Broken Beauty

by Thyme In Her Eyes

Author's Notes: Just to disclaim – I own nothing. Anyway, here's yet another short Fuchsia-centric story focusing on her relationship with Steerpike (I do have other ideas, I swear, and someday I may even write them down) and again, the characterization here is closer to the BBC miniseries than the books, so please bear that in mind. Now enjoy!

-- BROKEN BEAUTY --

Fuchsia often wonders what lurks underneath that mask. He wears so many, but this one she could actually pull away from him herself if she could only be clever and brave enough.

But does she want to?

There's a story in one of her old and heavy books, worn and ruined by her love for it, about a kind and beautiful girl who turns a terrifying and ugly beast into a handsome prince with only a word of love partnered with a dear kiss. Of course, it ends happily ever after and Fuchsia still allows the romance of this tale to sweep her away from the world. In private moments, she dreams of being bold enough to take off Steerpike's mask without fear, and loving him.

But then she sees the occasional cruelty in his smiles and remembers how he frightens and repels her, and she wants nothing more than to be far away from him and rescued from the effect his closeness has on her. Inside her mind, he smiles as he twists and turns, and his arms seem stronger than the stones themselves. He ruins all the tales she's ever believed in and then breathes life into the part of her that dreams. But she can't quite dismiss him from her mind or her company any more than she can accept him, and he lurks on the outskirts in wait. He never gives up, and she hates that about him as much as she loves it. Their relationship becomes twisted and labyrinthine as it grows and evolves, every one of its secret doors concealing a dream and a nightmare.

Even before he was burnt, he had the power to frighten her. Even then, he was far from perfect. She never saw dirt on him after that first day in the attic, but he was still flawed and strange as his vitality demanded her adoration. His face was beautiful, enticing, but he could easily twist it and make it ugly. But it shone with determined life and vivid talent. It still shines that way when the candles' light catches the safe side of his face and softens it, taking years away. Even so, his anger and petulant grimaces and so many feelings she can't understand fascinate her after suffocating her. Does he love? Does he need love?

Love can turn a beast inside-out in the world of Fuchsia's stories; it can unravel the very pelt from his body. It transforms everything that intimidates into all that's good and beautiful, but what will it do to him? And what could it do to her? The same old spell has lingered over their relationship for years, keeping it a thing half-spent in silence, secrets and veiled glances, and Fuchsia yearns to break it. Her hands wring her shawl and pick at the threads of her dress in frustrated impatience as she wishes for charm like his, and the ability to be calm and controlled as she reaches out to him. Like him, she wants to know what she's doing. More than anything, she wants to strip the hide off him, if only to know his heart. To confirm whether or not she's known it all along.

She bristles with confused frustration as he takes up more and more space inside her thoughts, his specter invading all her quiet moments and solitary adventures. Things left unsaid between them scratch and claw at her peace. The things that were said do worse. She tears up and scribbles out endless poems and musings about him, the thick dark strokes of her pencil marking paths deep as a scar. She looks again at her ruined pages and the dozen black lines of denial mock her.

Later, she'll happen to find a long-legged and hairy spider lurking in her bedchamber, one whose every movement snaps at her, and she'll scream, tear about her room, throw heavy objects and furiously try to stamp at it. Afterwards, throat crimson and raw and body shaking as panic loosens its grip, she'll know that although she can be brave, she hates and fears ugly things. She longs to show no fear, but she's near-bursting with it. She wants to grow up, but can't.

Ashamed and so sorry, she sees herself in these moments and understands that she's far from the sweet and unselfish beauties of her old stories, and imagines that perhaps this is why she is so difficult to love. She can pour affection onto so many broken and unwanted objects, but her dislikes can run as deep, and gentle restraint was never hers. Every passion tumbles down and crushes underfoot. Her love is furious as any beast, and never purrs but roars. Her kisses wouldn't be as soft and petal-delicate as those of a kindly fairytale heroine – they would be fierce and haphazard summer rainstorms, not snowflake-pristine touches. There would be no princess' charm behind her lips, no cure for all the world's wrongs hidden in the sweetness of her mouth.

Her insight hurts her as she realizes with lingering finality how she'll never be as decent and pure as the heroines of her fairy-tales, forcing her to swallow back decades of imagined kisses and many-winged dreams. Scalded and sulky, she longs to forget them and resolves to ask Steerpike to make up new and better stories for her. Maybe the wild adventures of a runaway kitchen-boy and a daydreaming princess.

Steerpike isn't the figure she's been dreaming of all her life – she imagined he was once, half-believed he'd somehow crawled from the pages of her storybook when she first met, him but by now knows it isn't true. However, she doesn't want to hate him. He is only himself, and hasn't ever pretended to be anything else. She appreciates him all the more for that, and for how far he's come without help from mythic sources. Most of all, unlike her fantastical knights full of golden virtue and beauty, he's here. He's close by her side when no-one else can be found and, little by little, Fuchsia realizes that all the proud heroes of her stories are years too late. In the stale air and the binding dark, everything becomes so much clearer.

She can't bring herself to ruin her own fantasies or the small light they shine on her life, especially when Steerpike talks to her when he doesn't have to and brings a smile to her face, helping to lift the weight of her aloneness. And wasn't it heroism – real heroism, something difficult and demanding and so much better than slaying stupid dragons – that gave him his scars in the first place? Aren't his burns and his mask proud signs of bravery?

His face is proof of how much better he is than all of them, and Fuchsia wishes the thought of it wouldn't frighten her so much when she lays aside her fantasies and really thinks about it. But it does, and the thought turns her around, beating at her heart.

Titus made fun of her hero's face once, telling her he found Steerpike disgusting and she never thought as little of her brother as she did in that instant and all thoughts of fear, horror and caution withered. She hates other people when they talk about him and within the space of a moment, Fuchsia flares and snaps with protective anger, willing to defend the former kitchen-boy with every breath in her body. She sometimes hates the world for not seeing how brave and brilliant he is, for always hating and suspecting him even when he saves their lives and pulls them from fires, and for putting those twisted sneers onto his face and ruining everything she values in him. He's no monster, she aches to say. He's wonderful.

During these moments, she hates her stories too and wants to tear up their pages and throw the horrid and wrecked things from her window, banishing them from Gormenghast on a whipping wind. There are times when Fuchsia doesn't want her treasured tales to be true, because if she kissed him she wouldn't want him to turn into a handsome prince – she would want her Steerpike back.

-- FIN --