Author's Note and Disclaimer: As you can believe, there is a LOT of foul language in this, but otherwise, not much else that would require an "M" rating, so I've decided to keep it "T" even though "f"-bombs abound. I also would like to add that I am in no way connected with The Thick of It. (If I was, my Malcolm would probably be a lot better).
"What in fuck's sake are ye doin' here?" Malcolm Tucker said, as he opened the door to his house to find a drenched Nicola Murray standing there.
" I just… I needed some place to go, to see someone I trusted. So I…I looked you up."
She nodded. " I know, but your secretary gave me your home address when I called."
"Why would Sam do that?"
"I told her it was urgent."
" Is it?" He looked at her sceptically. Nicola Murray and Malcolm Tucker had very different ideas about the meaning of the word "urgent."
"Course it fucking is! Do you really think I'd be standing on your doorstep in near-flood conditions with no umbrella if it wasn't fucking urgent as hell?"
She was soaked to the bone—unsurprising given the thick, almost opaque curtain of rain that had been drenching the whole fucking country for three hours straight. Her sodden dress clung to her figure in a way that caused a million different scenes to play in his head —each of them more explicitly erotic than the last.
Malcolm moved his gaze up to her face, and his sordid thoughts faded. Given the redness of her eyes, it was clear Nicola had been crying—considerably and quite recently at that. In fact, he wasn't entirely sure that she'd stopped crying at all. Tiny droplets of water kept dribbling down her cheeks, and he had no way of telling whether or not there were tears intermingled with the raindrops.
He sighed and opened the door a little wider. "Alright then, come inside before I change my mind." And she did so.
After Nicola had entered, Malcolm bolted the door behind him. He didn't need any of his other colleagues barging into his home unexpectedly tonight—regardless of how "urgently" they may have needed him.
He looked over at his companion and saw that she was shivering slightly. That wet dress must have been very, very cold.
"Wait here. And don't fucking touch anything—do ye hear me?"
She nodded sombrely but said nothing. Malcolm left the room and returned a moment later with his dressing gown, which he handed to Nicola. "Here put this on."
She stared at it suspiciously. "What is this—some sort of come-on? Believe it or not, I didn't come here so you could screw me—literally or metaphorically."
"In yere dreams, darlin.' In yere fucking dreams. Nah, right now, the very last fucking thing I need is fer ye to drip all over my £ 3000 sofa. The bathroom's two doors down."
She followed his instructions and disappeared from the room. Malcolm, meanwhile, proceeded into the other room and positioned himself on the sofa, wondering to himself what in fuck's name had caused Nicola-bloody-Murray to disturb his peaceful Friday evening.
A few minutes later, Nicola joined re-entered the room. Her still-damp her was lightly tousled and even frizzier than usual. The robe was a little long, but otherwise it fit remarkably well. However, Malcolm didn't fail to note that the neckline was far lower on her than it had ever been on him. To an uninformed observant, Malcolm suspected that Nicola would've looked very much as though the two of them had just finished…
No. He shouldn't be having those thoughts, not even hypothetically.
He scooted over on the sofa to make room for her, and Nicola carefully sat down beside him.
He was about to ask what had brought her here, when she just came out and said it for herself. "James…James and I have been fighting quite a lot recently. Almost every day in fact. It's gotten to the point where we've had to send the kids to my mum's while we try to sort everything out between us."
"I take it ye haven't sorted everything out."
She shook her head. " This morning, we had a particularly bad row. I flung every negative, spiteful thought I'd ever had at him, and he was equally brutal. I felt guilty about it all day. What I said was all true, and at least some small part of me meant every word. But I still… I love him, and I miss him. And I want things to work out between us. " She took several deep breaths before continuing, "So I…I readied my apology, prepared to grovel totally at his feet, to do anything and everything he wanted if he'd only just forgive me. I made an effort to finish work early and hurried home so we could talk things through. When I got there, he…he was already in bed, and he…he wasn't alone."
At these words, Nicola broke down completely. She threw her arms around Malcolm's neck and began sobbing into his shoulder.
If it had been anyone else, Malcolm would've thrown off the grip and released a raging inferno of four-letter-words at the person who'd dared to touch him. But Nicola Murray had always had a bizarre effect upon him—an effect that frightened the otherwise fearless Malcolm Tucker. He was supposed to be fucking invincible—wasn't he? So why did this damned basket case of a woman make him feel so vulnerable and yet so strong?
Acting of their own accord, his arms wrapped themselves around her. He rubbed her back as she stained his designer suit with her tears. And for once in his life, Malcolm Tucker was completely and totally lost for words. He had no idea of how to properly "comfort" someone; he was typically the one doing the injuring and not the healing.
So, he simply held her and whispered her name in the most soothing tone he could muster (which was still pretty damned intimidating, truth be told). Eventually, they broke apart once her tears had slowed.
He grabbed a fistful of tissues from the box on the coffee table, and handed them to Nicola, who began lightly dabbing her still-very- moist eyes. "What am I going to do, Malc?"
Unable to face her tears any longer, he got up from the sofa and began pacing. " Well right now, I don't think there's one clear solution. Either way, ye're in the right. If ye take the bastard back, ye're the compassionate, upright sort who believes in second chances and forgiveness. If ye toss him, ye're decisive and independent, the sort who won't let anyone boss her around. And if ye keep him at arm's length, ye're the cautious sort who likes to think things through from all possible angles before ye make a decision. Politically, it's a win-win-win situation."
Nicola rose from her seat and crossed her arms. " I didn't come to ask what was in my best political interest. I came to ask for a friend's advice."
He halted his pacing and gave her a scrutinizing look. "Friends? Is that what we are?"
Friends? The word seemed almost foreign to him. Malcolm Tucker didn't have friends—or at least he didn't think he did. Colleagues, yes. Allies even. But friends?
Still, much as he might try to deny it, he knew that Nicola was more than a colleague. You didn't hold colleagues through their tears, unless there was something good in it for you.
Though he hesitated to use the word "friend" either. As he looked at her there in his dressing gown, barelegged and damp-haired with a fair bit of cleavage on display, his thoughts weren't exactly "friend-like"—were they?
But at the same time, he wouldn't dreamed of acting on them, even though she was scared and vulnerable and would likely give in to any advances he might make.
When—if—he ever made a move, he didn't want it be to something desperate and frantic and rushed—something they'd both regret in the morning. And he certainly wouldn't try anything while that bastard's ring remained on her finger.
So was that was his feelings toward her were: more than lust but less than love? More than political allegiance but less than friendship?
Nicola straightened herself up, and gave him a piercing stare. "I don't know what the hell we are, Malcolm! I know that you're the one person I can count on to be honest with me, even when the truth is painful. Especially when the truth is painful. I know that I've let you play games with my personal lifetime after bloody time, because you know better than I how to weather this shitstorm. I know that after the pathetic way you've treated me day and in day out, I really should despise you. But I just… I can't. Fuck it! I care about you, Malc. And I'd like to think somewhere in the bottomless black pit you call your heart, you care about me too."
"Then, ye're as idiotic as ye are incompetent."
To his bemusement, her face fell. Christ, what was wrong with her? He'd called her an idiot at least fifty times a day every day since they'd first met. And he'd called her much worse names than that without her so much as batting an eyelash.
Didn't she see that it had to be this way? That if she let herself see him as anything more than an infuriating colleague, she'd wind up getting hurt? People like him—selfish, outspoken, manipulative bastards—weren't capable of forming meaningful lasting relationships of any sort.
And the day Malcolm Tucker started genuinely caring for someone other than himself would be his downfall.
But damn it! There was something about Nicola Murray and her bloody tears and her fucking helplessness that made him question everything he knew about politics and about life. There was something about this maddening, delusional frizzy-haired idealist that made him almost want to look after someone and let that someone look after him.
"Nicky… that is to say… I…aw…sod it. Never mind. Ye wanted to know what I think ye should do about yere complete fuck-up of a husband?" She nodded, and he continued. " Well if it were me, I'd pull out all of his fucking teeth one by one—with no pain-killers, mind ye. I'd polish them up, and have a jeweller cut them and string 'em so they could pass fer those fake pearls penniless society wives by to keep up appearances. And then I'd give them to his mother as a Christmas present."
Her lips curved slightly upward. It wasn't quite a smile, but it was still the closest she'd come to it the whole time she'd been there. In spite of himself, Malcolm found this oddly reassuring. "It's a tempting thought, I'll give you that. But it does seem a little extreme—don't you think?"
Malcolm shrugged. "He deserves far worse. And don't ye think for a moment otherwise," he added, noticing the incredulous look on her face.
"But serious answer what can I do that won't earn me a life sentence in prison?" Nicola asked, sitting back down on the sofa and burying her head in her hands.
He moved back over beside her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Afraid I can't answer that. I can blab on for hours about the political pros and cons of any course of action ye may suggest. But at the end of the day, it's what ye think that really matters."
She lifted her head to look at him. "What I think? I thought I wasn't allowed to have an opinion. That I was too bloody thick to know what was going on and should let wiser heads rule my life."
"Ye've always been allowed an opinion. I just tend to ignore it when it's a complete shit one. So tell me. What are ye thinking? "
She rose from her seat and moved away from him." The truth is, Malc. I just…I don't know what I think. I was hoping I'd come here and you'd spout some impressive mumbo-jumbo. And then everything would make sense. But you didn't and it doesn't. And I'm just so damned confused."
"I can't make up yere mind for ye, Nicky—much as I may want to and much as you may want me to," He said, moving over to her and reeling her around to face him. "If I were to make the final decision …well…ye'd only end up hating me fer it. Fer forcing ye to cut the bastard loose or keep 'im at a distance or welcome him back with open arms. That's not my call to make. All I can do is figure out how to spin yer decision to the press in a way that makes us look good."
" But I mean, what if…what if I make the wrong decision?"
"So what if what if ye do? Nobody does everything right all the fucking time. We all have regrets."
Nicola raised an eyebrow. "Even you?"
"Even me. I just try not to let them define me is all. I'm always thinkin' about what's next on the agenda—not what's just past. Follow yere heart, Nicky, and if it leads ye astray, so be it." He reached for her chin and gently tilted it upwards in what he sincerely hoped was a reassuring manner.
He continued to rub his thumb over Nicola's chin while he seriously contemplated closing the little distance that remained between them, seriously letting his own heart lead them both astray. And for a moment, Nicola seemed to be waiting for him to do just that. She had closed her eyes and was leaning forward slightly, as though anticipating his lips.
Eventually, she seemed to get tired of waiting for him to make up his mind, jerked her chin away and turned her back to him, forcing a laugh in the process. "That's something I never thought I'd hear. Malcolm Tucker telling someone to follow their heart, even though it's inconclusive as to whether he's got one or not himself."
"Oh, I've definitely got a heart, sweetheart— small and crooked as it may be. I have the high blood pressure to prove it."
"I envy you that," she said, glancing back at him. "Er… not the blood pressure. But the way you're so able to feel so detached from everything and everyone. I can't just…I can't help caring about what people think about me, how they feel—if they feel anything at all. Following my heart only leads me to get hurt."
"Well I'm not gonna ask ye to follow yere brain, cause we both know how fucking terribly that would turn out. So I suppose all I can suggest is that ye follow yere gut. What's yere gut telling you to do?"
As if on cue, her stomach growled loudly. And they both laughed.
"I take it ye haven't had dinner yet?"
She shook her head. "No or lunch either. I've just been so busy that I haven't had the time. On top of which…I've…well I've been trying to watch my weight so I've been cutting back anyway."
"Well, it's…it's complicated."
"Did that fucking waste of space ye call a husband tell ye to do it? "
"James… has… made a few comments. And I can't help but wonder if maybe I still looked…like the woman he married...things might have worked out differently between us." Nicola glanced off into the distance, as if visualizing the possibility.
Malcolm gave a harsh laugh." I sincerely hope ye're jokin', cause that's the absolute most fucking ridiculous thing I've ever heard ye say. And I'm looking at a woman who once tried to ban plastic toys! Ye can't accept any of the blame fer yere Viagra-popping criminal of a husband. And as fer yer worrying about yere looks, ye should count yere fucking blessings, sweetheart. Do ye know that there are women half yere age who stick bloody Botox needles in their faces trying to have skin like yere's? And that seek medical help to give them the same sort of curves yere so willing to throw away just because one fucking imbecile made an ignorant comment?"
"Either you're revealing some secret personal vendetta against plastic surgeons, or you've just complimented my figure."
"Ah, don't get yere knickers in a twist, sweetheart."
"Plastic surgery, then? What was it—a nose job gone wrong? Or did you go for liposuction?" She smiled for real this time, taking the same perverse delight in teasing him that he always found in teasing her.
"Very funny. Fucking hilarious, really. The point is, Nicky, ye shouldn't set any store by something that arsewipe says. The fact that he's so eager to toss away the one legitimately good thing in his life only proves my point about how fucking mentally-impaired he really is."
She looked at him for a long moment, totally unsure how to respond, wondering whether he genuinely meant it or was playing some sort of psychological mind game with her. Eventually, she decided that it was still true regardless of how he'd meant it. "Thanks, Malcolm."
"Ah, don't let it go to yere head."
" With you around, how could I?"
At Malcolm's insistence, they didn't say another word about James Murray all evening, though it was very clear that the matter remained very much on Nicola's mind.
Instead they focused their attention on what to do about dinner. Unsatisfied with contents of his fridge and pantry, Malcolm wanted to have pizza delivered, but Nicola insisted that she wasn't about to have some poor delivery boy risk his life in hazardous weather conditions just to feed her. They'd have to make do with what they had.
So, they ended up boiling some pasta, splitting a bag of crisps between them, and finishing this off with some chocolate cake. And though she ate far more junk food in one sitting than she'd eaten in the past three months, somehow Nicola didn't feel at all gluttonous.
After they finished dinner, they returned to the sofa and talked political strategy and favourite Quentin Tarantino films and childhood aspirations (Malcolm: gladiator, Nicola: mermaid). They spoke of the future too: where they thought they'd be twenty years from now, if they'd look back upon the present with pride or shame, if they'd still enjoy winding each other up.
They concluded that Malcolm would've just been released from prison for murdering Steve Fleming and that Nicola would've visited him every week while he was in there, bringing him the political scoop and as much candy as she could reasonably smuggle in.
About halfway through a debate on the merits (or lack thereof in Malcolm's view) of ABBA, they realized that it was well after midnight. Nicola mentioned something about going home, but Malcolm immediately shut down this idea. The rain hadn't slowed even a little bit, and it wasn't safe for anyone to venture out.
Neither of them mentioned the other, more-important reason she shouldn't return to that house just yet.
Though it was never explicitly agreed upon, they both understood that Nicola was going to stay the night, but they both carefully avoided the question of exactly where she would sleep.
Malcolm knew that the gentlemanly thing to do would be to offer Nicola the bed, but since when had Malcolm Tucker been a gentleman?
Truth be told, he was looking forward to curling up under the bedcovers and sleeping the long day off.
And besides which offering Nicola the bed would just prompt uncomfortable questions that neither of them needed to learn the answers to just yet.
Eventually, Nicola settled the matter once and for all by falling asleep on his shoulder shortly after they started watching From Russia With Love at 2:30. Careful not to wake his companion, Malcolm carefully pried Nicola off him and got up to turn off the DVD.
Then, he went into his own room to fetch a proper pillow for her. He ended up grabbing his bed quilt as well, remembering that his house could get rather cold at nighttime.
When he returned, he noticed that she'd shifted over to her side and had let her head fall back. Malcolm briefly lifted Nicola's head, careful not to strain her neck, and then gently lowered it again once he'd placed the pillow. He wrapped the quilt tightly around her, and whispered "G'night Nicky" before turning off the lights. As he turned to leave, he thought he heard a faint "You too, Malcolm" in reply.
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