Author's Note: So, there are some big changes here. As in really, really big changes. So please let me know what you think of them. Personally, I think this version works better in the context of the story. But, I'm interested in reading what you guys think. So please, please, please review! *inserts shameless begging* And thank you very much to gwenbell0010 for a very lovely review. Seeing it in my inbox made me smile. =)
However, when Jean-Claude woke, his state of mind wasn't quite what Claudin had hoped it would be. He hissed in frustration and was grappling with the temptation to take his alarm clock and throw it against the wall. Why hadn't the stupid thing gone off? He scrambled out of bed and towards the shower. Maybe if he moved and drove instead of walking he would at least have time to get to the florist. Maybe… Hopefully…
But, would he have time to get to Rose's house on time after the florist?
He snarled as he stumbled out of the shower, nearly tripping over himself in his haste. Hair dryer, hair dryer, hair dryer… Where was it? He ransacked all the drawers only to find that it was already out and ready to be used. But… Where was the brush? Not enough time! Never enough time! But, at a second glance, he found that the brush was right next to the hair dryer. Grumbling under his breath about the evils of thick, long hair, he began teasing the tangles out with the brush, wishing they would come out faster. Not enough time!
As his hair stubbornly refused to dry, he muttered under his breath, "Come on, come on! Hurry up!" Still needed to make himself look presentable and at least get to the florist. The good florist, though. Not one of the cheap ones with boring arrangements with wilting flowers. There weren't enough unique bouquets lying around in the shops anymore. And he wouldn't stand for being sold anything that looked like it was half dead already, either!
Not enough hours in the day… Never enough hours in the day…
When, finally, his hair was dry, he rushed out of the bathroom, fully prepared to have to rummage through his closet to find something suitable, of course leaving a fantastic mess in his wake. But, oddly enough, he realized that an outfit was already set out. Had he laid everything out earlier and forgotten about it? Odd… He must have. Because there, at the foot of his bed, was his favorite white shirt and black trousers, as well as his favorite pair of shoes.
Grateful that he didn't have to go through the trouble of digging that, particular shirt out of his rather large accumulation of other white shirts, he got dressed, fussing over a wrinkle in his pants that was invisible to the normal eye. At the same time, he brushed out his hair, making sure that there were no stray knots or tangles that he hadn't already worked out. And, once he dubbed it acceptable, he found his black ribbon conveniently set out where he would see it and pulled it back into a ponytail that reached just between his shoulder blades.
He looked in the mirror, hand reaching for his foundation. Should he bother? Was there really any point? He touched the pale mark on his cheek—scar tissue in the shape of a wolf's head. Any other day, he would have immediately covered it with make-up. But… He was supposed to let Rose and her family get to know him. Perhaps he ought to just forget about hiding it… But, no… That would give them a reason to turn him away before he so much as set foot in the house. Better cover it up and address it later in the evening… Carefully, he set about covering the ugly scar so no one but him would ever know it existed.
He glanced at the clock. Probably not enough time to buy flowers… Because things never seemed to work out quite the way he wanted them to.
However, surprisingly enough, when he went downstairs, there was already a large bouquet of flowers waiting for him along with three roses. Now, he knew he hadn't done that and forgotten about it. Alongside the flowers, there was a note.
I had a feeling you'd be waking up later than you wanted to. For the sake of preserving your sanity, I decided it would be best if the flowers were already here when you woke up. There's a box of pastries in the fridge, too. Yes, they ARE from the bakery you like. I know you too well to think that you would settle for less.
Jean-Claude smiled. And that would be why everything was already set out for him. Claudin really did know him much too well. Either that, or he was far, far too predictable. But, nevertheless, it seemed that he did, in fact, have enough time to get to Rose's house with suitable flowers and pastries to bring for her parents, as well as for Rose. He found another note tied to the white rose in the set of three.
"I knew you wouldn't want red, so I got these instead. Hey, look! I rhymed! Maybe I can be a poet. Anyway, yes, I did look up the significance of rose colors, because I know those silly, little details are important to you. Innocence, love, and enchantment. Sound alright to you? I hope so, because you probably don't have time to get to the florist and pick something else."
Perfect! He owed Claudin. He really owed him. Not only for taking the time to get him flowers and pastries, but for serving as a catalyst for his breakdown in the morning. It would have been thoroughly humiliating if something had sparked such a reaction while he was at Rose's house. And Claudin was right. He did feel much better than he did earlier. Not that that was saying very much… Earlier, he'd felt like he'd been kicked in the head by a horse and was on his way to the guillotine. Now… Well… He felt like he was on the way to something less violent than the guillotine but still quite lethal. Like the noose… But, it was better than the guillotine, and his head wasn't throbbing anymore.
He retrieved the pastries, gathered up the flowers, and got in the car. Time to go try, and probably fail, to impress Rose and her family with a little song and dance and hope everything worked out reasonably well.
By the time he arrived, he was more than prepared to pretend that he wasn't nervous at all. Time to be the French aristocrat Claudin tried to convince him not to be all the time. There were times when his upbringing did come in handy. Drawing in a deep breath, he rang the doorbell.
He had an air of arrogance about him. But, at the same time he was able to command respect. As the Rose's parents greeted him at the door, he presented Mrs. Madeleine with the large, colorful bouquet of flowers and Mr. Madeleine with the box of French pastries. He greeted in a faint, lilting, French accent, "Good evening, Monsieur, Madame."
Mr. Madeleine took advantage of the opportunity to size him up. He certainly dressed well and he wasn't a bad-looking young man. He was tall, probably a bit over six foot. Though, he did notice that he was rather feminine looking. Pale complexion, high cheekbones, long, faintly wavy black hair, and dark colored eyes… No, not bad looking, but feminine nonetheless.
As they invited him in, he moved with the grace and elegance of a dancer, holding himself with pride and confidence. He offered the obligatory compliments regarding their beautiful home, delivering them with a charming grin.
That same pleasant smile widened ever so slightly as Rose came down a flight of stairs. He wouldn't want to look too enthusiastic. It might give her father the wrong impression of him. He swept her hand into his own, leaning forward in a shallow bow. "Good evening, Mademoiselle."
His manners were, of course, perfectly polished and well beyond reproach. Before taking the seat he was offered, he pulled out Rose's chair for her. As they ate, he lavished compliments upon the meal and engaged in conversations that were meant to keep everyone interested, while politely answering any questions he was asked. He carefully tried to avoid controversial topics, such as religion or politics, aware that getting into an argument over such things was not the way to make a good impression. The Madeleines had to wonder if he was capable of doing anything even remotely improper.
However, his cool demeanor faltered, betraying something akin to nerves, as he turned to Mr. Madeleine and ventured, "Sir? May I speak with you, please?" He was good at hiding it, but Rose's father was able to see the uneasiness in his face and posture.
Stifling a smirk, he nodded. It was time to have a little fun. Of course, it was solely in the interest of learning a bit more about this young man. It seemed as though it was time to rattle his cage a bit, so to speak, and he wasn't going to pretend that the idea didn't amuse him a bit.
The pair excused themselves from the table, entering the living room. Jean-Claude remained standing until he was offered a seat in a chair across from Mr. Madeleine. Once prompted, Jean-Claude began a bit uneasily, "I… I would like to request permission to… to pursue a relationship with your daughter, Sir."
"Why do you feel the need to ask?" he returned evenly.
Flushing faintly, Jean-Claude answered honestly, "It is the way I was raised. I would feel… uncomfortable pursuing your daughter without your approval."
He nodded, supposing it was time to just dive right in. Let the interrogation begin! He said, "The fact that we are having this conversation at all seems to indicate that your beliefs are… quite old fashioned. That being said, what are your intentions towards Rose?"
Jean-Claude winced slightly. In other words, Mr. Madeleine wanted to know if he was the sort of person who would try to prevent Rose from having a career or finishing her education? Drawing in a deep breath, he said, "I would like to spend time with her, Sir, and tell her of my feelings for her. I will not ask her to make any commitments until she is ready. I will not expect her to just drop everything for me. If she is willing to let me stay with her long enough, I will support whatever choices she makes, regarding her education, career, et cetera."
Mr. Madeleine nodded again. Good answer… And, fortunately for Jean-Claude, he could see quite plainly that he was being sincere. So, he decided to throw him a bone and ask a relatively easy question. "How old are you, Jean-Claude?" He was surprised to see a flicker of anxiety in the young man's expression. It wasn't meant to be a difficult question.
"Older than I look, Sir," he answered sheepishly. Rose's father merely quirked an eyebrow, silently demanding further elaboration. Jean-Claude breathed deeply, trying to figure out how to go about things. This wasn't quite how he'd imagined the conversation would go. "I… There are things that… need to be said before the night is over. And much of them are rather difficult for me to put into words. Perhaps, if you would permit it, we can bypass some of the awkward attempts at explanations if I were to show you something?"
Encouraged by a brief, curious nod, Jean-Claude took another deep breath, trying to gather up what courage he could. In a matter of seconds, a large, black wolf stood in his place. Scars littered its sleek, black pelt. It had the same, ebony eyes as Jean-Claude, and it bore a distinct scar on its cheek. The wolf skittered backwards, tail between its legs, as Mr. Madeleine took a step towards it. Jean-Claude could never control his emotions as well when he was a wolf. Some would say it was because his wolf counterpart felt things more deeply than he did as a human. Personally, though, Jean-Claude preferred to think that the wolf just liked to agitate him. To prevent the creature from further embarrassing him, Jean-Claude transformed back into a human, regarding Mr. Madeline with wide, anxious eyes.
"You're a werewolf," he said, and Jean-Claude nodded apprehensively. He was well aware of the general opinion of his kind. He fully expected to be thrown out of the house without another word.
He ventured quietly, "I… I would like to say, Sir, that… I am not dangerous. Not even on the full moon. I… Even then, harming anyone is the last thing on my mind… Please believe me, Sir. I would never, never hurt Rose, or anyone else." He hoped Mr. Madeleine would listen instead of ignoring him in favor of the myths that portrayed his species as vicious, dangerous monsters.
Mr. Madeleine looked at him with a scrutinizing glare, causing Jean-Claude to shift in his seat, unable to hide his discomfort. Though, all things considered, he did a good job of downplaying it. His voice had a very hard, cold edge to it as he said, "I would like Rose and my wife to be present for the remainder of the conversation. They have a right to hear this."
Jean-Claude nodded mutely and Mr. Madeleine called Rose and Mrs. Madeleine into the room. Indicating Jean-Claude with ill concealed disdain, he said, "He has something to tell you."
He couldn't even bring himself to make eye-contact with either of them as he said very quietly, "I… I am a werewolf."
For a considerable length of time, there was no response. Though, their expressions spoke volumes. Mrs. Madeleine looked at him with thin lips and narrowed eyes, clearly furious. And Rose just looked perplexed, as though she hadn't the faintest idea of how to respond. He continued, "I… I promise I am not dangerous. I… I am compelled to transform into a wolf on the full moon, but… but I do not become a savage, murdering beast. It is… considerably more complicated than that, but I have never had and never will have any violent tendencies on the full moon." Chewing his lower lip nervously, he murmured, "I… I will understand if you do not wish to see me again after this. However… If that is the case, please say so now and do not make me continue." He didn't want to have to prolong the painful discussion for any longer than necessary.
"I know you're not very dangerous," Rose said simply. "If you were still that dangerous, the vampires never would have ended that conditioning period."
He felt as though someone had punched him in the gut. He should have anticipated that, of course. It was in history books and on the Internet for anyone and everyone to find and read about. But he supposed he had hoped against hope that Rose would have been able to see beyond the web of lies and half truths the vampires had woven to make themselves look so wonderful. He said bitterly, "On the contrary, Mademoiselle, I am not dangerous because I am a civilized person, just like anyone else, not because of the 'conditioning period' after the war's end. The vampires did nothing more than enslave and abuse werewolves. There was nothing noble about it."
But, of course, no one really believed him. When the werewolves had been freed, the vampires had come out smelling like roses. It had been necessary, they'd insisted, to take the time to condition werewolves to be able to live with people so they wouldn't become dangerous predators or irritating nuisances. Humans believed it without a second thought, and any werewolf who spoke out against it, trying to prove the statement Jean-Claude had just made, was immediately discredited. Because, naturally, despite the vampires' attempts to make werewolves civilized, they were still unpredictable, irrational, and not to be trusted. And that, in turn, made it both possible and seemingly necessary for them to create all kinds of unjust laws restricting werewolves.
Rose protested, "That's not what the history books say."
Jean-Claude sighed heavily. Part of him wanted to rage on about the lies and the injustice of it all. Part of him wanted to scream and make her understand that he hadn't hallucinated all of the atrocities he'd witnessed and lived through after the end of the war between vampires and werewolves. But, part of him also knew that it was a losing battle. There was no convincing humans that they didn't know everything there was to know about werewolves. Oh, sure. He'd lived through all of the tortures the vampires had thrown at him and his kind, and he was constantly struggling to cope with the ridiculous restrictions placed on werewolves, but somehow the humans still managed to understand it better than he did. Naturally.
Quietly, he murmured, "I will not argue with you over the history of my kind or the noble intentions of the vampire government. Nor will I try to change your mind by explaining the 'conditioning period'. I… That is not why I came here. I… I merely came here to ask a very important question. Please, Sir, may I pursue a relationship with your daughter? And, Mademoiselle, if it is permissible, would you wish to see me after what I have told you?" His tone was hopeless and miserable, as he was certain he already knew what the answer would be. He kept his eyes fixed firmly on the ground, willing himself not to cry.
He shrank back into the chair as Mr. Madeline approached him, towering over him in an obvious attempt to intimidate him. Of course, the only way to deal with a werewolf was to scare it until it would listen… He placed his hands on the armrests, effectively trapping Jean-Claude in the chair. With his face less than a foot away from the werewolf's, he said coldly, "If Rose wants to spend time with you, I won't stop her. But if you hurt her in any way, you'll wish you were never born. Got that, Wolf?"
Jean-Claude nodded, finding his voice had abandoned him. He felt like he couldn't breathe… As though some heavy weight was crushing him… Tears of utter terror stung the corners of his eyes, and he began to tremble. Suddenly, it wasn't Mr. Madeleine confronting him anymore…
"You will obey me. You belong to me. Got that, Wolf?" the vampire snarled, staring at him with cold, cruel eyes. He didn't answer, not out of fear but out of defiance.
"Answer me," Mr. Madeleine demanded.
"No answer for me, Wolf? Pity," the vampire drawled. He didn't notice that there was someone behind him until the vampire gave a terse nod, signaling something.
And then there was pain. Screams tore from his throat of their own volition, and he writhed on the floor, trying vainly to escape the pain.
There was laughter… A cold, cruel snicker…He was dimly aware of someone taunting him, but he couldn't understand the words…
"I asked you a question, Wolf," Mr. Madeleine growled. Jean-Claude was jerked back to the present, badly shaken. He looked around for a moment, trying to remind himself of where he was. Not trusting his voice, the werewolf merely nodded. He was trembling, his face ashen and his eyes wide. There was an unhealthy contrast between his sickly white face and the darkness of his hair and eyes.
When Mr. Madeleine backed off, Jean-Claude turned to Rose, waiting for a verdict. As he did so, he began to try to collect himself and regain his composure. She said tentatively, "Perhaps… Perhaps we can give it a try. I… This is all very strange, but you seem different from most werewolves. I think… I would like to get to know you a bit better."
Jean-Claude, having adopted his previous mask of calm detachment, managed to bite back the urge to ask her if she had ever met any other werewolves. She obviously was under the impression that werewolves in general were stupid brutes, unfit for civilized society. But, he wasn't going to question her decision to give him a chance. He said a bit stiffly, "Very well, Mademoiselle. I suppose I had best give you some time to process this information. I suppose I ought to be going…" Though, his voice shook slightly as he spoke, as the mask had been very badly battered and not nearly as complete as it usually was.
For the first time since his ill-fated revelation, Mrs. Madeleine spoke. "Please do," she said venomously. A perfectly manicured finger pointed in the direction of the door.
He didn't understand what was wrong with people. They'd all liked him before he said anything about being a werewolf. He wished they could understand. He was still the same person that he'd been when he walked into the house and who had spoken with them during dinner, and who Rose had spent time with on multiple occasions over the course of three months. But, he wouldn't get anywhere if he tried to tell them as much.
He turned to Rose and said quietly, "Next Sunday, Claudin and I are going to brunch after Mass. If you would like to join us, you are more than welcome. Just… let me know so I can give you directions to where we will be meeting. If… If not… Then perhaps call me when you have had enough time to understand what has happened tonight." As he stepped across the threshold and onto the doorstep, he said, "Good evening. Thank you for the wonderful meal. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I do hope it was not too much trouble."
With that said, he turned on his heel and got into his car, driving off, wishing that dinner with the Madeleines had never happened. Perhaps it was not so bad. After all, Rose had expressed interest in giving things a try. But, as with everyone else, she was going to have a bit of trouble getting past the issue of what he was. Because, when everything was said and done, who he was appeared to be relatively unimportant. All anyone would ever be able to see was what he was.
The drive home seemed to take forever, even though he only lived about half an hour away from Rose. Not a huge distance, but it was an awfully long time to spend alone, in silence, when one was feeling utterly dejected and miserable. Perhaps once he got home a glass of wine would be in order.
Fortunately, that, unlike the complete acceptance he had fantasized about, did come to pass. Claudin was already waiting for him with a glass of good vintage. "Do you want to tell me about it?"
Jean-Claude's first instinct was to, as always, deny that anything was the matter. However, recalling the events of that morning, he nodded and launched into an explanation of what had happened. And Claudin just sat and listened. But, unlike most people, he actually listened instead of sitting there, nodding like a bobble head, pretending to care. And, even more shocking still, Jean-Claude felt no shame in admitting that, yes, Rose's reaction had hurt him, even though it had been expected. Even more surprising, he felt no shame in admitting to having had a flashback to his time as a slave. But, perhaps he shouldn't have been too surprised. He'd had similar experiences with Claudin present, and they had been brought on by far less traumatic experiences.
In retrospect, perhaps it would have been more startling if such an occurrence had not come to pass… But, even still, he hadn't expected it to be so easy to talk about it with Claudin.
Once he finished, Claudin put a hand on his shoulder, saying gently, "Give her time. She'll come around. And forget about her parents. They aren't worth your time." With an encouraging smile, he added, "And if it doesn't work out, you still have me. Because, personally, I don't give a da—"
"Language," the werewolf said a bit crossly.
Claudin rolled his eyes. Of course he still cared enough about manners to be offended by anything even remotely resembling a profanity. "Fine! I don't care that you're a werewolf. It'll take a whole lot more than the ability to turn into a wolf to scare me away."
Jean-Claude smiled. Though it was a sad, wistful sort of smile. He asked, "What did I do to deserve a friend like you?"
Claudin snorted and answered with a grin, "Probably nothing. Nope. You couldn't have possibly done anything bad enough to deserve someone as obnoxious and irritating as me. But you need someone who'll stick with you, and unfortunately for you I'm more than willing to do it."