The Gardens, The Palace, Angeles, July 29th, 12:03pm

Yunuen Hamilton, 3, Tammins

There were a lot of things that Yunuen hated about being a twin, and having to share a birthday was one of them. The one day a year that nobody could deny that it ought to be about her, and she had to share it with her perfect sister, and today all the other Selected.

As usual, Eli had sought out Ixchel first, then had talked to Cassandra for a while. Yunuen wished she had worn a more elaborate dress, in order to match up to Cassandra better. She had thought the white dress with a high slit, exposing much of her leg, would be good enough, but Cassandra seemed clearly determined to upstage her. At least Ixchel's dress was boring. She wouldn't be able to stand it if Ixchel somehow was better dressed than her.

Yunuen had expected that Prince Elijah would take the time to seek her out next, but instead he had seemingly disappeared from the party without saying happy birthday. She looked around for him again, but didn't spot him. Jenn and Ixchel were chatting nearby, and even though Yunuen wasn't Jenn's biggest fan, she was still jealous. Of course Ixchel got all the royal attention. Everyone always thought Ixchel was so much better.

She wanted to scowl, but instead kept a friendly smile on her face and reached for a glass of champagne. As she did, Jay approached from across the garden. "Hey, Yunuen. Happy birthday."

At least someone was paying attention to her. "Thank you. Have you seen Prince Elijah anywhere?"

"Nope, I have no idea where he's gone. Your best bet is probably to ask Micah, he usually keeps tabs on Eli. Or Eli keeps tabs on him. Or something. I'm not sure." He seemed to be having trouble looking her in the eyes, which had been the goal. Finally someone bought it. Eli wouldn't look anywhere but at her face, and it was downright annoying. How could she seduce someone who didn't seem to notice or care what she looked like? "Anyway, do you want to go on a walk? I have a birthday present for you."

She raised her eyebrows, curious. A birthday present? She had technically received one from Prince Elijah, a silver bracelet with only superficial differences from the one her sister had received, and that had stung. "What is it?" She asked curiously, smiling slightly and reaching out for his arm in an obvious cue that she would walk with him.

He awkwardly took her arm and led her through the gardens. They stopped in a secluded area of the garden, surrounded by hedges and the famed palace rose bushes.

He fished around in his pocket for a moment, before pulling out a plain white cardboard box with a red ribbon tied around it. She untied the ribbon, expecting to find expensive jewelry inside.

But instead what she found was a bracelet made up of braided leather cord, similar to the ones Jay wore. She looked up at him, trying not to let the disappointment show on her face.

Jay was smiling at her, though. "I made it for you," he said nervously.

She took another look at the box. He had made it for her. That meant this was unique. She had the only one of this particular bracelet there would ever be. Someone had gone to the effort to make her something. Someone had done something special for her, for her birthday.

"Thank you." She lifted the bracelet from the box, and tied it on her wrist before unclasping the much more expensive bracelet Prince Elijah had given her and dropping it into the box. She put the lid back on and handed it to Jay, smiling back.

He took the box, and held it for a moment. "Don't you want your birthday present from Eli?"

"No."

"Why not?"

Because it wasn't a real present. It might have been simple and cheap, but Jay had given her a real present. She didn't say that, though, just held her arm out to him. "Walk me back to the party, will you?"


Upstairs Corridor, The Palace, Angeles, July 29th, 3:08pm

Elijah

Several hours had passed since Eli had told Dad he was done with the Selection and walked out of the meeting room. In that time he had changed clothes and vanished into the dusty back corridors of the palace, hoping to avoid Dad's wrath for as long as possible. He wasn't ready to deal with the fallout of his decision, and anyway he wanted to be alone.

Thanks to years of childhood exploration, he knew plenty of spots where he was unlikely to be found, and he had settled in on the floor of a corridor where almost no one ever went. He had put in his earbuds, hit play on the loudest, angriest music he could find, turned the volume up to drown out the world, and closed his eyes.

There were days when he just wanted the whole world to stop so he could breath, and today was one of them.

He had had a lot of those days lately.

He stayed like that for a while, until he heard something that sounded vaguely like someone trying to talk to him. Expecting Jenn, he didn't bother to open his eyes, just pulled out one earbud and said, "The fuck you want? I came here to be left the fuck alone, fuck off."

"I didn't really want anything, I was just curious what you were listening to. I'll go."

That was definitely not Jenn. He immediately opened his eyes to see Liath standing there. "Ah, shit, sorry, I thought you were my sister. I wouldn't have been so rude if I knew it was you."

She raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything other than, "It's alright. I'll go."

If he squinted, she looked sort of like Isabelle. Well, the hair color was right. Really, Ixchel or Yunuen would make a better Isabelle stand-in, but Liath was here. "No, don't go." He held out an earbud towards her. "You wanted to know what I'm listening to?"

She nodded, and sat down next to him, making sure not to sit too close. He wished she would sit closer. It would improve the illusion. She took the earbud and slid it into her ear, raising her eyebrows as she started hearing the music that was playing. "You have decent taste."

"Thanks?" He closed his eyes again, leaning back so his head was resting against the wall.

They stayed like that for a few songs, not talking. After a while, Liath said, "Where did you go? You disappeared from the party."

"Yeah. Things happened." He kept his eyes closed, and gave in to the temptation to tell her everything, as if she was really Isabelle. "She's dead. The girl from Dominica. Kendall. Murdered. I looked at the pictures like an idiot and now I can't get it out of my fucking head. I'm done. I just want this to all be over. Everyone goes home, no more blood on my hands. It's because of me Kendall's blood is all over the floor. I'm to blame. Her only crime is being Selected, and the only reason there's a Selection is because of me. I can't let it happen again." He finally opened his eyes, and looked over at Liath, who was staring at him as if she was shocked by the sudden outpouring of emotions. He couldn't blame her. He was shocked too. "Nevermind… Just… Forget I said any of that. Please?"

She nodded, and turned away. "Done." She pulled the earbud out of her ear and handed it back before standing up. "Good luck."

Eli didn't respond, just put the earbud back in his own ear and leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes again. If he could just not exist for a little bit, that would be spectacular.


The King's Office, The Palace, Angeles, July 29th, 2:01pm

Jenn

Jenn had known this day was coming for a long time. Eli wasn't somebody you could control easily. Eli wouldn't be destroyed easily.

There had been a few months where she had thought that Dad had succeeded. But today's events had proven her very very wrong. Eli still had a little bit of fight left in him. She had never been prouder of her older brother. Even if he was an idiot.

"—Somebody needs to talk him out of this hairbrained bullshit of his. He thinks he can call off the Selection just like that? That's not going to happen. Who does he think he is? He has responsibilities, and the Selection is just what we need right now." Dad slammed his palm down on his desk. "Jenevieve! Go find your brother. Get him back in here." He turned away, making it obvious she was dismissed, and muttered something about how Eli was an irresponsible little shithead.

Jenn was more than used to the way he talked about Eli, and, if she didn't do a good enough job keeping her head down and being a model daughter, her. So she didn't let it faze her.

She turned and left the room, trying to figure out where Eli might have gone. The palace was a big building, and he might have even left already. But she had to do her best. The less attention she attracted, the better.

After a couple of hours of searching, Jenn finally found him, hidden away in an upper floor corridor, head resting against the wall, earbuds in. She bent down and plucked one of them out of his ear, and he immediately opened his eyes. "Oh, it is you this time. Fuck off."

She sat down next to him. "Is that any way to speak to your favorite sister?"

"Mel is my favorite sister," he mumbled, closing his eyes again. "Fuck off."

"Rude." She was silent for a while, before saying, "Dad is pissed."

"What's new?"

"He told me to find you."

"Doesn't matter. I'm done." His voice was hollow. He sounded tired. Defeated. Maybe she had been wrong. Maybe that had been the very last bit of fight that was left in Eli.

There was one card she could play. It would be a dirty trick, but necessary. "You're not the only person who will have to face the consequences of your actions, Eli. If you run, someone else is going to take what's coming."

He swallowed, and rested his head back against the wall again, but Jenn knew she was getting through to him. Eventually, he turned off the music, shoved his phone and earbuds in his pocket, and stood up. "Alright. Fuck off, Jenn. I mean it." He headed down the stairs, in the direction of Dad's office.

Jenn followed, despite his instructions. She wasn't a child anymore. She didn't need Eli's protection from the harsh reality of just who their father was.

She stepped into the office a moment after Eli did, and closed the door quietly behind her.

Upon seeing them enter, Dad stood, and stepped forward so he was in Eli's face. "Just what do you think you're doing, son?" He asked in a cold tone. "You are the crown prince. You have responsibilities. You can't quit doing things that are beneficial to the country just because one person dies, do you understand me?"

Eli nodded. "I understand."

"There is such a thing as acceptable losses. In fact, it's one of the best things that could have happened. What's better than the death of one of the nation's Selected sweethearts to motivate them to hate the rebels?" Dad went back to his seat behind the desk, and gestured for Eli and Jenn to sit down. "The council has decided that we'll air a statement this afternoon. The Selection will go on. There will be consequences for your behavior this afternoon after the statement is aired. And if there is ever a repeat, they will be worse." He waved a hand in dismissal. "Go prepare. Black clothes, both of you."


Lydie's Room, The Selected's Wing, The Palace, Angeles, July 29th, 4:38pm

Lydie Tyler, 4, Belcourt

Lydie pulled at the sleeves of the long black dress she was wearing. Until today, she had no idea that all of the Selected had identical black dresses in their wardrobes, for occasions like this. The thought was far from pleasant.

The rebellion had killed someone. Intellectually she had known it had happened before this in Dominica. But this time it was someone she knew. She hadn't been close with Kendall, but she had joined in on card games every once in a while. And now she was dead, because of the rebellion.

She had known for a long time that rebellion would probably mean deaths. She tried not to think too much about what was in those crates she flew back and forth, but she had a bad feeling that the answer was weapons. Things that would someday be used to kill people.

Someday someone might die because of what she had done.

She tried to banish that horribly unpleasant thought as her maids finished up her makeup and hair. Going under the harsh lights of the report meant that she had to have makeup practically caked on to her face, which she wasn't a fan of, but she had to admit the necessity of it. Her maids didn't talk as they worked, even though Lydie usually made a point of chatting and gossiping with them while they worked.

She supposed that after what had just happened nobody really wanted lighthearted conversation.

They finished, and Lydie joined the other Selected who were gathered in the hallway. They waited in silence, without the usual hum of chatter that had preceded the report on Friday. Lydie stood in between Thea and Cali, with Addie in front of her, but they didn't talk as they would have under normal circumstances.

Lindsey came into the room. "Alright, ladies. The broadcast this afternoon is going to be a little bit different than the usual one. For one thing, it won't be a full report. And we'll have assigned seats as well. Please sit in the seat assigned to you, and do not switch with another Selected. Understood?"

They all nodded, and followed Lindsey down to the basement and filed into the studio. Instead of the now typical five rows of five, there were five rows of seven chairs, like there had been on the first night, with one missing. Once all the Selected were seated, Lydie understood why. That was Kendall's seat, and it was gone because she was dead.

The royal family came into the room a few moments later, and took their seats. Queen Melissa on the King's left, Eli on his right, then Jenn, Charles, and Mel. Eli looked the most outwardly emotional she had ever seen him in the weeks she had been at the palace. He was clearly rattled, and not bothering to hide it.

The rest of the family looked subdued, but calm. Even Mel, who was usually impossible to contain leading up to the report, was still.

A tech started counting off, and Eli took his place at the podium set in the center of the stage. He took a deep breath, and his face changed, into an expression of grave calm. The 'on air' light on the back wall of the studio came on, and the text on the teleprompter appeared. That was the first time she had seen a member of the royal family use one in her weeks at the palace, and she watched it curiously.

Eli began speaking. "A tragedy has occurred in Illéa today. I'm sure many of you know of Lady Kendall Gibbs, who was eliminated from my Selection last week. Unfortunately, upon returning to her home in Dominica, she was brutally murdered by a rebel group in her home province. It is believed that she was targeted because of her involvement in my Selection."

"This is unacceptable."

The teleprompter continued, with the words 'the people responsible for this must be brought to justice.'

"Something like this can never be allowed to happen again." He was off script, and Lydie was suddenly reminded of their conversation at the ball. If there was anything worth fighting for, it was to prevent the deaths of innocent people. "We will be looking into increasing security for the Selected after they are eliminated, and I will not be eliminating anyone else until changes can be made and a plan is in place to implement security."

That wasn't exactly what Lydie had expected. She had expected that he would condemn the rebels in some way. Say something against them other than a weak statement about bringing those responsible to justice. Maybe something about an action taken for innocent people other than the Selected.

He continued on, getting back to the script to close out the statement, and Lydie was left slightly dissatisfied with what he had said. Surely he could do more.

Once again, she thought back to the ball, when he had explicitly told her that he couldn't do more. He had done what he could, and it wasn't fair to fault him for that.

Eli finished his statement, and the 'on air' light at the back of the room went off. As soon as it did, King William stood up, and approached him. He put a hand on his shoulder, and pulled him off to one side. King William said some hushed words, then left the studio, the door closing behind him.

Eli closed his eyes briefly, and ran a hand through his hair, letting the mask fall again, before going to follow.

Lydie hesitated for a minute, watching as the techs began to shut all the equipment down, before standing up and following. "Hey," she called out to catch his attention.

He turned around at the sound of her voice. "Hey."

She took a few steps closer, and saw that he had washed off the stage makeup, leaving horrible dark circles visible around his eyes. "You look tired."

"Yeah." He sounded tired too. "You alright?"

She half thought she ought to be the one to ask that question. He was the one who had to deal with the fallout of this, after all. "I'm fine," she lied. She couldn't say a word about what was really going through her head without getting her family in serious trouble. "What about you?"

He sighed. "I've been better." A strand of his hair fell into his face, and he reached up to tuck it back out of the way.

"Murder does have a tendency to ruin your day," she said without thinking, then realized too late that the last thing he wanted was someone trying to make light of the situation.

She was trying to figure out some way to take it back when he started laughing hysterically, even though it hadn't really been that funny. "I guess. Must suck for Yunuen and Ixchel."

"Yeah," she agreed. "Yunuen was pretty upset that you just disappeared from the party. She might be over it after finding out what happened, though."

He nodded. "I figured she would be." He sighed again. "I'd better get going. Things to do still." He turned around, as if he was about to walk away, but then turned back. "Why don't you walk with me?"

"Sure." She came up beside him, and instead of taking his outstretched arm, grabbed his hand. He didn't complain, though, so she held it as they walked together through the palace.

As they walked, his mood visibly changed, back to the mask he put on for the cameras, even though there was no one there other than Lydie.

They went through areas she didn't recognize, into a wing she definitely wasn't allowed to be in. She couldn't stifle the thought that it was a wing her family would definitely want her to be in.

He stopped at the end of a corridor, and said, "You'd better head back to your room now." He gestured towards a nearby guard. "Escort Lady Lydie back to her room, please." He pulled his hand free of hers, and turned the corner, heading down another corridor.

She was surprised by the stark dismissal, but didn't complain. There was likely a reason for it, after all. She let the guard lead her back to her room, taking care to memorize the turns they were taking. She doubted she would be able to avoid her family forever, and she needed something, or they would be disappointed in her.


The Prince's Quarters, The Palace, Angeles, July 29th, 6:53pm

Elijah

Eli laid down on his bed without even bothering to kick his shoes off. All he wanted to do was sleep, but he knew that wasn't going to be an option for a while yet. He knew already that he wasn't going to be able to get his father's words out of his head.

"Clearly personal consequences aren't motivating enough for you," he had said, gripping Eli's wrist hard enough that Eli knew it would leave a bruise. He had really messed up, and he knew it. Dad didn't usually like physical violence. "How about next time you fuck up someone else takes the consequences? Think you'll stay in line then?" He released Eli's wrist. "Consider this your last warning."

When it was just consequences for him, Eli didn't have a problem doing things he knew would draw Dad's wrath. But if someone else was going to be on the brunt end of Dad's tirades, then Eli was going to have to play much much more carefully.

He rotated his wrist, looking at the quickly growing bruise on it. He could move it just fine, so it was probably fine other than the bruise, which was starting to ache.

Eventually, he forced himself to sit up and started untying his shoes, trying to use his left hand as little as possible.

He finished taking his shoes off, and stood up, shrugging off his suit jacket and dumping it on the foot of his bed. He undid his tie and placed it next to the jacket, then headed for the bathroom to take a shower, unbuttoning the buttons of his shirt as he went.

After he showered, he felt slightly better. More relaxed. Not as tired. The dark circles remained, but there wasn't anything he could do about that other than get more sleep.

He headed back into the room, and found Matthias tidying up. "Can you get me some ice for my wrist? And something to drink?" He grabbed a sweatshirt from the closet and pulled it over his head, then rearranged his damp hair.

"Of course." Matthias left the room, and Eli sat down in his desk chair to wait.

Matthias came back with an ice pack, a plate of food, and a mug of some steaming liquid. Eli had meant alcohol when he had asked for a drink, but he guessed coffee was good too.

"I didn't ask for food," Eli said, reaching out to accept the things Matthias had brought anyway.

"Have you eaten at all today?"

"A granola bar." He rolled up his left sleeve, and rested his bruised wrist against the ice pack.

"You need to eat, Elijah."

"I'm your boss, you're supposed to listen to me, not make me do things," he complained, taking a sip blindly out of the mug. "Hey, this isn't coffee." It was hot chocolate, which wasn't unpleasant, but coffee would have been so much better.

"I'm also supposed to protect you…"

"Which means protecting me from myself. I got it." He took a bite of the food. "Are you happy now? I'm eating. Bring me an actual cup of coffee and I'll eat more."

"Very. But don't you want to sleep? Caffeine isn't helping anything."

"Fine, make it decaf if that makes you happy." He passed him the mug of hot chocolate, and turned back to the food. He took a couple more bites, then accepted the mug of coffee from Matthias when he returned. "Thanks. Take the rest of the evening off, okay? I don't need anything else."

Matthias nodded. "Alright. Have a good night."

Eli nodded, and took another bite. He leaned back in his chair for a while, eyes closed, until he heard his phone chime with a text message. He opened his eyes and leaned over to take a look, and smiled at the sight of Zenya's name on the screen. He immediately unlocked his phone to read her text and reply.

Zenya: How are you?

Eli: I'm fine. How about you?

Zenya: I'm alright.

For a moment, he was about to just leave it like that and set his phone down, since it was awkward to text one handed, but on a whim he decided that it might be nice to have some company.

Eli: Do you watch movies?

Zenya: With subtitles yes.

Zenya: Some of us are planning to watch one tonight though.

Zenya: You could join if you want. We are in the movie theater in the basement.

He thought about it for a moment, before deciding that he might as well.

Eli: I'll be there. Don't start without me, it'll be a minute because I'm going to find a real cup of coffee.

He stood up, sliding his phone into his pocket, and rolled down his sleeve to cover up the bruise on his wrist. It looked like he would be wearing long sleeves for a while, and rolling them up wasn't going to be an option.

He headed out the door of his room, and made his way down to the kitchen to sweet talk a cup of coffee off of whoever was working.

Once he had gotten a cup of coffee, he headed down to the basement. He heard the sound of conversation coming from the movie theater, and pushed open the door to find some of the girls scattered around on the black leather couches throughout the room. The floor of the theater had tiers, like a normal movie theater, and each tier had a few couches on it.

Lydie, Thea, Ixchel, and Elaine were in the first row, Brielle, Addie, and Gemma were in the middle row, and Cali, Isla, Thea and Zenya were in the back row.

Eli sat down in the back row, in between Cali and Isla. He waved to Zenya, who smiled, and waved back.

Cali turned to look at him as he sat down, raising her eyebrows. "Coffee at seven o'clock at night? That's not good for you, you know, and it's not going to help you sleep."

"Yeah, I know. Caffeine will keep me from getting a headache, though, so the tradeoffs are worth it." He changed the subject, not wanting to talk about how unhealthy his habits were anymore. "Do you know what movie we're watching?"

"Something about a plane crash. It was Lydie's pick."

"Really?" He asked, surprised. He'd have to ask Lydie about that some other time. Why would a pilot pick a movie about plane crashes? Eli himself deliberately avoided movies that involved too much politics, he would assume that most people would also avoid movies that reminded them of work.

"Yeah. I voted for a horror movie, but I was overruled by the birthday girl."

"Oh, I like horror movies too, we'll have to watch one together sometimes. I have just one question. Really awful B-movies, or actually scary?" He took a sip of his coffee.

"Both." She pulled at the sleeves of the oversized sweater she was wearing, and tucked a strand of her long black hair that had fallen out of her messy bun back in. "I like to be scared, but I'm down to laugh at some good fake blood sometimes. What about you?"

"I agree." He turned to Isla. "What about you? What was your vote?"

"Oh, I voted for some really pretentious movie that's in French. For some reason, nobody voted my way." She laughed.

"I would have voted your way. My French is a little rusty, I could have used the practice."

Lydie stood up in the front row, and flicked a piece of popcorn in their direction. "Be quiet, we're about to start the movie." The popcorn fell wildly short of hitting the mark, and landed in Gemma's hair. Gemma plucked it out of her hair, looked at it for a moment, then turned around and flicked it the rest of the way to Eli.

It landed in his lap, and he gave her a playful scowl. "Hey!" He was in a better mood already.

Lydie rolled her eyes, and hit the button to start the movie. "Seriously, be quiet. This is a good movie and I don't want anyone to miss it."

The movie was pretty good, but as soon as it was over and Eli was by himself in his room again, he was faced with reality again. He was frustratingly wide awake, and every possible bad scenario was flying through his head at warp speed.

His solution was to crawl in bed with his headphones in, and hope that the music would drown everything else out and bring him peace.

It didn't work, though. He found himself still awake at one in the morning, curled up with a pillow tucked under one arm as a shitty replacement for the one thing he couldn't have.

It was during times like this that it hit the hardest that she wasn't here. On a bad day, he could at least call her and hear her voice. Or crawl in bed with her and let her talk him out of whatever stupid shit he was thinking.

He pulled out his phone, and started scrolling through the voicemails he had saved, hoping that he might possibly have one from her still on his phone. After several minutes of scrolling, he stuck gold, and hit play.

"Hey babe. I just thought I'd call and check in on you. I hope you're sleeping right now, you need it. Shoot me a text when you wake up and let me know how you're doing. Take care of yourself. I love you."

He closed his eyes as her voice came out of the speakers of his phone, and let the sound of her voice saying the words he had desperately wanted to hear for over a year now wash over him.

It felt empty, though, knowing that this was just a recording, that if he texted her whoever had her phone number now would get it instead of her, and she was gone.

His finger hovered over the button to delete the voicemail for a moment, but instead he turned off his phone and tossed it on the nightstand. He would probably regret that later. He kind of regretted destroying most of his pictures now that a few weeks had passed.

Probably for the best that he had destroyed the pictures. That meant there wasn't much evidence. If Dad knew about her, he would be pissed. And now that he was threatening that Eli's actions would hurt other people, he couldn't afford to piss him off.

Eli buried his face in his hands. He just wanted a way to make it all stop for a little bit. He was sick of himself, sick of thinking, sick of being awake.

It only took him a moment to remember that he did have a solution to that problem. He climbed out of bed, and headed into the bathroom, turning on the light so he could see, and squinting against its brightness.

He brushed his hair back, and opened the cabinet, hunting for one thing in particular. At the back of the cabinet, he finally found the pill bottle. The prescription was dated from July of the previous year, but it was still almost full. Eli thought that he had only taken one or two in the time that he had had them.

That was about to change. He shook one out onto his palm, and swallowed it dry before screwing the cap back on the bottle and setting it down on the sink counter. The consequences for oversleeping were the farthest thing from his mind. He just wanted a break, and he didn't care if it took finally taking sleeping pills to do it.

He turned off the bathroom light, and went to lay down in bed. For all his resistance to taking them, he had to admit that the sleeping pills did their job, and did it well. He was out quickly, for once.

Maybe the sleeping pills did their job a little too well.

He woke up the next morning to someone shaking his shoulder, hard. He groaned, and buried his face in the pillows. "Surely it's not time to get up yet," he mumbled.

"It's nearly ten in the morning, you needed to be up two hours ago."

That was his father's voice. And it did a damn good job of getting rid of the desire to just go back to sleep. He immediately rolled over and sat up, pushing his messy, tangled hair out of his face. "I'm sorry." He ran a hand across his face. "I was up late working."

"Excuses, excuses." Dad shook a very familiar pill bottle in Eli's face. The pills didn't move around much, since there were so many of them left, but they still made a slight rattling noise as Dad shook it. "Care to explain this?"

"Sleeping pills," Eli said, making sure to keep eye contact with Dad, aware that he was playing a dangerous game, and one wrong move could lead to trouble.

"Trouble sleeping?" He asked condescendingly.

Eli nodded, just barely managing to keep himself from yawning.

"How are you going to be king if one death keeps you from sleeping at night?" He laughed. "You need to toughen up fast, son. You've always been too sensitive. Sometimes I wondered if you were really my kid, but the DNA test came back positive, so I'm stuck with you."

Eli fought off another yawn, but didn't say anything in reply. His eyes wanted to close again, but he forced himself to keep them open and stay awake. If he let on too much just how much he wanted to go back to sleep, Dad would get even more upset.

"We talked about this, didn't we? You knew what was going to happen if you didn't shape up."

Oh. Oh no. Shit. Shit. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.

He didn't say anything, though. He didn't dare risk arguing.

"Get up. Get dressed."

Eli complied, and Dad waited outside the bathroom door while Eli did up the buttons of his shirt, trying not to wince every time he moved his left wrist too much. The sleeves covered the bruise, just barely, which was good. The last thing Eli wanted was awkward questions. He splashed cold water on his face in the hopes it would make him feel less groggy, finished getting dressed, and stepped out of the bathroom.

Dad silently escorted Eli through the halls, and led him into the room where Mel was happily playing on the floor with her nanny, Brea. As soon as he entered the room, Brea stood up. "What can I do for you, your majesty?"

Dad glanced down to the floor, at the plastic bricks Mel was playing with. "Take those away. Don't give them back for a week."

"Yes sir." Brea knelt and began sweeping them into a pile with her hands.

Mel stood up, folding her arms. It was kind of hilarious, how badly she wanted to look intimidating. "Why? What did I do?"

"You didn't do anything." Dad gestured towards Eli. "He's to blame. It's his fault that your toys are being taken away."

Dad was trying to get Mel to hate him. Eli should have expected that. Of course this would be what he would try. He so loved to try to turn his children against each other. Charles was living proof of that.

Mel didn't uncross her arms, and continued scowling at Dad. "That's silly. How is it his fault? You're just being a jerk." She stuck her tongue out at him.

"Have more respect for your father," he said sternly. He turned to Brea. "Punish her harshly for her disrespect." He turned and left the room, gesturing for Eli to follow.

Eli did, but mouthed, "I'm sorry," to Mel before following.

In the hallway, Dad turned to Eli. "You see? Next time it won't be so mild. You've used up your one warning, and you need to step up. I'm only trying to make you the best you can be, because on your own you'll never reach your full potential."

You do this because you're a control freak, Eli thought to himself, but even before he would have dared to say that out loud. He wanted to go see Mom, but he had a feeling he wasn't going to get away with getting out of the palace today.

"I've already arranged it with Lindsey. The first of the group dates will take place today. You're going mini-golfing."

Eli stifled another yawn and nodded. "Okay. What time are we leaving?" He was going to be the picture perfect son. He owed it to Mel.


AN: I'm as surprised to see a Jenn POV as you are, I didn't think that I'd write from her POV at any point during Roses in Ink.

Leave reviews and let me know what you think, I crave contact with people I don't live with.