Disclaimer: I do not own The Count of Monte Cristo.

Note: Based on the 2002 movie. Strangely, through the course of explaining Mondego I think I somehow managed to make him a worse person...

Somehow it's all crumbled to pieces. I don't know where it began to go wrong but it's all happening all too quickly for this to just be some spur-of-the-moment misfortune happening all at once. And with his miraculous return from the grave or from worse, I know far better.

The Count of Monte Cristo.

Edmond Dantès.

This is all his doing.

He tells me to go, that it doesn't matter that I shot and perhaps killed Mercédès – my wife, not his – or had him imprisoned. He's had enough and he just sends me away.

Perhaps a rational man would walk away at this point. There is no more powder for my gun and I've already seen that he's become the better swordsman than me (of course he is. What isn't he good at?). Not to mention the fact that I am alone while he has our son and his servant on his side. Normally I wouldn't suspect a servant of possessing much fighting ability but his managed to throw off my aim with a well-aimed dagger. I have my horse, yes, but should any one of the three manage to strike my horse with their blade then he may panic and throw me off.

Staring out at the grassy plains before me, I know without a doubt that I should leave. It only makes sense to leave. Edmond is willing to let me leave and there is nothing but ruination and imprisonment for me in France.

How had this happened? How had Edmond once again managed to best me after being sent to prison forever? He had been sent to the Château d'If itself and while the wealthy could live quite comfortably there (for a price, naturally, thus basically funding their own imprisonment), Edmond had no money to spare and wouldn't even get to see the sky.

None of this should have happened. None of it makes any sense. Edmond was the son of a clerk. I was the son of a count. The second son, granted, but still a noble. Our paths never should have even crossed before he was a clerk himself and nothing more to me than any of the others of his station who I occasionally came across.

And yet, our paths did cross. I don't even remember how, really. For as far back as I can remember, we'd just been friends. I doubt very much if I ever could have befriended him as an adult but we had history.

Edmond…what was there to say about Edmond? I had every advantage he never could and yet you'd never know it by looking at either of us. There were always my father's expectations to meet and he was never one to offer praise so I was never quite sure if I had met them. There was my distant older brother who never saw me as a peer, only a child even that last time before he went off to war. There was Edmond's loving parents who I knew to be the very picture of domestic bliss. Even when his mother died, that tragedy only served to bring them closer together. It was sickening and I wanted it.

Mercédès reminded me once of the pony I'd gotten for one birthday and the whistle he'd gotten for his. Our birthdays weren't very far apart and so one gift was still new when the other was presented. Looking objectively at it, a pony was a far finer gift than a silly little whistle and if I were offered one or the other now then I know what I would choose. Just the same…a pony was all well and good but I was allowed to ride our other horses and so what did it matter that this one was mine? It was just another thing.

Edmond took that stupid whistle with him wherever he went for weeks on end. I tried not to mind because I knew that if I wanted one my father would buy me a hundred and it was unbecoming of the son of a count to envy a commoner. In the end, I suppose I didn't do a very good job of hiding my jealousy. The worst part is what happened when Edmond learned of it. Instead of getting awkward about it and stop bringing the whistle or teasing me like anyone sane would do, Edmond promptly gave the gift to me. I didn't understand it then and I suppose that I still don't. I tried blowing on it for awhile but it was just a whistle and once Edmond had gone home for the day I lost interest. I don't even know what happened to the damn thing.

It wasn't about the whistle. It was never about the whistle and I think that I knew that long before it came to be my whistle.

Growing up, adventuring with Edmond…it was…nice. I honestly did enjoy spending time with Edmond or I wouldn't have continued to do it. No one would think anything of the son of a count cutting ties with the son of a clerk, no matter how many years we'd known each other. Sure Edmond might be hurt but he'd get over it. He always did.

Edmond clearly didn't believe me when I said that we had been friends if the way he lunged at me was any indication but it was true. Edmond had been very important to me and I had genuinely liked him and yet I still reported him. Things were so very simple in Edmond's merry little world. Friends helped each other out, childhood romances blossomed into marital bliss, and good things would come from doing your best. I would have thought he'd have become a little more worldly after all that time in prison and God knows where else learning how to pretend to be a count but I suppose that given the innocence he started with, it's a little much to ever expect him to believe that one friend could do that to another.

I almost didn't do it. If it hadn't been for Danglars I think that I would have just gone home, slept it off, and then quietly faced another day of burning resentment. It was Edmond's bad luck that Danglars was there with a score of his own to settle to egg me on and that I was drunk enough to take advice from the likes of him.

I could handle the normal resentment I felt towards Edmond. I had been handling it for years, after all. I think that I started resenting him from the moment we met. He was so much happier than I was and I just didn't understand why. His family could barely afford for him to have a birthday. It didn't make any sense. Perhaps he was just too stupid to understand what he didn't have. That couldn't have been it, though. He was as quick as me, maybe quicker. There were some things that I was better at, such as fencing or horseback riding, simply because I had had the training and he hadn't. Anything that we had both gotten a chance to do and wouldn't you know it he came out ahead. He was better with that damn whistle than I had been.

What made it all come to a head, besides Danglars' own petty grudge, was that I had just had a series of setbacks myself. I had been the only other one brave enough to come aboard Napoleon's army and if it hadn't been for me even Edmond admitted that he would have gotten himself killed with his ill-thought actions. I saved his life and Morrell didn't even want to see me? He was certainly willing to see Danglars! I had gone and I had saved the day, even if it had all been Edmond's idea, and he got a promotion and I didn't even warrant a 'thank you'? If I had been there, I might never have done it.

The letter, I suppose, was the first thing. I saw Edmond being given something by Napoleon. In his defense, if that means anything coming from me, he hadn't known I had seen it. He didn't know that I knew he was lying straight to my face. That almost makes it worse, though. Imagine if I had trusted him. Imagine that I had trusted him and he had abused that trust. And for what? Edmond later claimed – before he knew what I did – that he hadn't told me not because he didn't trust me but because Napoleon had told him not to and he was a man of his words.

Oh, what excuses to hide behind! Suddenly a promise made to a mad would-be emperor was worth more than being honest with his best friend. Napoleon, as history has made sure to note, was a traitor and a promise made to him was not really a promise at all. And it's not like I was expecting him to tell everyone, just me. Or did he expect that I didn't understand the concept of discretion? I had to read the letter when he was asleep instead of being told openly. Can you imagine the indignity of that? And for no reason, either! It was one thing when a commoner like him managed to best me every time he turned around but for him to have the audacity of keeping such important secrets from me, secrets that might have gotten me killed if he'd been caught smuggling the letter, and then claim that we were friends? If he told me, I might never have done it.

It wasn't like I didn't give him fair warning. I told him that it couldn't be like it was then forever. He didn't seem to understand what I meant then. I'm not sure exactly what I did mean because I had been drinking. Perhaps I was merely feeling ominous? Even if everything went well and I became a count and he became a ship captain, one day things would end up changing. I ended up with my title but he'll never be a captain. I told him and he hadn't listened. He hadn't even thought that there was anything to listen to. What can you do when people won't listen?

Mercédès, as always, was a source of frustration. I had grown up with her because she had grown up with Edmond and sometimes I swear she knew me better than he did. She was the daughter of a fishmonger and so a perfectly suitable bride for a clerk's son like Edmond and far, far below me. She was gorgeous, though, and she was Edmond's and somewhere down the line I knew that I had to have her. Marrying her was impractical, of course, and I believe that it was a mistake. Her beauty wasn't enough to hold my attention forever and there were many less demanding woman just as pretty as she that I could take to my bed.

I didn't want her just because of Edmond, no matter what she may have said. I think I hated her for a moment when she told me that I only wanted her because of that stupid whistle. Still, wanting her was a craving that I'd been dutifully resisting for so long. I didn't even want her forever, just once would have sufficed, I think. If Mercédès had only obliged me the one time then perhaps I wouldn't have done it. She never did, though, and it can't have been because she refused to be with someone unmarried because she never married Edmond. I think the fact that I could say those things to her and it didn't even really seem to bother her was what was most upsetting about the situation. If she had taken me seriously, she never would have put up with that. Maybe if she had shown her true colors years before, it wouldn't have taken me so long to see her for what she was.

And then there was the final blow. Two years. It was supposed to take two years for Edmond to be able to marry Mercédès. I could work with that. In two years I could have married a woman of my own and began to raise a family. On the surface I could be oh-so-very sorry for Edmond's misfortune while secretly I rejoiced at having managed to best him at last. But once I heard the news that the waiting was over…how could a man who started out with nothing always manage to get everything? And I'd get to be the best man. I'd stand beside Edmond and watch him marry the woman who would never be mine. Sometimes I wonder if he were truly that oblivious or if he had a sadistic side.

I had thought of what my life would have been like without Edmond Dantès gracing it, of course. I think I'd have been happier. My life wouldn't have changed but I'd no longer have to see how obscenely happy he was all the time. And Edmond had a way of looking at you that made you want to be a better person. He looks like he isn't just seeing the real you but the best you that you could ever be. You know that you really don't have a hope of living up to that, don't have the self-control to change. That makes you resent him. That made me resent him. His admiration did nothing but remind me of my failures.

That was why I had never done anything earlier, I think. Edmond was always so kind and noble and self-sacrificing that it was almost despicable. But he did care, or so I thought, and that was enough for then. It didn't stay enough. It was almost on a whim that I went to Villefort. Had it been another day, I might just have gone home but it wasn't and I didn't.

Despite what Danglars had told me to do, I didn't have to go about destroying Edmond that way. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to have simply killed him. I was far more lethal at that point than he was and his faith in the world would ensure that he'd never even see it coming. It would have been kinder, too, which would be fitting with the spirit of our friendship. It's one thing to take someone who you can no longer tolerate out of the picture but there are still standards to be met.

The problem was that I knew that I could never kill Edmond myself. I didn't know why. It should have been a simple matter. When Clarion had asked me why I was murdering him, I told him that it was because his son lacked the courage. The situation resembled mine a little and yet I refused to believe that it was it. If I could kill a stranger, if I could destroy a friend, if I could lie outrageously throughout the entire thing then I could most certainly find the courage to kill Edmond.

And yet I didn't.

Perhaps some part of me wanted to spare him the knowledge of who, exactly, had arranged for all of it? It was his own fault, of course, but he was a friend and there was no need to be needlessly cruel.

I hadn't expected to see him again after I left him on the beach that day to go off with Mercédès. Kings to him for becoming a captain and I was left to stumble off somewhere while he and his lovely fiancé spent some quality time together. It would have been a nice enough place to end our acquaintance but fate apparently had other plans for us.

I had been the one to set all of this in motion and yet he had come to me first with no hesitation, no suspicion. He explained the entire thing to me and pleaded for my help. I hadn't known what to do. I hadn't really wanted to see him like that and it didn't make me feel as good as I thought it would though I knew that that would soon pass. I played along at first. Was it to preserve those last few moments of normality or to enjoy getting his hopes up? Perhaps a little bit of both.

I offered his money and found out that he was unarmed. My servants knew what to do and so all that remained was to stall him. I had never fenced with Edmond before because as a commoner he had never had the opportunity to learn. I found that I enjoyed fencing with him very much, if only because it was like fighting a child. I toyed with him for a little when I could have ended it much sooner. Doing that would have just been mean. I threatened to cut off his hand if he wouldn't surrender but I didn't seriously injure him. I just stopped him from being able to escape again. And since he was officially a fugitive of the law and sentenced for treason, it was really the only course of action any patriotic citizen could have taken.

Seeing him shook my resolve, I'll admit. It had to be done and I didn't regret it – I didn't – but our history made it difficult to watch all the same. I almost considered actually helping him escape. He'd never be able to come back to France again and Mercédès would never know what happened to him (how easy it would have been to persuade him never to tell her for her own protection) and it would almost be the same. I didn't, though. I stayed firm and true to my purpose. Even Edmond's look of raw pain and betrayal, a look that has never left me, wasn't enough to change my mind.

When the police arrived, I drew their attention to Edmond. He was on his knees and he looked up at me like he didn't even recognize me. Perhaps at last he saw me as I really was and not some idealized version that I could never live up to. He screamed 'why' at me and I've never heard him so despondent. I told him it was because he was the son of a clerk and I wasn't supposed to want to be him. I had never meant to tell him that. I had wanted to say it for years.

What good was being Fernand Mondego? The money? The title that might never be mine? The lack of it certainly wasn't hurting Edmond. I rather thought that he was the sort of person who could be happy no matter what life had thrown at him. Well, he'd soon find that happiness of his tested and, in all probability, completely shattered.

I couldn't just let it end like that, though. He was a friend and he deserved more even if he wouldn't want it from me and couldn't possibly understand. I called him back and tucked the king form my chess set into his shirt while telling him it was to remember better days. I wonder if they let him keep it. That still wasn't enough. Edmond had nothing to say as they dragged him from the room and I called after him that I had warned him that this day was coming. Still nothing. I threw down my foil and completely destroyed the room after they had gone. Nothing had changed. I didn't regret it.

When word got out of Edmond's treason, Mercédès and his father refused to believe it. Even Morrell wouldn't accept it. Mercédès asked me to come with them to plead his case before the magister. Convincing him to change his mind after all that would be counterproductive and things were already ruined with Edmond anyway so going was a risk but how could I deny Mercédès this? How could I refuse without raising questions? Fortunately, Magister Villefort was no fool and instantly understood my deception. But then, with my insistence that we had never met before I was hardly subtle.

It was easy to swear to Edmond's innocence. I knew better than anyone that he hadn't done what he had been accused of and, in fact, hadn't even opened the letter. It was a foolish move but Edmond had always been so trusting. The magister was more accommodating than I'd expected and threw in a nice murder charge to further blacken his reputation. He advised us all to forget about Edmond and if only it were that easy. He'd been such a presence in my life up to that point that it was folly to expect him to fade away completely.

Villefort realized at least part of my motivation for having Edmond arrested when he saw Mercédès though it was a little insulting that he thought I would destroy my best friend solely because of a woman. Still, he offered to ease my way into Mercédès arms by faking Edmond's death. Well, maybe. He hadn't really been clear on whether he would actually be executed or not, not that it really mattered as Mercédès was not his wife. And all I had to do in return was kill his father because he lacked the courage. It was easy, taking the life of that stranger. I felt that it more than made up for whatever hesitation I had had about dealing with Edmond.

I knew when the message would be delivered, of course, and arranged to innocently show up then to see her at her most vulnerable and provide comfort. She threw herself into my arms for the first time on that day. Suddenly it wasn't me chasing her but her seeking me out. She told me that she would never forget my kindness and I promised that I would never cease to give it. It was a kindness, I think. I could have just abandoned her after Edmond had gone but I did not. I thought that that proved that it wasn't Edmond that drew me to her because I had already beaten him and so there was no need to steal away his would-be bride. It was amazing how receptive Mercédès became to my every little advance, however. It galled me that there was no other way to win her than by being there for her in her time of need but Edmond always had inspired loyalty.

Time passed. I thought that it was over, bar a few loose ends. Edmond's father killed himself. It was regrettable but there was nothing that I could have done. I left him alone because my disagreement with Edmond had nothing to do with him. No one knew who had accused Edmond and unless Villefort wanted his role in his own father's murder to be exposed he would keep it that way.

I was lucky enough to have my father and brother die in the war so I inherited the title of count. I married Mercédès and eight months later Albert was born. We never spoke of Edmond. I suppose that for her it was just too painful and I certainly wasn't going to bring it up. It would never have been a good idea to speak of the man she would have married anyway.

There were a few other changes. I stopped playing chess. I just couldn't stand the game anymore, it seemed. I never went by Morrell's and later Danglars' shipping company though I knew that no one would ever connect Danglars to me or Edmond's imprisonment. Even before I heard of my family's deaths, I never went back. There were too many memories and I had not finally cut Edmond out of my life only to be reminded any time I did anything. But we had been friends for too long and done too much together for something as simple as throwing away the chessboard and avoiding a shipping company to make me forget.

It would have been easier if Mercédès hadn't stayed so obviously, so pathetically in love with Edmond all these years. She didn't need to say it it was that obvious. Every time she looked at me, she was comparing me to someone else and it wasn't favorably. Was that why I had grew tired of her? Being found lacking when compared to a man convicted of treason and murder did grow tiring after awhile. I refuse to believe that she was right about the whistle because my entire life is not based on Edmond. It isn't. Though she did remind me of Edmond near everything did so that was nothing new.

What I never think about is how I'm practically bleeding money at the casinos even though they've long since stopped cheating me. Mercédès says I've wasted my inheritance. Edmond would have done it better.

I actually unwittingly turned down my first opportunity to see Edmond again. It seems fitting that he arranged an entire alias and gigantic party largely for my benefit and yet I end up snubbing him. I knew nothing of this at the time, of course, and simply wished to be well-rested for my early-morning duel. There was a certain lady whose company I enjoyed and whose husband demanded that I kill him for it. Mercédès didn't approve but I didn't approve of him making such a scene. What was done was done and the affair would have ended regardless. Why did he to challenge me to a duel over it? How did that help matters? Even if he had won, everyone still knew what his wife had done.

One good thing to come out of all of this was that Mercédès informed me that she knew of the three women before this last one making my painstaking efforts to hide them from her utterly pointless. I would be annoyed at all the time and effort wasted if it weren't for the fact I knew that I needn't bother in the future. Hurting Mercédès is almost like hurting Edmond and it's oh so very liberating. I had no intention of stopping just because she knew, of course. I had found over the years that enough was never enough.

I've had my suspicions about my son, of course. It started the moment that I found out that she was pregnant. The wedding had been rushed and theoretically, she could have been pregnant before she had accepted me. I hadn't thought that Mercédès would be so fickle as to marry me within a month of Edmond's imprisonment but then I hadn't thought Edmond so improper as to be with his bride before their wedding night. It couldn't have just been her love for me because she managed to resist me just fine when Edmond was around. No one else can shine when he's stealing all the light. And we've only had one child in all our years of marriage. That has to mean something.

There were more suspicions once Albert was born and as he grew up. He simply does not look like me. Edmond looked so very much like Mercédès that it's impossible to be sure one way or the other. When I look at Albert, I don't see his mother in him. I see Edmond. He looks like Edmond, he is like Edmond. He looks at me just like Edmond used to no matter how many times I disappoint him. He is endlessly forgiving and noble to a fault. I can't stand him. It may be horrible for a father to say that about his son but then I never was his 'real' father, was I? Perhaps I always knew on some level.

The first time that I had seen Edmond in sixteen years was at our son's birthday party. He looked nothing like himself, all calm and dignified. He looked like a noble. He was a count, as I was a count. He always did have to be better than me, of course he would presume to put himself on my level. Anyone can buy a title but we both knew the truth. He was and always would be a commoner and so would Mercédès but I was not.

I had to have invited him. When I let Albert run off to Rome for two weeks (partly because I couldn't stand the sight of him and partly because Mercédès told him no), the fool had gotten himself kidnapped and Edmond had stepped in. Now that I know the truth, I do have to wonder about that. It seems a little…convenient that he would just happen to come across our son in his hour of need. The Edmond of before never would have set the whole situation up but prison changes a man. Was he capable of that even now? When Mercédès pledged to never forget him for what he had done, he quickly retorted that within a month she would break that promise. It was surprisingly savage for Edmond but then we had married very quickly and it had been years since I had last known him.

When I first saw Edmond again, Albert ran down the stairs to meet him and enthusiastically shouted a greeting. It was hardly proper but Edmond had won his loyalty quickly. What a surprise. Mercedes probably knew at once if the way she wouldn't stop staring as if she'd seen a ghost was any indication. I probably should have paid more attention but our meeting was just such a typical noble introduction that I was as fooled as anyone. Once again, Edmond proved himself superior. With his lack of experience, he almost made a better noble…or at least presented a better image of it than my reality.

I never liked Edmond in his guise as the Count of Monte Cristo and I was never sure why. Yes, there had been that remark about stealing my wife but he had thought it was a jest. Edmond was just so amiable and yet…and yet…Maybe I did know on some level after all.

Chief Prosecutor Villefort had the audacity to show up despite our long-standing agreement never to see each other socially. Well, it was one way to kill my chronic boredom at parties. I had been just about to throw him out when Edmond came up and pulled him away to discuss business. I suspect he did it on purpose just like I know that he set us up with the information he had let drop to our son about Spada's gold and needing a way to sneak past customs. Danglars was caught breaking into Edmond's ship and so I feel no pity for him. He was stupid enough to get caught and so he got what was coming to him.

I might have seen this coming. Danglars being arrested for theft was one thing but Villefort being taken in for his crimes? It was too much of a coincidence. I was distracted by my own impending bankruptcy when all my creditors called in my debts all at once. And then there was the arrest warrant. Despite not even being particularly fond of my own family (I never had been so why had I expected that to change?), I did make arrangements for them as well when we fled the country. Nice arrangements, too.

Mercédès came in when I was packing. She didn't seem to share my urgency and only wished to know if I had been guilty of the piracy, corruption, and murder I was being charged with. There seemed little point in hiding it and I thought she'd move faster if I just confirmed it instead of having to make up some ridiculous denial and explain why I was fleeing if I really was innocent.

I needn't have bothered. Mercédès had no intention of leaving with me. I wonder if she would have if I told her I was innocent. I wonder if she would have believed me or if she was testing whether I'd come clean even now at the end. My self-control has never been as good as dear Edmond's and so whatever I was holding flew immediately into the mirror after her announcement. I'd never touched her, however, and that was something.

Not like Mercédès was grateful. She said the one thing that she knew would hurt me like nothing else.

"Albert Mondego is the son of Edmond Dantès."

I couldn't breathe. She hadn't said his name in years and now I knew why. She didn't dare. All this time I had suspected but…she used me. It was unbelievable. Yes, I may have been the one to set Edmond up but she had no idea of that and back then she hadn't even known me well enough to see my more serious flaws. I was just the heartbroken best friend who had feelings for her and shared her grief for Edmond and she had the nerve to pass his bastard son off as my own? 'Premature', she had said. It was the final humiliation.

I wouldn't let her see that her words had affected me beyond causing me to freeze so I chose my parting shot very carefully.

"Well aren't you a piece of work? So he's the bastard son of a dead traitor? He always was disappointing. Goodbye, Mercédès. You did please me some of the time."

And it was even true. Albert was a disappointing because of how much like Edmond he was. People like Edmond simply didn't have what it took to survive in the real world, as Edmond had learned the hard way so very many years ago. If I hadn't have done it then someone else surely would have.

All that meant, I tried to convince myself, was that I was no longer obligated to look out for them and was free to set off and build myself a new life alone. Maybe I could actually find somebody who liked me. Had anybody liked me since Edmond?

Anyone with as much debt or as much illegal activity as I have would never go without a hidden cache in case of emergencies. I hadn't been there for months but it was still shocking to find out that somehow all of my treasure was gone and the chests were empty. Well, almost. There was a single chess piece – a king – at the bottom of one of them. I took it in my hand uncomprehendingly for a moment. Then I knew. Somehow or other, this was the work of Edmond Dantès. Was it the same one? It was hard to remember but I thought that it looked the same.

I turned around and dropped the piece when I heard someone else arriving. The…Count of Monte Cristo. That had not been what I was expecting. He looked so different without his beard. Even then, I couldn't reconcile the two in my mind.

Edmond's easy – if someone mocking – "King's to you, Fernand" dispelled all of my illusions. As impossible as it was to believe, Edmond was the Count of Monte Cristo. Inconceivable. All those years imprisoned (surely he had spent SOME time there?) and he still came out the better for it. I suddenly remembered why, exactly, I had spoken to Villefort about him in the first place. They say that time heals all things but seeing him just brought it all back.

"Edmond," was all I could whisper. Even now, despite everything, there was still no formality between us. I refuse to consider the possibility that I was frozen in fear.

I didn't really need to ask him why he was doing this because it was rather obvious but I wanted to hear how he'd justify it. Would he hide behind justice or would he admit that it was vengeance? That after all this time he really was no better than me. Even though he confirmed that he had taken Mercédès back and even though my son was really his son, the knowledge that he was now no better than I was softened the blow somewhat.

We fenced again but this time our match went wildly different. He disarmed me in one move. I shouldn't have held back all those years ago. What else was there to do but to calmly note that someone has taught him how to fight? If I acted like I didn't care then it would be less humiliating.

He ignored that in favor of angrily demanding how I could ever call myself his friend. Ah, he hadn't changed quite so much then. He was still as naïve as ever when it came to the subject of friendship. Reminding him that we were friends didn't help matters and he just demanded to know why I did it, as if my answer would change. If he didn't understand the first time then hearing it again won't help. For a moment I really did think he was going to kill me. But of course he didn't. He never could. He lacked the courage. Another time I accomplished something he couldn't. Or if I still meant anything to him after all these years then he's a bigger fool than I thought.

Albert jumping between us and vowing to fight for the death to protect me was just about the last thing that I expected but I welcomed it. Father and son would face off against each other over me and that family would likely be torn apart. Would Mercédès be able to forgive the man who killed her son? Would Edmond be able to live with himself? It wasn't my fault that she had never told them. Maybe she hadn't seen Albert but she had most certainly spoken with Edmond.

Albert begged forgiveness for trusting Edmond and I took great pleasure in granting it. Like his father, he had been betrayed, I said. I knew that Albert could not hope to win but they weren't paying any attention to me so it was a perfect time to load my pistol. Albert really did look like he'd been betrayed and started accusing Edmond. For his part, Edmond looked pained at the thought of being the betrayer and of fighting a boy he actually did seem to like and tried to explain our history but Albert wouldn't hear it.

Edmond had just threatened to kill Albert if he wouldn't step aside and Albert, naturally, refused when Mercédès interrupted it and explained about Albert's actual paternity to them both. It did give me some measure of satisfaction to see the twin horror reflected on their faces. It would have been better if some damage had been done.

Albert turned to me, needing me to confirm it before he'd be willing to believe it. If I had been thinking, I would have denied it. Yes, Mercédès thought it was true but if she was only a month pregnant how could she really know? And she had to have only been a month pregnant because we had been gone for long enough that if she had gotten pregnant before we had left there would have been no way to hide it. I should have denied it and confused the issue and left Edmond not knowing whose son Albert really was, force him to share him with me.

I didn't, though. I was still so very angry about what had happened that I calmly confirmed it and then casually called Mercédès a whore. When Albert looked appalled and, voice shaking, asked how I could let him fight him I found myself telling him that it hadn't done much good. I would not be vulnerable in front of these people and I would most certainly not lose control. I would not, even if Albert looked at me exactly the way that Edmond had all those years ago when he first realized what I had done.

And maybe I was a little unnecessary blunt about Albert's parentage but the fact of the matter remains that Albert and Edmond barely know each other. I have years of acquaintanceship more with both men and I was the one to raise Albert. That he wanted for nothing was because of me! I gave him a far better life than Edmond ever could and just because we're not blood, Albert turns on me so eagerly? How fitting that Edmond spawned a traitor. Not that they'll see it that way.

Furious, but not out of control, I knocked Albert down and aimed my pistol straight at Edmond. I wasn't going to give him the opportunity to kill me. Mercédès screamed at me to let it go but I wasn't interested in what she had to say anymore and I wasn't about to drop my guard.

Then Edmond, of all people, told me that he had had enough. Well of course he had. As he had so eloquently put it, he had taken everything from me but my life. He wanted me to just leave and he had the gall to call it mercy? Would it take more than one shot to stop him? That seemed arrogant, especially if I managed to hit his heart (by now I was well aware of where those were from all the ones I've stabbed) or his head. Still, death was easy. Mercédès' death would hit him harder. They never had gotten their chance for a happily ever after and if I didn't act now then the past sixteen years were all for nothing and they'd go riding off into the sunset with their beloved son trailing happily after them.

I don't know if I would have actually fired had that servant not thrown his knife at my hand. He might have killed Mercédès if it hadn't also thrown off my aim. Maybe she'll die anyway. I don't know. I couldn't beat Edmond in a duel anymore and it would take too long to reload. There was no choice. I fled. I could hear Mercédès begging Edmond not to go behind me. Couldn't that woman do anything besides whine?

I can't go back.

There's nothing left for me in France, Edmond has ensured it. I don't even know that servant and my bridges have been burnt with the others. There's no reason to go back. If I go back, Edmond will likely kill me.

And yet…and yet what is it that awaits me far across the ocean? A miserable life spent in exile with only a fraction of the comforts that my life here had afforded me? Maybe I could accept that if it weren't for Edmond but if it weren't for him I wouldn't have had my life taken from me. He would say it's fitting since I took his but it was never as cold-blooded and deliberate.

And the worst thing is that he has stepped into the shoes of a count and made himself rich and successful in society. He has taken my wife and our son and by stepping so completely into my life and so masterfully making it own he's making it seem like I was the one living his life all along and now he's returned to reclaim it.

I could go but then I would never be free of him. Sixteen years of his absence hadn't freed me and now that I've seen what's become of him I don't think I can even ignore it anymore.

I could never live in a world where he had everything and I had nothing. Hadn't that been what started all of this in the first place? Perhaps it was inevitable that it would eventually come to this.

I turned back and went to face him for the final time.

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