“Corthos, lay down.” Corthos sighed deeply, laying on the bed. Merry’s fingers trailed along his shirtless back, silently tracing over scars and cuts, pushing into the muscle with enough force to make him wince. “Talk to me. Honestly. What else is going on?” He turned his head enough to speak. “I probably shouldn’t stay here overnight, Merrigold. What if your little friend -” “Vivian. She has a name, Corthos. And she’s a very dear friend.” “Fair. But what if she decides to stop by, or – for whatever reason – your sister wants to visit. Or what if I…” Merry let out a quiet hushing noise. “Vivian rarely stops by without my invitation. She knows that I don’t appreciate random visits. And if Prim decided to come by, I could just refuse to answer the door.” She hummed to herself, tracing one of the cuts. “What was this one from?” Corthos raised an eyebrow, reaching back, his hand brushing hers. He traced it, then moved his arm again. “I’m pretty certain that one was a cultist. Some spider cult. Very unfriendly towards newcomers – not a welcoming religion. They tried to sacrifice the bakery girl that Maxwell keeps bringing bread from. Three more loaves this week so far.” Merry laughed softly. “What else has happened lately, Corthos? Tell me.” Corthos sighed deeply, seeming to debate what to say. “I spoke with Sonarra Vodun.”
“Congratulations. I didn’t know you were such a fan.” Merry sounded slightly amused. Corthos laughed to himself. “Not as a fan. Sonarra and I were, um.” He paused, unsure of how to say it. “She was going to….we were engaged. Before she became a diva. Before they bought her out.” A small sound left Merry’s lips, unbidden. “Well.” There was a long and heavy silence before she spoke again. “They being the….” “Delronge.” “Ah.” She bit her lip, wanting to say something more but stopping herself. Now was not the time. She had wanted honesty, and he was giving her that. She resumed pressing into the muscle on his back. He turned his head more, speaking clearly. “She ruined me. For a long time. I was going to take my revenge, to talk to her and hurt her the same way she had hurt me, to rip her to pieces and leave her in a crying heap…but I couldn’t. I wanted to, but when I saw her, I couldn’t be that person. And she was right – my place wasn’t with her. As much as it hurt to realize, even after these years – I would never have been satisfied. But I couldn’t get the anger and revenge that I had wanted.” He sighed, and she bit her tongue. The problem with honesty was that it was simply there, words thrown between them that he had not taken the time to pick and choose. She would have to ignore the ones that stung and focus on the now. He continued. “The next day was when you arrived at the Garrison. Merrigold, I never meant to scare you. I am -” She put a finger over his lips, hushing him with a soft smile.
“Not now, Cor. Not tonight. We will not talk about that tonight. I want you to relax, to talk, to write, but not that. Please? For me?” Corthos looked down for a second, then managed a small nod. Merry stood, going to fetch tea. He felt more relaxed, old aches slowly seeming to fade away. Her voice came from the small kitchen. “So…the conversation we were having earlier.” Corthos raised an eyebrow, slowly moving to a seated position. “Which one?” She re-entered with the tea, smirking. “Before you vanished into the alleyways and sent me back to work. Where we were trying to define things.” Corthos smiled nervously, taking the tea almost as a security blanket. “What are we doing, Corthos? After all of this, what are we? Are we just….children, foolish and impulsively in love, thinking that the world can’t touch us, or is this something more?” Merry blushed slightly. “I just want to know so that we are clear and certain. I cannot keep resting on uncertainty. It was different when you and I were at the Lion – I thought it was just some game for a rich noble to play, but you continued. So what is this?” Corthos sat still for a long moment, seeming to be utterly lost. “Merrigold….” She leaned back, watching and waiting.
Corthos spoke slowly, hesitantly at first. “I had once dreamed that I would have my own family. But the revolution came, and I found a purpose that filled me, and that gave me a reason. But I realized something in the last few days….there is a time in which one can push emotion away, and a time when one needs to realize that they need it. I am not a great man – I am angry and secretive, I doubt everything that I do, and I push away those that wish only to help me. I….” He looked at her, trying to steady his gaze. “I cannot imagine the future past this revolution alone. I cannot change the world alone, and I would not want to. I am a better man when I am with you. The future that I want, that I see…” He glanced away, hands shaking. “I see you by my side. And I hesitate to say this because of the dangers that it brings to your life, and to upset your balance here, but I cannot picture a world in which I do not have you by my side. Merrigold…I have waited and tried to allow fate to lead me away, but it never has. I…..I want you as my wife, Merry. As my partner at my side. And I do not have a great fancy ring to gift you, only a sad and broken man.” He looked up at her, locking eyes. “I cannot dream of a time without you. You are all that I have wanted.”
Merry smiled, moving closer to wrap her arms around Corthos. “You claim to be a broken man, Corthos, but I can see who you are – the same as you saw past the silks and makeup to see the real me. And you are an extraordinary person. I knew that while we were at the Lion, and it’s even more true now. I don’t pretend to know the challenges that are waiting ahead, and I only know that it will become harder, but I would love nothing more than to meet them at your side as your wife.” Corthos embraced her back, his lips finding hers as they laid back on the bed. “Some sort of ring though, that would be nice. Nothing fancy.” Corthos laughed between kisses. “I will bring you a ring. Nothing ornate. Oh, but please – let me be in the room when your sister finds out. That might be the best reaction yet.” They both laughed together, Merrigold smiling wider than he had seen before. Several hours later, Corthos woke from a deep sleep, sitting straight upright next to her in the bed. You have allowed yourself to become distracted. These matters are not what you need. These are distractions. They will slow you, make you hesitant, and then you will fail each of them – one by one, they will all fall. “No.” He spoke quietly, his voice shaky. Beside him, Merry turned in her sleep, her hand finding his for a momentary grasp before she rolled away. Stand up. Without his own input, Corthos found himself standing. He felt as though he were watching something else operate his body, trapped without the controls as he stood next to the bed. He crossed to the other side of the room, hand wrapping around the head of his cane. I cannot let you be distracted. Without me, you will fail. Without these distractions, we will succeed. Corthos shuddered, trying to move his hand. It hesitated for a long moment before turning, a soft click allowing the blade to be drawn. He spoke – not out loud, but to his own mind. ‘No. I may need you, but not here and not now.’ What I do, I do for you. I act for the actions you hesitate. You cannot simply try to be rid of me – did you think that I was going to simply stand by and let you carry on with this fool’s errand?
‘I cannot let you do this. There must be a way for this to end without this violence.’
The violence is why you needed me. Do you think I have never been through this before? You will be better without the weights of your attachments. Corthos watched his hand move, drawing out the rapier, the sharp blade glinting in the dying candlelight. He stood next to the bed, looking down on Merry, the blade a heavy and familiar weight in his hand. You have already done so much. You cannot let this become your reality – we are meant for much more. Much better.
We are better. Better than this. I am what you face when you look in the mirror, Corthos. I am the only thing that can save you from the failures you will bring on yourself. I am only working to save you. This is simply a nightmare, another dark dream. This is not a simple dream. Feel the weight of your blade. With a simple thought… Corthos’ hand moved abruptly, the tip of the rapier mere inches from the neck of Merrigold. You cannot do this! I refuse to allow it! The hand moved suddenly, yanked backwards by the concentrated will of Corthos. Know this, Corthos – now and forever, they will never be able to separate you and I. La’reth and Corthos will forever be tied – you cannot simply be rid of me. I am you. I am the purpose that you lacked. I am the concentration that you missed.
I am more Corthos Mondragon than you are. I did not bring a new anger into this form, I fed on the existing anger. My wrath is yours. My bitterness, my hatred, my aggression – these things were all here when I was invited. And let us not forget that – you invited me. You invited me, and you – not I, but YOU – gave me the anger and wrath that I craved. You and I are one and the same, Corthos. The sooner that you realize that, the sooner that we can get back to our true purpose and away from this waste of -
I AM NOT YOU. This is my life, this is my mind, and I will fight for it you son of a bitch. Do you think that I do not know how to survive trials? Look into my mind and see how willing I am to fight. I will never be remembered as you are. I refuse to be that.
Then you will be forgotten.
Corthos’ hand moved quickly, one hand clamping onto his rapier even as the other grabbed at his coat. He pulled a small vial and injector from his coat, slamming it deep into his leg and pressing down, the pain forcing a rapid hiss through his teeth even as his mind began to fog. He sat himself in Merry’s bedside chair, taking a moment before pulling the syringe from his thigh. “Not today. Not again.” He stood slowly, limping as he crossed the foot of the bed to climb back in. He took Merry in his arms, and for the first time in a long, long while – Corthos felt a sense of hope.
He had missed it.