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Ugly Betty Fanfiction
fic: "learning curve," PG-13, betty/henry. 
26th-Feb-2007 08:01 pm
tres chic.
learning curve.
author: plasticity
pairing: Betty/Henry.
rating: PG-13.
disclaimer: not mine.
summary: on learning, and moving on; looking back, and then looking forward.






***

When they're over, it's all right.

Oh, of course there are tears, and the requisite heartbreak, and regrets. But, something she discovers, something unexpected: it is possible to limit those regrets to wistfulness. Hey, it just didn't work. That's the way it falls, girl. That's life.

They never were star-crossed, after all. Theirs was never a larger-than-life run. That it was life-sized, everyday-people uncomplicated - well, wasn't that the whole point?

Flea markets, and occasionally the symphony. Tea in bed more often than at the Ritz. Art museums sprinkled liberally with home cooking. And that's her new world, her synthesis of him and Mode and Queens and who she is growing into, and who she wants to become, and it's just the right amount of time for them, and then it's just the right time for them to be something else. And that's okay.

When the elevator stops at three, if she feels a slight twinge of something in her gut, well, she can cope with that. Ever an optimist, our Betty.

***

They hold mittened hands in the elevator, and even the seasoned fashionistas do their best to not be charmed.

***

He is sweet, not smooth, and it turns out they like each other enough to keep trying anyway. Until they don't have to try anymore, until there is a them. And that is nice, of course, but it was nice before too, and it will be okay after. And every day is subtly different, and she needs to stop thinking of it as only one thing or the other.

It wouldn't have worked, anyway, if he had been smooth. She knows herself well enough to know that.

But she's learning about herself, too. Learning that professional competency doesn't equal self-esteem, that, while in some ways she may be the most mature person in this office, in other ways she is the most childish. Some days she wants to give into the cliche that is her love life and send a memo down to Accounting which reads "Henry do you like me - check A for yes, B for no."

Although, with her luck, it'd get sent back with a "C - maybe" written in below. If it weren't completely rerouted to Marc and Amanda from the start, and then cc'd to everyone else in their department just for kicks.

It does get easier, though, she's happy to learn. Easier to not want to hide under a desk every time she sees him. Before, she could stare down foreign designers, rival editors, even her boss' back-from-the-dead transgendered brother (sister?), but she couldn't bring herself to look him in the eye. Somewhere along the line, Henry - at least, the idea of Henry - coaxed her out of hiding.

Now, though... he'll always be dear, for the span of time he gave her, for his friendship even after, even as she looks at him and marvels at how a collection of features once coded with meaning could have changed in her eyes into something so foreign, distanced by time. Sees instead a projection of their past, finds that, in retrospect, all their nervous tension is no longer torturous, and instead makes her lips quirk.

Awkward is charming, after the fact, after it no longer has any practical application.

***

Not their first time. Not even their fifth time. Somewhere in that beautiful fleeting era between nervous and comfortable, passion dimmed slightly by recognition but all the sweeter for it.

In his Brooklyn walk-up, street lights slanting sideways through muslin curtains. Benny Goodman playing, half-eaten risotto forgotten on the counter. An old, nubby quilt.

And Henry just keeps breathing, "you're so beautiful, Betty, my Betty," and she rises up over him and feels powerful, feminine, to elicit such a response, arches her head back, him in awe beneath her, at this side of her no one else seems to see, that only he can tease out of hiding, luminous. Knowing her well enough to know her rhythm, to know how they fit, just so.

When she's with him, like this, she loves him. But she also loves herself, the self he sees, reflected back into this quiet space they have made for each other.

In their whole go of it, this, right here, is the best thing he ever gave her. It is the thing she wants most to take with her, after.

***

Ignacio Suarez is suspicious. When the coffee table begins to pile up with the Wall Street Journal in addition to her standard back issues of Mode, he finally asks her about it, says something like, "since when did you become a stock marketeer?" She makes enough excuses to placate him, something about a retirement plan and better handling of liquid assets or something similarly business-sounding, and if they both ignore her surprising recent knowledge of comic books, well, maybe it's for the best.

She can't hide Henry forever, though, nor does she wish to; and when she shows up with him one night for Ignacio's famous chili con carne, he is as suitably appreciative as a boy raised in the Southwest should be. Hilda spends much of the meal shooting Betty Significant Looks, and when he and Justin proceed to find common ground in appreciation of old-Hollywood musicals she lets out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding.

After dinner, she sees him out, kisses him goodnight, goes up to bed, and she finds a pack of condoms on her bureau, and knows it's Hilda's way of giving her blessing.

***

He confesses that Mode is the last place he expected to find a real woman, and she giggles at the irony. Wishes she could tell Amanda just for the look on her face.

When she points out that this remark, given their supermodel-laden context, seems a bit ridiculous, he blinks at her in surprise, as if to say, Haven't you been paying attention to anything I say to you? Haven't you picked up on how wonderful you are, how lucky I am?

She is unsure who to thank for this, to whom to direct this gratitude, so she tucks it away, carries it with her, as if in a side pocket. Takes it out and examines it once in a while, and is consistently overwhelmed at the enormity of it, even this, most pedestrian of romances.

It may be ordinary love, but even that is an extraordinary thing.

***

A double date with Daniel and his flavor of the week sounds like a very, very stupid idea. And maybe it is on paper, but when Henry half-jokingly suggests Katz's Deli as a viable candidate for a romantic dinner and Daniel actually considers it, she knows that this, she has to see.

Apparently Daniel really is turning over a new leaf, because they all wind up sitting across from each other in the sticky plastic booth, being served pastramis on rye by an old waiter so cranky Betty whispers to Henry that she thinks it's an act, and he bets her a knish that she's wrong, and she keeps eyeing up Tammy (Tracy? Tiffany?), wondering with a certain amount of secret glee if the little-black-dressed woman is internally screaming at her freakishly thin thighs touching the booth veneer, wondering if she's squirreling away her processed meat into her spare paper napkin and only pretending to enjoy solid food. But Daniel seems to be enjoying himself, surprisingly, and Betty feels pretty in her special purple dress, and Henry is holding her hand under the table and occasionally rubs her knee or some such affectionate gesture, and she is so delighted by the juxtaposition of it all that she even lets him steal her pickle.

After their horrendously late side orders of coleslaw finally arrive, dumped unceremoniously down on the formica by the waiter who is going to cost Betty a knish, Henry excuses himself to go to the bathroom. Daniel takes the opportunity to tell Betty that he's happy for them, that they have managed to restore his faith in romance, and even though he uses the declaration as an excuse to put an arm around the simpering Tammy, Betty, picking up on his underlying sincerity, can feel herself light up. At having found a friend in such an unlikely candidate, at the reminder of her own good fortune, at everything going improbably well for her, all at once. She knows that she and Henry are right, for now, has stopped looking over her shoulder every five minutes, has mostly stopped doubting her own luck, at being with someone she adores. But it is still nice when others pick up on the same line of thought, especially others who want to watch out for her, who care for her as much as Daniel does.

She lets Henry figure out the percentage tip, even though they get into a "discussion" as to whether the grump deserves anything at all, and they leave Daniel and Tammy still working on their shared cheesecake, slip out to go wandering, to see what they can see. There is always more to know, and their late walks are her favorite way to learn him, learn the city, learn how the two map over each other with her underlayed always.

Nights like these she is so full of love for her city, for the joy of this routine day, for how her hand slips so naturally into his, that everyone is beautiful, even the bums, the clubbers, the haughty Wilheminas in their towncars, the Gina Gambaros of the world.

Tonight she wants to just people-watch so they go to Washington Square and sit under a tree and listen to an aspiring guitar rocker test out his new amp, see drag queens in vinyl and college students in tracksuits and various other couples, doing their individual coupley things. Pairs of people, different histories and quirks briefly overlapping with each other, living their daily lives with the benefit of a counterpart, and maybe they move on after and maybe they don't.

Henry traces her lifeline gently and she doesn't know how long she'll be with him, but for this night all that's important is that she is.

***

Something that surprises her: unexpected compassion from the dynamic duo. After all, Marc and Amanda had a field day during the entire flirting-and-dating-and-going-steady sequence, she expected no less from the -and-breaking-up coda.

Because, see, here she thought the gossip mill excluded everyday relationships in favor of Cosmo-esque hypersexual hijinks. (She has however finally learned to check behind racks of clothing before she reveals something to an always-encouraging Christina.) But no, she is so much grist for the mill just the same, even if Amanda begins every relay with "in boring nerd-love news..."

So she is all braced for fake pity and rolled eyes, not-so-veiled insults and further intimations that if only she were prettier.

And okay, it's not like she gets tea and sympathy, cookie dough ice cream and hugs and puppies. Not literally, anyway. For Marc and Amanda, comments tossed off like "good news, Betty, break-ups are good for your skin," or "here's a sudoku if you need a number-geek fix," delivered in the most flippant drawl imaginable, show a wholly unexpected undercurrent of caring.

When Amanda offers offhandedly to take Daniel's expense report down for her, with an excuse of "I just bought these Manolos and you'd better believe I'm going to get my money's worth out of them," Betty surprises herself by tearing up at the veiled kindness. Apparently life takes all manner of ninety degree turns, and she's just going to have to roll with them.

***

She is hardly the most coordinated being, but nevertheless takes the lead in teaching him to salsa. And it will never be good, objectively, never be worthy to be seen in public or any such thing, but it is them and they are laughing and tripping and they are sultry, and taking liberties with hands, and he is cracking "my Latin lover" jokes and claims to need a rose between his teeth, and she rolls her eyes and asks if his hips are welded in place, and it is so good that she considers not answering the ringing, bleating out from her purse. But she is Betty, so she does, and he is Henry, so he doesn't mind.

And when she has to run, with the record player still spinning out trumpets and her coat hastily tossed over her dress, he grabs her hand and pulls her back into one more long deep kiss. "Thanks for the lesson, chica," he murmurs into her hair, and his fingers squeeze hers briefly before releasing her to go tearing down the stairs and across the lit-up city.

After a minor wardrobe crisis for the October issue's night shoot, after she puts out far too many fires with far too much responsibility for the paycheck she gets, she wants to slip back in with her spare key, to see if he left the candle burning, if he scooted over to allow space for her to fit snug up against him, if he fell asleep with his glasses on again while reading, waiting.

But she hasn't gone home, to her home, since two nights ago, and she thinks she ought to spend time with her fellow Suarezes, wake early and help her father cook breakfast, take away his coffee and make him take his pills, see Justin before he bolts off to school, endure some smothering concern and affection from Hilda, and she wants to slip into that space next to Henry but she's learning that balance is a tricky thing.

He knows her dreams, and her family knows her roots. And she is Betty, so she goes home. And he is Henry, so he will understand this about her, and he loves this about her, how this night will recenter and ground her all over again so she can remain Betty, the anomaly, taking the cold environment around her and subtly, unconsciously reshaping it in her own image. He will wake in the early morning light, the candle having burned itself out, an empty cold space beside him, and wish she were here, but know that it is better she be there.

And when she comes to work and finds a single red rose, wrapped with a yellow post-it that reads "for tonight's rematch," she knows that he understands, and knows she worried for nothing. She's learning that it doesn't always have to be as difficult as she makes it out to be in her head.

***

They had it good, for a while. And maybe, maybe that was enough. That was all it needed to be.

She steps out into the street, and she is ready for what is next.

************
Comments 
27th-Feb-2007 06:53 am (UTC)
I loved this. Really sweet and spare and true to the characters, as well as to the way that relationships often work out in real life.
27th-Feb-2007 04:12 pm (UTC)
oh, thank you so much. I haven't written anything in like three years so wasn't sure how this would read, but you've picked up on the things I most wanted the fic to do. to me Betty and Henry have the most true-to-life interaction I've seen on this wonderfully soapy show (which may be part of the reason I think they're ultimately doomed). or maybe it's just because I too am a nerd so I empathize. :-)
27th-Feb-2007 02:26 pm (UTC) - Things that make you go Aww!
Anonymous
Great job. I did have to read it more that once since the non-linear style did confuse me at first. ok, i have to admit i read it 3 times b/f if i could truly understand the story as one of snippets in the b/h relationship. i loved the following ones - salsa dancing, double date, and meeting the Suarez's. i'm hoping for b/h to stick it out in the long run though. also, i can totally hear Amanda say "in boring nerd-love news..." LOL!
27th-Feb-2007 02:28 pm (UTC) - Re: Things that make you go Aww!
Anonymous
Oops! my name is teri by the way. i have posted comments on other stories as i visit this site vs having an account. thanks for listening and keep up the great writing.
27th-Feb-2007 04:06 pm (UTC) - Re: Things that make you go Aww!
heh, yeah I had toyed with having an expository author's note explaining the nonlinear-vignettey-ness of it but for whatever reason decided to leave it out. so, my fault for the confusion there. and that means I 3x appreciate the effort it took to read it! thank you soo much for taking the time to read and leave this fantastic feedback!
27th-Feb-2007 02:40 pm (UTC)
This is brilliant because it underscores exactly who Betty is--she would learn and remember.

So much to love here:
They hold mittened hands in the elevator, and even the seasoned fashionistas do their best to not be charmed.

Who wouldn't be?

When she's with him, like this, she loves him. But she also loves herself, the self he sees, reflected back into this quiet space they have made for each other.

Perfect.

It may be ordinary love, but even that is an extraordinary thing.

Yes.

She's learning that it doesn't always have to be as difficult as she makes it out to be in her head.

Oh, Betty.

Bittersweet, but lovely. Thanks for sharing this.

27th-Feb-2007 04:35 pm (UTC)
yeah, I know the bittersweet tone is a bit at odds with the over-the-top camp of the actual show, but I just can't think of a Betty/Henry relationship as anything other than this in the long run: sweet, but not eternal. (if only they'd get on with the inevitable already in canon-!)

regardless, your lovely and thoughtful feedback made my morning. I love Betty as a character so so much, and it's wonderful to find other people who feel the same, to share that with. so, thank you!
28th-Feb-2007 03:58 pm (UTC)
Feedback has a way of doing that, doesn't it? :)

I'm so glad there's a character like Betty on tv now, because there are so many women like her.

I'm planning on reccing this story on my website, do you mind?
28th-Feb-2007 10:51 pm (UTC)
mind?! of course I don't mind! wow, thanks so much! *is insanely flattered*
1st-Mar-2007 01:29 am (UTC)
If you want to visit, look for it here, sometime tomorrow.
28th-Feb-2007 12:46 am (UTC) - Beautiful!
What a gorgeous story! I love your writing style, very soft and poetic. You write their relationship in much the way I imagine it unfolding. Again, very beautiful.
28th-Feb-2007 03:15 pm (UTC) - Re: Beautiful!
oh, thank you so much! usually when I sit down to write it's like bashing my head against a wall, so this is nice encouragement. it doesn't hurt that I adore them both, which makes everything easier.
28th-Feb-2007 03:01 am (UTC)
aw, so perfect.
28th-Feb-2007 03:16 pm (UTC)
hey, thanks! aren't they the cutest?
28th-Feb-2007 03:52 am (UTC)
I absolutely loved the natural flow of your words. Simple yet lyrical! Even your style fits with who this couple is...what they can and should become.

I appreciate the simplicity and underlying depth of their relationship and you've done a superb job of capturing this in this excerpt.

(Nevertheless, I just can't think they're eternally doomed! Perhaps in the end that's what we all need...someone to make us feel beautiful and who can understand even if we are conflicted.)

Thanks so much for sharing this! (off to reread!)
28th-Feb-2007 03:20 pm (UTC)
this is such a lovely comment! thank you!

Perhaps in the end that's what we all need...someone to make us feel beautiful and who can understand even if we are conflicted.

agreed, and this I think is why so many people love Henry: because he is the plot/character device who'll bring that about in Betty, who'll show her how amazing she really is, and who sees what we all see in her. (to be honest he's not much of a character other than that, at least not yet.) whether or not they're doomed, well... it is a soap after all. :-) eternal upheaval and all that. we shall see, we shall see...
25th-Mar-2007 09:06 pm (UTC)
How I wish you'd write another story. You do it so well!
28th-Feb-2007 01:36 pm (UTC)
Don't take this the wrong way, I Love you!!!
What a fine story for Betty, this is how her life should play out! But what to do?!?! Its TV!
You really breathed life into Betty and Henry, this is such a beautiful piece, thank you for writing it :o)
28th-Feb-2007 03:22 pm (UTC)
But what to do?!?! Its TV!

I know! and I find it funny that I grew so attached so quickly to Betty that I just want her to be happy, to feel beautiful, because in my head she deserves that. but... she's fictional! woe. O! the perils of fangirling-!

thank you so much for reading!
3rd-Mar-2007 01:56 pm (UTC)
This was so sweet and sad and I loved it. Great job.
3rd-Mar-2007 11:27 pm (UTC)
aww, I know it's a little sad, which made me hesitate to post it, to be honest, as so much of what UB is about is being cheerful and bright. thanks for reading it regardless of the melancholy tone. :-)
3rd-Mar-2007 06:54 pm (UTC)
Would it be too embarassing to admit that I teared up a bit while reading this? It's just so... so... so perfectly written and understated and realistic and charming and at the same time heart-breaking. It's pretty much everything I forsee in Betty and Henry's future and I'm just full of love right now. ♥
3rd-Mar-2007 11:24 pm (UTC)
only if I can admit I teared up a bit while writing it, heh. I'm so glad the emotion I feel for these characters came across for you; the hardest thing for me is getting something out of my head, and it's super nice to hear such lovely things about this. very encouraging and I must admit I'm feeling slightly warm and fuzzy right now myself. :-)
4th-Mar-2007 06:13 am (UTC)
Honest emotion is the very best thing a piece of writing can evoke! (Um, at least if it's the emotion the author is aiming for. ;) I'm glad I encouraged you right here-- I can only hope for more fic as good as this in any of my fandoms!
11th-Mar-2007 07:06 am (UTC)
This is just WONDERFUL. Beautifully written, masterfully in character, with little sparkles of gems hidden within the words. So bittersweet, and yet, I loved it even more so for the ending.

Definitely one of my favorite reads in a while. I added it as a memory and will add it as a fic rec on my LJ.
15th-Sep-2007 11:07 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this story. Especially Amanda's unexpected kindness.
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