darkhairedgirl: (the alliance will be hearing of this)
[personal profile] darkhairedgirl
Title: les cousins dangereux
Summary: Jazz, he’s learned, takes a long time to sound like yourself; happiness, he’s learned, requires a kind of willful ignorance.
Characters/Pairing(s): Albus Severus Potter/Dominique Weasley, Albus Severus Potter/Indira Goldstein; Teddy Lupin/Victoire Weasley, Rose Weasley/Scorpius Malfoy, other assorted Weasleys.
Word Count: 5808
Rating: PG-15
Warning(s): Alcohol, language, sexual situations, and cousincest – implications, nothing explicit.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter characters are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Notes: Written for a prompt left by [livejournal.com profile] nevrafire over at [livejournal.com profile] hprarefest's 2016 Fest. Thank you so, so much to my beta, [livejournal.com profile] nombrehetomado – I really couldn’t have gotten this to work without you! The title comes from the Arrested Development gag film of the same name, because lord, I just couldn’t resist.

Here is the problem Albus Severus Potter has with being related to someone part-Veela: even at a quarter, even at an eighth, the Veela blood still somehow manages to completely outshine all the faulty human traits that might make up the rest of their genetic structure. All the things that should make Dominique Weasley unattractive to him – the strong jaw from the Delacour side, the bony elbows and knees from the Weasley, her selfish nature and stubborn attitude and positively rotten temper – all seem to shift and blend until it very nearly kills him, how pretty she is, how sweet, how overwhelmingly charming.

Victoire is the brain in that house and Louis is the heart, but Dominique has always been the beauty of that part of the family: at thirteen she stopped boys clear in their tracks, at seventeen she could flip her hair and make them forget their own names. At twenty-six Dominique is beautiful in a way that makes Al’s palms sweat and his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth. The memory of her sunbathing at Shell Cottage follows him long after the summer is over, when Al is back to Auror training and she’s off studying fashion in Paris, her sea-green eyes and magnolia-white skin taking the place of his usual daydreams and late-night fantasies so that it twists him up inside, wakes him up in a cold, guilty sweat that makes his girlfriend eye him warily over the breakfast dishes.

“I can get you a potion for that,” Indira tells him gently. She knows how this works, there’s no shame in it – a lot of Aurors need help after tough cases, trainees sometimes even more so. They’re both twenty-three and work stressful, difficult jobs; he knows that he can ask her for help whenever he needs it, right?

Al just nods whenever she brings it up, promises to talk to his handler about his options, maybe doing a stress eval once they finish up with this round of Stealth and Tracking. He doesn’t know how to tell her that it isn’t the work that’s keeping him up at night.

Al heard Duke Ellington for the first time the summer he was fifteen, staying with Scorpius at the townhouse the Malfoys kept in London and sneaking out to Muggle bars and clubs, trying and ultimately failing to pass for sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, whatever would get them through the door. They slumped on the curb outside Lady Day’s once they realized their failure was absolute, settling to the ground with their arms around each other’s shoulders, trying to pinpoint their moment of defeat. Lady Day’s was old and dull by their standards: no neon or pulsing beats or hugely-muscled bouncers guarding the entrance, just the peeling red door set against the brick of the building, the chipped paint spelling out the name in the lone window’s frosted glass. It was late, the sky dark outside the halogen halo of the streetlamps; even in the city it smelled like rain.

They were just about to leave when he heard it, the door opening behind them and “Jeep’s Blues” blaring through the sudden empty space as a couple left the building, that fantastic flare of an entrance striking Al in the heart as sharp and as painful as any lightning bolt. He froze, hands cold on the pavement and his head snapped at attention toward the door, Scorpius and the street and the whole world around him tunneling down to nothing but the sound spilling out. There was a moment, then, barely a flicker of an instant, where I need to know this music melted into This music knows me, the thought disappearing as quickly as it came but still resonant and round, still humming away inside of Harry Potter’s youngest son.

This is where his education starts: he borrows records and tapes and fills the Common Room with Coltrane and Davis and Brubeck and Ella, Billie and Dinah and Nina and Bird. He listens and listens and listens until he knows it by heart, until he can hear himself inside the song.
Jazz, he learns, takes a long time to sound like yourself.

Happiness, he learns, requires a kind of willful ignorance.

Christmas is quickly becoming the only time his extended family can squeeze themselves into the same small rooms and even then Al is hardly there: he splits his time between Auror training and researching his Defense Against the Dark Arts MAGI, rugby practice with Scorpius and synagogue visits with Indira and her parents, Wednesday lunches with his mother and Sunday closing shifts at the Diagon branch of the Wheeze. He barely remembers lying down to sleep some nights, only aware that he’s even done it by waking up to Teddy tossing pillows and pens and shoes at his head, or Victoire complaining about his endlessly ringing alarm.

He doesn’t even register that Dominique is back in the country until Christmas Eve, their grandfather ushering her into the room while Al pulls out a chair for Indira at the dinner table. She has hair down to her waist and bags and bags of gifts for all of them, she is positively glowing with the happiness that comes from being home. She takes the seat across from him and he’s about to open his mouth and speak, only to be cut off by Molly’s fiancé pulling Dominique into a conversation about her travels. Teddy is already running through his favorite tricks – pig noses, duck lips, nails that grow into long, crazy curls – and Lily’s voice rises up from the end of the table, laughing with Aunt Audrey about something to do with her internship; James leans hard into Al’s space to talk to Uncle Charlie about the girl he’s seeing and under the table, Indira slides her hand over Al’s wrist and squeezes. He looks down, surprised, and when he meets her eyes she gives him a wink, an amused smile turning up the corner of her mouth.

This is the thing about holiday dinners with the Weasleys: at any given moment there are close to fifty people squeezed around a table meant for ten, talking and laughing and shouting over one another while his grandmother sets out the meal and his uncles pour the wine. Celestina Warbeck’s Christmas album caterwauls from another room and Al sitting right at the heart of the racket, happily claustrophobic, 400 plates of food on the table and the room literally fit to burst with his family, with noise, with love.

His grandfather carves the turkey and plates are passed around, and for the first time all night there’s enough of a lull where he gets to ask Dominique how she’s been. She smiles at him, all teeth, and speaks only of her job: “Fashion Week was dreadfully dull,” is her cheerful answer, heaping potatoes onto her dish while their grandmother watches on indulgently. “Paris is positively starving for innovation; I can’t wait to see what New York comes out with in the spring.”

Indira listens intently while Dominique goes on about Givenchy and McQueen, laughs right along with her when Al asks if Dominique knows these people personally. Indira listens and asks questions and almost in spite of it – the innocence, the normalcy – something unspoken still seems to tremble in the air around their part of the table; Al sits back, observing, trying to pinpoint the shift in the moment. He’s an Auror – he’s spent hours studying body language in his Criminality coursework, he should be able to decipher the meaning behind the tension in his cousin’s mouth and jaw, the heightened line of her neck.

His father stands up to make a toast and Indira stops mid-sentence, words trailing off to nothing as the champagne starts to pour itself, green glass bottles floating down the length of the table to fill their waiting glasses. Dominique meets his eyes across the table and there is something about the candlelight, something about the way she smiles, that makes his stomach drop. He moves his hand over the table to tap their drinks together and Dominique holds her glass against his for an extra beat: like it’s deliberate, like a kiss.

The paps have been tracking his progress since before he could even walk – Uncle George owled him some of the gossip rag headlines the week after he got Sorted, Potter “Badgers” Headmistress for Change of House screaming up from the newsprint in all-caps, a grainy photograph of Al and Scorpius on the Hogwarts grounds beneath it, the two of them identifiable only by Scorpius’s white-blond hair, the yellow ties around their necks. It’s all a part of being a Potter, he knows it is: part of being the son of the youngest Auror Head in half a century and one of the greatest Chasers to wear Harpy green, the son and nephew and grandson of war heroes more than a dozen times over. It’s all part of being a Potter, but God, that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

Al hides from the paparazzi, ignores the flashbulbs and ducks the questions, pays as little attention as he can to the constant running commentary on his family’s private lives that fills the pages of his sister’s copies of Amortentia and Teen Witch.

Dominique seeks out the cameras, puts herself in the limelight. She dances and models and struts down runways, decks herself out in silver and satin and lays out on beaches in Nice, stands on marble palazzos in Italy with her back to the railing, the Mediterranean a vibrant crystal green behind her that only seems to complement the red in her hair, the freckles on all that skin.

“I don’t know why you’d want to pose for them,” he said to her once. It was a different Christmas, the winter of his seventh year; Dominique had been living in France with her grandparents and came back to them all a foreign presence, untouchable in her crisp designer blouses and skirts, her Amortentia cover being passed around the living room. She spoke about her life in Paris like it embarrassed her, giving short, halting answers about fashion shoots and runways and what ridiculous bit of clothing she’d been asked to wear for what designer. Teddy kept quoting the accompanying article in increasingly lilting tones; exaggerating the tinge of French that had crept up hard into Dominique’s voice, theatrically overextending his vowels so that Molly and James kept bursting into fits of uncontrollable laughter.

“I don’t know why you’d want to pose for them,” Al said to her, and Dominique just leveled him with a steady look before she turned away, gathering up their plates to set the long oak table for dinner.

Hanukkah was early this year and the Goldsteins are spending Christmas Day the way they always do: Chinese takeaway and terrible movies on the telly, Indira and her sisters lounging around in their pajamas until well into the late afternoon. Al comes around after lunch, glitter still flaking off his clothes from the Pestering Pod Lily threw at him over breakfast and right onto Indira’s slippers when she opens the front door. She quirks an eyebrow at him before she lets him inside, sizing him up, checking the damage, but Indira knows better than to ask. With his family, it’s always better not to ask.

“Everyone went to the cinema,” she says, leading him by the hand up to her childhood bedroom. “I told them I don’t care about seeing Johnny Depp’s saggy arse, I just wanted to sleep.”

Al assumes that means something but pushes it out of his mind, excited at the prospect of going up to her bedroom with a free pass and feeling like a teenager for the third time in under a week. Indira locks the door once she ushers him inside, pushing him back onto the bed and immediately straddling his hips. He saw her just the night before but it still feels like forever ago: their schedules clash and struggle to match on even the most minor of weekends and evenings, and it is by pure, unadulterated luck that the break in her St. Mungo’s rotation and the break in his Auror training came at the exact same time this holiday season. Indira pulls her shirt over her head and sets to work on unbuttoning his, peeling it away from his shoulders as she kisses down his neck. Al drags his fingertips up and down the ladder of her ribcage and Indira laughs so hard he covers her mouth with his hand, remembering, almost too late, that there’s really no need for them to be quiet.

“It’s like we’re back at Hogwarts,” he says, almost apologetically. “I keep expecting your parents to burst through the door.”

She laughs. “I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t do this on holiday breaks.”

Indira’s bedroom is a postcard of who she was at seventeen: several Psyche Bannerjee and Bent-Winged Snitches posters do a very poor job of covering the rose-patterned wallpaper, and her overstuffed bookcase has statues of little winged ponies set in marching positions all along the top shelf. He sees very little of the smart, sophisticated MediWitch she’s become in the plastic stars Spellotaped to the ceiling, in the candy-striped bedspread they’re laid out upon. Indira moves off of him a bit, wriggling out of her pajama bottoms and tossing them onto the floor, and Al sits up against the headboard when she starts working on his belt, unable to look away from the deft way she unzips his Levis and pushes past the waistband of his boxers. He falls forward so that their foreheads press together, one hand over hers, the other resting heavy at the nape of her neck, and the scope of the world tunnels down to just the movement of her hand; the shape of her mouth as she licks her lips; her eyes, dark and intent.

Al is not in love with Indira Goldstein. She loves him, she’s said it, but saying it back only left him feeling like a liar afterwards: empty and awful, the king of all rats and shitty boyfriends. They’ve been friends for nine years and dating for two; she’s kind and patient and incredibly funny, gorgeous and brilliant and generous with her time, with her heart. Their conversations are easy and they’re compatible in bed and they continue to kick the arses of all their friends at Trivia down at the pub, when they can find the time in their schedules to go. Indira is the best person he knows and Al cares about her, cares deeply for her, and he’s sure that only makes it worse – that it makes him even more terrible than he already feels, sometimes, because he can’t find a way to feel the same as she does.

He tries to make it up to her: he is an exemplary boyfriend; all her friends tell him so. He goes to temple with her and her family and brings her dinner when her shifts run long, he remembers anniversaries and supports all her research and tries to take care of her whenever she needs help. He knows that they’re good for each other, good to each other, and that he should want to build a future with her, but he can’t. Whenever Al tries to think about his life five years from now, ten – with a MAGI and a job and a wife and maybe kids, a dog, a nice house – all the places where Indira should fit just fade at the edges of the fantasy, blurring like watercolors left out in the rain.

He’s close to finishing when he pulls away from her slightly, hand sliding up from her neck to fist in her hair. “I don’t deserve you,” Al says: panting, meaning it.

Indira only laughs again, and then covers his mouth with her own.

He’s eight to her eleven and they’re running underfoot at his father’s birthday party, the two of them streaking barefoot across the lawn with sparklers as their family plays music, tosses a Quaffle, cuts up cake. There are fairy lights all around the yard and they light up gold in the dark, rocking gently in the late July breeze as Uncle Bill turns up the Sonorus charm on the wireless, and Dominique grabs Al by both hands before he can get away from her.

“You’re my favorite,” she says, and she’s laughing as she does it, red frosting smearing over the corners of her mouth like a Chelsea grin; her nails dig into his wrists like talons as she spins him around, the two of them turning and turning and turning until he can’t see straight, until he feels like he’ll be sick, spinning faster and faster and faster, and when he looks at her again her eyes are black and her mouth is red, her mouth is red, and –

Al wakes up alone in his bed with a sharp, painful inhale, like he’s forgotten how to breathe. He lies awake in the dark for a long time, wishing he’d suffered through Divination like his sister. Maybe then he could figure out what the hell this even means.

Outside of her hair, Rose is his Uncle Ron’s mirror the way Al is his father’s: blue-eyed and long-nosed and blunt as a goddamn hammer, fond of chess and quick to shove her foot in her mouth. But she’s also responsible, and reliable, and a competent, capable adult in a way that Al, only three months older than she is, can never quite seem to manage.

It’s Rose who wants to organize a get-together for their cousins before the holiday break is over. It makes sense on paper: James is off for training with the Arrows at the end of January and Dominique is going back to France at the end of the week, Fred is leaving for a conference and Molly is getting married and even Lucy, eighteen years old but still the baby of the family, is heading off to Iceland with the Scamanders once her visa goes through. Why not get the Lucky Thirteen all together in one place? Why not go out and celebrate with just the kids, now that they’re old enough to do it without parental supervision? Why not?

Why not?

He meets Rose at her apartment for lunch on New Year’s Day to discuss the logistics and is unsurprised to find his best friend already there, Scorpius answering the door in nothing but pajama pants and Rosie’s hideous Cannons-orange bathrobe. Rose is fully-dressed and slicing tomatoes in the kitchen, putting together sandwiches with a glass of red wine at her elbow, and when Al takes a seat at the counter he is hit very suddenly with the realization that this is all he wants: red wine in the afternoon and Otis Redding on the radio, a person to share it with; something simple, something honest.

Rose does not let him wallow in these thoughts for long: “I was thinking the Leaky,” she says without even a hello, knife flashing sharp against the cutting board as she turns her attention to the lettuce. “We could rent out one of their private rooms and just go nuts. Hannah knows us – she knows we won’t trash the place too badly.”

“She also knows exactly what kind of trouble we are – remember when James spent that summer as her bar back? The Vipertooth Vodka? Thought she’d never speak to Dad again after what happened with that.”
Rose shrugs. “Fair enough. How about the Toadstone?”

Scorpius wrinkles his nose at the suggestion and Al agrees. “Too gross. I’m pretty sure they haven’t washed their glasses since 1987.”

It’s Scorpius who suggests it – Al and Rose have been busy bickering the merits of the Saturn Club versus the Nightcrawler versus the Silver Arrow Lounge and Scorpius, who up until this point has been setting up the table for their meal, gently takes the knife out of the hand Rose is waving it with and starts cutting the sandwiches for her, saying, “What about Lady Day’s?” in a voice as calm and collected as if he were commenting on the weather.

“No, really, what about Lady Day’s?” Scorpius says again, slicing the crusts off of Rose’s sandwich. “Al knows half the house band and the bartender’s pretty good. And it wouldn’t hurt to go somewhere with music that won’t leave you functionally deaf for three days, right? Or give you alcohol poisoning, like what happened at the Nightcrawler that one time.”

Rose blinks at him, still boggling at the easy loss of her knife. “I thought we agreed we wouldn’t mention my last birthday in polite company.”

“I wouldn’t call Al ‘polite company,’ Ro.”

“Of course he’s not, I’m just saying that –”

“You two realize that I can hear and understand you, right?” Al adds, and both Rose and Scorpius turn to look at Al at the same time. Scorpius has the decency to look guilty; Rose, on the other hand, looks at him like he is her much beloved, but not particularly bright, child.

“Of course we do,” Rose says, all business again. Scorpius refills everyone’s wine and Rose finishes hers, adding, “I can trust you to send out the owls, right?” in a such a way that Al knows she means I’m going to take care of everything, regardless of whether you actually try to help me or not.

“Sure,” Al says, “Sounds like a plan,” and then bites into his sandwich to keep from saying anything more.

Dominique comes by his apartment that night at Victoire’s insistence, forgetting the address but Apparating anyway, barreling in through the balcony door in a laughing flurry of scarves and shawls and kisses on cheeks – kisses, that is, for everyone but him.

“You could have Splinched yourself, you great loon,” Victoire scolds, but Dominique only dumps overfilled bags of sample clothes on their couch, snowflakes melting in her hair as she gives a paltry apology. Lily practically vaults over him to get first look and Al leans against the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest, watching his sister and his cousins sort through blouses and scarves, designer jeans, dresses and skirts and jackets in all sorts of patterns and pastels, bright colors he hasn’t seen outside of childhood picture books. Dominique presides over the exchange in an outfit that could double as a nun’s: a black dress with a knee-length skirt and a high neckline, a black cardigan, black leggings and boots; she looks nothing like she usually does, like she’s trying too hard to stay modest. Her hair is the only colorful part about her right now, spilling over her shoulders in such a way that it only accentuates her pale throat, the lovely line of her neck. Copper-red wisps catch the light as she holds up a skirt for Lily to try and Al swallows hard, leaving to get the mugs ready for tea when Victoire asks him to.

They migrate to the kitchen, Al setting himself next to Teddy at the table while Dominique perches herself on a free square of the countertop. Victoire puts the kettle on, ignoring the swing of her sister’s skinny coltish legs, complaining only when her knee-high boots tap hard and sharp against the new cabinets. Squeezed into the back corner, Al watches the path Domnique’s heels take while Roxanne and Lily and Molly and Lucy bicker over who-gets-what, Dom clicking her boots against the cabinet in a strange, almost rhythmic pattern until Teddy tells her to cut it out, she’ll scuff the boards. She sticks out her tongue at him, arrogantly arching an eyebrow. She doesn’t stop.

“Any new boyfriends, Dom?” Victoire asks, breaking up their friendly chatter with a wave of her wand, and as their teas float across the kitchen to their respective drinkers Dominique’s returning grin shows off the sharp points of her canines.

Dozens,” she laughs, tapping black-tipped nails against the countertop as she adds, “Andre wants to take me away from ‘ze ‘orrible sweatshop’ and put me up in his penthouse, and there is a dashing young sheik who is positively dying to cart me off to the desert and make me his sultana.”

“And there you are in the middle, forced to pick between them.” Al rolls his eyes and adds, deadpan, “What a sacrifice that must be.”

Teddy snorts and Dominique looks shaken, suddenly, as if she did not expect him to bite back. She glares at him, only him, as she slides off the counter. “Shows what you know,” she snaps, the coy, jokey tone from before completely gone. “Those are just the ones I’m telling you about.”

Dominique snatches up the bags and carries them off into Vic and Ted’s bedroom, dragging the girls behind her so that they can try on their gifts. The silence that follows feels like a vacuum: Al and Ted and Victoire filling the space but not really inhabiting it, the only noise coming from the running faucet as Victoire cleans the dishes, the sound of the others’ laughter floating through the wall. Victoire shares a pointed look with Teddy before she goes to follow them, and when she leaves Teddy lets out a long, deflated breath, leaning back so far in his chair that Al almost wonders if he’ll slide right out of it.

“What was that about?” Teddy asks, eyes sharp as he finds Al’s. “Did you guys have a fight or something the rest of us don’t know about?”

It takes all of Al’s Auror training to hide just how shaken he is by Teddy’s statement; he ignores him, tightening his grip on his mug of ginger lemon and swallowing it down despite the way the tea burns the back of his throat. He forgets, sometimes, that growing up the way they did only makes it harder to hide their feelings – they’re all far too close and know each other far too well to keep anything secret for long. The others might not know the truth, how deep this all runs, but they can still feel the tension, can still tell that something is wrong.

Al apologizes to Teddy and makes something up: a holiday hangover, stress at the Auror Office, not enough sleep. He skulks off to his bedroom before Teddy can ask him anything more and closes the door behind him, feeling frustrated and alone. There isn’t anyone he can talk about this with: not his parents or his siblings, not Scorpius, not Rose; there’s a hysterical half-second where he thinks of owling Indira, but he knows he can’t bother her right now, and especially not with this. He puts on Coltrane instead and sits on the floor, knees to his chest and his back to the side of his bed, feeling sullen and taciturn in a way he hasn’t since he was fifteen.

The door opens a little while later and he knows it’s her before she even walks into his bedroom; It’s her perfume, he tells himself, She always smells like roses, but even he knows that’s not the case. Dominique is slow to come to him, pausing at his bookcase to run her fingers over the spines, flip through the records he has on the lower shelves. John Coltrane plays “In a Sentimental Mood” and whether she knows it or not, that is exactly how Dominique makes Al feel: nostalgic, apologetic. She drapes herself over his bed like a sweater, moving across the mattress until she’s lying on her stomach behind him, but he doesn’t turn to face her. He can’t look her in the eye; he’s glad that he made his bed.

Dominique folds her elbows and rests her chin on her arm, quiet as she reaches out to slide her fingers through his hair, trying to get his attention. Al doesn’t move, liking too much the way her nails scrape lightly against his scalp.

“Don’t be mad at me, dummy,” she says, “I missed you,” and Al tilts his head against the mattress.

Al puts on I Put A Spell On You the next morning and immediately turns it off; he puts on My Funny Valentine and Back to Black and Kind of Blue and Twentysomething and A Love Supreme and can’t find a single song on any album, not a single one, that makes him feel anything other than like throwing all of his records right on out the window.

He’s sick of feeling the way he does.

He’s sick of the sound of himself.

Lady Day’s is dark on the outside and rosy-golden on the inside, brickwork walls wrapped around a hardwood dance floor, small tables and booths, a platform stage for the band. Victoire and Fred are talking politics at the bar and Molly and Teddy are laughing at them with the bartender; Hugo is burning up the dance floor with a vaguely familiar brunette and James won’t stop talking about his favorite Quidditch plays and Al is just fucking drunk, rolling the latest in an impressive series of gin and tonics between warm palms and trying not to lose sight of the one woman in a shifting sea of strangers he can still recognize.

He thought that drinking would help, and it did for a while, but it’s like each new glass is only making him feel like every feeling inside of his chest is getting bigger, like his sad, wasted heart is going to swell up and explode right out of him, and it's getting harder and harder to follow what James is saying about Wronski Feints when all he can do is wallow in thoughts he shouldn’t even be thinking. But for as much as he berates himself for it, Al cannot stop watching Dominique. She’s stuck at the bar, stopped by the crowd on her way back to their booth, and he watches as she closes her eyes and sways in time to the music, looking happier and more relaxed in that moment, alone in a bar, than Al thinks she’s been the entire time she’s been back in Britain.

On his other side, Rose and Lucy make noise about ducking outside for a cigarette and Al is on his feet before he’s even fully aware of the motion, any intention of following them lost once he crosses Dominique’s path. She laughs as he bumps into her, the vodka in her glass spilling over the edge, onto her fingers, but she doesn’t move to wipe it away. There is color high in her cheeks as she leans close to him, gripping his arm, and asks him if he knows the band’s newest song. It’s Billie Holiday, he tells her, “I Cover the Waterfront,” and the recording he has of it is sad and slow, Billie drunk and unsure, trembling over the notes. The singer here, her voice is rich and smooth, an unknowing counterpoint to the inebriated uncertainty Al feels at their strange sudden closeness, at the ease of which Dominique is touching him.

“Dance with me,” he says, full of courage he doesn’t feel, and Dominique glances back quickly at the table he’s just left. He knows without even looking that no one is paying attention to them; Roxanne is too busy trading sex tips with Lily, and Louis won’t stop flirting with the waiter. She sets her glass on the bar and agrees without saying anything, her hand warm in his as he leads them over to the floor, taking up space between the other couples swaying to the music. It’s innocent, that’s what he has to keep telling himself, one hand resting low at the small of her back, her body close and warm. It’s innocent.

The singer laments the loss of her lover and Dominique won’t meet his eyes and Al can’t stop himself from calling up the memory that twisted itself in his dream: Dominique in their grandparents’ garden, her hands grasped tight over his. That’s the only thing that was right, he thinks with a strange, dizzy sense of certainty; “You’re my favorite,” she said before she pulled him onto the grass, the two of them spinning and spinning and spinning so that everything in the world was dark and blurred except for her, never her, spinning so that Dominique was the only thing that was clear.

Dominique stumbles slightly in his arms and Al’s hand tightens at her back, pulling her straight. Dominique presses herself against him as she finds her balance and he can feel her ribs under his fingers, under the thin fabric of her dress. She presses her forehead against his shoulder and Al turns them slowly in a circle, holding her close and thinking of the Dominique from his childhood, wondering when everything changed.

The song ends and it takes an extra beat for them to part, Dominique turning her eyes up to his with a sphinxlike smile on her face as she thanks him for the dance. She smoothes her hands down over the front of his shirt, straightening his collar with unnecessary precision, and Al grips her hand with his, something real and tangible and still unsaid hanging in the air between them. Dominique holds his gaze and looks startled, almost shy, but when the music starts again she pushes past the moment, leaning up to kiss his cheek the way a sister would: soft and gentle, ultimately quick. Al still feels every second of it, the entire room narrowing down until there is only the breath caught in his throat, the softness of her lips, the smell of sweat and vodka and her perfume.

“That’s enough of that,” he says, a slight tremor in his voice as he backs away. He’s surprised that he can even speak. “Don’t want Indira to get jealous, eh? Or all those lucky blokes you’ve got lining up for you on the Continent.”

The room seems to crash into focus as Dominique steps away from him and Al tries to come back to his senses, her kiss still burning on his cheek even as he tries to make sense of the emotions flickering over her face. Relief seems to win out, washing over her entire body at the sharp break in the awkward tension, and Al is trying hard to realign himself with reality as he offers to buy her another drink. She accepts, quickly, a light in her eyes that wasn’t there when they were dancing, and Al is careful not to even brush against her as they make their way back to the bar.

Willful ignorance, he reminds himself, and then orders them both a gin and tonic.


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