“Hey!” Cas gawked at Iris in mock offense. “I could totally be a chef if I wanted to. I’d just have to learn about the ingredients, learn to put it all together and cook it at the right temperature… Okay, yeah, I could never be a chef. I’m getting bored just thinking about it.” He wrinkled his nose. He knew he’d grown up with a silver spoon in his mouth, especially after he’d been outside the capital, but he was used to having other people around to make his meals for him, and that wouldn’t change overnight. Truthfully, if he ever found himself in a situation where he didn’t have access to servants who could cook him dinner, he was willing to learn how to do it, himself. However, he wouldn’t go out of his way to master the skill unless he had to. There were more than enough other responsibilities to keep him busy in his role as the crown prince. Cooking just wasn’t one of them.
When he brought up the idea of talking and her smile faltered, he felt certain that she wasn’t as okay as she was trying to lead him to believe. He watched her a little more carefully, idly trailing his hand down her arm when she attempted to claim that she was fine. Before, he hadn’t paid much attention to her behavior, but now that he’d pretty much called her out, he could see that she was having a hard time holding herself together. Inwardly, he kicked himself for being so oblivious to her discomfort. He should have been more attentive to her needs but instead, he’d gotten caught up in the fact that they were alone in a suite.
Now was as good of a time as ever to make up for that though, so he went along with it when she reversed the conversation onto him. He was still planning to get her to answer his question honestly, but if being the first person to open up would make it easier for her to follow suit, then he was willing to break down that wall. “Yes and no,” he replied, tilting his head slightly as he thought about the best way to explain his family situation to her. “My dad is my only immediate family. I told you that my mom passed a few years ago, and I’m an only child, but I have other relatives. They’re just, um… estranged.”
As he spoke, he settled down more comfortably into the sofa, leaning his head against hers and fixing his gaze on their reflection in the black screen of the TV. “Like I’ve said, my dad’s paranoia isn’t new. He’s always been afraid that everyone else around him is an enemy. That included his own siblings, so… after my mom died, he pretty much kicked all of them out of the house. They still live in the capital, but there’s bad blood between us and them, so I never see the my aunts, uncles or cousins anymore. My dad wrote all of them out of his will too, so legally, none of them can inherit the crown even if something happened to me.” He shook his head. “I still don’t fully understand why he did it. My relatives aren’t bad people, and there are a few of them who would make better kings or queens than I would. But, you know, what’s done is done, and my dad is the only one who can write them back into the will, so it’s up to him to mend the relationships.”
With a sigh, he reached for Iris’s hand and laced his fingers with hers as he braced himself to answer the second half of her question. “As for me… I don’t really know what to say. Things are tense between me and my dad, obviously, and even though I’ve got a psychiatrist who’s supposed to be helping me, I haven’t really had a chance to process everything that happened when we were in Bel Bicis. Instead, I got slapped with a diagnosis of being mentally unstable, which has just made it worse. I wish they would just listen to me for once. My dad especially… He always treats me like I’m still a kid, but I think I’m capable of more than that. At the very least, I’d like him to really take what I have to say to heart instead of just dismissing everything I tell him. It makes me feel like he doesn’t care… like I’m just a tool to him, to be molded into the successor that he wants to take over the monarchy, and that’s it.
“It also doesn’t help that he’s only gotten worse since we got back to the capital. He’s always been tough on me, I get that, but I wish he’d understand that what I just went through was really difficult, and I wanted his support.” He frowned as the pent-up emotions stirred while he spoke. “I didn’t tell you, but when we found all those dead bodies… there were two that have really been haunting me. A mother and her kid… When we found that apartment, I saw a photo on the nightstand in the bedroom. It was the same people, and—” He took a slow breath, startled by how abruptly the pain struck him. When he was thinking about other things, it was easier to forget about the trauma, but dredging up the memories sucked the air from his lungs and made his eyes sting with the threat of tears.
“I don’t know…” he whispered, losing the stamina to explain it any further. “It just made it more real somehow. And then we nearly got crushed when that bomb came, and then the rebels caught us, and I just have no idea what to do with all of it. Honestly, it’s been slowly eating me alive since we got back… I’m tired, I’m angry, I’m stressed, and I’m just really glad I’m here with you rather than at the house with my dad right now.” He pressed another kiss to her forehead, drawing her into his arms to take comfort in her touch. When he pulled back again, he managed a half-smile. “Okay, I just poured my bleeding heart out to you, so now it’s your turn. Tell me how you’re really doing, Iris.”