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Tuesday, January 1st, 2008 10:58 pm
turning off comments to fight off the spambot
Title: Hydrangeas
Author: [personal profile] bluflamingo
Fandom: Imagine Me & You
Pairing: Rachel/Luce
Rating: PG-13
Words: ~4000
Feedback: Yes please. Even if it’s bad. Especially if it’s bad.
Disclaimer: No, I don’t own them. To my profound disappointment.

Summary: It’s over, but think well of me (post-movie)

A/N: My [livejournal.com profile] yuletide fic for [livejournal.com profile] babykid528



Hydrangeas

1.

"Rachel, look what I got," H says before Rachel's even taken her coat off. She looks behind Rachel and frowns. "Where's Luce?"

"She couldn't make it," Rachel tells her. "Something came up at the shop." Something in the shape of Luce getting an attack of cold feet at the last moment and deciding she absolutely had to go and check on the flowers for a law firm's dinner party next Wednesday.

"Oh," H says, her face falling, and Rachel's not sure whether to be pleased that H wants Luce around still, or a little hurt that she's not good enough on her own anymore.

"So, what have you got?" she asks, finally managing to hang up her coat.

H's face brightens again, and she holds out a bright card. Rachel takes it automatically, but she doesn't register what it actually is until H says, "It's from Heck.

*

Heck's been gone for four weeks; Rachel tried to call him when she found his keys at the flat, then, when that didn't work, called Rob (after Coop hung up on her) and found out that Heck had quit his job and walked out. She wasn't entirely surprised.

"What are you going to do with the flat?" her mum asked over dinner a couple of nights later; Rachel didn't feel right living in their flat, so she'd moved back in with her parents, temporarily - stress on the temporarily, especially when she got back late one night after seeing Luce and her dad was waiting up for her like he had when she was sixteen and going to the cinema with a boy from school.

"I don't know. Heck's dropped off the radar," she said. She assumed they'd sell it, but the mortgage was in both their names, and there was all their stuff to divide up... "I can't get hold of him."

"He's in Australia," H said without looking up from her potatoes.

"Lovely," her dad said, and her mum blinked and said, "Australia? Why?" and Rachel wondered why she was at all surprised that H knew this but asked anyway, "How do you know that?"

"He sent me an email," H said. "Why are platypuses the only mammals to lay eggs?"

*

"That's nice," Rachel says, looking at the postcard of Sydney Opera House. She knows H won't mind her reading it, but she can't help thinking Heck might, so she doesn't turn it over. "Is he having a good time?"

"Yep." H and Heck have been emailing back and forth since he left, and H will tell them bits and pieces of what he says and where he's been, enough that Rachel can tell Heck's editing extensively and fill in some of the gaps for herself. Falling in love with someone else hasn't changed her ability to read him. "He's coming home next week."

"He put that on the postcard?" Rachel asks. "He's probably back already, post takes a long time from Australia."

"I know," H says, like Rachel's an idiot. "That's not on the postcard, that's in his email."

"Right," Rachel says. Maybe she is an idiot, because it never occurred to her until H said it that of course Heck won't be gone forever, and even if London's a big city, her little sister has a friendship with her not-really-ex-yet-husband that's completely independent of her relationship with him, one that won't go away because Rachel's with Luce now. "Great."

2.

It's raining when Heck walks off the plane at Heathrow, and his jacket is in his hold luggage, so his shirt is wet through when he gets inside, and the customs officer glares at him over his passport like he's personally responsible for whatever terrible thing is going on in the UK right now.

Heck grins at him anyway: just because he's got no job, no wife, an appointment with a divorce lawyer and a house he needs to sell, England is still home and he missed it, no matter how amazing Australia was, which was pretty amazing. He's got three notebooks full of stuff: places he's seen, cool, out of the way clubs, deep thoughts and funny things he heard people say on public transport and in cafes. Most of it's useless, he knows that, but some of it's not, even if he does say so himself, and he's feeling good, like he could make something out of it. Something more worthwhile than talking people into investing more money than they actually have and risking their futures.

He's jolted out of his thoughts when he walks straight into someone and she jumps back from him. "Sorry," they say at the same time, and she steadies his arm with a quick brush of her hand. "Sorry," she says again, and Heck grins at her, because it was clearly his fault when she was standing still, but it's so typically British that he feels like hugging her.

*

He gives it a week before he calls Rachel, silently relieved when he gets her voicemail instead of her. It's not that he doesn't want to talk to her (well, it is. Australia was great, gave him time to think and mourn and get his head together, but he's not that together yet) it's more that he doesn't know what to say to her now. They've been friends for years, years before they were lovers, like she said at their wedding, God, with Luce standing at the back of the marquee, he can still remember her standing out among all the guests... And he can't imagine talking to her like those years never existed, but he can't imagine talking to her like they did, either.

He doesn't know how she manages it, since he's not working, but she calls when he's out and leaves a message asking for his lawyer's details, and he thinks she's probably having the same problems he is. He's not sure if that makes him feel better or worse.

*

The first thing he did when he got home was call Coop and arrange to go for a drink, which ended up with him going to Coop's for pizza and soft drinks and bedtime stories with the baby. Even that didn't make it his strangest evening with Coop, though the way Coop completely avoided even mentioning Rachel's name might have done it.

The second thing he did was email H, because he'd somehow got into the habit, in Australia, of emailing her every time something happened that he wanted to tell someone about, and she always emailed back. At the bottom of her reply to his, hey, I'm back email, she wrote, `Can algae change the world?' which was weird enough that he googled it and got a link to the Science Museum's newest exhibit. He had no idea if she'd asked because of that or if it was just a coincidence, but he emailed back, `Want to find out?' and wasn't surprised when she said yes.

Which is why he's standing outside his in-laws' front door at ten o'clock on a Sunday morning, wondering whether he's hoping that Rachel is there (pros: she's not moved in with Luce yet; cons: he'll have to see her and he hasn't figured out what to say yet) or that she's not (pros: no awkward conversation; cons: he'll spend the day wondering if it's because she's in bed with Luce, or worse, doing something couple-y like kicking through leaves in the park).

"Heck!" H yells, flinging the door open and hurtling straight into him with a vicious hug and an elbow that gets a little too close to somewhere he really doesn't want it to be. He's more used to a high five than a hug, but it's been over a month, so he goes with it, hunching over slightly to hug back.

"Hiya, H. You miss me?"

"Maybe," H says with a shrug. "Do you want to come inside?" She looks up at him, then drops her voice. "Rachel's not here. She's gone shopping."

"Right," Heck says and, huh, apparently he was hoping she wouldn't be there, if the relief he's feeling is anything to go by. "But I can't come in, we're going to be late - get your coat, let's go."

*

H is fun, and H in a museum is a surreal experience. Heck has no idea where most of her questions come from anyway, but in the museum's climate change exhibition, she's got endless fodder for them, and the museum employees start to look a little haunted when they see her approaching them. Heck's feeling no remorse - he loves H, but he's had seven years of her questions and it's time someone else tries to answer them.

Eventually, he takes pity on them, though, and drags her off for lunch. "So, what've you been up to?" he asks. "Still got your boyfriend?"

Rachel thought it was cute - actually, Heck did too, still does - especially when she ducks her head so her hair falls over her face. "Yeah," she says with a little smile. "We're going to the park next weekend."

"Have a great time," he tells her. She's probably too young to be going to the park to drink, like he did when he took girls there. Hopefully. "How's home?"

H makes a face. "Mummy and Daddy are all - kissy," she says in a tone of complete revulsion. "Daddy had his hand under Mummy's shirt when they were in the kitchen last night."

Heck tries to wrap his mind round the idea of his in-laws getting down and dirty in the kitchen, then decides he really doesn't want to. There are some images he never needs in his head, and that's really, really one of them. "Okay," he says, since he doesn't have any idea what else to say. "So, hey, did you look to see if algae can change the world?"

3.

"You do realise you can't avoid my family forever, don't you?" Rachel asks, curled up against Luce and trying to curb her urge to run her hand over Luce's bare skin. Luce hates to be touched like that when she's just come.

"Well, no," Luce says. "Your dad came into the shop on Thursday."

"You didn't mention that," Rachel says.

"That's probably because you were naked in my bed when I got home," Luce points out. "I think you distracted me from thoughts of your father."

Rachel shrugs; Luce might have a point. "What did he buy?"

"Forsynthia," Luce says, the word rolling off her tongue like treacle. Rachel loves to listen to her talk about flowers and say their names. It's better than foreplay some days.

"What does that mean?" she asks.

"Anticipation," Luce says, dropping her voice low and husky, then giggles.

"God, please, don't tell me things like that about my father," Rachel protests, but it's a token protest at best, especially when Luce rolls over and presses her giggles into Rachel's skin.

*

Her mum opens the door before Rachel can use her key and Rachel has to fight not to blush. At least her mum doesn't *look* like she's been ravished. Just the thought is enough.

"No Luce?" she asks.

"Nope," Rachel says, sounding a little strangled to her own ears. "She had an emergency at work." She doesn't quite cross her fingers behind her back, but it's a close thing. "Can I come in?"

"Of course," her mum says, like she hasn't been blocking the door. "You live here."

"Yes," Rachel agrees. Though probably not for much longer. The flat went on the market a couple of weeks ago, and the estate agent doesn't think it will take long to sell. She's already started looking for somewhere new near Luce's place, though she's thinking of renting, for a while at least. "H around?"

"In the kitchen," her mum says. "But why don't you come upstairs instead?"

"Why?" Rachel asks.

"Well... I've been thinking about getting some new curtains for your old room, and I wanted to ask you what you thought would look nice."

Rachel shrugs and tries to move round her mum. "It's your house, you choose."

"But you're living here, dear, I don't want to just - Rachel!"

But Rachel grew up in London, she's good at getting round people, and even her mother doesn't care that much about curtains. She wishes, when she opens the kitchen door, that she'd gone along with it.

"Rachel!" H says. "Look who's here!"

"Yes," Rachel says, blindsided. "Look who's here."

"Rachel -" her mum says anxiously behind her, and at the kitchen table, Heck gives her a small smile, and says, "Hiya Rach. Long time, no see."

*

Her mum eventually pries H away - possibly with her curtain story, Rachel wasn't really paying attention - and she and Heck look at each other across the table. It's not like she thought she'd never have to see him again; H has been talking about inviting him to dinner on her birthday for weeks. It's just that a little more warning would have been nice. Then at least she might not have been wearing one of Luce's shirts, obviously coming home from spending the night with her girlfriend.

"So, how was Australia?" she asks finally.

"Amazing," Heck says, brightening up. She remembers him getting bitten by the travel bug a couple of years after they met, when they were still just friends. "Just - amazing. The most beautiful beaches I've ever seen, and wonderful people, so warm and friendly..." He meets her eye and trails off into awkward silence.

"Sounds great," she says. Luce cashed in her ticket to Switzerland, where she was planning to hang out with an old aunt and get over her broken heart, and they've been talking about going in the summer. Rachel doesn't think this is the right thing to say to get the conversation going again. "Any idea where you'll go next?"

"Not really. I need to find a job. And a place to live."

"Right," Rachel says. She doesn't think she has the right to ask where he's living now, which leaves them with another awkward silence.

"Actually, I wanted to talk to you," Heck says. He's still looking at his empty coffee mug. "We're playing at home next weekend, and I wanted to take H."

"You can't," Rachel says, then, "I mean, you could, that would be fine, but - I already offered to take her."

"Oh," Heck says. "Oh, well, never mind then, it was just a -"

Except now Rachel feels bad, because she lives with H, she can see her all the time. "No, I mean, if you want to take her, I'm sure she wouldn't -"

"I couldn't," Heck says. "She's probably already looking forward to -"

"She'd like it," Rachel says desperately, wishing she'd just said yes in the first place. She's sure H would rather go with Heck anyway. "Really, you should take her."

Heck finally looks up at her, just briefly, and she thinks she sees his old, familiar, teasing smile starting. "Or we could both take her."

"We could," Rachel says slowly. She can't think of any reason why they shouldn't, especially when it's Heck making the offer. "If you wouldn't mind -" She stops, since there's no good way to finish that sentence. She wants to suggest they ask Luce along as well, or maybe Coop, so she won't have to be alone with only H to act as a buffer, but Coop still isn't speaking to her, and there's no way having Luce along could go well. "We should bring H's boyfriend as well," she says, and she's sure she doesn't imagine the sigh of relief from Heck as he stands up.

"That's settled then," he says firmly. "I've got to get going, so would you tell H that I'll email her and let her know what's going on?"

"Sure," Rachel says. She's overcome for a moment with the urge to - she doesn't even know, hug him, maybe, or kiss his cheek. She wonders if Luce has a flower that means please don't hate me.

4.

Heck has no idea what possessed him to suggest this. It's got to be one of the stupidest things he's ever done, but he and Rachel bonded over football when they were first years at uni, and he thought, sitting at her parents' kitchen table, that he maybe missed his friend more than he missed his wife, or at least that he wanted his friend back more than he wanted his wife back. He wasn't actually all that sure they'd had a marriage anyway, in the strictest sense, not when Rachel had spent most of it wanting Luce, apparently.

"Here," H says, rattling something under his nose. She insisted on sitting between him and Natesh, which put Rachel as far away from him as possible, and too far to really talk with the crowd warming up their vocal chords all round them. "Heck..."

"Sorry, H," Heck says. "What is it?"

H comes close to rolling her eyes. "Sweets. Take one. Actually, you can have two if you want. Rachel says she's not eating sweets any more because she thinks she's going to get fat."

"That's not what I said!" Rachel protests.

"You said you were worried about your figure," H says firmly. "That means you think you're getting fat."

"Should have stuck with she thinks she's going to get fat," Heck comments, taking a couple pink and white chocolate... actually, he has no idea what they might be meant to be, but he likes the wholly artificial taste of them. Before H can take the bag away, he digs in again and comes up with a handful of jelly beans. "Here."

Rachel looks at them in his hand for a minute, then smiles a little hesitantly and says, "Thanks. Oh, look, kids, here come the cheerleaders."

*

H declares that their team are rubbish and she's supporting the other team (Heck, why aren't there any girl players?), and Natesh doesn't say much of anything, though Heck notices him speaking to Rachel a couple of times. It's actually easier than he thought it would be to forget that this is supposed to be awkward and get caught up in the game, especially when one of the opposition's defenders makes a flying tackle on their striker as the ball leaves his boot, and both Heck and Rachel shout, "Foul!" at the same time.

Three people in the stands in front of them turn to look, and their other forward looks over with a grin.

Rachel looks down and blushes, but Heck can't stop staring at her, remembering the last time they came to a game and she screamed herself hoarse, too shrill to be heard over the rest of the crowd.

H is bouncing next to him. "That was cool! Everyone heard you. How did you do that?"

"Imagined the roof of my mouth was a cathedral," Rachel says, very quietly, barely meeting Heck's eye, and he realises who must have taught her that, and when. Weirdly, he still wants to ask if she takes requests for abuse to yell, and Rachel's grin in response to his smile is relieved.

5.

Even though she's spent most of the first half using Luce's projection techniques to yell at their side, H insists on going down to the barrier when a couple of the subs come up to chat to the spectators.

"I'll come with you," Rachel offers.

"We can go on our own," H says firmly. "We don't need you to look after us."

"Maybe I want to talk to the players as well," Rachel says, but she knows a lost cause when she sees one and lets H and Natesh go, keeping an eye on them as they climb down the steps. The stadium's about half-full, and the other team's supporters aren't much to look at - they don't even have any good banners. She kind of wants to get up, maybe go queue for the ladies room, but Heck knows what she's like at games, and it will be obvious that she's doing it because she feels awkward alone with him.

"So," Heck says after a while. He's turned to H and Natesh when she looks at him, but he's watching her from the corner of his eye. "This is a little awkward."

"Yeah," Rachel agrees. "It was nice of you to come - H likes having you around."

"I like having her around," Heck says. Rachel already knows this; he has more patience for H's streams of questions than anyone else who's ever met her little sister, except perhaps Luce, and, hey, she's never noticed before that they have something in common, though in retrospect it's obvious. Heck liked Luce when they met, got on well with her when she came for dinner that one time, and wanted them to be friends. It's just that Rachel forgot.

"Actually, on that subject," Heck says hesitantly. "I wanted - I know we're not... together, anymore, but I was hoping that you wouldn't mind if I still did stuff with H sometimes. I mean, unless she decides she doesn't want me around -"

"Of course!" Rachel says. As if she'd just throw Heck out of her sister's life because they've split up. She can't even imagine trying to explain that to H. "Of course you should still spend time with her, I'm not... I mean, I wouldn't..."

"It's fine," Heck says quickly. "I didn't mean to imply anything, I just - I didn't want things to be awkward. Which they are now, so maybe I shouldn't have said anything."

"Things were awkward to begin with," Rachel points out before she really thinks about what she's saying. "Sorry, that was -"

"Correct?" Heck suggests, smiling slightly, and Rachel smiles back, flooded with relief again. She knows, like she never did with Luce (that was always going to be all or nothing), that they can salvage a friendship from this mess, and she can't put into words how good that makes her feel - she wasn't lying when she said that Heck was her best friend, and she can't imagine him not being in her life any more than she can imagine him not being in H's.

"Look," she says, sliding into Natesh's seat so she doesn't have to raise her voice above the crowd. Down at the barrier, H is saying something that's making both the subs smile. "I wanted to - I'm so sorry about what happened. About what I did to you. I should never have - I should have told you what I was doing, that it was Luce. I shouldn't have made you make the decision."

"No," Heck says, dead sober. "You shouldn't." He looks out at the pitch for a few moments, then sighs. "But it was probably the only real option."

It's not in the best taste to agree with this out loud, so Rachel just nods slightly, and waits for H and Natesh to come back to them.

6.

"Hey," Heck says, leaning out of the open car window as Rachel moves to follow H up to the house. He waits till she comes close again. "Youth team's playing in a couple of weeks, you want to go? Bring H?"

Rachel blinks in surprise, but recovers fast. "Yeah," she says. "I'd really like that."

"Great," Heck says, meaning it. "Bring your - bring Luce, if you like." He's not quite ready to say the word, but Luce is fun, and if he wants to carry on being around Rachel, he's going to have to get used to Luce being there as well.

"Really?" Rachel asks. "I'll, um, think about it. Thanks."

"No problem." Heck shrugs and gives her his best grin, pleased at how close to genuine it feels. "Maybe I'll shock you all and bring someone as well."

Rachel wraps her hand round his arm and squeezes, very fast. "I really hope you do," she says, and then she's gone, up the lit path to her parents' house, and Heck drives off into the dark, feeling weirdly good, all things considered.