Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Relationships: Katie Bell/Marcus Flint
Series: Part 1 of Happy Christmas Collection
Summary: After being apart for nearly a year, Katie pays Marcus a visit.
Written for mini_fest 2016
The small cottage was a beacon of light and life in the otherwise dark and seemingly deserted Welsh countryside. Christmas was not something the inhabitant of the house, Marcus Flint, had expected to celebrate this year. But since so many things had drastically changed in his life almost a year ago, he had lacked the strength to argue with his mother or resist her teary pleas. So, to get her off his back, he had given her a free rein to do as she pleased as long she didn't bother him.
Elisabeth Flint didn't need to be told twice, and before Marcus could change his mind, she'd gone to work. Within an hour of agreeing, an exuberantly decorated Christmas tree had appeared in his living room, the number of packages underneath growing with each passing day. Although he hadn't dared to say it aloud in fear that she'd take it as a sign that there wasn't enough, Marcus couldn't help wondering if there was any money left in his father's vault.
It hadn't stopped with the tree and the gifts. Holly and garlands covered the house from top to bottom and the bright lights woven into the fence work outside could be seen from the small village several miles away. Most of the doorways inside had been booby-trapped with mistletoe, just for fun and giggles according to his mum, and numerous stockings in all sizes hung from the mantle to the point that it would be a fire hazard to light the hearth. Then there was the ungodly amount of food that had appeared on his kitchen counter tops earlier that day. It was enough to feed a small army for a few days. By the time the realisation had set in that many more guests than he had initially agreed to would disturb his self-imposed seclusion, it had been too late to object.
However, as he sat at the head of the table watching his family and friends enjoying the night, he was glad that he had allowed himself to be talked into this gathering. Still, it wasn't the grown-ups on either side of the table that had brought a smile to his face. No, it was his almost one-year-old son, Julius, to his left, who was laughing and clapping along with everyone else. Although no one could take him out his father's sight without the little tyke demonstrating how healthy his lungs were, he basked in the abundance of attention the guests were all too willing to give him. For the first time since his mother had begun nagging him, Marcus had to admit that she was right; Julius deserved more than a solitary life with him. Maybe, it was time for them to return to the life he had willingly left last year.
For Julius' sake, of course. He couldn't care less about resuming his previous life.
"C'mon on, love, one drink won't hurt," Aunt Bertha insisted as she leant over Marcus' shoulder to pour wine into his glass. The older woman clearly had her fair share already. Her words came out slurred, and she barely managed to stay upright.
"Maybe later." Marcus covered his glass with his hand, smiling and winking at Julius who had turned in his high chair to study the woman with a sceptical look.
"C'mon, darling. Just half a glass," Bertha insisted.
"S'alright, I'll have one after I've put him to bed."
"Oh pish posh, he won't mind. Will you little bugger?" Bertha tried to pinch Julius' cheek, which earned her an outraged, high pitched 'no!' and flailing arms. She merely rolled her eyes and waved her hand in dismissal. Seeing Marcus fuss over the boy to console him, she roughly grabbed her nephew's shoulder and shoved the bottle in his face. "Have a drink, sweetheart, you're too uptight."
"I'm fine, Auntie," Marcus brushed her off as he shot his mother a look to get the old hag of his back.
"No, you're not-"
"Bea, leave him alone," Graham Flint warned his sister from the other end of the table. His voice was hard and had an edge to it that demanded immediate obedience.
Marcus flinched, remembering the tone of voice from his younger, more petulant years. Although the surrounding conversations continued, wary eyes darted between the two ends of the table, unsure what to make of it. He wanted to lighten the mood and joke that he was too old to be pulled over his father's knee, but Aunt Bertha didn't give him a chance. Being the only one not impressed by her commanding brother, she huffed and puffed and took a long swig from the bottle before she pointed a crooked finger at Graham.
"Leave him alone? Why? Merlin's left tit, man, the boy needs to lighten up. Stop coddling him. You'd think that he's the only one whose wife-"
"Don't say it," Graham warned her again as he abruptly stood up, making his chair topple over behind him.
It was too late, though. Bertha may not have said the words aloud, but everyone at the table knew what she meant. The happy chatter and laughter from moments earlier died down, shifting the atmosphere from warm to cold. Just like his friends and family on either side of the table, Marcus sat frozen in his chair, his gaze fixed on his son. Blood drummed in his ears at the, albeit barely, mention of her.
"Dada, up." Julius, sensing the change in the air, lifted his arms to Marcus, demanding to be picked up. When that didn't happen fast enough for his liking, he began whimpering, quietly at first and growing more urgent as the seconds ticked away.
By the time Marcus remembered to blink and console Julius, his mother had scooped him up into her arms, cradling the squirming boy close to her chest. He didn't reach out to either. His gaze was fixed on the empty high chair with bread crumbs on the seat as he tried to slow down his racing mind. Somewhere in the distance, his mother spoke, but he couldn't make out what she was saying. All he could think about was her, his wife and the mother of his son, and how she'd chosen to leave them.
"We need more wood for the fire," said Elisabeth. "Why don't you grab a few logs from the shed before the fire goes out? We'll- we'll sort things in here, yeah?"
Marcus blinked owlishly as his mother's words finally found a way to break through the bad memories and anger that threatened to overtake. "It's fine, Mum. I'm alright."
"Listen to your mother, son," Graham ordered, stern but kind. "Go outside, take a breather."
Marcus tore his eyes of Julius' empty chair. He forced a smile on his face, ready to assure his guests and tell them to go on with their night. His mouth opened, but nothing came out. All eyes were on him, pitiful and apologetic. Any minute now, they'd topple over each other to pride him on his strength and remind him that in time, all would be well again. Hugs and gentle shoulder claps accompanied by whispered ‘I’m here for you’ would follow.
The prime reason to block his friends and most of his family in the first place had been to avoid those looks and false consolations. He'd seen and heard it all, and unlike what others claimed, it didn't help nor did it give him strength. It only made him more miserable, unable to move on from her betrayal.
Swallowing slowly, he nodded. "Yeah, a few logs from the shed. I'll- I'll go and get them."
He turned on his heels and stomped out before Julius' sobs made him change his mind.
His father was right; a bit of fresh air should help him clear his head.
*****Marcus sat on the stone steps leading up to the cottage's kitchen door, unaffected by the cold or the snowflakes dancing around him. He was too angry to go inside and risk saying things he'd later come to regret in the morning. He just wanted it to end, all of it. This night, his misery, and gut-wrenching feeling of his world falling apart at the slightest mention of her.
"A year now in four weeks' time," he muttered as he stared at the dead rose bushes. They hadn't bloomed since she had left him. He should have got rid of them, set them on fire, and scattered the ashes. Make it as if they hadn't existed at all. Like her.
Or, he should keep them as a reminder of her betrayal.
Sighing deeply, he dropped his gaze to the snow-covered steps. The tightness in his chest grew stronger as the drumming in his ears increased. He should have never caved into his mother's wishes and have guests over. Having them here was just another reminder that life went on as if nothing had happened. He wasn't ready, not by a long shot, and as the snow covered the noses of his shoes, he wondered if he'd ever be. If it hadn't been for Julius, he would have drowned his sorrows in Firewhisky, waiting to die.
Then again, if it hadn't been for Julius, she would have been here with him. And that realisation alone made him feel more miserable than he already felt.
Marcus wasn't sure how long he sat there, but in the end, it was Julius' blood-curling screams inside that broke his reveries. Taking deep breaths, he prepared himself to go inside to comfort his son while he pretended all was fine, that he was fine. It was, after all, Christmas, a time to be jolly and all that rubbish. The least he could do was not to ruin his guests’ night with his moodiness.
Just as he stood up, his eyes fell on the slim figure standing not far from him. A shuddering breath escaped him as he fell back down. It couldn't be. She was gone, had been for almost a year now.
"Happy Christmas," Katie said as she shyly waved.
"No, no, no… you're not real," he whispered. "You can't be."
Certain that she was a figment of his imagination, Marcus screwed his eyes shut. Surely, she'd be gone once he'd open them again. However, delusions weren't supposed to make snow crunch under their soles. They were supposed to dissolve into thin air as soon their presence was challenged. He shook his head, wishing her gone, cursing every deity he could think of for playing tricks with him. It was of no use, though. A dry sob rose to his throat when the achingly familiar scent of roses washed over him as someone sat down next to him.
"Aren't you happy to see me?"
Marcus ignored her, muttering charms and hexes, anything to make her go away.
"Please, look at me."
A harsh 'no' was on his lips, but instead, he slowly opened his eyes and glanced at her. She was real, here, sitting next to him, dressed in the dark blue velvet dress he'd last seen her in. She looked so much different than his last memory of her. Her dark hair shone in the light falling through the window behind her. A rosy blush graced her cheeks. She appeared to be so much healthier and happier, eyes shining brightly, and that somehow gutted him more than he'd care to admit. Apparently, leaving her son and husband without a glance back had done her good.
"What are you doing here?" he asked gruffly when he found his voice.
Katie tried to put her hand on his balled fist on his knees, only for him to shrug her off. "I've come for you."
"For me? After all this time? Why?" Marcus hated how he sounded, too whiny, too desperate.
"Because you need me," was Katie's simple answer. She tried to touch his fist again, and breathed a sigh of relief when he allowed her this time. "Let me help you."
"Need you? Help?" Marcus' mirthless laugh died as soon as it started when he realised that he was closer to crying than laughing. "You're wrong. We don’t need you. You can go back to where you came from."
She merely smiled and rested her head on his shoulder, her cold hand moving to his chest to feel his heartbeat. "Is that why you're out here instead of in there?"
Marcus stayed quiet, his lips quivering as he fought against the tears pricking his eyes. He'd waited so long to hold her again, feel her warmth and smell her intoxicating scent. And now that she was here, all he could think was how cold her touch was and the gaping hole in his chest she'd left in her wake. When he was sure that he could keep his voice even, he quietly said, "You left us. I begged you not to go, and you still left us."
"I was at the end of my rope, love. I tried to hold on. I really did," she answered as she scooted closer, her arms around him tightening. "The decision for me to run short was made a long time ago."
Marcus snorted to hide his surging anger. He'd heard all before right after she'd left them. From his parents, her parents, their friends. Everyone had come up with nonsensical answers in their haste to console and explain the turn of events of that night. It hadn't helped then, and it sure as hell didn't help now. It didn't account for the unfairness of it all, the never-ending pain whenever he thought of her, which was every single minute of the day. How in Merlin's name was he supposed to explain to Julius that fate had decided to take the piss out of them?
"You couldn't stay then, but you're back now? Why?" he asked, his voice low as his throat constricted with sobs that wanted to escape. He averted his head, blinking away the tears pricking his eyes. He refused to cry over her. "Why didn't you come sooner? I needed you a year ago."
Katie put a cold hand on his cheek, forcing him to face her. "I couldn't, love. You needed time to learn and handle it on your own. Me hanging around wouldn't have helped, you know that. And you've done good, much better than you give yourself credit for. I'm so proud of what you've accomplished. But…"
"But what?" Marcus asked as he put his hand on hers on his cheek. For the briefest second, her earlier rosy cheeks turned ashen, like her lips. The light in her eyes seemed to die out as dark circles appeared underneath them. At that moment, she looked exactly like she had looked in the days before she had left him. Too sick, too tired, too weak to stand on her feet for longer than a few minutes. Another blink and the haunting image was gone again. Shaking his head in confusion at what he'd just seen, he pressed again, "What else?"
"You've come so far," Katie stated as she rubbed her thumb over his bottom lip. "But you need to let the others help you. You need to let go. Let go of the anger, love. There is no one to blame. Not me, not you, no one."
Marcus wanted to rebuff her and say that he wasn't angry, that he was over it, over her. What had happened, happened. It was all in the past; life still went on despite all that shite. But as soon as the urge to put on an indifferent façade had come, it disappeared. He would be lying, wouldn't he?
He was angry. Anger was good. Anger made him feel alive. Anger kept him from following in her footsteps.
"I don't know how," he admitted quietly. Tears he couldn't hold back any longer ran down his cheeks. He couldn't remember the last time he'd cried. To his great horror, he realised that he hadn't shed a single tear when Katie had left them for good. When he had buried her in the freezing ground. "It keeps me from breaking down because I don't know what to do without you. What am I supposed to do without you? Why did you have to leave us?"
"Oh, love, I never left," Katie said with a sigh as he broke down. She rested her head on his chest, listening to his steady heartbeat and gut-wrenching sobs. When he quietened down, she placed her hand over his heart.
"I'm right here," she whispered and then reached up, touching his temple. "And here, inside. As long as you stay angry, you won't see it clearly. Please let it go. You need to live your life to the fullest. For me, for Jules."
On cue, the little boy's cries cut through the silent night. With his cries, other sounds filtered through as well; Elisabeth singing a lullaby to calm him down, Graham and Bertha arguing, and an endless stream of silly noises the other guests made to distract Julius. It was as if an enchantment was broken.
With a sad smile, Katie wiped the tears from Marcus' cheeks. "You should go back inside. He's calling for you."
Marcus leant into her touch. His eyes fluttered when she reached up to brush her lips against his. "Come with me," he murmured, "He needs you, too. We need you."
"I can't. The others- I'm here for you, not them," she answered apologetically. Seeing his face fall, she reached up for another kiss and asked, "Why don't you bring him out to me? That ought to work."
"You'll be here when we get back?" Marcus asked. Seeing Katie nod, he jumped up and raced up the steps to the door. The excitement of having Julius finally meet his mum chased away the utter sadness and anger he had held on for so long. Just before he went inside, he turned around one more time to ensure that she was still there. Her bright smile took his breath away. "Please, don't leave us again."
*****Marcus rushed through the kitchen and into the living room, ignoring his father and aunt as they called out to him. He pushed Adrian and Terence out of his way as they walked up to him, worry written all over their faces. He ignored Johnson as she followed him, apologising for Bertha's big mouth as if it was her fault. He didn't stop when they asked, no, begged him to. He couldn't even if he'd wanted to; he was on a mission.
His mother stood by the fire, bouncing a hysterical Julius in her arms as she kept on singing. Without warning, Marcus marched up to her and snatched Julius from her. As if a switched had flipped, the little boy stopped his crying as he wrapped his arms around his neck, whimpering a little.
"Are you alright, son?" Elisabeth asked when she noticed Marcus looking around as if he was searching something.
"Perfect," Marcus murmured. His eye fell on a large knitted shawl on the back of Aunt Bertha's chair. It would have to do for now. He grabbed the colourful fabric and draped it around Julius, and as hastily as he'd stormed inside, he left once again.
Deep down, he'd known the moment she'd suggested getting Julius that she wouldn't be there when he got back. Maybe, that's why he wasn't all that surprised when he found the garden empty. There wasn't the faintest sign of Katie. The only evidence that someone had been there were his footsteps and the snow-free spot on the steps where he'd sat.
As sadness crept back in, accompanied by confusion and fear that he was losing his mind, Marcus slowly sat back down in his spot. He rocked back and forth. His breathing became ragged as he clutched onto his son. Had it been his imagination torturing him after all? Had it been someone's idea of a cruel prank? And that's when he saw it. The bare rose bushes were in full bloom. Melting snowflakes on the dark red petals glistened in the silvery moonlight.
"Ma-ma!" Julius squealed suddenly, twisting at his waist as he tried to reach for something.
Marcus didn't have to wonder for too long to figure what had got into his son when the familiar scent of roses filled the air again. Just like that, sadness filling his chest disappeared and memories of a happier time flashed before his eyes. Memories he tucked deep away in the dark crevasses of his mind because he'd known how to handle them. Slowly, his lips curled up into a smile as more and more images of his Katie danced before his eyes.
He understood what she meant now. As long as he had his memories of her, she'd be with them.
"Say Happy Christmas to Mummy," Marcus muttered as he rested his chin on top of Julius' head, who was laughing and babbling. And as they sat there like that, he was sure that he felt Katie's arms around them.
She had never left them.
*****Platform 9 ¾ was deserted save for the gleaming red locomotive on the rails and the young woman sitting on one of the iron wrought benches. She had her gaze fixed on the old clock hanging overhead, impatiently counting down the minutes until she wouldn't be alone any longer. She wasn't sure how long she'd been waiting. Sometimes, it felt as if she'd just got there and at other times, she could swear that it had been decades.
It didn't matter, though. The wait was almost over. She could sense it.
Her breath hitched in her throat when at the other end of the platform a figure appeared out of thin air. A man, by the looks of it. Old, hunched, with thinning hair as white as snow. He slowly shuffled towards her, hesitant at first but growing more confident with each step he took. As he came closer, his appearance changed. His back straightened and wrinkles in his face smoothed. The frail locks covering his scalp changed into those thick strands of black hair she loved to run her fingers through. By the time he reached her, he was the same man she'd left behind.
"My Marcus," she murmured as she slowly rose. She couldn't remember the last time her heart had beaten this erratically, making her feeling like a giddy teen seconds away from her first kiss.
"Have I kept you waiting, love?" he asked as he held out his hand to her.
Smiling, Katie nodded and wrapped her arms around his neck. Eager to feel him, taste his lips, make up for lost time. Maybe she was that giddy teen again. "I'm glad you did, one of us had to stay back. Jules- he'll be okay, won't he?"
"He'll be fine. He has been before."
"Twas different this time," she muttered as she rested her head on his chest. “I wasn’t there to make sure.”
Behind them, the not-quite-Hogwarts Express signalled the final call to board with its high-pitched whistle.
"Where to this time, then?" Marcus asked as two train tickets materialised in his hand. The gold print on the yellowed parchment was still too blurred to make out their new destination.
Katie took his hand and led him to train. She didn't know where they were going, didn't care either way. Never had. All she knew was that their time to board together had finally come.
"Our next great adventure. I promise to stick around a bit longer this time around."