Title: Fire to Earth
Fandom: Chronicles of Chrestomanci
Characters: Cat Chant
Prompt: Feb 14: 4 on the LJ comm 31days, Prompts #51-54 on FanFic100
Word Count: 1895
The dragon spends whole days with me. He says his name is Therrah, with the 'r' a long rolling hiss between his fangs, but I never hear Mr Saunders call him by that name. Each morning I wake to the hot weight of his body causing my bedclothes to smolder (Chrestomanci placed new spells upon them, the third time Euphemia complained about the holes that had appeared in my laundry). When I shower he crawls into the bath, and I watch the water evaporate before it touches his scales. He follows behind when I go to lessons, and curls up amongst the coals in the classroom fireplace.
Sometimes I wake up, and it is my own skin catching the sheets alight. I dream about the dancing fire licking my body, and the matchbook locked away in the safe, and I wake up, panting, covered in a layer of sweat and luke-warm flame. I try to stop them coming, but it does no good; the burning flares across my body, an inferno of which I cannot stop.
Therrah licks the flames from my body with his dry, scratchy tongue, swallowing them down into his overheated stomach. Perhaps that is why he stays near me, even though he has grown to be larger than I am.
Janet makes a good sister, even though I lose my temper with everyone these days. "It is better than having no temper at all," she says, brushing away the hurt I meant to cause her with my harsh words.
Julia and Roger make good cousins, and push me harder when I push them. Julia goads me until my magic flares, and then she smothers it with her handkerchief and tells me how to do it better. Roger beats me at soldiers, and when my vision tunnels we scramble and wrestle in the grass, or on the classroom carpet. Mr Saunders gives us lines to write, and insists our bruises will heal themselves; I like the soothing ache of my face, and I poke at the black eye until the pain flashes again.
But sometimes the pain is not enough. It's not enough to distract me. And I combust into flames at tea one day.
My face is red. Rage at my uncontrollable magic; hatred of Gwendolen, trapped in her golden palace; disgust at Julia's busy handkerchief, at Roger's lopsided smile, and Janet's unwavering cheer. They are scared, and so Julia knots her handkerchief uselessly, and Janet reaches out one hand towards my burning skin, and I have to knock it away – her arm will blister for days. "Pa! Pa!" they call, and with a high squeal from Janet, "Chrestomanci!" he arrives. But Therrah has already climbed into my burning lap, soothing flame with flame. And it is Chrestomanci who takes me in his arms, his lapels silently smoking, and carries me up to my bed.
I dream of matchbooks, and fume with rage, and wake up with a dry tongue swallowing away the flame.
It is in France that I finally learn to swim.
But until I do, I remember how to drown. The water swirls around my arms and legs, seductive, like the third life I lost. When I start to struggle against the weight and effort, my movements become more and more sluggish. I hear the twin's shouts of glee as they push each other into the water, but it sounds as though they exist in a universe separate from this one. It is in another world that they run along the tiles and splash into the water. It is in another world where drops slash down onto my head, and the waves morph around my unsubmerged shoulders.
I kick at the water, and my head barely remains bobbing on the surface. Disconnected… alone, and over there exists the world, its fuzzy mumblings skulking away from my senses… and there was only water.
Another day… an overcrowded ferry, and I was dressed in my best suit. I had grown since the last summer, so my ankles peeked from beneath my trousers, and I couldn't move my shoulders well when Father picked me up and stood me upon the railing.
And then the ferry jolted. I felt the scrape of wood-on-wood, and the shudder as something gave way. I fell backwards, caught in Father's arms. Mother was running. Gwendolen was towed behind her. And then there was water. Gwendolen's arms wrapped around me. Pushing me under/holding me up. Mother's face, wet hair clinging to her cheeks as she is whipped away from us. Father's elbow, ridiculously, was the last I ever saw of him.
…There was only water.
I splutter and cough as Janet pulls me from the water. She holds me up with her shoulder below my armpit, kicking for both of us. She smiles at me, and has never asked what's wrong.
"You were doing fine until you slipped out into the deep end too far, Cat." She waves back towards where Tonino runs after Roger, waist deep in cool, clear water. Then she tows us towards them, like Gwendolen did after she didn't save me from drowning. My feet scramble for purchase on the tiles, till I stand once more. The water is sharply salty, and buoys me upward.
Janet still holds on, holds me up, and helps me to the steps.
We go flying the next time Tonino visits England. We're both fourteen, although I'm days away from my fifteenth birthday, and he knows it. He smirks, then mocks me for my age. I knock the side of his head roughly, the way boys do, but our eyes meet and…
The moment freezes, like the cool night air which swirls around our bodies. I feel my breath – in… out… in… out… in – slow and shallow in my chest.
So I suggest we go flying over the chimney pots and the apple trees, the way we did when tied to Master Spiderman. Tonino laughs; so the moment breaks into a thousand tiny scraps of reality. I don't have to concentrate on each new breath, until his hands grip my shoulders.
"You can bind and reinforce my spell, especially the one holding us together. I don't want to-" I don't finish the sentence, but twist my arms free so I can grip his wrists. My hold is a little too strong, but I feel as though the slightest breeze could rip us apart. "Let's hope we don't time travel," I grin.
"I trust you, Cat," he says, and the nervous fluttering reappears in my stomach. His smile is beaming with the Italian warmth I know Janet lusts after. It charges the air between us, and before I can reconsider I lift us both into the air.
Unseen magewinds whip at our clothes, as the cool breeze brushes our cheeks from the other direction. I call the winds to me, and Tonino binds them tight around our bodies. Higher and higher we climb, until we are level with the Castle roofs. Down there is our domain. The rolling green lawns, the chestnut trees where our tree house lies forlorn, the orchard where we hide from Mrs Bessemer…
Tonino whoops in delight, pulling our hands up into the tumbling flow of the night air around us. My right palm is sweating, and it slips from his hand. Our eyes widen, but the magic still flows. I ease the grip with my left hand until I barely touch his fingertips with my own.
I bite my lip. Tonino only smiles at me. The jolt to my stomach feeds the magic that flows away from us, joining with the surging magewind; still we drift upwards, caught in a tide of air.
He entangles our fingers once more, stepping or swimming across the air towards me. Then his lips brush the corner of my own and…
We drop. The magewind disappears into wisps of nothing. The Castle walls rush past our heads. My eyes close, and my nails dig into the back of his palms… But Tonino only has one life to lose.
We stop short. I don't dare open my eyes to see how close we are to the silky soft grass which cushions the hard, hard Earth.
Tonino laughs. A single sobbing hic-up of relief.
Then he kisses me again, and our feet drop seven inches to the ground.
We collapse into a pile of living, human flesh, and I sob as well. Then we laugh; we laugh so hysterically we cannot stop for what seems like hours. Our cheeks hurt, and our breath comes in gasping gulps. Our faces are red with the wind, or something else, and we giggle on our return to the Castle. If anyone notices, they don't say anything.
It is easy to fly, when Tonino is here.
My bare feet slide on wet, muddy soil, smooth tracks glistening where my feet have been. I slide from Autumn into Summer, and the dark-coloured mud seeps up between my toes. Beneath the ground I can feel the pulse of the Garden's magic, the beat of the Earth's heart, and once again I wonder how Christopher can come here dressed in suits and shoes. He feels the magic, the same as I do, but he doesn't give in to the delicious temptation to dance to the thudding beat of the Earth.
My feet rise and fall and land. The magic in me flows to the ground and back again, cycling through my limbs and hands and head. There is so much power in each movement it is overwhelming, as if the first feeling of my cool breath on a winter morning continues hour after exquisite hour.
I could dance here forever. I follow the patterns the roots make below ground, and trace them above. I twist and turn, curving my spine into impossible shapes, so I can map that which is unmappable. And I let the power flow.
Here I dance to the magic. But in reality, back in the comfortable Castle where the magic feels like soft cotton wool, my own magic can't help me dance. Without the beat of the magic, echoed by my thumbing heart, I stumble over my feet, my knees knocking together.
The magic is subdued, in the real worlds. The wild thrashing beast, woven into stillness, trapped in a million spells and one thousand enchantments. Magic is a lion, with magicians waving their whips made of words and hoping, hoping, hoping it won't leap this time. The magician never blinks when looking magic in the eye, and everyone applauds the illusions.
But here, with the Earth's pulsing beat beneath my bare feet, I forget about Eric Chant, the next Chrestomanci; I forget about Roger's game of soldiers; I forget Gwendolen's frown and Janet's smile. There is only the magic, thrumming through the soil caught between my toes.
I eat dinner with my feet encased in shoes once more. Janet looks over, one clever eyebrow raised. I wink back, even though I know I look like a fool doing so. Julia and Roger roll their eyes at us, and Julia turns back to spooning soup with her left hand, the other busily mending a rip in her under-petticoat.
They all know I was in the Garden, but it is as much my Garden as Christopher's.