Night Eyes

So I wonder how I never got the burn

And if I'm ever gonna learn

How lonely people make a life

One strain at a time and still shine…

-Matchbox 20, The Burn

Kartik knows that he should not be doing this. The moral ramifications themselves should be enough to persuade him to stop, let alone the fact that his job (salvation) hangs in the balance should he be discovered.

Or Gemma's reaction, should she ever find out. But he doesn't plan on that happening anytime soon. Despite what he may wish (long, pine, need) this is the lot he must content himself with, in the desperate hope that this fatal desire may wane with time. He is not unaware of what happens when a man like him is discovered with a woman like her, should his restraint ever falter. At best, a shotgun wedding and eternal disgrace, which is not a fate he would not wish on anyone, let alone her. The Doyle's would disown her, and what little family she has left would spend the rest of their lives hating the girl who brought such shame upon their name.

But far more likely would be that it would be declared rape, despite what may or may not have occurred or what anyone desired, and Kartik would be hung like the dog he is. And Gemma would still live the rest of her life in the shadow of its stigma.

And so he remains safely (coward) in his room above the stable, watching her window, her silhouette, go through the motions of brushing her hair, removing her corset, paging gently through what he now knows to be her mother's diary. She is beautiful in the flickering candlelight, barely lighting the room, curves he longs to run his fingers down just barely hinted at. Kartik catches a glimpse at the shine of her hair, glinting.

Barely conscious of what he is doing, his hands are composing another note, on a stolen piece of paper with stolen time. Perhaps he will leave it on her bed. Under her pillow? Would she find that offensive? What does it smell like, that lucky, lucky, unappreciative piece of down and fabric?

I need to see you. Please. I can't let another day go by without being in your presence.

Why do you always read your mother's journal? The Odyssey is quite interesting. Odysseus's eternal struggle to return to Penelope, no matter the temptation or danger, is quite… enlightening. Perhaps you would like to borrow it, just for something new.

Gemma, Gemma, I love the sound of your name. I want to breathe it as I make love to you.

The sheer audacity of the last possibility finally breaks through Kartik's drowsy brain. For just a moment he stares at it. Then he tears the whole affair into small bits, and continues to stare at the pieces for a few seconds more. Finally he chokes it down, eyes watering at the taste. Just for good measure.

He is the night's eyes, watching her, always watching. For his duty, whether to her or himself or to the Rakshana before, or simply to make sure that she will still be sleeping soundly, still safe, still useful (such a hateful word), for tonight and tomorrow and long after that. Or maybe just so he knows that she is still there, the only friend (family, lover) he has left in this hollow world. The distinctions of his motivation ceased to become clear long ago (a stolen kiss that made the campfire cold).

Gemma is changing into her nightgown now, and Kartik forces himself to look away out of some vestige of chivalry and honor. How it persists he does not know, and he almost laughs at the irony of such a thought, considering what he is doing at the moment. He just wishes he could stop, but somehow it's not an option.

Really, this sort of deviant behavior has actually saved both of their skins before. Repeatedly. Right?

And selfishly- why should he stop? Why should this singular pleasure be denied to him? It's not as though anything could ever come of it.

It would be so easy, to creep from this window and to the other. There's a rope under his cot, precisely ten meters, more than enough to climb down from his stable loft without waking the horses. And it should fit very nicely in the empty grain bin outside of Ginger's stall. The walls of the Doyle manor are so easily scaled, too. The eighth brick up for his left foot, just next to that rhododendron that somehow resembles that horrible Mr. Muddleton, then the third brick down from that small hole for his right hand… It wouldn't take more than five minutes. And there are no windows aside from Gemma's that face this side of the stable, and since Tom moved into the bigger apartment on the other side of the house, there is no one else in her wing, period. Emily is the only staff the Doyle's keep on full-time, but she's taken the week off to visit family. No one would ever be the wiser…

Perhaps it would be best to stop that train of thought right there. Yes. The best thing for all parties involved.

There is nothing perverted or sick about his actions, and perhaps Kartik realizes this, although he will not acknowledge it. There is wonder, and longing, and an almost artistic quality to his appreciation of her form, but nothing more than that. An overriding desire for her safety, for her. But he will never act on it. She will never be his, and some small, hateful part of him is almost relived by this fact. There is a certain freedom to be had in resignation.

Gemma sneezes absently across the way, then blows her nose in a rather loud way on some handkerchief she pulled from god knows where. She's that shaky, tired, aching sort of sick that Kartik knows only too well, considering that he spent the good part of his first three months in England feeling the exact same way. His born and bred Indian body did not take well to the cold and damp. It had been difficult to restrain a knowing smile when he drove her home early from the Worthington's that afternoon, as she complained about life in general and having to play nice because she doesn't need any more enemies in high places and how inconvenient it is not to be able to blow your nose in public since you can hardly sit there sniffing and it just seems weird to always be dabbing at ones nose.

Kartik loved how everyone else stayed behind, Tom his usual snobbish self concerned in the back of his mind about how having Gemma sick in public made it look like the Doyle's possessed less than perfect blood just because he forced her to dance with that rather un-hygienic distant cousin of the duke at the ball last week. And he sincerely doubted her grandmother even noticed her absence, being too preoccupied with telling the admiral about how unseemly it is to have women on sea voyages while he nodded without actually listening. But that meant that she could shut the curtains on the carriage and lean forward until she was practically half way out of the window in the front and sniffle, while he leaned down and joked about why it was called a cold when you technically were warm and she laughed in a rather coughing sort of way at his terrible sense of humor.

So, while Kartik doesn't actually like seeing her sick it's kind of nice to see her so unrestrained (normal, equal, just like him).

He watches her fall into bed with a relived sigh, hugging a hot water bottle like it's her best friend. Once settled, she reaches into her nightstand for the copy of Sense and Sensibility that her brother presented her with in a none-too-veiled attempt to instill a sense of what a proper feminine decorum should be. The parallels were all too obvious, and it had taken Kartik some skill to calm her down after that slip up. Eventually she decided that it was something that would make him happy with not much effort on her part and consented, under the reasoning that she could argue with him more efficiently on bigger issues on a later date.

He watches her smile at the note he slipped in it as a bookmark.

Influenza. The great equalizer. The maid almost found the last one when I put it on your desk, so I hope you don't mind that I'm now corrupting Jane Austen.

Perhaps that had been a bit too bold. But he knew that she would like that he didn't refer to Emily by name.

Abruptly Gemma looks over at his window and Kartik freezes, knowing that with his dark skin and dark hair and dark room that she shouldn't be able to see him from that distance if he makes no sudden moves. But somehow he is sure that her eyes have found his, that she knows he is here, watching her like he always has and always will.

He wants to move so badly, to crawl into that warm bed of hers in that empty house and lose himself, to bring her to this room that smells of alfalfa and listen to the quiet snorts of the horses just downstairs as he curls around her form- something to break him out of this paralyzing fugue state he has found himself in ever since he met her, unable to go back and with no hope of moving forward. Living for a series of stolen moments of clarity and happiness, stringing them along into something he tries to call a life.

But all too soon the moment is broken, as Gemma looks down and smiles, and Kartik lets go of a breath he was unaware he was holding.

He watches as she delicately smoothes the scrap of paper, fingers caressing the words, before carefully folding it into the pages of her mother's diary, pages swollen and covers locked away to all but her.

A moment of clarity. He wants to cry for the joy of it.

A/N: Wow. You people here at AGATB are AWESOME. I think I had 2 reviews for fewer than 18 page views for Falling From Grace at one point? -hugs-

Unclear as to just how Victorian carriages are set up. Windows and all. About the only exposure I get is watching the eight horse Clydesdale hitches use my arena at fair when I need to be warming up, or the little minis and their little bitty carts the split second before my horse bolts. I heard him say something along the lines of "OMGIT'SADWARFITWILLEATMEEEEE…." Stupid quarter horse. DX

Kartiklove. And Fee is still a bitch.