"then stand yourself by me
we'll fall until we're free
this helium prefers no ceiling."

the long haul by NO

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.

.

It rains on the day of the interview.

She practices her name in the mirror, a chant, a slow litany of syllables until the words come naturally, "Hello, I'm Sam Cassidy, hello I'm Sam Cassidy, hello I'm Sam Cassidy, Sam Cassidy, Sam Cassidy," until she can say it all with a smile, white and perfect. She doesn't know the man she's interviewing for, didn't even think to check who he is until it was too late, but she's desperate for a position, any position, as long as it means she has a job again.

She knows she has all the basic qualities of a good PA: smart, capable, obedient, pretty, but not too. (She had learned that a man in a position of power feels entitled to look at something nice for a day of work he should be doing anyway, but would prefer said nice thing not to interfere with his marriage.)

All in all, she thinks she'll be fine. Probably.

x

She doesn't expect for him to be yelling at someone in the room where she's supposed to be waiting, her sitting stone-still as a statue, slightly soaked from trying to run through the storm. And it's not just in the general area, it's literally two feet away, as in she can see the little bits of spittle flying from his mouth as he verbally berates the cowering man opposite him.

She's mildly terrified.

Most of what he says is in the form of a curse, Scottish accented shouts of fuck and prick and twat and cunt and shit, and she kind of wants to start crying because she's having a vision of herself in the same situation every day for the rest of her miserable life. She also needs money, though.

(Spoiler alert: money wins. As it always does.)

When he's just about finished, called for her to come into his office and, "Don't worry about that, he's a nasty little bugger," she simply shakes her head, averts her gaze, and tells him, "No, no, it's fine. Really." He looks almost disappointed at her consummate politeness.

The interview goes fine by anyone's standards, but she has a feeling that by his standards she has failed spectacularly. She stands to leave, shakes his hand, and walks out of the office as quickly as possible.

When she stops by the vending machine to get a coke because is it really too much for her to get a bloody soda? is when things start going downhill.

She recognizes the man who grabs her arse as she bends over to get the aluminum can as the one Mr. Tucker was screaming at for piss-poor work, and as she twists his arm behind his back (thank you, three older brothers) she smirks a little at the irony.

All it takes is one whispered threat into his ear of, "Don't you dare fucking touch me again," every single word emphasized so that her message is crystal clear for the man to back off, sprinting out of the deserted hallway with his tail between his legs.

And then when she turns around again, clutching her coke, proud of her victory, it's all "Oh god did you see that I'm so so so so sorry," and Malcolm fucking Tucker standing there grinning, telling her in an accented drawl, "Well, I'll be fucked. You're hired, Ms. Cassidy."

She doesn't know exactly what she's gotten herself into.

x

She quickly learns that he's only truly happy when he's yelling at someone. Sometimes she'll be sitting at her little desk, minding her own business, when he'll lean out of the office, scream Sam! and she'll startle, turn to him, certain she'll be the next PA to go after only a month (then two then six then a year then she doesn't remember a time when she wasn't working for him).

That's when he'll smile, ask her to get someone from one of the departments (DoSAC is always his favorite) because "I'd like to have a bit of a shout now, yeah? Really fuckin' stick it up their bloody fucking arses."

These are the times when she simply sticks her headphones in and continue working as he rages on the other side of the door. Sometimes, if she listens hard enough, she can hear the other person's dignity crumbling bit by bit.

Malcolm always looks so refreshed afterwards.

x

The first time he asks her to get flowers for his mother for her birthday, she actually laughs, starts half-shrieking half-crying as he glares at her, full force, bollocking face on and at the ready.

"What's so funny about gettin' flowers for my dear old mum? It's her fuckin' birthday for Chrissake, I wouldn't be much of a fuckin' son 'f I didn't."

She quiets herself carefully, simply tells him she'll get right on it, and he nods, looking back at her curiously.

He always does that with her. With anyone else he'd threaten to "chop your fucking balls off and feed them to you while your wife watches and begs me to stop, but I won't because I hate you that fuckin' much, you goddamn cock-suckers," but with her he just asks why.

Later in the day, when she's actually composed herself, and he asks again, she just shrugs.

"I always thought you'd sprung forty-five and fully formed from the ground. Like a little hobgoblin or some other terrifying monster, ready to spout political spin as soon as you learned how to walk."

She takes it as a sign that he likes her when he laughs at that. She smiles at him in return.

x

She actually gets good at her job, which is the most surprising part. She had expected to start hating it after a week, but after a while it becomes part of her personality; smart, capable, obedient, good with dealing with Malcolm Tucker during one of his temper tantrums.

Sam doesn't exactly know when, but at some point she becomes the go-to girl to get things through when no one wants to deal with him anymore. She starts tallying up the times that a nervous little man approaches her, someone who should be more senior anyway, hands shaking, and sputtering out, "C-can you make sure Malcolm sees this? Thank you so so so much, Sam."

The total after a year and a half of working there is four-hundred twenty-six times. She shows the number to him, and he rolls his eyes.

She pretends not to notice the way some of the women in the office start to call her "Malcolm bloody Tucker's girl, always thought she was funny, and aren't they sleeping together?" If he knows about that, he doesn't mention it to her.

x

The first time someone yells at her, it's not Malcolm (which is what shocks her more than anything else to be honest).

It really is nothing, all things considered, just some wanker from the second floor who's yelling at her in the copy room because his "Bloody fax didn't go through!" and "Are you deaf, you right bloody bitch, you're s'posed to be fixin' it!"

She sends him her toughest glare as she continues fiddling with the machine, simply rolling her eyes when the man continues to shout abuse. She doesn't really find it all that intimidating. After her boss, everyone else with a short temper and a loud voice kind of pales in comparison.

When he grabs her forearm unexpectedly, shoves her out of the way to get working on the machine himself, she makes a little yelping noise, surprised at the physical contact. She turns back to him, about to actually tell him off and maybe return that bruise that he may or may not have left on her arm, when she notices suddenly that someone else is there too.

He stands in the doorframe, not making any indication that he's there, just waiting for the other man to notice him. When he sees Sam looking up, he gives her a little nod, setting his jaw into a determined line.

He says the other man's name, softly, quietly, terrifyingly."Oh, Gregory, could I have a word with you for a moment?"

He tenses, every line of his body like a drawn wire, and he closes his eyes, as if willing the reality of Malcolm fucking Tucker standing right behind him away. Then he's turning to face him, and, "Oh, Malcolm, didn't see you there, I was just getting that fax through, yeah?"

"You do know that this lovely young lady there is my personal assistant, don't you Gregory?"

(This, of course, is a bad sign, as Sam learned early on that he only uses people's names when he is really and truly going to fuck them up seven unique and creative ways from Sunday.)

"Can't say I did know, no Malcolm."

After that it's a blur of swears and accusations and righteous Scottish anger and "How dare you even think of manhandling my assistant like that, or any other woman for that matter, you great fuckin' twat?"She quietly slips out before he can begin getting to his string of mostly offensive comments about whether or not Gregory's mouth has been used for blowjobs, and it's the only time in her memory that she's been genuinely frightened of the fact that Malcolm's a bit like a loose cannon that can go off at any time.

She decides that as long as she's working for him, she should make sure that the horrifying rabid hobgoblin/enforcer that is Malcolm Tucker is never pointed anywhere near her general direction.

x

Sometimes she'll notice suddenly the way he treats her with a marked difference from everyone else he interacts with who is on his own level. She begins to notice more and more that he's never horrible with any other the assistants or secretaries. She theorizes that it's because he doesn't want to fuck with the people who handle his food. She hopes it's because he is, underneath the gristly exterior of terror and Saruman-like evilness, a decent human being.

She knows at least part of it is that she's the only one who laughs at the horrible jokes he makes when he gets stressed. On those occasions, she'll snort a bit at the pitiful attempt he's making at trying to calm himself down, and he'll look over at her, smile a little, and carry on with more vigor than before. She finds that it makes her happy when he feels better.

She doesn't examine what this means.

x

She meets his ex-wife four years after she starts working for him, when his hair is more grey than brown and he's beginning to look more worn around the edges, thinner, more velociraptory than before, even. The woman is gorgeous for her age, as tough as nails, and terribly quick with her words.

The former Mrs. Tucker looks Sam up and down, smirks a little, asks, "You're his new one?" When she nods in confirmation, the woman chuckles. "Good luck then."

She stalks into Malcolm's office, and Sam spends the rest of the day cleaning up the shit-storm that follows their interaction with Jamie's reluctant help and his snort of, "That fucking bastard and his weird fucking thing with his bitch fucking ex-wife, an' he makes me pick up the pieces, that fucking fuck-twat."

Sam kind of hopes she never stops by again.

x

There are countless take-out dinners, boring meetings, passed-on messages, and one uncomfortable incident in which both of them fall asleep on the same couch (an incident which neither make mention of again).

She decides they have to have become friends somewhere along the line when she realizes that she's the only person at work who ever asks after him, the only one who smiles at him after a weekend and says cheerfully,"How are you, doing well?" And he, in turn, grins at her and replies without too much of an overabundance of curses.

By the six year mark she's not sure when it became less of a job as much as a personal favor. She thinks she would follow him anywhere, has followed him anywhere, has switched sides and perspectives and enemies and friends because he asked her to and all out of what? A sense of loyalty? Respect? Friendship?

She thinks it's different from that, somehow. She doesn't quite understand how, but. It is.

x

She knows things are different for her at least when she's the only one who actually seems to care during the inquiry, who looks at his face and can't stand how devastatingly bone-tired he looks because he gave everything to a job that ate him up from the inside and spat out the leftover pieces like so many bitter seeds, and she's the only one who cares because she's the only one who sees him, just a glimmer of Malcolm Tucker left in his eyes, not even enough to be called a decent spark.

She watches when he resigns later on the telly, looks into his eyes and can't see any of the fire, any of the fight anymore and then he just leaves with a soft, "Doesn't matter."

But it does, of course. That's the problem.

x

Well, she's out of a job, then. Ollie had asked her to stay on as his PA, with his smarmy little face and his smug little grin, and can't anyone see that no one will be able to pull it off, no one, least of all that Oxbridge twat, will be able to replace the hole that Malcolm left gaping like an open wound?

She calls him up the day after the announcement, practically in tears over the phone, and it's the closest he's come to yelling at her in the eight years they've been together because "Why the fuck are you fuckin' cryin' you daft woman, you're fine, I'm gonna make sure you're fine after this, an' don't worry 'cause perjury is a tad bit difficult to prove you can say that fucking much, we'll be abso-fuckin'-lutely fine, I promise you that, darling."

She laughs at his continued monologue of ridiculous comparisons and mixed-up swears and pretends that she believes him when he tells her he's okay.

x

She doesn't even really want to get another job, least of all as an assistant to someone else, but get one she does, at some law firm where she works as a secretary for a halfway decent family man who gives her cards on major calendar holidays and never swears when in the presence of other coworkers and tells her to go home before it gets too dark and who would never stay up all night with her talking and eating ramen noodles.

She's unsurprised to discover that she sort of misses the shouting.

x

Sometime during the whole ordeal she actually begins to see parts of him that never existed before, parts that she thinks were probably stamped out like a half-burnt cigarette sometime between him first getting his job and his divorce. On days when she's not helping him not panic over something that he thinks will fuck up the case, or he's helping her not panic over something that she thinks will fuck him up, she finds out that he actually used to like things.

They watch movies, and he shows her music that he used to listen to before it took up too much time, and she watches as the books on his shelves have their spines cracked open for the first time, one by one.

He smiles more, too.

That's the best part.

x

The trial itself takes far too long (though any length of time for that is far too long). Perjury is a tad bit difficult to prove, after all.

Which is, of course, how he ends up with the right verdict, not guilty, of bloody course, and when she hugs him after the decision he actually holds his arms around her in some semblance of a response. Jamie actually shows up to offer his congratulations too, and she can see some of the life returning to his face. The Caledonian Mafia, back together at last.

It's a good day, all in all.

x

He gets multiple offers on his memoirs, and he has a substantial amount of money set aside besides that, even with a good chunk of it washed away by all the trial expenses. She asks him over lunch one day what he thinks he might do now, and he shrugs, the first time she's seen him do that in any sort of casual way.

"Dunno. Maybe I'll retire. Maybe I'll just start following you round everywhere, think maybe that'd calm me down."

"As your friend, I recommend the first option. Less walking. You should start on those memoirs though too, yeah?"

"You are my friend." That part is sudden. She just stares at him for a minute as he looks her in the eye, focuses all of that fire on her and it makes her heart quicken for a moment. "You're my only friend, only real friend anyway, besides maybe Jamie. Thank you for that."

"You're welcome, Malcolm, now we should really-"

"No, I mean it. Thank you. For everything."

"You're welcome. Are you gonna eat all of your chips? Actually, never mind, I'm taking them no matter what your answer is."

x

There really is no reason for them to continue talking when they're not actually working together anymore, but talk they do. And go to lunch. And dinner. And movies. Alone. Without other people around. And she dresses up and makes sure her hair looks nice and cares about her appearance on these occasions. And he wears suits (without a tie, mind you).

But it's not like they're dating.

That would be ridiculous.

She thinks.

Probably.

x

She actually halfway expects him to yell at her more now that they're on equal footing in their little world, but he's just as nice to her. He still swears like a sailor when he's with Jamie though, which she appreciates because Malcolm wouldn't be Malcolm if he wasn't mildly enraged at least 80 percent of the time.

The other 20 percent of the time he's with her, although she never acknowledges that.

x

They're at lunch when Jamie unexpectedly shows up and invites himself to eat with them. Not that she has a problem with Jamie, because he's kind of like the brother she never had who she would hate now if they had grown up together, but they didn't, so she likes him. However, when Malcolm gets up to go to the bathroom, he leans forward and, as annoyingly as any family member, pokes her with his finger, asks excitedly, "So're you two shagging yet?"

She starts. "What? No. What?"

He smiles, a mischievous glint in his eye. "Really? Would've thought he would've made a move by now. He always was a bloody fucking pansy when it came to girls he really liked though. S'pose you'd be worse than the rest."

"He doesn't like me, Jamie, we're not bleedin' second grade kids. He doesn't tug on my fucking pigtails."

"Wow, he really has rubbed off on you, no pun intended. No, 'm afraid it's much worse than that." She rolls her eyes, already only half-listening. "I mean, he's in love with you, the bloody poof. S'pose it'd be much worse for him in that respect, wouldn't you say?"

Sam chokes on her drink just as Malcolm returns from the loo.

"You alright, love? You look like death reincarnated as something worse than death."

"Yeah, you look like Terri, Sam."

"Or Ollie."

"Or Ollie, Sam."

x

Things change. Slowly at first, little increments, bit by bit, so that Sam doesn't actually realize how different it's become until it's all snowballed into a virtual avalanche of shifting boundaries, and then there he is, sticking his tongue down her fucking throat because apparently this is what's been happening.

The day starts off as usual. She wakes up in the morning, goes to work, meets Malcolm for lunch, goes back to work, leaves before eight, and is back at her flat ready to watch some shitty episode of Glee so that she can tell Malcolm all about the ridiculousness of the show the following day. All in all, it's business as usual.

What she doesn't expect is for someone to knock on her door at a quarter after midnight, just as she's about to go to sleep. She looks through the peephole, pepper spray at the ready, only to huff in annoyance because "What on earth are you doing here at this time of the bloody night, Malcolm, are you fucking serious?"

He furrows his brow, shoots back, "I'm here because you weren't answering my calls, and I got worried. And of course I'm fucking serious. I'm deadly serious. I'm the number fucking one fuckin' exporter of seriousness in Great Britain. I'm so fucking serious I am both Prime Minister and the bloody fuckin' enforcer for the Prime Minister in how serious I am."

"That took two minutes longer than it should have."

He narrows his eyes at her. "I do everything at exactly the pace I mean to, Sam. I'm like that grey bloody wizard except sharper. Better. More attractive."

"I suppose I'd rather fuck you than Sir Ian McKellen, but I have a feeling he wouldn't go for me anyway. Are you okay?"

He recovers a bit from choking, manages to squeak out, "'m fine. Just- fine."

He looks better, she notices suddenly, better than he did a year ago, at the end of the trial. He looks like he gained some weight back, no longer has a hollow-eyed skeletal look about him. His eyes aren't deadened anymore, which is always a plus. "So, d'you fancy a coffee? As long as you're here."

He accepts her offer, follows her into the kitchen, and then sometime after him setting the cup she hands him down again and her leaning back on the counter by her forearms, he's lifting her onto the table and nudging her knees open with his hands and grabbing her at the waist and then oh god, he's actually kissing her and is this actually fucking happening right now? His tongue is warm and heavy in her mouth and it tastes like coffee and too much sugar because for such a bitter old man he has a habit of taking his drink too sweet.

Which she supposes has a variety of meanings when applied to this particular situation.

She supposes that this also means he wasn't actually worried about her not answering her phone, although right now she's fine with the whole ulterior motive thing.

x

He actually stays till the morning, which she had hoped for but wasn't counting on particularly. She wakes up on her couch, an afghan draped carefully over her body, and she stands slowly, wrapping the blanket around her shoulders, and walks in on him cleaning the kitchen counter, his sleeves rolled up, his hair still rumpled from sleep.

"I have a lot of questions. Most of them are about what is happening right now."

"I wanted to make you some bloody breakfast, but I didn't want to cook on this countertop. I prefer keeping my food and my fucking totally separate. Makes things easier." He smiles at her, taking her in with suddenly dilated pupils. "Morning. What are your other questions about?"

"Why did that take you so fuckin' long?"

He shrugs, and the gesture is beginning to look a bit more natural on him. But only kind of. "It's not the easiest fucking thing in the world to decide to make a move on your assistant. Especially if she's a bit younger than you."

"Just a bit." She's smiling at him, and there is a matching grin on his face, and everything feels different, and if someone had told her nine years ago that this is where she'd be she would have been both frightened and slightly turned on, but here she is. With Malcolm Fucking Tucker.

But it's good, she supposes. Actually it's pretty fucking brilliant.

It's raining outside, but Sam doesn't much mind. It's not like there going to leave her flat anytime soon anyway.

x

"Hey."

"Yeah?"

"I- I'm not quite sure how to say it actually. Fuckin' movies, making everything look so easy. We should sue, Sam, you're still working for that barrister, right?"

"Yeah I am. But no, it's okay. I love you, too."

"Oh."

"That's what you were going to say right? Bullocks, you weren't, were you? Shit shit fuckity fuck."

"No, I was."

"Oh."

"And I do. Love you."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"Well, that was anti-climatic."

"Oh, fuck off."

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the end