I fidgeted with my skirt as I followed Dad to the room we would meet Dirg in. He was oddly silent, and he seemed tense. He stopped at a door and turned to look at me.
“Lucille... He has changed.”
I nodded. “So have I.”
“If he tries to deceive you or control you, I will not hesitate to have him removed if not flat out kill him.”
I bit my lip and nodded. Dad looked me over and seemed to steel himself before he opened the door for me to go in. The room was simple, with three chairs forming a sort of triangle in the middle and neutral lighting. Dirg was pacing on the far end of the room but froze when we entered and looked straight at me.
I met his stormy green eyes and stopped. Dad looked from me to him before he went and sat in one of the seats, propping his head on his elbow on his knee. Not that I was watching him. Dirg seemed frozen to the spot. There was something different in his gaze. It was softer, more... vulnerable. I tore my gaze away and looked at his wings, now as white as snow and nearly as bright. He seemed to break out of whatever spell he was under and slowly took his seat, not saying a word, simply looking at me.
I shook my head and berated myself for acting like a deer in headlights and took my seat gracefully. Queen Pat and Princess Lilly seemed intent on making me princess material. I looked down at my hands in my skirt and fiddled with a little gold ring with a tiny pink gem in it that Dad had given me.
Dirg broke the silence. “Knock knock.”
I looked up at him, confused. “Who’s there?”
“A royal.” He smiled arrogantly.
“A royal who?”
“A royal pain in the-” Dad cleared his throat, “right I shouldn’t say that word. Butt.”
He looked at my arms, and his gaze locked on the scars. I had grown used to them, but he seemed pained, so I hugged them to my stomach.
“Was that supposed to be funny?” I asked.
He shrugged. “It broke the ice?” He said apprehensively, “May I see your arms?”
Dad tensed but stayed put.
“Why?” I asked.
He sighed, and I noticed little bags under his eyes that I hadn’t seen before as he looked down and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s really probably best that I don’t. When I saw you... covered in your own blood- I- I freaked. I realized the truth. Though you held the knife, I might as well have cut you myself, and for that I’m so sorry. I can’t apologize enough for all the things I have done to you, but I can at least try to clear things up and explain my actions to you, if you’re willing.”
I couldn’t hold his gaze well. I hadn’t been able to hold it when it held haughty arrogance, and this apologetic vulnerability was intriguing and so much harder to keep looking at. I nodded to say I was willing.
He took a deep breath. “Feel free to ask me questions if you need them, okay?”
He was sitting on the edge of his seat, those dark emerald eyes only leaving me to glance at my dad for a brief second.
“I chose you to be my pet because you were beautiful, small, and feisty. I needed small for easy transport and feisty so you were willing to get in fights on my behalf. The best thing I learned about you in those early stages before I took you was that you had no one and nowhere to go. I figured if I could give you purpose, then you would reciprocate with loyalty, and you did.”
That seemed a good point to interrupt him. “Why did you need beautiful?”
He flinched and formed his fingers into a tent in front of his nose, looking at that instead of me. “I had originally planned to take advantage of you.”
I froze. Take advantage of me? He could only mean one thing, the thing that the rest of the darkies accused him of tirelessly. I shivered as I imagined if he had done that when we met.
“I didn’t plan on having sex with you, just enjoying your body, and if you had taken less time to bend, I would have done it. I didn’t because I realized the emotional state I threw you in in order to bend your will to mine. You spat in my face when I tried to kiss you, and I realized your boundaries and adopted them. I only crossed them to punish you, that is, until the desert.”
I ran a finger along a scar, as had become my habit these past few months when I was thinking. He had been lying to me since the beginning. He manipulated me ever since we met. I wasn’t sure if I was surprised or not.
I looked up at him. “If you have been lying this whole time, how am I to believe you now?”
Surprisingly, Dad answered. “Because if he says anything that goes against that which he has already told me, I have every right to take his head off.”
I looked at Dad askance. He said that with a smile on his face, and I had to contain my shock. I had to remind myself that he was a king, and he really probably should have had Dirg killed three months ago. I nodded at him, and he must have seen the appreciation in my eyes, for his smile grew wider and he leaned back in the chair, relaxing.
“So, I wasn’t a toy because I spat in your face?”
Dirg nodded. “I needed loyalty more than I needed a toy, so I went with just a loyal pet, and I’m so glad that is what happened. I, uh, just didn’t calculate how loyal you were. Remember the times I thought you had betrayed me?”
I nodded and glanced at his eyes. I wasn’t the only one replaying those memories, but instead of the anger of the moment he was thinking about, his eyes reflected sorrow.
“I didn’t realize until the incident over your mother that I was all you had. I mean, I knew somewhere in the back of my mind, that was a very strong reason I picked you, but not until then did I realize... I didn’t just steal your will. I stole something else, didn’t I?”
I sighed and put my head in my hands, thinking about that castle I called my heart. Once I let Amora in, things started getting better. He helped me find a new happiness. I knew it still wasn’t completely fixed, but it was way better than those first two months I was in the land of eternal light. Then I remembered Dirg asked me a question.
I nodded, unable to say what I guessed he already knew. He nodded back.
“I didn’t know what to do with that, and then when you were almost raped and on the brink of breaking, I realized something else, and this scared me more than anything else in my life. I broke off my betrothal to Mira and cursed myself for what I saw as weakness at the time.”
I cut him off, confused. “Wait, what scared you? I never saw you afraid.”
“I had to hide it from you. I’m still hiding it from you.” He looked down and scratched his chin. “How do I say this?”
I tilted my head and watched him fidget. I had never seen Dirg back down. I had never seen him scared. He faced his father with his chin raised high. I’d seen him spar three other darkies with an arrogant smile on his lips and win. Now, he was scared... of me?
“I - you stole my heart too, Sunshine.”
His use of that name made something jump within me, and it wasn’t a good thing. I wanted him to call me that. I wanted to obey him. Then, my arms pounded, every scar in sync. I finally looked straight at him, glaring.
“Liar,” I accused harshly, cutting off something he was about to say.
He didn’t try to hide the pain in his eyes. “No, I lied then, not now. When I left you here, those lies hurt me as much as they did you. I had to-”
“No!” I half yelled, clenching my hands in my lap. “Did you replay those words in your head over and over? Did you lie awake sleepless night after sleepless night, wondering what you could have done better in order to prevent that from ever happening? Did you try to drown yourself when no one was looking and blame it on an inability to swim because of those words?” Dad scowled at that. “Did you, Crown Prince Dirg, watch your own blood spill from self inflicted wounds, feeling your life drain away onto your lap, because you believed every single word?”
That hurt him, I could tell by the way his walls slammed up behind his eyes. There was the bipolar, arrogant jerk I was used to.
“I had to!” he yelled, jumping to his feet. I hadn’t even realized I was already there. “Okay? I meant none of it but I had to say all of it. It was the best way to tear you from me.”
“’You are useless. You are difficult. I don’t want you. I hate you, in fact, I have always hated you,’” I quoted, glaring into his eyes. “’Next time I see you, I will kill you, bastard Dark Light.’” His own words crushed him, and I could see him mentally deflate. “What was I supposed to think, butthead?”
For the first time, he broke my gaze, instead of the other way around. “I wanted you to know there was no hope of the two of us ever being anything more than master and pet, and then I had to sever even those strings so you could come here with no attachment to me. I didn’t think it would break you; I thought you were stronger than that.”
He hadn’t seen through my facade. He had been in my castle but didn’t look around or ignored the desolation. I sighed in resignation and walked towards him.
“Lucy...” he warned, his self-defense triggering at our proximity.
I ignored that and hugged him. He tensed for a moment and then his strong arms wrapped around mine and intertwined just under my wings.
“You were my last hope, Dirg,” I said softly.
I felt his chest vibrate as he spoke. “What does that mean?”
“It means that when you left me, you took any chance at life with you. You said you wanted me dead, so I wanted me dead.” I moved my face from his chest and looked up at him. “My heart is in pieces on the floor. Dad managed to put some together, but you hold the only string that could tie them together again because I refuse to do it myself again.”
He shook his head and let go of me. He ever so gently separated my hands and put space between us.
“No, I don’t, Lucille. I tried, and look what happened there.” His thumb rubbed across my scarred wrist. “I may have stolen your heart, but I’m not the one to put it back together.”
I glared at him. “Then who is? And don’t say King Amora, because I am fully aware of my Dad’s ulterior motive to trying to fix me.”
Dirg looked confused. “What ulterior motive?”
I looked at Dad, who looked like he wanted to argue but was remaining silent. I watched him as I said it.
“I’m the Crown Princess. He can’t have a broken heir.”
I saw the hurt in my Dad’s eyes, but I couldn’t feel any sympathy for him. Pain meant the truth, and the truth was that the only reason he did anything for me was because the law stated his oldest child was his heir, no exceptions.
Dirg tilted his head and touched my chin to make me look at him. “Your father loves you, but I wasn’t going to say he can fix your heart. Only one man can.”
“So you’re going to get me to fall in love with another guy?” I accused him.
He actually smiled at that, showing those dimples. “Yes, actually. His name is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Only he can fix you of the pain you went through as an orphan, or the pain I have put you through. Only he can help you move on from me.”
I pushed away and put enough distance between us so he couldn’t touch me. “Let me get this straight, you believe that a man that lived two thousand years ago loves me and wants to fix me?”
He smirked, which was disturbingly comforting. “Wholeheartedly.”
“I don’t understand. I’ve never seen him.”
Dirg shook his head. “Neither have I, but if not for him, I would be long gone by now. Have I ever really cared about a king’s order?”
No, he most certainly did not. He argued with King Zinx at every turn, so why would he obey King Amora?
“You just wanted to see me,” I accused.
“Exactly, so I could tell you about my master that turned my wings white.”
Did he just say he had a master? Dirg had two superiors, and both had the title “king” before their names. This “master” turned his wings white?
“Did you give him permission to do that?”
He shook his head. “He just did it. It has taken me quite some time to adjust, but I like bearing his mark. I follow Jesus, he is my Lord and Savior.”
I decided to give this Jesus some serious thought and attention, since Dirg did. I doubted he knew how much his opinion swayed mine. I hadn’t realized until recently that Dirg’s opinion was a wall I could not cross. He wanted me to die, so I tried to kill myself. He wanted me to live, so I took the only path available to me, trusting Dad. He accepted Jesus, so I should at the very least look into it.
Then, I realized something. I had just yelled at Dirg! And I questioned him! And I called him a dumbutt! My body remembered punishment from all three of those offenses, and I flinched and looked down.
“I’m sorry!” I blurted out, before I remembered Dad was there.
“For what?” Dirg asked, raising an eyebrow. “You have done nothing wrong.”
“I- I- um...” My brain scrambled for an excuse, a different track, anything. “I’m sorry I stole your heart. Can I give it back?”
He chuckled in surprise but sobered quickly. He was thinking, his eyes on my lowered face. He abruptly turned and started pacing. Then, his face brightened with an idea and he sat, gesturing for me to sit too. I did as told. Dad watched the whole thing with a slightly amused expression, but I could still see the hurt in his eyes. He would bring that up later, just between the two of us.
“I made you come here because when I met King Zinx, I realized how similar he and I are.” That admission was not what I was expecting. “Or at least, that I share some characteristics to him. When I was younger, Mother tried to cover hand shaped bruises on her neck with make up, and I realized when I met King Zinx that he did that to her, because I had done the same to you. When she taught me what sex is... The way she described doing it with King Zinx...” He shook his head. “I was scared because I didn’t want to do that to you. I was scared of everything my father is, and how close I already am to following his footsteps. I panicked, Lucy. That gives me no right to say all that I said. I should have just told you the truth.”
He paused there, those eyes looking at me in a way I had never thought possible. I wasn’t a possession. I wasn’t a thing. I wasn’t a pet, or a possible toy. I was a person. He was looking at me as if I were a real, fragile person with emotions and thoughts and feelings and opinions. It was... endearing.
“The truth is, I’m afraid of me and you. I’m afraid of us. I have too much control over you, and you are both scared of me and in love with me. After the desert, I couldn’t treat you the same. The desert was probably the most idiotic thing I have done in my entire life, and again I am so sorry.”
“Would you be less sorry if it had actually worked?” I asked.
He tilted his head and then shook it, anger seeping into his expression.
“No. I never should have even tried to force myself on you like that. I should have found another way, and maybe that way would have worked. What I did is the same thing I detest in others of my kind, and the fact that I did it makes me want to barf.”
Suddenly, he went pale and groaned. “Why did I have to say that word?”
Dad looked worried. “Dirg? Did the poison wear off yet?”
He held his stomach and grimaced at my confusion. “My birthday was a day or two ago.”
My confusion cleared. His birthday present, he told me about that so I could help him avoid it. I hadn’t been with him to do my job. That made me sad; he must have seen my face fall.
“No, no,” he said softly as he held his stomach and flinched in pain. “Not your fault. Never your fault.”
I made a small marble in my hand and tossed it at him, exploding it on his chest. He tensed and then seemed to relax in less pain. Dad looked confused.
“What did you just do?”
“I gave him some energy,” I stated.
Dirg nodded and sighed. “Could I have another, please?”
I made one the same size and threw it at him. He caught it and put it near his stomach, so I exploded it when he nodded.
He smiled. “Thank you, Lucy. Did you have any more questions?”
I had to think for a minute, getting over the fact that he just thanked me. “Why did you cancel your betrothal?”
He scowled at that, and I inwardly flinched.
“She knew her brother was going to do that to you and instead of telling me, she tried to distract me, and then she had the audacity to blame you when he died! You were just protecting yourself, and it wasn’t like you had ever used your gift before, so blaming you was just a way for her to pass the guilt, and I was having none of it. It’s his own stinking fault he’s dead; good riddance!”
“So it had nothing to do with me?”
“It had everything to do with you,” he answered softly, as if it would scare me away. “How do I say this in a way you will believe? I love you, Lucille, and seeing you on the verge of breaking made me so angry... And then when I came here and saw you broken by my hand...” He grimaced and looked away.
He was still pale, and he was probably hiding whatever pain he was in.
“I thought that was what you wanted, at the time,” I said quietly.
“I didn’t. I never wanted to break you, I’ve said that from the beginning.”
“You’ve lied from the beginning! You just said that you wanted me as a toy, yet in the beginning you said I would never be a toy.”
He flinched. “Yes, but it was never ever my intention to break you. That is why I did not treat you as a toy. I knew it would break you.”
“Why did you ask if you were attractive?”
He finally looked up at me again, that arrogant streak back in his eyes. “I’ve never heard the words, ‘you are attractive, Dirg.’ I mean, Mira has kissed me, but that’s just... I don’t know. I needed to hear it, and forcing you to speak it was easier than asking anyone else. I guess I should apologize for that too.”
“Is there anything you don’t need to apologize for?” I accused.
“I will not apologize for making you come here. How I did it was wrong, but here is where you need to be.”
“Do you have any side-effects from being in the light so long?”
“You mean besides my wings changing color, sleep deprivation, and people blaming me for all the world’s problems? I’ve been through worse. My turn. Why didn’t you listen to King Amora those first two months here?”
I glared at him. “I was listening to you, idiot.”
“I wasn’t saying anything.”
“’Maybe someone in there could love a piece of filth like you,’” I quoted.
He flinched bodily before I saw resolve build in his eyes. “You are fearfully and wonderfully made. God made you and loves you; his works are amazing. You are amazing.”
Where did that come from? These words were new and oh so different. They felt good. I decided to see if he had more.
“’You were a tool and you have been played. You’re useless, bastard dark light.’”
His eyes lit as he recognized the challenge. “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.”
“’I hate you. I’ve always hated you. No one can love you.’”
“For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that if Sunshine believed in him, she would be saved.”
“’The real me hates everyone.’”
His eyes saddened. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
I stared at him. Where was he getting it? I then used the real hitter.
“’My only regret is that I didn’t bed you.’”
He looked at his hands. “Keep the marriage bed pure. I don’t have that verse memorized perfectly, for it’s my verse this week to memorize. Did you know I’m a virgin, Lucy?”
I tilted my head and hesitated. “A virgin? I assumed since you were so intent on not laying with Mira that you were, but when Fon crawled in bed with you...”
He visibly choked. Dad looked disgusted.
“My sister and I... We- uh- have never had sex. But while I was in puberty, Mom had her teach me... things.”
“Things?” I echoed.
He scratched the back of his neck. “She taught me how to kiss and the basics of physical intimacy. Can we not talk about that?”
I nodded. He was oozing discomfort. There was a lot about Dirg that I did not understand yet, and most of it had to do with his past. He wasn’t exactly an open book.
“I’m not as much of an innocent as you, but I can claim virginity.”
I nodded. “And why is this important?”
“I want to keep it that way, for my wife, whoever she may be. You have nothing to worry about from me. I promise the desert will never happen again. I also promise never to beat, hit, or whip you again. The only way I will ever kiss you again would be if all three of us agree that courting you is a good idea.”
Dad snorted. “That will never happen.”
Dirg nodded respectfully in his direction. “As you say, sire. Lucille, would you please recap everything I have told you today?”
I smiled ever so slightly. This was a thing I did as his pet: recap the day’s events in the simplest terms so he could think back on them easily.
“You chose me as you pet because I am beautiful, feisty, small, and I had the capacity to be extremely loyal. You started to fall in love with me and panicked, so you made me come here but didn’t mean to break me. I still don’t get how you thought that wouldn’t break me... Now you are here and don’t think either you or Dad can fix me, only your master named Jesus.”
He nodded and looked to Dad. “Anything I may be leaving out, sire?”
“Tell her what you were thinking as she killed herself behind you.”
He sucked in a breath and slowly let it out. He began scratching his scruff as his gaze grazed over my scars. “I didn’t know you were doing that until I turned around. I wanted to believe you were just telling me how you felt, letting it out so you could move on. I was an idiot, but you already know that. Your words cut deep, for it was everything I wanted you to say, but not what I wanted to hear. I wanted you to know there was nothing between us, but hearing you say I hated you and never cared for you, it made my heart ache. When I finally turned around...” There was a deep horror in his eyes, as if he could still see the blood around me. “I had to save you. I had to stop the destruction I caused. Those scars, Lucy... they hurt. I wish they were on me, not you.”
There was a long, pregnant silence. I hugged my forearms to my stomach, and Dirg shifted uncomfortably.
Finally, Dad spoke. “Well, now we are all on the same level. You two are equals, do you understand?”
Dirg nodded easily. I stared at Dad. He met my gaze. “Is that too hard a concept to grasp, Lucille? You, Crown Princess Lucille Diana Amora, are equal with Crown Prince Dirg Oina Zinx. In fact, here, you hold more authority than he does.”
I looked to Dirg to confirm that. He nodded, absolutely sure. I gulped.
“That’s scary,” I confessed quietly.
Dad stood and offered a hand to help me up. I took it, and he enveloped me in a hug. “I know. You can’t see yourself equal with him, and you can’t see yourself ruling in the future, but you are and you will. The twins will teach you everything they know, and anything I can do to help, I will. You are not in this alone.”
I sighed. “I know you care, Dad.”
He loved it when I called him that. He hugged me ever so slightly tighter before he let go and turned to face Dirg. He was already standing, and I knew by the way he tilted his chin up and slammed his walls into place that Dad was inspecting him.
“Your sentence has been fulfilled, Dirg. You may leave at your convenience. If you choose to stay, then you choose to be subject to the light skyrunner chain of authority as a commoner, not a prince.”
“I didn’t notice much of a difference between the two anyway. I have a request, your majesty.”
“I would like to guard your heir.”
“I shall have to think on that, and we need to discuss it. You are dismissed.”
Dirg nodded and started to leave whilst Dad turned to me. I was thunderstruck. Dirg, protect me? That idea was ludicrous, backwards even. I was supposed to watch his back, not the other way around.
Dad’s sigh reminded me of the pain in his eyes. “Lucille, I didn’t tell you that you were my heir because I didn’t want to scare you. I would have treated you no differently than I have if you weren’t. I love you, my daughter.”
I glanced up into his eyes. “Maybe it would have scared me in the beginning, but why did you not tell me recently?”
“The timing never seemed right. I want you to see yourself as my daughter, not my heir, and I figured the longer I didn’t tell you, the easier it would be for you to accept.”
I ducked my head. “I’m sorry I doubted you.”
“How did you find out?”
“No one seems to realize that I really like the library,” I stated with a little smile.
“That brings me to another thought. You said you have only lied to me once, yet you insinuated to Dirg that you know how to swim.”
I flinched. “I don’t, but that was not the reason I was drowning. You assumed it was because I didn’t inform you otherwise.”
“You don’t know how to fly or swim. Do you want to live life on solid ground?”
“There’s nothing wrong with solid ground...”
“But you are a skyrunner. You were born to fly. Do you want to try again?”
I wrinkled my nose. Last time, I had managed to get a few feet off the ground, and then I face-planted in the dirt. Lilly had laughed and healed me at the same time. “Not really.”
Dad nodded, thoughtful. “What would you do if I granted Dirg his request?”
I looked up at him and felt my eyes widen. “I would, uh, go with it?”
“Do you not like the idea of having a bodyguard?”
“Bodyguard, yes. Dirg... it just seems wrong.”
“He’s not your master anymore.”
“I know...” I trailed off because, in fact, I really didn’t.
“That settles it then! Dirg will be your bodyguard, and you no longer have to be with a family member 24/7. I will work out the details with him later.”
There was a wicked gleam in my father’s eyes. It wasn’t a look I had seen very often in him, but I knew he was planning something. He had made it clear that he did not like the idea of Dirg and I having a relationship, but he was purposefully sticking us together, without royal supervision. Did he trust Dirg? Or was it something else? King Amora was not someone I easily understood.