It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Darken was dreaming of taking Kahlan in their marriage bed, Kahlan's knuckles white as she grasped the dark wood footboard carved with the symbol of the House of Rahl, when Richard walked through the door, naked, his skin lightly dusted with the black sand of the underworld.
"Richard. How good of you to visit. It's been so long since we've talked," Darken smiled, not noticing that he smiled wider now than he ever had before he began masquerading as his brother.
He didn't bother to stop thrusting into Kahlan.
Richard scowled, crossing his arms.
"Am I bothering you, brother?" Darken asked airily, enjoying Richard's discomfort. His anguish.
Now he knew how it felt, to see the unrelenting tidal wave of fate sweeping toward you, and being unable to do anything to stop it.
Darken concentrated, and suddenly it was no longer Kahlan but Richard grasping the footboard as Darken slammed into him, hands around the slenderer man's hips.
The real Richard recoiled. "You're sick."
Darken thrust harder in retaliation, ensuring Richard would hear the slapping sound of flesh against flesh.
Richard turned his back.
Darken made sure to moan loudly when he found his release.
"What do you want?" he asked at length, allowing the imagined Richard to fade, sprawling naked on the bed.
"You're going to seal the veil soon," Richard answered in a monotone. It was a statement, not a question. "And once the veil is sealed, I won't be able to reach you anymore. Not if it is the Keeper that binds us."
"We will arrive at the Pillars of Creation within a few days, if we keep to our current pace," Darken confirmed, affecting an unconcerned air.
He could taste Richard's despair.
"And none of them suspect?"
Darken pursed his lips. "There was a time when Zeddicus and Cara accused me of acting odd, but my precious Kahlan defended me. After all, look at what I've been through. It would change any man."
Richard flinched and Darken laughed. "Yes, the irony is rather delicious, isn't it?"
"Kahlan, I – " Richard hesitated, then continued. "Please. You have everything you wanted. Just. Tell me about Kahlan."
"Gladly," Darken set up, trailing one finger over his lips as he prepared for his final victory. "She loves me," he began, telling Richard of his nights with her, of the way she arched under him, the way she wanted him, of the plans they made for the future.
"We will be wed after the veil is sealed. I haven't formerly proposed yet, but there is an understanding."
Darken watched Richard's face, waiting for it to crumble. Waiting for the rage, the bitterness, the pain – the realization that it was Darken now who had everything Richard had ever wanted.
They had truly traded places at last.
Richard wept a single tear, and Darken memorized the sight, thinking at last, finally, he would feel content, complete, the void in his spirit filled, the sting of old wounds on the soul drawn by the balm of Richard's destruction.
But then Richard shook his head. "She doesn't love you. Don't you understand? She loves me, and she'll only love you as long as you keep acting like me."
Darken stood, red robes appearing around him as he moved. "Words, brother. Nothing but words. I am the one she's going to marry, I'm the one whose children she'll bear. I am the hero who will save the world. I am the one they'll all remember!"
Darken stopped inches from Richard, so close that if spirits breathed he would feel his brother's breath on his face.
"You're wrong. One day, she'll realize that you aren't me. And she'll know that it's all been a lie. And she'll feel betrayed. She won't love you." Richard met Darken's eyes and laid his hand on Darken's velvet clad shoulder, and he had the audacity to sound sorry.
As if Darken was the one who lost the war between them, the war that both had been fighting since before they knew the other existed.
Darken slapped Richard's hand away, his rage building by the second. How dare he! How dare Richard try to take this from him too! This was his vengeance. This was his triumph. He had beaten insurmountable odds, done the impossible, proved that he was master of his fate!
Who else could say they were born a tyrant and died a champion? Who else could say they had escaped the Keeper?
But Richard, his brother, he couldn't let him have this, couldn't even do him the courtesy of being cruel.
Cruel words were easily dismissed.
Richard Rahl wept, and somehow Darken felt that the tears weren't for himself, and he hated him for it.
The Pillars of Creation were on the edge of the ocean. Darken stood, listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the sand.
Closing his eyes, he promised himself he would be good. He would be good, and one day he would rule D'Hara again, one day he would find his sister, one day he would hold a daughter in his arms, one day he would have a family, and then he would throw all the swords and armies and brothers and fathers and truth and doubts and darkness into the sea.
The veil was sealed.
He was a hero.
Anything was possible now. He had won. He could have a happy ending.
"What are you thinking?" Kahlan asked, coming forward to put her hand on his arm.
"About all of this. Everything that's happened," Darken answered in Richard's voice.
"You've been different, lately," Kahlan stepped in front of him, looking up into his face. He pushed a strand of her hair behind her ear.
"We've all been different lately," was all he said.
Kahlan reached up, tweaking the ends of his goatee as she was wont to do when she was trying to cheer him up. "If there's something bothering you, you can tell me."
Meeting her eyes, Darken asked, "Kahlan, do you love me?"
She laughed, bright and loud, and it lifted his spirit. "Of course I love you. I'll always love you, Richard."
I'll always love you, Richard.
Darken grit his teeth, his last conversation with his brother echoing through his head.
Kahlan wrapped her arms around his waist, and he returned the embrace, his victory of the moment before turned to ashes.
What was the point of being good, if no one recognized him for it? If the world ever discovered he was not really the Seeker, would any of his deeds since his return to the realm of the living matter, or would the tarnished brush of his old fate touch him even in this new life?
If Richard was right, saving the world wouldn't redeem him. Dozens of little moments of happiness with Kahlan, with Zedd, and even with Cara would leave no mark.
He was condemned to be the darkness in the night, trapped in the role assigned him, though he had never sought it.
If they wanted a monster, he could give them one. He could reconquer D'Hara, pick up his old knife. He'd kill and rape and plunder, and save Kahlan for last, let her watch it all and think he was Richard, think it was her precious who became the thing she despised. Let her watch him fuck Cara, and Jennsen, and Walter in their marriage bed. Let her see him slice open Dennee's throat, knowing that 'Richard' was worse than Darken Rahl, because Richard had a choice. Richard had all the choices.
Darken had had none.
Let her watch him bathe in her sister's blood, since only evil seemed to leave a lasting impression.
Why shouldn't he play the part he was cast in, and play it to the hilt? Why not start now - go to the nearest D'Haran outpost, and proclaim himself Lord Rahl, slaughtering any who would deny him?
Why not make Richard Rahl as reviled as he was once loved, and twice as vicious as his infamously wicked elder brother?
Zedd's voice calling them to dinner interrupted Darken's violent thoughts, punctuated by Kahlan's laugh as the wizard went on to tease them about their romance.
The romance that wasn't really his.
Why shouldn't he take his dagger and cut out Kahlan's heart and leave it gushing blood on the steps of the Pillars of Creation?
After all, it was the only way he could really, truly, have her heart.
He rested his hand on his knife. If he did it quickly, she would be too shocked to struggle. Too shocked to fight back. It would be done before Zedd and Cara could intervene, and then he'd kill them too. His magic was greater, his swordsmanship enhanced by the power of the Sword of Truth.
But he was tired.
Tired of being a monster, tired of paying for his sins. Tired of the flames of the underworld licking over his skin.
Tired of the weight dragging at his soul.
Darken followed Kahlan to the campfire where Zedd cooked while Cara gathered driftwood to feed the flames.
He hoped the wizard had made rabbit stew.