Detroit River, March 6, 1925, 2am. (Rey's POV)
To the naïve mind or dim-witted mind there is nothing strange about the sight they would glimpse should they walk around the Detroit River's boardwalk at this unseemly hour: a woman lied down at the Pier with no thoughts as to whether or not the fine coat she wears will be ruined, hands fixed on her 1921 Delactis binoculars staring out to water. Occasionally she takes out an Eveready 2 cell niquel torch*, blinking the walleye lens just over her deep brown locks currently braided under a Hunter green cloche hat. By the third flickering even the most inoccent of minds would be aware this scenario is dangerous at best and illegal at worst. No 'safe' enterprise includes a lady standing up to untie knots in the Pier hiding a speedboat once light flashes on and off at the Canadian side.
Rey Winters (called that way because the orphanage thought it'd be fitting to name a child found in its stairs at December 1st after the season. Why couldn't her family drop her off at the church? Then they would have named 'Campion* or 'Langley' after the feastday martyrs and avoided all those snow jokes that were never funny) brushes off whatever dust has clung to her coat of white silk twill with green cotton applique. Presentation is highly important when dealing with the runners. A disheveled appearance means sloppiness and in this line of work sloppy gets people killed. The job at hand? Transporting the item which made Russia deny the Muslim religion and brought to western Pennsylvania when its tax came, the favorite child of grapes, barley and potatoes so foolishly denied to the American population by Congress in January 1920: alcohol. Vodka, wine and beer to be specific, straight from 'Mother Europe' as all those pansy poets call it. Some of the younger, less experienced kids like Paige Tico working the rum rum say Europe must be a nicer place to live in, what with the lack of temperance groups and all the fancy museums. The older, slightly more realistic people running spirits through the night like Rey's friend Poe figure they're too scared by the Communists regime to let laws that might swerve public opinion to the Bolsheviks pass. Rey doesn't really contemplate why the rest of the world doesn't follow American logic, she saves dilly-dallying for actresses at Hollywood getting fat off their little pantomime show.
Her focus is legendary among the rookies, they speak of her like men at betting stalls do of their boxers. 'Eagle eyed Rey' who can spot a fed drinking coffee twenty miles and never lets her gaze roam to the wrong places when wagons are stopped. 'Hazel Mage Rey' whose sled carrying whiskey never cracks in the thin, unpredictable ice road formed when the frost starts. They think someday she'll outclass Queen Cleo*, if the government proves stupid enough to keep Prohibition active a decade more. Miss Winters certainly doesn't think that way after sailing to the designated river midpoint, avoiding the Federal Prohibition Bureau and bringing back two hundred dollars of premium quality alcohol in return for fifty dollars assigned by Unkar Plutt, the man in charge of these operations.
Of course feelings of inferiority aren't enough to forbid she demand more than 'minimum wage' as Nucky Thompson would say. And Rey is much tougher than some money-washing politicians. Ulysses Grant's barely been placed in her place before Rey complains to her elephantine boss.
"That's Irish whisky I brought. Worth at least forty clams* on it's own."
"Lucky Luciano's gang brought in seventy five wagons of those which lowers demand. Technically speaking I could just make you walk back home with all those bottles but out of the goodness of my heart I'm paying. So take the fifty before I change my mind."
'Lousy blob fish, you know I'd get clipped if the tins* caught me with just one cart'. Though dissapointed and mad Rey barely shows it. Faking a smile, the young woman nods thanks, pockets her salary and swallows resentment as she reaches into the lower part of her coat for the flask hiding 'evil' bourbon.
The bus ride to her boarding house is slower than usual. Or mayhap the bourbon speeds up her mind ahead of the bus's trajectory? It doesn't matter since no journey will impede her landlady closing every lock known to man and then some around the residence. Which means she has to climb that infernal water pipe and pick the lock. It's done just in time for Rey to give herself a bucket rinse(last time the lousy old bat heard a shower running at midnight she barged into make sure there weren't any men and Rey's none too keen of living that experience herself). Her nightgown is promptly placed and comfy as Miss Winters sinks into her soft flannel sheets, sleep carrying her into sweet oblivion. Hopefully tomorrow night she, Finn and Poe will dance away their troubles at the speakeasy without a hitch.
March 6, 9pm, Connie's Inn (Harlem speakeasy)
On 7th Avenue and West 131th Street the fashionable and quite public bistro known as Immerman enjoys a small but loyal stream of customers which have kept the restaurant open. Like most 'high pillow' eating establishments it's been tediously careful not offer alcohol since that incident in 22 when a Prohibition agent got the promotion of his dreams through the raid hoisted in Plaza's tea room in pure coincidence after he and his wife were asked if they wanted wine to celebrate their tenth anniversary. Mister Immerman permits the health department to examine his business at any time, inspectors have always praised 'exemplary' though a few have furrowed their brows in well indoctrinated prejudice upon seeing the negro butlers be treated almost paternally by their manager. You can check the first two floors of that building from top to bottom and will leave without a drop of alcohol. The mirrors are actually mirrors and Mister Connie is quite proud of his authentic full stock of Shakespeare and Walt Whitman's literary works. But the badges searching the joint have misread the exact same 'sign' they've missed on Al Capone's clubs in Chicago: the green door* which Rey knocks on to enter the speakeasy with Finn and Poe. An eye slot opens, lesser women might be frightened at the size of the figure who has to lower himself to reach their level at gaze.
The fact a woman's voice rings out shocks Rey but she's quick to mask it. "Password?"
Rey clears her throat. "Brooklyn Dodgers win the Pennant."
Slowly the green door opens, revealing blond hair to the large women's frame, somehow she manages to make her simple chrome and black dress act like a uniform. "And your membership card?"
Finn graciously extends his employee/member card* to her and Poe for the evening. Rey's longest friend asks if it's possible to take his 'doozy night' instead of Sunday as usual. 'Miss Aspiring Bouncer' as Rey nicknames her replies that Mister Immerman has no objections so long as he 'doesn't disturb customers that aren't of your... background. No need to make a fuss to attract the badges.' The colored youth's reassurance that his boss is a decent fellow using how he pays Negro employees the same as their white co-workers* as an example fails in its intent to leave Rey unbothered by the fact people are offended by Finn just cause his skin's dark but she pushes it aside so he's not offput for something beyond his control.
She's rewarded with a smile clear as the morning, the closest she's ever had to a loving older brother's grin. Rey used to pretend she and Finn were actually long lost siblings while growing up in the orphanage together. Had even written tragic love stories for her parents at one point depicting Finn's mother as a Southern maid escaping to the North for freedom and falling in love with Rey's widowed father or other concoctions. The reasons in the story as to why they'd ended up apart were always heroic: persecution from the Anarchist scare, her father being chased by Bolsheviks who thought him a traitor for escaping to America after the failed revolution of 1905 or in the scenario where Rey's father was the black one, hiding them both to prevent a puritanical grandfather from murdering his 'half breed' descendendants which resulted in their mother's murder before being able to come back for them. Sometimes she still thinks it might be possible since biracial relationships are legal in the north, Finn usually laughs when she mentions it but it's a good natured laugh. The kind that shows you're happy to share the person next to you's company.
It's a smile Rey's extra grateful when Poe takes off her coat and highlights just how simple her outfit is in comparison to all the other girl's flappers. The ecru lace embroidered bodice she'd been so proud of is yarn when shown beside wax flowers, rich velvet patterns, actual gold trimmings and silk satín scarves. Not to mention the tricollared oyster fruits* hanging from so many necks. 'You could have had a necklace like that or at least some earrings but you spent the money on yet another failed investigation for your parents' her mind reminds not-very-kindly. She doesn't regret trying to find out what happened to her family but in the past three years all of Rey's efforts have come to nothing. The fact she has no official birth certificate or way to identify her birth parents has hindered detective's work inconsolably. Five hundred bucks spent and all they've managed to dig up is that her parents might have been illegal immigrants since there's no female citizenship matching up to her circumstances in the month she was born.
As if capable of reading minds Poe turns to look at her. "They're a floozy crowd Rey, none of them have the guts to do what you do."
She grins, feeling her cheeks turn slightly rose at the compliment. "Much appreciated Mister Dameron. Now, shall we show these bums how to Charleston properly?"
Poe places her hand on his shoulder. "Thought you'd never ask pal."
Helen Morgan sings draped over the piano, her porcelain skin gleaming like moonlit snow over the dim lights of Connie's music hall. Sultry lyrics the nuns would faint over are accompanied by young Louis Armstrong, the bayou trumpetist who brings home all the extravagance of New Orleans without the swamp muck. Poe twirls her around a couple, his Hispanic blood seeping through when he hums Juan Morel Campos and offers to 'fly' her like the folks do in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. Finn beats from laughing at the notion and switvhes places with his 'best friend' dancing with her, taking advantage of speakeasys being the only place besides graveyards where black and white don't fully realize they're sharing the same air. Where Poe had been a peacock strutting his feathers Finn is reserved yet not lacking confidence once he gets the rhytym. Even if he is a bit outraged by the ending of Helen's first act where she takes off her gown and dances in her slip, lifting her legs in kicks that match her pwerful belting move for move.
His look is one of annoyance but not rage. "She's got a decent voice, ain't the Swedish Nightingale but then again nobody else. Why she's got to strip?"
Deciding to have a little fun at his cost, Rey gives him a cheshire cat smile. "Helen's using her looks to get ahead in the music industry and good on her really. Not that different from me necking that badge back in Pittsburgh a month ago till I reached the bow in my hat where I keep the chloroform."
Shock is evident all over his face. "What cop in Pittsburgh Rey?!"
She directs her Cheshire grin to his direction. "A lady never tells Finn".
Finn adorably flusters at the thought of Rey being attractive to men. In the young african american's mind Rey will always be the nine year old ragamuffin digging in the yard for buried teasure, a true friend and confidant but never a possible object for men's attent gaze. (And he knows much more on that subject than Rey, though the law forbids this be acknowleged. Just like the Latin Bible* and Alcohol and anything remotely independent of drool monkey-ing). Hazel eyes roll at the blatant double standard and go in what she thinks will be a fleeting glance to the dim (well dimmer) lighted corners of the dance hall. Instead she finds herself inexplicably captivated by the stranger sitting alone in a booth no one tends to occupy.
2 hours later, same scene
The stranger in question appears blonde, though the faint kerosene light reflects streaks of silver here and there. Caucasian? skin which once enjoyed the sun but is now slowly paling under its absence is donned in a rusty, mystical way she can't fully comprehend. Every twenty seconds or so he moves his hands, roughly scribbling a long yellowed notebook. The scribbling only stops when said man pause to use a handkerchief, the fact he's not sneezing or showing any signs of spilling his drink adds a bit to the mystery. Is he an artist immortalizing the night in honest charcoal? A writer drawing inspiration from the illicit spectacle before him? The more she stares at her mystery customer, the more Rey catches some detail which heightens her curiosity of him. 'Why does he use a straw to sip his teacup? I didn't even know they had straws in this place.' Less than a second later she finds out his eye color when a cleaner accidentally pops a balloon which startles him. Dawn's promising sky is packaged in that brief yet impactful look towards the right. It is an abhorrent sin, Rey thinks, to deny the general public that clear blue sky. It may very well be a new sort of Prohibition no one's whiffed yet. without thinking she moves her chair slightly closer to the alluring man, quickly retracting once her senses return. How long has she been invading that poor chap's privacy anyhow? An hour? a minute? A nightime?
"Would you stop ogling the guy and just ask him to dance already?" Not now Finn..
She tries on her best in-differential mask, hoping it prevents him from nagging. "There's no need for that, I wasn't that taken by the man."
Unfortunately his stare says he's seen right through her act. "Is that so? Then I'm sure you won't mind me telling Poe about the recent development."
Her eyes widen at the thought of being nagged till sunrise. "You wouldn't."
This time it's Finn who has the Cheshire devious grin. "I can, I would and I will. Any fellow who snatches you up for two hours without saying a word is worth investigation."
Naturally, Rey isn't quite sold on the fact she just stared at a complete stranger for such a long time but the pendulum clock behind the bar doesn't lie. She spends the next half hour being nagged at by Poe once he overhears the conversation coming back with teacups brimmed with rich French wine. The wine makes up for the first ten minutes, it doesn't absolve the next twenty. Also since when is there a kissing song? They didn't have one back when she and Finn were growing up so where did Poe learn one? Some British pub? It sounds like a British nursery rhyme. And does he have to sing it over and over again?
"First comes love, then comes marriage. Then they come with a baby-"
"If I walk over to him will you promise never to sing that bloody tune for as you live!!!"
Poe Dameron is the cat who got the canary. He mock bows in triumphant glee. "Why of course my Lady Rey. Now go, your Prince Charming awaits."
'I don't want Prince charming Poe, I want a fucking warrior who lets me fight beside him proudly. Someone who'll recognize me without a stupid glass slipper, who'll run across the trenches at the barest hint of my voice.' The walk to her intended dance companion for the near future is relatively short but it seems perennial to the young woman gliding through music and smoke and tipsiness. Finally, the Rubicon is crossed and Rey stands right in front of his booth. Her suspicions of graying gold are confirmed at such closeness, but the rest of him is strategically cloaked in the dark. As if he was intent on nobody seeing him. Gathering her courage Rey clears her throat and prepares to speak. She's not sure if her smile is convincing but it's the best Rey can do to replace the gnawing murmur in her head saying this will be an important moment later on so she best remember it. Of course the voice says nothing as to whether this will be in a positive or negative light.
"Good evening. Would you like to dance?"
Somehow the mystery figure manages to sneak further in obscurity, quick as a whip his weathered left hand closes the sketchbook and tucks it into his coat. His body language suggest irritation, meaning she's probably whatever peace he gained in this hidden corner. Rey is putting together an explanation when the man speaks, his voice like broken glass grinding. "Your joke is unwelcome Miss. I suggest you find someone more amenable."
Rey moves her hands in negation, appalled at the idea he's assumed. "No, it's not a joke. I really do want to share a dance with you Sir."
From the nearly non-existent lighting Rey catches the trace of a smile come and vanish. She's almost giddy with excitement upon seeing him stand from his camouflaging stance and turn to see her face to face. Or rather face to half face, Rey reflects in surprise upon glimpsing tin painted to resemble flesh stretched from the left half of his forehead to half the lip. Kids in the neighborhood Rey grew up in used to be threatened with being forced to see behind the 'broken gargoyles' and touch the bloody craters they had for skin if they misbehaved. Apart from such warnings the Great War's most shocking victims were out of sight, out in mind. Nobody ever saw one in non-military events, a few exceptions made only for the sake of their wives and children who learn to keep their heads up high as they walked through the streets or when a body straight out of a horror flick was found is in the river. 'I'm standing next to a man whom most people only see in rumor, belonging to the only group of the Great War veterans who has no memorial*.' The straw's purpose becomes fully clear since he can't open his mouth without taking off the mask but the handkerchief is still an enigma. Spectacles holding one living iris and one stark unblinking portrait which falls shy of reproducing the original blue regality of its model pierce her, inspecting in a way far more personal than all those Prohibition agents ever dared.
His voice is dripping with sarcasm, hands staying behind his back in an almost deadly form. "Well, you've seen what a Sheik* I am. Gals all over the city, no the nation are begging to breathe the same air I do. Still wanna dance?"
The surety of her voice startles them both. "Yes I do."
Based on the way his face (or what's visible of it) all but freezes permanently on the spot Rey can tell he wasn't expecting this answer. His predator-like stance crumbles, replaced with a nervous shudder that confirms her masked stranger probably dealt with unkind reactions that have left him woefully unprepared for the earnestly intrigued or gentle ones. Slowly, in a fashion that reminds Rey of a rusty cog turning, the mystery man puts his hand to the front. The bottom of his absurdly large coat's left sleeve is empty, changing the situation somewhat. Here the lights are waned enough to help the crowds mistake the tin face for flesh and blood but they'll notice her holding a stump where everyone else holds a palm. The pale cerulean orb stares in question, undecided if it wants to plead or resume its previous guise of snarky behavior yet Rey perceives a kind wit under that eye which can't be truly stomped no matter how hard the worlds turns at him. 'God: please don't decide to let this be my exception in what has so far been a top notch character judging record.'
Wordlessly and perhaps with some caution Rey takes his remaining hand and places it on her waist, leaving her intentions clear. The hand in question turns clammy, is he worried this is an elaborate prank? Or he is afraid I'll change my mind when touching his stump? It's not the worst thing she's been near, plus all things considered his wounds are honorable scars. The living proof of his service to the country. Why would she be repulsed or ashamed to touch someone who did their patriotic duty? Rey holds her breath as the missing limb comes closer, determined to prove she's neither appalled or afraid. Then to her immense surprise the mystery man pulls his sleeve up and shows a perfectly good hand. 'Well aren't you full of surprises?'
Rey raises an eyebrow at her yet to be named companion. "You were testing me. Mind telling me why?"
His visible? remaining? brow raises in turn, an amused upward curve which isn't a smile but denies other labels gracing the man's face just before he moves her in to whisper against her ear. "We're all donning masks little emerald. But unlike you I can't tell what's hidden without probing."
Miss Winters lets out a giggle. "Emerald? What on earth gave you the idea to call me that?"
He stays close to her, his velvety voice sounding a bit wistful. "Your dress highlights the green in your eyes, under the lamp's waning glow they are emeralds within a teardrop pearl guarding their elusive glimmer from all unworthy thieves."
She moves her head away, not sure how to react to the burning sensation his voice stirs in her stomach. Not wanting him to realize how deeply he affects her, Rey takes his left hand and lets it stay within her own. "If you're going to call me emerald best display me with the other gems. After you tell me your name of course."
The young woman watches take in a deep breath and wordlessly mouth words as if he hasn't uttered them in years. "My name's Luke. Luke Skywalker"
Rey smiles like a child who's found buried treasure. "Luke, that's a lovely name. I'm Rey."
This time his smile is real, she can almost make up a reddened portion of something through the tin concealing Luke's appearance to the world as he walks with her to dance. Mister Skywalker's steps are a bit shy, he keeps watching her feet to go make sure he doesn't tread on them. She doesn't ask if it's cause he doesn't know the steps or cause his balance's eschew after losing an eye or if there's still an eye there instead of the skull like sockets Jimmy Carson claimed he saw in a gargoyle living on Little Italy. But as Luke's breath hitches when she pulls him closer she does hate how the mask covers so much of his jaw since it forbids her from sneaking in a kiss. Part of her feels warm, feverish as his chest beats so close to hers. All too quickly the melody ends, Luke withdraws both hands from their assigned place in Rey's body and gives her a little bow that's antiquated in a nice way.
For a moment Rey thinks he'll raise her hand and kiss it but he stops himself, right hand then frustratingly touching the painted visage he'd have to remove for such an action. At any rate she rates him higher than most dancing companions for never trying to drop his palm below her waist like everyone except Finn and Poe has done, also looking at her in the eyes and not her tiny breasts. Luke settles for holding her hands, drawing circles and slowly letting go as Louis starts preparing for the next number before offering her a sad glance. "Get yourself a good man Rey. Someone who treats you right and sees how beautiful, kind and strong you are."
'I already did' she wants to tell him but he vanishes, lost in the haze of flappers jitter-bugging as Armstrong starts playing. Rey goes to his table and finds nothing but the empty tea cup (which to her surprise actually held tea!) and a Lincoln underneath. Remembering the alternate entrance some of the 'Negroes' cause their southern upbringing keeps them thinking they'll be lynched for playing to whites. She won't remember running, just the frantic thought that she has to see him again somehow but has nothing but a name to go on. No address, no profession, no favorite pastime or usual haunts. The people at the bus stop outside seem to think she's some escaped madhouse convict if their looks are anything to go by, Rey pays them no mind and just heads to the bus. One nickel later she examines the faces inside the vehicle and sees no skin imitating paint. Finally, the bus driver takes pity on her and asks who's she's looking for, only to inform the 'gargoyle' took bus number five.
There are moments where sensible people admit that further effort is futile, that one has tried their best but it wasn't good enough so pick up your things and move on. Miss Rey Winters has never called herself anything remotely sensible. She asks at what hours bus number five boards.
May 25, 4am, secret basement of Upendi* Bar (Luke's POV)
The young man Lando's brought him refuses chloroform until given the option of having the wound cauterized awake. Another boy who may or not be his 'special friend' is crying into Lando's shoulder and trying not to say they're all going to die. Fear of the badges possibly (definitely) killing him them all when his screams alert their presence to the 'proper authorities' outweighs fear of being drugged unconscious while a freak performs surgery on him, a gentle kiss before putting the substance under the kid's nose proving Luke's suspicions correct. Sleep overtakes the youth who'd fit the ideal United States image if not for the 'diabolical' urges that lead him to a bar where boys make kissy face along with girls dressed in snazzy tuxes sneaking behind curtains to 'consummate their pact with Satan' as some Sanctimonious prick would say. Personally Luke doesn't think kissing someone will make you evil incarnate, in his opinion's that title is reserved for all those politicians who sent out armies while sitting behind desks and drinking champagne while their cops lead beat up, bloodied civilians to jail but no one asks his opinion much these days. If he avoids talking at the 'home' or to his boss then the fifty-three year old man can easily spend a whole week without conversation. (And these days when folks ignore him, Luke's thoughts drift to the girl in the green dress with shining eyes and an angel's touch. The type of girl he'd fawn over at 19 but can't bear to drag down at 53).
He checks the boiling water with his elbow to see if they've reached the right temperature to sterilize the needle and knife. Fortunately it seems that old gas stove hasn't lost its charm as the water reaches the same degree of warmth he used at the hospital and then later at the trenches while trying desperately to keep soldiers better described as teenagers from dying in ways that constantly forced his thirty-one year old degree in medicine to re-validate itself. After checking the youth is fully unconscious the once doctor Skywalker (or is he still a doctor? True they haven't let him work at any hospital but the University of John Hopkins hasn't revoked his license so is he still a doctor even if these days his only patients are those the 'lawful' will never undertake?) makes a pivotal incision at six centimeters above the tip of the fibula to give him enough space for pushing the bones back in. Once the connection is established he adds a metal brace within the leg, sews the muscle back together and then telling Lando to hold the damn kid's mouth so he could apply the flame thrower to the incision point. 'I don't remember the kids I treated in the children's wing being so loud. Even when I was de-worming them in Africa'.
Job done, he closes the flame exit and wipes the sweat off his eyebrows. He tries not to think about the seething heat still caught in the mask which prevents people from outright screaming at the sight of him. A sense of accomplishment fills him as the boy shakes his hand.
"What's your name sport?"
"Firmus." Firmus, the name of Father's consigliore. It seems even in this state he'll always watch over me. "Take care of yourself Firmus."
The boy answers with the commitment to staying out of trouble all youth has, which is to say none. "Noted. Any chance you can tend to us at your house?"
Luke clears his throat, holding back the bitterness of all those times he got turned down to stay permanently at apartments and how they charged more the minute they saw what he lost. "No, I live in a separate sector. One the local government was kind enough to provide me.'
From behind they hear Lando scoff as he lights a cigarette, the yellow paper curtain being illuminated with police flashlights on his side making him look like one of those jazz posters Lando Calrissian Junior sends from Brown university. "Yeah real kind of them: we got a place for the Negroes, a place for the Chinese, a place for the freaks and recently one for the Puertorricans. Cause here 'in the land of the free and the home of the brave' you can be anything you want so long as you look and talk and think the way all them fat cats in Congress say we should."
Young Firmus doesn't take Lando's words into consideration as he sits on the floor beside his boyfriend. Which is good cause it spares Luke from giving one of his last friends a bash on the head for killing innocence when its all too scant in the world. Calrissian gives him a smoke that calms down the nerves until finally at what Anakin Skywalker's old clock watch says to be 4:38 am the police chief yells that's the last of the fruits and the alcohol. Threat gone he walks out to 43rd Street and Broadway and is dismayed to see more than ten people in the five which means he can't take cool off by taking off his mask so Luke just bears it and tries not to be upset that he can't unbutton his shirt and have decent folks scream at the sight of his mangled neck. The Number five bus proves why it's cheaper than its companions as the rickety Victoria* makes noise all the way. Personally Luke would prefer taking a different public vehicle but most cab drivers seem to think he'll go berserk and kill them and the other bus routes make a longer distance. Not that still having to walk the last forty five minutes because the fucking 1881 ugly laws' spirit is still running around and no family man will risk getting arrested for some broken face is great but it's better than walking the whole two hours. A mother takes her son and puts him in the seat Luke had been about to take. On the next line it changes with a college age boy not too different from the one he'd patched up widening his eyes in fear. Nope, not viable either and could somebody please open a spare window or something?
Then suddenly, like a drop of water in the desert the older man hears a voice he'd left to grow as one of the few happy memories since walking in a war hospital and thinking he lucked out on not joining those 'magnificent' soldiers who'd never have another nightmare. Rey's voice calling out his name, tired yet chipper at his sight of his sorry form as if her whole day was brightened up just by seeing him. He realizes it's probably a fever dream when his vision gets a tad blurrier, the attempts of a miserable mind to summon cheerfulness where there's precious little to be found. But to his amazement Rey doesn't vanish when he sits on the last back seats past her. Instead she goes and does the unthinkable: sit next to the carnival freak. It must be some sort of punishment to see her smile but be unable to fully appreciate it.
Before he knows it Rey's hand is touching his forehead, softer than anything that's grazed his wretched body since L-since a long time ago. Her eyes flutter with concern as she realizes he's overheated despite the early hour. 'Please don't try to take me to a doctor, I couldn't bear to be triply humiliated this early in the morning.' They won't tend to him here, maybe in Chicago the remaining part of his face would prompt some Godfathered hospital into helping the 'legitimate' son of the now extinct Vader Mafia branch but here in new York no 'law abiding' medical personnel will have a fond word for any Skywalker.
Rey takes out a small canteen from her purse, hand reached out whilst holding the blessed commodity. "Do you want some water?"
'Desperately but I want not be ridiculed more. I couldn't bear to see your screams.' "No thank you miss."
"If it's because of the mask then I can give you my hat to cover yourself."
The floral printed crepe summer hat's handed over to him so easily, without a care seconds after the words have left Rey's mouth. What made her so selfless? So completely indifferent to how society dictates she ought to behave towards him? It can't be a privileged upbringing? Her Brooklyn accent is shamelessly pronounced each time she speaks. A brother lost in the war maybe? Or is Rey just one of those few innately emphatic humans who sees the suffering behind an individual and not their physical state or religion or skin color? Luke has a gut feeling it's the other as he carefully removes his glasses with one hand whilst handing her hat to hide himself with the other. Relief comes almost instantly as he slowly drinks from her canteen, pausing every now and then to regulate his body temperature so it's not too rapid a change. He's about to place the mask on when he sees a few drops behind the tin frontage, sensitive skin having reached its limits for now. 'What did you expect after wearing it for over 12 hours? The crafters told us all the face needs to breathe.' The side of his jaw that's 'open' itches, dried up saliva from the area that keeps drooling at the edges scratching the already tender skin. In his haste to clean the mask he lets a drip fall down to the seat, mixing the blood to leave a reddish stain on the seat he'll have to clean if he ever wants to ride this bus again. 'Even a toddler controls its own spit. Why couldn't I have died back in France instead of existing as this disgusting shell?'
He hears her skirt swoosh so she must have moved her entire body to face him, Luke pictures her plush lips smiling at him and wishes he could confirm it for himself should that be real. "Yes Luke?"
"May I please borrow your hat a little while longer?" 'Please don't think I'm pathetic, please don't lift your head and see what a fucking mess I am...'
(He tries to calm down with the funny? image of his spare handkerchief coming to life and crying at the severe demotion from wiping off a lady's tears to cleaning up bloodied monster spit on a bus, it distracts but brings no chuckles. Luke had almost offered it to Rey that night when he saw her sweat but ultimately decided against it. Good thing too, he doesn't want to end up like those loons in the films sniffing their lady love's scarfs). Luke can almost taste the contours of what must be her youthful hazel eyes dancing as he's gifted the sound of her laugh. "Of course you can silly. I wouldn't have lent it to you if I didn't think you'd use it.''
If she were able to see the ugly crater in his mouth, would she still laugh? Half of the guys in the blue houses go there cause their wives find them repulsive. Andy came to live there cause his children were terrified of him with or without the mask. The only one of us who managed to keep his marriage afloat was Kanan and he was married for twenty years before the 'incident'. He doesn't think Rey is older than twenty. Would her kind demeanor be enough for her to endure the horrors he never left? 'Would she let me try to make her happy'- 'No. Don't you dare do that to her', he tells himself mentally. Even if she could endure all the hardships that come with his world, Rey deserves someone easy. Somebody who doesn't have night terrors and nearly strangled his best friend to death under that harrowing memory that floods his mind whenever his eye closes. He might strangle her if he's not careful and add her to the sea of bodies. Somebody who can walk on a park with her and guarantee she won't be pitied or mocked. And especially somebody who can kiss her passionately with all the fervent devotion a woman so charming and beautiful and sweet merits. Not whatever half-baked attempt his ruined lips would try.
Eventually his 'good' eye sees the familiar post of 143rd street, indicating his quiet yet pleasurable time with Rey has come to an end. Luke passes a handkerchief over the mask and gently supports it so as not to let it slide. glasses put, he returns Rey's hat to her and bids the nice young lady farewell with a tip of his hat. One last surprise greets him as Luke's granted the feel of her tender hand. All things considered, he can't claim it's unwelcome. Not unexpectedly a smile creeps up on his face as Rey walks to leave them at face to face level. She bites her lip and it's kind of adorable, though he'll never say it out loud.
Rey fidgets with her hand a little before addressing him. "Would it be too much to ask if you gave me your phone number? Or just a place where I can see you again and learn something about besides your fondness for sitting in dark corners and lots of layers?"
He considers the offer, taking in the hopeful gleam of her eyes. Luke can understand him being drawn to her but what does she see in him? But then again people don't take a bus at this hour unless they're working themselves to death, lonely or both. Rey appears to be the second, the fact she mentioned no family name when they met wasn't lost to him. Surely getting to know a nice, lonely young woman won't result in anything bad right? It's not as if an outstanding goddess like Rey thinks of a crippled freak like him beyond friendship and it's been ages since he had a long, meaningful conversation with somebody besides Dak or Kanan or Lando... "You know Belvedere Castle over at Central Park?"
She half nods. "The castle with the observatory. I've never been there but I'm sure I can find my way around. Can't be any worse than crossing a frozen river."
'And there goes any doubt that Miss Rey's alone most of the time, she just hinted at boot-legging which means she doesn't talk to people enough to avoid the truth outside the occasional cop.' He rubs his hand at the back of his neck, trying to convince himself this won't be a bad idea. "I like to walk the grounds on Sunday, it calms me down. You can find me there from 12 to 3 pm in the afternoon."
Rey's smile is everything pure and bright in this dung heap of a world. It makes Luke completely oblivious to all the shocked faces staring at him as he walks down those stairs he knows so well and waves back at Rey as she fades from view. 'It'd be ludicrous to assume a romantic link with so bright a star would extend past any daydreams of mine but I could have a tender friendship. I'm not naive like Quasimodo, this Esmeralda need not worry that I proclaim affection beyond her amity. Even if l and the poor hunchback at times share that queer desire to be made of stone so as not to feel.'
May 28, 10 am, Belvedere Castle
From a purely architectural standpoint, the weather antenna looks completely out of place with the Medieval based folly. At least that's what a few tourists exclaim next to Rey as they declare the castle 'tainted by modern science' and walk past it with disappointed glares. In contrast, the young woman is absolutely thrilled to enter New York's Meteorological Observatory. It was one of those things she'd been saving for later, one of many hidden wonders to visit when her parents were found. Though Finn and Poe haven't said anything both of her friends are glad she'd stopped that wild goose chase which Miss Rey Winters spent so much time and money on. As the young woman stares dreamily at the Manhattan schist and granite structure with a corner tower with conical cap, with the existing lookout over parapet walls between them she hears the all too familiar footsteps of her best friends.
Poe's fake wheezing and clutching his stomach gives Rey cause to laugh, not falling for the rogue's act. This has the added effect of having the Hispanic youth mock-place his hand at the heart in shock. What does baffle Rey is how quickly he replaces that lopsided grin for the 'I'm completely serious' gaze. "Be honest Rey, what are your feelings towards this guy? Cause no one takes the same bus for a month searching for somebody who doesn't matter to them."
She's not fully taken aback by the question. Rey had expected him to say something along the lines of 'what are you doing?' or 'is this going to progress any further?'. Those she could have answered seamlessly with 'you'll just have to watch' or 'mind your own beeswax' but describing exactly how she feels towards Luke is...difficult. It's too soon for steadfast declarations of love, she doesn't know him well enough for that sort of thing. But something deep within Rey yells at her to find out why her heart does a merry foxtrot at the barest hint of Luke Skywalker's voice. And following her instincts has never proven wrong thus far.
Rey turns to Poe's side and carries the truth in her lips. "I can't tell what I feel right now. But this is something I feel I have to do or else I'll regret it for the rest of my life."
The young Hispanic gentleman places a hand on his chin for a moment before sighing. "Well, I guess that's as good a motive as any. But if this guy does anything, and I mean anything even slightly hurtful towards you then I'm-"
Poe's protective older brother speech is interrupted by Finn putting a hand on his chest. "You'll ram him with your race-car and feed the gunk to the fishes, we know. Just let her actually get to talk with the man a little before supplying the Hudson's fish population with extra nourishment, please?"
He huffs. "Fine."
Assassination threats aside, the trio begins in earnest to Rey's not-date within the beautiful structure. A few tapestries far too new-looking to be authentic hang from the walls, increasing the 'feel' of walking through history. Sunlight streams in daintily, as if the present's version of the sphere was allowed only in scarce quantity up until reaching the castle's greenery but the long willow leaves and tall stems of different 'period' flowers do a splendid job of hiding somebody who wouldn't want to be seen. 'Does Luke come here because it's easier to hide? If so what drives a person to favor reclusion so often? A desire to avoid stares and silly monster stories from children who don't know any better? Or something more personal, carving deep into the mind and soul?' Still pondering on what could have made a man with caring eyes? or eye? so secretive Rey goes to touch one of the lilies growing. The golden strands liken a crown gingerly bestowed upon the large white flower, the crimson specks upon its petals rubies for the nature-anointed coronet. Rey is telling herself picking the flower goes against park regulations, ergo not a good idea when she feels a sudden tap on her shoulder. All her carelessness disappears as the young woman turns to face what three years of boot-legging paranoia scream 'might be a cop' but is instead Luke Skywalker who reacts quicker than most cops and holds her wrist with a soldier's reflexes before letting go.
His face is paler, Rey can pinpoint the exact moment Luke's shame starts kicking in cause his visible eyebrow twitches and his hands shake a bit. "Miss, I'm so sorry-"
Ignoring what 'decent young ladies' may consider too risqué, Rey closes the gap between them and puts her index finger in the corner of his mouth. As expected, it stops his well-meant but needless apology. "No harm done, besides you reacted far more nicely than I did. My goal was to smash your head."
She's pleasantly surprised by a bashful laugh that leaves her warm inside out. Rey is smiling when Luke takes out a pale pink peony bouquet tied with a matching lace ribbon from his coat, lush petals carrying the roseate aroma. It is undoubtedly the nicest thing Rey has gotten from a 'date'. Which probably speaks badly of her previous, quick flings but they weren't important for her to remember so Rey doesn't care. The plump layers of petals are wondrously soft to the touch, in fact they're better than half the florist peonies she's seen. (And no, it's not depressing that Rey buys herself flowers. Lousy florists ought to appreciate customers arriving instead of saying how sad that she has no 'special friend' to buy flowers for.) Delighted with her gift, Rey takes Luke by the hand and shakes her head in good nature upon seeing the shock on his face.
Rey twirls her bouquet in hand, positively beaming. "They're beautiful, where did you get such lovely flowers?"
Luke's grip on her arm turns a bit shaky. "I grew them. They wouldn't let me bu-my roommates all insisted florists would push red roses on me and that's coming on too strong for any first outing."
She thinks the truth is more complicated than he lets on but sets it aside for now. "Well, I love them. Thank you."
A tiny nod of the head is Rey's only hint that Luke acknowledges her thanks. She catches Finn and Poe observing the view by coincidence out of the corner of her eye. The restraint shown by both men is extraordinary, they don't go beyond using her binoculars to assess if all is well. His silence is comfortable, timidly kind as she asks him to show her which parts of this garden he prefers. As a response he guides her hand through the willow, familiarizing her with its contours and shows her how to climb up the trunk, gesturing for Rey to come up with him. The willow itself isn't very tall, Rey estimates the tree is only 4-5 years but the castle seems taken out a fairy tale from that small yet vastly different perspective. On the way down he stops to press that same odd handkerchief to his concealed half, eye lying in wait for when she questions him about it. Luke seems unsure whether her lack of questioning means he should exclaim relief or shudder in grim anticipation for what's to come.
Trying not to show just how long it's been since he talked to a 'stranger' longer than five minutes in daylight Luke calms his nerves down. "So what do you work in little emerald? Shop assistant? Seamstress? Fruit Vendor?"
'Don't be shy, he showed you something personal and is trying to make polite conversation so he wants to open up. The man just needs a little coaxing, that's all.' She clears her throat. "I work in transportation of fresh produce. How about you? Are you a landscaper Mister Skywalker, or did you figure how the view works best using mathematics?"
Rey feels encouraged by the fact he moves a little closer to her. "No, I used to be a doctor. Now I just work in a butcher shop."
Curiosity piqued, she keeps inquiring. "Why aren't you a doctor anymore? Did they revoke your license and try to have you deported*? Or did you just retire and then find yourself another job cause you were going stir crazy?"
Luke stares as if she's uttering impossibilities, joviality replaced with a sad resignation. "You can't perform surgery without an eye, according to the HHS* it's compromising to the patient's health. Same goes for assessing their physique, though in that case they use the fact I am 'mentally unhinged and as thus cannot be hold responsibility over a man's life as a result of my injuries' for an excuse."
Rey's curiosity is now replaced with fury. "They said that to you!!!"
He shrugs and replies they gave him a ridiculously polite letter stating that sentiment more or less, Rey finds it disturbing how he just accepts the government saying he can't practice his given field because of something done to him in service of that government. State discrimination aside, their not-date goes rather nicely. The two end up walking from the castle all the way to some fancy lotus fountain Rey can't remember the name of. Their conversation is pretty much standard first occasion questions: favorite color, hobbies, what they wanted to be when they were children. People stepping slightly aside when seeing them walk together has the advantage of never being crowded. Further along the path, a man forgets to charge Rey's ice cream once aware of her companion for the day. . This causes Luke to laugh when Rey informs him she's officially using the man to avoid waiting in line for Macy's and/or Gimble's Christmas Specials. A good laugh, even if he does cough in a way that makes Rey a bit sad because it usually means you haven't laughed so hard in a tragically long period of time. He brushes his hand over her face, as if trying to prove to himself that she is real. Tracing her brown ringlets as curators would some priceless artifact they've waited all their lives to touch. It's the touch that convinces her ensuring a man who can feel so deeply should laugh at least once a day and she's just the woman to do it, his smile filling her in and out with an indescribable light is a bonus.
May 29, 7 am, New York 'Blue House' (Luke's POV)
Flashback, Battle of the Transloy Ridges, October 14, 1916, 2 am
Unbidden, my memories have been revisiting a recent and disturbing part of my past life. Although, blurry I can hear the rain drops fall like a bombardment of shrapnel from the raging heavens and my Fréres are wrapped in the mud of this unholy land as they pierced the ground with their spades to construct our haven to be soon named our graves. Even though these times are far from now I can still remember the light fade away from the eyes of dying young men.
As this unfolds, I noticed the krauts shielding their metal brutes from the unyielding rain, lighting their wicks and unleashing their infernal rain upon us.
First one knocked two men right of me, hitting them perfectly on the jugular. Renée Leboux, a boy so green he could piss grass yelled at me the prognosis was wrong, his friend Maurice couldn't be dead. I said nothing, confident he'd learn soon enough just how wrong he is to believe that, provided the goddamn pneumonia didn't take him first. We'd already lost ten soldiers to it this morning alone and ran out of cots to carry the 'fallen in glorious battle' out so the dead still communed with the living, most of whom had grown accustomed to seeing maggots creep into the flesh of someone they knew. Two years as a volunteer medic and they ain't nicked me yet but I'd presumed it was only a matter of time, nobody who spends as much weeks in a trench ever made it out of here in one piece. Rodents carelessly ran over the whole squadrons's (living and dead) legs, body, chest and feet. Some of the more daring recruits made sport of stabbing the rodents and cooked them using their helmets as pots, finding the taste preferable to the stale black bread full of sawdust and chipped beef brought sparingly by higher ups getting thin themselves. But when they started on young soldiers's faces many must own slavish surrender, fell to cursing horribly and desperately attempted to change their lying place as they struggled to walk on the sloshing earth.
The second bomb fell, I imagined red and yellow sparks zooming over the sky as the man-made comet landed and blew up chunks of the poorly made trench in a second. Half of the regiment went out, racing towards no man's land to the bellowed shouts of German boys trying to hide their fears under war cries. The other half staybed behind to save those steadily sinking into the mud, nearly buried alive. I unearthed Jacques Lapiduire aged 19, whose face was coated in a ghastly combination of blood and mud, cracked ribs adding pressure on his lungs that need extra oxygen. A quick puncture to the right lung and soon he was relieved by a cork taken from whiskey given by farmers desperate enough to run across the fields and have him attend children whose bones show or cough with no hopes of receiving medicine. ('Help them recover and you can eat whatever you want' they say but food rots overnight in the trenches, the boys appreciate a flask of alcohol more anyway.) Third bomb, thunder in sync with man's abomination of science as Charles Verlaine, a parish boy aged 17 fell, Blessed Jeanne D'Arc still hanging on his uniform for all the good it did the lad who switched his farmer's plough and incense for a spade and and rifles. I would miss him and all those pretty stories he spun about the family's orchard in the years to come. None of us who lived to remember could ever describe his pride cherry tree with that sugar-crafted magic petit Charles gave, he took the orchard with him.
The greenest raised their bayonets tied to rifles in hopes of taking revenge. Armand Garnier, an 20 year old artist who wanted to work in comic strips was hit an inch above the eye, ruby trail on the face which then stayed forever young. I made his artist's journal into a sketchbook, putting the photos of Leia next to his angel of vengeance drawings. The boy next to him was also hit but the shrapnel shattered half of his jaw, allowing me to make a tourniquet which'd let him live long enough for the reinforcements. That same boy fumbling speech Luke can't make out the first couple of times until, finally my steadily improving French mind was able to translate a mumbled 'No cripple, kill me!! No cripple kill me!!-
"Luke, Luke wake up!!"
He rises in a cold sweat, feeling the weight of former Private Dak Ralter's arms over him to press him down should it be necessary. (Not even 17 when he enlisted, what kind of father lets his child march off to death before experiencing life?) Once the younger man is clear such measures won't be necessary a glass of water is offered, though Dak has to search for the sink with his fingers first on account of his blindness. Little things like that never fail to stir guilt in the older man for hating how he can only see out of one eye, half-sight is better than no sight at all even if the blind gargoyles are among the few who get the disability pension. 'Such a good kid, he deserved a place on that parade they gave the not-too-scarred soldiers. But if you look hard, most of the boys here did.'
He drinks the offered water, only now taking notice that Dak didn't bother putting on his mask, fake left ear or glasses for waking his roommate. The lad's cratered forehead and empty eye sockets bear into him unintentionally, causing him to lament how he'll never know if his eyes were brown or blue or green. "Thank you Dak. I'm sorry for waking you up."
"Well now we're even. I woke you up three days straight with my yelling, only fair you did the same. Was it the war or the hospital after?"
"The trenches, French division. Late night bombardment. A kid whose fate I would soon share, not that I was aware of it."
A comforting hand on his shoulder, hands rough and battle-worn. "So the kid ended up working in the meat business?"
He laughs more so Dak understands he appreciates the way he puts little care into the implications more than any humor. "Yes, he works in the meat industry. We can't all work weaving rugs. At any rate I hope he has as good a roommate as mine."
"I'm glad they let us live there, my baby sister kept crying back home whenever she saw the mask. Mother and Father acted like it was nothing but I could see the play wearing down on them. Best be here under your own roof and board."
He bids Ralter go to sleep since they both have work in two hours and in their situation it's mandatory to arrive first and leave last. As the younger man wishes him 'dreams of beautiful women' Luke's mind drifts to the image of Padme Amidala father kept in his watch within the breast pocket, to Leia merrily slow-dancing in the living room with Han as they discuss how to blackmail some politician whose name Luke forgot into striking off the 'whites only' label inside the Chicago Public library, and then unexpectedly , to Rey and how she'd be ashamed they can't live in the base next to their comrades, her hazel irises frustrated at a justice scale so well balanced in her mind but not for the vast majority of American society based on what he's seen so far. Miss Winters and Nurse Mothma would get along like a house on fire. 'I shouldn't assume things will last that long, I could be misjudging her cause my mind wants to believe somebody normal and non-related can enjoy my company. Maybe she's just trying to feel better about herself by showing crumbs of sympathy to a scarred old war dog. Just like the people at the Veteran's Memorial who think clapping when they see gargoyles will make us feel important when really it just adds to the idea we're unpaid circus clowns.' The older man places scant, if any, belief on the cynical thoughts. His soul clamors that the rational part of his self must cease this doubt and instead rejoice for it has found its perfect match. In the end he listens to neither of them, simply opens his drawer to hold dusting rosary beads and utters the rosary, every fiber of his lapsed Catholicism begging for the women still living in those mirages to have more fortunate lives than the lonely isolation foreordained to the blue house's inhabitants.
April 1, Belvedre Castle- June 10, New York 'Blue House'
April goes with her having caused exactly three hearty laughs, several timid chuckles and countless grins for which her presence is all that's required. It's a wonderful thing, to know a person smiles just because they've looked at you but Rey is lost on how to make the older man smile for himself and let her in deep enough to understand why he acts so strangely. It's not natural how he sometimes stops walking and just stays there, quiet for a whole hour and so cut off from the world. Or how sometimes he starts randomly reaching for a non-existent medical kit as if he's urgently needed. Rey learns that medicinal alcohol can prompt him to check her head for shrapnel and fireworks make him get down as if under attack. The psychologist she anonymously talked to on the phone believed a procedure called lobotomy was best for such symptoms, Rey didn't like the sound of it and just slammed the telephone back to its holding place. Sigmund Freud's book proves a waste of time, the bugger only talks about why children never outgrow 'sexual interest' in their parents/parental figures and how all people ever feel is rooted in rage or sexual frustration. Jung does have a few good points on how to overcome trauma but she has no clue on how to create a familiar, 'safe' environment beyond removing all guns from plain sight.
She wants to bring it up, discuss the melancholy brewing just below Luke's masked surface but it never seems to be the right time. It feels sacrilegious to talk about psychological effects of unacknowledged discrimination as he teaches her to calibrate a telescope or brings her books restricted for 'female sensibilities' like Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (he's halfway through reading her the novel when Rey admits internally that she loves him and yearns to have Luke say the words back) or Machiavelli's History of Florence, rude to bring up Luke's mysterious past when Rey's own origins are unknown, intrusive to ask why she can't find any Skywalkers on the phone books when Finn's eyes shine just a little bit at being called 'a fine young man' when presented to her not-boyfriend instead of far too common 'boy' which reminds him of the not so distant times when slavery was allowed. Besides Luke seems fine, a tad shy perhaps and sometimes out of touch with reality but certainly not in need of that awful lobotomy procedure which made her throw up after researching it on a modern medicine book. Maybe she should help him when the episodes get bad and deal with it without professional advice?
Near the end of April, Rey writes down the directions for her boarding house and ignores the looks Poe and Finn give her. She asks for a sign for where he lives in case of emergencies and whatnot, his reply is a drawing of blue benches and blue doors that cause her landlady to mutter 'poor man' when shown the image. Rey is advised by the middle-aged woman not to go near 'that sad place' and gives no clue as to where she may find this unknown house with roommates Luke mentions in passing. Asking the bootleggers in her monthly trek is even less insightful and the library has no boarding house contract with that description in its records. 'Did they build that stupid house in fantasy land or did Luke pull my leg by handing me a random drawing to send me off track? No, he wouldn't do that. Right? Goddamn my stupid conscience that doesn't let me sneak into the bus he takes.' The question beats on her psyche every time the landlady pointedly stares up and down at her suitor? regardless of how presentable Luke is on the waiting room for their outings. And she's pretty sure they don't let him take any sandwiches cause his pockets are always empty, juxtaposed with all the other fellows whose suspenders often smell of cucumber. Wouldn't it be nicer for her to just meet his roommates instead of him waiting with a bunch of stuck-up bachelors who immaturely move their seats away when he waits for her? At any rate they're nice enough to offer advice, Rey's been friendless in this place since Jessika Pava left to marry some Air Force lad named Wexley. The rest of these girls content themselves with snickering behind her back like flimsy schoolgirls and call Rey 'circus freak's wife' as if it was so original. Shakespeare's idiom is wasted on those doddering ninnies.
Luke finds out about the nickname at June's start, guilt written all over his body like a mural as the sweltering heat rises in midday. A careless reply from a boarding mate come to tease her and not realizing the so titled is actually standing up to greet her. Unsurprisingly, the girl scurries away once faced with Luke's average-height but imposing frame. Rey's amused smirk disappears upon turning to see her friend collapsing his usual position in the chair. He's kept wearing those formal, long sleeved dress shirts even as the temperature rises, much to her dismay. In this occasion they serve to highlight the (unfounded) shame in the older man's countenance as the dark fabric soaks, coupled with heavier than usual breathing. Rey's more bothered by how he refuses to link her arm with his than she was by any of the poorly imagined insults. She knows what he's going before any words come out, she's had enough rejection apologies from couples who didn't want to adopt her to recognize the way this particular finger-twiddle, this break from the route she's memorized already. However she and Luke should have this conversation later, right now her friend's in need of some shade and perhaps less layers.
Rey tries to unbutton his cuff links but is brusquely cut off by him. Still she attempts to convince him. "You're burning up, we should go under a tree. Maybe your willow?"
His flesh eye is glossy as he refrains from applying his accustomed handkerchief, Rey notices a few drops of something liquid trail down his chin but she can't tell it's sweat or not. "Rey...I think we should cease our outings. It's clear we're giving people the wrong impression."
She refrains from calling him an idiot, Luke has a tendency to nod when receiving insults that worries her. Instead the young woman intertwines her right hand and lifts up his chin with the left to leave them eye to eye. the mask is warmer than it should be. "Luke: what exactly do you mean by the wrong impression?"
Gently, he separates their hands. "The insinuation that you and I would ever be romantically involved is false. We're good friends, there's nothing to suggest otherwise."
Rey runs a hand through the outline of his shirt." And if I wanted the insinuation to prove right?"
His eyes turn colder, mirroring a part of the cynicism the world bequeathed him. "Did you think this was some sort of courtship? That you and I were going to walk the aisle, move to a house with a white picket pence and raise kids together?" he stops to take a breather, exhalation seemingly more difficult until he unbuttons his collar. Thus revealing grey, spider-web like scars all over his neck. Oh just what did you suffer? "Doll, this is reality, not some Perrault fairy-tale. You're no princess and I'm no Prince cursed by some witch's spell. In real life people like you get everything you ever dream of and people like me keep running from shell fire that never ends till we die or something blots us off the picture. Me leeching off you only hinders your path, best to leave now before we start spouting poetic bullshit."
She doesn't cry when he walks away from her, Rey has heard much worse from people who left her for reasons nowhere as (stupidly )noble-minded. Still it does cause her to question if Luke's partially right in his assessment, he certainly seems correct in thinking that should they turn lovers few will ever tilt their heads in approval. 'But that doesn't matter, other people won't live my life for me so why should I live according to their standards?' Deciding not to spend a moment longer preoccupied on what anonymous crowds shall say of her, Rey runs after him in hopes she catches up and can avoid having to seat on some horribly uncomfortable bus again for months to see Luke Skywalker again. (Even if her discomfort melted away the moment he locked eyes with hers). The market streets are somewhat crowded but not so much as the speakeasy had been (thank the Lord). The heat is a bigger hindrance than any bystander, humid summer air making it harder to concentrate. Then a little girl's voice rings out amidst countless others, asking her mother why the man with the mask was napping.
Even the hottest day couldn't have fully prepared her for the horrid vision of Luke splayed on the ground, hand stretched out for an ultimately careless crowd that pays no heed to the hyperventilating veteran apart from the toddler being dragged away by her mother. 'What the fuck is wrong with this country?' With feather-light tact Rey touches the artificial visage and has to retract it from the heated temperature. 'And Luke wears that everyday, thinking it's a civic duty to hide from the world that'd let him die in the middle of the street without blinking an eye.' Drowsily, Luke turns his head to her and sighs dreamily as if she's fixed everything just by being here on the dirt beside him.
Forgoing all his usual propriety, Luke is first to initiate contact. He places a hand on her chest, just at the heart. "You have a good one, I'm sorry if I hurt it little emerald."
She gives him a watery smile. "No lasting damage on your part, just relax so I can get you to a hospital-"
Panic helps him regain some energy. "No!!! They won't let me see you there, they don't let people like me have visitors and you won't find me in any of the open rooms. Just help me walk home please.*"
'Be careful what you wish for', Mother Thea had always said when visiting the orphanage for Catechism to whose who wanted to embrace her faith (or had nothing better to pass the time). She'd never really understood that phrase till now as she frantically dabs water over and again to Luke as he drifts out of consciousness from time to time. Luke keeps calling for someone called Leia in his muttering, whispering apologies to this phantom. It's bad enough for Rey to ask the bus driver directions instead of the man whom she's going to call boyfriend after this cause no 'female friend' knocks out the chauffeur, rips her dress to make a seatbelt and yells at every passenger to leave after the bastard replies they'll have to walk forty five minutes to reach the kriffing blue house whose existence nobody wants to confirm. Her racing ventures with Finn and Poe pay off as she drives at sixty mph without hitting so much as a pigeon. Hazel irises almost freeze when finally glimpsing the same benches and door Luke had painted in detail. Rey hits the brakes a bit too harshly and puts all the gentility she didn't give the brakes to Luke as he unties the makeshift seatbelt, hanging on to every shallow wheeze. He's almost completely unresponsive as Rey knocks (stomps) down the indigo colored entrance with her free fist till, at long last Rey is greeted with a tall fellow who wears a mask that's everything and nothing like Luke's. The man shakes his head sadly, as if greeting such an incident is common and stays even quieter than Luke did in the speakeasy whilst two more men wearing tin faces expertly remove the man she loves from her hands. Other men come out to find out what's happened, some with masks covering their entire jaws, others the forehead with black glasses to broadcast their visual impairment. Hers is the only face uncovered, even her loose hair seems rebellious as some boys with masks covering the entire face show their well-trimmed locks as if it was their only beauty. A knot forms in her stomach as Rey realizes that's probably how they see it in this 'boarding house' for the broken gargoyles.
(Are these the roommates you mentioned Luke? One of those men looked younger than me. Why are you all cooped up here like insects under a microscope? Where are your friends or families, you can't be all alone?)
A few hours later, New York 'Blue House' (Luke's POV)
He wakes up on the familiar sheets of 'home' and air flowing through the open window of his and Dak's room. The fact he's shirtless causes him to try covering himself but the sheets are gone, only a few melting ice cubes in the mattress. Lack of any jazz records playing shows the younger man is nowhere to be found, Ralter's obsessed with that Count Basil or whatever his name is. Slowly recovering vision makes out a dark skinned figure sitting by his bedside, gaze half crazed with worry and half dismayed as Lando Calrissian pats an iced cloth on his forehead. 'And yet all those KKL whackos claim Negroes can't touch a white man without wanting to hurt them. We should have let Germany win, they never thought up anything as stupid as Jim Crow or splitting up the Middle East into new countries without taking into account the people's history.' They weren't any good guys in the Great War, just children sold on the bullshit glory tales of old geezers from Bismarck's wars from the German side and children brought up with the idea it was their patriotic duty to 'avenge' the taking of Lorraine and Alsace which begged for their return to beloved France. The English boys came for a bit of sport, too much Victorian paintings of Knights in shining armor urging to be Belgium's rescuer from the 'savage German fiends'. As if mountains and creeks cared who dies for their possession, both sides' corpses served for fertilizer no matter the uniform.
Lando notices he's awake. "Gave us quite a scare there. Thought I'd have to send your sister a coffin."
Weakly, he lifts himself up. "Leia'd kill you if you'd done that."
A careless wave of the hand. "She might kill me anyway if she ever founds I knew where you live. Enough about that, when and how did you come across that exquisite beauty waiting outside in the main room?"
Luke gives him a warning look. "Don't you dare try seducing her. Your nether regions will regret it."
Lando puts on a pretend hurt face. "Luke: old buddy, old pal. Do you honestly think I am plagued by lecherous thoughts every time I see a woman?"
The salt and pepper blonde rolls his eye. "I think if I'd shown the slightest interest in you back when we met, you'd have tried to convince me and Leia on the 'wonders' of a ménage de trois."
The colored man puts a hand on his chin. "Yeah, you're probably right on that account. Go see that girl of yours, she's worried sick about you."
Luke gestures for Lando to give him his mask, frustration taking a hold of him when the older man informs that they were told not let him wear it till the next day. And just what is he supposed to do, subject a bright, amazing human being to the nauseating sight of him? Bad enough that she had to watch his ugly neck, do they want him to force that ruined mass of flesh on her pure hazel irises? Not wanting to oppress her with the possibility Luke turns sideways so his human side is eclipsed, making it clear to Calrissian he won't see anybody since this is the only position he and many others here can have sleeping unless drooled over pillows and asphyxiated gargoyles come into demand. (And kriffing head Nurse Marion Mothma always checks how everybody sleeps so the few times they did it on purpose she 'saved' them. That redhead never rests, it's like she has an inner rooster crowing to stay awake). He hears the sigh, footsteps and a quiet creak of the door indicating the last person he sees from 'the old days' has left the room. Slowly, Luke raises his hand, grateful that at least from this position he can't see the long, pathetic reminders of how he can't even slit his own wrists properly. 'Toughen up when the shots fire or die like a man'* a drill sergeant had yelled an eternity ago, failure to achieve those goals meant you were a disgrace to your regiment, to shame your regiment was to shame your country and all your bloodline. Back in the trenches he'd had to slap a couple of boys into sense when the rat-infested dirt hovels got to them, driving them to try running out of that hell even if they'd immediately die once a whiff of hair was visible. And kept his mouth shut when others ran away from fire and into the trenches, covered their faces in gauze so commanding officers wouldn't shoot them for deserting the line of duty.
But then he had a purpose, had a war to 'win' and the mission overcame all. He was indispensable, needed by every soul on the front. What does one do when the war is over? When you're still lost but there's no place for you anymore? Poor Han and Leia had tried to make everything all right, hadn't looked any different cause the flesh that remained was still their family. His sister always had a joyous smile when seeing him, gave him morphine for the pain both real and phantom from his ruined half. Yet he hadn't be able to feel that grateful joy she had just by knowing she hadn't lost her sibling. All he could sense was this hollow thump in his chest telling him he was a burden for his family as no one wanted to hire him. Dead weight chipping down her and Han's lives when he couldn't get out of bed some days and woke them up with his screams. The final straw had been waking up from a nightmare to realize his hands, hands that had once delivered babies and saved people's limbs but now only trembled and hit walls, were wrapped around Han Solo's throat. No amount of 'kid, I'm fine' was enough for him to dissuade the painful truth that all the bystanders were right, he wasn't human anymore. Luke Skywalker had perished in September 1918, a less than human creature who'd tried to kill his best friend would only bring them further pain, further suffering. So he'd left in the middle of the night and decided nobody else would be hurt by him. Gargoyles look scary but swing a hammer at them and they break, surely a broken one wouldn't find it too hard to rid the world of Luke Skywalker's shattered ghost? It had felt good to slice the monster's veins, warm water in the hotel which had charged him extra for staying's tub quickly turning ruby red as the clotting slowed down. Lando had found him by accident, entered the wrong suite and gotten his still-clothed body out of the water. He'd woken up a few days in a staunch white room where a mafia doctor had tended to him more out of respect for the former Don of Chicago's son than any decency, he's always suspected. Vito Corleone's steeled yet compassionate eyes following the rise and fall of his chest along with Calrissian trying to pretend he hadn't cried turned Luke against such an blatant suicide attempt but the idea of ending the war lingers, nags at him every time he spots loose rope or pictures Leia's chocolate orbs despairing as she screams 'God, I don't know what to do!!' when faced with her brother's immobile state which leaves Luke unresponsive enough for people to believe he can't hear them. (The worst part is he often does).
Tired, the older man decides to take a quick nap that unintentionally lasts three hours. Nurse Mothma's perfume is lounging around, solving the question of who took the ice out of his bed and pressed clean clothes for him at the coatrack. He's almost amused at how the lady keeps ironing short sleeved outfits for his daily work. 'You've grown close to us Marion, too close to see how wrist marks like mine are just as bad as a yellow stripe.'
Settling into a compromise of sorts, Luke puts on the shirt Mothma's ironed for him and bandages his wrists so the branded proof of his cowardice remain hidden. He moves to open the door, a motion finished only halfway upon hearing Rey's laughter. The little emerald is beautiful as always, sun kissed skin glowing as she plays cards with some of the younger residents and blowing off the hair from her face once in a while. Completely oblivious to how this will probably be their highlight of their month since not even bus drivers come round the 'blue house'. (The people outside call it that way cause of the door, those inside call it so because the amputation ward is cheerful compared to how they get treated the moment they walk out that door). The long-suffering man leaves just a crack of the door open, peaking his eye on the scene. A collective silent chuckle is echoed by the others as Rey tries to coax Paul into laughing based on his eye crinkle.
The little emerald smiles and gives him back his cards. "All right, I get it. Going for the strong and solemn look. It suits you, but it won't help any of you lads beat me."
'I love your smile, I love your spirit, I love you Rey' he thinks but doesn't say. At that moment Luke Skywalker wants nothing more than to kiss Miss Rey Winters after watching that diamond smile, a nice and steady kiss that will make her head spin and her eyes fill with all the constellations known to space. Find out if the beauty's skin turns ivory underneath that dress, leave her throbbing with pleasure with an experienced that'd wipe away the sloppy youths she's pecked. Common sense barely snatches hold of him in time to shut the God-forsaken door, seven years of minimum physical contact have turned his body pliable in regards to touch. His flesh shivers in anticipation of that forbidden fruit. At least that's how he explains the blissful satiety which floods him every time Rey so much as brushes her hand with his. The first occasions he almost purred in contentment like a stray cat brushed after years on the streets.
'She wouldn't be happy with me, I'm ruined inside out. I have nothing to offer.' Sliding down to the floor he touches both halves of his countenance. The tired face of an old man greets one hand, wrinkled lines and an eye that's seen too much. The crippled semblance of a monster greets the other, an empty socket next to a twisted nose and two teeth still weak after being sewn with a wire, skin red and tender from the overheat. 'A horror doesn't compliment a daydream, it simply replaces the good with the bad.' He crawls over to the back side of his bed where he keeps the sketchbook-size-photo album belonging to the man he used to be and weeps quietly for what once was, what never was and what could have been had destiny proved just a smidge kinder.
June 12, Little Italy, 4am (Rey's POV)
She hasn't seen him again, mostly because Miss Rey Winters is determined not to turn into a full-blown stalker. (Bad enough her brain reserves 'him' for one stupid yet irresistible Luke Skywalker. Rey's not giving folks any more reason to fold her bed on the loony bin). The young woman's mind inevitably drifts to his shy hands holding a bouquet every time she happens upon any willow or peony images, pale white costume masks turn creme at first glance but other than that she manages to avoid that cliche of girls mooning over their almost lovers. 'I was alone not counting Finn and Poe before him. I'll be perfectly fine going back to the way things were.'
Whenever the dumb little voice in her brain mutters 'fine is no match for in love' she squashes it down. Booze waits for no man or woman, specifically not when the government banned alcohol. The Sicilians are cornering the market on Irish whisky, turns out Rey's shipment back in March is more valuable to Unkar because of it and she got even more underpaid than previously assumed. Fortunately the Russians have started sending Vodka across the Atlantic, insuring few jobs are lost in the power transactions. Rey tries a bottle of the stuff with Finn, the water-clear substance almost burns her mouth with how strong it is. Finn and other bartenders add crème into the powerful drink for a 'mild' cocktail, leaving the original for dares from Immerman himself to see who's 'manly' enough to gulp a whole pint of the substance down. Poe is slowly retiring of the liquor business, investing on a race car business they've titled Nascar which half the rum-runners swear will never catch on. Rey's also purchased a few shares, though she'd chosen the long game credit where she'd have to wait a decade or two for profits to show. Either how, both were mocked for their choice in legitimate careers decisions for the future. 'Keep laughing you unimaginative twits. With how fast science is progressing we'll have talking pictures in ten years and men will walk on the moon by sixty'.
So by all accounts Rey figures she won't cross paths with Luke Skywalker, and if she would then she'd be tempted to slap him for refusing to so much as open the door for her after nine days of visiting. Apology or not she won't just crawl into his lap and whisper all is forgiven, she wants proof he wouldn't leave her every time Luke somehow gets it into that thick head of his that he's 'leeching' off her. Honestly, how did he get that crazy idea? She didn't give him any money or valuables, was human touch so precious a commodity? Prematurely old irises gaping at her casual physical contact of Luke and themselves flood back to her mind, whispering that perhaps she's judging this from a naïve point of view. 'And what a sad, miserable thing when situations are too grim for even an orphan.'' She makes a note to write again, having enjoyed the drawings and funny anecdotes told to her by the men living in that quaint little blue house. Besides, visiting where someone you sort of dated lives isn't necessarily a sign you haven't moved on is it? Does it count when you're trying to dissociate the place from the man, focusing on its other tenants in a platonic fashion? Either way it can't worsen her mood any more than Unkar has by making her drag all these fruit preserves (preserved in cherry cordial and rum, her own recipe mix) halfway through New York just for telling him it was stupid not to negotiate with Dillinger for passage at the Hudson.
Due to J Edgar fucking Hoover's revising the Prohibition Bureau individuals wearing a skirt are no longer dismissed as suspects so Rey was to take the longer route to her destination. Her reward is two Jacksons, underpaid again but without spending on detectives she's carefully saving up a small fortune due to her miniscule living expenses so Rey isn't bothered much. After delivering her 'produce' she goes to buy fresh seasoned bread from the bakery at the corner, taking advantage of her surroundings. It's there Rey winters sees the large, imposing yet jocose man chatting away with the grocer boy. His accent is undecided on whether it's American or full-blown Sicilian as they compare cigar brands, the eerily familiar fellow rolls each of them for quality texture before picking one and praising the young man for good taste. It's the latter's 'Buon giorno Signor Capone' that clues Rey into who she's just watched. Nerves wrack as the famous Mafioso somehow decides she's worth walking over to.
A muscular hand is extended to her direction. "Nice to finally meet you Hazel Mage. Boys at Detroit can't shut up about you."
'Holy mackerel Al Capone knows my name! Eat your heart out Unkar Plutt, if big-shots like Capone consider my nickname important enough to memorize then that means I'm going places!' Careful not to suggest flirting, Rey takes the offered palm as one would a business associate. which they are, sort of, in the way all Prohibitions breakers are knit together despite background or race or gender. Al shakes like movie stars do at a gala, which indicates he's more interested in her skills on the booze path and not the bed. (Thank goodness, I'm none too keen to learn the price for turning down the boss of Chicago).
"Pleasure's all mine Don Capone. What brings you to the big apple?"
"Me? Got a discount on pig carcasses. Stopped for the cigars, not everywhere you can get a fine Havana." He opens the package, Rey notices his polite offering just in time to stop scrunching at the thought of rotting pork meat. The cigar smells like sugar as well as tobacco, with a pinch of mint*. No one will ever accuse the Cubans of crafting a shoddy smoke but it's too warm for such habits.
"What on Earth could you possibly want with dead pigs?"
"Trade secret, just go to the butchers and they'll straighten you out. Saves up a lot of time most of us wine connoisseurs spend avoiding the trade routes."
"Will do, any open now? Might not have the free time later?"
"Yeah, Johnny's usual is up and about. Walk three steps to the flower shop, turn at the boutique, take a right on the corner and there you are."
She stops, life having taught her to be wary of strangers' kindness. "Why are you giving me this advice?"
A wink. "Simple, I want the satisfaction of knowing Johnny will meet a pretty woman who don't fall for his Celtic charms. Good luck kid."
'There goes all hope Poe and Finn will outgrow their childish streak, Capone's almost 30 and he's still playing with people. Best not to let any of the three know part of me enjoys it, then I'd be ribbed out from all the jokes they'd pull.' Waving goodbye as the large man tips his hat to her as she pays for her bread, Rey sets out to do just what the expert suggested. The directions prove true, twenty two minutes later she's knocking at the ventilated glass doors. A dark blue eye peeks out from behind the curtains. Miss Winters can practically feel the fellow's cat-like grin at the thought of seeing a lady this early. 'If he tries anything I chloroform him, tins be damned.' The doors open, a young man nearing the end of his twenties greets her and kisses her hand. his smile is slick as olive oil till she retracts her hand with no sign of wanting the contact renewed. Clearly this is a man used to melting away women's hearts on the spot, easy thing to accomplish with that dimpled movie star chin, lean muscular figure and shiny dark hair.
Apparently the man doesn't give up easily. Seconds later he's placed that easy smirk on. "How enchanting to glimpse such a rare beauty. Name's Johnny. What may I call you fair maiden?"
She stays completely unfazed by the flowery speech, his indigo eyes falling short of the desert horizon she'd marveled upon not so long ago. "Miss Winters. here for the butcher or butcher's assistant. I'm presuming you're neither, unless you've got a hobby of ruining silk suits Mister Dillinger? You are Mister Dillinger aren't you?"
Flabbergasted but possessing the quick wit to recover he stares. "Do you like the cops?" She shakes her head in denial. "Do I owe you money?" Another denial. "Then Johnny Dillinger I am. Butcher's doing an errand, you'll have to see the assistant. Warn you in advance he's not great on the looks department. Some find him unsettling."
"I don't care what he looks like, I just care about whether or not he can do his job properly."
"If you say so."
Somehow the sight of Luke Skywalker in all his glorious imperfection is more terrifying/exhilarating than both Capone and Dillinger. The salt and pepper blonde blinks at seeing her and scrambles to button up his sleeves, she catches a smile out of the corner of his lips before Luke clears his throat. "How can I help you today?"
Meeting his emotionless tone with her own she answers. "They recommended the pork here. I want a carcass."
If Luke has any reservations, any unbidden emotions he hides them masterfully. The mask probably helps with that, creating an aloof persona for him to wear beyond the spectacles and painted flesh. 'Why didn't you let me in to see you? I thought we'd grow closer after that day but you pulled me apart. If you did so because you can't stand me then I'd be over it but I know you don't hate me. One doesn't smile when surprised by someone they loathe.' She quietly follows him and keeps her thoughts to herself as Dillinger approaches Luke, her esteem of the man grows a tiny portion when he does so as if there was nothing odd in his appearance. Noticing the serious expression on the previously jesting face Rey hides behind the wall of rib cages.
"So Skywalker, you considered my offer yet?"
She hears him chop a thigh, goddamn that day she heard the Irving boys chopping up bodies and left her with the distinct memory of how certain parts sound when cut! "Yes, and it's a very flattering offer but I'll have to refuse."
"Oh come on Skywalker, you got sniper experience and it pays more than any civilian will. Richard Harrow* didn't turn down Thompson."
"Harrow got offered to keep an eight year old boy and a five year old girl safe. Plus, he made it clear that his main job would be their security. You're not offering me to help keep folks alive, you want me to aid in bank robberies."
"Rich people banks on the East side, sides we always give a portion to the poor* afterwards."
"Look Johnny you need me to patch somebody up then I'll do it. Need a cow, I'll fix it for delivery. But I'm never holding a gun again so long as I live."
"Suit yourself. You got any advice on how to dazzle that girl waiting at the customer's side? She seemed to like you."
Rey hears a knife break into the wooden planks this time instead of the meat. "Dillinger, I sometimes approve of your methods and consider you a decent chap but keep your hands off my lady or I'll call the feds on you."
Dillinger walks out shortly after, muttering under his breath how older men take everything too seriously. While the lady-wooing bootlegger/bank robber might be somewhat grumpy, Rey couldn't be happier as she hears Luke turning on the faucet to wash his hands before greeting her. "You didn't specify how big you wanted it and I'm assuming you still have no car so would you settle for a piglet-why are you smiling at me like I just hung the moon on a string for you?"
"You just said I'm your lady in front of the FBI's #1 most wanted. No more pretending I don't strike your fancy."
He stares in disbelief. "Mind explaining just what makes you think me going steady with you would be a good idea? I thought I'd made it clear I won't leech off you."
She moves a little closer." You've never leeched off me Luke Skywalker. If anything you give to people without expecting anything back."
Luke walks back, not knowing what to do. His good eye is moist, Rey earns an amused smirk for checking his body temperature to see if he's overheating again. It turns out he's crying quietly, in the same way she learnt to do in order to prevent disturbing others. She never liked it on Finn then, she doesn't like it on Luke now as he lovingly holds her hand. "Rey.. I'm broken. Not just my flesh, but in my mind. I've lost my identity, hurt my loved ones, forsook my dignity even."
He lifts up his sleeves to show long knifes gashes that happened a long time ago. The mark of a coward, says the voice of Reverend Mother O'Malley in accordance to most people's idea concerning suicide in this day and age. Probably even the way Luke himself sees it, based on how he called it a surrender of decency. She thinks back to Luke's unyielding belief that they wouldn't let him have visitors should he be interned. Rey hadn't quite gotten why he was so upset till one of Luke's 'roommates' explained how the hospital added an 'ugly section' just for them. To go from the man most place their hopes on to the man hospitals wrote a written law against must be a terrible situation. 'This world failed you in deeds and silent judgement alike.'
On impulse Rey grabs the 'dignity-less' wrists and kisses them, deliberately pressing slow, steady traces of her lipstick on the scars. "You're not broken Luke, you're just a little lost. There's no shame in being lost."
"No, but there is in cravenness."
"Is it cowardly to want escape from a world that wants to saw your brain off cause you tick a little? To feel hopeless after coming back to an ungrateful country that can't even allow you to eat or sleep or work around 'proper' company cause then they'd have to acknowledge this economic boom we enjoy is stained with European blood? As far as I know, that's getting tired of living logically in an illogical world. I'm sad you felt so horribly that it seemed a good idea at the time but I'm not convinced this makes you my inferior."
"Shame your train of thought isn't shared by the majority."
"Perhaps someday it will be, but you can't quite make an assessment of me yet. We haven't officially dated."
"Rey..you can have any man you want. Why draws a strong, independent woman like yourself to someone so complicated? Whom you'll have to wait on and whom people will pity you or mock you for being with?"
"For starters: the fact you effortlessly say 'strong and independent' when describing me before young or ravishing or beautiful. Second, the way you treat everyone with respect, even when that respect is often one-sided. Thirdly, the fact you've never assumed I'm not capable of understanding a topic. But mostly, because in all my years no else has ever touched me the way you did that day when I walked beside you under the willow, like I was a queen among mortals."
"You are, don't doubt that little Emerald."
"And that, my knightly Luke is why I love you."
June 22 of 1925, 7pm, New York 'Blue House (Kanan's POV)
"What colors does it have Hera?"
His wife shuffles to seat beside him, moments like these are the only time in which Commander Kanan Jarrus grieves the loss of his sight. For the most part he can hear the sounds of the world around him. He's learned to feel the history of an object by hand or foot contact but his picture of Hera is that of 1915, when the Russian lady he was blessed to marry left the Death battalion due to the child in her womb. The Hera in his eyes bears no glowing afterbirth as she must have had when their son came into the world. No crows eye's starting to decorate her face. He shall never glimpse just how her jet black hair will turn silver or white as the moon. 'But I get to stay with her when far too many never returned at all. Sight or no sight, my family's enough.'
Hera rests her head on Kanan's shoulders, he listens to the sweet sighs her lips make every once in a while. "Mostly dark blue that passes for black on the horizon, orange at the sides but just a little gold left."
"Then the sunset's nearly over."
"Wanna head back inside for lemonade? My father won't bring Jacen till 8."
"No, I'll sit here for a while. Don't wait up on me my love."
She kisses him, slow and steady and warm. 'I shall never tire of this kiss, or any kiss she gifts me.' As her dainty feet retrocede from his path, the aging Commander's nose picks up the smell of rose water and is that moonshine? Small footsteps, larger than his son's but lighter than the menfolk move forward to his direction and then finally go inside the door. Curiosity aroused, Kanan grabs hold of his cane and proceeds to enter the premises. As always his ears try to account for all his damaged eyes can no longer perceive. The record playing on the far side of the room hits him harder than it would the non-visually impaired, as do the sweeping broom Henry McIntosh is holding (the man is often sweeping, convinced that if the house gets dirty they'll evict him like they did in the four apartments he rented before coming here) and Mothma's humming 'Two Cents a dance' while re-bandaging James Farley's arm after he got into a skirmish cause some jerks at a speakeasy thought a freak had no right to swallow liquor. He focuses, senses in search of the girl who entered their house. All the while he maintains a certain level of apprehension, cause the whole reason the doors and bench are painted blue is so no one accidentally enters this place and the method's worked for the last nine years. Last time they were 'visited' was in 22 when some dunce thought it'd be easy to rob a bunch of crippled veterans, clearly forgetting the 'veteran' part of the equation. He's not in the mood for a robbery, especially not the type involving a Mata Hari*.
The former Commander has his first non-Hera surprise in seven years when he gets chastised in the kitchen by Private Ralter for holding his cane like a weapon 'when guests are present'. Guests? Is it some repentant wife or family member trying to apologize for the callous refusal to let their husband/brother/cousin stay with his own flesh and blood? 'Please don't be a past girlfriend coming to inform you're marrying another man. The younger boys can't take another gargoyle hanging himself from the ceiling fan after recognizing what life denied him.'
Hoping for the best he extends his free hand. "Commander Kanan Jarrus, 212th division."
The young girl's quick to shake as one would any other man, genuinely unfazed by the mask covering the whole upper part of his head to the ears. "Delighted to meet you Commander Jarrus. I'm Rey Winters, here for Doctor Luke Skywalker. His roommate was sweet enough to entertain as is Mister Arthur Norris who insists on playing the strong, silent type."
"Does his mask cover the whole mouth?"
"Then he can't talk, he's missing a jaw."
A fast knock on the head from hands he recognizes as Norris's confirms the girl must be pretty, otherwise the youth wouldn't mind having the full extent of his deformity revealed. He'd been glad when Jarrus explained the terms to Mothma, an older woman was nowhere near his scope but a dame who's hands can't be older than twenty or twenty-one? It's practically the closest he can get to reliving his former life. Norris used to be a charmer, neither French or Belgian or Portuguese women were capable of resisting his dastardly combination of a silky voice, blazing green eyes and a form like mortal sin. Parents had despaired when he came into town for fear he'd woo their daughters, now they think themselves entitled to kick him out even when those same girls would scream at just the mask.
A strangled attempt at conversation followed by a frustrated stomp informs him Norris has left the room. 'Too traumatized for a twenty-five year old, but that's nothing new here.'
"Is he all right?"
Jarrus turns his head to face Miss Winters. "He'll be fine. This is actually quite mild compared to what happens round nighttime."
"Is Luke going to be here soon? We have a call to make."
Though she can't see it, Kanan raises the skin of his eyebrows. "Oh? Whom for?"
"He wouldn't say, just that he wanted me there for it."
'Yes, man does rely on woman for strength more than most care to admit.' No sooner has the Commander thought this, he recognizes the footsteps of Doctor Skywalker entering the room. Doctors have a peculiar walk about them, for some reason the good ones tend to possess a sprint to their gait. Skywalker's sprint is particularly cheerful this evening. No doubt influenced by the fact his visitor has raced over to him and hugged him, leaving no speculation as to whether she's in love. How marvelous, it's damn time somebody beside him had to wake up in witches's hour for a baby and not nightmares.
Same day, 7:15 pm, random payphone. (Luke's POV)
The tart cards* in the telephone booth seem to judging me as my fingers shake trying to dial the number. I don't bother to pretend I have the courage to carry out this task without Rey holding my free hand. She smiles encouragingly at me, grants her warmth to my haggard self so easily I still have trouble understanding how a being so radiant can exist. I have spoken to Rey about Han and Leia in pieces, fragmented halves of the life I once had coming out by accidents I wasn't unguarded enough to commit before I met Miss Winters or cause I've explained the gravity of my offenses against them to her in gradually weaker attempts to test the emerald's capacity to forgive. My love's face revealed nothing when I told her in excruciating detail how Leia and I grew up together, hidden on our uncle's farm so we could experience childhood free of the 'family business' and saw our father shake some days cause of the toll his work took on him. How I broke his heart by informing the man who loved me most in the world I had no desire to start a dynasty and was perfectly content to have Maximiliano Verroni as Godfather, for I wanted to save lives without leaving people in my favor but would not hesitate to heal whomever he or his men brought in need of my services. (He was proud of my medical degree, fondly stating I was just like my mother who had volunteered nursing in the Crimean War.Not even this helped clear the waters when my sister decided to work for the government so the next generation had better role models than mass murderer Andrew Jackson, an act my father saw as a betrayal to the family and everything he'd built since he'd been betting on her to follow the 'family business'). My journey to the reservations where I tended people in exchange for boarding, though they'd hide me every time officers came round in a funny reversal of the attic sheltering 'aliens'. How Leia eventually grew to hate the fact she was a Don's daughter yet married a smuggler who liked to pretend he was cold but was selflessly transporting Native Americans to safety as the Government used them for cannon fodder. How Father and I reconciled when he took a bullet to the spine shielding his only son from fire at Wounded Knee cause I'd refused to leave after the soldiers identified me as a 'proper citizen'. He lost the use of his legs saving me, but he'd claimed it was a smaller price than what he'd expected to pay for my re-entry in his life as I spent Father's remaining years as his caretaker till he died in my arms. I went to France after the funeral and lived in my mother's vacation, seeking to put together the parent I'd known with the man in Padme Amidala's diary. The war helped with that in ways I'd never expected (or wanted).
Rey'd stared at me with a look of determination every time I recounted the times gone by, as if she had imagined every worst possible scenario and thus readied herself for anything. My scarred war-dog soul loved her a little more for it. After all constituents of my nightmares were known to her Rey had wrapped in her arms around me and said I was the bravest man she knew. Personally I thought her assessment a tad skewed, she and her friends are much braver when facing this cruel world with gentle hearts but I gladly took her acceptance. I knew then that I needed to marry Rey Winters with every cell in my ruined body, but I owed to Leia to at least her choose if she wanted to meet what would become the newest member of our family, the angel who might possibly bear my children. Hence my standing in a payphone like a loon as I twirl each digit to the Solo estate in Chicago.
At first there's no response, just that recurrent buzz which heightens my nerves. Then finally I hear a voice, though not the one I had steeled myself to hear. Rather than the tune of my sister's tune whose tone I heard since arriving in this world or the gruff 'what do you want?' typical of my best friend, I hear a little girl responding with a chipper 'hello' so bright I can feel the sunshine wherever she is. 'If Rey and I have a daughter, I think she might be that chipper.'
"Hello, are Han and Leia present?"
"Nana and Gramps are on vacation but Daddy's home." A granddaughter, I should have delivered her just as I did all three of her children. I don't even know which of her children married. It could be Jacen or Jaina or Anakin. Please be Anakin or Jaina, Jacen will be furious at me.
"Well, can you tell your daddy that his uncle Luke is on the phone and wants to talk to him?"
Shortly after I hear angry yelling, demands for that nice little girl to hand over the phone. Do they think it's a con for money? A case of mistaken numbers? A cruel prank in retaliation for some political move I don't know about? Have they assumed I'm dead? My living state is not for lack of intent. Even if I've never tried to slit my wrists again there were plenty of moments I would have starved himself if Lando hadn't come over to see me three times a week on schedule every year. I couldn't bear giving him my corpse to Leia, just like I couldn't bear Dak finding my hanged shell after rooming with him for a week.
A brief 'Uncle Chewie I wasn't lying' later I hear a young man who might be Jacen or Anakin since they were both teenagers when I left.
"Listen buster, I don't know who you are but this ain't funny! Try something like this again and I swear to Christ Almighty: I will hunt you, I will find you and I will throw toilet paper all over your house!!"
Well, here goes nothing. "Toilet paper? Really Jacen? That's so mild of you. What happened to the kid who dug up the neighbor's garden and buried meat underneath cause he called your old man a bigger lover, laughing as the old scrooge despaired over all the dogs and raccoons messing up his yard?"
I hear the phone drop, a few curses let loose as my nephew fumbles with the cord. "Uncle Luke??"
"Yes Jacen, it's me."
Rey gets into the phone booth and presses short, loving kisses to mask and face upon noticing how I'm refraining the urge to bolt cause my nephew's yelling raises my already high nerves. The yelling fades away, all the world becoming her as Rey's soft lips caress me. I would die happily if just once I could kiss her in turn.
"Kid? Is it really you?"
We're both startled by Han's voice emerging out of nowhere. A small chuckle escapes from my lips as I realize Han must have taught his grandchild to say he's not home when he wants to be left alone. Rey gives me an encouraging smile, more effective than all those 'man up or die' were.
"Yeah Han, it's me talking. I'm in New York, and I'm in a good spot. Also, I met someone and I wanna marry her so I thought maybe......If it was possible, would you and Leia like to come see me? Meet the fiancee and all that?"
"Maybe? I hope you enjoyed the last seven years apart from us kid. Cause Leia and I ain't letting out of our sight again for as long as you live!!"
"I'm looking forward to it. Listen Han, my nickel's almost up. Are you and Leia free on Sunday?"
"We got no plans for the weekend. Your girl coming?"
"Yeah, I was hoping to introduce you to her."
"Good, so we'll see you at Lando's? He'll be pissed to find out you were right under his nose all this time."
I agree, not wanting to knock out mutual friend's teeth by telling Han Calrissian knew my location all along. Lando doesn't deserve the onslaught of Leia's temper. Making a mental note to meet with him on the Impending around midnight, I say farewell and put the phone back in it's place, turning all focus to the Queen before me as we step out the booth.
"You got a dress for the occasion? Not every day one meets the family."
She coyfully traces my hands in a way that makes my toes curl. "I can think of a few outfits they'd like but if you want to know there's something you have to do."
Rey murmurs against my ear "Kiss me."
My heart nearly bursts out of its chest after hearing those words. The sultry tune of her voice stirring me to the bone. But still part of me refuses to forget how I've been treated in the hospitals, by my own country, by the indifferent crowd that would have let me die and picked up my corpse in disgust.
"Close your eyes."
She nods, grinning and twisting her lips in anticipation as I remove my glasses to connect the emerald's flesh with a gargoyle's mutilated visage. I lead her dainty hand across my deformity, one last test to see if fate has truly been kind or has merely pulled my leg all this time. Her palm explores my halved and twisted nose, the empty eye socket with a contorted moist slit and a lash or two still adhering as the only trace of my lost Oculus, the missing part of my cheekbone which salivates all the time. Once she's familiarized with my gnarled semblance of a face, Rey opens her eyes.
"Does it hurt?"
It takes every ounce of self-control I possess not to cry in relief. "Not anymore. It itches plenty though. Sometimes the skin around my mouth gets irritated when I wear the mask too long."
Rey takes the mask out of my left hand. "Then you'll have to keep it off when I visit."
In that moment I kiss her, not caring if they put my ugly mug on the New York Times. She moans in pleasure, cheeks flushed as she stops to get air. 'I did that.' Rey pushes me to the wall, vixenly unbuttoning my shirt as I take the pins off her hair on pure instinct. It's not until she unties her waistband that I regain my mind.
"I don't want to."
"Rey.... I want our first time to be better than a brief fick on the wall. I want to make love to you as my wife, and buy a house with lots of space for a garden. I want you not to worry if there's a babe in your belly without a wedding ring to silence any harshness directed at you. To treat you right, this day and every day for as long as I live. Because I only started living again when you came into my life."
"When you put it that way, how can a girl refuse?"
I kiss her again, this time more softly. Like a seraph reciting the Angelus.
October 1, 1925, St. Malachy Parish Church (Rey's POV)
Luke's niece and sister place his mother's wedding veil atop my curled-for-the-day locks. I've never had any sort of heirloom before, my parents had left me without so much as thimble. This makes Padme Amidala's veil all the more precious to me, it's Brussels lace embroidery a quiet baptism for my entering the Skywalker family.
I do my best to stay still as Leia finishes pinning the same baroque pearls she wore when marrying Han Solo. She smiles like a proud mother upon completion and puts her hands together in pure joy.
"Oh, it looks absolutely beautiful on you. I'd given up hope to see my brother again, let alone witness his wedding. Warms my heart to know I was wrong on both accounts."
"I'm glad to be marrying your brother, though if the Priest suddenly changes his tune and gives us a funny eye I won't hesitate to sock him."
Mrs. Solo shakes her head in amusement, gaze split in remembrance of some past occasion where she actually carried out my warning. Father Piett has behaved wonderfully with us but I can't shake the feeling there's more to him than everyone lets on. Older people who walk the street have this strange tendency of kissing his hand and saying 'Tutto il mio rispetto per te, consigliere' as if he held power over their lives. Rey is determined to learn Italian after the honeymoon and figure out what it means.I delay now only because the wistful laugh coming from the Priest's mouth as we practiced in the rehearsals for the wedding at this altar softened me his amused 'don't kiss him yet' every time my lips rejoiced upon finally having Luke kiss me, more preoccupied with how I tend to ignore his instructions than the open sight of my betrothed's war injuries have me mostly convinced that he's a good chap but trusting my instincts has gotten this far and my gut says there's something about that word 'consigliere' that would explain everything. 'Maybe I'll ask Luke, the key to a good marriage is no secrets so he might inform me what it means if he knows it.'
Leia's straightening my veil over my dress of white panne velvet brings me to the present. "Rey, Firmus is a loyal friend of our family. He had our father's intimate trust and was at his bedside as faithfully as Sancho Panza was with Don Quixote. He would never harm us. but hurt my brother and he will be unforgiving.''
I nod, knowledge from what Luke has told me piecing together just what Leia meant by 'friend of the family'. What brought the older woman to reconcile with someone so clearly connected to her father's dark world? Was Anakin Skywalker's sacrifice enough for Leia Solo nee Skywalker to pardon all offenses or did the blood shared between them influence her to act more softly the few who had loved the man and not the Don? Anyhow, her words have calmed towards the man's past so I run a hand over my sleeveless (much to the landlady's dismay), wide-necked bodice with a draping neckline and smile because I love my dress and the man I'm about to marry.
All three of us hear the door knock, Jaina is the one to answer and kiss Finn on the cheek. 'God, I love how this family acts.' "Is the bride ready yet? Cause It's time for me to escort her to the altar."
Finn had been the only choice I had in mind for 'giving me away' in the traditional father's position. Mister Solo had offered, enchanted with my fascination for automobiles and 'can-do attitude' as he called it but I felt Finn had earned it. 'I will grant him the right of godfather for one of our children, Luke and I agreed on that. Even if I haven't told him that may be sooner than everyone expects, considering I've missed two periods.' My betrothed had been quite resilient to my 'sin of Eve charms' as the Presbyterians would say, while I had no ring on my wedding finger. It infuriated me to no end, this is the 20s dammit!! Not the snobbish Victorian age poor Luke, Leia and Han were forced to grow up in. Women can vote now, and get paid the same as men in several workplaces so why did they still have to apply that antiquated rule that a man could lay with twenty girls and be congratulated but woe to the dame with no blood on her sheets? I wanted to lay with my love already, I'd wanted it even before that steamy kiss in the telephone booth but Luke refused out of misplaced concern for my virtue. (And okay, yes I was a Virgin so there was a virtue to be lost but it's a very silly notion to judge virtue by the status under our legs).
Once I received the congratulations (genuine and obligatory alike) and fawn over my diamond & lapis azuli wedding wedding ring from all the ladies in my boarding house as I moved out though, I knew it was time for the next step in our relationship. I had been patient, but there;s only so much fantasizing over a man's body after catching him out of the shower (an accident since I was getting used to living with someone, mind you I'm not that much of a Mata Hari) and seeing that lean figure one can have before craving the real thing. My plans were simple yet hopefully not too wanton. A few casual gestures in the back, creme stockings instead of white, and applying red lipstick in place of my typical soft pink color.
Truth be told, I was quite convinced the efforts had no effect on my soon-to-be husband until Luke excused himself one time after he caught washing my hair of all things! I'd told him he couldn't leave without a kiss and was surprised by his refusal, not sure what to make of it. My confusion must have been evident, because he took me in his arms and kissed both of my cheeks and forehead. It felt so nice I almost didn't sense what at the time my virgin brain assumed was a pistol in his pocket. (Lord, had that been embarrassing conversation with Leia of all people.)
After that, no effort was needed. A simple hand to that same 'pistol' made him burst with a passion greater than all the plays said was possible. My lover was reverent in his first time with me, he took off my clothing the way Little Italy's congregation takes the Madonna out of her train to place her on the chapel. Fondled my breasts and left them hard and placed his fingers in a way he assured me would diminish my pain at 'becoming a woman'. There was a slight ache when he went inside me but it was honestly quite small, he apologized at the barest indication I was 'hurt' so much I almost lost my temper and demanded for him to stop begging forgiveness and get back inside my loins. Fortunately I kept my composure and shortly after my love asked me if the ache had subsided. One nod and he filled me, emotionally and physically. I have never felt more comfortable than I do after our bouts of love-making, with Luke laying on his wounded side and pulling me close to sleep in blessed peace. God willing, that will be what I wake up for the next fifty years.
Finn takes my arm and places a gardenia corsage on my left wrist as we step inside the rented carriage. "You look divine, he's a lucky man."
My veil hides the smile a bit yet I grin nonetheless. "We're all lucky today I think. Are my peaches ready for the after-party?"
I see him fidget." Yeah, about that. Poe and I were selling your last pre-wedding batch to Johnny's boys and somehow Dillinger decided to attend your wedding. Then Capone got wind of it and said he's 'responsible for bringing you two love birds together' where he got that idea I don't know, and also decided to come with his wife and kid. Nucky Thompson didn't want to be left out so he came from Chicago with his wife and kids and some fellow who has a mask like your boyfriend's."
Realizing the implications, I unwrap my veil and stare at him. "Finn, are you telling me my wedding has somehow turned into the boot-legger event of the year?"
"The year? Try the decade. The Corleone are coming too. Your husband is a buddy of his cause he helped baby Fredo breathe a few years back when he was poor and all the other doctors said he was a goner. And like the idealistic fool he is, didn't expect the man to take it seriously cause apparently he's like you and thinks it's normal to help a poor immigrant family in exchange for nothing."
Deciding to roll with the punches, I laugh. "Well, do you need any more proof Luke and I are perfect for one another?"
"No, I guess not. Put the veil back on."
The carriage stops and we step outside. I see the aforementioned 'gargoyle' guard playing piggy back rides to a little boy and girl who say 'up teddy bear' as if nothing else mattered. A man presenting herself as Donna Corleone congratulates me for 'finding such a nice young man' and gives me a key (I later find out the key is for a house). Inside the church a few people in costume* are leaving confession, whispering about whether or not the man smoking a cigar in the right front row is actually AL Capone. Luke's grandniece Allana beams in her flower girl dress and stares at me in wonder, no doubt imagining her own wedding in the future. No smile is better than my bethrothed's as I take his hand to exchange vows, the world is bright and pure and beautiful as we seal our Union with a kiss.