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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.

 

Chapter Text

Cal reclined as comfortably as possible in his narrow sleeper, absent-mindedly manipulating the fire contained to the small makeshift fire pit in the center of his hole of a bedroom.  It was an exercise that had been drilled into him as a child learning to control his ability.  Now he performed the same task by rote as his thoughts drifted aimlessly.  It was something in his life that he still had some semblance of control over, the one thing he could still trust. His ability.  There seemed to be precious little left to trust in his new existence.  

If only he could control the terrors that plagued him whenever he closed his eyes.  Maybe then he could actually get some sleep, get some much-needed rest.  He was always tired now, everyone was.  But while the others were able to find some respite, a break from the horrors they faced by day in the solace of slumber, he was denied that simple escape.  Instead, he was left wide awake with his own thoughts for company, as the rest of their rag-tag group at the Notch slept.

But Cal had learned the hard way that was much better than the alternative.  At least he had some control over his own thoughts while awake.  Wasn’t forced to relive the worst moment of his life over and over, in excruciating detail.  So when everyone else turned in for bed, he sat with his own thoughts, watching the shadows he created flickering on the stone walls.

Alone.

It was something he had become used to being in the past weeks.  Even when he sat in on planning sessions with Farley and Shade or at meals in the main room with the other newbloods Mare had collected, he still felt it.  He was an outsider, a Silver amongst Reds, only grudgingly tolerated for the advantages he brought.  Never truly belonging. 

But he didn’t belong amongst the Silvers anymore either. At least not the way he used to.  He was a traitor, an outcast.  As much as he had tried to avoid it, he had spilled Silver blood to advance the Scarlet Guard’s agenda.  An agenda that would bring down his own people and ground them into the dust, if the Guard has its way.  

No, not his people. Not anymore.  But neither did he belong to the Guard.

He belonged with no one.  No family, no friends. 

Alone.

Sometimes he wished he could completely put his past behind him, throw himself whole-heartedly into the goals of his new comrades.  At least then maybe he would feel part of something again, part of something bigger than himself.  

But then, Mare truly believed in the Scarlet Guard, had no mixed allegiances when it came to identifying the enemy.   

And yet, Cal knew that she was just as alone as he was. Even though she was surrounded by family and friends, newbloods with abilities like her own. The little lightning girl was still just as much of an outsider as the traitor prince, even though her blood ran crimson. 

Sometimes Cal thought about what it would be like if they were both not quite so lonely.  If he and Mare…

Without permission, his mind drifted to a few weeks ago when they had first arrived at the safe house.  When Mare had woke up after suffering for days from the effects of the sounder.  

The sounder he had designed to be used as a weapon in the war against the Lakelanders, never imagining that his brother would use it with such devastating effect against someone he cared about.  

He had tried not to, not to care about her.  It hadn’t ended so well the first time, after all.  And he had agreed with her assessment that they would only be a distraction for one another, something they didn’t need.

But when Mare had finally woken up, he had never felt more grateful.  He had spent three days trying to hide the complete and utterly debilitating panic that had taken hold and had not been able to take an easy breath until the moment her eyes opened.  The thought of losing her, of no longer being near her has been insufferable.

Cal tried to tell himself it was because Mare was his only link left, the only reason he had some type of purpose. But he knew in his heart it was more than that.  He could still remember the overwhelming sense of relief when she said she would never go back to Maven, the small spark of hope.  The feel of her soft skin and supple curves under his fingers.  The electricity when she had pressed his lips to his.

But he shut down those thoughts as quickly as possible, bottling them up and burying them deep, deep down.  Her recent behavior had made it clear that she didn’t want to let him in, that she didn’t trust him.  Sometimes he wondered if she even liked him.  She barely talked to him or acknowledged him, except on missions.  But that was strictly business, for the purpose of fulfilling their objectives, keeping alive.  

Still, he ached to go to her, knowing that she should not be alone, not after seeing the horrors she had witnessed today.   Cal had studied her face as the others discussed what happened in Templyn, concerned at the blank mask that replaced her usually animated features. 

And then watched her quietly as she got up and slipped out to her solitary room while dinner was being served.  When she had rebuffed even Shade’s attempts to talk, Cal had immediately pulled Farley aside for more details.  Knowing there must be more that had happened.  Things that they weren’t saying in front of the others, in front of the young ones.

Cal was a seasoned soldier, had seen death and the casualties of war far too many times to be surprised at the travesties that were committed.  But even he had blanched when Farley had told him about Mare’s discovery, the callous murder of an innocent baby.  All to send a message.  

And worse, he knew that Mare blamed herself.  Blamed herself for every atrocity Maven committed in her name.  The weight of that kind of guilt was suffocating, especially without anyone to share the burden with. 

The same kind of guilt Cal felt about his father. 

And he wished, more than anything, he could spare Mare from even half of the pain he felt.  He had promised her that he would never let his brother hurt her again, and at the time he had meant it.  

He just hadn’t taken into consideration all the many methods Maven would employ to hurt Mare, not just physically but emotionally.   He desperately wanted to offer her what comfort he could but knew she would not accept it unless it was on her terms. She was stubborn that way.  So he would have to wait for her to come to him.  If she ever did.

Which Cal was starting to seriously doubt.

Cal sighed, and continued to stare at the fire that was his birthright, looking in vain for answers in the flickering lights.

The well-honed instincts of a soldier caused his eyes to snap from the flames to the doorway, sensing more than hearing a presence.  As if Cal’s thoughts had summoned her, Mare entered the room hesitantly, before taking a few steps further into the small space.  

Cal watched her movements carefully, cautious not to make any sudden movements that might cause her to flee.  As if she were elusive prey, and he was the hunter.  Without breaking eye contact, Cal pulled back the blankets of his sleeper, sliding to one side to make room for her. 

He had seen the way her eyes had drifted there and knew her well enough to know she would never ask.

The fact that she had come to him was enough admission in and of itself.

“It’s cold in here,” Mare said awkwardly as if she needed an excuse to seek out his comfort. His warmth.  

Cal knew what she really meant, what she needed and would never say outright, but didn’t push for more.  

When Cal said nothing in response, Mare quickly moved into the space he had made for her, settling in next to him.  She fit perfectly, and Cal instinctively draped one arm across her waist, his other palm pressing against her back.  Engulfing her in a bubble of warmth and comfort, wanting nothing more than to keep her safe.  

“Farley told me,” he murmured, softly. 

Giving her an opening if she wanted it. If she wanted to talk.  When she said nothing, once again he didn’t press her.  It was a promising first step that she was here at all, he convinced himself. That she had sought him out.  He would wait until she was ready to talk.  And for now, he would be here, be what she needed.  

He knew she had finally fallen asleep as her heartbeat slowed and her breathing became even. Cal moved slightly, careful not to disturb her, so he could see her face.  She looked peaceful, as she slept, and Cal stroked the hair that haloed around her head gently.  At least she didn’t seem to be having any nightmares.

If he could do nothing else for her, at least he could help keep those at bay.

Cal stayed awake, watching her sleep well into sunrise the next morning.  And for once, his vigil wasn’t due to the terrors that came at night but because of the little lightning girl who had found her way into his bed.  And more importantly, into his heart. 

Even if Cal wasn’t quite ready to admit it, just yet.

Chapter Text

Cal stood on the balcony, still reeling from the words he had heard echoing from the chamber, even after he had left the room at a punishing pace. Finally, he had found this small balcony where he could shut the door. Shut out the words that seemed to follow him and ring in his ears.

Long live Tiberias the Seventh.

Words he had grown up expecting one day to hear.  Words he had come to terms with never hearing after his brother had stolen his crown.  He had heard the rumors that they were being used by the noble Silvers to justify rebellion but had written it off as a strategy to weaken Maven’s control on the throne.  

Who would ever crown a traitor prince, after all?  

But apparently, that was exactly what his grandmother and the newly self-proclaimed King of the Rift intended to do.  And neither had felt the need to mention it to him at all, before announcing it to the whole court.  Cal bristled again in anger, furious at how they had backed him into a corner.  

Because as much as he may want to, he knew that he couldn’t refuse.  He couldn’t simply throw away the crown, his father’s legacy, as his grandmother has so astutely pointed out.  He owed that much to his father’s memory.

He was also not naive enough to believe that they wouldn’t find a quick replacement if he refused.  The Silver nobility wasn’t ready for the brave new world the Scarlet Guard and Premier Davidson fought so hard for, not by a long shot.   If Cal declined the throne, nothing would change.  They would just find someone else to take the position, someone who didn’t understand the changes that were needed for Norta to thrive. 

All of Norta.  Silvers and Reds.

The Silver nobles present and the Guard might be allies at the moment, but only as long as they had a common enemy. Once Maven was defeated, they would need someone to keep them fighting on the same side, instead of turning on each other.  Someone who could help implement the changes desperately needed, but without the cost of civil war.  Someone who could keep the balance between the Silvers and the Reds, who knew and understood them both. 

Someone like Cal.

And if he could make a difference, make this a better world for all of Norta, didn’t he have an obligation to do so?

Even if the crown came with more than just strings attached. Came with chains of iron.

But Cal had the uneasy feeling that the Scarlet Guard would not see his acceptance of the crown in the sacrificial light he did.  Would not understand that he was doing it for them as much as anyone.  

Especially one person in particular.  

Once again he cursed Samos and his grandmother for blindsiding him, for putting him in this untenable position with no warning.  For essentially taking away his ability to choose.  To choose a different future for himself.  One where he could have been happy.

Turning away from the balcony, Cal wanted nothing more than to burn. To let go of his anger and frustration in the cleansing release of fire.  But his ironclad control held strong and he settled for scraping his bracelets together, spitting useless sparks that never ignited.  Ignoring the voice in his head telling him to set it all ablaze and never look back.  

As he turned, he was unsurprised to see that Mare had followed him out to this little safe haven.  He had seen her face during the surprise announcement, had known it was only a matter of time before she confronted him. 

Mare had no love for the crown, no love for kings, and had spent the past year doing everything she could to destroy the throne of Norta.  

Cal felt a sudden pang of fear as he realized everything he stood to lose by gaining the crown.  His heart raced and his mouth grew dry at the thought of losing her.  Losing everything they shared.  Losing the one person who truly knew him, who truly cared about him.  Not Tiberias the Seventh. Not the Traitor Prince.  Not General Calore. But Cal.  

She had become such an important part of his life in such a short time.  He couldn’t even imagine living without her now, his heart hurt just thinking about it.  But what would happen now that the crown was back in play?

But then again, she had told him she loved him and he knew it was true.  Hoped it was true. Maybe if he could just convince her, make her see that he was doing this because he had no other choice.  That by accepting the crown, he would be in a position to help enact the changes she fought for in a way he could never do now.  

That even if he was a king, he would never be Maven.

She would see that this was the only way. How could she not?  And with Mare by his side- because no matter who held the title of Queen he could not imagine doing this without her- they could make a new Norta.  A Norta they could be proud of. One that upheld his father’s legacy, while moving them forward to a bright new future.

Looking into Mare’s eyes, Cal saw the same hope and fear he felt reflected back in her gaze.  For a moment, he allowed himself to believe that his dream could become his reality.  That he could have it all.

And then that moment shattered as Mare opened her mouth.

“You promised,” she whispered, the accusation clear in her tone.  

Those two words, and the condemnation infused in them, inflated all his hope. Leaving room only for the fear gnawing at his heart.  And sudden desperation to make her understand.  

This wasn’t what he was good at. He was good at actions, not words.  He suddenly wished he had Mavey’s gift for oration, then pushed all thoughts of his traitorous little brother aside. 

He paced back and forth as Mare watched silently, needing to get rid of the apprehension that was building inside of him through some type of physical release before he set the Samos stronghold ablaze.

Feeling Mare’s growing impatience as if it was something tangible in the air, he finally stopped and leaned against the balcony railing to face her.  Trying helplessly to find the words that would make her understand. That would make her stay.

His mouth opened and closed, searching in vain for the words that would convey everything he was feeling.  The words that held the power to create the future he briefly glimpsed out here on the balcony moments ago.

And then words were spilling from his mouth, and he knew they are not eloquent or graceful, but they were honest.  And right now that seemed to be all he had.

“I didn’t think- what logical person could want me to be king after what I’ve done? Tell me if you try thought anyone would let me near a throne,” he said.  “I've killed Silvers, Mare, my own people.”

He buried his face in his blazing hands, scrubbing them over his features.  Judging by the ngry scowl on Mare’s face, this conversation had not gotten off to a great start. 

And Cal wasn’t sure if he was in the right state of mind to figure out how to get it back on track.  A small part of him wished Mare could just be there to support him, to help him, with no questions asked.  He was just as surprised as she was, after all, had barely had time to wrap his head around what had happened.  Let alone come up with a solid argument to defend it.

But that wasn’t who Mare was, and the larger part of him would never want to change anything about her.  Even if it would make his life significantly easier.

“You killed Reds, too,” Mare spat back, arms on her hips in a defensive pose Cal instantly recognized. “I thought you said there was no difference.”

“Difference not division,” Cal said hastily, falling back on his words from earlier.  Knowing in his heart that the semantics would mean nothing to her.  Even if he truly did believe them.

Mare’s hands didn’t leave her hips, and if anything her body language became more aggressive as she snarled, “You make a wonderful speech about equality but let that Samos bastard sit there and claim a kingdom just like the one we want to end.  Don’t lie and say you didn’t know about his terms, his new crown…”

Mare’s voice trailed off, and Cal felt a stab of pain at what she left unsaid.

“You know I had no idea,” Cal said helplessly, knowing that any other response would be futile at this point.  Especially since he couldn’t give her the one answer she truly wanted.

“Not one?” Mare asks, raising an eyebrow in clear disbelief.  “Not a whisper from your grandmother. Not even a dream of this?”

Cal swallowed hard, knowing Mare knew him far too well for him to lie.  A part of him did want the crown, wanted the power and the ability to make the changes that were needed.  To feel in control in a way that he hadn’t felt since the day his father died.  He had been raised to believe the throne was his birthright, and a part of him still wanted it. 

Wanted to be the beloved king instead of the scorned traitor prince.  

But that wasn’t the only thing he wanted, not anymore, and he desperately tried to find a way to refocus Mare’s anger. To put them back on the same side.  To give him time to come up with an effective argument that would make her see why he had no choice but to pick up the crown he was being offered.

Choosing to purposely misconstrue her question, he latched on to her brief mention of the newly formed Kingdom of the Rift.

"There’s nothing we can do to stop Samos,” he said, “Not yet-“

Whatever Cal was going to say was cut off as Mare slapped him hard across the face.  With the full force of her anger behind the blow, his head moved to the right, forcing him to stare out at the horizon.  The pain from the hit was nothing, though, compared to the agony in his heart.  

She truly believed there was a chance that he knew this was coming, that he had played the Scarlet Guard for a chance at the crown. Played her.  That everything they had been through together was nothing more than a callous stepping stone to the throne.  And the fact that she believed he was capable of that was worse than any blow.

Suddenly he couldn't bear to look at her, to see the hatred in eyes that had looked at him with love just a few hours ago.

“I’m not talking about Samos,” Mare clarified, voice cracking dangerously with emotion.

“I didn’t know,” Cal said, his words soft and earnest as his heart broke.  “I really didn’t know.”

He still couldn’t bring himself to look at her, hoping that she at least heard the truth in his words.  And recognized everything that those words meant.

“Is this the part where I ask you to choose me?” she asked, a noticeable hitch in her voice.

Cal remembered vividly the last time she had asked him to choose her.  He had almost done it, but in the end, duty had won out.  His responsibility to Norta, to preserving the kingdom. 

They were different people now, but his obligations were even greater.  He didn’t just owe the chance of a brighter future to the Silvers, but to the Reds, too.  To the Scarlet Guard. To the New Bloods.  To everyone.

Shaking hands landed on Cal’s face, turning him to look at her with surprising strength.  But Cal couldn’t meet her gaze, was too afraid of seeing their ending written in her brown irises. 

Instead, his eyes fell to her lips, recalling how soft they were against his own. 

To the curve of her shoulder.

To the brand, the one that his brother had given her. The one he hated and loved.

Hated, because it was a reminder of the pain she went through. But more importantly, it was a reminder that Maven still claimed a piece of her, one that she refused to let go of for some reason. 

The brand that he also loved because it was a testament to her strength, to her ability to face unimaginable horrors and still come out on the other side. 

Because there wasn’t a single part of this woman that he could possibly not love.

And then his mind turned to the other stipulation of his new-found crown.  The wife that came part and parcel with any throne. 

The wife that was not Mare.

The wife was not the woman he loved. And he cringed. 

If he chose the crown, did that mean he chose Evangeline over Mare?  No, never.  Mare was the only woman he imagined, could still imagine, by his side.  

“I don’t have to marry her,” he murmured.  Trying to salvage this situation somehow, find some way to keep her with him.  “That can be negotiated.”

“No, it can’t.  You know it can’t,” Mare dismissed with a cold laugh.

“And you know what marriage is to us-to Silvers,” Cal argued, knowing that this wasn’t really the choice Mare was talking about but holding on to any chance he had.  Like straws blowing in the wind.  “It doesn’t mean anything.  It has no bearing on what we feel, and who we feel for.”

What Cal felt for her, he left unsaid, knowing Mare was smart enough to read between the lines without having to spell it out.

“Do you really think it’s the marriage I’m angry about?” Mare asks indignantly, her anger growing visibly with each word.  “Do you really think I have any ambition to be your- or anyone’s- queen?”

And there it was. The real problem.  The real choice she was asking him to make. 

Not between her and Evangeline, they both knew that had never even been a decision for him.  He would choose Mare every time.  But between Mare and the crown itself. 

It always came down to this with the two of them.  She wanted him to abandon everything he had ever been taught to expect, to want.  To turn his back on everyone who was depending upon him. 

To choose her.

Cal’s hands trembled as his grip tightened on her hand, already feeling her slip away from him.  He needed to accept the crown.  He had no choice. But he also needed her.  If he could just make her understand…

“Mare, think of what I can do,” he tried, knowing that this could be his only chance to make her see the truth.  “What kind of king I can be.”  

“Why does anyone need to be king at all?” Mare shot back, each word as sharp as a knife.

And that’s when Cal knew any arguments he made would fall on deaf ears.  She didn’t want to hear about how he could make changes without bloodshed.  Of how he could use the power inherent in the crown for good, not evil.  She had had enough of kings.

Maven had seen to that.  

Cal wondered if his words would have held more weight if she had never been held as her brother's captive for months, by a man who wielded the power of the crown.  But he would never know because Maven had caged her, had poisoned Mare’s view of the crown.  A view that had already started off on the wrong foot.

Just another gift from his dear brother that kept on giving.

“Tiberias,” Mare said and Cal flinched at the name.  She had never called him that, he was always Cal.  It was as if they were suddenly strangers. 

As if he were a stranger to her, instead of the man who had shared her bed just the night before.

“Choose me,” she continued, her voice steady, filled with steel.  

Cal’s hand smoothed over her smaller one, his fingers splaying to match her own, as he instinctively sought the intimacy between them. 

To find the closeness he had only ever felt with her.

Mare shut her eyes but didn’t resist.  Didn’t draw back from his touch, and Cal took that as a small victory.  Allowed himself to hope.

“Mare,” he whispered,  “Choose me.”

Cal held his breath, his bronze eyes pleading with the woman he loved.  Asking her to choose him instead.

Instead of the Guard. Instead of Montfort. Instead of her cause. 

To choose him.

“I am in love with you, and I want you more than anything else in the world,” she said, throwing his own words back in his face.  “Anything else in the world.”

It took all of Cal’s willpower not to flinch at her words, at the hollowness in her tone.  As if they were words without meaning, without any truth.  To match her gaze, when all he wanted to do was look away in shame.

“Think about what we could do together,” he murmured instead, trying to pull her closer to no avail. “You know what you are to me. Without you, I have no one.  I am alone.  I have nothing left. Don’t leave me alone.”

He knew his desperation was bleeding into his voice, but he couldn’t find it in himself to care in the least. Even if it wasn’t how a king was supposed to behave. He knew he was losing her, and he couldn’t let that happen.

Mare’s breathing turned ragged, before she leaned forward, standing on tip-toe so she could place a kiss on his lips. 

Cal froze, the silver blood turning to ice in his veins. 

The two of them had shared many kisses. Some had been soft and sweet. Some had been fraught with passion. Some had been languid and unhurried, preludes to more extensive intimacies. But none had been like this. 

This kiss tasted like good-bye.

“You aren’t alone,” Mare answered and Cal felt a sudden flare of hope as she paused. “You have your crown.”

Those four words crushed him more thourougly than anything he had thought possible. And he knew then, that it was truly over.  But he still couldn’t just let her walk away.  He would do anything to make her stay, anything she wanted. 

Except for the one thing she was asking for.  The only thing she would accept. The one thing he couldn’t do.

“Please,” he begged, knowing he sounded pathetic, but unable to stop himself.  “How did you think this was going to end? What did you really think would happen next?” 

Cal felt his body heat rising in response to his growing panic and for the first time that he could remember, he was incapable of controlling it.  Suddenly everything was spinning out of control and he had no way to stop it.

“You don’t have to do this,” he pleaded, even knowing it would not change her mind.  That nothing he said would.

Mare gave him one last look, her face a frozen mask, before silently turning around and walking back inside.  Walking away from him.  

“Please, Mare,” Cal whispered, though he doubted she could hear him anymore.  “I do love you more than anything.  And I wish I could give you what you wanted.”

Cal felt angry tears fall down his face but did nothing to stop them.  If he had a choice, truly had a choice, then he would have given away his crown in a second to be with her. 

But it wasn’t just about him.  There were hundreds-no, thousands- of people that would be affected by his decision.  And he couldn’t be selfish enough to choose Mare, not if he could make even the smallest change for the better in all of those people's lives.

As much as he might want to.

As Cal turned to stare at the vista of the Rift, he allowed himself a few minutes to mourn before he was forced to take up the mantle of being king. 

And the lonely existence that now came with it.

Chapter Text

Mare knew she should try to sleep. Cal had been adamant that everyone going to the prison tomorrow get a full night’s rest so they were at full strength.  But there were too many thoughts buzzing through her mind, too many ways tomorrow’s mission could go wrong.  

The new plan Cal had come up with was good, actually gave them a chance to pull off the rescue at Corros prison.  Mare knew that he had every scenario possible planned for- If she wanted to follow anyone into battle it was Cal Calore.  She had been relieved to see that as the mission drew closer, Cal seemed to have lost that desperate, hollow edge, which scared her more than anything.  

But while Cal had gotten more confident, more determined, Mare was the complete opposite.  Knowing that she would bear the full guilt if anyone died, if anyone didn’t make it.  She had rammed this rescue mission down their throats, had demanded that Cal plan for a battle they were woefully unprepared for in a dizzying window of time.  

And he had come through.

But now, if anything did go wrong, that would be firmly on her shoulders.  She was the one who had convinced them to go on this mission.  Forced them, even.  The responsibility was just as staggering as always, and Sometimes Mare wondered how she had ended up in this position.  How she had become the poster child for a full scale rebellion.

She also wasn’t sure what to expect at Corros Prison.  Wasn’t sure if she would come face to face with the boy whose letters she read in secret every night.  The icy blue eyes that she saw every time she tried to shut her own. That threatened to devour her.

So instead, she lay awake listening to the easy breathing of the other Calore beside her, wishing her brain would just shut off.  

But she was never that lucky.  

She squirmed closer to the warm body behind her, considering slipping out to get the letters she hid in the corner.  Remind herself, yet again, of who Maven was and the lengths he would go. That this was the real Maven, not her memories of a gentle prince that had only ever existed in her mind.

“What's wrong," Cal murmured sleepily, putting an end to that plan.  She still wouldn’t burden him with what was in the letters. She could protect him from that guilt, at least.

“I just- I can’t go to sleep,” Mare answered, with a sigh. “I just keep thinking about all the things that could go wrong tomorrow. What if Cameron isn’t ready and can’t stop the Eye from seeing us? Or they see through Nanny’s disguise? Or Jon was off on the timing?”

She didn’t even mention her fears of seeing the other Calore brother.  That was a subject she and Cal had mutually decided to stay away from.

“There’s nothing we can do about it now,” Cal answered calmly. “We just have to hope that the plan works.”

“I know,” Mare grumbled with a sigh. “But that doesn’t mean I”ll be able to stop worrying.”

What she needed was a way to empty her head, something that would take mind away off the realities of tomorrow. If even for a little while.  Feeling the comforting heat emanating off of Cal, she found herself thinking of one way she could forget about everything…

“Cal,” Mare said hesitantly.  

“Hmm,” he mumbled in response.

Mare took a deep breath, letting the words spill from her mouth before she lost her nerve, “I need a distraction.  I know we said we wouldn’t do this, but… I need you. To, you know, distract me right now.”

Mare felt Cal’s body stiffen in alertness at her words, his arm tightening around her waist.  The heat in his body increased suddenly, though thankfully not enough to burn her.

And then Mare shivered as she felt the ghost of a whisper, Cal’s warm breath blowing enticingly on the sensitive spot right behind her ear.

“And what exactly did you have in mind,” Cal asked, voice raspy.

“Don’t tell me I have to give you step by step instructions,” Mare answered mockingly.

But she was unable to hide the hitch in her voice as Cal proceeded to drop kisses down her neck, and then back up to her jawline.

“How am I doing so far?” Cal whispered as he landed back by her ear, voice smooth as velvet.

Mare closed her eyes and felt a moment of embarrassment at the overwhelming hunger she felt.  But then she leaned further into him, felt the growing hardness behind her, the telltale sign of his own desire.  

“Mmm good. But I need more, Cal.  Please,” she moaned, rubbing herself against him, letting her body dictate her movements. Not thinking, just feeling.

Cal bit back a low groan behind her.  

"What do you need, Mare?” Cal asked voice husky and rough with desire.  “Tell me what you want me to do.”

“I need you to touch me,” Mare answered breathlessly.  “I want to burn.”

Cal groaned again, muffling the noise with an open mouth kiss on her shoulder.  But Mare grew impatient, needing to feel his skin pressed against hers, and pulled off the layer of clothes she wore that separated them without a second thought.

Turning over on her back so she could see Cal’s face, she felt a delicious shiver of anticipation as his gaze moved up and down her body like a caress before returning to her face. His eyes burned with a fierce hunger she knew must be reflected in her own eyes.

Cal traced the swell of her exposed breasts with careful movements, his hand trailing lightly down her sides to her thighs.  As if he was worried he would actually burn her. Mare felt a jolt of electricity on her skin, knowing she must have shocked him, but there was no deviation from his chosen path. Then he pulled his hand back to lean down, so his lips were a breath away from her own.

“You are so incredibly beautiful,” Cal whispered, voice filled with a reverence that made Mare clench her thighs and bite her lower lip in anticipation.

Mare didn’t consider herself beautiful by any means. Not with her limp mud-brown hair with graying ends, dull brown eyes, and undernourished figure.  But when Cal said it like that, she could almost see herself through his eyes.

And then Cal leaned the rest of the way down, capturing her lips in a bruising kiss as his capable hands used strategic strokes to kindle a fire between them. One that had nothing to do with his ability.

For the first time in a long time, Mare forgot about the burden she carried as the Little Lightning Girl, as the symbol for the Guard.  Didn’t think about all of the newbloods and reds who were counting on her, a girl barely eighteen, to save them all.  She even forgot about the cold blue eyes that haunted her, the letters that waited in the corner of the room, the fact that Maven was determined to have her at any cost.

There was no room for her to think about anything but Cal as he invaded all her senses, brought her to heights she had never experienced.  His bronze eyes drinking in every one of her reactions, learning what made her body sing with a single-minded focus.  Mare appreciated what a fast learner he was as his talented fingers became more confident, but she was burning now and she needed more.

Reaching down to rub the hard bulge in the front of Cal’s pants, she felt a fresh pang of desire as he held back a moan.  

“I need you inside of me,” Mare gasped, as she tried to untie the front of his pants with clumsy hands.

“Fuck, Mare,” Cal groaned.  “I want that, I want that so badly.  But are you sure?”

“Yes,” Mare responded, voice desperate. “I need to know what you feel like inside of me, please.”

Cal helped her remove his pants, getting the job done much more efficiently than Mare would have alone, before settling in between her open thighs. 

And then he hesitated. 

Mare shifted in frustration, wondering what the hold up was. Then she noticed that Cal suddenly seemed unable to maintain eye contact.

“Cal,” she said carefully, trying to keep her impatience from leaking into her voice. “Is everything okay?”

Cal bit his lip uncertainly, before finally making reluctant eye contact with Mare.

“I- I really want this, I do,” Cal said, his words rushed and low.  “I want you.  More than anything. I just- I’ve never done this before…”

Mare felt a burst of tenderness at his admission, at the earnestness it was made with, and placed a hand gently on his cheek.  Cal moved his head slightly so his lips were on her palm, placing a gentle kiss there.

“It’s okay,” Mare said gently.  “We’ll figure it out together.”

“I want to make this good for you,” Cal murmured.  

And with that, Mare couldn’t wait any longer, pulling Cal down in a searing kiss wanting nothing more than to be engulfed by the fire prince.


Cal stroked Mare’s hair back from her face gently as he watched her sleep, a small smile on her face brought a similar one to his.  She murmured contently in her sleep, snuggling closer to him, and Cal could almost forget the suicide mission they had planned for tomorrow.  Could get lost in her.  

He had never felt closer to a single human being than he had tonight, and couldn’t help but relive those moments again and again in his head.  He swore there was no sound lovelier than the moans Mare made when she was in the throes of pleasure.  He wanted to hear that sound over and over.

At first, he had been worried that it was his first time, worried that he wouldn’t please her.  Wouldn’t know what to do.  But his body had instinctively knew what his mind had not, and he was glad now that his first time had been with Mare.  He could not imagine experiencing that with anyone else, sharing that type of intimacy with someone who wasn’t her.

“I love you, Mare,” he whispered into her ear, before kissing her gently on the forehead.  Then he leaned back, pulling her closer to him as he wrapped his arm around her waist, content to lay here and bask in the afterglow until morning.

Chapter Text

Kilorn weaved his way through the deserted control room to the back corner, where a solitary desk was set up in front of a small monitor. The former prince’s self-appointed station since they had arrived at Irabelle two weeks ago, Kilorn knew he would find him watching the broadcast of Maven’s video over and over, pausing the screen every once a while, studying it with brows knit in focus. 

At first Kilorn thought the Silver was analyzing his brother’s words for clues, but he’d soon realized it was some sort of sick self-inflicted punishment.  Watching the video again and again.  He would slip away occasionally for meals in the mess hall, but that was it.  Kilorn didn’t even think he slept, he certainly didn’t look as if he did.

Cal barely noticed the other boy enter the empty room, his gaze fixated on Mare kneeling before Maven.  As he placed a collar around her neck.  As if she were no better than a dog.  A pet that he owned, to do with as he pleased.  The message he had sent with the collar was clear, just like when he had left the brand she still wore on her collarbone. 

Cal felt the bile rise in his throat as it did every time he saw the video, but he forced himself to keep watching.  To watch as he tugged on her leash, forcing her to follow him back to whatever cage he had devised for her.  The searching desperate look in Mare’s eyes when she had managed to look back at the camera, before being lead away.  

The others had been relieved when Maven had pronounced that execution was too good for the Little Lightning Girl, but Cal only felt a strangled sense of panic.  

There were so many fates worse than death.  

Maven had made it clear that he wished to possess Mare, that he was willing to commit unspeakable evils to get his hands on her.  He had even been willing to let his rival for the crown live, a clear political misstep, if it meant he could have her.  

And now that he had her completely in his control, Cal was terrified of what his brother meant to do.  He was clearly infatuated with Mare, but it was a perverted obsession, dangerously unpredictable.  He wanted to own her, control every part of her. Mind, body, and soul. Cal flinched involuntarily at all that could possibly entail, closing his eyes in familiar frustration.

“Cal,” Kilorn called tentatively.

Cal opened his eyes, turning wearily to face him, not bothering with words.  The two had come to an understanding in the past few days, had formed a tentative friendship born of mutual pain.  While they could not be more different, the fish boy and the fire prince both loved the same girl and had both lost her.  And somehow that experience had brought them together in a way that Mare herself had never been able to.  

After all, misery did love company.

“The last group just arrived from Tuck.  Farley and the Barrows are with them,” Kilorn said.  “I thought you would want to know.”

Cal looked away, then nodded absently.  He had been dreading this moment.  It has been bad enough having to face Kilorn and Mare’s brothers every day since the air-jet had crashed at Corvium.  He couldn’t bear to think of how the rest of her family was handling Mare’s capture, couldn’t imagine looking them in the eyes knowing he had failed them.  Failed her.  

That once again, he had let his brother get one step ahead of him.  And Mare had paid the price.

“Ada was able to find out what barrack they were being assigned to, so I was going to go over there after they settled in.  See if they needed anything,” Kilorn continued, when he realized Cal didn’t respond on responding.  “I wanted to see if you wanted to come with me.”

Cal laughed, a cold sound with no humor, “I appreciate the invite, Kilorn, but I’m sure I’m the last person they want to see right now.”

“Cal, I know you think it was your fault, but it’s not true-“

“Actually, this might be the first time me and Calore are in full agreement,” a cold voice, broken in from the doorway.

Cal tensed, eyes immediately snapping across the room, where Farley leaned against the doorway.  Her casual demeanor was belied by the blazing anger burning in her eyes. 

“Captain Farley,” Cal said, voice flat. “Glad to see you finally made it here.”

“I doubt you’ll be glad for long,” Farley answered, entering the room and stalking up to his small work station, towering over him when he remained sitting.

“How could you, Calore?” Farley demanded.  “How could you let this happen? You were supposed to keep her safe!”

“You're right. I’m sorry,” Cal answered in a dull tone.

“You’re sorry?  And what exactly is that supposed to do, huh?  You let that psychotic brother of yours get his grubby little hands on her.  Do you understand what kind of depraved things that monster is capable of, what he is probably planning to do to her-“

“Yes, Captain,” Cal interrupted, jaw clenched, his teeth audibly grinding.  “I, assure you, I am very much aware of the atrocities he is capable of.”

That was all Cal was able to think about now. All the ways Maven could hurt her, break her, ground her down bit by bit.  Until she was nothing but a shell of her former self, a ghostly reminder of the girl he had fallen in love with.

“I don’t like you, Calore,” Farley snarled.  “But if you had one redeemable quality, it was how I thought you felt about Mare.  That you were there to protect her when I couldn’t.  But then you let him take her!”

“Farley, that’s not fair,” Kilorn interrupted.  “Mare gave herself up, there was nothing any of us could do-“

“Bullshit,” Farley answered, turning to Kilorn.  “He knows as well as anyone that Mare is her own worst enemy.  That part of keeping her safe is protecting her from her own worst impulses.  He should have stopped her.”

Cal said nothing, knowing that everything Farley said was true. Every accusation just repeated the words he thought to himself every day.  But it had all happened so fast, he had been unable to keep track of all the bars that had been thrown at him by Maven’s tame magnetrons.  One must have gotten by him, and the next thing he remembered he was coming to, bar suddenly tight around this neck and wrists.  Holding him in place as he watched his brother toy with Mare before he killed them all.

When Maven had threatened Mare for mentioning his mother, Cal had seen red.  Had tried desperately to melt the bars holding his wrists hostages, watching Mare with bated breath.  Hoping she wouldn’t do anything stupid, wouldn't provoke Maven into something dangerous.

And then suddenly his world had turned upside down as she was promising to go with him freely, without a fight.  Shell-shocked as one of his worst nightmares played out in front of him.  As Mare went willingly with his brother.  The monster who wore the face of the boy they had both once loved.

He had barely heard Kilorn’s desperate yells for him to do something, to stop her. Had not even registered the protests of the others around him, as they tried in vain to break the bonds that held them.  All he could do was watch, ashen, as Maven accepted her offer with a sickening smile.  

And then they were gone.

“So what happened, Cal?” Farley asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.  “Were you too worried about all that precious Silver blood you would have to spill to save one meaningless Red?”

Cal clenched his fists, glaring at the blonde-haired woman.

“That’s enough, Farley,” Cal growled.  His tone a warning plain as day.

But Farley ignores him, having no plans of listening to the fire prince’s commands.

“Oh, did I hit a nerve?” Farley asked spitefully.  “So it’s true, you’re just a coward who would rather give up the lightning girl than get your hands dirty? Than have to finally face your little brother?”

“I said enough,” Cal snapped, a wave of heat rippling off of his skin, causing even Farley to step back. 

Eyes burning, his whole body boiling with rage.  A rage born of self-loathing, the knowledge that he had failed to protect one of the only people left that he still cared about.

He resented that Farley was twisting his distaste for the callous killing of Silvers, people he had once been friends with, as something ugly and false. Accusing of him being able to put anything before the safety of the woman who had become his whole world.  

“I will burn down the world if that’s what it takes to get her back,” Cal promised, finally filling the silence, his words throbbing with conviction.

Farley stared for him a long minute, before she nodded, the anger that sustained her starting to recede.  Leaving behind a woman who was tired, tired of losing too much.  But was still willing to fight on.

“You better, Calore,” she answered.  “Otherwise her blood will be on your hands.”

“Do you actually think he would kill her?” Kilorn interjected nervously, no longer able to remain silent.

“No,” Cal answered readily before Farley could say a word.

"You sound pretty sure about that, Calore,” Farley said, with a raised eyebrow.  “Are you sure you’re not just underestimating Maven, once again?”

The heat Cal exuded disappeared as quickly as it appeared, his anger cooling to dread,  and Kilorn shivered at the sudden chill in the air.

“No,” Cal said again, turning haunted eyes onto Farley.  “Maven’s waited too long, worked too hard to get his hands on her.  He wants her as a possession.  He wants her to be his.  Besides, if he kills her she becomes a martyr, and Maven’s smart enough to know how dangerous that could be.”

“What are you saying?” Kilorn demanded, seeing the color drain from Farley’s face.

“She will either bend to his will,” Cal said, voice strained.  “Or he will break her.”

“She won’t bend,” Kilorn whispered, face white.  “That’s just not who she is.  She’s too stubborn.”

Cal looked away, not even bothering to acknowledge Kilorn’s comment, knowing all too well just how stubborn Mare Barrow truly was.  But also knowing, now, that his brother was willing to do whatever it took to win. To get what he wanted.

All three remained silent, each lost in their own thoughts of what Cal’s words could mean for the little lightning girl if he was right.

And despite everything, Cal still knew Maven better than most.

“Well,” Farley said finally, “I hope you're prepared to start some fires, Calore.  And I suggest that you finally pick a side.  Because we are truly at war now.”

Farley stalked out of the room without a backward glance. After a few seconds, Kilorn followed, leaving Cal alone, drowning in despair.  Staring at the image of Mare on the screen in front of him, wondering what was happening to her at that moment.  And desperately hoping she was strong enough not to break until they found a way to save her.

Because he had told Farley the truth, he was prepared to do anything to get her back.  And if that meant Nora went up in flames, he would happily light the spark.  As long as it meant he could get her back.