As always it was nearly impossible to sneak up on Kate. Coming to a halt a few feet behind her, I answered her question, allowing a little sarcasm to lace my voice.
"No I was just enjoying a walk in the wee hours of the morning."
There was silence, and for a moment I wondered if I had said the wrong thing.
"I keep thinking about the fae that almost bit my head off. All I can see when I try to sleep is its mouth," she finally replied, her voice unusually quiet.
I waited for the dry follow-up remark, but it never came. Kate was being serious.
"Well you could always dream about my face instead..." I said, in an attempt to lighten the mood.
Kate turned and fixed me with a glare, "Surely that would be a nightmare Marshall."
I winced inwardly. "All a matter of perspective I suppose. I won't lie, the fae have me a little out of sorts as well. I can't say I'm looking forward to the battle tomorrow."
"We're all scared," Kate said flatly, the vulnerability from earlier now gone, "But as long as we have each other's backs..." She let the thought hang in the air. "How is your arm?"
Again I was taken slightly by surprise, "It's good... thanks."
Nodding brusquely Kate said, "Yes, well you wouldn't be much use otherwise would you?"
And here I was starting to think she cared. Foolish Corin.
"Ah, no I suppose not."
A look of disbelief came over Kate's face, "Did I upset you? You realize this is only temporary. I thank you for saving my life, but... it doesn't change anything. After this, it all goes back to us versus you. It's just how it is."
"How can you say that so nonchalantly?" I challenged, my voice starting to raise, "Does it not disappoint you?"
"It disappoints me that there continues to be injustice, but I know that there will always be those who never seek to change it. And I will always be there to fight them."
I grimaced, "Funny. That sounds a lot like my own job description."
"Oh yes," drawled Kate, "What a noble cause is yours. How could I forget?"
I exhaled sharply, "What we do is more alike then you might think Kate."
"I have never tortured, whipped, or whored anyone!" Kate snapped, "I've never imposed taxes that surpass the income of poor folk. And I do not treat anyone like they are my personal slave!"
She took a breath and continued, "Fair enough, we may kill sometimes and we may steal, but it is only so that those who cannot afford to eat may feed their starving children. If only those in power would show kindness, and a bit of common sense, everyone would be fed well and everything would be run smoothly."
She paused for a moment and looked away. When she continued her voice was almost wistful, "And we all might have gotten a chance at a normal life."
"It's more complicated than you think Kate" I said quietly. "You can't just abolish taxes, and give everyone food."
I looked her in the eye, "And perhaps you have never done any of that stuff, like I've never robbed the government, or lived in the forest, or stole. When it comes down to it, both of us our protecting the "established order" as we see it."
"I don't mean abolish them. Everyone should work together, the poor should not be charged over their means while the rich sit at banquet every night. If everyone shared food equally..." She trailed off. "Why am I trying to explain this to you? All you've known is comfort." She spat, "You wouldn't understand."
That hit a nerve. My life, especially childhood had been far from comfortable. My father had made sure of that.
"Kate if you knew anything about me... but of course you don't, God forbid you actually try to understand anything other than your own foolish quest for... justice? Revenge?" I shook my head.
"The government is tied Kate. Charge too little and it can't operate. Charge too much and those with the money we need leave. You can't simply solve this problem by killing the Sheriff. What you're describing... would entail everyone in the world working together for the good of someone other than themselves. Good luck with that."
"Oh I'm sorry, when was the last time you tried to understand us?!" Kate's voice began to rise, "Charge the rich more and the poor less! It is only since Prince John's reign while the rightful King is at war that we have had this problem to this extent." She walked a short distance away, then turned and stomped right back.
"And for your information Corin, it is not so one sided. You know nothing of me either!"
"No! I don't! But I don't presume to judge you now do I?"
I poked a finger at her, "And no Kate it wouldn't be easier," I practically shouted, "because not everyone shares your utopian dream! Some people out there are selfish bastards who don't care about who they hurt, only what they get! And I don't see how following orders makes ME a bad guy!"
Kate's voice grew deadly quiet, "Oh I think you do." She started towards me slowly, her voice filled with venom, "I see you watching me all the time and I can only think that you're judging every move I make. And that's the difference between you and I. You follow orders because it's easier. I oppose you because it has to be done."
I threw up my hands and barked a short exasperated laugh, "Judgment? Is that what you see? Then you really DON'T know anything! And is it really easier Kate? Does loyalty mean nothing to you? If one of your friends became something terrible would you so easily give the order to get rid of them?"
"Why else would such an upstanding young man seek to throw his looks upon a woman? One whom he sees as akin to an animal, as all your men do? And I am loyal to our rightful king, I am loyal to the villagers, and I am loyal to my friends and loved ones."
Kate started to pace back and forth as she spoke, "Why should I be loyal to a Sheriff who enhances his own greed to the harm of others? My friends would never support this cause and if they did, I would not wish harm upon them, as I never wished harm upon your men."
She stopped her pacing and got up in my face as she finished her rant, "Causalities of war are an unfair but somehow unavoidable occurrence, something my FEET might agree to!" She pushed me when she said "feet" and it took everything I had not not go after her.
Kate didn't understand. She didn't know. She never did, and I was beginning to think she never would. She never hesitated to reference the injuries I caused to her feet... but even there she was mistaken.
Kate thought she was the only one who had been tortured that day...
Anger at her for using that against me, anger that she just didn't get it, coursed through me. I stood over her, and tried to let as much anger out as I could by yelling. If I didn't... I'd do something I would regret.
"You think I wanted to do that!?" I bellowed, "Are you really foolish enough to believe that? Has living in this forest rendered you brainless!?"
Kate got in my face again, the two of us closer than we were even in the forest when I saw my first glimpse of the fae, but neither of us noticed, neither of us cared.
"I think you like causing pain to other people," She snarled, "I think maybe you do it because that's what your FATHER did to yo-"
My hand had let fly and I didn't even try to stop it. Kate stared at me with a mixture of shock and fury, and then before I knew what was happening, she slapped me back.
And then... we were kissing.