Fallout

This chapter includes spoilers for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

In the last chapter, Xander began with eliminating the first girls that he had actually spent more than five minutes with.

Chapter 43

»That was most certainly an interesting morning!«

Government meeting rooms in the Palace, Los Angeles, Angeles
Crown Prince Xander of Illéa

Meetings, Xander could do. Much better than the guilt—or lack of—he felt regarding eliminating girls. He headed inside the room where Carlos was already waiting—and to his surprise, Adrian too.

"Good—hello, father," he greeted the two kings.

"Ah, good morning Xander!" Carlos was much more enthusiastic than his own father who barely gave him a nod.

"We are going to take action," Adrian announced as Xander took a seat.

"Action on what?"

"Helping Italy with their 'activists'," he spat out the words.

Xander frowned. He didn't want to openly oppose the King, but that made little sense. "Which resources to you intend to support them with?" he phrased, diplomatically. Even if Carlos was some form of family, he was a foreign sovereign too. No need to show discord among the King and heir. Besides, what was Adrian doing here?

"Military. Intelligence, maybe. It depends what you," and Adrian directed that at Carlos, "need."

"Father, must I remind you of the extend of damage our intelligence network took early on into the Unrest?"

"I am not going to let more people die because of some stupid rioters!"

He hadn't called the Illéan rebels stupid—ever. Even when they called for his death, he had seen them has his subject. Lysandre's death changed him, and Xander did not like that.

"I'm not entirely sure if our support would be of aid to the Italian forces. Our losses and infrastructure—civil and military—are too huge."

"Xander, this is not up to debate," scolded.

"It's the logical thing, though, father. I have seen the numbers we—"

"Xander, I am—"

Carlos shook his head. "No, no, Adrian, it is fine. We can do it ourselves. We can come back to you if we do need help, but I like to think Italy is strong enough on its own. I appreciate the offer, though."

"Exactly. Italy is strong on its own."

"And, I know enough of European politics that if you help me, then the British will demand aid too with their budding war. You wouldn't want to ruin your son's peace talks with that."

Adrian glanced at the Italian king and his son. He relaxed. "That is true. We cannot afford a full-blown war with New Asia. How is the summit meeting going?"

"Well. Britain is about to invite the guests."

"Where is it, again? I doubt the New Asian president will turn up if it's in London."

"Wellington, New Zealand," Xander replied. "It's a small country, close to New Asia and peaceful."

"It's still British soil."

"Switzerland isn't interested in hosting summits on other people's war, father."

"I doubt they'll easily accept."

"They have shown interest."

"Elaborate."

As much as Xander dismayed the idea of discussing Illéan foreign policies in front of the Italian king, he went on to elaborate on what he had communicated with the British prime minister and what he knew of his plans. They proceeded to return the subject to Illéan-Italian relations, but neither the summit nor Italian politics was the most important thing Xander took out of it. To him, it was clear. Why ever it had happened, Adrian Illéa intended to return to power.

Except he didn't just tell Xander.

Except he just went ahead and ordered around without briefing and knowledge.

Except Xander had no idea if he should just go and ask his father if his assumptions were right; the last times he had tried, Adrian had just bluntly deflected his wishes.

That question—go and ask, or not—remained in his mind when he returned from bidding the Italians, then leaving, goodbye. More formalities, spanning all of the lunch he would only get to eat much later. Fortunately, he knew he would have good company and that meant he could wait through the protocol and traditions waiting for him. His afternoon, he had left free with dedicated purpose. Waiting for him was Irina, with an amused smile when she saw him thinking so hard.

"Your meeting must have gone well," she noted.

"I am glad you are in great spirits. I am merely confused."

He had invited Irina to join him on the largest roof-terrace that the palace had, all too well known for being one of the most scenic spots of the Illéa Palace besides the Rose Gardens. Plus, it was on the third floor, meaning he didn't expect other noisy Selected to come by.

"I heard about who you eliminated."

"I would assume that news travels fast." They probably hadn't even left the palace.

"Did you eliminate them because of me?"

"For Deylin, her reaction was most certainly what pushed her overboard, but I had considered Minerva and Sawyer either way."

"Am I thinking the right reasons?"

"I would assume so."

"PTSD and Sawyer's fierce hatred on the rebels." She huffed. "What about me?"

Taking a seat and letting the servants come by with the entrée, Xander scanned her eyes. Calm, composed, controlled. Not trembling, teary and worried like last night. "It doesn't control you."

"I like to think that."

They began eating.

"How do you proceed next? Taking a 'break' for a bit given what happened at the hotel?"

"No," Xander shook his head. "I intend to show Illéa that such a thing doesn't bother us. We are going strong, and will continue as if nothing happened—besides the investigation, of course."

"Then I assume we are counting this afternoon as a date?"

"I would like that."

"That reminds me," Irina remembered between bits, "I had an idea. Given your workload and your father's lack of involvement, how about you let us girls plan the dates this time? Less time for you to bother with that."

Xander liked that idea. "That sounds very good. Though, it reminds me. When I was in the final meeting with Carlos earlier today, my father showed up."

Irina rose an eyebrow. "Is that good or bad?"

"I… don't know? He seemed as if he wanted to return to the government, given his attitude on some things. He was much pushier—well he had an agenda for the first time in months—than before. He hasn't outright said anything."

"Why don't you go and ask him?"

"The last time I wanted to ask him anything, I got a 'no' before I could even say a word."

"This time, you have a reason to assume so, though." She paused, thinking. "What about this agenda you mentioned? Being pushy? If it caused you problems…" Irina leaned forward. "Then wouldn't it make sense for you to clarify the situation with your father, so next time you can react accordingly? If you say 'pushy' and 'agenda', I assume it's something that bothered you. Something that caused problems."

"He wants to assist the Italians with dealing with their activists when we don't have the resources. He hasn't read the briefings—he doesn't know the numbers, so it makes sense that he didn't think about it, but—yeah. It won't work out. Fortunately, Carlos insisted that Italy is strong on it's won, but if it wasn't my uncle, I wouldn't want a foreign leader to see that."

"Ah! There go!" Irina smiled. What a charming smile she had. "You just would like to ask your father if he wants to return to the government. If that's the case, then changes must happen. He needs the briefings and what no." She rose. "Shall we?"

Xander smiled to himself. Always eager to make a difference. "I would suggest finishing lunch first. I haven't had anything to eat since this morning."

Irina accepted that, and their conversation went on to Xander's plans for the summit. Given that he didn't have a date just yet, he couldn't plan too much, but with the looming 'threat' of the Lord of the Rings marathon, Irina was all too eager to discuss how they could manage to cramp in some sightseeing.

After lunch, they headed on to Adrian's rooms where Xander requested a footman to ask the King if they could speak with him, adding on that it was 'rather important'. He agreed, and they joined Adrian in his sitting room.

"Good afternoon," the King greeted them. "What can I do for you?" He eyed Xander as if to remind him of their recent conversation on giving the Selection time. Xander remembered that, but he wanted—needed—Irina's reassuring presence.

"I have a question regarding this morning's meeting. Coming to the point—are you coming back to work? Because—"

"Yes."

Irina smiled. "That is wonderful to hear, Your Majesty."

"I suppose I should have told you," Adrian realised, "but yes, I do want to, and will."

Before Xander could let out a 'Ah, cool, you could have told me but okay', Irina took the word again. "May I suggest something? Xan—His Royal Highness was so kind to let me know of a few minor details of this morning's meeting and the nature of certain decisions made. You, sir, have been, so to say, away for several months and most certainly have missed various changes. While I, of course, understand that you likely would much more prefer to return to power fully now, wouldn't a soft overtake make sense? To allow you to ease back in. Given what happened, I'm sure that the pain must still be deep, and it cannot be healthy to just immense yourself into the most stressful job in the country."

Adrian's eyes laid on her. Other girls—even his siblings—Xander would expect to eventually grow awkward. Crack a joke, worry that something was wrong, anything but remain seated, calmly waiting for him to respond. Irina did that. Xander was proud. She may just as well lead the country on her own.

"I see why you like her," Adrian eventually remarked.

This time, though, she did blush a bit. Xander chuckled. "Yes, I do too."

"This is awkward," Irina muttered under her breath.

"That is a very good idea, Lady Irina."

"You could, if I may elaborate, establish a timeframe. Say—the summit with New Asia and the British Commonwealth. Consider that as final point, and like a gradient, move towards it. You could begin focusing on Illéan politics while Xander—" She didn't bother to use his title this time. "—continues the work he has done on international politics and foreign relations."

Adrian nodded. "I agree with that notion."

Cue another bunch of political discussing and this time, timelining.

/ / /

Palace Home Cinema, Los Angeles, Angeles
Irina Cavanah

Irina leaned into Xander's side with a pretty proud grin on her face. If there was anything to say about the Selection and what impact she had made, then she proudly liked to think that she definitely had done some impact.

Who was she kidding—she had been part of getting the King back to work. Even if that was far off all the things she imagined she could do for Illéa, it was something. It was a large thing too because it meant that Xander would have more time to dedicate to the Selection—meaning more focus there, more things she could do—and maybe more time for her to spend with him. She smiled to herself.

"So, what do I need to pay attention to?" Xander asked, almost nervous, as the logos began appearing on the fancy home cinema screen.

"Everything," Irina declared.

"That sounds like a lot."

"We have time. We can watch them twice."

"Twice? I don't think there is any movie I have seen twice," Xander laughed out.

"These are worth it," she promised. "They're the best movies ever made."

"Then, my expectations are high."

"They better be."

The movie began with the opening that Irina had seen countless times in her life. She had forbidden Xander from getting any form of snacks, because they were going to enjoy the beautiful soundtrack to its fullest. While Bilbo Baggins began his message to Frodo, she couldn't help a giggle.

"That there is the shire," she couldn't help narrating. "It's where Hobbiton is located. You can visit the place where they filmed Hobbiton."

"Is that in New Zealand too?"

"Of course!" She pulled out her phone because maybe planning their trip there was just a tad more interesting than the movies she loved to death but knew by heart. "The summit—where will it be?"

"I would assume Wellington, the capital."

"That's six hours drive," Irina's phone told her. "Is everyone coming? All Selected?"

Xander nodded. "It looks as it will be the case."

"The hotel and flight will be expensive."

"We will take one of the royal planes. They traditionally have seats for business delegations, meaning we'll be able to fit in eighteen girls. As for the hotel, I plan to come at Harriet with that."

"As a mean of saving the hotel's reputation?"

Xander nodded. "Do you agree with my thinking?"

Irina smiled indeed, "Yes, I do agree."

The movie finally reached the point where Bilbo described his hobbit hole. She couldn't help a nostalgic smile at his description of that warm, comfy home. "You know," she whispered as she watched Frodo accuse Bilbo of being unsociable. "When I came home and Evan was dead, I—" She laughed at that lovely conversation on good mornings. "—when I… I wondered if my home could be that again?"

"What—a good morning?" Xander teased.

"I—I did not have good mornings then. Had I known you were keeping him hidden here…" she punched him. "That was most certainly an interesting morning!"

"I wasn't keeping him here!" he exclaimed. "Evan's working on his own volition! Do ask him!"

"Oh, I do know! I'm very much aware! Such dreadful secrecy by him. He—we thought him dead! I still cannot fathom how he forgot to send letters—although your military's terrible is at fault too."

"I am very much aware," Xander nodded. "Messing these things up—it's terrible. Especially given that it now opens the question of whenever those believed dead are dead, and if those alive may just had their identities stolen, or where they are."

"Do you think that there may be people whose families are still missing relatives?"

"Most certainly." Xander laughed out at the arrival of the dwarves. "Poor Biblo."

"There are more to come. Wait for it—wait for it—ah!" They laughed again. "Back to the topic… Oh, I would love to eat like the dwarves do."

"It does look delicious."

"Back to the—where were we again? Ah, yes, the military's screw up."

"That is putting it nicely. Have you I told you about the Air Force and the reason why the Illéan forces could only advance to slowly?"

"Ah? No?"

"The rebels leaders managed to take down all of the Air Force systems. That, in return, meant that we couldn't trust the other military and intelligence systems. If they took down the entire fleet of the Air Force, then how could we trust that they didn't have spies in our other systems? We couldn't risk our force's safety by exposing them."

"Is that how the whole chaos begun?"

"Yes. And the reason why we proceeded so slowly. We were, almost, blind. We relied too much on technology, of course."

Irina nodded slowly. "That does sound logical."

"I wish we could have done more, but even looking back, I can't say. And you tend to know better afterwards."

"It's alright, Xander, I understand. Ooh! Do look, it'll be fun soon."

It wasn't until minutes later that either spoke up again. With song, jokes and tension alike, Irina lost herself in her favourite movie. She smiled to herself, hoping that Xander by her side felt the same.

"Ah! This is where this 'fool of a Took' comes from!" Xander exclaimed eventually. "Will he head out with them, or not?"

"What do you think is the life he wants, sitting idly by in his home, or to go on an adventure?"

"He seems quite fond of his home."

"What would you do?"

"Against a dragon? I wouldn't know. It's a dragon, after all. Would you say you can shoot down a dragon?"

"Oh, I wouldn't know. You'd need to try."

"Try to shoot down a dragon, of course. As you do," he teased.

"Do you not? I do it every morning, twice. Good practise. Right in the eye."

"Is that where they need to hit?"

"You will see," Irina hummed, "there are a few hours until we'll get to Smaug."

He shook his head. "Aren't there books as well? Wouldn't it be faster to read them?"

"As if you have time for that. Plus, if we are going to middle-earth, we may as well watch the movies with its beautiful scenery."

"'Middle-earth'?" Xander repeated amused. "I do believe there is more to that country than The Lord of the Rings."

"This is what matters!" Irina declared. "Now, would you go and slay the dragon?"

"That does sound dangerous. And potentially expensive…"

"You are a literal prince, though. Isn't that your job?"

Xander cringed. "Slaying a dragon? Not really?"

"I am utterly most disappointed," Irina joked.

"Would you go and kill the dragon?"

"Yes, of course! If Gandalf appeared in front of my door, I would always come along!"

"Is that why you signed up for the Selection, to—I quote—'go on an adventure'?"

Irina smiled. He was catching the bug from her. "Absolutely. You?"

"I? I didn't sign up for this; it was written into my life before I was born."

"If you weren't a prince, what would you do?"

"I—" Xander broke off. "I never thought about it."

Irina turned to him. "Any idea? Your life has been planned out, I guess, but…"

"I suppose, I would still go into politics. Lead Illéa, if not as their King, then somewhere else."

"So, you would have volunteered too, for the Unrest?"

Xander nodded. "Always."

"Then you would have gone after Smaug too, I believe." After all, he could have escaped the war. He could have waited, behind his guards and in the safe palace walls. The Illéa Palace had never been breached; he would have been safe here. "You were pretty brave to do that. I liked it, even back when I heard about it."

"I wish people hadn't."

"It only came out pretty late."

"It meant that I had to return home immediately."

"They couldn't risk the safety of their king-to-be, I suppose. I'm glad you're here though. I wouldn't have come to Angeles. Wouldn't have known that Evan was alive—for ages, at least. I wouldn't have met you."

She leaned in for a kiss.

"I'm glad that you came, too," Xander agreed.

On the cinema screen, Biblo joined his comrades hastily, and once more, Irina fell silent—even if it was only for a moment. "After the Selection, what are you going to do?"

"Follow the life that was written for me? Illéa needs to rebuild itself."

"That sounds awfully uneventful."

"If… Do you remember how we talked about travelling? Not for work but privately—I'd quite like to do that, if there's time. Now with dad going back to work, there may actually be a chance for that."

"Privately? No official visits, and no diplomacy?"

"Not if it can't be avoided," he smiled.

"I'd like that too. More time for middle-earth."

"We may actually be able to go and see more than just middle-earth, you know."

Irina smiled at that idea. "Sounds good to me. Even no cameras? Where are they today?"

"Given that almost all of our rendezvous was off-camera, I've decided that we'll continue without them from now. They can have some basic shots from the distance—but this is watching movies, so there isn't much to film either way."

"Have you told your brother?" Irina chuckled.

"Not yet—he doesn't know of today. I'll… get around to it."

"That sounds like a good decision though."

"Sounds?" Xander repeated daring.

"I mean—how else would I describe it?" she laughed. "Your brother is quite fond of the whole Report work, though."

Even if, Irina remembered, some things were a bit odd. She remembered Jaira's suspicions on how much and often Nereida was on the Report, compared to the others. She remembered how Xander had admitted that everyone had their preferences and that was normal. Why Nereida Statten though?

"I'm quite surprised as to how engaged he is, to be honest."

She couldn't see a reason wy they would promote a girl like Nereida Statten. She came from one of the provinces not touched by the Unrest. Besides being a Five—which was already quite close to the middle of the caste system, only Irina as Four came closer—there wasn't much of a reason why.

"Maybe," she thought out loud, "there's someone he likes?"

"I would hope so," Xander replied, "it would make it much easier if he was to leave the Selection married too… Then again, it's Ernest. Plus, it couldn't be anyone."

True. They couldn't let someone like Zarah Baine—someone who almost openly joked about the government—marry a prince. Even if that prince wasn't the heir to Illéa. It was close enough. Either way—she was out.

"Who would you want for him?"

"Someone of the upper classes," Xander replied, "He's still liked among the lower classes for being so approachable. Just the other week, he leaked the next date before it happened to a random girl he met in a club."

"Are you sure marriage alone would make him more liked among the upper class?"

"I hope it'd have an influence on him."

"Who could that be?" Irina asked, thinking about the Selected left. "Andreia? She's a Two, but she does that with style. She comes from a good family and is a police officer, too." And she didn't behave as openly rich as Harriet did. As much as she agreed with Harriet had said last, she was a bit pompous.

"Maybe. Veira, too. Then again, we are childhood friends with the Schreaves. I guess that'd be a bit odd. Plus, I'm fairly sure she's fond of Louis."

Ah, yes, Louis. The prince that couldn't deal with his people.

"Ah," Irina muttered, bitter.

"He didn't know what he was saying," Xander replied. He assumed that Irina thought about what he had said all these years ago.

"I didn't mean that."

"What then?" Xander asked.

"During the reception with the Italians…" Irina looked down. Sure, she still thought him to be ridiculous, but what was this feeling now? Heavy, apologetic—guilt? Why? "I saw him panicking because the press was in attendance. Veira and a servant were there, too. He screamed at them, almost. I just think—for a prince, someone who is meant to serve the public, it's a bit ridiculous."

"I see."

"Logically, there is nothing to fear about. Chances were—and as it turned out, I am right with this one—they wouldn't even talk to him, let alone write anything about them. The press was all over the Italians and us, and what we did."

"But…?"

"I feel guilty!?" Irina called out. "Why do I feel guilty! I just—I'm saying the truth, right? Logically, there was no reason to panic. He behaved like a child!"

"You know…" Xander began, calmer, "sometimes things just don't make sense."

"They always do. Emotions are use—"

"They're not useless, Irina."

"What use do they have?"

"Without them, we can take time and process things. We can care and support another in times of need. If it wasn't for emotions, would there have been these help actions during the Unrest, where people offered up their homes to support those who had been hurt?"

"That's logic. We need society to be alive."

"Logically, they could have been secretly rebels, planning to destroy their homes too. Those who aided them helped, risked these things, because of sympathy. It's not bad to be guilty."

"Hm…" Irina didn't take that.

"Louis definitely has issues above the normal level with the press. He's frightened—almost as if he is hiding a secret and worries that others will learn of it. That needs to change, and you're right. However—take Lady Tessera for example. She's shy too. Would you say that's bad?"

"If she wants to win, she definitely needs to get out of that shell…"

Xander sighed. "Not all is about winning."

"The Unrest was about winning," Irina begun. A lot of things were.

"Happiness is a win, in my opinion, and if Lady Tessera feels more comfortable in the background, then isn't that a win for her?"

"Yes, but…" Irina trailed off. She shook her head.

"It's alright that you feel guilty for being angry at Louis. He's got a different life, and the way he lives is definitely different from yours."

"Yes, but…" This was frustrating.

"But what?"

"It feels wrong."

"Guilt?"

"No!" Irina called out. "Being wrong!"

Xander laughed out. "Now, that, Irina, is something pretty normal."

/ / /

Author's Note

Full disclaimer: I may live in New Zealand but it's been ages since I last saw The Hobbit.