Title: The First Time
Summary: Marguerite decides it's time to tell Roxton about an important event in her past.
Disclaimer: Rights to The Lost World belong solely to the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the producers licensed to create the television series; this fanfiction is not written with any hope of financial gain or other tangible benefit.
Author Note: Spoilers for episodes throughout the first three seasons and fourth season events as summarized in 2005 by Judith and Gar Reeves-Stevens.
Part I – Time to Tell
~~~The Lost World~~~The Lost World~~~The Lost World~~~
Everyone knew that Marguerite's favorite place of seclusion in the crowded treehouse was the upper balcony at the backside of the treehouse – if a basically circular structure could be said to have a 'back'. The only opening into the rest of the treehouse from this section of the balcony was the window of the room she'd claimed on the first day Challenger's expedition had arrived at Veronica's arboreal home.
Roxton suspected she'd chosen it as her bedroom exactly for its accessibility. With the bedroom door opening to the interior, and the bedroom window opening onto the balcony where one could go either direction around the treehouse, not to mention the possibility that one could hop over the railing and swing down to the balcony below, or climb up onto the thatch roof above, her room had more routes of escape than anyplace else in their lofty home.
And she'd made full use of that feature: Many a time he'd believed she was in her room only to arrive in her doorway and discover she wasn't there, or expected to find her on that section of the balcony and found only the empty wicker chair she'd commandeered for the shady spot. Her basket of mending would still be sitting there, with an article of clothing partially mended draped over the armrest, threaded needle tucked into the cloth where she'd left off… but no Marguerite. He'd never caught her climbing in or out through the window, or found any evidence that she'd deliberately avoided him by ascending or descending from the balcony… but he'd certainly entertained the suspicion more often than he cared to recall. Of course now that he knew one of her past aliases was "Parsifal", a name infamous within the echelons of counter-intelligence – not to mention the fact that she was reputed to be an expert thief as well – he realized he'd never stood a chance of catching her when and if she truly didn't want to see him.
Fortunately, that wasn't much of an issue these days. Ever since Challenger had determinedly re-created a time ripple so they could return Captain John Roxton to his own long ago era and reunite Lord John Roxton with their makeshift family, Marguerite seemed quite content to spend almost all of her time with him.
Much to his quiet satisfaction, she'd allowed him to turn her place of solitude into "theirs"; Roxton had strung up an oversized hammock-style chair from a hook in an overhead beam. The netting was surprisingly comfortable for lounging and was easily large enough to hold two. Most evenings found them swinging slowly, sometimes side to side, sometimes turning in circles, sometimes back and forth like a child's swing, always with Marguerite tucked under John's arm, snuggled close to his side as his booted foot propelled the hanging chair.
This was one of those nights.
She was half asleep after a long day of slogging gamely through boggy ground and thick underbrush with him, in search of a particular herb Challenger needed for their medical supplies. It had been harder to find than Veronica's directions led them to believe. The huntress probably could have located it in half the time, but her garden harvest was in full swing. She'd shanghaied Malone to help her, and any delay meant a loss of precious canned goods that rounded out their diet through most of the year. Roxton was already doing extra chores to enable Ned to help their hostess, but he'd volunteered to fetch George's herbs.
Marguerite had given him a baleful look and heaved a resigned sigh, but she'd been ready to leave when he reached the lift with his rucksack and rifle. There was no way she would allow him to enter the predator-laden boglands without someone to watch his back while his attention was on the flora. She hadn't grumbled – much – even though it had been a hot, humid hike. They hadn't made it home from the tedious task until the others had finished dinner, and she'd forgone food in favor of a hot shower. After he'd eaten and freshened up, he'd found her already waiting on their balcony for him, and she'd curled up against him with a weary sigh. Her hair was still damp as he idly played with the long curls that she hadn't bothered to tie up again.
There could be no doubt now that the beautiful brunette loved him, but it had taken a long time to earn her precarious trust. In the past she'd pushed him away because she considered her soul to be damned for the things she'd done, because she feared there was something evil in her that made her unworthy of even her parents' love, and because she believed he deserved better than a woman with her history and lack of identity. Given her conviction that she wasn't worthy of him, only a near-death experience had compelled her to admit her real feelings.
Their mutual conundrum was what to do with those feelings now that they were out in the open.
The most natural step was to consummate their love. The world-wise woman had certainly expected that to be what her long-time beau wanted, and if it had been any other woman he'd fallen in love with while stranded in a jungle far from civilization, he'd have followed through in a heartbeat.
But she wasn't any other woman. John knew that beneath her usual bold, devil-may-care façade, Marguerite cared deeply about proprieties. He couldn't shake his conviction that although she would enjoy their physical intimacy, she might also secretly condemn herself for it, just as she reviled herself for other actions in her past that went against the conscience she usually denied having. He smirked to himself at the thought of her automatic scoffing when anyone suggested she cared whether something was right or wrong; right, Miss "What's today, Tuesday? I never kill anyone on Tuesdays"! If he'd suspected it before their encounter with the gypsies, he'd known for certain after she'd refused to shoot him to save her own life.
She could deny it all she wanted and it wouldn't change the fact that his lady had a moral compass just like the rest of them did, and she already bore a heavy burden of guilt for having violated it so often in her struggle to survive on her own. Much as he yearned to make thorough love with Marguerite, John didn't want to add yet another burden to those she already carried. He wanted to provide a measure of peace and security for her in a world that had shown her nothing but strife and danger. He wanted her to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the love he felt for her was based on far more than mere physical attraction or temporary gratification.
To that end, he'd deliberately kept her private balcony free of anything more sexual than light kisses and caresses. It was too easy for their physical passion to get out of control, too easy to take from her what she'd had to give too often as Parsifal, as the Black Widow of Vienna, and as whoever else she'd needed to be before he'd met her. He wanted her to know beyond the shadow of any doubt that, unlike other men – even himself when they'd first come here – he wasn't drawn to her solely for her beauty and her probably unparalleled skill as a lover.
Puzzled and perturbed by his refusal to indulge in more intimate pleasures, at first she hadn't understood his abstinence. He'd been careful to mask his amusement at her annoyance, which he knew was because she had no idea where he was going with this. "Relax, Marguerite," he'd patiently coaxed. "Just sit here with me, okay? Try it. We don't even have to talk. Let's simply enjoy this time together." She'd yielded, but only temporarily. When he'd said the same the next day, she'd insisted on an explanation. She hadn't liked his answer.
Exasperated with him, she'd refused to admit to harboring any such "sappy notions" about the propriety – or lack of propriety – of enjoying sex with him. She'd sniffed indignantly that he was making a mountain of a molehill, and, when he remained adamant, she'd warned him, "One week, John. I'll give you one week to get over these misguided notions." She didn't mention what she'd do if he hadn't relented at that point, and he hadn't asked.
"A week," he'd simply promised, and kept his fingers crossed that it would be long enough.
It was. Much to her bemusement and his gratification, her unease with his limits on their physical activity had faded over the next few days as she discovered that simply being held by him was an amazingly good feeling. Moreover, he made sure she knew that he liked it as much as she did. Reveling in this hither-to-unknown and undemanding contentment, she'd looked up at him at the end of that week and thanked him. She didn't explain what she was thanking him for, and Roxton considered the almost shy wonder in her lovely face to be ample reward when he refrained from teasing her about her capitulation. It was probably as much confirmation as she'd ever give him that he was right about the morals she secretly harbored.
He treasured each successive evening as he watched the formerly unapproachable woman relax at his side, her warm soft body molded to his, one of her delicate hands resting over his heart, her face nestled into the crook of his neck, her breath tickling his skin, her dark curls cascading over her shoulders as his large calloused hand slowly stroked the silken strands. Regardless of what new twist the Plateau tossed at them day after day, as each day drew to a close the couple made the time to simply hold one another and reaffirm their love.
But while the quiet times were rewarding in their own way, the evenings John liked best where those when they also talked as they swung and watched as the sunset faded into dusk and the stars slowly became visible. They might revisit the activities of their current day, confide to one another some of their hopes and dreams, or review their growing relationship. Occasionally she mentioned her past, although she didn't usually linger longer than a few sentences. No matter what the topic, he welcomed these glimpses she offered of her inner thoughts.
It wasn't that they didn't talk during the day, too. John was pretty sure there wasn't anything they hadn't talked about in the past few months, whether they were alone or with the others. Marguerite had grown more open with everyone else, too, not only with the man who'd won her heart. Yet as pleased as he was to watch the last of her aloofness transform into carefully-casual affection with their housemates, it was their private chats on their balcony that he waited for all day long.
It was their special time, something he wanted to believe she hadn't done with anyone but him. Sharing their thoughts and memories with one another felt more intimate to him than sharing their bodies. Marguerite had always guarded her genuine thoughts and feelings to a much greater extent than she did her body; understandable, given her past. Yet Roxton couldn't help wondering whether these quiet personal conversations were as unique as he hoped. What if she'd done this kind of thing with other men in quest of Parsifal's goals or in search of her identity? What if Marguerite had fought this at first not because she didn't understand his intention, but because it reminded her of what she'd had to do in the past? What if she didn't look forward to this time together as he did? What if the very thing he was trying to give her was only another reminder of skills in Parsifal's arsenal that she'd rather forget? And what if it went even further back than that?
Marguerite had said little enough about her pre-war years – or any other time of her life, for that matter – but he gathered that her physical beauty and innate intelligence had been the only assets available to her once her adoptive family had abandoned her after she'd finished whatever level of schooling she'd actually attained. Although there was a slim chance she'd managed to protect her virtue by adroit use of her intellect – and more luck than was likely – he was painfully aware of what a beautiful young girl like Marguerite must've had to do to survive, at least until she'd mastered thievery under Adrienne's tutelage.
When he thought of what her earlier life must have been like, living hand-to-mouth, having no shelter from the elements or from human predators… Even once she'd gained some experience, it must have been a constant struggle, all alone as she'd been. He knew his own gender too well to honestly believe she'd escaped unscathed. Her wary, defensive behavior was proof enough that she knew the dangers; there was no question in his mind that she'd been taken advantage of by men in her past. It was a good thing that he'd probably never know the details for certain. It broke his heart enough just to know a little of what she'd gone through. Those tidbits were more than enough to be sure she'd had valid reason to suspect the motives of the people with whom she rubbed shoulders, past and present. His blood never failed to curdle at the thought of where, when and how she might have learned to do some of the sensual things she'd must have done to succeed as Parsifal.
He chafed under the knowledge that she must have been hurt by men selfish or cruel enough to use her in pursuit of their own pleasures. Roxton couldn't help but wish he'd been there to champion her when she was most vulnerable, when some self-seeking poor-excuse-for-a-man had taught his precious lady that most men only wanted one thing from beautiful women. Whenever he considered Marguerite's past experiences with men, including his own initial sordid treatment of her, he could only marvel that she hadn't killed or maimed him a hundred times over before he'd come to his senses.
Actually, knowing what he now knew, maybe she really had killed or maimed at least a couple of those other men for mistreating her. It was a gratifying thought, but it didn't change the fact that he wished with all his heart that he could've made things right for her long before now. If he could go back in time to make just one thing easier on her, he'd choose to be her first lover.
Marguerite deserved for her first time to have been special, not rushed through with someone who'd only used her for his own satisfaction, which was the way it had most likely happened not only the first time but for the majority of her sexual history. How in God's name could he ever make up for all she'd suffered, for all the good she'd missed?
She stirred against him, drawing his anguished thoughts back to the present, and tilted her face up to quirk a brow at him. "What's wrong, John?"
"Wrong?" he echoed, caught off guard.
"You've tensed up, like you're upset about something," she pointed out simply.
He chastised himself for allowing his body to betray his thoughts; he should've known she'd pick up on the tension that accompanied his dark consideration of her past. "No, no… I was just thinking what a remarkable woman you are," he smiled, prevaricating with a partial truth. But he couldn't quite meet her clear gaze.
Her brow creased in surprised displeasure at this evidence that something was amiss, and she smacked his chest, ignoring his wince since she knew it wasn't that she'd hurt him but that he'd been caught in a deception. "You're a very bad liar, Lord Roxton," she chastised sternly. "It makes me wonder how anyone ever believed you could be Parsifal! Now come on; out with the truth, if you please. What's troubling you?"
Roxton scrambled for something… anything… but was too aware of her piercing eyes to come up with anything plausible.
"Well?" she demanded with steel in her tone as he remained silent, her gaze sharpening to full alertness.
Blast! Now nothing less than the truth would do; she'd know if he fibbed. Embarrassed, his ears reddened as he gruffly admitted, "I was wishing it had been me who'd had the privilege of being your first lover, instead of some bloke who probably only cared about his own jollies."
She blinked, taken aback. "That's what you've been brooding about? My first lover?"
By the warmth he felt flooding his face, he knew his cheeks were reddening now as well as his ears. Feeling incredibly doltish, he looked everywhere but at his lady as he stumbled through an explanation of how he hadn't started out thinking about that, specifically, but rather about how much he liked their nightly time together on the hammock… and the entire thing spilled out, from his appreciation of their quiet exchange of confidences and his recognition that it was possible that it didn't mean the same to her because of things she might've had to do as Parsifal – not that he held any of that against her, of course – in fact, just the opposite was true because it was a testament to her instinct for self-preservation that she'd not only survived but succeeded in saving who knew how many tens of thousands of lives – but that he wished he'd been around to champion her so she hadn't needed to develop that bloody instinct for self-preservation – and it didn't matter one iota to him that she was far from being a virgin, except that he hated the thought that some idiot hadn't initiated her with the tenderness and respect she'd deserved – which had led to his not-at-all-jealous wish that he'd been the one to introduce her to a man's appreciation of her, not just for her beauty but for who she really was –
Marguerite's finger on his lips put a stop to his jumbled recitation. He finally met her gaze again, and released his breath in a sigh of relief at seeing that she was amused instead of offended.
"You really are the most adorable man," she said affectionately, and stretched up to gently kiss his cheek.
Bemused, he slanted her one of his lopsided grins. "Thank you. Uh… why?"
His baffled query earned him another light buss before she answered, "Because you care so much." She cuddled close again with a sigh of contentment as she nestled her face against the soft cotton of his worn shirt, wrapped one arm across his ribs, and fit her body to his as snugly as possible. "You have nothing to worry about, John. I'm sure being together like this means as much to me as it does to you, perhaps more. I never thought I'd be able to do this with anyone, until you," she confided candidly. "You're right that there were occasions when Parsifal used similar situations for information gathering, although it was usually post-coital, not in lieu of," she added with a hint of perplexity in her tone that told him she still didn't fully accept his reasoning about restricting their intimacy. "But I made it a rule never to stay with a man a moment longer than necessary to achieve whatever goal I was working toward. You're the only man I've ever trusted enough to talk like we do here… or to not talk… I wouldn't give up this time with you for the biggest diamond in the world." She paused and thought for a second, then added with certainty in her tone, "Or for platinum, either."
His chuckle rumbled beneath her cheek, and his arms tightened around her. "Good to know I rate that highly in your books, my dear." He tenderly pressed his lips to her forehead.
Her green eyes sparkled up at him for a moment. Then her gaze skittered away as she gnawed on her lower lip.
Recognizing the signs of an internal debate about whether this would be the right time to confess something important, Roxton braced himself for whatever she might say next. After losing his temper during the fiasco over the Ouroboros, and then again when they'd been trapped in that cave-in, he was painfully aware of her fear of his rejection. Since those regrettable lapses, he'd succeeded in responding much more moderately to the occasional major revelations Marguerite offered up, especially when tendered without his prompting. His self-control had been rewarded as he'd witnessed her appreciation of his supportiveness and her increasing confidence in the fact that his devotion was unshakable. He was determined to do nothing that might give her cause to regret anything she shared. So when she began to speak, he clamped his jaw shut and listened carefully.
"My first lover is another reason I cherish every moment with you, John," she said softly, looking up at him again. "It's something I should have told you before… but talking about first lovers doesn't exactly come naturally into conversations…"
He absorbed her words for a moment, trying to form a logical connection that could explain how something she should have told him about her first lover might be a reason for her to cherish her time with him now. Although he hadn't yet told her this particular rule he intended to follow, the first possible connection that came to mind was his determination never to do anything that would make her uncomfortable or cause her pain when they coupled, never to join the ranks of men who'd taken their pleasure at her expense. If she'd lost her virginity as he suspected… that would qualify as a reason she might cherish being with him instead of with that first lover. His jaw tightened further, and his stomach turned. "He hurt you, didn't he?" he asked gruffly.
"What? No – no, far from it!" she assured him hastily, her startled reaction reassuring him even as she continued, "No. No, John. He didn't hurt me. Truth be told, he rescued me." Marguerite hugged him reassuringly, an apology for having upset him clear in her voice as well. "And he was very gentle with me. Most of what I know about physical pleasure, I learned from him."
He honed in on one word – rescued. She'd been in danger, then, as John had feared. But her first lover had saved her from that danger. And he'd been gentle with her, taken care to give her pleasure. That was good, better than he'd hoped, based on the little he knew for certain about her past relationships. "Well, I can't fault him for that," he said flatly.
His words made her smile, albeit a trifle nervously, because she could see he was withholding judgment on what else he might condemn the unknown man for doing. She offered tentatively, "I don't know what my life would have been like if not for meeting him. If he hadn't intervened, there's no question that I would have been hurt."
He dragged in a deep breath to steady himself, hating the thought that she'd been so vulnerable, so alone… and fairly positive that he didn't really want to hear more about this man. But she'd just said she should have told him long ago, and she was watching him, her silver green eyes measuring his reaction, deciding whether she could tell him more or not. She obviously had something she wanted, or needed, to talk about, and he couldn't let her down. "Okay, tell me about it," he said as matter-of-factly as he could.
She nodded, accepting him at his word – for now, at least. "Thank you, John."
He felt her relax against him, and was pleased at this evidence of her long-craved trust. He rubbed her back, gentle soothing circles to further reassure her that she had his support for whatever she needed to say… and to comfort himself, the contact reminding him that she was here with him now, safe and sound. He tamped down his tension, forcing himself to relax each limb, each muscle, each breath, determined to convey complete openness.
Marguerite marveled once again at the unfathomable miracle of this man's unconditional love. His open-hearted protectiveness was humbling, and made her all the more determined to make a clean breast of this; he deserved to know. "I was seventeen and on my own." She shrugged and kept her tone nonchalant. "I had already pawned anything of value, had nothing left, no place to stay, no friends, no prospects… still baby-faced. I'm sure you can imagine where I ended up."
Roxton nodded, not trusting his voice this time. She'd been in unspeakable trouble! He'd had the misfortune of seeing more than once what happened when a virgin had been up for bid, and it made no difference whether it was the slave markets of some distant land, a slum bordello, or an exclusive gaming house attended by the highest ranks of so-called civilized nations. He'd once been present at such an establishment when a beautiful young girl had been brought forth by the proprietor and offered to the highest bidder. She'd obviously been gently reared, but had fallen on hard times. It had happened during the period of his life when he'd done his best – or perhaps his worst would be a better way to express it – to drown his memories of William's death; he'd drunk so much back then that he retained very few memories of anything other than that one particular night, which had affected him so deeply that he had a vague recollection of the event despite his alcoholic stupor. Specific details were a bit hazy, but remembered that he'd been extremely disgusted over the fact that every disreputable rakehell with a title had been vying for the right to deflower the girl, with several dozen supposedly reputable noblemen right alongside them in the bidding. All during the auction there had been crass comments and crude humor about the various painful ways the girl could be "made a woman" – and all while the gorgeous little chit was standing right there.
The thought of Marguerite being in that same position was enough to make his stomach churn with bile. "Sold," he bit out the word.
She nodded, unable to suppress a shiver at the memory. She resolutely pushed away that portion of the memories. After all, fate had been on her side that night, despite the ignoble start of the episode. "Fortunately, there was a knight in disguise present, and he paid an obscene amount of money for the privilege of my company." There was a touch of wry humor in her tone.
John was only mildly appeased by her reference to a heroic rescue. He would withhold a final opinion until he learned why she considered this man to be her knight when he'd taken part in the bidding and then followed up by taking inexcusable advantage of her plight for his own benefit. He reminded himself that Marguerite was watching him, that it wasn't easy for her to share such things, and that she wanted him to see this man as she did. He struggled to find something to approve about the man, but all he could come up with was a grudging, "I'd have done the same if I'd been there."
His lady smiled at his words and placed her hand over his where it rested on her forearm. "I believe you, my love."
He liked the warm sincerity of her tone, but it was a hint of lurking laughter that caught his attention. "What aren't you telling me?" he asked keenly.
"All in good time, Lord Roxton," she demurred.
He grimaced and rolled his eyes. "Of course. What was I thinking?" His dry humor made her smirk before she continued, but her expression softened into a gentle smile of remembrance that startled him. She recalled this man with fondness? His eyes narrowed alertly as she resumed her story.
"He knew I was horribly frightened, and somehow he also knew I was starving. He apologized for the moronic behavior of men in general and in particular for the unforgivable manners of the men that had bid on me. He ordered a four course meal at his rooms, and told me his name was Jack. Then he said that I was one of the most beautiful young ladies he'd ever had the honor to meet and I should never settle for being treated as anything less than a lady."
"Smooth operator," he grumbled, suspicious that she'd been taken in by the letch's patter. This oaf must have been quite charismatic for her to react this way so long after the fact. How could such a wily woman not see this for the seduction it had been?
"Extremely smooth operator," she agreed, eyes twinkling again. "He was also very handsome, utterly charming, and a perfect gentleman."
"No," John shook his head in immediate denial, unable to let that one pass without making his opinion clear. "A perfect gentleman wouldn't have taken your virginity after he won the bidding; a perfect gentleman would have treated you like the lady he said you were and gotten you out of there without…" He faltered a moment.
Marguerite chuckled, amused at his grim indignation. "Without ruining me?" she said lightly, and planted another feather light kiss on his jaw when he winced at her bluntness. "Well, I'm sure that's what he would have done… if he'd been sober."
He blinked. "He was drunk?" Well, he hadn't expected that one! Nor did he know what to make of the inexplicable compassion he saw in her expressive face.
"Stone blind drunk," she confirmed, her tone an odd mixture of sympathy and sadness. "Mind you, he seemed perfectly clear-headed to me at the time." At his incredulous look, she added, "He was well-coordinated, lucid, didn't slur his words, and he didn't drop things or stumble when he walked. Back then I didn't have any experience with the wide range of behavior people exhibit under the influence of alcohol, so I had no idea that some people can drink all day and still appear to be functioning quite normally. It never occurred to me that he wasn't sober, not until years later. If he'd been sober, things might have gone very differently, but all things considered, he took very good care of me, John. The sex was… exquisite."
He couldn't help but grunt his doubt, though he knew she meant to reassure him. He'd worked too hard to convince her that their "love" meant more to him than mere physical intimacy, that he wanted to share something far more permanent with her. "There's more to taking 'very good care' of a woman than sex, Marguerite, even if it was good." No way was he going to accept her descriptor of the sex as exquisite. "You know that."
Her green gaze was tender as it met his conflicted frown. "Yes, John. But that's exactly what I'm trying to tell you. Jack did give me far more than only good sex. He showed me what a real man is, what a real man does. All these years, he's been the measuring stick against which I've judged all other men, and the only times I've gotten into trouble were when I settled for someone who didn't measure up."
He felt as if his heart had stopped. "Including me? Is this guy the reason you were so wary of me for so long? Because I didn't measure up?"
She pressed a warm kiss to the side of his neck. "No, John, I wasn't wary of you because you didn't measure up. It was because you did measure up to Jack, and because I knew you could be so much more to me than Jack was." At his confused look, she added, "I knew I could easily feel far too much for you, Lord Roxton, because of what happened with Jack. And since I'd long ago come to believe that giving in to any kind of deep, genuine feeling was dangerous, I tried to keep my distance from you."
"I don't understand."
She drew a deep breath. "Let me explain it properly…"
~~~The Lost World~~~The Lost World~~~The Lost World~~~