I do not own BtVS or Harry Potter. Spoilers:
Harry Potter through Order of the Phoenix, BtVS through Season 1. Both will be AU after that. +++London, 1979
As Joyce walked down the darkened street, she hugged her coat to her body. It was useless, though. The damp London air managed to seep through the thick material anyway, chilling her to the bone.
Joyce sighed. Her last night of Spring Break was really turning out to be a major bummer – though, if she were honest with herself, even the nicest weather wouldn’t change things. Rain or shine, she would have to get on a plane tomorrow and get back to reality. To Hank.
She sighed again. Hank’s proposal shouldn’t have freaked her out like this, where she had to fly halfway around the world before she felt like she had enough room to breathe; she knew that. It should have been a no-brainer. She and Hank had been dating for over a year now, and he was a good guy with an incredible future. All her friends adored him. Even her parents thought he was solid. And he was. She was lucky to have him, and according to everyone on the planet, their children together would be little blonde angels.
It made Joyce want to puke. And then run for the hills. And then maybe puke again, just for good measure.
It wasn’t that she didn’t love Hank. She did – even though he could be so
uptight sometimes, especially now that he had decided to go pre-law. It was just that the thought of settling down terrified her. Though she had put some of her wilder teenage times behind her, part of her still felt craved adventure and... excitement.
That was why, while her girlfriends went to San Diego over break and Hank went off with his friends to Vegas, Joyce had come here to London, to focus on the only thing she was sure about; her love of art.
Over the course of the week, she had started at the National Gallery and worked her way down to the smallest gallery, and she had loved every minute of it. Each painting, each sculpture seemed to call to her, as if she stared at it long enough, it would reveal its secrets to her. They never did, of course, but that was part of the fun.
And now it’s all over, Joyce thought miserably.
Or was it?
As the familiar silhouette of her hotel came into view, Joyce impulsively veered sharply to the left down one of the smaller side streets. She had no specific destination in mind, not until she spotted the pub a few blocks later. Before she could talk herself out of it, she ducked inside.
The place was crowded. As Joyce stood in the doorway, she couldn’t see a single spot to sit. That didn’t stop her from pushing her way through the crowd toward the front of the bar, though. She was cold, it was her last night in London, and she was going to enjoy it if it killed her.
Soon, she was surrounded on all sides by the press of bodies, the smell of beer, and the sound of tipsy conversations – and among those, there wasn’t a single British accent. Between that and all the ‘Ye Olde’ signs everywhere, she guessed it was a tourist bar.
That made her pause. On the whole, tourist bars tended to be more expensive, and going to museums all week hadn’t been cheap. Just as she thought about leaving, though, she saw it; any empty spot on the far side of the bar counter.
Deciding it was a sign, Joyce quickly headed for the seat before it disappeared. It wasn’t until she was within a few steps of it that she realized why it was empty; sitting on the stool next to it was a guy.
Outwardly, there was no reason all the customers should have been avoiding him. He looked like he was about her age; not too hard on the eyes, either, with dark hair, grey eyes, and a lean, muscular build. Despite all this, though, there was something about him, something… dangerous in his eyes. It made someone think twice before getting too close.
Except for Joyce anyway.
It was no skin off her nose. Bad boys never scared her; in fact, it used to be just the opposite, before Hank. Besides, she was there for the drinks, not the company.
Without the slightest hesitation, she slid onto the empty stool to his left. He immediately looked over at her. Although his expression was blank, Joyce got the distinct impression he was willing her to move, which he probably was.
She took off her coat and gave him a sunny smile.
His jaw clenched in response, and for a minute, she thought he was going to tell her to take a hike. Instead, he simply went back to staring at the full shot glass sitting in front of him.
Joyce rolled her eyes. A small, perverse part of her wanted to needle the guy for being such a creep. Luckily for him, she wanted a drink more. When she looked down the bar, however, she saw that the bartender was busy with customers at the other end.
With a sigh, Joyce sat back in her chair and settled herself in for a wait.
Suddenly, there was a loud bang next to her, one that practically had her coming off her seat in surprise.
She spun around, ready to level her neighbor with a glare. She was sure that he had slammed his shot glass onto the counter like that on purpose, just to be rude. Then she got a look at his face.
He was staring at the shot glass like it had tried to poison him or something, his lips still curled up in a mixture of shock and disgust.
The giggle escaped before she could stop it.
Not surprisingly, he didn’t like this, and he turned around on his stool to face her, his eyes narrowed dangerously as his mouth twisted into a snarl.
Joyce was unimpressed. “You should be careful, or your face might freeze that way."
Instead of getting even angrier like she thought he would, his entire face went slack, as if he couldn’t believe she had spoken to him like that. Then he caught himself and spun back toward the bar, ignoring her again as he raised his hand to flag down the bartender.
To Joyce’s annoyance, especially considering her own failure, the bartender came over right away.
Then she realized why. As the bartender approached, her neighbor pulled out a fistful of cash. She watched in fascination as he fumbled with it for a few seconds, strangely clumsy with the bills, before he finally tossed a handful of crumpled notes on the counter in frustration; much more than a dozen drinks would cost, let alone one.
Then, though it clearly physically pained him to say so, he said, “Another whiskey.”
It was then, at the sound of his voice, that Joyce realized he was British.
“And what can I get you, love?”
Distracted, it took Joyce a minute to realize that the bartender was talking to her.
Embarrassed, she turned her attention toward the bartender as she tried to think of what she wanted to get – firmly ignoring the smirk she received from a certain someone.
She usually stuck with Strawberry Hill or screwdrivers, but this was her last night in London, so she wanted something more exciting.
“Gin and tonic, please.”
The bartender nodded and began getting their drinks.
Still feeling a little self-conscious, Joyce busied herself as she waited, pulling out her money to pay for her drink, making sure to put enough aside so that she could pay for a cab to the airport the next day.
When the bartender came back a minute later with both drinks in hand, Joyce put her money on the counter. Then she picked up her glass and immediately took a sip, giving a small shiver as the sharp bite of alcohol hit her taste buds. After a few more experimental sips, she decided that she liked it.
As she began drinking in earnest, she couldn’t help but look over to her right again.
She watched as the guy went through the exact same ritual as he had the first time; swallowing the whiskey as fast as he could, slamming the glass down in disgust, then staring at it as if he couldn’t believe something could really taste that awful.
Unlike last time, however, this last part didn’t last long. Instead, he swiveled around on his stool a second later and glared, like he was daring her to laugh again.
Joyce refused to take the bait. Besides, she felt a little bad about laughing before. The stuff really did taste terrible.
“I’m not a fan of whiskey, either,” she confided.
The dangerous edge in his eye vanished then, and though the glare remained, it was aimed at the glass and not her.
“When they said whiskey I thought... but this is revolting
,” he muttered, talking more to himself than to her.
Then he raised his hand for another drink.
Joyce rolled her eyes. Men could be so stupid sometimes.
“You know, you could try something that goes down a little easier,” she said.
He glanced over at her, wary but definitely interested in what she had to say. “Like what?”
She shrugged. “Lots of stuff,” she said, as she wracked her brain for drinks he would like. “Maybe a Kamikaze?”
He gave a small, humorless laugh at this. “Kamikaze, eh? I like the sound of that,” he said. Then he looked at the bartender, who had just come back. “A Kamikaze… for me and for her.”
The bartender nodded. “Right, two Kamikazes, coming right up.”
Joyce hadn’t expected that
. Torn, she looked back between the guy next to her and the retreating bartender. If it had been anyone else, she would have thought that he had gotten the wrong idea about her. But this guy had already turned back toward the bar, basically ignoring her again. So instead of objecting like she knew she should have, she said nothing.
They sat in silence as the bartender prepared their drinks. When they finally arrived, Joyce held her shot up in a mini-cheers before she downed the drink, giving a small shudder at the sharp, but delicious, burn.
When he saw that she didn’t keel over and die, he lifted his glass to his lips and drank.
He was expecting the worst, Joyce could tell, and by the look on his face, he didn’t love it. But he didn’t hate it, either. He just looked…really, really thoughtful.
“Not that bad, right?” she prodded.
He looked up then, and Joyce found herself being studied with the same scrutiny.
“No, not at all,” he finally said.
Joyce flushed and looked away. She had a feeling he was talking about more than the drink.
When she looked back up, he had turned around toward the bar again, the scowl back in place.
Still, a minute later, he raised his hand, and two more drinks appeared before them.
“I can’t,” Joyce protested.
He shrugged. “Then don’t. If you don’t drink it, I will,” he said indifferently.
It wasn’t a line. He really meant it. That was the only reason why, after a little hesitation, Joyce took it.
She quickly downed it, washing it down with her gin and tonic.
By this time, she had given up all pretense of not staring. She could admit it; the guy was a mystery, sitting here out of place in the middle of a tourist bar with a British accent so fancy it sounded like he should be having tea with the Queen yet obviously looking to get blitzed even if it killed him.
Who was this guy and what was his story?
Finally, as he caught he bartender’s eye and ordered two more
shots, she was unable to contain her curiosity any longer.
“Why are you here? At this bar?” she asked.
At first she thought he wasn’t going to answer. Then, maybe because the alcohol was starting to work its magic, he shrugged. “I wanted to go somewhere no one would find me.”
Joyce nodded, instantly understanding where he was coming from. “I know the feeling,” she commiserated.
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You? From what?”
Joyce started to say her boyfriend; it was on the tip of her tongue, but something made her stop. All week she had been telling herself that she came to London to get some breathing room from Hank, and in her mind, it sounded great. Now that she was about to say it out loud to someone else, though, she realized it wasn’t very fair to Hank – and it wasn’t very honest.
“And has it worked?” he asked, gazing at her so intently, it made her head spin a little.
“No. But then, it never really does, does it?” she mused. This drew a small, almost resigned sigh from him. “So what are you trying to escape from?”
“The inevitable,” he said tersely.
She raised her eyebrow at this. "Knowing it's inevitable," she pointed out.
His mouth twisted into a bitter smile. "Exactly."
“Heavy,” she murmured. Trying to lighten the mood a little, or maybe even cheer him up or something, she added, "So what? Are you like some Greek tragic hero or something?"
But his expression only grew darker. "Tragic, maybe. Hero? Definitely not. It's too bloody late for that. Besides, I’m not the selfishly selfless type.”
Joyce cocked her head to the side as she thought it over. “I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. But I think it counts for something that whatever’s going on bothers you so much.”
She felt her breath catch at the look her gave her, the anguish, the anger, the hope
Just then, the bartender appeared before them and set down their shots, breaking the moment as he plunked the glasses down together and rushed back to the other customers.
They both reached for their glasses at the same time. As they did, their hands brushed.
Joyce gave a small gasp at the bolt of electricity that ran through at this small touch. She knew he felt it, too, because he yanked his hand away like he had been burned.
How he went from creep to attractive in two seconds flat, Joyce had no idea. She would do her best to ignore it, though.
“I should go,” she said abruptly.
Without looking over to see his reaction, she quickly threw back her last shot, pulling on her jacket as she practically leapt to her feet.
It was a mistake. While she had been sitting, she had felt fine, almost sober. When she shot up off her stool so quickly, however, the alcohol finally started to kick in, and the world began to sway. To make things worse, her arms were still caught up in her jacket, so she had no way of regaining her balance.
Before she could fall and make a total fool of herself, two arms shot out and grabbed her.
Joyce looked up – right into a pair of grey eyes that were twinkling with genuine amusement and none of the bitterness they had before.
“Good to see you’re not always so serious,” she grumbled, feeling the heat climb into her face.
For some reason, this made him burst into laughter. “No, that’s my brother. I’m Regulus,” he explained as he grinned down at her.
It changed his whole appearance. He looked young and carefree – and very handsome. Once again, Joyce felt the tug of attraction, and she became extremely aware that she was still in his arms. He must have seen it on her face, because the smile on his face faded as he gazed intently at her.
“Could I walk you back to your place?”
Joyce inhaled sharply at his question.
She knew she should say no. She had Hank, her boyfriend who had proposed to her just a week ago. She needed to walk out that door as fast as she could. Anything else would be wrong – wrong and impulsive and exciting
The worst part was that she couldn’t blame it on the alcohol. Though she was definitely tipsy, she knew exactly what she was doing when she looked up at him through her lashes and nodded.
And when his eyes darkened at her answer, she knew exactly what was going to happen, and she wanted it more than anything else.
He was like one of those paintings, she realized, the ones that had called to her all week. She doubted that he’d reveal his secrets to her, either. But she would have fun trying.
Without breaking contact, he slid his hands down her arms until he was grasping her hands. Then he led her out of the bar without another word.+++California, eight weeks later
Joyce stared at her doctor in disbelief.
She was pregnant
Six to eight weeks, by the doctor’s estimation, which meant that it could have happened right after she had accepted Hank’s proposal, or before that, when she was in London…
It was Hank’s baby. It had to be.
But what if it wasn’t?
Joyce fought the urge to cry. She had no idea how to get in touch with Regulus, if it was his baby. She didn’t even know his last name. Besides, he obviously had his own issues to work out. Chances were he didn’t even want a child. And she loved Hank
Joyce shook her head. No, this baby was Hank’s. She refused to let herself think otherwise. She would marry him and be the best wife and mom she possibly could be. It was the right thing to do – for everyone.
Oh, she wasn’t fooling herself. She wasn’t being – how had Regulus worded it? – ‘selfishly selfless’. If anything, she was just trying to keep her one act of selfishness from ruining four lives. But it was the best she could do. +++