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MareCal One Shots

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Cal tried to focus on the roughly drawn map spread across his knees as he balanced precariously on an upturned crate, alone in his room.  A far cry from the elaborate maps and grand war councils he was used to for planning battle.  But Cal barely noticed his surroundings, hoping that if he stared at the map long enough he would see something he had missed.  Find a way to somehow turn this suicide mission Mare was determined to send them on into a success.  Mare. 

Once again, his mind involuntarily turned towards the pack tucked in the corner.  To the letters in there that Mare took out to read every night while she laid in his arms. When she thought he was asleep.  Letters his brother- no he had to think of him as Maven now, not his brother- had written to her.

Letters Mare didn’t- or couldn’t- destroy, that she kept squirreled away and hoarded like rare treasures.  Cal wasn’t even supposed to know they existed, Mare had never even mentioned them to him.  The only time they left her supply box was when she assumed he was asleep. But he never really slept.  

Not anymore.  The memories of his nightmares drove even exhaustion away.

Instead, Cal silently watched her re-read the letters each night, her slight frame shaking, tears in her eyes. And every morning he wondered if this was the day she would tell him about them.  Confide in him. 

But she never did.  

Sometimes he imagined what would happen if he confronted her, demanded to know why she kept the letters written in Maven’s elegant script. What they really meant to her.  Why she seemed unable to let go of this physical representation of the boy she claimed to despise.

But he was a coward, so he said nothing. Allowing them to continue the strange game they played, one where she held all the cards.  

She might share his bed, seek out physical comfort in his arms, but he couldn’t help worrying that the letters meant her heart belonged to someone else.  And if Maven didn’t hold her heart, he was certainly in her head.  

Cal was more than curious what Maven wrote in those letters, but balked at invading Mare’s privacy and reading them himself.  There was obviously a reason she didn’t want him to, and at the end of the day, he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know the truth.

He still vividly remembered the moment he interrupted Mare and his brother on the deck of a boat.  That kiss sometimes played out in his nightmares, Mare turning into his brother’s Red Queen as she pulled back to smirk at him.

Enough of his nightmares were already his reality, he didn’t need to know if this one was as well.  And as pathetic as it sounded, if a physical connection hidden in the dark was all Mare was able to offer him, he would take it.  Anything to not lose her completely.  She was the one light left in his life, and the more time they spent together, the more he needed her.  In a way he had never needed anyone or anything before.  The way flame needs oxygen to ignite, useless without it.

And Cal hated himself for it.  Especially knowing that Mare didn’t feel close to the same, that she would never burn for him the way he did for her.  That he was just a convenient distraction. And yet here he was, unable to leave.  Unable to leave her. 

And now he wouldn’t even be able to save her.  Especially not from herself.

Shaking his head, he forced his thoughts back to the prison layout in his lap, knowing time was running out.  It was a testament to his control that the fire remained contained in the dip in the floor rather than singing the edges of the only map he had at his disposal. 

Suddenly he felt a hum in the air, a slight change in electricity that always seemed to appear when Mare was in the same room.  He barely heard Mare enter, her steps almost silent, testimony to the stealthy thief she had once been in the Stilts.  

They were almost never alone during the day, mostly by Mare’s design, so Cal didn’t know what to make of her being here. How he was supposed to act.  Deciding to wait for Mare to make the first move, Cal continued to squint at the map.  Mare pulled a crate over next to his, before lightly bumping his shoulder with hers.  Instinctively, his hand fell on her knew to pull her closer, needing to touch her.  Needing her to be close.  

But he kept his eyes focused down on his lap, needing a few more minutes to collect his mask.  To hide how he felt.  How much he wanted and needed her. Not just her body, but her heart and soul. How terrified he was at the possibility of losing her.  To death, which constantly stalked them.  Or worse to Maven…

But that’s not what Mare wanted from him.  Not who she wanted him to be.  He was the distraction, after all.

Still, he didn't loosen his grip on her leg.  And he took the fact that she didn't push him away as a good sign.  

“What’s wrong now?” Mare asked in a low voice, casually laying her head on his shoulder.

“Besides Maven, his mother, the fact that I hate rabbit, and the layout of this hellhole of a prison? Nothing at all, thanks for asking,” Cal quipped.

All three were truly contributing to his frustration, some much more so than others.  But Cal didn’t want to talk about Maven.  Or the letters. Not really. 

Cal expected Mare to at least crack a smile, but she barely reacted.  Maybe he needed to get some better material from Kilorn. He always seemed to know how to make Mare laugh.

“Cameron’s doing better if that helps any,” she offered, leaning further into him. 

Not good enough to get them all out of this alive, Cal thought.  Not good enough to keep Mare safe. And as the minutes ticked down, he found that was all that mattered.

“Really,” he asked skeptically.  “Is that why you’re here and not training her anymore?”

“She needs to eat, Cal.  She’s not a block of Silence Stone.” 

“Don’t remind me,” he hissed.  Thinking how much easier it would be if she was, instead of an onerous teenager.  At least a block wouldn’t talk back half as much.

Cal glared harder at the outline of the prison, his mind turning back to the battle at hand.  They only had Cameron, and Corros had hundreds of slabs of Silent Stone.

Who has the advantage? 

Cal knew the answer, and he had to find a way to change it.

“It’s in the cells alone, Cal not the rest of the prison,” Mare reminded Cal, knowing somehow where his thoughts had gone.  “We’ll be fine as long as no one locks us in.”

Cal decided they couldn’t quite rule that out, given their track record of being locked in cells.  The most recent time, by her best friend.  

Even though he and Kilorn had made their peace, had entered into an uneasy truce, Cal still felt a pang of jealousy.  Even if Kilorn and Mare’s relationship was a bit bumpy right now, at least the other boy knew he had an irreplaceable place in her heart.  

That was more than Cal could say.

“Let Kilorn know,” Cal answered, chuckling at his own joke.  

He had no choice but to laugh at the situation.  If he took it seriously, he would start drowning in his fear, the knowledge that his nightmares could easily be made real. 

He couldn’t lose her.  He didn’t think he would be able to keep going without her.  As those thoughts grew louder in his head, he tightened his grip on her knee, as if he could physically keep her with him. 

“Cal?” Mare questioned, eyes narrowing as she pushed Cal’s hand away with disdain.  “What’s the matter with you?”

Cal squeezed his eyes shut, before donning his royal mask, pushing all the pain and doubt deep down inside of him.  

Finally, he snapped his head up to look at her, practiced court smile in place, hiding his demons from the woman he loved.  The woman who couldn’t love him.

Looking at her was almost painful, but he would do anything to keep her here talking to him.  He almost thought about asking her about the letters, asking what they meant to her.  What he meant to her.  This might be one of the last moments they spent together after all, and at least he would know the truth.

But that would only scare her away, so he settled for a wide grin and teasing response.

“Do you want a list?”

Cal watched Mare’s eyes narrow, knew the blow was coming as soon as she balled her fist.  But he didn’t even try to resist it.  He was already her emotional punching bag, what was the difference if he was her physical punching bag as well? It would probably hurt a whole lot less.

But Cal had misjudged the strength of her punch- always a mistake underestimating the little lightning girl- and he had forgotten his precarious perch on the crate.  And suddenly the two of them hit the hard earthen floor, Cal’s head thumping backward painfully.  

Grumbling in pain, Cal made an attempt to get up, only to be pushed back down. Mare’s lithe body pressed firmly against his, he didn't even try to fight her.  Any fight against Mare Barrow was a losing battle before it had even begun.

“You’re not getting up until you pull yourself together,” Mare said sternly.

Cal knew what Mare wanted from him, but he wasn't sure he could do it.  Play the confident, serious general.  Knowing that he was most likely leading twelve people into a death trap.

Cal had commanded great armies in deadly battles at the Choke, had seen soldiers die by the number first-hand.  But this was different now.  He was different now.  These weren’t faceless soldiers to move around a chessboard.  These were people he knew well.  People he cared about.  

And he was going to fail them.  He was going to fail her.

“Not much of an incentive,” Cal said with a shrug, winking at her flirtatiously, trying desperately to hide the growing fear gnawing at his heart.

“Ugh,” Mare huffed, punching him hard in the gut.  “Now tell me what your problem is.”

Cal’s stared at a spot on the ceiling, wondering if this was the moment of truth between the two of them.  Where he finally got up the courage to tell her all the many things that were bothering him.  All of the things he wanted. It terrified him, and once again he questioned if he wanted to know the answers.

“Cal, there are eleven people coming with us to Corros.  Eleven,” Mare said, her voice hard.

Cal clenched his jaw, almost hating her at that moment for stating the obvious.  As if he wasn’t painfully aware that there were eleven other people- not to mention Mare herself- depending on him.  And that wasn’t even including the countless others stuck in Corros prison.  His Uncle Julian.  

All people he would inevitably let down.  People he couldn’t save.

“I’m scared, too,” Mare said, her voice soft.  “I don’t want to let them down, or get hurt.”

Despite how Mare’s earlier words had hurt him, the quiver in her voice struck a chord in him. Made him want nothing more than to comfort her.  So he resorted to the only way he knew how- the only way she would let him- and pressed his hand gently against her leg.  Hoping she understood the silent signal that he was there for her.  

That he would always be there for her.

“But most of all,” Mare continued, her breath catching.  “I’m afraid for me.  I’m afraid of the sounder, of feeling like that again.  I’m afraid of what Elara will do if she gets to me.  I know I’m more valuable than most, because of what I’ve done and what I can do. My name and face have as much power as my lightning, and that makes me important.  It makes me a better prize.  And I hate thinking this way, but I still do.”

Cal forced himself to hold her gaze as those words brought to life his worst nightmares.  Elara and Maven getting their hands on Mare was a future that haunted him just as frequently as the death of his father.  One he had been powerless to stop and one he would do anything in his power to prevent.

Suddenly, Mare dropped her gaze guiltily to her hands before whispering, “I miss him. I miss who I thought he was.”

Cal balled his hand into a fist on Mare’s leg, trying desperately to control the flash of anger and jealousy he felt. Knowing by the building heat that he was doing a terrible job.

Angry that Mare still cared about Maven, and that a part of him would always wonder how she really felt about both of them. That he might be in her bed as the consolation Calore brother.  The second choice.

Angry at Maven for what he did.  To him, to his father, to Mare.  What he was still doing to Mare.  That he was able to poison whatever he and Mare might have had, even from miles away.

Angry that despite hating the man his brother had become, he couldn’t help but still love the boy he had been.  That now he had poisoned even those good memories.

“I miss him, too,” Cal admitted quietly.

When Mare’s startled eyes snapped back to him in disbelief, Cal returned her gaze with conflicted eyes.

“I don’t know what will make it easier to forget him.  To think that he wasn’t always this way, that his mother poisoned him.  Or that he was simply born a monster,” Cal confided, voice hollow.  If he allowed himself to feel, he might burn this whole place down.

“No one is born a monster,” Mare answered.  “Even Maven.”

Cal sighed, wondering if it would be easier for him and Mare to both let Maven go if they could believe that. Or if Mare would always be half in love with the boy Maven pretended to be.  And how could a flesh and blood man possibly compete with a ghost that never truly existed?

Mare laid down next to Cal, her heart beating against his and Cal wished they could just stay like this forever.  But that wasn’t who they were.  As much as he might wish they could be.

“We have to let him go,” Mare murmured against Cal’s neck.  “Even if it means killing him.”

Cal took a deep breath, then exhaled.

“If he’s at Corros-“

I can do it, Cal.  If you can’t.”

Cal stayed silent, contemplating her words. He had not given too much thought to whether or not he would be able to go through with killing his brother. But at this moment, he felt confident he could put aside the image of the boy Maven had been and see only the man he had become.  The man who had murdered his father. Betrayed his own brother. All to gain the crown.  

And that hadn’t been enough for Maven.  No, now he also wanted to take Mare. He wanted to take everything that Cal loved until he had nothing left.  And he was so close to succeeding.

No, being able to kill Maven wasn’t his primary concern. There were other, much more terrifying outcomes, than his brother’s demise.  Cal could picture it too easily, the sword heavy in his hand as it swung down in a deadly arc against his will. Only this time it wasn’t his father kneeling helplessly in front of him…

“If he’s at Corros, I’m going to lose control,” Cal said finally.  “I’m going to go after him with everything I have, him and Elara both.  She’ll use my anger, and she’ll turn it on you. She’ll make me kill you, like she made me-“

Mare pressed a finger hastily to Cal’s lips, stopping him before he could utter the words.  The words he hadn't been able to say out loud. The words that tore at his heart each time he even thought them.

“I won’t let that happen,” Mare promised.

Cal stared at her, unable to stop the despair that escaped his carefully bottled control.  The darkness that threatened to drown him in a tidal wave.  That ending was more than likely, and against Elara’s whispers, there was nothing that Mare could do.  Nothing that anyone could do. It was the inevitable ending to the story of the Traitor Prince and the Little Lightning Girl.  

If only they could have just been Cal and Mare, maybe they would have stood a chance.

“We are not going to die, Cal.  We’ve come too far for that,” Mare persisted, seeing that Cal didn’t believe her.

But Cal knew better. This wasn’t a fairytale.  The wronged prince didn’t prevail.  And in the end, his love couldn’t keep her alive.

Cal’s grabbed Mare’s hand, pulling them away from his face but holding tightly to her wrist. Unable to pull away from her completely, needing to feel her touch.

He laughed hollowly, “Do you know many people I love are dead?”

Everyone, he thought silently.  Everyone but one person.  And knowing how much Elara seemed to enjoy taking everything from him, it was only a matter of time before she took her too.

Cal felt the thrum of Mare’s pulse against his fingers and looked up to find an overwhelming look of pity on her face.  That’s not what he wanted from her, though, he didn’t want her pity. 

He wanted something more.

Something she couldn't give him.  He felt a pang of self-hatred, wishing he hadn’t started this line of conversation.  That they could go back in time and pretend that nothing was wrong.  But the floodgates were open, and now he couldn’t stop the words that poured out of his mouth of their own accord.  It had been so long since anyone had listened.  Since anyone had cared.

“All gone.  All murdered.  By her,” Cal spat, using his anger to cover his pain. “She kills them, and then she erases them.”

Nobody had ever talked about his mother. Ever. It was as if she had never existed. As if the woman who had birthed him had just been removed from the pages of history.  The only other woman he had ever loved and he had not even known her.  

“Coriane,” Mare murmured, and Cal glanced at her, surprised she had followed his train of thought so easily.  He had never mentioned his mother before, especially since learning what had really happened to her.  How Elara had taken away any chance of him knowing his mother, all for the glitter of a cold metal crown.

“That’s why Ocean Hill was my favorite,” Cal said softly.  Suddenly wanting Mare to know more about him.  Things that he kept buried so deeply inside, nobody else knew.  “It was hers.  My Father gave it to her.”

The two fell into an awkward silence, as Cal spiraled, hating the feeling of helplessness.  He couldn’t save his mother.  His father. His brother. And soon he would lose Mare too.  Soon, he would be completely alone. He could only hope if that happened, that he died, too, and that it would be quick.  At least then the pain would finally end.  

“Tell me about the prison,” Mare interrupted Cal’s slide into despondency, throwing him a lifeline the only way she knew how.

Cal sighed deeply, feeling as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.  He couldn’t let himself give up yet, he had to fight the darkness that threatened to overwhelm him. Mare still needed him.  Taking a deep breath, he turned to Mare, hiding the hurt little boy inside and embodying the General that he needed to be.  Who she needed him to be. 

“It’s a pit,” He answered, voice void of emotion.  There was no room for that now.  He had to be strong, had to find a way to keep her safe. “A fortress protected by ingenious design.  The gates are on the top level, with the cells beneath, and magnetron catwalks connecting everything.  A flick of the wrist will drop us forty feet and put us at the bottom of a barrel.  They’ll massacre us and anyone we let out.”

Cal felt the familiar frustration from earlier return.  There was no way out. No way to have the advantage.  The prison was too well designed, resistant to any type of battle plan Cal could conceive.

“What about the Silver prisoners? You don’t think they’ll put up much of a fight?”

“Not after weeks in silent cells,” Cal answered grimly, already having thought through the most likely scenarios. And even those not as likely.  “They’ll be an obstacle, but not much.  And it’ll make their escape slow.”

“You’re… going to let them escape?” 

Cal didn't answer. He knew how Mare feels about Silvers, and he didn't know how to make her understand.  Not all Silvers were the enemy. After all, he was a Silver.  Julian was a Silver.  

Sometimes Cal wondered if he was the only one who truly believed that actions and intentions mattered more than the color of someone's blood.  That there were good and bad people amongst Silvers and Reds.  Even the Red Guard mistrusted Silvers, despite their demands for equality of blood. They didn't really want equality of blood though, they wanted the Silvers to fall. A part of Cal couldn't blame them, knowing what Reds like Mare and Farley had gone through because of Silvers. 

And he wasn't sure he was ready to have this argument, yet again.  To have his loyalty, after everything he has done for the Red Guard- for her-, questioned another time.  

“They might turn on us down there, or come after us later,” Mare continued, warily.

Cal decided he was better off taking a different tactic, speaking in terms of advantage.  That Mare understood.

“I’m no politician, but I think a prison break will give my brother more than a few headaches, especially if the runaway prisoners happen to be his political enemies,” Cal pointed out.

Mare simply shook her head, and Cal knew that she was not convinced. He didn’t really expect that she would be. But it has been worth a try.

“You don’t like it?” He asked, even though he already knew the answer.  For someone who was often inscrutable, sometimes she was too easy to read.

“I don’t trust it,” Mare corrected.

“There’s a surprise,” Cal answered drily.  Mare didn’t trust anything or anyone.  But she was letting her emotions and her paranoia blind her to the realities.  That they needed to be smart to win this war and somehow come out unscathed.

Cal’s fingers automatically moved to Mare’s neck, tracing the scars from the sounder device by rote.  It was a reminder to himself of what Maven was capable of now.  Why they had to win more than just victories. They had to win the war.

“Brute force is not going to win this for you, Mare,” Cal said patiently, hoping that he was getting through to her.  “No matter how many newbloods you collect. Silvers still outnumber you, and they still have the advantage.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Mare answered begrudgingly.

So did Cal.  He could only hope that this went better than his chess games with Maven.  His younger brother had always won.  But this was one game Cal couldn’t afford to lose.

“Political intricacies aren’t exactly my strong suit,” Cal admitted with a shrug, trying to sound more confident than he felt.  “But I’ll give it a shot.”

Even if it means civil war?” Mare asked eyebrow raised.

Cal knew she was thinking of the same conversation he was.  Months ago, when he had still been a Silver Prince, the heir apparent, he had told her that civil war was the worst possible option.  That what the Red Guard was doing, rebelling against the throne, would tear Norta apart and destroy everything his father had built.  

And he had claimed he would not destroy his father’s legacy, even for a war he knew in his heart was just. Even if he had wanted to choose her and the future she promised.  

But that Cal from months ago was dead.  Had died the moment that a ceremonial sword had sliced through his father’s neck.  The moment Elara had made him kill his own father, and turned him into the Traitor Prince.  He was no longer sure who he was.  What he believed in.

The only things he knew were true-that kept him going-were an overwhelming need for vengeance and the feelings he had for Mare.   

He was determined to have his revenge and to keep Mare safe. And if that meant North went up in flames, so be it.  Maybe it would be better that way, in the long run.

“We might be outnumbered but that doesn’t stack the odds against us,” Mare said suddenly, interrupting Cal’s thoughts.  “Newbloods have abilities no Silver can plan for, not even you.”

Cal’s eyes turning sharply to her.  Something about what she said…

“What are you getting at?” Cal prodded.

“You’re going into this like you’re leading your troops, with abilities you understand and have trained with.”

“And?”

“And I’d like to see what happens when a guard tries to shoot Nix or a magnetron drops Gareth.”

Cal fell silent, contemplating what Mare had said.  Maybe he had been looking at this completely wrong.  Rather than planning how to attack an invulnerable fortress, looking for traditional weaknesses that weren't there, he should have been looking at what their own strengths were.  Strengths that the Silvers, who had designed the security protocols around abilities they were familiar with, could never predict.  Ones they didn't even know existed, didn’t know to defend against…

Cal’s eyes lit up. There was a chance that they could pull this off after all. That they might not all die, that he could keep them safe.  Keep her safe.  Cal stared in appreciation at the woman in front of him.  While he truly believed she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, he was reminded once again that she was not just a pretty face.  She had pinpointed the missing piece he had been struggling to find for days, the way they could turn the board on its head.  

They would have the advantage.

Grabbing the side of Mare’s face, he planted a firm fiery kiss on her lips, regretting that it had to be so short.  But they had a plan to put in action, and very little time. And if it worked, there would be plenty of time for a longer version later.  He hoped.

“You’re a genius,” he muttered, jumping to his feet.  He felt a renewed sense of energy, the darkness from before no longer lapping at his feet, threatening to engulf him.  “Get back to Cameron, get everyone ready.”

Cal grabbed the map in one hand, already making plans and sorting numbers and tactics in his head.  But he paused to smile at Mare.  A real smile, one that reached his eyes, able to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the first time since Mare announced this foolhardy mission.

“This might actually work.”

He would make sure it did.  And then when this was all over, he would finally tell Mare how he felt.  Find out the truth about how she felt about him, his brother, all of it. Because Cal refused to be a coward anymore.  Not when a future that had seemed impossible was suddenly in reach.