A/N: So I'm back at it, and just for the record, I never said I disliked all OC's... just Mary-Sue ones. This one is not supposed to make sense, really. I read it and it doesn't make sense to me at all. Thanks to chocopodge for beta-reviewing, and to Koneko-chan for giving very helpful suggestions. It's a one-shot, so please don't ask me to make a sequel. (If I was, what would it be about, anyway? I kinda backed myself into a corner... ah well.)
He doesn't really look at her. They have assigned her to him in hopes of making him smile, for him to do something other than make his little useless contraptions and brood in his room—and also in hopes of having him recapture the joy that has slipped away so quickly from his life, starting the day that Lirael left.
But he doesn't even look at her and everybody knows it. It's like something taboo that everyone is afraid to say aloud… because if they do, then it will finally have been set in stone and they might as well just dismiss the girl from his half-there presence. If only she looked and acted a bit more like Lirael, they sigh. If only.
She does in fact look like the Abhorsen-in-waiting, and is perhaps prettier so, with blacker hair and brighter eyes and a more delicate figure. Everybody wonders if she knows that they picked her because of that (besides the fact that she was already nobility and had all the queenly qualities: intelligence and whatnot). And then, of course everyone wonders why, if she does know, she's still here…why she still tries.
At the official engagement ceremony, he comes in a different way than she did; half an hour late and a dejected look on his face. Nobody has the heart to call him on it, not even Ellimere, because they all know he's been trying to talk to Lirael again on the few days that she is back in the palace and in her tower, studying the Book of the Dead. Everyone knows because the errant breeze has carried snatches of his yelling from her tower down to the gardens where the ceremony is held. After Touchstone makes the announcement of Prince Sameth's engagement to Lady Rowan of Belisaere, Sam tries to smile once—twice—three times, fails, and looks away into the distance the rest of the time. They all proceed to feel sorry for lovely Lady Rowan, sitting quietly by his side. She has tried to talk to him a little, with a light hand on his arm. But like his efforts with Lirael, she has failed vainly, her hand met with cold resistance and brushed off. Now her head is bowed. Ellimere and Touchstone look increasingly aggravated, eyeing Sam coldly as if they want to rush over and shake him. But then again, everybody does.
There is a deep sense of false cheer that hangs around the sunlit day like rising storm clouds of doom. When they finally announce the end of the festivities, everyone is relieved as they shuffle back home, talking in silent whispers about the prince's rather odd, unrequited love with his newly discovered aunt and the poor, poor girl who might as well give up.
Sam goes back up to his room without a backward glance at his fiancée. Rowan is left standing all alone in the courtyard among the crushed and wilted flowers littered in the grass, like one of them, forgotten. After an eternity of heavy tension, the king and queen leave as well, the regret of ruining this girl's life written on their faces clear as day, but also a guilty unwillingness to turn back in hopes of her doing something of a miracle.
Later that day, Ellimere has finally maimed Sam into coming down from his room into the west wing, where Rowan's temporary quarters are. He has no energy, and the room is empty and coldly blue, his pushed-down feelings of shame swirling around his fingertips. Flatly wandering around her room to observe every nook and cranny, as he has been accustomed to doing, he pauses at her desktop and finds two pieces of parchment, both ruined. The quill has been thrown unceremoniously down on the second piece. The stray dots of ink blot the better half of the page.
Once upon a time, Sam knew to respect the privacy of his guests, but nothing even resembling politeness crosses his mind as he innocently picks up the first piece, crumpled and torn. It is Rowan's handwriting, not that Sam would know, and she is writing to her mother.
Dear Mother, It reads, I think I shall be coming home soon. I haven't found what I was looking for, after all. Everyone says behind my back that we won't make it very far, and everyone sighs with pity whenever they see me. To my face they say everything is fine and I will be happy for the rest of my life.
I know he doesn't love me, and I don't expect him to. I don't blame him; I hope that he will have a better fate than this someday. I know that I'm not going to be the
The letter remains unfinished.
The second is also ruined, although parts of the paper had ridden up and the page is filled with cross-outs and tearstain blots. Dear Mother, it starts again, Life inside the castle walls is wonderful. There is scarcely time to sleep with everything that has been going on, and there is nothing left to dream because it has all come true. The royal family is very kind, and I know that you will like them once you come for the wedding. Sam is just as handsome as they described, and he is as warmhearted and brave as the tales say. I know I will be
Sam doesn't have to read any more.
Everyone has been living a lie, strung out on a false hope only to freeze in the middle.
Before he strides out of her room, he finally decides to do something about it.
Breaking some sort of record, Sam finds himself at Rowan's door again that night, but this time, nobody has blackmailed him into coming. When he knocks, she doesn't answer right away.
When she finally does come to the door, he sees her face twisted into one of confusion mixed with that of an odd sense of fear.
The light in her room is cold and blue again, contrasting to the pale golden glow of Lirael's tower.
Sam strides in with an intentional air hanging over him like a cloud, but it melts away as he discovers that he almost bumped into her. She is much too close and he has nothing to say.
Maybe it is the fact that he has been shut in his room all these nights with practically no human interaction, or maybe it's the fact that his sanity has been slowly ebbing away like the low tide, the electrical burns of Lirael's solitaire rubbing him raw. Or maybe it is the simple fact that Sam has finally snapped, the unconscious sense of attraction making him pull forward and stick to Rowan like a magnetic field. Either way, suddenly he can't function correctly and his joints are not obeying his minds command. He has leaned forward too quickly, and their teeth click as their lips meet. Rowan clouds his mind, and he is kissing her. For a second, he can't think about Lirael or responsibility or the pain and embarrassment that have been harassing him like the devil on his shoulder ever since he got back.
It feels as though the weight of his burden has been lifted off his shoulders and made him stand too quickly, and he staggers as he pulls away from it all. Rowan's eyes are speaking to him. They are screaming of uncertainty.
She looks so much like Lirael. Sam, with some effort, hammers that thought back into the pits of his soul as he collapses onto his knees, and the tears that would not come even when he sat in his room all those nights willing himself to cry, come in wracking sobs, shaking his gaunt frame.
"I'm sorry," is all he can find to say, and to repeat over and over.
He feels Rowan drop down next to him after what seems like eternity.
"I know," she says. "I know."
And in that instant, Sam knows she is stronger than she lets on… that all she wants to do is provide him some sort of comfort—to be his salvation, even if it means being Lirael's shadow. And he cries still.
Later that week, Rowan disappears. Touchstone announces the sudden annulment, but does not give a reason. Nobody knew where she has gone, but Sam looks more alive, if not more melancholy. He does not wait for Lirael to come back from her missions as much. Instead, he just sits outside in the courtyard, where nobody has thought to pick up the wilted husks of the dried flowers. Like one of them, forgotten.