One-shot. Mikael Blomkvist, Agneta Sjölander, and a moment that might have happened, once.
Disclaimer: The Millennium Trilogy and its characters belong to the late Stieg Larsson. I make no money from this.
For more information about my fanfiction, you can find me on Tumblr under crazyforkate.
The first warm Friday of the year brought an energetic rush to the city, prompting a mass exodus from cramped apartments and stuffy offices. Thousands of people filled the streets, made carefree by balmy weather that persisted into the evening. Everyone in Stockholm, it seemed, had found an excuse to leave home and shake off the grey burdens of Nordic winter.
On a tiny side street, unnoticed by the crowds, four teenage boys gathered under a street lamp.
"Gentlemen," said Jakob Wilander as he handed out four cards, "prepare for the greatest night of your lives. And be sure to thank me for it."
Rolling his eyes, Blomkvist took the false driver's license. "The day I thank you for anything is the day I check into the loony bin."
He supposed he ought to be grateful for Wilander's series of highly dubious contacts, which had served them well over the past two years. Feeding his friend's enormous ego, however, was always an unwanted side effect, and it grew worse with every scheme they invented. Though he had to admit, the latest was a stroke of genius.
They had all been dying to go to the concert for weeks. As each boy was cursed with protective parents, it would be nearly impossible to escape for a night – and they were well aware that they would need the whole night for any real fun. It was never a question of not going. How to get there, on the other hand, proved to be a challenge.
Wilander had come up with a brilliant excuse, as usual. They claimed that the concert was essential for their musical education. One day they would reach their goal of being rock stars, and Bootstrap would be known the world over. In the meantime, they needed to learn as much as possible – and who better to learn from than the most successful group in Europe? Perhaps they had exaggerated the band's musical qualities - and it wasn't exactly true that their prep school's music director had recommended it – but people of their parents' age wouldn't know the difference anyway.
Against all odds, it worked. Each set of parents was assured that the boys would be perfectly safe. They claimed to have arranged to stay with Niklas Bergman's uncle, who was an excellent chaperone for a group of rowdy seventeen-year-old boys. In truth, Bergman's uncle had no idea he was an alibi, and though the boys intended to go to a concert, Screaming Cosmos was not a band of which the average Swedish parent would have approved.
"You know, I really don't think these are good enough." Stefan Lindstrom scrutinized his I.D. "They look a bit – amateur."
Blomkvist paid attention to this, as he did to any of Lindstrom's warnings. He still vividly remembered That Time Wilander Almost Got Us Arrested, whichshould have been That Night We Spent in Jail. Without Lindstrom's calming influence, he imagined that their great adventures wouldn't have remained so for long.
"They'll be fine, you killjoy," Wilander scoffed. "My contacts are the very best. And everyone knows they don't really look at these things, anyway."
Bergman nodded. "I think it could pass if it's dark enough. And there'll be lots of people, they'll want to get us through."
Wilander clapped him on the shoulder. "Someone has the right attitude. We just have to look confident, that's all. Now, do you want to see the greatest band who ever lived, or should we sit here like a bunch of scared little girls?"
They turned off the side street onto Birger Jarlsgatan. A long line stretched from the club along the sidewalk. Blomkvist felt a rush of anticipation. Even from a distance, he could see the familiar logo, one that adorned the record he kept stashed in his closet. A smile spread across his face.
"One day, it'll be us on that poster," said Lindstrom.
Blomkvist nudged him. "Come on, we'll do better than that! CBGB, remember?"
"Right. New York or bust. But we'll play here before we get discovered."
It was a pleasant thought. The fantasy was unlikely, if he had to admit it – Bootstrap hadn't managed more than a few paltry gigs in its year of existence – but surrounded by excited fans, all gathered to worship their idols on a warm spring night, it was difficult not to imagine his band in Screaming Cosmos' place.
Tonight, anything seemed possible.
The bouncer let Wilander through without a second glance. Bergman, too, passed without question. This was no surprise. Quieter than Wilander, more daring than Lindstrom, and blessed with an honest-looking face, Bergman got away with more than all of them put together.
He spent a little longer with Lindstrom's I.D., feeling around the laminate edges. When finally Blomkvist held up his, the bouncer hardly bothered to look. He motioned instead for the four of them to stop, ignoring their shouts of protest.
"Hey, what's this about?" said Bergman. "We're paying customers!"
"Of course you are," the bouncer said. "What year were you born?"
The boys fell silent. Blomkvist realized the bouncer was talking to him.
"Er, 1957," he stammered. "February fifteenth."
Even as he said it, he knew it was over. He hadn't been quick enough – confident enough – or something. The bouncer looked decidedly unimpressed.
"Took you some time to remember that. And your friends, too, they were all born the same day? What a coincidence."
"Yes, it's a great coincidence," said Lindstrom with a nervous laugh.
"Come on, pal. We're honest," Wilander insisted.
The bouncer shook his head. "I can't let you in, boys. Come back when you've grown up, or at least gotten better ID's." He held up Bergman's, where the laminate was already peeling. "This is the worst attempt I've seen in years."
Wilander muttered something obscene. Exiled, they slipped out from the queue. Blomkvist heard derisive laughter and tried not to cringe. The moment they passed the end of the line, Wilander began to berate him.
"Great job, Blomkvist. Really smart."
"If your ID's weren't so shitty, it wouldn't have mattered. How was I supposed to know your stupid source gave us all the same birthday?"
Wilander gave a dramatic sigh. "Screaming Cosmos. I'd been looking forward to it for weeks," he moaned, as if he had been stabbed through the heart.
"We could sneak in," Bergman suggested.
"Not a chance," said Blomkvist. "They have people on all the doors. They'll notice us right away." He looked over to the club, then back at his friends. "I think we're stuck."
They brooded about this for several minutes. It had never crossed their minds that they would run into trouble, and in their excitement, no one had bothered to think of a back-up plan.
"So - what do we do next?" Lindstrom wondered.
His friends stared at him incredulously. None of them had considered next. Without the false driver's licenses, their opportunities were severely limited – but at the same time, they had the whole night to themselves. It was an intriguing prospect.
"I know! We'll go see Nils," Wilander decided. "He always has something going Friday night."
The suggestion was met with great enthusiasm. Nils was the source of Wilander's never-ending supply of marijuana. Though none of the others knew him, they all benefited from the connection.
"Perfect," said Lindstrom. "Think he'll want us there?"
"He won't even question it," Wilander promised.
Like the rest of Stockholm, far too many people had crammed themselves into Nils' apartment that night. The heat was stifling. The scent of sweat and alcohol and hairspray lingered around him. Trapped in the corner, glass in hand, Blomkvist felt completely adrift.
He finished the drink – his third in half an hour – and scanned the room. Save his three friends, he knew no one there. Nils was a few years older, fresh off his military service, and ran with a different kind of crowd. Judging by the exasperated look on his face, it was one where uninvited seventeen-year-olds were grudgingly tolerated. He suspected that only Wilander's friendship had gotten them past the door. But that wasn't his biggest concern.
Across the room, perched on a battered couch, a girl was staring at him.
Her interest was a matter of great curiosity and endless fear all at once. At this point in his life, girls were still an intoxicating mystery. They were all ready to befriend him, of course. He could always find a girl to talk to. Getting beyond friendship was his problem. Inevitably, they would tell him that he was "nice" and "reliable", and then consign him to the category of "friend" for good. Ever since his last girlfriend had unceremoniously dumped him, right before Christmas, he had drifted through a series of half-hearted attempts with little success. The possibility - however remote - of the girl's attention was very appealing.
His view was suddenly blocked when a group of people stood in front of him. For over a minute he lost sight of her. After they had cleared away, he glanced again in her direction. Incredibly, her gaze was still fixed on him.
Yes, he concluded, she was definitely a possibility.
By his best guess, she was two or three years his senior, though she could have been older. She had long reddish-blonde hair. Her shirt was a little too low-cut, her skirt too high, her makeup too heavy. Had he been older and wiser, he might have called her trashy. At seventeen, however, he had only a vague awareness of her over-the-top display. She was pretty, and she looked friendly, and for the moment that was enough.
Encouraged, he took the spot beside her. She immediately leaned towards him.
"Hello there. I'm Agneta," she said.
He nodded to her. "Mikael."
There didn't seem to be anything to say after that. He studied the pattern on the couch, running his finger along the orange and yellow geometric shapes. He was acutely aware of Agneta next to him. Her thigh almost touched his, and she continued to watch him intently. It felt necessary to say something – or at the very least, she seemed to expect it.
"How do you know Nils?" he tried, and instantly felt like a fool.
"I- I don't. My friend brought me. She left, though." She moved even closer, tilting a little to the side. Vacant blue eyes stared at him; for the first time, he realized that she was very drunk. "D'you know anyone here?"
He had seen Bergman sneak off with a girl an hour ago. Lindstrom was falling-down drunk, slumped over a chair on the other side of the room. God only knew what Wilander had gotten up to.
"Same with me."
The topic died as quickly as it began. Neither of them attempted to revive the conversation. Agneta leaned over and picked at a loose thread on her skirt. Mikael tried not to openly stare at her chest. The silence dragged on, all the longer for her obvious boredom.
This was getting dire. If he didn't act quickly, she would lose interest. He blurted out the first thing that came to mind. Fortunately, it was relatively coherent.
"Listen, Agneta. Could I get you a drink or something?"
She looked up from her skirt and gave a crooked smile. "You know, that'd be great."
Blomkvist jumped up from the couch. The room momentarily swayed before his eyes, but he was undaunted. For the first time that evening, he felt that he had done something right.
After two more drinks each, they found conversation easier, if somewhat nonsensical. Agneta was not particularly eager to talk, but she listened to everything he said, never taking her eyes off him. The combination of alcohol and an unexpectedly receptive audience boosted his confidence. He soon found himself prattling about all aspects of his life, things he was certain she couldn't possibly care about. Every time he turned the subject back to her, however, she encouraged him to go on.
He even told her the sad story of Screaming Cosmos, altering it to minimize his role in their rejection. Agneta nodded enthusiastically when he finished.
"People are just idiots," she said. She had gradually slid back on the couch and was almost hanging off the armrest. "So, you're in a band?"
"Yeah. It's called Bootstrap, because – well, I don't know why we called it Bootstrap. But we're a band. We're not, you know, big or anything, not yet, but we will be one day. We'll play at CBGB. The club. It's the place to go, you know, in New York." He became aware that he was rambling and moved on. "But that's later. What about you?"
"You mean am I in a band?"
"No. More like – what do you do? What are you all about? You know."
She was still dangling from the couch. He wondered how she hadn't fainted, with all the blood rushing to her head.
"Come on. You look like you're really interesting."
After a long pause, she shrugged. "No. Nothing."
Agneta looked so resolute that he dropped the subject. For a moment he was convinced that he had upset her, and that she would take it as an excuse to leave. To his surprise, she sat upright and stared him directly in the eye.
"But it doesn't matter, anyway," she said. She moved closer to his side of the couch, almost leaning on him; her hair brushed against his bare arm.
Blomkvist could hardly believe his luck. The girl was obviously not shy with her affection, even if they hardly knew each other. She even seemed – surprisingly enough – comfortable with him. For his part, he enjoyed the softness of her body next to him, of the way her hair felt on his skin, and was content to let her stay like that for quite a while.
This time, silence didn't feel like such a burden.
Someone put on "Waterloo". He loathed ABBA and their endless screeching. Fleetingly, he longed for the Screaming Cosmos concert. Nils' friends obviously had no idea what real music was.
Agneta grinned. "Hey, I love this song!"
Without waiting for a response, she stood, staggered, and crashed into a table, landing hard on the ground. Several people stepped aside. A few laughed. Agneta's face burned with humiliation. She rolled back towards the table, hiding herself from the other partygoers.
Blomkvist got off the couch and kneeled at her side.
"Hey. Did you hurt yourself?" he asked. She shook her head.
"Just slipped," she said. Her eyes were weary.
Blomkvist tugged the edge of her skirt down to cover her right thigh. She seemed fine, but he noticed a large bruise high up near her hip. This was strange – he thought she had fallen on her left side. Agneta nudged his hand away.
"I think – I think it's time for me to leave," she whispered.
He hesitated. Even at seventeen, he imagined himself to be gallant. He wasn't about to let a girl walk home alone, especially in her current state. That he was nearly as smashed did not occur to him.
"I'll go with you," he assured her.
"No, no, you don't have to, Mikael." She held onto the edge of the table and tried to lift herself up. It turned into an inelegant flail. She collapsed to the ground again.
"It's okay. I want to," he lied.
Grabbing her hand, he brought her to her feet. She wobbled, but with his help she was able to stand. Once on her feet, she was a little more stable, but he still kept a firm grip on her shoulder. There was no telling when she might suddenly crash – or take him down with her.
Near the door he spotted Wilander, who had a pretty blonde hanging on his every word. His friend cheered and sloshed his drink around.
"Hey! Blomkvist finally got laid again," he shouted. Blomkvist glared at him. Agneta giggled.
"I'm just walking her home," he said.
"Sure you are." Wilander winked and turned back to the blonde. Blomkvist hastily ushered Agneta outside.
"Is that Wilander? Your friend?" she asked once they were in the hallway.
"He's always like that," he explained. "No filter whatsoever. It's – it's pretty funny, actually."
"Hmm." She didn't seem particularly interested in Wilander's attributes. Her grip on his arm tightened. "I bet you'd get tired of him, though, after a while."
Blomkvist looked down at Agneta, who was clinging to him like a barnacle on a rock. Clearly, she wouldn't tire of him anytime soon. He felt a surge of confidence. Maybe he wasn't outrageous like Wilander, but he could be trusted. Surely that counted for something.
"Let's get you home," he said.
With an authoritative flourish, he opened the door. Agneta began to hum something. He didn't recognize the tune. She stood tall and steady, though her hand never left Blomkvist's arm.
They stepped out together into the dark city streets.
It didn't take long to regret his decision.
The temperature had dropped in the past few hours, and he hadn't thought to bring a jacket. Agneta kept lurching around, almost dragging him with her each time. She seemed confused as to where they were going – in fact, he was fairly certain that she had directed him in a circle. He couldn't remember the crazy impulse that had made him take a loony drunk girl out on the street at three in the morning.
Still, he mused, it was better than hiding in the corner alone, which would have been his choice had he stayed at Nils'. And even if Agneta was driving him crazy, he certainly couldn't call her boring.
"I like your eyes," she told him for the fifth time.
Blomkvist laughed. "You're really drunk, Agneta."
"So what? I can have a good time. And you - you're not having such a bad time, either." She winked, which he supposed was meant to be flirtatious. "I mean, you're still here."
It was a fair point. He had, for some reason, chosen to freeze out here in the dodgy part of Stockholm, though it seemed a very long time ago. The hours at Nils' party had grown rather hazy; the image that returned to him was Agneta's red hair as it brushed against his skin. He was still thinking about it when Agneta suddenly yanked on his arm.
"Stop here. Here, Mikael." She planted her feet, throwing him off-balance. Only with difficulty did he manage to stay up.
Doing the gentlemanly thing, he decided, wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
"Okay, okay! I'll stop." He looked down the dingy street with dismay. It was not a place he would normally visit at night, or any other time of day, for that matter. "Is this where you live?"
"I'm not going home. I – just – just leave me here."
Blomkvist thought it over. This was not what he had planned - he thought it looked like the very worst place to leave her. But she had the determined look on her face again, and he really didn't want to get into an argument at this point.
"You're sure?" he tried one last time.
"Yeah, it's okay, Mikael, don't worry. I'm not that trashed." As if to prove her point, she tried to stand up straight. It was not particularly successful.
"Well," he said, "good night then."
Agneta gave him a thoughtful look.
"You're too young for me," she said, "but you're handsome."
She grabbed the front of his shirt, and before he could say a word, she had drawn him into a long, deep kiss.
Caught off guard, Blomkvist was completely taken in. She tasted of cigarettes and vodka. Her hands were clumsy. By all accounts, it shouldn't have been enjoyable, and yet he was enthralled. No girl had ever attacked him like this before. There was a certain urgency in the way she ran her fingers through his hair, the way her lips met his in frantic, searching hunger - a thrill that had never been part of his experience. They broke apart, breathless.
"I shouldn't – I can't –" she began. It wasn't very convincing, particularly since she was still caressing his hair.
Blomkvist watched her through a fog of drunken confusion. She was still babbling away, refusing to look him in the eye even as her hands told a different story. Clearly, he would have to take initiative. With a flash of courage he couldn't have imagined three hours ago, he seized her by the shoulders and interrupted her in the only way he could think of.
Agneta appeared to have forgotten her objections. In an instant, she had dragged him behind a telephone booth. Squashed against the side, with the metal grille pressing a pattern into the back of his head, he could feel every curve of her body – including her fantastic breasts. The word "want" ran through his mind; it was all he could think of. Instinctively, he ran his hand under the back of her shirt. It didn't matter that they were in public, hidden only by a flimsy metal box. He had to keep going – to stop now was unthinkable. He was fumbling with the hooks on her bra strap when she gently moved him away.
"No more," she told him, friendly but firm.
"I can't, I really can't." Unexpectedly, she blushed. "He wouldn't want me to."
It was as if she had hit him over the head. He immediately let go of her. "Wait. You have a boyfriend?"
"Course I do." Agneta bit her lip, looking past Blomkvist. After a moment, she amended her statement. "Well, sort of. He goes away sometimes."
Typical luck. Why was it that he always seemed to go for the taken ones?
"Oh, this is so stupid," she said.
"Stupid. I am, I mean." Agneta's shoulders slumped; her hair fell over her face. "I'm a disaster, Mikael."
Blomkvist shook his head. "No. You're not even close."
She grabbed his hands. For a moment he thought she was going to kiss him again. He wouldn't have minded, but instead she stood there in silence, staring at the place where their fingers joined. To his horror, when she looked up he saw tears in her eyes.
He could barely deal with a drunk girl. He had no idea what to do with a crying drunk girl.
"You're a nice kid," she finally said.
The sting was almost visceral. Without meaning to, he flinched at the description. Agneta let go of him so quickly that he knew she had noticed. Her hand flew to her mouth. Shaking her head, she backed away.
"I should go – I –" She swallowed. Her eyes flickered to the end of the street. "Night, Mikael. Thanks for – uh, thanks, Mikael."
Embarrassment brought out a surprising level of agility, it seemed; before he could stop her, she was gone.
He watched her meander down the street. Once or twice, she appeared to stumble, but managed to right herself. Near the end of the block, she disappeared into an apartment building. Though she was unlikely to return, he lingered anyway, hoping for a glimpse of her through a window – or any other reminder that he hadn't dreamed it all.
After several minutes he gave up. Waiting was useless. He was a fool, an awkward kid who was never going to be a success with women.
He turned his back on Agneta and headed for Nils' place.
When the sun came up, the members of Bootstrap were back on the street, nursing their respective hangovers and arguing about the night before.
"There's no way your parents will find out, idiot," said Bergman, whose neck was covered in purple splotches. He had worn a foolish grin ever since he rejoined his friends.
"They'll smell it on me," Lindstrom whined.
"Only because you were puking your guts out half the night," said Wilander. "What a waste. At least some of us managed to get laid." He nodded in Blomkvist's direction.
"Jesus Christ, you should listen to yourself sometimes."
"What are you talking about? You got the one with the great tits!" Encouraged by Blomkvist's silence, Wilander pressed on. "Or did you? Did Casanova Blomkvist strike out again?"
"Shut up, Wilander," he mumbled. It was not his best retort. All he wanted was to guzzle a bottle of Aspirin, spend the weekend in bed, and forget that last night's string of embarrassments ever happened.
"Yeah, leave him alone," said Bergman. "It's not your problem if he keeps letting girls go."
"But letting a girl like that go." Wilander shook his head in disgust. "Well, I guess it's true, then - what they say about bass players..."
The cold snap had caught him by surprise, and when he reached the store, his face was numb. At the sight of the long line, he was tempted to forget the whole thing – it was only a lousy pack of cigarettes – but he hadn't had a smoke all day, and Erika likely wouldn't have any. Blomkvist sighed and joined the queue.
It had been a long day.
He checked his watch. She was coming over in fifteen minutes. If the line didn't speed up soon, she would be locked out in the middle of January, and probably furious with him for it. Just his luck that the cashier was as slow as an elephant.
For her part, the cashier seemed to sense it too; she kept digging her fingernails into her hair and muttering under her breath, drawing strange looks from the customers. As Blomkvist approached the counter, she dropped a stapler on the ground. With a quiet curse, she bent over to pick it up. She looked so overwhelmed that he felt a twinge of pity. It hadn't been very long since he worked behind a counter himself.
"Rough day?" he asked.
"I'm sorry for the wait." Her voice quavered. "The machine's not working right, and I –"
The cashier looked up, and catching sight of his face, she broke off. Her eyes widened. Her hand dangled over the counter, still holding his cigarettes.
A small, timid smile appeared, slow but genuine.
Blomkvist wondered if he was supposed to recognize her. Certainly she seemed to know who he was. He wracked his memory, but drew a complete blank. With her stringy bleach-blonde hair and haggard face, she looked like no one he had ever met.
After a moment, she dropped her gaze. Her smile disappeared. She scanned the cigarettes, her mouth twisting into a thin line.
"Five kronor fifty."
He paid without comment. As he picked up the cigarettes, he thought he saw her give him another quick glance.
Had he looked back, he might have noticed the way she followed him with her eyes, long after he left the store. He might have stopped. Out of friendly curiosity, he might have asked her name.
But as spring brings people into the open, revealing themselves in ways long abandoned, winter encourages solitude. In the first shock of cold air, his thoughts turned exclusively to home and its comforts. By the time he reached the corner, the strange cashier was long forgotten. He continued on.
Late that night, while Erika slept beside him, he found himself thinking of red hair.