(AND OTHER MISDEMEANOURS)
by Stephen Greenwood
Rating: PG-13 for the odd curse word
Spoilers: All of season three.
Disclaimer: I'm saving up to buy them off Tom Kapinos and Showtime.
Written for wasabi_girl1 as a Yuletide request gift. I never intended there to be a sequel to Tangled Up In Blue but it seemed appropriate after reading the prompts and letter. Tangled Up In Blue was a possible scenario for Hank and Becca the night Karen left. (And Other Misdemeanours) details their relationship throughout season three, right to the end of the finale. Thanks to hummingfly67 for the beta on short notice.
Summary: Once Karen leaves LA, it's all down to Hank to keep it together while falling apart.
The novelty of the father-daughter tag team wears off sooner rather than later; it's not nearly as much fun to wind up Karen when she isn't there to witness their actions. They spend the first few days waiting for rebukes and indulgent smiles that never come, and while it's easy to hyperbolise when recounting a tale between two cities, not much satisfaction comes from it, either. Although a phone line keeps them together Hank still feels the distance like a puncture to his heart, of which only Becca is the salve. Her presence is enough to keep him from falling apart in the beginning, when the newness of it all is horribly raw, but as time passes the abyss widens and he can sense her slipping away, too.
All his loved ones slip away eventually.
He's losing her. First Damien, now Chelsea, and relief comes only from the fact that it will not be forever. His daughter is too smart to be taken in by iPod playlists and the welcoming embraces of a family with good fortune. He talks of New York on a daily basis, if only to remind Becca of her mother, and he hopes his tone doesn't sound as wistful to her as it does to him because then she'd think he was regretting his decision to stay in Hell-A. As the great Frank Sinatra once said, "Regrets: I have a few," but for Hank, being with his daughter is not one of them.
At least not for a while, not until the tide pulls out and he wakes up one morning and barely recognises her anymore. She has changed more in the few weeks he has been alone with her than in the months he spent as an absentee father, and Hank, despite his solid conviction that everything will work out, can't shake the niggling shred of worry.
Who is this young woman? Surely not the same girl who put her mother through sixteen hours of labour, causing her to squeeze Hank's hand so hard they both invented curses that were most imaginative, even by their standards. Not the same girl who had him wrapped around her little finger from the moment he held her for the first time, gazing up at him with big blue eyes like he knew all the answers and falling asleep in his arms, so trusting. Not the same girl as the one he had taken through Central Park as soon as she could walk, pointing out all the Big Apple landmarks when she was more interested in picking leaves off the plants and not understanding why it wasn't okay to eat them.
* * * * *
It's been a long day and Hank is glad to be home. He's weary and it's late, and tonight there is only one female he wishes to spend time with. So much is happening – with his colleagues, his students, Charlie and Marcy – and Hank feels it is time to heal the rift between father and daughter, open the lines of communication beyond text messages and monosyllabic grunts of acknowledgement. He is fighting to stay awake now the adrenaline and marijuana have worn off, and although slipping between the sheets and into unconsciousness is a viable option, being the lone ranger on this coast means Becca comes first. He's always known it; it's just taken a while for his actions to reflect it.
He thinks quality time together is long overdue yet it is clear Becca does not. She strides purposefully past him, into the living room, tossing aside couch cushions in the hope of finding hidden treasure. Hank takes in her appearance: shoes and jacket on, bag slung over one shoulder, a stony expression on that beautiful face. He resists the urge to check his watch to see if he missed curfew.
He goes for the light-hearted approach. "Hey, where are you going, short stuff?"
"Out," she snaps back like a slingshot, an arrow aimed right for the part of him that makes him feel guilty for being away so long. Bullseye, he thinks, and stuffs his hands in his pockets defensively.
"'Out', you say." He inwardly curses himself for being jocular, for using humour to deflect from the real issues. He can't drop his guard on long-used defence mechanisms but now is really not the time to tease. He adopts a more authoritarian tone, a more 'dad' tone, when he asks, "Out where?"
"'Just out'? I'm not familiar with that area."
"The promenade. I'm meeting Chelsea." Alarm bells sound loud and clear at the mere mention of the name. There is something he doesn't like about that girl that he can't quite place, aside from the obvious. Chelsea, the girl who led his daughter astray, beckoned her into the realm of rebellion and reefer. He senses manipulation and deceit lurking under the surface (but he's aware of it this time, not like two years ago when he fell victim to what is now viewed as a glaringly obvious ploy to get him into bed). Chelsea isn't all she appears to be. The less time Becca spends with her, the better.
"Oh, not so fast," Hank objects. "How are you gonna get there?"
Becca doesn't even look up. "I don't know. I'll walk or take the bus."
He hates this show of independence, of defiance. He wants to squeeze her tight so she won't go but he knows she'd slide through his fingers. "Did you even think to ask?"
She finds her phone – why the hell did he buy her a cellphone, again? – and heads for the door. "I didn't think you'd care." When did I ever give the impression that I don't care? he thinks, but even his thoughts turn against him. You're never here, they whisper. You're always too busy someplace else. You love her, sure, but you have a hell of a way of showing it.
"Well, sorry, honey, looks like I do." Of course I do. I always do.
"Okay. Good to know. So, can I go?"
Hank frowns, trying to pinpoint the exact time his company was no longer good enough. "No," he says decisively. "Why don't you stay in with me tonight? Y'know, we'll watch a movie, pop some corn. Promenade'll always be there, unfortunately." He smiles, hoping she'll mirror his gesture, but he is met only with irritation.
"Yeah, sounds like a good time. But I think I'd rather go out."
He responds partly out of annoyance, partly out of desperation. "Well, I think I'd rather have you stay home. How about that?"
"Got it. Loud and clear. So can I go?"
Like a broken record, he thinks. "Asked and answered, Becca." His voice drops dangerously low, a sure-fire warning. Becca must know that pushing him wouldn't accomplish anything – that was tried and tested – but Hank feels her bad mood wash over him as it radiates from her pores, clinging to those funereal clothes like cigarette smoke.
"Why?" she challenges, and for an all-too-brief moment he sees Karen standing before him. There was never any question that their child would be stubborn.
"Because I said so," he replies obstinately, feeling five years old again. He's her father, for Christ's sake; she should take him at his word and respect his decisions (although, he realises, given some of his past choices, it's not hard to see why she doesn't).
"Because you said so?"
"Because I said-"
"Jesus," she scoffs, and turns straight to her cellphone.
"Who are you texting?" he demands.
"Chelsea. To tell her you're being a total dick right now."
"What is going on with you? When did you become such a little snot?" She laughs and rolls her eyes. "That is not funny, Becca."
"It's funny to me," she throws in his face.
Hank can feel his control slip away, his temper rise like bubbling magma, ready to erupt. Just looking at her, so self-righteous and arrogant, makes his blood both boil and run cold. He knows it shouldn't be like this, knows it is typical teenage rebellion, knows there is nothing he can do about it. I gave up New York for you! he wants to shout, but doesn't. She isn't even dating that Damien kid anymore; that went off the rails a mere week and a half after Karen left. Hank wonders if Becca did that on purpose, too, if hanging out with spoilt rich kids and smoking weed and going behind his back is just another way to stab him in it.
He's fed up with this standoff; he knows there are no winners at a time like this. And she's still on that fucking phone, fingers flying over the keypad at a speed of which he is envious – if only he could hammer out his next novel so quickly – and he just knows she'll curse him to high heaven no matter what he does, so he snatches the cell from her grasp, dangles it in front of her like enticement itself (a serpent with an apple), and when she grabs for it he tosses it into the living room. They both watch it bounce off the far wall and he turns to her as if to say, Now what?
"I fucking hate you!" she screams as she storms off to her room, and Hank cannot resist a parting shot, never has been able to.
"I fucking hate you too, you little shit!"
He closes his eyes as soon as the words are out, questioning why he must always give in to temptation and provocation, knowing that, where he is concerned, they are one and the same.
* * * * *
When you hit rock bottom, the only way is up. Hank reclines on the patio, lights a cigarette, grows pensive and considers the intricacies of his life. It's easy to do at night, when all is quiet and the darkness is both freedom and a prison. Karen isn't home – he tried calling her before coming outside, only to listen to the dialtone and a robotic voice asking him to leave a message – and he wonders where she might be, what she is doing, who she is doing it with.
Scratch that last part. He doesn't want to know.
The other love of his life stopped slamming doors and making a racket an hour ago, and when he cautiously went into her room he found her asleep and counted himself lucky there would be no round two, not tonight. He didn't want his heart to ache anymore; he set about numbing it with nicotine and Tennessee's finest whiskey.
By now he's pleasantly and melancholically buzzed. He always was good at feeling sorry for himself. And usually there is some woman for him to drown his sorrows in, but not tonight. He doesn't think himself worthy of a pity fuck. No, he's beyond saving. His job is a joke, he hasn't written anything worth publishing in months, and his daughter isn't speaking to him. Oh, and the mother of his child, his partner and soulmate and lifeline, is back on the East Coast, in the city he has begun to think of as a phantom limb.
He has little money and even less patience. A goldmine of talent but no way to extract it. A spacious bed but no loved one to share it with. He is full of contradictions, of ironies, and if this were happening to Charlie he'd have a good laugh about it, slap him on the back, tell him to keep his chin up and his dick hard. But this is happening to him, and he doesn't find it the slightest bit amusing.
Hank picks up the phone and tries calling Karen again, desperate to hear her voice, but it's the robot who picks up. It's too much, knowing she's out having a good time while his pathetic ass gets drunk by itself, but he's halfway to being shitfaced so why stop now?
He drinks to ease the pain. Somehow it gets worse.
* * * * *
"Were you just gonna leave me behind?"
It's such a fucking cliché – but then again, so is he; he's hardly the first washed-up author with writer's block – but Karen showing up at the airport is the jolt to his heart that makes it beat again. He's so excited he wants to do a victory dance in the bedroom but Karen isn't so keen on the idea; he'll settle for basking in her company, complete with little touches every now and then to make sure she isn't a drug-induced hallucination. It wouldn't be the first time.
But she's here and by his side and, joy of joys, talking of moving back to New York. With him and Becca. Permanently. Hank thinks it must be a joke – he spent years trying to convince her that the City of Angels was a deceptive title – but her jaunt across the country seems to have worked wonders. She's able to tease him about their indiscretions (not just his own, but hers as well), and she smiles a lot. California is somehow brighter with Karen in it.
And, for once, he doesn't screw up too badly. All right, the fling with Felicia somehow managed to piss Karen off more than the other women did, but a drunken tattoo proves to her she is his anchor. In those weeks when she is by his side, it is not their relationship that troubles him.
Becca is as distant as ever; Hank had hoped that having both parents at home and in good spirits would help matters, but there has been no change in her behaviour or temperament. She is still making the most out of her surname, at least to his face, and her actions continue to spiral out of control, heading towards the drain like a flushed-away spider, except it seems Becca has no concept of how close she is to fucking up one time too many. Collapsing from drinking, a bad reaction to a drug, running into trouble on a late night walk… Hank brings home cheques for having an active imagination but he hopes the thoughts that flood his brain when he worries never see the light of day. His partner in crime has ditched him for another woman.
But then she raids the Koons' wine cellar – who the hell has a wine cellar these days? – and on the comedown, before the pounding headache but after what Hank calls the Martin Luther King stage, the 'I have a drunken dream' phase, Becca unexpectedly asks him to stay and he thinks this is headway, this is something he can work with.
One step forward. Two steps back. The way it always is.
Until it suddenly isn't. His rendezvous with the college trio emerge under duress and it's less painful than he thought it would be, considering the amount of estrogen in the room. His daughter even stands up for him; that's got to count for something. Just when he thinks he got off lightly, Becca pulls him sharply back down to earth. Hearing sorry from him is meaningless; he never changes so he mustn't hold the word in high regard. Her rebuke is the kick in the teeth he needs. Knowing she is disappointed in him is all the ammunition necessary for him to get his ass in gear and stop fucking around, literally.
Everything in LA has come to a head and there's nothing left for them here, that much he knows. Suddenly New York is a brighter and shinier notion to her and she packs her bags without much of a fight.
It's all going too well, he thinks, and no sooner does the thought enter his head than the devil child returns, armed with secrets and lies and a like-minded boyfriend/manager. Hank feels the sun slowing setting on his time in California, on the hours he spent sleeping with random women and one underage girl who has the power to ruin everything. He believes living with the dread is worse, that if Karen knew it would be a burden lifted, but his life would once again be shot to shit if Mia's revelations were connected to him and the bed being left behind.
There's always something with Hank. He isn't allowed to be happy for too long. Once he starts to feel contented a whirlwind tears through his life and sets the cosmic, karmic balance back in order. Making Hank Moody miserable must keep the Fates in a job. But this time the only one to blame for his downfall is himself, or at least that's how the law will see it. Black and white, grey, it doesn't matter. It plagues his existence, haunts his dreams and infringes his well-being, and he can't see how he'll be able to wake up from this nightmare until he lands at JFK.
Deep down, he knows it won't happen. A conspiracy is afoot, and as he pulls on his shoes to wander the godforsaken streets with his daughter, he senses that this is not the last he will see of Los Angeles.
* * * * *
"You know what I'm going to miss? These walks. When I think back on LA that's what I'll remember."
Both their thoughts are on reminiscing but Hank's are decidedly darker, and his feet are moving without aid of his brain, which is fully preoccupied with musings on impending doom and fight-or-flight. Having Karen in such good spirits and his daughter walking alongside him don't help matters; it only makes him realise what he has to lose, who he has to lose. Their capacity for forgiveness has already been tested time and time again, and this is something big, bigger than any other stupid stunt he has pulled. And he doesn't see how there can be a happy ending now; the light at the end of the tunnel, which had been growing brighter as New York became more probable than possible, is rapidly shrinking into the blackness once more.
Make the most of it while you can, he thinks, and somehow feels he has already missed something Becca has said. "Sorry, sweetie, did you say something?"
"Never mind." An uncomfortable silence filled with nervous anticipation. "There's something I have to tell you."
His head snaps up at the seriousness in her voice, his attention turned away from his introspection of his own pathetic mess of a life. It's always about her.
"Well, go for it."
"I haven't told Mom yet. For some reason I feel I have to tell you first."
Hank's stomach begins to churn. This cannot be good. "'Kay."
"The other night, when I slept over at Chelsea's-"
He already doesn't like where this is going. Chelsea never has been one of his favourite people. "Yeah?"
"We snuck out."
"Becca," he immediately scolds, stopping in his tracks. It was quiet before her revelation but now it is suffocating, the silence and the stillness. This miniature Eden should not exist in Hell-A. Hank wants a dog to bark or a bird to chirp or something, anything, just to fracture the uncomfortable peace. It's as if his vision and his hearing and his entire being have been narrowed to focus on one thing. Nothing else matters except the person standing before him, baring her soul.
"It's not as bad as it sounds, Dad. And wouldn't you rather I be honest about this stuff?"
Just please God let it be PG-13, he prays. With everything that's going on right now he isn't sure if he can handle any more of a confession. But this is his daughter and she came to him, not to Karen or one of her friends, but him, her father. And although in their household truth is highly subjective, he doesn't want her to hide anything from her old man. The conflict shows on his face but he never has been able to refuse her when she asks for help. He'll shoulder the burden alongside his own. "Yes, of course, okay. Go ahead."
He notices how she's looking everywhere apart from at him and it adds to his unease. Usually when they're being blunt they're able to look each other in the eye. "So, we were just wandering around campus, and we met these boys."
Lord, she's pregnant. Hank swallows hard. "Okay, now I'm vaguely nauseous." He doesn't need to hear of her with boys, doesn't like being reminded that she is growing up too fast and doesn't need him as much as she used to. He may not have always been there but Becca is everything to him and he reserves the right to be protective. These past few months she has taken every opportunity to prove her independence but it's at times like these Hank thinks she realises she still needs her dad. He can do this. I can do this, he repeats as a mantra.
"Just bear with me, okay?" she pleads.
"Hmm-mmm," he mumbles, still trying to wrap his brain around the situation.
"Well, Chelsea immediately hooked up with the dickish good-looking one, and spent the night in his dorm room. I ended up sexiled with the nerd, the Michael Cera type."
"Doesn't matter," Becca says, and as she opens her mouth to speak again Hank thinks this one will be the bombshell. He's grown used to waiting on tenterhooks. "The point is, we ended up walking and talking all night long. He was really sweet, a total gentleman."
Not as bad as I thought. He smiles and puts his arm around her shoulders. "Mmm, alright, I like the sound of that."
"He did kiss me though," she adds, almost as an afterthought.
"Here comes another wave."
"It was nice to have a boy want to kiss you. He tried to go further but I stopped him."
Thank God for that. "Ah, that's my girl."
"He was totally sweet about it."
Becca adds, "Very understanding."
"Sounds good." He begins to relax.
"He heard me out, didn't push it."
"That's great. Alright."
"But we did it anyway."
"Right. Wait, what? What, you did… did what?" He prays he just heard wrong. He prays she did not just say what he thought she said. He prays this is all just another dream and in a minute he'll wake up and everything will be fine. But she's looking at him without a hint of humour and he wants to throw up for real this time because this is too much. This is just too fucking much.
Becca maintains eye contact and keeps her voice even; she owes him honesty. "Don't be mad at me, okay, I don't know if I could take that right now."
"I'm not," he manages to croak, and she has to look away.
"We used protection: he had a condom in his wallet he said had been there since high school." She finds herself speeding up, spitting the words out because if she doesn't do it now then she never will, and he needs to hear this. "It wasn't love and it wasn't perfect or anything but I'm glad I did it. I got it over with." It's Hank's turn to tear his eyes away; nobody should think like that, least of all his daughter.
She continues, her voice starting to break as she says, "And I wanted to tell you first because I wanted you to know you didn't fuck me up. My life is tough and weird and unpleasant sometimes but I walk around knowing that I have parents who love me and care about me and always try their best even if they screw up sometimes." Hank feels his heart start to break. "I know I gave you a hard time when Mom was gone but I hope you know that I love you, Dad. And I always will."
She hugs him tightly and it's all he can do not to cry. This is his little girl and no matter how old she is, what she has done, he will always see her that way. And he can't be mad. He can't bring himself to raise his voice and yell or tell her he's disappointed in her, because deep down he knows he has set the example. She said it herself, that he is the one she looks to, and he recognises now that she was trying to hint to him only this morning: "One of these days I'm going to start talking openly about sex and you're not gonna like it."
He doesn't but he has no choice but to accept it. "Alright. Um… can you, uh, can you wait 'til New York to tell your mom about this?"
She gazes up at him with eyes that have seen too much. "I'm a woman now, Dad," she says with such conviction.
He exhales shakily.
* * * * *
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
And in the back of his mind, It's all my fault.
He's never seen a woman truly die inside before. He thought he had but now he realises it was nothing. Witnessing the extinguishing of a flame so bright would be bad enough, but to know he caused it is almost unbearable. He makes her hurt too often. She deserves better, really, but he knows nobody could love her like he does, and if Hank knows anything it's that love is painful.
He stumbles when he sees Becca race out of the apartment – sidewalk troll or guilt, he isn't sure – and he hates himself for doing this to her. Again. He thought they'd reached a truce out on the bridge but he's gone and torn that to shreds. His daughter shouldn't have to witness him being hauled away by police. She shouldn't have to know the things he's done. And right now she is naïve, and runs to her father because he's her protector, her role model, her hero, and he might fuck up but there's always a reason for it, always some needle on his moral compass pointing in the right direction.
And there are two sides to the story but Karen and the courts will only listen to one.
He'd known it would come out eventually and is only really surprised that his luck lasted so long (or maybe that's the problem: luck had nothing to do with it). Everything was going too well. They were so fucking close this time – the boxes were packed, dammit – and he doesn't know if they're still sitting on the floor or will soon be in the back of a car, like he is.
Hank hangs his head to keep from making eye contact with Becca as the cops take him away; she can't see the shame and the fear and the guilt in his eyes. He was wrong before, when he thought his job sucking and Becca ignoring him and Karen being three thousand miles away was the worst it could be. He was wrong, he knows that now.
This is rock bottom.