“You, too, Matt,” Karen mumbled, scurrying past Mickey with her head lowered until she could retreat to the safety of the car.
“So,” Mickey said eventually, when they were safely out of sight of the hotel (and Matt’s car) and cruising along a not-particularly-busy road. “Good morning?”
“Yes, it was, um - well. Weird. But nice? I don’t know.” Karen mumbled distractedly, blushing slightly and trying to look casually out of the window.
“Right, I…see,” Mickey nodded sagely, even though he clearly didn’t. “Good.”
Karen nodded, smiling tightly, and the rest of the car ride passed in a slightly frosty silence until they arrived at the studios.
“Here we go,” Mickey smiled. “See you at eight?”
“Yes, and - listen, sorry I’m not very talkative, it’s just -” Karen broke off, shaking her head with a small humourless laugh. “Nothing.”
“It’s fine, Karen, don’t worry. Have a good day.”
And with that, Mickey drove off, leaving Karen stranded in the car park and dreading the day ahead. They were filming some early scenes for Vincent and the Doctor at the moment, which meant today would be just the two of them in the gallery - surrounded by extras and Bill Freaking Nighy, sure, but acting, to all intents and purposed, alone.
Matt loaded into his towncar, smiling a quick hello at his driver.
She tapped her watch angrily. “You aren’t my only client, you know. Not even close. I can’t just wait along all morning for you and your girlfriend to come back from your morning stroll.”
“She’s not my girlfriend.” he corrected quickly. The woman scowled. “And I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be late—I guess time just got away from us. Sorry.”
Rolling her eyes, the woman stepped into the car, muttering angrily. “Famous types, think they own the whole world…”
He rolled his eyes in response, and closed his eyes against the window. As wonderful as it had been to talk with Karen for the first in what felt like years, he really could have used that hour or two of sleep he might’ve been able to squeeze out of the early morning hours. Couple that with the stressful night in the jail cell, and Matt was really not at his best.
She dropped him off in front of the gallery and rolled off with an angry sounding screech of tires.
“I…” Karen took a deep, shuddering breath, and then turned to face Matt with a small smile. “Yeah, I know. And - it’s okay, Matt. It really is. I mean, it’s not, but it will be, yeah? We’ll get back to where we were - I mean, as friends, yeah? We’ll get back to Sundays at the market and coffee shop singing sessions and - and everything, I don’t even know.”
“Everything,” Matt nodded. “It’s tough right now, but…”
“Yeah,” Karen sighed slightly. “Just…I miss it, and I miss us, and I know we shouldn’t rush back to spending so much time together, and I know we’re a bit weird right now, but… I don’t want to wait, I guess.”
“Kaz-” Matt sounded almost in pain.
“I know! I know. Sorry. Didn’t mean to say all that, it just sort of…happened. It’s all right. We - we should probably get back to the hotel.”
“Yeah.” he mutters. It’s almost an afterthought. The couple marches back to the hotel, neither talking. Every minute or so, however, one will look at the other. They’re not long looks—just glances, really, meant to reassure themselves that, yes, they are both enjoying an especially awkward silence, and, no, this is not ending soon.
They reach the hotel, and realize they’re already two minutes late for work. Mickey and Matt’s scowling driver are waiting outside, doors open and eyebrows raised.
“Well, er. It was nice to see you, Kazza.”
“I…” Karen bit her lip and ducked her head sightly. “Yeah, okay, it’s - “
She broke off; swallowed audibly; tried to start again. “Obviously, it’s none of my business, don’t worry, I just - you don’t have to - it;s fine.”
“No,” Matt shook his head slightly, his eyes wide. “That’s not what I meant, Kaz -“
“Course it was,” KAren smiled a little brittlely. “And it’s fine, Matt, don’t worry, it was me who maybe thought -“
She broke off, cheeks wam, and quickened her pace slightly, keeping her feet moving forwards one step at a time just like Matt was; both of them now simply walking next to each other, rather than together.
“Kaz, please…” he reached out his hand, but she shirked away from his touch. Nodding a little in his resolve, he stopped walking. “Karen, no, alright? Of course you have the right, you’ll always have the right, whether we’re dating or best friends or just friends or we haven’t spoken in ten years.”
“But I can’t right now. Not when everything is so screwed up, I can’t even… I’m sorry, Kazza. I really am. It sucks right now, and it’s going to suck for a while, but this isn’t over. I swear to you, it isn’t over. Even if it doesn’t feel like it now, I will always be your friend. Prefixes not required.”
Karen tensed momentarily before making a conscious effort to relax; it was fine, they were fine, friends held hands, they were just comfortable around each other, everything was fine. Still, she thought her fingers were shaking.
“So, um,” Karen cleared her throat in an effort to dispell the heavy silence. “Are you - I mean. Are you all right?”
“Course I am,” Matt looked at her quizically. “Why on earth wouldn’t I?”
“Oh, you know,” Karen waved her right hand expressively, all to aware of her left hand still intertwined with Matt’s. “The whole spent-a-night-in-prison thing might be a clue.”
“I told you, it’s nothing.” he replied, his voice considerably less energetic. “Just a stupid mistake. I make a lot of stupid mistakes. ‘S alright.”
She rolled her eyes. “Obviously not nothing.”
“And it wasn’t a night. Four hours, tops.”
“You were out at one? Jesus, Matt, what were you thinking?”
He removed his hand from hers and turned away. “It’s nothing, Kazza.”
After they’d consumed an obscene amount of burritos and coffee, Karen and Matt wandered somewhat aimlessly back towards the hotel. Karen checked her watch; it was still only just gone five in the morning, and the cars were due to pick them up for work at seven thirty.
“Listen, um,” she said, looking across at Matt slightly apprehensively. “You want to just… I don’t know. Walk?”
“Walk?” Matt repeated, his eyes widening ever so slightly - Karen rushed to reassure him.
“Yeah, just, you know. walk for a bit. Not like go for a walk together, that’s not what I meant, I just meant let’s…just go for a walk together. Um…” she blushed slightly, still not sure she had made her point very well.
“No, I get you,” Matt nodded, laughing a little. “C’mon, then.”
She smiled, relieved, and shyly nudged his elbow with hers. “Okay.”
“Okay!” she rolled her eyes, and Matt grinned, pausing a little before repeating one more time,
“Okay,” Karen laughed, and they set off along the still-deserted high street, heading for Bute Park.
“So, er.” he said quickly. “You seem to have stolen my valet. How’s Mickey?”
“He seems alright. I think he misses you, though.” she replied, smiling to herself. The light of the rising sun framed the city skyline as they marched toward the park, creating a magnificent view. “But he’s nice. Always brings me coffee. How’s the new girl?”
“Old and a bad driver, but I do alright. Keeps me awake at least.” he smiled at her to show it was alright. It was nearing five AM, and the city was beginning to wake; a group of men unloaded a delivery truck in front of a French restaurant, and an early morning jogger nodded at the blearily.
“You always were falling asleep on the way there… But if she’s really so bad, I suppose you could ride with me today. Mickey’d be glad to see you back.”
“I might just have to take you up on that offer.” he slipped his hand into hers as they reached the park. The motion was supposed to be casual, but he knew his sweaty palm gave him away.
“Arthur?” KAren frowned; the question had come out of leftfield, but she supposed he was just maknig conversation.
“Yes, Arthur, I mean, have you seen him lately?”
“Um…Yesterday, actually. Yeah.”
“Yeah, we went to the market and just hung out, really, you know.”
“Oh?” Matt’s tone was too forced, and Karen blushed hotly at the implication.
“We’re just - Matt, it’s - we - ” She shook her head, closing her eyes for a second. “Let’s not. I’m just glad we’re talking again, yeah?”
“Yeah—it’s nice. We should do the friend thing more often.” he smiled at her reassuringly, though inwardly he still felt a bit slighted. “It’s nice.”
The cook at the burrito stall seemed quite happy to have customers, even at a quarter past four in the morning. They ordered what they always ordered, and both shared a grin at the routine of it all. It could have been a month ago. But, of course… it wasn’t, and they were all too aware of that as well.
“So, lots of exciting stuff coming up in the show.”
The conversation was probably not the most original they’d ever had, but it was comfortable and so utterly normal that that they shared a laugh just for that.
”I…I’d like that, yeah,” Karen felt a warm smile spreading across her features.
“Great!” Matt looked somewhat delighted, and they set off across the deserted hotel lobby.
“Missed you too, you know,” Karen confided quietly when they were in the lift, briefly resting her forehead against Matt’s shoulder.
He stiffened imperceptibly, and she drew away quickly - but to her relief, he was still smiling. “Come on, you,” he said, pulling her by the hand down the corridor.
“Listen, I’m starving, and I bet you are too,” she said, when they were both sitting - a little awkwardly, and very deliberately far apart - on Matt’s bed, their scripts in front of them. “Want to get some breakfast burritos or something?”
The for old time’s sake went unsaid.
“Yeah, um, sounds great,” he replied, perhaps a little too quickly. “I’m hungry too.”
He put away their scripts and they began the trek toward their favorite restaurant. Matt hadn’t gone there in ages for fear of running into Karen, and had missed spending his mornings there with… er, the burritos. Yes, those were some lovely burritos.
Very aware that they were still holding hands, he gulped. “Um… so, have you, uh, seen Arthur around lately?” he asked, searching his brain for a safer subject.
”Really?” Karen allowed herself a small smile, still hidden by a curtain of hair.
“Really,” Matt repeated, nodding once or twice for emphasis. “I guess we’re both just busy, huh?”
Karen nodded; it was true, and not true. Of course they’d been busy, they were always busy, but that wasn’t a reason so much as a minor inconvenience; but they weren’t going to talk about the reason now.
“Yeah, well,” She tried to go for a laugh. “Bit tricky, you know? Lots of work, don’t get out much, I - I mean, I only really meet the people who work on each episode, and that’s only two weeks each, and - well. I know you. But… I mean, yeah.”
“It’s a difficult job, you know?” he said. “Neither of us have any time for… any of that. Not any more, not really.” he smiled awkwardly.
“Yeah.” she agreed quietly.
They fell into a comfortable silence for the rest of the ride, each lost in their thoughts.
The cab didn’t reach their hotel until after four in the morning. Matt sighed. “I’m sorry for dragging you out this late, I really am…”
“I told you, it’s alright. You were in jail—”
“Yeah, but… since we have to be up in an hour anyway, maybe we could practice lines for a bit? Just as friends, and… I’ve missed hanging out with you, Kazza.”
“What?” Karen looked over at Matt, her heart in her mouth. “Why - um - what?”
“Don’t answer, don’t answer,” Matt said quickly, his cheeks flaming. “Sorry, um, stupid question.”
“No, it’s - it’s okay,” she said a little awkwardly. “Just took me by surprise and all.”
“Sorry,” Matt repeated sheepishly, and Karen tired to smile - tried to let him know it was okay, really.
“It’s - well, actually, the answer’s no,” she said softly. “Course I haven’t. Of course not.”
“Of course…?” Matt arched one eyebrow at her, looking more than a little bemused.
Karen sighed, ducking her head to hide her red cheeks behind a curtain of hair. Great. Maybe her casual conversational banter hadn’t been as casual as she’d hoped. “Shut up.”
“Good.” he said, almost to himself.
His ears turned maroon. “Er, not good, exactly, no—just, um—I mean, it’s perfectly alright if you want to… I shouldn’t—don’t have any say in what you do… Oh, that was a bad choice of words, wasn’t it…”
He stopped when he realized she was silently laughing at him.
Possibly not the best question, and certainly not the best time, but Matt was glad he asked. At least now he knew he hadn’t interrupted… er, something important when he called her. Not that Karen was really like that, but…
The question threw him off for a bit. “Ah—uh. No. No, I haven’t, not since… No.” he shook his head adamantly.
Karen gripped on to the back of Matt’s jumper, burying her face in his shoulder and just…breathing in. Just for a couple of seconds, just as long as it took until she knew she could face him with a cheerful smile again.
“You heading back to the hotel?” she asked, keepign her eyes firmly trained an inch or so above Matt’s eyes.
“Yeah, guess so. Pretty tired, so…yeah,” Matt nodded.
“Cool!” Karen grinned a little mechanically. “Want to - I mean - if you don’t have anyything - um - do you want to share a cab?”
God. When had this become so difficult?
“Um,” he smiled genuinely. Maybe this could work after all. “Yeah. Probably good, seeing as I don’t have any money.” He laughed nervously.
Soon, they were outside the police station and piling into a wonderfully heated taxicab. The close quarters it provided led to a few extremely awkward attempts to start up a conversation—“So, how have you been?”, “Read the new scripts yet?”, and the like—before they finally settled on staring out of their respective windows in quiet.
Cursing himself mentally, he attempted to start up conversation again. “So, have you been seeing anyone lately?” he stopped. “Actually, uh, don’t answer that. Never mind.”