Chapter 7 : I like my life.
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Okay, so I haven’t liked it so much recently, but I used to. And, in general, I think being alive is a good thing. True, I’ve gone through some rough patches, but overall I tend to believe things are worth living for. So yeah, you could say that I like living.
I do not, however, like getting dragged along to parties by Louis Weasley. Especially not university parties. Muggle university parties. They’re crowded and hot and disgusting and noisy as fuck - not a way I particularly want to spend my evening.
Yes, I’ve been to Muggle parties before. Matt’s pulled me along to a few, and Ian took me to a couple as well. It’s certainly an experience, but not one that I’ve necessarily enjoyed. Hogwarts, you see, doesn’t have parties. True, older students sometimes sneak alcohol back into the castle, but there just aren’t any parties. So my first experience with parties came in the grimy, disgusting world of Muggle university students, and you know what they say about first impressions.
To conclude, although I generally like my life, I do not like it when I’m getting forcibly dragged to a revolting party with some random bloke I basically just met. At least when I went with Matt or Ian it was someone whom I generally like to be around. Louis is just, well... I guess he’s all right. He’s not horrible, but it’s not like he’s a person that I’m particularly fond of, either.
Speaking of Louis, earlier in the day he shoved a fifty pound note in my hand and told me to get out of his flat because I was “annoying the bloody fuck” out of him. So, I took it upon myself to buy some new clothes to go out in tonight. I couldn’t very well show up at a party in my jeans and holey old t-shirt, could I?
“Is this okay?” I ask nervously, fiddling with the bottom of my shirt.
“You’re fine,” he says distractedly.
“Are you sure?”
“Ava,” Louis snaps, glaring up at me from the kitchen counter. He’s been pouring over stacks of paper for the last few hours, making mysterious scratch marks on them and then crumpling them up in frustration. “Seriously. It’s a university party. You could show up naked and no one would care.”
Well, I suppose he has a point.
I sigh and run my fingers over the black lacy tank top I’m wearing, then squint at myself in the mirror. I look slutty. And I don’t generally like looking slutty, despite my somewhat sluttish tendencies while drunk.
“Well, what are you wearing?” I ask innocently, turning around and checking my arse in the mirror. The skirt I’m wearing is so short that it’s practically nonexistent. I really don’t feel comfortable dressing like this - it’s got bad idea written all over it.
Louis slams his pen down on the counter and glares at me. “Ava. Please. I’m trying to concentrate.”
“I was just asking a question,” I protest mildly. “Now, does this skirt make my arse look good?”
“Yes,” he answers in a bored tone.
“You didn’t even look.”
“Fine, I’ll stop being annoying,” I huff, flopping down on the sofa and sprawling out lazily.
“Mon Dieu,” Louis mutters. He crushes another piece of paper in his palm and tosses it into the rubbish bin, where quite a large pile has accumulated.
I manage to stay quiet for a few minutes, but I just can’t keep it up for long. It’s so bloody boring here. I’ve been cooped up all day with nothing to do except flip through the television channels and sleep. I just want to go out and have fun and forget about things for a little while, even if that means going to a - ugh - party. As suckish as they are, they still suck less than the rest of the suck that is my life.
“I’m bored,” I announce. Louis sighs and spins around slowly, then walks over to the sofa and shoves my legs aside so he can take a seat.
“Ava, love, sit up straight please.”
I oblige and push myself into an upright sitting position, and Louis moves over on the sofa, flicking his eyes over me. Apparently he’s appraising my choice of dress and - ahem - appreciating it. Yeah, if he appreciates me anymore, I swear I’ll give him a nice slap to the face that he can appreciate.
“Now, Ava, I understand that you’re bored. But please, for the love of God, be quiet. I am trying to concentrate, but it’s severely difficult to do so when you’re prattling on every two seconds. Especially when you look like - like that.”
His face flushes a bit and he glances up at the ceiling, avoiding my eyes. Ah hah. Now this I can work with. Finally I’ve got something that’s going to provide a bit of entertainment.
“Like what?” I ask slyly, grinning as his face blooms red. Consider it payback for the abs.
“Like - like - distracting.”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” I murmur, biting my lower lip and brushing my knee against his.
“Ava, I swear -” Louis blurts out, scrambling away from me. “Stop it. You know exactly what I’m talking about, so stop.”
“Oh, come on. I’m bored!”
A mischievous grin flickers across his face, and I whimper a bit in fear - the look he’s got on now brings nothing but trouble. “You’re bored, are you? I know a way we can have some fun.”
“Don’t touch me,” I hiss, and he rolls his eyes.
“Oh, please. I’m just teasing. Try not to take everything so seriously.”
“Besides,” Louis says, kicking his legs up on the coffee table, “if I really wanted you, you would never be able to resist.”
He winks at me and I burst out into laughter, gasping at the ridiculousness of his statement. I don’t know how he does it, but somehow he always finds a way to make me laugh, be it through a cheesy attitude or silly expressions or whatever. Not really what I would have expected from him a year ago, but I guess I might have judged a little too quickly.
The strange thing, though, is that I can’t really tell if he’s being serious or not right now. Normally when someone says something like that, it’s fairly easy to tell that they’re joking. But he... I dunno. He doesn’t look like he’s kidding.
“Is that a fact?” I ask playfully, trying to gauge his reaction.
Dammit. Still can’t tell.
“Why don’t you prove it, then?”
The slight workings of a smile twitch up at the corners of his mouth and he leans back cockily, locking his hands behind his head. “I will. Tonight. You pick the girl, and I’ll have her falling all over me in five minutes flat.”
“Oh, please. Anybody could do that. I could do that.”
“Really? Is that a fact?” he mocks.
“Oh, yeah,” I tease back, and Louis laughs softly.
“All right. How about a bet, then? First one to - uh - I dunno, actually. What would be a good bet?”
“Umm... first one to get someone of else to kiss them?”
“Sounds fair. But you can’t tell the other person to do it.”
“All right. Agreed. And what do I get when I win?” I ask, trying not to smirk at the prospect. Of course I’m going to win; this’ll be so easy.
“If you win,” Louis corrects, “I’ll - I’ll - I dunno. I’ll pay your rent for the month, how about that? And whatever else you still owe on your flat, of course.”
“What? No, you can’t do that -”
“Yeah, actually, I can.”
“No, you can’t. It’s too expensive,” I say firmly. “I don’t need your help or your money or anything, okay? I’m just fine on my own. Always have been.”
“Yeah, because you’ve been doing just fine these past couple of days,” he spits back.
I recoil a bit and blink twice, feeling something twinge in my chest. His voice - it’s gone so icy in a matter of seconds. Like the way he used to be at school, all cold and guarded.
He’s turned back into that person I used to hate.
“I’m sorry,” Louis says quietly. “I didn’t mean to snap. I just... I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
“Shut me out.”
“Says the king of mistrust.”
“Yeah, well, I have my reasons.” His eyes shift downwards, searching over the carpet for God knows what.
“So do I.”
His fingers tap rhythmically against the coffee table, beating and pounding a steady pattern through the silence of our impasse. Right back to square one. Every time we get somewhere, we just snap back and have to start all over, like a rubber band that’s been stretched too far.
“Anyway, when I win, you have to take all my Saturday shifts for the next month,” Louis says calmly, but every word feels forced.
“No. We’re not doing this,” I reply just as coolly. “You can just forget about this whole stupid bet because I won’t let you offer to pay for my flat. That’s too much.”
Louis pushes off the sofa silently and paces over to the kitchen, where he grabs the stack of papers he’s been slaving over, then returns to the living room. My eyes skim across each page quickly as he pushes them into my hands, though I’m not quite sure what they’re supposed to be. Long columns of numbers labeled either “deduction” or “addition” run the length of each page, and after every new entry sits a total of funds. The closest guess I’ve got for the papers is a balance sheet, but for what, I’ve got no clue.
“Look at this, Ava,” he says quietly, taking the pages back and spreading them out on the coffee table. “I’ve been trying to figure out your financial situation for the past three hours. I’ve run figures and scenarios and tried everything, but for the life of me I cannot figure out why you don’t have enough money to cover it all. Every time I’ve tried this it always works out - barely, but still. Am I missing something? Do you make less than what I figured? Is your rent more? I just - I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense. I’m good with numbers, Ava. I understand this stuff. So why are you having these problems?”
Sighing, I prise the pen out of his hand and lean over the papers. Now that I know they’re for me, it all makes sense. He’s done well with his estimations of my salary and rent; I don’t know how, but all of his numbers are pretty accurate. And he’s right - it should work out. I should have a tiny bit of extra money at the end of the month according to his numbers. The thing is, though, that he doesn't know everything about me.
“You forgot something,” I murmur, gently scratching a -400 onto each sheet. “Now it doesn’t work out so well.”
“What’s that extra four hundred a month that you’re spending? Is it essential? I only took the absolute necessities into consideration -”
“Yes. It’s essential.”
Louis raises an eyebrow at me but doesn’t poke any further, choosing instead to lean back on the couch and kick his feet up again. “Right. Well, now it makes sense. But the thing is, you’ve got to pay this stuff back sometime. I don’t know your landlord, but it seems to me that he’s not going to let you just keep running up a bill. Someone’s got to pay for it, and clearly you can’t. So, please, please let me offer you this option. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“I already said you can’t do that - it’s too much money -”
“Don’t worry about it. You’re not going to win, so it doesn’t matter.” He smirks cockily and nudges my leg with his knee. “I just want to know that it was offered. For my own conscience, you know?”
I sigh and run one hand back through my hair loosely, letting my fingers slowly feather down to the tips. I guess it wouldn’t be totally horrible to let him do it if he’s got the money to spare and honestly wants to - I could just pay him back whenever I can. It wouldn’t be a favor; I wouldn’t be obligated to him. It would just be like a temporary loan. That could work.
“Fine. It’s a deal,” I agree. “And I’m not losing.”
“We’ll see,” Louis says. “Ready to put your sexiness to the test?”
“Yep. Let’s go.” He gets to his feet and offers a hand to haul me up as well, which I accept gratefully. Before I can get my bearings, however, there’s a pop and the world disappears into darkness.
Moments later we twist and turn back into reality in a grimy alleyway somewhere in the city. The dull yellow lights of the street flicker just to the left, where the alley opens up onto the sidewalk and traffic swarms by in a rush. I sniff a bit and wrinkle my nose in disgust as the smell of grease and gasoline overwhelms my senses - I never was one for the city life.
“You could have warned me,” I mutter in resentment, but Louis ignores me and tugs on my hand, leading me towards the sidewalk.
“It should be just down here,” he says above the roar of cars.
My eyes travel down the length of the street, and the place we’re bound for jumps out almost immediately. Only a short distance away on the corner sits a small townhouse with people milling about in front of it. Through the windows I can just make out flashing lights and the shadows of figures bobbing to the muted strains of music.
Louis shoves open the door confidently when we reach it, and as I step inside, I feel my nose involuntarily wrinkle in disgust again. The music throbs through the house, much louder than it was outside, pounding into my head mercilessly and vibrating through my chest. The entire place wreaks of alcohol - mostly cheap beer, although I do detect hints of vodka, rum, and... tequila? There’s definitely a keg in the back right-hand corner of the living room, though it’s rather difficult to see what with the giant masses of people swarming everywhere.
“Parker!” Louis shouts above the bass, waving at a guy standing across the room. “Come on, you.”
I squirm a bit as he tugs me through the grinding, hot sweaty clump of people and towards his friend, though Louis doesn’t seem to notice. Seriously, it’s like a rave in the middle of the floor, but once we make it through the centre of the crowd it gradually begins to thin out.
Parker Borden grins and raises his plastic cup in greeting as Louis and I approach, not looking a day older than when we graduated. Same slightly disheveled brown hair, same bright green eyes, same gorgeous smile. And no, I did not have a thing for him in seventh year. He didn’t even know I existed, so it would have been stupid to get heart palpitations every time he looked at me in Potions.
“Ava!” Parker exclaims happily, pulling me into a hug. “Is that you? It’s been so long!”
My face flushes slightly as it presses against his chest, but I definitely don’t get nervous or make sure to breathe in the smell of his dreamy cologne that I always loved so much. Nope. He’s not good looking at all and I totally didn’t daydream about this moment every day during seventh year.
“Wait,” Louis yells over the music as Parker (sadly) releases me, “you two know each other?”
“Mate, we were in the same year at school. How wouldn’t we know each other?”
I swear I see Louis’s face go a flaming red through the dim lights of the room, although I could be imagining it. I’d like to think he’s embarrassed about our first meeting, but knowing him, it’s unlikely. He doesn’t seem to get embarrassed about anything ever.
“He didn’t know who I was until about a month ago,” I say loudly, nudging Louis in the side playfully.
Parker lets out a bark of laughter and takes a swig of his drink. “Can’t say I’m surprised. You’re a right arse sometimes, Lou.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I’m a terrible person.”
“Seriously, though. Ava and I were potions partners during seventh year,” Parker goes on. I can’t help but notice how his hair is matted down a bit from sweat, though he’s probably buzzed enough that I doubt he cares.
“Wait,” Louis says again, laughing and glancing between Parker and I. “Ava was your partner? She’s the one you were always going on about? Bloody hell. I think I need a drink.”
“What? Why?” I ask in confusion, eyes darting between the pair of them.
Louis snickers and Parker glances away from me, clearing his throat. “You were always shit at potions, but I rather enjoyed watching you try.”
“Ew. Perv,” I mutter, crossing my arms over my chest, though I can’t help but let the corner of my mouth twitch up in happiness.
Louis laughs again, and as he does so a very pretty redhead walks past us, biting her lip at him as she saunters away. He follows her with his eyes, and Parker raises an eyebrow at him in apparent interest, saying nothing.
“Excuse me,” Louis mutters, and he immediately wanders off after the slut’s teeny shorts and exposed midriff.
Something twinges in my stomach, so I turn my back to him and Stupid Slut, choosing instead to survey the rest of the party. There’s really not much to see; when you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all. The clump of people we waded through to reach Parker takes up the vast majority of the house’s open space, though on the outskirts there are smaller groups of people and areas serving alcohol. It’s really nothing more than a hot, sweaty mass of drunken students dancing and spilling their drinks everywhere, seeping the place in even more liquor with each passing minute.
Yes, this is clearly the way I wanted to spend my Wednesday night.
“He’s a bad date, isn’t he?” Parker shouts above the music, nodding to Louis and Stupid Whorey Slut.
“He’s not my date,” I shout back. “I just got dragged along.”
“Ah.” Parker nods and takes a long chug of his drink, which I have now identified to be some of the cheap beer floating its way around the party. “So, how’d you two finally wind up meeting?”
“We work together.”
“You work at Gringotts?”
But before I can finish the word, some random bloke in a plain blue t-shirt shoves a plastic cup into my hand and forces himself between Parker and I. “You look thirsty,” he says loudly.
I wrinkle my nose for the third time tonight as I glance into the cup, which undoubtedly contains a member of the cheap beer family. “Uh, yeah. Sure. Thanks.”
“What are you studying?” Beer Guy asks, and I sigh, glancing over his shoulder at Parker.
“Actually, I’m not -”
“Ava!” My head snaps towards the sound of my name being shouted, and soon it’s quite clear who said it. Apparently Louis found the willpower to peel himself away from Stupid Whorey Slut Bitch for five seconds, seeing as he’s currently fuming back towards me. “Ava, no. Give me the cup.”
“Give. Me. The. Cup,” he says slowly, holding out one hand. “No alcohol, understand me? None. I don’t want you going home with whatever bloke gets you drunk enough.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I mutter, rolling my eyes and reluctantly giving up my drink.
“Good. Oh, and by the way,” he adds, locking gazes with Beer Guy, “she’s not interested.”
But my word is cut off again by Beer Guy stalking off and Louis sauntering back over towards his little slutty corner of the house, my cup still in his hand. And let me tell you something, he had no right to do that, the little - urgh. I am not just some toy that he can drag along to parties and control and - and - the nerve of him to drive off someone I was talking to when he gets to flirt with Stupid Whorey Slut Bitch Skank -
“What was that?” Parker murmurs, jerking me back to reality.
“It’s nothing. He’s just looking out for me, I suppose, and now he’s going back to Stupid Whorey Slut Bitch Skank.”
“Are you sure he’s not your date?” he asks in amusement, laughing into his cup as he takes another drink.
“Shut up, Parker. He’s not my boyfriend, he’s not my date, he’s not my anything. He’s not even my friend, all right?”
“Sure. Whatever you say. Just remember to invite me to the wedding.”
“I - fuck!” I exclaim, eyes narrowing in on Louis and Stupid Whorey Slut Bitch Skank, who apparently started snogging in the two seconds I looked away. “That - fuck. This is bullshit - he - he scared off my chance at winning - bloody cheater -”
“What are you talking about?”
“He - I - ugh!” I screech, stomping my foot against the ground in anger. It’s not fair - this was my bet to win, dammit -
“I believe she is referring to the fact that I just won a very important bet,” a voice says in my ear as Louis appears at my side and slides one hand around my waist. He uses his other hand to wave at Stupid Whorey Slut Bitch Skank with a single finger raised, using the universal sign for be back in a minute.
“You cheated,” I hiss through gritted teeth.
“I know you cheated.”
“I didn’t, Ava!”
“Hold up!” Parker shouts. “What was this bet, exactly?”
I huff in frustration and glare at Stupid Whorey Slut Bitch Skank, who I notice is holding my drink in her hand. “First one to get someone to snog them wins,” I mutter, shooting Stupid Whorey Slut Bitch Skank another scowl for good measure.
“Well, that was a stupid bet to take, wasn’t it?” Parker says lightly. “You’re never going to win against him.”
“Oi! I am attractive, thank you very much -”
“No, no, no. I know you are. It’s just, well, he’s part-Veela, isn’t he? Of course he’s going to win what with all that Veela shit he’s got going on -”
Wait. Hold up a second. Veela... what are those again? I remember talking about them in Defence, though I can’t quite remember exactly what they are. I think they’re humanoids or something -
“Veela?” I ask quietly. My eyes jump to the hand curling around my waist, though I can’t quite pinpoint why it’s suddenly making me feel very, very awkward.
“Thanks, Parker,” Louis mutters. “Thanks a lot.”
“Wait, she didn’t know? You didn’t know, Ava? How didn’t she know? Jesus, I’m sorry, Lou. I didn’t realise - I just thought she would know. Your friends do, don’t they? At least I do. And Chris does. Guess that’s not really a great sample size, come to think of it. I seriously thought she would know, though -”
As Parker rambles on, I tune him out and focus on why I’m suddenly so uncomfortable. All I can think about is how near Louis and I are, how our bodies are brushing against each other, how I’m letting myself get so close to him so fast.
Something’s not right. This isn’t right. It’s not me - none of this is me. I don’t do this. I don’t go to parties with the popular kids; I don’t joke around like old mates with Parker Borden. I keep to myself. I go to work, I come home, I sleep, and then I start all over the next day. That’s it. Unless I’m with Matt or Ian, I’m not like this. This isn’t right.
He’s messing with my head. That’s what those Veela things do to you, don’t they? They screw with your brain and entrance your mind and cloud your thoughts and - and -
“Don’t touch me,” I hiss, shoving Louis away from me and pushing through the crowd in a frantic search for the door.
The music pulses through my head, swirling and pounding until I can’t think straight anymore. God, I was so stupid - how could I not notice something was wrong? I thought I knew myself better than this; I thought I could tell if someone was messing with me. Am I really so hung up over Ian that I’d let myself get fucked with like that?
Cold air nips at my bare skin as I finally stumble out of the house and onto the sidewalk. I glance around in a daze, not quite sure what I’m looking for or where I’m trying to go. All I know is that I want out. I want to get away from him and - and - and fuck. So, so stupid -
“Ava, please -”
“Leave me alone!”
Across the street I can make out the shape of trees and a small area clear of buildings, which probably means it's some sort of park. I glance both ways quickly and then dart towards it as soon as there’s a break in the traffic, running frantically across the street, onto the grass, and away from the busy lights of the city.
“Ava, would you please -”
“God, why won’t you stop following me?” I shout, whipping around in anger and fuming back towards him heatedly.
Louis stands at the very edge of the park, right near the street, with his hands shoved into his pockets and his hair sticking up madly. Probably from Stupid Whorey Slut Bitch Skank running her hands through it -
“Would you please listen to -”
“I get it, all right? I’m just another stupid girl who fell for the eyes and the smile and the good looks and - and - forget it. Forget about me. I’m sure that’s what you were planning on doing anyway, right? Have a little fun with the stupid girl who’s so clearly hit rock bottom? Fuck with her head a little bit more because she’s already so fucked up that she’ll never be able to tell? Isn’t that right?”
“No, Ava, I swear -”
“Stop talking to me, stop following me - just - just - I hate you!”
My head throbs. Something aches in my chest. I’m only vaguely aware of the fact that the world feels hazy, shimmering and dancing on the outskirts of my vision while I struggle to breathe.
“Yeah. Of course you do.” Louis takes one step backwards, expression shifting instantly to a mask of cold indifference. “Sorry for being selfish and keeping you around. I’ll try to be more considerate next time.”
The iciness in his voice couldn’t be easier to hear. If I’ve ever had difficulty picking up on his sardonic nature, it’s gone now. There’s simply no doubting the bitterness coating every word, the sarcasm seeping through each sentence.
“You’re one hundred percent right, Ava. This was all just one elaborate plot because clearly I have nothing better to do than screw over some nobody who somehow manages to fuck up everything she touches. Really, it’s a wonder that Ian bloke lasted as long as he did. You’re a fucking mess.”
“Thanks for letting me know how you really feel before I let you play your little mind games any longer. God knows you’ve already messed with my head enough.”
“Your head?” I ask incredulously. My finger nails cut into my skin as I clench my hands into fists. “Your head?
“Just forget it,” Louis mutters. “I’m sure you will anyway, seeing as it doesn’t revolve around Ian.”
“Now hold up -”
“That’s how it works, isn’t it? You only think about Ian. You only care about Ian. It’s always Ian, Ian, Ian. Nobody else matters to you - not your family, not your friends, not -”
“Shut up, Lou-”
“I’m sick and tired of being his nice little replacement that you can use and play with and then forget about as soon as he comes calling again! I’m sick of it, Ava! You treat me like shit, you make me feel like shit - do you even realise? You yell at me, you scream at me, you tell me I’m a horrible person, you hate me, but as soon as you start missing Ian, oh, suddenly I’m the best person in the world. Louis, listen to me cry and be there for me and please make things better and I’m sick of it, Ava! I am not your toy, all right? I have feelings and thoughts and God I hate the fact that - that -”
“What? That what? Go ahead and say it. I dare you.”
“Just fucking say it!” I scream, and something shatters in my head. Or maybe it’s my chest. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I don’t know which way is up and I don’t know what’s real and I don’t know why but I can’t feel anything at all and everything is just numb.
“Fine, you want to hear it? I hate that you’re like all the others, Ava. I thought you were different. I really did. Guess you proved me wrong, huh?” Louis shakes his head and kicks at the grass with his shoe. “I’ll just go back to being alone now - I like it better like that anyway.”
That little thing in my head or my chest shatters again as he turns away and walks back towards the street, each step carrying him farther and farther out of my life. He thought I was different. What a joke. Here I was the one thinking I’d found someone who wanted to hang around for a while, but boy, was I wrong.
God, I’m just so stupid. I should have known better; I should’ve known someday he’d go and walk away. That’s what always happens, isn’t it? Nobody wants to deal with me and my worthless existence. I really should’ve known something was wrong when he stuck around for more than one night. Stupid, stupid, Ava -
“Why couldn’t you have just told me?” I choke out through a mixture of anger and hurt.
He stops midstride and stands still, only a few paces from the edge of the park. For a brief moment neither of us says a word, and I’m so terrified that he’s going to start moving again. His foot will hit the sidewalk and he’ll cross the street and disappear and I don’t want to be alone again.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I try again, steadying my voice a bit this time. “Why couldn’t you have told me instead of making me feel like a stupid slut who has no self-control? Why didn't you just tell me?”
“Because I’m a freak, Ava!” Louis yells suddenly. He turns to face me furiously, one hand balled into a fist at his side. “Why the hell would I want to tell you that? I’m a half-breed freak and that is nothing to go around proclaiming to the world!”
I take a few steps towards him and search his face for any hint of what game he’s playing now, but there is none. This is him being honest with me. Totally, completely honest. Maybe for the first time ever.
“A freak?” I ask quietly, and suddenly I just can’t be mad at him anymore. Not when I see him standing there, believing every word he’s just said.
“You heard me. A half-breed freak caught between species. I’m not - I’m not normal. I’m not like you. I’ll never be one hundred percent human.”
“That doesn’t make you a freak. Whoever told you otherwise was wrong.”
Louis shakes his head and takes a seat on a nearby bench, rubbing at his eyes tiredly. I settle down beside him on the bench and watch as he gazes blankly ahead, following the lines of people flowing out of the party with his eyes. All around us, kids are laughing and running around drunkenly, but that feels like a world away from where we are.
“It's not - it's not like what people think it is. When you learn about it - us - whatever - in school, everyone talks about how cool it must be, right? Good looks, natural charm - best thing ever. But it’s not. And nobody understands that.”
“No. There’s no point. You won’t get it. God, I’m going to kill Parker -”
“Hey,” I say, punching him lightly on the shoulder, “don’t pull that shit with me. I’m the master of the ‘no one understands me’ card, so don’t even think about trying it.”
“It’s just - it’s not fair!” Louis slams down a hand on the bench angrily, then curls his fingers around the edge of it tightly. “I didn’t ask for this. I don't fucking want it, either.”
“Well, money can’t buy everything,” I deadpan.
“Oh, shut it,” he mutters, glancing down at his hands, which have switched from throttling the bench to continuously rubbing against the fabric on his jeans. Honestly, if he’s not careful, he’s going to wear a hole in them. “I guess it is what it is. C’est la vie.”
A drunken shriek rings through the air as two girls nearby collapse into giggles onto the grass. I watch them for a few seconds, then lightly touch his hand to keep it from destroying the pair of jeans. Those things are bloody expensive; I recognise the brand.
Louis glances up at me in surprise, eyes searching all over mine curiously. I’m not quite sure what he’s looking for, but I guess he doesn’t find it, as his gaze quickly drops back down to the ground in disappointment.
“I hate this. I hate it,” he says quietly, shaking my hand off of his. His fingers go back to wearing down the denim on his jeans, so I just sigh and grab them again. It’s bad enough that he had to go spend all that money on the stupid things; I won’t let him ruin them and put it all to waste.
“Don’t say that. Please, please don’t say that,” I murmur, and he gives me a small half-smile. “I wasn’t upset earlier because I think you’re a freak, okay? I just - I wish I knew how much of this - of us, of our interactions - I wish I knew how much was real.”
“You and me both.”
That’s when something clicks in my head. And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. In fact, it fits perfectly. All the memories fly together in my mind, different bits and pieces from different days, but nonetheless fitting together like a puzzle.
“I’m not a relationship guy... I don’t date because - because - I - it’s - they -”
“Is that all you see when you look at me? His replacement? A quick fix?” he asks. I blink once and feel my breathing quicken subconsciously. I don’t know what the fuck is going on right now. I don’t know why he has such a hurt look on his face, and I don’t know why this is so damn complicated. I don’t know anything anymore.
“Besides, if I really wanted you, you would never be able to resist.”
“Oh my God,” I whisper. “That’s why, isn’t it? That’s why you don’t date. Oh my God, I’m so sorry - I - jeez. That’s awful. To never know when something’s real. I - I’m sorry.”
Louis shrugs and glances to his left, turning away from me to watch a group of drunk students play tag or something equally ridiculous on the grass. “It’s fine. Who wants a relationship, anyway? One night stands are fantastic, they really are. It’s not like I would want to talk to someone or get my life together or - whatever. It’s whatever.”
“Are you trying to convince me or you?” I ask quietly.
I know what he’s trying to do. He’s trying to act all manly and tough and pretend like he doesn’t care. I’ve seen guys do this before - Ian did, when we first started dating. He would always put up this shield to hide behind whenever things got too personal. Eventually that changed, but it took time. It takes time to trust someone.
“You know what?” Louis says suddenly. “I’m heading home, I’m falling onto my bed, and I’m going to sleep. If you still need a place to stay, my sofa is open. But this conversation is over, and we’re never talking about the subject again.”
There’s a pop and Louis disappears, vanishing into the darkness. I shut my eyes and loll my head over the back of the bench, trying to get my bearings. I can’t deal with this right now. He’s making me feel guilty and sorry for him and all kinds of things that I don’t want to think about. All I want to do is curl up into a ball and read Fifi LaFolle novels and eat junk food in my flat, but sadly, I can’t.
My eyes snap open as I hear someone settle down onto the bench next to me. It’s some bloke from the party; I recognise him from the corner of the house with the keg in it. He’s definitely smashed out of his mind, though to be honest, he seems like the type of guy who’s always smashed out of his mind, so this is probably just normal.
“Hey,” he says, nodding at me. A bit of his drink sloshes out of his cup and onto his shirt. How attractive. “You - you were at the party, weren’t you?”
I nod and scoot a little farther down the bench. I don’t like being around drunk people while I’m sober... They tend to make a mess. “I was.”
“I noticed. I don’ remember seein you around before. You a fresher?”
“No,” I reply shortly. My thigh bumps into the armrest as I continue to scoot away from Drunk Bloke. Guess the only option left is to up and walk away if I want to escape.
“Just askin. Don’ go gettin defensive. I wanted to talk to you, ya know, but you were alway hangin round with your boyfriend. Don’ see him here anymore, though.”
I sigh and look away, hoping to send the message that I’m not interested. This guy just needs to go away and sober up. Maybe then I’d give him a chance. As the situation currently stands, though, the only thing he’ll be leaving here tonight with is a nice shiny bruiser to his right eye.
“Was a matter?” he slurs. “Did ya have a fight? Trouble in paradise?”
“Please go away,” I mutter, but he ignores me.
“Aw, come on babe. I’m jus tryin to have a nice conversation with ya.”
“Listen, I’m sure you’re a very nice guy,” I say curtly, “and I’m flattered that you noticed me, but I’m just not interested. So if you don’t mind, I think I’ll go home now. Thanks for giving me the prod I needed.”
Shuddering with cold and disgust, I walk away from the bench and towards the street, where I hail a cab quickly. I blurt out Louis’s address and lean my head back against the seat, shutting my eyes and trying to get a hold of what’s going on right now.
I could’ve left with Drunk Bloke. I could’ve gone back to his place and had a bed to sleep in for the night. To be honest, that’s probably what I would’ve done two weeks ago. But now? Now I’m telling him off and going back to a place where I’ll have to sleep on a rather uncomfortable sofa with no possibility of, well, getting a good shag.
I’m just... sad. It’s tough, you know, letting go of someone who put you back together again. And no matter what Louis says, I won’t feel bad about still caring for Ian. He fixed me. He made me a better person. I won’t apologise for loving someone like that, even if I am trying to move on and let him live his life.
I never understood that when I was younger. People always said that if you love someone, you have to let them go. That never made sense to me; if two people were in love, why would being apart make things better? But now I get it. Sometimes, no matter how desperately you love someone, it’s just not meant to be. Sometimes it’s because of distance, sometimes it’s because you can’t put in the effort, and sometimes - sometimes it’s just complicated. Certain people are better off not being together. Ian is, at least. He’s better off without me.
Does that mean I’m better off without him?
No, a thousand times over. He’s probably the best thing that will ever happen to me, and I’m just letting him go. It’s killing me. Every day, every hour, every minute. It has been for eight months.
But that’s what you do when you love somebody - you put them before yourself. Always. And I know that I’m no good for him.
Isn’t that what Matt said? That I’m nothing but trouble? Not worth it?
He’s right. I’m not worth caring about. Never have been. Ask anyone who’s ever walked into my life. Ask them why they always walk right out. It’s a simple fact of nature, isn’t it? Take care not to touch Ava the freak. Get out before her wrecking ball of disaster swings into you. But then Ian showed up and - and someone finally cared. Fuck - no. Stop. There’s no point in thinking about this. God, I’m so stupid -
I wipe away the tears angrily and glance at the cab driver, who’s turned around in his seat to look at me. “Yes?” I ask shakily.
“Miss, we are here.”
“Oh. Right. Thank you,” I mutter, passing him the fare for the ride and scrambling out onto the sidewalk.
A random passerby bumps into me as I struggle to get my bearings and mumbles a hurried apology. The designer coat of the busy pedestrian moves off into the distance before swinging into a pair of golden doors, one of many that line the street. Another reminder that I don’t belong here. I don’t fit in. It’s not going to work - it’s never going to work. We’re from two different worlds, and - and -
Fuck. Why am I so stupid? What am I doing? This is wrong. It’s all wrong. I don’t belong here. I’ve got no idea what I’m doing with my life, a full-time job that isn’t nearly enough, a potential lawsuit if I can’t pay for my flat soon - I - I shouldn’t be here. This place is for people that have their lives together, who know what they’re doing, and I don’t belong. Ian’s mum, Matt, they were both right. I need to let go before things get even messier. It’ll make it easier in the long run.
But the thing is that I don’t really want to.
That’s why I push open the door to Louis’s flat and tread inside lightly. That’s why I toss my purse and jacket on his sofa like I own the place. Because I can’t let go just yet. I’m not ready to hurt again.
I knock softly on the bedroom door and then push it open, peering around the edge as I do so. Louis is sprawled out on his bed, one leg dangling over the side, and doesn’t glance up as I enter. He has a book in his hands that looks old and worn; creases cover the binding and the corners are all smushed up.
“You’re reading a book?” I inquire as I take a seat on the edge of the bed.
“I was just making an observation.”
“Then good job, Sherlock,” he mutters sarcastically.
I roll my eyes and gently prise the book from his grip. The pages are yellowed with age, and he’s clearly read through it many times - almost every spare inch of margin is marked up with questions, notes, or drawings in ink. Unfortunately, though, I can’t understand a word of it, seeing as everything’s written in French.
“What does it say?” I ask, sliding the book back to him and pointing at the title.
“Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. It’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”
He takes the book and flips back to the place he was before, about halfway through the novel, making no effort to take notice of me. I watch on silently for a few minutes, then crawl up next to him and lay my head down on a pillow.
“I believe I told you the sofa was open, not my bed,” he murmurs, turning another page.
“I’ll move. Eventually.”
“Could you move sooner rather than later?”
“Maybe.” I prop myself up on an elbow so we’re at the same eyelevel and stare at the page he’s reading. The words mean absolutely nothing to me. Every so often I’ll find something that looks similar to English, but other than that, it might as well be an alien script. “Can you read it to me?”
“Read it out loud for me.”
“It’s in French, Ava,” he says distractedly, turning another page. “You wouldn’t understand it.”
“I know, but I figure the quickest way to get sleepy is listening to you talk.”
“Wow, that wasn’t offensive at all.”
“Besides, I happen to think you sound extremely sexy when you speak French,” I say.
His eyes snap to mine immediately, and I have to laugh at the shocked expression on his face. “You look confused.”
“I am confused.”
“Because I think you just complimented me.”
“Oi!” I exclaim, smacking him on the chest. “I’m not a frigid bitch who hates everything about you, you know. I don’t find you completely repulsive.”
Louis rolls his eyes, but laughs and sets his book down. “So how sexy are we talking, here? Tattoo on my rib cage sexy, or just my usual level of sexiness?”
“Oh, about halfway I guess.”
“So you admit that I’m sexy?”
“Oh my God,” I huff, “just because I have a tendency to throw books at your head doesn’t mean that I think you’re hideous or anything. Honestly.”
“Relax. I’m just teasing you, Ava.”
Louis grins and looks over at me, eyes tracing over my face slowly and deliberately. It’s weird, though, because it’s not the usual way someone would look at you when they’re just teasing. No, it’s a different sort of look. It’s the ‘I really want to kiss you right now’ sort of look.
And that’s the sort of look that scares me.
Immediately, I drop back down to my side and curl up into a little ball next to him on the bed, careful to hide my face and, well, my lips. There shall be no kissing in this flat tonight. None. Do you hear me, Weasley?
...well, no, he doesn’t, but it’s still not happening. Not while I’m sober, at least.
Louis sighs and flips open to his bookmark, then clears his throat and begins to read, filling the air with strings of foreign words and phrases. And I dunno... it’s just sort of relaxing. There’s something about the language that’s so flowing, so smooth and fluid, that it slows down my breathing and calms my thoughts. For a few minutes, everything feels perfectly peaceful in the world.
As time ticks by, I can feel myself drifting off to sleep, but I don’t try to fight it. His words grow farther and farther away as I fall closer to slumber, and then suddenly they’re totally gone.
Wait. That doesn’t make sense. I’m not asleep yet, so he must have just stopped reading.
“Ava,” Louis says quietly. I can hear the French accent seeping through his voice - there’s a slight lilt to the end of my name, a stress that isn’t normally there. He’s obviously not thinking in English right now. “Ava, mon petit chou - oh, wait. English. I need English. Ava, are you awake?”
I’m too comfortable to respond, so I just mumble something incoherent and squish my face further into his pillow. He sighs and begins reading again, and I breathe in deeply through my nose, absorbing the scent of his pillow sham. It smells so good and sophisticated and I just want to smell it for ever and ever.
Wow. I’m a bit delirious from lack of sleep, aren’t I?
“Hey,” I murmur, flipping onto my back. “Thanks. You know, for everything.”
“De rien. N'hésitez pas à venir me voir.”
“Did you just say you’re welcome?”
“More or less.”
“How much more?” I mumble sleepily.
“Don’t worry about it. Go to sleep.”
I grab his face lazily with one hand and turn his head towards me so I can kiss him lightly, maybe lingering a bit longer than was strictly necessary. But hey, I’m tired. And when I’m tired, I take what I want, just like that honey badger thing Matt’s always going on about.
“You’re sweet,” I whisper, laying my head on his shoulder. “Now keep reading.”
He hesitates slightly but does as I ask, going back to murmuring his French words quietly. My fingers gently curl around the fabric of his t-shirt as I listen contentedly, although I don’t think he notices. Or maybe he does, because there’s a small momentary lapse in his speech. It’s so short that I barely notice it, but just long enough that I can tell he paused for half a second, maybe less.
And, you know, it’s just nice. To have someone being there beside me, feeling the gentle rise and fall of his chest, letting the vibrations of his voice carry over through our touch. The world stops moving so fast. Everything else feels so far away, and I can finally breathe again. For once I don’t feel so alone.
I smile slightly in happiness and curl my hand a bit tighter around his shirt, but as I do so his voice cuts off totally, leaving nothing but the sound of his breathing. The room lapses into silence, and I relax my grip slightly but never take my hand off of him.
“Ava?” Louis murmurs. “Ava, you awake?”
I’m too sleepy and comfortable to bother responding, so I don’t. He can think I’m asleep if he wants; it’s not like it’s a huge deal or anything. I won’t be awake for much longer, anyway.
He shifts a bit on the bed, and almost immediately my head falls off of his shoulder, landing heavily on the mattress. “What’re you doing?” I ask sleepily, glancing up at him in confusion.
“Just put your head on the pillow and go back to sleep.”
“I like using you as a pillow.”
Louis sighs and swings his legs off of the bed without a word. I peer at him curiously as he turns on the lamp sitting on his nightstand, then pads over to the light switch and flicks the main room light off.
“All right,” he mutters as he settles back down again. “But just to be clear, this is only because I feel bad for you. Don’t get used to it. And I don’t cuddle or do any of that shit. That’s relationship stuff.”
“Mmhm,” I mumble. His words are a bit blurry in my head. Like, I hear him, but it isn’t quite processing.
Rolling over, I snuggle against his side and rest my head on his chest, just below his shoulder. He sighs again and picks his book back up with one hand, curling the other gently around my waist as I wiggle a bit closer, breathing in deeply.
“Can you keep reading, please?”
And he does. He reads about Captain Nemo and the Nautilus and the submerged city of Atlantis and - wait. I shouldn’t know this. I shouldn’t understand a word he’s saying. What - why - huh?
“English,” I croak out. “You’re reading in English.”
“Indeed. Did you just realise this?”
“I thought you might enjoy it more if you actually understood what was going on,” Louis comments, setting his book down on the bed.
“I - yeah. Thanks.”
I squirm a bit and manage to lift my head up so I can give him a quick kiss, then return to snuggling position. Louis laughs quietly and looks down at me quizzically, lips parted in amusement.
“Is this a thing now?”
“What?” I ask sleepily.
“You kissing me every time you say thanks.”
“I dunno. Do I do that? I didn’t realise - well, yeah, sure. I guess. I don’t know. I’m tired, all right?”
“Hey, hey, hey. I’m not complaining,” he says defensively. “I was just wondering.”
“I - I’ll make sure not to do it anymore. Sorry.”
After that we don’t speak again. He doesn’t read out loud to me any more, just silently flicks through the pages while I shut my eyes in sleepy contentment. Eventually he flicks off the lamp and there we are, just the two of us, silently keeping still in the dark.
Come to think of it, he’s probably asleep. Or, if he’s not, he probably thinks I’m asleep. But I’m not. I can’t sleep. I’m tired, really tired, but my mind won’t shut off. It just keeps yapping and yapping and yapping. So, with a slight yawn I begin to absentmindedly trace patterns on his chest in an attempt to bore myself to sleep.
“Ava, what did I say about cuddling?” Louis murmurs in my ear.
“That you like it?” I offer weakly, and he snorts in response. “Okay, fine. But seeing as you’re awake, I - I want to ask you something. What -” I pause briefly and take a deep breath, but steel myself and continue onwards. “What do you really think of me?”
“First off, I know you’re trying to change the subject so you can continue with this cuddling nonsense,” he says, and I press my face against his shirt guilty. “Second, do you want me to tell you the truth?”
“No, I want you to lie to me,” I deadpan.
“Oi, I was just wondering. And if you want the truth... I don’t know you very well, and I’m not pretending to either. But I - I -”
“You what?” I ask softly as he rambles off incoherently.
Louis sighs and moves a bit on the bed, sliding a couple of inches away from me, effectively loosening my grip on his shirt. “I - um - I think - you - I - shit. Okay. I really - fuck. No, I can do this. I can.”
At this point, it sounds like he’s talking more to himself than he is to me, but to be honest, I don’t really mind. It’s... cute. Don’t tell him that, though. I dunno why, but I just think it’s kind of sweet when he gets all flustered. It makes him seem less... cold.
“Right. I - er - I really - dammit. Okay. Shit. Um -”
“Oh, just spit it out,” I say in exasperation. “I can handle it. Go ahead and be brutally honest.”
He lets out a short breath and quiets down for a few seconds, apparently lost in thought. “I think you’ve had a hard life. I think things have been really rough, especially recently, and a lot of times you just feel like giving up. But you don’t, because I know that you’re a lot stronger than you think you are. There. That’s what I think.”
“What, no kiss this time?”
“I thought you didn’t want me to.”
“Oh, no, I do. I was just -”
His voice cuts off as I kiss him gently, letting it linger and pulling away ever so slowly. It’s hard to see through the darkness, but I can just barely make out the shocked look on his face and the way his eyes trace over mine. His expression is one I recognise all too well now. In fact, it’s the one he had on the very first time he saw me.
Lust. Desire. Craving.
“I’m not stupid, Louis,” I whisper through the stillness. “I see the way you look at me.”
“What - what do you mean? I don’t -”
“Oh, come on. You told me as much when we met in the diner, remember?”
“I - wait, I’m not quite following -”
Louis’s words are lost again as I press my lips against his once more, only this time making sure not to do it quite as gently. The hand on his chest slowly slides up to his head, where I wind my fingers through his hair and tug at it as the kiss goes on.
“Shut up,” I growl before actually attempting to make him do it.
“Ava - shit - stop it - Ava, I’m serious -”
“Listen,” I huff in exasperation, “I’m pretty fucked up, okay? I’m psychologically damaged. Broken. You, on the other hand, are emotionally unavailable and, as far as I can tell, completely terrified of commitment. So why not?”
“What? Ava, I have no idea what you’re - oh. Oh. No, no, no, absolutely not - this has bad idea written all over it -”
I muffle his protests with another less than gentle kiss, and slowly he stops wriggling and kisses me back. Just as soon, though, I’m getting shoved away and forced to the other side of the bed.
“You - you - stop!” Louis chokes out as he springs off the bed and points at me accusingly. “This is why I wanted you on the sofa. And tell me, in what universe is this possibly a good idea? Huh? None, Ava! There is no parallel reality in which anything good could ever come of this -”
“Oh, that’s a laugh coming from you,” I shoot back, rolling my eyes.
“Yeah, well, I’ve matured.”
“Really? What about the other night when your sister walked in, huh?”
“I’ve matured,” he repeats stubbornly, retaking a seat on the bed.
“Listen, I -”
“Can I please just explain myself?” I ask softly. He sighs but doesn’t protest, so I assume that means it’s okay to carry on. “I literally cannot handle the thought of losing Ian. I just can’t. It hurts so much that I physically cannot handle it. That’s why whenever the thought of him comes up, whenever he pops into my head, I shove him out again by going out and having fun and losing my mind a bit. But the thing is, lately I haven’t done that. I haven’t gone to the bar, I haven’t been out with anyone, I’m staying sober, and - and it’s killing me. It’s killing me, Louis.”
“Come here. Sit next to me,” he says quietly, jerking his head towards the edge of the bed.
I follow his instructions and then glance down at my hands and bite my lip, chewing at it nervously. What I want - no, what I need - is my regular rebound. Whenever Ian’s on my mind, that’s what I do. Go out, pick a guy, have some fun. It keeps me from going insane; it keeps me distracted. But recently? Well, recently I haven’t had one.
It’s his fault that Ian’s been on my mind so much, anyway. Louis with his blonde hair and blue eyes and rich parents and fancy car and nice flat. And you know what? Now that I really think about things, both times I slept with him it was because I was thinking about Ian. I know it’s not healthy and I know it’s not right, but that’s how I am. That’s how I ease the pain a little bit. And that’s what I want to do right now.
“I’m going to guilt trip you,” I warn him, focusing all my attention on a little patch of the carpet beneath the window. “I’ll get my distraction one way or another. If it’s not you, I’ll just go to the bar. Which would you rather have?”
“Shut up, Ava,” Louis mutters. He runs one hand back through his hair distractedly, ruffling it up slightly in the back. “You shouldn’t be doing this. It’s not good for you.”
“Oh, give me a break, Mister Let’s Take a Shower Together,” I say under my breath, though I do make sure it’s loud enough for him to hear it.
“I’m serious. You could get hurt. I know the type of guys you’re talking about. They’re not good people.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Because I’m one of them.”
“Why not? It’s true. You know that as well as I do. How do you think I met Miss Let’s Take a Shower Together?”
“Wait... are you saying you met her at a bar?” I ask in mock shock, covering my heart with both hands. “And here I thought you met her at the cheeseburger factory.”
“Don’t kid with me, Ava. There’s no such thing as a cheeseburger factory.”
At his words I instantly dissolve into giggles and flop backwards onto the bed, stomach aching with laughter. Louis glances over his shoulder at me, smiling slightly, and for a second - just one second - I think I see something strange in his expression. I can’t quite place it, but whatever it is, I like it.
“Come here,” I whisper, crooking my finger at him. Louis leans over me curiously, so I prop myself up on one elbow and use my other hand to gently wind itself through his hair.
“Ava,” he murmurs. Our faces are just barely apart now, separated by a few inches at most. “Ava, you’re turning me into a very bad person.”
“Mmhm. Because all I can think about is doing things to you that I really should not be thinking about.”
“Is that so?”
“I - I - fuck. No. This is a bad idea -”
I yank his head towards me and kiss the words right off of his lips, shutting the idiot up as roughly as I can. If I have anything to say about it, those’ll be the very last words he says tonight.
“Dammit, Ava - shit - stop -”
My hand tugs on his hair and he goes silent again, but this time I don’t even have to do anything. It’s all him now. It’s him doing the kissing, it’s him pushing me back onto the bed, it’s him sliding his hands over my waist, down my leg -
“I’m not a good guy, Ava,” he breathes between kisses. “You’re not thinking clearly and you’re upset and heartbroken and all kinds of screwed up and I really should not be doing this. I shouldn’t. It’s not right. And I shouldn’t want you right now, but I do. God, I do.”
“Good,” I whisper back, and that’s where the conversation ends.
No more talking. No more guilt. No more Ian.
You know, I think I like my life.
A/N: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Vingt mille lieues sous les mers) is a novel written by Jules Verne and is part of public domain. Needless to say, I am not Jules Verne. Jules Verne is dead.
Anyway, thoughts on Parker? All the Ava/Louis moments?
Mon Dieu = My God
C'est la vie. = That's life.
Mon petit chou = my little cabbage (literally), but in English we would translate it along the lines of "sweetie" or some other term of endearment.
De rien. N'hésitez pas à venir me voir. = You're welcome. Never hesitate to come and see me.
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