For a moment, Gwaine could only look at her. He looked down at the girl who, six years ago, had been a complete stranger to him. The girl who annoyed him, argued with him, made him laugh, made him think, made him happy, angry, excited, confused and all the other bloody emotions he could bloody think of. The girl who had grown to be the most important person in his life. And she had just pushed him away.
"I'm an idiot," he said finally, closing his eyes. Shutting them to the humiliation, the hurt. Thunder roared in the distance like a slow, sarcastic clap.
"No," Tori said gently. "You're not."
He scoffed. "I am. I'm a bloody idiot. God, I'm sorry, Tor. I thought you felt the same way or I wouldn't have –"
"Gwaine, you have nothing to apologize for. It's just…it's more complicated than you think."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Was this her way of letting him down easy? If so, it wasn't anywhere close to working. He hadn't had a drink in about a year – his life had been going pretty decently and to be honest, he didn't like the taste of alcohol – but right now all Gwaine wanted to do was go to the tavern and get drunk enough to forget his own name.
"The reason I've been acting so strangely the past few days…you're right, I was avoiding you." She was even avoiding him now, looking anywhere but at his face. "A few days ago, my mother told me something. That I had to do…something." Gwaine was silent. It looked like she was having a hard enough time choking out the words without him interrupting her. "She said that it would help us out a lot. You know how we've been having problems with money ever since…"
"If I had known – God, if I'd known you felt this way I wouldn't have…"
Gwaine frowned. "Wouldn't have what?"
"I would never have agreed."
"Agreed to what, Tori?"
Finally, she lifted her gaze to meet his. "To get married."
Maybe it was Gwaine's imagination, but it seemed to him that the sky turned greyer. The thunder sounded closer. He felt weighed down, oppressed by the heavy clouds. When was it going to rain?
"Gwaine?" Tori said when the silence between them stretched on. "Did you hear me?"
"I need it to rain."
"The clouds, they've been like this for hours. I need it to rain."
The look on Tori's face almost made him laugh. It was so filled with confusion and annoyance – two emotions he often elicited in her. He didn't laugh, though. He couldn't. She didn't understand. He needed the clouds to open up and drench the earth – and him – in water or he would suffocate. The thunder sounded so close now. The air was too heavy, like hands as big as Timothy's were holding the sides of his head and pressing in. But he knew better. This feeling had nothing to do with the weather.
"You're getting married?" he asked her, as if he hadn't heard it the first time.
Tori was so anxious she bit her lip. "In less than a month. I just found out a few days ago which is why I couldn't tell you! I'm still trying to come to terms with it."
Gwaine couldn't find his voice to speak. Where just moments before he'd felt heavy and oppressed, now it was as if all the blood had been drained from his body. He felt light, weightless. The kind of weightlessness you feel when there's nothing holding you to the earth, when all you've ever known disappears and you don't know what to do with yourself.
"You can't," he said at last. "You can't get married." He realized he sounded like a pathetic little boy but he didn't care. Tori must have heard it too because that was when her tears finally fell.
"Weren't you the one who said I should wed a rich man?" she said, trying to make a joke of this painful situation. Of course, it didn't work. If anything it seemed to make him angry. The vulnerable young boy went away as quickly as he had come leaving behind...well, Gwaine.
"Whatever or whoever you are doing this for, it sure as hell isn't for me, let's just get that straight. And you bloody well know I didn't mean it when I said that. So," he continued, after a pause, "who is it?"
Tori didn't have to ask who he meant. "You won't like the answer."
"I don't even like the question," Gwaine snapped. Then, remembering that this was probably just as difficult for her as it was for him, he softened. "Just tell me, Tori."
She hesitated, clearly not wanting to say the name...and that was enough. From the start Gwaine had had an inkling of who it might be, an inkling that grew when Tori had made the 'rich man' comment. But now he was almost completely sure. He just needed her to say it.
"It's Henry." Her voice was so soft that if he hadn't been expecting that particular name he would've missed it. "I'm marrying him after his knighting ceremony."
The despondent look on her face cut at his heart and filled him with rage at the same time. Gwaine ground his teeth. He was not going to lose Tori – least of all to that egotistical arsehole.
"Gwaine? Where are you going?" he heard her say as he turned around and started marching toward the village. He didn't reply – didn't trust himself to speak, as royally pissed off as he was. He picked up his pace just as the sky roared once more and finally let loose the rain he'd been waiting for. Perfect bloody timing.
He was sodden by the time he reached the edge of the forest. Tori hadn't followed, he suddenly realized. Just as well. What he was about to do he didn't particularly want her to see. The dirt-packed streets of his small village were mostly empty save for a few rebellious children playing in the downpour. They waved and called out when they saw him, inviting him to join their mud fight. He barely noticed. Turning the corner, Gwaine found who he was looking for, taking shelter from the rain in the doorway of a shop.
The blond boy had been talking to one of his friends but turned at the sound of his name. Gwaine walked up to him, his eyes as dark and dangerous as the clouds above. Henry elbowed his friend and smirked. "Looks like you've heard the happy news, huh, Gwaine?"
Gwaine almost punched him then and there. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"I'm just having a chat with my mate here. We're going to get knighted on the same day, you know. His father wasn't a nobleman, but he's a good enough fighter—"
"With Tori. What the hell are you doing with Tori?"
"Why, nothing," he said, grinning, "...yet."
At that Gwaine really couldn't restrain himself any longer. He grabbed Henry at the collar and shoved him into the door of the shop, ignoring the alarmed cries that came from within. Henry's fellow squire started to do something about it but was stopped when Henry raised a calm hand. "S'all right, Alfie. I'm afraid I've grown used to this."
"Why the sudden interest in Tori?" Gwaine growled, his face inches from the other boy's. "You're marrying her to get back at me for some petty reason or other, is that it?"
"You offend me, sir," Henry used the title mockingly. "You think I have some ulterior motive for this marriage? Can't it just be that I've fallen hopelessly in love with her?"
Gwaine scoffed. "You don't love her any more than you love me."
"Well, you've caught me," the blond boy conceded. "All right, I'll tell you the real reason I want to marry her." He paused. That obnoxious sneer that Gwaine despised spread across Henry's face once more. "That body of hers. I can't wait until our wedding night when I get to—"
Before he could finish the sentence, Gwaine pulled him by the front of his shirt and hurled him into the mud. The knight-to-be got back up instantly, his expression twisted with rage. It made his loathsome face even uglier. Gwaine had just taken a step toward Henry when Alfie clouted him hard on the side of his head, knocking him temporarily unconscious. When Gwaine came to, just seconds later, both squires were standing over him. "You're going to pay, Gwaine," said Henry, his voice low. "There's a heavy penalty for attacking a knight."
"You're not a knight, though," he said scornfully. He spat on Henry's boots, earning himself a kick in the ribs from Alfie.
Henry pulled out his sword and pointed the tip at Gwaine's neck. "I'm more of a knight than you are. Probably more of a knight than your father ever was."
"Is that right? Because I'm quite certain that no self-respecting nobleman would hit an unarmed man."
"Arm yourself, then, and let's get this over with."
"Get your friend here to leave as well," Gwaine nodded to Alfie as he got to his feet and unsheathed his own sword – the one Tim had given him two years ago.
"Why would I do that?"
"Well you don't have to," Gwaine shrugged. "But if you don't I'll just assume it's because you're too afraid to fight me alone. Like you've always been."
Henry stuttered, turning red. "I've never been afraid of you!"
Henry glowered at his fellow squire. "Well? Leave us!" Alfie did.
"This is the first time we've fought with steel," said the fair-haired boy, cutting at the air with his sword while keeping his eyes on Gwaine.
"Are you sure? I seem to recall getting my shoulder cut open by one of your friends' daggers."
"That dagger was probably iron, not steel."
"Funny," Gwaine said dryly. That was the last thing he said before he lunged at the other boy, attacking him with such ferocity that Henry's eyes widened and he almost slipped in the mud a few times while parrying Gwaine's blows. If Gwaine was sure of anything anymore, it was his proficiency with a sword. Timothy had gifted Gwaine with a wooden one when he was a mere five years old. The blacksmith had been teaching him how to use it ever since, letting him graduate to a real steel blade at the age of eleven. Outside of sparring sessions with Tim (and sometimes Tori), Gwaine didn't get many chances to use his skill – so it was with great satisfaction when he saw how his strikes and swipes kept Henry on his toes until the other boy was panting and grunting, always trying to deflect Gwaine's attacks, never getting the chance to be on the offensive.
People living in the houses and shops nearby peeked out their windows to see what all the noise was about. Seeing that it was a swordfight between Gwaine and Henry – the only two boys in the village of noble birth – most were keen to keep watching. But the rain was so heavy and the wind was so strong that leaving their windows open meant getting the inside of their houses wet.
Rainwater kept getting in Gwaine's eyes, making it hard to see, and he was getting cold. Too cold to keep fighting for much longer. "What's your agenda with Tori?" he had to yell to be heard over the howling wind.
"I've already told you," Henry shouted back, grunting as he finally got in an offensive strike.
"That's rubbish! If you just wanted her for her body, you wouldn't marry her! And you wouldn't have been so smug when I found out. So what is it?"
Henry didn't say anything. He seemed to be concentrating even harder on the fight.
"Come on, tell me," Gwaine huffed between blows. "Tell me what I can do so you won't marry her."
"Are you telling me you really don't know?" said Henry, suddenly standing still. He was panting hard. "You don't remember?"
Thrown a bit off guard by the other boy's abrupt change in behaviour, it took Gwaine a moment to answer. "Remember what?"
"Unbelievable." Henry's face was reddening again, his expression one of fury and indignation. "Bloody unbelievable! You steal the love of my life and you don't even remember!"
Gwaine was at a complete loss. "What are you on about? I didn't steal anything from you."
"Lauren," the squire said, as if that explained everything.
"Lauren? Lauren wasn't even with—"
"I know she wasn't! But she and I went to that dance on the beach together – there was something between us. I was going to ask her to marry me. And then you came along and when you were done with her, she wouldn't have anything to do with me!"
"Are you sure she didn't want anything to do with you only after I went out with her?"
"You—" Henry flung his sword to the mud and charged at Gwaine, tackling him to the ground, shouting obscenities all the while. "You took the girl I love," he snarled in Gwaine's ear, "so now I'm taking yours." The fight that took place then was more brutal than any swordfight could ever be. Henry was releasing about a year's worth of this pent up fury over his alleged "stolen love" but Gwaine was giving just as good as he got. They might have killed each other in the end if someone hadn't interfered.
The two nobleman's sons sprang apart when a sudden torrent of cold water washed over them. When Gwaine wiped the mud and water from his eyes he looked up to realize two things. One: it'd stopped raining, and two: Tori was standing in front of him, panting heavily like she'd been running, with an empty bucket in her hands. Henry stood up, sputtering angrily. "How dare you drench me like that? Do you take me for a feral dog?"
"You were behaving like dogs, the both of you!" Tori spat. Her tone was acidic but Gwaine could hear the slight tremor in her voice. The squire bared his teeth and grabbed her upper arm so hard she dropped the bucket. Gwaine jumped up and was about to throw Henry back on the ground, but a look from Tori stopped him.
"When you are my wife you won't speak to me with such insolence." Henry let her go and walked away swiftly without looking back. Gwaine rushed to Tori's side and tenderly held the part of her arm that the other boy had grabbed.
"You all right? Did he hurt you?"
In answer, Tori slapped his hand away. "That was utterly stupid attacking him that way! He's practically a knight already; he can do some actual damage now!"
"He's already done the damage," Gwaine argued. "Tori, you can't wed him. He's only marrying you to get back at me!"
"Obviously!" she said, scowling. "Don't you think I know that? I'm not stupid enough to believe he actually harbours any affection for me."
"Then for God's sake, don't marry him."
"His family has their own physician, Gwaine. I could get my mother all the pain relief medicine she needs for free."
Gwaine was silent for a long time. He ran his hands through his wet hair, looking almost like he was going to pull it out. He stared at Tori, all red-eyed with damp hair plastered to her skin and a dress covered in mud...just like the day he met her. "What if you married me?"
"What?" Tori didn't think she'd heard right.
"You could marry me," Gwaine said. He was speaking quickly now, with the desperation of a man in love. "I'll squire for some old knight and become a knight myself. The medicine wouldn't be free, but at least we could afford it."
"But you hate the king. How could you serve him?"
"I love you more than I hate him."
"Don't say that, Gwaine," Tori cried, covering her ears as if she could unhear the words. "It's bloody cruel of you to say that."
"Why?" he asked, angry now. He'd offered what he thought to be a pretty damn good solution – why wasn't she agreeing?
"Because I can't say it back, you dolt, that's why!"
Gwaine stepped closer to her and put his hands on her shaking shoulders. He waited for her to look up at him before he said, "You can. You want to – I can see it written all over your face. C'mon, Tor, just say it and then we can go tell Henry to shove a lance up his arse."
Tori let out a sound that was half laughter, half sob. She looked into Gwaine's eyes – eyes she so often dreamt about – and longed to touch the dark lashes that lined them. Lashes which were, at the moment, stuck together with rainwater. She wanted so badly to accept everything he'd just said, but that would be pure selfishness. One didn't become a knight overnight – it would take half a year, at the least. And Miranda needed her pain relief now. She could barely get through the day without grimacing from the hurt. It tore at her, but Tori stepped away from him, and his arms fell limply to his side. "Gwaine," she made sure to say every word as deliberately as she could. "I'm going to marry Henry."
His eyes – so warm just a minute ago – grew cold.
"Don't expect me to be at the wedding."
He was gone. After those last words he'd walked past Tori as if she didn't even exist anymore. It'd made her feel as cold as the look in his eyes. She knew that her family was having supper at Aunt Marge's house tonight. They'd be there, waiting to warm her and comfort her, but she wanted to be left alone right then. Nothing anyone had to say could possibly soothe the ache she felt in her heart. Her throat hurt with the effort of trying to hold back the tears. But she couldn't cry. Not here, in the middle of the street. Tori was starting to make her way to her empty house when out of nowhere Elen appeared at her side. Where had she come from? Had she seen it all happen, the crumbling of Tori's and Gwaine's relationship? It didn't matter. All that mattered was that she was here and her arms were open, making Tori realize that she didn't want to be alone at all.
Later, she resolved, maybe after the wedding, she would go talk to Gwaine and they would try to fix what had happened today. Try to get back to normal. Tori knew it was a long shot, but she had to try. Six years couldn't result in...whatever this was.
But what she didn't know was that later that night, Gwaine planned to leave the crescent moon necklace on his pillow, steal a horse from Henry's stables...
I feel horrible that it took so long to get this chapter up, especially considering the ending that I left you guys on. I'm so grateful to all who reviewed especially YoungSorceress and Ookami. no. Gengetsu for your get-your-butt-back-on-the-computer messages.
Also, I must thank InsertDecentNameHere, Maddie Tess, Ardent Apathy, grumpypirate, ToSettleTheScore, Wings of Steel and Bottled Sunshine for your regular feedback. Y'all always make me incredibly happy.
And if this fic were a book, I'd dedicate it to Film, Jennifer, Doris and Bec. You guys are my rock(s). :)
Okay, done rambling.