SPOILER WARNING! Do NOT read if you haven't yet read TSFT! This takes place immediately after the last sentence in the book. Enjoy!
When my tears finally dry up, I manage to pull myself from bed and ready myself for the day. I wash my face meticulously, holding the cold water to my eyes longer than usual, to quell the angry red puffiness from crying. Looking finally in the mirror, I see a stranger, a girl I've seen in passing all my life, but have never really gotten acquainted to. "Hello," I say formally. "I hate you." It isn't true, but it feels good to be deliberately mean to someone, even if it's just my reflection.
The truth is, I am a bit angry at myself. I let Kartik sacrifice himself. I had him in my arms and he still managed to slip away from me. Couldn't I have tried harder? Held him closer? Perhaps maybe then he'd be beside me now, instead of waving from another shore. He's waiting for me on the other side, this I know. But how long will it take for me to join him? Will things be the same? What if I'm terribly old when I finally pass? I hardly imagine that working out well, though I can imagine the sport Kartik would make of it.
I am in my eighties, a shrunken ghoul of a woman, with liver spots in lieu of the freckles I'd gladly have back, and wisps of white where unruly red once framed my face. I find the boat and cross the river, no more bright light masking me from view. Kartik sits on the bank, tearing leaves into even strips which he then weaves together in boredom.
"Kartik," I croak. His head snaps up, though his eyes betray no recognition. "It's me, Gemma," I say shamefully, twisting my nightgown with my skeletal hands.
His beautiful brown eyes widen in shock, then a crooked grin takes over his lips. "Why Gemma…you're such a dish!"
I shake the vision from my head, wincing at how terrible it would be. The only way I'd let Kartik see me that way is if he was there every step of the way, sharing in my pain at the first wrinkle, first strands of gray hair. But he's not. He is dead and I let him die. As if he hadn't already given enough up for my sake, he had to give his life as well. I never had the chance to thank him. Though knowing him, our time in the Cave of Sighs may have been enough. Or that time in the chapel.
I can feel him with me, like a guardian angel. The feeling comes and goes at times, but when I'm feeling particularly sad, there is the slightest breeze, the scent of smoke and spice, and it's as if a calming hand is placed over my heart. Kartik is with me, as he was supposed to be in life.
I dress for the day in a smart suit and secure my curls beneath a sleek hat. I am a woman of seventeen now, though I do not feel my age; sometimes I feel far older, grieved beyond my years, and sometimes I feel years younger and wish to curl up and sleep until the monsters go away. But I cannot. I must live each day as it comes, for if I try to look ahead, I nearly suffocate. So many years I must wait…
A gentle breeze loosens a curl so that it falls against my cheek. It will not, for the life of me, return to its desired position. "Very funny, Kartik," I say to the empty room. There is no response, of course, and my cheeks flush. Am I going mad now? Shouldn't widows be allowed to speak to thin air? Though I guess I'm not really a widow, I certainly feel like one.
"Shall I do a bit of sight-seeing today?" I rap my hairbrush curtly against the vanity. Mad or not, I will talk to the air if I wish. I need to hold on to the notion that Kartik is listening, and if he was here, I'd certainly consult with him on the matter of sight-seeing. "I think I shall."
Walking along Fifth Avenue is a treat. I am presented with a marvelous view of the city's largest park on my one side, and beautiful buildings on my other. I pause briefly at the grand Astoria Hotel. The gilded entrance screams luxury, and I wonder briefly how Kartik would react to it. Would he scoff at the unnecessary extravagance, or admire the architecture? Perhaps he'd wink and suggest we inquire about a room. That thought fills me with longing of a sort I've never felt before. Previously, I'd think of him and blush, wondering girlishly at the sorts of things I'd like him to do with me. But we've done those things, and it wasn't enough. And we will never do them again. There are no tents to run to, no windows to climb through, no chapels to desecrate. Kartik is dead and I'll never have another like him. I wonder if my sexuality has ended before it truly began, for I could never imagine loving another as I do him.
I sigh heavily, no longer feeling Kartik's presence over my shoulder. He is gone. I must move on. But I don't want to, I want to hold fast to him stubbornly, no matter how impossible it may be.
The park. A walk in the gardens will be good for me. I step into the street, making a bargain with myself. If I see violets, I shall pick one, and wear it. I will not marry; and that is that. If I do not, I shall take it as a sign that I must move on, find a nice man and marry him, even if I do not want to. Weighing these options consumes me more than it should. I do not notice the hansom cab until it is barreling down on me.
"Miss, look out!"
But it is too late. The horse is spooked, bolting, terrified of the great noises the carriage behind him makes. The animal crashes into me with such a force that I do not feel it. And just like that, I am dead.
Waking in the realms is a strange experience. My trips here have almost always been deliberate, planned out. But not today, and never again. I do not mourn, do not think; I only sit up and squint at the bits of beautiful sky I can see beyond the dense cover of trees. I have been here before, the forest where the dead pass through, where my friends and I first met Bessie, Mae, and the others. My friends… I shall miss them, but they are happy. They have their own lives now and they will live them without longing for what they cannot have.
It finally hits me as I look down at myself. I am dead. Struck down by a hansom cab. There are wheel marks on my arms, and my dress is torn and bloodied. A tentative hand to my head confirms my fatal head wound, but it does not hurt. I must cross now. My days as high priestess have passed.
I push through the trees until I find myself in the garden. The boat greets me from afar, but there is something I must do first. I sit in the plush grass for a moment, relishing the peace of the land. I could visit Asha, Gorgon, and Philon. I could. But I don't. I do not know what my death will mean for the realms, but I do know that I should not worry. I take the amulet from my neck and secure it around a branch where my hammock once hung. It's time. The boat awaits. Kartik awaits.
Excitement grows in my stomach as I ferry myself across. The light grows bright as always, but I do not close my eyes. I light the light fill me, cleanse me, heal me. The boat scrapes the riverbed and comes to a stop, and that is how I know that I've made it. I step onto the shore, good as new. My dress is no longer torn, my head no longer injured. I smile widely at the dark, fresh soil beneath my boots. And then I see him.
"Kartik," I say softly. He starts at my voice and turns his head almost in slow motion.
"Gemma?" He stands and faces me. A soft breeze tousles our hair and pulls petals from delicate blossoms on the trees. We meet quickly in a fierce embrace, clutching each other as tightly as we can, as if there was any chance we might be separated again. I kiss him once, twice, three times. He pulls me to him so tightly my feet lift briefly off the ground. Oh, this closeness is heaven! I shall never be grief-stricken again.
And then Kartik releases me, but grabs me once more by the upper arms. "What are you doing here?" he demands. He is not angry, but playing at it.
"I'm dead," I say simply.
"So soon?!" He kisses me deeply, then pulls away. "I gave up my life so that you could live!"
I wind my fingers into his thick curls and kiss him. "I was run down by a carriage," I say in between kisses. "Isn't it wonderful?"
"Yes!" He kisses me more fiercely. "Though honestly Gemma, I turn my head for just a moment and you get yourself killed." Kartik wraps his arms around me once more and rests his head against mine. His familiar scent fills me up so that I feel close to flying away on this high. Tears prick at my eyes. We can be together at last.
We hold each other like that for a long time, though time no longer seems to matter anymore. It doesn't. There is no rush. We have forever.
"Kartik!" I cry happily, once again clawing my way closer to him. I leap onto him so that my thighs grip his waist like they would a horse. He holds me steady, his brown eyes searching mine quizzically and adoringly. "We have forever!" I wrap my arms around his neck, forgetting what it was like to worry about his affections towards me, or what others might think.
"Forever…" Kartik says slowly, tasting the word on his tongue. He smiles as if he has seen paradise, as if he hasn't a care in the world. He doesn't. "So," he breathes. "Shall we?"
I nod, brushing happy tears from my eyes. With my hand in his, I feel no fear. Our fingers lace together, brown and white and beautiful, and together, together we make our final adventure. Kartik squeezes my hand and grins excitedly, knowing that no matter what lies beyond us, we have each other and it shall be alright.
Oh, now isn't that positively saccharine? I had a feeling you all would need it, plus the idea of Gemma getting mauled by a cab in NYC is too funny not to write. Taxi drivers in NYC are notoriously bad.
Today has marked the one year anniversary of writing for this fandom. I've improved so much! Gah! I love you all, truly. Were it not for your support, I'd never have realized my passion for writing. You're all wonderful!
Is hoping you all feel better,
PLEASE REVIEW!!! And have a wonderful New Year's!