Staging a Courtship
A One Shot

FNF#44: "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?" ~ Abraham Lincoln

Her mother was a noblewoman; her father was a criminal - a crook and thief, banned from London and sent away to Australia. She was smart and shrewd, kind yet had a will so strong no one would ever be able to take advantage of her, and she, unlike so many other women, knew how to keep a confidence. She made him laugh, she made him smile, and, when she was anywhere near, his chest would feel tight and tense with affection. She was beautiful, too.

Unlike his older brother A.J. who fancied busty blondes, Jason tended to favor petite girls, girls with rich, dark hair, and eyes so big and luminous that he could lose himself in their depths. His tastes also verged away from his brother's, because, unlike the Quartermaine heir, Jason actually preferred women to have opinions of their own. He liked it when a member of the opposite sex could discuss politics, literature, and trade with him. He found intelligent conversation invigorating, both mentally... and physically.

For all these reasons and so many others, he knew that he was in love with Robin Scorpio.

There was just a slight problem. His family did not approve, social convention did not consider them an acceptable match, and, if he were to ask for her hand in marriage like he wanted to, they would be ostracized from polite society and shunned in any and all of the homes where fitting company could be found. Whether he agreed with society's rules or not, he, a man of wealth, breeding, and aristocracy, could not marry beneath him. And Miss Scorpio wasn't just a member of a lower class; she was a commoner. The only reason he knew her at all was because she lived with her uncle, the local constable, and, since being a Quartermaine seemed to require run-ins with the law, his family lowered themselves to invite Constable Scorpio to their parties and social events, catering to win his favor in the hopes he'd turn a blind eye to some of A.J.'s drunken revelries or his father Alan's less than discreet behavior at the local brothels.

While a part of Jason relished having the woman he wished to marry so near, there was another part of him which considered the occasions pure torture. Not only was he expected to not only watch but ignore the fact that other men could flirt and dance with Miss Scorpio while he could not, but he was also expected to entertain the girl of the week that his family was throwing at him in the hopes that he'd finally consent to their wishes and settle down. After all, it was one thing if A.J. was the town rake, constantly cavorting with women and refusing to marry. He was the heir, the future of their family. Everything he did was excused and covered up, all in an effort to protect the Quartermaine name. And Jason's grandfather and father catered to A.J., knowing that, if they ever wanted his older brother to reign his behavior in, A.J. would only do so if everyone else danced to his piper's tune, bending over backwards to serve and please him.

He, on the other hand, was just the second son. If he didn't do as they liked, his family could just disinherit him. He was unnecessary. He wouldn't inherit the Quartermaine title. It didn't matter how many heirs he himself produced; only A.J.'s eventual offspring mattered. However, that did not mean that his grandfather didn't expect him to settle down, provide him with grandchildren, and work hard to grow and expand the family's business and empire all for A.J. to gamble and pilfer away. That meant he was to marry and soon, and, if he was so disinclined to find a suitable wife on his own, then his family would do so for him.

Glancing down at the woman to his right, the latest poor girl, yet another daughter of one of his grandfather's friends and business cronies, tossed to him like a fox to the hounds, Jason couldn't hold back his shudder. While seemingly, on the outside, much like Miss Scorpio, the woman beside him held none of the charms he found so attractive in Robin. In fact, she was so dull, he wasn't sure if she was disinterested in him as well or simply completely dimwitted. Throughout the entire evening, she just stood there by his side, neither requesting a cup of punch nor hinting that he should ask her to dance.

Oh, she was beautiful. He couldn't deny that. Soft and petite, her shape, though delicate, was entirely feminine, curved and set off to perfection in one of the silly, intricate dresses fashion dictated all women wear. She had thick, dark hair and big blue eyes, but, unlike Robin's gaze, the woman's to his right seemed dull and lifeless, barren of any intelligent thought or of any natural warmth. The idea of marrying such a girl, of spending the rest of his life living with her and having her carry his children caused Jason to shiver involuntarily.

When she spoke, whispering out of the corner of her mouth, he was shocked but not enough to react visibly and alert any of the dowagers observing them with their hawk-like gazes. "If you're not going to present some initiative, then I will. We need to talk."

Forward and dimwitted? The combination was befuddling, and, for a brief moment, Jason found himself curious which was accurate and which was just a farce, a face Miss Webber wore for everyone else to see. His interest flickered out, though, in a matter of seconds, fleeing just as quickly as it had originated, for it didn't matter. He wasn't going to court her, no matter how deceptive she might be towards the rest of the world, a trait he could appreciate.

Still, though, he wasn't rude. "Would you care to dance?"

"Hell no," the woman beside him swore, astonishing Jason further. "Not that what those fools dressed up as ladies and gentlemen are doing could actually be considered dancing. While you might be a fan of the waltz and quadrilles, personally, I think it looks like a herd of elephants mimicking small forest animals. They're hopping like rabbits, skittering like squirrels, and bobbing like blue jays digging for worms. No thank you."

"Perhaps a walk through the garden then? The grounds are notorious for their roses. My grandmother cares for them..."

"Herself," Miss Webber finished his sentence, interrupting him. "Yeah, I know. You act like this is my first time here. I've spent more time in your garden as a child than I did in my own. And, before you ask, no, I don't want any damn refreshments, Jason. Now, if you're quite finished with the usual empty offerings all refined dandies in this city have to offer..."

This time, he was the one to interject. "Do you always talk like a sailor?"

"No, but I do find profanity to be effective when I want to make a point. Have I captured your attention yet?" Nodding his head in acquiescence, Jason both answered her question and instructed her to proceed. "Very good. Now, if it's quite alright with you, I'd like to end this farce right here and now."

"What farce?"

"Why, the fact that you're, at least for the evening, pretending to be interested in me. I know you're not, you know you're not, and we both know that you're in love with Robin Scorpio."

He couldn't have formed an intelligent sentence if his life depended upon it. For several moments, Jason sputtered, attempting to say one thing only to fail and begin again with a new speaking goal in mind. Eventually, he gave up. He quit the pretext of faux denial and simply skipped straight to what he really wanted to ask the woman beside him. "How do you...?"

"Know that? Oh, it's quite obvious," Miss Webber dismissed. "You're a very detached man, Jason. You're cold. You don't say anything more than what is necessary. You barely even acknowledge others with your gaze, as if wasting a spare glance would be beneath you. However, your eyes follow Robin whenever she moves about a room. You watch her, and, when you do, your gaze becomes softer. Warmer. Gentler. Trusting. No man looks at a woman like that unless he's in love with her."

"And you know this how," he inquired snidely. "How many men have glanced at you that way?"

"None, which further proves my point. If this little conversation of ours has told you anything about me, it's that I'm not like other women. In fact, most men avoid me."

Clenching his jaw, Jason murmured, "I wonder why."

She seemed to ignore him, though. "However, that's what I want them to do. Over the years - you see I enjoy studying people; it's good for my artwork, I've learned how to behave in certain settings, with certain company in order to achieve the results I want. With my mother and her friends, I'm vacant, simpering, docile. With my father, I'm innocent and sweet, doting even. With men who find me attractive, I'm either talkative and opinionated or so dense they believe I'll provide them with imbeciles for heirs. With girls of my own social class and age group, I just act as though I'm invisible, and, in kind, they ignore me, proving there are still small favors in the world."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Because with you... other than my pirate-wench impersonation earlier, I've been myself these last few minutes, perhaps slightly more forceful than usual maybe, but if this is going to work, if we're going to work together, we're going to have to trust one another."

Jason felt as loose ends, confused, as though the floor was slipping underneath him and he couldn't find purchase. And he didn't like it, especially the fact that one imp of a woman had caused him to become so unbalanced. "Excuse me?"

"You want Robin. You want to court her, you want to marry her, you want her to be the mother of your children. However, you're a Quartermaine, and she, quite frankly, is a nobody." Holding up a placating hand, Elizabeth softened her own words by admitting, "I do not say such things to be harsh, and, in fact, I like Robin, but, in the eyes of society, she is not fit to wipe your boots. So, I'm guessing you're not too interested in allowing your family to find you a bride, and, right now, they want that bride to be me which, in my opinion... something, by the way, that nobody, especially my parents and grandmother, cares about... is a terrible idea."

"Why don't you want to marry?"

"Oh, of course I want to marry. As a woman, I know that I have no other options, for nothing is less palatable than becoming an old maid and forever dependent upon one's family for the rest of one's life. However, when I do marry, I want it to me to someone who, if not actually in love with me, can at least bear to be in the same room with me, and, you, Mr. Quartermaine, certainly do not fit that description. Don't get me wrong, you're attractive enough..."

"You think I'm good looking," he questioned her, surprised by her candidness.

"Don't be vain. Anyone with two relatively healthy eyes in their head can tell that you're gorgeous, but looks aren't everything, Jason... as I suspect you already know, given your rather untraditional foray into love."

Noticing that, despite their lowered voices they were starting to attract more than their fair share of attention, he insisted, "tell me what you want?"

"I want what you want; I want time. While you need it to, I'm guessing, prepare your finances and arrange things so that you are capable of walking away from your family and still providing for Robin should the Quartermaines disown you for daring to marry for genuine affection rather than good breeding and a hefty dowry, I want time to myself. As I've alluded to already, I'm an artist. Once I marry, I highly doubt my husband will tolerate such fancies. So, we'll pretend to court. You'll take me for carriage rides, escort me to parties, visit me in my home. I'll be glad to listen to your plans and, if you need a second mind, I'll even offer you advice if you're so inclined to ask. By the time your family believes you ready to propose to me, you'll have amassed enough wealth and connections to go to Robin and ask for her hand in marriage instead."

"And in return?"

"You'll buy my art supplies for me. I used to get my maids to make the purchases for me, but, when my mother discovered the errands, she fired them without references and confiscated my wares. Not only was it quite expensive, but I couldn't, in good conscious, sentence other women to such unjust termination."

For a brief flicker of a moment, Jason found himself liking Elizabeth Webber... for that was her first name, and, if she insisted upon calling him by his own, he was sure she'd eventually demand such liberties he taken on his behalf in return. She was smart and shrewd, kind and strong willed, and obviously trustworthy. She was funny, and unconventional, beautiful, and her passion for her art, her compassion for others who were less fortunate, and her determination to pull the wool over the eyes of everyone who knew them made him smile. But then he forced himself to focus on the task at hand, and, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Robin, quickly sobering at the visual reminder of his present unfortunate set of circumstances.

Equally determined and mind made up, he turned, faced the woman beside him, and answered, "you have yourself a deal."

As he walked away, Jason knew that, if no one else would have been looking, Elizabeth Webber would have spit in her hand and then shook his own. The realization made him stifle a chuckle.