Five Things That Never Happened to Jonathan of Conte
Summary: Five ways Jonathan's life could have gone if things were just that little bit different. Featuring Raoul, Ralon, Delia, Thayet, Alanna, and possibly more bleakness than is necessary.
"I feel useless," Jonathan declares.
Abandoning his attempt to become one with the curtains, Raoul turns to examine the overly-adorned prince. "You look useless," he offers helpfully.
Jonathan mutters a word that makes his opinion of Raoul quite clear. Raoul's gasp is so indignant it could almost have been genuine. "My Lord Prince! Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?"
Jonathan turns to watch the lady in question move across the ballroom with her husband. "No," he answers, however rhetorical the question had been. "But to be stuck at court, year after year, playing perfect prince and commending knights on their good work when I undertook the same training and yet -" He takes a deep breath as if to calm himself.
"You're the heir," Raoul offers in the style of one who knows the words are not comforting.
"And have obligations," Jonathan finishes on the other man's behalf, expression unreadable. "I understand. I just... I feel trapped, Raoul."
For that, Raoul can offer no comfort.
"Some of them don't trust me at all, you know," the king-to-be comments to his friend, eyeing something in the distance. "They don't say it to me, of course, but actions - or lack thereof - speak very clearly indeed. Do you know, you're one of the half dozen knights who've sworn to me so far? Most nobles seem more... cautious."
The other man looks grim but unsurprised. "Most noble are stupid," he responds, voice laced with disdain. "Personally, I'm not so quick to forget the first man to show kindness to a misguided, insecure eleven-year-old." He offers a grin tinted with the regret of a poorly-executed joke.
"If only I trained as a page with every Lord, Earl and Baron in the kingdom," Jonathan replies. For all he grins and attempts to share the joke, a hint of gloom creeps into his voice. The other man turns to regard his prince with a look that could only be described as stern.
"Self-pity is unflattering on you, Highness, and I do mean what I said. I would not be where I am today if it weren't for your kindness, and I have faith that this kindness will reach the rest of this kingdom."
Jonathan's smile is uncertain, yet grateful. "Thank you, Ralon. I certainly hope so."
She holds him and does not cry, even though she plainly wants to; that, he thinks, is what breaks his heart the most.
"Baird said it will get better," he whispers carefully, extricating himself from the embrace. "With time, it should stop aching completely."
"But you'll never -" Thayet falters.
"Never walk again," he finishes for her, as if to make it real for the both of them. "I know."
She looks angry - at herself for faltering, or him for being steadfast? - but the anger dissolves as she speaks again. "So many people tried to warn us, and we didn't listen. We should have. We should have been much more careful."
Jonathan does not point out that caution is always favourable in hindsight. "It was my decision to visit the besieged cities, and I stand by it." He takes one of Thayet's hands in his. "We knew the risks and decided what we had to do was more important. That hasn't changed."
"How can you say that, even now?"
When he answers, his voice bears no trace of the bravery of before. "What else am I to say, when the only other option is endless regret?"
"This situation is not... ideal."
He grits his teeth hard enough to hurt. "I know that."
"Jonathan." Her eyes are pleading and he realizes with a start that however unexpected this may be for him, it must be much worse for her. "If you truly cannot do this - I mean, I would understand and there are ways, I know a healer woman who would say nothing and -"
"Delia." She is scared and he is not helping. Guilt pools within him, prompting his next words. "I'm being insensitive. I'm sorry."
"No, I'm sorry," she replies quickly. "For not being - careful."
For a brief moment he wonders how much of an accident it truly was, but Delia's distress is answer enough to the one question he will never ask. Grimly - whenever he had imagined himself doing this, it had never been under these circumstances - he takes one of Delia's hands in his. "Marry me."
Her face lights up with joy. "I will."
Her smile contains a triumph that, he supposes, comes only to one who carries a life; when they embrace, he feels not his arms around her neck but his belly against their child.
"You will not wage war on my people."
He has expected this, has watched her anger slowly build as he spoke, but it is an unpleasant declaration all the same. "Your adopted people, Alanna. Your loyalty lies with the Crown."
"Do not presume to speak for me or my loyalty," she replies quickly, coldly. "Perhaps you would rather conquer the Bazhir than understand them but adopted or no, they are my people. It is unthinkable that the north and south of Tortall should tear each other apart."
"This discussion is finished," is his only response, given curtly as he straightens the reports littering his desk. "We march in four days."
That she does not respond - that she falls completely silent in a gesture too placid to be defiant and too defiant to be compliant - does nothing to weaken his resolve. It does, however, awaken a distinct need to say more. He opens his mouth, unsure whether he is about to deliver an apology or a reprimand, and is preempted as she turns abruptly to leave.
"Alanna, stop." She does, though the action manifests more in the stiffening of her back than the slowing of her footsteps. He tells himself, repeatedly, that he owes her nothing. He has no need to justify himself.
"I am truly sorry." Somewhere within him, a more sensible mind remembers that he'd set out to convince her rather than to seek her approval. Nevertheless, he continues. "I understand that you are conflicted, but there is no choice."
She finally turns to face him, grim yet unapologetic. "There is always a choice, Jonathan." Her voice has lost its frost, though not its strength. He remains disinclined to believe her. "Always."
AN: I actually wrote this a while ago for a Sean challenge at the Dancing Dove. I dug it up today, edited a few things and thought "Hey, this is nifty," so I'm posting it here. General feedback and concrit in particular very much appreciated. Thanks for reading.