A/N: Goodness, has it really been months? Sorry for the long wait—graduate school eats up a lot of time. Anything and everything has happened since September and my muses fled the building once the paper assignments and tests poured in. I'll try to write as much as I can over the break to make up for it. My imagination's a little rusty, so please be patient.
The day of the wedding came more quickly than they seemed ready for it. There was a flurry of preparation, of last minute checking. The day of Elizabeth and Jehan's wedding dawned bright and glorious. It was the first wedding to be held in the manor's cathedral in a very long time. Jehan seemed oddly nervous and would stutter if someone asked him a question. Elizabeth, by contrast, seemed bored and ready to be done with the ceremonial things.
"What's the matter, Jehan?" Claude asked his shaky brother.
"It's hard to explain exactly," Jehan sighed, "all these years, we've never had to worry…we never left each other, though we agreed we could come and go as we pleased. Now we're stuck with each other and we have to make it work…"
"You can do it. I've never seen two people who love each other more…if it weren't for you, I wouldn't even know what it is to really love someone."
"There's so much at stake…what if that thing happens again?"
Claude knew that Jehan referred to Elizabeth's miscarriage.
"Well, I wish I could promise you that it wouldn't. It may or it may not happen again—the difference will be how you both deal with it. Nothing can separate you as long as you stay together, both with your minds and your hearts. With God in the center, nothing could separate you."
"I really wanted that child," Jehan sighed, "I was scared witless, but I was looking forward to it. And now, I want to try again…but I don't want her to be disappointed."
"Does she believe it's your fault?" Claude asked.
"She blamed me for getting her pregnant…I admit to that, but she never accused me of hurting the baby."
"If you cannot have your own children, there are always children out there who have been orphaned or cast away. Someone must love them," Claude reminded Jehan, "and that wouldn't make them any less yours."
"You should probably get inside. She's going to be waiting for you," Claude reminded her, "and when you see her, you'll remember everything that made you fall in love with her. The way her eyes sparkle, the way she laughs, the way she looks at you…"
Jehan was halfway to the door before he turned back to look at Claude. Knowing his tense moment was behind him now, Claude followed him inside.
"Well said, my future son," Paquette whispered.
Esmeralda gestured to the empty space on the bench beside her. Claude's cheeks colored a little bit as he settled down beside her. He was suddenly very conscious of her hand slipping into his, of the warmth coming from her. It was a relatively small gathering, but it wasn't any less important. It was strange to be a spectator of a wedding, for he hadn't been one since he was a small child. Elizabeth repeated her vows with a steady, calm voice. Jehan gulped audibly and recited his—he'd been practicing in the garden for several days to make sure he didn't stumble. They slipped their rings onto each others fingers.
The couple stepped into their carriage and away they went. Elizabeth had exchanged her extravagant wedding gown for a simple gray traveling dress. They waved to the others as they passed out of the gate.
"Well," Paquette remarked, "they'll surely have a child by the time they get back."
Esmeralda and Claude turned to look at her before they both chuckled. She glanced up at them with her innocent blue-green eyes, though they were twinkling.
"It will be wonderful to have children in this house again after being deprived of my own," she remarked, "I'm ready."
Esmeralda's giggle turned into a flat-out laughing fit when she saw the expression on Claude's face. He flushed several shades of scarlet before clearing his throat and turning back towards the house.
"That poor thing," Paquette remarked, "his virginal ears are probably sizzling right now. You can take the priest out of the cathedral, but you can't take the cathedral out of the priest."
Claude had gone inside, so it seemed safe for them to talk frankly.
"I knew him when he was still a boy," Paquette commented, "they were always harassing him about how this was a sin or that was a sin. When he saw you, he was so mixed up that he couldn't remember which direction the sky was. He was mortified by my frank speech to him at first, but I was the only one who had been on the outside. I was the only one who understood. He would come to me late at night and beg me to help him understand why these things were happening to him."
Esmeralda nodded. It would explain why he'd been pleading with her one minute and treating her harshly the next.
"I had to tell him that his…physical reactions…were quite normal and that he was doing nothing wrong. This was not God's way of torturing him, that he was just a healthy man with healthy reactions. The only unhealthy thing about his feelings was how he acted on them. He'd spent so many years tamping those desires and questions down inside that they exploded forward and he couldn't control them any longer."
Esmeralda nodded. She hadn't been able to understand Claude at the time—he'd seemed so selfish and angry. It seemed unreal that he had once been a monster to her.
"At the time, I did not know you were mine, but I knew I didn't want you to be destroyed. The only way that I could help you was to convince him that he loved you."
Esmeralda's jaw dropped.
"Then, I knew it was only a physical attraction that drove him to you, but I convinced him that he was in love with you so that you would be saved. I prayed many nights that you would go with him, far away from Paris. The rest, I knew, would be corrected with God's hand and time."
"And now?" Esmeralda asked, almost afraid to know.
"Though he wasn't in love with you before, he certainly is now," Paquette told her, "I have no doubt of it. I wasn't aware that you were my daughter until he brought me the other shoe—the satin pink one with the beadwork. He told me that he owed me his life and that this was the only way he could repay me. I thought I was dreaming."
Esmeralda's head was spinning.
"You chose him for me."
"In essence, I did. When I still knew you as the gypsy girl, I heard all sorts of gossip outside my cell. I heard of you developing an interest in that pig, Phoebus. I knew that wouldn't work, for he was all looks and no brains. I knew that Pierre wouldn't work because there was no mutual attraction. You would want someone with passion, with stubbornness, with enough gall to do something absolutely foolish if need be. You would need someone that would come to love you as they knew you better—that left Claude. The only problem was that he had taken vows…you would both need to escape from Paris to shed your mutual chains. I talked him into it and I prayed that you would agree to it."
Esmeralda glanced back at the house. She remembered how haunted Claude had looked the day of her supposed execution. He had played the part of the callous archdeacon very well. He had only let the mask slip for a moment where she could see the fear—he didn't want her to die. She tried to imagine what would have happened if she hadn't agreed…what would have become of him?
"He grows more sure of himself with each day," Paquette commented, "he'll be a great father when the time comes."
Esmeralda remembered the day in the garden when she'd first touched his hand and the spark that had sizzled between them. For all his clumsiness in such matters, she loved him even more for that innocence. Everything was new to him, including her.
"My time for love has come and gone and I wouldn't trade it for anything," Paquette informed her, "but yours is just beginning. If I could give you one bit of motherly advice, it would be to take absolutely nothing for granted."
She placed her hand on Esmeralda's back and nudged her towards the house.
"Go on," she urge her, "I want to stay out here for a while and explore the gardens. I can't get enough of the outside."
Esmeralda hugged her briefly before sprinting towards the house. Paquette grinned as she watched her retreating back.
Perhaps you aren't as shallow as I first imagined, she thought.