|The Wretched Sigh
Author: pygmymuse PM
Translate "La Complainte de la Butte," throw in some "Affair to Remember" and add an "AU" label, and that's the story.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Romance - Chapters: 8 - Words: 42,324 - Reviews: 18 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 10-23-09 - Published: 10-14-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5443801
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Wretched Sigh
Word Count: 5,461
Disclaimer: I can't own anything. The pygmies and debt collectors own me.
Summary: Every relationship has trials. Some more than their fair share.
Spoilers: Up to 1x10, just to be safe, though this one significantly changes the "world" as we know it.
Author's Note: Story title comes from a lyric in Rufus Wainwright's version of "La Complainte de la Butte," and the snippets at the beginning of the chapter are from Cora Vaucaire's version of it. If anyone wants my translation of the lyrics...or any of the other French I used, let me know.
En haut de la rue Saint-Vincent
Un poète et une inconnue
S'aimèrent l'espace d'un instant
Mais il ne l'a jamais revue
S'aimèrent l'espace d'un instant
"As far as dumb ideas go, this has to be your worst, you know that, right?" Tom asked, reaching for the check. Stephen grabbed it out of his hand and shoved it in his pocket.
That was Stephen; he always had to pay for everything, burning through money as though it were nothing. His parents were rich, one of the original founding families, and he'd never worked a day in his life, never would. That explained a lot about him, Tom supposed, including how they'd met. Stephen's parents had an apartment in Paris, and they wanted to their son to see the city with someone his age. Stephen got his way, as he always did, and picked the kid playing street hockey instead of one of the other rich kids his age. Tom had been amused, his parents wanted the money, and Stephen came back every summer. Supposedly, that made them friends. It was how he'd met Mike, too, because Mike was one of Stephen's rich friends. Mike was a friend, too, if Tom used the word loosely. Knowing Stephen had some perks; he tried to see them that way. At least, it gave Tom somewhere to stay while he was in med school.
Unfortunately, it also made Stephen think that Tom was some kind of toy for his personal amusement. Friends—Stephen didn't know how to have friends. He knew how to use people, to manipulate them. Mike could be just as bad sometimes. It was partially how they'd been raised, like they were entitled to whatever they saw, and the fact that they had the money to get most of it just made it worse. Tom considered Mike a bit better than Stephen, but he wasn't that much better because he almost always went along with Stephen. Just like this latest idea of his. "It's brilliant. You're just objecting because you lost the last bet. You always were such a sore loser. This is the perfect way to spend our summer vacation."
"I'm off of med school for two months, and you want me to spend my time conning people," Tom said, shaking his head at Stephen's words. Summer vacation. Right. Like Stephen's time at college was anything more than a joke. He had parties, drank constantly, and was always trying to get Tom to join him. Mike actually paid more attention to his classes, but that didn't matter because his position as his father's successor was already set. "No. I'm not doing it."
"A girl. One girl. And men lie to women all the time. Besides, if you pull it off, I'll pay for your next year of med school. You can't turn down a chance at that and you know it," Stephen insisted. He was happily in the throes of cooking up his latest scheme, and he wasn't going to let it go. He never let go of anything. "So, are we going to go or not?"
"Damn it, Stephen, I don't like this."
"It'll be fun. I'd do it, but I've never been good at French," Mike said, and Tom glared at him. Fun? Yeah, right. They were getting a kick out of watching Tom squirm right now. "You, on the other hand, you're better at both languages, and you know it, you bastard."
Stephen took another sip of his wine and smiled. "So, yes or no? All you have to do is get one girl to think that you are a lost little French tourist for as long as she's willing to show you around. Do it for a week, and I'll pay your tuition. I'll even front for the hotel and give you a hundred dollars a day to cover expenses. Nothing's going to go wrong, Tom. Trust me."
"Those are dangerous words coming from your mouth, and I know that. I'm actually frightened by you saying that," Tom muttered as Stephen put more than enough money on the table. He grinned. Tom shook his head again. "This is a bad idea, a really bad idea."
"You get an all expenses paid trip to DC. Take a few photos, charge me room service. Live a little," Mike cajoled, still trying to talk Tom into this. They would just get more and more obnoxious the longer Tom resisted. It was easier when he was busy with med school. Stephen didn't bother then. Now that the term was over, Tom didn't have the same excuse, not in Stephen's mind. "You'll still have plenty of time to study. Med students. You are way too stressed, Tom. Time off will be good for you.
"And a new name," Stephen added. "Tom Wakefield sounds so English. American. Whatever. Point is, you get to be someone else for a change. Who wouldn't want that? Let's see... Pascal? Sébastien? Jean-Luc? Pierre? Georges? What's your mother's maiden name?"
"Soubeyan," Tom answered. He sighed as Stephen and Mike continued to try out more names. He knew that there was no way to get out of this. Stephen wouldn't let it go. He never let go of his toys or his schemes, no matter how unlikely they were. He was still a spoiled child. Tom could just do it for a day, try and fail, and Stephen would leave him alone about it. He could spend the rest of the summer in peace. That sounded good.
Finishing med school and having an excuse not to see Stephen or Mike again sounded even better.
Christina tried to ignore the growling of her stomach and focus on a plan. She'd taken off without thinking, but she couldn't deal with it anymore. She was never going back to that place or back in the system. She was eighteen, but she hadn't finished high school yet, and they said she had to stay with those people, after shifting her from one bad home to another. No, she was done. She'd had enough. She would finish her summer school to make up that last credit, and she would find a place, save some money, get out of DC—because she hated this place almost as much as she'd hated the last batch of foster parents. The wife was lazy; the husband abusive. No way. Never again. Time to find a job and a place. She'd go over to the shelter on third. She liked the people there okay, and they'd never turned her in when she showed up before. She hoped that she'd have enough time there. She didn't like sleeping on the streets. Too many people thought she was a hooker, and without Luke to chase them off...
She shrugged. It wasn't like she could expect much from boys. Luke was just like any other guy, and she knew that. He didn't stick around, and that didn't matter. No use crying about it. She looked out at the monument. She came here to think, a lot of people did, but she wasn't calm. She was pissed. She wanted out; she was hungry. She was cranky. Hell, she was pissed, and she had the right to be.
She felt someone bump into her, and she turned to glare at the older boy as he muttered an apology in another language. Tourists. The town was full of them. He stopped and looked back at her. "Où la place—Pardon. Where is...?"
He held out a map to her, but he had one of those tourist ones, in French, like she supposed he was. She shrugged. "I can't ready your map. Where did you want to go?"
"Je sais—Ah, attend. La—The memorial de—Sorry. My group. I got lost. I think we go to the monument next, but I here, they not. Memorial? Yes, maybe there," he said with a frown and the guiltiest expression she had ever seen. He probably felt pretty damn embarrassed about losing his group. Okay, she could deal with that. She looked him over. He was dressed nice enough, had a cute accent, and he was rather pathetic in a lost puppy dog sort of way. She could work with this.
"I can get you to the memorial, but you'll have to pay."
He nodded. "D'accord."
He gave her a bill—fifty dollars—and she tried not to be surprised. She couldn't let him know he'd way overpaid, or he'd want it back, and fifty bucks would go a long way to getting her what she wanted. "Okay, you have yourself a tour guide. This way to the Lincoln Memorial. You know anything about Lincoln?"
"He...freed slaves, yes? He was killed?" her new client asked hesitantly, and she smiled at him. He was nice enough for a lost tourist. Kind of cute, too. Maybe a year or two older than her, eyes that gave everything away, messy hair she kept wanting to fix, a gorgeous smile, good teeth. His family had money. Maybe they weren't loaded, but they were well-enough off that she didn't feel bad scamming him out of the fifty. She didn't mind this kind of tourist. Slightly gullible, maybe too trusting, but at least he wasn't one of the ones that got mad when they spoke English no one could understand or just expected people to know the language they were speaking and answer them.
"That's what he's famous for, yeah," Christina agreed. She looked over at him getting the distinct sense that he had no interest in the Lincoln Memorial. He wasn't doing it to get into her pants, either. "You mind if I ask you something? You're here looking at stuff, right? Why DC? Why not... Los Angeles?"
"Like...Hollywood?" he made a face. "I did not want to come here. I want to travel, see other things, but not...here. My father...business."
"You're here with your parents?"
"My father. Business. Always business with him," the boy answered bitterly. "Où—désolé. I hungry. We eat before memorial?"
"Sure." She wasn't about to object to that. She was starving, after all. Maybe he'd even pay for the meal, and she could keep that fifty for later. She led him over to the closest restaurant, a diner, and they settled into a booth. She picked up her menu, while he studied his map. "You know what you want to eat already?"
He picked up the menu and frowned. "You pick for me?"
She shrugged again and when the waitress came by, she ordered them both coffees and trucker's specials. She reached over and took his map. "What is it you really want to see? Museums? Memorials? The White House?"
He made a face at the last one. "Politiques. My father... politics. No, no, I want to see the Smith place."
"The Smithsonian? Okay, we can do that," she told him, thinking out loud. "We can climb up the bell tower, though I bet you've done that before because you're from France, right? That's where Notre Dame is, right? Maybe not the bell tower. Anything you really want to see besides the Smithsonian?"
He shrugged. "C'est assez pour moi aujourd'hui. I—that is enough for today. My English—Have to work on it, yes? Is easier to speak French."
She smiled. "I don't mind hearing it, just don't expect me to understand it."
When Stephen and Mike had chosen the somewhat rough looking girl to be Tom's victim—he did consider her a victim despite the fact that he wasn't doing this to hurt her—he'd been nervous. But of any of the potential girls that they could have chosen, they'd picked a nice one who needed the money more than the others. That made Tom feel a bit better about doing this. He still didn't like it, and he would just tell her the truth, because he liked her, but he knew if he didn't make it through one day of this, Stephen—possibly Mike, too—would want to try again. Better that it only happened once.
He'd noticed that she was shivering a little, and he didn't think she'd eaten that morning, maybe not for longer, so he convinced her to eat with him. He didn't know why he'd picked the Smithsonian except that it was a good way to kill a few hours, and he figured he could pull of the act long enough to get through the museum. Sadly, Stephen was right. It was too easy to pretend that he was someone else.
He had a feeling she was some sort of runaway, and Stephen would laugh at him for wanting to help her, and she wouldn't like it if she knew he knew. She was strong. Independent, and he admired her for it. It was much more than he was.
"How long are you in town for?" she asked after they'd gotten their tickets for the museum. He had been looking at the map, and she stole it from him. He frowned. Apparently, he'd been a little too convincing when he pretended that he couldn't really read English.
"A few days," he answered, heading towards the space museum. He didn't mind the natural history stuff, wouldn't mind seeing the American history section, but he'd always wanted to see the capsule they'd recovered from the moon flight, that whole exhibit, actually. What boy didn't want to be an astronaut at one time or another?
"You planning on going back to your tour for the rest of it?"
He stopped to look at the capsule and shook his head. "Ils ont aller à la—they go White House. I not want to see that."
"I could think of somewhere else to take you, I suppose. This place will take most of today, and if you want to see the other museums..." he nodded, and she smiled at him. "Of course. It figures you're a bit of a geek. You had to be to get lost from your group. Kind of cute for a geek, though."
He looked at her. She didn't seem bothered by what she said, that she'd acknowledged it out loud. If he'd told her she was pretty—and she was—he'd have stumbled over the words, no matter which language he tried to use. She didn't seem to notice at all, moving on to the next display with him following after her. She read off the information to him again, and he found himself enjoying her voice. She had a nice voice. He moved ahead, frowning at the next picture, and she joined him, her shoulder bumping his. He looked at her, and she just smiled at him.
He had an urge to take her hand, and he felt foolish, like he was back in high school again. He had never been good at this. Stephen was always picking up girls and partying, and while Tom somehow managed to interact with whatever girl Stephen or Mike stuck him with; the girls were already drunk or high so of course they liked him; it was easy. He had never really approached a girl before, not to pick her up or ask her out—and he hadn't really done that with this one—but she was right when she called him a geek. He'd pushed himself to get good grades to get into med school, and he'd never really cared about his social awkwardness, how completely stupid he was when it came to women or girls until just now.
"J'aime ça," he said after a moment, pointing to the picture, and she smiled at him, wrapping her arm around his as she led him into the next section of the exhibit. She kept reading, and he really wasn't paying attention any more; he just smiled as she went on. This was easy. Easier than than being with the drunk girls that Tom was used to thanks to Stephen and Mike and their type of party. Comfortable, too. He knew he was playing a part, but he felt more like himself, like he'd known her for more than a day. That was funny. He didn't even know her name. She didn't know his. She thought he was some idiotic tourist, and he wasn't.
Next summer, he was taking extra courses. He didn't care how close he came to burning out, even if doing that had almost killed him first semester; it was better than getting caught in one of Stephen's messes. He had to find a way to stand up to Stephen and say no to these stupid ideas. Tom liked this girl; he didn't want to hurt her, and she'd be hurt—angry and probably pissed—if she knew he'd lied to her.
"You're thinking awful hard for someone looking at exhibits in a museum," she observed, and he smiled at her a little.
"Just thinking. Too little time," he explained, shaking his head. "Too little... vérité."
She looked at him and shrugged again. "I don't know what vérité means, but if we're talking about not knowing each other's names... You can call me Chris if you want, but not Chrissie, okay?"
"Tom," he faked choking on the name and corrected himself, modifying the name that Stephen had finally picked to fit his slip. "Thomas. Grevais Thomas."
"Grevais?" she snorted with laughter as he rolled his eyes. "Yeah. I think I'll call you Tom."
He nodded. That worked for him. She was using his real name, after all. "Je dois te dire la vérité, mais je ne peux pas parce que tu n'aime pas ca et parce que mon amis... Je suis désolé."
"Désolé? That's sorry, right? Look, you don't need to be sorry if you're using French. It's your native language," she told him, and he wanted to correct her. He'd been raised bilingual, his parents spoke both to him as he grew up. He learned in French, primarily, because of school, and he'd even taken some other language courses over the years because he had a fairly natural gift for them. "Stop feeling so guilty and enjoy your trip in DC. So what if you ditched your group? I'm more fun, and I can show you things that most tourists don't see. Like... Well, there's this homeless shelter where they serve the best chili in DC."
"D'accord. Allons-y," he agreed, and she laughed.
"Did you just agree to go to a homeless shelter? Why? What is with you?" she demanded, and he shrugged. He really didn't care where she took him or what they saw. This wasn't about a trip to DC, and it wasn't really about the bet, either, not anymore.
"C'est pas comme tout les choses que je peux voire. Tu as raison. Et pas comme les gens dans Montmartre. C'est vrai," he explained, and she just laughed again. He liked the way she laughed. She went on to read the next plaque, and he smiled as she did. Then he frowned as he heard a camera flash behind them. He turned back to see Stephen grinning at him, Mike frowning in disapproval, and rolled his eyes as he tried to concentrate on what she was saying.
At least she hadn't seemed to notice either of them.
Christina was starting to think that she'd misjudged men—at least she'd generalized too much. Her tourist was not like Luke. He wasn't really like any of the guys that she'd known in school. He wasn't a jerk, wasn't arrogant, wasn't trying to get into her pants. He was nice to her without a reason, and that was something that she wasn't used to. He was sweet, and it wasn't just because he was from another country. This was different. He liked her, she could tell that he did, but he hadn't smooth-talked her with his French or anything. He let her lead, and he had even agreed to come to the shelter. He'd helped serve.
"Where on earth did you find that one?" Carole asked, watching Christina's tourist as he helped with the clean up. Tom had stuck with her, helping her while she helped Carole serve, and now he was out doing the clean up work. This one was weird. In a good way. She knew that he couldn't possibly be as rich as she'd originally thought, not if he was willing to do this. She almost felt bad about scamming him out of that fifty. Almost.
"He was lost. Bumped into me at the monument," Christina answered, smiling a little. "He was like a stray puppy or something. Only this stray has money."
"You watch out for that one," Carole warned, shaking her head a little wistfully. "Someone else is going to see what you've got and try to take it."
"What do I got, exactly?" Christina asked suspiciously. She watched the older woman as Carole's curls shook with her amusement. "He's not my boyfriend."
"He's a ticket out of here if you play him right, and you know it. How much did he spend on you today? How many meals did he buy? How much cash did he give you for being his guide?"
"Like I'd say around here. People fight over quarters sometimes," Christina muttered, shaking her head. She shrugged. "It's a dream, Carole. Meetings someone who can take us away from all of this."
"Honey, you are damn close to living that dream, and don't you dare ignore that," Carole admonished, and Christina nodded as he came towards them. He set the dishes near the sink.
"Avez-vous—Pardon. A man out there, he has a bad cut and refuses to go to l'hôpital. You have...anything?"
Carole gave Christina another look as she walked away to get the first aid kit. Christina turned to him and frowned, shaking her head again. "What is with you? I mean, why do you care so much? A normal guy your age is chasing after girls or trying to get drunk, but you, you're here, at a homeless shelter, cleaning up and playing nurse."
He made a face. "Au commencement—I am with a girl. Si tout que je veux si coucher avec quelqu'un, je peux, et plus, il n'a pas une age de boire dans la France. Je peux boire tout chose quand je suis un enfant. Et je ne veux pas boire l'alcool. Je ne suis pas mon père qui seulement veut boire."
"Okay, someone's a little defensive," she said and laughed. "It's cute, though, when you go off in French like that."
He made another face, shaking his head as he did. She smiled. Pissing him off was fun, too. Good to know. Carole came back with the first aid kit, and he took it from her with a thank you, heading back to the man with the cut. Carole turned to Christina. "What did you do to set him off?"
"Asked him why he was here," she answered with a shrug as she got a clean rag and got it wet. Mr. Nurse had forgotten about that, now hadn't he? She smiled as she walked over to them, reaching the disgruntled homeless man trying to keep his arm away from her friend's scrutiny. She handed her tourist the rag, and he gently cleaned out the wound, which was pretty bad, though she'd seen worse on her foster father's favorite child punching bag. Tom finished cleaning the wound and applied the antibiotic, and then frowned.
"This needs stitches," he muttered, getting to his feet. She nodded and went for the sewing kit that Carole kept in her office. She found him heating up some water while Carole watched, still amused by what he was doing. He took the needle from Christina and put it in the pot for a few minutes, cutting a length of thread and doing the same to it.
"You act like you've done this before."
He shook his head. "Ma mère... elle était—a nurse."
"Ah... So that's what you're going to be when you grow up?"
"No," he answered sharply, and she looked at him. He took a deep breath. "Ma mère dirait—she used to say 'all you need to be a good nurse is to really care.'"
"And you don't?"
"Pas assez," he answered with a grin, taking his supplies back to the other man. Christina looked back at Carole, who was laughing now. She made a face and went after Tom. His patient held his arm out of his reach. He looked at the man with a gentle expression and used a soothing tone of voice that made her question his answer to her question about caring. She thought he'd said no, but he did care. "I know—this is going to hurt, and I have nothing to give you for the pain. But you need this."
The man stared at Tom for a second, and then he slowly nodded. He let Tom have his arm, and Tom threaded the needle carefully before starting to sew the wound shut. He did it very slowly, as gently as possible. He put a bandage over the wound when he was done. "This has to stay clean, yes?"
His patient nodded again and moved away. Christina smiled at him. "You are good at that. You should be a doctor."
He smiled proudly as he put the supplies back in the first aid kit. "Thank you. You are a good nurse."
She laughed as Carole came to collect the first aid kit and the sewing kit. "Come on, it's getting late. We should get this lost tourist back to his hotel for the night."
She took him by the arm again, and he called out a goodbye to Carole as they headed out. The older woman gave Christina another warning look, and Christina shook her head, rolling her eyes again.
He was not her boyfriend.
"So, did you want me to meet you tomorrow?"
Tom looked over at her. She was trying hard not to show how nervous she was. She wanted to spend more time with him, and he wanted that, too. He had enjoyed the day a lot more than he'd thought he would, and he liked her a lot. Spending time with her was easy and fun. She was nice—he almost wouldn't mind carrying out the full week of Stephen's bet.
"You want to?" he asked, and she smiled even as she shrugged. She was trying to pretend that she didn't care, but he knew that she did. He did, too. He shrugged. "You don't have to. I can go with my tour."
She shrugged again. They were both trying desperately to pretend that today was nothing, and they both knew that it wasn't. "Maybe if I have nothing better to do, I'll show up. Meet you in the lobby if I do?"
"Sure," he agreed with a smile, knowing that she would be there. Probably even early. She might not have said it, would deny it if he asked her, but that homeless shelter she'd "volunteered" at tonight was her home. He knew that a chance at money like he'd given her today would bring her back, but it wasn't just about the money, either.
She smiled and looked up at the hotel. "You've got a nice place here. Expensive."
He shook his head. He hadn't wanted to use this hotel, but Stephen and Mike wanted to stay in the life they were accustomed to, so they were all here. "It is like... C'est un façade. It looks like I am something, but I am not."
She nodded. "Well, I think that you're fine as you are. No need to put on a show. But I'd better get going. I might see you tomorrow."
"D'accord," he said, watching her leave awkwardly. He wanted to call her back, ask her to stay, and it wasn't that he wanted to sleep with her, but he didn't want her to go. He felt like he should make her stay, that he should have kissed her. She was something else, something special. She was... He didn't know what she was. He was confused. He should have told her the truth. She deserved that much.
A hand smacked him on the back, and he jumped. Turning, he stifled a few curses as he saw Stephen and Mike. Stephen grinned. Mike just shrugged. "I thought the idea was to fool her, not you. You're sad, you know that?"
Tom glared at him. "Look, I fooled the girl. That's what you both wanted, right? I pretended to be a tourist; she believed it. Are you happy now, or do you want to keep playing this stupid game?"
"I said if you did it for a week, I would pay for your tuition," Stephen began. "You're chickening out after only a day? What, you like this girl? Come on, Tom. She's not your type."
"Is that your polite way of saying she's black?" Tom demanded coldly. He shook his head. Stephen was a real bastard sometimes, and Mike wasn't much better. No, wait. Stephen was a bastard all of the time. Mike was only one some of the time. "What does it matter to you? You're not the one spending time with her. You're not conning her. You're just watching. Pretty twisted, actually. What is it you want to see?"
"I just don't want to see you get attached, Tom. She's a street kid. You're going to be a doctor. It won't work. You're a nice guy, but you should know better," Stephen said. He looked over at Mike, who shrugged again. "Come on, let me buy you a drink."
"I don't want a drink. I'm not doing this again, Stephen. No plans. No schemes. No bets. We're done," Tom insisted. Mike looked at him in surprise. Yeah, well, even Tom didn't really think he had the guts to do this, but he was doing it. "I don't care what you say, what you offer. I'm sick of this."
"Tom, you do realize that you live in his house," Mike began, trying to be a voice of reason. "You haven't had to pay for anything other than your classes for the past year. It's going to be hard going back to a life where you fight for every last dime."
"People do it," Tom said, determined now. At least one good thing had come out of this. He had stood up to Stephen and Mike for a change. That was more than he'd done in ten years. Tom owed Chris for that. She was the one who made it possible. He probably wouldn't have said anything if he didn't like her so much. "I can do it."
"You're a med student, Tom," Stephen reminded him. "Your class work alone is killer. Why add working to that?"
"Don't start, Stephen. I've played your games for too long, and I don't want to do it anymore. I'm done," Tom repeated, heading towards the elevator. He stopped and looked back at Stephen. "Should I assume that you're also going to refuse to pay for the room now? I suppose you wouldn't have to. I can find a place to stay on my own."
"Don't be like that, Tom. You don't have to get a new room. I'm not cutting you off. I just—you know that it's not all about games. I do things for you, too. Yeah, maybe I've got more money than sense, and maybe all I ever do is spend money, but I gave you a place to stay. I pay for everything. So what If I want to have some fun?"
"That's not what—"
"Please, Tom, have a drink," Mike intervened. "Calm down. We'll talk."
Tom looked at him dubiously. Stephen pulled him by the arm. "You're my friend, Tom. You don't have to finish the bet if you don't want to. You don't have to live with me if you don't want to. See the girl tomorrow or not. That's up to you. It's not a big deal."
Tom watched both of his friends suspiciously. They were acting too nice. Stephen was up to something, but Tom had no idea what it was. That worried him.