“Mon dieu! Where have you been? Off to see your darling Marielle Harrington?”
Vaughn blinked once, not really taken off guard by his mother’s approach, but more surprised by the topic.
“And you haven’t even tried to see her?”
His mother goaded, a sly quirk in her eyebrows.
Vaughn bristled. “Is this really what you wanted to discuss with me?”
Irrationally, he realised he was angry at her for being concerned for him. He was too tired and drained of strength to be having this conversation, too tired to consider other people worrying about him.
“You’ve seemed somewhat… down, recently.”
He heaved a sigh. “There’s no need to worry.”
“How can I not? Vaughn… have you even looked at yourself in the past few weeks? Well? Have you?” That caught him off guard. “You’ve lost weight and you… you’re… you seem… faded.”
“Faded,” Vaughn repeated numbly.
A dull throb of pain settled somewhere inside the void in his chest. He inexplicably felt like a dog that had been kicked for no reason it could discern.
“I thought you’d be happy. You and Father never liked me being so unruly.”
“I didn’t like it, no. But that’s just it Vaughn: it was always… you, and I’ve always respected that. It’s just the way you are and I think…”
She took a deep, steadying breath.
“I think it’s why you’ve always been special.”
He certaintly didn’t feel it at present.
“The only thing that’s special about me is the fact that I got landed with the unluckiest jackpot ever on the day Falcon died.”
Moiraine’s eyes flashed in pained anger. “Self-pity doesn’t suit you, Vaughn. You’re not the only one that lost important things on that day, and you’re certainly not the only one who didn’t have a choice about it.”
Chastised, Vaughn looked away. He didn’t like this conversation at all.
“… I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Whatever it is, just do something about it. This just isn’t like you at all! I’d feel happier, proud even, to know that you were true to yourself to the very end.
But this feels like you’re giving up and it hurts me, Vaughn.”
Vaughn’s back stiffened in remembrance.
Her word too closely echoed Millerna’s, and opened up an even colder space within him. Had his behaviour changed so much?
“And it’s not just me, you have no idea how worried everyone is! Why, Millerna left the house in tears after her visit the other day.”
“I’m getting engaged.” Vaughn retorted. “They should be throwing me a party, not worrying.”
“Really? Over seeing you give up hope? This may not be what you originally expected of your life Vaughn, and it may be difficult, but there are many people who love you, and seeing you like this is breaking them too.”
I’m doing what you’ve always wanted. I don’t understand you at all.
“And what the hell do they expect of me?” Vaughn asked hoarsely.
His mother smiled suddenly; it was a gentle smile and it weakened him in ways he wasn’t accustomed to being weak.
“That you be true to yourself, as you’ve always been. I’ll always be proud of you Vaughn, for as long as you are you.”
“We may not know what’s wrong because you don’t tell us, but you need to understand: we won’t agree with every choice you make; we won’t always like your decisions, or even agree with them… Sometimes it may take time to come to terms with them, but we can learn respect them and, eventually, accept them.
Just think about that, will you?”
His mother was already heading back toward the house, but she turned when Vaughn called her.
I’m afraid. He wanted to say. I’m terrified that there is nothing I can do.
It was distressingly hard to even say the word, but he felt he owed it to her somehow. For trying.
His mother’s words stayed with Vaughn. He had no idea how long he remained in the gardens, but eventually his ponderings were interrupted by his father’s manservant. Vaughn took the note from the servant and read it:
Vaughn, come to my chambers. This is not a request.
“There are rumours circulating about you, boy.”
“There are always rumours about me. I’m an Afonsine.”
The Earl continued as if he had not spoken.
“Another that it is because she threatened otherwise to expose to the world your rather… curious perversions. Oh, wait a moment… it was I that started that one.”
“And who did you spread it to, Father? Pray tell. The mice? You’re a shut-in.”
“You truly think me toothless because I am old, boy?”
I want to tell you something, Vaughn. I don’t expect that you’ll believe me, but I believe that perhaps someday you will.”
Oh, not in some melodramatic sense. When your brother left us, I took it rather badly. I loved Falcon. I lived for Falcon.”
And do you know what saved me?”
Vaughn asked, dubiously.
The Earl corrected.
“Even this old heart takes time to muddle through grief, but those distractions kept me alive long enough to do it. My petty tortures of you kept my mind occupied, gave me something to look forward to.”
Aren’t you curious who they were?”
Vaughn tapped his foot irritably, feeling the silence stretch his nerves thin.
I’ll give you this Vaughn, you present me with interesting challenges.”
“Father, I’m already going to marry—”
His father finished for him.
‘All cats are grey in the dark‘?”
Vaughn’s expression evened out into a displeased frown.
“A fools words are dust?’ What about ‘a pig painted gold is still a pig?”
“Why oppose me, father? Why care if I take Marielle Harrington as a bride? Indeed, what could be better for our family?”
Think, Vaughn. How long have I been directing you? When have I ever done anything without a reason?”
“Father, I’m all but promised to Marielle Harrington. You would have me undo all that on your fickle whim?”
“You appear to be labouring under the assumption that I’m giving you a choice. If you choose to disobey me, you are choosing for me to disown you.”
“You think I can’t? You think because you’re my only child that I won’t? I’m not too old to have more children, it’s your Mother who cannot. The Venture girl will do what she has to for her family. An example you would do well to follow.”
“You don’t need me? Do you truly believe I’ll lack for anything, even so? I’ve proven myself a more than capable merchant these past years. You think I’d lack for wealth? Power? I count Dukes, Marquess and Barons among my inner-most circle. Are you honestly willing to start this fight with me?”
“Boy, your defiance is inspiring, but be aware that I set the rules, and I have no compunction about changing those when I please.
Don’t vaunt until you’ve won. Don’t scream defiance until you’ve lost. ”
Vaughn didn’t quite know how things had come to be as they were, but he hated it all the same.
But his desires always seemed to run counter to the people he most wanted to please.
Because Vaughn had always rather disappointed his family than give up what he really wanted.
One simply could not put a quart in a pint cup.
He had tried the hardest he could and now, after so many years and so much water under the bridge…
What have I been doing all this time?
I’ll always be proud of you Vaughn, for as long as you are you.
What happened to that drive?
Repressed and covert, but undeniably there.
From the very beginning he’d always been the one to approached the governess, he was the one that had chased her, forging the lifeline to hold them together. When Estelle would have backed down, Vaughn had insisted…
In the end, it seemed to be the only middle-ground which they could come to…
After all that had happened?
Did he even know how?
That old wound on his chest twinged uncomfortably and Vaughn suddenly remembered waking up in the hospital nine years earlier, recalling how he’d gotten there, still feeling, despite the factual evidence, that there was hope yet.
That was what he had always believed.
He let go of a shaky breath and squared his shoulders.
The syllable dropped between them like a hammer.
“You will marry the Venture girl, Vaughn. Within the fortnight. I made you boy, in every way. You owe everything you are to me!”
Well, you can’t be very bright, or they’d never have been able to shove you around so much!
Tell me you’ll do as I say.”
“You know what? I can’t – I won’t. That’s my decision, and I will not change it, not for you. Especially not for you.”
The words left him in a rush, and it felt good to say them. Vaughn’s legs felt stiff as he walked away, but with each step he took forwards, out of that cloying darkness, he felt an old and familiar strength rekindle inside of him.
You know what, Estelle? I won’t give up on you either, because that would mean giving up on myself, and I won’t give up on either one of us, because I can’t.
I never will.
His father stood up, eyes widening impossibly. And, for the first time in his life, the man sounded old. He sounded… weak.
He knew it shouldn’t bother him, but it was harder than he could ever have imagined to leave his Father still sat, eyes ablaze, in that clinically hygienic and ordered space, nursing his neurotic nature into a fit.
The man’s voice was cold as it echoed down the hallways after him, and Vaughn wondered whether it was his mind playing tricks on him, or if it really was close to tears—
I don’t feel guilty, I don’t. Damn it! He deserved to hear it! It was time for me to draw the line. I will not back down. Not anymore.
It had been a long time since he’d last felt that way, and it was wonderful to feel – for the first time in ages – that he too, could someday be himself again.
He still wanted them to be proud of him, he still wanted them to love him, but he couldn’t live life the way he wanted to and always make his father proud…
But, he was beginning to realise, he could take what they gave him and be himself for them.
Pure and true.
A/N: See? Suitor isn’t all doom and gloom.
Deepest apologies to keep you all waiting, but this took ages to write – Vaughn’s ‘transition’ was a delicate process. Very, very delicate.
I hope it was worth it!