A.N: Written for the 2010 smrw_ficafest on livejournal. First AU/non magical story I ever wrote. Totally inspire by all the old black and white movies I used to watch as a kid.
"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine"
She's too overdressed for this side of town, that's the very first thing Scorpius thinks when he sees her.
It's a Thursday evening and the diner is expectedly sparse, save for a couple of regulars huddled together in the corner booth and an old man on a stool at the counter, muttering loudly to himself as he peruses the faded menu. Scorpius is wiping down tables, stacking dirty dishes and cups together as he goes. The door swings open and shut to the sharp rattle of a silver bell and Scorpius looks up at the noise.
Standing in front of him is an angel.
Her dress hangs on her like a second skin, the red, velvet material molding to her curves as luscious, straight black hair cascades down her back, engulfing her delicate features. Her face is painted, causing the already startling brown eyes to appear bigger and more luminous as they scan the diner, come to a quick stop as they fall on Scorpius before widening ever so slightly. The chatter from the regulars dies down to almost nothing as Scorpius rises from his bent position and wipes his hands on his apron, self conscious about his pale blue uniform, name tag pinned above his heart.
"May I help you, ma'am?"
Outside, a few cars roll by with a rush of air and the soggy press of rubber to wet asphalt as the traffic light in front of the diner changes in flashes of yellows, red and greens. A shrill horn sounds as a car decides to push around the corner too quickly, paying no mind to any notion of right away but inside the diner no one hears it, their focus is all too consuming on the lady in red. Scorpius watches as she takes a step forward and then almost seems to hesitate, as if frightened of something (or someone) but a second later the moment passes as the woman seems to gives herself a shake and then opens her mouth to say, with a cheery laugh.
"Pardon me but I've seem to have been turned around. Could any of you lovely gentlemen tell me where The Starlight Lounge is located at?"
Her accent is cultured, refined but there's a hint of something in the undercurrent that tugs at the edges of Scorpius' memory, calling out to him. There is something familiar about her, as if Scorpius knows her from somewhere but he can't quite put his finger on it. He frowns softly at his inability to place the intrusion, even more so when he realizes the regulars in the corner have now all crowded around the newcomer, offering her directions.
"Oh, thank you. Thank you!" the woman replies after a moment, a slight smile tugging at the end of her lips as she listens to their instructions, each man shouting over the other to be heard. "I should have no problem finding it now."
She heads towards the door but at the last minute turns, as if to give more thanks or gratitude to the men –Scorpius is not quite sure. Because just then her eyes suddenly meet his and there is a trace of something in them that's sad, tired, lonely and all too familiar, making Scorpius wonder what wore her down first; a man, her job or the world.
For it's always one of those three things he thinks to himself as she exits the diner.
He lasts until Saturday night.
After his shift is over Scorpius suddenly finds himself across town, in a bar that's masquerading as a trendy jazz club. It's hidden away in the basement of an old red brick building. The walls on either side of the entrance are peeling, but as he enters he can see that the faux painted columns and heavy velvet curtain are brand new, as if someone is attempting to add light to the dismal place. The glowing arrow over the words 'Starlight Lounge' lends a nice cheesy touch as it points down the darken staircase, almost mocking Scorpius to enter.
If Scorpius were to be honest to himself, it's actually a far better place the places he usually chooses, he reflects as he reaches the room. There's a small stage set up against one wall, a piano and microphone occupy it as the few tables scattered throughout the room are crowded with neighborhood regulars and a few curious, fashionable couples. Since Scorpius is neither, he hits the bar and a money exchange later, a drink appears in his hand. The amber liquid is smooth in his mouth, warming his throat all the way down.
He picks a table in the corner, to the left of the door, and sits with his back to the exposed brick, so he can watch the room. He's on his third drink when she appears on the stage.
To say he's amazed would be an understatement. Her voice is fuller, richer than he would have ever imagined, and there's no trace of the lonely starlet in the way she works the crowd. Scorpius is positive she can't see him in the darkened corner of the room, but it feels like every word she sings was meant just for him. The melody wanders through the air and slips into his soul, like a thread tying him to her. The faint whispers of familiarity still haunt him however, but it's not until the manager says her name that full realization finally hits him.
"Miss Charlotte Weasland, ladies and gentlemen!"
Scorpius' eyes widen with shock and immediately swing towards the stage but it is too late. He can just make out the back of her head as she disappears into a door immediately to her left. A minute passes before Scorpius can stand up and he heads over to the stage, pretending to have to use the restroom which is located to the right but at the very last moment, he slips into the same side door and enters a hallway. It is dim; the bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling cast long shadows on the floor as Scorpius makes his way down the hall. There is no one around but Scorpius is not taking any chances, he hurries until he reaches the half opened door towards the end and quietly enters. She is seated at a small dressing table, looking at her reflection ringed in lights surrounding the mirror. A wig of black hair hangs on the mannequin in front of her and she doesn't notice Scorpius until he speaks.
"Well. This is a surprise."
Startled she whirls around, her reddish locks whipping loosely around her head. "Sir!"
Scorpius frowns and looks at her pointedly. "Sir? Really Rose –I mean Rose Charlotte. You are going to act like we are mere strangers now?"
There is a slight pause before she turns back to the mirror, avoiding his gaze in the glass as she says, stiffly, "I don't know who you are talking about, sir. Please leave before I have to get somebody to throw you out."
Scorpius tilts his head, studying her. It's Rose all right. Her face is thinner, more drawn than it was six years previous and painted within an inch of its life. She's no longer wearing her wig (which is why he probably didn't recognize her on Thursday night) but her refined voice still carries the barest accent of their hometown, tugging at the corners of his heart and reminding him of the fifteen year old girl he was once in love with.
Rose's voice interrupts his thoughts and Scorpius looks at the stiff shoulders and rigid back, a frown marring his face at the sight –she doesn't even want to acknowledge him and somewhere, the old hurt he thought had long ago left him reared its ugly head.
"Fine. My apologizes…Miss Weasland."
He goes without saying another word.
Later that night he leans against the window frame in his tiny, one room flat, swirling five dollar wine in a glass as he watches the lines of headlights cut over the bridge in the distance. She once said she loved him. Scorpius remembers that day clearly, remembers the beautiful smile on her face as she told him, the taste of her lips against his. She promised to wait for him, to be his wife but when the war ended and Scorpius returned home she was gone; left without a word. Scorpius waited for almost a year for her –or for anyone else from her family to return to the village but no one ever did. Eventually, he packed a suitcase and headed down south, determined to get lost in a city of noise, concrete and exhaust fumes. He never thought he'd see her again and now that he had...
With a sigh, Scorpius swallows the last of the wine, sets the glass on the sill and shuffles to bed. It doesn't matter anymore, he tells himself as he climbs in bed. She's not the same girl she once was and he is no longer the hopelessly devoted fool of a boy. Time has passed them both by and –judging from Rose's fancy dress and refusal to even acknowledge him, done more harm than good to some of them. As Scorpius lays his head on his pillow he resolves to let it go, she doesn't matter anymore.
That night however, finds him dreaming of a rich, velvety voice and long, auburn hair.
Three weeks pass before he sees her again. It's a Thursday night again, ten minutes past closing and outside of one solitary cab driver finishing his cold cup of coffee at the counter, the diner is empty. Scorpius is in the back cleaning up, exhausted from a busy day of customers and grease when he hears the familiar tinkle of the bell over the door. He sighs and heads to the front, ready to tell the newcomer that the stove is turned off and everything is put away for the night when the words die in the middle of his throat. For Rose is standing there, dripping wet in a fringed dress, all turquoise and green with a peacock feather shawl and looking breathtakingly beautiful. Scorpius glances at the windows and sees that in the twenty minutes he has been in the back it has begun to rain hard, the sheets of water turning the street into a well lit stream. Scorpius turns his attention back to Rose.
"I'm sorry but we're closed," he says stiffly, his voice loud in the almost empty diner.
"I know." Rose pauses and for a second, a look of something akin to regret washes over her face. "Look, I was wondering if I could ask you a favor…"
"I'm sorry, but do I know you?" It comes out harsher then Scorpius intended, but then again he's not surprised. Some old wounds never do heal the way they're supposed to.
Rose meets his eyes and they are clear, understanding coloring her face. "I suppose I deserve that." She takes in a sharp, deep breath and ducks her head down; almost as if afraid she is afraid he will see more then she's willing to give away. "I'm sorry," he hears her say, her gaze still rooted away from him. "I'm sorry, Scorpius."
Scorpius does not know whether she is apologizing for past or present infractions but at this point, he's beyond caring. "Well, I'm sorry," he replies, "but we are closed."
Rose raises her head and swallows, the small motion making her throat muscles tense. After a moment she nods and begins to walk away. At the door she pauses, her eyes on the door. "Again, my apologizes for bothering you," she repeats.
Scorpius watches her as she heads outside, wrapping her thin shawl tighter around her shoulders as if it alone can ward out the elements. The rain seems to be coming down harder now, splattering on the ground in front of her as she pauses underneath the safe overhang of the roof and pushes a loose strand of hair behind her ear, shivering. In that second, Scorpius feels like a complete and utter cad. His father raised him better than this. Without allowing himself another thought, he dashes across the room and opens the door.
"Hey, what was the favor you wanted to ask?"
Rose looks up in surprise, her painted lips widening slightly as she takes him in, blue uniform, chivalry and all. At his question, she moves closer to the door, near enough that Scorpius can see the barest hint of deep pain in her eyes and wonder with a pang if he put it there but the look vanishes as quickly as it comes, leaving Scorpius to believe he imagined it.
"I was…I was wondering if you could perhaps give me a ride to the Starlight Lounge?" she asks, somewhat timidly. " I usually walk, but I wasn't expecting rain and I have no money for a cab and I don't know anyone else here and please, understand you don't have too, I completely understand if you can't-"
"I can give you a ride."
The eight block trip to the Starlight Lounge is unusually quiet. Scorpius drives carefully in the downpour, sneaking a glance at Rose every now and again. She is turned away from him, staring idly out her window at the rain. He would say she hasn't a care in the world, not in her fancy dress and dancing shoes but just then he hears her let out a small sigh, loaded down with weight and insecurities just mere feet away from him and she has never seemed so alive and real as she did with that sigh. Not that it matters however, Scorpius keeps telling himself as he keeps his eyes on the road, broken promises and the horrors of war span the distance between their two worlds, between where they are now and where they used to be.
"May I ask you a question?" Scorpius says loudly, trying to get his mind away from the onslaught of thoughts currently racing through it. Rose turns and looks at him cautiously, but after a brief moment nods and replies, "'Course."
"What made you decide to come down here and become a singer? I mean, it's a long way off from a girl who used to take daily rope dives into Mr. Longbottom's hay piles."
Rose chuckles briefly at the memory, the tension between them easing at his words. "I like it here. It's busy and the pay is decent and I don't have much but I have enough to get by. I sing good, not great but pretty good. Eventually I want to go to Broadway and make a name for myself but for now, this is enough. How 'bout you?" she asks, her accent slipping away easily into favor of their old, familiar village dialect as she turns to him. "How'd a boy from up North wind up down here?"
"Same as you I expect, needed to get away." Scorpius doesn't say anything about the need to get lost in a city that never sleeps, how the silence back home made him think too deeply about strangers with blank faces, the ever berating boom of deep bombs, wounded men screaming out on bloody stretchers and the girl who said she would never leave but did. Judging from the way her hands curl tightly into the fabric of her dress however, she understands.
They pull up to the old brick building in silence. The rain is still coming down, but not as hard as before and as Rose opens the door and begins to thank him Scorpius interrupts her, "When do you finish?"
Rose blinks. "Two."
"You got a ride?"
"No. I figured the rain will have stopped by then and I can wal-"
"I'll be here."
There is a pause and Rose says, softer then Scorpius can ever remember her sounding, "Scorpius."
"I'll be here."
And he is.
After that, they fall into a routine. Rose performs every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night and on those nights she walks to the diner and waits for Scorpius to get off work. When he finishes his shift, he drives her over to the Lounge and drops her off. He never stays, after that first night he never enters the building again but he is always there at the back door, at two o'clock sharp, ready to take her home. He can't explain why does that, he just does and Rose seems to accept his assistance within much protest. It helps that every night as he drives he asks her one question and she answers it. They never really discuss the reason why, Scorpius thinks it's Rose's way of paying him back for driving her home, but the end result is always the same. Scorpius asks a question and Rose answers it.
Those first three weeks the questions are easy and pretty straightforward, he asks questions about their old friends, her job, the reason she wears a wig while she performs (apparently, quite a few of the other local singers wear red wigs and her natural color is more of a hindrance then a plus to her at the moment) and what does she miss most about their village? But one Saturday night, as he's driving her home from a particular wonderful performance and she's glowing with visions of Broadway in her head, he asks her the one question that's been on the edge of his tongue ever since the night he first heard the name Charlotte Weasland.
"Why'd you leave, Rose? Why didn't you wait for me?"
There is silence in the passenger seat. A long silence. So long that Scorpius starts to believe she didn't hear him. He starts to open his mouth to ask again but Rose cuts him off.
"Not now Scorpius. Just…not now."
"Fine." Scorpius tightens his jaw and focuses on the road. "Never mind then."
The rest of the ride passes in silence.
Scorpius clips two more orders to the wheel and gives it a spin, shouting to the line of cooks in the back. One of them hollers back at him in a bad imitation of the heavy cockney tone that comes out when she's frustrated. It's just after twelve on a Friday and the mass of business men in crisp dark suits and briefcases demanding food at all once remind him why he prefers the night shift.
Scorpius is right in the middle of juggling a carafe of coffee in one hand and a slice of apple pie in the other when he sees her. She's dressed more simpler then he's accustomed too, more fitting to daytime hours in a pale yellow dress with matching band in her dark hair. She catches his gazes and motions to nearby side table, newly abandoned by a chubby man with a fondness for the blue plate special. "I'll wait until you have a minute," Rose says politely, raising her voice slightly to be heard over the noise. "I need to talk to you."
Scorpius nods in bewilderment. For a moment he wonders what she needs to talk to him so badly enough that she'll get up in the middle of the day, when she is usually sleeping. He hasn't seen her for the past week, not since last Saturday night when he asked her that question and she refused to answer it. She hasn't stopped in the diner for her customary ride to work on Tuesday or last night and Scorpius has refused to drive by the building to see how she's getting home. He wonders if she's here to answer his question but just then, a shout from the kitchen brings him out of his thoughts and returns him to the midday chaos.
Forty minutes pass before things have calmed down enough for him to take a quick break. He grabs a plate of greasy fries and a pile of napkins and heads over to her table, setting them down in front of her with a small grin. "They're better then they look. Promise."
Rose takes one eagerly, nibbling at the edges as Scorpius takes the opportunity to study her. She looks tired and worn out, more so then she did last week in spite of her sunny dress. "You okay?" he asks, noting the small circles under her eyes. Rose nods but doesn't quite meet his gaze. "I wanted to talk to you about last week," she begins. "About what you asked me."
This time Rose does turn her head and meets his stare, her gaze unflinching. Again Scorpius sees pain. There is a deep loss in her broken stare, ribbons of heartache etched in the lines in her too young face. "My brother is dead."
"Hugo? When? How?"
"Four years ago. He never made it home from the war."
Scorpius frowns, deep in thought. He remembers Rose's younger brother quite well, a tall lanky lad two years younger than himself, always was ready for deep laugh or a particularly funny prank. "I don't understand." Scorpius continues to think. "He was only thirteen when I left, far too young for the military."
Rose shrugs, a wealth of sadness concealed in that one movement. "He lied. He changed his birth year, said he was three years older than he really was."
"Oh Rose." Scorpius resists the urge to comfort her, knowing with startling clarity that years do not always lessen the pain. "I'm so sorry. But I don't understand, what does that have to do with us?"
There is a pause before Rose can continue.
"We found out about his death on the day we heard the news that we won. Within hours of celebrating their defeat, of celebrating that our boys -you, Hugo, my cousins, our friends were finally coming home we were suddenly staring at a black and white telegram, printed with the most dreadful words in the English language. I regret to inform you-"
"My dad-" she starts to say, the words fumbling in her throat as she attempts to bite back tears, Scorpius watching in silence. "My dad was devastated," Rose tries again. "Just devastated. He was inconsolable; he loved Hugo so much, blamed himself for Hugo wanting to sign up in the first place. Dad's been telling Hugo and me stories about his military days since before we could walk, always making it sound like a big great adventure and Hugo, well Hugo could never resist an adventure. Hugo never made it home from his, however."
Rose's voice broke on the last line and Scorpius leans over to push the pile of napkins closer to her. Rose grabs one gratefully and dabs at her cheeks, continuing. "My mom wasn't much better either, she did a good job of hiding it then Dad but she was still pretty shaken up. I used to hear her crying late at night when she thought the rest of us were all sleeping."
"Why didn't you wait for me?" Scorpius couldn't help but ask. "I would have helped you, had I known about Hugo. I would have, Rose. I would have."
"I know." Rose smile is watery. "I know you would have. But I had to choose, Scorpius. I had to choose. My father wanted to leave; he wanted to get away from the village, away from the memories of Hugo and go back to his childhood town. He needed to Scorp, that's what all the doctor's said. He needed to get away. And I –I couldn't leave him. He had already lost one child, I couldn't let him lose the other."
"But he wouldn't have lost you, I wouldn't have taken you away. I would have gone with you. All of you."
More tears filled Rose's eyes. "And how would I have explained that? You, of all people. How would I have explained to my grief stricken parents? I'm sorry about Hugo but have I mentioned that I'm engaged to Scorpius Malfoy and he's coming with us? It would have killed my father, Scorpius. Utterly killed him. You know that."
Scorpius sighed but couldn't say a word in defense. The feud between his father and Rose's was long standing and centuries old, having started long before either of them was born. To this day Scorpius still had no idea what the feud was about, both sets of parents were surprisingly tight lipped about the details but he knew that Rose was right. If her father had found out about their engagement right after Hugo's death it would have sent him straight into shock. Or worse.
Scorpius holds her gaze. "Why now, Rose? Why tell me now?"
Rose shook her head and starts to stand, her face still streaked with tear stains. "Because, I wanted to let you know it wasn't your fault. I didn't leave on account of you. I loved you Scorpius, I loved you so much. Still...I still do," she says quietly as she places her hand on Scorpius shoulder and squeezes gently. "I just needed you to know that."
And with that she walks out, leaving Scorpius staring a plate of cold fries, the impact of her hand still seared into his shoulder blade as her words rattled around his head.
It takes him less than a hour to make up his mind but longer before he can finally see her. He works the night shift Saturday and for the last half an hour before closing Scorpius peers over the vinyl seats and flecked formica table tops out into the street, searching for a girl in a bronze silk dress with matching slippers. When none appear, he drops his towel on the nearest table and heads out the door. "I'm leaving," he says to no one in particular, forgetting to lock the door behind him.
He gets to the bar in record time, nodding to the doorman as he slips in the back way, moving stealthy through the hallway. Judging from the quietness on the other side of the door and the light still on in her dressing room she's hasn't gone on stage yet. Good. Scorpius slips into her room.
"Scorpius!" Rose turns from her mirror in shock. "What are you doing here?"
"Did you mean it Rose? Did you mean it?"
"Did I mean what?" she starts ask but Scorpius can see the comprehension dawning in her eyes and he knows she understand exactly what he's asking –does she still love him?
"Yes, Scorpius. Yes."
He hardly registers that he is moving, and then so is she, because suddenly she is caught up in his arms. Her feet are lifted high off the ground as he holds her close, where he can feel the beat of her heart against his chest. She laughs against his ear, strangled and full of joy and sorrow and tears, and it feels absolutely fantastic, like coming alive. Outside of her dressing room, the piano began to play, getting ready for her entrance but it doesn't matter, because when Scorpius sets her back down again, his hands came around her face and he kisses her.
There is so much of everything he had felt over the last few months in his kiss, as he kisses her with pure abandon, brimming with despair and longing and love. Her hands fists around the lapels of his blue uniform, and his fall to her waist, clinging to each other as their mouths moved together in a heated dance, their noses bumping and lips impatient and breathless sighs hushing across their cheeks.
And when they finally parted, Rose giggles breathlessly as Scorpius leans his forehead against hers, feeling a smile brush his lips.
"Need a ride?" he asks, gesturing with his hand towards the hallway.
His grin is quick in coming. "Yeah, I'm offering."
"I got a show that started about two minutes ago."
"It's okay, I can wait." Scorpius continues to rest his forehead against hers as Rose chuckles. "I'm a patient man."