Author's Notes: Fanfic of a fanfic. Gregory Maguire is awesome. Responsible, in part, for my lack of motivation for my other works.
Started April 2007. Completed August 2008.
Summary: "Caspar was always in love with Iris, from the first day he met us. He took his revenge on our family only when he learned from the Master what Margarethe had been saying of him." Numerous takes. All updates will be one-shots.
Caspar leaves the moment the Prince blathers his reply to darling Clarissa, his face contorted into an expression of fury and exasperation of these royal nobodies who can't control their woefully stupid hearts. Iris' nails dig into the fabric of her unsuitable clothing, and she's angry at herself for believing and for belonging in this scrap of a family and for wanting to belong to another. Ruth smiles in gratitude like a pig would, and Clara's eyes are—sparkly, for lack of a better word—in triumph as she looks at Iris. And Iris is painfully—Painfully—overcome with thanks: at long last, perhaps this wretched cursed girl (for magical is the only way to explain her ugliness) and her witch mother and her half-animal sister can finally fade into the negligent shadows where they were meant to stay with the other storybook cruelties.
Iris laughs at the idea of Margarethe having tea with the Girl-Boy of Rotterdam, and it sends her into small giggles that surprise everyone in room, including herself. Ruth is already looking at her, her smile already fading into a curious—sympathetic?—expression, and Iris cloaks her breach of etiquette by running up her Clara, hugging her tightly.
"I'm so happy for you; I can hardly believe it!" she gushes out, and to all the world, Iris is truly happy, so happy as to not notice anything else. Then again, all the world knows of her affection with some apprentice-boy under some unknown artist, so it negates itself out…Ironically, the Prince beams with pleasure and nods eagerly, and Iris mentally blesses his royally oblivious mind. Ruth, Iris knows, is not as stupid as she looks, however ineffectual the comparison may seem, but her sister smiles that smile again.
Iris pulls back to smile at Clara again—oh, how the air is full of rot and dimples and stench and love; she might vomit onto His Highness' shoes. Clara gazes at her first, intending with all her might to call attention to Caspar's absence, when Prince opens his mouth and tells her to hurry to the carriage, and Iris is saved.
Bless! Bless! Bless!
Only an hour after Margarethe literally runs from house proclaiming the joyous union does Iris' head begin to hurt. She tells Papa Cornelius she is sick and cannot join the congratulatory feast that night. The guests are the people of their little town—the middle-class families and their daughters who now grudgingly accept her family (as if they had a choice) and the merchants and creditors who love her family to bits (as if they cared). Papa Cornelius is so thrilled, he bids a hasty good-bye.
When Iris wakes up, it is just past sundown.
Iris marvels at her astounding acting ability; so far she has managed to hold herself up and no one suspects anything. Slowly everything returns to normal, or at least, as normal as things can be when a royal wedding is to be held in three days. Everyone has been invited except for Margarethe; she cares little for her stepdaughter's impudence—for now, at least, she has bragging rights. She has chosen to stay at the finest inn in town instead, so her exclusion means rather little. Iris wonders if her family is acting their parts for her sanity.
At night, she cannot sleep. The daily activities have kept her busy, but when she lies down in the stillness of the night, familiar dread seeps into her body—her aching body!—and comes to rest in the pit of her stomach. The pain is throbbing, and each second, an invisible knife cuts deeper and deeper into the spot just below her navel. Finally, she can stand it no longer, and in the light of her candle stub she uses all the ink that she has so carefully spared to write a long letter to her stepsister. It clears her mind a little.
She doesn't want to feel so heavy with this feeling, and so carelessly removes her nightgown, tossing it to the floor. The cold air against the warmth of bare skin soothes her, but if she happens to catch a cold and die…that shall be acceptable too. She wishes all the happiness in the world for Clara.
She is tired the next day too, after the long carriage ride, and she heads straight for the prepared bedroom immediately after the obligatory curtsies and salutations. The bed is so inviting, and the feeling of satin and silk against her arms is wonderful, but she feels betrayed when, seconds before she falls asleep, she realizes with a start she'd much rather feel Casper's kiss upon her collarbone.
The ball before the wedding is all glitter and gold; Iris in her simple—albeit more elegant than normal—gown is noticeable. When she spins, the material of her dress glitters; a courtier's smallest nudge is enough to blind the next girl over.
The courtiers have settled for second best, hoping they each stand out, enough to be chosen as the Prince's mistress. They must think, due to her ugliness, Iris is no competition. Thus, everyone is eager to be friends with her. Imagine their surprise when the Prince resumes an eager, albeit distracted (for how can any man take his eyes off the ethereal beauty?) conversation on her paintings.
Iris, at least, takes pride in that much.
Clara is there with the same concerned look in her eyes as yesterday. Iris rushes up to her when no one is looking, and curtsies.
"I need a favor, sister," she says gravely, and hands her the letter. "Take me to England."
Her Highness is naturally alarmed and does her best to be Iris' loving, beautiful voice of reason. Lord, mercy: she sounds like Iris herself, and Iris feels the urge to cry out, "Yes I will go to the ball."
By morning, her sweet words have somewhat taken effect, for although Iris can't stand to live life so stifled, she is no longer sure of England anymore. Iris is not sure of anything except that she is so dreadfully tired and she begs Her Highness for the fastest carriage to take her back home, where three days with the house all to herself will do her much good.
Clara doesn't question her, but as she privately sends Iris off, she says, "Be patient."
Iris laughs, "I've already decided not to go."
Clara doesn't return the smile. "That's not what I meant," she says.
It's raining heavily when she arrives just after sundown. Everything is drenched in the blue darkness of dusk. Iris walks into the house to light the candle stub by the entrance, but instead of going to her room as she had planned, she sets the light on the floor by the open door. Iris herself sits in the doorway, resting her head against the frame as the rain darkens the front of her glittering gown. She closes her eyes tightly, listening to the roar of the raindrops. Her hands and everything from her waist down is thoroughly drenched.
This moment is her last moment of insanity; no more wishing of things she can't have: no more painting, no more Cas—
Iris startles to life, and sees Caspar looking up at her from the bottom of the stairs.
She stops short, because he is already up the stairs, coming to stand right in front of her and grasping the sides of her arms. His wet clothing clings to his skin and rain-water runs down his hair and face. By the time she takes in his appearance, he has done the same with hers. For a long moment he can't meet her eyes, but when he does, all he can say is—
"Forgive me," he rasps out, hoarse and husky. He repeats it, pulling her in a tight hug. "Forgive me."
Iris' chest is filled with…something…that makes it hard to breathe, but despite that, she clings to his wet skin just as tightly.
The breathless feeling inside her continues even after he releases her. It occurs to her that Caspar is expecting an answer, but Iris finds it to difficult to speak.
She looks up at him through her wet locks, and pulls him inside.
The candle stub, for its part, has already burned itself out.