Happy birthday, tenaciousmetoo! I couldn't decide what to write to celebrate our birthday and all of the recent Yuletide planning reminded me that I'd long wanted to write a story for The Office (UK) in which the people making the documentary declare their allegiance to Tim. So, because Martin Freeman is unbearably lovely, you get this story. (My thanks to oxoniensis and kate_lear for Britpicking and betaing and generally being champs. Title from Tim's speech in the second half of the Christmas special: The people you work with are people you were just thrown together with. I mean, you don't know them, it wasn't your choice. And yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family. But probably all you have in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day.)
"The Same Bit of Carpet"
Jamila hadn't thought she'd been especially quiet in approaching the conference room, but she must have been, judging by the tone of the conversation she could hear. "That bloke does not know how to pitch an idea," Dennis said contemptuously, leaning back in his leather chair.
"Not like the world needs another David Attenborough," Anthony agreed. "A naturalist's study of office workers? That's mental. And what was all that guff about 'seeing patterns in people more readily than in bees'? Who's got time to look at a bunch of bees?" He leaned back in his own leather chair, drumming his fingertips against the varnished wooden table.
"It's quite an interesting idea, actually," Jamila said, leaning against the doorjamb, and both men scrambled to sit upright.
"Absolutely!" Anthony shouted in frantic lickspittle agreement, while Dennis desperately attempted to look intellectually sound as he said, "I was just trying to find the words for my recommendation report."
"On my desk in one hour," she said crisply, not bothering to watch them sweat and fumble; how the BBC had been saddled with such useless employees would make an interesting study in itself. She let herself enjoy the sharp staccato clicks of her heels against the lino as she walked away.
If they did this series properly, it had the potential to be a modest success, a television version of Apted's 7 Up series. More importantly, it could be used to launch all sorts of other series: nature programmes, sociology studies, profiles of the new working class.
Harrison had a knack for bringing even the driest subjects to life; she'd been surprisingly invested in his four-part series on spiders. Besides, he'd sat idle far too long. Poor chap hadn't managed to get funding for any of his recent passion projects. One of them, she recalled, had actually been about honeybees.
It was time to introduce him to a new kind of drone.
Harrison had never worked out if this tie actually went with his good shirt, or if he'd made such a hideous blunder in pairing them together that no one had had the heart to tell him, but, regardless, it was all he had to wear when a boss as big as Jamila Mansoor wanted to take him to lunch. To a place as lovely as The English Restaurant, no less.
It took him the length of his starter – soup of the day – to realise that the project she was describing was meant for him; he was hardly the person most people thought of when it came to, well, filming humans. Though filming them as though they were tagged zoological specimens was rather intriguing – he could see what she was getting at. He wiped his mouth hastily with his napkin; he had a bad feeling he had a smear of watercress soup down his chin.
"It should be some kind of job where one day is very much like the next," he said, and Jamila nodded coolly, as if she'd had all of these thoughts when he'd been nothing but a twinkle in his father's eye.
"We were considering sales," she said, her ring catching the light as she set down her salad fork. Their mains were placed in front of them.
"An artificial construct might work best," he agreed, trying to imagine it, difficult as it was to ignore the aroma of his fillet steak.
"Meaning?" she asked, at last sounding involved in the conversation, though her dark eyes were on her monkfish.
"Well, animals don't really sell things; it's a human behaviour. Animals make collective agreements with members of their own species, of course, and some can even form symbiotic relationships with other species, but in general there is nothing external, not even the essentials of life, that they'd use as a set value for which to trade."
"Excellent," Jamila said, and he felt like her prize pupil. He hoped he wasn't blushing. "Any thoughts about the setting?"
He savoured his last bite of steak. While their waiter cleared the table and brought dessert menus, he considered his response. "Somewhere that people haven't got much going on outside of their work. Definitely not London – there'd be too many distractions." The caramel mousse with chestnut cream on gingerbread sounded like a splendid example.
She smiled then, all teeth, and he dimly understood he'd just volunteered to spend a year of his life in some wretched hole or, worse, some place like Slough.
"Slough, really, Harry?" Alison said, and Harrison smiled at the disbelieving look on her freckled face. "For a paper merchant? No, sorry, I suddenly foresee a schedule far too busy to accommodate you and your odd little projects."
"Fully funded," he tempted, knowing he'd already won the battle; Alison was more than capable of tossing him out on his arse without letting him get a word in edgewise. "BBC have commissioned this one, Ali, and they've agreed to let us shoot it as we like."
"Ooh, who've you got dirty pictures of?" she asked, setting down an oversized cuppa in front of him. "What's the plan, then?"
"George is producing –"
"George is coming to Slough?" she interrupted. "That's not possible."
"He seems certain he can handle his part from London. He'll have sorted all the paperwork and permissions by the time we get there. He's said the budget can handle two weeks of prep shooting, to get the subjects used to the cameras."
"And you're sure we can't just take the money and film honeybees instead?" Ali asked with a grin. Cheeky monkey.
"It's no good – this guy never met a camera he didn't love," Andy said, growling his frustration, and Alison tried to quash her own.
"I know," she soothed. "David's not exactly shy. But he does tend to liven things up." She knew she'd be taking images from his so-called send-up of a burlesque routine to her grave.
"He's a bloody nuisance, 's what he is," Andy said, his pale blue eyes stormy with irritation.
"Do we want someone 'livening things up'?" Mike asked. "Thought Harrison said this was meant to be like a nature film, nothing staged."
"Harry knows – we all know – that sometimes these things take on a life of their own," was all she could think to say. "And remember that while the footage is theirs, we're the ones who determine the story it tells. Just keep filming and we'll see what we can use."
"I'm goin' down the pub," Andy announced, and Alison shrugged and went along; a pint or two wouldn't do her any harm.
"Alright, Mike? Andy? Alison?" Tim asked, as he had every morning, and Andy nodded back his greeting. David and that Gareth were right twats, never paying him any attention unless they suddenly wanted to have their next words down for posterity, but Tim was alright. Nice bloke. Bit of a shame he was under the thumbs of those two.
Truth to tell, he didn't know how Tim did it. Having to sit near Gareth, little rule-lover that he was, would have made Andy mental, and that was before David came in, cracking what he clearly thought were jokes and expecting everyone around him to laugh every time he drew breath.
"Keep the boom steady, Mike," he called, as they prepared to film one of David's meetings with that Jennifer, who looked just like his sixth-form literature teacher.
He lifted his camera and watched, disgusted, at all of David's squirming and sweating at the news of a possible branch closure. Well, at least Alison'd been right about the situation providing some drama.
"Right," Alison said, "I've got to be on the phone with Harrison, George, and Jamila Mansoor in an hour to report on our progress, so let's talk about what we've got so far."
"We've had to throw out about twenty hours of raw footage because David Brent kept finding the camera and acting like he had his own comedy special," Andy said, taking a steadying sip of tea.
Mike was selecting his third pain au chocolat. "But he keeps pretending that that's his job, to keep up morale, so I think we should use that."
"You don't negotiate with terrorists," Andy said. "Same principle. Fat twat."
"If this is the biggest thing that's ever happened to him and he wants to capitalise on it, that's his business," Alison said. "I agree with Mike; David's gonna find a way to be in at least half the footage, so we might as well shape a narrative around him."
"Who's gonna watch that? I haven't got the power to shut him up, so I deal with him, but if that beardy git showed up larger than life on my telly, I'd change the channel faster than, I dunno, faster than he could avoid his actual job."
"So we need a secondary storyline, possibly a tertiary one as well. Though the primary isn't just 'Spotlight on David Brent'; it should be David leading his team in the face of a possible closure. Redundancy is a hot-button issue, and it should keep people watching."
"I got a good interview with that Dawn," Andy said. "Looked like she was ready to blow. Said that 'joke' Brent pulled, firing her for stealing, was just about the last straw. She couldn't get hold of her fiancé, but said he wouldn't understand anyway, not being around Brent all day. For which he should thank his lucky stars."
"We can't have the secondary storyline be 'Brent Is a Colossal Arse,' Andy," Alison said, but wistfully, as she knew they'd have more than enough material. "How did the interview end – did she say she forgave him?"
"Nah, she had to get back to her desk and then Tim made her a flower out of some special paper and said, 'There's more where that came from. It's Wernham Hogg!' and that was it."
"Tim," Jamila said decisively. "The bit with the jelly was hilarious." That much Andy was happy to agree with. It hadn't hurt that Tim had unthinkingly defended Emma – little sweet-faced Emma – from Gareth's impotent anger. "Plus, a love story is basically found money. Though lose the bit with the origami; no need to gild the lily."
"I'm not sure Tim would want his feelings broadcast," Alison began, delicately.
"Then he shouldn't have played with her hair and found every excuse to be near what's her name, the blonde." Jamila's voice was crisp and sure even through the wretched speakerphone.
"Dawn," Mike said. "But she's got a fiancé."
"We're not here to make changes, just observations," Harrison said suddenly. "But Heisenberg's –"
"You never had this problem with your spiders, did you?" Andy asked. "No relationship drama, no sense of humour."
"Actually –" Harrison began, but Jamila overrode him.
"Make it Tim. Viewers will identify with him, he's quite fit. A nice contrast to David Brent and that other one, the one who's like a starving baby bird with delusions of grandeur."
"Gareth," they all moaned in a wearied chorus; it seemed no one had been spared his lectures on his time in the Territorial Army.
"God, Harry, don't ever make me do anything as loathsome as filming at Chasers ever again." There was real agony in Alison's tone. "I had to see Gareth's tongue in action."
"I've got Jamila on the other line, Ali. What do I tell her about Tim's decision to quit Wernham Hogg? There isn't time to recut the footage to centre it on someone else, not to mention there's no one else who could carry the show."
Alison sighed. It had been bad enough, worrying about her own bank balance, and now she had a slew of others to worry about; the Wernham Hogg crew were, for the most part, people she'd be friends with. "Tell her that Jennifer is moving things around to free up a bit of cash and wants to promote Tim. Whatever his answer, there'll be drama enough to ride out the rest of the series."
"That's the other thing. We're staying another two months. BBC have asked for a second series, something to tie in to Red Nose Day. Tell the others, would you?"
"We've got lives outside of Slough, Harry!" Alison said, before acknowledging the futility of any protest; what the BBC wanted, the BBC got.
With another two months, Andy thought, he could test the waters with Emma a bit. It turned out she sang in the church choir with Tim's mum, and she and Tim had attended the same primary school; it was easy enough to drop a hint to Tim when they were at the Rebels match, watching the Slough boys flatten Barton Rovers.
"She's a lovely girl," Tim said over pints. "Odd, to think I won't be seeing her everyday."
"You're serious about leaving, then?" Andy asked. "Only we weren't sure how much of that was for the cameras."
Tim laughed, not happily. "I'd look even more of a berk than I already did if I walked back everything I said that day. No, it's time for me to move on."
"But not without talking to Emma first," Andy reminded him, and Tim just groaned and buried his face in his hands.
"How is this my life?"
"Beats me, mate. You're just lucky you have us around."
"It's hard to believe he could have got worse since the Chasers night, but –"
"I know, Alison," Mike said, trying not to let his hand linger too long on her shoulder. "There are no words for David's behaviour with the Swindon lot."
"That Neil's alright; can't blame them for preferring him," Alison said contemplatively, tucking a lock of shiny ginger hair behind her ear. Before Mike could say anything mortifying, she added, "Bit boring, though."
"Yeah," Mike agreed. "And we've still got Tim and Dawn and Keith and Emma."
"Plus that Rachel, to spice things up. Gareth is just lucky he hasn't been fired for some of the things he's said." She looked up at him with a smile. "But I suppose it's hard to take him seriously enough to report him for harassment."
Was that a hint to him that he was too lowly for her to consider? Or was she inviting him to join in the fun of mocking Gareth? He couldn't tell, and the moment slipped away.
Forty seconds. Tim had had his microphone off for forty seconds, and Andy barely remembered to blink or breathe in that time. His face had been hidden behind the big black eye of the camera lens, but he hoped Tim knew he was apologising, silently, for not giving him a heads-up that Dawn was leaving, off to the States with that troglodyte Lee. One good turn deserves another, he could remember his mum saying, and while Tim had helped him with Emma, he'd done nothing to aid Tim. It must have been Mike who told him. Good man, Mike.
It was Mike that Tim's eyes were fastened to as he talked about not being able to change circumstances and fell silent. Andy watched, fascinated, as Tim visibly replayed what he'd just said and stood, bound and determined to prove himself wrong; he barely had time to get out of the way so that Tim could leave the small office in search of Dawn. He gestured to Mike to follow and trailed after Tim, watching his funny duck-walk – Emma's version was a treat – down the corridor, angling for the best view those damned blinds would allow him to get on their faces, turned wholly toward each other, and felt his stomach sink when Tim stripped off his microphone and there were forty seconds of silence.
When Tim sat back down and caught sight of the camera, he fumbled for his personal microphone. Andy could feel Tim's eyes boring into him. "She said no, by the way."
"People want to know what happened to everyone," Alison said. "Well, not to David, really – they'd still quite like to see him cliffed – but everyone else, yeah. And it'd be nice to get the old crew back together, wouldn't it?"
"But Christmas?" Andy objected. "Emma and I were going to go to my sister's place."
"So you don't want to go to Florida?" Alison asked coyly. "Jamila said she'd send a few out there to film Dawn and Lee. And bring them back for the holiday."
"I'd not like to cross the big boss," Andy said. "Yeah, send me and Mike. We'll get her back."
"You can't leave Lee in Florida," Alison chided. "I know Tim's been a friend, but –"
"Don't worry, I'm hardly looking to burn BBC bridges." Though it would be tricky balancing the job with what he and Emma both wanted.
"That's all I needed to hear. In the meantime, it's back to the office again, and we'll talk to Tim and Gareth and David and the rest."
"It's harder to talk now," Tim said, his words unfiltered after hours of filming, "now that I've seen what the cameras did."
"What did they do?" Mike asked.
"Only made my man-in-the-moon face rounder than ever," Tim said, prompting Alison to laugh. "And you captured all of my stammering – you couldn't have edited a bit to make me look smooth?" He grinned at them, and Andy knew he had to get Dawn back to Slough, come hell or high water.
"Looking forward to seeing Dawn?"
"Of course. But ask me again after she's broken my heart again," Tim said, his smile slowly getting smaller. Mike shifted and Tim started slightly and checked his watch. "And now I'm late for a meeting."
There was no way he was letting Dawn slip off unrecorded. Andy grabbed the smaller camera and followed her and Lee out to the hired car. Lee claimed the front seat and promptly fell asleep – a bit of a miracle there – and Andy had Dawn to himself. "Aren't you going to open your present from Secret Santa?" he prompted. It had been tremendously kind of Jamie to give Tim Dawn's name, and he wanted to see how it paid off.
Absently, she obliged him, catching her breath when she saw the box of paints. And there, that was her original drawing of Tim, and Andy thought it was lovely that Tim had shown her how much he meant it by not photocopying it and keeping her original handiwork for himself.
Dawn must have felt the same way, because she looked up at him – not the camera – and asked, "Can we hail a cab from here?"
"Your Emma doesn't seem to have picked up your way with a camera," Harrison said, watching her fumble to take the snap of "the old gang." Harrison in a teasing mood was just one way this entire editing session was odd; the celebratory tone was another.
Christ, but he didn't know if he could have done this without the knowledge that Dawn had finally admitted Tim was the man for her.
"But if I'm really being honest, I never really thought it would have a happy ending," Tim was saying onscreen, every emotion clear on his face, and all of them fell silent, just watching instead of working. "Come back here in ten years – see how I'm doing then," Tim continued, still sad-eyed.
"Alright, stop," Andy called. "Let's get this edited so we can all enjoy what's left of the holiday." They set to work, voting on how to cut the film for maximum effect.
Alison was suspiciously shiny-eyed. "You alright?" he heard Mike ask.
"This one makes me cry every time," she said, pointing a hand at the screen, where Tim was speaking again about how his life continued even without cameras aimed at him.
"You're looking at it wrong," Mike said. "Listen to this." With that, Mike got to Tim's line, I could be married, with kids. "That's what they're up to, while we're here trying to finish a documentary for the BBC. I know who's got the better deal."
Alison laughed, looking so surprised at her own mirth that Andy couldn't help joining in and clapping Mike on the arm. He'd have to tell Emma that one when he got to hers.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/432364.html.