Chapter 1: Prologue - Uptown Girl
The Crown Princess Dawn Eleanor Reseda of Polyanthus didn’t know her mother.
She knew of her mother, in a sense. Not in the sense that her father spoke about her… ever. No, that would be what normal parents did, even after messy, emotional and extremely public divorces. A normal father answered his daughter’s questions about the half of the family that vanished when she was barely eight months old. A normal father, of course, wasn’t a king. An emotionally repressed one at that.
No, instead Dawn knew of her mother from tabloid magazines that she managed to get her hands on over the years.
There were a lot on the marriage. How scandalous it was that her father had married someone non-royal - and an American at that. It was the first time in the kingdom’s history but Vivian Dale, CEO of Fairfield books, had stolen King Douglas’s heart - then only a prince - when she was helping with the publishing, press and distribution of a memoir about the royal family at the time. The courtship was a whirlwind, and Dawn wondered often at the faded photos - how happy both her parents looked.
There were a lot of stories about Marianne, too. The first-born daughter of King Douglas and Queen Vivian. Born almost a year after their marriage. There were family photos of the three of them, still happy, loving, functional. Marianne was a cute baby. Dawn could only imagine she was a beautiful woman now. Could only imagine, of course, because Dawn had never met her older sister. Had never even seen a picture of her after Vivian Dale took her eldest daughter back to the United States after the divorce. The Dale family stayed firmly out of the limelight after the whole affair.
Marianne’s first four years were documented well, but as they went on the article names grew more outlandish; stories of affairs - on both sides ,- or that Douglas’s noble family was cold towards the King’s wife with her common birth and liberal views. Tabloids blamed everything for their divorce, and certainly her father said nothing to confirm or deny any of them. Some blamed Marianne, fewer blamed Dawn but only because she was the daughter the king kept.
The last article Dawn kept was a story of a car crash, of the death of Vivian Dale - the ex-Queen of Polyanthus - and the orphaning of her seventeen year old daughter, Marianne. Dawn was thirteen when it happened. She didn’t feel like she had lost her mother; to be honest, Dawn never felt like she had had a mother. She didn’t know why they didn’t take Marianne in. Dawn still didn’t know why Marianne, by all accounts the heir, was the one who had been taken by their mother, but she supposed it didn’t matter anymore.
She never asked. She stopped looking at tabloids.
Seven years passed and life was as good as it could be for royalty in a small country with a constitutional monarchy with an active monarch, at peace with all surrounding nations, and a relatively well-established history and wealth. So, pretty damn good.
Dawn was bored out of her mind.
Oh, and she knew how privileged she was being about the whole thing. Pretty young rich girl is tired of her high class rich life and wants to kick it with the peasants was a too common trope in media for her tastes. She had a reputation in the media , and she knew it. Her disinterest in politics and her love of socializing created the image of a uptown party girl, rich and fancy-free, reckless and frivolous.
It wasn’t necessarily wrong, she might admit, but it wasn’t that Dawn wanted to forgo being a princess, it wasn’t that Dawn didn’t like the life she had. She just wanted tolive.
Her life had begun to feel smothering, meetings and dinners and learning policies and histories. Dawn watched her teenage years come and go and had felt like a grand total of nothing had happened to her. She had everything, she had never doneanything.
Perhaps sometimes she did think about her mother’s death and how she had gotten out of this life that bored Dawn so. Sometimes she did think about what life she had had with Marianne in America. Her father was quiet, reserved and while he loved her very much he had just never connected with her. Dawn wondered, more and more with every day, how it might feel to have been Marianne Dale instead of Princess Dawn.
And sometimes… sometimes Dawn just wondered how it might feel to know her sister as she would never know her mom.
It was a rainy afternoon on an early october saturday, cool and crisp and beautiful, and Marianne Dale was in no mood to appreciate it. She couldn’t even enjoy that her upstairs neighbor wasn’t playing some indefinable Mumford-and-Sons-esque folk-rock on his guitar like he usually did.
Instead, Marianne let out a frustrated growl and pulled the stuffed frog out from where it had been collecting dust underneath her bed, her decision to clean her apartment diverted by finding yet another one of her ex’s gifts littering her place - over a year later. Absently, a familiar thought came to mind; she really should have asked her mom for more advice growing up. Like how to efficiently wipe out all history of your ex-boyfriend/ex-husband/whatever so completely that you could actually forget they existed.
“Yeah, I’ll add that to the list,” she mumbled to herself. There was rather a long mental list of things Marianne should have asked her mother in the seventeen years she’d had one. Of course, she hadn’t much listened to her mother back then, either.
The stuffed frog had a crown.
God, he had been so fucking transparent. How had she been so blind?
Easy Answer: Because Roland Royce had been an intern at Fairfield Books, hired a few years after her mother’s death. Marianne had still felt emotionally vulnerable, was still picking up the pieces of her life and well, Roland had looked the part, sounded the part, acted the part of the kind of man a broken thing like her could lean on. There was a year and a half where everything felt right.
But when Roland had did his homework before landing his job, he really did his homework. Including her direct relation to foreign royalty. It took a commendable amount of digging; Vivian Dale had burned a lot of bridges and even as a high ranking CEO she had put a great deal of money and resources towards burying any of that information. Not for her sake, but so that Marianne could have a normal life.
Marianne later learned that Roland had had the whole thing planned out. The publicity, the tales of heroism from the man who had restored Princess Marianne, the true crown princess of Polyanthus, to her rightful place. One step further, with him as her fiancé he, too, would be in direct line to a throne. My, but he was an ambitious piece of shit.
However all of this hinged on him manipulating Marianne into wanting to be found by the half of the family that had never given two fucks about her since she was four years old. Her feelings for him he had easily won, she owed a great number of her personal insecurities and dependency issues to the emotional shit he put her through, but where the Polyanthus side of the family was concerned…
Roland Royce had to but hint that he knew of Marianne’s ‘real identity’ and she had punched him square in the jaw with strength she hadn’t known she possessed at the time, stood over his shocked body and told him that if he ever spoke of this to anyone, if this ever got out, she would assert her newly appointed royal powers and have him beheaded.
She also moved to the other side of the country.
Like royalty and kingdoms, it seemed like love was another fairytale that Marianne Dale just wasn’t going to get.
And, like with the royalty and kingdoms, Marianne Dale was just fine with that.
Except that she kept finding his shit, at her new place no less - how had it survived the move? She threw the crowned frog in a trash bin and aborted apartment cleaning completely. From upstairs wafted the sounds of her neighbor trying to be both Edward Sharpe and Bruno Mars.
“Pick a genre, there, buddy,” she mumbled to the ceiling. Okay, and some days she did want to talk to him, talk to any of her neighbors, really. But at the end of the day, people just seemed like too much work.
She went to classes (and yeah, maybe she had problems picking a major, and changing school suddenly didn’t help, and yeah, maybe she’d be a six-year-grad but hey - she wasn’t in a rush to be anywhere), she worked at Fairfield Books although, by all accounts, she didn’t need to. She got out, some. But it had been a long time since she had been anything resembling social.
And she knew, she knew very clearly that it was Roland that prevented it, and it infuriated her all the more knowing it. Suddenly all relationships left her with a keen sense of paranoia. Being used for your status - a status you didn’t even want - would do that to a girl. So there she was, Marianne Dale: recluse at twenty-four.
It wasn’t the first time she had been lost in thinking about how, while she could and did tell anyone - including herself - that she was fine, that the life she had right now was certainly not a happy one… but it seized her all the same. She sat on her bedroom floor for a while until a knock on her front door interrupted her thoughts.
Marianne sighed, stretching and preparing to yell to whatever salesperson was at her door that she wanted nothing and to please leave.
Instead she opened the door to a blonde girl, half an inch taller than Marianne, with wide eyes and a smattering of freckles over a small button nose. She was dressed like she had recently come into a lot of money and didn’t know quite what to do with it. Hands holding a small white umbrella were wringing and she rocked back and forth on her heels. She looked like she might be vibrating.
Marianne took all of her in, back at those huge blue eyes, and felt her stomach drop. Marianne had never been good at instincts but today had felt off, felt like something bad was going to happen. Her crowned-frog felt less like an annoyance now and more like a terrible, horrible omen.
She knew what the girl was going to say before it left her mouth.
“Hi,” her voice was high, melodious and carried some sort of european accent. “I’m Dawn.”
Marianne stood, slack-jawed, nothing short of horrified.
Dawn - Princess Dawn of Polyanthus, Marianne Dale’s younger sister - smiled, a touch more nervously. “I’m- you know, Princess Dawn- I’m you-”
“Yeah, I know which Dawn you are, thanks.” Marianne said, her voice was high and tight.
“Ah, great!” The princess laughed. “That’s good. I got the right apartment after all. I was a little worried, you know. You might have moved, I-”
“How did you find me?” She asked, sharply, her thoughts circling again to the frog in her trashcan. If that slimy bastard had said a word-
“I- okay, I might have researched. A lot. For like, a few months now.” Marianne almost sighed aloud with her relief. “Like, dad - our dad, you know - he’s, their are meetings with your president every few years and I knew- I mean, it was a chance to actually, really see you and I wanted-”
She shook her head, cutting off the girl’s rambling. “Why?”
“Why did you want to see me?” Twenty years there had been not a phone call, not a birthday card, not an inkling that her royal family gave a shit that she was even alive. And it certainly had never appeared to give a shit that her mother had died.
Dawn shrugged, looking away from her. “I guess, I just wanted to make sure you were- I mean, wanted to see how you were doing… over here.”
“To-to see how I’m doing?” Marianne asked, her own eyes going wide. With the track her thoughts were on the comment felt like a slap to her face.
Dawn nodded, her smile wide and inviting.
“Yeah, yeah. Okay.” Marianne crossed her arms. “Okay. Yeah, so it’s been, you know, twenty years since I came here. And seven years since mom died, effectively leaving me family-less. But okay, sure, now sounds like a great time to see how I’m doing.”
Dawn caught the door just before Marianne slammed it. “Wait! Wait, please wait. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, that was a lie.”
She let the door open again. “Oh? You don’t want to see how I am?”
“No - well, yes. I do!” Dawn waved her hands. “I want to, but I snuck out here because I wanted to just- see you. It’s probably selfish, and I know that but I’m tired of this, of not knowing you. You gotta believe me, if I could have had any say, done anything about this stupid arrangement.”
Marianne raised an eyebrow. “Well seeing as you just did…”
She rolled her eyes. “I mean when I was younger. Escaping is a lot harder when you’re ten years old. That’s how old I was, you know, the last time we came to the states. I wanted so much to find you, but dad said we couldn’t.”
Marianne did not know that. Her mother had never told her that they were in the same country at any point. She didn’t say that. Instead she said, “Wait wait wait, so your dad, the KING, has no idea you’re here.”
Dawn shrugged. “Your dad, too.”
“Jesus christ! Dawn, you can’t- you need to go! I’m not going to get into some international trouble because you decided to play hooky!”
Dawn laughed. “Oh my god, Marianne, you’re making such a big deal out of this. Dad’s in like, a hundred meetings today and I bribed my handlers - I’ve known them, like, my whole life; super easy marks, let me tell you - and if he gets told I wandered off then I’ll get a stern look and a ‘you need to be more careful, sunshine’ and a pat on the head. Maybe I’ll be grounded but he tends to forget that he grounded me anyways so really, there is no harm.”
Marianne listened to this speech with growing alarm. God above did the girl not have any notion of consequences, maybe not for herself but for people like Marianne? Clearly not, she was a princess, people like her just did’t occur to princesses.
“And look, I just want to talk, just a little. I just want to hear about… your life. Please, Marianne, then I promise I’ll leave you alone, if that’s what you want.”
That was very much what she wanted. Talking already felt like a risk but..
But this was her sister. Marianne couldn’t lie to herself and say that somewhere in the recesses of her heart that actually could admit she was lonely, she wanted to meet Princess Dawn, she wanted to know her sister, to remember she did still have family.
And here her family was, bubbly and eager to connect. Wasn’t this what Marianne had wished for?
“Alright.” Dawn lit up like a firework. “Alright, come in. Two hours tops, then you’re going.”
She dimmed slightly. “I thought we could go out, have lunch like…” Like families do,was left unsaid. Marianne felt her heart contract.
“Nuh-uh,” she said, but she let herself smile. “I am not showing up in tabloids for taking the crown princess out for burgers or some shit. Get in here.”
She half-expected Dawn to protest this, but the blonde nodded almost solemn. “Yeah, I get that. Here sounds, it sounds lovely.”
And oddly enough, Marianne thought she actually meant it.
Dawn finally closed her umbrella and entered. “Hey, is someone playing Edward Sharpe?”
Marianne wondered what she had gotten her reclusive self into.
oh hey, we're getting somewhere. Kind of.
Dawn hadn’t known what she expected when she said screw it and decided to forgo all of her father’s unspoken rules and look up her sister’s home. She didn’t know what she was getting into sneaking away, knocking on the apartment door. Too late Dawn realized that she maybe could have called, emailed, done anything smaller before this. Her older sister’s initial distrust and frustration was perhaps expected, and more than understandable. But…
But three and a half hours later, Princess Dawn Eleanor Reseda sat with Marianne Dale and was talking – laughing – as if she dropped in every weekend.
They sat on the floor of her messy apartment that smelt like cleaning supplies and the spiced cider candles Marianne had started burning to try and lessen the bleach-scent. It was a small apartment but Dawn at least had enough tact not to say that to her sister. She had enough money, Dawn knew, from what empire of a company their mother had had, but she couldn’t tell Marianne what to use it on or not to use it on. Besides, the whole thing felt rather cozy. Dawn wasn’t used to cozy.
And she wasn’t really paying attention to the apartment anyways, not after the moment Marianne dumped some framed photos in Dawn’s lap and dug out her laptop’s photo library.
There was her mom - their mom. Most of the pictures were with Marianne -there they were on a camping trip in the Appalachians when Marianne was thirteen; they stood on a log, identical postures with their legs apart and hands on their hips, grinning. But plenty were just of Vivian Dale - there she was on a wide front porch, waving blue painted nails at the camera.
She looked like Marianne, the heart-shaped face and slightly pointed nose, golden brown hair was longer than Marianne’s bob but parted the same way, but she had Dawn’s blue eyes and freckles. In fact, as Dawn looked from the pictures to her sister… she and Marianne looked very similar.
“Who are the rest of the people?” Dawn asked to a picture with four women, including mother and daughter.
“Oh, that’s my aunt Maureen and my cousin Kristen. They live in Seattle - we visited one summer.”
Dawn’s mouth formed a small ‘o’. She had more family than just her mom and Marianne? “I didn’t know mom had a sister.”
“Sister-in-law, actually. My uncle Gary is my mom’s brother. He took this picture. It’s just those two, though. Does your dad have siblings?” Dawn noticed she only referred to King Douglas as Dawn’s father, not hers.
She didn’t say anything about it though. “Oh, a bunch.” Earlier she had asked Marianne if she wanted to know about Polyanthus and she had refused at the time. Still, hesitantly, she chose to elaborate. “We don’t see them too often though, at least not informally. The ones further removed try to avoid getting caught up in our royal…ness.”
She shrugged. “Can’t blame them,” she said absently, having moved to the next photo.
Marianne had been more talkative as the hours piled on one another, regaling Dawn with stories of their mother, but she had fallen quieter, especially as the pictures grew more recent. They both knew Marianne would reach a point where the woman would no longer be in the photographs.
Dawn had never had a mother to lose, not really. But it had still hurt to hear she had gone. She could not begin to imagine how it must have been for Marianne, and before, she hadn’t had to. But now her sister was sitting with her, a real person, not just a story and some old photographs.
“I’m sorry,” Dawn blurted.
Marianne looked up from her computer, startled. “What - why?”
“I mean, I’m sorry about- mom. And I’m so sorry dad didn’t- that I didn’t- until now-”
“Hey, hey!” She held out her hands, brown eyes wide. “Hold the waterworks! I’m- Look, I was rude earlier, but it’s just because you- startled me. It’s- I know none of this is your fault and you don’t need to apologize for anything about my life.” She waved her hands around that apartment. “As you can see, I’m doing just fine.”
Dawn didn’t want to say anything to contradict her sister, but Marianne did not lookfine to her. Okay, maybe she was fine, the same way Dawn was fine, but fine wasn’t happy, fine wasn’t well.
Marianne sighed. “Look, I’m as fine as you are, I’ll bet,” When Dawn blinked, surprised that her sister had caught her train of thought, she shrugged. “Maybe even better. At least when mom was alive, she was around. I don’t imagine pops gets real bonding moments with you.”
Dawn laughed shortly. “Not exactly. He loves me, I don’t doubt that, not ever. We just- he doesn’t get me.”
“Shocking,” Marianne mumbled sarcastically.
Dawn grinned. “Sometimes I think he wishes he’d had sons.”
Marianne snorted. “I bet he does. We’d still be problematic boys, I think.” She said cheerfully, raising her hand like making an invisible toast. Dawn giggled and mirrored her.
As the laughter faded, Marianne glanced at her sidelong and added, “You know, you’re not what I expected.”
“What do you mean?” Dawn asked, trying not to sound defensive. So Marianne was on the bit on the blunt side, that was fine. She certainly had no way to know that Dawn too often had to deal with what expectations people had for Polyanthus’s party girl princess. It was never particularly good.
Marianne smiled sheepishly. “I don’t know… you’re so human. I mean, I guess I think of you and dad as existing a storybook world. I’m so far removed from the idea of royalty that sometimes growing up I didn’t think you could be real - my sister the princess.”
This surprised her more than she expected. Sometimes it was easy for her to forget that Marianne had been a child when their parents divorced and remembered nothing of Polyanthus. Dawn was so used to thinking of Marianne having had the best of both; she had got to be a princess and got to be a normal girl, she had got to have both parents. But she hadn’t, not really, not the way Dawn thought she did.
Dawn smiled back, her heart swelling. Half a world away and they were still so similar. “Well, you know, I had trouble believing you’re real, too.” She reached for Marianne, who scuttled back a little.
“Woah. I’ve got a strict no-hugging policy, missy,” she said, crossing her arms. She was smiling though. “We can love each other from a distance.”
Dawn beamed at this, albeit indirect, confession of familial love. Marianne rolled her eyes and gave her a light punch on the shoulder. If it was all the physical affection she gave, Dawn still felt her heart lift. This was her sister. She had a sister. Her sister didn’t hate her. Her sister actually loved her.
She sighed, falling back and reclining on her elbows. “What is it like?”
“What is what like?”
“Your life. Normal life. Just, I don’t know, school and work and regular things. Like, not having free time, like actually getting to be alone every now and then.” Dawn sighed, looking around the small apartment. How nice would it be to come home to it every day and not have to worry about people and how to behave.
Marianne’s laugh was a nervous thing. “It’s not like I’ve got something to compare it to, Dawn. I don’t know any more what your life is like.”
Dawn had picked up a framed photo of Marianne and their mom, and was pretending to put herself in it, looking at her own reflection in the glass as it appeared next to Marianne. The resemblance was uncanny. Apart from hair and eye-color, really they could pass for twins.
She looked at Marianne sharply. “Do you want to?”
“Do I want to… what?” Marianne asked, looking thoroughly lost.
“Do you want to know what my life is like?”
“Not… particularly. Dawn, why are you looking at me like that?”
Dawn blinked and schooled her expression to something innocent. “Like what? I’m not looking at you like-”
But Marianne was shaking her head, a second later she got to her feet. “No, no no, no. Nope, nuh-uh. No. We are not pulling some parent trap type shit because you want to see what it’s like to- oh god, Dawn I do not have free time - not like you think at least!”
All the while Dawn tried to cut in. “Hey! Wait! I wasn’t saying we- well I mean, and I’m not saying you have it per- I just think it would be fun, don’t you?”
“Fun? Dawn, you kicking around with common folk might sound fun to you but isn’t this like, three hundred different kinds of treason? Besides, we’re sisters, not twins. Your whole country knows your face - we would not be able to pull it off - and frankly, I don’t want to.”
Dawn bit back an exasperated sigh. And she thought that she had an anxious streak… she had nothing on her sister. “Marianne, please. I’m not saying we do this long term. Like, this week. Just let me be normal for a week - and that’s tops. If you want to cut if short that’s fine but please, please, please.”
“No. No way. We’re going. You’re going - I’ve decided you’re certifiably insane and I won’t have you in my house.” She went as far as to go to the door and open in, and Dawn could not tell to what extent her sister was joking.
So she crossed her arms stubbornly. “Come on, Mari-”
“I’m not coming on! And if you’re so eager to be me then what on earth makes you think I would even want your life? Sure I have a morbid curiosity but not enough to act on it!”
“So you are curious!” Dawn jumped to her feet with a triumphant smile.
“Y-No. Dawn, listen. These things don’t work in real life. You need to understand what’s going on around you.” Marianne sighed, rubbing her temple. “I’m- I’m tired of people wanting me to be a princess,” she said, her voice dropping to a mumble.
Her sister rubbed her arms, as if suddenly cold and Dawn immediately regretted her pushiness. “Marianne, I’m not- I’m happy as a princess. I like it. I just want to see real life for once. And I’m not asking you to be… princess Marianne, I promise. But don’t you think, for a week, you could be me? I’m not asking anything else.”
Marianne looked at her, her expression guarded, but she didn’t interrupt. She pushed forward. “This is the best week for it; there are a lot of embassy meetings and things that dad will be busy in. I don’t have anywhere I need to be. You’ll be fine.”
Marianne finally shut the door again, but eyed her suspiciously. “Hair,” she said flatly.
“I am not. dying. my hair.”
Dawn contained a squeak. This was further than Marianne had conceded thus far. “No, no. That’s fine. I just “dyed” my hair brunette while we were in the states. Totally believable. I went red for a whole year a couple years ago. People are used to it.” Dawn looked at Marianne’s hair and sighed. “You might have to… lay off the hairspray though. Is your hair naturally curly, too?”
Marianne cringed, fingering a lock. “Unfortunately.”
“I’ve never straightened my hair, actually. I bet it would look cool. Do you care if Marianne here bleached her hair for a week?” She said. “I don’t really want to dye this shade, either.”
“I cannot believe we’re actually talking about this,” Marianne mumbled. “Yes, you can stay blonde. I don’t-” she sighed. “I don’t really have anyone at school who would particularly care or question what I did.”
So Marianne didn’t have any real friends either, Dawn thought. Depressing as it was, this did make their plan a bit easier. No one actually knew them anyways, so who would be able to tell?
“We’ll need to get you color contacts. Brown eyes would be a bit harder to explain than brown hair.” Dawn hesitated. “Are we- are you actually going to do this?”
Marianne sighed, running her fingers through her hair and looking into nothing for a moment. Dawn let her think it through, didn’t ask or prod. Marianne was right, there weren’t really any pros from her side; she didn’t want to be a princess, she didn’t even really want to know their father. What could Dawn offer her but gratitude- wait.
“There’s some stuff… some of mom’s things from when she was queen, back home. Things she didn’t take. I have some things that were- um- yours, too. When you were little.” Marianne was staring at her, her mouth slightly agape and Dawn rushed her last words. “They’re yours, all of them. I bequeath them all to you, if you want any of it.”
After a long silence Marianne said, “Are you trying to bribe me?”
There was a hint of sarcasm in the statement so Dawn risked a smile. “Is it working?”
Another silence before Marianne threw up her hands. “Fine! But it’t not because you bribed me okay - I was going to agree anyways.”
Dawn promptly forgot her sisters no-hugging rule and tackled her to the ground with a shriek. “This week is going to be so exciting!” She squealed.
“…Yeah,” Marianne choked out. “If it doesn’t kill us.”
Stay tuned for role-swap shenanigans.
Also Dawn definitely got her weeks mixed up. There are a lot of places she will need to be.
It was late evening when Marianne left her apartment - and her life - in the hands of her sister that she had known for less than twelve hours. It had taken several hours extra to get her to pass for the princess and the sun was setting and a chill had set in by the time she left.
Marianne twirled a lock of wavy dark hair between her fingers and tried not to stare at her reflection in every surface she passed. She didn’t have Shirley Temple Ringlets by any stretch but there was no denying that her hair still curled naturally. She hadn’t kept it that way since she was thirteen years old. She hated it.
After Marianne agreed to this whole charade (she had been bribed, god damn it, even if she’d never admit it) Dawn had done her makeup and helped style her hair. All the while explaining details about her life that Marianne would need to know to be her, people, places, likes and dislikes. She had three handlers, female - which surprised Marianne. Their names were Holly, Rose, and Heather and Dawn felt half the time that they loved her more than her father did.
“Pout your lips at them and look sad… they’ll let you get away with anything, I promise.”
“Anything?” Marianne had asked, raising an eyebrow. “Sounds dangerous.”
Dawn’s grin had not been a reassuring thing.
And so, with natural hair, natural makeup, now wearing Dawn’s pale blue tunic dress with lace at the collar and cuffs - that probably cost more than rent for a year - and a stop at a halloween store for non-prescription blue color contacts (Dawn was lucky her eyes were light brown), Marianne had gone to where Dawn had told her handlers she would meet them. Apparently she had bribed them into letting her spend the day exploring on her own. Apparently this happened often. Marianne was even less assured.
Still she went, squaring her shoulders and prepared to be found out. Oh god oh god. Why had she agreed to this? How had she let her sister talk her into this? Maybe this was best - if she was found out now it would be easy to grab Dawn and switch back with minimal consequences.
But the three women, middle-aged and dressed for business, simply clucked over her hair. “Princess, if you wanted to dye your hair you didn’t need to sneak away. You know your father would not mind. A proper hair appointment would have been less trouble. And less worry.”
Marianne bit her tongue against just blurting out the truth. I’m not your princess your princess is at my apartment please please please go collect her I can’t do this.
“Well, um- but- I’ve never dyed my own hair. You know, from a box.”
Marianne wasn’t sure where the words came from, or how she managed Dawn’s accent. Her smile probably looked like a wince. She had nothing on her sister’s natural sweetness, and she knew it. Bitterness and sarcasm came as naturally to Marianne as breathing. She wasn’t sure that Dawn even knew what sarcasm was.
She cleared her throat again and tried that same wide-eyed look that had got her into this mess. “Don’t you like it?”
Immediately, they were aflutter. “Oh, of course. It’s lovely, ma’am.” From Dawn’s description she decided the most vocal one was Holly. She’d figure out the other two from there.
“You look very grown-up,” added Heather. “I’m sure your father will love it.”
Marianne had to bite her tongue to keep a sarcastic comment down. Maybe Dawn did worry about her father’s approval, but Marianne couldn’t care less. If she kept smiling like this her jaw was going to start to hurt.
She was ushered to an expensive looking car - although Marianne expected a limo and was disappointed - and sat uncomfortably close to three women who, by all accounts should have been able to tell there was an imposter amongst them. Dawn spoke of them like the three of them together had served a mother’s role in her life, but how well could they possibly know her if they couldn’t see through Marianne’s flimsy attempts at a disguise.
Holly was on a tablet, using a stylus to type something out all the while. Marianne picked at the lace on her clothing and hoped that not everything her sister owned was this… frilly. “Ma’am?” Marianne looked up at the address. Holly was smiling sympathetically at her. “Your father wishes to tell you he will to busy to be at dinner tonight. He’s sorry he won’t get to see your new hair until the flight tomorrow.”
How surprising, Marianne thought with a bitter sort of triumph. She at least had a night to get herself accustomed to being Dawn before she had to play the role to her dad. A second later, the rest of her handler’s words caught up with her and she nearly choked. “Wait, f-flight?”
They blinked at her, in unison. It was kind of creepy. “The flight home, your highness,” Rose said slowly. “Tomorrow morning.”
“Bu-but- I thought the k- I mean my- my f-father had meetings all week!”
“Meetings at home, ma’am. We were only here until sunday, remember?” They were looking at her in confusion, but not distrust. Still, Marianne knew she was on some very thin ice here, and backpedaled as quick as she could.
“R-Right,” she shrugged and hoped her expression was sheepish. “I think, I guess I got my weeks- um- confused. It feels like we just got here, you know?”
Her handlers relaxed. “You have been moving very frequently these past weeks. It will be nice to be home again, won’t it?”
Marianne cleared her throat and let out a very pained sounding “Yeah.”
She was going to kill her sister. There was regicide in her future.
Silence, oddly comfortable silence, settled over the car. Dawn had hardly shut up when talking to her, but it appeared her handlers were used to silence from their princess and didn’t look confused by it. That was itself a comfort. She mulled over the fact that she was going to be going to Polyanthus - her home for the first four years of her life - and what that would be like. It was dread, she told herself, and not anticipation that made it feel like she had digested a swarm of butterflies.
Marianne had seen Embassy Row once, when she had had a school trip to the capitol when she was in either grade. She didn’t say anything when they had driven past the building with Polyanthus’ flag. She had stared out the bus window though, and thought, if just for a moment, about the half of the family that would stay there.
Just as she stared out the window now as they pulled up. The flag was a gold coat of arms set across a field cut diagonally - half green, half white. Marianne remembered the coat of arms because, she thought bitterly, she used to doodle it in her notebooks, not even remembering what the symbol was from.
Dinner was the strangest thing. Everything was both more extravagant than anything she had ever experienced in her memory and more informal than she ever would have expected for royalty. She told her handlers she planned to go to bed early because “I hate sleeping on planes” (It wasn’t a lie; Marianne had flown a couple times and actually hated everything about it, including sleeping) and had retreated quickly to her bedroom.
She and Dawn had exchanged cellphones. Not cellphone numbers, no; their physical cellphones. Logically, they had to. To pass as each other Marianne couldn’t have her own phone should Dawn’s father want to call it. It felt strange but it was practical. Having retired to her - to Princess Dawn’s - bedroom, which looked altogether like an overdone five-star hotel room more than anything, Marianne dug out her sister’s phone and put in her own phone number.
It rang a few times before the little monster picked up. “Marianne? Is everything good there?”
“I am going to kill you.”
A beat of silence. “I’m sorry?”
“Yeah you better be, princess,” Marianne snapped. “Did it ever occur to you to mention that you were going to be flying home, to Polyanthus, this week? As intomorrow? Like, did that ever cross your mind as something I might like to know before agreeing to this?”
Another silence and then Dawn’s very nervous laughter. “Oh, that. I kind of thought it went without saying.”
“Well it didn’t. It very much did not go without saying.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Christ, Dawn, I can’t- I can’t go to Polyanthus. How are we going to switch back at the end of the week if we’re in different countries?”
“Oh please, Marianne, that’s easy. We just book a roundtrip flight for Marianne Dale to visit Polyanthus next weekend. I fly over, you fly back. Ta-da! Switch complete.”
“We’re going to book an international flight a week in advance?” Marianne asked.
Dawn sighed dramatically. “Don’t tell me you can’t afford it, sis. I know better than that.”
The unspoken implication, that Dawn had researched Marianne before coming - indeed she had to have researched her to even know where she lived - made her feel nauseous. Dawn had no way to know about Roland, about what he had done and how he had betrayed her trust over a year ago but the thought of anyone digging into her personal life at all made her start to shake.
Dawn had said something else, but Marianne didn’t hear it until her sister continued, louder. “Marianne? Marianne, are you still there?”
Marianne exhaled and decided the wisest course of action was a change of topic. “So, it’s been a few hours - how is real life suiting you?”
Not a very smooth transition, but Dawn was gracious enough to take it. “I went for a walk. Did you know there’s a coffee shop right on the corner of your street.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes Dawn, I know. I’ve lived there for almost two years.”
“You should go there more often, they have nice scones. Also, the barista has the most beautiful eyes. They’re like, like carmel with little specks of gold and his hair is just…” Dawn trailed off with a sigh, and Marianne winced.
“Woah, woah. Hold on and back up. We’re implementing a ground rule here,” she cut in. “You are not, under any circumstances whatsoever, dating anyone while you’re pretending to be me, understand? No one.”
Dawn groaned. “I never said anything about dating him. I just think he’s pretty.”
“Well don’t tell him that. No flirting is allowed either. I am not going to come home and break a dozen hearts of the boys you’ve strung along.”
“St-strung along. Come on Marianne do you honestly think I-?”
She laughed. “Dawn, you’re a young, cute blonde girl. You smile at a boy and he’s gonna consider himself half in love. I know these things. Just, try to keep the cuteness in check, please.”
She could actually hear the pout in her sister’s voice. “You’re no fun at all. Fine. I promise.”
Marianne relaxed. She barely knew Dawn but she already trusted her enough to know she’d keep her word. “Thank you. In return, I promise not to get engaged to some charming lordling or- or a servant boy or whatever the most scandalous option is while I’m at the good ol’ family cottage back home.”
Dawn giggled, which had been the intention. Marianne felt herself calming down further, and smiled in turn. “Marianne,” she said after the giggles subsided.
“Thank you. I don’t think I said that earlier.”
Marianne sighed. “You’re welcome. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?” She didn’t know if she was asking because she knew she’d need the advice or moral support, or just because, well, it felt nice to talk to someone, really talk. There was a shocker, Marianne; human interaction is good for you!
“Yeah,” Dawn said. “Tomorrow. Have a good flight.”
She hung up and stared at the ceiling with a sigh. Tomorrow. Tomorrow she would, in a strange sort of way, be going home.
Stay tuned next time for Dawn meeting Mari's neighbor and spectacularly forgetting her promise.
Amongst Dawn’s list of things she would do if she weren’t a princess - and there had been an ongoing list for years - eating out was high on it. Eating out without being treated different, eating out without knowing that her presence there would show up in a dozen magazines across the country, that whatever restaurant she was given service at would hence forth be known in some capacity as the place Princess Dawn had graced with her presence.
Dawn intended to be just a face in a crowd for as much as she could.
Adrian, the pretty barista that she had told Marianne about the night before, wasn’t there. But the young man who took her order - Nathan - was hardly unattractive. It was a casual sort of charm, a rumpled just-got-out-of-bed look that was sorely lacking in the circles Dawn traveled in back home. She smiled and thanked him by name when she got her beverage and lingered there, eating and people watching. She caught his eyes on her once and winked.
She could practically hear Marianne’s reprimands for that but shook her head. She had promised her sister she wouldn’t date anyone. Winking was totally still on the table.
Dawn sat in the cafe for a few hours, basking in the noise around her and the wide array of people that came in and out. She checked the internet on Marianne’s phone, and tried not to look herself up. Still information on the Royal Family’s return to Polyanthus, the upcoming state dinners in the next week, an article about Princess Dawn’s latest flirtations. She rolled her eyes; for god’s sake, she was twenty-one, why did everyone talk about her every conversation with the opposite sex like she was choosing her husband. Shouldn’t media have learned from her father that marrying at her age was hardly a smart decision. There was an undertone that Dawn wasn’t enough, wouldn’t be enough ruling on her own. She made a disgusted snort and closed the page.
She could look up more on her sister, but she wouldn’t. The night before she had implied researching her sister and Marianne had frozen up completely. Clearly that wasn’t something she liked. It made sense; she avoided public eye, she didn’t want to be a princess. Dawn needed to respect her privacy.
“A little late for that, Dawn,” she mumbled to herself. But she couldn’t feel sorry for the events that had led to her finally knowing her sister, and getting this chance. And at least she could correct her behavior now. If there was anything else she wanted to know about Marianne, she would ask her, herself.
Dawn was jolted out of her thoughts by the sound of rain hitting on the window of the cafe. She winced and cursed under her breath; she had left Marianne’s windows open, to let in the cool air that morning. She didn’t want to walk home in the rain but she didn’t want any of her sister’s things ruined. She abandoned the remainder of her coffee and took off to the complex, glad it was only down the street.
The rain was lighter than it had sounded from the cafe and she slowed her pace, a little chagrined. Still, it would be good to shut the windows incase it got harder. She fumbled with the door lock, and had a brief panic when the key wouldn’t go in. What was she supposed to do if she got locked out of Marianne’s apartment? Who did she talk to about this? Should she try to go through a window? What if someone thought she was breaking in?Of all times and reasons to be discovered, Dawn did not want it to be her first day, by police.
“Relax, Dawn,” she muttered to herself. “Relax. There’s probably an office or something that I… don’t know the phone number for…” she glanced at the clock on Marianne’s phone and winced; her sister was in the air at that minute, phones off. No help there, then. She scoured the phone contacts and got a few names but nothing that was so obvious as to say ‘maintenance’ or something of the sort.
She fidgeted, still mumbling to herself. “Okay, so ask your neighbors. Someone has to be home, right? Okay, you’re Marianne, remember. Marianne would- Marianne would be assertive.” But would that be too princess-y of her, to demand something of a stranger. What was she supposed to do? “Oh god, oh god…”
The jingling of keys behind her made her jump as she realized someone was coming in from the parking lot. Without thinking, she turned and pointed at whoever it may be.
The man dropped the several bags of groceries he had been carrying.
Dawn squeaked, instantly contrite. “Oh my god!” She said and abandoned her keys to go to him. “I didn’t mean- did anything break?”
He dropped down on his knees next to her while she inspected her damage. He wasn’t looking at his groceries though, Dawn realized after a moment. He was staring at her. She looked up and met wide, dark eyes. His hair was in an array of black braids pulled into a ponytail and further secured by a red bandana and a small patch of hair on his chin. His dark skin was darkened further with a liberal amount of freckles and he was younger-looking up close than Dawn had originally thought, probably no older than she was, actually.
But Dawn had no mind to appreciate anything in the young man’s appearance as alarm bells went off in her head at the way he was staring. He knew, oh god, he had to know.
“You okay?” She asked, hoping her voice sounded nonchalant and Marianne-like. Her pulse was racing.
He blinked a few times and then finally croaked out. “You… spoke.”
He returned to picking up his groceries, still looking thoroughly shaken. He was mumbling to himself, but Dawn still caught the words “First time she speaks to me and it’s a command, why am I not surprised.”
“Excuse me?” she asked sharply, and his head shot up like he hadn’t realized he had spoken that part aloud.
They stared at each other for a moment before he awkwardly sat back on his heels and rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m sorry- but I mean, you can’t blame a guy when he’s lived above you for, what is it, two years now, and you’ve never said a single word to him before.”
Dawn blanched. Marianne had mentioned not having many friends but this…
“Not to mention we’ve had like, six classes together since you moved here,” he added.
“We… have?” She asked before she could stop herself. That wasn’t going to help him feel like she cared.
But instead of looking offended, he cocked his head, surprised. “Wait, you mean you actually didn’t know?”
Dawn shook her head, trying to appear apologetic. “I’m- um- I’m pretty-um- focusedat school. I don’t really notice… anyone. I guess.” Wow. Focused? That was a very clever save, Dawn. He’ll never see through that. “I’m- it’s not personal, I swear. I’m not good with people.”
The young man actually smiled at that, albeit a rueful one. It crinkled the corners of his eyes. “So ’it’s not you, it’s me’, is it?”
It took a moment for Dawn to understand that he was teasing, and in a playful way. She shrugged. “I’m sorry. I mean, I think about talking to you, sometimes,” she said it without thinking, the words just sort of tumbling out. “Sometimes I really want someone to talk to but I’m not-”
“Hey, woah,” he raised his hands and his smile grew more genuine. “I’m not holding a grudge. You’re fine.” After a moment of studying her, he added. “Did… something happen today?”
You’re acting strange, you’re out of character, he’s noticing something off, Dawn, get it together.
She looked away. “Just… long day. And then- the door’s not-” she waved vaguely at it.
But he understood. “Yours jams, too, huh?” He asked, the smile a friendly thing, inviting her to share in their mutual inconvenience.
“Apparently,” she said, grinning though she spoke with annoyance.
He got to his feet and stretched. “Well, let a pro show you how it’s done.” He held out his hand. Instead of taking it, Dawn put Marianne keys into it. He blinked, but laughed and murmured something like “Fair enough.”
She got to her feet a moment later, quietly amused that she stood several inches taller then him.
“When’d you do the hair?” He asked absently, studying her lock.
“Wh- oh, yesterday,” she said. She wanted to ask if he liked it but she had a feeling Marianne wouldn’t.
Still it seemed to be an unspoken query because he nodded. “Looks nice. Are you going to dye it purple?”
He looked over his shoulder at her. “Figured it was your favorite color - you wear it often enough.”
Dawn looked at Marianne’s clothes that she had put on. It had taken her what felt like hours to find any color in her older sister’s wardrobe. The ratty old jeans Dawn could work with - they actually looked like she had ripped them herself too, not like they had been bought that way - but the lack of any brightness was more difficult. Her shirt was indeed a faded purple and by studying the logo and words on it, Dawn had concluded it was from Marianne’s high school. She had looked herself over in the mirror and concluded that at least she looked comfortable.
She said none of this to her neighbor. “You notice my wardrobe?” She asked, instead.
He laughed, returning to the door. “Hard to overlook someone constantly dressed for a funeral… a very punk funeral.”
Dawn couldn’t help laughing, and she thought he stood a little straighter, as if proud.
“Here,” he added, gesturing her closer. He pulled the door handle, pulling the door closer and turning the knob to the left. With his free hand he shove the key in with what seemed like unnecessary force. Still, in it went and a moment later he turned the latch and the door unlocked.
His smile was impish, making him look even younger. “There you are.”
Dawn beamed back. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Marianne’s voice warned against being too cute, but Dawn ignored it. This was different than winking at cute baristas. This was something else entirely.
“Here,” she said. “Let me help you with your stuff.”
His smile faltered. “You- you sure?”
“Why not? I mean, unless you don’t want help.”
“No, no I’m just surprised.” Dawn knew he meant that he was surprised she was being so friendly.She knew she should stop, be stoic and Marianne and leave him to it. But she had a week here and like hell if she was going to be as isolated as her sister was.
He was looking at her with an unreadable expression and she stiffened. “What?”
He stiffened in turn, like he had been staring by accident. “I was just- sorry, but I don’t remember your name.” He laughed, nervously. “I’ve been a hypocrite this whole time,” he teased.
Dawn relaxed. “I’m- Marianne. And it’s fine. I definitely don’t know yours.” It wasn’t a lie.
“Sunny,” he said, extending a hand again and this time, she took it. Shaking hands wasn’t something a princess did every day, and she felt reluctant letting his hand go.
But she did and together they returned to gathering his groceries. They talked a little as they worked, small things about weather and problematic locks, but to Dawn it was all the conversation she could have longed for. She felt as comfortable carrying overloaded paper bags up the staircase to Sunny’s apartment as she had talking with her sister the day before. With Marianne it had made sense, they had something to connect, to branch off from.
With Sunny… Sunny was just so easy to talk to, in a way Dawn had never experienced before. She lingered in his doorway, bags sitting just inside the door, yet to be unpacked.
Dawn caught sight of a collection of instruments on the far wall of a clean but cluttered living space. “You play?”
Sunny looked at her in confusion and Dawn realized too late that she had heard someone playing music upstairs the day before and if she had, then Marianne probably heard him all the time.
“I- I mean you play all of those?” She gestured to the numerous guitars.
Sunny picked at a ragged sleeve on his jacket. “Well, I’m not great but, yeah. Usually it’s just practicing here or busking if I’ve got a set” He perked up. “I’m playing The Aviary in a week. One of my first bigger, um, gigs, I guess.”
She remembered the Aviary was the corner coffee shop. “That’s amazing!” SHe squealed.
He laughed. “Hardly. But it’s still something.”
They stood there, smiling, before a car alarm went off from the parking lot and jolted them both out of their thoughts.
Sunny glanced back inside his place. “Should probably put these away,” he said.
“I can help,” Dawn began.
“Nah, you probably want to get back to your place.” He said. “And don’t worry, I assume this was all a product of a really bad day on your part, not expecting it to be a regular thing.”
Dawn wanted to apologize for Marianne and wanted to hit him for his self-deprecation. She settled for rolling her eyes. “I don’t like doing what people expect.”
His eyebrows shot up, but after a moment of silence a lopsided smile returned to his face. “I’d noticed. In that case… the Aviary show… you can come, if you want.”
Dawn stared at Sunny, her heart doing little flip-flops of happiness. “I think I will, then,” She turned without another word, to take the flight down stairs. “Have a good day, Sunny.”
“It was nice meeting you, Marianne.”
Dawn had thankfully turned the corner, so Sunny didn’t see her flinch. She had forgotten, actually forgotten that she was supposed to be Marianne this week. But it had felt so nice to talk to him, to have someone actually like her for herself. For being just-Dawn, not Princess Dawn.
She shook herself and returned to her sister’s apartment and told herself that if she was only going to be just-Dawn for a week, then she was going to sure as hell make the best of it.
She entered her apartment just as it hit her that by Sunny’s show in a week she was supposed to be switching back with her sister.
“Oh, Marianne,” Dawn murmured. “You’re not going to like this.”
Sunny is a bundle of delight. I adore him.
Don't worry Dawn. Marianne is going to have bigger problems than your new friends.
Marianne Dale re-read her sister’s text - a picture of Marianne’s wardrobe with the caption ‘Are you allergic to color?’ - and vowed yet again to kill the blonde princess soon as she could.
“Got some bigger problems here, sis,” she grumbled.
First of her problems was the unexpected onslaught of jetlag. She had never looked up Polyanthus, even if sometimes she had wanted to, and hadn’t even known how far away it was or what it would mean for timezones. Now eight hours ahead of her sister, Marianne was struggling to get a normal sleep schedule and not appear lethargic in conversation. Of course, the jetlag was expected to a degree, so she didn’t stress too much on hiding it around Dawn’s father.
That, indeed, was the second problem. Dawn’s father.
Marianne didn’t see him the first night, or at breakfast in the morning. They had even been in different cars from the embassy to the airport. She only met up with him boarding the plane, and at first Marianne didn’t know who he was. She had no pictures of her mother’s ex-husband, and certainly he looked older than she would have expected for a father of two girls in their early twenties. He was beyond grey, he was white, only a bit of darker hair peppered in his mustache and his eyebrows gave her the slightest inkling that his hair used to be a color at all. From underneath his wrinkles his eyes were wide, and green.
Roland’s eyes were green. Marianne didn’t believe in omens, per se, but it had made her even more uncomfortable
In any case, she had every intention of ignoring him, had prepared to board the flight - first class, the one time in her life she’d ever have this luxury and she had no intention of enjoying it - had prepared to pass the king with a smile she had every hope was polite.
“Well hold on there, young lady, and let your father have a look at you.”
Marianne had froze, taken a deep, deep breath, before backing up a few paces and turning to face him, a queasy smile on her face. “Hi… dad…”
He put his hands on her shoulders to study her and Marianne had to force herself not to flinch. He studied her and for a moment Marianne had been so sure he’d know. “It’s a very nice color. Holly says you did it yourself?”
She had wanted to laugh, bitter and disbelieving. The man couldn’t even tell she wasn’t his own daughter.
Well. She was his daughter, technically… but that wasn’t the point.
“Um, yes,” Marianne had said.
King Douglas nodded decisively. “I’ll admit that had me worried, but it looks almost professional. I shouldn’t have doubted you, I suppose.”
It had taken Marianne a full second to understand the implied joke; Dawn would never settle for anything with her appearance that didn’t look perfect. It was something everyone, even her largely-absent father, knew about her. That he had the audacity to know more about her sister than she did had inexplicably pissed her off. The king’s smile was doting and Marianne had suddenly felt suffocated.
She had stepped away, breaking the contact he had with her. She couldn’t think of anything to say.
“You feeling okay, my dear?” he asked, immediately concerned.
She had wanted to go home, she didn’t want to be there, she didn’t want to be on a plane or in a car or anywhere in the proximity of the loving attention of a man who had never in the last twenty years given a shit about her.
“I’m carsick,” she said, aware too late that it had come out as cold and bitter as her thoughts. “I just- got a little carsick.” She didn’t know if Dawn got motion sickness but that was just tough shit. “I’ll be better once this is all over.”
But his smile had come back, so sympathetic she wanted to scream. “Of course. I believe your ladies have your headache medicine for the flight.”
So Dawn did get motion sickness, what a fucking coincidence.
Marianne had nodded, only the barest threads of politeness holding on, and pretended to sleep for the entirety of the seven and a half hour flight.
Unfortunately she couldn’t actually sleep. More unfortunately it meant she could hear folk talking around her, and that - to keep her charade up - she couldn’t react to her handlers’, frankly terrifying, news.
“It’s nice for her that she does sleep now. Things are so packed together the next few days. Don’t know what his majesty was thinking having the dinner the same night they get back.”
“We’re landing about five in the morning, and palace staff’s been preparing-”
“Yes, but you know how the princess gets before royal functions. All aflutter with nerves, she is. I’m surprised she’s even sleeping now. She must be very exhausted indeed.”
And that brought her to that very afternoon, as she stood in front of her sister’s wardrobe and faced the third problem; a fucking royal function. A state fucking dinner. Upon further eavesdropping Marianne understood that it was a diplomacy thing, it was annual and official and impossible for her to talk her way out of.
She considered faking illness, and had the brief, traitorous thought that why should she bother? Why bother to be civil and Dawn-like when she was already doing horrible and no one had noticed. But Marianne had been brought up with a mother who, while fun-loving, was also professional as hell. If there was a deal, Marianne would hold up her end - much as she would hate every moment of the charade.
This was becoming considerably less a Parent Trap and more a Princess Diaries - but how did a girl learn to act like a princess while trying to convince everyone around her that she already was one?
All of this and all Dawn was worried about back in the states was Marianne’s clothing choice.
Well, she admitted, looking at Dawn’s choices in formal attire, as the dinner drew closer, that was a concern for her as well.
These were obviously her formal wear, but that didn’t make her feel any better. Everything was pastel, everything was pale shades of blue and peaches and yellows. There was lace and satin, all perfectly tailored to her - to Dawn’s - figure. There were more shoes and hats than Marianne could have owned in her entire lifetime.
Marianne tried to imagine wearing any of them, in public, and felt almost physically ill. So she wanted to look like Dawn, but Dawn also apparently cared a lot about looking good to people. These were not going to cut it.
“Ah… Rose?” She called the first name of the three that came to mind.
Immediately the woman appeared from the foyer area of her room (her bedroom had a foyer). “Yes, ma’am?”
“Do I- do you know if I’ve got anything more than these? Anything… darker?” Met with a blank look, she added, “It would go better with my new hair, don’t you think?”
Her expression cleared immediately. “Of course, ma’am. I’ll page Heather to bring some in.”
Relieved, Marianne gave quite possibly the first genuine smile in over a day. “Thank you.”
The new dresses weren’t much better, but Marianne settled on a cream colored dress with a heavy black lace overlay, including lace sleeves. She had expected it to itch or feel to tight, but it fit as if made for her. She was still uncomfortable, sure that with any step she would step on the lace and rip the whole thing apart - Marianne didn’t do floor-length for that very reason.
She wanted to avoid mirrors, but she needed to fix her hair and makeup and unfortunately that meant she had to see herself. Marianne cringed at the sight of her, wavy dark hair pinned with ornate hair combs, fake-blue eyes, and the satin-and-lace gown. Marianne had never gone to any homecomings or proms. She had been with her mother to a couple of formal events through Fairfield books but those got by with a nice pantsuit in the colors she wanted. This was something different, she felt different. She was beautiful, yes, but was she really her?
Of course she wasn’t. She was Dawn.
Feeling tired, uncomfortable and over-dressed, Marianne went to the Polyanthian State Dinner, still considering fake-illness or even staging a faint up until Dawn Eleanor Reseda was announced and she could no longer back out.
Marianne hadn’t had much time to study the palace that was her sister’s home. She’d been dozing when the car - this time indeed a limo - took her from the airport there in the early hours of the morning. She hadn’t been in a mind to appreciate the richness of the wallpapers and gilded surfaces. She hadn’t even explored Dawn’s bedroom when she had arrived. It had had a bed, that was was all she needed.
From what she had gathered though, the ballroom was as expensively over-decorated as the rest of the palace. High vaulted ceilings and cream-colored walls paneled with gold. The carpet and table settings surprised Marianne by being a green velvet, so dark it was almost black, and the whole room was lit by an array of crystal chandeliers.
Every single seat on the long, u-shaped dining table was occupied. And at that moment every single person in them was staring at her.
Suddenly Marianne felt her faint might not be staged at all.
Breathe, Marianne. Breathe. You’re an actress tonight. You can do this.
Never mind that Marianne had never been a very good actress.
Fortunately it was a dinner, which meant almost immediately attention was diverted on food. Dawn’s seat was set a little away from everyone, next to her father.
Unfortunately, after the dinner, most people lingered, standing and talking. At first, although it set her teeth on edge, she hovered close to the king and pretended to pay attention to what he said and who he spoke to. Hopefully she would never have to remember these names or titles.
“Did you enjoy being in the states again?” A woman asked. From the white hair and green eyes Marianne decided to assume she was related to the king. She wasn’t half so lovely as Aunt Maureen, but she couldn’t say that.
She took a long drink of wine to keep her from having to answer for a moment before smiling. “Well, I don’t remember my first time there. It was, what, ten years ago? I wish we went more often, or I had got to spend more time there.” It sounded like a Dawn thing to say.
The woman laughed softly so she must not have been off the mark. “Are you still trying to talk your father around to letting you study there?”
Marianne blinked. Dawn had wanted to study in the US? Before she could answer her father laughed. “Now, Dot, don’t tell me you’ve taken her side. I’m outnumbered.”
Dot - Aunt Dot, Marianne thought and almost laughed - shook her head. “I’m only saying that it’s good for a girl to be out on her own. Why, I spent two years in france when I was her age, don’t you remember?”
The two of them went on to talk of other things and Marianne felt the spotlight leave her, and finally chose to wander on her own.
There was press there, Marianne realized, and realized she had had been candid photographed numerous times. Everything from what she wore to who she spoke to would be spread cross-country before the night was over. So she did the smart thing, and avoided talking to anyone. When she spoke it was a polite platitude about how nice it was to see them and how glad she was to be back.
“If I were you, I’d stop saying the same things to all of them. Some might think you’re being insincere.”
Marianne barely contained a squeak at being snuck up on in her wandering. She whirled on the newcomer, telling herself it would not be Dawn-like of her to punch him in the face.
The stranger was tall, tallest in the room by far, and rail thin. The kind of tall and thin that spoke less of coming from tall stock and more of a thyroid problem. His face was all sharp angles, his hair an ashy sort of black, and deep set eyes were heavily shadowed and gave him a gaunt, stern appearance. He looked, Marianne thought, like the creepy skeletal butlers from cult horror films.
Like with everyone, Marianne had absolutely no idea who he was. Did Dawn knowhim - was his comment meant to be playful? Did they dislike each other? How on earth was she meant to respond to him. “Excuse you,” she said at last, hoping it came out teasing and not anxious or irritable. “I’m being polite.”
He raised one of a pair of heavy, low-set eyebrows. “It’s hardly polite when you very obviously look like you’d rather have teeth pulled than be here.” His accent was different than the Polyanthian accent that she had heard, or maybe it was just thicker. It pulled at his vowels and rolled his ‘r’s.
A little panicked at being called out, and a little irritated that this man - who, by all appearances, was making no attempt at looking civil with those around him - was the one doing it, Marianne found herself speaking before she thought. “What, and it would be better to just tell people that I’d prefer painful dental works than their company? I don’t think so.”
The man had the gall to look fucking amused by her. Somewhere, Marianne knew she shouldn’t be antagonizing anyone, especially when she had no idea who he was or what his possible pre-existing relationship might be with her sister. But he had antagonized her first, after all, and it felt nice to just let out her frustration and nervous energy on someone.
“Okay,” she added, at his silence and infuriating smirk. “So you would rather be rude but sincere than be polite but-”
“Wow,” she said sarcastically, trying not to writhe under his words; this was some shakespearian levels of irony right here. “That’s an awful plan.”
“Ye think so?” He was no longer amused but in it’s absence his angular face was now unreadable.
But Marianne was on a roll now. “Look, I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly in a position to offend folks with my brute honesty. And if you hadn’t noticed, you appear to be the only one bothered by my apparently so awful attempts at fake socializing.”
He looked over her head at the rest of the room and after a moment seemed to deflate, as though he had just noticed the truth of her words. “There’s a reason I never go to these things,” he said it more to himself, a low growl. Marianne didn’t respond, and hoped she didn’t look as relieved as she felt. If he wasn’t frequently around Dawn, he wouldn’t know how her sister usually acted. Good, she thought as it occurred to her just how, well, Marianne she had been behaving, snapping at him like that.
A camera flash caught her in the corner of her eye and she sighed. What a lovely headline: Princess Dawn spends evening arguing with… whoever the hell this man was. She dared to glance around them and noticed a number of people had given them space - Dawn’s father was even watching them. That didn’t bode well.
“Are you starting to feel circled or is it just me?” She asked, a little wildly.
He snorted. “Incase, you haven’t noticed, I appear to be first person you’ve made an effort to converse with.”
Marianne felt her face grow oddly warm. “Well, you were the first person to demandit of me.”
Again her conversation partner raised his eyebrow. “If that’s all that’s kept you, by all means, yer free to go.”
She didn’t know what to make of that, but it was as good an out of what was both entertaining and incredibly dangerous. “Thank you. I think I will,” she gave a short nod and turned on her heel, ready to retreat.
Too late, she remembered her the gown, which twisted at the quick movement, tangling her legs together. She lost her balance before she could take a step and went tumbling toward the deep green carpet…
Where she would have landed had a strong pair of arms not caught her mid-fall, awkwardly grasping at her forearms, long bony fingers bunching the lacy sleeves. Marianne froze at the touch and looked up, the long way up, until she met wide, baffled eyes. Blue eyes, she noticed, clear pale blue.
Around them a few cameras went crazy.
Marianne felt her face going very red. She righted herself, quickly brushing at her skirt. He immediately released her, although he now looked unsure what to do with his hands. He picked at his collar before tersely muttering, “Are ye alright?”
“Fine. Fine, totally fine. Um, thank you,” she, in turn, picked at her sleeves, not willing to meet his eye again
They were both silent, awkward and unsure of what to say.
Grasping for a subject Marianne blurted the first thing that came to mind. “You know, it felt strange arguing with someone I haven’t been formally introduced to,” she said. Very smooth Marianne. Just flat out telling him you don’t know who he is would have sounded better than that.
Still it got a smile out of him, bitter but not mocking. “Really? Ye didn’t seem to have any problems to me.”
“Fair enough,” she said, but she waited all the same and by his somewhat exasperated sigh, she could tell he knew she hadn’t dropped the subject.
He paused. It wasn’t a pause like he was thinking to refuse, but the kind of pause Marianne knew for a fact she’d give if introducing herself as Dawn. It was a mental reminder of what name to use. When finally he said, “Ciaran,” with all the tones of someone with an embarrassing birth name, Marianne wondered what he went by in its place. But she wasn’t going to ask. She was not going to ask.
She bowed her head as formal as she could for not having training in such things. She smiled her polite-princess smile, “It’s been nice meeting you, Ciaran.”
She caught his baffled expression just as it melted into a small, sardonic smirk as he realized she was mocking him. Then, with very deliberate care, she turned and left him.
Even with her back turned her mind conjured up an image of her conversation partner, his eyes and his smirk and she realized that she had almost - not quite but damn near almost - felt comfortable for the first time in over a day, talking to him.
She shook her head, threading through the crowd to find Dawn’s father and claim a migraine or a sprained ankle or anything to get her back to her room as soon as possible.
Bog's birth name in this fic, Ciaran, is Gaelic for 'Little Dark One'. It fits. But don't worry, he'll be going by Bog soon enough.
Also this was the longest chapter yet and expect the rest of them to be this length. We're in the meat of the story now.
Nest time, more Potionless fluff and Dawn reacts to some interesting tabloids.
Chapter 7: Wouldn't It Be Nice
Dawn and Sunny have a date in all but name.
Two days in and Dawn decided she had no choice but to go shopping.
There was no way in hell she was going to survive the week with nothing but black and purple, ripped leggings and punk band t-shirts. Certainly she needed make-up in her own palate it nothing else.
The strip of shops that ran the blocks from her apartment toward the downtown was surprisingly busy for a weekday. Dawn chalked it up to it being lunch time, and basked in the crowd around her; she saw plenty of crowds as a princess, she rarely was a part of one. She disappeared in and out of it, no one paid her a lick of attention. It was wonderful.
She grabbed lunch at a bistro a few blocks away from her sister’s home, and sat at the outside patio tables for a while afterwards, letting her shopping bags slump against her leg as she people watched. Glancing around she caught sight of the street name, ‘State’, and then back at a menu advertising dinner specials.
State… dinner… State Dinner! Oh, shit!
Dawn froze, feeling dread settle into her stomach. She had completely and utterly forgotten about Polyathus’ State Dinner, the night Marianne would have arrived being her! Oh her sister really was going to kill her! It was just one surprise after another.
It was warm for October and warmer than the rainy days that had preceded it, but Dawn felt suddenly cold. She grabbed Marianne phone and quickly searched for the dinner, knowing from experience that everything ‘Princess Dawn’ said and did and wore would be on online gossip magazines mere hours after the event. Please don’t be a disaster, Dawn thought frantically, oh please please please don’t be a disaster. She should never have asked this of Marianne, she should have given her more lessons on on how to be a princess.
The first thing saw was Marianne, in a cream and black dress, lacy and well-fitting, her hair curled charmingly around her face. Dawn felt a little of her dread ease, looking at how beautiful she looked. Well look at that, her sister could look the princess part with a little prodding. Her father was close to Marianne, or vise versa, and Dawn frowned a little, hoping Marianne hadn’t been her dad’s silent shadow all night. She knew Marianne wasn’t exactly social, and didn’t know anyone there and… who was she kidding? It was better that Marianne was her reclusive self - it was safer, for them both.
She could mend whatever holes her sister put in her social life when she returned.
It was only then that Dawn went to read the article’s headline and she almost wished she hadn’t as she nearly choked on her coffee. “Had It With Prince Charming - Princess Dawn Now Sets Her Eyes On a King”
“Oh for-” Dawn began, ready to roll her eyes and wonder who Marianne had made eye-contact with that had incited the idea of Dawn once again marrying and being a stronger ruler with a king at her - wait. “Hold on,” she said, quickly backpedaling her thoughts and re-reading the tabloid’s title. “King? What king was at… oh my god.”
She had slid her fingers on the screen to take her to the next page; another picture of Marianne, somewhat blurred and oddly lit, likely, Dawn guessed, by the amount of cameras that were going off in that moment. But it wasn’t her sister that caught her attention but who she was with, and more so the position they were in.
Marianne’s lovely dress was all twisted about and she had clearly been seconds from falling, but was now forever immortalized, awkwardly hanging in the arms of a man. She was craning her neck to meet his eyes, both looking at each other in something that was hard to distinguish but could either be awe or mortification. Dawn didn’t recognize the man, personally, and the picture wasn’t good at giving him distinguishing features outside of abnormally tall, but she found she knew who he was even before consulting the photos caption.
“Literally falling in love?: Dawn stumbles into the arms of visiting King Ciaran.”
King Ciaran, The Bog King, the reigning monarch in their neighboring-but-completely-isolated kingdom, Biróg. People, at least the people of Polyanthus, had first nicknamed the country Bog a long time ago, and Ciaran’s nickname simply followed suit. Well, actually, the Bog King was the nickname for every ruler of Biróg for generations now. Dawn squinted at the grainy photograph; he certainly looked like a Bog King to her.
But what on earth was he actually doing there? For as long as Dawn had been alive, he had never made any move for cordial diplomacy. They weren’t enemies, per se, although there had been some messy conflicts over a century ago but barely anyone remembered that and they’d been on good, but silent, terms ever since. Dawn was frankly amazed that in the 21st century a industrialized country could be isolated. Maybe the Bog King had figured that out and decided to make an effort. It seemed unlikely after so many years but not impossible.
And he had chosen the week that she and Marianne had done their switch.
Dawn studied the photo some more, taking a slow breath. This wasn’t too awful. This wasn’t completely unsalvageable. Certainly the tabloids had said worse things about her in the past than that she was trying to make a move on the Bog King. All of it was false, and so was this one. Even as Dawn thought it, though, she looked at the wide-eyed look on Marianne’s face, their eye-contact, his large hands gripping her arms. Both of them were blushing.
A quick search brought her to more pictures of the scene they had put on, from just about every angle. Every heading was similar to the point where Dawn didn’t bother reading them. A few were from before the fall, Marianne and the Bog King standing close together, talking. Marianne’s arms were crossed, her expression a mix of irritated and amused by whatever he was saying. Bog simply looked amused.
She shook her head. “Oh, sis, I’m gonna have to have a talk with you.”
Oh and Marianne wasn’t doing it on purpose, of course. But she clearly didn’t know how press had a field day with things like this. And if he was visiting, if he was there a few days and Marianne thought about talking to him again…
“Marianne?” A voice slowly entered her thoughts. “Marianne?”
She looked up from the phone with a jolt, meeting large dark eyes. A second later she focused on the face and relaxed. “Sunny,” she said, smiling almost on instinct.
He relaxed with her, his own smile decidedly relieved. “Sorry, I saw you across the street and - is now a bad time? You looked pretty, um, focused just now.”
Dawn shook her head, quickly pocketed her phone and thinking yes, she was going to have to talk to her sister, indeed. “Just, ah, catching up with my sister. She’s had… an eventful couple of days.”
Sunny looked puzzled but nodded. “Eventful good or eventful bad?”
“You know,” she said, laughing a bit wildly. “I don’t even know.”
He didn’t look any less puzzled by that but didn’t press it, just shrugged his shoulders and smiled back. “So… what are you out and about for?”
Dawn glanced down at the bags she had set on the ground. “Just some shopping. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten out to actually buy things just for myself.”
Not having things bought for her, or purchased by her handlers, not having a wardrobe gifted to her by every major designer in the world so she could be seen wearing their line. Nothing being chosen by her, for her.
“And you?” she added, belatedly.
Sunny raised his hand to show a guitar case Dawn hadn’t noticed. “Busking. Figured with school having a break this week and Cider Days going on downtown all week it was a good a time as any to get some business.”
Dawn knew that Marianne’s college had off that week - fall break, and really wasn’t that a coincidence - and she had seen posters for something called Cider Days although she hadn’t the faintest idea what it meant. A festival of some kind, obviously but what it entailed completely evaded her. Busking however…
Dawn perked up considerably. “Can I listen?”
His smile faltered, apologetic and sheepish. “Well, I was just heading home, actually. Spent most of the morning out.” He scratched his ear. “I would have let you know but I didn’t know- I didn’t think you would… you know, be interested.”
She knew what he was saying; he hadn’t thought she would want to see him, not really. Sure, she’d been friendly the day before but, like he’d said, that was extremely out of character for Marianne, and he didn’t expect it to continue. She felt embarrassed and uncomfortable and more than a little sad. That was what he shouldthink, it would make it easier when Marianne returned but…
She didn’t know what her expression said but it must not have been very good because Sunny immediately raised his hands. “I’m sorry!”
Dawn blinked. “What? Why?”
His dark face was flushed darker as he hastily waved his hands. “That came out like, like I thought you were a- bitch. That’s not it, I swear. I mean, even before we talked, I figured you just- had a lot going on. Like, and I probably made it sound like that yesterday, too, with the whole not talking to me- and seriously, I’m not- I try not to judge people so I hope-”
“Hey, woah!” Dawn raised her own hands, laughing. “Hey, I did not think you were calling me a bitch, Sunny. I’d be surprised if you’d think that of anyone, like, ever. And I understand, you didn’t know if I’d like it and you didn’t want to impose - that’s super sweet. Besides, I like, super slept in this morning so I probably would have missed it anyways.”
He gave a gusty sigh of relief and her smile softened as she looked at him. No one had ever worried so much about how she felt or went out of their way to, in his own way, defend her. And yeah, so there were a few times Princess Dawn had been called a bitch, either by media or by what ‘peers’ she had. She tried not to let it get to her, but yeah, it did. And Sunny, who didn’t even think it about her, still went out of his way to defend her actions, to make sure she knew that he understood.
She didn’t think about it, she just hugged him. She had to stoop a little to do it.
Sunny’s hand’s hovered behind her for a second, clearly not having expected this reaction at all. “I- um- this is very- exciting.”
Dawn laughed and pulled away, grinning at his red face. “Sorry. That just kind of happened.”
“No, no. That was- great. Yeah. That can happen whenever you’d like, I mean-” he cleared his throat and then glanced at his guitar. “You gonna be shopping for a while yet?”
Dawn glanced around. “Maybe a little bit. Are you going back to the apartments?”
“Well, that’s what I was thinking but- and I don’t know if you were planning to go any point this week but with Cider Days happening- I saw some of the food trucks they got out there, and if you’re hungry…?”
Dawn stared, excitement bubbling in her. “Can I say something super crazy?”
Sunny raised an eyebrow but only said, “Sure.”
“I’ve never been to it.”
“What - to Cider Days?”
“To like, any festival. Not since I was really little anyways.” That wasn’t exactly true. There were national holidays where Dawn had to attend as Princess but that wasn’t really the same as going; she certainly didn’t get to experience anything.
Sunny was staring at her in shock. “Seriously?” Dawn nodded. “Well that does it; we’re going. You’re getting a corn-dog, and funnel-cake and a candy apple and I didn’t scope it out fully so I don’t what fair games there are but we are going to play approximately a hundred of them.”
Dawn was laughing at his enthusiasm, almost too hard to speak. “How old are you?” she teased.
He fixed her with a mock-serious look. “You are never too old for fair games. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
He laughed. “Do you want to get a head-start - I should still probably drop this back home with my measly earnings before we go.”
Dawn didn’t have to think about it. “No, I’ll walk with you. Was it really so measly?”
“Eh, I’ve done worse,” Sunny said with a shrug. “I mean it won’t pay rent on its own but that’s what a day job is for.”
“Really?” Dawn asked, trotting along with him as they took the sidewalk back towards the apartment. “What do you do?”
He gave her that sheepish smile that made him look especially boyish. “Catering Delivery.”
“Really?” she said again and he laughed.
“Real glamorous, am I right? Still, not a lot of jobs a music major can do without a degree.” He paused. “Not a lot of jobs a music major can do with a degree, now that I’m thinking about it.”
He said it teasingly but Dawn stared at him. It wasn’t as though, as a Princess, she was unaware that not everyone had a life as privileged as hers… it was just that she never really talked to anyone who had that kind of life. She knew people were worse off than Sunny - he had a job, a job enough to afford that apartment on a delivery job and busking - but it was still a life so far from hers that she didn’t quite know what to say. Even Marianne was wealthy, although she didn’t dress or act the part. She wanted to tell him not to give up, and that she was sure he would do well, but Dawn didn’t want to lie any more than strictly necessary.
They dropped the guitar and ‘measly earnings’ back at Sunny’s apartment and retraced their steps back to the heart of downtown. Sunny told her about what to expect from the Days (”A lot of families, a lot of college kids, a whole lot of drunks but usually the happy ones so nothing to worry about”). Dawn trailed him, a little bit like an imprinted duckling, listening to the street-smart young man explain the city to her. It seemed with Marianne’s isolated ways, it wasn’t weird to him that she didn’t know her way around it.
The festival itself was as crowded as he’d warned. It smelt of fried things and hot asphalt and things being baked with all the typical fall spices. There were pumpkins and apples and red-and-orange-and-gold paper leaves decorating every booth and stall. She indeed got a corn-dog and a candy apple and they went to some plastic patio tables to listen to a local folksy-sounding band play. The sound was awful but kids danced in front of the stage anyways.
“So,” Sunny said when the bands were changing and they stood up again. “You’ve got a sister?”
Dawn grinned, having expected the question eventually and had an answer ready. “Yeah. We’re not, we don’t see each other very often. Our parents divorced when we were both pretty little and did the whole ‘his and hers kid’ thing with us. But it’s nice to check up with her when I can.”
“That sounds awful,” Sunny said sincerely. Dawn wanted to hug him again.
She shrugged instead. “You get used to it, when it’s all you know.” She shook her head. “What about you?”
“Youngest, of six. I was the runt of the litter, so to speak.” he said with a cheerful wave to his diminutive form. “We’re all boys and let me tell you, I do not envy my mom.” Dawn giggled. “We did what we could to make it easier on her and dad. None of us left the city when we moved out and all my older brothers got pretty respectable office jobs, so they’re not wanting for anything and I don’t have to worry as much about failing horribly in my career plans.”
Dawn smiled, watching him sidelong as they walked. “So they don’t care that this is what you want to do?”
He laughed. “Well, I can’t say they wouldn’t prefer I was looking for a steady job, but they didn’t discourage it either.” He sighed, smiling fondly. “I got lucky, I guess.”
Dawn thought of her father, about their squabbles about Dawn taking a year or two of university in America, of actually contacting her sister - not having to do it behind his back - and about how she already had her life planned out for her, and she had never been asked. “You did,” she agreed quietly.
Sunny looked at her, and she had the disconcerting feeling like he knew what she was thinking. She could only hope she wasn’t totally transparent and knew she couldn’t be or else he would have said something long before now.
He didn’t say anything about families then, either. “Come on, Mari,” he said, pointing, Dawn thought, at the first booth he saw. “Ringtoss. You and me. Are you by any chance interested in cheap factory made stuffed animals? I think there’s a bunny with your name on it.”
She smiled at him, thankful for the, albeit obvious, distraction. “Oh, really?”
He beamed, as bright as his name. “Oh, definitely. Unless you doubt your ring throwing abilities…?”
She rolled her eyes but followed him, allowing herself to forget for the day about princess-ing and her future and anything other than being normal and being happy.
Stay tuned to Marianne learning of Dawn's complete failure to keep that whole 'not-dating' promise, and also the identity of her conversation partner from the dinner.
Marianne spent most of the next day asleep. Apparently there were no state dinners or international flights on her schedule that day at least and her handlers seemed more than sympathetic and understanding to their jet-lagged princess’s plight.
Alas, this meant it was 4 AM and Marianne was wide-awake as could be. Knowing her luck she would finally adjust to Polyanthus time just in time for her to fly back to the States and the whole process would start over again.
There wasn’t much she could do in that time; she couldn’t go out of her room, she would get hopelessly lost - not to mention there were probably guards who would be very confused about why their princess was wandering about in the early hours of the morning.
She had already looked around her sister’s rooms; studying an ornate wooden bookshelf that took up an entire wall, filled with leather-bound classic books that managed not to look like the leather-bound classic section of a Barnes & Noble. The bed had a canopy of white chiffon, the sheets were silk and everything was cream and pastel blue and looked like it had come out of a rococo era painting. In fact, there were a few hanging on the walls that weren’t occupied by the bookshelf and the three enormous, windows, shaded with heavy milky white curtains. The windows overlooked the castle grounds, an enormous manicured lawn and gardens which, in spite of herself, Marianne found herself desiring to walk.
Outside her immediate bedroom was a bathroom the size of her bedroom back home, a closet the size of her entire apartment, and a foyer with two small couches, a glass coffee table with fresh flowers in a porcelain vase, and one silken chaise lounge. Marianne tiptoed around the rooms a few times again in the dark, trying to busy herself with some kind of curiosity but it was hard to feel too curious about a place that felt more like a museum than a bedroom.
She debated calling Dawn - it would be, what, 10 PM over there? Unless Dawn was early to bed, and that was unlikely, she would probably be awake. Long as she kept her voice down, talking to her sister seemed like a wonderful way to pass the hours. She could lament about the horrible dinner and ask if Dawn knew who Ciaran was, where he was from, whatever his title was. Marianne didn’t have any illusions where that last point was concerned; everyone at that dinner had been some form or another of nobility or something of equal prestige. She expected no less from the single person to leave any impression on her.
So when Dawn’s phone buzzed, Marianne, while rolling her eyes at her sister obviously forgetting the time difference, was immediately relieved.
Then she actually read the text.
Not a minute later Dawn answered the phone. “Marianne? Isn’t it, like, 4 AM there? What’s up?”
A beat of silence. “What?”
Marianne - now sitting on the edge of the bed - took a deep breath, remembering she had to be quiet. “Who is Sunny and why is he texting your phone but calling you ‘Marianne’?”
Another pause and then a soft, bitter curse. In a better mood, Marianne might have smiled at the thought of a princess cussing. “Sunny is your neighbor, Marianne. He lives upstairs and frankly, I really shouldn’t have to be the one to tell you your own neighbor’s name,” she said, exasperated. “And okay maybe I gave him my phone number and maybe I forgot that I was supposed to give him your number.”
“Okay, leaving that for now,” Marianne snapped, not in the mood for etiquette from Dawn. “Last question: Why is my upstairs neighbor, Sunny, in possession of anyone’sphone number and now texting me-slash-you to say that he ‘had a nice time today’?”
“Did he really say that?”
She sighed, the sound scratching against the receiver. “Okay, okay - it’s totally not what you think. I met him the other day when I couldn’t get your key in your dumb door and we talked - and like, really Marianne, would it hurt to talk to your neighbor now and then - but anyways, today I ran into him again and we decided to go grab lunch as Cider Days or whatever, totally casual, totally still in the no-dating bounds. You make such a big deal out of everything.”
Marianne rubbed her forehead tiredly. She was beginning to get a very strong taste of what she had missed by not having a baby sibling growing up. She wanted to scream and tear at her hair but took another shaky breath instead. “Dawn. Dawn, firstly, that was very much totally a date. Second, giving a guy your phone number or my phone number or any phone number is definitely out of bounds.”
“I know you don’t think so, and I understand why you wouldn’t think so but I promise you, this… Sunny is going to expect more. This text is case in point.” Marianne flopped back on the bed.
When Dawn spoke she sounded almost irritated. “That’s an awfully cynical way to see things.”
Well, you wanted to see Real Life. This is it, princess. Marianne didn’t say any of that, awake enough to know better. And she knew Dawn was right; she was being so fucking cynical about this; male and female friendships can exist, Mari, not every man is Roland. Sunny thought Dawn was Marianne so was obviously not using her for a position but…
… but even if by some miracle her upstairs neighbor was so wonderful and innocent- Marianne was going to have to break his poor heart. She didn’t want that either.
“Look, I know you want to see what real life is like and I know you’re… friendly, I guess. I just, you need to be aware of Sunny’s feelings in all of this. He’s not just some fun friend prop that will disappear when you leave next week.”
“I know that!” Dawn said. “Marianne, trust me. He’s really great and I’m really glad I’ve gotten to meet him but I’m not using him!”
“I didn’t say you were!” She immediately defended, before wincing, because wasn’tthat what she was saying, really?
She sighed. “I’m sorry-” she said just as Dawn said the exact same thing.
They were both quiet for a moment and then laughed softly.
“You’re right; I need to be more careful about all of this,” her sister said. “I don’t want you to come back with your life all sorts of messy. Just because you’re not royalty doesn’t mean I can do whatever I want with your life.”
Marianne rubbed her eyes. “No, you’re right, too. It wouldn’t actually kill me to talk to my neighbors and Sunny sounds… nice enough. I won’t tell you to be a perfect copy of me. God knows I haven’t been doing a bang-up job being you.”
Dawn’s laugh wasn’t a reassuring thing to her. “Ah yes, that.”
Her stomach dropped. “What do you mean ‘that’? Don’t tell me I’m already in the papers?” Marianne knew the press had been there and she understood the internet was fast but come on. Surely there were better things to talk about from the state dinner than her mishaps.
Her sister laughed harder. “Of COURSE it’s in the papers, and the magazines and all the social media around. You’re the Crown Princess and you just fell into the arms of the Bog King, like, yeah it’s gonna spread like wildfire.”
Marianne debated smothering herself with a pillow. It would be more merciful than this. “You sound awfully relaxed for someone who’s humiliation has been broadcast throughout her home country. You’re not… upset?”
“What? No. Trust me, Mari, press has said a lot worse about me than this.” She was still laughing. “I mean, I’d prefer if you don’t actually start a relationship with the Bog King but I think I’m safe in assuming you won’t.”
“Very saf- wait, the what?” That was the second time Dawn had used the name but Marianne had just caught it.
“Wha- oh, I forgot you don’t know these things” Dawn’s laughter tapered into a breathless giggle. “The Bog King is what we call King Ciaran. I mean, well, it’s what we call him behind his back anyway. As far as I know, anyways; I’ve never met him. I still can’t believe he actually came last night. What’s he look like, anyways?”
“Um, he’s… well, he’s very… tall. Kinda grim looking and- wait, wait, hold on a second,” Marianne startled out of her memories of him as Dawn’s words caught up with her. She jolted upright again. “King Ciaran? Dawn, you’re not saying he was- he’s not really a- ?” She couldn’t manage to say the word aloud, though her brain as frozen completely on it. King.
“Oh my god, yes. Yeah, he’s our neighbor - King Ciaran of Biróg. Didn’t he say so?”
“No, he very much did not say.” Probably because he expected her, Princess Dawn, to know without saying. Maybe because he didn’t expect and didn’t want her to- oh god. Marianne had spent the night arguing with a king. A reclusive one at that. No wonder everyone had been looking at them; this wasn’t just Princess Dawn making a fool of herself - no, it was her making a fool of herself in front of the only person in the room who fucking outranked her.
“Oh, Marianne.” She could actually hear Dawn rolling her eyes. “That isn’t the big deal, here.”
“Yes, that very much is a big deal, Dawn! He’s a KING!”
No wonder he had looked so god damn amused. Fucking His Majesty probably wasn’t used to engaging in petty disagreements over decorum. It was funny coming from a princess, but if he knew- if he found out…
“Mari, you were at a royal state dinner - what were you expecting?”
Marianne ran fingers through her hair. “I don’t know, maybe like, he was a duke or- or a viscount or whatever those other littler title things are. I could handle that. I can’t- I can’t just talk to kings, Dawn.”
“You’re a princess!”
“No, I’m not!” She snapped, her flustered feelings about King Ciaran quickly being overtaken by her initial panic response whenever anyone referred to her being a princess as though that was who she truly was - as if the Marianne Dale she had been for twenty years was a lie somehow. Like the life she lived day-to-day wasn’t real. It was way too early in the morning for that identity crisis.
Thankfully Dawn seemed to understand, even if she kept accidentally triggering her. Marianne wouldn’t hold that against her; it certainly wasn’t her sister’s fault that her very existence in Marianne’s life was enough to trigger her. She valiantly shifted gears back. “Soo, what’s he like?”
“You’ve really never met your neighbor before?” Marianne asked, and yeah maybe she was being a bit evasive, but she hadn’t been sure how to describe Ciaran even beforeshe had found out he was royalty. Now she was really lost.
Dawn snorted. “You’re one to talk.”
Marianne rolled her eyes. “Yeah okay, but Sunny and I aren’t diplomatic monarchs and my isolation doesn’t affect political affairs. Seriously, why wasn’t the press freaking out about that?”
“Because that’s what serious news talks about, tabloids just want to talk about scandals. Besides, it’s not like we don’t have any communication with Biróg; Bog’s mother usually comes to the dinner in his place.”
“Did you seriously just call him Bog?” Marianne asked incredulously. She thought about him for a moment and decided it… fit. Fit better than Ciaran probably, but still-
Dawn laughed. “I told you, everyone does. I think his mother even does it,” she paused. “I hope she’s not sick - she’s very… entertaining.” Marianne smiled, imagining the way her sister might scrunch up her face as she said that word. “Oh god, I wonder if she saw the news; she’s gonna have a field day.”
She blinked. “Why?”
“Oh, I’m just pretty sure she wants me to marry her son.”
Marianne felt herself flush inexplicably. “What? Ew, no. He is way too old for you.”
“Really? His mother doesn’t look any older than dad,” Dawn said.
“Then she must have had him young, because he’s got to be at least ten years older than you.”
“Only that much?” Dawn laughed. “Please, Marianne, that’s nothing in this world. Now seriously, is he cute?”
Marianne snorted. “Cute is nowhere near the word to use. He definitely didn’t look like a king, but I guess he wasn’t bad looking. His eyes were pretty… um…”
“Pretty?” Her sister suggested playfully.
“Striking, was the word I was looking for.” She roller her eyes. “Sweet, if you’re looking for pretty you are definitely in the wrong place with that one. So not your type.”
“And how do you know what my type is?”
“I was under the impression it was Sunny,” she teased.
Dawn was silent for a second before bursting into laughter. “Hey, no! No I am calling a foul, there. You are not allowed to declare that I cannot like your neighbor and then tease me about liking your neighbor in the same conversation. Not fair at all.”
“You wanted an older sister - you’re getting the full package,” she retorted, but she was grinning - until she yawned. “I should probably try to sleep again.”
“Please do. Oh, what are you going to do about Sunny’s text.”
“Hm?” Marianne remembered the text and sighed. “Oh, nothing. Just… next time you see him tell him you gave him a wrong number.”
“Next time I see him?”
“I’m not an idiot, Dawn. I know you’re gonna talk to him again at least once. Just, please try to be-”
“I’ll be more careful, Mari. I’m sorry,” she hesitated and then said. “I hope… I hope you’re at least enjoying yourself a little over there.”
“It’s been an experience,” Marianne conceded with a small smile. “Some parts better than others…”
“Like meeting Bog?” She could imagine Dawn waggling her eyebrows.
“I’m going to bed,” Marianne groaned. “Goodnight, you little monster.”
“Goodnight, sis. I love you.”
Marianne returned the sentiment and ended the call, feeling uncharacteristically warm and dare she even say, happy. She didn’t want anything to do with Polyanthus, she didn’t like being a princess…
… but she did like having a sister.
Marianne slept until noon. No one questioned it, and she was doubly relieved that she actually felt rested for once and maybe, just maybe, she would be able to sleep that night like a normal person.
She opened the curtains and smiled absently at the grey sky and drizzle-y rain coming down. In this, at least, Polyanthus wasn’t much different than New England in the fall. Returning to her bed she dug her sister’s phone out from under her pillows and frowned thoughtfully at what she found announced on it.
Dawn had texted her a few hours after their phone call, after Marianne had finally fallen asleep. It was a simple, albeit cryptic, couple of sentences.
“Surprise for you in the North Wing Archive Room. Try not to be caught there.”
Well, thanks Dawn. That was helpful.
A surprise. Marianne knew it was, in her own way, Dawn’s way of apologizing for giving Marianne the absurdly short end of the stick in their agreement. Marianne hadn’t the faintest idea what a princess might consider a worthy surprise for her but she was nervous - and maybe the littlest bit excited - to find out.
The secrecy part of it, the implication that, even as princess, she shouldn’t get caught there gave her pause, even if it piqued her curiosity for the first time since coming to the castle and beginning this whole charade. God but if she wasn’t a hypocrite; could tell Dawn - and herself - time and again that she didn’t care about her Royal side of the family, that she wanted nothing to do with it - but the second there was a secret?
So, against better judgement, Marianne decided she likely had nothing better to do than check it out. She stretched, and wandered her closet for something that didn’t look like it belonged on a paper doll. She settled on a mauve colored blouse, in her usual color scheme if a bit light, and a pair of beige slacks, so glad to discover her sister did actually own pants. The whole outfit looked casual but Marianne wasn’t fooled; no doubt the whole ensemble cost more than her college tuition. She pinned her hair our of her face and silently mourned the lack of a straightener.
Her handlers had been flitting in and out of her foyer, amazingly silent, all morning and smiled at seeing her finally making an effort to be up and about. They confirmed that she had nothing on her agenda for the day and suggested shopping. Marianne barely contained a snort. Was that what Dawn used her free time for? Although it would be a chance to actually see Polyanthus outside of it’s palace.
“Maybe later, if I’ve got the whole day. I’m thinking of, um, stretching my legs. Is that… okay?”
“Of course, ma’am,” Holly said. “Shall we text you at four?”
She flashed a thumbs-up. “Four sounds great. Um, thank you.”
She wandered the halls of Polyanthus’ castle, aware that she looked to be aimless, if not lost. North Wing, indeed, Dawn, she thought. It wasn’t like there was a map. Well, in all honesty, there probably was one, somewhere. She imagined little elementary school tours of the castle with little souvenir maps and flags and snorted. She turned upstairs and down corridors and read sign plaques outside rooms. She looked out windows for any sense of where she was and what direction was what in the rambling place to no avail.
Finally she slowed, in a long hallways lined with windows to the garden and lawn, she was probably directly above her room. She sighed, watching it get pelted by rain and briefly wondered how Dawn felt waking up to this everyday. In a life that seemed far too hectic and stressful for her liking, at least here there was some kind of peace.
“Afraid of thunder, princess?” A familiar voice asked.
For the second time, Marianne nearly punched Ciaran - KING Ciaran - in the face, jumping and turning so quickly she could imagine herself falling into him again. He was dressed casual. His sweater was a dark mossy green, and if anything it accentuated his broad shoulders that tapered to an extremely thin figure. His hair looked messy, like he had combed it back with his fingers numerous times.
Marianne felt her heart stutter at the sight of him, due entirely, she told herself, to the reminder of his status. He was no longer someone she could peacefully antagonize, use to let off some of her anxiety, he was the fucking king next-door. There had to be all sorts of diplomacy she didn’t know.
“I- no,” she answered, after staring at him in awkward silence for a moment. “Not- um- not since I was a little girl anyway… your majesty,” she added belatedly, and half turned to the window again.
From the corner of her eye she saw him nod. “Ye looked… uncomfortable, I wasn’t sure if-”
She looked back at him sharply, embarrassment and unwanted-surprise making her irritable. “Well I am now that you’ve said it, so.” she said it before she could stop herself. God, Marianne, well fucking done. “I mean-”
Ciaran raised a hand, “I did ask ye to be blunt, didn’t I?”
She glared at him. “I think the word you used was ‘sincere’.”
“Well, it’s not my doin that for you they’re one in the same.”
“You’re one to talk,” she said, sharply. For god’s sake, what was it about him that made it impossible for her to keep her act up? Was he just so damn insufferable that no one could manage politeness in his company? Or that his own brand of cynicism so close to her own that she had to force herself to aggressively disagree with him so as not to wind up agreeing with him by mistake?
Whatever it was, it was fucking troublesome and she did not need that in her life.
When he simply raised his eyebrows at her retort, she looked away again and began to add, “Your majest-”
“You know,” he interrupted. “For someone who was so keen to know my name the other night - yer not makin much of a habit of usin it.”
That’s because the other night I didn’t know you were a fucking monarch, she thought, biting her tongue. He was taunting her again, falling back into the somewhat bantering argument they’d had before. Marianne wished she could allow herself to do the same but knowing- god, Marianne he was a king. She was talking to a king. How had her life gotten so surreal?
“Um- right. Sorry, Bog.”
Too late, Marianne realized what she had said, what she had called him. She felt blood rush to her face. Just when she was checking her boundaries on what she couldn’t say she went and called him the ridiculous nickname this country had given him. Oh dear god, she just couldn’t win with the man, could she? In an ironic turn of events, Dawn was going to kill her, she just knew it.
“I- I meant- I mean, Ciaran. Ciaran. That is- I, I’m just-” she waved a hand wildly, glad she was in pants and could run if she had to. “I’m going to go. I’m- I’m sorry. Just forget I-” she cut off her rambling, stumbling over herself in the least princess-like manner possible, and simply turned without another word.
She barely made two steps before he caught up with her. “Ah- wait. Wait,” he said. He looked suddenly as uncomfortable as she was, which was both reassuring and embarrassing; she didn’t need to be making other people uncomfortable either. “I didn’t mean- I’m not offended, I was just surprised. I’m not used to- I didn’t think anyone outside my country knew-” he trailed off awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Wait,” Marianne said incredulously, trying to understand his accent thickened mumbling. “Wait, wait, wait. Are you saying your own people call you ‘The Bog King’? Unironically?”
“Almost exclusively,” he said, he wasn’t smiling but there was a note of amusement in his voice.
She remembered when he had introduced himself at the dinner, the pause before saying his real name. She had thought then that he must have a nickname, something he is more comfortable with. She never would have dreamed it was the same nickname Dawn said Polyanthus had for him. “Well that’s very… cruel,” she said.
He looked surprised. “Not when you’re used to it.”
“But, like, how did that even happen? How is that… normal?”
Ciaran - Bog - shrugged. “It’s- sort of tradition. As a nickname for the crown prince, anyways. When, ah- when my father- died it was, it was sudden and I was still fairly young and… the name stuck.”
Marianne listened to this, a little unable to process it. He spoke offhand but there was so much weight to all the information he had offered in a single sentence. Perhaps it was common knowledge; perhaps everyone knew the story of the death of Biróg’s previous king, but, from experience, Marianne knew whether or not everyoneknew it, the death still felt personal. And even spoken casually Marianne could see it affected him still.
What the fuck was she supposed to say to that?
“Is your mother okay?”
Bog blinked. “What?” He asked again, and really, Marianne didn’t blame him. Where had that come from?
“I mean, you usually send- she’s usually… here… instead,” she tapped her fists together awkwardly. “Is she- sick?”
“No, no, she’s um, she’s fine.” After a moment, he smirked. “I can’t believe her presence was actually missed.”
He was teasing, and that plus Dawn’s description of the woman from the night before had Marianne very curious to know just what she was like. “Well, I find her very-entertaining.” She quoted Dawn smoothly.
Bog laughed, actually laughed. It was a breathy sound, almost surprised. “That I do not doubt. I’m glad to know she’s not a complete menace.”
Marianne raised an eyebrow. “If you’re so concerned about her conduct, why do you let her come in your place?”
“I should think you could guess.”
She smiled. “A dislike of formality? ‘Polite lies’, I think it was?”
Bog groaned, looking out the window like the lawn had personally offended him. “I hate it,” he grumbled, and for a moment, Marianne thought he sounded almost like a petulant teenager.
“You might have chosen the wrong line of work, your majesty,” she teased.
His eyes flicked back to hers, and she noted with some pride that he was fighting off a smile. “Bog,” he corrected her tersely. Her eyes widened and he shook his head. “Hatred of formality,” he repeated.
“… Right. Bog.” She felt like she should be shaking his hand. She settled for a dip of her head.
“Dawn,” he returned, echoing the nod.
Before Marianne could think of anything else to possibly say, footsteps echoed down the hall and two people in suits came trotting toward them. Both were shorter even than Marianne, and the rounder of the two might have been female but the clothes did nothing to tell.
“Sir,” they said, and yeah, Marianne decided, that was a girl. The thin one was still trying to get his breath back.
Bog had stiffened upon their arrival and let out a barely audible sigh of the long-suffering sort. “Well? What is it?”
“King Douglas has informed us to inform you that lunch is ready and will be served on the patio,” the man was smacked on the shoulder by his companion who winced and quickly continued. “Sorry. Will not be served on the patio due to rain and has moved to the inside pavilion.”
“Lovely,” he said sarcastically. Marianne bit her lip. “Fool’s scheduled these things so close it’s amazin they have’t overlapped yet,” he mumbled that, meant for no one but himself.
She rolled her eyes before she could stop herself. Too late she caught Bog’s eyes on her and hoped he wouldn’t think she was insulting him. A corner of his mouth turned and there was a sparkle to blue eyes. Apparently he understood her action and, quite possibly agreed with her where the king was concerned, that or he, too, thought his subjects behavior was foolish. Marianne looked away quickly, pressing her lips together to keep from openly grinning.
“Will ye be joining us?” He asked.
Her smiled died instantly. The idea of having to deal with both Dawn’s father and with Bog felt like altogether too much. This conversation alone was more of a roller-coaster than Marianne had counted on. “I’m afraid I’m already, um, engaged.” It wasn’t necessarily a lie. To Bog’s folk she said, “Tell- uh, tell my father I’m sorry.” That was a complete lie.
Thankfully no one either noticed or cared. The two bowed, surprisingly graceful, and said, “Of course, your highness.”
Bog was still looking at her.
She allowed herself a smile, small and awkward. “I’ll leave you to it. How long are you planning to- um- stay… here?”
He cleared his throat. “Unless something comes up, until the end of next week.”
“I- that’s- great. I’ll be around if you… care,” Marianne winced. What the fuck was she even saying at this point. This entire conversation was beginning to feel like an out of body experience.
“Ah- that’s good. Well, um,” he waved a hand and both his folk turned back whence they came. He gave another nod, deeper - almost a bow. With his height the gesture was slightly absurd. “Dawn.”
With no more goodbye between them than that, he left, long legs taking him across the hall quickly. She turned on her heel, taking considerably shorter strides as far away from him as she could go. If he looked back at her at any point, she wasn’t going to see it.
She never should have left her room.
Stay tuned next time for shit getting real. In more ways than one.
Chapter 9: Bad Things Coming, We Are Safe
A bit shorter than the last but a lot of things are introduced.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Did you get your surprise?” Dawn asked her sister, around midmorning. She was still at the apartment, and had actually cooked lunch. Well, she had made boxed macaroni and cheese but it was still more than she had ever done in her life and she hadn’t burnt anything or set the kitchen on fire or had to call or text Marianne for help. She was so proud of herself.
She had been told through an earlier text that Marianne was out shopping with her ladies and managed to escape long enough to chat. Dawn was tickled to see that Marianne actually wanted to chat, regularly, especially after they had argued briefly last time. Perhaps it was a bit for moral support, but it was nice all the same.
“No, I got a bit sidetracked,” her sister was saying. The sound of rain whacking against a umbrella echoed over the receiver, and Dawn smiled, looking out the window at the sunny october sky that she could enjoy. “Also, where the hell is the North Wing?”
Dawn refrained from rolling her eyes, even if Marianne couldn’t see her. “My bedroom is in the west wing of the palace, which is in the back. You want to get back to front of the castle, and head like you’re leaving, down the grand staircase. Only you’ll take a left turn and keep going that direction and you’ll get to the east picture gallery. It’s going to be a room off of that hallway. It’s marked and unlocked but it’s usually only used when new things are added or a museum is using parts of it as an exhibit.”
There was a brief silence before Marianne sighed. “You’re gonna have to repeat, like, all of that sometime when I can write it down. Or just. text it. Also, what do you have for me that is also a museum exhibit? You better not be suggesting I steal something.”
“It’s not stealing when you’re-” Dawn cut herself off, reminding herself that Marianne didn’t like being called a princess, for all that she was still royal by birth. She really needed to get better at that. “I just want to show you some things in there. You’ll know what it is when you see it.”
“Suspicious. Can’t you just tell me?”
“No way! No spoilers for you.” Before she could protest, Dawn hurried forward. “Now, what sidetracked you?”
Another silence. “Oh- um,” her sister laughed a little nervously. Uh-oh, Dawn thought. “Just, I ran into- Bog- Ciaran. Again.”
Uh-oh, indeed. Dawn remembered telling Marianne not to worry about the tabloids proclaiming ‘Dawn’ apparently falling for the Bog King, and felt a twinge of regret. It wasn’t that she didn’t mean it, and she didn’t want Marianne to worry or to feel any more stress or pressure than she undoubtably did. But it still might have been wise to hint a little bit stronger that talking to Bog frequently was going to add fuel to the fire. Especially if Bog decided he liked her; Marianne talked and talked about Dawn leading men on just by being cute and Dawn had to wonder if Marianne even knew how attractive she had been at the State Dinner.
And what’s more… “Wait, he’s still there? It’s been like two days since the dinner. His mother doesn’t usually stay after. Did he say why he was there?”
“No, it didn’t really come up. We didn’t talk long. He was having lunch with your dad and made it sound like they’ve been having meetings. Oh,” Marianne added, with a start. “And he said he’ll be here until the end of next week.”
“Really?” Dawn asked incredulously. “Nothing for, like, fifteen years and suddenly he’s actually making an effort to be friendly with us. I wonder what’s up.”
“Is that when he took the throne… fifteen years ago?”
Marianne coughed. “Sorry, just, when we were talking earlier Bog sort of mentioned his dad..dying, like it was sudden and I was just- curious.”
Dawn raised her eyebrows. Was she detecting Marianne ‘I’m-not-a-princess’ Dale having an actual spark of interest in political and foreign affairs? “Well I’ve never looked into it or anything but I guess he had been sick. It must have been a big deal but no one really talks about it. Dad says we were never really close to Biróg under his rule, either. We didn’t really get along and neither king really tried to make things better. Maybe Bog is trying to do better.”
“Maybe,” Marianne agreed absently. Something in her tone made her think that her sister was thinking about their mom and not about foreign affairs at all.
“I see you’re no longer freaking out about the whole king thing,” Dawn added, hoping to break that train of thought.
“Well I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable with it,” her sister said dryly. “I still have absolutely no idea how to talk to him and would prefer to avoid it if at all possible. Seriously, let not my blasé rundown fool you; it was a hella awkward conversation that I all but ran from as soon as I could.”
“Ah.” Well, Dawn couldn’t fault her that, she supposed. “At least you’re calling him Bog now.”
Marianne laughed. “He asked me to.”
“What - really?” She grinned. “You mean he really goes by it?”
“That’s what he said, at least. He said something about it being tradition for his people to call the heir the Bog King and for him it stuck.”
“I wonder if that’s actually where we picked it up. That is too weird.” Dawn laughed, thinking about how that conversation must have gone down. She was glad to know that the name wasn’t an insult after all.
A thought hit her and her laughter died instantly. “Wait. Wait, oh… crap. Crap. Marianne, did you say Bog is going to be there until the end of next week?”
“Yeah,” Marianne said slowly and a little suspiciously, laughter leaving her voice as well. “Why?”
“Shit,” she muttered, the situation calling for the language. This wasn’t going to go over well, she just knew it. “Mari, you’re not going to like this…”
“What, Dawn?” Yes, now she sounded very suspicious.
“You’re going to have to stay there another week.”
There was a long silence before Marianne coldly spoke. “No.”
“No. Nope. No way. Dawn, have you learned nothing from our little excursion - I am terrible at this. God knows what damage I’ll do to your country in the next week and a half.”
“Marianne, you are totally over-reacting. You haven’t caused any damage and at this point our changing places in, what, four days, would cause more problems.” Marianne began to speak and Dawn cut her off quickly. “Think about it, Mari; Bog knows you now, sort of, at least knows you enough that he’d know I’m nothing like you. If I switch halfway through his stay here it’s going to be noticeable”
“Well, your own father and your little handmaidens - who have apparently known you since, like, birth - have neither noticed nor cared that I’m suddenly acting nothing like you. So, I don’t think the Bog King will particularly care when you act nothing like me,” she snapped, sounding rather bitter about the whole thing.
Dawn winced. She’d known this wouldn’t go well, but she had hoped it would got better than this. “I’d just prefer not to risk-”
“Hah! Okay, we’re talking about risks? How about you fucking dating my neighbor and with, like, no regard to how I’m going to have to deal with that when I come home?”
“I’m not dating-!” Dawn began, frustrated.
“Or, you know, that this whole thing was your idea to begin with? Don’t talk to me about risks, when you’re why there’s any risk to begin with.”
Dawn huffed, feeling irritated and embarrassed and ignored. “Look, I didn’t make you do this - you could have said no. And you know what, you can’t say anything about me and Sunny while you’re busy having a raging crush on the Bog King!”
She’d said it - shouted it, more like - without thinking, and in fact, until she’d said it, she hadn’t even thought about it. Still the second it left her lips, Dawn realized shehad been thinking about it, somewhere in her subconscious, from the moment she’d seen the picture of her sister in the arms of the Bog King in the tabloids, their every conversation about him since only cementing it.
Marianne sucked in a sharp breath. “What the hell, Dawn.”
There was such an incredulous hurt in her sister’s voice and she felt a twinge of regret. She barely knew her sister, but leave it to her to be the first person to make her lose her truly lose her temper. She had as much right to be upset as Marianne did, she knew it, and she didn’t regret defending herself but she realized too late that she could have pulled her punch back a little.
A stony silence hung between them for a long moment. Less than twenty-four hours, Dawn thought, and we’re arguing again. She didn’t think this one would be as easily resolved either.
Before she could say anything, think to apologize or explain, or wait for Marianne to do the same, the phone in her hand buzzed. A second later it buzzed again.
“I- um- I think someone’s calling you,” Dawn said, inanely.
“Don’t answer it.”
“I know that,” she said, a little shorter than she would have liked. She sighed deeply, “Look, Mari-”
“No, Dawn. It’s- it’s fine. It’s fine.”
It wasn’t fine at all, but Dawn didn’t know what to say now. It would be better if she and Marianne stayed in their places for another week, at least until Bog went back to Biróg, but Marianne staying another week did introduce more risk of discovery. Dawn couldn’t deny that should their charade fall apart, Marianne would have far worse to pay than she would. Yes, her sister did have as much right to her frustration as Dawn did. And that’s what made it so hard.
Marianne echoed her sigh. “Can you- can you check who called?”
“Um… yeah.” Dawn put Marianne on speaker as she took the phone from her ear and went to check missed calls. “It’s someone named Roland. There’s a voicemail - should I play it?”
Marianne said nothing.
“Mari? Marianne?” Dawn wondered if she had forgotten to put her on speaker after all, and put the phone back to her ear. Still nothing. “Marianne, are you still there?” Listening hard, Dawn could pick out the sound of rain and under that, her sister’s breathing. “Marianne? Please say something.”
Still listening, Dawn noticed her sister’s breathing was erratic, shallow. Marianne might have been hyperventilating, even. She had yet to say a single word.
“Mari, Mari you need to calm down. You need to breathe, really breathe. Deep breaths, come on.” Dawn didn’t know anything about panic attacks, real panic attacks, but she’d had anxiety problems for most of her adolescence and she knew how her handlers treated it.
She spoke now, quiet. “Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god. No no no no.” It seemed to be all she could say.
“Marianne, talk to me.” She was beginning to panic in turn. “What’s wrong? Who’s Roland? Marianne!”
But Dawn could hear other voices now, from Marianne’s end. She recognized with some horror that it was her handlers. She heard Holly; “Ma’am, is everything alright? Ma’am?”
And then the call ended.
Dawn cursed, standing up from the small kitchen table and pacing a few steps, cursing more - all the foul language her father would have so scolded her for. Wellthat had gone well. In frustration, she threw the phone against the table, satisfyingly rattling the dishes.
She never should have suggested this damn idea, she should have been satisfied just talking to Marianne. Angry tears welled up in her eyes as she looked around the living room of the apartment where, not four days ago, she and Marianne had sat talking about their mom and connecting. She’d been so happy. She was ruining it now.
Passing the table again in her pacing, Dawn looked back at the phone. And now whoever this Roland was was making everything worse. She could only hope Marianne was quick enough on her feet to talk to her handler’s without giving everything away, but if she was in the middle of a panic attack…
Dawn picked up her sister’s phone and looked at the voicemail, glaring at the name Roland. Whoever you are, you upset my sister, she thought angrily, and pressed play.
“Hey sweet thing, it’s me.” A male voice crooned. “I know it’s been a while since our last little… chat. And if I know you, babe, you’re still pretty steamed at me. Totally understandable, which is why I thought if you could just give me another chance, you know, to explain myself. I think you got my intentions wrong, and it would break my heart if I allowed this little misunderstanding to ruin what meant so much to me. Gimme a call back, buttercup - don’t leave me hurting like this.”
The voicemail ended, and Dawn stared at the phone again, her nose wrinkling in distaste. Her sister had dated this guy? Was he for real? Everything he had just said sounded like he was reading off a script, and one he’d used before at that. No wonder she had broken up with him. Dawn frowned, thinking back to her sister’s panic response and Roland’s comments about misunderstanding… what had the guy done to her to gain that kind of response? Marianne was tough, loud and brash - for someone to reduce her to a silent, almost terror… he was a lot worse than he sounded, that was for sure.
Dawn paced a bit more, angry and disgusted and a little guilty. It wasn’t her fault that Roland was someone who put Marianne in a bad place, but maybe if they hadn’t argued before hand her sister would have been in a better place to deal with it that wouldn’t have freaked out so bad.
She was a terrible sister; there were no two ways about it. And worse, she knew Marianne was probably feeling the same way.
There came a loud knock on the door, causing her to jump. With Marianne’s panic attack and Roland’s message fresh in her mind, Dawn eyed the door warily. She did not need to deal with her sister’s ex tracking her down this week. Marianne didn’t need to deal with it.
But looking through the glass peephole, Dawn recognized the face and sighed. A moment later she opened the door.
Sunny stood, his grin wide and his eyes sparkling. His braids weren’t pulled up, sweeping back off his forehead and falling near around his shoulders. He held a jug of something held by it’s handle.
“I forgot to give you the apple cider from yesterday,” he said, holding it out.
God, had Cider Days only been the day before? “Oh, right,” she said faintly, taking the jug. “Thanks.”
Sunny looked at her, cocking his head to the side as he did. His smile faltered. “Now’s a bad time, I take it?”
Dawn wanted to lie, say no, she was fine and everything was fine, but she couldn’t. All the feelings were too raw, and she had a feeling some of her frustrated tears had leaked. To lie would be so obvious that it would only hurt them both for her to do it.
But she didn’t want him to leave either.
“It’s not a good time, no,” she said bluntly. “It’s not you, though. I’m glad to see you.”
He nodded. “Do you- do you want to talk about it?”
She wanted to laugh. “It’s a long, long story, Sunny. I just- I got in a fight with my sister just now and- and when we left off she was… she wasn’t in a good place. I- shouldn’t have said things and she shouldn’t have-”
“Hey, hey,” he raised his hands, taking a hesitant step toward her and Dawn realized her tears had begun to fill her eyes again. “Hey, if it’s too much you don’t have to say anything. Bad day is all I need to here.” She hiccuped a laugh and he smiled. “Can I do anything?”
Dawn thought about it. No, obviously Sunny couldn’t do anything about her immediate problem and after two arguments with Marianne on the subject, it would have been best for her to avoid him. Be careful, she had told Marianne she would be more careful. But…
“Just- talk to me. About anything else, please.”
He nodded again, lost but agreeable. Dawn fought the urge to hug him, . “Okay, let’s see… um, oh! I got a cat,” he said at last.
“A cat?” Dawn repeated, dumbfounded. Her father kept a pair of wolfhounds, Lysander and Demetrius, that were friendly as could be but could sometimes be a bit much. Dawn had always secretly longed for a cat.
“Yeah, my brother Pare rescued the little imp a few days ago but his wife is allergic. So it kind of got shoved at me.” He shrugged, looking up toward his apartment a little helplessly. “The thing likes me well enough so I guess it’s okay.” Looking back at Dawn he paused, before venturing. “Did you want to come up and pet him?”
Dawn nodded vigorously. She was ready to go before she remembered the cider. “I- one second.” She bolted back inside, and grabbed Marianne’s phone on the way out. Sunny was still waiting on her where she left him, smiling. “Does he have a name?”
“I haven’t settled on one yet. Usually I just call him ‘Trouble’ and it will probably be a nickname regardless,” he said.
She smiled back. “Fitting nickname, is it?”
He laughed. “Wait until you meet him.”
The cat nearly bolted when Sunny opened the door, but was agreeable enough when Dawn stooped to pick him up. He settled in her arms like a baby - an all white cat, aside from black paws like boots.
They plopped onto an ancient looking couch in the living room. Trouble was happy to stay in her lap. “He’s so sweet.”
“You’re the first person he’s taken to, you know,” Sunny said, sounding slightly awed. Trouble tried to bite him when he went to pet him and Dawn tsked him softly. Looking from the cat to her, Sunny grinned. “Cat therapy seems to be working.” Dawn’s smile faltered and he wilted in turn. “Or not - or until I brought it up… again. Sorry.”
Dawn gave him a more genuine, sad smile. “No, this is helping. I just,” she sighed. “I don’t know what to do.”
Sunny was silent for a long time, watching her pet his cat and Dawn could tell he was genuinely thinking his reply through. A simple assurance that she’d be fine wasn’t what she wanted and he seemed to recognize that. Finally he spoke. “You said you don’t talk to your sister often?”
“No… I’ve talked to her more in the past week than I have in my who- in years.”
“Then I take it you’ve not fought with her often.”
“I-,” Dawn thought about it. “I mean we’ve argued before…” Yesterday for instance.
Sunny shook his head. “Everyone argues. Fighting is what upset you.”
Dawn didn’t understand how there could be such a big difference in the two words, but somehow there was. He was absolutely right. “Yeah. We’ve never fought, not like we did earlier.”
“And so you feel like it’s ruined everything and you two will never get along again, and it’s all your fault.”
She stared at him, completely mind-boggled. “How do you know all this?”
He smiled, leaning back against the couch. “Because I used to feel that way every time I fought with my brothers. Especially the ones near my age,” he sighed. “After a while, you realize that you’ve fought with them before and it didn’t ruin anything, and that once you’ve both cooled down you’ll make up like you always do. Yeah it still hurts, but it’s easier to remember when you’ve already done this a dozen times.”
Looking back at Dawn, he shrugged. “But you and your sister…” he trailed off, waiting.
“Um… Dawn,” she supplied, a little awkwardly.
“You and Dawn, this is the first time this has happened so, yeah, it makes sense that you think it’s the end of the world. But it’s not. I mean, I wouldn’t talk to her again soon, especially if she’s not in a good place. Give her time, give yourself time, and then let her know you’re sorry.”
Dawn listened, intently, amazed at his advice, his voice gentle but frank as he assured her that she had ruined nothing, that things would be okay.
“How are you so smart?” She asked him.
Sunny laughed, rubbing the back of his neck. “That’s not something I’m called often,” he said, trying for lightness.
Dawn shook her head. “But you are. Thank you so much.” She shifted on the couch so she could hug him. A moment later he returned it, holding her until Trouble, still trying to be in Dawn’s lap all the while, squawked his displeasure and jumped off the couch. They pulled away and smiled at each other for a few seconds.
Looking around the room again, Dawn caught sight of Sunny’s instruments and frowned again. He caught her change in expression. “What?”
“I just remembered; I’m probably not going to be able to see your show on friday. I’m- I’m probably going to be going out of town. I was thinking I might move it until next week but my sister-” she cut herself off with a sigh.
“Mari,” Sunny said, shaking his head. “Don’t tell me you were fought with your sister over seeing my show.”
“I didn’t!” She said quickly. “There were… other factors for why I wanted to leave next week.” But she looked at the instruments and back to him and found herself feeling rather bashful. “But, now that I’m thinking about it - yeah, that might have been part of it.”
“Marianne!” He sounded exasperated but not upset. “I would not and do not care that something else came up.”
She ducked her head. “I just, I was hoping to hear you play.”
He rolled his eyes, knocking his shoulder with hers in a playful shove. “I’ll have other shows, you know. Knock on wood,” he added, and then tapped his own forehead.
Dawn laughed a little, hoping her thoughts didn’t show on her face; not any shows I’ll get to see.
Whether or not he caught the false cheer, Sunny perked up as something occurred to him. “You know, we’re here - why don’t I give you a mini-show now?”
“Really?” Dawn perked up in turn.
He stood, going to the wall of guitars and ukeleles and sound equipment. “Unless you got something you need to do.” Dawn frantically shook her head, and he grinned. “Any requests?”
“Um…” Any and all popular American music flew from her brain. “Whatever you’d like.”
“Ah, I know the perfect thing for you,” he said, rummaging around until he pulled out a small ukelele case. He sang softly as he went about unlocking it. “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing is gonna be alright,” he caught her eye and winked. Dawn giggled.
He was tuning the instrument, still humming Three Little Birds when Marianne’s phone started buzzing in her lap. Dawn looked at it and swallowed hard. Looking up she saw Sunny watching her carefully.
She glanced at the door and he got the hint. “Go ahead. We’ll have another chance,” he said. “And if you need, you know, anything - cat, hugs, a variety of baked goods…”
“Thanks Sunny,” she said, standing. “I’ll talk to you later, I promise.”
She had missed the call and had to call immediately back. It rang barely once before Marianne picked it up. “Hey,” she sounded subdued, but not as tense or upset as Dawn had anticipated.
It was like a floodgate had opened. “I’m sorry. God, Mari, I am so sorry. Are you okay? Is everything- I shouldn’t have- you had every right to- and you are right and if you want I’ll- I’ll buy the tickets for this week and you don’t have to- Marianne I’m so-”
“Dawn. Dawn!” Marianne had been trying to get her attention for the whole rant. “Dawn, listen. It’s okay. It’s okay. We’re good.”
Dawn took a deep breath, calming herself down. “What?”
“I said, we’re good. I- I’m going to stay until the end of next week, until after Bog leaves. It is the smarter plan.”
“Yeah, but Mari, I don’t want you to think because I- I know you don’t want to be there and if we get caught you’ll-”
Marianne cut her off again, her laugh was short and a little bitter and sounded so likeher that Dawn had to relax. “Well, about that Dawn… that’s kind of… why I’m okay with staying…”
Dawn stiffened, any relief at her sister’s in-character attitude immediately evaporating. “Marianne, what are you talking about?”
She sighed. “It’s your handlers, Dawn. They know.”
Stay tuned for HANDMAIDEN FEELS. Bet you never thought you'd get that in a story.
Chapter 10: When You Were Young
Marianne waved her left hand next to her face, wiggling her fingers in hope that the gesticulating would cause the wine-colored nail polish to dry quicker. Her right hand was, in contrast, growing restless, prone on the glass coffee table of Dawn’s room, being painted its second coat of the same shade by her sister’s handler and maid, Holly. Rose and Heather sat with them in the foyer, one reading, the other texting a memo to Dawn’s father to tell him that his daughter was feeling ill and would not be at dinner.
The windows were curtained. It was a little after 7 PM. It had been a long day.
Marianne eyed the woman, who was humming something indefinable as she worked. “You know, you never answered my question.”
“What question was that, ma’am?” Holly asked.
“Don’t call me ma’am,” she said impatiently. “You know which question: Why the hell are you okay with all of this? All of you - you’re sitting here acting like it doesn’t matter that your princess is running amok in America and I’m over here impersonating her. Shouldn’t you be freaking out?”
“Ma’am,” Holly said, a small smile in her voice, even as she didn’t look up. “I thought we had already made it clear, we understand the situation.”
And they had, Marianne thought.
As soon as Dawn had said the name Roland, Marianne had all but short-circuited. She forgot their argument, she forgot all her flustered incredulousness at her sister having the audacity to suggest that she had a crush. None of that mattered. The only thing that mattered was that that slimy, manipulative son of a bastard was attempting once again to ruin her life - as if he hadn’t caused enough emotional damage to her already, as seen by the very way she stood there rooted in place, unable to even reassure her increasingly frantic sister.
When her handler’s voices finally intruded the static white noise that had become her thoughts, for once Marianne’s fight-or-flight instinct chose flight. She was ready to bolt, to get away from everyone, to find somewhere where she could be allowed to break down in peace. She took one step when Rose laid a hand on her arm and said, “Miss Marianne, wait.”
That, obviously, had done nothing to calm her down.
Quickly and quietly she was ushered to their car, soft voices promising her that she was safe, that everything would be fine. In the relative safety of the vehicle, her handlers briskly explained the situation; the ladies had had an inkling of Dawn’s plans as early as since King Douglas had announced the trip to the United States.
“Her highness is many things, but she has never been very subtle,” Holly had said, fondness in her tone. “But we’ve known for certain since your first night here.”
Since the dinner, Marianne thought, of course.
They went on to tell her that they had told no one, and would tell know one. They cared deeply for Dawn and understood the risk of this entire situation. They would do what they could to make any time Marianne spent in the charade go as smoothly as possible. There were many questions Marianne had, but there was a earnest tone to everything they said that reminded her that these women were the closest thing to a mother Dawn had ever had; she had to believe it when they said they didn’t want anything bad to happen to her.
So she did.
Afterwards she had called Dawn, and the two of them worked through their plan of attack. Marianne agreed to the extra week and didn’t talk about Sunny or Bog or what an extra week meant where any of that was concerned. They apologized for angering each other, for not listening, for stubbornness that obviously ran in the family.
Dawn didn’t ask about Roland, obviously loath to cause her sister another panic attack. Marianne wanted to tell her everything, but it was too raw, too soon. She would tell her the next day, or the day after that, when her re-opened wounds had stitched themselves back together again. She could only hope Roland would take her silence as in-character. It wasn’t the first time she had ignored him, after all.
Dawn told her she loved her before she hung up the phone. Marianne returned the sentiment and wiped the tears that had inexplicably formed. The three women in the car with her didn’t mention them.
So now, not long after, she sat on the chaise lounge, getting her nails painted, receiving the kind of post-anxiety-attack aftercare that she had always longed for in the recesses of a broken and clumsily-repaired heart.
Her sister’s ladies had explained the situation, yes.
She was still confused.
“Okay but you’re still not answering me - why are you okay with her doing this? With me being here - you know nothing about me, I could- I don’t know, I could be a murderer. I could be trying to steal the throne.”
Rose snorted, not looking up from her book. Marianne glared at her.
Holly, too, hadn’t stopped in her work. “If you were plotting to take the throne you have a very strange way of going about it, ma’am.” Marianne glared at her again, but noticed the woman’s smile was playful. It was kind of nice to see they had personalities outside of quiet agreement to her every wish.
Her shoulders slumped. “You have a point,” she deadpanned. The women tittered around her and Marianne rolled her eyes, feeling oddly better in light of being teased. “Have I really been that bad?”
“Not at all, ma’am,” Heather said. “It may look to press that her highness hasn’t been herself of late, but you made a smart decision passing that off as being ill. It’s very easy for us all to believe that you contracted something while in America. You’ll forgive us, but Polyanthus doesn’t necessarily have a high opinion of your country.”
Marianne laughed. “Who does?” She hesitated. “So you really think no one else knows.”
“You have to understand, we are in a unique position of seeing more of your sister than most, including your father.” Marianne bit her lip so as not to say anything to sarcastic; the ladies might be on her side but Dawn’s father was still their king.
Heather continued, “However, it will be better now that we can help you. If you remain ill all next week people will begin to worry you have something life-threatening and that would not go over well.”
“Understood.” She sighed, about to run her fingers through her hair before she remembered the drying nail polish. Scowling thoughtfully at it, she added. “Thank you. I know you’re doing this for Dawn, but-”
Holly had finished her nails and was capping the bottle, stopping to look at her in surprise. “Nonsense, ma’am. We’re doing this as much for you as for your sister, you know.”
She laughed softly, as if Marianne had said something very silly. “You know, we have been working for the royal family since I was, oh, her highness’s age. We were employed to be the primary maid and handlers to the crown princess. That is, of course, Princess Dawn, but for a while, for a little over four years, that was you.”
Marianne went still as the thought- the thought that she had once been- oh god, the thought had never occurred to her, not once. It was easy to remember that the Polyanthian Royalty was her estranged family; it was easy think that Dawn, a princess, was her baby sister; it was easy - though uncomfortable - to think that King Douglas was, factually, her father.
It made sense: She spent so much time focusing of the twenty years she’d been separated from it.
It had never crossed her mind that this castle had once been her home.
She could deny being a princess all she liked, now it was the truth - she was not a princess - but it hadn’t always been the case. Whether she liked it or not, Marianne had been born into this, had spent the first years of her life as Crown Princess Marianne. And suddenly, sitting there in a royal bedchamber, talking to her maids, she could actually imagine how it might have been if she had lived her whole life there.
She didn’t say any of that though, settling instead to say, “You were my- my maids? I had maids prescribed to me at birth?”
Holly smiled and nodded. “Indeed, ma’am. We were hired by your mother.”
Marianne flinched at the mention of her mother, at the image of her mother living here. Queen Vivian. It was too surreal, too impossible to believe for all that she knew, had always known it was the truth.
She sighed; this all suddenly felt like too much again. “I think I’m going to go to bed early. Try to wake up at a reasonable time tomorrow.”
Her handlers took the hint. Rose closed her book and they stood up in unison. “Of course, ma’am.”
“We’ll see you in the morning.”
They comfortably filed out, each sending Marianne a gentle and genuine smile. She thanked them again, so softly that she didn’t think they heard.
“Do try to wait until your nails have dried, ma’am,” Holly added, the last one left in the room.
Marianne rolled her eyes. “Will do. Thank you.” Holly paused, looking like she wanted to say more. “What?”
The woman looked at her for a long moment and then shook her head, her smile softening. “Nothing, ma’am,” she said. “It’s only- it’s very nice to see you again.”
She left, shutting the door neatly behind her.
Marianne did wake up at a reasonable hour. Early enough that her handlers weren’t up and waiting in her foyer for her to be up and about. Marianne used this momentary solitude to get a handle on everything that had happened the evening before.
So she had allies now, on the inside. This was helpful, if still a bit unnerving. She didn’t know what to do with them knowing, didn’t know what to do with the fact that in their eyes she was their Princess Marianne, with the fact that they had known a side of her mother Marianne would never remember.
She did try, as she lay in Dawn’s bed, to bring forth memories from when she was a little girl, four years in this castle, but nothing came up. She supposed people remembered more about their early childhood’s when they had home videos and a parent who told her stories about it. Her mother had never hidden it from her, per se, but Marianne had certainly never gotten any details about her brief royal life. Then again, Marianne had never really asked about it either.
Her handmaidens joined her just before eight o’clock. Holly opened the curtains to let in direct sunlight and Marianne groaned, burrowing her face back in her pillows.
“Did you sleep well, ma’am?”
“You did go to bed early for this reason, ma’am.”
Marianne lifted her head from the pillows. “Do I have some pressing agenda today or something?” It felt good to be able to speak like herself, she thought absently.
“Not until mid-afternoon, ma’am. You have to accompany your father to the opening of a new exhibit at the national art museum,” Rose said, checking the always-present tablet. “It’s largely for the press to see you there, the museum is your patronage - or rather, your sister’s.”
“My sister owns a museum?”
“No, ma’am,” Heather said with a patient smile. “She simply chose it to receive money from the crown. She is the patron of a number of organizations like it.”
Marianne blinked. “So was it from a list, like, companies that receive Government Grants? Does the King just hand her off a list and say ‘here, sweet, pick one’?”
Her ladies tittered amongst themselves. “That’s a simplification of the process, but yes, to an extent.” Heather said. “Her highness does take time to learn about them thoroughly before she makes decisions.”
“Huh,” Marianne said, thoughtfully. She knew it wasn’t fair to think her sister frivolous or flighty, even with their present predicament. Still, it was strange to hear about her doing well, royal duties. As if it were a job that she hadn’t gotten a say in having. “Huh,” she said again, unsure how to articulate what she was feeling.
Rose returned to looking through the tablet and after a moment smiled.
“It would seem the king missed your presence at dinner last night,” she said, her voice playful.
Marianne snorted. “Yeah, well Dawn’s dad can suck it,” she said, too tired to care about propriety around said the king’s subjects. Although it was a surprise when the women laughed, loud and hard, at the statement. She suddenly felt she had missed something. “What?”
Rose recovered, waving a dainty hand. “Not that king, ma’am.”
She blinked. “What do you mean not that- what other... oh. OH.” She had been running her fingers through her hair and froze halfway through the motion. King Ciaran, Bog, had been at that meal- god, she hadn’t even thought- with everything else that had happened, he had actually slipped off her mental radar. “Shit,” she muttered, a mixture of relief that she hadn’t seen him in the state she had been in the night before, and oddly disappointed that missed him. In fact, that was another thing: “And what do you mean he missed me? I can’t believe- we’ve only talked twice-”
“You appear to have left an impression,” Heather said, her lips curled in a teasing smile.
Marianne scowled, her hand finally finishing it’s trek through messy hair. “Yeah, but what kind? Seriously, what did he actually say?”
“I’m afraid you’d have to ask your father for details,” Rose admitted. “All he has said was to tell you that his Majesty asked about you.”
Well, she thought, that could mean any number of things. That was the second time in a day she hadn’t shown to an event - however informal - that he was at... lord, the man might think she hated him for all she knew. Certainly she had never acted particularly comfortable around him in their two meetings, it was probably a reasonable assumption. Shit, she didn’t need her causing him offense any more than she needed Dawn thinking they had feelings for each other. Between a rock and a hard place where he was concerned. Just perfect.
“Well?” She added.
“Well?” Holly echoed.
“Well, aren’t you all going to advise me or warn me about keeping my distance from him?”
Holly raised an eyebrow. “Do you need to be warned, ma’am?”
Marianne felt heat rise to her cheeks and glared. “Wha- no! No, I don’t need- I was just asking to be polite, god.” She paused. “He’s not going to be at the... museum thing, is he?”
She grinned. “No. Since your father will be accompanying you, he will likely be left to his own devices.”
“Oh.” She winced. “Is Dawn’s dad really- does he have to come?”
“He doesn’t have to,” Holly said, but she shook her head. “But he always has in the past, both he and the press would be concerned if you came alone.”
“That’s what I thought you’d say,” she said with a sigh. “Well, help me gird my loins, then. How fancy is this sort of thing anyways?”
With the help of her ladies, she picked out the appropriate, semi-formal outfit to wear to a public outing. The dress came to her knees in a deep plum purple cotton, with dark grey tights and black heeled boots. The whole ensemble was hidden by a steel grey cashmere coat that flared out like a gown, stopping at mid calf. A hat, if it could be called that, was pinned into hair that had been curled further to frame her face, a grey wisp of a thing with that was more bow than head-covering.
She took a different car than King Douglas, to her relief. In safety, she asked her ladies an array of questions: Was she going to have to talk? Yes. Was she going to have to give a speech? Not at all. Just some pleasantries. Will people ask questions? Most likely, but she need only answer the ones she wanted to. They lent Marianne the tablet so she could look up the museum and Dawn’s past workings with them so she had something to go off of, so she knew names and dates.
The whole thing went by a little bit like a blur. Marianne must not have done anything wrong because it all happened and was over and the world was still turning. She had numerous photos taken both staged and candid. Press that hadn’t been at the dinner asked about how she had enjoyed America - she gave the remark again that she would have liked to stay longer. In all the chatter, she heard someone ask about Ciaran but it was easy enough to pretend she hadn’t heard it; she figured that’s what Dawn would do.
It hadn’t been a disaster at all, and in fact, that was what made Marianne feel strange. The whole event had actually felt... comfortable, almost. She preferred this sort of thing to formal dinners, it felt more like the press conferences and events her mother had taken her to with Fairfield books. Marianne almost laughed at herself; for most people, finding out being a princess was more work than glamor would turn them off, for her it was the one thing that made her even consider enjoying it.
And maybe she had enjoyed the event. Maybe it was because her handlers were helping her now, maybe it was because she was finally Marianne to someone here, that made this whole thing feel natural for the first time.
Furthermore, she liked actually seeing Polyanthian people that weren’t dignitaries or paparazzi. They seemed to love Dawn very much and in way that actually didn’t feel totally creepy. Marianne wondered how they had felt about her mother.
It was only when everyone had dispersed that Marianne’s discomfort glaringly reinserted itself. Dawn’s father came over as they began to walk back to the cars, parked a block away from the event. “You looked nervous, my dear.”
Marianne shoved her hands in her pockets to keep from wringing them. “Did I? I just felt a bit out of practice.” Over her shoulder she mouthed a ‘help-me’ to her ladies as they walked several steps behind them, but they all shrugged a bit helplessly. In unison. Again. She tried not to sigh.
“Well, you handled everything well, as always.”
She nodded absently. “Thanks.”
“Are you feeling any better?” He asked.
“A little,” she said. “The trip was hard on me - I must have caught something, but I think I’m getting over it.” God this was the longest she had talked to him yet and they could not get to the cars fast enough.
He nodded in turn. “Very good.” He paused a moment and then added, “Ciaran asked about you at dinner.” He didn’t sound pleased.
Marianne almost choked. Oh, she did not need to go into this right now. “I, um, I heard.” Before he could say anything she quickly derailed that conversation. “What is he doing here, anyways? Neither of you have said anything about it.”
The king misinterpreted her discomfort. His brow furrowed. “Has he done something-”
“No, no!” She said, a little surprised at how quick Douglas was to assume that of the other king. Then again, Bog hadn’t seemed overly fond of Dawn’s father the other day, perhaps it was mutual. “I just. I just- Bog- Ciaran- his majesty has never come over, much less stayed. I’m curious.”
King Douglas snorted softly, though he looked at her curiously. “Curious about foreign policy - will wonders never cease?”
Marianne bristled. Dawn had talked about her reputation in the past, the most of Polyanthus considered the heir far more interested in social events than her duties as a princess, but she hadn’t thought her sister’s own father to be amongst them. “Well maybe that’s because you get like that when I ask,” she snapped, before she could think. Shit. Way to go Marianne, that was in-character of you.
There was a silence and then, “Are you sure you’re feeling alright, dear?”
Double shit. She attempted to smile at him. “Yeah, sorry- I just-”
“You’re not fooling me, you know that don’t you?”
Marianne was still, staring in horror. Finally she croaked out, “What?” He couldn’t possibly, there was no way he knew, too. No. Nothing in their conversations had given her. She couldn’t have him know, she would avoid it at all cost.
Douglas shook his head, but he smiled, fond if not a little rueful. “I’m your father, sweetheart, I can tell these things.”
Okay. Well that was definitely not the behavior Marianne expected from a man who found out his estranged daughter was impersonating his little baby girl. Hesitantly, she willed herself to ask, “I don’t- what do you mean?”
“It’s been obvious that you’ve been angry at me since we were in the States, dear. You’ve never been very good at hiding your emotions, you know. And I’m not so senile yet that I don’t know why.”
Marianne almost collapsed with relief, struggling not to let it show on her face. Oh god how she wanted to laugh. He was so delusional that all he thought was that his princess Dawn was angry with him.
“It’s about Marianne, isn’t it?”
The sound of her name, her real name from this man, destroyed any desire to laugh. God, he knew, he expected for Dawn to be pissed at him about the treatment of her older sister, and it had changed nothing.
“I know you wanted to see her,” Douglas continued. And Marianne snorted before she could stop herself. But no, this was good. He had outed her anger at least; she could give him that with no fear of discovery.
“Can you blame me?” She said, coldly.
The lines on his face seemed to deepen with his frown. “No, no I suppose I can’t. Dawn, dear, you have to understand-”
“She was seventeen when mom died, you know. I figured it out,” She added, offhand. He flinched but Marianne readily ignored it. “She wasn’t even an adult in America.”
“We’ve been through all of this-”
“No, we haven’t,” she snapped. “Not so that I understand at least. Look, I get it, she was supposed to have a normal life, she was supposed to not feel pressured- but, for god’s sake! She was seventeen!”
“Dawn,” he seemed a little alarmed by the outburst, but not the point where Marianne felt nervous. “Dawn, darling, it isn’t that simple and you know that. It was Vivi- it was your mother’s wish that I give both her and your sister distance. I was respecting that.”
That felt like a punch in the gut, even though Marianne knew in her heart that her mother did play an active part in their estrangement in her lifetime. That didn’t excuse him from a single action however, and to use her mother’s name as though it did... “Well mom’s dead. And my sister was on her own - how does leaving her that way respect anything? You- we- didn’t even go to the funeral.”
The king had been fidgeting, nervous and unhappy but at this he seemed readily able to respond. “You know that was out of my power.” It was almost a snap of his own. “It was an accident, no one can plan for them. I had no say in being out of the country when it all occurred and you should know that, young lady.”
Marianne tried not to wince. She did not know that, in fact.
“It was a horrible accident,” he repeated more to himself. His green eyes left her face, falling to the floor. “I couldn’t have done anything, sweetheart.”
Her brief moment of sympathy for the king evaporated. “You could have done so much more - you could let me do something- you-” She cut herself off, shaking her head in frustration and trying to keep her anger in check. She knew, now from experience, how Dawn got when in a fight, and if she wanted she could be as biting as Marianne - but still she didn’t know how much of that bite Dawn would show to her father, even under the current circumstances. But it was hard to focus on any of that when everything he said, every attempt at logical justification for the years Marianne had spent utterly alone, was infuriating her.
“I had no way to know if she would welcome- Dawn, you were born and raised in this world, as I was. You don’t know how hard it is, how draining it is to live this everyday - for someone to adjust to this. Your sister had been through so much already, she didn’t need-”
Marianne whirled on him, hurt and anger momentarily blinding her. “So you decided to ignore her then? You thought that was the better course of action? You could have at least tried!” The words poured out of her in a ready flood. “Marianne isn’t mom, you know, you had no idea how she would feel coming over here. You don’t know anything about her- and- god, don’t talk about it like- I’m not talking about giving her the kingdom! I’m talking about giving her a- h-home.”
She had hesitated before the word home, mostly to keep from adding the word ‘fucking’ before hand - because nothing could sound less like Dawn than that - but then her voice broke on the damn word and Dawn’s father was looking at her like he would his baby girl if she were distraught and in need of comfort and that only angered her and hurt her further because all this conversation had done was prove to Marianne that King Douglas would never truly look at Marianne like that.
He reached out to touch her arm and she stepped back, shaking her head. She needed to get out of there, immediately. Baking a few steps away she added, “Why couldn’t you have given her a home, dad?”
Before he could have a chance to speak, Marianne walked ahead of him, a b-line to the car, to safety, to thinking about something, anything else.
Slamming the car door she sat and waited for her handmaidens to join her. Staring out the window, she caught her own reflection in the glass; the curled hair under the expensive fascinator. She took off the hat and glared at it, realizing exactly why she was so damn upset; for the first time since arriving in Polyanthus, since pretending to be Dawn, Marianne had actually allowed herself the mistake of thinking of herself as a princess.
Only be reminded once again that, even had it been a life she wanted... it was a life she would never get.
Chapter 11: Come Talk To Me
Two Marianne chapters in a row. I hope ppl don't mind.
Marianne decided she really ought to compile a list of ways in which she and her sister were far too much alike. It was an increasingly growing list. They both got motion sickness, they both had (naturally) curly hair and listening problems. They were both stubborn, restless, lonely people.
They were both awful at following advice.
Be it advice others gave them or even advice they gave themselves. No, Marianne thought, especially the kind they gave themselves.
Which was how she found herself wandering the Polyanthus Palace Gardens on the first clear day since Marianne had come to the country… in the company of none other than the Bog King.
In her defense, Marianne had had no intention of spending her friday this way…
“I fucked up,” Marianne mumbled. She was in the most casual attire Dawn owned, a plain long-sleeved tee and sweatpants. Marianne wasn’t fooled; the sweatpants had some french name on the tag and she suspected they were over 100$ at very least.
“What? Because you fought with dad?” Dawn said, her incredulous tone obvious even over the phone. “Got a news flash for you, sis; I may be a princess but that doesn’t change that I was also a teenager not long ago. This is not the first time I’ve exploded on him. He knows that.”
After the fight with Dawn’s father, she had shut herself up in the bedroom, despite the initial protests of her handmaidens. She didn’t want to see anyone, and she highly doubted the king would want to see her. They sat in her foyer now, playing cards. She told them she would join them after she got off the phone.
Apparently her explosion at King Douglas and her panic attack out shopping the evening before had already been documented on the unfailing gossip websites. Dawn didn’t say exactly what the tabloids were saying about either situation, and Marianne was grateful for that. She didn’t know whether them thinking her mentally unstable was better or worse than them thinking she was going to marry the Bog King.
Marianne shook her head. “This is different though. I exploded on him about… well, about me. I didn’t mean to, but it just happened. I got so- I got so mad, Dawn.”
Dawn was quiet for a while, and then said. “He’s used to that, too.”
“Mari, why do you think he had already guessed the reason why ‘I’ was angry at him? I’ve- I’ve done this before, and he recognizes my… Marianne mood.”
Marianne raised her eyebrows. “I’m a mood?”
Her sister laughed a little breathlessly. “I usually get in it… around your birthday every year. I get so angry that we don’t do anything, that he expects me to behave as though you don’t exist.” She sighed, a frustrated thing.
Marianne found herself both angry and touched by this. Angry, again, that Douglas didn’t listen, that Dawn had shouted at him and fought with him for years and it had never amounted to a thing. Touched that her sister really had always loved her, even if Marianne had never gotten to know it.
“But you two make up, right? I don’t think- I don’t know if I can do that, even faking it,” she said.
Dawn’s voice was gentle. “You don’t have to, Mari. I’ll handle that when I come back. Just, try and silently be angry for a while.”
“Can do,” she assured her. Dawn laughed.
“Now, go get your surprise tomorrow, okay?” She added.
Marianne blinked. She had forgotten about the archive room and Dawn’s supposed gift. “I can try. Hey, ladies?”
Her handmaidens looked up.
“Do you know where the archive room is?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Heather said. “Why do you need to know?”
“Dawn has a gift for me there.” An idea occurred to her. “Do you know what it is?”
“Don’t you dare tell her!” Dawn shouted from over the receiver, almost deafening Marianne in that ear.
Holly covered her mouth with one hand, smothering her laugh. “If her highness has intended it as a surprise for you, ma’am, we cannot go against your wishes.”
Marianne hadn’t expected any different. “Oh, think for yourselves for once,” she said without rancor. The ladies tittered. Dawn was in gales of laughter on the other end. “Well, seeing as you are all awful people for teasing me - I am going to bed.”
Dawn’s laughter tapered out. “Really?”
“Yeah, today was exhausting.”
“They usually are,” she admitted. “I’ll let you sleep, but… Mari?”
“Yeah?” She asked, a bit warily.
“You’re doing a good job. A really good job. I want you to know that.”
Marianne barely stopped herself from snorting, the only thing stopping her natural sarcastic response was the genuine tone in Dawn’s voice. “If you say so,” she mumbled at last.
Dawn laughed softly. “I do,” she said firmly. “Tell the ladies goodnight for me.”
The call ended there. Marianne exchanged the goodnight greeting with the handmaidens and went to bed trying not to think about Dawn’s words.
She woke up to sunlight, proper sunlight coming into her room. Even the day before had clouded over by early afternoon. Marianne wasn’t sure she had seen this much sun since she was in America. She liked rain well enough but this was a pleasant surprise all the same.
“Would you like to see your surprise today, ma’am?” Holly asked, over breakfast.
They had spent the morning going over reports from different organizations Dawn had patronage over. Apparently for much of the week, the ladies had been preforming this office for Marianne but now that everything had come to light they liked allowing her to learn more about, well, princess-ing. Marianne wanted to protest; after her argument with the king she didn’t particularly want people pushing royal duties on her again. But, like the afternoon before, the whole thing was too interesting for her to play indifferent.
She thought over the words, her eyes drawn to the open window. “After lunch, maybe. I was thinking of walking a bit in the garden. Do I have time?”
They exchanged smiles. “Of course, ma’am,” Rose said. “Would you like us to accompany you or would you rather be alone?”
“Are you kidding - I’m not getting lost in that garden. Come on.”
That had been the plan, in any case.
They had made it to the large open patio, Marianne dressed for the cooler weather - sun or no - only to find they weren’t alone.
The Bog King was pacing the front walk, on the phone, his rough brogue heightened to being near indecipherable. Marianne stood rooted still in the wide entryway, watching him… so far unnoticed. There was an impatience in his long strides, irritation in his voice. Marianne was at first a little nervous, seeing him in a sour mood, until she finally caught one of the snapped responses; “No, mother.”
She bit her cheek to keep from smiling, relaxing and watching him a bit more indulgently. The king was dressed as warmly as she; a tweed coat in deep grey worn over a warm brown leather jacket and a plain light shirt, all tailored perfectly to his lean figure. His hair was as casually disheveled as it had been over their past interaction and, as she watched, he raised a large hand to rake his fingers through it - the gesture as impatient as his stride and his words.
At last, he noticed he was not alone. Turning, he froze halfway through the motion, silenced mid-sentence. For a moment, the image he presented was too amusing for Marianne to even feel embarrassed at how obviously she had been staring. She raised her eyebrow at him, smirking. He raised an eyebrow back, though his expression was unreadable.
Still holding her eyes, he spoke into the phone. “I’ll call you back,” and hung up without waiting for a response.
They just looked at each other for a few seconds before Bog closed the distance in a couple long strides. Marianne kept herself from instinctively stepping back and gave him something between a nod and a bow. “Bog,” she greeted dryly.
Looking the impossibly long way up at him, she caught a smile tug at his lips. “Dawn,” he returned.
“Sorry I interrupted what sounded very important.”
He rolled his eyes toward the sky as if demanding that god see what he had to put up with. “I promise- ye rescued me more than anythin.”
“Was she asking when we’re going to get married?”
Marianne wasn’t sure why she asked that; Dawn had mentioned once that his mother did want them to get together but she didn’t know if Bog knew that or why that even mattered. She heard a soft laugh behind her and realized that for the past minute she had completely forgotten that her handmaidens were with her.
But he only scoffed, looking irritated and amused in equal measure. All at once, Marianne knew that Bog was very, very aware of his mother’s matchmaking plots. “Only ten times in this conversation alone.”
“Ah,” she grinned. “Only that.”
“I think she might be slowing down.”
“Well, don’t jinx it.”
That got a chuckle from him and Marianne exhaled a bit gustily. For all that, once again, she had not expected to see the king, they had fallen back into, well, banter. She didn’t understand what it was about him that made her comfortable yet, but for once, comfort wasn’t causing her to say the wrong thing and embarrass herself thoroughly.
Another snort of a laugh from behind her and Bog finally seemed to notice their company. He nodded to her attire and entourage. “Where were ye goin?”
“I was just- I was going to walk. Get some, um, air.” He nodded, and she spoke suddenly. “Did you want to join me?”
So much for not embarrassing herself.
Neither she nor Bog said anything for a little while. Marianne was still going over the sequence of events that had led her to this spot. She decided that she owed Dawn an apology because she was clearly shit at following advice too. However, she was a little safer; she didn’t have Dawn’s natural sweetness or radiant beauty. There was no chance that the Bog King might accidentally fall in love with her.
Bog had agreed readily enough to the impromptu invitation, though his blue eyes were decidedly baffled as he did so. That was okay, though. That could have been doable.
Then her traitorous little handmaidens had to go and suggest that they stay behind.You’re as bad as Bog’s mother, she thought at them furiously when all they gave her was too-polite smiles before taking their leave. Worse, in fact, because they knew who she was, simple Marianne Dale, not a woman who got to be courted by kings.
Not that Bog was courting her, or Dawn, or anyone. Jesus christ, Marianne, they werewalking.
The Palace Gardens were well-looked after, widely paved paths in neat patterns around neater topiary. The color in the garden this time of year came from the bushes and small maples, their reds and oranges glowing in the late-morning sunlight. The rain had impressed the pigment of fallen leaves into the pavement, leaving colorful patterns on the path she walked on. The outskirts of the lawn and garden were inclosed by a story high wall of bushes, keeping out the rest of the capitol city where they were centrally located. It were It was incredibly beautiful, amazingly peaceful.
Marianne only wished she could actually enjoy it.
She tried not to look at him from the corner of her eye, and tried very hard to act like she hadn’t noticed him doing the same. His expression was unreadable, and Marianne was suddenly and inexplicably irritated that they couldn’t just talk like normal people for god’s sake.
“I-” She started. Bog looked at her, startled and Marianne immediately lost what she was going to say to him. Finally she stumbled on, “I’m sorry I haven’t been- um- around much. Lately.” He still looked baffled. She felt her cheeks reddening. “I wasn’t sure if you were- my um, my dad said you asked about me at dinner and I thought maybe-”
Bog cut her off with a snort. “He would say it like it was yer fault.”
Marianne glanced side-long at him again, surprised again by another sign of tension between the two rulers. “You don’t like him, do you?”
He coughed, buying time to re-think his response; seeming to finally realize that he was talking to the king’s daughter. “Ah- it’s more-”
“I thought you didn’t like lying,” she interrupted slyly.
“Alright. No, I don’t. Ye don’t seem too fond of him, yourself, however.”
Marianne’s blush returned in full force and she scowled at him outright. “Yes but familial conflicts aren’t going to affect political and international affairs and so how I feel about my father is none of your business.”
He stared at her, and for a second they both stopped walking. Then he smirked, an amused spark in eyes as blue as the sky overhead. “God, ye make me almost wish I hadn’t asked you to be so blunt,” he said.
She looked away quickly, continuing her walk. It was as much what he said as how he said it that had her flustered; they were falling back into the natural taunting they seemed to do whenever they talked, but there was something more, a touch of admiration there. Marianne had no idea what to do with it.
Bog’s long strides kept up with her with ease. And after a moment he spoke again, “I don’t care that ye haven’t been at dinner. I was askin about why you weren’t at the meetings.”
Marianne blinked. “You mean, the ones you and- my dad have been having?” The ones about diplomacy and bridging gaps between two long isolated kingdoms? She wanted ask, incredulously. All at once she was very glad that she wasn’t at them and oddly stirred by the fact that he wanted her there. “Why would I be?” She asked at last.
Bog looked down at her again, surprised. “Why wouldn’t ye? You’re going to be queen someday, aren’t you? You’re hardly a child. If your father was a smart man, he’d see that and be puttin’ more effort into making sure you know your way about things while he can.”
“If my father was a smart man, mm?” She asked, raising her eyebrows. Even if they had already been over this it was too fun not to try and get Bog to squirm, a little. Still, she agreed; if it were Dawn, the heir, they were truly speaking about, she shouldbe learning all she can and it did feel like Douglas didn’t understand that.
He rolled his eyes at her attempts to nettle him. “Well, I can hardly believe he’s offered and you chose that you would rather be in the dark.”
“You don’t know me,” she said, the words weightier than she had intended. But Bog didn’t seem to catch it.
“I know that if ye didn’t want to be heir, be queen someday, you could have left by now,” he said flatly. “It’s easy enough - I know your father has siblings, ye have cousins all who could take the throne. Nothin’s keeping you here except you wantinto be. And I know your father isn’t a smart man because he doesn’t understand that yer fully capable of understanding and contributing to anything we discuss.”
Marianne stopped walking and he did, too. She stared at him, wide-eyed, somewhere between horrified and indignant. And uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because he had taken the thoughts right out of her head regarding the way King Douglas treated his daughter. Dawn was smarter than her tabloids seemed to consider her to be, and being kept out of the politics that she would one day be in charge of was hardly helping things.
But it was more than that… Bog had know idea who she truly was, and therefor had no idea what had gone down that last day or so, but Marianne did and she knew - sheknew she could have argued harder to come home at the end of this week. In fact, Dawn had been ready to agree by the time Marianne had called again, but she had stopped her, allowed herself another week there, another week keeping up the dangerous act. That knowledge paired with the beginnings of what she was rather frightened to call genuine interest in her work as a princess and Dawn’s words that hadn’t gotten out of her head - You’re doing a good job…
Nothing’s keeping you here except you wanting to be.
That was what she was afraid of.
Finally she said, “You know, I’ve been trying not to punch you since we met, but you are making it really, really hard.”
Bog huffed a surprised laugh. “By all means, don’t hold back.”
She glared and without a word continued walking.
He trailed behind her after a few steps. “Have I offended ye, Tough Girl?”
The nickname, drawled in his thick indefinable accent, did weird things to her pulse. Valiantly ignoring it, she said, “Wasn’t that the idea?”
“No, that’s just a perk,” he said. She could hear the infuriating smirk in his voice. “An’ I am trying to help-”
“Don’t want the kingdom handed off to someone inexperienced, yeah I get that,” Marianne muttered, hating to agree outright, even if she had agreed all along.
“Don’t want you to feel the pressure of havin to rule inexperienced,” he corrected, the mocking tone gone from his voice.
“Something you know from experience, I gather,” Marianne spoke flippantly and without thinking and could have kicked herself when Bog stopped walking, standing almost frozen, humor having left him entirely.
She tried to backpedal. “I mean, I know your father- he’d been sick, bu-”
She cut off at Bog’s reaction. He did more than flinch at that, he all but recoiled from her. His fists had clenched and for a moment Marianne thought he looked truly angry.
Then he noticed her wary expression and the thundercloud passed and suddenly he just looked tired. “Sorry,” he said, his voice even rougher than normal. “I just, I hate when people say it like that.” Met with Marianne’s confused silence he elaborated. “’He had been sick’ like everyone knew, like we’d known for years that he was-” He stopped, running an agitated hand through his hair and letting out a low, frustrated noise.
Marianne stared at him, a little helpless in trying to grasp what he was saying. “I- I don’t-”
Bog shook his head, “No, you wouldn’t,” he said it almost like another apology, “No one knew- he never told anyone his condition. Not the press or our people. Not my mother… or me.”
Marianne’s hand came to her heart, as if that could stop the way it painfully contracted at this information. “… Oh,” she said stupidly. She remembered thinking that there was pain buried in the brief mention of his father she had heard before and here it was, more heartbreaking than she could have ever imagined.
But… not something she was unfamiliar with. Sudden death was something Marianne knew all too well. All at once, she was a teenager again, being pulled out her gym class to be told that her mother had been in highway car accident, that she was in critical condition. Not half an hour later, in a frantic rush to get to the ER, the second call came; Vivian Dale had died en route to the hospital. In less than an hour, Marianne had lost the only family she had had. Her world had ended.
Bog spoke again, jolting her out of her memories. “He must have thought he could beat it on his own. Stubborn bastard,” he muttered. He wasn’t looking at her and she had the distinct impression that he was confused by the fact that he had said so much to her, that this was something he never talked about. It appeared that she wasn’t the only one who ended up losing control of her tongue when they were together.
Searching for something to say, Marianne fell on the gamble that he was enough like her to where he dealt with loss like she did; a series of bad jokes. “You know, there’s a saying about apples and trees here somewhere…”
He looked back at her, a little startled. “What do you mean?”
“You were thrust into this, weren’t you? Being king, I mean. Like you said, you could have abdicated… you said there was something about wanting it - but somehow I get the feeling there was no small amount of stubbornness involved, too.” She gave him a smile she hoped landed somewhere between impish and gentle.
She’d guessed right, thank god. He laughed that laugh of his, the one that came out like a huff of air from deep in his chest, a loosening of tension in his shoulders and ended in a bitter smile that added a glow to his eyes. Marianne wondered at how littlehe must laugh that each time he did he sounded surprised by his own reaction.
“Yer probably right,” he said at last. “I was unprepared but I was ready to try at the very least.” He shook his head. “I feel like I spend half my time tryin to be like my father and the other half tryin to tell people I’m nothing like him.”
“… Is that why you reached out for diplomacy?”
Bog looked at her for a moment but nodded at last. “Aye, it is.”
“Smart,” she mumbled. Her fingers twitched from inside her pockets with the urge to touch him, make some sort of comforting gesture. She wanted so much to tell him she understood what he had been through, but that was going too much into Marianne’s life - her stories would get crossed and it would get messy quick. She was trying to avoid that. She had to avoid that.
She started walking and he followed suit. She could feel him watching her and tried to think of something to say, anything to derail the conversation from what it had become, anything that could keep her from being sucked back into the memory of broken sobs in the ER, knowing that she would never get to see her mother again. Marianne’s last day of her junior year was that friday… they were going to go camping that week, she going to take off work just to spend time with her… she never got a chance to-
Bog spoke suddenly, once again pulling her out of her memories. “I’m sorry.”
Surprised, Marianne looked back at him. “What for? I brought it up.”
“Aye, but I should have- I know it’s a sore subject- with your mother-”
Oh. Oh god. God, if the man kept this up, Marianne was going to begin to wonder if he could actually read her mind - or was she just so alarmingly transparent with him? Either option was nothing but danger and her fists clenched in her coat and she tried to get control of herself before possible responding. “It’s- it’s fine- I mean, I barely knew her,” she lied through her teeth, hating having to do so. A thought occurred to her. “Wait, did you know my mother?”
Bog shook his head quickly. “No, no, she came and left when I was a boy. But,” he scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “My mother met her a few times, social functions and all. She used to say that she was a clever woman… and a good Queen.”
Surprisingly, the words subdued her panic rather than added to it. Neither did she feel the strange double-life confusion that had come from hearing her handmaidens talk about her mother the Queen before. This was comforting, understanding, something she hadn’t known she wanted until faced with someone who didunderstand. “Is that so?” She said, more to herself.
“There’s a saying about apples and trees here somewhere…” Bog said, the smirk a contrast to his gentle gaze.
It took Marianne a full second to understand what he was saying and when she did, she had to look away for a moment, biting her lip to keep her strangely giddy smile down, aware her face was probably glowing red. Once she had some measure of control, she bumped her shoulder against his arm in a small shove. “All this talk about bluntness and honesty and you turn out to be nothing but a flirt. Hypocrite.”
He spluttered a little and Marianne was glad she could fluster him as easily as he did her. His ears were red - it was surprisingly adorable. “And you accuse me of lying. Remind me to never compliment you again, Tough Girl - or, sorry, is that nickname too flirtatious for you?”
She laughed at his bitter sarcasm. “The name can stay. I like it better than ‘princess’ in any case.”
“And I like both better than Dawn,” he returned.
Marianne raised her eyebrows. “Something wrong with Dawn?”
“Aside from it not fitting ye in the slightest, no I suppose not.” Bog said.
She raked her mind for something to say to that. “I used to be blonde,” she finally lied, hoping it served as some explanation.
He laughed. “That’s- That’s not what I meant.”
Marianne knew that, knew he meant that she was nothing like what he had perceived the Polyanthian princess to be before meeting her, that she was being, well, nothing like Dawn at all. At this point, though, Marianne was in far too deep to change who she was when she was with him, and she found she didn’t particularly want to. She also found she was alarmingly… happy that she had pleasantly surprised him… that he might like her more than he would perhaps like her sister.
Shaking those dangerous thoughts away, Marianne grinned at him flippantly. “Well, I live to disappoint.”
Bog rolled his eyes. “I’d say something to contradict ye but you’d call me a flirt again and I refuse to be insulted twice in one conversation.”
She laughed, shoving him again. “You bring those insults on yourself, thank you very much.”
He opened his mouth but was drown out by the palace’s bell tower rang out the hour. Noon. Marianne looked back towards the palace, conflicted. She wanted to get back to her ladies, she did want to see what her sister had had in store for her. She didn’t want to spend too much time alone with Bog, much as she was coming to realize she enjoyed his company. Especially because she was coming to enjoy his company. But then, she didn’t exactly want to leave either.
But Bog had caught her distraction. “Runnin late for something?” He asked.
“Probably,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant. “Stretching my legs turned into more of an affair than I counted on.”
Bog snorted softly. “Well, I won’t keep ye, Princess.”
“Tough Girl,” she corrected. He grinned - she noticed his teeth were crooked. She smiled back and made to leave when a thought occurred to her. “Oh, Bog?”
“I’ll- I’ll talk to my dad. About coming to the meetings. I do- I do want to… learn.”
He blinked, before the grin returned. “I’ll see you soon, then. Tough Girl.”
She rolled her eyes. “Flirt,” she returned, and turned on her heel to leave him.
Soon as Marianne’s back was to him her smile disappeared. She didn’t run, though some instinct in her was telling her she should. Instead her steps were slow and deliberate as she exited the garden, another voice suggesting with every step that she turn around, keep talking to him, stay where you feel happy. She ignored that, let all of her concentration stay on every step.
Soon as Marianne took the few steps back to the palace, let it’s doors close behind her, she leaned back against the glass, her head making a particularly loud thumpagainst it.
Her mind was still fixated entirely their conversation, the variety of roads it had gone down. His gaunt features transformed into something so soft when he asked about her mother… His blue eyes so impossibly animated…
Marianne hadn’t forgotten at any point that she was playing someone else and still she managed to have been more emotionally vulnerable around the man than she had been around anyone since her mother’s death. It was cathartic and wonderful and positively terrifying. She hadn’t felt like herself in so long.
Then again, Marianne was no longer entirely sure who herself was.
You’re doing a good job.
Nothing’s keeping you here except you wanting to be.
I do want to learn.
She thumped her head on the door again. “What the fuck are you doing, Marianne?”
Friday morning, Dawn was at the Aviary cafe eating breakfast - she had burnt an attempt at eggs at her sister’s apartment wasn’t going to think about it - when Marianne texted.
Marianne texted: What the hell, Dawn.
Dawn texted back: …Did you see your surprise?
Marianne texted: What the HELL DAWN
… And Dawn decided it might be easier just to call her and hope that she was in a position where she could talk. She figured it was, what, 2:30 over there? It was a gamble but worth a shot.
Marianne answered with the third iteration. “What the HELL, Dawn?” She didn’t sound angry, thankfully, though she didn’t exactly sound pleased by the surprise. Then again, Dawn supposed it had been a rather… large surprise, and from experience she knew her sister didn’t treat shock particularly well. There was reason for Marianne to be just a bit shell-shocked by it. She just hoped she would like it in the end.
“So, you’re surprised, then?” She suggested weekly.
“Try horrified,” Marianne replied. “You know when you said you had things of mom’s here, I thought you meant stuff you kept in, like, an old jewelry box in your room - not archived for future international display! What part of ‘not stealing’ didn’t you understand earlier?” She demanded.
“They’re not that fancy…” She began, knowing even as she said it that her privilege was showing. The archive room was something of a gallery, only a gallery of things that weren’t already being used in galleries or exhibits. Right now, as well as for most of Dawn’s life, that meant a lot of things from when Vivian was Queen, and when Marianne was crown princess. Lots of official documents and records, but more than that…
“Not tha-tha-” Marianne spluttered, as she expected. “Dawn, we’re talking clothing and jewelry mom wore as queen. They’ve got her fucking WEDDING dress.”
She groaned a little under her breath. Leave it to her sister to miss the point. “Yeah, I think they’re worth more than being shown off like that. But that’s what happens when your royalty, I guess. Your life kind of becomes national history, even while you’re living it.”
That came out more bitter than expected but it was how she felt all the same. Dawn didn’t like that her mother, who she had never known, who was dead, was able to be displayed as public history for, well, ever. Didn’t like thinking that the things she wore would become internationally known. That when everything you had was so very documented nothing felt personal anymore, nothing felt yours.
“So you want me to smuggle them out of the country?” Marianne went on, oblivious, and laughed a little. “Dawn, aren’t we breaking enough laws as it is?”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Not mom’s stuff, not that stuff anyways - I do have things in my jewelry box that are mom’s- that I’m giving to you when this is over.”
“Oh right, my bribe.” But she could hear her sister smiling through the phone. “Leaving, of course, the still unanswered question of how you expect me to smuggle those things on an airplane.”
Dawn grinned. “Whatever - we’ll deal with that later. The point is, that’s not the surprise-surprise. Neither is mom’s wedding dress- but isn’t that pretty?”
There was a pause, Marianne obviously looking it over. “It is. I can’t imagine mom in it, though - it’s so… old-fashioned. Mom was never an old-fashioned person. But, yeah, I guess it’s nice looking- wait. What is my surprise, then?”
Dawn sighed. How was her sister so oblivious - it seemed unlike her. “It should be obvious, I’d think.” Unless… “Well, maybe… it might not be in there- if they’ve moved-” She trailed off, thinking.
“Well, what is it? Could I miss it?”
She laughed. “No, Mari, you could not miss it. It’s a… crown, um, I think it’s the only crown in there. It’s gold with diamonds and ameth-”
“Yeah, okay I know which crown you’re talking about,” Marianne interrupted, her voice a bit distant and Dawn could tell she was looking for it again as she spoke. “There is only the one. Why are you giving me mom’s crown? That is literally no easier to smuggle out of the country than anything else here.”
“Oh, the crown isn’t mom’s,” Dawn interjected, surprised yet again at her missing the reality of the surprise.Maybe, Dawn thought, she just didn’t want to see it.
“What?” Marianne asked on the other line, sounding decidedly confused. “Of course it is - it says right-” She cut off. There was a long pause before “Holy shit.”
And the other shoe drops. Finally. “Yep.”
“… But that’s- that’s not- possible. That can’t be- be-”
“Yours?” Dawn prompted, finally getting the word in there.
“But- but I was a baby! Like, at most a toddler! How do they have an adult sized crown for me?”
“Mom’s measurements, probably,” Dawn said, trying to sound blasé about it to keep Marianne from freaking out completely.
Dawn had only seen the crown a year ago, almost entirely by accident while flirting with one of the moving men who were taking stuff in and out of the room to be used in a national gallery. She had completely forgot about the man when it caught her eye. The tiara was stunning; woven golden bands set with diamonds capped a design of gold vines and floral patterns, three large amethysts centered on it. Dawn had many a tiara, crown, diadem and circlet - had seen all the crowns her mother had worn as Queen - but this was special. This would always be special.
“Intended Coronation Tiara for former Crown Princess Marianne Dahlia Josephine Reseda…” Marianne read the plaque as Dawn pictured it in her head. “Was that really my full name?”
Dawn blinked. “Didn’t you know?” Absently she thought about Marianne’s words; Was. Was her name. After all this, her sister still counted herself apart from royalty, apart from her life. Of course, Marianne was completely right for feeling that way. Dawn didn’t know why she was upset; had she expected that when this was over Marianne would stay in Polyanthus? Was that why she had wanted Marianne to see her crown all along?
“Nah, I never asked and mom never volunteered the information.” Marianne went on. “I was just Marianne Josephine Dale - Josephine’s my- I guess, our grandma’s name, you know.”
Dawn did not know this, but did not say so. Instead she said, “You should try the crown on.”
Marianne laughed shortly. “What? No!”
“Why not - it’s yours!”
“It’s a display, Dawn! I’d feel bad disturbing it. … You don’t actually plan to give this to me do you?”
“It is yours,” she repeated and heard Marianne’s exasperated groan. “Well, if you’re not going to let me give it to you, you can at least let me see it on you!”
There was a silence and she groaned again. “Okay okay, fine. Give me a minute.”
And the call ended.
Dawn tapped her feet, and wrung her hands for a minute. Her half-eaten soufflé sat on the cafe table but she suddenly didn’t have the appetite for it.
Her phone buzzed with a message.
She picked it up and nearly dropped it again when she opened the picture.
The only other picture she had seen of Marianne playing princess had been in the articles from the Polyanthus state dinner; she had looked beautiful there, but horribly uncomfortable. A girl playing dress-up.
This… though the lighting was poor and she was making a face - her eyes rolling and her lips pursed - this was something else entirely. The tiara was even more beautiful than Dawn had remembered; the amethysts caught what overhead lighting there was and glittered magnificently, the gold and diamonds standing out against dark hair. The crown had been made for Marianne when she was a baby, yes, but in that moment there could be no doubt that it was made for her.
But moreover, Marianne no longer looked like she was playing dress-up, even with a priceless crown on her head. Marianne looked like- like Dawn. No, not like her, not physically, not really… but there was a natural lift to her chin while the tiara was nested in her hair like she had already been wearing it for years, like it was second-nature to her.
Marianne looked, in short, like a princess.
Dawn was jolted out of staring open-mouthed at the picture, unsure what to think of the somewhat surreal image of her sister the princess, when another text followed: Well?
Shaking her head, she quickly called her back. “Marianne?”
“You have to keep that tiara.”
Marianne laughed a little breathlessly. Dawn wondered if she had had the same reaction she had when she saw how she looked in that tiara. She wondered what that did to someone who was so adamant that she was not a princess. “No, Dawn. I am not smuggling a priceless tiara on my plane ride home.”
The natural sarcasm in her sister’s voice finally shook Dawn of how… weird she had felt. She still wasn’t sure why seeing her sister - who hadn’t even been in full princess regalia - had thrown her so much. “You’re no fun. I’ll just have to find a way to mail it to you once this is over.”
Her sister laughed louder. “You’re impossible,” she said fondly. “I’m going to get out of this room before someone starts looking for me. The ladies are keeping watch for me but I don’t want to risk it.”
Dawn nodded. “Good idea. I’ll let you go. Have a good rest of the day, sis.”
“You, too.” She returned. “Oh, and Dawn?”
Marianne’s smile was clearly audible. “I like my surprise.”
Dawn ended the call and stared out the cafe window for a few minutes, thinking over the way she had reacted to this phone call in particular. It wasn’t that Dawn didn’t want to be a princess, it wasn’t that she didn’t like the life that she had….
… But she also wanted Marianne to stay.
What was she supposed to do with that?
Dawn didn’t know how to bake, but by god she was going to try.
She had to do something with her saturday; friday afternoon, after feeling emotionally anxious after the morning’s phone call, unsure of herself and what she wanted and how the next week was going to go - not to mention how the whole week was going to end - Dawn had decided to take a nap, hoping to alleviate her near-queasy anxiety.
She woke up, not only still queasy, but having completely slept through Sunny’s gig.
She had lay in bed afterward, groaned into Marianne’s pillows, frustrated with herself. Checking Marianne’s phone, there had been no texts from him asking where she was or why she hadn’t come but for some reason that made her feel even worse.
So she was baking him a pie. As an apology. It felt cliche but it was the first thing that came to mind. Thank god it was still apple season, she thought. Thank god her sister owned several dusty never-been-touched cookbooks. Perhaps her lack of domestic skill was hereditary and not just a product of having never had to cook a thing in her life.
In the end the apple pie didn’t burn so much as it leaked. Not horribly, not to the point where she felt bad about presenting it to him. She didn’t think he was upset but she still wanted to give him something - he was so nice to her, so friendly and understanding. He listened to her and gave her advice and ever once did he ask for anything back. She had never had a friend like that; in fact friendship with Sunny was making Dawn begin to question just how genuine her friendships back in Polyanthus were.
These thoughts in mind she found a plastic cutting board and climbed the stairs up to Sunny’s apartment, trying out different apologies in her head as she went.
She gave two loud knocks on his door and waited, rocking back and fourth on her heels until he opened the door. He was wearing a sweater in a deep red and his braids were pulled back. He looked incredibly cozy. His eyes went wide. “Marianne?”
“Hi,” she said, smiling as cheerfully as she could. “I baked you a pie.”
Sunny blinked large dark eyes a few times. “I… see.” He looked confused as he stared at it but when he looked back at her he was smiling back. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Dawn repeated, nearly all of her concern disappearing at the sight of his smile.
“I thought you were out of the country this week.”
Oh. Oh, no wonder he hadn’t seem upset that she hadn’t been there the night before. She was equal parts relieved and guilty. “Oh. Oh no. I forgot to tell you, my sister and I worked it out - I’m going… next week.” She flushed and looked at her shoes. “I just, kind of slept through things… yesterday.”
“Ah,” he said, looking back at the pie. “So… apology pie, then?”
Her blush deepened. “Yeaaah.”
Sunny was silent for a second, looking at the pie and then at her. “Well, it looks like you put a lot of effort into it so I’ll take it - even if I don’t need it.” Seeing Dawn look puzzled he elaborated. “Not the pie - I always need pie. But I don’t need the apology.”
He raised a hand. “Don’t worry about it, Mari. It was a good turnout but it wasn’t going to be a big deal one way or another.” He grinned. “I’ll have others.”
Dawn shook her head, wanting to argue but also wanting to accept the happier turn of events. She settled on grinning back. “So you didn’t miss me then?”
He gasped, dramatic. “Can’t win, can I? Yes, I missed seeing you, but clearly you needed the rest more than I needed to see you.” He paused. “Long day yesterday?”
“Yeah, you could say that,” she sighed. “I’ve been having a lot of those.”
“Do you want to come in?” Sunny asked hesitantly. “Try some of your handiwork?” He added with a gesture to the pie. He seemed a bit nervous about suggesting it and that decided her more than anything.
Dawn readily accepted and relaxed on Sunny’s couch while he went about finding some clean plates and silverware. All the while she asked about the gig from the night before and listened as he gave her an accapella run-down of his set-list, laughing when he got again to Three Little Birds as he handed her her slice of pie. His voice was charming, smooth and strong simultaneously. She ate her somewhat bland pie and wondered when she had become more comfortable in his apartment than in Marianne’s.
Improvised concert finished and pie carefully put in the fridge, he settled down on the couch next to her with his own slice, holding the plate to keep it out of his cat’s reach. The cat was still named Trouble but she only heard Sunny call him ‘Imp’. Dawn beamed at him until he caught her eye. “What?” He asked.
“You’re the best.”
He blushed, although his lips curved into a small smile. “Yeah? Best what?”
He was teasing and she bumped her shoulder against his playfully. “Friend.”
“Really?” His smile grew.
“Yeah,” she said. “I feel like- forever since I’ve had someone I can really talk to. My sister doesn’t count - it’s great we’re talking and everything but that’s family that’s… normal, to have her care about me.”
Sunny blinked. “But having friends care about you isn’t normal?” Dawn shrugged. “God, I feel sorry for your childhood.” She didn’t know how much he was joking.
She was about to say something - what, she wasn’t sure - when her phone began to vibrate. She dug it out with a wince. “Speaking of…”
“The sister?” He asked. Dawn nodded. “She has impeccable timing. ‘Speak of the devil’-”
Dawn snorted. “Don’t be mean.”
“I’m not! The joke was there and it had to be made.” She stuck out her tongue and he mimicked her. “Now… are you going to…?”
Dawn glanced at the still vibrating phone. Here was another gamble, but Dawn was willing to try it. “Do you mind?”
“Not at all,” he said. “Tell her I say hi.”
If it didn’t work, if Marianne needed to discuss personal things, then Dawn could quickly fake a lost connection and talk to her later. She took a breath and accepted the call.
“Hey sis,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound nervous. “What’s up?”
She was met with rough scratching noise, like the receiver was being covered up. She thought she heard Marianne’s voice but not a response.
“Hello? Sis? Hey!” Dawn said a bit louder, wondering if she was coming through. Still nothing. “You there?” Sunny gave her a confused look and she put a hand over the phone. “I don’t know if she’s there.”
“Do you think she called you by accident?” He asked.
“It’s possible. Hey!” She called again, and put the phone back to her ear, listening. If Marianne hadn’t meant to call her maybe she’d just end it and text her or call later. That was probably the safest course of action anyways. She was ready to call to her one more time before ending the call when she heard Marianne’s muffled but clear laughter. That was unexpected.
Startled, she looked at Sunny. “I think she’s talking to someone.”
He raised his eyebrows, looking amused in spite of himself. “Who?”
“Give me a sec,” she said, and he rolled his eyes. She knew she was being ridiculous but this was a chance Dawn didn’t usually get, to actually hear her sister in the middle of this act.
The phone must have been in Marianne’s pocket because the sound was still muffled but not to the point of incoherency, as long as Dawn listened. “… iously, though - what’s got you especially grumpy this evening? Homesick?” Marianne was asking someone, her voice playful.
“Somethin like that,” the voice was male, more muffled than Marianne’s but still clear. It wasn’t her father, that was for sure, and she felt a surge of glee and horror when she realized who it must be.
“Oh my god,” she said. Her sister had accidentally called her while in the middle of a conversation with the Bog King.
Sunny was still watching her. “What?”
“She’s talking to- um- he’s her-” God, what Bog was to her sister was the million dollar question, wasn’t it? And how to explain the complicated issues surrounding their relationship to Sunny would be another complication entirely. “I don’t really know what to call him?”
“Her crush?” He suggested.
She laughed a little hysterically. “That is a very good word for it; although don’t let her hear you say it.”
“Will do,” he said, grinning. “Shouldn’t you leave her to it, then?” He didn’t sound particularly concerned though.
“What, no? This is a goldmine. Shh.” Sunny laughed, shaking his head. Dawn returned to concentrating on the conversation.
“… get that. My m- my father- he, gets the same way when on vacation. You know, feeling like you’ve got all this stuff piling up at home, it makes it hard to concentrate on anything other than wanting to get back to it,” Marianne was saying.
“Yes, although I wouldn’t call this a vacation,” Bog said dryly.
Marianne laughed again. “Oh? You mean you’re not enjoying your meetings here?”
Bog’s answering snort was loud enough to be heard very clearly. “No,” he said flatly. “Although I expect that might change soon…”
“Oh, don’t put too much stock in my presence changing things,” she said. “I’m not that entertaining. And don’t think I’m going to be especially lenient because we’re-” she stopped.
Dawn raised her eyebrows, her lips pursed slightly. You’re what, Marianne? And how on earth did you talk dad into letting you into diplomatic meetings?
“Friends,” her sister finished after far too long of a pause.
“Right,” Bog said, far too quickly. “I didn’t think- but you are more- ah entertaining than you give your self credit for, Tough Girl.”
Marianne laughed. “I don’t know whether I should take that as an insult or call you a flirt again.”
“You’re impossible,” he said and Dawn had to laugh, having said the exact same thing to Marianne the day before. It was spoken just as fondly. She never would have guessed that someone universally nicknamed the Bog King, ruler of a country Polyanthus was generally wary of at all times, could sound so human, so warm.
“Flirt,” her sister said.
“Honest,” he replied.
“Careful, if your mother gets wind of how you talk to me she’s going to start picking out baby names.”
He groaned dramatically . “God, she probably already has; she doesn’t waste time.”
“The woman cannot be stopped, can she?” Marianne said, in playful horror.
“Really, I figure at this point nothing would stop her except my actual wedding.”
The two of them were silent so suddenly his words almost seemed to echo.
“Oh. My. God.” Dawn whispered.
Sunny looked completely at sea, watching her. Dawn had a feeling her facial expressions were a sight to behold. “What are they doing?”
“Flirting,” she whispered, her voice strained. “Really, really awful flir-”
“I don’t want to marry you!” Bog blurted.
Dawn nearly choked, covering her mouth to keep from keeling over laughing. Sunny looked at her wide eyed and she waved a hand at him trying to listen.
Marianne laughed, high and a little nervous. “Ah- good. I don’t want to marry you, either.”
Bog laughed, equally awkward and a tad breathless. “I- uhm- that’s- that’s good.”
“I’m glad we had this talk.” Her sister’s laughter was more genuine now, as was his. Dawn listened, and if she weren’t still so utterly baffled might have rolled her eyes.
“I should- should probably explain,” Bog added when the laughter faded into soft chuckles. “It’s- I don’t want to marry anyone.”
“What do you know- neither do I.”
“Really?” He asked. “I doubt your father is happy with that.”
Dawn snorted softly. You bet your ass he’s not. Dawn was perhaps, more interested in marriage in her future than Marianne, but that’s where she wanted it to stay; in the future.
Marianne snorted loudly. “Well, he’ll live. So that’s what’s got your mother all worked up.”
“My mother gets worked up over anything,” Bog said dryly. “But why she’s worked up about wantin me to get hitched - yes.”
“And you don’t want to… because?”
“It’s a bloody waste of time,” he said coldly. “At this point I’ve been better off ruling on my own. I’ve got enough on my plate without worrying about love - and frankly it’s not worth it.”
Marianne was silent before saying. “I’m with you there. I’ve got enough to keep me busy. Love’s just an unnecessary complication that I don’t need. It’s miserable and meant for idealistic-”
“Fools,” Bog finished vehemently. “Completely, willingly blind - happy with some shallow fairytale idea until-”
“Something happens.” Marianne said softly. There was a silence, Dawn imagined his quiet nod. The mood of the conversation had shifted entirely now. “What happened?” There was a pause and Marianne quickly continued. “I mean, if you don’t want to say- I- I understand.”
But Bog was already speaking. “No it’s just- there’s not a lot to tell. We were together, my father died and I took the throne and I was goin- I was plannin to propose- was planning to before everythin’ anyways and…”
“And she said no,” Marianne finished when he didn’t seem obliged to continue.
“And she said no,” he said. “She said no and she… left the city. I never heard from her again.”
Another pause before he laughed. It was soft, barely audible, but even then the self-deprecation was clear. “I don’t know. Not the truth anyway. In hindsight I can see how… it was too much pressure so suddenly and she was probably scared. But sometimes it’s easier t’ believe that she had only been with me for-”
“Status?” Marianne prompted, her voice soft. “And… it really doesn’t matter if she loved you or not because at the end of the day you still wind up feeling like you’ve been… used.”
Dawn listened to her sister’s quietly spoken words, feeling her heart clench. She knew immediately that Marianne was speaking from experience; the phone burned in her hand with the memory of a voicemail with the name ‘Roland’ attached to it, and wondered how much he had known about Marianne.
But more than that… she felt her eyes drift back to Sunny, who had returned to eating his pie and fending off the Imp as he did so. He was giving her privacy even as she was giving her sister no privacy at all. He had no idea who she was; he had liked her, befriended her, for who she was. For herself. And she was herself with him, at this point there was no arguing that she was being Marianne in anything but name. Even when he was seeing Marianne what he was really seeing was Dawn, just Dawn, no title, no kingdom, nothing but herself.
And that was who he was friends with. And Dawn never, never had to worry that it would be for anything different.
He caught her eyes on him again and grinned, gesturing to the pie and then flashing her a thumbs up. Dawn felt her cheeks inexplicably flush and she ended Marianne’s call suddenly.
“It was getting unbearable,” she said when Sunny raised an eyebrow. “My sister needs seriously flirting lessons. So does he for that matter.”
Not that Marianne should be dating the Bog King. Oh god the way he spoke to her, even muffled as it was, the admiration was clear, the fact that he was confiding in her something so personal, the fact that they were flirting about getting married. If her sister kept this up the man was going to be far gone by the end of the next week. This was not going to end well.
“If you’re giving lessons, you better charge them,” Sunny said cheerfully.
Dawn blinked before she laughed, past a growing blush. “Are you calling me a flirt, Sunny?”
“Wha- a- no!” He stood quickly, dropping Trouble unceremoniously in his wake. The cat squawked indignantly and stalked out of the room. “No, I- I just- I’m- I’m going to go- get some more of this wonderful pie.”
Dawn was laughing, nearly doubled over on the couch. “Get some for me too, you nerd.”
“As my best friend commands,” he said and disappeared into the kitchen with a wink.
Leaving Dawn still red-faced and not entirely sure why. Her best friend. She had a best friend.
She was leaving in a week.
What was she supposed to do with that?
Stay tuned for BOG IS IN LOVE AND KNOWS HE'S FUCKED (aka Bog POV chapter 1/2)
Chapter 13: I've Just Seen a Face
aka Bog chapter 1/2
King Ciaran of Biròg, known almost universally as the Bog King or Bog (in informal settings), had regretted plenty decisions in his life. It made sense; he’d been a young king, plenty inexperienced. Frankly, it would be more alarming if he didn’t have any regrets.
But he was starting to consider inviting the crown princess of Polyanthus to official audience with King Douglas his largest one.
It wasn’t that he didn’t think she would benefit from it (she was smart, discerning, incredibly - unnervingly - observant as it was). It wasn’t that he didn’t want her to benefit from it (she was going to be queen, after all). It certainly wasn’t that he didn’t want to see her more (although, wasn’t that the route of the problem?).
It was that Bog now had to see her far more frequently than before and he wasn’t sure he’d really emotionally prepared for that.
He had only talked to her a handful of times, but Princess Dawn of Polyanthus had been a household name for several years back at home, at least where he and his mother were concerned. The queen mother, Griselda, was absolutely convinced that the young princess was exactly the woman Bog needed in his oh-so-lonely life - which he sincerely doubted (“And even if she were, mother, she’s their heir. Marriage - not goin ta happen.”).
When that argument didn’t work, he simply continued and continued to tell his mother that the woman she was describing - with the word sweet used so often Bog wondered if he could get a toothache just from hearingit - was very certainly not his type.
He had been so very wrong.
Bog hadn’t thought so at first, of course. He had first seen Princess Dawn, in person, at the State Dinner and, from afar, she seemed like how his mother had described her; beautiful, sure, but not in any way he hadn’t seen before. She was quieter, perhaps, than his mother had made her sound, spending most of the event at King Douglas’s side, smiling when she was addressed, nodding and looking the picture of formality.
Then she had stepped away from the king, and… well, Bog didn’t know why he’d approached her, decided to call her out or antagonize her. Certainly she hadn’t done anything to him - it wasn’t her fault that he had been sick of hearing about her for years already. Maybe he had just been digging for a concrete reason to dislike her, some proof that could shut his mother up for good.
But then she had crossed her arms, quirked an eyebrow and gave back as good as she got. To say Bog hadn’t been expecting that was an understatement.
And she had done nothing but surprise him since.
Dawn was clever, tough, fiercely smart - and had a particular brand of gallows humor that matched his own better than anyone he had ever met - but what perhaps surprised him most of all was how, with nothing more than an innocent question and a bat of her eyes (which were wide and cat-like and for whatever reason he could never remember what color they were), Bog could tell her things he hadn’t spoken of to anyone in years, if ever in his life.
He went as far as to mention it to her after he had somehow blurted out everything that had happened with Maura, something he done his best to repress in the, what, twelve years since it had happened.
They had been in a study, saturday evening. Originally Bog had walked in, pacing the castle somewhat restlessly - irritable after another day of meetings that he felt were going nowhere at this point - only to find her studying the ancient bookshelves that ran shoulder-high around the large, cream colored room. Bog had been ready to leave - retreat - unnoticed, before he saw a mug that she had set precariously on the shelf was seconds from falling and had wound up crossing the room to rescue it from shattering.
(He handed the coffee to her and her surprise had melted into a slow smirk. “My hero,” she drawled, and Bog felt something in him lurch.)
The conversation had drifted from homesickness to matchmaking to a shared abhorrence to marriage to what happened and then…
“Ye know, I don’t even know why I’m tellin ye all this,” he had said.
Dawn had only laughed. “Something else we have in common, apparently.” She raised her coffee mug in a mock toast.
He raised his eyebrows. “So ye say, but I’ve yet to learn any deep personal information about you.” He had kept his voice casual, knowing it was only part true. This conversation, like their one the day before - had given him distinct hints to parts of the princess he hadn’t known. That she still deeply mourned her mother’s death, for all that she hadn’t known her, and now, that something had happened to sour her on love, someone had made her feel used.
Something they have in common, indeed.
She hadn’t been offended, though, and looked up at him, her eyes glowing in the soft light. “Don’t worry - I’m not that interesting.”
So she said, but there was something… changeable about her that intrigued him. It was as if she constantly was checking herself and her boundaries, as if she wasn’t sure how to behave around him. She seemed ready to forgo all formality when they spoke, only to second-guess herself last minute. Their conversations tended to end on awkward notes but she was beginning to appear almost happy to see him, and damn it if he hadn’t started to feel the same.
Bog had never considered himself particularly lonely, regardless of what his mother thought, but meeting Dawn had triggered something subconscious in him it seemed and now he was drawn to her company like a moth to flame.
It was positively terrifying.
And that was what had him pacing awkwardly in front of one of the palace’s number of audience rooms a good half hour before his meeting with both king and crown princess was to begin.
Running into her, startling though it ended up being, was much easier, he thought. Much easier than knowingexactly when he would see her next and actually trying to think of something clever to say when he did. Christ, it was a damn good thing his mother wasn’t there or he would never hear the end of this.
“Bog,” her voice called from behind him, and he nearly jumped. Turning, he found her taking the last steps up to the hallway. “You’re early.”
“You’re one to talk,” he said immediately, managing to sound casual for all that she nearly gave him a bloody heart attack. She was dressed casually, blue jeans and a purple blouse under a tweed jacket, it’s warm brown color similar to her hair (she told him she was naturally blonde, and he’d seen photographs, but sometimes it was very, very hard to believe). She was too far away for him to catch the color of her eyes but they were bright, glittering as she came to halt before him, smiling.
He looked back at the doorway, trying to stop himself from staring at her, and said, “Eager?”
“More like nervous,” Dawn returned almost cheerfully.
She laughed softly. “My natural state more than anything.”
Bog had to smile; from what he had seen, that was certainly true. “Ye’ll be fine. It’s hardly like your goin to be giving speeches or anythin. It’s just your dad an’ me.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about,” she muttered, before catching his eyes on her. Her cheeks colored. “I mean- not- not about you. About my dad - I mean-” she winced. “Shit. Shut up.”
“Not saying anythin”
“Whatever,” she said. “I just mean, it took enough convincing for him to let me come and I don’t want to screw it up for-” She shook her head, falling silent.
“You’ll be fine,” He repeated.
Dawn looked at him and smiled, soft and genuine. “Thanks.”
Bog had to look away, that smile - that small smile that his fumbling attempts at reassurance had caused - was like looking at direct sunlight. Too much. He cleared his throat, fiddled with his tie, and couldn’t think of anything to say now. “Ah- it’s nothing… I-”
He was cut off by his phone vibrating. Dawn straightened suddenly and he realized hers had done the same. They both dug out phones and read what he could only guess were identical messages.
“’Due to what is looking to be a late running meeting with Prime Minister, our meeting will be postponed to dinner’.” Dawn read aloud and groaned, echoing his own frustrated thoughts. “Seriously?”
Still, Bog glanced at her. “And here I thought you’d be relieved.”
She looked at him, her smile sardonic. “Oh, I am. But now it just means I’ll be a wreck tonight. I don’t need my suffering prolonged.”
He laughed. “I hear ye.”
They both looked at each other a moment, smiles fading as they both became aware simultaneously that they now both had a rather large block of uninterrupted time to themselves…
Dawn took the first step, away from him, back down the hall where she had come from, but there was something beckoning in the gesture (her eyes still holding his, the smallest turn of her lips) and Bog found himself falling into stride next to her, pulled toward her like a magnet.
“So my dad told me a bit about what you’ve been talking about - briefing me, you know.” She spoke casually as they walked, looking more at the pictures on the walls than at him, and he was grateful that she didn’t see him stiffen at her words. “What I’m wondering,” she continued. “Is why you’re doing all this work to give yourselfless power.”
Bog picked at his sleeves, unsure how to respond. Biròg had had an absolute monarchy for all of its history - it was what people knew, what they were used to, but it was hardly efficient anymore.
“Do you not think it’s smart?” He asked, more accusing than he would have liked.
She shook her head quickly. “Oh no, very smart. But, like, that’s why I’m surprised. History seems to be nothing but monarchs having to give up power due to revolutions or what have you. But you’re choosing this. It’s- frankly, it’s impressive.”
Bog felt his face heat up and he almost ripped the hem of his jacket sleeve from tugging it too hard. “I- that’s not- it isn’t- it’s not entirely… altruistic, you know.”
He wondered if he could possibly explain to her how much more work it was running a country all but single-handedly, being expected to handle every concern personally, while keeping everyone some level of content, and how any and all effort he was putting into the slow, arduous process of shifting to a more constitutional monarchy, where he might still be central but considerably less alone, was not half as much as the work he already did.
“Let’s just say, it might be nice not to have to do everythin myself.”
“You mean, like you had been?” She asked slowly. He said nothing and she looked at him, startled. “You’ve been trying running an entire country essentially by yourself?”
Bog blinked down at her. “Ah- yes.” He said. Trying being the key word there, Tough Girl.
She shook her head, incredulously. “Jesus, no wonder you always look so tired.”
They looked at each other for a second in silence before her face colored again and she looked away from him. Bog cleared his throat, awkwardly scratching the back of his neck - and yes, that was rather warm, too - and trying not to think about her words.
“So, um, tell me about Biròg, then,” she said at last, still looking around the room they’d entered.
He saw her smile and felt some of the tension in his chest uncoil at the sight. “Biròg. I’ve never gotten to learn much and I’ve obviously never been - so what’s it like?” They were in a drawing room now and Dawn flopped unceremoniously onto one of the ornate couches in the room. “What are your people like? The landscape? The culture? Come on, anything.”
Her enthusiasm pleased him as much as it surprised him. “I- ye- you realize I’m not an- ah- unbiased source.”
She looked at him sidelong, brushing her hair behind her ear in the process. “That’s the best kind. I don’t want you to tell me about a place - I want you to tell me about your home.”
There was something about how she said home that stirred him, as had their brief discussion of homesickness the night before. Carefully he settled on the arm of the couch opposite where she sat, smirking when she raised a playful eyebrow at the obvious distance he’d put between them. “Biròg is- it’s old. Older than Polyanthus by, oh, several centuries if I remember right. But I’ve always liked that it looks old, not in the rotting sense but- we weren’t part of the Roman empire at any point, ye know, so we’ve have a lot of architecture that predates it.”
He had been looking out the window across from them, picturing it, and when he glanced at Dawn he blanched a little. She sat with her body turned to him almost completely, her eyes wide and fascinated and he had never had anyone so interested in anything he had to say before.
Clearing his throat again, he made an effort to rein in his thoughts. “Ah, an’- it’s not- it’s got more forests, I suppose. The castle isn’t out in the open like here - ye feel like yer… apart from everything.” He looked at the overcast sky. “It probably rains more, too - if ye can believe it.”
“So,” she said with a small laugh. “You’re called ‘The Bog King’ because you are, literally, the king of a bog? Creative.”
Bog rolled his eyes. “Dial down the sarcasm, Tough Girl, yer goin to hurt someone.”
“Not you, I suspect,” she retorted, but there was a pleased smile curling at her lips and Bog wondered if it was vain of him to think it might be in response to his nickname for her.
He shook his head, more to clear it. “No, not me.”
“Anyway…” She grinned. “It sounds nice. I’d like to go sometime.”
Bog swallowed hard; picturing her at his castle, in his home, came far easier than it should have and the invitation sat, stuck, on the tip of his tongue ,unable to be formed in a way that didn’t come out disturbingly close to a plea. You’d be welcome- I’d be happy to have y- you would like it- feel free to visit whenever- please-
Blissfully oblivious to what she had done to him, Dawn leaned back, stretching until her spine cracked and sighed with satisfaction. Bog stared at her, quite possibly gaping and wondering if she was even the slightest bit aware of how her informality bordered on intimate in that moment (and then he wondered at what it meant that he didn’t mind in the least, except for all that it introduced in him the desire for her to remain intimate with- fucking hell, Bog get yer mind out of the bloody ditch).
This time she did notice his gaze and flushed, and Bog was almost relieved. God, let him not be the only one flustered here. She ran a distracted hand through her hair and smiled. “You know, I’ve got all this time now, I’m probably just going to sleep.”
Bog fidgeted with his tie again. “Ah- good- good idea.”
She laughed a little and glanced around the drawing room. “Do you think I could just sleep here?”
“If ye didn’t mind gaggles a’tourists walkin past you,” he said dryly.
Dawn sat a little straighter. “Fuck, you’re right,” she muttered. The absent-minded profanity did things to him and he looked away from her. “Well, room it is then. Give a girl a hand up?” She suggested.
Bog swallowed again, thinking that it was a good thing she was leaving because the way things were going he wasn’t sure what was going to happen, only that it was fucking dangerous. This tough girl with her blunt opinions and sharp wit, the way she smiled, laughed, listened… Bog had never met royalty like her. God, Bog had never met anyone like her.
He pushed himself off the arm of the couch and extended her hand to her. She beamed, taking it without hesitation and allowing him to take all of her weight as he pulled her to her feet.
She stood straight for a a millisecond, before wobbling on her feet, beginning to fall forward. Immediately, Bog put his hands on her arms, steadying her and she grabbed his tie in one hand - nearly strangling him in her effort to stay upright.
And for a second they just… stood there - his hands gripping her arms, her hand gripping his tie, and her cheek pressed awkwardly against his chest, where Bog was almost certain she could hear his heart as it made a valiant attempt to break through his ribs.
He heard the softest mumble from her. “Heels. Why the fuck did I wear heels?” It might have made him smile under any other circumstance. At the moment he was busy wondering how his heart was could still be beating so strongly when all of his blood had taken up residence in his face.
And why he hadn’t let her go yet.
“I hope this doesn’t become a habit,” Dawn added, having made no move to pull away either.
“I hope not,” Bog echoed, his voice sounding winded. “God only knows what would happen if I wasn’t there.”
She snorted, and finally released the death-grip she’d had on his tie. “Sorry,” she murmured, smoothing the rumpled fabric back down, her other hand still rested on his forearm. She pushed herself up, straightening until she could look at him.
Their eyes met… and both paused in the movement of letting each other go. Her eyes were wide, and her lips formed the smallest silent ‘oh’ and Bog honestly didn’t know which feature was claiming more of his attention. Oh and he knew he should be pulling away… but it was so much easier to shift his hold, slide a hand to splay across her back. She hadn’t let go of his tie, the movement of smoothing it having turned into an absent stroke of her thumb across the fabric, slow and rhythmic and-
Her breath brushed against his lips before he even realized he had been leaning in - or had she been drawing him in, the smallest tug on his tie a pull he was all the willing to follow-
“Bog…” she said his name soft and slow, almost like a warning, even as she was leaning into him now, her eyes drifting closed-
There was a roll of thunder, long and rumbling and an instant later the sound of rain falling in sheets against the large window…
And Dawn pulled away from him so fast Bog almost fell flat on his face.
She stood with a good few feet between them, a hand at her heart while both of them tried to get a handle on their heart rates and breathing. They said nothing for a good minute before she finally coughed out, “I- um- I’ll be going now, so- bye!”
And all but ran from the room.
Bog sat heavily on the drawing room couch and ran a hand through his hair, groaning with frustration. What in god’s name did he think he was doing? It was one thing to admire her, to think her smart and tough, funny and beautiful…
It was something else entirely to try and make a move on her!
She was the crown princess-next-door, Polyanthus’s sole heir as things stood, born to be their queen. He couldn’t- they couldn’t possibly-
I don’t want to marry you.
Another clap of thunder, so loud it could be felt, and Bog sunk his face into his hands.
He was in trouble.
And you thought Marianne had it bad, guys. lol
This is also a game called 'how long can I go before I have to write Dagda again' (hint: not long)
Stay tuned for unresolved sexual tension (or is it unresolved???? oooh)
Marianne Dale was, in a word, pissed. In two words: Fucking pissed.
And in many words: Absolutely furious with the entire universe - which she was now reasonably certain was conspiring to make her life the very embodiment of Murphy’s Law. Whatever could go wrong, would and did go wrong.
So yeah, she was seething. And both kings in the room with her knew it, which only made things worse because now she was guilty on top of that.
She had been doing fine, just FINE, with her emotional repression where the Bog King was concerned. She was happy to have spent the remainder of the week in fervent denial that her feelings for him were anything stronger than a natural… fondness, the kind that might arise when two people had a great deal in common and spent much of their time in each other’s company. That was perfectly normal.
But fondness didn’t include getting lost in his impossibly blue eyes. Fond was not her heart skipping when he’d placed one hand on her back, holding her comfortably against him as if this was something they just did. Fondwas definitely not absently stroking her face for hours remembering the lightest brush of his rough stubble just before his lips might have touched hers.
But here she was.
Of course, she blamed Bog for awakening all her god damn forbidden longings, but not half as much as she blamed herself for having them to begin with. What did she think she was doing? It had been bad enough to be slowly coming to terms with the fact that her princess act was becoming much less of an act. It had been bad enough reconciling that she genuinely liked Bog. But that apparently wasn’t enough.
No, now Marianne also had to be stuck with now glaringly obvious reality that her feelings for a fucking king were far deeper than liking - far deeper than she could have ever prepared for -, stuck with the physical pain that came whenever she thought about the fact that, in less than a week, she would be going back to America, stuck with the knowledge there was no way, once this was over, she could ever see him again.
Stuck with breaking it to her sister that she had spectacularly fucked up her life.
She returned to Dawn’s room after their… would-be tryst, buried her face in Dawn’s pillows and wanted so much to scream, but didn’t want to alert her sister’s ladies. She didn’t nap - her memory was too vivid for that and god help the dreams she’d end up having that night - and still wound up barely making it in time to the dinner meeting. For once she was more willing to give King Douglas her attention, she sat as near to him - and far from Bog - as she could.
Both men picked up on her mood and one of them, damn him, knew exactly why she was in such a state. However, as soon as Marianne realized that King Douglas was in fact smart enough to understand that Bog was somehow involved in his daughter’s mood, she tried her hardest to be something resembling civil.
Still, the meeting was tense, and Marianne was all the angrier for it; she had wanted, actually wanted, to appreciate this and now it was all shot. Not to mention this probably wasn’t giving Dawn’s father reason to believe his daughter was mature enough for these things. Double damn.
The Bog King left immediately and she felt a bit guilty - but really, what could she say to him - but the Polyanthian King lingered behind. Marianne awkwardly picked at her sleeve and hoped that he wasn’t expecting her to explain herself. “Did I pass the test with flying colors?” She asked him.
“You did just fine,” the king said reassuringly. “But I did - there’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”
Marianne groaned inwardly. “Oh?”
He was smiling, but she caught something nervous in his eyes. That never boded well. “I wanted to tell you I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day.”
“What I-” Oh. Oh shit. Oh please not now. The last thing she needed to do right now was get into another argument about Marianne. “Right,” she said, her voice strained. Come on, Marianne, get out of there. Somehow.
“You were right.”
Marianne blinked a few times, trying to gather her thoughts. “I- I’m what?”
Her father laughed softly. “Don’t look so surprised, dear. I know I haven’t always taken your arguments as seriously as I should have. It can’t have been easy on you.”
Okay, there he was, Marianne thought, surprise being over-won by irritation and bitterness once more. There was the man she knew. Can’t have been easy, indeed. “Right.”
He seemed to realize he had begun on the wrong foot, though, and quickly continued. “What I’m trying to say is that you made valid points and I should have listened earlier. What you said the other day was right - your sister, Marianne- I’ve made the mistake the last few years of thinking of her and- and your mother as being the same…” He cleared his throat, uncomfortable.
Unbelievable. Of all times for him to have this fucking breakthrough it would be the week she was there.
Douglas started to walk, and Marianne found herself following him. “Royal life was- was too much for Vivi, you know. It was- it wasn’t between us, but that didn’t make it easy when she left. I’ve always thought if- if I were to reach out to Marianne… either she would refuse any contact - and how could I blame her for that, she doesn’t know me, she never really has - or she might come back only to come to the same realization that her mother did and leave and I- I didn’t want to go through that again.”
He sighed, the sound tired and sad. “But that’s- you were completely right that it’s been wrong of me to assume I know what Marianne might do, or what she might want. It’s been more than unfair to her - and to you.”
She stared at him, now in open shock, unable to really comprehend. Nothing he had said was much different than the arguments he had tried to give her before, likely the same arguments he had always given Dawn, but for one thing; sincerity. It wasn’t any less selfish or short-sighted of him, any less painful that he’d let her be alone - but god, being hurt and shutting himself off rather than risking that pain again… wasn’t that exactly what Marianne would have done in his position? Wasn’t that exactly what she had been doing with her life since her mother died, since Roland had betrayed her?
Suddenly it was easier to believe that this was a man who had loved his wife and firstborn, suddenly Marianne could imagine that the man who had ignored her for all her life might have actually wanted her, and alwayswanted her, just like her sister did.
It was fucking terrifying.
She rubbed her arms, suddenly cold and trying not to show her nerves. This was too much. This was too much on top of everything. Their first argument coupled with her fucking coronation tiara coupled with her feelings for Bog coupled now with this… There was too much, a near constant tug-of-war keeping Marianne from being certain of what she even wanted anymore. Who she even was anymore.
And now her father was talking about letters, asking her advice on hows and whens and where did Marianne even live nows and Marianne wasn’t sure which would be the more painful irony; that after years of ignoring Dawn’s arguments, Marianne would be the one to get through to him, or that after a lifetime of being ignored, her father would choose to try and reach out to her when Dawn would be the one to receive it.
“Don’t,” she croaked.
He cut off, taken aback. “Sweet, I though you’d be happy about this.”
“I- I want to be,” she said, truthfully. “Believe me, I just- I want you to mean this. Don’t do this just because we’ve fought enough and you want to…” she waved a hand vaguely.
“Dawn, that’s not-”
“I know you think it’s not,” she interrupted. “I know and I- I know your… trying. But, just don’t do it now. Don’t do it for a while…” When he still looked a bit at sea, Marianne seized an idea. “Christmas.”
Douglas blinked. “What?”
Marianne took a shaky breath, but her voice held steady. “Wait until Christmas. Think about it, think about what you want to do and how, and if- if you still want to… do this, do it then. That way I’ll know- that way she’llknow that you mean it, you know?”
She didn’t know what she was saying at this point, only that she probably didn’t sound anything like Dawn and that if she had already fucked up where Bog was concerned why not just let all her relationships go to fucking hell.
But her father was nodding, slowly, considering. “That’s actually a very wise idea.”
She laughed shortly. “Don’t sound so surprised,” she said, and for whatever reason she smiled.
He smiled back. “Of course.”
And then he hugged her.
Marianne stood rooted in place, her hands awkwardly at her side. This was wildly unexpected, and largely unwanted, but she still managed to pat his shoulder in a strange attempt at comfort. “Um, I’m going to- to turn in early if that’s- cool.”
He released her, still smiling. “Of course,” he said again. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Another meeting. Right. “Yeah,” she said.
He left her, and Marianne looked around. Another drawing room, she had no idea how many there were but was thankful for the multiple chairs at her disposal. She sunk her face into the nearest one and focused on breathing for a few seconds. She would not go into a panic attack over this, she would not freak out. She just needed to breath, just needed to breathe, just needed-
She put her head in her hands with a groan. “I need a break,” she whispered. “I just need a break.”
“Then take one.”
Marianne squeaked, her head snapping up to see the Bog King, lingering in the open doorway, a bemused look on his face. “Jesus fuck! Will you stop doing that!”
Bog straightened, wide-eyed. For a moment his mouth opened and closed before managing, “Ah- Ah’m… sorry?”
All at once it struck Marianne that the amount in which she had been cursing around him that day had been decidedly un-Dawn-like of her. She rubbed her face tiredly. “Sorry. Rough day.”
“Yer- you’re fine,” he assured her, however uncomfortable he still sounded. She was certain he knew to what extent he was responsible for her rough day.
A thought occurred to her and she stopped in the middle of the motion of running her hand through her hair. “How much did you-”
He quickly raised his hands. “I heard nothing - I just came in.” He hesitated. “Are ye- okay?”
She glared at him. “Is that- did you come to check up on me?”
“No,” he said, and there was a hint of irritation there, too. It pleased her, in a perverse way. “I didn’t even know ye were here until a second ago when I came in to ye talkin about escape.”
“I didn’t say escape I said break,” she snapped, before sighing. “Although frankly, I might as well have said escape; it’s just as likely.”
Bog cocked his head, and Marianne hated how attracted she was to this dumb, lanky idiot with his dumb, confused face. “What do you mean?”
“What do you mean ‘what do I mean’? Are you suggesting that it’s actually feasible I play hooky or something?”
“Do you have anything else you’re doing tonight?”
Marianne opened her mouth and then closed it, scowling. “No. But that doesn’t mean I can just- when I said I need a break I meant I needed a real break, not like a Princess-goes-off-and-spends-half-her-fortune-in-retail-therapy break. Like, a break from the whole deal, where I can just be… normal…” She trailed off awkwardly.
Well, Dawn. Guess you had a point all along.
Bog smirked. Marianne wanted to punch him. She also wanted to kiss him, which made her want to punch him more. “So we do what you said; play hooky.”
Marianne gaped at him for all of a second. “Nope. Nuh-uh. No, we’re not- and what the fuck do you mean ‘we’? What makes you think you’re invited?” Her voice went high at the end, a bit wild at the mere suggestion of spending any more time alone with the king she had nearly kissed just that afternoon. Worst of all, if this went like she wanted, she’d have a night she could pretend that she wasn’t pretending… and god only knew where that would lead if he was there, too.
“No reason,” he said, but the damn smirk remained and what the fuck did he think he was doing - looking at her like that after everything that had gone down? Did he not know how fucking dangerous he was to her? “Am I not?”
No. No. No she couldn’t they couldn’t. No, it would be too conspicuous; one of them might be able to blend in a crowd if possible but the both of them together? No, she couldn’t be alone with him, however crowded the bar she might find herself in. No no no-
But… oh, but maybe this was good. This was his way of offering a truce, a friendship, a promise that regardless of what either of them might be coming to feel, he respected her first and foremost and wanted to make sure she was… comfortable. He was leaving in a week the same as she was - different reasons, different circumstances, but he wanted to leave with them on good terms. And, damn her, she did too.
This was bad, a voice inside her warned. This was a very, very bad idea.
But Marianne was at the end of her rope. And she really needed a break.
“This doesn’t mean. anything.” She stood up, walking toward him and watching him carefully.
He raised his hands, all compliance and appeasement. “Just yer escape, Tough Girl.”
She valiantly ignored what that nickname did to her pulse. “Just tonight, Bog King.”
“Just tonight,” he agreed.
Oh this was bad.
“Meet me at the Grand Staircase in half an hour.”
The place was called the Stone & Oak pub, but the decor looked less like a pub and more like a dive bar to Marianne, which might have been why she liked it. Two of Bog’s men, the ones she had met earlier, were driving them, the car nondescript and lost in the traffic of Vialii, Polyanthus’s capitol, ready to pick them up later.
Marianne had run to Dawn room’s without an explanation. She tore the pins out of her hair, ran her fingers until the waves were at least an appropriate disarray. Wardrobe was harder, but somewhere in the recesses of Dawn’s closet she found a blue shirt and blue-grey wool cardigan, and over that an actual leather jacket. The old blue jeans she dredged up were faded but still in pristine condition and Marianne decided her sister would never forgive her if she went at them with scissors. The darkest make-up she could find went on her lips and eyes - she debated taking out the contacts but decided against it. That done, she declared herself appropriately not-princess like and had gone to meet Bog at the stairs.
He was waiting for her, as promised, and had changed for the outing as well. He was dressed, well… she supposed as casual as he could manage. Blue jeans, a deep grey shirt and green jacket, all under a very, very nice black peacoat. He didn’t look particularly inconspicuous, Marianne thought, but she had to hope that the Polyanthian people didn’t know what their reclusive neighbor looked like in casual garb.
He had swept his eyes over her choice of disguise appreciatively but made no comment. “Where are we going?”
“As far away as possible.”
The Stone & Oak pub sat towards the northern outskirts of the capitol city, just as it began to branch off into smaller towns and suburbs. Urban enough the the streets were busy, but less… central to everything else. The place was small, looked full and dimly lit, there was a sign embedded in the stone building above it and a neon open sign in the window above the logos of the different beers it housed.
Marianne hadn’t felt this home in over a week.
They stood in the doorway, surveying the small number of open tables, the full bar, the tv that was playing a soccer match, and the obvious fact that at least half the patrons were tourists. Perfect. A waitress smiled when she passed them and said they could seat themselves.
“You know, when I think of places to take a break I tend to think quiet,” Bog said from her shoulder, amused.
She looked over her shoulder at him, grinning in spite of herself. “Most people do. But quiet leaves you with nothing but your own thoughts and that’s not what I’m going for here. Here,” she added, gesturing to a tall table under a hanging lamp, one of the better lit areas of the place.
Sitting, she hummed happily at the menu before her. This was clearly a tourist friendly spot; just about every entrée boasted ‘American style’ in front of it… burgers, steaks, ribs. Marianne had had no idea how homesick she had been for some good old messy food until it was sitting before her. The dinner they’d had earlier in the night hadn’t been bad but suddenly she was starving.
She looked up to find Bog looking at her oddly. “What?”
“Ah- nothing!” he said, quickly looking down. She wondered if it was the lighting or if his ears had gone red again. She tried not to smile.
“I’m a sucker for American food, what can I say?” She teased. He looked back at her, and seeing that she was smiling, offered a hesitant one in return. “Wanna split a plate of ribs?”
She ordered for them both, confidant in her american accent when she needed it most, and got them both beers in the process. It admittedly took Bog a few minutes to get used to where they were, but he didn’t seem uncomfortable where they were, surrounded by Americans and common folk. In fact, in spite of her initial misgivings, Bog looked at home in the dim, smokey restaurant, all of his despised formality set aside for a night.
Conversation between them, however, took a little while longer.
“So, ground rule; we don’t talk about royalty or countries or anything like that tonight” Marianne said, half finished with her plate. Bog was nearly finished.
“Deal,” Bog said, before hesitating. “Are we talking no countries or just our own?”
Marianne considered, absently licking barbecue sauce off her fingers. “I figure just our own. Why?”
Bog had been following her movements with his eyes and blinked a few times. “In case ye wanted to talk more about America more.”
Marianne was about to take a drink but paused at the interest in his tone. “Wait. Have you never been to America?”
“Well, no…” he said.
“Oh my god, seriously? How can you-” Hold your horses, Marianne, she thought, sternly. Dawn’s only been to America twice and never for long. “I mean, I guess I assumed… wow.”
“What d’ye mean ‘wow’?” He asked, defensive. “It’s hardly the end-all-be-all of civilization.”
She barked a laugh. “Oh, believe me, I agree. I’m just surprised, I guess. Have you been much around Europe then?”
He shrugged, making a dismissive noise. When she raised her eyebrows he elaborated, “Not recently, unless it’s for work - and we’re not talking about that.”
“Fair enough.” Well that scratched travel off of their potential conversation topics. “Alright then,” she said, folding her arms and settling back in her seat. “Tell me something you like.”
“What?” He asked.
She rolled her eyes. “Something you like. A hobby, an interest - no relation to work. C’mon Bog, tell me something you’re into.”
Bog opened his mouth, then closed it - seemingly rethinking his immediate response. After a moment he said, “Rock.”
“I said ‘rock’,” the fucking ruler of moderate sized country repeated. He raised his eyebrows, as if challenging her to judge him.
Marianne wasn’t quite at the judging point yet, still stuck at comprehending. Well she’d asked for it, honestly, but that had not been what she expected. “Like the music genre? Like rock n- like American rock n’ roll music”
“No, like geology,” he deadpanned. Marianne scowled and his poker face dissolved into a smug smirk. “Yes, like the music.”
Her scowl remained. “Dial down the sarcasm, you’re gonna hurt someone.”
Bog smiled that smile of his, more in his eyes than on his lips. “Not you, I expect.”
Marianne stubbornly tried to hold onto her glare, even if her lips twitched. “Not me.” His smile grew, and she felt her face heating up. “Okay, leaving that for now - you’re going to have to be more specific than rock.”
“Am I? I wasn’t aware that I was only allowed to like a single sub-genre of music.”
Marianne rolled her eyes and his lofty tone. “Okay, but everyone’s got a favorite. Are we talking punk, classic,glam? At least give me a decade, here.”
He paused. “You could say… classic.”
“So Led Zeppelin? Queen? The Eagles?”
“Well, yes,” he said. He sounded decidedly amused.
Marianne frowned. “But I’m missing the mark, am I?”
“Oookay… The Beatles, Grateful Dead… um, Bob Dylan-”
Bog snorted. “Bob Dylan is not rock. Older.”
“He’s classic, and what do you mean older? Like, Chuck Berry birth-of-the-genre older?” He nodded, and Marianne raised an eyebrow. “Okay, so when you say classic you mean it - really testing my music knowledge. So Chuck Berry, um… Johnny Cash?”
He chuckled and nodded. “And?” He prompted.
“And? And wh- oh no. No, no, no, no.” She waved her hands, her eyes wide. “No way. No. Think carefully before you speak and ruin my good opinion of you forever.”
“Elvis,” he finished with a smirk. Marianne groaned loudly, letting her head smack the table. “You have a good opinion of me?”
“Not anymore,” she said, her voice muffled against the wood.
“Got a problem with Elvis, Tough Girl?”
She looked up, her eyes blazing. “Bob Dylan’s not rock but Elvis?”
He gave a dramatic, frustrated huff. “How is he not?”
“I’m- I am disgusted,” she said, equally dramatic. “I am disappointed. You know what, I am downrightoffended.” He was laughing, more apparent in his shoulders shaking than in any noise. Marianne couldn’t stop herself from grinning, even as she tried to keep her act up. She raised a hand, miming someone calling for a check.
Bog caught her hand in his, lowering it back down to the table, still laughing. Marianne grinned despite her face going red, attempting not to focus on the feel of Bog’s hand resting over hers. She tugged it back as casual as possible and he immediately released her. Rubbing it absently she continued, “So, enlighten me on how European royalty becomes a fan of 1950′s rockabilly music?”
He rolled his eyes. “Yer mocking has been noted and ignored,” he told her sternly. She laughed. “And it’s not much of a story; two words in fact. My. Mother.”
Marianne blinked a few times, registering this. “… No.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“I’m really not,” he said, grinning almost foolishly at her. “In fact, I’m relatively certain if she had ever met the man - at any age - she would have run away with him, her marriage to royalty not withstanding.”
Marianne let her head hit the table again, laughing so hard she was really only omitting squeaks. “Your mother is… an impressive… woman.”
He chuckled. “She is that. Bring it up next time you see her - the woman can go on for hours.”
“I’ll pass thanks.” She raised her head up again and smoothed her hair out of her face. Bog was looking at her, a smile curled at his lips and she felt her face reddening. “What?”
“Ye’ve got-” he touched his forehead. Marianne mirrored him and brushed a bit of sauce that she had rested her head against on the table. Blushing more, she grabbed a napkin and scrubbed it off, scowling at Bog’s soft laughter.
“You should see your face,” she told him grimly. “You wouldn’t be laughing.”
Immediately, he raised his hand to his jaw. She had thought about mentioning what a mess he was earlier but it had been kind of endearing. He rubbed most of it off, and Marianne was about to tell him what he’d missed when he absently ran his tongue over his lips and she lost her train of thought entirely. Noticing her eyes on him, he focused on her again and Marianne went redder than before but wasn’t able to look away from him.
Finally, Bog shook himself. “Your turn.”
“Tell me somethin yer into, Tough Girl.”
He was smiling now, and using that damn nickname and you was the immediate thought but she made an effort to shove it back. “I don’t think I can compete with Elvis,” she said, buying herself time.
He raised an eyebrow. “Try me.”
What could she say… something true, but something that wouldn’t be too strange for a princess, but still not exactly ordinary. Suddenly it hit her and she bit back a smile.
It took an effort to keep her from laughing at his dumbfounded face. “I said ‘motorcycles’.”
Bog stared at her, slightly slack jawed for several seconds before shaking his head. “I- I was going to say I didn’t expect that but I don’t know why I didn’t expect that.”
She picked at a sleeve of her leather jacket and grinned. “I suppose it’s not too obvious.”
He laughed. “I suppose not. So, how many do you have?”
“How- how many?”
“Well I assumed ye had- if ye were-” Seeing Marianne still wide-eyed, he laughed a little incredulously. “Not even one?”
“You’ve met my father - do you think he’d be okay with that?” She asked, deadpan. It was a gamble but Marianne had a feeling if Dawn told her father she wanted a motorcycle it would not go over well. “I get horses instead. Nothing against horses, but I’d trade one in for a bike any day.”
Also not a lie, she reflected. She and her mother had ridden horses growing up, and she knew, from her handmaidens, that Dawn owned several. Her mother hadn’t been one for Marianne’s motorcycle interest, either, but had told her she’d concede if Marianne still wanted one at twenty-one. She supposed she could buy one anytime now, what was stopping her?
“I have three.”
She was jolted out of her thoughts at this declaration. “What?”
“Three of my own. Motorcycles, I mean,” Bog said earnestly. He was leaning forward, blue eyes glittering and Marianne didn’t think she had ever seen the man look so excited.
“Three. You have three?” Of course he did. Of course he would fucking share her interest in this, too. Of course the image him on a motorcycle would be the sexiest fucking thing Marianne had ever imagined.
Oblivious to what he had done to her, Bog continued. “One’s my father’s, one I bought a few years back and ah, the third one, I… built.”
“Built?” She squeaked. “You built your own-? I- keep this up, and I might swoon.”
Bog laughed, though he flushed at her words. He rubbed his hands together. “I could- I mean, if ye wanted-”
Marianne cut him off quickly. “Woah, woah, hey. No offering me homemade motorcycles. The goal is no swooning, remember?”
“I don’t remember that being the goal, no,” he retorted. “Besides, that was not what I was goin to say.”
“I was going to say yer welcome to see them - take a ride even - whenever ye’d like.”
Marianne stared at him, deciding that was much worse than being offered a bike by him. “Like- like in Biròg?”
A shrug. “If ye’d like.”
Oh, this was so, so bad. It was easy to pretend that when she went back to being Marianne, back in America, just as he went back to Biròg, it would be a nice clean wrap-up to everything. She’d never have to worry about Dawn having to see him again or vice versa. It had even been easy to say she’d like to go to Biròg someday as an empty wish, knowing the someday would never come.
But now the invitation sat there and with it the unspoken wish to keep seeing her, even after he went home, that they keep being… whatever it was they were.
“Bog…” she began, unable to think of what to follow up with.
Their waitress interrupted by taking their plates and giving them a check. Marianne fished out the cash she needed, and avoided Bog’s eyes.
When she looked up again, he was staring at his hands, a grim set to his mouth. God, how much had it taken for him to offer that, as casually as he had… what was he thinking now that she had said nothing for so long? Without thinking, she laid her hand atop of his, and he looked up startled.
“Bog,” she began again. “I’d- I’d like that a lot.”
And that, at least, was true.
She finished paying, and Bog texted his folk to come grab them. Together they stood, tucked under an alley overhand between the pub and the next-door building, watching the road. Marianne didn’t think much of how little space there was between them, thinking more of how warm he was in the chilly late autumn night.
“Thanks,” she said, just to fill their silence. She turned to look at him. “I needed this.”
He smiled. “I’m glad. I- um, thank you for lettin me… be here. I wasn’t sure- I had guessed I was one of the things ye were escaping.”
Marianne’s heart throbbed in her chest at his words, at his smile, at the way the street lights hit his eyes just so. “It wasn’t an escape,” she reminded him.
“Um- you know, you’ve still got-” Marianne reached, brushing her fingers along the corner of his mouth where a smudge of barbecue sauce had remained. Her thumb brushed over his lips and they both stilled.
For a few seconds there was silence, the sounds of traffic, of rowdy pub patrons, of anything else in the world seeming to fade into an indistinguishable murmur. The night was cold enough that she could see her breath, the warm air swirling and mixing with his - the sight was strangely alluring. Her thumb brushed against his lower lip again more deliberately as she raised her eyes up to meet his.
And yet, in all this, Marianne wasn’t panicking. Somewhere in the back of her mind she had known, without a doubt, this was where they would end up… from the moment she had agreed to spend the night out with him. There was no other way it could have gone.
“This is trouble, Tough Girl,” Bog murmured - and really, he wasn’t fucking allowed to give warnings in a voice that was downright husky; it gave off very mixed signals. But, truth be told, it was the nickname that did her in.
Had Bog called her Dawn in that instant, it would have woken her up, broke the spell, pulled her back to reality the way the thunder had before; a reminder of where she was and who she was and who she very much wasnot.
But he didn’t…
… and Marianne was lost.
“You have no idea,” she whispered, and pulled him down to her.
Bog responded immediately. His hands settled on her hips, long fingers gripping her jeans, while he angled his face to lessen the distance. Marianne kept one hand pressed along the sharp line of his cheekbone while the other wrapped around his neck, playing with his hair and tugging him closer. The rough texture of his stubble was a delicious contrast to soft, full lips that parted and pulled on hers.
It had been so long, so damn long since she had kissed anyone and sometimes Marianne had wondered if she still remembered how. But the movements were almost instinct, her tongue stroking along his lower lip, gentle and coaxing until his breath warmly mingled with hers and his tongue slid against her own. Bog pulled away briefly, taking a short, ragged breath before returning, catching her lower lip between both of his, making her whimper slightly at the light sting of his teeth. She tugged a little harder on his hair until he groaned in response, tightening his hold on her, pulling her closer still.
Her head swam a little, overwhelmed with all the sensations she was feeling right then, the heat radiating from them both, the taste of him. The feeling of his tongue brushing the roof of her mouth made her knees go weak, made it easy to forget who she was, who he was, that anything mattered but this kiss, hot and sweet and perfect.
They released each other, panting softly, their breath swirling together again. Lightheaded, Marianne smiled up at him with a small breathy laugh. His eyes were half-lidded, equally dazed, smiling foolishly before shifting, moving his arms to wrap her shoulders, drawing her close. It was the easiest thing in the world to let him, to rest her head against his chest and let herself be held, let her breath even out and listen as the sounds of pub and city reassert themselves.
Bog moved to brush his lips, feather light, against the top of her head, and it hit Marianne all at once that she had fallen in love.
So that happened. Unfortunately, things can only really go down from here. Heh.
Chapter 15: Unfinished Business
On the shorter side because angst and I don't get along.
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Dawn was not actually mad, although she knew she probably had a right to be.
Perhaps it was because she got Marianne’s text first. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Dawn. And thus viewed the tabloid articles with her sister’s obvious remorse already in her mind.
Perhaps it was because the articles themselves weren’t particularly scandalous. Perhaps it was because it looked as though the Bog King had taken her sister on a proper date; even if it was to bar, it was still better than some of the parties Dawn had been to in the past. Sure, the headlines were dramatic - Will their romance strengthen their countries ties or tear them apart? - had the words illicit and clandestine and affair more than once. Sure, the majority of the photos were grainy captures of a very passionate looking kiss… but if anything, the tabloids seemed happy for their princess.
Perhaps it was because, however hopeless the situation was, Dawn was a little bit happy, herself; glad that her sister had found someone who loved her. Perhaps because the photos - the ones that weren’t of their kiss - were of them laughing, happy, comfortable. And when she thought about the hopelessness of the situation it still wasn’t anger but pain that went through her. This hadn’t gone how either of them had planned and now her sister, who had already lost so much, was going to lose the one person she had come to love, too.
And… perhaps it was because Dawn was reading all of this on her phone, having woken up the second morning in a row having spent the night on her neighbor’s couch, and thus had no room to talk.
She had fallen asleep at Sunny’s on saturday night after they’d ordered chinese food and marathoned John Hughes movies because apparently the class they had together on screenwriting had them watching The Breakfast Club and Dawn had let it slip that she had never seen it before. She fell asleep somewhere in the middle of Some Kind of Wonderful and woke up with a knit afghan resting over her and the smell of bacon coming from the kitchen.
“Didn’t have the heart to wake you,” he had said before pausing. “Well, I also tried - has anyone ever told you you sleep like a rock?”
“You’re sweet,” she had told him dryly, even if she was grinning, too. He went to work shortly after and she went about her day.
The next night was another movie night, this time with homemade pizza that they made together, this time beginning with The Princess Bride - another assignment, another movie Dawn had woefully missed out on - that had turned into a parade of 80′s fantasy films of varying quality.
“You should probably head home,” Sunny had said, partway through Legend, aware that she was nodding off next to him on the couch.
She shook her head. “Wanna see how it ends,” she told him, sleepily.
He laughed. “You know tomorrow’s monday, right?”
“Don’t have any morning classes on monday.” Dawn had been texted Marianne’s school schedule shortly after it had come to their attention that her staying an extra week meant she would have to go. “Besides, you have more breakfast food than I do.”
“Who’s fault is that?” He teased.
“Marianne’s,” she deadpanned before she could stop herself.
Thankfully Sunny still thought she was joking. “That’s right.”
She rolled her eyes. “I can go if you want me to,” she said.
Sunny stopped arguing.
And thus she wound up waking up, once again tucked in on his couch, to a barrage of texts from Marianne, dating back from the early hours of the morning - probably around 9 or 10 AM in Polyanthus. Just around the time Marianne would have woken up to discover that her clandestine romance with the Bog King had not been as secret as she might have hoped.
Oh, and perhaps that was another reason Dawn’s anger was held at bay. Looking again at the series of tabloids and papers that had their kiss as a front page lead story… Marianne honestly didn’t look anything like her; she had found a leather jacket Dawn had worn out all of once, old jeans… her hair was messy and her makeup was dark. Bog looked casually dressed, too, with only his height as any outstanding feature. But Marianne didn’t seem to understand how resourceful paparazzi was, how, when you were the face of a country it was hard to go incognito, and how desperate they were to find anything they could make a story out of - what a goldmine she had dumped at their feet with this. Bog, Dawn thought, should have known better, but perhaps folk in Biròg respected his privacy better. Perhaps he simply didn’t care.
Dawn. The last text read. Dawn say something pleaseeee
God what is dad going to say? Does dad read these sorts of things?
Dad, Dawn thought. Marianne was calling their father dad, for the first time since this all had begun. Huh.
She texted back. Dad doesn’t read tabloids, no, but the news it going to reach him, still - if it hasn’t by now. She added belatedly. By this point it was early afternoon in Polyanthus. The lag between them was a little annoying right then. Have you met with him yet today?
Marianne texted: No, Bog canceled his meetings with dad today. Didn’t say why - not that I couldn’t guess.
Dawn wondered at how well Marianne could portray her emotions - bitter and hurt - even through texting. She winced a little. If Bog hadn’t taken this well then that was a bad sign. She didn’t need them in love, but she definitely didn’t need them to have a lover’s tiff.
Something came up maybe?
The reply came back immediately: Don’t, Dawn. I fucked up, don’t try to make it better. Now what am I supposed to say when dad inevitably summons me?
Dawn sighed, typing out the best reply - apologize, try to make it sound like it meant nothing to either of you if you can, listen and nod and say you’ll never do it again… oh and expect to be grounded - and sending it just as Sunny came out from the shower, toweling his braids.
“There’s cereal and eggos and all that in the kitchen, you know,” he said, smiling at the sight of her on his couch as if she was always there. Dawn felt her cheeks flush inexplicably. “Or… since you’re up and we both have time - did you want to grab something at the Aviary. I might have more breakfast options than you, but I am seriously lacking in the coffee making skills.”
Dawn hopped up immediately. “Maybe I’ll buy you an espresso machine for christmas.”
“If you do, I will honestly love you forever,” he said earnestly, before it seemed to occur to him what he was saying. “I mean, that- that is- I don’t-”
“I’m going to go change,” Dawn interrupted, smiling although she could feel how red her face had gone, and could certainly feel the way her heart rate had gone a bit wild. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Taking the stairs down, she glanced again at Marianne’s texts with a small wince. Starting to think I’m in the same boat, sis.
The weather had gotten cooler, the two of them were bundled into scarves and winter coats and Dawn found herself contemplating taking his hand as they walked the short block to the cafe. They talked about the movies they’d watched, Dawn ranted about how much she had hated the movie Pretty in Pink.
“I mean, who chooses the pretty popular boy over the best friend who was always there for her? Like, how dumb is that? What kind of message is that - imagine you were in love with your best friend and saw that movie - I’d be miserable!”
Sunny was laughing. “Movie logic isn’t people logic,” he said simply.
“I still don’t like it.” She harrumphed. “Why is it a classic?”
“Enough people disagree with you. Classic doesn’t always mean good, it just means popular” he said, opening the Aviary door for her.
“Not fair.” Sunny just laughed harder.
It felt weird to think, a little over a week ago, she had come to this cafe and swooned at the pretty guys who worked there. She remembered Marianne’s order that she was not to flirt with any of them and her immediate disappointment. Now, Dawn didn’t even notice the young men that were working as baristas, didn’t notice any of them looking between her and Sunny with the disappointment of realizing that the pretty young patron of the past week might very well be taken. None of that mattered, not with Sunny’s hand resting in hers.
What did matter was, when she looked out the wide windows, checking to see if any of the patio tables were open, her catching the sight of a camera attached to a person, tucked behind a tree across the street. Even as she looked, the person shifted slightly, even from the distance she could see them capturing photographs.
Dawn felt her heart drop into her stomach. No, no no no. No there was no way anyone could- no, no one in America knew who she was - people in America probably didn’t even know where Polyanthus was much less what its royalty looked like. No one could know- no one could have caught her. No no no no no. She looked at Sunny, who was studying the menu, she looked at their hands entwined. No, no not now. Not now. Not now.
Her hand must have tensed because Sunny looked up at her, startled. “You okay, Mari?”
“Shit,” Dawn muttered. She had to do something, she needed to get that person away, as far away. She needed to keep Sunny from seeing anything. “I left my money at my apartment.”
“It’s on me,” Sunny began, but she shook her head.
“No, no. I’ll just be a minute. Grab us some seats.” She took off, with a small wave, letting the Aviary door slam behind her.
The man looked immediately surprised that she was confronting him as she walked across the street with deliberate strides, but as she neared him it melted into a smooth smile. He was tall, blond, and well dressed. His hair was quaffed almost impeccably, his eyes were a bright green that almost didn’t look real. In fact, for as attractive as he was, nothing about the man looked quite real. It made Dawn’s skin crawl instinctively. “Can I help you?” He asked smoothly.
“Yes,” she said. “You can stop taking pictures of me.”
He snorted, like she had said something ridiculously funny. “No can do, I’m afraid. You see, I’m a reporter and-”
“Oh please. Reporters don’t hide behind trees to take candid pictures of people. I know exactly what you are.”
Once again he blinked, startled, and once again a smile, charming to the point of oily, won over. “Do you? Well, your highness, I suppose that makes two of us.”
Dawn felt her heart almost stop, even if she had already guessed it - it was one thing more to hear him say it. “I don’t- I don’t know what you mean. I’m not- that’s not-”
He chuckled. “Oh, I think you do, your highness. See, I know quite a bit about your country, more than the common American might. You might say I’d made a study of it for a while.”
She blanched. “You’ve been stocking me.”
He tsked softly. “Life of the rich and famous - I’d think you’d be used to it. But no, actually, I haven’t been. In fact, I’m rather surprised to see you here - visiting your sister, is it?”
At this, Dawn actually began to tremble. No, no no no. He couldn’t know what they were doing, he couldn’t know about Marianne. Marianne… if he hadn’t known she was there- if he’d been looking for Marianne. No.
The man - Roland - grinned, his face lit up with a cheer that made Dawn want to run. “Oh, Marianne told you about me? Wow I’m- I am touched, really. Roland Royce, at your service, your highness.” He bowed, theatrically, the camera at his chest bouncing awkwardly. Dawn wanted nothing more than to smash it.
“You’re stalking her,” she said hoarsely.
He snapped his fingers. “Now you’ve got it. Though stalking is really a harsh term. I’ve only been trying to… get in contact with her. Now she usually ignores me and she’s not particularly social, I know, but to not see her at all… you wouldn’t happen to know where she is?” He tapped the camera casually. “Just name a place and I’ll pretend I never saw you. Simple as that, your highness.”
Dawn was positively quaking now. What was she supposed to do? If Roland didn’t know Marianne was in Polyanthus playing at being her… maybe things would turn out. But if she didn’t tell him, her face would be plastered all over the internet and media would jump on it immediately - and all would be lost anyways. She raked her mind for a lie, something to tell him to get him and his threats off her.
“What do you want with her?” She asked, buying herself some time.
“Why do you have to make it sound so sinister,” he said, holding his hands out innocently. “We dated, not long ago, and I did some things that I regret. I just want to make it right.”
“And stalking her was going to do that - how?”
He laughed. “Christ, you two really are sisters - you sounded just like her. Enough of that, are you going to tell me or aren’t you? It’s a simple yes or no question.”
She curled her lip, furious. “Leave me alone,” she hissed.
“Ah,” he tsked again. “That’s not a good answer. You know I-”
“She said leave her alone.”
Both jumped at the sound of another voice. Dawn turned, her heart squeezing painfully in her chest. No, no. “Sunny, you didn’t- you should-”
But Roland’s smile had already returned. “Ahh, you. You’re in quite a few of these, too, you know.” He tapped the camera again. “Now, if I get what I want I’ve promised to get rid of them, but if you’d like, I’ll save a couple copies for you. I’m sure you’d appreciate mementos of this.”
Dawn wanted to punch him.
Sunny looked between the two of them, his earlier protective ire had melted into an honest confusion. “Marianne, what is he talking about?” He asked, no suspicion to his tone. Dawn’s heart contracted further.
Roland stared at the newcomer, blinking a few times. “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Marianne? Y- you really think she’s-” He looked at Dawn, a slow smile forming. “You haven’t told him? Oh my god, and I had just assumed-” he shook his head at Sunny. “Man, I’m sorry - here I thought you were reaping the benefits of this association, but it turns out she’s the one who’s using you How… interesting.”
Sunny flinched a little and Dawn flinched harder. “I’m not- that’s not what-!” She remembered shouting at Marianne that she wasn’t using Sunny and she meant it, she really did, but the way this man was putting it… any explanation, and excuse felt cheap, felt like a lie. Well everything else had been, she thought, how had she let this happen.
Roland’s eyes went back and forth again and Dawn could almost see gears turning in his head. “But then, if you’re playing Marianne here does that- ohh no.” Now his grin had returned in full force. “You can’t tell me you’ve gotten Marianne to go be Princess Dawn for you?” Dawn said nothing, quivering in her stony silence, but that was all the answer he needed. “God, but you’re manipulative than I thought. Hat’s off to you. You know, you really need to tell me how you convinced her - I didn’t have any luck.”
Dawn’s ears rang a little at his words. Between convincing Marianne, assuming that Sunny was reaping the benefits of friendship with royalty… then there was Marianne’s comments about having felt used, Roland’s voicemail and her panic attack - even her words the day they met. I’m tired of people wanting me to be a princess.
Marianne had never told her exactly what had gone down with the man standing before her now. But she no longer needed to. It was crystal clear, and Dawn wanted nothing more than to keep him as far away from her sister as possible.
But how could she do that - there was no point to telling him or not telling him; he knew where she was now. He knew everything.
And then there was Sunny, looking thoroughly lost by this conversation, and a little irritated now. “Her sister’s name is Dawn…”
“Oh, so you told him that much?” Roland hummed, impressed. Seeing that the young man still looked puzzled, he sighed. “And you’re still not putting the pieces together? Christ, no wonder you were an easy mark.”
“Leave him out of this,” Dawn snapped. He laughed, pleased that he had gotten a rise out of her.
But Sunny was looking between them, a frustrated crease between his brows. “Leave me out of what - Marianne, what is going on?”
Dawn opened her mouth, but Roland cut her off with a dramatic roll of his eyes. “For god’s sake…” he looked Sunny straight on with a gesture to Dawn. “This lovely lady is Princess Dawn of Polyanthus and - through some feat of cunning I am still amazed by - convinced her sister Marianne Dale to play princess while she…” He looked at between Dawn and Sunny consideringly. “While she toyed with the hearts of simple American boys to her hearts content, I suppose. Isn’t that right, your highness?”
Sunny flinched, as if Roland had punched him, and Dawn recoiled. “That’s not how it was! Marianne and I-!” She cut herself off, though she didn’t know why. She was caught, she was found out, but she still couldn’t say it out loud. At her words, Sunny’s eyes left Roland to stare at her, wide-eyed and unbelieving. There was a prolonged silence before.
“You’re… not Marianne.”
Roland muttered finally, but they both ignored him. Dawn couldn’t look at him, staring at her hands, but once again her silence was answer enough.
“You’re a princess?”
She nodded, still mute. What was she supposed to say? Roland had completely lied, but yet he hadn’t at all. How was she supposed to explain that? How could she expect him to ever believe her again.
Roland clapped his hands together. “Well, now that we’ve cleared that up - you can go. I’ve got some more business with Princess Dawn, thank you.”
Sunny looked up sharply, and Dawn could see that he was warring with himself. He didn’t want to leave Dawn with Roland, even now, but- his eyes fell to her again and all of his humor and kindness and warmth seemed to be gone. He looked almost hollow. Shaking his head, he turned to go.
“Sunny!” Dawn cried, finding her voice at last. “Sunny please don’t-” She took a step to follow him, before Roland caught her arm.
“Ah ah ah, your highness - we’re not done.”
She whirled around, slapping him with a force she hadn’t known she possessed. “Leave me alone!” Whether it hurt him or not, it appropriately stunned him to where she was able to leave.
Sunny hadn’t run, and was easy to catch up with - though that left Dawn with very little time to think of what she could possibly say to the man.
“Sunny! Sunny, wait please!” He paused. “I’m sorry! God, I’m sorry. This isn’t-”
He turned slowly. “What he said- is that true?”
Dawn flinched. “No! Well, I mean, yes. Yes, my name is Dawn and I’m- I am a princess. Marianne is my- my older sister and we traded places but- what he said about you- us- that’s not what this was. And you have to believe me, I never- I didn’t want you to find out… like this.”
He was silent for a moment. “Were you ever going to tell me?”
“Yes!” Dawn said, and then winced again. “I mean, I wanted to - Sunny, I really- but I don’t know.” He shook his head a little, taking a step away. “Look, I’m trying to be honest with you - I don’t know if I would have told you, but I never, ever wanted it to be like this! You’re my friend!”
“How am I supposed to believe that, now? How am I supposed to believe anything you say?” He asked, and yes, there was the pain and betrayal and a little bit of anger, and Dawn’s heart broke a little. God, Sunny was the most honest, straightforward person she had ever met, and she had completely lied to him. He had talked to her and listened to her and given her so much and never asked for anything back and all she had done was take, take, take, so eager to have someone who wouldn’t see her title for once. Maybe she had been using him, for her own comfort. Maybe that’s all it had been.
Her voice broke in her attempt at pleading. “Everything I told you about- about how I’ve never, ever had a real friend before I met you - Sunny, that was real! That was true!”
He shook his head again, unbelieving and really, how could Dawn blame him? If she’d been his friend, if she had truly cared - she should have told him. God it had never even occurred to her that she should tell him! What kind of friend did that to someone?
“Goodbye, your highness,” he said, hoarsely. He turned away from her again, and Dawn found she didn’t have the breath to call for him to stop.
She stood there, hot tears dripping down her cheeks unnoticed. She had ruined everything, absolutely everything. She never should have done this. She never should have left. She had ruined her life, her sister’s life - she had broken Sunny’s heart…
She heard steps reach her and knew without turning that Roland had recovered from his slap and had followed her up. “Well, that was dramatic,” he said, absently. “Are you satisfied now?”
She didn’t have it in her to slap him again, to do anything but turn and fix him with a watery glare. “What do you want?”
Roland whistled. “Whooo, loaded question. Let’s say, right now, what I want is to talk to your sister.” Another tap of the camera. Without saying, Dawn knew he had more than one shot of her confrontation with Sunny. She’d lost so much in the span of a few seconds and he still could her hurt her more. “You can make that happen, can’t you?”
Alas, as you might guess, this is only part one of 'Roland ruins everything'
Chapter 16: Running to Stand Still
Again I feel I should apologize...
By mid-afternoon, Marianne was nearly ready to just turn her phone on silent.
She had woken up the morning after her… night with Bog, and immediately regretted that she hadn’t slept with him. After all, she figured, she had fucked everything else up the night before, might as well have gone all the way. And she knew, even before looking at her phone, that she had fucked everything up. Her sleep had been restless, fitful and she was growing increasingly certain in her bad things are coming intuition. She had woken at 6:30 AM, stared at the ceiling and knew instinctively that every magazine, newspaper and online tabloid knew what she and Bog had done - their attempt at disguises be damned.
She lay in bed a few hours before checking Dawn’s phone to confirm her fears. And confirmed they were; the phone had blown up with messages from various acquaintances of Dawn’s - people Marianne had never bothered learning the names of, people Dawn had already known weren’t exactly the definition of true friends - and their questions and demands for explanations and details. Details Marianne had no intention of giving them or anyone.
The tabloids were no better. Most of them already assuming that she and Bog’s relationship had a sexual nature. One of them even spoke of a not-so-secret engagement.
“I wish,” she had grumbled before she caught herself. She flung the phone away from her and buried her face in Dawn’s pillows with a loud, angry groan.
Marianne did not want to marry the Bog King, no matter how good he was at kissing.
Even if she was in love with him.
In the end, she sent a barrage of messages to Dawn, apologizing for - once again - fucking up her life, this time possibly beyond repair. Then she had to ask about their father, and hope that being disowned wasn’t a potential fate for playing hooky with royalty.
Of course, then the first thing her ladies had said upon entering had dissolved any semblance of calm she had had that morning.
“His Majesty King Ciaran has canceled the days meetings,” Rose had said, a knowing glint in her eye and a grim set to her mouth.
Oh, for fucks sake, Marianne thought. She hadn’t had to deal with the disapproving-mother look in nearly eight years. She sat up and waved a hand at them.
“Save the lecture, ladies.” She said. “I am one hundred precent aware that I fucked up. Frankly, I knew I was fucking up when I did it.”
Why she did it then, was still the question. Bog’s words about escape still rang in her ears, his suggestion to spend the night out so tempting. How could she have refused? Then being alone with him, playing at being a normal couple on a normal date - it had all gone to her head, and by the time dinner was over the only thing that mattered was that she wanted him.
Damn, but he was good at making her want him.
Which made his voluntary seclusion all the more stinging. This was your idea, bastard, she thought bitterly, running her fingers through her hair. This is as much on you as on me so if you think you can just hide from all the goddamned repercussions while I have to deal with them, you can just-
But, of course, that was only part of why it hurt. The other, likely larger, part was the pressing feeling that it wasn’t necessarily the repercussions Bog was avoiding, but her. She would have thought if the man regretted it, he’d have the decency to talk to her about it. After all, Bog was nothing if he wasn’t honest. What irony, that.
And would she tell him that she regretted it, she wondered, if she saw him. Did she regret it? Was she really upset because his avoiding her proved that he regretted something that she did not?
Frustrated by these thoughts, frustrated that she had let herself be tempted and do something so fucking dangerous, frustrated that she had been so stupid as to fall in love with a king… Marianne did what any bitter, maladjusted person did; bottled it up and spent the morning in a state of unshakeable irritability.
Tempting as it was to just hide out in her room for the next few days, Marianne knew better than to think that was possible. So, she dressed for her day, smirking humorlessly at her reflection when she finished:
The dress was sleeveless and cream colored, a close fitted shift style, with the skirt stopping just at her upper thigh, so short that if she moved just so there was a strip of bare skin between where her skirt stopped and her nylon stockings began. The collar wasn’t particularly low, but with the way it hung plus one of Dawn’s push-up bras - she had many - the result was rather spectacular.
So yeah, it was a little risqué, and so maybe she was wearing it to say suck it to his majesty, should he see her. She was in a shit mood and she wanted to look hot.
So, of course, in all her morning business throughout the castle, she never once saw Bog.
Dawn texted back mid-afternoon, just as she would be waking. Her advice was nice, however vague it was, and gave Marianne some roots again; she was not in this alone, she had Dawn. Perhaps, even if Marianne had fucked up her personal life beyond repair, Dawn’s was still safe. If Dawn was good at anything it was getting people to like her, to listen to her, to believe her wildest plans and stories. There had been a time Marianne had thought that manipulative, and maybe it was, but Dawn didn’t exploit people the way Roland had, Dawn didn’t play mind games. Dawn could get you to trust her because deep down she was trustworthy. She would be a good queen, that way.
Perhaps it was better that their lives had turned out as they had. Surely, Marianne would never have been that kind of queen.
It was 3 PM before her father summoned her, and Marianne did pride herself on playing Dawn in thatperformance. No, King Douglas was not pleased by his daughter’s dalliance with their diplomatic neighbor, but Marianne was able to claim that the tabloids were, as always blowing something that had been completely casual way out of proportion, but no, if he had to know, she had no intention of having any intentions where King Ciaran was concerned.
Of course, thus far, her intentions had meant nothing where Bog was concerned.
Over an hour later, grounded - a princess, grounded! Marianne wanted to laugh - with the assurance that this was not to happen again, she was left to wandering the palace, needing something to unleash her restless energy on.
I’m going to scream, she texted her ladies, pacing the hallway she’d come to. What can I do?
They had forgiven her her transgressions when her attitude, if not her outbursts, had proven that she knew what deep shit she was in, and was sorry for that, at the very least. Marianne wondered idly how her mother might have responded to such an affair and shook the thought aside just as quickly.
Less than a minute passed before: You could go for a ride.
It took her over two minutes before she realized they meant horses. She snorted.
I haven’t been on a horse since 17. Try again.
She tapped her foot waiting for a response when a choked noise from the other end of the hallway distracted her.
Bog stood, arrested in place, from where he had clearly just turned the corner. He was staring at her, his own phone lifted awkwardly as if he had been halfway through the motion of beginning or ending a call, and even from their distance Marianne wasn’t sure he was blinking.
She immediately regretted her outfit choice.
After a long, awkward second, Marianne’s embarrassment faded back into her earlier irritation. Seeing him, out and about, after he had the gall to avoid her…
That the sight of him also made her feel like she had ingested a swarm of butterflies and made her heart do all sorts of twisty things certainly wasn’t helping, either.
The Bog King cleared his throat, pocketing his phone at last and taking a few tentative steps toward her. “Are- Are ye okay?”
Oh. Oh wow. Nice lead in, there, Marianne thought bitterly, suddenly warring with whether she should finally punch him in the face or run far, far away. She decided to try both. “Well, I’m not dead. Like you care,” she said, and turned on her heel to leave.
Bog’s footsteps followed, their long stride quickly catching up. “Ah do, actually,” he said, sounding slightly confused and slightly irritated.
“Oh really?” She stopped short turning back to him, arms crossed. “I suppose that’s why you were avoiding me.”
Marianne rolled her eyes. “Save it. I’d have thought you’d be the last person to straight up lie to me.”
Way to call the kettle black, Marianne.
Bog made a low growl of frustration - which probably should not have been as hot as it was. His heavy brows were furrowed, the shadows under his deep set eyes more prominent than usual. “Ye really can’t imagine that I had anythin else that I had to do with my day, Princess? I daen’t know if you’ve forgotten but I’ve got an entire country to worry about. And ye know what - maybe it was because Ah care, seeing as us bein together only gets yer name disparaged across yours-!”
She laughed, high and mocking. “Oh, just my name? Now, you expect me to think you’re not upset at all about how you appear after all of this, since you’ve got a whole country to worry about? Or is that because I’m just a little princess who can’t handle herself and needs a big strong king to fucking rescue my reputation-!”
He spluttered, his cheeks flushed with anger or embarrassment. “That’s no’! That’s not what Ah’m saying!”
“Then, fOR FUCK’S SAKE-!”
She realized she has shouted and shut her mouth with a clap, the words echoing down the hall. There was a closed door in the hallway, to an audience chamber or broom closet. Marianne didn’t care, she grabbed Bog’s arm and hauled him into it with her, turning on the lights and slamming the door behind them.
Bog looked around the room, startled, before looking at her, both lost and expectant. A minute too late, Marianne realized exactly where she had dragged the Bog King into - the archive room. Home to Princess Marianne’s tiara, among other artifacts of a life she couldn’t have. How fucking ironic.
Steeling herself, she continued. “For fuck’s sake, don’t try to fucking make this about some kind of noble guilt about what the press is saying about me or you or us when you didn’t give a flying fuck about any of that when you fucking suggested this last night. If you regret it then you could have the decency to just tell me. God knows, I can understand why you would; it was stupid, we were reckless, nothing can fucking happen between us, even if we wanted to. And maybe you don’t want anything to happen - maybe yesterday wasn’t anything and that’s why you’re avoiding me, because you know that I-” She quickly cut off and shook her head. “But, you know, you, Mr. I’d-prefer-brutal-honesty, you could at least extend to me the same fucking favor.”
She was breathing a little heavily from her rant and Bog’s expression was decidedly unreadable, but whatever it was in his blue eyes it wasn’t making it any easier for her to regain her breath.
“Aren’t you going to say something?” She snapped as best a woman panting could.
He raised an eyebrow. “Are ye done?”
She took a breath, considering this. Finally she nodded. “I think so.”
Bog nodded in turn, took her face in his large hands, and brought his mouth to hers.
Marianne had just enough in her to squeak her surprise before the pressing feeling of his soft, warm lips erased all thought from her mind and turned the noise almost into a whimper. Bog pulled back, cutting the kiss far too short, but it was obvious he had realized that kissing someone without warning might backfire horribly. He watched her carefully, seeming to be bracing herself for a slap. When she did nothing, still staring at him a little brain-dead, he flushed further.
“That’s why I was avoidin ye,” he said, inanely. It was obvious in hindsight, she thought with some chagrin after her rant.
And to be honest, he had probably been smart to do so, because now Marianne was having difficulty coming up with reasons why she shouldn’t just keep making out with Bog - Bog the king of a moderate sized country, Bog who thought she was a princess. There were so many reasons, but when she could still taste him, when his hands still cupped her face, large thumbs lightly stroking along her cheekbones, when he felt so good, warm and rough and gentle in all the right ways, when they were alone, truly alone, somewhere with relative privacy…
Oh, fuck it.
Marianne wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him back to her. “You have terrible impulse control,” she growled, kissing him.
“Well yer certainly not makin it easy on me,” he murmured against her mouth.
She was ready to snark back when Bog shifted his hands to better cradle her face and angled his head, deepening the kiss. He tugged her lower lip between his teeth and running his tongue slowly against it. Now, the sound she made was, undoubtedly, a moan, as she shuddered, grabbing fistfuls of his hair, trying to bring herself as close to him as possible.
Oh god, oh god, she thought, somewhat helplessly. God, he felt so damn good, and it was too damn easy to lose herself in his kisses, his tongue sliding along hers now. His hands moved slowly from her face down her neck, the rough pads of his fingertips barely brushing her skin, before skating down her sides and settling on her waist.
Then he picked her up.
Again Marianne’s squeak was muffled by his mouth, and she told herself she was wrapping her legs around him to keep herself up. Never mind how her already short dress rode up as she did so, never mind how he groaned deep in his throat at the action. She barely registered their movement until she was lifted a little higher and sat,plop, on a cabinet that was probably older than the United States of America. She was making out with a king atop of historic artifacts. What a life.
But oh. Oh, now that there wasn’t that extravagant height difference, they could get so much closer. She sat just the smallest bit taller than him now, and the new angle to their kiss had them both moaning. Bog broke away to kiss down her neck, no longer having to crane his to do so. Marianne let her head fall back, baring more of her throat for him, gasping at the warm stroke of his tongue, the light graze of his teeth.
“Bog,” her voice was almost a whine, as she her nails in his hair, wrapping her legs tighter around him. His large hands settled on her legs, stroking up her thighs until her stockings ended. The sound he made when smooth skin replaced the feeling of nylon under his hands might have made her laugh if she had any concentration for it.
Bog shuddered against her, letting his head fall, burrowed into the crook of her neck as he breathed her in. Marianne took the moment to breathe in turn, though her breaths were short and quivery, soft, barely bitten back moans as Bog’s hands continued a gentle rhythm up and down her thighs.
Marianne pulled him back up to kiss her, long and slow, her hands moving down to his back, stroking down his spine. He groaned into their kiss, another shiver of pleasure going through him.
God this was too much, too good. It was going too far, but heaven help her, Marianne could make herself stop, not when he could make her feel this way, not when he was so damn willing to surrender himself to it.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” she murmured, even as she moved to kiss the line of his jaw.
“Ah know,” he said, his voice deliciously rough.
She pulled away to look at him, her fingers playing with the hair that curled slightly at the nape of his neck. “You really don’t,” she said.
He kissed her again. “Daen’t care,” he growled between affections, pulling away briefly and then returning. “Want ye.”
Marianne felt something in her break at his words, rough and ragged and seeming to have been pulled out from somewhere deep within him. She pulled away from him completely, panting. There was more than a little concern in Bog’s lust-darkened eyes which only made her hurt all the more. She couldn’t look at him, look at this man who wanted her, was willing to go to all this risk because of it - risk he thought existed because he thought she was Dawn, the heir to another country’s throne. He didn’t know her. She couldn’t give him what he wanted.
She burrowed her face in his shoulder, catching her breath - though she was finding it hard to breathe. What was she doing? Why did she keep letting herself get pulled in by him like this when nothing could ever happen? What could possibly happen?
Bog, though his arms came around her almost on instinct, was obviously confused, unsure what in his words had spurred this reaction and whether it was a good reaction or not. One large hand moved to stroke at her hair and there was a long pause before, “… Dawn?”
Marianne squeezed her eyes shut, took another shaky breath and feeling him further tense. She’d been silent too long. She needed to say something to him. God, there were so many things she needed to say to him. She should say to him.
“Bog…” she began, her voice shaking a little. She lifted her head, ready to look him in the eye…
What she would have said to him, neither of them would ever know. Her purse fell over on the cabinet, her phone slipping out and vibrating madly. Marianne blinked a few times, reigning in her turbulent thoughts. One glance at the number confirmed what she had already known; Dawn.
Bog was looking at her looking at the phone. “Important?” He asked, softly.
Not as important as anything she needed to tell him- but even as she thought that she wasn’t sure it was true. Leave it to her to decide to ignore her sister the one time it was important.
Her silence was answer enough; he released her, lifting his hands almost in a show of forfeit. His blue eyes were unreadable, and there was a bitter turn to his mouth - as if he actually knew what she had been on the cusp of saying. Oh god, what she had almost said-
Her phone stopped vibrating. She looked back at it, biting a lip. Dawn might need something. If she didn’t talk to her, she might think something had happened, that her punishment for her night out was worse than expected. Marianne needed to talk to her.
“I’ll leave ye to it, then.”
She looked up just in time to see Bog’s small, unhappy smile, right as he turned back toward the door back out to the hallway. Back out of this brief sanctuary they had made of the Archive Room.
Dawn could wait a minute more.
“Bog,” she said, hopping off the cabinet and meeting him at the door. He turned, startled and she yanked him back down. The kiss was gentle, slow and soft, and Marianne put all the words she had wanted and could not say to him into it.
I love you.
Bog broke the kiss slowly, his breath ragged and his smile genuine. “Tough Girl,” he murmured. Marianne’s heart twisted.
She managed a smile back. “I’ll talk to you, later. Alright?”
He left after that and Marianne took a moment to collect herself. That had been a bad idea, that kiss, but she found she couldn’t regret that at the very least. He deserved it. He deserved more to be honest. She sighed, running her fingers through her hair and picked up her sister’s phone, thinking of what she should say to Dawn. She scrolled back to missed calls and called her own number back.
It rang once, twice and then;
“Well, there you are, Buttercup. I was worried it was a bad time.”
Marianne felt the blood in her body that had, not a minute ago been racing hot through her, positively freeze. Her heart stopped and it took all the strength in her not to drop the phone. No, no, no, no. This was a nightmare, this was some kind of delirious nightmare. She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t breath. Oh please let this be a dream, let this not be real. She couldn’t breathe- she couldn’t-
“It ain’t a bad time, is it?” But no, that was Roland Royce that continued, his voice smooth and soothing while the sound had the exact opposite effect on her. She wasn’t sure how she could be hyperventilating when she could not breathe. “So hard to tell with the time difference - what time is it in Polyanthus anyway?”
No. How had he- how could he possibly know where she was? He couldn’t know. He couldn’t- he-
Marianne’s mind caught up with her, though the conclusion it reached only plunged her into deeper panic. He was calling Dawn’s phone. He was calling Dawn’s phone from her phone in America.
“Where the fuck is my sister?”
He laughed, and Marianne felt her stomach churn. “Ah, there you are, indeed. Truly, darlin, I’ve missed the sound of you cussing me out.”
“Where is she?” She snarled again.
“Relax, sweetheart, she’s fine. I explained that I needed to talk to you and she was more than happy to lend me your contact- well, I say happy. And explain. And fine.”
Marianne wanted to scream, wanted to vomit, wanted to run as far away as her legs could take her, somewhere where this voice and all it was attached to couldn’t reach her. “Shut up and tell me what the fuck you’ve done, you goddamned bastard.”
Roland made a small ‘tsk’ noise, chiding and condescending in a way he did best. “Why, that’s hardly princess language, Marianne.”
“TELL ME, DAMN YOU.”
Another laugh. “Okay okay. Your sister’s right here with me,” he said, still in that mockingly soothing tone. “Haven’t touched a hair on her head. Can’t imagine anyone would be pleased if I returned the rightful princess Dawn in anything less than pristine condition.”
Marianne’s already queasy stomach dropped further at this news, delivered as nonchalantly as if he’d commented on the weather. Oh god. Oh god no. Oh, but of course, it was so like him. It was practically his M.O. It was what he had wanted to do with her years ago - restore a lost princess to her throne - and this time he would be able to. This time there was no way that it wouldn’t work out for him. Even if-
“Dawn’s not going to go along with that,” she said stiffly, even if she wasn’t sure she believed it. “And what the fuck do you mean, you explained?”
“Well, explained is a vague term, my peach,” he said. “I merely showed her what evidence I have in my possession.”
Marianne’s anger was beginning to take away her panic and so she welcomed it. This man was not her personal nightmare. He was real. He was fucking dangerous, manipulative as he was, but he wasn’t inhuman. She could deal with him.
“Might have done it front of some kid, but he seemed a little too shook up by his little crush bein royalty for me to be worried about him spillin the beans too soon.”
She felt her heart give a painful twist. Sunny. Oh god, no wonder Roland hesitated to call Dawn fine. If Sunny hadn’t taken the news well, and of course he hadn’t… oh, Dawn. I am so sorry.
Needing to say something, needing to counteract him somehow “So, you’re exploiting us no matter what we do. How again does that give us any incentive to let you return her?”
Roland chuckled, a deep hearty sound. “Oh no, you’ve got me all wrong, buttercup. Not surprised, of course, you always had a habit of readin my intentions wrong. Now,” he continued, quick, before she could cut him off. “Darlin, this story can go a few ways - as I’ve told your charming sister. One, as I’ve said, involves my, ah, uncovering the scandal of royalty bribing a common American to take her place while she ran amok.”
“Amo-?” Marianne gasped. “And she didn’t bribe me!”
“Good luck convincing the press of that one; they love a scandal. Besides, why else would you do it? Unless,” she could hear the delighted smile in his oily voice. “Unless Miss. Dale had illusions of stealing the throne from her sister - perhaps that was how the bribe worked. What do you think? Front page in all of Europe and America, I’d say.”
“You manipulative bastard.”
“I prefer to think of myself as opportunistic,” he retorted, smug. “But, ya gotta understand, that’s only the worst case scenario. Contrary to what you might believe, darlin, I don’t want to hurt you. Our other story can go like this: End of this week, you and her royal highness, make your switch, like you planned. Not a hitch to it. I wouldn’t breathe a word of what I know, granted that I receive… oh, certain privileges and weight that a parliament member might.”
Marianne almost dropped the phone. “Are you out of your goddamned mind, you asshole?! Do you honestly think I would- either of us would-!”
“You do understand, on a fundamental level, what you and Princess Dawn are doing is treason, don’t ya?” Roland cut in smoothly. She felt her earlier cold settle over her once again. “You are aware how many laws are being broken just by you being where you are. A mention of bribes and a conspiracy against the throne - oh, and what will this mean for foreign relations with, what is it called again? Biròg?”
She felt her heart stop all over again, and for a second she swayed, unfocused as this information washed over her. “How do you-?”
“Well once I knew where you were, what you were doing it didn’t take long to find out just what’s been happening with dear Princess Mar- oh, I mean Dawn,” he laughed. “Really, buttercup, what were you thinkin’ - fallin for someone like that?”
Whether it was a dig at Bog’s gaunt, looming appearance or to her common status, Marianne didn’t care, what is meant was the same; they were as much as from different worlds. What had she been thinking, indeed.
Currently she was thinking she was the biggest idiot in the entire universe. How had she thought, how had she ever let herself think she’d be free of this man. Even after she’d left him, the kind of emotional manipulation he’d pulled on her stuck with her, kept her from trying for any kind of happiness, any attachment. And she’d let her guard down, finally believed, even if for a moment that Roland was gone from her. And this is what it came to. Ruining her life further, ruining Dawn’s and Sunny’s and Bog’s and the whole entire country.
Roland tsked again at her long silence. “Now I figured this was an easy choice, but clearly you’re taking your time thinking this over-”
“Let me talk to Dawn.”
“Mmmm not tonight, sweet thing,” he said. “But don’t you worry, we’ll be there in less than twenty-four.”
Just when Marianne thought he couldn’t shock her anymore. “WHAT?”
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t trust bein so far away from you. Just as a reminder of your choice - how about ya let me know what you’ve decided then.”
“At least give me a chance to talk to her about it - I’m not deciding both our lives!” She snapped.
“You know, I’m still surprised you’re making such a tough decision out of this,” Roland said, almost thoughtfully. Met with her stony silence he sighed, loud and dramatic. “Alright, I’ll give you another day after we arrive, sound fair, my darling?”
“I’m not your anything, bastard, and none of this is fair,” she said, cold and furious. Somewhere in this conversation she had started crying but she couldn’t say when because she couldn’t feel it. She couldn’t feel anything. “But yes. I’ll do it.”
“Perfect,” the bastard had the gall to sound genuinely pleased. “So happy to be talking to you again, Marianne.”
And with that, he ended the call.
Marianne stood in the royal archive room, bitter, furious tears streaming down her ashen face and of all things, her mind drifted back to her last words to Bog before he left: I’ll talk to you later.
How fitting that her last words to him would also be a lie.
Dawn’s - and Roland’s - flight left the following morning from America and landed that night, due to the time difference and eight hours in the air. Roland had purchased - with Marianne’s money - a hotel room not two blocks away from the palace and its foreign embassies.
Dawn, on the other hand, was allowed to come back to the palace. It appeared Roland trusted his blackmail well enough that he knew neither of them would or could plot against him.
“We could kill him,” Marianne had suggested over the phone during her sister’s ride over. Her black humor lost most of its humor in her hoarse delivery.
Dawn still snorted softly, all sunshine gone from her voice. “We’re in enough trouble without murder. But it’s tempting.”
“I’ll keep it in reserve.”
Holly had contributed a day off and a spare suit to Dawn being brought in looking like any one of the princess’s handlers. It would get her in safe, and she would change back as soon as she was safe.
At 9:30 PM, Marianne got a knock on the bedroom door, which Heather and Rose answered. A moment later, Holly came in, followed by Dawn…
And for a minute the two sisters just stared at each other.
It was the strangest thing Marianne had seen. Dawn still had her blonde pixie cut waves, her blue eyes were still clean of heavy make up but… she looked like Marianne. She was in one of Marianne’s old High School band shirts that used to be red but was a kind of faded pink now, and a pair of jeans that ripped a little at the hem and knees. If Marianne had seen her on a street in America, she would have looked just like any other college-aged girl.
Weirder yet, Marianne could suddenly see herself as Dawn must be seeing her. She was in casual wear for a princess, a turquoise and white blouse, dark straight legged jeans, a pair of simple flats. Her usual hairpins were absent and so her dark hair fell more naturally into her face, but from the look in Dawn’s eyes Marianne knew how she appeared. She looked like Dawn. Like Princess Dawn. She might as well have been wearing the crown.
They looked at each other a moment longer, and here, Marianne found another similarity between her and her sister. I know you’re going to cry, Her mother used to say. You have a tell; you bite your lip to keep it from quivering and you blink too fast.
It was the exact expression Dawn was making then.
Even with the feet between them, Marianne could see her baby sister’s eyes begin to water as they took each other in, could see her shoulders begin to shake.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, her voice breaking on the last word-
-and Marianne closed the distance in two long strides, taking Dawn in her arms, feeling her own throat close up. “No, Dawn. No. Listen to me, Dawn. This isn’t your fault, none of it is.”
Her sister was crying in earnest now. “B-But it is. It’s my f-f-fault, Mari- I did- I shouldn’t have- I let him get to y-”
Marianne shook her head, blinking rapidly. “Roland’s a lot of things, Dawn, and manipulative is probably his star quality. You didn’t let him do anything- he made you- he blackmailed you - blackmailed both of us. This wasn’t you, this was all him, okay?” She pulled back, looking Dawn in the eye, trying to get this into her head. If there was anything Roland was good at, it was making a person believe the worst about themselves; it was how he’d kept her dating him for over a year, making sure Marianne knew she was so lucky that he had even looked at her. It made his deception hurt all the worse after years of being made to believe that he’d wanted her, that he was the only person who would want her… even that was a lie.
Dawn’s breathing had begun to slow but she shook her head. “He- He made Sunny th-think- I-” Her tears overflowed again and she buried her face in Marianne’s shoulder.
The regret and self-deprecation in the younger girl’s voice was painful to hear, and in this Marianne could do little but stroke her hair. “Shhh. I know, I know. But that’s not how it was, you know that’s not how it was. You care about him a lot, don’t you?”
She nodded mutely.
“And he should have realized that. He should have listened to you. But that’s Roland’s fault, too. Making people-” Dawn began to shake her head. “Dawn, listen to me, this wasn’t-”
“This was my idea, Marianne!” Her sister pulled away, just enough to look at her again. “This whole thing wasmy idea. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t decided to do this - you know that!” She rubbed the back to her hand over her eyes. “It’s my fault.”
Marianne took a deep breath, looking her sister over. Yes, that was true. All of this had been Dawn’s idea, everything had been set in motion because Dawn had sought her out. Marianne had been more than resigned to live out her lonely life in peace, without ever knowing that her sister - or her father - had, in fact cared. If it hadn’t been for Dawn, she perhaps might not have been happy, might never have been happy, but she would have remained resigned to the only life she knew.
If it hadn’t been for Dawn, she would have never so much as heard of King Ciaran of Biròg, much less loved him. Never have experienced the, however fleeting, joy of being wanted. Never had to deal with breaking her own heart all over again, as well as his…
But that was as much her fault as Dawn’s. She had allowed herself to get lost in her own charade, after all.
She nodded slowly. “Yes, this was your idea, Dawn, and yes, we messed it up. I might regret a lot before it’s over - but I don’t- I don’t regret meeting you. I’ll never regret that. You’re my sister and I am so happy I’ve met you. Come here.” She pulled Dawn back into her arms, where they held each other in silence for some time.
Two hours later, well after midnight, Dawn was back in her own clothing. She had taken a long shower, her ladies laying out her clothing and talking quietly to her. Marianne had watched, feeling suddenly like she was an outsider, watching someone else’s life playing out; Dawn’s room, Dawn’s clothing, Dawn’s handmaidens. She had no claim on any part of this life.
After that, the two lay on the large bed, staring at the ceiling, and they… talked, spilling out all the details of their week and a few days excursion being each other. Dawn told her all about Sunny, the cheerful upstairs neighbor who loved music and classic films and had a cat named Trouble and always knew just what to say. In turn, Marianne told Dawn all about Bog, the gruff and sarcastic neighboring king with eyes bluer than a noonday sky, who liked Elvis and called her Tough Girl and sometimes seemed to read her mind.
Marianne went on and talked about her conversations with their dad, specifically his comments about what had caused he and Vivian Dale’s divorce, and his desire to reach out to her after all the years of silence that had stretched between them.
“Of course, in light of everything - I wonder if that’ll stay the case,” she added bitterly.
Dawn sighed. “What are we going to do?”
There was the million dollar question, asked at long last. Marianne replayed her conversation with Roland, the ultimatum he had given them. Either way he won, but he was being generous, giving them a situation where they could still go through with their switch without consequences.
That thought gave her pause. Without consequences, her ass. Marianne was losing everything either way, losing the small happiness she had allowed herself, losing the one person she had come to love, losing the sense of family and home she hadn’t had since her mother had died. There was no guaranty that Roland wouldn’t eventually decide to use his blackmail for more sensationalized fame, either. It would always be held over them, something to use against them and their fear of the truth getting out.
“What would happen to me, to us, if it got out what we’d done,” Marianne asked, her voice sounded far-away and absent.
Dawn hummed, equally lost in thought. After a long silence she spoke, her voice quiet and morose. “Well, it would really depend on how dad took it. He could give you pardon, immunity, if it was clear that it had been my idea… if everyone knew that you weren’t vying for the throne all along- but god knows, Roland will make it sound like you were, if not worse.”
Marianne could imagine that. Oh, what the tabloids would say about Miss Dale if he had a say in it. If he had any say in it…
Marianne sat up suddenly, and Dawn blinked up at her, eyes wide. “Mari?”
She looked down at her sister, her eyes blazing, her fists clenched. “Dawn,” she said, grimly. “I have an idea - but you’re not going to like it.”
Chapter 17: Water Under the Bridge
On the shorter side but very full.
Marianne was right; Dawn did not like her plan. But she was smart enough to understand it was the only choice they had. If it went right, it was the only way Roland would be unable to have any further say, take the wind from his sails for good. If it went very right, they might even see the man incarcerated for what he had done.
Yes, in this plan the sisters lost considerably less – both still lost something, Dawn had already lost her best friend, but perhaps they did not quite lose everything.
But that didn’t mean she had to be happy about it.
They sat on the floor at the foot of her bed, both in pajamas, like kids at a slumber party, her handlers having gone home a few hours prior. It was odd seeing Marianne in her room, as odd as seeing her in her tiara had been. It was a reminder of her uncomfortable desire for Marianne to stay. Secretly, as her sister explained and answered all her questions, Dawn had wondered at how to convince their father to let Marianne stay, even if not as a princess. If Marianne was right- if he really did regret not reaching out to her… what better way to make it right.
But all that hinged on Marianne wanting to stay with her there. Sure, she had come into her own, being far better at princess-ing than she might have expected, but while this palace couldn’t have been her home, the fact remained that it wasn’t, and had not been for most of her life.
“What about Bog?” Dawn finally asked, after she had exhausted all other questions she had about their plan of attack.
Marianne, who had not exactly been happy but still had exuded some form of bitter confidence as she laid out the details, deflated. She looked away from Dawn, at her feet, crossed under her. “What about him?”
Dawn sighed. Couldn’t her sister make this a little easier for her? “When were you planning to tell him?” Marianne stopped picking at her socks, and blinked at her, looking somewhere between puzzled and panicked. Dawn blanched a little. “You were planning to tell him before we did this, right?”
She worried her lip between her teeth, but when she spoke her voice was deceptively steady. “It’s not like it’s going to change anything.”
“Marianne!” Dawn said, positively shocked.
“What, Dawn!” Marianne echoed, sarcastic and defensive. “It’s not!”
“Mari, you do realize that if I could go back, if I could change absolutely anything, I would have told Sunny exactly who I was. I would have told him, on my own terms and I would do anything to go back and have that chance.”
Marianne was silent a long time, her brown eyes as wide as a deer in headlights before she looked away again. “This is still- it’s different.”
“How is it different?”
Marianne sighed, the sound frustrated. “You got to be yourself when you were in America, Dawn, just you, and that’s who Sunny got to know. But that’s- you know, this whole week was me… pretending, and Bog-”
“Oh, please,” Dawn cut her off. “The Bog King did not fall in love with me.” Marianne actually blushed at that - until that moment, Dawn didn’t think her sister could blush - but shook her head. ”Marianne,” she began again.
She was cut off, this time considerably more impatient. “Don’t Marianne me, Dawn. I mean it. When or how I say it doesn’t change what happened. Nothing I say changes that I am hurting him. I don’t want to make this any harder than it already is.”
“God, Marianne do you hear yourself?” Dawn snapped, unable to listen to Marianne being so defeatist. “So you lied to Bog, just the same as I lied to Sunny. There is nothing different between what happened, but earlier you were ready to jump through every hoop to tell me that none of that was my fault!” Marianne blinked, thoroughly startled, but Dawn was on a roll. “You can’t take all the blame off of me and give it to yourself. That’s not how that works. Either you’re going to give yourself the same credit you’re giving me or you’re going to admit we both fucked up and we’re both going to try and fix what we can.”
It took another good minute before Marianne’s shock was shook off and she could snap back. “Fine. Okay. Let’s just say, for a minute, that Bog doesn’t take the news of my deception horribly - what is supposed to happen then? Yeah, Bog didn’t fall in love with you, he wasn’t falling in love with me, either.” She ran her fingers through her hair and got to her feet, pacing. “Maybe I wasn’t pretending to be you, but I was still pretending. I’m not- I’m Marianne Dale, I’m an American college student who has no idea what she wants in her life. I’m not a princess, Dawn, I’m not and I never will be. I was- I was fucking playing dress-up.”
Dawn blinked a few times, not entirely sure what her sister was getting at and grasped at the first straw she could. “You know, marriages between royalty and non-royalty happen, like, all the time now- hell, dad did it.”
She stared at her, incredulously, and she realized she had probably not said the right thing. “That’s not at all what I mea- I don’t want- and- oh and for god’s sake, Dawn, look how well that worked out him! That is actually the least reassuring thing you could have just said.”
Dawn winced. Definitely wrong thing to say. “Okay, that’s fair,” she said. Marianne wasn’t mom, she thought,and Bog certainly wasn’t dad. But there was no way to say that when she wasn’t sure what Marianne did mean. It seemed to her that Marianne had the best chance to hold on to some happiness from all of this but she refused to grab at it. Her sister didn’t seem the type to run away but there they were. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” she added.
Marianne sighed, sitting on the bed again. “I know you’re trying to help, Dawn, and that means a lot. But- I can’t do this any other way. I just- can’t.”
“Will you at least talk to him afterward?” Dawn asked, and yeah maybe she sounded a little desperate. She was.
They looked at each other a moment, and in the softening of her eyes, Dawn could tell Marianne could at least understand some of her thoughts. She had meant what she said; she would give anything, anything at all to get the chance to tell Sunny the truth, on her terms. And maybe it would have hurt him, but it would have been right, it would have been what he deserved from her.
Finally Marianne raked her fingers through her hair again, looking away. “I’ll try, Dawn. I’ll… try.”
And she had to be content with that.
“Is this completely necessary?” Marianne asked her sister the next day, late-afternoon. On one hand, her hair was straight again, her make-up in her usual palate.
On the other hand, she was in a floor length gown in a rose color so dark it almost looked black, the high neckline was a matching lace and gold thread the laid over the bodice and the skirts billowed in elegant silky lines.
“Of course it’s necessary,” Dawn retorted. “It’s a public event, you have to be formal for it. Besides, a good appearance gives a lady confidence,” she said, tilting her chin up as she said it. Dawn was dressed in a matching gown, hers in a pale periwinkle color, almost white, the gold thread still sparkled in the lacy top and she had a gold and diamond circlet tiara. She thought the overall picture made her look angelic.
Marianne thought it was hard to feel confidant in a dress that she felt she was going to rip the hem off of at any minute.
But then she’d catch herself in the mirror; the cut of the dress making her look tall and lean. The bodice was fitted, hugging petite but still present curves perfectly and the color set off her dark hair and her natural amber eyes becomingly.
This is what Princess Marianne would have looked like, she thought.
Then she thought she might vomit.
Dawn looked at the reflection then at her, smiling a bit more sympathetically. “Think of it like armor. Like battle armor.”
Marianne snorted, running her fingers over the silk and lace. “If this was battle armor, I’d be dead. And you know, it’s not like I’ve ever been in battle - even in video games.”
Her sister laughed. “Yeah, but I bet you’d be good at it.”
Now that, that gave her confidence. She sighed, wanting to touch her hair but afraid to mess it up. “Are we sure about this?”
“Do we have a choice?”
“Not exactly,” she conceded.
The morning had been a series of jumping through hoops, but thankfully Dawn knew the regulations about making public statements, about how quickly one could call the press for them, where they were held, and more importantly, how to do all of it while their father remained aware but not suspicious.
“I used to be a bit of a party girl, in my teens,” Dawn had explained. “Most rumors regarding that are ignored, but a couple times news would circle around that I’d gotten pregnant or something insane and I had to make a public statement to shut them up. It got tiring, and I started going out less. The status stuck though.” She shook her head and smiled again. “Everyone’s probably going to think this is about you and Bog.”
Remembering that part, Marianne’s queasy smile vanished. Her conversation with Dawn about Bog from the night before wasn’t making this any easier. If Sunny hadn’t taken the news well, how could she expect Bog to, even if he was being told in a much better setting. Sure, Dawn could talk about telling him on her own terms but for Marianne that just wasn’t possible. Nothing she could say, no way she could say it would make this any easier on the two of them, make it easier to tell Bog, the man who valued honesty so highly, that he had fallen in love with a lie.
So maybe she was running - it wasn’t like he’d ever want to see her again anyways.
So she smiled grimly at her reflection, at the last time she’d ever get to play the princess part, the lie that she had come to realize she wanted to be true more than anything else.
Dawn squeezed her hand. “Into the fray,” she said.
Half an hour later, the throne room and audience chamber was full of reporters and cameras. Marianne stood at a podium. She wondered if she was being televised. She wondered if she might indeed throw up. She wondered why she was doing this, and if she would be able to find her voice. She caught Dawn’s eye from where she stood, out of public eye.
“Two days ago a man named Roland Royce confronted my sister in America.”
There was a collective murmuring in the crowd of reporters, more cameras went off. It made sense, Marianne Dale was clearly not a common topic for the royal family. She probably hadn’t been mentioned since her mother’s death.
She took a shaky breath, trying not to laugh humorlessly; this was the easy part.
“Mr. Royce confronted her with images he had collected over the past week and incriminating information about on both her and myself. He then contacted me with the same information. His blackmail was simple; his knowledge would stay secret should I grant him several special privileges known to the Polyanthian court.” That received more murmurs, louder. Marianne thought she heard a gasp. “He arrived with my sister in tow last night, and I was given until tonight to make a decision.”
Marianne exhaled, trying not to look for any faces in the crowd of reporters. Her father was standing off at one side, she could imagine his rigid posture, his furrowed white brows, the confusion and alarm in his features. She knew Bog was here, but she would not seek him out, could not begin to imagine what might be written in his features. Another long deep breath and she continued, “Mr. Royce is confidant in his blackmail, confidant that I will give him what he desires, because he knows I am afraid. I am afraid of everyone in this country learning what he knows.
But I am not as afraid as he believes.
What Roland Royce knows is that I am not Princess Dawn.”
Yep. There were the gasps she had anticipated. Marianne thought the entire crowd that had amassed took a step away from her at the news, recoiling. There was actually a moment of stunned silence before the cameras went wild. Marianne allowed for all of this as it gave her a minute to breathe again. There it was. She had said it, the rest would come easily enough.
“My name is Marianne Dale or, as you might know it, Marianne Dahlia Josephine Reseda, this first born daughter of King Douglas of Polyanthus and the late American CEO Vivian Dale. The woman Mr. Royce confronted in America was, in fact, Crown Princess Dawn Eleanor Reseda, my younger sister. I was contacted by her highness a week and a half ago, when she and the King were visiting America.
Mr. Royce would have had you believe what happened next was a bribe, some underhand dealing between my sister and I. But that is simply not true; Princess Dawn initially contacted me with the innocent intention of meeting her older sister, a privilege she had been denied all her life. It was only after we met that we agreed to switch places for a week. While the idea was Princess Dawn’s, it was a decision mutually agreed on; there was no bribe given to me, I did not ask for anything in return. My sister wanted to experience the life of an ordinary young woman, and I- though I might have hesitated to admit it, I was curious. Curious about what life I might have had, had circumstances not been as they were.”
Marianne sighed, closing her eyes for a moment. That took more to say than she had thought it would, for all that she had been long past fighting the truth, at least in her head; Marianne had wanted to see this life, see what it was like to, at least for a time, be a princess. “Still, I knew it was wrong,” she went on, as much to herself as her audience. “But my sister was certain I would not be found out, knowing that when you see her, what you see is her face, and ours are similar enough.”
She gestured, and Dawn stepped out from where she had been standing, just behind a curtain, flanked my her handlers. Another gasp went through the crowd, Marianne was half-blinded by the flashes of every camera. They were all noticing what Marianne had always known; she and Dawn looked very similar, especially how they were currently dressed, but they were not twins. Any person who had really wanted to look could have seen that difference, could have picked up on it, if they had looked.
“She knew,” Marianne said, speaking up over the muttering of reporters. “She knew all you would see was her face, my face, and that, in her position often that is what you see. You don’t see her.” Unable to help herself, she let her eyes drift to her father’s, watching him look between her and his daughter in something like horror. “And none of you did.”
He met Marianne’s eyes and she could practically see him replaying every conversation he’d had with her, and there it was, the touch of self-incrimination in those green eyes. In that look alone Marianne realized that perhaps she would, at very least, wind up with her father’s protection after all. She would have to have a very long talk with him first, but at least now King Douglas looked more than ready to listen.
She clutched the podium she stood at, looking away again. “Again, that does not make what we did right in anyway, and I- I deeply apologize for-”
Marianne cut off, as her eyes found a pair of blue ones. Bog stood near a corner of the room, taller than everyone as always. His expression was hard to read, largely confused, his lips parted with the slackening of his jaw, his brows furrowed. His eyes darting between her and Dawn, moving across her face. Marianne felt her throat close up, an instinct suddenly telling her to run, run far away.
“I- I- apologize for the deception I have been apart of.” She couldn’t breathe., but somehow managed to steady her voice. “Rol- Mr. Royce would have you believe, I know, that I am inadvertently vying for the Polyanthian throne. I must make it clear that that is not true. I have- I have- perhaps allowed myself to be caught up in this act, more so than I ever intended. But,” She closed her eyes for a moment, but Bog’s lost expression was still seared into her memory. Finally she spoke again, “But- I am not a princess, least of all your princess, and have not been for the last twenty years. And I have no intention to ever be Princess Marianne again.
That is all I have to say on the matter. I am not going to be answering questions.”
Dawn gently took Marianne by the shoulders as the room erupted in questions and cries. It was part of their plan; Marianne released the statement and Dawn could answer the questions. She had more experience with this sort of thing anyways. Marianne was passed to her handlers who ushered her out a backdoor where no one else was permitted to go.
Marianne stood with her back against the door, catching her breath, and tried not to cry.
It wasn’t a full minute, she wasn’t halfway down the hallway leading from the audience chamber, before Marianne heard the large doors open and then slam as another person existed. Refusing to turn, refusing to stop walking, Marianne heard the footsteps coming up behind her; too heavy to be Dawn, too fast to be her father-
“Marianne!” A rough brogue called to her. Her name, her real name… she had never realized how much she had wanted to hear Bog say it until he did, but god, this was not the setting she would have wanted, not in a million years. “Marianne, wait!”
She couldn’t. She couldn’t talk to him, she couldn’t look at him. God only knew what was in his eyes right then. “Why?” She asked wildly. He caught up with her, long steps over taking hers. She wouldn’t look at him, staring ahead as though he weren’t blocking her. “What can you possibly have to say now, after every-”
Marianne froze, her eyes darting to his face, too shocked to stop the movement. He couldn’t- no, he couldn’t have possibly- there was no way.
“What?” She croaked. “What do you mean, you knew?”
He looked indefinably upset; angry? hurt? Marianne didn’t know. She didn’t want to know. “I mean- I didn’t- I had- guessed- wondered if mayb-”
Bog cleared his throat. “It wasn’t- it was just something I’d started to- you were so different from the descriptions of Dawn I knew of- an’ after our dinner- my mother mentioned you- Marianne- I found some pictures… and I wondered.”
Marianne’s ears were ringing. Already, that he had known since after there dinner - their kiss in the Archive Room- he’d kissed her in the Archive Room and he had fucking known - but then I found some pictures and something in her shut off. Pictures. Of her. Of Marianne. She could feel the cresting wave of another panic attack, and tried to push it down. He had no idea, no idea what he was doing by saying that; how findingpictures- researching her- brought her to memories of Roland telling her he knew who she really was years ago, and then again just a few nights ago, how it triggered her copious amounts of trust issues and left her near unable to breathe. God, he had no way to know- he thought telling her that he knew was supposed to make her feel better, didn’t he?
She was trembling. “You knew…”
“That isn’t-” he began, sensing the anger in her words, but Marianne was already shoving him aside, moving past him, needing to get anywhere, anywhere but where she was. “That’s not- I didn’t know anythin- not really-” She shoved him again, ready to break into a run before Bog growled, a low, frustrated noise. “I’m tryin to tell ye I don’t care - I don’t care about any of it!”
At that, Marianne faced him again, her fists clenched, all of her trembling. “Oh well, that’s just great! But you know what - I do care! I do care that I lied, I do care that you fucking KNEW I lied and then you didn’t think to- to tell me? You could have- god, no, you thought it would be better to let me continue making a fucking fool of myself around you!”
“You know, maybe Ah thought ye might tell me!” He snapped, and Marianne was almost relieved. Let them both be angry; he had every right to be. “Maybe Ah thought ye’d trust me!”
She laughed, high and bitter. “Like I was in any fucking position-!”
“So, ye were just plannin to leave me? Goin to pretend Ah’d be dumb enough not to notice ye weren’t-!” She pushed past him again. She couldn’t do this. She could not do this now, after everything else. “An’ now- ye weren’t goin to explain anythin’- yer not even goin to try to tell me anythin we had was real-?”
“It wasn’t real!” Marianne whirled on him, her eyes blazing. “God, none of it was!”
Bog stepped back, stumbling as though she had punched him, his blue eyes gone wide. Marianne almost wanted to laugh; it would appear knowing hadn’t made this any easier on him. Big fucking surprise.
“Ye- ye don’t mean that.”
She threw her arms up. “Have you not been listening to me? I was lying- I’ve been lying since I got here! It doesn’t matter what you felt or what I felt or if you fucking care or not - none of this was real!”
He didn’t appear to know how to respond to that, and really, how could he? She shook her head and, unable to find parting words that wouldn’t, too, be a lie, turned to continue her retreat.
That shook him, and he grabbed her arm before she could leave. “Wait- DAWN!”
Marianne froze, and could feel Bog stiffen in turn in the tightening of his grip. Though, frankly, she was surprised she could feel anything under the cold, numbness that had spread from name. She closed her eyes, trying to ignore the way they were burning, trying to ignore the drops of water that fell from her eyelashes when she opened them again, and slowly turned to him.
Bog was in the middle of a wince, pain and anger and regret etched to clearly into his features. He opened his eyes at last, meeting hers. “Marianne,” he said slowly, his voice a strained, rough croak. “Ah meant… Marianne.”
Al at once, Marianne felt her anger leave her - she wasn’t angry with him. She was furious with herself and frustrated that he kept trying but it wasn’t- god, none of it had been his fault.
She could hear voices coming from the auditorium still, could hear Dawn trying to answer all their questions at once. She knew any minute they’d probably be coming through the door and seeing her and Bog together would hardly help anything. She stepped away from him and slipped her arm out of fingers that seemed to have gone numb.
The door cracked open, Marianne took another step away and Bog’s eyes never left her. “Marianne-” he began again. She shook her head.
“Your majesty!” A reporter’s voice called, having caught sight of Biròg’s king.
“Goodbye, Bog,” she said softly, and turned away. Retreating down the hallway, turning a corner, further into the castle, to safety.
Still she heard him call out to her, “MARIANNE!” just as he got swept up by the now freed onslaught of reporters.
“Your majesty, were you aware that she was not the princess?”
“What is the nature of your relationship with Miss. Dale?”
“Your majesty, is it true that you were planning to propose?”
“Did she tell you her identity before you began seeing her?”
The voices became an indistinguishable murmur the further Marianne ran.
“Did you know?”
Did you know?
Chapter 18: With Or Without You
Bog had meant it when he told Marianne Dale that he had not known. He hadn’t known, not the way he’d made it, however unintentionally, sound.
After their dinner, after she had kissed him, soft and gentle under the street lamp outside a north side bar, after they’d had the closest thing to a date Bog had ever experienced, he couldn’t sleep. Instead, he had remained awake for hours, pacing, the blissful high her kiss had induced disappearing under a wave of morose anxiety.
What had he thought he was doing? She was Polyanthus’s princess, their heir - what was supposed to happen between them? (Okay, if he was logical about this, there was a whole line of succession past her - but could he ask her to leave her country for his? Did he really think he was worth that? To put it simply, no.)
But that didn’t change that he had fallen, rather helplessly, in love. That didn’t change that he wanted her so much it ached.
And it was in this miserable mood, the following morning, that his mother had called.
The conversation had been short (of course the woman had seen all the news and knew the state her son was in); Bog wasn’t going to listen to her wedding plan or name their grandchildren and certainly wasn’t in any mood for her to give him any reasoning on how he could have a relationship with the Polyanthian Crown Princess.
And then she’d said it:
“Ya know Princess Dawn’s got a sister, don’t ya?”
It took him a bit to understand what his mother had meant, and then Bog had refused to believe the idea out of hand. Even after his mother sent him a series of pictures of the older sister, Marianne Dale, who had lived with her mother since she was a child he refused to bite, refused to look at more than one (Marianne was young in it, a teenager, and yes, there was a resemblance; ”So, they look alike, mother, they’resisters”), and had shooed her off from pleading her case. He wasn’t so desperate that he’d stop seeing reality, after all.
And if, for the rest of that day, the idea set down roots, Bog didn’t acknowledge them.
And then, of course, there had been that kiss - well first their fight, and then the princess had all but thrown him into a storage room, and then he was kissing her, and she was kissing him (her fingers were in his hair and his hands were up that short, short skirt of hers) and Bog remained brain dead for much of that night. It was hard to remember any earlier conversation when all his focus was on the taste of her, the feel of her soft skin, the soft moans she made, how their interruption had been both a blessing and a curse because he knew if it hadn’t come he very well might have taken her right then and there.
But when the rest of the night passed, the whole next day passed, without hearing from her… and his mother’s conversation had returned to him slowly, almost against his will.
Ridiculous. The most far-fetched conspiracy theory if there ever bloody was one-
But they really did look alike… it was almost uncanny-
But she would have to told him, told him that she was Marianne. Certainly she would have told him by then.
And so maybe Bog had spent a few hours looking at the links his mother had sent him. He still hadn’t known.
Until suddenly he did.
Bog also meant what he said when he told Marianne Dale that he didn’t care. He had felt betrayed, when she finally announced the truth to her entire country (told the entire world before telling him), and he wasn’t going to pretend he didn’t. He understood what she has done and why (that was only partially true; Bog was an only child, Bog had no idea what one was willing to do for a sibling), and deep down he could understand why she couldn’t have told him who she was, even if she had wanted to - but that didn’t make it hurt less.
But he didn’t care if the Tough Girl he had fallen for was named Marianne and not Dawn, didn’t care that she was removed from royalty. Didn’t care about any of it, it didn’t change how he felt -
It wasn’t real.
- but something in that had gotten lost in translation, he thought bitterly. After her speech, Bog had been something of a mess - understandably - but he’d needed to talk to her, needed to tell her something… but he wasn’t even sure what, everything was too raw and before he knew it they were fighting, and she had left him.
He shouldn’t have blurted out that he knew, he certainly shouldn’t have mentioned having pictures of her, and he spent the remainder of the night and following morning silently (and occasionally aloud) cussing himself out for fucking up as he had. She had clearly been panicking, upset and angry as much with herself as with him and he had only made it worse (he’d called her Dawn, fucking hell).
Yes, Bog was now very sure of what he shouldn’t have said, but what was he supposed to have said to her?
The longer he thought about it the more he really did believe that he loved Marianne, even with her words about lying still ringing in his ears. The conversations he’d had with her, the bits of herself that she occasionally let slip through her enigmatic exterior… he had to believe that was her, Marianne. Sure, she lied when she put on that mask of formality (and god, wasn’t that what Bog had first liked about her - how bloody awful she was at it), she lied about her name - but the woman he’d fallen for… that hadn’t been a lie, he couldn’t help but believe that -
It doesn’t matter what you felt, or what I felt-
- And that woman loved him back, he had to believe that, too. She could have lied about everything else, but she wouldn’t have kissed him the way she had if her feelings for him weren’t real. She wouldn’t have looked at him with such heartbreak in her eyes (which were the most stunning color Bog had ever seen, like amber and gold, but more importantly, had been glistening with tears) when he had told her he knew.
Christ, he had fucked that up.
But how was he supposed to tell her any of this? He could hardly imagine that she wanted to see him now.
The day after Marianne’s announcement had been hectic as both her country and his demanded statements of him, trying to put a box around what he and Marianne were - an alarming amount asking about whether or not he had planned to propose to her. It took most of the morning to sort it out in a series of half-truths and platitudes - the formal lies he hated having to use in his line of work, but there was no way they were getting the full truth. Already the previous night’s events had been published, and he heard news of an American by the name of Roland Royce having been caught at the airport when attempting to flee the country (Bog had to smile a bit at that - he didn’t know the man, but something in the way Marianne had said his name spoke of a long, unpleasant history).
After that, against his better judgement, he did look again at the articles that his mother had sent him - or at least had begun to until he came across one announcing the death of American CEO Vivian Dale. There was a picture of the former Queen and her teenage daughter from what looked like some kind of charity event earlier that year. Bog knew the light that was in the younger Marianne’s face - the happiness that came before knowing any kind of loss. Seventeen, the article said, Marianne Dale had been seventeen when she had been essentially orphaned. Bog’s father had died when he was eighteen and without warning, he had had everything suddenly dropped on his shoulders. Marianne had had everything taken from her.
Frustrated and unhappy, getting nowhere being left alone with his own thoughts, images of a young Marianne Dale, and too vivid memories of every moment they had had together, Bog finally decided he had no choice but to try and speak to her.
He had no idea what to say. He just wanted to see her, talk to her, under better circumstances. He wanted her to know he really had meant that he didn’t care, that he hadn’t spoken impulsively.
He needed Marianne to know he loved her.
It was late afternoon by the time that Bog was able to get away. He had hoped, foolishly, that maybe she might seek him out, that maybe she would share his desire to work things out between them, but of course that hadn’t been the case and so he - somewhat audaciously - sought out her room.
Bog knocked heavily on the door, cringing and wondering still what the fuck he planned to say should she not just slam the door back in his face.
I’m sorry I’m sorry I love you please tell me you love me too.
But then the door opened to reveal a woman who was, without a doubt, not Marianne.
The young woman who opened the door was, in a word, beautiful. Her short hair was golden blonde, her eyes a sparkling blue and was in a knee-length white eyelet dress under a navy cardigan. She was petite, though she looked taller than Marianne and, even standing still, considerably more graceful. While Bog had never met her, he easily recognized Marianne’s younger sister.
They looked at each other for a second before she bowed her head, the move poised and practiced, not too little or too much. The exact movement one royal would make to another. “Your majesty,” she said.
Bog echoed the action almost on instinct, internally a little amused at how he had never felt that instinct to do so around Marianne - even when he had thought she was Dawn. “Your highness,” he returned.
The princess smiled. “You can call me Dawn,” she told him.
He wasn’t sure he could, actually. A few days ago he was making out with someone he thought was named Dawn.
“Right,” he said at last. Without thinking, he was looking past her, hoping to catch a glimpse of the older sister. “Are ye- alright?” He added, absently.
Princess Dawn laughed, although there was a wistful quality to it. “I’ve been better,” she said. Bog couldn’t help but snort at that, looking back at the girl (who lookednothing at all like Marianne, how had they managed this?). She grinned up at him. “But I suppose I’ve been worse, too. Are you okay?”
“Fine,” he said immediately, and then winced a little. Might as well come out with it. If Marianne had wanted to speak with him she would have spoken up by now, he knew it.
“I- I take it your sister doesn’t wish to see me,” he said at last, trying to sound casual about the whole thing. Princess Dawn’s smile dipped, she looked confused and concerned. He backpedaled awkwardly, “I- I thought she was- is she not there?” Okay, he could work with that. If she was staying somewhere else and wasn’t avoiding him…
Dawn’s expression was the opposite of reassuring, however; her eyes widened considerably, concern taking over confusion, her pale skin paling further. “Oh god,” she said to herself, running her fingers through her hair in a gesture that reminded him so much of Marianne that it made his heart constrict. “I can’t believe- I thought she told- oh my god, oh my god-”
A little panicked by her reaction, Bog hastily interrupted her. “Your highness- Dawn- what’s wrong? Is she- is she okay?” An idea occurred to him an he added, “Is your father-?” Had she been punished for what had happened? Was she okay? Could he see her?
Dawn hastily shook her head, though she hadn’t calmed down. “No, no. Dad’s okay with it. He had- We all had a long talk last night. She’s- Marianne is- fine.” Her voice broke a little on the word.
Confused, Bog grasped at something. “Then what-?”
“She went back to America this morning.”
Bog felt himself go cold, numb, felt everything go oddly still and muffled around him, felt all of his thoughts just… shut off. “What?” He heard himself say, his voice quiet and hoarse.
I was plannin to propose and…
And she said no.
“Her flight left around eleven,” Dawn said, her voice quivering a little. Bog barely heard her.
She said no and she… left the city.
I never heard from her again.
No. No, not again. He couldn’t do this again, he couldn’t. Maura rejecting him had hurt enough; her leaving- leaving so suddenly… it had broken him completely. He had barely begun to accept that he could love again and now- mo. He couldn’t go through it again. Not with Marianne.
“I thought she told you- I was sure she’d said she-,” the princess was saying before she paused, rubbing her forehead tiredly. “No, she didn’t say she’d talked to you. She said she’d dealt with everything. That stubborn-” she continued rambling, calling Marianne Dale a series of well-meant insults, apparently needing to vent her emotions to someone.
Bog had stopped listening, barely able to concentrate on anything other than the fact that Marianne was gone. Marianne had left him without a word. Didn’t want to talk to you. Didn’t want to see you.
Didn’t want you.
Bog had only just begun to accept that he had fallen in love again, didn’t care that if it was with a Princess or not… and now he had lost her.
None of this was real.
“I’m sorry,” Dawn said quietly. “If I knew she hadn’t said anything to you I would have dragged her over myself.”
Bog blinked out of a whirlwind of depressed and anxious thoughts. Dawn was looking at him, and he could see now why she had said she had been better; she clearly cared about her sister and was as unhappy to see her go as he was to find her gone. “Why?”
She cocked her head, startled. “What do you mean, why? Because one, you deserve better than her just taking off and two, because she deserves some freaking closure between you two even if you did take everything horribly-” she stopped, eying him suddenly. “Did you take it horribly?”
Bog blinked again. “Ah- I dinnae take it… well, I guess. Did she say I…?”
“No. She didn’t say much of anything,” she admitted. “But she cried.”
His heart twisted painfully in his chest at the simple statement. “Why?” he said again, before he could help himself.
Dawn stared at him, and Bog wasn’t sure what was in his face but finally her brows scrunched together and she growled a wordless noise of something like disgust. “Oh my god, you’re just as bad as she is!”
She threw her hands up, walking back into her rooms, and Bog trailed behind her, feeling a little lost. “Are you honestly asking me why Marianne would be crying after she essentially broke up with you?”
“She didn’t- we weren’t-” Bog spluttered.
Dawn ignored him. “And you can’t understand why Marianne needed to see you before she left.” She whirled around, jabbing a finger at him accusingly. “Why do you think she left to begin with?”
Bog was now very much lost and opened and closed his mouth a few times, trying for words. He didn’t particularly want to think about why Marianne left him, but the stern glare in baby blue eyes was impossible to argue with. “Because that’s her home,” he said, allowing his voice to deadpan slightly.
“I-” Dawn stopped. “Okay, that’s fair enough. This could be her home, dad offered it to her last night but she still left and I think she feels like she can’t be here if I’mhere,” she shook her head. “That’s an argument for another time. You, on the other hand, are still missing the point; why do you think my sister left without seeing you?”
“Because she didn’t want to see me,” he said, and yes it came out miserably.
She sat in one of the chairs in the rooms foyer, motioning for him to sit, too. “And why didn’t she want to see you?”
Bog stared at her for a moment as a series of depressing options were presented before him mentally.
Dawn made another disgusted noise. “God, you’re awful. She didn’t want to see you, the same reason she was crying about you; because she loves you.”
Bog replied to that by making a series of unintelligible sounds and turning red as a tomato.
Dawn sighed. “She loves you, and it’s scaring the hell out of her because my sister is stubborn and stupid and has no idea how to deal with the idea that someone - you - might have fallen in love with her. Not the idea of her, not whatever she thought she was pretending to be here, but her. You do love her don’t you?”
“Yes,” he said immediately, even while his brain was stuck on all the information this princess was rattling off to him.
I was lying- I’ve been lying since I got here! It doesn’t matter what you felt or what I felt - none of this was real! So she had said, and she wasn’t talking about herself, she was talking about him, about how she thought he would feel. She didn’t think he’d want her.
So she’d pushed him away. So she’d left him.
That didn’t make him feel any better. He shouldn’t have let her leave, he should have explained himself better before - now he’d never see her again. Now, she was alone in America thinking he couldn’t possibly love her as much as he did.
Focusing on Dawn again, he almost fell off the chair at her fierce glare. “What?” He asked, suddenly very nervous.
She pointed at her door. “Go. Get. Her.”
Sunny Fitzpatrick felt he was dealing with his not-breakup with his not-girlfriend who was not-Marianne pretty well, given all of the above circumstances.
Which was to say, not well at all.
He was upset with Dawn - Princess Dawn - but not as much as he was angry with himself.
Would he have even believed her, he kept wondering. Would he have believed her if one day in their fast-growing friendship she had sat him down and told him she was really foreign royalty playing parent trap with his downstairs neighbor? Could he really blame her for not saying anything when he knew, even if he had, that it would have changed everything between them. Much as Sunny liked to think he was better than it, he knew if he had known all along that she was a princess it was all he would have seen.
I’ve never, ever had a real friend before I met you.
She was so lonely - it was the one thing he knew about her more than anything, it colored all of their interactions, their every conversation. This was a girl who had never had anyone care about her. A princess, feeling unloved, he would have laughed at the idea if he hadn’t been witness to it so openly. God, did princesses get to have mental breakdowns? Did princesses get to veg out on their friends couch and watch crappy movies and tell people how they really feel? Did princesses get to have friends at all?
No, Sunny could see perfectly in hindsight, when the betrayal of being lied to faded. He could see that Dawn had meant everything she had said to him, that if anything at all, she had been more honest with him in the past week than she had been to anyone in her life.
And he had left her.
God she had left him with that sleazy creep. He had seen the way she looked at the blond man, she was disgusted and angry but on top of everything else she had been terrified of him. Whoever he was he knew her and knew Marianne and clearly did not have good intentions towards either of them.
And he had fucking left her with him. What kind of friend did that?
Three days passed, he went to school and to work and tried to pretend that the entire previous week had been some kind of ridiculous fever dream on his part. He had fallen in loved with his neighbor only to find out she was a princess and wound up breaking both their hearts by being a gullible idiot. Much better to pretend he’d dreamt it. He didn’t even know where she was now.
That thursday morning, Sunny was without a day class to keep him occupied. So, in the interest of keeping himself from banging his head on any and every hard surface in his apartment miserably, he was doing what any melodramatic artist did when hurt. He was writing very, very terrible songs about the whole situation. Was it cliche? Yes. Was he going to stop? Probably not.
He had scribbled nearly two pages when there was a knock on his door. Trouble leaped from where he had been sitting in Marian- in Dawn’s spot on his couch, and retreated further into the apartment. Sunny eyed his door wearily.
“Sunny, it’s Marianne,” a voice said from behind the door.
“Which one?” He said, thoughtlessly. The writing hadn’t done much to dissipate any of his sore emotions.
There was a brief silence, and he immediately regretted the outburst. Then, finally, “The bitchy one.”
Sunny did bang his forehead on the table then, cursing softly. He rose to his feet, rubbing his head and got the door, calling himself a hundred different words for idiot.
The woman standing in his doorway was the Marianne he would have pictured two weeks ago if asked about his neighbor. She was petite, her dark hair wild and disorderly, her make-up somehow both dark and vibrant. The punk rock funeral garb was back; a maroon crop top and pants that very well might have been leather and ripped black biker gloves.
She looked nothing at all like Dawn.
“I am the biggest idiot in the entire universe.”
Marianne rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so melodramatic. You’re no dumber than the entire country of Polyanthus including Dawn and I’s father. Cut yourself some slack.”
He blinked a few times, registering this. “Your father?”
“Not the point,” she said briskly. “The point is I am doing something I should have done a long, long time ago.” She thrust her open hand into his space. “Marianne Dale, I live downstairs.”
It took Sunny a few seconds before his brain caught up again. Slowly he took her hand, shaking it. “Ah- Sunny. Sunny Fitzpatrick.”
And here, Marianne Dale smiled. It made her look a little less threatening. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Y-You too,” he stuttered, and then, because he absolutely couldn’t help himself. “Is your sister- is she-?”
Marianne sighed. “Dawn’s- Dawn’s alright. I hesitate to call her well or happy, because I know she’s probably furious with me for leaving. And she’s still upset about the whole ‘losing her best friend’ thing,” she added, with a significant look.
Sunny bristled, feeling a little exposed and more than a little judged. “Look, I know I over-reacted and I know I should have listened to her but I was mad. Can you not understand why I might have been a little upset to find out that everything I knew about her was wrong?”
Marianne crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow and Sunny’s righteous indignation left him as quickly as it had come and he felt his face flushing. “Was it though?”
“Was everything you knew about her wrong?” She asked, her voice too patient. It was the protective older sibling voice, Sunny knew it well.
“What?” He asked again, stupidly.
“She lied about her name, I get that,” Marianne said. “But, let’s see. She told you about me right? That she had a sister?”
“Yes,” he said meekly. It was a commonly brought up subject, and her obvious love for said sister had been so raw, she was so unused to that kind of affection.
“She told you we were separated,” Marianne added, as if reading his thoughts. Sunny only nodded. “She told me about you, too, you know.”
It was decidedly unfair, the way his heart skipped at that information. “She did?”
“She did.” She sighed, raking her fingers through her hair. “I told her to stop talking to you.”
Marianne smirked and Sunny wilted a little, blushing more. “It was stupid of her to keep getting close to you, you know. We both knew that this was only going to last a week or so, and then we’d switch back and I didn’t want to hurt you. But Dawn,” her smirk became a more genuine smile as she looked him over. “Dawn liked you too much.”
“Did she tell you that?” He asked.
Marianne laughed. “She didn’t need to. The fact that she kept talking to you was enough, that she talked to me about you, that we fought - oh god did we fight about her continuing to see you - that was enough for me to know.” Sunny stared at her, remembering Dawn coming over, miserable after a bad fight with her sister - it had been about him? “She wouldn’t have cried to me about how horrible she felt after if-”
“I made her cry?” Sunny exploded, horrified. Dawn was the sweetest, warmest person he had ever met. He has seen her upset before, sure, but that he was the one to do that to her - god, he was awful.
Another laugh, this time more surprised. “Do you really think that this didn’t hurt her? God, Sunny, she’s been fucking miserable. She thinks you think she was using you - you don’t think that, do you?”
“No!” He said before blanching a little. “I mean, for like five minutes but then-”
“Five minutes was enough for her,” Marianne informed him, dryly. “If you’ve forgiven her for it, you could have let her know, it’s been days.”
Sunny picked at his jacket sleeve. “Is she with you?”
“Is she? Christ, Sunny, she’s back in Polyanthus!”
“Well, how was I supposed to know that?” He asked, even as he felt an uncomfortable weight settle in his gut. She was in Polyanthus, her home. She had returned to being a princess, where she belonged. He might have gotten to know the side of Dawn she had wanted to be, he might have fallen in love with the real girl, but that didn’t make her being a princess any less real. What was he supposed to do with that? What was he supposed to offer someone like her?
Marianne rubbed a temple, sighing. She looked tired and frustrated and Sunny wondered how hard this whole ordeal had been on her end of things - jesus, his punk rock neighbor had been playing princess for a week. That was a little terrifying. “Can I come in?”
He realized they were still in his doorway. “Right, right. Yeah. Totally. He backed up and let her in. She nodded in approval at his placed and awkwardly sat down. Sunny awkwardly sat on the arm of his couch, watching her like he had just let a wildcat in.
“Look,” she said finally. He jumped a little. “I’m sorry about everything. I know- I know it’s gotta be weird, and tough, and I know it’s- hard when love gets involved.” Sunny blushed again, very involuntarily. “But Dawn told me how she would give anything at all to talk to you again,
to explain everything on her own terms. God knows you both deserve it.”
The idea of talking to Dawn again both terrified him and made his heart leap. “But if she’s in Polyanthus- how do I talk to her?”
Marianne shrugged, glancing at the wall clock. “I’d say it’s about six PM over there. If I’m not mistaken, she’d have finished most of her meetings and duties by three and they eat late over there. I’d say nows as good a time as any.”
Sunny blinked at this blasé rundown of princess life, as if she was talking about class schedules and it took a minute before he remembered what he was trying to say. “That’s not what I meant. I mean, phone number? How do I-?”
“Do you still have the first number she gave you? The one she probably told you later was a wrong number?” Confused, Sunny nodded. “That’s her number. She was using my cellphone all last week.”
As she spoke Sunny dug out his phone, searching for the number Dawn had first given him, feeling his heart twist at the idea that she had gotten so excited that she had given him her real number by mistake. If that wasn’t a metaphor he didn’t know what was. He clicked on the contact and Marianne made a choked noise. “What?” He asked. “You said now was a good time?”
“You could still wait until I leave!”
“You’re leaving!” He said, blanching. Marianne was staring at him wide-eyed. “No no no no, you can’t leave. Please, if you leave god knows I’ll lose my nerve!” He could still hardly believe he was doing this; he was certain if he even stopped to give it a second of thought he would be throwing his phone across the room telling himself he couldn’t do this. No, he had to do this now, if ever at all.
“Don’t you want some privacy?” She asked, still startled.
“I want to talk to her,” Sunny said, desperate and earnest. “And there’s no way I’ll be able to if I’m alone. Please.”
She sighed, settling back in her seat. “Alright. But if you two get mushy I’m out.”
Thinking that that was the very least of his problems, Sunny nodded, and dialed the number.
Chapter 19: Telephone Line
A bit of a breather chapter.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the Bog King was not overwhelmingly supportive of Dawn’s whole ‘fly to America and win my sister back’ plan. Something about stalking andrespecting Marianne’s wishes, even if it kept them both horribly miserable. God, but he was just as impossible as she was. They were made for each other.
She was ready to launch into another rant about how in love Marianne was and really, how hard was it for the two of them to get over themselves and be happy – when her phone began to vibrate. She was ready to ignore the call but stopped as soon as she looked at the screen.
She stared at the number - American, one she knew by heart - and felt her heart twist painfully in her chest.
“Are ye okay?” Bog asked hesitantly, and bless him, the man sounded genuinely concerned. “Is it- is it Marianne?”
Oh, Dawn thought, briefly distracted by wishing Marianne were there right then to hear the way the king said her name in that moment, like she was something precious and loved and terrifying all at once. How could her sister not know how much this man loved her?
But that only lasted a second, as the phone vibrated again. “No,” she whispered. “It’s um- it’s Sunny. He’s my- he’s-“ she waved a hand, frustrated, at trying to find a word for what Sunny had been for her, and what complicated mess they were now. It clicked and she looked up at him, eyes blazing. “He’s to me what Marianne is to you.”
Bog’s eyes went wide and he sat back a little, startled. “Oh,” he said softly. Then, “Are you going to…?” with a gesture to the phone.
She hadn’t expected this, never expected him to reach out to her. She was so certain he hated her, never wanted to hear from her again, never wanted anything to do with her… and honestly, she couldn’t have blamed him. But there he was, calling her. She had no idea what he might say but… she had to know.
She looked at Bog and hissed, “Please don’t leave.”
The man looked decidedly confused but settled into his seat with a slow nod. Dawn spared him a smile, and accepted the call.
“Hi- Hi, Sunny,” she stammered.
“Ah, hi. Hi. Dawn.” Her heart twisted again at the sound of her name, her real name, from Sunny. He didn’t sound mad, if anything he sounded terrified. Good, she thought. Me too. “Is- is now an okay time?”
“Yes!” She said quickly. “Yes, yes. Now is- now is great. Is there- I mean, did you call for a reason?” Dawn nearly hit herself, wincing. Great going, now it sounds like you don’t want to talk to him.
There was a brief silence before he said, “Yes. I mean, not exactly. I wanted to- to know if you were okay.”
“I’m fine.” Dawn said. “I’m totally, totally fine.” She caught Bog’s eye and watched as he raised his eyebrows at her, and she bit down the suddenly powerful urge to stick her tongue out at him. She was not lying to Sunny. She was fine. Mostly.
Before either man could question her, a thought occurred to her; there was a reason she had wanted to talk to Sunny, though she had been too scared to think about calling him, herself. Too afraid that he wouldn’t like her news, or worse, not care at all. But here he was, calling her because he wanted to see if she was okay. What other chance would she get?
“I’m really good, actually. I’m glad you called – I wanted to talk to you.”
“Oh?” His voice rose a couple octaves. It was kind of adorable.
“Yeah. I was uh, talking to my dad and we kind of worked something out. I wanted to tell you about- about it.”
“What is it?” He asked, sounding a little suspicious, a little concerned, but mostly, genuinely interested. That was a good sign.
“See, after everything, my dad kind of understands, at last, that I need some time away from Polyanthus and from being a princess. Just… some time to be my own woman, you know? A lot of my family over here is supporting me on this and I, I think this finally pushed him to see that I’m not a little girl anymore and that I’m going to go after the things I want sometimes. So he, well, he’s going to let me- that is, I’m-“ Dawn took a deep breath.
“I’m going to be going to University in America. Starting in the spring. For two years.”
“You’re- You’re coming here?”
“She’s doing what!?” Marianne snapped, her eyes going wide. They had not talked about this before Marianne had left, and yeah, maybe that was her fault for leaving so suddenly, but that didn’t excuse her sister for not saying anything about this to her. Where did she get off telling Sunny before talking to her, anyways? “Where is she going to stay?”
“Where are you going to stay?” Sunny asked simultaneously.
There was a silence before he choked. “Here?”
“What, at your apartment?” Marianne asked, appalled.
“No, at yours,” he hissed.
“What?” She squeaked. “And she’s not going to run any of this by me first? Just thinks she can waltz right in here and I’m going to-!”
“What, are you going to turn her away?”
Marianne glared at him. Then, sullenly, she muttered, “No.” How could she? Dawn was her sister, her beloved, reckless, wonderful sister who drove her crazy nine times out of ten but had given her the sense of belonging that Marianne had been craving for nearly eight years.
And yes, insane as it was, Marianne could feel butterflies going mad in her stomach at the thought that Dawn would be living there, with her, for two years. It would be weird; she was so used to be being alone. They would get under each other’s skin, things would go wrong, but she’d be with family. She’d have family.
Yes, her father had offered for her to stay in Polyanthus, after he’d come to see her the night she’d told everyone the truth. She’d already cried herself raw over her fight with Bog, and when she saw Douglas it had been impossible to keep her cool, especially in light of his heartbroken apologies.
I wanted to hate you, she’d cried to him. I wanted to hate you so much.
But she didn’t, and by some miracle her father didn’t hate her, too.
King Douglas offered her a home there, in Polyanthus. Well, first he extended immunity for her transgressions, and then offered her a home. It was what she had dreamt of, family and home, but even then… it was too soon, too raw. Marianne knew, somewhere in her heart, that if she stayed in Polyanthus right then, she would live her life always feeling, to some extent, like she was playing a part, even if she never accepted the title of princess.
She knew her father meant his offer from the heart, but he needed – they both needed – time to breathe.
So she left, and he and Dawn had let her go, however tearful the goodbye had been.
Are you sending Dawn to look after me? Marianne thought. Or are you letting Dawn go because you know I’ll look after her?
“No, no,” Sunny was saying to her sister. “No- I am. I am. I’m really, really happy. I just- it’s a lot to take in. I wasn’t expecting- I didn’t think I’d see you… again.”
And then there was this problem.
This was becoming a problem.
Dawn didn’t doubt that Sunny meant it when he said he was happy she would be his neighbor again, but that didn’t make things okay between them. Nothing would be okay if they kept dancing around the real subject.
He cut her off, his voice suddenly serious and earnest, knowing – as he always did – what she had been about to say. “No. Dawn, listen. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I should have listened- I shouldn’t have let that guy get to me. Dawn, I know you. I’ve gotten to know you so well and you’re- if I hadn’t been such an ass I would have seen-”
“You’re my friend, and I let you down. Don’t apologize – this wasn’t your fault. I know you wanted to tell me- I know you trust-“
“Sunny!” Dawn shouted it, causing Bog to jump a little at her side, but it stopped him.
“What?” He asked.
And suddenly Dawn couldn’t remember what she was going to say. He told her not to apologize but she still needed to apologize. She was so sorry she hadn’t told him, so sorry he had been hurt, whether or not it had been the intention, so thankful that he still considered her a friend.
“Dawn, what?” He asked, nervous now.
He was her best friend.
“I love you.”
That was not what she meant to say.
Marianne watched Sunny’s face as it completely fell apart. His eyes went wide as saucers, his mouth hung slightly agape. She wasn’t sure he was breathing.
“Sunny? Sunny, what did she say? Is she okay? Are you okay?”
He opened his mouth, shutting it again, gaping like a fish.
“Sunny!” She hissed.
Moving slowly, almost mechanically, he put a hand over the receiver and whispered, “She said she loves me.”
Oh. Oh god. Marianne blinked a few times. Of course it was fairly obvious at this point but this wasn’t exactly the time or place she had expected her sister to tell him. Then again, it probably hadn’t been the time that Dawn had meant to tell him either.
“Do you believe her?” She finally asked.
Sunny was still a moment before nodding.
“Do you love her?”
Sunny blinked. “Well?”
Marianne groaned. “Well, tell her!” From the phone, she could hear her sister rambling a little widely, something about ‘stating the obvious’ and other things. And then…
“Sunny?” Dawn’s voice was surprisingly clear, hesitant. “Are you still there?”
Sunny was probably only 50% there, Marianne considered. The man still looked like he might be going into shock.
Marianne wanted to shake him. “Sunny, you’re scaring her. Say something!”
That shook him. “What?”
“For god’s sake, man – ANYTHING!”
“Sunny? Are you okay?”
Marianne waved her hands frantically. “Say something to her,” she mouthed.
“WILL YOU MARRY ME!?”
Dawn almost dropped the phone. Her jaw dropped and for a moment she could hear a slight buzzing in her ears that overwhelmed everything else. She could feel Bog’s eyes on her, though she couldn’t focus on him, and she knew whatever was written in her face it wasn’t the most positive.
“Are ye okay?” He asked softly.
She would have said something, but she wasn’t sure she could speak. She wasn’t entirely sure she could breathe.
On other end of the line, Sunny hadn’t taken her silence well either and had begun to ramble. “I mean, I mean not like, not- not now. Obviously. Heh. I mean, it’s not like you should- I want you to like, finish school first. I mean, that’s why you’re coming over here. Hell, I want to finish school first. And I know you coming here doesn’t make you, like, any less of a princess. And it’s not like I care about that part – I mean I love you, even if you are a princess. If that wasn’t obvious. So I’m just, I’m trying to say I don’t- don’t even need an answer now – or anytime soon.”
There was awkward silence and Dawn tried again to think of something to say. Her heart was pounding so hard she was certain he could here it through the phone, sure that her companion sitting near her could hear it – it would certainly account for the almost panicked look on her face, which Dawn ignored. Her thoughts, a moment ago a wild mess, had settled into repeating Sunny’s words back to her again and again and again.
He loved her? After everything he still loved her?
He wanted to marry her?
“What did she say?” A muffled voice said. Dawn had thought she had heard it before, but had been too bust worrying about Sunny’s lack of response to her declaration of love to focus on anything.
“She hasn’t said anything,” Sunny’s equally muffled voice said. “God, why hasn’t she said anything?”
“I don’t know maybe because you fucking PROPOSED TO HER over the goddamn phone!”
Yep. That was Marianne.
“You told me to say something to her!”
“I didn’t think you’d say that! What the hell?”
“What’s going on?” Bog asked sharply. “What is he sayin to ye?”
Dawn barely heard him, still listening to her sister and Sunny argue over what he should have and should not have said to her, still listening to her mind whisperingmarry me marry me marry me. Absently she was aware her eyes had filled with tears, and how Bog must be seeing it. But she didn’t have the words to reassure him yet, her brain still firmly planted on Sunny’s proposal. Sunny loving her. Loving her.
She was been so sure he hated her, she was happy enough that he considered her his friend – after everything she had done.
He wanted to spend his life with her!
Dawn had so much she waned to do with her life, many written off as impossible as a princess, but when it had come down to it her desires were simple. She wanted to experience a normal girl’s life, to truly live for one… and she wanted to find love. Certainly, Dawn hadn’t wanted to get married – not anytime soon, not the way that her country wanted her to. She had wanted love, though.
She never expected that she would get both her wishes, that she would get both of them at once.
And, if it didn’t work out… well, he’d always be her friend. If she knew anything now, she knew that. Sunny respected her more than anyone she had ever known, loved her more than she could have ever wished for. She had years now, years they could work this out. Years she could spend at his side.
“I don’t- I mean I don’t even know if we can get married,” Sunny addressed her again, tripping over his words, clearly unnerved by her silence. “I mean, and I wouldn’t- I know I would go to Polyanthus- but I don’t care about that. I’d be happy to, to go anywhere. I swear, and God, Dawn, please say something.”
“If you killed my sister, you’re a dead man,” Marianne snapped, apparently no longer trying to be quiet.
“She’s breathing! I think,” Sunny faltered. “God, Mari – can we get married? Would- would I be King?”
“You’d be a prince, a consort. I think. I didn’t exactly read up on it! And that’s assuming she says yes!”
“Well, she hasn’t said no!”
“She hasn’t said anything!”
Dawn put a hand over her mouth, her shoulders shaking. Tears were still falling softly down her cheeks, but overtaking all of that was a sweeping feeling of almost giddiness, almost relief. She began to laugh.
“Dawn?” Bog asked, alarmed. “Dawn, what is happening?”
“Dawn?” Sunny asked over the phone. “Dawn, are you okay?”
“Sunny, what’s happening?” Marianne demanded. “Is she okay?”
She wiped her hand over her eyes, laughing harder, happier than she had been in several days. It was as if all the weight had been lifted off of her. Sunny loved her. Sunny wanted to marry her. She would be going to America. She would be with him, with him and Marianne.
Through her tears and her laughter Dawn finale managed a word, the first she’d said since his proposal.
Marianne’s brain was still firmly planted on her baby sister, her royal baby sister, getting married in the distant future to really pay attention to anything around her for a while. She had wanted Sunny and Dawn to reconcile, that’s why she’d told him to call, after all – but this was not what she had had in mind, not in the slightest.
Still, Sunny, though as shocked by his proposal as anyone else, did not appear to regret making it. And by the look on his face, the bubbling of surprised, ecstatic laughter, Dawn had accepted it.
Christ, her sister was going to get married.
She didn’t hear them laughing, saying ‘I love you’ over and over and over again, she didn’t listen to them talk about making plans, and talking about writing and calling in the months that between then and when the spring semester began. Instead, inexplicably, Marianne’s mind returned to a conversation now nearly a week ago.
I don’t want to marry you!
Good. I don’t want to marry you, either.
She had meant that, when she had told him that. She didn’t want to marry King Ciaran. Certainly there was no chance, if he had ever entertained the desire, he would want to marry her now. No way he wanted to marry Marianne Dale.
“Yeah, she’s here,” Sunny was saying, looking at Marianne while she stared into some middle distance, trying so hard to dredge up some happiness for her sister, to banish thoughts of Bog back whence they came. “Wait, hold on- Marianne?”
She blinked. “Huh?”
“Dawn wants to know if you wanna talk to… what’s a bog?”
Marianne felt herself go cold at just the sound of his name. All at once, it became clear to her that Bog was in the room with Dawn the same way she was in the room with Sunny. He was there, now, and he knew she was here, now. God, had Dawn gone to talk to him, to tell him she’d left – had he sought her out only to find that she had gone? What had Dawn been saying to him? Had he asked Dawn to put her on the phone?
The thought of talking to him made her blood run cold. Without thinking, she lunged, grabbing Sunny’s phone out of his hands, hitting ‘end call’ and tossed the phone onto the chair opposite them. “No, nope, no no no. Nope.”
“Hey!” Sunny grabbed his phone from where she had thrown it, glaring at her over his shoulder. “What the hell – I wasn’t done talking to Dawn!”
“Talk to her on your own time,” Marianne snapped. “And while you’re at it tell my sister to mind her own fucking business.”
Sunny rolled his eyes. “Right. Because you were totally minding your own business when you told me to call her.”
She scowled at him. “That’s different,” she said. She didn’t know what to say to Bog to his face about this whole mess – how could she begin to talk to him over the phone?
“The hell it is,” Sunny said, and Marianne was a little startled at how quickly the kid was falling into the sibling – or sibling-in-law – role. When she said nothing he added, “You love him, that Bog guy, right?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” she breathed, dragging her fingers through her hair. “Yes, okay? Yes, I love him.”
Marianne rolled her eyes. “Yeah, oh. Can we fucking drop this now?”
“Is he married?” Sunny asked, blatantly ignoring her request.
She blinked. “What? No! What the fuck?”
He shrugged. “Then I still don’t understand what’s so different.”
“It’s different because I’m not Dawn!” She snapped, annoyed that she was getting lectured over all of this again, and by someone she barely knew. “I’m not kind and forgiving and- and loveable. I’m bitter and angry and complicated and I’m not-“ she sighed, her anger leaving her as quickly as it had come and she slumped on the couch. “Look,” she said, getting to her feet at last. “I’ll leave so you can call Dawn back. Tell her I’m sorry I hung up on you two.”
Sunny looked confused, but also smart enough to push the issue any further. Bless him.” Still, all he said was, “You can tell her next time you talk to her.” Marianne smirked. Fair enough.
“Marianne?” He added before she was out his door.
“Dawn loves you, you know,” he said seriously. “Your bitter, complicated self. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think this Bog guy does, too.”
Marianne stared at him, surprised into momentary silence. If she dwelt on his words too long things would get well beyond complicated, she thought and shook her head. “You’re a good man, Sunny,” she said, and let the door close behind her.
A day passed where Marianne made an attempt to go to class, made an attempt to go back to her life as Marianne Dale and pretend she didn’t suddenly want more. She didn’t want more, she never had. She hadn’t wanted Dawn to come crashing into her life, she had never had anything above a few seconds morbid curiosity about royal life until that moment and frankly, Dawn had had to bribe her to get her to go in the first place.
And yes, maybe she’d been… okay at princess-ing. And yes, maybe if she had stayed in Polyanthus, even without the title, she could have had a foot in the door, politically. Maybe she could have learned-
I do want to learn, she’d told Bog that day they’d walked through the Palace Gardens together, and then she had wondered what had fucking possessed her. Just as she was thinking it now, shaking her head. It didn’t matter if she would be good at being a princess, she still wasn’t. She’d still let Bog believe she was, and in telling him the truth she’d broken both their hearts.
And then she’d left him.
So, frustrated and miserable, Marianne went about her day, trying not to think about the fact that Bog had learned of her departure no doubt from Dawn – tried very hard not to imagine the look on his face when she told him –, or about Sunny’s words the day before. Dawn loved her, for the mess that was who she was, but Marianne had never had to be anything else around Dawn. Dawn hadn’t had any perceptions of her before meeting her, didn’t have to be disappointed when she wasn’t who she had thought she was.
Marianne Dale didn’t get fairytales and love stories. She was lucky enough that she was getting to live with Dawn for a few years.
“And what’s with that,” she said to herself. “If Dawn wanted to live with me why is she trying to shove me out the door, anyways?”
Her empty apartment had no answer. Instead, she could hear Sunny playing Can’t Help Falling In Love on his ukulele and glared at her roof. Fucking Elvis.
She set about cleaning her apartment, hoping it would do something to make it feel like her home again. A few hours passed until around 5 PM a knock on her front door distracted her.
She glared at the door, but trudged to it anyways, preparing to tell whoever it was that she wanted none of what they were selling, thank you very much.
On her doorstep shaking light snow off his pea coat, stood King Ciaran of Birog.
And looking back at him, Marianne stood just inside her apartment in ripped blue jeans, a ripped black tank-top over a camisole a bright enough magenta it could blind someone. Her lips were a darker shade in that same family, and her black eyeshadow was at least 80% glitter. She didn’t even want to think about her hair.
“Hi,” he said.
“Nope,” she said at last. “Nuh-uh. Going back to bed so I can end this dumb fever dream.”
Bog blinked a few times. “Ye think I’m a dream?” He inquired dryly.
Marianne knew what he was referring, too. Richly dressed though he was, Bog looked almost sickly pale, dark circles especially prominent. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days: he looked about as awful as Marianne felt.
She loved him so fucking much it hurt.
“You don’t know my dreams,” she said. Too late she realized how that sounded and they both blushed.
Whatever he was inferring, however, was probably not a lie. Marianne had indeed had numerous dreams since returning to America featuring the two of them. Sometimes they were in Polyanthus, in the palace’s gardens – he was kissing her and each dream had it in varying levels of passion – or they were in her apartment in America, in her double bed, her fingers trailing over his bare chest, as he held her close.
“I’d like to,” he said at last, his voice rough. When she blinked, bewildered, he added, “Know your dreams, that is. Know you.”
Marianne was very proud of herself for how she continued to scowl, even as her heartbeat went decidedly erratic. “Did my sister tell you to say that, your majesty?”
Bog’s desperate expression morphed into a scowl of his own, and Marianne felt all the better for it. She should be antagonizing him, part of her thought. She shouldn’t be pushing him away. God knew if she succeeded she would be even more miserable than she was already, but her surprise at seeing him, and her hopeless frustration about this whole hopeless situation made her lose control of her tongue. He’d always had that effect on her, honestly.
“No, she didn’t actually,” he said. “An’ I wouldn’t have listened to her if she had. I didn’t listen to her when she told me to come after you in the first place.”
“That’s hard to believe, given that you’re fucking standing right here.”
He looked down, as if confirming this for himself. “I wasn’t goin to,” he said, and Marianne wondered for a moment if he was even talking to her. “It’s been two days since she told me, and I wasn’t goin to, I swore I wasn’t goin to. God in heaven knows I’m not the type to go chasin cross-country or cross-globe for the woman I love.”
Marianne met his gaze, any sarcastic comment dying on her lips. First the word love stopped her heart, and then she thought, he sounds like he’s speaking from experience. And then she remembered exactly what had happened the last time the king of Biròg had been in love.
I never heard from her again.
She had known Bog learning who she really was would hurt him, she knew he wouldn’t be happy to hear she had left but she had thought- she had thought it would be easier for them both if she didn’t prolong it. And by that stupid, thoughtless, selfish action she’d made him relive that- She was an even worse person than she had thought she was.
Before she could lose herself in further misery, Bog spoke again. “Ye wanted to leave, an’ that was up to ye – but then, accordin to yer very bloody persuasive sister, respectin yer choice to leave me apparently isn’t the right thing to do when ye love someone – which Ah do, ye know. Very much.” he added, looking up at her again, his expression and tone dead serious. “Ah said that already though, didn’t I?”
“You might have mentioned it,” Marianne choked out.
“Aye, well it bears repeatin’. Yer head’s as tough as the rest of ye.”
The snark in that comment grounded her a little and she crossed her arms, pretending she wasn’t as cold as she felt. “Look, your majesty-“
“Bog,” he interrupted. “Ye didn’t have any issues forgoin formality a week ago.”
“Yeah well I wasn’t exactly myself a week ago, incase that bears repeating as well,” she snapped.
Bog sighed. He sounded tired, Marianne thought, trying not to wince. “Marianne.“ He ran a hand through his damp hair. “I didn’t fall in love with-“
“You didn’t fall in love with Princess Dawn, I know!” Marianne cried, not ready to have this argument again, not thinking she’d ever have to have it with him. “But that doesn’t mean you-!”
“I wasn’t finished.” He snapped, and although he didn’t sound angry, it silenced her. “Ah didn’t fall in love with a princess, period. D’ye honestly think I fell for the princess I met at that dinner two weeks ago?” She said nothing, flushing at the memory of their first meeting - god, if she had known then that that man would completely break down her defenses the way he had, that she would love him more than she had thought she could love anyone ever again… she would have flown back to America the next morning, her deal with Dawn notwithstanding.
Watching her face, he continued, his rough voice softening and effectively breaking her concentration. “I fell in love with a girl who’s idea of escape was takin me to an overcrowded bar. Who’s clumsy, an’ bitter, an’ argumentative an’ so bloody blunt, who likes thunderstorms, and motorcycles… and, who misses her mother.” Marianne’s eyes widened, and he flushed a little, his lips curving into a small, gentle smirk. “And is irrationally prejudiced against Elvis for some reason.”
A laugh bubbled up before she could stop it, and she covered her mouth with her hands. Still she could see Bog light up a little at her – involuntary – reaction. “An’ if you’re gonna try an tell me that that’s not the same girl standin in front of me right now. Well,” he shrugged a little. “Yer a terrible liar.”
For a moment there was silence between them, as Marianne was struck utterly speechless at his words, his gentle and earnest breakdown of who he knew her to be, someone who knew nothing about being a princess but had wanted to learn, someone who didn’t bother with pretenses and formality who had gotten him to talk about parts of his life he had never shared with anyone just as she, however involuntarily, had been more emotionally vulnerable around him than anyone she had ever known, someone he lo-
Her attempt to marshal those thoughts, currently a whirlwind in her brain, fell apart as Bog spoke again, one final concluding statement.
“I love you, Marianne Dale.”
Her whirlwind stilled.
“Are you done?” She asked him, her voice a little hoarse. Somewhere in his speech her eyes had begun to water.
Bog studied her face for a moment, before shakily nodding. “Ah think so.”
She nodded back. “Good,” she said, and threw herself at him.
Bog barely caught her, stumbling back a little on her porch as she wrapped her arms around his neck. His arms went around her waist, holding her well off the ground, as she kissed him, the embrace fierce and uninhibited.
“I love you,” she murmured against his mouth. “I love you so much.” She kissed his nose, his cheeks, his eyelids, anywhere her lips could find purchase.
He laughed that breathless, surprised laugh of his, clutching her tighter, crushing her to him. He captured her lips again, and she buried her fingers in his hair with a needy whine. He parted from her briefly before returning.
“Ah love ye,” he growled between his kisses. “Ah love ye, Marianne.”
God, this was how she had always wanted to hear him say her name. She smiled stupidly at him as he finally released her, letting her slide back to the ground, keeping his arms loosely around her, keeping her close.
He loved her. He loved her. Marianne Dale. This had to be a dream. She could barely breathe, her heart was pounding, the tears welling up in her eyes had spilled over. Silently, Bog stroked her hair with one large hand. And for a while, they just stood there, never mind the cold air outside. That didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but the fact that he loved her, for all that she was.
But slowly reality came back to Marianne; this wasn’t a dream. Bog, King Ciaran, loved her. Wonderful as that was – mind-blowing as it was – it did introduce a question she had never allowed herself to ask until that moment. Now what?
She was still Marianne Dale, an American College student who’s only experience with royalty came from playing Parent Trap for a week with her younger sister. She didn’t know anything about it, honestly, and maybe she could learn but- god, she was barely ready for that! She couldn’t be someone’s Queen!
But, even as she thought it, even as he old mantra returned to her – I don’t want to be a princess, I don’t want to be a princess, I don’t want to be a princess – another thought overpowered any of her denials and all of her doubts.
I want to be with him.
“Bog?” She murmured against his chest.
“Mm?” He said, his breath teasing her hair. He sounded happy, and incredibly tired. Marianne had a feeling if they stood there without saying anything for much longer he might have simply fallen asleep.
“I don’t want to marry you.”
She felt him stiffen in her arms, and then he began to pull away, just far enough that he could look at her. His blue eyes were wide, and if anything at first he looked confused, but as he searched her face she saw the beginnings of hurt touch his features.
She was determined to stop that before it took hold of him. “Shh,” she began, though he hadn’t tried to speak yet. “Listen, I don’t mean- I mean- I don’t want to marry you, right now.” She remembered Sunny’s flustered proposal from the morning before and smiled a little. “I would like to finish school first.”
Bog, still wide-eyed, nodded stiffly. Marianne almost wanted to laugh.
“You understand, that’s another semester, if I don’t need to take summer classes. I can’t see myself here past July, but that’s a ways away.”
Bog nodded again. “Righ- right. Yes. I didn’t think-“
“I’m not done,” she interrupted him, gently. “I want to marry you, Bog, I really, really do. But, well, you kind of come with a country as a package deal and I’m not- I’m not ready for that. I’m not even ready to become a princess in the country that’s my birthright. I couldn’t become queen of a country I don’t even know.” Bog looked ready to speak again, and she touched his chest to silence him again. “That being the case, I don’t want to be half a world away while I- while we figure this out. So, once I’m graduated… I think- maybe I could- spend some time abroad? I’d get my own apartment, we’d live separate – that’s the rule.”
“Yes, good id- good idea,” Bog said, tripping over his words. Marianne could sense the almost giddy quality to his voice, even though he hadn’t dared smile yet. “Rules are- are good.”
She laughed a little, letting her hands side over his shoulders. “And then we can- you know, take this whole… courting thing as slow as we need to before-“ she cut herself off as Bog suddenly snorted. “What?”
“Did ye just say ‘courting’?” He asked.
Marianne blushed. “I- isn’t that what it’s called- you know, when-?”
He shook his head, chuckling softly, and here, at last, was the crooked little grin of his. Marianne felt her heart turn to mush at the sight of it. “Pretty sure we still just call it dating, Tough Girl.”
“Oh,” she said meekly. Then, “Do you want to date me?”
Marianne laughed, unable to help herself, and a moment later Bog joined in before he pulled her close and lifted her off the ground again, actually spinning her around in his joy. Marianne squeaked, burying her face in his shoulder laughing harder. She loved him, she loved him, she loved him.
He kissed again, and again and again, before letting her go once more. They grinned at each other in breathless, giddy silence before Marianne said. “How long are you here?”
His smile faded a little. “Ah- I have a flight tomorrow at noon.”
It was better than she had expected, though not perfect. “Well then,” she said, still a little breathless. “There’s a café down the street – wanna grab dinner?”
The smile returned. “I’d love to.”
Marianne retreated back into her apartment, grabbing a coat and some gloves. By the time she had returned to him she was laughing again.
“What?” Bog asked, although he was smiling at her.
“Nothing,” she said, linking her arm with his and locking the door behind her. “I’m just about how I’m going to have to thank Dawn for this.”
This is it, kids! Well, there's an epilogue to come but then that's it. Thanks for sticking with me - I had a blast!
Chapter 21: Epilogue - You Make My Dreams Come True
That's the end everyone! Thanks for reading! I had a lot of fun with this fic - I really did. :)
Crown Princess Dawn Eleanor Reseda of Polyanthus tracked her life through tabloid articles.
The articles chronicled her mother’s marriage, divorce and death. The articles chronicled her sister’s birth, separation and orphaning. The articles called Dawn compassionate and frivolous, privileged and beloved.
And then the articles became about something else altogether.
After Marianne and Dawn’s two weeks playing each other came to light in the most dramatic way possible, there was a while that Dawn didn’t look at the tabloids, afraid of what they might say about them. Her father had granted them immunity, but he couldn’t control what the press said. Roland Royce, after being apprehended attempting to flee the country, gave a full confession with the hopes of gaining a kinder sentence for his attempt at blackmail and extortion. Dawn did keep those headlines; she liked them very much, as did Marianne.
It wasn’t until Christmas that Dawn started to look at the tabloids in full again. The Polyanthian Christmas ball was the first time since the fall’s events that both sisters were in the same place together, the first time Marianne returned to the country, this time as herself. On top of that, Marianne brought Sunny along, his first chance to be formally introduced.
Dawn’s father had initially turned a little purple at the news that Dawn had fallen in love with an American college student during her… time abroad, but given his own romantic history he didn’t really have solid foundation to disapprove, only to be sure that Dawn was serious about him. And once King Douglas met him, Sunny’s humility and gentle good humor immediately won him – and every else present. He might have stolen the entire Christmas ball…
… had King Ciaran of Birog not also been present.
They – her sister and Bog – spent the night all but hiding in a corner of the ballroom, rolling their eyes at every camera that came their way, and had slipped away earlier than most and Dawn rolled her eyes at their complete and utter lack of tact. Really, after a display like that, who could fault the press for focusing on the not-Princess Marianne Dale and her royal lover? But it was nice to see the headlines, in all their dramatic glory, treating Marianne as part of the Reseda line, the Polyanthian Royal family.
After Christmas, the second week of January, Princess Dawn moved in with her sister and began attending American college. And for a while, she didn’t need to look at tabloids because she simply didn’t appear in them, any tabloids for that matter.
“America only cares about British royals,” Marianne told Dawn early into her stay. “Most people couldn’t find Polyanthus on a map much less care who rules it.”
It was true. Sure, the first few weeks of school she got a lot of looks, a lot of requests for pictures and even more requests for friendship, but even that was tamer than expected. It faded like any popular fad might and soon enough Dawn felt, actually, rather normal.
She confided that to Marianne, too, one afternoon as they sat in Sunny’s apartment watching TV Land and eating pita chips and hummus.
Marianne stretched back and smiled. “I’m glad. You know, if anything, they probably are all more fascinated with Sunny,” she grinned at him. “Look at you, pulling a Grace Kelly.”
“Speak for yourself,” Sunny said, his mouth full. Marianne laughed, even though she was blushing.
Marianne called Bog once a week; Dawn had worked out their schedule. They never spoke as long as Dawn would have expected but Marianne was always in a good – if wistful – mood when they were done.
They loved each other, even though Marianne didn’t talk about it very much, made faces whenever Sunny and Dawn got lovey-dovey and generally remained her tough no-nonsense self. Something was softer in her, though, something happier that Dawn couldn’t name except that it always came after certain phone calls, always came with the mention of Marianne’s spring graduation – she’d worked her ass off to ensure it would be spring – and anytime the name Bog came up in conversation.
“Wanna bet they marry before we do?” Sunny suggested one evening when Dawn had come up to his apartment to give Marianne’s call some privacy.
Dawn laughed. “We can’t bet if we’re betting on the same side.”
“I bet they’ll be engaged in a year,” he said, grinning back.
She raised her eyebrows. “You’re too generous. These two can’t resist each other. I give them before Christmas.”
Late spring came around. Bog didn’t make it to Marianne’s graduation, but their father did. It was the kind of support and validation Dawn knew her sister had always wanted from him, stronger than even the offering her a home in Polyanthus. Her sister’s eyes were decidedly damp the entire evening and Douglas looked a bittersweet sort of proud. Dawn knew pictures would wind up back in Polyanthian tabloids, but she didn’t need to see them.
It was strange, after that. Weird, living in Marianne’s apartment – now her apartment. Weird that this wasn’t a week or two weeks long, weird that she was now the one whom Marianne called once a week, weird because she was Dawn, renting this apartment, and didn’t have to be anyone else. Weird, also, because she spent more time, as always, at Sunny’s apartment upstairs, but that was a different matter entirely.
Dawn kept tabs on her sister through checking Birog’s press, but there wasn’t much to gleam from that. Birog, it seemed, was far better than Polyanthus in respecting the privacy of their ruler and his loved ones. Most of the pictures Dawn got of Marianne were pictures she sent her. Photos of Bog’s castle, the times she visited there. A picture of a book on the county’s history or official language or whatever subject she was trying to drill into her head that week. A picture of her holding up her motorcycle license and later a whole series of pictures not a week later of her and Bog out in the country somewhere with two motorcycles and a picnic lunch. It was the stupidest romanticist thing Dawn had ever seen but she didn’t dare say so.
Outside of that, the pictures that did make it into press were of formal occasions, dinners and charity events, speeches and anniversaries, where the King brought his girlfriend, looking very, very happy just to exist in the same space as her. Marianne, always resplendent in clothing very fitting for her position, looked just as happy as he did. Dawn smiled at those pictures as much as she did at their ridiculous selfies and instagram photos - both sets of pictures portrayed such love that Dawn sometimes obsessively checked to see if either Marianne or Birog’s press had announced their engagement already.
“You know I feel like I should be worried…” She confided to her boyfriend, looking up from her phone. It had been a year since they had switched places, it had been a little less than six months since Marianne had moved to Birog.
Sunny cocked his head. “How so?”
Dawn waved a hand. “Well I just mean, my dad married my mom, and it was good… for a little while. Then, I guess, mom decided she couldn’t handle how… Much being royalty is and the divorce was super rough and just- like, I feel like I should be worried about Bog and Marianne… like that.”
“Should be,” he clarified. “So you’re… not worried?”
Dawn thought for a minute. She knew Bog from what Marianne said about him, from the brief conversations they’d had. She knew Bog and Marianne’s relationship through the tabloids she’d seen that week they’d switched, from watching them make the barest attempt to be social at Christmas before retiring to their own… affairs. And now these photographs. Nothing in what she saw could promise that their relationship could outlast the stresses of Marianne becoming royalty.
She thought about Marianne, tough and stubborn, who had seen so much pain in the later years of her life, who had slowly, over the past year learned that she did deserve to be happy, that she still could be happy and if she had the chance then, by god, she should be holding fast to it. She thought about how both of them had wanted happiness in the way of having a family, having belonging, having someone – or several someones – who understood them the way they hadn’t had before… they both had gotten that. Dawn wasn’t going to let that go – and she knew her sister wouldn’t either.
“No,” she said at last. She closed the tabloid on her phone, her smile returning. “I’m not.”
In the end, Dawn won their bet.