Back to my Side - Part 4
Based on Dorothea by Taylor Swift
- 2500 words
CW: mentions of sexual assault
Like promised, Aelin called him the next day, inviting him to lunch to continue their planning from the day before. Rowan had been prepared to deal with the bodyguards and the paparazzi and the chaos that came from being out with a movie star, but apparently he didn’t need to worry. They were eating at her apartment, according to her, it was much easier and there was much more privacy.
But five minutes before he was about to leave, Aelin called him in a rush, asking him to meet her at the film studio instead, so they could drive back to her place from there. I should’ve known the schedule was a load of bullshit, she’d said, making him laugh.
He was surprised she was already back to filming, given her last movie was still in theaters, not that he’d seen it, but he supposed that they already were writing the script for the sequel while the final edits were being done last time, so it was easy to just jump right into production.
His feet faltered as he walked down the sidewalk, his face paling. Did that mean - ? Was she forced to be around that monster all day? He assumed the movie had some sort of romance between the two costars, so was she forced to pretend to be in love? Gods, he wished he could just arrest the guy now and get him away from her, but it would go nowhere if she threw out the accusation now. They needed to build a case with strong evidence before they could say anything, because with his popularity with the general public, it would be twisted around to make her look bad instead.
And Rowan would never do that to her.
He sighed as he made his way up to the unassuming building, the tan stucco walls making it blend in with the rest of the street. The gated entrance to the garage was the only giveaway that there was anything special behind.
Rowan walked up to the security booth, smiling tightly at the guard.
“I’m here to see Aelin Galathynius,” he said, holding his breath as the guard laughed humorlessly.
“Isn’t everyone?” His tone was bored. Rowan opened his mouth, but the guard sighed. “Look, I’m not letting you in, dude. So just get lost.”
He huffed and took a few steps away, pulling out his cell phone from his pocket. He shot Aelin a quick text, having to type in her new number into the bar to start a new message chain.
< I’m here but the guard isn’t letting me in
It was less than thirty seconds before he got a text back.
> I’m on it.
“You can’t just loiter here either,” the guard practically shouted at him. “Do I need to call the cops?”
Rowan almost said something snarky back, but the phone in the booth rang, disrupting them. The guard rolled his eyes and snapped it up, muttering a “what” into the speaker.
An inaudible voice spoke on the other side, and the guard’s face paled. “Yes, I’m sorry Ms Galathynius, I’ll let him through right now.” He set the phone down quickly after that, glaring at Rowan’s satisfied smirk. He pressed a button and the door next to the parking garage unlocked, a buzzing sound signifying the change.
The guard plopped back down and scowled but didn’t comment as Rowan made his way into the building, immediately getting immersed in the chaos of the set.
There were multiple moving cameras, with people bustling around carrying makeup, or costumes, or plates of food. The sound of scripts being shuffled around reached his ears before a voice yelled quiet, and the room fell into a silence.
“Okay, act 1, scene 14, 3..2..1.. Go.” The clapperboard sounded, and Rowan paused by the entrance, eyes wide as a bit of space cleared for him to see the set.
It was like the world was thrown back a few centuries, everything so realistic when he knew it was fake. He watched silently as Aelin rushed onto the set of the house, the parlor if he was guessing correctly, straight out of the Victorian Era. She was dressed in a dark blue bustled dress, and a silent tear dripped down her face As she was dragged in by a man who looked about a decade and a half or so older than her. She pulled away roughly and walked up the stairs, with a quick cut before moving to an old fashioned bedroom set, sobs spilling out of her when she was alone.
It made his heart hurt even if he knew she was acting, except… he wondered if part of that visible anguish was real, funneled from her own life.
He had to hold himself back from running to her.
Rowan just watched as the rest of the scene took place, as she collapsed on the bed, holding herself close as she cried, just as he wished he could.
“Why?” She whispered to the ceiling of the room, the singular word, full of despair and defeat, radiating into his soul. The words echoed in his head and he missed the rest of the scene, too focused on the depth of her words.
Until the director called Cut! And the room went back into action. Rowan watched as Aelin immediately straightened, wiping her tears and smiling, saying something to the man she was in the scene with, and then laughing. She trailed away after that, likely walking toward the dressing room, and he was going to wait for her there until he saw another man sidle up next to her, immediately making him red with anger and storming over there.
“Look, Archer,” she was saying, walking faster, “I appreciate the compliment, but I don’t need you to tell me that I’m good at my job. I already know that.” She finally spotted Rowan, and changed her direction to head toward him. Archer followed her, a scowl on his sleazy face.
She smiled weakly at him, a glimmer of tiredness in her eyes, yet her voice remained surprisingly strong for her present company. Although he wasn’t too surprised really, Aelin was the strongest person he’d ever known.
“And the last thing I need is your help,” she managed to say, running a hand down her face as she tried to hurry away.
Rowan almost jumped at the man, ready to throw a punch when he grabbed Aelin’s arm, yanking her toward him while smirking and saying arrogantly “are you sure about that?” But he didn’t need to, because she pulled it away, staring at him in disbelief.
But despite her expression, her arm was shaking, her hand trembling as it clenched in a fist.
So he took that as his time to enter the conversation, eager to jump in and pull Archer’s attention away from her.
“Aelin,” he greeted, raising a hand, and she took a step toward him, her costume heels clicking on the floor as she moved away from the other man.
“Hey, thanks for coming,” she said with a sigh, smoothing back her hair in a nervous gesture.
“Who’s this?” Archer said tauntingly, tilting his head. “Another boy toy? Lord knows you’ve strayed from your fiancé.”
Rowan glared harshly as Aelin closed her eyes, breathing deeply. He opened his mouth to curse at the man, but she snapped her eyes open, leveling a cool stare at him instead.
“No,” she said flatly, meeting Archer’s green eyes, a mockery of his own, with a strength that only she could maintain, “he’s my lawyer.”
His eyes flashed with anger, recognizing the statement for what it was. A threat. But there was a hint of fear too, so all he did was scoff before stalking away, leaving them alone.
“It’s fucked isn’t it?” Aelin said quietly in the back of her car on the way to her apartment, looking out the window and not at him. Rowan looked at her though, conflict mixing in his gut. “After what he did to me, I’m still expected to go to set every day and act like I’m in fucking love with him.” She sighed heavily, dropping her eyes closed. “I was crying in that scene you saw me do because I’m supposed to be missing him, full of despair that I can’t be with him, desperate to feel his touch.” She visibly shuddered. “I can’t imagine anything less desirable than that.”
“Aelin -“ he said, but she kept going.
“I shouldn’t have told him you were my lawyer.” She shook her head, chewing on her lip. “That’ll just spur him into preparing a defense, or finding something, anything else to hold against me. But I couldn’t help it.” Her voice was thin. “Just being in his presence every day, I had to do something to stand my ground.”
Rowan reached over and grabbed her hand, squeezing it tightly.
“Don’t ever regret standing up for yourself,” he said clearly, leveling a stare at her. “Don’t ever feel like you have to add to your burdens to dance around other people’s feelings. That’s just bullshit.”
Aelin cracked a smile at the curse, glancing over at him. “You used to tell me that back in high school. I remember.” She sighed. “You used to say that about my mom, about her forcing me into this godsforsaken life, into everything she ever wanted for me. But apparently I didn’t listen well enough.”
She dropped her face into her hand, shuddering a heavy breath. Rowan hesitated before moving his hand to her back, rubbing small little soothing circles as they drove. She leaned into his touch and he didn’t stop, not even when she leaned fully into him, resting her head on his shoulder.
“Thank you,” she murmured. “For being here for me.”
“Of course,” he replied quietly. “I’ll always be here for you.” The words sent a pang through his heart. He hadn’t been there for her. She hadn’t let him. Despite whatever peace they’d maintained now, he couldn’t forget that she’d willingly left him behind, shattering his heart and his future all at once.
And when she closed her eyes again, murmuring “to whatever end,” quietly into him, Rowan frowned, pulling away slightly. That was what they’d said to each other in school, when they were two halves of a whole, thinking they’d always be together, even if it was just as friends.
But they weren’t that way anymore. She had someone she was marrying for gods sakes, and he would be leaving once this was all wrapped up. He needed to reassert some boundaries to make sure he wasn’t ruined once again.
“You should tell him,” he said a little more stiffly, shaking her off without making it too obvious what he was doing. Aelin looked up and frowned too, her brows furrowed. “Your fiancé would want to know.”
She looked confused, and conflicted, chewing on her lip once again. “I don’t know if I can.”
“Well you can’t just lay it all on me,” he said, regretting the words as soon as they came out of his mouth. From the way her brows shot up, she agreed.
“Would you rather me have not told you? Would you rather me have gone to some half rate other lawyer who would’ve seen my name as an opportunity for glory instead of seeing me as a person who actually needed help?” Her tone was sharp. “I don’t have to tell anyone that I don’t want to tell. Are you saying you regret me picking you?”
“I just don’t understand,” he said, a bit loudly for the small space. He was lucky the partition was up. “Why? Why me? After all this time?”
Aelin’s face was twisted in anger, but her lip was trembling slightly as she huffed and looked away. And then she was lowering the partition with a press of a button, stating the name of his hotel to the driver.
“Change of plans,” she muttered, glaring spitefully at him and ignoring his questions. “I’m busy for lunch now. Sorry.”
“Aelin -“ he said again, eyes wide. But she turned away, ignoring him.
They sat in silence for the rest of the ride.
Aelin felt like bursting into tears as she rested her head against the wall of the elevator, squeezing her eyes shut to try and fight the pounding between them.
Gods. How had everything turned to shit so quickly?
She’d never liked the life she led, but she’d managed it, finding her own little methods of joy, pushing aside her own dreams. The bookstore was out of her mind now, the shop she’d own in a city not filled with such pretentious glamour, hopefully with Rowan by her side. She’d accepted that that wouldn’t be the case, but now, everything was different.
Ever since that godsdamned night two months ago, things had been spiraling out of control.
She shouldn’t have been lax with her drinks that evening, she shouldn’t have waited so long to tell someone, she shouldn’t have had that someone be Rowan. With everything going on, he just brought more chaos. But he also brought with him a peacefulness that she hadn’t known since high school, a calm that she only knew when she was with him.
And she needed that to ground her, which is why she’d picked up the phone.
The elevator dinged to reveal her penthouse apartment, and she trudged through the doors, barely registering the music playing, or the sound and smell of coffee being grinded in the kitchen, as she wandered into her bedroom, collapsing face first onto the bed.
A single tear slipped down her cheek.
She really should tell him. Rowan was right, he’d want to know. She almost had, a few times, but the words had never made it past her lips. Would he look at her the same way? She doubted the depth of her feelings for him sometimes, but she didn’t want him to be upset, and she certainly didn’t want him to now look at her with contempt.
It wasn’t her fault, of course, but she also couldn’t help but think that it kind of was.
Footsteps sounded, and the open door groaned a bit as it opened more. Without opening her eyes, she felt a hand brush down her hair, the comforting gesture just making another tear slip out. The sound of a coffee cup being set on the nightstand reached her ears, and she turned toward it, reaching blindly for the warmth of the beverage.
“I figured you could use some caffeine,” his voice said, a hint of amusement in it. “You sounded drained on the phone a few minutes ago. I’m sorry your lunch with Lysandra got canceled, but I’m sure you can reschedule soon.”
A flicker of guilt went through her as he pressed a kiss to her temple, but she just rolled onto her back and sat up, opening her eyes and smiling softly at the man in front of her, his blue eyes warm as he looked at her.
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