She does not want to be an angel. The appellation does not fit her; it feels tight and binding like an over-laced corset. She has been too many extremes too many times.
But at least this is different. It makes a change even if she does simply laugh at it awkwardly. She has been the devil to too many men for too long - and all his whores rolled into one if she is to believe what they tell her. She no longer believes what anyone tells her.
But he could be different. Surely somebody has to be. He says he loves her and she finds herself believing it. She wonders how he knows her well enough to love her; she does not think she knows herself well enough to know what she thinks. She is so afraid, both that he says it and that she believes it, her heart swallowing it so quickly she fears she will choke on it.
It is almost the first thing he says to her when he sees her in the sunlight in the field that first day –
“I thought you were an angel,” and it becomes a theme between them, my angel spoken again and again both in soft affection, a kind of self-conscious comparison of himself to her in which he finds himself wanting and in genuine devoted worship. She wishes he were less reverential, wishes he had not placed her on this pedestal from which she does not know how to step down. How can she tell him now? How can she prove him wrong without him thinking she has tricked him all along?
She never lied before now. There was never anything worth lying for. But she cannot lose this and she cannot let him see her for what she is – what the world has pronounced she is. She cannot explain now and why would he believe her any more than the law believed her in the first place?
It had taken all of her courage to go to anyone in the first place. She was not even sure if she was right in thinking that what had happened to her- what kept happening – was wrong, or different from anybody else’s experience. But it had to be. She barely had the words for what had been done to her but she told the story anyway hoping that it would change something, that any change could only be good.
They even listened to her at first. But then they had to take the Priest’s story too and who were they going to believe after all? If feeling as stupid as she did could have been the end of it she would have been grateful. But it was not the end of it. The picture the priest painted of her was one the law could not ignore. The woman who had first seduced him and then tried to blacken his name could not be forgiven and to have done the things he said she had done was an abomination against god. She had done them, yes, but it was him that had made her. She did not know how to seduce someone, not back then. She tried to tell them, even how she had cried beneath him, begged him not to every time. It only proved what an unrepentant liar she was. She had to be branded to protect the rest of the world from her wickedness.
It was the injustice that turned her to stone, injustice that stopped her from feeling the burn as she should have. Even though she had never felt a pain like it she refused to struggle, to cry out, to make even a sound, to let them avoid her eyes when they did it. Look at me, she said; Look at me when you do it.
And she could tell they were afraid of her. Her unflinching stare and her silence. She had to be made of hellfire not to flinch or cringe from the smell of her own burning flesh, but she had flinched and cringed enough for a whole lifetime. It proved once again that she was evil, of course, but it hardly mattered any more. She had come to believe it too. It had become a comfort.
And then he came and made her doubt all over again. Maybe, after all, he could see something in her that she could not; that nobody could see. Maybe there really was goodness in her after all. It seemed unlikely. It was almost terrifying, an idea that wriggled like bugs in her chest, moths beating in her throat. But she saw herself reflected in his eyes and could almost have seen herself shimmer.
She had never seen a kind of light in the world such as illuminated the air that summer and she did not see it again until sometimes she wondered if it had been there at all. She was so sure that it had been in the times when she was sure. He blew into her life on the last of the spring rains and everything was clear and clean. It was a need for this freshness that had taken her out of the city in the first place, unsure how she would live out here but desperate all the same to get away. She was tired of the city and its filth and stink and of herself, rotten and ruined within it.
She had fallen in love with the world that first day in the fields surrounding Paris, the sun and the sky and the grass and he had ridden past her like a dream, something from a story, the kind she had not really been allowed to read but had read all the same. She had never expected him to stop his horse, to turn and look back at her, to look at her like that, blinking in the sun –dear god who are you? Have I seen you before? She was barefoot in the meadow, feeling the grass like velvet between her feet. It had been the easiest thing in the world to fall in love with him, as obvious as breathing, and he told her it had been the same for him. It was as though you had been waiting there for me forever, he said – I couldn’t have just ridden past. I think, he said, you were pressed onto my heart in that very first glimpse. And if she had not felt those words echo in her own chest it would have been ridiculous, even more ridiculous than the echo itself. It felt like what she imagined coming home must feel like, as though her head belonged beneath his chin and she felt herself fitting into the hollow of his throat as neatly as though it were a place that had always been waiting for her. He said he had been looking for her all his life and that seeing her was more like recognition than something new and this too she could believe. And then too it was new and wonderful, and for the first time it felt as though the past could be forgotten and she could live and breathe in the now and the future.
But she could not forget the past. Not all the time. Not with the evidence of it seared into her shoulder, reminding her that she could never be fixed, innocent, loved. She tortured herself imagining what he would do if he saw it – when he saw it. She did not imagine she could hide it forever. She imagined cruelly to herself how he would react. He would think she had lied to him, hidden it from him on purpose, hidden everything to trick him and so she made the worst decision she later realised she could have made – she lied to him on purpose and looked for ways to trick him.
At first it was just omission. It was easy enough. She was so perfect in his eyes, so pure, he would never have dreamed of doing anything untoward before they were married. And so, in so many ways, those first weeks were the sweetest. She could not remember having smiled or even laughed so much. They were like children, finding themselves and each other and world together and it felt familiar and exquisitely new all at once; as though they had already spent one childhood together and were only now reunited after a long separation. They squinted at each other shyly in the sunlight, fingers touching in the grass with electric tenderness, sharing breathe and the gentlest of kisses as though to do more would wake them from a dream.
She could almost believe she really was as innocent as he thought she was and after all in her heart was she not after all? She had never been in love before, never felt or done any of this, never done any of the things that made her wicked willingly, whatever they had said about her. She had wondered often enough whether or not there was anything she could have done to stop those things from happening and could not think of anything nor anything she had done to make them happen either, beyond the temptation of her own beauty which she did not understand how she could help. And so it seemed to her now as though this time and the future that was offered to her was the only real choice she had been given in her life.
Of course she chose him. Of course she said yes when he asked her – nervously – he was afraid he was being too forward, too quick, but he could not do otherwise he said. And her reply had leapt excitedly in her heart before even the breathless yes! that she spoke out loud.
I’d have died if you said no he said – You’re my life, my life cannot leave me.
She wondered if the magic of the summer had thrown pollen in her eyes, stuffed her ears with dandelion seeds until she could not see or hear truly. It seemed too amazing that anyone would say a thing like that to her or to look at her the way he did. She had thought that happy ending of a delighted marriage was just a part of those stories that had sounded like fantasy but it was true and she felt like a foolish young girl on her wedding day, not caring even just how foolish it was that she could say so freely this has been the happiest day of my life!
But it was true. The perfect storybook happy ending.
So this was gonna just be a one shot but it started growing somewhat so will now be a two shot at least. I may also put the rating up later I’m not sure, I’ve been vague so far but we’ll see. Also let me know if I’ve missed any necessary trigger warnings. I like to be thorough and not upset people. :-)
Nobody ever specified how long a happy ever after should last. She would have asked herself how happy it could still be if it was only the space of a summer, but she knew the answer to that. It was happy. It was perfect. Enough to live on for the rest of her life if she had to.
And she had to.
But while it lasted, it was forever and it was seconds and it was timeless, it was the only thing that mattered. The only shade on the whole of that long blue sky was the darkness of having to lie.
There were so many truths mixed into the lies it became even harder to extricate herself. She really was afraid of her wedding night; she had come to doubt if she wanted anything like that in her life any more. But anyway she knew men, and she knew it was not an option and she loved him and when he touched her, her skin shivered and sang and felt like stardust and she thought yes - yes maybe. She feigned a shyness that was not real all the same, she said please no I don’t want to see myself, blow out the candle and he smiled at her sweetness, her innocence and did as she asked willingly enough. She hated herself for the lie and wished it could be otherwise, wished it were not that she did not want him to see her more than she did not want to see herself.
Although she did not want to see herself. Perhaps it was ironic but however much he would have hated the sight of that thing on her shoulder she doubted he could hate it more than she did. She had hurt herself enough trying to scratch it out, cried into the powder trying to make it disappear. Would she, she wondered, have had any genuine unwillingness to see herself if not for that? She could not say; her unwillingness had never prevented anything before, she could not imagine she was allowed to care one way or another. She imagined what it was would be like to be as pure, as innocent as he thought she was and yet somehow she found that she could do so well enough.
Because when he touched her it was like nobody had before, when he told her he loved her tears sprang to her eyes that were as pure as he could have wished. She believed him with an open heart that was the only good thing she imagined she had to give him back and she gave it with both hands. And she was nervous, maybe not like a real innocent, but with an innocence she could not have explained to him all the same. But he kissed her in the dark, traced her face with his fingertips, his hands so gentle and so uncertain of anything other than the instinct that drove him, the need for her that he breathed into her skin, that she felt in the more demanding press of him against her and she shook for fear that he would see, that he would know her for something terrible but she wanted him all the same, wanted it to be what he thought it was and imagined it so hard that it felt as though wanting it alone could be enough to make it true.
You’re so beautiful, he said though he could barely see – so perfect, my love, my sweet love – she swam in his whispered words and wanted to float there; but not every ounce of the guilt of being a lie would leave her. Even so it was unbearably sweet when he parted her legs, his hands only ever nudging, asking her, letting her decide how and when and if to move and she was glad again for the dark that he could not see the grateful dampness on her face. He whispered forgive me when he entered her, not as gently as he wanted to, he needed to be inside her too much, to swim in her like she swam in him and she wished she could do other than let him believe there was anything to forgive but she could not. She wondered how she could ever have been afraid, ever doubted that she wanted this when he felt so incredible, so exquisite inside her and her heart and body sang this, this is how I wish to be. She came soon after he did, crying and surprised, barely aware of what was happening; just knowing that she wanted it to happen again and for the rest of her life and with him. Suddenly being otherwise was unthinkable.
Are you alright? he said, when he touched her face and felt her tears, I’m so sorry, did I hurt you? and she laughed shaking her head, smiling and crying, no, no, you didn’t hurt me, you couldn’t, I love you. And at that moment it did not matter that he smiled back at her, she could feel his lips against her throat, and that he would never understand why she was so happy and why she had cried.
And all that summer it was beauty, walking hand in hand with lies. She knew he wanted to see her, really see her he said. But he did not mean it. He only saw her in the sunshine, saw all the ways in which she refracted the light and she felt like an illusion enchanting him. She was happy with that if he continued to look at her with the rainbows of her refractions sparkling in his eyes. They must have got in enough I love yous in those July and August months to last a lifetime. And thank goodness for it, she thought later.
Sometimes she wished that just once she did not need to make that pause, to stop him with wait, blow out the candle. Sometimes she wished for it until it bruised her heart. But for the most part she just flew when he touched her and when they lay out in the grass at night the stars were close enough to touch and she could have sworn she saw them flash by her. Sometimes she nearly convinced herself that he might understand and she half wished for the opportunity to explain, certain that he would hear and forgive her.
And then the chance came. It was the last of the warm nights and really the autumn was already well under. It was one of those strange spates of sunshine before the world surrenders itself to true winter and it had been her idea. She always remembered that later, that it had been her idea.
Come on, she said and she took his hand, laughing – just this one more time before it gets too cold and we can’t. Just this one more time. She would remember that too. He always followed where she led; he was hers then for the last time and he kissed her under the tree with the summer closing in around her, and I wish this summer would never end, he said and she replied there will be more and she had not meant to lie, she had never meant to lie. They had been on their knees in the grass, her dress around her waist and he was kissing her throat when the wind rippled the grass and the last drifts of the clouds scudded over the moon and the light came down and she was silvery in the field and she did not think at first, she looked at him and thought how beautiful, so beautiful my love with the moonlight in your eyes. She was smiling and did not realise why he had frozen, as if the moon’s light had transformed him into stone and he was staring at her for the first time with something other than that look which kept her warm in his eyes and it was too late. It was too late and she panicked and if it could have been she made it worse, pulling her dress up to cover herself but he yanked it back down, staring at her shoulder. He had never been rough to her out of anything other than lust and she felt foolishly as betrayed as he looked. He did not have to shout at her to express what she knew he saw and she knew that all he saw was the mark, black and ugly and damning on her shoulder. She doubted he even saw the scratches that had all but healed, where she had tried to scratch it off in fury and despair so many months ago, or the scar above it where she had tried to bring herself just to cut it out, better to have an injury she could make up a story for than this.
He did not see, he only saw her fall from the pedestal he had set her on so foolishly, innocently, happily, the moment he had met her. He saw her fall and crash and her crystal splinter into a thousand pieces, all of them lodging in his heart and turning him to stone after all. He did not see a girl who had never wanted to be an angel, just a whore who had lied to him and pretended to be one and she tried, tried so desperately and so incoherently to explain, to tell him everything, but he could not hear her over the sounds of her crashing down around him, too busy sweeping the pieces of her into his hands and hurling them into the wind.
It was cold, that wind. She could all but hear their voices howling within it, demanding to be let back into the paradise from which they had been thrown. She was surprised she did not go mad from hearing them bang screaming on those gates. It seemed to her as though the trees shed the last of their leaves in that instance and she blew away with them and would never be warm again. It was just the winter, settling in her heart, spreading out its tendrils and icing her through and through. After the failure of explanation and lost to the numbness she barely reacted or spoke to anyone until the day some week later when she arrived in England and someone at the docks, as cold and grey as the country, was asking her for her name.
She felt like she had not spoken since that last day of summer and that since then nothing but cold had been living inside her. She could not do other than be that cold if she was to survive a life without sunshine, she would be it then, until she could find a way to bring back those summers to come that she had spoken of. She could see her breath on the air, hear the ice in it when she replied.
“Winter, she said, numbly – “Milady de Winter.”