NOTES: First attempt at an AU, in which Daniel doesn't walk away from Betty's goodbye party. It's also kind of a song-inspired story, which is another first for me.
Written for the 30 Days of Ugly Betty Challenge at the Daniel/Betty Livejournal community.
Chapter 6 of LDN is still happening, I swear. For this challenge I was about equally as far into both pieces, but figured since neither was complete, it made more sense to post this rather than Chapter 6, Part A or something stupid like that.
Part Two will be up . . . honestly, I don't know. Hopefully very soon, but RL is only going to get busier from here on out. I'll be working three jobs, one full-time, beginning in a week or so. But I'm still writing away where I can, that much I promise.
Feedback is much appreciated. I hope you enjoy.
His mother squeezes his shoulder. "Are you going to talk to her?"
"I think I need to let her go."
Daniel takes one more second to watch Betty on the dance floor, drinking in the parts of her he never allowed himself to appreciate before: the feminine hourglass shape of her hips and breasts; her silky waterfall of hair; the sexy arch of her legs in her heels.
And God, that smile. She is radiant. Joyous. He feels the tiniest lift in his heart knowing that.
It's enough for now. He turns to the elevators.
Mom follows him, heels clattering, black sash billowing behind her. "Daniel, wait. Don't do this."
She reaches for his arm, but he shakes her off and thumbs the down button. "Mom, I'm going home. I can't be here. Just go back to the party."
"Let me rephrase that: don't do this to her. Daniel, Betty needs you to go in there and tell her you're happy for her. Find it within yourself to do that."
"No, she doesn't. She's fine." The elevator takes forever, and his head begins to pound from the pressure behind his eyes. The music makes it worse. "I can't go in there and pretend –" Emotion rises in his throat and he stops, swallows, tries again. "Look, I don't want to ruin this for her. I'll call her before her flight tomorrow, okay?"
He won't. He knows it. A clean break is for the best.
"If you walk away from her now," Mom says, her voice low and intense, "you will always regret it."
There is nothing about this situation he doesn't already regret from the deepest part of himself. "Mom, please. Just let me go."
The numbers above the elevator door light up at 23, 24, 25 –
His heart lurches so fiercely that for a moment he thinks it stopped. Mom releases his arm and steps back, but Daniel doesn't turn around. The numbers light at 26, 27, and finally, 28.
The elevator slides open.
"Daniel? Where are you going?"
The confusion and hurt in her voice makes him feel ill. Slowly, he turns around. The elevator shuts behind him.
"Nowhere," he says.
Mom begins walking away backwards. "I think I'll go check on your nephew, Betty. Make sure nobody's giving him any of the punch."
Betty smiles at his mother, though it's wobbly. "Thank you, Mrs. Meade. For everything."
"You're welcome, darling. Don't go without seeing me again, alright?"
She leaves, and Daniel and Betty are left alone in the elevator foyer.
Betty holds up her phone. "I was just going to call you. Um, again. Did you get my messages?"
She looks at him searchingly for a long moment. Daniel is certain she must be seeing right through to the very centre of him.
But she simply holds out her hand and says softly, "Come to my party, Daniel."
He doesn't think. "Okay."
But they don't actually go to the party. Daniel can feel his mother's eyes tracking them from her spot by the punchbowl, but Daniel's entire being is focused on the gentle pressure of Betty's hand in his as she guides him through the crowd.
She must have shed her gold jacket at some point while she was dancing. He admires her smooth bare skin, the way their arms form a perfect V.
She leads Daniel to the balcony just off his office, releasing his hand to slide the glass door shut behind them. A bass beat thumps under their feet, but the music is otherwise muffled.
"Betty . . ."
Betty cuts him off without preamble. "You weren't going to say goodbye to me, were you?" The view of the sprawling city lights behind her is magnificent, but he can't see beyond the glimmer of tears in her eyes. "You were just going to let me leave. You were going to let me go to all the way to London thinking – thinking that you hated me."
Dread knots in Daniel's stomach at the mounting anger in her tone. "I wasn't."
"Yes, you were! Don't lie to me, Daniel! Not now. After everything we've been through together –" But as quickly as it came, the anger seems to drain from her, leaving her deflated and lost. "How could you?"
Daniel wishes he could summon up his own anger that she had excluded him from this life-altering decision of hers, but he can't. There's nothing left in that place but a wrenching, searing hurt at what Daniel has discovered from these events:
Daniel doesn't matter as much to Betty as she does to him; it's what everything boils down to in this eleventh hour of their friendship. She doesn't love him, and Daniel – he's so in love with her he can't see straight.
Oh, wait. That's because his eyes are beginning to fill.
He blinks rapidly and, just in case, turns away from her to stare out at the skyline. In the very distance, he can make out a wave-like string of lights. The Brooklyn Bridge.
"I see," she says softly, resigned. "So we're really doing this. Um, okay then. I'll just say my piece and then – and then we'll call it good?"
He nods. The guilt and anguish churns his stomach.
"Daniel, I'm so grateful for these past four years. It's been a pleasure working with you. Actually, an honour." Rehearsed or not, Daniel can't tune out the sincerity in her voice, nor her hand resting between his shoulder blades. "Everything I've learned here – which is a lot – I'm going to take with me. But more than that, these last four years have changed my life. Professionally, yes, but personally too. And maybe you don't believe me right now, but I know we'll always be in each other's lives. No matter what." There's a tentative smile in her voice. "Even if it's over Skype."
Daniel wants to believe her. He really does. But she's so magnetic in her kindness and intelligence and beauty that it will only be a matter of time before she's surrounded by new friends in London. They'll keep her busy, along with her new job, and it'll get harder and harder to stay in touch. Phone calls will get missed; schedules will clash; the five hour time difference will get in the way.
They'll drift apart. Eventually, she will move on.
There will be new men, too. Guys smart enough to see right away how amazing she is. She'll be swept off her feet in no time.
The thought kills him, but it also forces him to bury whatever half-formed notion he had about confessing his feelings. Betty's dreams are finally coming true; she deserves to begin this wonderful new life free of his neediness.
While his heart is collapsing in on itself, his silence stretches too long.
"Daniel, why are you being like this? Why can't you just be happy for me? Listen." Her gentle touch changes; she grips his shoulder and forces him around to face her. "I can't tell you how difficult this decision was, but I've made it. I'm leaving my family, my job, my friends, everything. This is the opportunity I've wanted for years, but I'm still scared out of my mind, okay? If there was one time – one time – I needed your support more than ever, it's now."
Of course his mother was right. Daniel scrubs his hands over his face. "I'm a shit friend, Betty. You should know this by now. But – I'm sorry. It just caught me by surprise, you know? I am happy for you. Really."
He gathers what composure he has left to put on his most sincere face, but Betty's expression is still wary. "That's it? All this – the avoiding, the cold shoulder, the setting your office on fire –"
"Come on. It wasn't the whole office."
" – and now we're okay? Just like that."
"Yes. I mean, if you are. If you can forgive me."
Her eyes go gentle, and although he suspects she doesn't entirely believe him, it doesn't matter. "You're an idiot. You know that, right?"
"I do." The clean break – he can forget about it. He's here now with her and suddenly every second seems precious. "It's just that – I'm going to miss you a lot."
"Oh, Daniel. I'll miss you too. So much. Don't you know that?" And then she darts forward into his arms, hugging him tightly around the neck.
She smells so good. Her body is warmer and softer than Daniel imagined (and he's imagined a lot in the short time his feelings have been known to him). He buries his face in her hair and can't fathom ever letting her go.
It's what compels the next few life-altering moments.
Inside, Jarrod from layouts, acting as the makeshift DJ, fades Taio Cruz into a new track; a few plain piano notes, and then the slow, steady beat of a love song begins. Barely heard through the glass, a man and woman harmonize wistfully:
I don't want to let you go, but we're caught in the undertow.
"Sounds like it's starting to wind down in there," Betty murmurs against his shoulder. "I should get back." She begins to pull away, slipping her arms off his shoulders.
Daniel's hands remain around her waist.
"Daniel – ?"
He looks down into her upturned face. The breeze up here brushes a few strands of hair across her forehead. In his head, he begins taking mental snapshots to remember her by. This is a good one. "Dance with me?"
"You mean out here?"
"Just one song. Then I'll let you go."
Betty's expression shifts from confused to startled. He didn't mean to say that. She looks at him searchingly again, and then says, almost reverently, "Your mom – she knows a lot, doesn't she?"
Daniel frowns. Talk about a mood-killer. "Um, I'll pass on the compliment?"
But even as he says it, Betty shifts in his arms, pressing close until they're swaying side to side with the muffled music.
When they danced at Hilda's wedding, they joked and laughed and goofed around playfully (flirtatiously on Daniel's part) the whole time. This dance couldn't be more different. The gentle music washes over them almost as an afterthought – and unlike before, the prim, appropriate distance between their bodies has disappeared.
Daniel doesn't know what is happening, but this is more than he ever hoped for in a goodbye. He presses his cheek to Betty's temple, closes his eyes, and sways with her.
The song crescendos, then begins to slow and grow fainter. The DJ cues the next track, a faster, bouncier number, but the Daniel and Betty remain together. Slowly, she lifts her head from his shoulder and peers up at him.
Something about her open, almost wondering expression prompts Daniel to whisper, "These last four years changed my life, too."
"I know. You've grown so much. You should be proud of who you are now." She doesn't seem to mind when he begins caressing her cheek with the back of his fingers.
"It's because of you, Betty. Everything I am, every good thing that's happened since I met you," he whispers, "you've been in the middle of it."
It's not what he planned. He probably shouldn't.
Daniel lowers his face toward hers, hoping it isn't because she drank too much champagne earlier that Betty's closes her eyes and tilts her face to meet his. His heart pounds, her breath tickles his cheek, and for the briefest second, their lips almost brush –
Which is when the balcony door clatters open, letting in a blast of noise and music.
Betty and Daniel startle apart. She stares up at him, wide-eyed with shock, and Daniel wishes he could tell whether it's the good or bad kind.
"There you are!" Amanda stumbles through the doorway, a glass of champagne in each hand. "Bettylicious, you have to come talk to my bio-dad. He's going to pitch a storyline about my life to the soap writers, and we can't decide who should play you. Marc says Rosie O'Donnell, but I'm totally thinking one of those cute singing Disney girls."
"They'd have to pull a Renee Zellweger for the role, Mandy. I just can't see it happening." Marc pauses to take in their faces. Betty's hair is mussed, her cheeks fetchingly pink. Daniel thinks he probably looks like a particularly stupid deer caught in headlights. No, a tractor beam.
They can't meet each other's eyes.
Marc, quick as ever, damn him, begins to grin incredulously. "Oh my good Gucci. You cannot be serious."
Amanda looks at Marc weirdly. "What? I don't get it."
Betty jumps forward, grabbing Marc and Amanda's arms. "Nothing!" Without so much as a backwards at Daniel, she begins hurrying them inside. "Um, who's going to play you, Amanda?"
"Well, first I was all, Blake Lively! But she's totally looking a little bloated lately, don't you think?"
"Cheese fingers off, Suarez. Shoo." Marc bats Betty off, letting Amanda drag her back to the party. Hanging behind, he gives Daniel an assessing look from the balcony doorway.
"What? Just say it," Daniel snaps.
"Whoa. Easy on the rage, Naomi. I have to say – that?" He jerks his thumb at Betty's retreating back.
Daniel braces himself for the bitchiness, but Marc says only, "You, sir, are the master of incredibly bad timing."
He shuts the sliding door behind himself, leaving Daniel to contemplates which would be more satisfying right now: tossing Marc off the balcony, or himself.
Continued in Part Two