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Author's Note: samantha2074 in the Yuletide 2004 Challenge. This story is set after "Grossberg's Return" and references events in both that episode, and "Deities."
by Tara LJC O'Shea
Theora winced in sympathy as she pressed the alcohol-soaked swab to Edison's cut lip. It was already starting to swell, and he tried to shy away from the sting.
"Hold still," she said sternly.
"If I'm very good, will I get a lolly?"
Sometimes at Network XXIII, Theora felt far too much like Wendy to a bunch of lost boys. At least Bryce hadn't been involved in the fracas as the open-air restaurant, as unlike Murray, Edison and herself, he had been immune from Cheviot's 3am wake-up call which had started the whole ugly ball rolling. Following the telelection that had ended both Simon Peller and Harriet Garth's careers, all three of them had gotten into a brawl with that smug bastard Kurstler and his Network 66 cronies.
Nursing a black eye, and convinced two of his teeth were loose, Murray had ordered Theora and Edison to go home and get some rest. However, Theora hadn't much felt like heading back to her apartment—which she was sure by now would in fact be empty. She suspected there would be flowers and a note waiting for her. The note would undoubtedly include—either outright, or hinted at—the question of when she might be free for dinner (or breakfast) in the near future, and that was a question she had no desire to currently answer.
For the moment she preferred Edison's loft at Barclays Apartments, with its unmade bed, and television still tuned—she noted with some amusement—to Network 66 beneath a blanket.
It was no secret that Edison despised Simon Peller. She wasn't too fond of him herself, having barely escaped his penthouse condo at Sybaris with her virtue intact when he'd taken it into his head to arrest innocent Blanks out in the fringes. She wondered what Ben Cheviot would say, if he knew Edison had voted for the opposition. Then again, that point was moot for now. The events of the early morning had left long-shot dark horse Juan Rivers suddenly voted into power, as almost three million TV sets clicked to him, simply to get away from the lies and scandal.
"Here." Theora handed Edison an ice-pack—one of several in his freezer, which did not surprise her for a moment, given his contractual obligation to be punched out on-camera at least twice a year. They sat on the end of his un-made bed, despite the fact that there was a perfectly serviceable couch just a few steps away.
"Ooooh, an ice lolly." He pressed it against his mouth, wincing. "You know, this isn't the sort of 'playing doctor' I'd envisioned, once upon a time."
"Then next time, you might want to think about not letting the other guy hit you." She smiled, glad to see his good humour restored enough that he could flirt outrageously with her. Without an audience, even.
"Speaking of hitting people..." He reached down to stroke the back of her right hand lightly with a fingertip. "How's your hand?"
"Sore," she said, allowing him to inspect her bruised and reddened knuckles. "I don't get to hit people very often. I don't know how you manage it, week in and week out."
"Usually, I get by on my charm." He smiled winningly behind the ice-pack. "Violence is always a last resort."
"Yes, well, I apparently need more practice." She flexed her fingers cautiously, making a face.
"I'm sure that guy from 66 doesn't think so. I think Murray was seriously impressed by your right cross. I know I was."
"He's an old friend."
Edison frowned in confusion. "The guy from 66?"
"Ah." Edison stared down at his shoes. An uncomfortable silence stretched between them, and she could hear the muted opening theme of Porky's Landing from the television. "Theora, you don't have to—"
"Yes, I think I do." She took a deep breath, and then decided to just say it—straight out, no prevarication, no more lying to herself or him. "As angry as I was this morning, I can see as how I really have no right to criticise, when it comes to prying. It was wrong of me to ask Max about your relationship with Vanna Smith."
"Information Max was all too eager to provide," Edison said wryly as he set the ice-pack down, and massaged his jaw.
"Max can't help himself," she clarified. "I ought to know better."
Edison merely shrugged.
"Sometimes our baser natures get the better of us. No matter our intentions. Like, when, for example, one accesses a friend's personal and private telemail logs, even though one knows one ought not to," he said with deliberate care. "You have every right to a private life, and I acted like an ass."
"Yes, you did," she said, softening it as much as she could with a smile. "Still, I interfered with your private life, and was a bit of an ass about it as well, all things considered."
"Why Miss Jones—was than an apology? To little old me?" He batted his eyelashes.
"You know what they say about people living in glass houses..."
"That you shouldn't walk around naked?" he quipped. "I dunno if I'd mind. Judging from what I've seen thus far, I bet the view is spectacular."
He let his eyes drift over her form appreciatively, and Theora punched him on the shoulder, no force behind the blow.
"Edison, I'm serious."
"So am I." His tone changed from teasing to guileless. He ran his hand through his thinning hair. "Even with the way it ended, it wasn't your fault. You were just trying to save me from myself. And I was allowing my personal feelings to interfere with a story."
"I didn't give a damn about the story," she admitted. "I give a damn about you."
He curled his fingers around hers. "The damn-giving is mutual."
"Good to know where we stand," she said softly.
A burst of static from the television alerted them both to the presence of an univited guest.
"Well—well—well I'm glad you two are clear," came Max's voice, muffled by the blanket still pulled over the screen. "But how about explaining it to the rest—the rest—of us?"
Edison leaned back, body braced on one elbow, and tugged the blanket free. Theora shifted her weight, one leg drawn up beneath her, so she could see over Edison's shoulder. She couldn't suppress a smile as Max mugged at them from the screen.
"Max," Edison drawled. "What have I told you about eavesdropping?"
"That it builds character?"
Max squinted. "That it prevents plaque build-up?"
"That you're not supposed to do it in my apartment."
Max huffed as Edison threw the blanket over the screen once more and turned back to her. Half-sprawled on the bed, they were so close his breath stirred her hair.
"So where do we stand?" Theora asked, watching his face closely. She could feel the warmth of his leg pressed against hers, and his arm where it brushed her elbow. She could simply move away—break contact. But she didn't.
The first few months they'd known each other, rumours had raged like wildfire all over Network XXIII about star reporter Carter and his pretty new ace Controller. Theora had overheard a few of them, and if Martinez and Angie Shaw thought their little pool had escaped her notice, they should learn never to hide anything in the network mainframe. Not where Max could find it, anyway. Even Murray had been convinced they had something going on the side, and had been genuinely shocked when Theora told him their relationship was strictly professional.
The truth was, from the moment they'd met, there had been something between them. Edison had tested her at first, to make certain as a Controller she was worthy of his respect. But the fact that he'd found her attractive had never been in question. She gave as good as she got, and it had become something of a game. But she had always been careful to draw boundaries between her professional and private lives. No matter how beneficial to her career Murray might see a liaison with the Network's top reporter, she had never crossed that line. Neither had Edison.
After today, neither of them could pretend that the flirting was harmless. Too much harm had been done for that fiction to be maintained.
"Still on the precipice, I think," Edison said after a long moment. "Between the sheer cliff wall, and the open air."
"Ah." Theora sighed, cupping her chin in her hand. "I wondered why this felt so familiar."
Edison reached up to trace her bottom lip with his thumb. "You know... we could always step off the ledge."
Possibility hung in the air between them, almost tangible. She thought again about the potential flowers and theoretical note waiting for her in her flat.
"I don't know. It's a long way down."
It was a close to the line as she dared travel, and she held her breath, waiting to see if he would step across it.
"Or we could just stay here," he said softly, eyes travelling the room, then finally coming to rest on her face again.
She raised a brow. "And admire the view?"
His smile was warm. "It is breathtaking."