A/N: Inspiration from this fic came from Blue's Just This? On fanfiction.net. If you're into slash, I highly recommend it. Also, a huge, Huge, HUGE thanks to my beta readers, Elanor Gamgee at the Sugarquill and Anne at Gryffindor Tower, without whom I would have split infinitives and commas where there should be semi-colons (and vice-versa!), and lots of Americanisms. Thanks!
Disclaimer: I don't own it. Don't sue me.
Steam drifted up from the sewer grates as the frigid December air met with the warm, stagnant underground, curling around the toe of a smart, low-heeled leather pump. She stepped to the curb, almost slipping in the dirty city slush that was the remnant of London's first snow of the season. There would be more to come. "Taxi!" she cried, though her voice was drowned out as a horn blared and a pair of headlights rushed past, sending a spray of freezing ice melt onto the woman's tailored jacket. Not even a cab would stop at this time of night, not in this part of town. She sighed, brushed herself off, smoothing the suit that had been rumpled throughout a horrendous day at work, and adjusted the cashmere muffler so that it once again covered the entirety of her face, leaving only a small slit that allowed steely grey eyes to show through.
She continued to walk, aware of the mournful vagrants that wandered the street, taking in her smart business apparel and licking their alcohol-parched lips at the thought of just how much liquor her purse might bring. It was like this every night. She clutched her bag more tightly and walked a bit faster, smoothing her pants and dragging her muffler up as she fought to keep her attention anywhere but on her immediate surroundings. The muffler slipped again, and this time she yanked it up as far as it would go; she recoiled as her perfectly self-manicured fingernails scratched the surface of her grotesquely deformed skin—the northernmost edge of a scar that stretched from the middle of her chin to her right temple. Yes, she would get him back some day. For what he did. For the torture, both physical and mental, that she had suffered on his behalf. For the bruises and cuts. And especially for making her love him.
Evan Jameson sighed and raked his hands through his unruly black hair. Startlingly green eyes stared through stylish wire-framed glasses at the spiral-bound notebook that rested in front of him. The first page of the newly purchased book was already full of what promised, merely by Evan's name, to be a best-seller. While this first of many pages would be worked, re-worked, changed, and probably unrecognizable by the publishing date, it was, at least, a good place to start.
What he'd done. He had been given a death sentence for it. Nothing less than he deserved for all the lives he had destroyed. Death, in fact, was too kind for him. She touched the scar again and halted in the dimly lit street, suddenly drowning in a flood of horrific memories. A knife, he had said. She should be lucky that he had used a knife. She should feel honored that he wanted to be the last to look upon her beautiful face.
She shuddered, recalling his foul words, the malicious, sadistic smile on his face. No, lethal injection wasn't justice. He wouldn't have to relive all of the pain he had caused. He wouldn't have to live for the rest of his life with the memory of searing pain permanently blazoned in his mind. She alone would give him the justice he deserved. A tear rolled down her left cheek from her one good eye. The only one that could cry. He would pay. Ginny clenched her fists. Yes, Harry Potter would pay for the lives he had destroyed.
Evan's head snapped up. Where had that come from? Ginny…Harry Potter…his eyes had drooped and the words had written themselves. They never would have made paper, never would have entered his waking consciousness, otherwise. He quickly scratched the last two lines out and started a new paragraph, willing himself not to re-read them, willing himself not to think about why he wrote human suffering so well. Willing himself not to remember just how much of it he had seen.
Ginny clenched her fists. Yes, Harry Potter would pay for the lives he had destroyed.
She jumped as a gnarled, weather-beaten hand clamped hard onto her shoulder. A beggar, one of those drunken vagrants, startled her from her thoughts of vengeance. Fear momentarily clouded her burning anger; a chill ran through her as she stared into watery blue eyes dulled by years on the street and sharpened with a hunger that liquor consumption alone had not cured. His mouth was stretched into a wide gummy grin, his few misshapen teeth moldy and rotten, pouring a foul reek as he fumbled greedily for her purse.
Her face contorted in horror and the muffler fell, revealing her countenance and the length of her hideous scar. The beggar's ghastly grin disappeared. His bleary eyes focused, traveling from her eye to her chin and back. Slowly he backed away, mumbling his apologies and vanishing back into the dark alleyway. She suddenly wished that he had taken her purse instead.
Evan sighed again and flipped the notebook closed. He realized that any psychologist would give up his entire practice just for the chance at an hour with the author's brain. He had done it again. He hadn't meant to, of course, but it had happened. This would be his seventh book in a row to have a scar prominently figured in it. Oh, he knew the psychological implications of this. His subconscious just wouldn't let him off. The scar had become a trademark of his, one he would gladly escape from. One he had tried to escape from but never seemed able. Always famous for my scars, he thought bitterly. Except this time, I've brought it upon myself. Physically or otherwise, there will always be scars in my life.
He momentarily considered just tossing the notebook out and starting something new, something fresh. Something that didn't scream "troubled past" from every sentence. Nevertheless, he added the notebook to his collection and made the short trip across his tiny London flat to his tiny stove and set the tea. As he took what was supposed to be the first soothing sip, he winced as he realized that he had forgotten to add the teabag. The amber brown of the liquid was, in fact, the actual color of the water.
Most people would have died of shock if they knew
that the great Evan Jameson, author of six best-selling novels over the course
of seven years, multi-millionaire, and recently voted most eligible bachelor by Women's
Literary Republic, lived in poverty-level squalor. Evan's flat consisted of only three rooms.
There was one pathetically small bedroom that barely fit a cot and a reading
light with room to swing the door open to the inside and to pile his notebooks
on the floor. Next to that was a smaller bathroom with a grubby toilet
and a square standup shower measuring about one metre by one metre—the water
sometimes ran and sometimes didn't, regardless of whether or not he was up on
his payments, and it was never warm. The small common area had a stove, a sink,
and a small wooden cupboard on the wall.
This served as his kitchen and living room; a worn, dirty couch bought
second-hand separated the two. There was
a broken-down telly by the window, which was boarded up but still emitted tiny
shafts of light through intermittent holes created by termites. The floor was covered in a moth-eaten rug
that might, at one point, have been red, but was now a grayish brown color. Evan tossed the chipped ceramic mug into the
beaten sink and flopped himself on the couch.
A cloud of dust rose around him, making him splutter and clean his
Most people, in fact, had never even seen him. He kept to himself, attending no book signings or publicity stunts. His photo never graced the back cover of his books, either. He limited his biographical page always to the same two sentences:
Evan Jameson was born in 1980.
He currently resides in Great Britain.
The mystery that was Evan Jameson sparked many a coffee shop conversation and provided all of the publicity he needed for a successful career.
Evan looked restlessly about his dismal surroundings and realized exactly why he had been so creatively stifled of late. The lack of light and color in that room in which he spent so much time had slowed his thinking to a dull torpor. He needed to get out. He needed the caffeine that only a steamy cup of coffee could provide; not even his beloved tea would suffice at this point. He also needed cleaner water, but a cup of coffee would suffice for now. Rising slowly from the musty couch, he grabbed his wallet and the notebook he had just been working in. Perhaps inspiration would find him in the coffee shop.
Taking a breath of sweet London pollution, watching the sky gradually turn a lifeless grey color, and feeling the wet, sticky air before the rain made him feel alive again. This was dreariness at its best. This was London. This was what suspense novels were made of. As Evan passed down the street crowded with the beginnings of afternoon rush-hour traffic, he watched as the buildings gradually changed from broken, weather beaten low-rent housing to grandiose flats that bordered lush gardens in which the rich people walked their poodles.
He was always amazed when he reminded himself that, not only could he afford to live in one of these places, but he could probably buy them out. It gave him a sense of liberty, but at the same time he felt restricted by his old life. The hovel in which he currently resided had been the end of one life and the beginning of another. He had gone from one life of darkness to the next, from death and war and mutilation on one end to loneliness and despair and destitution on the other. He had traveled back to this world to which he had thought he would never return, to this world that for so many years had treated him with cruelty and cold indifference. It was where he belonged, now. Out of the spotlight. Out of the hair of everyone whom he had caused misery and pain. Awash in a sea of people who didn't know him or particularly care about him, as long as he paid his rent. That was where he belonged. He longed for that kind of life, so he'd run. He had run all the way to this world just to become famous again. It seemed his lot in life to be famous, but he was determined not to live like it. He didn't deserve to live like it. And he didn't want to.
As a celebrity, he was expected to buy one of those huge flats in the city; he was expected to have a dog and a wife and kids and drugs that he abused for the sake of publicity. To get out of jail with his influence. To live a normal celebrity life. Which is why he didn't. He had destroyed their perceptions of celebrity when they couldn't find him, couldn't watch him day and night or send love letters or hate mail to his home address. Because none of them would ever think to look for him in a fallen down shack. He liked it that way, and intended to keep it so. He had never lived up to people's expectations as a celebrity in his youth and found old habits to die hard.
The coffee shop that Evan frequented was located on the intersection of two prosperous streets. It signaled the end of the rich residential area and the beginning of a wealthy shopping district. Edgar Allen's was a traditional coffee haus; a place, where, by day, the rich women stopped for a rest after walking their dogs in the park and sipped lattes to trendy recorded piano music, and by night the university students staged beat poets and local bands. The bohemian-wannabe youth gathered there and ignored frothy cappuccino mugs the size of the North Sea to socialize and listen to music.
Evan loved to come here right about this time of evening—about six o'clock—as the well-to-do women left to direct their kitchen staff to dinner and the younger crowd filtered in. Not being too late at night, smaller children—well, ages ranging from about eleven to seventeen—would come and lounge in the comfortable couches and armchairs to talk, play games, and, during the school year, do homework. There was even a fireplace that crackled merrily from across the kitchens. It had taken Evan a good three years to realize exactly why he loved it so much.
Now, as he entered the spacious yet inviting shop, an almost empty room greeted him. As the summer season came to an end, it was too hot and muggy for many people to want a cup of steamy coffee, especially right at dinnertime. Evan knew that it would probably be another hour or so before the beatniks set up their drums and the university crowd drifted in.
The sweet aroma of freshly ground caffeinated bliss took him over as Evan approached the counter and ordered a tall black coffee. He took a seat in one of two squashy armchairs facing each other by the window. Slowly he prised the lid from the paper cup and took a long, decadent swallow, savoring every drop as the steamy bitter liquid coursed down his throat. Surely this was what life was all about. Evan set his coffee down, momentarily forgetting it, and flipped his notebook open to the abandoned project of earlier that afternoon.
Jenny flung open the door to her ninth-floor apartment and slammed it behind her, not caring that it was past two in the morning or if old Mrs. Jenkins down the hall lost a minute or two of beauty sleep. It had been a terrible night. Due to her "accident", she had been given special permission to come to work at odd hours, often arriving at seven or eight in the evening after everybody had left, and leaving early in the morning, before even the neighbourhood bakers awoke to start the morning bread. She often passed down badly reputed streets at horrid hours of the morning, and had seen the beggar who had tried to rob her many times. An agreement of sorts had been worked out, or so she thought. If she didn't call the cops on him, he left her alone. The same went for all of the other homeless folk on those streets. She was as regular there as they were. He must have been exceptionally drunk tonight.
Evan was startled out of his writing as he noticed several things. First, a redheaded woman had just sat herself down across the shop from him and was now reading a book. His book, in fact; his latest. He knew that it was his latest because he could see his name printed on the cover from across the spacious shop. For the release of his sixth novel, the publishers had deemed his name more profitable than the title or subject of his book. Therefore, EVAN JAMESON was blazoned across three quarters of the page. The title—Carpe Diem—was printed in tiny white letters underneath his name; the only reason he could tell the title of the book, in fact, was because he had written it. He had the urge to get up, go over and talk to her, get into yet another discussion of "what the author was really trying to say with this passage" with the unwitting redhead, when he noticed a second occurrence: a blonde (bleached, obviously, not natural) sauntered over and lightly touched the back of his chair, turning his attention.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" she asked in a throaty voice. "I can't seem to find another seat." Evan looked around bewilderedly at the rest of the practically empty shop, but said nothing, grunting instead an invitation with a slight gesture of his hand. In one graceful swoop, she sat, propped her cappuccino across from his notebook, and pulled out, as far as he could tell by the cover, a trashy romance novel. For several minutes she read silently, not seeming to care at all that she had intruded on the person across from her. Evan continued to write another word or two, but couldn't concentrate with that blonde woman across from him.
What if she knew who he was? Or, even worse, what if she knew who he had been? Not in this life, but in his past. What if she was one of them: another admirer, or even worse, a reporter? From force of habit, he raked his hand through his hair, causing his fringe to move. At the movement, the blonde woman glanced up from her book and did a slight double-take. One that Evan had grown very used to in his lifetime—both of them.
"Gosh," she said. Oh, very innocent, that, he thought, his suspicions still raised. "Where on Earth did you get that awful scar?"
"Erm…car wreck," he said evasively. At her concerned yet bewildered look, he changed the subject. "Nice weather we're having, isn't it?"
She arched an overly-plucked eyebrow and gave a sardonic smile. "Sure, if you like the rainforest without the plants. Personally, I think it makes my hair a bit frizzy. What's with the notebook, anyway? You look too old for a university student. My name is Deborah, by the way. You can call me Debbie if you like." She reached a delicately manicured hand across the small table; he took it lightly.
"Well, Debbie," he said easily, suddenly slipping from his shy, unassuming nature, to one of those suave characters in his books. One of those that usually ended up dead in his universe. But, boy was it fun. "I'm Evan. I guess you could say that I'm an aspiring writer. I like to write things down in my notebook. It isn't as permanent as when you see the work in print, I guess you could say. You can always erase the pencil. And it has a more personal touch. I don't know," he shrugged slightly. "I guess it sounds silly out loud, but it makes perfect sense to me."
"Well, Evan, you'll have to get yourself a new name if you want to be a writer," she said with another one of those coy, saucy smiles. He threw her a politely questioning glance, though he knew what she was probably going to say. It was a common joke that he heard when he was caught writing in public. "Everybody already knows that Evan Jameson has cornered that market. Maybe you should use a flashier…what's it called, you know…when someone pretends to be someone else?"
"No, that's not it. A pet name or something."
"Oh. Whatever. Anyway, you should get something flashier than that Evan Jameson bloke. He's really overblown, anyway."
"Really?" he smiled. "How so?"
"Oh, I don't know. I haven't actually read any of his books, but everyone says that he's so mysterious and all that rubbish. I think that there's better reasons to read books than just because you've never seen the bloke. And all those rumors, you know, about the scars and stuff in all those books he writes," she lowered her voice and leaned conspiratorially closer. "They say that he's psychotic."
Evan stifled a snigger and looked at the girl as if he were genuinely surprised and interested. My character would play with her a bit, he thought. And then take her off to her flat, have sex with her, and never see her again. That's what Christoph would do anyway, or Quentin. Of course, that was usually in the line of pulling off some secret spy mission or another. And, he sighed inwardly. And that was fiction. This is reality. Still, I can play with her a bit. I just won't go too far.
He leaned closer in to her as well, mimicking her hushed tone. "Is that so? Psychotic, you say?"
She nodded deliciously, as if savoring a luscious treat: the further defamation of an innocent man's character. "Stark raving mad. Probably why he doesn't want to be seen by people. He's running from the loony bin, you know. They've been trying to catch him for years, now. He has to hide in a different safe house every night, sort of like that Hitler fellow. He's just trying to get enough money with his books to buy them off so they'll leave him alone." She nodded with complete certainty, as if this was accepted scientific fact.
This time, in character or not, he couldn't help himself; he let a huge guffaw. "You're mad, woman! You should be in the bloody loony bin! How do you figure all that, anyway?" The woman looked slightly hurt, but didn't seem to be entirely put off. She began to say something in her defense, but Evan didn't hear her. He was suddenly aware of that woman again, the redhead across the shop. She had lowered her book, his book, and was now staring at him with a look of sudden, unmistakable recognition in her face, no doubt attracted by his raucous laugh. The worst part was, he shared the recognition. No, it can't be her. Not after all this time, not like this. Not her.
Quickly, feigning that he hadn't noticed the redhead, with a tone as nonchalant as he could muster, he turned to his blonde counterpart. "Would you like to get out of here, grab a bite to eat?" Before she could answer yes or no, he lightly took her by the elbow and guided her out of the building, giving her just enough time to gather her trashy romance novel and purse before whisking out of the shop, ignoring the indignant stare that followed them from the direction of the redhead.
Several hours later, Evan lay alone in his grungy apartment building, reflecting on the afternoon's events. After he'd left the café with Debbie, they had made their way to a trendy, expensive restaurant of her choosing. They had ordered appetizers and their small talk found its way back to careers.
"What do you do with yourself, then?" he had asked, trying to keep conversation up. She had been less than pleased when he had hurried her away from the coffee shop, and was hoping that she would soon forget if she could talk about herself for long enough. It seemed to be working.
"I…" she had paused, as if trying to remember a rehearsed speech. "I'm an acquisition manager for an estate just north of here," she said, finally.
Ah, he had thought. She's one of those rich wives who spend all day "acquiring" expensive goods while her husband spends all day slaving to earn the money that she throws away. I wonder how often she picks up random men in cafés? Outwardly, however, he just smiled politely and did not question further, instead letting the job description linger in the air and drifting off into the recesses of his own universe. This silence seemed to make Debbie uncomfortable, so she pressed on to him.
"So, what do you do with yourself when you're not aspiring to write?" she had asked, her fingers lightly tracing invisible circles over the table, occasionally brushing innocently against Evan's. He might have found this very exciting if his mind had not been back at the coffee shop, where the redhead sat with his book. The evening ended right then in a series of quick yet unflattering events, as he was first caught not paying rapt attention to her. She had had to snap her fingers in front of his face several times before he came back to himself and then had to have the question repeated. The fingers of her other hand had long ago stopped their seductive sketching on the table and were now drumming away impatiently on the glass surface. When Evan answered that he was a night janitor at a local law firm, the blonde had, without another word, left the restaurant as suddenly as she had appeared at the café. He had paid and left without a single regret.
Presently, a buzzing noise brought him out of his memories. Where on Earth was that coming from? It stopped. He let a sigh of relief when, to his annoyance, the buzzing started up again. After a full minute of this, he finally realized that somebody was ringing the intercom from down below, wanted his permission to come up to his flat. Nobody had ever, in his full nine years of living in that hovel, wanted to gain access to his flat. He located the intercom on the wall next to the door (hmm, never noticed that before!) and pressed the little white button, leaning forward and yelling into the speaker.
"YES?!" Oops. Too loud.
"Umm…Evan Jameson?" The voice that answered back was feminine, hesitant. Familiar.
A pause. Who could possibly know that he was here? Who he was? "…Who wants to know?"
"I…I found your notebook. At the café?" Another pause. She must be expecting him to answer. None came to his lips. "Umm…it…the notebook…said to bring it here if it was lost." Another pause. She was waiting for an answer. He was thinking. Indeed, he wrote his name and address on all his notebooks in case they were lost. He had never lost one before; he usually didn't want to risk a fanatic finding out who he was and where he lived. He was usually very paranoid about that. In fact, in all the hubbub of the afternoon, he hadn't even realized that he'd left it. Why did that voice sound so familiar? Finally, "Are you there?" He'd forgotten about her.
"Yes, yes. I'm here," Best to end it now, before something bad happens. "Thank you so very much for your kindness. You can leave it on the mat. I'll get it later," he said dismissively. The conversation is over. Leave me alone.
"Begging your pardon, but I…well, I'm a very big fan of yours, and I did go an hour or two out of my way to get this notebook to you…" Another pause. She must have expected him to cotton on right then. He didn't. "…And, well, I was wondering, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, if you would consider coming down yourself?"
"I'm terribly sorry about the inconvenience. You could have mailed it to me, you know. Please, just leave it on the stoop." He winced at his tone of voice, cold and indifferent. Was this what hermitdom had done to him over the years? Made him bitter and uncaring towards a kind woman?
Her answer sounded strained, probably choked with tears. "Now I know why you live like this." Another pause, this time for dramatic effect. "You're a horrible man and nobody wants to be around you! How can anybody so cruel write so beautifully? This is what I think about your work!!" A ripping noise. This was not good.
He was dumbfounded, and a panic of what might be happening to his story filled him. "Please, I'm sorry," he begged. "Don't cry, please! Come upstairs. I…I don't know what I was thinking. All these years…I'm just not used to people anymore. Just…come up." He felt a cold dread clamp on his heart as soon as he said it. Why? He had just had perfectly good conversation with that…that…Debbie earlier that afternoon. He had, of course, just been playing with her, but why would he care so much more about this mysterious woman? Why would this be so much different? Why was his heart beating like that? Why did her voice sound so familiar? It can't be…
There were muffled steps on the stairs, gradually getting louder. They stopped right outside of his door, pausing awkwardly, hesitantly. Finally, she knocked lightly. He sat on the edge of his couch, debating whether or not to open the door. He could hide. That was silly, though. Just plain childish. She knew he was up here; there was no way out now. He walked slowly to the door, sure that she could hear his steps just as he heard hers. Hmm, he thought. The paint is peeling. I should repaint the door.
She knocked again, a bit more impatiently this time. He undid the chain and drew back the bolt. This was it. The door creaked as it opened, and Evan suddenly had to fight the urge to faint, or throw up, or both. Luckily, he did neither.
"It's you!" they both cried. Her auburn hair dangled free, covering the side of her face, covering it.
"Harry!" The tears poured down her cheeks as she rushed forward and grabbed him around the waist in a tight hug. "God, I knew it was you! I knew it! How could you? How could you do this to us? How could you leave us like that? We were so worried! Mum's going to kill you when she sees you again!" She looked up into his eyes, all of those thoughts burning into him from those liquid brown eyes, but as she did so, a lock of hair fell away from her right cheek, exposing a light pink scar from her temple to her cheekbone. A curse scar. What he had done. Why he lived his life like this. Why he ran away. How could he own up to that? How could act like nothing had happened?
"I…" he gulped. "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't know this Harry that you are speaking of." He tried to impassively pry the crying redhead from his chest, to pretend that he didn't want more than anything for her just to hold on to him like that. "Please, leave, miss. This is very inappropriate." This was killing him. Why? Why fight? Why was he even trying? What was wrong with him? She knew…they both knew that it was a lie…why try, when giving in was so easy?
Her head snapped up, anger burning now in those beautiful eyes of hers. "You…you don't…" She seemed as though she were trying to swallow something very large whole. "You don't know? You…little…git. It's here, Harry! I saw you! You saw me! I know it, and so do you! IT'S RIGHT HERE!" She waved the notebook that had been concealed in her bag in his face. "IT'S RIGHT HERE, YOU STUPID GIT! Would you care to read it, or would you like me to? I'd be very happy to enlighten you."
"Please, don't. Please, I don't know what you're talking about. Please, Ginny, don't say it."
"He would pay," she recited. "Ginny clenched her fists. Yes, Harry Potter would pay for the lives he had destroyed." She looked back at him, clearly seething. "I'm sorry. Is there some point that I missed where THIS IS NOT BLOODY YOU, HARRY?" The tears streamed down her face unchecked; the sobs wracked her body so that she had to sit to keep from collapsing. Slowly the sobs ebbed and became soft whimpers. She looked at him with eyes like brown pools and said softly, "You did destroy our lives, Harry. Not by anything you did in the war, but by leaving us. I don't know what you were running from, but we all died the day you left. We always thought that you were so strong, so brave, but now I know what a coward you are." She picked herself off the floor and straightened herself, walking calmly towards him. For a moment he thought that she was going to strike him, but instead she did something that hurt much, much worse. She reached up and lightly brushed back his fringe, touching that accursed scar on his forehead. "This is you, Harry." Then she left.
Evan didn't know what was wrong. He wanted to run to her, to hold her, to reclaim his former life, but he couldn't. He had seen them; the wounds that he inflicted on her, both physically and mentally. War was hell, but the aftermath was even worse. He couldn't move or speak, or stop her as she walked out the door. She left the notebook, open to that page, to that passage, lying on the floor.