Death of a King
--- NEWS ANCHOR ---
Another life has been claimed by a murderous feud between two prominent Floridian families. Augustus Lord, patriarch of the Monarch crime family, was shot and killed outside a small convenient store, late last night. Law enforcement officials have stated there are no suspects-
--- RONAN ---
The clip cuts off and I stare blankly at the amber liquid in my glass.
My dad is dead.
News of his murder travelled fast within the ranks of the underworld and it didn’t take long for it to reach New York. Reveling in his demise, The Commission sent word through every channel and hushed rumors spread like wildfire. The great Augustus Lord shot down like a common street thug... and I never told him goodbye.
A stray tear rolls down my cheek and swiftly, I thumb it away. Aside from unceasing rage, the single drop is the most emotion I’ve exhibited in the better part of a decade. I’ve learned to block out the agony of loss. It never got me anywhere and I rather enjoy feeling numb.
...and I’ll have to be numb for what comes next.
I’m going home.
Please, God... don’t make me go back there.
Even now, when I know it’s expected of me, I struggle to find the desire to take my place among the life I left behind. Not when every corner of it reminds me of... HER.
“Justice...” Today of all days, “...I wish you were here.”
Outside, a breeze picks up and the sheer curtains of my hotel suite flutter in a sigh of gossamer fabric and warm air. A dark figure appears in the wide opening leading to the private terrace and tossing his cell to a nearby cushion, he informs, “The jet will be fueled and ready for take off at eleven hundred.”
“Are you sure you want to come? This world, these people... once you’re, in-”
“-I’m in. I won’t abandon you, Ro. I know what going back means and I promised I’d be there.”
Relieved, I study the man I’ve come to love like a brother, the man I call “Merc” as he refills my glass and clinks the side with his own, “Well, then... I guess we better draw up your contract.”
His brow arches with surprise, “You were serious about that?”
I wave him off as I toss back my fifth serving of whiskey. Slamming the empty drinkware to the coffee table, “It’s just a stupid fucking formality,” I snatch the complimentary notepad from the nearby secretary desk and my voice drops with mock gravitas, “The Syndicate has rules, you know.”
“You’re telling me.” The page blurs before me and I close one eye as I put pen to wavy lines.
I can’t believe I’m doing this.
Scribbling what I hope is semi-legible handwriting, I produce two copies of the same text.
“I, Michael Wright, am an idiot for signing my life over to a lost cause like Ronan Lord.” He lowers the sheet, “Hmpf... Eloquent.”
Raising my newly-filled glass, I toast, “You’re welcome. Now, sign ’em and grab yourself another Maker’s. This is a wake. S’rude not to drink with the bereaved.”
“Is that it?”
“What d’you mean ‘Is that it?’ What were you expecting?”
Tossing the signed scraps to the mahogany surface, “I don’t know... A branding or some kind of bizarre hazing ritual,” Merc swerves to the bar for his obligatory beverage.
“Jesus, it’s not a frat.”
He tips the bottle as he looks at me pointedly, “Isn’t it though?”
Flapping the makeshift contract, I gloat, “S’too late to back out... and as my second, you’ll be required to assi-mmmm... whew... assi-nope... buuuuup...”
“Look man, I’m not cleaning up your puke. I’ll burn that page and put a bullet between your eyes before-”
Gagging, ”Brrreep... Buuuuuup..." I clutch at my stomach.
“NO, RO-brrreeep...” His eyes bulge, “Oh, no...” and he darts for the bathroom.
“Ha. Who’s puk-buuuup... Ew.” Smacking my lips, “Hot wings. When did I eat hot wings?” I slump to the throw pillow at the end of the couch and unbutton my jeans. ”Aaaah... That feels better.”
Through watery lens, I glimpse the apparition of my lost love leaning over me. A figment of my imagination sent to torment me - sent to remind me of the life I’ll never have. Her sweet features pucker with disapproval, “Ronan, you’re a fucking mess.”
Leering, I slur, “Mmm. Thastrue... I ha-been ssssince...” My heart twists and I choke back the emotions I’ve worked so hard to control. Unfortunately, the alcohol mixed with my recent grief has a different set of plans and a fresh wave of sorrow sweeps over me. I claw at the cluster of scars on my chest as anxiety turns my lungs to stone. With no other choice but to surrender to the anguish building inside, the clouds roll in and my lids drift shut. The vision hovering next to me - the missing piece of my soul - fades. Drowning in despair, I mumble, “Angel, I love you,” and succumb to an uneasy sleep.
Blinding rays of golden sunlight burn through the tinted aviator sunglasses; the miniature world below zooms into focus. Tiny house elves hammer at the wrinkles in my brain and my head throbs in rhythm with their relentless assault. Each of them blasting me with one migraine spell after another. Next to me, Merc shifts in his leather seat and groans, “Ooooh... Fuck. Remind me why I’m your friend, again.”
“...because I’m charming and a good influence.”
He levels his bleary glare, “I hate you.”
My teeth flash in a cheeky grin, “How can you possibly hate...” as I gesture to myself, “...someone this awesome?”
“Seriously, if I could move without sobbing, I would kick your fucking teeth in.”
“Awe, thank you. That was beautiful.”
Rolling his eyes, he grunts, “I’m gonna take a piss. You should change. We’ll be landing soon.”
He pushes to his feet, “Fuck yo-whoa,” and teeters in place for a moment. “Hey, Ro... is the plane spinning?”
“Well, that’s comforting.”
Amused, I watch his hunched form stumble down the aisle before returning to the window to confirm we’re on the last leg of our descent. The growing landscape below gives way to the crystalline structures of my old stomping grounds.
Unsurprisingly, the city’s grown and the sprawling metropolis has expanded considerably since the last time I was here.
I wonder if the theater...
The memory of my final date with Justice rushes to the forefront and my fingers slide toward my heart. Once again, the familiar prickles of panic rise within and I divert my attention from the approaching cityscape. Turning away, I rise and reach for the garment bag stowed in the seat across from me. The worn cotton of my favorite Gryffindor tee drops to the cushion as I unzip the generic piece of luggage... but try as I might, I can’t push her from my mind.
My arms flex at the phantom recall of holding her compact body. Practically seventeen, I hadn’t yet reached my full size. Even then, she was tiny compared to me.
She was perfect.
...and we fit perfectly.
I’ve filled out since - grown, but it doesn’t matter. When someone is made for you IT DOESN’T MATTER. They will always be...
“Ro? You okay?”
I startle and my fingers tug at the hem of my shirt. Suddenly aware I’ve been staring at the same button for God knows how long, I scramble to fasten the rest, “Yeah, fine. Just...”
“...thinking about her.”
Depleted, at war with my mind, I drop to the seat behind me and mutter, “What am I doing here?”
“What you were born to do. You can’t run forever, Ronan, and...” A mirror of my own agony - my brother in pain - Merc crouches in front of me. Each of us has endured our own form of loss and it’s because of our shared torment that I value his counsel above all others. “...I think you owe it to your father to take your throne. I think you owe it to both of them.”
“My throne is what got her killed.”
“From what you’ve told me, she would take one look at you and say you’re a fucking mess.”
The eerie echo of my own thoughts causes the corners of my mouth to perk. “Mmm. You’re not wrong.” Merc always has incredible insight.
“...and if she were here? If the past hadn’t happened, would she tell you to take your place?”
“’Cause as I understand it, she was ready to be your queen.”
...and we were going to change our world...
Straightening, Merc looks down his nose, “...or would you rather continue on fucking and drinking yourself into oblivion?”
Even in death, I’m failing her.
“TAKE YOUR SEAT AT THE TABLE, RONAN... What else do you have?”
“Nothing. All I have is my name.”
His face breaks in a cold smile, “Do this and you can make every single one of them pay for what they did to her,” and I recoil at the hatred burning in his eyes. No doubt, he’d help me kill them all if I asked him to.
Maybe I fucking should.
...but first things first...
Nodding, “Okay...” I concede, “Let’s go get my crown.”