The dreams of him kept coming hard and fast. There was not one night I fell asleep in my beloved New York City when he didn't find some way into my dreams. Gemma, his smile whispered across the shore. Gemma, I love you. Always, I wake before I find away across the river to him.
When I do wake, tears are fresh on my pillow. "Kartik…" I mumble against the bright dawn of morning. "Oh, Kartik, I love you too…"
Pounding on my door jolts me out of my bed. "Telegram, miss!" Mrs. Browning, the owner of this rented space I call home, calls through my door.
"Give me a moment, please." I tumble out of bed, out of misery for a moment, and grab a dressing gown. Opening the door, I find her with her cat Thimble perched on her shoulder. What an odd cat, I allow myself to wonder before asking, "Yes?" and holding out my hand.
Grudgingly, she holds out the telegram. With what brief amount of magic I have, I sense her longing during the brief moment our hands touch. Friends who are exotic: one a star on the London stage, one a free-lance artist in Paris…Wonder who it could be this time, she thinks.
"Thank you, Mrs. Browning." I say, waking her out of her wonderings.
"Yes, yes, no problem, dear." She seems a bit lost, and I feel bad about it. I really do have no business with her thoughts.
I close my door and wander over to my bed so I can look out on to the busy street below me.
HELLO GEMMA DEAREST STOP ALL IS WELL IN PARIS STOP HAVE MET SOMEONE NEW HER NAME IS VICTORIA STOP YOU WOULD ADORE HER STOP WILL BE SEEING YOU SOON WHENCE WE ALL COME TO SPENCE STOP YOUR DARLING FEE
I laugh to myself, the first time I've done so since Mademoiselle LeFarge's wedding and the last time I saw Fee. I'm glad for her, having finally moved on from Pippa. I sigh, thinking about our old, dear Pip. She loved Felicity something fierce, and that was the only reason why she wasn't completely taken over by the Winterland's magic.
I lay back on my bed next to my packed suitcase. Yes, back to Spence, to the realms, to make the constitution that will govern all the realms, to have Christmas with all those I hold dear. I will have to go back into the Winterlands. I try to tell myself it is to see Wendy and Bessie, but my heart knows it is to see Kartik. It always goes back to him somehow.
I boarded the ship later that day, only old Mrs. Browning seeing me off. "Do have fun, dear." She says, clasping my hands in hers. "For me?"
I smiled at her. In the past months I have been in America, only Mrs. Browning was genuinely nice to me. Ever since I showed up on her doorstep, claiming I'd clean for my wages, she'd taken me under her wing. "Rent?" she'd scoffed when I brought it up. "I'm a lonely old woman, Gemma. Having some company is payment enough." I never dreamed of leaving her care. The woman had become as close to a mother that I could hope for.
"I shall." Kissing her cheek, I turned around and boarded the ship.
The boat back to England was easier than the one to America. I figure it is because I'm not so new to the whole process, but I know it is because I have something solid waiting for me; not just a pocketful of gold coins.
The boat is slow going and I've nothing to do. I lay about in my cabin, sleeping as much as possible. Sooner than it would seem, we've reached port in England.
I stumble off the boat, trying to regain my land legs. Tom is to come for me and I spot his funny hat above the crowd. "Gemma!" He shouts, sound absolutely pleased to see me. I run into his arms, glad for a familiar embrace. He pulls me back, examining for any big changes. "Quite a few more freckles." A voice behind me chuckles.
"Ann!" I turn around in a frenzy, eager to see her. Something has changed with her too, but I'm not able to point it out. Tom comes up behind her, snaking an arm around her now tiny waist. Ah…So that is what brought on this change in my Ann – my brother. She is now a woman changed by love.
Ann excuses us both and leads us to the Lady's room. "Oh, Gemma!" She is all blushes and soft words.
"My brother, again?" I quirk an eyebrow, amused by it all.
She suddenly looks worried. "Is that bad? After how I deceived him and all?" Ann's lip trembles, reminding me of a strangely similar situation.
Hastily I shake my head. "No, Ann, no. Just…" I search for the right word. "…unexpected, that's all. I truly am happy for you though."
She smiles wide enough to crack her face right open. "Good, for we are betrothed!"
I feel I should faint. Thomas Doyle! I think to myself. You have grown up a bit, haven't you? A chuckle escapes my lips before I can contain it.
"Gemma? Whatever is so funny?" Ann looks rightly put-out, thinking I'm having a laugh at her expense.
"It's just…Tom!" I fully let my laughter go now. "He's finally gotten over himself!"
She laughs along with me and I know for sure that she's a changed woman.
We ride the train into town to see Grandmamma and Papa, who is visiting from India. Already the change in his appearance and behavior is noticeable. He looks much more his old self, and I am relieved to see there is no opium anywhere in the house.
"Gemma, pet!" He hugs me tight for a few long moments. "I see you've met Ms. Bradshaw?"
I giggle a little, thinking England has made me a giddy school girl again. "Papa, I've known dear Ann ever since I started attending Spence."
"Oh, yes." He smiles, though this time there is a tinge of embarrasement hidden in it.
I hug Grandmamma close, gifting her with a bit of magic for her own. We are all together. Let it be a merry time. You will forget what Ms. Bradshaw did to Tom before, and welcome her into the family with open arms. I pull back, seeing already the smile on her face.
Ann and I stay on at the house a few more days, sharing the room I used to call mine. Three days before we were expected, we climb into the coach with Tom and begin out journey to Spence. We tell Tom of the merry times in the realms, the sad, the war that took Kartik, and of the garden. He is most interested in Kartik, strangely enough.
"Hm…I believe I met him once. Good fellow. Strong grip." My eyes tear up a the mere mention of his name, so foreign sounding on my brother's tongue. Ann pulls me to her, letting me cry on her shoulder descreetly, as she sends death looks to Tom. "Gemma, he snuck into the house a few times, did he not? I thought I heard someone in the house before all the kidnapping and such!" Tom sounds triumphant in his deductions.
"Tom…" Ann implores, gesturing to me. "Now is not the time." I hiccup against her shoulder, praying my eyes haven't gone red as a madman's. It wouldn't due for the young girls at Spence, some that would still remember me, to see me in such a state.
"Ann," I whisper against her shoulder, "when we stop we must go straight to the realms. Or I must; you can stay if you wish. Kartik can't be lost to that horrid power…he can't be!" I whispered savagely, for in my mind there was no life worth living without him.
She only nodded, silently claiming that she would come with me. Tom was all over himself apologizing, saying he was coming with me as well.
When we reached Spence, Felicity was on the lawn waiting. "To the realms, then?" She asked, already knowing the answer from seeing the tear stains on my face. "That's a good girl, Gem." She murmured, looping her arm through mine and leading me up the stairs to my old room. "We shall fix this all. Both of us will not loose our loves to the realms!"
I leaned against her. Although Pippa would always be highest in her book, Fee was my best friend. I never knew that fact better than this moment.
I joined hands with Fee and Ann, with Tom holding tight to Ann's other hand, and prayed the door of light would appear. It did. Tom gasped, his disbelief hanging in the air. I stepped through first, leading everyone behind me. Down on the river was Gorgon, lounging about the decks instead of being chained to the bow. "Most High!" she called, jumping nimbly off the boat. "Are you here to see everyone and figure out how to govern?"
"Not today, Gorgon." Tom was hiding half behind Ann and I now. "We shall return in three days time for that. Will you tell Philion and the rest?"
"Of course, Most High." She turned to leave, but I laid a hand on her arm. "Yes?"
"Gorgon, could you give us passage to the Winterlands?" My words sounded feebly to myself.
A strange softness came over her. "Of course, Most High."
The way there was familiar by now. It was still ghastly and horrid, but not as bad as the first time. Poor Tom had a hard time of it, throwing up not even ten minutes after we left on calm water. "Go below decks, Tom." I ordered him, not wanting to deal with his fragile condition at the moment. Ann went with him.
"Will you be okay?" Felicity asked, coming up beside me. "Seeing it…erm, him like that?"
"I've already seen, Fee." Tears coursed silently down my cheeks. "I went before the wedding." I turned around to face her. Fee's face was soft with compassion for me and understanding, but still just as fierce. I felt like this was a side of her Pippa had only been the one to witness. "Fee, he's a tree. And it's the saddest thing you could ever imagine."
She hugged me and wiped away my tears. "Sh, Gemma, darling Gemma."
We stayed that way the rest of the trip.
It was easier to find the spot this time, though I had never forgotten the exact number of footsteps to where he now stood. The others stood a respectful distance back, knowing I needed some time alone. Like I had with Eugenia Spence, I let myself become one with the tree.
Before me I saw Kartik. His face was joyful as he stepped forward to cover my face with light kisses. "Gemma!" It was more a prayer than anything else.
"Oh, Kartik!" I was able to gasp out before sobbing against his chest. He said nothing more, only held me tighter. I looked up at him with my tear-rimmed eyes and smiled. "I've missed you unbearably."
"As have I, Gemma." His smile was full of heartbreak. He kissed me then, fiercer than any of our other kisses before. It left my legs like jelly and my heart a bomb waiting to explode.
And then, suddenly, I was back at the base of the huge tree. Fresh tears sprang to my eyes, and I collapsed against it. Vaguely, I hear my friends and brother calling my name before the darkness overtook me.
Circe was there in the darkness with me. "You could save him, you know."
I gapped up at her, unable to find a smart retort. All that came out was, "You think I haven't already tried."
Her smile was sad and condescending. "You came close the last time you were here. Your tear, Gemma! All you must do is cry onto the bark and it will melt away! Now GO!"
I woke with a start, her words fresh in my mind. Tom kneeled next to me and fell back when I sat up. "She's alright!" He called over his shoulder to Felicity and Ann.
"Tom!" I grabbed hold of his suspenders, shaking them slightly. "I can save him. Kartik. He can be saved." I jumped up and ran over to Fee and Ann, hugging them both in a crazed frenzy. "I can save him!"
I then ran back over to the tree and thought of all my nights without him. Of the many times I woke, swearing he was there with me and then he wasn't. That was enough to bring the tears back to my eyes. I sat with my forehead against the tree and sobbed, letting my tears and magic work.
Ten or so minutes later, I heard a gasp behind me. Strong, warm arms wrapped around me, trying to still my shaking body. "Gemma?"
I looked up, hardly daring to hope that it had work.
There stood Kartik, my Kartik.