Author's Note: I wrote this a couple of years ago as a random idea, but the problem is, I'm not certain if I'll ever finish it. For now, what you see is what you get. I just wanted to play around with the idea of a Scarlet Pimpernel AU, but I'm not sure I have enough knowledge of WWII to really do this justice.
Story Note: Scarlet Pimpernel AU, taking place ca. 1949 in Europe. Percy x Marguerite. For Clio, the biggest SP fan.
The Invisible Savior
She just did happen to see him across the large ballroom, though rather unexpectedly. He was laughing that ridiculous laugh of his, waving one large, feminine hand carelessly and nearly sloshing expensive French champagne onto a man next to him. Laughing. That awful laugh that was so boorish and inane – like the scrape of silverware on fine china. Grating. God, it had grated her nerves the first time she had heard it, as did everything else about him. She highly doubted there could be anyone else in the world built so attractively, and yet who possessed a personality so akin to dirt.
She'd no idea he would be here tonight either; the revelation that he was here was bothersome and annoying. It made her feel out of place and awkward, and she was never out of place or awkward!
To make matters worse, his gaze suddenly caught hers across the crowd. She quickly glanced away, pretending she hadn't seen him at all, and looked back to the film director she was in conversation with. Hopefully the moron across the room would chalk it up to a hallucination, like he did almost everything else.
"It sounds a fascinating movie, monsieur," she prattled – and hating herself for doing so, for she, the greatest actress in France, never prattled! She was only doing so because of that damned idiot; she was determined to ignore Blakeney for the rest of the evening and give him no opportunity to approach her, even if it meant (Lord help her!) prattling. "And you say the very man himself has agreed to assist with it?" She was exceedingly glad that her lightly powdered face hid the warmth of embarrassment on her cheeks.
"Under the cover of anonymity, yes," the film director admitted pleasantly. He was too infatuated with her beauty and wit to notice her aggravation and state of annoyance; that was, at the very least, quite helpful. He went on, "I can understand why, of course. The Scarlet Pimpernel, as they call him around the globe, would have far too many enemies even these days, Mademoiselle. It has only been three years, after all."
"Very true," she agreed, swirling her champagne in an attempt to ignore the way her gut clenched at the thought of the recently-ended war with Germany. "There are still many who would kill him if possible. The Nazis were ever efficient." She heard the bitterness in her voice; she wondered if the film director heard it.
Apparently he did, but he shared her sentiments. "They still are, I hear," he responded dryly. "The ones that have escaped capture. But apparently, the mysterious Pimpernel has given his story to a Mr. Hastings regardless of freely roaming enemies, and Mr. Hastings wrote it into script form."
"Hastings...? I have never heard of him." Probably a pseudonym, she thought briefly; whoever wrote the movie script of the most daring man of the Second World War's exploits saving Jews from beneath the noses of those horrible Nazis wouldn't want to be discovered and found out, if at all possible.
The film director smiled slightly. "Nor had I. But I met him just the other day, and his writing is genius. I've no idea what he did during the war years, but I believe this film will be the beginning of an illustrious career for the man."
She glanced around once more at the huge gathering of movie stars, directors, producers, and writers – all of them mooching up to each other before the Cannes Film Festival in just another couple of days – hoping she might see this Mr. Hastings somewhere among the brilliantly dazzling diamonds and rubies, cut crystal and lamé gowns.
But no; alas, damn it all! The very idiot she'd been so keen to avoid making eye contact with was crossing the very center of the room, bee-lining directly for her! She should have known he would; she could always tell when some man took too much of a liking to her, and Blakeney had from the very start: a year previously when she had met him at a dinner party in London, hosted by a wealthy backer. He was insufferable!
Thinking fast, almost wildly so, she turned back to her conversationalist and said, "I should like to meet Mr. Hastings before signing for the female lead, Monsieur. With you directing, I foresee a huge hit, but I always like to meet everyone involved."
"With you acting in it, it will be a hit, you mean! And of course you shall meet him! I would have it no other way."
"Is the gentleman here this evening?" she asked as politely as possible, desperate to escape into the crowd before Blakeney reached her. Hopefully this Hastings man would be far, far across the room. Preferably near an exit.
"I believe so..." The director glanced about, and to Marguerite's intense displeasure, he said excitedly, "Ah, Blakeney!"
Marguerite swore inwardly, cursing her luck. It was truly horrible sometimes, but there was nothing to be done about it at the immediate moment.
The idiot named Blakeney stopped before them, smiling blandly, his long fingers curled about a half-full crystal champagne flute. "Ah, Monsieur...Fonte...bleu, was it? I'm demmed terrible at remembering these French names, never could manage the language myself, you know."
She ground her teeth and bit her tongue as his eyes swept over her, taking in the silver, strapless gown and its dipping cleavage, the way it clung to her hips before flaring slightly at her knees and falling to her ankles and high, silver heels. Unconsciously, she arched her back, trying to put some invisible distance between the two of them, and her eyes took on the cold, hard look she had acquired during the war years.
Monsieur Fontebleu was speaking again, chattering on quite cheerfully. "Marguerite, chéri, Monsieur Blakeney is one of Hastings' closest friends. He has agreed to fund the entire project himself! Is that not generous?"
"Ah, has he?" she mused, keeping her voice as cool as silk. Of course he would do such a thing – if rumor held true, he had a massive fortune. He could do whatever he liked, though she had thought he preferred gambling at the casinos in Monte Carlo and sailing the Caribbean in his private yacht rather than fund documentary films about the atrocities of the recent war. She was definitely leaning towards not signing the lead now, even if it was destined to be a hit. Working with Blakeney for several months on end would be absolutely insupportable.
"Ah yes, Hastings!" Blakeney's smile became rather quaint, almost boyish and shy.
"You've read the script, sir?" Director Fontebleu asked. "It is a masterpiece, I daresay!"
"Read it? Oh, good Lord no," Blakeney laughed softly. "I'm afraid not. Never read that sort of thing. Hastings gave me the general overview when he and I spoke about funding, but that's all!"
She stared at him incredulously. How in heaven could he agree to back a major film project without reading the script? Was money nothing to him? If the project failed, he would be out a couple of million pounds, at the very least!
Director Fontebleu apparently had the same thoughts, for he stammered, "But... Monsieur Blakeney...!"
"Oh, I'm certain it will be an absolute smash!" Blakeney rambled, in that gratingly cheerful voice of his. The very British-ness of his words were rubbing Marguerite's nerves raw. "Hastings did a spot of theatre before the war, mostly vaudeville, I believe. Maybe radio? Eh, not my taste, but to each his own, wot? I hear, however, that you have been asked to play the lead, Mademoiselle St. Just." He smiled at her, the corners of his lips turning up slightly. "An excellent choice. The only choice, as far as I'm concerned."
Icily, she said, "Be that as it may, my schedule is quite full at the moment, and I'm afraid I must read the script before I remotely consider –"
Director Fontebleu cut her off. "Not to worry, Monsieur. She will sign to the script, because I am perfectly aware of the, er, Scarlet Pimpernel's stipulations. They were quite clear..."
"Oh! Yes, I do remember Hastings telling me about that. The enigma that is the elusive, mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel insisted on Mademoiselle St. Just in the lead, was it? I thought it was a bit much, myself! What an odd fellow he must be! Clearly a fan of yours, m'dear, though I can't blame him there! Well, he may have rescued countless Jews during the war, but the rest of us Englishmen can't hope to live up to such a person, I daresay." Blakeney seemed highly amused by this, for some strange reason. "Demmed devil! Still, if his story sells..." He shrugged lightly as he trailed off.
Marguerite was determined that she was not going to fathom the ways of the English tonight, in particular this man's ways. However, she did know that he certainly could not hope to live up to the Scarlet Pimpernel's incredible talent. The mysterious personage had saved hundreds of lives during the war, sometimes sneaking them from directly beneath the noses of those damned Nazis, sometimes from prison camps, sometimes from hiding places in Belgium and France and the Netherlands and even from the Slavic regions, getting them safely to England, Canada, or America. Europe admired and loved that unknown man, for Germany had hated him so, and he became a beacon of hope in a war-torn world. No one knew his identity. Even now, there were still high-ranking Nazi officials on the run, as well as spies and others determined to kill someone who had worked so tirelessly against the now-shattered German nation. That Mr. Hastings, the scriptwriter for the Scarlet Pimpernel's film debut, actually knew the elusive man personally, and enough to get his opinion for the movie, was impressive. It probably put him in a great deal of danger, to be honest – and Marguerite admired Hastings for still going through with the film idea despite that.
"And who shall play the man himself?" The question burst from her lips before she could stop herself. She wouldn't be the first bit surprised it if were Blakeney – it would be absurd enough. The man couldn't possibly have the first bit of acting ability, that much was certain. She wouldn't play opposite of him, regardless of the success of the project.
"An unknown talent, actually," Fontebleu confessed, surprising Marguerite. "I think his name is Sir Andrew Ffoulkes."
Blakeney chortled at this – biting down on what would have been an outright laugh and making it something of an uncouth snort instead, and Marguerite glared at him for being so... Blakeney. She didn't know who this Sir Andrew Ffoulkes was, but if Blakeney's opinion of him were so low, hers would likely be quite high. That was the way of things. She was determined to like what he hated, and hate what he liked.
"I should like to meet him as well," she said loftily.
Blakeney's eyes brightened. "That is easily arranged."
He offered her his arm, and Marguerite glared at him for a moment. She was the most recognized actress in France; she could afford to be rude. Unfortunately, she had no idea what Mr. Ffoulkes or Mr. Hastings looked like, which put her at a slight disadvantage.
Blakeney chuckled. "I can stand here all night, Mademoiselle St. Just. Believe me."
Oh, hellfire! Of course she believed him! Didn't she know he could be stubborn? He could do little else in life, but he was horribly persistent. Angrily, she slipped her fingers into the crook of his elbow, hoping not to touch any more of him then she could help. To her further irritation, she realized that the fabric of his suit was the best; her hand could discern that much just in what little she felt against her skin.
He also seemed highly amused at her revulsion, and he smiled at Fontebleu. "I shall see you tomorrow, sir? And next week to discuss the particulars of financing?"
"Of course!" Fontebleu looked highly pleased, but Marguerite didn't wonder at that. He had a top-billing actress, a brilliant script on a topic the world hadn't forgotten yet, and a backer with enough money to buy a small country (and probably owned one already and did nothing with it). It didn't matter that Andrew Ffoulkes was an up-and-coming actor; after this, he would be a star. There must be something amazing about him; otherwise Fontebleu – who was a highly respected director – wouldn't have signed him for such an important male lead.
"You seem out of spirits tonight, Mademoiselle," Blakeney said idly, jarring her out of her thoughts. Even the way he said mademoiselle was all wrong – as though he had never learned how to speak French properly. It was infuriating!
"Oui, monsieur," she said curtly, her French flawless because she was, of course, French. But then, her English was also flawless, and she knew a bit of German and Italian as well. She applied herself; Blakeney didn't.
"I fear you dislike your company?"
Her lips twisted; she suddenly felt like a viper. "Whatever gave you that idea, Monsieur Blakeney?"
"Lord, actually." He gave her that small, shy grin. "Lord Blakeney."
Oh, drat. Of course it was Lord! How had she forgotten? She rolled her eyes – she wanted to forget everything about this man. God, how she loathed him.
"Ah, there's Ffoulkes," he said, oblivious to her desire to escape.
A handsome young man, standing near a large potted palm, holding a glass of brandy, well away from the crowds and completely alone, and looking immensely out of place, met their eyes. He seemed relieved to see someone he recognized, and after a quick nod to Blakeney, he took Marguerite's hand politely, placing his lips against her knuckles in a gracious gesture.
"Marguerite St. Just, it is an honor," he said politely.
She liked him already, for he was handsome and polite and a perfect gentleman, and said as much: "The honor is mine. I hear we shall soon be working together on The Invisible Savior."
"Ah, yes." He smiled nervously, eyes flickering once to Blakeney. "Monsieur Fontebleu saw a screen test I did recently and approached me about the lead. I fear I will be unable to do it justice, myself."
"Well, no one can be the Scarlet Pimpernel except the man himself," she said cheerfully, forgetting Blakeney was at her side, if only for a moment. "But if Fontebleu liked your work, I am certain it must be incredible. He is known for selecting the best."
"Thank you, Mademoiselle. I am grateful for your support and I look forward to working with you."
"You are not Jewish yourself, are you, Mademoiselle?" Blakeney asked suddenly.
She turned to glare up at him. "No. I am Catholic, Monsieur."
"Ah, yes. That would make more sense."
Andrew Ffoulkes stared at Blakeney, shook his head a fraction, gave the man a pointed look, and turned back to Marguerite. "Have you met Edward yet?" he asked.
"Forgive me – Edward Hastings."
"Oh! I have not. I am sure I shall like him though. Especially if he knows the Scarlet Pimpernel."
Ffoulkes gave her a thin smile. "I also know the man as well, actually. I can assure you, he is nothing as to what most people think."
"Really? Dieu! Everyone seems to know him! How strange! I would have thought he would have guarded his identity more closely than this, what with the war just having ended and so many enemies still unchecked." She turned to glare at Blakeney. "Do you also know this person? The Scarlet Pimpernel, I mean?"
His eyes widened in surprise. "Me? God, no! I spent the war in the northern country, away from the blitz and action."
Of course he had! Why on earth would this man engage in combat? Someone would have shot him, likely – either because he was so stupid, or because he was so irritating, or because his laugh would have been like a bloody air raid siren. But then, she had spent a good portion of the war in Switzerland herself, so she couldn't berate him on that point too extensively. Except that he was a man – or should have been – and of age where he could have been an officer in the military. Cowardice then, it seemed. Well, that was certainly plausible. Nothing more than a wealthy coward who used his fortune to escape his duties as a man in time of conflict...
"Mademoiselle St. Just? Shall I introduce you to Hastings?" Ffoulkes gestured before him and offered her his arm.
She gratefully took it, for the mere fact that it wasn't Blakeney's, and said, "Of course!"
Edward Hastings, it transpired, was as gentlemanly and polite as Ffoulkes was, and Marguerite liked him from the very start. Within five seconds, she had forgotten about Blakeney, and within five minutes, she had arranged to meet with Hastings the next morning over a late breakfast at a nearby café to read some of the script, and Andrew also agreed to be present. She was quite elated. Maybe she wouldn't even have to see Blakeney much during the filming, for he was only a financial backer, and he wouldn't be around to give input, surely!
It was only when Suzanne Tourney, one of her dearest friends and a fellow actress, came over thirty minutes later to meet the gentlemen, did Marguerite realize with a strange jolt that Blakeney was still standing there – silent now, praise God, but she unfortunately caught his gaze as Suzanne and Andrew picked up the conversation easily.
For a brief second, the laziness in Blakeney's heavy blue eyes seemed to flicker, like an old reel of film that had been stored too long, and Marguerite felt an odd momentary panic that there was something she had missed about him in all their previous meetings.
But no, it was gone again, and to her immense annoyance, he drawled out unexpectedly, "Shall I escort you to your hotel, Mademoiselle St. Just?"
She wanted to tell him no; she wanted to tell him to leave her alone. She turned to Suzanne, in order to ignore Blakeney, but to her surprise her friend was no longer at her side, and neither was Andrew or Edward. The three of them had moved several feet to the right in order to meet another actress, and it seemed that for the first time since the war the famous Marguerite St. Just was completely alone.
She wasn't quite sure what made her agree to Blakeney's awful proposal. An exhaustion she hadn't felt since the defeat of the Axis Powers suddenly crept over her, and the very idea of staying at this glittering soiree, making small talk until four in the morning, was simply too much. Even having Blakeney take her back to her hotel was better than staying here, she thought wearily, almost dejectedly, as she watched Suzanne laugh at something Andrew said. They seemed so young and vibrant, while she felt old and tired, and she just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep.
But she would be damned if she let Blakeney see that.
She inhaled through her nose, turned and glared furiously up into Blakeney's face (which would have been handsome, she noted with distaste, were it not for the lazy droop of his eyelids) and she reluctantly nodded. "Oui," she said in a tight voice, "I am rather fatigued, I think. And I do not see anyone else free at the moment to escort me."
He smiled slightly, offered her his arm, and she allowed him to lead her to the grand entry, where she retrieved her mink, and from there, outside into the cool night air of southern France.
He was driving a Royals (which was brought around by the valet in short order), though she supposed that when she thought on it, what else would he drive? He opened the passenger door gracefully and helped her inside, and moments later they were cruising down the road. She avoided looking in his direction, feeling rather than seeing as he smoothly shifted gears and they made their way to the coastal hotel she was staying at for the festival. It suddenly unnerved her that she had given in to him, even this little bit, for it meant that he had won a major battle in their non-existent relationship. She should have just stayed at the party! She should have pretended she wasn't tired or worn out! What on earth had come over her? Marguerite was just starting to become truly furious with herself when she felt the car roll to an easy stop; when she glanced out of the windshield she saw the twinkling lights of the hotel before her.
Angry at herself, she exited the car before he had a chance to get around to the passenger side and help her out, and she swept by him without a word, up the marbled steps and through the lobby to the elevator, where she jammed the button and resettled the mink about her shoulders.
Thirty seconds passed and she exhaled a sigh of relief. He was gone, finally. She felt as though she could breathe again.
But then, much to her chagrin, Marguerite heard him clear his throat behind her, and she cursed herself that he had followed her all the way to the elevator. Annoyed, she pressed the button a second time, rather harder than the first time, and she began to tap her foot impatiently.
"Is something wrong, mademoiselle?" he drawled, twisting the word the wrong way, just as he always did.
It was as though it set an electric spark through her; she finally snapped.
Whirling around on the balls of her feet to face him, Marguerite bit out angrily, "Yes!" And then, realizing that the few people about the lobby had turned to stare at her in surprise, she dropped her voice to a low hiss. "Stop speaking French, for God's sake! Mon Dieu! But even the way you say a simple word is all wrong! Zut alors, it is mademoiselle, not mad-e-moe-sell!"
For a brief second, his eyes sparkled with sheer amusement at her tirade. Then he said, "Do forgive your humble servant, mademoiselle. I will try to do better, if it so pleases you."
He said it perfectly.
Marguerite stared at him, utterly dumbfounded that he had managed to pull it off. It was some sort of mistake, surely.
A ding! behind her indicated that the elevator had arrived. Before she quite realized what was happening, Percy Blakeney ushered her into it and the elevator boy eyed her curiously; she managed to give him the floor number without snapping at him, at least.
The ride upwards was silent; beside her, Sir Percy Blakeney rocked slightly on his feet. He looked even more massive in an elevator; the poor boy pressing the buttons looked terrified at the giant of a man he was taking upwards (he was probably wondering if the elevator was rated for such weight, truth be told). Blakeney's golden curls nearly brushed the light fixture, and with him reflecting in all of the mirrors, the elevator did in fact feel much too small.
As soon as they reached the top floor and the elevator doors had closed behind them, Percy drawled, "Poor fellow. Seemed a bit pale. I should speak to the manager and request they allow the boy to go home for the rest of the night. Hate for him to have something catching...!"
For a split second, Marguerite almost laughed at his absurdity. Quickly rearranging her face into a frown, she instead replied, "He is hardly ill. He was terrified of you. Inside an elevator, you simply look too big to be allowed."
He chuckled – that inane laugh she loathed – and she bristled again and turned for her door.
"Here, allow me," he offered, as she went to insert the key.
She snorted derisively. "Thank you, Monsieur, for escorting me here safely. But I am fairly certain that I am able to enter my rooms on my own. And no, you are not invited. Au revoir." She gave him a curt nod, and glared at him, hoping he would at the very least look abashed.
But unlike so many other men, he did not quail beneath her gaze – she would have been pleased that he didn't, were it because he was brave, but she knew very well that it was only because he was too stupid to know better, and that somehow ruined the effect.
After a long, tense pause, he said lightly, "Well, then. I suppose I'd best take the stairs. I'd hate to… um… Frighten that poor fellow any more, wouldn't I?"
And with a lopsided smile and an old-fashioned bow, he turned gracefully and walked the length of the carpeted hall to the stairwell.
He didn't look back, and Marguerite exhaled in relief as she let herself into her rooms and locked the door behind her. Thank God he was gone at last.