Title: Stand Still, Look Pretty"
Rating: overall—PG-13, PG for this one, I think
Warning: angst, mildlanguage, mentions of sexual situations (both squicky and not?)
Pairing/Characters: Gwen/Julian (I know…I feel like I need a nice long scrubbing too, lol), Jonathan Hotchkiss, other characters, mentions of Ethan, Sheridan, Alistair, Crane children, nods to Sam/Ivy, Ethan/Theresa, Sheridan/Luis, even a tiny hint of Gwen/Fox if you're really searching
Word Count: 1,519.
Summary (for chapter): Gwen's nineteen (almost twenty), still idealistic, still eager to prove herself to the father who's only ever wanted a son, when she meets Julian Crane for the first time.




~1~





xxx
Julian
xxx





Gwen's nineteen (almost twenty), still idealistic, still eager to prove herself to the father who's only ever wanted a son, when she meets Julian Crane for the first time.

He's an attractive man, a man that carries himself with a certain sense of entitlement, and his eyes linger on her as her father makes the introductions.

Gwen's palm itches with the inclination to withdraw when Julian's lips brush across the back of her hand, but she doesn't, because she senses the importance of this meeting, the subtle warning in the hand her father lightly places against her shoulder, even if she doesn't fully comprehend it (yet). She's relieved when her father dismisses her with a cool kiss to her temple, and she drifts to the other side of the room, welcomes the distraction of an old boarding school friend, even if she writes off most of the nonsense spilling from her loose lips as ridiculous gossip.

"I heard he's on the lookout for another Mrs. Crane, a newer, sexier model," Buffy giggles. "He's not too bad on the eyes; old, but filthy rich. It seems the Cranes own this quaint little hamlet of yours, Gwennie. Do you think I should audition for the part?"

Gwen wants to roll her eyes but doesn't (Julian Crane has children their age, has a son two years older…had a son, she reminds herself as an afterthought). Instead, she watches from afar the conversation between her father and Mr. Crane with renewed interest and pushes back at the tiny inexplicable ball of lead she feels starting to sink to the pit of her belly. In her distracted state, she (thankfully) misses most of Buffy's inane
chatter, but a vaguely familiar name draws her back.

"It's a shame about Ethan. He really was quite handsome," Buffy sighs with regret. "You knew him, didn't you?"

Buffy doesn't give Gwen the chance to answer, rambles on. It's just as well. Gwen reflects on the few, brief times she'd made Ethan Crane's acquaintance (Bennett now, her brain corrects half a second later; the scandal had been splashed all over the Harmony Herald, had reached across state lines and easily found its way into the halls of her sorority house), and his easy, genuine charm. Hindsight makes it all the more obvious. Ethan had possessed an innate warmth that his so-called father lacked; instinctively, Gwen knows this to be true, though her one and only encounter to judge Julian Crane by is mere minutes old. Her brown eyes flit to Buffy's animated face, and she shakes her head with a soft murmur of disagreement, "Not very well."

Buffy briefly looks disappointed but she bubbles on, oblivious to Gwen's wandering attention. Blessedly, a mutual friend arrives, one more inclined to join in on her musings, and she barely notices when Gwen answers her father's silent but commanding summons from across the room, departs their company.

"I'm sorry, but I have to go," Gwen apologizes, though the leering look Julian Crane doesn't deign to disguise makes her want to turn and walk in the opposite direction for as far as she can. As such, her feet are leaden as they carry her to her father's side, and her heart hammers inside her chest as she looks up at him uncertainly. "Yes, Father?"

Jonathan Hotchkiss clears his throat, looks anywhere but in his daughter's eyes. "Mr. Crane has a proposition for us, one that will satisfy both of our needs."

Julian Crane's lips curve slightly, smugly, and he lifts the drink in his hands to his mouth, sipping, before he smiles at Gwen in a show of (threatening) teeth and confidence. "One you absolutely cannot refuse."

Gwen's nails bite into her clenched palm with the dawning realization of the role chosen for her, and she wills back the scream that wants to force itself past her betrayal-tightened throat in favor of a brave, brittle smile of her own. "Tell me about this proposition of yours."




~*~


They marry on her twentieth birthday in a lavish spectacle.

Gwen feels less like a bride than a helpless, captured animal paraded down the aisle by the father that would not give her away but sell her to the highest bidder (we're going under…this is our only chance to hold on to the company, to continue living the way we're accustomed to). Her stomach is a ball of nerves, her palms clammy as they tighten painfully around her bouquet of roses. Her eyes dart furtively around the grounds, looking for a means of escape, but she is unfamiliar with the Crane Estate, has never stepped foot on it until this very day, and the eyes watching her stay her. In them, she reads a myriad of emotions (awe, pity, disgust, cold determination), and she hands her bouquet off with trembling hands. "I take thee…"

The ceremony passes in a haze, and she finds herself Mrs. Julian Crane before the sun sets on the horizon.

The reception is not so much a celebration as a parody of normalcy, and too soon, Gwen is alone with her new husband on their wedding night.

Somehow, she endures.


~*~



Life as Mrs. Crane is not without its luxuries, and Gwen convinces herself they're comfort enough. Still, she settles uncomfortably into the role and longs for another.

Julian's sister becomes a friend, her closest friend, and she hers.

In Sheridan, Gwen recognizes a kindred spirit, one that refuses to give up hope, and she draws strength from that determination. Her husband's children stay away, and the house staff are too formal, too close-lipped, and it is only them (Gwen and Sheridan), Julian, and Julian and Sheridan's father in the Mansion with its abundance of rooms, its shadows and secrets.

The days are long, the nights even longer.

Gwen welcomes her husband's abdication from their bed, ignores the evidence of his adulterous indiscretions. His infidelities give her the small glimpse of respite that she needs to survive, to carry on, so she allows them, secretly revels in them.

Then Sheridan reconnects with Ethan, discovers her own place outside of their gilded prison, falls into the possibility of love, real love.

"He's works for the Harmony PD, Gwen, and he doesn't care if I'm rich, isn't in awe of the Crane name. In fact, he hates it. But I think he likes me. I like him, too."

And the charity events, the beautiful clothes, the pearls and diamonds clinging seductively to her throat are not enough; they never really were.

Gwen realizes it then, no longer can deny it though her valiant heart rebels against it: the girl, the woman Gwen Hotchkiss thought, imagined herself to be is in danger of extinction.

Slowly, she's falling apart.


~*~



Piece by piece, Gwen loses herself in the lie that is her cruel reality (time leaves her behind).

The company goes under anyway, and her father comes to visit her one day, pleads for her forgiveness. "I can't live with what I've done anymore. Please. Please understand…"

Her husband orders him gone, and for once, Gwen doesn't take issue.

It is the last time she sees her father alive.

He suffers a massive heart attack less than a month later, and Gwen reads about the ruins that were all he left her mother (a few pages back there is an engagement picture; looking at Ethan Bennett's so-very-young fiancée, she can't help thinking…once upon a time, I was that young, that full of hope, too) in the paper.

At his funeral, dry eyed and knuckles white, Gwen can't help feeling a tiny bit of satisfaction over the knowledge that (ashes to ashes, dust to dust) her father had died feeling remorse, guilt, something, over the utter hell he'd manipulated her into accepting as her life.

It's a human thought, one that proves that girl, an older, wiser version, perhaps, still lurks inside her somewhere.

It doesn't matter, though.

She's still damned.



~*~



Gwen's twenty-seven, not quite as young, definitely not as idealistic, when she takes her first lover into her marriage bed.

Her husband is a womanizing lush, a distinguished drunkard perhaps, but nevertheless…if he isn't clueless, he doesn't pretend to care.

She's lonely, and though the children have returned, linger in the doorways (ever present in the shadows) eager for death to take their grandfather, make them wealthier still, she's an entity unto herself, alone, tired of her solitary existence.

The gardener is clumsy (but sweet—he wipes her tears when she cries), and his hands are work-roughened.

He snores quietly when the act is over and drapes a long, ropy arm over her waist, but Gwen doesn't remove it, is surprised by how much she doesn't want to.

Others follow (her stepson is all-too willing), and it's a different kind of loneliness she feels when she realizes she doesn't recognize herself anymore.

She's lost, adrift in a sea of cruel circumstance.

History repeats itself, and a baby is born.

But this time…this time they both know the score.

He is her salvation. He is her punishment. He is her son.

She names him Jonathan.







~*~




Sorry for starting yet another new story on you, dear readers.

It's an affliction I just cannot help.

LOL!

On a more serious note, I've had a rough couple weeks, and whenever that happens my ideas tend to be a little darker than usual, so...stuff like this fic happens. Trust me, it's either this or torture for the characters in my other fics.

So...I hope that first chapter didn't totally turn you off from this story. Don't ask me to tell you what compelled me to write this particular pairing, because I absolutely do not know.

This fic, in my mind, is the Gwen is the little black dress of Harmony fic.



The main idea behind it is ten lives Gwen did not live on the show (with ten different men of Passions-hooboy!), which automatically veers it into AU territory.

I already have the other nine guys in mind, but if there's someone else particular you want to read about, feel free to leave me a message and tell me.

Feedback is always welcome! In fact, I adore it and survive on it.

I'll be updating this story as time and inspiration allows.

In the meantime, I hope you check out some of my other stories and leave me a shout-out.

I'm leaning toward Sam/Ivy for the next installment of 25 Days of Christmas (the little story collection I hope to finish before next Christmas, lol).

Thoughts?