Written for Mallory as part of the "while we tell of yuletide treasures" obscure fandoms secret santa project (2009).|
"Something Final and Infallible"
by Beth H.
(c) December 2009
"He had come to the hollow basin of snow, surrounded by sheer slopes and precipices, out of which rose a track that brought one to the top of the mountain. But he wandered unconsciously, till he slipped and fell down, and as he fell something broke in his soul, and immediately he went to sleep." 
Gudrun said her goodbyes as she boarded her train for Dresden, then added, rather contemptuously it seemed, that she was quite pleased for Ursula's sake that Rupert was so extremely good at looking after other people.
Of Gerald - to whom, against all odds, life still clung tenaciously - she spoke not a word, as if her silence where his continued existence was concerned might cause him, finally, to vanish entirely from the face of the earth.
Gerald had been so very still when he was brought in - his skin a strange, translucent blue and the tips of his blond hair transformed into small, perfectly-formed icicles - that Ursula burst into tears immediately upon seeing him. Even Herr Doktor Eberstark, native to the region and no stranger to such sights, looked sorrowfully upon the English visitor's pale face and wore an expression best suited to an official about to make a pronouncement of death. Rupert, however, utterly refused to submit to the inevitable and so, through sheer force of will, it seemed, brought Gerald back from the brink.
But where had he brought him to, that was the question. Gerald still breathed, his heart still beat, but he had yet to regain consciousness, and there was no way for either Ursula or Rupert to know when or if Gerald would truly come back to them, or - if he did return - whether he would be entirely himself.
All the necessary arrangements were made, as Gudrun might have predicted, by Rupert himself. He hired a motor car suitable for transporting Gerald to the town of Mayrhofen and took a set of rooms for the three of them at the Alpenhotel Kramerwirt.
"It's all quite lovely, Rupert," said Ursula quietly as they settled in. All day she'd been feeling a kind of wrongness at the thought of speaking too loudly and disturbing Gerald's rest, although she suspected, a bit fearfully, that there was little chance of disturbing him into wakefulness.
"Mmm, yes, I suppose it is," Rupert replied distractedly, aware only at the most subterranean level of his consciousness of the effort it would have taken to wrest his attention away from Gerald for even so brief a time sufficient to make a proper reply. He could sense Ursula's growing restlessness, knew she must be chaffing at how very little of his attention was on her. It was all quite impossible, however. Rupert found himself powerless against what he imagined was something akin to an odd gravitational force, one which, even now, was drawing him to Gerald's side.
A pattern for the coming days was set early on, quite without discussion. Each morning, Ursula set forth alone to explore the town, while Rupert settled in Gerald's room, making certain the curtains were drawn against the too-bright white glare of the snow-capped mountains. He sat on a walnut-stained wooden chair, which he'd liberated the very first day from the front room. The chair was upholstered in a rather old-fashioned paisley fabric and was not particularly comfortable, but it served its purpose. First thing each morning, Rupert quite deliberately placed it beside Gerald's bed at an angle from which it was all but impossible to look upon his friend's pale and lifeless face. The positioning was, however, quite convenient for taking Gerald's hand in his own. The protective manner in which Rupert found himself holding his friend's hand was something to which he had been, until quite recently, wholly unaccustomed. Rupert read aloud: newspapers from Salzburg, slim volumes of poetry by unknown poets, letters from Basil enumerating all the most minute details pertaining to the state of the colliery, each ending with a rather vague line or two about how their mother was faring.
Sometimes, Basil's letters contained gifts from Winifred, small watercolours slipped between the pages of the letter, sent along to brighten Gerald's sick room. When Ursula first saw them, she wondered whether it might be rather a shock if Gerald were to awaken and find himself amidst art created, at least in some fashion, under Gudrun's tutelage. Rupert, however, was reasonably certain that it was not as an artist that Gerald would ever remember Gudrun, and so Ursula lined the paintings up along the walls, surrounding the sickbed with a sort of familiar menagerie made up of rabbits and cows and the occasional hedgehog.
Gerald was not, they believed, entirely insensible to his surroundings. He moved restlessly on occasion, but appeared to find reassurance in the touch of their hands as they freed him from the resulting tangle of bed clothes. When he was agitated by fever or bad dreams, the sound of their voices speaking softly together calmed him. Yet Gerald would still not awaken - -
- - until one morning, just after eight.
Ursula had ventured out early in search of apfelstrudel, and Rupert found himself - quite against his will, it felt - turning slowly to face Gerald for the first time since their party had arrived in Mayrhofen.
"I suppose I had hoped that you might be the one man to stay forever by my side," Rupert uttered, a bit coldly. "However, this was not at all what I had in mind."
There was, of course, no reply. There his friend lay, pale and still and silent as the grave, and Rupert could not bear Gerald's stubborn intransigence for one moment longer. He drew back his hand, knowing he must strike Gerald or all would be lost between them, finally and irrevocably, but when the moment of impact came, as it had threatened to do for so long a time, It was, unexpectedly, in the form of a kiss.
This was no simple kiss of friendship, though, nor was it the more complex kiss shared by blood brothers, although the unspoken vow that declared itself within Rupert's heart at the precise instant he pressed his lips against Gerald's was no less powerful than the vow of Blutbruderschaft. Instead, as his mouth clung desperately to Gerald's cold lips, he suddenly recognized that this was a kiss born both of intimacy and of passion, no more and no less so than those which he and Ursula shared - and all at once, Rupert knew it was not an "additional perfect relationship" with a man he'd sought for so long, but rather a single eternal union with both a man and a woman.
Rupert, his despairing thoughts focused on the certain knowledge that such a union was and would always be quite beyond his grasp, was unsure what it was that caused him to draw back at that very instant from Gerald's bed. Surprisingly, the least likely explanation for his sudden movement was Ursula's cheerful greeting as she returned from the bakery, pastries in hand, for it was not some weak fear of what she might read in his expression that caused Rupert any true consternation. The far more likely explanation for his recoil was the alarmed expression in Gerald's wide-opened eyes. It appeared that like the famous young girl in the old tale, Gerald, too, had come back to life upon receiving a kiss.
It was, Ursula thought as she poured two small cups of coffee, all a bit much to be believed. Rupert had practically held vigil at Gerald's bedside for the greater part of a month, and the moment Gerald awoke, Rupert suddenly had business he needed to attend to? Impossible. If Rupert had any business at all, it was right there in the Alpenhotel Kramerwirt with the two of them, but as one day passed and then the next, Ursula began to wonder whether Rupert had simply seized a last opportunity for freedom, if not from her, then from whatever imprisoning bond he'd suddenly imagined existed between himself and Gerald.
Or rather, not "imagined" at all, for the connection between the two men was so strong as to be almost visible to Ursula; it existed so viscerally that it seemed impossible that she'd never quite felt its intrinsic power before. How odd it would be, she thought, if it turned out that Rupert had fled, as he appeared to have done, from a sort of fear that this bond between the two men would somehow try to hold him captive; one might as well resent the forces of gravity for holding one to the surface of the earth.
Whatever the case, though, Rupert's departure had left Gerald's further recovery almost entirely in Ursula's hands. At first, she'd felt uncertain whether she was quite suited to assuming even the temporary management of a Crich, no matter how fond she'd grown of him recently, but after all, somebody must.
For two days, he had drifted in and out of consciousness, with increasingly longer periods of lucidity, but on the third day, Gerald appeared completely awake, if not yet inclined to speak. Ursula helped him to sit, propping him up with the pillows she and Rupert had shared.
"Shall I see to your correspondence then?" Ursula asked, indicating the letters stacked up on the walnut desk against the far wall.
She hadn't expected an answer and in this Gerald didn't disappoint, but a sudden overwhelming need for some occupation, some activity, had come over her, and it was useless to fight against it. She could feel his eyes upon her as she sat at the desk and replied on his behalf to long unanswered letters, writing notes full of commonplaces which gave nothing away. Every now and again, she turned her attention back to him and read aloud sections of these letters that would be sent under his name, asking whether he thought she should include this comment or that anecdote. Once or twice, Gerald looked as if he might reply, but each time he remained silent. Ursula was answering the last letter when Gerald cleared his throat.
Ursula rose from the walnut desk and sat beside Gerald's bed in the chair Rupert had considered his, but a moment passed, and then another, before Gerald spoke again.
"I'm sorry," he repeated hoarsely, his head turned away and his eyes closed tightly, as if he might, by these means, somehow keep the sound of his voice from reaching his own ears.
Ursula frowned, then turned the chair to face the bed head on. She slid one of Gerald's still cool hands between her own warm ones as she had seen Rupert do a dozen times or more. "Oh Gerald, you needn't apologize for - "
He grasped her hand, and the desperation in those clutching fingers silenced her. "For your sister," he said, his grip tightening. "I'm...sorry she's dead. I never meant to murder her."
Ursula drew back imperceptibly and thought how ridiculous his protest was. But of course he'd meant to do it, she thought impatiently. However little he might wish Gudrun's death to be a hard, cold fact at this moment, his desire to see her dead that day could hardly be in question. Ursula couldn't help but sympathize in a way, though it was quite monstrous to feel so. Gudrun did make one murderous at times, and of course, Gerald hadn't actually completed the deed. In fact, he'd come far closer to killing himself, when one looked at it all rationally.
However, neither Gerald, nor Rupert appeared capable of looking at anything rationally these days, so by a process of elimination, it seemed that the responsibility for that particular task had fallen to Ursula. Life would be far simpler if only men weren't so horribly emotional at all the worst moments.
She placed her hand on Gerald's damp brow, and he took a deep, tremulous breath before leaning into her touch. Surely, Ursula thought, everything could be solved much more easily if she and Rupert simply kept Gerald with them.
Rupert stood silently, watching as Ursula lay her hands on both sides of Gerald's face, then slowly drew him closer for a kiss.
His heart beat violently in his chest as he watched them from the doorway, yet he felt no hatred towards either Gerald or Ursula. He had thought he might have hated them. He had imagined, once, what it would be like to see them united, to see them together with no thought for his existence, and he'd thought he might despise them, if only just a bit, but this was no betrayal. This was, in truth, what he most desired.
Rupert stepped forward, his hands open wide.
"And so, you see, we have sorted everything out between ourselves, Gerald and I, whilst you were away," said Ursula looking calmly at her husband, an uncommon note of certainty in her voice.