Actions

Work Header

fools and kings

Chapter Text

“there was a boy
a strange enchanted boy
the say he wandered far
very far
over land and sea.”


 

Paris, 1900

From his window, Scott Moir could see the remains of the Moulin Rouge. What was once a bright light in the city of Montmartre now was dark and abandoned. The windmill had stopped turning, and the red lights reading “Moulin Rouge!” had burned out.

Just a year prior, the building had been a source of grandeur and one of the most popular dance halls in the city. Scott shakes his head, trying to rid himself of the memories he had made there, both good and bad. Harold Zidler had been right. The people of the Moulin Rouge were creatures of the underworld, and they couldn’t afford to love.

Turning to his typewriter, he begins to write, the keys of the machine clicking as his hands shake.

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.

The moonlight shone through his window, and the small lamp in the corner of his room provided the only other source of light as he wrote in the night.

The Moulin Rouge. A nightclub, a dance hall, and a bordello, ruled over by Harold Zidler. A kingdom of night time pleasures, where the rich and powerful played with the young and beautiful creatures of the underworld. The most beautiful of all these was the woman who I loved. A courtesan, she sold her love to men. They called her “The Sparkling Diamond.” And she was the star of the Moulin Rouge.

Scott breathes in, letting his head fall into his hands. He sighs and looks at what he had written, before placing his fingers back onto the typewriter and continuing.

The woman I loved is dead.


 

One Year Earlier

The sky overhead is cloudy as Scott Moir sits on a bench in Montmartre, writing furiously in his beat-up notebook. He’d go back to his apartment and write on his typewriter instead, but when he first got here, the sun was shining and he decided it was a perfect day to spend outside. Well, until now.

Just a few months earlier, he’d moved from Canada to Paris in hopes of living his dream and becoming a successful songwriter. He misses his family dearly, and writes to them every month or so. Scott’s father had protested when he announced his plan to leave Ilderton, saying that writing isn’t going to get his youngest son anywhere in life. His mother had cried, but was glad to hear he was pursuing his dream. His brothers, as always, had congratulated him with a forceful, but affectionate, pat on the back. Their wives had hugged him, and his little nieces and nephews excitedly asked him to write songs about his adventures once he got to France.

He would write little tunes to please his nieces and nephews, of course, but Scott’s passion wasn’t writing just any type of song; he loved to write love songs. Songs about love overcoming all obstacles, lifting people up where they belong, pledging to love someone until their dying day.

And what better place to do that than in the city of love?

But there was only one problem.

Scott Moir has never been in love.

While his brothers were getting married and having children, he was pacing the floors of his childhood bedroom, trying to describe love. While they were celebrating anniversaries and Valentine’s Day, Scott was running out typewriter ink, and frantically writing down his ideas instead of neatly typing them.

So that’s why he sits on this bench, a breeze ruffling his hair, writing down his latest idea as the gray sky turns darker.

A raindrop lands on his page, smudging the ink from his pen and wrinkling his paper. He closes the notebook as more drops fall, this time on his head. It’s only sprinkling, and Scott hopes there won’t be a sudden downpour, so he decides to go back to his apartment. Just to be safe.

Scott loves Montmartre. It’s the hub of every kind of artist, and he knows it’s not uncommon to see painters, poets, singers, musicians, and architects lining the streets. The Bohemian ideals of truth, beauty, freedom, and love are all the rage in the city right now, and Scott feels like he belongs here. The large number of cafés, theatres, cabarets, and dance halls had overwhelmed him at first, but now he loves it.

He’s on the way back to his apartment when he passes another bench. Two men seem to be be arguing with each other, and one of them speaks in a thick Spanish accent. The other, who Scott notices has a cane, just waves a stack of loose papers, gesturing wildly and pointing at the words on the pages. Scott tries not to eavesdrop, but the men are being so loud that’s it’s almost impossible for him not to overhear.

“How about this?” The man says, lightly tapping his cane against his paper. He takes a deep breath and begins to sing. “The hills are alive with the screams of the proletariat!“

“No! That’s awful!” His friend shakes his head and frowns.

“Oh really? What do you have?”

The Argentinian clears his throat and looks at his paper. “The hills are alive with the sounds of the condors shrieking over the Andes!

“Condors shrieking? This is supposed to be a love song!”

“Face it, Toulouse. We are not songwriters.” The Argentinian says sadly as Toulouse mindlessly taps were his cane against the ground.

“Well, how hard can it be, for God’s sake?” Toulouse mumbles. “Just let me try again.” He shuffles through his papers and sighs.

He sits there for a moment, thinking, and Scott, still watching, does too.

Maybe I could help them, He thinks. This is supposed to be a love song, and I can write love songs.

Toulouse jumps up, dragging Scott out of his thoughts as he refocuses his attention on these two strangers who might have a lot in common with him.

“I got it! The hills are-“

The hills are alive with the sound of music!” Scott exclaims, startling the two men. Toulouse drops his cane and his papers in shock, and the Argentinian’s jaw drops.

With songs they have sung for a thousand years!” He finishes, and both Toulouse and the Argentinian look thoroughly impressed.

“Hello! Who are you?” Toulouse asks, gesturing for Scott to join him at the table.

“I’m Scott. Scott Moir.” He says as he sits down.

“And you’re a songwriter then?”

“Yes.” Scott nods.

“Perfect! You can help us write our show!” Toulouse claps his hands excitedly, before turning to the Argentinian. “I am Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, but everyone just calls me Toulouse. And this is my friend, Santiago Diego Romero Ruiz, who, as you can clearly see, is Argentinian. We are, obviously, the greatest artists in all of Paris.” He proclaims, and Scott raises his eyebrows. They were supposedly the greatest artists in the city?

“Your show?” Scott asks, intrigued.

“It’s called Bohemian Rhapsody, the revolutionary show we have always dreamed of writing! It celebrates the bohemian ideals that so many of us here in Montmartre believe in!” Toulouse exclaims. “Truth, beauty, freedom, and love!”

“Love?”

Toulouse and the Argentinian nod. “Yes, love. Do you believe in it?” They ask, anxiously awaiting his response.

Scott feels a smile spread across his face. “Of course! I write love songs. Above all things, I believe in love. Love is like oxygen, love is a many splendored thing, love.... love lifts us up where we belong!”

“Yes!” Toulouse yells, drawing the attention of several passerbys. He lowers his voice. “Now all we have to do is convince Zidler to produce the show.”

“What?” The Argentinian says in shock. “But how will he agree to finance something that is being written by an inexperienced American?”

“Canadian,” Scott corrects quickly.

“Sorry, Canadian.” He continues. “What will we do? This is the Moulin Rouge, after all. It’s not just any dance hall.”

Scott gasps. The Moulin Rouge? He had never been there, but he had heard the stories of men dressing up and throwing their money at the can-can dancers. It was a place for the rich to spend their nights mingling with the young and beautiful women that worked there. As a foreign, struggling writer, he couldn’t imagine visiting such a place.

“I have a plan.” Toulouse explains, his eyes glinting mischievously. “Tessa Virtue.”

Now it was the Argentinian’s turn to gasp. “Toulouse! Are you serious?”

His friend nodded. “Absolutely,” Toulouse says, and proceeds to explain the plan.

And so it was settled. Scott would be dressed up in the finest suit that the three men’s money could buy, and Toulouse and Santiago would pass him off as a rich and famous writer from London. He would then perform one of his songs to Tessa Virtue, the star of the Moulin Rouge, and, Toulouse explained, she would love it so much that Zidler would have to put on the show.

“This will be perfect!” Toulouse shouts. “Come on, let’s celebrate our new writer, Scott, and the success of Bohemian Rhapsody!”

This has to be the most insane plan that Scott thinks he’s ever heard of. His two new friends both looked like vaudevillians who just recently escaped from the nearest asylum, but he wants their plan to succeed.

After all, what could go wrong?

Chapter Text

Scott had politely declined every glass of alcohol that was handed his way, so while his friends were somewhat - actually, very - drunk, he had miraculously managed to stay completely sober. The group had walked (well, Scott had walked, and Santiago and Toulouse had practically stumbled) the short distance from the bar to the Moulin Rouge.

As they turn the corner, the bright red lights of the building come into view, almost blinding the men, and Scott gasps. The huge red windmill turns slowly, almost threateningly, and Scott has to tear his eyes away to avoid looking at it for too long. Shivers run up his spine, and he doesn’t know if it’s from the cool night air or the beauty of the Moulin Rouge in front of him. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Toulouse asks, and Scott nods. He feels like he could look at it for hours. “Just wait until you see the inside,” His new friend laughs, and makes a beeline for the entrance. Scott stands there for a moment, taking in the sight of the building, before adjusting his suit and following Toulouse inside.

The second he steps foot inside, Scott feels as if he had just stepped into a dream. Everything is bright and vibrant, and the inside is just as red as the outside. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, the biggest one directly centered over the huge dance floor. The guests, predominantly men, sit at tables and talk quietly as four can-can dancers sing and dance to a rousing rendition of Lady Marmalade.

The audience claps and cheers as they dance, and Scott is frozen in shock. The inside of this building overwhelms him almost as much as the outside, and the plan that the three men concocted has just barely gotten started. He doesn’t know how he’ll survive the rest of the night. The room seems to have a life of its own, its pulsing rhythm almost making the entire building shake, and the atmosphere is electric.

Scott’s so caught up in the moment that he almost doesn’t notice Toulouse dragging him over to a table in the corner, where Santiago is already seated.

“Come on, are you not enjoying yourself?” His friend teases, a big smile on his face. Scott shakes his head. “No, I am, I’m just.... overwhelmed.” He says weakly, looking around the room.

The men order more drinks, to which Scott declines and decides to settle for water. “So, Tessa Virtue, what’s she like?”

Toulouse and Santiago both grin, before Toulouse leans forward and explains, “She’s not like any girl you’ve ever met before, trust me.”

“Oh.”

“The things she can do with her body-“ Toulouse is interrupted by Scott choking on his water, and laughs.

“She used to be a ballerina,” Santiago points out, and Scott lets out a breath. “And she’s Zidler’s star act, which is why we need to get her onboard, so she can convince Zidler to finance the show.”

Oh, so she’s a ballerina. Scott thinks he could write a convincing love song about a ballerina. Suddenly, this plan doesn’t seem so crazy anymore, and Scott thinks he could actually pull this off.

“So, I’m guessing she dances?” He asks, and the men shake their heads.

“Not anymore.” Toulouse says sadly, and the look on his face makes Scott decide to drop the conversation.

He understands the weight that his friends have placed on his shoulders. If he can’t win Tessa over, he and his friends risk loosing a producer for their show, and therefore the idea might fall apart. Scott just hopes she likes love songs. After all, who doesn’t?

The sound of applause drags him out of his thoughts. The can-can dancers, finished with their dance, exit the stage, and an older man (Zidler, Scott assumes) replaces them. He waves, adjusts his bright red suit, and the room instantly quiets down.

“That’s Zidler,” Toulouse whispers. “He’ll introduce the next act, which just so happens to be the one we’re here to see.” He smiles mischievously, and Scott gulps.

Up on stage, Zidler clears his throat and begins speaking. “And now the time has come to meet our star. The epicentre of your passions. The effigy of your desires. Ladies and gentlemen, bohemian and artists, coquettes and boulevardiers. May I present to you, the unique, the indomitable, the one and only…..” He pauses, and the lights turn off.

“Sparkling Diamond.”

A piece of confetti hits the floor, and the men around him start to murmur in excitement. More confetti rains down, almost like snow, and Scott gasps as a spotlight shines on a figure emerging from the ceiling on a small white swing.

“Diamonds are forever,” She sings as she looks out at the men below her, who are all as entranced as Scott is in the moment.

She’s undoubtedly the most beautiful girl Scott has ever seen. Her silky brown hair is pulled up into a bun, and her deep red dress makes her bright green eyes seem even more striking. The dress is covered in sparkles that glint in the light, and Scott thinks she looks absolutely beautiful in it. He doesn’t want to take his eyes off of her. She has the entire audience on the edge of their seats as she sings, and Scott continues to gawk, paying no attention to Toulouse and Santiago next to him. Seeing the other men in the room fawning and drooling over her feels almost like a kick to the teeth.

The swing starts to descend, and Scott hears Toulouse whisper in his ear, “That’s Tessa Virtue.”

Scott’s jaw drops. “What?” He hisses, turning to Toulouse. He doesn’t want to take his eyes off of Tessa, but he now knows that this plan is a hell of a lot harder than he originally thought it would be. “I’m supposed to convince her?!”

Toulouse and Santiago both smirk at him in response.

 


 

To Tessa, performing to crowds of hundreds has almost become a second nature. The men who visited the Moulin Rouge were all the same: rich, demanding, and filled with a forever unquenched desire for more.

But Tessa loves performing. Loves singing about diamonds while men stare and shove money at her. She’s comfortable being on stage, wearing beautiful outfits and singing her heart out. What happens off stage, though, is a different story. She’s a courtesan, one of the most famous and sought-after in all of Paris, perhaps even in all of Europe, and that means she’s expected to do things most respectable ladies wouldn’t even think of doing.

She doesn’t blame anyone but herself for her situation. Her parents wanted her to be a dancer, and so at the young age of seven, after showing an amazing amount of artistic and dancing ability, she was sent to be a part of the Paris Opera Ballet.

After almost twelve years of pointing her toes, stretching her legs, and wearing elaborate costumes, she felt like something wasn’t right.

When she was almost nineteen, an uncomfortable pain had manifested in her lower legs. It was almost like a burning sensation, and it hurt so badly that she could barely walk, let alone dance. She tried to push through it, to continue dancing, but soon the pain was unbearable.

After a visit to the ballet’s local physician, the pain was diagnosed as compartment syndrome. Years of dancing had caused the pressure within her leg muscles to build up, which resulted in the unbearable pain she felt in her ankles and calves.

At the physician’s request, she quit dancing, and used the money she’d earned over the years to have surgery to relieve the pain. It was risky, and resulted in terrible scars that ran from her ankles to her upper calves, but at least she wasn’t in pain anymore.

Afterwards, she found herself on the streets of Paris, asking for money and doing anything she could to survive. The days turned into months, which turned into years, and the streets were dirty and always overrun with people like her, people who had lost or quit their jobs and didn’t have a place to live in. So she moved to Montmarte. It was there that she met Toulouse, soon to be her closest friend, who brought her to the Moulin Rouge.

Over the years, Tessa became the Moulin Rouge’s star attraction. Harold Zidler allowed her to perform only if she wanted to, after she carefully explained the results of her surgery to him.

But there was a catch, of course. If she wanted to perform whenever she wanted, Tessa had to agree to the rest of Zidler’s plan: At night, and after performances, she would become a courtesan.

So she agreed.

Now, at the age of twenty seven, Tessa is accustomed to living and performing in the Moulin Rouge. When the swing she sits on lowers to the ground, it’s like a switch has been switched on inside of her, and she’s on autopilot. I could probably do this routine in my sleep, she thinks, as she gets off the swing.

The bright spotlight hurts her eyes, but she really doesn’t care. The dancers move, hot on her heels, but Tessa is the star. All the eyes in the room are fixated on her, the Sparkling Diamond.

She’s used to the hungry stares of the men who watch her, the rustle of their wallets as they grab their money to shove at her. Tessa doesn’t particularly like it, but she likes Zidler and what he’s offered her, so she decides to put up with it.

Just like that, her act is over, and Tessa’s glad to get away from these men and the heat of the spotlight, at least for a little while. Zidler joins her on the stage, taking her hand and holding it up as the men clap and whistle.

“You won’t believe what I’ve arranged for you, Tessa.” Zidler says excitedly as they exit the stage, the whoops and hollers of the men still very audible in the background.

“What is it, Harold?” Tessa asks, cocking her head and removing her diamond earrings. She’s curious. Everything Zidler has arranged for her has always been interesting, and she can’t even think of what he’s thought of this time.

“You’re to meet the Duke in your room. Completely alone. Tonight.”

Tessa gasps, one earring falling to the floor with a soft ping!. “The Duke of Monroth? You’re serious?”

Everything she wants could come true with someone like a Duke. He has the money, the power, the social status to give her what she wants. Tessa wants to have her old life back, to wander the streets of Parks wearing the latest fashion and being cared for. She wants to have respect, to travel the world, to be loved. And if she has to give him something in return to have that, so be it. Tessa would do anything to be on the very top of society.

Zidler nods. “Completely serious.”

“Is he here?” She asks him, looking around as if the handsome Duke was already in the room.

“Yes,” Zidler replies. “Follow me.”

He pulls her though a hallway to a side exit onto the dance floor. The loud chatter of the men once again consumes Tessa’s ears as Zidler leads her to a dark corner.

“See the man over there? The one Toulouse is waving his handkerchief at?”

Tessa squints and looks in Toulouse’s direction, her eyes landing on a very handsome man. He has dark hair and a sharp jawline, and Tessa was entranced by his brown eyes. He’s rather young, she thinks. Maybe around my age. I wonder why he’s in need of a courtesan. The lights in the room are dimmed and she can’t see much from her vantage point, but Tessa sees enough to know that she’s looking forward to spending time alone with him.

Zidler smiles as he watches her. “Is he to your liking, my dear?”

Tessa smiles, but mutters, “Does it really matter what I think of him? I think it’s the way he thinks of me that’ll count.”

 


 

Outside Tessa’s room, which happened to be inside a rather large decorative elephant, Scott’s nervous. On the other side of the door before him was a girl unlike anyone he has ever met, or so Toulouse had said. He starts pacing, and keeps repeating what he was going to say, and what songs he would sing, when the door swings open, revealing none other than Tessa Virtue, the Sparkling Diamond.

Scott’s jaw drops. Tessa had changed out of the red dress she had worn and is now wearing nothing but a silk black dress and robe. Her shiny chocolate brown hair now cascades down her shoulders, free from the bun it was in earlier.

“H-hello,” He stammers, swallowing thickly as she stares at him. Her eyes are a gorgeous green color, and Scott feels like he could get lost in them if he wasn’t careful.

“Hello to you, too.” She says, her eyes flitting over his body. “I believe you have something for me?”

“I, uh- yes, I do.” He stammers again, and stumbles into the room. Like the interior and the exterior of the Moulin Rouge, Tessa Virtue’s room is also covered in red. The carpet is made up of different shades of red, and the rest of the room is covered with it too, with some gold mixed in as well. Tessa walks past him, continuing to look him up and down, and lifts up a bottle of wine, which is clearly very expensive. Scott raises his eyebrows in shock. He’s surprised that she would waste such a delicacy on such a penniless songwriter.

“Would you like some?” She asks, reaching for a glass.

“Um, no, I’m fine.” Scott mumbles, looking down. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Tessa’s face lights up, and she immediately sets the bottle and the glass down. “Oh!
Perfect.” She smiles mischievously, and Scott gulps.

“I heard you like love songs?” He mutters, but his nervousness turns his statement into a question.

Scott looks up, seeing her biting her lip as she walks towards him. “Love songs? Oh, I just adore love songs.” She croons, her voice the single most seductive thing he’s ever heard in his life. Scott’s breath hitches in his throat as she begins to circle him, almost like a predator stalking her prey. “Have you got some for me?” She asks, and Scott nods slowly as he fiddles with his sleeves on his suit.

“Tongue-tied, aren’t you?” She whispers, her face just mere inches from his. She runs her fingers through his hair, and he knows she notices the effect she has on him. A shiver runs through Scott’s body, and he clears his throat, causing Tessa to step away from him.

“You should grow your hair out more,” She comments. “I like it.”

Scott blinks. Tessa narrows her eyes, and says, “You’re not just going to be standing here all night, are you? Come on, let a girl enjoy some love songs. You have a gift, don’t you?” She sits on her bed and stares at him, waiting for him to begin.

Scott wrings his hands together, grimacing slightly as he looked at the bright lights of the Moulin Rouge that were visible from Tessa’s balcony. Mustering all of his courage and confidence, he takes a deep breath, and begins to sing. “It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside.”

Tessa’s eyes widen. Scott has her attention now, completely, and he hopes he doesn’t crumble under the weight of it. Toulouse and Santiago are counting on him to win this woman over, and god damn it, he’s going to try.

“I’m not one of those who can easily hide,” He continues, the words rolling out of his mouth. “I-I don’t have much money, but boy, if I did, I’d buy a big house where we both could live.”

Scott sits down on the bed, taking Tessa’s hands in his as she continues to stare at him in shock.

“I know it’s not much, but it’s the best I can do. My gift is my song, and this one’s for you.” He looks at her, smiling a little bit as she gapes at him.

“And you can tell everybody this is you song. It may be quite simple, but now that it’s done, I hope you don’t mind. I hope you don’t mind, that I put down in words how wonderful life is, now you’re in the world.” Scott stands up and leads Tessa over to the balcony, where the lights of Paris glimmer beyond the Moulin Rouge.

“So excuse me for forgetting, but these things I do... See, I’ve forgotten if they’re green or if they’re blue!” He sings, gazing at her eyes. “Anyway the thing is, what I really mean is that yours are the sweetest eyes that I’ve ever seen!” Scott exclaims, and Tessa stops gaping at him and smiles in delight.

“I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind, that I put down in words how wonderful life is now you’re in the world.” Scott finishes, the last lyric barely a whisper. Tessa smiles wider, placing her hands on his chest as she gazes at him. Scott notices that her hair smells like strawberries, and he couldn’t help but smile too.

“I can’t believe it,” Tessa whispers, her face so close to his that their foreheads meet.

“What?” Scott asks, grabbing one of Tessa’s hands, which still rests on his chest.

“I’m in love,” She replies, and the words fill Scott with such an immense joy that he could hardly believe it. The woman he holds in his arms had been so intimidating and seductive just a few minutes earlier, and now she’s in love with him. “I’m in love with a beautiful, talented, Duke! The title doesn’t matter to me, of course, all I care about is that I love you.”

Her words are so intoxicating that Scott hardly notices the part where she called him a Duke. Through knitted eyebrows, he continues to smile, but Scott’s confused. He wonders where she got that notion from. “I’m... I’m not a Duke.” He says slowly, and Tessa’s smile fades from her face.

“You’re not?”

Chapter Text

Tessa feels nauseous. The future she had dreamed of, the one where she saw herself as fashionable and rich, walking along the streets of Paris with not a care in the world, crumbled around her. The Duke that Zidler was supposed to have set her up with, the one who was going to make all her dreams come true, was not the man who stands in front of her. This man was not the one who her heart pined for.

She had thought she was the luckiest girl in the world the moment that her eyes had met the supposed Duke’s. He was talented, he was kind, and God, he was handsome. She had hoped he was wealthy and titled too, because that would have been the cherry on top. When he sang his song to her, Tessa was convinced she was in love. Now, looking back on the events that had unfolded, she tells herself that she was simply influenced by the suggestion that he was rich, that she was only doing her job. But deep down, Tessa knows that isn’t true. She really was attracted to him, and, as quickly as it had all happened, she really did love him.

“I’m a writer,” he admits, as Tessa hastily pulls herself away from him. She knows she’d certainly do something she’d later regret if he was to hold her in his arms any longer.

“But you still have a title?” Tessa asks, her voice wary. She was still holding on to a small shred of hope.

The man shakes his head, furrowing his eyebrows. “No, I’m just a writer. An aspiring songwriter, actually.” As he speaks, Tessa realizes that he doesn’t even have an accent like a Duke would. It’s actually more... American. Or Canadian.

Probably Canadian.

Tessa is torn between feeling betrayed by her own emotions and the fake Duke, and feeling guilty for behaving like such a gold-digger. It wasn’t that she only has eyes for wealthy men, it’s just that she can’t afford to think about anyone else. She makes her money by fooling the rich and persuading them to part with their heavy wallets; she has to make sure they believe it. And it isn’t just about the money, it’s about everything else. She is able to sleep safely, to eat hot meals, to wear nice things. The career Zidler had given her, the career she had carefully carved out for herself, is so different than her life just a few years ago, when she was on the streets of Paris. Her career is her way of surviving and thriving. Whatever she feels for the man standing before her, it isn’t worth throwing away everything that she had worked hard to achieve. Not if he wasn’t a Duke.

“Um, Toulouse said -“

“Toulouse-Lautrec?” Tessa exclaims, pacing around the room. She glares at him, and he nods. Tessa’s heart sinks even lower. “Oh my god, please tell me you’re not another one of Toulouse’s very talented, charmingly bohemian, tragically impoverished protégés.”

“Well, you could say that,” He replies, with an attempt at a half smile.

She gasps, clasping a hand over her mouth. “No! I’m going to kill him!”

Tessa doesn’t know what was worse; being in love, or being in love with a penniless songwriter.

“Tessa!”

The sound of Zidler’s voice interrupts them. Tessa freezes as Zidler knocks on the door and shouts, “Tessa, the Duke is here!”

“Who are you?” Tessa whispers furiously as she looks around the room.

“I’m Scott,” The man replies, turning to the door. “Um, are you going to open the door?” He asks, as Tessa grabs him and pulls him toward the balcony.

“Tessa, darling, we’re waiting!” Zidler says impatiently, knocking on the door again.

“Just a moment!” She shouts, and focuses her attention on Scott again. “Ok, I need to get you out of here quickly, and the balcony is right here, so -“

“Oh, the balcony is definitely not a good idea,” Scott says nervously, his eyes darting up to the roof of the elephant.

“What are you talking about?” Tessa looks up, and sees Toulouse and Santiago perched on the roof.

“Oh my god!” She screams, causing Toulouse and Santiago to tumble off the roof and fall onto the balcony. Scott hurries away while his friends lay uncomfortably on the floor.

Tessa turns her head to see the door opening, and Zidler gasping in shock as he holds an arm out to stop a handsome man from entering the room.

She can’t imagine how the room must look to Zidler and The Duke, who’s standing next to him. Scott is sitting on the bed, and Toulouse and Santiago are laying on the floor. Tessa is standing awkwardly in the middle of the room as Zidler looks at her for an explanation.

“Um, there’s an explanation for all of this,” Tessa says quickly. She gestures to Scott, who sits up a little straighter. “My friend here is a-“

“A songwriter.” Scott interrupts. “Well, singer-songwriter, actually.”

“Yes!” Tessa says, nodding. “And, uh, he’s here to -“

“Audition!” Toulouse announces, getting up from his spot on the floor to stand near Tessa.

“Yes, audition one of his songs for me.” Tessa continues, looking at Toulouse.

“For our new show,” Toulouse supplies.

“Yes, for our new show!” Tessa says.

Wait, what? A show?

“Which will premiere here, at the Moulin Rouge!” Santiago cuts in, gesturing to the windmill that spins outside Tessa’s balcony.

Tessa nods, and, out of the corner of her eye, sees Scott nodding too.

Zidler opens his mouth to say something, then pauses. “Say- say that again?”

Tessa sighs dramatically and walks up to him, ignoring the way that the Duke is staring at her.

“For our new show, which we are intending to premiere here, in the Moulin Rouge.” Tessa says, enunciating each word carefully. “Isn’t that right, Harold?” She raises her eyebrows, shooting him a look of ‘Please go along with what we’re saying.’ She even lightly steps on his foot for good measure.

Zidler nods, and the confused look on his face changes to a confident one. “Yes, that’s right.” He turns to the Duke and loudly whispers, “They’re planning a show,” as if that wasn’t glaringly obvious already.

The Duke clears his throat. “So, ah, what has any of this to do with me then?” He stares at them, waiting for a response.

“You? Um,” Tessa swallows nervously. “Well -“

“Patron!” Zidler announces loudly, and Tessa snaps her fingers suddenly.

“Yes! You see, we are hoping to entice you into being our patron. Every proper theatrical production needs their investors.” She explains.

“Angel backers!” Zidler cuts in.

“Shareholders!” Santiago continues.

“Producers!” Tessa adds.

“Blood-sucking corporate vampires!” Toulouse says, and Scott’s face shrivels up in disgust.

The Duke stares at them, and pauses for a moment, before clarifying, “So, all of you arranged this rendezvous in order to audition this new show of yours to me, in hope that I would invest?” He frowns as the five people in front of him nod.

“Exactly.” Tessa says simply.

“Well then,” The Duke says, sitting down in one of Tessa’s many chairs. “What’s the story of your show?”

“The story?” Toulouse asks, thinking for a moment. “Ah yes, the story.” He gestures for the group to join him in the middle of the room.

“Well,” Scott begins. “There’ll be lovers-“

“And singers!” Tessa cuts in.

“And entrepreneurs!” Zidler adds, smiling at The Duke.

“It’s about love that endures!” Scott continues, and Tessa nods.

“A story that’s worthy of even the best raconteur, and it’s set in dear Sacré-Cœur.” Toulouse explains.

“It’s actually a family show,” Zidler says, “So everyone will love it!”

“Yes!” Scott nods, his dark hair bouncing softly. “It’s a tale of love!”

“And death!” Toulouse continues, and the Duke frowns a bit.

“And sex!” Tessa adds, and pretends not to notice the Duke’s frown disappearing and being replaced with a wicked smile.

“And money!” Zidler cheers, causing the Duke to nod hopefully.

Zidler beckons for Tessa to join him as he continues to explain the plot of their show. “Sweet Tessa plays our ingénue.” She nods, and he gestures for her to continue.

“Yes, and I tell her tale of woe, and pain, and loneliness.” Tessa explains. “She’s very sick, with a terrible illness, which is no doubt a cruel trick from her childhood. And then one day, as she’s, um, singing through her pain, she... meets someone!”

“Yes!” Toulouse says, dragging Scott towards Tessa. “Everything changes when she meets a man.”

“A man unlike any she has known!” Scott tells the Duke, who still sits in his chair, unimpressed by the events happening in front of him. “He’s, uh, he’s a-“ Scott stammers, looking to the others for help.

“He’s a ventriloquist!” Toulouse announces confidently, and Santiago shakes his head forcefully.

“No! He’s a matador, striving across the sands of destiny!”

“A ventriloquist!” Toulouse argues, frowning.

“He’s a sailor!” Zidler yells. “A matelot with those ridiculously tight pants!”

“Yes! He’s a sailor!” Toulouse agrees. “A man who has spent his life voyaging across the turbulent seas.”

“He’s been searching for a mate, and now it seems like fate, I guess. A gift from above.” Scott explains, grabbing Tessa’s hands gently.

“But, fate has other things in store, actually!” Toulouse announces, dragging Scott away from Tessa. “There’s a man who has already claimed her. He’s an evil gangster, and he runs the town!”

“She is unhappy, of course, and we really don’t blame her.” Santiago shakes his head unhappily.

“And now, um, a triangle has taken shape. A love triangle!” Scott explains, and Toulouse nods and continues.

“So the sailor, who’s driven mad, and determined to win back the ingénue, swears to risk his life for love!” He finishes.

The group anxiously awaits the Duke’s response as he eyes each one of them carefully.

“Generally, I like it.” He finally says. “But there needs to be more drama.”

Scott steps forward. “Well, in the end, should someone die?”

Chapter Text

The group anxiously awaits the Duke’s response as he eyes each one of them carefully.

“Generally, I like it.” He finally says. “But there needs to be more drama.”

Scott steps forward. “Well, in the end, should someone die?”

“Should someone die?” The Duke guffaws, covering his hand with his mouth to conceal his laughter. “Oh, my friend, I must confess that’s a little too dramatic for my taste. But I’ll take it.” He pauses, and regains his composure, a steely look forming in his eye. “I have one question, though, before I think about funding this ridiculous little show of yours.”

He looks around at the group, all of whom are holding their breaths in anticipation, and Zidler nods at him to continue.

“Could you tell me, sir,” The Duke says slowly, looking Scott directly in the eye, “Why you believe that the ingénue would not choose the gangster, who, I presume, would be able to... provide for her in ways that this silly sailor could not?” His gaze never falters as Scott stutters out a response.

“Well, um, I think—“

“He believes that love will overcome all obstacles!” Toulouse snaps. “Because of that, I believe his story is not supposed to make complete and total sense, at least to you, Monsieur! This show, Bohemian Rhapsody, celebrates the Bohemian ideals that we,” He gestures to Scott, who nods, “hold so close to our hearts!”

The Duke nods, seemingly accepting defeat. He is quiet for a few antagonizing moments, before exhaling loudly and getting up from his chair. “Well, gentlemen — and Mademoiselle,” He adds on, glancing at Tessa as a wicked smile forms on his lips. “I will consider your offer.” He makes his way towards the door. “Harold?” He clears his throat, and Zidler moves to stand next to him. “Come with me. I believe we have a few things to discuss.” The Duke says curtly, waving the other man through the door and out of sight.

“Oh, and Tessa?” The Duke calls out before closing the door. She turns to look at him, her expression unreadable. “I hope to see you later tonight.” He says, and something about the way his eyes travel over her body makes Scott’s jaw clench.

“Thank you, Duke.” Tessa says graciously as he closes the door. She turns back to Scott, Toulouse, and Santiago, who all stand there in silence. “You, get out.” She says suddenly, walking over to her mirror and beginning to do her makeup. Toulouse and Santiago quickly clean up the mess in the room caused by their rather hasty storytelling, but Scott continues to stand in the middle of the room.

His friends put away the last remnants of the mess and exit while Scott watches as Tessa applies her lipstick. She catches him staring at her in the mirror and she puts down the tube, turning around to face him. “You too.” She finally says, her voice slightly shakey. “Please get out.”

Scott nods, and makes a beeline for the door. Just as he’s about to close it, he hears Tessa say, “Hey, Scott?” He pauses, just outside the door. “Congratulations on your show.”

He smiles. “It was a group effort.” He replies, and wishes he could see her face.

 


  

“I’m sorry, Duke, but no matter how I turn these figures, they still come out in the red.” Zidler confesses. He’s seated at a table with the other man, trying to negotiate the terms for the show. Their show. “These beastly numbers will simply not yield to passionate persuasion, I’m afraid.”

The Duke rolls his eyes. “You are many, many things, Harold Zidler.”

“What, your grace?” Zidler asks, confused.

“You’re a showman, entrepreneur, and a pimp.” The Duke sighs. “But you are not a liar.”

Zidler gulps, and an awkward silence hangs in the air before he clears his throat and changes the subject. “So, ah, I gather that you hope your rendezvous with Tessa will meet your expectations?

The Duke chuckles slightly. “Oh, I hope it’ll far exceed them. I can tell there’s never been a woman like her. She’s quite rare.”

Zidler nods slowly, as if he’s unsure whether to agree or not. “Yes, well, then perhaps this might be an opportune moment to discuss your financial investment in our little... theatrical endeavor?”

“Investment, is it?”

Zidler nods. “Yes, as in we might begin to negotiate terms?”

The Duke frowns, and gets up in his chair, standing above the showman. “Well, by all means, here are my terms.” He says, his voice taut. “Zidler, I’m not investing in your show. I’m buying controlling interest in the club itself. I’ll finance this new little show of yours because it amuses me to do so.” He pauses. “But you work for me now. How’s that for a negotiation?”

Zidler just stares at him, gaping. “B-but, Duke!” He splutters, unable to believe what he is hearing. “That is not what I was thinking when I mentioned a negotiation.”

“You’ll agree to my terms.” The Duke hisses. “Come on now, what’ll it be? Yes or no?”

Zidler sighs. “Yes.”

An evil grin appears on the Duke’s face, and he cries, “Ah, very good! Oh, don’t look at me with such consternation, Harold.” He says sternly, seeing the look on the older man’s face. “We’ll tell everyone we’re partners. But never forget, I own you now. And more to the point, I own Tessa. And if she should ever disappoint me...” He trails off, leaving Zidler to imagine a list of awful scenarios. “Well, you’ll all be on the streets like the whores you are.”

He smirks, and drops a contract on the desk in front of Zidler. “Read this, sign it, and get it to me by tomorrow. We have lots of work to do if you want this little show of yours to be any good.”

The Duke walks to the door.

“Good night, partner.”

 


 

Tessa’s almost finished applying her makeup when she hears a knock at the door. She sighs. It’s that damned Duke again, I bet, she thinks. “Duke?” She calls out, trying to make her voice sound cheerful. Quickly, Tessa puts her makeup away, shuts the drawer she keeps it in, repositions her mirror, and lies down on her bed.

“Yes?” She hears in reply. Tessa takes a deep breath and closes her eyes.

When she opens them, she allows herself to slip into the role of the courtesan, a role she knows very, very well by now, far more than any character she ever played as a ballerina.

I am not Odette tonight, she thinks, remembering the innocent white swan she once played in Swan Lake. No, it is time for me to be Odile.

“Enter, Monsieur,” She says, hoping her voice is sultry enough for his liking.

The door creaks open, and the Duke enters, letting the door slam behind him. Tessa looks him straight in the eye, and, for the first time since their unexpected meeting just an hour or so earlier, observes the man standing in front of her.

He’s tall, around six foot, she presumes. His dark brown hair is almost black, and his beard is perfectly trimmed. His deep brown eyes stare at her hungrily, and Tessa gets the sense that she would never, ever, want to get on his bad side. He radiates confidence, and a person can not deny that he is very, very powerful. He has the power to destroy the Moulin Rouge, she thinks suddenly, and the thought almost scares her. He’s the one financing the show, and he could destroy Zidler’s reputation.

And mine.

Tessa lets her eyes snake down the rest of his body, looking at his black velvet suit and the shiny silver pocket watch in his pocket.

She stares him in the eye again, and finally, he speaks.

“Mademoiselle, please allow me to introduce myself. I am the Duke of Monroth.” He takes a step towards the bed, staring down at her. “I hope you understand that I am a man of wealth and taste.”

Tessa nods. “Yes, I believe I was told of your status.” She replies. “You know me as Tessa, from our earlier encounter. But tonight you will call me the Sparkling Diamond, and nothing else. Is that clear, Monsieur?” She asks, her voice low and commanding.

He smiles that wicked smile of his again. “Crystal, darling.” The Duke pauses, perhaps thinking of what to say next, or to run his eyes over her body again. Tessa shivers slightly.

Tessa,” He says, putting emphasis on her name, “You don’t need to put on this little act of yours for me. Understand that I am not like the men you’ve met before. I won’t just toss coins on the floor in front of you and walk away after the deed is done. No, no.” His face is inches from hers now, and Tessa feels his breath on her lips. “I want all of you.” He mutters, his eyes drifting down to her lips.

Tessa pushes herself away from him. She doesn’t feel so comfortable with this man quite yet. “You’re asking for quite a lot, my dear Duke.” She says, hoping that he doesn’t notice her cheeks reddening and her hands shaking.

“I’m asking for everything.” He replies, and Tessa sighs.

“And what exactly do I get in return?” Tessa asks, getting up off the bed, but the Duke stops her.

“That will all be explained to you in due time.” The Duke says, grabbing her waist and maneuvering her back onto the bed. Tessa gasps softly as his hands grip her waist. “Tonight, you get to have me.”

Her eyes darken and she looks him in the eye. This man, no matter how powerful or slightly terrifying, will not break her; she is sure of it. She is the Sparkling Diamond, the most beloved actress in the Moulin Rouge, and it is time for her to shine.

“Perfect.” She tells him, her voice smooth and dripping with seduction.

Seeming satisfied with her answer, the Duke’s eyes drift back down to her mouth. Before he can do anything else, her lips meet his in a passionate kiss.

Tessa may not like him one bit, but it’s her job to convince him that she does, and god damn it, she will not fail. She has never failed.

 


 

The “celebrations”, as Santiago and Toulouse put it, are raging on above Scott’s apartment.

“It’s the end of the century! 1899!” He hears Santiago yell. “The bohemian revolution is here!” Toulouse screams. Both men are clearly drunk on absinthe, or at least Santiago is, Scott notes. He sits at his typewriter, trying to write, but the noise from above is quite distracting. In another circumstance, he would’ve joined his friends and decided to see the Green Fairy, but all he can think about is her.

Tessa.

Tessa Virtue is just a few hundred meters away, perhaps with another man, he realizes. Scott understands that it is her profession, just as writing was his, but that doesn’t mean he’s any happier about it. He loves her, truly loves her. It almost scared him, how quickly everything had happened. He’d gone into that room with a plan; to get her to agree to Bohemian Rhapsody, not to fall head over heels in love with her.

All the romance novels Scott had read as inspiration for his love songs suddenly make sense. Love is everything like it was in the books, and nothing like it is in the books. Sure, your heart beats so fast you can’t hear anything, and your stomach is in knots, but usually it’s described as this pleasant feeling, as though these symptoms are made bearable by the love of another person.

That isn’t true. Scott almost feels sick when he thinks about now badly Tessa had taken the news of him not being a Duke. Had she told him all those sweet things because it was a part of her act, a twisted, wicked way of conning more money out of men, to get them to hand over the bills in their wallets? Scott knows he’s guilty thinking such things, but he can’t help it. Tessa Virtue is a courtesan — the most famous one in all of Paris. That has to mean that she is very good at her job.

Then Scott remembers her eyes. Her green, gorgeous green eyes and how they’d softened the moment he started singing to her. Her eyes had held his gaze throughout the whole song. They barely blinked. She seemed to be afraid to miss a single moment; she was completely and utterly entranced by his song. He can’t imagine that many men had ever sung to her, not from the way she reacted. Her touch was gentle, and her fingers trembled slightly, almost as if she was shy. That couldn’t be faked; Scott knows it. The Duke went to her room for one thing and one thing only, and Tessa knew that. It was why she had been dressed so... suggestively. Knowing what the Duke wanted, her hands would have been unbuttoning his buttons and undoing his belt. Instead, she held Scott’s hand and allowed him to lead her to her balcony. That was unlike the confident temptress he had met just minutes earlier, before he had worked up the courage to sing. She was apprehensive and vulnerable, and it was impossible that she would let her customers, for the lack of a better word, see her that way.

He remembers how she’d beamed at him and told him she was in love. She had sounded as if she had waited her whole life for that moment. Her smile was genuine, Scott is certain. He had seen how she had smiled at the crowd during the show, how it had been all fluttering eyelashes and fake smiles. The smile she had given him, it was soft and sweet.

Without a doubt, Scott knows that Tessa loves him too, title or not.

He quickly puts on his long blue jacket and sets his typewriter aside, walking toward his door. He bolts down the stairs and into the cool night air. But before Scott can go any farther, he sees Toulouse standing in front of him.

“Done with your celebrations?” Scott asks his friend, who nods in response.

“Yes, I suppose.” Toulouse smiles weakly before changing the subject. “So, you’ve met Tessa.”

Now it’s Scott’s term to nod, and he smiles nervously. “The best night of my life suddenly turns into the worst. I mean, she shoved us out of her room in that stupid elephant.” He laughs, and his friend joins in. They sit on the curb of the dirty sidewalk, looking up at the stars that are still visible, even though the city of Paris is polluted with smoke from the factories.

“Tell me about her.” Scott says quietly, and he hears Toulouse sigh.

“It’s a sad tale, my lost youth. You wouldn’t want to hear it.”

“Tell me.” Scott begs. “Please.”

“Fine.” His friend pauses. “I told you that she used to be a ballerina. I just didn’t say what happened after.” He takes a deep breath, and closes his eyes, as if he is recovering a long-lost memory.

“I moved to Paris seven years ago. Practically on my first day in the city, I met her. She was living on the street, and we became fast friends. She explained that she used to be a ballerina in the Paris Opera Ballet. But her legs... the muscles were overworked, and she was diagnosed with compartment syndrome. She quit, and used her money to pay for a surgery. The surgery relieved the pain in her legs.” Toulouse explains, and he pauses, swallowing thickly. He keeps his eyes focused on the stars, and Scott can tell that his friend’s eyes are watering. “She had trouble walking when I met her, and she showed me the scars on her calves. We formed a genuine camaraderie, me with my cane and her with her crutch. She kept telling me that she didn’t need it, but after she told me that she had to relearn how to walk after the surgery, I made her use it. She had quite a spirit!” He chuckles softly. “I fell in love with her instantly, of course. But she always thought of me as a friend, and nothing more. I could never confess my love.” He pauses, seemingly lost in thought, before continuing.

“It was here, in Montmartre, that we met Harold Zidler. He took her under his wing, and voila, she is now the Sparkling Diamond. Bright and beautiful, not of this earth, I suppose.” Toulouse sighs, before looking at Scott. “But you know what?”

“What?” Scott asks, his voice barely a whisper.

“Every now and then I still see my old friend peeking through. I did tonight, when she looked at you. Scott, I loved Tessa from the moment I laid eyes on her, but I never told her. Don’t make my mistake.”

Scott hugs Toulouse. “Thank you, my friend.”

 


 

Scott finds Tessa in her room inside the elephant. He peers inside, making sure not to be seen. She’s changed her outfit; she’s wearing a light pink silk dress and robe, not the black dress and robe from earlier. He can tell that she’s deep in thought. She’s pacing, occasionally rubbing her temples and muttering about something under her breath. Scott can’t hear everything, but he catches words and phrases like “The Duke,” “Such an asshole,” and “Merde!”. He’s still watching as she takes out a handkerchief from her pocket and coughs into it forcefully. As she puts it back into her pocket, he spots small red dots on the handkerchief and he gasps.

The gasp is louder than he intended, and Tessa turns around quickly, her eyes going wide as she spots him.

“What in God’s name?” She asks, as Scott clambers inside her room. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m sorry, I had to.” Scott explains quickly. “Actually, no, I’m not sorry.” He glances around the room and notices the untidy sheets on her bed. “So the Duke was here, eh?” He gestures toward the bed and Tessa frowns slightly.

“That’s none of your business, Mr...?” She trails off, staring at him, and Scott realizes that she never learned his last name.

“Moir. Scott Moir.” He says, and she looks away.

“Mr. Moir,” Tessa explains, ignoring his gaze, “I’m a courtesan. I’m paid to let men like the Duke believe what they want to believe. I- I wouldn’t be worth anything otherwise.” She shrugs, looking at the floor, and Scott frowns. What an terrible statement that is! She can’t truly believe that about herself, He thinks. That’s awful.

“I know you care for me.” He says quietly, and Tessa freezes and looks up at him. “Tessa, I can see it in your eyes. I know I’m not rich, but one day I’ll be a successful composer, I know it. I’ll write every love song the world has ever known, and all for you.”

Tessa smiles softly, before shaking her head. “I wish I could sing the, with you, I really do. But I am who I am. Believe me, Scott, I’m doing you a favor.” She tells him, and Scott swears he sees her eyes fill with tears. She seems so young, so fragile. The Sparkling Diamond and the happy young woman he saw earlier when he sang to her were gone, replaced by a girl who had seen far too many difficult things while living on the streets. “Please leave.”

She almost turns around, but Scott grabs her arm softly, and asks, “Is it because of losing the club? Because of Zidler and everyone else?”

Tessa sighs. “Scott, they’re the only family I have. You wouldn’t understand.”

Scott thinks of his parents, his brothers and their wives, and his little nieces and nephews back home in Canada. His family wanted him to be happy, so they supported his decision to move to the city of love.

“Yes I do.” He says firmly, looking into her gorgeous green eyes. “They would want you to be happy. Tessa, do you really think you’ll be happy with the Duke?” He asks her, and now it’s Tessa’s turn to grab him by the shoulders.

“Look at me, Scott. Really look at me. I can’t keep singing and dancing forever. I can’t live forever on my charm and my looks and... my body. The Duke might be my last way out. Judge me for that if you will, but you haven’t lived my life.” She tells him. “Besides, I can’t fall in love.” She whispers, holding back tears.

Scott shakes his head in shock. “Can’t fall in love?! But a life without love, that’s terrible!”

“No, being on the streets, that’s terrible.” Tessa’s exterior hardens, her eyebrows furrowing as she glares at him. She’s speaking from experience, Scott thinks. “A girl has got to eat.”

He almost opens his mouth to apologize, but Tessa interrupts him. “I can’t go back to the streets, Scott.”

He sighs, and looks at her balcony, where the lights of Paris shine beyond the Moulin Rouge. The stars glitter in the sky, and Scott replies, “Then come with me, to the stars.” He gestures to the balcony.

Tessa looks at him for a second, then throws her head back and laughs. “Oh, you are utterly hopeless!” She cries, and Scott finds himself chuckling a bit, too.

“I am.” He admits. “But love, it’s... it’s like oxygen to me.” He explains. “Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong!” He shouts.

Tessa rolls her eyes, but Scott can tell that she’s smiling. “Don’t start that.” She says, obviously trying to maintain her composure. She laughs again when he runs over to the balcony and yells, “All you need is looooooove!”

“You’re being ridiculous.” She tells him, but Scott just walks back to her and closes the gap between them, taking her hand. “It’s true, though. All you need is love.” He repeats.

“Hmmm, maybe.” Tessa shrugs as Scott runs his thumb along her knuckles, staring into her eyes.

“Please, Tessa. Let me be your lover. Live your life, be with the Duke. But let me love you.” He pleads, placing emphasis on every word.

“A hidden affair? Is that really what you want?” Tessa asks him cautiously as he nods.

“I want every moment I can have with you, stolen or not.” He says truthfully, grabbing her other hand and squeezing it.

“I-I want that too.” Tessa admits softly, blushing.

Scott smiles so wide that he thinks his face might split it two.

“Listen to your heart, Tessa.” He tells her, resting his forehead against hers. They’re so close now, he can feel her breath on his lips. “I mean, I could write a thousand different love songs for you. Let me sing about you through the ages.”

They stare at one another for a long time, foreheads touching. Scott runs his hand down Tessa’s arm. Unable to help himself, he slowly leans in and presses a soft kiss to her lips. Tessa takes a moment to respond, but soon the two of them are locked in a sweet embrace.

“I love you, Scott.” Tessa mutters against his lips, her arms now around his neck. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Scott kisses her again, harder this time. His hands wrap around her waist, pulling her closer to him.

When they finally break apart, their foreheads are still touching. Scott tucks a lock of Tessa’s chestnut-colored hair behind her ear, and stares into her emerald eyes. “I love you too.”