Fall From Grace
Sing for absolution,
I will be singing,
Falling from your grace,
Our wrongs remain unrectified,
And our souls won't be exhumed.
-Muse, Sing For Absolution
Gemma remembers. The deafening wind, cruel and biting, will not allow the present to filter past her tortured ears. But it's probably just as well, because she doesn't want to know. Ignorance is bliss, and it is the only happiness afforded to her during this long fall from grace. To ascend to such great heights, higher than any man before them, than anyone, beyond reproach or petty, earthly rules- it is the dream of every person to ever set sight upon the heavens.
But it is a double edged sword, and she falls as a reminder to all that have strived for more. It hurts so much less when you don't have so far to go.
When the taste of power, of glory, of respect and freedom, does not remain in your broken mouth, to taunt your broken body and broken heart and broken dreams.
Gemma remembers climbing trees in India, when she did not know the meaning of the word propriety and things were so much simpler, when she did not fight with her mother and fairy tales remained firmly in books. She was mindful of snakes lurking unseen in the branches, striving for the fruit just out of her reach. The texture of the bark under her knees, the afternoon sunlight glittering through the leaves like gold coins, the smell of chilies dancing on wind from the market down the street. Child fingers grasping, grasping, grasping for a taste- and suddenly there was nothing but air and the sting of the ground. The dust clung to her eyelashes, clouding the world for just a moment, until she ran to her father and his booming laugh.
What she cannot remember is what that booming laugh sounded like.
There is Tom, growing in slow-fast motion. The older brother she adored, with hair he always insisted on being kept cropped short so it didn't get in his way and perpetually skinned elbows, skipping forward into this dour young man, fashionable and prim and everything he had always claimed he hated. You've shamed me, Gemma. You have shamed all of us. And what's come of it? And for just a moment she can see it, a glimmer of the boy who once held her hand as she was learning to walk and still un-steady, so she could keep up with the older children. A barely unrestrained sadness in his eyes, mourning- but it is just as quickly gone, deepening into a proper frown and one last comment before he dismisses her for the final time. Must you bring us all down with you? Are you that selfish?
(No, Tom, no... I love you even now. Don't leave me, don't you want to go skip rocks in the river just like we used to?)
But Gemma remains silent, because she can pretend to be a proper young lady just once for him, because she knows it was all he ever really wanted, whether it be for her benefit or his own. And she deserves his scorn anyway. What excuse could she ever offer up?
The wind tears at her clothes, tears at her, whispering of truths she wished were lies.
Her father, wasting away on what she now knows is his deathbed. There is no denying it. There has been too much denial already. Perhaps if she had recognized that sooner that would not be the case.
He is a shell of himself, a skeleton and skin in elegant clothes, sunken sockets glimmering with desperation. A hand
(is that his hand, that once spun me in circles and fixed my doll's leg and stopped an elephant- that bit of bone and yellow parchment?)
reaches toward Gemma, imploring one last time. Gemma, Gemma, my gem, just do one thing for your loving father. It hurts so badly, just a sip to take the pain away… Gemma, Gemma, please, for me… A once strong man, reduced to tears and begging without a thought for the very thing that put him in this state.
But she was also the enabler. She drove him to this, is there any doubt? She gave it to him before, out of some twisted sense of guilt and duty, why not let him go to his death peacefully?
The bottle taunts her, such an innocent thing, tinting the sent of death with sickly sweetness, allowing you to ignore it's presence for just one more moment. Nothing but medicine (drugs) in an innocent brown bottle. Take my pain away, it would be so easy, please Gemma, please, my jewel… Somehow she finds herself standing next to the bed, staring down at this horribly animate corpse, who's pulling at her sleeves for just one more taste of ignorance. She presses a tender kiss to his sunken forehead, just once being the darling daughter he always thought he had.
(You are his angel. Don't ever break his heart, Gemma. He has weathered too much already. That would finish him.)
Viciously, without thought, the bottle is smashed against the wall, and she leaves to the sound of her father's sobs.
There is a horrible sense of vertigo, not the pleasant headiness that might first come to mind, and the nausea overwhelms Gemma. She is spinning without end, with no blessedly solid land beneath her feet, no point of reference, no anchor with which to define her world from. But there is also the awareness that when she finally does regain it, it will be her death, a life over in an instant as the ground greets her once more.
Ann… she does not wish to remember Ann. Dear sweet, sad Ann, with her stutter and a copy of the Perils of Lucy and all that maddening hope
Or her bloodless face, her bloody floor, a slipped pair of sewing scissors and a life lost. She hopes that it was simply an accident, an ill-timed surprise or shake of the hand, because the thought that Ann could lose hope that completely on the eve of her official employment as a governess was simply too hard to bear.
But a small part of Gemma is almost happy at the thought that Ann might have taken control of her own life. Just once.
It makes her retch all the same.
Gemma remembers that horrible moment of realization, comprehension at last of the cruelty she first glimpsed in Felicity (Fe-lic-ity: happiness, happiness or contentment. From the Latin felix meaning happy, fruitful. Always, always desiring more.), and had studiously tried to ignore. But how could she forget the hatred she had once felt for the blonde beauty and her ways, before she was deemed to be useful- and therefore a friend.
(You d-d-didn't? Why d-d-don't I believe you? I invite you to sit with us, and this is how you repay my kindness? By steling the ring my father gave to me? I should have expected something like that from a girl like you.)
To be gazed upon by her for just a moment was to be enchanted, and she spun a tale, just for you, which you gladly believed, if only to be close to this enigmatic woman for just a bit longer. Of course, there were moments of surprising kindness, of deep loyalty- but do a few redeeming traits save a monster?
For that was what she was. There was no doubt about it, for this bestial beauty who pushed her off the cliff, whose laughter echoes even now as she falls- Gemma's one-time friend now building an ascent upon the foundation of her corpse.
Gemma could not grudge her for moving on to better things, and even if the admiral was a bastard, it was no reason for her not to take full advantage of her heritage. Felicity knew from the moment she was born that she was made for something great, the buried anger stemming from her place in society- so maddeningly close, but it was to no avail.
Women do not have power. End of story. They do not laugh in public; they are grace, charm and beauty; and they cut themselves off from the world and themselves in order to conform to some foolish delusion of beauty and decorum. It is an unfair lot, by any definition.
But was it necessary to do what she did?
It is one thing to wish for something better, to wish for the ideal, to rebel against the restraints forcibly placed upon you by an unfair society. Gemma wanted to change her life, but by no stretch of the imagination did she ever want to give up what little she did possess in pursuit of that goal. And to have that decision made for you, out of spite…
"Oh my, Gemma Doyle. I am so sorry I ever associated myself with her, back in my schooling days. Taking pity on the poor dear was one of the worst decisions I ever made. Just losing her mother and al, she was quite a sight. But…she told so many wild tales, sneaking out in the dead of night to practice witchcraft, and dare I say it, fornicating with a gypsy from the camp nearby. Gemma… (sniffle) she forced us to come with her, didn't she Ann? She threatened to curse us with dark magic, as she needed witnesses for her blasphemy. We had to watch her sacrifice a deer… beating the poor thing to death (sob) with a rock for her horrible ends…"
Her expectant, satisfied look is directed at Ann. The girl studiously avoids everyone's eyes, as they wait on bated breath.
"Ann, dearest, it's alright. You can talk about it now. Gemma cannot harm you anymore." Behind the mask of deep sorrow and disgust is a dark fury, only apparent to those who truly know her. Ann can feel it, one of the few things she can anymore. The cuts are so deep, so deep anymore, but everything just seems so cold…
Then finally, a slow nod. Disgusted with herself, the girl flees from the room, weeping, but it only adds credence to the tale.
"See, my fiancé, the earl, as would any sane person, would never approve of such going-ons. Gemma should have been stopped immediately, but the teachers were all afraid of her as well…"
It was Gemma's punishment for refusing her further entrance to the realms, when she first started to grow wary of the hunger she sensed in the beautiful blonde. And so when Felicity finally was married off to a suitable enough suitor for her mother's tastes, she took full advantage of what privileges she did have. She never again would run free, drink whisky, shoot a bow and arrow, turn a blade of grass into a flower, even talk as she wished. But she did have rank far above one the Doyle's could even dream of, and once slandered nothing the already suspicious Gemma said was taken seriously. The poison spread to every member of her family,
(Living with all those heathens in India- small wonder she turned out the way she did! And that family did nothing to stop it. I bet they're in it together. And even if it wasn't witchcraft, insanity is a blood trait. Bad blood. The lot of them.)
until they were left with no recourse.
And, of course, Felicity only appears that much more brilliant; to have triumphed over that tragic past to become the proper lady she is today.
Gemma is falling, falling, falling from all grace, her families grace, societal grace, watching the ground come ever closer and both dreading and ever grateful for when she finally hits and it will end. After all, could it be that much worse than this horrid waiting, having to endure the glances, the whispers, her grandmother's sobs and the stony look in
Tom's eyes as he spoon-feeds their (his) father. Gemma has brought them all down with her, for grasping for that forbidden fruit of freedom from judgment.
Many days she hated them. Terribly. For succumbing, for playing along with this great farce. But she would have endured a life in chains of real iron if it meant she did not have to watch them suffer. And it is so, so selfish.
Magic cannot fix everything, after all.
There is no up or down, horizon or sky, the wind taunting her as in bites as her skin, her eyes, her ears as she spins round and round. It chafes, raises welts and wounds, rips the jewels from her throat and the corset from her waist and the future from her fate. She cannot even move under her own accord, gain a purchase or even perspective, her only choice to be dragged along by this irresistible force.
And yet, against all odds, here he is, lingering on the periphery as he always has, but here. With her. Kartik and his maddening ability to sense precisely when he was needed and what needed to be done, even if she did not know it yet herself. Gemma never had to look long, before glimpsing just a bit of curls, elegant handwriting on a scrap of paper, a white, white smile in a dark face, the glimmer of an eye beneath those lashes. He is gone just as quickly, somehow knowing that was all she needed, but the comfort remains, of knowing that there will always be somewhere there to watch for you.
(He walks off toward the forest, to become the night's eyes...)
Even if it is just a final witness to her fall from grace.
Suddenly he is standing beside her, just as ease here as he would be on solid ground, seemingly unaware of the wind tearing at him. Kartik grins, watching her struggle for something to hold onto. He extends a hand and Gemma gladly grasps it, holding on for her life as he pulls her up, stops the spinning, until she is standing beside him. Perching on air next to this boy, this wonderful, wonderful boy who has saved her skin at his expense more times than she can bear to contemplate.
Gemma sinks into his chest, clutching onto his shirt because it is the last solid thing she will feel in the world, not caring who sees. ("In for a penny, in for a pound," her father chuckles.)
The wind howls, but it is a bit more endurable now that she has an anchor, for that is what he is, always has been.
She takes a long time to find the words, but she is in no hurry. It is so long to fall. "Kartik… how can you stand this?"
He understands instantly, just like everything else about her. She has never been any secret to his keen eyes. His dark hand carefully cups her chin, pulling her up until their gazes meet.
Kartik takes his time finding the right words as well. "Gemma- I've been falling ever since the day I first laid eyes upon you."
"Your fate is joined to mine."
"Yes… so it may seem."
She laughs bitterly. It's all Gemma can manage. "That sounds terribly cheesy. Like something out of one of my grandmother's romances." She chances a glimpse at the ground, then buries her face in his chest to block out the sight. He smells of sandalwood and cinnamon… of absolution. He is so warm, so soft, the small bits of skin she can feel through the holes in his tattered shirt like a lost part of her rejoining at long last.
"Do you enjoy the smell of saddle soap or something?" He murmurs, satisfied when she smiles against his skin. Save for the constant whistling, the flapping of their clothes, they fade into quiet.
Eventually, Kartik breaks the silence. "It may do you no favor, being championed by one so disgraced." The words are so familiar. He laughs, but not unkindly or even at Gemma. Simply laughing at the injustice of it all.
She smiles against the tears, chuckling again, because she is so tired of crying, of everything. It is all so absurd. This time she is the one to meet his eyes. "No, Kartik. I pulled you down with me… if anything, I should be the one feeling obligated to you." Gemma tries to distance herself, if only to save this one poor soul, the words torn from her mouth by the wind.
(I love you. Don't doom yourself as well. Just let me do the only thing I can.)
His voice, his sudden, crushing embrace startles her. "Falling isn't so bad- as long as you aren't alone."
Suddenly, the ground does not seem so frightening.
A/N: I am aware of the incorrect pronoun referencing occurring in the 1st paragraph. Fear my rebellion against grammar class and the "his or her" rule. Bwah ha hah. "They" serves as a singular pronoun with unsure gender in normal conversation- join me in my quest for it's acceptance in written English as well!
Wow. IHE needs go take some Nyquil or something… or get out more… Oo
My first escape into the fandom of Libba Bray, and probably the last. But this was begging to be written even before I finished Rebel Angels, and since I haven't had time to re-read much, please forgive me for my transgressions and any OOC behavior. Although I sincerely hope there isn't any to speak of. –crosses fingers-
Felicity is such a bitch.