Author's Note: I kinda have a fascination with downtown, probably because I live in a very small city that doesn't have a proper downtown and I always loved downtown when I lived in a big city before I moved. I also have a tendency to torture Carly's character even when Carly's not actually in the fic because I love my baby and all her hardships and insecurities. And if you're wondering why Carly is even mentioned in the fic, it's because Stevie is actually Sam and Freddie's future child. Don't question it. This fic would have been done way earlier if I hadn't been so ridiculously busy this week. Credit to my friend Megan, laterade on Tumblr, for editing it for me to save time.
Oh, and another update, the next chapter of my The Victorious Games will probably be up this Saturday or Sunday.
Disclaimer: If I did own How to Rock, Stevie as Seddie's future child would be canon.
There is something inexplicably magical about downtown. The cobblestone streets make Stevie feel as though she is a piece of history, the old buildings leaving their mark on this world: shadowed by newer ones, but never forgotten. Downtown is filled with shops and little pieces of beauty that Stevie holds onto because they make her feel almost as though she is in a different world right there in her own city. She comes downtown when she needs to get away from the world, to feel like she is somewhere else, somewhere more out of place, where you can find an antique shop and a baseball diamond within a few blocks of each other. Because she is out of place in this world, and for some reason she wants to believe that downtown knows how it feels to be out of place.
She walks past touristy places which she has never understood - ice cream shops with bright pink awnings, benches at the edge of little parks, parking meters, busy streets, quiet streets, and just about everything else - bass guitar strapped to her back, until she comes to her usual spot: a bench on the sidewalk of a street laced with tourist shops and a museum that hardly ever gets customers. Sitting down, she removes the case from her back, unzips it and takes the guitar out, setting the empty case open on the ground in front of her as she begins to strum out the baseline of one of Gravity 5's newer songs. After all, she wouldn't say no to a kind passerby that wants to drop some spare change into her case, even if she doesn't really need any money.
She plays for a while and a few heads turn but no one really takes notice, so she's surprised when a pair of feet stop right in front of her. She looks up from her strumming to see the face of none other than Zander and can't help but grin as their gazes meet.
"Hello, stranger," Zander greets her with a smile. "What're you doing here?"
"What's it look like? Just strumming some tunes. I come here all the time," Stevie replies. "What are you doing here?"
Zander shrugs. "I had an errand to run. But since you're here, I might as well stay a little longer."
Stevie smiles and gets up, placing her bass back into its case, zipping it up again, and swinging it over her shoulder as she stands up to face Zander.
"You come here all the time?" Zander repeats her earlier words as they begin their walk down the street, side by side.
"Yeah. That's my special spot. Downtown is my haven."
He laughs. "Well then, princess, why don't you show me your little kingdom?"
Stevie narrows her eyes. "You sure you're up for it? My neck of the woods is not for the faint of heart. There's a lot of walking involved."
Zander nods, accepting the challenge with a playful grin. "Bring it."
And the pair begins down the street, off towards the first stop, Perry's Antiques. It's just around the corner from the strange little museum, and has a faded look about it, both on the outside as well as the inside. That always seems to be the case with antique shops, Stevie realizes.
"An antique shop?" Zander raises an eyebrow.
"Trust me," she replies, knowing well that he will love Perry's Antique's just as much as she does. There's something about this particular antique shop that Stevie can't quite place, something that sets it apart from other antique shops.
They spend nearly forty-five minutes in the dimmed lights and cool air, marveling over teapots and chairs and candles shaped like bugs and just about everything else, making fun of each other and the strange antiques they encounter and forming inside jokes that aren't really jokes at all. When they leave the shop, giggling and blinking to adjust to the brightness of the sun, they head on their way down the street, Stevie leading the way slightly.
"You might not like this next shop quite as much," Stevie confesses as they turn the corner, walking down to near the end of the street where a dress shop with all kinds of absurd dresses displayed in the window awaits them. Zander bursts into laughter at the sight of the ridiculously designed dresses, and they both try to imagine who would possibly want to wear such a thing.
The bell on the door dings to announces their arrival, and somewhere from between the racks a saleslady calls, "I'll be right with you!" Just then, there is a high-pitched yapping at their feet, and both look down with surprise to find a little white fluffy dog nipping at their heels. Stevie laughs and bends down to pet the dog, cooing as she rubs him behind the ears while Zander steps further into the shop and starts browsing the racks of amusingly colorful, ugly dresses. A moment later Stevie joins him, and they browse alongside each other, pointing out the funniest ones, refusing the saleslady's help when she comes over to them. Every time Zander finds a particularly hilarious one, he forces Stevie to try it on, and soon she is in and out of the dressing room every two minutes, with him throwing dresses over the top faster than she can keep up. It's worth it, though; they're laughing like they've never laughed before, and in the middle of pulling on a vibrant purple dress with a strange green piece around the neck, a song comes on the over the store's speakers that makes Stevie gasp.
"I love this song! Ask the saleslady to turn it up!" She calls, examining the dress quickly in the mirror on the back of the door before she bursts out of the dressing room. "Maybe I think you're cute and funny, maybe I wanna do what bunnies do with you, if you know what I mean," she sings, walking over to Zander with a bit of a swing to her step. "This is a dancing song, Zander! Dance!"
Zander hesitantly dances alongside her, rocking back and forth on his feet and watching with amusement as Stevie gallops around the shop in the strange purple dress, singing along to the lyrics she seems to know by heart.
"Oh, let's get rich and buy our parents homes in the south of France! Let's get rich and give everybody nice sweaters and teach them how to dance. Let's get rich and build a house on a mountain, making everybody look like ants from way up there. You and I, you and I…" Stevie's face breaks into a smile as Zander comes towards her, and, not entirely sure what she's doing, she puts one hand on his shoulder and takes his hand in the other, pulling him tango-style across the room as he holds her hand and waist hesitantly. She laughs as they saunter in between racks of dresses to the beat of the song, Zander pulling Stevie into a playful dip as they turn a corner, taking her by surprise. She gasps and pulls on his shirt, just for the sake of it, causing him to lose his footing so they both topple to the ground, Stevie's long purple dress falling over both of them as the song draws to an end.
"You and I, you and I…" Stevie sings one last time, tilting her head up to gaze at the ceiling of the shop. "There's a stain on that tile that looks like a sheep," she announces.
Zander tilts his head back too, laughing when he sees it. "There sure is. A very fat sheep, at that." He gets to his feet, offering his hand, and pulls Stevie up.
"Well, I think that's enough dresses. I'll change out of this thing and we can get to our next stop," Stevie declares, heading on her way to the dressing room.
Five minutes later they're walking down the cobblestone streets once again, on their way to a large toy store. Inside are toys of all kinds; not the sort you find at Toys R Us but more like the ones you find at Crackerbarrel, unique and nostalgic and out of place in the modern world, different and carefully crafted. Soon they are hurrying from shelf to shelf, admiring all kinds of toys and avoiding running into the little children and their parents that crowd the shop. While Stevie is admiring a stuffed tiger, Zander sneaks up behind her and sets a stuffed pig on her head, causing her to jump with surprise and turn to face him and the pig he is holding.
"Zander. I hate pigs," Stevie announces sternly, her face instantly falling when she sees what the stuffed animal is.
"Hate pigs? Why? Don't worry, you don't have to eat it," he replies, wiggling the stuffed animal in her face playfully.
"Zander. No." She avoids his gaze as she takes the pig from him and throws it, along with the tiger she had been holding, into a nearby bin of stuffed animals.
"Stevie?" Zander's eyes fill with concern as she takes off away from him, her head down. "What's wrong?"
"Someone I knew… loved pigs. They were her favorite animal. And she died, so… I can't look at a pig without thinking about her," Stevie explains, never meeting his gaze.
Zander's face falls. "Who?" is all he asks.
"My… cousin. I guess. My 'aunt' Carly's daughter, Annabelle. We're not really related but… Carly is best friends with my parents. They've always felt like family." Stevie's hands search for something to hold onto as she speaks, wringing around each other, until finally Zander offers his own hand for her to hold.
"Let's go get ice cream," he offers, smiling weakly as he tugs her along.
Half an hour later they're walking out the door of Stevie's suggested ice cream shop, a peanut butter cone in Stevie's hand and a chocolate cone in Zander's. Stevie leads the way to the next stop as they chat about Stevie's family, her aunt Carly and little Annabelle and pigs. It's a nostalgic topic and it hurts to talk about, but it also feels good. The pang in Stevie's chest is somehow relieved by letting someone know, and she realizes with a shock that she has never told anyone this before.
The next stop is the baseball diamond, and as they reach it, Stevie finds herself smiling again.
"Annabelle's favorite song," she announces, "was the Wonderpets theme song." And with that she rushes out into the empty baseball field, spreading her hands out at her sides and laughing as she gazes up at the sky, spinning and running and not caring. She flies, her heart renewed and happy, her spirit somehow free because of him. She feels different, and when she looks over to see him standing at the edge of the field, still awkwardly holding the half-finished ice cream cone she thrust into his hands before she sped off into the field, she laughs and calls over to him, "Throw them away! Join me!"
And he does. A moment later, they are running through the open field, playing tag where the bases are safe, racing each other and collapsing onto the grass to stare up at the clouds. The empty, quiet world around them lets them know that they are alone, yet together, the sounds of cars in the distance and the rush of the wind reminding them that the real world has not stopped, that time will go on, that their day will soon come to an end and they will have to return to reality. And Stevie decides that downtown is perhaps not quite so out of place after all, but perhaps, because it shared this day with her, it still knows how she feels.