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Lobelia and Aconite

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Gomez stared across the graveyard at the throng of family and hangers-on, and idly fidgeted with one of his cuff links. Lurch, ever the perfect gentleman's gentleman, stood two steps back and to the left of him, a furled black umbrella in one hand in case the the sun finally broke through the dense fog, a flask of nightshade sloe gin in the other in case Gomez needed something stronger than a cigar to ward off the tooth-grinding tedium of a family funeral.

He sighed. "Well, old man," he said, glancing over his shoulder at Lurch, "Time to make with the small talk and the meeting and greeting." He clenched his cigar in his teeth, shot his shirt cuffs just so, and strode across the lawn.

Gomez doesn't bother with lying to himself, he's never had the knack for it. But in the secret recesses of his heart, he had hoped that Cousin Balthazar's side of the family wouldn't react to his presence like a sea anemone poked with a stick. Not that he wanted them to greet him with cries of joy and open arms, because all of them were just as boring and pretentious as Balthazar had been, but having them all give him sidelong glances full of wounded suspicion was laying it on a bit too thick. Honestly, did none of them know him at all? If he had poisoned Balthy's midnight port, he would have insisted that Balthazar stayed at the Addams' mansion instead of letting him stumble home, so he would have been able to get some quality gloating in over the corpse. He hadn't even known Balthy was dead until Lurch brought him the telegram, tucked under the extra-spicy Bloody Mary.

With head held high, Gomez walked through his relatives, nodding at anyone who caught his eye with an appropriately sombre expression. Cousin Merricat, layers of black tulle veils wafting around her in the breeze, glared at him while she spoke to two young women in long black dresses. She whispered something, and the taller of the young women gracefully brushed her hair back and glanced over her shoulder at him.

Gomez stopped, struck by the flashing darkness of her eyes, the gleaming alabaster of her skin. He felt as if someone had jabbed a live wire directly into his heart - it stopped beating for a few dizzying seconds - then rattled to speedy, arrhythmic life. Her lips, the color of deadly nightshade berries and blood, turned up in an enigmatic smile.

Cousin Merricat, observing this, shuddered and said loudly, "It's so kind of you both to be here at this sad gathering. I know you both truly cared for Balthazar, unlike some people."

The luminous beauty who had glanced at Gomez turned back to Merricat and nodded. "Oh, we had to be here," she said in a gentle voice that Gomez felt, physically felt, as if someone had rubbed shredded, torn silk over his skin. "It was vitally important that Ophelia and I see Balthazar put to rest. We needed to."

Merricat dabbed at her eyes with a black-edged handkerchief, not bothering to move her veils out of the way. "Come, let's go speak with Mother. I know she'll be touched that you're here. I know she always hoped for a match between our two families."

Gomez stood and watched as the most glorious creature he'd ever seen walked away in the company of a boring cousin who hated him. What was life without challenges?

---

He watched her throughout the eulogy and the funeral. She was so pale, so mysterious! Even when Merricat threw herself onto Balthazar's coffin, wailing about tender souls being snuffed out by spiteful, boorish jealousy, Gomez didn't look away, instead obsessively cataloguing the subtle differences between the sheen of her raven-like tresses and the glimmer of the ebony lace of her gown. He noticed her grace when she put an arm around the shorter woman with her - a sister, he wondered? - and drew her close for a whispered conversation.

"mehmeeem meh mee mee?"

Gomez dragged his gaze away from the object of his adoration and looked down at his cousin. "Itt, old man! I know, she's stunning. Who is she? I must know!"

"mee mee mehmehmeh murmel mem."

"Morticia. A fitting name for such a beauty. One of the Frump girls? Why have I never seen her before? Does she have a wildly protective father who keeps her locked away? That will not stop me from wooing her!"

"mummel meh meemem mee mee."

"Away at school? Of course, she's obviously a lady of brilliance and learning. So radiant! So graceful! My heart, pierced by Cupid's arrow, it is entirely hers. I would rip it out and give it to her on a platter if I thought she wanted it."

"meh meem meem mehmeh muh mum."

Gomez looked around, and saw his beloved walking away with her sister, Cousin Merricat arm in arm between them. Other family members were also making their way from the graveyard to the house. He held out his hand; Lurch put the flask in it. He knocked back a hefty swallow, then handed it back. He straightened his tie, smiling to himself. Balthazar dying may end up being the best thing that ever happened to him.

---

"I can't believe that man had the nerve to show up here," seethed Merricat to Ophelia and Morticia. "Everyone knows he murdered my poor brother! Why hasn't he been arrested yet, that's what I'd like to know!"

Ophelia murmured soothing words and patted Merricat's hand. Morticia glanced back at the door, as if she could see through it and spot the dashing stranger in the pinstriped suit.

"Merricat, darling, who is he?" she asked.

"Oh, you're better off not knowing, Morticia! But now that he's seen you and Ophelia, you both should know the whole story. That's Gomez Addams. He always hated Balthazar, couldn't stand how charming he was, how everyone loved him."

"I always thought Gomez was one of your imaginary friends," said Ophelia. "You were always going on and on at your little tea parties that he was going to show up any minute, and insisted that none of us start on the ladyfingers until he arrived."

"Oh that's right," said Morticia. "You talked about him all the time when you were a girl, Merricat."

Merricat wrinkled her nose in disgust. "I'll admit, I had a brief childhood infatuation with him, the idea of him. But that was before I realized how desperate he was to be the center of attention, how he cruelly ignored my brother's overtures of friendship."

She poured a cup of tea, and continued, "And I thank my lucky stars that my childhood infatuation was so easily quashed, because every girl he's set his eyes on has come to a bad end! Why, just last year he pushed poor Prudence Espellier off Widow's Ridge!"

Morticia sipped her tea and wondered why Merricat didn't bother moving her veils away from her face when she drank her tea. Perhaps she preferred her beverages very well strained?

"Oh, I remember that," said Ophelia. "They were picnicking, and Prudence lost her footing and fell."

"She was pushed," said Merricat in a firm voice.

"Poor Prudence. She was always a clumsy girl," said Morticia, gazing out the windows into the garden. "I remember in nursery school she tripped over a worm on the sidewalk and broke her arm."

Setting her teacup down with a clatter, Merricat said, "And what about poor Selene? I cannot believe the jury acquitted him! He lured her into that abandoned greenhouse to her death."

"Selene was the one stung to death by wasps when she was playing hide-and-seek, wasn't she?" asked Ophelia.

"A game he suggested at that party!" said Merricat in a triumphant tone. "Everyone knows he's no good, that he's a ladykiller. Why, it wouldn't surprise me to know that Balthy had been trying to give him a good talking-to, trying to persuade him to change his ways, and Gomez poisoned him out of spite!"

She turned to face Ophelia, her beady eyes bright with tears. "And to think that you were probably the last friendly face that Balthy saw! He had been talking to mother just that morning, asking her where Grandmother's ring was, because he had an especial need for it. I know this is a delicate question, my dear Ophelia, but had Balthy … asked you anything?"

Ophelia looked at her sister, blushed faintly, then looked at the floor. "No," she replied. "Balthazar did join us for tea, and he seemed a bit nervy, didn't he, Morticia?"

"Hmmm?" said Morticia, jolted out of a daydream of dark eyes and a handsome mustache, "Oh yes, Balthazar did seem a bit on edge. He kept losing his train of thought when he was regaling us again with that delightful story about the leeches."

Merricat grasped one of Ophelia's hands in hers. "My dear, I've always considered you to be, well, like a sister. You know that Balthy was very fond of you, don't you?"

Ophelia looked at her quizzically while trying to untangle her lace cuffs from Merricat's rings. "Was he? I never could tell. He was always talking about other girls."

Merricat pulled her hands away with a sound of tearing fabric, and clasped them to her bosom. "Oh yes, he was," she said, her earnest voice only slightly muffled by the tulle veils being pulled tautly across her face, "He always came back from visits with you so … distracted, so yearning! You were the one he pined for, my dear!"

Morticia made a faint noise that could have been a sob or smothered laughter. Merricat turned and enveloped her in a gauzy embrace. "I know, I know. Now it is too late for our families to be united! All because of that wretched Gomez Addams. I hope justice is served this time, and swiftly." She started to sob in hoarse, theatrical bleats.

Morticia gazed steadily at her sister while she patted Merricat on the back. "It's a bit close in here," she said, "I feel somewhat faint. I'm going to step outside for some air. No, no," she said when Merricat tried to cling to her, "You should stay here. You should go talk to the others, let them comfort you. I feel … overwrought, and need to be alone with my thoughts."

"Yes, of course," Merricat said, pulling her veils back around her like a cocoon. "Go compose yourself, dear. I'll look after Ophelia in this terrible time."

Morticia walked toward the floor-to-ceiling French windows that were open to the night-blooming garden, avoiding her sister's shrewd, knowing eyes.

---

Gomez walked along the monuments, his thoughts full of the luminous beauty that was now enshrined in his heart. Morticia! Morticia! Her name was like a hook in his soul, pulling him to the edge of a glorious precipice. For he must know her, woo her, or surely die. He had stood against a wall in the library during the wake, not daring to go into the other room where she was. Not for fear of censure or gossip, but because he knew that Cousin Merricat was just like her odious (and now deceased) brother, and would not stop yammering away at her intended audience once she had them entangled in her web.

How was he to meet her? None of this side of the family liked him, but perhaps someone would tell him where she lived. He could ask Cousin It to find out, he knew that Cousin It understood affairs of the heart.

He turned down another row of grave markers, and realized that his wanderings had taken him near Cousin Balthazar's grave. And there, gracefully leaning against a headstone and tossing petals onto the newly-turned earth, was the divine mistress of his soul! The moonlight glimmered on her hair and on the jet beads of her gown. He tossed his cigar aside and strode toward her.

She turned, her dark eyes alight with amusement. "Why fancy meeting you here, Gomez Addams."

"Morticia," he breathed. He watched as she scattered the last of the petals on the grave and dusted her palms together.

"Do you miss him?" he asked, gesturing at her floral tribute.

She looked at him steadily, then glanced back down at Balthazar's grave. "I think that I shall never hear the beginning of the story about his experiments with the leeches again, and that, if I'm very lucky, the memory of it will fade."

"The leeches!" Gomez exclaimed. "He was droning on about them again that last night. In between cheating at cards. Honestly, what made him think anyone wanted to hear about his experiments with the leeches? For years I tried to tell him that not only was he repeating himself, but that telling a story where he thought that leeches would be appropriate for self-stimulation made him look like an even bigger idiot than usual."

"Is that what he was using the leeches for?" asked Morticia in a bright tone, drifting closer to him. "He never finished the story around my sister and I, you see. He always stopped and alluded to how it was too racy for our delicate ears."

"Yes," replied Gomez in an offhand tone, trying not to be distracted by the swish of her skirts over the grass. "And believe me, the tale wasn't racy in the slightest, just boring and foolish. Especially since he was too squeamish to actually test out his theories; he merely talked over them to death with anyone who held still long enough."

She leaned close to him and stroked a finger over his mustache. He shivered and grasped her hand.

"You've bewitched me," he said, gazing into her eyes. "Tell me what I must do to win you, what quest I must go on to gain your favor."

She gave him a devilish smile. "Help me gather more lobelia to leave on Balthazar's grave," she said. "And perhaps some aconite."

He kissed her hand. "Malevolence and misanthropy?" he said. "I like the way you think."

She laughed, and walked backwards while not letting go of his hand. "I used most of it in the tea I gave him the other day," she confided. "There was simply no other way to get him to stop trying to propose to poor Ophelia. She kept dodging the question, but he kept talking about what their life would be like when they were married. It was a horrible banal vision."

Gomez walked closer to her, clinging to her hand and pressing kisses up her arm. "You vixen," he said admiringly, "Solving your sister's problems like that, in such a decisive manner."

"It was self-defense, really," she said, lowering her eyes modestly. "I knew that once it finally sank in that Ophie was refusing him, he'd turn his proposals to me. He's been proposing to any woman who spoke to him for more than 15 minutes for years."

"Do you poison all your potential suitors?" Gomez asked, snaking an arm around her waist.

She sighed, and smiled brilliantly at him. "No. But then, I haven't really had any suitors. Everyone knows that Opheila is the pretty one. Plus all the men I know seem put off by my knowledge of herbology."

Gomez stared at her. "All the men you've known are fools. You're everything a man could ever dream of! Brilliant, resourceful, pale and beautiful like a poisonous lily!"

She gently touched his face, then raked his cheek with her long red nails. He gasped, and stared mesmerized as she delicately licked a drop of blood off her fingertips.

He clutched at her hand. "You must be mine. I love you. Life without you would be ashes, would be glaringly stark and empty." He dropped to his knees and gazed at her adoringly. "Marry me. I'll give you the world. I'll give you my heart. I'll give you anyone else's heart that you ask for. Name who has slighted you, and I will bring you their eyes in a crystal jar. But please, say you'll be mine!"

She smiled down at him, "But Gomez, we just met."

"It doesn't matter! You, you are the other part of my soul! You are the radiant and glowing moon, drawing me to you like a delusional moth! We have our entire lives to explore and unwrap each other's psyches, to brand our names on each other's innermost secrets. Please, please, end my torment and say you'll marry me."

"But what if I want to torment you?" she asked seriously. "For isn't that what love is, an aching, beautiful torment?"

He sprang to his feet and embraced her. "Yes!" he cried. "I want to be tormented by you forever!"

"Forever?" she echoed, gazing into his eyes.

"Forever and beyond, to the grave, cara mia," he said solemnly.

"To the grave," she agreed, sighing before she kissed him.