here we are in our shared air
that speaks in tongues, and lisps
falls right at the corner of your lips.
and yes, I am, I'm aware
like the winding string that binds your hair
I will be undone by your hands.
It had been almost a week since Tim's fateful encounter at the pub, and, although his body had mostly healed, his turmoil remained.
It had been a bit tricky at first, manoeuvring about the flat. There wasn't much wrong with his legs, but until the aching in his head subsided he had fuck all for balance. He steadied himself on anything within reach: the table, the couch, chairs, walls, doorknobs, and, on one unfortunate occasion, Daisy, sending the both of them crashing to the floor (she hadn't been expecting his sudden weight). Tim was always willing to indulge in a good sit down, or lie down, or just generally be indolent in one fashion or another, but he did so by choice. By the second day of enforced inactivity, he was bloody tired of not being able to roll over without touching off another headache.
On the third day he had unwittingly created a diplomatic incident when, after stumbling out of bed in the dead of night, he'd stepped directly on a ballistic knife that Mike had left for him in case of attack from any theoretical opposing force (crippled as Tim was, Mike, in his paranoia, apparently felt his friend needed a little something extra). The spring-propelled blade shot out of his room, embedded in the wall with a thud, and left him flailing until he fell face first into Daisy's door with a surprised shout. The ensuing chaos — involving the entire house and much yelling — resulted in a sulking Mike after a weapons ban had been issued by Daisy and ratified by Marsha. Tim would have interceded to smooth things over, but after struggling up off the floor and extricating himself from the ongoing row, he had hobbled his way over to the loo before he wet himself.
On the fifth day, he had felt a lot better. His dizziness had subsided over the previous couple days and he was left with the aches. He stretched out by wandering through the flat, eliciting sympathy with his groans and halting motions. He also scored some neck rubs from Daisy as she attempted to work out the knots left by his ordeal. Initially, the contact was simple, soothing bliss, a balm for his intermittent agony. By the time he was feeling more like himself, he was purposefully moaning in the hopes of getting another massage, because, well, he was sort of getting off on it. She was touching him and he had her full attention. What more could a bloke want, really (it was not a rhetorical question; he pondered the possibilities frequently)?
By the end of the week he was upright and feeling well enough, so long as he kept his facial expressions mild. As a side effect of this, no one seemed to be able to tell how he felt about anything. Mike trailed off into awkward silences as he waited for Tim to react to what had been said, whilst Daisy stared, scrutinising him for the slightest emotional clue. Tim quite liked being unreadable. He should do it more often. It was an enormous conversational advantage.
Especially, as the case was, when it came to Daisy. He was studying her, and had been for the duration of his down time. He hid behind his enforced impassivity and watched the play of emotions flicker across her open face. He was looking for something, even if he wasn't entirely sure what that was. In the process, he noticed a few things.
First off, Daisy was pretty. And, yeah, he'd known that before, in a general sort of way, and he'd always found her attractive. But his addiction to pop culture had created a very generalised, Hollywood-specific way of thinking about beautiful women. When he thought of a really pretty girl, he thought about Buffy, or Agent Scully. TV-pretty, classically beautiful, women who looked perfect in every scene because there were thirty people just off camera ensuring that pulchritude was bolstered by just the right lighting and make up. So, sure, Daisy was attractive, in a relatable style. But watching her so closely led him to discover how pretty she was in an entirely new manner. Her originative expressions, her bright eyes and her golden hair… Tim was starting to take issue with the way his past self had found her attractiveness to be 'unconventional', a nicer way of saying 'unexceptional'. Daisy's allure was neither of those things. Oh, and she had some brilliant tits. He'd already known that, but it was worth reconfirming.
Secondly, he thought that maybe he hadn't been paying enough attention to her before. She seemed to notice that his focus was so tightly lensed upon her, and she responded with smiles and a happy aura that manifested through an upbeat attitude that was loquacious for even her garrulous nature. She talked to him when he couldn't talk back, confided in him when he was half-asleep. It made him feel a bit guilty, actually. Clearly he hadn't been giving her enough of his time, and while he didn't think he would ever give her as much as she seemed to want (like it or not, he was somewhat insular), he could step it up a bit. She obviously enjoyed not having to compete for his attention or work to grab it.
And lastly, he'd discovered that she was more attached to him than he'd previously considered. When she'd turned down a job offer to return to Meteor Street, that had been a sure sign of what she considered to be her home. But, even then, he'd thought about it more in the sense of her affection for the flat. She belonged on Meteor Street, with Marsha and Brian and Mike, and the allure of a place where she was accepted remained a beacon stronger than even the best job offer. She had only tried to leave when she'd thought that all those bonds were broken beyond repair. With some last minute effort they'd managed to fix it, and she'd flown back to the roost with him. It was the 'with him' part he'd never put much thought into. Now, Daisy's words from a week ago rang in his memory, shouting at him for ever daring to want to leave. For considering Sarah again, even if only briefly. To her, it hadn't been the loss of a flatmate. It had been the abandonment of a friend. And it was astounding to think of how badly she wanted him to be at Meteor Street with her (and equally striking to realise how much he wanted to be there with her).
He'd never stopped to think about how dating Sophie might affect life in the flat. It was only afterwards, through the weathering of time and trauma, that he could flip it around and have an inkling of what it would be like if Daisy found some other bloke to fill her time.
It was not a pleasant possibility to consider.
But it wasn't like either of them were cut out for a life of celibacy. Sooner or later, one or both of them would find someone else to date; and, as the information he had mentally gathered attested, that wouldn't work very well. It hadn't worked very well. Which left two obvious solutions: they could split apart, bear the pain and attempt to rebuild elsewhere…
So it was that Mike's words had been weighing heavily on Tim. Because after a week's worth of intensive soul-searching and evidence compiling, he had been able to create enough objectivity to conclude that yes, Tim Bisley did indeed love Daisy Steiner, and that deep set feeling would need only a slight encouragement to grow. He loved her as much as a person could love a friend, and had been standing on the precipice of falling in love with her for long enough that he couldn't be certain he hadn't already. It was something worth exploring. But he couldn't do that by himself.
The other half of the equation was more difficult. The week of observations might have settled a thing or two on his end, but despite his best efforts in interpretation, he still wasn't sure how Daisy felt about him.
Oh, he was aware enough of the layers. She treated him with easy affection, open friendship, the comfortable intimacy of a long-term flatmate. That had been true since not long after they had first met. Now, after two years, she was jealous of his time and his attentions; she treated other women who were interested in him (not that there were many) with barely disguised antipathy — it was so obvious in hindsight that he felt rather stupid. Not exactly platonic behaviour, but even as Tim was getting some of the downsides of having a girlfriend, he wasn't getting any of the benefits.
Whatever else might be happening behind Daisy's expressive eyes remained a mystery. She had a tendency to wear her heart on her sleeve, but Tim had never been the best interpreter of its shifting contours. His choices would have been simple enough if he weren't so terrified of mucking up their friendship again. He'd just ridden a battlebot to stop her from fleeing; between that and the tank, he was running low on bloody spectacular gestures to bring back the women in his life.
So just watching helped. But… He was going to have to talk to her. And that was usually the point at which everything went wrong. He knew his strengths, and emotional dialogue wasn't anywhere near being one of them. And given the rate at which Daisy had progressed as a pop culture protégé, he didn't think he could steal something heartfelt from a movie and get away with it. Not that anything came to mind, really. His tastes trended violent, not romantic.
Opening his mouth seemed dangerous enough that he felt like he should keep it shut to prevent any further damage. Maybe she would approach him first. But… Hadn't she? She was the reason his face was still a bit blotchy and his knuckles hurt. That hadn't been the intended goal of her urgings, of course. But she had already made the attempt to bring them back together again after they had come so close to separation. She was the architect of their return to comfortable proximity. And Tim? He was the bloke who dragged his heels out of principle more than anything. He was the one who was better off shutting up.
It just didn't seem like an option any more. He would be content enough to allow their relationship to evolve naturally — if that's what it was doing — had he a clue as to the form of that evolution when it came to her end of things. But he didn't, or if he did he was too inept to see it. He'd more or less let it go for a week out of respect for his injuries, and now it was time to do something.
He was so afraid of upsetting a balance that, until it had been dramatically illustrated by recent events, he had never realised was so fragile.
Tim's mind raced with so many conflicting impulses that it was affecting his work. He was already having a hard time on the drawing board — his hands remained uncooperative. He'd been drawing for so long that he'd never really appreciated his own dexterity until he had lost it. The Bear was smashing through a plate glass window, blood streaming from his wounds, and Tim couldn't get the shape of The Bear's muzzle quite right. It looked like he was about to sneeze, not suffering lacerations. The distinction was driving Tim spare.
There was a knock at the door, disrupting Tim's mounting frustration. He set his tools aside and started to push himself to his feet, but the door swung open and Marsha breezed in after that single, cursory knock. Tim slumped back onto the couch, sighing.
"'Lo," Marsha burbled, floating over towards the chairs. "Are you working?"
"I was," Tim said with a touch of reprimand, though he knew she would never pick up on it.
There was a deep thunk as Marsha set one of her apparently infinite wine bottles on the table. "Drawing anything excitin'?"
"Well, yeah. See, The Bear has just foiled a bank robbery, but he has to escape so he's going through the window while—"
"Sounds gripping," Marsha absently interrupted. "Is Daisy in?"
It took Tim a moment to leave the high-stakes world of The Bear and mentally retrieve the answer for Marsha. "…No? Uh, no, she's not. She went… Out."
Tim turned back to his drawing board, expecting Marsha to stagger back upstairs since Daisy wasn't there to gossip. It wasn't like Tim was a source of small talk, and Marsha usually knew better than to try and engage him at length. But, after taking a few more stabs at The Bear's muzzle (it was still wrong!), Tim paused and glanced to his left again. Marsha was still there, sipping at her glass and watching him with an unnervingly direct stare.
Tim stared back for a moment. "…Did you need something?" he asked, hoping she would take the hint.
"Feeling better?" Marsha said, breezily ignoring the question.
"More or less."
"How's the hand?" She nodded towards the appendage still gripping one of his drafting pens.
"Still a bit stiff."
"Hmmm," she hummed non-committally.
Tim felt like he was being graded on a test he hadn't known he was taking. He tried to look away from Marsha, but her stare burned against the side of his head, eating away at his concentration. He couldn't work while she was just sitting there, sipping away at her wine and watching him like he was on display. His pen traced over the same lines, creasing them into the paper. His right leg began to bounce.
"Marsha," he said tersely, turning to her again, "what—"
"Are you going out again tonight?" she said abruptly.
"Again?" Tim repeated. He had barely been out of the house for the entire week. Perhaps, now that Tim was more mobile, Mike was pushing for clubbing again. "Did Mike say something?"
"I thought you might pop out with Daisy, now that you're well," Marsha lazily replied.
It seemed a lot like Marsha was fishing for an invite. Well, Tim wasn't going to cooperate (not that he even had an invite to give her) "We don't have any plans."
"That's a shame." The wisps of smoke from her cigarette twined sinuously around her head, catching the light. She looked like she should have been an extra in The Maltese Falcon. "I reckoned you might have thought about what I said."
Tim set down his drafting pen with more force than necessary, hoping to broadcast his irritation. "Marsha, you know I really like you and consider you a friend, so, as a friend, I have to tell you that the whole cryptic sensei thing you're doing isn't quite working—"
"I told you she loved you, you pillock!" Marsha burst out, glaring at him.
He stared at her. "Who?"
"Daisy, you great prat! Now she's been coddling you all this time, and you're still being daft about it!"
"When did you say that?"
She squinted at him, suspicious. "You really don't remember?"
She appeared to be downright offended that he'd failed to remember. But he was tired of her getting all shirty with him for something he honestly could not recall. "No! Just tell me, all right, stop trying to be so mysterious!"
"The only mystery is what she sees in you," Marsha drawled, and, yeah, Tim knew that Daisy was closer to Marsha than he had ever been and if there were sides to be taken, Marsha was definitely not going to end up on his, but, wow. "Right out there, in the stairwell. Before we went to Daisy's party, you were telling me about the surprise. I thought you were being a right bastard, sneaking around with Sophie, but now I reckon you were talking about the cake."
Her words brought sudden clarity, the moment sifting upwards through muddle memories and recent bruising.
She loves you, that girl.
Bloody hell. He remembered that, all right. He also remembered that he'd asked if Daisy had actually proclaimed her love for him, and Marsha had said no, and that it was simply obvious. But had Marsha seen Daisy's supposed love for Tim hidden in Daisy's words and actions, or had Marsha only seen what her assumptions led her to see? Marsha had allowed them to rent the flat whilst believing that they were a couple, even though, as it had turned out, that hadn't been one of her requirements.
Tim wished they had known… Didn't he? Maybe not… The charade had cost a great deal, in the end, but the shared secret had also accelerated his bond with Daisy. Still, maybe things would have turned out more or less the same, even without the pretending. It wasn't like he had a DeLorean and a Flux Capacitor so he could go find out. Or any kind of car and a Flux Capacitor. But, really, it had to be a DeLorean.
"Starting to twig on, are ya," Marsha said, observing him from behind a wispy cloud of smoke.
"Yeaaaaah…" Tim drew the word out with chagrin.
Marsha picked up her bottle and pushed away from the table like a ship slipping out of dry dock, wobbly and sloshed. "Then my work is done," she said grandly, and swayed her way out the door, shutting it behind her.
"Shit," Tim said to no one.
That could have gone better. But if nothing else, he knew now more than ever that he had to say something; if only because if he didn't, Marsha would. And he would much rather Daisy understand where he was coming from, where his head was at, than eventually hear from Marsha that she was wasting her affections on Tim. If he had her affections.
Oh, God. He was going to have to talk about his feelings. And he was absolute rubbish at it, he knew he was. It was an immutable fact.
Didn't matter. It was that or risk the whole thing falling apart again. And he didn't think he could pull off the miracle of bringing her back twice in a row. Luck had its limits.
When Daisy came back to the flat, she found him sitting more or less where Marsha had left him and in more or less the exact same position of frozen internal reverie. He had a pen in his hand so ostensibly he could have been working, but the fact of the matter was he hadn't gotten a single bloody thing done since his encounter with his passive-aggressive landlady.
She sat down on the sofa next to him and studied his features quizzically. "What's wrong with you?" she said.
"Well I can't answer that honestly, now, can I?" he replied with a different kind of honesty.
"Bloody hell, I wouldn't," she immediately said.
"Right." Well, this was it. Doing something about all this was less torturous than doing nothing at all, as it turned out. "You just missed Marsha."
"Eh, that's all right. I'm feeling sober and good with it today, you know?"
"Yeah, no, she wasn't here for a drink. Sort of wished she were…" He could use one right about now. "So, I was drawing and she came in, and she said a few things to me that have me thinking."
"Sounds dangerous," she said, eyes alight with humour as she poked him in the side.
He had to laugh (and wince). "You have no idea. So I was… drawing, and we had a chat, and…" He trailed off, not at all certain where he was going with any of this.
"You were drawing…" she prompts him.
"Yeah, The Bear. But that's not important. Is this going well?" Tim asked casually even as his mind tied itself in knots.
Daisy shrugged. "Dunno."
"I am a bit shit at this."
"Hadn't noticed," Daisy said magnanimously.
"Right. Well, I wanted to talk about… feelings. My… feelings." The word came out of Tim's mouth like it was toffee stuck to his teeth, stubborn and unwelcome.
"Go on," Daisy prompted, a glimmer of anticipation in her eyes.
"I'm going," he said weakly. "Marsha pointed out a thing or two to me, some things that I stuffed up or missed out on, and…" God. Did he have to spell it out? Did he absolutely have to? "Look, all this that's been going on with us — your birthday, the train station, the park — I mean, there's a reason, yeah? And I want to think that's because of both of us, not just me, but I don't know for sure no matter what Marsha said, so we have to…"
"Clear the air," she suggests.
"That's it." He blew out a breath, steeled himself. "Daisy… I have feelings." He squeezed his eyes shut, railing against the entire universe that there was no way to rewind four seconds and not say something so banal. "That is, I have feelings for you. And they aren't just, you know, as a friend." He swallowed, and suddenly this was so fucking crucial on so many different layers that the right words came to him because they had to. "You are so important to me. You are so special to me, in so many ways, and I would be completely lost without you here. I hope you know that."
Tentatively, her hand reached out and found his. "Had a bit of an idea, when you rode a robot to get me," she said.
"Then it worked, didn't it," he said with fondness and something close to relief. "Do you think this could work, too?
"Well…" she said, leaning in closer to him, "…there's only one way to find out."
When their lips met, it was the fulfilment of so many unspoken promises that for a single second of nirvana, he transcended everything about life that dragged him so far down and he was lighter than fucking air.
It was overwhelming. He pulled away, and immediately felt like he had lost something.
Her eyes searched his face. "Too much?" she asked.
"Maybe we should, you know, take it slow. Sort of ease into it."
"So, kiss this week, snog next, sex in two, three tops?"
"Didn't we have sex before we kissed?"
"Not this time, Tim Bisley," Daisy told him in a smouldering sort of way, and he hadn't even known she could smoulder, but here they were.
"Can't blame a bloke for trying," he said, and leaned back in.
I have no words of apology great enough to explain why I decided to finish a story so many years after I clearly abandoned it. Luckily, there's no one left reading this, so I don't have to explain.
The fact of the matter is that I should never have published this story to begin with, as it was a single idea that was, to be perfectly honest, exhausted about halfway through the first chapter. Having run out of gas and long since lost my grasp on the voices of the characters, I stuttered to a halt and just never got going again. Over the years, I lost, to various changes and calamities, no less than three different versions of this last chapter. So that didn't help, either.
If there's anyone left out there who still cares, I know this aborted ending doesn't make up for the wait. But I hope you at least sort of liked it anyway.