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Chapter 14 : Colour-Coded and Perfect
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Despite the lack of sleep being out at the pub with Molly, Fitz managed to beat everyone to the pitch Monday morning. He felt rather triumphant about that, though it had taken three extremely strong cups of tea to make it happen.
He smiled at Molly when she arrived. Her hair was in a braid again today, the purple fading to red around her scalp. She smiled back, and he felt warm to his toes despite the chill morning air, because that wasn't the smile she gave everyone else. That smile was just for him.
Once Jinks finally arrived, late as usual, he set them running drills into the afternoon, ending the day with a five-a-side scrimmage match. The team seemed extremely cheerful about running to a draw with this after an hour's play.
“That was a good practice,” Sid remarked cheerfully as the Prides walked off the pitch, heading for the locker room.
“Yeah, you lot weren't as crap as you could've been,” Fitz agreed gruffly.
“Thanks for the rousing endorsement, Coach,” Beathan said, giving him a pat on the arm as she passed him.
“Play that way for the next three weeks, and maybe we'll beat the Falcons!” he called after them.
A few of them waved without turning, still walking off. He chuckled. They had played very well today, working as a team. The progress was encouraging.
He'd been spending most of his evenings in the labyrinthine underbelly of the Portree pitch, finding coaching notes, film reels, and game strategies in storage boxes and reading everything he could, learning how to be a coach. Maybe it was working.
Now if he could stop shouting at them, like Molly wanted. He didn't have a good grip on his temper. Flying to coach them made his shoulder ache, and that made his already short temper even shorter. He was still shouting, but they seemed to mind it less now, even Beathan.
Meghan McCormack was walking toward him as the last of the team went inside, and he didn't like the look on her face.
She must have heard about the brawl with Appleby.
He was thinking fast about how to explain it when she reached him. No one was around to overhear, but she waved her wand above her head to cast a muffling charm anyway. As soon as the faint buzzing from the charm began, she started yelling.
“Why the hell are you hanging round the pub kissing our only Keeper?”
Fitz's stomach dropped into his shoes. His mouth fell open, and it took a moment, blinking in shock, before he could close it again. “I...”
“What the hell were you thinking?” McCormack glanced over her shoulder as if she thought the team might be creeping back to try to listen in. “Have you lost your bloody mind? You know better than to fraternize with the team! Things are precarious enough with all these new players without you sleeping with them.”
“Who saw us?” he asked, unable to think of a defense. His brain felt sluggish, as if his body had stopped working.
“Does it matter?” She scowled at him. “Mariah Waldman came to me this morning and told me she'd seen you outside the pub with Weasley.”
Mariah. Goddamn her. Wrecking their marriage hadn't been enough, she had to find new ways to destroy his life.
He didn't have time to get angry about his ex-wife tattling, though, because McCormack was pacing back and forth in front of him, ranting. “You're insane if you thought this was acceptable behavior. You saw what happened when MacDougald and Gittins had a one-night stand.”
“We're not Beathan and Duff, that's not going to happen,” he began, but McCormack waved him into silence.
“I don't want to hear it. You bloody well get your jollies on somewhere else. There are plenty of women on this island that you can sleep with. Don't sleep with the goddamn team!”
“I'm not getting my jollies on,” Fitz said quietly, rubbing a hand over his face. “I love her.”
McCormack looked taken aback. It took her a moment to respond, and when she did, her tone had changed. Shock had replaced her anger. “I had no idea there was a real relationship starting there. I thought it was just sex. But you've already got one ex-wife on the team, Fitz.”
That was hardly his fault. If it had been up to him, he never would have hired Mariah to play for them. Comparing the two women seemed the height of unfairness to him, though, and he tried to defend Molly. “She's not going to be my next ex-wife. Look, it's only me getting caught up in feelings, Molly is just having a good time. I'm the one that might mess things up for the team, not her. She can keep her head together no matter what, you know her. It's not going to be like Beathan and Duff.”
McCormack didn't look convinced. She was frowning at him, her eyes narrowed. Fitz had a sudden jolt of fear that she was really going to sack someone over this. Last night he'd had an epiphany while kissing Molly that he'd rather have her than his job, but he didn't know if she felt the same. Somehow he didn't think McCormack would wait while he went and asked. And dammit, Molly was talented. She ought to use that talent. It was better that he was the one fired instead of her.
But... In the cold light of day, faced with the decision between Molly and his job, uncertain of her feelings, he was afraid. If he screwed up with this job, would anyone in the League offer him another? If he gave up coaching to be with Molly, would she still want him later on, or would things fizzle out and leave him stuck with nothing?
If, if, if. He wasn't sure he wanted to take the chance.
“I'm sorry,” he added, managing to sound perfectly sincere, though he wasn't sorry for any of the time he'd spent with Molly. “I'll resign if you think that's what's best. But don't sack Molly. She deserves to play. She's a first-rate Keeper.”
McCormack was silent for a few moments, contemplating him with her brows knit together. “No,” she said eventually. “I'm not replacing you as coach. The team's finally coming together, we've got a few wins under our belts and it's looking good for Falmouth. You have a contract, and so does Molly. You can damn well finish out the season at the very least. Just put a stop to this, all right? It can't go on while you're coach. There's too much at stake here.”
Fitz's stomach sank into his shoes. He was going to have to break things off with Molly. He didn't want to think about a future where he saw Molly nearly every day and never got to kiss her again, but that future was staring him in the face.
He'd already had to face one terrible future with the injury to his shoulder, and he was surviving it somehow. He'd survive this somehow too. At least she wouldn't have her career destroyed. She was going to be brilliant, and he knew how terrible it was to have a brilliant career taken away. Molly should play.
“It's for the best,” he said aloud. “We want a winning season.”
“Of course we do.”
McCormack was watching him as he turned and walked off, and if he didn't know better, he'd think her expression had turned thoughtful.
It was better to get it over with immediately, he reckoned. The locker room was empty, so he Apparated to Molly's house to talk to her. He didn't know what to say, and hoped something would occur to him when he got there.
She answered the door with her hair still damp from showering after practice, wearing a loose black sleeveless top and her usual skin-tight black trousers. This pair laced up the sides, showing a narrow line of freckled flesh down her legs.
This did not help his brain to come up with something to say.
“Oi, you,” she said when she saw him, giving him a sunny smile. “Good day today, wasn't it?”
He smiled back without thinking, because she was so beautiful and she looked so happy, and his heart squeezed just looking at her.
“Come on in, sit down.” She waved him over to the couch.
The coffee table that normally was cleared for use in card games at her parties had several books on Quidditch stacked neatly in the center of it now, and he focused on those as he sat down. The one on top was about the history of the Holyhead Harpies.
He wondered if she missed her old team. If she was still with the Harpies, he could have dated her. But then, if she was still with the Harpies, he never would have got to know her. They'd played in the same League for years without ever meeting. She was a good Keeper. She deserved to move up off the benches and be a star player.
Ifs again. Goddammit.
“You look a bit odd,” Molly observed, sitting down beside him. “Is everything all right?”
She put a hand on his arm, and he shot to his feet at the contact. If he touched her now, he'd never be able to break things off.
“D'you want something to drink?” she asked, concerned.
She gave him a wary look and got up to go to the kitchen. He walked through the living room, looking at her spare furniture and décor, hoping for inspiration to land on him. He didn't know what to say to her, how to end things when he didn't want it to end.
He stopped in front of her shelf of family photographs and smiled despite his dour mood at the images of her at various ages with her cousins and her parents. There really were about a hundred of them. One photo drew his gaze. One man looked so much like her that he must be her father, standing next to another tall red-haired man, but it was hard to see a resemblance between the two of them. The other man's face was torn and scarred, as if the claws of a large animal had raked across his skin, tearing flesh and leaving a mountainous topography behind. Fitz did his best not to show his horror on his expression. He'd never seen scars like that before.
“That's my uncle Bill,” said Molly from behind him, and Fitz drew back quickly, embarrassed to be caught staring. “He was mauled by a werewolf while fighting to defeat Lord Voldemort.”
Fitz's eyes widened. “I didn't-”
“Do you really think you're the first one to stare at Uncle Bill?” Molly smiled a bit as she set a glass on the coffee table. “We've all learned to explain his scars. It makes things easier when people know he's a hero, not a monster. He just has some scars.”
Not like Fitz's own scars, then. They were nothing on the order of Bill Weasley's, and could be hidden under his clothes. Bill's were there for the world to see, all the time, horrific and frightening. And Fitz had nothing like as heroic a reason for his scars. It gave him an uncomfortable feeling. “Did he have residual effects? He's not a werewolf, is he?”
“No, he's not, and any scars that deep leave their mark, don't they?” She gave him a look that stated clearly she was including his own scars. “He likes his steaks practically still mooing, but that's about it.”
Fitz glanced back at the photo. “And that's your dad, isn't it?” She nodded, and he asked, “Did he look like your dad? Before?”
“Mostly. All my dad's brothers resemble him to some degree. Uncle Bill was handsome. Probably the best-looking of the lot of them. I've only seen photos, of course. It happened before I was born. Here,” she added, plucking a photo from the shelf of an extremely beautiful blonde woman holding a red-haired little girl. “That's his wife, my aunt Fleur. And that's me when I was seven, on her lap.”
She was so close to her family. He wished he had that. He saw his parents a few times a year, and they loved each other as best he knew how, but they weren't really close. He didn't know how to be a part of a family like Molly's.
Fitz set the photo down. It didn't matter, because their relationship wasn't going that far.
“McCormack came to see me,” he said.
Molly nodded, her expression concerned now. “Yeah, I saw her as we were headed for the showers. She looked pissed. Did she find out about the Appleby pub brawl?”
“She found out about us,” he told her dully.
Molly's face drained of colour. “Oh, my God.”
“Neither of us is sacked,” he assured her. “But it's time we stop this.”
“What did she say?” Molly demanded. “The League doesn't have anti-fraternization policies-”
“No, it's up to each team to set those.”
“Portree has nothing on the books.”
She'd probably looked it up, knowing Molly and her love of orderliness. She would want to make sure they weren't officially breaking a rule. Head Girl and all that. Molly was a rule-follower. But knowing that McCormack would disapprove hadn't stopped her...
“It doesn't matter,” Fitz said. “We needed to end this anyway.”
She looked hurt and a little confused. He hadn't really expected that, nor how much her pain would affect him. He didn't want to see her expression, so he turned back to the photo of her uncle and his heroic scars.
“It was time,” he went on, his voice sounding rough even to his own ears. “Past time, and we both knew it.”
“Last night you told me you needed me, and now you're saying it's past time to break things off?” She sounded angry. “Bit of an about-face. You got in trouble and now it's over between us?”
He kept his back turned to her so she wouldn't see his eyes. “I thought that would make it over for you.”
“No,” she said stubbornly. “It's not over.”
“Molly, we were having a good time, but it was only a good time. We knew if McCormack found out, we'd be in trouble. So, now she's found out, and it's time to put a stop to things.”
“It's not that simple.”
“It has to be.”
She came over to stand next to him, putting a hand on his arm. “Riordan. Why are you doing this?”
He shrugged her off. “It's done, Molly, there's nothing else to say.”
“It's not done,” she insisted. He should have known she'd come over all stubborn. “We are good together. We're good for each other.”
“Are we?” He turned to look at her, crossing his arms over his chest. His injured shoulder twinged at being pulled forward; his entire body felt tense and the damn arm was locking up. It made his already shortened temper feel ready to snap.
“But you said you don't feel angry when you're with me. And your shoulder is getting better, isn't it? With Hugo's Muggle therapy.” She sounded less certain now.
“Stop doing that,” he told her, sudden and sharp. The doubt he'd been feeling since he'd spoken to McCormack crystallized into something cold and hard inside him. “Stop trying to square me away! I'm not going to fit into your neat little boxes, colour-coded and perfect like you. You can't fix me, Molly.”
Molly looked as if she'd been kicked in the gut. “I-I'm not-”
“We knew we could never do this anyway, it just... It doesn't work.”
“It does. It works for me.”
“I'm a mess, Molly. You don't want that. My messed-up shoulder, my ex-wife, my tanked career, my temper, it's all a mess. You don't want all this. That's why you keep trying to fix me. I'll still be a mess and you won't want it. You like everything so perfect and neat and orderly. I'm not any of that.”
“That's not true,” she said, ashen-faced.
But it was true, and he knew deep down that she might want him now, but when his shoulder didn't heal, and the chronic pain was part of her daily life too, she wouldn't want him forever. Eventually she'd be done with all of his bad temper and messy life, and she would go back to her perfectly organized life, and it would hurt so much worse then than it did now. If she was inextricably linked with his life and soul, and she left him... He'd been divorced once, because he'd married the wrong woman, and it had damaged him deeper than he'd realized. Marrying the right woman and having her leave him would damage him beyond repair. It would break him.
McCormack was right. He never should have got involved with her.
“I can't do this,” he told her softly. “I never should have started anything with you when I knew it couldn't last.”
She closed her eyes, her face set in pain. “Don't- don't say any more. You've said enough. I thought... I thought this was...” Her voice trailed off, and she pointed to the door. "I think you should go. Now.”
“Molly,” he began. He hadn't known what to expect, but somehow it hadn't been this.
“Just go,” she said, her voice harsh.
Molly watched him as he skirted around her, careful not to let himself brush against her. She was holding onto her control with her fingernails. He wasn't saying anything now, but he wasn't looking at her either. She couldn't breathe. There was no air; the room was suffocating her.
Those things he'd said about her, it wasn't true, she wanted to scream. She wasn't fixing him so she could want him. She'd wanted him from the beginning. She'd wanted him when she already knew about his injury, his ex-wife, and when she'd already seen his bad temper. She didn't care. It was all still there, and she still wanted him.
But he didn't want her enough.
She couldn't breathe to tell him, though, and he was already walking away. He wouldn't listen, hadn't listened. Maybe he was right, then.
Maybe they'd never had anything real at all.
As he closed the door behind him, she covered her face with her hands, and as she finally drew a choked breath, half a sob, the glass tables all around her shattered.
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