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were we unhappy or sublime

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Margot’s a smart girl, from the tip top of burnished brown hair to little delicate toes that pinch in most riding boots. She spends a lot of time looking at them - little pillars of salt at the edge of the tub sticking out from milky blue water, like they should dissolve or disintegrate. She’s looking at them now. 

 

Her mother says they’re cute once, both of them glancing down admiringly at them while they wait for the cordwainer to return with new shoes. Cognac brown this time; it’s summer, and she’s going to Jackson Hole for a Christian girls’ camp, a misnomer, or perhaps a euphemism. ( You’re thirteen now. Girls’ camps for baby faced children are for fun. Girls’ camps for teenagers are for problems, and you have a few. That’s what you’ve heard, anyway.

 

The black shoes she had at the time were much too formal for a ranch, or so says Mrs. Verger, back-handed repressed bitch that she is. ( This, unlike the camp, is not a misnomer - just a phrase you grow alongside with your problems. You don't say it out loud for a few more summers, not confident enough yet. You still think it sometimes, even with her passing almost five years ago.

 

“Not humble enough. Don’t you think, Margot?” asks her mother, packing her bags before packing her off for this shoe fitting. She smelled of menthols in the nineties, and the department store, but the expensive kind. Her hair was big and bottle-blonde, absolutely tortured but flawless and housewife perfect. 

 

“I guess so,” Margot says quietly from between hands and lips picking at her own simple braid, turning her heels, afraid to crease the untarnished ankles of the leather. It doesn’t matter that they can buy more - when it’s for Margot, it’s an expense. When it’s for Mason, it’s an investment, something to be written on tax forms. With only a couple years between the two of them, and more shoes bought for Mason than for Margot, she doesn’t always understand the difference.  

 

“You have such pretty feet,” her mother sighs, chin in palm, shoulder bag slung to the side. “You should have danced...too late for that, I guess, but then...well.”

 

“Well what?”

 

“Nothing.” 

 

There’s a pause there, where the reason for the trip reinserts itself between them. Jackson Hole. A Baptist girls’ camp for the problems, with more time spent on wearing out asses and ears with lectures than making friends. Margot’s had a few - lectures, not friends, but the bright side she supposes is getting to take her horse which is kind of like one if friends are defined by bribery with fruit and brushing their hair. 

 

She fiddles some more at her braid. 

 

“Dressage is kind of like dancing,” Margot says, pressing the balls of her feet to the floor until she can feel them whiten. Familiar; same as the stirrups. “Your partner just happens to be a horse instead of a man.” 

 

“I guess that’s better than the alternative,” her mother replies with a big sigh without explaining, Virginia Slims carton tapped gently, favorite lighter in hand. The cordwainer won’t mind if the best client in the state smokes a little. Better than the alternative to her leaving. 

 

( A lot of things are just slightly better than the alternative, aren’t they? Better to have you in the stables with the horses, admiring their sturdiness, than to have you admiring willow-armed women who sway at the feet-hips-legs. They touch each other gently at the waists to correct each other’s technique, or that’s what you’ve imagined, and you gently unfurl at that thought like your head could follow sunlight, a green-eyed daisy looking at lilies and wanting to card yourself between them, long and perfect in form. Your feet wouldn’t be so pretty if you would have done your years with them,  but you’ll have to make due for now with horses. Besides, you find your way to them eventually, feet intact and unbruised.

 

“We work with what the Lord provides us,” says her mother in an exhale. “His plan is bigger than ours.”

 

And Margot is. 

 

Working with what she’s got. 

 

Since this consideration of her tiny girl’s feet, there’s been dozens of boots, dozens of camps, facilities, youth programs, and she’s surviving now. Margot’s outlived the menthols, and the hairspray, and the private religious counselling that eventually turns to private medical counselling, like someone might be able to talk her out of her lily-gathering for practical reasons, and she’s not just being a rebellious child who fights with her siblings and tries to break him rather than his toys. She’s taking a bath, fresh off a therapy appointment and watching the little columns of bone, skin, and nail pressed against the porcelain of the tub, and with all due respect, she thinks she might have a better plan for herself, thank you very much. 

 

---  

 

On paper, it’s a terrible idea. Out loud, it’s an embarrassment.

 

I, Margot Verger, am taking my destiny back by finding a man and settling down with what is a 50/50 chance of success, fertility and fathers aside. 

 

She tries it out in the bathroom mirror. She plans how long it takes to get to Wolf Trap, Virginia from where she is - 46 minutes in good traffic. Enough time to say it approximately 276 more times. They say it’s a habit after 30, so maybe between now and Will Graham’s house, it’ll sound better. 

 

Margot doesn’t know him outside a few sharp remarks and a night of trading therapy appointment pointers, but if he’s seeing Doctor Lecter, and Doctor Lecter wants to see him, Will Graham can’t be the kind of moral and mental fiber you want in a parent. Aversion to people, and trouble making eye contact when he’s not trying to make a point or intimidate in his strange, sharp way. Previous tenure in the modern equivalent of insane asylums. Bad taste in grain alcohol. A man. 

 

( Useful biologically, that last bit. You’ve certainly been told enough times that you needed to find one or how are you ever going to continue your prestigious line? Giving your obedience to your father and your future husband is obedience to god. You went on a bender just outside New Haven after the last time you heard that, made it a point to be a woman of the cloth by sticking yourself properly up someone’s skirt and have only the finest natural fibers of a political science major’s idea of a party dress gathered up around your ears, mouth busy with service, fingers busy with skill. You certainly have been giving out something , and now you’re asking for something to be given to you. )

 

Truly magnificent compatibility and planning.  Perfect circumstances for making children, or so she’d assume by all the people she knows from the country club, the church, the stakeholders party, the racetrack, the farms.

 

Even so, Will Graham has a particular hangdog look to him that appeals to Margot. She doesn’t have the egregious fantasy of “fixing” someone by merit of her goodness, so it’s not that. If she can't fix herself, she certainly can't fix Will. He’s decidedly bearded and muscled in concert with his classical handsomeness, so it’s not that either - Margot’s tastes skew decidedly Sapphic, and Will doesn’t even brush the edges of androgyny other than a sort of thinness that speaks more to stress and less to gender ideals. No, if she was making bets, it’s that he looks like he’s perpetually on the edge of being up to something but can’t quite figure out what he should be up to, and that’s a whole attitude and a half for Margot Verger, heiress, family outcast, and ne’er do gooder.

 

The broken front window would suggest some recent commitment to bad behavior, but the miserable twist of the corners of his mouth would suggest unhappiness with it anyway. 

 

“A stag got lost in a storm and broke through the window,” he lies, and he has a pretty liar’s mouth, a man’s or not. It curves smartly at the top-center - one side of a bracket that hasn’t been closed.

 

( Good - hold on to that thought. You’ll need that when you feel the stubble around it, something alien and unattractive when you’re accustomed to the soft pull of plusher lips.

 

“Are you scarred?” she asks when he tries to flesh out his broken window with tales of battle and injury. She almost asks him to show with his arms how big he thinks the deer was, or name how many tines on its majestic head, tell her all about his big fish for his small pond of a house. 

 

“More than I probably know,” he replies.   

 

That sours her on making a joke, because like his expression, that’s also a whole attitude that contrition, obedience, and being decorative is never going to take away from her either, so she may as well be bad and it doesn’t matter how. That’s how all sons are made, right? That’s what she’d presume from the only other son she’s spent any amount of time around, no matter that Will doesn’t share that presumption. She’s wearing vulnerability as a mask tonight. She’s wearing eminent domain as her coat. She’s got privilege for perfume, and it smells like a way out of this mess, and he’s not seeing past any of it.

 

( On purpose, but you won’t know that for a long time. )  

 

Margot’s never entertained pregnancy as anything other than a regrettable accident, and the person she’s picking to entertain it with now is one too, but one makes due with the materials at the artist’s bench, and hers chisel serious mouths and disasters in common. 

 

---

 

The thing with 50/50 chances is that it can only go one way or another. Reading out the double blue lines of a test is like that too. 

 

---

 

“I had sex with one of your patients,” she says, smug, successful, borrowing her own body which is now different - not in the traditional sense of catching feelings for sex partners, but that her uterus is a time bomb that she set a clock on, and now she’s watching from inside the city hall she intends to blow up. Look upon my Motherhood and tremble! 

 

“Will Graham,” she adds, like it isn’t entirely obvious, and she teased at that conversation last time. 

 

Look upon unwillingly given Fatherhood!  

 

(Or please don't. This is your moment.

 

Doctor Lecter doesn’t move, just stares with his stereotypical therapists’ posture and folded hands. He reads like an alabaster bust, not like the decorative bookends that Margot’s father keeps in his study, absorbing the smell of cigar smoke and yellowing from misuse, but the kind they keep in museums that are supposed to be likenesses of men from older legacies. The kind she’s supposed to be perpetuating, cooking up even now if she's lucky. She’s thought about asking before, if he’s a secret cigar twirler himself with indulgences for bad children as long as they’re clever about it, but she never quite has the nerve no matter his supportiveness of self-care.  Or fratricide. Same difference, really. 

 

“What do you think about that?” she asks, leaning into the itchy collar of her blazer, full of gold tinsel like fireworks, celebrating herself. 

 

Not so neutral, as the moment’s pass. He thinks on how to respond too long for the polite academic response. There’s some matter of pyrotechnics going on behind the scenes with him now, lines of gunpowder being laid out but not yet ready to ignite. “Curious,” he says with just enough humor to maybe be earnest, but just enough she knows it’s projection. He doesn’t emote for anything but show, unlike her who has learned to emote for sympathy when all she’d like is that same enviable coolness. She raises her brows - more, surely there’s more. 

 

“Will Graham is not a lesbian,” he adds, and she very nearly scoffs at the obviousness of it.

 

She smiles instead. “He sure made a go of it.” 

 

( And boy did he ever. He lets his hair hang loose to cover his eyes and pretend. He used the uncallused sides of his hands to touch. He kept clear of the things he could do that made you feel small, let you push him around, pull at his bangs, avoid the roughness of his face, and while he’s not a woman, and you don’t find the lines of him attractive, you are appreciative of him in the abstract and in his consideration. There wasn’t a second Will Graham made a motion or a noise that would shock you into the reality of him, and you were grateful even as you relied on liquor, and pluck, and the vaguely nauseous feeling you get any time you try a new way to untangle from whatever you were raised to be into the person you are. )

 

( The satisfaction follows. It always follows - you just need to get past the nausea of waiting for the other shoe to fall.

 

Doctor Lecter tilts his head, flares his nose, and inhales instead of sighs. 

 

It’s unusual, enough so to catch notice. There’s something animal about it - other, the sort of thing proceeding a kick to the head, or a tantrum that ends in the laming of a horse or a rider alike. She’s seen a few. She thinks she’s thrown a few herself. No work experience, no real career save the shiny collar of affluence, but a professional keenness that makes her turn her head to watch a powerful creature consider its mischief. 

 

“Did Will know of your intention to get pregnant, Margot?” he asks, and she listens.

 

No , comes the instinctual reply, something she could glibly toss out. No, did you call dibs? Did you want to offer that solution first in sessions? Force the issue? Do you not let people play with your things the way Mason doesn’t? She doesn’t say it though, because Margot knows the way she knows a horse tantrum that you shouldn’t ask the alabaster-faced generational aristocracy if they know it’s a person they are messing with. She can’t stable her psychiatrist for an afternoon and try again later. 

 

It surprises her how quickly she goes from successful to defensive, to be known so plainly even if it’s by the person who suggested the entire plan to begin with, even if he probably never intended her to draw her line in the sand with his favorite line in the sand.

 

She keeps her smile on. “Wasn't it your intention for me to get pregnant, Dr. Lecter?”

 

No, Margot thinks again. Not this way. Not this way, says the flinty look in Doctor Lecter’s eyes, oftentimes unknowable, but too akin to Mason’s the first time that he asks her to look at his new pigs, a punishment in mind that he hasn’t shared yet, but will. She listens with half an ear as he grounds his interest in renewal, life, and death, and tries to come back to psychiatry when it’s not what he’s really thinking of. 

 

( “Are you scarred?” you ask, being a smartass, but grasping for common ground. “More than I probably know,” he says, and is somewhere else, the way you are somewhere else in the hours that follow.

 

That last one’s the one he’s trying to get around to. Death. She doesn’t know if he’s decided it, but it’s what he’s thinking of, and the same fervor that takes her watching her mangled clothes come up from the pigpen itches alongside the gold threads of her jacket. 

 

---   

 

Living this long after the passing of the elder Vergers has been an ongoing lesson in observation and the occasional frank acceptance that a lot about her life is really fucked up by design. “Oh well!” has been her catchphrase of choice, covering bruises with hand-milled powders and dabbing watery eyes with Hermes handkerchiefs. If she can’t get approved for that flat in Alexandria,  it's probably Mason. If she's missing a favorite brush, she's going to find it when Mason hits her hard enough with it to break it at the handle. Half the staff giving detailed accounts of how time is spent on the horse trails and beyond? Mason, and before that, old daddy Verger, who Margot sincerely hopes is burning in whatever hell is least acceptable for traditionalist old bastards. Life is a series of repeating patterns, and she’s getting good at spotting them and internalizing. 

 

Observation today observes that pregnancy isn’t a protective foil. It’s something that can be ripped off, a nuisance flyer on the windshield of the car, or an obstacle to be removed from the road, and observation and intuition says Doctor Lecter swats nuisances as readily as all the other men in her life. She had been afraid of the physical changes, maybe the commitments to children and irrevocably fucking them up by accident rather than design, but leaving his office is the first time she contemplates if pregnancy isn’t something also she should frankly accept will probably be ruined like most other things, and it’s just a question if it’s Mason or someone else. 

 

Margot is afraid of that prospect. She’s a little shy to admit how much she’s looking forward to escaping, when this is just another route to have closed in front of her, and she’s perpetually hamstringed and running too slow to jump the barriers and continue on. 

 

Margot taps the steering wheel nervously, sitting in the dark of the street, swallowing down anxiety like if her tongue still works and she can breathe around it, then everything’s fine, and that’s not an exceedingly low threshold for fine. 

  

Work with what you have, Margot’s mother said. 

 

Margot would say she has - regardless of god’s plan, which seems to often be a vast and vague stand-in for actual advice from the other adults in the room, it’s not been enough. It’s frustrating, being clever and it not quite surmounting the hill of Mason’s influence and caprice, or her parents’ resentment. Comeliness and gait are desirable in mares, cleverness a charming brooch, and only the first of those useful in Verger daughters. 

 

The money is not hers, so that’s not something to work with. The psychiatrist is giving her decidedly mixed messages of menace and support, especially now that she's fucked around literally and metaphorically with his favorite pet project, so that’s more of a dynamite stick with the ignition burnt halfway down. The Mercedes is in her name and paid in full, so that’s transportation, but hardly a complete solution. The baby is hers, but it’s also only valuable to her, and it’s probably a danger if Mason hears about it anytime soon, so that’s not either.

 

Well, Margot thinks with a frown, maybe that’s not entirely true. She rubs her middle - nothing of note to see, like it’s something she stole and hid under her shirt to flee the store. Someone unintentionally helped her steal it.

 

---

 

“I have a favor to ask,” she says at the doorway of Will Graham’s house for a third time, snowfall soft, quiet, and cold. 

 

There’s never anyone else out here, just dark snouted dogs and piles of wood in a house with a defunct fireplace. She likes that, the curious calm he surrounds himself in, even with the plastic-covered window and the perplexed frown that draws the bow of his lip deeper. Funny how he doesn’t fix it in the weeks between her visits, but Will seems the type to poke as a scab, and it’s kind of like one, isn’t it? She pushes past, as she did last time, everything in umber and sienna and wood panels in the space beyond, smelling of kindling, and fresh sheets. 

 

And he lets her. 

 

“If it’s the kind you asked for before, I’d be surprised,” he says with a huff and a wry look. “We drank all the whiskey already, and you left like you remembered the carriage is actually a pumpkin.” 

 

In a way, it was - sheets still warm, the sweat between them more from the heater and alcohol than their brief passions. Perfunctory sex, a girlfriend had once described it as before she found her preference for women. It’s a recurring story, and not one she thought to share with them. Margot feels the prickling of awkwardness at that. 

 

She shrugs it off. “Not exactly, though you could say I kicked the tires a little before going home to think about buying.” 

 

“You’re not buying in on me,” Will says like he found it etched in a stone and he’s surprised no one else has bothered to read it. He seems to fall on insights like that - he trips over them, they bruise his ankles a little, and he tries to memorize where they were between snows. That he lets Margot into the house is proof he doesn’t always remember. “Unless you found that whole experience more profound than the exit suggested.”  

 

( Tell him. Fulfill the cliche. )

 

“Investments are weird like that. May I have a seat?” she asks to stall, and he pulls the armchair closer to the heater without asking, because she’s cold. 

 

( And that’s why you’ll do it. You’ve taken the plan as far as you can. You need allies. You need, no matter the bad press and the wrong package, someone who will try to take care of you because you’re out of things by merit of yourself, and you’re selfish enough to tap into someone else. You already did once, so what’s another maxed out line of credit? You have sadness and disconnection in common with Will Graham, and that will be enough. )

 

She declines a drink.

 

He frowns at first, and then he says, “oh.”

 

Margot almost doesn't hear it. Very small, like someone might hear, and he's holding it in his hands to keep it warm. She almost sighs with relief at the obviousness of that. Will’s good at that, finding more of those stones to stumble over. Margot wonders when he’ll figure out that she’s got a whole field of them, and he should be careful kicking around in her snow without protecting himself. 

 

---

 

There are questions, but most are mild. If she’s ok, or if she wants to keep it, does she have a doctor she wants to see or anything that she needs to know about him. 

 

( “Can’t tell you much about my mother,” he shrugs, and you feel an unexpected kinship there, more than the sad looks. You didn’t know your mother either, and you still had to spend years like that before you finally outlive her. “I’m obviously a mess, but most of my and my father’s ailments are self-started and hard won.” )  

 

Will, like the first night she shows up, and the second, takes it in stride. Not a reactionary person, which comes as something of a surprise considering what little of his history she knows, but maybe that’s unfair - he always was the guy who didn’t kill all those people from day one. Margot wonders if he even has it in him looking at him now, tired and gold embossed at the edges from a half a century old space heater that casts an impressive glow. 

 

There’s a long pause in the conversation, he with a dog’s head in hand, pulling at their ears, pressing gently into the tear troughs of their eyes to wipe the matting wetness away. He has scratches across the knuckles and fingers, maybe from his mysterious window breaking stag, but they are pink and harmless next to the carefulness of his thumbs, and the dog’s obvious happiness.

 

( It’s why you’re here. Violence or tenderness for whatever needs it, easily given where you are selfish with yours. You learned that from the best. You don’t know where he did .) 

  

Margot swallows, and says what she thinks she’s supposed to say. “I thought you should know,” she says, turning her mug between her fingers, listening to her fingernails clink against it, barely heard. 

 

“No, you didn’t,” he sighs into the bottom of his. Warm water for them both, no actual coffee or tea at this hour. 

 

“No,” she concedes. “I didn’t.” 

 

Will nods, satisfied with that. “What changed?” he asks, still looking downward into the shimmer of the water. “Big family name, educated, progressive. You didn’t want a man, but you needed one at the last minute or else you would have never come here, at least not once you satisfied your curiosity about our therapist in common.” The way he says therapist sounds tortured, hissed instead of spoken - a sore point for him, a curiosity for her. Unlike Doctor Lecter, Will's feelings are already laid out and ready for ignition.

 

The question doesn’t bear a lot of thinking. She knows why. Margot could tell him he’s convenient, and handsome enough, that he’s got a melancholic and obliging nature that makes her feel safe because she hasn’t done anything to merit whatever it is that he occasionally cuts his words on and draws out his teeth. The bare minimum a man can do to make a woman feel secure, in the flavor of gum Margot likes best. 

 

Looking at him now, politely frowning into the floor, he’d probably accept it.  

 

Margot could also tell him her recent mantra of reclaiming destiny that keeps her moving mile after mile into his living room and onto his cock the last time, but that needs context. That’s about her, not about him. It’s hard to explain grudges against the push and pull of religious agnosticism and antagonizing, a lifetime of the passive aggression of other telling her to ask god to help her instead of helping herself, and how that ends with her giving penetrative sex the old college try, and she’s all out of ideas. 

 

“My brother is going to kill me someday if I don’t figure out how to get away from him,” she says, blank-faced, water in the mug tepid against the bottom of her lip. “And I hoped you would help me, because you seem to understand what that’s like.”  

 

He’s quiet for a long time about that too. 

 

---

 

The last of Will’s questions is easy to answer, and a little harder to admit. 

 

“Do you have somewhere safe to sleep?”

 

She doesn’t, though she has to think over it for a moment with a tight throat before she finally shakes her head and coos a little “no”, like it’s no big deal, and he doesn’t hesitate to make the bed with fresh sheets still a little hot from the dryer, like that’s no big deal either. That’s what she should have told him earlier, why she was here. That would have been the flattering thing to do. 


( But the other answer was true too, and maybe closer to it. )