[A/N: This is one of my favorite scenes in the book. A one-shot, from Mercedes' perspective - the part in which she begs the Count to spare her son's life. Dialogue from the book not my property (and if it looks different, remember there are a lot of different translations…)]
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Oh God, twenty-three years, half a tortured lifetime. And he was back from the grave.
I realized that a part of me had known it, had recognized him the first time our eyes locked in my husband's drawing room. He was there, in my own house - everything familiar, the life that had been mine for so many years, dissolving in an instant as I felt myself falling into the dark vortexes that were his eyes. Spiralling away at the speed of thought, drowning in the memories. In that moment, nothing else mattered. The intervening years had never passed, never cut me off from him so irrevocably, had never swept my Edmond away to hell.
But my mind had refused to believe it, had blocked out the truth.
The few other times we met, in society, he causing a stir wherever he went…. I had thanked him for saving Albert in Rome, for taking my son under his wing. And I tortured myself, wondering why?
Everything – everything that was never said. As if the faintest suspicion was a sleeping curse waiting to be awakened. The Count. The Count of Monte Cristo. Fabulously wealthy, eccentric, enigmatical, every inch the magnificent nobleman. Suddenly appeared out of nowhere – the incredible riches? The never-before-heard title? He had the whole of Paris intrigued. And he frightened me to death. He had Edmond's eyes.
So many times I tried to crush the thought, to tell myself no, it was not possible. And then I would hear his voice. I would lose myself again in those eyes, and I would see the ruin of the life I had thought was my only choice. I lived a nightmare.
He was back. Somehow, by some impossible twist of fate, he was back in my life. And he was going to kill my son.
Flashes of conversation came back… I had clung to him desperately, as much as I feared him, needing some sign, needing to know I was forgiven. For how could I have known? …He refused my hospitality. Would eat nothing under my roof. "We are in France, Madame… Here there is no more eternal friendship than there is sharing of bread and salt."
"But we are friends, are we not?" …And he had looked at me, stared through me with the cold chilling hatred of those eyes, and all the outward politeness was less than reassuring.
And the Count remained in Paris, and his grand gestures, his Oriental customs, his lavish spending were the talk of all the gossips of society – either he is some foreign prince, or he has found a gold mine! Whisper, whisper.
…And then, the gossips found something even more shocking to sink their fangs into. Scandals uncovered from Fernand de Morcerf's war years in the East… a Pasha he had robbed and betrayed, his mentor's wife and child sold into slavery. It all came out in the highest court, and my husband was ruined.
Somehow, I was not even surprised to hear of the treachery. I had not loved Fernand when I gave into my grief and hopelessness and married him, and it was apparent that neither had I ever really known him.
But he had been the Comte de Morcerf for years, respected by all if liked by none, so why, why now, all this uncovered? The terror in my heart said it had to be an act of revenge.
"Have you forgiven her what she made you suffer?"
"Her I have forgiven, yes…"
But not those who separated you. All those years ago.
The dark eyes, impassive. He was like the Angel of Death. Oh dear God, save my son…
Poor Albert, once so happy and carefree. Coming to me, the night after his father's public humiliation… It was the count who sent those letters to Janina. He exposed my father, he has ruined us all. Mother, all those months I thought him my closest friend…
Not understanding why – how could he know there was still more to Fernand's past? All he thought of was avenging his father's honor and clearing our name. Such a child still, hot-headed and loyal… he would not tell me what he planned, but it was easy to guess. I followed him to the opera, but the damage was already done – could only watch helplessly, eyes riveted to the box as my son challenged the Count of Monte Cristo, furious, drawing stares as he caused a scene and had to be restrained by his friends – oh, the affair was public enough now.
And I saw the Count's face. Pale, hard and still.
And the cold, unreasoning fear took hold of me as I saw – too clearly – what must happen now. There could be no more denial. The avenging angel was loose in the city, and none of us had seen in time… there was no stopping the course of fate. He would have his revenge on me, on the man who had taken me, and he would kill my son. The insult had been flung in his face – how could any man refuse such a challenge? And then he would have the added satisfaction of tearing out my heart.
I left the opera and went home. Cold, numbed. Albert was not there – but then, what could I have told him? I knew he could not win the duel; but how can a mother tell her son to be a coward, to neglect his family's honor?
There was only one other thing to do. Even if it awakened the curses – and I was already living hell. The only thing I had to love… he must not kill my son.
"And where are you going at this hour, madame?"
The voice, as usual, heavy with suspicion and scorn. The Comte de Morcerf stood at the top of the stairs. I turned, hand on the front doorknob. Looked at the man I had married – coarse, brutish, now crushed and deflated under the weight of scandal. An ambitious liar and traitor. And despised him. Why had I not had strength to wait… if only out of respect for the memory of love? I was a weak fool. But my son was innocent; he should not have to suffer.
"To the opera, husband," I answered coolly. Let him defy me if he dared, I would not stay. He glared at me from beneath heavy brows, but Fernand's self-confidence was gone. I left the house and he did not stop me.
Number thirty, Champs-Elysées. Here he had built his persona, and come back into my life, and everything had collapsed. The Count of Monte Cristo. I got out of the carriage, feeling sick, and pulled my veil down over my eyes.
I wouldn't give the servants my name. I need to speak to Monsieur le Comte. It's urgent. Oh, it's very urgent. My son's life depends on me tearing open old wounds, laying bare my soul. They looked at me strangely, but they let me in.
I followed his valet into the count's apartments, heart in my throat. There he was, back to me – inspecting a pair of pistols. There was a sharp crack as he fired at a target on the far wall. Dead center; his aim was deadly. I bit the inside of my cheek till the blood came. Help me. Help me. The servant cleared his throat, and he turned around. The pistol clattered to the desk. "Baptistin, leave us."
He stared at me, the polite mask falling for once from his face. Burning eyes – and deadly resolve. He had not expected me, that much was clear. His old life coming back to haunt him… well, he had courted that, coming here to find us.
"Who are you, madam?" The voice was dull, heavy. It was nothing more than an act.
My blood felt chilled in my veins, but I stepped forward, letting the veil drop, staring into his tortured eyes. "Edmond. You must not kill my son."
"What did you call me, Madame de Morcerf?" But he had almost staggered - I had heard his gasp. It was out – the name I hadn't even allowed myself to think. How long since anyone had called him by it? … The whole world was blind.
"Your name, which perhaps I alone have not forgotten… Edmond, it is not Madame de Morcerf who has come to you – it is Mercedes."
But he would not make any move forward, would not, even now, acknowledge the past. That handsome face I remembered so well – now corpse-pale and marked with lines of bitter suffering – was set in its mask of hatred. "Mercedes is dead, madame. I know no one by that name."
"Mercedes is alive, monsieur, and Mercedes remembers. She alone recognized you when she saw you – recognized you just by the sound of your voice. And she has watched you, Edmond, and followed you step by step – and she did not need to wonder whose hand it was that struck down Monsieur de Morcerf."
"Fernand, you mean, Madame," and the tone in which he said the name sent a chill through my heart. "Since we are remembering each other's names, let's remember all of them." The sarcastic bitterness, the curl of his lip – the hatred.
Biting my lip to stifle a cry, I leapt forward, caught his arm in supplication. "You see, Edmond, I was right to beg you to spare my son… oh, can you not have pity? He has done nothing!"
He towered over me, dark eyes stormy and brooding. "Madame, your son has challenged me in front of half of Paris! And it is not for me to have pity – Providence is punishing him. He must die."
No. NO. "Why do you put yourself in the place of Providence? If you must take revenge, take it on me, doomed by fate to betray you – unfaithful only because I could not stand the loneliness, the waiting! I was alone, Edmond. Where were you for twenty years?"
And suddenly those eyes flashed fire. "Alone. And why were you alone?"
"You were arrested, Edmond, and taken from me. On the eve of our wedding."
"Why was I arrested? No, madame, you would not know – or I hope not…." He crossed to his death in a single stride, pulled out a faded piece of paper and thrust it into my hands. A letter. "This, madame, was sent to the crown prosecutor, all those years ago, by the man you call your husband. This is the reason I was imprisoned." And, horror mounting in the pit of my stomach, my eyes flew over the few lines on the page… it was a setup, a frame, accusing the young Edmond Dantes of being a traitor Bonapartist. In those troubled days in France, this could well have been a death sentence.
Oh my God. Fernand. Fernand had done this. He had pretended to be Edmond's friend… and he had ruined his life. And I had believed his lies, and married him.
It was too terrible to be true.
Stunned, I looked up at the man I had unconsciously betrayed – terribly – and saw his fists clenched, cords standing out in his neck in an obvious effort not to kill someone on the spot. I think he was grinding his teeth. …And I couldn't blame him. Not only had I not had faith in the man I loved to return, I had added tenfold to his torment by marrying the man – not man, cowardly viper – who had plotted to destroy him.
"Edmond," I said finally, softly. "I swear I did not know."
He raised his head from his hands, black hair wild, and his eyes were haunted. "They arrested me – and they threw me in the Chateau d'If." The dread prison, where only the worst offenders were taken – and not heard from again. In the Bay of Marseilles… Edmond Dantes had been a quarter of a league from me, and it might as well have been a thousand miles. And I had never known.
"Fourteen years I was in the pit of hell. And every day during those fourteen years, I repeated the vow of revenge I had made – though then I did not know that you had married my betrayer, nor that my father was dead, starved to death. And when God raised me out of that tomb, I swore on the living Mercedes and on my dead father that I would be avenged – and you – you would deny it me!"
Every word he uttered, wild-eyed, with a depth of passion that would have moved a soul of stone, seemed to stab deeper and deeper into my heart. My Edmond. Oh, my love. Cruel world, cruel fate. How could you take him from me.
My legs were giving way under the unbearable weight of pain and grief… old wounds I had thought were healed, now raw. I sank to my knees, head bowed before the wrath of this terrible avenger who had been my love. Had been… oh, when had I ever loved any other… curse you, Mercedes, how could you not have waited for him…
"Forgive, Edmond. Forgive, for my sake… for I love you still."
…And then he was at my side, strong arms raising me up… I felt the power that threatened to destroy all I held dear, and was afraid, but at the same time I felt a rush of memories… so many sweet memories… and I wanted to cling to him fiercely so he couldn't be taken from me again, and stay in his arms forever…
He had set me in a chair – I think I would have been too weak to stand – and now knelt at my side, hands closed over mine in a hard grip – eyes fixed on my face with awful intensity. "How can you ask it of me," he whispered. "I was raised up to punish this accursed race – I'm like a ghost walking the earth, I have only one purpose."
I raised a hand to touch his face – the high cheekbone, the strong clean jawline, muscles clenched in his awful resolve. My eyes pleading with all the strength left in my body… I knew I was not the same laughing, beautiful girl I had been when he loved me so; misfortune had aged and changed me, as it had him. My bloom was faded – but surely I was not ugly or unrecognizable… why would he not say my name?
"I call you Edmond. Why do you not call me Mercedes?"
"Mercedes." He said the name slowly, as if trying it out for the first time. His hand came up to cover mine, holding it to his face, and the brilliant black eyes closed in torment. "Mercedes… yes, the name is still sweet to me… If you only knew, Mercedes, I have said your name with cries of pain… with groans of utter despair… frozen from the depths of my dungeon… in the fiery heat of delirium. For fourteen years I suffered, I wept and cursed; I swore an oath, and now I say to you, Mercedes, I must have my revenge!"
And as he leapt up, tearing himself from me as if afraid of giving in to his own weakness, his face frightened me because it was contorted with rage, the face of a madman. I could see it all slipping away in the face of the vast wave of hatred, and I cried out to him in despair.
"Take your revenge, Edmond, but take it on those who are guilty. Avenge yourself on me… on Fernand… but please, spare my son!"
"It is written in the Holy Book that the sins of the fathers are to be visited on the third and fourth generation… and why should I be better than God?"
"Why should you presume to be God? Edmond, listen to me. You have suffered - but believe me when I say that I have suffered as well. All these years, I have loved you – they told me you were dead and I wept and prayed for you, and for ten years you haunted my dreams – I worshipped your memory - " I gasped for breath - "And now I have seen the man I loved preparing to become the murderer of my son."
He had turned away from me, leaning against the mantelpiece as if his strength had deserted him as I begged him to let go of the hatred– was that all that had been driving the man? His shoulders shook in a silent struggle, and when he turned back I caught the briefest glint of a tear.
He passed a hand quickly over his eyes, and strode over, standing over me – so close that I felt his hot breath on my face. "What do you want, Mercedes?" he whispered roughly. "Your son's life? ...Very well, then – he shall live."
I cried out in joy, but he continued, in a voice that was dull and dead, drained of all emotion. "The corpse must return to its sepulcher… since you command it, I must die, revenge unfulfilled."
Of course. He would not refuse to duel Albert – that would be the ultimate disgrace, he would be labeled as a coward. Oh, he still planned to duel – just not to come out of it alive.
I understood what he was giving up for me in leaving his mission unfinished… What if God had created the world… everything in readiness… and then extinguished the sun and with a stroke of His foot dasked the world into eternal night?… and I was humbled and awed by the enormity of the sacrifice. But was his life really so empty now that he would rather die than live while his betrayers lived too?
No. I loved him too much – I would not let him go again. Whether he wanted me or not. I loved him, so he should live. He would not die in this ridiculous duel (why must men be so melodramatic over their honor?) He had promised me that Albert would live, and that was enough – I could work out the rest. We would all be all right. And suddenly, despite the horror of all that had happened in our lives, I could have laughed and cried with relief.
I looked up at Edmond, still sunk in his pit of despair – he could really see no other way out.
Softly I got to my feet, taking up my veil again. I put my hands on his shoulders and made him look into my face – and then I stood on tiptoes to kiss him lightly. His hands went around my waist and he held me to him, face in my hair. I love you, I love you. "Thank you, Edmond," I whispered. "You are as truly noble and good as I always imagined you… and you are alive and I have seen you again, so miracles happen. You must believe it."
Then I released him and walked out the door, and for the first time in twenty-three years my heart was light. We had passed through the Valley of the Shadow. I might be married to a murderer, but my love had returned from the grave. Albert was Fernand's son, but he was mine as well and he would listen to me… No one would die tomorrow.
A/N: Yes, I added a little more E/M than was in the book – but don't we always wish they could get back together?? Great book, but the trotting-off-into-the-sunset-with-Haydee ending is so deus-ex-machina… ANYWAY, hit the review button!