A/N: The following was Blue Castle fic written for the femgenficathon over on LJ. I thought I'd cross-post it here. It's my first time with this fandom, or book!fic, so I hope it turned out well. The quote at the start was my given prompt. Thanks to forthecoast for the beta on relatively short notice!
Nothing is more capable of troubling our reason, and consuming our health, than secret notions of jealousy in solitude. - Aphra Behn (1640-1689), 17th-century English playwright and spy
She was the plain girl in a handsome clan.
She was the one no one looked at twice.
It was what was expected of her.
To be one of those people. The ones who faded into the woodwork, fulfilled a necessary societal role, but may as well have been a piece of furniture.
She wasn't an ornamental vase, to be put on display in the centre of the room and fussed over. She was the spare chair in the corner, the one people forgot about until company was coming and then it was hauled out to act as support. But most of the time it sat unobtrusively in a corner.
That was her life.
She always did what she was told.
But she resented it.
And they never guessed.
Not one of her whole insular, self-important, pompous old clan ever guessed. They weren't cruel, they were just oblivious.
They never really looked at the plain old chair in the corner.
So they never guessed that it wished it could grow spikes.
Or wings, or something. Valancy would have settled for a single colourful cushion.
She never got it.
But then, she also never asked. She'd been too afraid.
She, Valancy Jane Redfern (formerly Valancy Jane Stirling), had been far too afraid to do anything.
Until she was told she was going to die. And then wasn't afraid any more.
Because just like that, all the petty jealousies became irrelevant.
What did it matter if her mother didn't care three straws about her? What did it matter about Cousin Stickles, whose back had to be rubbed daily with Redfern's linament?
What did it matter if Olive was engaged to an eminently suitable young man and had loads of pretty things while Valancy herself had absolutely no prospects?
Valancy wasn't going to live long enough for any of that to matter.
She was going to forget about being good all the time on the faint hope that it might pay off in twenty years or so.
Twenty years or so was gone.
Valancy swore she was going to live the one year she had left the way she'd always wanted to.
And live Valancy had, in a way that had quite scandalized her poor, insular little clan.
(In her heart of hearts, Valancy freely admitted that she'd rather enjoyed scandalizing Olive.)
But when it came right down to it, none of that mattered.
She'd found herself. She'd discovered abilities she hadn't even known she had. She'd learned to be happy.
Her. Plain old, unremarkable Valancy Jane.
Her death sentence had given her back her life.
Nearly thirty years of slights and petty jealousies, always suffered in silence, had built up inside her until they manifested themselves as chronic and unpredictable stabbing physical pain.
Physical pain that had then started off the chain of events that had allowed Valancy to go after what she'd always longed for, freedom, happiness, love.
Her secret, lonely jealousy had saved her, freed her from her imposing and opinionated clan.
Valancy knew that her previous circumstances were unique, that she must be careful not to let that all-consuming jealousy grip her again. She'd be been lucky enough to survive it the first time; a second was not to be hoped for, or risked.
She wasn't worried though.
Now she was strong.
And she wasn't alone.
She'd found her wings. They'd brought her to Barney, who loved her as she was, too-small-nose and all.
It didn't matter what anyone else thought.
She'd exorcised her demons.
They no longer had any power over her.
Not even Olive.
Mrs. Cecil Bruce shut the Saturday paper a little huffily.
It seemed "John Foster" aka. Mr. Bernard Redfern had just released another bestseller.
The fuss some people made over books! Olive had never been able to see much in nature stories herself.
Oh, the books had a certain whimsical charm, she was willing to admit, but they were hardly great literature.
Olive Bruce, née Olive Stirling, sat down heavily on her new parlour chair. It really was a lovely chair. As was the entire set of perfectly matching furniture, all ordered specially from the Eaton's catalogue for her newly furnished parlour, in her newly purchased house.
Olive wondered what types of pieces Valancy had gracing her parlour. Probably no furniture from Eaton's for the millionaire's wife.
Olive had found herself thinking of Valancy more and more lately, wondering what she was doing. Probably gadding about Europe, making herself ill. Doss always got the most ludicrous colds... Although, being a millionaire's wife, she could probably afford to keep out of drafts. But then, Valancy never had much sense when it came to that sort of thing. Olive sniffed.
Valancy probably had scads of dresses, ridiculous for the girl who'd never cared two pins for how she'd been dressed. At least she'd certainly never appeared to, in some of the getups she'd used to wear.
(Olive remembered a little shamefacedly of how she'd known that Valancy in her ridiculous clothes would always make a fairer cousin look particularly nice in comparison.)
The latest fashions were positively wasted on a girl like that.
Olive sighed. Not that Valancy would ever wear the latest fashions. Ever since she'd gone queer, Doss had marched to the beat of her own strange little drum.
Secretly, Olive had to admit it suited her.
She sighed again, telling herself she was getting positively obsessed with Valancy.
Olive stood abruptly and began straightening the newspaper on the table.
After all, it was only because Cecil had come home the night before with an invitation to some event or other in town next month. An event that hoped to lure Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Redfern into attendance, now that they were finally back from Europe and getting settled in Montreal.
According to the society pages at least.
Olive had barely seen Valancy since her marriage. Or rather, since the revelation of the groom's true identity.
Olive wasn't entirely sure what to expect.
If the Redferns bothered to attend the event at all that is. They hadn't sent a reply yet. Millionaires probably had dozens of claims on their time.
But it was hard to picture Valancy as a millionaire, even though that was what she was.
Whenever Olive tried to picture her, she was always just Valancy.
It was ridiculous to think of Valancy as the mistress of a mansion.
Olive sighed as she thought longingly of chandeliers and drawing rooms, of elevators inside houses and dishes trimmed with gold.
Then she shook herself.
This had to stop.
She'd make herself ill. She'd give herself a mania, or one of the hundreds of other things that dull old Cousin Gladys was always complaining of.
After all, Olive had gotten exactly what she'd always wanted. Cecil was clever and loving and good. He was a good provider, and a kind husband.
Besides, she loved him.
And for all she knew, Valancy didn't live in a mansion at all.
After all, the two globe-trotters were apparently still planning on spending their summers in that ramshackle place on that island of theirs.
So who could predict what their choice would be when it came to living arrangements?
Valancy herself had certainly never been ostentatious. Quite the opposite.
Olive smiled to herself, remembering the dowdy little girl in a ridiculous looking hat, the default companion of her childhood, who sometimes, even back then, got the strangest look on her face. Starry eyes and a secret smile.
The girl Olive had never once asked about herself.
The girl Olive was forced to admit that she didn't know the first thing about.
The girl she'd never understood.
Olive picked up the paper again.
Maybe she would buy Redfern's book.
Then, if her cousin did decide to attend the Port's little soirée, maybe Olive would have something to talk about with her.
It was a conversation probably long overdue.
And she might be able to sneak in a question or two about the possible mansion.
After all, it was always important to show an interest in one's family.
"Moonlight," Barney said in greeting as he walked into the cozy living room of their brand new house in Montreal, sorting through the mail he'd picked up on his way in.
"Yes Barney," Valancy asked, idly watching the colours of the fire dance over the logs in her little fireplace.
"What would you say to a visit to Port Lawrence, and maybe a surprise visit to the Blue Castle on the way?" he asked
Valancy looked at him in surprise, a radiant smile on her face. "Barney!"
Her husband laughed at her expression. "I've been invited to attend a conference of local businessmen from the area. The fact that I'm not really a businessman and that when I did live there the local population were less than impressed with me seems to have escaped their notice. Not that it matters since it's also as good an excuse as any to sneak off to our island for a few days. What do you say?"
Valancy stood and wrapped her arms around his waist. "You know I think that sounds wonderful."
Barney smiled, "I feel I should warn you there will be a dinner-dance that both of us will be expected to attend."
Valancy sighed. "I guessed as much, but knowing that the whole time I'm sitting there pretending to be the proper and demure wife of one of our nation's most successful authors, that I'll actually be dreaming of stealing away to our little haunt for outlaws will make the experience secretly sweet."
"That's my girl," Barney murmured. "Besides, there's one other thing about the evening that might interest you."
"What's that?" Valancy asked.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Bruce will also be in attendance," Barney told her.
Valancy paused. Olive. Olive would be there.
Her expression turned thoughtful.
Barney twirled a lock of her hair around his finger. "I know the two of you have had your... issues," he said softly. "But it might be a good opportunity for you two to talk, now that the dust has settled."
Valancy smiled slightly, picturing Olive, with her dresses always done up in the latest fashion, her beautiful hats, her bright teeth, and her string of admirers.
Olive who'd been brilliant and charming and clever.
But who'd also always done exactly what was expected of her, albeit with slightly more wherewithal behind her.
Valancy wondered if it had made Olive happy.
Valancy hoped so, even if it would have never been the life she herself would have chosen.
She tilted her head back up to look at the man holding her in his arms. "You know Barney," she said with a slow smile. "You might just be right about that."
Olive had never been a bad little soul, and she had always been clever. Valancy had always wondered what their relationship would have been like if they had ever met as equals.
Now might be the time to find out.
Now might be an opportunity to finally get to know her cousin.
Now might be time to finally lay those jealousies to rest.
Or at least to try to.