I'm supposed to be finishing one fic at a time, but I got distracted from the ATEOTD finale with this fic, and somehow wrote five chapters of it... *guilty face* I actually started this in 2016 after getting the Bread box set and rewatching the finale, but it's been on the back burner because I wanted to finish the ATEOTD verse off for good (and then general life took precedence over fics and I didn't have time.) But sometimes it's been a bit too hard to reread depressing stuff enough to edit it, and I've been more in the mindframe to work on this one, so have the first chapter for now, and I'll put the rest up after I finish Here where the world is quiet. This one is going to be a lot more lighthearted.
This pretty much follows canon up to the final episode (but with original Joey in mind as usual), but AU-ing from the point where Joey actually took Roxy up to Scotland. It will be another one that eventually goes up to M, not for horrific death this time but some slightly more adult themes (nothing all that bad though), but I'll probably warn you before it does. I did not like how Joey behaved towards everyone in the end (I blame Roxy's influence) and ATEOTD was one fix-it I had in mind; this is another.
Also, I'm still writing this with original Joey in mind, even though he's acting more like Series 7 Joey (for now).
The disappearance of Joey Boswell
Oh, here we go.
The man approached Martina's counter with a self-conscious gait, wearing a sheepish smile which only Adrian Boswell could make look utterly annoying the way he did. Martina felt her teeth grind and an unpleasant tremor run down her veins. Boswells had always had a tendency to turn her blood to ice in her veins, and then get it boiling again in under two minutes, but over the past three weeks the reaction had become extreme. She could barely look at a letter 'B' printed on a piece of paper, no matter what letters surrounded it, without feeling a rush of vomit start making its way up her throat. And though she couldn't understand why, she could pinpoint the exact moment when she had contracted this strange, extreme version of Boswellitis. Thirteen days, twenty-one hours and forty minutes ago, Joey Boswell had walked in here, put in a ridiculous claim as usual, but left her blood running so cold she felt the insistent need to go and crawl beneath a very large lamp to take away the chill. It wasn't even the visit itself that had bothered her—that had been as they usually were, no, as they always were, full of obnoxious wheedling and pumped so full of sap and sentiment were it tangible it could have been marketed as a new form of tear gas. It was its context. It was where Joey was going, what Joey was doing. The thought of Joey Boswell going off, doing that, changing his life in that way, stirred up long dormant thoughts in her mind, brought them erupting to the surface again.
She'd shaken her head a hundred times or more trying to banish them. All that, all those ridiculous fantasies, those had been years ago, they had belonged to a different incarnation of herself, one that had existed before Shifty, and evidently before Joey had found someone to... No. They had no place inside her head now.
Martina steeled herself as Adrian sat down in front of her desk. She couldn't go on like this, seizing up every time a Boswell came near her because of Joey.
'Yes?' she spat. It almost sounded normal.
'Er… well. I know I said previously that it would not be long before I was a properly established writer and I would be able to fully support my growing family…'
Oh, yes. That was right. Adrian had got…married (if there were a way to think the word so spit came out she would do it) too. Not long before Joey, as it happened, although Martina cared little except for the fact that it reminded her of Joey's last visit.
'Go on,' she managed to say.
'Well…I'm not quite there yet.'
'No. Of course not, Mister Boswell.' She licked her thumb, peeling a form off the top of the stack. 'I suppose that means you'll be with us for the foreseeable future.'
'I am up to page twenty-nine of my memoirs now.'
'Oh, are you?' Martina asked, her sarcastic excitement deliberately exaggerated to highlight her displeasure at this statement, 'You were up to twenty-six two weeks ago. Does it take you a week to write a page and a half? If so, I wouldn't bank on finishin' the book before you snuff it.'
'I do have responsibilities, you know.'
'And I have a responsibility to dispense money to those in need. And yet I find meself, yet again, givin' handouts to people who can, but choose not to, make an income for themselves, and instead palm me off with excuses about books which will never be written.'
Adrian was indignant. 'I do intend to finish it!'
'And by the time we reach the year Two Thousand Five Hundred and this so-called book is finished, all the state's money will have gone into your bank account and there'll be no need for royalties from it.' Martina sighed. She was rarely in the mood for Adrian's excuses as it was, but today they grated on her even more than usual.
'You don't understand…' Adrian's voice was still timid, but he was trying unsuccessfully to look and sound fearless, 'it's all about the artistic muse! You have to 'ave inspiration strike you!'
'If I took that attitude to my job, I'd be too uninspired most of the time to deal with pathetic little scroungers like you. And another thing…'
Martina had been dreading bringing this up. It had been sitting on her like a weight this entire visit, the knowledge that she would have to ask this of the next Boswell who came within fifty yards of her desk. She'd tried to put it off, but before Adrian scurried away in fear, she would have to broach the subject with him for the sake of her job. She was in trouble as it was. She cleared her throat, folded her hands.
'You returned from Scotland two weeks ago. That brother of yours has yet to honour us with his presence—and I know you were there at the same time as 'im, and so may be able to account for his absence.'
Adrian suddenly paled, his eyes taking on a glazed look which could only mean the question terrified him.
'I do realise that his Highness believes he has better things to do than deign to sign-on on his appointed day, but our schedules aren't all made of elastic, and we have a system to run 'ere. Your Joey has neglected to turn up for his appointment twice in a row now, and no matter how important he thinks he is, no matter what excuse he thinks he has, if he doesn't come down here soon and sort this out…'
'Well, I don't think…' Adrian's voice had dropped to nearly a whisper, a sure sign he feared her shooting the messenger, 'I don't think that'll be possible.'
'And why not, may I ask?' Martina demanded furiously.
'He, er,' Adrian began to fidget, 'he hasn't…actually…come back.'
Martina gritted her teeth and rolled her eyes. 'I've no interest in whether or not your brother thinks he's gonna stay up in Scotland for his…honeymoon,' the word tasted like bile in her mouth, 'I'm only interested in following my department's policy, and as I said, if he doesn't show himself in…'
'No, no,' Adrian cut her off, then shrank back as though expecting to be bitten for daring to do so, 'he's not on his honeymoon. Joey's sort of…well, I'd call it a breakdown, what he's had.'
'I would've thought he'd have any issue with 'is precious Jaguar sorted within minutes of them occurin',' she replied, deliberately taunting, deliberately nasty, spurred on by her distaste at the whole situation.
'I mean a mental breakdown!'
'I have them. Every single day. I don't wallow in it enough to let it interfere with me duties.'
'I do realise that this building is entirely devoid of humanity, that this dunghill of wasted lives and cast-aside feelings denies even a basic sympathy for the downtrodden…'
'Let's not have the dung speech again, Mister Boswell,' Martina sighed. He'd set them all off with it again in a minute. One of them caught an earful of an inappropriate word and the entire DSS were repeating it all day.
'But our Joey's emotional problems are overwhelming him at the moment! I don't expect you to understand, but when someone is as humiliated and degraded as he is, left at the altar and then expected to carry on…'
'He was left at the altar?' Martina interrupted, her curiosity piquing, the permanent nausea she'd been experiencing since his last visit beginning to subside.
'Unfortunately, yes. And he's in no state to be signin'-on or doin' anything else. He won't even come home. My brother is 'angin' by a thread! Hangin' by a thread!'
It was entirely inappropriate, but Martina felt as though she needed to force down a wicked grin.
'And you can't phone him and remind him that instead of wallowin', he has responsibilities,' she threw his own word back in his face, 'to be gettin' on with?'
'I knew you wouldn't care. I knew you wouldn't be capable of showing even a little sympathy for the plight of someone suffering, cut them a little slack in the light of a tragedy such as this!'
'Answer the question, Mister Boswell,' Martina said, ignoring the dig.
'He won't answer any of our phone calls. Hangs up as soon as he realises who's talking. He's completely lost it, you know.'
Martina debated for a moment, then reached under her desk and retrieved Joey Boswell's file.
'Right,' she said, slamming it on her desk and leafing through it. 'Give me 'is mobile number.'
Adrian blanched even more. 'I don't know what you…'
'Don't play the fool with me. I know he's got one; I've seen 'im use it. And if you're too soft, too bound by Boswell unity and obligations to remind him of his responsibilities, I will.' Martina didn't know why she was doing this exactly, only that she was being driven by something that was partially a desire for revenge, partially related to the Boswell-related illness that had plagued her for the past couple of weeks, partially some sort of madness, clearly, but a strange determination had taken her, was now controlling her. She'd been pushed too far this time. If Joey Boswell didn't come back and sign-on, she would make him.
'I don't really know if…'
'I don't really know if I should be allowing you such concessions with your Social Security, Mister Poet-Stroke-Artist-Stroke-Acclaimed-Author-Boswell. Now you can cooperate with me,' she ripped a post-it note off the stack on her desk, and held it out to him on one finger, 'or I can see to it that you get what's comin' to yer – which with the way you're heading, is nothing.'
Blanching, Adrian dictated the number in a shaky voice, and Martina scribbled it out onto the post-it. She'd be testing if it worked while he was still here, of course. If he'd given her a false one, there'd be hell to pay.
'Not so difficult to cooperate, is it now?' she deliberately laced her voice with extra syrup, knowing that sarcastic sweetness humiliated Adrian Boswell like nothing else. She slid a form off the top of her pile.
'Fill that in,' Martina barked, slamming the form in front of him with force. As he scuttled to do so, quaking with a mild form of abject terror at her sudden change of tack, Martina picked up her desk phone and dialled the number he'd provided.
Her heart started to pound as it rang. She could see Adrian pretending not to be looking, watching her out the corner of his eye and quaking, though it seemed to Martina he was just as afraid of what would happen when she phoned Joey as of the DSS lady herself.
Well, Adrian hadn't lied to her. That was Joey Boswell's voice. No greetings, though. Things really were bad. His usual facetious tone was missing too; he sounded flat, miserable with a tinge of irritation at having been disturbed. Martina tried not to let it throw her, assumed her usual stern voice.
'I don't know where you are.'
Silence on the other end of the line. Martina pressed on.
'You were due to sign on at ten o'clock this morning. Where were you, Mister Boswell?'
A moment more of stunned silence, and then his voice came through again.
'How did you get this number?'
'I know every number, Mister Boswell. I have my ways of findin' everyone.'
'Then that doesn't fit with the idea that you don't know where I am, does it?' This would have been encouraging; Joey being cheeky; except he didn't sound it. He sounded angry instead, venomous. Martina persisted anyway.
'I know you've read that rule book inside out and upside-down, Mister Boswell. I know you are aware that signing-on on your allocated days, at your allocated times, is essential if you wish to receive anything from my department.'
'And I'm sure you're aware, sweetheart,' the same acid tone; he really was in a bad mood; she'd never heard him speak this nastily before, 'that I have more important things to think about at present.'
More important?! Martina felt her hands shake with rage. I'll give you 'more important', you self-obsessed little bastard. She thankfully managed to refrain from actually saying this, though. He had just been left at the altar after all, and a tiny little part of her felt sorry for him even as the rest of her was alternating between selfishly rejoicing and seething with anger at his behaviour just now.
'Owing to the circumstances, I'll make an exception for you – just this once. If you come down tomorrow and put your signature to this form, you can 'ave your giro as normal. If you don't turn up again, Mister Boswell, I'm afraid you'll have to forfeit this week's allowance. If you want to continue with us, that's how it is.'
There was a pause on the other end.
'Then it's forfeit,' Joey said, his voice hard.
She blinked. 'What?'
'Don't phone me again.'
And then a dial tone whined in Martina's ear.
He'd hung up on her.
Martina put down the empty receiver, stunned into silence.
'What did he say?' came a timid voice, making her jump. She'd forgotten Adrian Boswell was here. In her confusion about what had just happened, her shock at having Joey speak to her that way (he only had once before, when some telephone bill had been tabled, and it had rattled her then too) so strong she couldn't even be stern with him.
'He gave up his giro,' she said softly, disbelieving.
'Well, I told you,' Adrian said, showing one of his bouts of fearlessness, although this one was different. There was concern in there somewhere as well, which left her with a small shred of respect for him. 'He's not himself.'
I probably will work on finishing my other fic before I continue on with this one (I need to sense check some things against the final series) but it's just been bouncing around in my head a bit too much. I'll have a new chapter of HWTWIQ up probably later this week; I've got a few edited and ready to go.
Joey is being a bit horrible at the moment, but he was very much that way at the end of the show, and this will start off with him being grumpy!Joey until he learns a bit of a lesson and has a few things resolved for him.