Author's note: Well, I am getting more and more into writing First Order fics, as evidenced by this one. I just love the pairing, though am currently in the middle of writing a MarleneSirius as well, which will be published once I'm in the mood to write Sirius some more :) After you read this – and especially if you enjoy stories about Marlene - I highly recommend you try reading "At the Sign of the Crooked Tree" and "Sleep Well" by Lucie – or Lux (who is amongst my favs). The former is really centred around Sirius and Regulus though with an appearance by Marlene; the second is a sweet and entertaining MarleneGideon that's purely dialogue. They're both lovely.
Please tell me what you think about my story, what you liked or disliked. I am always open to suggestions.
She's sitting on a window-seat opposite from him in the common room, curled up with her legs tucked beneath her and a book resting in her lap. What he notices: the frayed edges of the sleeves of her sweater (she chews on them when she's thoughtful, or just distracted), the freckle on the side of her neck, the few shorter strands of hair that fall loose to frame her face and curl delicately from all the wet weather they've been having. He knows that she's been reading the same book for a week now and hasn't gotten very far. He knows that every so often, she looks up from the pages and stares morosely out the window at the drizzling rain, probably wishing she could be playing Quidditch.
She doesn't know he's watching her.
And he realizes that he's been looking for a little too long. Gideon rises to his feet and wanders over to Eric Acton, a Muggle-born in his year who's handling some kind of bulky Muggle contraption, much to the amusement of all his peers. Eric grins when he sees Gideon walk over and holds up the device. "Smile, Prewett."
He clicks a button and seconds later, a picture slides out of the machine. Eric hands it to Gideon, who stares at it with interest. "What is it?"
"It's called a Polaroid."
"That's fascinating. Why doesn't it move?"
Eric shrugs in response and turns to show someone else the pictures he's taken. After a while, Gideon asks to see the camera, and he turns it over carefully in his hands, peers through the lens, pointing it at different objects and people around the room. Finally he settles on something of interest and, feeling mischievous, calls out, "Hey, McKinnon! Smile!"
As soon as she raises her eyes from her book to see who's talking to her, Gideon presses the shutter. He's glad he was fast, because seconds after he's taken the photo, a look of annoyance crosses Marlene's face.
"Thanks for the warning," she says dryly, pushing hair out of her face a little belatedly.
When he looks at the picture later, really studies it, he finds that he caught the precise moment of surprise, her eyes focused on him but not registering his action yet, her features relaxed and softer in her abstraction. She looks pensive, she looks unprepared and wholly real, and he loves it. And he's almost glad that the photo doesn't move, because he likes having captured just a single instant, before the mood shifted, before her eyes became more focused and less dreamy, before her expression changed. Before she knew anyone was watching her.
Five years later, the Polaroid has spent most of its life in a box full of other such reminders of school-days that Gideon couldn't bring himself to throw out, and the box lives on the top shelf of a tiny closet in Gideon's flat, and he hasn't thought of the photograph in ages. What makes him remember it, and the girl in it: one evening in a pub in east London, when he hears a laugh from the next table that is strikingly familiar.
"McKinnon? Is that you?"
"Who else?" She turns around and meets his eyes, a small, amused half-smile on her lips. "I saw you when you walked in. I was starting to wonder if you'd recognize me."
"You haven't changed that much," he tells her. But then, taking in her black boots and fitted trousers and her hair – there seems to be more of it than he remembers, and it looks much wilder than when she was younger – he decides that she has changed. Marlene's not a little girl anymore reading in a window-seat. She isn't, he imagines, caught unaware and in her own world anymore when someone aims a camera at her.
Her face is delicately flushed from the way he won't take his eyes off of her, but he can't stay here forever making small talk and her friends are getting impatient, and so the conversation finishes, as it began, with a question.
"When can I see you again?"
"Marlene, dear? This isn't the fellow with the motorbike, is it?"
"No, Mum, I told you. This is Gideon Prewett, you remember his mum from school—"
"Then who was the other fellow, dear?"
He can't help but overhear the hushed conversation taking place in the kitchen of the McKinnon household, between Marlene and her mother, a sweet but somewhat harried woman who had politely offered Gideon tea before hurrying into the kitchen, where Marlene is finishing a game of Gobstones with her little brother before she leaves the house. Gideon is sitting in their parlor, inspecting the room while he waits. There is a heavy, leather-bound photo album on the table beside him, which he picks up and begins to flip through absently.
There are, of course, a few faded pictures of Mrs. and Mr. McKinnon, as a couple and then newlyweds, and after that, abundant pictures of the various McKinnon siblings. Good blackmail material, Gideon thinks to himself, smiling to himself as he flicks through the pages of photos – until one catches his eye.
It's Marlene at six or seven years old, playing dress-up in clothes that must have belonged to a grandmother or great-aunt – a pale green satin slip with lace trimming, a flowered shawl, a pink hat with a rose pinned to it and a veil draping forward. In the photo, Marlene is smiling broadly at the camera, with all the abandon and proud dignity of a child playing dress-up. She had dimples back then, Gideon notes, but her wide grey-green eyes are the same, as well as her nose. He keeps on looking through the pages, as she becomes a pre-teen, then an adolescent, and finally a woman. He realizes that in all of the pictures of her taken afterwards, Marlene has lost that look of dreaminess and laughter that she had as a child. In other pictures, she looks more concentrated, more attentive and serious. The change in her expression, in her demeanor is obvious. He thinks of the Polaroid he took of her back when she was fourteen, how he had unknowingly managed to capture that elusive, wistful expression by catching her off guard.
He goes back to the picture of her all dressed up and spends a long time studying it. Then, in an impulsive move, Gideon slips the photo out of its holding in the album and tucks it hastily into his pocket just as Marlene walks into the room, smiling her ironic half-smile at him and asking if he's ready to go. He stands up and says yes, he is. He decides he won't tell her about the photograph he's stolen, at least not yet. Not while he still doesn't know her very well, yet at the same time better than she thinks he does.
The third photo is Marlene's idea.
Three weeks after the first time he kisses her, Gideon is asked to go on a reconnaissance mission for the Order. Marlene isn't too pleased, but, as he tells her, life can't always be hot chocolate in bed in the mornings and Firewhiskey in pubs at night. Still, wrapping herself in the sheets and sulking in a somehow adorable fashion, she manages to make him re-think his decision.
"I told you. Somewhere close to Cornwall."
"Why aren't they sending you some back-up?"
"Like I've said, about six hundred times already, it's a reconnaissance assignment, sweetheart. It's going to be a lot of sneaking around and spying and subtlety. I probably won't even get my hands dirty."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better about it?" Marlene asks him, rolling over onto her back, the sheets all twisted up in her legs. Gideon takes a moment to appreciate her position; her legs are one of his favorite things about her body. He wishes she didn't make leaving such a bloody hard thing to do.
"You're going to forget about me," is what she says next, knowing full well how ridiculous she's being.
"Sixteen days isn't long enough to forget about anyone," Gideon counters. "And I wouldn't forget you if it was sixteen years."
She rolls onto her stomach, props herself up on her elbows. "All the same," says Marlene, "sixteen days is a long time. To be apart."
"Then give me something to remember you by," he suggests, playing along with her game.
She smiles. "Maybe I will."
She leaves it at his flat the night before he has to leave, a single snapshot of her glancing back over her shoulder, showing off both her legs and her back, his two favorite things about her. In the photograph her eyebrow is arched delicately and a mischievous smile is on her lips, and every now and then she moves, stretching her arms over her head or shaking her hair back. She's beautiful – he thinks so, anyway. Unconventionally so, maybe, with her nose too long and face too thin for it to be obvious. But he thinks she is.
He smiles when he sees it, a smile that lingers on his face after he's studied the photo for several minutes before he turns it over and notices the words written on the back: Something to remember me by.
He remembers the day so clearly—the warm, humid July evening; the distant, strange chirping of crickets; the balance of serious war-related discussions with conversational small-talk among Order members, as it is one of the few times that they all show up for a meeting. And so it is Benjy Fenwick who suggests that, since they are all present for once, they ought to take a team photo. (He doesn't say, While we still have everyone here. He doesn't say, So that none of us will be forgotten if we happen to die. But they all hear it.)
They crowd together, some grumbling, others cheerful, most of the women complaining that they haven't had enough notice to make themselves look presentable.
But Marlene's voice does not rise in objection. She unpins her long, dark hair and shakes it out, and while going through these motions, catches Gideon's eye and raises her eyebrow at him. He responds with a wink, and while they're all shuffling about, trying to arrange who should stand where according to height, he walks past Marlene and lightly brushes the small of her back with his hand before going to stand between Elphias Doge and Dorcas Meadowes. Marlene likes his little signals for her, his discreet affections; she likes for him to stroke her hand underneath the table at Order evenings, even though it slightly disturbs them both that Moody, with his magical eye, sees when they do it and raises an eyebrow at them.
"If you're short, stand in front," someone calls out, and a few grumbling people move forward. Frank has his arm around Alice, who is fussing a little over her hair; even Caradoc and Dorcas, next to Gideon, are holding hands. Briefly, Gideon entertains the thought of calling Marlene over to him so he can put his arm around her waist, or she can lean her head against his shoulder – anything to claim the moment as belonging to them, and them belonging together, frozen in a photograph with their arms around each other, even if it is just in that single moment.
But something makes him ignore this impulse. It doesn't really matter, he tells himself, as long as he can read between the lines, capture the fine subtleties of Marlene and her behavior. And so they stand, separated, yet just as absorbed in each other.
"On the count of three now…"
The shutter clicks. Benjy develops the film later and makes a copy of the photograph for everyone, handing them out the next time they all see each other, and one by one, the copies meet their separate fates over time.
Sirius shoves his into his pocket and promptly forgets about it. Remus keeps his in a special photo album that he has to stop looking at, eventually, because it hurts too much. Fabian loses his the next day, in his typical way. James and Lily frame their copy and display it on their mantel along with their childhood pictures and several dozen pictures of Harry, but none of their photographs survive the rubble made of their entire house the night Voldemort attacks, and so that photo is lost as well.
Gideon takes care of his. It's one of the few photos he owns of Marlene, and it's nice to have pictures of her, he doesn't want to lose them, misplace them. He keeps the Order photo in the same drawer as the others, taking it out every so often to look at her amused little half-smile, the tilt of her head and the way she self-consciously reaches back to push her hair back behind her ear. And, of course, the fleeting glance and suggestion of a smile she sends in Gideon's direction, barely noticeable – only if you know to look for it, which he does. Her little hints and signals. Nothing ever quite out in the open, something that he doesn't regret until she is already gone.
Gideon wakes up.
It's just barely light outside. The curtains are drawn, though through the gap between them sunlight slowly filters in, grey and dismal. There is a bad taste in his mouth of stale alcohol, a dull pounding in his ears. He stretches against the sheets, slowly coming around.
It goes like this: for a moment, you can pretend. For a moment, forget. You can imagine that you're lying in bed in the morning, a whole and complete and unbroken person. You can almost keep yourself from thinking of coffee stains on sheets, her favorite mug with the broken handle, a small hand trailing across your shoulder blades. A crooked half-smile, wisps of black hair tickling your face. For a moment, you can almost stay afloat.
But as the sunlight pours in through the gap in the curtains, it's so faded and hazy that you can't help but think of how golden and brilliant everything seemed when she was there, and how she could really brighten a dreary, rainy English morning; even in all the grey and gloom, she glowed.
Four days ago.
Only days, and yet he feels years older. He wants to see her house, to see that they weren't lying, that the McKinnons really are gone; he wants to run out into the street and search for her familiar wild hair, her tall, lanky figure striding across the pavement in her boots. He wants to find her somewhere, anywhere, again. The beautiful woman with untamed waves of black hair that were always tangled and knotted in the morning when she woke up. The beautiful woman who used to be a beautiful girl sitting in the window-seat with a book, watching the rain.
He realizes that the funeral is today. Suddenly, he wishes for the first time that he could be someone else. Anyone else. Someone who doesn't know death and war, someone who doesn't even know such things are going on, someone who hasn't lost such a wonderful… such an important… such an irreplaceable piece of their life. Someone less exhausted and less defeated. Someone whole.
He just wants to go back to sleep, but he can't, there are images burned on the backs of his eyelids, a carousel of relentless memories turning round and round. Grey-green eyes, the taste of hot chocolate in her mouth, the hint of a Scottish brogue that was only noticeable in certain words she said. If he could sleep, he could forget.
Right now I don't want to remember.
The first thing he did when he got to his flat, after avoiding going back for as long as possible, was loads and loads of laundry, washing her scent from every sheet, every pillowcase and blanket, every shirt and jacket of his that had ever worn it so lovingly. It was too hard to be reminded.
"Sixteen days is a long time to be apart."
He wants to go back to sleep. For a long, long time. And maybe when he wakes up, everything will be magically different – his bed will be warm again, he'll reach for her and tangle his fingers in her knotted hair, she'll hand him a cup of hot chocolate even though it's July, even though it's too early for sugar and what he really wants is coffee, she only knows how to make hot chocolate. Maybe when he wakes up she'll be there, hungry as she always is (was?) in the mornings, and they'll go out for breakfast, their legs touching under the table as they drink hot tea and spread jam on toast.
"You're going to forget about me."
Gideon doesn't go to the funeral. The day after, he receives an unexpected visitor.
Sirius is standing on his front step, hands in his pockets, squinting in the daylight, looking as uncomfortable as Gideon has ever seen him look.
"Come in." Gideon is unshaven, red-eyed, and not feeling too hospitable at the moment, but he offers anyway.
"No, I just—" Sirius shifts anxiously, and he really doesn't look like he's gotten enough sleep lately; Gideon wonders why he's come all this way. "I have something I want to give to you."
Gideon waits, blinking his eyes when the sun comes out from behind a cloud.
Sirius can't seem to get himself together. "Marlene – I mean – I don't know exactly what you were to each other – and I don't care, I'm not trying to pry, but I know you were… were fond of her. Not to be too forward or anything but I'm sure this is hard for you… So I suppose…" He rummages in his pocket. "I just wanted you to have this, I guess. Thought you should have it. I mean, now that…" He can't finish the sentence.
What he hands Gideon is a photograph, and without even thinking Gideon accepts it. In the space of a breath, Sirius has already walked down the front steps and gives a single nod in farewell to Gideon before Disapparating.
Gideon goes back inside. He puts the kettle on and reminds himself to shave, wash. He reminds himself that his life is still going on, that he is wounded but not crippled, just down for a count. He reminds himself that it's possible, he can do it, he can live the rest of his long life till he's old and grey without the hot chocolate she used to make them, without long black strands of hair strewn across his pillow, without her small, delicate hands and their familiar, deft touch. Without that dreamy-eyed look he's only seen twice, the look of her caught off guard, special because it was only for him to see.
And then, looking down, he realizes the photo is still clutched in his hand.
It's Marlene. It's Marlene, bold and beautiful and carefree like he remembers her, spirited and compelling like a force of nature, stronger than fire or wind, she looks so blissfully unaware of what is to come.
It's a recent photo, he can tell. She's sitting on a park bench, her head thrown back in laughter, and then saying something in a response – her lips move, though there's no sound. He can imagine the breeze stirring her hair, her eyes a blur between green and grey; he can almost imagine the tone and inflection of her voice, just from her expression. He wishes he knew what the photographer said to make her laugh, but he wishes even more that he could hear her voice as she replies.
Then he realizes: he can't forget, and he knows he never will.
He turns it over and finds the words in her handwriting that he already half-expected would be there.
Something to remember me by.