Closed Between Father and Son
@Felix Dietrich

It had been a few weeks already, and the idea that his own son was working as a footman in the manor still had not settled with Dr. Dietrich. He oscillated often. On the one hand, he was glad Felix was employed, and could only hope he was applying himself. There wasn’t anything wrong with footmen, and he he knew Meril was right about how he would regret avoiding Felix again…

But did it have to be here? Every meal he had at the main table was punctuated by a weighty awkwardness of being served by his own child. It was humiliating, and Oliver did not have the slightest idea whether Felix could even tell how insulting his position was to someone who was a guest of the Marquess. It was a long shot, but perhaps he could talk some sense into him. Maybe his son had grown up a bit while he was away.

He knocked on the doorframe, where he expected Felix to be setting out the silverware for dinner. “Felix?” He asked. “May I have a word?”
An entire tray of silver very nearly fell to the floor, and as it was Felix lost some kind of fork before he got hold of it and set it down on the buffet. “Yes, of course.” He did not quite look in his father’s direction, and now bent to retrieve the dinner fork. His father coming to talk to him had been rather like a sword of Damocles hanging over him, and Felix was somewhat surprised it was happening as soon as this, and somewhat surprised it hadn’t happened the first evening he’d waited on his father at dinner.

Felix turned to his father, jiggling the fork restlessly as he waited for the oncoming wave of disappointment and criticism.
Oliver hesitated, anticipating Felix to say something rude in return, without Benbow or Hastings around to keep his tongue in check. He wanted to be grateful, but this attitude was almost harder for him to take. His son was a bit of a vagrant, but in his defense, he had never been anybody’s underling. Was this young man Felix: his son, or Felix: the footman?

Extending his hand holding a newspaper, Oliver offered it first. “Did you see? Cambridge won the Boat Race at last.” He announced with a glimmer of a smile. “Their first victory since when we went to watch.” Felix had been a teenager at the time… fifteen or sixteen. Things had already started getting rough between them, but that had been a good day.
Expecting a reprimand which did not come, Felix stared at the proffered newspaper for a few moments as if it were an unknown object. Finally, he absently set the fork aside and took the paper, glancing over the results. If things - everything - were different, he might have leapt into the air, whooping as he'd done as a boy. Ten years seemed a lifetime.

"That's marvelous. Thank you," Felix said softly, returning his father's slight smile with one of his own. "It's good to remember that. I'm sorry we weren't there to see the win this year. Sorry that I . . ." Felix fell silent, unsure what transgressions he ought to apologize for. He offered the newspaper back to his father.
Oliver didn’t know what he had been expecting… perhaps to relive a bit of their trip to London all those years ago. He’d take the smile, though, it was better than getting the paper thrown back in his face. “Oh, well...” Oliver took the paper back, pinching the crease in it uncomfortably. “I admit that I haven’t gone in some time… rather put off by Oxford’s winning streak, and all.”

Still, it wasn’t entirely boat races that had been on Oliver’s mind. “How have you been taking to your new post?” He asked, looking back up at Felix. The doctor was curious and concerned, but he tried to subdue his expectations for the moment and hear his son out. He wanted… no needed to know if he was serious about starting a new career, in which case Oliver knew he could find Felix a better opportunity than this one.
If his father hadn't started on a conciliatory note, hadn't reminded him of happier times, Felix's response would have been vastly different. As it was, the question made him wince - there it is - but he didn't give voice to the thought. "I'm sure all the Oxonians have been incredibly full of themselves." Felix frowned at the table before glancing in his father's direction. "One benefit of living abroad for much of that. I truly didn't mean to go so long without writing, but every time I tried there didn't seem anything I could tell you that . . ." 

Felix shrugged, and sighed. "It's not much, I know, but at least it's respectable work."
Oliver tensed as Felix started to apologize. He would rather just forget about the whole thing, or at least not talk about it. Felix hadn’t written. He hadn’t written. Would they do things differently if they had a chance? Oliver didn’t know, and did not think the question was worth discussing. What was done was done.

The doctor could not hide his expression of befuddled surprise. He had never heard Felix talk in such a way… in fact he had never known Felix to take any kind of job with hours and a uniform and duties like this. “Erm…” Oliver gaped. “Did you do something similar in France?” He asked, trying to understand what had changed.
All Felix wanted was his father's forgiveness. Perhaps then he might be able to forgive himself, which was too much to hope for, honestly. At least they weren't having a row - yet - and while he was still growing accustomed to the servant hierarchy, Felix knew that it was frowned upon for a Footman to start shouting at a guest of the household. Even if the guest was his father.

His father's confusion only left Felix more uncertain, so for a few moments he turned his attention back to setting the table - moving the fork he'd dropped to Lady Violetta's place. It wasn't as if the floor was filthy. He continued speaking as he worked."Paris was more of the same. Art." Felix flushed slightly thinking of some of the art he'd modeled for. It was certainly for the best if, at least for the moment, his father not know about that. "Spending money I either didn't have or hadn't earned. Completely irresponsible, as usual. Of course, I couldn't have been a Footman in Paris. My French is atrocious." Felix forced a laugh, glancing sideways at his father.
Oliver’s heart sank. What Felix had described was exactly what he had expected, but it was how he described it that upset him. Being excited about his bohemian stint would have made him frustrated, but only because Dr. Dietrich knew a day like this would come. When Felix would realize he wasn’t building any sort of life for himself.

“Felix…” Oliver frowned. He was sympathetic, after all he wanted his son to live his fullest life, but at the same time it was a struggle not to tell him I told you so. “If it’s a steady job you need, I’m sure there are plenty available if you look.” He glanced over his shoulder, making sure there wasn’t another domestic in earshot. “You’re wasting your talents here.” He added with his trademark firm concern.
It was all Felix could do to keep his attention on the task, or at least on the table, but anyone looking closely could see his eyes were not really focused on anything. Felix blinked, but his sight remained blurry. What would his father think of him if he started crying? He turned, the first words heated; "Just for once would you allow me -" 

Felix stopped, took a breath. "What sort of job do you suggest I look for then? You know as well as I do that I never attended university so a profession such as yours is entirely out of the question. And while I suppose I could go back to London to work as a musician I, well, to be honest I've had reasons to avoid London." Felix was certain he shouldn't go into the reasons. It wasn't as if his father knowing would change anything, really.
Dr. Dietrich pressed his fingers to his temple. Could Felix see that these were his choices that landed him in the position? Every irresponsible path he took, every bridge he burned cut off his options down the road. Oliver slowly took a seat when Felix mentioned he had reasons to avoid London. He imagined the boy had reasons to avoid Cambridge and Paris too, and he worried he’d soon have reasons to avoid Madsmoor as well.

“That’s precisely what makes recommendations so difficult, Felix. When you burn the bridges behind you.” Oliver sighed and steepled his fingers. “Look, I could make a few inquiries back at Cambridge. I’m sure there is a music professor there that could use an assistant. Or perhaps a position at a library. You like literature, right?” He had years ago, at least. Certainly more than he liked polishing tableware.
Whatever embers of satisfaction Felix had felt when his father had mentioned his 'talents' died at this. You like literature, right?? As if he hadn't spent years writing, and all that effort boiled down to merely liking literature. But had he ever shared any of his poetry with his father? Felix couldn't recall anything more than the fear of being dismissed, or worse, ignored. His father hadn't even cared to ask why he would rather avoid London. Probably thought it was something sordid. 

His father was chiding him now and if Felix had been ten years younger - if being entirely honest, even as few as five. Or three - he might have thrown the tray across the dining table, kicked over a chair, but he hoped he had more restraint now. Both of the presented options were infinitely preferable to laying or waiting tables. He could even imagine something of a future as a professor's assistant, if it wasn't for the sheer indignity of having to rely on his father's influence to find him a position, always in his father's debt. The physician's failure of a son.

"I really don't know what to say, Father" Felix replied. "Or whether you'd prefer I call you 'Doctor Dietrich' here. I know I'm a disappointment, and I'm sure you'd much rather not acknowledge me as your son so long as I remain employed here. I suppose I should be grateful you're willing to help me find employment. I suppose I am grateful. It's only . . . well, I suppose all of this can't be water under the bridge if I've burned all the bridges down." Felix tried to smile, but it was a pretty poor joke.
And here Felix was, burning the bridge while Oliver was trying to rebuild it again. The doctor didn’t have the kind of patience it took to bother with someone when they never even put in an effort. And that was Felix. No effort into a job. No effort into building a life. Not even effort into being well mannered. And this… Oliver didn’t know what to do with Felix’s utter disinterest in his own future. Last he knew, Felix had dreams- ridiculous and childish ones, perhaps, but still… ambition.

Dr. Dietrich stood up as his countenance hardened. He didn’t want to make it seem like his son’s provocations were getting under his skin. And Felix could have taken fewer (and less cutting) words to say he rejected the offer. “I don’t know what happened to you in France, but my son would not be so eager to set the silverware in a decaying manor.” Oliver said, trying to keep his voice from raising too much.

For a glimpse, Oliver’s eyes showed the pain of his disappointment. “I had hoped we would have been peers, Felix, once you stopped acting so childish.”
Where, exactly, the conversation had taken its wrong turning, Felix could not say. He turned away from his father and focused on the table, his lips pressed together, finding that the work was done and offered no refuge. He, too, had hoped his father might look at him as a peer - would at least speak to him as one instead of a wayward child needing scolding. Or worse. 

Felix turned to his father, his own anger and hurt quite obvious - "If that's the way you feel, I wish you would -" he stopped himself just short of actually asking his father to disinherit him, turning away again. "As for France, I finally realized that my heedless way of life was hurting my . . . loved ones. Now, if that's all, I have quite a lot of work to do so I had better get on with it." Without looking at his father, Felix gathered up the serving tray and went out through the servants' door.

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