Title: Love Looks Not
Author: Vesper (Regina)
Rated: T (some mild innuendo, adult themes)
Category: Angst, Romance
Characters: Henry/Betty, guest appearances by Marc, Amanda, and some very nasty forgettable OFCs.
Spoilers: The Box and the Bunny; The Lyin', The Watch, and The Wardrobe; Secretaries' Day
Series: The Course of True Love
Summary: He's not alone in this. He never was.
Disclaimer: Ugly Betty is the property of Silent H Productions, Reveille and Ventanarosa, and Touchstone Television. Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters are property of The Discovery Channel. The Master and Commander series is written by Patrick O'Brian. The story is mine.
Website: If you wish to archive, please link to my website, or my Livejournal post. Please keep all my headers intact.
Notes: My apologies for the angst; I hope the ending makes up for it. This is written completely from Henry's perspective. I'll be writing Betty's side as a sequel.
Beta-Reader Acknowledgements: Thanks to Lylsister (aka misao-incarnate on for finding all the commas that ran away and encouraging me to extend the ending, to MaddieStJ for valuable advice on re-writing a certain part in that ending, and to viva los angeles for pointing out a line that needed cutting and some character reactions that needed fine-tuning.
Dedication: For SpiceandNice, whose interpretation of Henry's character is an inspiration. Also for D., my Henry.
Love looks not with the eyes,
but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind...
--A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare, Act I, Scene 1
Betty breaks up with him, after nine months of what he thought was pure bliss. Breaks up. That phrase has less to do with what she does and more with how he feels. What he feels is better served by another, more hurtful cliché--she dumps him. Hard.
Oh, she tries to be gentle about it. She gives him that look--the one he's been familiar with since college. While some girls were cruel and others simply scorned him with blasé contempt, the ones that always hurt the most were those who tried to be kind.
She gives him that look and says the words that, despite being trite and cliché, are more than enough to strike fear into any man--"We need to talk." But, unlike any man, by that point he's so foolishly secure to think that this time there is more of a future than he's ever had before.
So he's stunned when she starts talking, unable to say anything as he listens to her talk, to everything she says. He's heard it all before, more times than he cares to remember. He reflects on, that, if called upon, he could probably recite each and every reason and each comes with its own phrase.
"It's not you, it's me."
"I like you, I really do, I'm just not ready..."
And the worst, the one, oh, the one that always touches emotions so bitter and so deep inside him that he never tries to think about them--"We can still be friends, right?"
He listens and he wants to protest, to fight every reason with one of his own, as loudly as possible, not to snap at her like a wounded animal does, because that's not him and never will be. No matter how much it hurts.
At some point he ceases to hear what she's really saying, only getting the point--somehow it went wrong and he knows nothing he can say will change that. All he wants now is to be away, not to have to look at her because, oh, she's beautiful and he loves her, and if he can't have her, then this really is better over.
She looks at him like she feels better for having said all she has and he--more fool he--he tries not to show exactly how heart-broken he is. She says, "I think, I think I just need time."
He says, and he's surprised at how calm he sounds, "Time, time for what?" And then it hits him, right before she answers, "Time to think about us. To get my head straight."
He almost says no, because he's been down this road before and it's shoddy treatment. There are limits and some things should never be asked, even as obliquely as this. But he stops himself, not even sure if this is something he wants to do to himself, again. To wait for something that might never come to pass. To let someone he loves make this much of a fool of him again.
He's not really sure why he nods, a silent acceptance of all she's said and then answers, "Okay." He nods again, and adds, "If this is what you want."
She nods and says, "I'm sorry," but it's mean comfort.
He nods again, this time not trusting his voice. He leaves her with a curious mix of relief and guilt resting on her face. As he walks away, he closes his eyes, briefly, and if he can feel them burn with unshed tears he'll never tell her.
Time passes. He's both excruciatingly aware and oblivious of it. His world narrows to work and home and he wouldn't be able to tell you anything specific about those few weeks, except for the overwhelming cloud of misery. He tries hard not to think because if he allows himself to examine and analyze this he's sure he'll call her up and tell her in no uncertain terms that he's changed his mind, that this time is the last time and, God forgive him, but he won't allow himself to do that.
So he waits and waits, putting aside thoughts about the dreams and plans he had, and about what waiting says about him. He's tried so hard, all of his life and he's sick and tired of trying to attain the impossible.
He sees her, of course; it's unavoidable. The first time they catch each other's gaze, after, it sends a peculiar shock of shame through him and it takes a massive force of effort to not look at her. She looks no less like home to him and he thinks, 'That's why. That's why I'm a fool.' He buries himself in numbers and spreadsheets for the rest of the day and when he comes up for air it's past nine o'clock and the throb of pain in his head is like a lance through one eye.
He goes home and only wakes up enough the next day to call in sick. He really shouldn't because the week after next is the annual audit and he can't afford to sacrifice the time, but the thought of facing the world, and possibly Betty, makes his gut twist. He pulls the covers over his head and sleeps through the better part of the morning and early afternoon and his first thought when he wakes up is, 'This is depression.'
He makes himself get out of bed, shower and dress, and then he cleans. Everything. So that it's spotless and gleaming and lined up in neat rows. When he's done, he makes himself a corned beef sandwich and a glass of chocolate milk and sits down to finish reading H.M.S Surprise.
It's nearly eight when his phone rings. He lets the machine pick up. The long silence after his message makes him look up, place his book face-down on the arm of his chair. When Betty's voice comes through, soft and tentative, he stands up, knocking the book off, and he listens as she says, "Are you okay, Henry? They told me you called in sick." Another long pause and he reaches down for the book, closing it and sinking back down into his chair. She clears her throat and adds, "You don't have to call me back. I'm sorry to bother you, I just--I'm sorry. I shouldn't have called. Goodbye, Henry. Take care of yourself, okay?"
He sits, holding the book, for a long time. He can't remember what page he was on, so he puts it aside and goes to bed.
The next day he hears the peculiar slapping sound of a pair of high-heeled dress sandals stop at his cubicle, and he looks up to see Amanda, one hand on the side of his office and the other on her hip. She raises an eyebrow and drawls, "Hi there, Henry."
The come-on in her voice throws him, but he stammers, "I, uh, is there something--" She leans forward, and he stops talking, because she drops the come-hither attitude and is suddenly more serious than he's ever seen her.
She says, "She's just confused, Henry. Confused and scared."
He struggles to say something, anything, but she turns, casts a dazzling smile over her shoulder and says, "Of course, you're enough to turn any girl's head."
He feels his mouth drop open, as he listens to the slap-click of her shoes leaving and it's as though any sensible thought has decided to pack up and vacation in Tahiti.
He goggles at it for the rest of the morning, and thanks to it, it passes fairly quickly. He can't pretend he isn't flattered by Amanda's flirtatious comment, though it's tempered by the fact that Amanda pretty much flirts with anyone. He vacillates between the novelty of that and the unexpectedness of her other, more confounding statement. Of anyone to plead Betty's case, he would have expected Christina, maybe, or even Daniel Meade, both much closer to Betty. Amanda, however...
He finds himself shaking his head over it even at lunch. He wonders how he didn't notice any of what Amanda's obviously seen. He doesn't remember seeing any signs of confusion or any unease of Betty's. Even when they broke up, he saw none of that.
He's halfway through the pickle that came with his sandwich, when he realizes that the ever-present misery he's been living with is muted. He isn't sure exactly what changed, only that it no longer hurts as much to take the memory of their break-up out and look at it, truly look at it, instead of carefully sequestering it. It stings, yes, and it brings with it a sour taste, although, on second thought, that's probably the aftertaste of the pickle. A corner of his mouth quirks up into a bitter smirk at that.
He hears someone hiss, "There you are." Henry looks up and the first thing he thinks is, 'What--is my misery that attractive?' and the second is, 'Please, not Marc, too!'
Whatever gods there might be plainly are not listening to him, because Marc drops into the chair across him and announces, "Mandy owes me cheesecake for doing this."
Henry can't resist asking, "What, exactly?" in a tone that just borders snide.
Marc crosses his legs elegantly and leans back against the chair, giving the distinct impression that he's already bored. He says, "'Encouraging you'." He removes all doubt from Henry's mind about that not being a direct quote from Amanda by waggling his fingers for the air quotes. It's just tacky enough that Henry almost smiles.
He says, with a little more charity, "And what do you get out of this, besides the cheesecake?"
Marc leans forward, saying, "Listen, we have a vested interest in keeping Betty happy, because Betty happy is Marc and Amanda happy. She can make our days utter--what?" Marc asks, interrupting himself as Henry raises an eyebrow.
"Yes, Betty!" Marc snaps.
Henry smiles. Marc, unaware, continues, "Our little Latina can get in a seriously foul mood when she isn't happy. And she hasn't been happy in what, two and a half weeks, now, right?"
Marc leans back again, swiping a leftover french fry from Henry's tray.
Henry looks down, to see that somehow he's shredded his paper napkin into a neat pile of fragments. He swallows, then sweeps them off the table and drops them onto his tray. He says, "I don't know what your idea of encouragement is, Marc, but that isn't it."
He looks up to see Marc giving him a singular, understanding look of pity.
Marc says, "Yes, well. Let me try again. Buck up there. It's obvious to anyone with two good eyes in their head that you two are M.F.E.O." Henry gives Marc an incredulous look. Marc responds by saying, "Spare me. Like you don't know what M.F.E.O. is. Made for each other." He punctuates each word of the phrase with thrusts of his french fry, and then adds, "That good enough for you?"
Henry nods, fighting against the insane urge to laugh at the fact that M.F.E.O. is still apparently in Marc's parlance.
Marc stands up, leans over, placing both hands on the table, and says, "You tell Betty anything about this and what happened to her bunny will look like child's play."
He leaves then, sashaying away.
Henry blinks, convinced that this day will go down in his memory as the weirdest day ever and quite possibly the most enlightening.
He heads back to his office, walking absent-mindedly around people. Safely ensconced again he pieces together the hints that Marc and Amanda's comments have given him and the glimpse it gives him of what those two and a half weeks have been like for Betty is even more eye-opening.
He's not alone in this. He never was.