by Thyme In Her Eyes
Author's Note: Another story based on the BBC adaptation of Gormenghast, focusing on Fuchsia and her relationship with Steerpike and its gradual development. And just to disclaim – I don't own the characters, Mervyn Peake does. Enjoy the 'fic, and please remember that all feedback is appreciated.
-- TINKER, TAILOR --
He was everything, and could become anything at a moment's notice. His versatility brightened up the bleak stone lanes. Of course, he often frightened and agitated her because he was so different, so hard to know and understand, but he was also everything that didn't belong to the heavy and intolerant world of Gormenghast, a world in which faded words on ancient pages were worth more than all the dreams in the world. She hadn't even known that such a person, someone so free and alive, could exist before she met Steerpike.
When they were younger, much younger, he was her clown, her pretender, her adventurer. He was her servant who moved like a jester, spoke like a knight, and sprung like a cat as he caught the very fabric of her dreams and clutched the foundations of her fiercest wishes in his hands and then presented them to her, eyes all devotion and promises. He whispered grand things about secret pathways and pavements in the sky, fueling her dreams the way a lover might have plucked the ripest grapes and placed them between her lips.
He was so much cleverer than her and didn't seem to need any more of her help, but he still climbed into her attic again and again, found her there, and played pretend with her, acting out wild adventures. He had the power to be anything and anyone as they chased around her rooms and he plucked ideas and adventures out of the air for her like feather-light and invisible stars. She screamed and laughed as he struck deranged poses and then moved like water across the floor of her attic. He was never tired, and his energy and ideas enthralled her. He thought of so many games, so many ways to laugh and shriek. Each time he retreated to her from the world outside, he was a coiled spring of energy waiting for her to set him off.
With ease, he could dazzle her with a rich flow of difficult words, clever sentences and unpredictable rhymes, and in a moment could whirl around and string all her favourite words together in a way that made no sense at all, but brought a smile to her mouth. He'd weathered her tantrums and caprice easily, seeming all the more energized by the tumult of her unpredictable moods. He played his part and she cheered and clapped, crying for more. He eagerly obliged, eating up her childish demands, her uncomplicated need.
Fuchsia had still half-fancied that she would be queen one day, and wondered who she would make her king. Steerpike's mock-bows were so perfectly extreme, so magnificently ridiculous, that they fitted her own big movements perfectly, and she fleetingly thought of how they might have looked together. He told her that she was his queen often enough, and when she permitted him to step close enough to touch her, he placed a makeshift crown on her head, one spangled with flowers, and her heart was touched as much as her pride. There was a lurking expectancy in his eyes as he did so, a supreme confidence Fuchsia had never known.
When she began to outgrow her attic games and wandered off into the forest just beyond the city walls, he shared ideas with her – told her about things like "freedom" and "equality" and the terrible old thing called "authority". She could see the belief in his face, passion as sharp as the falling rain, and felt that there was so much to look forward to, that it was wonderful to be young and with so much yet to be experienced and seen. His eyes had lit up with unstoppable life and verve as thoughts she barely understood poured from his lips, and Fuchsia was rapt. Words were never so alive as when he was speaking them. They burned on his tongue, scorching her. He beat life into them, made them frantic and real, brimming with possibility. She turned her face from his, not wanting to look at his mouth or eyes, sensing the strange traps there.
She protested at first, told him that it was useless to ask her opinion on such things because the only books she read were full of nonsense, adventures and poetry. She didn't read books about the things he was so interested in. Clever things weren't for her because she wasn't clever herself, she'd said dismissively, so how could she know what to think? If anyone had told him she could understand those big words and bigger ideas then they were liars, she'd told him, eyes wide and mouth shaking. The imagined insult sparked turbulent indignation in her, her own passions fanning the feeling. She only looked at the world, Fuchsia insisted, she never pretended to know or understand it. Vague hostility suddenly took up arms and charged in her breast as she demanded to know why he even cared about what she thought, or why it made a difference.
But he told her she didn't need book-learning to understand, stepping closer as he did. Her eyes darted away, looking everywhere but his face before he compelled her to look. Equality was freedom and freedom was in the heart, not printed on a yellowed page, he stressed. Freedom was in her eyes as she read her poems, freedom was in her dreams. She had blushed, and suddenly wanted to be alone and away from confusion. No-one had ever spoken to her like that before, or looked at her like that as they spoke either.
With a private grin, he eased her discomfort and assured her that she hadn't missed out on anything because she was only a girl and hadn't been sent to Titus' stupid school full of moldy old professors. She was like him, he stated with pride – entirely self-taught. Schools only taught people how to think exactly the same thing and killed all ability to question the world, he'd said, and so she and he were the same, and better than the others. After all, their minds weren't restricted or blunted by any kind of education.
Fuchsia had smothered giggles with her hand at that, for he was so disrespectful. It was even worse that she should enjoy his impertinence and admire his nature. He was sacrilegious and thrilling; his very presence in her part of the castle was wonderfully and wickedly insolent. His proximity to her, a daughter of the Line, was defiance itself. She never wanted his daring to end, or his closeness to fade.
When they talked about change, equality and authority, and how even worse than authority was authority vested in age, Fuchsia stood awkwardly, drawn close by his magnetism but wary enough to keep her distance. Her eyes were wide and gaping in awe and apprehension. He used words that challenged everything they both knew as if those words were light as air. He was utterly brave as he hurled challenges against the system that defined their world, and Fuchsia stared at him as if expecting him to burst into flames at any moment for his audacity.
He never did though, and all Gormenghast seemed smaller afterwards compared to his spirit. And even though she preferred to think up poems and dream up adventures when she stared out of her windows, her thoughts often found him and shocked her with her own eagerness to have something to say the next time they chanced to meet. And so, intermittent like rain on an overcast day, Fuchsia considered equality and freedom and wondered if they existed. Soon, she found herself wanting to believe in them, and in him.
By coincidence, they ran into each other and found time to talk, and he listened to her thoughts. After a pause, she would suddenly ask him how it was that he'd learned to read and write in the kitchens, how it was that he could be so clever. He always answered her, and his story was never the same twice, and she loved him for it.
Any occasional questions about his past ended in the same way – with a brilliant story never to be repeated, dozens of versions never matching. One could be funny, one tragic, another horrific, others full of fantasy and wonder. He was like a book whose contents changed with each reading, and she never understood how he could think of so many things at a moment's notice. She was glad that he never told her the truth too – it must have been sad she realized, and not gloriously tragic but painful to think of, and so she didn't want to hear about it. The stories were better.
And although his ideas and challenges confused and frustrated her more often than they inspired her, she never wanted him to stop treating her as though she was worth something. She was daughter to an Earl, sister to an Earl, she was a Lady and a Groan of the blood, but he made her feel important in a way none of her titles could. She was the Lady Fuchsia and everyone deferred to her, but no-one spoke to her. Titus was family and Nannie and Dr. Prune were as good as in her eyes, so they didn't count. Other than Steerpike, no-one asked her difficult questions or waited patiently for her answers.
There were other sides to him too, and that made her apprehensive. He could repel her as effortlessly as he attracted her, and Fuchsia wondered if it was him that changed in those frightening moments, or if it was her.
He was horrible sometimes. Not what he seemed at all. He was too fierce, like the blade of a knife, and his laughing defiance began to look bitter, unhappy, and very very angry. There was something sinister and wrong about him that she could never see through to completely, but when he said he understood her, she became frightened and repulsed and drew away. Now and them, she noticed that his laugh was cruel and so were the things he laughed about, and he'd said he wanted to end cruelty forever. As much as he stirred wonder and awe in her, he also taught her quiet things about the harshness of the world, and his words had the power to hurt her deeply.
Titus hated him, and sometimes she did too. He had no friends, and although she often pitied that and imagined they had so much in common, sometimes it seemed clear why. He could be too cold, or too hot and so different, so unlike everything and everyone, so far from the familiar. What unnerved her the most was how much he seemed to want of her. He wanted so many things.
There were days when she wanted nobody's eyes on her, least of all his, and he needed her now in a way he hadn't all those years ago. It was too much. He was the hurricane plowing through and overturning her life, and at the same time he was the strangling ivy creeping over and around her stealthily, causing her to panic whenever she happened to notice how close he really was, and how little was between them. He left her gasping for air, head whirling with conflict, body shuddering at his touch.
Here, her imagination failed her. No matter how much he raised her unease with cold glances and sneers never aimed at her, she never caught the flimsiest hint of what he was truly capable of. She wasn't even close to forming such thoughts, couldn't tread remotely close to genuine suspicion in spite of Mr. Flay's warning and Titus' worry. She refused to question the belief that he had come so far in life on pure brilliance and talent alone, never thinking that the talents that had made her laugh and think so much, and could render her raw with tenderness and admiration, could ever produce murder and mayhem or hurt those she loved. As far as Fuchsia was concerned, there was no rational point of connection between them; they could not have been crafted from the same clay. Maybe Steerpike was horrid sometimes, but people were so unfair to him.
But Steerpike wasn't safe, and she never felt safe in his arms. Instead, Fuchsia felt like one perched on the edge of a huge chasm. The sensation of risk and danger could be thrilling to her, and at another moment absolutely terrifying, but she could never quite pull herself back. Whenever she was in his company, she didn't know what would happen; if she would finally step - or find herself pushed - over that edge, and if she would drop like a stone or float on the air. Was it up to him, or her, if she flew or fell?
But after so many years and so many losses, he was all she really had. When she felt as though she had nothing else in the world, she turned to him, needing him to show her more. Slowly, the image of her brilliantly ridiculous clown and the idealist with all his questions and answers faded and were replaced, all with gradual progression. Thoughts of his bravery and vitality drifted away too, and were not all that enticed her any more. The firebrand vanished and there was only Steerpike standing before her.
They spoke now about more than equality and freedom. They talked about everything, for there was nothing he seemed in ignorance of and there was nothing he couldn't make interesting to her ears. They were grown-ups now, and the world was theirs to talk of. He asked about her and she told him more than she'd ever told anyone else, and his guesswork did the rest. What she gleaned from him was sparse, but telling. She wanted more and so did he, but neither were ready yet, and perhaps never would be. Secrets entrapped both of them and decorated their relationship, festooned like cobwebs.
His voice and vocabulary drew her in close and his grip on each topic under discussion provoked all her admiration. She was quieter now, had somewhere in the passing years gained a sombre maturity only streaked by childlike passion and temper, but in spite of all her progress, Fuchsia still couldn't help but fling herself wholeheartedly into the moment. They found each other after dark, trusting his knowledge of what parts of the castle will be deserted, but already they were talking of creating a proper meeting-place, a private room, and Fuchsia burst with happiness and caution. Did he hold her heart in his fist or was it still safe in her own grasp – and what was it that she held?
If anyone found out, there was no way of knowing what would become of either of them, and Fuchsia often vowed never to see him again. She hated to think of it. Each day, she woke up thinking on how she would not see him, wandered through her attic and newer haunts trying to keep her thoughts far away from him, and sat still and frozen during the castle's rituals, refusing to look at him. Each day she told herself she was not lonely, and certainly didn't care for him and wasn't interested in how he was or what he thought. She insisted on how she didn't want to see him, and repeated countless times inside her mind that she was not going to go...
She hated the stones for making it a crime that she should be so happy, but didn't despise the castle as she used to because he was a part of it, represented it now in fact. But when she looked at him, she saw change too. Perhaps things would change even more given time. After all, he was everything, and could become anything. He had proved that much to her. And he had changed her over the years too she finally realized, using a magic so subtle that she'd never even guessed at it. He had been everything, and still was, leaving Fuchsia wondering what shape he might take next. She sensed he would like to take her with him and couldn't tell if her heart leaped or sank to think of it. She trusted him completely and in the same breadth of thought, not at all.
However, when the candle's light sometimes flickered over the good side of his face and Steerpike reflexively flinched as though his skin tasted the flames a second time, she began to imagine that maybe, once and for all, he was trapped in a way beyond her comprehension. He looked at her – now sharp, now tender, now starved – with the gaze of someone sinking into stagnation, his eyes viewing her as they might view a safety line. It was racking and overwhelming, but not unwanted. She saw the danger in stepping closer, but Fuchsia made her best efforts to reach out in anticipation more than she recoiled in horror. It was better than clutching at nothing, or at anything that wasn't the strange, wonderful boy she remembered from her attic or the terrible, ruined man she had come to need and adore.
-- FIN --