Title: The Arrangement 1/?
Rating: Will be M overall. This part T, I suppose.
Fandom: State of Play (2003). Yes, you heard it right!
Pairing: Della Smith/DCI Bell
Fic Summary: Della and Bell continue their information sharing arrangement after the Collins scandal wraps up. As they work together, their emerging friendship is threatened by mutual attraction and misunderstandings.
Word Count: This part is around 3,500 words. 9,000 have been written so far, and the fic should end out around 15,000. ish. 0_0
Disclaimer: I do not own State of Play or any of the characters. I do own my fun little theories, my wild assumptions, and lots of delicious chunks of head canon.
Spoilers: Yes, for the whole series.
Notes: I re-watched State of Play recently and this fic suddenly started pouring itself out. For someone that has had writer's block for a good while, this is definitely of the good. There will be more notes at the bottom of the chapter for anyone who actually enjoys authorial babbling. Anyhow, it was raining cats and dogs today, so I thought I would start posting this in honor of my abiding love for a waterlogged DCI Bell. ^_~
Thanks: To The Otter for being (as usual) extremely indulgent and helpful, and to everyone who showed an interest in reading a fic with this pairing- the encouragement was very motivational! Hope you guys will like it.
It began in the usual way, as far as these tenuous partnerships go. They didn't see each other for several weeks after the whole Collins scandal died down- things were quiet on all fronts, as though even the public needed a break from crime and intrigue. Such peace never lasts long in a city like London, however. It may have been weeks, but it felt more like a matter of days before a gun running ring possibly involving both the Russian mob and the nephew of an absurdly minor royal exploded out of nowhere and DCI William Bell found himself dropped squarely into the shit once more. It is a known fact that reporters always turn into cats batting psychotically at a colorful ball of yarn whenever the aristocracy flirts with the criminal underworld, and therefore he was sure it would only be a matter of time before the intrepid Della Smith turned up on his doorstep again.
Bell was one in a long line of natural policemen who had fallen victim to that age old pitfall of being married to his job. It had never bothered him, not really. Perhaps it had bothered his wife just a little. She had teased him about it often enough, right up until she died of a brain aneurysm at age thirty six. He had only just made DCI then- their relationship may not have been perfect, but they'd been happy enough. They'd bought a house, even talked about having kids. His natural reaction to the sharp and sudden loss was to throw himself even further into his work, and once he'd done so there seemed little point in going back.
In many ways, he lived at the station. His office was where he spent most of his time, and he just about managed to get home often enough so that he didn't have to start keeping clean shirts hidden in the locker room. His social life, such as it was, consisted mainly of trips to the pub with his subordinates once or twice a week. Bell very rarely drank to excess, the most notable exception being one incident involving a murder/suicide two months after his wife had died. He'd consumed so many Scotches that a loyal and solicitous Sergeant Cheweski had to drag him home and deposit him into his bed where, once left to his own devices, the floodgates had finally opened up and poured out a textbook breakdown.
He had wept then, gasping for breath with the air-stealing drunken sobs characteristic of a man who doesn't even realize he's been holding his feelings in, crying violently for nearly an hour because the murdered woman had looked so much like his own dead wife. Wiping at his eyes long after the tears had dried, he'd fiddled with his still-gleaming wedding ring and stared at the ceiling as morning light poured through the window and he was able to sleep at last.
And that was it, really. After purging those bitter remnants of his grief, life had fallen into a pattern resembling normality over the next eighteen months or so. Major crime kept happening with disturbing regularity, and that kept DCI Bell busy enough. Aside from the typical depraved misdeeds of the city, things were relatively calm until that fateful night at the hospital- the night when the newly minted DI Brown was killed, and when William Bell met Della Smith for the first time.
He didn't think much of her at first, and why should he? She was a thorn in his side, a worse than usual journalistic nuisance, getting in the way of his investigation and putting people in danger. The slightly prickly bearing and the frumpy clothes were earmarks of a woman who was both young and small in stature, overcompensating wherever it was possible in order to be taken seriously. Her barely hidden refusal to cooperate with his initial inquiries along with what seemed to be an infuriating string of inexplicable white lies had made Bell angry… and it was the most alive he could remember feeling in a very long time.
Bell looked up at a sharp knock against the doorframe to find his sergeant looking rather harassed. "Chewy?"
"Bloke getting ready to open up for dinner service just found a body in the alleyway behind his restaurant. Very dead. Can't these bastards ever wait to report crime until after the shift change?"
Allowing a brief smile, Bell stood quickly, donning his overcoat and referring to the clock on the wall with a slight tilt of his neck. "It's not even gone six. Pub'll still be standing after we sort it- damn boring way to spend an evening anyway. Best crack on."
As they hurried out the front doors of the station, Bell spotted a lone figure crossing the road at the corner. He recognized Della Smith straight off, his eyebrows shooting up in a brief and involuntary gesture of pleased surprise. Her small form approached with typical confidence, feet clad in flat brown boots. She pulled restlessly at the neckline of her cardigan as a breeze blew strands of light brown hair across her face. He gestured to Chewy, who nodded and continued toward the car park. William Bell removed his hands from his pockets and stood just a little bit straighter as Della reached the bottom of the station stairs, regarding him with those ever inquisitive brown eyes.
Study nursing, they'd said. It's the easiest way to get a job these days. What can you do with a poncey liberal arts degree? Journalism? What do you want to do that for? May as well go get a job at Tesco or grab yourself a regular spot in the dole queue.
Glasgow was a bit bleak in her youth, especially as far as her family was concerned. Her father spent most of his time in the pub, especially after the eldest Smith child managed to get his brains smashed out on the pavement by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A bystander killed during a late night street racing accident, Andrew had been seventeen when he died. Her parents never bounced back. Her mother cried, her father drank. Della languished in the background, fourth child of six, determined to show that she was different.
She had finished her studies in London, at City University. It took four years of aggressive freelancing before her CV was sufficiently stacked to catch the eye of Cameron Foster, and she'd had her first assignment before the interview was even over. At twenty nine she was still one of the youngest staff writers at The Herald, although Dan had recently edged her out- in youth and impetuousness if not in overall skill. She couldn't complain, though. They had all worked together on the tangled web of intrigue that was the Collins story, and having her name on that particular byline was certainly a feather in her cap. Three papers and two news agencies had tried to recruit her in the weeks since the story went to print. Even Reuters wanted her, for heaven's sake, but Della had no interest in going to the Middle East and being blown up just to get a story that everyone else would already have. London was dangerous enough at the moment, thanks. Speaking of which…
"…were bringing the guns in on trucks originating in France. The import company is definitely the main front they're using, but it's not clear yet where all of the money comes from. There's got to be something we're missing."
Frowning, Cameron steepled his fingers beneath his chin. He was very still and quiet, but managed to maintain his usual editorial air of impatience. "What are the Met saying about it?"
"I've asked around," Cal leaned back, fiddling with his pen. "One of my contacts seems to think they have someone under deep cover with the Russians. The operation isn't related to this matter, though, and they risk blowing the cover if they try to contact their man on the inside." Placing the pen carefully back onto the tabletop, Cal peered at her slyly out of the corner of his eye. "I thought maybe Della might know more."
Snapping to attention, Della scowled and crossed her arms over her chest. "What? Why would I know anything?"
Everyone was quiet for a long moment. Dan snickered as Pete elbowed him in the ribs. "Haven't you asked your copper?"
Rolling her eyes, Della sank back down into her chair. Of course she should have known the teasing wouldn't end right along with the Collins story. It would be foolish to expect otherwise. When journalists think they know something, they clamp onto it like a dog with its jaws around a particularly juicy bone- this lot especially. Her eyebrows furrowed, contemplating the notion of DCI William Bell. Would their information sharing arrangement continue now? They had spent quite a bit of time together during the Collins scandal, falling into an easy and mutually beneficial pattern of reciprocity. She'd had no reason to contact him in the past few weeks, although she'd scrolled past his name in her phone on a couple of occasions and felt oddly tempted. "I suppose I could…"
Cameron stood abruptly, signifying the end of the briefing. "Do. You've got a big fish on the line there, my girl. Best not let him wriggle off the hook." He removed his glasses, giving Della a pointed look as he slipped them into his pocket and walked back toward his desk. The rest of the team dispersed, hurrying off to check sources or find a new lead to dig into.
Resigned to the inevitable, Della grabbed her cardigan off the back of her chair and made her way to the lift. It was just past five o'clock now, and if she knew Bell he would be at the station for another hour at the very least. She would make it there in good time even if the tube was jammed with commuters. Della tamped down the butterflies that were rippling through her midsection, refusing to let her mind dwell over how he would react to seeing her again.
The sky was a particularly murky shade of gray, not that this was unusual for London. As she met up with his tall form just outside the station Della couldn't help but notice that the grayness all around- the sky, the pavement, the harsh modern façade of the station building- made the blue of DCI Bell's irises stand out more sharply. It wasn't the first time she had noticed the man's eyes. They were changeable, the way she imagined a dragon's eyes would be. They had flashed a steely molten green at her the first night that they met at the hospital, and she'd seen those eyes display blues ranging from iceberg-at-midnight to the protective warmth of cornflower since she'd known him. They were currently exhibiting a clear cobalt, and regarding her with polite interest.
"Wandering a bit far afield from your natural habitat today aren't you, Della? You lost?"
It was possible that she had imagined it, but she could have sworn there was a smile hidden behind his question. She tilted her head, stepping sideways onto the first of the station stairs so that she could look him in the eye more directly. "No, Chief Inspector." She noticed that he seemed distracted, glancing toward the car park. "I was actually hoping for a bit of a chat. Is this a bad time?"
"We're just off on a shout. Can it wait until tomorrow?"
They peered at each other, and Della sensed an odd tension stretching between the two of them like a wire. "It's… important. At least I think it is. I could come with you...?"
Bell broke eye contact, releasing a small chuckle. "What, to a nice fresh murder scene? That wouldn't be very gentlemanly of me."
Biting her lip, Della idly wondered if she was being given the brush off. She also briefly contemplated the state of her mental health, seeing as she felt like an awkward teenager trying to ask an older boy to the dance. She twisted her hands, momentarily unable to meet his glance. Perhaps the direct approach was best. "It's about Edward Clarke and the guns."
Sighing, Bell rubbed the back of his neck. "Why am I not surprised?" He looked at her appraisingly, studying her with his intent blue gaze. "No rest for the wicked, I suppose. There's a pub about a block past the tube station. You know it?"
"I'm sure I can find it…" She looked at him questioningly, feeling unaccountably nervous as Sergeant Cheweski pulled up to the curb in an unmarked car.
"This should take an hour, maybe two. Three if it's a particularly messy one, which they usually aren't. Shall we make it nine o'clock?"
Della released a breath she didn't even realize she'd been holding, nodding slowly when she realized he was still waiting for a reply. "Sounds fine. Just call if you won't make it back in time." Suddenly aware that she was operating under a rather large assumption, she grabbed for her mobile reflexively, cheeks turning slightly pink. "You have still got my number…?"
"Yeah. Yeah, 'course I have." Bell backed away slowly, inclining his head as a means of farewell. "See you later, then."
"Right, okay." she replied weakly, watching as he climbed into the passenger seat with a characteristic pout fixed back onto his features.
It's strictly business, she reminded herself. Don't give those juvenile tossers back at the Herald the satisfaction. So why, then, did she suddenly feel like she had a date tonight?
In the end it was about eight thirty when he walked through the door of the pub. The murder itself hadn't exactly qualified as messy, but there were a few complications that had made things slow going for SOCO and the situation was delicate enough that he wouldn't have felt right leaving the scene. It all pointed back to guns, yet again. Three of them in a satchel in the dumpster next to the body, quite clearly not the same caliber as the one used in the execution style killing that had occurred.
They hadn't learned much about the victim; it was still unclear whether he was connected to the syndicate that had been plaguing London's streets of late, or if he was an unfortunate bystander who popped up in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn't employed by the restaurant owner who had found him or at the tavern on the other side of the alley, which made Bell suspect the former. He was Russian, as it happened. The complexity of this case was growing by leaps and bounds, and that made him feel even more cautious about the meeting he had arranged with Della Smith. The woman was too clever by half, and he really didn't need the press monkeying about with his investigation. Professional defenses firmly in place, he leaned against the bar and scanned the dimly lit room for her presence.
She was over in the corner, and hadn't spotted him yet. Head bent over a laptop computer, she had a half-finished glass of red wine in her left hand and one foot tucked beneath the opposite leg. Whatever was on the screen was commanding Della's full attention, so he continued to study her while he waited for the barman to make his way over. Bell couldn't refrain from noticing how the candlelight caught the golden undertones in her hair. This is not helping, he thought to himself.
The barman arrived quickly, recognizing a familiar face who needed a drink and always paid his tab. "What can I get you, Inspector?"
"Just a Scotch, Charlie." Bell chanced another glance at Della, whose concentration had apparently been interrupted by the sound of his voice. She was peering at him calmly. Looking at her nearly empty glass, he quirked a questioning eyebrow and made a drinking motion with one hand. She nodded, giving a small smile as she snapped the laptop shut. "And whatever the lady is drinking. Cheers." Collecting the drinks, he made his way to the table with just a few long strides.
"Thanks. Interesting night?" Della propped an elbow on the scratched wooden surface, leaning her temple against a closed fist.
Sliding into the booth across from her, Bell took a sizable sip of his drink and leaned back against the slightly worn banquette. "Homicide isn't always as enthralling as people think. This one's hardly worth a mention." Della shot him a skeptical look which made it clear that she knew he wasn't being entirely truthful, but she didn't push it. Apparently her journalistic instincts were sharp enough to know when it's best not to ask a question.
They sat in companionable silence for a long moment, and it occurred to Bell that under different circumstances their current setting could be considered quite romantic. Candlelight, drinks, a secluded booth in the corner of a quiet pub, the avid way she studied him with those warm brown eyes… He tapped the fingers of one hand against the side of his glass in agitation, using the other to loosen his necktie. Christ, he was in big trouble.
Don't stare, Della. For fuck's sake, just don't. William Bell was sitting across from her looking slightly rumpled, utterly masculine, and completely delicious. He was not a small man, and the solid bulk of his presence dominated both the space he occupied and all facets of her attention. She used all of her considerable willpower to school her face into a neutral expression as Bell tugged at his necktie and popped open the top button of his dress shirt. Della could smell just a hint of his aftershave, and could actually almost hear the sound of her professional comportment crumbling in the wake of the two glasses of wine she had consumed. Bell took another slug of Scotch and rolled his shoulders. Della only just managed to remember that she had come here for a reason.
She cleared her throat and leaned forward slightly. "So, about Clarke…"
The man across from her frowned, biting the inside of his bottom lip as he searched her eyes. "Look, Della. There's only one way I can do this. You tell me what you think you know, and I'll fill in the blanks if I can. If you've got something I don't already have, I can't promise to keep it quiet this time. This case is running us 'round in circles."
His uncompromising tone gave her pause. "You won't say you got the information from me…?"
"Not unless I have no other choice. And I'll warn you in advance."
Della cocked her head to the side. "I'm sticking my neck out here too, you know."
"I'll lose a lot more than just a juicy story if this all goes wrong. Take it or leave it."
It wasn't the arrangement she'd been hoping for, but she could understand the reasoning from his perspective. Sharing information was a risk in many ways, and an outright danger in others. His scrutinizing gaze was smoky blue and intense in the flickering light of the simple white candle between them. They stared each other down, Bell looking rather uptight with the flats of his hands resting on the tabletop. Della knew this was a battle she wasn't going to win. She sighed. "Okay. Meet me again tomorrow and I'll give you everything."
Bell visibly relaxed, dropping his eyes to study the amber liquid in his glass. For a split second, Della hoped he might willfully misinterpret the poorly phrased offer she had just made. He was a detective chief inspector, after all. Wasn't he trained to notice double meanings and extrapolate people's hidden motives? There was a flash of unguarded curiosity in his expression when he looked back up at her, and Della's heart beat a little bit faster- right up until she noticed the shining band of platinum glinting up at her from Bell's left ring finger.
Here comes the 'more notes' section!
Oops, is that a wedding ring? Tsk tsk. Whatever is Della supposed to think?
For anyone who is wondering, this story does not have a very involved crime-centric plot. It has pretty curtains that try to look like a plot. Don't pay them too much mind. The fic is completely relationship driven, which will become obvious as it progresses.
In regards to Bell's marital status, I did feel bad for killing off his wife. I believe other authors have done so in the past as well... it was really the only way to get her out of the way and also explain why he's still wearing a wedding ring. For the purpose of this fic I wanted Bell to be in a situation where he's entirely free to pursue a relationship. Too bad nobody told Della that!
Don't worry, I haven't developed too much of a conscience or anything- I already have a much more salacious Della/Bell fic idea which involves copious amounts of adultery. Like I can resist? Please. ^_~
I've really enjoyed writing this story so far, and any feedback will be appreciated. The next part will be posted very soon. Thanks for reading!