DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN'T READ TSFT! You have been warned.
Behold! My canon way to bring Kartik back to life! I've been thinking up this story idea since I saw The Prestige, so it will be partly influenced by that. Many thanks to ThreeOranges for beta-ing it! Enjoy!
I have waited a long time for this moment.
Tomorrow, I shall see her for the first time in four years, in the flesh and blood, not in a dream. Because of this, I cannot sleep. I am too…excited? Anxious? I lie upon the bed sheets, willing myself not to move, to keep my eyes closed so that sleep might sneak up upon me. I order my limbs to relax, one at a time, from my toes to my shoulders, so that when I reach my head I am nearly lulled to sleep by meditation and boredom alone. But willing my brain to shut down is impossible, for I can't forget what tomorrow is, and my body rebels once more, fidgeting until I must finally abandon sleep for pacing my rented room. Tomorrow, I shall see her, my Gemma, for the first time in four years. And it has been so long a wait.
Four years ago, I died. I sacrificed myself in the heat of the moment, believing that Fate had presented me with an ultimatum. I let the Tree claim me so that I didn't have to see the vines consume my Gemma, so that I didn't have to live life without her. I died because I didn't want to live on the flip side, without her. Call it a selfish act or a selfless one, after all, I did sacrifice myself, but it wasn't for a noble reason. It happened too quickly for me to realize the rashness of my actions, and my pact with the devil had been signed, only moments before said devil was dispelled, driven out by my Gemma.
To elaborate, the realms and the Winterlands were imbalanced for many years. Nature dictates that the lands give magic to its dwellers, and they return it back to the land in due time. It is not a hard concept; it is just like the nature of the earth – we take from the land and give back, creating a harmonious, self sufficient cycle. This was how it once was in the realms, until the Order tried to harness the magic for their own. The magic was thrown off balance, nature's course disturbed, much like the consequences (however insignificant) of building a dam. Creatures started to look for other sources of magic, much of which could be attained by sacrifices.
To make a long story short, the Tree of All Souls became too powerful through sacrifices. It craved more, an imbalance. When Gemma released the souls, it was straining for a sacrifice to fill it once more. I became that sacrifice, for it already had its sights (or rather – roots) on Gemma. When the Tree claimed me and released her, she was able to give the magic back to the land in a way that would eventually harmonize the balance of magic once more. I was trapped in the Tree until it did, but once balance was restored, my sacrifice was no longer needed. Gemma gave magic back to the land, and in return, I was released.
This was not an instantaneous occurrence; it was weeks in the real world until I managed to return to my body. And even then I had problems doing so.
Normally when a person enters the realms, their body lies in a comatose state until they return. This is what happened to me, but the longer I remained in the realms, the slower my pulse grew, until its frail thread was nearly undetectable. My body was moved to a mortuary and then to a waiting mortuary, for that was when I suppose someone still monitored a heartbeat. Sahirah Foster did not fare so well; she was as dead as could be and was buried promptly. But I still lived in the realms, and I had the chance to return to my world; however, one thing stood in my way.
I couldn't return to my body, for it was not where I left it.
When I found the passage between worlds that Gemma used to take me to the realms for the first time, I hovered in the doorway, a specter of a man, no more than a shade, and much less than a tracker. I couldn't move beyond where my body once stood; I was trapped.
Meanwhile, before I learned of my potential freedom, I visited my Gemma in her dreams. I knew she was heartbroken because of my death, and that broke me too. What had I done? Couldn't there have been another way? Did I have to put that rift between us? Thankfully, I was given another chance, or rather, I found one.
I believe in dreams. I have for my whole life. I believe that others believe in their dreams as well, though few to the extent that I do. I knew that if I wanted to make it back to my world, I had to contact someone that could return my body to me. I had to contact someone that believed in dreams, believed that they were more than things to remain in your head as illusions. I regret to admit that Gemma is not that sort of person.
However, the housekeeper of Spence most definitely is. It took only one night of persuaded dreams for old Brigid to inform Mrs. Nightwing of what had happened. My dying body was plucked from the mortuary and placed in the East Wing, where I thankfully was able to cross the threshold and return to it.
It was the strangest feeling, waking on the dirt floor of the passage and realizing that my earthly form was indeed plucked straight from a mortuary and rushed here. Under the watchful eyes of the two women who rescued me, I realized I was naked, save for a shawl placed modestly over my lower half.
"By all the saints," Brigid gasped as I sat up and pulled the tag off my toe. "He lives again!"
I was given new clothes and a generous meal, and allowed to spend the night in the school, for all of the girls had already gone home to their families for the season. I slept in Gemma's old room, in her bed. That night was hard, the first of many lonely nights to come. I laid awake, wondering about Gemma – was she alright? Did she make her debut? Did she still miss me? In dreams I visited her, waving to her from where I stood, across a great body of water from her. Was there symbolism in that? Why was she on a different shore than me? She cried out to me, unable to see me anymore. "I'm here," I told her. "Trust me."
I woke with a start that morning, smacking my head on the sloping ceiling over Gemma's bed. The dream had ripped a hole in my heart; I needed to see her, tell her – no, show her that I was alright.
Mrs. Nightwing looked uncomfortable as I sat in her office and asked about Gemma. She told me that Gemma had already made her debut and in fact left England.
"She is to attend university," she said. "I advise you not to go after her."
"Why?" I asked. Surely if the headmistress could understand the Order, she could understand our relationship.
"Miss Doyle is just learning who she really is. This is a marvelous opportunity for her. Let her live it. And while you wait for her to come back…perhaps try to establish yourself?"
I nodded obediently, feeling crushed. What if Gemma didn't come back? What if she met someone else? But those questions were not for Mrs. Nightwing's ears, they were only meant to torture me endlessly for the next four years while I waited like the wife of a seafaring man. I had just thanked Nightwing for saving my life, and was turning to leave, when she stopped me.
"Mr. Kartik, before you go… It seems that dear Sahirah, God rest her soul, has left something to you in her will. It says here that she grew fond of you and thought you an unappreciative son." Nightwing chuckled sadly as she perused the will. "She bequeathed you a monetary gift. Will you have it?"
Of course I took it, but I admit I was hesitant at first. I've never found myself in need of charity, but once Nightwing phrased it as a gift, I accepted.
At first, London was a constant reminder of Gemma's absence. I took walks often by the places we once haunted. The wharves where we kissed; the elegant buildings of Pall Mall, where we narrowly escaped the Rakshana; even the alley in Whitechapel where I brushed the tears from her cheeks and comforted her last Christmas. My heart ached for Gemma, but life had to go on.
Those four years passed like a blur. Four years of waiting for a girl I had known for less than a year. Was it worth it? I could no longer tell. But as I had no other aims to follow, I plodded along dutifully, wondering why I listened to Mrs. Nightwing in the first place. Sahirah's money, though small in amount, was adequate enough to live off of while I tried to find employment. I never did secure steady work, but dozens of odd jobs found me. In the past four years I've been a chimney sweep, a horse groom, and a fisherman, among other things. Because I am not one to rely heavily on money, I saved up a decent amount, but for what I don't really know. There is no guarantee that Gemma will have me, and even so, what could we do? There is no place on earth that would have us.
Now I know for sure that Gemma is back from university. I had the odd fortune of bumping into her brother yesterday afternoon. Well no, that isn't entirely true. I walked up to the Doyle household and requested to speak to him about the whereabouts of his sister. Tom Doyle's reaction was quite like Brigid and Mrs. Nightwing's, though it was delayed until he finally recognized me.
"You're that guardian fellow," he whispered in shock. "I thought you were dead."
It took a lot of pressing before Tom revealed anything about Gemma. He was very reluctant and quite wary towards me, for obvious, yet frustrating reasons. I broke his sister's heart, he told me. He wasn't so sure he wanted to give me another chance to break her heart again, and obviously my ethnicity was also a strike against me. In the end, he told me that Gemma was to arrive the next day, and I then managed to convince him to let me speak with her. We agreed on a time, and that time is tomorrow.
However…not all is well. Tom also informed me that Gemma has a suitor in America. While I was spared the details, I can only imagine them too easily. I wish I could think of him as a disfigured, dull monster, though I know that Gemma could catch the eyes of the best looking men, and she is probably quite happy with him, whoever he is. I'm not certain how upset I feel over this knowledge, but a part of me does not feel threatened at all. After all, Gemma and I have a history and bond that none could best. I am as much a part of her as the sprinkling of freckles across her nose, which will never completely fade from view.
I suppose I finally managed to fall asleep because the next thing I know, the sun is coming up. For the first time in years, I welcome the pale rays instead of try to shut them out. I open the window and lean on the sill, letting my eyes drift over the still streets and the first signs of life among them. The air is balmy and calm, a prelude to a beautiful June day. It is nearing Gemma's birthday, and she will be twenty-one. It will be five years since the day we met. I wonder how she's changed, if she'll still want me. Does she look the same? My heart pounds within my ribcage, feeling much like a frenzied horse on the loose. Excitement. I simply cannot wait to see her. If anything, today will pull me off this threshold one way or another.
The meeting is to take place at the Doyle townhouse at three, with Tom present. I can't say I welcome his presence, but I really have no place to suggest otherwise. It is a blessing that he even allows me to speak with his sister, for despite our history, I am still Indian. Though I wonder when I came to accept this belittlement without challenge; I suppose I've been exhausted by my efforts to prove myself otherwise, though I do not take pride in this. Despite my ultimate sacrifice, I am still that Indian, undeserving of any little bit of praise, because sacrifice is all that is expected of me. I wonder if Gemma realized the weight of my action, though I curse myself for doubting her. Of course she did. She saw past my skin color. Oh, what does it matter anymore? I've gone to the end of the world and back, faced my greatest fears and my death for the love of my life, and still I am unworthy of anything higher than servitude. I'm tired of this beast called racism.
I set out earlier than needed so that I may stroll leisurely while I mentally prepare myself for what is to come. Despite my frustrations, I cannot keep the smile off my face, which earns me suspicious looks from the passersby, who then proceed to check their pockets, as if my happiness was rooted in relieving them of their possessions and not because I'm about to see the girl I love.
But I pay them no mind. The English sun is strong today, warming my black hair close to discomfort, but the breeze is enough to cool me, though it burdens the ladies I pass, who struggle to hold their ringlets neatly in place with one hand and hold their frilly parasols with the other. I suppress a laugh at their efforts, for I can imagine Gemma in their place too easily, cursing the wind for show and welcoming it secretly. I only hope that this hidden facet of her has not been slewed off in the years I have not seen her. Truthfully, I have no way of knowing if she is in any way the same girl, and if I am nervous about today, that is why.
I lean against an iron fence and pull my pocket watch out. It is still early. I tip my head up and acknowledge the blue sky, the white clouds floating across. There is a yellow balloon rising jerkily a few streets over. I listen closely, but hear no cries of a child that has carelessly let it go. I always wondered why people fret so much over the things they have let happen to them, why tears are shed over their own careless mistakes. The way I see it, there is no use feeling sorry for the things you have done. Each must be accountable for his own actions.
When the sun is out, London is a colorful place. Against the gray of the building is a myriad of hues. Deep green and red striped awnings, pastel dresses with matching parasols, carefully tended flowerboxes, pinstriped gentlemen…a living painting of the likes no artist could ever hope to capture. That is the twisted fortune of once being dead; you notice the full beauty of life.
I drop my head to examine the way the sunlight reflects off the engraved surface of my watch's gold case. There is something about the abrupt contrast between the sun's white-hot reflection and the immediate deep shadow beside it that fascinates me. Gold is a substance all its own, seeming to follow a different set of rules in terms of coloring. Perhaps I shall become a painter and attempt to capture these fleeting moments.
"Excuse me sir, do you have the time?"
I freeze. That voice. I'm not supposed to see her for another hour or so, with the mediation of her brother to bother us. But here she is, alone, unaware that I am me. I feel like a little boy caught doing something he shouldn't, but I cannot help myself. I raise my head slowly, taking in the sight of her from the ground up. Pale blue dress, fuller hips, smaller waist, slightly larger bust, lower neckline, pronounced collarbones… She gasps before I can drink in the sight of her face.
Before I can stop it, a grin spreads across my face. I shouldn't really, but it's as if everything I've planned to say for months evades me. "Something the matter, miss?"
She is torn, confused, uncertain if her sight is failing her. "Oh no, I – I…I'm dreadfully sorry, I thought you were someone else for a moment."
"For only a moment? I'd have hoped my memory would linger longer in your mind."
Her eyes widen and her cheeks grow pale. "Excuse me?" Her voice is no more than a whisper.
"I've missed you," I say simply, letting her figure it out on her own. Her balance falters and she sways, precariously close to fainting. I take her arm and bid her to sit on the iron bench nearby. "Are you alright?" I vaguely consider letting her think me but a strong resemblance of myself, and leaving before she hurts herself thinking of the logic. "Gemma."
Tears well in her green eyes until they bear similarities to the waters of an ornamental koi pond. "How?" she asks when her voice allows her to speak.
"It is a long story," I say, sitting next to her.
Gemma throws me a sidelong glance. "Are you really here?" she whispers. "Or will people see me speaking to myself?"
I laugh. "I assure you, I am quite alive." I spy a man walking near us. "Excuse me, sir, do you have the time?" I call out.
"Eight past two," he responds without breaking his gait. I turn and grin at Gemma.
"Oh my…Kartik?" She reaches out a hand to touch my arm. "You're alive."
"After all these years…you're alive."
"You have been here all these years?"
"I was gone only a few weeks."
"Then why, pray, haven't you said anything to me about it?" Her eyes are a blaze of anger. This I did not anticipate.
"Gemma," I say softly. "I will explain everything in time, but you know we cannot speak in public."
"I suppose you're right." The anger subsides in her eyes, replaced by something else…something that suddenly makes everything around us matter less.
I do however tell her about her brother's planned intervention between us, which she immediately scoffs. "I was wondering what he was going on about. I thought he meant to present me with ancient suitors from his gentlemen's club." She laughs lightly, a sound I hadn't realized I'd missed as much until now. "I can't believe you agreed to it!"
"It was the only way I thought I'd get to see you," I say sheepishly.
"Well I am here now. I shall inform my brother that I no longer need his chaperoning."
"That is good."
"Kartik," she says, rather formally all of a sudden. She seems to put a wall up. "I don't know what to think of this." She pauses. "I'm not so certain it's real."
"It is real, Gemma."
"I need to think about this," she whispers. "Can you give me some time?"
Something within me darkens like a storm cloud. "I have given you enough time," I murmur in her ear. "Four years I have waited to see you again. I will not wait any longer." She appears not frightened, but slightly shocked.
"I meant in terms of hours, Kartik. I have just arrived yesterday and am bombarded with some many things." Gemma shakes her head. "Though none of them as vexing as this."
For a moment we look at each other. I suppose my pain at being close to slighted is apparent, for her eyes soften to a point they never have before. "Kartik, don't look at me like that, please. I suppose I am in shock. I…don't know what to say. Or do." She smiles softly, but I can sense that she is guarded, wary still.
"I know," I say. "I know what to say."
"I've wanted to say it ever since I came back. It's silly, really."
"Let's hear it then."
"Let me take you out to dinner," I say softly. "We can talk then."
Gemma smiles. "I'd like that."
Woo. That was long. No snazzy magicians yet, but it will come to that, I promise! What do you think of my Kartikcomesback!scenario? I gave it a lot of thought.
Advises everyone to watch the David Blaine parodies on YouTube,
PLEASE REVIEW!!! (Or I will sue your ass, David Blaine!) He just PISSED orange soda! Just...watch them. (And review!)