Remoulade by Katie Cross

If there’s anything that fans ask me for, it’s more of Merrick and Bianca. I’m so happy to oblige. This is a scene where Merrick is wounded and comes to deliver a message to Derek before he gets it taken care of. Bianca obliges.

This was written as an explorative scene between the two of them, before they both revealed how they felt. I loved the tension that came from both of them before they’d admitted things, so I kept this to share with you here.

* * *

A pounding knock reverberated through the apartment door.

“Coming!” I groused, shoving a blanket off me. My body groaned as I pushed off the divan and the warmth of the fire. “I’m coming!”

Reeves had—in an unprecedented move that I thought meant he was dying—taken the night off, leaving me alone in the apartment with my thoughts and dinner. The pounding on the door had waken me from a cozy little nap before dinner.

When I pulled the door open, my eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Oh, merry meet, Merrick.” I widened the door. My stomach gave a happy little lurch that I tried not to think about too deeply. The sight of blood quickly quelled that, but I kept my cool. “Are you all right?”

A crimson river ran down a cut that ran from the top of his forehead to his left eyebrow. At one point the blood must have run into his eye, because a smeared palette of red painted his eye socket where he’d wiped it away. His hair looked greasy and his face coated with grime. Beneath all the dirt, however, lurked his powerful green eyes. 

Even filthy, the exasperating man was astoundingly handsome. He also eyed me warily, as if he wasn’t sure whether he was happy to see me or not. 

“Fine,” he said. 

“Of course. Because you look perfectly normal with nothing out of place whatsoever. What can I do for you?”

He extended a letter. “I was just on my way to the Ranks to clean up after reporting to Jaron and your father. Derek wanted me to give you this message.”

Merrick glanced over my shoulder and gave a little nod as Reeves walked up behind me—his “day off” must have been over after just two hours. Reeves moved as quiet as a ghost most days, and I found it oddly unnerving that a man with so much composure and little inflection could move as silently as a cloud. 

“Thanks.” I plucked the paper, littered with grimy fingerprints, from his hand. “I’ll read it in a little bit. First, come on in.”

He frowned. “What?”

“Come in.” I waved impatiently. “You tore up your shoulder and your . . . arm. I’ll help you patch them. Your face looks perfectly normal, so no worries there.”

He hesitated. “I’m fine.”

“I didn’t ask, Merrick.”

He stepped back. “There are apothecaries in the Ranks.”

“But do they have remoulade?”

Merrick paused, clearly torn. Remoulade was a powerful healing  potion that mended cuts extraordinarily fast. No Apothecary would use it on these kinds of wounds, which meant a needle and thread and a few days convalescence. Protectors hated that. 

Seeing my victory, I grinned. “Come on, then.”

With a scowl, he entered the room. Merrick would never enter a room with just me in it unless he was assigned to me for protection. Papa would have his—or any Protector’s—head for it, which made Reeves timing quite advantageous. 

“Would you like me to order up some dinner, Miss Bianca?” Reeves asked with one wizened eye trained on me. 

“Yes, thank you,” I said, ignoring his look of reproval. Reeves didn’t like anything that wasn’t dignified and clean to begin with, and he wasn’t overly fond of the Protector’s swooping in here so filthy all the time. “I’m sure Merrick is as hungry.”

“I’m fine.”

“Have them send up twice their usual,” I called over my shoulder. 

“You’re as bad as your father,” Merrick muttered. 

I laughed as I led him to the divan. “I know. Mama almost went crazy between the two of us. What happened?”

Reevens, nose wrinkled at Merrick’s state of unkempt disarray, moved to the sideboard where Papa kept many of his healing potions. I pushed Merrick into a chair near the fire, and fetched a bowl of hot water. 

“Take the shirt off. We’ll need to see the full wound to pour enough potion on it.”

Reeves used a spell to send me a skinny orange vial the size of my little finger. I uncorked it and released three drops of the bright pink liquid on my leg. It sizzled, stung, and disappeared in a tuft of smoke.

Perfect.

Merrick had taken his shirt off, and his skin glowed a deep gold color by the light of the fire. I swallowed back a sudden rise of nerves as I walked to him, glass potion bottles in hand. Jikes, but he was perfect. I forced myself to focus. I’d repaired Papa plenty of times before. This was no different.

“Not too bad,” I murmured, gently probing a wound on his right shoulder. As if he’d asked or said more than three words together. “Nothing too difficult. The remoulade should handle it, but it will scar.”

He shrugged. Was he feeling . . . awkward? Fair enough. I was the High Priest’s daughter, after all. Said something for his courage—or his pride—that he’d taken my challenge.

A neat gash ran down the back of his right bicep that I turned my attention too, but wasn’t so deep that it would need stitching. I sighed in relief. It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d stitched someone up after a mission, but I still didn’t like it. Like Papa, I doubted he’d even make a sound. 

“How did you get this one?” I asked. 

Before he could answer, the sound of shouting caught my attention. I glanced briefly at the window before pulling the stopper from the vial again. 

“Little sizzle,” I said. “It’ll hurt like a beast.”

A few drops splattered into his wound. He sucked in a sharp breath through his nose when the liquid sizzled, sending tendrils of smoke into the air.

“New recruits.” Merrick motioned outside with a jerk of his head. A new draw of blood wormed out of his head wound and dribbled toward his eyebrow. “We’ve got classes going for eighteen hours a day, trying to get them through so we have more Guardians on the borders. Not to mention the rise of the Factios in Chatham City.”

“Is that how you got this?”

“The recruits? No.”

That hadn’t been my question—of course he wasn’t with recruits—and he knew it. Jikes, but Papa trained them well in deflecting questions they didn’t want to answer.

Just the mention of war made my stomach curdle. It’s all anyone talked about, and I hated it. Tiberius had put out a call for more Guardians three months ago, when reports from the Protectors spying on the West came back saying that the West Guards increased their armies by double. Able, male witches had poured into Chatham castle ever since. 

All our pride still stung from Miss Mabel’s thwarted attack.

“Is that where you were tonight?” I dipped a clean white cloth in a basin of water that Reeves brought around. “Fighting the Factios?”

He sent me an annoyed look that confirmed my suspicion. So he had been fighting the rebellious Factios members that harassed the gypsies. They’d destroyed parts of the city. The Factios were like moles. Every time the Guardians popped one on the head, another popped up somewhere else. The wretched varmints were out of control.

“Got it,” I muttered. 

He stared straight ahead, jaw flexed.

I cleaned his arm wound without another word, then put several more drops of remoulade. Already, I could see the potion working beneath the skin. Hints of new flesh knitted below. The cotton bandage I wrapped around his arm was a stark contrast to his surprisingly tanned skin. 

The West, perhaps? 

By the time I turned my attention to the scratch across his face, dinner had arrived. Merrick clenched his teeth when I cleaned his face with a warm rag. Why was he so tense? Grief, but he needed to calm down. 

The moment the remoulade sizzled—meaning it hit it’s target—Merrick stood up so fast the divan slipped back. 

“Thanks.” He straightened. “But I have to go.”

“Don’t you want your dinner?”

“No.”

His curt reply cut through me like a knife. I rolled my eyes. Try to be his friend and he prickled like a porcupine.

“Fine.” I folded my arms across my chest. “Take advantage of my super expensive and very rare potion and leave. I get it.”

He frowned. “Bianca—”

He stopped there. I stared, brow lifted in expectation. Let him save himself. But he didn’t. His mouth bobbed up and down, as if lost. 

Finally, I threw my hands up. “What? Merrick, relax. We’re friends. Why are you acting so weird?”

The storm in his eyes didn’t abate, but his shoulders drooped slightly. “I know.”

“Do you?”

“This is . . . look . . . let’s just keep it to training, all right? This isn’t a good idea.”

“Why?”

“Just trust me,” he muttered. “We are not meant to be friends.”

With that he strode the door and slipped outside wordlessly. It closed behind him with a firm snick. 

I lowered to the divan with a violent sigh. 

Men. 

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