Ronan & Mary
If you do it right, it doesn't take a lifetime to live a life. My submission for White Rabbit Tale's OC Exchange project, this is based on StarShipDelta's OC, Blaith, from her excellent fics "Things Better Left Unsaid" and "Some Things Never Fade".
They were both so slight, almost child-like, that, strolling over the heather hand in hand, or sitting side by side in chapel in that way they had of not looking at each other that shut out everything else, even the priest's sermons and prayers, the world around them seemed bigger, its scale stretched by their matching delicacy. It was a testament to their characters that it was the world that adjusted itself to them rather than the other way round.
From childhood they had been inseparable, he precociously protective of her, and she uniquely submissive to him: her fiery temper and fierce independence abandoned, as was his otherwise customary shyness and circumspection, shed like an uncomfortable shirt, when they entered their private circle of separateness, when they came together to play or go to market or fish in the river that tumbled down the green hillside behind their village.
Their early union had seemed as natural, and as inevitable, as the changing of the seasons. Mary's mother welcomed the young couple's decision to live with her—she'd never been the same after the loss of her husband in the Great Hunger.
Mary had had to grow up quickly, learning to cook as soon as she could reach the top of the stove, standing a-tiptoe on a chair pulled close, and struggling to nurture their little garden with hoe and rake miles too big for her tiny frame. Everyone in the village knew her future lay in malnourished and overworked sickness, or "unfortunate circumstance", either one resulting in a blessed and early release from a miserable and hopeless life.
Ronan seemed her polar opposite: the cherished only son of a successful merchant, most thought him too soft and pampered to have any ambition. It was expected that he would grow up to inherit his father's business, manage it incompetently, and end up a genteel pauper.
However, these two had other ideas, and they set about fulfilling them with no help from and in blithe spite of their families and neighbors.
In fact, Ronan did work in his father's business after their marriage, and he did well by it. He had a knack for knowing what crops would grow in the blighted soil that had nearly wiped out their ability to grow potatoes, and the business thrived for a while under his influence. Mary was clever and thrifty—not for nothing had she managed her mother's small finances and kept them in food and clothing—and the tiny cottage was always neat, in good repair, and well-stocked and warm in the winters.
But Mary longed for a child. The year of their marriage had heralded the arrival of the disease that destroyed the village's livelihood, and she felt the pull toward life, toward motherhood, felt it as the ocean feels the moon, felt it without recognizing the feeling—just felt it and knew it.
She was strong and healthy, but the privation of her early life had left its mark on her, and the years slipped by without her body's responding to her yearnings. Man and wife worked, and loved, and lived their quiet days, together, but always only two.
The blight continued, and the village's storehouses leaked out their bounty bit by bit.
First to die were the infants. Barely arrived and loosely attached to this world, they slipped from it easily and quietly, with hardly a whimper. Quickly, the ancient ones followed. Tired of holding on, heartsick at seeing their grandchildren fade and weaken and laid in the clay, they simply slept their way into the next world.
Three years, and then four, and then women in their prime sickened, and men who used to plow sun up to sun down and then spend evenings drinking and fighting with joy took to their beds, never to rise again. A quiet pall hung over the town's streets, and the echoes of the church's overused bell seemed to be the only constant.
Ronan watched and pondered in his quiet way, and one day, he announced to Mary, "It is time we left."
She had tended her mother at the last, and had thought about her own as-yet-unconceived progeny, and had already begun to loose her roots from this sad place of misery and fever and death. Still…
"Where will we go?"
This did surprise her.
"England!" She had never questioned his decisions before, but the British government's lackadaisical and cynical response to the Irish plight—the twisted policies of eviction to "clear the land", coupled with the cruelty of the workhouses for those evicted—burned in her heart, and she could hardly believe her ears. "You can't be serious!"
"Listen to me, heart of my heart," he spoke earnestly. "There is nothing here. I don't mean just in this village—the whole land is dying. The business is barely feeding my parents by now, but there is still some money in it that is mine, that we can use to start fresh." He sighed and passed a hand over his face. "I know that our leaving will break their hearts, and I will never see them again, but if you and I are to live, and—"in the firelight he reached across the bare table for her hand— "if we are to have our own family, we must go where there is life and opportunity."
She knew in her heart this was true; it was just not the path she had expected.
"I have thought long about this, about what I can do and where we can go, and here is what I think: we will go to Liverpool. We will find a room for you in a nice house, and I will go to sea, and in a couple of years, we will see what we can do."
She lifted her face to meet his gaze. "I don't want to be separated from you."
He recognized this tone, but this time there was nothing for it. No amount of determination could change the circumstances that life had handed them.
"Nor I from you. But it won't be for long, and we can do this. Together, we can do this." He knew this would catch her—she could never resist an opportunity to try and prove herself against a challenge, especially when it meant taking a stand next to her beloved.
"Very well. When do we leave?"
"How soon can you be packed?"
And now he remembered all this as he leaned over the ship's railing and felt the salt spray on his face. Remembered how they had struggled. How lonely he had been, how his heart had screamed at him to turn back as that first ship had weighed anchor that first time, how small and beautiful and precious and vulnerable she had seemed far below him on the dock, standing mute and brave amid the sobbing wives and sweethearts, a still, quiet singularity in the sea of waving handkerchiefs and weeping women.
He remembered that first return. Remembered that he had recognized her in the crowd almost as soon as he could distinguish individual figures. And had known with a certainty like a blow, a certainty that had shocked him—had known that they were no longer two.
He'd hardly dared to hold her in his embrace, sensible of the baby growing in her belly, but she had grabbed him, had crushed him to her, had pressed her glowing face to his neck and had told him that their future had taken root in their present.
They had been a family for only a year. Influenza had swept the city, and Mary had determined that she was needed in the hospital ward. She brushed aside his misgivings.
He remembered, and looked down at the little creature at his side, gripping his hand with excitement, her long hair—exactly the same shade as her mother's—worn loose and wild and tossing in the wind, the glittering sea reflected in those curious violet eyes, uniquely her own, inherited from no one.
He remembered, and, past the clenching of his heart, up through a throat tight with memory and loss and hope, he said, "Well, my little Blaith, are you ready for this? Do you remember where we are going?"
Clear, strong eyes met his, gazing out of an eternally familiar face. "Oh, yes, Daddy! I am going to be a little Japanese girl from now on!"
Then together, hand in hand and side by side, they turned to face what their future offered.