Spoilers: post-A Great & Terrible Beauty; could fit in pretty much anywhere in Rebel Angels or The Sweet Far Thing
Word Count: 2,564
Summary: My dust would hear her and beat, had I lain for a century dead. Felicity ponders many things, but mostly Pippa.
Author's Note: GOD, WRITING FEELS GOOD. I always forget. And check me out! I finally wrote AG&TB fic, and it only took like ... four or five years! High five, self. I really, really enjoyed this a lot. God, I love these books. ♥ Also, I think this is the closest thing to smutty of anything I have ever written ever. Which, granted, isn't saying much. I blame these books for, like, oozing sensuality out of their book-pores.
This was actually a response to a prompt! I know, say what? lovestories none too long ago gave me "Felicity/Pippa + vermilion + Inkspell." Here ya go, girlyfriend!
It’s much easier to fit into the tent of scarves when there are just three. Felicity doesn’t like it at all, this extra space; to make up for it, she lies down and stretches out, hates and loves the hard floor against the bumps of her spine. She puts her feet in Gemma’s lap and Gemma shoves them off, rolling her eyes and trying to make light of it, but Felicity can tell she’s in that faraway headspace, the one Felicity can’t stand, the one place she can’t go herself, can’t even follow. (Not that Felicity will ever fancy the idea of following anyone anywhere, not even Gemma Doyle, the closest thing to a rival and an other half she’s ever had.) Ann tucks herself into a corner, obedient as ever, pulls her knees up to her chest. There is a part of Felicity that wants to poke fun at her because of it. ‘Come now, Ann, you take up more room than the rest of us. Claim what’s yours, won’t you?’ Make some remark about fat, entitled old duchesses taking up all the planet space they want; something for Ann to aspire toward, or something like that. She holds the comment in, because Gemma is too good to laugh at Ann’s expense when it’s something that openly cruel. Felicity swallows down lots of remarks these days, the ones that only Pip would have laughed at. God, it’s growing tiresome.
She looks through the rich purple gauze of the scarf-wall; it moves just slightly, like a shiver, like breath. Firelight turns fabric more brilliant, and outside there are the hazy forms of their fellow Spence girls, rendered nothing more than vague shadows and the contented murmur of dozens of bright young voices blending together. She doesn’t care to pick out any of the words. It is all nonsense – all fairy stories and ribbons and true, true love. How easy it is to despise girls sometimes.
Felicity stretches with a deliberate catlike indecency, clasping her hands and pulling her arms taut over her head. It puts her breasts on fabulous display; one finger accidentally sneaks beneath Ann’s skirts and snags at her ankle. Ann blushes and pulls open her book, flipping through the pages a bit too fast. Felicity wonders at times, because it’s a bold filthy thing to think and she’s fond of bold filthy things, whether maybe they’re all just a bit in love with each other, she and Gemma and Ann. (And Pip.) For aren’t they all soulmates in a way, or at least all each other has? She thinks of first bites out of apples, the rites of spring, whiskey burning down pretty throats, kissing Gemma hard on the mouth. She thinks of Sarah Reese-Toome and Mary Dowd, blood sacrifices, kissing hard on the mouth (‘What’s a Sapphist?’ asked Pip, with her eyes so big and her lips barely parted), one going to a place where the other can’t follow.
“Ann, read aloud to us, won’t you?” Gemma says. “Since we all seem dead set on being dull tonight.”
“Speak for yourself,” Felicity retorts, lifting her foot and knocking it lightly against Gemma’s shoulder. Gemma wrenches her ankle back down. Felicity can read Gemma better than Gemma knows, or likes to know. She wants Ann to read aloud so that she can drift off right before their eyes without either of them noticing, for of course if she’s caught she’ll just claim that she’s listening. Felicity wonders what it must feel like to be chosen, to have a destiny. She wonders if you feel it in your bones, in your veins; does it crackle like desire, or is it a softer, surer thing.
Ann does as she’s told, and begins to read.
From the passionflower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
She is coming, my life, my fate.’
Felicity closes her eyes. How funny it is, that Ann’s voice should be so beautiful. Quite the cruel trick on the part of the universe. Then again, everyone’s made a bit wrong, aren’t they? Gemma’s shoulders are broad as a boy’s. Felicity may not be a great beauty but she knows how to make men want her; she has always known that. (Known it even when she was too young to know how to know it, if you ask the Admiral, but then again, wouldn’t you know, this is a subject that has yet to come up in a ballroom, at a garden party. Surely the guests would titter admiringly; oh, Admiral Worthington, what a clever man, how smart of him to get what use he could out of his headstrong little whore of a daughter who surely will never be good for much else, who curtseys well but would rather be wearing trousers and you can spot such oddities around the edges, and where’s the place for a woman like her in a world like ours. And her mother would smile her prim, lovely, breakable smile, and Polly would not lock her door at night because after a time it becomes easier, not fighting.)
It’s the wanting back that’s the problem, and maybe it’s true what mothers and headmistresses say, maybe women aren’t supposed to want anything at all, but Felicity somehow knows better. She yearns to want it back—
In the woods, pushed up against a tree and Ithal’s arms on either side of her, kissing him with a fierce angry mouth and waiting for something, anything to spark and catch fire. She recalls his rough fingers teasing their way beneath her newly laundered schoolgirl’s skirt and up the inside of her thigh, how she’d hated the touch for how unexceptional it was. Eventually he summoned a twitch or two of feeling from her, but even those she has never been able to trust. She recalls his smirk and his hand, the slick shudder and the heat, and she thinks the thing that thrilled her most of all was the knowledge that Mrs. Nightwing sat in a chair on the lawn drinking tea, that scores of little unblemished girls ran about shrieking out Marco Polo, and here she stood a hundred feet or so off, too close and infinitely far away, dirtying herself up as best she could.
She thinks of Pippa – Pippa’s hair in her fingers. (The same fingers that grasped Ithal, and he panted and squirmed like a puppy, eyes gone heavy-lidded, and she almost wanted to laugh, for what pathetic animal business it is, hardly different from milking a cow. She pities men, how simple and beastly they are. What dumb slaves to their own parts. Admiral Worthington, pride of England, true hero, decorated by the Queen herself, nothing but a gasping fool when he gets his hands on his daughter. To think the world belongs to these creatures.) Pippa, wearing only her shift, her shoulders pale and spotless, smooth to the brief accidents of touches that Felicity drops on them. Felicity remembers the exact feel of Pippa’s curls, the girlish silken touch, and how useful and ladylike her own hands felt working Pippa’s hair into a braid. They’d stay up late talking of sweet, stupid things – the night, for example, Felicity deviously brought up the mechanics of kissing, the gruesome bits that the Bronte sisters didn’t elaborate on, saliva and pushy tongues.
“It must be so horrible, mustn’t it?” Pippa asked, giggling madly. “Like big nasty slugs at battle! Oh, I can’t even imagine!”
“I think it could be divine, if you only figured out how to do it right,” Felicity replied, adoring it, always adoring this wonderful business of shocking Pippa Cross.
Sure enough, easily known as an old song: “Oh, Fee, you’re awful.”
“Here, I’ll show you—”
“Fee! Fee! Don’t you dare! Fee!” Felicity grabbed her arm and planted slobbery, dramatic kisses up the length of it, and Pippa laughed and laughed and swatted her away, squealing with horror and delight. And then Felicity made it all the way up her arm, to the perfect curve where shoulder swept up into neck, that tantalizing hollow. Without quite meaning to mean it, she rested her mouth there – kept her lips still for a moment, and cherished the stillness. Then the feeling came, swifter than any summoned thing, and Felicity did not pause to think, just moved her lips to claim the skin – cool, sweet skin, and Felicity’s tongue so hot in contrast, brushing over it like a blessing. Pippa twitched and breathed in.
Even now, she keeps that sound – the quick, delicate hitch of Pippa’s breath – and wears it inside her heart. How stupid and weak to cherish one tiny memory so much. It is things like this that make her think that, for all her faults, she must be a proper woman after all.
She thinks of that breath and turns on one side, the thunder of her heartbeat bellowing adamant in her ears, a tattoo between her legs. The floor is cold and hard beneath her back.
And the white rose weeps, "She is late",
The larkspur listens, "I hear, I hear";
And the lily whispers, "I wait."’
She imagines Pippa – and not in the realms this time, wild with her hair in tangles and her dress sliding down one shoulder, forgetting propriety by degrees. For some reason, here, now, Felicity thinks of her in one of Spence’s neat classrooms behind a desk, dressed in uniform, sitting up perfectly and pristinely straight. The chalkboard, Felicity decides, will be covered in ancient symbols, old dead languages: words that speak of women who fight and shed blood, who feel their desire so brightly that when it is sated at last it crashes in their souls like waves and stays there, illuminating them forever, making them stand taller, burn hotter. Never flinch or curtsey. This language, Felicity thinks, has no rune that means wife.
Pippa copies down each long-lost word diligently, in her loose girlish handwriting, her script that has always swooped a little too far to the right to be ideal. The ink is red instead of black; deep red, the red of bleeding.
Felicity takes her time crossing the room, and her footsteps have no sound. Pippa’s tongue darts from her mouth, stays in the corner as her brows furrow with concentration. Love explodes in Felicity’s chest, violent and stifling, so dear she could weep from it.
“What are you writing?” Felicity asks, climbing onto the desk behind Pippa’s, sitting atop it with no ceremony and no grace.
Pippa turns and smiles at her. “A story.”
Felicity knows this is not quite right – she’s only copying lines; writing stories is too free a business entirely, especially within these walls – but she cannot quite find the words to argue with.
“How does it go?” she asks instead, pulling the ribbon from Pippa’s hair and beginning to run her fingers through.
“It starts out quite sad,” Pippa says, leaning back against her. Her voice is lilting and sweet as ever, but Felicity feels it rumble in the places where their bodies meet. “And gets worse. But I believe I shall make the ending happy.”
“Of course,” Felicity snorts.
“What’s wrong with a happy ending?” Pippa demands, turning to look at Felicity, her pretty mouth put on shameless display when she pouts. (But of course, Pip knows that.)
“Some knight to rescue you at the very last moment? How very surprising. No one’ll see it coming.”
“Not a knight this time,” Pippa says decisively. “They’re rather dull once you get to know them.” Her violet eyes get warm with mischief. Her hand, stained with red ink, falls on Felicity’s knee, and traces kind, maddening circles there. “A huntress.”
Were it ever so airy a tread’)
“I would do anything to get you back,” Felicity says, tracing a fingertip down Pippa’s jaw and back up again. “To see you in this blasted tiresome room again. Gemma’s no good for passing notes during classes. LeFarge always catches her at it.”
“You liked her best for awhile,” Pippa reminds her, as sullen a little brat as ever. God, she’s perfection, even at her pettiest. Felicity will always damn Mrs. Cross for making her feel otherwise, for turning Pip – beautiful, flighty, angelic Pip – into damaged goods to be sold off before it’s too late.
“Pip—” Darling, darling Pip, she wants to say, with soft words like a poet’s or a mother’s, because Pippa deserves it and because it is true, but she’s never been any good at softening and hates that right now. “—you’ve always been best, you know it.”
Pippa just stares at her for a moment with her china doll face. Then her mouth widens into a vibrant smile.
“I know,” she says, devious giggles sneaking out. “I just wanted to make you say it.”
“Insufferable little wretch,” Felicity accuses, unable to keep from smiling; she grabs one of Pippa’s curls and tugs at it just hard enough to make her screech. Pippa grabs Felicity’s wrist in retaliation, and for all her beauty, for her every demure carefully studied perfection, she’s got a grip that’s firm and strong. Felicity’s pulse thumps, obstinate and scared as the wings of birds; Pippa doesn’t relent. She holds fast.
“God, I could kiss you ‘til I died,” Felicity says.
Were it earth in an earthy bed;
My dust would hear her and beat,
Had I lain for a century dead’)
“Come to me, then,” Pippa says, her grip gone all at once, her voice lower, everything darker. Perhaps they aren’t in the classroom anymore; perhaps they are nowhere at all. “You know where to find me.”
“I want you here,” Felicity protests, but the words sound so dreadfully weak, and here seems to have been lost along the way anyhow.
“Oh, Fee,” Pippa says, her hands too sure for this to be anything but dreaming, her fingers so soft and trailing red ink as they tease the way beneath her skirt, up the inside of her thigh, “when will you learn to want right?”
And blossom in purple and red—’
“Time for bed, girls,” Mrs. Nightwing calls, and Felicity is slapped with brutal, sudden awakeness. Ann shuts the volume of Tennyson, ugly again in her silence; Gemma sighs (without noticing, weighed down by all the secret burdens Felicity knows she must cherish, for how special they turn her). Felicity breathes in and out, in and out, but it isn’t as shaky as you’d think; the desire’s passed, and already she feels calm and hollow. Ann and Gemma are up and out of the tent; Ann steps on her foot on the way, and Felicity curses under her breath because it makes her feel more at home in herself again, as though she hadn’t gone anywhere else or begun to crumble.
“Miss Worthington, if you please,” Mrs. Nightwing nags, naught but a detached commanding voice, the closest a woman will ever come to being God.
“Come on, Fee,” Gemma says, ducking back into the tent and reaching for her arm. Felicity is suddenly tired; instead of fighting it, she allows herself to be pulled up.