by Stephen Greenwood

Rating: PG-13 for the odd nod to colourful language and references to sexual situations; a light R at most
Spoilers: Set after 2x04 and before 2x05, but the location at the beginning of 2x05 is mentioned several times
Disclaimer: Todd Carr wanted to direct the movie but I said he'd have to speak to Tom Kapinos and Showtime's lawyers first

Thank you to memories-child for the fast and insightful beta.

Summary: He supposes he should feel bitter at her rejection, should start to cook up those truly horrendous insults he throws like punches, but apathy is stronger.

Hank feels the noose tightening around his neck. The ground beneath his feet is unstable, the trapdoor ready to open up and drop him into another pit of melancholic-tinged confusion which always makes him nostalgic. He was plunged into despair hours ago, so at least that's one less surprise to worry about. There have been too many for one evening. He doesn't care about tomorrow's impending hangover, although when the time and the headache/nausea two-for-one deal arrive he'll probably feel differently, but for now it's easier to disregard it completely. Pretending is an art form, denial not so much, and being a master at both is moot for they negate each other (Newton's Third Law: to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It doesn't help to have two of the same, except perhaps in poker, but life isn't a game to be won through hands and chips). So instead of his usual defence mechanisms, he turns to straight whisky in order to forget, to numb his nerve endings so maybe they won't hurt any more. Short of curling into the foetal position under Lew's questionably-hygienic sheets and refusing to surface for a week, he doesn't know what else to do.

He supposes he should feel bitter at her rejection, should start to cook up those truly horrendous insults he throws like punches, but apathy is stronger and the only moves he makes are those necessary to refill his glass. He'll soon cut out the middleman and drink straight from the bottle; maybe it would work better to inject, to abuse his body through the subway of veins and arteries instead of flushing the system the usual way. He is one step closer to the elusive cider-from-a-paper-bag status and he thinks about finding a bench and the booze just for the symbolism, but sitting in the dark and feeling sorry for himself sounds like a better course of action to his alcohol-fuddled brain. Besides, attempting to leave the room would inevitably result in a swarm of Ashby's drones trying to drag him back to their lairs, an insect trapped in a spider's web. If there was ever a time he wanted to be alone, this is it.

Yet his thoughts keep him company, running unbridled on an unmanned production line. She is his keystone and his crumbling foundations. His knockout punch and his Achilles heel. His refreshing drink of water and his poison apple. He snorts to himself at the ridiculousness of his metaphors and wonders how he ever managed to convince a publisher to give him a shot at the bestsellers list. At least nowadays he only has to work at impressing Oprah; the sheep follow in their own time. Or they would if he actually wrote anything.

But Karen has his words. She keeps them locked in a box and wears the key around her neck. It hangs over her heart, and although he sees her flaws he is blind to them and suspects she is the answer to life, the universe, and everything (Douglas Adams obviously hadn't met Karen when he wrote his masterpiece). Mother of his child and his novels, keeper of his heart and soul, Hank knows her as his liberator and his lifeline, his link to a world in which many have abandoned him and the rest have long given up hope on any kind of salvation. He tried to save himself, to save them all, but instead his proposal brought about the Apocalypse. The four Horsemen are called Regret, Longing, Gin, and Tonic. Maybe the rest of Hell-A can sleep easy in their beds but for three New York transplantees the night is long and time holds its breath. There is no comfort in this darkness, the kind that lingers long after daybreak; it is a raincloud over their heads, a broken lightbulb in an isolation tank. He prays for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a light at the end of the tunnel that won't be a train ready to knock him down just as soon as he's picked himself up and dusted himself off. He knows that prayers are just whispers in the wind.

Depression, he thinks, is hitting rock bottom and knowing the dirt from the hole you've dug is going to start piling up on top of you any minute.

Hank knows he is being overly dramatic but he is on his own and thinking purely to himself, so who cares? Contrary to popular belief, he doesn't like the sound of his own voice enough to speak aloud to an otherwise-empty room. He believes he is justified, given the evening he's had. After all, it's not every day his dreams of a stable future are shown the door. Unrequited love can be a real bitch. But it's not even that, not really, because he knows she loves him in her own fickle, neurotic way; unconditional love is reserved for sons and daughters. It's annoying as hell, trying to stay within her invisible boundaries without knowing where the line is, and that's probably why he crosses it so much. I'm not attempting to change you, he wants to tell her, so why do you want to change me? You do that and I won't be the man you fell in love with.

They used to argue about things like that all the time. He remembers the raised voices, the doors slamming, the angry hand gestures and inflamed tones intended to prod and provoke. They burned each other deliberately, peeling off layers like onions to see whose skin was thicker. There is no malice and while they may have signed an invisible peace treaty, another party is still at risk. It is Becca he feels for the most. She used to hunker down in her room like it was a bomb shelter, which was appropriate considering they were at war, but now she faces the situation with the maturity of someone who is neither of them (he wonders where she got it from; surely it can't be his side of the family). He oscillates between worrying about her constantly and being certain she'll be fine. He hopes that, in ten years' time, she'll be spilling her heart to him instead of some Freudian quack who thinks that following the Satanic bible and dressing in black means she is unconsciously grieving for her repressed sexual love for him (he isn't sure he wants to analyse that any further, even if it is only hypothetical). Becca never gives up on him, no matter what, and it brings a lump to his throat to remember the wisdom and acceptance in her words: you tried your best.

All that work and he still feels like a failure. Too much time and effort has been spent striving to fix the past; hope lies with the future and his ability to sculpt it. Hank is no architect – he has proven that tonight, attempting to lay suitable foundations on a demolition site – but he only hopes he can build something bigger, something better, something to eclipse all Karen's (ever-changing) expectations so that maybe, just maybe, she can see his heart is in the right place and she can forgive him his trespasses. He hates their song-and-dance routine; they are the Fred and Ginger of the will-they-won't-they tango but nobody wins awards for failing to take the plunge and go all-in.

Raucous laughter erupts from upstairs. Such a juxtaposition, Hugh Hefner-wannabe Lew living the American dream with Botox-enhanced fakes while Hank chooses to keep company with Jack Daniels on a couch that's seen better days. He is surrounded by bottles, Lew's liquid version of a Last Supper, and an old blanket that looks like it will itch is a pile of plucked fabric by his side, tossed there as an afterthought. It is a far cry from the bigwig lifestyle Hank had imagined when they first moved across the country. He'd had dollar signs in his eyes, movie deals and book deals coming out of his ears; he'd seen a star on Hollywood Boulevard and his name immortalised, not only on the spines of novels but on the silver screen, too. It was purely selfish, his uprooting his family, and he knows that now.

He knows a lot more now.

Like the ice-cold shock at being told he's going to be a father again. Like the heavy weight of dread on his shoulders upon realising Karen knew as well. Like the agony of having his heart ripped in two.

Losing her was always going to send him on a downward spiral. Hank wonders when it first became that way, when need overtook want, and he could analyse every little moment to find the answer but that's a rocky road and one he is not prepared to travel down tonight. He could spend days immersed in 'what ifs' and 'if onlys', his rich imagination nurturing fertile seeds until he could almost believe they were real, but then his eyes would open and he would know he had never left Kansas after all.

And hell, if he can't have a fantasy life and his real one is down the toilet, he may as well numb the pain a little in a vain attempt to forget. He picks up a half-empty (not half-full) bottle of vodka and twists the cap. Oh, it's going to hurt tomorrow like Satan himself has gone to work on him, but right now it seems like fair penance and it slides down his throat easily enough to persuade him to take another gulp. It is a preposterous notion that alcohol will solve all his problems but it doesn't stop him trying. He should stop, he knows he should, because he wants to be on his best behaviour when he sees Karen next and he'll certainly live up to his name if he's got the world's worst hangover when that happens.

I'm such a fucking mess, he thinks, and pulls a cigarette from his pocket like it is a magic wand that can cure his ails. He thought he had been doing well until this little late-night bender, had been showcasing his newfound maturity with pride, but all it took was one hit and he'd fallen off the wagon. Back to the booze and the cigarettes and the nameless women (well, two out of three ain't bad). Hank sighs and blows a stream of smoke toward the ceiling. He's better than this. He deserves a break. He's fucking William Wallace commanding his troops to fight for the good of the country, except this isn't a battle for freedom; it's a battle for salvation and redemption and for what he knows is right and true and just. He may not be a white knight but he thinks – he knows – they can save each other from themselves and forge a semi-decent life in the middle of Silicon Valley.

He stubs out the butt and curls up on Lew's couch, pulling the blanket over himself, now too buzzed to care about whose DNA might be hiding in the fabric. Tomorrow he'll formulate a plan to win her back; he's done it so many times it's almost second nature. He'll smile and say he's fine even though it's akin to torture, and nobody will know what a troubled soul he is. He's so used to wearing a mask he thinks it might be stuck to his skin. The world's no stage but Hank's a bit-part actor with a flawed, unfinished script, and tomorrow he'll start writing the rest. He'll talk to her and spend time with her and maybe, if he's lucky, actually touch her. It will be a long process full of unexpected twists and turns, if his life is anything to go by, yet he is willing to put on that brave façade and fight for her, motivated by the pangs of longing he feels stronger than any hunger or thirst. Tomorrow will come soon enough, and perhaps his heroic ideas will vanish with the darkness, but tonight he believes true love can conquer all.

And that they'll get their happy ending.