“Hold still, Mare,” Gisa scolded, as she placed another strategic pin at her sister’s waist. “Or I’ll never get this done in time for the Gala.”
Mare made a face at the other girl but stopped fidgeting.
“You know, I didn’t ask you to make me a dress,” Mare grumbled. “I’m sure I could have found something that didn’t require me becoming a human pin cushion.”
“I haven’t stuck you once, and you know it,” Gisa answered, with an indignant sniff. “And what kind of sister would I be if I let you show up to the biggest event of the year looking like some type of river rat.”
Mare huffed, “A less annoying one, probably.”
“I’m going to ignore that,” Gisa said, before taking a step back to look at her handiwork. “There, we’re all done. Take that off and leave it on the chair so I can finish it tonight.”
“Finally,” Mare said with a sigh, carefully stepping out of the pin-filled dress and getting back into in a pair of black pants and a loose sweater in record time.
“Why are you in such a rush, anyway,” Gisa asked, eyes narrowed. “Don’t tell me you have a hot date?”
Mare rolled her eyes, “Hardly. Just meeting someone for dinner, and I’m already late. I didn’t think this was going to take so long.”
“Oooh, so it is a date,” Gisa said, wiggling her eyebrows. “Let me guess. It’s with Tyton?”
“It is not a date,” Mare answered with a glare. “If you must know, I’m meeting Eve. And even if I was meeting Tyton, it wouldn’t be a date.”
“Right,” Gisa answered, clearly humoring her.
“It wouldn’t,” Mare insisted. “We’re just friends. There’s absolutely zero chance of anything… more happening.”
“I’m not so sure he knows that,” Gisa answered.
“Of course he does,” Mare snapped. At least he should. Mare valued his friendship- she valued the friendship of all her fellow electricons- but she had never given Tyton any reason to think she wanted anything more. Was ready for anything more.
“Would it be so bad if he didn’t?” Gisa asked plaintively. “I mean it’s obvious he cares about you, and the two of you get along pretty well. It might be nice for you to have someone to share things with, to lean on.”
“What brought this on?” Mare asked suspiciously. “Did mom put you up to this?”
Her mother was forever going on about how she should meet a nice boy and settle down, now that they were comfortably acclimated to their new home in Montfort. Clara had spoiled her and now she was dying for more grand-children. Mare usually just pawned her off on Tramy and Bree, who were conveniently still single. Not to mention older than she was.
“No,” Gisa said slowly. “It’s just- I know that you still can’t sleep by yourself and I would feel terrible leaving you all alone. If I move out that is. So if you had somebody…”
“Is this a theoretical conversation?” Mare questioned. “Or are you trying to tell me something?”
“Well, Arabelle and I were thinking of getting a place together,” Gisa admitted. “It’s nothing definite yet, but we’ve been talking about it.”
“Wow,” Mare said, slowly. “That’s a big move Gisa…”
“I mean, we’ve been together for a year now. So..” Gisa said.
A year. It has been fourteen months, two weeks, and four days since the end of the war. Since Mare had left Norta. Since she had last seen…
“Of course,” Mare answered quickly. “Well, I mean, don’t feel like you need to stay home on my account, Gi. I’ll figure it out.”
She was dreading the thought of sleeping alone. Of the nightmares. But she couldn’t tell her sister that, be the reason she held back from something she wanted. Someone she wanted.
“And no, not with Tyton,” Mare added hastily. “That is not going to happen.”
“Mare,” Gisa said softly. “At some point, you’re going to have to move on…”
Gisa’s words trailed off, leading to an awkward silence that blanketed the room.
Both girls jumped as the bell at the front door rang, indicating a customer had entered the small shop.
“I have to-“ Gisa started.
“Go,” Mare said, trying to smile, but judging by the look of pity on Gisa’s face, it probably came out more as a grimace. “I have to leave anyway. Eve is already going to kill me. She hates when people are late.”
Mare was already halfway out the door in her rush to leave before Gisa even had a chance to answer.
“You’re late,” Evangeline said sharply, not even bothering to look up from her menu as Mare flopped down breathless into the chair across from her.
“Blame Gisa,” Mare grumbled. “Besides, you haven’t even ordered a drink yet. I can’t be that late.”
“Actually, I already ordered a glass of wine. Don’t worry Barrow, I got you one too,” Evangeline answered, finally putting her menu down. “It looks like you need it.”
“You have no idea,” Mare answered, thinking about the conversation with her sister earlier.
“So, what did the youngest Barrow do to make you late to a dinner you scheduled days ago with your best friend?” Evangeline asked eyes narrowed.
If someone had told Mare a year ago that Evangeline Samos would be her best friend she would have laughed in their face. Evangeline would probably have shred them to ribbons. But the months in Montfort had softened Evangeline, the quiet life she had here with Elane suited her. And they had realized they might have more in common than they had once thought.
“A dress fitting,” Mare sighed, and Evangeline smirked at the dramatics.
“Ah, yes. The Gala,” Evangeline said breezily. “I suppose since it is to celebrate the end of the war, the little lightning girl should be in attendance in all her glory.”
“I’m assuming you’re going?” Mare asked, eyebrow raised, as the waiter arrived with two glasses of wine.
“Of course,” Evangeline answered, sipping from her glass delicately. “You know I would never miss a chance to dance with my beautiful wife. Speaking of which, will a certain white-haired electricon be escorting you?”
Mare groaned. “What is with everyone thinking me and Tyton are together? I told you a million times, we are just friends.”
"You spend quite a bit of time together, going on little dinner dates. Just the two of you," Evangeline mused.
"You and me," Mare pointed between the two of them them. "We're at dinner. Just the two of us. Does that mean we're having some type of secret tryst?"
"Please, you're hardly my type," Evangeline scoffed. “I'm just saying, you two have been awfully cozy lately. You would tell me if something was actually going on, right Barrow?”
“Yes,” Mare said exasperated. “And nothing is, or ever will, be going on between us.”
“Fine,” Evangeline said, sitting back as the waiter came back over to the table with a friendly smile. “I’ll believe you. For now.”
Mare shot her friend a glare, before turning to the waiter to place her order. After asking what felt like a million questions, Evangeline finally chose what she wanted, and the waiter walked away looking frazzled.
“You come here all the time,” Mare said. “There is absolutely no way you had all those questions about the menu.”
Evangeline shrugged. “I like to keep people on their toes.”
Mare snorted a laugh. More like the edge of a knife.
“Oh,” Evangeline said suddenly. “I forgot to tell you! Tolly and Wren are going to the Gala and decided to come early so they could spend some time here. They land tomorrow morning.”
Mare forced a smile before taking another sip of her wine. For the sake of her and Eve’s friendship, Mare had finally forgiven the other woman’s brother for the death of her’s.
But she hadn’t forgotten, and she tried to stay clear of him whenever he visited his sister in Montfort. It has been a bit of a relief when he and Wren had decided to move back to Norta, even though Evangeline had been heartbroken for weeks.
“That’s nice,” Mare said, noncommittally.
“He mentioned that quite a few people from Norta are planning to come over for the big event,” Evangeline continued with a sly smile. “It should be quite a turnout.”
Oh?” Mare finally choked out, when Evangeline stared at her expectantly.
Mare desperately wanted to ask if one specific person was coming from Norta but she didn’t know if she was ready to hear the answer. Wasn’t even sure what answer she wanted to hear.
It had been fourteen months.
Fourteen months, two weeks, and four days. Since she had left him on the tarmac, and told him that they needed time apart. Since she had told him she wouldn’t ask him to wait.
But she had waited, had known in her heart that she would wait however long it took. That the former fire prince would always have her heart.
She wondered if he waited.
He had written a few letters in the beginning. But Mare had not known how to answer, what to say, so she never wrote back. Eventually he had stopped writing and she had not heard from him since.
She was sure Evangeline knew how he was doing, what he had been up to. But Mare had never asked and Evangeline had never offered the information.
So Mare contented herself with reading the letters he had sent over and over, until they had started to fray at the edges.
Evangeline’s eyes narrowed at Mare, realizing that was the only reaction she was going to get.
“Anyway, Laney and I are having a small dinner party for Tolly and Wren at our place tomorrow night, and I want you to be there.”
As usual with Evangeline, it was clear by her tone that this was not a request but a demand.
“I have plans with-“ Mare started.
“With Tyton?” Evangeline asked with a smirk, causing Mare to roll her eyes in annoyance. “Bring him along, then.”
“I don’t know, Eve,” Mare tried. “I know he’s your brother-“
“And you are my best friend,” Evangeline said firmly. “And I’m asking you, as my best friend, to be there tomorrow.”
“Fine,” Mare sighed, hating Evangeline for being able to use guilt just as easily as she could wield a blade. “I’ll let Tyton know there’s been a change of plans.”
“Wonderful. Be there at eight. Don’t be late,” Evangeline said, clapping her hands. “Now, tell me about whatever masterpiece little Barrow is creating for you. I know you have no interest in fashion but even you know all of your’s sister’s designs are incredible.”
When Mare got home Gisa was still not there, despite the late hour. She was probably out with Arabelle. After what her sister had confided earlier, Mare figured she might as well get used to sleeping by herself. She would have no other choice soon enough.
After tossing and turning for what felt like hours, Mare finally fell into a restless sleep. She dreamt of fiery bronze eyes and storms in the woods, felt a warmth she hadn’t felt in ages. Until the eyes turned ice blue, like they always did, watching her as the life bled from his body.
As she killed him. As his lips moved to speak words Mare recognized immediately.
Anyone can betray anyone.
Mare woke up with a start, sweat dripping down her body, breathing heavily. As her disorientation faded, she glanced around the room and noticed with relief that Gisa still wasn’t home. She didn’t want her sister to see her like this. Then she would never leave. And as much as Mare wished she would always stay, she refused to hold the other girl back.
She would deal with it. She’d been through much worse.
Sighing, she went out to the small balcony off of her room that looked out to the mountains and stayed up watching the sunrise.
“I still don’t understand why Evangeline was so adamant that I come to your family dinner,” Cal grumbled as the transport headed up the mountain, outside of the city, and into the quieter residential area.
“Well you were almost family,” Ptolemus quipped drily. “Twice, if I remember correctly.”
Cal glared at Ptolemus but he just smirked in return. Wren shot her boyfriend a warning look before smiling at Cal.
“It’s been a while since we’ve all seen each other,” Wren said encouragingly. “Come on, Cal, it will be fun.”
“Besides,” Ptolemus added matter-of-factly, “what else were you going to do?“
Probably nothing. He had thought about trying to track down Mare but in the end, he was too much of a coward. So he would have probably ended up ordering room service at their hotel and feeling sorry for himself. Maybe found a bar to get a drink. To try and forget that he was closer to Mare than he had been in over a year.
To forget the unanswered letters. To forget what she had said the last time he saw her when she had flown out of Norta and his life.
I won’t ask you to wait for me.
Had she said that because she didn’t want to wait for him? Was she just letting him down easy?
Did she move on?
Part of Cal was dying to know, knew that he would never be able to move on unless he did. But another part of him was terrified that the answer was yes.
The transport pulled up to an elegant cottage built into the mountain, a large deck on the second floor facing the direction of the sunset.
“We’re here,” Wren said, turning to Cal. “Try to have an open mind. Maybe you’ll have a better time than you think.”
Wren winked at him then stepped out of the car daintily. Cal looked at Ptolemus questioningly but he only shrugged and followed Wren out of the car and up the small pathway to the front door. Sighing, Cal shut the door of the transport and made it to the door just as it flew open and a blur of silver flung itself into Ptolemus’s arms.
“Tolly!” Evangeline said excitedly as Ptolemus laughed. “I’m so glad you’re here!”
Evangeline turned to embrace Wren next before turning to Cal.
“Calore, it's good to see you,” Evangeline said, with a small smile. “It’s been a while.”
“You too, Eve,” Cal said warmly. “It looks like Montfort agrees with you.”
“It’s not just Montfort,” Evangeline replied with a smirk. “Being with the person you love really does marvels for the spirit. You should try it sometime.”
And with that, Evangeline spun around, motioning for them to follow her inside before Cal could answer.
Cal glanced around at the apartment from his seat at the large oak dining room table. The seat he had been informed he was assigned to the moment he walked in. The apartment was light and airy, as neutral canvas splashed with color from the elegant artwork hanging from the walls. The table was decorated with delicate long red flowers in crystal vases and long silver candlesticks, their small twinkling flames causing the silver plates and cutlery to reflect their light.
Evangeline and Elane had really gone all out for this family dinner. Glancing around the table as everyone moved to sit down, he noticed there were two empty chairs.
“Are you expecting more guests?” Cal asked, gesturing to the chairs as he accepted the wine glass Elane handed him.
“Just a couple of friends,” Elane answered casually. “They should be here soon.”
“She's late,” Evangeline scowled from the other end of the table. “As usual. I swear I’m buying that girl a watch for her birthday this year.”
“I’m sure she will be here any minute,” Elane said, smiling indulgently, melting Evangeline’s scowl immediately.
Cal watched and couldn’t help think how right this seemed. How happy Evangeline was. And to think, they had all almost had a very different future.
He lifted his glass to his lips, curious to learn who the two mystery guests were. If they were people he knew or new friends they had made in Montfort. He tried to remember if he had heard of any of the Silvers from their former circle making their way to Ascendent.
“I’m so sorry, please don’t kill me,” a voice called breathlessly from the hall.
Cal froze, his eyes widening in shock as he immediately recognized the voice. He would know that voice anywhere. But she had been the last person he would have expected to be invited to a dinner party hosted by Evangeline Samos.
Mare suddenly burst into the dining room, her face apologetic, “I know we’re late, but-“
And then her brown eyes met Cal’s bronze ones from across the room and her mouth suddenly snapped closed, any words she was planning to say forgotten.
Cal stared at Mare, unable to tear his eyes away from her. She was still as beautiful as he remembered. Her hair was a bit longer, her cheeks a bit fuller. But Cal still felt the same electric current he always had when they were in the same room. He wanted to reach out and touch her so badly that it was actually a physical ache.
Ptolemus coughed, nudging him under the table and Cal reluctantly pulled his gaze away from Mare to look down. He flushed as he noticed the fork that was glowing red-hot in his hand, and carefully put it down to take a deep breath.
Evangeline watched him with a satisfied smile before turning to Mare, who still lingered awkwardly by the table. Looking like a panicked animal caught in a trap.
“I’m sure you have a terrible excuse, as usual,” Evangeline said with a dramatic sigh. “So let’s just skip to the part where you sit down and we can get on with dinner.”
“You know she gets moody when she’s hungry,” Elane said with a smirk, as she hugged Mare hello. “Tyton, it’s good to see you.”
“You too,” a male voice said behind Mare. “Thanks for the invite.”
Cal easily recognized the white-haired electricon, noting with interest that it looked like Mare and Tyton had arrived together. He suddenly found himself remembering how jealous he had once been of the other man and wondered if maybe that irrational fear hadn’t been so irrational after all.
“Well you know,” Evangeline said in a sing-song voice. “Any friend of Mare’s…”
Mare sent Evangeline a pointed glare, which Evangeline just ignored. Cal watched their interaction with interest, noting that their banter no longer held the edge it once did. Mare’s glare held no real heat but rather, affectionate annoyance. Cal could still easily remember when they were at each others’ throats.
“Mare, you’re seat’s over there next to Cal. You remember Cal, don’t you?” Evangeline asked sweetly. “Tyton, you can sit between me and Mare.”
“Assigned seats, really, Eve?” Mare mumbled, as she weaved around the table to the chair on Cal’s left.
He clenched his fists as she sat down next to him, repeating his mantra in his head, determined not to embarrass himself by burning Evangeline’s fancy tablecloth.
Mare shifted uncomfortably in her chair next to him and before he could stop himself, his eyes were drawn to her like a magnet. Her eyes caught his gaze and darted to the side as she bit her lower lip. Cal’s eyes shifted to her mouth, watching her tear gently at the tender skin in fascination. Remembering how those lips had tasted...
“Hi, Cal,” Mare said awkwardly, breaking the silence and causing Cal’s eyes to snap back up to her eyes guiltily. “How are you? I mean, how have you been?”
Cal cleared his throat. “Good. I’ve been good. How have you been?”
Cal wanted to smack himself for sounding like such an idiot. But this was the closest he had been to her in so long and he hadn’t even been prepared. It was overwhelming and not nearly enough, all at the same time.
“Good,” Mare agreed, nodding her head and they fell into another long silence. Mare fidgeted again and was about to turn to her other side to ask Tyton something when Cal blurted out the first thing that came to his mind. Desperately wanting to keep her attention, to have some more time with her.
“So, you and Evangeline are best friends now?” Cal asked, with a smile. “I have to admit, I did not see that coming.”
“Yeah,” Mare answered with a small laugh. Cal missed that sound. It was one of his favorite sounds. “I’m still not exactly sure how it happened. A little while after her and Elane got here, she asked me if I wanted to spar. It was kind of boring around here so I was looking for a way to let off some steam. And who was I to turn down an opportunity to kick Evangeline Samos's ass? So I said yes. And I guess one thing just led to another.”
“Of course, a tale as old as time,” Cal agreed with a grin. “So did you? Kick her ass?”
"Of course,” Mare answered with a cocky smile.
“You did not, Barrow,” Evangeline protested, having overheard their conversation. “It was a draw and you know it.”
“Come on, Eve,” Mare said. “Don’t be a sore loser. I mean, at least you put up a good fight.”
Evangeline glared at Mare then turned to Tyton with a sigh.
“Tyton, I don’t know how you put up with her.”
Tyton chuckled, “Oh, she’s not so bad.”
Mare flushed and Cal felt a flash of jealousy as he wondered what Evangeline had meant by that comment.
“So Tyton, are you going to the Gala?” Evangeline asked, in between bites of the delicate lamb in wine sauce that Elane had set out on the table.
“I am, yes,” Tyton answered politely.
“That’s good,” Evangeline said, smiling at Mare. “I’m sure Mare will be happy to have you there.”
Again Mare glared daggers at Evangeline but didn’t say anything, instead, turning her focus to aggressively slicing her lamb into tiny pieces.
“I hope so,” Tyton answered honestly, glancing back at Mare uncertainly. Mare kept her gaze decidedly on her plate.
Cal wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not.
Evangeline smirked before turning to Cal, eyes alight with a sense of mischief that made him more than a little wary.
“Cal,” she said brightly. “How does it feel to be back in Montfort for your first time as a regular citizen?”
“It’s definitely much nicer being a tourist,” Cal said carefully.
“I can imagine,” Evangeline said with an understanding nod. “It’s so crazy to think that this is only your second time here. Once the war ended, I’m surprised you didn't come back before this. Your uncle has been to visit quite a few times.”
There was a very good reason Cal had not come to Montfort.
Mare had asked him for space and he had tried his hardest to respect that. When she had never written back to his letters, he assumed that meant she wasn’t ready and that he had pushed too far. Too soon. Not wanting to risk any chance he might have with her because of his own impatience, he had decided that he would wait for her to come to him.
And over a year later she still hadn’t.
So when Montfort had invited him to the annual Gala, he figured that was the perfect opportunity. It was expected for him to come to the Gala after all. And if he saw Mare there that would just be a happy coincidence.
But now, watching Mare and Tyton and reading between the lines of Evangeline’s seemingly innocent words, he was wondering if that had been a mistake. If he had waited too long for her to make the first move and she had decided to move on. To find someone else.
Cal couldn't help flashing a quick glance at Mare before turning his eyes back to Evangeline.
“I’ve been busy at work, haven't had much free time.”
“Right,” Evangeline answered with little conviction, before turning to Ptolemus and Wren to ask about their new home in Norta.
Cal let out a breath and turned his head slightly to steal another look at Mare, who was laughing at something Tyton had said.
Control, Cal reminded himself, forcing a polite smile on his face as the small talk continued around him.
Trying not to burn.
Mare glared at the slice of elegant cake dusted in gold on the plate in front of her, stabbing it aggressively with her fork. Imagining the confectioner’s masterpiece was Evangeline’s smug face.
Eve was in for a rude awakening the next time they sparred, payback for the most uncomfortable night Mare had experienced in a while. She didn’t know what game Eve was playing at but if she made one more suggestive comment about her and Tyton, Mare didn’t think she would be able to control the electricity pulsing through her fingers.
Mare didn’t know what made it worse, the hopeful looks Tyton shot her at each of Eve’s carefully worded innuendos or the fact that the man on the other side of her seemed completely unmoved by them. While the sensible part of her was relieved that Eve’s efforts to bait him went unanswered, a small part of her longed to feel the singe of his heat. At least then she might have a hint regarding where they stood.
For a moment when she at first arrived, she had thought she had glimpsed a familiar fire burning in the eyes that had haunted her the past year. But it had been so quickly replaced by an indifferent mask, she couldn’t be sure if it had just been her imagination conjuring what she wished to see.
It had been awkward, making pleasant small talk with someone who had once seen into your very soul, and Mare felt further away from Cal than she had in months. As if they were barely acquaintances who had once run in the same social circles. Mare hated it and had spent most of the evening talking to Tyton, avoiding the handsome stranger with familiar bronze eyes.
This was not what she had expected, what she hoped for when she imagined them seeing each other again for the first time. At all. There were things she wanted to say to him, needed to ask him. But she was not asking them in front of the whole Samos family and Tyton.
Maybe not ever, a small voice whispered in her head. The part of her that was suddenly scared of what the answers might be.
Maybe she wasn’t ready yet.
Mare grimaced as Eve’s sickly sweet voice interrupted her thoughts, recognizing the tone and immediately on alert. Waiting for another nuanced comment regarding her and Tyton’s non-existing romantic relationship, couched in a seemingly innocent remark. Surprisingly, though, Evangeline’s target this time wasn’t her but the ex-fire prince himself.
“So, Cal,” Evangeline said mischievously, “Tell me about this Natalia I have been hearing so much about. I confess, since Tolly told me about your new friend, a Silver who is helping to build the new government, I couldn't help but be intrigued. You two much have so much in common, after all.”
Mare's eyes lifted from her plate, widening in alarm at Evangeline’s words before turning back to her dessert, feigning disinterest.
Maybe didn't even matter if she was ready.
Cal stiffened beside her but she didn’t dare look at him to see his reaction, dreading what she might see there.
“There’s not much to tell. We work together, and she’s good at her job,” Cal answered tightly. “She's been a great help in the unification project.”
Oh, come on Calore,” Evangeline answered, with a deadly smile. “Rumor has it, the girl is quite smitten with you. Surely there must be something more. Or are you just being a gentleman, deciding not to kiss and tell?”
Mare felt a rush of anxiety, finding it hard to breathe, the room seeming to shrink in size. Suddenly she felt hot but wasn’t sure if it was coming off of Cal or a result of her world spiraling out of control. Thinking of the many kisses she had shared with him and imagining his lips on someone else’s.
She barely heard Cal’s response, only knew that he made one before she could feel the heavy weight of his gaze.
She couldn’t be here anymore, needed to get out.
She felt her sparks tingle closer to the surface and then a hand clamped down on her's, taking the electricity away. Tyton.
Mare turned to look at him, it was safer than looking at the man to the other side of her. His kind eyes searched hers and he squeezed her hand as if he could read her sudden wave of panic.
“Mare,” Tyton said abruptly, all eyes turning to him. “Didn’t we have to leave by ten, something about getting back to your sister?”
Mare stared blankly at him until he nudged her foot under the table.
“Oh, right, yeah,” Mare said quickly. “I almost forgot. What time is it?”
“It’s five to ten,” Tyton answered, shooting the rest of the table an apologetic smile. “We should probably get going.”
“Surely little Barrow can wait a few more minutes?” Evangeline cut in with a pout. “We haven’t even finished dessert yet.”
“No, she can’t,” Mare answered, shooting Evangeline a look. “Sorry, Elane, dinner was great. Thanks so much for having us.”
Mare stood up from the table with barely concealed relief and pushed her chair back before smiling politely around the table, careful to not let her gaze linger on any one person.
“It was nice seeing all of you,” Mare said, voice starting to show strain, before turning to Tyton. “I just have to run to the bathroom before we leave. ’ll meet you out front?”
Mare escaped from the suffocating room as quickly as possible, making a beeline for the small guest bathroom at the end of the hall. Shutting the door behind her she leaned against the door, heaving giant breaths of air as she tried to to calm herself down. Finally, she turned to the mirror, angrily wiping away the few tears that threatened to fall from her eyes.
“Pull yourself together, Mare,” she grumbled at her reflection in the mirror.
Of course, Cal had moved on. It had been fourteen months. Mare shook the image of Cal laughing with a beautiful blonde-haired girl with Silver blood out of her mind. That was the life Cal was meant to have, not one with her. Not with a damaged, plain-looking Red girl.
Not with the person who had murdered his brother.
How could she have let herself think he would even want that? That he would have waited for that future?
A knock on the door was the final piece Mare needed to pull herself together, to keep herself from crumbling into a ball of miserable rejection. At least long enough until she got home to the safety of her bed. Tyton had probably gotten sick of waiting for her, came to find her so they could leave. She suddenly felt guilty, knowing the only reason Tyton had come tonight was that she asked, that otherwise, he would never be at a dinner with a bunch of virtual strangers.
Taking a deep breath, Mare steeled herself to open the door and put up a semblance of a smile.
“Sorry I took so long-“ she started as she opened the door, only to stop short as she came face to face with Cal.
“Sorry,” Cal mumbled, stepping back slightly.
“It’s fine,” Mare answered automatically. “I mean, I’m the one who should be sorry. I didn’t realize anyone was waiting-”
“I wasn’t,” Cal answered quickly, and Mare felt herself deflate at those words that seemed to hold so much meaning.
Seeing her face fall, Cal hurriedly corrected himself, “I mean, I wasn’t waiting for the bathroom. I was waiting for you.”
He was waiting for her. But that could mean anything, Mare scolded herself, as she felt her heartbeat accelerate. They were just words. They didn’t mean he had been waiting, didn’t mean he was still waiting.
Cal grabbed one of her hands in his and Mare felt warmer than she had in so long at his touch. She pulled her hand back quickly, missing the way Cal’s face fell before it formed into a determined mask.
His touch was addicting, she hadn’t been prepared for how it would affect her. How much she would yearn for more. How much she wanted it hotter, wanted to burn.
“I just- I was hoping- I wanted to ask…” Cal stammered awkwardly. “Can we talk, Mare?”
Mare stared at him expectantly in the doorway and Cal flushed silver.
“I meant- can we go somewhere private?” Cal asked again.
Mare felt a sudden sense of panic. She wanted to talk to him, she did. But at the same time, she wasn't ready. She wasn't ready for everything that they had to say to each other, wasn’t ready to know what his answer was.
Mistaking her panic, Cal was quick to reassure her and put his hands in the air in a motion of innocence.
“Just to talk, I promise,” Cal said carefully, before taking a deep breath.
Mare, on the other hand, didn’t dare to breathe. The electricity pounding through her blood, she could feel it heavy in the air between them.
“Mare,” Cal started, his voice dropping, low and husky with emotion, “I just need you to know-
“Mare, are you coming?” a voice called from the hallway, interrupting the moment immediately and whatever Cal had been about to confess.
Tyton’s white hair appeared over Cal’s shoulder and Mare instantly pulled away, severing the pull that had existed between the two of them.
Mare didn’t know if she was disappointed or relieved by the interruption.
"Yeah, give me one sec,” Mare called with a strained smile, before turning to Cal. “Sorry, I gotta go. But I’ll see you tomorrow? Maybe before the party, I can show you around and we can catch up.”
“I’m in meetings all day,” Cal answered, clearly disappointed. “But maybe I can-”
“It’s fine,” Mare answered quickly. “We can just talk there. Or after. We’ll figure it out.”
“Right,” Cal said, a ghost of the crooked smile she had fallen in love with appearing. “Save me a dance, then?”
Mare suddenly remembered the last time they had danced together and flushed.
“As long as you’re prepared to get your toes stepped on,” Mare said lightly, pushing away the memory that threatened to heat her blood. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Cal.”
“Good-night,” Cal answered softly.
Mare couldn’t bear to meet his steady gaze and quickly headed down the hallway towards Tyton, not daring to look back. Never seeing the powerful emotions that burned in his eyes, the ones that promised to engulf them both in their flames.
When they had finally arrived back at the Barrow residence, Mare had practically raced into the house and upstairs to the safety of her bedroom, needing to be alone with her thoughts. Mare was vaguely aware of Tyton’s concern at her silence on the way home but had been too busy sorting her own thoughts to really do anything about it.
She really was a terrible person.
Maybe it was better if Cal did find a new life with that Natalia girl, didn’t let her screw up his life even more. If she really loved him, really cared about him, shouldn’t she want that for him? She was broken, a murderer, someone who used people for what they could give her callously and then gave nothing in return.
M wasn’t just for Maven. M was for Monster. And for Mare.
Cal deserved more than that. But the thought of him with another woman, his beautiful eyes burning with love for someone else…. It was too much to bear.
Because at the end of the day Mare wasn’t just a horrible person, she was also selfish. And she wanted Cal more than she could ever admit to herself. Needed him even.
And she didn’t think she was strong enough to let him go.
When Mare slept that night, she dreamed of the future. Cal with an elegant Silver lady and tiny perfect Silver children, dancing around him as he laughed happily.
And her all alone, with only cold blue eyes for company. Always watching, always mocking her.
Anyone can betray anyone.
Sorry, this was so short! The next chapter(s) will be at the Gala where all the action happens ; )
“Cal, were you even listening to a word I said?”
“Hmm?” Cal asked distractedly, not even bothering to look at the woman standing next to him.
Instead, he continued to scan the crowded room anxiously, hoping to find Mare. He had spent all day- and all of last night- thinking about the moment he would see her again. When he could finally talk to her. Hopefully without that white-haired electricon interrupting them again. The hours of pointless meetings he had been forced to sit through had dragged by painfully slow and Cal was just grateful that Ada had been there to help represent Norta.
He was pretty sure he had contributed little to nothing to the discussions and remembered even less.
Thankfully, Ada was more than able to navigate the negotiations that had needed to take place with their allies and had covered for his mental absence seamlessly. To be honest, she was better at this stuff than he could ever be, hadn’t needed him in the slightest. He wasn’t even sure why they insisted he attend these meetings, knowing that there was little he could add to the conversations.
In the beginning, he had been needed as a buffer between the Silver nobility and the Reds, but thankfully that was no longer the case. Ada’s confidence had grown over the past year and she was more than capable of holding her own. Cal wouldn’t be surprised if she was nominated as the new Premier in the upcoming election. She would certainly have his vote.
So while he left the politics in the capable hands of Ada, Cal’s mind had played out all the different ways his conversation with Mare could go. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The uncertainty was tearing him apart, and he was determined to end that tonight. One way or the other.
Checking the room again, he shuffled nervously on his feet as he took a large sip of his champagne. He wouldn’t allow himself to get carried away, knew he needed to be sharp for this conversation, but a little liquid courage never hurt anyone.
“Who are you even looking for?” the woman questioned, annoyance bleeding into her words. “Your grandmother?”
“No,” Cal said, reluctantly turning to face the woman next to him. “I’m not- I’m not looking for anyone. Sorry, what did you say?”
Natalia flipped her long blonde hair and flashed a sultry smile at him. One that didn’t quite reach her pale blue eyes.
Cal shifted uncomfortably under her gaze, not knowing how much more clearly he could tell this woman he wasn’t interested. Not that he didn’t like her as a person, she had been dedicated to creating equality in Norta despite her Silver blood and had worked tirelessly and competently with the Norta delegation to get them there. He also knew that she was, by the standards of society, quite beautiful.
But she didn’t make Cal pulse with excitement when she entered a room. She didn’t take his breath away merely by looking at him. Her words didn’t cut to his heart with deadly accuracy.
She was not Mare Barrow.
And when she had made her interest in him incredibly clear a few months ago, he had firmly- but politely- told her they could be nothing more than friends. She had accepted his response graciously at the time but Cal was starting to worry that she hadn’t taken his words at face value.
Especially given the rumors Evangeline had heard about the two of them all the way in Montfort.
Cal had angrily confronted her about bringing that up during dinner and the blonde-haired magnetron had just shrugged nonchalantly. Even more annoyingly, she had refused to tell him anything about Mare’s relationship with Tyton, claiming it was not her place to tell him. Which Cal found both amusing and incredibly frustrating at the same time.
Evangeline had never cared whether or not it was her place to divulge information before. Had certainly not seemed to care about it during dinner, her pointed comments clearly annoying her new best friend. If only Cal knew why, if it was because they were true or…
“I was just saying,” Natalia cut into his thoughts, “how much I love this song.”
Trying to focus his attention on the woman in front of him and not the one who constantly haunted his every waking moment, Cal realized that a band had started to play a new catchy tune he vaguely recognized.
“It’s a nice song,” Cal answered lamely, not exactly sure what response Natalia was looking for as she stared at him expectantly.
Natalia rested her hand on Cal’s arm, and he stiffened but fought the impulse to shake her off. Friends did this, right? It would be rude of him to push her away when she was just being friendly.
“Let’s go dance,” Natalia said, eyes bright with amusement. “I’m assuming as a former prince that you know how, right?”
“I mean, yeah, of course. I do,” Cal stammered awkwardly, looking around for an escape. Reluctant to give up his current post where he had a perfect view of the door and everyone who entered. “But maybe someone else-“
“Cal,” Natalia pleaded with wide eyes. “You’re one of the only people I know here. And I really don’t think your uncle is going to agree to dance with me. Please? It’s just one dance…”
Cal’s gaze turned to the doorway once more but a quick scan confirmed that she still hadn’t arrived. Looking back at Natalia’s eager face, Cal felt a stab of unwanted guilt. It was true that she only knew a handful of people at the gathering, having joined them well after the war was over and Montfort and the Scarlett Guard only remained involved on the fringes.
And maybe if he stopped watching so intently for Mare to arrive, she would actually show up and put him out of his misery.
“I can introduce you to some people here if you want,” Cal offered half-heartedly, giving in when she just gave him a pointed look. “Okay, okay. One dance. But then you’re on your own, alright?”
“It’ll be fun, I promise,” Natalia answered with a bright smile, easily side-stepping his question.
Cal sighed, and reluctantly allowed Natalia to pull him towards the dance floor, where a group of people was already gathered. Cal briefly noticed Evangeline and Elane dancing gracefully nearby, ignoring the pointed looks they shot at him as he placed his hands stiffly at Natalia’s waist.
Just one dance and then he could find Mare. And they could talk about everything.
Cal sighed in relief as the song finally ended and he could be released from the awkward position Natalia had forced him into. He had tried to discreetly move her wandering hands that ran teasingly down his chest multiple times but she had not seemed to get the hint.
Clearly agreeing to this dance had been a bad idea and had given Natalia the wrong impression. But even thinking about having that conversation with her again was exhausting and he had more important things to worry about right now. So he had resigned himself to making it through this one song and then beating a hasty exit. He could deal with any repercussions another time.
“See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Natalia said brightly, obviously not picking up on Cal’s eagerness to escape.
As Cal glanced around the room aimlessly, trying to formulate a reasonably believable excuse- or at least someone else to pawn her off on- his eyes caught and held on two figures across the room. Two people that he loved dearly but had never expected to see in such close proximity.
He watched, frozen, as his grandmother said something he could not make out from the distance, a dangerous smile on her face. His eyes immediately shifted to her companion, whose face was set in a familiar scowl.
This could not be good.
While he dearly loved Nannabelle, one of the only family members he had left in this world, he was terrified to see her speaking with Mare. She had no love for the little lightning girl, made no secret of the fact that she still blamed the young woman for his own decision to give up the crown. And while his grandmother had come a long way this past year, had made a great effort to support his decision and help in the rebuilding of a democratic Norta, he knew a part of her was still bitter about it. And rather than resenting her beloved grandson, she had chosen instead to direct those emotions at Mare Barrow.
She had been quite vocal about it on numerous occasions.
Cal felt a growing sense of panic, barely noticing Natalia trying to regain his attention, hardly daring to breathe. Then his eyes connected with the beautiful brown eyes he saw every night in his dreams. And the emptiness he saw in them before she spun around and fled the ballroom cut him worse than a thousand Samos daggers ever could.
“What are you waiting for, Calore?” A voice hissed angrily in his ear. “Go after her!”
Cal turned to stare at Evangeline blankly who had appeared at his shoulder, Elane at her side with a concerned look.
“What’s going on here?” Natalia interrupted, arms crossed and eyes narrowing at the former Samos princess. “Who exactly are-“
“You still love her, don’t you?” Evangeline continued, ignoring the other Silver woman. “Because if you do, this could be your last chance. Don’t be an idiot.”
Evangeline’s words snapped Cal out of his confusion and he nodded at Evangeline quickly before turning around abruptly to push through the crowd, following the path Mare had left. He barely noticed Natalia's demands for an explanation or Evangeline’s smug smile.
Cal desperately scanned the people he passed for the one face he was looking for, the crowds thinning as he moved further and further away from the ballroom. Where could she possibly be? And then his eyes stopped on a face he did recognize, halting in front of the other man abruptly.
Tyton leaned back against the wall of the empty hallway, arms crossed, staring at Cal with one eyebrow arched.
“Can I help you, Calore?” Tyton asked, not bothering to mask his obvious disdain for the former King.
Cal swallowed hard, pushing down his impulse to wipe the insolent look off the other man’s face.
“I need to find Mare,” Cal said evenly. “Have you seen her?”
“I might have,” Tyton responded easily.
“And?” Cal questioned impatiently. “Aren’t you going to tell me where she is?”
“No, I don’t think I will,” Tyton answered lazily, though his blue eyes were sharp with anger.
“And why’s that?” Cal asked, even though he had a pretty good guess about why Tyton wouldn’t want to share that information.
“Because you don’t deserve her,” Tyton answered, bitingly.
“Oh, and what, you do?” Cal asked, even while he knew Tyton was right. He didn’t deserve her. But that didn’t mean he could let her go.
Tyton pushed himself off the wall, stepping forward into Cal’s personal space.
“Mare’s built a life here for herself, a life without you,” Tyton said. “She could be happy. I could make her happy. So why don’t you just go back to your little Silver girlfriend and leave her alone.”
“I can’t,” Cal answered through gritted teeth. “I need-“
“Always about you, isn’t it, Calore?” Tyton sneered. “What you need, what you want. But you’re not a prince anymore, can’t have anything you want at the snap of your fingers.”
“Just tell me where she is,” Cal demanded, feeling his temper starting to snap, finding it harder to maintain the iron control on the fire inside of him.
“You know, you’re no better than your brother,” Tyton said tauntingly. “Maybe even worse. You only think about what you want, not what’s best for Mare.”
Cal’s flames burned the air around him at the mention of Maven, at the unfair comparison between how he and his brother felt about Mare.
Cal had given her space, stayed away for an entire year. Not because that’s what he wanted, but because it was what Mare wanted. Because he respected her wishes no matter how much it killed him to do so.
“Tyton, I’m warning you-“ Cal started, his voice practically a growl.
“What?” Tyton asked mockingly. “Are you going to warn me again about how she bites? Don’t worry, Calore, I’ve experienced how hard she bites for myself. I mean, you didn’t think she would wait around for you forever, did you?”
Cal’s heart dropped to his stomach. So it was true, he was too late. He had waited too long and now he had lost her. If he had even ever truly had her at all.
Tyton moved forward menacingly, "You’ve had your chance, Calore, and you’ve broken her heart enough times. First, you chose the crown over her. Then, you forced her to bear the responsibility of killing your psychopathic brother. Were too much of a coward to do the job yourself. You would think after murdering your own father-”
But that pushed Cal too far and before he knew what was happening, he felt the satisfying crunch as his fist connected with Tyton’s face. He barely processed the flicker of surprise in the other man’s eyes before a red-hot rage took over, finally finding a release for the frustrations and anger he had bottled up over the past two years. And even though in the back of his mind a part of him knew he would most likely regret this, it was a relief to finally just let go.
Tyton held his hands up, shocking Cal with electric currents but he barely felt them. If anything they just fed the flames of his anger as he continued to pummel Tyson’s face with his fist.
“Tyton, I- Cal, what the fuck?! What are you doing, get off of him!”
Mare’s furious voice finally broke through the red haze. Cal stared down at his fists, covered in red blood. Tyton’s blood. He glanced up and almost winced at the pure fury that was written all over Mare's face before she turned away from him to kneel by Tyton's side.
“Tyton, are you okay?” Mare asked with concern, her back towards Cal.
“Yeah,” Tyton croaked. “I’ve had worse.”
Mare continued to take stock of Tyton’s injury with gentle hands and Cal struggled to overcome the jealousy that was threatening to overwhelm him.
You didn’t think she would wait around forever, did you?
Mare stopped her ministrations, only to glare at Cal.
“What the hell were you thinking?” She hissed.
“I-I-,“ Cal stammered, unsure. His eyes met Tyton’s cold glare and he suddenly knew that Tyton was right.
“I’m sorry,” Cal muttered, before he turned hastily, exiting down the same hallway he had come from.
He needed to leave. He couldn’t be here. This was all a mistake. Trying to find Mare, ruining the happiness she had found here. Losing control with Tyton. He could not let himself become like Maven. He would not let his feelings for Mare become poisoned, become a twisted weapon that only hurt her.
And if that meant letting her go, he loved her enough to do that. Even if he would destroy himself in the process.
Hi Everyone! Sorry, this has taken SOO incredibly long. and not sure if anyone is still interested in reading this. I actually had this mostly written already so decided to publish it (even though it is incredibly short) but I figured you could read this while I work on the next part (probably the last chapter to wrap up this little story!) Not sure how long it will take me to get it finished since I am crazy busy now, but hope you like this little snippet in the meantime!
Mare stormed down the halls of the Premier’s estate, barely keeping her lightning in check as it buzzed frantically around her. The icy terror she had felt grip her heart seeing Tyton and Cal fighting in the deserted hallway, had conveniently turned into heated fury. Which was good. Anger was something Mare knew how to deal with. It was better than the fear she had felt, knowing Tyton barely had to lift a finger and he could fry the fire prince’s brain…
What had he been thinking? Was he really so stupid that he didn’t realize how utterly dangerous the white-haired electricon could be? Thankfully, Tyton had kept himself in check, unlike Cal. If Mare wasn’t so furious, she would almost appreciate the irony of the situation. Tiberias Calore, the living embodiment of self-control, allowing his emotions to control his actions.
She hadn’t had a chance to ask Tyton what exactly had set Cal off, had left as soon as Ella had arrived with a healer and she knew her friend was in safe hands. If Cal had wanted to get her attention he had certainly succeeded, and now she was determined to get answers directly from the source. About his fight with Tyton, about Nathalia, about all of it. Tiberias Calore was about to feel the full force of the lightning girl’s wrath.
Except there was no trace of Cal anywhere.
Mare’s frustration was starting to bubble over when she spotted Ptolemus and Wren whispering by the front doors. She tried to bury the small sense of satisfaction she felt at the glimpse of fear that crossed Ptolemus’s face before it was buried behind a look of nonchalance, as she stopped in front of them.
“Where is he?” She practically growled.
“I’m sorry,” Ptolemus answered blandly, as Wren looked on eyes wide. “I don’t know-“
“You know exactly what I mean,” Mare snarled. “Where. Is. He?”
“He just left,” Wren answered, nervously. “He might have gone back to the hotel-“
“And where is that?” Mare interrupted.
“He’s staying at the Hotel D’Montfort just down the road,” an authoritative voice broke in behind her. “But Mare, maybe you should-“
Evangeline’s mouth slammed shut as Mare spun around to glare at her friend. Before Evangeline or her brother could say anything else, Mare was already moving towards the door with lightning speed.
“He’s in room 203,” Elane called helpfully after her, having appeared suddenly at Evangeline’s side.
“What the hell is going on?” Evangeline hissed at her brother, who shrugged helplessly. Mare barely heard them, already slamming the great doors of the hall shut behind her as she burst out into the crisp evening air.
Determined to find the former fire-king before the fury that sustained her burnt out.
Cal sat in the center of his room, staring at the fire in the corner vacantly, nursing a strong glass of whiskey. Unable to see anything but the look of utter disdain on Mare’s face when she had walked in on him and Tyton. He shuddered, thinking of the eyes that had once been honey orbs filled with love, and now held nothing but disgust. Cal wished he had never come to Montfort, would rather still be in Norta holding onto hope than knowing that Mare now hated him. And worse, that he deserved for her to hate him.
Cal hissed in annoyance at the sudden banging on his door. He didn’t feel like talking to anyone right now, especially not Nannabelle. He hoped she hadn’t followed him back to his room, or worse, Natalia. He just wanted to be alone to wallow in his misery, he would deal with everyone else tomorrow.
But the banging only grew louder the longer he ignored it, despite his hope that they would give up and just leave. Sighing in resignation, Cal dragged himself over to the door and flung it open, prepared to send away his uninvited visitor as quickly as possible.
And then he froze, as his mind tried to catch up to the fact that it was her in the doorway. Not Nanabelle or Evangeline or Ptolemus. But Mare Barrow herself, practically spitting in frenetic anger. Part of his brain noted how beautiful she looked all fired up, while the rest whirled frantically for something to say. Instead of gaping at her like a complete idiot.
But she didn’t even give him a chance to react, roughly pushing past him to walk into the small hotel room where she proceeded to glare at him, hands firmly on her hips.
“What is wrong with you?” she demanded once he had shut the door and turned around to face her.
Cal rubbed a hand down his face, before sighing.
“I know, I’m sorry,” Cal said dully. “I shouldn’t have lost control like that, it’s just-“
“This is when you decide to have issues with your iron-clad sense of control?” Mare asked incredulously. “Do you have any idea how stupid that was?”
“I don’t think it should have any impact on the treaty between the Nortan States and Montfort. After all, I am only a figurehead now. If that-“ Cal started, voice low and controlled.
“Do you really think I care about the political implications, Tiberias?” Mare spat.
Cal stiffened at the use of his royal name, having hoped to never hear it from her lips again. Not after giving up his crown. The coldness of it hurt him, the formality making them feel like strangers.
“You’re right,” Cal answered tightly. “I’m sorry if I hurt your boyfriend, I shouldn’t have let it get that far, but-“
“First off, Tyton is not my boyfriend. We are just friends. That’s it,” Mare interrupted, eyes flashing. “Second, you do know that Tyton could fry your brain in like five seconds, right? If anyone could have been seriously hurt, it was you!”
“Wait,” Cal asked uncertainly, “so you and Tyton aren’t…”
“No,” Mare huffed. “Although I’m not sure why that matters to you. If I did move on I have every right to do so, I don’t belong to you. Especially since you seemed to have no problem doing it yourself.”
“What are you talking about?” Cal asked, shaking his head in confusion.
“Please,” Mare spat. “Your grandmother told me all about your little relationship with Natalia. I hope you two are very happy together.”
Cal took a step closer to Mare, but she quickly took a step back, tears glistening in her eyes.
“No, this was a mistake,” Mare muttered, as she quickly rubbed her eye with one hand, turning towards the door. “I should leave. Good-bye, Tiberias.”
“No, Mare, please,” Cal called desperately, grabbing her hand to turn her around. “I promise you, there’s nothing going on between me and Natalia. Or anyone.”
Mare looked into his fiery eyes warily, looking for the trap, the deceit. And could find none.
“But your grandmother…” Mare started hesitantly.
“Was wrong,” Cal said quickly, taking hope in the fact that she didn’t pull away. “I waited. I’m still waiting. That’s what I wanted to tell you yesterday at Eve’s house.”
“But you never came,” Mare said softly. “You stopped writing…”
“I wanted to give you the space you asked for,” Cal answered. “I didn’t want to rush you before you were ready. As much as it killed me to stay away from you for so long.”
Mare looked away from him, biting her lower lip, “And what if I’m still not ready? Everything is still so complicated…”
Cal put one finger under Mare’s chin, forcing her to look at him.
“You asked me once what I wanted and my answer is still the same. I want you more than anything in the world,” Cal swallowed, before continuing in a voice rough with emotions. “Now I’m asking you. What do you want, Mare? Whatever it is I’ll do it. I just- I just want you to be happy.”
“I don’t even know if I know how to be happy anymore,” Mare answered bitterly.
“Come on, Mare. Just answer the question,” Cal responded, doggedly. “Honestly. What do you want?”
Mare stared intently into Cal’s eyes, the silence hanging heavy around them. She could read every emotion clearly on his face, his blazing orbs a window into his very soul. Watched as his hopes and dreams battled with the fear and dread of her rejection. And through it all a fire that warmed her heart, once that she had missed desperately during this time apart.
And she knew what she wanted.
Grabbing him by the back of the head, she pulled Cal into a passionate kiss, reveling in the familiar heat coursing through her bones. She felt the fire consume her as Cal reciprocated eagerly, filling the cold empty place that had threatened to destroy her. The kiss was messy, all desperate lips and teeth clacking. And Mare knew she hadn’t felt this alive in too long.
And then all of a sudden it stopped, as Cal pulled back sharply, panting slightly. Mare opened her eyes in hazy confusion, until they focused on the same burning gaze that had haunted her dreams.
“You didn’t my question,” Cal said, the feigned casualness of his tone belied by the sudden spike in heat around them.
“Seriously?” Mare questioned, fighting the smile that was threatening to appear. “Do you really need me to spell it out for you?”
“Yes,” Cal answered seriously. “I really do.”
Mare rolled her eyes, sighing dramatically, trying desperately to ignore the small part of her that panicked at the mere idea of making herself so vulnerable. It yelled at her to run and never look back. Told her she wasn’t meant for happily ever after, that she didn’t deserve it. But she was tired of being alone, so tired of being perpetually numb. And the idea of feeling like that forever scared her more in that moment than the alternative.
“Fine. I want you, Cal,” Mare answered honestly before her voice turned softer. “I don’t think I ever really stopped.”
Cal’s eyes searched hers carefully, even as his hands tightened around her hips, pulling her closer. As if his mind was wary to believe what his body already knew. The intensity of his gaze caused a flash of heat to run through her, one that had nothing to do with his abilities.
“So are you going to kiss me already, or are you just going to stare at me all night?” Mare asked, the sharp words softened by the breathlessness of her voice.
A corner of Cal’s lips lifted in amusement, disappearing so quickly, Mare almost wondered if she actually saw it.
“We should talk first,” Cal said gravely. “About what happened, not just tonight but-“
Mare interrupted him, standing on the tips of her toes to place a lingering kiss to his lips. She knew he was right but she wasn’t ready for that yet.
And right now she needed his warmth, needed him to kindle the spark that was suddenly lit inside her.
“Later,” Mare whispered, her lips still a breath away from his.
Cal’s eyes flickered down to her lips and one of his hands moved up from Mare’s waist to settle in her hair.
“Later,” he finally agreed, voice hoarse with desire.
Mare felt all the tension leave her body as Cal finally kissed her. This kiss was different than earlier. It was just as passionate but filled with promise instead of desperation. A promise that Mare was looking forward to collecting on, as she finally let herself burn.
Hi Everyone! This is the last (probably) chapter of this little AU so I hope you enjoy it! I wanted to get it out quickly so sorry for any typos!
Mare cracked one eye open as the gentle heat of the morning sun warmed her bare shoulder. Stretching her legs, she instinctually leaned back into the warm body behind her. Her eyes widened in alarm at the thought. There was a warm body behind her, one she recognized immediately without even having to turn around. She groaned. What did she do last night? How could she be so stupid?
Maybe this wasn’t real, maybe this was all just a dream. Something her fevered mind had conjured up to torture her with after the gala, what she could have had. What she and Cal could have been. There was no way she actually went to his room last night, threw caution to the wind with so little abandon, right? She did have quite a few glasses of champagne, but that didn’t mean anything.
Mare shut her eyes tightly, starting to panic.
This is just a dream. This is just a dream.
“Good morning, beautiful,” Cal whispered in her ear sleepily, and the words hit her like an icy cold bucket of reality. This wasn’t a dream. This was all too real. And she had to put a stop to it before she lost control of the situation.
“What are we doing, Cal,” Mare asked finally, releasing a long sigh as she turned around to face him. She owed him at least that.
“I thought that was pretty obvious,” Cal murmured, as he trailed hot kisses down her neck towards her collarbone. “But I’m happy to give a more in-depth demonstration if you need me to.”
And for a moment, Mare got caught up in the feeling of Cal’s warm mouth on her, it felt so good. Too good. And it was as if Mare’s mind had short-circuited, unable to focus on any line of thought that didn’t involve his lips. His tongue, his…
But she grew cold as Cal’s lips reached the edge of her scar, the mark a different Calore had left on her. And suddenly, her brain seemed to remember why this was such a terrible idea, taking back control from her rebellious body. Remembered why she had ignored all of his letters, why she had been so frightfully alone all these months.
Because she deserved to be.
Cal halted his ministrations immediately, no doubt having felt her previously supple body go rigid, and she suddenly felt the full force of his worried stare.
“What’s wrong, Mare?” Cal asked, voice low and soothing as if he was speaking to an unpredictable, wild creature.
Which Mare supposed wasn't too far off the mark.
She pulled out of his arms, gaining some distance from him. She couldn’t think straight when he was touching her, couldn’t do what she knew she had to.
“This,” Mare said, gesturing between the two of them. “Can never work. We need to stop fooling ourselves, making the same mistakes over and over again.”
“And why is that?” Cal asked, sitting up straighter, his voice deceptively casual.
“First off, your entire life is in Norta. And mine is here,” Mare answered. “Even if it wasn’t, I’m not ready to go back there. I don’t know if I’ll ever be.”
Cal remained silent and even while a small part of Mare was disappointed he wasn’t going to argue her point, she was mostly relieved.
“This visit was my last official business for the Nortan States. As of tomorrow, I’m officially unemployed,” Cal finally said, watching her reaction carefully.
“What?” Mare blustered, blind-sighted by the admission.
Cal shrugged, “It was decided that I had served my purpose of bringing the two sides together. There are enough Reds and Silvers who are dedicated to the cause, who want unity. If anything I could just slow things down, be a reminder of what could have been. So they asked me to step down.”
“But…” Mare answered, not sure how to respond. Norta had always been such a huge part of who Cal was, it was hard to not imagine him involved in some shape or form. “What will you do?”
Cal shrugged again, “I’m not sure.”
“But you’re still going to stay in Norta, right? I mean, it’s not like they kicked you out or anything?”
“I don’t know,” Cal answered, his eyes darting her nervously. “I thought a change of scenery could be nice. I was looking into some potential opportunities in Montfort…”
“No,” Mare answered vehemently. “I- I can’t let you do that. Norta is your home, I can’t let you give that up to come here.”
“Norta is somewhere I lived,” Cal answered. “That’s it. And you are not letting me do anything. I’m a grown man, and I can make my own decisions. Unless you would prefer that I stay far away in Norta? Is that what this is all about?”
Mare bit her lip, unable to meet his fiery gaze. Because he was right, she did want him far away, just not for the reason he suspected. How hard would it be to have him so close, but still not hers? Because as much as she desperately wanted to, she couldn’t give him what he wanted.
Cal reached for her but dropped his hand as if thinking better of it. He closed his eyes briefly, sighing heavily.
“Mare, I- I meant what I said last night. I want you to be happy, whatever that means for us. For me,” Cal finally said, his voice tinged with desperation. “And if you still need space, need more time… I’m not saying it would be easy to wait. But I would do it. For you. But if that’s the case, I need you to give me something. Some kind of light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mare felt herself breaking at the pain in his voice. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t give him what he was asking for, couldn’t give him false hope. She had been hoping to avoid this, but it was the least she owed him. The truth.
“There can never be an ‘us’, Cal,” she whispered. “No matter how much space or time. He will always come between us, how could he not?”
“Do you mean Tyton,” Cal asked, his brows furrowed in confusion. “But I thought you said-“
Mare swiped angrily at a renegade tear that had trailed down her cheek. She wouldn’t cry, she would be strong.
“No,” she responded bitterly. “Not Tyton.”
Maven’s unspoken name hung heavy between them as understanding registered across Cal’s handsome face.
“Mare,” Cal murmured, desperately grabbing for Mare’s hand before she pulled away.
“I murdered your brother, Cal.” Mare spat, pulling back her shirt to expose the M branded on her collarbone. “It’s not an M for Maven, it’s an M for Mare. For Monster. For Murderer. Is that really someone you want to be with? We can’t be together, because I don’t deserve you! And you deserve somebody better than me. Someone who’s not broken. That’s what I want for you, Cal.”
“You had no choice, Mare,” Cal said evenly. “You did what you had to do, that’s it. Which is more than I can say. I should have been the one to kill him, should have known there was no saving him. I’m the reason you have to suffer for it now because I was too much of a coward to do it myself. If anything, I don’t deserve you.”
“No, Cal-“ Mare shook her head violently, trying to find the words to take the blame off his broad shoulder and put it back where it so clearly belonged.
“You have no idea how guilty I felt. How guilty I still feel. That’s the reason I could barely face you at the end, let you go off to Montfort without a fight,” Cal continued before Mare could argue. “There were times when I thought it would eat at me forever. Until there was nothing left.”
“Sometimes I think it would have been easier if I had just let him win,” Mare whispered. “Sometimes I wish-“
“No,” Cal answered harshly, grabbing Mare’s chin so she had no choice but to look at him. “Remember the Notch? The nightmares? Well, I get them again. Almost every night. About my brother- about everything. But the worst ones are when things end differently. When I get to that prison of Silent Stone, but he’s not there, it’s only you. And I realize you're gone- there’s no life in your eyes, no sparks…”
Cal took a deep shaky breath before continuing, keeping his eyes glued to Mare's face.
“It was… hard dealing with Mavey’s death, I won’t lie to you. A part of me will always remember him as my innocent little brother. But losing you… Even if you’re right, and we can never be together, I don’t think I want to- no, I know I can’t- live in a world without Mare Barrow.”
“I’m not the little lightning girl you fell in love with anymore,” Mare protested weakly, no longer able to stop the tears that streamed down her face. “I don’t know if I ever will be. I’m br-“
“You are not broken,” Cal answered sternly. “And if you are, then so am I. Neither one of us are who we used to be a year ago. How could we be? But I don’t want the little lightning girl. I want Mare. And everything that goes along with it, the good, the bad, the ugly. All of it.”
“I’m not sure you know what you’re getting yourself into,” Mare answered, trying to laugh through her tears.
Cal smiled tenderly before his face grew serious once again.
“I’m done letting things come between us, Mare. Thrones and arranged marriages and wars. And most of all my brother,” Cal said gently, but firmly. “It’s time we both let him go.”
Mare closed her eyes, breathing heavily.
“You’re right,” she whispered. Maven’s ghost deserved to be put to rest. And who better to do that than the two people he had loved most. “At least, I’ll try.”
Cal squeezed her hand gently, causing Mare to look back into his searching gaze.
“And us?” He asked carefully. “Do you want to try that, too?”
“Well, thanks to you, I’m running out of excuses not to,” Mare answered, finding immediate comfort falling back into their usual banter. “And I suppose if you are going to be living practically down the street, I might as well take advantage of your human heating abilities. The winters up here get pretty cold.”
“Do you mean it? This is really what you want?” Cal asked, and Mare could practically see how carefully he was holding his hope in check.
“I can’t promise you this won’t crash and burn and you won’t totally regret your decision,” Mare answered warningly before her voice softened, “but I’m willing to try. I’m done pretending I don’t want this, pretending I don’t want you.”
One of the widest smiles Mare had ever seen broke across Cal’s face, and she barely had a chance to appreciate it before she was being lifted in the air.
“I won’t ever regret this, trust me,” Cal said breathlessly as he spun her around. “And neither will you. I will do everything I can to make you the happiest woman alive. I swear it.”
Mare laughed, Cal’s excitement was truly contagious.
“You better. Otherwise, I'm sending Bree and Tramy after you. Or worse, Gisa. She seems sweet and innocent but she's probably the scariest of all the Barrows,” she quipped, as Cal finally set her feet back on solid ground, his hands still around her waist as he stared at her with adoration filling his liquid bronze eyes.
“I love you,” Cal whispered reverently. “More than you will ever know.”
“I love you, too,” Mare answered, with a small smile.
She felt lighter, just saying those words. Words she hadn’t said- hadn’t even thought- in too long. Cal’s lips curved into his own smile, before he pulled her into an exuberant kiss, pouring all his loves, all his emotions, into that simple gesture.
And at that moment, Mare knew they were going to be okay. Sure, it wouldn’t be easy, and there would definitely be some rough days ahead. But for the first time in a very long time, Mare saw the light burning at the end of the tunnel.
And she reached for it.