Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot. Have a nice day. :-x
Dave looked up from his desk at the knock on the door. "Enter!" he called.
Fran walked in and to Dave's surprise she shut the door and hurried around his desk. He barely had time to stand before she ran into his arms.
"Hey, what's going on?" he gently pulled her away and gazed into her eyes.
"She's here, David. She's finally here," she whispered.
"I know, I know," he soothed back, although his voice was thick with emotion as he embraced her again.
"She's just beautiful, David." Fran's voice was muffled against his shirt but the words warmed his heart.
"Now comes the hard part," she said as she finally pulled out of his embrace.
"'Hard part'?" he repeated.
"Yes, telling her who she is. Basically explaining to her that the man who raised her isn't really her father and that she is royalty. That because of some insane psychopath, she became an orphan and was never allowed to live as she should have," Fran elaborated. "None of that is going to be easy. How do you tell someone that their entire life as they knew it was never meant to happen that way?"
"There really is no other way to say it than just saying it." He reached down into one of his desk's drawers and pulled out a bottle of scotch and two glasses. He splashed two fingers in one and one in the other. He held the latter out to Fran, who nodded her thanks and took a sip.
"Is she ready?" he asked as he gently swirled his glass.
Fran choked back a laugh. "How could anyone possibly be 'ready' for this?"
Dave sighed. "I know, I know."
"I gave her twenty minutes to get dressed," Fran looked at her watch, "and that was ten minutes ago."
"I'm finished here for the night anyway," Dave announced.
"I'd hope so," Fran said as she finished her drink. "It's late. I stopped by your rooms and home office first. I figured you'd have been in your quarters by now."
"The work is never finished," Dave mumbled. He replaced his favorite pen in its holder on his desk and put the file he'd been working on in his briefcase.
The duo made their way toward the residence. They took their time and made small talk and after Dave dropped off his briefcase in his private office, they reached Penelope's doors.
"Wait, David." Fran held his hand as he accepted the key from her. She steeled herself for telling him everything. "There's something you should know..."
"Later, Fran." Dave turned and unlocked the door, then threw them both open.
Dave spent most of his life honing his reactions and he had to call upon all his years of experience to help him keep control. The woman who stood before him was indeed beautiful as Fran said. She looked just like her mother. Her blonde hair shone as if the sun followed her around and she had a curvy figure. Her face looked sweet and innocent. The only perceivable difference was the bright pink glasses. She had inherited the poor eyesight from her father. The young woman frowned as she gazed at him, then tilted her head slightly as she recognized him but couldn't place him. Dave smiled as he remembered Jason doing the same thing when he was trying to figure something out. He swallowed hard, knowing that his beloved friends would always live on through this young woman.
David cleared his throat and Penelope blinked in surprise. "Hello," he greeted.
"Hello," she repeated.
"Do you know who I am?" Dave asked.
Penelope hesitated, then shook her head "no" at the question.
"I'm David Rossi."
"Oh, " Penelope squeaked. "Oh!" Her jaw dropped and she visibly paled as she instantly put two and two together. She quickly dropped to her knees and bowed her head low.
Dave's jaw also dropped. He looked over at Fran, who remained expressionless. He checked himself and walked up to the princess. He saw her quaking in fear and his heart clenched. He reached his hand down and gently tilted her chin so she was looking up at him. "Penny, what are you doing?" he asked softly.
"I'm... um, Sir..." she stuttered. "You're the king and I'm just a... just a..."
Dave shook his head. "My dear, you are not 'just' anything." He took her cold hands in his much warmer ones and helped her rise to her feet. Her jaw dropped a second time when he dropped to his knees in front of her, still holding her hands. "I forbid you from kneeling in front of me or anyone else ever again. You are a princess... the princess. Penelope, daughter of the late King Hector and Queen Anna." He looked down and frowned when he saw the marks on her wrists. He kissed them gently before looking back up.
Penelope's eyes narrowed. "Your Highness, I've heard that you have a sense of humor but this, with all due respect, is not funny or... what game is this? Do you order your men to pluck random women from the streets and steal them from their homes for amusement? Do you judge their looks or test their intelligence and gullibility? I'm very sorry but I will just disappoint you, Sire. I don't know why Derek chose me, as I am not beautiful, nor am I stupid and gullible. Everyone knows the princess died a few days... before the king and queen." Penelope cast her eyes downward in respect of the late royal family.
Expecting a certain level of skepticism, Dave rose to his feet and pulled a handful of pictures from inside his jacket pocket. He thrust them into her hands. She looked at the top picture and gasped. She flipped through the rest of the pictures, recognizing herself in them. She had not seen many pictures of the king and queen, for after the takeover anything baring their likenesses was considered contraband and ordered destroyed, and if anyone was found in possession of contraband was subject to immediate arrest and persecution. The only few things she had ever seen was online, mainly digital copies of half-destroyed paintings. The pictures Dave gave her were mainly candid shots: her with the king and queen, her, the queen, and a ginger woman Penelope immediately recognized as Fran, her sitting on Dave's lap with a book, her playing with an older, darker-skinned little boy.
Penelope gasped and swung her eyes over to Fran's. The older woman had tears in her eyes and she smiled and nodded.
Penelope's jaw dropped for a third time. "Your Highness," she whispered. "I don't understand. How... what...?" She had a million questions running through her brain but they were so jumbled she couldn't get anything out.
Dave looked at his watch "It is quite late, Penelope. If you have any questions, ask Fran." He gently grabbed Penelope's shoulders and kissed even more gently on the forehead. "Welcome home, Princess." He bowed low and before she could reply, he was out the doors.
Fran gaped at the closed door before looking back at Penelope. The girl was exhausted, that was obvious. She was crashing, all the adrenaline from the day's events was gone, zapping most of her energy with it. She walked up to Penelope and took the pictures from her. She laid them on the side table and guided Penelope back to the bedroom.
Penelope followed robotically, only coming back to her senses when she felt her dress being pulled up. She froze and turned around. "It's OK, Fran. I can undress myself. I know where everything is."
Fran nodded. "That's fine, Princess. Is there anything else I can get you before I go to sleep?"
Penelope smiled at the matronly woman. "I would love a glass of warm milk, please."
Fran nodded again. "I'll be right back with that." She bowed, then walked out of the chamber.
Penelope quickly changed into a nightgown. She turned down her bed and sat down on it. She fidgeted, then bolted up and ran to the living area. She scooped up the pictures and brought them back with her. She crawled into bed and pulled the covers up. She studied the pictures carefully, trying to remember a time before her adoption. She breathed in the heavenly lavender scent of the sheets and pillows and wasn't even aware of her eyes closing. By the time Fran returned, Penelope was sound asleep, surrounded by the pictures of her parents. Fran hesitated before deciding not to wake the exhausted princess. She kissed Penelope's forehead before leaving, closing and locking the door quietly behind her.
Dave closed the door to his private office behind him and leaned heavily against it. He was unaware of sliding down until he was sitting on the floor. He sat there, barely moving, lost in memories, oblivious to how much time had passed. He was jarred back into the present by a knocking on the door, then the pressure of someone trying to open it. He got up from the floor and opened the door. Fran swept in and Dave knew she was angry. Dave walked more slowly, around his desk, and sat heavily in his chair, deliberately avoiding eye contact.
"David Rossi, what kind of welcome do you call that?" she demanded. Her eyes, blazed with fury, softened when Dave finally looked up at her, looking sad and defeated.
"What happened to her?" he whispered. He remembered her as a happy, bubbly child. It had disturbed him to see her so intimidated and frightened.
"What do you think happened to her? You heard her. You know the civilians, even the most loyal, are still scared. It's getting better, but a lot are afraid to get back to how it was... before. And even more afraid of a repeat coup. There are still many Henry Grace supporters out there. You've seen some of the depravity they're capable of. That's what I was trying to tell you before," she explained. "She's been hurt badly. She thought she was brought here to be a slave."
"A slave? Why would she think that?"
"Apparently you told that son of mine to do whatever was necessary to get her here, and to not say why." Fran crossed her arms and glared at the king.
Dave winced when he remembered the marks on her wrists. "I know, and I didn't like ordering him to do it, but I didn't see any way around it. You saw how she reacted when I told her who she is. Imagine her reaction if Derek had told her. When I found out Jason died, everything changed and finding Penelope became even more important."
"She has scars from being whipped on her back."
Fran nodded and tears welled up in her eyes as she thought about what the princess had gone through. "None are fresh but you and I both know how badly she was hit if they left scars." She paused. "Do you think Gideon..."
Dave leapt up from his chair so forcefully it tilted and almost fell over. "No! Jason would never have hit her at all, let alone left permanent marks. Hector, Jason, and I were like brothers. He never would have hurt the princess, or any child."
"I didn't know Jason," Fran reminded him. "I only met him the one time."
"I know, but trust me, he didn't do it. If I ever find out who hurt her they're going to wish they were never born." The promise behind the threat made Fran shiver slightly.
Derek sighed as he parked his truck in his driveway. He had hoped Savannah was working but seeing her little red sports car in the driveway ruined that. He grabbed his bag from the backseat of the cab and made his way to the door. He unlocked it and wiped his shoes on the welcome mat. The house was dark and he reached around trying to find the light switch. He dropped his go-bag off on the washer and walked to the bedroom. He was surprised to see the made-up bed. He searched around but Savannah wasn't home. He sighed and walked into the kitchen. He opened the fridge and grinned at the lasagna sitting on the shelf. His mom always left something for him to eat when he returned from long missions, especially when she learned Savannah couldn't even fry an egg. He unwrapped the dish and cut out a piece, putting it on a plate, then in the microwave. While he waited for it to warm up, he took a beer from the fridge and took a long swig. The microwave went off and he took his beer and food and sat down to eat at the table. He thought about his next property project and the materials he needed for it, then decided to write out a list. When he was finished eating he washed and rinsed his plate and fork and put them away.
Derek called Savannah and shrugged when her phone went straight to voicemail, then took his dirty clothes from his bag and put them in the hamper. He started the shower and finally allowed his mind to wander to Penny. He wondering how she was doing. He wasn't scheduled to debrief with the king until the next morning so he had no idea if he had told her or even met her yet. His job was done: he found the princess and brought her home where she belonged, without telling her why and drawing the attention of civilians. So why couldn't he stop thinking about her?
A/N: Thanks for reading and for your endless patience. See the a/n at the end my first story's (Past, Present, Future) update if you want to know why I have been absent so long.