what he could lose if it fails.
Silencing the television, Matt rises and carefully tucks a blanket around Alex’s shoulders. She’s been going nonstop for almost three weeks, ever since she got back. She seems nervous, harried, and Matt does his best to calm her and keep her distracted, but she won’t talk to him; just looks at him with wide, sad eyes and shakes her head with a forced, “Oh, it’s nothing, darling” and changes the subject to his life and his interests, and he’s not above admitting that it’s a frustrating endeavour.
Still, he can’t bring himself to leave, to put any distance between them. Alex turns in her sleep, her glasses pinched over her nose, and Matt smiles to himself before carefully removing them. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, Matt resists the urge to kiss her cheek for fear of waking her. Instead, he adjusts the blanket again and turns off the lights in the living room before carefully making his way toward Salome’s room. Her light is still on, and he knocks softly at the door before pushing it open.
Salome looks up from her book and smiles. “Hey, Matty.”
Matt grins at the endearment. “Hey, poppet. Your mum’s asleep, so I’m gonna head out. I wanted to check in on you first.” He frowns. “Not that you need it, ‘course. You’re all grown up now and what, eighteen? Nineteen?”
Salome sticks out her tongue. “I’m twelve and a half.”
“That’s what I said.” Matt winks, and Salome rolls her eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow on set, yeah?”
Salome nods, but the smile slips from her face as she closes her book, staring down at the cover while she picks at the tassel from her bookmark.
“Salome?” She hesitates, biting her lip in the same way Alex does, and Matt draws closer, instantly compelled to comfort her. “What’s wrong, poppet?”
“Nothing,” she says quickly. “It’s just...” She trails off, and Matt perches on the edge of her bed and waits patiently. Eventually, Salome sighs heavily and admits, “Mum’s been sleeping with me since I got here.”
Matt frowns. “Do you want me to go get her?”
“No, she needs to rest.”
“She hasn’t been sleeping well?”
Salome shrugs. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. She’s always up way before I am, and sometimes—” She stops abruptly, pressing her lips tightly together.
Matt squeezes her hand briefly. “You don’t have to tell me,” he offers gently, but Salome shakes her head, eyes bright.
“I think she cries sometimes, you know? When she thinks I’m asleep. I can hear her, even though she tries not to—to tell me.”
Matt’s chest tightens, a quiet ache for both of them that he wishes he could fix. Wishes beyond everything that she’d let him fix it, just this once.
“It’s my fault.”
Matt starts, and instantly reaches for her hand. “Of course it isn’t, poppet. Why would you say that?”
Salome shrugs and swipes an angry hand across her cheek. “I scared her when I ran away. She tries not to show it, but I know she’s scared. She calls the nanny every day to check on me.”
Matt smiles, mustering up as much comfort as he can. “She’s just worried about you.”
“I know,” Salome says, but a few tears slip down her cheeks, and Matt resists the urge to climb up on the bed and hug her for all he’s worth. Instead, he holds her hand and asks softly,
“Have you talked with your mum? About why you ran away?” Salome shakes her head. “Why not?” he asks, careful to keep his tone curious rather than critical.
“I don’t want to hurt her.”
“Why would it hurt her?”
Salome shrugs, and for a long time says nothing. She picks at the spine of her book, small hands swallowed by her oversized, cat-patterned pyjamas, and Matt is struck suddenly by how old she looks, how mature, and he has to remind himself that she isn’t even thirteen. He’s constantly in awe of the young woman Alex has raised, and while he knows she can be spoiled and temperamental at times, she has a good heart, just like her mother, and he wishes that he could shield her from the world just a little bit longer.
It’s not his job, not his right, even, but when she looks up at him with dark, wet eyes, he can’t move away.
“I overheard Dad talking to Barbara,” she admits. “She’s gonna have a baby. That’s why they’re getting married.”
Her words hit him like a sucker-punch, and he knows how hard it’ll be for Alex. He wonders if she knows. The idea makes him feel sick, and he has to push aside his own resentment to focus on Salome.
“It’s probably not the only reason,” he offers. “I’m sure they love each other.” Salome rolls her eyes, and Matt tries a different tactic. “Are you excited to have a brother or sister?”
“No,” she answers immediately. March arches an eyebrow, and Salome blushes. “I mean, yes. A little. But don’t tell Mum.”
Salome shrugs. “I don’t want her to be sad. I know she and dad got divorced because she wanted more kids and daddy didn’t. And now he wants kids with Barbara.” She says the name disdainfully, and Matt does his best to repress a smirk.
“You don’t sound happy about that.”
Salome folds her arms across her chest petulantly. “I’m not.”
Matt hesitates, completely out of his element. He’s seen Alex deal with her mood swings, seen her easily shift from one approach to another to cajole answers from her daughter. But Matt doesn’t know what the right thing to say would be. “Alex—your mum, she loves you, so, so much. You know that right?”
“She flew back to get me.”
Matt smiles. “Yes, she did. She’d do anything for you. And I don’t know him, but I bet your dad would, too. He’s probably just trying to protect your mum as well.”
Salome frowns. “Then why couldn’t they have had more kids and just stayed together?”
Matt runs a hand through his hair anxiously, unable to give her the answer she wants. “That’s not always how it works, poppet,” he says softly, hating himself for the way the hope slides off her face. “I know it’s hard, but sometimes things just don’t—you know, like I was going to play football, and then—I mean, that’s a rubbish analogy, but—”
“You’re not very good at this, are you?” Salome interrupts, but she’s smirking and her cheeks have dried, and that’s good enough for Matt.
“No, I’m not,” he admits, with a self-deprecating smile.
“It’s okay,” Salome says, then leans in and stage-whispers, “Mum’s not a very good cook. Don’t tell her I said that.”
“I won’t,” he promises, then takes a deep breath and tries one more time. “What I’m trying to say, is that you should talk to your mum. You should tell her all this, because she will know what to do.” Rising, Matt bops her on the nose, earning a smile. “That’s what mums are for.”
“Good girl. Now get some sleep so your mum doesn’t yell at me for letting you stay up.”
“Fine,” Salome drawls. “Just one more chapter.” Matt arches an eyebrow, and Salome giggles. “I promise.”
Matt leans in and presses a quick kiss to her crown. “Sleep well.”
He’s almost to the door when she stops him. “Matty?”
“Thanks,” she mumbles, then smiles brightly, almost bashfully, and Matt feels his heart swell.
Chapter 10: the borderlines we drew between us
- see part one
- sorry this is so short! blame rachael.
Alex shuts off the ignition and lets her head drop back against the seat for a long, quiet moment. Between work, Salome, and Matt’s new-found interest in her, she hasn’t had much time to herself lately. She can’t say she minds, but she knows she’s going to have to slow down eventually—it’s been a rollercoaster of a month, and summer’s only just started. She still has Florian’s wedding to contend with, her “situation” with Matt, as Arthur has quipped, and now apparently a minor bacterial infection that’s messing with her appetite and giving her awful heartburn.
The joys of old age, she thinks wrly, taking a few deep, steady breaths before exiting the car. Matt had offered to take Salome while she was at the doctor’s, and they’d both looked so excited she hadn’t had the heart to say no. She knows she shouldn’t encourage him—knows she should back off, should spend less time with him. She should stop flirting so much and touching so much and giving him any reason to believe she’s more than interested. Which she is. Horribly so. But it would never work, and she knows that. Some days, when he looks at her like she could grant him every wish, it’s the only thing that keeps her sane.
Climbing the steps to his flat, Alex breathes out steadily. In a few more months, she’ll return to the states, Matt will carry on filming, and this...whatever it is...will be over. He’ll move on. He’ll have to.
The thought is short-circuited, of course, by Matt yanking open the door before she even knocks.
“We saw you at the window,” he says, grinning at her startled look, and Salome pops up behind him.
“We’re building a fort!”
Alex blinks. “I thought you were too old for forts? Isn’t that what you said?”
Salome blushes and shakes her head. “Matty convinced me they’re cool.”
“Thanks for that, Matthew,” Alex grumbles, but she’s smiling as he holds the door open for her to slip inside.
“Oi, forts are amazing, I’ll have you know,” he says, already making his way toward the kitchen to fetch her a cup of tea.
“My soon to be dusty pillow covers disagree,” she gripes, but follows him anyway, one hand on Salome’s shoulder. Her daughter has been much clingier than usual, ever since her great escape, and Alex knows she’s imprinting too much, but she can’t help it. It’s a struggle to let her out of her sight on a good day; now it just seems all the more unbearable.
“We were watching a movie in the fort—can I finish it? It’s only got like ten minutes left.” Salome pouts at her prettily, and Alex rolls her eyes.
“And by ten you mean twenty?”
“Maybe fifteen?” Salome hedges. Alex looks to Matt with a raised eyebrow, and he shrugs.
“I don’t mind.”
“Oh, go on, then.”
Salome grins and disappears into the next room, where through the doorway Alex can see a massively constructed fort, with sofa cushions, sheets, blankets, and enormous pillows she vaguely recognises as Karen’s.
Matt smirks and passes her a fresh cuppa, gesturing to the living room. Then he frowns. “Um. I suppose we used all the cushions.” He scratches his neck awkwardly, and Alex shakes her head.
“It’s fine. I’ll have her put it all back before we leave.”
“No, no, I can do it. It won’t take long.” He smiles at her over the rim of his cup, and Alex feels warmth bloom in her chest.
No, she thinks. No, no, no.
“So, um. How was your appointment?”
Alex blinks, startled. “Oh. It was fine—just an upset stomach, apparently. Nothing to worry about.”
Matt eyes her for a moment, his expression unreadable. “That’s good,” he offers finally, breaking into a smile. “Can’t carry on without the Kingston, can we?”
Alex smiles. “Very poetic, darling.”
Matt straightens, chuffed. “I try.” He hesitates. “You’re sure you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she promises, barely stopping herself from reaching out a hand to touch his shoulder. She makes an awkward motion she knows Matt catches, then settles back in on herself. “Thank you, for watching her. She loves spending time with you.”
Matt shrugs. “It’s not a problem. I love spending time with her, too.”
Alex rolls her eyes. “I’m sure you have better things to do than babysit, Matthew.”
“Believe me, with your daughter there’s no ‘sitting’ involved,” he snorts, and Alex chuckles in agreement.
“I don’t know where she gets her energy from. It certainly isn’t me.” Pausing to take a gulp of her tea, Alex finally offers, “And...I wanted to thank you for something else, too.” Matt stills, and Alex hurries on, “Salome finally talked to me,” she admits in a low voice. “She told me about Florian and Barbara and the new—the new baby.”
Matt winces and looks away guiltily. “I’m sorry I didn’t—”
“No, no. She mentioned she told you and I...I’m really glad you didn’t say anything to me. She needs someone she can trust and if you’d told me, well. I’m not very good at lying to her.” Alex smiles gently. “So, really. Thank you.”
“Anytime. I mean, obviously if it were—if I didn’t think she’d tell you, or if something were wrong, I would—”
“I know, darling.”
Matt nods and scuffs his toe against the tile floor. “So, um. Are you...okay?”
Cradling her tea to her chest, Alex sighs. “I’m all right. I suspected as much, really. Florian’s never been so resistant to Salome spending the summer here, so I knew there had to be something. I’m just glad she finally told me. Poor thing was a wreck about it.”
“It’s not your fault,” Matt offers instantly, and Alex wonders if she’s really gotten so bad about schooling her features, or if Matt is simply an exception.
“It is, a bit,” she says, “But not entirely. And...I’m happy for him. Or as happy as I can be,” she offers honestly, and Matt nods. “So anyway, I just wanted to thank you. Properly, I mean.”
“No, not for—for everything.” Alex sighs and forces herself to meet his gaze. “For being...so wonderful these last couple of months, I—it really means a lot to me.” She smiles, what she hopes is the friendliest, completely non-flirtatious smile she can muster, and sets her tea on the table in order to squeeze his arm in gratitude.
“You’re welcome, Kingston,” he murmurs, a touch self-deprecating and full of honest emotion. She smiles, and he grins, tugging her into one of his swift but soothing hugs. Except this time it isn’t just a gentle squeeze and a fond, smacking kiss to her forehead. This time he holds on, almost as if by accident, arms around her waist and his face buried in her hair. Alex freezes, torn between pulling away and falling that much deeper into the embrace. He’s so warm, and everywhere he’s touching her she feels weightless and bright. Her breathing hitches, and Matt tightens his arms around her and she has no choice but to give in; to press her nose into his neck and breath in as much of him as she can, for as long as she can. Another sacred moment that will haunt her, but she can’t bring herself to care.
He mumbles something into her hair, but she can’t make it out. She draws back slightly, hands lingering on his shoulders, but before she can ask he presses a gentle, questioning kiss to the side of her lips. It’s just a brush, but her eyes close and her lips part of their own accord and she shouldn’t be leaning in, shouldn’t be drawing him into her but she is, and when his mouth opens under hers, she stops caring.
He tugs her against him suddenly, and she’s vaguely aware of one hand on her lower back and the other tangled in her hair but all she can feel is warm and loved and it’s so terrifying that she tries to pull away. Matt follows, now cradling both her cheeks in his hands and kissing her like it will say everything for him and god, she wants to let it. She never wants to stop.
Alex jumps back, eyes wide and whirls to find her daughter staring at them with a mixture of confusion and disgust.
“You didn’t tell me you were dating.”
Alex flushes and shakes her head frantically, tugging her clothes straight with shaking hands. “No! It’s not—it’s not what you think,” she says hastily, avoiding Matt’s gaze. “We were just—it was nothing.”
Salome folds her arms across her chest. “You just kissed him. With tongue.” She scowls at that, and Alex is too busy panicking to be amused.
“It’s nothing,” she repeats, “Now go wait by the car.”
“I want to know how long you’ve been—”
“Car, now,” Alex snaps, and Salome huffs dramatically before yanking open the door and slamming it behind her. Alex stares at her hands, preparing herself with a few deep breaths for Matt’s inevitable response.
But when she meets his gaze, she realises nothing in the world could have prepared her for the hurt in his eyes.
He shakes his head quickly, cutting her off. “Please, don’t,” he says, and his voice is flat and raw. “I get it.”
“Seriously, Alex,” he says, forcing the worst smile she’s ever seen. “Just tell her we were rehearsing or something. It’s fine.”
It’s not fine. She knows it’s not fine and she knows she’s hurt him somehow but all she can think about is kissing him again, and if she doesn’t get out of there in the next five seconds, it might be even more than that.
“I, um. I’ll call you. Or—see you on set. Tomorrow.” She backs toward the door, gripping the handle. “I’m sorry,” she manages, before practically running from the flat, down the steps to her car and a very irritated Salome.
“What’s going on?” she demands.
Alex shakes her head, hands trembling as she fumbles with the keys. “Just get in the car.”
“Why won’t you tell me?”
“I don’t want to talk about this right now, Salome, just get in the car.”
Salome holds her ground for another moment, then glowers and ducks into the passenger’s seat.
“Happy now?” Salome gripes, and there’s something about her tone, about the way she’d looked at them before, the image of Matt’s broken expression as he’d turned away from her to hide it, and suddenly it’s all too much. She swallows tightly, tears stinging her eyes, and frantically shoves the key in the ignition. She tries to breathe, but her throat catches on the quietest sob that she quickly covers with a cough. “Mom?” Salome questions, but this time her voice is softer, more concerned, and Alex hates being so weak in front of her child.
“We’ll talk about it later,” she says. For whatever reason, Salome nods, and they spend the ride home in utter silence.
Chapter 11: we're coming closer now to the truth
- see part one
Matt kicks a discarded styrofoam cup at the studio wall. It catches in the air, weightless for a moment, before dropping back in roughly the same place it had been before, and the metaphor makes his fists clench.
Serves him right, really, he thinks. For moving too fast or taking too long or jumping the gun or whatever the hell it is he did or didn’t do that’s making Alex look at him from across the set in between takes like he’s just ruined everything. He’d tried to catch her at the beginning of the lunch break, but she’d hid behind her daughter, and then Arthur, and then just hid in her trailer for the rest of the break, or at least that’s how he sees it.
It shouldn’t matter, he knows, because it was nothing. Three—what he considers to be—fairly fantastic kisses, hundreds of hours spent together, some of his best flirting, and nothing.
Matt kicks at the styrofoam again, and when it barely spins on its edge, finally gives in and crushes it beneath his toe.
“You tell it, Smith-dog.”
Karen sidles up next to him, smoke dangling between her fingers and large sunglasses obscuring most of her face.
Matt sighs. “I’m not in the mood, Kazza,” he grits out, as politely as he can manage. As expected, Karen just shrugs and leans against the wall, patting the space next to her.
“Share this with me,” she says, holding out her fag. Matt takes it gratefully and occupies the space next to her.
“Since when do you share?”
“Since you started being a pussy.”
Matt chokes and Karen takes her cigarette back, inhaling neatly and blowing a stream of smoke toward the sky.
“Oh, sorry. Was that harsh?” She glares at him over the rim of her sunglasses and folds one arm across her chest, propping her other elbow on her hand.
“A bit, yeah,” he says, still confused. He plucks the cigarette from her hand and keeps it in retaliation.
“Well...sorry,” she mutters, “It’s just, you’re really doing my nut in, you know? All this fawning and pouting and smashing of perfectly good tea holders!” She gestures widely to the smashed styrofoam.
“I think I have a right to be pissy,” he snaps. “Handling rejection isn’t exactly your strong suit either.”
“You have to make a move first to get rejected, you pillock.” She reaches around him and snatches back what’s left of her cigarette.
“I did make a move!”
“Following her around like a lost pup is not a move.”
“I haven’t been—”
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Karen turns abruptly, tossing her fag to the ground and gesticulating wildly. “It’s been months, Smith, and all you’ve done is mope and sigh because your woman doesn’t think of you that way.”
“Well, she obviously doesn’t—”
Karen smacks him on top of the head. “So give her a reason to!”
“You have not! Name one thing you’ve done, one thing you’ve said to her that would indicate you want more than friendship.”
Matt snorts. “I think the snogging was a good clue.”
“That could mean anything. That could mean you’re looking for a good lay, it doesn’t mean you want a relationship.”
“Nobody works this hard just to get laid, Kazza.”
“But that’s just it,” she implores, voice softening as she lays a hand on his arm. “You haven’t been working. You’ve been waiting for her to come to you, and that’s not gonna happen. It’s Alex.” Sighing heavily at the blank look on Matt’s face, Karen tries again. “Okay, think of it this way—you’ve kissed, what, four times?” She holds up a hand before can speak. “And I mean, real, proper kisses, not that side-of-the-mouth thing I’ve seen you do.”
Matt blushes slightly and scratches the back of his head. “Three. Almost four—there was a motorbike and—
“I don’t want to know,” Karen says quickly. “But think about it—those moments, what did you say?”
Nothing, he thinks, and then, with startling clarity: nothing.
“I didn’t say anything,” he admits. “We haven’t talked about it. There hasn’t been a chance, or—” he cuts himself off, turning away to run a hand over his face.
Karen leans in and squeezes his shoulders. “So make a chance. Don’t wait around for that perfect moment—those don’t impress women as much as you guys think.” She smirks, and Matt rolls his eyes as she pushes and tugs at his shoulders.
“Why do you care so much?” he asks, turning to face her. There’s no malice in his voice, just confusion, and Karen smiles softly, reaching up to straighten the Doctor’s bow-tie.
“I want perks at the wedding,” she says, and Matt laughs before enfolding her in a tight hug. He buries his face in her hair. Karen rubs his back, and murmurs, “I want you to be happy.”
Matt sniffs and pushes her back, offering a weak smile. “Thanks, Kaz.”
She nods once, then punches him as hard as she can in the arm.
“That’s for being an obnoxious whiny dolt.”
Matt glowers and rubs his arm, but at the same time knows he deserves it. Karen’s right—something he hates to admit—and for all his talk in the privacy of bar booths and smoking areas, he knows he hasn’t really done or said anything to make Alex realise how serious he is. He’s been a good friend, he knows that, but to him it’s always been more than that, and it’s time to make her realise that.
He’ll give her her space for the rest of the day, but tomorrow, he’s going all in.
He doesn’t make it to ‘tomorrow.’ He barely makes it off-set. Nervous and giddy and horrified and jubilant, he just manages to wait until after Salome’s bedtime before knocking quietly on her door and praying she’ll even answer.
When she does, he almost forgets how to speak.
She looks tired and wary, there are dark circles under her eyes and lines on her face he hasn’t seen before and her oversized t-shirt has grease stains, her hair’s pulled up in a messy bun and all he can think is that she looks beautiful.
“We need to talk.”
Alex tenses immediately, but she nods once and lets him slip by her into her living room. Matt wrings his fingers together and tries to remember what he’d planned to say, the great speech he’d nearly taken to writing down on note cards. But when he turns and catches her gaze, it all vanishes.
“I messed up,” he blurts out.
Alex frowns and folds her arms across her chest. “What are you talking about?”
Swallowing tightly, Matt says, “That night, when—after the first—I thought you’d changed your mind.”
“I don’t underst—”
“When Salome called, that night about...” He lowers his voice and mouths “tampons” and Alex rolls her eyes, but there’s a hint of fondness there that he seizes on hopefully. “Karen told me. You were trying to tell me, and I didn’t listen.”
Alex smiles softly, but it doesn’t meet her eyes. “It doesn’t matter now.”
“Yes, it does. I thought you were letting me down by not showing up.”
He looks so earnest, so brave, that Alex closes her eyes for a long moment. “Matt—” she starts, and he can tell by her tone what she’s going to say.
“You were going to come,” he says again, moving a little bit closer.
“I was going to tell you that this is a bad idea.”
“Maybe,” he acknowledges. “But you were still going to come.”
He smirks this time at the double entendre, hoping to lighten the mood. Instead, Alex pushes away from him, running a hand through her hair.
“This isn’t a game, Matthew. It’s our lives, our friendship.”
“We’re not friends, Alex.”
She freezes, her expression crestfallen. “What?”
He hastens to explain. “I don’t get this stupid look on my face when I’m thinking about Kazza, or—or fumble my lines because of River’s wardrobe. Friends—friends don’t think about each other the way I think about you. Like I’m going to go crazy if I can’t touch you.” His voice falls to barely a murmur, and Alex bites her lip, eyes wide and bright. “I don’t...I don’t know what to do with myself anymore, when you’re not around,” he admits softly. “I just...”
Alex swallows tightly. “It’s a bad idea.”
“Care to tell me why?”
She glares, but her tone is still gentle. “You know why.”
“I do,” he agrees, moving again into her personal space, a hand fluttering just over hers. “It’s worth it.” He hesitates, then meets her gaze. “I’m not looking for sex. Or, just sex,” he amends, and Alex chuckles quietly. Where he’d expected surprise, maybe even disbelief, Alex just smiles and shakes her head.
“This would be a lot easier if you were.”
He blinks, startled, and more than a little annoyed at Karen for being so very right and wrong all at the same time. “You knew?”
As if unable to stop herself, Alex reaches out and touches his arm fleetingly. “No one works this hard just to get laid, darling.” Her smile fades with her touch. “And you have. You’ve been wonderful. I wish I could give you something in return.”
Matt’s chest tightens and his throat goes dry and this can’t be it, he thinks, it can’t be over before he’s even made his case.
“I’ll take whatever you’ll give me.”
Alex blinks in surprise, her eyes darting up to his. “What?”
“If it’s just...whatever you’re looking for, we can do that. Friends, or—or sex and friends, or—”
Alex seems to consider him for a moment, her brow furrowed and he wants to reach out and trace the lines above her nose.
“Could you?” she asks finally, almost hesitantly, and at the same time Matt feels a peel of victory, he also feels hollow.
“Yes,” he admits. “But I don’t want to.”
Alex watches him warily and licks her lips. “And if it’s your only choice?”
“Then I’ll take it,” he says, swallowing tightly. “I’ll take whatever you’ll give me.”
Alex stares at him, then abruptly takes a step back, folding in on herself and shaking her head. “No. God, no. I’m an idiot.” She turns to him again, reaching for him but letting her hand fall away. “I won’t do that to you. I couldn’t. I’ve been there before, and it...you can’t just give someone everything and get nothing in return. It doesn’t work like that, and I won’t do that to you. I’m sorry I even—” She looks so distressed that he can’t help but catch her hand in the space between them. Alex stares down at their fingers, intertwined. “I’m sorry.”
He nods in acceptance, but at the same time brushes his thumb over her skin. “You’re wrong, though,” he says softly. “It wouldn’t be nothing. I’d have you.”
“That’s not enough.”
“Maybe it is,” he stresses. He’s losing, he knows, and he feels his stomach drop when Alex pulls completely away.
Matt shakes his head, almost frantic. “You can’t—you can’t just abandon something without even trying.”
“Yes, I can,” she says, but her eyes are pained and her voice cracks. “And I am. I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
“Then I’ll wait.”
The words surprise him as much as they do her, but whereas Alex gapes at him questioningly, Matt knows he’s never said anything truer.
“I’ll wait,” he says decisively. “However long it takes, that’s okay, I’ll just wait until you’re ready.”
Closing the distance, Matt grasps her hands again gently. “I’ll wait until you’re ready, and until then I’ll just...I’ll be your friend.”
Alex shakes her head. “You can’t just put your life on hold for—”
“For what? For you? You know what your problem is, Kingston? You don’t think you’re worth it. You think you’re so damaged beyond repair that you’ll never be good enough for anyone to love.”
Alex winces and looks away, pulling her hands from his. “Matt.”
He reaches up and cradles her cheeks in his palms. “And I’m telling you, right now, that you are wrong. You are so, so wrong, Alex.”
She shakes her head, and his hands fall to her shoulders, resting without pressure. “That doesn’t change the fact—”
“It changes everything. It’s okay if you aren’t ready. It’s okay if you take a long time. Because not once in this conversation, or any before it, have you said you don’t feel the same way. You can give me every excuse you want, Kingston, but that’s the only one I’ll accept.” He smiles, as brightly as he can through his fear. “So look me in the eye, right now, and tell me you don’t feel the same.”
Alex opens and closes her mouth, sounds stumbling past her lips. “We shouldn’t—it wouldn’t be—I don’t—I—”
Cutting her off, Matt closes his lips over hers, just a touch, barely a whiff of air across her skin. Alex leans into it, one hand automatically covering his heart as her eyes flutter closed, and Matt smiles against her skin. Alex huffs and thumps at his chest briefly before tangling her fingers in his shirt. “You didn’t let me finish.”
“You weren’t going to,” he answers smartly, still grinning.
Alex sighs and her shoulders slump as she leans into him, her breath tickling the skin over his collarbone. “No, I wasn’t,” she admits, then immediately pulls back and looks at him desperately. “I don’t want you to waste your life for something that may not happen,” she says. “So promise me. Promise me if someone else comes along—”
Matt shakes his head. “Alex—”
“If someone else comes along you’ll take that chance.” He tries to protest, to say that won’t happen, it can’t happen and doesn’t she get it, but she looks so terrified and so brave and so much like everything he’s ever wanted or needed, that if he doesn’t say yes now he knows he might never get the chance. “Promise me.”
“I promise,” he says, and can’t help tightening his arms around her waist and adding, “But it won’t happen.”
“You say that now.”
“I’ll say it as many times as you need.”
She looks resigned, almost, as if his confession has drained her completely, and he feels all at once elated and horrible. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe Karen was wrong. Maybe everyone’s wrong and he’s kidding himself and the last thing he wants to do is force her into saying anything or doing anything she doesn’t want. He swallows thickly and steps away, but Alex catches his wrist.
“Don’t,” she murmurs. “Don’t do that.”
“I can practically see the gears spinning.” She offers him a smile, and he feels himself drawn back in, hands coming up to rest on her hips like they’ve forgotten how to exist anywhere else. “It’s a trite line, I know but it really is—it really is me. And I don’t want anything that I do or—or don’t do to affect how you think about yourself. Okay?”
Matt feels himself nodding before he’s completely registered what she’s said, and when he does, he presses a kiss to her cheek, a lump in his throat. There are so many things he wants to say, so many things he wants her to hear but he can’t find the words. There must be something in his expression, some insecurity he can’t hide because she arches up on her toes and kisses him in reassurance.
“I won’t,” he promises, when they break, slightly breathless. “But on one condition, Kingston.” She arches an eyebrow warily, and Matt smiles. “We spend more time together. Real time, not the occasional outing with Arthur and Kaz or the twenty minutes it takes your daughter to get packed up. I want...it doesn’t have to be public. I just—I want to talk to you. For you to talk to me and not hide everything or pretend like you're fine or—or—”
“I get it, darling.”
Matt exhales and deflates. “Even if we’re never anything but friends, I want us to be better friends.”
“I’d like that, too,” she murmurs. Before he can reply, Alex curls herself into his embrace, her arms tight around his frame and her face pressed against his neck. It’s almost uncomfortable with the way her hair is in his face and her fingers are pressed into his back, but he doesn’t care. It’s worth it.
It’ll all be worth it.
Chapter 12: this feeling calls for everything that i am not
- see part one
- i tried to make this longer than the usual chapters because it's been so long and failed. :/
“There’s gotta be a word for it,” Karen muses, regarding him with a pinched expression before tossing another peanut at his mouth. Matt moves his head in an attempt to catch it, but it merely hits him on the nose and bounces to the floor.
“The look on your face. It’s like... if Jack Nicholson, Nicholas Cage, and Meryl Streep all had a baby.”
Matt frowns, mouth agape, and Karen takes the opportunity to launch another peanut. This one hits him squarely in the forehead before dropping to the table between them. “I don’t even know what that means.”
Karen taps a fingernail against the bag and thinks. “It’s like...ecstatic, confused, and devastated all at once.” Matt rolls his eyes, but at the same time he can’t help a little grin, and Karen waves a hand at him as if he’s just proved her point. “How do you get your muscles to do that, anyway? Are your cheekbones magical?”
“Shut up,” he laughs, tossing the forgotten nut back at her. Karen squeals and bats it out of her hair while Matt steals the rest of her snack and tips most of the remaining nuts into his mouth.
“I’m serious, though,” she insists, snatching the near-empty bag back and curling over it protectively. She studies him a moment, the ridiculous smirk on his face as he chews. “I’m not sure I like it.”
If anything, this just seems to make Matt more giddy, and he leans forward over the table. “I told her, Kazza. I told her, and she didn’t, you know...punch me in the face.”
Karen snorts. “Like there was any chance she’d do that.” Matt grins, and Karen feels guilty for the thought even before she voices it. “I’m just...I’m not sure what this means for you.”
“What’d you mean?”
Disinterested, Matt ducks under the table to grab one of the fallen peanuts and begins picking at it. He’s barely listening to her, even though he knows she’ll probably make a sensible point any minute now, but he doesn’t want to be sensible. He wants to get up and jump around and tell everyone about the little stars in his eyes and the fact that it’s not over. He’s not out. By no means has he won—anything at all, really—but he hasn’t lost, either. There’s hope.
Karen’s nagging voice brings him back a bit, and she’s looking at him with an expression that’s far too serious. He doesn’t want to focus on the negatives right now, however realistic they are.
“You said you’d wait, but for how long?” she asks gently, lowering her voice so the crew can’t overhear them.
“As long as it takes.”
“And if that’s years?” Matt frowns and Karen reaches across the table to pat his hand. “I know you, Smith, you have a shorter attention span than a puppy when it comes to shiny things.”
Matt pulls away sharply. “She’s not a shiny thing, Karen.”
Unfazed, Karen leans back in her chair and shakes her head. “Yeah, she is. Right now, to you, that’s exactly what she is. She’s a challenge, a pretty new challenge, and by saying no she’s only pulled you in deeper.”
At the same time he feels anger on Alex’s behalf, he also feels the wariness sink in, the same unsettled feeling that’s been alternating in his gut for the past two days. “You think she’s doing this on purpose?”
“Of course not, I don’t think either of you are. I just—”
“I thought you of all people would be happy for me,” he interrupts, eyes narrowed. “You’re the one who told me to—”
“I know, and I am, I’m just...” Karen sighs and shakes her head. “I’m not convinced she’s giving you the hope you’re looking for, Matt,” she says softly. “And she’s right. You can’t wait around for her to make up her mind.”
Matt stares down at the table, his joyful attitude replaced by a sinking hopelessness. He shakes his head, trying to clear the negative thoughts. It won’t do any good.
Logically, he knows, she hadn’t said specifically that she returned his affections. But she didn’t have to. She let him in, just a little more, and that’s all the proof he needs, for now. He kissed her and she kissed him back and then kissed him again, and he’s going to hold on to that for all he’s worth.
“It’s not her mind that needs making up, Kazza. I know—” He runs a hand through his hair in agitation and stops, pasting on a smile as a crewmember walks by. “I know it’s not going to be easy, okay, I’m not deluding myself or—” He waves a hand in front of his face. “I just...I think it’s worth it. I know it is. And I think...if I give her time...I think she will, too.”
Karen nods, but she still looks unconvinced as she leans back in her chair, digging around in her purse for her sunglasses. “Be that as it may. Just...don’t get too excited, okay? She said she’d spend more time with you—as friends.”
“So, stupid head, I’m just saying...” Karen sighs heavily, exasperated. “Look, I’ve been in this situation before, okay? Guy says he likes you, that he’s fine with being friends, but pretty soon everything falls apart. You’re gonna want more, she’s not going to give it to you, and I don’t want you to be that asshole that thinks he’s entitled.”
“Kazza, I would never—”
“Yeah, you would,” she interrupts. “So don’t. And don’t let her make you think you’re anything less than what you are, either.”
Head spinning, Matt frowns at her. “Those are two very conflicting messages, Kaz.”
“I’m a conflicting person.”
“So basically what you’re saying is, don’t fuck up, don’t let her fuck it up, and don’t get fucked up?”
Finally smiling, Karen rises, cigarettes in hand, and as she passes, whacks him on the head. “Precisely.”
Alex drops her head onto her folded arms and groans. “I’m a terrible person.”
Arthur sighs heavily and signals to the bartender for another drink. “You’re not a terrible person,” he reiterates, for what she’s sure is at least the fifth time in the hour.
“I’m a terrible person and worse I’m a tease,” she moans, words mumbled into her sleeves. “I’m a terrible, teasing coug—”
“Don’t even go there,” Arthur snaps, turning on his barstool and shaking her shoulder. “Alex.” She lets out a pitiful, slightly drunken groan. “Look at me.”
Tilting her head, she peers up at him through her hair. “He was so earnest, Arthur. The way he looked at me, I couldn’t bear to shut him down, not completely. I shouldn’t have led him on.”
“Doesn’t sound like you did.”
Shoving herself into a seated position, Alex takes the beer the bartender has brought to Arthur and takes a long drink. “He said he’d wait for me.”
Arthur’s eyes widen a fraction and he winces. “Okay. Maybe led him on a little.” Alex slouches and clutches her stolen beer miserably. “But it’s not like you don’t feel the same.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
Alex gives him a surprisingly sober glower. “Oh, for a whole list of reasons, most of which you’ve pointed out at one time or another.”
“Only to make a point,” he reminds her, snatching the tequila shot the bartender has sympathetically placed in front of Alex and downing it before she has a chance to protest.
He swallows a belch and sets the glass down on the bar. “Who gives a shit?”
“I do,” Alex says, pointing a finger at him sternly. “I give many, many shits.”
He waves her off. “It’ll be fine. The man you’ve been lusting after for the past three years basically just confessed his undying love for you. Anyone else would be thrilled.”
Alex glowers into her beer. “First of all, I do not lust after Matt Smith. Second of all, I’m not ‘anyone else’.”
Arthur snorts. “As if we didn’t know that.”
Alex pushes her drink away and drops her head back onto her arms, cheek resting on her elbow as she gazes up at Arthur. “What am I doing?”
“Drinking yourself into a coma?” Arthur says smartly, taking the opportunity to steal back his beer.
“Quiet, you,” she mumbles, “or I’m taking my tickets back.”
Arthur rolls his eyes and dutifully follows the subject change. “What’d you get us this time?”
“Some avant garde piece at the Sherman next month. My sister picked it out.”
“So I won’t need my blush, then?”
Alex smirks. “Doubtful.”
Arthur raises his glass in cheers to that, and lets the silence fall over them. Alex is grateful for the respite, however momentary, and turns her face into her arms. The bar is fairly empty, one of Arthur’s secret go-to places that he’d been kind enough to share with her when she’d shown up at his trailer with a fake smile, talking a mile a minute about anything that had absolutely nothing to do with Matt.
He hadn’t been fooled.
“Have you told Salome?” he asks, and she snorts indignantly, the sound smothered by her hair.
“Told her what? That a man half my age is trying to get in my pants and I’m thinking about letting him?”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it like that,” he suggests wrly, “she is only thirteen.”
Unfurling herself, Alex lean her elbows on the bar and rubs her temples. “I told her Matt and I are friends,” she says, more resigned than mournful.
“And she believed you?”
Alex purses her lips. “No. I don’t blame her. I don’t believe me either.”
“Nobody does,” Arthur agrees. When she doesn’t respond, he sighs and turns to face her, grasping both her hands and holding tightly. “Alex. This is a good thing. Spend time with him. Let him woo you.”
Alex shakes her head. She can feel tears burning behind her eyes, but she refuses to let them fall. Not here, not over this. Not over something that hasn’t begun.
But it has, a small part of her whispers. It has for both of them, much as she wants to deny it, and Arthur is looking far too sympathetic over ‘nothing’.
“I don’t want to hurt him,” she admits, biting her lip and staring down at the peanut-shell covered floor.
“You won’t,” Arthur insists. “Call him. Invite him somewhere.”
“Who cares? You mentioned you’re taking Salome to Madame Tussaud's. Ask him to go with you.”
She’s shaking her head before he’s finished. “I don’t want to lead him on. I don’t want to—” She inhales deeply and meets his eyes. “Arthur, I’ve been here before, and it’s terrible. The last thing in the world I want to do is give him false assumptions or—or—”
“You aren’t,” he says, and she can tell by his tone that he’s getting frustrated. She doesn’t blame him. “He asked to spend more time with you, and that’s all he asked for. That’s something you can give him, right? He’s your friend,” he scolds gently. “He’s been trying to be your friend for three years. Throw him a bone, yeah?”
Alex exhales slowly, cheeks puffed out and hair drifting in front of her face. “I suppose,” she says finally, grudgingly, and Arthur smirks, releasing her immediately and shoving his phone into her hands.
“Good. Now quit moping and dial.”
Alex glares. “You’re a wench, Darvill.”
“I’m your wench,” he corrects.
“I thought you were my git?”
“I’ll be all your things. Now call your boy toy,” he says, snatching the phone out of her grasp to dial.
“Oi, he is not—! Arthur!” She reaches for the phone. “Stop! I’m drunk, Arthur, I shouldn’t be—”
Arthur shoves the phone to her ear. “Hello?” a voice says at the other end, at the same time Arthur shrugs. “You’re not that drunk.”
Alex clears her throat and slaps Arthur on the arm. “Matt, hi. Sorry.”
“Kingston!” She can practically hear him light up on the other end, and rolls her eyes fondly. “How are you?” Pause. “What are you doing with Darvill?”
Arthur leans in to listen, hyperbolically miming Matt’s reactions.
“N-nothing, we were just—”
“Ask him,” Arthur goads.
“Ask me what?”
“Oh, it’s nothing, darling, just—”
“Alex, don’t be a puss—ow! That hurt!”
Alex scowls in his direction before hopping off the barstool and relocating to the other end of the bar, keeping an eye on Arthur as he alternates between batting his eyelashes and making kissy faces at her to miming gagging into his empty beer mug.
He sounds worried, far more than he should be, and Alex hurries to assuage him. “Everything’s fine. Arthur’s just being, well. Arthur.”
“You guys are hanging out?” She bites her lip at how nonchalant he tries to sound, and how miserably he fails. “I mean, that’s cool.”
“We were just grabbing a drink.”
“No, I mean—not...like that, or anything, I mean—”
“No, no I know. I mean, but I wouldn’t be surprised if—”
Alex frowns. “If what?”
“If he was trying to—I mean, it’s not any of my business or—”
“Shut up a minute?”
She hears him let out a huff. “Sorry, Kingston.”
Smiling to herself, Alex shakes her head. “It’s alright. I just called—well, Arthur called, really—but I would have, if I hadn’t left my bloody phone on set. Again.”
Matt chuckles, and Alex feels her heart skip at the sound.
“Anyway, I’m taking Salome to Madame Tussaud's this weekend—the wax museum?”
Matt outright laughs this time. “I know what Tussaud's is, love.”
Her heart pinches at the endearment, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Clearing her throat, she hedges on, “Right. Of course. I just—well, Salome really wants to see the statues, she’s been begging me for months and I’ve been putting if off because frankly, those things terrify me, but—I mean, if you wanted to—you don’t have to, obviously, but if you’re free you could—you could come with us?”
Alex cringes and berates herself for sounding so much like a teenager and wonders for the umpteenth time what he could possibly see in her. When he doesn’t answer right away, her face falls and she swallows tightly, feeling for all the world like an unimaginable idiot.
“Of course, you’re busy, so don’t—”
“No! Sorry! What? I dropped my phone,” he says sheepishly.
“You dropped your phone.”
There’s a pause on his end, then: “Okay. I may have thrown it in the air and neglected to catch it properly.”
Alex frowns. “Why were you throwing your phone?”
“Because—” He huffs, and she can practically see his self-deprecating smile. “Because I did a dance, Kingston. I did a little dance in my kitchen, hit my arm on the teakettle and tossed my phone. And,” he interrupts before she can ask, “I was dancing because I’ve got weekend plans with my favorite girls.”
Alex blinks dumbly and says the first thing that comes to mind: “Are you in your pants?”
“Am I—” Matt chokes, presumably on his tea, and splutters. “You can’t just ask that, Kingston!” He hesitates. “But yes. I’m doing a dance in my pants. Happy now?”
Alex giggles, cheeks stretching around a smile. “So I take it that’s a yes, then.”
“Wouldn't miss it.”
“Pick you up at 10?”
She laughs at their awkward pause. “I’ll see you Saturday, darling.”
“Can’t wait,” he answers, and Alex hangs up before he can say anything more perfect. Returning to her stool, Alex tosses Arthur’s mobile at him and grabs his fresh drink.
“If this implodes,” she warns, “I’m blaming you entirely.”
Chapter 13: whatever you want is fine by me
- see part one
Groaning dramatically, Salome flops backwards on the bed, arms flung out. “You look fine.”
“What?” Alex replies absently, alternating between tugging at her dress and fluffing her hair in the mirror.
Sitting up, Salome glowers through her hair, “Stop changing, you look fine!”
Alex starts and turns to face her. “I’m not—”
“It’s just Matt,” Salome huffs, grabbing one of the four discarded outfits on the bed and waving it in her mother’s face. “He doesn’t care what you wear.”
Alex blinks and looks around the room for the first time in an hour. She hadn’t noticed she’d gone through so many dresses and blouse/skirt combinations and shoes; she even re-did her make-up at one point, and gives herself a mental slap.
“No, no you’re right, he doesn’t.” She forces a smile and resists the urge to fluff her hair again. “Sorry, love.”
Salome arches an eyebrow expectantly, and Alex turns hurriedly away, gathering up her clothes, hanging and re-folding things as Salome judges her in the way only a child can.
“Mum?” she says finally, and it’s only the sparsest hint of hesitance in her voice that makes Alex look up.
Salome frowns, then eventually shakes her head. “Nothing.” Alex starts to protest when the doorbell rings, and Salome’s face lights up. “I’ll get it!” she shouts, already halfway out the door. Alex can hear her from the living room, chattering excitedly, and Matt’s silky drawl replying intermittently.
Silky? She chastises herself for even thinking it, and with one last glance in the mirror, grabs her purse and meets them at the door.
Matt looks up, grin already wide at the sound of her voice. When he looks at her, for one moment all she can see in his eyes are joy and love at unspeakable volumes, and her heart nearly stops.
“Hey,” he says, leaning over Salome to press a kiss to her cheek. Alex freezes, her hand instinctively on his arm as he pulls back. Matt grins and grabs her hand, and then Salome’s. “Ready to go?”
Salome chirps excitedly and Alex nods, not trusting herself to speak.
“They’re so freaky,” she murmurs, pressing herself closer to his side. “I don’t understand it.”
“Scared of a little wax, Kingston?” he teases, keeping one eye on Salome as she scampers up ahead of them.
“Wax that looks like it could come alive at any moment, yes,” she insists, shuddering. Matt laughs and tucks his arm around hers protectively. He’s about to say something - probably about being her knight in shining armour, judging by the smug look on his face, when Salome distracts him by waving them over to a particular statue. Matt lets out a loud groan.
“Oh, please tell me she’s not into Twilight.”
Salome wrinkles her nose. “I’m not. My friend Jenny likes Edward and I promised I’d take a picture.” She holds out her hand for her mother’s mobile, then turns pouting eyes on Matt. “Matty, can you do it for me? Mum always gets it wrong.”
“I do not!” Alex defends, holding the phone out of reach. Both Matt and Salome eye her sceptically, and Alex relents, dropping the mobile in Matt’s hand. “Fine.”
Salome grins and poses with Robert Pattinson while Matt mumbles under his breath about crap writing. Alex smirks and quickly takes the mobile away from him when they’re done; he’s already dropped his twice since leaving the apartment, and she’s not taking any chances.
Salome weaves around the people ahead of them, pointing at various people and mimicking their facial expressions and constantly asking Matt what he thinks they’re thinking about. When they reach E.T., Salome giggles and grabs Matt’s hand, dragging him toward the statue.
“Ooh! Can I get one with you? It’s kind of like Doctor Who! Why isn’t there one of you here?” She shrugs before he can answer, and positions him how she wants him next to E.T. “It’ll make my friend Kyle so jealous. He loves Doctor Who. And aliens. Ten is his favourite but he likes you too, except the hats, but Mum always shoots them so it’s okay.” She takes her position and turns to her mother. “Try not to mess it up?”
“Salome,” Alex warns, but she’s slightly grinning and Salome smiles unapologetically.
Alex snorts, but dutifully takes a few pictures and then hands her mobile over the Salome for approval. “There. See? I can take a photo just fine.”
Matt smirks and leans into her. “Something tells me you got lucky, Kingston.”
“You’ve no idea,” she mutters, but before she can say anything else, Salome grabs her hand and darts away toward the next exhibit.
“Mom, look, it’s The Hulk! That is so cool!”
Matt laughs and hangs back with Alex while they watch Salome analyse the wax and take countless pictures from various angles of the various Avengers on display. Alex shakes her head fondly and leans into Matt’s shoulder just slightly.
“So, any plans for the break next week? Four days off, that’s quite a lot for you, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it,” he admits, taking a moment to wave at a fan who stands gawking by the Lady Gaga statue. “I’ve got a bit of promo stuff to do with Kazza and Steven, but otherwise I’m just going to hide out in my flat. You’re welcome to join me,” he hints, a bit of a question in his tone, and Alex laughs.
“Would that I could, darling,” she answers honestly, feeling bad when he frowns. “I’m taking Salome to see my parents,” she explains, and he nods in understanding, though still looks a bit put out. She has to admit, it’s rather endearing.
“Fine,” he sighs woefully. “I guess I’ll suffer my Chinese takeaway alone.”
“I’m sure Karen and Arthur will be willing to entertain you,” she offers. “Besides, you’ve got friends you haven’t seen in a while, yeah?”
Matt shrugs and kicks at the carpet with his toe as they walk. “Not really. I mean, there’s Ben and Billie, sure, but they’ll be working.”
Alex frowns and takes her eyes off her daughter to peer up at him. “What about everyone else? You had that party last year, for your birthday—there were tons of people there.”
Matt nods. “Yeah, they’re good mates,” he says, but she can detect the false cheerfulness in his tone, and stops him, calling out briefly to Salome not to get too far ahead.
She studies him for a long moment, the way his hair falls in his face, the line of his jaw, the light shadows under his eyes. He looks tired, she realises suddenly, tired and a bit lonely, so instead of calling him on it, she wraps an arm around his and continues to walk through the exhibit.
“Thank you for coming,” she says instead, interrupting herself to call out to Salome as she tries to duck under one of the ropes in a restricted zone. “These things really do freak me out.”
“Anytime,” he says honestly, then raises his eyebrows suggestively. “You could have just asked me if you wanted a date, Kingston,” he teases, but the words hit too close to her insecurities, and she steps away, smile fading. Matt frowns and steps up beside her again, a gentle hand on her arm. “What?”
Alex sighs and inhales sharply. “I don’t—I don’t want to lead you on,” she offers honestly, meeting his gaze. “I don’t want this to...affect anything.”
“Hey.” Matt crooks a finger under her chin and tips her face to his. “I’m not going anywhere, okay? Not even as a friend.” Smiling, he bops her nose with his index finger. “You’re stuck with me. Okay?”
She can see, despite the reassurance, bare traces of worry and rejection, and Alex smiles as brightly as she can, and takes his hand.
They get lunch at a cafe nearby, and Alex watches bemusedly as Matt and Salome tuck into their sandwiches like they’re on a deadline. Alex pokes around at her soup, not all that interested in eating, and instead speaks for Matt whenever a fan approaches, napkin or magazine timidly in hand, to ask for an autograph.
He tries to answer, bless him, but with a mouth full of chips and half-concentrating on a game of hangman with Salome, he doesn’t get a chance to do much more than smile and sign and shake a few hands.
They’re mostly left alone, and she attributes that to her daughter’s presence, but she wouldn’t be surprised if the rags have picked it up by tomorrow and run with it. God knows what headlines they’ll invent, but Matt doesn’t seem worried about it and she tries to follow his lead, laughing at her daughter’s awkward drawings and swiping a few of Matt’s chips.
It goes by in a blur, and before she’s quite willing to let it end, they’re standing outside her flat, Salome already having run in to catch the last ten minutes of Animal Planet. Matt rocks awkwardly on his heels and Alex smiles as he nearly falls over.
“I had a really good time,” he says when he’s righted himself.
“Me too. Thanks, for...” She waves a hand in front of her face, and Matt grins.
Alex nods, but it’s strange somehow. While they’re together, she doesn’t think anything of it—it’s Matt and he’s lovely and charming and far too flirtatious for his own good, but in the aftermath she replays the afternoon and she knows what it looked like, what it sounded like, and she worries. She doesn’t know how to tell him, but she worries—about him and their relationship and her daughter and the press and her already battered heart.
Somehow, he seems to know, and he catches her gaze with a smile. “Hey. Don’t worry about it, okay? I’m not expecting anything.”
She almost laughs. “Aren’t you?”
To his credit, Matt blushes and scratches at his cheek. “Okay. Maybe a little.” Her smile dims, and he hurries on, stumbling over the words. “But it’s not...there’s no one in my life right now that I’d rather be with—be spending time with, I mean, platonically or, you know—otherwise.”
“And if that changes?” she asks quietly.
Matt hesitates, then shrugs. “Then I’ll...reevaluate. But I was wrong, before. We are friends, Kingston. And I don’t want you to hide or—or—evade me because you know how I—because of what I told you.” His smile brightens, and Alex feels a weight lift from her shoulders. “And I’m really glad we hung out today.”
Alex laughs at his wording, but his smile is infectious, and she places a hand on his arm and squeezes. “Me too, darling.”
Grasping it, he presses a quick kiss to the top of her hand and lets it drop. “Stop worrying. You’ll get wrinkles.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Matt smirks and rocks back on his heels before giving an awkward head tilt toward his car. “I should, uh. Yeah. Goodnight, Alex.”
“‘Night, Matthew,” she says softly, watching him from the door until he climbs into his car and drives away, out of sight.
He’s a gentleman through and through, and everything he does for her, everything he does for her daughter, only makes her love him more—and it is love, she knows that. It would be easier for the both of them if it were something less complicated, something less important.
She loves him, and he thinks he loves her and there’s no way in the world this can end with her dignity intact. Ducking into her flat, Alex closes the door behind her and lolls her head back against the wood with a sigh.
Grudgingly, Salome agrees to be the flower girl for Florian’s wedding, on the condition that she can pick out her own dress. Alex suspects she’s actually more excited than she’s letting on, but she plays oblivious and lets her mother take Salome out shopping, grateful for the reprieve. She putters about in the garden and in the kitchen, trying to get herself to relax and quiet the thoughts buzzing through her head.
She’s made flight arrangements to go back to LA the following week, just long enough for the wedding. After running out on him so quickly, Alex knows Florian deserves at least some time with Salome before his honeymoon, and as much as her stomach churns at the thought of watching her ex-husband walk down the aisle - a real aisle this time, not a New Mexico whim - she owes it to him to be supportive. They’ve managed to remain friends this long, and she genuinely is happy him, even when it hurts. She tries to remind herself how she felt, being pregnant with Salome, the joy it brought her, and that Barbara probably feels the same way. She’s only met the woman a handful of times, but she seems lovely and caring, just what Florian needs. Someone whole.
The thought makes her wince as she remembers Matt and his near vigilance over her since their impromptu kiss nearly six months ago. It seems like longer, and like no time at all, and Alex lets a smile creep onto her face as she remembers him at the museum, posing for her daughter, or on set, bringing her cups of tea to soothe her stomach. She’s lucky to have him, even as a friend, but it was easier when she thought they would just part ways after filming; they might exchange the odd email, and she’d watch his rise to stardom quietly and encouragingly from the shadows. She’s always been proud of him, but he’s done so much, will do so much, that she can’t help but feel anything more between them will only hold him back.
Still, there’s the nagging voice in the back of her head, the relentless romantic and spoiled optimist that says maybe, just maybe.
On cue, her mobile rings, the infuriating pop hit Matt assigned to his number and refused to show her how to change it back.
Pulling off her gloves and abandoning the weeds in her mother’s flowerbed, Alex pulls her phone from her back pocket and sighs.
“Why do you have to be so ruddy perfect?” she mutters to herself before raising the mobile to her hear. “Hello, darling.”
“Kingston!” His voice sounds muffled and a moment later she hears him cough and splutter.
“What on earth are you doing?”
“Sorry,” he says, clearing his throat. “Ham and cheese.”
“Didn’t your mother ever teach you it’s not polite to eat while you’re on the phone?”
Matt huffs dramatically, and she can picture him blowing fringe out of his eyes and pouting. “I’ve only got five minutes and I’m starving.” The last word is muffled again, and she swears she can hear him chomping down the line.
“Go eat your lunch,” she scolds fondly. Matt interrupts with a loud belch, and Alex rolls her eyes.
“Sorry,” he says, but she can tell by his tone that he’s grinning and entirely unapologetic. “All done!”
“You shouldn’t eat so fast, darling, you’ll get a stomach ache,” she says absently, packing down a line of dirt with her bare hand.
“You worry too much, Kingston.”
Alex laughs softly but doesn’t deny it. “How goes the promo work?”
“Karen threw a poster at my head.”
“I’m sure you deserved it,” she teases.
“Oi! Why does everyone take her side? You don’t even have all the facts.”
“Fine, what were the facts?”
There’s a pause. “I may have called her a moon on a stick. But she deserved it!” he defends himself, and Alex rolls her eyes. “But that’s not what I called for, anyway. When are you back in town?”
Alex pulls at a particular stubborn weed and frowns. “What’s today?”
Matt snorts. “It’s Thursday.”
“Three days, then. We get back Sunday morning.”
“Brilliant! Lunch? My place?”
“You’re cooking?” she says sceptically, and Matt huffs.
“I’m a brilliant cook, I’ll have you know. Just never have time for it.”
“All right, then. Lunch it is. Salome—”
“—is more than welcome, obviously,” he cuts in. “Besides, I miss your better half.”
Alex smiles. “Alright, then. One o’clock all right?”
“Perfect.” There’s a commotion in the background, and Matt sighs. “I’ve got to go back. Three hours til freedom.”
“Good luck, darling.”
“See you soon, Kingston.”
He hangs up, and Alex stares at her phone for a long moment, torn between worry and elation that she just can't seem to say no to that man. A smile fights its way onto her face, and she gives up, determined, at least for the moment, to be happy with what she's got.