The Finality of Dreams
Disclaimer: I don't own anything, either about the book or the movie. I'm just borrowing the characters.
Rating: T, just in case
Summary: Tommy finally makes a move during their time at the Cottages. Kathy/Tommy. Movie verse.
Author's Note: Just a few things I would like to say beforehand: the structure of the story is kind of weird, and the English will probably sound odd, but I decided to tweak the language a little to better mirror Tommy's thoughts, which I think are a bit chaotic and not always structered or making sense. So, I wanted his voice to be slightly fantastical and whimsical. Also, English isn't my first language, and since I don't write in English as regularly as I used to, there will be mistakes I apologize for (i.e., all the bits of the story that aren't meant to be whimsical and purposefully toyed with. ;]). I'm setting my story before Tommy tells Kathy about the deferral, in the movie. Finally, the story isn't quite what I wanted it to be, I think it could be much better, but I hope you guys will enjoy it. Thanks for reading through this! If you like the story, please leave a review!
When you chose resignation – when you really, properly got something into your head, and never wavered from it, not even in your moments of greatest weakness – you got used to it. Coaxing thoughts might slip in between the unwavering resolution you blanketed your mind with; urging you to let go, just a little, to think on how things could have been, just for a second, pressing, begging, sweet-talking, even, at the height of their frustration, reminding you cruelly of all that you were losing, but you never gave in. You couldn't. The one thing you were missing might just be standing further down the hall, not an impossibility, as you tried to tell yourself, but wondrously real and palpable and possible. It hurt to ignore it. It tore at your heart. You could almost hear the ugly tearing sound ripping through the poor tortured flesh – in spite of all your resolution to ignore and keep moving on. But there was nothing you could do. Somewhere along the way, your life had taken a colossal turn, a turn you'd been the last to see coming, could scarcely expect, and, even knowing so little about this strange existence that'd been allotted to you, you sensed you shouldn't question it, shouldn't press further, shouldn't try to change it, so you didn't. But you wondered. Oh, you wondered. Because you had a mind, a heart. A soul. What else could you be expected to do?
He was wondering about all this today, replaying both the minute and significant events of his life, as he always tended to do, even when he was thinking about something small. It got out of hand; or maybe it was just his way. Something Tommy had never allowed to loiter close before, had somehow never felt before, was now disturbingly fixed upon him, unmovable. Something he couldn't shake off. Regret. It was a frightening thing to ponder on, something the more superficial, the more like-everyone-else part of him told him he should not dwell on. It was something as close to evil as he could imagine; something to ignore. And yet, some bigger, more vital part of him; that by far larger part of him that slept like a warm, burrowed up animal beneath him, seemed to think this was a natural thing to feel. A thing that intrinsically belonged to him. Regret was, maybe, the twin of melancholy. He wondered briefly how he would draw them both. Black, slender shapes entwining angrily, elegantly, as hand in hand as they could ever be. Eyeless, mouthless, bodyless, but throbbing like something human and warm. Warning him about something he still wasn't entirely comfortable with.
Regret. Regret had Kathy's face. The same auburn hair and the sad, pale features. The same delicate anguish that clung so perfectly to her. He'd watched her. He knew. Regret was Kathy's thoughts. Her lonely mouth. Her companionless soul. Robbed of its counterpart. Of him.
Life is a strange thing. Resolution is a strange thing, lethal, almost, when regret is not allowed in to soften it. He'd forced himself to forget. He'd managed to follow somebody else's steps and to live a life being someone the warm animal underneath him vehemently disapproved of. The same animal that roused from its lazy prostration and watched intently whenever Kathy walked by. And almost felt happy. Close-to-wagging-its-tail happy. But it also felt safe. Like it had found someone who would take care of it and understand it always. It knew. Tommy – and animal Tommy – had always been better at feeling than anything else. Sometimes they just knew things, felt them so intensely there couldn't possibly be room for anything else.
Kathy. Regret burnt and pooled and rushed heavily into every crevice of his being. Regret awakened his tears from the place where they hid. Would it be too late? Kathy, the one his path had abruptly and brutally strayed from. They used to be two quiet trees resting under the same shade. But he was cut down from her side. The tree that grew next to him wasn't quite right, somewhat crooked and unhealthy-looking. And hers remained always alone. Would it be too late? To pull Kathy to his side again. To appease the sad animal inside him that mostly slept these days. To be happy. Really happy. To know he was going the right way again.
He knew where she was, he always knew, even when it seemed like he wasn't looking. Even when it seemed like he didn't care. He wound go find her. He wasn't afraid. When something bubbled so fervently in his mind, like now, he was never afraid. There was no space for fear. And, even though he knew he had hurt Kathy, the animal inside him felt she wanted him too. That was why she was sad. Because she wanted to be with him and couldn't. Because she missed the tree standing by her side.
He wanted to burst from the ground, to stand near her again. He wanted to feel Kathy's reassuring touch, her small hand on his shoulder, on his hair. He wanted to put his lips to her quivering, sorrowful mouth. He wanted to do things with her they'd never dreamt about when they were children – things he'd only recently, somewhat bewilderingly, discovered, and which she didn't seem to know at all. It made him warm inside to think of sharing all this with Kathy. Like they were meant to. Like they could have, before, if life and resignation hadn't taken him away from her, without allowing regret inside.
The sky was pure white overhead, but, lower in the horizon, far away, pockets of sad grey enveloped houses and farms and framed the fields like streaks of paint. Tommy felt strangely light, noticing with joyful wonder the spring in his step. The air smelled cold and of something else, the unique scent that promised more snow later on.
Kathy was sitting – hiding? – in the barn, like she usually did, not doing anything, but looking like she was occupied nevertheless. Her thoughts bled clearly into her eyes, he'd noticed that, even when she was a child. She was thinking, now, and the fact that she wasn't doing anything physical didn't matter.
"Hey," he said softly, guessing that, engrossed as she seemed – and sad – she might be startled by his sudden appearance.
She looked up suddenly, surprised, and something briefly touched her eyes. He couldn't quite pinpoint what it was. It was a bit like she was upset – like she didn't quite know what to do with him there. He tried not to feel saddened. He certainly wouldn't allow himself to be discouraged. It was a big thing, what he was trying to do, piece back together what had been broken before, rearrange his and Kathy's lives.
"Hi," she said at length, and she got up. Her boots were stained with humidity, her hair flapped under her woollen cap to her shoulders, shining finely in tones of yellow and red even in the gloom.
Out of the blue, it was like someone had stolen the words from under his tongue, and he stood there, speechless, tongueless, in a state of both panic and bliss.
"Do you want to go for a walk?" he asked, still softly, for that was the way his voice always was whenever he spoke to Kathy.
She hesitated, staring at him with her wounded eyes, piercing through him, as though searching for the motive that had propelled this invitation. Kathy was like this now. He felt guilt biting fiercely at his heart; it was his fault. He'd made her like this.
"All right," she replied eventually, and something seemed to cross her gaze again. Something gentler, softer, mingling melancholy with something else. She didn't smile, but that look in her eyes was as good as one. She stared at him for a second, the gentleness taking over her whole gaze again, stretching on to bathe her face. He had a glimpse of awe he'd never seen in her before, and which he sensed he would only ever see aimed at himself. His chest inflated with pride and something else, something that threatened to burst from him, that made his heart tiny and swell to unheard of proportions at the same time. An anguish that felt tender instead of painful. Unspeakably tender. In that silent moment, they shared more than they had in years, hinted mutely at what words would be charged with conveying, in a little while. For just one second, it seemed like it would be enough. It seemed like it was all it took to make him happy. But regret is perpetually discontented, and his particular regret had waited long enough, had repressed enough. It would not be ignored. It would not settle merely for this.
Their steps crunched in the snow, filling the silent air. Kathy narrowed her eyes and blinked at the bright winter light, after so long inside the dim barn. As always, they didn't need to speak. Silence was like an extension of their skin. Easy to breathe in, to walk around, to live amongst. The silence between them wasn't awkward like with some other people, but a chance to test what was yet to be said, something both gentle and monumental. But above all, easy. Even these days, it wasn't like something that should be broken at once.
They walked towards a bare tree, its stripped branches draped in glistening, immaculate snow. It had fallen so delicately it seemed like lace left forgotten on top of the tree, wrapped in a clinging embrace around the thin, bereft branches.
Kathy seemed to be observing the panorama somewhat absent-mindedly, lost in a cloud of thought that somehow was never too far away from his reach. She looked comfortable – not like she wished to be somewhere else. He watched her and felt that something had gone from her with the passing of the years. She retained the same pensiveness she had as a child, the breakable sensitivity she'd learnt to keep firmly under wraps – or which perhaps had hardened with time. But her eyes were now evasive and absent whenever she looked or talked to somebody, without that unshakeable softness that never missed a thing and never refused a look of times past. Yes, life – he – had been unfair to Kathy. Life had thrown knives at her, and he had handed life those knives, whilst regret had merely tiptoed around him, cajoling, wanting to be let in. A much too gentle presence. He didn't deserve it – Kathy had. Kathy still did. He would make it right. He had to. It couldn't be too late to try, could it? Surely he wasn't beyond saving things?
"Everything's so peaceful in the winter," he spoke somewhat haphazardly, with his eyes fixed on the horizon ahead, like Kathy.
"Yes," she replied, in a soft, almost awed voice.
Silence fell over them again, draped them gently like the snow on that tree. He wondered how much time he should allow to pass, even though he barely had to, for standing next to Kathy, watching the pallid horizon, with the wings of the odd bird whirling like little grey comas up ahead, was something he didn't want to interrupt, something that was good for his soul. So he simply stood there, by her side, her silence attuned to his, ragged tendrils of breath puffing out of their parted lips every once in a while.
"Kathy," he said at length, without looking at her. "Could... could we talk for a minute?" He then turned his head to look at her. Kathy was already staring at him, and the features she now arranged carefully could not mask her surprise. Did she guess at what was simmering beneath the surface, what he'd been struggling to restrain and was now about to let out? Or did she merely see the same old gangly awkwardness, the words that did not come out quite as they should, the secrets that he'd taken to keeping from her? Did she see normality? Or did she sense the impending change?
"Okay," she replied, her eyes not leaving his face. She paused, seeming to be struggling for words, but, much to his pleasure, still did not drop her gaze from his. Instead, she was now studying him, her gaze flitting discreetly over his face. "Is everything all right?"
"Oh, yeah, yeah," he assured her at once, trying to be, for the last time, the fairly composed, heinous Tommy he'd been for the past few years, and attempting to keep the stammer out of his voice.
She said nothing, merely staring at him, waiting, a flicker of something crossing her eyes, something wet and quivering and vulnerable, something that looked like anticipation. His heart began to race.
For a second, all the words were jumbled. He could see their shapes, the glare of their colours, the way they aggressively pushed up against him, but he could not straighten them out, one by one, in order to speak them. He could see everything in front of him, everything he had always wanted to say, flashing violently past him like the blur of a million wings, the last second of life before death, before jumping into the abyss. Adrenaline shot into his body and straight into his heart, and it was like something in that misused organ of his became less broken.
He waited, breathing, in a state of fear and exhilaration, to drop the skin he had grown into and go back to being himself. Go naked. Raw. For Kathy. For the only person that had ever mattered and would always matter. He would endure a million bruises, the flatness of his blood marring his skin for her. Because she saw it. And she understood why he did it. And she didn't push him away; but she also tried to soothe the bruising and to wipe the blood away. He looked into her doubtful, expectant eyes, and he knew she would still do it now. She was just waiting for a chance. Just waiting for him.
"Kathy," he began, at last, the first few innocuous words that would shape the most momentous event of his entire life, "do you ever think about the past?"
"In what way?" she rejoined, quietly, safely.
"About..." He looked back at the horizon, unable to look at her face, emotion and nerves crushing him to the very core. "About us?" He all but whispered the word, with the boyish hesitancy of his 12-year-old self.
He dared not turn his face; it was a disservice to Kathy, right now, in this moment of so much importance, but he couldn't; he felt both sick and painfully alive, throbbing and wired to the very last nerve. But he could see, out of the corner of his eye, that Kathy was staring at him, staring and not looking away; he could feel her eyes probing insistently; maybe she was seized by the same eager anguish as him.
"About us?" her voice trembled. "What do you mean?"
He turned round abruptly, unable to hold it in anymore. His eyes poured straight into hers. "About what we used to be. Before. We were right for each other. Weren't we?" He paused, by forces he did not know, even though he had no wish to. Kathy was staring at him, taken aback, almost distressed, moist-eyed. Her shoulders were hunched and her figure seemed small and helpless, as though the shock had been too much for her to take. "I loved you, you know?" he continued on, abruptly. He stared ahead. "And I think you loved me too. And I know that things changed... but I know that was also my fault. I shouldn't have let— I tried not to think about it afterwards. I think because you were always here, close to me... I suppose it hurt less. But I could never stop feeling guilty. I could never help getting the feeling that I had ruined our lives. But I didn't know how to do anything about it. Until today." He turned his head to stare at her, and he could all but feel her shiver crawling across his own body.
The silence was now sharp and loaded, almost unbearably so, laden with secrets and regrets. The very air seemed heavier; he could not look at the trees and the snow and the sky the same way again. They already looked different. His heart began to thrum in his chest. Now it was up to her. He waited. Would she say something? Were his hopes entirely misplaced after all this time? Was she too hurt to try anything anymore? Would she turn him down? A pang of ice struck him.
"Yes," she murmured then, her voice husky, fading. "Yes, I did love you."
He turned to face her hastily, awe making his mouth all but hang open, softening his gaze.
"You did?" he breathed, as though he were considering that suspicion for the very first time.
She looked away, a sadness that turned his heart etched upon her face.
"Kathy, I'm so, truly sorry. I—"
"What are you trying to say now, Tommy?" she asked, turning to him again. She did not sound angry, but she did not sound entirely patient either, much less trusting. Her eyes were pools of sorrow shackled to his.
"That I love you. That I've always loved you. That I want to put things right again. It should have been us, leaving Hailsham together. It's where we belong, together. It's what I've always wanted. Even when I was with Ruth—" He paused all of a sudden, seeing Kathy's eyes widen slightly in horror and filling with yet more pain. "I'm so sorry," he whispered, leaning close to her, and gently grasping her arms. It seemed to fit, hovering above her, so close to her.
She looked up at him with that bruised, wavering gaze he'd grown so used to, for the worst reasons, and he saw a silent tear roll down her face. It glistened there, on her cheek, with a crystal spark. Gently, slowly, pouring all the repressed sweetness towards her in the gesture, he wiped the tear from her face with his thumb. He leaned closer to her, his head almost touching hers, and tried to smile.
"I promise," he whispered, and it was his heart, the animal inside him that spoke. "I promise I'll never make you cry again."
To his amazement, the fleeting shadow of a smile flitted across her lips; she looked up at him, and her eyes were childlike in a way that both touched and pained him. They seemed slightly more trusting, but also pleading, as if begging him not to hurt her.
"I want to make up for the lost time," he went on, slightly more forcefully as the truth of his feelings weighed down on him yet again. "It's you I want to be with. For as long as we've got left – I want us to be together. No more wasting time." He stared earnestly into her eyes.
The tears were trickling down her cheeks to the full now, silent, as she gazed up at him with sorrow and wonder and love.
"You really mean it," she breathed. It wasn't quite a question, but it demanded confirmation.
He nodded briefly. "I mean it," he echoed, his voice no more than a whisper, pressing his forehead against hers. He infused that gesture with everything he had in him, everything he was and had ever been, his dreams, his hopes, his dark, violent loss of control that only she had ever been able to look in the eye and tame, his anguish and his doubts, and his pain, when he felt the most lonely in his life, as if there was absolutely nothing in this world for him. They were hers. They disappeared because of her. She closed her eyes, a delicate, almost reverent gesture, and he saw something of the same exquisite joy he was feeling for finally holding her in his arms like this mirrored in her features.
A biting gust of wind blew past them, throwing them off balance, making them cling harder to each other. This sudden helpless, urgent contact kindled something inside him – inside both of them – that somehow, throughout the conversation, throughout the thunderous storm of his emotions, had not been there. Not quite like this. Slowly, tenderly, he cradled Kathy's pale face in his cold hands, plunging loving eyes into hers, and leaned forward. She did not try to pull back. She stared back at him, awed and fascinated and a little breathless – nervous?
He had been waiting for this moment all his life. Before he was born. Before he knew he wanted to be alive – before he knew he would be born. Could Kathy feel that way also? He thought so, but he couldn't be sure – he could no longer have any certainties about Kathy's feelings, after everything, he did not allow himself any smugness. He would spend the next few years, or the rest of his life, trying to make good by her, making up to her, and he did not mind it at all. He looked forward to it.
He leaned a little closer, closing the distance between them another one or two inches. She stared at him wide-eyed, her lips slightly parted. He remembered suddenly – would this be Kathy's first kiss? All seemed to point that way, and there was nothing else that made his heart sing like this, but he didn't really know what she'd been up to these past few months in the Cottages. Could she, those times when he didn't see her around, be with someone else? Drowning her sorrows in someone else? Finding sweetness in another, practising the elusive gestures of love he had mechanically taken for granted with Ruth with someone he couldn't imagine? A faceless someone, whom he already loathed with a burning hatred.
But Kathy's expression told him otherwise. Her gaze softened and shyly, instinctively, she gazed downwards. He tilted her chin up and forced her to look at him. He didn't want her to run away from this. He wanted her to see him, and to remember. He wanted her to feel the same way he did.
Gently, with a feather-like touch, his lips brushed hers. He still had one hand cradling her face, keeping her close – he found it impossible to bear any distance between the two of them now. The kiss seemed to be older than themselves, containing all the anticipation and longing, the stagnant passion, the old, familiar love. Her mouth was like cold silk – in it he found a sweetness he had never known before. Kissing Ruth was like stumbling through a dark room.
She pulled away just an inch, overwhelmed and bathed in a glow that almost made his heart stop beating with happiness. It was she who leaned forward again – coyly, waiting for him to close the infinitesimal distance and kiss her. His fingers tangled in her hair and, smiling, and seeing his smile mirrored by her, he pulled her close and kissed her once more.
It was a longer kiss, although still chaste, childishly tentative. He could taste her unequivocal inexperience by now, but that only made him jubilant. Their mouths clung to each other, probing shyly, tasting and trying each other. His lips and his face became warm, the kind of warmth that turns the skin pink, in spite of the bitter cold surrounding them. Her cool breath mingled with his, caressing his sensitive flesh, eliciting a rush of desire and adoration. Slowly, his warm tongue touched her mouth, asking for permission, wanting to deepen the kiss. At once, her lips parted slightly, and her timid tongue uncurled to meet his. Tip on tip, warm, wet and expectant. Without him noticing it, his hands flattened on the small of her back and he brought her closer to him, crushing her body to his. Hesitation no longer flowed from Kathy; her thin arms wound around his neck, her fingers – their touch eerily similar to that of her 12-year-old self – knotted through his dishevelled hair. Warmth spread and glowed in his belly.
They had both lived for this; from the moment they met, each breath that left their lungs, each word, each morning that rose to meet them in their beds, had led to this. Nothing else had mattered, nothing else registered in their minds. And, as he felt the full extent of Kathy's longing bleeding into him, the animal inside him stretched, roared all his might to the unaware world and cried. Cried because it had finally got what it wanted. Kathy. His Kathy. No longer to be seen from a distance, but standing with him now.
When they pulled away – how long had it been? The world had to have changed – Kathy's face was wet. Tears showered her cheeks, pooled glistening in her eyes, and the look on her face shattered his heart, defied words to describe it even in the years to come, but she smiled, and her joy radiated upwards to clear her eyes and face.
He wanted to smile too, but strangely, he could not. There was only one thing burning on his tongue, fighting and writhing to be released from him. Something he could never tire of saying. Something she would always have to hear.
"I love you," he whispered. The next words were boyish and simple, monumental and unfazed. "I will love you for the rest of my life."
"I love you too," she said. In her earnest voice, graver than her years, and slightly raspy with crying. "Always." That said it all. It encapsulated the past and the present. And everything that was to come.
Their fate seemed, all of a sudden, inconsequential. What was the mortality that expected them when they felt they had an endless future stretching out before them? Nothing could touch them; the world and the people in it seemed petty for trying. Nothing; no matter how incomplete they became, how weak, slowly caving in to something they couldn't imagine, could separate them. The whole universe was blissfully and wholly theirs. There was no space for anything else.
"I'll tell Ruth," he vowed quietly. "We won't be apart anymore. I promise."
Together, they looked towards the horizon, no longer the same, finding the same change in the milky sky. Silent; their bliss was too profound and otherworldly. But they didn't need to speak, either. Because the silence between them was and would always be natural.
After a moment, they began to turn around. They walked away, back towards the house, their lean figures, weighed down by layers of clothing, moving nimbly through the crusty snow. They held hands; the sun, were it shining, would have cast shadows before and behind them as they walked.
In the distance, close to a neighbouring farm, unseen by their awed, love-filled eyes, two ancient trees, too large and old for anything to be made of them, rested side by side, their naked branches entwined.