Mourning of Doves

Braiden arched an eyebrow at Cady as he listened. They were flanking the archway that led from the entry Amanda and Toby just slipped into to the rest of the area. Dumb, stuffed prince? He considered just standing there and listening, letting Amanda spill about whatever they were up to, but Cady was intent on them for some reason. If it wasn't for whatever she wanted from them, he'd have just let the pair of them run and asked his sister about it later. So, he stepped just into sight, leaning against the wall in nonchalance, arms crossed and a heavy sigh escaping him.

"I'm disappointed, I really am,"
he said as she shook his head. "How many times have I told you that running only makes you look guilty? Always, always act normal. Might as well paint a sign on your forehead that says 'up to no good' when you run like that. What's got a burr under your scales that you'd forget something so basic?"

Amanda yelped and jumped at the sound of Braiden's voice.

"Run, Ann!" Toby barked, throwing himself at Braiden, both of their reactions delayed from the shock. It was easy for Braiden to side step casually, a hand on Toby's back to push him past. The boy hit the ground and rolled to his feet with admirable grace. He probably would have charged again, except Amanda glared at him.

"I'm sorry, my lord," she said, bowing deeply. "I didn't mean to cause trouble. We were just racing, not into any mischief. My chores are done and I'll see to your room soon, I swear it." She raised her blue eyes and sent a pleading look to her brother. It was a look he recognized - she was up to something and didn't want her cover blown.

Cady sighed and stepped out of the shadows, putting her back to the door. "You still haven't told him, have you?" She stood between the siblings and off to the side a little, shaking her head slowly, sadly. "The longer you hide it from Toby, the more it'll hurt him when he finds out. And he will eventually find out."

She looked over at Braiden. "Toby paid me a visit the other morning, and 'Ann' here was with him. Skulking in the hallway. I was too tired to correct anything she said. Which, I'm starting to think, was a mistake."

Since Toby was behind him, and Amanda was in front, he used a hand to indicate the boy with a questioning look. They couldn't really communicate clearly, but he could ask a simple 'are you running a con on/with this kid?'. Cady was pretty much blowing whatever cover she was using, and he couldn't stop that. It was probably why she wanted to stop the pair of them in the first place. Although why she actually cared about that was beyond him. But, if it was important to Amanda, he'd help smooth this whole thing over, and deal with the consequences later.

The consequence. That one, standing right there. A flick of his hand and he was pointing out that consequence to his sister, too. 'Don't make me choose', he mouthed at her. They could all read lips. Survival skill in the court.

Amanda's face flushed and she glared at Cady before she looked back to Braiden, her shoulders slumping.

"Wait a second," Toby said, stepping forward. "What's this then?"

The youngest princess took a deep breath, shoulders squared. "I was gonna tell you, Toby. But you hate royalty."

"Course I do,"
he confirmed before blinking. "What does that have to do with anything?"

Amanda's lower lip trembled once, then firmed. "I'm not Ann. You caught me when I was sneaking back into the palace, from being out. But servants don't have to sneak, not if they belong here. It's only... only princesses that have to sneak. Cause we're not allowed to do what we want."

Toby's jaw dropped a little and he gaped at her, staring. "But..."

"I'm Princess Amanda,"
she confirmed, her head hanging. "I'm sorry."

"But... but that makes you... his sister."
He pointed at Braiden now, but his eyes never left Amanda. "I hate him."

Cady stiffened at that glare, but she'd cracked this nut. She turned her gaze to Toby. "But she's not her brother. She's... well, she's special. And I'll bet you anything you like that after this moment, she'll be just as fun to play with as she was when you thought she was a servant."

Crossing her arms, she raised an eyebrow at him. "Unless, of course, you can't look past something stupid like a title and see the person in front of you. If you get hung up on who her family is, can't see the fact that she really is as fun and awesome as she seems, then you are more stuck up than even I thought possible, kid."

It struck Braiden, what Amanda said.

"We're not allowed to do what we want."

That was true. He'd bemoaned it himself a time or two. They had these privileges, but not much in the way of freedom. Funny how it didn't really bother him so much over the past couple of weeks, though. He was working, actually, trying to get himself fit for the duties he'd be taking up in the near future. Hadn't gone out. Hadn't played a hand of cards with anyone except Cady, and that was to teach her how.

And he didn't care. He wasn't chafing like he used to. It all felt really...natural. Like he was finally doing what he was supposed to be doing. How incredibly bizarre and creepy.

Later. Worry about it later. There was something else here. He turned around to get a good look at Toby and remembered where he'd seen the kid before. His appearance on the balcony that one day wasn't so long ago he'd forgotten it. That was all about Derek, wasn't it? That made Toby one of Derek's allies of some kind. "Great," he said lightly to the boy. "You don't matter to me in the slightest." As such, he turned his back on Toby again and shrugged at his sister.

"You do, though," he told her, "so watch yourself. The backup sister I've got is a dud."

Cady's attempt at reason just made Toby more angry and he spat to the side. "I don't need you or your lousy advice. What do you know, of loyalty or friendship? Of anything that lasts? Nothin'. You've known that, right enough."

"That's enough,"
Amanda said, swallowing hard. "You're not mad at her, you're mad at me."

The boy scowled. "Naw, I ain't mad at you. She's a pathetic simpering bitch who ran off after a stuffy feckless bastard who happens to be your big brother. But you, you lied to me. Been a while since a girl managed to lie to me, get me to believe it. But it's crowded here and I gotta get going." He turned and walked stiffly into a wall, vanishing from sight.

Amanda sniffed, swiping at her face. "What the hell?" she asked, her voice low and shaking. "Did I ask for that? Did I? From either of you?"

Braiden ran a hand through his hair, a stalling gesture because he had to think. He was now standing between his two favorite women. Exactly the place he didn't want to be. They were on opposing sides, and whichever one he came out in agreement with, the other would be mad at him. There was some middle ground here, someplace. He could find it, too. This wasn't as unusual a circumstance as it should be, he just never had to navigate it with two women he actually cared about before.

He considered what the actual situation was, because he didn't like lying to either of them. Cady wanted to chase them down and interfere, so he helped. She seemed to feel it was important, so he helped. In retrospect, that was possibly not the brightest thing he'd ever done, but her urgency was infectious, so he helped. Which all meant that this mess was presumably his own fault. Like hell would he admit that out loud.

He put up both hands in a gesture that was halfway between placating and surrender. "I think this is about something between Cady and Toby." There. That was diplomatic, and it sort of excluded him from the argument (hopefully), as well as suggesting it wasn't really about Amanda. A good start.

Dammit. Cady stared at the wall where Toby had disappeared. The sting of the boy's words lasted only a few moments. She was getting used to the little shit's barbs, for good or ill. Still, it could've gone better for Amanda's sake.

She swallowed and took breath. "I didn't mean for him to storm out. Really. I only wanted you both to know who the other was." Cady gave the young princess an earnest look. "Toby scares me, Amanda. He's full of hate and pain and anger. I don't care that he spews it at me, but I couldn't stand it if he turned it on you."


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