a/n: The Bartimaeus Trilogy belongs to the wonderful Jonathan Stroud; don't own, don't steal, enjoy.
A short fic on Nick Drew, the penultimate member of the Resistance.
According to some*, heroic deaths are admirable things. I've never been convinced by this argument, mainly because, no matter how cool, stylish, composed, unflappable, manly, or defiant you are, at the end of the day you're also dead. Which is a little too permanent for my liking.
* Generally those who don't have to do it. Politicians and writers spring to mind.
Bartimaeus - Ptolemy's Gate
He's always tried his hardest to forget the difference between cowardice and courage, Nick has.
Somehow, that line draws itself right back into his mind, and it's hardest to ignore on days like this, when the rain pounds down and they're cocooned in their anger and despair and weakness. He slumps against the age-blackened walls, sharpening his knives and silver throwing discs, and watches the children around him preparing for war.
It's clear to him that they really are just children, despite their angry eyes and nights spent in grim escape from angry, inhuman snarls. It only strengthens the faint shame that hangs in the back of his brain, but he brushes aside the thought of Kitty, Fred and Stanley's nighttime raids and steps behind the Black Dog Pub. He clears his throat, attracts attention, and talks (it's what he does best) about glorious things like revolution and fighting for their rights, and doesn't mention the sight of Eva wreathed in flames.
But he's a grown man, so when the fight begins he throws himself into the fray, trying to make up for the fact that those children are risking their lives for their ideals and he can only bring himself to risk his dignity. (And sometimes, he cannot decide which is worse.)
He walks into the shop the next morning and wears his sling like a badge of honor. Kitty notices (she always does) and it makes him both proud and wary at once.
"How?" Anne asks.
He slips almost unconsciously into casual bluster. "Got into a fight." He sips his tea and catches himself thinking of ways to make it sound a bigger deal than it really was. He shrugs the self-recrimination away. "Last night, at the meeting house behind the Black Dog Pub. Commoners' action group, so called," he sneers, ignoring how they're all just like him, but without the added teeth of his magical resilience. "I was trying to get them interested in some real positive action, told them what I thought of them. Bit of a scrap."
He pulls his face into a grimace, conscious of the others' attention to his words, and he almost smiles because he's done it again, made himself sound big and important, and it's kind of the best feeling in the world. "It's nothing."
"You idiot, Nick," Kitty contradicts him, and he scowls at both the insult and the crack in his delusions, because he knows Kitty's smart and independent enough to see through him, and he fears her (his own) judgment and finding him wanting.
They argue a bit more and he postures brilliantly, exclaiming angrily about the lack of commitment and is thankful that nobody notices he's always the one to take look-out duty.
As he walks home, collar turned up to halfheartedly ward away the gusting rain, he shudders and is thankful nobody remembers he was the one on look-out duty the day that sweet, shy little Eva was swallowed by flame, but she never even screamed, just yelled Nick's name over and over, thinking to save him but unaware that he had long fled, leaving her to die it'sallyourfaultyourfault...
He brushes the thoughts from his head and the wetness from his eyes, and keeps walking.
He's not a coward, Nick thinks fiercely to himself. He's not, he's not, he can't help reflexes. Running is natural, it's flight or fight, there's no way he could've fought that demon, of course he had to run-
He clenches his fists against his eyes, because the images of Fred and Kitty battling the monster down while Anne and old man Pennyfeather lay injured on the crypt floor won't leave his eyes. And Stanley, Stanley was dead, the first to die, it'd probably been so quick he didn't even know what was happening- but the others would've had plenty of time-
He retches against the cobblestones, watches the rain wash away the evidence of his guilt, and resolves to change himself.
He knows Kitty's alive somewhere, the papers don't mention her in the obituaries and he knows from Hopkins that the magicians are looking for her. He hopes that she's alright and that she has forgiven him.
So when he sees her in the Frog Inn, hair shorn and face set, he's glad and it makes him laugh(cry) because Kitty could shave all of her hair off and dye her skin blue, but the 'hero' branded in her eyes is an instant tip-off. He knows this because he can grow all the facial hair he wants, but it doesn't do anything to disguise the 'coward' branded in his own. He hides it and stands up to talk about glorious things like revolution and reform, and her accusatory glare does nothing to make him forget where his speeches had led Eva, Stanley, Martin (bodies on the floor).
He talks to her once before he leaves and he disgusts himself by reverting to type and trying to connive her into believing in him again, but she shakes her head and he smiles because she's finally grown up now and knows not to trust him. He's sad that she had to, but he's glad that it didn't kill her like it(he) did the others. He promises not to tell anyone she's alive and in London, and thinks that this time, he'll do the right thing.
He watches the magician Mandrake walk away in disgust, ordering the insane sick playwright to let him go and even this magician, his sworn enemy, is more honorable than he's ever been. The realization makes Nick almost sick with self-hate and regret, because he's betrayed Kitty again and by the look on Mandrake's face, Nick's pretty sure he's just doomed her to a world of pain and everything she's tried so hard to get out of. He stops struggling and the magician mutters something about "no fight left" and he wants to correct him- he has plenty of fight left, but not the kind that matters (it's only ever for himself) and he doesn't have the right to fight, not after this last crime.
So he sits, bound and defeated, feeling the demon sift through his memoriesemotionssoul. He thinks that he should've told Kitty that Fred thought she was pretty and Pennyfeather that his wife would never have wanted him to waste his life in bitterness and hate. He thinks about courage and cowardice while the demon whispers into his mind 'You are a coward, Nicholas Drew' and he silently screams I knowIknowIknow, yes he knows the difference now and the difference is him and Kitty, his greed and her selflessness.
His head hangs and he knows that even to the end he cannot summon the bravery to fight for others, that letting himself die is the easy way out and so selfish, and he should be saving Kitty instead from the disaster he has wrought. But he's a coward and a traitor, so when Nick dies, it's in the worst possible way but he doesn't mind because it's far more than he deserves.