Chapter 29

Screenshot-237Mon 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.

“No.”

Screenshot-292“And you haven’t even tried to see her?”

His mother goaded, a sly quirk in her eyebrows.

Screenshot-217Vaughn 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.

Screenshot-249“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.”

Screenshot-290“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.”

Screenshot-253“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.”

Screenshot-179“… 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.”

Screenshot-241Moiraine’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.”

Screenshot-211“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.”

screenshot-182_zps4uiohdtqVaughn’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?

Screenshot-206“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.”

Screenshot-265I’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.

Screenshot-303His 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.”

Screenshot-197“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?”

Screenshot-286Mère?”

His mother was already heading back toward the house, but she turned when Vaughn called her.

Oui, Vaughn?


Screenshot-267I’m afraid.
He wanted to say. I’m terrified that there is nothing I can do.

“… merci.”

It was distressingly hard to even say the word, but he felt he owed it to her somehow. For trying.

Screenshot-234His 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.

Screenshot-108The servant carefully shut the door behind Vaughn. No sooner had he done so, the stale, musky air of the room made Vaughn yearn for him to open it again.

“There are rumours circulating about you, boy.”

Screenshot-107This father seemed to be in exceptionally high spirits today, which immediately put Vaughn on edge.

“There are always rumours about me. I’m an Afonsine.”

Screenshot-73“Some say your sudden engagement is because the bride-to-be is already with child…”

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.”

Screenshot-115Vaughn scoffed, taking the seat laid out for him.

“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?”

Screenshot-140“The truth is I lured you here under false pretences.

I want to tell you something, Vaughn. I don’t expect that you’ll believe me, but I believe that perhaps someday you will.”

Screenshot-67“I owe you my life, boy.

Oh, not in some melodramatic sense. When your brother left us, I took it rather badly. I loved Falcon. I lived for Falcon.”

Screenshot-70“Many a day since I had even considered following him and laying open my veins in the bath.

And do you know what saved me?”

Screenshot-59“… me?”

Vaughn asked, dubiously.

Screenshot-71Distractions!”

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.”

Screenshot-118“I was going to give you a choice of wife, you know. There were three strong contenders from families wealthy enough or connected in useful ways; young enough to give you children quickly.

Aren’t you curious who they were?”

Screenshot-84“The first was your old flame and little temptress, Morgana Goth. Then there was the Crumplebottom and Buckingham women….”

Vaughn tapped his foot irritably, feeling the silence stretch his nerves thin.

Screenshot-111“I was going to add Millerna Landgraab to that list, but you’ve managed to bind the Landgraabs to us in another way with young Charles.

I’ll give you this Vaughn, you present me with interesting challenges.”

Screenshot-15Vaughn sighed.

“Father, I’m already going to marry—”

“Lady Venture.”

His father finished for him.

Screenshot-68Vaughn blinked, hearing the words and feeling dizzied.

“Pardon? Whom?”

Screenshot-41“It seems that Edmure Venture had a daughter hidden away all these years. She’s young enough to be malleable, I hear, but not so young she’ll get pregnant if you sneeze at her…”

Screenshot-73“There are no reports as to her appearance yet, but even if she has not the beauty of the Harrington girl… what’s that old saying?

All cats are grey in the dark‘?”

Screenshot-146“Are there any more old sayings you want to rid yourself of?”

Vaughn’s expression evened out into a displeased frown.

“A fools words are dust?’ What about ‘a pig painted gold is still a pig?”

Screenshot-76“You forget who asks the questions here, boy.” The Earl barked in a rough whisper.

“Why oppose me, father? Why care if I take Marielle Harrington as a bride? Indeed, what could be better for our family?”

Screenshot-33“And what does that silly waif bring to this family? A few barren estates? Her family alliances allowed to wither while her foolish drunk of a father plays traveller?

Think, Vaughn. How long have I been directing you? When have I ever done anything without a reason?”

Screenshot-7It felt like a challenge: one Vaughn did not care to take.

“Father, I’m all but promised to Marielle Harrington. You would have me undo all that on your fickle whim?”

Screenshot-75Bartholomeus’s displeased lips thinned into a bloodless line.

“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.”

Screenshot-79The threat literally took Vaughn’s breath away.

“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.”

Screenshot-83The startling implication of those words settled on Vaughn’s chest like a weight. It was too cruel, given the situation. Far too cruel.

You… bastard.

Screenshot-51“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?”

Screenshot-130The Earl laughed suddenly. It was a horrid, bitter sound; like nails on a chalkboard.

“Boy, your defiance is inspiring, but be aware that I set the rules, and I have no compunction about changing those when I please.

Screenshot-92“You think you have nothing to lose?

Fool.

Don’t vaunt until you’ve won. Don’t scream defiance until you’ve lost. ”

Screenshot-149His father relished this, Vaughn suddenly realised. There was nothing left to the old man now except proving his mastery, and there was no game that could compare to his son challenging him.

Vaughn didn’t quite know how things had come to be as they were, but he hated it all the same.

Screenshot-137As he took in the sight of this grimly smiling man before him, a soul-deep loathing simmered within Vaughn. Somewhere down the line, obsessed as he’d been with getting the old man to acknowledge him, he’d forced himself to forget just how much he resented him for all that had happened.

Screenshot-161_zps7a7fd91aGrowing up, Vaughn had always believed that the best way to get his father to acknowledge him was to become a man of respect, to pursue his ambitions, to never back down on his word…

But his desires always seemed to run counter to the people he most wanted to please.

screenshot-145_zpsd5ba50fbFalcon had always said he and their father were too similar; too proud and stubborn. Perhaps there was credit to that theory, perhaps that was why Falcon had always been his father’s favourite…

Because Vaughn had always rather disappointed his family than give up what he really wanted.

Screenshot-157_zps79bdb68eWhen Falcon had died, he had been given the impossible task of filling his shoes. It was a ludicrous notion, everybody had known it, none more profoundly than his own father, as Vaughn himself.

One simply could not put a quart in a pint cup.

Screenshot-144And he had tried.

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?

Screenshot-295_zpsbdac8f1bHis mother’s steady brown eyes were a hot, heavy reminder at the back of Vaughn’s mind.

I’ll always be proud of you Vaughn, for as long as you are you.

screenshot-210_zps7594d62eWhat happened to the boy – no, the man – who stopped at nothing, and cared for no one, until he got what he wanted? 

What happened to that drive?

Screenshot-151It was still there, Vaughn realised.

Repressed and covert, but undeniably there.

screenshot-184_zps4b3ab68eFrom 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

screenshot-1811_zpsf46eb7f5He had thought that if being with Estelle was such an impossibility, then being without her would be less of problem. It was what she seemed to want.

In the end, it seemed to be the only middle-ground which they could come to…

Screenshot-136But to give up…?

After all that had happened?

Did he even know how?

Screenshot-163_zpsddb85fbeThat 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.

Screenshot-169And if sheer faith had got him this far…

He let go of a shaky breath and squared his shoulders.

No.”

The syllable dropped between them like a hammer.

Screenshot-3Vaughn watched his father’s eyes unthaw, going from nothing to black rage.

“You will marry the Venture girl, Vaughn. Within the fortnight. I made you boy, in every way. You owe everything you are to me!”

screenshot-132_zps8272b616Vaughn was shaky and terrified… yet there was something else now too, a remembered feeling that slipped back into him as though from a great distance.

Well, you can’t be very bright, or they’d never have been able to shove you around so much!

Screenshot-74“You will do exactly what I tell you, Vaughn, or the cost will be more swift and grievous than you can imagine. Tell me you’ll obey me in this, boy.

Tell me you’ll do as I say.”

Screenshot-12Vaughn grinned, looking considerably more confident than he felt.

“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.”

Screenshot-97The 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.

Screenshot-125“Vaughn!” his father shouted.

His father stood up, eyes widening impossibly. And, for the first time in his life, the man sounded old. He sounded… weak.

Vaughn!

Screenshot-95He 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.

All alone.

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—

Screenshot-96He shook his head stubbornly.

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.

Screenshot-159As with Falcon, his mother, Millerna and Charles, his father had been a cornerstone of his childhood. With time, however, Vaughn had begun to understand just how fallible these people really were.

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…

Screenshot-213But he couldn’t claim that they didn’t care about him at all, just as he couldn’t expect to be their first priority in everything….

But, he was beginning to realise, he could take what they gave him and be himself for them.

Screenshot-260Vaughn looked up and, for perhaps the first time in years, released a deep-throated laugh;

Pure and true.

Screenshot-261
Because that, he decided, was a life worth living.

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!

 

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7 responses to “Chapter 29

  • marsar2

    Wow, was it worth it! The chapter was beautiful, and you did a great job with Vaughn’s personality (and its development) :D.

    So, Vaughn, Vaughn, you’ve finally become your own man! But are you sure you don’t want to reconsider marrying Lady Venture? 😉

    Can’t wait to see what happens next!

    • Becki

      Thanks ❤ I felt it was time for Vaughn to step up, and I hope it didn't feel too rushed.

      I'm having withdrawal symptoms from keeping him and Estelle apart for so long… things need to start getting resolved for *dun-dun-duuuuh* the finale!

  • LilyParker

    Yay! He’s baaaaack…. That’s the headstrong Vaughn we all know and love. If only he’d known the secret identity of Lady Venture! It was definitely worth the wait. I expect the next chapter to be even more uplifting. You’re heading towards my happy ending! 😀

    ~ the hopeless romantic

    • Becki

      I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long, Lily ;P The closer I get to the end, the more time I seem to be spending on chapters, guess I don’t want the story to fall flat at the end…!

      I wouldn’t get too excited about the reunion yet, I have more drama to inject >:)

  • Tiff

    It was really heart warming to read the conversation between Vaughn and his mother. I couldn’t help but laugh when he rejected his father’s request. If only he knew..but I’m guessing he’ll find out soon enough. I’m so happy they really have a shot at being together and they’ll have a baby too!

    • Becki

      I just had to add one of those frustrating little tidbits in there. I did consider Vaughn actually relenting, but I rewrote it for the love of irony ^^

  • LilyShadowWriter

    All I have to say is the hopeless romantic in me needn’t have worried after all: he’s going to go to her regardless.

    Beautiful ❤

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